Lords of the Middle Sea: An Interview

I spoke with Jason Durall about Chaosium’s upcoming Lords of the Middle Sea Roleplaying Game for Basic Roleplaying. Based on Chaosium’s second board game of the same name, published in 1978, the setting is a post-apocalyptic ruined and flooded North America in 2401.
CHARLIE DUNWOODY (CD): Thanks for talking to me about the Lords of the Middle Sea RPG. What kinds of adventures can GMs run in this setting and what type of characters will players play?
Any time! As has been announced, Lords of the Middle Sea is based in a post-apocalyptic North America, much of which has sunk beneath the waves. The surviving regions are jockeying for power against one another, fielding naval fleets, armies, and airships, attempting to claim the precious few land-based natural resources that remain. Player characters - called voyagers - are drawn from one of the six basic nation-states surrounding the Middle Sea, and form the crew of an airship, which they customize and are based out of, created and personalized during character creation. They travel around between the island nations seeking adventure, fame, fortune, or mere survival. Their airship has some requirements for maintenance, fuel, and helium, and is a conspicuous target for bandits and other unscrupulous denizens of the air, land, and sea. They are built around stats and skills familiar to anyone who's played a Basic Roleplaying based game, with a wide range of archetypes (high-level personality types), professions, religious and cultural bonuses, and so forth. Adventures can range from simple scavenging runs in old ruins, exploring new regions, encountering remote island civilizations, running cargo, getting involved with local trouble, trying to stay out of the battles between the various would-be nations, and even dealing with weird weather phenomena. The gamemaster can run games set in the bustling new towns of the Middle Sea empires, or even send the player characters into seemingly-deserted underground bunkers where old technology can be scavenged. The technology level of the Middle Sea nations ranges from sophisticated technology such as found in the hidden fastnesses that survived the environmental collapse and continued uninterrupted to this day, to vast nomadic tribes in the lands that were once Wyoming.

CD: Lords of the Middle Sea RPG runs on Basic Roleplaying, a d100 system that powers RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu. The PCs will have a ship to customize and use during the game. What types of ships are options and is there any surprising tech or innovations?
The default playstyle is that the player character voyagers are the crew of an airship, which they'll pick during character creation as the first decision they make as a group. Then they pick their roles on that ship (captain, pilot, medic, engineer, etc.), and as they flesh out their characters that's where they really personalize their workspaces and the ship itself. During character generation they get to decide what their overall goal is - whether they're traders, mercenaries, adventurers, scavengers, explorers, etc. - and some of the way they customize their ship will come from that decision. Generally, airships are not very heavily armed, and are limited in how much weight they can theoretically carry, so every decision about things like armor, mounted guns, better engines, etc. need to be balanced against cargo space and how it affects the airship's speed.

CD: Does the RPG introduce any other new rules or innovations to the BRP system?
As noted above, voyager characters have paired personality traits such as those from Pendragon (Generous vs. Selfish, etc.) and drives like RuneQuest's Passions (Fear, Hate, Love, Loyalty, etc.). Each character has a background - whether they're from somewhere rural, coastal, enclave, urban, or wasteland - which can affect their starting skill selections. Everyone has contacts they can use to get help and jobs as they travel around the Middle Sea. They earn Reputation as they build names for themselves. There are some mutations and psychic abilities, but these are pretty rare (and are optional). The skills list is pretty light compared to Call of Cthulhu or RuneQuest, and combat is a lot faster and easier to resolve. Unlike some treatments of the post-apocalyptic genre, the world is not full of energy weapons or crazy powered armor. Civilization seemingly ended around 1980 or so, to the best of anyone's knowledge, and even in the hidden bunkers where society continued uninterrupted, it didn't advance much beyond that. There's a bit more of an Old West feeling to the world with some elements of steam- and diesel-punk. Voyagers might land on an old oil rig that's still in use, brightly lit and maintained by a society of hereditary oilers, while an hour or so away a fishing village lives on the "steel reefs" of old skyscraper tops jutting from the water, living completely in harmony with their surroundings. Obviously, too, we're putting a lot more attention into vehicular combat than has been seen in prior BRP games.


CD: The game rewards both episodic as well as long-term play. Does campaign set up or the rules vary between the two options?
Yes. As with RuneQuest, we'll have some featured pregenerated voyager characters for ready-to-play adventuring, and gamemasters can run one-shots or short adventures equally as well as extended campaigns. As the core structure of the game revolves around travel to potentially remote locations, it lends itself very well to episodic play. We'll follow the core book out with a book of short adventures that may contain a short campaign as well, and can certainly be linked together into an overall connected narrative.

CD: Will a map of the Middle Sea be included and if so how will it be used by players of the RPG? Just for travel or will politics, trade, and war also be referenced?
There's a gamemaster map that shows all of the various Middle Sea nations, their capital cities, various waters, and fixed atmospheric phenomena (strong currents and airstreams, etc.). There will be a simpler player-focused map that they can fill in as they explore. We'll provide plenty of information about who's fighting who, who are trading partners or rivals, what each nation is trying to accomplish, but it won't be an overload of setting information. Voyagers may know a bit more than the average person, but they're not experts on the current political system and in the vastness of the Middle Sea, there is plenty of room for surprises.

CD: What is you favorite bit of design or story lore in the Lords of the Middle Sea RPG?
I quite like John Snead's addition of archetypes to the character creation process, which adjust a single related characteristic, add some skill bonuses, and modify some personality traits. Another thing I quite like is the prominence of the ship as an organizing factor of the player-character group. After the first playtests, it became glaringly obvious that ship selection and customization needed to become first and foremost in character creation. Once you pick your ship and the type of jobs you usually take, you pick your roles on the ship, so you might end up being the captain of a transport vessel, but before that you were a member of the local gentry from the Salvaree Council, or even a trader out of the Mexican Empire. As you customize the ship and your role on it, you can also describe your workspace. An obvious inspiration is Firefly, and as such, a character's quarters and/or workspace might reflect their personality, like Wash's row of toy dinosaurs or Kayleigh's Christmas lights at the door to her cabin. Your ship might have a small shrine, or even be filled with plants, herbs and medicinal plants as well as decor. Among the tonal inspirations are the novel A Canticle for Leibowitz (Walter Miller), Deus Irae (Philip K Dick and Roger Zelazny), and Octavia Butler's Parable series, so the influence of religion is also a notable part of the setting, with some hybrid religions, some that have been changed dramatically after the apocalypse, and some new faiths and doctrines. There's also been a lot of interesting serendipity as the house playtest campaign has developed. The voyagers were traveling to the Kingdom of All the Isles, which occupies an area that was largely middle America. The capital of that nation is Akron, and when I was looking up info about Akron to see what it might be like in the 25th century, I learned that the Goodyear Airdock is there, a huge airship hangar built in 1929, an amazing structure that struck awe into the crew as they approached it.

CD: A gamemaster screen and an adventure sourcebook are also planned. Can you share any details on the adventure or any other possible future supplements?
The Gamemaster Screen Pack will follow in the footsteps of the Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest ones, being full of useful information, source material, and ready-to-use adventures and adventure seeds. The adventure collection will be developed after the core book is locked down, and we are actively accepting pitches, with an eye towards working with diverse and new contributors. Beyond that, there's a lot of room for other books. We initially wanted to make the core book feature air, sea, and land-centric campaigns, but chose to focus on the airship campaign as the default mode of play. A book about ships and ship-based campaigns will follow if the line meets our expectations, and again, based on how the line does, a book of discrete ready-to-use locations would follow that. We're also in internal discussions about fiction, which feels like a natural way to introduce and further explore the setting.

CD: Many readers of EN World are D&D and Pathfinder players. What would you say if they asked why should they should try the Lords of the Middle Sea RPG?
Basic Roleplaying provides a gritty, yet intuitive rules set, and the lethality makes every combat a dangerous one. There are few "dull" fights, and no one is immune to being killed. The appeal of a vehicle-based campaign is hopefully a strong one and something that traditional D&D/Pathfinder gameplay doesn't generally offer. When running Pendragon and RuneQuest for D&D/Pathfinder players, I often find that the most interesting thing to them, system-wise, is personality traits. The idea of having a Loyalty or Fear you can invoke that helps you succeed mechanically is not particularly common to most flavors of D&D.

CD: When and where will the Lords of the Middle Sea RPG be available?
Chaosium notoriously does not give specific dates until a product is done being printed and on the boat (or in the trucks, as we do a lot of printing in Europe now). This game is not on the boat yet. Most likely look for it in the middle of 2021, maybe a bit later in the year based on making sure it does not collide with other big Chaosium releases. It will be available as a .PDF first, then via pre-order, from chaosium.com and at your local game stores. Usually things reach Amazon somewhat later than that. Since Chaosium has a .PDF discount program, we offer a free .PDF to people who preorder a book once it's at the printer, and we offer a discount of the cost of the .PDF if you order the print version later, also through chaosium.com's online store. The best place to look for more information is on Chaosium's Facebook or Twitter accounts.

CD: Thank you for discussing the Lords of the Middle Sea RPG with me. Any final comments you’d like to share with the readers of EN World?
Happy to discuss the game! Writing about it makes me even more excited about the game, and eager to dig into fleshing out the world and setting for the core book. In my opinion, this is one of the nicest versions of the Basic Roleplaying game rules, and the playtests have shown we have something really special. I look forward to sharing more about the game when it's ready.

Many thanks to Michael O'Brien for setting up the interview and Jason Durall for sharing everything about the Lords of the Middle Sea Roleplaying Game. If you want to pitch a BRP adventure for the setting visit Chaosium’s website.

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody


Reading Jason‘s description of the setting, I felt strongly reminded of the film Castle in the Sky by Hayao Miazaki/Studio Ghibli. Fantastic airships, their intrepid, yet quirky crews, ship-to-ship combat up high in the clouds, or just the fight for survival against the unrelenting elements... (assuming there will be rules for battling adverse weather conditions). The Netflix series Drifting Dragons/Quin Zaza (Kūtei Doragonzu) also lends itself as a source of inspiration of how the troubles and tribulations of an airborne crew of adventurers invested in a common economic endeavor could look like.

Lords of the Middle Sea sounds like an intriguing setting, and I will look forward to it.

Reading Jason‘s description of the setting, I felt strongly reminded of the film Castle in the Sky by Hayao Miazaki/Studio Ghibli. Fantastic airships, their intrepid, yet quirky crews, ship-to-ship combat up high in the clouds, or just the fight for survival against the unrelenting elements... (assuming there will be rules for battling adverse weather conditions). The Netflix series Drifting Dragons/Quin Zaza (Kūtei Doragonzu) also lends itself as a source of inspiration of how the troubles and tribulations of an airborne crew of adventurers invested in a common economic endeavor could look like.

Lords of the Middle Sea sounds like an intriguing setting, and I will look forward to it.

I agree. I also wasn't excepting this RPG and it hits all the right buttons for me. This one should be a winner.

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