Game "Review": The Lowdown on Orin Rakatha

Hi everyone! Sorry for the hiccup between posts, but, with just about a month left until PAX East, almost every spare moment has been dedicated to costuming (update on that in the very near future!). I say almost every spare moment, because that time not giving over to sewing and painting was spent on the interview at the core of this post.

Orin Rakatha is a novel RPG world carefully crafted by a cadre of deeply devoted gamers over the course of the past 27 years. Now, after literal decades of live action role-playing in the Orin Rakatha universe, the creators of the epic realm aim to take their efforts to the next level by publishing a formal campaign sourcebook. 

The Kickstarter associated with this endeavor can be found here. The premise is fascinating and will appeal to all those gamers with a love of deep characterization. I sent a series of questions to the creative team behind Orin Rakatha. The below are the responses they so graciously provided. 
Check out the pitch page for more images!
The effort to formalize Orin Rakatha into a published sourcebook has clearly been a long time in the making. What prompted you guys to want to take this step?

In our video we quote 'we are getting a bit too old to chase the Trolls' and it's not unlinked that a few of the team mark their half a century this year. So much of what we have done over the years has been saved in different formats, some even before we all had computers, and with the current part of the campaign coming to an end this was a good time to collate all the information. So we thought why not go one step further and make it into something that everyone could benefit from? Furthermore, making the sourcebook would also be something that everyone who had done our LARP adventures since 1986 could have as a keepsake and reminder of what they were part of.

You describe the world of Orin Rakatha as fantasy, but it feels a bit…let’s call it grittier than traditional high fantasy. If you had to apply a genre to this campaign setting, what would you call it?

So there are elves, orcs, wizards, goblins, warriors and priests so it is, in one way, a traditional high fantasy setting, but we do agree that it has a gritty, more real edge to it. Fundamentally, this comes from the way the story was written, so firstly in the more traditional sense the story was written down by the referee organising the LARP events, but what defines Orin Rakatha is the nature of the story development, in that it has been played out and the story developed by hundreds of people both taking part in events and writing and developing the plot as it went along. So as we commute this into the books you'll get the flavour of a number of people’s perspectives on the story. So, in short, it's a high fantasy campaign but with a real edge!

What would claim were your most significant influences during the creation of Orin Rakatha?
If the Kickstarter is successful, we'll see a lot more of this gorgeous artwork.

The team and the players of Heroquest LARP developed as the fantasy genre developed in the UK. Early on it was Dungeons & Dragons and Lord of the Rings and it's moved over the years as the fantasy genre has developed and become more accessible to everyone. But the single most significant influence during the creation of Orin Rakatha has been our players; most GM's will know this secret - the players come up with all the best plot ;0)

Building a world that is truly system agnostic is quite a feat. Did you find that challenging? Enjoyable? Both? Also, did you feel the world worked equally well with all systems?

We've been faced with similar challenges over the years to constantly keep the hundreds of adventures we ran interesting and, whilst always adding something new every time, we have managed to adapt everyone’s ideas to fit into the world as a whole. We feel that any games master will be able to fit an interesting and exciting world like ours into their own game(s).  We are, at our core, story tellers, which comes from our LARP heritage, but we are also hard-core gamers and writing from the story aspect then looking back as to how to add the 'mechanic' has been both enjoyable and challenging; the clash between fluff and crunch (and frankly which one different people think is most important) is one that we hope we'll meet evenly. Currently, we are working on Pathfinder and Fate direct compatibility; the former being the one we are most familiar with but the latter, being new to us, has been most enjoyable when we've been considering how to incorporate. We are also currently reviewing a couple of other systems including Savage Worlds. One thing we want to make sure is that the stats and mechanics don't get in the way of the story so we'll be deploying appendices / separate reference charts to ensure they don't get in the way of each other. 

‘Where Worlds Collide’ is the tagline for the project and ostensibly speaks to the respective realms of tabletop and LARPing. Many gamers have a strong preference as to whether they LARP or play on a tabletop. How is it that Orin Rakatha is able to bridge that proverbial gap and appeal to both demographics?

The 'Where Worlds Collide'  tagline covers two aspects of what we are doing; firstly yes it’s a side nod to our LARP / RPG heritage, but mainly it's about the people who populate the world of Orin Rakatha having journeyed there from other worlds or planes of existence. Using D&D as an example, each tower of inhabitants comes from their own prime material plane; this is why it should be easy for a games master to incorporate their world into ours. As an example let’s say your own campaign in whatever system you were currently using was coming to an end and you were looking to move to something new – you could have your party of adventurers release some ancient power artefact or enemy who causes some form of world-ending situation. Your players, along with a mix of survivors, find a method to escape to Orin Rakatha and have to adjust to the new world, its laws, etc. This would give you limitless ideas and adventures the players could go on.  And whilst there are those that only LARP and those that only play Table-top there are a large number in the middle. The Kickstarter is a table-top RPG product and we are definitely targeting that market. Although plenty of LARPers also play around the table, we are getting more and more into that age bracket - it gets your knees in the end all that running through forests ;0)

The characterization seems to be the core strength of Orin Rakatha and a play testing pool of over 1000 participants must have given you all plenty of characters to work with. Did you have any favorite concepts that came out of that process?

All of them and too many to list, as if you miss one we'd be in trouble with them. Many of our mini campaigns affected more than one of the non-player character (NPC) towers and some encompassed the whole world. Adventures lasted from a few hours, to a few days to campaigns lasting several years. At the core of the player character facing aspect of game is the concept of 'Fortunes Keep' or the three towers of the Kern Valley Alliance, which is one of our favourite aspects. I am sure Games Masters in the past, like us, have wrestled with the concept of how to encourage 'team-play' and rationalise 'joining together' between characters of very different alignments and beliefs; just why does the paladin adventure with the rogue, the goodly cleric with the sorcerer of the dark arts; the list goes on. Well, all our players wanted to do this so in the very early days we adopted a triumvirate allegiance between three groups: The White Retreat (those that follow the light), The Valley Tower (those that follow the balance) & Wolfhold (those that follow the dark arts) and we wrote a code of conduct for them in that they would strive to work together on Orin Rakatha for their own 'greater good' (in our previous LARP world most of them had been sworn enemies). This allows a fantastic mix of adventuring party make up without the need for complex overlapping or contradictory reasons as to why they would adventure together (not that there is ever complete harmony!)

You are all very experienced gamers, but can Orin Rakatha appeal to a new player?

Absolutely! We aren't lording loads of experience; we are writing a campaign world that will work just as well for new GM's and players as it will for those that have been around the table top for a couple of decades. At this core is a new world setting that new players might want to start a brand new journey in or experienced players may want to drop in and out of or just use parts of for their existing campaign. 

Is there anything that readers should know about that isn’t on the Kickstarter page? Is there anything that a gamers may be surprised by if they tried to play in Orin Rakatha for the first time?

The laws that govern Orin Rakatha and the way Orin Rakatha works are unique, so yes they will be in for a few suprises because it isn’t like other worlds and this should be fun for new and experienced players alike. Much of how this has happened was to redress some of issues we saw in early LARP's but which translate very well to the table top and, for us, remove some of the 'why doesn't this happen' questions when considering armies, over-ranked monsters and 'player-centric' plots; Orin Rakatha's mechanic provides answers to these. Without giving away too much; the whole land is created and in some way managed by what are called 'mystics'. They provide shelter on the land in towers and control the cleansing mists, which clear the land of the fallen and manage the flora and fauna. To live on Orin Rakatha you must adhere to the laws of the lands. The physical land, and the magic that underpins it, are all linked and the power of the people that walk across it influences what they meet on the land, paths are changed and routes divided to manage the balance. Have you ever wondered why when you are part of a low-level group of adventurers that you don't constantly get over-run by much more powerful monsters? On Orin Rakatha the land manages its resources to ensure that it meets what it considers to be a threat (the players) with its best matched resource - so the wandering monsters and groups of protagonists are directed by the land itself.

Many thanks to Mike and the rest of the team behind Orin Rakatha for participating in this virtual interview. For those of you out there who adore a deep, multi-faceted role-playing experience. This may very well be the ideal campaign world for you. There are 25 days remaining on the Kickstarter, so, if this piques your interest, be sure to pledge soon!

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