Friday, January 18, 2019

Five or So Questions on Wolfspell

Today I have an interview with Epidiah Ravachol about Wolfspell, hitting Kickstarter on January 21, 2019! I actually proofread the original Wolfspell released in Worlds Without Master, and I've been wishing for a fancy new version for ages - though the WWW version played amazing stories about wolves who were once human to start with. I'm super excited to get to interview Epidiah! I hope you like what he has to say below.

Note: The included art is not the art that will be on Wolfspell! There is new art being created by the same artist, Shel Kahn, for the project - that's most of what the Kickstarter is for!
--

Tell me a little about Wolfspell. What excites you about it?

You were there for the beginning of it, but for the sake of your readers, I'll recap the Wolfspell origin story. I was writing the short story "One Winter's Due" for the second issue of Worlds Without Master. That story is about two adventuring sisters who, along with a small band of family and friends, seek to turn themselves into wolves in order to mete out vengeance without violating oaths that they had taken. I am, obviously, not the first person to tell tales about humans turning into wolves. And this wasn't even that fresh of a take on the subject, but what hooked into my brain at the time--the part I couldn't shake loose when it came time to dream up a game for that same issue--was this idea of these (mostly) aging, well-traveled folk who have seen it all suddenly finding themselves experiencing the world anew through the mind, body, and in particular the senses of wolves. I mean, you would HAVE to play, right? How else would you learn how to be a wolf? You would run and wrestle with each other, pause to scent the wind, and howl just to hear your own, new, voice. Before that moment, you had lead a hard life of killing or thieving or peering into the forbidding dark, but now you are newly born.

I had a dice mechanic sitting in the back of my brain for quite a while, inspired by the Doctor Who roleplaying game from the 90s called Time Lord. In that game, you rolled two six-sided dice and subtract the lower from the higher, giving you a result from 0 to 5, where 1 is the most likely outcome. I really dug how that worked. I posted about it here shortly after the game was released. In Wolfspell I saw an opportunity to combine that mechanic with the spirit of the Swords Without Master tone dice. You roll two dice, one is your Wolf Die and the other your Blood Die, you subtract the lower from the higher, apply the result to a Apocalypse World style move, but the move is determined to some extent by which die is higher. If you rolled well on the Wolf Die, you can act and think in wolf ways. If you rolled well on the Blood Die, you can act and think in the ways you've been used to. But crucially, you need to roll poorly on the opposite die to avoid confusion. Rolling a 6 Blood only helps you if your Wolf isn't also a 6.

A snowy scene with a carved stone. In front of the stone are five swords stabbed into the snow with two crows resting on them. In the snow, there are human and wolf footprints.
One of Shel Kahn's pieces from One Winter's Due,
a fiction piece included in Worlds Without Master.

You mention that the characters are typically aging. How relevant to the story do you think that is and why?

Oh, good! That's a part of my assumptions I've left unexamined. Thank you for asking! Technically, the only way I enforce aging characters in the game is by the identifying phrases players select for their characters during pack creation. They imply, at least to me, folks we've been around and seen some shit. "Many have tested my sword-arm and now wait to mete vengeance upon me in the afterlife," or "I am witness to stranger worlds than most. The arcane and preternatural are to me as wolves and weather are to the farmer," and so forth. They are not all exclusively evocative of veteran adventures, but as a whole, they hint at a certain field of experience. But it's not restrictive. A clever player seeking to play a young, fresh-faced thrillseeker could definitely pull it off.

For me, though, the aging bit is bound tightly to the central theme of rebirth. Witnessing the world anew through the scents and sounds of the wild has more meaning if you've already seen everything through the narrow scope of human vision.

Plus, I just dig stories about old folks. If you want to play young, attractive folk who transform into wolves to wrestle and groom their way through their sexual tension, you can certainly do that with Wolfspell, but there are many fine--damn fine--games out there that serve that purpose. Now if you want to play broken, old, world-weary rovers who shed their skin-tag-haunted flesh in favor of a lithesome, sinewy wolf bod to wrestle and groom their way through their sexual tension, well that field's a bit smaller.


Well-managed tone is something many people recognize in your games, and in this game it feels especially stark to me - the tone of the game blossoms from the moment you start play. What do you think creates the particular tone of Wolfspell, and what makes it flourish?

That's very kind of you to say! For Wolfspell's sense of tone, I blame Apocalypse World. Or more specifically, the Read a Situation move in Apocalypse World. That thing it does where it says, "Here, here are the questions you are allowed to ask and we must answer," is so quietly beautiful that I think I'll be hacking it for the rest of my days. In Wolfspell you may Behold the World and drink it in through your senses. When you do this and roll Wolf, you get to ask specific questions about what your eyes, ears, nose, and instincts tell you--inviting lush description of the world around you. But when you roll Blood, your questions are of a more human nature, about who is in control, what do they want from you, where are you most advantaged--inviting a more analytical response. It limits how you think about the world to the part of you that is most in control at the moment. All of the moves do this in their own little way.

Also, I dig the way the tone presents itself to new players. The first time they roll to wrestle with the other wolves and someone rolls Blood and is awkwardly isolated by their inability to embrace their inner wolf. Or the first time someone howls and the others must howl along with them. Or the first time someone's hurt...but no spoilers about that.

Or maybe it's just this rule right here: "You are now wolves. Describe your coat, your size, your scent and your voice." That's the very moment the tone is set in most games.


The form factor for the game is interesting and very cool! Can you tell me about it, and why you chose it? 

Wolfspell, like everything that appears in Worlds Without Master, is of the sword and sorcery genre (or sword and sorcery adjacent, but one of the superpowers of this particular genre is its ability to seamlessly welcome adjacent works into the fold). In the 70s rock, prog, and early metal bands would spend long hours in the back of van or bus traveling from gig to gig. To fend off boredom, they would pick cheap paperbacks off the racks wherever the had to fuel up or stop for the night. This was the vector of infection for the sword and sorcery and fantasy genres of fiction into these genres of music. They would read tales of adventure, peril and strange magics, and regurgitate them in song. They would see the covers to these books, illustrated in imagined realism, and demand the same for their albums. Shortly thereafter tabletop roleplaying games followed a similar path, drawing on both sources for inspiration. We're all spokes on the same wheel, and I wanted to acknowledge that.

Plus, how awesome would it be to show up at a con with a milk crate full of these puppies?

Another piece from Shel Kahn's work on One Winter's Due.
You've mentioned the struggles these characters face as they encounter inability to be wolf enough, and I wonder if you could talk a little about the parallel to that, or the opposition I guess. Do characters experience positive feelings more as they progress, finding pleasure or even joy in the experience? How does that happen? 

When you revel in your wolfiness there's an inherent reward of being able to explore the world through the mind and body of a different being. I mean, that's why we're all here, right? To roleplay as something else? The rules feed and reflect that by opening and restricting the paths before you. You act like a wolf, you gain Feral. Feral is the only real stat in the game. It is always added to your Wolf die. So the more Feral you gain, the better you get at rolling a Wolf result. And it feels good to cut loose at peak wolf! No stumbling over human concerns or anxieties. Embracing the wild and running with it! A wonderful way to build this Feral is to wrestle and groom with the pack, to celebrate the life of a wolf the way wolves do.

One of the central questions of this game involves rolling to become human again at the end of it all. Here all the Feral you've collected will count against you. Will you return to civilization, your quest complete, or will you be lost forever to the call of the wild?

--

Hell yes! Thank you Epidiah for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading and that you'll follow Wolfspell and then check it out on Kickstarter on January 21!




Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/thoughty. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, follow the instructions on the Contact page.

Friday, January 4, 2019

New Year Plans 2019

Photo credits to Brie Beau Sheldon 2018.
a pale blue coffee mug on a cofee table in front of a TV and a window, steam pouring from the top, a teabag sitting in it.
Well, y'all, I'm busy and tired.

I'm supposed to start this post with a fired up enthusiasm about all the projects I'm working on and how I'm gonna be awesome and do a great job! But today? Today I do not have that for you.

Here's what I have for you, in the immediate.

I'm working on interviews with Epidiah Ravachol on Wolfspell and Becky Annison on Bite Me! so once those are finished up we'll have something to howl about. I don't actually have further interviews on the docket, but I'll work on it. I always do.

(As a reminder, the best way to get interviews here is to encourage your favorite creators to go to my contact page and send me an email with the info! That cuts out like three emails worth of information exchange and shows me they're excited to be interviewed. Plus, it makes sure that you - my readers - see what you want to see. You can also help me do more interviews and posts of all kinds by supporting via Patreon and sending tips via PayPal or ko-fi! Note: I don't think I'm charging for this post, even though it took a while.)

I have some other posts in mind, like one talking in detail about the updates I've done to Script Change, reviews of a product or two, and so on. It would be cool to know if you have interest in anything, as a lot of the time I'm running on my own ideas here and I don't even know if you're enjoying the posts sometimes! With the ending of G+, this will get even harder for me to gauge. Please comment, share and tag me, and so on!

Speaking of comments, I'm looking at a move to Wordpress since G+ is dying and I have no idea what will happen with comments here, plus the site has been kind of wonky. It's gonna cost money and time, like a lot of it, so it may be a while.

On the games front, I'm currently working on a number of projects. Some of them are personal, some are professional, and all of them have unique challenges. The issue is, few are having successes, at least by my count.

A small group of red berries against a dark grey sky and branches.
First and foremost is Turn, my game I Kickstarted in October, which I'm in the production phase for. Now that the Kickstarter is done and we're into production, aside from a few blips on the radar, all positive feedback has ceased. I've also had to deal with a ton of financial stuff that's very hard for me, our beast artist had to step down so we had to replace them, and my own experience going through the editing process has been rough. Some of this was expected, some of it was not! 

This is hard! It's also exhausting. Especially when I have to dig into my work each day and I find myself questioning all of my decisions, my ability to do my job, and my ability to make this work. 

Second, I'm working on Leading with Class. It's not a game, but it's about games, and we have a ton of work to do on it. We can always use more support over on Patreon to help us reach our goals, and some enthusiasm for the project would be something nice to see. I want to do more with it! Or, at least meet our base goals!

Third, I'm also working carefully or not-working-right-now on a number of other games of varying sizes:

Posers - This is currently at a halt as I can't figure out the right form factor, which has locked up my design. It's a game about performing masculinity, and has a weird knot-tying/untying resolution mechanic. No idea when I'll be working on this in earnest.

At the Lake by Morning - This is a game inspired loosely by Annihilation and is supposed to use water and a mirror in the mechanics, which is going to take some fiddling. I want to explore some feelings I got from the film, significantly looking at self-forgiveness and change. It's new.

The Unhurried Pursuit of Sloth - This I have all the ideas for, just gotta start digging into the mechanics. It won't start in earnest until Turn's finished. It's a game about taking it slow and self-communion.

Laser Kittens Octopus Hack - I've been signed on with Glittercats Fine Amusements to write an octopus themed Laser Kittens hack, which involves the octopus being brought into a marine science lab and (perhaps!) escaping. I'm putting down the first bits of it soon. Glittercats awesomely chose to keep the lights on, so my energy can be more easily directed at this. I'm gonna do my best.

Eldrich Inkling - This is a two-player investigation game where one player sets a cosmic horror story for another, played by mail. It mostly requires research, which takes time, especially with my brain.

Tribute - I recently decided to withdraw Tribute from the Gauntlet Codex as the game is based largely in processing loss of love, and my grief (related to my grandmother's death) won't allow me to publish it through someone else, and won't let me finish it until I resolve some things. It's strong, but there is something missing. It may have to wait until spring - if it does happen at all. I hope it does.
A bird's nest nestled in trees in front of an overcast sky.

And that doesn't touch my home projects - specifically, the be-a-better-person & be-healthier projects. Which, you know what, are just as important as my deadlines! I'm currently doing physical & speech therapy for my concussion recovery, plus diving back into psych therapy to help treat my bipolar disorder, PTSD, anxiety, and various related troubles. The PT+speech takes up a minimum of 10 hours of appointments, home work, and recovery from those appointments and home work each week - that's not counting the normal days I have symptoms from my concussion, or dealing with insurance. With my existing disabilities on top... yeah.

Psych therapy is going slower, but is a lot of emotional work. When you go through cognitive type therapy, you can find you get stronger while simultaneously becoming more sensitive and delicate. Those aren't words I like for myself, but there they are. I'm working on myself as much as I can, while trying to avoid the daggers that are the world - and they are such sharp daggers, and so many! I wish they were something softer.

A tightly framed picture of a fox red colored dog on a white blanket.
I guess where I'm at right now is like, yeah, 2019, lots of plans. Loads of things I have to do, things I want to do, things I'm struggling to do. And hopefully more on the way. I want to be more successful, to help provide for John and me to have a happy life. I just feel like I keep hitting setbacks, and Thoughty can be a casualty of that - it is hard to do this and do everything else and survive. You can bet your bottom I'm trying to reinvest all of this struggle and pain into games and Thoughty - just gotta filter it, refine it, and find a place for it.

I hope that you'll stick with me as I keep making things and keep asking questions. I also hope you'll do those things, too!

And hey, take care of yourselves. It helps me believe that I can make it when we aren't all falling apart together! Let's build each other up, and build a better year.


Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/thoughty. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, follow the instructions on the Contact page.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Keep the Lights On

As I wait for the Turn Kickstarter payout to hit my inbox, I reflect on the contracts I'm having my contributors agree to. We ask a lot of freelancers, a very lot – I know, because I am one. I try to be fair to the people I hire, and I know I have not always paid as much as I want to, but I hope someday I will be able to.

One thing I hope to always do, though, is keep the lights on.
A light painting of a blue heart
I have something that I ask for as a freelancer that can sometimes make people balk. It's what I call my "keep the lights on" (KTLO) arrangement. The "keep the lights on" arrangement is that upon contract sign, I get 25%-50% of my payment up front, invoiced and paid.

Not everyone can afford this, so I don't always get it, but that's okay. Those who can pay it most of the time, and it does what it says on the tin – it helps me keep the lights on. This arrangement has improved my work massively.

When a client is willing to sign onto this, it tells me:
  • They have funds to pay
  • They care for my wellbeing
  • They trust that I will do the work
  • They understand economic stress
Blurry orbs of light of a variety of colors but mostly white, cascading
If someone is doing a Kickstarter, they rarely have good reason not to do this. Once they get the KS payout, they should be able to pay you at the very least your KTLO pay. They have all the funds! You shouldn't be required to work without a contract, and they don't know they can pay you for the work until they get that payout. Once they give you a contract and you invoice them, funds should hit your account.

This does mean we need to focus a little less on rush deadlines for projects, but that's just better for the whole damn thing.
Blurry orbs of light through green trees
Once I've accepted just a small like 15% up front payment to KTLO. It ended up paying for the additional cell data costs I had while working to meet the tighter deadline. It was a big help!

I used this model with the freelancers I hired for Behind the Masc and some expressed to me how helpful it was. It was a tiny payout, but even tiny amounts help when you're struggling, like most freelancers tend to be. It can be a doctor's copay. A meal. A grocery run. A haircut for a job interview. We should be thinking one step ahead of the encroaching poverty that threatens anyone without a reliable salary!

People do, in my experience, work better when they're fed. When they are less afraid of their electricity being turned off, or their water or heat. My hands certainly shake less when the temperature is above 50F in my house. I've been without various utilities, even briefly, and worrying about that is the worst.
An orange utility light, looking up from the bottom into it's casing
I've implemented this with Turn, as well. Every freelancer for the project is receiving the KTLO agreement, unless they require otherwise (though so far it's all of them). For me, I feel better knowing they'll have some funds in their account over the holidays. For them, I know some may be in need, as is the way for freelancing!

With the Kickstarter funds, it was an easier choice to make. If you're working on a project that doesn't have a lot of up front capital, consider doing a small payment like I talked about earlier – the Behind the Masc 50% payout was $30 and still helped people make it through.  Remember that this is as much about a show of faith in the freelancer as it is about their true financial situation, but that even the cost of a meal can be enough to keep someone going and keep them feeling enthused for the project – as well as committed to the work.

Cascading orbs of golden light

In my contracts, I don't typically have clauses that require someone to refund me the funds if they can't complete work. I do have a note that if they can't complete it, the remaining funds are forfeit, and any completed work that is usable gets turned over to me, maintaining their credit for the work. You might choose to do things differently, but this has worked for me. I've had people drop out before signing a contract, but not so far after.

It might sound like a weird way to make someone work, especially post-Daniel Pink's talk about how purpose, autonomy, and mastery are the real motivators for people doing brain work and often creative work. But, our economies are supporting that less, and creative work is constantly undervalued as hard work. So, give it a try, maybe.

Help someone keep their lights on. Goodness knows, we could use a little more light in this world.

A light painting of a white heart

Photos by and Copyright Brie Beau Sheldon.

Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/thoughty. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, follow the instructions on the Contact page.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Five or So Questions on Beneath a Cursed Moon

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Michael "Karrius" Mazur about Beneath a Cursed Moon, a roleplaying game currently available on itch.io and DriveThruRPG. It sounds pretty cool, a game with investigation and monsters! I hope you enjoy what Michael's got to say below!

--

The book cover for "Beneath a Cursed Moon" with a red serif font and a window, looking out to lightning striking, casting light over a vampire hunter kit with garlic and a gun, a necklace with a strange circular symbol, and a bloodied stake.
Tell me a little about about Beneath a Cursed Moon. What excites you about it? 

Beneath a Cursed Moon is a Gothic fantasy game, inspired by media that's distinctly not horror media, but draws upon those tropes. It's a game about competent, fearless heroes who investigate monsters and slay them, protecting others as they do. Think Castlevania, Bloodborne, Darkest Dungeon, Pirates of the Caribbean, the 1999 The Mummy movie - these are all things with some pretty common horror tropes, all sorts of scary monsters, some scenes that can really give you nightmares, but in the end, the heroes are competent adventurers and the monsters are the ones who should be afraid.

I think the single thing I'm most proud of is the investigation system. Solving mysteries has always been very hit-or-miss in roleplaying games, both difficult to run and difficult to design. My goal was to make sure that every playbook could contribute to that part of the game in a different way, and nobody ever felt scared or punished if they tried to help out. There's no greater penalty for failure when it comes to doing investigation. Instead, events are on a clock, with bad stuff happening as time passes. So it's not a case of "Oh, the dice rolled poorly, time for the penalty", but rather, the players have to decide when they get enough clues to act on, or how fast they can figure things out. They're racing against the clock, and if they take too long and monsters prey on more people - well, they're the ones at fault then! Take the time to brood, and go and get revenge.

I'm also really excited about the game's mechanics have a focus on protecting others more than most combat-heavy games. It's a point I really wanted to emphasize - you're not going out and killing things to steal their treasure, you're going out and hunting down creatures who are putting others at risk. Heroes in these stories are often dark outcasts who don't quite fit into society, but sacrifice for the good of others all the same. It's an important focus to the game, and it's an idea that made a lot of the concepts in the game work - like I mentioned with the investigation.
A woman in a beautiful, elaborate dress and long black hair, some of which is tentacles
Please tell me more about the investigation system! I love investigation in games! How does it work, and what makes it special to you? 

There's a couple really important pieces to the investigation rules that all come together to work together. To start with, there are three different investigation skills - Poke Around, for classic magnifying glass style clue-gathering, Lore, for just knowing a lot about history, monsters, and magic, and Interview, for finding witnesses, getting useful information out of them, and also discerning what parts of their accounts are useful. Each skill lets you ask questions from a list, and you and the MC (the game master title) explore the fiction to figure out how your character comes across this information - this at least is pretty standard in many Apocalypse World style games.

It was important to me that everyone can participate in the investigation, so everyone is at least decent at one of those three skills - there's no characters who "don't have any Smarts" and are left out. This isn't even counting the individual playbook abilities characters can get, letting them help with investigations in unique ways. It was also important to me that no player ever felt like they shouldn't try to participate in the investigation because their skill was too low, or whatever. In some games, you're encouraged by the mechanics to just have your highest bonus character roll, in case a low roll brings bad results.There's no penalty for a low roll - instead, the trade off is a time and opportunity cost. When do you stop investigating, and when do you act? If you think you might know who the vampire secretly is, do you go after your current hunch, and risk angering the wrong people, or do you gain just a few more clues... and risk having the vampire attack an innocent again? This time cost is paid by the entire group, not just an individual character - so if your group decides to keep investigating, well, you get to pick something to help out, and the worst that can happen for you personally acting is not being useful for one action. There's no need to hold back on any particular action just because someone better at it is trying it too.

The time pressure is achieved by the MC coming up with a timeline of events that will happen if the players don't stop it, ranging from monster sightings to murders or whatever is most appropriate for the villains at hand. This is an important thing to me, because it shifts the focus away from just "You're just looking for fights" - the monsters or bad guys are being actively harmful, and if you don't step in, it's going to get worse. The players only have a certain number of turns to investigate until that "get worse" happens, and they don't know how many! This also ends up serving as a Fail Forward (where failing at a task pushing the story forward, rather than staying stagnant) mechanic and provides a drip of new information if players are stuck. If the players ask the wrong questions, or just can't put things together, there will be another monster attack, kidnapping, or the like - which is a new twist to the plot, and a new source of clues. Of course, this likely isn't going to go on forever - and the final result of a timeline should be something like the monster getting away, an elder evil awakening, or the like, shifting the story to a new focus and a player failure.

Finally, there's other stuff you can spend time on when investigating - healing your wounds, gathering together the local militia, finding the right supplies (like silver bullets or holy water), or setting up a magical ritual - so there's plenty of choices on how you want to spend time when investigating, planning, and preparing.
A woman with a cool whip-mace weapon and a battleaxe, wearing armor
I'd love to hear about why you made the choice to focus on protection. What led to this decision, and how do you reflect it in the mechanics? 

For starters, I feel it really suits the genre - a world full of vampires and werewolves would be a slasher horror one if heroes like your characters didn't exist. Plus, figuring out who the vampire is obsessed with, and rescuing them from the beast's clutches is a lot more interesting from a story standpoint than just breaking into a vampire's house and killing it, and it makes the combat more engaging, because there's more to do and worry about than just how much damage you're dealing. Plus, I like RPGs with big action and combat, and it's good to have characters who are fighting for something beyond just themselves. Encouraging the MC to have action scenes with civilians that you need to protect just makes the game more heroic, more fun, and helps to establish NPCs that everyone can care about and enjoy.

Mechanically, you'll see this reflected in the investigation timeline, but combat is handled in a similar way that breaks from Apocalypse World roll-and-response norms. How it works is, the MC describes what the monsters are intending to do, and then the players get to decide how they're reacting. It's the same idea as the timeline - something bad is going to happen, and you've got to stop it! It plays off of the idea of "established dangers" by establishing one that is immediate - the vampire is about to bite into the man's neck, the werewolf is about to dive onto your friend, the cult leader is about plunge her dagger into the sacrifice - how do you stop it? The basic Battle move isn't focused entirely on killing things - certainly, you'll use it to kill things a lot - but it's also what you use to drag a monster's attention onto you, disarm someone, push a victim aside, or the like. And again, trying to protect someone is never going to make it worse for the person you're protecting (although it certainly can for you). The "fail forward" is accounted for in the game mechanics - the failure is the same if you roll poorly or if you choose to do nothing at all, so you may as well try! - so the player of the physically frail Scholar doesn't have to worry if jumping in the way of a charging werewolf to protect a child is going to make things worse for the child. The scholar just has to worry if things are going to get worse for them - which is likely in that case, success or failure.
A bearded man holding a torch and a fancy book, with tons of pouches on his belt beneath his robe.
What kind of guidance do you give the MC for the timelines they have to create and similar activities? 

This is a tough one, because it really varies from group to group in a way that similar guidelines, like combat challenge ratings just can't cover. Instead of giving hard and fast rules, the book discusses the factors that go into it - how you want a steady drip of clues, the in-character logic between investigating a big or small location, your player count (as bigger parties get more actions), adapting to players who take a lot of investigation abilities or see through your plots quickly, etc. So it's discussed, but it's absolutely something each MC is going to have to feel out on their own. Luckily, it's easier to be too lenient with such things than too harsh.


How do you handle content in a game of this nature? It feels like a lot of risk, which can be exciting, but how did you design the sweet spot of content and creativity with safety in mind? 

That's a tough one, and yes, there is a lot of risk. There's a discussion of the importance of having to sit down and talk about what people want out of a game and expectations, as well as if/what safety tools you want to use. That sweet spot is going to vary from group to group, so my goal was to make things general enough that they could be used with room to tone back or ramp up the horror if needed. There's nothing very aggressively gory, sexual, or the like in the presentation, but there's plenty of room for there to be, if that's what the group wants. If you've seen the Castlevania television show, it's using the same monsters as the video games - but showing them partake in levels of excessive violence that the games barely hint at. My approach was similar - present the tools, but leave it up to the players on how they're used.

More directly, I tried to talk about the often bad history behind a lot of these monsters, and how they can be used better. Let's face it, Dracula is cool, but he's a problem - he's an invading foreigner come to prey on women. I address these outright - there's plenty of other things vampires can be a metaphor for, and if Dracula's staying at home and not venturing far to get his blood, he's now a rich noble who's become soulless from his abuse of power, and preying on those below him, draining them of their life to enrich himself. There's a similar part about Lovecraft inspired monsters (although I draw more from those inspired by Lovecraft than Lovecraft directly), the use of a real-world or fantasy setting, and the role a church or church-like structure can play in the game. The default assumption of the game is that you'll be making your own fantasy setting, as reflected in the cover, with sun-symbols instead of crosses, which gives players room to set up a setting and backstory they're comfortable with.

a person in a very fancy dress with high collar, wearing a horned mask, holding a bloodied dagger that is dripping on the floor.



Cover art by Flavia de Vita
http://fdevitart.tumblr.com
https://www.facebook.com/fdevitart
https://www.instagram.com/fdevitart


Playbook art by Dreamweaver Druid
https://dreamweaverdruid.tumblr.com--

Thanks so much to Michael for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it and that you'll check out Beneath a Cursed Moon on itch.io or DriveThruRPG!



Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/thoughty. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, follow the instructions on the Contact page.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Five or So Questions on Spaceships and Starwyrms

Hey all, today I have an interview with Benjamin Quiggins (he/him) and Audrey Stolze (she/her), the creators of Spaceships and Starwyrms (Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook). Spaceships and Starwyrms is a Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition supplement "that brings science fiction to the gaming table in a system that is familiar to many seasoned players and very accessible to new players. The supplement is nearly 400 pages long, with new species, classes, backgrounds, equipment, and combat rules, including rules for spaceship combat and travel." It seemed different and cool, so I asked a few questions - here's what Benjamin and Audrey had to say!

--

The cover of Spaceships and Starwyrms with the title in white mod font and a spaceship flying next to a craggy, monstrous figure that looks to be a dragon.
Tell me a little about Spaceships and Starwyrms. What excites you about it?

Spaceships and Starwyrms is a sci-fi tabletop system built off the core tenets and philosophy of 5th edition. It’s an accessible d20 based system for people who enjoy the style of 5e but want to explore beyond fantasy into the realm of science fiction. The Core Sourcebook, which releases on December 11 on drivethrurpg, has the new combat rules, species, classes, equipment and everything else you need to jump right into a space adventure.

We’re excited to share the system and its setting with the gaming community. Neither of us have ever published something of this magnitude before, and it’s been a great learning experience. In particular, we’re really proud of all the work we put into creating unique spaceships and combat rules for spaceships. Plus, the setting (the Nacora Galaxy) really took on a life of its own during the creation process. It’s awesome to be able to put something out there that we’ve really poured our hearts and souls into. S&S is going to bring a lot of new opportunities and subtle changes to the d20 system everyone knows and loves, and we hope it has a broad appeal.


What made you decide to do a d20 system, and what have you added to it, including the combat rules?

We were aware that there are a lot of sci fi systems out there, and lots of them use special dice or unique systems. We wanted Spaceships and Starwyrms to be as accessible as possible, which is what informed our decision to create it as a 5e supplement. Our gaming table has been using 5e for a long time and Ben has been making homebrew for that system for a while. It only seemed logical to keep building on that system. Anyone who knows how to play 5e can play S&S without having to learn too many new rules.

The main rules changes involve cover and a new action, the Hack action. In addition, there is a whole chapter on spaceship combat that should be a new experience for every table.

A bug person in a pretty blue and gold robe, using a digital tablet, and somewhat resembling a grasshopper.

How did you come up with Nacora Galaxy setting, and what makes it exciting or unusual (or both!)?

When we first started working on this supplement, we were trying to keep the setting pretty generic. But as we made the species and started filling out the flavor of their homeworlds and cultures, we discovered we had a pretty strong foundation for an intriguing setting. We leaned into it 100%, creating planets, governments, religions, travel systems, and tons of other unique content for the setting.

One of the things we’re most excited about is the adaptability of the Nacora setting. We blended fantasy and sci-fi together to leave room for a slew of different genres of play. This came into play a lot in our spaceship-building section. We have options to create your traditional, tech-based spaceship, spaceships that run on magic, or a mix of both!

Plus, with a galaxy this big, there’s a lot of creative freedom for GMs and players to adapt to their preferences. In particular, we tried to turn some sci-fi tropes on their head to give the galaxy a vivid, fresh atmosphere. One of the best examples of this are the Ix, a playable species of humanoid insects. We wanted to counter the stereotypical monstrous attributes and attitudes given to bug species. The Ix of Nacora are a people who believe in community, friendship, and peace. They are inventors of the universal translator used across the Nacora and founders of the Galactic Coalition for galactic peace.

What is spaceship combat like, and how does it integrate with the 5e framework?

Spaceship combat uses the same timing and initiative system as normal combat, (i.e. each round is six seconds) which allows for simultaneous space and land combats mixed together. We find this really adds to the narrative for simultaneous fights while still keeping the pace moving. Combat feels different depending on situation and the size of the crew on the ship, as there’s different actions that can be taken on a spaceship. Using ability checks and attack rolls, your party can fire weapon systems at the enemy, pilot across the field with trick maneuvers, hack another ship, repair damage to their ship, and even boost the engine power. And those are just some of the highlights. There are also special rules for spaceship (and vehicle) chases.
a person with tusks and long hair wearing a red jacket and brown shirt and pants, with a metal forearm that ends in a glowing, bloodied sword
What kind of research and exploration are you doing to build up to cultures, homeworlds, and species in the Nacora setting?

With each of our species, we tried to consider the environment and evolution of the species first and foremost. That process involved a lot of research of biology. For example, we consulted with a botanist for one of our plant species, and we read articles about the effects of living without sunlight for another. Ultimately, we didn’t let the research hold us back too much - this is still a realm of fiction, after all.

As far as the cultures go, we tried to avoid direct parallels between our aliens and past and current cultures on Earth. We’re only human, however, which means that each species inevitably has some bits of our human experiences and knowledge in their cultures, no matter how much we tried to avoid that. The big exceptions to that rule are the Kygorans, who live in an extremely capitalist society, and the two cultures of Humanity in the setting, which both take aspects of real world humanity.

One of the most enjoyable aspects of science fiction for us is asking the big questions about how a species advances to the point of being a galactic power. We spent a lot of time asking ourselves about their belief systems and motives, their governments and economy, and what day-to-day life on their planets might be like. The Nacora Galaxy is a melting pot filled with pockets of deep cultural roots as well as areas where those cultures overlap and blend. Finding a way to have a variety of cultural experiences was very important to us.

The Core Sourcebook contains all the base information you need for planets, species, and cultures, but it does have a pretty broad focus on the history and cultural identities of the galaxy. We are already discussing plans for splat books that will dig into the individual cultures on a deeper basis.
A person with two separate flippers for legs and the look of coral growing out of their head, with spiny fins on their arms. They are wearing a powersuit that has gun gauntlets.

--

Thanks so much to Audrey and Benjamin! I hope you enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out Spaceships and Starwyrms, releasing today! Find more at their Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook, or email directly with any questions at spaceshipsandstarwyrms@gmail.com!



Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/thoughty. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, follow the instructions on the Contact page.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Turn Design Stream

Hi all!

I did my first Turn Design Stream and I'd love to hear your thoughts!




Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/thoughty. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, follow the instructions on the Contact page.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Five or So Questions on Erotia

I interviewed Ray Cox about Erotia, a game about sex, gods, and communication. It's currently available on itch.io, and is a super lightweight game materials-wise. Check it out!

--

Tell me a little about Erotia. What excites you about it? 

Erotia is a small Freeform LARP that I designed with the help of my friend Fin. It's about sex, gods, and communication. And it is small enough that the whole game fits on one side of a business card!

I've wanted to include more sex in my games for a really long time. I'm a professional GM, but the people I play with have never been super into it. Which is fine. Recently though I started Designing my own RPGs and LARPs. And I realised I wanted to make a game about sex, where you can have sex as part of that game. And after a lot of failed ideas, we have Erotia.


Let's talk about safety and consent. How do you handle these in Erotia? What tools and structure do you use to ensure that Erotia is safe and consensual?

Well so Erotia being a game about sex and flirting, it was really important for me to include some safety tools. It was difficult however to fit everything into the small format. What we went with though was framing the safety tools as the most important part of the game. You always begin with a discussion of comfort, limits, and what you're hoping to get out of the game. As well as electing a Safeword, which is a concept introduced to us through BDSM.
A person in a black tank top and a chain choker with a pink mohawk.
Ray Cox, the designer.
What is the narrative of Erotia like? What do you play out and do as characters in the game?

Once you have an idea of what everyone wants to explore, the game moves on to play. The play beginning with everyone introducing their gods, and then interacting. Your Erotia might be a dinner party, a picnic, or some divine friends cuddling up on a cold winter night. Part of your introduction of your divine role is telling others how you wish to be interacted with or interact with others. And those are mostly there as prompts for folks that might not be too sure of themselves. If my god likes having their neck kissed than someone could start by saying: "Hi, I'm Apollo; may I kiss your neck?"

The game lasts as long as there are people still in the play space. The game also ends for all players if the safeword is used. This is so that we can focus on giving proper aftercare to the person that needed play to stop.


Why did you include the gods as part of the game, and what do you think it brings to the table?

I really like narratives about gods; in particular gods as people with more confidence, and a clearer sense of purpose.

I wanted to make a game where you knew you were sexy. Where you had no choice but to feel confident. For me, pretending I'm a god brings that. And when ever I play RPGs where you get to be a god that is how I play it. So yeah, what I think it brings is a sense of power, and also the knowledge that everyone around you is bringing that too.


What are some positive experiences you've had while playing the game that related more to the emotional or social aspect of Erotia?

Well I've never played Erotia, and I have not met anyone that has. I do currently have a date scheduled with a Long Distances lover of mine to play the game when next we meet though. I've done the character creation part of Erotia a fair bit. I often use it as a creative exercise to help refine my gendermood, or to pump myself up before going out. You can also use it to flirt. Aforementioned lover and I have been sending each other fliracious letters with text like "I am Rei, the season. My domain of power is change. I am worshipped with loving praise, & offer submission in return that we might make out till sunrise."

But if you're reading this interview, and you've played Erotia, I'd love to hear what you thought?
--

Thanks so much Ray for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it, and that you'll check out Erotia on itch.io today!



Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/thoughty. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, follow the instructions on the Contact page.