Monday, February 24, 2014

Five or So Questions with Paul Czege on The Clay That Woke

I got to interview Paul Czege about his new Kickstarter, The Clay That Woke!

Tell me a little about The Clay That Woke. What's the game about at its core?

Player characters are minotaurs in a declining human civilization. It was once the cultural center of the world, but those days are gone. No one remembers the meaning of these big, carved faces in their architecture. No one remembers how to make steel. But also, stories of things from a thousand years ago still circulate as if they just happened recently. And there's this strange and unmapped jungle encroaching.

Minotaurs are a found species, and a new species; a few generations ago four infant minotaurs were pulled from the mud of the river; now they're an underclass that human civilization uses for menial and dangerous work. It's difficult for them. They have almost no control over their employment. But they've developed a philosophy of life-conduct to help them live well among men. It's called silence.

If you squint, you can see my influences in all that. I grew up playing AD&D. You might pretend you could pursue whatever you wanted in an AD&D game, but really, you pretty much had to take the job the dungeon master had prepped. The Clay That Woke makes not being able to control your employment a thematically productive part of the game world. And in AD&D you had alignment controlling your behavior. Silence is like alignment, but with mechanics that make it a complex and personal concern.

Of all creatures, why choose minotaurs?

Do you know Judd Karlman, formerly of the Sons of Kryos podcast? I learned something from seeing him enthuse about Githyanki online. He started posting about Githyanki and it created a lot of energy. It inspired the enthusiasm of others and then suddenly a bunch of people were planning Githyanki campaigns and to run Githyanki convention scenarios. The hobby has scores of big-setting RPGs intended for campaign play. What I learned from Judd was to really inspire play you have to create your game from a source of deep and personal, almost unconscious inspiration. Shared appreciation for some geek entertainment genre isn’t enough. You need something that exists under your skin.

Years ago I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way--which had a big impact on me--and started daily stream-of-consciousness journal writing as she recommends. So when I figured I needed to get in touch with my unconscious inspirations if I wanted to design a rich-setting RPG, I used my stream-of-consciousness writing for that brainstorming. After several weeks, and some dead-end inspirations, I found one that really didn’t let go. It was an image in my head of a minotaur guarding a wealthy estate as the sun rises above the jungle in the background. Everything in The Clay That Woke came from that image. There was something powerful in it; I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Who owned that wealthy estate? What was the minotaur’s life like?

What do you want people to take out of the game the most?

I designed My Life with Master from unconscious inspiration--just like I’ve designed The Clay That Woke. Only later, from playing it, did I realize it was because I had something to say about controlling relationships. The fun for others is going down that same path, experiencing the game and figuring it out. That’s what I want for The Clay That Woke too. Its themes are as non-obvious as My Life with Master’s. I understand it myself now from all the playtesting I’ve done; so now what I want most is what all artists want, I think, for people to experience their work, for people to play the game themselves, and discover its themes. It’s the fun.

What went into the process of developing your token mechanic? What do you think it provides for the story that no other mechanic could?

Almost ten years ago I designed a game called Bacchanal, in which players roll ever-changing handfuls of dice and interpret them to tell the story of a character’s efforts to reunite with a companion. Those mechanics taught me just how inspiring and creatively productive an oracle could be. The Krater of Lots in The Clay That Woke is very much a descendant of the dice mechanics in Bacchanal. A lot of roleplaying games these days rotate their spotlight from player to player and say in turn to each of them, in effect, “Do something interesting.” And it’s often not that easy. The Clay That Woke, like Bacchanal, gives you some input. It says, “Everyone, this minotaur just changed the mind of the opposition in some way, figure that out--but don’t workshop it--just roleplay forward, knowing that you’re all aiming for the same destination.” Or it says something like, “This minotaur acts with physical confidence for a dramatic outcome in his favor, but also makes a mistake or error. Figure that out. Roleplay forward.”

After the Kickstarter, what comes next for you?

Right on the heels of the Kickstarter I’m an invited guest to Gamestorm in Oregon. Then I’m heads-down finishing the art direction and writing on The Clay That Woke. The Kickstarter just crossed the stretch goal that commits Nate Marcel for ten more illustrations, so I need to give him art direction for those. My next game project after that is an RPG about supervillains on parole, trying to go straight. It had one unsuccessful local playtest that didn’t even go an hour and a half, and then one really successful and fun full playtest session at Forge Midwest last year. So I just need to figure out what makes it work when it works well. And it needs a title. Any suggestions?

Thanks to Paul for the interview! If you have any comments or suggestions for the name of Paul's next project, comment here!

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