Friday, February 19, 2016

Women with Initiative: Cheyenne Wall-Grimes

Today I have a profile on Cheyenne Wall-Grimes, a designer from Glittercats Fine Amusements. Cheyenne has designed some really great games, including Fool's Journey, a storytelling game that uses tarot cards to guide you, and Laser Kittens, which is currently on Kickstarter! Her answers to the questions below tell us a little about her history with Glittercats and her games. 

What led you to start designing games, and how did you found Glittercats?

I got into it totally by accident! When you hang out with other game designers, it's tough not to riff off of each other. I had been play testing games for a year or so and when you get into that kind of mindset, it's easy to fall down the rabbit hole of "Hey, does this game exist? No? Then let's make it happen!"

Glittercats already existed, actually. My partner, Stentor Danielson, had formed the company when he began working on board games. He was really one of my biggest inspirations for getting into game design. He is so good with rules and mechanics. We came up with Laser Kittens and he asked me to join on. I couldn't say no!

What is Laser Kittens all about and what was your favorite part of development?

Laser Kittens is a GMless storytelling game where you play a group of kittens in a foster home, Knoll St. School for Wayward Kittens. You learn valuable lessons about how to become and great cat and how to control your lasers. The game is terribly silly and full of chaos.

As much fun as it was to be influenced by all the amazing foster kittens we had, play testing is my favorite. It has been really amazing watching friends and strangers alike get into being tiny balls of fluff, making hilarious decisions about how they interact with the world around them.

What do you do outside of game design, and does any of it influence your choices in design?

Currently, I'm a barista by day. I've had so many jobs, my biggest being a theatrical stage manager. I'm a crazy extrovert and I absolutely love people. So, making games that bring people face to face and have them create a life and world together is really my bag.

Thanks, Cheyenne, for talking with me today!

You can reach Cheyenne via Twitter @CheyWallGrimes and @playglittercats, as well as on Facebook as PlayGlittercats. The Glittercats Fine Amusements blog has more on Cheyenne's work with Stentor.

Don't forget to check out the Laser Kittens Kickstarter - it sounds like a great time!

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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Five or So Questions with Emma Larkins on Heartcatchers!

I have an interview today with Emma Larkins on Heartcatchers! It's currently on Kickstarter and looks like a great two-player game! Check it out on Kickstarter and see Emma's interview answers below.

Tell me a little about Heartcatchers. What excites you about it?
Heartcatchers is a strategic two-player deception game. There's a pretty simple mechanic of matching card colors and moving piles of cards around on the field - where it gets interesting is the face-down secret cards that are revealed at the end of the game, that can wildly swing the score. The thing that excites me most is when people get a maniacal gleam in their eyes and clap their hands together in glee after playing a particularly devious secret. That's what the game is really about - like you're a villain in a B action movie. Also when a crowd gathers to watch two people playing, to cheer them on, give advice, and vicariously enjoy the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

What was your inspiration for Heartcatchers?
Heartcatchers was inspired by my boyfriend Phil. I made it for him as a gift for our first Valentine's Day together (cardstock, pink construction paper hearts, doodles, the whole deal!). He's working on a tabletop game, and I wanted to make him my own game as a joke, but he ended up really enjoying it. He's the one who encouraged me to put in the hard work to take it from a prototype to a polished game.

What kind of games and media influenced your design for Heartcatchers?

Funnily enough, I was playing a lot of Hearthstone at the time (Blizzard's online Collectible Card Game, similar to Magic the Gathering) and wanted to capture the distilled essence of the game. In Hearthstone, you play cards that have different creatures on them, and each has an attack value, a defense value (health), and a set of special abilities. The first version of Heartcatchers featured cards that had numerical attack and defense values, and you had to match the numbers. You can also play "secrets" in Hearthstone that are only revealed when your opponent takes certain actions; the secrets in Heartcatchers (cards placed face-down and revealed at the end of the game, before the score is tallied) are a core mechanic.

Of course, over dozens of playtests, the mechanics of Heartcatchers evolved into something completely different. The numbers went away, the game simplified drastically, and now there are three colors that "catch" each other, rock-paper-scissors style. I also combined the Secret cards and the standard cards to I could reduce the whole game to twenty cards.

Is there a special experience you've had while playtesting and developing?
Watching crowds gather to observe games in play! I've showed the game to tons of people at a bunch of live events - Boston Festival of Indie Games, Gen Con, a few Playcrafting events, in addition to all the playtests. It amazes me how the game draws people in and gets them excited, even if they're not playing. The game has surprisingly never been held back by the two-player limit. The reveal moment at the end of the game is so enticing, to see the revelation of how the two players have tricked each other. I never expected it to become such a fun spectator experience.

Could you tell me a little more about the mechanics?
Lay out a field of six face-up cards, and give each player a hand of three cards. Over the course of the game, you place cards face-up on top of the six, making piles. You can steal your opponent's desirable piles and replace them with less desirable piles. At the end of the game, you're scored on the three piles on your side of the field, so the goal is to hide all the Heartbreaker Secrets (point subtracters) under your opponent's side, and all the Ultimate Love Secrets (point adders) under your side. Secrets stay hidden until the end of the game, at which point everything is revealed and the points are tallied - one point for each face-up card in piles on your side, modified by the Secrets. The reveal of the Secrets often drastically swings the score of the game; you never know if you've won until the last minute. There are twenty cards in the deck, and a game takes five to ten minutes to play.

A last note from Emma: 

There are less than two weeks left to get in on the Heartcatchers Kickstarter. Check it out today!

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Monday, February 15, 2016

Five or So Questions with Andrew Medeiros on The Forgotten!

I have an interview today with Andrew Madeiros on his new game, The Forgotten, which is currently on Kickstarter. The Forgotten sounds like a fantastic game, and I'm excited to see it played by my friends and fellow creators. It seems like a really emotional experience, and those can be amazing!

Tell me a little about The Forgotten. What excites you about it?

Of course! The Forgotten is a live action game that tells the story of people trying to survive while their city is torn apart by civil war. Some of them are family, friends, or strangers who are living day-by-day together. It takes about two hours or so to play and is broken down into day and night scenes. Day scenes last fifteen minutes and are essentially free-form role play, and night scenes take just a few minutes and involve a few of the players drawing event cards to see how their night of scavenging and guarding resolve.

What most excites me is the hope that this game can teach people a bit of empathy for those who have to live through war, specifically noncombatants. The events in the game are a mix of tragic and heartfelt, but they never glorify war; something I feel I see too often these days.

Is there anything that you do in the game to separate the day and night with mood or scene, and in either case, how do you think the use of or lack of that kind of technique influences The Forgotten?

Great question! The game uses a customizable soundtrack that acts as a timekeeper and ambiance for the players. During day scenes, the players will hear anything from quiet days, to rain, or distant gunfire. The night scenes are signaled by a musical track that tells the group that the sun is setting and it's time to transition scenes. We've found it to be very effective in play testing and many players have reported that it was one of their favourite aspects of the game.

Do you think that, while dealing with such an emotional subject matter, there is a benefit to a shorter game?

I think shorter live action games are always my preference, they feel punchier and more satisfying in the end and leave me with plenty of time to digest and process my experience. I think the game continues even after the end, while you're contemplating it all in the following hours/days/weeks.I know a lot of people prefer longer run time games because it gives them a ton of time to truly immerse themselves in the experience, and I totally respect that, but it's not the sort of play I am looking to enjoy or offer. In short, both approaches seem to have their advantages, but I went with my preferred style for this one.

What were difficulties you encountered writing a game with a theme that is, while quite common, very often ill-designed or insensitive?

I think I was my own worst enemy on this front. My first version of the game was very bleak; many of the event cards were catastrophic and only highlighted the terrible things people can do when desperate. After doing a lot of research I came to find that people living in these kinds of dreadful conditions are more often than not just regular people like you and I and tended to act accordingly. In my following drafts I made sure to include events that not only challenged the morals and ethics of the player's characters, but also showcased the good of those living around them. It's a tough balancing act, as I wanted to offer a game with both hope and tragedy as themes. I've strived for that, and I hope I've pulled it off.

Would you talk a little about the event cards that players encounter in the night scenes?

I'd love to (this is my favourite part!). Events come in three decks of cards: Guard, Play It Safe and Take a Risk. The Guard deck is drawn by the player who was chosen to stay up and stand watch over those asleep in the shelter and they include events that take place at home; attacks, help from neighbors, people looking to trade, etc. It also includes the game end card, which triggers the final day of play for the group.

The other two decks are for those chosen to head out to find food, medical supplies, etc. (they do this at night because moving around during the day is dangerous due to snipers). Each scavenger chooses if they want to look in relatively safe places or take a chance by searching high risk locales. The pay off for taking a risk is much higher but so is the danger, and so we leave the severity of the game completely in the players' hands. This all happens within the three or so minutes of the night scene and once the music ends, the next day scene begins as people are returning home from their tasks.

If you could describe the ideal outcome for what people think about The Forgotten in three words, what would you say?

Worthwhile and powerful.

Thanks to Andrew for an excellent interview! I loved hearing about the game and the challenging elements to make it a great experience. Check out The Forgotten on Kickstarter today!

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Five or So Questions with Vincent and Meguey Baker on Apocalypse World Second Edition!

I had the pleasure of interviewing Vincent and Meguey Baker about their new release and Kickstarter, Apocalypse World Second Edition. Apocalypse World itself came out in 2010, and has been used as the baseline for a ridiculous number of hacks over the past years since then, including Monsterhearts, Dungeon World, and Urban Shadows. The game itself is super fun, and can range from explosive, brutal action to intimate and sometimes disturbing. Second Edition is, I think, an exciting update!

Tell me a little bit about Apocalypse World 2nd Edition. What about this new release excites you?

Vincent: Meg and I have been playing Apocalypse World, and watching people play it, and hearing about their games, for a bunch of years now. Seven years, going back to the first playtest! It's been fantastic, but along the way we've noticed that there are some rules in the game that rarely see play, and some other rules that tend to throw people off. We've been developing better rules to replace them for the last year or so, and figured that it was time to show them off.

The most exciting things to me in the new release are the new battle moves - they're as much fun in play as you could hope for - and the new "threat map" approach to GM prep. It streamlines the old system of fronts. Fronts were kind of abstract, conceptual, and this new system is much more concrete and punchy.

Battle moves sound exciting! What pieces of the game do they interact with most: playbooks, fronts, etc.?

Vincent: The playbooks, same as the basic moves. And the harm rules, of course!

The original optional extended battle moves didn't ever see much play. These new ones are still basically optional, but they have a lot more immediate grab and punch to them. I think that people will be eager to bring them into play.

Have there been changes to any of the playbooks? If so, I gotta ask, is there anything new and exciting with the Gunlugger (my favorite!)?

Vincent: Sure! First of all, there's been a change to the lineup: the operator's out, and the maestro d' and quarantine are now in the basic set. The most-changed playbook is the driver, who inherited some of the operator's best moves. Next most is the angel; we rewrote their whole system for medkits. After that, all of the playbooks got streamlined Hx rules and a cut of the operator's gigs. I think that the gunlugger is, with the hocus, the least changed.

Meg: Changing the lineup meant looking at all of them with cross-hairs, sorting out what we wanted to reintegrate in new ways, and looking for places to contract and expand. The new battle moves and some of the other things we're bringing in the second edition mean there's pretty much nothing left untouched. Bloody fingerprints everywhere!

Apocalypse World has hugely shaped the indie scene in a lot of ways over the past years. Has any of the design that evolved from the original AW cycled back to inspire Second Edition?

Vincent: You know, not too much, no. We thought long and hard about this when we were starting: do we stick close to the original game, or do we try to write a new game, incorporating the insights of Monsterhearts, Dungeon World, Monster of the Week, and the rest? Ultimately we decided to stick close to the original.

Meg: Looking at all the games that have used Apocalypse World as their starting point was really helpful in clarifying that choice. Some of the stuff that's been done is really inspiring and beautiful and creative, and I'm sure it will shape some of our designs going forward. There are undoubtedly some bits that have seeped in, but the biggest thing we came away with after doing a read-through of PbtA games is that we want Apocalypse World 2nd Edition to keep on being that useful, fruitful starting point.

What kind of practices did you use to playtest and reexamine new rules and tweaks to old rules?

Vincent: Reworking existing rules is pretty different for us than doing new design. The easiest were the new Hx rules. Once we had the idea to turn the process around, to have you ask for volunteers instead of deciding things for yourself, the new rules just fell into place. They were so obviously sharper and more streamlined that they needed only a quick test to confirm. The new angel kit rules were the same way.

Hardest were the new battle moves. We tried several approaches, each generally more elaborate than the originals, before these much simpler ones came to us. But even so, once we got the approach right, designing the moves themselves came easily, they were obviously an improvement, and we played with them basically just to confirm that we were right about them.

We didn't do any formal external playtesting, but I leaked all the new material to my Patreon patrons. Some of them picked them up and played with them, and their feedback was further confirmation.

Meg: When you put it to absolute practicalities though, it looks a lot like: "Hey, I have an idea for some new rules for XYZ, can you make a couple characters quick and see how it works?' or "Check out these new mechanics with me for a few minutes?" Lots of small spot-tests within the context of a game we know well, to make sure all the parts are clicking into place the way we want.

We also have a dedicated group of wonderful teens who play at our house every Friday, and when I say "here's new barter rules; give them a shot and tell us what you think" they are generally happy to help. Some of them have been playtesting stuff with me for 7 years, and so I can hand them stuff and walk away knowing I'll get decent feedback. It also is a great playtesting tool to be two rooms away and just listen for the flow of the game and the engagement level as much as for who says what and rolls how.

One last question: you have been working with Meguey on Apocalypse World in various forms for a long time! What does it take to create a vision as a team that is so coherent, and how do you think it reflects on the design in 2nd Edition?

Vincent: I'm not very good at it! It demands a lot of communication, but I struggle to communicate my ideas in sentences and explanations when what they are is game design.

When we're working together on a project, I think that we both commit fully to the project's creative success. Neither of us goes along with the other against the needs of the project, and neither of us sticks to our own ideas against the needs of the project either. We both bring our best work, patience, and attention, and let the project decide.

Meg: I think the biggest thing it takes is patience. Designing together is not always easy or simple; sometimes we disagree on a thing, or have trouble making clear to each other what we mean or why we're excited about a particular part of the design. Patience and trust that we can work it out and come to a clear place to move forward is important.

An overlapping but not identical taste in art, music, background, movies, games, books etc etc to draw from is great, so we each can bring new insights and ways of looking at any particular design challenge. When we first started designing games together 20 years ago, I was fresh out of Emergency Medical Technician training. For years our combat systems looked like "Ok, Meg, they get hit here, with this kind of weapon. What happens?" I know way more about the odd things that people save than Vincent does, and he watches way more horror movies than I do. Lately we've both been reading a lot of books about various world-shifting events in US history - the arrival of De Soto, the adoption of horses by the Comanche, the 1918 flu epidemic, the dust bowl - so we're steeped in a whole new batch of apocalyptic imagery.

The other HUGE thing we have going for us is that we are both creative artistic people in other places of our lives. So we don't get offended when the other one gets caught by something and has to get up early or stay up late or block out time on the weekend for a personal project. We get that. We also have pretty decent boundaries on what is shared game design and what is our own projects. The Sundered Land is entirely Vincent, Playing Nature's Year is entirely me, Apocalypse World is both of us. We read and playtest each other's games, sure, but on our own projects we each have our own clear direction. With joint projects, we have to be in accord on the direction in order for it to move forward.

Thanks so much to Vincent and Meguey for the interview! It was great to hear about Apocalypse World 2nd Edition and I'm really looking forward to getting it in my hands! Check out the new edition coming up on Kickstarter, where Vincent and Meguey have been providing rich material for new backers already! 

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Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Five or So Questions with Eddy Webb on Pugmire

I was excited to have the chance to chat with Eddy Webb about his new game Pugmire, which is currently on Kickstarter. It sounds like such a cool and unique game. I hope you enjoy hearing about it, and check out the Kickstarter if you get the chance!

Tell me a little about Pugmire. What excites you about it?

Pugmire is a tabletop roleplaying game I’ve been working on for a couple of years now. "Pugmire" is the name of the biggest kingdom in a world in which dogs have built a new society. They live in the ashes of our world far in the future, seeking adventure and redemption. Think Lord of the Rings meets Planet of the Apes, but with dogs.

It excites me for a couple of reasons. The first is that most of my career thus far has been crime and horror fiction and games, and the world of Pugmire allows me to not only have a little fun, but also tell different kinds of compelling and engaging stories. Secondly, though, it's all mine. This is a world I've build from the ground up, and for the first time I can apply all the ideas and strategies I've learned over the past fourteen years of my career to something that I have complete control over. It's very freeing to be able to reach out to people I know and trust, as well as work with brand new people, and work with them on great projects without having to worry about checking in with another group of people.

Can you tell me about the conception process you have used to develop the game, the world, and the fun characters you mention on the Kickstarter, like Yosha and Pan?

I've been developing the world off and on for a few years now. It all started over a Thanksgiving break. I had ruined my normal laptop, and was stuck in a small apartment with my two pugs and a Chromebook. The dogs were driving me nuts barking at invisible things, so I started writing down notes for a fantasy world in which dogs barked at invisible demons. I thought it was amusing, but put it aside.

About a year later, I was asked to write a short story for an anthology, and pulled up the world idea. I fleshed it out, and that became the first glimmers of Pugmire (and the first time I wrote Yosha and Pan). A number of people suggested I do more with it, and the idea of a tabletop RPG was high on the list (since it's an area I've worked as a writer and designer for close to sixteen years). I pitched the idea to Richard Thomas at Onyx Path Publishing, he loved it, and it's been in various stages of development pretty consistently since then!

I wanted to make sure that there were signature or "iconic" characters for people to gravitate to early on, and Yosha and Pan were definitely two I wanted to include. I used them as a good counterpoint to each other for the Gen Con promotional release we did -- she is the voice of intelligence but a bit of sweet naivety, while Pan is the gruff, exaggerated voice of experience -- and the dynamic just worked really well.

I'd love to hear some details about the mechanics. What is the base system you are working with, and if you're doing any fun variations, could you tell me about them?
It's d20 OGL, but it's had a bit of an interesting journey. I started working on the system for Pugmire before D&D 5th Edition came out. When I got a chance to read it, however, I realized that a lot of where I wanted to take the system was already addressed in those rules. But the OGL for that edition wasn't out until just a couple of weeks before we were ready to launch, so I rewrote the original (3rd edition) version of the rules to get closer to that.

But Pugmire is not just a clone of D&D. At each step, I've tweaked, streamlined, revised, and outright changed various parts of the rules to fit my vision of the game. People familiar with those rules will find a lot they recognize, and a lot that's totally new.

Some small rules changes can have knock-on effects, and I used that style of design to help emphasize cooperation and action. For example, there are no experience points and no rules for currency -- dogs gain a level after an interesting story, and they can roll to "remember" equipment they didn't bring with them on the adventure. Additionally, there's a brand-new mechanic called "Fortune" that allows players to reroll dice and affect the flow of the game, but it's all in a bowl in the center of the table. Anyone can spend it, but they have to ask the group if it's okay first. Little things like that, combined with the in-world ideology of "Be A Good Dog", really help to get people thinking about cooperation and telling interesting stories.

What kind of stories do you think people can tell with Pugmire, and what kind of experience do you think they will get out of those?

After years of writing games that were very complex, dark, and full of terrible people doing terrible things, I wanted to write a game that was more heroic. But I just can't get into bubble-gum fantasy where everyone is good just for the sake of being good. I still value characters and worlds with texture. As I started working on Pugmire, I realized that I could create a world where one group of players can have a lot of fun playing Corgis with battleaxes, while another group of players can dig into the religious ramifications of the edict "Be A Good Dog." It works on a few different levels, sometimes simultaneously, which makes it a game that can scale quite well between light-hearted fun and poignant sadness.

Finally, what are your main inspirations for Pugmire and how do they see representation in the game?

I had a wide diversity of inspirations. Some, like Mouse Guard and Redwall are fairly obvious -- talking animals that go off and have fantastic adventures! But others are more subtle. The early, slightly gonzo material in both Dungeons & Dragons and Gamma World were certainly inspirational to me, particularly that strange but compelling blend of genre fantasy and science fiction that manifest as Pugmire's "magic." Also, the not-quite-post-apocalyptic feel of Thundarr the Barbarian really influenced the feel of a fragmented society that looks to the past and gets some bits wrong. But really, my biggest inspiration are my dogs, past and present, who continue to delight, console, and infuriate me every day. I constantly try to imagine the adventure they think they're having, and I try to bring them to the table.

Thanks so much to Eddy for the great interview! I think Pugmire sounds like a great game for a variety of audiences. Make sure to check it out on Kickstarter!

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Monday, February 8, 2016

Five or So Questions with Dabney Bailey on Tavern Tales!

Today I have an interview with Dabney Bailey on Tavern Tales, which is a really cool game that is currently on Kickstarter. When I played Tavern Tales last year, I ended up getting so entranced with my character that I started writing fiction blurbs on my G+ account. I love the game, and I hope you check it out on Kickstarter! (Also, this art is AMAZING!)

Tell me a little about Tavern Tales. What excites you about it?
For me, the most exciting thing about Tavern Tales is the sheer number of possibilities it offers. I built TT from the ground up to be as versatile and flexible as possible. The game bends to fit the needs of the players rather than the other way around.

The character creation system is incredibly flexible, allowing you to build virtually anything imaginable -- I'm constantly being surprised by the builds my fans over at the forums come up with. In fact, just a few weeks ago, someone figured out how to create a gigantic fantasy robot that the whole party could pilot together. The possibilities truly are staggering.

Tell me a little bit about the character creation system. How did you build in flexibility, and what kind of characters can you make?

Most other RPGs tell you what you can and can't play. They'll give you a list of options like "This is the wizard class. If you're a wizard, these are the only options available to you."

Tavern Tales abandons this approach in favor of a more organic method where the players get to define their characters, rather than the game designer defining their character. Character options are divided into Themes, which represent archetypes like Thievery, Undeath, or Arcane. Then, it's up to the player to pick and choose whatever options they want with no limits. If you want to be a conventional wizard, you can go full Arcane. If you want to be a magical necromancer, you could combine Arcane and Undeath in interesting ways.

Tavern Tales gives players the freedom and options to build the character they always wished they could play.

What kind of settings can you play in for Tavern Tales - is it just fantasy, or is there more to find?

It was originally designed to be a fantasy setting, but it's flexible enough that it can easily be adapted to fit other settings. In fact, there's a section of the rules that encourage you to reflavor your character options to fit whatever aesthetic you like.

I'm currently playing a sci-fi version of Tavern Tales and it the systems runs smoothly.

What was your process for creating the system, and what inspired you?

I think my inspiration was all of the character ideas I had in my head that I could never play. I started to get really frustrated by games that forced me to play certain characters in certain ways. So, I decided to build a game that would free me from the limitations that I had grown frustrated with. I built TT to be kind of like Legos. Rather than me building a complete toy and giving it to others to play with, I give players Legos and let players build whatever they want out of the pieces.

How can players get involved in the community for Tavern Tales, and what can they get out of it?

I released TT into open beta in April of 2014. Since then, the community has been instrumental in helping TT grow. I am a very verbal designer, so I'll typically post new mechanic ideas to the forums to hold a public discussion before I implement anything. In fact, some of the ideas in the book came straight from fan suggestions. If anyone out there is interested in game development, I highly encourage you to join We'd love to hear from you!

Thanks to Dabney for the interview, and I hope everyone checks out Tavern Tales on Kickstarter

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Upcoming Tavern Tales Interview!

Hey everyone!

Monday morning I'll have a blog post coming out about Tavern Tales, which is currently on Kickstarter!

Tavern Tales is the game that I played that brought about Stories Here in Maelstrom Paramour (my G+ collection), and it is a really fun, customizable system. Dabney Bailey, the creator, is really fantastic. Keep an eye out for the interview!

In the meantime, here's a cool piece of art, and here's a link to the Reddit Tavern Tales discussion if you want to check it out!

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Baby Bestiary - Behold, Products!

Hey all!

In a new feature, hopefully to continue, I want to draw attention to products I have enjoyed or products I think look cool, or even just products I've worked on and loved (regardless of my level of involvement). One of those projects is the Baby Bestiary, which is currently Kickstarting its Volume 2, and for which I am signed up to write for both the Kraken and the Satyr so I'm really hoping to see it kick. In the meantime, let me tell you a little about it!

The Bestiary is a lore book, not really a book full of rules and charts, but instead instructions on how to care for baby beasts, their history, and their habits. When I wrote for the first volume, I wrote for the Minotaur Calf and the Hippocampus Fry. For the Minotaur Calf, we learned of the importance of the constellations for the Minotaurs, and about their diets and the risks of being a beast with horns in a world that loves trophies. The Hippocampus Fry discussed mating habits of the grown Hippocampi, and the difference between Hippocampi from different climates. The new volume will include even more exciting creatures, like Gargoyles!

The project team is amazing, too. I've had the opportunity to work with them before, and again I'm impressed by the creativity of the writers on the new creatures. Not only will the new volume include the Satyr and Kraken that I'm working on (which I am incredibly excited about!), but it will include Ben Woerner's (World of Dew) work on the Dragon Turtle, Gargoyle (seen above), Pertyon, and Enfield. There is also Elizabeth Chaipraditkul (WITCH) working on Lightning Lizards, Bugbears, and Orcs! The list of authors involved is incredible, and the art is fantastic.

Right now you can find the original Baby Bestiary, Volume 1 for sale on DriveThru RPG, and the Kickstarter for Baby Bestiary, Volume 2 (including a reprint of Volume 1) is still ongoing. Here's to hoping that the product gets funded so I can write more about little critters for all of you to enjoy!

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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Five or So Questions with Kira Magrann on RESISTOR

I interviewed Kira Magrann about her upcoming zine, RESISTOR, which is being co-created with Elissa Leach. It sounds like a fantastic project, and you can check it out on Kickstarter now!

Tell me a little about RESISTOR. What excites you about it?
Elissa and I have been wanting to collaborate on a project for awhile, and we just weren't sure what themes we wanted it to have. The second she said "let's do something cyberwitchy" I jumped out of the chair I was sitting in and nearly spilled the bourbon I was drinking. YES. CYBERWITCHES.

The cool thing about this project is that it's remixing a bunch of ideas, communities, and people in one place. That's a very cyberpunk thing in and of itself. It's featuring games, art, and fiction, in a zine format, which is very popular in current queer and social justice circles. We wanted a diverse set of creators so we've got trans, non-binary, women, and POC working on it. And we wanted it to have that gritty feel, like something you could find next to some fliers at a punk bar. I'm excited about the aesthetic, and the stories we're telling!

Zines have a long history with social justice, queer culture, and a lot of divergent subcultures. What are you bringing that's new to the format, and what inspirations did you have for the types of materials you brought together?
Elissa and I kinda wanted to remix a bunch of ideas, communities, and people in one place. It's a super cyberpunk idea, taking the old "zine tech" of rough edges, collaboration, personal politics, and making it new. It's featuring games, art, and fiction, in a zine format. We wanted a diverse set of creators so we've got trans, non-binary, women, and POC working on it. And we wanted it to have that gritty feel, like something you could find next to some fliers at a punk bar. So like, easy to pick up, engage with, and get sucked into our world with no prior knowledge of the themes or how to play these games.

What are a few of the challenges you've encountered creating a niche project like RESISTOR, and what good things surprised you?
I think the biggest challenges so far have just been logistics, really! This is my first Kickstarter, and Elissa's second, so figuring out how all that works and how to coordinate with a partner on a project like this has just been a little trial and error. Mostly we just hung around with Elissa's cats, listened to some records, and like, made headers and bios for the kickstarter page.

We're both visual artists, so creating images and finding collaborators on that end wasn't too hard. I've been really inspired while this kickstarter is running, it's hitting the reward centers of my brain and motivating me to create new stuff! I think that sometimes its easy to see creating things and making Kickstarters as difficult, stressful obstacles, but I've really enjoyed organizing everything, and coming up with ideas that are cyber-witchy to write about. Working with these amazing people has been really maybe the best part. Banana Chan's game is gorgeous, Elissa's art is phenomenal, my game ritual has been super inspiring, it's really easy to get into the setting and thinking of this zine and create a whole lot of things for it, because its basically everything that I love. Funny how that works out, making things I love is easy!

Cyberpunk and social justice are two things I absolutely love. Coming in from that angle, what are the two things that you would say to someone with my interests to get me to invest in the project?
I like to think of RESISTOR as a kind of tool to inspire people to think more about these ideas. Not really a manifesto, but something that someone can pick up and read and say, yea, I wanna go talk about this class issue, or this neat ritual way of thinking, or apply this to my every day life. We want it to be accessible to a bunch of different communities, so not just the queer, punk, music, comic communities where zines are popular now, but also gaming communities and fiction communities. My black heart would grow three sizes if women and trans and non-binary and POC people in comics started playing roleplaying games by picking up this zine. It's also hella styish and woke af. Cyberpunk often is about awesome chrome cyborgs and fighting the corporations in this real rebellious uplifting way, and we kinda want it to be like that but, less guns and simple binaries, more witchy rituals and complex cultural nuances.

Finally, if I were a cyberpunk dystopia, and you were a witch, if you took out our hearts, what would they be in RESISTOR?

I mean, we're already living in that dystopia. So basically, they'd be right where they are, but like, connected by deep black ghost tunes of all the other hearts around us trying to make this world a little better with our glitched-rituals, metallic hymnals resonating in tiny screens that sit next to us every day. Our hearts are all connected even outside of our bodies in machines where we make them vulnerable.

I don't know about you, but those black ghost tunes are throbbing in my heart right now. RESISTOR sounds like an awesome product and I'd love to see it out and available. Check it out on Kickstarter and consider becoming a backer!

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Five or So Questions with Nathan Paoletta on World Wide Wrestling: International Incident

Today I have an interview with Nathan Paoletta! He is releasing his supplement to the fantastic World Wide Wrestling RPG. World Wide Wrestling: International Incident sounds like a great follow-up to WWWRPG, which brought in over double its Kickstarter goal in September 2014. I interviewed Nathan about WWWRPG, and now I'm excited to see all of the info on the new supplement!

Tell me about your upcoming project. What excites you about it?

This project (World Wide Wrestling: International Incident) is the first full-bore supplement to a game I've written. I've done micro-supplements and little settings and stuff like that, but this is going to be a whole complementary volume of background info and new rules that extend what the World Wide Wrestling RPG already offers to cover international iconic wrestling styles, as well as structural rules for some things I decided to leave out of WWWRPG originally. I guess I'm pumped about it because it's a new thing for me to attempt, and also because it means I've been diving deeply into wrestling (particularly Japanese wrestling) to research it and just discovering all kinds of amazing stuff that excites me as a wrestling fan. Since I have the supplement in mind I pay attention to what I watch in a little different way, and I feel like I'm learning a lot more about these traditions than I would if I was "just" watching them, which is very cool. Learning is fun!

What are the biggest challenges you encountered in making a full size supplement for World Wide Wrestling?
Existential ones, for the most part. What "deserves" to be in a supplement, which is to say, what kind of new content is of enough value for players that its worth printing, binding, etc to make a thing? I'm balancing how to add new mechanical material such that it doesn't invalidate extant content, as well as distill the insights of the WWWRPG community over the last year in order to fill some holes that keep on tripping people up. Because the mechanical framework already exists, it's a lot of thinking about how to frame the new content, and a lot less writing of rules that I'm used to. Also, there's 15 official Gimmicks already out for the game, and "balancing" the 6 new ones that are coming such that they don't overlap with the older ones, and can still be played alongside them is a lot of work that I didn't expect. I recently made a big spreadsheet of every Gimmick to compare the hard rules across all of them, because I realized that I was designing power creep into the new ones by accident! I had to zoom out and formally reframe them in context with what's already out there.

What were some of the coolest tidbits of trivia you encountered while doing your research?

Getting introduced to the British wrestling that was broadcast on a show called World of Sport may be the biggest highlight - trivia-wise, the rules for those matches were esoteric by todays standards (much more like boxing), but it means the psychology in the ring could be very, very nuanced. There's a ton of stuff on YouTube but yeah, watching old Marty Jones and Rollerball Rocco matches from the late 70s is just a joy and so different from todays style.

As a single trivia bit, I had no idea that this happened: Ric Flair (widely regarded as the greatest pro wrestler of all time) and Antonio Inoki (legendary founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling and, arguably, the Japanese "Strong Style") wrestled in North Korea in 1995 in front of the largest crowd for a wrestling match EVER, 190,000 people. Muhammad Ali was there too. Here's a great Sports Illustrated story about it.

What are some of the concepts you're exploring mechanics-wise with the supplement?

The wrestling company itself, the promotion, as a character. This is present but pretty abstract in the core game, and in the supplement I'm adding a more structured way to measure the progress and growth of the company that the wrestlers all work for. It really highlights the tension between the performances and the effect that those performances have on everyone's welfare, and I really like how that's coming together. Part of this is a new system for what I'm calling "Mythic Moments," which trigger on certain really good die rolls, and create these rare but memorable moments that can end up defining a character's career. Those two things together give a sense of really building something together, I think.

The other big one is providing some more fine-grained structure for wrestling matches. The basic method of handing them works fine, but I think players who are educated in how pro wrestling works appreciate having some more nuanced mechanical ability to represent that knowledge in the game. I'm working on providing a couple of different methods to "zoom in" on a certain match and play it out by leveraging different aspects of your character to maximum advantage, for players who have mastered the core mechanical cycles of the game.

Finally, one of the surprising (to me) pieces of feedback I've received from the community is that wrestlers advance mechanically more quickly than some groups expect - I think there's a community of players who come from experiences with year-long-campaign style games, and seeing their characters grow session to session feels rushed to them! So I'm adding some optional rules that actually slow advancement and provide more space for playing out extended stories and feuds, to accommodate that playstyle in a way that's not just me saying "uh, play slower?" :)

Do you think this supplement will change gameplay in any significant way, and if so, how?

The goal isn't to change gameplay fundamentally, but extend it to address more and varied aspects of wrestling! I hope that it encourages people to set their games in more diverse promotions and with more varied rosters, for sure. I think the new rules about the promotion growth as well as the Mythic Moments rules have enough obvious play value that people will start using them for long-term games (I hope!). The rest is generally "optional" in the sense of, if it's providing an experience you want, you should use it, but adding it for the sake of adding it isn't going to change much.

That said, my biggest prediction: I expect to see a lot more Luchadores in games at conventions!

With World Wide Wrestling, you have managed to catch a pretty big audience with a lot of passion. As an experienced designer and entrepreneur specifically in the game design industry, what are the things you look for when working on a project to help find your audience and are there ways you tailor the experience to their interests, and did you do that at all with WWW?

I'm a big believer that projects have different "fits" with the overall audience and culture. One of the benefits of experience is being able to discern that fit earlier in the design process, I think. Some work is clearly never going to have a wide appeal, other projects needs a certain pitch or skin or other orientation to make them more accessible that they otherwise would be. Most rarely (again, in my experience), a project just has a spark to it that all you need to do is cultivate. With World Wide Wrestling, I often feel like I'm just stoking the fire on it so that it stays hot, to mix some metaphors. The RPG+pro wrestling overlap audience is out there, and a lot of my job is maintaining awareness and trying to make sure the game remains in the conversation over time! For this supplement in particular, it's a nice alignment of interests. I'm capitalizing on something I'm already interested in (non-US wrestling), reaching out to folks who are especially interested in those styles to maybe look at the game for the first time, and rewarding folks who are already fans with new content that, I think, will be a net positive to their game experiences.

Thanks to Nathan for the great interview! I can't wait to see the final product, and I think World Wide Wrestling: International Incident is going to be a killer product.

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Five or So Questions with Alessandro Piroddi on The Name of God

I had the pleasure to interview Alessandro Piroddi about his upcoming game, The Name of God. The Name of God is coming soon on Kickstarter, and Alessandro has been kind enough to share his Kickstarter preview link with all of us so you can check it out ahead of time!

Tell me about The Name of God. What excites you about it?

The first thing that excites me about tNoG is the same thing that blew my mind the first time I saw Vast & Starlit: a whole gmLess game with fully fleshed and coherent procedures all bundled in a handful of cards. It's not unheard of today, but at the time it felt like doing the impossible. No GM, no books to study, no prep time, no sheets and dice and pencils; you sit down and play the game and it just all works. Kabum!

The second thing that I love about tNoG is the setting... I am a huge fan of a certain kind of dark-ish urban fantasy. When I think about books like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, Anansi Boys and American Gods, or any book from Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, the thing that intrigues me the most is the idea that everyday mundane people and actions might actually hide a hidden meaning, a secret knowledge.

What has been different for you in designing The Name of God than other games, considering it's very different format?

Space constraints.

I wanted it to fit, in its original form, to slim format business cards. This meant a draconian control on word count. Every sentence had to deliver the intended meaning, setting flavour, procedural instructions, everything that was needed in very few words. And even the specific words used will often need to be scrutinised to find suitable synonyms, as using one expression instead of another would brake the line in the wrong place, occupying extra space. From there, going to poker-card format was actually a comfortable transition >_<

You said that dark, urban fantasy that has the idea of mundanes have a secret knowledge. How do you think that comes through in The Name of God?

In the game your character is an homeless person with no powers or any weird ability, and the rules simply end up framing this person in normal and ordinary scenes.

But then your personal Fetish (a sort of character template) asks you a couple of weird questions, very thematic and philosophical; stuff like "Why nobody is innocent?" or "What hunger keeps you awake?" This charges your perception of the character in a uniquely individual and personal way, making it feel more than just some random guy on the street.

And then the rules add to each scene you play a slightly bizarre detail; nothing mindblowing, and exactly because of this it tilts the picture and makes everything feel kind of off.

Finally, any of your actions might have a ritual meaning, simply because you feel like it... thus triggering the game mechanics.

It also helps that the Ritual Action rules effectively allow to cheat the game... where normally you would surely fail and cause damage, you can instead draw power and make one more step towards your final goal... at a price.

But truly, the game itself is a ritual: people looking at your table will see 3 to 4 friends chatting, then all of a sudden one says something weird like "I am the Winter! I do this and that, I am the Winter" and out of the blue the whole group starts chanting a mantra. Players look positively crazy when they play!

Structuring a Kickstarter for such a unique style of game may have presented some challenges. How did you make choices to structure the Kickstarter to ensure you could meet your goals and make backers happy?

Unfortunately in my "real life" I have no time, skills or extra help to manage logistics: printing, delivering, stocking. The choice of a PDF + Print on Demand solution seemed not only ideal, but practically the only viable one. Also, this is a nanogame, so I planned the whole project to be as small and sustainable as possible.

The game is already there, the artist graciously performed a good share of the graphical work upfront, I only need the money to pay off the rest of its work and send the final version of the files to the PoD service, then Bob's your uncle. In that regard the existence of a website such as DriveThroughCards made everything very simple for me, and convenient for my backers: it's a big online shop of renown fame, with solid production standards and a killer customer service that ships worldwide. Others might have slightly cheaper fees, or marginally better paper quality, but considering the whole package I believe this to be the best solution for both me and anyone interested in the game.

Also, the stretch goals are built in such a way that each one will add value to the whole project, but ultimately are not needed... if not even one is funded, the game will not suffer from it, while the more are funded the better the game becomes for everyone. Logistically speaking the workload for each guest designer is incredibly small. The main bottleneck will be the illustrations, but this only means that if worst comes to worst there will be a slight delay in the fulfillment of the project, nothing else.

What kind of stories do you think players will find when they play The Name of God? What do you think might surprise them?

So far I've seen all kinds of stories.

Some are quirky and over the top, surrealistic.

Others are humane and touching, others are dark and hurtful, others yet are light hearted and almost comical (in a weird kind of way). A few kind of remind of Todd McFarlane's Spawn stories, the first ones that were more down to earth.

For example I remember one game, one of the very first playtests, where the Winter produced a chilling (no pun intended) story of revenge, the Shadow went down as a deranged and very dark vigilante tale, and the Stars surprised everyone by pulling off a story of personal struggle and redemption with an unbelievably sweet and positive ending (as far as suicide goes).

The Winter was a middle aged woman. Cheated and abandoned by her husband, she methodically went on stalking him and his new happy family, stealing trinkets and mementoes, and finally getting into their happy house and killing their newborn infant child. The player (Pablo) commented that most of the horrible things he made his Fetish do where not planned, they just kind of happened because they felt right in the circumstance, and he was the first to be shocked by them.

The Shadows was an angry old man. He behaved like a vigilante, fighting the inner demons that plagued the periphery of his perception by beating drug dealers and pimps with a baseball bat. The player (Claudia) was consistently creeped out both by how her character's actions failed to ensue a positive effect no matter how hard she tried (very powerful a scene with a prostitute she helped, as the girl freaked out because her pimp got smashed to a pulp before her eyes). And her ascension scene was epic, facing a small army of demon-children in a construction yard near a railway, finally throwing the character against an incoming train as a last enraged attack against his not-so-inner demons.

The Stars was a young guy with a drug problem. He faced prejudice and violence and temptation in order to win over the girl of his dreams, eventually risking his life to save her father, a man that until the very end had shown him only hatred and contempt. A touching moment happened when he put a gun to his own head, inviting the girl's father to pull the trigger if that would solve his family problems and ensure the girl's well being ... and by turning this into a Ritual Action that, literally, sparked a light in the man's heart, the scene ended up in tears and reconciliation. But the best part was the final ascension. The player (Alejandro) saw that there were no rules dictating when the ascension scene needed to take place, so he framed his character as old, in his house bathroom, looking at himself in the mirror and remembering a happy and fulfilling life with his beloved; she was now dead since a few months and he felt it was time to leave the mortal world behind and ascend, serenely, in his own bed, with the help of some pills and a good drink. It felt like real closure even to the other players. Beautiful.

Awesome! Please make sure to keep an eye out for the upcoming Kickstarter and check out the KS preview page. Thank you to Alessandro for the interview, and I am looking forward to seeing the final product!

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