Sunday, September 3, 2017

Script Change: Official

Hi all!

As of today, you can download a PDF version of Script Change that is formatted and easily printed.

I started writing Script Change, from what I can remember and what Google Drive tells me, in 2013. I had started playing indie games a while before, and earlier that year, I'd written about how I'd used the X-card in a game of Monsterhearts. With the X-card, though, I used a secondary card introduced by Kira Magrann called the O-card, effectively a way to encourage people to do the thing that you were enjoying.

I have a lot of feelings about safety mechanics, trigger warnings, and so on. I really appreciated the X-card. It gave me some new freedoms, I could try things I wasn't familiar with. And the O-card was great, but I realized that I didn't need it if people already knew what I was looking forward to, what I wasn't sure about, and if I had something other than the X-card to show what way I thought the story could go.

Script Change has had many, many updates. Briefly, there was an applause function to encourage people to do things, but I felt it wasn't genuine enough. Thinking it through, I really thought the core things in it – rewinding to redo scenes for whatever reason, pausing to take a break and get perspective, and fast-forwarding to get over things that are too much or that we just don't want to bore ourselves with them – are more important than anything else. I've added some smaller things in the end, like the Wrap Meeting for debriefs, Instant Replay to reduce confusion, and the Highlight Reel to help keep people excited and enthusiastic for the game.

The biggest thing about Script Change is that it's supposed to be flexible. It demands a conversation about consent, and about what people want in a game. It reminds people that games are not set in stone. We aren't chipping into marble, here. We are telling a story as we go, and we can change things to make it more exciting, more fun, more of whatever we want - and less of what we don't want.

Script Change is not the only content tool out there, and there is a lot to be said about doing what works best for you. But, it has been a labor of love for me, because I want people to play games that they enjoy! I want them to have experiences of a lifetime with the chance to pause and get ready for more, or even just a chill beer and pretzels night where the tonal shift can be easily fixed with a "rewind."

I hope that you'll check out Script Change and if nothing else, just see if you can glean something new from it. Most of all, I hope you have a hell of a good time playing some games. <3

Download the PDF here!

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Friday, September 1, 2017

Five or So Questions with Jack Berberette on DOTS

I found out about the DOTS GoFundMe that Jack Berberette is doing to purchase and use a Braille Printer to make braille games available for gamers through G+, and Jack was willing to answer some questions! Check his responses out below, and give the video he made about braille translation a view if you can!


Tell me about your Braille printer project. What excites you about it?

One of the things I've learned, after starting on this project, is that electronic equipment, learning materials, books, and more are beyond expensive for the visually impaired. The braille embossing printer, for example, is normally $3,500 to $4,000 dollars (it just happens to be on sale right now). The bottom of the line printer is normally 2 grand! I'm sure I'm not alone when I say, "I can't afford that!"

I translated (with some tweaks) The Black Hack RPG. The Black Hack is a FANTASTIC game system created by David Black. The game has been streamlined to a 6"X9" booklet with about 20 pages, give or take. A brilliant system put out there under the Open Gaming License.

Anyway, the braille translation weighs in at about 80 pages. Now if you went to an office store and had an 80 page book printed and spiral bound it would cost $5 - $8 bucks tops. I reached out to a few companies and they wanted over $200 to make 4 copies of the book (spiral bound)! Now let me put this in perspective...while the printing equipment is expensive, the paper only costs 3 cents per page, and no ink is used in printing braille. Their material cost is about $1.75 if you include the spiral binding and thick front and back covers. It would only take about 30 minutes to print all four books and let's ad in another 30 minutes to clamp on the spiral binding. Even if the person was making $15.00 an hour and we add in the $7 for the four books....the total cost is $22. AND...this is a "non-profit", braille printing company...other places had comparable prices.

What is so exciting about the printer, is that I will be able to print a duplex page for about 3 cents. This means that I will be able to afford printing a lot of things for free, or at cost depending on what's being printed. The Black Hack braille book, for example, I wouldn't charge anything but the few stamps it takes to mail it.

ALSO, and this is freaking awesome, the printer will print 8 levels of tactile graphics and comes with a full suite a translation and graphic design software. This means that I can translate D&D 5e character sheets, Pathfinder Character sheets...any character sheet in to braille with tactile squares where the values are placed (Ability scores, hit points, etc.). The plan is to glue felt into the squares and then print out number chips with Velcro on the back so visually impaired players can fully and independently manage their character sheet.

I can also printout dice labels and transform regular polyhedral dice into braille dice. I'm currently doing that but I have to, dot by dot, use a slate and style to create the numbers, then modge-podge them to each side of the die. With printed stickers, I could cut the out, slap them on then spray a poly protective coating. This would cut my time drastically and afford me the ability to make a bunch more sets which I give away for free!

With the graphics capabilities of the printer, we can even add in tactile dungeon maps for the GM. How freaking cool would it be for a visually impaired GM to be able to actually feel AND read a map of a dungeon?!

Here's a really cool video that shows how tactile graphics can be created/

What excites me more than anything though is the thought of being able to have the equipment to put a game book in the hands of a blind player. Giving them the same excitement of flipping through spell lists in that frantic time before your initiative comes up...just like a sighted player. Enabling gaming independence so a visually impaired player can experience the full range of activities a sighted player does.

LOL...I didn't realize just how excited I am about the printer until I typed all of that out. I'm very passionate about helping people and this printer will allow me to do wonderful things for the visually impaired community.

...(more inside!)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Five or So Questions with Keith Stetson on Seco Creek

Hi y'all! Today I have an interview about Seco Creek Vigilance Committee with Keith Stetson! Seco Creek Vigilance Committee is currently on Kickstarter and sounds like a really fun time! It's a one-shot length, western themed game. Check out Keith's responses below!


Tell me a little about Seco Creek Vigilance Committee. What excites you about it?

Seco Creek Vigilance Committee is a Western RPG about justice, law, revenge, and the discrepancy between what is right and what is good. It's designed for intense, one-shot play with a non-random resolution system that emphasizes choices and their consequences. It's not focused on if the characters can do something, but rather on what they're willing to endure to do it.

The thing that really excites me about Seco Creek is how the situation balances on the knife edge. There are no easy answers and there are no right answers. In the shifting landscape of moral ambiguities every action has a reaction that pushes back against what the character thinks they believe and they want. Everyone has to find their own path through the fraught situation. I've run the game dozens of times; it rarely ends well, but it never ends the same way twice.

What inspired the Favor mechanic, and what kind of responses does it provide in game, especially in the one-shot format?

The whole design has migrated a lot as I fine tuned it to get what I wanted. Originally it was a more-or-less straightforward Lady Blackbird hack, but that lacked tools for the needed social interactions with NPCs. At the time (and at this time, too) I was fascinated with Avery Alder's mechanics for Dream Askew, especially how you control the economy of chips by how strong a move you make. That translated into the idea of If you bow to a Faction you get a chip, but if you force them to bow to you you lose one. But just causing a Faction to do something didn't make sense as always losing a chip. If the Townsfolk like me and I offer to buy the next round, "spending" a chip of Favor and becoming less popular didn't make sense.

Players generally approach Favor in one of two ways. The first type grabs onto it as a way to amass power and directs their actions to gather Favor with as many Factions as possible. The second type does whatever they think is in keeping with their character's nature and lets the Favor show how the world is reacting. Both are totally valid ways to play.

Seco Creek being a one shot means folks are less cautious about losing Favor and harvesting enmity from Factions. There is no tomorrow, so they go all in today. Conversely it means that if you're sitting on a fat stack at the end of play, your character's epilogue is looking pretty sweet.

How has Negotiation played out in game - how does it work mechanically, and how have players reacted to the level of control?

One of the unintentional features of Seco Creek that I love is its modularity. You can play an entire, satisfying game of it without ever engaging in certain mechanics. Negotiation is one of those. If you never take an action upon another player's character, you never need to use it.

Now, if you want to start throwing haymakers and wrassling for keys, then you Negotiate. Mechanically, the acting player says what they want to come to pass:

I want to stop you from leaving the room, I want to knock the gun from your hand, I want to punch you in that ugly mug of yours.
The acted upon player says what they require to make that action true:

Alright, I don't leave the room, but as I stride towards you, you flinch and everyone sees it. The Townsfolk no longer think you can keep them safe, and you lose a Favor with them. Plus, you get labeled a coward.

If the acting player agrees, everything stated occurs. If not, the players go back and forth until they can establish terms. If they can't, the Judge (the GM role) decides the situation, most often to no one's liking.

This works really well for most players, because if your character wants something bad enough, they can nearly always get it; you just have to be willing to pay the price. It gives you a similar level of control as Fate Points do, but what you're spending is narrative positioning. Where are you willing to be weak so you can be strong here? And again we see a version of Avery's Dream Askew mechanic popping up.

Is that a callout to 3:10 to Yuma I see in that initial descriptive text image? What are the inspirations for Seco Creek Vigilance Committee - movies, books, other games?

Well, you caught the reference to 3:10 to Yuma, so that's the first one! ;) There are also a handful of nods to tons of other classic Westerns. Game wise we've already talked about Lady Blackbird and Dream Askew, but another big influence was Apocalypse World - particularly the phrase "tell them the consequences and ask." That's basically both the Favor and Negotiation mechanics boiled down to a single phrase.

However, all those influences are secondary ones. The entire premise of the tense situation the players step into comes from Warlock by Oakley Hall. I've tweaked some particulars, but on the whole what you see is the set up that made me want to see it played out in an RPG desperately enough to write one. Warlock is a terrifically well written and nuanced book, and I'm actually thinking of using another section from it to craft a stretch goal...

Why a one-shot? What about this format really appeals to you and makes the game shine?

Like a lot of folks, one of the first indie games I ever played was Fiasco. Its one-shot nature made it so you could use your character hard and not worry about next week. Making Seco Creek a one-shot gives the players that same feeling; the characters are already prepared to go all in, and now you have permission to do so, as well. Seco Creek's rules are also designed to cause the character arc you might see in a campaign to be compressed down into one session. It's a distillation of all the drama, tension and transformation.


Thanks so much for the great interview, Keith! I hope you all enjoyed reading it, and that you'll check out Seco Creek Vigilance Committee on Kickstarter, and share the interview with your friends! :)

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Designer & Devourer Episode 6 - I'm Really Far Behind, Unsolicited Game Design, & Zucchini Bread


Check out Episode 6 of Designer & Devourer (click the title of the blog post!)! I’ll be talking recent posts, upcoming stuff, and then unsolicited game design. The recipe this week will be zucchini bread. J

Designer & Devourer Episode 6 on Patreon!
I'm gonna try to catch all of the recent posts here after the recipe, but first, upcoming is an interview with Keith Stetson on Seco Creek Vigilance Committee, currently on Kickstarter. I also am working on an interview with Jack Berberette about his project for a Braille printer for gamers, currently on GoFundMe.

Posts recently done that are relevant to this podcast episode:

3 cups shredded zucchini (2 to 3 medium)
1 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
3 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup coarsely chopped nuts
½ cup raisins, if desired

1.      Move oven rack to low position so that tops of pans will be in center of oven. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease bottoms only of 2 (8x4-inch) loaf pans or 1 (9x5-inch) loaf pan with shortening or cooking spray.
2.      In large bowl, stir zucchini, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs until well mixed. Stir in remaining ingredients except nuts and raisins. Stir in nuts and raisins. Divide batter evenly between 8-inch pans or pour into 9-inch pan.
3.      Bake 8-inch loaves 50 to 60 minutes, 9-inch loaf 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on cooling rack 10 minutes.
4.      Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans and place top side up on cooling rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days, or refrigerate up to 10 days.

Posts since Episode 5:

Just Say No (content note: brief mentions of rape and sexual assault, violations of consent.)

A Game of Shame, Gonna Make You Nut (product of a game with +Caitlynn Belle on Twitter)

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Not Just Your Opinion

Hey guys in games!

Yes, you, the one with a recognizable name! Or you, who has a bunch of followers on social media! Oh how about you, with the style and character that everyone thinks is super cool? Even you, my guy, who just talks a lot.

I'm going to tell tell you something awesome that is also pretty awful.

When you talk, people listen.

They don't just read you or hear you, they take it in. They appreciate it. They might disagree with you, and some of them will tell you as much, but many of them will just take a deep breath...

share your post...

And be like…”yeah man, this guy is RIGHT!”

After that, when someone else - especially a woman, trans, or nonbinary person, and sometimes (if you are not these things, but sometimes if you are) a person of color, queer person, disabled person, or person of a “lower” social or economic class - says something that isn't the same as your point, they get a response that can kill discussions and innovation and learning in a hot second:
“But [you, man with influence] thinks…”

Boom. Well, we know who matters now, don't we? And this is not just a mention of your feelings or what your personal preference. Often, it's law. This is how games work!

You can't do that when you hack this game because he said...

You can't use those words to define something in your game because he said they meant something different 15 years ago.

Well, those aren't real games because he said...

Yeah. It's super common. I can think of at least 5 men in games - just in indie games! - who I have had my conversations deadlocked because “well he said…”

And like, guys. I love you. I think so many of you are freaking awesome. Some of you are close friends, and I trust some with things that women and NB people I know have never heard. I respect your opinions and we often agree.

But when I disagree with you, or I just have a perspective that is different, I know I can get shut down with the mention of that social media post you made five years ago when you were bored on a Sunday afternoon. Your words, when it comes to thoughts about games, are often not just your personal thoughts shared with the public that will only be referenced as your feels, man.
And no, this is not only men and not all men but it is way more than you think and way more likely that it's you than you think.

Here are some suggestions.

Learn to preface your opinions.
“In my opinion…”
“My personal favorite…”
“For me,...”
“I can't speak for others…”

Don't assign value.
“It is more useful for me…”
“What works better for me…”
“I personally enjoy…”
“I have more fun when…”
“My tastes are more suited to…”

Respect those who know the subject.
If you choose to speak your mind about something outside your expertise, or even within your expertise, don't be a jerk when someone disagrees with you or corrects you. I totally understand feeling a bit defensive but don't treat them like an idiot, understand that they may know better than you or simply have a different opinion that is also valid, and don't let anyone supporting you go after them either.

Respect those who are impacted by your opinions.
If you're going to say that Nordic larps are fundamentally not games, remember that people are still making and playing those larps and deserve human respect. That means not letting your buddies pile on your trash things with personal attacks or even just misguided points of view. If your criticism could impact people financially, think it through damn hard. Real damn hard.

Just... don't.
We all have our opinions and it's cool to share them but sometimes, there's a real value in the act of shush. I can't offer deep insight on how early D&D mechanics influence Dungeon World, so I don't (I have no idea if they do). Maybe if you are a man who has strong financial security and has good education, and access to lots of resources, you shouldn't say that there's no way people couldn't afford games and that implying that anyone who can't get the money together is irresponsible. Sometimes...shush.

And like, guys, I still want to hear from you. I love your thoughts. I learn from them and share them a lot. better.


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Five or So Questions with James Iles on Legacy: Life Among the Ruins

Today I've got an interview with James Iles on Legacy: Life Among the Ruins 2nd Edition. It's currently on Kickstarter and I'm pretty amped about it! James had a lot of cool stuff to say about it and oh, my god, this art! There's a quickstart here, btw. Check the responses out below!


Tell me a little about Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. What excites you about it?

Legacy's about how people keep going after the world ends. It's about the new communities and ways of living that spring up in a comprehensively changed land, and how people and societies evolve to adapt to the new environment. It's a post-apocalyptic game that lets each group of players create an amazing world and then ruin it in a unique way. Then you dive into gameplay, with each player's family of survivors dealing with the trials of surviving among the old world's ruins while sending agents out into the wasteland to explore, make friends, and find the resources their family need to prosper. Your game zooms in to the drama of a few explorers scavenging for exotic technology in a flooded city, and zooms out to explore how a family seizes control of a town over the course of a few weeks. 

The game's also episodic: the group can decide to draw a line under the current point in history, and move the clock forward some significant chunk of time - a year, a decade, or even a century according to the group's taste. Then you tell the story of how the world changed over that time, how each player's family has changed, and start exploring this new age. This gets at what really excites me about Legacy - the family is your fixed point as you travel further and further into the future, and you get to explore how they change over the generations, how they change the world around them, and explore how this new culture takes form in the post-apocalypse.

What inspired you to make a game about families, especially a post-apocalyptic story? 

Legacy started with the idea of taking a group far into the future over generations and seeing how they changed and grew over time. I was inspired by the Civilization series of games but thought that a tabletop RPG wanted to focus on a finer scale than nations and countries. At the same time, Quinn Murphy was talking a lot about the importance of community and how games often ignore it. These came together into the idea of families - dynasties that'd be your constant across the ages. I could have called them factions, or guilds, but I thought family was the best term for the ties between them. I wanted that feeling of belonging, of bonds that went beyond friendship and fealty. 

The post-apocalyptic theme came partly from wanting groups to start with a blank slate and expand outwards in whatever direction they liked, and partly because the post-apocalyptic games I'd been playing at the time - Tribe8 and Fallout - had a pretty big emphasis on forming new communities to face the wasteland together.

Tell me about the setting and themes of Legacy. What will we recognize? What do you think will feel new or unusual for players?

Legacy's a game about exploration, adaptation and evolution. My day job's an ecologist and disease biologist, and some of that has definitely bled in! The gist is that the world's been changed by some kind of reality-warping event, and nothing works the same way anymore. You've survived because you've found or held onto some source of strength - the tech of the old world, a driving passion for justice, a new religion from the apocalypse's fires. But that won't be enough to go beyond survival and start thriving. To do that, you'll need to explore and understand the new world, find things you can use to make your family stronger or deal with their frailties, and become something that can prosper here.

So there's a lot of your standard post-apocalyptic tropes: the playbooks are based on common archetypes in post-apoc fiction, and your group can pretty easily make their own version of anything from Planet of the Apes to Mad Max. What Legacy does differently is let you move past the ruins, and ask how the society that people build in this new world has moved beyond their ancestors to create something new. One of the things that really got to me in the most recent Fallout game was that it's more than 200 years after the bombs fell and it feels like it's only been a few generations - there are still skeletons and trash lying everywhere, even in the settlements where people live, and it seems like there was a real lack of imagination about people's ability to rebuild. I'm hoping with Legacy to avoid that trap, and give every group the tools to make a society that's weird, wonderful, and evolved to fit the new world.

How does the time advancement work in game? Is there mechanical impact, or impact on the environment?

As Legacy's powered by Apocalypse World, it's all done by moves! The simplest one is triggered when everyone feels like they're done with the current time period. If someone raises the possibility of moving forward, everyone else either agrees or says one final thing they want to do. Once these are done, the group decides how far they want to go forward. This is completely according to the group's taste - you might want to hop forward only a few years or go a century into the future to give yourselves license to really mix things up. 

Each player then rolls to see how their families prosper over that time, with the roll based on the balance between the family's assets and weaknesses (more on that later). If they roll well, they get to pick a couple of good events that happen to them - maybe they go through a golden age and learn new tricks, or maybe they create a trading hub and gain some wealth. If they roll badly, they pick some bad events - maybe their family is absorbed by another, and they only break away and regain their own culture a few years before play resumes. Either way, these events change up the family in big ways, adding stat points, new moves, ties to other families and resources they can draw on. They also can change where each family lives, what guiding principles define them, and what resources, opportunities and dangers are lying out there in the wasteland. Finally, you alter the map, adding new features and expanding the safe portion of the wasteland according to the events picked.

There's a special way to advance time - building a Wonder. These were directly inspired by Civilisation again: they're grand projects that require you to invest lots of resources, but when they're complete they permanently change the world. As soon as one's complete, you zoom out to outline all the ways it's changed the world. Each wonder has a custom table of good and bad effects that the other families go through, while the Wonder's owner sits back and takes in the benefits. The Wonders in the book are a pretty eclectic bunch - there are things you physically build like The Capital or The Great Network, social efforts like Revolution and Total War, and even finding a new place to live with The Age of Discovery. Each one leaves its own mark on the world, giving a permanent benefit to whichever Family controls them.

How do resources work in Legacy, and do they translate over the episodes moving forward in time?

Legacy has a pretty simple resource system. Your family will have Surpluses of certain resources (e.g. Land or Morale) and a Need for others (e.g. Medicine or Trade), with the balance between those setting your family's overall Mood. As your character takes action in the fiction you might gain surpluses from finding a cache of resources, lose a need by addressing its root problem, or trade surpluses with other families to deal with your needs. Each surplus helps define your family's strengths and gives your character better gear; each need tells you what the family needs you to focus on, and gives your GM a stick to poke you with. Other than that they don't take an active role, only kicking in when the balance between surpluses and needs goes past a certain extreme. Too many needs and your family falls into crisis; more surpluses than you know what to do with and you're flush with resources and get some bonus for the rest of this age.

There are also consumable resources - Tech is the weird devices left over from the old world, and can be spent to boost your family's chance of success or give characters a unique ability with limited uses. Data is your knowledge about the new world, and can be spent to boost your character's actions or add new elements to the map. These flow more quickly in and out of your stock as your characters discover things out there in the world and use them to your advantage.

Finally, there are the treaties you have with other families and factions. These work a lot like Monsterhearts' strings - you'll have a stock of them for each other group, and can spend a point of Treaty to get a faction to do something for you or take their resources for yourself. You can freely give other people Treaty on you as a bargaining chip, but each Family playbook also has their own thing they can do to take treaty on others - the Enclave of Fallen Lore gets it when they show others how to use their technology properly, while the Servants of the One True Faith forgive others of their sins. That way you're incentivised to keep getting out there and meddling in other people's affairs so that you can call on their help when you need it.

All of these stay with you as you move forwards in time, although they can change their context - Surplus: Transport means something different when a horse and cart is state of the art compared to a few centuries down the line when everyone's riding jet bikes.


Thanks so much to James for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed learning about Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and that you'll share around the interview when you check out the Kickstarter today! 

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Five or So Questions with Grant Howitt on Spire

Hey all! Today I have an interview with the fantastic Grant Howitt on his new game Spire, created alongside his cohorts Mary Hamilton and Chris Taylor from Rowan, Rook & Decard. Spire is currently on Kickstarter, and has some mad cool art. It's got some themes I dig, so when Grant asked about an interview, I was stoked. Check out the responses below!

Art by Adirian Stone
Tell me a little about Spire. What excites you about it?

Here's the elevator pitch: you play a dark elf in a city ruled by high elves, and the high elves are cruel and uncaring and powerful and you're downtrodden and your culture is being eroded, day by day, so you decide to fight back and subvert the high elf rule through shadow war and insurrection. It's a storygame, in as much as it has a system which focuses more on abstraction than simulation, and we've tried to write it around making it as easy as possible to tell the sort of dark, desperate stories we envisage coming out of the setting.

The thing that's exciting me now is, weirdly enough, the minutiae; after writing so many short games (or, like Unbound, games which don't use setting at all) it's wonderful to be able to really luxuriate in a world and poke around in its corners. I got to write a section detailing the different kinds of goats you get in the city of Spire, you know? And I don't know if anyone will actually use that in their games, but I think that it all adds to the ecosystem of the thing, that it all supports itself. It's been interesting to see how people have already taken to the setting.

Where did you pull from for the setting - from media and from your own experiences in games and otherwise?

We've drawn inspiration from all sorts of places. Off the top of my head: Unknown Armies, Perdido Street Station, Gormenghast, Necromunda, and Dredd have all been influential. I've also been fascinated by depictions of Kowloon Walled City, in terms of how humans can rebuild and repurpose spaces in desperate times for their own ends. (Something about the idea of building something in a space meant for something else really fascinates me.) As far as the look and feel of the thing goes, we've looked to the Brutalist movement of the 1960's/70's to inspire our architecture; lots of harsh lines, big angular shapes, jutting concrete. 

We've also drawn heavily on our love for cyberpunk - Neuromancer is one of my favourite novels - to inspire us, but we've replaced technology with religion. A lot of the game is about control over religion, and in a fantasy world where clerics can perform actual provable miracles, you start veering into cyberpunk territory pretty quickly. 

Art by Adirian Stone

What are the benefits to a D10 system for this kind of game? How does it make the action appropriate to the themes and setting?

It's the one we settled on, really. We wrote no fewer than fifteen systems for Spire, trying to find one that was smooth enough to run without getting in the way but granular enough for us to write specific rules for characters, gods, etc; we had a playing card system, we used D20s, we used D6 pools, and so on, and so on. We tried everything. As we went through our first playtests, though, it became pretty clear to me that the system we were using wasn't working, and I wanted something with more streamlined rules that the GM could run without really thinking about it.

The reason we ended up with a D10 system is that we didn't want to, and couldn't really, write rules for every single thing in the city. We wanted to leave a lot of it up to the GM to determine, because everyone's game is different; and therefore rather than writing a comprehensive and perhaps unwieldy ruleset, we opted for something that GMs can grok really easily and then get on with the business of telling stories.

How do you see stress working out in playtests? What emotional experiences do the players have with it, and how does that match your intent with the design?

Honestly, I'd like to see more characters going mad and dying, but we seem to have quite lucky players. Stress is interesting; it rewires everything bad that can happen to you into a single number, so there's kind of a floating badness behind a character with high stress - a high potential for something going really wrong. One thing we've tried to do is make sure that fallout, especially severe fallout, pushes the story forwards rather than stopping it. We don't want to punish people for pushing their characters past the breaking point by removing them from the story; we wanted to reward them with more story, but not necessarily a nice story.

As far as concrete examples go... we had one character use his sacred rope to bind a door shut so no-one could open it (and thus escape from the massacre inside that the players had set up to assassinate a corrupt bishop), and as he watched blood pool under the gap, he developed a lasting phobia of doors. We had another group summon, and then sacrifice, a river god to power a ritual, and in seeing the river god come to earth our Azurite (a type of trader-priest) went utterly mad. I gave him the option of surviving if he betrayed his friends on behalf of the new god, and to the player's credit, he immediately launched himself off the side of Spire and crashing down into the docks below than risk staying alive a minute longer. Those two really stand out for me.

Layout by Alina Sandu
What is the most challenging thing you've encountered with the path of design to funding? Have you had to rethink a rule shortly before the Kickstarter, and if so, how do you resolve that? 

We're rethinking and tweaking rules all the time; we invented an entire class (the Firebrand) about a fortnight before the campaign began because I felt like we needed to give players some more room to manoeuvre. Luckily, by now, we've got a feeling for the system and setting which means that we can intuit rules fairly easily now without the need for extensive testing.

We actually rewrote the equipment rules earlier this week; in the quick-start rules they use a level system, and if the level of your item is higher than the level of the area you're in, you get an extra dice to roll... and I dunno, it worked, it just didn't sing to me. It wasn't doing what we wanted with equipment, which was to use it to help portray the character who's carrying it. So now we've scrapped the level system and switched to a more narrative thing, where (non-weapon/armour) equipment is either mundane and it just lets you do the thing, or it's special and you name a positive and negative aspect about it that marks it out from every other item of its kind in Spire. It gets players thinking more about their equipment choices and pushing the story forward to their specialties, which I like.

Who are some of the characters you've seen in play, NPCs or PCs, that you think embody The Spire as a story and setting?

We've had a hired killer who packed it all in and joined the community-focused church of the light side of the moon; we've had a towering glamazon with an Amy Winehouse beehive and a sacred hyena chained to her wrist; a rough-and-tumble Knight of the North Docks (think a sort of feudal mafia) whose player decided that all Knights are in fact women wearing giant codpieces and dressing up as men, and more power to her because that's a brilliant idea; a Firebrand espousing Marxist ideals; and one guy who, when he was held at gunpoint, about to be sacrificed to a hungry god of vengeance, managed to convince the ritual leader that there was a better life for her with him - and the pair of them ran away and now live unhappily above a pub. 

Map by Tim Wilkinson Lewis
How does religion work mechanically, at least in a vague sense, in Spire? I'm curious about the application!

Each class has a Refresh ability which they use to remove stress - and in the case of religious characters, this is tied to their faith. The Lahjan, moon-clerics, remove stress when they help people who can't help themselves; the Carrion-Priests remove it when they complete a hunt; and so on. We've also got a few additional abilities tied to minor faiths - not minor in the sense of power, but minor in the sense that we didn't feel that there was enough material to build a whole class around them. Anyone who fits the prerequisites can access these abilities, and with them they get an additional Refresh ability.

In terms of what it does in-game; at low levels, many of the miracles are coincidental or limited in their scope (so you can heal people for a bit, or summon a flock of crows, or buy access to a proficiency you don't have) and later on they ramp up to some real weirdness, like turning into moonlight or a massive hyena or a crowd or an idea. (The Firebrand, as I mentioned earlier, gets access to divine powers but only really at high levels; due to the loose way that reality works in Spire, and in our setting, the more successful they get, the more power they start generating from the faith that people place in them until they can enchant improvised weapons by touching them.)

Art by Adirian Stone

Thanks so much to Grant for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading about Spire and that you'll check out the Kickstarter as it's rounding up to finish soon!

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