We would like to shine some spotlight to Tabletop RPG and Board Games publisher that we feel have a history of creating hidden gems or have a new project that may not so well know but deserving of attention. Our first publisher spotlight is Bandit Camp who have created several Tabletop RPGs and their current Kickstarter is for a new print run of Wicked Ones & it's expansion Undead Awakening.
The co-founder of Bandit Camp is Ben Nielson who also created Wicked Ones and has agreed to answer a few questions.
Meeple Design: Can you introduce and share your favourite tabletop RPG class or archetype?
Ben: My name’s Ben and I made the game Wicked Ones and co-founded the studio Bandit Camp with a few friends. It’s hard to say that any one game is my favourite, but I’ve been really big into fiction first gaming for some while now - so I’d have to say Blades in the Dark there. In general, I like to play characters that can use complex systems in games - whether that be crafting, spellcasting, hacking, etc.
Meeple Design: Could you describe Wicked Ones, for those who are unfamiliar with the RPG, in a couple sentences.
Ben: In Wicked Ones, you play as a group of monsters that band together to build a dungeon. It’s more or less like Dungeon Keeper, but a tabletop RPG. You actually draw the dungeon out on paper and then leave it to go on raids, bringing back loot to build up the dungeon more. This inevitably causes blowback, leading adventurers into your dungeon - which you have to ward off with traps, minions, creatures, and so on. That portion of the game, especially, is very boardgame-like.
Meeple Design: What does the expansion Undead Awakening add to the core foundations of Wicked Ones?
Ben: Undead Awakening takes the game completely out of the dungeon and instead you wage a battle across three fronts (domains) - the Horde, Corruption, and Horror. The horde represents how powerful your undead army has grown. Corruption is the land itself twisting and getting infused with your dark energy. Horror is your effect on the minds of your enemies. These three domains are measured with ratings, so as an easy example, if you’re Saruman’s Orcs in LotR you have a huge Horde rating as you’re coming up on Helm’s Deep, but a really low Horror rating as they’re obviously not all that scared of you and put up an epic defense.
But that’s just on the mechanical side - really, the biggest shift is that the game is about creating horror movie moments, not leaning into monastery fantasy tropes. It really is a completely different experience.
Meeple Design: You have mentioned some influences on Wicked Ones, including Dungeon Keeper and Blades in the Dark. Can you tell us how those inspirations affected the development of Wicked Ones as an RPG?
Ben: Blades is a game about a group of scoundrels banding together to carve out a piece of a small city - a lot of that vibe is already very “monsters in a dungeon”-like. The biggest thing there is maintaining the boiler pot that they live in. You have to fight for every piece of turf you get and there’s always a price. It’s a grind against that, just like dungeon life.
As far as Dungeon Keeper, the inspirations are rather clear to see - building tunnels, adding specific rooms with functions, backgrounding a lot of the busy work with dungeon imps, and so on. The biggest change is that in WO, there is nothing like a Dungeon Heart, instead isolating the player characters in the 2nd floor Sanctum while their minions and traps try to ward off invaders before the big boss fight at the end.
Meeple Design: What mechanics does the Wicked Ones have that you think will appeal to Board Gamers or people that are new to Tabletop RPGs?
Ben: It really is the dungeon - you build it out, drawing pathways and rooms, adding traps, locks, tricks, creatures, and roaming minions. All of these have mechanics attached and the adventurers that invade all have different abilities. No two playthroughs of the same dungeon ever go the same. The dungeon itself functions like a Rube Goldberg machine or incredibly complex game of mousetrap. I think it scratches that boardgaming itch very nicely.
Meeple Design: What advice would you give to first-time GMs running Wick Ones?
Ben: This is very simple - it’s all very well laid out in the book. Read the GM best practices, read the player best practices, read about how to handle smooth narration and the flow of information (these are sections in the books), then tackle the GM advice guide - about 10 pages full of GM advice.
There’s also a session 0 / session 1 guide in the book that acts as a game tutorial mode (for both the GM and the players) - so you don’t need to know everything. At the end of that session 1 guide, you’ll have been introduced to all of the major concepts.
Meeple Design: Tell us about the early play-testing period. Any amusing stories? How did you address stumbling blocks that alpha and beta players encountered?
Ben: The biggest thing really was the implementation of the 2nd floor Sanctum as a way to push player characters to the very end of the dungeon. Players control their characters, but also minions, traps, and so on. There’s a mechanic we implemented, called the Sanctum, which basically plot-locks the PCs into a position deep within the dungeon. “Dungeon Logic” (our guidelines for not angering your minions) dictates that the rulers let weaklings die first - it makes no sense for the top guys to be risking their own necks. The sanctum is actually a rule that completely prevents them from leaving that end-of-dungeon room and instead letting the dungeon itself have all of the spotlight.
Prior to the sanctum revelation, we had this weird guerilla warfare like dungeon defence where PCs would bunch up at the doorway and fight backwards, room by room, towards the end of the dungeon. It just felt all wrong, didn’t follow the tropes at all.
Meeple Design: Can you give us an idea of what combat is like in Wicked Ones
Ben: As it’s a fiction first system, you can really do anything that makes sense. There is no turn order - it’s more cinematic. You take the focus and state what you want to accomplish and how you’re gonna try to go about doing it. You and the GM work together to determine how effective/risky it might be, then you make your roll. Once that’s done, the narration starts - and the player is the one narrating almost all of this. They’ll have so much information about the scene at this point that they’ll be able to paint a pretty vivid picture whether they fail or succeed. The GM’s job is to keep the camera and action around the PCs moving, coming up with interesting consequences for failed rolls, and tossing wrenches into their plans. But the players are very much in the driver’s seat when it comes to combat usually, which feels right for a game that’s so much about aggression on the players’ part.
Meeple Design: There have been material shortages, shipping delays and increase in shipping prices over the last couple of years. Could you tell us how this has impacted the planning of the Kickstarter campaign? Are you able to offer any advice for people thinking about crowdfunding in the current climate?
Ben: Surprisingly little…that storm has mostly been weathered and we don’t have an ENORMOUS order coming in. We’ve been given soft guarantees by our printer and shipping that everything should go fairly smoothly compared to the last 6 months. My advice, really, is to use trusted companies whose reputations are at stake - you can depend on them when they tell you things. It’s worth the extra cost instead of going on Alibaba and just finding the cheapest solution.
Meeple Design: You have experience with creating & publishing tabletop games and Kickstarters. Are you able to offer any advice for homebrew developers looking to publish their game systems?
Ben: Starting out is like stumbling around in the dark, hoping to find your way through that door with the pile of money on the other side of it. My advice is to start risk-light… use print-on-demand (via DTRPG), avoid Itch (they drive no traffic towards your game - DTRPG will drive traffic), and don’t make your dream game right out of the gate. Make something smaller that you don’t care as much about - it won’t feel so bad when it doesn’t do so well and you can use it as a learning experience. Your second or third game is going to make money if you enjoyed making the first one.
The other easy one is - Start a Discord server. Find playtesters by going on Reddit’s LFG or use Roll20’s game finder… run small campaign arcs, one-shots or up to 3 sessions. Then go find more players. All of these people you should be directing to your Discord server - you’ll end up creating a small group of people that (hopefully) had fun with your game and know about it. They can talk about it when you ask for feedback and discuss it with new arrivals. The ideal scenario is to run 2 games a week, one with the same group always - your solid playtesting group. The other game is this rotating one-shot/few-shot group. Then when it comes time to Kickstart, you’ll have 20-40 people already there ready to help jump in and spread the word.
Meeple Design: Is there anything else you would like readers to know about Wicked Ones?
Ben: It’s not a simple game by any means and takes a few sessions to get all of your group on board, but once people get a handle on the mechanics, get their minds wrapped around fiction-first gaming (You think “What does my character want to do now?” instead of looking at the sheet to find “What can my character do now?”), and the world and story get moving, the game just sings. The entire game is designed to just keep pushing things forward towards whatever culmination is coming - one which you all build together as you develop your evil Master Plan.
Meeple Design: Finally, an easy question to finish on. What game or Tabletop RPG is your favourite at the moment?
Ben: The easy and most honest answer is Relic, the Shadow of the Colossus-inspired game that I’m developing right now. I make games that I want to play, so I get really excited about my own games. They’re always my favourite and other games (which I voraciously read, but rarely play) never take that away…
But as for games that aren’t mine - I’d like to play Mausritter. I want to find someone who’s GREAT at running some very typical OSR and play in some of that, maybe Old School Essentials. The writing in Wanderhome is beautiful and I love reading that book. I don’t think I’d like to play it, but I’d like to give it a try anyway, though. I just backed Notorious on Kickstarter, a solo game about playing as a bounty hunter - that theme really hit well with me. I’m probably most excited to read through that right now.
I’ll stop myself there… I could write pages and pages about games that excite me (and that I never have time to play) :)
We really appreciate Ben taking the time to answer our questions and we hope that Wicked Ones & Undead Awakening sounds interesting to you. If it does then check out the Kickstarter to find out more information and if you are a Tabletop RPG player than check out our Meeple Dungeon collection where you can find a unique t-shirt or dice accessories for your next RPG session.