Publisher magic: creating a roleplaying game based on Jack Vance’s Lyonesse novels

We speak to Lawrence Whitaker, co-founder of The Design Mechanism, to learn how the Affinity suite played a starring role in the creation of the company’s latest table-top roleplaying game ‘Lyonesse’.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your company, The Design Mechanism.

We’re a small company based in Ontario, Canada, specialising in the design and production of table-top roleplaying games and supplements. These are similar to Dungeons & Dragons, but with a different set of rules (our Mythras engine). We formed in 2011 and have been successfully producing books for the past nine years. We’ve steadily grown in confidence and range, and the two founders of the company, myself and Pete Nash, have over 50 combined years of experience in writing and publishing in this field.

Lyonesse fantasy roleplaying game. What is the idea behind your latest publication, ‘Lyonesse’?

We are huge fans of the American author, Jack Vance, who is responsible for some of the best Science Fiction and Fantasy from the Golden Age of SF publishing in the 1950s and 60s, and every decade since, well into the early 2000s. His ‘Dying Earth’, ‘Demon Princes’, ‘Planet of Adventure’, and ‘Lyonesse’ books are highly regarded and influential.

Vance is a master of language, plotting, and characterisation, and his voice is unique. ‘Lyonesse’, published between 1983 and 1989, is a very special take on fantasy, mixing traditional folklore, the chivalric age, gritty action and battle scenes, political intrigues, and a sweeping, very involved story, with many colourful characters, villains, wizards, fairies and strange creatures. It all sounds quite whimsical, but really ‘Lyonesse’ is very grounded: almost ‘The Once and Future King’ meets ‘Game of Thrones’. All these things make it ideal for a roleplaying game setting, and especially suited to our Mythras game rules. So, we approached Jack Vance’s estate, and they very graciously agreed to us producing a roleplaying game based on the novels. It’s such a compelling world, so well described, that it’s ripe for the table-top RPG treatment.

A spread from the Magic Chapter. The book contains 510 pages; how did you plan out and manage such a huge publication?

There were five writers and four main artists involved with the project, and each had a section assigned to them for writing or illustration. The book divides neatly into two parts: the background to the Lyonesse world, which takes up the first half of the book, and then the game rules occupying the second (which were already written, and simply needed some adjustments for the Lyonesse setting).

We began the project with a rough plan of how the book would be structured, and adjusted the plan according to input from the authorial team. Once agreed, a project manager was assigned to oversee the coordination of each contributor’s work, managing deadlines, status updates, and keeping the project on track.

Once all the writing was complete, these were handed to myself, and I began the task of assembling the documents into the different chapters, moving certain parts around, and making changes to better fit the flow of the book and the rules of the game. Then, we handed the chapters over to an editor, who went through the work line by line, liaised with the authors over corrections, and myself over changes here and there to the book’s

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