Monday, November 21, 2016

Five or So Questions with Tod Foley on Other Borders

Today I chatted with Tod Foley on his new game Other Borders, which is currently available digitally on DriveThru RPG, RPGnow, and OpenGamingStore. It's a DramaSystem based game and sounds pretty interesting! The print edition hits in December 2016. Check out the interview below!


Tell me a little about Other Borders. What excites you about it?

Other Borders is a DramaSystem game of drugs, money and magic in the modern American southwest, originally conceived as an expansion for Tom McGrenery's "Malandros". The first thing that excited me about working on this project was the Malandros system itself - you might call it "the Malandros branch of DramaSystem". Mechanically, it's a simplified version of DS; there are no cards and fewer tokens. But it also has Character Types and Moves inspired by Vincent Baker's PbtA ("Powered by the Apocalypse") system. I really wanted to work on a setting that would embrace the genre of "magical realism" in a dramatic and spontaneous way, and Tom's rules gave me that opportunity: the town of Entrelugares is a place where drug cartels and law enforcement come face to face with the powers of traditional magic. In fact to the best of my knowledge, it's the first DramaSystem game to include rules for magic. That's very exciting to me, and I'm looking forward to hearing all the trippy things people do with it.

What have you done with the Drama System mechanics that players might find new and interesting?

The Malandros branch uses the same definitions of scenes, scene types, and drama tokens as any other DramaSystem game, but adds procedural moves. These moves are written in a way that will be familiar to PbtA players, although only 1d6 is used: a total of 2 or less represents failure and/or a problem arising, 3-5 represents a partial success (often with a cost), while a total of 6+ represents a full success. And like PbtA games, there's a list of GM Moves that are taken in response to low rolls and "what now" moments.

Other Borders also adds a statistic called "Poder" which represents your character's magical power. Poder may be used to add a die to your pool, or to enhance the efficacy of certain magical moves. But I think the most interesting thing is the way this magic plays out: it's different every time. Magic is highly personalized and unpredictable, because its effects are made up and narrated by the players themselves. There are four types of magic in the game: A class of "general magic" which is common and ceremonial, plus Brujeria (Sorcery/Dark Witchcraft), Chamanismo (Shamanic/Mestizo Magic), and Curanderismo (Healing Magic).

La Santa Muerte

What kind of research did you do for the project, since it is related to some fraught topics?

Most of the "magical realism" stuff was simply drawn from years of reading. Today magical realism is a recognized genre practiced by authors around the world, but its roots are Latin American, and many works in the genre were first written in Spanish. A particularly seminal work was "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by Gabriel García Márquez. My academic sources included the works of writers and literary critics such as Gloria Anzaldúa, Jüri Talvet and Wendy Faris. The criminal elements (cartels and gangs) are drawn mostly from television and movies, from "Weeds" to "Colors" to "Once Upon a Time in Mexico", and from my studies on Santa Muerte. As for the fictional city of Entrelugares itself, it's an amalgam of research data on real US/Mexican border towns such as Naco, Arizona and Nogales, New Mexico. But I've made it very dense, small and isolated, for dramatic effect. Such a place probably couldn't exist in the real world, but it's perfectly suitable for a movie or a telenovela.

What audience are you aiming for with Other Borders, and why?

You know what? I really wrote it to please myself, because Tom gave me a chance to do whatever I wanted to do. I love the genre, I love the culture and the people (I'm from the southwest and I live in a part of Las Vegas which is mostly Latino: El Dia de Muerte is a bigger holiday than Halloween in my neighborhood). But really, I guess the first thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to write magic for DramaSystem. Everything else followed from that.

How do you approach character and player interaction - PvP, collaborative, etc. - and how is that reflected in the mechanics and fiction?

As in all DS games, players are able to insert details (or themselves) into scenes pretty freely. If a conflict arises on the meta level, players can enter into a back-and-forth with Drama Tokens until the scene is settled one way or the other, and the GM Moves are there to keep things jumping even if the players don't have any immediate ideas.

On the character level, enmity is a totally acceptable form of relationship: this is a TV show and sometimes it's fun to play the bad guys - but "bad guy" is a relative term. The town of Entrelugares has many factions and character types: in addition to townspeople and immigrants there are smugglers, gangs, cartel bosses, cops, academics, new age hippies, and a variety of magical practitioners both light and dark. It's possible to play a cooperative scenario like "townspeople banding together to rid the city of drug smugglers", or a competitive scenario like "cops versus the cartel". It's all up to the group, and what they want to play. Because the game includes both modern weapons and powerful magic, if you get into combat it's fairly easy to get debilitated (at least for a while), but the stress and harm rules are forgiving enough so that not a lot of characters will end up dying.

As far as action resolution mechanics go, the modifications Tom made for Malandros created a set of rules that makes it easier for characters to accomplish things on their own, compared to a traditional DS game like Hillfolk. This makes for a faster-paced "episode" with "hard cuts" to different locations, so characters can get more done in less time and this moves the plot along quickly. But of course, they are all tied to each other by direct relationships established in CharGen, and this (in addition to the Drama Token rules) guarantees that their paths must keep crossing in dramatic ways. Its very telenovela-like.

Anything else you want to add?

Thank you for taking the time to interview me, Brie. It's always a pleasure talking with you, and I hope you and your readers enjoy the game!

Encounter with the Magical Woman


Thanks to Tod for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed the interview, and if you want, check out Other Borders on the various available sources!

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