Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Five or So Questions on Free Spacer

Hi all, I have an interview today with Christoph Sapinsky, talking about his game on Kickstarter, Free Spacer. You can check out the Free Spacer website, or find info on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+, and I hope you also dig the responses to my questions that Christoph shared below!

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an image of a burning sun in space with the text Free Spacer: A starship tabletop RPG.


Tell me about Free Spacer. What excites you about it?

Free Spacer is a sci-fi starship roleplaying game. You play the crew of a contracted starship. The Exploration Wars have recently ended due to outside intervention and a cold war has replaced it. Free Spacers are the tool of choice in this new conflict. You take contracts, perform operations, and hope that you can retire to rejoin society... someday.

To me, the most exciting aspect of Free Spacer is that is it feels like sci-fi. Everything from the way you modify rolls to the core setting stem from the science fiction. For example, while the tasks you perform depend on your crewmember’s skills and specialities, you can gain advantage from the situation and route additional charge to your tools to gain additional dice. In play, this feels like tweaking levels to get the output you want.

Character sheets with six and ten sided dice.

How do you take action in Free Spacer? What does an average resolution look like?

Free Spacer uses a task system, every task is a set of related actions that includes the appropriate movement. For each task, you as the player roll a pool of dice we call a Salvo. The Salvo is made up of d10s opposing d6s. 
  • The d10s are task dice primarily from your appropriate skill and specialty plus situational advantage; additionally, you can spend a Charge resource on a tool to gain its rating in dice. 
  • The d6s represent the threat faced, beginning with its difficulty and disadvantages. The Gamemaster can also spend their complication resource to add more threat dice.
When you roll the Salvo, you minus the number of d6s that roll 1-3 from the number of dies that roll 5-9 (0 is worth 2). The results determine the Outcome of the task, which the Gamemaster, uses to determine how you alter the scene.
  • 1 = a partial success
  • 2 = a complete success
  • 3 = critical, which gives you a charge resource and 5 a double crit!
  • 0 = a fail
  • -3 = Consequences


The bust of an alien with spiked brow and jawline and large eyes, and a protrusion of the back of their skull, and tan skin.

Tell me more about the science fiction. What's different about Free Spacer from other media, and how does it remind us of sci fi we love?
  • Together, you and friends decide what sort of game you want to play by choosing a ship flag, each flag refers to a type of play:
  • Agent are social; think spies, negotiators, com artists, and assassins
  • Bounty Hunter bring rough justice to a frontier, like Killjoys or Cowboy Bebop
  • Courier is the rogue trader, they smuggle, speculatively trade, and run blockades. Think Firefly or Traveller.
  • Mercenary are military sci-fi. Your crew are space marines and fly combat ship. This is like Dark Matter or Space Above and Beyond
  • Scout is the exploration flag. You chart new systems and discover new worlds. The flag that is the most Star Trek.
  • Technicians are scavengers and tech experts. Think Farscape or shadowrunning. 
Free Spacer is my attempt to speculate on the future based on contemporary science. This future has the internet, biotechnology, and space-time folds. The societies of this future are unequal mixing of different alien Sophonts with many factions that struggle to control each sector of space. You have to deal with the difficulties of space, alien worlds, and the situations that come from faction conflict. Your most potent way to deal with these situations are projects. Projects are the advanced mechanics of the game, which use science to enable your crew to work together and get outcomes that you cannot get alone.


character sheets and a grid patterned map with some six and ten sided dice.


Beyond the type of flag you fly, what kind of characters do you play in Free Spacer? How do they fit into the world?

As the title implies, you play Free Spacers. Free Spacers are outsiders, they are set apart, above, and beyond the ordinary people. You are above the people—distant in space, advanced in technology, and legally superior. Conversely, this also separates you from local worlds; you do not fit on any world, you cannot participate in local culture, invest in a business, run for government, or live a normal life. Before you were a Free Spacer, you might have been anyone living through the Exploration Wars from an ordinary citizen, a drifter refugee, veteran soldier, or even a powerful leader.


How is space represented in game - narratively, mechanically, both? I'm curious how players interact with it.

Space is the central motif of Free Spacer. Space divides worlds from one another, isolates the crew from support, and delays communications. Conversely, space grants you independence for operations and self determination to distant settlements. Scientifically, Zero-point technology manipulates spacetime to forms shields, project blaster pulses, and fold space to travel between systems. Space is a danger, an empty void of exposure. Finally, Spaceflight is a type of Encounter in which you and your crew work together to operate your starship.



two body harnesses and radio headsets, 3-D modeled


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Thanks so much to Christoph for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed hearing a little about Free Spacer and that you'll check it out on Kickstarter today!






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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Five or So Questions on Your Best Game Ever

Hi all, today I have an interview with Monte Cook Games on Your Best Game Ever, a new project on Kickstarter that's brought together a variety of consultants to develop guides for the best tabletop game experience. I asked questions about Your Best Game Ever of Monte Cook, Darcy Ross, Sean Reynolds, Tammie Webb Ryan, and Bear Weiter, and I'm sharing their answers with you!

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The Your Best Game Ever logo in red and orange tones


Tell me a little about Your Best Game Ever. What excites you about it?

Monte: This is a book that is for everyone, no matter what game you play. It’s a book that basically celebrates tabletop roleplaying. It talks about every aspect of the hobby, from hosting a game to finding a group to building characters and worlds for fun (and your friends’ fun).

Darcy: I’m thrilled that it will be a resource for literally anyone who is interested in RPGs. New folks just learning about RPGs, experienced players wanting to stream their game for the first time! One of my favorite things about RPGs is how many avenues of skills it brings together–there’s always room to become a better player, GM, and storyteller. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start, however, so this book will make it easier by giving people hands-on tools and techniques to try out.

Tammie: As a relatively new GM, I’m excited about the concrete examples and recommendations that Your Best Game Ever will contain, which will help me–and all GMs, no matter their skill levels–be better at all aspects of creating and running a game.

Bear: As someone who gamed a lot during the 80s and early 90s, only to then step away from tabletop gaming for almost twenty years, I feel like there’s a big hole for me to fill to be where I should be as both a GM and player. And as the art director for Monte Cook Games, I’m extra-excited to work on this book and make it a beautiful item that people are proud to have on their bookshelves, coffee tables, and game tables.


An image with the Your Best Game Ever and Monte Cook Game logos that includes a list of all topics for players, GMs, everyone, and game designers
So many topics!
What are some of the awesome things we’ll see inside Your Best Game Ever? How is the book structured?

Monte: Basically, it’s divided into sections pertaining to everyone (picking the right game, finding a group, hosting games in-person and online, solving problems that can arise), players (creating an interesting character, working within the group structure, dealing with other players), GMs (building a world, creating an adventure, managing rules, running games) and aspiring game designers (making your own game, playtesting, marketplaces, selling and marketing your creation).

Darcy: A recent stretch goal just funded an accompanying video series, too, which will begin in early 2019! Multimedia goodness.


What are some qualities and bits of experience each of you are bringing to the project?

Darcy: I’m excited to bring to this project my experiences of being a relatively new gamer, a brand-new Twitch streamer, and my role as someone who works to welcome new people into the hobby. I’ve run 30-minute demos of Numenera for dozens of people who had never heard of an RPG before at a planetarium, and I’ve also brought acquaintances over for dinner parties to try it out. I can’t wait to make it easier for people to grow their local gaming community!

Monte: Well, I’m not exactly new to this. I’ve been writing rpgs for 30 years, and gaming for 40. I’ve written a lot of this kind of material, although most of it has been aimed at GMs, so I’m even more excited about the player-focused material, particularly because I feel like a lot of things that have traditionally been put on the GM, like dealing with player problems or conflicts. I think in actual fact such things are everyone’s responsibility.

Tammie: As I mentioned, I’m relatively new to GMing, so for the material dealing with running games, I bring a newcomers perspective.

Sean: I’m a few years behind Monte—gaming for almost 40 years, writing for about 25. I’ve played and run in many games with friends and strangers, at home and conventions and organized play, been the steamrolled player and done a little steamrolling, seen some great games and train wrecks, run games with published adventures and a ton of prep and completely off the cuff, and I’ve brought too many snacks and eaten the last of someone else’s favorite snack.

Bear: I can’t compete with most of my co-workers gaming experience in years, but I am a writer, and I know how to craft and pace stories. I’m also cognizant of some of my own bad habits, which I believe is important to look at and work on. And of course I’m bringing thirty-plus years of graphic design to the table to make sure the book is both beautiful and usable.


The Stay Alive! cover with the white silhouette of a person waving a torch in front of a large, multi-limbed dark and inhuman figure, and the text Stay Alive!, and the whole cover bordered by white silhouetted hands reaching in.
 The cover of The Stars Are Fire with the shape of a person in a space suit filled with illustrations of ringed planets and the stars.

I couldn't choose between the Stay Alive! and The Stars Are Fire covers for which one is the best looking, so we'll have to see which ends up the most useful!

What looks to be your personal favorite bit of the project, where you get to dig in and really see something you love about gaming shine?

Darcy: CHARACTER ARCS. Okay, deep breaths. One of my absolute favorite parts about running Invisible Sun has been the way it empowers, and in fact requires, my players to bring narrative to the table. One of the ways it does that is by linking character progression to Character Arcs that the player chooses, like Justice, Solve a Mystery, Romance, Finish a Great Work, or even Fall From Grace. As the character progresses along those arcs (whether successfully or unsuccessfully, for ultimate good or for ill), the player is rewarded with advancement currency for their character. I love that players come to the table with lots of ideas and momentum. Your Best Game Ever will include how to use this Character Arc system in any game system you might be playing!

Monte: I’m excited about a lot of it. I think the thing I’m most excited about it just approaching this from the point of view that rpgs are a group experience and so all the various issues and problems that might arise are for the group to deal with, not just the GM. Likewise, the understanding that a great player can have as much positive effect on the game as a great GM, and offering ideas and suggestions on how to be that great player.

Bear: The depth of the offering. This will be a significant book.


Significant books it looks like! There are now five books included when you back the I Want It All! level. If you have the funds, it's a pretty impressive collection!
What are some of the challenges and some of the bonuses of working with other consultants on a project that might bring to light differing opinions?

Darcy: There’s no one right way to game, and Your Best Game Ever embraces that, leading you to a host of advice, ideas, and tools to curate for your specific best gaming experience. Even so, the text is going to be one cohesive piece, but we wanted to make sure we’re not stamping out the unique voices of our experts either! To balance this, each consulting expert will weigh in on the text as a whole, and will have a short section all their own.

Monte: I’m the main author, but I’m just one person. I try to look at games from different directions and different expectations and perspectives (that’s just part of being a good game designer), but if we really want this book to be for everyone--and we do--we want to ensure that we have as many different experiences and points of view represented as possible. I’m thrilled that not only do I have the whole MCG team helping with this, but that we’ve assembled a great team of consulting experts who all bring their own perspectives and backgrounds to the project. Everyone involved is incredibly intelligent and talented, and I’m positive that each person will make this a better book.

Sean: I love hearing different perspectives on gaming. I’m lucky in that my regular gaming group is people I’ve known for years and like very much, but other people don’t have that luxury and may be sharing a table with a stranger or someone they don’t associate with outside of gaming. Hearing from the consulting experts is like sitting at a table with a bunch of skilled gamers I don’t personally know, like at a convention game—there’s an anticipation and excitement to see how the individuals mesh together into a group.

Even if I disagree with another person’s playing philosophy, I like to understand what they’re thinking and how they got there. It’s quite possible they might change my mind about how I want to play or run games, or they’d at least give me some perspective about how to interact with another player who thinks like they do. The trick to incorporating their ideas is to present it as either a complementary or contrasting point of view to the other material in the book.

the Your Best Game Ever logo and images of the Cypher System and Your Best Game Ever book with the reminder of the dates July 24 through August 24, and the text "Your Best Game Ever is a resource for all players and all games. If you play or run roleplaying games, this book is for you."

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Thank you so much to the interviewees for answering my questions! I hope you all enjoyed the interview and you'll check out Your Best Game Ever on Kickstarter today!


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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, August 13, 2018

Five or So Questions on Prism

Hi all! Today I've got Whitney Delaglio back to talk about Prism, a project we discussed a long time ago that's now coming up on Kickstarter! To keep up on what's coming up while the project's counting down to crowdfunding, follow Whitney on G+ and mind the Little Wish Productions site. I hope you enjoy hearing what Whitney's got to say about this awesome project!

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The colorful Prism Kickstarter cover with symbols decorating the sides, a rainbow of colors at the top, and two figures handfasted together in the center

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

Prism is a roleplaying game about relationships and conflict resolution set in an aquatic world. Instead of using dice, players will rely on predetermined levels of expertise to solve narrative conflicts, and interact with others. The rules rely less on crunch, and more on negotiations between players and the GM. I'm excited about it because in most games, characters are stuck on land, so it's difficult to play characters that thrive in the water. I'm also excited about this project because it encourages sensuality and social combat.


What makes the aquatic environment different for characters, mechanically and narratively?

I am a huge fan of sealife, so it was important to integrate an underwater environment to Prism. I designed the game to give players an opportunity to play as merfolk, or humanoids that turn into tiny sea creatures. Since all six humanoids in the game are amphibious, it also means there can be unhindered underwater exploration. It also gave me the opportunity to draw plant folk with the attributes of a water lily, and merfolk with the qualities of a shark, wearing their own teeth as a necklace.


How do the negotiations work between players and the GM? What kind of power does each player hold at the table to influence the results of a conflict?

I'm not a huge fan of rolling dice with the exception being Lady Blackbird. I didn't like how you could dump all your points into something you really want to excel at, roll poorly, and not get the results you want. So instead if a character doesn't have enough expertise, the player can either agree to have their character succeed at a cost, or make a case that it takes more than one skill to resolve the conflict.

For example, a Chameleon (has the ability to cast cantrips) wants to impress someone with a lavish meal, but doesn't have enough expertise to do so. They could make argument that a fire cantrip (which requires the use of another skill) could help them cook the food more evenly.

What techniques did you use for the art in Prism, and how did you conceptualize the designs - did you do drafts of the illustrations, get inspirations from playtests, etc.?

Most of the artwork in the book are pinups. My goal was to draw sexy people and not sexy objects. The rest is either revamped artwork from back when Prism was a video game concept, or inspired by the comic that preceded the game (such as the symbols that represent the six realms). The artwork in the game either started out as a pencil sketches, a sketch on my phone (S Note), or were started from scratch using Adobe Animate.


What's the most challenging (but promising!) part of putting Prism out there for the public, and how do you feel about the final product? What parts of it stick out to you as your favorite?

I wanted to make a game about relationships emotional intimacy, but that presented me with the challenge of making a game where a player can feel safe being vulnerable. I've mentioned elsewhere how consent is sometimes conveyed as a rigid negotiation. Where you add and remove filling from the sandwich, until it's a sandwich no one involved wants to eat anymore. I tried to make Prism a game where you discuss consent from the beginning, and it remains a fluid conversation that continues during play. So, the sandwich starts off on the table, and anyone at any given time can say...you know, I usually really like this to be in my sandwich, but today I don't have the appetite for it...or, my friend and I really want to add this to the sandwich, but we can change our mind if either of us want to.

I think the final product looks gorgeous. My favorite part is the Tea Party (character generation). It really takes you gently by the hand and walks you through the process.

a merfolk couple, one darker skinned with dark hair and wearing a shark necklace, and one lighter skinned with red hair and biting the other's neck playfully
I love the art <3

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Thanks so much to Whitney for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading about Prism and that you'll check it out when it's live on Kickstarter!



Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. 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, August 10, 2018

Five or So Questions on Reign

Hey all! Today I have an interview with Greg Stolze on Reign, which is currently on Kickstarter! I asked Greg some challenging questions about the role of a game like Reign in modern day, which I hope you enjoy reading!

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The Reign Kickstarter banner showing the two book covers (labeled "funded!") and the text "funding now on Kickstarter."

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

REIGN really was kinda my baby. UNKNOWN ARMIES was great, but that was me and Tynes, so REIGN was really the first thing I did that was all Stolze all the time. Also, it’s high fantasy sword ’n’ sorcery, which I love, and which I don’t get to do as much — somehow, between UA and all my WoD work and DELTA GREEN, I sort of got pigeonholed as a horror guy which is… not inapt. But REIGN is close to my heart.

On a less squishy emotional level, I liked the idea that REIGN took events that had always been matters of “Oh, the GM will hand-wave what’s happening on the wide-scope political scale” and bolted them to dice and stats so that the players can have a new arena in which to go nuts and wreak havoc. I remember in old D&D where, if… fighters, I think?… got to a high enough level they got a keep and I really thought that was interesting! But it didn’t give you any options to liberate peasants or go to war against your neighbors or any of the dramatic stuff of governance. I hadn’t played PENDRAGON or BIRTHRIGHT or gotten into the covenant stuff in ARS MAGICA, but maybe that’s just as well. Having not seen the way anyone else handled it, I built it myself from scratch. I just knew I wanted the collective your characters lead to be as important to the game as any individual PC.

And, well, I had this nifty set of rules I’d built for GODLIKE that seemed like they’d work just as well for castles and crossbows as they did for superheroes in WWI, so I built out from that. I think it worked pretty well.


What are some ways has Reign grown and changed between 2007 and today? What is new, what's been refined? 

In those intervening years, I released a LOT of supplements online, after getting them collectively crowdfunded. Sixteen of them, in fact. Rather than burn all that to the ground and rebuild on the foundation, I thought what the game needed more than anything else was (1) better art in the supplements — that’s kind of the dark side of my “one man show” approach, (2) organization so that you can find what you want to use in a tangle fo optional systems and rules tweaks and (3) a nicer print version, since the hardbacks have been unavailable for some time.

It’s not a big reinvention, and the first two books don’t have a lot of new material, because I honestly didn’t think it needed a ton of work. I’m going through and making the language clearer, finding those decades-old typos and homonym errors, but mostly it’s taking this mess of parts and putting them in an order to be more useful. REIGN was written with the expectation that a lot of people would be using it to toolkit their own settings, and that hasn’t changed.

One change, though, is my willingness to let other people play with the toys. One reason I didn’t write anything for UNKNOWN ARMIES for a while was, quite simply, I didn’t have an idea I thought was really top notch, and I didn’t want to write something just to dump it on the market. Partly, that’s a matter of pride, but it’s also a matter of greed. I don’t want to serve lukewarm stuff because I don’t think that’s how you keep an audience. But when I got a bunch of new writers working on UA3, their new perspectives and experiences and approaches really pushed me to keep up. So I’ve gotten a bunch of fresh new voices and salty old wordsmiths to give me their takes for stretch goals.


How do you replicate leadership in Reign? What do players do when they're leading? What is leading?

OK, these are three very different questions.

Leadership in REIGN is replicated with die rolls, the same way that mighty sorcery and deeds of martial renown are. One of the big pleasures of playing a game (as distinct from running one) is the opportunity to imagine myself as someone with very different skills and behaviors. Someone who’s not shy, for example, or someone who doesn’t get embarrased and uncomfortable with confrontation. Or, y’know, a ninja.

To take the third question second, leading seems, to me, to be a lot of listening to people and understanding them. Good leaders — and I’m thinking certain editors and developers here — inspire a sort of loyalty. You want to give them your best. It’s not just a paycheck. Good leaders draw the best out of you. They see you, not just as the role into which you’ve been thrust, but as the individual adapting to that roll. Good leaders know the strengths and weaknesses of their people, and put them where the strengths are leveraged, and where their weaknesses do the least damage. In real life, I’m a terrible leader. Not the world’s greatest listener, surprisingly dense about people’s feelings sometimes, something of a hermit. But the idea of playing someone who’s listened to and who can organize people into a greater whole… yeah, that’s my fantasy. One of ‘em.

What players do when they’re leading is that sort of organization, understanding and inspiration. Only instead of having to really get through to people with charisma, you can create a character who has that sort of compelling presentation. Your characters can be the kinds of people who make the St. Crispin’s Day speech, even if you yourself are plagued by podium paralysis.

I mean who hasn’t, at some point, fantasized about being listened to and obeyed? That’s the wish-fulfillment REIGN offers.

a blue book and a red book, both with a gold-foil stamped and embossed art of a warrior with a spear and armor, and what appears to be braided hair
The special edition covers are really beautiful!
I asked Greg two sets of questions and then I got a collective response:

Sixteen supplements is a lot! How do you keep all of these things connected and consistent - the fictional themes, the mechanical structures - when there is so much information? Does that amount of stuff end up paralleling to bookkeeping in game?

AND

You discuss modularity on the Kickstarter page, basically explaining options for different ways of playing. Tell me more about this! How does it work? 

Hah, the answer to these questions is really the same thing… the modularity from the KS is the solution to having the giant pile of supplemental rules and setting material. It’s like when you have a bunch of different LEGO sets, and you build them, and that’s fine, but eventually (if you’re like me) you take them apart and wind up with a giant bin of undifferentiated components. So then you sort them so you can make something new.

In this metaphor, the original supplements are like individual LEGO sets. You can get the sort of… pre-planned experience. The chaotic pile is where the material, as a whole, is now. The organization is what we’re going after with the KS, cross-referencing different stuff so that you can find the thing you were thinking of. Just as importantly, perhaps, we can also help you figure out what to exclude. Not every group needs every rule, so getting that clarified is a pretty high priority.


Why do you think a game about leadership and strategy like Reign has an important place in play in the modern era, during a time that's so tumultuous for so many people?

Hoooo boy…

OK, I’ll start with something from Lynda Barry — I read her book WHAT IT IS, although it feels more like I should say I “witnessed” or “experienced” it? It’s this deep-dive art book about creativity and her intense personal history with it, and it’s very strong medicine. One thing she touched on was the idea of art as “escapism,” and she said she doesn’t think we create or engage with art in order to escape from reality, but to change our experience of it. She didn’t draw to get away from the sharp edges of her childhood, but to survive them.

So we’re in a tumultuous time and I’m writing a tumultuous elfgame. Am I just a little white ball on a golf tee, waiting for a driver labeled “accusations of frivolity” to come slamming down on me for a power drive? Eh, well maybe. Maybe for some people, playing a game where they’re the powerful bosses can be a distraction from doing the gloomy, necessary, unmeasurable work in the real world. But maybe, for some people, playing that game could let them (or help them) believe that change is possible, that individuals do influence these looming power gangs.

Or, maybe it’s OK to just have fun playing the game.

But our creations are always mirrors of our concerns. If roleplaying isn’t INEXTRICABLY creative, you have to work really hard to do it without any aspect of acting, or authorship, or imaginitive innovation. So your feelings about the villainies of modern politics are just about certain to make their way into REIGN, whether you do it deliberately or not. Maybe that’s also OK. Maybe the satisfaction of decapitating an imaginary evil king is just the catharsis you need to avoid screaming at a co-worker about politics until both of you cry.

I’ve thought a lot about why we engage unpleasant themes, intense stories, fictions of tragedy… After all, now more than any time in history, we can access genuine tragedy all the time. Why horror stories? Why make up more of it? Maybe it’s the relief of knowing that THIS awful thing isn’t real. Or maybe when an issue is painful to handle, putting a layer of fiction around it allows the mind to contemplate it more coolly. Consider the game RED MARKETS — it’s about zombies, but it’s REALLY about poverty. John Carpenter’s movie THE THING is about a gnarly space alien, but it’s REALLY about the dangers of trust and mistrust in a cold and uncaring universe. A lot of media that’s about X is REALLY about Y, and REIGN can certainly do that. This clash between the trade guilds of Uldholm while the Dindavarans sharpen their swords can be about how liberals persecute radicals while white-power revanchists snicker up their sleeves.

I don’t know. Maybe creativity shouldn’t teach lessons, but I think it almost always does. Maybe in an intensely political reality, an intensely political game can offer a framework for disentangling complicated feelings. Or, maybe it just promises some kind of paradoxical relief.

the blue book cover with full color art of a diverse cast of characters and the red cover with the same warrior, a dark skinned person in red and blue


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Thanks so much Greg for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out Reign on Kickstarter today!

Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. 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.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Five or So Questions on Iron Edda Accelerated

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Tracy Barnett on Iron Edda Accelerated, which is currently on Kickstarter! I hope you enjoy hearing what they have to say about the project and that you'll give the Kickstarter a look.

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The Iron Edda Accelerated logo on black textured background. The words IRON EDDA are colored orange and red like lava and spitting off bits, and ACCELERATED is in hammered steel color.


Tell me a little about Iron Edda Accelerated. What excites you about it?

Ragnarok occurred in the form of 50 foot-tall, metal dwarven destroyers rising out of the ground. Humanity cried out to the gods for help, and Loki responded. "Here, take this thing (which I totally didn't steal from the dwarves) and use it to bond the spirits of your bravest warriors to the bones of dead giants and y'all can make like Pacific Rim." That's the pitch I've used for Iron Edda since it first came out a few years ago. This new version uses the Fate framework found in Dresden Files Accelerated, meaning that every character is represented by a Destiny, a set of conditions and stunts which define what you can do in the world. It's different than the previous version, and I'm thrilled with the design.

Iron Edda Accelerated represents a huge second chance for me. I Kickstarted the original Iron Edda game (War of Metal and Bone) about four years ago and I was never able to give it the time and attention it deserved. I mean that both as a game, and as a product. Last year around this time, I thought about what I could do to change the future of Iron Edda. I approached Encoded Designs, gave them the full rundown of the issues I'd had getting a marketing push for the original game, and pitched them the idea of a new version. They accepted and we started development. I got a chance to re-do things in a better way, with support from a publisher, rather than doing it all on my own.

Mechanically, this is the version of Iron Edda I've wanted to see all along. It's funny, I was talking with a publishing friend at Origins last week and he was talking about how his games all have a five-year development cycle. I've unintentionally done that with Iron Edda Accelerated. The original draft which became this game was something I started five years ago for someone else's Kickstarter. Now, five years on, I've learned enough about the world and I've improved as a designer to the point where I could make the game what I wanted it to be. That's a lesson I'm going to keep with me.


What's happening mechanically in Iron Edda Accelerated? What are the new fiddly bits?

The fiddly bits are legion with this design change. Fate Core is, in a lot of ways, an open template. You can make a lot of things happen by making new Extras and Stunts, which is what I did in the original Iron Edda. In the framework provided by Dresden Files Accelerated, everything is codified. Your core abilities are described by Conditions. Every condition has a finite number of uses before you have to undertake an action to recover them.

In mechanical terms, that means that you can't, say, summon the bones of the dead giant who is bonded to your soul unless you mark a box of your Summon the Bones condition. In the original Iron Edda, there wasn't anything like that. You called up the giant bones whenever you wanted. In Iron Edda Accelerated, you can do that five times (each time lasting a scene) before you have to indulge in your dead giant's Worldly Desire to be able to recover boxes on your summoning condition track. If you want to push it, you can, but you then mark a condition called Abomination. You get the giant's bones for a scene, then the giant takes over, using your body as it sees fit.

I guess the best way to say it is that everything has teeth now. There's no use of power without a balancing influence or cost which you, as the player, have to be concerned with. Aside from making things mechanically more interesting, this also makes the fiction more interesting. Bonebonded have to content with their giants, Runescrbed with the power that will ultimately consume them, Seers with fate itself. There's a push and pull for every destiny in Iron Edda Accelerated, and that's so much more compelling to play.

That ties directly into your [next] question.


How has your path as a designer influenced the game in big ways - what are some places you can look at this new project and see the changes in you and the design?

When I wrote the first Iron Edda, there was a lot of stuff that I put in the game because it seemed to fit and because it seemed cool. Fate Core includes the idea of success at a cost, so I just left it in the hands of the players and GMs in the world to provide the negative sides of the fiction so playing a Bonebonded or a Seer would be interesting. As the years went by, I began trying to push for more of those complications in the games I ran because I thought it made for interesting fiction at the table.

When I read Dresden Files Accelerated it was around the same time I pitched a new version of Iron Edda to Encoded Designs. Something inside was telling me that the setup of conditions and linked stunts would be a great fit for Iron Edda and every time I've run or played it, that has borne out. I guess that speaks to the other side of experience as a game designer. There's never a point where you need to stop learning. There is, however, a point at which I think it's really valuable to begin to trust your design experience. I won't ever claim I'm the best Fate designer or any BS like that. But I've got over fives years of experience working on Fate designs, and there are some designs that I know will work as I write them, playtest or no. That's a huge thing to realize. So much of design work is fraught with insecurity. It feels really good to have moments where I see something work exactly as I intended it when I wrote it.

As a quick aside, one moment where I knew I'd gotten the flavor of the Seer right was during an online game a few months ago. The player who chose the Seer asked if they could summon a host of the dishonored dead to help them in a fight. There's a stunt written for the Seer which does just that, but the player hadn't seen it. Having someone new to the game and new to the rules ask to do a thing I'd already written was absolutely amazing. That's what I call leveling up.


What was playtesting like with Iron Edda Accelerated? What were some of your better, and more challenging, experiences?

It's funny; I think in a lot of ways I've been playtesting Iron Edda Accelerated ever since I made the first Iron Edda. By that I mean that I learned so much about how the game is supposed to run and how the world is supposed to be reflected from all of the sessions of War of Metal and Bone that I ran over the years. Iron Edda Accelerated is my best effort expression of that.

However, when I ran my first two sessions of the new system at Big Bad Con in 2017, they were near-disastrous. I was jet-lagged and sick, so when I got to the table, working with characters I'd written up on the flight out, everything just seemed off to me. It was like getting into a car you're super familiar with and finding that someone has changed the location of all the controls. I tried to turn on the wipers and the headlights kicked on, y'know? But, those two sessions were necessary for me to learn the new layout and arrangement of things. A couple of months later at Acadecon I ran two of the best sessions of any Iron Edda game I'd ever run. I'd settled into the changes and everything worked the way I expected it to. Some of the mechanics needed tweaking, of course, but the game was what I wanted it to be. That felt good.


When you look at the work you've done, what are some of your favorite pieces of design, fiction, or even just experience had that you want to share with aspiring designers to show how good it can be?

Probably the best experience I've had in regards to gaming, especially running my own game, was at Origins in 2014. I was running the original Iron Edda at Games on Demand and I made the mistake I often made back then: I stayed up way too late, drank too much, and was hungover for my morning slot. I get there, and end up with a group of eight players. Six of them knew each other well and seemed to have good chemistry, so I just decided to roll with it. I explained to them how I was feeling and asked them to really bring it for that session. They did. It was a good, solid session with a lot of political intrigue and an honor duel to determine who the next Jarl would be. End of story, I thought at the time.

The next night, Saturday, I get to Games on Demand and the person organizing the tables asked me if I was okay with seven players. I looked at the table and the same group of six were sitting there, along with a friend of mine. I sat down with them and told them I was happy to see them. They asked me something I've not heard since at a convention: they wanted to keep playing the session from the previous day. They had their character sheets, I had all the notes I'd written, and my friend was happy to make a character to fit the continuing situation.

It was so gratifying to have an entire group of people want to come back and continue the story we'd begun the day before. I've had some amazing game sessions of Iron Edda since then, but nothing has topped that. Yet. I'm open to there being something even more gratifying in the future.

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Thanks so much to Tracy for the interview! I hope you'll all check Iron Edda Accelerated out on Kickstarter today!


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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Five or So Questions on Over the Edge

Hi all, today I have an interview with Jonathan Tweet on Over the Edge, an RPG currently on Kickstarter! I hope you learn something fun about Over the Edge from Jonathan's responses below!

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Tell me a little about Over the Edge. What excites you about it?

Of all the RPGs I’ve designed, Over the Edge is the one that means the most to me personally. It started as a pet project of mine, not meant for publication, so it’s weirder than anything I would have conceived for a broad audience. The rules are also free-form and story-driven. That was a rarity in 1992 when the original released, but it’s more common these days. It’s exciting to be able to reboot this game and update it so that it’s ahead of the curve again like it was 25 years ago.

The team I’m working with is also really good. Atlas Games published the original, and they’re doing the new version, too. The producer, Cam Banks, is a big fan from way back, and so is Chris Lites, who contributed a lot of creative material.


What have you had to do to make Over the Edge modern, both in consideration of real life issues and what we conceive as paranormal or "weird" in the modern era?

In terms of real life, I had to ramp up the stakes. The setting is now set up with the expectation that a final reckoning is on the horizon. The world of 1992 was relatively peaceful, when the Soviet Union was defunct, Francis Fukuyama was touting the end of history, and Samuel Huntington’s so-called “Clash of Civilizations” was a new idea. These days, things are worse. Teenage girls who revere the Peacock Angel are burned to death in cages for refusing to be sex slaves in the army of the “Caliphate”. Carbon is heating the planet and killing the coral. Russia annexed territory by conquest, which no other country had done since 1975. Inequality has skyrocketed. Nationalism and racism are in fashion from one democracy to another. To compete with all this nightmarish stuff, the setting had to become more menacing.

The original game debuted just before the worldwide web, so the online aspect of modern life was missing. Interacting with the online world in Al Amarja usually means logging into the corrupt, State-run social network called Reba Online. Yes, the State is logging all your activity, but how else are you going to find a coffeeshop that has soy milk?

The paranormal elements of the game hardly needed updating. Paranormal beliefs reflect consistent human biases, such as magical thinking, so 25 years later you’ll still find ESP, interdimensional visitors, past lives, subliminal messaging, curses, etc. One new thing to add is epigenetics. Lay people tend not to understand what epigenetic changes really amount to, so you can sort of invent all sorts of weird abilities and say that they're epigenetic. 

The Over the Edge cover with a woman in a head covering and face paint, a television showing an image of a man holding a knife behind his back, a morphed skull, a baboon, a person covering their face all but their eyes, and a plane flying off into the distance.
The Over the Edge cover is quite nice!
How does paranormality affect the average person in Over the Edge, from a narrative perspective and from a mechanical perspective?

The paranormal of Over the Edge is the sort of paranormal that fits right into everyday modern life. It’s like the paranormal that people actually believe in: prayer circles, horoscopes, alien contact, mind-control chemicals in the drinking supply, a parasitical skin disease from outer space, chakras, past lives, energy vampirism, subliminal mind control messages, chem trails, exorcism, reiki, rebirthing, or even child slavery on Mars. These sorts of paranormal elements are the sorts of things you find in Over the Edge, only in the game they’re weirder and more powerful.

The island of Al Amarja is a paranormal power center and a weak point in the reality manifestation matrix, so there’s more crazy paranormal events going on beneath the surface there than anywhere else. The people take it for granted that the government’s propaganda posters are some sort of mind control program, that messages are hidden in television broadcasts, and that the Internet is haunted. The most public face of the supernatural is Sister Cheryl, the leader of the Temple of the Divine Experience. Seekers who turn to Sister Cheryl can find all manner of shrines, disciplines, rituals, penances, psychoactives, prayers, book clubs, and animal sacrifices to help them progress along the spiritual path.

For players, the paranormal opens up a degree of freedom when they invent their characters’ traits. A player in my campaign, for example, invented a Christian Necromancer with a YouTube following. The game is set in the modern day, so players can bring in references to anything happening in the real world, and including references to the paranormal, such as necromancy. An important point is that the game doesn’t have mechanical subsystems. It doesn’t have a combat system or a magic system. It has a system for determining success and failure, along with possible good and bad surprises. That system works for psychic powers, street fighting, counterintelligence, and Christian necromancy.


What does the resolution mechanic feel like in play when supporting this rich fiction - is it punchy, does it leave a mark? What are any differences from previous versions?

From now on, that’s my new tagline for the dice mechanics in Over the Edge: a dice mechanic that leaves a mark! In the new system, players throw dice only when the results are consequential. With every throw, in addition to succeeding or failing, the player might get a “good twist” or a “bad twist”, which are surprising results that are outside the binary succeed/fail dichotomy.
Every throw of the dice matters. Fights, skullduggery, and paranormal efforts that would have taken several dice rolls in the original version are handled now with a single throw. A player's dice throw determines how the conflict turns out, so a failure for the player is a success for the enemy. That’s a trick I learned from Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. So every dice throw matters. For most throws, everyone at the table stops and watches. Each throw is that important.

Mechanically, a conflict is resolved by the player rolling two dice. If the player-character has a big advantage, the player can reroll a die once or twice. If the PC is at a serious disadvantage, the GM can force the player to reroll a die once or twice. After all the rerolls, the total on the dice indicates success (high roll) or failure (low roll). In addition, if a die shows a 3, that’s a bad twist, and if a die shows a 4, that’s a good twist. Good twists are more common with a higher roll, but you can fail the roll but still get a good twist, as when you throw a 4 and a 1 for a total of 5. Likewise, you often get a bad twist even with a success. The twists add a new dimension to the resolution system, a discontinuous result that can take the action in a new direction. The old system was serviceable, but it didn’t “leave a mark” like the new one does.


What are you doing in narrative and mechanical design to support a more inclusive, respectful play environment, considering the content you have in the game?

My roleplaying games have been marked for the way they have promoted women and people of color, especially Everway from 1995. It’s been gratifying to see the rest of the RPG industry follow the lead of those of us where on the front lines 20 or 30 years ago. In the original 1992 game, I made the leaders of the island women. That was back when D&D had officially removed the pronoun “she” from their rules, and it felt great to push back against “the man”. Putting women in charge was one small step toward counteracting the preponderance of powerful men in RPG settings. The great news is that today it’s no big shock for there to be powerful women, such as our own President Clinton. In order to continue to challenge stereotypes, I changed the ruling family, the D’Aubainnes, from French to black African.

More generally, the Atlantic island where the action all takes place is a mish-mash of germ lines and cultures. Seekers, fugitives, and spies from all over the world converge here, and the local population includes genetic contributions for all sorts of ancestries, including Neanderthals and probably Homo erectus. (It’s a long story.)

If you’re asking about respect, however, you might be asking the wrong person. Have you looked at the manuscript? The whole island is a mess of exploitation, lies, mind control, personal excess, social neglect, narcissistic self-aggrandizement, mental dysfunction, and conspiracies. Respect is hard to find. Instead, I’m an equal-opportunity disrespecter. The most powerful public figures on the Island are two black sisters, and if they’re powerful, that pretty much makes them villains. That said, if any GamerGater thinks that this is the game for him because the most prominent villains are black women, I hope he buys the game so he can be harshly disappointed. In Al Amarja, all sorts of people are terrible.

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Thanks so much to Jonathan for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it and that you'll check out Over the Edge on Kickstarter today! Remember to share the interview with your friends, too!




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Monday, August 6, 2018

Making the World Real (#RPGaDAY2018 Inspired)

The RPGaDAY 2018 chart

An August tradition, I suppose, is to respond to the prompts for RPGaDAY, and the 2018 prompts have a lot going on. I figured something I could do today is use one of them as a prompt for a blog post, because it's something I've been thinking about, too.

Today's prompt is How can players make a world seem real?

Two character sheets, one labeled The Lover, the other labeled a Snake.
Character sheets from a game of Turn I'm currently playing. 

I think this can be a bit of a personal thing, but one way to do it for me is to give everything reasoning and give everything a story. NPCs, events in game, etc. all should have some flavor to their existence. It ties directly into collaborative worldbuildimg. This has been really growing for me while working on Turn, a game where everyone has loads of narrative control, and while playing D&D with my partner Dillon.

I'll talk about Dillon first, because it's super exciting to me. I'm not naturally a huge D&D fan - honestly, it's a big game and a lot of the fiction bums me out. But, in the game I'm playing with Dillon, we've been rewriting a lot of it. The mechanics mostly remain the same, tho were using house rules and I'm playing cosmic horror investigation type fiction instead of the average adventure. But the fiction!

Two guards in front of a castle door. Overhead, a figure silhouetted by the moon creeps on a parapet.
Credit: John W. Sheldon CC-BY 4.0.
Dillon let me be a part of the world building for the main setting. This is something I once did in a game run by my husband John, where I got to make up dieties and religions and contribute to the fiction for the different species. Dillon is letting me do much the same thing! Collaborative worldbuilding means I get to see things I'm interested in integrated into the world I'm playing in, which inherently makes it more real to me.

For example, we were building up my character's family and Kelt, my PC, is half tiefling, half half-orc, and I was talking about Kelt's dad being a cleric. I said how it felt to me, due to some of the other background stuff we've done for the game, that tieflings aren't demonic, they're more druidic, nature based.

A black and white goat, photographed up close.
You know, more mountain goat than Black Phillip. Photo by Brie Sheldon.

Dillon and I discussed it, and he liked the idea, so we changed the way teiflings work in the game to have them even physically be more based in nature with antlers and ram horns rather than demonic horns, and it suited their culture that we'd developed, too. Now I have more knowledge about my PC's dad's history, the world around him, and I have a personal touchstone because I got to be a part of it!

And it reflects in that "everything has a reasoning, everything has a story" too - my character takes public transportation as we're set in a near-industrial world, so Dillon had a newspaper I could read and gossip I could listen in on, but also he does something that's important: when I suggest a frivolous detail for the scene, NPCs, etc., he considers it and often accepts it!

Like if I were to pass by someone and they rudely bump into me and I say,

"I bet they're rushing off to a meeting with their mistress!"

Dillon runs with it, something like "actually, it's his boyfriend and it's their anniversary!"

I may never encounter that NPC again, but it feels real.

A green tinged campfire site where someone wearing an antlered mask calls out to a dog running towards the viewer, while another dog sits at their side.
Credit: John W. Sheldon CC-BY 4.0.
This is likewise with how Dillon's treating Kelt's dog, Orion, who is his familiar and tied to the Void (Kelt's patron). It's awesome when I play knowing that I'll get to have my character deal with stuff like making sure Orion gets enough play time, or that his leash works in spite of his magical ability to phase through objects (lead lining helps!). Things like how Orion always wakes up to bark at the window-knocker and trolley actually make my in-game experience feel real!

So as a player, I engage back with these things, bring them up, ask questions, offer input. Making the world mine is part of the experience!

And this is all relevant to Turn. In Turn, I've tried to design some of this in. The worldbuilding you do with the town creation gives players deep engagement to the roots of the town and all its trappings, letting you understand the relationships and founding and themes before you start play, and you can add to it.

A town map from Turn, just circles and lines with text
A town map from Turn.
You also have vignettes each session with NPCs and the town dealing with real life needs that can be stressful and risk exposure of your shifter identity, even if it's just going to pick up milk at the farmer's market or trying to have coffee with your cousin. When players are engaging with Turn, I'm hoping they'll ask questions of the town and NPCs too, and give reason to things that might seem otherwise random.

As a player in Turn, I've been lucky enough to have all of these experiences. John is often my GM in games and in Turn he does a spectacular job executing these ideals I have for a "real" world. He is the source for my researching the Storyteller section of Turn, and will be consulting heavily on it.

I'm so lucky to have two partners who are such amazing GMs and who let me make the world real from the role of a player!

Hope you enjoyed the post today and that you find it useful!



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