Monday, October 16, 2017

Five or So Questions with Ed Turner on By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan

I have an interview today with Ed Turner about his new game on Kickstarter, By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan! It's a really interesting game that can get pretty...wilde! Check out what Ed had to say below.

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She looks so sassy. Judging you.

Tell me about By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan. What excites you about it?

By the Author of Lady Windermere’s Fan is a game about putting on an Oscar Wilde play.

More specifically, it’s a story game about a group of actors who, through a spectacular level of mismanagement by their producer and director alike, have reached opening night without having held a single rehearsal. Or picking up a script. They don’t even know what they’re supposed to be putting on… all the marquee out front tells them is that it’s a lesser-known play by the master of the Victorian farce, Oscar Wilde. And with that to go on, they’ll just have to wing it.

Which means that players are doing two things at once. On the one hand, it’s a story game made for telling narratives in the vein of The Importance of Being Earnest or An Ideal Husband: self-important people who tell big lies about petty things, and then fall over themselves trying to keep their deception from being discovered. Everyone looks foolish, everyone embarrasses themselves, but in the end everyone gets a happy ending whether they deserve it or not, because that’s how these things go.

But on the other hand, and this is the part of it that I’m the most excited about, it’s very much a game about putting on a live performance. Windermere is inspired by my experiences in school and community theater; it’s a game about being thrust on stage, underprepared, and doing your best to keep things moving by any means necessary. If you’re on-stage, you’re in character, and you’re responsible for keeping up the pace. As games go, it’s kind of exhausting, because you don’t really get time to think once an act starts. You need to keep the chaos in control. When you make mistakes, and you will make mistakes, you have to run with them.

But that also makes it exhilarating! It’s frenetic, and unpredictable, and even though the stakes are low it still feels very rewarding to survive to the final curtain. Whether the play you put on ends up being a really admirable Wilde pastiche or just a complete trainwreck, you still overcame all odds and put on a dang show. You can take a bow, because you’ve earned it. That’s the moment that I was really trying to capture with this game. That is what I’m most excited about.


I have a lot of interest in learning of interactivity in games. During play, are all players interacting at once? Are there different levels of involvement? 

Once the game starts, everyone is interacting. There are a couple different levels of involvement, but players will be shifting between them over the course of an act. Players might be onstage or offstage, for instance, and each has its own limits and responsibilities. Most of your time playing will be onstage, when you have to be in character and move the plot along. If you’re offstage, you have some more breathing room… you don’t have to react as quickly, and can watch the action without participating it. You can also do off-stage specific things like calling out sound effects or changing costume (which allows you to come back onstage as an NPC). Players will switch between being on and offstage often, and just like in real theater, even when you’re not onstage you are still part of the play.

The other variable in players’ levels of involvement is the spotlight. At any given moment, one player’s character is the Spotlight Character, which just means that they are currently the focus of the action. Specifically, that’s when characters get confronted about the lies they have been telling, and respond by telling a bigger and harder-to-defend lie. When the spotlight is on you, you’re stuck onstage, and can’t leave until you’ve dug a bigger hole for yourself. But once you’ve done so, you pass the spotlight on to another player, and now THEY become the focus of the action. Everyone takes their turn in the spotlight.
"Effigy of Joseph Johnson," John Thomas Smith, 1815 (provided by Ed)

What materials are part of the game? What is tactile, and what is supposed to be all in the minds of players?

For the most part, it’s little index cards. You are limited in the number of props you have access to, so before the play starts the players brainstorm a bunch of useful items and write each down on a card. Once the play starts, these become a tactile element: if you want your character to be holding an item, you need to be holding up the appropriate card. That way, you can’t just make up items, and if there’s an object you want to use, you have to track where it actually is. Costumes work similarly; you all come up with costumes for NPCs during setup, and while you’re playing you change costumes by physically taking that NPC’s card and plopping it over your own character sheet.

There’s also a spotlight token; this is just some visible object to indicate which player’s character is the focus for the moment. I usually use a hand fan. When you as the spotlight character have told your lie, you pass the token to the player you want to see take the spotlight next, and the action seamlessly shifts to being about them.

Finally, there are audience favor tokens; beads or coins or similar small objects, used to indicate how much the audience likes you. Players start with three tokens, and there’s a pile in easy reach. When you break character on stage, you toss one of your tokens in the pile. When you think another player said something especially funny, you take a token from the pile and give it to that player.

Both the spotlight and audience favor tokens are using tactile interaction to communicate, without breaking the action of the play.


Where did you pull inspiration for the development and structure of play?

As far as development goes, this started as an entry for the Game Chef design competition back in 2014. The theme of the year was “There is no book,” and one of the optional ingredients was “wild.” A little willful misspelling later, and the idea of performing an Oscar Wilde play when you didn’t have the script was born.

By the Author of Lady Windermere’s Fan owes a lot to story games like Fiasco and Kingdom. Games in which you set up a scene, then dive into the action, letting characters bounce off one another however they see fit without a lot of rules or guidance. Windermere pushes that same structure a little farther; instead of short scenes frequently punctuated by breaks to control the overall flow of the story, there are huge and endurance-testing acts, making it easy for players to lose control of the overall flow of the story.

Beyond that, obviously Wilde’s plays were an inspiration, especially The Importance of Being Earnest, but I also got inspiration from other sources, like Noises Off, a comedy about putting on a play that you aren’t prepared to perform, and even Frasier, a show that really codified the structure of a farce. 

Was everyone in this era judgy? Sweet monocle tho.

Do you have any controls in place for the game if a player needs to pause or they want to back up and reconsider something that was introduced? How much content control do the players have when other players act?

On the one hand, when it comes to the safety and comfort of the players, I take that seriously. I outline a simple “safety valve” mechanism, and am explicit that groups who have another they prefer (X-card, Lines and Veils, whatever) can and should be using it. It’s important to me than having all the players be able to feel secure that they are playing in a safe space.

But when it comes to more minor matters of how the plot is developing, there you’re a bit out of luck. A lot of the tension in the game comes out of having to roll with unexpected developments that come both from the other players and from yourself; what’s said stays said, even if you didn’t quite mean to say it. What you do have are intermissions; between each act, all the players get the chance to stop, and breathe, and talk about where the play’s going. Think of it as an opportunity for course-correction; you can choose to drop a plot thread, or change the trajectory your character is on, or even express concerns about where you think another character’s story is headed.


Finally, what do you want people to feel at the end of play? What memories do you want them to carry on, and what have you seen players who have experienced the game so far take forth?

At the end of the play, I want everyone to be tired but proud. Usually, they are; there’s a definite sense of accomplishment that comes from surviving the play in most of the games I’ve been a part of. Mostly, I want them to be smiling; ultimately, the players are putting on a comedy, so the memories I want them to take with them are the funny moments. The really good one-liners, the delightful twists of the plot, and even the collapses, when for whatever reason the play totally fell apart. Like a Wilde play, the overall plot is pretty incidental… it’s a structure on which you can hang beautiful moments. 


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Thanks so much to Ed for the interview! I hope you all will check out By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan on Kickstarter today! Make sure to share the interview with anyone you think might be interested - don't let them miss out!


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Friday, October 13, 2017

Five or So Questions with Eloy Lasanta on AMP: Year Four

Today I have an interview with Eloy Lasanta on his continued project, AMP: Year Four. It's currently on Kickstarter and has a legacy over the past years of AMP: Years One, Two, and Three. Check out what Eloy has to say below!

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Tell me a little about AMP: Year Four. What excites you about it?

What excites me about it? First off, it’s the continuation of an ongoing story within the game line, and it’s the penultimate book (since I began with a five year plan). With every book, I’ve been adding more player options and really upping the ante story wise.

This time, we are adding magic to the setting, something we’ve been hinting at for a while and the fans have really wanted. I love that we’re able to deliver to them in an epic way that will change the setting forever.


Tell me about the origin of AMP. What sits in the soul of the game? Where did it come from?

The origins of AMP are pretty humble. I always wanted to do a superhero RPG and I started getting ideas. It was important to me to check out as many other superhero RPGs around to make sure my ideas weren’t just parallel development. So I spent about a good year playing as many as I could, and discovered that my idea has a niche to fill!

In comes AMP: Year One, where I decided to detail what happens when superpowers hit our society. A few other games did broad strokes, but I wanted the development of the setting to be intimate, so we lay out each month, giving dates and important events, that players can jump off of to start their own stories. I also took that opportunity to tell my own stories as well. There are character running around in the AMP setting that are doing some amazing things, changing the world for better or worse, and it’s been an honor to see so many people engaged with the story we are telling as well.

The soul of the game is that it is not really a superhero game. It’s a game about people with superpowers. Everyone is a person, not some caricature, not some cape-wearing vigilante. They are faced with real threats and problems from society, the government, other AMPs, the dead! So many things to contend with, and yet they need to make sure they keep their heads on straight. 



In AMP: Year Four, it's the Year of Invasion. What does this mean at the table? 

Throughout the storyline, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs in terms of tone and subject matter. During Year 2, it got kind of bleak, leading to a group of AMPs literally leaving Earth. They blinked and were just gone, but no one knew where they went. This group, the Orphans, have returned in Year 4, however, and are waging all-out war on Earth. 

At the table, this means a few things. The Orphans have returned with the ultimate power in their hands… magic! This is new to the AMP gameline, as we’ve been centered on scientific and Earthly abilities up to this point. That also means that there is a new player option called the Rebel Orphan, making them playable if a player so chooses. The timeline for Year 4 deals with the invasion, the climactic battles that take place, and what happens when old enemies and new friends must all come together to fight a threat capable of destroying everyone. 


What are some of the challenges of doing a series of games that span years? Is consistency an issue, or maybe variety?

Consistency is definitely an issue. We don’t want power creep in the books, but we also want to give something new every time. Any new game material we come up with follows its own ruleset, but also fits nicely within what is established already. Energy beams from your eyes, martial arts, power suits, and now magic all have their own inner workings, but are purchased the same and work within the same rules. It’s a tough way to do it, but it’s important. I’ve seen some games treat every power like it’s own subsystem, and that can be very annoying and often broken really fast.

Variety is a thing too. I, and the AMP writing team, have worked hard to have a consistent story to tell, but gamers aren’t the patient type. They want that new rule NOW, even if it doesn’t make sense in context. That’s the best part about being deep into the setting now, we’ve introduced things that just weren’t there in Year One.

Year One was just AMPs, because no one knew about them quite yet. Year Two added rules for playing normal people, and a new power, Gadgeteering. This let you play a Batman-esque characters and made sense for the setting, because this was humanity’s first response to knowledge of AMPs. Year Three bumped up the dial to 11, when both sides became more powerful. AMPs began developing mutations, and normals developed power suits. On their heels, we also introduced a new player option called the Twice Born, people returned from the dead, and really heralds of the magic that was to come.


What are your favorite new mechanical and flavorful things coming from AMP: Year Four? Tell me what you're looking forward to sharing!

As mentioned, the inclusion of Rebel Orphans as a player option is going to be fun! As is now having magic, which is something the fans have wanted for a bit. We’re working with a couple version of it, but it’s looking awesome so far. Also, the new core powers for AMPs are getting a magical touch. Even if you don’t want magic per se, you can now pick magic-inspired powers like Mother Nature or War. I’m very excited for those. 



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Thanks so much for the interview, Eloy! I hope you'll all check out the Kickstarter for AMP: Year Four today!



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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Quick Shot with Dave Silva on Metahumans Rising

Hi all! I'm running on short notice with this post, but wanted to still get the word out there. Dave Silva contacted me about his Kickstarter, Metahumans Rising, and I asked him a few quick questions. Check them out!

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What is Metahumans Rising, both as a product and as your vision?

Metahumans Rising is a tabletop role-playing game inspired by iconic superhero stories. It is a self-contained core book with everything you need to get started including character creation, how to generate your powers, build threats, and a GM's chapter including 8 Simple Heroes, a host of villains ranging from streetgangs all the way up to a cybernetically enhanced genetically engineered dragon, and an introductory adventure that pits your characters against a new gang along with a full super villain team.

As for Metahumans Rising' s vision, we wanted to recreate the feel of comic books. Because the medium is so diverse, we approached character creation differently. Before even making characters everyone begins by establishing the Campaign Scope. Here everyone contributes in designing the overall tone and feel of the world the characters will inhabit. Because why a hero was doing something was just as important as being able to lob bolts of energy or fly, the next part of character creation involves establishing motivations, why are you a hero, what pushes you. The last part of of character creation is actually a team origin where the players work together to explain how they joined forces.

This last step acts as a kind of love letter to the GM regarding the types of stories the players want to see. The character creation process is designed to be inclusive and cooperative. In game play character motivations serve as a vehicle for player agency, allowing them to add elements to the story on the fly. Doing this, also increases the hero's ability to go beyond their limits and because of how motivations alter the story it's easy to share the spotlight.


How do the mechanics work for threats in the game, considering the scale goes all the way up to asteroids?

In virtually every medium superheroes face any number of threats from other powerful beings to storms and earthquakes to the aforementioned planet killing meteors. The Open Action System, the engine that Metahumans Rising is based on, uses a basic philosophy of you roll when it's appropriate and roll what's appropriate.

In a disaster, the players describe how their Heroes would mitigate the threat, whatever it might be, raw power or a talent, whatever makes sense in the narrative. They roll based on the actions they've described. Disasters have a Basic Value and dice based on their scale. The GM makes an opposed roll for the disaster and then we figure out how things shake out. It will take multiple actions to overcome most disasters. So the heroes are not doomed for one bad roll and if things do go poorly it means the GM can up the stakes. Disasters can also serve as complications while other things are happening, such as trying to fight a giant sea monster in the middle of a hurricane.


Tell me about some of your favorite powers in the game, and how they work in play. Why are they your favorite? What is the most fun about them?

Metahumans Rising allows players to create their own powers, and there have been some interesting ones. Out of the signature characters, my favorite hero's power is probably Nox's Shadow Control. She is able to generate fields of darkness, and blades of shadows. This also allows her to fly on waves of darkness and fade into shadows making her extremely hard to see. When you add in Willpower, it leaves her with a ton of possibilities. In convention games players have created everything from shadow cages to her own dark mecha to fight along her side.

Of the powers other people have made, one of the coolest was Copycat, when the character touched someone they mimicked their appearance and powers. This let them stand toe to toe with some tough customers. Unfortunately, it happened automatically, this lead to being turned into a giant slug at one point, not to mention a number of identity issues.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of the funniest has to be the "Spank ray" used by a Nannybot from the future. It was a tractor beam that could emit painful levels of force when administering discipline. The Nannybot's inhibitor chip had been removed alloeing it could fight crime between babysitting for other team members.

Of course, those powers just scratch the surface of what is possible.


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Thanks Dave! I hope you all will check out the Metahumans Rising Kickstarter today, and tell your friends!


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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Five or So Questions on New World Magischola: House Rivalry!

Hi all! Today I have an amazing interview with Maury Brown on the New World Magischola: House Rivalry board game! It's currently on Kickstarter and just a really gorgeous project that sounds like a ton of fun. I hope you all enjoy reading Maury's responses below:

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Tell me a little about New World Magischola House Rivalry. What excites you about it?

New World Magischola House Rivalry is our first foray into board/card games design and publishing. That's both awesome and scary! When we decided two years ago to open a wizard school live roleplay experience in the United States, we realized that to do it the way we wanted to required us to write a whole new magical world that was specific to North America and its history. We wanted to be both respectful and inclusive of the many peoples and cultures -- and magical traditions -- of North America, and to also honor and engage thoughtfully with our fraught history of Colonialism. While we originally set out to design a larp, we ended up writing a world, and now we have an intellectual property that exists beyond the larp, with stories that can be told in many media, including board/card games, RPGs, books, and more. 

So for me, I'm excited because we are opening up the world of the Magimundi and the experience of going to wizard school in it to a lot more people than those who are able to attend our 4-day signature wizard school events. They get to experience at the table some of the fun, whimsy, and magical mayhem of Magischola by taking courses, joining clubs, and using conjures to improve their progress or hinder a rival's. They get a feel of navigating school because you have to pass your courses with a B or better to get credit, and you earn more points for completion the higher your grade is. It's definitely a competitive game, since only one House can take the Trophy, but there are lots of opportunities for roleplay and fun engagement with your friends around the table.

There are two other things I'm pretty excited about regarding House Rivalry:

1. The deliberate design choices to be inclusive in the playable characters. Of the original 6 PCs, 2 are people of color and also have Hispanic names: Martín Spinoza and Soledad Reyes. We also designed Jax Slager to be deliberately agender or nonbinary, and we ensured our art showed different ages and body types or sizes. It is very important to us to not fall into the same sorts of fantasy art that we often see in posters, games, and comics. This is a diverse and inclusive world, and we want everyone to imagine themselves as being part of it. We have to do that through the fiction and the artwork. Of the five House founders of New World Magischola, there are two women of color (Tituba and Marie Laveau), one white male (Étienne Brûle), one white female (Virginia Dare) and one indigenous nonbinary (Calisaylá). We paid homage to the diverse peoples who form the history of North America: indigenous peoples, people from Africa & West Indies, British, French, and Spanish. All too often people have a tendency to over-simplify our history and our fictions, rather than showing the tensions and the multiplicities within it, and we wanted to embrace that instead. The Magimundi is for everyone, even though it's not a utopia.

2. I'm excited because this game is designed for mixed groups of gamers. All-too-often we can get into conflicts by identifying as *either* a "gamer" or a "hard-core gamer" or a "casual gamer" or a "non-gamer." We, as a gaming community, can gatekeep in these ways, subtly asking "are you one of us?" One of the ways we do this is by designing games that are more complex and have a lot of rules to master, or that take a long time to learn. Some gamers look down on casual games as not being challenging enough, and even make fun of these games and the people who play them. It can be difficult to prove your credibility as a gamer, and some gamers don't want to take the time to include newer gamers to their gaming groups. House Rivalry is designed as a bridge game. It's complex enough that the more hard-core gamers have something they can do and enjoy. There are multiple strategies and different tactics to manage your resources, choose your actions, and use the variable player powers of your character and House. However, the game is easy-to-learn, and there are lots of party game elements, especially in the Clubs. What this makes House Rivalry really good for are mixed groups of gamers: the hard core and the casual and the in-between. It's a great game to get people together and to play when you don't have the time to teach a complicated new system, but you want some strategy. It blends luck and strategy in a way that feels satisfying to all levels of gamers. For me, getting different groups of gamers of varying abilities and credibilities around the table is a great aspect of the game, and one I'm most proud of and excited about.


MORE MAGICAL GOODNESS AFTER THE CUT:

Friday, September 22, 2017

Five or So Questions with Quintin Smith on The Metagame!

Hey all, I know it's been a while, sorry. Grad school. But hey, NEW INTERVIEW!

Today I have an interview with Quintin Smith from Shut Up & Sit Down about the current Kickstarter for The Metagame: The Games Deck! I had never heard of The Metagame until this Kickstarter came out, but immediately bought it after seeing the Shut Up & Sit Down intro because I am a sucker for this kind of game. I asked for an interview, and Quintin obliged - see the responses below!

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This pic is used for the "What the What" game on the game website. :)

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

What excites me about The Metagame is something that a lot of games that Shut Up & Sit Down recommends have in common. It feels high-quality, and it feels different. Either in your hands or in play, it's like nothing else out there. For people like me who have dozens of board games in their collection, that's the first thing I'm looking for.

But it's also exciting because you just never know what's going to happen next. There are games out there where you never know how this particular match of it will play out. With The Metagame, even once you've decided which game to play, you have no idea how a given turn will play out. You might find yourself weighing up whether you'd rather have Saved By the Bell or Legwarmers while you're stuck on a desert island. You might have to argue why Email Spam is macho. The only consistent thing is that it's going to be entertaining, and you're going to learn a little something about your friends or family.


Check out this play video of The Metagame with SU&SD.

What have you experienced while watching & participating in the development of The Metagame & the Games expansion that you felt differentiated it mechanically?

Well, it's a spin on something that I really enjoy when I'm playing games, which is realising that I've miscalculated and suddenly I'm in hot water, and it's nobody's fault but my own. It's a bittersweet problem to be wrestling with, and for whatever reason I just love that.

The thing that differentiates a lot of games packed into The Metagame is that you can create an argument in your head for why a particular Culture card would make a good fit, but what you don't know is how other people around the table feel about it. So before you make fun of Moustaches, you have to weigh up whether your friends might like moustaches. If someone were to use "D&D" to try and win me over, they might be surprised that while I love games, I have some pretty complicated feelings about D&D. In this way the cards you're playing with aren't static, they're fluid, and playing involves considering your friends and being surprised by your friends. It makes it a very tricky game to play well, but one that it's fun to fail at.

I have so many ideas about how to have fun with these cards, no lie.

Who have you played The Metagame with, why, and what do you think made the game worth playing with them? (I swear, I'm getting at something with that! ;) )**

Hmm. You know, I don't wanna overcomplicate things, so I should just say "I played it with my friends, and what made it worthwhile was that we were laughing and talking excitedly for the entire time."
But it wouldn't be the whole story to describe The Metagame as just an engine for hilarious debates and conversations. It's also a real joy to draw cards from the top of the deck, since they're so varied and they're all so beautifully illustrated that you have no idea what you're going to get.


Games with a lot of spontaneity can put a little bit of cognitive load on shyer people or low-energy groups. Can The Metagame still be approachable for them? How? 

That's actually one of the reasons that we recommend this box so wholeheartedly. Spontaneous or high-energy games are just some of the games in the box! There's also perfectly placid games in there like Matchmakers, History 101, Think Alike and Special Occasion. Seriously, there are just so many games in this box. It's been pretty tricky getting people to understand that! I think some people see "10 games in 1 box" and assume that there's no one good one, but honestly- they're all lots of fun.

I love the card layouts, too.

You mentioned how fun it is not knowing what you're going to get - how did that aspect influence development The Games expansion? How did you come up with enough interesting content that you felt the surprise would still be there?

Oho, great question! Well, anyone who's seen my (now slightly old and embarrassing) Golden Age of Games talk will know that I think "gamers" have a slightly myopic view of this hobby. As well as Pandemic and Metal Gear Solid, we should be celebrating the 52 card deck, Twister and tennis. It's all play! It's all game design. And there are lessons to be learned everywhere.

Both the team at SU&SD and the designers of The Metagame agreed that the games expansion would benefit from this broad view of the hobby. So when you draw cards from it, you might get Dark Souls or you might get a tug of war. You might get Vampire: The Masquerade or you might get hot dog eating contests. Trust me, the surprise and playfulness of the base game is alive and well.


Finally, which games-within-the-game of The Metagame do you think you're looking forward to playing most in the future, and why? 

I mean, The Metaquilt is the centrepiece of The Metagame, and I can't see myself stopping playing it ever. Have you played it? A lot of board games know the joy of a tapestry of cards or tiles slowly being stitched together on your table. The combination of building something, while laughing, while being interested in what your friends have to say? That's just great.

Nice.
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Thank you so much to Quintin for this interview! I could hear his head in my voice the entire time, very impressive. Make sure to check out The Metagame on Kickstarter and share with your friends - I have a feeling that many of you would love this game, and I'm looking forward to playing the copy I just bought!

I couldn't wait for the Kickstarter!

**I admittedly DID hope Quintin would overcomplicate but that's because I'm a massive dork. However, fyi, this set me up for asking the second to last question. I promise, I have a plan when I do these things. :)


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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Script Change: Official



Hi all!

As of today, you can download a PDF version of Script Change that is formatted and easily printed.

I started writing Script Change, from what I can remember and what Google Drive tells me, in 2013. I had started playing indie games a while before, and earlier that year, I'd written about how I'd used the X-card in a game of Monsterhearts. With the X-card, though, I used a secondary card introduced by Kira Magrann called the O-card, effectively a way to encourage people to do the thing that you were enjoying.

I have a lot of feelings about safety mechanics, trigger warnings, and so on. I really appreciated the X-card. It gave me some new freedoms, I could try things I wasn't familiar with. And the O-card was great, but I realized that I didn't need it if people already knew what I was looking forward to, what I wasn't sure about, and if I had something other than the X-card to show what way I thought the story could go.

Script Change has had many, many updates. Briefly, there was an applause function to encourage people to do things, but I felt it wasn't genuine enough. Thinking it through, I really thought the core things in it – rewinding to redo scenes for whatever reason, pausing to take a break and get perspective, and fast-forwarding to get over things that are too much or that we just don't want to bore ourselves with them – are more important than anything else. I've added some smaller things in the end, like the Wrap Meeting for debriefs, Instant Replay to reduce confusion, and the Highlight Reel to help keep people excited and enthusiastic for the game.

The biggest thing about Script Change is that it's supposed to be flexible. It demands a conversation about consent, and about what people want in a game. It reminds people that games are not set in stone. We aren't chipping into marble, here. We are telling a story as we go, and we can change things to make it more exciting, more fun, more of whatever we want - and less of what we don't want.

Script Change is not the only content tool out there, and there is a lot to be said about doing what works best for you. But, it has been a labor of love for me, because I want people to play games that they enjoy! I want them to have experiences of a lifetime with the chance to pause and get ready for more, or even just a chill beer and pretzels night where the tonal shift can be easily fixed with a "rewind."

I hope that you'll check out Script Change and if nothing else, just see if you can glean something new from it. Most of all, I hope you have a hell of a good time playing some games. <3

Download the PDF here!


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Friday, September 1, 2017

Five or So Questions with Jack Berberette on DOTS

I found out about the DOTS GoFundMe that Jack Berberette is doing to purchase and use a Braille Printer to make braille games available for gamers through G+, and Jack was willing to answer some questions! Check his responses out below, and give the video he made about braille translation a view if you can!

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Tell me about your Braille printer project. What excites you about it?

One of the things I've learned, after starting on this project, is that electronic equipment, learning materials, books, and more are beyond expensive for the visually impaired. The braille embossing printer, for example, is normally $3,500 to $4,000 dollars (it just happens to be on sale right now). The bottom of the line printer is normally 2 grand! I'm sure I'm not alone when I say, "I can't afford that!"

I translated (with some tweaks) The Black Hack RPG. The Black Hack is a FANTASTIC game system created by David Black. The game has been streamlined to a 6"X9" booklet with about 20 pages, give or take. A brilliant system put out there under the Open Gaming License.

Anyway, the braille translation weighs in at about 80 pages. Now if you went to an office store and had an 80 page book printed and spiral bound it would cost $5 - $8 bucks tops. I reached out to a few companies and they wanted over $200 to make 4 copies of the book (spiral bound)! Now let me put this in perspective...while the printing equipment is expensive, the paper only costs 3 cents per page, and no ink is used in printing braille. Their material cost is about $1.75 if you include the spiral binding and thick front and back covers. It would only take about 30 minutes to print all four books and let's ad in another 30 minutes to clamp on the spiral binding. Even if the person was making $15.00 an hour and we add in the $7 for the four books....the total cost is $22. AND...this is a "non-profit", braille printing company...other places had comparable prices.

What is so exciting about the printer, is that I will be able to print a duplex page for about 3 cents. This means that I will be able to afford printing a lot of things for free, or at cost depending on what's being printed. The Black Hack braille book, for example, I wouldn't charge anything but the few stamps it takes to mail it.

ALSO, and this is freaking awesome, the printer will print 8 levels of tactile graphics and comes with a full suite a translation and graphic design software. This means that I can translate D&D 5e character sheets, Pathfinder Character sheets...any character sheet in to braille with tactile squares where the values are placed (Ability scores, hit points, etc.). The plan is to glue felt into the squares and then print out number chips with Velcro on the back so visually impaired players can fully and independently manage their character sheet.

I can also printout dice labels and transform regular polyhedral dice into braille dice. I'm currently doing that but I have to, dot by dot, use a slate and style to create the numbers, then modge-podge them to each side of the die. With printed stickers, I could cut the out, slap them on then spray a poly protective coating. This would cut my time drastically and afford me the ability to make a bunch more sets which I give away for free!

With the graphics capabilities of the printer, we can even add in tactile dungeon maps for the GM. How freaking cool would it be for a visually impaired GM to be able to actually feel AND read a map of a dungeon?!

Here's a really cool video that shows how tactile graphics can be created/

What excites me more than anything though is the thought of being able to have the equipment to put a game book in the hands of a blind player. Giving them the same excitement of flipping through spell lists in that frantic time before your initiative comes up...just like a sighted player. Enabling gaming independence so a visually impaired player can experience the full range of activities a sighted player does.

LOL...I didn't realize just how excited I am about the printer until I typed all of that out. I'm very passionate about helping people and this printer will allow me to do wonderful things for the visually impaired community.


...(more inside!)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Five or So Questions with Keith Stetson on Seco Creek

Hi y'all! Today I have an interview about Seco Creek Vigilance Committee with Keith Stetson! Seco Creek Vigilance Committee is currently on Kickstarter and sounds like a really fun time! It's a one-shot length, western themed game. Check out Keith's responses below!

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Tell me a little about Seco Creek Vigilance Committee. What excites you about it?

Seco Creek Vigilance Committee is a Western RPG about justice, law, revenge, and the discrepancy between what is right and what is good. It's designed for intense, one-shot play with a non-random resolution system that emphasizes choices and their consequences. It's not focused on if the characters can do something, but rather on what they're willing to endure to do it.

The thing that really excites me about Seco Creek is how the situation balances on the knife edge. There are no easy answers and there are no right answers. In the shifting landscape of moral ambiguities every action has a reaction that pushes back against what the character thinks they believe and they want. Everyone has to find their own path through the fraught situation. I've run the game dozens of times; it rarely ends well, but it never ends the same way twice.


What inspired the Favor mechanic, and what kind of responses does it provide in game, especially in the one-shot format?

The whole design has migrated a lot as I fine tuned it to get what I wanted. Originally it was a more-or-less straightforward Lady Blackbird hack, but that lacked tools for the needed social interactions with NPCs. At the time (and at this time, too) I was fascinated with Avery Alder's mechanics for Dream Askew, especially how you control the economy of chips by how strong a move you make. That translated into the idea of If you bow to a Faction you get a chip, but if you force them to bow to you you lose one. But just causing a Faction to do something didn't make sense as always losing a chip. If the Townsfolk like me and I offer to buy the next round, "spending" a chip of Favor and becoming less popular didn't make sense.

Players generally approach Favor in one of two ways. The first type grabs onto it as a way to amass power and directs their actions to gather Favor with as many Factions as possible. The second type does whatever they think is in keeping with their character's nature and lets the Favor show how the world is reacting. Both are totally valid ways to play.

Seco Creek being a one shot means folks are less cautious about losing Favor and harvesting enmity from Factions. There is no tomorrow, so they go all in today. Conversely it means that if you're sitting on a fat stack at the end of play, your character's epilogue is looking pretty sweet.


How has Negotiation played out in game - how does it work mechanically, and how have players reacted to the level of control?


One of the unintentional features of Seco Creek that I love is its modularity. You can play an entire, satisfying game of it without ever engaging in certain mechanics. Negotiation is one of those. If you never take an action upon another player's character, you never need to use it.

Now, if you want to start throwing haymakers and wrassling for keys, then you Negotiate. Mechanically, the acting player says what they want to come to pass:

I want to stop you from leaving the room, I want to knock the gun from your hand, I want to punch you in that ugly mug of yours.
The acted upon player says what they require to make that action true:

Alright, I don't leave the room, but as I stride towards you, you flinch and everyone sees it. The Townsfolk no longer think you can keep them safe, and you lose a Favor with them. Plus, you get labeled a coward.


If the acting player agrees, everything stated occurs. If not, the players go back and forth until they can establish terms. If they can't, the Judge (the GM role) decides the situation, most often to no one's liking.

This works really well for most players, because if your character wants something bad enough, they can nearly always get it; you just have to be willing to pay the price. It gives you a similar level of control as Fate Points do, but what you're spending is narrative positioning. Where are you willing to be weak so you can be strong here? And again we see a version of Avery's Dream Askew mechanic popping up.


Is that a callout to 3:10 to Yuma I see in that initial descriptive text image? What are the inspirations for Seco Creek Vigilance Committee - movies, books, other games?

Well, you caught the reference to 3:10 to Yuma, so that's the first one! ;) There are also a handful of nods to tons of other classic Westerns. Game wise we've already talked about Lady Blackbird and Dream Askew, but another big influence was Apocalypse World - particularly the phrase "tell them the consequences and ask." That's basically both the Favor and Negotiation mechanics boiled down to a single phrase.

However, all those influences are secondary ones. The entire premise of the tense situation the players step into comes from Warlock by Oakley Hall. I've tweaked some particulars, but on the whole what you see is the set up that made me want to see it played out in an RPG desperately enough to write one. Warlock is a terrifically well written and nuanced book, and I'm actually thinking of using another section from it to craft a stretch goal...


Why a one-shot? What about this format really appeals to you and makes the game shine?

Like a lot of folks, one of the first indie games I ever played was Fiasco. Its one-shot nature made it so you could use your character hard and not worry about next week. Making Seco Creek a one-shot gives the players that same feeling; the characters are already prepared to go all in, and now you have permission to do so, as well. Seco Creek's rules are also designed to cause the character arc you might see in a campaign to be compressed down into one session. It's a distillation of all the drama, tension and transformation.


--

Thanks so much for the great interview, Keith! I hope you all enjoyed reading it, and that you'll check out Seco Creek Vigilance Committee on Kickstarter, and share the interview with your friends! :)


This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Designer & Devourer Episode 6 - I'm Really Far Behind, Unsolicited Game Design, & Zucchini Bread

Yoooo!


Check out Episode 6 of Designer & Devourer (click the title of the blog post!)! I’ll be talking recent posts, upcoming stuff, and then unsolicited game design. The recipe this week will be zucchini bread. J

Designer & Devourer Episode 6 on Patreon!
I'm gonna try to catch all of the recent posts here after the recipe, but first, upcoming is an interview with Keith Stetson on Seco Creek Vigilance Committee, currently on Kickstarter. I also am working on an interview with Jack Berberette about his project for a Braille printer for gamers, currently on GoFundMe.


Posts recently done that are relevant to this podcast episode:






Ingredients
3 cups shredded zucchini (2 to 3 medium)
1 2/3 cups sugar
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 eggs
3 cups all-purpose or whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ cup coarsely chopped nuts
½ cup raisins, if desired

Steps
1.      Move oven rack to low position so that tops of pans will be in center of oven. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease bottoms only of 2 (8x4-inch) loaf pans or 1 (9x5-inch) loaf pan with shortening or cooking spray.
2.      In large bowl, stir zucchini, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs until well mixed. Stir in remaining ingredients except nuts and raisins. Stir in nuts and raisins. Divide batter evenly between 8-inch pans or pour into 9-inch pan.
3.      Bake 8-inch loaves 50 to 60 minutes, 9-inch loaf 1 hour 10 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on cooling rack 10 minutes.
4.      Loosen sides of loaves from pans; remove from pans and place top side up on cooling rack. Cool completely, about 2 hours, before slicing. Wrap tightly and store at room temperature up to 4 days, or refrigerate up to 10 days.


Posts since Episode 5:

Just Say No (content note: brief mentions of rape and sexual assault, violations of consent.)













A Game of Shame, Gonna Make You Nut (product of a game with +Caitlynn Belle on Twitter)
















This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Not Just Your Opinion

Hey guys in games!

Yes, you, the one with a recognizable name! Or you, who has a bunch of followers on social media! Oh how about you, with the style and character that everyone thinks is super cool? Even you, my guy, who just talks a lot.

I'm going to tell tell you something awesome that is also pretty awful.

When you talk, people listen.

They don't just read you or hear you, they take it in. They appreciate it. They might disagree with you, and some of them will tell you as much, but many of them will just take a deep breath...

share your post...

And be like…”yeah man, this guy is RIGHT!”

After that, when someone else - especially a woman, trans, or nonbinary person, and sometimes (if you are not these things, but sometimes if you are) a person of color, queer person, disabled person, or person of a “lower” social or economic class - says something that isn't the same as your point, they get a response that can kill discussions and innovation and learning in a hot second:
“But [you, man with influence] thinks…”

Boom. Well, we know who matters now, don't we? And this is not just a mention of your feelings or what your personal preference. Often, it's law. This is how games work!

You can't do that when you hack this game because he said...

You can't use those words to define something in your game because he said they meant something different 15 years ago.

Well, those aren't real games because he said...

Yeah. It's super common. I can think of at least 5 men in games - just in indie games! - who I have had my conversations deadlocked because “well he said…”

And like, guys. I love you. I think so many of you are freaking awesome. Some of you are close friends, and I trust some with things that women and NB people I know have never heard. I respect your opinions and we often agree.

But when I disagree with you, or I just have a perspective that is different, I know I can get shut down with the mention of that social media post you made five years ago when you were bored on a Sunday afternoon. Your words, when it comes to thoughts about games, are often not just your personal thoughts shared with the public that will only be referenced as your feels, man.
And no, this is not only men and not all men but it is way more than you think and way more likely that it's you than you think.

Here are some suggestions.

Learn to preface your opinions.
“In my opinion…”
“Personally…”
“My personal favorite…”
“For me,...”
“I can't speak for others…”

Don't assign value.
“It is more useful for me…”
“What works better for me…”
“I personally enjoy…”
“I have more fun when…”
“My tastes are more suited to…”

Respect those who know the subject.
If you choose to speak your mind about something outside your expertise, or even within your expertise, don't be a jerk when someone disagrees with you or corrects you. I totally understand feeling a bit defensive but don't treat them like an idiot, understand that they may know better than you or simply have a different opinion that is also valid, and don't let anyone supporting you go after them either.

Respect those who are impacted by your opinions.
If you're going to say that Nordic larps are fundamentally not games, remember that people are still making and playing those larps and deserve human respect. That means not letting your buddies pile on your trash things with personal attacks or even just misguided points of view. If your criticism could impact people financially, think it through damn hard. Real damn hard.

Just... don't.
We all have our opinions and it's cool to share them but sometimes, there's a real value in the act of shush. I can't offer deep insight on how early D&D mechanics influence Dungeon World, so I don't (I have no idea if they do). Maybe if you are a man who has strong financial security and has good education, and access to lots of resources, you shouldn't say that there's no way people couldn't afford games and that implying that anyone who can't get the money together is irresponsible. Sometimes...shush.

And like, guys, I still want to hear from you. I love your thoughts. I learn from them and share them a lot.

Just...be better.

<3

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Five or So Questions with James Iles on Legacy: Life Among the Ruins

Today I've got an interview with James Iles on Legacy: Life Among the Ruins 2nd Edition. It's currently on Kickstarter and I'm pretty amped about it! James had a lot of cool stuff to say about it and oh, my god, this art! There's a quickstart here, btw. Check the responses out below!

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Tell me a little about Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. What excites you about it?

Legacy's about how people keep going after the world ends. It's about the new communities and ways of living that spring up in a comprehensively changed land, and how people and societies evolve to adapt to the new environment. It's a post-apocalyptic game that lets each group of players create an amazing world and then ruin it in a unique way. Then you dive into gameplay, with each player's family of survivors dealing with the trials of surviving among the old world's ruins while sending agents out into the wasteland to explore, make friends, and find the resources their family need to prosper. Your game zooms in to the drama of a few explorers scavenging for exotic technology in a flooded city, and zooms out to explore how a family seizes control of a town over the course of a few weeks. 

The game's also episodic: the group can decide to draw a line under the current point in history, and move the clock forward some significant chunk of time - a year, a decade, or even a century according to the group's taste. Then you tell the story of how the world changed over that time, how each player's family has changed, and start exploring this new age. This gets at what really excites me about Legacy - the family is your fixed point as you travel further and further into the future, and you get to explore how they change over the generations, how they change the world around them, and explore how this new culture takes form in the post-apocalypse.



What inspired you to make a game about families, especially a post-apocalyptic story? 

Legacy started with the idea of taking a group far into the future over generations and seeing how they changed and grew over time. I was inspired by the Civilization series of games but thought that a tabletop RPG wanted to focus on a finer scale than nations and countries. At the same time, Quinn Murphy was talking a lot about the importance of community and how games often ignore it. These came together into the idea of families - dynasties that'd be your constant across the ages. I could have called them factions, or guilds, but I thought family was the best term for the ties between them. I wanted that feeling of belonging, of bonds that went beyond friendship and fealty. 

The post-apocalyptic theme came partly from wanting groups to start with a blank slate and expand outwards in whatever direction they liked, and partly because the post-apocalyptic games I'd been playing at the time - Tribe8 and Fallout - had a pretty big emphasis on forming new communities to face the wasteland together.


Tell me about the setting and themes of Legacy. What will we recognize? What do you think will feel new or unusual for players?

Legacy's a game about exploration, adaptation and evolution. My day job's an ecologist and disease biologist, and some of that has definitely bled in! The gist is that the world's been changed by some kind of reality-warping event, and nothing works the same way anymore. You've survived because you've found or held onto some source of strength - the tech of the old world, a driving passion for justice, a new religion from the apocalypse's fires. But that won't be enough to go beyond survival and start thriving. To do that, you'll need to explore and understand the new world, find things you can use to make your family stronger or deal with their frailties, and become something that can prosper here.

So there's a lot of your standard post-apocalyptic tropes: the playbooks are based on common archetypes in post-apoc fiction, and your group can pretty easily make their own version of anything from Planet of the Apes to Mad Max. What Legacy does differently is let you move past the ruins, and ask how the society that people build in this new world has moved beyond their ancestors to create something new. One of the things that really got to me in the most recent Fallout game was that it's more than 200 years after the bombs fell and it feels like it's only been a few generations - there are still skeletons and trash lying everywhere, even in the settlements where people live, and it seems like there was a real lack of imagination about people's ability to rebuild. I'm hoping with Legacy to avoid that trap, and give every group the tools to make a society that's weird, wonderful, and evolved to fit the new world.



How does the time advancement work in game? Is there mechanical impact, or impact on the environment?

As Legacy's powered by Apocalypse World, it's all done by moves! The simplest one is triggered when everyone feels like they're done with the current time period. If someone raises the possibility of moving forward, everyone else either agrees or says one final thing they want to do. Once these are done, the group decides how far they want to go forward. This is completely according to the group's taste - you might want to hop forward only a few years or go a century into the future to give yourselves license to really mix things up. 

Each player then rolls to see how their families prosper over that time, with the roll based on the balance between the family's assets and weaknesses (more on that later). If they roll well, they get to pick a couple of good events that happen to them - maybe they go through a golden age and learn new tricks, or maybe they create a trading hub and gain some wealth. If they roll badly, they pick some bad events - maybe their family is absorbed by another, and they only break away and regain their own culture a few years before play resumes. Either way, these events change up the family in big ways, adding stat points, new moves, ties to other families and resources they can draw on. They also can change where each family lives, what guiding principles define them, and what resources, opportunities and dangers are lying out there in the wasteland. Finally, you alter the map, adding new features and expanding the safe portion of the wasteland according to the events picked.

There's a special way to advance time - building a Wonder. These were directly inspired by Civilisation again: they're grand projects that require you to invest lots of resources, but when they're complete they permanently change the world. As soon as one's complete, you zoom out to outline all the ways it's changed the world. Each wonder has a custom table of good and bad effects that the other families go through, while the Wonder's owner sits back and takes in the benefits. The Wonders in the book are a pretty eclectic bunch - there are things you physically build like The Capital or The Great Network, social efforts like Revolution and Total War, and even finding a new place to live with The Age of Discovery. Each one leaves its own mark on the world, giving a permanent benefit to whichever Family controls them.


How do resources work in Legacy, and do they translate over the episodes moving forward in time?

Legacy has a pretty simple resource system. Your family will have Surpluses of certain resources (e.g. Land or Morale) and a Need for others (e.g. Medicine or Trade), with the balance between those setting your family's overall Mood. As your character takes action in the fiction you might gain surpluses from finding a cache of resources, lose a need by addressing its root problem, or trade surpluses with other families to deal with your needs. Each surplus helps define your family's strengths and gives your character better gear; each need tells you what the family needs you to focus on, and gives your GM a stick to poke you with. Other than that they don't take an active role, only kicking in when the balance between surpluses and needs goes past a certain extreme. Too many needs and your family falls into crisis; more surpluses than you know what to do with and you're flush with resources and get some bonus for the rest of this age.

There are also consumable resources - Tech is the weird devices left over from the old world, and can be spent to boost your family's chance of success or give characters a unique ability with limited uses. Data is your knowledge about the new world, and can be spent to boost your character's actions or add new elements to the map. These flow more quickly in and out of your stock as your characters discover things out there in the world and use them to your advantage.

Finally, there are the treaties you have with other families and factions. These work a lot like Monsterhearts' strings - you'll have a stock of them for each other group, and can spend a point of Treaty to get a faction to do something for you or take their resources for yourself. You can freely give other people Treaty on you as a bargaining chip, but each Family playbook also has their own thing they can do to take treaty on others - the Enclave of Fallen Lore gets it when they show others how to use their technology properly, while the Servants of the One True Faith forgive others of their sins. That way you're incentivised to keep getting out there and meddling in other people's affairs so that you can call on their help when you need it.

All of these stay with you as you move forwards in time, although they can change their context - Surplus: Transport means something different when a horse and cart is state of the art compared to a few centuries down the line when everyone's riding jet bikes.


--

Thanks so much to James for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed learning about Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and that you'll share around the interview when you check out the Kickstarter today! 

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.