In Land of Eem, the Muppets go to Mordor

15 February 2023
We learn the secrets of a new whimsical adventure game, Land of Eem, with its creators Ben Costa and James Parks

Words by Christopher John Eggett

“We like to describe it as, tonally, Lord of the Rings meets The Muppets,” says Ben Costa. Costa and James Parks are the writer-designer duo behind the new whimsical roleplaying game, Land of Eem, to be published by Exalted Funeral and funded on the new Backerkit platform.

“it’s a light-hearted – maybe rules-light, it’s hard to determine as there’s some procedural rules you could use or not – roleplaying game. It takes place on a hex map, which is a big part of the game, that you use to explore the Land of Eem.”

The pair are probably best known for their young adult graphic novel series, Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Cube and the recently released Dungeoneer Adventures. The former features a skeleton trying to work out who they are, after being resurrected by an evil lich. Dungeoneer Adventures is a story of the only human boy at a school for explorers. Both of these stories are set in the Land of Eem – a strange fantasy world that’s perfectly pitched for silly adventures.


“It’s not just a system, we have a huge sandbox we’re working on – the first one is called The Mucklands, which is six regions – so there’s just a ton to explore,” says Costa, “we wanted to make a game that could actually feel like you’re exploring.”

A hexcrawl implies a lot more overheads than you might expect from a game like this. Usually you’re managing resources as a group, and with that comes starving, freezing, or generally being worn down by the world. When I ask whether the game is implementing an ‘old school dying-in-the-mud’ approach, I’m told it’s a little bit softer than that, with a laugh.

“There is food, which needs to be accounted for, but we’ve tried to make that fun,” says Costa, “we went kind of crazy with describing the wacky food. Aside from that it’s fairly easy getting across the world. It’s based on random encounters, and they’re all more than ‘you encounter four wolves’ – they’re actual situations that could really lead you on to side quests and derail what you were trying to do.”

“Which happens every time we play,” says Parks.

“And that’s kind of the point of the game,” says Costa, “you’re always encountering ridiculous NPCs and it’s assumed that you’re thrust into the random encounter – rather than trying to go around.”

As you might expect, this is not a combat orientated game, “personally, we find a lot of regular combat to be boring – I want to swing on chandeliers and convince the guard that ‘its cool’. So, The Land of Eem is entrenched with making those other options and creativity the primary focus, rather than swinging your club around.”

Mechanically, this is reinforced by the way encounters and combat is structured – players who want to talk go first, those who want to make a non-combat action goes second, if you want to run you go after that, and finally, if you want to fight, that the final action of the round. This ‘let’s talk about it’ hierarchy for initiative pushes players to be creative, and stops the (sometimes amusing, we admit) players who attempt to hit something before anyone else has even opened their mouths.

The dice system is a simple one inspired by Powered By The Apocalypse – with a D12 system. The D12, the best dice, is used with a skill modifier to attempt to pass tests. 1-2 is a failure, 3-5 a “failure with a plus”, 6-8 “success with a twist” and success and complete success beyond that. It’s got a very ‘yes and…’ vibe to it, with players being encouraged to add their own twists to the game.

And this is all in the spirit of roleplaying that we don’t actually discuss very often – and maybe it helps if you know your group really well – but it should be a silly and fun experience.

“We love the idea that there are big tonal shifts in a game,” says Parks, “you’ve got these everyday muppety characters who are just trying to make it work, but the world has a big range of challenges in it. And some of them are legitimately terrifying, there’s ‘Dark Lord’ style scenarios in there.”

“We have different ‘tones’ to play in Land of Eem,” says Parks, referring to the pre-set ways to play – hijinks (“stealing somebody’s mail”), daring-do (“something like the Princess Bride”), Doom and Gloom (“where’s you’re faced with a Lich”). Some might say that these are options for every game, but the guidance makes it.

“It stems from our work, and the stories we write,” says Costa, “like Rickety Stitch embodies that Lord of the Rings meets the Muppets vibe, he’s a skeleton bard shoved into the middle of a conflict about good versus evil. So how he reacts to things is vastly different to that of a stoic hero.”

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“He’s also a goofy character with a grim past,” adds Parks, mentioning that he’s a skeleton with amnesia that’s been reanimated by ‘evil-doers’, “but he tackles ‘life’ like anyone would.”

While the game might not be classically pitched, there are races and classes to have fun with. The classes aren’t exactly ‘off the shelf’ however, Costa takes us through it, “there’s the bard, and the loyal chum – which is based off the Gelatinous Goo character, the quintessential adventuring companion. We’ve got the dungeoneer, which reflects our series about a bunch of kids learning how to be adventurers, the Knight Errant – a sort of leader class, the rascal – a rogue style character. And the Gnome, the only class that is its own folk-species.”

The gnome is the only class that is magical, “there’s no wizard, yet” adds Costa, “the gnome is a wizard-ranger type, and we’re really going back to the original gnomes. It’s not like D&D crafty Gnomes.”

“It’s more like David the Gnome,” says Parks, referencing a Scandinavian cartoon dubbed for English-speaking audiences from the late 80s-early 90s which causes such a powerful flashback to a forgotten part of my childhood that I have to immediately ask about whether there’s an intentional nostalgia in the game.

“We love the aesthetic of your classic garden gnome,” says Parks, “also the gnomes in the Land of Eem are pretty powerful creatures. Deceptively powerful cute creatures. We did the same thing with unicorns, they’re kind of the Conan the Barbarian of unicorns.”

Naturally, this softer aesthetic, nostalgia and simplified system makes it a great place to take your first steps into the world of roleplaying. Land of Eem, the pair say, is ideal for those who have never played a roleplaying game before – and that it’s the old guard who have the most trouble adapting to the free-flowing play.

“The biggest thing we’re bringing is providing tools for players to be creative,” says Costa, “we went all out to give them class abilities that push players to create the world, because that’s the way that we play. When I play D&D Fifth Edition, I get pretty bored with bonuses.”

“Also, it’s unashamed of being goofy,” says Parks.


The pair are working on their second Dungeoneer Adventures book, “and we’re already starting out with the rumblings of the next Land of Eem sandbox content, we have such a large world that we have so much in the way of settings we can do,” says Parks.

“We’re expanding the game as we do more sandboxes,” adds Costa.


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