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. :)


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!


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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