Friday, May 27, 2016

Five or So Questions with Tod Foley on DayTrippers

Today I have an interview with Tod Foley, who introduced me to his game DayTrippers, which sounds like a cool scifi experienceIt's available on RPGnow and TabletopLibrary, and you can learn more about it on the DayTrippers website. Check out the interview below!

Tell me a little about DayTrippers. What excites you about it?

To answer that, I'll need to talk about two things: themes and mechanics. This will take a little explanation.

Thematically, DayTrippers is my love letter to weird science fiction. I've always been a SF fan, but the appeal was never about the science or technology. For me it was all about the mind, and about questioning the nature of reality. I grew up reading "new wave" authors like Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, James Tiptree Jr. and Philip K. Dick. Their works were more about "inner space" than "outer space". To this day, the movies that affect me most are nominally science fiction, but of the type that messes with your head: from classics like "2001: A Space Odyssey" (which had a powerful and lasting effect on my six-year-old mind) to modern-day brain-benders like "Inception". For me, the truth is where the weird is. As I got older I began seeing the links between this "weird" school of SF and surrealist artists whose work also affected me deeply: people like Roger Dean, Richard Corben, H.R.Giger and my personal favorite, Moebius (Jean Giraud).

Of course, there have been plenty SF RPGs over the years. I contributed heavily to the "Space Master" line (from Iron Crown Enterprises) in the 80s. But these games tend to lean toward hard science, and follow the common materialist themes of exploration and combat. You know: laser weapons, starship battles, hostile alien "natives" and bug-eyed monsters. These themes never grabbed me as deeply as the new wave had grabbed me. What I really wanted was a game that would get inside players' heads, and take them to those bizarre corners of existence where sanity (or reality itself) comes into question, like the weird SF I loved from my youth.

These ideas percolated in my head for many years. One day in 2014 I was talking with Mike Burrell on, and the subject came around to our love of Moebius and other "Heavy Metal" artists. In the best of these stories, alternate realities and heavy symbolism blend together in a way that's both technological and surrealistic. We realized there was an opening for a new type of SF RPG, but it couldn't be just an ordinary "simulation" - because such a game wouldn't have the deep psychological impact that drives weird fiction and surrealist art. I thought the best way to attain that powerful sense of strangeness and displacement would be to fuse traditional GMing approaches with narrativist and surrealist techniques, and I threw myself into the project with wild abandon. Suddenly everything just *clicked*. Within a year, DayTrippers was born.

Of course, once you decide you're going to fuse traditional and narrative techniques in a single hybrid game, you run into a lot of roadblocks - none the least of which is the insular nature of player groups and GMs on opposite sides of that imaginary "rift" in our hobby. To appeal to both groups it was imperative that the game's mechanics be new and flexible, but also simple and narratively-driven. There weren't many designers who had ever attempted such a fusion.

Two of my main inspirations were Steffan O'Sullivan's "FUDGE" (from which the original FATE was a branch-off), and Matthijs Holter’s "Archipelago". From the former I took the idea of a descriptive difficulty scale and lack of a "canonical" setting, and from the latter I took the concept of bipartite action resolution ("yes and", "yes but", "no and", "no but"), along with the contextual and narrativistic interpretation of action results. Everything in the game would come down to a single unified action resolution system. With this core mechanic in place, I was able to create a "toolkit" that could be used in a number of different ways: as a collaborative narrativist game, as a strongly-GM'd traditional game, or (my favorite mode) as a blend of both approaches. The core mechanic has just enough crunch to simulate any type of situation, while the random generators and surrealist techniques add a level of subconscious projection that keeps things from becoming predictable - even for an experienced GM.

I've been designing games professionally since the mid 80s. I've done both trad and narrative games. But with DayTrippers, I was able to unite the best aspects of both schools, and give people the flexibility to run in whatever style suits their group. That's what excites me, and that's why I can't shut up about it. :-)

Can you talk a little about the fiction for DayTrippers, both the content in the game and any specific features you think new players would find exciting?

Future settings always require a bit of exposition, and DayTrippers is no different. The game is set in an UbiComp version of the first world, 100 years in the future, although I'm deliberately vague on the details in order to allow GMs to make up their own minds about future history.

The Core Rules book begins with the story of Zayim Diaspora, open-source technologist and inventor of "SlipShips" - those incredible machines that allow travel into alternate dimensions, as well as forward and backward in time. Because slipship technology is open-source, it's "out of the bag" and no government or corporation can keep a lid on it. This means DayTrippers can come from all walks of life: from high-ranking military or corporate specialists to garage tinkerers with a lot of free time on their hands. It's a simple conceit that allows for all types of characters to be created, and permits the vast entirety of SF realities to be explored. Total narrative freedom, baby! There's a massive list of inspirational material by all my favorite authors in the GameMasters Guide; stories of alternate earths, tales of time travel, and explorations of alien planets and other dimensions. No two DayTrippers multiverses are alike. GMs and Players are free to approach the game with whatever inspirations they find appealing. You can do "Star Trek" one day and "Buckaroo Banzai" the next, then follow it up with "Solaris" or "The Man in the High Castle".

Tell me about LifeShaping, how does it influence character development, and how does it impact gameplay?

"LifeShapers" are things that effect the PCs' personally. They may be influential events from the characters' pasts, or psychological issues they're dealing with in the present. In a game of DayTrippers, Players may begin playing with only a vague idea of who their character is (much like the protagonist of a book or movie in the first scenes, when we have very little knowledge about them). Through a process I call "Progressive Character Generation", Players can develop their characters in more detail over sessions or campaigns.

This approach lets you get into the game quickly, without being forced to make up a bunch of details about a person you don't really know yet. It also allows for great surprises to occur later in the game, such as suddenly learning in the third episode that a character has had military training, or was once a famous athlete, etc. It can give you a new view of your character, and allow for skills and experiences you hadn't considered when the character was first drawn up. If you think about it, this sort of thing happens in movies and TV all the time. DayTrippers embraces it.

Vehicle combat in cyberpunk can be hella complicated. Could you talk about vehicular combat in DayTrippers?

It's true that there are a lot of variables involved in vehicular combat. But it's really no crunchier than any other type of conflict in DayTrippers, where everything - and I do mean *everything* - is resolved using the same core mechanic. Vehicular combat just includes more possible variables. Everyone onboard can get involved.

The most exciting thing about vehicles in DayTrippers is building your own SlipShip. My main influence there was "Car Wars" approach to vehicle design. Vehicles in DayTrippers range from massive interdimensional luxury liners to tiny Rube Goldberg-like contraptions. While the rules do allow for heavy armaments and shielding, most of the important action (at least in my own campaigns) takes place outside the ship.

Finally, I'm interested in what you expect, or want, players to get out of a session or campaign of DayTrippers. What would be the ideal takeaway, for you, from playing DayTrippers?

A DayTrippers campaign is like a series of one-shots; each adventure is designed to last a single session and return the PCs back to Earth. At root, it's a "Genre Sim" for weird science fiction. The rules are basically a toolbox for creating surreal "short stories" that take place in weird worlds and other dimensions. Each session forms a tight narrative arc, but because the action resolution system is loose and interpretive, there's a wide range of dramatic and unpredictable outcomes for every roll.

A trad game with narrativist elements, the system is optimized for spurious improvisation and high bleed. That's where the surreal stuff comes from: it's a combination of GM ideas, the output of random generators, and the "Psychic Content" contributed by the Players themselves. In play, the game tends to elicit ideas that weren't even considered when the session began, and it incorporates these changes in unpredictable ways. The GM is not playing against you: instead, together you're creating a story that has bizarre twists in it, and weirdness flows freely as narrative control goes back and forth. For all these reasons, a DayTrippers adventure is capable of surprising not only the Players, but the GM as well.

Thanks so much to Tod for the interview! I really hope that everyone enjoys checking out DayTrippers (and other games by Tod!) and that everyone got something fun out of this interview!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Five or So Questions with Jaye Foster on Age of Legends

Today I have an interview with Jaye Foster on the 6d6 game setting Age of Legends! Age of Legends was Kickstarted last year and will be available for new customers in May, so I asked some questions about the setting. Check out Jaye's answers below!

Tell me a little about Age of Legends. What excites you about it?

Age of Legends is a RPG set in Ancient Greece in 370 BCE. After centuries of dormancy, the Olympic gods have begun to select mortal champions to combat and counter the agents of the Titans. Imprisoned within Tartarus, the Titans hope their human agents can weaken Olympian strength enough that they can break free.

The player characters are the champions of the fifteen Olympic gods. When not dealing with Titanic plots, they'll have glorious adventures fighting monsters, engaging in wars between city states and fending off the interests of foreign powers.

What excites me about the setting is the unique stories you can tell with it. Not only do you get classic swords and sandals action inspired by the Iliad and Argonauts you get deeper roleplay about interactions between devout mortals and capricious gods. We're hoping to provide enough detail about Ancient Greek life that players can properly delve into the now long past culture.

Can you tell me about how the setting of Age of Legends melds with the 6d6 RPG system?

The setting provides a complete and entirely new set of paths using a lot of new advantages. The paths from Modern Generic didn't fit at all well with the historical and fantastical setting. No changes have been made to the core rules, but keywords have been added for advantages that allow a player to make use of their patron god's symbols and realms.

When dealing well-known myths, it could make it challenge to keep things fresh and appealing - what did you do with Age of Legends to draw in players and bring Greek myths to life with new concepts?

Mostly this started with avoiding a lot of the well known stories. A lot of the legends and myths in Age of Legends are focuses on the gods themselves, rather than heroes such as Jason or Odysseus. This meant delving into the less well known parts of the Greek mythology and then adapting them to fit out setting concepts. For a lot of the lesser known gods, like Hestia, Hecate and most of the Titans, the surviving literature is very limited to non-existent. So we got to make up our own legends in the style of Greek mythology.

It's also partially avoided by these old stories not being the focus of the setting. They're referenced as inspiration only, for the players to be aware of as they write new myths with their characters. The freshness comes from making new stories rather than roleplaying through the well known ones.

How do you handle making the characters as interesting and heroic as the legendary Titans and monsters they're fighting against?

This is one of the risks of the setting. We've given the players / characters access to their gods realms and symbols. With these advantages, they champions of the gods are able to perform incredible heroic acts. But the roleplay to back that up and put it in context can only come from the players.

We've given them a lot of guidance about Ancient Greece and how to build a character suitable for the setting. Hopefully it'll be put to good use.

How did you put together the history and myths into a cohesive text, and what research did you have to do?

Wikipedia was our most common starting point. We also bought and rented a few books on the lives of ordinary Ancient Greeks to fill in the important cultural aspects that our different from our own.

A really big help was a website, now-defunct and not updating, where the creator had gone through large amount of the primary source material and organised it by god and by theme. With it we were able to quickly find stories and myths about specific gods without having to read vat quantities of Ancient Greek literature.

Cohesion came about through organizing the book at the start of the project. We knew what information about each god we wanted to communicate. This saved us having to read lots and then determine what was wanted; instead we went looking for stories that fitted our defined needs.

In example - rather than read all of the stories about Zeus and then pick the ones we wanted, we went specifically looking for a story about his childhood, a story about his favour and a story about his wrath.

Thanks so much to Jaye for answering my questions! Make sure to check out Age of Legends, available this month!

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Five or So Questions with Craig Campbell on Murders and Acquisitions

I have an interview here with Craig Campbell about his new game Murders and Acquisitions! It's a game that's unexpected but sounds like a lot of fun, and it's currently on Kickstarter! Check out the Kickstarter, and Craig's responses to my questions below!

Tell me a little bit about Murders and Acquisitions. What excites you about it?

Murders and Acquisitions is a tabletop RPG of subterfuge, espionage, intrigue, theft, and murder in an absurd corporate world. The players portray corporate go-getters who seek money, power, and prestige, by whatever means necessary. The game is a little tongue in cheek with humor thrown in here and there. The game mechanics are simple. The world is very easy to understand. The character sheet looks like a resume.

Firstly, I'm excited to be creating my own RPG. I've done freelance for D&D, Pathfinder, Gamma World, and Iron Kingdoms, but Murders & Acquisitions is my own creation. Seeing finally come to fruition is very satisfying. Secondly, it fills a niche that I think most gamers haven't seen before. When big, corrupt corporations show up in RPGs, they're usually the bad guys. In M&A, you play within the hostile (deadly) work environment and, hopefully, rise to the top. It's part fantasy wish fulfillment and part fun, engaging storytelling. With full dental.

What inspired you to make a game about corporate subterfuge and the like?

The initial idea for the game came from my friend Matthew at work. He described a game about corporate go-getters working with each other but also sometimes betraying each other as they rose up the corporate ladder. The game he described felt like a board or card game, maybe a reskinning of Munchkin, where players portrayed company employees rather than dungeon-delving adventurers. My background in freelance RPG design put me in the head space of making this idea a tabletop RPG. I asked Matthew if he'd be cool with me expanding his idea into an RPG and he said, "Go for it."

Within just a few weeks, I had the basic game worked out. I started playtesting with friends just to see if the game idea had some legs underneath it. Within a month or three, Murders & Acquisitions was in full design mode.

Could you walk me through the mechanics of a basic encounter, such as a character sneaking around trying to steal a rival's secrets?

Very simple game mechanics. Each character has twelve skills that cover everything you can do in the game. Skills are ranked d4 - d12, higher is better. When making a skill check, you roll this Skill Die along with a d6 called the Synergy Die. Add them up. Compare to a target number for the task. Success/failure as well as DEGREE of success/failure is resolved with this one skill check. If you succeed on a skill check and get a "6" on the Synergy Die, you gain a boon. Your skill check results in a better than normal result. If you fail on a skill check and get a "1" on the Synergy Die, you suffer a botch and the GM describes a problem your character has to deal with.

The skills in the game read like they are "corporate speak" or "resume keywords." Your ability to "sneak around" is called Bodily Grace. Telling lies falls under a skill called Social Equivocation. Covering up your horrible acts of wrongdoing falls under a skill called Loss Mitigation. Your character's physical strength is Force Application; the application of force to achieve your ends.

The stretch goal for magic in the game has been unlocked! How does magic impact the alternate reality you've built for M&A?

Magic doesn't affect the core game at all. The core game is built around the idea of our real world, but with some significant the game world is different from our real world. Companies in the game world are more corrupt and cut-throat that those in our world.

The stretch goals (including the Magic & Spellcasting goal already hit) add optional rules for the M&A game. These optional rules allow players to add fantastic elements so often present in RPGs. Magic. Monsters. Future Tech. Cosmic Horror. And more. These chapters allow the players to create a more complex and unique game world environment. These optional rules are sort of a mix-and-match thing. They all work with the core rules, but provide added dimension to the game. You can pick and choose which optional rules you want to use in your game.

What has your experience designing your first full RPG been like, and how do you think it shows in M&A as a game?

Designing Murders & Acquisitions has been a labor of love. It's been in development for well over two years and has gone through multiple iterations. Playtesters have offered a ton of advice and revision goals. It's been tweaked and re-tweaked. I feel the game I'm providing in the Kickstarter is as good as I can make it. 

Despite my past RPG design freelancing, I'm always surprised by Murders & Acquisitions. Playtest and demo players surprise me with their actions. The game supports such surprises, encouraging GMs to "roll with the punches" and help the players create a memorable story of corporate intrigue. The GM in M&A is actually called the "Supervisor." His job is to supervise the game experience to help everyone at the table have fun and tell an evocative story. It's an apt moniker, I think.

When it comes down to brass tacks, Murders & Acquisitions is a game where players create stories together. I'm proud that the game supports such a worthwhile endeavor. Stories are what bind us together as a people. If my little game can help the players do that, I'll consider it a resounding success.

Plus, you can "kill your boss" in the game without having to find a new job afterwards. So that's pretty fun.

Thanks to Craig for the interview, and I'm excited to see where Murders and Acquisitions goes from here! Remember to check out the Kickstarter and share this interview with your friends!

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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Five or So Questions with Mike Young on A Grandiose Disaster

Today I have an interview with Mike Young, writer and designer of A Grandiose Disaster, a live action roleplaying game currently on Kickstarter through Nathan D. Paoletta. It sounds like a really interesting play experience, so I hope you enjoy the answers I've shared below!

Tell me a little about A Grandiose Disaster. What excites you about it?

A Grandiose Disaster is a horror and disaster movie simulation larp. It’s
takes about 3 hours to run in a house, or at a gaming convention, or
wherever people congregate to play games. First the players work together
to create characters that care about each other. Then they go through the
scenario scene by scene, reacting to the disaster and deciding which
characters live and which die.

I’ve been writing larps for many years and I also perform improvisational
theater, and I think A Grandiose Disaster is the end result of all that
I’ve learned doing these things. The ruleset is simple and easy to learn.
It is designed to facilitate roleplaying, making the players feel heroic
at times and despair at other times. The structure of the scenarios
allows for players to focus on roleplaying without worrying if they are
doing something that might harm their character.

And as a larp writer, I really enjoy how easy it is to design a scenario
for A Grandiose Disaster compared to the traditional secrets and powers
larps I’ve written in the past. I love running scenarios for this larp; it
allows me to sit back and watch the roleplaying unfold. I’m really excited
about how everything really works together to highlight the disaster movie

In A Grandiose Disaster, players create characters that care about each
other. How does this character creation work, and what helps solidify the
emotional connection?

It’s pretty simple. The players get into a circle and form relationships
with the people to their left and right. If there are enough people, then
they get a third relationship too. The relationships can be anything, but
the rules suggest close relationships that have existed for a while:
family members, coworkers, or close friends.

The rules have all sorts of suggestions for creating close relationships.
Players can create a defining event for the relationship giving them
something to discuss and reference during the larp. There are warmups
taken from improv theater that allow the players to roleplay some of the
shared history of their characters to help form a bond. And players can
spend time together discussing the shared history to get as many details
as they want for the history.

What kind of experiences can people expect in the game - are there zombies
or monsters, or are these natural horrors like nature gone wild or

Well, it really depends on the scenario. I’ve been encouraging blatant
foreshadowing in scenario descriptions so players can create character
that would make sense in such a movie. So players know what to expect in
Trapped in a Mall With Some Zombies, and the descriptions of Fire and Ice
and Space Station Omega make it clear that they are inspired by The
Poseidon Adventure and Alien respectively.

How do the rules encourage both heroism and despair for the players?

The player characters each start with one one-use Ability that allows them
to save a life or learn crucial bits of information or do something else
that breaks the rules of the larp. This allows them to feel heroic as they
drag people to safety or keep people from dying.

However, the scenarios are designed such that characters will die, and
that the players must go from scene to scene in order. The scenes become
more and more horrifying and the players must choose someone to die in
most of the later scenes. Since the players have created deep
relationships with their characters, they will often have to choose
someone they care about to die which can lead to horror and despair.

In an ideal game, what would you want players to take out of the game, in
the end?

I want the players, both whose characters survived and died tragically, I
want them to say they enjoyed the experience. I want them to feel like
they have actually survived a disaster movie and that they had some
genuine emotional responses because of it.

Thanks so much Mike for answering my questions! Make sure to check out A Grandiose Disaster on Kickstarter, and Mike's other projects if you like his style.

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Women with Initiative: Emily Griggs

This month's Woman with Initiative is Emily Griggs, an artist, writer, and geek creator! Emily was kind enough to let me look over her work and ask her a few questions. One of the things that intrigued me most about Emily's projects is her geeky cards - She has wall art and cards with geeky and often gaming-related designs and I love that kind of thing. Her various shops have plenty of cool products to check out!

Emily has a cute and fun style that really strikes me. There is a prevalence of artists in gaming and geek circles, and I love many of them! Emily's art stands out to me because of the color palettes that appeal to me and the stylized looks that I think capture her characters really well.

Her webcomic, Heartless, is a Victorian action/adventure comic, featuring an LGBTQIA+ cast, which is really exciting! Even moreso, her main character, Clara, is asexual. The comic is currently funded through Patreon, and had a successful Kickstarter last year to produce print editions. Also, I love that on her website, there's a button to take you straight to the beginning of the comic - it's weirdly rare. I asked her a few questions about her work and current projects, and I'm happy to share her answers below!

What importance do you place on having your main character in Heartless an asexual character?

Clara being ace kinda plays double duty, in that it's important both for the story and for me as an author. The idea for the Heartless setting predates Clara, but while I had lots of cool ideas for the world and the supporting cast and how my vampires' "Allure" power would work, I needed a protagonist. She needed to be a young vampire, so the audience could learn about the world through her eyes, but she also needed to be special in some way so I could justify the plot revolving around her actions. I remember vividly walking home one autumn afternoon, thinking about the story, when the solution hit me: she's immune to the Allure, because she's asexual! The rest of the story fell into place around that one twist, including the name.

Besides all that, when I started writing Heartless I had several ace friends, but I was resisting the idea that the label might apply to me. I had all sorts of exciting internalized fear and anxiety about it, and came up with every excuse in the book to try and ignore all the obvious signs. Developing Heartless and Clara as its protagonist helped me get over that, and by the time the comic launched I was quite happily identifying as a part of the ace community.

That whole experience was part of why I decided to turn Heartless into a webcomic, rather than seeking traditional publication: I wanted to make the story available to as wide an audience as possible. It makes my day every time a younger reader finds me at a convention and tells me how happy they are to see someone like them as a main character, and I hope I'm helping some of them feel as positive about being asexual as I feel now.

While looking for inspiration - for your cards and comic - where do you go, and how do you decide what "fits" for you?

Strangely enough, my approaches to cards and comics are almost the exact opposite. For Heartless I do piles of research: history books and articles, historical fashion resources, landscape and architecture studies, etc. I'm not married to historical accuracy, but I try and stay relatively true to the setting of the comic, and the Victorian era has plenty of wonderful, awful stuff to draw inspiration from. Figuring out dialogue, background, and costumes usually involves a lot of bouncing back and forth between references, taking what I can from them before filling in the rest with my own style.

For new card designs, I just sit down with a pencil and paper and doodle until something makes me laugh. I'm kind of my own target audience, in that a lot of the designs are things that I'd either love to receive, or to give to specific friends. I try to listen to customer requests and design things that other people will love too, but in the end the Sweet Ingenuity card line is always going to be pretty heavily influenced by my own nerdy obsessions: creepy-cute girly things and a whole lot of tabletop RPG references.

What are you looking forward to in your work and in Heartless over the next few months?

Heartless chapter 4 is almost complete (it should be 29 pages once it's all done) so I'm starting to gear up to crowdfund the next printed volume. I can't say I'm exactly looking forward to the Kickstarter campaign (so much paperwork D: ) but I am really excited to see how everyone reacts to the completed volume, and to get to hold it in my hands. There's also a bit of a twist at the end of the chapter, so I'm holding my breath waiting to see how people will take it.

For my Etsy store, I'm taking the next few months to focus on creating more big illustrations. I'll keep adding cards as new ideas spring to mind, but expect to see some new posters over the next few months. Most of my large illustrations lately have been commissions, so taking the time to get back to big fully-rendered original pieces has been a lot of fun, and I'm excited to show off the results!

Thanks to Emily for the interview and for sharing her creations with me! I'm excited to share this with everyone, and look forward to next month's Women with Initiative post as well! 

Emily Griggs (sweetingenuity) Contact:

Heartless Comic
Heartless Patreon

(Note: While I am mostly focusing on women working in game design, I also want to promote other women doing design work and who are creators in geek arenas, so having Emily as one of the interviewees was just sensible!)

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Friday, May 13, 2016

Five or So Questions with Alek­san­dra Son­towska and Kamil Wegrzynow­icz on The Beast

Today I have an interview with Alek­san­dra Son­towska and Kamil Wegrzynow­icz on their game, The Beast, a single player, long-play, narrative game. I played The Beast in an early playtest, and it was fascinating - an experience I could never repeat, but certainly a game I'd try again to see something new! See their answers to my questions below.

Note: The Beast is targeted for adults, and the game and this interview both contain sexual content.

What excites you about The Beast?
Kamil: For me it’s about body horror and physiology. It was about breaking boundaries about what I can do with my body and how can I perceive it. There’s a lot of tension and excitement with breaking, rearranging the body, the way it works, experimenting with it.

On the other hand there are feelings involved. What do I feel about sexuality, how do I approach my physiology. How can I deal with all the things that turn me on. So, yeah, these are all the things I found in Barker and Cronenberg and was fascinated by them and I wanted to put in the game.

Aleksandra: One of the things that excites me most about Beast are secrets. The Beast is a secret. You can remember that when I was organizing playtests, the playtesters reveal sparingly what happened with their Beasts, what they looked like, what they wrote in their diaries. People told me what cards didn’t work and why, but without details. They pointed which cards were triggering, but not why. Even now, when there are 2 or 3 actual plays online, I feel there’s so much more, hidden behind what was said or written.

I know, too, that the fact that the game explicitly says to burn or hide the diary makes people uneasy. There’ll be a reason for them to do it.

And I too won’t tell what happened with my Beast. I too shivered with desire and disgust of vivid imagery that came to me.

When you were designing The Beast, what sources did you use for inspiration?

Kamil: I was this brooding and rebellious art geek for a long time, so it was my hobby to find transgressive and weird media. Right now I’ve mellowed but there’s counterculture guy still inside - besides the most important here and mentioned before - Clive Barker and David Cronenberg there was JG Ballard, Kathe Koja, Dusan Makajevev’s Sweet Movie, cinema of transgression, Coum Transmissions’ art and so on. Not always obvious and not always mentioned, we didn’t have enough space, but I guess I owe them a lot.

Also, we were thinking about and designing games about sex and sexuality before. This is what you get when two game designers become a couple. For my part it was a follow up to our earlier game project - Mistress and Sexbot - and the thought that we couldn’t finish this game was nagging me. The Beast first appeared from this design frustration.

But most important and inspiring thing for me here was Aleksandra’s input - her emotions, ideas, and sources she found. They really pushed The Beast forward.

Aleksandra: My sources were more personal . I suddenly discovered pleasure of sex, and then I was reading everything I could find. Mostly these were articles about sex and interviews with people into BDSM and kink. Kvinden der drømte om en mand was an important movie for me, showing a woman sexually obsessed with a man - who was an asshole, really, but it didn’t matter for her. Not often can you find a movie showing sex from woman’s perspective.

What about The Beast do you think causes players to dig so deep into their dark fantasies?

Aleksandra: Is it so? I think important part of this experience is that we’re upfront what the game is about. And when I say: “in this game you’re fucking the monster in your basement” most people will know in a second whether they’re excited or disgusted by the idea (or both). If they’re excited, we’re just helping them.

Kamil: First, long term play. You get used to the beast, and even if question you get is triggering or uncomfortable, you have whole day to deal with your emotions. And long term play makes The Beast part of your daily routine.

Second, questions. Every question had to:
  • be presupposing and provocative, and,
  • involve one or more of four categories: sexual, physiological, personal, social.
This way almost every question should push story forward and affect the player even though the player doesn’t have to answer them. And with all the categories, some questions will hit the player hard and make them think and feel.

With the secretive nature that Aleksandra mentioned, how did you encourage players to both share and keep secrets, using the game's mechanics and language?
Aleksandra: And why haven’t you shared your Diary widely? ‘Hide or burn’ is for a reason. The Beast is obviously skewed toward keeping silence about what happened during those 21 days, mostly because in the game you’re playing yourself or someone similar to you. It’s the reason the game feels personal - and why players don’t go around talking about it.

Kamil: As of both sharing and keeping secrets - it’s a funny thing. When players are in “honeymoon phase” of the gameplay, by which I mean the moment they bought it and later on the first five or six questions, they are really eager to show off their game and enthusiasm. But later when they’re become invested in the fiction and the game hits them hard they go silent. And even when someone plays The Beast in public it’s visible for me there’s a lot more than what they show to the world.

Most of the instructions and the way it was written is Aleksandra’s work. She really tried to take care of the player and make them feel safe. I think this part is important here. It guides the feel of the gameplay.

What is the most intense experience you have had (that you are willing to share!) with The Beast on your own?
Kamil: For me it was realization how mean and cold I could be in a relationship. I perfectly knew the game tricks me to feel this way but I was still caught off guard when it happened. And even now I’m writing “this happened” instead of ”I thought and decided in the game”.

Second thing in the same gameplay was also realization how my fantasies were growing in unexpected direction. At first I wasn’t sure of my beast, it’s not really my kink, I thought, but let’s see what happens. Later in the game I started to like it and experiment with it. It was scary.

Aleksandra: Excerpt from my Diary:

“Someone knows about the Beast, why aren't they talking about it?

I panic.

'I'll give you a blowjob, just don't tell anyone about it'.

Kneeling, I clench my mouth on his dick. I'm doing it like the Beast is with my whole body. I swallow his penis, I'm choking, I'm swallowing it again, I'm vomiting his penis and full dinner.

He runs off.

He won't tell anybody.”


Wow! Thank you to Aleksandra and Kamil both for their answers, for sharing their experiences, and for this brilliant look into The Beast. Make sure to check The Beast out on DriveThruCards!

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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Five or So Questions with Stephanie Bryant on Threadbare

The correct Kickstarter link is 
Sorry, working from mobile and can't update the links!

Today I have an interview with Stephanie Bryant on her new game, Threadbare! It sounds like a really interesting play experience, and it's currently on Kickstarter! I hope you'll take the chance to check it out.

Tell me a little about Threadbare. What excites you about it?

Threadbare is a stitchpunk role-playing game where you play a broken toy in a broken world, trying to get along, make the world better, and patch yourself up in the process.

What excites me the most about this game is what happens when I sit down at a table with new players. Every time I've run this game or watched someone else run it, there's been a player who came to the table with their favorite childhood toy, either literally or just in their memories, and they brought that to the party. They got to play their favorite stuffed animal or toy truck, and for a little while, they were visiting an old friend in a weirdly broken world.

What motivated you, and continues to motivate you, to tell a story about this concept - broken toys in a broken world?

I'm in my 40s, and it seems like everyone I know or meet is a little bit broken. You just don't get to this point in life without a few thousand scars. Sometimes, it feels like the world is also terribly broken. But Threadbare is a game with hope and optimism at its core-- you can fix things, you can make things work, sometimes better, and sometimes just different.

What base mechanics (modifiers, moves, etc.) are you using for Threadbare, and what made you decide on those mechanics?

I'm using a Powered-by-the-Apocalypse system for Threadbare because it's very clean, mechanically. I went through several other mechanical ideas first, including a dice pool that didn't work out, before hitting on PbtA. In the system, probably the most important move you have is the repair move, which you can use on yourself or on someone or something else.

But I streamlined so much in Threadbare, it's become its own game. For example, in a game so focused on material things, I got rid of inventory almost entirely. Whether or not you have the stuff you need to do something is a toggle-- you either have "Stuff" or you don't and need to go find it.

I also got rid of combat rules.

How do you create a real sense of danger or conflict in a game where all the characters are simply toys?

Any time they roll a 6 or less (on 2d6), or any time they try to fight, they lose a part of their body. In this way, every "hit point" is a named body part, and when they get damaged, they can literally lose a limb. (Of course, repairing them is relatively easy, too.) Since combat doesn't play out in mechanical rounds, they just lose a body part and have to deal with the consequences of the fight afterwards.

In terms of writing adventures, though, I try to pose questions that focus on something that they care about, something they're trying to protect. That gives me something that can be endangered besides themselves-- and then they can endanger themselves trying to protect or save that thing.

Do you think that the abstraction of character identity into toys can help explore emotional and imaginative parts of our experiences, and that this is reflected in Threadbare?

Yes, although I'd say that I'm currently working on improving the emotional part of the abstraction in Threadbare. It's the hardest part of the game at the moment (there's a problematic "mental health" component that I don't like in the game). Capturing a sense of nostalgia while still giving players room to explore ideas that are more current and mature for themselves is a challenge worth tackling.

Fascinating! Thanks to Stephanie for the interview! Make sure to check out Threadbare on Kickstarter, and let others know too!

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Monday, May 2, 2016

Five or So Questions with Fraser Simons on The Veil

Today I have an interview with Fraser Simons, who currently has his new game The Veil: Cyberpunk RPG on Kickstarter. I saw the link for the Kickstarter on Twitter and had to check it out. I asked Fraser some questions about the mechanics, so here's what he had to say!

Tell me a little about The Veil. What excites you about it?

The number one thing that excites me about The Veil is the tools we're giving the MC. I love Apocalypse World because it's giving everybody a unique framework to tell a great story that revolves around committing to a moment in the fiction with your protagonists. Ultimately we're following these interesting people around and we all find out what happens. With the Veil, we integrated another bit into that framework that allows for the MC to reverse engineer a question they wanted to explore about cyberpunk media, culture, etc. That way, everyone's interesting and we're following them around and there is a larger purpose behind these protagonist always being explored. I think it really helps people buy into the fiction more. That coupled with us taking a look at how people feel, really excites me. Sometimes there's a disconnect in players because we're taking a look a stat lines and numbers and things. Now, we're analyzing the state of which a protagonist is in when a move is triggered so we end up being in the fiction the whole time and everybody is getting a nice, clear picture of what's happening.

Coming into the AW Hack arena, you're facing up against a number of other cyberpunk games (The Sprawl, Headspace, etc.). What makes The Veil different - what makes it worth a new system?

The Veil is all about taking the major themes, tropes and the thought provoking questions the genre is permeated with and making sure that each arc of game play has the same elements. We wanted tools the MC could use to reverse engineer whatever they wanted to explore about the genre, in the form of their "big question" that the arc is always spiraling toward, while still playing to find out what happens. That way, as the question is explored, there is a lot of thought-provoking gameplay involved as well. If you look at those classic cyberpunk stories, you'll usually find there's a major, underlying question that's being asked; whether it's a more specific question like "how can a person that's completely cybernetic reproduce?", or the broader questions that come in most cyberpunk fiction, like "how can I be sure of my reality?" we find that having these questions baked into the structure of play, along with other technological and societal issues and implications, really helps lead to games that feel like those stories we all know and love.

I also personally find it more interesting to look at how the protagonists are feeling when the camera, or spotlight, is on them so I chose to bring that to the forefront by making stats be state; instead of rolling Hard, Hot, or Cool, you're considering how your protagonist is feeling, what they look like in that moment, and rolling a core emotion like Joy, Peaceful, Anger, and so on.

I also love Burning Wheel and the way beliefs work at the table, so I chose to make that how advancement worked within The Veil as well. I feel like it really spotlights characters in an interesting and new way that makes for some awesome stories while still using that awesome framework Apocalypse World has. This game is all about getting to know your character as they grow and evolve as a person, and finding out how their beliefs change when those such heavy-hitting questions that come up in cyberpunk fiction come crashing down on them.

I think there's a lot of other differences, too, like the playbooks, the Giri-as-debt system, and how tags are used as fictional positioning when coming up with new and creative technologies and cybernetics in the world, but the real meat that I love about the game is really all about having everyone at the table walking away after a game or story arc with those big questions in their heads.

On the Kickstarter, a few things really drew my eye, and one was the states. What are the states? How do they work, and what makes them important to the game?

Probably the biggest departure from Apocalypse World is the use of states in place of stats. When a player does something that triggers a move, instead of looking at them through the framework of a particular physical or mental lens, we look at their emotions. When this happens, the player is still grounded in the fiction because they are thinking about how their protagonist is feeling, which forces them to consider just how this situation or action is going to actually impact their character. We know they're badass and cool, because it's Apocalypse World, now, when we look at them through the spotlight of the fiction, we all have a vivid picture, their emotions all over their face and actions, and everyone at the table, including that player, is probably learning a lot about that character. A lot of cyberpunk stories, and by extension The Veil, force personal struggles on the protagonists in the form of their beliefs being challenged - their identity, understanding of the world, etc. Through the use of states we get to see that struggle a bit easier I think, in their actions and how they roll rather than that player's character having to be more overt about what they want to convey by being more explicit; it works really well as a subtle tool I find, but can be a lot more than that, too.

The second thing was the playbooks. I'm a sucker for a good playbook, and these seem really inspired. Could you talk about the playbooks a little bit, including your inspirations?

Thanks! I think that, next to basic moves, playbooks are the most important thing to get right because they're how players are going to be interacting with the fiction. It was really important to me that every playbook felt different and unique. Some of them may appear daunting at first glance, but those ones are usually the most rewarding I find.

The Seeker is probably my favorite. In my example of play for both sessions, the player who chose that asked a question at the beginning of the session. All of the questions are questions that Buddhist monks use as a tool to achieve enlightenment. When you ask that question, the MC takes that fictional flag and works an answer into the story through the entire session just for the Seeker. Couple that with the belief system and you have a monk who gets experience by trying to achieve enlightenment - which they then spend to ask more questions.

Another favorite thanks to the way they've been played is the Apparatus - anyone who loves Ghost in the Shell will probably see where the inspiration for that one came from. They're a newly awakened form of life that could be a robot who looks human, be distinctly non-humanoid, or somewhere along the spectrum. They only have one emotion to begin with and they can only learn new emotions by interacting with other people. When they're doing this, they are also trying to discover their place in the setting that gets created by the players as they go along. They generate a currency called humanity, which they use to unlock emotions or ask important questions a life form of that nature would ask.

There's also the Honed, who essentially tries to live outside the system and avoid technology. On the other hand, there's the Architect, that can build and change digital realities and that is inspired by movies like The Matrix and, of course, Inception. I also really dig the Dying. People are put off by the playbook sometimes but there's I've had some great experiences seeing players that are usually a bit timid in their roleplaying take that playbook and just go for it. There's no chance your character will not die, so what do you do? Get even? Try to find some meaning in your life? It's a playbook that helps get you past some inhibitions maybe, and it's been great to see it get played a lot - it's chosen every game!

You're probably noticing a pattern here and yeah, I guess I have to say that I really do love them all. I love that they all kind of own their own part of the fiction that they have a lot of control over. Every playbook adds to, and has implications in, the fiction. The Honorbound is all about enforcing the social currency that is Giri - duty, honor and face so they really get to decide a lot about what Giri is all about and why it's important to that society in the fiction. The Architect owns the digital space in that they set scenes in it, can play around and manipulate and go nuts in that world. The Attached could be an inventor that has a deep bond with their creation that affects them profoundly, and their creation can play a large part in the world, too. When you give players all that creativity you end up with amazing stories.

What are the core experiences you think - and hope - players and MCs can get out of The Veil?

I really want people to discover who their protagonists are during play. In Apocalypse World, it could be argued this happens naturally when they decide what actions they take and by their stat lines. In the Veil - people will have to consider and find out who they are because their beliefs are being challenged, resolved and replaced. They are constantly looking at their character through the lens of their emotions and experiences in addition to their actions and the whole time they're exploring an overarching question that all of them want to explore which is all tied together by the main antagonist and threats. If you take a look at the playbooks there is some hints of a natural progression between playbooks, or at least digression. It's all about becoming something more than you once were and learning more about one another both as protagonists, but ultimately about each other as well with that big question being constantly probed. I love walking away not only remembering the awesome things that happened, but also what it was about and how we explored and answered questions with massive implications for the future.

Thanks Fraser for the interview! I am looking forward to seeing The Veil out in the wild - it has some really interesting elements and the playbooks sound really cool! Don't forget to check out The Veil on Kickstarter!

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