Saturday, March 17, 2018

Behrend Bernhard, Esq. on!

I have been putting products on my new account at and by that I mean, I have put up three things, it takes a lot of time.

Anyway, I put up Behrend Bernhard, Esq., my performative party game about monsters and lies, and it's post-edits so it's been hopefully improved!
Cover image featuring University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning surrounded by trees full of crows.

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Boot 'Em

Today, Paul Stefko tweeted about not playing with people who are problem players. This was in a thread about saying no to your players, which is a thing I've discussed before. I wanted to address the topic, so I tweeted about it! The following is the content of my tweets, but expanded.

I want to talk about booting players - including GMs - from your game.

It isn't the GM or other players' jobs to fix a problem player. The player should be alerted of the problems and asked to fix it, and if they don't fix it and it disrupts everyone's experience, eject the player. Even if they live there. Even if they're your family. Boot. Them.

This includes GMs. It sounds like a mess to do so, and it may be. But if a GM violates player consent, they could go farther. Just like any other player, GMs should follow a standard of behavior that respects others and is ethical, and one that ensures everyone has the most fun. If they don't, boot them. You can play a GMless game, keep your character sheets and continue play without them, or start another game. There may be emotional blowback, or even social blowback.

It's hard and it sucks but honestly, problem players can be a soul sucking experience. They can hurt people. A lot of things like talking over people can lead to bullying, or rude jokes can lead to harassment, ignoring rules to violating consent. Catch it early.
I know this sounds very harsh, but people don't grow and change if we never make them accountable and provide consequences. If a player is ruining everyone's fun and doesn't change after a warning or two (depending on severity), they need to go. If it's severe? No warnings: boot them.

You need to make a decision as a gaming group what behavior and what kind of disruption is acceptable. People who refuse to follow rules can and will harm people. Don't be complicit in that. Don't create more perpetrators of disrespect and harm in games. Be better!

Here are some suggestions on how to address this with your group and set yourselves up for success!

1) Put together a group standard. It doesn't have to be long or complicated, but it needs to be meaningful.

When I was invited to the Indie Game Developer Network (IGDN) by Mark Diaz Truman, I was excited - but nervous. One of the first things I did was create and put forward an organization code of conduct. It wasn't easy, but it meant a lot to me. I wish I'd instituted it in other parts of my gaming world, but I didn't. What I've learned is that even something simple makes a difference. Here is an example of some standards that are actionable and have consequences baked in:

"As a group, we will:
Respect each other's consent and privacy,
Respect each other's personal space,
Ask for consent before we act,
Be honest and trustworthy,
Listen to each other's perspectives, and,
Participate fairly in play and game tasks.

If anyone does not meet these, we will ask them to change their behaviors. If they do not change their behaviors, they will leave the group. If their behavior causes immediateb or serious harm, they will leave immediately."

It sounds silly and formal. So does asking your friend before you take an action that might affect them in game, honestly. But if they protect people and make the game space better? Worth a little formality.

You can also provide these at cons, local game spaces, and so on. If people want to play the game, they can consent to guidelines like these.

2) Use safety and content tools consistently.

There are a variety of content and safety tools, including my Script Change, lines and veils, and John Stavropolous's X-card.
These tools are about guiding behaviors, respecting boundaries, and making sure the game is the most enjoyable it can be. They aren't about shutting people down or bailing, they're about honesty, openness, and trust. This is important to remember.

Choose a tool based on the game you're playing or style of play, or even try a few out over the first few sessions. Once you figure out what works best, always have it available. Get everyone's buy-in, and use that as a habit.

3) Talk to each other.

Be clear about which behaviors are okay, and which are not. Talk to each other regularly about what's working for you in game, and what's not. Tell each other when their behaviors make you uncomfortable, and when they make you happy!

Have group discussions, mediated discussions, or one-on-one discussions, but talk. Be honest. If you can't talk to and be honest with a person in your group, that isn't good, and your game experience will be better if someone changes their behaviors or leaves the game.

Know that sometimes, that person might be you. Be willing to change. If you feel you can't or that others who need to change won't, it's time to find a new place to be - and try to learn from what you've experienced. It's okay to leave a game or group you don't enjoy or you can't comfortably engage with. You just have to make that choice.


This sounds like a lot, I know. Still, you need to ask yourself: does the game matter more than the people?

If your answer is yes, I don't think we're gonna get along.

Be honest. Be caring. Be better.

Boot 'em.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Five or So Questions on Chernobyl, Mon Amour

Hi all! Thanks to friends on G+, I was able to get in touch with Juhana Pettersson to interview him about Chernobyl, Mon Amour, which is now on IndieGoGo! Chernobyl, Mon Amour is the English translation of Tšernobyl, Rakastettuni, which was published in 2016 by Juhana. The themes of the game sounded haunting and beautiful, and I wanted to hear more! Check out Juhana's answers below.

BCS Note: It's so odd but I never realized how beautiful Finnish is! Lovely to even read over without knowing the meanings.

Cover art of a couple in front of a ferris wheel, with their skeletons highlighted in red. By Joel Sammallahti.
Tell me a little about Chernobyl, Mon Amour. What excites you about it?

It's a very personal game for me, in some ways that are obvious and others less so. I visited Chernobyl with my wife and that certainly affected how I saw it. It was in the early summer, and the quiet, the light were beautiful. At the same time, the history of Chernobyl is horrible. I remember when I was a child, five years old, when the news of the radioactive cloud hit Finland. My parents were watching the tv news. I didn't understand very much, but I sensed the fear and the panic. If you look at a visualization of how the radioactive particles traveled in the atmosphere after the accident, it seems as if they were almost willfully zooming straight for Lapland.

Something in that combination, the peace of Chernobyl as it is now and the terror of the story seemed like it could form the basis of an interesting roleplaying game.There's also a book by a Belarusian journalist called Svetlana Alexievich, Voices from Chernobyl, which had an enormous effect on me. It collects the stories of individuals who were involved with the accident or its aftermath.

I like love stories in roleplaying games, but they seem very underrepresented in the games that have been published so far. The Romance Trilogy of games by Emily Care Boss is obviously a huge inspiration, but I think the roleplaying field could take more than what we have now.

As a less obvious thing, the game is also an attempt to communicate the specific roleplaying game culture in Helsinki, Finland, where I discovered roleplaying and still play. Through international contact I've come to believe that the community has some unique and interesting ideas about roleplaying, and I've struggled to express some of them here, especially relating to very freeform-style character based social play.

Juhana Pettersson
What struck the romantic tone in Chernobyl, and how do you bring it to forefront in the game?

I've always liked love stories in roleplaying games, both as a player and as the GM. I think they're fun to play and very well adapted to the social situation of a tabletop game. A lot of a real life romance consists of talking, and talking happens to be the one thing that we can do in a tabletop game with minimal or no game mechanics.

I played my very first roleplaying game romance scenes when I was sixteen years old and just starting with Vampire: the Masquerade. Because we didn't actually have much real life experience with love and relationships, these scenes tended to be kinda awkward and heartfelt. In retrospect, it almost feels like we were using the game to practice for real life. Later in life, there's been a shift in content on what kind of relationship roleplaying works in the games I play in. They've become more about exploring things we don't necessarily want to experience in real life and fictionalizing actual experience either for fun or to come to terms with it.

Because of this experience, I knew for a fact that romance in roleplaying games can be very good stuff. Since the selection of published material was so sparse, I figured it would work for a game book like this one. However, I also felt that when it came to pushing the theme, subtlety was not going to work. This is why I tried to put romance front and center and have everything orbit around it. The game has two themes, radioactivity and romance. The radioactivity theme is much more perverse, involving an essentially self-destructive impulse. Yet my intuition was that it would come easier to a lot of players.

Aged and detailed map of nuclear zones. By Miska Fredman.
How does the game work mechanically? Does romance interact with the mechanics?

In terms of game mechanics, Chernobyl, Mon Amour is an attempt to broaden the scope of what we consider game design. It has no real mechanics to speak of in the traditional sense. No stats, xp, combat rules. Instead, I've attempted to code the design into the world description, the character creation guidelines, the preparatory workshops and so on.

Fundamentally, I think the goal of game mechanics is to create a definite kind of experience. Following the rules you experience what the game wants to convey. Chernobyl, Mon Amour follows a similar kind of logic in that by doing what the book says you should do, you'll have the experience. It's just not facilitated by mechanics but instead by the other guidelines. In this sense, it shares a lot of the same thinking as Nordic Larp does. Instead of designing a game, the goal is to design a very particular social situation.

Because of this, I suspect that it's also a little harder to run than most roleplaying games, and perhaps more limited in who can play it together. However, I've also found that this style can be appealing to many people who find more mechanics-oriented roleplaying games difficult to approach.

How did you playtest Chernobyl, Mon Amour, if you did playtest? If you did not, what makes you feel confident about the game succeeding?

I ran playtest games before and during the design and writing process. When I first had the idea, I wasn't sure of its viability, so I ran games to try it out. After those, I felt more confident that I was able to make a game out of this. From a playtesting perspective, this is an unusual game. Often playtesting means making sure that the mechanics of the game work robustly, but this time there isn't really any of that. Rather, playtesting is about the ideas and concepts, as well as the functionality of the exercises for creating the right social atmosphere with players. These are much more subjective in terms of whether they work or not, and more prone to confusion created by differences in basic cultural assumptions.

In terms of success, I see this as an experimental game. It's an attempt to convey a culture and style of roleplaying in a format that should make it possible to replicate it. I hope people will find it interesting, good and worth trying but I have a suspicion that I will be surprised by what people will do with it. Which is of course great, and a part of the appeal of roleplaying games in general.

Kuva, a person with long brown hair and dark skin in a hoodie. By Joel Samallahti.
What kind of workshops do you include with the game, and what sort of content and safety mechanics do you have to help players in the intimate scenario?

At least in the Finnish roleplaying scene, using workshops in tabletop games is highly unusual. I'm not really aware of anybody else even suggesting it. However, in Nordic Larp they're routine and extremely useful. I figured that if these social tools work in larp, why not in roleplaying games? And I'm under the impression that in other countries, there's been successful experiments with this.

The goal of workshops in Chernobyl, Mon Amour is get the participants aligned with the subject matter of the game and become more comfortable with each other. Because of Finnish cultural characteristics, the exercises as they are now are pretty talky, and I was planning of adjusting them a little for the English version to take into account the fact that in my experiences, international players are better at this than Finns are.

As for safety, I take it seriously. I've had experiences in tabletop roleplaying games myself where I've felt that my personal boundaries have been crossed in a negative way. Roleplaying based on intimacy and trust is powerful stuff, and it means that sometimes things can go bad emotionally even if all the participants are doing their best to accommodate each others' limits. The game as it exists now has some simple safety mechanics to help with these situations, but this is another thing I wanted to adjust for the international version to give participants more tools.

Perhaps the simplest and most important safety technique, if you can call it that, is to make sure that everybody really wants to play it together, that everybody wants to play a roleplaying game about romance and death in an emotionally raw way. Sort of "enthusiastic consent" of roleplaying games, if you like.
"Valokuva 2," distant image of buildings and industrial structures. Juhana & Maria Pettersson.

Thank you so much to Juhana for the interview! It was so cool to learn about Chernobyl, Mon Amour. I hope you will all go check out Chernobyl, Mon Amour on IndieGoGo and share this post with your friends!

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Thursday, March 8, 2018

Loving Your Work

Earlier today I tweeted about a tweet by John Harper on the subject of loving your work and how it impacts others. For ease of access, I'm going to include the thread here, and then write the rest of the post. This is... a long post.

John's post: 
Hey, creative friends. No matter what you feel inside, go ahead and tell everyone that you love your work and you're excited to share it. Lie if you have to. Your enthusiasm will shine though and others will pick it up. Don't do the bs self-effacing shit. It's kind of awful.
My responses:
I don't think that it's best to lie about how you feel about your work. My suggestion, to meet some of this ask, is "I'm working on something that I want to love and be proud of, but I'm struggling with that. Can you help me find good things in it?"
I'm not great at this yet!
As someone with mental health disorders, it's really freaking hard to not speak negatively of my own work, especially when my work rarely succeeds or gets recognition and ESPECIALLY when I try to speak well of it and instead it gets trashed or I lose followers because of that. 
It is far more encouraged for men, typically cis men, to praise their own work. The rest of us can get called egotistical, or have people say we're over promoting/praising work more than it deserves.
I want to speak well of my work but I struggle with it constantly. 
I get what John is saying here and I appreciate the intent, but I also know that lying about your feelings can hurt you so you should work on how you express them more than how to hide them, & that being positive about your work doesn't always bring good returns and that hurts. 
John's method can work for many people, probably. But for me, that would be painful & harmful to me,  with my past luck as example, & would not be successful as an exercise. 
Just saying: nothing bad about John's words for many people, but it's okay if it's not right for you.💜
So, let me get the hard parts of this out of the way:

  • I'm not mad at John. I think he's great and he's been kind and honest with me in the few bits of time we've had together talking. We just don't always agree, which he has always seemed to be cool about. I'm not arguing with him over this because I don't see a point, it's not like he's bad or something.
  • I don't personally think lying about your feelings is healthy. Some people can fake it to make it, and that's great! But not all of us can, so I suggest if you do John's method (which is totally fine!), be careful and respect your own needs. Performing self-love publicly sometimes needs to take a backseat to living and functioning, and I know that's not a popular thing to say. It's still true.
  • I know not all men benefit from the things I'm talking about here. I have many men I care a lot about who have struggled intensely with receiving recognition with their work, who struggle for people to value their work, and who have received negative responses to their promotion of their work. I know and love them, and I am not trying to belittle their experiences. Please understand that.

There we go. On to the meat of this post!

Description: Debbie Reynolds saying "Chins up! Boobs out!"
It's okay to not love your work. 

It's okay, even though it sucks. It's hard to look at your hard drive at your projects, or down at your drawing tablet, or whatever your work happens to be, and feel that sinking disappointment in yourself. It can be related to success, or completely unrelated. It can be in spite of the love of your fans and friends, or it might be related to trying to meet their standards. It's okay.

I'm going to say something that you've probably heard before, and I'm sorry to be repetitive. But let me try.

Your work is not what gives you value. There is no amount of work you can do that will make you valuable. You don't deserve things based on what you've made, and it's not about deserving in any case. You are valuable because you are. You are part of all of this world and your work may never be recognized but you mean something, you matter, and you are bigger in the scheme of things than your work ever could be.

Van Gogh could not have made Starry Night if he did not exist in the first place. You must be for any of your work to be, and you make your legacy, not the approval of other people.

Description: Freddie Mercury saying "Fuck everybody else!"
That being said.

I get it. I do. I look at my work sometimes and I scream inside (or sometimes outside) about its inadequacies. It's failure. I lament loudly on Twitter that no one wants to interview me. I whine that I haven't sold much of my work, and that no one posts about my work on social media or reviews it. I hurt. I hurt so much. I pour hours into my work and I hurt, and my work is no good. Nope. I hate it.

I bet you think that too, sometimes. And that's okay.

The idea that you have to love your work for others to love it is probably not entirely what John was referring to, but I bet some people took it that way. Loving your work is not the only way to succeed and to make others love your work. It's not! But there are things you should do. You know I love questions, so I'm going to give you some questions to ask yourself to make hating your work useful. (click thru for more!)

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Holstering Your Concepts

I have mentioned a few times that I'm working on a project that is based on the concept of the John Wick universe with assassins, etc., called Shoot to Kill. It's a pervasive larp that I'm working on an augmented reality app for. I've been pretty excited about it! However, it's being revamped. Here's why.

(Content note: discussion of gun violence and mention of suicide.)

(This will contain my personal feelings on gun use. I honestly Do Not Care if you disagree. *shrug*)


Description: A United States flag over an illustration of ships, with the words "knock knock. it's the United States."
Well, in case you're unfamiliar with the United States, we have a fucking problem with guns. While there are recent events that are particularly notable examples, our incidences of mass shootings are common and significant. I've been thinking about it a lot.

I grew up in an environment with a lot of guns. Like, my dad, pap, and cousin owned probably nearly arsenals and my brother wasn't far behind (I don't keep track of how many they own these days). While my pap was shot twice (by someone else, once when he was a kid - in the eye - and once while hunting small game - in the dick, no lies), in our direct family I only know of one other incident of gun violence in my family, which was a different cousin who committed suicide.

I'm pointing this out because when I was growing up, guns were used "responsibly," as in, we didn't use them in unsafe ways, we were taught gun safety very early, etc. I shot a rifle for the first time when I was like 9. I actually own guns (that may be changing, I'm not sure). So these people misusing guns, they were not us, they weren't responsible gun owners. 

But I totally grew up right next to some of the classic trash bags who own a shitton of guns and want to use them to hurt people. You can be "safe" with your guns all you fuckin' want but when it comes to mass shootings, that's not about how well you can avoid accidentally shooting someone. Like, let's be real. Responsible gun ownership means shit right now. People are electing to go kill people, in public, en masse, with guns. For like, a whole host a reasons that are... okay nah. There's no good reason.

Description: Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta pressing a button to speak to someone who has been arrested, saying "Cool motive! Still murder."
(My official opinion on guns: it would be nice to have strongly regulated gun use for those who hunt and stuff, but otherwise, fuck it, we don't freaking need them. If I'm wrong, you can shoot me later.)

How does this relate to games, you ask?

I was writing a game about shooting people in public.

I have thought about this so deeply. I've been thinking about it for a while. And I can't make a game about shooting people in public.

I especially can't make one that's supposed to be actively played at conventions in-between other games. Like, there's a whole host of problems with pervasive larps that involve finding other people in the first place.

So, the original game was, you're professional assassins like in John Wick and you find people who are also playing the game and "shoot" them (originally just getting in touch with them and marking off their shots). There were gold coins, armor piercing rounds, and armor. It had (still has) varying levels of engagement, both performative and participative, with players becoming NPCs after they're taken out. It seemed like it would be really fun. It also served an important purpose: getting people to meet new people and engage over something.

Still, every time I design stuff, I try to think of ethical issues or any way the game could be misused (this is why there's like an entire two pages in the Turn essays about what you should really fucking not do with the game). This is because people can be stale bagels and also I'd rather not bring further harm into the world. So many people hurt people with games and otherwise already.

Yeah, I'm throwing a little Obamas in here. Description: Michelle Obama saying "When they go low, we go high!"
I'm revamping the game. I'm using the title Headshots because I'm going to try to subvert the violent/game standard use of the term for instead taking pictures of each other - taking "headshots" like in modeling. In this, the fiction will be that you are still professionals, but you're doing reconnaissance instead of assassinating people. You're finding people and identifying them to break their cover stories, and you can use trackers to break cover stories or fake passports to get new ones.

I'm hoping people still like it, and I'm planning to work on it more after I finish school. It sounds fun to me, and it has the elements I thought would be the most fun. I've retained the varying levels of participation, the ability to meet new people and engage with them, and the network of people in the fiction. I'm pretty happy about it, but I feel weird about the fact that some people might think I'm overreacting!

I'm not, tho. So like. Chill for a minute if you were getting those thoughts in your head.

Description: A picture of a parrot with the text "Alas, there is no fruit on my fuck tree."
See, the reality is that game designers have just as much responsibility as every other creator to do their best to make ethical choices in design. I have talked about this before, and it goes beyond cultural appropriation and sexism and all. I don't give a bit of a shit what people's actual political beliefs are. It is very obvious that the use of guns in the US is not handled well, and that the casual attitude towards violence in media contributes to that.

And no, I'm not saying "violent video games and movies cause violent behavior." No. What I'm saying is: if I make a game that could potentially make others (who are not playing a game but are in the place where it is being held) feel unsafe because I don't consider the fact that we live in a society where there are active and persistent threats of violence using the method in my game? I'm not being responsible.

Responsibility is so, so important. We talk about responsible gun owners, right? They can't solve this problem. But as creators, we can choose to be responsible. We can make products that people can engage with without harming themselves or others. We can make products that engage people in the activity that is enjoyable and provide a good fictional backdrop without doing something toxic or harmful.

I'm making this change because I have seen too many body counts, and because I want to be the best I can be. Let's all think of the world and what we can do in it, and for it.

Be better.

Description: A picture of an angry possum with the words "Do no harm, take no shit, beg no man pardon."

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Five or So Questions on CAPERS

Today I've got an interview with Craig Campbell on CAPERS, a super-powered roleplaying game set in the 1920s, which is currently on Kickstarter! Craig talks about the setting and the mechanics of the game in the following responses - check them out!


CAPERS cover by Beth Varni.
Tell me a little about CAPERS. What excites you about it?

CAPERS is a super-powered RPG of 1920s gangsters. Players portray bootleggers and mobsters working to make their fortune and their mark during Prohibition in the U.S. And they have low-level superpowers. But so do their rivals and so do the feds. The game uses a press-your-luck playing card based mechanic. You might have a successful card flip but only be barely successful and opt to flip another card to try for a better success. But you might fail in the process.

I'm not a huge comics fan, but I am a superhero TV and movie fan. I love stories of people with extraordinary abilities in what is otherwise our normal world. There's plenty of supers games out there set in the modern day (and plenty that are about HEROES), so I decided to explore a period in history from a less heroic angle. The Prohibition era has always interested me and I enjoy the romanticized movies and TV shows that tell stories set during that decade. So I thought it'd be fun to explore it in RPG form. There aren't many RPGs that touch on the 1920 other than Call of Cthulhu stuff. And the majority of supers games fall in the comic book style, capes and cowls and all that. These two things make CAPERS pretty unique, but also familiar.

It's become sort of a chocolate and peanut butter thing for me. I took two things I really dig (super-powered characters and the 1920s) and mashed them together to see what would happen. I feel it's worked out pretty well.

A different kind of car chase by Beth Varni.

Where did you build your setting from? Did you use a lot of realistic resources or did you span out? 

The world of CAPERS is based on real-world history but with some liberties taken. Most notably, a small percentage of people started exhibiting extraordinary abilities shortly after the Great War (WWI). For the most part, the origin of these abilities is kept vague. However, there’s a chapter that brings science into the game setting, along with a largely not understood source for the powers.

A trio of primary backdrops have been developed for the game – New York, Chicago, and Atlantic City – along with a bit of info describing a handful of other cities. Much of what’s described there is based in real history, though some details have been changed and some new things have been added, wholly from my and other writers’ imaginations. A general overview provides context for the world. What are the new technologies of the era? What’s popular in entertainment? What is life like in the 1920s.

Several notable personalities of the era are present. Enoch “Nucky” Johnson and Al “Scarface” Capone are described in some detail and provided with stat blocks. However, given that the well-known personages of the time are largely Irish and Italian guys in their 20s-40s, historically, I’ve taken some liberties. Atlantic City’s Mayor Bader is a black woman. Charles “Lucky” Luciano has become Carla “Lucky” Luciano. And the hardcase DOJ agent making trouble for Capone in Chicago is Vanessa “Ness” Elliott rather than her real-world male counterpart. Additionally, a wider variety of characters of color, female characters, and LGBT characters are presented to round out the world. All in all, this is presented simply as “how this world is” though some of the animosities between different ethnicities remains for flavor, such as Capone’s largely Italian gang squaring off against Dean O’Banion’s largely Irish northside crew in Chicago.

Concussion beam in action by Beth Varni.
How do superpowers function in CAPERS? What makes them really pop?

First a bit on the game mechanic.

The game uses playing cards, rather than dice. Each player, and the GM, has their own deck (52 suit cards plus 2 jokers). Your character has six traits – Charisma, Agility, Perception, Expertise, Resilience, and Strength. Each trait is ranked from 1 to 3 (higher if you have the right powers). When you make a trait check, you look at the trait’s rank and that is your card count. If you have a skill appropriate to the trait check, your card count is increased by 1 .

To make your trait check you flip cards. You can flip as many cards as your card count but can stop at any time and take the most recent card flipped as your check. The pip count of the cards flipped (2, 3, 4, etc, on up to ace) determine success or failure, whilst the suit of the card determines the degree of success or failure, starting with clubs (lowest) and proceeding alphabetically to spades (highest). So, you might succeed, but barely, and choose to gamble for a better success by flipping another card… but risking failure.

Each superpower has a standard effect, the thing it does or effect it generates most of the time. Each power also comes with a variety of boosts. You choose which ones you want when your character gains a power and gain more boosts as you increase a power’s level. Each boost makes the standard effect better or more versatile, provides an alternate standard effect, or provides something else your character can do related to that power. However, each boost you use in a turn reduces the card count of whatever you’re trying to do by one. You can stick with your standard effect and not suffer card count reduction OR you can use several boosts to gain other cool stuff but reduce the chances of success on your action for that turn.

It’s a “press your luck” system. The combination of trait check mechanic and boost use makes the system a balancing act for each character each turn. More power equals reduced chance of success. Less power means greater chance of success. You also have a sense of what cards remain in your deck, so that colors your choices as well. Players have found the system very engaging. You’re making active choices whenever you’re flipping cards, not just rolling a die and looking at the number.

On the street by Beth Varni.

What were challenges you encountered trying to emulate both a unique time and place and a very trope-heavy genre?

Combining a specific time period and a trope-heavy genre can easily become overwhelming. The first thing I did was make a conscious decision that CAPERS is not a superhero game. It’s not a supervillain game. It’s not even a supers game really. It’s a gangsters game where the gangsters and law enforcement HAPPEN to have superpowers at their disposal.

Once I focused in on the gangster game, it became a question of what tropes of supers were appropriate and which weren’t. I wrestled with a number of powers I thought were cool, but ultimately ended up being too complicated for a game that is, at its core, a stylized cops and robbers game. I also scaled back the POWER of the superpowers. There’s no mind control. That’s a power that becomes to easily abused unless you give the target ways to get out from under the influence. And if you make that readily available, mind control loses its “cool factor.” There’s no magnetism control either. It’s just too darn versatile compared to the other powers in the game. There’s a reason Magneto makes such a formidable foe even on his own.

So, too, I looked at other tropes of comic book stories and developed my own take on them (or had another designer help with that). A 1930s version of super-science. An explanation for where powers come from. Alternate Earths and planar travel. Super-prisons. That stuff is in the game, but it’s all optional.

There are a lot of chances for something to fail, even though it's got a lot of chances to win. What makes failing in CAPERS interesting? 

I’m a big fan of failure in RPGs. They add drama, insert complexity, and turn the story on a dime. That said, I don’t want every failure to be a huge narrative-laden thing that slows the pacing down. In CAPERS, you can succeed with a complication (a mini-failure), fail with a special bonus to help you next time, straight up fail (with no additional effect), or botch. Each type of failure has its place and helps the story in a different way. Complications add interesting tidbits that make the encounter more fun. Failure with a bonus later incentivizes the player to take further risks. Straight failure keeps the pacing moving. And of course, botches make for the best stories, especially when the characters ultimately succeed later, overcoming the botch.

The playing card mechanic requires the players to make choices on whether they keep the card they have or flip another and take a chance. A player who succeeds with a complication may choose to suffer that complication just because the group needs a success, even if it’s minimal. A player who fails with a bonus later may take that failure because they’ve suddenly come up with a cool idea for their character’s action next turn and want that bonus to come into play for their big risk.

How failure plays a role in a character’s actions is in the player’s hands a fair amount of the time. It’s not entirely at the whim of the random. It’s my hope that this provides for a more memorable story for the players.

CAPERS is coming from Craig's company, Nerdburger Games!

Thanks so much to Craig for the interview! CAPERS looks pretty cool and I hope you've all enjoyed learning about it, and that you'll check it out on Kickstarter today!

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Playing Nice in Monsterhearts

There are a few things I know about my game playing preferences, but one is that I don't have a lot of energy for negativity and meanness.

Description: JD from Scrubs "[thinking] at that very moment, I fear I had divulged too much."
This is something that can be challenged by Monsterhearts. For the uninitiated, Monsterhearts is a Powered by the Apocalypse game about teenage monsters. It's riddled with sex and darkness, and almost everyone I know loves it.

I enjoy the game, despite some of my quibbles, but I often hit a roadblock when a strain of negative energy slides in. I have absolutely been a contributor or creator of this, and it's actually something I really dislike about myself. The first time I played Monsterhearts I found it kind of exhilarating, and I pushed myself too far - I ended up using an X-card on myself. I have played some nasty characters in the game, and I'm honestly not proud of it.

I have even made two Monsterhearts Skins - the Medusa and the Rusalka - and the Rusalka is definitely toxic. But it's said as much, clearly, and not about meanness. The Medusa is really about concepts of purity, honestly, so not very much so. Still, when I played the Rusalka, they were a passionate and intense person who just wanted to love people - not hurt them, not on purpose. And that was a play choice, obviously.

Sometimes people are okay with playing dark characters, mean characters, what have you - but I don't. Hell, I feel guilty if I even play a snarky one. I do it, but I feel gross afterwards a lot of the time. I don't like playing villains, and almost all of my characters drift towards niceness these days. I think it's because I've been hurt a lot, and because the world is so brutal, but I move away from catty, sarcastic jerks these days.

Example: I really didn't like Jessica Jones much. Description: Jessica Jones looking pissed with the text #bitch the fuck you just said to me.
It has gotten to the point that sometimes reading other people's actual-plays of Monsterhearts because there's so much abuse. Like, there's actual abuse sometimes, but there's also various types of trauma, there's cheating, and just a meanness, in so many people's play. I know not all Monsterhearts is like this, but I just have the bad luck of seeing some of the bad stuff.

And no, most of the time I won't bring this up during the game, or possibly even after. I don't like ruining people's fun and I have been shut down before about how "that's how teenagers are" so I dodge.
Description: Cardi B saying "I'm being nice to you. Have I stabbed you? No."

What this means is that I don't enjoy engaging with Monsterhearts much of the time, which sucks, because it was a formative game for me. All of this is going to the point that: Playing nice in Monsterhearts makes it a better game for me.

Right now, I'm playing a wonderful game of Monsterhearts 2 with Kit la Touche, Dillon Conlan (my partner), and Eric Duncan set in the fictional Alder Creek, which we've subtitled Our Sweet Boys. We're all playing men or masc centered characters, and we're all like... weirdly polite. The characters are Tucker Ulrey (Werewolf), Silas Schowalter (Ghoul), and Nix (Hollow).

Their backgrounds are a little wonky, but we've discovered in play that aside from Silas generally being cranky - he's dead, after all - we all tend towards like, just decency and politeness. Nix is kind of pre-programmed that way but models a lot of his behaviors off of Tucker, who is just a sweet darn puppy. Tucker is respectful and polite, though a little hesitant and gullible at times.

Description: a pug with a bandanna sitting awkwardly, with the word "heck" in small, lowercase black text.
It's funny because in spite of this, we still have drama. There's drama from the NPCs, who are not always nice, but are nicer because we are nice. There's still challenge and spoopy stuff happening, but we've found that the theme of the game - as Kit said - is less "what's going to happen next?" and more "what are we going to do about it?"

It's still a game with teeth, but we're not (always) the ones biting.

I think that it's renewed some of my interest in Monsterhearts, and while I could write For Ever about my thoughts on the subject, the biggest thing I've come away with is that I think we're technically playing the game wrong.

A lot about Monsterhearts in the text comes down to how there will be hurt and there will be trauma and yet, I feel like we're weirdly building an environment where when that does happen, we're playing characters that might be able to work through it. Yeah, I figure there's gonna be violence and etc., but we might end up growing up and being better because of it - not more damaged. We're like... good-ish, or something? With good intentions? And wanting to be nice sometimes?

Description: Sam Winchester from Supernatural hugging someone and saying "Too precious for this world."
Basically, I like the idea of having to encounter bad things in a situation where I'm not also a problematic bundle of jerk. Monsterhearts, in my experience, can bring out bad stuff in me. This specific session feels different, and I had a weird thought while discussing it with the other players and Kit.

Kit and I have recently spent a fair amount of time playing my shapershifter game Turn, and the first non-D&D game Dillon has played was Turn. The vibe in Turn is so massively different that I know it's definitely realigned my preference for play. I go quieter, I feel more happy when I'm playing someone who doesn't just want to hurt people, and I feel happier when I have at least one other player I feel love with. I think it says something interesting that the only one of us to approach snarkiness really is Eric, who hasn't played Turn.

I just wonder sometimes how much playing one game can change our perspective. I know that, at the start of my time playing, Monsterhearts changed mine. I'm wondering now - has Turn changed it, too?

No matter what it might be, I'm glad. The sessions we've had so far in Alder Creek have had a sweetness, a more caring environment, and I'm more invested in a Monsterhearts game than I've ever been.

Description: Jensen Ackles giving two thumbs up.

P.S. - I've found I enjoy Monsterhearts far more when I play with Script Change over the X-card. Changes the tone, I guess. It's nice!

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