Today’s a special day… Prepare to meet the marvellous minds behind the Grand Academy!
We sat down with Russ Charles, Art Director & Lead Sculptor at Steamforged Games, and Thomas Lishman, creator of Adventures & Academia, to talk about how this magical world came into being.
If you’re a visual learner, rejoice! You can watch the interview on YouTube:
But don’t be despondent, listeners… We’ve transcribed the interview right here in this very blog!
Q: What is Adventures & Academia: First Class?
Russ: Adventures & Academia is a range of miniatures we’ve created showing heroes that want to become mighty adventurers… But need a little bit of help in getting there.
So, they’re attending a school that’s going to train them up to be the mighty, epic adventurers of tomorrow!
It’s an opportunity to have some really characterful models showing heroes in that slightly awkward middle / high school stage of life. And we’ve also created a series of really informative character portfolios to go with the minis.
This brand’s a really excellent starting point for people who are new to tabletop roleplaying games. But it’s also a really really cute collection of characters that would grace any table and be a benefit to any campaign!
Q: Where did the inspiration for the brand come from?
Tom: Well, I’ve always wanted to play a five year adventure based in a school!
When I was learning to play 5e, I thought, “wouldn’t it be so cool to have a classroom based system?” You know… Learn how to play the mechanics themselves.
Like ‘this is Warrior 101’ or ‘this is how to be a Barbarian’.
Russ: Yeah, I remember us chatting a lot about how to make a starter set that felt really engaging.
This is an in-world opportunity for your character to learn, grow, and educate whilst learning and educating yourself as a player about how to play the game and experience the joy of roleplaying.
It can be so rewarding… But it can also be a little intimidating when you start. So, I think that was our starting point.
Tom: Yeah, roleplaying’s a lot to take in when you first get going!
One of the key things you mentioned there was that it’s an in-world way of learning 5e. It’s not just learning to play 5e – it’s also having such an exciting potential setting that you can base your adventures in.
There’s endless school activities you can do. And here’s one of the things that I love about it – everyone went to school, everyone has those experiences – some good, some bad.
Russ: Yeah, school is a universal experience. It can connect older players, new players, young players…
It’s a common touchstone which is really helpful to have, especially if you’re new to the hobby and the whole thing feels a bit new and intimidating. Having that commonality is really really helpful.
Tom: And also, completely aside from the school element, if you look at what’s out there: there aren’t that many miniatures that represent younger adventurers!
You get your grizzled Warrior and your old Wizard, but you don’t really get miniatures for young teenagers wondering where their future’s going.
Russ: And it’s interesting because that is the journey a typical RPG character will go on!
Starting as a Level 1 character, you aren’t the finished article… You aren’t the mighty hero. So this reflects that hero's journey in an interesting and novel way.
Q: How do you start designing these beautiful miniatures?
Tom: A huge part of the inspiration for the minis came from looking at fiction, looking at popular culture… Even looking at my own experiences from school and the kind of uniform I wore when I was younger.
Especially in the British schooling system, you get all kinds of interesting uniforms! I took that and adapted it to a fantasy setting.
Russ: Yeah there were definitely some certain design touchstones we wanted to make sure went across all of the characters.
Firstly, those key uniform things: badges, ties, blazers. Then we looked at Halloween costumes for children and other ways to bring that fantasy vibe to characters that weren’t necessarily big, bulky adults.
I was really happy with that process! Playing around with young versions of the D&D races has been really, really good fun.
Tom: A core part of developing Adventures & Academia was taking races from D&D that aren’t used as often, and working out what a young version would look like!
Russ: Yeah. That was fun!
Q: What are the different houses? What do they mean?
Tom: There are four houses in Adventure & Academia.
You’ve got Might
Each one represents a set of 5e classes you can play. But with a shared friend group, colour pallet, thematics, and interesting rules as well.
Russ: To use an example: House Arcane contains the 5e classes that’re principally concerned with magic. That’s where you’re gonna find your Warlock, your Sorcerer; it’s where you’ll find your traditional Wizard.
With each house, we’ve made sure that there’s a house founder, a house motto and ethos, and a set of school colours.
So, the houses have their own distinct personalities within the setting, but can work with each other. You can still build a party of various different classes.
Q: Which house would you be in if you were at the school?
Russ: I’d be in House Divine because I’ve always had such a soft spot for the healer, the support, the cleric type character.
I always like being the person at the back making sure the rest of the party is doing well. So I’d be a House Divine character 100%.
Tom: I’m leaning towards Might, you know! Not out of strength or anything like that… But the House is focused around strength of mind – they’re about self belief!
Q: Who’s your favourite character? And why?
Russ: I’m going to go with Bondas – the Turtle Folk Monk.
The model was sculpted by my brother, Ben. You often get very aggressive, ‘fighting stance’ or ‘martial arts-looking’ Monks, but Bondas treads a gentler path through life.
She’s got big scrolls of ancient wisdom and teachings strapped to her…
Tom: And plenty of food!
Russ: She’s got plenty of food! And she just looks like she’s having the best time… That’s what I love about the model. She expresses such joy through her face!
Tom: For me it’s got to be Arinise, the Tiefling Cleric.
She’s just so happy to be there! She’s got a shield, she’s gathering every single sticker in every single class, she wants to win all the awards, she wants to help all her friends like the most happy-go-lucky ‘I’m out there – I’m going to help people’ characters.
And, also, she was one of the first minis I designed and sculpted. She’s got a really special place in my heart.
Russ: I love the sticker thing. It just reminds me of every school book and every school binder that you ever saw covered in stickers!
Q: Can these characters build into any other RPGs?
Russ: Everything we’ve done with Painting Polygons [the Steamforged sub-brand behind Animal Adventures] projects is ‘oven ready’: you can just drop the characters and models into any campaign setting.
It’s fair to say there’s enough implied background, imagery, and visuals that you could build a school campaign and use the Adventures & Academia content to create that setting.
I don’t think you’d have any problem just taking them and dropping them into any 5e campaign – and they’d add a little touch of academic flavour!
Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the industry?
Russ: It’s a fascinating industry because both of us have taken very different routes into it.
Tom: Oh, yeah!
Russ: One of the things about working in game design is you get to make your own chances. It’s never been easier to start – you can publish online, there are tools to help you, software that doesn’t have to be expensive – and the game industry is full of very helpful, very friendly people that can offer advice.
If you’ve got an idea for a game – even if it’s not going to be the best thing you’ve ever done – make it! The best model, the best game, the best design is the one that you actually finish because you’ll only ever get better.
Tom: And enjoy it, too! The most important thing is to take the thing you enjoy the most and finish it. Then you can take a step back and say, “yeah, I’m really proud of that!”
Russ: Both Tom and myself have been able to see a passion project through. Adventures & Academia has very much been Tom’s baby. And my love of animals has led to Animal Adventures! In both cases, we’ve taken an idea that we fell in love with and we’ve been lucky enough to see them become reality.
Tom: It’s such an amazing thing seeing that.
Russ: It’s the best.
Thanks, Russ and Tom!
If that interview’s stoked the fires of your imagination, check out Adventures & Academia now!
These wonderful school minis are begging to be dropped into an existing 5e campaign – or you could even create a brand new school adventure to have the students star in.
Time to enrol for initiative!