Monday, July 4, 2016

Five or So Questions with Christian Griffin on Meridian

Today I have an interview with Christian Griffen on Meridian! Meridian is hitting Kickstarter and I'm excited to see how it goes. I'll let Christian tell you about Meridian in the answers below, and you can check out an actual play as well!

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

Ever since I was little and The Neverending Story came into my life, I've been daydreaming of journeys to amazing worlds of the imagination. Occasionally works like Labyrinth or Mirrormask tapped into that same vein and reminded me of how profoundly touching these stories are to me. I've always wanted to have that kind of experience with a roleplaying game, but the Hero's Journey that we get from most adventure RPGs are quite a different thing. It's only now, after 26 years of playing and 11 years of designing and publishing RPGs that I've developed the techniques to bring this dream to life.

What excites me about Meridian is that it provides evocative places, characters, and moments for anyone to go on a fantastical journey, while leaving enough to the group's imagination to make each experience unique. Of course it's not exactly the same journey as Atreyu's in Fantasia or Alice's in Wonderland, because Meridian is its own place and follows its own laws. It's my unique addition to the wondrous journey genre, and the games I've played with others have been nothing short of magical.

What are the most important elements of the wondrous journey genre that you wanted to bring forth in Meridian?

There is a special sense of fantastical exploration in these stories. Usually the worlds have a dreamlike quality and provide a wonderful canvas for the imagination. We get to experience wonder together with the protagonist, like when Sarah meets a talking fox riding on a sheepdog, or when Alice grows and shrinks because of the foods she ingests in Wonderland.

Though these worlds are dreamlike, they follow their own internal rules. This is true for Meridian as well: every Locale that you visit has three laws, which are generally unbreakable. They also invite imaginative play. For example, in the Midnight Conservatory, anything that's planted in the soil sprouts and grows into some sort of flower or tree. Players have a lot of playful exploration with this as they figure out what would grow from the various things that the Journeyer has on hand. And most of the time, they'll find that their subconscious will come up with things that fit, thematically, with the kind of journey they're on.

What kind of mechanics do you use in Meridian to resolve conflicts and involve story elements?

These journeys are not about conflicts, which sets Meridian apart from most other RPGs. Instead, the mechanics in Meridian focus on changing those who travel through it. Each Journeyer also has an important final decision at the end that's influenced by the choices made along the way.

Providing story elements is where Meridian really shines. Each Locale has a list of sensory impressions, details, and characters with titles like Helea of the Abandoned Heart or Morok the Shadowmonger. The players use these in conjunction with Cadence cards, which are short, evocative statements such as "a tiny creature, mumbling, eagerly gathering for its collection" or "gauzy walls of gossamer with shadows moving on the other side." By adding their own dash of imagination, players have a lot of fodder for truly unique characters and moments.

How do you define the different roles in the game - the Journeyer, Guide, Touches, and Companions?

One player controls the Journeyer who explores Locales, interacts with other characters, and goes through changes and choices. Another player, the Guide, is in charge of the Locales and of transitioning the Journeyer among them. The other players start as Touches, who introduce additional characters that interact with the Journeyer. These characters usually remain at their Locales, but a Touch can claim one of them and become a Companion, who will then travel alongside the Journeyer for the rest of the game. There are several kinds of Companions with different roles and options, ranging from a possible romantic connection to a dark aspect of the character's personality stalking them through Meridian.

Role cards for each player lay out their part in the game and any special rules that apply to them, so players don't need to pass around the rulebook. It's a very important design principle for me that players can just focus on their shared imagined journey through Meridian and don't need much out-of-character talk once they begin.

If you were able to tell a story through Meridian that really captured the essence of the game, what would happen to the Journeyer, and what would you want to have players carry forward?

This is a tough one, because a major part of the design is that every journey is different. I've played several journeys through Meridian, both with close friends and with new people at conventions, that have really touched me. In one of them, a Journeyer came to Meridian because, after losing his wife to cancer, he was searching for a way to give his heart away so that he would no longer feel the pain. He thought he would never get better, that his own life was at an end.

As he journeyed through Meridian, he gathered a couple of Companions around him. One was a singer of mournful hymns he met at the Mausoleum of Mirrors. At one of the Locales, she used her progression to sacrifice her own heart to help the Journeyer with his pursuit. They finally arrived at the Midnight Conservatory, where the Journeyer shared the Mournful Gardener's sorrow and asked him why he was so sad, surrounded by all those beautiful plants. As their tears watered the ground, he realized: "Without sadness there can be no growth."

So the Journeyer planted his own heart in the soil, and in accordance with the Midnight Conservatory's laws, a new plant sprung up with fresh hearts growing on it. He took one for himself and gave one to his Companion. He realized now that he had to feel the pain in order to grow, to really live. At the end of that journey, we had tears in our eyes. And we carried something forward from that, something I will always remember as if I'd lived through it myself.

I would love for players to carry their own such insights forward from each of their journeys. But even when a theme didn't emerge so strongly, we always had moments of beauty, of quirky wonder, of strange but fantastical interactions. And those are always worth the trip.

Thanks so much to Christian for answering my questions! You can check out Meridian on Kickstarter, and see more on Berengad Games' website.

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