Over GenCon 2016 I had the exciting opportunity to play Thornwatch, a tabletop RPG that really centers around the story that’s being told. You’re basically role playing your way through a gorgeous graphic novel that’s incredibly fun and unique. The demo itself was essentially the print and play version that Lone Shark Games and Penny Arcade have put together, but they’ve now officially hit Kickstarter. The goal has been met several times over and the campaign ends on October 5th.
In its infancy, Thornwatch was originally the brainchild of Mike “Gabe” Krahulik of the popular webcomic Penny Arcade. He developed the core of the game in response to issues he was experiencing in his personal RPG campaign — time consuming turns, people losing interest in between their own turns, attendance, and the other usual RPG campaign hiccups. Jerry “Tycho” Holkins, his partner in crime at PA, suggested the game be set in The Eyrewood, one of their most popular side-stories. And thus Thornwatch was created.
After years of playing and developing and more playing, the duo roped in the all-star lineup at Lone Shark Games to help with the actual production part. President of Lone Shark Games Mike Selinker ( developer of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and Betrayal at House on the Hill) brought in Chad Brown (lead developer of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game) and Rodney Thompson (co-designer of D&D 5th Edition and Lords of Waterdeep) to head the team that would be responsible for bringing Thornwatch to life on a grander scale. The game itself is just the first of three planned games in the Eyrewood Adventures line.
Mike Krahulik was awesome enough to answer some Q&A questions about the game, about the direction it’s headed, and even what actor he’d want to see play a Thornwatch hero!
TA: The artwork looks amazing already! I know it’s intended to feel like players are going through a graphic novel, what factors or influences played a part in that decision?
MK: I would say Mike Selinker was a big factor in that. Early on he looked at the maps I was making and asked if they could not look more like the comics we make. I took that and ran with it. We had large maps with comic book panels on them. It was pretty cool but eventually we switched over to the modular map tiles and I had to rethink how to incorporate that comic book element into the game. Eventually I started thinking about the individual map tiles as frames of graphic novel and it all started coming together.
TA: Also, you’ve mentioned the art on the map tiles are outside of your normal skill set. What/where are you drawing your inspirations from for the tiles?
MK: My inspiration for the map tiles is actually the old animated film The Secret of NIMH. I like to put it on while I’m painting the map tiles and I’ll pause it sometimes to get a better look at their backgrounds. I pulled some parts of my pallet from that film as well. When I think about the Thornwatch crest I imagine it glowing like Mrs. Brisby’s amulet.
TA: Thornwatch was created with the intent to address RPG issues like keeping all players engaged throughout the game, eliminate time consuming set-up, and streamline turns to keep things moving and interesting. How difficult has it been throughout the various iterations that Thornwatch has gone through to balance streamlining gameplay while staying true to the RPG roots and keeping the game fun overall?
MK: That part has been tricky. Trying to introduce complexity into the game without slowing it down has been a fun challenge. The idea anytime we sat down to work on some problem was to try and fix it using the components we already had. That was what spawned the momentum deck mechanic in fact. We had these cool initiative cards for all the characters and the monsters and we thought is there a way to use these cards to handle damage as well as initiative? Turns out we could!
TA: Thornwatch has kind of had an “early access” of sorts with having print and play as well as many demos at various conventions. Has there been a lot of useful feedback? Has there been any significant changes to the game from the feedback?
MK: We’ve had tons of great feedback and we’ve used lots of it. Turning the Judge from a facilitator into a genuine player at the table is something that came from play testing. The Judge role used to be a pretty standard “Dungeon Master” type of role but players said they wanted more. We ended up taking that to heart and now the Judge has their own currency they can earn and then use to mess with the players. It’s a very active role now and the game is better for it.
TA: There is already so much content, Thornwatch can’t be The Eyrewood’s final form. What else is in store for this mystical universe? Graphic novels seem to be an obvious branch. What about video games? Television? Moves?
MK: I can tell you that we are exploring lots of different forms that the Eyrewood can take. The truth is I think it could end up being the biggest thing we ever make. There’s so much potential in this setting and so many cool stories to tell. There’s already an incredible short film about the Lookouts:
and Eyrewood monsters are showing up in the PC game Duelyst as well.
When I think about what we could do next I don’t know where to stop.
TA: And a fun one in that vein, if any video game or movie could be remade into The Eyrewood universe, what would you choose and why? Who would act/voice act the Thornwatch heroes?
MK: Oh wow! Okay I don’t know who all of them would be but my dream cast would include Chris Pratt as the Guard. Maybe I could get a cameo as some kind of mutated Ebb beast!
If you haven’t already, check out Thornwatch on Kickstarter. It’s an incredibly fun game that will keep every player engaged throughout the game. The artwork is amazing, the unique playstyle and mechanics are very neat, and the cooperative strategy will keep everyone engaged and having fun throughout the game. You’ll find plenty more information on the game, its beginnings, The Eyrewood universe its set in, and more. Don’t forget you can print the game and play it without having to wait. Just be sure to fill out the feedback form.
Big thanks to Mike Krahulik at Penny Arcade and Tara at Lone Shark Games for the interview!