Thursday, November 17, 2016

Five or So Questions with Jim Tait on Four Corners: Thieves of Sovereignty

Today I have an interview with Jim Tait on Four Corners: Thieves of Sovereignty, which is currently on Kickstarter! Check out what he has to say about his new game below.

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

The world of Four Corners: Thieves of Sovereignty is one where what you believe about the world and your place in it gives you magical powers to control or embody at least one of eight elements: air, water, earth, fire, cloud, metal, glass, and lightning. You play a hypercompetent hero trying to make the world a better place, and standing a good chance at succeeding, eventually. The game uses FATE Core mechanics, with some adaptations, which allows for some fantastic storytelling. The book is intended to be welcoming of players of diverse genders, sexual orientations, and backgrounds, and I invite feedback from supporters of the kickstarter while the book undergoes graphic design and illustration.

What excites me about the kickstarter is sharing my world with a wider audience, hearing their feedback, and watching Tetra (the name of the setting) come alive through the skilled artistry of Elizabeth Porter.


Can you talk about the mechanical changes you made from the Fate Core mechanics, and why you made them?

Fate Core has mechanics for four different actions, including Attack and Create an Advantage, and a long list of nouns which are skills letting you do one to four of these types of actions. Fate Accelerated has a list of six adjectives from which you can choose how you approach any of the four actions. I wanted to find a middle ground between these two options, and wrote a list of twelve verbs, three for each type of action. One for taking the action in a physical context, one for a social context, and one for an intellectual context. For example, you can roll Fight to attack someone or something physically, Unnerve to attack someone’s reputation or social standing, or you can roll Confound to attack someone’s ideas or mental well-being. All twelve verbs are on the character sheet from the start, but not all at the same level of ability, to reflect that even the most competent of characters have some angles from which they are more comfortable coming at a situation than others.


Where did you get your inspiration for the setting and mechanics?

Like several other fantasy or speculative fiction worldbuilders have, I started with a “What if?” question. I feel strongly that the choices we make are influenced heavily by what we believe is possible and proper, but that many of us don’t consciously consider what beliefs we’re working under, and assume that other people’s beliefs are more similar to ours than they actually are. I started with the question of, “What if the things we considered possible and desirable came with some sort of obvious indicator?” I was studying the similarities and differences between Christian denominations when I started working on this setting, and there’s a Bible verse that says, “if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move.” and wondered what the world would be like if this was a regular practice? What if all people who held to a particular faith, philosophy or worldview moved mountains around as part of their daily routine? Then I sketched out details of thirteen different worldviews, and created mechanics for different magical powers each worldview made accessible to those who held to it.


How did you work to make the game approachable for diverse audiences? 

I did a lot of reading and researching, over the past several years, on inclusive gaming, representation, cultural appropriation, and toxic tropes. I would love to guarantee that this meant none of my ignorances and biases made it into the text, but I know I can not. I welcome feedback.

I did strive to make sure that every culture I created was not just a thin stereotype of a culture in this world, but an outline including fashion, economy, government, values which are celebrated, birth and death rituals, and thoughts as to how both their magic and interactions with other cultures have influenced them over time.

While there are some cultures I wrote with assumptions about gender which cause the titles at the top of government structures to be gendered, every other military or government title (not coincidentally, the ones more likely to be held by player characters) is gender neutral. All of the sample names are presented as gender neutral. My example characters at the end of each nation write-up include one who has masculine pronouns, one who has feminine pronouns, and one who has the gender neutral singular they as a pronoun.

In two of the three empires, sexual orientation is not an in-world issue. The Ambrosian Empire is so regulated that all long-term relationships are formed by contract with clauses on intent, duration, and renegotiation. The Konung Empire is so filled with anarchy that alliances and betrayals don’t consider sexual orientation on more than the most personal level of mutual compatibility. The Utopian Empire has rules about who you can have children with, and I’m belatedly realizing I’m going to have to expand those rules to include adoption because sexual orientation is not properly a key factor for them, either.

Smaller societies include the Wayfarers who have arranged marriages to promote traits they want in future generation, the Ice Guardians who have arranged Handfastings which teams up skills and strengths to create pairs of hands that work for the Guardians, and may or may not include sex between the two partners, and the Chosen Tribes, who do not have a concept like marriage, but have a strong concept of consent.

I am hoping everyone who sits down to play this game is able to see people like them, and create people like they want to be.


Tell me a little about the world of Four Corners. What kind of characters and environments do you see during play, and what kind of stories can you tell?

The world, with a few magical exceptions, has a technology level equal to ours about 2000 years ago. There is one main continent, with four corners. Three empires have split most of the continent between them, and kraken- magically giant squid- destroy any ship that goes too far from land. Each of the three empires want to take over the entire continent, but they are fairly equally balanced in power, and they are not the only ones fighting to have their worldview be either dominant, or at least independent. 

You might choose to be a member of the unofficial shadow empire, gathering evidence for judges as to what really happened in the cases they preside over. You might choose to be a sorcerer of steam and clockwork obsessed with creating something no one ever has before, in a castle long ruined by warfare and anarchy. You might choose to be a weather mage, uninterested in fighting with your neighbours over when it should rain, instead living on shipboard with a captain choosing the day’s forecast. You might choose to be a functionally redundant bureaucrat in a city of over 500,000 residents, with certain wild animals given social precedence over yourself so that you have to give way to horses during court banquets, and you quietly pass messages on behalf of an estranged Empress who is said to value ability over bloodline. You might risk your life travelling across the country, arranging faked deaths and real marriages between clans who refuse to leave their conquered homelands. You might choose to join the Air Forces with a bunch of hedonistic dragonriders and fly against an enemy that has learned to craft arrowheads that can disenchant dragons, causing them to fall apart in mid-air. You might lead a rebellion against the conquering of your homeland, disavowed by your leaders and facing a hierarchy-worshipping army which has learned to work together to rain fire down from the skies. You might be a visionary, seeing a new way to relate to the elements, and upsetting every status quo by introducing a new religion, and a new sorcery.

I encourage stories where you think about what it means to make the world a better place, then step up and do something about it, whether through wit, diplomacy, battle, or magic. There are many places on Tetra where a hero is needed.

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Thanks so much to Jim for the interview! Make sure to check out Four Corners: Thieves of Sovereignty on Kickstarter if you get the chance!




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