Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Five or So Questions with Benjamin Woerner on A World of Dew

Check out the Kickstarter for A World of Dew!

Tell me a little about A World of Dew. What excites you about it?

Ever since I was a kid and saw my first samurai film I've LOVED Japanese history and cinema. I played Legend of the Five Rings when it first came out and am literally still playing it now. I've read and watched a ton of Japanese history and media and played hundreds of hours of games like Shogun 2: Total War.

But there was something missing. In a lot of Japanese Chambara films the heroes are not the Samurai, they're all the other people: the geisha, the ronin, the sumo, the peasant, etc. There wasn't a game where you play those characters. At least, there was a modern story driven game that does that. I wanted to play Sanjuro, Zatoichi, Sayuri from Memoirs of a Geisha, and Bob from The Last Samurai. I wanted to play the snow fight in Sword of Doom, and solve the murders like Sano Ichiro in did in the Laura Joh Rowland novels. My friend John Wick had written Blood & Honor in 2010. It's a brilliant game, but you play Clan Samurai in a Clan. I wanted everyone else. So I wrote it.

Instead of Clan Samurai you play all the other characters: Doctors, Gaijin, Yakuza, and all the other characters I mentioned before. And instead of building a Clan and playing in the Clan you build a City. John's game is set during the Sengoku Jidai (The 15th to 17th centuries) when Japan was fighting constant wars internally to unify itself as one true nation. My game is set after that during the Tokugawa Era (1600-1850s). Japan was united politically, but it was being torn apart by the rise of modernism and the merchant class culminating in the Boshin War and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor as ruler of Japan. Cities, not Clans became important. Important trade hubs like Nagasaki, Yokohama, and Hiroshima begin to grow like crazy with the influx of gaijin (foreign) merchants from all over the world. It's also when most of the great Chambara films take place.

And because John's game was so well designed for a Japanese setting I was able to port over the core mechanics, create all the new character rolls, new advantages, aspects, and create the City Creation System. The players and Narrators build a City by spending Build Points to create important Locations, Faces, and Threats in their City. The Locations all have built in mechanics to drive the campaign's story forward and help the Narrator decide where to go. It makes the work of Narrating Samurai Noir stories easy and exciting. :)

What influences did you use in your art direction?

I had a kind of atypical childhood growing up. Not to get into it too much but I knew more about Tchaikovsky at 14 than I did about Nirvana (yeah I'm old). My mom was a High School teacher of French, English, and Humanities. Every year she'd take her students on a bunch of cultural field trips, and I went on all of them along with my dad and sister usually. :) Some people think that's weird, but I learned a lot about art, music, and theatre fairly young. And don't worry, when I got to high school and college I had friends who taught me about Nirvana, Queen, and most importantly Daft Punk.

The point being was that when I was a young teenager I already knew about Hiroshige and Hokusai and all the other great Japanese woodblock painters. One I spent a year of college in the UK I was very lucky to see a temporary exhibit at the British Museum that had hundreds of original Japanese woodblock prints, plus a bunch of other cool Japanese stuff like swords, armor, and a full sized Teahouse. I split my entire Fall break between that and a Battletech video arcade in Piccadilly Circus.

I knew going into this project that I wanted to share all these beautiful prints with everyone who read my game. When John was developing Blood & Honor I was helping him and Jessica Kauspedas, my Art Director for this project as well, with art selection. I found a print on the Library of Congress, and then Jessica found this huge archive of scanned original copies of all these Masters. The Great Wave of Kanagawa is there, as is Kanbara Village in Winter, which was chosen by Weezer as cover art for one of their albums.

One of the major ideas in my game is the conflict between old and new, and I wanted to show that. Traditional prints of modern subjects: trains, people in modern dress, cars, steam ships, etc. So you'll see that in there. Finally, I wanted art that showed some of the Giri (Duty/job) players can choose in the book.

So three things really, different professions in Japan, my favorite art from the Masters, and old versus new. :)

The Sound of Water is your stretch goal collection. How did you choose authors and artists, and how did you pair them together?

It was a bit of a scramble to be honest. Months ago I'd asked six artists and six authors to consider doing a Stretch Goal that would a chapter and chapter header art for The Sound of Water. Most of my artists agreed, several were busy, but were tentatively yes, and three of my authors agreed, two said maybe. As you know, the Kickstarter was delayed from February to May because I was incredibly sick for nearly two months (all better now). This caused some confusion with both groups. A few thought things had happened, others were available now, and some were not. So right before the Kickstarter launched I confirmed who was in, all six artists and three of the authors, and then put out a call for more authors. I got almost enough responses as I was launching the Kickstarter and then the Kickstarter exploded.

Not only did the Kickstarter Kick, but we broke the first and second Stretch Goals, and I got a ton of offers for writing and art. I picked authors and artists I knew and who's work I both trusted and enjoyed.

When it came to pairing them together I made a couple of choices. I wanted first, people who were familiar with each other. You, Brie Sheldon, and Marissa Kelly ended up being the only two of the final twelve that knew each other, and I was certain you'd make a great team. You two were the easiest to pair. You are also my only all female team with Jolene Houser being my only other woman working on The Sound of Water. Two of my original authors who couldn't write for the project because of conflicts were also female, and no other female authors stepped forward when I put out the call besides you, for which I am eternally grateful. I'm a bit bummed that we don't have more women providing their talent to the book, but I am incredibly pleased with all the other authors and artists.

The next consideration was experience and exposure in the Industry. Don't get me wrong. I think all of the authors and artists are amazing, but some of them have been around the Industry longer than others, and some of them have more name recognition and a bigger draw. John Wick and my massively awesome still secret Eisner nominated artist. They are both big names and I wanted to pair them together as a big draw to hopefully boost pledges.

Finally, I wanted to pair styles of artist with the subject matter that the authors were working on. Fabien produces some truly haunting art and Tobie's A World of Shadows will be brought to life by Fabien's art. Josh and Jolene both produce great content and Josh wanted Jolene to take the lead and decide, so that was a cool way to create a chapter and it worked great! Steve is working on Ninja and Caleb has a long history in the gaming industry creating some excellent character art (see his work in Realms of Sorcery the Black Industries sourcebook for the Green Ronin edition of Warhammer Fantasy). I knew that would be a success. Finally, Stan and John Kennedy are working on a chapter together, the subject hasn't been revealed on the Kickstarter at the time of this writing. Rest assured that Stan's style will pair beautifully with John's subject matter. I can't wait!

Is combat common in A World of Dew? If so, how does it work?

I was working on final edits tonight for the Violence Chapter - Between Two Breaths for A World of Dew. Violence happens, but it's not like your typical hack n' slash. This isn't a game about minutiae, counting Hit Points, and proper Feats. Violence is quick and deadly like in Chambara films. The most basic violence in the game is called the Strike! One player calls Strike! and points at another player or the Narrator. They gather their dice, make their wagers and roll. The winner then spend their wagers to describe what happened even the death of the other character immediately. Like I said, quick and deadly.

Healing is just the opposite, and the Doctor Giri is an important part of keeping characters alive.

While it isn't always Violent the Sumo wrestlers, Sumo Tournaments, and Sumo Schools are all in the Violence chapter. Sumo characters have detailed rules about taking part in a tournament and bringing great Glory to themselves and their School!

What kind of play experience do you want people to get from A World of Dew?

A fun one! Hopefully, a samurai noir type experience. Being able to tell dark, gritty stories about ronin, geisha, gaijin, and more around their table is what I hope they're going to get out of it. The ability to bring that experience of watching Yojimbo, Zatoichi, or Princess Mononoke from their TV onto their table.

The City Locations are designed to help drive the plot forward via the expenditure of Honor and Ninjo points. Ninjo points are also something that didn't exist in John's Blood & Honor. Ninjo is Japanese for Desire, and it serves a similar but more selfish role as Honor points. It helps turn the stories you tell into the noir tales we're trying to experience. The quick and deadly violence, the Giri, and the Virtue Flaws are all designed to build on that dark noir story. The deep dive into Japanese culture that the rest of the game represents helps make it samurai. :)

What's up next for you after this?

Oh boy, a lot. Getting the books printed before GenCon and out to the backers. Then getting The Sound of Water finished and out to backers before Christmas. Going to GenCon, Phoenix ComicCon, RinCon, and all the other cons.

Then writing another game. This time a hack of a popular new system setting it in a place it's never been before. The most I'll say right now is it'll not be fantasy. There's another BIG game design project I'm slowly chipping away at. Or more correctly, I'm slowly working towards getting the rights to design the game. It's a massive IP that has no RPG developed for it, and a huge fan following that crosses over into the Gaming Industry. If I can get it I'll be over the moon. I tinkered with the idea awhile back with a partner, but that didn't lead anywhere. I've now got the bare bones for a new system and moving forward with that.

During all that I'll continue to go to my daughter's soccer games, play Lego: Marvel Superheroes with my three year old, and snuggle with my lovely wife while our corgi tries to snuggle under our feet. :)

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