Eberron and Gloom creator Keith Baker’s new studio is creating a game about heroes who die and are reborn.
Keith Baker’s Twogether studios has just launched a new Kickstarter project for Phoenix: Dawn Command, a card driven roleplaying game in a boxed set. Central to the project’s story is the idea that characters will be Phoenixes, powerful heroes that can be reborn up to seven times, gaining more power each time. The game will be designed as a fast-playing situation driven story engine, with resolution being not about the “roll of a die,” but about “what a player is willing to sacrifice to make an action succeed.” Keith Baker’s studio, based in Portland, Oregon, is himself and a few other designers who’ve worked in ranges as diverse as Marvel Comics and the Olympic Games. Keith Baker is familiar to many gamers as the creator of D&D‘s Eberron setting and the card game Gloom. The final product of Phoenix: Dawn Command will include a few hundred tarot size cards, a softcover rulebook with introductory scenario, and numerous tokens for tracking damage and effect states. The boxed set will be a complete game for a gamemaster and four players, though Baker hasn’t ruled out the possibility of expansions.
The game’s world is one where a relatively peaceful fantasy kingdom suddenly begins to be threatened by apocalyptic forces – armies of the dead, swarms of mind-controlled civilians, and terrible sorcerous monsters. These forces, called The Dread, have an unkown source and show no signs of stopping. The only hope against them are Phoenixes, supernatural champions that have already died once and come back with powers beyond those of a normal mortal. Further, each death beyond the first makes them stronger – until a seventh death, when they die forever. The game will emphasize time-sensitive missions and a variable time of return following a Phoenix’s death. If everyone dies during a mission, for example, “Friends may be lost, regions may fall, and when you return you’ll have to deal with the consequences of your failure. Because death isn’t the end, the odds will often be stacked against the characters; to succeed, players must take risks and make sacrifices.”
Speaking with Jenn Ellis and Keith Baker, the co-owners of Twogether, Ellis emphasized that they started their studio “for passion projects.” While both have worked with corporations and licensing their gaming ideas in the past, Ellis really wanted Twogether to be “an environment where we could be accountable only to our own good sense and experience, not to others’ ideas. We don’t have to talk about whether or not to get it printed in China during development, we only have to talk about making the game good.”
The themes of the game seemed to be what made Baker most excited. “It’s a game about sacrifice, so we want characters to know the precise stakes of any given encounter,” he said, “We use cards instead of dice because having that hand and comparing it to what’s on the table really lets players know precisely what’s at stake at any given moment and decide what to give up. They can look at their hand of cards and know what their resources are – they have some ability to push themselves and resolve it anyways, but that’s a limited resource too.”
Ellis, as the game’s producer, was also very specific about using cards. “From the beginning I knew that if we were using cards we wanted to be sure the material matched the game. We want the nice cards and tokens to contribute to the experience and draw people into the setting instead of be a distraction – so the art and material decisions were very important.”
I asked if they felt like they’d be fighting an uphill battle to introduce their game to consumers, but they felt like it had a good niche. “We want it to be a really good long term game, but we realize people have limited time and play other games.” Laughing, Ellis interjected “People ask me all the time if I played a new [roleplaying] game, and I say ‘oh, yeah… I have that on the shelf…'”
“Realistically we want this to deliver a really fun experience for a break from another campaign game for a few sessions, so you can sit down and play three times and feel like you got a complete experience,” finished Baker.
And here’s the Kickstarter video for the linklazy: