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!


This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs.