The best way to describe Brian McClellan’s Powder Mage stories is by saying that they are an entertaining combination of Sharpe’s Rifles and Full Metal Alchemist and The Scarlet Pimpernel. The novels, and short stories, fall within the noble genre of Military Fantasy fiction which has seen a resurgence since the publication of Temeraire by Naomi Novik. Like the best fiction in the genre, McClellan’s Powder Mage tales evoke a world in which large struggles are taking place, and where one man can make a difference, but without the need for the “dark lord” trope that dominates much of Epic Fantasy.
Promise of Blood, the first book in the series, tells the story of Field Marshal Tamas who engages in a coup against his king and sends corrupt aristocrats to the guillotine. McClellan’s imagery here is a combination of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s French Consolate. It’s a world where magic exists, but it doesn’t exist around every corner. It’s a world where old gods awaken. It’s a world of intrigue and politics, but it is a world at war.
The books have sold over 250,000 copies and are enjoyable reads, but now fans of the series can bring Powder Mage adventures to their kitchen tables with the recently announced Powder Mage Roleplaying Game. The game is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign and I had the honor to do a brief interview with Alan Bahr the game designer working with Brian McClellan on the upcoming RPG. Below is our brief exchange.
Brian McClellan’s POWDER MAGE trilogy seems a perfect IP for a role playing game. How did you get attached to the project?
– A mutual friend (who happens to be an author and my best friend, Steve Diamond) introduced us at GenCon 2014 after it’d been announced I’d be doing Planet Mercenary for the Schlock Mercenary team. I pitched Brian, and walked him through what such a project would look like, and we just sorta…went from there.
When adapting an IP to a role playing game, one of the biggest challenges a designer faces is translating the setting. How are you addressing this challenge? Are you reading the books 100 times, working with Brian (who’s an avid gamer), or a mix of both?
– Heh. Well I have read all the books a few times now (enough that I’m actually pretty jumbled!), but I think the biggest thing that will help us do that, is Brian himself will be writing most of the setting/fluff pieces in the book. My job is to just write the rules that need to be written, and only those.
Usually game worlds are by necessity bigger than the glimpses we get in stories, what strategy will you and Brian be using to fill the gaps or encourage GMs to make their own versions of Adro and the neighboring states?
– Honestly, just trusting the GMs and players to the story they want to tell. Not everyone will tell the same story, so we just make an effort to provide them all the options and some of the cool setting nuggets Brian hasn’t disclosed yet in order to let their imaginations run wild. I think any RPG, especially an established setting, just has to give that trust to the group using it.
What was it about the Savage Worlds game system that you think makes it the best fit for the Powder Mage Trilogy?
– How it plays. We actually wrote two custom systems for the game, and while they worked, it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t quite working perfectly. But we also tested a few systems we could license for it, and after a few months, it was pretty clear that Savage Worlds was the one everyone responded to the most, and turned out the best on the table. It was the flexibility of the magic system that really allowed us to grab the feel of Powder Mage in the rules.
I know that you are working on the writing side, and you’ve hired a stable of artists, is there anyone else working on the project?
– Well, Brian is writing most of the world fluff, and I wrote most of the rules. We’ll be putting the game through layout (by Robert Denton), and editing (we haven’t chosen an editor yet, we’ll probably use two), but the primary writing will be Brian and myself at this point in the project.
One of the common features of Savage Worlds books, both official and licensed, is the use of Plot Point Campaigns and Campaign Generators? Will the POWDER MAGE role playing game be featuring GM Friendly options like these?
– We definitely have plans to include adventures and adventure generators. Exactly how much we include is determined by how high we fund!
You mentioned the flexibility of the Magic System being one of the things that you thought was a way that Savage Worlds captured the feel of the Powder Mage Trilogy? Could you expand on that?
– The way the magic systems work in Savage Worlds fits the idea of Powder Mage very well. There’s a lot of flexibility, and the ability to use magic in a lot of different ways, but have similar effects really fits Powder Mage and the style of stories it evokes. Honestly, the only “new” magic we had to create was how to depict the effects of the titular Powder Mages.
While not mentioned in the interview, one of the things that makes the Savage Worlds system ideal for Powder Mage gaming and Military Fantasy gaming in general, is the speed with which combats are resolved by the game’s mechanics. While Savage Worlds is a robust roleplaying game, it has its origins in skirmish miniatures gaming and this foundation allows the game to handle large combats in less time than it takes other game systems to emulate. This is one of the reason’s I’m very excited about this game and about Savage Worlds related games in general.