Thursday, June 29, 2017

Five or So Questions with Hannah Shaffer on Damn the Man, Save the Music!

Today I have an interview with Hannah Shaffer on her game Damn the Man, Save the Music! which is currently on Kickstarter kicking ass. Damn the Man, Save the Music! is an exciting, thoughtful, 90s-music-filled game and I hope you all love hearing what Hannah has to say.

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Cover by Evan Rowland

Tell me a little about Damn the Man, Save the Music. What excites you about it?

Damn the Man, Save the Music! is a game about a bunch of weirdo outcasts trying to save their '90s record store from collapse. It's inspired by one of my favorite movies, Empire Records, which everyone should go watch right now. What excites me about Damn the Man is that it uses '90s nostalgia as a way to explore the best parts of '90s media while challenging the worst parts.

I watch a lot of '90s movies, and while I love their structure (like where did action-romance movies go? Why aren't those getting made anymore?), it was a weird time for minority representation. Queer characters started to appear in '90s movies, but they were often there just to add a bit of edgy humor. And you'd find people of color in most '90s comedies, but their roles were at best "token" and at worst, the same deal, there for stereotyped jokes. Empire Records is a movie that celebrates the music of its time, but the only reference it makes to hip hop is in a line that disses rap and makes a homophobic joke at the same time.

I love Damn the Man because it provides this opportunity to play out a '90s movie but better. It asks people to think about what '90s nostalgia is all about, and to explore that nostalgia with a critical eye—without even realizing that's what you're doing.

In-progress art by Evan Rowland

What is the gameplay like in Damn the Man, Save the Music!? What kind of action do we see?

Damn the Man is a single-session game and all of the game’s action takes place over the course of one day. The day is divided into a three act structure—the store opening, a big record signing event, and closing shop at the end of the day. During each act every character gets one Schedule Scene. That’s a scene where the spotlight is shining on your character, even if there are other people in the scene with you!

There are a few different things you can do during your schedule scene: you can try to heal a relationship with a friend (all relationships start off damaged in the game), you can try to double down and accomplish a task your boss assigns you, or you can shoot for your goal.

Choosing to heal a relationship might look like taking a smoke break with a friend you’ve been avoiding after learning you’re both secretly gay. Doubling down looks like diving right into a store task, like trying to catch a shoplifter before they make off with an entire rack of new CDs. And shooting for your goal looks like finding the time to confess your love, or pay back a debt, or find the lost cat… right in the middle of your schedule scene.

Every scene ends with rolling dice to see if you accomplished the task your boss assigned you. Winning lets you accomplish the task and functionally prevent a store trouble, losing means you failed to accomplish the task (like screwing up everyone’s coffee orders) and a store trouble escalates as a result.

The game’s action is centered around the scenes. Trying to juggle increasingly absurd retail tasks while also trying to accomplish your heart’s true goal and heal relationships with the people you love. There’s a real sense of not being able to do it all, and things getting wackier and spiraling out of control as the day goes on!


What sources did you pull inspiration from, aside from the '90s as a whole?

The most obvious inspiration for Damn the Man is the movie Empire Records, a movie about a bunch of teenagers working at a ‘90s indie record store, who take a dramatic shot at saving their store when they learn it’s going to be bought out by a big corporate record chain. The game follows the structure of Empire Records pretty closely, but it also follows this ‘90s movie coming-of-age structure, where everyone totally freaks out and then undergoes a major personal transformation in the course of a day.

I really liked movies by Kevin Smith and Richard Linklater during my high school years, so you’ll see that inspiration in Damn the Man as well: Dazed and Confused is a surprisingly poignant movie, Slacker, Clerks, and Chasing Amy, a movie about how things break down when we try to force our own expectations and demands on someone else’s identity.

Finally, I think the game is inspired by my complicated relationship with nostalgia. We’re in a golden age of ‘90s nostalgia right now, but the ‘90s really sucked for a lot of people. Nostalgia can be this way of reframing history through a rose-colored lens that privileges certain types of experiences. I wanted to make a game that celebrated ‘90s music and counterculture that wasn’t just another Buzzfeed “remember when” listicle.


How did you move from "hey, this is a thing that matters" to "this is a game you can play" with the game - did you do a lot of playtesting, or spend a lot of time privately testing mechanics?

I did do a lot of playtesting! The game started as kind of a joke hack of Questlandia, when I was re-watching Empire Records and realized it shared the exact structure of a Questlandia game:

A big personal goal you have to accomplish today, only three scenes before you’ve got to accomplish it, characters who are just trying to do their best with what they’ve got, and then a big collapse—or not!—at the end.

Questlandia was the first game I made, and I think the mechanics need some work. I just kept bringing Damn the Man to conventions and playing it with friends, watching closely for the places where people got stuck. I took away mechanics and added them and took them away and added them until finally I was seeing games that regularly had a great flow, a good energy, and rules that supported exactly the types of stories the game is trying to tell.


Art by Sarah Robbins
Tell me about some of the important themes of the game. Weirdo outcasts, queer characters—what matters about them beyond representation? What strength lies in their stories for Damn the Man, Save the Music!?

I talked a little bit about nostalgia before, and how it paints over the past with these “everything was great” rosy-colored brush strokes.

I wanted to make sure Damn the Man told these stories that captured the feel of a ‘90s romance-comedy, without erasing the experiences of queer people and people of color. Beyond the importance of representation (which is really important), these are coming of age stories, whether or not the characters are teenagers.

Everyone in Damn the Man is searching for something. They’re trying to make things right with their friends, they’re trying to manage the demands of retail and the people who treat you crappy while also trying to find meaning in their lives. I really like telling those kinds of stories. I feel like there are a lot of big hero stories, but not a lot of “people just trying their best” stories. I wanted a story that shines a light on a single day, or a single moment in time, that maybe changes everything or maybe just gets lost to history.

Fictional Damnster Fire band poster by Sarah Robbins
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Thanks so much to Hannah for an awesome interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading and that you'll check out the Damn the Man, Save the Music! Kickstarter soon!


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.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Five or So Questions with Robert Bohl on Misspent Youth

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Robert Bohl on his current Kickstarter, Misspent Youth! I asked Rob about taking a game people were familiar with and formalizing and publishing it, and more - check it out!

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Tell me a little about Misspent Youth. What excites you about it?

Misspent Youth is a game about teenaged rebellion in a fucked-up future. You tell the stories of a handful of friends who are the only ones who can defeat an Authority who's about to destroy everything that matters to you. It's a rules-light story game with a session structure that leads to telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end, in every session. It also has a structure to end the overarching story of the YOs (Youthful Offenders; the protagonists) that you're telling with your sessions.

As for what excites me: I love irreverent characters. I love people who try to change the world. I love heroes who stand up to bullies, put it all on the line, and are willing to burn themselves out to make the world a better place.

I love the way the book looks. Joshua AC Newman took direction from the halfassed ashcan version I laid out myself, and produced a beautifully crude and defiant and hilarious book (in this case, I separate my text from all the metatext that Joshua procured and created).

And I'm excited for the way the game has improved my life in countless ways.


What were the inspirations for Misspent Youth?

There's a media inspirations section in the game, partially replicated on the site, but they include dystopian fiction, folk/punk/rap music, political movements, and stories about childhood friendships (like The Goonies).

The game has a few core game design inspirations. The core Struggle (conflict) system is a form of craps highly influenced heavily by Vincent Baker's groundbreaking game about Mormonoid paladins in the Old West that never was, Dogs in the Vineyard. The Authority as a concept, and its creation process, owes a lot to Paul Czege's game of one Frankenstein and many Igors, My Life with Master, and character creation steals a little (three choices of five options each) from the World of Darkness games. Friendship questions (where you ask questions about your friendship at the start of each episode) is adapted from the "things you carry" step in Nathan Paoletta's carry: a game about war.

Finally, for the big influences on central, important mechanics, is Matt Wilson's excellent Primetime Adventures (where you play out episodes of a tv show that doesn't exist), which was my inspiration for the vitally-important scene framing mechanic, which turned the game into something I love running, from its previously-to-this-rule having been increasingly a chore. Giving everyone the (distributed) responsibility to say what happens next does a lot to shake players out of a reactive, passion-killing zone, shifting them toward leaning into the story and making sure shit gets done.

I should also add that Rob Donoghue and Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions played a very early playtest, and helped me fix a broken Struggle system (everything had been being decided in a single roll, which was unsatisfying). And Fred made a terrific suggestion that became the name of the game.


How do you structure gameplay in Misspent Youth? What are the mechanics and themes like?

The mechanics and themes are both, intrinsically and in union, telling a story about struggle against power, friendship, and the question of what you're willing to sacrifice to change the world for the better.

MY has a scene structure, such that in every episode, you tell a story that has a beginning, middle, and end, with a question each episode is trying to answer. Each scene has a purpose or a thing that happens in the story; for example, in "Scene 5: We're Fucked," the YOs suffer an awful setback, and an earlier story beat reintroduced, referenced, or contrasted.
When a scene is framed, each player (including The Authority) says what's going on as the scene begins, and names an Authority Figure (a villain, or force that serves them, that you create at the start of the episode) or a friendship question for the scene to be about. You play through the scene with the scene's story requirements, and when The Authority is ready, she introduces something that the clique has to respond to, and the Struggle begins.

The Struggle involves defining The Authority's objective (what she gets if she wins) and the clique's hope (same), then you take turns, with The Authority saying terrible things that are happening, and asking, "Who's gonna stand up?" which then prompts YO players to grab the dice and roll. They claim numbers on a 2-to-12 playmat when they roll, and The Authority doesn't roll (a design choice that predates Apocalypse World :)), but automatically claims numbers on her turn.

When someone rolls a number that has been claimed, if it's one of the YOs' numbers, they win. If it's The Authority's number, they either lose, or the YO can choose whether to sell out one of his convictions. If he does, he describes doing something terrible and awful that permanently changes one of his convictions from free (example Means: Tough) to sold-out (example: Means: Vicious). You're permanently a more-scumbaggy-person, but you beat The Authority.



Misspent Youth is familiar to a fair number of people. How has it grown and changed since it was first seen?

Its first published-for-sale version was in 2008; its ashcan edition. Almost every term was more-generic, there were a bunch of unnecessary rules, and it was way uglier (not in the uglypretty way Joshua AC Newman manages in the later editions). I wrote a Google Plus post where I lay out all the terminology changes. I playtested the game from 2006 to 2010 (far too long) before publishing the final version. But that meant that it became a really solid design.

This latest edition, "issue 1.2," was prompted by Wil Wheaton taking an interest in my game and choosing to play it on his YouTube show, TableTop. For this edition, I made a few small editing and layout fixes, but I also added five sample settings that you can use with your group, or use as inspiration when you make your own dystopia. We'll be Kickstarting this edition along with a supplement, called Misspent Youth: Sell Out with Me. This is a collection of 18 settings and 2 rules hacks by other people to give lots of new takes on the game.


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Thanks to Robert for answering my questions! I hope you all enjoyed reading and that you'll check out the Kickstarter, and forward this on to your friends! 


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

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Five or So Questions with David Schirduan on Clink

Hey there, friends! I have an interview with David Schirduan on Clink, a coin-based RPG on Kickstarter right now! I hope you'll check out what David has to say.
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Tell me a little about Clink. What excites you about it?

The official pitch: "Clink is a coin-based non-linear RPG about mysterious drifters". However to me it is a balm for GMs.

I've GMed a lot of games, and they all have their strengths and weaknesses. Too many games offload most of the rules and burden of play onto the GM. They design the story, the dungeons, the encounters, the monster, remind players of the rules, etc. As much as I love that stuff, I'm always on the lookout for games that give the GM tools and make their job easier.

I've played in games where the players will write pages of epic backstory, but contribute very little during the game. Some of this can be solved with good communication and helpful guidance from the GM. But that's just one more thing the GM must initiate and work through. Clink simply cuts backstory out entirely. The game requires players to make a blank character with no history and discover their character as they play.

Everyone discovers it together. The players get the spotlight to come up with interesting tales, and the game automatically works it into the narrative. In fact, the GM doesn't even need a good story. A cliched plot will still offer chances for the players to tell interesting stories and have fun. I love that.

Clink is a game I want to play, sure, but it's mostly a game I want to GM. It takes a lot of the narrative burden and expectation off of my shoulders. I get to sit back and watch players come up with their own interesting stories. And after playing, I've found that players carry those lessons into future games of other systems. They are better about speaking up and contributing to the story during the game, rather than waiting for GM exposition.

The western/noir/shonin theme is perfect for this sort of mysterious history roleplaying. It's like a movie; you learn the characters as you watch. You don't need to read a novel before watching Fistful of Dollars; things are explained during the movie itself. Clink aims to replicate that same method, and I've seen it succeed wonderfully during playtests.

I'm excited for people to try it out, and I hope it provides some much needed relief to GMs and players who struggle with backstories and narrative.


How do characters start in Clink? You say they are blank, but what do players and the GM know to start with - names, skills, etc.?

Every Drifter begins with:
Name : This probably isn't their real name, but something that reflects their appearance or personality (Dusty, Pearl, Gruff, Hope, etc)
Creed : A driving goal or motivation. Creeds are shared by the entire group. They can be simple like, "The Dusty Riders will pay", or more complex like, "We will defeat Mordin to close the portal and save Haven."
2-3 Mementos : Special objects from their past that can be used to inspire memories later.
2 Triggers: These are personality quirks that can get your Drifter into trouble. For example: "When someone tried to reward me, I rudely refuse, mumbling something about honor." or "Whenever I enter a new town, I head for the bar and get a drink before doing anything else."
As they play Drifters will gain Flashbacks (helpful memories or skills) and they will gain Scars (Dark moments, trauma) to describe their past and define their Drifter further.


What are the base mechanics for action like?

Clink's mechanics revolve around coins. This is partly in keeping with the western theme, but also means anyone can play it, anywhere.

Players can spend coins to gain helpful Flashbacks, and then use these flashbacks to automatically succeed at difficult actions. The danger of using Flashbacks is that they will sometimes remind your Drifter of the darker parts of their history, giving them a Scar.

If your Drifter doesn't have a useful Flashback then the coinflips involve escalation. Situations often begin simple and straightforward. Your Drifter is trying to talk their way past the guard. They flip a coin. If successful, then they get past the guard with little trouble. If the flip fails, then another player describes how the situation gets worse and your Drifter flips again with this worse situation.

There's a little more to it, but the coin-flips can trap your Drifter in an ever worsening situation until a resolution is chosen. This escalation keeps the action moving and lets everyone contribute to what's happening.

You call Clink nonlinear. Expand on that - how is it nonlinear? What does that look like at the table?

Clink is a game of telling stories; not only as a group but also individually. Inspired by classic campfire tales and spaghetti westerns, Drifters often gain Flashbacks and Scars from their past. Whenever this happens the player gets the spotlight and tells a short tale about what happened and why.

As I mentioned earlier this takes a lot of the narrative weight from the GM and lets each player hog the spotlight and tell some fun stories. I love all of the chances to tell stories of my own and hear stories from other players.



Finally, what responsibilities remain for the GM? How do they influence the game?

The GM's primary responsibility is to provide obstacles for the players. Drifters can't die, they don't have HP, so a traditional dungeon crawl/resource management gameplan doesn't really work. But Drifters do have a timer. When Drifters have gained more Scars than Flashbacks, then they are in danger of losing their Creed.

The more obstacles the GM adds, the most Flashbacks, coins, and Scars will be spent and gained, bringing Drifters closer to their limit.

The coin-flips make it easier to determine the outcomes, and the escalation mechanic provides dangers and obstacles automatically.


(Okay, finally-finally) What words of advice or encouragement do you have for players sitting down to flip a coin in Clink?

Let the coins fall where they may. Don't plan ahead. Backstory and character content can be extremely fun and addicting, but Clink promises a different kind of fun. You may not end up with the character you dreamed of playing, instead you'll end up with a character you didn't fully expect; that's fun!



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Thanks so much David for the interview! I hope y'all will check out the Clink Kickstarter and share the interview around with your friends. Enjoy!



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.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Turn RPG Beta Playtest

Hi all!

While I'm doing active playtests on my own, I wanted to share the beta document I've prepared for Turn. It will be updated as the main private document is updated, but has quite a bit of information together now! If you read or play it, please let me know and share any of your feedback via contactbriecs@gmail.com.

photo by John W. Sheldon
What is Turn?

Turn is a story-based roleplaying game about shapeshifters in small towns who must try to go through life balancing the needs of their Human and Beast identities, while pursuing the goals that will make them happy and content. The game is primarily focused on social interaction and storytelling. The mechanics are d6 dice-based and have structured actions using low-number ability penalties and bonuses. Turn may approach some difficult emotional experiences and it’s advised to be used with the Script Change content tool, included at the end of this document.
Click here for the document!





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.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Five or So Questions with Nerdy City on Rememorex

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Megan and Sean Jaffe from Nerdy City on their new game, Rememorex, which is currently on Kickstarter! It's a modern game with an 80s theme and sounds like a really good time. Check it out!

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

Sean: Rememorex is a passion project that grew out of a massive lightning-bolt of inspiration. My wife and I are both old-school gamers, and we watched Stranger Things while constantly repeating how this story itself works like a tabletop game. My wife and I actually created Clearfield on the road from NJ to Chicago, and named Clearfield, DE ,after the town we were passing through on I-80. Out of idle curiosity, I asked some friends online if anyone would be interested in doing tabletop game set in the mid-‘80s, and the response was very positive. The game became an institution on our Jersey City Tuesday nights, and from there, things just gained momentum. My wife and I are very much 80’s kids: I’m a NJ Metalhead, and she’s a Chicago New Wave girl, so we cover a lot of ground. 

There’s no denying that ‘80s are hot right now. I think it’s because Gen X is starting to produce a lot of entertainment so we’re lionizing our pasts the way the Boomers did for us (Seriously, how many of our Saturday Morning Cartoons were about letter jackets and drive-ins? What the hell did that have to with Q-bert of Galaxy High school? Now cartoons all have cassette players and Nintendos in the background.) So I guess we got lucky. Still, things are so garbage right now that any escapism seems to be welcomed by people. I get it. As for Nerdy City, well, we just wanted to go back to a time when there were still music videos on TV and the Transformers actually looked like something. Horror and mystery are just more fun when you can’t immediately look up what kind of asylum used to stand where your house was built, or call the cops when you're the middle of the woods.


What are the mechanics like in Rememorex? How did you match the mechanics side of the game with the fiction?

Sean: Mechanics are intentionally simple and light. Characters are based on three simple stats: Type (Who you are), Training (What you know), and Talent (What makes you unique.). Dice are rolled, totaled, and compared against a target number. Action is super fast and easy. A fun mechanic we have is the “Tracking Error,” wherein players who’s characters aren’t present in the scene can affect their friends characters by changing things in it, helping or hindering things as they see fit!

Megan: Sean developed the Omnisystem a few years ago, I don't even remember the original setting, but then decided it went well with this time travel idea he'd had, and that became Tempus Omni. It's a very freeform, rules light system. You do roll dice, but your stats aren't things like dexterity or charisma, it's something that describes your character; a short sentence or even a phrase. We have a player who has stats as "The Actual Worst." The rules that were added were both to keep on theme (nothing more 80s than a Montage) and also to both up the immersion and to help a larger than usual tabletop group work together. Tracking Errors is the best example of this; you have to roll a handful of dice, but not for the numbers, just for the sound, to alert the other players. Then even though your character is not in the scene, you can affect it in different ways. It helps to keep a larger group involved with the ongoing story, when they feel they can have some agency.


What are some cool experiences you've had while testing and developing? Is there something that really sticks out as really "on theme" for the game?

Sean: In Jersey City, we’ve had a Tuesday night Rememorex game for over six months and everyone in it is just brilliant. it’s really like a TV show- hell, I’m running it and *I* can’t wait to see what happens next. One of my players introduced a new mechanic when he had an unexpected bug show up in Orlando during a Tracking Error. Another started a running gag about glow-in-the-dark ninja stars. Megan and I carefully develop a playlist of synthwave and retro hits for each game, and that really helps maintain immersion. Some of my players have started games of their own, creating new towns full of weirdness in Jersey, Arizona, Ohio, and Minnesota, and I can’t wait to explore what they’ve created.

Megan: One of the non-mechanical mechanics that I love best about Rememorex games is the opening. Every time a game is run, the lights are dimmed, and everyone puts their phones away and gets quiet as the Special Presentation video plays, and then the theme song starts. It provides a sense of separation from the world outside the game, and a more visceral pull into the setting. Sean then went further and cut a credits video, with the player's names as actors and he and I as directors. We played it for them for the first time in an actual movie theatre, and watching their faces and hearing the cheers as each name came up was really special.



In the Kickstarter, you talk about some of your inspirations. How did you choose what you'd draw from specifically? What themes really called to you?

Sean: Well, like I said in the KS, Stranger Things was obviously a huge influence, but I also took a lot from some of the more forgotten films of the “80s kids vs. the world" genre. Everyone remembers ET and Gremlins, for example, but The Last Starfighter (an underrated gem) and The Wraith (a deeply cheesy b-movie with some really interesting ideas) are really worth checking out. Hell, even Labyrinth fits into the genre, although it's sort of a subversion of the theme. Rather than the supernatural coming to the suburbs, the suburban girl comes to a world of impossible wonders. In all of these stories, kids win out against impossible odds through teamwork, determination, and heart. How goofy is that? It was bizarre, growing up in a time that almost seemed to idealize itself while it was happening. There was no shame in being unabashedly sincere or even cheesy. It just felt like cynicism hadn’t... metastasized yet, you know?

Megan: Obviously Stranger Things. Many of the classics of dread; Twilight Zone, Creepypasta, YouTube horror. Then the whole pantheon of 80's movies we love; music from the time, tv, etcetera. Every single named business and most of the notable town personages are some deep deep cut of an 80s reference. That's one of my favorite memories from our first burst of inspiration on that long drive; the laughing and excitement as we tried to outdo and stump each other with subtle name-checks. 

As far as the more serious themes, paranoia is definitely a strong thread. In this current age, there is a pervasive, day to day dread that is affecting a lot of people. The lens of the Cold War as seen through by kids and teens puts you in that same place, where something is WRONG, and even though you are seemingly powerless, it's still up to you to do something to save the day.


How do relationships work in Rememorex?

Sean: There is a table of connections. The first player on the right rolls a die to determine the type of relationship, and the first on the left rolls what it is, on down the line until everyone is connected. Your character might secretly be dating one person, share a shift at the Video store with another, and carpool with a third, but you’re embarrassed to be seen with them for some reason. You’re a kid, so your social life is much sloppier and more full of unnecessary drama. When junior high school is your dungeon, secret crushes, bullies,and best, best friends are your traps, monsters, and treasure. Rememorex doesn’t underestimate this.

Megan: There is an entire relationship mechanic in Rememorex, meant to intertwine people before the game even starts. It was heavily influenced by Fiasco, which is a game we both really enjoy, and also by older games where you roll to set up your character history. 

Once the initial rolling is done, relationships continue organically.


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Thank you very much for doing this interview, Megan and Sean! I hope you all enjoyed reading the interview and that you'll check out Rememorex on Kickstarter now!


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.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Game Design Insight on Twitter!

I've been participating in a meme on Twitter about game design insight!

Check it out here!

Also check out Ewen Cluney's thread with links to other designer's Twitter threads!




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.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

A Handful of Questions on Big Bad Con

I had a chance to talk with Sean Nittner on the subject of Big Bad Con, which is currently Kickstarting, and we got his whole crew in one big Google Doc to answer questions about the con.

This is a VERY LONG interview, so it's behind a cut after the introductions.

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Tell me a little about yourself and how you're involved with Big Bad Con. What's your role? What's important to you?

SL: I’m Sophie LagacĂ© and I’m the Event Coordinator. That means working with other staff organizing specific event tracks like tabletop and live-action role-playing (RPGs and LARPs), Games on Demand, workshops and panels, and this year board games as well. I'm there to bridge the gaps and make sure the convention events come together as one big well-timed volley of fireworks.

What’s important to me is to help support and improve our community, whether we mean by that the gaming community or the local Bay Area community. I want more new people to feel welcome, to try and enjoy our hobby; and I want gamers to have an exceptional experience — as I do every time — at Big Bad Con.

I started gaming as a teen and I have the hobby to thank for some of the best things in my life, starting with my friends and family but also extending to practical skills as a facilitator, speaker, project manager, writer, and so forth. I want others to reap the same joys and benefits I have. 

KT: I’m Karen Twelves, editor and marketing assistant. I review most of the communications that Big Bad Con puts out on the blog, emails, and through Kickstarter. I also do a lot of work on the convention programs--editing the game descriptions down to size, cross-checking the schedule. Con-wise what’s important to me is making sure that people get all the information they need, clearly and concisely.

I’ve been gaming since high school and love that BBC makes it so easy to play a variety of games and meet new people. Everyone’s just really excited to be there and committed to having a good time.

ED: I’m Ezra Denney, I am helping coordinate boardgames at BBC. I’m thrilled to be involved with my favorite con, and psyched to be giving back to a con that has given me so much. I really want to put boardgames on people’s calendar at BBC, and share my love of all games with the attendees.
Table at Big Bad Con 2016

YK: I am Yann Kherian, simple volunteer at BBC. I have been attending since the first year. I now give a hand on the event, move tables, help people, smooth the games-on-demand dispatching, make the participants feel good. I love BBC as it has a different vibe than other cons, more indies games, and a very friendly community.

SN: Sean Nittner here. I wear a few hats for Big Bad Con. Last year we incorporated as a non-profit organization and I became the president of the board, which means I get cool moves like opening a board meeting and calling for votes (yes, our board meetings are powered by the apocalypse as well). The boards primary concern once the convention is underway, is the growth of our programs outside the con, specifically our outreach program to run games in schools. At the con itself, I work with all our coordinators to ensure we have a great list of games and events, and a hotel to play them all in.

I started running one-day conventions for Good Omens over a decade ago. I remember the first one felt like it was my birthday, Christmas, and Thanksgiving all rolled up into one day. I love watching people game and enjoy their time together. Over the years though, my focus has shifted from creating a place where we play great games to creating a place where everyone feels welcome and safe playing great games.

BH: I'm Bryanna Hitchcock and I help run the Big Bad Gauntlet. BBG is a flagship event with an interesting history. It started as a competitive event and has turned into a multi-table, shared RPG experience. In addition to the gauntlet, BBC always has an amazing schedule of excellent indie games run by designers and great local GMs.

But beyond the games there is another layer to BBC. It's also a place where queerness and gender variance are accepted and even welcomed. I love that the community code of conduct is posted around the con. I feel safe there. I'm a trans woman and the BBC community has given me a place where both my hobby and identity feel welcome.

RO: My name is Ryan Ossum, and I am your Reigning, Defending, and Undisputed Champion of the Tell Me About Your Character Booth. Oh, I also run some games here, and maybe play in some, and stuff. My role is... Honestly, insignificant. I (for one shift or so a year since I learned of the Booth) stick myself in it and raise money for Doctors Without Borders by being that ear that wishes to hear your tales. The tales your friends are TIRED OF HEARING ABOUT. I haven't heard them! I may... repurpose them... for nefarious plans later in games I'll run elsewhere, but I want to know about it, and you. I want you to want to tell me more, because it's $5 for 5 minutes of my therapy. Let me hear those tales of your gaming, for good and for justice!

AM: I’m Adrienne Mueller, Data Editor. For BBC 2016 I proofed and cross-referenced data from BackerKit, the BBC website and other sources to make sure all the information was accurate.

I offered to help out with BBC because I wanted to relieve some of the overhead for my friends, who were already devoting a ton of time and effort to make the con happen. It's important to me that the good people who organize the con have support!

KS: I’m Kristin Sullivan and I am Present at the convention. I’d like to think I’m the back-up jack of all trades to the powerhouse that is Sean Nittner, but that’s giving myself way too much credit. Beforehand I bake for Little Red’s Basket. During the convention you can find me loitering behind or near the reg desk, heading up Games on Demand, or bopping between game rooms. I’m the person who can solve your problem and if I’m not, I’ll know just who can help us.

I love what Big Bad has become without sacrificing what it set out to do. From the beginning, we’ve been home to primarily indie and small press games, those games we collect and fall in love with but can’t get the damn home group to play. There’s no lack of confidence when I say Big Bad offers the best spread of RPGs on the west coast. Couple that with the welcoming atmosphere the con provides, arms outstretched to welcome every flavor of participant, and it’s a premiere convention, unmatched by any other I’ve attended.

Also, see Ryan in the booth. He truly is legendary. Is it even braggadocio if it’s so damn true?

NB: Hello, I’m Nathan Black. I’m the Community Coordinator for Big Bad Con. I wrote the Community Standards under Sean’s careful supervision. Big Bad Con 2015 was my first trip to BBC, and I fell in love immediately. Everyone was kind and welcoming and playing weird and interesting games. My role on site is more of a support role, checking with people and making sure that everyone is doing ok.

It is very important to me to protect and nurture our community. We have a great cross section of people at Big Bad. Our diversity and inclusiveness is our strength.



Ryan may be the champion of the booth, but Nathan sure as heck makes it look good.
SM: I am Shantih Moriarty, the chick who wanted board games. I harassed Sean earlier this year about having a proper board game track, and he said that would be great if someone would organise it.. And I grabbed Ezra :D.

CF: I’m Colin Fahrion, a graphic designer, gamer, immersive performance artist, experience designer, and royal portrait photographer for Prince Wrinkles Nonesuch (my cat who has way more my Instagram followers than I do). I have since I was young loved games, art, and design, and I am fascinated by those places where they all intersect.

I’ve been going to Big Bad Con for five years both as a player and a GM running games. Last year, I joined on as the head of marketing and the website — bringing my design, front-end web, and communications skills to the team. I decided to join on as I really love the Big Bad Con community, the staff, and all that they do to create a welcoming event that encourages creative play!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Five or So Questions with Graham Walmsley on Cthulhu Dark

Today I have an interview with Graham Walmsley on the new Kickstarter project, Cthulhu Dark. In spite of all of my misgivings about Lovecraftian themed games, I do still love the aesthetic and a lot of the elements - and Graham is pretty considerate about topics that matter most to me in the setting. Because of this, I'm excited to share this interview with you all!

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Tell me a little about Cthulhu Dark. What excites you about it?

When you see Cthulhu Dark, the first thing you notice is how simple it is. But that's not the thing that excites me. What excites me is how precise it is.

Take the Insight rule as an example. Your Insight starts at 1. Every time you see something that creeps you out, roll a die (that's an "Insight roll"). If you get higher than your current Insight, your Insight increases by 1, until it reaches 6 and you lose your mind.

That sounds like a simple rule, but it's designed very precisely. It means that your Insight increases fast at the start, then slower later. When it reaches 5, you're on a knife edge, where every Insight Roll could send you over the edge but only if you roll a 6. (I did hours of thinking about probabilities for that rule.)

The whole game is like that. It looks simple, but it's all perfectly engineered. And all of that feeds back into the game. Every so often, the dice throw out a little surprise that makes the story better.

That's what excites me about the rules. There's a whole bunch of other stuff that excites me about the project: the settings, my cowriters, the art, everything.


What kind of settings do you have as a part of, or in addition to, Cthulhu Dark? What in them shows the themes of the system?


Cthulhu Dark comes with four settings: London 1851, the dirty, stinking capital of the British Empire; Arkham 1692, Lovecraft's city in a time of witch-hunts; Jaiwo 2017, modern-day West Africa; and Mumbai 2037, cyberpunk India.

Each of them comes with a scenario that showcases Cthulhu Dark's trademark style of bleak horror. But there's something subtler going on too.

One of the main themes of Cthulhu Dark is: you play people with little power, investigating horror at the heart of the power. For example, in London 1851, you play thieves, beggars and other slum dwellers, investigating monsters within the aristocracy. That's a deliberate choice: in other games, you'd be more likely to play aristocrats, investigating a horror in the slums. Cthulhu Dark switches that around. It means you play Investigators you wouldn't usually play.


by Matteo Bocci, Mumbai 2037

How have you developed Cthulhu Dark - a lot of playtesting, revisions, new ideas?

Since the original two-page version of Cthulhu Dark, I've played it to death, and so have lots of others. It's a robust, polished set of rules, so it didn't need much revising.

What's new is everything else in the book. There's a section on how to use Cthulhu Dark's rules to full effect, with all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years. There's a guide to Writing a Mystery, which takes you step-by-step through the process of writing a horror story to play, starting with the things you fear and ending with the finished mystery. And there's a section on Playing A Mystery, which tells you how to play horror at the table, and another describing the Threats of the Mythos and how to use them in your game.

And then there's the four settings above. There's a lot of new stuff.


You know that this is well within my interests, so I have to ask - anything with the term "Cthulhu" in the title approaches the question of how mental health and "insanity" are handled. How did you approach this concept in Cthulhu Dark?


Instead of "insanity", the new Cthulhu Dark talks about Insight. That's your insight into the horror, the dark patterns behind the universe, the Mythos. Every time you see something that creeps you out, you roll to see whether your Insight increases.

To the outside world, your Insight looks like insanity. But you know better. You see things others don't see. You understand things they don't understand.

Cthulhu games haven't always treated mental health well, but there's no reason that they can't. After all, Cthulhu is really the only genre that even includes mental health. You never think about mental health in a dungeon-crawling game, but you have to think about it in Cthulhu games. So, I think there's the possibility of doing something really positive with mental health and Cthulhu gaming.


What sort of play does Cthulhu Dark do best? What can players expect when they sit down at a table?

Cthulhu Dark does bleak, mindbending horror. You can't fight the Mythos: you can only run, hide or watch helplessly.

When you sit down to play Cthulhu Dark, expect your Investigator to spiral slowly down into darkness. Expect to be creeped out. Expect hyperpowerful creatures, which you cannot understand, let alone fight. Expect all that, then enjoy the ride.

by Matteo Bocci
--

Thanks so much to Graham for the interview! I'm excited to see the final product, it sounds really great! Readers, remember to check out Cthulhu Dark on Kickstarter and share with your friends!


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Monday, May 29, 2017

Five or So Questions with Fraser Simons on Cascade


Hi y'all! Today I have an interview with Fraser Simons on a supplement to the cyberpunk game, The Veil, called Cascade. I talked to Fraser about Cascade, which is currently on Kickstarter, to see what's new and interesting! Check it out. :)

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

Cascade is the second step in a larger design goal I have, The Veil being the foundation of that goal. There is a heavy focus on emergent play and reducing cognitive load; I love that someone could be playing The Veil right now and choose to take those characters they have spent time with and move them to this supplement and find out whole new things about them they never would have otherwise. There's a new flashback mechanic, even more of the really cool stuff about this game is now player facing. There is a lot to discover about a character when their identity is upset, and in this game your mind is decanted into a whole new body. You have missing memories. The world is as foreign to you, as perhaps your body is now. And embodiment is a powerful journey of discovery people can touch on as little, or as much, as they like but they have a mechanical reason and benefit to engage with the exploration of this future world as well as their characters. And, at the same time I'm realizing this next step in the design goal, I get to also give more resources that I couldn't include in The Veil. So really, it's a continuation of the original text and the design work! Lastly, perhaps most exciting of all I get to experience some other settings from wonderful people like Kira Magrann, Kate Bullock, Dana Cameron, and Quinn Murphy lined up for stretch goals. Finding out what other people's cyberpunk is and what it means to them is extremely exciting and interesting to me, the whole system is geared towards that, after all!

What is your cyberpunk? How is that reflected in Cascade?

I came to cyberpunk initially by getting my hands on a copy of Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. At the time, I had never read something like it. It essentially injected politics into cyberpunk fiction in a way people hadn't really done, to my knowledge. There was no real political stance in Neuromancer (beyond a slightly problematic Zion vs Wintermute semi-stance) and many of the other books that came out even, save for a few as I wasn't very aware of the genre at that time. I hadn't even heard of post-cyberpunk as a term yet, so I wasn't sure what I was reading. It subverted some tropes in the genre, like typical macho masculine and generally all-white protagonists with a new kind of depth. Because Takeshi's heritage was mixed and reiterated constantly, because he was intentionally hyper masculine while always reiterating making the political personal, we ended up with a character that was unlike any other cyberpunk protagonist I'd heard of or read. Race and gender were constructs of the mind instead of body, cortical stacks allowed the reader of the book to really think about one's identity and what it's comprised of; outside of embodiment issues as well as with them. To see that the natural progression of globalization and capitalism in the future is the same as it is now, with the only value a human life has is the money they have and can produce, with the very essence of their identity, the cortical stack becoming a commodity in of itself. The series depicts Takeshi as someone who understands the system and hates it but is nihilistic, to a more Utopian ending and feeling when he decides to actually do something against the system itself. Bridging concepts from old and new in cyberpunk texts, it represented the kind of fiction I could love.

What my cyberpunk needs to have in it because of this touchstone: depth, in a word. I want to have extrapolation from our present to look into the future and explore where we could be going. I want it to have commentary on the human condition and what makes us human. I want technologies to be represented as neutral, with its potential good and bad being explored, and how our relationship to it changes as we change because of our technology. It should pose questions to me that I need and want to answer; make me think. Make me feel. And it needs to be relevant; diverse and inclusive. And I think it also needs to continue to redefine the terms "cyber" and "punk" as these words change with our lives and our society. I think that is a major part of making relevant fiction, and if it is relevant it walks across the line from merely being entertainment to something else entirely.


How does the flashback mechanic work? 

In Cascade, I really wanted to hit on emergent play because The Veil has a fairly high cognitive load. To that effect, I decided to change the reward system so that people got experience when they explored questions within the game. Your character is decanted into a Slack; a vacant body. And because of this process, which is imperfect, some of your memories are missing. You are in a new body, you're a character from The Veil brought further into the future and you don't have some of your memories. Cascade is all about finding out the answer to these questions. And as you make your way through this world, players will have emergent ideas about what the answer to these questions may be. So, when they make a roll for any move they can also hit on the flashback mechanic as well. They'll take the lowest die and subtract it from the highest and add the amount of emotion spikes equal to that sum, and then simply narrate what it is they see about their past. Keeping it short and brief as most flashbacks are. You can also have a flashback as a separate move, but typically the inspiration for the answer to a question comes off the boot heels of something else, I find. And because it's rooted in emotion like the rest of the game, it becomes as important as any other move, plus you get experience!


What did you do to focus more on emergent play? 

The flashback mechanic is a major focal point for emergent play. Making really large questions about identity and the world around them "bite-sized", so that players can nibble at them as they play to find out what happens next without having to come up with something interesting and neat right then. It also frees up the person running the game to take these flashbacks, these questions the characters have made and want to inject into their game, and simply work them into the game as it unfolds. With beliefs, it was more difficult because everyone needs to be cognoscente of them while driving the fiction forward towards these things with every scene frame you did. This way, as ideas bubble up to the surface the player introduces them and then it is incorporated naturally into the fiction by the person running the game in a manner I find much more approachable. Players are constantly waving their fictional flags, getting rewarded for it, and then seeing what those answers mean for the world around them as they also use them to define themselves.

I have also hit on emergent themes when crafting the new playbooks. There is a move that defines the world around them as they make their way through it. For instance one playbook will be about defining counter-culture in the future, where the other will define other cultural things, like traditions, fashion, etc. As players have ideas of how this future differs from what they know now, they have these moves to insert them as they they go,and because it is also a move when they do so it will still propel the story forward. I wanted to make sure that if people were into the idea they could unravel the mysteries of this future in a manner unrelated to the questions everyone uses for experience. Showing them that their character is integral to defining the cyberpunk fiction they now inhabit. 


How do the other settings integrate with Cascade

The settings we have lined up for stretch goals are so exciting!! Some will be slotted into any campaign, for instance in Quinn Murphy's incarceration setting, you could use that at any point the players are incarcerated or as something stand alone. Others, like Dana Cameron's one focusing on the players moving their identities into cats, could be the entire focus of a campaign, or merely a portion of it. Taipei, which comes with the game and is the one I wrote, is meant as an adventure starter with a hook built into it. Each setting can be used for short term play, inspiration for what you will create for your own unique cyberpunk fiction. Or the beginning of something you will define as you play. With a wide range of possibilities should be able to get maximum utility out of these stretch goals as they do not all have the same parameters for use with the game. From queer, feminist cyberpunk, to uploading your mind into cats, to a setting where emotions are traded as commodities. I think there is something for everyone and can't wait. I really wanted to show that cyberpunk is different for everyone as it seems slightly pigeon-holed. I have a couple more stretch goals to reveal too, including more settings. Can't wait!


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Thanks Fraser! It was great to interview you again. I hope all of my readers liked learning about Cascade and will check it out on Kickstarter today!




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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Just Say No

Content note: brief mentions of rape and sexual assault, violations of consent.
Cards from Archipelago, a game written by Mattijs Holter
“Yes, and...”

This is the statement I see encouraged endlessly in game introduction texts, at game events, at game tables. This is what is supposed to be the key of play – the center of improv, the best way to have good dialogue and storytelling in games.

But like… no?

Don’t get me wrong, I did improv for years (surprise!), and Yes, and is a huge part of it, but even when I did improv, it wasn’t always the best tool. Sometimes, it leads to consent issues, others, it waters down the story. I want to talk a little about important things that go against the passionate promotion of “yes, and.”

There are alternatives to Yes, and: Yes, but...; No, but...; and No, and... Here’s the thing: most story gamers are familiar with these already. They’re Powered by the Apocalypse/Apocalypse World move result structures.
10+ - Yes, and 
7-9 - Yes, but 
6- - No, but (or) No, and
Some of this comes up in many stratified result systems in games ("success at cost"), but we don’t really talk about that, I think, and it might not be brought into player-to-player interactions.  They’re pretty simple and can be easily understood and taught. Most are familiar with “yes, and” (I accept your fiction and build on it), so here’s the rest:
  • Yes, but – I accept your fiction, except this piece is more difficult. Basically Archipelago’s “That Might Not Be Quite So Easy!”
  • No, but – That doesn’t work, but you still get something out of it.
  • No, and – That doesn’t work, and this is why/here’s how it’s different.

No, but and No, and function similarly to “Try a Different Way!” in Archipelago. To be honest, Archipelago is one of my favorite RPGs because it is so beautifully developed for building rich stories and really flavorful and intense social interactions because the ritual phrases are gorgeous and work really well.

The option to say no (and add to it, or give good reasons why) can make some cool things happen. It can keep things in tone, or allow players who are being left out of controlling the plot to take charge. I also have some problems in general with Yes, and that impact play in a very important way.

Yes, and can impact consent. Oh, no one is being forced to accept something in a story, but if you start playing with the assumption that an idea can be pitched and has to be accepted or else it will negatively impact the story, it can make people feel like they have to give in or they’ll ruin the game. It feels to me like a bad writer’s room gig. Like, why did Tasha Yar come from a rape gang planet?
Writer: Here’s this cool lady character I made for the show, she’s a security officer. 
Random Creepy Executive: Yeah and she totally has sexual trauma that made her so cool. 
W: Um… I… I guess so? 
RCE: And what if there were rape gangs! That she had to run from! 
W: If that’s what you think would be cool? 
RCE: We’ll have an episode where she’ll have to relive it! It’ll be awesome!
And so on.

How many women in games can say that someone didn’t try to introduce shit into their backstory like this? How many just felt pressured to let it happen even without a Yes, and culture? Now imagine with all of your cool friends saying that you should accept people’s ideas because otherwise stories get boring.

That, and it can lead to the most enthusiastic, outgoing people to controlling the story. Who suggests the most ideas in your group? How much of the time do they dominate it? Now bring in a shy player and say “hey, in this game we play like improv, and when someone suggests something in game, you’re supposed to be like ‘yes, and’ and play on it.” What if they have an idea? If the dominant player pitches them an idea, do you think they’ll feel comfortable being like “hey, that actually doesn’t fit my character, let’s try it a different way.” What if that person has good ideas, but they feel pressured to accept whatever someone throws at them?

Improv is great, by the way. But, improv itself can be harmed by exclusive yes, and culture. Especially in regards to consent! When I was taught improv originally, Yes, and was highly emphasized. I was 15 (I did improv at events until I was 18), and over our practice I struggled with it, but hey, my trainers knew best. So when a 35 year old guy grabbed my arm and started licking my hand and talking about how he was my lover, I was afraid to say no – almost as afraid of the situation. I eventually pulled my hand away and denied it, but that guy – also an improv actor – knew that we were in a culture where I was supposed to say yes. I have felt this way in RPGs, too. Abusers gonna abuse, but they sure as hell can do it better when peer pressure helps it along.

But it’s also important to remember that not all games require improv. We aren’t on a set stage without freedom to ask questions, or step back. One of the reason my safety measures in Script Change suggest talking before you continue is because prioritizing immersion and story over the comfort, safety, and enjoyment of everyone at the table is not only uncool, but also pretty boring. In games where there’s combat and strategy, being able to step back and be like, “hey, is this okay?” is useful. In games without… it’s also useful.

I’ve heard people condemn out-of-character discussion as metagaming and saying that rejecting other people’s ideas stifles play. I don’t agree with that. There are degrees of metagaming that aren’t unreasonable, like pausing to check in with people before moving the story forward, or someone saying “hey, that is a way gorier way for my character to die than I’m okay with, can we rewind and try again?”

 I think controlling the narrative is part of the beauty of RPGs, and part of that is being able to say “no.”






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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Designer & Devourer Episode 5




Check out Episode 5 of Designer & Devourer! We’ll be talking recent posts, upcoming stuff, and then some recent development work on Turn. The recipe this week will be road trip kebabs. J

Recently did an interview with Jeff Tidball on The White Box, a box of blank parts to help design and game education get started!

Interviewed Colin Kyle on Axon Punk: Overdrive, a cyberpunk game with hip hop influences.

Chatted with Kevin Allen, Jr. on Trouble for Hire, a road adventure game with one player and distributed GM roles for the other players.

Talked to Cam Banks about CortexPrime – my stretch goal hit! It’s still going!


Released Of the Woods: Lonely Gamesof Imagination on DriveThruRPG, includes a game of my design and curated games from other designers. Proceeds go to Trevor Project.


Interviews coming are kinda being juggled right now, but they're on the way. :)


Road Trip Kebabs

Beef, roughly cubed to 1”x 1”x 2” pieces
Chicken, roughly cubed to 1”x 1”x 2” pieces
Sweet onions, sliced
Sweet peppers, sliced
Salt
Pepper
Garlic
Paprika
Brown mustard
Skewers

Cut meat, chicken, vegetables, and thread onto skewers. You can do all one meat on each skewer, or mix it up. Grill until cooked to your preference of done-ness, but make sure the chicken is at least 165° F or there’s no pink left. Season while it’s still hot, right off the grill. Use mustard as a dipping sauce! Great hot or cold. 


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