<+Tom> Hi everyone — I’m Tom, and I am the translator and publisher of The Elephant & Macaw Banner Roleplaying Game, a game of muskets & magic in 16th-century Brazil.
<+Tom> I got started as an RPG writer around the year 2000, contributing to books for Feng Shui and Heavy Gear. Since then I’ve written sourcebooks and adventures for game lines including Night’s Black Agents (GUMSHOE), Mutant Chronicles, and Infinity.
<+Tom> In 2015, I started my own modest imprint, Porcupine Publishing, which is how I publish my own games and English translations of RPG books by other people.
<+Tom> The Elephant & Macaw Banner RPG is my latest translated game and my biggest translated project to date — it’s already an entire game line in Brazil.
<+Tom> The Kickstarter for a print run of the core book is live right now at (Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1690011586/the-elephant-and-macaw-banner-roleplaying-game)https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1690011586/the-elephant-and-macaw-banner-roleplaying-game
<+Tom> EAMB is based on a fiction series by the game’s designer Christopher Kastensmidt. Like the stories, the game is about fun fantasy adventure, and it’s suitable both for young adults and mature players.
<+Tom> The mechanics are deliberately simple (3d6 rolls handle everything) but provide interesting choices to make in, for example, battle scenes.
<+Tom> For people who already have their own games going, I’d say the big attraction will be the bestiary of creatures from Brazilian folklore. Each one has the kernel of an adventure based around it.
<~Dan> Thanks, Tom! The floor is open to questions!
<~Dan> Can you tell us some more about the setting? How prevalent and obvious is magic, for example?
<+Tom> Sure, so the setting is Brazil in (nominally) 1576 — you don’t need to know much about Brazil to get exploring it, because Brazil isn’t really there yet.
<+Tom> This is the time when European settlements cling only to the coastline — all Portuguese by now, though the French still have a shot at establishing themselves.
<+Tom> Portuguese isn’t the most useful language to know yet. The lingua franca is Tupi, spoken by a sizeable number of indigenous nations.
<+Tom> as to the magic question, this is one of those “the time as it was perceived” settings, you could say.
<+Tom> So, for example, there are ghosts.
<&Silverlion> That looks interesting. Dang it, I’m always broke when good KSes are up.
<+Tom> And werewolves, also from the European influence
<+Tom> But Africa and America are the other two ‘pillars of Brazil’, so there are also immortal African wizard spirits, indigenous “King and Queen Beasts” who rule the animals, and so on.
<+Tom> Tales from the 16th century relating to supernatural powers and events are also enacted in the game — so divine miracles, shamanic potions and amulets, etc, are all things that players can encounter and/or use.
<~Dan> Is the entire world magical in this setting, or just Brazil? I guess you kind of answered that in the affirmative, but I just want to make sure.
<+Tom> Yes, but only by implication? Chris has mentioned future expansions of the setting material overseas, but at the moment everything we ‘know’ about EAMB is seen from Brazil.
<+Tom> Actually, wait.
<+Tom> In the stories, there are flashbacks, and I remember at one point Oludara fights a big dragon thing in West Africa.
<+Tom> Before he comes to Brazil.
<+Tom> So yes, I think it’s fair to say that all the “folkloric” magic legends of the world are true.
* ~Dan nods
<+Tom> However, it’s not a magitech kind of setting.
<~Dan> On a related note, are the “foreign” folkloric elements from Africa and Europe actually native to Brazil in setting terms, or are they imported somehow?
<+Tom> Like, you don’t go to the temple to get the clerics to raise your dead PC friend. But you *might* hear about a powerful magic-worker in the mountains who could do it, for a serious price.
<+Tom> Some of them are “native” in that they are seen as being able to travel anywhere they wanted to anyway. But some creatures kind of “came with” people — one creature is described as the first mermaid to come to Brazil.
<+Tom> Although the implication is that she did so before any Europeans did, she’s still not known in indigenous folklore.
<~Dan> Is piracy a big part of the setting? Or did that mostly start up later?
<~Dan> (Howdy, Lee!)
<+Tom> The *act* of piracy doesn’t much appear but *pirates* are definitely a thing.
<+Tom> They visited Brazil pretty often around this time, often as a place to escape to — and more than once sacked or simply occupied whole towns for a while.
<+Tom> In the introductory adventure in the core book, not to give too much away as a spoiler, one such pirate is the cause of much misery that starts off the scenario.
<~Dan> When you say that pirates escaped to Brazil, do you mean that they came from up north, raiding the Spanish?
<~Dan> (Howdy, Brad!)
<~Dan> (Lee, Brad, meet Tom, tonight’s Q&A guest!)
<+Brad> Hi Tom
<+Tom> Yes, exactly. The gold routes to and from the Caribbean were the prime hunting ground for pirates. So if you need to lay low for a while, where better than a coastline with plenty of bays, coves and islands?
<+Tom> Hi Brad!
<+Tom> Hi Lee
<+Lee> Hi, Tom – got to say, I looked over your Kickstarter just now and you’ve got an interesting setting there!
<+Tom> Thanks, I think so too! I was hooked by the stories, so when Chris was looking for someone to translate the RPG I jumped at the chance.
<~Dan> What is the meaning of the title?
<+Tom> Ah yes. OK, everyone — settle in for a brief but hopefully interesting history lesson.
<+Tom> Let’s start at the end – “Banner”
<+Tom> At this time, the colony of Brazil is divided into “Captaincies” where a particular guy is in charge of developing Portuguese settlements and exploring the interior of the land.
<+Tom> They are kind of funny looking on maps: just big horizontal bands extending in a straight line to the west.
<+Tom> To do the exploring and development — finding precious metals, valuable timber, places to plant, and to capture slaves — there were these “banner companies”, so named because they were distinguished by having their own flags.
<+Tom> Members of these groups were called “bandeirantes” – bannermen – and were a mix of mercenaries, scouts, explorers, navigators, engineers and whatnot.
<+Tom> Moreover, only members of banner companies were permitted to go exploring by the governor of a given captaincy (natives already live there, of course)
<+Tom> So in the first EAMB story, our two heroes Gerard and Oludara want to go exploring – but they’re not allowed. They don’t have a banner! So Gerard makes one. He draws a picture of a macaw and an elephant in charcoal on a piece of cloth and presents it as their banner.
<+Tom> And the two of them form technically the smallest banner company possible.
<~Dan> Heh. 🙂
<+Tom> They often have run-ins with a rival banner led by the recurring villain, which actually does have hundreds of people like a banner is supposed to.
<+Tom> He’s the bad guy because he… acts like a real historical bandeirante. Technically you could only take slaves if they were capture in a “just battle” — but there’s no one keeping tabs on him, so he just attacks native villages and says “hey, it was a fair fight” when he brings the slaves back to the coastal towns.
* ~Dan nods
<+Tom> I guess there’s some symbolism of themacaw being America and the elephant standing for Africa, but don’t quote me on that.
<~Dan> Which came first: The RPG or the stories?
<+Tom> The stories were first. The RPG came out in Brazil about two years ago, and the stories started in….
<+Tom> … before that. 🙂
<+Tom> Ah, 2010, Goodreads.com tells me.
<~Dan> Were the stories published first in Brazil as well?
<+Tom> I don’t think so. Or if they were, the release was pretty close together for English & Portuguese — I believe that on the stories Chris writes in English first, then translates to Portuguese. But I might be wrong about that.
<~Dan> Where does he live?
<+Tom> Porto Alegre, in Brazil. But he is a son of Texas.
* ~Dan waves Texas flag 😀
<~Dan> How did you hear about these stories and the RPG?
<~Dan> (And remind me where you currently live?)
<+Tom> I’m in Hong Kong.
<~Dan> Ah, right.
<+Tom> So yeah, how I discovered EAMB. I was browsing around on Redbox Editora’s website, I think it was — they’re a game publisher in Brazil with an online store that also carries other companies’ games.
<+Tom> Just looking for something interesting in PDF to get. You know, like we all do with DTRPG – and I guess itch.io these days as well.
* ~Dan nods
<+Tom> And there I saw it! This game about people exploring the Amazon! With cool monsters!
<+Tom> But there was no PDF.
<+Tom> OK, well, I’ll see if I can afford the shipping on a print book, I thought. This looks great.
<+Tom> I could get no print book. On Redbox, or anywhere else. It was completely sold out. So I figured I’d get myself on the mailing list to find out when they printed more. I then learnt it was based on some stories, so I bought a couple of them on Kindle too.
<+Tom> The very next edition of the email newsletter from Chris had a small note after the main announcements, saying “I’m thinking about getting an Englsh edition of the RPG done. If any of you know a company that translates RPGs, let me know.”
<+Tom> And I emailed saying, “Hey, I have/am a company that does Portuguese to English RPG translations!”
<+Tom> I guess it helped that I had already published a couple of things — Julio Matos’ Dungeon World adventures, for example — so Chris said yes fairly easily.
<+Tom> And the rest is history.
<~Dan> Very nice!
<~Dan> How did you come to learn Portuguese?
<+Tom> A friend of mine in HK started teaching wing chun, perhaps 10 year ago now, and invited me to come to the free opening-month classes. I was too polite to say no, so I ended up going along for one class of wing chun, and one class of capoeira, the Brazilian martial art. I kept coming back to capoeira for 6 years or so.
<+Tom> One of the things you have to do in capoeira is sing a lot of songs in Portuguese, and songs are a great way to learn any language. Although you end up with a weird vocabulary if you stick only to folk songs, so I soon branched out into reading and speaking more widely.
<+Tom> And that’s how I got reasonably good at Portuguese.
<~Dan> Huh. That’s really nifty.
<+Tom> I struggle with spoken word sometimes simply because Brazil is such a large and diverse country.
* ~Dan nods
<+Tom> But the written word is fine. You can always look things up if you don’t know them.
<~Dan> So forgive my ignorance, but were there any major native kingdoms in Brazil during this time, like the Incas, Aztecs, and Mayans? Or are we talking more in terms of isolated tribes?
<~Dan> (Or something in between.)
<+Tom> Sure: there were not (as far as we know) huge kingdoms or empires. But there certainly were what you could call nations, with shared languages and cultures, who you could find in a lot of different places. That is, it wasn’t just a case of ‘this group all live in this area’.
<+Tom> You might meet Tamoio people in one area, travel to another place and find a whole separate bunch of Tamoio there too.
<+Tom> There was a lot of interaction between the various nations, including a lot of warfare — chapter 2 of the EAMB book has a good summary of the major groups and their friendships/rivalries.
<+Tom> (That’s in the Player’s Guide PDF, so you can grab it for free from DTRPG if interested.)
<~Dan> So it sounds more analogous to, say, the native tribes of what’s now the eastern U.S.
<~Dan> Not kingdomes, but nations.
<+Tom> But as to kingdoms or empires no, I don’t think there was anyone who could, for example, say “OK, all the Caete people! We’re allying with the French!” simply by dint of position. You’d have to be a persuasive elder.
* ~Dan nods
<+Tom> I think so, yes. But I must stress I am not an expert on this.
<~Dan> No worries. Neither am I. 🙂
<~Dan> How powerful is magic in this setting? What are some examples of things it can accomplish on the high end of the power scale?
<+Tom> Well, let me just pop open the PDF… a native paje (shaman) who has mastered the powers of Life can return someone from death.
<~Dan> (Howdy, JohnDPayne!)
<~Dan> (Howdy, antiochcow!)
<+antiochcow> (Hey Dan!)
<+Tom> I’m also fond of the level 2 “Miraculous Events” divine grace of ‘Prolong the Day’ — “This grace can be invoked during land or sea voyages, making the hours of the day seem to extend beyond normal for the character and their group. As such, they can walk twice as far as they normally would during that day.”
<~Dan> antiochcow, JohnDPayne, this game looks really awesome. Fire away with any questions! 🙂
<~Dan> Tom here is the translator.
<+JohnDPayne> Link to the game please?
<~Dan> (Howdy, ShawnHescock-GeeksCollab!)
<+Tom> Perhaps the most powerful of the Ifa powers from Africa is the one that allows the diviner to create a ‘Sigidi’, which is a kind of little golem that comes to life and does its master’s bidding.
<~Dan> Kickstarter: (Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1690011586/the-elephant-and-macaw-banner-roleplaying-game?ref=project_facebook&fbclid=IwAR19c516bCft3yvRtWkPQaAduxJa2TsTI2QSVVz_isfZyhGh1zCMIdbnQ94)https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1690011586/the-elephant-and-macaw-banner-roleplaying-game?ref=project_facebook&fbclid=IwAR19c516bCft3yvRtWkPQaAduxJa2TsTI2QSVVz_isfZyhGh1zCMIdbnQ94
<~Dan> Ugh. That sounds like the Zuni Doll from Trilogy of Terror!
<+ShawnHescock-GeeksCollab> I’m coming in late, so hopefully I’m not asking the same question again… of the 224 pages, how many of those are actual rules?
<+Tom> One notable thing about the powers in EAMB, I have noticed when running classic D&D modules, is that even the ‘beginner-level’ powers are pretty powerful.
* ~Dan nods
<+Tom> Like, low-key butpowerful. The basic ‘Foresee Evil’ applies to ‘evil’ in the general sense, i.e. malign people, but also things that coudl harm you or others, like a rock about to fall on you or a deadly snake.
<+Tom> Good question, let me do a quick count.
<~Dan> Speaking of rules, I’d like to discuss them next. Before we delve into that, though, do you happen to have a character sheet that we can view?
<+JohnDPayne> Yes that would be great
<+Tom> Sure, here’s the character sheet PDF: (Link: https://www.dropbox.com/s/nam47124cvdvp56/EAMB%20character%20sheet.pdf?dl=0)https://www.dropbox.com/s/nam47124cvdvp56/EAMB%20character%20sheet.pdf?dl=0
<+JohnDPayne> Cool! Thanks!
<+Tom> The rules are mostly in Chapter 1, which is 60 pages. And then if we don’t count the bestiary I’d say you are looking at another 10(ish) pages in the GM chapter? Bit hard to say on a quick count.
<~Dan> Looking over the character sheet here…
<+ShawnHescock-GeeksCollab> Tom, thanks. The character sheets looks good, nice and simple.
<~Dan> So the first thing that strikes me is that I see skills, but not attributes. Are characters purely skill-based?
<+Tom> Yes, they are.
<~Dan> Do some skills cover what would otherwise be an attribute, like strength?
<+Tom> You might justify your skill selections based on ‘my character has a natural talent for X’ but the only relevant mechanical thing is the skill.
<+JohnDPayne> What’s the logic behind that design choice?
<+Tom> Yes, there’s a Physical Strength skill.
<+Tom> Let me see if I can quote the designer on that…. just a sec.
<+Tom> “Our system does not use a ributes that de ne physical and mental characteristics as natural abilities. Natural ability does not exist. Those who want more physical strength should exercise. Those who would like to acquire more knowledge need to read and study. ….
<+Tom> The more investment in a skill, the more proficiency the person acquires. It is a simple concept, which I believe to be a more faithful model of real life.”
<+Tom> (attributes that define) above. (Copy & paste error)
<~Dan> Hmm. Not sure that I agree, but I can run with it.
<~Dan> It reminds me of the system that Spectrum Games used to use for a lot of their games.
<~Dan> Can you describe the game’s task resolution system?
<+Tom> There’s a single mechanic: roll 3d6, add skill bonus, maaaaybe add an equipment bonus, beat a target number.
<~Dan> Does degree of success matter?
<+Tom> Normally I am not a fan of variable TNs set by the GM but thankfully the rules define a lot of those targets.
<+Tom> No, RAW it’s simple pass fail, but there’s an optional rule for ‘epic’ success or failure.
<~Dan> How does the latter work?
<+Tom> One of the key design considerations is making the game quick to pick up, so everything starts with a simple core.
* ~Dan nods
<+Tom> That’s also why it’s 3d6 (no need to buy weird dice), for example.
<+Tom> Chris talks about this in some videos he’s recorded, let me seeif I can find that link.
<+Tom> Yeah, here we go: (Link: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnZOFej9EmYTVbVOYs-ymlmoXzrWE5Rlw)https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnZOFej9EmYTVbVOYs-ymlmoXzrWE5Rlw
<&Silverlion> Sounds very cool.
<+Tom> I think it’s the ‘Combat’ video where he talks design and playtesting a little bit.
<+Tom> But he has promised a video soon that is solely about the design process.
<~Dan> How does combat work?
<+Tom> For the most part nothing i ncombat will surprise anyone reading this, I think. BUT… it does have a nice abstraction of movement and positioning that I have started using in other games too.
<+Tom> When you’re in a battle, each character is in one of three states. They can be “Free”, “In Combat” (i.e. engaged at hand-to-hand range with an enemy) or, rarest, “Escaping”.
<~Dan> So is a character engaged in ranged combat “Free”?
<+Tom> And the “In Combat” state is always with a particular character. E.g. Stefan the soldier may be in combat with the shaman, Elisa the scout with the archer.
<+Tom> Yes, exactly. When you’re free you’re on the battlefield *somewhere* but not engaged. But on their action, anyone could move to be In Combat with you.
<+Tom> One thing that makes for interesting decisions in the games I have played in is that when you initiate being In Combat, you don’t get to attack that turn. You’ve close the distance but you are surrendering that first strike. No “I charge and hit with my axe.” So that does two things.
<+Tom> One, it evokes that musket & pike era battle-scene feeling of advancing under fire.
<~Dan> I can see that.
<+Tom> And two, it makes positioning on the battlefield into a fun and “interesting” (in the game-designy sense of choosing between options where both have advantages) thing, even though the actual “where am I” question has been abstracted out to the three states.
<+Tom> In his Combat video, Chris gives the example of deliberately moving into combat with an enemy even though you’ll get attacked, so that you can prevent that enemy from getting to another, physically weaker, PC.
<~Dan> (Howdy, egyptian!)
<~Dan> How is damage determined?
<+Tom> Damage is always a fixed amount, deducted from your Endurance score. Simple (and I can see people wanting to hack it) but effective.
<+Tom> Chris contends that how many times you hit someone is already randomizing the damage, which I guess is a fair point too.
<~Dan> Does the optional critical success mechanic affect that?
<+Tom> Oh yes, I’d noticed I missed that question. Let me look that up, to get it right.
<~Dan> No problem!
<+Tom> OK, so it’s left up to the GM, but the example suggestion for a critical Firearms success is double damage.
<~Dan> How does armor function in the system?
<+Tom> The combat actions “Strong Attack” and “Precise Attack” increase damage in exchange for higher target numbers.
<+Tom> It adds to the target number for both ranged and melee attacks.
<+Tom> +1 for a halmet, +1 for a cuirass, that kind of thing.
<~Dan> Hmm. Darn. I prefer armor that reduces damage. Still, not a deal-breaker.
<~Dan> How specific are skills? For example, what’s the skill used for fighting with a rapier?
<+Tom> A rapier is used with Fencing, although you’ve chosen one of the only very-specific ones there!
<~Dan> Ah… What about an axe, then?
<+Tom> The rest are mostly in broad categories such as Edged Weapons, Polearms and so on
<+Tom> That would be Edged. Clubs and things come under Impact Weapons. Then there’s Firearms, Archery. Crossbows and blowguns (the latter widely used at this time by indigenous hunters) have specist skills.
<~Dan> How does spell-casting work?
<+Tom> I think if you wanted to be more granular it would be fairly easy to do the ‘cascade skills’ thing and demand specialisation when you get beyond basic skill level.
* ~Dan nods
<+Tom> It’s the same 3d6 roll, and higher level powers have a higher target number.
<~Dan> Are there any limiters on casting, like magic points, fatigue, or spells per day?
<+Tom> But I should talk a bit about how the powers are categorised. I’ll use “Breath”, the power set of idigenous shamans as the example.
<+Tom> The umbrella skill is “Breath”, which determines how many Energy points you have to spend on using your powers, and governs the maximum level of your specific power skills. You can’t have, say, Control of Nature at a higher level than you have Breath.
<+Tom> Each specific supernatural skill gives access to a new power at each new level. So you might start with Weather 1, which gives you the power Foresee Weather — if you have Breath 2, you could raise your Weather skill to 2.
<+Tom> And that then gives you a higher bonus to your skill roll, and the power Natural Phenomena.
<+Tom> Higher level powers cost more Energy and are more difficult to use (higher target number).
<+Tom> (That actually looks more complicated that it really is.)
<+danhunsaker> I’ve been quiet, I know, but I wanted to be sure to pop in and ask The Question tonight. What is your LEAST favorite part of this project?
<+Tom> Basically, you choose your power source: Faith, Breath or Ifa, then they have powers that come in sets of three, each more powerful than the last.
<~Dan> (I was about to ask if you were there, danhunsaker. 😀 )
<+Tom> Oh, man. Good question!
<+Tom> I can tell you what gave me the biggest headache to translate.
<~Dan> Why’s that?
<+Tom> There’s maybe a half page at one point of common animals you will meet in the jungle, in different biomes.
<+Tom> It’s a simple list: no descriptions or mechanics, but.
<+Tom> In terms of sheer hard work per word translated, it was the worst. Because different languages do not categorise animals the same way.
<+Tom> Like, a dog is a dog, but to use an example from UK versus US English, what’s the difference between a turtle and a tortoise?
<+Tom> One example from EAMB is the Giant Spider.
<+Tom> (In the giant animals section — don’t worry, they’re not real.)
<~Dan> (I dunno. I’ve seen the bird-eating spider…)
<+Tom> In Portuguese, this is a giant “armadeira” — a specific kind of spider called “armed spiders” in English.
<+Tom> I’d never really thought about this before but yeah, we say things like “giant spider” but which spiders are we talking about here?
<+Tom> In so many cases when translating animals, I had to decide do I generalize out (like I did with Giant Spider) or do I keep the specific name for an animal that’s not very common in English (e.g. the Giant Spectral Bat)?
<~Dan> Speaking of critters, how large is the bestiary? (I think you may have mentioned that in passing earlier. If so, I apologize.)
<+Tom> And vice versa, you get Portuguese terms that cover animals two or more distinct animals in English, so you have to pick one.
<+Tom> It’s pretty big… let me do a quick count.
<~Dan> Just an estimate is fine, if you have one in your head.
<+Tom> The bestiary is 38pp, which includes the Enchanted Creatures (i.e. monsters and stuff) Giant Animals and the King & Queen Beasts
<~Dan> Can you give us an example of an interesting Enchanted Creature?
<+Tom> Well, my favourite is always the Headless Mule, a person (usually a woman) cursed to transform at night into a mule without a head that shoots fire from its neck stump while galloping around the local countryside from one graveyard to the next.
<+Tom> The Maghwar is also cool, because it’s a terrifying hairy troll thing that can bite a man in half with its huge fanged maw, but has no head – it’s mouth, nose and eyes are set in its torso.
<~Dan> That IS cool.
<~Dan> In the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?
<+Tom> Let me think…
<+Tom> Oh yes, I should mention that you can already get a couple of EAMB things in English if you want to check it out before plunging into a Kickstarter with some random guy from Hong Kong.
<+Tom> There’s the Players Guide, which is the first 2 chapters of the corebook in PDF, as PWYW. And there’s also one adventure, The Legend of the Golden Condor.
<+Tom> You can find them here on DTRPG: (Link: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6318/Porcupine-Publishing?page=1&sort=4a)https://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/6318/Porcupine-Publishing?page=1&sort=4a
<+Tom> And of course, I am happy to answer any Qs or chat after this Q&A too. You can find me on Twitter @PorcupineRPG – that’s probably the easiest way to drop me an initial line.
<+Tom> Or use the Elephant & Macaw Banner RPG group on Facebook.
<~Dan> You’re also free to hang out with us as long as you like, Tom.
<~Dan> And whenever you like, for that matter!
<+Tom> Thanks! 🙂 Sadly, I do have to head off soon — I’m running the EAMB introductory adventure for a group over in Central an hour from now.
<~Dan> Usual reminder to folks: If you’ve enjoyed this Q&A and would like to treat me to a coffee or two, you can do so at (Link: https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe)https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe . Anything’s appreciated! 🙂
<+Tom> But I’ll drop back in to randomworlds again, for sure.
<~Dan> Thanks very much for joining us, Tom!
<+Tom> Thanks you for having me and thanks everyone for joining the chat!
<~Dan> If you’ll give me just a minute, I’ll get the log posted and link you!