Designer Interview: Emmett O’Brian – The Artifact

Have I mentioned how much I’ve loved Kickstarter and the resurgence of unique RPG supplements and games over the last year? If I haven’t, I should!

One of those intriguing Kickstarters is a cool science fiction game called The Artifact RPG from Emmett O’Brian. Players are part of an expedition force to a new world – a manufactured world – where humans have lived for thousands of years… but they’re not us! Why are we exploring this world? Earth is in trouble and mankind is struggling to find a place to escape to. And the world known as “The Artifact” would be perfect if it wasn’t for the people who didn’t want us there…

Emmett is looking to fund a professional layout and artwork for this book, but the book itself will be released under the Creative Commons license and the PDF will be free. I love free RPGs as they offer inspiration to gamers all over the world. And you can purchase a hardcopy if you want one for your shelf.

I had an opportunity to ask Emmett a few questions this weekend as the Kickstarter enters the last few days of its funding window.

Q: What were your inspirations for The Artifact?

The thing that really kicked off our brainstorming was the original Stargate movie. I had always thought of Sci-fi in terms of space opera, and Stargate proved to me that you could tell an interesting story with just one destination. We were also big fans of Lawrence of Arabia. When we started thinking about what kind of planet would we want to focus on, I had Cybertron from Tranformers pop into my head. I had written about other constructed worlds in games I haven’t published but they were always just a side note. The idea of really exploring a planet like that arrested my imagination.

Q: What can players expect during character creation and their first session?

Character creation usually takes about half an hour. There are a lot of options for the character’s occupation. Players that know what they want for an occupation can build a character with that focus but most of the time our players have really enjoyed discovering who their characters are going to be. The optional tables are the thing most players enjoy playing with for rounding out their characters. I didn’t want an alignment system in this game so there are tables for the character’s overall attitude that gives the player a seed for how they can portray their character.

Q: What advice do you have for GMs looking to run a campaign using The Artifact rules and setting?

Start small, you don’t have to know everything in the book to have a fun game. At first, start off in one place and get comfortable with that location. Then slowly spread out from there. It sometimes takes time for players to absorb the underground world but once they get used to it, they really get excited about exploring the environment. I’ve tried to put up some easy to run adventures and story seeds in the form of transmissions up on the website. If you want to run one as written or just mine them for ideas it’s up to you.

Q: What sets The Artifact apart from other modern science fiction RPGs?

The big difference is the alien environment and the different cultures. There’s a lot to explore and discover, some things are familiar but other parts of the cultures seem strange. There are hints of strange alien technologies on the fringes of the stories that seem like fantasy. Of course the fun part is that you know they’re somehow true.

Q: What are your favorite parts of the game, whether they are setting-or rules-related?

I’ve always loved a setting that was expansive. To me a setting that allows the players to roam and explore has always been full of possibilities. That said, to pick the part of the setting I enjoy the most is the Chezbah. When the characters first start out they’re a huge menace and there’s a big sense of accomplishment when they build up to the point where they can handle them. Rules wise, the new edition has two tools that we’re having a lot of fun with, the Tech Challenges and the Survival Challenges. They’re making it easier and more fun to add non-combat elements to games.

Q: How long have you been working on The Artifact? Why choose now to launch it via Kickstarter?

I can’t remember the exact date but it was more than sixteen years ago. The new rules emerged from a sudden revelation and they made a lot of things suddenly work the way I’ve always wanted them to. I’ve been doing most of the artwork but I don’t have the time or skill to really make the game look great. I’ve tried but I have to accept my limits. I was also really nervous about making a video so I delayed a bit.

Q: What are your plans for the game after the Kickstarter ends? Do you have long-term goals for the game as far as potential expansions or supplements?

I’m working on a quickstart adventure to introduce the game. I’m also working on recording start up instructions in an mp3 format so a GM can have players listen for a few minutes, not have to do any reading and be able to play. Beyond that, I have to rebuild the existing sourcebooks to match the new rules. There’s the Player’s Handbook, The Fringe setting book, a book of random encounters and The Engineer’s Resource that all need to be updated. Just before starting on the new edition we were about to release a new setting sourcebook called Tortuga that focuses on corporate operatives and treasure hunters. I’ve been trying to work on a sourcebook that focuses on the
Chezbah and eventually I’ll put out a sourcebook that explains what happens five years after the initial book called Imbalance of Power which is already written and has artwork for it. So yes, lots of plans.

Q: Who may (or will) be helping out with art for the book?

I reached out for artist that would commit to working on the project if we get funded. Some of them wanted to get started already but I want to make sure I could pay them. I don’t want them doing a bunch of work and not be able to pay their bills. The artist are. . .

Q: If there was a question you weren’t asked but would like to answer, what would the question and answer be?

Is it hard to get players to learn to play The Artifact?

One of the nice things about the setting is that most of the characters need very little knowledge of the setting to start playing because the world is new to characters from earth. So if the players don’t know the setting, that’s okay, the character’s really wouldn’t either. As for the mechanics, we’ve had new players pick up the core mechanics in a few minutes.

The Kickstarter is at 13% with only a little over a week to go. Do you think you’ll make it?

I hope so, a lot of a Kickstarter’s success can happen very quickly. The RPG and games community on Kickstarter has a lot of horsepower. Some projects have passed our funding goal in only a day or two so yes I do think we can still make it.


A huge thank you goes to Emmett for his patience with me. We exchanged a few e-mails back and forth chatting about the game before I pulled together questions. I really wish him all the best and hope the game gets funded, so if you like science fiction, I’d encourage you to check out the Kickstarter page!

For more information about the game as it stands today, you can also check out the game PDF and all the latest news at


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6 comments to Designer Interview: Emmett O’Brian – The Artifact

  • I’ve been quite vocal about how brilliant The Artefact is! This is a great interview, I’m thrilled to see Emmett getting some attention – especially seeing as he puts in a huge amount of effort into helping other philanthropists over at 1KM1KT. I’ve put money where my mouth is and I think that the Kickstarter is still possible at this point.

    • Fitz

      @Rob Lang – Until I started talking with Emmett, I didn’t realize the Free RPG connection. 🙂 But I love the setting – it has a ton of potential and could grow wild!

  • Thanks for the interview Fitz! It’s great to see the support from the community that we’ve gotten. Even with tools like Kickstarter, it’s still not easy for a small publisher to make their way. It’s blogs like Game Knight Reviews that make it possible to draw in readers. You’re an invaluable asset to the community.

    • Fitz

      @Emmett O’Brian – Well, without you and the rest of the designers, there wouldn’t be a community. Consider it a symbiotic relationship. 🙂 And best of luck with the project! I look forward to seeing it develop. 🙂

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