I’ve interviewed Ed Jowett of Shades of Vengeance four times before, each one about one of his games – Era: Balam, Era: The Consortium, and Era: The Empowered on the Tessera Guild as well as Battlecruiser Alamo RPG (Powered by Era d10) on the Open Gaming Network, so it only makes sense to talk to Ed about his latest RPG on Kickstarter, Era: The Chosen. As you can see from the title of games, they are rooted in the same system, yet cover a lot of ground because Ed is one of the hardest working folks in RPG.
That said, Ed will challenge you (in a good way) at, and away from, the gaming table. When I sent him the questions for this interview, I had a note that said I’d write the introduction to the article later. I get the answers back and Ed’s one-upped me by telling the world I explained the game in an “excellent introduction.” Now I have to figure out what Era: The Chosen is?! The horror!!! 😛 So…
Era: The Chosen is a horror tabletop RPG that pits humanity against an inhuman enemy that has the upper hand in every situation. For the Chosen that can perceive these monsters, the stakes are all or nothing. It’s not about survival, it’s win or our dimension is doomed.
[So, how’d I do, Ed?]
EGG EMBRY – Ed, over the years we’ve talked a good deal and always about your Era d10 games. Before we get into the latest one, let’s catch everyone up. What are the Era games, and how are they related, and not related?
ED JOWETT – Firstly, for anyone who hasn’t seen one of these interviews before, welcome! It is always a pleasure to talk about the games I create and I hope you find this interesting!
The Era games fall into two distinct categories: ones with “Era” in the title and ones “Powered by Era d10“. The latter sort (such as Battlecruiser Alamo!) are not settings created by me, but games made in other universes which other people created and then worked with me to bring to life through the Era d10 Rule Set. As a result, they are not linked to any of the other games in terms of story – the Triplanetary Confederation Universe (Battlecruiser Alamo RPG), for example, is linked to a series of novels by Richard Tongue. I took the feel of his universe and created mechanics which supported that style of gameplay to make this game, and worked with him to write the setting material.
The settings which have “Era” in the name (there are 8 so far – Era: The Consortium, Era: Lyres, Era: The Empowered, Era: Survival, Era: Silence, Era: Hitman, Era: Balam and now Era: The Chosen) are a slightly different story. These settings were created by me and have a common thread which connects them, if you look relatively carefully. I have not publicly revealed yet what it is, but I am certain some people have picked up on it from various hints I have dropped over the years in Kickstarter updates, panels and interviews.
Era: The Chosen, actually, builds on this quite heavily, and is the biggest clue I have given to how these settings link up since Era: Survival.
Ignoring the links, each game explores a genre thoroughly:
Era: The Consortium offers the chance to play any sub-genre of Sci-Fi you can think of with its 500 years of playable history – you just jump into the time period which suits the style of your game and then, when that story is complete, you choose the next one and have the chance to play ancestors or descendents of previous characters as well as brand new ones!
Era: Lyres offers players the chance to tell literally any story they want in the low-fantasy setting it offers. The GM plays as an audience who will assess their story while they attempt to earn the gold and glory due to adventurers. But, as they don’t really have experiences, they have to be careful of inconsistencies! This game lets the players really express their creativity and provides endless opportunity for stories (as well as giving the GM a rest!)
Era: The Empowered, similar to Era: The Consortium, offers every sub-genre of superhero story within its timeline. Choose whether you want to be a newly-emerging individual, finding your powers for the first time, or work as part of a large, world-spanning team, or stand against invasions by the Old Gods or Atlantis, or joining the “Empowered Department” in their attempts to police supervillains in a co-ordinated, government-led way.
Era: Survival offers a post-apocalyptic setting – a hundred years after the cataclysm – where the last days of Humanity are approaching fast. Unsure how to survive, the people of Gaia have splintered into 14 different factions… and each has their own alliances and enemies. I am sure you can imagine that this provides a difficult world to step into. Will You Survive?
Era: Silence is based on an island which is a High Fantasy testing ground. Entering a portal to the mythical Isle of Silence, you will have to earn your name if you expect to escape… by completing challenges and working together. The catch here is that no person is able to speak on the Isle of Silence and, being barbarians, you cannot read or write very well. So, how do you work together when you cannot communicate so easily?
Era: Hitman is based in modern times, and allows you to step into the role of a team of assassins. The twist here is that many of the assassins in this world have superpowers! These are fast-burning and reduce in effectiveness as you use them, so you will have to be extremely careful about when you activate them. And, of course, your target might have powers as well! You never quite know what is around the next corner in this game, so you have to plan carefully!
Era: Balam asks you to step into the role of a fighter pilot. No pilot is truly complete without their craft and this game is based around that duality: without your fighter (which is highly customisable), you are not a complete character and could be easily killed by the alien hordes which roam HX-7371. As a small squadron, you will have to adapt your fighters and work as a team if you hope to save Humanity from this threat and protect Earth…
And Era: The Chosen you already know something about, thanks to Egg’s excellent introduction above… and I will be talking more about it below.
The link between the settings of these games is perhaps more evident than another important aspect: the rules are module and can be combined. I am going to talk more about that in a later question, so read on to know more!
EGG – Era: The Chosen is a move into straight-up tabletop horror roleplaying. You did Era: Survival before, which had horrific elements. What made you decide to go full horror?
ED JOWETT – Era: Survival has a different focus to Era: The Chosen. Era: Survival is about a zombie apocalypse and a divided humanity, which doesn’t know or believe in itself or each other any more – to a high degree, no-one trusts the people they meet on Gaia. Humanity is, in reality, its own worst enemy and the truth is that they could probably survive if they worked together.
Era: The Chosen is quite different. It is a game about the horrors of war when fighting against enemies you cannot understand. Humanity is united against this threat – those that perceive it, anyway!
But that doesn’t make it less terrifying. The Anonassi are biologically superior, intelligent and tactical… and know more about Humanity than you would like them to… especially when it comes to the fact that they enjoy eating us.
This game is about fighting a descent into madness and loss of control as you fight the Anonassi to protect our dimension. The horror aspect is much more psychological than in Era: Survival, making it a very different kind of fear to “when will I run out of ammo”, or “is a zombie waiting for me around the corner?”.
What made me do this was really a long love of two franchises: Dr Who – specifically the brand of horror where the primary reason you are scared is that you don’t understand – and the Turok games on the N64! I have long felt that the two would combine into an excellent setting (with numerous tweaks, obviously!).
Finally, it is something I haven’t done before! I am sure you can imagine that there are a lot more things I want to create and I am working through them. This brand of horror is something I can now tick off my list from a “setting” sense, and focus on expanding that universe!
EGG – How compatible are the different games?
ED JOWETT – They are very compatible – the aspects of the rules which are unique to each game (for example, Specialities, Karma, Implants and Party Confidence) are modular and can be carried across between games.
For example, if you want to play Sci-Fi Survival Horror, you can combine Era: The Consortium and Era: Survival’s rules to make a “Dead Space” type of game (we actually did this in a published book, Era: The Consortium – Revival!). If you wanted to tell stories of your exploits to con people out of cash in Era: Hitman, you could integrate the Era: Lyres rules… and if you were feeling very ambitious, you could combine all of them to make a “super game”!
The power of games running on the same rule sets is obvious – you don’t need to learn a new rule set each time. But when you can combine aspects of the rules and the system supports it? I think that makes something quite special, though I admit I may be biased!
EGG – Some of the settings for your games have expansive timelines. Tell us about the timeline for the game, and what makes that span appealing in Era: The Chosen?
ED JOWETT – Era: The Chosen offers 3 time periods to play in, and the attraction here is that the experience varies quite a bit depending on which you choose.
Perhaps you like the idea of fighting huge, terrifying monsters with pikes and flintlocks. If that is the case, then the “First Era” is for you! In this time, people aren’t sure what the Anonassi are, mostly assuming they are demons of some sort or, in some cases, fallen angels (a name which sticks as a descriptor!). If you like supernatural horror settings where not everything can be explained, this is allowed for here, along with the slightly more light-hearted, “swashbuckly” feel where you have to rescue the princess and save the day, but overcome your fear to do so.
Or maybe you like the sort of horror which you get from Victorian era literature – Frankenstein, for example. In the “Second Era”, you have technology advancing faster than humans learn how to control it. What if you could bring people back to life, just by integrating a technological device which you found lying around in the Lost Lands? Would you find it morally acceptable? Would everyone else? This period also brings in some of the more monstrous Anonassi for the first time; as they are driven back by superior weapons, they begin to deploy larger and more terrifying creatures.
In the Third Era, weapons are at modern levels and the war is being won. At this point, the Anonassi begin to deploy new, more sinister, tactics – swarms of insects which can devour flesh to the bones of either Anonassi or Human in seconds, and Ethereals who can possess Humans and even pass into our dimension safely for long periods of time. How do you fight when you don’t know that all who stand beside you are still the people you trained with? Who do you trust?
I think that the timeline setting was the only way for me to offer all of these types of play in the same game and playtested have very much encouraged this variety!
And, of course, when you consider that different things are horrifying to different generations, there is even more scope for differences in experience…
EGG – For some of your games, there’s been a standout mechanic or setup (Balam’s fighter craft and Battlecruiser Alamo’s duel characters). Will there be any new mechanics for the system?
ED JOWETT – Yes, there are!
Terror is the result of your experiences in the fight. Perhaps you got eaten by an Anonassi and had to blast your way out… if you were to be threatened with being eaten again, you could understandably have a severe psychological reaction to that.
This is covered by the Terror system in Era: The Chosen. As you begin to experience the Lost Lands, you will build Triggers (such as “being eaten”!). When they occur, you will have the opportunity to roll a check… but if you fail, you gain Terror. Each Terror brings with it more Triggers, so the result is a decline in your ability to cope with the Lost Lands. If your Terror bar fills, you will collapse and have to be returned home for treatment… and will probably never set foot in the Lost Lands again.
Trophies are almost the opposite. When you overcome a particularly difficult challenge – floor a giant, brutish Anonassi in the middle of it charging you, for example – you may gain a Trophy. In this example, you might gain a Trophy in the form of the Anonassi tooth. It would remind you that you can take down an Anonassi when it is charging you, so you might no longer be able to be Triggered by that event!
There are also numerous special rules for the Clans, particularly the Chike, who can transform into half-Anonassi forms. If you want to know.more about that, I recommend checking out our actual play session on Kickstarter: https://youtu.be/2j7TRgXlg6U
EGG – The $5 reward on this Kickstarter is for the digital Player’s Guide. That’s an incredible price! What will the Player’s Guide include?
ED JOWETT – I feel it is a good price, yes! The Player’s Guide includes the complete Rules (word for word the same as the Core Rulebook so there is no confusion!), an introduction to the setting for each era, full character creation and the vast majority of equipment (some stuff is so rare that it can be excluded to keep the page count a little lower and be communicated by the GM if it is used!).
What it doesn’t include is the full story of the setting or, more importantly, the Bestiary of Anonassi you might meet…!
EGG – For someone that has never played an Era d10 game, what would you say is the secret sauce that makes this a standout system that they should jump into?
ED JOWETT – It is easy and quick, it is representative without being painful and, if you are a brawler, the grapple rules are 2 pages and/or a flow chart which explains the same content!
It also gives huge flexibility for the GM to counter things like min-maxing (or not, if you prefer!), as well as the opportunity to leap into any of these genres while learning only a few extra rules.
The games are well-supported as well, through our Patreon and period campaign module releases, so if you are someone who likes grenade modules, we have you covered there too!
EGG – For those that want to check out the Kickstarter, where can they find it at?
ED JOWETT – You can join us right here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/shadesofvengeance/era-the-chosen-a-horror-rpg-defend-our-dimension-0?ref=9nc0yr
Thank you very much for reading and I hope you will consider supporting Era: The Chosen!
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Egg Embry, Wanna-lancer™
Freelancer for EN World, Knights of the Dinner Table, Open Gaming Network, and the Tessera Guild.
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