Recently, I came across “Untold,” a card-based role-playing game still under development. It claimed that the only paperwork to play the game is a 3×5 card
to keep track of the characters name and other notes. Interest thoroughly piqued, I contacted one of the developers, Brannon Hollingsworth and submitted some questions to him about his company, “Wandering Men” and “Untold.” Here are his responses.
1. Before we get into “Untold,” can you tell me a bit about “The Wandering Men?” What are your origins?
We’re a group of best friends, writers, backpacker/adventurers, gamers, and brothers-in-Christ who’ve been blessed enough to have some real success in some of our creative endeavors. The concept of The Wandering Men was actually created on a hike wherein one of our number suggested we form a group of writer-explorers. We thought it a very cool idea at the time, but it was little more than just that – an idea. It was not until an opportunity to write for a fiction anthology came up (which later became our first novel) – that the idea resurfaced. After that, it just seemed completely natural. We do lots together already, so why not write as a group, too? It was after we’d written that first novel that we had the idea for Untold. Right away, we saw the immense potential for Untold, and created a company to underpin the game. So, Wandering Men Studios was born!
2. Your current project is “Untold” a role-playing game with unique mechanics. What inspired the Wandering Men to create “Untold?”
Well, that’s *one* of our current projects. We’re also working on a sequel to our first novel, Skein of Shadows, and each of us has a number of side projects in the works as well. In terms of our inspiration to create Untold, it grew out of an unrest at the increasing complexity of most other RPG’s and the way we saw the market moving towards forcing customers to buy more and more to play the same game. We decided that we wanted to create a game that we would love to play. The idea for a modular, flexible and fast card-based roleplaying game had its birth in the center of that unrest, I guess you could say. I recently answered this same question with a bit more detail for the members of our mailing list, I’d like to quote that story here:
Where did you get the idea?
The answer, as with most questions posed to the Wandering Men, requires a bit of a story. We’re all gamers and Ashy had a long-running game which used a very popular rule-set of which we’re sure many of you are familiar. However, with multiple rules revisions and more looming, as well as with the complexity of the game’s rules, Ashy decided that he’d had enough. He decided that he would create a game of his own. After all, he’d done a fair amount of game design, so nothing ventured nothing gained, right?
Armed with his well-rounded knowledge of gaming systems on the market, Ashy’s noble quest soon lead him to a system that was close to his goal, but still lacked something. You see, Ashy wanted a system that was both easy and offered nearly endless flexibility and ease of play (no short order in any type of game, much less an RPG). After several botched attempts at hodge-podging his own system, and one not-so-successful playtest, one of his players and fellow Wandering Man, Nathan, made a comment about distilling some of the effects of his system into cards. Ashy thought this was a cool idea, after all, some of the larger companies in the world at that time were doing similar things.
The game ended; everyone left.
Then the idea hit him like a ton of bricks. If you could distill one part of the game into cards – why not do that with everything? Make every element of an RPG character into a card and then — it would be easy, right?
Ashy immediately called Nathan and told him the idea. The excitement was palpable. They knew they had something.
Now, all they had to do was to discern…
How to make it all work?
But that is an entirely different story!
3. “Untold” is a “CBRPG.” Could you give us a short introduction to a “Card Based Role Playing Game?”
Certainly! Basically, a card-based role-playing game is the exact same as a regular role-playing game except that cards become the single “accessory” that you need. You have no rulebooks, no character sheets – all you need is a deck and a die! Everything is on the cards!
4. System and rules aside, what is the genre of “Untold?” Fantasy, Sci-fi, or a hybrid setting?
Definitely a hybrid setting; we designed the “default” campaign setting of Untold, Splintered Serenity, as a hybrid setting on purpose – for a couple of reasons. The first was we wanted to, as designers, tackle the “big rocks” of RPG game design right up front. I.e. we wanted a fast, flexible, fun and simple game that would handle pretty much any genre of role-play. So as part of Splintered Serenity, you have every tech level from Stone Age to Future Tech along side magic, elemental, spiritual forces and you can be anything from a sentient, talking animal to a clockwork robot! The second reason we wanted to do this was to provide unlimited flexibility and possibility to gamers out there – in Untold, if you can dream it up, then we want you to be able to play it! Further, we call Splintered Serenity our “default” campaign setting because we’ll be introducing new ones in the years to come – more “tailored” campaign settings: Cyborgs and Six-guns, Vampires and Werewolves, Call of Cthulhu type settings, etc.
5. “Untold” is still in development. If a potential player wants to get involved in the development process, is there a way they can contribute as a playtester?
Oh, that and then some! Yes, we’re nearing the final run of play-test but you can still get in if you’re interested – just contact our Play-test/Demo Coordinator at email@example.com and he’ll get you started. Also, we’re looking to fans to help us influence and grow the game and the world. For instance, if you create a cool new race and we approve it, it becomes an official part of the game and you’ll receive credit right on the card! We’ve already had some of our fans submit content and it’s already been added into the game! We’re looking forward to expanding this model as the game grows, in fact!
6. How will game supplements be handled? Will the game use randomized “booster packs?”
First – let me clarify something: there’s NO RANDOMIZATION in Untold. When you buy cards from us, you’re ALWAYS going to know EXACTLY what you’re getting. We’ll have the contents of the packs listed on the web and on the package itself – we’re adamantly against randomization of any kind. We hate paying for stuff that we don’t want or need, and we’ll never do that to our customers. That aside, we do plan to expand our settings by releasing Packs, Decks, and Boosters – these various packs will cover things like various environments: mountains, oceans, swamps, etc.; as well as thematic elements: Scrappers & Survivors, High-Tech Wonders, Tooth & Claw, etc; of course there will be packs to supplement the adventures we release (which will be free to download). Also, as other Campaign Settings come on board, you’ll see specific world packs come online.
7. Art is a critical component of card-based games. Who is doing your illustrations?
We have a whole stable of awesome artists from all over the globe and are very proud and happy to be working with each one of them. John Gonzalez was our initial artist and you’ll see a bulk of the work from him, however, we’ve recently added a whole list of other awesome artists: Anthony Cournoyer, Aviv Or, Brannon Hall (a Wandering Man), Chris Fason, Chris Miscik, Coran “Kizer” Stone, Derek Benson, Edward Frayna, Greywulf, Laura Sloan, and Patri Balanovsky. We’ve got new artists coming on board weekly, in fact!
8. What is the release date for “Untold?” Are there any demo events planned in the near future?
If the play-test goes as well as we’re hoping, then we’re looking for an early Fall 2009 release. We’ve been demoing the game all year and we’re headed to Gencon and Dragoncon in the months ahead. However, you don’t have to go to a convention to get a demo; we’re happy to try and schedule one nearby you if we can. We’re building a “grass roots” demoing network currently and have folks signed up to do demos all the way from California to the Philippines! If you’re interested, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org – we’d love to show you the game!
9. As someone going through the design and publish process, do you have any advice or hard-earned lessons that you can share with other aspiring game designers? Would you do anything differently?
Absolutely; in fact, I could probably write a book on this one topic alone! I would say that as a designer, you need to be as flexible and as open minded as you possibly can. When you’re creating something new, change needs to become expected and embraced rather than avoided and refused. Nine times out of ten, a stronger, better design will come from a totally unexpected direction; a change will hit you from left field and if you are flexible and capable enough as a designer to let it shape you (and not break you) then you will benefit from it in the end. Also, if you’re also creating a business at the same time you’re designing a game, (as we are) then expect to become an expert in stuff outside the realm of game design. If you’d have told me that I would be learning about international distribution agreements and talking to folks in the Federal Government about exporting to foreign countries when I started working the initial design for Untold, I would have never believed you… Would I do anything differently? Very good question. I think I would have reminded myself to be more patient overall. More patient with the design process, more patient with my fellow Wandering Men and more patient in general. When I’m working on something I believe in and am excited about, I tend to get very impatient – I want the coolness to come NOW. This is good sometimes, but most often, it does not help the overall process much. So, I would probably have written myself a reminder to daily be more patient.
If you are interested in further information, check out the “Untold” web site and download the free “Untold Primer.” If you are desperate to try this game, the “Wandering Men” will also be at Gen Con 2009 running some games of “Untold” in the “True Dungeon” waiting area.
Trask, The Last Tyromancer