If you are like most Gamers of the RPG-variety and you have at least a couple of years experience under your gaming belt then you are probably familiar with the concept of Vancian magic.
Named after Jack Vance and his Dying Earth series, who many consider the grand-daddy of fantasy progenitors, Vancian magic is a system device used as a way of limiting traditional spell-casting classes in the D&D and other derivative rule-sets used in the gaming world.
Through daily ‘memorization’ limits, Wizards and other spellcasters have certain amount of slots or prepared spells they can cast each day or between rests, depending on your system. While this works for beginning adventurers, Wizards still typically dominate these sand-box worlds once they hit higher levels.
Enter systems like the Five Moons.
What is Five Moons you ask?
But Five Moons is also a role-playing Game billed by its creator as one of those rare breeds that seeks to dismantle the limits inherent in troupes like Vancian magic, power-creep and counter-productive GM-versus-Player table-talk that can too often dominate a session. A great example Reynolds gives describing this uber-fixation on rules, and one I myself have pointed out at times can be found in such august works as the Pathfinder Core Rulebook which goes into the difference between Supernatural and Extraordinary abilities.
Check out Reynold’s beef with that mechanic here.
It’s a nuanced approach common among rule systems with as much specificity as Pathfinder whose procedural feel often requires such distinctions. Further instances of this word lawyer-ing can also be seen in the need to clarify differences like Natural weapons versus Manufactured weapons, Moral bonuses versus Insight and Competence bonuses, et. cetera, et. cetera.
Reynold’s Kickstarter, an RPG-rules-set currently in funding mode through the end of the month, attempts to shift the focus away from this crunch and saunter into the world of fluff (or munch if you will).
Based on preview videos and the plethora of informative blog posts and discussions the designer has given on the system, whose gameplay looks heavily like D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder, the major differences to the system are additions with things like Boosts, which expands spell memorization and character themes. But the system clearly seems to stay close to its obvious roots with rules most Gamers will find reassuring: things like Initiative feats, Power Attacks, Charge bonuses and Rogues who need opponents to lose their AC bonus to make the game familiar enough to players migrating from these other systems.
Overall the main focus of the game seems to be on re-distribution of power amongst the classes, chiefly making sure that martial characters are power-competitive with arcane and/or divine (primal, mental, ad. Infinum) as characters level. This ties back into the Supernatural vs. Extraordinary analysis, with the work around apparently being to remove the uber-specific and limiting work-salad of rules.
Thus much like 4th Edition, Five Moons clearly asks the question: Why can’t a level 12 Fighters be as badass as Level 12 Wizard?
The answer given by the Five Moons RPG: emphasis on class themes over fantasy physics.
It’s an answer that has already successfully funded the campaign and clearly resonates with Gamers. It’s also an approach that comes with it an intriguing world pre-made to suit the Five Moons rule-set. Check that world out here.
One the other intriguing things about the Five Moons setting is the artwork.
Done by Gerald Lee (yeah, THAT guy), an industry titan whose other works include Ninjak, Magic the Gathering Comics and Iron Kingdoms, so far the style appears to have a definite Pathfinder flavor with a gritty and incredibly inclusive bent. In fact the two main or in D&D/Pathfinder speak, Iconic characters, appear to be a dark-skinned wizardly type and fair-skinned womanly rogue type—not your typical showcase characters.
Lee was gracious enough to answers some questions concerning his collaboration with Reynolds, the Kickstarter itself and his own myriad of gaming chops.
1. Why Five Moons and why Sean K. Reynolds?
— “Why me?” was what I was thinking when he originally invited me to come aboard the Five Moons project. I’ve been working with Sean for quite a few years now, illustrating for many of his projects and publications, and before then I was enjoying his writing and game design as a player.
2. How did Sean come to meet you and at what point in the relationship did the idea of collaboration come to each of your minds?
— An old friend of mine, let’s just call him Matthew, was actually doing some projects with Monte Cook, and had heard SKR was looking for some artists, and somewhere in the mix my name came up. Emails were exchanged and then the next thing you know, we’re signing contracts and publishing art. That was about a decade ago. I’ve actually only had the pleasure of physically meeting SKR once, while he was living in NYC. I gave him free movie passes to see Batman Begins…fitting I think.
As for the idea of collaborating on Five Moons RPG? He just came to me one day and asked me if I’d be interested in a secret project and I said yes. Everyone wants to be part of a secret project and we both have a long running history working together, know what to expect even if we sometimes exceed those expectations, and most importantly trust each other to get our jobs done. The rest of the details were just gravy…really good gravy.
3. What about the Five Moons campaign intrigued you the most from an artistic and design viewpoint?
— From a design viewpoint, being able to build it from the ground up was very exciting, not having the limitations of an existing system that has been already published and adhering for the sake of seamless compatibility. After reading much of the beginning mechanics and hearing the direction it was going to go, I was pretty convinced I would have no problems taking the plunge and trying out a new gaming system…which tbh, I generally like to stick to one system and migrate only when the support for it is all but dried up.
Most times artists are brought aboard after it’s been conceptualized so in a way an artist is recreating someone else’s vision. While we’re all inspired and influenced by others we admire, being able to get art direction of not so much how the monster should look but more where they thrive, their behaviors and type of community they live in was both a challenge and refreshing. When it’s more, “they should be a cross between a this and a that…but I’d like to see what you come up with.” That makes every project, every illustration, like tasting something new for the very first time.
4. The iconic characters depicted on the Five Moons core—do they have stories behind them and who created their appearances?
– They all have stories, Five Moons has a lot more going on behind the scenes that most might think. I mentioned earlier part of the conceptualization for the races and monsters were based on how they live, where, along with some relation to a particular type of animal or element. SKR said, these are the iconics, here are their classes, here is the secret ingredient that makes them tick, and their ethnic background…make it happen. I know what I know and what I’ve discussed w/SKR. I don’t know however if I can reveal anything more than what’s been shown in his blog and the KS page. I am guilty however of giving the iconic warrior and rogue their names along with designing the current look for all the iconics so far based on the original ideas when we designed them.
5. Would you say that Five Moons is similar to your previous work and style or a radical departure?
— Five Moons really pushed me to another level both artistically and responsibly. I had to take a few days to just practice inking to prepare myself for the many pieces to come in the Five Moons RPG. Normally I would just pencil sketch a drawing then digitally manipulate it so it would appear as inked or at least inked enough. I’m also happy to say I’m cranking out the artwork faster than I used to, meeting deadlines with time to spare, and all this whilst raising a family and my day job. 🙂
6. What has some of your other work included? What would you say your previous work emphasized?
— I’ve done some commercial art. I did some illustrations and ads when I worked designing fashion accessories and jewelry… graphics for web pages, wedding invites, trading cards, greeting cards, package design, storyboards, logos, costume and character design for comics and video games… more or less everything that could involve an illustrator somehow. The majority of my previous work emphasized what the client wanted.
Someone told me it must be cool to be an illustrator, I asked why? He said because you can wake up every morning and say “Today, I think I’m going to be a painter or a designer or etc…” Yeah.
7. Who or what are some of your influences and inspirations?
— …a long time ago…I had the privilege of apprenticing with Tony DiTerlizzi. I was his 1st apprentice. I learned a lot about myself and the direction of where my art could go. I’ve also worked in the comic book industry and met with a lot of artists and editors, was given a lot of critiques, and encouragement. So there’s a special place for those ppl at Valiant. Inspiration? My family, my friends, and everyone who hasn’t given up on their dreams.
8. What are some the Gaming genres and settings you have played in? Which are you most passionate about?
— Mostly fantasy AD&D all the way to 4E and now Pathfinder Society, for a stint I tried steam punk (Iron Kingdoms because I had done a few projects for them) and modern/future (Shadowrun) rpgs but it didn’t keep me, since decking into a main frame wasn’t too far off from hearing about someone hacking into a computer, and there’s something more visually appealing drawing/playing a hero/ine fighting a horde of monsters w/a sword and shield than with an automatic weapon. I’ve also likely spent a small fortune playing Magic & Pokemon. I have a Mox emerald if anyone is interested.
9. What part of Five Moons appeals to you the most from a Gamer’s perspective?
– It encourages out of the box thinking and even rewards them for creative solutions. There’s also a big mechanic on team work. If you want to build the single most powerful character in the system, that’s fine…to play one though, you might be better off just playing videogames though because there are leaderboards for those. Gaming has gained quite a bit of popularity recently along with momentum, it’s not just old skool gamers playing RPGs anymore, gaming is enjoyed and accessible to everyone now. Five Moons has fun for both the seasoned veteran and the curious new comer. No more 20 minute long rules dispute on how to resolve a grapple attack because two players couldn’t agree on how the wording was interpreted. Less time rules lawyering means more time playing and having fun.
10. What do you hope Gamers and art fans get the most out of your contribution to Five Moons?
– I just hope they like what I’m putting out there for them…and if they want to dig deeper, find the story behind each illustration.