Save vs Interview: Daniel Brouwer on Chronicles

Chronicles is an open-source minis skirmish and exploration game. The game is available for free at their website, which also features a blog that allows players keep up with frequent rules updates and new content. Creator and designer Daniel Brouwer and I exchanged a few e-mails talking about Chronicles and himself, this was the result.

Could start by giving our readers a brief overview (an elevator pitch, if you will) of Chronicles. whatís it all about?

Chronicles is a free to play tabletop skirmish role playing game. Quite a mouthful, what it means is you play out battles on your table, using miniatures or tokens, and you connect the battles through stories, that you either role play yourself or have the Game Master tell you. You basically take on the role of an adventurer in a story laid out by the Game Master. The skirmish part means you don't use a grid, but instead have free, open movement. A bit like how Phantom Brave plays compared to Disgaea. Thatís not to say Chronicles can't be played on a grid. It just takes a little conversion.

What separates it from other fantasy games?

The focus of the game mechanics. There is very little in the way of rules governing role playing. In that sense it is very free-form. Also, the relative simplicity of the combat system. Battles are very fast paced. There aren't countless little exceptions to the rules, unless you decide to house rule them. The core rules are (currently) 23 pages worth of rules. There is also no character creation to speak of. Statistics, weapons and the skill tree are "pre-generated". There are ways to differentiate your Elf Hunter from the next Elf Hunter, but there is no rolling for stats. I personally feel stats donít make a character, their background story does.

What do you feel is the emphasis of the game? Combat, interaction or exploration?

The emphasis of the story is whatever you want to emphasize. However, the emphasis of the game system is combat. Exploration and interaction are free-form and are almost entirely governed by the Game Master and the players, with very few rules.

In creating Chronicles, I was not only inspired by pen and paper tabletop RPGs, but also tabletop war games, skirmish games and console RPGs. In fact, Chronicles is very well suited for playing out console type stories on the table. The way most console RPGs mostly allow the players to govern their characters' action in combat, with the story for the most part already laid out for you, the same can easily be done in Chronicles. The fact that there are very few rules governing interaction or exploration means the Game Master and the players are free to decide how they want to do that.

If all they want is the Game Master telling the story in between the conflicts, and the players only using their characters while in combat, that is perfectly fine. If they want more interaction with the world outside of combat as well, Chronicles doesn't force a particular way of doing so, outside of a couple of basic action rolls for things such as climbing and swimming.

Also, a portion of the rule book states that house ruling is a very important facet of Chronicles. If players want to put something in a rule, they can. This ensures that players are going to play the game in a way they are familiar with. Tabletop war game players have a different view of how things are resolved than pen and paper roleplayers. This way they can suit the game to their needs.

What sort of dice mechanics does Chronicles use? What style of play does that create?

Most actions are resolved using 2d6 (two six-sided dice). This may seem limiting, especially to players used to d20 systems, but it helps keep the game fast paced. Also, the bell curve that two dice brings means there is relatively more success than failure. That's a good thing, because failure is a scary thing in Chronicles. Other things, such as treasure tables and such may use only one die, or more than two. However, there are no other types of dice used. Not everyone has a stack of different dice lying around, but six-sided ones are very common.

Would you consider yourself or your game to be participating in the Old School Renaissance?

Not really, no. Old school role playing games weren't inspired by war games, skirmish games or console RPGs, as those didn't really exist yet back then. I may have taken some inspiration from old school RPGs, but not as much as to call Chronicles an old school rule set.

Also, I think much of the old school feel came from the accompanying artwork. I deliberately decided to leave the rulebooks art free, so that people could add in their own flavor. To me, artwork gives player a certain sense of direction in their games, which can be a good thing if the game in question has a strong setting. Since Chronicles is setting generic, aside from the fact that it focuses on medieval fantasy, I wanted to keep it that way. If players want a game that feels like old school games, or a game like the Elder Scrolls, they can. If they want it to feel like Final Fantasy Tactics, they can. With a little conversion work, they could even make it feel like Phantasy Star. They could reinforce that feel with the miniatures or tokens they choose. Chronicles may be called a role playing game, but it's not necessarily in the traditional pen and paper sense of the word.

Chronicles is really something that has gone full circle. First we had pen and paper and tabletop RPGs, which inspired PC RPGs and console RPGs, and now Chronicles takes inspiration from those and brings them back to the tabletop.

You've been revising the rules as you've been play testing; what have you learned from this process?

Building a game from the ground up, you quickly find out what you personally like and dislike, what works and doesn't work. Chronicles is very much a game I like. I would be the last to say my game is the holy grail of roleplaying, as everything is an acquired taste, but I believe Chronicles has become something that is very enjoyable. Things sometimes seem to work in theory but don't work in practice. My players fortunately didn't mind having to deal with such things during play.

The play testing proved to me that it was indeed a ton of fun to play. The free form approach to role playing was very liberating for the players. The fact that it was so easy to get into meant it could literally be picked up and played on the fly. Again, I believe this comes from the fact I was just as much inspired by console RPGs as well as tabletop RPGs, skirmish games and war games. Another thing I have learned is I am terrible with numbers. I was fortunate a number cruncher found my game, liked it a lot and decided to give me some pointers. He has since been a very valuable play tester.

Have you ever been sick of staring at the same text over and over while updating the rules?

Not really. The more I looked at the rules I wrote, the more I could use those rules to create interesting little twists. For example, there is the difference between physical damage and other types of damage, which all fall under the category of magical for sake of ease. Fighters have high physical defense but very low magical defense, spell casters have high magical defense but low physical defense. One thing I came up with was how Ghouls would hit with poison damage instead of physical damage if they rolled a natural 6 on damage. This means serious damage for the fighters they are most likely to be in close combat with. These little exceptions keep the game fresh, but it never bogs the game down. Every rule is written with the character that uses it, so you donít have to go back and forth through different books to find out what a rule does. I also view it as a fun challenge to write as clear and concise rules as possible, so in that sense it was a lot of fun for me.

At what point do you think the game will be done, if ever?

The basic rules are pretty much finished, barring any odd mistakes I may have missed. In that sense people don't have to expect any more major changes from now on. However, new adventurers will hopefully be created for a long time to come, as they will create new ways to enjoy Chronicles. Additionally, new Adventure Books will hopefully spawn new enemies to fight, new stories to be told and perhaps even new mechanics to spice up the game a little. We are also thinking of releasing setting suggestions somewhere in the future to give Chronicles different flavors, like specific adventurers and enemies for a steampunk setting like Final Fantasy VI or even a sci-fi setting such as Phantasy Star.

So the main rules are finished, but the game is far from done. We try to come up with new things to use in your adventures from time to time.

What made you decide on your release model, both as a free product and as an open-source rule set?

I don't consider myself a professional games writer, I have no formal education in this area. I was hoping the community would pitch in with ideas and thoughts on how to make the game better. I was happy to find out the community was indeed very willing. The fact that it's free is for the same reason. I am not a professional games writer, so I canít really ask money for it. I just wanted to create an enjoyable role playing experience for everyone to enjoy. I think I have succeeded so far.

Open-source means people can contribute without having to ask me for permission. This means that one might find cool additional stuff somewhere on the net that isn't from me but useful in their games nonetheless. As long as there is attribution to my work, it's fine.

What has been the response from the gamer sphere in terms of player reaction and fan-created content?

This is actually the second edition of Chronicles. The first one was more of a grid-based dungeon crawling affair and fare more complicated than its current iteration. It was a whole different beast and ultimately just not as much fun. I tried to create something that was already out there and done better. However, several people did in fact pitch in with ideas. I have since lost contact with them, as I had to shut down the accompanying forum. Now, with the new edition, I already have met some people online who have been of immense help to play testing. Talking about my game on several different dedicated forums has also helped. Many people are enthusiastic about the game, even though itís still small. There is already a fan-created Adventure Book series in the works, that I am also helping out with.

Oh, and let's not forget the logo, which was very kindly created for me by a fellow games writer.

Aside from the rules, what have you released for Chronicles in terms of support material?

Obviously the Adventurer Sheets. We have started with what many consider the basic types, but we are far from done. We just released two new adventurers and there are others on the horizon. The Adventure Book called "A New Start" is basically the test bed for Chronicles. It introduces some ways of playing Chronicles aside from combat, and has the ever annoying goblins as the main enemy in it. This is only the start though.

What's coming up for Chronicles in the near future?

The near future will hold a large list of what we call Defining Features. They are basically (suggested) options for background stories, some of which also grant some additional bonuses, whether inside or out of combat. Obviously we also need a list of treasure to be found. The Adventure Book has several of both, but we need more.

Aside from that, a source book for Undead Enemies is in the works. Called Encounter Books, these are a collection of themed encounters. New adventurers are always in the works. Lastly, the current Adventure Book "A New Start" as well as the one in the works are both very much old school pen and paper in the way the stories are set up. I want to create an Adventure Book series that really plays more like a console RPG. I know people are perfectly fine to come up with their own ideas, but just to show that Chronicles can be played with a variety of different story styles, I want to create a story akin to Suikoden or Final Fantasy Tactics. It will be an Adventure Book in which there are some limiting factors such as the background of some characters, but sometimes limitation (both in story and in character) makes a game more interesting. Give me Legend of Zelda over World of Warcraft any day.

Are there any other game projects coming up from you and your team?

Not right now. I am always thinking of concepts to use, and I have plenty of ideas, but the focus right now is on Chronicles. Perhaps in the future.

As this is primarily a videogame site, what is your favourite videogame RPG?

I have a particular fondness of the SNES and PSX era. PS2 as well. Suikoden, as a series, holds a very special place in my heart. Final Fantasy Tactics has robbed me of many hours as well. Before that, my main love was Final Fantasy VI. At one point, I owned the SNES, PSX and GBA version. But it all started, funnily enough, with Zelda II, which I bought not because of rave reviews, but because of the golden cartridge. Talk about smart marketing. I never thanked Nintendo for that.

I think you can see their influences in the game design, but also in the future Adventure Books that I want to write.

We here at RPGamer and Saving Throw would like to thank Daniel for taking the time to answer our questions.

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