March 2, 2016 by brennon
We’ve been quite taken by all these small skirmish games out there right now and with that in mind we talked with Sean Sutter, the mind behind Metal King Studio and Relicblade: Adventure Battle Game which is currently on Kickstarter.
See what Sean had to say and maybe consider going over and checking out his campaign…
BoW: Who are Metal King Studio and where did it all start?
Sean Sutter: I’m Sean Sutter and Metal King Studio is my little production studio. I’m a furious maker of cool stuff, and I wanted to centralize my projects under one roof. That way when I launch projects you can think, “Ah yes, Metal King Studio they made that other crap too. I like that stuff.” It also gives me the opportunity in the future to act as a publisher and find people I believe in and invest in their ideas. That’s a far off dream. But letting yourself dream is the first step.
In 2010 I deluded myself into believing it was possible to make a miniatures game. I knew I needed more art skills so I went and grabbed a degree in Fine Art. I’ve been working as a freelance artist and illustrator since 2012 or so, but I’d wanted to make games so I kept working on that. Getting someone to sculpt the miniatures was going to be a barrier.
So in late 2014 I started teaching myself to sculpt in ZBrush. It’s really a matter of seeing barriers all along the path and just climbing over them one at a time.
I have to give a shout out to Alex Huntley for his work on ArcWorlde, and Jason Fairclough on Wasteman. I hadn’t heard of someone soloing a game like that before. So they are a big inspiration.
BoW: What inspired you to begin looking at crafting the world of RelicBlade
I mentioned this already, but letting yourself dream is a great first step. I tried to let myself dream without thinking about logistics. You can discourage yourself right off the bat if you think about logistics too much. Once you have an idea you believe in you can start dealing with the barriers.
I had been working on a Space Pirate miniatures game. After five years it was past the dream phase and into the figure-it-out phase. Focusing on a minimum viable product (MVP) really helped me cut the fat, but it was still at least a $50k project.
While working on learning to sculpt I decided to make some fantasy miniatures. Cut my teeth on the classics. Once I got some rapid prototypes back from a printer I was looking at my pile of figures and it occurred to me that these were enough minis for a game. It would be a small game, but I had been focusing on MVP and it clicked.
I was able to take my five years of notes on a sic-fi game, my setting notes from my D&D 5th edition campaign, my core design philosophy, and smash it together. There was still a ton of work to do so I shifted to making Relicblade full-time. This was in July-August of 2015.
BoW: Why did you think about Kickstarter to fund the project?
I wanted to avoid Kickstarter if I could. I decided to make the game completely rather than going to crowd-fund with alpha rules or concept art. I made Relicblade. Now that it’s made I have a really solid idea of what it takes to get from idea to production, and more importantly how much money it costs! It turns out I need a little more money especially for the cards and to add new miniatures to the game.
Kickstarter is Metal King Studio’s debutante ball. Come out to the party, get your minis, and celebrate a little bit. If the party gets big enough everyone gets presents from MKS. A successful party means I can keep making Relicblade. There is a ton of game packed into every miniature in Relicblade, so adding even one new hero will be extremely fun.
BoW: Time to get onto some gameplay – can you give us a basic run down of how the game works?
Relicblade is designed to capture some of the excitement and dynamism of a good RPG encounter with the non-stop action of a War Game. Characters have a pool of Action Dice that they use to move and perform actions. Actions and abilities have a difficulty value that must be met or exceeded to succeed.
Characters can also focus on an action to add a die to the attempt. So the game mechanics are built around a difficulty/time system. Characters also have access to at least six actions so players are put in control of their characters in a pretty direct and engaging way.
The core rules are easy to learn, but as you play there is a lot of thought and strategy that goes into your activations. There is a big pile of upgrades cards that can be used to customize the characters, too. So if you’re into tinkering there is a lot of depth there. Commanding a character with a couple of upgrades and a relic is really exciting.
BoW: With the basics down what do you think it is that makes RelicBlade different from other games of this style?
Relicblade puts a lot of emphasis on fun. I work to make the core mechanics really easy to learn, but I also built the game to engage the player on several levels so it’s exciting for new players and veteran war-gamers alike.
I also made sure players don’t need huge collections of miniatures. Even for a skirmish game it’s small! I think Relicblade removes a lot of the barriers that keep people out of mini wargaming. I know as I’ve gotten older I got pushed out of games I used to play. I can’t afford to buy new rulebooks every six months, and I can’t take a whole day to play a game either.
Relicblade only takes about a half hour to play, it’s played on a 2′x2′ area, and you only need between three and sixfigures per side. We play it at the pub! Rolling dice, drinking beers, and generally high-fiveing.
Even though the game is small, I know that after a few games you’ll be really excited to play it more.
BoW: You’ve talked a little about narrative play, the game certainly lends itself to that, but do you think you’ll see fleshed out rules for customising and gaining experience with characters each adventure?
I’d love that. Mordheim is one of my all-time favorite games. I am really interested in getting campaign rules set up for Relicblade, but that’s a future potential rather than a core design element. I am going to make blank cards available to the community so they can home-brew to their hearts content. Relicblade is a sand-box with a really fun system built around it.
I do think Relicblade is more about the moment these brave heroes meet their fate. It’s not so much a dungeon crawl as skipping to the climax of an adventure. I am the Artistic Lead on a comic book called B-Squad: Solders of Misfortune. In B-Squad one of the main characters die every adventure, and the unlucky character is determined at random with a dice roll!
The B-Squad characters adventure without a safety net, and so do the Relicblade heroes. I do think B-Squad influenced my sense of humor about characters being expendable. When you play D&D characters can die, but even they are protected by plot. A DM that has a cool story element in store for that character will naturally want to make sure they don’t die in a dumb way.
In Relicblade characters die! A knight that’s on a righteous quest will slip and fall into lava. The wilderness of Relicblade is littered with the bones of heroes. After you play a wild and memorable battle to the end, you can easily try a new party build and go again.
I will be adding campaign supplements and special scenarios, though! I would really like to pair scenario releases with miniatures in the future. The cinematic, Princess Bride sword fight at the cliffs of insanity, feel of the game is really strong. So getting great scenarios in ancient tombs wrought with traps, dungeons swarming with skeletons, and other perilous adventure is all on the docket!
BoW: The artwork for the game is superb – can you tell us a little about your artistic approach and why you went for this style? It reminds us very much of old school wargaming books from the 80′s and 90′s with the comical diagrams!
Since I’m a one man studio, I’m not accountable to someone else vision. What you see is un-filtered Sean Sutter. It’s a little cool and a little goofy just like me. It took me a minute to accept the fact that if I’m true to myself it’s going to be a little goofy. I just decided to really embrace my taste and see if I can find my people.
If you see old school wargaming style in there it’s because thats the stuff I devoured growing up! I wanted to pay homage to the games and stories that inspired me in the first place while pushing Relicblade into new territory. We are starting with pretty familiar stuff, but you still get a good sense of the Relicblade flavor. As an illustrator the cards were a really great way to get more of my drawings into the game and increase the unique flavor.
I think a lot of creators want to pay it forward a bit. I want to make something that will inspire a kid the way I was inspired.
BoW: In terms of artwork, this obviously influenced the characters you have. They are quite an eccletic bunch! What made you go with the the Cleric, Knight and Druid (with her bear of course!)
I really just followed my heart! Since there were only three heroes to start with I wanted to make hybrid classes that could be specialized multiple ways. That way the hero party builds are a little more flexible. If it was too directly Tank DPS Healer you would be cornered a bit. As the game grows that doesn’t need to be as big of a concern.
I mean. There are simple truths, too. Bears are awesome… Maybe that’s all I know for sure. The cleric is based on my friend Claire’s D&D character Sister Judy. I probably wouldn’t have gone into a half-dragon as a core character if she hadn’t inspired me.
BoW: One of your Kickstarter pledges allows someone to make their own character for the game. With that in mind do you have a favourite character from the past you’d love to add to RelicBlade OR an idea of your favourite adventurer?
The Knight is mine. I have always been really into basic troopers over heroes. So a faceless nameless knight armed with a trusty longsword is for me. He or she isn’t in a super heroic stance. The knight is standing in a historical German longsword stance. The character design is history mixed with fantasy and a little cartoony. That character is mine.
Some people love that mini, other people say it leaves them “a bit cold”. But that’s how it goes! I’m delighted by that figure. I’m also always thinking about how a model will paint up while I’m sculpting it. And the knight is a good example of how I like to have open clean areas to paint. The knight is ready to be your first miniature, or for you to impress someone with your freehand skills.
The figure isn’t perfect, it’s the first mini I ever got through production, but maybe that’s why I’m sentimental about it.
BoW: With the Kickstarter achieving its funding goal and stretch goals on the way what’s the next step once funding is over for RelicBlade in terms of expansions, new factions and more?
I have concept art done for nine more characters. That boosts the Heroes to include the knight, cleric, druid, thief, ranger, and wizard. The bad guys will have the pigs (5 character classes), the dark wanderer, and a new Ogre faction (5 character classes).
We are probably going to see the bad guys have more what you would expect from Factions in other games. But you can have Ogres and Pigs and other monsters fight along side one another. That’s in the more immediate future, while the Heroes will have faction sets that will see heroes who are in theme with one another. But again, you’ll be able to match them with other heroes.
Other than new miniatures I’m in early stages of planning campaign booklets that will have story elements, scenarios, and plenty of cool new drawings. There is a lot of room to grow, and I’m extremely pleased that I get to do this. I think the most rewarding thing is being able to see people really enjoying the game and the hobby.
Getting people to have fun together was my goal, so as it stands I can say mission accomplished, but there is so much more awesome stuff just around the bend.
Thanks for letting me chat about this stuff! I’m a big fan of miniatures games, so making this game is a dream come true.
BoW: Thanks for letting us know about your world Sean!
If you’re interested in the world of Relicblade then make sure to go and check out the Kickstarter campaign.
Are you going to be exploring this Fantasy world?
"I mentioned this already, but letting yourself dream is a great first step..."
"I have always been really into basic troopers over heroes. So a faceless nameless knight armed with a trusty longsword is for me. He or she isn't in a super heroic stance..."