Hello, and welcome to the table! I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Ben Giles, creator of the upcoming TTRPG Vermilium, and talk with him about the system and setting.
Anton Kromoff: Hello Ben, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. I am going to jump right into the questions as I am very excited about Vermilium in both setting and system. I think everyone would like to learn a little bit more about you and the team involved in the creation of Vermilium. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Ben Giles: Firstly, thank you for taking an interest in Vermilium, and for interviewing me, Anton! It’s a pleasure to speak with you.
My name’s Ben Giles. I was born in Saudi Arabia, but was raised miles from civilization in rural England. Right now, I live in the Philippines with my wife, but we’re always looking over the next horizon for someplace new. I’m a spatial designer by profession and a gamer by passion.
Anton: How long have you been working on Vermilium as a concept?
Ben: Vermilium began as a homebrew game I created for my friends back in 2015, and we only just wrapped the campaign last year, so it’s had time to ferment and mature. I’d say I’ve probably been tinkering with the setting for about 9 years now, and I’ve been writing the book for 3.
Anton: Have you always been a tabletop gamer?
Ben: I actually started out as a PC gamer back in the 90’s when my dad got me copies of Doom, Blood, and Quake, which blew my seven-year-old mind! I got into tabletop gaming later in school – Warhammer, card games, D&D; the recommended diet of discerning geeks where I grew up. These came and went, but role-playing games have always ticked the right boxes for me as a creative. It wasn’t until after college when I really started delving into them.
Anton: How did Alex Vede (the artist on Vermilium) become involved in the project?
Ben: After trying a few different illustrators with different techniques, I was struck by Alex’s playful, digital style as soon as I saw his Instagram page. I asked if he’d be interested in bringing my setting to life, and luckily, he loved the idea from the start. I couldn’t be happier with the work he’s done for the project over the last two years. His art inspires my writing, so I have a lot to thank him for really.
Anton: What drew you to the Savage World game System?
Ben: I think like a lot of Savage Worlds players, my first exposure to it was with Deadlands. I was raised on a steady diet of westerns and horror movies, so the premise caught my attention. What sold it to me was the foreword by Bruce Campbell. I knew it had to be good.
Savage Worlds is one of the more exciting systems I’ve played with. As a game designer, I love its versatility – it’s so easy to pick apart and piece back together to create something new, and you can design any genre of game to be played with it. There’s also a really welcoming, tight-knit community of creators that are constantly releasing new stuff for the system and pushing it to its limits. That’s really inspiring.
As a player, there’s just something inexplicably cool about sitting down to a game night with a pool of dice, a stack of custom poker chips, and a deck of playing cards. You feel like you’re all gambling, but instead of money, the stakes are the lives of your imaginary friends.
Anton: What was the inspiration for the setting?
Ben: Most fantasy settings I’ve come across are historically and thematically very Euro-centric. Growing up in Europe, I was always fascinated by what was happening on the other side of the pond. For my setting, I wanted to take more inspiration from the Americas, including the rich mythologies of various indigenous cultures, the introduction of colonial imperialism, the industrial revolution, and the gilded romance of the old west.
Anton: The Jumpstart for Vermilium (currently for FREE on DrivethruRPG.com at this link) gives a glimpse at such a rich world full of lore. What does the final book size come in at?
Ben: It’s looking like the final book will come in at around 200 pages. About a third of that is lore, both for players and game masters, while the rest is reserved for setting rules, character creation, equipment and magical artifacts, an adventure generator, and a formidable bestiary.
Anton: As a game designer and someone who has been running games since the late 90’s, I am always intrigued by unique setting features. There is an aside in the Jumpstart that talks about how the technological milestone for the creation of firearms was never reached. Could you please go into a little bit about why that was a choice you made (if it doesn’t spoil anything)?
Ben: Creativity is born out of limitation. A Western-inspired setting without one of the most recognizable and iconic tropes presented a challenge, but also an opportunity to make a game with its own identity. To include guns would be too obvious, and I felt Vermilium needed its own imagery to set it apart from other settings, so I decided that repeater crossbows and other clockwork devices would bridge the fantasy/western gap.
Growing up in a place surrounded by ruins of older civilizations, I was always fascinated by forgotten technologies and faded grandeurs, like the pyramids of Egypt, the Roman influence on southern England, or the derelict engine houses of Cornwall’s industrial past. Until recently, the tech level in Vermilium sat around the stone age.
When the humans came to the new world with their iron age technology, they discovered ancient, industrial ruins and clockwork artifacts buried beneath its surface. They were able to use them to advance their own civilization, but have yet to reach the level of those who left them behind.
Anton: Since we are on the subject of changes to the “norm” could you talk a little bit about Vermilium as an object and not just the namesake of the game setting? I found the small blurb, and the use of it over gold, fascinating.
Ben: The imperial humans of the setting worship the sun, and followed it over the western ocean to the new world as their old one was dying. Upon its discovery, the colonial priests saw the Vermilium of the land as a divine gift; its red color reflecting that of the setting sun that brought them to their new home.
The concept of Vermilium as a material centers on the idea of colonialism being driven by power, violence, and greed, and being fed by blood and gold. As a precious red metal, it acts as the unifying currency of an oppressive, theocratic empire, but is also seen by many indigenous cultures as the literal and metaphorical blood of the earth, and a reminder of universal mortality.
Anton: The setting has a very rich vein of monsters and cryptids running through it. What are some of your favorite monsters and creatures that inhabit the setting?
Ben: A personal favorite of mine is the marionette tarantula, a gigantic arachnid that is too large to create typical webs, and instead uses its powerful legs and strong silk to manipulate the limp bodies of paralyzed victims below them. This attracts larger prey, or adventurers, before they ambush from above. It was the first boss monster I ever threw at my gaming group.
The trap played out perfectly, the atmosphere was just right, and they still talk about it today. I also have a soft spot for the jackalope, which in my setting was created by taxidermist witches and brought to life as familiars, before escaping and populating the world. The final book will have nearly 100 new monsters, allies, and adversaries!
Anton: We have seen Human, Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling bloodlines so far and from the art, they seem to have some range as far as culture goes. Could you tell us a little about why those four Bloodlines you decided upon as ones that would be in the first book?
Ben: I wanted to provide options for players that were both familiar and fresh. Many fantasy settings include these four options, but I’ve tried to put my own spin on them, and to make them unique enough so that they feel new. Dwarves aren’t miners clad in metal plate, but carpenters and scrimshanders guided by totemic animal spirits. Halflings do live in holes in the ground, but also in the trees and across the plains, and are more adept at warfare than those depicted in other games.
Within each bloodline there are sub-cultures and countercultures to embrace as well, some of which will provide bonuses or penalties to gameplay, but really, they exist as inspiration for players to create their own backgrounds.
Anton: Will there be more Bloodlines revealed upon release?
Ben: There will indeed be more! The final book will have magically-mutated orcs who are shunned by society, civilized sasquatch renowned for their strength and reclusiveness, and clockwork automatons reawakened from the world’s ancient past.
Anton: Now we are coming to something I ( and a few of the players at my weekly table ) have been super curious about. There has been some mention of “Crafting and selling customizable armor, weapons, and other adventuring gear” in the Jumpstart document. Can you please go into a little bit more of what that is going to look like for both the players and the storyteller?
Ben: This is directly inspired by one of my players, Ben, who was always drawing up little blueprints and schematics for things he wanted to build, like night vision spectacles, repeater crossbows, or armored stagecoaches. The rest of the group usually commissioned him to make stuff for them. He actually built our gaming table, too!
How this translates into gameplay is loosely based on the Dramatic Task mechanic already in Savage Worlds. Crafters will have to earn a certain number of tokens – determined by the cost of the item they wish to create – by making a Repair roll each day until their item is completed.
This is simple enough, but they can also impose penalties to their rolls for greater customization, such as making longer-ranged weapons; armor-piercing ammunition; or ornate, decorative items befitting a baron or black hat chaptermaster. There will also be rules for using special materials, like obsidian for elven blades, or gargoyle hide for lighter armor.
Anton: Aside from the brilliant setting concept and beautiful art, what would be the three biggest selling points you see as the creator of Vermilium?
Ben: Vermilium is a brand-new fantasy setting with a fresh twist to the genre. There are familiar concepts and archetypes that make the game accessible for players old and new, but they also explore more modern themes to bring something contemporary and relevant to the RPG hobby.
This setting hasn’t just been confined to mind and manuscript, it’s grown organically from being played in over the last few years. Its history and mythology were born out of my friends’ living rooms, and out of our collective stories. This is a living, breathing world, and the legends told in shady saloons, or historical events described in the book, actually happened at our gaming table. I hope that people who buy the game get to make their own legends to add to these.
Finally, it provides new rules for players to gather mundane and magical ingredients from the wilderness, and parts from monsters they slay, to create their own weird and wonderful concoctions, tinctures, and magic items. This gives them the tools to let their creativity shine and to allow their characters to organically grow as their campaigns progress.
Anton: Before we wrap up, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me and share a little bit about a game I know I and my players are very excited to get our hands on when it finally releases. Can you leave us with the expected release date of the full book, and what formats we can expect to see it in?
Ben: Thank you for inviting me for the interview, Anton, it was a lot of fun!
As the project stands now, the book is 95% written, and I’m just waiting on a few things before I can finish that last 5% – namely the new Savage Worlds Fantasy Companion which I backed! I’m aiming to launch a Kickstarter in late summer. If that goes well, you should see a full color, hardback book released next spring/summer on DriveThruRPG, along with adventures, poster maps, custom dice, playing cards, and all that fun stuff!