Friday, May 27, 2016

Five or So Questions with Tod Foley on DayTrippers

Today I have an interview with Tod Foley, who introduced me to his game DayTrippers, which sounds like a cool scifi experienceIt's available on RPGnow and TabletopLibrary, and you can learn more about it on the DayTrippers website. Check out the interview below!

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

To answer that, I'll need to talk about two things: themes and mechanics. This will take a little explanation.

Thematically, DayTrippers is my love letter to weird science fiction. I've always been a SF fan, but the appeal was never about the science or technology. For me it was all about the mind, and about questioning the nature of reality. I grew up reading "new wave" authors like Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury, Michael Moorcock, James Tiptree Jr. and Philip K. Dick. Their works were more about "inner space" than "outer space". To this day, the movies that affect me most are nominally science fiction, but of the type that messes with your head: from classics like "2001: A Space Odyssey" (which had a powerful and lasting effect on my six-year-old mind) to modern-day brain-benders like "Inception". For me, the truth is where the weird is. As I got older I began seeing the links between this "weird" school of SF and surrealist artists whose work also affected me deeply: people like Roger Dean, Richard Corben, H.R.Giger and my personal favorite, Moebius (Jean Giraud).

Of course, there have been plenty SF RPGs over the years. I contributed heavily to the "Space Master" line (from Iron Crown Enterprises) in the 80s. But these games tend to lean toward hard science, and follow the common materialist themes of exploration and combat. You know: laser weapons, starship battles, hostile alien "natives" and bug-eyed monsters. These themes never grabbed me as deeply as the new wave had grabbed me. What I really wanted was a game that would get inside players' heads, and take them to those bizarre corners of existence where sanity (or reality itself) comes into question, like the weird SF I loved from my youth.

These ideas percolated in my head for many years. One day in 2014 I was talking with Mike Burrell on, and the subject came around to our love of Moebius and other "Heavy Metal" artists. In the best of these stories, alternate realities and heavy symbolism blend together in a way that's both technological and surrealistic. We realized there was an opening for a new type of SF RPG, but it couldn't be just an ordinary "simulation" - because such a game wouldn't have the deep psychological impact that drives weird fiction and surrealist art. I thought the best way to attain that powerful sense of strangeness and displacement would be to fuse traditional GMing approaches with narrativist and surrealist techniques, and I threw myself into the project with wild abandon. Suddenly everything just *clicked*. Within a year, DayTrippers was born.

Of course, once you decide you're going to fuse traditional and narrative techniques in a single hybrid game, you run into a lot of roadblocks - none the least of which is the insular nature of player groups and GMs on opposite sides of that imaginary "rift" in our hobby. To appeal to both groups it was imperative that the game's mechanics be new and flexible, but also simple and narratively-driven. There weren't many designers who had ever attempted such a fusion.

Two of my main inspirations were Steffan O'Sullivan's "FUDGE" (from which the original FATE was a branch-off), and Matthijs Holter’s "Archipelago". From the former I took the idea of a descriptive difficulty scale and lack of a "canonical" setting, and from the latter I took the concept of bipartite action resolution ("yes and", "yes but", "no and", "no but"), along with the contextual and narrativistic interpretation of action results. Everything in the game would come down to a single unified action resolution system. With this core mechanic in place, I was able to create a "toolkit" that could be used in a number of different ways: as a collaborative narrativist game, as a strongly-GM'd traditional game, or (my favorite mode) as a blend of both approaches. The core mechanic has just enough crunch to simulate any type of situation, while the random generators and surrealist techniques add a level of subconscious projection that keeps things from becoming predictable - even for an experienced GM.

I've been designing games professionally since the mid 80s. I've done both trad and narrative games. But with DayTrippers, I was able to unite the best aspects of both schools, and give people the flexibility to run in whatever style suits their group. That's what excites me, and that's why I can't shut up about it. :-)

Can you talk a little about the fiction for DayTrippers, both the content in the game and any specific features you think new players would find exciting?

Future settings always require a bit of exposition, and DayTrippers is no different. The game is set in an UbiComp version of the first world, 100 years in the future, although I'm deliberately vague on the details in order to allow GMs to make up their own minds about future history.

The Core Rules book begins with the story of Zayim Diaspora, open-source technologist and inventor of "SlipShips" - those incredible machines that allow travel into alternate dimensions, as well as forward and backward in time. Because slipship technology is open-source, it's "out of the bag" and no government or corporation can keep a lid on it. This means DayTrippers can come from all walks of life: from high-ranking military or corporate specialists to garage tinkerers with a lot of free time on their hands. It's a simple conceit that allows for all types of characters to be created, and permits the vast entirety of SF realities to be explored. Total narrative freedom, baby! There's a massive list of inspirational material by all my favorite authors in the GameMasters Guide; stories of alternate earths, tales of time travel, and explorations of alien planets and other dimensions. No two DayTrippers multiverses are alike. GMs and Players are free to approach the game with whatever inspirations they find appealing. You can do "Star Trek" one day and "Buckaroo Banzai" the next, then follow it up with "Solaris" or "The Man in the High Castle".

Tell me about LifeShaping, how does it influence character development, and how does it impact gameplay?

"LifeShapers" are things that effect the PCs' personally. They may be influential events from the characters' pasts, or psychological issues they're dealing with in the present. In a game of DayTrippers, Players may begin playing with only a vague idea of who their character is (much like the protagonist of a book or movie in the first scenes, when we have very little knowledge about them). Through a process I call "Progressive Character Generation", Players can develop their characters in more detail over sessions or campaigns.

This approach lets you get into the game quickly, without being forced to make up a bunch of details about a person you don't really know yet. It also allows for great surprises to occur later in the game, such as suddenly learning in the third episode that a character has had military training, or was once a famous athlete, etc. It can give you a new view of your character, and allow for skills and experiences you hadn't considered when the character was first drawn up. If you think about it, this sort of thing happens in movies and TV all the time. DayTrippers embraces it.

Vehicle combat in cyberpunk can be hella complicated. Could you talk about vehicular combat in DayTrippers?

It's true that there are a lot of variables involved in vehicular combat. But it's really no crunchier than any other type of conflict in DayTrippers, where everything - and I do mean *everything* - is resolved using the same core mechanic. Vehicular combat just includes more possible variables. Everyone onboard can get involved.

The most exciting thing about vehicles in DayTrippers is building your own SlipShip. My main influence there was "Car Wars" approach to vehicle design. Vehicles in DayTrippers range from massive interdimensional luxury liners to tiny Rube Goldberg-like contraptions. While the rules do allow for heavy armaments and shielding, most of the important action (at least in my own campaigns) takes place outside the ship.

Finally, I'm interested in what you expect, or want, players to get out of a session or campaign of DayTrippers. What would be the ideal takeaway, for you, from playing DayTrippers?

A DayTrippers campaign is like a series of one-shots; each adventure is designed to last a single session and return the PCs back to Earth. At root, it's a "Genre Sim" for weird science fiction. The rules are basically a toolbox for creating surreal "short stories" that take place in weird worlds and other dimensions. Each session forms a tight narrative arc, but because the action resolution system is loose and interpretive, there's a wide range of dramatic and unpredictable outcomes for every roll.

A trad game with narrativist elements, the system is optimized for spurious improvisation and high bleed. That's where the surreal stuff comes from: it's a combination of GM ideas, the output of random generators, and the "Psychic Content" contributed by the Players themselves. In play, the game tends to elicit ideas that weren't even considered when the session began, and it incorporates these changes in unpredictable ways. The GM is not playing against you: instead, together you're creating a story that has bizarre twists in it, and weirdness flows freely as narrative control goes back and forth. For all these reasons, a DayTrippers adventure is capable of surprising not only the Players, but the GM as well.

Thanks so much to Tod for the interview! I really hope that everyone enjoys checking out DayTrippers (and other games by Tod!) and that everyone got something fun out of this interview!

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