Interview with Christoffer Sevaldsen - author of Black Void RPG
Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to create Black Void?
I am 38 and live in Singapore with my wife and three boys. I have been playing RPG’s for probably 25 years now. Since I began GM’ ing in my early teens, I have always been doing homebrews, wanting to do put my spin on things and exploring my own creative avenues rather than using established settings.
For a long while I have been interested in the more philosophical and probably weird facets of fiction and RPG’s. I felt that the darker and more emotionally complex aspects of the genre carried more interesting and enticing subject matter than your typical heroic epics.
It is for these reasons that I sought to make Black Void an open frame-work – to enable Arbiters and players to make Black Void their own rather than adhering to a strictly set narrative of my devising.
Because of the motley sources and influences that have inspired Black Void, a personification of my muse would probably be a multi-headed bizarre and gorgeous mongrel.
Can you tell us a bit more about Black Void?
The setting takes its outset in ancient Mesopotamia but then quickly veers off into a more esoteric setting as Earth is struck by a cataclysm and humanity is thrown into an unfamiliar and perilous Cosmos.
I wanted to introduce a sense of wonder and putting a new spin on the genre, grounding the setting in a fascinating and not overly explored part of history while seeking to stay away from too familiar tropes.
In addition to this, Black Void enables a more existentialist and philosophical approach to its narrative because of the fundamental premise of the game. Humanity is lost and at the bottom of the hierarchy looking to redefine and essentially re-establish itself not just in terms of resources and assets but in its very ethos and defining what humanity is in this cruel and peculiar setting.
The three primary themes of Black Void delve deeper into this: In the unknown, beyond the horizon and what is humanity?
What are some of the challenges of translating Persian mythology into a roleplaying game?
As with anything based in actual antiquity, a possible challenging and constraining factor is adhering strictly to historical facts. The advantage of dealing with the mythology and history of this particular period is that our knowledge about it is rather limited, giving a wide range of possibilities without risking contradicting established historicity.
How did the D12 become the core mechanic in Black Void?
There are several reasons that the D12 became the core of the system.
From a symbolism perspective, the number 12 is featured profusely in myth as well as in various constructs and motifs of antiquity as well as in prevalent timekeeping and arithmetic founded during this era.
From a practical perspective, the roll-range provided by a D12 cause even low modifiers to make a substantial impact on a single die-roll without dominating the roll or being irrelevant. This, in turn, means that all advancement and contextual effects carry significant weight on action-rolls without completely overruling them.
Secondly, the probability of exceptional rolls – either a natural 1 or 12 - when using a D12 is ideal for the way I wanted dice-rolls to affect the flow of the game. It occurs often enough to make rolls interesting and adding to the story but not so often that it becomes routine or overly dominating.
Thirdly, the D12 is the only die which can function as multiple other dice, serving as a D2, D3, D4 and D6 with simple conversions - a convenient feature when wanting to make a simple yet versatile system.
Most traditional roleplaying games are about characters growing in strength and putting right to the world; however, Black Void is set in an already fallen world. How do you approach that when designing Black Void Adventures?
I like to start out by placing the characters in a somewhat precarious situation early - quickly drawing them into the story while making it natural for them to be a part of it irrespective of which type of character it is. This also works well for illustrating that characters are not just adventurers out seeking gold and glory, but people faced with adversity and hardship, which spurs a sense of emotional connectivity bringing further depth to the narrative.
The most compelling experiences I have had playing RPG’s are when the players are so immersed in the narrative that their emotional connectivity shines through. That is what I try to foster when designing and writing; stirring emotions and evocative predicaments that incite reactions in the players.
The artwork in the book, including the maps, is fantastic, can you tell us a bit about the process between art and writing in designing an RPG?
The process is very iterative and interchangeable in the sense that sometimes the art or map comes first to inspire the writing and sometimes it is the other way around.
I really enjoy working with my artists, and they have become an intrinsic part of the creative process of Black Void.
Often, I need specific pieces made, but at other times I ask them to come up with something based only on a vague headline for their work to inspire me and provide a different vision to supplement my own.
I like to doodle and then send my sketches to one of the artists and say: “See what you can do with that please”. So for I have mainly been blown away by how they interpret and expand upon my work, breathing life and fantastic skill into it.
With the nature of Black Void are you planning on expanding the universe to include things beyond the void?
For sure! That is one of the essential purposes of the open frame-work nature of the setting; that it can be expanded endlessly. I am already working on the next release and have a plethora of more titles in the mental pipeline. Some will focus on Llyhn while others are about core worlds or other locations in the Cosmos.
The coming release will contain three parts: A source-book section detailing a new area – while leaving blank spaces for the creative Arbiters out there. A resources section with new equipment, abilities and other resources for players and Arbiters alike. Lastly, it will comprise the first part of a grand campaign to be continued in future releases.
The RPG industry has been rapidly expanding, what do you think the future holds?
I think that we will continue to see a lot of very interesting indie and established publications in the future, which is fantastic for players but also for the industry as a whole. More choice generally means that developers need to retain lofty standards or step up their game to make a mark and be noticed, which in the end benefits the players as they get spoiled for (high-quality) choice.
From an indie developer’s perspective, a potential market-saturation introduces its own challenges, but overall, I believe that the current development strengthens the community and industry.
The fact that RPG’s have become somewhat mainstream and “acceptable” in the public eye is a glorious development that I am thrilled to be a part of.
A big thanks to Christoffer for sharing his thoughts with us. You can pick up The Flight from Salvation Square here.