Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Five or So Questions with Justin Bow on Of Gods and Heroes

Justin Bow is from Green Fairy Games!

What's exciting about Of Gods & Heroes?
I talked about this in the Kickstarter description, but I can't say it enough - the game plays like an action movie. It's traditional game mechanics designed to promote creativity and strong character-centered stories with the over-the-top feel of mythology. I think one of the most important aspects of the game are Legend Points/Legendary Feats.

A lot of games have rules that let you reroll a failure, gain a one-shot bonus, or otherwise boost your chances for success. Legend Points let you do all those things, but they also let you perform Legendary Feat. Legendary Feats are myth-level abilities that each player will, on average, get to bust out once per adventure. If they're not an attack against an opponent, they automatically succeed. So you can simply hand over a Legend Point as a Fast Hero and say "I run across the water, because I'm FAST." A Tough Hero could go without food for a month or a Strong Hero could row a ship fast enough to escape a tidal wave.

Legendary Feats are also important because they're where players get to interact directly with the plot - it's a way to completely throw things off the rails in the coolest way possible. A good example from a beta playtest a few years ago had some Viking Heroes chasing another ship, which had just burned their village to the ground. They weren't making much headway (and the enemy ship was supposed to get away), until the Strong Hero said "You know what, I'm really strong. Forget this. I'm jumping over to the other ship."

And he did. Ultimately, both ships ended up sinking when one of the other players decided to ram the ships together, but that's neither here nor there...

What mythology most inspired your game?
This kind of feels like you're asking 'which is your favorite child.' OGH is pan-mythic, so it discusses a whole range of mythologies, from Aztec to Japanese to Norse and Greek. The basis for the game, though, is sea-faring mythology - your Heroes are assumed to be from a sea-faring culture and a lot of the game is about the crazy things that are beyond the Horizon. If you look at mythology, there's often this idea that, sure, there's magic and gods and stuff in day-to-day life, but the really crazy stuff is over the Horizon. Islands of dog-headed people, rocs guarding valleys full of diamonds, women who try to lure you out of your boat by singing, the edge of the world, that sort of thing.

So that's a strong theme. I'm pretty familiar with a wide range of mythology and folklore, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm most familiar with Greco-Roman and Viking mythology, so a lot of the random example names come from those myth cycles. Both the sample adventure list and the opponents draw pretty widely from a lot of different mythological inspirations - there's even a monster from Australian mythology in there (the bunyip).

I should also mention that there are guidelines for running non-sea-faring games in the Chronicler (GM) chapter. These are essentially just little tweaks that exchange the ocean for a different geographic barrier - whether that's jungle, desert, mountains or whatever. The sense that the wide world is dangerous and you're safer at home wasn't exactly rare in iron-age societies.

Tell me a little more about the basic mechanics of the game. What is the system like?
OGH uses a d6 dice pool mechanic where 5's and 6's are successes.

There are no attributes - only skills and Prowess. Prowess is, essentially, what makes your Hero a Hero. Classically, Heroes are exemplary in every way, but are far more than human in a single area – as Hercules is known for being strong and Odysseus for being cunning, every Hero has a defining capability and this is Prowess. Prowess allows a Hero to stand proudly before the gods and sometimes defy fate itself.

Most dice pools are made up of a Skill + an appropriate Prowess. Both skills and Prowesses max out at 6. Starting characters max out with 5 dice in their areas of focus.

I suggest using two visually distinct types of dice for skills and Prowess because Prowess dice explode if they come up 6 - that is, you can bank the success, reroll the die and get another success or keep rolling 6's, building successes.

The overall goal of the mechanics design was to keep things streamlined - so dice pool modifiers are only for important elements and there aren't many of them. We've found that even with people who've never played an RPG before that the system - from character creation on - is intuitive and easy to learn.

In addition to common things like social conflict, combat, and magic, there are a number of subsystems for warfare, speechifying to crowds, and ritual combat. These are kept modular so that unless you're actually, you know, going to war, you don't need to worry about those rules - but at the same time, their structure is the same as the core game systems, so you're not suddenly getting jumped by a much more complicated ruleset just because you wanted to introduce one of these story elements.

I really felt having that flexibility was important because players are going to see those rules and say "holy crap, I can start a riot!" Because the rules exist, people are more likely to put those elements in their games and tell crazier, more exciting stories.

You mentioned Tough Heroes and Strong Heroes. What's the difference? Are there other types of heroes?
I mentioned before that there are no traditional attributes in Of Gods & Heroes and talked a little bit about Prowesses. Tough and Strong are two of the 12 or so different Prowesses. A Tough Hero would be someone like Achilles whose super-mortal abilities are focused on being resistant to damage - they're also berserkers, so the more they get hurt, the better at melee combat they are. Tough Heroes mostly handle defensive roles in a group of Heroes, making sure that opponents focus on them rather than their squishier friends. Strong Heroes are pretty much what it says on the tin - strong. Think Hercules or Thor. Their job is to punch things really hard and lift heavy objects.

Some of the other Prowesses are: Cunning (liars, tricksters, geniuses - like Odysseus or Coyote), Eloquent (smooth-talkers and beautiful people, like Helen of Troy or Orpheus), Dextrous (people with exceptional agility, famous archers - like Monkey or Artemis), Wise (sages, mages, the guys who speak the language of creation - like Taliesin the Bard), or Beloved of Death (literally the child of the god/goddess of death).

Each one of these "styles" of Hero has an important role to play in an epic. Personally, I like to run/play in games with around 4-5 players, but I've had sessions where we've done a whole adventure with just an Eloquent Hero and a Strong Hero and it worked very well because they were able to cover each others' backs. I think you could successfully run a full epic with just one combat-capable character and an Eloquent, Wise or Cunning Hero.

What do you hope players get out of the game?
First, I hope that Of Gods & Heroes lets people make new myths. As a GM, I am constantly surprised by the stories this game creates. There’s real agency given to players through the Legend Points mechanic without making the game about who gets to tell the story. Every game session I walk away from the table feeling like we (myself and the players) created an interesting, exciting story. One time, I had to just end the session with “… and that’s why, to this day, all the snakes on Crete can talk.” It’s a really fun, collaborative process to get to that point. A process that involves punching a lot of things in the face.

I also hope that OGH encourages people to take another look at mythology, whether they read myths as a kid or last week. Mythology is public domain, which means there are plenty of websites that have comprehensive collections of various cultures’ myth cycles. Combined with Wikipedia, ‘researching’ a campaign setting or finding new material to inspire adventures is insanely easy. And I just think it’s cool to see how different cultures all tell similar stories and then to realize that we’re still telling those stories today, just modified to fit our culture.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Five or So Questions with Shannon Appelcline on Designers & Dragons

Tell me a little bit about Designers & Dragons. What excites you about it?

Designers & Dragons is a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. It starts with TSR and runs through Posthuman Studios and along the way it provides complete histories for over 80 other roleplaying publishers. Each history focuses on the roleplaying production of one company, but also charts out all of its highs and lows, so you can learn about TSR's lawsuits, Palladium's Crisis of Treachery, the few times that Chaosium teetered on the edge, and much more.

This all excites me because it's the backstory of the industry. It's the tales of people who are remembered, the ones who were forgotten, and the great games they created — most of which are no longer on the shelves. It's about the companies that prospered (often in unexpected ways) and the companies that failed (usually in equally unexpected ways).

I started writing Designers & Dragons because I wanted to know what had happened to these companies of the past — where they'd disappeared to and what their stories were. I found that uncovering this knowledge was fascinating, and it appears that readers do as well!

What do you think are highlights of the 00s that new designers should really be aware of?
First, designers should look at the indie movement. Some of the early indie ideas like resource management and freeform attributes have already hit the bigger time in releases from larger publishers. However, indie games also contain lots of other interesting design like unconventional narratives, distributed authority, scene framing, and stake setting. Not all of it's appropriate for every game, but a designer should be aware of the entered toolbox, and that toolbox has been expanded a lot since the mid '90s.

Second, designers should look at the OSR movement. I'm not necessarily talking about the retroclones, but the newer games that have melded together modern design aesthetics with old-school design tropes. I think that Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (2012) is the game that's probably done the best job of managing this merged landscape.

If you know what made the industry appealing in its early days and if you know the newest ideas about how to develop roleplaying games, then you've probably got a pretty good handle on interesting design.

What is your favorite thing to talk about in RPG history?
I love the scope of history: the fact that the RPG industry has been around for forty years and that it traces its origins back even further; the fact that its created parallel industries like modern miniatures games, CCGs, and computer RPGs. I love how you can often trace a designer's production through multiple companies, to see where they started and where they went. I love the scope within an individual company, as you see how it rises (and sometimes falls).

However, I find it just as intriguing to talk about the reasons behind all this history: why a person started a company and why they decided to create an RPG on a specific topic. I love discussing why an abrupt change occurred at a company: why an old RPG line went away or why a certain type of product was discontinued,

So I'd say those two things: the big picture and the little reasons that underlie it.

Who do you think will benefit the most from the books, and why?
My first reaction is to say that old-time gamers will benefit from Designers & Dragons the most, because the books talk about all the old companies that they remember and the old game systems they still play. Equally, the books reveal the secrets of the smaller presses that old-time gamers might have heard of, but never investigated. However, I think that newer gamers will benefit from the books too, because they're full of everything that's gone before — the companies and games that are the foundation that modern gaming is built upon.

So I'd have to say anyone who wants to learn more about the gaming industry, the companies that made it up, and the games they've produced over the last four decades.

What do you suggest people do, aside from reading Designers & Dragons, to learn more about RPGs and the industry?
I love the old gaming magazines for what they reveal about the industry. Wizards of the Coast's Dragon Magazine Archive is awesome for the fact that it lays out 25 years of industry growth, and you can get it on eBay for about $100. The generalist magazines were also good because they tended to be full of news, interviews, and game design notes from a wide variety of companies. I'd particularly recommend The Space Gamer, Different Worlds, White Wolf, and Shadis — which together form a nice chronology from the late '70s through the '90s.

There have also been a couple of great books. Heroic Worlds, a catalog of the games of the '70s and '80s, and Playing at the World, a dense investigation of the origins of roleplaying, are particularly interesting.

Finally, there are a number of OSR blogs which do a good job of looking at the history of the industry. Grognardia was my favorite until it fizzled out, but it's still got interesting things in its archives.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Five or So Questions with Jão Pedro on Love Gift Cards

You can check out Jão's Patreon here: 

Tell me a little about your Game Chef winning game, Love Gift Card. What excites you about it?
First and foremost, It's been peoples' reaction to it! The game's premise is a little far-fetched, and to me it really was a game design exercise, just as the competition calls for. I didn't think it would score, but people get excited with the idea, even folks outside hobby circles! So there's that, and I'm still a little baffled.
But what's really nice is that people get the game's goal: to expand autonomously driven by the human desire to do good, and to foment that very desire by doing so. It's a cycle they seem to recognize as something which could be, as something viable. That people can so easily correlate the game's mechanism to what goes on in real life, even when the game isn't really playable yet, makes me really proud of it.

I'm interested in bleed in RPGs, when boundaries between players and character worlds get blurred. I think that's when this games acquire the potential to produce the same kind of reaction as good art does: touching emotional layers, offering new perspectives about the world we live in. The Love Gift Card Game is an attempt to to get people, specially geeks like myself, wondering about their roles in real life, and their real-life behaviour and real-life communities. That sort of thing, I think, should be what game designers should be dealing with.

What were your inspirations for the game?
The whole idea derived from the contest's theme, There is no book. I was talking to Encho (last year's Game Chef World champion) about it, we were both trying to stretch it to "there are no game instructions" and figuring out how could a game like this be, and I said it would be cool if people had little pieces of the game that only made sense when they met and put them together. It would be a decentralized game, forever ongoing, and I thought it would be even cooler if carrying around little "pieces" of the game were some fashionable thing, so the game could expand carried out by this fad and "happen" in the events of two carriers bumping to each other. I thought this went well to the ingredients Absorb and Wild. Then I reminded of this annoying thing called The Game, a one-rule game that you "play" only by knowing it exists and you "lose" every time you remember it (by the way, I just lost it!). The only element of this game is a meme, that propagates by itself. It doesn't even need players to decide to play it! And I just recently played a larp called White Death, which impressed me by how deep a game could get using just a set of simple instructions for the players to perform, so I figured what I needed was some simple trigger-action combination people could apply to their everyday lives.

That's when I got to the "hug game" idea. I don't know, there's a cant here to describe friendly social events as love-something, like "new year's eve party of love", or "RPG tuesdays of love", so I decided to do a proper "game of love". To me, it sounded like something that could be relevant as a message to the real world, and I liked it. So I probed our local Indie RPG facebook group with a mockup card, got some positive feedback, and here we are!

Tell me a little bit about the mechanics. What makes the game work?
Actually I don't really know if it will work! It depends on how people face the instructions. I suppose that if people receiving cards find it too silly, it won't work at all. It really depends a lot on the social structure in which it is seeded.

But the idea is this: you get a card (buy it or receive it from someone else) and it presents you with a slightly socially-awkward challenge, but that is really a good deed you're tasked to do. And it also informs you that if you can accomplish that you kinda become part of some secret group, which members you could recognize by their actions, and that you should pass along the card, helping the "game" to expand. It's an appeal for you to take part in a sort of benign wave, to willingly become a link in a chain reaction designed to make the world a better place. Hell, if it doesn't make people scratch the itch, then humanity is indeed doomed! :-)
Technically, it should work as a challenge type of game. But, as I said, It was designed as an theoretical exercise of game design. I'm expecting critics if it even qualifies as a game at all! God knows what could happen if it is materialized.

Art-wise, though, I expect it to instigate reflections on relationships (or the absence of them). If this occurs, even if it doesn't function as a real game, I'll be satisfied.

Talk a little about bleed. What do you think is so interesting about it?
We tend to see games as entertainment solely, as something you do to escape from a harsh reality. That's a very narrow perspective. Games can be a media as fruitful as any other, they can be as powerful as the cinema or literature, or even more, since it engages you on another level. Dungeons & Dragons can be about cooperation. Horror RPGs can be tools to explore the human condition. Why not? The other day I learned Monopoly was originally designed to warn people about the trouble with abuses of private property, and if you think this through, its a hell of a demonstration! When we, humans, need to cope with unsettling issues we play: we create music, pictures, tales. Games are just another way of playing out this issues, and we should use them. So I'm all for the nordic school of larp: do touch, seek the points of convergence between fiction and reality, and use the opportunity to learn about yourself and others.

I talked about White Death previously. I'm new to larping so I might be overreacting, but that game touched me deeply. The game itself is very simple, but the music, the constraints... it forces you to contemplate your helpless imperfection as a human being, the caos that emerges inevitably from human interaction, and death. It printed really strong images in my brain. It made me cry. How could this be just a game?

What's up next for you now that you've won the contest?
On The Love Gift Card Game front, I'm talking publishing it with Kobold's. I don't know yet how this will play out, since the game follows no known business model, but we're studying the best way to bring the idea to life.

Also, I've got a bunch of unfinished projects, including another game which was finalist in a contest and is (was?) due to publication, the Massa Critica RPG, and I just couldn't make time to work on them. So I'm taking this Game Chef prize as an incentive and finally setting up a page on Patreon to concentrate some effort on those projects (I'll send you the final link shortly so you can include it here, ok?). Who knows? Maybe I can squeeze out some more good ideas!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Five or So Questions with Avonelle Wing on Convention Organizing

Tell me a little about what you do as a convention coordinator. What's exciting about it?

What do I do? that's a very complicated question, because I wear many hats, and the list of things I do could read like a resume.
From the practical and very concrete perspective, my job is to make sure the resources are available for the convention staff to provide the most satisfying convention experience possible to the broadest segment of our population. Among the things I do are:
  • Remembering to buy the right envelopes (peel and stick, #10), card stock, poster board, tape, packing tape, duct tape, and knowing which brand and why.
  • Keeping track of ridiculous things, like remotes, wires, plugs, components - making sure everything gets packed to and from every con, and I know where each important piece is. all the time. 
  • Refreshing our extension cord supply. 
  • Counting bed spots accurately so senior staff and guests all have a place to sleep.
  • Soliciting and tracking prize support and library copies of games.
  • Keeping track of special guests and making sure they have satisfying experiences at the con. 
  • Maintaining a social media presence so the conventions are people, not faceless corporate entities to attendees. 
My brain holds a million vital little details that mean we don't ahve to reinvent the wheel. and we never have to deal with the experience of buying the wrong duct tape again. (the whole Big Board system fell off the walls at DEXCON. Within hours of putting it up. It's my job to remember that horror and to make sure we avoid it in the future. 1,000 events on the ballroom floor. oi.)

I talk to game masters. I help piece the schedule together (my husband does the lion's share of the scheduling and I still get a little swoony when I look at the sheer magnitude of the task he takes on every convention.). I coordinate staff.

On a more ephemeral level, I get to be part of the magic of our community. I am the welcome wagon - I notice when somebody is looking a little lost and I loop them into something exciting. I forge connections, solve problems. When somebody is in the middle of a devastating breakup and needs to hide, they end up in my room, because that's a safe place to hide and I always feed you after I scrape your sobbing self up off a hallway floor. Our conventions are described by lots of people in our community as "giant family reunions" and I get to make that magic happen. It's akin to being the eccentric aunt who rents the pavilion, hires the magicians and buys 100lbs of charcoal. The difference is that our community has chosen to be here. and I love them for that.

I get to facilitate our evolution. When somebody comes to me and says "freeform. it's a thing. we need more of it" I get to say "ok! fill out the form and let's do it!"

When somebody says "gender. It matters in gaming and we need to talk about it." I get to say "OK! space, exposure, attention. let's go."
18 months later, somebody said the same thing about race. "Great. Let's talk. Let's talk long and loud and let's get angry and let's do positive things to change our world. Let's go!"
We hear "old school roleplayers feel lost. we want a home too!" and we launch a convention within a convention to serve them too.
Our job is to be responsive and supportive and encouraging. and I think we do a decent job of it. It's exciting to me to hear somebody say "I want to..." and to be able to say "and I can help make that happen. I'm excited! let's go!"

I am often humbled, watching our community support each other. and I get to know that they've come together because I've given them the venue and the opportunity and the reason to do so.

What is the biggest challenge to hosting a con?
The biggest challenges of any convention lie in the unknowns - will the air conditioning be able to keep up? how many bottles of soda will we blow through this year? The system and process stuff? We've got that down, and it's entirely on us. Once you set the machine in motion, you become dependent on other people to see things through, and on the universe to cooperate.

I drove all the convention badges, the printer and all the other registration materials to a convention once through a storm system that spawned tornadoes. As I drove down the highway, I watched trees falling behind me - it felt cinematic and not as terrifying as it should have been. Those things, you can't plan for. You just have to keep your head screwed on straight and keep moving.

What do you think is the most valuable advice you could give someone starting their own event?
Talk to other local events. Make sure you're not crashing their party. Ask them about venues - sometimes there's a reason an event moved suddenly. Schedule so you're not stepping on anybody's toes. Ask for help - Double Exposure is always happy to help a small even negotiate for space and sometimes we even help staff for your first couple of years.

Figure out a reasonable budget and double it.

Carry the best insurance you can possibly afford. Wait. what? insurance? Yes, insurance. Trust me, it's worth it.

Don't run by committee. Take personal responsibility for things that go wrong and be generous in sharing the credit for things that go right.

What are your goals with Maelstrom and DEXCON, which are two wildly different cons?
Maelstrom is an experiment, and I'm still sorting out my goals. I need to go back to my brain trust and discuss what worked and what didn't, and to set community-guided goals.

DEXCON's goal is, always, to provide the most action-packed, diverse, intense, intimate five days of gaming anywhere. We've got the excitement of one of the mega-cons with the comfort and friendliness of a local con.

What's big for the next year for Double Exposure?
Big... I'm not sure we are ready for much bigger than 2014! We're up to four conventions a year of our own, plus we're doing the First Exposure Playtest Hall at Gen Con.

I'm just getting my feet under me when it comes to talking about the importance of social justice - of advocacy and representation. That has become a bigger part of Double Exposure's program over the last several years, as I've realized that we were above the curve, but had more we could be doing. the rest of 2014 and likely most of 2015 is going to be continuing to present the best possible product to our community while refining and advancing our approach to outreach, education and representation. I have so much to learn, and so many brilliant people to learn it from.

I have a still-flickering hope that we will be able to do a larp-oriented project in 2015, but that won't be decided until we've gotten home from Gen Con, at the soonest.

Why do you run these conventions?
Riding home from Gen Con last year, I found myself pondering the fact that these conventions - even with their stress, financial exposure, physical toll, worry and effort - are as close to worship as I come. We create a thing that is ephemeral. It's temporary, like a play, and when we're done, we strike the set and we go home. But while they exist, we create something that is as close to a Divine act as possible.

Conventions connect people in a very tangible way. We step outside of our daily lives and enter a space outside of time. We storytell - one of the most human and most sacred of acts. We trade pieces of ourselves. We laugh. we cry. We see friends we only see a couple of times a year, and we pick back up right where we left off. There's an emotional resonance to conventions that is unlike anything else I've experienced.

Also, it's safe place to be a nerd - to love My Little Ponies. to know the dialogue to every Star Trek movie. to remember every model number of every Terminator to show up on screen, ever. There's very little fear of mockery or disdain. As somebody who was vexed for being a reader, for being a nerd, for having a grown-up vocabulary, sometimes it moves me to tears to watch folks (often younger folks) come in - a little awkward, a little wound up, a little too much - and to see them unwind, slow down, find their own unique pace. We create a space where we protect each others' weirdnesses, and share them. It gives folks who find themselves on the fringe at school, at work, in their daily life, a chance to be in the middle of the puppy pile - to be respected, to acknowledged and seen and known.

It's a calling, and I've known that since I first walked into a Double Exposure convention in 1997. I welcome each new face like a companion on this path to carve out a spot of acceptance, creation and joy every few months.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Five or So Questions About Snow White

I interviewed the creators of the module, Snow White, now on Kickstarter! Excuse the brevity, we're running against time - this Kickstarter is almost over!

Tell me a little bit about Snow White. What has you excited about it?

The story of Snow White was originally old Hessian folklore from Deutschland (Germany) and was later adopted and altered by the Brothers Grimm. Finally this tale made it to the stage and big screen through Disney who continued to alter the original tale getting even further from the roots. We wanted to go back to the beginning of the tale and pay homage to the old folklore while at the same time providing a new and unexpected twist (or three).

Many of the Grimms’ tales feature “strong and active characters,” as opposed to “strong (usually males) and helpless (usually females)” participants. Who is good and who is bad also flows back and forth, with no one type of person depicted as good and another as bad. Snow White is especially good at this mixing and matching, and the various tales depict all kinds of people, of both sexes, in all their glory or infamy.

We looked at the original tales - Albanian, Armenian, Indian, and Russian for example - and could see some wonderful elements for an immersive rpg. We thought that our greatest asset would be that GMs know the story, will expect certain faerie and magical elements, and then look to see (and hopefully accept!) the additional thoughts and ideas. At the same time we thought that our greatest problem would be that players know the story, and if they get wind of what it is they are playing, expect a certain set of encounters and potentially grumble at anything that deviates from the story. So knowing that the various tales have many similar components, but a few different elements, we found that we could introduce some exciting variations and mysterious new events that would keep players on their toes. And so this prove to be, as our Snow White drew together some wonderful parts from assorted faerie tales and wove them into one grand adventure. -Jonathan & Stephen

What inspired the title of the adventure?

It was difficult to move away from the faerie tale title, although we wanted to disguise this from players. We also wanted to make it clear that this isn’t the Disneyfied version of events - no whistling while you work here, as the intelligent sinkhole will hear you - so the slightly blood-soaked version on the adventure cover came to life. Then we also wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t just an adventure-by-numbers, with the well known, “obvious” ending the only possibility. In fact, we included 8 possible endings, and acknowledge that there could be more! So the tagline, “Not all fairy tales have happy endings” became an important part of the title, as it makes it clear that this could all go horribly wrong if the players aren’t careful. Of course, no matter if they are successful or unsuccessful, at least one person will be very happy and another very angry. Who display which of these emotions all depends on what the players do, and when. So these ideas, based on the elements of the various tales mentioned i the previous answer, all contributed to the way the title turned out. -Stephen

What have you done to be more inclusive with your project?

None of the players are cast as "Snow White" or her "Prince Charming," which I think opens up the door for inclusivity by not pigeonholing either male or female players and their characters into certain roles. As Jonathan said previously, we wrote eight possible endings to the story. This allows the players to make the decision as to how the tale will end, instead of the adventure itself. We hope that there is an ending for everyone, but if not, the players can make up their own. -Will

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Five or So Questions with Josh Jordan on Mask & Crown

Tell me about your current project. What has you excited about it?

Now that Dangers Untold is in layout, I am starting to think more about my next game. It's true that I'm still knocking out a few extras for the Kickstarter backers, but most of my work for that game is done.
The project I'm bouncing around in my head right now is a duet of games called Mask & Crown. A duet of games is two games that can be played separately, but that have been designed to work well together. In this case, I'm designing games to be played in alternate sessions. You don't necessarily play the same characters in both games, but your actions in your previous session of Mask give benefits to your character in Crown, and vice versa.

Mask is a game about internal conflict. You play a seeker of enlightenment on the day of an important festival. You try to overcome selfishness, so that, by the end of the day, you become possessed by a divine spirit. The game uses tokens and a board to help you keep track of where your character is in his struggle, and what sorts of things he is struggling against. Each session covers one day of game time.
Crown is a game about family and noble house conflict. You play one of the noble houses, and can act as any member of that house. You want your house to rise to the imperial throne. You can pursue that through a number of skill trees. Once you advance a skill tree, you open up new kinds of conflicts for your house to face. Each session covers one year of game time.
I'm excited about these games for three reasons. The first and most boring reason is that I want to be able to play in a setting that explores these issues. I like the idea of telling a Game of Thrones-like story, where each player wants her house to seize the throne. And I also want the chance to focus in on a member of that household who just wants to become a better person and touch the face of his god.
Second, for a while now, I've wanted to explore the idea of interlocking games. Each needs to be complete on its own, but they should be even more fun together. I can think of card games that do this, but I don't know of any story games designed to complement each other.
Third, there's a physical element to these games that I want to explore. In Mask, there is a physical mask that starts the game covered, then becomes uncovered, and is eventually worn by the player whose character is possessed. This is a powerful theatrical element that can have a good emotional charge if done well. Likewise in Crown, there is a physical crown that players can seize and wear. Unlike the Mask, you can sometimes take the crown off the head of one of the other players and put it on yourself. Seize the crown!

What do you do mechanically to demonstrate the differences between playing on a personal level and playing on a House level?
The games are still in development, so some of the in-story elements of this need to be hammered out by playtesters. I can tell you that in Mask, you'll have a little token that you move around on a board that represents how close you are to enlightenment. You have a small, fixed dice pool that you roll to overcome challenges. In Crown, you gain a larger and larger dice pool as you overcome challenges and advance your house. By the end of the game, you are rolling a significant pile of dice as you try to control the entire kingdom.

How do you mesh the two games together?
A session of Mask represents one day of in-game time, and it always takes place on a festival day in the story world. A session of Crown represents a whole year of in-game time. So if you alternate sessions, the timeline should work out smoothly.
At the end of the text for each game are a list of various bonuses based on how your last session went. For example, if you were wearing the mask at the end of your last session of Mask, you gain extra dice to pursue the magical hermit/wizard approach to seizing the throne in Crown.

What benefits do you think there are to physical props at the table?
I think physical props are one way for players to engage with the story emotionally. They make the game into a ritual, which is a powerful category of human activity. Part of my intent with these games is to explore how physical props affect players' connection to the story. In other words, if we make a roleplaying game more like a ritual, how will players experience the game differently and how will they talk about their story after the fact? I know that, for me, it will make the game feel more important, but I want to see what happens for other people.

When can we expect to see Mask and Crown in the wild, and what's coming up next?

I'm planning on releasing a playtest version of Mask and Crown shortly after I finish delivering all the rewards for the Dangers Untold Kickstarter. I hope that means by September. We're trucking right along. Dangers Untold should go to print in June, and there are relatively few rewards left for me to create.
That means that Mask and Crown should be playable by October. I'd like to have the games in their final form some time next year.
Otherwise, keep an eye out for other Ginger Goat games in early 2015. I've started work on a trilogy of sci-fi games tentatively called The Soldier of Sympathy trilogy. And you can always check in with my podcast about storytelling, Tell Me Another, at