Our Brilliant Ruin, an Interview with Studio Hermitage

New company Studio Hermitage has finally revealed their flagship new RPG “Our Brilliant Ruin” in a new Kickstarter.

After many months of development and teasers, new company Studio Hermitage has finally revealed their flagship new RPG “Our Brilliant Ruin” in a new Kickstarter. I caught up with a few of the hermit team, Paxton Galvanek (CEO), Justin Achilli (CCO), Rachel J Wilkinson (Senior Developer) and Danny Ryba (Marketing/Community manager) to chat about what the future holds for Studio Hermitage and find out more about Our Brilliant Ruin.
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Andrew Peregrine (AP): Before we get into the game, can we talk a little about Studio Hermitage? While it might be new, there seems to be a lot of experience on the team. Can you tell me something about who is behind Studio Hermitage and what talent you have working on the project?
Paxton Galvanek (PG)
: Studio Hermitage was founded by Paxton Galvanek (CEO), Justin Achilli (CCO), and Andy Foltz (Studio Art Director) and is fully funded by Amplifier Game Invest. Before forming Studio Hermitage, I was the General Manager/ Board Member at Funcom for 5+ years where I had the pleasure of working with Justin on an unreleased Sci-Fi Shooter project and the new upcoming survival game Dune: Awakening. Before Funcom, I worked as a Business Consultant for many years with several AAA/ AA/ Mobile studios including Activision, Take-Two Interactive, Tripwire, Gameloft, and many others. Justin and Andy worked together for years at Red Storm Entertainment on various projects including Werewolves Within and Star Trek Bridge Crew. Justin has a long history in game development, starting his entertainment career with White Wolf Publishing, about 30 years ago, where he helped to develop the World of Darkness IP. Justin was also with CCP, Ubisoft/ Red Storm, and Paradox Interactive to name a few. Andy worked with Red Storm Entertainment/ Ubisoft for 18 years as an artist and ultimately became an Art Director. He’s also worked with IBM, IRock, and several other companies. Between the three of us, we have upwards of 70+ years of combined experience in the games/ entertainment industry. We founded Studio Hermitage as a transmedia company, and we’re calling on our talent and experience, plus the skills and experience of the brand team, to develop Our Brilliant Ruin as our first intellectual property. Our next step is introducing Our Brilliant Ruin to audiences through various media platforms including print, audio, comics, video games, and more.

AP: That’s certainly a lot of experience! Moving on to Our Brilliant Ruin, can you sum up what the game is about?
Justin Achilli (JA)
: We describe it as “roleplaying in a gilded age in which upstairs-downstairs personal and sociological drama meets existential horror.” Class conflict, an invasive, world-threatening crisis that contorts people into monsters, and industrial-automation-sized machines gone rogue that draws heavily on Art Nouveau and Edwardian aesthetics. Dramark society has split into a number of factions based on whether you’re aristocratic, a worker, or someone who’s set themselves apart from the prevailing social order, so there are numerous families, guilds, and other archetypes to choose from. These are all generally in some amount of tension, but then the outside forces of the Ruin and the syllokinetics throw a wrench into everything. The Ruin is a corrosive starlight from a distant, dead star, eating away at the edges of the world and making monsters of humankind. And the syllokinetics are those machines that once held the promise of a less laborious life for people, but fell into disrepair as the Ruin set in, upending society.

AP: I certainly love a Victorian twist, and it sounds like there is a lot for the player characters to do. What about the rules system? Are you using an existing one or have you developed something new? If so, how does it work?
: It’s an original dice pool system, so if you know how to play World of Darkness games or Shadowrun, you’ll pick it right up. It’s also very straightforward for new players. A Personality attribute + a Skill gives you a dice pool, and you roll that many dice to accomplish things. You want more brills (6s) than glooms (1s), and you also have “push your luck” options that give you more dice and expand your success range. You’re most successful when you engage your Passion, but eventually calling on your Passion puts you at higher risk of catastrophe. There are separate features for long-term Schemes, managing the estate or other property your group shares, and systems that allies and antagonists use.

AP: How does the system reflect the way you envisage Our Brilliant Ruin being played? What sort of scenes and encounters is the system best at dealing with?
: The system is significantly driven by the characters’ (and often players’) motivations and emotional impetus. For example, there aren’t any attributes that measure your raw physical power or quantify your intellect. Instead, the Personality attributes model whether you’re acting selfishly, or out of duty, with cleverness, etc. So, obviously, it lends itself to human drama and the question of what people will do with their remaining time as the world’s ending around them. For many people, particularly aristocrats, they revel and intrigue to pretend the end isn’t nigh. The truefolk, on the other hand, keep the world running and maintain a (probably misplaced) hope in the traditional social order. The unbonded see everything falling apart and want to change society, but there’s little consistency in changing it into what. So you have all of that class- and faction-based goal-setting and intrigue, but the external threats of the world force humanity into cooperation. Of course, you can choose whether your group favours backstabbing and intra-party subterfuge, or you can all go it together, leaning on the various factions' capacities. You probably all want to stop that marauding chimera or undermine that rival family, for example, and then throw yourselves a party to commemorate it.
Rachel J Wilkinson (RJW): Our Brilliant Ruin is about the choices people make at the end of the world. So, the system is more concerned about why your character is acting in a certain way (and the passion that motivates them) than about what they’re doing. A character’s core attributes reflect their personality, not their physiological prowess. And since we’re telling stories about the lives of regular people, I wasn’t interested in who had the biggest muscles or the biggest brain. You can find a thousand other games to play the most amazing or least impressive character. In our system, you get to be human with all the quirks, challenges, and fears that entails while grappling with a worldwide existential crisis. The stories you play often have to do with the problems of other people. How do you pursue your character's ambition in the face of a rival? What relationship drama and sweeping romances do you experience when you may never see a loved one again? What do you do when you discover your mother is afflicted with Ruin? And yes, don’t worry, there is still monster hunting. But because the system focuses on motivation, you don’t have to plug in fighter stats to do that, and therefore, the number of stories your character can participate in is unlimited.


AP: So, very much a character driven rules system. Moving back to the setting, what aspects of it stand out in Our Brilliant Ruin?
: Personally, I enjoy games and worlds with factions, because I like to see the movements of this group and that group in conflict with another group, and so on. Worlds where you can match a character concept to a faction that’s having an effect on the world, and in so doing, you inherit a social element or community that’s part of the faction. It helps you find allies within the group, the politics become part of the gameplay, and it also gives you a way to play against type if you choose.
RJW: I’m obsessed with the question, “What would you do with the time you have left?” And, in my opinion, one of the most unique aspects of the setting is that you can’t save the world. The Dramark will end. Now, where you position your story on that timeline can shift, and the flexibility that provides is also unique to Our Brilliant Ruin. Maybe it’s still early days, and your characters discover a strange blight. Or your characters use the last estate in existence as a bunker while a horde of gothic monstrosities lumber toward you. You get to decide where in the timeline your story fits best and is most fun for you.

AP: Can you tell me what your favourite aspect of the game is? What makes you enjoy playing it the most?
: Personally, I love the factions and the societal drama. That’s probably no surprise, given my history developing World of Darkness. I love groups that players can identify with, with built-in conflicts and alliances among the other groups. Everyone should be able to find a faction that speaks to them, from the Valgreave family as stewards of the land and beasts to the construction-and-creation-oriented Rivet and Bellows Union to the rebels, homesteaders, and fallen Royals of the unbonded. And the Ruin touching off the powderkeg of those societal tensions makes for never-ending story opportunities.
Danny Ryba (DR): I am also a huge fan of factions, but the existential horror of the setting is a big draw for me. The visual design of the Ruin never ceases to amaze me. The art team got very creative with the world's grotesque flourishes. However, the existential elements of the horror are some of the most fascinating aspects. Seeing a loved one or family member afflicted by Ruin adds to the emotional stakes and drama of a narrative that players can engage with.
RJW: For me, it’s the aesthetic. If I could chuck my cellphone in favour of sitting in a petticoat at my rotary dial phone, I would. Modernity exhausts me. Also, because this isn’t an alt-earth or alternate-history world, but instead, an entirely different planet on an entirely different timeline, I don’t have to think about things like, “Okay, how is my character going to find a husband so she can eat.” We’ve tried to do the best we can to create a world where anyone can enjoy the fashion, art, and vibes of historical fiction without also feeling weighed down by the societal expectations and oppression of Earth’s timeline.

AP: With the Kickstarter running at the moment (and already hit its target) what are your plans for stretch goals and backer exclusives?
: As of this interview, we have achieved all our early stretch goals, which include a gazetteer section of the book, a digital art book (exclusively for backers), a virtual tabletop version of the game developed by Alchemy (free for all backers), improved dice packaging for dice add-ons, and an extra digital publication that will expand on the world of Our Brilliant Ruin. We’ve revealed the next round of stretch goals, which backers are quickly unlocking as well. Our approach with stretch goals is to develop great supplemental material and products we can provide to backers without impacting our delivery timeline. Some stretch goals may be backer-exclusive, while others will be available after the campaign ends. Some goals, like the Alchemy virtual tabletop, will be a paid product for non-backers, but backers will get it bundled with their pledge level at no extra cost.

AP: What is next for Our Brilliant Ruin once the Corebook is out? Do you have plans for supplements and will they focus on more setting, adventures or rules expansions?
: We’d like to support Our Brilliant Ruin by expanding the world and its offerings to players. One of the things I know I’d like to do more with is the Community Property system, broadening the estates, institutes, homesteads, etc, that the players construct for their group and offering more customizable options there. I can see room to offer more character customization options, as well. And of course, we want to keep the tension high by exploring more of the Ruin — more antagonists, more advantages, more conflicts, more ways the players can run afoul of the crisis in the world.

AP: You’ve stated Our Brilliant Ruin is a transmedia story-world, can you elaborate on that more? What future media avenues will involve Our Brilliant Ruin?
: As a transmedia company, the plan and strategy at Studio Hermitage is to create a rich new world with unlimited stories to tell and experience. Those stories can be told in linear and also non-linear mediums. The first few products that Studio Hermitage intends to release for Our Brilliant Ruin include a tabletop roleplaying game, a comic book series with Dark Horse Comics, a 10-episode audio drama series, and a video game, which is being developed internally. Studio Hermitage is planning several other future projects for Our Brilliant Ruin, but our intention is for players, customers, creators, and enthusiasts to tell their own stories and discover new details about the world. We’ve spent the last year detailing (at times) scary environments, beautiful estates, rich guilds and factions, multiple threats, and hundreds of characters. Now it’s time to bring the audience in to help us tell the Dramark’s stories.

You can find out more about Studio Hermitage and Our Brilliant Ruin at https://www.studio-hermitage.com Our Brilliant Ruin is live on Kickstarter now and running until the 28th of March.

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Andrew Peregrine

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