Monday, February 6, 2017

Five or So Questions with Storybrewers Games on Alas for the Awful Sea

Today I have an interview with the creators of Alas for the Awful Sea, a PbtA game currently on Kickstarter noted as being about "why people hate, and what they fear." I imagine you can see why I was excited to interview them! Hayley Gordon and Veronica Hendro (Vee) from Storybrewers Games answered my questions below!


Tell me a little about Alas for the Awful Sea. What excites you about it?

Vee: Alas for the Awful Sea is a tabletop RPG about politics, folklore, and the human heart set in a rural 19th century UK town desperate to survive. You can read more about it on Kickstarter and our website. What excites me about it is the game's focus on a grey moral landscape. The setting focuses on the toughness of daily life and the choices people make in order to survive.

Hayley: Damn it Vee, that's also what excites me most! But I also get excited about the narrative focus of the game, and the way the Apocalypse World system allows us to zoom in on small moments, and ask questions of the world.

What were your goals for integrating setting and theme in Alas for the Awful Sea? What do you want to see mirrored between emotion and fiction?

Hayley: I was lucky, the setting and theme integrated itself! The themes in Alas really arose from what was happening historically at the time. Poverty, crime, and political turmoil characterised the rural experience in 1800s UK, especially in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. We've really tried to tease that out by incorporating conflicts as part of our recommended process for creating a story in the world of Alas. Emotionally, my aim is for players to experience the difficult and desperation these themes present, and the experience of navigating that. So the emotion sort of arises from the fiction directly.

Vee: I agree, and I'll just add from my perspective of the art direction and design side of things that for me, what we wanted to achieve with the integration of setting and theme is encapsulated in the cover illustration of the book. The muted colours of the setting reflects and amplifies the internal struggles of the woman which is a strong theme in our book.

What have you done with Powered by the Apocalypse mechanics to make the game fit the game concept?

Hayley: The basic moves have remained fairly similar, although we have updated them to fit the theme and tone of the game. Mechanically, the theme comes through in Alas' character sheets and custom moves. We were really excited to hit a stretch goal in the Kickstarter recently that will allow us to add "descriptors" - attributes like clansman and lover which will come with their own unique bond and custom moves. These have the potential to marry the theme and mechanics of the game even further. 

Vee: But I think, beyond the mechanics of the game and to the way stories are told in Alas, we changed the way an 'adventure' is plotted out. We adapted the idea of 'fronts' into 'encounter families.' Each family is centred around a central piece of the fiction, such as a person or place, but also a central conflict. Within the family sit individual encounters that GMs can draw on when they feel it is most appropriate.

What have you done for research for the setting and concept?

Hayley: I read a lot of history around the period, including 3rd party sources, but also journals which I found really useful for understanding the concerns of the time. My most exciting find however was a book of folktales published in the 19th century called The Wind and the Waves. The author had lived in the Hebrides, and had recorded many of the folktales in the form of stories that were told to him. He also writes in this amazing and very moving poetic style. If I could capture a small fraction of that pathos in Alas I would be stoked.

What are some of the stories you think can be told with Alas for the Awful Sea?

Hayley: At its heart, Alas is for telling stories about conflict between ideologies, and the tough choices this creates. It's best for telling very personal stories with lots at stake to the individuals within them. It's not great at telling the stories of heroes triumphing over evil, or of battles and large scale conflicts.

Vee: In terms of the specifics, the kind of things you might see include sea voyages, the ecosystems of small towns and rural areas, attempts to seek out or defend from the supernatural, conflicts between families or between the rich and the poor. But I'm sure those GMing Alas will invent amazing stories and ideas we never could have dreamed of!

Hayley: It's more about the emotions and drive behind the story than exactly where it's set and what happens with Alas I think.


Thanks so much to Hayley and Vee for doing this interview! Make sure to check out Alas for the Awful Sea on Kickstarter now if this piqued your interest, and share the interview with your friends!

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