Chris Metzen Talks Radical Bards, Revisiting The Past, and His Big New Game

Chris Metzen is well known for his years and years of work and massive contributions at Blizzard, weaving together the universes of Warcraft, Starcraft, and more. After he left the company, his once gaming club has taken on a new role as an actual gaming company, Warchief Gaming. Warchief Gaming’s focus? Tabletop gaming. The old ways. Dice, social interaction, and creativity. Today, Warchief Gaming announced their first big project, Auroboros: Coils of the Serpent.

What is it? Worldbook: Lawbrand is a 250+ page 5th Edition sourcebook that gives players everything they need to stage their own epic campaign in the world of Lawbrand. This release is the first from the Auroboros: Coils of the Serpent greater universe. You can check that out in great detail at the Kickstarter page here. Want to know more? The video below gives a lot more information on the project, so check it out! Industrial fantasy where the villains could be in your own crew, should their desire for power consume them… yes please!

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The lore is rooted in the very adventures and campaigns that Metzen and his friends journeyed on many, many years ago, collected from numerous reference materials and stitched together in a fashion that would work in a modern Dungeons and Dragons framework. We caught up with Chris to pick his brain about Lawbrand, Warchief, bringing back childhood dungeon crawling memories to the spotlight, and more.

Game Informer: Why 5E? Was there ever talk of doing your own your own system?

Chris Metzen: We had talked for, you know, all of five seconds about potentially looking at other systems and potentially building our own. But at the end of the day, you know, we came back to the idea that, 5Eis kind of where it’s at, it’s in so many ways like the Unreal Engine, you know, of tabletop, right? It’s where the players are at, it’s a known system, there’s so many people that are already comfortable with it. Honestly, you know, AD&D was such a massive part of my life and my friends’ lives. It just felt like coming home, it felt, you know, it’s church, it’s sacred ground. And so there was barely any thought of going another way, it just felt so right.

Tabletop seems huge right now, experiencing a sort of resurgence. Why do you think that is?

Gosh, far smarter people than me have riffed on this a lot. I think it’s potentially a mix of things. I think part of it is 5E. You know, I think part of it is the curatorial miracle of WOTC. And how they’ve produced this version of core D&D, it is as accessible as it’s ever been, it is super flavorful, the campaigns they’re doing are masterclass these days. And I think that’s brought a lot of people back into the mix. I think you can argue that, as intense and as massive and as interconnected as gaming has become, there might be something that’s kind of reflexive and a little retro about actually getting around a table with people you know, and rolling hot dice, and the immediacy of what makes role playing together in that way really fun, right? The absurdity of things that can happen. Like oh, I can’t believe you rolled a 20! You know all these funny things that we laugh about, and you just can’t even believe what your friends are doing across the table. There’s just an energy to being present with other people that, you know, the best video game is actually trying to chase.

And I don’t mean this in any disparaging way, relative to games, I mean, even even World of Warcraft, like, what a miracle that so many people around the world were able to connect and kind of come into this fantasy space. And sometimes I think, you know, games like WoW kind of kept that torch lit for a number of years while D&D was kind of finding its feet again, it’s a really weird space. But like, suddenly, you know, thinking of big video games, like WoW kind of wet the whistle and got people going, ‘I never thought I’d enjoy, you know, hooking up on a Wednesday night and slaying a dragon with my guildmates.’ You know, it drew so many people in to just that wonderful idea. And then to find, you know, with the new D&D system, you can literally sit in someone’s kitchen and do the same kind of thing. But with that newness with that accessibility, you know, there’s a different kind of magic to it. There’s a different kind of energy to literally just being present. And so I think that’s part of this reemergence. And then given the complexities of COVID, and, you know, people feeling fairly isolated the past year or so, people being able to kind of stream games together, it’s kind of wrapped back around to the video game space.

How did Warchief go from a gaming club to a gaming company?

You know, I think it’s been fairly organic. You know, Mike Gilmartin and I started the club a few years ago, you know,  we play a lot of tabletop war games, you know, you know, Warhammer and others. And we just kind of grew out of the space we were playing in, it was my living room, and then it’s his garage. 

And we kind of had more friends show up and wanted to play more consistently, well, this is awesome. But we’re out of space. And we’re all big dudes, you know, we got to get out of here. So we rented a warehouse, and we started a club. And, you know, right before COVID, you were up to about 100 members, and people showing up through the week and rolling hot dice. And it was just awesome. And it’s by virtue of that, and kind of finding that gaming rhythm again and literally being in the space of other geeky people, I think brought me back to life in a way post-Blizzard and maybe want to build stuff that they would enjoy.

So with this being in 5E, were there any rules that you wanted to bend or break?

I don’t think we’re looking to bend or break anything. What’s wonderful about 5E, like I said earlier, it’s like, there’s so many people playing, and it’s so accessible. And people understand the language of those systems and the rhythm of play. 

I think we wanted to honor that and render this world, fill out this sourcebook in a way that like anyone can kind of slip right in and be very comfortable and very familiar with how things work, how the conventions work. We’ve added like, you know, four new subclasses, like five new races that are all kind of unique to the vibe of the setting, there are a few new systems we’ve developed… One signature system is called the coils of the serpent, whereby players can tap into the universe’s fundamental power, it’s called the Auroboros itself, the world serpent, it’s kind of like this monster of energy that coils through everything. So you can tap into this power, totally apart from your class context, and the abilities you have.

Playing a rogue, for instance, you can tap into this power and literally wield power enough to shake the world. But as you get deeper into these coils, it’s causing madness and degeneration, like, you’re kind of losing it in the classic rock star kind of way, as you kind of devolve into this monster of power. And there are rules, you know, for the rest of the player group to also kind of interact with these serpent mark characters that are wielding the Auroboros. It’s meant to kind of create kind of a deeper level of psychology and group play. Almost to the point where, you know, you’ll have your campaign and there’s various supervillains and factions around the world that of course, you know, demand to have justice dispensed upon them. So, you know, we built fiction and such that you can build a super epic campaign, but at the heart of it, the intention with the coil system is to be this narrative device that almost asks the question, what if the supervillain was one of you? 

Right, that’s fairly different from the standard quest based campaign arcs that we’re all used to. But you can use the system if you wish, it’s our one of our signature features, or you don’t have to at all, we’re hoping that the world has a vibe, detail, depth and personality that you can just run any number of stories as a GM and a group of players that are all very different from, for instance, the campaign that I ran with my friends when we were kids.

And I guess I want to say, just for fun because it delights me, we’re actually novelized my old campaign that will take the form of one of  the Kickstarter tiers is a collector’s edition of the sourcebook, which will come slipcased with, effectively our old story with all my old art and all our old player sheets, and it’s kind of like a time capsule to the glory of the mid 90s. So despite knowing what my group did when we tore through this setting, we’ve approached this sourcebook in a way to allow GMs to kind of create any adventures they want within it, regardless of what my group did back in the day. We kind of broke things a bit. So it’s been a really interesting process in that way. Taking a world that we had built to facilitate the stories and adventures we wanted to have, and really open it up for anyone to dive in and do interesting stuff.

What’s the best, most memorable adventure that you went on back in those days with the crew that set this whole thing up?

So I’d have to paint the picture a little bit. So this book is called Worldbook: Lawbrand. And Lawbrand is the name of the realm that the action takes place in, a kind of a grouping of big urbanized trade cities. Right? That’s one way that the world feels a little different from other settings. It’s very grounded in I wouldn’t say reality, but it wants to feel familiar. Big factories, and, you know, people you know, ogres and dwarves and gnolls and humans, we’re all living in the same town and we’ve all got our own little discreet neighborhoods, but we’re all working in the same factories, there’s a big church that kind of oversees everything and keeps the peace. And it’s meant to reflect a little bit of the world, we were growing up as kids, and we were all in bands and musicians. So music played a big part in our lives. And so, bards and the music scene is like a really big deal in the setting as people working in these factories and kind of feeling like cogs in a machine that want to express themselves through music and creativity is a big part, I think of the undercurrent of what Lawbrand is. Bards are like the coolest people around.. And our sourcebook kind of details many different types of bards and bands and things. It’s kind of kooky in a way. And so, one of the most memorable adventures I remember, we were constantly on the run from the law, we were not what you would call classic heroes, right? We were knuckleheads, constantly getting in trouble, constantly on the run. And so we wind up going to a big music event, you could liken it to Coachella these days.

It’s called Barden, where you’d have you know, hundreds and 1000s of bards show up and you know, just masses of people just running around doing crazy stuff. There’s like big, you know, hill giants with yellow windbreakers that are like the security guards standing around this huge event with multiple stages. And we wound up inciting a riot in the middle of this super concert that spilled into the streets of the city called Ennis. And things just went, you know, bat poop crazy. But that’s the kind of vibe you know, that kind of underlies Lawbrand. Kind of this youth movement, people that are just kind of pressing against the edges, which is who we were, as kids, when we were coming up with all this stuff. So I think the shape of the world is very informed by the people we were. I mean, we were knucklehead 18 year olds doing this stuff.

It surprised me looking back at all this, how relevant I still find it. And how personal I still find it, after all those years at Blizzard,  working on these big macro settings, right, for a big, big audience. What’s been cool about Auroboros is coming back to this idea that as of today has no audience except me and my five buddies, right? And so there’s kind of like a simplicity and a purity to that. And I wanted to capture the authenticity of who we were at the time and why we took those ideas, why the world to shape it did then, and I wanted to preserve that above all else.

Are you playing any tabletop games? Have you gone back to rediscover them as it seems so many have in recent years? Let us know in the comments!

Source: Gameinformer