Monday, October 16, 2017

Five or So Questions with Ed Turner on By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan

I have an interview today with Ed Turner about his new game on Kickstarter, By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan! It's a really interesting game that can get pretty...wilde! Check out what Ed had to say below.


She looks so sassy. Judging you.

Tell me about By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan. What excites you about it?

By the Author of Lady Windermere’s Fan is a game about putting on an Oscar Wilde play.

More specifically, it’s a story game about a group of actors who, through a spectacular level of mismanagement by their producer and director alike, have reached opening night without having held a single rehearsal. Or picking up a script. They don’t even know what they’re supposed to be putting on… all the marquee out front tells them is that it’s a lesser-known play by the master of the Victorian farce, Oscar Wilde. And with that to go on, they’ll just have to wing it.

Which means that players are doing two things at once. On the one hand, it’s a story game made for telling narratives in the vein of The Importance of Being Earnest or An Ideal Husband: self-important people who tell big lies about petty things, and then fall over themselves trying to keep their deception from being discovered. Everyone looks foolish, everyone embarrasses themselves, but in the end everyone gets a happy ending whether they deserve it or not, because that’s how these things go.

But on the other hand, and this is the part of it that I’m the most excited about, it’s very much a game about putting on a live performance. Windermere is inspired by my experiences in school and community theater; it’s a game about being thrust on stage, underprepared, and doing your best to keep things moving by any means necessary. If you’re on-stage, you’re in character, and you’re responsible for keeping up the pace. As games go, it’s kind of exhausting, because you don’t really get time to think once an act starts. You need to keep the chaos in control. When you make mistakes, and you will make mistakes, you have to run with them.

But that also makes it exhilarating! It’s frenetic, and unpredictable, and even though the stakes are low it still feels very rewarding to survive to the final curtain. Whether the play you put on ends up being a really admirable Wilde pastiche or just a complete trainwreck, you still overcame all odds and put on a dang show. You can take a bow, because you’ve earned it. That’s the moment that I was really trying to capture with this game. That is what I’m most excited about.

I have a lot of interest in learning of interactivity in games. During play, are all players interacting at once? Are there different levels of involvement? 

Once the game starts, everyone is interacting. There are a couple different levels of involvement, but players will be shifting between them over the course of an act. Players might be onstage or offstage, for instance, and each has its own limits and responsibilities. Most of your time playing will be onstage, when you have to be in character and move the plot along. If you’re offstage, you have some more breathing room… you don’t have to react as quickly, and can watch the action without participating it. You can also do off-stage specific things like calling out sound effects or changing costume (which allows you to come back onstage as an NPC). Players will switch between being on and offstage often, and just like in real theater, even when you’re not onstage you are still part of the play.

The other variable in players’ levels of involvement is the spotlight. At any given moment, one player’s character is the Spotlight Character, which just means that they are currently the focus of the action. Specifically, that’s when characters get confronted about the lies they have been telling, and respond by telling a bigger and harder-to-defend lie. When the spotlight is on you, you’re stuck onstage, and can’t leave until you’ve dug a bigger hole for yourself. But once you’ve done so, you pass the spotlight on to another player, and now THEY become the focus of the action. Everyone takes their turn in the spotlight.
"Effigy of Joseph Johnson," John Thomas Smith, 1815 (provided by Ed)

What materials are part of the game? What is tactile, and what is supposed to be all in the minds of players?

For the most part, it’s little index cards. You are limited in the number of props you have access to, so before the play starts the players brainstorm a bunch of useful items and write each down on a card. Once the play starts, these become a tactile element: if you want your character to be holding an item, you need to be holding up the appropriate card. That way, you can’t just make up items, and if there’s an object you want to use, you have to track where it actually is. Costumes work similarly; you all come up with costumes for NPCs during setup, and while you’re playing you change costumes by physically taking that NPC’s card and plopping it over your own character sheet.

There’s also a spotlight token; this is just some visible object to indicate which player’s character is the focus for the moment. I usually use a hand fan. When you as the spotlight character have told your lie, you pass the token to the player you want to see take the spotlight next, and the action seamlessly shifts to being about them.

Finally, there are audience favor tokens; beads or coins or similar small objects, used to indicate how much the audience likes you. Players start with three tokens, and there’s a pile in easy reach. When you break character on stage, you toss one of your tokens in the pile. When you think another player said something especially funny, you take a token from the pile and give it to that player.

Both the spotlight and audience favor tokens are using tactile interaction to communicate, without breaking the action of the play.

Where did you pull inspiration for the development and structure of play?

As far as development goes, this started as an entry for the Game Chef design competition back in 2014. The theme of the year was “There is no book,” and one of the optional ingredients was “wild.” A little willful misspelling later, and the idea of performing an Oscar Wilde play when you didn’t have the script was born.

By the Author of Lady Windermere’s Fan owes a lot to story games like Fiasco and Kingdom. Games in which you set up a scene, then dive into the action, letting characters bounce off one another however they see fit without a lot of rules or guidance. Windermere pushes that same structure a little farther; instead of short scenes frequently punctuated by breaks to control the overall flow of the story, there are huge and endurance-testing acts, making it easy for players to lose control of the overall flow of the story.

Beyond that, obviously Wilde’s plays were an inspiration, especially The Importance of Being Earnest, but I also got inspiration from other sources, like Noises Off, a comedy about putting on a play that you aren’t prepared to perform, and even Frasier, a show that really codified the structure of a farce. 

Was everyone in this era judgy? Sweet monocle tho.

Do you have any controls in place for the game if a player needs to pause or they want to back up and reconsider something that was introduced? How much content control do the players have when other players act?

On the one hand, when it comes to the safety and comfort of the players, I take that seriously. I outline a simple “safety valve” mechanism, and am explicit that groups who have another they prefer (X-card, Lines and Veils, whatever) can and should be using it. It’s important to me than having all the players be able to feel secure that they are playing in a safe space.

But when it comes to more minor matters of how the plot is developing, there you’re a bit out of luck. A lot of the tension in the game comes out of having to roll with unexpected developments that come both from the other players and from yourself; what’s said stays said, even if you didn’t quite mean to say it. What you do have are intermissions; between each act, all the players get the chance to stop, and breathe, and talk about where the play’s going. Think of it as an opportunity for course-correction; you can choose to drop a plot thread, or change the trajectory your character is on, or even express concerns about where you think another character’s story is headed.

Finally, what do you want people to feel at the end of play? What memories do you want them to carry on, and what have you seen players who have experienced the game so far take forth?

At the end of the play, I want everyone to be tired but proud. Usually, they are; there’s a definite sense of accomplishment that comes from surviving the play in most of the games I’ve been a part of. Mostly, I want them to be smiling; ultimately, the players are putting on a comedy, so the memories I want them to take with them are the funny moments. The really good one-liners, the delightful twists of the plot, and even the collapses, when for whatever reason the play totally fell apart. Like a Wilde play, the overall plot is pretty incidental… it’s a structure on which you can hang beautiful moments. 


Thanks so much to Ed for the interview! I hope you all will check out By the Author of Lady Windermere's Fan on Kickstarter today! Make sure to share the interview with anyone you think might be interested - don't let them miss out!

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Five or So Questions with Eloy Lasanta on AMP: Year Four

Today I have an interview with Eloy Lasanta on his continued project, AMP: Year Four. It's currently on Kickstarter and has a legacy over the past years of AMP: Years One, Two, and Three. Check out what Eloy has to say below!


Tell me a little about AMP: Year Four. What excites you about it?

What excites me about it? First off, it’s the continuation of an ongoing story within the game line, and it’s the penultimate book (since I began with a five year plan). With every book, I’ve been adding more player options and really upping the ante story wise.

This time, we are adding magic to the setting, something we’ve been hinting at for a while and the fans have really wanted. I love that we’re able to deliver to them in an epic way that will change the setting forever.

Tell me about the origin of AMP. What sits in the soul of the game? Where did it come from?

The origins of AMP are pretty humble. I always wanted to do a superhero RPG and I started getting ideas. It was important to me to check out as many other superhero RPGs around to make sure my ideas weren’t just parallel development. So I spent about a good year playing as many as I could, and discovered that my idea has a niche to fill!

In comes AMP: Year One, where I decided to detail what happens when superpowers hit our society. A few other games did broad strokes, but I wanted the development of the setting to be intimate, so we lay out each month, giving dates and important events, that players can jump off of to start their own stories. I also took that opportunity to tell my own stories as well. There are character running around in the AMP setting that are doing some amazing things, changing the world for better or worse, and it’s been an honor to see so many people engaged with the story we are telling as well.

The soul of the game is that it is not really a superhero game. It’s a game about people with superpowers. Everyone is a person, not some caricature, not some cape-wearing vigilante. They are faced with real threats and problems from society, the government, other AMPs, the dead! So many things to contend with, and yet they need to make sure they keep their heads on straight. 

In AMP: Year Four, it's the Year of Invasion. What does this mean at the table? 

Throughout the storyline, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs in terms of tone and subject matter. During Year 2, it got kind of bleak, leading to a group of AMPs literally leaving Earth. They blinked and were just gone, but no one knew where they went. This group, the Orphans, have returned in Year 4, however, and are waging all-out war on Earth. 

At the table, this means a few things. The Orphans have returned with the ultimate power in their hands… magic! This is new to the AMP gameline, as we’ve been centered on scientific and Earthly abilities up to this point. That also means that there is a new player option called the Rebel Orphan, making them playable if a player so chooses. The timeline for Year 4 deals with the invasion, the climactic battles that take place, and what happens when old enemies and new friends must all come together to fight a threat capable of destroying everyone. 

What are some of the challenges of doing a series of games that span years? Is consistency an issue, or maybe variety?

Consistency is definitely an issue. We don’t want power creep in the books, but we also want to give something new every time. Any new game material we come up with follows its own ruleset, but also fits nicely within what is established already. Energy beams from your eyes, martial arts, power suits, and now magic all have their own inner workings, but are purchased the same and work within the same rules. It’s a tough way to do it, but it’s important. I’ve seen some games treat every power like it’s own subsystem, and that can be very annoying and often broken really fast.

Variety is a thing too. I, and the AMP writing team, have worked hard to have a consistent story to tell, but gamers aren’t the patient type. They want that new rule NOW, even if it doesn’t make sense in context. That’s the best part about being deep into the setting now, we’ve introduced things that just weren’t there in Year One.

Year One was just AMPs, because no one knew about them quite yet. Year Two added rules for playing normal people, and a new power, Gadgeteering. This let you play a Batman-esque characters and made sense for the setting, because this was humanity’s first response to knowledge of AMPs. Year Three bumped up the dial to 11, when both sides became more powerful. AMPs began developing mutations, and normals developed power suits. On their heels, we also introduced a new player option called the Twice Born, people returned from the dead, and really heralds of the magic that was to come.

What are your favorite new mechanical and flavorful things coming from AMP: Year Four? Tell me what you're looking forward to sharing!

As mentioned, the inclusion of Rebel Orphans as a player option is going to be fun! As is now having magic, which is something the fans have wanted for a bit. We’re working with a couple version of it, but it’s looking awesome so far. Also, the new core powers for AMPs are getting a magical touch. Even if you don’t want magic per se, you can now pick magic-inspired powers like Mother Nature or War. I’m very excited for those. 


Thanks so much for the interview, Eloy! I hope you'll all check out the Kickstarter for AMP: Year Four today!

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Saturday, October 7, 2017

Quick Shot with Dave Silva on Metahumans Rising

Hi all! I'm running on short notice with this post, but wanted to still get the word out there. Dave Silva contacted me about his Kickstarter, Metahumans Rising, and I asked him a few quick questions. Check them out!


What is Metahumans Rising, both as a product and as your vision?

Metahumans Rising is a tabletop role-playing game inspired by iconic superhero stories. It is a self-contained core book with everything you need to get started including character creation, how to generate your powers, build threats, and a GM's chapter including 8 Simple Heroes, a host of villains ranging from streetgangs all the way up to a cybernetically enhanced genetically engineered dragon, and an introductory adventure that pits your characters against a new gang along with a full super villain team.

As for Metahumans Rising' s vision, we wanted to recreate the feel of comic books. Because the medium is so diverse, we approached character creation differently. Before even making characters everyone begins by establishing the Campaign Scope. Here everyone contributes in designing the overall tone and feel of the world the characters will inhabit. Because why a hero was doing something was just as important as being able to lob bolts of energy or fly, the next part of character creation involves establishing motivations, why are you a hero, what pushes you. The last part of of character creation is actually a team origin where the players work together to explain how they joined forces.

This last step acts as a kind of love letter to the GM regarding the types of stories the players want to see. The character creation process is designed to be inclusive and cooperative. In game play character motivations serve as a vehicle for player agency, allowing them to add elements to the story on the fly. Doing this, also increases the hero's ability to go beyond their limits and because of how motivations alter the story it's easy to share the spotlight.

How do the mechanics work for threats in the game, considering the scale goes all the way up to asteroids?

In virtually every medium superheroes face any number of threats from other powerful beings to storms and earthquakes to the aforementioned planet killing meteors. The Open Action System, the engine that Metahumans Rising is based on, uses a basic philosophy of you roll when it's appropriate and roll what's appropriate.

In a disaster, the players describe how their Heroes would mitigate the threat, whatever it might be, raw power or a talent, whatever makes sense in the narrative. They roll based on the actions they've described. Disasters have a Basic Value and dice based on their scale. The GM makes an opposed roll for the disaster and then we figure out how things shake out. It will take multiple actions to overcome most disasters. So the heroes are not doomed for one bad roll and if things do go poorly it means the GM can up the stakes. Disasters can also serve as complications while other things are happening, such as trying to fight a giant sea monster in the middle of a hurricane.

Tell me about some of your favorite powers in the game, and how they work in play. Why are they your favorite? What is the most fun about them?

Metahumans Rising allows players to create their own powers, and there have been some interesting ones. Out of the signature characters, my favorite hero's power is probably Nox's Shadow Control. She is able to generate fields of darkness, and blades of shadows. This also allows her to fly on waves of darkness and fade into shadows making her extremely hard to see. When you add in Willpower, it leaves her with a ton of possibilities. In convention games players have created everything from shadow cages to her own dark mecha to fight along her side.

Of the powers other people have made, one of the coolest was Copycat, when the character touched someone they mimicked their appearance and powers. This let them stand toe to toe with some tough customers. Unfortunately, it happened automatically, this lead to being turned into a giant slug at one point, not to mention a number of identity issues.

On the other end of the spectrum, one of the funniest has to be the "Spank ray" used by a Nannybot from the future. It was a tractor beam that could emit painful levels of force when administering discipline. The Nannybot's inhibitor chip had been removed alloeing it could fight crime between babysitting for other team members.

Of course, those powers just scratch the surface of what is possible.


Thanks Dave! I hope you all will check out the Metahumans Rising Kickstarter today, and tell your friends!

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