Designer Interview: RPGPundit – Arrows of Indra

A few months ago I had an opportunity to chat with Brendan Davis (Bedrock Games) about Servants of Gaius. Set in Ancient Rome, it offers some different avenues to explore for roleplaying than more traditional fantasy settings. So when I had an opportunity to talk to Brendan & RPGPundit about their upcoming project – Arrows of Indra – I once again dove into a non-traditional setting with all sorts of interesting crunch to discover.

RPGPundit wears many hats, including that of game designer (Forward… to Adventure!, GnomeMurdered, Lords of Olympus) and one of the most popular RPG forums on the internet –! Arrows of Indra provides an Old School game set in a world inspired by the Epic Myths of India…

Q: First, thanks for agreeing to an interview! Arrows of Indra focuses on an area of myth and history that we haven’t seen done in RPGs yet… Why India? And why now?

Its a pleasure being interviewed by you!

Well, the “why now” is just because the inspiration came to me to do it. I was wanting to do something like this for quite some time. In fact, a couple of years ago I tried to start this same project; but it didn’t really come to pass at that point. This time, I think that what changed was that in the intervening years I saw the release of one after another of really great OSR projects: Majestic Wilderlands, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, ACKS, and more recently the DCC RPG (though that one only came out after I was finished with the writing of Arrows of Indra), among others! The move in the OSR away from pure clones into these kinds of innovative products ended up being a big mechanical inspiration for me. As for “why India”, the subject of Indian mythology has long been something that fascinated me, and formed a part of my academic and personal life. I was always kind of amazed that aside from a couple of very peripheral books here and there, no one had actually decided to do a full-blown setting. I guess it was mine for the taking.

Q: What are the “arrows of Indra” the game is named for?

Indra is the principal god of the “old” Indian pantheon, the more primitive nature-gods; who were gradually somewhat eclipsed by a more “modern” pantheon of more human gods like Vishnu and Shiva. In the game setting of Jagat, Indra is still a very important god in many regions; he’s the god of thunder (similar in many ways to Zeus) and his “arrows” are actually lightning-bolts.

The meaning has a bit of a double-entendre, though. You see, in Epic Indian Mythology, the bow is considered the most noble of weapons; it plays the role that the sword plays in European myth. The great Indian epic heroes were not swordsmen, but archers; and the greatest magic items weren’t swords like Excalibur, but magic bows and “celestial arrows” capable of incredible devastation. So I wanted to include “arrows” in the title somewhere to reflect that; you could say that the style of Arrows of Indra
is more “Bow and Sorcery” than “Sword and Sorcery”, though of course a lot of great warriors will use melee weapons too.

Q: How does Arrows of Indra differ from some of the other projects you’ve worked on like Forward…to Adventure!, Gnome Murdered, and the upcoming Lords of Olympus?

For starters, Arrows of Indra is very much an OSR game. Its not a direct clone of any edition of D&D; but its rules are very firmly rooted in the original roleplaying game system and will be immediately recognizable to any of its fans. “Forward… to Adventure!” was old-school in its general aesthetic but was ultimately much further away mechanically from the classic system rules. GnomeMurdered and Lords of Olympus are both totally different; the former is an ultra-rules light comedic game, while the latter is a diceless RPG.

Q: How have you taken the great Ramayana and Mahabharata epics of Hindu mythology and adapted them for use with a RPG?

The world of Jagat, the setting of Arrows of Indra, is directly based on the “epic India” described in the Mahabharata. The Ramayana is a detail of events thousands of years in the setting’s past. The setting of the “Bharata Kingdoms”, the human lands detailed in the Mahabharata, is really a fascinating setting that seems almost made for Roleplaying: it details a land of principalities and city-states, some in extreme decadence, others on a barbaric frontier, and others fractured by civil conflicts, and threatened by a looming eastern empire wishing to conquer them all under one rule. The wilderness areas around the Bharata Kingdoms include forbidding mountains full of bizarre creatures, deep and dangerous jungles, a blasted desert littered with the ruins of a civilization destroyed in an instant by a superweapon, and more.

Oh yes, and there’s also a huge multi-level megadungeon under the entire planet covering tens of thousands of miles and reaching down all the way to Hell itself.

Indra as depicted in Yakshagana, popular folk ...

Indra as depicted in Yakshagana, popular folk art of Karnataka (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Q: I’ve seen you mention that the system is based on “the original and most popular RPG” and “OSR” in some of the forum posts and announcements for the game. How have you adapted good old D&D for your purposes?

The system will be immediately recognizable: six classic stats, races, classes, levels, saving-throws, experience points, armor class (ascending), and a fairly orthodox combat system. The areas that are more innovative are obviously in the choice of races and classes, the inclusion of background skills (divided by caste), and a class skill system, as well as “Enlightenment Powers” for the magic-using classes replacing the more familiar “vancian” magic system. The races include things like the Gandharvas or Yakshas instead of elves or dwarves; and humans are divided into civilized humans (who are also divided by Caste), and barbarian humans or “Bhil”. Background skills represent non-adventuring skills a character would learn from his caste and clan; class skills are not skills in the “3rd edition” sense, but rather take up the place of weapon proficiencies, some class abilities, and low-level spells. The “Enlightenment Powers” take the place of higher-level magic. While the magic system is probably the most changed, its still not radically unfamiliar; a magic-using class (Priests or Siddhis) will have a certain number of spells that they can use a certain number of times per day. Lower-level Priestly magic are all “Arcanas” (which are ritual magic), while lower-level Siddhi magic are Mantras (words of power) or Mudras (gestures of power); and both classes gain the chance to obtain Enlightenment Powers as they go up in level.

Q: What are the major traits needed for characters in the system? What are some of your favorite characters (PCs or NPCs) that have come up during playtesting?

If by major traits you mean ability scores, the system is set up so that any of them could be important. In a setting where social status and etiquette are important, having a good Charisma can be a big benefit (for reaction rolls, and not to mention henchmen morale); Intelligence and Wisdom make a big difference in spellcasting, Dexterity, Strength and Constitution in combat situations. And of course, most classes have some kind of ability score requirement, and grant bonuses to experience points if their particular “prime requisite” score is high enough. Ability scores also form the basis for any type of “skill check”.

In our playtesting we’ve had a couple of very talented Siddhis (magicians) who have made great use of relatively low-level magic power (especially their illusion powers), a Vanara (monkey-man) Thief who managed to use his ability to talk to normal monkeys to guide him to the location of a bandit camp, and then managed to sneak through said camp and kill a great number of the bandits in their sleep, and a Virakshatriya (holy warrior) of Indra who has proven himself to be utterly kick-ass (and who found himself in a moral dilemma when the forest-tribe of Nagas he was planning on helping eradicate turned out to have made a kind of pact with Indra, his patron god).

Indra on Airavata, with Ganesh riding his trun...

Indra on Airavata, with Ganesh riding his trunk on either side, at Baksei Chamkrong, Siem Reap, Cambodia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Q: The Rakshasas in D&D were among my favorite villains… How are you rebooting them to be more in line with Indian mythology?

D&D Rakshasas are almost unrecognizable in comparison with their portrayal in Indian myth; so I’m afraid they won’t be very similar at all. The AD&D Rakshasa is actually more similar to a kind of Asura (an Indian Demon); whereas Rakshasas in Indian myth (and in the Arrows of Indra) are a humanoid race that are descended from the interbreeding of Asura Demons with Humans. The Rakshasa is a PC class in Arrows of Indra; and they look like humans with soot-dark skin, prominent fangs, and claw-like fingernails. They’re distrusted among regular humans but have a reputation for being bloodthirsty warriors or powerful siddhis, so they are often contracted by less-than-Holy human nobles to serve as bodyguards, mercenaries or agents. They are immune to normal poisons, have a certain resistance to magic, and have a talent for fighting with melee weapons.

Q: What can you tell us about the “monkey-men”?

The Vanara are a race that live in the Dandaka Jungle, the vast jungle to the south of the human kingdoms; they’re the race that the god Hanuman came from when he was mortal. They’re quite intelligent and capable of speaking not only in human languages but also of communicating with their animal cousins. They’re brave, adventurous, and loyal, but lack some of the subtlety of human social skills. Just like Gandharvas and Yakshas are the “Holy”-aligned demihuman races, and Rakshasas the “Unholy”-aligned race, the Vanara are the Neutral demihuman race.

Indra is the god-king of heaven and god of thu...

Indra is the god-king of heaven and god of thunder, lightning and rain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Q: How many gods are you including in the book? There are quite a few deities to choose from in Indian myths!

Theoretically, there are millions of Indian gods. In Arrows of Indra, I give details related to the main ones, which I divide into three main groups which are the groups predominantly worshiped in different regions of the Bharata Kingdom: the older gods (led by Indra, and including the gods of fire (Agni), the sun (Surya), the moon (Chandra), the earth (Prithvi) and a few others) that
are the main pantheon of the slightly more rustic lands in the west, the Vaishnavite family (led by Vishnu, and including Brahma, Rama, Hanuman, and others) that are the main pantheon of the central regions, and the Shaivite family (Shiva, Durga, Parvati, Ganesh, Kali and others) that are mainly worshiped in the East and in the mountains. To this, you can add a few miscellaneous gods (like the river goddesses: Ganga, Sindhu, Yamuna, Sarayu and Saraswati; or Yama the death god), and of course there’s also the concept of the Avatara; a human that is the living incarnation of the divine, that comes once in every great age. Shiva was the Avatara long ago, at the end of the age of Gods and Demons; Rama the Avatara at the end of the Age of Kings, and now in the Heroic Age it is said a new Avatara has been born. Some think that its a young hero named Krishna who has recently done some very great deeds, though there are other potential competitors for the title.

But I should note that I don’t burden the reader with tons of material on the gods, mainly just what’s essential for the setting and relevant for play. Arrows of Indra isn’t so much about gods as it is about Heroes, namely the Player Characters. It is, after all, the Heroic Age, where mortal men must take up the great deeds that were once the domain of gods and kings.

Q: Now that the text is mostly done, who’s doing the art for the book and the cover?

(From Brendan Davis @ Bedrock Games) Our cover artist Michael Prescott. He did the cover for Servants of Gaius, the Agency Resource Guide, Average Joes and Operation Hydra Den. The Layout artist and cover designer (as well as the Arrows of Indra logo Designer) is Richard Iorio. The interior artist is Federico Pintos. And Rob Conley designed the map.

Detail of the Phra Prang, the central tower of...

Detail of the Phra Prang, the central tower of the Wat Arun (“Temple of Dawn”) in Bangkok, Thailand – showing Indra on his three-headed elephant Erawan (Airavata) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Q: What are you most excited to share about the game?

That’s a tough question. I think mainly, that a lot of what we see in Old School game settings are worlds that are based on either medieval European fantasy, or Conan-esque sword & sorcery, and then some really weird and out-there settings that tend to be unapproachable. What I think Arrows of Indra offers is an exotic setting that incorporates some of the best features of medieval fantasy, a great deal of the best of sword & sorcery, and yet at the same time is totally approachable by a player without having to come in with (or subsequently study) a whole lot of prerequisite knowledge to get into it and play it. You don’t need to know anything about Hindu religion or ancient Vedic texts or have read the Indian Epics to play (or GM) Arrows of Indra, everything you need will be in the book, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how it can be a really different experience from, say, Greyhawk, while still at its core being totally about everything a game like D&D is about: an adventuring party going into wilderness, caverns and ruins in search of monsters and treasure, exploring through the dark alleyways of massive and ancient cities, and eventually getting to build strongholds, lead armies or become the masters of arcane schools or temples.

Q: If there is one question you weren’t asked that you’d like to answer, what would that question and answer be?

I think you were very thorough, but just for completion’s sake, let’s say the question would be: “Does Arrows of Indra have complete lists of wilderness and city encounter tables, an underworld cavern-complex random design system, statblocks for about 85 different types of creatures, complete treasure tables for the full gamut of magic items (including Celestial Weapons), and a ton of tables and guidelines for high-level play?”

And the answer would be: “Yes”.


For more details, check out the following links:
* Bedrock Games
* Arrows of Indra (on Facebook)
* RPGPundit’s blog on Xanga (check out the cool maps here for a little more idea of the world of Arrows of Indra)

Hopefully the game will be out sometime in Fall or Winter 2012 and we’ll get a chance to see Rakshasas done right!

A huge thank you goes out to RPGPundit and Brendan Davis for the interview opportunity! And I wish them the best of luck with Arrows of Indra!

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