The ZodiacEmpires team is a group of longtime friends and gamers who recently came together to tell their unforgettable stories in a community-driven setting. Their expansive world, Vathis, is the brainchild of four people in particular: Brad Diamond, Frank Albanese, Rachael Withrow, and Joe Ho. We’ve interviewed them to give you a glimpse into the minds behind the war-torn world of Vathis.
- Introduce yourself!
B: Hello everyone! I’m Brad Diamond. I’m 27, and I guess you can say that I’m the brains behind this little operation of ours. I’ve done most of the footwork to get these heads of ours together to churn out some (hopefully interesting) content.
F: Frank Albanese, I’m 27 and I reside in New Jersey, away from the rest of the team.
J: Greetings Friends. My name is Joe Ho. I am 24, a Libra, and am the newest member of the Dev Team.
R: My name is Rachael Withrow. I’m 22, and I’m the sole source of estrogen on the development team.
- What’s your gaming history? (tabletop and otherwise?)
B: I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs since I was a freshman in high school, primarily D&D and Pathfinder, so I have a little over 14 years of experience. I’ve run multiple events for an endless number of players and I primarily fill the role of the GM in most cases. I’ve always had a keen interest in worldbuilding, and thus ZodiacEmpires was born.
F: Well, I started playing Dungeons and Dragons with Brad in 2005, I believe. We were in high school together. We played a few Eberron games, then Forgotten Realms, and I ran a Dark Sun game. Over the years I tried a few others, and here we are today, currently switch-hitting Pathfinder and 5e. I’m eager to try every system I can.
J: I started playing D&D at the ripe young age of 11. Around my senior year of high school my gaming group started to experiment with different systems so I moved away from D&D. The next few years I played on and off in college trying different systems and genres of tabletop roleplaying. I tried everything from Call of Cthulu to BRP to Fate to some homebrewed systems. After college I moved to Ohio and eventually met the rest of the Dev Team thanks to my at-the-time girlfriend and current fiance. Through them I went back to my roots and started playing Pathfinder. At the advent of Fifth Edition I was pulled back into the world of D&D and have a new-found love for the current system.
R: I’ve always been a fan of gaming and fantasy in general, but I only became acquainted with tabletop gaming after meeting Brad. I was a junior in high school. Our relationship was long distance, so to pass the time between visits I studied rulebooks and built characters and familiarized myself with the system we were playing. Needless to say, I was hooked.
- What’re your hobbies outside of gaming?
B: For the most part I spend most of my free time either playing a various assortment of strategy and city building games, (Europa Universalis 4, Civilization IV and V, Final Fantasy’s, Cities Skylines, etc). I write an awful lot in my spare time, as well as dabble in fantasy cartography.
F: I’m a musician, primarily. Guitarist and singer for mostly metal music. I play some video games as well but it’s hard to stay current these days.
J: Outside of tabletops I’m a big fan of all sorts of video games, primarily RPG’s and indie games. Outside of gaming all together I’m a huge cine-phile. I’m always watching movies and TV shows of all types. This clearly shows in my writing and in any of the games I run. While gaming has become my passion, film and video is what I originally went to school for and it always will hold a special place in my heart.
R: I’m going to assume you were referring to tabletop gaming in the question. Well, my current endeavor is playing chronologically through the Final Fantasy main series. I also write and read when inspiration strikes. I enjoy traveling and planning for grand adventures, but I am definitely a creature of comfort. I would rather be at home than anywhere else on earth.
- How did you get involved in the development of ZodiacEmpires and Vathis, and how did you meet the team?
B: Well, ZodiacEmpires began as an inside project between my gaming group and I about six years ago. I had been playing rpgs with Frank for quite some time. I met Rachael through myspace and shortly moved to Ohio. Ohio is where I met Joe, while working with his girlfriend. Thus, the development team was born.
F: Brad and I were the ones who decided to do the whole thing from the beginning. We weren’t very fond of several things present in published settings, and how out of control the players really were, so we decided to try and do something different. I went to high school with Brad. I met Rachael after she moved to New Jersey with him. Then after those two moved to Ohio they met the rest of the group. I became acquainted with them over Skype and other chat mediums, and now we’re all friends. I got to meet them all finally when we went to GenCon in 2014.
J: I met the dev time a short while ago after I moved to Ohio. After playing pathfinder and D&D with them for a short while they thought I would be an asset to the team with my experience in tabletop games and invited me on.
R: Unlike anyone else on the dev team, I learned to play tabletop in the world of Vathis. It was already a fledgling setting by the time I came around. I would like to think that my perspective is what they really needed: someone with fresh eyes and no preconceived notions to test their crazy ideas on. My involvement really helped Brad and Frank develop a world cohesive for both players new to tabletop gaming and players tired of the already established settings. We met Joe shortly after moving back to Ohio, which is where I’m from, and that’s how our current team came into existence.
- What do you bring to the dev team? (What are your ‘special talents’?)
B: Generally I handle much of the history creation, writing, cartography, and art direction of the project. There are very few aspects of this project that I do not have my hands on, in some manner or another.
F: Well, we’re all probably going to say this, but I really try to make sure everything a player could want has a place and is somewhat desirable to use. Continuity is important to me, and some level of realism, so you’ll see me spending way too much cross-referencing and fact checking when I should be writing, but I hope it’s for the better. I also like to plant seeds for player groups to find and utilize. Something about hanging plot threads I find exciting. Other than that, I’m going to be creating music to be released with ZodiacEmpires content in the future as sort of a soundtrack or background music.
J: I have lots of experience running games and playing in games. I’m one of the go to GM’s of the Dev team and my primary focus is creating scenarios and stories for people to use while playing in our campaign setting. I’ll be writing lots of modules and articles for GM’s to use with our setting. I’m also often consulted to help with continuity and overarching plots of the setting.
R: I handle most of the writing and copy-editing for the development team. I’m also extremely vocal about my opinions and ideas, and I’ve claimed swaths of Vathis as my creative playground. I also bring a woman’s perspective to the team, which some may see as unique.
- What’s your favorite part of Vathis and why? (Location, lore, otherwise)
B: This is a really hard question to ask. It would probably be what Vavaire and Tristan were, and what they ended up becoming as they evolved over time. We’ve come a long way from when we first started and so much has changed. It’s hard not to fall in love with it all.
F: I have several. Rancagesh and Mythrayne, because they made me want to play races I’d never formerly considered. Amari, because I find them unique and super interesting. I really like Eldria, CORE and the Essel Tournament. I could name twelve more things but I’ll stop with this: my favorite part of Vathis is the vast tracts of land which are currently unoccupied. I never liked settings with every inch of space mapped and detailed. I like having danger ACTUALLY lurking anywhere. Vathis was first conceived with the intent of having these definitively questionable areas. “Points of light within the darkness” is a real thing here.
J: My favorite part of Vathis is definitely the fact that it’s such a dynamic world that maintains its continuity. You can be in an intense urban intrigue campaign deep within a city like Gloam or Kamtyrow, but then right after your next campaign can be exploring temples and ancient ruins in the Jungles of Sinafey and Osept. There’s a place for any type of story you want to tell somewhere in the world.
R: The kingdom of Sillirai is my beloved brainchild. I’m also extremely partial to all of our unique races. It’s difficult to pick a single aspect of Vathis, because our world is a living, breathing being- each part is connected to a dozen of other parts. It’s cliché and cheap to say the entire world is my favorite, but that’s the truth. Vathis is my favorite, and Sillirai is the favorite of my favorite.
- Do you have a favorite tabletop gaming memory, storyline, or campaign? What do you think made it so memorable, and how do you plan to apply that to ZodiacEmpires and the world of Vathis?
B: If I had to pick just one, it’d be a tossup between the Rayn and the Evie campaign, with Evie probably coming out on top. It was by far the most intricate of any plot I had ever crafted and Rachael and Company played it beautifully. Evie has since become a canon part of ZodiacEmpires and became the seed of the idea to allow the setting to become interactive.
F: My very first campaign/character springs to mind. I was a half-elf bard, pure mischief maker, with the mark of storm. It was an Eberron game. The permanent players in that campaign just had great chemistry and we enjoyed getting our characters into trouble every week. I honestly have no idea how we’d implement half the stuff we did, but maybe some interesting NPCs could be reused.
J: Some of my favorite moments in any roleplaying game are when people explore the details that a GM never would have thought to prepare for. They get attached to a particular tavern keeper who’s original intention is nothing more than sharing secrets with them. Or the little boy the GM mentions when the party enters the village purely as flavor is the first person they approach and becomes one of the players sidekicks. I’m hoping we can achieve this on a wider level with what we have planned for the Campaign Tracker. It would let people not only share their little niche NPC’s with the community but let them incorporate other aspects other players have had fun with into their campaigns.
R: Playing in the Evie campaign is the best tabletop experience I’ve ever had. She was the first character I poured my heart into, and Brad, our DM at the time, took her story and spun it in directions I never would have dreamed possible. Though much of the campaign’s lore was altered to fit the timeline changes we’ve made over the years, the core of Evie’s storyline became canon, and players in our world would recognize her as the Queen-Empress of Sillirai. Being able to alter the world, even just a piece of it, is an amazing feeling. We want to offer that feeling to our players. Your characters will not be forgotten. Our world isn’t altered by development discretion alone- we want other players to come forward with their Evie’s, their beloved characters, and leave a lasting mark on our universe. The Evie campaign made me long for a world where players matter, and we molded ZodiacEmpires with that in mind.
- If you could run a campaign with any group of 3-5 people, living or dead, who would you have to play? Who’d play what class?
B: I mean this is a pretty straightforward question that can garner infinite answers. Most people will say famous people, or the father of D&D. I’d choose Rachael, Frank, Matt, Joe, and Victor. They’ve been my best players by far and their antics always entertain.
F: Easy. Pendleton Ward of Adventure Time fame, rogue. Paul S. Kemp, cleric. Ed Greenwood, wizard, of course. Hmm. Brian Posehn, bard. Lastly me. I’d rather play with them than run it. Brad can run it.
J: This is such a tough question. I know I would have Joss Whedon GM, because can you imagine that campaign? I’ll take Ian McKellan as my wizard of course, Felicia Day playing as a cleric because she’s fantastic, Robert Downey Jr. would be my wise-cracking bard. Peter Dinklage can be my rogue and I’ll be the fighter.
R: I would play with Frank, Joe, Andrea, Matt, and Brad. This is assuming that I would run the campaign. They’re the only people in the world I would feel comfortable DMing for, because they’d go pretty easy on me.
- You’ve managed to get your party TPK’ed. What’s the most likely reason?
B: One of two things would put me in a situation like this. Either Rayn’s attitude, or Vaedylus’s inability to stand down.
F: Heh. Running blindly head on into an owlbear nest or a nightwalker’s lair. Both have happened.
J: More likely than not I convinced the party into doing something noble and heroic but incredibly stupid. Just because we’re heroes and a hoard of demons is heading right towards the village doesn’t mean we should be the ones to ride out and meet them when we’re level one.
R: I would TPK the party by attempting to reason with a gelatinous cube. I would refuse to fight even as it subsumed us. Gelatinous cubes are simply too precious to be slain.
- Which member of the ZE dev team would win in a bare knuckle cage match?
B: Probably Rachael, she’s got that hidden unicorn-dragon-koala strength. Plus, who would hit a girl?
F: Joe has a silent beast lurking within him. He may just wait till the other three of us tire each other out.
J: Frank’s hair grants him powers that this mortal world has not even begun to dream of.
R: Joe would think his way out of the combat and amaze us all by avoiding it completely. Frank is quiet, but I bet his rage is legendary, so he would Hulk out and destroy the entire cage. Brad would orchestrate the most entertaining fight- thanks to his DM experience, he knows all of the tips, tricks, and secrets of designing interesting combats. I don’t know who to pick!
- Anything you’d like to add, or any shout-outs?
B: Hidden here and there throughout the setting you will find references to real-life events and people. This was done on purpose. There are certain parts of our history we should never turn away from, and never forget. However, I believe it’s always good to end things on a quote so I’ll leave you with my two favorites.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
F: A kind stranger once told me, “feel free to feel free.” Shout out to him.
J: Shout out to my gaming group from back home. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without you guys. Also, I apologize ahead of time for any players that end up dying due to any of the traps or monsters I give to your GM’s. Blame them, or your dice, or the GM’s dice. I promise I didn’t do it on purpose.
R: I don’t think I have anything of importance to note, but feel free to question me anytime!
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