Massimiliano Caracristi is the lead designer of Against the Darkmaster ("VsD"), the recently crowdfunded RPG of “Epic High Fantasy and Heavy Metal Combat”, and currently going strong on DriveThruRPG.
But who is Massimiliano? Massimiliano is a cat lover and a metalhead, and he strikes me as an introverted but resolute person.
1 Hello Massimiliano. Tell us about Against the Darkmaster as if you were trying to sell it to my aunt!
Ever wanted to be the protagonist of your very own novel? To leave the world behind for a few hours and live an exciting adventure, while comfortably sitting at home, sipping wine with your friends? With Against the Darkmaster you can!
You’ll take the role of a mighty hero, the last hope of the world against the threat of an immensely powerful being of pure evil: the Darkmaster.
You’ll travel to distant lands, face terrible dangers, uncover ancient items of power, and gather the armies of the world under your banner, in an epic fight against the ultimate evil. And all this without ever leaving your living room!
Come on, it’s your chance to finally get an answer to your “who’s winning?” question!
2 Tell us about your job as lead designer, what’s the story of the development, and what are the rules that make VsD unique?
Against the Darkmaster is very much a group effort. Open Ended Games, our company, started as a simple group of friends on the internet. We would chat, play, and share house rules and “hacks” for the games we were playing. That’s how VsD started, too. We were talking about collecting all of our house rules for MERP, one of our all-time favorite games, and realized we could have made a completely new game out of them.
As the lead designer for this project, besides writing the bulk of the rules, my job is to make sure they fit together and support the theme of the game. Also, keeping track of the playtesters’ feedback is of primary importance, since it’s the only way to know if the rules work as intended!
Speaking of rules, I’d say that what makes VsD unique is that it emulates a very specific sub-genre of fantasy. You’re not going to play a party of simple adventurers or treasure-hunters but as a group of true heroes fighting the evil overlord threatening their world. So we’ve got a Passions and Drive system, designed to bring your characters’ motivations and goals into play and to help you spotlighting their heroic nature.
Detailed rules for long, epic journeys. Dangerous magic. Kins, cultures, and background options tightly tied to the genre’s tropes.
And, of course, rules for creating your very own Darkmaster, from his name and origins to his favored minions and his influence on the campaign setting.
3 So… what’s up with heavy metal?
Heavy metal is the law! For us, heavy metal and roleplaying always went hand in hand. Back in high school, we’d listen to Maiden or Priest while waiting to meet our friends for a session, named our PCs after band members, stole our adventures’ plots from the lyrics of Dio or Blind Guardian.
Against the Darkmaster is our homage to those days. We wanted it to have the same energy, strike the same chords.
Our art is heavily inspired by the Power Metal aesthetics and the combat system is fast and brutal like a Speed Metal solo. We even give you guidelines for turning the lyrics of your favorite metal anthem into your hero’s motivation!
4 Are you satisfied with the reception the game got so far?
We’re overwhelmed! We’d never expected such a positive reaction. I mean, we’re a tiny little company and the Core Rules have been out for what, three weeks? And yet we’ve been in DrivethruRPG top ten since then, together with giants like Onyx Path and Cubicle 7! You people are truly amazing!
5 Let’s talk about the Kickstarter that launched Against the Darkmaster. How do you rate this experience? What have you learned?
We’ve got mixed feelings about Kickstarter. We’re probably still too close to the campaign to give a completely objective answer. Running a KS campaign is an emotional rollercoaster. People will amaze and surprise you. One minute you’re on the top of the world, the next one it’ll feel as you’ll never make it. Be prepared!
6 Kickstarters have become more and more important for RPGs. Do you see that changing anytime soon? Would YOU like things to change somehow?
I think the trend is going to stay for quite a long time, can’t really see it changing in the near future. I’d like to see small indie creators be given more opportunities than big companies. On the other hand, those companies bring lots of people to KS, so it’s kinda a necessary evil.
7 You mentioned MERP before, can you tell us more about VsD's relationship with that game?
Sure. As I’ve said, Against the Darkmaster started out as a simple fan-made revision of MERP, ICE’s classic game based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. However, we soon realized that our project was growing on its own, and becoming something completely different. We had changed and rewritten so many things that we now had in our hands a new game.
Some have called VsD a retro-clone, but I’d say it’s more of a love-letter. MERP fans will find the VsD somewhat familiar, yet ultimately different from the game they remember.
But you don’t have to be a MERP fan to enjoy VsD! New players will have just as much fun as old grognards in joining the fight Against the Darkmaster!
8 Excluding Against the Darkmaster, what are your Top Three RPGs?
I’m currently pretty excited about Mörk Borg and the upcoming Flames of Freedom, but if I have to choose my all-time favorites I’d say MERP, The Burning Wheel, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.
9 What are you working on now? Are you considering new projects?
We’ve got a few adventures and rules supplements planned, and we’re working on a third party license and community content agreement, that’ll allow anyone to publish their own Against the Darkmaster creations!
10 One last question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.
You can’t go more VsD than Time Stands Still (at the Iron Hill) by Blind Guardian.