Saturday, October 9, 2021

10 QUESTIONS TO: Kel of Awfully Queer Heroes

Kel is the mind behind Awfully Queer Heroes, the team that’s currently crowdfunding Tower of the Soul, a “LV 1-20 Campaign location featuring tons of new LGBTQIA+ content” that’s already funded on Kickstarter.

Their campaign and project intrigued me because of several unusual features, so let’s get to know them and what’s going on!


1 Hello Kel. First of all, please introduce yourselves and tell us all you want about you, don’t be afraid to go personal!


Hi, I’m a nonbinary creator who started playing D&D about a year before the pandemic hit, I wanted to keep playing so swapped to online which is when i made Awfully Queer Heroes and gathered the team together. We were playing some homebrew and some official but was struck with how little LGBTQIA+ representation there was. I started to make my own and everything snowballed from there.



2 Ok, now tell us about the Tower of the Soul. What is the structure of the book? Does it contain fully mapped levels, or is it something else? How does it manage to be a level 1 to 20 campaign location in less than 150 pages?


Everything in the tower is randomised through tables. The levels have a couple of pre-set rooms (so no one floor only has 1 room on a bad roll) which the number of is decided with a dice roll, then what those rooms are are rolled as well. So if you have 5 rooms, you would then roll against the ‘room table’ 5 times to see whats inside.

Every single room will have its own encounter, though that doesn’t always mean a battle. There is an entire encounter section where it could be a magic effect, riddle, traps, battle, healing or a combination of the above. 

There are two towns and a set of ruins to explore if the characters want a change of scenery or if they haven’t leveled up enough to take on the floor boss.

Laying the book out in this manner has enabled me to keep the page count lower along with printing and shipping costs which I try to ensure are as low as possible for the backers. 





3 What’s up with Chaos? The Tower is a “chaotic characters only” campaign? Why did you choose this approach?


Everyone has seen and done from the ‘good’ side. Even if it's a Murder Hobo campaign, everyone around is generally considered to be good. There are always two sides though and I was wondering how those monsters and beasts felt at constantly being hunted down. This is the result of that.


4 Now on to the “new LGBTQIA+ content”. The KS page doesn’t reveal much about that. Tell us more!


Absolutely, There are spells, all the NPCs are LGBTQIA+, i have flags in pretty much all the buildings (i think it's all but say pretty much in case i missed one), all the races have a specific sexuality or gender listed. I even have a Nonbinary version of Incubus & Succubus.

For example one NPC is:


Sojaar, Owner of the Crown’s Lodge: The jewel of Zah’go, a living testament that wealth and fineries are nothing in front of a charismatic smile and a proper compliment. So, imagine what an individual can do with both. They are a flamboyant Tabaxi, who manages to have everyone’s smile and gazes in this lawless town.

Backstory: Few people know of Sojaar’s story, and even fewer are alive to tell it. They were a noble in a faraway desert land, who had to flee to escape the dangers of court. The road led them to the Zah’go, where money and a well-placed smile led them to become the owner of the most glamorous establishment of the land.


And here's a Race description:


The Erinyes 

Beautiful, striking, fierce, such are the descriptors of these winged horned creatures. Their divine origin is tied to both discipline and intense dedication in the pursuit of the culprit of a nefarious affair. Usually, such culprits are mortal men who have transgressed a sacred deed, or inflicted unearned pain onto others using foul means to achieve even fouler ends. Erinyes are disciplined warriors, bringers of swift death or the most exquisite of pain from the skies, ensnaring their foes and inflicting divine carnage. 

Sexuality: Lesbians



5 Now about rules. Tower of the Soul features several rules add-ons and options. What are they? Are they tied to the chaos theme and the  LGBTQIA+ content?


The LGBTQIA+ content is there and just weaved into everything i could possible consider. 

The Rules are a variety of things that initially came around due to things that irked me in official rules or that honestly i just thought would be really cool. However, all of them work really well within the Chaos setting. 

One player having to merge with an elemental for every level of the tower before being able to take on the boss is huge and so much fun. There is another reason though and… SPOILERS……….. At the end, players have a chance to go onto another Tower. If they do a God will appear and merge them into a Hydra. Each player will control one Hydra head in the ensuing battle and the heads breath attack will be the same element that they merged with during the campaign.


That was a pretty tough thing to follow but thankfully it was also the last part of the book that i had intended to write. 

Other rules include the new healing rules which are based on the level of comfort that you sleep in which is tied to how much HP you recover nightly. It changes how you play the sessions as some folk prefer to save their spells slots for extra healing or take more down time to recover.



6 A delicate question about the KS project and communication. Stating “LGBTQIA+ content” straight into the project subtitle isn’t something one does without thought. You sure know and have considered the whole range of different perceptions such a statement would get from all the different corners of the TTRPG audience. So, what were your considerations?

I wish we lived in a world where such a statement would not be needed at all, i.e. no product would need to be labelled as queer friendly, basically because implies the existance of queer unfriendly games which, unfortunately, we all know are out there.


My primary consideration is always, do LGBTQIA+ folk feel seen, represented, can they play as themselves etc. Many other places that answer is NO. I don’t want there to be ANY doubt that this is Queer made and Queer aimed. Of course non queer folk can back and play, they can even change things if they’d like. I have no problems with any of that. I made it to start to try and show that we are normal, we are here and we can be at your table without it being a big deal.

That's why nothing in my campaigns is SCREAMING gay. It's just there. The bartender is Pansexual, the mage is a male gay Orc. it's just included as part of everything else because it's just one part of us.


7 Tell us more about those nice add-on medallions please!


The purpose of these is three fold. Within the Tower, at the end of most levels, you get rewards for beating the boss. The medallions are part of that. They unlock certain rooms and training options to enhance your character. If the medallion is not on your character when you try and enter these locations, they won’t get in.

I wanted the players to have a physical representation of that in the first instance. They’re a D2 so can absolutely be used for D2 rolls or a yes/no, 1/20 roll of any kind. Lastly, I have adhd and need to fidget with things and I loved spinning them around constantly so figured other folks might as well.


8 Care to tell us about your live plays too?


At the moment, the Live Plays are on our Podcast. We have a twitch stream in the works but that is a couple of months off yet.

The podcast can be found here: https://anchor.fm/awfully-queer-heroes and it lists other places the podcast can be listened to like Spotify.



9 Let’s dream big. Tower of the Soul - The Movie becomes a thing! Can you pitch it to us? You are in charge with the casting, with an endless budget. Who’s in?


The director and assistant director i’d have as Patty Jenkins and Amanda Tapping as i love both of their works.


The player team i’d have (oh wow this is hard!) Alicia Vikander Martin Freeman Kristen Stewart Cate Blanchett Kate Mckinnon For the Gods (as i have 2 fully written out with images n everything) Rujun would have to be Tom Hardy Aharis would be Salma Hayek



10 “KS days are crazy days”. How are you coping?


I’m glad I have a great day job lol. It's hard at times for sure, right now it's super busy after launch, and I’m trying to keep up with all the questions while also trying to spread the word.  Honestly, one of the best things that could happen to me is if someone can’t back the project for whatever reason, they can still share it.  Boosting the signal would be the biggest favor for me.  Every once in a while imposter syndrome kicks in when I don’t get as many backers as I hope, but it’s a campaign, and it has already funded so will still reach as many people as possible.  I honestly think its absolutely awesome and it’s a really fun campaign! I don’t want that to get overshadowed by the diversity part of it.


11 The extra question. Please point us to a song you think would be a cool soundtrack for Tower of the Soul!


I was actually going to commission a soundtrack for the whole campaign but I ran out of time.
There are a couple, mainly from From Software games. The Bloodborne soundtrack goes really well with this as well as the Dark Souls 3 album. Its a fairly dark and twisted location while being something that is yours and you love and would defend with everything you have. Anything along those lines works wonderfully I feel.


Thank you Kelly for your time, and best luck with Tower of the Soul!


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Hope you liked this interview. Stay tuned for more!

Hit me on the Axian Spice Facebook pageon Twitter or even on Telegram to never miss one! Hit the comments if you want me to interview your favorite author, artist, publisher or other RPG-related person!

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Saturday, October 2, 2021

10 QUESTIONS TO, ENNIES SPECIAL: Mauro Longo & Two Little Mice

This is a special interview! Today we chat with Mauro Longo, the mind behind Brancalonia the Spaghetti Fantasy RPG, and the Two Little Mice team, who gave us Broken Compass. Why am I interviewing them together? Because they have a lot in common, such as being Italian and having won a bunch of Ennie Awards two weeks ago!




Brancalonia got the Gold Award for the Best Electronic Book category, and three more Silver Awards for Best Setting, Best Writing and Product of the Year, while Broken Compass received a Silver Ennie for Best Production Values. 






Mauro Longo is an old time friend of mine: we played RPGs together for years, and we wrote together the Savage Worlds settings Ultima Forsan and Tropicana, and the Old-School zine series Lands of Legends. He’s also worked on internationally acclaimed RPG projects such as Lex Arcana and Inferno, and is also a novelist and a Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks author.


Two Little Mice actually is three -regular sized- people: Rico Sirignano, Simone Formicola and Daniela Giubellini. Before Broken Compass, they created the fairy-themed Household RPG, which won the Italian RPG of the Year 2019 award, the Parsifal graphic novel, and the Anime e Sangue urban fantasy series (available on Amazon Prime Video). And today’s news is the TLM team has just been acquired by the board game colossus CMON!




1 Hello Mauro, Rico, Simone and Daniela! So, how does it feel to be nominated for the Ennie Awards? And then to actually win? Did you see it coming? What was your reaction? Italian RPGs had received a few nominations in the past, but this year Italy totalled five Ennies, which is a record. Do you see a trend in that? What are your plans to keep winning?



Mauro: Well, as you can imagine, it was OUTSTANDING and we don’t have plans for that :D . Of course, we submitted our game to the judges, “with our hat in our hands” like we say, hoping for 1-2 nominations. We didn’t see the four nominations coming, nor the four awards we got. We actually spent the night (3 a.m in Italy) watching the streaming together with the TLM team and our shared joy was a real thing. In one moment, we all passed from our national RPG scene to the world top level… What a night! 


There is a trend: an internal Italian trend. Starting with Ultima Forsan, then with Lex Arcana, Broken Compass, Valraven, Inferno, Lands of Legends, Not the End and similar Italian games, Italian game designers are transcending the national border and bringing our games to the rest of the world. We didn’t have the strength to arrive on the English speaking marketplace before, we have it now. And the whole thing will escalate quickly.


TLM: Being nominated for the Ennie Awards was thrilling, and winning a silver medal was way beyond our wildest expectations. This is one of the greatest awards for games, and we only stepped into the gaming sector three years ago.


In the last years Italian role-playing games are proving well received even beyond our borders, thanks to some very successful KickStarter campaigns. We hope that the recognition awarded to Broken Compass and Brancalonia will contribute to bring even more attention to our niche and help the Italian gaming industry to grow.


2 Ok, just in case someone reading this doesn’t know your games, could you please pitch them for us here in, like, 10 lines?


Mauro: Brancalonia is a “spaghetti fantasy” setting for the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s set in an unheroic, picaresque and roguish version of Medieval Italy, a world that quotes, collects, and mixes references from contemporary Italian fiction and over a hundred works of Italian fantasy tradition, pop culture, and collective imagery – like Collodi’s Pinocchio, Orlando Furioso, Calvino’s fiction, fairy tales, Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the “Spaghetti Western” films. In Brancalonia, all the player characters are knaves, members of a Free Company of mercenaries, rogues and rascals, engaged in questionable jobs across the various domains of what is left of an ancient kingdom now in ruins.



TLM: Broken Compass is a pulp adventure game inspired by the classics of the genre like Uncharted, Indiana Jones, and Tomb Raider. When playing Broken Compass you step into the role of an Adventurer, someone who braves the dangers of the world in search of a Treasure and will have to face a terrible and dangerous Rival to get it. The best things about Broken Compass are that it’s very easy to pick up, simple to learn and play, even online, and the great attention to details that gained it the Silver ENnie for Best Production Values.





3 Tell us about your specific jobs. What are your roles and your areas of expertise? How does your creative and productive process work? Your creative productions include RPGs and also novels, CYOA books, comics and live action shows. Is there an overlap, influence, contamination that seeps into how you conceive, play and create RPGs?


Mauro: I’m now the creative director of all the RPG and gamebook lines in Acheron Games. I lead a composite staff of writers, artists, developers and other contributors. I usually try to work on POP CULTURE as a whole subject, from which to extract tropes, ideas, features and quotes. This is the way I approach RPGs, even in their mood, their atmosphere. Ruleset comes later.


TLM: Two Little Mice is made up of Riccardo “Rico” Sirignano, Simone Formicola, and Daniela Giubellini. Rico and Simone are both writers and they focus on the development and writing of the games, while Daniela is the artist behind the beautiful illustrations in our books.

Before diving into the RPG scene, we produced a tv series released on Amazon Prime Video and several plays for theatre. These days we are also working on a graphic novel that should be delivered to our backers shortly. We take inspiration from many sources; Broken Compass, for example, was clearly the product of our shared passion for both movies and travel.


4 Both Brancalonia and Broken Compass were launched on Kickstarter, with very successful campaigns. The perfect example of how crowdfunding was supposed to work: small publishers gathering funds for large projects.

Through the years, though, it has become more and more important even for the “big players” in the RPG industry.

Do you consider that unfair? Or is the presence of big publishers beneficial to the small ones? Do you see that changing anytime soon? How would YOU like things to change?

What’s your overall experience with Kickstarter campaigns?


Mauro: Kickstarter is a tool publishers can use for their projects, and in this way it’s neutral. For us in Acheron, an international crowdfunding portal is the way we can directly reach an audience worldwide: players living in the USA, UK, Australia and so on. The point is not the money, the fundraising, but the visibility our games can have, and the direct connection between creators and players. 


It can’t be unfair, if everything is used in transparency. I like this system, I adapted very well, and I will use it again, when needed.


TLM: Many of our projects over the years have been founded with the help of Kickstarter and we are very grateful to have such a platform. When big players also use this platform, they help introduce it to a greater public, which then has a chance to discover the smaller companies there. In our opinion, and as proved by our experience, this coexistence doesn’t work against indie companies. It’s not unfair for larger companies to use this platform, so long as they do it responsibly. But this goes for everyone, big or small.


In future, we’d love for both creators and backers to come closer to the philosophy behind crowdfunding campaigns, both explaining clearly and accepting the risks they involve, and striving for a better communication on all sides.


5 Italian style. Is there any such thing in RPGs? How “Italian” are your Brancalonia and Broken Compass? Rules, setting, concept, approach, anything you think may apply. Has it been a key element for success?


Mauro: Acheron IS a producer of Italian-style concepts, IPs, games and fiction. It’s our mission: “Made in Italy, shared worldwide”. We are expressly devoted to Italian-ish settings, novels, lore, pop culture and so on. Of course we also like stories and settings with completely different flavor, BUT we use “Italian stuff” as a distinctive trait, to introduce ourselves and to be distinguished from other publishers.

In our case, it definitely has been a key element for success.


TLM: Italian style is famous all over the world in many sectors, from design, to fashion, and for many other artistic products. We like to trace our love and attention to details back to our traditions, our history, and the many beautiful things our Country has to offer, and we hope to keep sharing our love for peculiar things with others. It would be hard to say if there is such a thing as an “Italian Style RPG”, but the cultural wealth that surrounds us is a great inspiration for our imagination, and there’s no doubt it played a role in the creation of our products. In many ways, Broken Compass is NOT an Italian game, but we believe that our novel approach to a genre so dominated by the American perspective played a role in our success.


6 Inclusion and representation of minorities in RPGs are a hot topic. How do you address that? 


Mauro: We try the best we can. Our saying, for Brancalonia, is that we are “social justice knaves”, and everything in the setting is planned to be "cosmopolitical", inclusive and respectful, even if in an ironical way. Our most frequent trick is: take a stereotype and then subvert it. This way you get to use the tropes that you want to, but you can create more than that, representing a lot of differences. 


TLM: When designing Broken Compass, we came to realize that the genre that inspired us (let’s call it “archaeological adventure”) historically hasn’t been the most inclusive or respectful in the representation of other genders and cultures. Our objective was to bring the genre into the present, adapting it to a modern society and leaving its problematic traits in the past. Representation and diversity have always been a cardinal element of our creative ideals, and we often had to go against the reference material and find different ways to stay true to them.


We are proud of having created Broken Compass as a game with people of many genders and nationalities, and proud of our fans and backers who appreciated and supported our choices.


7 Let’s see how good you really are as role players. Now you are Hollywood screenwriters and must write a short email to convince Mr. Warner Bros to produce a movie or tv show based on your games. Go!


Mauro: Brancalonia is “fantasy with no money for CGI”. Think Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach with blades instead of guns and that’s it. What could possibly go wrong? 


TLM: With the fifth Indiana Jones in the works, Jungle Cruise in theaters, and a movie based on Uncharted that’s already going through post-production, we think Hollywood knows already that the archaeological adventure genre is ready for a revival. It would be hard to come up with anything that could rival such colossal productions!


8 Licensed games. If you could buy any franchise/IP for an RPG, which would it be? Tell us about the franchise and the game you’d make.


Mauro: I’d go with some Italian crime story, but with an ironic mood in it. Inspector Coliandro would be a great game.


TLM: Without leaving Italy, it would be great to work with the great people at Bonelli. We think coming up with an investigative rpg that lets players become “Nightmare Investigators” like Dylan Dog would be a fun and interesting project.


9 I’m sure the four of you already have at least ten other ideas for new RPG products that you might be publishing in the future! Am I right? Can you share what’s on the design table? 


Mauro: Brancalonia and Inferno will go on for a while with extended lines. A new idea for the future could be “Fascists from Yuggoth”, a pulp-weird adventure game in a fascist empire that never fell, thanks to some crazy alien lovecraftian tech. In the game, you will be part of the international antifascist brigades and fighting against this evil Italian tyranny, their legionaries and their mad scientists, up and down the Mediterranean Sea.


TLM: We think we’ll stay at the House for a while and, as already announced, work on the second edition of our very first role-playing game: Household. There are more surprises ahead, but nothing we can tell you yet.


10 My regular final question: please point us to a song you think we should listen to, game related or otherwise.


Mauro: We spoke about Italian stuff, so my suggestion is a piece by Ennio Morricone from “My name is nobody” OST: “Il Mucchio Selvaggio”. It’s a not-so-known spaghetti western music I really love very much.  Again: so Italian!


TLM: Ok, we’ll give you three, one each.


Rico: The beast of pirate bay (Aurelio Voltaire) 


Simone: Aerials (SOAD)


Daniela: Weapon of Choice (Fatboy Slim)


Thank you Mauro, Rico, Simone and Daniela! Bye!!


Mauro: Ciao Giuseppe!


TLM: Thank you Giuseppe, ciao!


Ciao!


This ends the interview with Mauro and the Two Little Mice.

If the interview made you curious, go check out Brancalonia and Broken Compass!

And stay tuned for more interviews!

Hit me on the Axian Spice Facebook pageon Twitter or even on Telegram to never miss one! Hit the comments if you want me to interview your favorite author, artist, publisher or other RPG-related person!

If you want to support this blog, check my OSR and Savage Worlds stuff, or simply shop on DriveTrhuRPG (affiliate link).

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