We Interview Ray Machuga, Founder of Higher Ground Publishing, on Their Newest Board Game Project, Dhovaine

During today’s look at the independent tabletop scene, we welcome Ray Machuga, who is the founder, brain and drive behind his US-based company, Higher Grounds. Let’s go straight into the questions:

GR – Why don’t you tell us a little about Higher Grounds and how the company came into being?

HG – That’s a long story. Higher Grounds actually started out trying to make video games while I was attending the University of North Texas. Some of my education consisted of game design as well as programming, so I tried to assemble a small team to design a PC game roughly based on what Dhovaine would eventually become. It took a few more failures on top of that before I gave tabletop gaming a shot. I did that because I only had to rely on me to write the thing! I had been playing tabletop games for about 25 years and designing my own home-brews for nearly that entire time. The first publication that came about was Warsong. We Kickstarted that, and it funded. Now we’re finishing up production on Dhovaine.


GR – I was looking through your most recent Kickstarter page recently; tell us about the project and how Gaming Respawn readers can find out more.

HG – Dhovaine has been a project that I’ve been working on in some shape or form for about five years. It is a game set in a very Earth-like planet called Dhovaine where the players take up the role of monster hunters. These monster hunters take on hunts that can be posted by anyone with the money to do so. Generally, these hunts are posted because some creature is terrorizing settlements or killing people, though sometimes there are plot twists to these hunts as well. Meanwhile, there is a black hole that has appeared in the sky over the planet that has slowly grown in size. Prophecies say that this black hole is the Void, a big-bad evil set to devour the planet and everything on it. The prophecies have been backed by the fact that the larger this black hole gets, the stronger the monsters of the world get and the stranger they act. You can find out more about this by visiting our site (www.highergroundspublishing.com), visiting our Kickstarter, attending any of our Q & A sessions or even just contacting me personally. I love hearing from fans!

One of the more interesting things about Dhovaine is that Higher Grounds’ motto is “Tabletop freedom. Console feel.” What I mean by this is that I actually attempted to bring in a lot of game feel and aspects of video games and firmly root them in a great tabletop RPG. You’ll see things like loot drops, boss fights and all kinds of other video game themes that you won’t find in any other tabletop game. I’m really proud of that.


GR – I understand that Dhovaine isn’t your first Kickstarter? 

HG –  Not even close. In fact, I failed several before I had one that was successful! My most recent Kickstarter, Warsong: The Fall of Eldorande, was successfully funded in the middle of 2016. Backers for that project got their books and rewards on time or early, and you can still find the book for sale on rpgnow.com.


GR – So, where does the inspiration for your RPGs come from? Is it other games, movies, books, etc.?

HG – You name it. My inspiration comes from everywhere. I’ve been a gamer all my life. I started out playing on my Commodore 64 and programming my own games on that, and then I upgraded to Atari 2600. From there it was nothing but love. I started playing tabletop games when I was about ten years old, and I loved drawing out game ideas that I had. In fact, one of the roles in Dhovaine stems from an idea I remember having when I was very young. Comics like Wayward, I Hate Fairyland, Locke & Key and Mnemovore have had a huge impact. Video games, of course, have had a huge influence on my style as well. Everything from the original Final Fantasy on NES and Dragon Warrior can be seen in my games. In fact, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The cover for the book that you can see on the Dhovaine Kickstarter page is actually a nod to one of my all-time favourite old school games! Even newer titles have their influence. Quite a few of the more modern aspects of Dhovaine stem from the Final Fantasy world, especially from Final Fantasy XV. I’ve even pulled some of the characters from real life. They say everything a writer puts onto paper is about someone, so this is probably no different. Movies too! Nightwatch/Daywatch, Advent Children, Pan’s Labyrinth, pretty much anything from Hayao Miyazaki! Just about everything I like has an influence on me and the way I write and design games. I guess I’m a mediaphile.

GR – Where are you hoping to take Higher Grounds and the current RPG series?

HG – Higher Grounds is off to an amazing start, and it’s only getting better. Within the next five years, I really hope to guide Higher Grounds into the mainstream tabletop gaming community. I want to be able to give back to the community that has given me so much fun and joy for as long as I can remember.

Dhovaine is our first largescale production. I will be making large print runs with it, and I’m hoping to get it into stores all over the United States. I’ve already got supplements and setting guides in store for 2017 and 2018, so I suppose you could say that Dhovaine is to Higher Grounds what Dungeons & Dragons was to TSR.


GR – As you know, Gaming Respawn was founded as a video game website. Do you have any personal favourites, past or present?

HG –  I have so many favourite video games that listing them all would probably take up way too much bandwidth! Offhand, some of my favourites would have to be Secret of Evermore, Final Fantasy I, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy XV. Anything Zelda, especially Link to the Past and the gold cartridge. I enjoyed Shining Force I and II, as well as just about anything on the NES and SNES. F-Zero forever remains the only racing game I ever truly liked! For newer games, I’d have to say Fallout 4 and Dying Light are my favourites, and I’m currently working through Final Fantasy XV. I also play Smite on PS4, so if any of your readers want to play with a mediocre Smite player, I’m game!

That was Ray Machuga from Higher Grounds. Make sure you check out his Dhovaine RPG Kickstarter through the link provided, and I’m sure some of you will accept the Smite challenge.