Saturday, February 24, 2018

Playing Nice in Monsterhearts

There are a few things I know about my game playing preferences, but one is that I don't have a lot of energy for negativity and meanness.

Description: JD from Scrubs "[thinking] at that very moment, I fear I had divulged too much."
This is something that can be challenged by Monsterhearts. For the uninitiated, Monsterhearts is a Powered by the Apocalypse game about teenage monsters. It's riddled with sex and darkness, and almost everyone I know loves it.

I enjoy the game, despite some of my quibbles, but I often hit a roadblock when a strain of negative energy slides in. I have absolutely been a contributor or creator of this, and it's actually something I really dislike about myself. The first time I played Monsterhearts I found it kind of exhilarating, and I pushed myself too far - I ended up using an X-card on myself. I have played some nasty characters in the game, and I'm honestly not proud of it.

I have even made two Monsterhearts Skins - the Medusa and the Rusalka - and the Rusalka is definitely toxic. But it's said as much, clearly, and not about meanness. The Medusa is really about concepts of purity, honestly, so not very much so. Still, when I played the Rusalka, they were a passionate and intense person who just wanted to love people - not hurt them, not on purpose. And that was a play choice, obviously.

Sometimes people are okay with playing dark characters, mean characters, what have you - but I don't. Hell, I feel guilty if I even play a snarky one. I do it, but I feel gross afterwards a lot of the time. I don't like playing villains, and almost all of my characters drift towards niceness these days. I think it's because I've been hurt a lot, and because the world is so brutal, but I move away from catty, sarcastic jerks these days.

Example: I really didn't like Jessica Jones much. Description: Jessica Jones looking pissed with the text #bitch the fuck you just said to me.
It has gotten to the point that sometimes reading other people's actual-plays of Monsterhearts because there's so much abuse. Like, there's actual abuse sometimes, but there's also various types of trauma, there's cheating, and just a meanness, in so many people's play. I know not all Monsterhearts is like this, but I just have the bad luck of seeing some of the bad stuff.

And no, most of the time I won't bring this up during the game, or possibly even after. I don't like ruining people's fun and I have been shut down before about how "that's how teenagers are" so I dodge.
Description: Cardi B saying "I'm being nice to you. Have I stabbed you? No."

What this means is that I don't enjoy engaging with Monsterhearts much of the time, which sucks, because it was a formative game for me. All of this is going to the point that: Playing nice in Monsterhearts makes it a better game for me.

Right now, I'm playing a wonderful game of Monsterhearts 2 with Kit la Touche, Dillon Conlan (my partner), and Eric Duncan set in the fictional Alder Creek, which we've subtitled Our Sweet Boys. We're all playing men or masc centered characters, and we're all like... weirdly polite. The characters are Tucker Ulrey (Werewolf), Silas Schowalter (Ghoul), and Nix (Hollow).

Their backgrounds are a little wonky, but we've discovered in play that aside from Silas generally being cranky - he's dead, after all - we all tend towards like, just decency and politeness. Nix is kind of pre-programmed that way but models a lot of his behaviors off of Tucker, who is just a sweet darn puppy. Tucker is respectful and polite, though a little hesitant and gullible at times.

Description: a pug with a bandanna sitting awkwardly, with the word "heck" in small, lowercase black text.
It's funny because in spite of this, we still have drama. There's drama from the NPCs, who are not always nice, but are nicer because we are nice. There's still challenge and spoopy stuff happening, but we've found that the theme of the game - as Kit said - is less "what's going to happen next?" and more "what are we going to do about it?"

It's still a game with teeth, but we're not (always) the ones biting.

I think that it's renewed some of my interest in Monsterhearts, and while I could write For Ever about my thoughts on the subject, the biggest thing I've come away with is that I think we're technically playing the game wrong.

A lot about Monsterhearts in the text comes down to how there will be hurt and there will be trauma and yet, I feel like we're weirdly building an environment where when that does happen, we're playing characters that might be able to work through it. Yeah, I figure there's gonna be violence and etc., but we might end up growing up and being better because of it - not more damaged. We're like... good-ish, or something? With good intentions? And wanting to be nice sometimes?

Description: Sam Winchester from Supernatural hugging someone and saying "Too precious for this world."
Basically, I like the idea of having to encounter bad things in a situation where I'm not also a problematic bundle of jerk. Monsterhearts, in my experience, can bring out bad stuff in me. This specific session feels different, and I had a weird thought while discussing it with the other players and Kit.

Kit and I have recently spent a fair amount of time playing my shapershifter game Turn, and the first non-D&D game Dillon has played was Turn. The vibe in Turn is so massively different that I know it's definitely realigned my preference for play. I go quieter, I feel more happy when I'm playing someone who doesn't just want to hurt people, and I feel happier when I have at least one other player I feel love with. I think it says something interesting that the only one of us to approach snarkiness really is Eric, who hasn't played Turn.

I just wonder sometimes how much playing one game can change our perspective. I know that, at the start of my time playing, Monsterhearts changed mine. I'm wondering now - has Turn changed it, too?

No matter what it might be, I'm glad. The sessions we've had so far in Alder Creek have had a sweetness, a more caring environment, and I'm more invested in a Monsterhearts game than I've ever been.

Description: Jensen Ackles giving two thumbs up.

P.S. - I've found I enjoy Monsterhearts far more when I play with Script Change over the X-card. Changes the tone, I guess. It's nice!

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

Death in RPGs - Let Me Live (revised 2/17/18)

Hi all!

I recorded this recently and had to make some updates, but now it's a new video on a new URL:

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Monday, February 12, 2018

You're getting dumped by your catgirl girlfriend

My friend Caitlynn Belle has an excellent game, "you must break up with your werewolf boyfriend" and I have hacked it!

Here is: "You're getting dumped by your catgirl girlfriend"

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Quick Shot on Fate Accessories Kickstarter

Hey all, got together with Fred Hicks real quick to ask him a bit about the Fate Accessories Kickstarter that's currently running. See what he had to say, and check out the Kickstarter too!


Dice with matching Fate points.

What is the Fate Accessories Kickstarter about, both as a product and as your vision?

The Fate Accessories Kickstarter is a follow-up to our 2014 Kickstarter for Fate Dice that launched that whole line (now 11 catalog entries deep) and breathed new life into the whole Fudge Dice thing. In the years since the Fate Dice have continued to be a real tentpole for us in terms of revenue, but our initial stock from that run has been dwindling. We've sunk profits from the line into reprinting the most of the stuff that's getting low or even ran out (in the past several months we've gotten reprints rolling for the Antiquity, Eldritch, Centurion, and Vampire sets), but we also want to expand the line with more dice offerings in new styles and quantities, as well as launch a new line of Fate Point tokens that are color-coordinated with an existing (or to-be-funded) set. We've got a bunch of potentials waiting in the wings that we really want to show people, get their thoughts on, and get their help expanding the catalog. 

Infernal dice style.
What have been some of the challenges approaching reprinting and expanding - both creatively and from a business perspective?

I'll answer this backwards. :)

Dice are expensive, not on an individual scale, but on a manufacturing-run scale. When we get dice made it's a 5000 unit minimum order with the folks we have our primary die mold with, so that means for any one packaged dice item it'll cost us in the low 5-digits (think $10k-$15k range) to get another run made. Our original runs that were Kickstarter-funded in 2014 were manufactured at around 8000 units each, but as we approached 2018 most of them were down to around 1000 units or less. They've been a good supporting pole of our company's revenue stream, so letting multiple catalog entries run dry just wasn't an option.

So we looked at the most popular ones based on the last few years of data and made sure to get reprints of those rolling. Our Core Dice had already sold out, but the iridescent material we use there is a bit more difficult to source, which increases the minimum print quantity, so we decided to leave that one be (especially given something I'm about to get to below). We also decided we'd let our two licensed sets, Winter Knight and Atomic Robo dice, run their course without a reprint. I love the sets, but I also like the idea of not needing to pay royalties on our dice sales. We'd already brought back the Antiquity one, so that meant Vampire, Centurion, and Eldritch Fate Dice needed the reprint.

Of course that meant that the dice money we could have spent on developing and releasing new sets was spent on reprints... which brings us to our first Kickstarter of the year. Given that it had been four years since our first Fate Dice kickstarter, we felt it was a good time to turn to our fans again and ask for some help funding an expanded line.

Creatively, tho, man, that's the more difficult part of all this. There are only so many materials styles and distinctly-different colors you can offer before there starts being some kind of overlap. And honestly that's not something we came to terms with as much as we should've before we launched. We faltered a bit in our first week of the Kickstarter because we didn't make a good enough case that we were offering enough new and different, despite it feeling really obvious to us how things were different even if they fell in the broad categories of "green" or "blue" or "purple." But recently (just yesterday at the time I write this) we started off our second week of the KS with a reshuffling of our stretch goals to put the new and different more visibly and more close at hand, which seems to be working as we're getting a new surge of interest.

This was made possible in part because we're bringing a new dice construction method to the party: layered dice, where different colors of material are injected in sequence, letting you produce dice that have a striped or gradient effect depending on what colors and sequence you choose. Of course, that triples the difficulty in color selection, but does let you produce some dice that definitely don't look like any others we currently have.
Malachite dice design.

How do you choose what products are the right ones to bring back or newly develop - what ones really called for the action, and which ones are you most excited about?

I've already talked about some of the decision making that went into deciding what we brought back, so I'll focus on new development here.

We knew we wanted to get into the Fate Point token space. Campaign Coins did a great set of metal Fate tokens, and those are still out there if you can find them, but we didn't want to get into metals manufacture. That left us with the idea of creating a line of Fate Points tokens that use the same material as an associated set of dice; if we get the chance to expand the line further, we'll do more tokens in more styles to match other sets we've had done (or will have done). That's the other baseline goal of the Kickstarter, to make a new accessories line of Fate Points possible.

We've also prior to the Kickstarter begun an effort to make sure there are single player packs of Fate Dice out there — ones that contain 4 dice instead of 12 — as we've been hearing over the past few years that there are folks who want to buy a specific, single style of dice rather than a 3-style pack. As a dice addict I don't really understand that line of thinking, but I know my biases are not universal! So that's what gave birth to our Fire and Midnight Fate Dice single-player sets at $6 each. Our layered dice will also come in that kind of packaging, in part because they're a little more expensive to make, so that lets us price them at $8 per set — a 12-die set of all layered dice would need a price a lot higher than the $15 we normally charge for 12-die sets.

New materials styles and new construction methods tend to play into our choices of what to develop as well. Another set we had made without Kickstarter backing is our Frost Dice 12-die set that we released a year or so back. That came about because our manufacturer told us about a "matte" finish that could be applied to translucent dice, which give them a frozen-liquid appearance. It's an attractive set. Obviously the layered dice from our Kickstarter stretch goals also arose from access to a new construction method. To a great extent what can be done in manufacturing tends to drive the creative side of this more than the reverse — what methods can be used act as a fruitful constraint on the creativity.

As far as what I'm most excited about from the Kickstarter? Besides the Fate Points, it's definitely those layered dice. Have a look. :)

Aquatic dice design.

Thanks, Fred, for a great chat! Make sure you all check out the Fate Accessories Kickstarter to see what Fred &co have to offer!

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