Hellslayers: An Interview with Clifton Lambert, Creator of Hellslayers (Fragging Unicorns Games)

Fragging Unicorns Games has a new project coming to Kickstarter in September: Hellslayers

Fragging Unicorns Games has a new project coming to Kickstarter in September: Hellslayers. The brainchild of Clifton Lambert, this RPG takes inspiration from classic video game first-person shooters (FPS) combined with the tabletop rules for MÖRK BORG. I spoke with Clifton about the RPG, its inspiration, and how it compares to other MÖRK BORG experiences.

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EGG EMBRY (EGG): Tell me, what is Hellslayers?
CLIFTON LAMBERT (CLIFTON)
: Hellslayers is a fast-paced sci fi-horror RPG inspired by the classic video game Doom, using a hack and slash of MÖRK BORG for the game mechanics. As for the setting: In the 22nd century, humanity is on the verge of collapse and extinction. Those with the means and will to survive have turned to other places in outer space, where there is still some hope for the future. Many dangers prey upon the remnants of humanity, threatening to destroy its last fragile hopes of survival. Few soldiers are willing to risk their survival to face those dangers, but there are some. These soldiers, largely considered expendable, are sent into the most dangerous situations imaginable with minimal resources. They are the Hellslayers.

EGG: The last time I did an interview about a Fragging Unicorns Games RPG, it was about Subversion and, really, about how Subversion isn’t a Shadowrun clone. With this project, it feels like you’re creating an homage to DOOM, replicating the feel of another game through this RPG. Why DOOM?
CLIFTON
: I love the feel of sci fi-horror FPS games, both classic and modern. Doom was one of the first of its kind, and made a strong impression on me. This will date me, but I remember when Doom II came out and we were able to play multiplayer sessions with LAN parties. It’s fast-paced and fun, with a gameplay loop built around combat, exploration, and looting stuff. Doom isn’t the only inspiration for this game, but it’s probably the strongest: System Shock and Half Life are major influences, as are modern roguelite games which allow you to try again with an edge based on what you accomplished in your past failed attempt.

EGG: Why combine MÖRK BORG and DOOM?
CLIFTON
: I found myself inspired by MÖRK BORG’s light-yet-still-heavy game design. It’s a deadly system that is both narrative and crunchy in its own way. I started tinkering with the idea that would become Hellslayers almost immediately, applying the rules to a different setting with sci-fi elements. I wanted to make a very focused game that is designed to bring the fun side of the dungeon crawl experience without the tedium that often accompanies it. But I also wanted to make a MÖRK BORG game based on a different genre of metal, one that is defiant and heroic instead of bleak and hopeless. Hellslayers is still meant to be a meatgrinder of an rpg, but it should also let you feel like a badass right up until you die.

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EGG: MÖRK BORG is a deadly system with a built in timer to bring the campaign to a close. Let’s talk about the system. First, is this book a complete core rulebook?
CLIFTON
: This is a complete standalone core rulebook, with all the game mechanics, setting information, and mission design content you need to play entire campaigns.

EGG: What new mechanics are you adding to the ruleset?
CLIFTON
: Most notably is the “Painful Success” mechanic, which allows players to succeed on a failed roll by paying a cost. For example, if you miss a shot with your pistol, you can choose a painful success to hit anyway at the cost of expending more ammunition. If you miss with a melee attack, you can hit anyway by exposing yourself to taking damage while landing your blow. This mechanic provides players with more agency over their dice rolls, and presents a new risk-reward axis. Do you waste some extra ammo to shoot that zombie now before it bites you, or save your ammo for the boss fight you know is coming next? I’m also proud of the looting mechanic. The Hellslayers can search each area for loot by making a roll. On a success, they find something: roll on the loot table. Then they can keep looking, but the difficulty goes up each time. The painful success option for a failed looting roll is that no more loot is available in that area. So you get to loot until you fail, and then it’s time to move on.

EGG: Going back to the Misery mechanic that wraps the campaign, how will that be addressed in Hellslayers?
CLIFTON
: The Misery mechanic is represented by the Doomsday Clock. At the beginning of each mission, you make a roll to check if the Doomsday Clock advances, exactly as you would roll to check the Misery mechanic in MÖRK BORG. If you roll a 1 on the die, you advance the Doomsday Clock and roll on a d66 chart to see what horrific event happens in the solar system (usually involving the deaths of thousands of people-sometimes millions). The seventh time this happens, humanity finally succeeds in killing its mother Earth and dies with it.
Unlike MÖRK BORG, this is not quite the end of things. There are still survivors clinging to a shred of hope on space stations, lunar and Mars bases, asteroid mines, and space ships. They are the last remnants of humanity. Will they die out and mark the end of our species, or do they represent a new beginning?
The final fate of humanity is decided by a final dice roll that is influenced by the past successes of the Hellslayers, who have the chance to take one final mission to improve their chances.
There will be no option to take a painful success on that test.

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EGG: DOOM has a specific look owing to the computer graphics of the era. Artistically, are you attempting to use that vision to influence Hellslayers?
CLIFTON
: I don’t think we’ll be using a pixel art approach to mimic the look of classic Doom. What the final art ends up looking like will largely be determined by who we hire to make the art. Having an art budget is one of the main reasons we’re going to Kickstarter. I’d rather work with an artist and let them bring the setting to life with their art in their own way than impose a predefined idea. The short answer, though, is that the art of Hellslayers will undoubtedly be influenced by the art of Doom and its peers. I think the painful success mechanic, the roguelite character (re)creation element, and the clearly-defined gameplay loop are some of the most unique elements. If we hit our first stretch goal, we’ll also have a special Discord bot that can act as a GM’s assistant to speed up the game, or even allow you to play without a GM.

EGG: Gamers have seen MÖRK BORG for cyberpunk in CY_BORG and in dirty horror sci-fi with Infinite Black and Creature Curation’s Vast Grimm. How will Hellslayers distinction itself from the competition?
CLIFTON
: Hellslayers is a hack and slash of MÖRK BORG, playing to the soundtrack of a different genre of metal that puts you in the mood to rip and tear through your enemies. While it is dark, it’s not quite as hopeless. Hellslayers is deadly, but characters are much more likely to survive. Hellslayers aren’t scum, they’re badasses--fragile, squishy badasses that are likely to die grisly yet heroic deaths. Sure, there are other sci fi horror games built off of MÖRK BORG’s foundation, but they each have their own style. There’s nothing out there quite like Hellslayers.

EGG: One of the questions I’ve put to many publishers lately, does Fragging Unicorns Games have an AI policy?
CLIFTON
: No, but we’re taking Hellslayers to Kickstarter largely so that we have the funds to pay human artists to make our art. If not for the need to hire artists, we could put out Hellslayers without the need for a crowdfunding campaign. I hope that human artists are able to find plenty of work despite the rise of our future robot overlords.

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EGG: Beyond Hellslayers, what else is Fragging Unicorns Games working on?
CLIFTON
: Subversion mostly. The Kickstarter campaign for Subversion was a great success, and we’re working on polishing the game up so it can be released on time and be well-polished. It’s going very well.

EGG: Thanks for talking with me. Where can fans learn more about your work?
CLIFTON
: At our website.

Hellslayers from Fragging Unicorns Games
  • “A DOOM-inspired Mork Borg hack”
Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.
 

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