Monday, February 1, 2016

Five or So Questions with Alessandro Piroddi on The Name of God

I had the pleasure to interview Alessandro Piroddi about his upcoming game, The Name of God. The Name of God is coming soon on Kickstarter, and Alessandro has been kind enough to share his Kickstarter preview link with all of us so you can check it out ahead of time!

Tell me about The Name of God. What excites you about it?

The first thing that excites me about tNoG is the same thing that blew my mind the first time I saw Vast & Starlit: a whole gmLess game with fully fleshed and coherent procedures all bundled in a handful of cards. It's not unheard of today, but at the time it felt like doing the impossible. No GM, no books to study, no prep time, no sheets and dice and pencils; you sit down and play the game and it just all works. Kabum!

The second thing that I love about tNoG is the setting... I am a huge fan of a certain kind of dark-ish urban fantasy. When I think about books like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Anansi Boys and American Gods, or any book from Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, the thing that intrigues me the most is the idea that everyday mundane people and actions might actually hide a hidden meaning, a secret knowledge.

What has been different for you in designing The Name of God than other games, considering it's very different format?

Space constraints.

I wanted it to fit, in its original form, to slim format business cards. This meant a draconian control on word count. Every sentence had to deliver the intended meaning, setting flavour, procedural instructions, everything that was needed in very few words. And even the specific words used will often need to be scrutinised to find suitable synonyms, as using one expression instead of another would brake the line in the wrong place, occupying extra space. From there, going to poker-card format was actually a comfortable transition >_<

You said that dark, urban fantasy that has the idea of mundanes have a secret knowledge. How do you think that comes through in The Name of God?

In the game your character is an homeless person with no powers or any weird ability, and the rules simply end up framing this person in normal and ordinary scenes.

But then your personal Fetish (a sort of character template) asks you a couple of weird questions, very thematic and philosophical; stuff like "Why nobody is innocent?" or "What hunger keeps you awake?" This charges your perception of the character in a uniquely individual and personal way, making it feel more than just some random guy on the street.

And then the rules add to each scene you play a slightly bizarre detail; nothing mindblowing, and exactly because of this it tilts the picture and makes everything feel kind of off.

Finally, any of your actions might have a ritual meaning, simply because you feel like it... thus triggering the game mechanics.

It also helps that the Ritual Action rules effectively allow to cheat the game... where normally you would surely fail and cause damage, you can instead draw power and make one more step towards your final goal... at a price.

But truly, the game itself is a ritual: people looking at your table will see 3 to 4 friends chatting, then all of a sudden one says something weird like "I am the Winter! I do this and that, I am the Winter" and out of the blue the whole group starts chanting a mantra. Players look positively crazy when they play!

Structuring a Kickstarter for such a unique style of game may have presented some challenges. How did you make choices to structure the Kickstarter to ensure you could meet your goals and make backers happy?

Unfortunately in my "real life" I have no time, skills or extra help to manage logistics: printing, delivering, stocking. The choice of a PDF + Print on Demand solution seemed not only ideal, but practically the only viable one. Also, this is a nanogame, so I planned the whole project to be as small and sustainable as possible.

The game is already there, the artist graciously performed a good share of the graphical work upfront, I only need the money to pay off the rest of its work and send the final version of the files to the PoD service, then Bob's your uncle. In that regard the existence of a website such as DriveThroughCards made everything very simple for me, and convenient for my backers: it's a big online shop of renown fame, with solid production standards and a killer customer service that ships worldwide. Others might have slightly cheaper fees, or marginally better paper quality, but considering the whole package I believe this to be the best solution for both me and anyone interested in the game.

Also, the stretch goals are built in such a way that each one will add value to the whole project, but ultimately are not needed... if not even one is funded, the game will not suffer from it, while the more are funded the better the game becomes for everyone. Logistically speaking the workload for each guest designer is incredibly small. The main bottleneck will be the illustrations, but this only means that if worst comes to worst there will be a slight delay in the fulfillment of the project, nothing else.

What kind of stories do you think players will find when they play The Name of God? What do you think might surprise them?

So far I've seen all kinds of stories.

Some are quirky and over the top, surrealistic.

Others are humane and touching, others are dark and hurtful, others yet are light hearted and almost comical (in a weird kind of way). A few kind of remind of Todd McFarlane's Spawn stories, the first ones that were more down to earth.

For example I remember one game, one of the very first playtests, where the Winter produced a chilling (no pun intended) story of revenge, the Shadow went down as a deranged and very dark vigilante tale, and the Stars surprised everyone by pulling off a story of personal struggle and redemption with an unbelievably sweet and positive ending (as far as suicide goes).

The Winter was a middle aged woman. Cheated and abandoned by her husband, she methodically went on stalking him and his new happy family, stealing trinkets and mementoes, and finally getting into their happy house and killing their newborn infant child. The player (Pablo) commented that most of the horrible things he made his Fetish do where not planned, they just kind of happened because they felt right in the circumstance, and he was the first to be shocked by them.

The Shadows was an angry old man. He behaved like a vigilante, fighting the inner demons that plagued the periphery of his perception by beating drug dealers and pimps with a baseball bat. The player (Claudia) was consistently creeped out both by how her character's actions failed to ensue a positive effect no matter how hard she tried (very powerful a scene with a prostitute she helped, as the girl freaked out because her pimp got smashed to a pulp before her eyes). And her ascension scene was epic, facing a small army of demon-children in a construction yard near a railway, finally throwing the character against an incoming train as a last enraged attack against his not-so-inner demons.

The Stars was a young guy with a drug problem. He faced prejudice and violence and temptation in order to win over the girl of his dreams, eventually risking his life to save her father, a man that until the very end had shown him only hatred and contempt. A touching moment happened when he put a gun to his own head, inviting the girl's father to pull the trigger if that would solve his family problems and ensure the girl's well being ... and by turning this into a Ritual Action that, literally, sparked a light in the man's heart, the scene ended up in tears and reconciliation. But the best part was the final ascension. The player (Alejandro) saw that there were no rules dictating when the ascension scene needed to take place, so he framed his character as old, in his house bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror and remembering a happy and fulfilling life with his beloved; she was now dead since a few months and he felt it was time to leave the mortal world behind and ascend, serenely, in his own bed, with the help of some pills and a good drink. It felt like real closure even to the other players. Beautiful.

Awesome! Please make sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming Kickstarter and check out the KS preview page. Thank you to Alessandro for the interview, and I am looking forward to seeing the final product!

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