Geeks A Gogo had the pleasure of corresponding with game designer Mike Myler of Storm Bunny Studios to discuss his latest creation--Mists of Akuma. A little background--Mists of Akuma is a series of supplements for 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons that contains rules for a campaign world based on Japanese mythology. The books include maps, monsters, races, and even rules for new character attributes.
Here's what Mike had to say about his newest creation:
Your new setting feels like Steampunk as seen through a dark, culturally-EasternOriental prism. As opposed to the standard classes of D&D Oriental Adventures or Kara-Tur, you have brought a hint of divine magic to Samurai, and you've built some very interesting magic using classes. What other interesting twists do you have in store? A whole book worth!
The elements are an important aspect of the world—as you mentioned with the interesting magic-user classes, the warlock class option in Mists of Akuma (in the free Mists of Akuma: Primer PDF), our wu-jen, are all about the elements. Most of the martial art stance feats (in the free Martial Arts Stances PDF) are also predicated to one element or another, giving even martial characters a chance to wield fire, thunder, lightning, and all the rest. The stance feats offer up resistance to the element you utilize as well however, specifically to cover the inherent weaknesses of the (many) race options that are in the book.
Part of our design theory for Mists of Akuma is to seize on the most important parts of the campaign setting and then unpackaging them—you won’t find a lonewolf mechanic that doesn’t have supporting content or something without an antithesis or see a design that doesn’t appear again in the same fashion in another part of the rules, or all of the above. I go much more in detail on this regarding tsukumogami below. :D
This is my third campaign setting (Veranthea Codex being the first, Hypercorps 2099 the second) and I’ve gradually been developing a strong tendency for confluence, but I’m proud to say it’s never been quite so strong as it is in Mists of Akuma.
In a similar vein, your races appear to be more in line with Eastern mythology and less the Gygaxian standard. Do you see a place for dwarves and elves in your setting?
For dwarves, the answer is yes—korobokuru will be around. Elves, not so much. There will be a mention of how these other races could be introduced (by wandering out of the Mists of Akuma after taking a wrong turn, or via a teleport spell gone awry, etc.) but they unfortunately do not have a default place in the world of Soburin. Frankly it just wasn’t practical; there are 27 different races and subraces, and it’s only one continent! :)
You've added 2 new stats, Dignity and Haitoku. In doing so, you've added to the stats that have been around since D&D's inception (and which every geek worth his salt can recite by heart: STR, INT, WIS, DEX, CON, CHA). Now that you've kicked down that door, do you anticipate adding any other 'specialist stats' for your next projects?
Oh I’ve kicked this door down already! Hypercorps 2099 is has versions for both the Pathfinder RPG and D&D 5th Edition, and as a template for making your medieval fantasy game into a cyberpunk/superhero fantasy game, we needed some laxity—flexible tools that both players and GMs can use to bridge the gap in rules that don’t consider the impact of modern technology in terms of travel, connectivity, and so on. To facilitate that we made the Luck and Reputation attributes for both systems, and for D&D 5E we also created a shared party attribute called Wealth to cover getting equipment for missions without breaking the scarce system of economy for magic items.
As far as future projects are concerned, I am absolutely going to be doing that again. My design team and I have already narrowed down what they are called and what they will do. ;)
Let's roll back to Haitoku for one second. First let me say, as an old school gamer, the table is insidious! It seems like you tempt the PC's to hang out near the mists... did you design this as a press-your-luck mechanic, seducing them with new powers and abilities but ultimately going to far meaning damnation?
Thank you! That is absolutely the idea—all of Soburin is withering and succumbing to the corruption of the Mists of Akuma and the PCs are no exception (up to a point, anyway). I’m positive we’re going to unlock the first stretch goal (Will of the Palemaster) and be able to include an adventure in the book, which is vital in displaying to GMs how difficult the encounters in a game should be in this setting (hint: they should be really, really hard), making the urge to use the new attribute very strong. The rewarding bits are important to draw a group in, but add a layer of complexity to play (some of the best feats in the book require you to have a high Haitoku, as if the table itself wasn’t already enticing enough) because now the players are walking on a razor’s edge! Since we can assume most PCs will end up with a decent Haitoku score, by having a fell fog that can transform them into monsters, the GM suddenly has this very powerful tool to control the narrative of the game (and as above, that’s something we unpackage). Torii gates become sanctuaries from certain doom, but force intrigue because what if the group doesn’t have the right travel papers? What if they are from a clan at war with the local prefecture? What if a monster lurks among the peasants gathered above the deadly Mists of Akuma?
We can't really talk Haitoku without the Mists and the Mists corrupt not only flesh but objects as well. This brings us to Tsukogami! Can you talk a little about the influences that gave them life? How much or little did your playtest groups delve into PC created Tsukogami!? Did any become party mascots?
I have long been an avid fan of mythology as well as the east, and the wonderful inclusion of tsukumogami started as something very small before things really clicked (note: there’s a whole PDF just for them). For those not in the know, these are objects that animate as monsters on their 100th birthday, treating the world around them in accordance to how they were treated. Given that Soburin (the name of the main continent in Mists of Akuma) is a place that was historically recently under occupation by an invading foreign military with advanced technology, this makes for a great reason for why technology is heretical in most of the prefectures. Your salvaged gun or scientific doodad might wake up and try to kill you!
But we didn’t stop there, we unpackaged it more. What if your augmetic (a superior steampunk prosthetic) is near or more than 100 years old? What if it’s a tsukumogami? We made a feat for it. What if your character specifically hates tsukumogami and wants to seek them out, a step deeper into fervor than your average ranger? We made a class archetype for it. What if you want a tsukumogami buddy? SAME CLASS! :D
So far in playtests, the gamers that have encountered tsukumogami haven’t realized it yet. I suspect that once they do figure it out, there’s a 50% chance they violently and angrily destroy it (though I reckon either way it might become a mascot).
The Art really captures the gritty feel of the world you've designed. Can you talk a little about your influences and were there any tropes that you specifically avoided in the process? That is a wonderful compliment! :D
It should be noted that aside from two figures on the cover (the samurai and the ninja), the tsukumogami artillery cannon, and the monk surrounded by vines, all of the illustrations in the free PDFs are taken from historical artwork from Japan (the most prevalent artists involved being Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Kano Hagai). Our main reason for running the Kickstarter is to hire modern artists!
In terms of aesthetic, the most relevant influences would be Afro Samurai or Samurai Champloo, with nods to Warhammer 40,000 and Ravenloft, as well as a slew of film noir (mostly from the inception of the genre).
Lastly, I would like to move onto your cartography for a minute. The legend shows symbols for the three prefectures: Martial, Magic, and Science. Can you give us a taste of how these define the prefectures and what we can expect to encounter when we adventure there?
That great map was done by Michael McCarthy, my multi-talented editor and right hand fellow! The type of prefecture is bit of a guideline for where technologically-focused PCs should be wary, but obviously it plays a bigger role than that: these are how the various prefectures deal with the Mists of Akuma. The campaign setting book will focus on three different settlements (Sanbaoshi, Chikan, and Nagabuki) that each utilize different approaches to the renewed ancient threat of the mists. For instance, Chikan is in Supai, a scientific prefecture. The entire city is surrounded by powerful mechanical fans able to literally blow the dangerous fog back, and many of their warriors utilize fan-hand augmetics that allow them to protect themselves from it while they are not inside of one of the clan’s cities. Every prefecture and clan’s method (aside from the scientific prefectures) is also informed by their history in the world itself, and will play a large role in how PCs from a given region might differ.
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