Interview: Sovereign Syndicate Creator Explains Why He Chose A Tarot System

Sovereign Syndicate
Sovereign Syndicate

Sovereign Syndicate is a Victorian steampunk RPG by Crimson Herring Studios that deviates from the typical cRPGs by abandoning the dice system. Instead, it adopts tarot cards and implements them uniquely into the gameplay to make it even more appealing to fans of the genre. The game currently has three playable characters, each having special skills and lore.

In order to fully grasp this system and to understand the philosophy behind Sovereign Syndicate, we spoke with Isaac Otway, Creator of Sovereign Syndicate and Crimson Herring Studios. During our conversation, he also shared with us some of the future plans for the title. Read ahead for the full interview.

Sovereign Syndicate
Sovereign Syndicate – via Crimson Herring Studios.
Introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your work on Sovereign Syndicate.
Isaac: My name is Isaac Otway, and I’m the creator of Sovereign Syndicate and the founder of Crimson Herring Studios. I was also the Producer of the game.
Where did the idea to combine the Victorian era with Steampunk come from? And what were some of the inspirations behind the characters and the overall environment?
Isaac: I think Steampunk is naturally considered a Victorian-era thing, something like the Victorian era meets the roaring ’20s. I think the game wears its inspirations on its sleeve; we’re obviously inspired by games like Disco Elysium and the Shadowrun trilogy from Harebrained Schemes. I’ve always been a huge Shadowrun fan ever since the SNES Shadowrun game.
Initially, I wanted to do a game more like Shadowrun with turn-based combat and a squad of characters, hence the name Sovereign Syndicate. But wanting to be different, I chose the Victorian Steampunk setting instead of Dystopian Cyberpunk and Greek-inspired mythological creatures instead of Orcs, Trolls, and Elves like Shadowrun has. Dragonfall was my favorite of the three Shadowrun games, so I naturally considered what a squad of similar characters might look like in our setting and got to work creating the characters and backstories.
As we got into development, we realized we likely wouldn’t have the budget to do a game like that justice, not being able to do custom character creators, weapons and equipment, enemy AI, and all the things gamers would expect, so we rescoped the game to be more of a prequel in the Disco Elysium style so we could focus on developing the world and characters, and systems like the Dialogue System and tarot cards so we can prepare ourselves to do something more robust with our next project.
Did you have to research a lot to make the Victorian era aspect as accurate as possible, or did you go entirely freely to make it unique?
Isaac: Absolutely, we did. I’m a huge fan of classic Victorian science fiction, so I naturally gravitated towards writing a story in that era and took a lot of inspiration from the works of Jules Verne, HG Wells, Oscar Wilde, and others. But yes, we also tried to do a lot of historical research into the time period, and specifically London during that time, so we could add nuance and a sense of foundation to our storytelling and environments. I’ve always appreciated science fiction writing that is grounded in reality, where you can see something like that world existing given the right technological advancements and decisions.
Sovereign Syndicate
Sovereign Syndicate – via Crimson Herring Studios.
The demo for the game has been available for some time now. Could you tell us about some of the changes we can expect in the final version compared to the demo?
Isaac: Yes, we did release the demo quite early in development and have made a number of changes to it. The current version is the same as Chapter 1 in the finished game, so we think it’s a very good representation of what the finished product will be. The final game has more content, more playable characters, and introduces a more open-world map and a larger world to explore.
Why the decision to go with tarot cards rather than a dice roll system? What were some of the challenges you faced with this sort of system?
Isaac: I wanted something that fit with the mysticism of the era, and that acted as an interesting visual design element. Tarot cards were a great fit there. We tried to really lean into some of the Victorian pseudo-science, religion, and mysticism from the era, exploring concepts like phrenology for the internal voices and character progression and using tarot cards to resolve skill checks and provide a meta progression deckbuilding element of unlocking additional cards.
We struggled with how much deckbuilding and gameplay we wanted the cards to add and had a few different iterations of the system. I’m really happy with where we landed; all of the mechanics reinforce the core gameplay loop, adding dialogue options and making conversations more rewarding.
I have seen many fans giving you feedback on some of the existing features and suggestions for adding new stuff. What were the major things you added or changed due to fan feedback?
Isaac: We made a lot of dialogue panel improvements due to user feedback, reducing whitespace, increasing font size, improving readability, that sort of thing. We also added a lot of accessibility options and quality-of-life features due to user feedback, things like always running, allowing the player to increase and decrease the font size, turning the glossary system on and off, that sort of thing.
Sovereign Syndicate
Sovereign Syndicate – via Crimson Herring Studios.
The cRPG genre has become incredibly popular thanks to the great releases in 2023. As a developer of an upcoming cRPG, how was it like seeing that part of the community grow? Would you say that titles like Baldur's Gate 3 and Rogue Trader have contributed a lot to that?
Isaac: Yeah, it’s been really great. A big part of why I decided to make a game like this was because I wished there were more games like it. I felt like I’d played them all to death and was looking for something new. Thought I’d be part of a solution instead of complaining about it. It’s great to see so many other studios had similar ideas and were working on their own games, and I’m glad to be part of this new wave of CRPG renaissance.
Do you have any plans to release Sovereign Syndicate on Game Pass?
Isaac: We pitched Sovereign Syndicate to Game Pass, but they weren’t interested. We’re still hoping to bring the game to consoles, but we’ll have to see how it sells first. We’re hopeful we can reinvest profits from the game into making the game better and bring it to a larger audience. Porting to consoles, adding localizations, and voiceover would be great.
It might be too early to ask this, but are you planning on another project after this, or will you focus on Sovereign Syndicate for now?
Isaac: I’d say both. We definitely want to continue to support Syndicate, fix any bugs that pop up after launch, and hopefully reinvest in it to bring it to a larger audience, but we’re also working on some ideas for our next game. Nothing to share yet, early days, but yes, we definitely plan to do something new.
Anything else you would like to share with the readers?
Isaac: Thanks to everyone who’s taken the time to check us out and share with their friends. We’re excited to finally bring this game to a community that’s been so supportive of us.

Sovereign Syndicate was developed and published by Crimson Herring Studios. The Victorian steampunk-inspired cRPG will be released on PC via Steam on January 15, 2024.

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