Let’s take a moment to step back from the digital worlds we usually play in and bask in the glory of the games of yore. We’re talking, of course, about the Pen and Paper (PnP) RPGs of days gone by. The people going by the (awesome) name of Flying Nightbear Games are looking to bring us back to the table, huddled around our character sheets and neck deep in imagination with their new RPG Beyonder.
Slimgamer recently got a chance to talk to Robin McEntire, the creator and lead designer of Beyonder. He took us on a wonderful journey as we discussed the game, it’s development history, it’s lore, and the team behind it. Come with us into the wonderful world of PnP RPGs.
What can you tell us about Beyonder?
Beyonder is a pencil and paper roleplaying game: a group of people get together (usually in the real world but occasionally over the internet) and tell a collaborative story. One person acts as the narrator (called the Moderator), and everyone else takes on the role of a character in the story. The game takes place on the continent of Tamarra, in a world called Ethem. It is a world governed by “The Six Energies” and populated by a number of unique and fantastical creatures. When a character attempts to do something challenging, the game has a set of rules that allows you to determine their level of success or failure.
Why did you decide on Kickstarter as a way to fund Beyonder?
We have been working on this game for years (some of us almost 40 years!) and we are finally ready to share it with the world. We want to produce a high quality product, not just a word document that you can print out at home and leave around to be forgotten. We have spent time and money working with artists to make sure that the visual aspects of the game live up to the quality of the gameplay itself and it has paid off. Our incredible artists produced images as rich and beautiful as the stories that grew out of our years of gameplay. We hired a design and layout team to convert our words, tables, and pictures into a cohesive piece that is both attractive and functional. So when it came time to decide how to produce the final product we decided to go all the way and raise the money needed to print quality books. And that is where Kickstarter comes in. It is a great way to bring in the money needed to get Beyonder off the ground in the right way. And, it is also a way to spread the word about this new game and to put it into the hands of anyone who is ready to explore its wonders.
What’s unique about your world?
The world of Beyonder is unique in many ways but I’ll mention three: The Six Energies, the Ten Races, and our method of character generation for beginners who don’t want to trudge through all of the numbers.
The Six Energies
The Six Energies are the primal forces that make up everything in the world in the same way that our world is made up of atom and forces. They come in three pairs:
The Outer Energies: Body and Physic
The Inner Energies: Emotion and Mental
The Ethereal Energies: Spirit and Shadow
In addition to making up the world, Energies are important to every character in the Beyonderverse in many ways. First, every basic action in Beyonder is associated with a Talent and each Talent is associated with two Energies. Second, your character will specialize in controlling one or more of these Energies.
Wielders of Body Energy are called Soman, and can do things like grow a shield of bone on their arm and slow down an enemy’s heart.
Wielders of Physic Energy are called Evokers, and can do things like control sound waves to make only select individuals able to hear a conversation, or freeze all the water in an enemy’s body.
Wielders of Emotion Energy are called Charismatics, and can make you think twice before stabbing them or convince you that you would be better off stabbing that guy over there.
Wielders of Mental Energy are called Mentarchs, and can make you remember things that never happened or just melt your mind.
Wielders of Spirit Energy are called Mystics, and can make your wounds heal so fast that you can walk through a field of battle without fear for your life, or control the plants and animals around you.
Wielders of Shadow Energy are called Umbrists, and can choose to ignore the effects of the other five Energies by force of will alone or channel pure Shadow Energy into a bolt that can tear apart the bonds that hold you together.
The Ten Races
The world of Beyonder is primarily populated by 10 sentient races: Humans, Crawns, Heola, Kamaris, Dwarves, Wellyn, Ishiris, Zweyjen, Ushen, and Dwaheelies. Each race has a unique history and its own set of strengths and weaknesses. As a player of Beyonder you can choose to be any of these races, regardless of which type of Energy you wield and what role you want to play. You can be a Crawn fighter who blasts his enemies with attacks made of Physic Energy, but if you prefer, your Crawn can be a stealthy thief who uses Emotion Energy to get out of trouble. Every combination is possible – although some of the stranger ones (a small, furry Wellyn who chooses to be a warrior, for example) may be slightly more challenging – and also more rewarding.
A new kind of Character Generation: fast, fun and easy!
In most RPGs, the process of creating a character can be quite daunting, especially if it is your first time playing the game. The process can be time-consuming, and usually involves a more experienced player telling you to fill in some numbers that don’t make any sense to you. To make this process easier, we created MYCA© (Make Your Character with an Adventure) – the first of its kind, to our knowledge! The system is a form of the old “choose your own adventure” stories; you read through a story, choosing how you respond to the situations we present to you, and by the end you have a ready-to-play character. This process takes about five minutes and requires no knowledge of the rules. We have an automated version on our website (not yet public), which makes it even easier!
Have you ever done this before?
This is our first Kickstarter, and Beyonder is our first game, but this is not the first edition of Beyonder. Beyonder was born in the 70’s, when Robin McEntire (President of Flying NightBear Games) played some of the RPGs that had recently been introduced, and decided to create his own. He and his wife had children in the 80s, and put away the game — until the 90s, when his kids discovered it! It remained largely the same game, although expanded within the same framework of rules, until the late 90’s.
At that point, Robin, along with sons Simon and Caleb, plus Simon’s friend Jordan Campbell, rewrote the entire rule system (2nd edition), keeping the core the same, but with an eye for making the rules more standardized and complete. After completing this version we went through the process of playtesting and found that, though it was fun, it was not robust enough to create the kind of world we envisioned.
We started again from scratch, completely rebuilding the system from the ground up over the course of about five years (3rd edition). At the end of that time we had a game which was quite realistic and complete — but after more playtesting we found that people who were not hardcore game nerds were overwhelmed by the complexities which made the realistic gameplay so accurate. We went back to the drawing board a final time, keeping those aspects of the game that worked well, but with an eye to making the gameplay smooth and simple. This resulted in the Beyonder you see today– an elegant solution to the problem of balancing complexity with the realism needed for players to immerse themselves in the story.
What kind of rewards did you come up with? What would be your advice to others regarding the rewards?
We want to get our game into peoples’ hands! For a sample adventure, check out our $15 pledge reward, A LITTLE BIT OF BEYONDER. Many of our rewards feature one or both of our books: the Beyonder Rule Book and the Bestiary. The rewards include both PDF copies of these books as well as the hardbound editions. We also have two rewards focused on our amazing art work, which is great both for people who are totally into RPGs or for anyone who just enjoys great fantasy art.
What would be your advice regarding creating a project on Kickstarter in general? How important was the video?
The best advice we have is that running a Kickstarter is a lot more work than one would think. We are on daily rotations answering messages and posting new rewards, responding to forums, and spreading the word as far and as wide as we can.
Also, there are some very good blogs, web sites, and a book or two with advice from people who have run Kickstarter campaigns in the past. We found it immensely helpful to us, as first time Kickstarter campaigners, to look over a lot of this information. There’s no single, magic formula for making it work. But, the more you know from other people’s experience, before you start your own campaign, the better off you’ll be!
The video is a very important part of our campaign. It tells the story of Beyonder, shows you some of the gorgeous artwork, and introduces you to the Flying NightBear Games family. It was made for us by the very talented motion graphics artist, Vincent de Luca.
What did you do to promote your Kickstarter campaign?
Other than the obvious social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) we have been actively posting on a number of gaming forums. We’ve also put up flyers in local game and comic stores (in NYC, Philadelphia, Boston, and SF) and we have done several interviews, both written (http://ap2hyc.com/?p=8230) and audio (http://www.visitphilly.com/hear-philly/). The last one, at hearPHILLY.com, was a podcast for one of Philadelphia’s largest radio stations.
Can you give us some details about your history?
As we described, Beyonder began as the brainchild of Robin McEntire in the 1970s, when RPGs were beginning to become popular. He and his wife Judy really enjoyed playing these games, and Robin decided to create his own story and his own world. Over the years Robin played with friends and relatives, and got many of them interested in Beyonder and in RPGs generally. Then, in the early 80s, Robin and Judy started a family and discovered that they had far less free time (but that’s another story). Jump forward about 20 years and Robin and Judy’s children (Simon, Caleb, and Jacob) heard that their dad had this game he had played years before and they decided that they, too, wanted to play. It wasn’t long before many of their friends (including Jordan Campbell and Dan Zahn, who is now busy in residency) started playing and joined the growing group of Beyonder enthusiasts, playing nearly every weekend. Jump forward a few more years, and Simon and Jordan were getting ready to go off to college. That’s when the group decided that wanted to do more than just play Beyonder. They wanted to share it with the rest of the world. And, now, here we are, standing before you with a completed product, played by friends and relatives over decades, revised and tested many times, and enriched by all the many players who have created stories with us over these many years.
THE PEOPLE OF FLYING NIGHTBEAR GAMES:
Robin, President of FNBGames, is a computer scientist with an MSE from the Moore School of Engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. He has worked in the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for over 25 years, and has been interested in RPGs for even longer. In the early 70s, while fresh out of college, he began putting together his own version of an RPG, originally called “The Game.” For the next 15 years he devoted his time to AI and to raising his three sons: Simon, Caleb, and Jacob. In the early 1990s he took up “The Game” again, when his sons discovered that their father had created such a thing and pestered him until he showed it to them. Since then, Robin has continued his work in AI, as well as his interest in developing “The Game” into “Beyonder.”
Simon is an entrepreneur and independent marketing consultant, in addition to being FNBGames Director of Marketing. Simon has been creating and running games for many years, some of them while pursuing his major in History and East Asian Studies at Brown University. Since graduating from college, he has been a small business entrepreneur. Simon’s favorite thing about games is creating a wonderful and immersive experience for players, and finding the best ways to most strongly deliver that experience.
After studying neuroscience at Brown University, Caleb worked briefly in restaurant kitchens and recipe development before moving back into the sciences. He now researches cell- and gene-based therapies for Parkinson’s Disease at Yale University while he applies to medical schools. Caleb, who is Director of Story Development, does much of the creative writing for Beyonder, and is lead author of Imbelnhi’s Bestiary. Despite no longer working in the food industry, Caleb maintains that Beyonder, food, and science are tied for a place in his heart of hearts.
Jordan Campbell is actually a robot bent on world domination. However, due to a glitch in his programming he had to give that up, and now lives a normal human life. Jordan studied math, physics, and computer science at Vassar College, where he also developed his interest in Juggling and Fire Arts. After college, Jordan moved to the San Francisco Bay area, making his living as a math tutor by day and fire dancer by night. He has performed at the famous “Burning Man” on several occasions. He now lives in New York, where he continues to work as a math tutor as well as a juggling instructor, and is Technical Theater Director for Brooklyn Friends School. Jordan is the Director of Game Development for FNBGames.
Tell us something which isn’t written in your project page which worth mentioning.
We can mention something that is a brand new update on our project page. We have been working on a campaign, with several chapters, called the Legends of Tamarra. As gamers know, a common problem with RPGs that provide their own setting, is how to introduce that setting to their players. The world of Beyonder is very rich with history and story, and so we feel with have this problem big time.
Most games, if not all of them, solve this problem by giving a small chapter on history up at the front of the book. We do this, too — it’s a practical solution. But it doesn’t do justice to the full world, and players only become acquainted with this as they spend more time playing the game.
The Legends of Tamarra campaign is a pre-written story, designed for new players, in which the characters delve into the fossilized memories of the world — pockets of Energy stored deep inside the hibernating creature that is the planet Ethem — to eradicate a kind of disease that has burrowed its way into them.
We think this will be a great way for our players to get to know the world of Beyonder, and we’ve established this as our first Kickstarter stretch goal. Also, if you look at the update on our Kickstarter page you’ll see that we have a short video of Caleb explaining the Legends of Tamarra. So, come meet Caleb and learn a bit more about LoT.
What is your Newsworthy title about your project?
The name of our game is Beyonder, and we introduce ourselves with the phrase “Imagine with Us”. We think “imagine with us” is exactly what we want Beyonder to be. We have a great story for the world of Beyonder. But the way we want to go with Beyonder is for our players to take this story and make it their own and continue the story with us.
As of this writing Beyonder is $90 away from being funded with a little over 2 days to go. If you long for another tabletop RPG, maybe you should consider backing it. Robin and his team have put an incredible amount of work into Beyonder and all they want to do is share their game with the world. If you’re considering backing the project, you can do so by visiting the Kickstarter page. For more info, check out fnbgames.com.