Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Five or So Questions with Epidiah Ravachol on Swords Without Master

Tell me about Swords Without Master. How excited are you?

I could almost throw up, I'm so excited. And wracked with fear. This project has been on my plate for almost four years now, and it's come to mean a lot of things to me. It is one of the starting points for the journey that has led me to Worlds Without Master. So it's quite fitting that it should be a part of the ezine.

By the time this interview is up on the web, Swords Without Master will probably be out and I'll be feeling a whole different set of emotions. But right now I'm in the limbo between being done with my part of the game and awaiting its release. This is a tough place for me to be. I get real antsy and the brain starts cataloging the most annoying of all possible futures. I get in a lot of imaginary Internet fights during this time. History has shown that none of them actually come true, but a boy can dream.

But I am excited! I cannot wait to see what folks make of all the new stuff that's available for the game since "The City of Fire & Coin." And I'm eager to start working on the next step, even as I debate what that next step is. I have a trilogy of shorter games designed to teach the best practices for playing Swords Without Master that I may turn my attention to soon. Or I may indulge in my bestiary addiction and start putting together a Book of Perils for the game.

But there is no refreshing splash of cool water like writing fiction right after crossing a massive desert of game text. And I am secretly most excited about that.


Wolfspell was a huge hit. Tell me a little about your inspiration and design process. What made this cool game happen?

Wolfspell begins with the short story "One Winter's Due." The idea of two badass sisters who must transform themselves into wolves in order to fulfill conflicting oaths came to me at my own sister's wedding. The story was an absolute pleasure to write, but long before I had finished it the game designer in me began lamenting that I "wasted" such a good premise on, of all things,fiction. What followed was a mighty battle of guilt and passive-aggression betwixt the two halves of Eppy until an uneasy peace accord was reached with the compromise that both got to use the premise.

It's been a little bizarre since then. I've really enjoyed reading the play reports of Wolfspell. This is nothing new to me, and I often enjoy hearing what people are doing with my games. But since this one started as fiction first . . . it may be a bit like the difference between a composer hearing someone play their music and a musician hearing someone cover their song. Cool, but definitely a new experience that took a bit to get used to.


For those of us newer to your work, tell us about 'The City of Fire & Coin."

"The City of Fire & Coin" is a free preview adventure for Swords Without Master. You can download it here: http://dig1000holes.wordpress.com/2012/06/24/the-city-of-fire-coin/

It came out in June of 2012. It's a bit of an experiment in game text. The whole thing is meant to be read out loud as you play your first game. So it presents the rules in a particular fashion modeled on how I teach the game when I run my demos, which, as it turns out, is very different from how rules are typically presented in a game text.

This method has its advantages and its disadvantages. You can open the PDF and start playing right away, without anyone in your group having read the rules before. And many have done so. But it does not make a particularly good reference book. The rules are arranged in the order you will need to learn them, not by associated concept. That plus having to read as if the rules were being read to you, make things a little difficult to look up. A bit like having to find the right spot to watch in an instructional video.

"The City of Fire & Coin" is meant to be part of a larger whole. The idea is that the eventual form Swords Without Master will take a number of different approaches to the rules, so people can pick and choose the ones that work for them.

There's a lot more to the game what what's in the preview, but it gives a really good look at the basics. "The City of Fire & Coin" contains just about all the rules you'll find in the first half of the Swords Without Master text that appears in issue three of Worlds Without Master. And those are basically the only rules you should be using the first few times you play. Once you get a hang of the system, you can start adding some of the other stuff found in issue three.


What has been the biggest challenge of Swords Without Master?

I fell just a bit too in love with it. I can get caught up in big projects, in a recursion of revision, trying to hammer out one, giant, beautiful, perfect product. You can always add something to a project like that and it could go on forever.

Last year, when I put out Vast & Starlit and What is a Roleplaying Game?, both of which are about 500 words long, I had a bit of a crisis. The concept to execution times on those games were tiny. Especially compared to the four or so years I had been plugging away at Swords Without Master at that point. It started to seem a bit hopeless. Why the hell was I writing all these words for something that I've explained in 10 minutes? I honestly considered abandoning the project at that point.

That is, ultimately, why I decided to publish it in Worlds Without Master. To force myself to write a much smaller version of it--though it still turned out quite a bit larger than I had planned for--and to give myself a venue for future exploration. It turned out that last bit was the most important bit. As I was stumbling over my deadlines, it was helpful to remind myself that I don't have to shove all my design into this one text. I could leave some ideas out for now and concentrate on the most important parts.

In the end, I shoved a lot into there anyway, but it was still tremendously helpful knowing I didn't have to shove it all in there.


What did you enjoy most about creating Wolfspell - the mechanics, writing "One Winter's Due," both, something else?

That game fell together so easily. Or, at least, that's how I remember it. I think there was a few early drafts that were just wrong, wrong, wrong. But when I hit on what I was doing, it just flew out. And the early playtest was pure joy.

Oh, but the best part was researching the wolves! What a lovely excuse to sit down and watch whatever I could find on the Internet about wolves.