Designed by Dan Hiscutt, a lifelong gamer and fan of real ale, Crestfallen emphasises Dan’s love of simple systems with minimal prep while taking us to a world where man is continually fighting with and against nature.
“Crestfallen is a game about man's relationship to the natural world. We are largely immune to seasonality these days, so I wanted to promote this idea by making weather and the turning of the seasons important to characters lives. There are sidebars throughout Crestfallen explaining how to trap animals, make leather, and start a fire and so on. There is also a full calendar which lists; religious festivals, natural & agricultural phases such as harvests, and events in the spirit world.”Crestfallen is a setting rich in historical accuracy, and the real world is very much a part of the game, but magic and spirits have a strong effect on the game’s world.
“The spirit world is a very big part of Crestfallen. My intention is to have players feel like they are part of a living breathing world that will react to their actions, and just as importantly, carry on when they are absent. It's great inspiration for scenario design too!”
“There are two worlds in Crestfallen, the mortal world and the spirit world. I've purposefully made it very easy to travel between the two, in any given session of play you will spend half your time in each. The mortal world is home to many races and civilisations, all overshadowed by an insane goddess trapped in a sentient glacier. If she escapes, the world as you know it will end. The spirit world has its own unique civilisations, they are struggling to survive in a natural world falling apart - the god of nature has been murdered, and the god of weather is dying. Nature is WILD, sentient weather tears across the landscape and wild beasts are out of control. The Veil is the barrier between these two worlds, violent weather, rivalries and plots cross-cross between the two worlds embroiling characters from both sides in all kind of adventures.”
“In the Mythology of Crestfallen, Earth Mother - the creator Goddess, made many children. Broadly speaking they were in two pantheons, the Stone Gods and the Iron Gods. Now the Iron Gods were selfish and prideful, they angered Earth Mother so much that she ripped the universe in two and made them mortal as punishment. They didn't learn their lesson though, they defied her a second time. This time she started to eat them as punishment, but her belly became swollen and full and she started feeling drowsy. With heavy lidded eyes she dragged the Iron Gods outside of the universe and built a magical barrier to keep them out forever.”
“Earth Mother made a mistake though, she missed one! The Iron Goddess Annwn was licking her wounds from a battle with her siblings in the mortal world. Just before the barrier (called the Ban) materialised, Earth Mother froze Annwn in a mighty glacier and hoped she could deal with her properly later. She fell asleep and has yet to wake up."
"The glacier is magical and strangely sentient, through the millennia Annwn has corrupted it and made it mad, well, they have driven each other mad. Think of it more as a stasis field, it is melting in great swaths - releasing prehistoric beasts such as mammoth and sabre tooth tigers into the world!”
Crestfallen’s setting means that we are no longer in the world of pointy hat wizards and schools of magic; instead it is based around a ritual, or shamanistic approach and the spirit world.
“Binding spirits and possession are common occurrences, as are shape changing and calling down the gods and their blessings. Magic is ritual based, when it goes well a Ritualist can avert a natural disaster or make the crops grow strong. When a ritual fails, the Ritualist might destroy a nearby town or accidently summon a swarm of spirits that start to possess onlookers. Wherever possible, I've modelled magic on real world accounts of shamanism and druidism rather than traditional roleplaying magic.”
This approach to magic and the attention to detail on how the world would affect your typical Bronze Age tribes person, may seem like a very deep attention to detail, but Dan is keen to point out the game isn’t intended to be a history lesson.
“I have read up a lot on bronze and stone age cultures, mainly through popular history books such as Britain BC and After the Ice, though I have researched using more academic books as well. I wouldn't say Crestfallen was historically accurate exactly, but the peoples of Crestfallen are living their lives the same way our bronze and Stone Age ancestors did, excluding the fantasy elements!”
Even with this grounding in historical reference there is still plenty of fantasy to be had in the world of Crestfallen, the myriad of humanoid races being the most attention grabbing, especially the walrus people.
“Crestfallen contains many unique races, all playable as characters. The Walrus people seem to be everyone's favourite! The art is wonderful isn't it? There are four races native to the mortal world, five races native to the spirit world, and one race which are equally at home on either side of the Veil.”
The question that I often bring up in this kind of interview is what led to this point? Why would someone go about creating their own RPG and what where the inspirations behind it?
“Crestfallen was originally inspired by my desire for a magic system that would suit the everyday needs of people in a fantasy world. A farmer doesn't want to know ten variations of a fireball spell, he wants to eat and ensure future generations of his family continue to eat. Crestfallen has grown into more than that now though, I've become deeply interested in the everyday lives of people in Bronze Age Europe and Mesopotamia. Culture, sociology and mythmaking are my thing.”
“At the risk of sounding weird, I've met a ghost, and other things I'd rather not talk about have happened in my life that has influenced my writing of the spirit world.”It has taken a long time for Crestfallen to reach the stage it’s at now and it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Crestfallen isn’t its own system, instead it uses the FATE Core. So why did Dan choose an ‘off the shelf’ rules system.
“I have written my own game rules for Crestfallen in the past, it has a 15 year history on the internet (off and on). Some versions were close, but nothing really hit the nail on the head, until I read Fate Core. It's everything I wanted for Crestfallen. Magic should be about story, not maths and numbers, and with its aspect system, Fate is perfect for this role.”
“For example, a group of characters will benefit from a royal betrothal failing, perhaps because one of them wants to marry the chieftain’s daughter instead, or the alliance between the groom and brides families will weaken and allow the characters to invade and take power. Now, in a normal roleplaying game this will usually entail violence, probably killing the groom. In Crestfallen the characters could impersonate servants or slaves, stealthily collect a lock of the bride’s hair or nail clippings and perform a curse ritual. They could give her boils or even turn her into a pig! Magic now becomes a social and political tool that is far more subtle, and encourages intricate and imaginative storytelling.”
With a fifteen year history you might not be surprised to read that this isn’t Crestfallen’s first rodeo, many moons ago Crestfallen almost came out in a completely different form, but an unfortunate financial situation ruined its chances.
“Twelve-ish years ago I bought a very expensive license to use the tri-stat system from Guardians of Order, I also commissioned some art. Unfortunately before I received the rules text, Guardians of Order folded, I was back to square one and much poorer. I grew very despondent with the whole thing, and even stopped roleplaying. Recently I fell in with a group of gamers, very much younger than me, and their enthusiasm and energy for the hobby really got me thinking. I blew the dust off my notes, and now I am here on the eve of my Kickstarter adventure.”As usually comes up in a discussion like this the question of why Kickstarter raises its head. In a world where DriveTHru RPG and tablets exist why would an RPG designer need the money and backing of a crowdfunding platform when they can simply create a PDF and sell the rulebook themselves. But as Dan points out, making a PDF doesn’t mean it’s cheap or even free to create.
“This is it, my lifetime’s ambition. I've not worked harder for anything else in my life; Crestfallen is as much a part of me as my partner or my house. It has to be right. The funds generated by a Kickstarter will enable me to complete all the artwork I need to portray Crestfallen's intricate mythology, an animistic spirit world with sentient forests, mountains and streams for example!”But it is Kickstarter’s ability to act as a marketing platform that really drives it home.
“Much more importantly, Kickstarter gives me a stage; I'm immensely proud of Crestfallen and want to share it with the world!”
Crestfallen is on Kickstarter now.