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At The Helm:
An Interview With Luke Payne


A few months ago, PTGPTB received news of a new game being developed by a new amateur company from Sydney called Pendlespear Gaming. The game was called Helm Fantasy Roleplay. Given Australia's rather non-existent RPG industry, this was big news, and we had to find out more. So we tracked down the writer and creator of the game, Luke Payne, and struck a deal. In exchange for some free promotion, he agreed to give us an exclusive interview about his creation, along with some free copies as soon as it is published. These may be used for reviews and prizes in the future, so stay tuned. But for now, over to Luke:

First off, why don't you tell us briefly what Helm is all about, in your own words. What is the core concept or idea that defines this game and its design, and makes it unique?

The game of Helm Fantasy Roleplay cannot be defined by one simple, underlying concept. It is a series of inter-woven themes, rules, and plots that aim to please the reader/user. It has been designed for maximum fun and enjoyment, as well as for maximum satisfaction. Helm has a really mythological feel to it, with the interaction between Gods and mortals being of great importance to the overall concept of the game. The world has been designed to be very detailed and interactive, and it is a very believable feel to it. The game system was designed to be as realistic and believable as possible without detracting from game-play, and many features have been put in place to ensure it is. There are rich storylines and themes featured throughout the game, and these all tie in together to make Helm a wonderful gaming experience.

Well, before we go any further into the game, why don't you tell us a bit about yourself and your gaming background, and how that has led to creating Helm.

Well, I have been actively involved in gaming and fantasy for most of my life. My first gaming experience was when I was about 8, when a group of friends introduced me to a simple system that I forget the name of. I played a halfling thief, and fell in love with the hobby. In the early 80's purchased the AD&D basic boxed set, which in a way revolutionised roleplaying for me. Latter came Warhammer, Rolemaster, MERP, Shadowrun, Dragonlance, Robotech, Battletech, Cyberpunk, Forgotten Realms, and many others. All of these games furthered my interest in roleplaying, and eventually fuelled my desire for writing. I have written many games throughout my roleplaying career, but I have never done it seriously until Helm. It grew into a passion of mine, and I was able to use it as a creative outlet for my imagination, which was full of ideas.

How did the idea for the game arise? What motivated its conception? What games inspired it?

I started Helm's design when I grew bored with many of the conventional games on the market, and decided to make something better. I did a lot of research into the RPG industry and into roleplayers themselves. I found out the things that they liked in games as well as what they considered the important aspects of roleplaying. I combined this feedback with my own wealth of ideas, and Helm was born.

I have been impressed with many games on the market, but none of them really grabbed me as being special. I think that many games like AD&D are sadly outdated and overrated, and I think their time is almost up. I wanted to make Helm more then a roleplaying game. I wanted to make it a roleplaying experience that should not be missed, something important to the lives of the people who used it. I just can't wait till I can get it published and printed, so I can finally give people a product to buy. For the last two years I have been writing, testing, modifying, and transforming Helm into the great game it is becoming.

There is a history of small press games being nothing more than a system of house rules and in-jokes that grew out of years of the same group playing AD&D or the like. Is there any truth in this for Helm? Is it just another set of house rules?

This is definitely not the case. Helm is a entirely new and original system that has been laboriously developed over two years to be both totally original, and totally independent from all other games. It is a complete game system, and does not need to lean on any other games for support or ideas. In the time that I was creating Helm, I shut myself off from playing other games, and only ever played Helm. This helped me to focus my energies on developing a feel for the game that is not shared by any other game. Helm has been a full-time project for me. I work on it 30 hours a week solid, and have done so for well over a year now. If it was just another set of 'house rules' I would not have wasted so much of my life writing it! I would focus my energies into something else.

A lot of us have written (or attempted to write) our own RPGs in our spare time. So what made you decide to publish yours? What's so special about Helm?

Anyone could create a simple roleplaying game in there spare time. But can they successfully write a entire RPG book and system? Can they express their ideas in ways that inspire and interest others? Can they create a vastly believable world and setting? There is a very strong difference between coming up with a idea for a roleplaying game and jotting down some notes, and actually writing a complete roleplaying system and book. One is a hobby, one is a job. It all comes down to the amount of effort and energy you put into the process.

Spare time roleplay games never amount to anything because they haven't been taken seriously enough to make them go further. Helm has been analysed, tested, and smoothed out to make it a real game. Once it was just a idea, but now it has been taken all the way to being a complete game. It has received serious attention and has catered for the needs of the roleplaying market. That is why I have decided to publish it, and that is what separates it from spare-time games.

The roleplaying industry is notorious for being one of low profit and high risk of bankruptcy, and this situation is far worse in Australia, which lacks any real RPG industry and has a much smaller market than the US. Does this bother you? How do you see the business of Helm proceeding?

No, this doesn't bother me. I am not going to get hung up on the problems that face me, because they will only weigh me down! I am extremely confident that I have a quality product to release to the roleplaying market. I know that I will get back what I put in, and it will only be a matter of time before I get recognition for my work.

I will not be so greedy as to focus purely on the money, because that is not the important factor here. The important thing is that I can give users of my game value for their money. They must be satisfied, because if they are not then I have failed. The problem with most gaming companies is that they do not focus on the people who use their products. They focus on the money these people give them, which is wrong. We have focused on our players, which is why I believe Helm will make it in this tough industry.

Coming back to the game now, tell us something about the setting. Beyond being "fantasy", what is this world like? Is it another bog-standard fantasy world like Forgotten Realms or Krynn, or is it something with a very different feel?

As I mentioned before, Helm is a very mythological sort of game. Much of the elements of its setting are derived directly from the influence the Gods have over the world and their dealings with the people there. The story and plot of the world is far to diverse and complex for me to recite here. If people are interested, I recommended they check out our website to further investigate it. I could go on all day about the setting, so here are a few of the main points.

The world has a fantastic racial diversity and acceptance of this diversity, which came from the splitting of the world during the early years of creation. There are 5 continents of power and many individual islands of importance, that all create a vast and realistic world to play on. Maximum attention has been payed to making each individual land new and exciting, and playing on different lands will never be the same. Each land is detailed down to the finest degree, and all areas of importance are covered in their description (government, military, climate, trade, laws, main races, populations etc.). Religions and cultures have a big impact, and they strongly influence the game.

On top of the material world there are many different realms and planes of existence to explore, and to use for adventures. These have also been created for maximum variation and enjoyment, and would pose a challenge to even the boldest of players. The world is definitely a living one, as opposed to being static, and you could spend your entire roleplaying life playing with the themes mentioned in the book. With Helm you are given as much information about the world and setting as possible, as well as provided with avenues for endless adventure. The rest is up to you.

Your promotional material mentions boasts 15 unique races and over 200 different beasties. Now, in my experience, such unique beastiaries tend to produce some very silly and uninspiring creatures. Will we see the likes of Gelatinous Cubes in Helm? What sort of creatures do you have?

Every monster in Helm is designed to be unique and original. We have stayed away from using monsters that exist in every fantasy environment, such as dragons and others, and have decided to start fresh. I have about five people who help me with the monster ideas and design. Together we have designed the best monsters I have seen. We then run them all by gamers and only keep the truly good ones, discarding the ones that no one liked. Of course, we have made up many 'silly' monsters, but we simply don' t put them into the game.

Unfortunately, I can't release specific information on featured monsters as yet because of legal reasons, but I can promise you that, thanks to the above system, they will be impressive.

Now, let's talk about the characters. Your site indicates the use of a class system, an idea which many see as limiting and outdated. How have you implemented classes, and how have you dealt with their traditional problems?

Helm does not just use a simple class system for its characters. The four featured classes (Rogue, Warrior, Magic-User & Miricalist), are only used as a guide for what group your character belongs to. Each of these classes has around ten to fifteen individual professions within them. These professions are all designed to be unique and totally usable in the game environment. They do not exist in other games and are original to Helm. Each of them is vastly different from other professions in their class, and each has its own special rules, abilities, and skills. But as I said, the classes are just a guide; they do not restrict characters in any way, and can be easily modified to give a more flexible character if you want.

Tell us more about characters. What sort of people are they? Are they normal people, heroes, or superheroes? Are they expected to be of a particular mindset or dramatic style? How are they defined?

Helm caters for all levels of characters. You can be a normal person, a hero, or even a superhero, the choice is yours. The system is very flexible and has been designed so you can play at any level of experience you wish. Also, the beauty of Helm is that races and characters are not set in any restricted mindsets, and are free to be and act as they wish. Characters do, however, work off a Cause system, which is similar to alignment, good and evil sort of stuff, and this effects how they are expected to behave.

Characters have a lot of variation available to them. On top of the normal attributes and skills, there are many other things that make up a character, such as special and natural abilities, hates and likes, personal information, backgrounds, heaps of professions to choose from, heaps of races to choose from, customisable weapon skills, skill point distribution systems, etc etc etc

Moving onto the rules now: would you describe them as realistic or cinematic? Are they detailed or broad, complex or simple? How much do they centre on combat? Do they use core mechanics, and if so, is it a roll-and-modify system, or a dice pool system, or something entirely different? What sort of dice will we need to play?

Using your terms, I would describe the rules as being realistic, broad, and complex. But they are introduced to the reader in a way that is simple and easy to understand. Combat is a important part of the rules, but it is in no way the central aspect. Much emphasis has been placed on combat though, and it is very realistic and dangerous, providing lots of excitement for players. Damage is real and horrific, using hit locations to provide specific effects, and critical hits are common. The rules work using a set of core mechanics, with most things being handled in a roll-and-modify style. I have decided to use the 1d12 as the main dice in the game, because I feel that it is always left out, and it also fits in well with the system. All other dice are used as well.

I agree about D12s, so that's good to hear. Now, one thing that can really set a fantasy game apart is its magic system. Could you briefly describe how magic, or any other powers, are handled in Helm? Will there be another few thousand spells for us to tediously sift through?

Well, the magic system in Helm is perhaps one of my favourite things about the game. Players must make and design their own spells, within the vast guidelines and rules in place, but these in no way restrict a spell's design. There are heaps of spheres for players to choose from, and each sphere has its own list of spell types. When you choose a spell type you must customise it by setting all of its variables (Area, Damage, Range etc.) to your liking. This means that no two spells will ever be the same, even if they are of the same type, and that there are thousands of possible variations for each individual spell. This gives the system a huge advantage over others. You create your own individualised spells within the power limits of your character, and they can be easily changed at any time. Of course, what I've described here is only the very basics of the system, it is far more complex, but works really well.

Besides what we normally expect from an RPG - character creation, rules and background, what else is included with Helm? Will there be supplements coming soon, and if so, what will they contain? More importantly, how necessary to the game will they be? Will we be forced to shell out more dollars to find out what we need to know?

The core rulebook of Helm will include character creation, rules, world and setting, a Helm Masters guide (or Game Master in most games), detailed histories and descriptions of all the Gods, a vast Magic section (covering both spells and items), plus a limited bestiary. The first supplement release should be the monster manual, which will have around two hundred beasties in it. Plans for at least twelve other supplements and add-ons have been decided on, and they are just the beginning. These can be added into the game as you feel fit, and are aimed to further the game to new levels. They will not be necessary to play, because the core rulebook will give you everything you need for that, but they will be important and very useful.

Well, before we finish, is there anything else you'd like to point out about the game that we haven't covered? Is there anything else in particular to recommend it to the consumers out there?

I would like to point out that Helm will be a high quality product to buy. It will feature some of the most beautiful artwork I have seen, and the book will be presented in a fantastic way. People will get definite value for their money when they buy Helm, and will be amazed by its appearance and quality. There are also many other features to the game that I haven't mentioned here, but I don't want to spoil them all for potential users of the game.

So when will Helm be coming out? How and by whom will it be published?

Unfortunately, I can't provide answers to these questions, because at present I am very uncertain of what the future holds. Currently, I am weighing up the option to go with self-publishing against getting someone else to publish it, which is quite difficult to achieve in the RPG industry. I expect that the product will be available in most game stores around Australia, and it will be at a competitive price. The release date is not yet confirmed, but it should be early 2000.

Lastly, something we'd all like to know is: what is it like to be a game designer? Has writing the game been fun, and/or hard work? What about running a business? Do you have any advice for other gamers out there who are thinking about writing and publishing their own games?

Working like I do on Helm has always been my dream. It is fun, you set your own hours, you are your own boss, but it is hard work. No one is harder on you then yourself, and often I push the limits a little. The business side of things has not really come into play as yet, but I feel that I will be ready when it does. My advice to potential game writers out there is to believe in themselves, not take criticisms of the market too seriously, and make writing the game a full-time job, not a hobby.


If you'd like to know anything more about Helm, contact Luke Payne or simply click on the banner below to check out their website. And PTGPTB will have more news on Helm in the future. Watch this space...

Helm Fantasy Roleplay

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