Homebrew Homebrew and Hacking: Crafting New Heritages and Cultures: An Interview With PJ Coffey

Co-host of Morrus’ Unofficial Tabletop RPG Talk and one of the authors behind the highly successful Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition, PJ Coffey, is kickstarting a new RPG project. As he’s used my articles as material on the podcast, I wanted to return the favor and do an interview with him.

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EGG EMBRY (EGG): PJ, we’ve never done an interview before, but you’re a co-host of Morrus’ Unofficial Tabletop RPG Talk where you routinely play a game that is based in part on my EN World column where I review RPG crowdfunding projects. You’re making a project and I’m excited to talk to you about it, what is Homebrew and Hacking: Crafting New Heritages and Cultures?
: Hey Egg, I have to say we always include the column because it is absolutely essential in helping people hear about kickstarters that they'd love to back before they finish. It's that last little burst of publicity that can make all the difference. Homebrew and Hacking is the name of my RPG design label and crafting new heritages and cultures is very much in line with the “Guess the Kickstarter from just the name alone” game and does exactly what it says on the tin. It is a small book designed to allow newer, more nervous Narrators/GMs/DM's/Referees experiment with creating new heritages and cultures for Level Up: Advanced Fifth Edition. It's got over 120 options and includes rules to help you mess around with Size, Speed, the basic shape of characters and much much more. With the template I've included, it means that even if you haven't really ever experimented before you can now with some assurance that you won't accidentally break your game. I mean, you can still break your game! You just won't do it by accident. :)

EGG: For players, what’s the advantage of point based heritages?
: Primarily, fairness. Nobody likes feeling like they're not on a level playing field and as a game runner I remember being really afraid that my players will feel that anyone engaging with my personal content would be at an advantage and anyone who kept to the regular or vanilla stuff would be at a disadvantage. With a points based system, a lot of it is still going to be based on judgement and what game the Narrator is running, but you're not going to be wildly out of whack. If you're playing a nautical adventure I expect the mermaid heritage to do better than when it's all set at sea if you see what I'm saying?

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EGG: You were part of the team at EN Publishing* that created Level Up: Advanced 5th Edition. This project is for use with Level Up, but it’s a third part project. Why didn’t this come out with Level Up?
: Oh, that's easy, space. At the end of the day the absolute beauty of A5e is that the actual core mechanic changes are additive and granular. Additive in that things aren't being taken out of the game and granular in that you can add or subtract to a relatively fine level. This means that the design space for content, which was already pretty big, became absolutely massive! Originally A5e was envisaged as being just two books, but the very high quality of so much of it meant that it spilled into three doorstops, which have so much “drag and drop” potential it's wild. And even then there's SO MUCH inspiration and fantastic ideas that I know the Manual of Adventurous Resources is coming out from Andrew, Cassandra, Jocelyn, Josh and Peter and that is going to be AMAZING.

EGG: You have two free previews for this at DriveThruRPG. What does Homebrew and Hacking: Arboreals offer?
: Am I allowed to say “legally-distinct-from-an-ent”? Probably not. So, I read A LOT of online posts because I'm a big nerd, as you might expect :), and one of the things that came up was sometimes people want to pick up a guy and use them to whack other guys. Now, obviously there's a certain number of excellent solutions out there, but I thought, “Well, you'd need to be quite BIG to do that.” and then I live near the New Forest in Englandshire and we have a lot of BIG trees here so I thought, “Well, what if I included” rules for Large creatures? So I did. In my head, Arboreals are about 1200 lbs and about 12 ft tall and look like well, giant plant people. They're not dryads, who to me would be represented as normal looking folk with maybe a bit of bark, they're these hulking great types who can be gnarly or smooth and all sorta different colours. These are literally Tree-looking people, which is where the name comes from. In terms of abilities the base heritage (common to all arboreals) don't like using metal armour (I've never seen a happy looking tree covered in metal so that felt ok) they're mostly resistant to humanoid diseases and of course they photosynthesise and make their own oxygen when in direct daylight. The heritage gifts they enjoy are witchwood and ironwood. Witchwood is more focused on the nature magic side whilst ironwood is just incredibly tanky with extra hit points as they level and a natural Constitution based armour.

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EGG: What can players expect from your other free preview, Homebrew and Hacking: Merfolk?
: Well obviously it's perfect for people who want to make a Splash in their games! I was very much inspired by the picture from Pixabay by Sergei Tokmakov which I felt was really eerie and beautiful! With the Dislocating DM's amazing work on the combat wheelchair I was like “WAIT! HOW ELSE WOULD A MERMAID GET AROUND!” and that just fit right in. I decided to go with Tremorsense because the wording in A5e made it feel very compatible with dolphins using sonar to find food and that seemed like it would work super well under water and having a sensitivity to vibrations fit that vibe very naturally. I like giving players interesting options, so there's a sort of Ariel-esque heritage gift of being able to shift into someone with two legs for a limited time and a nod to the Odyssey where they can sing an Enthralling song. Plus I had the option to reflavour Halfling Nimbleness to Selkie Smooth and NOT doing that would go against everything I stand for as a DM and a person. :) The other heritage gift is maybe a little Fey-er a little darker. More in line with stories about the type that would wait in lakes and drag people down to their deaths using supernatural strength.

EGG: One of the selling points of Level Up is its compatibility with 5e. Will your new heritages and cultures be compatible as well?
: 100%, nothing could be easier. :) I've included an appendix at the end of the book on how GM's that fall in love with A5e (and trust me, I love the game so much I am running two nights for different groups and it's an absolute blast) can: 1) convert fully to basic 5e, 2) offer partial conversions using cultures and 3) “strip down” cultures to give real mechanical differentiation and let players make choices. Making meaningful decisions at every point in their career is a real selling point of A5e and it's one I'm firmly a believer in, players should have agency!

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EGG: As mentioned, you co-host Morrus’ Unofficial Tabletop RPG Talk. How did that get started and what does the podcast cover?
: What we cover? RPG News. Sometimes we have guests worrying that their news isn't “big enough” to share and we're all like “Nope! Sounds good!” I personally feel incredibly honoured to have had the chance to speak to so many really intelligent and inspiring designers from literally all across the world. We've had some huge names in who you have almost certainly read things they've read and other people who are just out there doing cool stuff and hacking away at awesome things in the RPG design sphere. It's really awesome. :) So the podcast got started about a year after myself and a very cool guy, Angus Abranson who runs a board game and RPG store and is quite an industry veteran started the guild. Morrus was very kindly supporting our early years by donating money from EN Publishing to buy RPG books to give away as prizes. He said he wanted to do a podcast, and I said “OK” and did some research which sounded pretty interesting. It turns out that he wanted someone else to be on it with him and so we just went ahead and did one. The first couple were a bit variable but I think the feedback we've had most has been how it feels like you're down a pub listening to your mates have a really good chat about RPGs. I tend to describe the show as “breakfast radio but where all the news is about RPGs” with a really friendly and open-minded flair to it. If you listen to our back catalogue you can hear that we're there chilling out with our guests and just going over RPGs. We try to embrace a diverse range of guests because you literally never know when someone will just come out of left-field and tell you the absolute coolest idea you've ever heard of about RPGs. I know it's really opened my eyes to games I wouldn't have even thought were possible using modes that I never even saw coming and I think it's made me a better GM.

EGG: You’re the head of the Southampton Guild of Roleplayers. What can you share about your group?
: Well, apologies to all your readers from Suffolk in New York, but we're actually largely based on the South Coast of England. :) We started in 2017 and have been running games weekly since then. There's a surprising number of veterans of the industry locally and sometimes some storied RPG names popped in and just ran a game they liked or wanted to do something, so that was very cool. At our height we were running about 9-11 different tables a week with lots of homebrew games, systems I'd never heard of, systems I'd only seen mentioned in online posts. It was amazing! As part of our efforts to help avoid GM burnout we ran “seasons” like a TV show, so at the end of the season, the table and the GM could decide whether to renew or call it a day. That meant that groups got to swap around a bit. Some of the Gms found it a bit weird at first because they were used to just keeping on and keeping on, but I've run lots of convention games and believe firmly that 1) Stories should have an end and 2) Gms should also be having a good time when they run. Obviously the whole global situation has been quite challenging because RPGs are a natural home for people who don't have the best health, so we shifted over to running online. That's meant things have been a lot quieter than I liked and we're seeing less public games, but Adventurer's League keeps on keeping on and sometimes we can post up something in the group. We do welcome people from all over the UK and beyond but it's very much not a totally anonymous space, and I think people's manners reflect that. :) Our Facebook page for the Adventurer's League is and runs monthly.

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EGG: Beyond Homebrew and Hacking: Crafting New Heritages and Cultures, what else are you working on?
: Well! I'm glad you asked. Basically I go looking for things in my own practice as a GM and if I can't find them then that seems to me that maybe I should do something about it. I'm hoping to get this Kickstarter finished and put to bed and then I'll be thinking about murderous plants and exciting potions and lotions and creams, obviously that's a lot more niche but I'm pretty interested. I'm also thinking about the concept of demifeats for A5e. Essentially where you can break it into an ASI, a half ASI and a thing and a full feat as we know it. Shield Master and the action economy around it has always annoyed me and I want to sort that out.

EGG: Thanks for talking with me. Where can fans go to learn more about your work?
: I have fans? Yikes! I don't know what I'd do with those! I am still getting established but I write as @coffmeister on Twitter, that's my personal account, so you can see me being SUPER GRIM about the state of UK politics, but I do tend to be happy to talk about RPGs there when I'm not super tired. Definitely keep an eye out for Homebrew and Hacking on DTRPG. I'll be sure to keep on doing things that I find interesting there and non A5e stuff on Itch.io.

Homebrew and Hacking: Crafting New Heritages and Cultures
  • End Date: Wed, February 16 2022 11:00 AM EST.
  • “A 3rd party game supplement to create heritages and cultures for the game Level Up: Advanced Fifth Edition created by EN Publishing*.”
*DISCLAIMER: I freelance for a subsidiary of EN Publishing, EN World.

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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