Wednesday, March 29, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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