Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Five or So Questions with Fraser Ronald on Swords Edge

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What are the fictional inspirations for Sword's Edge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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