Death in Space RPG: interview with Christian Plogfors and Carl Niblaeus, authors

Our interview with Christian Plogfors and Carl Niblaeus, the authors of the Swedish Role-Playing game Death in Space RPG.

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a cura di Davide Vincenzi

The release of the sci-fi and apocalyptic role-playing game Death in Space RPG was a very pleasant novelty in the panorama of OSR products, so much so that it immediately conquered a large slice of players. For this reason, we decided to contact the authors of this lean but profound role-playing game to prepare an interview to get to know more in depth the background that led to the creation of Death in Space RPG.

So, call for delays and let's go immediately to see what they replied to us.

Death in Space RPG, the interview

Hi Christian, hi Carl, nice to meet you and thank you for your time! Please, tell us something about yourself, when did you approach the world of role playing? And what prompted you to pursue a career as a game author?

Christian: I started out playing a Lord of the Rings RPG with one player and one GM when I was ten years old. I loved making tables and maps for tabletop RPGs. Then I had a long break from RPGs after I got my 8-bit Nintendo and chased the dream of becoming a musician. About twelve years ago we started playing again, and I again had that nice magic feeling from when I was young making my own games and tables. It’s easy to fall in love with the freedom of writing and of creating a world of your own that you can disappear into. 

Carl: Like many others I started out with tabletop roleplaying in the early teenage years, and from that time it has been one of my main interests. About ten years ago I started searching for new influences in the hobby, and I found and read many of the indie RPGs and OSR games that I had previously missed and realized there was a lot more to RPGs than I knew before. I also met some of the people who would later become Stockholm Kartell and we started playing (mainly OSR) games together. I was really inspired by the punk DIY ethic of the OSR community and the encouraging atmosphere, and how creative people were with their content, both in terms of writing and rules mechanics. I got to know more and more people in the community and got an understanding of how the industry works from a designer’s perspective. Then, a few years ago, Christian said he was working on a sci-fi game. I was immediately hooked by the premise and said I would love to help out, and that started our collaboration on Death in Space.

We know that you too are members of Stockholm Kartell, the game and art design studio that is the basis of other great products such as MÖRK BORG and the future CY_BORG. Let us know more about this publishing reality ...

Christian & Carl: Stockholm Kartell is a creative coven. A group of like-minded people interested in roleplaying, game design, music, and a lot of other things. Many of us have been involved in the Swedish roleplaying scene for a long time, and a couple of years ago some of us started publishing games and content for the international market. It’s very valuable and inspiring to have such talented people around you when you’re creating content. 

We have just published a rather comprehensive review about Death in Space RPG, but I want to take advantage of the presence of its authors, therefore, explain us, what is Death in Space RPG?

Christian & Carl: Death in Space RPG is a rules-light sci-fi game, taking place in a broken star-system ravaged by war. Inspiration comes from gritty sci-fi movies like Outland and Prospect. Technology is broken and dirty. Nothing is new. And in the background, some people whisper that civilization is at its end and that the universe is ending, slowly contracting into nothingness. 

What prompted you to create Death in Space RPG? And what were your main sources of inspiration?

Christian & Carl: Movies like Outland and Prospect, and some of the classic westerns for the tone and feel. MÖRK BORG, for how you can structure an RPG core book, and how you can present a setting. Physics studies and research has helped in having a solid understanding for how space works. Exoplanet research has been an inspiration for how strange planets and objects there can be out there in our own universe.

One of the main components of the setting behind the game is the strong sense of impending apocalypse, which pervades every page of the manual. You associated with it the cosmological theory of the Big Crunch, what pushed you in that direction?

Carl: I have always been fascinated with cosmology and the dynamics of our universe. It’s very liberating though, to take that knowledge and leave the rigor of scientific research and get creative with it in a roleplaying setting, just going wherever your imagination takes you.

Christian: I’m fascinated with how an ultimate deadline affects people, and what you think is most important in the moment where you know there is an end to everything. And what is more ultimate than a Big Crunch, except maybe death?

Still talking about the setting, if possible, tell us something more about the Void...

Christian & Carl: The Void is something we cannot understand. Whispers beyond the edge of what you can hear, shadows beyond what you can see. In these end times, it’s affecting people both physically and mentally. The void is neither evil nor good. It just is.

The game system of Death in Space RPG is really very light and simple. Despite this, it still shows a depth that is difficult to find even in role-playing games with manuals of hundreds and hundreds of pages. The recycling and crafting system, for example, is extremely light and elegant, which is not so easy to find in other products. What can you tell us about it?

Christian & Carl: We both prefer rules-light and minimalist games. With less focus on rules, we feel that we can play “faster” with more focus on the fiction and the story. Finding a simple system that still feels deep is very hard, and we discussed and tested most of the different rules a lot to find mechanics that fit well with the rest of the system and support and introduce the setting of the game. 

This also goes for the repair system, where our idea is a simple resource collecting and spending game, that is a little bit “in the way”, to remind you that repairing broken things is an important part of the setting, but is still simple enough to not steal focus from the rest of the game. 

What were the biggest challenges you faced in developing Death in Space RPG?

Christian & Carl: Making sure that the print book looks just like we want. Knowing when to stop revising rules and content, trusting that you’re satisfied with the result and can send it off to print. Coordinating everything related to the Kickstarter campaign.

In the Credits, the names of Pelle Nillson and Johan Nohr, the authors of MÖRK BORG, also stand out. To what extent were they part of the Death in Space RPG development project?

Christian & Carl: Pelle wrote the text for the spread with cults and factions in the Tenebris system, which we’re really glad to have in the book. Johan has added his magic touch to a lot of the art in the book.

The graphic and artistic side of Death in Space RPG is clean and essential, but absolutely effective in returning to the reader those sensations of silence, emptiness and loneliness that the vastness of the cosmos brings to mind. Talk to us about this aspect, what were the choices behind this development?

Christian & Carl: We wanted something that feels cold, dark, and empty but with splashes of color. Something that conveys the vastness of space and of being alone, with some color splashes that can be a symbol for you and your crew, alone in a dying world. And we wanted to keep it strict, like old computer manuals written on typewriters.

Throughout the book the symbol of the cross recurs constantly, can you tell us about this choice? What does that symbol mean to you?

Christian & Carl: It’s inspired by the cross-like crosshairs that you can see in some old NASA images and similar technical photos. The crosses represent the two-sided balance of the void and is a symbol for the game.

A very prolific community has grown up around MÖRK BORG, which has produced a considerable amount of material for the game and has been greatly supported by Stockholm Kartell. Will it be the same for Death in Space RPG too? For this game do you plan to release supplements and zine?

Christian & Carl: We’re both extremely impressed with the active community of MÖRK BORG, and can only hope that we can get something similar for DEATH IN SPACE. We have made the game as a platform for things we want to publish, and we both have plans for things to release, focusing on things that are useful at the table. Adventure modules, tables to generate content you can use in your campaign and things like that.

Do you already have new projects in the pipeline? Can you give us some preview information?

Christian & Carl: We have a few smaller modules in the making, in a jungle setting. Rusty machines and engine oil fumes in a sweltering tropical heat, with endless tunnels in the darkness below. 

Thanks again guys for your time and your friendliness.

Christian & Carl: Thanks for your interest!