Roderic Waibel is the mind behind Chromatic Dungeons - Old School Fantasy RPG Rules, currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
This time, with Chromatic Dungeons, he is offering an old school ruleset which is largely compatible with the earlier editions of D&D.
But who is Roderic? Rod is a nice guy from Portland, Oregon. When he’s not busy with RPGs, he’s a father and also a system analyst!
1 Hello Roderic. First of all, tell us about Chromatic Dungeons, as if you were trying to explain it to my aunt!
Well, Chromatic Dungeons is a tabletop role-playing game. I’m going to really simplify down what that is, because I don’t want to insult your audience by going on and on with something they may already know. In a nutshell, all players but one take on the role of a persona they want to play in the game: warrior, wizard, etc. The other player controls all of the other creatures the players run into in the game (the Game Master). Basically, a giant game of pretend. With dice and unknown outcomes. And lots of fun. What makes Chromatic Dungeons different is that it replicates that old school feel when the game first took off in the 70s and 80s, but applies some lessons learned rules-wise, and is presented to be welcoming and inclusive of all gamers. Back then, it was catered to white young males. As one myself, it was right up my alley. But looking back, and looking at how things are today, the game wasn’t presented all that well for those who weren’t white young males. Not a dig on the original creators, as it was a product of its time. But I believe that there is room in the modern era to also enjoy an old school game, and to have it representative of who are gamers today.
2 Tell us more about the contributors to Chromatic Dungeons, who designed that stylish character sheet, and why you’re not doing any art for the game??
Well, I did the design of the character sheet lol, so there’s your art from me. Actually, there are a few other pieces of art by me, but I kept myself off the artist’s credit list because it’s not about celebrating me, it’s about celebrating them. I am exceptionally lucky to have had some excellent contributors to this. Evlyn Moreau was my primary sensitivity reader, but I also reached out and had consultation from Teo Morgan (Dungeons&Diversity), Luca Alexander Volpino, and Jennifer Kretchmer (who created a great adventure in the recently released Candlekeep book from WoTC). For artists, I hired people from literally around the world: Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Uganda, the US, Britain, Poland, etc. Cultural appropriation is a big deal for me to avoid, and I found hiring diverse artists from all over helps prevent that.
There is a really good chance of that :) The basic set is already done, and there just might be a pdf release of it for free during the campaign….
4 I’d really like to know, rules-wise, which edition of D&D is the closest to Chromatic Dungeons, and what changes in the rules differentiate it from a faithful retroclone.
The game is sort of a mix-match of what I feel are the best elements of Basic/Expert, 1e, and 2e. For example, alignment is simplified, and more along the rules of B/X. Speaking of, one of the big changes is that no mundane intelligent humanoid has a default alignment, like orcs, goblins, etc. That’s up to the individual game table. Classes are structured like 2e, with them belonging to class groups. Fighters, berserkers, paladins, and rangers all belong to the Warrior group for example. But the aesthetic is very much 1e. The goal is to be compatible with those older adventures with the least amount of conversion, so there are many similarities.
Other big changes include using an ascending AC rather than THAC0 or attack tables, and giving each class something at every level--a class feature. Races are now called Ancesteries, and rather than stat bonuses based on ancestry, you get them based on class choice. Introduced are heritages. Rather than get a long list of traits from ancestries like in AD&D, you get some, but most are based on your heritage choices. A character with a fey heritage would get resistance to sleep and charm magic, for example. There are many, many heritages to choose from :)
5 Your project is the perfect example of what crowdfunding was originally designed for. 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?
I don’t consider it unfair. Really, if the big players are using KS, they are doing themselves a disfavor, as KS takes a big cut. Ideally with a good business model, they shouldn’t have to use KS but could use their existing customer base.
The only thing I’d like to change is the reliability and refund options. In our industry in particular, there are way too many creators who created a project, took the money, and never delivered. I’d create a rule that if you haven’t fulfilled a past project, you aren’t allowed to create another. It’s a sore spot for me. It’s also why I made sure I created this project to completion before launching. The work is done. You will get what you back (assuming project funds).
5 You’re a white male living in the US, who started gaming in the 80s, launching a game that aims at being welcoming to all gamers of every demographic to better represent just how diverse our hobby has become. I’m sure you must have pondered this a lot, what convinced you to take this step?
I was expecting this question to be the first, and am honestly surprised more people haven’t asked me. It’s a totally fair question. I’m part of the privileged group, so why am I doing this?
I certainly do not in any way am trying to speak for any marginalized group, and I want to put that out there straight away. First a bit of background. I served in the military when I was younger, and all of us who did so swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the US. That’s important, because that document has many amendments, not just the 2nd. To be frank, several of those (the 4th, 5th, 8th, 14th, and 15th in particular) have been violated, particularly if you’re a person of color in this country or other minority. Fairness and equality are important to me, or I wouldn’t have sworn to uphold them.
Then I’ve also got a mixed race family. Seeing my oldest son grow up through his eyes as a black man in the US was, pardon the pun, eye opening indeed. And then I’ve also got many close friends and other family members who are part of the LGBTQ community, and my heart hurts from all the things they suffer every day.
But it all comes down to being fair and equal to everyone. So when I keep hearing folks who proclaim to speak for the OSR (old school revival) community repeat toxic, bigoted, and exclusionary statements about a game I love, I’m not going to take it lying down. The OSR is for everyone. They don’t speak for me. I’m not going to let them take down and destroy something I think is great.
And then there’s the whole garbage fire over the past two weeks with the new TSR, Ernie Gygax Jr, Justin LaNassa, and crew. The timing of this project was a coincidence with that, but it just reaffirms it’s needed.
6 Inclusion and representation of minorities in RPGs have become a hot topic, recently. How does Chromatic Dungeons address that within the game?
The most obvious is to look at the art. It’s very diverse, done by diverse artists. And as I mentioned earlier, if the art represents a certain culture, an artist from that culture did the work. Additionally, one of the recurring NPCs in the book is Faridah. They are in the character creation section, and appear later on as well. Faridah is a trans woman who identifies with they/them. So to be respectful, I ensured I had a trans woman do the art for them. Now, you might not ever know that by reading the book, because I am not taking an approach of “Look at me! I’m a gay or trans character!” Rather I’m simply including them like anyone else. Gender and sexuality aren’t mentioned unless that aspect is important to the game or story. We don’t have to (and in my opinion shouldn’t) include underrepresented minorities and then put a giant flag that says “Look at me! I’m a minority!” We simply just need to treat everyone the same, and include everyone. I want this book to be one where anyone can pick it up regardless of age, body type, gender, orientation, ethnicity, etc and see someone that can represent them.
7 Tell us more about the stretch goals of Chromatic Dungeons!
The first stretch goal is the basic set. VERY streamlined ruleset, even more basic than the B/X D&D version. It’s meant to be a quick start into rpgs. If it gets unlocked, the pdf will automatically be a free download to everyone, regardless of backer level.
The other stretch goals are the zines. Each one is about 24-28 pages, and has a central theme: either a highlight for a monster, or a new class. For example, the first issue is about the Mrav Covjeka (and ant-human hybrid). There is an ecology section for them, stat blocks, a small adventure, and then some goodies like a comic humor section, new magic items, and NPCs you can put in your campaign.
8 Let’s talk about you as a family man. Already started playing RPGs with the young ones? What are your thoughts about RPGs with younger players?
LOVE IT! The great thing about kids is that they don’t have preconceived notions about how to play. They let their imagination run wild. It’s great. Just two days ago, I was reading one of those old Endless Quest D&D books (Dungeon of Dread) to a six year old. You know the choose your own adventure format? Where you read and then get a couple choices? Well, before we even got to the choices part, as I’m describing that there’s this giant ogre in the room but hasn’t noticed him yet, he interrupts me and says, “I take my rope out of my backpack and set up a booby trap!” It was great. Kids naturally fall into that role-playing mode.
9 “KS days are crazy days”. How are you coping?
I’m glad I have a great day job lol. Right now 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’d hope, but it’s a campaign, and gotta stick with it. I honestly think I’m doing the right thing. And it’s a fun game! I don’t want that to get overshadowed by the diversity part of it.
10 Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.
O Fortuna, Carmina Burana. To get you in the mood for fantasy lol. Outside of that? A good song to get what I’m trying to do, and also from the 80s (same era as the game I’m replicating)? That’s Just the Way it is, by Bruce Hornsby, or Another Day In Paradise by Phil Collins. Great songs. And sadly relevant.
Thank you Roderic for your time, and best luck with Chromatic Dungeons!
Thank you so much for allowing me the opportunity.