Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Five or So Questions on Faerie Fire

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Shannon Campbell from Astrolago Press about the new bestiary currently on Kickstarter, Faerie Fire, which is compatible with Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Shannon is the creator alongside Dillon MacPherson and Malcolm Wilson. The Kickstarter runs until the morning of February 7, 2018. Check out Shannon's answers below!


The Conglomadog by Kory Bing
Tell me a little about Faerie Fire. What excites you about it?

Faerie Fire is a collaboration between myself and two of my gamemasters: Dillon MacPherson and Malcolm Wilson. The three of us are friends and colleagues and we're all very passionate about tabletop gaming--we're active homebrewers, Dillon and Malcolm especially. 

There's loads of things that excite me tremendously about Faerie Fire: the fact that it's full of items and creatures that the three of us have enjoyed so much in our own campaigns, and now we get to share them with everyone; the list of incredible illustrators that I'm so grateful to have had the chance to work with; and the fact that it's entirely up to our own creative vision what goes in the book. AND THE AESTHETIC IS KEY. I'm super stoked to get to work on such a vibrant, colourful project. We wanted to make a really wild book that felt a little bit sexy, a little bit dangerous--but at the same time super inclusive.

What was the inspiration for Faerie Fire, and how did you start compiling and creating all of this content together?

To start, a lot of it was homebrew we had developed for our own campaig
ns. Dillon and Malcolm have known each other for a decade and as they were both game designers and avid game masters, they were constantly developing and exchanging new content. They'd always wanted to make a tabletop compendium of their own, and the success in recent years of similar projects spurred them on. I'm a writer and narrative designer in video games but I've also had experience as an editor on various print publications--including Bones of the Coast, a Kickstarter-funded comics anthology I helmed in 2016, and The Underground: A Sam & Fuzzy RPG, a tabletop system & setting I edited a couple of years ago.

Right away it seemed clear to me that we should do something aggressive and bold--that it wasn't enough to just produce content that was the same flavour as the vanilla stuff already widely available. We were spending a lot of time in the fairy realm in a campaign that Malcolm was GMing and it seemed like there was a lot of content there to explore and develop--and it quickly became clear that anything we made for the Wilds would be anything but vanilla.

Pox and Pilfer by Amy T. Falcone

Why did you choose to use 5e as your base? Is any of the material flexible to use in other systems, even just the flavor?

Dillon and Malcolm have been playing for 10 years but I only came onto tabletop games with D&D 4th edition, which I played for about a year before 5e came out. After that I went through a handful of systems--but I kept coming back to 5e. I like long-form storytelling and character-driven stories, and 5e is just the right combination of intuitive and versatile--and it's so, so homebrew friendly. Pretty much every 5e campaign I played ended up having homebrew added before too long: custom player races and classes, new magic items, weird hybrid monsters--and everyone I played with was always happy to go off book. 5e feels like a robust and elegant toolset.

One of the things we'd really like to do with Faerie Fire is make it Fate-compliant as well (I'm a huge fan of Fate Accelerated)--whether this is done as a stretch goal, or as a side hobby over the next year, is hard to say. We think that the style and aesthetic of Faerie Fire would readily fit into a lot of systems and worlds--though the mechanics would obviously need to be adapted a little. And, of course, the fast-paced, glamorous, brilliant setting of Faerie Fire would make it a perfect fit for one of my favourite impromptu systems: All Outta Bubblegum.

How did you choose artists for the project to capture the aesthetic you were looking for? What was your search like?

I come from a comics background, and for five years I ran a curated comics festival called VanCAF that put me in touch with a large network of artists, so I quickly compiled a shortlist of talent that I thought would be a great fit for the project. We had an open submissions process, as well, where artists could pitch monster ideas for us to collaborate on--but in the end we only selected a handful of artists that way.

The vision was for Faerie Fire to be vivid and stylish and bold and glamourous, but I also wanted it to be non-binary and queer. It seemed to me that if we approached it as an art book as well as a supplemental, then it might provide an opportunity for people who have otherwise felt excluded from gaming to discover how incredible these worlds could be. To that end, we wanted to collaborate with diverse creators. My own connections were very LGTBQ+ representative, and feeds like @sffpocartists on Twitter and the #drawingwhileblack and #latinxartists hashtags provided a bounty of skill & talent that made it incredibly easy to discover new names I might not have been introduced to otherwise.

Tell me a little about the design process. How did you flesh out the creatures? What did you do to make sure everything was consistent thematically and mechanically?

The design process was a little bit different from artist to artist--some artists preferred to be assigned a creature, in which case they'd give us some requests (flowers! or feathers!) and tell us what they hated to draw, and we'd build them a custom creature that played to their strengths. Other artists had their own idea for a creature, so we'd get them to run it by us and then cross-reference it to all the other monsters going into the book to make sure that it was unique. We'd send back design notes, if necessary, but otherwise we wanted to give the artists as much autonomy as possible.

Making sure that each monster is unique involves, basically, a lot of spreadsheets. We have cross-references for creature type, whether they're humanoid or not, sentient or not--whether they have damage resistances or vulnerabilities, whether they can be used as a familiar or a mount. The book runs the whole gamut. Dillon and Malcolm design the stat blocks between the two of them and each of them reviews the other's work--I come in at the last to give the final review, whip up the lore, and make sure everything looks hunky dory from there. As the art comes in we review it and, if there's anything that doesn't quite sync up with the lore & stats we've developed, or if the artist has surprised us with something we weren't quite expecting, we'll tweak the written content one last time to make sure it gets the most out of the art and doesn't introduce any confusing inconsistencies.

The book is designed around the a chaotic Fairy plane, home of the fey. While not all the creatures originated there, they've all been affected by it, and that shapes their powers and design. We've also introduced the Plane of the Living Light, a neon-inspired plane that kind of bumps up against the Wilds--those with special sensitivities can see into it, and certain creatures can channel its living energy through them. Everything in the book, therefore, has been touched by one of these two things: either chaotic fey magics, or the pulsing, energizing Living Light.

Because the aesthetic ranges from the cyberpunky Neon Noir to the fun colours and friendly animals of certain beloved 90s stationery, there's a wide range of creatures: some are monstrous, some are sexy, some are friendly--some are just plain weird. Each and every one of them is an original creation.

To finish off, what are a few of your favorite items and creatures in the text, and why?

My favourite probably comes down to two or three different creatures: there's the Kapny (which is going to be drawn by Jemma Salume), dryad-like creatures that live in the husks of trees burned by wildfire; I'm also a huge fan of the Cawillopard (drawn by Desirae Salmark), a tall, giraffe-like creature whose head can't be seen for the weeping willow branches that trail down its neck; it has a symbiotic relationship with glittering spiders that live in its branches. When you're under its expansive canopy, the spiders make it look like the night sky shining above you. Pretty! But also creepy, depending on your particular phobia. And, lastly, I'm a big fan of our "cover girl", Sepal: she's the warden of the fey prison, where all the prisoners are transformed into flowers and shrubs for the duration of their imprisonment. She keeps a disciplined, well-manicured garden, and she's a fierce and cunning member of the fairy nobility; though she mostly prefers to stay out of the various squabbles and underhanded politics of the court, it'd be pretty stupid to underestimate her--she literally grows her own army. Yuko Ota drew Sepal for the cover of the book and the interior illustration of her, as well.

Jesse Turner is drawing all our items as we speak and each time he turns in a new one, it's even more fantastic than the last. I'm most looking forward to seeing the finished art for the Comet's Tail: a magical flail that looks something like a glowing comet, and allows the wielder to cast Minute Meteor. 

The Wayfarer by Jesse Turner


Thanks so much to Shannon for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it and will check out Faerie Fire, a 5e supplemental on Kickstarter - don't miss out, the Kickstarter ends February 7!

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

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If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Play with Purpose

Dice by John W. Sheldon
I'm going to try to make this brief, but I wanted to express something that has been sitting with me a while, and that's about what games we play and why we play them. This stemmed from discussion of Dungeons & Dragons, but it applies to many, many games and all types of players and GMs.

Why do you play RPGs?

I want you to ask yourself this question, dig down. Ask harder. Listen to your first response and dig deeper and ask harder.

Why do you play RPGs?

Now you have an answer, I would hope, that feels right. Now look at the games you play right now. 

How do those games meet your reason?

How do they question your answer - are you sure you want to do that? Can you even do that?

Do all of the mechanics support your type of play?

Do any of the mechanics reject your type of play?

Do you play around any mechanics to enjoy play?

Do you ignore sections of the rulebook to play?

What mechanics do support your play, your reason for playing?

Are the games intended to play one way, while you play the other?

What about this game makes it valuable to you?

Is that valuable thing mechanically in the game, or is it something you've introduced?

From here, ask yourself about the awareness you have of games around you that you aren't playing.

Do you know about other RPGs?

Do you know how to play them?

What games allow you to play comfortably without ignoring rules, if any?

Do any of them meet your reason?

Have you tried playing other games that meet your reason, if there are any?

I ask these questions because I want to see us play with purpose, and that purpose is play, an activity that is enjoyable and entertaining (even if that enjoyment is not gathered through "fun"). There are so many RPGs that it is just super unfortunate for people to be stuck playing a game that they aren't enjoying, that isn't meeting their needs, that doesn't fit their reason, that questions them in an unproductive way. I want to see people play games that hit the right spot for them.

This comes to mind because people play around rules so much, and that shouldn't be necessary! If you play a game and it feels like work, or it feels boring, or you feel exhausted afterwards in a bad way, ask yourself these questions. Take a deep breath, and consider your options. There are hundreds of RPGs out there! Some of them are free, and plenty of them can be learned easily if you look for simplicity, while others are crunchy and mechanics-heavy in ways that some people find delicious.

If the fiction doesn't work, ask the world for more options. If the mechanics don't work or seem extraneous or seem too minimal, ask the world for more options. The options are there. Don't suffer in play. It isn't fair to you, it isn't fair to those you play with.

Why do you play RPGs?

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Saturday, January 6, 2018

Five or So Questions on Let Me Take a Selfie

This interview turns Five Or So Questions upside-down, with the usual interviewer as the guest! Jason Morningstar of Bully Pulpit Games talks to Daedalum Analog Productions' Brie Sheldon about their new collection of games, Let Me Take a Selfie.

Cover by John W. Sheldon, 2017
Can you tell me about the genesis of this collection? What prompted you to make a series of games focused around this particular tool, and what was your process for discovery and creation?

I take a lot of selfies, like a really lot. They mean a lot to me! Cell cameras are a vital advance in modern communication and our ability to share our identities and emotions with people around the world, even if we don't speak the same language. Part of it is also just that I like trying new ways of telling stories and exploring game experiences.

I love dice but it's fun to take different mechanics from weird things we do. In Literally, I Can't, one of the games in the collection, you use the MASH (mansion, apartment, shack, house) game that I played as a kid to build characters. That is the kind of thing I want to explore in games!

I also design in response to things. I saw a few games using phone cameras that I felt didn't do what I wanted. I have had to learn a lot about selfies and myself to use this technology, and needed to apply it to games to get the experiences I wanted.

To make games, I honestly just took selfies. A lot. And I remembered how selfies have been relevant to my life. They are instrumental in my long distance relationships, and a part of how I feel connected to others, but also are ways that I know I can appear to not measure up to expectations or fade into the background if I'm not interesting enough. All of that came through in the collection! Every game has my heart in it, somehow, just with some "how to break it" instructions included!

Using mobile technology as a play aid and intermediary is such an interesting area to explore. Obviously this offered enormous design inspiration, but I'm wondering what challenges it also presented. Does it complicate aspects of design or play?

It certainly does! There are a lot of elements that are challenging. The first, one I'm very aware of, is that not everyone can afford a cell phone with a camera. I hated this, because it's a reality I wish I could fight, but to make games with this element I had to accept that loss. I am trying to figure out a way to make up for it, but my own financial status isn't awesome either.

Second, not everyone likes to take selfies, and not everyone even really knows how to take them (there's not really a wrong way, though, honestly). When I playtested Who Made Me Smile? at Big Bad Con this year, most of my table was people who either didn't take selfies, or didn't take them often, and most people approached it with some anxiety. Thankfully, we talked about it and I encouraged them and it went great! I don't know how it'll go with others, though.

Third and final so I don't write ten paragraphs, privacy and safety are huge concerns. For some of the games you'll pass your phone to other players or share your phone number, for others you're alone outside, and for some games you're dealing with emotionally trying things. All of these have their own measures. For sharing contact information and phones I tried to give strong reminders about respecting safety and deleting the other players' numbers unless they permit otherwise, and I also require that people hide NSFW pictures and content to avoid any consent violation. Being alone during game is risky, so I ask that people have an emergency check-in contact - and I also ask that for the emotionally intense games to help people get support. I also recommend Script Change for all of the games.

It's all complicated, I think, but it is worth it, I think.

I love the way this collection blends analog and digital and subverts expectations. The four group games imply that the participants will be together physically rather than distributed, and I wonder if you could talk about this choice.

One of the most troubling things I've seen with selfies, and one of my secret goals to target with the games, is the negative perception of taking selfies in front of other people. People regularly shame young people for taking selfies in public, and mock tourists who get selfie sticks to take pictures in front of huge landmarks. We don't mock people who have strangers take their pictures, or people who take pictures of other things or other people. Only people who dare recognize their own existence in public. I struggle, personally, with embarrassment over this - and I wanted to poke at it and prod it to see if I could fix that a little. In the games, you have to take selfies in front of people - sometimes making weird expressions or while feeling complicated feelings. I want to normalize that.

I want to normalize being in an airport crying before you head home after leaving a loved one and taking a selfie to say goodbye to them, or to let the person you're coming home to see that you're struggling, but okay. I want to normalize sharing your joy publicly by taking a picture of your smiling face to send to faraway friends. And I want to let that start with an environment that pretends you're far away from each other, which is where the games make it possible. In Literally, I Can't you have to take "competent"-looking selfies while all together for play - it's a challenge against the anxiety and stigma.

It's also important with Don't Look at Me, a two-player selfie game in the collection about my personal experiences in a long-term relationship with my husband while he was deployed in Iraq. The purpose of being together, but not facing each other and only able to see each other through selfies, is to create the emotional tension of knowing the person is there, feeling them just out of touch, and not being able to see them except through these constrained circumstances. John and I were, and are, very close, and I always felt like he was with me, but I couldn't touch him, I couldn't look at him face to face - everything was through lenses and bytes. I cry every time I think about the game because I know that tension, and it was important to me to make sure that the people playing it could experience it too. In Now You Don't, it's important to be around other people to create that experience of physical closeness and emotional ignorance. Surrounded by a crowd, but invisible - almost palpable.

Your games push back against a popular narrative that selfies are trivial narcissism. I feel like these games make selfies tools of meaningful expression, communication, and inquiry. What would you say to someone hostile to, or uncomfortable with, selfies?

Well, honestly, first I'd ask them how they feel about Van Gogh's self portraits. Maybe those are narcissistic, too, I guess, but I don't think that would be the majority opinion. I could direct them to the interview I did alongside a professional fine artist where I talk about the use of selfies as a grounding element in life, and where the artist (Robert Daley) says that selfies are simply modern portraiture. 

Video by John W. Sheldon

For me, there's the first aspect of selfies as being about identity and recognizing your own existence, validating who you are, making you feel whole. Then, there's the second part: it's just art. Photography is art, most people agree, and so are the oil painting portraits of people throughout history, including those like Van Gogh's that are self-portraits. 

I don't see what is different about using a modern camera to take a self portrait, aside from it being more accessible to people of all backgrounds (excepting those of very low income who have trouble accessing this tech). It removes the boundary of needing an extensive education in technique to paint yourself! Instead you take pictures in a moment, and learn with every photo how to change the angle, how to adjust lighting, how to open your eyes wider or raise your eyebrow to convey emotion, and how to show you, who you are or even who you want to be. It's magical, to me. I would just have to tell them that much: selfies are about showing who you are to whoever you want, and they are an artistic expression that's more easily accessible than many of those before.

You write in your introduction how important selfies are to you as a way to present yourself to the world in images you control. Do you see ways to incorporate either selfies as artifacts or mobile phones and their liberating ability to document a person's personal vision more generally in other games, old or new?

I would love to see some larger scale larps use selfies for storytelling - specifically, in larps where there are mystery elements or similar things that they could use a selfie to identify a character not in a scene, and distribute it to players. This would be excellent for games where there's reason to be suspicious of specific individuals. Using selfies that you either take in costume or alter to represent your character in game would, I think, bring a level of personal identification with the character that isn't often had. It also lets you record the experience of a game from the viewpoint you choose - you frame the moment, not anyone else. 

Doing selfie diaries for very emotional or intense games could be exciting - much like The Story of My Face in the collection, combining your words with a visual representation can make experiences feel more vivid. When I did test plays of The Story of My Face for the photos in the book, I really had fun in part because when I looked back at the pictures, I could remember the spooky story I was telling myself. Mid-game selfie logging, much like taking pictures of character sheets or game materials, can help keep memories rich and more easily recoverable. And that latter part, with taking pictures of game material - using phones to document game materials is really awesome because you can refer back to it easily. I also like using texting for "secret" communication in game or for sharing codes - the day someone makes an Unknown Armies-style horror game that uses text messages, selfies, and cell pictures to tell the story and guide players is the day I am pretty sure we win at games.
(by Brie)

Thanks for your time, Brie!

I hope you all enjoyed it and that you'll share this interview and the DriveThruRPG link with all your friends!

[From Brie: Thank you to Jason so much for this, it was a really fun experience and I'm so glad to talk more about LMTAS!]

Note: All images except the cover are by Brie Sheldon and excerpted from the collection used to write and layout LMTAS, and the cover is a compilation of Brie's photos with a super nice layout by John W. Sheldon.

Thoughty is supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

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Friday, January 5, 2018

Reminder: Turn Playtest Available

In case you're interested in what I'm working on or looking for something to playtest!

Turn is a slice-of-life supernatural roleplaying game set in the modern era.

Players in Turn are shapeshifters in small, rural towns who must balance their human lives and habits with their beast needs and instincts. Their baser natures will challenge them as they strive towards goals from everyday tasks to life-changing experiences, and they will need to find comfort in one another to make it through without becoming stressed out. The system uses player discussion and a set of d6 rolls for resolution.

Follow briecs.com for more information and check out the current playtest draft at https://tinyurl.com/turn-rpg-beta-2018. Turn is slated to be a complete draft by the end of 2018, potentially pursuing crowdfunding.

This post was supported by the community on patreon.com/briecs. Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to http://paypal.me/thoughty.

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, email contactbriecs@gmail.com.