Monday, March 13, 2017

Five or So Questions on Meet Diana Danko

Today's interview is with Jakob Schindler-Scholz about the Kickstarter project Meet Diana Danko, a live-stream interactive vampire tale. When Jakob emailed me with the Kickstarter link, I was immediately intrigued - interactive performances are fascinating to me and I wanted to hear more! Check out the interview below and see more at their press page and Kickstarter.


Tell me a little about Meet Diana Danko. What excites you about it?

The aspect I'm most passionate about is that we are creating a truly open experience, while still maintaining a strong narrative. The project is heavily inspired by "choice and consequence" games like the Walking Dead Series by Telltale or Life is Strange, but with limitless possibilities.

We achieve this by having four amazing actresses perform live and reacting to the input of the audience, who is watching via live stream. They can type anything they want at any time while they watch. It has elements of tabletop RPG, LARP, theater and FMV video games, but I don't think there is anything like it currently out there.

Example of the process of the show.

How did you come up with the idea for Meet Diana Danko?

The setting, characters and basic concept were created for a local short theater festival in Vienna. The audience found themselves trapped in a room with a vampire trying to get in, discussing different strategies to get out. The inspiration for this was the classic horror movie trope "heroes have to fight their way to freedom", and I thought it would be a fun way to engage the audience - which it was. There were lots of intense discussions and great interactions with the audience, sometimes resulting in totally unexpected outcomes, for example people occupying the vampire's coffin - which was exactly what we hoped for.
We then discussed how to take the concept even further, and came up with the idea of turning it into an online performance, but without losing the direct connection with the audience - which is an immense challenge because people are not physically present. So the story, setting and mode of interaction will change, but the heart of it all - the characters - will stay the same.

How does the event work technically, from receiving input from viewers to making it happen?

You watch the show through the eyes of the protagonist (wearing a head mounted camera), who sort of stumbles into the whole thing, and bit by bit learns about the characters and the backstory. In the interface, you can also type anything that comes to your mind, at any time. The idea is that you provide us with the thoughts of the protagonist - and as is the nature of thoughts, some are only brief flashes, some are more present, some are concrete and some obscure. We employ a sorting algorithm to visualise all thoughts at once, sort of like multiple word clouds put together. This visualisation will be available for all to see.

So the visualisation is handled by a program, but the crucial part - incorporating these thoughts into the story - is not. We have a person dedicated to that who watches the visualisation constantly and has a voice link to the protagonist. So this person gets an impression of how the audience feels, what ideas are there, and uses that information to give commands or suggestions to the protagonist. So it is kind of an inner voice, but one she takes really seriously.

The important thing is: With this procedure, most of the actresses have to worry about anything going on outside the performance. The protagonist gets input from outside, but all other actresses can concentrate on their characters and react authentically to what is happening. This is why we came up with this quite complex process: To ensure that the improvisation can be really focused, because we believe that's what it takes to create a fascinating experience.

Word clouds!

What do all of the people involved bring to the table to make the show happen?

First I have to say, I am really honored to have a team where everyone is extremely invested in the idea and not just focusing on their respective area. Denise, who does the design and communications is excellent in finding the right way to get across what we're all about, which is especially important because there are so many aspects to this. Adam and Gregor are very passionate developers who will not be satisfied until the algorithm and UI are so well-defined that you'll forget about them while being drawn into the story, and Philipp has the intuition and experience to get what the audience is looking for and translating it into actionable hints for our protagonist.

That being said, I have to highlight Julia, Stella and Paula, the actresses (we will cast the fourth actress, the protagonist, with the help of our backers). Because their contribution is what makes the show: Usually, when you have a piece of fiction, there is a writer or a writing team, they create the characters and tell the story. But this way, it is extremely likely that some characters will be extremely well written and others will be weak - and there is only so much even a talented actress can do with a bland character.

When you talk about the performance, what do you really think makes this format help the fiction to really shine?

I think we have extremely well-developed characters. Because we don't know what will happen, it's not enought to know how they react in a handful of specific situations. We already spent a lot of time getting to know the characters for "Diana Danko in Concert", and we will do a lot more development for this piece. It's a very collaborative process: We discuss the fears, secrets, and desires of the characters together, explore them in improvisations and make sure we create characters who are complex, with nuances and little quirks and secrets that may not come to pass every time we perform, but they are there, ready to be discovered and adding to the experience.


Thanks so much to Jakob for the interview! Meet Diana Danko sounds really interesting and definitely worth learning more about. Check out the Kickstarter if it tickles your fancy and share this post with anyone you think might like it!

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Patreon Spotlight - James E. Shields

Today I’m trying something new, and not sure if it’ll recur, so let me know your thoughts.

James Shields has a cool Patreon through which he creates custom RPG Stock Illustrations. It’s been around for a couple of years, and involves his patrons giving feedback and input into what art is created. I interviewed James as well as asking him to provide information on his process. Check it out!

When I asked about James’ process, he responded:

So here is my ideal process. 
Somewhere there is an incredible independent creator with awesome RPG ideas but
without the budget to commission some of the illustrations they want. 
Somehow they learn about one of my Stock Art Patreon projects and jumps on board.
Every month I post and ask for ideas. 

Patrons are encouraged to comment on each others ideas to make the artwork more versatile. (Example: If the idea is for a Wild Elf with antlers, another patron may ask for moose antlers. If that's good with the original patron, I roll with the adjusted idea.) They then vote on each other's submissions by liking them on the post.
At the end of the month, I tally up all the submissions and votes. I then release a list of the upcoming art and the process starts all over again. On the 1st of month, patrons are charged their pledge level for each pack I released. After pledges clear, I send them links to the files for them to download at their convenience.

James also provided a FAQ:
What can I do if I can't afford X amount 3 or 4 times a month?
Patreon allows you to set a cap, or maximum number of creations you want to support each month. You will receive the packs that your pledge covered. 
What if my submitted idea was in a pack that my pledge cap kept me from supporting? I give my patrons the illustration from their idea anyways.
How many ideas may I submit?
As many as you want. In the future I may set a limit, but only if submissions get unruly. 
Can't I just get your art when you release it via Drivethru, RPGNow, TabletopLibrary, etc?
Yes. Yes, you can. The dilemma is -when-. Uploading stock art is time consuming, so
I don't release very often. As of this writing, I am somewhere over a year and a half behind.My patrons get the artwork first. Long before anybody else.
What are the license restrictions?
Ohhh... these are fun. Actually, I'm pretty liberal as far as this is concerned.
You can use the artwork forever. You just can't sell it as stock, posters, printable miniatures, or anything else where the artwork is the main product. You also can't use it in offensive projects. Other than that, just create something awesome.
You should also let me have a copy. Well, that part's not required, but I'm a gamer and
love to see where my art is used. 
Are there any restrictions to what ideas I may submit? 
Yes, but they aren't a lot. I don't illustrate nudity nor will I create provocative poses/images. I won't draw images of intellectual property, though I will do images inspired by them.
Also, a question that hasn't been asked that is totally viable- I'm not an independent game developer. Can I still support the project? 
Totally. There is nothing to stop people from submitting their RPG character for me to draw and them to see in printed RPG products. Totally cool. 
As of this writing I do have only one remaining Top Tier slot where I guarantee to draw one of their submissions every month. At $25, you can't get my art at a better deal.
Last thing I can think of. You are completely welcome to pledge to support my project just to see it from a patron's point of view and cancel your pledge as soon as you've seen as much as you'd like. Feel free to take and post any screenshots as a patron if you choose this route. I won't be posting any artwork for another two weeks so there won't be any charges during that time. 

Finally I asked James a few questions!

What is your background in creating art both for and not for RPGs?

My first intro to drawing RPG art was in my first roleplaying group as a teen. My parents convinced me to go to school beyond high school instead of trying to dive into drawing comics. After I graduated from the Art Institute of Dallas, I worked for a game company for a year and a half before they went bankrupt. Except for a few drawings here and there, that was the last I would create artwork for about 10 years. After my second deployment with the Marine Corps, my wife convinced me to use my artistic abilities for something, so I dove into freelancing. I didn't really know what I was doing but I did know that I loved to create artwork like the ones I had been introduced to in my teens, and as I developed as a freelancer I began focusing more and more on roleplaying because they were the projects I loved. I know it's not the smartest financial decision but these are the things I get excited about. Another artist pointed me towards Patreon and that's where I got the idea to provide something for independent game developers that would be in between pure stock and fully commissioned. I've been freelancing for over 3 years now and I love it.

What mediums do you use for your art?
Hard lead pencil on cardstock for sketching, followed by Faber-Castell inks.
I then scan and color in Photoshop. Occasionally, I'll paint digitally in Photoshop.
How do you respond when there isn't a lot of patron engagement?
I'll have to let you know when I get to that. The Patreon has always had patrons submitting ideas, but I recently moved the discussion away from a Google doc submission form to discussions and votes via posts on the Patreon website and interaction has exploded. Patreon sent me a message at the end of the year to let me know that my Patreon was more engaged than 95% of any other Patreon project. To answer your question more directly, all it takes is one patron to submit an idea for each category and I have content for the next pack. Occasionally I draw my own ideas, but that is rare and now if I have an idea I'd like to illustrate myself, I include it in the votes. I think it was in December, my youngest child (age 6) was talking about alligators, except it kept coming out as 'owl-igators' and I knew I just HAD to draw it, so I posted it as a submission for patrons to vote on. If it wasn't popular I wouldn't draw it, but they loved the idea enough that I got to include it.

Cool! Thanks James! You can find James' Patreon at If his work sounds interesting to you, go ahead and give it a look!

James also has genre specific Patreon projects:

Purely black and white fantasy art -
Purely black and white sci-fi art -

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Emotion Maps as Design Tools

Hi all!

I wanted to write a bit today about a technique I've been using for a long time now to design games and conceptualize sessions and campaigns (even if I'm not running, I know how I want my character to feel, or how to advise people who are running). The technique is what I call an "emotion map."

Emotion maps use word clouds to establish what emotions are the most important to put into a game, and what ones you want to avoid. I have a few different ones I've used - one for designing a game itself, one for session planning (for one-shots), and one for campaigns. I've put together some examples of them to walk you through!

The first thing I do is grab a piece of paper and pen (you could do this digitally, though!) and title whatever it is I'm working on. Here's the starting page for Turn.

Look at all that beautiful blank space.

A title is important because it reminds you of what you're looking for when you're stumped. You want to have a relatively big space to write on, because it gives some room to breathe or scratch stuff out if you need to.


Emotion maps are kind of like our solar system, where the words all have different sizes and go around a point just beside what we consider the center (our system circles a spot right off center of the sun). You can choose to put them closer or farther away based on importance as well as based on desired impact, or you can scatter them. I generally use the mapped out on importance with bigger things.

The words are intermixed to show that they can conflict and interfere with each other. You could list them or order them otherwise, but this visual representation works best for me and provides an organic representation of the emotions I want present in the game. (/ETA)

From here, I'll write in a few words in larger text. Let's start with four!

Companionship, conflicted, desire, hopeful.
The words here are the most prominent emotions. I want the characters in Turn to feel these things during the game the most. The words don't have to be consistent (verbs, nouns, adverbs, adjectives, whatever), they just have to mean something and relate to emotions.

The words I chose are companionship, conflicted, desire, and hopeful. You can see how these things would tie into a game like Turn, which is about shapeshifters in small towns struggling between their two identities, wanting to satisfy the needs of both, in need of support from their fellow shapeshifters, and looking forward to finding balance. Right?

More words! In smaller text! Use one more than the prominent emotions, to create some interference.

Hunger, wonder, rejection, isolation, trust.
These are secondary emotions. These leap off of other emotions or are in deeper and less often found, but are still vital to the story. They're smaller than the prominent emotions in size to show their lessened influence, but big enough to start interfering with the others. The words are hunger, wonder, rejection, isolation, and trust. For Turn, PCs might experience love or greed, or just actual human or animal needs. They could also marvel at the abilities they use and gain, but be denied from the societies they live within - leaving them alone. That's why they need to rely on their fellow shifters.

Final words! Smallest! Now use two more than the first (so six!), to make the sheet like a minefield.

Satisfaction, confidence, powerlessness, fear, pain, loneliness.
These are avoided emotions. They are the emotions that can come from the experiences in the game that I want to have happen less, or not at all! They are the smallest because they can't be forgotten but you don't want to be reminded of what they really are until you look, because you don't want to seek them out. The words are satisfaction, confidence, powerlessness, fear, pain, and loneliness.

Turn is about shapeshifters with significant power, so they shouldn't ever feel like there's nothing they can do. But, they shouldn't ever feel like everything is done, or feel secure that they have everything under control. I don't want players to struggle and feel like they're in a bad state, and as much as there will be times when they are alone, I don't want them without companionship (callback to the prominent emotions!) or someone to turn to (hey, trust!), components (from my translation) that when lacking produce loneliness.

Here are the notes I made on the sheet to give some context to the map:

Notes! I made them!
These notes are for a full game (obvs), but the point is that they'll grow over time. You can expand the emotion map, adjust it as time goes on, and so on. You can also use the avoided emotions as reference for threats in the game - how do you have something bad happen without making someone afraid? These also will influence the core elements of my design.

The number of words is important because of where it places emphasis. You only have a few core emotions to focus on as the big ones, or else you'll get exhausted trying to fill in every experience from just a top-level build. You have more of the secondary emotions so that there's room to grow into them as the game develops. And you have even more avoided emotions to really highlight this is what I want to avoid, this is what will go away from the point of my game - when you know what you don't want to do, it helps show what you do want to do.

You'll notice in the final sheet that there are not just good emotions as prominent, nor are there only bad emotions as avoided.

Not all bad, not all good.
It's important to know that in long term games, you'll have good stuff and bad stuff, and when designing a game, you have to factor in all of those possibilities and figure out the big thing: if your players are going to have a negative experience - and they will! - what kind do you want it to be?

I also have in the following gifs the pages of the one-shot session of Shadowrun: Anarchy I conceptualized, and a three-session long-play of Monsterhearts.

Shadowrun: Anarchy Session - Prominent: Excitement, pressured, powerful, motivation.
Secondary: Vindication, amusement, failure, anxiety (should have had 5).
Avoided: Frustrated, anger, disappointment, boredom, lost, vengeful.
Giphy Link
As noted in the gif and caption, I missed one in the secondary emotions, but I think the point still sits! This has a similar structure of fewer prominent emotions to more avoided emotions. The reasoning for this is that in a shorter game like a one-shot, you only have time to hit a few emotional peaks on purpose, but the secondary emotions might come in along with them or be good to throw in as additional bites. But you really want to avoid the emotions you focus on avoiding.

Here are my notes on the one-shot:

One-shot notes!
I noted here that this kind of structure is for one shots or single sessions, if you don't plan out full campaigns or play an episodic game. It also has notes about having fewer positive emotions on it - if you look at the list, almost all of the avoided emotions are negative. This is totally okay! There are still some negative emotions in the secondary and prominent ones, but the point here is that hey, it's a one shot of a bombastic game, and I super don't want my players to get bummed out or bored.

The final Shadowrun: Anarchy one-shot emotion map:

Next, I did one of my more complicated emotion maps that I've used for both plotting game stuff, but also fiction! It's for a three-session Monsterhearts game.

This one is very complicated! giphy link

I'll summarize each one of these real quick -

Session 1:
Prominent - mistrust, curiosity, panic.
Secondary - suspicion, frustration.
Avoided - safety.

Session 2:
Prominent - comfort, pain, wonder.
Secondary - confidence, understanding.
Avoided - happiness.

Session 3:
Prominent - resolve, assurance, trust.
Secondary - gratitude, obsession.
Avoided - hopeful.

I feel terrible for the players in this game, honestly. Anyway, as you can see, there are some varying emotions all through the sessions, some that reflect off of each other, and some that conflict. This is good! You don't want the same emotions every session, though you can have them evolve (no safety to finding comfort to building trust and having gratitude, suspicion to understanding to obsession).

My notes on the Monsterhearts emotion map:

In the Monsterhearts sessions, you have more prominent emotions and fewer avoided ones! Why change this? First off, you're working with a full arc of story - this isn't encompassing a potential of many stories or a single run in a one-shot, it's a story told to complete emotional arcs for PCs. You could do something like this for a single session of Monsterhearts or similar games if you intend to go through a full experience, but if it's a piece of time instead of a range, it's not as useful.

I also think that it depends on the type of game. Shadowrun, for example, can have emotion in it, but it typically has fewer, focused emotions. Monsterhearts is a game about teenagers and sex and horror, so it runs the whole range of complicated emotions, especially in long play. And you want to welcome all sorts of emotions - it is less common to say "Oh, I don't want the ghoul to feel that right now" because you really want to see what happens when a ghoul feels, say, absolution, or joy!

The final Monsterhearts long-play emotion map:

I am really bad at sizes of words. I'll work on it. :)
You can go inside out, or outside in, with how many words you use. Just be super cognizant of what you're saying with that construction!


  • Too many prominent emotions can wear people out in shorter games.
  • Fewer overarching prominent emotions for designing full games is better because you can't predict every session.
  • If the game is super emotionally intense, go wild with the desired emotions, but make sure to avoid emotions that really spoil the essence of the game.

I hope you find the emotion map technique useful! It's been really valuable for me as a designer, as a creator in general, and as a player. I think it looks at games from the perspective that matters to me as a designer and player, where things feel. I might not be super great at math or anything, but I know feelings pretty damn well.

Have fun!

giphy link

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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Five or So Questions on Tales of the Warrior Princesses

Today I have an interview with Brennan Taylor and John Carimando from Galileo Games on the new setting and adventures, Tales of the Warrior Princesses, which is currently on Kickstarter! Brennan and John are on top of the project, so I've asked them about the game and what they're bringing together to make it happen.


Tell me a little about Tales of the Warrior Princesses. What excites you about it?

Brennan: Tales of the Warrior Princesses is a Kickstarter for a setting and adventures taking fairy tale princesses and turning them into the active heroes of their own stories. We're funding two books, Warrior Princesses in the Realm of Everafter, a setting book that includes character sheets for all the princesses and details their world, and Tales of the Warrior Princesses, a book of 11 adventures, each focusing on one of the princesses as the star of an adventure going up against the enemies in her realm.

What excites me about this project is taking these characters and turning them into role-playing game heroes. The person who conceived the project, John Carimando, is really passionate and excited about this, and he is committed to making sure that the Tales and any future projects are written by women. He's been very generous with his concept, putting it out there for other writers to take and really make their own. I love seeing these new stories come in and the great creativity that's being applied. I think this project is going to create something great for parents with kids looking to get them into role-playing, and because we are using 5th edition, it's got a broad appeal to people in the hobby that I usually don't reach with my very indie-focused games.

Sorry to ramble a bit, but there are a lot of things I'm excited about on this project.

Where did Tales of the Warrior Princesses come from? What are the inspirations and motivations for the adventures and settings?

John Carimando: I drew a picture of the Little Mermaid as a ranger. That inspired me to run a set of adventures for Nerdnyc's Gotham Gaming Group using some of the Disney's versions of Snow White, Cinderella, and Ariel. The players liked the idea and playing the characters. I want to make beautiful things, this gave me an opportunity to draw, paint, and design great artwork. Also, I like the idea of flipping the gender paradigm for protagonists and who they rescue. The majority of heroes of legend are women, they are sought out for their insight, and save a prince or two.

How does Tales... interact with the 5th ed. mechanics and structure?
John: Each Warrior Princess is a different D&D class. When you combine popular media (cartoons and movies), their original stories (Grimm, myth, etc.), and their archetypal depiction in the game, the class and character choice makes more sense. Mechanically, playing with the different WPs keeps from too much ability overlap. We also created new backgrounds, class archetypes, and feats to add to a DM's collection. I am also trying to design a little outside the established norms for D&D.

Who have you brought on for the project, and what kind of themes and fun bits of story do you think they're really bringing to the forefront?

John: The overarching themes are sorority, friendship, and adventure. The Warrior Princesses are depicted more as freedom-fighters than royalty (even though, some have noble backgrounds). The island they live on is called Avalon, and hold council at a round table under a silver dome, obvious references to Knights of the Round Table.

The writers get to expand the game universe and get to showcase their style of adventure. The consistent structural each Tale is different content wise and in presentation.

We have a team of really talented writers working on all the new material for the Kickstarter. It's a real dream-team for this project. We brought in an author for each princess so that each one has a special perspective and feel. As we continue to develop adventures and other material for the world we want to keep working with these same creators.
Danielle Ackley-McPhail: Snow White
Jacqueline Bryk: Scheherazade
Elsa S. Henry: Moira
James Mendez Hodes: Hua Mulan
Betsy Isaacson: Cinderella
Kira Magrann: Briar Rose
Darcy Ross & Rebekah McFarland: Josephine
Willow Palecek: Rapunzel
Ishki Ricard: Yokopa
Beth Rimmels: Belle
Monica Speca: Thalassa

D&D Fifth ed. has some complexity, and it can be difficult to keep kids on rails. How are you making the game appealing for kids?

Brennan: The themes and language in the writing is not just for adults. The appeal of Warrior Princesses pretty well crosses age ranges. Setting up the stories so that the princesses are active and engaged heroes in their stories, fighting storybook monsters, captures a timeless feeling for the books. For parents who want to play with their kids, we recommend ages twelve and up, but parents running games for younger kids could easily scale back imagery that they feel could be troublesome, like undead.


Thanks so much to Brennan and John for answering my questions! Since I only found out about the Kickstarter right before it ends (go back  now if you're excited!), I didn't get to talk to all of the creators. Here's to hoping we can hear from them soon! Check out Tales of the Warrior Princesses on Kickstarter here!

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Thoughty: Talking Companions Tale with Laura Simpson

Check out my interview with Laura Simpson on Companions' Tale, currently on Kickstarter!

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Friday, February 24, 2017

Town Beginnings in Turn

So +John W. Sheldon wrote a little about the Town Building rules* for my shapeshifter game, Turn, which I discussed recently. I wanted to include a brief rundown and some pictures of a sample town I built today! The pics are a little rough because they're on a glass table with dry erase, but eh. Anyway!

The start of the town is this:
  • The name
  • The type of town (there's a list to choose from)
  • The population
  • The square miles of the town proper
Each town type comes with some themes, like tradition or poverty or something like that. Starting out from the town center, you can add themes, locations, events, and bloodlines. From those, you can add further locations, bloodlines, and events.

In the pictures, you'll see I built the following town:

Pop. 2000
Sq. Mi. 3

(You can tell it's a low population town but it's waaaay spread out.)

The options for themes for industrial towns include (but aren't limited to) poverty, resentment, wealth, tradition, and waste. I added those!

I attached some locations, too, like the Mill, and Main Street, and from resentment, the Church.

Then I added the bloodlines, which are the families in the town, like the Blakes (tied to the Church), the Coopers (tied to Poverty), Tuckers (tied to Main St.), Westins (tied to the Mill), and the Lewis family (tied to wealth). These don't all have to connect, but I did it for fun. 

Now there's a whole town! It doesn't represent locations, but you can see how different things might fit together and where trouble might start.

Hope you enjoy this glimpse!

*He's written more posts, too!

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Submit for March's Creators in Need Post

Hi All,

Since I think this post is needed, I'll be trying (for the time being) to post a monthly Creators in Need post on (Today's is at - check it out!)

This is a form to submit to for creators in need. It is open until March 5, 2017 (midnight EST) to allow me time to prepare the post to be up the following week.

Please share widely! 

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