Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Five or So Questions with John Harper

I got to interview John Harper about his current projects, including Blades in the Dark!

What are you currently working on? What projects have you excited?

I'm working on a game about criminals in a fantasy city called Blades in the Dark. It's set in the same universe as my previous mini-game, Ghost Lines -- vengeful spirits, weird electroplasmic tech, lost magic, strange cults, etc. I expect Blades will be a larger product (by my standards, anyway), maybe a 32 page booklet or something along those lines. Like a lot of game designers, I'm very inspired by the Thief video games and this is my stab at a game in that vein.

(Two other current game projects in a similar style are Dagger & Shadow by Matt Snyder and Project: Dark by Will Hindmarch. We're all playing in that shadowy sandbox and it's inspiring to see what they're doing as I work on my thing.)

Blades is currently in closed playtest, but will open up for public playtesting in a few months.

I'm very excited about a few projects my friends are working on. Undying, by Paul Riddle will hit Kickstarter this year. It's a beautifully designed diceless game (hacked from the bones of Apocalypse World) about the deadly predator vs. predator world of vampires. It's my favorite take on vampires I've seen yet. One of the most fun mechanics allows you to actually play out centuries of existence for the vamps, with each game session representing an important night in their immense lives, with decades passing between each. Our playtest game was set in Paris in 1899, 1920, 1944, and would continue on to 2010, 2065, and possibly beyond. So cool.

Sage LaTorra is working on a modern day game of weirdness, somewhat like The Twilight Zone or True Detective, called Black Stars Rise. It's about ordinary people who are confronted with something totally inexplicable and how they deal with it. They don't solve a mystery or anything, they just try to cope with it and survive. You play different people in different places over the course of a series, seeing the weirdness manifest in different ways and gradually building up a picture of some larger horror. It's in playtest now and we're having a lot of fun with it.

And off course Dagger & Shadow and Project: Dark, which I already mentioned. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many exciting indie games in the pipeline I could fill this whole interview talking about them. :)

Blades in the Dark sounds interesting. Can you tell me a little more about it?

It's a type of game I've tinkered with a lot. Most of the games I run tend to be about a team of freelance criminal types operating in a sandbox of some kind: Our long-running Stars Without Number game, the prohibition-era Bootleggers game (another RPG project of mine), the original World of Dungeons series... even all the way back to old Talislanta campaigns. So it's something I enjoy doing and have a lot of experience with. I'm trying to incorporate some of that experience and the lessons learned into the design and procedures of Blades.

For example, I've found that I like to have a flexible central mechanic that can suit a wide variety of situations. But most generic mechanics are pretty bland and the GM has to do all the heavy lifting to convey the tone of the game (gritty, in this case). So I designed a set of three core rolls, representing a spectrum of fictional positions, from worst to best: A desperate gamble, a risky maneuver, and a display of skill. The results of these rolls are primed to spark outcomes that suit the tone and style of the game, so the GM can focus on assessing the fictional situation and choosing the right roll for the moment.

Because the selection of the roll is a judgment call, though, the GM and the players use that decision point to craft their own unique instance of the game. When your blade-master fights three thugs in a dark alley, is that a desperate gamble, a risky maneuver, or a display of skill? The game provides a procedure to determine this, but it's dependent on which particular details of the situation the group values most and gives the most weight in the assessment. So (hopefully), you end up with a mechanic that's consistent, reliable, and responds to fictional details, but is nevertheless a unique construction refined and ratified through the process of play by a given game group.

I'm pretty excited about it! There's lots of other stuff too, like managing your criminal enterprise and dealing with your character's vice and lifestyle considerations. It's been a long process of weekly playtesting and refinement, but it's really fun and the game is starting to come together.

What do you think is inspiring the interest in stealth games recently?

If I had to guess, I'd say it's the impending release of the new Thief video game. We've all been following it through its development for years, and it's influenced our thinking, surely. Also I have to acknowledge Dishonored, as well. The style and feel of that game is incredibly cool and has taken up permanent residence in my brain.

What is the motivation for releasing so many products for free, and what benefit do you see from it?

Most of the games on my site have been created for play by my local game groups. Lady Blackbird was originally made in an afternoon so it could be run later that night for someone new to RPGs. I released them for free because I had already done the work of making the materials, so why not just post the PDF for anyone else who wanted it?

In the case of something like Agon (which I charge money for), the situation was slightly different. It was also born out of play, but the actual product involved writing and publishing a book, which was additional work that I wanted to be compensated for. I have some loose plans to do some work on Patreon, for this reason. There are several projects which I've never committed time to finishing, since the materials I made for local play are not very useable by others. With some patrons, I'll invest the extra time to make them more polished and complete.

The main benefit I see with free games is exposure. Free games reach lots and lots of people They're easy to share. Lady Blackbird has been played by thousands and has been translated into over a dozen languages. I want my games to be played, first and foremost. More play equals more success. So in that sense, giving the games away has helped them become more successful. Not that it's entirely altruistic, of course: that extra exposure helps draw people to my other games that I sell for money. So it's a marketing strategy, too.

(Quick aside: Lady Blackbird is also shared and talked about online for another reason, having to do with its specific construction: it's an adventure module with pregen characters and situation but it has absolutely no spoilers, so everyone can freely talk about everything that happened when they played it, without worrying about ruining it for other people. In fact, it's extra fun to compare your particular game of LB to other people's.)

Years ago, my friend Clinton Nixon made a game called The Shadow of Yesterday, and decided to give the entire text away online, in addition to selling the printed book. People thought this was nuts at the time, but of course it totally worked. Dungeon World has followed in his footsteps by releasing their game text under a Creative Commons license.

Do you have any suggestions for people wanting to layout their smaller games?

Don't try to reinvent the wheel. Find layouts that you like and studiously reproduce them. I don't mean steal the actual art, of course. I mean, measure the text boxes, page proportions, type sizes, etc. and use them yourself. Page layout is a craft, like building a bookcase. Study the canons and classic methods and copy the masters, like an apprentice carpenter. Also, be very suspicious of any typeface less than 50 years old. There are lots of good modern ones, but the glut of crappy internet fonts has lead more than one novice designer astray. When in doubt, stick with the classics.

Graphic design and layout are deep, complex art forms. They're worth learning, for sure, but don't expect to pick them up quickly or easily. Whenever I see someone online ask "How can I learn to do layout and design for my game?" I translate it to "How can I learn to compose a symphony?" It's just as vast a question, with no simple answers, just hard work.

What's next for you after Blades in the Dark?

I'm not sure! There are several projects on the back burner that will come back around again, especially Danger Patrol. I've been tinkering with some board game designs too, which is a new thing for me and quite fun. But there's really no way to tell. I just follow wherever my inspiration leads me.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Five or So Questions with Rafael Chandler on Lusus Naturae

I interviewed Rafael Chandler about Lusus Naturae! (warning: image heavy post)

Tell me a little about Lusus Naturae. What's there to make people's skin crawl?

Lusus Naturae is a collection of monsters for old-school tabletop RPGs. It uses the Lamentations of the Flame Princess system, so people who enjoy other retroclones (or older versions of D&D) will be able to use these monsters right out of the book.

Lusus Naturae (Latin for "freaks of nature") is currently crowdfunding here: We've hit our initial goal, so the project is funded. Over the next 23 days, we're hoping to reach our stretch goal so that we can go full-color.

As for what makes people's skin crawl... I'm hoping that gamers will enjoy the monsters the way I do! I adore horror of all kinds: cosmic horror, splatterpunk, body horror, and so on. This bestiary will feature all of the above.

Without divulging any spoilers (I don't like it when people ruin surprises), I will say that many of these entities are driven by peculiar compulsions, or attracted to human vice. They feed on hatred, fear, wickedness, and innocence. They commit -- or coerce others into committing -- ritual murders and other horrid crimes. They establish violent religions, lurk in lightless depths, and build citadels from the corpses of children.

Where do you get your inspiration for monsters?

Typically, I try to get into the right mindset by listening to metal -- Ulcerate, Enslaved, Altar of Plagues, Goatwhore, that sort of thing -- and thinking about cruelty. I always ask myself, "What's the worst thing one could do in this situation?"

I watch a lot of horror, though I'm not sure if it inspires me, per se. Perhaps? It's hard to know if it's merely a comfortable experience that satisfies, or if it's somehow gotten some fluids percolating in the back of my mind. Anyhow, I'm quite fond of the New French Extremity, especially Inside, Martyrs, and Frontier(s). I'm also a fan of torture porn, including the Saw and Hostel series.

What makes Lusus Naturae different from your other projects?

Last year, I released a bestiary called Teratic Tome; it featured new versions of classic monsters, such as orcs, dragons, and demons. By contrast, Lusus Naturae will primarily consist of all-new entities. In addition, some of the monsters in this book will be drawn from the myths of my Peruvian ancestors; I've never really delved into that subject matter before, and it's quite enjoyable.

For example, Ai Apaec is the chief god in the Mochica culture; he's typically depicted as a spider-human hybrid with a knife and/or severed head in his hand. He's known as the Decapitator, and his worshipers believed that he would reward violent and painful human sacrifice with abundant crops. As a rule, I'm not interested in history or authenticity, but this is the sort of thing that I love.

There's one other thing that makes Lusus Naturae different: instead of selling it through print-on-demand via Lulu, I'm working with a printer. This book will feature glossy paper and a sewn binding, and perhaps even full-color interior artwork. I want to create a quality book, and crowdfunding makes it possible to produce something beautiful and durable.

How do you decide what artists to hire for your projects, especially ones with so much variety like this?

I like my artists the way I like players at my table: ready to bring the gore and brutality. I've been lucky to work with a number of very talented people!

Gennifer Bone and I have worked together many times; she illustrated all of ViewScream, and contributed artwork to Pandemonio, Teratic Tome, and Bad Myrmidon.

Last year, she suggested that we work on a major project, something significant. I had been mulling over the idea of a new bestiary, but had planned to work with several artists. But I wondered if it might not be better to have a single person tackle all of the artwork for the book. Genn hits her deadlines, and she's fun to work with. So I said yeah, let's do this.

What's up next? Can we expect more gore from you sometime soon?

I'm working on Obscene Serpent Religion, a sourcebook for LotFP which features face-melting artwork by Sandy Jacobs-Tolle, Sarah Richardson, and Wayne Snyder. This book's look and feel (square, dark, and vile) are meant to evoke the vinyl album produced by a black metal band. We'll see if that works.

Beyond that, I'm working on a sourcebook called Exhumed Errata, which is my take on epic fantasy. No gore, just strange magic, wondrous weapons, and a new character class. Natalie Bennett and Quinn Murphy are my co-writers on this one.

My second novel is nearly finished; it's called The Astounding Antagonists, and it's about a group of supervillains gearing up for one last heist. It's fun, frantic, and action-packed! Features a wraparound cover by the incredibly talented Claudia Cangini.

And, of course, there's my day job (story designer and scriptwriter in the video game industry). I've got a new game coming out soon, but I'm not allowed to talk about it until later in the year!

Thanks, Brianna!

And thank you, Rafael! Looking forward to all of your projects!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Five or So Questions with Adam Koebel

I got to interview Adam Koebel about his current projects and his photography. It was super fun!

Tell me what you’re currently working on. What’s new and big in the world of Adam?

Right now the big thing on my plate is working on what’s we’re tentatively calling Inglorious - which is the Dungeon World “mass combat” or “war” or “large scale conflict” supplement. Whatever your preferred method of describing big messy battles with lots of craziness going on. Sage and I have been hammering away pretty hard at that, and it’s in the hands of playtesters right now. So we’re kind of in that harrowing phase of wondering if we’ve made something as cool as we think we have or if we’re just embarrassing ourselves with something crap. There’s always that to wonder about when you’re in the process of unleashing new stuff on the world. I think it’ll turn out okay, though. We’ve been really inspired to make it particularly old-school in the sense of it being inspired by pre-D&D war-games with a referee. Blame Jon Peterson for teaching us what a kriegspiel is.

Other than that, working on some miscellaneous little projects. Helping Sage polish up Black Stars Rise (his minimalist creepy horror game) and poking away in fits and starts at my unnamed space-opera-future-romance-game-based-on-an-IP-I-would-never-be-able-to-afford-in-a-billion-years project. Taking photos of myself and posting them on G+. Getting in heated debates about design. Making new friends on Twitter. Business as usual!

Inglorious sounds interesting! What kind of mechanics are you messing with for mass combat?

What we’re trying to do with Inglorious is port the core concepts of Dungeon World out of the dungeon and onto the battlefield. The idea that narrative is paramount - that what really matters at the table is the stuff that the players’ characters are actually seeing and doing - is something I don’t think we’ve seen in many mass combat systems before. So we’re playing around with the idea of units designed much like monsters, with their own stats but also their own agenda and foibles. Players who want to lead an army will have to rely on messengers or magic to carry their orders to their troops who, depending on the way the dice fall, will interpret those orders according to their tags. So, it’s going to have all the potential for chaos and craziness that you’d see in a more tightly-focused dungeon-based adventure. We’re really being influenced by what came before - by Chainmail and older games in the genre. Though, there’s definitely some impact on the mechanisms coming from some more modern war-games we’ve been playing lately; astute readers will see some similarities to Sekigahara or Commands & Colors when they bring Inglorious to the table. Influences aside, our big goal was making sure that Inglorious felt like a Dungeon World game. That drove our designs more than anything.

Dungeon World was a huge success. What's your takeaway from the success and aftermath?

It’s crazy, right? I think that we had some idea that the game would be popular. To be completely honest, we kind of hit the right audience at exactly the right time with a product I think that people were already looking for. Most of that was blind luck - I’m sure that if D&D Next had released a year or two earlier, we wouldn’t have seen as much of a big jump in not-quite-D&D games and their popularity. We’re lucky to belong to this weird little outcaste set that's are filling that “waiting for D&D” void - 13th Age, Torchbearer and Numenera particularly. Rob Donoghue said some really smart stuff about the D&D Offramp, as he calls it, over at The Walking Mind a while back (

I think the takeaway has been that dungeon crawling as a genre still really represents what “roleplaying” is for a lot of people. We were surprised because I think at first our intent was to make a D&D for the Apocalypse World crowd but we ended up making an Apocalypse World game for the D&D crowd. Some of our most ardent supporters are folks with little to no experience in the hobby outside of Good Old D&D (whether that was actually a TSR, Wizards of the Coast or Paizo “version” of D&D…) who discovered Dungeon World looking for something with a different focus, but that felt familiar. What I’ve really loved, though, is seeing how people are taking it and making their own. I’d like to think we set a positive precedent by making the game creative commons licensed and offering The Planarch’s Codex as a “launch title” for the game. I like the idea of DW as a platform rather than just a game in and of itself. There are some amazing supplements for it that we had literally nothing to do with. It’s a great feeling!

What I really hope, in the long run, is that DW is a comfortable start for folks who want to expand and try new stuff. A Dungeon World fan who’ll give Sagas of the Icelanders a try because the system feels familiar or who’ll pick up a copy of Dogs in the Vineyard because it’s connected to DW by way of Apocalypse World. I think everyone should try every game there is - an informed gamer is a happy gamer.

Tell me your secrets about this unnamed space-opera-future-romance-game. What are the mechanics? What does it feel like? (No need to name the IP.)
It’s okay! It’s fairly easy knowledge to come by that I’m working on adapting some of Dungeon World’s mechanics to a Mass Effect game. It’s an amazingly deep canon with great setting and characterization but what really drew me to Mass Effect is the humanism of the stories it tells. That’s not to say I don’t love transhuman sci-fi, Freemarket and Eclipse Phase are both favourites of mine. What I love about it is that it is, ultimately, about being human. Not transcending your humanity, not becoming part of the galactic melting pot but really embracing your humanity and staking a claim on the galaxy. On top of that, I love what Bioware is starting to do with game-character romance? They have this cavalier attitude, barring a few missteps, wherein your protagonist can love who you want, regardless of their sex or gender or even species. I want to make that a core part of a tabletop game, because I think the venue of face-to-face roleplaying can create an experience that video games aren’t able to, yet.

It’s an ambitious adaptation, but I’m trying to bend the apocalypse engine to my will by stealing liberally from all the other games published using it and putting in some weird twists. It’s a little like DW was to D&D - I want the game to feel like a proper tabletop RPG and leverage all the cool, intense personal stuff you can experience in that venue but also, I really want to make it feel like a Mass Effect game. I want players to make Renegade and Paragon choices. I want shield timers and ammo types but I also want big messy interspecies poly love. I’m smiling just writing about it, which must mean I’m onto something.

Your photos are great! What kind of camera do you use? What do you like most about photography?

Thanks! I’ve been taking photos longer than I’ve been designing games, though I mostly do it for fun, these days. I picked up a Sony RX1 from a camera shop in Akihabara this past June and it’s really fired up my love of photography. Right now, I’m really into taking convention shots - some of my favourite photos in the last year have been folks at GenCon or GoPlay Northwest just hanging out and playing games. It’s such an intense experience, certainly as intense as sports or theatre, but so intimate and subtle. It’s really great being able to capture someone in a passionate moment at the table. I don’t think anyone is really taking convention photos like that right now.

Thanks so much to Adam for the interview! You can catch him on Twitter @skinnyghost and read more about Dungeon World here.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Five or So Questions with Nathan Paoletta on World Wide Wrestling

I got to talk with Nathan Paoletta about his new project, World Wide Wrestling!

Tell me a little bit about your project. What is exciting about it?

The project is a professional wrestling RPG built on the Apocalypse World engine, called World Wide Wrestling. I'm a big wrestling fan, and started the game just as an exercise in modeling the kind of wrestling I really enjoy watching the most - character-driven, consequential, with the in-ring action feeding into the development of the characters over time and vice versa. As it turns out, the game really delivers on that experience, and playing it is super fun! The AW engine is a really good chassis for representing the world of wrestling with it's iconic archetypes, ever-evolving storylines and abrupt changes of fortune. I'm running a long-term playtest game right now, and I haven't looked forward to each weeks session so much in a long time. And, best of all, it's making some of my RPG friends more interested in wrestling, and bringing some of my wrestling friends more into the world of RPGs, which is super-great!

What kind of players, aside from wrestling fans, do you think would dig World Wide Wrestling?

I think anyone who's interested in over-the-top action and melodrama can find something to dig. Wrestling is basically the combination of universal storytelling tropes with superhero personae, so there's a lot of potential avenues to get into the right mindset for it. If you have vague memories of being a kid and watching Hulk Hogan and Macho Man bodyslam each other and how awesome that seemed at the time, you have enough context to play the game, I think. I've had a lot of playtesters tell me "I'm not a wrestling fan, but I want to check it out now since I played this game," which is great and tells me that it's "working" on some level. I don't really want to convert anyone or anything silly like that, but there's a lot to love in wrestling and if the game can open up someone's horizons to the good parts, that's a win for me. And it's definitely a low-investment, pick-up and one-shot friendly beer-and-pretzels style game, so it's easy to check out and see if it's really your thing or not.

Did you alter the *World mechanics much for the game? If so, how?

They're pretty significantly altered! It'll be familiar to people who have played other *World games, but I ended up spindling and mutilating a lot of the basics. Some stuff that's the same is the core rolling +Stat and picking results from a list mechanic, having playbooks ("Gimmicks"), and gaining Advances to improve your character. On the player side, the mechanics and Moves are all about gaining Heat (roughly analogous to Hx) with the other wrestlers in order to gain Audience (kind of an inverted Harm track, actually). You're not in physical danger (though you can get injured relatively easily if you have bad rolls), but your popularity is always at risk! On the MC side, a lot has changed. Creative (the GM role) literally books play like a wrestling booker, deciding ahead of time who's going to win what match in order to advance the storylines. Players have the agency you'd expect in any other RPG, though, so they'll throw wrenches into the plans all the time, and there's a structure in place to help Creative make it look like they had it planned that way all along. I'd say that there's actually more similarity on the surface than there is under the hood, so to speak. It's been a really fun process to work through!

Who is your favorite wrestler? You can pick more than one!

Oh man, the hardest question! Well, not really, it's more like the answer is always changing. But my favorite pre-modern era wrestler is definitely Macho Man Randy Savage, may he rest in peace. I will also always love The Undertaker, who is technically still wrestling (once a year at Wrestlemania!). There's an amazing tier of young talent in the WWE right now that I am really, really enjoying watching. Roman Reigns is a warrior prince who deserves all of your tribute, Antonio Cesaro is probably the guy I most love to purely watch wrestle, and Bray Wyatt is the greatest, creepiest character the WWE has had since I've been watching wrestling. On the indy circuit, there's a pretty well known dude named Jimmy Jacobs who I think is great. El Generico was my favorite indy wrestler until he retired to go work with orphans in Mexico, but there's a guy on WWE's developmental show NXT named Sami Zayn who has a lot of the same moves, and I think has a bright future in wrestling.

What else are you working on? What's next for you?

Once WWW is out in the wild, I'm going to be bouncing back to my other game-I've-been-working-on-forever, which is a monster hunting game set in the gothic world of Edgar Allen Poe called The Imp of the Perverse. The mechanics are pretty solid, but I have some period research to finish and a bunch of writing to do for it. That will be in playtest for awhile yet, and it's probably going to be my next big thing after WWW. I'm also working on a second edition of my Vietnam war drama game carry, mostly to update the physical book but also doing a full edit and revision of the text. I have a 2-player fantasy struggle-between-good-and-evil-for-the-fate-of-the-world game that I'd like to get back to soon. There's a couple concepts I have for microgames, and who knows when one of those gels and demands to be finished. And I want to maintain releasing cool stuff supported by my Patreon backers, so I'll have little things coming out every couple months through that venue, hopefully. Lots of stuff, I guess!

Thanks to Nathan for the great interview! You can check out Nathan's Patreon and his website to keep up on his current work!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Five or So Questions with Shoshana Kessock and Abigail Corfman on Smoke and Glass

I interviewed Shoshana Kessock and Abigail Corfman on their new project, Smoke and Glass, launching soon on Kickstarter!

Tell me a little bit about Smoke and Glass. What's the game about?
(SHOSHANA) The book, Smoke and Glass, is a Dickensian-steampunk Fate Core world set in the magical world of Meridia, a world modernizing after hundreds of years of magical war. It's a game about the haves and have nots in a world trying to come out of their own dark age, caught between those that have power and folks who have to choose to step outside of the law just to survive. The book is written by new author and designer Abigail Corfman, edited by John Adamus, and laid out by Tiara Lynn Agresta, with beautiful art by the talented Nicole Cardiff and Jonathan Wyke.

What about the setting really intrigues you? 

(SHOSHANA) I’ve always been intrigued by worlds that take a left turn at genre conventions. You have certain expectations of fantasy worlds, of steampunk, and worlds that have magic. Any time you can push outside of those expectations, you have the potential to create a new take on what’s already been done. So when Abigail spoke to me about a world where the haves and have-nots fight for hold on a city that is at a crossroads between magic and steampunk-style technology? You have my attention. Then you add in the social questions this game brings up about gender politics, economic inequality, and what one is willing to do for (magic) power, and you have my attention. That’s why I’m really excited Phoenix Outlaw is getting the chance to develop this game.

What motivated your team to design in Fate Core?

(ABIGAIL) I love the elegance of the system. I like that it's simple, and that it's easy to make things happen. I've always seen roleplaying as an extension of children playing pretend in a garden, and the closer the system can bring me to the flexibility of "Okay, now I'm a dragon!" the happier I am with it. In other settings I've played I'd have to stat out the dragon. In Fate, I can just write the words "Giant Fire Breathing Dragon" on a note card, and I'm good to go.

Also, the philosophy of Fate Core resonates with me. It treats roleplaying as a collaborative storytelling enterprise, and that approach is baked into the mechanics, instead of just stated. The character creation process and aspect-creation options give the players a crazy amount of power to shape the world, and the fate point system means players are encouraged to make trouble for their characters in exchange for more awesome later. It's an economy dedicated to creating exciting stories, and that encourages players to own their own fascinating misfortune, instead of having it thrust on them by the storyteller. Its very nature discourages the playing to win, dungeon master-versus-players mentality. So I like it.

Also it was really easy to adapt Fare Core to my world. Because it's really easy to adapt Fate Core to most things. I'm not getting paid to say any of this.

What do you think magic adds to steampunk? 

(ABIGAIL) Steampunk is hugely about technology. Awesome, smoke-belching, gear-spinning, clinkity-clanking technology. Technology is a way of interacting with the world by way of mastery and perfect understanding. You need to study and experiment and know how every facet of how your steam-powered invention works for it to work. And once it's working, you'll know why it works, and that if it breaks, it's for a reason you'll be able to comprehend and touch.

Magic is a way of interacting with the world that involves acknowledging the limits of our understanding. The word magic itself implies a force that we have no real explanation for, a system of light and energy that can be examined and mapped, but only to a certain extent. Magic is always fundamentally a black box. The incantations we pour into one side of the black box come out the other side as rabbits, silk scarves, and lightening bolts. And they only real justification as to why that's the case boils down to: "It's magic."

I think putting magic in a steampunk, or any technology heavy setting adds a delightful tension between the world of concrete technology, and the incomprehensible realm of magic. In Smoke & Glass, the people of Kroy are simultaneously covetous, and terrified of magic, and try to use technology to control it. Since magic is literally in the blood of certain people, they become the focus of this balance of fear and desire. On the other side of things, inventors have developed a substance called saltglass that's very effective in repelling and controlling magic and magic users, but producing it takes a heavy toll in labor and human lives.

What do you hope people get out of the game when they play?

(ABIGAIL) I hope they get to run a heist game with magic in it. Because that's pretty much my favorite thing in the universe to do.

In addition, one of the things that was important to me while building this world was to play with societal norms. There are ingrained beliefs in American society that influence everything we do that are so basic it's hard to even remember they're there. Like the idea that being masculine means you're tough and should never cry, and being feminine means you're pretty and delicate. Assumptions that are often accurate, very limiting, and self-perpetuating. It's hard to make a fantasy setting that changes these basic ideas because they inform so much of how we think and what we're used to, and have been pervasive throughout English history--the era and location we most like borrowing from for our fantasy.

In Smoke and Glass, I tried to play with gender roles. What is life like in a society where masculine means magical and feminine means deadly? What are the problems that arise from THOSE stereotypes? Smoke and Glass isn't a utopia. It isn't better than our society: they just have a different set of societal norms that people make assumptions based on and are pressured to conform to. Slaughtering animals is women's work, and the other girls make fun of little Daisy because she doesn't like blood. No one cares if Roger cries about it, but they expect him to follow in his father's footsteps and become a priest, because otherwise he's getting drafted by the army and milked for his magical blood until he's fifty.

So I hope people can use Smoke and Glass to explore a world with some different social conventions. They can also, if they like, use it to explore some very familiar economic ones, like exploitation of workers and class warfare, which is fought on the front lines by by an order of masked Robin Hoods and a legions of angry urchins in Kroy. The distance of a fantasy world can let us look at issues we're too close to think about clearly in real life. The divide between rich and poor is a contentious issue right now, and I hope that examining it through a fictional lens of magical Dickensian England might be interesting and helpful. Or at least cathartic.

What else can we look forward to from Phoenix Outlaw Productions?

(SHOSHANA) We’ve got a number of other projects on the horizon, both in tabletop RPGs and in live action roleplaying games. Josh Harrison, co-founder of the company with me, is writing a brilliant game called Dreamdiver, which is cyberpunk-meets-Inception. That’s also going to be a Fate Core game that people can look for more announcements about around August. After that, I am developing a tabletop RPG as well called Wanderlust, which is about humans and faeries traveling through space looking for a new planet to call home. That book is slated to come out after Dreamdiver and there should be announcements about it come Metatopia in November this year. In the LARP world, we’re working on developing a collection of freeform games for release next year.