Thursday, January 27, 2022

10 QUESTIONS TO: Andrea Sfiligoi

Andrea Sfiligoi is a man of many talents: designer of miniature games, RPGs and solo games; fiction writer, illustrator, translator, and also publisher, with his Ganesha Games brand, of his games as well as other authors’.

One feature I love of his miniatures games is that they are generally simple and accessible, and can be played with any minis you have around.

His games include the acclaimed Songs of Blades and Heroes skirmish/war game, the astoundingly successful Four Against Darkness game line, and also my favorite skirmish game Battlesworn.

He’s also recently tried his hand at children's books with the recently published What To Do When Mr. Blue comes to Town, which he created together with his wife Anna.

But who is Andrea? I’ve known Andrea personally for about 10 years now, as we’ve met in several gaming cons in Italy, and I’ve known him as a designer since the ‘90s, when I was a teenager reading gaming magazines, and he was just starting his career as a game designer writing gaming articles and adventures on those magazines.

He is a gentle man, and a vegetarian and cat lover; a gaming enthusiast in the broadest sense of the word, always happy to share ideas, collaborate, or just discuss gaming.

He moved to Kharkiv, Ukraine a couple years ago, and he got married last summer!

Ok, so let's start with the questions!

1 Hello Andrea. Let’s talk about your work as a designer and publisher. How did you start? What was the first game you released? Have you ever tried working for other publishers, or has self-publishing always been your only preference?

My first self-pub game was Song of Blades and Heroes in 2007, which actually was designed as a short filler between games of DBA. But many years before that, I wrote and illustrated a supplement about demons called Inferno for the French rpg Simulacres, which was published in Italy by Nexus, and I wrote several articles for GURPS on Steve Jackson Games’ Roleplayer and Pyramid Magazine.

After my first few games were successful, I was contacted by Osprey and wrote three titles for them: “Of Gods and Mortals”, “A Fistful of Kung Fu” (which got nominated at Origins) and “Rogue Stars”.

2 We can say Song of Blades and Heroes is your biggest hit among your miniatures games, with dozens of supplements derived rulesets. Why do you think it has been so successful? 

I guess it was the first miniature-agnostic system that became very popular because it was published at the right moment, and because it tried to solve the many little obstacles that people have when playing miniature games.

What have you learnt about design since its release?

I think I didn’t really learn anything major – I fly by the seat of my pants and just use my intuition. I just try to design games that I would like to play. I am lucky that there are many gamers with exactly the same taste.

 And what about publishing?

Oh I learnt about formats, distribution, and how to save money. The most likely mistake that a new publisher can make is to spend too much money. This business is small and you need to watch your dollars.

 (Bonus question: How many miniatures have you got?)

Painted? I think about 5000. Unpainted: better not ask.

3 You told me Four Against Darkness is, by far, your best selling game, with several thousand copies sold, lots of expansions and spin-offs, and a bunch of localizations. What has been the key to such a glaring success, in your opinion?

It’s a solo game that puts together some of my favorite games: the simplicity of Tunnels & Trolls, the collectability of Fighting Fantasy, and a simplified version of the Red Box.

4 What’s your advice for aspiring or beginning designers and self-publishers?

Read and play what has been done before!

5 Kickstarter, and crowdfunding in general, has become more and more important for tabletop games. What has your experience been with the crowdfunding campaigns you ran in the past?

We used crowdfunding when we needed to produce expensive stuff like miniatures, but probably I am not going to use the platform anymore. It’s too crowded, too easy to make financial mistakes, and, for books, I really don’t need it. I just write, illustrate and publish.

6 Do you see the whole crowdfunding scene changing anytime soon? How would YOU like things to change? 

I don’t have any special ideas about crowdfunding. I continue to support original, grassroots ideas as a backer, and I hope this will continue. I would like a new platform that worked together with paypal and filtered out big companies, but I understand this is not going to happen because money talks…

7 I know you are always working on more and more games. What can you tell us about your future gaming releases?

4AD will be released in many different languages, thanks to the excellent work of MS Edizioni in Italy that acts as my agent for international rights. This takes a bit of my time. 2022 will see both new releases and new editions of old titles. For sure there will be a new revised “all in one book” edition of Song of Blades and Heroes, and we have no less than 25 books for 4AD in the pipeline.

8 As your online shop shows, you are very open to collaborations. Should anyone reading this interview be interested in working with you on any of your games, what should they do? Are you currently interested in content writers, illustrators, designers, playtesters?

Playtesters always. Illustrators no (I do art myself to keep the costs down). We have so many games in different stages of production that any proposal will have to wait for a long time, but we do accept new writers now and then. The best thing is to study what we do and send me a short synopsis (DO NOT WRITE THE WHOLE THING!) and email it at .

9 “What To Do When Mr. Blue comes to Town” is a completely new type of thing for you. How have you come to this? Are you planning more children books?

I studied children’s illustration and book production and I have been somewhat active in this area, occasionally painting illustrations for other writers. My wife has plenty of fresh ideas and is learning illustration so we just decided to try something together. She writes a story, I edit it, she paints some illustrations in gouache that later I refine digitally, then I do layout and we send the whole thing to an external editor. We want to produce a catalog of about 10 picture books and a game-book for children and see how they sell. We want to diversify and try different niches.

10 How do you see the future of miniature games and rpgs, let’s say in 10, or 20 years?

If I knew I would write games for the future :-) I think the current trends will continue, and 3d printing will be a powerful factor that should be considered even in rules design. For example, I think of games allowing players to print their own equipment upgrades to their figures.

11 I know, they were supposed to be 10, but I have one more question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.

I like songs that tell a story. For people who love cats, “In Dreams of Mine” by Faith and the Muse is just perfect

Thank you Andrea! Hope to see you again soon at some gaming con!

Friday, January 21, 2022

Primeval Wasteland Areas for OSR Games

 New weekend, new table from Lands of Legends!

Winter has become really cold here, and I hate the cold, so I chose to go with some frozen (or otherwise horrid) wastelands!

Here's a d10 table with ten primeval-themed wasteland areas for your OSR sandbox campaign with simple stat references for your classic game of choice, wether it is Old-School Essentials, Labyrinth Lord, Sword & Wizardry, or any other clone of OE, B/X, or BECMI Dungeons and Dragons.

Use them to spice up your sandbox!

These are straight from the Areas section of Lands of Legends Primeval. Check it out for hundreds more!

So here's the table:

Wastelands - Primeval Areas

  1. Death by Water. Dragged by the currents underneath, huge icebergs move through this ice pack, cracking and splitting it. The cracks can suck explorers into the icy waters (Save vs Death or d6 cold damage per round).
  2. Smoke on the Water. This desolate plain is crossed by slow streams and pools of lava that spring from underground. The snow that constantly falls instantly becomes puddles of snow and ash and a mist of hot, toxic vapors. Traveling here is extremely difficult, as new lava pools and springs often appear without notice, and the only creatures explorers may meet are wild elemental creatures of fire, earth, and ice. 
  3. Razor Rocks. This barren land is made only of sharp black rocks of all sizes, from tiny to colossal: movement is very difficult and it is impossible to lie down or sit comfortably. Advancing is like climbing (STR check every day), even if explorers cannot fall but just slow down. Sleep is always uncomfortable and does not allow to rest fully unless specific equipment is employed. There are no animals, plants or water around.
  4. Freeze Wood. The trees of this land magically absorb the power of the cold. There are enough trees and fallen branches to light a fire, but its bluish flame emits cold instead of heat, freezes food instead of cooking it and causes cold damage in case of contact.
  5. Purple Blur. This region is barely illuminated by an eternal twilight: a purple aurora shines in the sky, the trees lean in all directions and all devices and magnetic compasses do not work. Because of the bizarre anomalies of this place, normal vision and darkvision are blurred and greatly reduced, and all spells of divination, enchantment and illusion, as well as those related to light or electricity, don’t work and the others have a 50% chance of failure.
  6. The Wurm. Buried in the depths of the world, between the sea and the earth, the Great Wurm lies under this iced land. It is the worm of the world, a primordial creature of frost, destruction and power who once caused an ice age. Its magnitude is unimaginable and only the gods can confront it. Little of what mortals can do can awaken it, but if someone casts a spell of level 5 or higher or uses powerful artifacts in this region, it might writhe in its sleep (50% chance), causing sudden ice storms and earthquakes that can create crevices and avalanches.
  7. Heart of Ice. This land hosts a primordial crystal whose roots sink into the center of the world: it is a fulcrum of the magnetic, telluric and magic energies. The frozen wind that blows through the land carries its influence: explorers must Save vs Paralysis or their muscles and tendons will stiffen and ache (-2 to most action, movement halved). Those under this effect must Save again every day vs Spell or fall prey to bleak despair (further -1 to most actions and rolls, cumulative for each failed roll). After failing this save for a number of times equal to the character’s level , each new day requires a new Save vs Paralysis to avoid becoming a block of ice from within (and die). The iced figures of other explorers are the only warning of this danger! The only way to get rid of the first two effects is to leave the region. 
  8. Bocochos. Huge, flightless birds roam this tundra. They are also known as Brontorniteri, or Fastclaws. They love beef jerky and tubers and can be easily tamed and employed as fast mounts, but their health will suffer from leaving their cold home region, and they’ll require special care to keep them fit and lively.
  9. Ifirnia, the One Year City. Every year, at the end of summer, the nomadic people of this ice-kingdom choose the new place for their city and build it with ice-blocks. In the time of a moon the new town is finished, with a frozen circular wall to protect it and an ice tower standing over the other buildings (stores, temples, theaters and arenas). The ice princess dwells in the tower and the city comes to life with courtiers, shamans, skalds and traders until the next summer.
  10. Wendigo Wastes. This desolate region is haunted by the Spirit of Cold and Loneliness. Every time the sun is covered by the clouds, there is a 10% chance of hearing the fearsome cry of the Wendigo: those who hear it must Save vs Spell or run screaming in terror in a random direction, dropping every burden they might be carrying, and they must keep running until they pass the Save (check again after 10 minutes). The cry of the Wendigo is always heralded by a cold, violent gust of north wind. The nomadic tribes that inhabit this land are immune to the howl, and worship the Wendigo as their god.

If you enjoy this type of content, check my upcoming Kickstarter: Axian Library!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Want Cthulhu? Stay Away from Cthulhu

A couple days ago a friend of mine recalled a conversation we had in the '10s or something, about how, if you want to run a game of lovecraftian horror, you should stay away from Lovecraft.

The idea is not original, and probably came from some blog that we read at the time. Let me expand on that.

Running a horror campaign (whatever ruleset you use) with Deep Ones, Mi-Go, Shoggoths, and the other canonical creatures and gods of the Cthulhu Mythos, is not going to make your players experience lovecraftian horror at all. All those entities have become pop culture icons, so widely known and, in the nerdsphere collective imagination, they are domesticated to the point of becoming the subjects for plushies, funkopops, cool t-shirts, mugs, political satire ("Vote Cthulhu"), board games and comical stories.

They are, quite literally, a comfort zone, which is quite literally the opposite of lovecraftian horror. 

If you achieve to have your players experience even just a bit of lovecraftian horror with such set pieces, you probably are a great GM running a great scenario.

The point is, the canonical pieces of the Cthulhu Mythos can't surprise. Cosmic dread, madness, and the horror of the unknowable and incomprehensible is gone.

The only way to truly make an attempt is to create your own Mythos. Your unique creatures, entities, gods, and books. Or even better, no creatures, gods and books at all. Go for unprecedented, or at least less abused, categories. One of the points of lovecraftian horror should be: facing something that can't be fully understood, and being able to categorize it is a big step towards understanding... The other points should be: something that threatens you, and that the more you understand it, the more it questions your understanding of reality itself.

I know, it sounds daunting! Even if what you come up with is a half-botched attempt, it still has much better chances of disturbing your players' imagination a little bit.

And potentially, there's more. If you propose your group to play Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Tiny Cthulhu, The Cthulhu Hack, Realms of Cthulhu, Cthulhu in Space, Cyber-Cthulhu (and the list could go on and on AND ON), well, you've already lost them. You are already telling them "We are going to play a game with the cliche of cosmic dread, madness, and the horror of the unknowable and incomprehensible, so play along".

And they might. I mean it will be a game of lovecraftian horror, except the horror.

What to do in order to pull it? In theory, the best way would be to let that horror seep into something else, just like it crawled into the lives of Lovecraft's protagonists without a warning. Let those themes (and your own cosmic Mythos) creep into another game. In theory, the further away the starting setting is from lovecraftian horror, the more impactful it becomes.

That's what they did with True Detective season 1 or, to a lesser degree, with Archive 81,  or Annihilation.

But is that ok, ultimately, with RPGs? There is a final, and not trivial, conundrum.

In my opinion, players should not be sold an epic fantasy campaign, only to see it slowly become a horror campaign. Not fair at all. They signed in for A, not for B. They might hate it, and lose trust in you as a GM. The campaign might feature themes and topics some people don't want to see in a game: body horror, mental illness, religions, you name it. Not fair at all to have those things dropped on players who expected to play college drama, space opera, western action, or whatever.

So what? Probably, the best way is to inject lovecraftian horror into games that already are supposed to be horror, but belong into very different horror niches. Zombie apocalypse games. Vampires. Gothic horror. Heck, even most Sword & Sorcery rpgs might do. You'll avoid pulling a very bad trick to your players, but may still have a chance to go lovecraftian. An Apocalypse World game starting with zombies and slowly turning cosmic horror sounds like a great campaign to me.

So am I saying all those Cthulhu-branded games are worthless?

Naaa. They are fine, good games in their own way. Just know that horror, the way Lovecraft tried to convey it, will hardly be part of your campaign. You're still in for a lot of fun, with so many great adventures and campaigns available.

I'm absolutely in favor of playing within one's comfort zone. I even enjoy vanilla fantasy and will probably write a post about its merits soon!

I think most of the times gamers just want to have fun, not to experience negative emotions such as actual fear, inquietude, uneasiness, doubt. Let alone questioning their understanding of life! Sometimes it's fun to just blast your shotgun into a Deep One's face, and send the inhuman temple into orbit via dynamite... or end up squished to bits or locked at the asylum for trying.

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