Ed Jowett, the managing director and lead creator for the gaming company Shades of Vengeance, spoke with us about ‘Era: Survival’ – a tabletop roleplaying game that attempts a twist on the post-apocalyptic zombie genre. The game is available at www.shadesofvengeance.com.
Who developed the game?
I created and developed it with assistance from a few others who are credited in the book, most notably Freddie Rawlins input some elements for world, and Phil Adams and Jonathan Jowett, who helped with balancing the original rule set in Era: The Consortium that this was built off.
When was your company founded?
2012 was when I started work on my first game, Era: The Consortium. Work on Era: Survival started in late 2015 and took around 6 months.
Could you describe the basic premise?
One-hundred years ago, an apocalyptic event occurred when a new life-form evolved... or was a biological weapon used? Honestly, no-one even cares any more.
It is said that the parasite was small, persistent and airborne. It quickly infected large numbers of Humans, as well as many warm-blooded animals. These creatures were driven mad and mutated by the creature. Any attempt to halt their advance failed and Humanity retreated.
Infection doesn't end at death, however. The parasites reanimate the corpses of those that are infected through direct electrical stimulation and force them to continue searching for food.
Humanity is a dying species, there are only a few million of us left at most... not that anyone has the infrastructure to conduct a census any more.
Many political factions have grown up out of the ashes of Humanity, each of which have a different view of how Humanity should endure Gaia and survive. These vary from those that give aid and try to cure the Infection to those that offer sanctuary, to those that welcome the end or try to harness its power.
The rest of Humanity is caught in the middle, struggling to survive.
Could you tell us about the game's mechanics?
The game runs on the critically-acclaimed Era d10 Rule Set. After being successfully applied to the Sci-Fi game Era: The Consortium, I adapted it to include a few genre-specific rules such as durability of weapons and limited ammunition, but the core is the same.
Era d10 is a success-counting dice pool system with a variable success threshold based on difficulty. The more skilled you are at something, the more dice you roll, and the more difficult the action is, the higher the Threshold.
It uses opposed rolls to simplify direct competition between characters, and offers a low barrier of entry while still offering plenty of variety for experienced players.
The fact that Attributes and Skills do not have a permanent pairing for any action is an important feature or Era d10, as it discourages min-maxing. Instead of Strength always being paired with Brawl, for example, Intelligence may be more appropriate for an analytical fighter. Examples of every combination and when they might be used are included in the Core Rulebook.
What differentiates your game from other RPGs with a zombie theme?
Most zombie RPGs are very politically simple. Gaia is a fully-formed world with a lot of people trying to lead the remains of Humanity to a better future in their own way - 13 factions in all. This provides a huge scope of possibilities and different types of gameplay for different locations and interacting with different factions.
It includes both "types" of zombies, the fast / intelligent and the slow / shambling, giving the GM the chance to stretch their group no matter their level of experience.
I also would like to mention the fact that the rules are tuned to make it truly survival horror - you will be wondering with every bullet about whether you should take the shot, whether you should run and hide, or risk a brawl. Shots make noise which could attract more enemies, ammunition is few and scarce. This promotes a real feeling of fighting against the odds for your survival every step of the way!
For GM's that are less confident in maintaining that feel, we have included advice in the Core Rulebook for how to keep sessions Survival Horror rather than slipping into action.
The different factions remind me a little of the World of Darkness. Did that game setting influence you at all?
I am going to have to say "not really" in this case!
I have a history of making games with a lot of different factions - Era: The Consortium is a good example. I like to create politically complex situations, because I feel that, firstly, it is more realistic - Humanity is never going to all agree - and secondly, gives the GM more opportunities to try new things. If, for example, the players are a group of freelancers taking any job to survive, they may be sent against a faction which would then be after them forever!
So I tend to build these possibilities into my games and I wouldn't say that World of Darkness was particularly an influence for me on the setting.