Sunday, April 30, 2017

Designer & Devourer Episode 4, Upcoming Interviews, Cortex, and Sun Tea

This week we cover upcoming interviews about The Quick and Cortex Prime, and my past and current work with Cortex products, as well as how to make sun tea!

My stretch goal at $45k - Solarpunk! A post-scarcity setting where powerful corporate interests seek to destabilize the fruits of progress and the heroes try to stop them – it’s not about what you don’t have, it’s about keeping what you do.

Sun Tea

Put 4 to 8 tea bags into a clean 2 quart or gallon glass container (4 teabags for a 2 quart container, 8 tea bags for a gallon container). Fill with water and cap. Place outside where the sunlight can strike the container for about 3 to 5 hours. Move the container if necessary to keep it in the sun. When the tea has reached its desired strength, remove from sun and put it in the refrigerator.

I add sugar and lemons, too! Lemons you add while it’s in the sun, and sugar you mix in while it’s still warm before refrigeration so it dissolves. Sugar is mostly to preference, anywhere from a half cup to a whole cup, in my experience. (Some people who LOVE sweet tea put in two cups!)

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Sunday, April 23, 2017

Designer & Devourer Episode 3 - Upcoming interviews, Off Target, and Cocoa Cookie Sticks

This week we talk about upcoming interviews, my little game Off Target, and one of my dad's favorite cookie recipes. The kind of annotated read of the game starts at 6:08 and the recipe section begins at 12:30. 

Designer & Devourer Episode 3 on Patreon

Kevin Allen, Jr. on Trouble for Hire (not on KS yet)

Jeff Tidball on The White Box

Off Target (Some info on dissociation)

Cocoa Cookie Sticks

1 cup Crisco (vegetable-based shortening)*

2 cups sugar

3 eggs

4 cups flour

5 tablespoons milk

6 tablespoons cocoa

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla

Bake in oven at 350 ° F for 10 minutes. Roll in sugar. Serve warm with milk or coffee!

*I had to retype this like 3 times because I spell it "shortning."


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Off Target

An experience

8 people
Random props, 10 per player (smaller is good)
Prewritten lists of items.
Playlist of muzak, played in the background with random control of the volume. Include at least one song played twice in a row ("Call Me Maybe" is great for this).

Four players are the cognizant, and control the mind.
Four players are the present, and control the body.

Players are people shopping at a Target [or equivalent shopping venue] for five things on their list. Each character will experience the dissociation of their mind from their body. When the parts of the character separate, the players will risk failure.

There are ten things in the store as options to buy, and only five of them are on the characters' lists. Characters must buy exactly those five items. When they enter the store, cognizant players flip a coin. On a heads, the character buys the first item on their list. On a tails, they miss it. After flipping, the cognizant steps one step back, away from the present. They must verbally communicate to the present no matter how far away they are, or how many people are shouting.

As they travel through the store, the players should converse about their day (in character or out). As each character finds an item, the cognizant will flip the coin to see if they buy it and take a step back. The present will pick up the item if appropriate. If the coin is ever dropped, the present will drop an item at random.

Play continues for no more than 15 flips. At the end, the cognizant tears up the list entirely and throws it away. The cognizant and the present come together and look at the items, to see if they matched their list to their remembrance.

Even if they did, they have no means to confirm.

- end -

It's recommended to use the Script Change tools to ensure all players enjoy the game. It's highly recommended to have a Wrap Meeting to go over the events of the game and decompress.

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Five or So Questions with Oscar Biffi on Crescendo Giocoso

My interview today is with Oscar Biffi on Crescendo Giocoso, which I mentioned on a recent Designer & Devourer podcast. Cresdendo Giocoso is currently on Kickstarter and is a 12 scenario larp collection. The development of the game is really interesting, so I hope you enjoy the interview!


Tell me a little bit about Crescendo Giocoso. What excites you about it?

I like to think of Crescendo Giocoso as a my declaration of love to larp.

This live action role-playlist, as we like to call it, is not just a book which collect me and my favorite Italian authors scenarios, enhanced by Maria's stunning graphics. It's the sum of the experiences by a community of players, now gathered around the website Each scenario has a very strong history, made by playtests and discussion. A lot of people and memories are involved in this project and we just want to engage as many others as possible. Because I think the main strength of games towards narrative, my other great passion, is the ability to establish a direct and close contact between all parties involved.

Over the years I had the pleasure of contribute to keep alive the interest for "chamber" larp in Italy and now, with the Italian Chamber Orchestra, I would like to put to good use this experience.
So I develop a common approach to design for all the scenarios in Crescendo Giocoso, specifically to motivate me and my friends to reconsider our games in a new light. In order to make them accessible to everyone, to larpers with different background as well as to people who never played before. Without our supervision and without game masters or facilitators.

The group of players can read the instructions together and then begin to play, right here right now.

You say you developed a common approach. How did you do this? What did you use to make things work consistently?

We called our space, /laɪv/ as we pronounce it, because me and the other founders have a very hands-on approach: we're most of all dedicated players and then authors. Once I decided to put the group of player at the heart of the project, I did my best to think from the standpoint of someone who tries to play a larp like ours for the first time.

First of all we have to choose one of the scenarios, so we need a technical data sheet (number of roles, time, replayability, leitmotiv), but also an effective preview. Since a scenario is a game about a story, it can benefit from something like a synopsis to charm readers and from a sneak peek to game mechanics, because they make the difference in the experience.

Once chosen the right scenario, we have to set it up and that's where another important point for Crescendo Giocoso comes in: adaptability. We want to offer to players the opportunity to improvise out of nowhere, but at the same time we don't want to discourage them to put a lot of efforts in costumes, props, soundtracks and so on. For this reason we wrote two possible staging for each scenario: Chamber staging, with only the bare essentials, and Symphony staging, with all the advices authors got from many runs.

Finally we come to actual instructions, specifically design bearing in mind the picture of a player reading them aloud to their peers. Without going even more into the details, I hope I made myself clear about my way of thinking, but on our Kickstarter page everyone can download and try a free scenario for 2 players, written by me and Alessandro Giovannucci and still in playtest: Letters not about love.

Luckily not everyone in the orchestra is such as pragmatic as me, so we can count on an interesting manifesto, written by Alessandro and his brother Andrea with the rest of their Chaos League collective. It's called "Southern Way - New Italian Larp" and I think it's fun they write this with their "blockbuster" games (with many players and which last days) in mind, but it perfectly fits the spirit in which we play, passionate and free.

Why did you make the games free of game masters and facilitators, and how does it benefit the players?

As an author of larp, I've never been really fond in performing NPC or in storytelling like a tabletop game master. I've always preferred to sit back and watch while the game itself lead the players to the epilogue. Just watching can be very useful for me, to improve and develop the scenario, but it would be very boring for anyone else.

I know our habit at the conventions has always been to explain the games ourselves to each group of players, but I thinks this is great if you've designed your scenario as a "travelling show", an experience through which you guide the players. Crescendo Giocoso instead is a (e)book and its authors are not included in the shipping.

It's more like a board game. Would you ever play a board game which say "Ok, set up everything for your friends, then step back, take a sit and just watch them?". I hope this design choice can help to spread larp to a larger audience and we've already got encouraging results, within acting class and educational events.

"We" taking the place of "you" in the instructions is also a way to make it clear that a larp, as we mean it, it's all about teamwork. No one can just wait for another player to save the day.

Years ago I helped with an anthology called "Dopocena da brivido" ("Thrilling after-dinner"), published by a mainstream Italian publisher. The idea behind this project was an host who offer an entertainment for their guests. Crescendo Giocoso is more like a jam session, where every piece must play its part.

What are some of the scenarios we encounter in Crescendo Giocoso?

Crescendo Giocoso can count on scenarios with different settings and mechanics, each one for a different number of players, from 2 to 30. So we have an historic game like "First they came", by Andrea & Alessandro Giovannucci, in which the players will be three opponents of the Third Reich and the high fantasy "The Age of Men", by Lorenzo Martinelli, that looks like it's stepped out of Dungeons & Dragons with an extra splash of drama. We have a scenario set in Florence, "Something abous us", by Barbara Fini & Rafu, which is all about an apartment block meeting (very typical in Italy) and then "Sturm und drang", by Andrea Rinaldi, which takes place in an American stop grocery, intended as a liminal space like the ones by Samuel Beckett. "The theatre of Major Arcana", by Yuka Sato & Valerio Amadei, plays with the ideas of acting class and workshops, while "The last sunset", by Francesco Rugerfred Sedda, is a pulp story which resembles visual novels with its multiple endings.

As for my scenarios, I love making literary references and mixing genres, so, for example, "Tell-tale hearts" is inspired from the title by Edgar Allan Poe and "Winds of change" tells a story not so far from the Balkan War with a fairytale atmosphere.

The leitmotifs of the anthology are wide variety of game mechanics and the special importance attached to the evocative power of writing. It applies to the many character sheets and handouts, but also to the instructions.

I've always admired texts where clarity and atmosphere go hand in hand, in order to bring out strong emotions. No wonder I'm a fan of "24 game poems" by Marc Majcher.

When playtesting and working across international borders, what do you think are the most important aspects of working with other designers, especially on a sizeable project and with live action games?

When I know, you'll know. In all seriousness, so far I've cooperated mainly with Italian authors and players: only if our Kickstarter Campaign will succeed and reach some stretch goals, we'll be able to work on Crescendo Giocoso - Volume II with our international guests, Mikolaj Wicher, Evan Torner, Luiz Prado, Ole Peder Giaever and Jason Morningstar, without forgetting Antonio Amato, another Italian game-designer from Sicily.

Over the years I've played a lot of international larp, but I'm not a traveller and a pioneer like Flavio Mortarino, our editorial consultant, or Lapo Luchini (who's going to design an Android App for Crescendo Giocoso, if we reach the stretch goal), or Francesco Rugerfred Sedda (game design student at the It University of Copenaghen) or the Giovannucci brothers (theorists and keynote speakers).

They all suggested me many interesting games, I read them all and tried to pick up the ones most compatible with my design concept. Scenarios compatibile, but at the same time very different from ours, because the Volume II won't be a more of the same at all.

Of course I've already speak with all these brilliant game designer and I've tried to communicate them a strong vision: we aren't going to cut & paste their scenarios in our layout, we'll work together for a "Crescendo giocoso edition" with all its peculiarities.

After all some of their games have always been and will continue to be available for free, just like all my scenarios are on (in Italian only). We don't want to offer to readers only Maria Guarneri's graphics, or Chiara Locatelli's translations, or the editing by Jason Morningstar and me, but a brand new look on larp design.

For this reason we need the support of smart authors from all over the world, but above all the enthusiasm of all dedicated larpers out there.


Thank you to Oscar for allowing me to do this interview! Crescendo Giocoso sounds really fascinating, and I hope my readers will take a moment to check out the Kickstarter today!

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Five or So Questions with Todd Nicholas on The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Todd Nicholas on the new game The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power (SCUP) which is currently on Kickstarter! It's a Powered by the Apocalypse game of dark fantasy. Check out the answers below!


Tell me a little bit about The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power. What excites you about it?

Excellent and appropriately timed question! The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power (SCUP, for short) is a dark fantasy tabletop role-playing game by myself, Todd Nicholas, and my friend Thomas J. It is a hack of Apocalypse World that uses the core mechanics of that game to explore the kinds of political intrigue you would see in something like A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin, The First Law by Joe Abercrombie, Imperial Radch by Ann Leckie, and the TV show Vikings. We’re currently Kickstarting the game and it’s doing quite well, so we’re happy to finally get it into people’s hands. Tom and myself have been working on this game on and off for a number of years. We started because we had just played a game of Apocalypse World and we thought those mechanics might work well for a fantasy story about power, politics, and intrigue. We were never quite sure if we wanted to make SCUP a polished game that we put out into the world in physical form or just keep it something we passed around as a PDF, but there seemed to be enough interest in it that we decided to go ahead on it.

What excites me about SCUP is that I love that we’ve given players particularly powerful moves to affect their fictional world. The thing Tom and I spent the greatest amount of time on in the design of SCUP was the moves for character classes. We wanted people to be able to do big, dramatic things. For example, one class is called “The Beloved.” They’re sort of a preacher or prophet type. One of their moves lets them see and confront the inner demons of NPCs, permanently changing them in some way. The first time we actually had someone use this move at the table, and they were literally having a duel of wits with the manifestation of another character’s worst fears in an effort to help the character conquer them, we were incredibly stoked to be able to give players that sort of narrative agency. So yeah, that’s my answer. I like being able to watch people do bold things in our game that let them get their hands nice and dirty.

What have you done with SCUP to take the PbtA mechanics and make them really mesh with the fiction and framing?

The PbtA system already does a nice job of focusing on close up character drama, but we have created a number of mechanics that really drive this home. In particular, we have focused on giving the MC moves to push social hierarchy in their toolbox of moves. They have a different set of moves to use against common PCs and noble PCs, for example. Additionally, characters may be in the employ of a Patron or may be called on by a Faction to fulfill a duty or obligation. We wanted to push the idea that this game is about reputation, information, hierarchy, and obligation using mechanics such as these. Mostly, though, we want people to have fun getting involved in intrigue between characters!

You mentioned "The Beloved." Tell me about some of the playbooks - who are they? How do the moves help tell the story?

What we’ve really focused on in SCUP is playbook moves that really drive the narrative and give players a chance to do big things in the fiction. Because the game is about intrigue and power, many of the moves focus on things like getting and spreading information, or making big, dramatic things happen in the gameplay. For example, I played a game last night at Forge Midwest with some folks. There was an NPC named Faela that two PCs wanted alive, cause they needed information from her, and one PC was tasked to assassinate. That PC, playing the class The Black Hood, rolled her move Their Eyes Never Open, which allowed her to assassinate an NPC within her reach. She had already snuck into the Ziggurat where the NPC was, and succeeded at her roll, allowing her to kill the character. When the other two PCs reached her, they found her deceased, but one of them, playing the Bloodletter, took her body and rolled his move God Complex to attempt to bring her back to life, though she came back as something awful, barely able to provide the information he needed. Meanwhile, a player playing The Voice, an advisor to the high priestess who ruled the city, had been using her move An Ear at Each Door to have her network of spies to gather information on the Priestess’s enemies which she ultimately used to betray the Priestess and claim power for herself. These are the kinds of blood-opera moments we’re really hoping players use the moves to create in games of SCUP.

What elements of your fictional inspirations were the most important to your design? 

If you think about something like A Song of Ice and Fire, you think about the big things that George R.R. Martin makes happen in that world. Characters die, the world changes, relationships change, etc. As such, we wanted to make sure that the MC and players had a lot of power to affect the world in compelling ways. To give you an example, we have something we call “end of season moves,” which are triggered by the players when a campaign is nearing its conclusion. They give the players the ability to mechanize something like, say, the Red Wedding from A Storm of Swords. Most PCs wouldn’t just drop something that game changing on their players, but the end of season moves give them permission to, with the player’s input. 

Additionally, we thought very hard about the kinds of characters in the books we used as inspiration. The playbook of The Screw, for example, is very much based on Sand dan Glokta from The First Law while The Voice is modeled after Littlefinger from A Song of Ice and Fire and Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings. We wanted the players to feel like they had more options available to them than fighters, wizards, and rulers. We wanted them to have characters that were powerful in more subtle ways, more backroom ways, etc., which is often very important to political, dark fantasy.

What makes SCUP special to you, as a creator and gamer each?

SCUP is the first game I really started designing. I designed it with Tom so we could play something fun with our friends. Some of the campaigns we’ve done with SCUP have been some of my favorite gaming experiences, and the fact that something I created with my friend, on a lark, just to have some fun is going to be a real thing in the world that hopefully brings some fun to other people’s gaming table is genuinely humbling and astonishing to me.


Thanks so much to Todd for the interview! I hope it was a good time, and I hope all of you enjoyed reading about it. Check out The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power on Kickstarter now! 

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Designer & Devourer Episode 2 - Upcoming News, Turn and Poverty, and Brownie Stew

Lil Brie
This week we talk about upcoming interviews and features, as well as Turn (my shapeshifter game in progress), poverty in rural towns, and a recipe from my childhood, Brownie Stew!

1 lb ground beef (seasoned as preferred, optionally using garlic and/or pepper)
½ onion, diced to ½ inch or smaller
1 bell pepper, diced to ½ inch or smaller
4 regular size cans condensed Campbells vegetarian vegetable soup
4 cups of white Minute rice with 4 cups water (if using other rice, this is 8 cups cooked equivalent)

Brown the burger with onion and pepper. Drain grease from the mixture. Add into the mixture the cans of soup and add one soup can of water. Heat the mix until it is evenly hot.

Separately make the 4 cups of white Minute rice using the Minute rice instructions or the 8 cups rice otherwise cooked. Pour the stew mix over the rice. Salt to taste.

Note: I do really hope to get these podcasts on various sites like iTunes and Google Play soon but it's a combination of energy and money to do so. I hope you understand!

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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Five or So Questions with Burning Games on FAITH

Hi All! Today I have an interview with Burning Games on FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG and Miniatures, which is currently on Kickstarter. FAITH is an Ennie-award winning RPG and this is the FAITH 2.0 version. Check out the interview below!


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

What excites us about FAITH the most is its very essence. We made it as a statement on how we think RPGs should be, however risky that was. It's an RPG with a card based mechanic that lets players be in control of their actions; it makes the humans a minor species, at the sidelines of the main plot-events; it introduces gods in a sci-fi setting as moral scales to test the very fabric of which characters are made; and it dives right into an ideological conflict between two powerful alien species, without leaving aside morality, politics, or economics.

The fact that people have trusted us and placed their faith in our game, pun intended, is something that we take very seriously and it's the most potent source of excitement we can imagine. We look forward to continue to expand the game into something greater than we could have imagined when we first started, and we are grateful to everybody who supports us in this journey.

How do you integrate gods with a world of sci-fi and humanity? 

The five Gods of Faith are not the usual "omnipotent being" interpretation of deities. They are moral in nature, , and they can only interact with the world through their believers, by providing them with supernatural powers, thus shaping what actually happens in the universe by giving more power to those who follow one of the moral paths laid out by one of the Gods.

Living beings within the universe of Faith can't really choose in which God they believe or which God they follow. It is each God itself who chooses certain people to grant powers, depending on their actual actions. Who you are and what you do determines whether one God or another will take notice of you and maybe grant you powers.

There's little room in the way of "believing" in the Gods; when you see you have been granted a special power, you know that something's definitely up. On the other end, Clark's adage "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" may be applied, too. Within the lore of the game, there are people who question their nature and go on "Godseek" expeditions within the confines of the Labyrinth wormhole to try to uncover their mysteries. Similarly to how our A Garden in Hell campaign explores the origins of the Ravager, we plan to devote an entire campaign to this topic and we hope it will become an exciting perspective on Gods in a science fiction setting.

Tell me a little about this ideological conflict! What about it encouraged you to make it a major point of the game?

Similarly to forces of nature, the moral bearings rewarded by the Gods have ended up merging with certain civilisations, and shaping their progress and destiny. This means that there are species leaning towards the moral path set by some Gods, while others lean towards others, making them fundamentally different in their approach to cultural interaction both within their own civilisation and with other civilisations. This is the case of the Corvo and the Iz'kal, each leaning respectively to individualism or collectivism, and this is what sparks their constant conflict.

When two such species find each other, there are three options: they fight, they flee or they cooperate. Right now, the Corvo and the Iz'kal must cooperate if they want to avoid total anihilation: the Ravager, a powerful mutant species, is on a destruction sprue through the known universe. Of course, this doesn't mean they don't still have their conflicts, and they still fight clandestine, proxy wars to arrest each other's development in anticipation to the defeat of the Ravager threat.

We made this conflict such an integral part of the setting because we believe it raises very interesting issues that are worth considering and discussing. Both these species have very different approaches to society, each with their rights and their wrongs, and thinking about alien societies can put things in perspectives that are not as apparent if one was to analyse the same issues in the real world.

How do the base mechanics of the cards work, and what do you think is expanded by including the miniatures?

The card mechanics are the aspect we are the most proud of. Many people are extremely skeptic about it at first, but after playing a couple of rounds most people gets it. We need to stress that we didn't create this mechanic just to be different, or as a gimmick.

It is an honest to God attempt to make a game where the players are in charge of their efforts, as represented by the values of the cards they play. The hand of cards represents the stamina of each character, and, just like in real life, each character can choose when to make a big effort (playing a high card), and when to conserve energies (playing a low card, which often triggers a rule to draw a new card). As you run out of cards, your character gets exhausted and has more and more limited options.

A very common misconception is that people can just attempt banal actions to get rid of low cards. Because you only have the chance to play cards when you are contested, or, as we call it in Faith, confronted, there's really no possibility for this. When you play your low cards, you will be putting yourself in danger.

Lastly, it's important to mention that the cards are not proprietary: you can use any regular poker deck to play FAITH.

The miniatures do not change the core mechanics of the game. It's just that it can be much more immersive for some people to play with a cool set of minis!

What are some of your favorite elements about the available species for play?

What we like the most are the different roleplaying possibilities that each of their civilisations bring to the table. If you are in the Corvosphere, you can basically do whatever you want, but nobody will look out for you. It's like a cyberpunk jungle: each for their own, and only if you know how to get others to value your specific skillset you will manage to make a life for yourself. On the other hand of the spectrum, we have the Iz'kal state. There, all your basic needs are taken care of, but you can't own anything, and you must comply with the state's orders, which will use your skills for the benefit of the state. If you are in a Raag world, you'll need to be very careful with your approach to technology and how you maintain it, and you may become a renowned scavenger. Lastly, if you are a human, you won't be the center of the universe for a change. Humans in the universe of Faith have their work cut out for them: they must either bend their knee and serve the corvo; survive in the wasteland; or become part of the Human Front and seek the foundation of a free Earth.


Thanks so much to Burning Games for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading and that you'll check out FAITH: The Sci-Fi RPG and Miniatures on Kickstarter. Make sure to share the post if you think your friends might be interested in FAITH, too!

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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Designer & Devourer Episode 1, 200wordRPG, Punch, and Upcoming Interviews

ETA 4/16/2017: FYI, the recording for Designer & Devourer Episode 1 has had the hiss removed, so hopefully will be easier listening. Brie learned a skill!


New podcast, I think?

Note: This is my first time recording a larger piece and my first podcast, so please understand I'm new! I hope to use some music in the intros sometime in the future, possibly? But here's it!

Designer & Devourer is a 15-30 minute audio episode with my thoughts on upcoming games, design, and game theory, plus a semi-relevant personal or internet-sourced recipe. This week I talk upcoming interviews on Thoughty, the #200wordRPG contest, and my Great Grandma's punch recipe.

Check out Charon, my entry for the 200 Word RPG contest here on Google Drive.

ETA: forgot to include the links to the Kickstarters I mentioned!


The Sword, The Crown, and The Unspeakable Power

Great Grandma's Punch Recipe
a fun substitute for Ambrosia (according to a similar internet recipe!)

1 bottle ginger ale, 7Up, or Sprite
1 large can pineapple juice (not frozen)
1 small can frozen orange juice (don't add water)

Pour into a large punch bowl and stir slowly until the orange juice is fully mixed in, adding lime sherbert or vanilla ice cream.

Top with maraschino cherries if desired, or an ice ring made with pineapple juice and cherries (use a silicone bundt cake mold!).

Thank you for checking out Designer & Devourer! Please share around!

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DesignerandDevourer BrieCS

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Five or So Questions with Slade Stolar on Dust, Fog, and Glowing Embers

Today Slade Stolar is back for an interview about this new project, Dust, Fog, and Glowing Embers! It's currently on Kickstarter and Slade and I nearly crossed emails contacting each other about it! It sounds like a fantastic adventure, and I'm excited to share Slade's responses with you.


Tell me a little about Dust, Fog, and Glowing Embers. What excites you about it?

It would be weird to say "everything", right? -- I've had the core image of the game in my head for a long while. There are three thieves in ragged, dirt-smeared clothes running through smog-filled alleyways in a late-medieval city. They arrive at junction where there are government officers (some kind of police patrol) with lanterns and barking dogs cutting off their escape. The thieves get noticed. They grin slightly, and activate a device that turns them as immaterial as the smog. They drift away, making their escape.

After publishing The Indie Hack, and seeing how the core rules resonated with certain people, I wanted to write a game that could make that scene happen. I think I've done that.

The main components of the game that excite me are the relationship system, which revolves around the classical four humours (sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic, and choleric), and the proto-industrial setting, which revolves around all kinds of pseudo-science or non-science (trepanning, feng shui, astrology, numerology, etc.), and all of which are very real within the setting.

What kind of action can we see in the game - fast fights, stealth? How do the mechanics support it?

One of the great things about this game is that you tailor your experience based on the Patron of the characters. If you are looking for a stealthy game, perhaps your Patron wants valuable artwork stolen to complete her collection. If you're itching for a fight, perhaps your Patron is a gang boss, who wants to muscle out rival gangs. Maybe you've got a Patron who wants notoriety and influence, and you end up doing a lot of socially focussed missions. The core mechanic is the same for all of these: with good dice rolls, you collect little chunks of narrative control called "details", just as in our previous game, The Indie Hack. Once you've got a certain number in your favour, you succeed. But, if, along the way, you get some bad rolls and collect a certain number of details against you, you're out of commission. The game ends up being quick and intense, as an extreme roll can grant up to two or three details out of a total of three to five. Because rolls are so important and dangerous, players will want to role-play up until a point of crisis before grabbing the dice. I would say, you can't play this game slowly: it's a crisis machine.

I'd like to hear more about the relationship system! How does it function, and what was the inspiration?

I think the inspiration was a few random mentions of this in Shakespeare. It was interesting to research this strange classical interpretation of psychology based on the liquids that flow in the body (and fits well with this setting based on pseudo-science and non-science). You have a primary humour that is your outward facade (maybe you're melancholic, meaning reclusive and depressive, but cautious and prudent). As you interact more intimately with people, you show them other aspects of your personality, i.e., your secondary humours (maybe, in front of your fellow player characters you act sanguine, meaning smothering and judgemental, but joyful and optimistic); you make a list of these characters. Once you've written four people under a secondary humour, you have a bit of a crisis of personality (who am I, really?) and shift your primary humour over. It encourages you to think a bit about how we're always performing our personality. I think it's more dynamic and engaging than nature/demeanor (of Vampire) or alignment (of general fantasy games).

What are some setting elements you really love and how do they interact?

In terms of world-building, I really like the hierarchy I've set up (as a player, I'll hate it and want to see it destroyed). In contrast to the typical fantasy setting, which has lots of monarchies, Dust, Fog, and Glowing Embers is a mixed oligarchy, where a highly corrupt technocratic class rules the masses and the aristocracy has its own power system outside (often above) the law. The players are at the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder, and that's why the accept the help of a Patron. The Patron helps them to feel powerful, by giving them alchemical powers, but only while performing these (often illegal) missions. The setting really feeds into the character motivations and the types of adventures that the players will go on. I want characters to take on the bureaucracy and lose. I want them to try to mingle with the high-society types and be humiliated. Other times, I want them to win.

In terms of mechanical moving parts, I like the "looking for trouble" tables; each district has random interesting happenings that can draw the players into larger conflicts or expose hidden parts of the setting.

You talked about the thieves and their adventures - what other types of characters and experiences would people often find in Dust, Fog, and Glowing Embers?

I don't know that I can answer this one, at least, any more than I could predict what a given group will do with a given game. Just to be clear, I'm okay with thieves of the Robin Hood type, but I'm guessing that your Patron doesn't have that many scruples. A big part of this game is navigating a difficult moral path, although that sounds a bit dull. Basically, I want characters to experience hard decisions, pride, pain, shame, confusion, and split loyalties. I want them to do things that they wouldn't do if it were their choice, and have to deal with the consequences just the same. At the end, as in much of Shakespeare, nearly everyone is dead. I want the characters to lead intense, dangerous, tragic lives.


Thanks so much to Slade for the interview! I hope you've all liked what you've read, and that you'll give the Dust, Fog, and Glowing Embers Kickstarter a gander!

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Five or So Questions with Fraser Ronald on Swords Edge

Today I have an interview with Fraser Ronald on his current project, Sword's Edge, which is on Kickstarter now! Fraser answered some of my questions about the updated, refined Sword's Edge game below! 


Tell me a little about Sword's Edge. What excites you about it?

What I love about Sword’s Edge is how it allows for evocative and strong characters while trying to lower the amount of work required by GMs so that they can focus on facilitating the story. The characters are built out of ideas and descriptions, so it’s as easy as “tell me about the character you want to play,” write down the response, take a bunch of descriptions out of that and you have your character. For the GM, it’s very easy to run improvisational games – which is my preferred method – by boiling down most mechanical obstacles to a few choices guided by a couple of tables. There’s no dice rolling for the GM, and the mechanics are simple enough that one can spend one’s time helping to keep the story moving.

Players get invested in characters that work mechanically pretty much how they described them narratively, and the GM gets to spend their time helping those characters be awesome, sometimes by creating really challenging obstacles, and other times creating scenes where they get to show their uber competence.

What are the origins of Sword's Edge mechanically? What got the game going at the start, and what are important elements of the game in it's final form?

Sword’s Edge is really an amalgam of ideas from a bunch of different games. Its nearest relation is PDQ by Chad Underkoffler by way of Jaws of the Six Serpents by Tim Gray. This was the game that led me to design Sword Noir, which was the direct ancestor of Sword’s Edge. Along with PDQ, I would say that important influences came from the Shadow of Yesterday by Clinton R. Nixon; Fate 3.0 by Rob Donoghue, Fred Hicks, and Leonard Balsera; Lady Blackbird by John Harper, and Old School Hack by Kirin Robinson. These all had impact on the designs of Sword Noir and Kiss My Axe, which had Sword’s Edge at their core and through which Sword’s Edge developed.

There are a few keys in my mind to Sword’s Edge. The use of descriptive Qualities to create characters allows players to pretty much play whatever they can imagine. That only players roll dice helps remove one task from the GM and a very abstract action system further allows all activities to run through the same mechanics – there are no sub-systems in Sword’s Edge. Finally, the Initiative system really changes how one approaches actions as once a character has Initiative, it is necessary to take a risk to seize that Initiative. Only as an active character can one affect change, so Initiative is super important and can lead to some risky actions as PCs try to seize it from tough opponents.

What are the fictional inspirations for Sword's Edge

Because Sword’s Edge is a generic RPG, it’s not really rooted in fiction, however the stretch goal is for “Lawless Heaven,” my homage to Korean action cinema. I’ve been enamoured of Korean action movies since I saw Nowhere to Hide in 1999. Since then, Korean movies have continued to improve and are now some of the best on the planet. Recent years have seen some insanely great action and crime movies, like Man from Nowhere and A Bittersweet Life. Then there are the neo-noirs, like Oldboy and The Yellow Sea. These are absolutely riveting movies. So “Lawless Heaven” tries to boil down the experience of a Korean actioner into a one-shot, specifically built to be run at conventions. It includes a discussion of using it as either then beginning or part of an ongoing campaign, but the scenes presented are for a single adventure arc.

Some of the example characters appear to be Asian (1). How did you prepare to write about non-Canadian characters, fictions, and backgrounds? Did you find it challenging?

The characters on the Kickstarter page are from “Lawless Heaven,” so they are Korean. The action is set in the industrial city of Ulsan, which is home to a Hyundai Motors car factory and the largest shipyard in the world, owned by Hyundai Heavy Industries. In the adventure, I try to introduce some interesting aspects of Korean culture – like the lack of firearms in general and the prevalence in certain areas of drinking tents or pojangmacha – but the story is designed so that it would be easy to set it elsewhere.

On a more Kickstarter-level question, how have you worked to integrate your past products into the release of this product, while still ensuring Sword's Edge gets priority in attention?

Having two successful Kickstarters under my belt allowed me to approach the whole process with a little less concern and stress. Also, for backers, I have a record of meeting my commitments and delivering promises product, so I think that improves the chance people will be willing to put their money down.

Thank you Fraser for answering my questions! I hope you all enjoyed reading and that you'll check out Sword's Edge on Kickstarter!

[(1 - Brie here!) This originally said Chinese in this question because I wasn't sure based on the pictures and Googled last names. I try really hard to be better at this judgment, but the images aren't very clear - I have no better excuse. I changed it so that it is clearer to my readers, but wanted to let you know that I did fuck up, and I'll try to do better next time.]

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Monday, March 27, 2017

Five or So Questions with John Adamus on Noir World

Today I have an interview with designer and well-known editor John Adamus on his new RPG product, Noir World, which is on Kickstarter right now! Having known John on Twitter & face to face for a fair amount of time now, I know that an incredible amount of work has gone into this game, and I wanted to talk about his final product. See his responses below!


Tell me a little about Noir World. What excites you about it?

Noir World is a collaborative Apocalypse World hack where everyone gets together to create a Movie using film noir archetypes, dealing with the terrible outcomes of their emotional decisions. The game uses a variety of film and television techniques to express film noir and character development to give people a chance to be both player and GM, ideally letting people tell whatever kind of story they want. 

What excites me most about this is that people are going to get to tell these stories using a framework that prizes agency and decisions. You get to make whatever character you want in whatever way you want, and there's enough modular elements (you pick the time period, you build the City) so that everyone gets to help this Movie happen. This is a game built on collaboration and empowerment.

What were your inspirations, and guidance in development, for the themes and fiction of Noir World

I divide my inspirations into 2 camps: films noir like The Big SleepThe Third ManNight of the Hunter and TV shows with detectives like the Nero Wolfe mysteries; Murder, She WroteMagnum PIRemington Steele. I make the distinction because they're two ends of a range from serious (the films) to far less so (television), though they all have a lot of the same DNA when it comes to storytelling components and methods. While the material covers completely different subjects, that all becomes somewhat superficial when you look past the crime-of-the-week or the good-guy-bad-guy-binary and look at how characters relate to each other and how what happens in the story affects those relationships. Taking any of the source material and finding that emotional mechanism informed a lot how the game got onto the page.

Especially early on, this meant I could sift through material not because it featured the same actors or the same plot, but because it represented certain emotional choices or consequences - X amount of shows and movies involve betraying a lover or revealing at least one person's intimate secrets, for instance, and it kept the design process very rooted in how I wanted the game and ultimately the players to feel when playing. Everything from the art to the example text spawned from locking down the idea that feelings and relationships are at the heart of the game. 

What are the archetypes in Noir World, and what are some aspects you like about them?

There are 20 Roles a player can choose from in Noir World, from the expected ones like The Good Cop or The Dirty Cop or The Fatale to ones that maybe don't come up a lot like The Disgraced Doctor or The Musician. What excited me about fleshing them out and making them available for play was that I got to put my own spin on these tropes, which was often giving them small touches of pop culture or referencing something that's slightly anachronistic or unexpected so that no Role feels "stuck" being played a certain way. For The Career Criminal, I got a chance to make references to Leverage, and The Gambler has quite a few mentions of the Kenny Rogers song. At first I was worried these small nods to non-noir would pull people out of the play experience, but I've found the opposite to be true: it makes them laugh while keeping them connected to what's going on.

I love how open and adaptable the Roles turned out to be. One of the big issues for me with the source material is that it's very phobic and bigoted, there's sexism and racism overt and otherwise, and that's not something I wanted to mechanize or condone in play, so I'm really proud that the Roles can be played by any person in any way they way want even if it wouldn't be "true to film noir". I want it to be more true to the player's wants and interests than condoning 70-year-old social conventions. We can do better.

How did you take Apocalypse World/Powered by the Apocalypse mechanics and make them work with the cinematic, somewhat gritty world of noir stories?

I took it all apart. I had to. I seldom play a game without houserules, mainly because a lot of games have a lot of moving parts, and I don't want to stop to consult a book when an idea pops in my head. This led to a lot of deconstructing and questioning how and why the rules are what they are, then going backwards to the games one generation removed and continuing to question mechanics like "why do we roll dice when X happens?" "why do we always look at the GM at that moment?" and then asking myself if I wanted to make a game that kept doing stuff like that. When I found out that I didn't want to do the same thing, or just file off all the serial numbers with a re-skin of what was already there, I realized I didn't have to come at this like a game designer first and a film/TV/story nerd second, I could reverse that.

So I put the focus on the story elements: how plot gets made, how characters take actions, how characters interact and then I put game design on top. It was both easier (because I kept the focus on the story structure) and harder (because game mechanics are popular and re-used because they're familiar and easy) but I think I struck a balance where the game is about telling stories that feel very baked in genre and give players enormous creative freedom and permission while having mechanics that don't get in the way because they're neither particularly complex or numerous. The focus stays on the story, which lets the story go in whatever direction the group feels it needs to.

In what way do you think Noir World really captures your favorite things about the noir genre, and puts them in the hands of players and Directors to make a good film?

Film noir is about being faced with terrible choices that you know will have some awful consequences, making the choice and then finding out there are consequences worse than what you thought. You didn't just lose your job and your marriage, you've been convicted of murder because your mistress gave you up to the cops. The severity of consequences and the natural downward evolution of consequences, in a worsening spiral make for really interesting and tragic characters. I don't think it would be as much fun to have a terrible character that just kept having worse and worse things happen to them if they had limited or no agency in those events. In Noir World, a Role gets themselves into that position and then has to deal with things, it's the very emotional version of "Make your bed, now lie in it." People are invested in and have a hand in their own emotional rollercoaster, which I think is what makes the experience connect with people in an active way - it's their choices and what happens because they were pro-active, rather than just reacting to a GM saying something like "since you rolled a 12, this happens."

I don't like games where the players can't get creative except in some non-meaningful way. The game where we're all knights and the only thing that could distinguish us might be our weapons or whether or not someone speaks in a funny voice does not have long term appeal to me. The characters don't feel like anything more than plot-tools for the GM to use, and that's not how I want to spend my gaming nights, especially if the GM had a bad day at work and the adventure gets boring or long-winded. Noir is about choice and consequence, so to me that screams "agency" and "empowering players to be creative." A lot of the best games I've seen have players who are normally very hesitant to take a leadership role or a very decisive position, because this game is a permission slip to say what happens and people will help each other to get where they need to be, because everyone should have a voice at the table, and everyone should have the opportunity to develop and use their agency in non-selfish ways to work together to tell a great story.


Awesome! Thanks so much, John, for giving us some info about Noir World! I hope you all will check it out on Kickstarter, and share the interview for others to read!

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Five or So Questions on Meet Diana Danko

Today's interview is with Jakob Schindler-Scholz about the Kickstarter project Meet Diana Danko, a live-stream interactive vampire tale. When Jakob emailed me with the Kickstarter link, I was immediately intrigued - interactive performances are fascinating to me and I wanted to hear more! Check out the interview below and see more at their press page and Kickstarter.


Tell me a little about Meet Diana Danko. What excites you about it?

The aspect I'm most passionate about is that we are creating a truly open experience, while still maintaining a strong narrative. The project is heavily inspired by "choice and consequence" games like the Walking Dead Series by Telltale or Life is Strange, but with limitless possibilities.

We achieve this by having four amazing actresses perform live and reacting to the input of the audience, who is watching via live stream. They can type anything they want at any time while they watch. It has elements of tabletop RPG, LARP, theater and FMV video games, but I don't think there is anything like it currently out there.

Example of the process of the show.

How did you come up with the idea for Meet Diana Danko?

The setting, characters and basic concept were created for a local short theater festival in Vienna. The audience found themselves trapped in a room with a vampire trying to get in, discussing different strategies to get out. The inspiration for this was the classic horror movie trope "heroes have to fight their way to freedom", and I thought it would be a fun way to engage the audience - which it was. There were lots of intense discussions and great interactions with the audience, sometimes resulting in totally unexpected outcomes, for example people occupying the vampire's coffin - which was exactly what we hoped for.
We then discussed how to take the concept even further, and came up with the idea of turning it into an online performance, but without losing the direct connection with the audience - which is an immense challenge because people are not physically present. So the story, setting and mode of interaction will change, but the heart of it all - the characters - will stay the same.

How does the event work technically, from receiving input from viewers to making it happen?

You watch the show through the eyes of the protagonist (wearing a head mounted camera), who sort of stumbles into the whole thing, and bit by bit learns about the characters and the backstory. In the interface, you can also type anything that comes to your mind, at any time. The idea is that you provide us with the thoughts of the protagonist - and as is the nature of thoughts, some are only brief flashes, some are more present, some are concrete and some obscure. We employ a sorting algorithm to visualise all thoughts at once, sort of like multiple word clouds put together. This visualisation will be available for all to see.

So the visualisation is handled by a program, but the crucial part - incorporating these thoughts into the story - is not. We have a person dedicated to that who watches the visualisation constantly and has a voice link to the protagonist. So this person gets an impression of how the audience feels, what ideas are there, and uses that information to give commands or suggestions to the protagonist. So it is kind of an inner voice, but one she takes really seriously.

The important thing is: With this procedure, most of the actresses have to worry about anything going on outside the performance. The protagonist gets input from outside, but all other actresses can concentrate on their characters and react authentically to what is happening. This is why we came up with this quite complex process: To ensure that the improvisation can be really focused, because we believe that's what it takes to create a fascinating experience.

Word clouds!

What do all of the people involved bring to the table to make the show happen?

First I have to say, I am really honored to have a team where everyone is extremely invested in the idea and not just focusing on their respective area. Denise, who does the design and communications is excellent in finding the right way to get across what we're all about, which is especially important because there are so many aspects to this. Adam and Gregor are very passionate developers who will not be satisfied until the algorithm and UI are so well-defined that you'll forget about them while being drawn into the story, and Philipp has the intuition and experience to get what the audience is looking for and translating it into actionable hints for our protagonist.

That being said, I have to highlight Julia, Stella and Paula, the actresses (we will cast the fourth actress, the protagonist, with the help of our backers). Because their contribution is what makes the show: Usually, when you have a piece of fiction, there is a writer or a writing team, they create the characters and tell the story. But this way, it is extremely likely that some characters will be extremely well written and others will be weak - and there is only so much even a talented actress can do with a bland character.

When you talk about the performance, what do you really think makes this format help the fiction to really shine?

I think we have extremely well-developed characters. Because we don't know what will happen, it's not enought to know how they react in a handful of specific situations. We already spent a lot of time getting to know the characters for "Diana Danko in Concert", and we will do a lot more development for this piece. It's a very collaborative process: We discuss the fears, secrets, and desires of the characters together, explore them in improvisations and make sure we create characters who are complex, with nuances and little quirks and secrets that may not come to pass every time we perform, but they are there, ready to be discovered and adding to the experience.


Thanks so much to Jakob for the interview! Meet Diana Danko sounds really interesting and definitely worth learning more about. Check out the Kickstarter if it tickles your fancy and share this post with anyone you think might like it!

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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Patreon Spotlight - James E. Shields

Today I’m trying something new, and not sure if it’ll recur, so let me know your thoughts.

James Shields has a cool Patreon through which he creates custom RPG Stock Illustrations. It’s been around for a couple of years, and involves his patrons giving feedback and input into what art is created. I interviewed James as well as asking him to provide information on his process. Check it out!

When I asked about James’ process, he responded:

So here is my ideal process. 
Somewhere there is an incredible independent creator with awesome RPG ideas but
without the budget to commission some of the illustrations they want. 
Somehow they learn about one of my Stock Art Patreon projects and jumps on board.
Every month I post and ask for ideas. 

Patrons are encouraged to comment on each others ideas to make the artwork more versatile. (Example: If the idea is for a Wild Elf with antlers, another patron may ask for moose antlers. If that's good with the original patron, I roll with the adjusted idea.) They then vote on each other's submissions by liking them on the post.
At the end of the month, I tally up all the submissions and votes. I then release a list of the upcoming art and the process starts all over again. On the 1st of month, patrons are charged their pledge level for each pack I released. After pledges clear, I send them links to the files for them to download at their convenience.

James also provided a FAQ:
What can I do if I can't afford X amount 3 or 4 times a month?
Patreon allows you to set a cap, or maximum number of creations you want to support each month. You will receive the packs that your pledge covered. 
What if my submitted idea was in a pack that my pledge cap kept me from supporting? I give my patrons the illustration from their idea anyways.
How many ideas may I submit?
As many as you want. In the future I may set a limit, but only if submissions get unruly. 
Can't I just get your art when you release it via Drivethru, RPGNow, TabletopLibrary, etc?
Yes. Yes, you can. The dilemma is -when-. Uploading stock art is time consuming, so
I don't release very often. As of this writing, I am somewhere over a year and a half behind.My patrons get the artwork first. Long before anybody else.
What are the license restrictions?
Ohhh... these are fun. Actually, I'm pretty liberal as far as this is concerned.
You can use the artwork forever. You just can't sell it as stock, posters, printable miniatures, or anything else where the artwork is the main product. You also can't use it in offensive projects. Other than that, just create something awesome.
You should also let me have a copy. Well, that part's not required, but I'm a gamer and
love to see where my art is used. 
Are there any restrictions to what ideas I may submit? 
Yes, but they aren't a lot. I don't illustrate nudity nor will I create provocative poses/images. I won't draw images of intellectual property, though I will do images inspired by them.
Also, a question that hasn't been asked that is totally viable- I'm not an independent game developer. Can I still support the project? 
Totally. There is nothing to stop people from submitting their RPG character for me to draw and them to see in printed RPG products. Totally cool. 
As of this writing I do have only one remaining Top Tier slot where I guarantee to draw one of their submissions every month. At $25, you can't get my art at a better deal.
Last thing I can think of. You are completely welcome to pledge to support my project just to see it from a patron's point of view and cancel your pledge as soon as you've seen as much as you'd like. Feel free to take and post any screenshots as a patron if you choose this route. I won't be posting any artwork for another two weeks so there won't be any charges during that time. 

Finally I asked James a few questions!

What is your background in creating art both for and not for RPGs?

My first intro to drawing RPG art was in my first roleplaying group as a teen. My parents convinced me to go to school beyond high school instead of trying to dive into drawing comics. After I graduated from the Art Institute of Dallas, I worked for a game company for a year and a half before they went bankrupt. Except for a few drawings here and there, that was the last I would create artwork for about 10 years. After my second deployment with the Marine Corps, my wife convinced me to use my artistic abilities for something, so I dove into freelancing. I didn't really know what I was doing but I did know that I loved to create artwork like the ones I had been introduced to in my teens, and as I developed as a freelancer I began focusing more and more on roleplaying because they were the projects I loved. I know it's not the smartest financial decision but these are the things I get excited about. Another artist pointed me towards Patreon and that's where I got the idea to provide something for independent game developers that would be in between pure stock and fully commissioned. I've been freelancing for over 3 years now and I love it.

What mediums do you use for your art?
Hard lead pencil on cardstock for sketching, followed by Faber-Castell inks.
I then scan and color in Photoshop. Occasionally, I'll paint digitally in Photoshop.
How do you respond when there isn't a lot of patron engagement?
I'll have to let you know when I get to that. The Patreon has always had patrons submitting ideas, but I recently moved the discussion away from a Google doc submission form to discussions and votes via posts on the Patreon website and interaction has exploded. Patreon sent me a message at the end of the year to let me know that my Patreon was more engaged than 95% of any other Patreon project. To answer your question more directly, all it takes is one patron to submit an idea for each category and I have content for the next pack. Occasionally I draw my own ideas, but that is rare and now if I have an idea I'd like to illustrate myself, I include it in the votes. I think it was in December, my youngest child (age 6) was talking about alligators, except it kept coming out as 'owl-igators' and I knew I just HAD to draw it, so I posted it as a submission for patrons to vote on. If it wasn't popular I wouldn't draw it, but they loved the idea enough that I got to include it.

Cool! Thanks James! You can find James' Patreon at If his work sounds interesting to you, go ahead and give it a look!

James also has genre specific Patreon projects:

Purely black and white fantasy art -
Purely black and white sci-fi art -

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