Final War – 30 Years of Roleplaying History

The team at Games Lab revealed their Australian made Tactical Card Game Final War at PAX Australia 2016.  We were lucky enough to catch up with the team and play the game at PAX, even putting together a video of how to play (Check it out here).  Aside from being a fantastic game that we’ve enjoyed it also has a particularly rich history, with the lore (or ‘fluff’ as many gamers call it) based upon a Dungeons & Dragons campaign that’s been going for 30 years now.

This is what happens when the children of Stranger Things grow up…


We caught up with Ben Ellis who is the Managing Director for Games Lab and Lead Designer of Final War.  When we first met Ben at PAX Australia he informed us that the game was based upon a roleplaying campaign that had been ongoing for some three decades.  As roleplayers ourselves this immediately sparked our interest.  For a campaign to run so long is the Holy Grail for many a roleplaying enthusiast, we had to know more!  Thankfully Ben agreed to sit down for a chat and even pulled out some of his old character sheets, notes and maps now yellowed with age.

ATGN: The Final War Tactical Card Game has the roots of its story based upon a tabletop role-playing campaign that has been running for over 25 years. What year did the first game take place and who was in that original group?

BEN: 1987. Myself, and a group of school friends.

ATGN: What rules system was originally used? Was it Dungeons & Dragons (Basic or Advanced) or another system?

BEN: AD&D which became progressively more modified.

ATGN: Can you remember the initial party composition? Who was the Dungeon or Game Master?

BEN: I was the Dungeon Master throughout. Composition of the original group included two wizards (a custom class I had designed), three swordmasters (another custom class that served the wizards), a son of the staff (yet another custom class), an elven magic user and a raging barbarian (yes, yes, yet another custom class)

ATGN: And can you remember the first game session, that initial quest line?

FinalWarRPGOld002BEN: Hell yeah! It was a great quest. It involved an intricate map that my brother, Steve, did the art for. The storyline itself was very detailed and focused on a ruined castle and the catacombs beneath it. There were complex puzzles, riddles and fight sequences that could only be won in particular ways against enchanted opponents… all the classic elements of a good dungeon crawl. From memory it took 5 or 6 full day sessions for the party to complete the quest. By the end of it everyone was hooked!

ATGN: Initially, was the world an original concept or was it based in Forgotten Realms, Mystaria, Middle Earth or a similar established world?

BEN: It was based off a map also produced by my brother with heavy Tolkien influences. For example, the map itself was replete with Tolkien elvish based naming conventions.


ATGN: Over the years did the rules system that you were using change?

BEN: Yes, extensively. Changes were made from the get-go as shown by the custom character classes above. The wizards for example, had an enormous range of spells in addition to those in regular AD&D and the swordmasters had abilities that were custom to their class.

ATGN: And did you have players come and go over the years or is it the same group of players after all this time?

BEN: The original group existed throughout, but we also had numerous additions throughout the years. I also ran independent campaigns within the same world where players would play different characters, including low level and non-good campaigns. This was a good way to introduce new players before hurling them into the complexities of the broader campaign. We played so long that some of the children of the original group also began to play in their late teens.

ATGN: Are there any player characters still alive and active from the beginning or near beginning? Surely they must be Godlike by now? Or have you rolled up fresh characters over the years?

BEN: Yes, the original core group managed to keep their characters intact. They were not always intact and were regularly in pieces, and occasionally even in pieces inside some large and ugly monster, but always managed to find a way to restore themselves to life albeit at a cost. For example, restoration might weaken the character to the point where they would lose aspects of their power. One character was reincarnated and forced to live as a micro-munchie for one campaign, a small and annoying creature that would fall into a catatonic state every time he heard a question.


ATGN: A three decade campaign is for many role-players ‘the dream’. What tips or advice can you offer groups to keep a campaign going as long as you have?

BEN: Have fun! While many quests and internal storylines have great seriousness, it’s important to mix it up with light-hearted quests and incidents. My other advice would be to let the storylines develop in their complexity, have a detailed mythology and backstory and have some good long-term villains that oppose the group. Some of the best NPC villains in our campaign actually started off adventuring with the group and ended up betraying them.

ATGN: While I’m sure there are many great moments in such a long campaign. Can you tell us one or two highlights that you remember particularly well?

BEN: I have two which stand out:
1. The awesomeness of the death-defying die roll, as Aranor the Great plunged towards a lava lake on the back of a Narhrog, where only its death could prevent his untimely extinguishment! In our campaign, critical hits could be rolled and would allow another subsequent critical hit roll to progressively multiply damage. 5 rolls of “20” later and Aranor has delivered the Narhrog to its doom and prompted the watching spirits of Fate to save him from his seemingly impossible predicament.

2. Watching the group in their very first campaign engage in ferocious debate about whose hand was more expendable so that they could trigger a very obvious trap in order to progress, not realising that this entire section of the map that they had been campaigning in for two days was a dead end. Right after the entry to the catacombs was a secret door that none of them had looked for. Ultimately they rock-paper-scissored to see who would lose an appendage, having failed to look around and realise that the trap could be circumvented.


ATGN: Now that you are busy with game development how has it impacted your role-playing campaign? Are you still playing?

BEN: Life got in the way! Once you have kids and a lot of work to do it becomes extremely difficult to run a complex campaign. As with most D&D campaigns it’s been left in a state of limbo, though I still regularly get asked “So when are we playing next?”

ATGN: Now that the digital and physical Final War games exist, do they have any influence on the role-playing game they are based upon?

BEN: No, it’s a one way street where the D&D campaign influences the development and design of Final War.

ATGN: In terms of Final War, where does it take place in the storyline of the role-playing campaign? Is the RPG ahead of the card game for instance or behind it?

BEN: It’s more an alternate reality rather than directly drawn from the mythology of the campaign. While all of the characters and entities mentioned in Final War are found in the D&D campaign, the storyline of Final War diverges from the campaign mythology. The Gem of Making and the battle between Eranai, Darna and The Beast are pivotal in the mythology of the campaign, but the D&D storyline does not subsequently involve the summoning of champions to represent the deities in an attempt to control the gem. That aspect is particular to Final War in order to provide a basis for the warlords within the game and also to explain why good warlords may fight other good warlords, because they are compelled to.

FinalWarRPGOld001ATGN: Any thought to releasing either a Final War novel or RPG module?

BEN: I have been asked to produce a novel for the last 20 years based on the D&D campaign. Never say never!

ATGN: What are the odds of the campaign running for another 30 years?

BEN: Slim, but one lives with the hope that as children become more independent and the pressures of work reduce, maybe, just maybe…

ATGN: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us! Hopefully some of the insights provided here offer up some extra fluff for those playing the Final War TCG.

BEN: Thanks for having me and I hope the readers enjoy hearing some of the background of Final War.


Final War is available now online and in gaming stores all across Australia.

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