Greetings to the amazing community and welcome to the second edition of our Stars of the VTT Galaxy series. The regular interview series is meant to shine a light on the already bright stars that make up our community of Bazaar creators.
The first edition met with phenomenal reactions from the community, and we are sure the second will be a hit too. He can rightly be considered the "King of the Pirates" for all of his great work on maps, modules, assets, and especially for making things ready for Foundry VTT. We hope you enjoy getting to know Limithron as much as we enjoyed talking to him.
Our sky consists of many stars. Each of them illuminating our planet. As you can guess, the stars are you. Yes, it's you, the great content creators who, in your own unique way, shine on our worlds. Thank you for being part of our heavenly sky and weaving the fabric of our Community.
Let's meet today's star.
Introduce yourself- for those who don’t know what you do, what would you describe yourself as doing for a living?
Limithron: My name is Luke Stratton, a. k. a. Limithron. Limithron was my first D&D character's name. It's Sindarin for the light wizard. I'm a touring concert lighting designer and a director (my main client now is The Smashing Pumpkings), and when COVID hit I had a lot of time and no work. I started making ship maps for my 5e Pirate game online and then figured I could start making them for others. Through a little encouragement from Cze & Peku, I started a Patreon in 2020. Now it's my main gig, though I leave for a month-long tour next week so I still manage to do both.
Last year I created Pirate Borg, which is a grimdark swashbuckling hack of Mörk Borg. It did really well on Kickstarter and it's now signed to Free League Publishing. The Kickstarter is all shipped, but you can preorder from our site or get it later this year with the retail release!
So primarily I'm a battle map artist, illustrator, and RPG writer/designer. And professional pirate history enthusiast.
We know you love pirates a lot. Can you tell us something more about how that love and passion came about or some interesting fact related to it?
(We also know that you wrote a song about Indiana Jones, pirates, and the Holy Grail, definitely an artistic soul).
Limithron: Well, I've always loved pirates. Here is a more in-depth explanation: https://www.limithron.com/about. But basically, the history is Pirates of the Caribbean Ride > Pirate Legos > Pirate Halloween Costumes > Secret of Monkey Island > WizKids Pirates of the Spanish Main Gen Con Champion > Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag 100% completion > 5e Pirate Campaign > COVID > Patreon > Pirate Borg.
One thing I really love about pirate history is that while they were in fact terrible, they were also the first group to have a true democracy, there were black pirates, native pirates, and women pirates at a time when those groups were EXTREMELY repressed, and they even offer basic worker's compensation for injury. They are the beginning of the American Revolution, at least in principle!
Why is Stede Bonnet the best pirate?😁
Limithron: Stede Bonnet is NOT the best pirate. He was a terrible pirate. I liked his portrayable in Assassin's Creed Black Flag and in Our Flag Means Death, and doubly so in Tim Prowers's On Stranger Tides, but in all three examples he is nothing without Blackbeard, who is the best pirate.
How does your career doing lighting and music translate into VTT art?
Limithron: Well from a skills viewpoint, I've done a lot of CAD drawing before, so drawing schematics came naturally. I'm very left brain/right brain, so while I'm "creative", I look at my work in both fields as more of a trade than "art", though it is still art. Also, my understanding of lighting and angles and shadows has really helped me learn to light scenes and maps, which is honestly the difference between hobbyist maps and pro maps: the lighting.
From a work perspective, I bring my Wacom tablet and iPad on tour, and the crew can often find me in a hallway or in the production office drawing away.
If you want to see me mashup the two careers, check out this map where Limithron the light wizard comes to play the local tavern.
How did you end up getting into creating content for Foundry VTT?
Limithron: Well when Foundry came out, I'd be using Roll20 like everyone else and was so sick of it. Foundry does so many cool things like walls and doors and great lighting effects that it was a no-brainer for me. Also, modules like the defunct Paralaxia and now tile scroll let us animate water under ships, and you can do things like attach tokens to tiles (i.e. ships) so it makes running a visual-based, asset-heavy campaign much much easier.
We add lighting, walls, and sound effects to all our maps, and even write custom macros to do things like change the wind/water direction or automatically trigger doors and puzzles like in the water obelisk puzzle room in The Lost Tomb of Chuwen Kan, a 5e module I'm very proud of.
The same goes for the Pirate Borg system and module. I think I can safely say that with Foundry and Limithron content, you can get a premium VTT experience that almost no publisher is taking advantage of. Whenever I make a map or write an adventure now, I think about how it will translate to VTT and what cool things we can do that only VTT can offer. Line of sight, overhead tiles, etc.
For example, we did a big collab project a few years ago called The Secret of the Porvenir, and in this haunted cabin, the room pulses from looking normal with a large feast to being haunted and covered with cobwebs and skeletons. You can only do that stuff in Foundry.
Where does the inspiration come from in the work you do? Is it just love for pirates or is there something more?
Maps: Cze & Peku, Jack Badashski (Stinky Goblin, Beadle & Grimm), Mike Schley (WotC).
Art: Chris Bourassa (Red Hook Studios, Darkest Dungeon), Mike Mignola (Hell Boy), Mathieu Laufray (Long John Silver, Raven), Johan Nohr (Mörk Borg), Kyle Hotz (comic artist), Jeremy Bastian (Curse Pirate Girl), Dan Mumford (movie and concert posters), Guy Davis (The Marquis), Pig Hand (concert and movie art), Gabe Hernandez, Worthy Enemies (The Dark of Hot Springs Island), James Stokoe (Aliens Dead Orbit), God Machine (Concert and metal posters).
RPG: Pelle Nilsson (Mörk Borg), Sean McCoy (Mothership), Jacob Hurst/Swordfish Islands (The Dark of Hot Springs Island), Andrew Kolb (Neverland 5e, Oz 5e), Gavin Norman (Old School Essentials), Kevin Crawford (Worlds Without Number), Chris Perkins (WotC, especially Tomb of Annihilation and Curse of Strahd), Matt Mercer (Critical Roll).
Pirates: Too many to list but the top are:
The Secret of Monkey Island, ACIV: Black Flag, On Stranger Tides (Tim Powers), Sid Meier's Pirates, Sea of Thieves.
When do we get an official Tales of the Black Freighter adventure?
Limithron: 100% love TftBF. I sold my copy of Watchmen years ago when I moved, and actually just repurchased it last week! That vibe is 1000% Pirate Borg. It's Pirates... but scary.
What are your goals moving forward with your content?
Limithron: I've already started on The Dark Caribbean, my next big project. It's a setting book akin to Neverland and The Dark of Hot Springs Island. It will have maps and tables for almost every island in the Dark Caribbean, major and minor ports, factions, NPCs and what they want, famous ships, artifacts and relics, a big appendix for creating encounters, and point-crawl style dungeons (like a temple, sea caves, shipwrecks, jungles, etc.).
That will go to Kickstarter, and I want to do a Pirate Borg adventure box with pamphlet-style adventures from some of my favorite designers.
Of course, I'll release chunks of it and more maps on Patreon as we go!
We plan to do a similar thing to the Pirate Borg Kickstarter where the book is for Pirate Borg, but we'll have an add-on book for 5th-edition stats.
What led you to want to create Pirate Borg? Why based on Mork Borg?
Limithron: I was running my 5e Tales of the Caribbean for my group, all of which are GMs, and I was getting burnt out between prepping for the campaign and the Patreon, so we took a break and the other guys ran games for a while. We played like a month of Star Wars 5e which was a blast! But then one GM ran Mörk Borg for us, which I had the PDF for, but we had an amazing time playing it- the most fun we've pretty much ever had. In my opinion, less rules are just more fun for TTRPGs.
So on my Discord server, I kicked around the idea of doing a short zine hack of Pirate Borg to go along with the Dark Caribbean. It's the perfect system for grimdark pirates. When after a few months I had a whole separate project. Once it when to Kickstarter we smashed all the stretch goals, and those ended up making the book around 196 pages done and dusted, which is twice the size of Mörk Borg. Mörk Borg has about 16k words... Pirate Borg has 42k...
I've also just fallen in love with the game design and layout approach of the OSR (Old School Renaissance) and even more so the NuSR (New School Renaissance). Books like Mothership and Mörk Borg and OSE and now Shadowdark are so much easier to pick up and digest and actually PLAY compared to walls of text like 5e and Pathfinder. I wanted to make a game like that... so I did!
You made a naval combat guide for 5e. How successful do you think it was? Do you see it being used a lot in your user base?
Limithron: Prior to Pirate Borg, it was our best seller, and many Reddit users seem to think it's the best 5e ship combat system out there. I worked really hard on it and we've to play tested it a bunch. There's a free version too. I think it does a good job of making it seem like naval combat but still staying an RPG and not a war game. Every round, all the ships roll initiative, and the captains assign action points for what that ship can do on its turn. Every PC has a chance to affect the turn. Also, the ships are based on the core of the monster rules, so you can borrow special abilities from anything in the monster manual like fire breathing or misty step, or inspiring leadership!
Can you tell us a little bit about your commercial creator license?
Limithron: Well, I had one for a while with its own tier, but we only had one subscriber and he never made anything.
So I took a page from Cze & Peku's book and switched it to "You can make commercial stuff with anything you have access to". That combines with the Pirate Borg license which is the same as Mörk Borg's license: you can basically make anything you want for Pirate Borg without my permission. And if you are a patron you can even use my maps. Still, no one has used it yet. Which I find... interesting.
At first, I thought Cze & Peku's was too generous, but it's free advertising, and I'd rather there be more content out there for pirate games!
Do you have the opportunity/time to play games by yourself? If so, what game systems do you play? What VTT do you use?
Limithron: I actually started an OSR meetup.com group called the Ship of the Dead RPG Club, named after my podcast. We meet once a month and GMs run like 3 different tables in three different time slots. So like 9 different games/systems each month.
Last month I got to run some play test Pirate Borg stuff (a masquerade ball adventure/tool kit I'm working on called Beneath the Masquerad) and got to play Forbidden Land by Free League and Dread Shores and Black Horizons, by Archon Games --- those guys live in Boulder and they came and ran it themselves!
So I get to play still. Not as much as I'd like to, but I also consider "making" RPG content "playing" so in that sense I'm almost always playing!
The spicy question- what is your favorite VTT to run on? What kind of improvements do you want to see for it?
Well, I really like MAKING content for Foundry. But I've found as I have less time for prep that I prefer in person and low tech. It's really great for GMs that want all those modules and bells and whistles, but my playstyle doesn't really require that anymore, especially with more rules light games.
I really like what Alchemy RPG is doing with the super clean interface. But you can't get under the hood at all, which is good and bad. It's kind of like the Mac/PC debate.
I really don't like all the updates. Modules break all the time, and if you think that is a pain for GMs, imagine having 50+ modules you've MADE to update!
The IDEAL for me these days is: in person group, my maps and content loaded into Foundry, running on a TV in the table. Best of all the worlds.
The OGL crisis was probably one of the more stressful times in recent memory for those of us in the TTRPG industry. What were your plans/thinking during this period?
(We know you've been a creator unafraid to make system-generic content or non-5e content, but you do have quite a bit of 5e content).
Limithron: I love 5e. It's how I really got into this hobby (after checking out The One Ring... and playing a few RPGs as a kid like Alien and Star Wars).
But there is a thing going on now, now that 5e has been around for a while. They are no longer in passion mode. It's like when a new restaurant chain opens. For the first few years, it's great. Like amazing food. They open chains everywhere. People rave about it. They open more. But eventually, the restaurants start cutting costs to increase margins, and eventually, it's not new anymore and they aren't pushing the envelope. They are making money. That is kind of what Wizards of the Coast is doing now. The big guys aren't making the best version of Ravenloft anymore. They are thinking about the next project: One D&D. And the world doesn't need OD&D, but the corporation is profit-driven, and the 5e adventures are tailing off (because they aren't as good anymore) and they are pushing this big brand to make more money in more ways without realizing why people even play it. They are also in a framework. A framework that worked for a few things, but does NOT work for others. Look at Ghosts of Saltmarsh and Spelljammer. How come neither of those systems has real ship combat in them? It's because ship combat doesn't fall into the neat 5e framework, and they are afraid to take real game design risks to make it.
The thing that the 5e crowd as a whole didn't realize but are starting to is that D&D isn't a triple-A video game or blockbuster movie (well it is now but you know what I mean). You don't need 1,000 artists, writers, and departments to make it good. To make it fun. You need like 4 or 5 people, and those people are the GM and a few players.
So with the OGL thing, the corporate guys are like "Hey this document is kind of a risk for us, let's clean it up. Too many people are making money off our brand." But they don't realize D&D, and TTRPGs, aren't a brand. That's like trying to claim rock music. It's owned by all of us. They just have the most people working on it because they have the most money.
We don't need Wizards of the Coast. At ALL. Yeah, we all love the Beatles, they are amazing, but have you heard about this new band I saw last week? They are doing stuff the Beatles would never have tried because they are a different group of people with different experiences and values and wants and desires. Not to say that WotC or D&D are the Beatles, but you get the idea. This hobby is HUGE, and you can have so much fun playing in all kinds of different settings.
My point I was getting to from a creator standpoint is that D&D isn't a triple-A game or movie. It's more like a novel or a picture book. You really only need one person to make an RPG book. Typically the products get more robust with more people. Obviously, artists help. And editors. And Layout designers. And all the people in the industry. But you only need ONE person at a keyboard to make ideas up for others to play with.
So now that the OGL thing exploded, I think it's a GREAT thing. They don't own D&D and RPGs. They never did. Because it's not something that can be owned. And now players that thought 5e is the best are like "wait why do I even think that" and they are checking out Pathfinder and Call of Cthulhu, and Shadowdark (which just hit 1.2 million on Kickstarter).
All that being said, don't know who thought revoking an irrevocable license would go over well with many, many large companies making a living off of it. Kind of silly if you ask me!
We can't help but ask what your attitudes about AI are, considering that it is one of the hottest topics right now.
Limithron: Look, I've used MidJourney to get ideas and it's incredible for that. I only wish I had it a few years ago for my Tomb of Annihilation campaign. Same with ChatGPT. They are great tools for home GMs.
I'm probably in a different spot than other creators on this because I make all my own stuff. MidJourney isn't going to steal work from me because I really only work for myself. But I understand the threat.
That being said, I think this has been coming for a long time. Like, just cause you didn't like electricity or cell phones or the internet doesn't mean they didn't change the world. Same thing here. AI will change EVERYTHING, not just RPGs.
The other day my wife was like "I'm going to the store, text me what you want." And I was like busy working, and I hate stopping the creative flow when it's moving. So I pulled up ChatGPT and said "Make me a grocery list that's kind of healthy with like 10 things I like." It made the list and I send it to my wife. It was awesome. Or I had a DM at a meetup make a whole Pirate Borg adventure in ChatGPT. It wasn't great, but it was really fun.
I'm just saying you can throw a fit and call it stealing and try to get the legislation to stop AI, but it's coming either way. It was always coming, just now that it's here, people are scared.
It's like that old movie "Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb". The things probably gonna kill us anyway. So might as well enjoy the ride!
Do you think there are any serious issues facing the TTRPG industry, especially for small-time creators in the foreseeable future? Even, anything existentially threatening?
Limithron: Nothing major. I will say from first-hand experience that cultural sensitivity is a hot-button topic right now. The pendulum is swinging, and it's swinging fast, so you really need to be careful about the content in your published games. And if you are TOO careful, the other side will get mad at you for being too careful. So that's tricky to navigate.
Some creators just say screw it and make what they want, but with Pirate Borg and the Dark Caribbean, I'm not trying to make a book that gamifies slavery or displaces natives. I just don't want to play that game. So in my version of earth, slavery is long gone, and the natives of the Caribbean are mysteriously absent. And some people have applauded that game design choice. Others are literally mad at me for not putting slavery in my pirate game. You know what? Add it back in. Your game, your table. Don't get mad at me for trying to do what I think is right. It's the only way I know how to be!
What is your least favorite piece of content you’ve made?
Limithron: I guess my first few maps? I just got better at them. The details and colors are just better now. As a rule of thumb, both in life and with Limithron, don't do sloppy work. If I'm not proud of it I don't release it. And if I start to lose interest, I'll move on to another project or career or whatever. I did the best I could at the time with those maps, but If I did them now they would be way better.
Do you have anything you want to say to the greater TTRPG/VTT community?
Limithron: Come make some Pirate Borg content! Anyone can do it including you! Also, remember it's game, and have fun! And I learned to draw over COVID, so if you think you're not good enough for it: shut up, quit delaying, and start doing it.
What advice do you have for creators wanting to get into the VTT space? What advice would you offer them?
Limithron: For VTT advice, I just say make stuff you are proud of and then share it with the world. Make some of it free.
What are your plans for the future?
Limithron: More maps, and The Dark Caribbean. My goal is to have a rough draft by Year's End, but I can work fast if I have the time. Also, a lot of Cons this Year: Origins, Gen Con, Gamehole Con, and PAX Unplugged.
Thank you so much for sharing all this with us Limithron! It's been awesome chatting with you.
Limithron: All done? Thanks for having me!
Here are some links to Limithron's work: