While not usually in our usual purview, when I came across this RPG on Kickstarter, I thought I just had to speak to the creators. The world of Beyonder has been almost 40 years in the making, and the creatures and characters and effort put into this game is just as much as (if not more than) any comic and I hope that you’ll agree that it’s quite a marvellous result.
I had a chance to speak to the minds behind this incredible game, Robin, Simon, and Caleb McEntire and Jordan Campbell of Flying Nightbear Games. They answered our questions together, so you can consider the answers as coming from all of them.
What is Beyonder? How would you explain it to someone who doesn’t know much about RPGs?
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. (I like to think of it as a more complex version of the kids’ game of cop and robbers, except that when someone says, “Bang bang! I shot you!” and the other person says, “No you didn’t!” there is a way to determine who is right.)
Can you tell us a bit about how Beyonder started, and how each of you started playing?
Beyonder began as the brainchild of Robin McEntire in the 1970s, when RPGs were beginning to become popular. He and [wife] Judy really enjoyed playing these games, and he decided to create his own story in his own world. They played this, with friends and relatives, for many years. (That is, until they had children, and 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 about this game and wanted to play it themselves. Soon after that Jordan (and Dan, who is now busy in residency) met Simon and joined the group of Beyonder enthusiasts, playing nearly every weekend. Jump forward another 10 years. Simon and Jordan were getting ready to go off to college, and the group decided that not only did they want to keep playing Beyonder, they wanted to share it with the rest of the world. Jump forward yet another ten years and we stand before you with a completed product, played by friends and relatives over decades, revised and tested many times, enriched by all the players over the years who have created stories with us.
Can you explain what the Six Energies are?
The Six Energies are the primal forces that make up everything in the world in the same way our world is made 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 Somen, 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.
And what are 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.
Can you tell us a bit about the unique method you’ve devised for players to create their characters?
In most RPGs, the process of creating a character can be quite daunting, especially if it is your first time playing the game or playing an RPG at all. 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 you with, 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 even have an automated version on our website (not yet public), which makes it even easier!
Could you give us a couple examples of characters players can choose to be? Can each race be mixed and matched with the different Energies?
One of the great things about Beyonder is how customizable the characters are. You can choose any of the Ten Races. You can specialize in controlling any of the Six Energies, or even learn to control several of them. On top of that, your character has access to Talents such as Melee Combat, Communication, and Scholarship, each of which is associated with two Energies. So even if you choose to play a Crawn who is a member of the Soman Guild (wielder of Body Energy), you do not have to be a brute fighter. You can train in Communication and Leadership, using your Body Powers for things like increasing your ability to read people by sensing their vital signs or making your opponent in a debate start sweating.
You say on your Kickstarter page that the world of Beyonder is “a giant, consistent unit rather than piecemeal races and cities.” Does that mean players can expect to find more integration between the different races in the various cities and locations than they might see in similar games?
Yes, that’s exactly right. On the Tamarran Continent, the primary location in the Beyonder world, there are several large cities. Each city has a mix of all of the Ten Races from which our players can create their characters. Some cities have a larger representation of one or two of these Races, and each city has neighborhoods that are predominantly one of these Ten Races, but for the most part, you can find all of the races, and other sentient creatures, living most everywhere on the continent.
I’d add, too, that it goes deeper than that. We have been playing Beyonder for many years (some of us for almost 40 years), and we have developed an incredibly rich history. I think it really shows in the game. We have plans for future editions that go into the histories of all of the races and locations.
What else would you say sets Beyonder apart from other RPGs?
We worked very hard to make Beyonder more than the standard hack-and-slash, dungeon crawling game where you kill monsters, collect phat lewts, and buy better weapons to kill more monsters. Not every creature in Beyonder is a monster. Not every problem in Beyonder can be solved with violence. Not every character in Beyonder is a fighter. We designed the system not just to allow this, but to encourage it. The rules for dealing with social situations have the same level of detail as the rules for combat. We hope that all sorts of people — kids and adults, men and women, lovers of both combat and intrigue — will all find what they want in Beyonder.
Another thing that really sets Beyonder apart is that we want the players to be the ones designing the world they are playing. Every player will be inventing their own Powers based on our rules for Power creation. We plan to have tools for creating new creatures, new items, and new places on our website which they can share with other players and which will eventually become part of the standard Beyonder canon.
The Bestiary seems like a really cool addition to the world. How many different creatures are there? How many beasts would a player meet in a typical game? Can you tell us about a few of your favorites?
The Bestiary is written by the in-game character Imbelnhi Ulanwey, the great zweyjen zoographer and explorer. It contains over sixty unique creatures — from philandering fey to soul-eating daemons and everything in between. As for how many beasts a player would meet in a typical game, well, that’s up to the GM. In the bestiary we provide creatures that live in every type of terrain, mountain and ocean and desert and more, enough to keep any campaign fresh and exciting for a long while.
Some of our favorites? Caleb is particularly fond of the temperature boars, who are undisputedly the most bewildered creatures in the world of Beyonder. They are almost-mundane animals who were long ago imbued with Physic Energy. This supernatural Energy makes them alternately freeze the air around them with the cold of their body, and burst into searing flame. They never really got used to this, is the thing — they react to flames all around them as any normal boar would (which is to say, not particularly calmly). We also love the chik-chiks, daemons who are known for the sound of their always-clicking teeth: they never speak, they click their teeth, don’t close your eyes, don’t go to sleep.
And of course, we love the historians who comment throughout the bestiary. Their in-game voices were absolutely a delight to write, and give a wide range of perspectives on the beasts of the continent. Rhonda Floam, the intrepid human reporter, writes tales of her travels; Tleeloch Choltichka, the ramblingly mad dwaheely zoologist, scrawls what he reads telepathically from the minds of these creatures; and Kuemwan Alomla, the zweyjen sea explorer, writes from his heart about the creatures that he and his life companion, Imbelnhi, meet on their travels throughout the Tamarran Continent.
Overall, the bestiary gives a great breadth of information. There are beasts enough for every GM, and a rich insight into the world of Beyonder.
Why did you decide to use Kickstarter? How is the campaign going so far? What kinds of rewards are you offering to donors?
Kickstarter is our way of launching Beyonder into the world, and of getting the funds to print high-quality books reflecting the experience we are trying to create. When you hold our Bestiary in your hands, we want you to feel that it is an actual copy of Imbelni’s personal journals, annotated by a number of scholars throughout time. We want Beyonder to be an experience, not just a game.
Our rewards include postcards, posters, and calendars featuring our artwork, PDF versions of both books, and our hardbound, beautifully designed and illustrated Rule Book and Bestiary.
There are also opportunities to create characters or creatures that will be featured in the game, commission a portrait by one of our artists of you as a character in Beyonder, or play a game run by the Beyonder team for you and your friends.
So far the campaign is going well. We have had a lot of support – people have been positive and encouraging and have given us a lot of feedback, which we are incorporating as we go. We have been incredibly lucky to work with some majorly talented artists who really brought Beyonder to life, and we hope that you will enjoy the works that are the result.
I for one am definitely looking forward to my first time playing Beyonder. For more information, you can check out the official Kickstarter (and donate) here, visit the official Flying Nightbear Games website here, or find FNB Games on Facebook here.