[Today, we sit down with Edward VanDerJagt. A Sumerian polytheist and game designer, VanDerJagt here discusses his Oracle Deck and his work on steampunk tabletop roleplaying games.]
ev0ke: You recently created and published a Sumerian Oracle Deck. Why forty-nine Deity cards? How did you settle on that number, and how did you decide which Deities to include?
Edward VanDerJagt: Often mentioned in Sumerian texts, there are seven gods who decree fate. Seven is a powerful number in Mesopotamian numerology, as are three and twelve. You can see these numbers worked into later Canaanite and Jewish mythology if you are looking for it. The deck itself has eighty-four, cards but only forty-nine are deities.
The seven suits are each anchored by one of the seven who decree fate. After that, the second and third card are a minister and a spouse. The end of each suit has a card associated with death or the underworld. All of the cards in each suit have something to do with the main card in that suit.
ev0ke: There are several suggested layouts for the cards. How did you design these layouts?
EVDJ: Some were suggested by others and some just came to me in a moment of inspiration. Interestingly I have found that you can use any layout you like from any system that you are familiar with if you simply add a single card as an orator. You can use the Celtic Cross layout if that’s what you are used to. By adding an orator, you can identify the source of the reading and you can get a better understanding of who you are talking to. Without the orator card, you might not see the bias of the reading clearly.
ev0ke: You also wrote two guides for the Gears and Steam roleplaying game. What draws you to steampunk games? What do you like about that genre?
EVDJ: It should come as no surprise that I am a fan of history, but what many people might not know is that I have a solid background in science. All of my degrees in one way or another focus on science because science is a great way to get the imagination working. I find that the fiction of a hundred years ago and earlier had a very hopeful and fun approach to the way that they thought science would go and seeing their vision of the future was intriguing as much for what they got wrong as what they got right.
Ultimately, I wrote the game simply because I wanted to play in the setting. West End Games was offering an open game license for their D6 system, so there was a ready base of players who knew the system and, given the popularity of steampunk, I knew that I could get a group together. The fact that it has sold copies since then is just an added bonus. The fact that I get compliments on having one of the best magic systems in all of D6 is the cherry on top.
ev0ke: As a Sumerian polytheist, how does spirituality influence your game design? Do you find yourself drawing on the lore of your tradition or do you try to avoid using it?
EVDJ: It’s more indirect than anything. Coming from a Sumerian perspective, I can see things from a non-Eurocentric perspective. This tweaks my steampunk somewhat as that is often portrayed as a very European setting and I am interested in the digs that were going on in the Middle East at the time, as well as the way that the later culture of the Ottoman Empire.
Ultimately though, my steampunk is there for entertainment purposes. If I can add a little extra spice to the setting by adding in something I know a lot about then I will, but not so much that it overwhelms the entire creation. If it enhances the setting, it’s in. If it confuses the setting, it’s out.
ev0ke: What advice can you offer to other people who might be interested in designing a game? Things they absolutely must do? Mistakes to avoid?
EVDJ: Specifically thinking about table top role-playing games, focus on the cooperative aspects. When thinking of game mechanics and balance, focus on letting every player do something that is fun for them. This doesn’t have to be the same fun thing for every player, but everyone has to have some role to play. This is way more important than balance between different roles. It can be fun for one player to have a super powerful character, but what makes this not fun for other players is if it sidelines their character.