HomeBooksPAX Unplugged Interview: Michael Holik, Creator of 'Dark Matter'

PAX Unplugged Interview: Michael Holik, Creator of ‘Dark Matter’

For those who love Dungeons & Dragons, I ask you, have you heard of Mage Hand Press? They are a small team of exceptionally talented writers and illustrators that have been working for over two years to produce professional quality D&D 5th Edition (5E) content. Recently, they had a very successful Kickstarter that brought to life their physical, hard cover 5th Edition supplement, Dark Matter, a full science fiction conversion for 5th Edition with rules and options that can seamlessly be applied to any 5E campaign.

This year at PAX Unplugged, we had the opportunity to speak with Michael Holik, a designer and author at Mage Hand Press about this awesome new supplement for 5E.

So tell us who you are and what is Dark Matter?

My name is Mike, I make stuff for primarily D&D 5th edition. Dark Matter is an expansion on the 5th edition that lets you play in sci-fi. It doesn’t replace the core 5E rule, so you can play anything from existing D&D. You can play a regular wizard or a barbarian right next to a gun toting android and you can have all those adventures in space without having to learn a brand new system from the ground up.

What was the catalyst that made you think, “this needs to happen?”

We built our stuff on Patreon for a long time, we made 30 or 40 page books. We were supported by a small group of people who just like the stuff that we have done, and when we started on a sci-fi supplement it ballooned to about 100 pages. I knew that there was so much more we wanted to do and so much more we could do in the space that nobody had really done yet. It wasn’t long until we had invested all this time in the art and the rules and we knew there was a place that we really wanted to take it into. Now it’s sitting over 300 pages and it’s exactly what we wanted.

It’s made for and set up similar to 5E but you did introduce a new class archetype. What makes this new class different and special?

Yes, it’s a Gadgeteer. It’s actually really interesting. So if you know any 5E, you know the most classes are differentiated by an archetype that they take somewhere between first and third level which changes your class in some meaningful way. A Gadgeteer actually gets another feature that they take, they get a prototype which also helps define their class and it does some important things with the math in terms of damage mitigation.

You can take a prototype that makes you a little more like Iron Man, where you get a suit of power armor or you can get a robot friend who follows you around, or you can get one that has a Batman-like utility belt that transforms into a whole bunch of different useful gadgets. So you get a second layer by which you can customize your character and then your actual class features are largely picked off the list of gadgets. You have all these gadgets you can play with and you can upgrade them. It’s a really solid addition that can pretty much only exist in a science fiction setting.

What are some of the interactions you can have between the Gadgeteer and a regular class like a warrior or mage? Is there a way to cross-class? Was there something that really stuck out to you as a unique combination of science and fantasy?

There’s a lot in the book that interacts with the Gadgeteer and all the other classes on a lot of different levels. There’s an entire sequence series of blasters we use that are exactly balanced with the core rules and the core weapons. The blasters are balanced with the core weapons so you can use them with any class, but the Gagedteer gets some special use out of those, they can overcharge them to do additional damage and they can also use spells. We have a spell in the book called “Finger Guns” that lets you point and shoot at people. You can use it all day and the Gadgeteer gets a lot of good use out of those sorts of things. We also have a series of hard spells so you can flex your Green Lantern a little bit. The Gadgeteer gets a lot of that. So even in the class itself, it’s got a lot of archetypes and a lot of sway where you can place it between other classes and do a lot of fun interplay.

Photo Credit: Mage Hand Press

What are some of the things that the old classes would get in here?

The Character Options chapter is big. It starts with tons of character options, there’s a whole bunch of things that let you customize your characters and then a ton of feats. We have a lot of different feats racial feats, generic feats, feats that work at the factions. We have a bunch of new backgrounds and new training skills that we introduce – we didn’t want too many more so we actually have an entire section detailing how the old skills are used in new and different ways.

What’s your favorite sort of scenario in here?

We have an entire D100 table in the back of little plot books and they’re all really, really fun. The very first one is, “Your ship has just been entered into the galactic Grand Prix. Get from one edge of the galaxy to the other in as fast a time as possible. Bonus points if you take out other racers along the way.”

They’re all fantastic and when we do those sorts of little adventures, if they’re not just gonzo and crazy like that, they’re references to something else that you know and love. It’s kind of our love letter to Science Fiction.

One of the main themes that’s been going on with a lot of RPGs lately is ease of entry. What kind of things were you thinking about when you were making this to keep it easy to do?

That’s a great question. So in many ways D&D 5th edition is the gateway drug to larger RPGs and it’s done a lot to change the wider opinion that people have about roleplaying games being extremely math oriented and difficult to play. We designed this book with a lot of that design ethos to make it extremely easy to pick up and really fit with the core of 5E. That’s why we didn’t add a ton of new base classes or anything that completely shakes up the core design because we think it works really well to introduce people.

So if D&D 5E is the gateway drug to get people playing RPGs, this is taking people the next step into experimenting with these genres of RPG and doing it in a way that’s comfortable and doesn’t require them to learn an entire new system if they weren’t comfortable learning a lot of math or doing vector calculations. The nice thing about Dark Matter is that you don’t have to take 100 percent of it as a dive You can play bits and pieces of it. You can convert parts of it into a game that is doing Star Wars or Star Trek or Firefly. You can pick bits and pieces of it that you want because it’s designed in such a way that everything works independently and together.

Sci-fi is one of those genres that you can do so much with, do you have any new content, expansions or supplements in the works?

We are working on a ship supplement. We have an entire chapter of Ship Combat Rules in here, which feels very much like regular D&D combat so it’s very easy to get in to and you can do entire games of ship combat. People love it and are ravenous for it in spite of the fact that it’s so much of the book already, but people want even more so we’re looking at finding ways to expand that a little bit more. We want to do some stand alone adventures in the setting, we have one of those being written right now, so expect to see more Dark Matter in the future.

What is the thing that you would tell somebody they absolutely need to do in this game?

There are monsters in the book called “wizmos”, they are little little scrap robots that are made by the Fae and they run around, and they cause trouble, they cause havoc, they chatter and they steal things, they pull pranks and they’re hilarious and they’re cute. They’re something everyone should have in their campaign whether or not they’re doing sci-fi.

You can find Dark Matter for sale now at the Mage Hand Press website.

Rachel Freeman
Rachel Freeman
Rachel Freeman is a staff writer and comic review editor at Pop Break. She regularly contributes comic book reviews, such as The Power of the Dark Crystal, Savage Things, Mother Panic, Dark Nights: Metal, Rose, and more. She also contributes anime reviews, such as Berserk, Garo: Vanishing Line and Attack on Titan as well as TV reviews. She has been part of The BreakCast for the Definitive Defenders Podcast. Outside of her writing for Pop Break, Rachel is currently a pre-school teacher. She is a college graduate with her BA in History and MAED. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram: @Raychikinesis.

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