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!
This ends the interview with Mauro and the Two Little Mice.
And stay tuned for more interviews!
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