Randomworlds Q&A with Loren Small (Born from Ice)

Loren SmallDeep Dive, Game DevLeave a Comment

Loren Small in Born from Ice Style

On January 16, 2024 Randomworld TTRPG Chatroom hosted Loren Small, designer of Born from Ice, for a Q&A session on their Discord server. This chat is archived on the Hardboiled GMshoe’s website, and has also been transcribed here. Included are name and time stamps, to help keep it clear who is typing. It has been lightly edited for readability on a blog platform.

[7:29 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG):

Hi, thanks for having me! I’m Loren Small, long time GM, multimedia producer, and most pertinent to tonight’s Q&A, designer of a new 5e Stone Age RPG that is coming soon to Kickstarter, Born from Ice.

Born from Ice is my first published RPG, offering something a bit different in the 5e scene with its unique real-world Stone Age backdrop. The game offers an immersive dive into humanity’s roots, blending detailed historical research with the familiar mechanics of the 5th Edition role-playing system, but with a twist – it’s Earth, a world without magic! Key highlights include:

  • A historically-rich setting spanning the last ~70,000 years of the Ice Age.
  • Six new classes based on 5e’s primary attributes, and an innovative Totem Path system.
  • A focus on human ingenuity and survival, completely replacing magic with more realistic challenges.
  • Commitment to inclusivity and authenticity, steering clear of outdated stereotypes and science.

The Kickstarter is coming soon–(I don’t want to scoop the date, but I’ll say I’m still looking at a 1st quarter launch!)–and will fund the printing of three books, which include the Core Book (Setting Book, GM’s Guide, and Bestiary), Player’s Guide, and a Level 1-20 Adventure Path. You can follow along with the project on Kickstarter or on the Born from Ice website.

Born from Ice: Stone Age Role-Playing

Here are a few mockups and images, as well as a rough character sheet (will definitely get an overhaul before publication, but probably not before the Kickstarter)

[7:30 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Thanks, @Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG)! The floor is open to questions!

[7:30 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

So the supernatural doesn’t exist in this setting?

[7:33 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): @Dan the GMshoe So the supernatural doesn’t exist in this setting?

Not in game mechanics. It definitely does to the people, who have a very animistic view of the world. So that is the big seperation – within the roleplaying, absolutely every character within the game world should 100% believe in magic and the effects it is having on the situation. Quests can be set for what are believed to be supernatural reasons. Within the game mechanics – there are no rules for magic. There are rules for drugs and using them in shamanistic rituals, however. 😀

In the adventures that I am writing for the game, I am working very carefully to have sidebars to explain the real world reasons for seemingly mystical things that are happening. People in the game world will likely never understand, but I want the GM (and the players if they want to) to understand everything is based on science and real phenomena.

So on mechanics, that means I’ve stripped out the entire 5e magic system. Which basically meant starting over on classes, subclasses, etc. The whole game is kind of rebuilt from scratch, asking “what if 5e mechanics, but no magic or spells?” It gets interesting figuring out what an Int based class looks like when they aren’t a wizard.

[7:39 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

How do you make non-martial classes adventure-worthy?

[7:39 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Lacking magic, I mean.

[7:44 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

I should note, much like in core 5e, everyone can at least use basic weaponry. But also like core 5e, some characters are more suited to front line martial style combat, while others would serve better to hang back. However, all classes are designed to allow to provide benefit in combat.

So, the INT based character is the Strategist. This is the class flavor text (caveat: all text is work in progress, may have typos, and could change through playtesting etc. before release):

The Strategist focuses on their Intelligence score, relying on clever thinking and knowledge to handle challenges. A Strategist gathers information and uses learning and reasoning to plan their next moves. They often lead their team (or quietly influence it), and provide useful information and guidance that bolsters every member. In combat, a strategist studies their opponent, defending themselves through understanding the patterns of an attacker, and detecting weaknesses to make deadly strikes. A strategist may be thoughtful and introspective, or an outgoing leader, but always bright and quick-witted. No matter their personality their enhanced skills and critical thinking improve the odds for themselves and those around them.


Anyone values planning and studying their opponents will make an excellent Strategist.

Examples include:

  • A storyteller who uses their tribal history to gain insight into their opponents’ motivations and tactics
  • A shaman who uses their knowledge about the natural world to help their clan survive and thrive
  • A warrior who plans out battle tactics and coordinates the movements of the clan’s fighters
  • A hunter who has honed many skills and studies animal behavior to better track prey
  • A crafter who trains and innovates while making useful tools and devices to help the clan
  • A wise elder who uses their knowledge and experience to advise the clan on important decisions

So you can see, based on this, that their skill tree leads them down a path that lets them do a couple of things: analyze targets to get advantage or do more damage, analyze targets to avoid taking damage, or analyze targets/situations to inspire the party to perform better.

[7:48 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Hmm. Interesting!

[7:49 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

What are the other classes?

[7:49 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

There are six classes in total, each is built around one primary attribute.

  • Mighty Champion: Focused on athletics and strength. Excels at melee combat.
  • Quickfoot: Focused on reflexes and dexterity. Excels at ranged and melee combat.
  • Unbreakable Survivor: Focused on physical health and stamina. Excels at survivability.
  • Strategist: Focused on reasoning and skills. Excels at group support and solving problems.
  • Intuitive Sage: Focused on wisdom and intuition. Excels at group support and situational awareness.
  • Silver Tongue: Focused on charisma and communication. Excels at group support and social challenges.

[7:50 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

In addition to the class builds, there is a revised subclass system

[7:52 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

These main classes don’t have specific subclasses. Instead, subclasses now exist on their own as Totem Paths, and at Level 3, all classes select a Totem Path, which levels up as a subclass would at various points. So, a Strategist who wants more combat utility could pick a more combat oriented Totem Path, giving themselves more combat options and better survivability, or could lean even more into the Intelligence based role and more highly specialize.

As an example everyone would be familiar with, the Cave Bear Totem is similar to the 5e Barbarian Rage system. So Int based Strategist could be Rage based warrior, who also might take a Feat during level up at some point that gives them some sort of unarmored defense. So they could really be an interesting, viable fighter even though it isn’t neccesarily what you would primarily think of.(edited)

[7:56 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Hmm… But if combat is class-based rather than skill-based, as it normally is in D&D-based games, doesn’t that leave the Strategist at a disadvantage?

[7:58 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

(I’m working under the assumption that the Strategist would be the equivalent of a Wizard in terms of basic combat ability.)

[8:04 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

I don’t think they really are a 1:1 comparison. Like I said, with the removal of magic, everything was built largely from the ground up. In playtesting, there really isn’t a huge disadvantage or gap; certainly not on the level that exists between the martial and caster divide in core 5e. I’d say there is a play style difference, and utility roles. The Strategist still isn’t going to have the HP that a Unbreakable Survivor or Mighty Champion might have, so isn’t going to be your best constant front line tank, but can definitely pull their weight in battle. And they also have unique role-play abilities as well (as do all the other classes), so there is flavor and utility outside of combat to consider as well. But with the Totem Path system and the revamped classes, combat disparity isn’t a huge problem. If it turns up in wider testing once the Kickstarter flood gates open, I think it can certainly be addressed.

[8:05 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

You mentioned armor earlier. Is that even a thing beyond heavy furs?

[8:11 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

Armor and equipment are definitely other areas that got completely overhauled. Certainly formal armor as we think of it didn’t exist in the period of the setting. I’m keeping the term for the mechanic in game, but have tried to make it clear in the text what is meant by it. Furs and basic leather clothing are the most common types of protection, and provide simple protection. I’ve included a few incredibly rare items that would be specially prized and confer extra armor bonuses or serve as “Heavy Armor”. A couple of examples: Bone Breastplate. This very rare ceremonial armor is crafted to cover the chest and back. It is made mostly of the tibia and shoulder blades of various creatures, possibly including humans. It can be worn over clothes and fur, but the armor bonus does not stack with other armors. Mammoth Skin. This is thick, warm armor made from mammoth skin. It is a rare item, as the skin can be used for many other needs of the clan, and is only gifted to proven warriors for great heroism. This armor provide Disadvantage on any checks against high heat or temperatures if worn during the summer.

Part of the thinking here, explained in more detail in the book, goes back to the belief of the people in magic. If you have a belief in magic, and believe it is on your side, you will act more confidently and assume your success. And those you act against who believe in magic will see the magic items, and assume the effect against them. Thus, armor or other “magical” items that might otherwise have no real effect, could have a psychological effect on human enemies.(edited)

[8:14 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Is that just a matter of roleplay, or is there a mechanical effect there?

[8:15 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

Within specific adventures, there are items that would include mechanical effects if used under certain circumstances

And the gm section of the core book provides guidances to GMs on how to handle or navigate this in their own games, with sample items etc.

[8:18 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Wouldn’t a widely-known “magical” artifact require more interaction between peoples than likely happened during that period?

[8:24 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

Definitely. There aren’t really artifacts in that sense. It is more like, using the armor above as an example, the Mammoth Skin would only be given to the best warrior. Someone from another tribe would know on seeing it exactly what it is, and what that context is. This same thing could apply to, say, a certain type of charm that someone is carrying. You get enough raven and rat skulls on a stick, it might look scary. 😀

 It is also why I mentioned in adventures, mechanical effects under certain circumstances; anything more specific than this type of example would usually require more context from the story than just this type of general knowledge. So, as a hypothetical, if two tribes were warring, and one witnessed the other perform a ritual to invoke the aid of a spirit, and then the weapon that was the focus of that ritual was brought into battle, that tribe that witnessed the ritual might have a reaction to the spirit possessed weapon, and there would be mechanics to go with it. But if that path of the adventure never happened, than that weapon wouldn’t provoke that sort of reaction or mechanics.

Reactions: 👍🏻

[8:29 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Are there any races to play other than homo sapiens sapiens?

[8:35 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

Not as of now. I’ll say that, assuming we reach funding, then one of the Kickstarter stretch goals would be to add Neanderthals as a playable race. Designing 6 classes and a couple dozen subclasses seemed like enough to start with, and my main goal is to get all of that fully tested first with humans. Adding a new species kind of doubles that work, so it felt like a good thing to reach for if the demand comes. Besides Neanderthals, are there any human ancestors you would be especially interested in seeing added?

[8:40 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Well, I confess that my memory of early human races isn’t what it should be. I was about to suggest Cro-Magnons, but a quick Google search tells me that they were modern humans.

[8:42 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

😆 No worries. Just figured I’d ask in case you had one ready in your back pocket.

[8:43 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Neanderthals were homo sapiens neanderthalensis and were an offshoot rather than an ancestor. I’m not sure what pre-homo sapiens would have still been around at that time.

[8:44 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Maybe Denisovans?

[8:47 PM] Kage: 


[8:48 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

Well… >>>digs frantically through notes<<< …. this is exactly the sort of detail I love, and also exactly the sort of stuff I am TERRIBLE at remembering off the top of my head. Homo floresiensis died out about 14,000 years ago. Homo erectus was about 1.8 million years ago

haha Kage, I was just pulling up that timeline.

[8:48 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

I wonder if homo erectus was still around…

[8:48 PM] Kage: 


[8:48 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Ah, well. Sorry for the tangent!

[8:48 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

homo erecuts died out about 110,000 years ago-ish

[8:49 PM]Dan the GMshoe: 

How large of a bestiary does the game feature? And, most importantly, does it include terror birds?

[8:58 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

I don’t have an exact count on the bestiary yet, and this is the area that probably still has the most to finish on the writing-front post-Kickstarter. I’m trying to include basically all megafauna across continents that would fit within the time period, as well as kind of general creatures. But I’m still working to figure out the best way to conoslidate; for instance, how many types of mammoths do I need to include? Or does one type cover all continents, with options for subtle variations based on climate and location?

My master Google spreadsheet currently ha 357 line items on it for creatures. But that is pre-consolidation. I think it will likely be somewhere around 50-75 creatures, but I don’t know exactly yet.

Most terror birds technically went extinct before this period, but there are some variety that may have survived in South America. I am certain there will be some variety of this in the game, but I’m still figuring out exactly what. 🦢 

Part of the challenge is I also want to make creatures that work across play tiers. So for example, I want mammoths that work for Tier 1, 2, 3, and 4.

[8:59 PM] Osakadave: 

Howdy, popping in late after work.

[8:59 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): @OsakadaveHowdy, popping in late after work.

heya, welcome!

[8:59 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Howdy, @Osakadave!

[9:01 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Do you see this as the start of a game line, or is this more of a one-off?

[9:04 PM] Kage: 

One type of mammoth. Put in a range of values if you must. No need to go crazy. 😀

[9:04 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): @Dan the GMshoe, Do you see this as the start of a game line, or is this more of a one-off?

I definitely have ideas on how to continue to grow it! So if the demand is there, I can keep going for a while. But I also think that, in the form presented on Kickstarter, I will feel that it can stand as a complete thing. A solid full game, with a full 1-20 adventure to really support the game framework. I think there is probably some question of “what exactly do you do in a non-magical D&D game?” So this is my chance to answer that, and the adventure book is really there to help for people who might not quite know what to do with a campaign in a setting like this.

Reactions: 👍🏻 1

 [9:07 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): @Kage One type of mammoth. Put in a range of values if you must. No need to go crazy.

Definitely how I’m leaning. There is just a huge amount of science and research to go through to make sure I’m landing on game mechanics that make sense. Because I also know I’m promising that I’m doing research, which means all the prehistory people who know way more than me are going to point out all the things I mess up on 🤣 … so trying to make sure one mammoth covers enough without missing that one obvious problem that having TWO mammoth types would have solved is the place I’m at right now.

[9:08 PM] Kage: 

Thankfully there are no archaeologists here to judge you on that.




Reactions: 😆 2 🤣 2

[9:09 PM] Osakadave: 

My first question is why D&D for this setting?

[9:09 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): @KageThankfully there are no archaeologists here to judge you on that. << >> (j/k)

On that note, I’m really hopeful the Kickstarter funds well enough that I can bring in additional editors from within the science community.

Reactions: ❤️ 1 💯 1

[9:10 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Scientists? But they’re a bunch of nerds!

Reactions: 🤣 1 🤪 1

[9:18 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): @Osakadave, My first question is why D&D for this setting?

I have a long-winded answer over on the blog (http://bornfromicerpg.com/2023/why-5e/), but I’ll give my short answer here.

  1. I think the 5e engine is actually pretty good at the core, and is something of a universal game engine everyone knows how to play. It lowers the barrier to entry to use it.
  2. There are a lot of other stone age games. Here is a short list: GURPS Ice Age, Würm, How We Came to Live Here, Land of Ice and Stone, Paleomythic, Pariah, Wolf-packs and Winter Snow. All of these are pretty good and use non-5e game engines, and there are even more that I don’t list here because I’m just not as familiar with them. There isn’t a no-magic 5e setting, so it is actually more of a unique niche to build this in 5e than anywhere else.
  3. I don’t think I really bring this up in my blog article, but this started as a personal project for me. So, it was always 5e. But, when I considered whehter it was a commericial project, I realized it needed to be 5e to make sense to continue putting the polish and effort to really get it published in the way I want to. Basically, since this is my first RPG publishing project, 5e is where the market currently is. If I didn’t want to publish or make the books in the way I want to, or if I had the following of say a Matt Colville, then maybe I could consider a different system.

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[9:19 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

What led you to create your first game using this setting?

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[9:24 PM] Osakadave: 

Personally not a fan of the idea 5e as a universal engine, but at least you have your reasons. 😀

Reactions: 👍🏻 1

[9:25 PM] Osakadave: 

How deep do you get into detail on lithic technology? (I ask as someone who occasionally knaps as a minor hobby.)

[9:30 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): @Dan the GMshoe What led you to create your first game using this setting?

That is a weirdly complicated question to answer, but I’ll try to keep it as simple as possible.

Basically, a lot of interests combined into this at the right time.

I grew up in a very strict religion, so it wasn’t until much later in life than I should have that I discovered human prehistory. When I did, and really started understanding the reality of human origins, it resonated with me in a very deep, core way. The reading and research I was doing coincided with me taking up professional GM’ing for a while, and I started building what would eventually become Born from Ice for my personal use.

I’ve worked on other projects, but this one has had my passion behind it consistently for years, and I’m incredibly excited to get it out. It has meaning to me beyond just being something to publish; its really an end to a journey that started years ago, that really has been about understanding the world, humanity, and my place in it. It’s going to sound kind of weird and trite, but researching and working on this has made me a better person and human, and has really helped me grow and let go of a lot of my past.

Reactions: ❤️ 2

[9:31 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 


[9:32 PM] Osakadave: 

Yeah, it’s a facinating period….

[9:33 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): @Osakadave, How deep do you get into detail on lithic technology? (I ask as someone who occasionally knaps as a minor hobby.)

There are going to be crafting rules, as well discussions about the technology available, what materials are used, etc. It’s obviously not a handbook or a textbook; the game could certainly be used in schools or classes I’m sure because everything in it is based on research, but it isn’t written for that purpose expressly.

So… probably not as much detail as you would like, but probably more than most players will read, and hopefully just enough for GM’s to find useful 😀

Reactions: 👍🏻 2

I feel like this is an area where, if the game proves popular at all, a strong community could develop some very interesting resources. I’d love to help facilitate that somehow – hey, here is a video how flint knapping works, etc.

Reactions: 👍🏻 1

[9:38 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

In the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?

[9:38 PM] Kage: @Osakadave, How deep do you get into detail on lithic technology? (I ask as someone who occasionally knaps as a minor hobby.)

Very cool.

Reactions: 💯 1

[9:41 PM] Osakadave: @Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG)There are going to be crafting rules, as well discussions about the technology available, what materials are used, etc.

If they’re better detailed than most of the games on the period, you’re ahead of the, ahem, game…

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[9:42 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): @Dan the GMshoe, In the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?

Hmmm. I think we have covered a lot. If people have more questions, thoughts, ideas, or whatever, they can ping me here on the discord. Or they can find me and the project through any of our various online channels:

[9:42 PM] Osakadave: 

GURPs Ice Age and Paleomythic are particularly bad…. (On knapping.)

Reactions: 👍🏻 1

[9:43 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

Thanks very much for joining us, @Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG)! I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit and will continue hanging out with us when the mood strikes. 

[9:43 PM] Loren Small (Born from Ice RPG): 

Glad to be here! Thanks for having me!

Reactions: 👍🏻 1

[9:43 PM] Dan the GMshoe: 

(And thank you, @Osakadave, for the great questions!)

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[9:43 PM] Dan the GMshoe:

Usual reminder: If you’ve enjoyed this Q&A and would like to treat me to a coffee or two, you can do so at https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe . Anything’s appreciated! 😀