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!


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.


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! 

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