On a nice Sunday evening I sat down with a cuppa and a chance to speak with Geoff Solomon-Sims of Oakbound Studio about their new Kickstarter campaign; The Dreamstone. Ahh, the marvels of modern technology. Chatting about old school miniatures, cartoons, and gaming via new school video conferencing.
BIG COMIC PAGE: Thanks for taking some time out to chat with me Geoff. Some of the folks reading this might have seen me talk about your other work The Woods, but for those who haven’t come across you, or indeed Oakbound Studio before, would you care to give us a brief bit about yourself?
GEOFF SOLOMON-SIMS: Yeah sure. I’ve built up Oakbound Studio on the principles of creating a classic aesthetic. The idea is to achieve that hand-crafted look but blend in modern gaming design. Some of the games from the 80/90s were pretty straight-forward and that’s not a bad thing at all. Same with miniatures. I want to take the good design elements and apply or maintain that old skool look.
BCP: There’s been a real resurgence in old skool games on social media. Do you think this old skool thing is purely nostalgia or where do you see the appeal?
GSS: I think part of it is wanting to own now what we couldn’t have as kid. A large part of that is catered for by the market out there in second-hand sales and rare items. It’s also about enjoying the things we grew up with and maybe capturing that.
At this point we got a bit side-tracked in discussing the miniatures we liked and the evolution of design choices. There’s probably a whole other article about that element of the wargaming and painting hobbies so I’ll skip back to our focus on The Dreamstone.
BCP: Obviously the next big thing will be your new Kickstarter campaign for The Dreamstone.
For anyone unaware, The Dreamstone was a cartoon that first aired thirty years ago.
A bit of a broad question but how did this all come about? Was it a case of knowing you wanted to do something for the 30th Anniversary or did you have a game in mind that you’ve been wanting to do?
GSS: I’ve wanted to do miniatures for The Dreamstone for ages. I just loved the design and I’ve wanted to work on something with a cartoon aesthetic for a while. Its something you don’t often see in miniatures, apart from the Asterix and Obelix ones people might be familiar with.
I decided to just go for it. I sculpted two figures, Amberley and Blob, and sent them off to Martin (Martin Gates was the producer of the show). I didn’t hear anything for a while but then I get this email back which says they look great and let’s talk about doing something.
BCP: Ok wow, so the original idea was to just sculpt a line of miniatures and it grew from there?
GSS: Yeah it took about 18 months to sort out who owned the rights to each bit. This person here owned the rights to this, and this person here has this, and so on. There was a lot of communication back and forth as this was dealing with stuff from thirty years ago, but we tracked down all the right people. So yeah, we worked on the basis of creating miniatures and a miniatures game (although strictly speaking you don’t need the minis to enjoy the roleplaying game)
Really, I just want to explore this world.
Having been lucky enough to see a draft of the game, I’m impressed by the level of detail in the setting. In some respects, the source material alone will be of interest to those wishing to revisit their youth. Given that it’s been thirty years since The Dreamstone first aired, how did you go about collating all this info?
GSS: Watching the episodes and then watching them again and checking my notes! A few years back they were all released on DVD but these have become pretty rare. Everything is now up on the official Dreamstone Youtube channel and has been cleaned up and remastered.
A lot of information came from discussions with Martin the producer or Mike Jupp the creator. Actually, it was interesting in speaking with Mike as we discussed the The Dreamthief.
GSS: Yeah it was Mike’s original idea for what became The Dreamstone. I’m sure you can find it on Youtube as well. Most of it is recognisable but it’s a lot darker with fire and more ominous threat. I think there might have been a little disappointment that some of this direction was changed for The Dreamstone.
BCP: Yeah there was definitely a lot of ‘dark threat’ in some of the stuff I watched as a kid revisiting it. Its also interesting in what you say as it reminds me of a line you used to describe this project. I’m paraphrasing but I think you said something like this game is the child of Paranoia and Toon, raised by Bakshi.
GSS: Haha yeah. Ultimately, I wanted to take what is known and shown. But also write some underlying darkness.
I was also fortunate to be sent the style guides. These were the images that the artists and animators were given which showed things like the characters from different angles. What was also really nice was that there were two maps; effectively the northern and southern hemispheres of the world. I was able to piece together a lot from the cartoons, but this also showed places that were never visited.
BCP: And these are the maps that I saw in the draft?
GSS: Yes, but those ones would have been the black and white versions. For the final book these have been worked on and coloured.
BCP: It goes back to what I was saying earlier that this seems to be something for fans who might not necessarily be interested in roleplaying? Almost like those kinds of coffee table books which we can’t help but flick through and enjoy looking at.
GSS: Very much so. I know that there will be people who will be coming at this having little knowledge of the setting and those who were fans of the show. I wanted to be able to produce something that would feel like it was for them either way.
For the purposes of the game, there needed to be a hook. For children we know that nightmares are just scary. But what about as adults? Why are nightmares going to be a worry for older players?
A big part of it was is the fear of the unknown. I considered why the Urpneys had become corrupted and just ran with it. You’ve got this cruel overlord commanding you do these things when really, you’d probably prefer to just be at home with your feet up.
BCP: There are parallels with current, modern concerns?
GSS: In a sense but that wasn’t the intent. I’m very keen to not peg this as too dark.
BCP: Yeah ultimately this a cartoon roleplaying game?
GSS: Exactly. And this is reflected in things like the damage table. You’ve got conditions like Prang or Biff. It’s a simple, light-hearted storytelling game which is meant to be humourous.
BCP: Which leads us into the system pretty nicely. I think approaching a ‘franchise’ game in any form must be tough. You’ve got loyal fans who have firmly established ideas in their heads about what they’d do or want. I wasn’t sure how you could tackle a Dreamstone RPG and intrigued that you’ve gone with players being the baddies.
GSS: If you go back and watch the show, almost two thirds of the time is devoted to the Urpneys, and their plans and antics. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed to fit. You’ve got a definite goal (obtain the Dreamstone), a map to decide your route, and the rest is up to the players.
BCP: In playing the baddies though, are you not worried that there’s an inbuilt expectation of failure? I mean you can’t ever have the Urpneys actually succeed and deliver the Dreamstone to Zordrak right?
GSS: Haha, yes well I guess it’s the fun of how far do you get before the incompetence sets in.
BCP: Yeah, I really get from reading the draft that this is a collaborative story game. These kind of descriptions are thrown around a lot but I don’t get that there’s really meant to be an adversarial player and GM style here.
GSS: No exactly. I really wanted this to be a simple game that could be easily picked up. You’ll notice that the bulk of the rules are straightforward and don’t take up much of the book. You hatch a plan, see what gear you’ve got from the tables provided and you can be running a game pretty quickly.
BCP: I’ve noticed that you’ve not planned for an intro adventure or similar. Do you think that this might be a hindrance to new players?
GSS: I didn’t want to burden people with information which is already widely available. I mean there are lots of really good sites with advice of running games and roleplaying. Of all the pre-written adventures I’ve ever run or played, I don’t think we’ve ever gotten more than a third of the way through before we’ve gone off a divergent path. In some ways this is probably more problematic for newer players.
BCP: Which is a great point. I think the benefit here is that the game follows a nice episodic pattern like the show.
GSS: Yes, you can easily have this as a bit of fun for a one off or maybe something occasional between other games. Going to what you said about knowing you’ll fail, we’ve changed the format slightly and played into that episodic idea. During playtesting we had the idea of starting the game with the Urpneys apologising and explaining how things went wrong. It can be challenging as you have this set point then you know you are working to but it was a neat little twist we’d suggest trying.
To help newer players though you’ll see in the Kickstarter campaign that I’ve include things like play sheets and references to help during games. I hope that these will really help keep the flow going until everyone’s really comfortable with the game. These won’t however be available later.
BCP: Ah ok, that kind of brings me to my last question which is this a one and done affair or do you have plans for the game outside Kickstarter?
GSS: Assuming we’re successful, we’ll use the funds to help prep all the required moulds for the models and the printing of the books. Once these are out in the wild, we’ll add the miniatures as a line in our store and offer up the books via DrivethruRPG. With changes in postage and such, its much easier offering this up via print on demand. There’s a slight dip in print quality so that’s one of the reasons to get in on the Kickstarter. That and there will be some miniatures exclusive there too.
And with that we wrapped up as I had taken more than enough of Geoff’s time.
It was really nice to not only have a chat with someone on hobby related matters, but to get an insight into how these projects work; particularly for much smaller independent creators.
The Kickstarter campaign is live from now until Sunday the 12th of July, and you can check it out by CLICKING HERE.
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster