Monday, September 29, 2014

Clueless and Teenage Drama

I just finished watching Clueless.

Now, not everyone knows that I was homeschooled, but many people do. I didn't have a standard high school experience, and I always envied people who did. While I know the likelihood of me surviving standard high school is low, a part of me always feels like I missed out on things that I could have really used - good friends, better education, greater awareness, and some support for my learning disabilities that would have been great.

On top of that, I also really regret not doing high school things when I was in high school. A lot of the stuff - going to parties, dating, etc. - didn't happen for me until after, and it left me a little unprepared. Hell, I've never even actually dated people. I don't regret being married to John or our long relationship, but had I been in public school, I feel like I'd have at least witnessed other people dating, and been less blind to how romantic relationships are supposed to work, and might not have needed the extensive time reading and researching.

This might all be wishful thinking. A lot of people hated high school, and it was very unkind to a lot of people. It's still pretty cruel to a lot of people. It's probably just a grass-is-always-greener thing, but that doesn't make it go away. I still cling to high school media, like Clueless and Mean Girls and Bring It On. They're not realistic, but they aren't supposed to be - they're the way we wish things could be, or wish we could control them.

Bringing this back around to something people reading this might actually care about...

This is why games like Monsterhearts are my favorites. They take one thing that is deep in the heart of my fantasies: a real high school experience, then add something I love and enjoy: supernatural fantasy, and mix it with fictional control. I can tell a story I want to tell with heartbreaks and falling in love and good grades and worse grades and werewolves and cheerleaders and it's fucking awesome. And Monsterhearts is not alone (School Days is another good example), but I'd still like to see MORE games like this, with different twists and different systems.

I've been quietly working on a teenage superhero game with evolving patterns of skills using a graphic representation hex grid for character growth. It's a slow moving process, but this kind of thing is key to what I would want to happen in the game. Players acting against each other, twisting narratives, emotional investment, and discovery. I want to see more games do things like I saw the early version of Masks do - make me love and hate a character, want to be them and want to ruin them, make me want to be a hero and a villain, and turn the expected on end. Let people judge me and let me judge them back. Let me fall in love with the wrong person. Let me spurn lovers. Let me do it at a point in life where my emotions are completely out of my control, because for once, teenage hormones are a good excuse for something. Let me cheer. Let me hang out behind the bleachers.

Let me be a teen, in the best way and the worst way. I want to live it in new and different ways every time I hit the table.

I guess this is just kind of a love letter to the teenage drama. I wish for more. There is nothing quite like living a life you've never led.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dread - Suspense and Control

I'm thinking today about the game of Dread by Epidiah Ravachol I played at midnight-to-four-am last night, and how freaking awesome Dread is as a game. I know, tons of people say this, and they say it for a reason. I am sure there are people who don't like the game, but hell, I really dig it.

Here's why.

I like scary things. I like suspense. However, I'm also a giant coward. I can't watch a ton of horror films or read scary stories like I could when I was a kid because I have wild nightmares. So, roleplaying is one of the ways I get my scary fix. Dread is awesome at this.

There is suspense like I've never felt in a game. I liked Black Stars Rise (Sage LaTorra) because it was creepy as all get out. I like Dread because I hold my breath for at least half of the game. I am on the edge of my seat, but trying desperately not to bump the table. My hands shake for reals instead of just because of medicine. It's brilliant.

Introducing an element that takes so much control but removes so much control at the same time is really interesting. The Jenga tower is something for people with steady hands and knowledge of physics, so I expect plenty of people can play the game without as much worry about it falling on simple early pulls, but for someone like me, the chance of the tower falling is there from the first pull. It takes all of my brain and physical power to pull out a block, controlling my actions more than I normally do. But it also removes any of my control. I can narrate freely most of the time, but when it comes down to it, I have to give up to a pull to see whether I live or die.

And that's another interesting part: one failed pull and you're gone. There aren't second chances. In many games, I hate character death, but in Dread, I wait for it anxiously, and then end up staring at the tower as the rest of the players go out in a blaze of glory.

Plus, the questionnaires are great. They give the GM just enough information to go on, without taking the players too long to answer questions. It provides elements of curiosity as we watch others write out their answers but can't see what they're saying, watching the little smiles or grimaces on their face betraying some of the parts of their story.

This is kind of a short post, but I wanted to chat a little bit about it. I hope you enjoyed the read. Tell me what you think of Dread in the comments!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Five or So Questions with Rob Trimarco on Fortune's Fool

Check out Rob's Kickstarter for Fortune's Fool Ultimate PDF Edition!

Tell me a little about Fortune's Fool. What excites you about it?

Fortune's Fool is a tabletop Roleplaying Game set in a fantasy version of the European Renaissance that uses tarot cards instead of dice as it's main conflict resolution mechanic.

The exciting parts about it are the ways in which players interact with each other, the tarot deck, and the GM. First, the GM never draws a card against a player. The players draw cards to succeed at skill checks or combat actions and then draw to dodge attacks or avoid actions taken against them.

Second, the character creation system is very simple yet robust. It is a life path system that helps players craft a story as they choose the attributes that are notable and special about their characters. Social class, religion, race, birth order, and other factors all contribute to a character's abilities, skills, and how lucky they are.

Thirdly, the game has within it a "Fate Twist" system which is a completely "meta" mechanic that allows the players themselves to influence the cards being drawn to steer the outcome in their favor. Players can "twist fate" at any point in the game even when it is not their character's turn.

What made you choose to use tarot cards?

Part of the decision to use tarot cards was the feel of the many decks that are out there to use. Many of them have beautiful art that truly helps to invoke the feeling of the setting and the mood of a game. We have used multiple decks when running it. One I have is very much in the style of old renaissance paintings and it has gold edges. Very useful for when I ran a game dealing with royalty and saving a prince from impending doom! Another we use is a fairy tale themed deck which we used when writing and play testing our Grimm Tales campaign supplement.

Another part of the decision was the multiple ways the deck itself could be used. For those that do not know about the tarot deck structure, The tarot deck is broken up into 2 sections. It has cards called "minor arcana" which consist of 4 suits with 14 cards in each (similar to the standard deck of playing cards we use today) as well as "major arcana" with cards like "The Magician", "The Hanged Man", and "Strength" of which there are 22. This variety allows us to use the numbers on the minor arcana cards, the specific suit they are, and the major arcana cards all as ways to express levels of success, failure, damage from attacks, spell effects, etc.

They all work together seamlessly and intuitively with the story being told and with the actions being taken by the player. The minor arcana cards determine success and failures on a basic level by comparing the suit and the number to your character's skill ratings and to which minor arcana card suits are considered "fortune smiles" or "fortune frowns." The major arcana cards represent critical successes and critical failures. If you draw a major arcana card and it is circled on your character sheet, the action is considered a "fortune shines"; a critical success of the highest order. If the major arcana drawn is not circled on your character sheet, your character has fumbled an action badly with a critical failure. These "Fortune Shines" and "Fortune Weeps" are determined during the course of character creation.

Tell me a little more about character creation. What do you think is vital to character creation in games?
Depending on how players approach participation in roleplaying games, they may view what's vital to character creation in different ways. Someone can certainly make choices to give them the best social or weapon skills. Making selections that raise their charm or attack numbers, and generally be amazing at certain aspects of a physical or social conflict. Someone else may think about their character choices as more of a storytelling vehicle and focus their choices on what is most interesting to them in the vein of defining their character's struggles or most powerful life events. I believe the vital part of the Fortune's Fool character creation system lies within this diversity and the ability to accommodate many points of view and play styles.

Twisting fate sounds awesome! How do you do it?
At character creation the number of times you can play a fate twist and which specific ones a player has are determined. The luckier a character is the more fate twists their player possesses. There are many different fate twists listed in the book and they all allow a player to affect the deck in many ways. From being able to peek at the top 3 cards of the deck to shuffling in your choice of major arcana into the top 5 cards.

Let's say, for example, in a scene there is a group of brigands attacking the player characters. The lead brigand has his flintlock pistol out and expresses a deep desire to shoot one of the characters in the face. In order to see if the shot hits, the player must draw a card to dodge. Let's call the player "Aaron." Aaron's draw must be lower than his dodge score or be a major arcana card that is favorable to his character in order for the shot to miss. Guns being very deadly weapons, Aaron decides to use a fate twist. This happens before any cards are drawn to resolve the action at hand. Aaron announces to the other players at the table and to the GM that he will spend a fate point and use his fate twist called "Devil's Laugh." This fate twist states that the Major Arcana card "The Devil" needs be shuffled into the top 3 cards of the deck. Since The Devil card is a "Fortune Shines" for Aaron if he draws it, the gunshot will not only miss but it will cause his opponent to fumble, causing the brigand to drop the gun or even have it explode in his hand! The degree of success or failure of a draw determines all of this so picking the right fate twist (or twists - many can be played before a draw occurs) definitely matters in any situation where life or death is on the line!

So the GM now picks up the deck and searches it for the card and when it is found he or she then shuffles it into the top 3 cards of the deck. Aaron now has a one in 3 chance of drawing a card that is really good for him so the tension of the draw is high! It's very exciting to see happen during play! Will the brigand's shot completely miss Aaron? Will Aaron's face be shot?Oh boy!

Will we be seeing more from you soon, and if so, what will it be?

We are currently running a Kickstarter project to enhance our PDFs. If it funds it will allow us to do the following: layer the art in the book to allow it to be viewed in "text only" mode so it speeds up loading and allows for slower devices to read the file easily, resizing the files for optimal viewing on a phone, tablet, PC, or other PDF capable device, linking the rules internally to different sections to facilitate looking up different rules and definitions we use in the book, and adding more original artwork from our favorite artists.

We also have a new supplement in the works called "Tales from the Ganges" that will detail the region of India! It will allow players and GMs to expand their game into the region with new races, skills, religions, spells, and a myriad of other fun bits.Did you ever want your character to ride a huge, demon possessed bull elephant into combat with your enemies? Well now you finally can! This supplement will breathe new life into a current game or bring inspiration to start a new one. It is currently part of our Kickstarter's stretch goals but even if we don't meet the goal this supplement will still be released just on a different time table.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Five or So Questions with Joshua Unruh

Check out this interview with Joshua Unruh on his new Patreon project! With this post, we're having a contest! If you become a Patron of Joshua on Patreon, then comment on this post, you'll be entered to win a copy of his book TEEN Agents in The Plundered Parent Protocol. Leave a means of contacting you in the comment so we can let you know if you've won!

Tell me a little bit about your project. What excites you about it?

The short explanation of the project is monthly, serialized bursts of superhero prose. Faster and cheaper than full comics, I'll get to tell exciting stories about people in colorful costumes punching their way to justice without needing a huge production team.

Two things excite me most about this project. First is the opportunity to tell superhero stories about heroes of my own creation that are different. I don't mean to say that I plan to reinvent the wheel with my superhero fiction. In fact, I hope to give the same thrilled feeling I had as a kid of following larger-than-life heroes through their serialized adventures. I stand on the shoulders of giants from Jack Kirby and Curt Swan through Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, and they all reinvented things a bit as they went. But I do mean the heroes will be different. Different colors, different genders, different walks of life.

The second reason I'm excited about this project is how I expect it will stretch me as a writer. I've got outlines and have done some writing ahead, but not a ton. I want to see what happens when I'm under a deadline for a story and not even the sky is the limit. That, I feel, is one of the stronger things the superhero genre has going for it. Tight deadlines and no locks on "the rules" meant that the superhero genre has some delightfully weird tropes. Sometimes that resulted in crazy stories where Superman had the head of a lion. Sometimes it resulted in entire cities of super-intelligent gorillas or teenage super clubs from the future.

Weird, ridiculous, or amazing, these ideas literally couldn't have been created in any other situation. And I can't wait to see what a similar situation pushes me to create.

Talk to me a little about your three goals for your superhero fiction. What are they and why are they important?
The three goals for my superhero fiction are 1. Make it all ages, 2. make it fun, 3. make it diverse.

All ages is an important concept to me because, as an adult, I've realized just how much learning I did reading comics that didn't talk down to me. All ages doesn't mean "for kids." And even if it did, "for kids" too often means "talks to kids like they're stupid." I don't want that. I want to be entertaining to a broad swathe of ages. The all in all ages overpromises, but it's still a goal I want to aim for. Kinda like Pixar, they make the effort to entertain both the kids and adults in their audience on different levels.

This has been a thing superhero stories have lost. By and large, they aren't all ages anymore. Every Free Comic Book Day, I struggle to find something my seven year old son can enjoy. And let me assure you, at this point, if you name a popular superhero book that was either all ages or for kids, we've read it a hundred times. There just isn't new stuff churned out for him. And I want there to be. So I'm being the change I want to see.

As for making it fun, that's just what I want from my superhero fiction these days. There are absolutely places where superhero comics can be grim and serious affairs. Watchmen is the quintessential example. But one reason Watchmen works is because there's all this fun stuff that it can be an opposing reaction to. I've just sort of grown past the point where I need superheroes to be taken seriously. Especially when "serious" means drab colors and compromising of heroic ideals rather than living them out in technicolor. I want superheroes to be a roller coaster ride again, and I think kids do as well even if they can't articulate it yet.

Make it diverse is just something that's close to my heart. My wife and I were foster parents after our son came along. We wanted to add to our family and thought that would be a great way to find the little girl that belonged with us. That got me thinking about how the stuff my son and I enjoyed just didn't have enough action heroes that would look like her. We fostered an African American boy and I couldn't shake the same thought for him. I know I'm not alone in wanting more diverse heroes, but once again, all I can do is try to be that change with my own work.

What kind of characters can we expect to see?
You can expect to see heroes! Selfless people who want to make the world a better place! It just so happens that they want to do it while wearing masks and capes! Other than that, I'm just asking myself how I can make my character base more diverse. Of the first five characters I have in mind, four of them are girls or women, two of them are mixed race, and one of them is Greek (like, ancient Greek). But they're all still multi-faceted, detailed, completely realized characters.

On the villainous side, you're going to see a similar approach to characterization and diversity, but maybe a bit less diverse than the heroes. I mean, the fact that a lot of evil people in the real world are old white guys with a lot of money will filter into my superhero work.

Maybe some examples will help. Catfight and Hell Kitten are from a recently broken home. Their mother is African American, their father is white, and they're moving in with their maternal grandfather (who just happens to have been a mystery man in the 30s and 40s). Think of these girls as the Spider-Man type. Broken home, struggling with money, but they still aspire to heroism. Catfight and Hell Kitten are my coming of age story, so they'll face villains that represent everyday troubles.

My second character (should I get that many patrons) is The Gray Angel. She's what happens if Buffy the Vampire Slayer decides to become Batman. She works in Pilgrim City. The Grim is controlled by supernatural evil and criminals...who are also usually supernaturally evil. Gray Angel is where I'll tell the horror and crime stories.

The last character I'll mention is Andromeda. She's the Andromeda from Greek myth, except she's no wilting princess. That's just the Zeus-fueled PR machine at work. When Perseus failed to show up and fight the Kraken, she yanked the chains from the cliff, dove into the Aegean, and killed it herself. She's adventured all over the place, including to the peak of Mt. Olympus where she got these stunning little strappy sandals with wings. Later, she punched Nazis and even become a warrior queen in another star system.

What kind of inspirations do you have for your villains?
I think the best villains are the opposite number of the hero. And if you have a truly great character, like Batman, you can have several opposite numbers that are nothing alike. Coming in right after that are villains that represent a problem the hero is facing or a problem from their past. The Lizard is, for Spider-Man, a mentor and father figure he couldn't save, especially from his own inner demons. And then there are villains that are just cool concepts or a twist on cool concepts. Solaris the Tyrant Sun is just epic and scary while Klarion the Witchboy is weird and scary.

So I have plans for Helena Handbasket who is, in some ways, the shadowy reflection of Catfight and Hell Kitten. She's new in town, also comes from a broken home, and has found unexpected power. But she's going to use it for her own ends instead of to help others. What will the girls do when they realize that, except for a few blessings, they could have been her?

Over in Pilgrim City, you'll meet Chilly Graves. He's a mobster who crossed the wrong guys, found himself thrown in a freezer to die, and then got dumped into unholy ground. When he awakens, he's a zombie fueled by cold. He's the "what happens when the problems you bury arise?" kind of villain (and also a twist on some favorite Batman bad guys of mine).

I don't want to give away too much, but you can see how my inspirations come through those two characters I hope.

Who do you think this project will appeal to most?
I sincerely hope it appeals to everyone who wants to read some superhero action! I mean, let's be honest. I have some ideological axes to grind that are influencing some of my creative decisions. But I don't expect these to be seen as "superheroes for girls" or "the diverse universe." I just want them to be fun, exciting, and full of wonder in the way that Spider-Man and Legion of Super-Heroes were for me when I was a kid. If along the way I get to reflect a readership that isn't being served as well as it could be, then I am totally okay with that!

Really, I just love superheroes and have for most of my life. My wife and I were discussing how she can't even imagine who I'd be without superheroes. I want to appeal most to the person that might become a lifelong fan of this incredible genre like I did. It would be one of my greatest joys as an artist if my stories were the portal through which even one person became a true believing superhero fan.