Thursday, October 25, 2018

Five or So Questions on Dinosaur Princesses

Hi there! I have a new interview today with Dana Cameron and Hamish Cameron on Dinosaur Princesses, which is a fantastic new game on Kickstarter! Please check out their answers below on this nifty project!

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A t-rex and smaller dinosaur storm through the jungle in doctor outfits while avoiding banana peels. Text "Dinosaur Princesses"

Tell me a little about Dinosaur Princesses. What excites you about it?

Dana: What is there not to be excited about? First, Dinosaur Princesses is also a colouring book—actually colouring and drawing is one of the most important parts of gameplay, in my opinion. One of the first things you do is draw and/or colour your dinosaur princess. As part of that, what I think is really great about the game is that it taps into the limitless and boundless imagination that we had a kids. The colouring and drawing parts are great at breaking down barriers that we often have as adults which tell us to reign in our creativity to make it fit within certain perimeters of consistency and probability; it gives permission to just have fun. It is meant to be able to be played by kids, but I think it really shines when adults play it.

Dinosaur Princesses is also very friendly to folx who are completely new to table-top RPGs. When I have run it, I have often had a high percentage of folx who have never played a ttrpg before. The system is very rules-lite, so players have very little stress worrying about system mastery. It's also so fun and easy to run that it acted as a gateway to get me to finally get over my extreme social anxiety and be able to run the game myself!

Finally, I think of it as a queer game. Princesses are explicitly stated to be of any gender. "Dinosaur" is also a pretty open descriptor; you can be a t-rex or velociraptor, but your dinosaur can also be a cat or train. It's subtly stating that what we see as rigid boxes, descriptors, or roles are actually malleable and able to be questioned. One can take those boxes and, if they want, subvert them to express other identities—and that is totally an acceptable and good thing to do. It's a freeing experience.


A character sheet with a hand-drawn winged dinosaur with great eyelashes on it.

What were the inspirations for Dinosaur Princesses, and how did you come to the point of making a game plus coloring book from those inspirations?

Hamish: The main inspiration for Dinosaur Princesses are the kids of a couple of my best friends in New Zealand. At the time, their favourite things were Dinosaurs and Princesses, and my friends were joking about finding a game they would both like. I said I'd write it and a few months later they playtested the first version! They were 4 & 6 at the time, so that'll probably be my youngest playtesters for a long time! Beyond the origin story, I had a lot of discussions with those same friends about the kind of things that the game could do that other games don't. The idea of the central mechanics being cooperation and problem solving came out of those discussions.

(Following on from Dana's comment about it being a queer game)
One of the fundamental design principles is that the rules should provide enough structure to help children tell stories that feel like an after school cartoon--with all weird and wonderful characters that involves!--and that, within the confines of a game about cooperative problem solving, the rules should never block them from imagining who they wanted to be while they play. I didn't want an 8 year old telling their younger sibling that they couldn't play a cat or a dragon or whatever because it's "against the rules."

Dana: I can tell the story about how it became a colouring book! Hamish was already working on it, but I didn't know much about it at the time. We were in a small bar in Wellington, NZ a couple years back and he was telling a friend about the game. He said he wanted the rules book to look like a kids book and that he was also thinking of the character sheets as something for people to draw and colour on. I made the logical leap and (probably) shouted, "THE RULES BOOK SHOULD *BE* A COLOURING BOOK!!!!!!". I guess that was my first touch on the game. I didn't really start working on it actively until earlier this year.

a whole collection of character sheets with drawings and a map in the center of a table

What are the mechanics like in the game, and how do players interact with each other and the world?

Hamish: Dinosaur Princesses uses an opposed dice pool mechanic which is set up so that if a Dinosaur Princess tries to do something on their own, the odds are against them. After they assemble their dice pool, they ask their friends, the other Dinosaur Princesses, the most important question in the game, "Will you help me?" Then their friends build dice pools and hopefully overcome the problem together! Dinosaur Princesses has a GM who rolls the opposing dice pool, but it's a very low-prep role that brings in a lot of the Powered by the Apocalypse ethos of encouraging player participation in worldbuilding and player-driven narratives. The players come up with the story together at the table.

[Brie Note: The collaboration encouragement here is SO GREAT.]


How do players choose their Dinosaur Princess, and what do they use to assemble their dice pool?

Dana: Players have a character sheet, some of which of have colouring-book style line art of typical dinos (t-rex, triceratops, etc) and some of which have the picture space blanks so folx can draw their own. Players decide on what type of dinosaur they will be—there is an example list in case someone has a hard time coming up with one. However, it's important to note that we use "dinosaur" in a loose sort of way; I have played a cat and platypus "dinosaur"! Similarly, players then choose what type of princess they will be. This can be any sort of profession-like thing, such as doctor, aquanaut, news caster, and so forth.

They assemble their dice pool by describing how they use their strengths as a dinosaur and as a princess to help their friends. The mechanic is set up so that if a Dinosaur Princess tries to do something on their own, the odds are against them. It's important that the player starting dice pool asks their friends, the other Dinosaur Princesses, the most important question in the game, "Will you help me?"

Hamish: There are sample lists of types of dinosaurs and princesses in the book and on the character sheets, but they’re supposed to be inspirational, not restrictive. Players are encouraged to be as inventive and imaginative as they like in choosing who they will play.


What kind of stories do you tell in Dinosaur Princesses? How do you keep it interesting?

Dana: The sorts of stories being told in the game are as unique as the Dinosaur Princesses that the players create at the table. The world-building and story plot directly grows from that foundation. I have had games where the plot revolved around the Dinosaur Princesses trying to find their Houses & Humans game miniatures, and I have had games where the Dinosaur Princesses rode around town on the monorailasaurus to try to uncover the mystery of the queen's roving teapot. I have had games that took place in an abandoned mall and ones that took place in space. It really is a game where everyone's boundless imagination shapes play!
Hamish: Dinosaur Princesses is designed to be played as a one shot, it takes about 2 hours to play a game, and it draws on the creativity of everyone at the table; so it spreads the cognitive load of coming up with new stuff and people can usually keep the ideas coming over the short length of play.

dinosaurs of all different types and shapes all dressed up in different outfits including a chef, a doctor, and one holding a boombox while wearing a monocle, and the text Dinosaur Princesses.

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Awesome! Thanks Dana and Hamish for the interview! I hope everybody enjoyed it and that you'll check out Dinosaur Princesses on Kickstarter today!



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