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Making 'Die' come to life: Kieron Gillen and Grant Howitt talk 'Die: The RPG'

Comic Books

Making ‘Die’ come to life: Kieron Gillen and Grant Howitt talk ‘Die: The RPG’

Everything you need to know about ‘Die: The RPG’ and its infinite amount of storylines.

It’s rare to see a comic book come to life and also become an interactive game, but that’s a reality now with Image Comics’ fantasy series Die. Crafted by Kieron Gillen and Stephanie Hans, the award-winning comics fantasy series, which Gillen describes as “Goth Jumanji,” is now a real-life RPG.

It’s also still available to back on Kickstarter if you’d like to peruse its details. The fully-backed Kickstarter–funded in just under a day–has more than 20 days left to go if you’d like to join in the fun.

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The comics series is an inventive concept surrounding 40-something friends from high school exploring a fantasy world they were trapped in many years ago, and now it’ll be readily available to play in the real world too.

No word yet if you will actually be transported into the world of Die in reality, but, to gain some insight into the game and its creation, Gillen and editor Grant Howitt answered a few of our questions. Below you’ll find answers about how long the game has been in the works, how it’s a completely original gaming system, and how its mechanics differ from other RPGs, and more!

Making 'Die' come to life: Kieron Gillen and Grant Howitt talk 'Die: The RPG'

AIPT: When did you know you wanted to turn Die into a tabletop game? 

Kieron Gillen: Pretty much instantly. Coming off the back of WicDiv [Wicked + Divine], I’d decided to try and do more things that were specifically at the intersection of my skills and interest. Making a whole RPG from scratch, at the same time as writing a comic? That sounds like my sort of thing. Really, it was less about turning the comic into the game and more about the game and the comic being two lenses of examining DIE. As in, it has a reality outside of the work, and through the multiple viewpoints, you gain a more complete picture.

It’s also telling that when developing the game and writing the comic, ideas bounced between them freely. It was never me trying to adapt one to another. I was trying to do the idea as well as I could in two separate forms. There are lots of examples of ideas that originated in one and then crossed over to the other. For example, the secret of the Fallen came from the game, not the comic.

AIPT: How did this collaboration come about?

KG: I’ve known Grant and Maz [Hamilton, founding member of Rowan, Rook & Decard] socially for years now, and am a huge admirer of Rowan, Rook & Decards’s work. They seemed exactly the sort of people we’d want to work with, really.

Making 'Die' come to life: Kieron Gillen and Grant Howitt talk 'Die: The RPG'

AIPT: Since Die is about a fantasy world creeping into our own, how meta does the RPG get?

KG: Well, a lot, but also not what you walk away from Die feeling.

The core of Die is basically that of the comic – a group of messed up humans get together in the real world, sit down to play a game, make characters, and then are transported to a fantasy world and transformed into those characters. When there, they face a world that echoes their hopes and fears back at them, and then they have to all decide to go home or stay.

The game’s real power is the first stage of that process: Persona Generation, where we make our real-world people. This is done just by answering questions, individually and as a group, which defines who you all are. This serves various purposes. Firstly, It’s the material that the GM then mines as you go to a fantasy world. Someone talks about that one kid at school who made their life a living hell and how they’re still remembering now years later? Expect an echo of them to appear as a tormenting monster in the fantasy world. Secondly, it lets the group really know who they are. Thirdly? It means that every time you play, depending on what persona you put in, you get a hugely different game.

So… if we describe it, it sounds extremely meta and intellectual – playing a roleplaying game about people playing a roleplaying game – but in practice the roleplaying is absolutely instinctive and human. Hell, even easier for people than a traditional fantasy game. We don’t know what a Tiefling feels like. We all know what it is to be human, trapped on earth and hoping for something else.

AIPT: In Die: The RPG, can you play as yourself, or do you play as one of the characters from Die the comics story?

KG: The thing with Die is that you make up a fake, real-world person. I’d strongly advise not just playing as yourself, as that can get emotionally messy (look up “Bleed” – we cover it in the manual, but it’s where there’s a blurring between a character and a player). However, just by the nature of creativity, you’re often mining elements of your life when making characters. That very much is part of the game – us thinking about why we play games, why we like fantasy and why we play the sort of characters we do.

I suppose you could make choices to exactly mirror the cast of the comic, but I’m not sure why you would – we know the answers to their questions. Die is all about asking questions to the persona you make up – what they want, and what they’ll do to get it.

That’s kind of the magic of the RPG, for me. I’m showing you how we did Die and showing how you can make your own version of that story at home. It’s very much a democratic medium, games, and even though all the meta magic rituals in the game, this is still about demystifying. Creativity is easy and infinite and inside you. You can do this, and we want to help you.

Making 'Die' come to life: Kieron Gillen and Grant Howitt talk 'Die: The RPG'

AIPT: For fans of the comic, is Die: The RPG required to get the whole story?

KG: No, because a fan of the comic would also know the awful truth that lies beneath the realm of 13 – a cavern of infinite egg-worlds, each made by a game of Die. In other words, there are infinite stories in Die, and you can never know them all.

However, that also means that the Die RPG lets you do something better than knowing the whole story – it lets you literally insert your own story into Die’s canon. Every game is part of Die, for better or worse.

AIPT: The comic series features roles like Dictator, Fool, Grief Knight, and Godbinder, will these roles be integrated into Die: The RPG and might we see new roles too?

KG: No – the roles are very much one of the iconic elements which make the game feel like Die. The world the persona goes to warps according to the persona’s nature… but the paragons, the fallen, and the fair are our constants.

However, the classes aren’t that constant. What we do is widen the possibility in each class. For example, you mention the Grief Knight. In the comic, it’s already defined that there are seven other classes of Emotion Knights. You can play any of them: so Terror Knights, Ecstasy Knights, and even Admiration Knights are now on the table.

There’s a similar broadening with each of the classes. You know what one Fool, Dictator, Godbinder, Master, Emotion Knight, and Neo are like. Now we show what else is out there.

Making 'Die' come to life: Kieron Gillen and Grant Howitt talk 'Die: The RPG'

AIPT: Are there any rewards or add-ons you’re particularly excited about?

KG: All the add-ons are exciting! That’s why we’re adding ‘em on. Getting some more art from some faves is a huge deal, but what we’re doing with the Bestiary delights me. Getting really smart people to write a short 400-word guide to each of the monsters’ cultural meanings so you can deconstruct them? I eat that stuff up with a spoon +3 against Scarabs.

AIPT: What made Kickstarter the best way to fund the game?

Grant Howitt: It’s basically the only way to fund a game of this scale, at our size, without spending a lot of time and money on advertising up-front, as it already has a lot of the infrastructure and subscriber connections that allow people to discover the project organically. (And it’s a trusted name in the industry, too, unlike most of their competitors.) We have a bunch of other stuff we’d rather spend time and money on, like making other games.

Making 'Die' come to life: Kieron Gillen and Grant Howitt talk 'Die: The RPG'

AIPT: Can you tell us a bit about the game mechanics? Is it based on a preexisting TTRPG, what dice system are you using, etc.?

GH: Firstly – Kieron wrote the whole thing, system and all, and my role has been an editor and overseer trying to smooth out the rough edges of the game. But I’ll tell you how it works! It’s an entirely original system, and on the scale of story game to traditional RPG, it’s firmly in the realm of story game. It uses a pretty straightforward D6 dice pool system – you roll dice equal to your stat (we use the classic six from D&D) and any that show 4 or more are a success and the more successes you have the better you do. (6’s are Specials, and you can spend them on – well – special effects which are determined by your class and abilities.) That’s the majority of what you need to play – most of the other rules are located in the character classes themselves which open up more abilities and options for you.

AIPT: What’s a unique gameplay mechanic of the Die TTRPG?

GH: So in the comic, each of the main characters gains their powers (and their curse) when they touch special, magical dice – the Dictator is the D4, the Fool the D6, and so on. In the game, you get to add the relevant dice to your D6 pool when you’re using your class abilities, and it functions as a normal dice, so the Godbinder gets to roll their D12 when they channel divine power into miracles, and so on. It’s a really neat balance between a simple-to-understand universal system and unique stuff for each character.

DIE: The Roleplaying Game is currently available to fund on Kickstarter. A PDF copy of the book is expected in July while physical copies are expected in November 2022.

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