RPGs, Russia, and The City of the Steam Sun on IndieGoGo

I get messages and emails from RPG creators daily. Occasionally one stands out for a unique reason. The email from Gleb “Crazy Sage” Igumnov sharing the press release for his IndieGoGo for The City of the Steam Sun for Savage Worlds stood out because Crazy Sage is from Russia. My knowledge of Russia would probably cover two Tweets as I know nothing about the nation. So, I asked Crazy Sage about it and what follows is our discussion of gaming in Russia as well as his RPG, The City of the Steam Sun.

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about gaming in Russia and your projects. Let’s lead with who you are, where you’re from, and what RPGs you’re into?
: My name is Gleb, I’m a software developer from Yekaterinburg, and since university I’ve played LARP games. Through this hobby I came to tabletop RPGs. I like Deadlands (and Savage Worlds as a game system), Unknown Armies, old World of Darkness (especially Technocracy). Five years ago, me and my friend, Vitaly Simonov, started creating our own setting for Savage Worlds and now we are finishing an English version.

EGG: Where is Yekaterinburg, Russia?
: Yekaterinburg is the fourth (maybe third or fifth, there’s very tight competition and we often swap places) biggest city in Russia and is located in the Ural Mountains area. It's something like a third of the way between Moscow and Vladivostok (closer to Moscow). The distance between Moscow and Yekaterinburg is around 1,500km straight (and closer to 1,800 by roads), so it takes around 2 hours by plane and I think it'll take 20-25 hours by car (maybe 17-18 but it'll require some real crazy driver, preferably two so they can swap).

EGG: What's the RPG scene like in Russia?
: Tabletop RPGs are not a very popular hobby in Russia, but in the last 3-5 years they are gaining fast. It was hard to buy English books and find GM and players who understand English (or at least someone who can explain it to others) in the 90s or in the 00s. The first popular RPG was Enchanted Lands (1991, 40,000 copies) which was based on a Polish translation of first edition of D&D. Strangely, with such a large amount of copies, it quickly disappeared. As most of my friends, I’ve never seen it, but some of my older friends, including my co-author, played it. During the age of piracy, the most popular RPGs, I think, were D&D, VtM and GURPS. Also, in 1999, the Russian RPG Age of Aquarius was published (something like Bureau 13 in post-soviet style) with a good print of 7,000 copies. There was an attempt to create an official translation of D&D3.5e somewhere around 2007 but it failed hard – only the PHB was translated. But, the quality of the text was very low, even entire pages were missing, and as the final blow, D&D4e was released soon after, so publishers had to withdraw the rest of the books from shops.

Now, in the RPG scene we have some small game studios (as ours). Cool guys from Studio 101 (they publish our game in Russian, so I can’t abstain from mentioning them) who translated Savage Worlds, Coriolis, Blades in the Dark and lots of other games and now are working on VtM. Personally, I think that a big part of the thanks for the current growth of tabletop RPGs goes to them. Also there are Indigo Games who translated Fate, and now, Hobby World, the biggest Russian tabletop games company published Pathfinder and Starfinder and are working on a translation of D&D5e, so things are clearly improving.

EGG: You mention Age of Aquarius. How does that homegrown game compare to the imported RPGs in terms of popularity?
: I’m sure that there are some groups that still play it, some because of nostalgic reasons (I know at least two such groups and play in one), some because of a lack of information (in small cities perhaps), but its days have long gone. The first edition has its charm, but it has some serious bugs in the mechanics and the setting needs to be adjusted for today’s reality. It’s a bit strange to play as it’s still set in the end of 90s and there isn’t much nostalgia associated with that era. Second edition, sadly, was so bad that it was in fact unplayable. It’s horribly designed, horribly written and it seems that authors didn’t do any proofreading at all. It had a couple of nice ideas that could be taken to first edition

EGG: You mention games getting Russian versions, do they get localized names?
: They all have Russian names because of the law, but often they appear only in taglines or shop markers. D&D, Pathfinder and Starfinder have the original English logos on their covers. The same with MtG, we have fully translated cards, but it’s still Magic: the Gathering. Sometimes names are translated without renaming, so Vampire: the Masquerade become Вампиры: Маскарад, Blades in the Dark are Клинки во Тьме and Coriolis is Кориолис. And sometimes there are changes, so Savage Worlds got subtitle Дневник Авантюриста (Scoundrel’s Diary) and GUMSHOE became СЫЩИК (Detective).

EGG: That’s interesting. How large are the gaming conventions in Russia?
: There are some couple of big gaming conventions in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the biggest one is named Rolecon and is around 1,000-1,200 people, but I never attended them. In Yekaterinburg, we have some local conventions, I think the biggest pure-themed are somewhere around 100 people, and usually it is 20-30. As for more broad themed conventions, where tabletop RPGs also occur, they can be from 300-500 people (it's mostly LARP conventions, but not long ago tabletop RPGs were mostly a LARPer’s hobby) to many thousands in the case of big events, like Starcon (28,000), Igrocon (14,000) or Igromir (210,000). But, of course, tabletop RPGs are sideshows at big conventions, not the main entertainment.

EGG: You mention LARPers. Is LARPing more popular in Russia than tabletop RPGs?
: I’m not sure if there are any reliable researches on that matter. I’d say that LARPing is more popular, but I’m an active LARPer myself and I rarely play tabletop RPGs outside of my circle of friends, so when you are living in the ocean you surely would say that there’s lot of water in this world. Also, the opening or closing parades for a LARP, even with 100-200 participants, is a majestic sight while you won’t notice even a thousand tabletop playgroups who are playing on their kitchen tables. Anyways, LARP has been developing in our country since the beginning of the 90s and it can be said that we have our own LARP style, while tabletop RPGs are a young hobby and haven’t developed any unique features yet.

EGG: What else can you share about gaming in Russia that I’m overlooking?
: Hard to say, I don’t have any experience with gaming in other countries to know, what is specific and what is usual. The hobby is growing, a few of years ago we were playing mostly on kitchen tables and sometimes at conventions, now there are clubs opening in big cities that provide rooms and game masters, and even though I prefer to play at home with a company of friends, I still think that appearance of those clubs is really cool. More and more authors appear, some of them create settings for popular systems, some create their own games, sometimes strange and bizarre, and I hope that sometime later our games will also become known worldwide. For a long time, tabletop RPGs, along with comic books were considered ultra-geeky or a childish hobby, now both of them are conquering their places in people minds and it makes me happy.

EGG: You’re more than just a gamer, correct? You’re a publisher, what have you published so far?
: I’m more than a gamer and less than a publisher, I’m an author. The City of the Steam Sun is our first project, we have some other ideas in the works, but as it’s more of a hobby than a profession – things are going slow. We have some ideas for ready-to-play adventures for The City of the Steam Sun and about further development of global plot and I have some vague idea of a game in a cybergothic setting with virtual reality exorcists facing digital demons.

EGG: Do you work with a team or do all it by yourself?
: Our studio consists of one-and-a-half people, me and my friend, Vitaliy Simonov, whom I’ve already mentioned. We joke that we are one-and-a-half, but not two, because we create ideas together, and after that I do all of the dull work. But we outsource a lot – illustrators, editors, proofreaders, etc. Also, sometimes our friends help us. One of them created a secret society for the City of the Steam Sun, written a text about it and gave it to us as a gift, we included it in the book as it was a really cool secret society. When I needed to record voices for our teaser video, I’ve called two other friends, one of them is deeply interested in sound recording and the other has a great voice.

EGG: You have an IndieGoGo, tell me about it.
: It’s simple. I’m investing my own money in this project and, at the moment, I don’t have enough to finish the project in a reasonable time, so I decided to try crowdfunding. There isn’t much risks, as the hardest and most time-consuming work is already done. We have fully translated the book and all art, so we just need to get the money for editing, proofreading and layout. We tried to create some real cool pledges for our crowdfunding, it will be possible to leave your mark in the book and not only in the “thank you” chapter. And we are ready to craft a unique full-size set of technomage equipment as a top reward. Even I don’t have one :)

EGG: Is steampunk popular in Russia? What made that the right genre to write a project for?
: It’s popular in Russia, and it’s ultra-popular with me, so it was the reason. In fact, this project started as a pill against depression. I just wanted to create something to be distracted from sad thoughts, so we started to write a small game, based on New Crobuzon and Fallen London, to play it with our friends. At some point, we realized that we have several thousand years of history and that our setting got its unique style, so we started to make this a real work. There wasn’t any market research or something like that, I just wanted to create something cool and share it with the world.

EGG: Your game will be in English. Do you have a Russian edition? Will you produce one? Any other languages?
: We published our game in Russian, it has some sales and some fans. The tabletop RPG market in Russia isn’t very big, but still it’s a result. As for other languages – I doubt that I’ll do it. Managing the translation process is a lot of work, which I honestly don’t like, so I would prefer to finally write something new.

EGG: When it comes to RPG crowdfunding for the English-reading world, Kickstarter, IndieGoGo, and Game On Tabletop are at the top of the list. Many countries have their own crowdfunding sites (Ulule in France comes to mind). Other countries seem to use Kickstarter for theirs (Italian and Swedish language RPGs are a common site on the platform). You’re using IndieGoGo for yours, what makes it the right fit for your project?
: I missed Game On Tabletop when I was researching crowdfunding platforms, so I really was choosing between Kickstarter and IndieGoGo. And, in fact, there was no choice. Kickstarter simply doesn’t work with Russia at the moment and it’s hard to find reliable middleman.

EGG: What else would you like to share about your RPG project?
: Well, it’s almost pure steampunk (though with some mystics). We tried to capture the very essence of this genre, calm, rational, retrofuturistic and very Victorian. This game is about the Age of Reason, when people really believed that science could solve all their problems and lead them into a bright future. In this game, we experimented with invention rules. When I played weird scientist in our Deadlands campaign, I was very frustrated that I just needed to describe my invention, make a couple of rolls and maybe look for some materials, I wanted some more inventing and assembling in my inventions, so we made invention rules as a mini-game of combination and optimization for those who like me want to dive deep into it. Though, the describe and make a roll variant is still available for people who aren’t as crazy as I am. :) Also, we experimented a bit with Savage Worlds magic rules, I always wanted to make arcane schools that don’t just regain power points over time, so all three arcane gifts available to a player in our book have some unique mechanics – Technomages can’t cast without their equipment and need to recharge their batteries, Blessed Ones spend their life force to create miracles and Dark Mages need to sacrifice some victims to fuel up their magics.

EGG: For fans interested in learning more, where can they find you and your IndieGoGo?
: http://igg.me/at/steamsun IndieGoGo for The City of the Steam Sun for Savage Worlds. We are going live on April 17. https://www.facebook.com/steamsungames - our Facebook. I can’t say that I’m updating it frequently, but I always read messages and I’m ready to answer.

The IndieGoGo live here.

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry


Wow! This is a very nice interview, presenting the role playing scenes in a much overlooked market like Russia. Never knew that 3rd Edition of Dungeons and Dragons failed so spectacularly in Russia. Good to know Pathfinder survived translation.

Wow! This is a very nice interview, presenting the role playing scenes in a much overlooked market like Russia. Never knew that 3rd Edition of Dungeons and Dragons failed so spectacularly in Russia. Good to know Pathfinder survived translation.

Thank you! It was a fun piece to write. :)

Most probably some financial issues, at is was with PayPal for long years. Or maybe they think, that there will be lots of frauds. Sadly, our country reputation isn't the best.


Thanks for joining the forum and sharing! :) It's not the best news, but it is interesting to learn about gaming in Russia.

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