The chaos that followed the War has never been properly described by any poet or scribe. There are vague accounts of mountains falling and the ground opening up like a mouth to swallow entire cities. We support our reason on the natural order of things, and this order was disrupted when the very fabric of reality was torn apart. Neither side would ever claim victory. From all this suffering and devastation, the Void grew like a blister until it burst, infecting reality like a disease, stretching its tendrils of darkness across the ruined northern territories, corrupting it all with its nothingness.
As the bewildered Demiurge contemplated how his once proud work crumbled, a solemn silence fell, and then—rising in a crescendo from beyond the limits of possibility—a boundless, terrible wail was felt by all things living and not, shaking the very pillars of creation; and just before retreating forever to unknown sidereal regions, His cosmic finger signaled the broken realm.
Once again, Man was allowed to be. Welcome to Warpland.
Warpland is an ‘original dark science fantasy setting’ and roleplaying game brought to us by Gavriel Quiroga. Gavriel is among those who have pinged on the edges of CHG’s radar before, having caught Aaron’s eye during the monthly crowdfunding roundup a while back with Neurocity. As it turns out, Neurocity played an important part in Warpland’s development, which came up when Gavriel kindly started answering questions about the game and its development.
“I initially wanted to create a small setting that was in fact a virtual reality program created by I.S.A.C, the super computer from Neurocity. I thought it would be cool to turn into a medieval world which would be used by the A.I to generate psychological profiles for the citizens based on their decisions in that world. Eventually I realized I had something bigger in my hands, the original idea is still presented as one of the 3 possibilities to tie the setting with Neurocity. For me it is all about inspiration, if what I am writing keeps me going on then I just enjoy exploring where it takes me.”
Warpland is certainly a full and standalone game, but it’s important to note that the setting is front and center – you could take the setting and use it as the basis for a campaign using another system and reasonably say you’re still running a Warpland campaign.
The short version is that the ancient War between the Eloi and the Morlocks effectively broke reality. True Light vanished with the sun and the stars replaced by the roiling Aether, civilizations were laid to waste, and arcane energies began to sweep the world. Mutagenic storms warp all they touch, while the Void that consumes all light that draws near it corrupts but offers the gift of dark powers. The current state of affairs can be summed up by the Tenet, principles that the priests say are the only way to bring back the True Light.
What was written must be destroyed.
You shall not study the past.
You shall not seek to understand the laws of nature.
You shall not build machines that replace the honest labor of man.
You shall neither practice witchcraft nor establish pacts with otherworldly beings.
Despite this, technocrats try to preserve technology and uncover artifacts, and the fifth part of the Tenet only exists because of a schism that saw an entire city founded that loves practicing witchcraft and establishing pacts with otherworldly beings. Travel is difficult between the natural (or unnatural) hazards and the savage raiders and tyrants that may waylay you, and you’ll probably be traveling quite a bit as the setting is presented as a sandbox with almost thirty random tables for things like events, NPCs, and Aether conditions.
I found it important, however, that the GM advice makes a point to give players a chance to change the world. New communities that embrace the diversity of the mutations are noted as one of the few places where solidarity and the common good flourish, “inclusion, rather than segregation, being the true nature of progress and freedom.” Warpland will try to end you, but it’s not without hope.
I asked Gavriel to take a stab at summing up the world that prospective Warpland players will be traveling to, and what he thinks makes it stand out from other grim/post-apocalyptic settings.
“I think my main concern is finding something that provides a unique game experience. So most of my time and effort is involved in working on concepts and studying what has been done before, and what works and what does not. All that needs to combine with a premise that is both interesting and playable. Warpland feels like a collage of genres because that is what it is. It has elements of the sword & sorcery, science fantasy and post-apoc genres. The challenge was making it have sense. That each of these elements were connected organically. I always felt that many game settings just use certain mash up of themes to cause an effect, but they never cared much about providing an explanation. They would just go gonzo and embrace absurdity as an aspect of the setting. I think that is a respectable approach, but I wondered if doing the opposite was possible. The end result is a setting that feels fresh and evolves naturally as you play in it, with a nice balance between style and content. It´s three main themes are violence, survival and knowledge.”
The art and style of the core book do a lot of work when it comes to establishing the vibe for the game – “lysergic” is the word chosen to describe the visuals. It’s not quite as over the top as Mörk Borg or Lost Below The Earth, but still, most pages are quite stylized and it is rare that you’ll get through a spread without some sort of art. More often than not you can’t go a single page. I asked Gavriel about the process for developing the art, and why it was important to have it a certain way/have so much of it.
“We needed to be very careful because the book includes art from several artists around the world, each with their own style. So the idea was that each conveyed a specific vision about the world and that would cause a kaleidoscopic effect on the reader. Also because it is such a different setting, I felt that the visual support would be super important so that they could grasp easily what it was all about. We took great pains to make each chapter stand out with its own mood, the world map was done using textures from Mars landscape taken by NASA, that was our small homage to the Sword & Planet genre.”
On the other hand, the rules for Warpland are relatively simple. Characters have four attributes: Agility, Might, Lore, and Wits, which range from 5 (poor) to 10 (Excellent). Characters all start with everything at 5, and then distribute 8 points as they see fit. When a player wants their character to do something, they describe what they want to do and how they want to do it, and the GM picks the attribute that will work best. From there it’s a straightforward 2d6 roll, looking to get equal to or less than your attribute to succeed – this is a ‘only the players roll dice’ game, at least for the most part. A roll that is equal to or greater than 8 and still a success is a Critical Success, rewarding having a high attribute. Rolling two 1s or two 6s on the dice will introduce a Complication; 1/1 will at least still succeed, but a 6/6 will ‘fail miserably’. Rolls can receive penalties or bonuses (a minus or plus to the attribute in question) depending on how difficult a task is or how powerful an NPC is.
Willpower (equal to half of Lore rounded down) is a variable stat – points of Willpower can be spent (declared before rolling) to reroll a die result, while Willpower tests (rolled against 5 + current Willpower) are made to resist personality flaws, magicks, and fear. Running out of Willpower doesn’t just make you vulnerable to tests, it also makes the character exhausted and conveys a penalty to all rolls.
There are fifteen skills, although they read more like backgrounds: Technocrat, Thief, Priest, Warrior, Beastmaster, etc. For every point above 5 in Lore a character can choose one skill – between this and Willpower, if you have any stat as your dump stat, don’t pick Lore. The skills are equally simple – if you don’t have a skill for the task you’re trying to accomplish, it’s a -2 penalty to the roll.
There are a few more bells and whistles. Lose enough Hit Points (determined by Might) and you begin taking penalties to your actions. Every character has a Personality Flaw like Addicted, Thrill-Seeker, Greedy, or Compassionate that they may have to resist – or, if they play into it, can get them a Willpower point. Mutations can convey various benefits and penalties. Becoming Tainted by the Void can have some deleterious effects, but can also convey Gifts from the Void that function as magick. None of these are particularly complex, though, and in several cases they’re purely narrative. All in all, while it’s not an easy world to survive in this is not a hard game to play.
There’s a little more effort put into making play easier, too.
The Forbidden Book of Tangible Reality drops all the art and pulls together all the rules into a comparatively very short product, 23 pages to Warpland’s 154. Even better, you can get a PDF version of it for free, and the physical version at just the cost of printing plus shipping. Why did Gavriel decide to offer the Book as well as the core book?
“I think that by deciding to focus on a sandbox approach with so much visuals the book ends up being a lot to digest in one single bite. You get lost into it and that was exactly our aim. I wanted a reader that could just sweep through the pages and have an overflow of ideas for adventures. Making a small utility book was a no brainer, it can be handed to a player during the game session so you can find quick references for rules, equipment, etc. It works great and it even has small Easter eggs hiding inside of it.”
It’s a pretty genius move, and not just because it makes the rules easier to parse. Games that are dense from a layout and art perspective can be hard to read for some people in the first place, so the Book also does double duty as an accessibility tool. Also, considering that the core book is where all the very many random tables are that the gamemaster will be rolling on, keeping the players to a more Tangible Reality can help make some surprises more genuine.
So, what changed along the way? What ideas were left by the wayside, what alterations to the game were big breakthroughs?
“The original Warpland featured an immense Labyrinth that had to be traversed by a dreaming person in order to be accessed. We left that idea behind to be used for later. My biggest Eureka moment was the notion of obscurantism I found in Hard to be a God by the Strugatsky´s bros. The idea of a planet submerged into medievalism solely through a religion that prohibits science and knowledge, I thought that made even more sense if the previous civilization had brought the destruction of light. For me that was when Warpland was born.”
What would be Gavriel’s advice to prospective Warpland GMs? Players?
“My advice is that they plunge into it after absorbing the setting. They should just go for it with low prep. Just a paragraph of ideas, a few interesting characters and make use of the various random tables in the book which act as plot generators. They will be surprised how everything moves forward with the simple rules system by letting the players do the work for them.”
What’s next for Warpland, and Gavriel?
“We are printing a limited hardback edition which should be available in Exalted Funeral in a few months. By the end of the year I will also present a cool expansion which will extend the eastern and western territories. Right now I just finished my new project HELL NIGHT, which is a doom biker RPG in which players interpret demonic bikers hunting other fugitive demons on 80s earth. The project was successfully funded in Kickstarter and should be ready in a couple of months in Exalted Funeral. It will be a 160 pages hardcover art-book with mind blowing visuals.”
Final words for our readers?
“Perfection is overrated. Stay away from soulless products and get closer to art. Watch strange cinema, listen to local bands and support independent creators. Take a risk to become surprised. Getting out from our comfort zone is so difficult in these times but hey, we only get to live once.”
Aside from that upcoming Exalted Funeral hardback you can currently get the PDF version of Warpland for $8.50 at DriveThruRPG, which I’d consider to be a bargain. There is also usually a Print-On-Demand version, but it is being updated as of this writing and the nature of DTRPG’s proofing process means it is currently unavailable. It should be live again soon. Again, you can get the Forbidden Book of Tangible Reality‘s PDF for free, or in print at cost plus shipping.
Thanks to Gavriel for sending us print copies of Warpland and the Forbidden Book of Tangible Reality to review, and for answering our questions!