Monday, December 5, 2016

Shadowrun: Anarchy Freelancers Interview

Hey all, this took a little while to put together, but I have an interview with three of the freelancers from Shadowrun: Anarchy! Russell "Rusty" Zimmerman, O.C. Presley ("Opti"), and Patrick Goodman all took some time with me, which is super great. I wanted to learn a little more about the work that they did to put together the game, so I bugged them off and on for a while to get some fun stuff for you all to read! Enjoy!

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Tell me a little about you and your background, and your work on the project. What has your experience with games and design been thus far, and how did you end up working on Shadowrun: Anarchy? Within the project, what parts of the game did you work on - mechanics, flavor, etc.?

Patrick: I was born and raised in Texas. I've been gaming since I was fourteen, so 36 years and change now. Been playing Shadowrun since 1989, been writing for SR since 1999.

I wound up working on SR:Anarchy because, at about the time the very first noises of a rules-lighter version of SR was being talked about in the upper-management discussions at CGL, I was thinking, "I really wish we had a version of SR I could play with my kids." They'd flipped through some of my SR books and kinda liked some of what they saw, but the rules were too much and the presentation really wasn't kid-friendly.

So I talked with a few of the other freelancers, and we put together a pitch for a product we called Shadowrun Jr. Stripped Down, bare-basics rules, a kid's view of the setting. Quick character generation, fast task resolution, and a path to grow into the bigger version of the game if they were interested.

When I sent the project presentation to Jason Hardy, the line developer, he wrote back and said, "You know, Loren Coleman wants to do a rules-light version of Shadowrun, This might be a good companion for that. How'd you like to be involved?" And I said, "I'm in."

Still want to do Junior one of these days, but Anarchy is a much easier, much more kid-friendly engine, so I'm not in as quite a big a hurry as I was.

[on what he worked on]
Flavor, mostly. Jason and Philip Lee did the rules drafts, but I did a lot of kibitzing on the side, along with Rusty and Opti. Rules would show up, we'd all say, "This doesn't work" or "This rocks on toast" and helped push things so that they felt like Shadowrun within the new rules. I wrote two or three of the Contract Briefs, and ten of the sample characters (Bit-Bucket, Daktari, Fourth, Hawk, Raider, Razzle Dazzle, Strider, Thunder, Vector, and Wheezer). And now I'm working on the errata to fix the boo-boos.

Rusty: I'm Russell Zimmerman, and the short-form of my background is that I've been a Shadowrun freelancer since Attitude and Way of the Adept. Lately I've been leaning over to the fiction side of the fence, with stuff like Neat and Shaken (and that ongoing novel trilogy), and those recent anthologies.

On Anarchy, most of what we freelancers tackled were the sample characters and the scenarios/plot-hooks, officially, but we were also full of suggestions and comments when it came to stuff like chargen, partially because we also ran some playtests, but also specifically as a result of us, uh, genning all those chars (thirty of the buggers!). So officially we weren't assigned any rules, but there are lots of little and not-so-little changes that were made because of us, which is always cool.

Personally, I tackled 10 of the pre-genned characters*, and 11 of the included scenarios**. I'm also the guy who handled the intro fic for the book, Synchronicity (which features several of those pre-gens). Oh! Plus I added the Cinematic Initiative option, which is how my buddies and I handle init in narrative games, so I was glad to see it added as an optional system here. I guess that counts as a contribution.

*(Coydog, Gentry, Hardpoint, Ms. Myth, Sledge, Kix, Ninetails, Shades, Tommy Q, and Wagon)

**(Food Fight, Snatch and Grab, Nerps Run, Data/Steel, Puyallup Problems, Urban Brawl, Assassin's Greed, Cleaning House, Street Sweeper, Triad Take-Out, and Trucking With The Fae)

Opti: My writing name is O.C. Presley, and I live with my wife and 2 kids in Fort Worth, TX. Most of my work history previous has been in education and public speaking. My relevant background is that I started a Shadowrun podcast a few years ago called the Neo-Anarchist Podcast. It is an in-character telling of SR history, and I play the narrator, Opti.

I began writing for Shadowrun earlier this year, and my first published work was the Redmond Barrens chapter of the Seattle Sprawl box set, but I just had a short story published in the Shadowrun: Drawing Destiny Anthology. Anarchy marks the first time I have had any meaningful input on a game's design, although my input was much more on the balance and fluff side than the core mechanics. Although I do have the honor of being the one to name it "Anarchy." :)

I ended up working on Anarchy largely thanks to Patrick Goodman. He and I had been talking for some time about a kid-friendly version of Shadowrun, and our original pitch was for something along those lines. But as it turns out, Anarchy was already in the works, and Patrick let Jason Hardy, our line developer, know I was interested, and I got added onto the group.

Within Anarchy, along with Rusty and Patrick, I was responsible for about a third of the characters and a little over a third of the Mission Briefs. We all sort of chipped in on the other stuff, too, but only in a voluntary way. I think we all wanted Anarchy to be its best, so ideas were flowing around all the time. To Jason's credit, a lot of our ideas were given consideration even though they were in areas we were not technically working on.

What kind of challenges did you encounter building a game to work alongside the core 5th edition material? How did you figure out what to change, and what to keep?

Patrick: The big trick, to me, was making sure that the experience felt like Shadowrun even though the system was clearly something completely different. That took some doing, especially since that's so subjective. One person's "feels like Shadowrun" can be very different from another person's.

There's a lot of guesswork and trial-and-error involved, especially in the beginning stages. Once you get the foundation working the way you think is right, the rest is just honing things to make sure they're all in line with one another. You hit on something, and you try it out, and you get some other people to try it out, and see what happens.

Rusty: We wanted to walk the tightrope between streamlining/efficiency and Shadowrun/familiarity. That meant keeping the core mechanic of skill plus attribute, for instance, but narrowing down the number of attributes to try and make things simpler. Likewise, we leveraged SR5's "Skill Groups" pretty hard as a way of slimming down the skill list while keeping some familiar Shadowrun sentiments in place.

I, personally, think we could have folded Plot Points into Edge as another way of simplifying gameplay while retaining a familiar name for something, but the third part of our tricksy-like-hobbitses balancing act was also that we were making a Cue System game, so that meant keeping some of those touchstones, that core narrative-game-engine that CGL has had such great prior success with, with Plot Points, cues, dispositions, and those type of things. So it wasn't just a balancing act between trying to keep the Shadowrun feel while creating a narrative game, it was trying to do so while creating a Cue narrative game, rather than building something brand new from the ground up.

Opti: Well, much of that was out of my hands. However, when brainstorming early on, we all decided that it should feel like Shadowrun, and yet be easy to wrap your head around. One of the easiest ways to do that was to keep the D6 "hits" system in place for rolls. Also, no matter what Anarchy became, we knew it had to reflect the lore in the same way that the SR5 system did, just with different mechanics. 



When creating content for the game, what did you use as guidance - previous Shadowrun fiction, reflections on current events, inspirations for mechanics from other games, and/or other sources?

Patrick: My biggest guide was, "What's gone before? How do I make sure that this reflects this new ruleset we're making, but also reflects the very rich and expansive game world we've been developing for the past 27 years?"

So, very much, previous SR fiction, including my own. Two of the pregen characters I submitted, Thunder and Wheezer, were from a story I did called "Thunderstruck." I conferred with Rusty Zimmerman when I was working on Strider's background, and she developed into a courier for his characters Jimmy Kincaid and Ms. Myth.

I think we all looked at current events as we worked, which I think really shows up in the diversity of the characters. That was one of Opti's biggest pushes, and I think it reflects well on the game. We've got gender parity, metaracial parity, different ethnicities, and different sexual orientations.

And I'm way off on a tangent and a whole other discussion, so I'll stop at "previous fiction" and "current events."

Rusty: For me, I'd call it a 70/30 split between existing Shadowrun lore (which is something that's always at the forefront of my decision-making process, respect for the existing material), and inspiration from game experiences (either with SR, or with narrative games). Shadowrun's a game that's just madly in love with crunch, and many Shadowrun fans are, too. Selling a narrative, rules-light (or rather, rules-medium, I'd say) game to those types of fans, you've got to really knock it out of the ballpark, and you've got to really sell them on it. Hopefully we did that, and folks are already having a good time with it, just in these last few weeks.

I tend to leave my current-events-reflections for longer pieces where I have a little more room to stretch out and make my own statement, like in some fiction or a stand-alone product (like some of the politicians in the Land of Promise e-book about Tir Tairngire); I can "fly under the radar" a little more in solo work, but also it feels like fans maybe accept a little more real-world stuff seeping into a book specifically about politics, or more intensely personal stuff like a novel, than they accept it in a rulebook. There's more room to write about serious real-world stuff in projects where I'm not worrying about making sure 10 pre-genned characters are following the rules (while we're constantly changing the rules). Mostly, my adventure hooks in here reference existing SR stuff -- contacts these canon characters have had since the Beginner Box, characters from novels, that sort of thing -- instead of real-life issues.

All that said, I did do most of my Anarchy work while traveling cross-country to take care of my mother during a sudden hospital stay. Her ICU nurse--in Corvalis Oregon, aka Tir Tairngire--was a great gal named Birdsong, who I totally stole for a friendly NPC. That Oregon trip totally got mined for one of my scenarios, so I did sneak in SOME real-life inspiration, I guess.

Opti: This one is huge for me. As a long time SR fan, I can't help but use all of the existing lore as backdrop for new characters and adventures. The lore is, from my perspective, the strongest thing about Shadowrun. And yet, on the other hand, cyberpunk for me is best when it addresses, to varying degrees of directness, the culture we find ourselves in. And of course to fill in the spaces between, there isn't any off-limits inspiration. Often, good writers are just people who can recycle some version the same stories that have been told for thousands of years. 



Why use the Cue system? What made it "Shadowrun"?

Patrick: Well, we had this ENnie-award-nominated, simple, narrative game system sitting around...seemed a shame to let it go to waste.

And what made it "Shadowrun" was a great deal of work. It had to be modified quite a bit from its origins in Cosmic Patrol and later implementation in Vanguard Universe.

Rusty: It wasn't particularly Shadowrun to begin with, and we made some pretty big changes to make it Shadowrunnier (tm), but the "why" for using it was pretty simple; it's already CGL's, it's already an award-winning system, and it's already well-received by fans for simpler, narrative, gameplay. So we already had this basic code or basic game engine, why not use it (but tweak it to make it suit us better), why would you want to start from the ground up, instead? The decision came from well above our pay-grade, but using Cue as a core system, starting with it and building from there, isn't something I minded at all.

Opti: The decision to use the Cue system was another decision above my pay grade. Catalyst had found success in using the Cue system for other narrative games like Cosmic Patrol and Valiant, so when deciding to convert SR to a narrative mechanic, the Cue system was likely too inviting to pass up compared to creating an entirely new system. Having said that, the Cue system in Anarchy is a much different thing than either the Cosmic Patrol or Valiant version. It may be helpful to think of Cosmic Patrol as Cue 1.0, Valiant as Cue 1.5, and Anarchy as Cue 2.0. Or something.


How did you maintain the feeling and application of the different metahumans while using the streamlined system?

Patrick: Again, a lot of work, though most of it was relatively simple. There was a lot of discussion about how to make sure trolls felt trolly and elves felt elfy.

Rusty: Quite a lot of that comes down to the basic keywords associated with a character, not just the modified attributes that come into it directly or mechanically. Just like in a regular Shadowrun game, there's more to being an elf than having a few stat modifiers, right? More to being an ork or a troll or a dwarf than the above average Strength or Body, isn't there? There's the role-playing opportunities, the various attitudes you'll get from different factions in the setting, the background differences between a Tir-born elf and a Puyallup-brat, or a Tir-born human versus a round-eared Barrens-brat, for that matter, right? So yeah, a lot of it comes down to that metaracial tag right there at the top of the archetype or the character sheet; the weight that those three little letters 'e-l-f' have comes down to the stories being told, the flavor of the campaign, and all that -- to me, at least -- much more than it's based on the spare attribute point or two you might have.

Opti: We argued about it a lot. We went around and around internally about how to get this right, and to Jason Hardy's credit, he listened a lot to Patrick, Rusty, and myself. We wanted it to be just right, and so we tested out many many different ways to represent the differences between the metas. In the end, I think we did ok, but as always, Trolls were the biggest pain.


Tell me a little about one of your favorite characters, locations, or elements of the game and why it is important to you as a creator.

Patrick: My favorite part of the game is the system itself. It's quick and pretty clean, and dirt-simple to learn and to teach. My two oldest kids have been interested in SR for a while, but we've never been able to play because of the complexity and the adult language. Anarchy, though, is a Shadowrun that I can play with my children. We made a conscious effort to tone the language back, and as has been noted, the rules are short, quick, and easy.

Rusty: The easy answer for me is always Tir Tairngire, because it encapsulates -- elves in Shadowrun, in totality, encapsulate -- so much of what makes this fantasy-cyberpunk hybrid setting so...Shadowrun. On the one hand you've got narrative room for all this really unrealistic, highly stylized, fantasy stuff, with Princes and Paladins, fancy pseudo-plate-mail armor, swords and magic, this flowery neo-Celtic elven language, and these fantastic names right out of a fantasy novel. Right? You can stop there if you want, just scratch the surface, and play a character, perfectly in keeping with the setting, that drinks that Kool-Aid and buys into all that bullshit, and lives a perfectly happy life (by Shadowrun standards), and is basically, y'know, Straight Outta Westeros. It all fits the setting just fine, fits the canon just fine, and it's a valid character, if you want to lean on that fantasy side. 

 But then if you dig a little deeper, you get the, I dunno, the chocolate core beneath the candy shell, or whatever, with this dystopic cyberpunk layer just beneath that top layer. And you can play an elf from a ghetto, for pete's sake, how perfect is that? Or a human who's well aware that the Tir's Disney FantasyLand veneer is such bullshit, or an elf who bought into it all until they got some terrible order to mistreat an ork or a human, and they have this heel-face turn when they give up on that fascist -- because it really is a flavor of fascism, no bones about it -- Tir crap and realize how silly ducal ranks and royal blood and stuff are, in real life. Or you can ignore all of it, and just be some dude who happens to be an elf, some grease-under-his-nails mechanic or a burger-flipping high school kid who just happens to have great skin, pointy ears, and night-vision, who doesn't buy into any of it, and doesn't see what the big deal is, and maybe has this kind of super-metaracial-privilege working for him and doesn't even think about it.

Elves in Shadowrun, and kind of their uber-personification with the Tirs, holds so much good and bad and in-between and real-life to me, man, I totally dig 'em. They can show you everything that's great about the setting, and everything that's terrible about the setting, and everything in between, sometimes even all in just one character.

Opti: In general, my favorite aspect of Shadowrun is the anarchist flavor to it. The idea that the powers that be in society are so corrupt that rebellion against them or flagrant breaking of their laws is actually good? That appeals to me. As a result, I wrote in a number of anarchist characters, and brought back the anarchist group Black Star in one of the adventures at the end. As I said earlier, this is one of those areas in which Shadowrun goes beyond simple escapism and offers a chance to explore being an outcast for standing against the corrupt system that "normal" people don't see as corrupt.

As far as locations, beyond Seattle, I am really getting into thinking about the Confederated American States. For a long time, they have gotten a bad rep as racist, backwards people, and I think that is a little unfair to half of the US. I had some CAS stuff that didn't make it into the final product, but I'd like to see the CAS come into focus sooner or later.

As far as characters, I've always loved shamans, the Unseelie Court, and Harlequin. So far, I've only been able to write one of those, but we'll see how things go once I get some more stuff under my belt. Jason keeps a pretty tight lid on Harly, lol.


What do you think, going forward, are the important things from Anarchy that you want to see grow, develop, and expand?

Patrick: I think the thing that stands out to me is that you can have adventures in the Sixth World without having to have a degree in advanced math to understand the rules. You can have fun without wasting most of the night trying to figure out the rules. I'd love to see that go on, and attract more people to the game.

Rusty: If I had my druthers, like five years from now or whatever when 6th edition gets worked on, if it was DruthersRun and it was all exactly what some freelancer named Russell wanted? One thing I'd absolutely love to keep from Anarchy would be some of the simplification. The abbreviated line of attributes, the streamlined list of broader skills. The simplicity of it, of just changing those options away from being so nit-picky and specialized. Getting away from this huge list of skills like SR5 has, where even just the list of skill groups is like a whole page, and where we've got a nitty-gritty specific skill for being this one type of mechanic, and one skill for jumping versus another skill for landing, and on and on and on. I'm becoming something of a minimalist in my grouchy almost-forty years, where I hate it any time a game system's skill list gets longer, gets more specific, ever. Ever. I adore it when "I want to be the fighty guy" means picking like two or three skills, and being able to handle your job, instead of having to pick out five or six, and then also get two or three "every criminal needs these" skills, and then having to dive into gear and start off with all this must-have stuff, and on and on and on. If half of making your character is already handled by the core mechanic's traps and must-have items, why not avoid and ignore all that, officially start everyone off with that stuff, and call it a day? Why complicate it, and leave all these pitfalls for new players?

So, yeah. I'm a total advocate of the simpler skills, the broader skills, this sort of...broad competence that basically every Anarchy character kind of ends up with. I dig it. Make it faster and easier to just jump in and start telling stories and slinging dice, and I'm a happy dude.

Opti: Well, a lot of that depends on how Anarchy is received. As of now, we are thinking Anarchy will be a one-off, and its system is so flexible that any sourcebook from SR past or present will be able to function as an Anarchy sourcebook as well. Having said that, if people begin demanding further Anarchy products, letting Jason Hardy at Catalyst know your feelings is the quickest way to make that happen!

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Wow, thank you so much to Patrick, Opti, and Rusty so much for the interview! Special kudos to Rusty for helping me coordinate with all of these busy schedules. It was really awesome to hear more about the project and what Anarchy means to the team and Shadowrun in general. I hope everyone enjoyed reading! I, for one, am REALLY hoping for more Shadowrun material, especially for a narrative based game like Anarchy! Speaking of which, here's the DriveThruRPG link!





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Saturday, December 3, 2016

Safety and Table Techniques, My Take

Of late, there have been a lot of people making efforts to design table techniques and safety techniques. This is great and I'm happy to see design work and attention to communication and safety at the table! ...however, I have some thoughts.

The two most recent tools I've seen are the Support Flower and the Edgewise card.

I'm going to be judgy. I know, what do I know? Nothing more than what I know, which is my experience, emotions, and background.

I think the Support Flower is interesting and has good intent. However, the design is an issue. With the arrangement of the flower, if I (someone with relatively short arms) tried to reach across the table to tap or point to the red center, what if I could only reach the green petals, or someone thought I was just pointing at the slow down petals? Maybe I'd have to move it closer to me, moving it farther from other players and also setting up an implication that I would control the content, as well as possibly distracting from the game.

As well, the slow down or gentle option can be confusing. Without discussing what content is troubling, how do you be gentle with it? Isn't it just as much of a disruption of the game to pause to clarify because "hey I'm uncomfortable with or nervous about this content" is very vague and can be an issue? (I have seen this with the X-card, too, and complained about it.) These are things that worry me.

For Edgewise, it has two issues. One, the introduction of the card comes across as an admission that there is no trust for basic respect at the table and no attempt at gaining or giving it. It says "None of you will let me talk, so here is a tool that I'm going to have to use to work around you." This is different than safety cards because we can all assume people want to talk, but knowing what will trigger someone or bother them requires a deeper discussion. 

It also, secondly, completely disrupts norms of communication. It says "I am not listening to what you are saying, I'm just waiting my turn to speak." It gives no respect to people who might just be making their point and not steamrolling if the person who wants to use it is just barely holding back at talking over that person and ignoring their point. I also know it can be used as a means to take control of the discussions at the table.

We have a tendency as gamers to avoid communication. We may not ask each other about how things make us feel. We can be afraid to share the things that make us uncomfortable because people might judge us. We can be afraid to say "Hey, stop, I don't want to see this." But we can learn. We can step up as players and designers and GMs to say "Ask people what is okay for them. Give people space to express *openly and explicitly* what's not comfortable for them." And if people judge others for being uncomfortable with certain content? The uncomfortable people should be the ones who get to stay at a safe table.

We may excuse misbehavior as social awkwardness. We may say that someone is too awkward to know when it's okay to speak, or that some people have trouble using social cues. And for some people, these things are true. For autistic individuals and people with anxiety, I can see a lot of these troubles and accommodation is important. But this is not all of us. We can't excuse everyone because of some people's genuine needs. We can learn and grow and get better at talking to each other and learning body cues. Hell, even people with anxiety typically have the capacity to learn these things. 

If those of us who can learn these things and can design for these things and support these things don't make those efforts, we don't give space for the people who really need support and space. We can learn how we can act and be open and honest about our feelings and perspectives so that people who can't feel safer and if they can, someday might be able to do the same thing.

I see the meaning and intention here, and I know no tool is perfect. This is just where I am seeing flaws and why I wouldn't like these tools at my table.

ETA: I was talking with John about some of the user design issues here and we noted the issues of visual impairment and colorblindness, as well as ability to physically access the tools. (I have in Script Change that you can vocalise the tools, but I haven't seen this as an option in many other tools.) Accessible tools matter!



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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What Makes a Good Player? with Kaetlyn Kuchta


Today's What Makes a Good Player? feature is with Kaetlyn Kuchta. Kaetlyn talks a little about being a badass and asking questions (and you all know how I love asking questions!). Check it out below!

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What do you try to do most often while playing games to enhance your experience and the experience of others?

I think the most important thing you can do is ask questions about the world. If you’re asking about the environment that everyone is playing in, it helps to keep everyone invested in the game. Yes this happens during character creation and world building in certain games, but it would be impossible to answer every question at that time. I like to ask about the way places look, how people on the street are acting, or if there are any nifty monuments around. This is always open for discussion between the other players and the GM as well, and it helps to create a rich world that the entire table gets to create and love.

I also tend to do whatever action I think is going to be the most fun. Sometimes it gets my character into a lot of trouble, like when they follow their impulsive nature to touch the ancient cursed artifact, but it always creates a really interesting story. I don’t go out of my way to cause trouble for the rest of the party, but I try to play true to any aspects or alignments that I put on the character sheet.


Do you use any specific play techniques (narrative tools, improv tools, etc.) in your play sessions?

I use the tried and true improv rule “Yes and…” Meaning no matter what the other players say/do or what the consequences of roll are, I agree to it and build upon it. This doesn’t always mean my character is happy with it. For instance, if a player character beats up a subdued criminal and my character is against random violence, she isn’t going to let them get away with that. The “Yes” is seeing and accepting that the action happened and that there is no way to take that back. The “and…” part is having my character confront the other player character about it.

I also think making sure those in game conflicts stay in game. It doesn’t do any good for me to harass the player for acting out their character the way they imagine them. There were plenty of times when I first started role playing where a player would do something in game that I disagreed with and I would openly ask them why they did that dumb thing. It only created friction between players and created guilt. Itchy itchy guilt. I’ve since discovered that having characters that butt heads from time to time is really fun, especially in games that set you up for PvP conflict that doesn’t result in murder such as Fate or Masks, or most games with social skills. Now I can have my character confront another character while I high five the player for being a badass.


How often do you like to game, and what is most comfortable for you to maintain good energy in games?

I game once a week, and for me that’s enough. I tend to become really invested in my characters so having more than one or two to focus on gets a little confusing for me and I’ll end up playing them all the same instead of letting them blossom into individuals. That being said, I also like to switch up what I’m playing after about 8-10 sessions so I can explore another character concept, because for me that’s the biggest draw to these games. I like to try on these different faces and see how they interact in the worlds we build at the table.


What kind of games do you feel you are most comfortable with and enjoy the most?

As I mentioned before, trying on different characters and exploring the world are my favorite parts of the game, so I like games that really create vivid and diverse characters and worlds like Fate and Powered by the Apocalypse systems. These systems are so open that they create a ton of freedom to play around and discover your character and how they feel about their environment. They’re also systems that beg the players and GM to ask questions every session, and I love that open dialog at a table.

On the other hand, I typically have a hard time with systems that you might call “crunchy”. Games that have a ton of rules and structures for every action that my character may want to do are infuriating to me. I just want to look like a badass taking out villains without having to calculate knock-back based on my strength based on what fighting stance I was in, minus if I’ve slept in the past 12 hours. I totally understand why that would appeal to other people, but for me it takes away from my narrative power and makes me crave a gin and tonic.


Can you share a special experience in a game where you felt like you did a good job playing your part in the overall story and game?

My group recently finished up a play of Masks in which I got to play a Nova with a happy façade. I decided from the start that she was going to actively try to be the epitome of a super hero, which I expected to conflict with the Nova’s tendency to destroy everything and the amount of conditions she would end up with. I was right. Throughout the game I got to play a character that was messy and awkward but who truly tried to lead her team in the right direction. I used the rules the game gave me to both incite and resolve conflict between my character and npc’s, and the other player characters as well. In Masks you gain and lose influence over others, and my Nova traded those in and out like baseball cards, which really let me play around with who she was and how she was effected by the environment around her. She ended up being a character who actively drove the story forward and looked out for the team while also creating conflict for the other players to solve. Basically I was never bored while playing her.

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Thanks so much to Kaetlyn for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading her responses.




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Monday, November 28, 2016

Five or So Questions with Ashton McAllan on The Republic

I recently came across a Twitter post about The Republic, a game by Ashton McAllan, Vincent Baker, and Mark Redacted. When I read a little about it, I knew I had to talk to the creators, and Ashton was cool enough to give me some of her time! The Republic is available for purchase and looks really fascinating. Check out the interview below!

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Tell me a little about The Republic. What excites you about it?

The Republic is such a fun mix of disparate parts. It's core themes are all focused around Social Justice and resisting oppressive governments, it's got Avatar like fantastical element bending, and the default setting is this weird retrofuturist steampunk classical state. It was born out of Paul Czege's #Threeforged competition where Mark Redacted, Vincent Baker and I ended up developing it together without knowing who we were working with which allowed for this really fun, creative, experimental combination of ideas, which I love. The fact that the game was already coming out of left field has meant that I've been able to do cool stuff as I've been developing it since that I might have been scared to do otherwise, like adding rules for playing with an audience or require characters be from marginalised group within their society. I don't think I could have written a game with these important themes or a game with these experimental new dice mechanics if they weren't all next to each other to balance things.


What led you to choosing the themes of social justice and others of that vein?

The social justice themes in the game actually arose in the original development during the Threeforged competition. My initial draft centered on the relationship between the elements and the Platonic solids that Plato describes in his Timaeus dialogue. After I submitted that it was passed on to Vincent and Mark anf the theme of Plato was extended into making the game about a version of the great theoretical nation-state that he describes in The Republic from which the game now takes its name. It focused on how the seemingly perfect Republic was in fact atrocious towards marginalised people within it and how it was up to a group of old, wise, respected citizens to go out and fix their society.

When I saw it I was over the moon because my stupid little idea about dice had been turned into something so cool and beautiful but during the voting period there was a lot of heated discussion about the legitimately problematic White Male Saviour narrative that that version of the game portrays.

I wasn't allowed to join in that discussion because it would risk revealing that I worked on the game before voting closed and judging was done so I was stuck there being like "Yes! This has problems but it can also be something really cool!" So that really galvanized my desire to take the game further and refine it into something that was able to help people positively explore those social justice themes while still being fun and safe to play.

Once voting was over and everything was over Vincent reworked it to focus on the oppressed saving themselves and then I took that and continued work from there until now, changing a lot of things but trying to keep true to the game's heart.



How did you settle on a setting and fictional positioning for a game? How does it support the themes?

Our default setting is a sort of steampunk alternate ancient Greece that evolved out of the way the Threeforged competition had us combining ideas from each other in interesting new ways and reflects the influences of Plato and Avatar The Last Airbender on the thematic and mechanical elements of the game. The text does, however, explicitly encourage GMs to feel free to run their games in alternate versions of the setting such as cyberpunk or solarpunk futures. All the game requires is that The Republic exists and that it oppresses and marginalises people.

One of the important things I did discover as I developed the game, however, is that it can be triggering and exhausting both as a developer, a player, and as a GM. To try and soften that I made sure to include a safeword mechanic in the text of the game and also added in distinct if abstract geographical regions to the game to allow players to functionally choose their level of interaction with the atrocity of The Republic itself. The World of The Republic always contains three main areas: The Metropoli which is the heart of the republic where players are most hounded by the oppression of the state but can also affect the most change, The Borderlands where the reach of The Republic is sparse and the players travel between towns helping folks deal with threats both from The Republic itself and from beyond it's borders, and the Barbarous Wilds where players can choose to leave behind their institutional abuser and forge a new life beyond it's reach. Partially I had to add these options for my own sanity when playtesting and having to repeatedly interrogate heavy topics but I hope they're also helpful as a safety valve for players and GMs.


What are the mechanics like for the game? How do you go through play, and what informs the flow of the game?

I'm not sure if Vincent would agree but I would say it's a Powered by the Apocalypse system but with more dice. GMs have forces which oppose the players, have goals, and resources to carry out those goals. Players describe the actions their characters take and roll dice to see if they're successful, and if they're not, the GM makes the situation more interesting.

The unique elements here are in the ways the dice work. There are five dice sizes mapped to five elements in accordance with Plato's Timaeus dialogue. The player's character is initially made up of any combination of ten of those dice they choose, the combination showing which of the elements are more or less present in the character. When players roll dice to take action the action will be aligned with an element, dice of that element are more likely to score successes for that action. Players may roll as many dice as they wish to try and score a required number of successes to complete the task but any unsuccessful dice become dead and no longer usable until they are restored to life through healing or rest, communion, and care. The game is about exhaustion, and the importance of managing that, internally, and as a group, in your fight. It also forces you to think about when is the time to fight, to run, to build, to observe, or to heal.

The mechanics also seek to honour our dead. When player characters are destroyed they choose one of a number of ends available to them based on the fiction and each of those leaves a legacy upon the game such as turning the tide against a threat or leaving some part of yourself in your companions, advancing their characters stats.

Considering the nature of the game's themes and the new mechanics, what would you hope people get out of the game the most? What experiences and takeaways do you hope for?

One of my favourite experiences during playtesting has been seeing some of my non-disabled heterosexual white cisgender male friends realise they have to play a character that is at least not one of those things which had never occurred to some of them. Seeing them play those characters and connect with them in ways that they might never have done so before has been amazing. I want the game to continue to create those experiences of intense empathy, I want it to help create solidarity amongst the marginalised, I want it to help us feel confident and comfortable with resisting oppression, and I want people to think about their characters in new ways when they look at the dice on the table.

That's a big set of expectations but if we can achieve even some small measure of each of them I'm gonna be super jazzed.

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Thanks so much to Ashton for the interview! The Republic sounds like a fascinating game and I encourage you all to check out more about it if you get the chance!




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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What Makes a Good Player? with Alys Humfleet


Today's What Makes a Good Player? feature is with Alys Humfleet! Alys provided a little additional background for the interview, as well. Check it and the interview out below.

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From Alys:

The very first tabletop/RPG I ever played was a demo for a small independent game ... at GenCon. (I got dragged there by a friend of mine because of a resource book release she thought we'd both enjoy. Which got delayed and wasn't even published by the time we got there, but we had the tickets, so we went.)

I had never played any CRPGs either, (I tended more towards the adventure games), and I'd never even played any of the board games that have some story or plot; my favorite board game by a wide margin is Clue. I say all this just to illustrate how out of my depth I really was; the most clueless of newbies. (I need how many dice? Why are they all weird shapes? What are we doing again? Why? How?)

But I am a writer, have been since my third grade teacher made us do a daily journal and I realized it was fun, so I sat down at that demo, and listened to our GM talk about the game system, and made myself a character I would like to read or write about.

She fit our setting pretty well, and she managed a couple really great and interesting moves throughout the demo, and I had a really good time. (Even if I still had no idea what I was doing. Never let having no idea what youíre doing stop you.)

Now, this company was doing a series of demos with a serialized plot, and a couple people from each demo were picked to continue onto the next one, and then a few from that one would go on again, and then once more throughout the full four days of the Con. Unsurprisingly to me, I was not one of those picked to continue, but the GM took a moment at the end of the game to chat with me about my character, and he commented on how interesting she was, but how she wasn't interactive enough. (He sounded actually apologetic about it, which was mind-boggling to me, because it hadn't occurred to me that this thing my friend had made me do with her might be something I could be good at doing, or would ever attempt to do again.)

But I'd made a character with an interesting interior life and internal conflicts (thus good to read or write about), who made a good enough first impression the GM commented on it to me later, but not one whose motivations displayed well and gave the other players something to, well, play off of. And that is the one thing that has always stuck with me about game characters, tabletop or computer. They inhabit a world, they work with other characters, and it is only in those interactions that the gaming happens. Otherwise you're just playing solitaire. (Which can be fun too, of course, but is not at all the same thing.)


(BrieCS): What do you try to do most often while playing games to enhance your experience and the experience of others?

(Alys) Learning from this, I realize that the very first thing I have to do when I am creating a character that will enhance both my experience and the rest of the players, is make sure that they are flexible enough to be active and reactive. A good game is never just about you. In character creation terms, this can be influenced by your systemís use of strengths and flaws, classes and skills, the spread of various stats. The mechanics change from game to game, but the point is that you both have something to offer, and some way to screw everything up. (Itís recovering from failure where things get interesting, after all.) You can play a quiet introverted character (though it is more difficult) but you still have to give them a stake in the proceedings, you have to give them a reason to act, and a reason to react to the other charactersí actions and behaviors.


Do you use any specific play techniques (narrative tools, improv tools, etc.) in your play sessions?

While I certainly seldom consciously break it down, I am sure the way I play is influenced by the way I write, (itís still about moving the character around, in either case), and the bits of drama class and improv class that I still remember from when I was in school.

The first thing they ask you when trying to write plot, is what is the worst thing you can do to your character. What is the one thing they absolutely do not know how to handle ... because that is exactly what should happen to them. (Make your character uncomfortable! Thatís usually the fastest way to make them do something.)

The most important concept they teach you in any beginning improv class is that you can't say no to whatever the last person did, you can't ignore it and go on with whatever you were thinking about before, you have to say yes, AND. You have to take what the other players and GM give you and build off that, even if it wasn't at all what you thought you were going to be doing when you started. That doesn't mean you should forget your personal goals for your character or the plot, but you have to let everything else happen as well.

It's also really helpful, especially when you're first starting a campaign, to make sure you're familiar with the other characters, so you can help create the situations that will make them uncomfortable, that force them into action. (Also so you have decent party balance in terms of solving problems. Clerics are awesome! Be the lone cleric and save everyone's lives over and over again! Can we tell I have a type?)

It helps to develop all your characters as a group, if you can, maybe even take a look at the other players' character sheets (or however much they're willing to share; sometimes someone has secrets, after all, and finding them out in game is a large part of the fun). Remember that the team dynamic is more important to a successful and entertaining game than anything else. You're choosing to hang out with these people for hours or days or even years at a time. Make sure your character has a reason to stay, and make sure you, the player, will enjoy it.

That doesn't mean your team can't have conflict, but they have to have a reason to keep working together anyways, or your group will splinter apart.


How often do you like to game, and what is most comfortable for you to maintain good energy in games?

Ideally, I find a weekly game helps keep momentum, and makes sure you all remember what you were doing and why. Realistically, very few people have consistent weekly schedules so every two weeks or even every month can also work, but I find trying to meet every week means that, even when something goes wrong so you miss a week or two here or there, it's easier to get back into the game as soon as possible. If you only meet once a month, and one month one person can't, and the next month someone else can't, you lose group cohesion and motivation. It becomes a chore you have to try and get back to, rather than a hobby you're enjoying.


What kind of games do you feel you are most comfortable with and enjoy the most?

I like all sorts of games. I find it easier to get into games that are more free-form (fewer stats, less well-defined locations, no miniatures/battle maps, etc) just because that's what I started with, and I have always been the kind of person who writes by making up sh*% as I go along. (I am what, in writer circles, is referred to as a gardener or a pantser. As in I write by the seat of mine, and seldom have much of a plan. Outlines tend to slow me down.) It can be a lot of fun to just BS your way through a gaming session. (As long as the other players are helping out, of course.) Let the voices in your head go free and see what happens. (I am, at the moment, playing a Fate Accelerated game, which is pretty much the epitome of that philosophy. You have a few approaches, and a few aspects, and a couple stunts, and everything else you figure out as you go along.)

That said, a game with a really deep mechanics/lore system is also a lot of fun, because you have so much to work with, so many potential hooks into the world and the other characters to help you make your character deeper and more invested in the surroundings. It can also be helpful if you're in a difficult situation in game, because you have a list of abilities/skills/tricks/etc. that you have chosen, that fit your character, that you can go through to help you decide what to do next, rather than having to think up something entirely new each time you have an encounter.

(Also, it's only when you have a variety of skills/abilities to try and apply in unusual ways that you get most of the best stories that show up on something like an outofcontextDnD website. You can't get that completely unexpected juxtaposition of skill/setting/player if you don't have a skill-check that gave you an unusual result, or a well-defined trope or setting to subvert.)

So basically, I like them all, (I am no help, sorry!) but it's important to use the mechanics/setting/style that your group is most interested in as a whole, because that'll keep you all coming back.


Can you share a special experience in a game where you felt like you did a good job playing your part in the overall story and game?

It's hard to describe these in detail, because they're usually so reliant on context. Any time you can defuse the most obvious plan and do something different to resolve it? That's a win. Anytime you drive another character into doing something they didn't think they could do? That's a win. Did you try something new and it failed mightily? Even thay's a win. Even if your party loses their battle and runs into the woods and has to regroup and everyone ís terrified and yelling at each other, and maybe even someone almost died or got kidnapped or really actually died and now you have to try and heal them or save them or mourn them and everything is TERRIBLE ... you made the game change because of something you did. And now you have to fix it! More to do right now!

Specifically? In my very first game, when we'd almost entirely screwed up what was basically a boss-battle encounter, and I was in the worst possible position to attack the giant-evil-mech that had shown up, I tried anyways, and rolled a critical success.

The GM just paused for a moment, and tilted his head. "The gun explodes." The mech was very annoyed and made terrible mechanical yelling sounds and tried to stomp on people, since it couldn't shoot them anymore. It was delightful. Part of what makes games so interesting is the randomness introduced by the dice. Sometimes the best moment will be the one moment no one had any control over.

Sometimes, the best moments come from the roleplaying. Near the climax of a campaign, while we were fighting an agent of the final villain, my character got completely side-tracked from the actual quest, and instead commented on the agent herself, because my character was personally offended by her actions. (They were both from the same race of elves, and to have one of her own people screw up so badly was infuriating.) She ignored the fight that was building, the Evil they were hunting, and just basically yelled about what a terrible example of their Clans that the agent had become.
Probably not the smartest thing, especially since she wasn't charismatic, or good with people, or really very sensible a lot of the time. But she was powerful, and she was mad.

And it worked. With the help of the agentís long-estranged daughter they broke through the Evil Influence, the agent gave them a ring that would help in the final stage of the quest, and then sacrificed herself so she couldnít be used again.

We bypassed an entire potential battle! For which the GM had done quite a bit of preparation, but he was delighted, because weíd done such a good job bringing it back to the characters and the setting. A good GM knows how to improvise when the players go off the rails. Sometimes thatís when the best stuff happens. Sometimes it just makes a big mess and you spend a couple sessions trying to get yourselves back in order again, but that's fine too. You're still doing things together as a group.
The basis of tabletop gaming, for me, is that it is collaborative entertainment. Whether it turns into a dense political story, or is a ridiculous dungeon crawl that always seems to end up with someone losing a boot and limping into the next room and you're looting piles of gold and dripping jewels and blood by the end doesnít matter, as long as itís what your group is trying to make together. Yes, your character may do something that is detrimental to the other characters, your group may devolve into petty arguing and inter-party conflict (or they might be best friends and family, or an endless shifting combination of both) but anything is fine as long as the players are still working together and moving the game along.


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Thank you so muc to Alys for the interview! Hope you all enjoyed reading this week's What Makes a Good Player? feature!



This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!
If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Five or So Questions with Tod Foley on Other Borders

Today I chatted with Tod Foley on his new game Other Borders, which is currently available digitally on DriveThru RPG, RPGnow, and OpenGamingStore. It's a DramaSystem based game and sounds pretty interesting! The print edition hits in December 2016. Check out the interview below!

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Tell me a little about Other Borders. What excites you about it?

Other Borders is a DramaSystem game of drugs, money and magic in the modern American southwest, originally conceived as an expansion for Tom McGrenery's "Malandros". The first thing that excited me about working on this project was the Malandros system itself - you might call it "the Malandros branch of DramaSystem". Mechanically, it's a simplified version of DS; there are no cards and fewer tokens. But it also has Character Types and Moves inspired by Vincent Baker's PbtA ("Powered by the Apocalypse") system. I really wanted to work on a setting that would embrace the genre of "magical realism" in a dramatic and spontaneous way, and Tom's rules gave me that opportunity: the town of Entrelugares is a place where drug cartels and law enforcement come face to face with the powers of traditional magic. In fact to the best of my knowledge, it's the first DramaSystem game to include rules for magic. That's very exciting to me, and I'm looking forward to hearing all the trippy things people do with it.


What have you done with the Drama System mechanics that players might find new and interesting?

The Malandros branch uses the same definitions of scenes, scene types, and drama tokens as any other DramaSystem game, but adds procedural moves. These moves are written in a way that will be familiar to PbtA players, although only 1d6 is used: a total of 2 or less represents failure and/or a problem arising, 3-5 represents a partial success (often with a cost), while a total of 6+ represents a full success. And like PbtA games, there's a list of GM Moves that are taken in response to low rolls and "what now" moments.

Other Borders also adds a statistic called "Poder" which represents your character's magical power. Poder may be used to add a die to your pool, or to enhance the efficacy of certain magical moves. But I think the most interesting thing is the way this magic plays out: it's different every time. Magic is highly personalized and unpredictable, because its effects are made up and narrated by the players themselves. There are four types of magic in the game: A class of "general magic" which is common and ceremonial, plus Brujeria (Sorcery/Dark Witchcraft), Chamanismo (Shamanic/Mestizo Magic), and Curanderismo (Healing Magic).

La Santa Muerte


What kind of research did you do for the project, since it is related to some fraught topics?

Most of the "magical realism" stuff was simply drawn from years of reading. Today magical realism is a recognized genre practiced by authors around the world, but its roots are Latin American, and many works in the genre were first written in Spanish. A particularly seminal work was "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez. My academic sources included the works of writers and literary critics such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Jüri Talvet and Wendy Faris. The criminal elements (cartels and gangs) are drawn mostly from television and movies, from "Weeds" to "Colors" to "Once Upon a Time in Mexico", and from my studies on Santa Muerte. As for the fictional city of Entrelugares itself, it's an amalgam of research data on real US/Mexican border towns such as Naco, Arizona and Nogales, New Mexico. But I've made it very dense, small and isolated, for dramatic effect. Such a place probably couldn't exist in the real world, but it's perfectly suitable for a movie or a telenovela.


What audience are you aiming for with Other Borders, and why?

You know what? I really wrote it to please myself, because Tom gave me a chance to do whatever I wanted to do. I love the genre, I love the culture and the people (I'm from the southwest and I live in a part of Las Vegas which is mostly Latino: El Dia de Muerte is a bigger holiday than Halloween in my neighborhood). But really, I guess the first thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to write magic for DramaSystem. Everything else followed from that.



How do you approach character and player interaction - PvP, collaborative, etc. - and how is that reflected in the mechanics and fiction?

As in all DS games, players are able to insert details (or themselves) into scenes pretty freely. If a conflict arises on the meta level, players can enter into a back-and-forth with Drama Tokens until the scene is settled one way or the other, and the GM Moves are there to keep things jumping even if the players don't have any immediate ideas.

On the character level, enmity is a totally acceptable form of relationship: this is a TV show and sometimes it's fun to play the bad guys - but "bad guy" is a relative term. The town of Entrelugares has many factions and character types: in addition to townspeople and immigrants there are smugglers, gangs, cartel bosses, cops, academics, new age hippies, and a variety of magical practitioners both light and dark. It's possible to play a cooperative scenario like "townspeople banding together to rid the city of drug smugglers", or a competitive scenario like "cops versus the cartel". It's all up to the group, and what they want to play. Because the game includes both modern weapons and powerful magic, if you get into combat it's fairly easy to get debilitated (at least for a while), but the stress and harm rules are forgiving enough so that not a lot of characters will end up dying.

As far as action resolution mechanics go, the modifications Tom made for Malandros created a set of rules that makes it easier for characters to accomplish things on their own, compared to a traditional DS game like Hillfolk. This makes for a faster-paced "episode" with "hard cuts" to different locations, so characters can get more done in less time and this moves the plot along quickly. But of course, they are all tied to each other by direct relationships established in CharGen, and this (in addition to the Drama Token rules) guarantees that their paths must keep crossing in dramatic ways. Its very telenovela-like.

Anything else you want to add?

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Brie. It's always a pleasure talking with you, and I hope you and your readers enjoy the game!

Encounter with the Magical Woman

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Thanks to Tod for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed the interview, and if you want, check out Other Borders on the various available sources!


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Friday, November 18, 2016

Five or So Questions with Avery Alder on Monsterhearts 2

Hi All! I recently contacted Avery Alder about doing an interview for Monsterhearts 2, the second edition of Monsterhearts that is currently on Kickstarter, and she accepted! The original flavor of Monsterhearts is one of my favorite games and was one of my first steps into the story gaming culture and gaming style, and I've written about my experiences while playing it a little bit in the past. I hope you enjoy reading this interview with Avery!

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Tell me a little about Monsterhearts 2. What excites you about it?

Monsterhearts 2 is a game about the messy lives of teenage monsters, exploring what it means to have a body and desires that are changing without your permission. It's written with a queer lens for understanding desire, though that doesn't necessarily mean that every character you play is going to be queer. I think the project is really exciting for me personally because it's an opportunity to focus on refining something I was already proud of. I published the first edition of Monsterhearts in 2012, and since then people have often told me how lucid and inspiring the text and design are. And looking back at it, I agree that it's solid. But I also see all these ways that it could be tighter, that I could better contextualize the mechanics, that rough edges could be smoothed down. And so it's exciting to have a chance to do that work.


I've played Monsterhearts quite a few times and the issue of attraction and asexuality has come up a lot. I saw in your new sneak-peek of the game you address this. Could you talk a little more about how you're addressing it and the motivations behind it, for the readers who haven't delved into the material yet?

Definitely! Monsterhearts explores what it means to have shifting, confusing desires. There are rules about turning people on and gaining power over them. The way those rules are designed intentionally challenges some of the dominant narratives that our culture has about how sexuality works - that it is fixed, that it is predictable, and that it is binary. I think challenging those narratives works out really well in play, too. It means that every session is surprising and feral.

But there was this other dynamic that the first edition introduced, of unwittingly reinforcing another set of dominant narratives about sexuality - that everyone is sexual, and that everyone is equally available for sex. And I think that in designing the game the way that I did, I did a disservice to asexuals and to survivors of sexual trauma. I aligned myself with dominant narratives that erased and hurt them. Since 2012, I've had people bring that to my attention and I've sat with their criticism. I knew that the core of the game should stay the way it was, but that I needed to create space for these other stories as well. I'm still figuring out how to introduce these new mechanics into the game gracefully!


A subject near and dear to my heart is boundaries and safe experiences in games. You've written about it in Safe Hearts, and I'm interested to know more - what are your goals with your new chapter on the subject? How do you personally, as a creator, approach tough subjects while still allowing for the inherent mistakes in social interactions that are so common for teens?

Part of my approach in writing Safe Hearts (an essay from 2014 that's being adapted into a chapter in the new book) was to establish priorities. It's easy to over-simplify questions like "How do we take care of each other's emotions while doing something emotionally vulnerable together?" It's also easy to over-think them until you feel anxious and immobilized! And so my approach was to suggest a list of priorities: focus on this first, then focus on this if you have the capacity, and then finally this. The three concentric circles of priorities that the essay outlines are: first to ourselves, then to others at the table, then to the characters we're portraying.

The text I wrote in that essay isn't being revised very much as it makes its way into the new book. I feel like what I wrote on the subject in 2014 remains solid. Most of the revisions are just adjusting the way it flows to make it fit better as a chapter in a larger text.


Strings are a really interesting in-game currency. Can you tell me a little about what new you're introducing for them and how you hope it will impact gameplay?

Strings are at the core of Monsterhearts. They tell a story about how power is unevenly and intimately distributed between characters. They represent the way that leverage is gained and used. The biggest change to Strings in the new edition is that they've been streamlined. This was really important, because in the first edition people would work to acquire Strings, but then they'd just sit there idle on the character sheet. The mechanics for actually spending Strings were a little too cumbersome for new players to grapple with, so they would get ignored. And other bits of the game (like the Manipulate an NPC move) directed players away from figuring out how to use the Strings economy. In the new version, the mechanics for spending Strings are more simple and more visible.


What do you hope to personally take away from your experience working on Monsterhearts 2, beyond satisfaction in a job well done?

I published the first edition of Monsterhearts while I was still figuring out where my place in queerness was. A year later I started coming to terms with being trans. And throughout that time, I started to gain recognition from wider audiences. Returning to write Monsterhearts 2 is exciting because I'm in a different place now personally. I'm a queer trans woman, I know my own politics better, and I'm excited to bring new voice and perspective to bear on this text.

Another thing I'm excited to take away from my experience working on Monsterhearts 2 is a better understanding of how to synthesize community feedback and incorporate it into a revision process. I'm holding four years of feedback in my brain. I put out a survey to learn more about people's experiences and it garnered 766 responses. But at the same time, I'm the person most intimately acquainted with the game's goals and pitfalls. How do you make sense of all that data, honour all that feedback, while still remaining confident in your own instincts and vision? I'm learning new skills.


For a game about queerness, Monsterhearts & Monsterhearts 2 could seem hard to approach for someone out of the queer community, and I've seen your work raise a lot of awareness for people like that. What do you think straight, cis people can gain by playing a game like Monsterhearts - or what would you hope they do? 

I think that everyone has confusing, complicated memories about what it was like to be a teenager. And a huge part of Monsterhearts 2 is telling those sorts of stories, exploring those sorts of feelings. While queerness adds an important dimension, I think that everyone is able to bring their own life experiences to the table. And I hope that straight, cis people feel invited to engage with these themes and be challenged by them.

or like, I hope everyone plays Monsterhearts 2 and I hope it makes them gay.

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Thanks so much to Avery for the great interview! I really enjoyed talking with her and I hope you all enjoyed reading it. Check out Monsterhearts 2 on Kickstarter now, if it sounds like your kind of game!




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