Why 5e? why Beowulf, why duet?

Hello – Jon here.

Nerd loves this book

The three questions we get asked whenever we talk about BEOWULF are why two players, why 5e, why Beowulf?

Let’s talk about it!

So the duet play feature at the heart of BEOWULF Age of Heroes is really the driver behind everything we’ve added to the 5e rules. And the reason we decided to develop a duet play mode is tied up with the other two aspects – looking back it’s a bit of a tangled knot!

So, why 5e? This gets asked even more now we’re also doing a|state with Forged in the Dark. Why are we even in that over-populated, “uncool” 5e space? Primarily, believe it or not, because we just like it! (We like a lot of different stuff!) 

Having all worked extensively on Adventures in Middle-earth in our previous jobs, and through that to some degree rediscovered “the world’s favourite roleplaying game”, we wanted to go further and do even more with it, and the team were very keen to get back to that system.

Speaking for myself, I find 5e is a collection of quite clever parts, which can be modded tremendously easily. I love stuff like inspiration and advantage – I think they’re really smart. And sure, game historians out there will know that 5e isn’t the first rules system to use these things. But all wrapped up together with a bunch of core assumptions already dealt with? It’s a really interesting space to play in. 

And hey, I get it that for some people there are sacred cows within that game set up which are just too unpalatable. That’s ok! But I think it’s a fun ruleset to play around with, and it’s by and large very easy to play, and very easy to get a game together.

Talking of which, this is one of the big drivers behind the choice to make BEOWULF duet – one player and one GM. The look of delight on so many playtester’s faces when they realised they need only find one other person in order to run a campaign was proof we were onto something good. We’ve all struggled to schedule a game, and being able to call one other person and fix a time to play is really powerful.

There’s also a less obvious benefit – you can run the same adventure for several players. So if you have a group of players, BEOWULF makes an excellent pick up game if you can’t run your usual session. Each time you run it is different, but as GM you get more and more familiar with the material, and it gets better and better. There’s a lower cost to generating those good times, given the ease of re-running BEOWULF adventures.

And of course, BEOWULF also works for group play. Everything we built onto 5e to make duet play simple lifts right out.

So why BEOWULF at all? Right at the beginning of Handiwork Games we sat down and chatted about what we’d like to make. The idea of an early medieval/low fantasy/dark ages setting just kept coming up. It’s an era I find really fascinating, and have been interested it most of my life. There’s detail there if you want to study, and it’s readily available at your local library or bookshop. But equally it works as “dark ages-flavoured” heroic fantasy, without any need to read anything.  

I don’t like to harp on too much about other games we’ve worked on and that are clearly other people’s babies, but it’s key to the existence of BEOULF –  working on a Tolkien RPG for the best part of a decade, and being a key player in imbuing it with that dark ages flavour, you inevitably find your way to Beowulf, and I wound up having a lot of knowledge that couldn’t easily be used in a Third Age Middle-earth setting. It had to come out somewhere!

I also think my art style which, however weird I feel about saying it, was a big tick in the plus column of things we had to work with at the birth of Handiwork Games. My style, and the style that Scot Purdy brings, work well for these subjects.

And from a different angle, if you cook it down in game terms, the lone hero who seeks out monsters and slays them, fits together with the 5e rules in a really interesting way. Making that inevitable combat a real set piece, and the unashamed climax of an adventure is just cool.

Somewhat surprisingly, the poem prompted us to bring a level of mechanical focus on social interaction and investigation to 5e. The poem has a lot to say about how people and life are affected by interactions with the various monsters, and that was important to bring to the table. I’m really proud of those sections of the game that bring huge mechanical support to interacting with NPCs to unravel the mystery of the Monster.

BEOWULF Age of Heroes for 5e is available now* from selected UK and EU stockists, and from our webstore. It is also available with a range of adventures and additional digital content at DrivethruRPG.

*Please note that BEOWULF stock for US backers is currently being shipped. Once caught up with this process we will have more information about US shops and direct orders.