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Flayrah.com Talks with the World Tree RPG Creators

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Micah: I'm here with Bard Bloom and Vicki Borah Bloom, co-creators of the new roleplaying game, World Tree. Could you two tell us a little about it?

Vicki: Sure! The game takes place on a world which is a giant tree. Civilization has flourished on its branches. There are eight prime species who live on the tree, and who are the people whom players can play in the game. The world is full of magic -- even small children cast spells!

Bard: And it is a very civilized place, mostly -- like 18th century Earth in many ways, though aspects of society range from 13th to 23rd century. Except that it is on a tree's branches. The flat tops of the branches are civilized -- but the sides are not. The wilderness is never more than a few dozen miles away from the cities.

Micah: I'm here with Bard Bloom and Vicki Borah Bloom, co-creators of the new roleplaying game, World Tree. Could you two tell us a little about it?

Vicki: Sure! The game takes place on a world which is a giant tree. Civilization has flourished on its branches. There are eight prime species who live on the tree, and who are the people whom players can play in the game. The world is full of magic -- even small children cast spells!

Bard: And it is a very civilized place, mostly -- like 18th century Earth in many ways, though aspects of society range from 13th to 23rd century. Except that it is on a tree's branches. The flat tops of the branches Micah: The setting sounds really well developed. Let's start with the eight prime species. What are they, and why are they prime?

Vicki: The prime species are the ones that the gods in the world pay attention to. They have a full collection of magical skills from a young age, and they seem to be the people for whom the world was built. They are the only people for whom the common language includes a species name, as opposed to a general word like "fish" or "quadruped". There are other sentient species, but they are clearly different, both to the people in the world and in the context of the game.

Bard: In alphabetical order:

  1. Cani are dogfolk, very social, very concerned with leadership and loyalty.
  2. Gormoror are bearfolk, big strong rough barbarians usually. They care greatly about honor -- and when they give their Word of Honor, they cannot break it.
  3. Herethroy are anthropomorphic insects -- cricketfolk or beetlefolk. They are generally peaceful and agrarian; they're the most populous prime species.
  4. Khtsoyis are floating cephalopods -- non-anthropomorphic air octopi, or really heptapi. They are stereotypically thuggish and violent and not terribly smart (though that stereotype isn't entirely true). They are fairly rare, and the other primes find them scary.
  5. Orren are otterfolk; when they get wet, they turn into non-anthro otters. They are quick and versatile and clever and a bit careless. They're always excited about something, but their topic changes from week to week.
  6. Rassimel are raccoon-folk. They're considered the smartest of the primes. They're usually obsessed with something, but unlike the Orren they nurture their interests for their whole lives. The best wizards on the World Tree are Rassimel -- as are the best greengrocers.
  7. Sleeth are non-anthro big cats. They are very feline: generally solitary and generally savage. They have trouble in civilization, because they have no hands -- and because they are feared by most other primes.
  8. Zi Ri are miniature dragons. They are immortal, in that they do not age. Old Zi Ri can be extremely powerful and extremely mysterious. Young Zi Ri -- and players can only play young ones -- are often preparing to be extremely powerful and extremely mysterious some day.

Micah: That's an unusual set of species . . . only those are for player characters? No humans, no foxes? Why did you choose the ones you did?

Vicki: There aren't any humans on this world because there's no reason for there to be any! This world isn't Earth-derived or bioengineered like some other 'furry' worlds-- it's not dependent on a terrestrial context. As far as there not being "one of everything" species-wise... the World Tree setting is a specific one, a complete world with species that make sense culturally, individually and together. These species are not just human people with animal heads; their context is really different. In any case, these are the species that developed when we began to consider the cultures that might develop in the world we had built for them.
We sometimes say that World Tree is coincidentally anthropomorphic. It's a specific world, with its own history and politics, and lots of flavor of its own. It's not trying to be a Universal Furry Setting, or a Universal Gaming Setting either -- there are other games around which do those.

Bard: Oh, and there are foxes of a sort. You can play a Cani with vulpine appearance, and your favorite foxy personality. The species stereotypes are only stereotypes -- individual people can vary quite a bit. Vicki's Khtsoyis character is the party healer. She only talks like a thug.

Micah: Tell me about the magic system. You say children can cast spells? Doesn't that make magic less special? I mean, adventurers have to be special somehow, right?

Vicki: Magic on the World Tree is more of a technology than a mystery. Everyone's got it, most people don't use it in very interesting ways, and in a lot of ways, no one is impressed by it. Except of course, when they are because you've made an impressive use of it.
The closest analogy terrestrially might be the way we think of electricity. Everybody uses electric appliances everyday; they're a basic tool of our culture. No one is impressed by their toaster, although if they thought about all of the details that go into generating current and getting it to their house, they might be. Nevertheless, we are pretty impressed by the neon lights in Times Square, or the chess playing skills of Deep Blue, even though those are really just fancy uses of electricity.

Bard: Adventurers are special but not that special. A few percent of primes have had an adventure or two in their lives, and there are professional adventurers -- or people who have gone on adventures and then switched to some more respectable (or at least safer) profession. Adventuring fits cleanly into the social world; it's not just tacked on.
Player-characters are special because they're taken from about the top, oh, 10% of the people (more or less, depending on your gamemaster's choices). They're better than your average carpenter or farmer, though they don't start as the best mage in a city.
Adventurers get some goodies, because the World Tree gods (and authors) constructed the world to encourage adventuring. People learn much much faster from adventuring, for example -- a couple of weeks on an adventure can give you more practice with magic or diplomacy than a year's safe studying in a university.

Micah: World Tree sounds very different from the run-of-the-mill. What made you decide to write an RPG, and such an unusual-sounding one to boot?

Bard: (looks innocent) I couldn't help it! Then Vicki got caught too!
I've been gaming pretty much since the first D&D books came out. My mother's an English professor, and I had to defend gaming to her, so I started arguing that it was really a literary or dramatic form -- a kind of shared storytelling, a place for creative expression as well as recreation.
Being an obsessive sort of person (where do you think those Rassimel came from?), I very soon wanted to write my own. I've been fiddling with sketches of World Tree in some variation since about 1984. I was an anthropology major as an undergraduate; I enjoyed reading ethnographies, and World Tree actually started as a fictional ethnography -- a book about a culture that didn't actually exist.
Then a few years ago I found that I had some time, and wanted to do something fun with it. I started writing, and Vicki got interested...

Vicki: Bard had put together the skeleton of a really amazing place, somewhere I'd like to be. I'm a real dabbler (where do you think those Orren came from?), and next thing I knew, I was playing in World Tree, building up consistency from the wonderful sketches Bard had imagined, playing 'what if' with the details of the world, finding it was easy to imagine the people of the World Tree, their conversations. I'd always love the concept of role-playing, but found games like D&D boring because the world just didn't interest me. This world did, and as it became more real, my interest in it grew.

Micah: So what's it like, getting a roleplaying game published?

Bard: Rather like hiking the Grand Canyon in the heat of the summer. Lots of beauty and wonder; moments of absolute terror; lots and lots of hard work, but in the midst of the work you get to look up and see the beauty again.

Vicki: Exciting! Exhausting! Terrifying! Tiring! But mostly fun.
Seriously, one of the most amazing things about doing this was seeing the amount of support we'd need from other people, and then getting it! Neither Bard nor I draw at all, so we needed to go looking for artists willing to work on our project. The warm and interested response of people was incredible. The amount of work that artists, playtesters, and friends put out to help us manifest our dream was a real blessing to us, and we were wonderfully surprised. We couldn't have done this without a community of people who wanted to see it happen.

Micah: Do you have an advice for would-be game writers?

Bard: Main piece of advice: Love your game intensely. There's much more work and pain than we had imagined -- I foolishly thought that once the text was all written and polished that we were nearly done. There's not much money or glory in writing a game; do it as a labor of love, or don't do it at all.

Vicki: And playtest the heck out of it! The rules have to work, and best if they integrate well into the setting. We had to throw out some of the early rules for being unwieldy, imbalanced, easy to abuse, too weak, or too powerful. It took players looking at it from the outside to alert us to these things. Some rules took three or four iterations before we were happy with them.

Bard: Third piece of advice: find people who will love it almost as much as you do. We couldn't have done it without playtesters, artists, graphics designers, web designers, and many other people, who gave generously of their time and skill and attention and energy.
And be willing to throw out wonderful nifty ideas that don't work. Even if it hurts to throw them out.

Micah: When will World Tree RPG be available, and where can we get it?

Vicki: As of tonight [01-19-2001], it's available! You can get it by through our publisher, Padwolf, at www.padwolf.com. Or if you are going to be at Further Confusion, Bard will be there signing copies and running demonstration games. We'll be at other cons as well over the next year. You can also get it through Mailbox Books, or Alleycat Books so far.

Bard: Also, visit our web site, www.world-tree-rpg.com, for more information if you'd like.

Micah: Those are all my questions . . . do either of you have anything else to add?

Vicki: We'd love to hear from everyone who gets a chance to read the book or play the game, so feel free to drop us a line at wrldtree@bestweb.net. And follow your dreams!

re civilized -- but the sides are not. The wilderness is never more than a few dozen miles away from the cities.

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