Feature/Interview: METAL WORLD: The Heavy Metal RPG

Welcome to METAL WORLD! Have you ever wanted to adventure in a land where it doesn’t have to make sense as long as it’s awesome? Yes? Good! That’s METAL WORLD.

Ferra is a world beyond your wildest dreams. Riding the Howling Plains on his rocket-powered Robot Horse is the Fire Marshal, the demon-possessed lawman who dispenses justice with his 666-shooters. Sailing the seas is the Skeleton Ship, an un-dead sailing vessel that attacks the ships of the living and adds the slain to itself. Rising from the landscape of Prismatica is Mount Fafnir, a.k.a. the Dracano— a volcano made of dragons that shoots lava and more dragons when it erupts! Then, of course, there’s Hell, which exists as a continent you can casually visit. If you’re lucky, you can go on a tour guided by the MegaDevil himself!

Powered by its own original d12-based system designed to streamline gameplay to focus on the exploits of the characters within, METAL WORLD takes the aesthetic of the breadth of heavy metal in the same vein as works like Brütal Legend, Metalocalypse, and many parts of both the publication and movie Heavy Metal and throws it all into one experience. Serving as a love letter to metal, METAL WORLD also keeps from taking itself too seriously, providing an enjoyable experience for both reading and playing it!


Nick Zachariasen is the owner/publisher of Maniac Clown Productions. We had a chat with him about METAL WORLD.


1. Briefly give us an overview of what METAL WORLD is.

In a nutshell, METAL WORLD is a d12-based tabletop roleplaying game that basically imagines what Dungeons and Dragons would be if Ronnie James Dio had written it, classic fantasy artists (Vallejo, Bell, Frazetta, etc.) conceptualized the imagery for it, and Mister Torgue from Borderlands ran it. It’s a world where you worry first about the story you want to tell and then you worry about finer points like rules and logic to the degree that you care to. Also, it has a volcano made of dragons. I mean, sure, there’s igneous rock too, but it’s like bread crumbs in a meat loaf— you need a binding agent to hold the dragons together in the Dracano.

I think it’s important to note that I wrote METAL WORLD with a sense of humour about itself because I find that the people who can’t look at their fandom with that tend to become like the “den ve haaaaates it” record store guy from Metalocalypse, where only their version of their fandom is the right one and all others are only worthy of derision. It also helps keep it a fun read in and of itself.

2. What made you want to combine heavy metal and role-playing (D&D Style)?

There’s a Boris Vallejo painting titled Kalevanpojat that I won a print of at a carnival a long time ago. I found it while going through some stuff and I saw a giant man with antlers and a draconic lower half of his body posing for a nominally-dressed woman. This woman could not possibly have cared less about the fantastic sight in front of her. I imagined a world where something that amazing would be so mundane as to not even warrant a reaction. I thought “Man, I’d love to see a roleplaying setting that metal.” That was the germ of the idea for METAL WORLD. I heard about and later played Brütal Legend to make sure I hadn’t been beaten to the punch. It didn’t go in quite the direction I’d wanted to take my idea, but it was in the neighborhood. The soundtrack, though, provided a great jumping-off point for genre study.


I suppose that’s all a roundabout way of saying I didn’t think there was a sufficiently over-the-top roleplaying setting that worried sufficiently more about facilitating awesome things happening than it did whether you can take a 5-foot step toward that goblin this round.

3. Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign.

Assuming I can get the art I need in on time— and that may be a big assumption— I’m looking at a March 15th launch of the campaign. I figure the anniversary of a ruler of the Roman Empire getting so stabbed Shakespeare felt compelled to write a play about it is about as good a date as any. I’ll keep people apprised of the date via social media— namely Twitter and Facebook— as well as maniacclown.com and the e-mail blast tool DriveThruRPG allows. The blast will go to anyone who’s downloaded METAL WORLD: The Rough Cut, which is the pay-what-you-want final preview edition before the Kickstarter happens.

The Rough Cut serves two purposes, the first of which is to give people the rules— which I’m still tweaking here and there as I catch things— and the world so they can know what they’re getting going in and the second is to raise some funds for artwork. I can write and do layout, but I definitely have the artistic skills of a writer, if even that, so the art is my real sticking point. That’s all I need the KS for— good, high-quality artwork from a variety of artists so I can have that old-school Magic: the Gathering feel where you have a variety of perspectives in a variety of styles.


That said, I don’t have terribly lofty production ambitions for the Kickstarter campaign, as I’m trying to keep it simple to keep costs reined in. There’ll obviously be a PDF and definitely a print-on-demand option. If I get really daring there might even be a regular print run instead of doing POD, but I’m still in the planning stages. I’m going to try to come up with some extras, like maybe METAL WORLD: The Liner Notes, which would be a separate booklet that would explain all the references and jokes I made in the book that wouldn’t be obvious because some may be so subtle as to be unrecognizable as a reference to anything.

4. For those who aren’t really into role-play games like this, how would you sell it to them?

I suppose I’d sell it to them as I would the hobby of tabletop roleplaying in general, at least to begin. You get to sit around a table with your friends playing a game where you get to pretend to be a character you’ve built and you get to tell an interactive story with. Sure, you can play The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Witcher, or whatever other video game RPGs are out there, but it’s just not the same. Sure, TTRPGs let you customize your character the way some video games do, but in tabletop form, you get to decide everything about your character— appearance, personality, motivations, and so forth— rather than having a set of stats and abilities only allowing you to respond in predefined ways to predetermined triggers.


METAL WORLD, then, takes that and goes farther with the customization than most games do. It’s got as much of a rule set as it needs to both be playable and serve the flavor it’s trying to achieve with a goal to not go much beyond that need. There are 11 character templates— like elf, dwarf, Atlantean, cyborg, and graveborn, the last of which is a METAL WORLD original— other than a regular human you can play as out of the box. If you and your Metal Lord (the game master) can work it out, you can play other things too, like a goblin, a mandraco, or some other thing you come up with yourself. The heart of it all is the experience you feel like having in METAL WORLD because part of the inspiration for the feel of METAL WORLD is the vast breadth of heavy metal— as a musical genre, as an aesthetic sensibility, and even the publication/movie— and everything that’s possible within that.

5. Where do your tastes in metal lie? Power? Folk? Thrash? Death etc?

Before I started doing my genre research in earnest, I’d pretty much only been exposed to the metal you’d been able to see on MTV. I just turned 40, so I grew up seeing mainly Ozzy, Quiet Riot, Megadeth, Metallica, and glam/hair metal, so my exposure really wasn’t that deep. Like I said before, Brütal Legend’s soundtrack was really eye-opening, especially in terms of just how specialized metal can be.


I mean, seeing Alestorm listed under the “Pirate Metal” category blew my mind. “Pirate metal? Seriously? That’s actually a recognized subgenre?” I’ve since learned Running Wild beat them to it way back in the ‘80s, but as someone who had a pirate wedding that in particular hit a sweet spot for me. The Wild And The Young by Quiet Riot and Die For Metal by Manowar still make me fondly remember driving around in the Druid Plow. In fact, I’ll say right now that Christopher Lee was right. As much as I’ve gotten into metal, it’s not only kept me young, but made me young. I feel better now— mentally, at least— than I did 10 years ago.

Really, I’ll listen to pretty much anything. I don’t generally go for the growls and screams so distorted that you can’t understand them because I personally find it very distracting, but I’ve come to increasingly think that’s more a function of my ears than anything because I’ve always had a hard time easily picking lyrics out from the background music. That makes it hard— but not by any means impossible— for me to get into death and black metal or a lot of _____core. There are exceptions, though, like Amon Amarth, whose playing is outstanding and an up-and-coming band called The Anchor, whose lead singer Linzey Rae you may also recognize from Metal Kitchen on YouTube.


To get more to the point, I am— as the kids these days might say— pretty basic. I love classic metal like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and of course Iron Maiden, but to pick out one particular subgenre I’d have to say power metal. Not only is it one of METAL WORLD’s five character stats (Death, Power, Prog, Speed, and Thrash), but its particular aesthetic helps set the tone for a good roleplaying setting.

I mean, sure, there are regions representing all kinds of metal in METAL WORLD, but power metal has this bent toward going forth and doing great deeds in the face of adversity that I think just works for roleplaying in general. I do have to confess a guilty pleasure in hair metal, especially the absurdly well-done genre parody embodied in Steel Panther. Is it high art? No. Is it fun? Oh, yes. Finally, I know they seem to be somewhat divisive as to if they’re really metal or not, but I love Ghost. I think they’re one of the best things to happen to metal in a long time. Sure, they’re very, very pop-metal, but they’re really fun to listen to and the music is great. Complaining about them not being metal enough gets back to the whole elitism thing I can’t stand and made damn sure to avoid when writing.


After all, if they serve as an entry point for someone to get into metal, doesn’t that help metal as a whole stay alive? If the only kind of metal you’re into is a sub-sub-genre so extreme nobody actually makes it that’s fine for you, but don’t bag on the people who like something easier on the general public’s ear.

6. The same with gaming. What ticks the right boxes for you?

First, I need to be interested in the setting. I cut my teeth on AD&D 2nd Ed., which is partly because Dungeons & Dragons was and still is the big daddy of tabletop roleplaying and partly because nothing else was really available in Yankton, South Dakota pre-Internet. You were lucky you could get the books and dice for even that! However, over time I learned about other games and settings, getting really into Deadlands in college. I ran a Deadlands: Hell on Earth campaign for two years until I graduated but I still love the entire Deadlands line and as far as I can remember I’ve made sure to back every one of their subsequent Kickstarters for its continuation as Deadlands Reloaded.


I read through but never played MAGE: the Ascension. I think of all White Wolf’s settings that one had the idea that interested me the most, which was the ability to shape reality by simply understanding it and exert your will to make reality a bit less objective.

One big thing in terms of the game as a game rather than the game as a setting is that the mechanics need to fit the aesthetic. The big thing that attracted me to Deadlands was the cards. In the Wild (or in this case Weird) West, actually dealing out cards from a standards deck to handle things like initiative and maybe spellcasting was a truly novel approach that didn’t just break new ground— it fit the subject matter like nothing else could. HOL (Human Occupied Landfill)— by contrast— went too far in that it saw itself as a parody of other games and in writing it as a game it was only nominally playable.


It was, however, such a hilarious read that I cried laughing numerous times reading both the core book and the one expansion. With Mage, it was an interesting idea but a painful slog of a read. Everything I’ve ever read of White Wolf’s— at least as far as the World of Darkness settings— has been so dry and trying so hard to be edgy and grimdark that it just ends up a chore to get through.

I think those three examples right there illustrate much of what went into my sensibility writing METAL WORLD. One, make the mechanics fit the setting. That’s why I have five stats. I’m going to have each go at a point of a pentagram on the character sheet, plus I named each after a metal subgenre. That’s just the start of how I made everything tie together both aesthetically and mechanically. Two, make sure the reader doesn’t get tired of reading it because you made it too dry. You’re writing a game, not a technical manual. Third, make sure that the rules you have are cohesive and don’t go farther than you need to. Write enough that it has structure instead of just being storytelling around a campfire (probably without the campfire) but not so much it bogs down and you have to keep looking everything up.

7. Metal and games aren’t great bedfellows, are you looking to change that perception and if so, how?

I don’t know that I’d agree with that statement, really. I mean, look at Led Zeppelin. They had Tolkein references aplenty. Then you get into Manowar and it’s Odin this, mighty warriors that—Manowar albums are frequently a vague skeleton of a D&D game already. Ronnie James Dio— about as metal a guy as you could ever have found despite his diminutive size— was almost pathological in singing about dragons and magic and the like. I forget their name, but there’s a Warhammer 40,000-themed metal band. George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher of Cannibal Corpse is by his own description “obsessed” with World of Warcraft.


I know plenty of people who love heavy metal and gaming in general as well as roleplaying games in particular. I guess your question puts to me the possibility that this perception may exist in some sections of both the metal and gaming communities, so if that’s true I suppose it’ll be up to me to be the— or at least a— flag-bearer showing them that these two fandoms can indeed coexist and easily at that. Well, me and the player base I hope to develop. Really, I’d say it would be more them than me. I hope to make something people can enjoy without developing a cult of personality over it.

8. Do you have anything else in the works or is your focus Metal World for now?

Right now METAL WORLD is the only thing in the pipe for Maniac Clown Productions. I have a couple novels I started but stalled out on, so I might finish one of those after the Kickstarter fulfills (assuming it succeeds; sooner, I guess, if it doesn’t). If I do get funded and produce METAL WORLD, I might instead dive right into writing the first expansion book, which I think would focus on Hell— which I should point out is both an afterlife and a continent you can casually visit and even get a guided tour of— and the MegaDevil as well as maybe expanding on how magic works.

I have the germs of a couple other game ideas, so maybe I’d try to give one of those a go. I guess it might depend on how much— if any— leftover funding I’d have from the METAL WORLD Kickstarter campaign. I think I’ve got a good enough idea I can get it funded, but it’s easy for a campaign to get swallowed up amidst the sea of ideas out there so right now I’m trying to stay focused on the present.

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