Interview: Aaron Thies from SSDC, Publishers of Battlelords

“Interview Monday” arrives once again. Today’s interview is with Aaron Thies of SSDC , publishers of “Battlelords. ”  Read on to hear about this science-fiction adventure game.

Trask: Games are a reflection of their creators, so tell me about yourself.  Are you a professional game writer or do you have another profession? What is your background?

Aaron Thies: I like to think of myself as a professional game writer in the sense that, like every other game designer, we put a lot of time into Battlelords.  I should clarify   Battlelords of the Twenty-Third Century is created and published by SSDC.  SSDC is basically two guys; myself, and Michael Osadciw.  We have a number of other people that help us out with editing and the like.  I am a web programmer by day, and Mike is a graphic designer.

Trask:How did SSDC come about?

AT: Battlelords originated back in 1990.  A mutual friend of ours created Battlelords, and we both got drawn in to help out.  Mike did a lot of art, and I helped out with editing.  In the late 90’s our friend could not devote time to Battlelords anymore.  Mike and I loved the game, and though it worthwhile to buy it.  That was at the end of 1999, and SSDC was born.

We both love sci-fi, and felt it under-served in the RPG market.

We knew there where a lot of devoted fans, so that told us there was something about Battlelords that people latched onto.
We like creating a universe that is completely original, and not a license property which comes along with preconceived notions.

Trask: Talk about the “Battlelords” setting. Can you give a brief introduction for a curious gamer?

Battlelords is a game where you play a mercenary, that has been hired by a mega-corporation.  You are thrown into a group of other mercenaries and sent off to all parts of the universe on various missions of exploration, search and destroy, rescue; it could be anything.  In the bigger picture the various races banded together in a loose Alliance to defend themselves against the Arachnids.  The are other major factions that get involved, like the Rebels and ARM (Anarchists Rebellion Movement).  When new people come to Battlelords they look at the name and think it is all combat, of which you can do a lot, but what most people stay with Battlelords for is the racial interaction.  We have 27 player character races.  They are all very deep with history, culture, quirks, and sterotypes.  Your group is made up of a number of different races, and have to find a way to get along in order for everyone to survive the mission.

Each race has it’s own generalization about the other races, and getting along with each other is often a difficult challenge.

Trask: What (dice) system does it use?

We use the d100 system, which is percentile based.  We always liked percentile dice, as it gives much more variety than the traditional d20, so we developed a system that used that.  The game is heavily skill based.  There are over 100 skills to choose from, divided into general areas of knowledge, but you are free to acquire any skill you like.  Our version of spells are called Matrices, that only a few races have innate ability to generate.  As players gain experience they can spend that experience on skills and matrices.  The combat is fast and deadly, unless you have armor.  Armor uses a unique system that has several levels of protection, and allows you to customize your armor with a plethora of options.  We have several hundreds of pieces of armor, armor options, and weapons for those that like a lot of combat.  For those that enjoy roleplay more, the 27 different races, each with several pages each of detailed background material gives you a lot to work with.

I think that is a testament to the flexibility of the world and system.

Trask: I know that tone is often determined by the players and the GM, but can you make a generalization as to how you see the game? High adventure? Political intrigue?

I’d say it is generally a deep space sci-fi thriller.
Think things like Babylon 5 or Farscape .

Trask: The game has had multiple editions. Six, I believe. What is the future path  of “Battlelords?”

Well, most of those editions are form the early (pre-1999) era of Battlelords. Since 2000 there has been a single edition.  When we took it over we had a few goals.  The first was to put the main rulebook back into print, which is the first thing we did.  One big hole in the game was a lack of vehicles and space ships – not a good thing in a sci-fi game.  We have produced Engines of War , which brings vehicles into Batltlelords, and one of our current projects is Engage, our spaceship system.  We have also brought out many supplement books filled with more background material on many aspects of the universe – races have been fleshed out even more, the politics of the Alliance have been divulged, and we expose a little more of the grand plot of Battlelords with each supplement.  In 2010 Battlelords will be 20 years old, and so we are also working on a new edition that will improve upon the current edition.  We have taken in a lot of feedback over the years, and we are putting it to use.  We are also working with Athena Virtual Productions on a Battlelords video game.

Trask: What is the time-frame for release of the video game?

I can’t give any details on a time-frame right now.  We plan to have a demo version available before the full version is out.

Trask: You mentioned feedback in your development process. I also noted that your site seems very fan-friendly, with lots of wiki content. Even an obituary for dead characters! How important is this fan interaction to “Battlelords?”

It is very important.  If we did not have such a high level of fan involvement we probably would have stopped a long time ago.  We are very proud of the enthusiasm of our fan community.  We are always looking to get them involved more.  The wiki is a relatively recent addition.  We have a very active forum that has been up for years.  I get emails and letters from people who played Battlelords years and years ago, and just could not get rid of the Battlelords itch.  They are very happy to find us again.  In the future, we have plans for a Battlelords social network of sorts on our web site.  The fans are really a major force in the direction of Battlelords.  We decide our schedule of products based almost entirely upon what our community wants.

Trask: Great. I think I have kept you long enough. Do you have questions or parting thoughts for my readers?

AT: As you mentioned our community is extremely important.  I’d like everyone to give us a try, and not be fooled into thinking Battlelords is just a hack and slash game.  We created Battlelords with the idea that our game will inspire your own imagination.

Trask:  Thank you for your time.

Trask, The Last Tyromancer



Trask is a long-time gamer, world traveler and history buff. He hopes that his scribblings will both inform and advance gaming as a hobby.