Designer Interview: Brendan Davis of Bedrock Games on Sertorius, Part 2

Continuing with the interview we started last week with Brendan Davis of Bedrock Games, we move on to more details on Sertorius

Sertorius Logo - Bedrock GamesQ: The fact that you detail entire religions down to their laws and structure is amazing. Did you develop them as part of your design process or how did you come up with them?

Brendan: It was all over the map. We just gave them each the level of detail we felt they needed. Some of it was there from the start. The Church of Light was pretty much established as it was from the beginning (though it did experience some minor changes). But others developed as we grew the setting. The elven religions were an evolution, as were some of the others. We didn’t really have a process. We drew from history and from real world religions. We also played a lot of “what if” thought experiments (what if people believed X?). A lot of it just felt like an organic outgrowth of other things we added to the setting.

Q: Why not break the book into several smaller books as opposed to one monstrous one?

Brendan: I wanted it all in one place. I think one of the reasons people point to the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as a good book is because it had all the stuff you need in a single volume. So our aim, within the limits of our projected word count, was to release a book that had everything required to run a campaign. We wanted a full listing of monsters, spells, setting locations, etc. Anything we couldn’t fit (like the optional spell lists, and possibly portions of the appendix) would be released as a free PDF.

Q: The world by itself is huge. Do you plan on exploring smaller parts of it via adventures published by Bedrock Games separately? Or do you intend for GMs to mostly do their own thing?

Brendan: We are not going to do any meta-plot. My hope is GMs flesh it out themselves. We will explore some places in our modules, but mainly as examples, not as canon. For instance, Beneath the Banshee Tree is a module I am working on, and it gives a lot of information on the city of Talyr. People can take that and use it, or they can take what they like and reject the rest. Every campaign should grow on its own, not to meet what me Bill and Dan have decided Gamandria needs to be. I view the book as a starting point. From there the GM will grow the setting as his players explore.

I do hope to do a number of modules. And these will reflect how we have been using the setting.

Sertorius - Art- ServitorQ: The idea of “Followers” to increase the power of the Sertori seems like it could get difficult to manage as a player and GM. Any tips or guidelines to make it easier during play?

Brendan: This is a somewhat scalable feature of the game, in that it can be brought to the spotlight as much or as little as you want. If you like followers to fade into the background, that is pretty easy to achieve. We try to make clear in the follower section that the GM and players need to do what is natural to them and not feel chained to the system.

But it is an interesting part of the game and I encourage people to experiment with the followers system. One of the core concepts is the Sertori attract followers like prophets or minor gods, and these increase their power. But the followers system is more of an endgame than something you worry about in the beginning of play. I often compare it to building strongholds and attracting men-at-arms and followers in AD&D. It is something that occurs later in the campaign and shifts the focus to things like holdings management and politics. But you can also take your men-at-arms with you to go on amazing high-powered adventures. In the same way, the followers in Sertorius are something to worry about when the campaign has matured and they do not necessarily mean an end to your adventuring career (though they certainly introduce new complications).

Over time, Sertori acquire small groups of followers and these grow into larger groups, and they eventually have a whole movement with different sects. When I try to explain this to new players I tell to think about the early Jesus movement or Islam. A Sertori becomes that type of figure in the setting (though there are many other Sertori and a number of powerful gods so competition is pretty stiff). Managing followers is a bit like being Paul sending epistles to different Christian communities. Your people may be doing everything you ask, or they could develop ideas of their own. In some cases sects can emerge that are hostile to the rest of the movement, to established authorities or even to the Sertori himself. Another example I point to is the movie Agora. Anyone who has seen it, can usually get that the followers and sects operate a bit like the conflicting religious movements in Alexandria in that film.

This is all made manageable by a pretty comprehensive table that you roll on once a month. In addition we have a section on the back of the character sheet for tracking followers and sects. As long as the player uses this sheet it is quite easy. Because you don’t roll on the table right away (you must improve your “Divinity” to a certain level before the table comes into play), the followers are slowly introduced into the game and by the time they are important most players seem pretty comfortable with the process.

Q: When can we expect to see Sertorius become available? And is it the end of a process or merely the beginning?

Brendan: Early next year. Whether it is the end or the beginning depends on demand. If people like Sertorius and want more books, we’ll put them out. I certainly hope that’s the case, because this is a fun game to write material for. However we are planning to release several free PDFs when Sertorius comes out. These will be optional material and modules mostly.

Q: What has the hardest part of the process of producing Sertorius been so far?

Brendan: Vetting for consistency issues. This always seems to be the biggest challenge in any project, and Sertorius is much larger than our other books. Just to give an idea of the difference. I was editing Chapter Nine yesterday (which is the Setting Gazetteer) and that one chapter was bigger than all of Servants of Gaius. I had to scroll between that chapter and the master document and map in separate windows to check for problems. It can be very easy to forget a vital piece of information, then write over it in some way that creates a contradiction in the book.

Sertorius - Art- RacesQ: Any great stories you can share from playtesting?

There were some amazing events at the playtests. My favorite, and I hope I get the details right, is when we had a party in the city of Donyra, a place that worships Sertori. We were part of a block of other Sertori in the city who came into conflict with a local cult of the snake goddess. The party found the cult’s temple complex in a valley and there was a big battle. One of our members, Alyssa, was killed when a spell called Vortegan’s Whirling Catastrophe was cast against the temple priests, followed by another spell that unleashes waves of energy blasts. We brought her back to Donyra and found someone who could cast a spell that temporarily raises you from the dead (the idea being we would try to find a more permanent solution in the meantime). But it’s a dangerous spell and the Sertori who cast it failed, so she came back as a zombie (which took us some time to figure out). For some reason the party was set on saving Alyssa, so we researched it and found that there might be hope in a scroll from the Lost City of Sarr. We found Sarr, found the scroll, but a Gorgon named Maelith, had beat us to it and claimed ownership. Because we had to leave some of our party behind to care for Alyssa, our only option was to negotiate with the Gorgon. In our setting, a Gorgon is a kind of Grim, a Sertori who lost control of magic and became a creature that can turn people to stone or living statues. We discovered the Gorgon wanted the scroll so she could use its powers to travel back in time and prevent herself from becoming a Grim. We also learned she had the power we believed was needed to restore Alyssa. So we agreed to go back in time five years in exchange for her using the power. There is a very long story here as well, but in the end we went back in time (three years too short because the time travel spell is a bit random) and found another way to fix the Gorgon (by using a type of wish to shift her affliction onto someone we felt was more deserving). She then restored Alyssa and became a member of our party. But we had the scroll from the Lost City of Sarr in our possession and were two years in the past. So we decided to do our best to avoid interacting with our prior selves, and to put the scroll back in place, where the Gorgon and our party could find it, six months before she sent us back in time. In the interim we took Maelith, no longer a Gorgon, with us to seek employment with dwarven kings in Rashua.

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This concludes this interview! For part 1, be sure to check here

A huge thank you goes out to Brendan for willingly subjecting himself to my questions. I wish him and Bedrock Games all the best with their Sertorius release and the rest of their catalog of great games!

For more about Bedrock Games and Sertorius, check out…

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