A month after the game’s publication, we ask Jon Hodgson and Jacob Rodgers how they think it’s all gone…
It’s been a month since BEOWULF was loosed to the public – were you nervous before the release?
JACOB: Yes, I certainly was. It felt like we had done the best job we could, but you never know what others will think of it. I’m glad that it has had such a positive reception.
JON: Gosh yes. This is a really big one for us. While our first book as a team was the Creature Collection for Scarred Lands, which we made for Onyx Path Publishing, this was the first one that’s truly “ours”, and there’s always that fear you’ve just done it all wrong. Somehow.
You and the team have poured a great deal of love into BEOWULF – can you estimate how many hours’ total work has gone into the setting?
JACOB: It was a gleam in our eyes back in 2018. It took a good long time to hash everything out, between other work and the challenges of 2020. The good news is that we feel very confident in the direction we’re headed.
JON: I think I’d prefer not to guess at that in case my accountant is reading. Too many hours. We seem unable to just bash stuff out. Every part was worked within an inch of its life. Which is good in the end. BEOWULF feels very complete and whole.
What did you find hardest? And what was the best fun?
JACOB: Jon and I have mentioned before that the Followers system took a lot of work. But it also led into the thing that “clicked” the most for me — burdens and gifts. Once we had a consistent presentation, I knew that we could use the concept for any space in the game where we wanted to present options to the Player.
JON: I think the bit for me that was hardest was what became the Alignment Die: we wanted a mechanical system for alignment, which tied into the outlooks of the two faiths represented by Alignment in BEOWULF. It was really hard, and certainly not one where inspiration struck and things fell into place easily. We got there though – thanks to Jacob coming in with a wholly different approach. The most fun thing was drawing all the swords. Love a sword. I did a little cry when I got to stand near a Ulfberht sword in the National Museum of Finland back in the before times. I am that much of a sword nerd.
BEOWULF is designed for duet play, and to follow the mythic feel of the original poem – hence it’s seen a significant tweak to the 5e rules. Do you think this has been well-received?
JACOB: 5e is often seen as an inflexible system, with its adherents expecting a certain style as well as mechanics. However both of those are actually very mutable within the system. Player response has shown that folks will go for pretty extensive changes to the core assumption if you tell them the whys and hows of the new mechanics.
JON: Playtesters, backers and then early adopters have definitely reported enjoyed the ease of setting up a “group” for BEOWULF. You literally phone a friend. And much of the feedback we’ve had to date has been very grateful for a complete, grounded “Dark Ages” 5e. We have a couple of groups playing it multiplayer too, and really digging it.
You’ve had a lot of critical acclaim, from authors and gamers both – including other creators of BEOWULF settings. Do players need to know the legend to be able to play the game?
JACOB: Absolutely not. We provide a tremendous amount of setting info and opportunities for research. However, at its core, all you need to know is that a Monster is threatening the people over there and that you’re a Hero who’s going to go make everything right. It can be very simple and straightforward.
JON: Yup, as Jacob says, this was a key point. We wanted a framework into which you can slot your own knowledge, whether that’s the first two episodes of Vikings, or knowing the poetry of the Finnsburgh Fragment off by heart.
Recently, Jon, you won a poll for best gaming artist – beating some very well-known names indeed! Where does the inspiration for your BEOWULF art come from?
Jon: Yes that was all rather weird, although jolly nice of people. I’m very lucky to live in a place which allows views of some truly epic scenery – The Ochil Hills and the Trossachs here in Scotland. It’s just so moody and melancholy, with ever changing light and an ever-changing quality to the air, that it’s hard not to be moved by it. I’m also just a history nerd, and I love reading and researching this stuff, and trying to spin gaming gold out of some quite dry straw.
BEOWULF already has some gorgeous accessories – dice and dice trays – and it has a whole treasure hoard more incoming – Inspirations tokens, and real metal minis. Do you feel these are necessary to play the game? Or were they just something you needed to do?
JON: We’ve made sure you don’t need anything other than dice and a pencil. Maybe some paper would be handy. I think that’s a really core thing to RPGs in my mind – they are very accessible to those of us without the budget for all the fancy toys. And as has come up on line lately, we as creators often aren’t in the bracket to get all the toys. So it matters that they’re not necessary. You can get a great gaming experience making your own tokens. Of course we also want our accessories to be really, really nice, so that if you do drop some pocket money on them, they’re good value.
When it was released, BEOWULF made the Top Ten bestsellers on DriveThru – no small achievement for an indie company. So what’s next, what additional adventures are waiting for us as we travel the Whale Road?
JACOB: We will be releasing our first digital expansion pack to backers and that will include an adventure alongside other new materials. If you didn’t get signed up for that, the adventure itself, Horror at Herrogate, will be available for purchase on DriveThruRPG.com. That’s just the first one, and there will be many more.
Jon: Yes! There is plenty more where that came from!