The 2013 ENnies nominations have been announced and voting is now open. I caught up with MJ Alishah of Aetheric Dreams; their product, Nights of the Crusades, is nominated for a Best Free Game ENnie. Voting begins on Monday, July 22 and runs to Wednesday, July 31. The ceremony itself will be on Friday, August 16, in the Union Station Grand Hall at 8 pm with the cocktail reception beginning at 6:30 pm.
Michael Tresca (MT): Tell us about Third Eye Games.
MJ Alishah (MJA): I’ve always been attracted to the ‘southern/eastern deserty’ part of fantasy maps regardless of whether I was DMing in Faerun or playing Warhammer. For inspiration I started reading the actual medieval history and fantasy of the near and middle east. I stumbled upon an old Syrian poet called Al-Ma’arri who just seemed to contradict everything I’d read in modern fantasy books. His poetry dealt with subjects beyond what I had thought was possible for a thinker in medieval times – dealing with the tyranny of monarchs, rejecting religion in favour of reason, and (probably even more surprisingly) animal rights. He died a few decades before his home town was brutally pillaged by the crusaders.
After discovering medieval scribes like Al Ma’arri, Ibn Munqidh and Jean de Joinville I tried to find a fantasy setting that allowed me to create bizarre characters like the ones I had found in history books – and couldn’t. They just seemed too forced when placed into the settings I had grown up with. When I decided to create the world I was looking for, one that conjured the darkness and rebellion that lurked under the chivalry of medieval-style fantasy, Nights of the Crusades and Aetheric Dreams was born!
MT: Why should voters vote for your product? What sets it apart?
MJA: I’d vote for Nights of the Crusades, but the things about it that I’d argue are innovative and great may not appeal to everyone. It’s very low fantasy, with magic being replaced by alchemy. Combat has psychological as well as physical consequences. Characters can be killed like Richard the Lionheart – a crossbow through the chest by a lowly garrison soldier. The system and skills for negotiating attempt to make debates as interesting as battles and allow non-physical characters to contribute in combat. Tales are told, in character, that reflect the story-within-story theme of the 1001 Nights and offer rewards in a narrative, risk-based meta game. Powerful characters can acquire strongholds and gain the extra problems of managing their subjects. The setting could be described as horror-fantasy with the historical crusades as a background. And the rules hope to achieve all of the above in a quick, easy to learn system.
MT: How do you feel about the state of the gaming industry today?
MJA: I can only speak from an outside perspective in regards to this. My opinion is that tabletop RPGs have always been niche and will remain so – but they offer a much more immersive and creative experience when exploring other worlds than novels and movies (no interaction with the audience throughout the journey) and computer games (though Eve Online is one game that I think allows the audience to become proper characters in the world, rather than simply reacting to the story proposed by developers). So I think they have what it takes to offer a sustainable industry, but I know a lot more people who read, watch and play computer games set in fantasy settings than I do TRPGers. But RPG DriveThru and Paizo seem to be doing ok.
MT: How hard is it for a game publisher in this economy?
MJA: If you’re trying to make a living from an indie RPG, I’m probably not the right person to offer opinions (Nights of the Crusades is free after all). I have a day job (that luckily has about 20% cross-over with designing a game), so that allows Nights of the Crusades to have a strong vision – even though it probably makes it more niche in an already niche market. However, if the question is about how hard was it for Aetheric Dreams to publish a game (apart from the 3+ years writing, designing and illustrating it) – then it couldn’t be easier at the moment. RPG Drive Thru is such an excellent service that caters for any size of game publisher as long as you can turn your work into a PDF – and all the social media networks are great for getting the news out (Nights of the Crusades even has a playlist on Spotify!). Paizo was also very helpful in getting our Pathfinder version of Nights of the Crusades out too.
MT: How has Kickstarter changed or influenced your business model, if at all?
MJA: I had a wild thought last year (an aetheric dream?) that an artist I really admire could illustrate a special edition of Nights of the Crusades. I went about getting quotes, planning and investigating Kickstarter for how it would work for, say, Karl Kopinski to be the illustrator – though it didn’t really get off the ground. However, the point is that the thought entered the realm of possibility because of a company like Kickstarter – and for that it should be admired.
MT: What’s next for your company?
MJA: Current supplements to Nights of the Crusades are the Tower by the Sea (which could be played after the sample chapter in the core rules) and Tales for Dark Roads (which could be played after the Tower by the Sea as the characters journey to a destination of their choice). Following the theme, the next release from Aetheric Dreams will be the City of 10 Rings, set in a large city ruled by ten heirs of the Brethren of Purity (an intellectual secret society that existed in Arabia’s middle ages). There’s a bestiary on the way for the creatures mentioned in the supplements so far as well as some that have been asked for (like Djinn). The release after that will either be a novel, a game-book (think Fighting Fantasy) or a ruleset for a miniature skirmish adaptation.
MT: Will you be at Gen Con? Where?
MJA: With 1001 regrets, no. Aetheric Dreams most of the time is really just one person, MJ Alishah (me), and I’m trapped in a land very far away from the USA. I will, however, be watching the news and Twitter to see the results of the ENies.
MT: Where can we find out more about your company online?
TW: The Nights of the Crusades site is the hub for news, products and links to the Twitter, Pinterest and Spotify pages.
MT: Anything else you’d like to share?
TW: It has been such a great experience to be nominated for an ENnie, and I wish all the other companies luck on the day – thanks for reaching out and letting me speak on your great blog too!
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