Friday, November 16, 2018

Five or So Questions on Nahual

Hi all! Today I've got an interview with Miguel Ángel Espinoza about Nahual, a game currently on Kickstarter. It sounds really fascinating, and I asked about some of the parts of the game that were new to me, like how your characters run a small business! Check out the answers below!

A cityscape with Nahuals, animal angel shapeshifters, traveling across the rooftop
Tell me a little about Nahual. What excites you about it?

I’m mainly excited about being able to bring a Mexican game into existence, to be able to present my culture in this hobby that I am passionate about. I discovered role-playing games in 1994, and almost 25 years later I’m writing a game of my own. I wish I could go back and tell me from the past this is what I’ll be doing. That he doesn’t actually need to be american or work on TSR to make it happen.

I’m also excited about being able to base the game on Edgar Clements works. He’s a very talented artist and also a very generous creator. The ideas he came up with for his graphic novel capture perfectly this complicated culture that we are, heir to a cultural clash that to this day still has repercussions. We are neither Spanish, nor Indigenous… we are mestizo. And Clement’s way to represent that fusion of folklore and myths, is brilliant. The first time I read his work I felt joyous envy, and thought that it was perfect for a Mexican RPG. So here I am, making it happen. Couldn’t be more excited.

The stages of a transformation for a jaguar Nahual
What do players do in Nahual? What kind of characters do they play? 

Players in Nahual play shapeshifting angel hunters. They inherited the power of the nahual, that allows them to transform into their totem animal and perform supernatural feats. But their knowledge is incomplete, because their ties to their ancestral indigenous culture were severed by the invading conquistadors and their armies of angels. So in present day struggle, they use this gifts to hunt down angels, to sell them as a commodity. They could be heroes or liberators, but instead all they manage to do is worry about putting food on the table, and live one day at a time. 
A three-headed doglike creature with red text, unclear, above it
You talk about being mestizo. How does that affect your design work in Nahual? How does it impact your role as a creator in regards to representing this story? 

I’m not sure. All I know is that being mestizo, latino, gives me a certain point of view that has to do with the way I grew up. But it is not something I’m actively paying attention to, or trying to convey. I can see for example how I (and other Mexican players) connect to Edgar’s stories without much trouble, and how some English speaking audiences struggle to understand some aspects of those stories. There’s of course a cultural gap, it is just natural. So what I’m actually actively trying to do is build a bridge for those audiences, for them to cross that gap.

You ask how being mestizo impacts my role as creator, I don’t think it does in this particular case. Because these are our stories, I’m part of it and they are part of me. If I was writing a Euro-fantasy game, inspired by Tolkien and all its tropes, then I think me being mestizo would have an impact, I would be playing as the visitor team, a fish out of water. With Nahual I’m not, I’m the home team, I’m in my element.

A winged person wearing a skull as a helmet, with outstretched arms.

I would love to hear more about the transformation, how it influences play, and the emotional context. How did you design a transformation that is progressive without becoming overpowered or confusing, and how do players react when they play this out in playtests?

The idea is that your character's Totem Animal is really a reflection of your personality. So if you are bold and strong, and maybe violent, your animal will be a jaguar. If you’re sneaky, a bit of a trickster and a little carefree, your animal will be a possum. So, unlike in some classic shapeshifting tropes, when you transform in Nahual you are really becoming a heightened version of yourself, instead of something else.

The design process has been complicated, I had to find a way to convince players to transform—on my first iterations players were hesitant to do it, like they wanted to “save it” for the real moment, which may never comes. So I had to tweak my design and mechanics to not only enforce the transformation, but also tell characters this is something you’ll want to do, something cool, because the game is about that! However I still needed to represent this toll characters have to pay for not having complete knowledge of how this power works (that lost connection to their roots I’ve mentioned before), so I’ve tied the transformation to stress and traumas. To be honest though, I’m still playtesting this, looking for the right connection/combination between its parts to make it work best and be tied to the fiction.

About the progressive power of the transformation, it is inspired in Epyllion, functioning as the advancement system for the game. As with Epyllion ages, each stage of transformation has its own XP track and as you unlock advancements, you push thru to the next levels of transformation. So you get more powerful, but that only means the MC can now punch harder at you! Hahaha.

And as for player reactions, the transformation is my favorite part of the game, whenever each character transform for the first time I tell the player that for each person the feeling is different, and I ask them how for their character the perception of the world around them changes…and I always get awesome creative responses from players, and it helps them getting involved in the game. And what I love is that it is not really a mechanic is only players creating the fiction.
Two images of the cover mockup with a Nahual
Tell me a little more about the changarro! How does it work, and how do players interact with it? Why do you feel it is important to Nahual? 

When I first started working on the game I was trying to include almost everything Clement has on his comic books. And it was all over the place. So, when I got in touch with Mark Diaz Truman, from Magpie Games, he helped me realized I need to focus my design, to tighten it up and make it sharper. And it was a feeling I had already, he just put a name to it, and he called it “holding environment”. And what that means is, I need something to make the characters come together, and it is different for each game, depending on the type of fictions they tell. And for Nahual, it became clear to me I had to focus on the angelero trade, the hunting of angels, and the way to do it was to have the characters working together in a Changarro, were they team up to share the burdens of handling the business.

Once I decided that will be the focus of the game, the holding environment, I started to work on mechanics for how the dynamics of the changarro will be. And something was clear from the beginning, I wanted players to feel what it is like to try to keep a small business afloat to make a living, despite harsh circumstances. So the changarro mechanics are about that grind. About needing to take care of the business in a day to day basis, running out of product…so they’ll need to go hunting, and having a bunch of problems—for players to choose from—that will come knocking at their door. At first it sounds repetitive, but on all the play testing I’ve have the problems characters face are completely different, because they’re also tied to the character’s backstory and relationships between them and the barrio they live in.

So the changarro is the glue that keeps players together and that jumpstarts the action, and also is the engine that will avoid things to stagnate, because there’s always going to be product you’ll need to restock, neighbors that’ll stick their noses in, rivals that will try to take you out of business, unhappy clients, or a big company that wants to either buy you out or crush you.

A Kickstarter promo image showing the cover mockup and noting that Nahual is a Mexican roleplaying game available in both English and Spanish


Thanks so much to Miguel for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it and that you'll check out Nahual on Kickstarter today!

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