View Full Version : GenCon '09 - Interview with Colonial Gothic Author, Richard Iorio II

09-07-2009, 07:09 PM

This year at Gen Con, I had a chance to visit with Richard Iorio, a Rogue Games (http://www.rogue-games.net/) rogue and one of the authors of Colonial Gothic (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0979636108?ie=UTF8&tag=penandpaperga-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0979636108). The idea of a pseudo historic game intrigued me, and Richard was kind enough to give me a run down of this unique game.

RH: Tell me about Colonial Gothic.
RI: This is the history that they don't teach you in school. Think of Last of the Mohicans meets zombies. What we do with Colonial Gothic is find the part of history where it makes the most sense to interject the horror or the supernatural. So, we're not going to invalidate the war. Colonists still win. Washington still becomes president. But we explain why the fog appeared on the hill over Boston that allowed the colonists to drop the cannons to lift the siege of Boston. Why did the Masons turn their back on Benjamin Franklin during the funeral procession? That's what we try to do -- to show you how history can be tweaked just a little bit to give that little edge for the horror and supernatural.

It is a pretty easy to learn system. It's 2d12. You just roll two dice and if you beat the target or lower, you succeed.

RH: The book does have a kind of historic feel to it too when you're flipping through it --
RI: Yeah. What I wanted to with Colonial Gothic is -- I didn't want to make it look period, but give it that feel of the period. So, we went with the wood cuts. We went with the more older looking art style to get across the feeling. You don't need to know the history as in depth as most historians do -- we really try to give you it as you play it, but it's about having fun in a new period that hasn't been explored that much.

RH: So, what kind of challenges do you have?
RI: Well for example, if you're fighting the revolution -- how are you going to fight the Red Coats if the Red Coats happen to have a black mage hidden amongst their ranks. If you're an alchemist, are you making Alchemical Vitriol so that you can blow up the cannons of the rebellion? That's what you do. Or maybe you have some of the secret societies that are working in the background. It's all about using the history as the jumping off point and then taking it from there.

RH: Does this presuppose then that this is what actually happened in our world or is it kind of an alternate reality?
RI: No, no, no. We call it a secret history. By that, there are some events that we just cannot explain historically. So, I try to find that and then give it that little spin. Think of how Lovecraft is writing his stories and how it has that air of believability. He never invalidates the history. He just gives it that little tweak or that little nudge to make it sound a little bit more horrific, if you will. So, as we all know, General Knoxs made it to Ticonderoga back with the cannons. How did he do it? How did he actually survive the middle of winter bringing heavy cannons from upper state New York down to Boston? Well, you can come up with a couple of reasons that will work. Maybe he had some help from some other forces. Maybe he had a mage with him hiding amongst the shadows helping him out and keeping everything at bay. That's what we try to do is not invalidate anything.

RH: You had some examples of how General Knocks did it. If you had been running that game, what would have been the answer --
RI: The answer of what was happening?

RH: Yeah, how did he do it?
RI: You had a free mason working in the shadows that was on the side of the colonists who didn't like what was going on with the Freemasons from England, who was working in conjunction with another mage or another person bringing in some otherworldly assistance to keep the natives and to keep some of the Red Coats at bay. And, so, maybe it was dropping an unsuspecting snow storm out of the blue that allowed the water to be frozen so that they could slide the cannons across. Maybe it was summoning a couple of deer to provide food for the malnourished troops. Maybe for Valley Forge you had a mage working in the shadows that was summoning enough food to at least keep you alive somewhat--

RH: That's a real big deal.
RI: Exactly. It's not trying to make it completely unbelievable. It's trying to address it.

RH: I really like this style, by the way. This is cool.
RI: Thank you.

RH: It looks like that kind of old time --
RI: Yeah, we're trying to get it across -- it is old timey but it's not. It's a modern game but you gotta give it that flavor.

RH: The illustrations though have that sort of block print type of feel.
RI: The only new illustrations that we did are in the back of the book. Some of the monsters you really couldn't illustrate. You know it's hard to get a picture of a period demon. I'll give you an example -- like a vampire -- you really can't get a picture of a period vampire. You really can't get a period Ether Demon (http://www.penandpapergames.com/forums/attachment.php?attachmentid=420), but like a Devil Imp (http://www.penandpapergames.com/images/articles/Interview_081809_Colonial_Gothic/Colonial%20Gothic%20Revised%20--%20Chapter%2012%20--%20Devil%20Imp.JPG) you could. You saw what the skeleton looked like -- it was an actual skeleton. Here's a Chepi (http://www.penandpapergames.com/images/articles/Interview_081809_Colonial_Gothic/Colonial%20Gothic%20Revised%20--%20Chapter%2012%20--%20Chepi.JPG). A lot of these are from our native American mythology also, so the monsters have that European flair, but also have that native American feel. So, you have the Windigo (http://www.penandpapergames.com/images/articles/Interview_081809_Colonial_Gothic/Colonial%20Gothic%20Revised%20--%20Chapter%2012%20--%20Wendigo.JPG) [and] the Ewah (http://www.penandpapergames.com/images/articles/Interview_081809_Colonial_Gothic/Colonial%20Gothic%20Revised%20--%20Chapter%2012%20--%20ewah-final.JPG).

428RH: How deadly is combat?
RI: As deadly as you want to make it. We give you in the combat chapter ways to make it really deadly or really light. Depending upon your players land their likeness of death --

RH: I remember playing a Call of Cthulu game where death was pretty much assumed ...
RI: Okay, well I'll tell you what. You know Last of Mohicans? ... Your heroes are going to win. You can make it as tough on the heroes as you want, or you can make it as easy as you want on the heroes. I talk about in depth about how you could adjust power scales to make it a challenging or somewhat easy encounter. A good example would probably be Last of the Mohicans, in the scene where [Hawkeye] was shooting in the distance helping the runner make it through the dark. You know where you have the one Indian Brave popping up and they peg him at one hundred yards, two hundred yards, three hundred yards -- and then that impossible shot over two hills, behind three trees. So, you can ratchet up the difficulty level as much as you want.

RH: Or you're Kevin Costner and you can't be hit...
RI: If you want to. My own group, they like it a lit bit rougher. What we've done lately is that they are actually a part of the militia and they are dealing with the horrors of war. So, they are actually fighting and dealing with limbs being blown off. For them the horror is the horror of the reality of fighting.

RH: What are the classes like, if there are classes?
RI: Well, what we do, the big thing, is when you do character creation the first thing that you want to do is pick a background, and the background is based really on what you had available in the colonies at that time. For example, if you want to play a colonist, you can play a frontier colonist. It helps you figure out that you figure out that you're from Kentucky, or you're from Ohio, or you're from upper state New York. Or, you could play an urban colonist like from Boston or Philadelphia. We give you the guidance on what it means to be an urban colonist. You might have a little more wealth, but you may not be so sophisticated when it comes to the outdoors. Or, you could also be part of the militia -- or an immigrant, either an upgraded indentured servant or a former slave. We really try to get you to start thinking as a colonist, and then how does your colonist come into contact with the objects of the occult or the supernatural.

RH: How does your game deal with that kind of tough question of sexism and racism of the period?
RI: You know, I say it point blank, this is a roleplaying game. So, you know, history went out with most of that. You can be a woman -- you have as much equal rights. We had to talk about freed slaves because if you didn't, you do a disservice to it, but, this is not an historical game. If you want to play it [that way], then you're going to turn woman off to it. So, I just leave it as everybody's got the rights.

RH: Regardless of race, color --
RI: There's no easy way to address it. You don't want to tick off somebody. For me the biggest struggle was trying to be as respectful as I could to the history, but still make it playable, so some hard choices were made. You know, I had to talk about native Americans, and I've got to use the terminology that the colonists did, because if I didn't do it, it doesn't get across the point that the colonists were just as racist as the native Americans were to the white men. Now there are many examples of the red man calling the white man "the scourge of the devil." So, you try to make it as respectful as you can, but still make it playable.

427RH: There might be a reason. We were invading -- I don't know ...
RI: Playability is the most important thing. Nobody wants to play an historically accurate game. Because there's no fun in -- you wouldn't have the mixing of the societies. You couldn't have in the game going from city to city. Everybody was pretty much stuck in Boston, Philadelphia, some of the smaller farming communities. There was no easy travel. There was none of that stuff. I do a lot of it, but some of that stuff you just can't do because you're not going to have a game to play.

RH: And what period is Colonial Gothic set in exactly?
RI: The dawn of the American revolution. 1775, 1776, give or take a year or a month. We give you guidelines if you want to play really early or if you want to play a little bit later, but from the ground-set it's 1776. I write in here that the Siege of Boston is lifted; the continental army is on its march to New York. That's sort of where the sweet spot is. Because if I get it any later it's just impossible, because the economy is screwed up, inflation has run rampant. There's no way for people to buy anything or do anything, because they're all fighting the war. So, that sweet spot was about March to May. You can go a lot more too.

RH: Do the source books give me enough information about history that I can start to run this game?
RH: When I revised the rulebook, I gave you enough history, so you can run it from the book. All the source books do is give you more if you want more. We've got a chapter here called "Players Guide to the Colonies." This gives you everything you need to know as a player for the colonies -- what the roads were like, what transportation was like. Big one -- what religions were available? Because I got a lot of questions from people, like "What's the Quaker believe in? What's a puritan colonist?" So, I give you enough guidance so that it makes sense to you.

426RH: Have you tried to reach out to some of the college history teachers and say that this is a way to get your students interested in History?
RI: Yeah. What's really interesting is that I get emails a lot from high school teachers and college professors who've actually started using the game somewhat run their own "historical," games, because they see that there is a lot of research that went on here. You've got to keep it playable, so sometimes you might fudge a little bit, but for the most part I try to keep it as true as I can. So, like the economy chapter, you have four options. You have the base option, which is everything is in pounds and shillings. Or I give you the fourth options, which adds in the chaos of the colonies. Where you have each colony [that] has its own bill of credit. You have bills of credit, foreign currency, and you have all these exchange rates, and nobody actually knows how much something costs. So, you can make it as complicated, or as historically complicated as you want. There are a lot of examples like that.

RH: Are the majority of the people who play this game really history buffs and really enjoy that sort of game?
RI: You know, my play test group, they weren't -- my own personal group -- they just wanted a fun game. The liked Brotherhood of the Wolf the movie and Last of the Mohicans, they wanted something like that. I had one play-test group that was a bunch of historians, and they wanted to do reenactment, and they complained that maybe my weapons aren't completely historical, but they see what I was trying to do. You got to make it playable, because some of these weapons can fire for four hundred yards. How do you translate that in a tabletop.

RH: Yeah, that's pretty rough ... Anyone on the battle-mat, basically.
RI: Well, they see what I did. They say, okay, I may not have agreed with how you stated out your fire arm, but ...

424RH: Harder to reload, but yeah.
RI: Well, it is harder to reload. You're looking at maybe one shot every two rounds, so you better make sure that's a good shot. Most of the combat defaults to maybe two pistols and then a quick drop with the tomahawk, because it goes really quick. That's the type of combat that you're going for, where you have one shot; you better make it good, because you may not get another shot unless you have a really good person next to you reloading on the fly, and that might even be challenging.

So, the history can be as complicated or simple as you want it. I've done campaigns -- I closed up one last week where my players, they played escaped slaves. The horror was, what do you do when you're a stranger in a strange land on the run? I kept it as historically accurate as I could, but that's a different type of horror -- more of a psychological horror.

I've done one set during the French-Indian Ware where they're traders at a trading outpost and they are getting overrun by the natives. That's a different type of horror. No zombies come up.

And, I've done also done straight, you're fighting zombies. You can do all types of horror.

RH: And you kind of mix that in with things like the plague?
RI: Yeah you can mix it up. I talk about diseases in there. You could get diseases really easy in Colonial Gothic. How do you deal with [Saint Anthony's Fire (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erysipelas)] when you're trying to dodge Freemasons. You can ratchet it, or unratchet it as much as you want. It depends on what type of game you want to run.

Thank you, Richard for taking the time to share your game with us here at Pen & Paper Games! If you're interested in picking up a copy of the core rulebook, you can find it on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0979636108?ie=UTF8&tag=penandpaperga-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0979636108) in both print and Kindle versions and in PDF format over at DriveThruRPG (http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product_info.php?products_id=50468&affiliate_id=175850).

(A little disclaimer: Gen Con was on in full in the background, so any mistakes in transcription are probably because the audio was a little difficult to understand at times.)