Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge
Designer Interview & Inside Look with Sherwin Matthews
In a world where being sung of by bards is the mark of a true hero, you begin with a single tile, a destination, and the desire to become songworthy. What unfolds is a labyrinthine dungeon of your creation, filled with dangerous enemies, wandering monsters, challenging puzzles, and valuable treasure.
From your physical journey through the ancient forge to your metaphorical journey of building your character into a fabled hero, your choices define your experience. Explore the dungeon in standalone sessions, or as part of a narrative campaign that evolves based on your decisions.
This massive game is the first of its kind from Steamforged. Hear from our lead designer, Sherwin Matthews, as he talks about this epic game and the journey it took to Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge to life!
Tell us about yourself. What was the inspiration for the design of Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge?
My name is Sherwin Matthews, and I’m Lead Designer at Steamforged Games. I worked with Mat Hart, Richard August, and Fraser McFetridge to design and bring Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge to life.
Bardsung is something we’ve wanted to create for a long time, an idea that bubbled away in the background over the years as we worked on other projects. Our inspirations would probably be too many to mention.
We wanted to not only celebrate the old games we enjoyed when we were first discovering tabletop games, such as the Fighting Fantasy choose-your-own-adventure books, and tabletop games like Heroquest, Key to the Kingdom, and Dark World, but also our love for roleplaying games and the universes they create. Then we added a sprinkle of tabletop miniature game mechanics to really polish off the experience with exciting and impactful gameplay.
Bardsung is exactly what you might expect from such a heady mix. A tabletop game with deep gameplay where players explore sprawling dungeons in search of fortune and glory, and an immersive story that offers meaningful decisions that will shape the course of the campaign and evolve the game.
Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge is packed with hours of gameplay and miniatures. What are you most excited for players to experience?
This is a really tough question — there’s so much for people to enjoy! I think for me it’s definitely the story. Not just the main narrative, but all the smaller side quests and interactions.
Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge’s scope is massive. There are four different endings and over thirty separate locations to explore in the core game alone. And because the game evolves based on player decisions, each playthrough will be completely unique, with players encountering different characters, enemies, events, and locations each time.
What do you recommend for players picking up their first big box game like Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge?
I think my best advice would be to just buckle up and enjoy the ride. Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge and other games like it are best enjoyed as a journey, where you can lose yourselves in immersive worlds and tell the stories of their characters.
That journey begins from the moment you open the box and read the cover sheet, then builds as you attempt your first encounters and the narrative text sinks its hooks into you — and doesn’t let go until the final dice lands and the last word is read out loud.
There’s a real magic and sense of reward with that type of experience that keeps players coming back to the genre, time and time again. I’ll admit I’m actually envious that I don’t get to experience Bardsung as a complete game for the first time myself!
During playtesting, do you have a favorite memory or moment that stood out for you?
There are a lot that come to mind! I think it might have to be some of the interactions we had when we were creating the heroes.
Each hero in Bardsung belongs to a set path, which is like a martial discipline or class in a traditional roleplaying game. This informs the type of gameplay they specialise in, and helps focus players who might not be too familiar with how to build a character.
But one of the most exciting parts of Bardsung’s experience system is that characters are free to develop skills from any path they want, giving players complete freedom to customise their character how they see fit.
For a while during playtesting, we didn’t share this with the external groups, while we were getting the core abilities locked — and then, when we were ready, we dropped a the bomb and told our testers that they didn’t have to stay on path when levelling up.
The excited emails and gameplay experiences we received immediately after that update were quite the sight to see!
What can you tell us about working with guest authors? How was it bringing their ideas and stories into the game?
Working with our guest designers was a privilege. They’re all extremely talented people, and each one brought a wealth of different ideas and experience to the table. Adapting their concepts to Bardsung’s game engine was very enjoyable, and never once felt like a challenge; partly because of the flexibility of the engine, but also because each guest designer was so versatile.
I think our audience is going to have a lot of fun exploring the universes that we’ve created together. Each adventure really feels like it captures the essence and presence the guest designer is known for, and will be a completely unique experience!
What can players expect for the future of Bardsung?
Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge is only the first entry in the Bardsung series. It establishes the world and its inhabitants, and teaches the players a little about its cultures and history, but there’s so much more to discover.
Players should definitely be looking forward to where the path leads next, meeting new heroes and villains, and finding out more about not only the setting’s ancient world and history, but also how the world is emerging and changing around their characters…
About Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge
Inspired by dungeon-crawling, roleplaying, and choose-your-own-adventure classics, Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge, is a 1-5 player cooperative dungeon explorer that combines the best of all three to create a powerful new experience.
Descend into the depths of an Ancient Forge in a branching campaign lush with narrative from the legendary Rhianna Pratchett, building unique dungeons by making decisions as you explore. Face terrible creatures in zone-based combat puzzles and level up along a classless path system to create your songworthy hero!
Sherwin Matthews is the lead designer at Steamforged Games, working on games like Bardsung: Legend of the Ancient Forge, the Resident Evil series, and Monster Hunter: World.