Sunday, March 6, 2011

Rhune: Dawn of Twilight

Toad welcomes Jason Sonia to her corner today. While the focus of this blog has been on genre fiction, thus far, role-playing games are often popular with readers of genre fiction. Jason's achievement has been the release of his own setting, Rhune: Dawn of Twilight, which offers gamers his vision of a Stormpunk setting. Even better, the primer is available as a free download.

Which role-playing games got you started, and what do you gain from the activity?

I discovered role-playing games (RPGs) through comic books in my early teens, so naturally I was exposed to a lot of material by TSR. The first game I remember playing was a game called Marvel Superheroes. As a fan of the X-Men, I easily absorbed the material and the concept of being a hero. At the time, I was really into Wolverine and I wanted to build a variation of his character so I could join the X-Men. The desire to fight Sentinals and stop dark, government conspiracies appealed greatly to me. Unfortunately, at the time, only one of my friends really liked the game. So, we took turns running each other through battles and that was the extent of my experience as a superhero. Later that summer, another friend suggested we try Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (2nd Edition). We put a small group together and the rest was history. I was hooked.

Unlike comics, RPGs allowed me an opportunity to really explore character concepts that I resonated with. I wasn't a passive participant. I could really get in there and get my hands dirty. As a young teen, this was a wonderful way to explore a number of concepts that a great deal of my peers weren't forced to deal with. There were moral dilemmas, social issues, and a number of themes that demanded I look beyond the surface and try to figure out what was going on - at its heart, the spirit of creativity and investigation snagged me. Moreover, it was something that really excited me with its endless potential. It was a never-ending novel in which I was one of the key stars. It definitely appealed to my ego!

Today, RPGs continue to serve as an outlet of exploration. However, as an adult, it's a much more relaxed journey. Most of the gamers I know enjoy blowing off steam with some dice and a chance to beat down the bad guys (which, sadly, doesn't happen that often in reality). I tend to run a lot of games, so I find a definite enjoyment in telling stories. I especially like when the characters in those stories have complex (dare I say devious) reasons for adventuring. I find RPGs both emotionally and intellectually satisfying - much in the same way a great film draws you away - except they require you to be active. They require you to be involved. There's a certain interconnectedness about an RPG group that you don't see everyday. That, and gamers have a quirky, weird sense of humor. I like that, too.
Tell me more about Pathfinder.

The Pathfinder Roleplaying Game is an elegant revision of the 3.5 edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game. When Wizards of the Coast (WoTC) announced in fall of 2007 that they were going to release the 4th edition of Dungeons and Dragons, a huge cross section of the 3.5 community started to look for other alternatives. Luckily, the people over at Paizo Publishing, LLC (who had developed both Dungeon Magazine and Dragon Magazine under license for WoTC) had taken steps to develop their own version of the game and Pathfinder was born. I'm sure there's a lot more to it, but they'd really have to step up and speak. I'm not the man for the job (yet).

People interested should definitely check them out, though. should get you there.
Where does Rhune originate? What is Stormpunk?
Rhune: Dawn of Twilight was born in the spring of 2006 in a little coffee shop called Aghora in Houston, Texas. Having evacuated from New Orleans, La for Hurricane Katrina, I was one of many New Houstonians trying to make sense of what I was doing and where I was going. I spent a lot of time reading, doodling, and talking with my friend Tom about what made heroes really potent figures. Naturally, we spoke at length about Joseph Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, the Star Wars movies, and everything Tolkien. It was long before we started to look a little deeper and I started to study Norse myth (which, ironically, I had never had much of a connection with - I tend to favor Mediterranean myth). I started to read more about Ragnarök, Heimdallr, and Odin's Sacrifice.

At the same time, I was starting to submit material to Dungeon and Dragon magazines. I wasn't having much luck and when I voiced this, Tom simply asked me, "If you have these strong ideas about a particular setting, why not write them down and create it yourself." At the time, I scoffed at the immensity of the work and shrugged my shoulders. I simply didn't have the time or resources.

Years later, after I moved to Kuwait for work, I found I had both. So, I wrote Rhune: Dawn of Twilight.
Was it difficult creating your world?
Building the outline wasn't hard. I've been gaming for over 17 years and I know what sort of material makes it into splat books. I know you need to build enough to keep people engaged, but open enough so that anyone can tell their particular story in that setting. Designing a world means details, but only to a point. I kept this in mind when I was building the outline. Once I had what I felt was a strong starting point, I just moved forward.

Then I wrote, designed, revised, wrote, revised, wrote, and wrote some more. Luckily for me, I had a lot of practice with Wolfgang Baur's Open Design ( ).

After a while, I started looking for artists (and this is where things got expensive). I discovered I had to communicate with them on a much different level, but once I achieved that, the product really started to come together. All in all, I think I built Rhune: Dawn of Twilight in about 8 months. Obviously, I've been holding it close to my heart a lot longer than that, but that's really what it took in terms of production. I know that since Rhune: Dawn of Twilight released at Gen Con, we've had to make several small revisions, Currently, though, I think it's a strong product that really syncs with the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game system.

Stormpunk is a term I coined to describe what happens when you merge traditional steampunk with Norse myth, Ragnarök, and planar travel. At its heart, Rhune has a wild-eyed, cold as hell, kind of feel to it. It has technology, but it also has the gritty issues the come along with industrialization. It's supposed to leave the player feeling a little small and a little dirty.

What does Rhune offer players?
I'm a big fan of the old material that White Wolf put out in the 1990s. I lovedVampire: The Masquarade, Mage: The Ascension, and the whole World of Darkness. What I think made that venue so successful wasn't necessarily its ties to the supernatural (although I'd be a fool to ignore those elements), but it's clear and concise adaptation of character archetypes in its various games. You had personas that were believable - and therefor easily playable - because they were based from a reality we saw daily. I loved that idea (and it's not new - Joseph Campbell and Carl G Jung both covered the concepts) and wanted to take it further. So, I focused on letting ideas become driving forces for the people of Rhune: Dawn of Twilight. I looked at racial boundaries, national boundaries, and what sorts of groups would drive what sorts of ideas. I wanted it to mirror reality a little, too. So, I gave people less concrete to stand on and forced different groups to try and explain Ragnarök in their own ways. Alongside the rampant spread of industrialization, this got interesting...

I believe Rhune: Dawn of Twilight offers players an opportunity to play characters that step outside of the traditional fantasy genre by giving them a world that isn't much different then their own, at least socially. The people of Midgard face a complex problem (Ragnarök - effectively the end of the world) and everyone has a different idea about what should be done. Some want to stop it. Some believe its divine justice. Some believe its just another conflict to be won. Some people are rushing towards it. Some people think it's a big lie. Some people simply don't care.

If you were to be a character from Rhune, what would you be?
I think I'd play a witch. They have a connection to something alien that most people in Rhune: Dawn of Twilight simply don't get. They're not necessarily good OR bad, but they are definitely different. They definitely scare people. After that, I'd have to switch gears and play a dwarves cleric - for much the same reasons I'd play a witch. They're a concrete class that has little room for doubt. They know (or so they think) the gods, their Will, and what must happen at Ragnarök. I think that sort of blind devotion would be a blast. To never question? To never doubt? Yeah,I think I could ham that up a little.

Where can people find Rhune?

People interested in Rhune: Dawn of Twilight can download the primer from Rhune's website:

There's also maps and adventure suggestions. The best part? It's all free.

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