ankur: the revised edition of this “sword & rayguns” role-playing game enters crowdfunding stage on september 1st. the author talks about the game’s setting and explains what changed since the first version.
MAD SCRIBE GAMES’ANKUR – Kingdom of the Gods mixes sciENCE-fiCTION and fantasy, while puting an ancient alien spin on various real world HISTORY. The setting is based on Sumerian mythology, but also inspired by the works of h. p. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Maurice Chatalain among otheR WRITERS.
Red Room: What’s coming up next is – I think – ANKUR’s second edition, but you’ll correct me if I’m wrong. When is it expected to be released?
Chris Miller: I’m officially calling it a revised second printing, as there are some criteria that need to be met before calling it a “second edition”. So, the book is essentially finished. However, I will be running the Kickstarter to re-coup some of my expenses for making all the changes and to possibly fund new cover art. I plan to launch the KS campaign on Sept 1st.
RR: What are the main differences between the first printing and this one? Did you just correct typos and such, or are there more extensive changes to the game?
CM: There were numerous typos to be sure, but I was never really satisfied with the overall aesthetic of the book. I did most of the work myself, using only Microsoft Word. As a result, I was very limited in the visual appearance of tables, etc. Some of the information within those tables had also been accidently bumped by one line due to inexperience and negligence on my part, or that of my editor. This made the info contained in the weapons and armour section especially difficult to comprehend. New changes fixed these problems immensely, and replaced clunky text boxes with clean, professional-looking tables.
Another problem with the text of the original book was that my editor forgot to indent or add paragraph breaks. The result was page-long “paragraphs” that were hard on the eyes. This made it difficult to easily find information, particularly for GMs. I’ve added breaks to most paragraphs, and in doing so had to also place about 100 pieces of spacer art to fill gaps that were created. Finally, I decided to update the new book with all of the rules errata that have built up over the past five years; some of which had never been uploaded to the official errata on DrivethruRPG.
There were other changes as well. For example; after running my own regularly scheduled ANKUR campaign with friends in Atlanta, I noticed some issues with the mechanics surrounding both crafting and the use of spiritual powers. As a result, I made extensive re-writes to those sections of the book. Because of this, and other changes, the book became too thick to print at any profit. So, I decided to cut the book in two. Rather than one core rules book, there is now a Player’s Guide and a Game Master’s Guide.
This decision makes both books a lot more reasonable to print and ship. Also, my thinking was that the average player isn’t going to need three chapters of GM stuff if they never plan on running the game.
RR: It was a massive core book for an independent game. What is the page count for the new two volumes?
CM: It’s 314 for the Player’s Guide and 134 for the Game Master’s Guide.
RR: About the game setting itself: what is the genre? Is it sword and sorcery or is that too limited for it?
CM: Eeehhhh… Sword & Rayguns? It’s a mix of stuff from old school fantasy and semi-pulp sci-fi. I like to think it’s similar to Conan meets Flash Gordon…. with a twist of Stargate.
RR: So, what is ANKUR about?
CM: ANKUR (Sumerian for kingdom of the gods) is a sci-fantasy TTRPG based on Sumerian mythology and the ancient astronaut theory. The game takes place on Earth some 25,000 years in our mythological past. The game world features pre-historic monsters, alien spacecraft, lost cities, barbarians with laser guns riding pterodactyls and more!
“It’s a mix of stuff from old school fantasy and semi-pulp sci-fi. I like to think it’s similar to Conan meets Flash Gordon…. with a twist of Stargate.”
Aliens from the planet Nibiru; which is located in our own solar system beyond Pluto, need an abundance of gold to save their dying world. They find it on Earth, but quickly realize that their immortal lifespans are shortened to human lifespans while on Earth. After a worker’s strike, they devise a plan to create human workers by adding their own DNA to that of primitive hominids.
This new species becomes a little too similar to the aliens of Nibiru and they begin to quarrel over the rights of the slaves/workers. Every 3,600 years the planet Nibiru passes close to Earth during its path around the sun. It is known by the Nibru-ene that this will cause planetary upsets, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, floods… Earth at this time also had two moons by the way. The smaller moon’s orbit is disrupted and it leaves Earth. This causes a 400 foot tidal wave across the entire planet. The Nibru-ene get off world, but decide to leave the humans to their fate. 3,600 years later, the aliens return to find the humans have not all been killed, but neither are all of them so keen on returning to a life of slavery.
New alien cities have been established, and some human cities as well. They compete for resources on a primitive, hostile world where humankind is not yet the dominant species.
“Aliens from the planet Nibiru; which is located in our own solar system beyond Pluto, need an abundance of gold to save their dying world. They find it on Earth, but quickly realize that their immortal lifespans are shortened to human lifespans while on Earth.“
RR: Was the setting developed as you were playing it with your own group, or was it planned from the start?
CM: Well, a little of both. Very early on – about 12 years ago –, before the concept had become its own entity, I was using my own homebrew mechanics for my D&D game. I fantasized back then about publishing my own game, but had no idea how to do that, and honestly, didn’t have a setting worthy of publishing. Then I met a guy who introduced me to the Ancient Aliens show. I was hooked, and started watching and reading everything I could on the subject. After a few years Kickstarter became a viable option for backing new games and I decided to combine my homebrew mechanics with the ancient alien setting to launch ANKUR.
RR: How much of the setting is real world History and how much of it is ancient alien’s theory?
CM: Ah, good question. If you believe in the ancient alien’s theory, then the answer is simple: “all of it”. However, for those who don’t believe, the answer is a little muddier. I was an Ancient History major in college and have worked as a historical reenactor, and historical advisor for multiple museums, schools and motion pictures. I have lived in Italy, India, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Even before I saw my first episode of Ancient Aliens I encountered the Hindu Rig Veda; in which, the text describes how to properly build a space suit to withstand exposure to the “Heavens”. It requires between 50 and 200 layers of specially treated silk, and must be dyed orange for “safety”. It also included thickness and dimensions for a glass helmet to be worn with the suit. There are thousands of these ancient texts that describe flying ships and weapons capable of destroying entire cities in a mushroom of fire “1,000 times brighter than the sun”. These are “historical” texts. Some historians claim they are just allegory or fanciful musings of a simple people trying to explain natural disasters, but the people who wrote those texts and built those statues and monuments to those “gods” believed it. I’ve seen pyramids in Central America that have Sumerian script and pottery at their sites. I’ve compared root words from multiple languages around the world that never had ancient contact, and they all use the same words for mother, father, food, water, earth, sky, etc. Whether or not the Ancient Alien show is correct (and they are not on many subjects), there was some ancient connection between cultures in our past that just isn’t explained by the modern historical narrative.
All I’ve done with ANKUR is treat ancient Sumerian mythology as if they were telling the truth. I did the same with my setting expansion for ancient Africa. I simply asked myself: “What if any of this was true”? “What kind of game world would it be”?
“I was an Ancient History major in college and have worked as a historical reenactor, and historical advisor for multiple museums, schools and motion pictures. I have lived in Italy, India, Nicaragua and Guatemala.“
RR: Since you’re talking about non-Western cultures – African ones in particular – were you the target of the usual cultural appropriation criticism by “progressive” gamers?
CM: Yeah, of course there has been some of that. The supplement came out on the coat tails of the Black Panther movie (not by design). I had thought this would be a stroke of luck because of the interest in African sci-fi fiction, but this was not the case. Though many of my backers are African-American, I received a fair amount of criticism (particularly on Twitter) over the fact that I was “white”. Attackers didn’t hate the content, but rather, were upset that it was written by a white man… A fact that I can’t help in the slightest. It puzzles me why they argue on one hand that there isn’t enough black representation in fiction, yet on the other hand, they insist on it being written by non-whites. To add insult to injury, the African-American population in general seems to routinely avoid the professions necessary for the creation of their own fiction. If you want your own Afro-centric sci-fi setting, but don’t want a non-black to write it, then stop complaining and do it yourself.
RR: Yes, I know what you mean… What do you think about people writing games inspired by R. E. Howard and Lovecraft but, at the same time, pointing out their “character flaws” in a contemporary point of view?
CM: My game was also heavily inspired by those two authors and many others. It’s hard for me to say that I find “character flaws” in them, because I don’t buy into the whole critical race theory. But, even if I did have issues with some belief or comment of theirs made 60 years ago, I try not to judge people based on contemporary norms. That’s something I think (hope) most historians try to divest themselves of. If you are going to truly understand the people of the past, you can’t allow your own beliefs and prejudices to influence how you see them.
“It puzzles me why they argue on one hand that there isn’t enough black representation in fiction, yet on the other hand, they insist on it being written by non-whites. “
RR: Lovecraft isn’t as easy to point out as an inspiration as RE Howard. Which are the Lovecraftian parts of Ankur?
CM: Oh, but Cthulhu is an actual Sumerian demi-god, HPL did not invent him.
RR: Yes, of course, I was thinking about Lovecraftian only in a Call of Cthulhu type of setting…
CM: There are tales of a race of aliens who interbred with humans and sought refuge from the great flood in the bowels of the earth. After the flood and the return of the aliens of Nibiru, these subterranean dwellers, who had evolved into a new species, saw themselves as the rightful rulers of earth. They enticed surface dwellers to join the cult of “kutu-Ulhu” (to be born again into the vaulted firmament). Actually, there are even Greek myths about this cult attacking worshipers of Zeus.
RR: Now about game mechanics: how does ANKUR work?
CM: ANKUR works on a unique D12 system of my own invention. There are no class levels in this game, but there are skills and skill levels. Rather than using a DC number for scenarios, ANKUR uses what I call an “Action potential number” or APN for short. Your APN is derived from your skill level and the corresponding stat number. You add the two together and roll this number or less to successfully accomplish your goal. A roll of 12 is always a critical failure. A roll of 1 is always a success, but never a critical success. You score a crit success if/when you roll your exact APN.
There aren’t many modifiers in the game, but if a character’s APN is increased or decreased above 12 or below 1, stop at those numbers and count backwards the difference. This increases the crit range. When attacking, a roll will tell the players whether or not they hit, the damage and if it passed through the opponent’s armour or not.
RR: The d12 based system is an unusual option. What was the reason behind that choice?
CM: Well, honestly, it wasn’t my first choice. Remember, this was originally my home brew rules set for D&D and D20. But, I wanted to differentiate my game from D20, so I tried various different dice. I tried dice pools, D100, 2 D6 etc. Nothing really seemed to work well. Then I learned that the number 12 was a sacred number to the Sumerians. They had an early form of numerology and #12 was featured very prominently in it. So, I decided to use a D12 and it worked fairly well. It only works however, if you change the stats from a 1-18 range to a 1-5 range. This ended up making sense to me anyway because in D&D only the top 4-5 stats had any positive effects on outcome anyway.
“ANKUR works on a unique D12 system of my own invention. There are no class levels in this game, but there are skills and skill levels.”
RR: Oh, well, if 12 was a sacred number for Sumerians it does make a lot of sense in this case… I think we covered enough ground about ANKUR itself, just a few more questions about your background as role player. When did you start role playing? How old were you? How did you find out about it? Which game did you start with?
CM: I started Playing D&D in 1981 at the age of 8. My next-door neighbour had some cool looking dwarf and hobbit miniatures. They were poorly painted with testers paint in primary colours. But, I had never seen anything like them. I asked where he had gotten them from and it happened to be a little hobby shop a few cities over called “Titan games & comics”. Once I found the place I convinced my parents to take me there to buy some of those metal toy soldiers. I ended up getting the game, a bunch of minis and a hobby that lasted me over 40 yrs. Titans had a small, cramped store-room in the back with a table and some folding chairs. An odd assortment of characters took me under their wing and showed me the ropes. There was Dale: a hippie Satan worshiper who only used black dice, Steve: a retired champion body-builder with super thick glasses, Weird Bob: who was in the air force and worked in a nuclear silo, Tony: a klepto-maniac security guard, Ginger: a foxy, curvy blonde who never wore a bra, Shannon: a midget who always carried a samurai sword, Butch: who loved sports and slaw dogs, Charlie: an over-zealous police officer, and a half dozen others that rotated through over the years.
RR: That’s probably the best “how did I get started in the hobby story” I’ve ever heard about! At which point you felt you needed to write your own game?
CM: The owner of Titan comics eventually created Dragon-Con and I worked for him for 10 years as a guest liaison. At the convention I saw a panel on game design. The guests seemed so normal and their comments on game design made it seem so easy. It was then that I decided… I can do that!
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT ANKUR VISIT MAD SCRIBE GAME’S OFFICIAL SITE