Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Five or So Questions with Graham Walmsley on Cthulhu Dark

Today I have an interview with Graham Walmsley on the new Kickstarter project, Cthulhu Dark. In spite of all of my misgivings about Lovecraftian themed games, I do still love the aesthetic and a lot of the elements - and Graham is pretty considerate about topics that matter most to me in the setting. Because of this, I'm excited to share this interview with you all!


Tell me a little about Cthulhu Dark. What excites you about it?

When you see Cthulhu Dark, the first thing you notice is how simple it is. But that's not the thing that excites me. What excites me is how precise it is.

Take the Insight rule as an example. Your Insight starts at 1. Every time you see something that creeps you out, roll a die (that's an "Insight roll"). If you get higher than your current Insight, your Insight increases by 1, until it reaches 6 and you lose your mind.

That sounds like a simple rule, but it's designed very precisely. It means that your Insight increases fast at the start, then slower later. When it reaches 5, you're on a knife edge, where every Insight Roll could send you over the edge but only if you roll a 6. (I did hours of thinking about probabilities for that rule.)

The whole game is like that. It looks simple, but it's all perfectly engineered. And all of that feeds back into the game. Every so often, the dice throw out a little surprise that makes the story better.

That's what excites me about the rules. There's a whole bunch of other stuff that excites me about the project: the settings, my cowriters, the art, everything.

What kind of settings do you have as a part of, or in addition to, Cthulhu Dark? What in them shows the themes of the system?

Cthulhu Dark comes with four settings: London 1851, the dirty, stinking capital of the British Empire; Arkham 1692, Lovecraft's city in a time of witch-hunts; Jaiwo 2017, modern-day West Africa; and Mumbai 2037, cyberpunk India.

Each of them comes with a scenario that showcases Cthulhu Dark's trademark style of bleak horror. But there's something subtler going on too.

One of the main themes of Cthulhu Dark is: you play people with little power, investigating horror at the heart of the power. For example, in London 1851, you play thieves, beggars and other slum dwellers, investigating monsters within the aristocracy. That's a deliberate choice: in other games, you'd be more likely to play aristocrats, investigating a horror in the slums. Cthulhu Dark switches that around. It means you play Investigators you wouldn't usually play.

by Matteo Bocci, Mumbai 2037

How have you developed Cthulhu Dark - a lot of playtesting, revisions, new ideas?

Since the original two-page version of Cthulhu Dark, I've played it to death, and so have lots of others. It's a robust, polished set of rules, so it didn't need much revising.

What's new is everything else in the book. There's a section on how to use Cthulhu Dark's rules to full effect, with all the tips and tricks I've learned over the years. There's a guide to Writing a Mystery, which takes you step-by-step through the process of writing a horror story to play, starting with the things you fear and ending with the finished mystery. And there's a section on Playing A Mystery, which tells you how to play horror at the table, and another describing the Threats of the Mythos and how to use them in your game.

And then there's the four settings above. There's a lot of new stuff.

You know that this is well within my interests, so I have to ask - anything with the term "Cthulhu" in the title approaches the question of how mental health and "insanity" are handled. How did you approach this concept in Cthulhu Dark?

Instead of "insanity", the new Cthulhu Dark talks about Insight. That's your insight into the horror, the dark patterns behind the universe, the Mythos. Every time you see something that creeps you out, you roll to see whether your Insight increases.

To the outside world, your Insight looks like insanity. But you know better. You see things others don't see. You understand things they don't understand.

Cthulhu games haven't always treated mental health well, but there's no reason that they can't. After all, Cthulhu is really the only genre that even includes mental health. You never think about mental health in a dungeon-crawling game, but you have to think about it in Cthulhu games. So, I think there's the possibility of doing something really positive with mental health and Cthulhu gaming.

What sort of play does Cthulhu Dark do best? What can players expect when they sit down at a table?

Cthulhu Dark does bleak, mindbending horror. You can't fight the Mythos: you can only run, hide or watch helplessly.

When you sit down to play Cthulhu Dark, expect your Investigator to spiral slowly down into darkness. Expect to be creeped out. Expect hyperpowerful creatures, which you cannot understand, let alone fight. Expect all that, then enjoy the ride.

by Matteo Bocci

Thanks so much to Graham for the interview! I'm excited to see the final product, it sounds really great! Readers, remember to check out Cthulhu Dark on Kickstarter and share with your friends!

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Monday, May 29, 2017

Five or So Questions with Fraser Simons on Cascade

Hi y'all! Today I have an interview with Fraser Simons on a supplement to the cyberpunk game, The Veil, called Cascade. I talked to Fraser about Cascade, which is currently on Kickstarter, to see what's new and interesting! Check it out. :)


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

Cascade is the second step in a larger design goal I have, The Veil being the foundation of that goal. There is a heavy focus on emergent play and reducing cognitive load; I love that someone could be playing The Veil right now and choose to take those characters they have spent time with and move them to this supplement and find out whole new things about them they never would have otherwise. There's a new flashback mechanic, even more of the really cool stuff about this game is now player facing. There is a lot to discover about a character when their identity is upset, and in this game your mind is decanted into a whole new body. You have missing memories. The world is as foreign to you, as perhaps your body is now. And embodiment is a powerful journey of discovery people can touch on as little, or as much, as they like but they have a mechanical reason and benefit to engage with the exploration of this future world as well as their characters. And, at the same time I'm realizing this next step in the design goal, I get to also give more resources that I couldn't include in The Veil. So really, it's a continuation of the original text and the design work! Lastly, perhaps most exciting of all I get to experience some other settings from wonderful people like Kira Magrann, Kate Bullock, Dana Cameron, and Quinn Murphy lined up for stretch goals. Finding out what other people's cyberpunk is and what it means to them is extremely exciting and interesting to me, the whole system is geared towards that, after all!

What is your cyberpunk? How is that reflected in Cascade?

I came to cyberpunk initially by getting my hands on a copy of Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan. At the time, I had never read something like it. It essentially injected politics into cyberpunk fiction in a way people hadn't really done, to my knowledge. There was no real political stance in Neuromancer (beyond a slightly problematic Zion vs Wintermute semi-stance) and many of the other books that came out even, save for a few as I wasn't very aware of the genre at that time. I hadn't even heard of post-cyberpunk as a term yet, so I wasn't sure what I was reading. It subverted some tropes in the genre, like typical macho masculine and generally all-white protagonists with a new kind of depth. Because Takeshi's heritage was mixed and reiterated constantly, because he was intentionally hyper masculine while always reiterating making the political personal, we ended up with a character that was unlike any other cyberpunk protagonist I'd heard of or read. Race and gender were constructs of the mind instead of body, cortical stacks allowed the reader of the book to really think about one's identity and what it's comprised of; outside of embodiment issues as well as with them. To see that the natural progression of globalization and capitalism in the future is the same as it is now, with the only value a human life has is the money they have and can produce, with the very essence of their identity, the cortical stack becoming a commodity in of itself. The series depicts Takeshi as someone who understands the system and hates it but is nihilistic, to a more Utopian ending and feeling when he decides to actually do something against the system itself. Bridging concepts from old and new in cyberpunk texts, it represented the kind of fiction I could love.

What my cyberpunk needs to have in it because of this touchstone: depth, in a word. I want to have extrapolation from our present to look into the future and explore where we could be going. I want it to have commentary on the human condition and what makes us human. I want technologies to be represented as neutral, with its potential good and bad being explored, and how our relationship to it changes as we change because of our technology. It should pose questions to me that I need and want to answer; make me think. Make me feel. And it needs to be relevant; diverse and inclusive. And I think it also needs to continue to redefine the terms "cyber" and "punk" as these words change with our lives and our society. I think that is a major part of making relevant fiction, and if it is relevant it walks across the line from merely being entertainment to something else entirely.

How does the flashback mechanic work? 

In Cascade, I really wanted to hit on emergent play because The Veil has a fairly high cognitive load. To that effect, I decided to change the reward system so that people got experience when they explored questions within the game. Your character is decanted into a Slack; a vacant body. And because of this process, which is imperfect, some of your memories are missing. You are in a new body, you're a character from The Veil brought further into the future and you don't have some of your memories. Cascade is all about finding out the answer to these questions. And as you make your way through this world, players will have emergent ideas about what the answer to these questions may be. So, when they make a roll for any move they can also hit on the flashback mechanic as well. They'll take the lowest die and subtract it from the highest and add the amount of emotion spikes equal to that sum, and then simply narrate what it is they see about their past. Keeping it short and brief as most flashbacks are. You can also have a flashback as a separate move, but typically the inspiration for the answer to a question comes off the boot heels of something else, I find. And because it's rooted in emotion like the rest of the game, it becomes as important as any other move, plus you get experience!

What did you do to focus more on emergent play? 

The flashback mechanic is a major focal point for emergent play. Making really large questions about identity and the world around them "bite-sized", so that players can nibble at them as they play to find out what happens next without having to come up with something interesting and neat right then. It also frees up the person running the game to take these flashbacks, these questions the characters have made and want to inject into their game, and simply work them into the game as it unfolds. With beliefs, it was more difficult because everyone needs to be cognoscente of them while driving the fiction forward towards these things with every scene frame you did. This way, as ideas bubble up to the surface the player introduces them and then it is incorporated naturally into the fiction by the person running the game in a manner I find much more approachable. Players are constantly waving their fictional flags, getting rewarded for it, and then seeing what those answers mean for the world around them as they also use them to define themselves.

I have also hit on emergent themes when crafting the new playbooks. There is a move that defines the world around them as they make their way through it. For instance one playbook will be about defining counter-culture in the future, where the other will define other cultural things, like traditions, fashion, etc. As players have ideas of how this future differs from what they know now, they have these moves to insert them as they they go,and because it is also a move when they do so it will still propel the story forward. I wanted to make sure that if people were into the idea they could unravel the mysteries of this future in a manner unrelated to the questions everyone uses for experience. Showing them that their character is integral to defining the cyberpunk fiction they now inhabit. 

How do the other settings integrate with Cascade

The settings we have lined up for stretch goals are so exciting!! Some will be slotted into any campaign, for instance in Quinn Murphy's incarceration setting, you could use that at any point the players are incarcerated or as something stand alone. Others, like Dana Cameron's one focusing on the players moving their identities into cats, could be the entire focus of a campaign, or merely a portion of it. Taipei, which comes with the game and is the one I wrote, is meant as an adventure starter with a hook built into it. Each setting can be used for short term play, inspiration for what you will create for your own unique cyberpunk fiction. Or the beginning of something you will define as you play. With a wide range of possibilities should be able to get maximum utility out of these stretch goals as they do not all have the same parameters for use with the game. From queer, feminist cyberpunk, to uploading your mind into cats, to a setting where emotions are traded as commodities. I think there is something for everyone and can't wait. I really wanted to show that cyberpunk is different for everyone as it seems slightly pigeon-holed. I have a couple more stretch goals to reveal too, including more settings. Can't wait!


Thanks Fraser! It was great to interview you again. I hope all of my readers liked learning about Cascade and will check it out on Kickstarter today!

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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Just Say No

Content note: brief mentions of rape and sexual assault, violations of consent.

French translation:
Cards from Archipelago, a game written by Mattijs Holter
“Yes, and...”

This is the statement I see encouraged endlessly in game introduction texts, at game events, at game tables. This is what is supposed to be the key of play – the center of improv, the best way to have good dialogue and storytelling in games.

But like… no?

Don’t get me wrong, I did improv for years (surprise!), and Yes, and is a huge part of it, but even when I did improv, it wasn’t always the best tool. Sometimes, it leads to consent issues, others, it waters down the story. I want to talk a little about important things that go against the passionate promotion of “yes, and.”

There are alternatives to Yes, and: Yes, but...; No, but...; and No, and... Here’s the thing: most story gamers are familiar with these already. They’re Powered by the Apocalypse/Apocalypse World move result structures.
10+ - Yes, and 
7-9 - Yes, but 
6- - No, but (or) No, and
Some of this comes up in many stratified result systems in games ("success at cost"), but we don’t really talk about that, I think, and it might not be brought into player-to-player interactions.  They’re pretty simple and can be easily understood and taught. Most are familiar with “yes, and” (I accept your fiction and build on it), so here’s the rest:
  • Yes, but – I accept your fiction, except this piece is more difficult. Basically Archipelago’s “That Might Not Be Quite So Easy!”
  • No, but – That doesn’t work, but you still get something out of it.
  • No, and – That doesn’t work, and this is why/here’s how it’s different.

No, but and No, and function similarly to “Try a Different Way!” in Archipelago. To be honest, Archipelago is one of my favorite RPGs because it is so beautifully developed for building rich stories and really flavorful and intense social interactions because the ritual phrases are gorgeous and work really well.

The option to say no (and add to it, or give good reasons why) can make some cool things happen. It can keep things in tone, or allow players who are being left out of controlling the plot to take charge. I also have some problems in general with Yes, and that impact play in a very important way.

Yes, and can impact consent. Oh, no one is being forced to accept something in a story, but if you start playing with the assumption that an idea can be pitched and has to be accepted or else it will negatively impact the story, it can make people feel like they have to give in or they’ll ruin the game. It feels to me like a bad writer’s room gig. Like, why did Tasha Yar come from a rape gang planet?
Writer: Here’s this cool lady character I made for the show, she’s a security officer. 
Random Creepy Executive: Yeah and she totally has sexual trauma that made her so cool. 
W: Um… I… I guess so? 
RCE: And what if there were rape gangs! That she had to run from! 
W: If that’s what you think would be cool? 
RCE: We’ll have an episode where she’ll have to relive it! It’ll be awesome!
And so on.

How many women in games can say that someone didn’t try to introduce shit into their backstory like this? How many just felt pressured to let it happen even without a Yes, and culture? Now imagine with all of your cool friends saying that you should accept people’s ideas because otherwise stories get boring.

That, and it can lead to the most enthusiastic, outgoing people to controlling the story. Who suggests the most ideas in your group? How much of the time do they dominate it? Now bring in a shy player and say “hey, in this game we play like improv, and when someone suggests something in game, you’re supposed to be like ‘yes, and’ and play on it.” What if they have an idea? If the dominant player pitches them an idea, do you think they’ll feel comfortable being like “hey, that actually doesn’t fit my character, let’s try it a different way.” What if that person has good ideas, but they feel pressured to accept whatever someone throws at them?

Improv is great, by the way. But, improv itself can be harmed by exclusive yes, and culture. Especially in regards to consent! When I was taught improv originally, Yes, and was highly emphasized. I was 15 (I did improv at events until I was 18), and over our practice I struggled with it, but hey, my trainers knew best. So when a 35 year old guy grabbed my arm and started licking my hand and talking about how he was my lover, I was afraid to say no – almost as afraid of the situation. I eventually pulled my hand away and denied it, but that guy – also an improv actor – knew that we were in a culture where I was supposed to say yes. I have felt this way in RPGs, too. Abusers gonna abuse, but they sure as hell can do it better when peer pressure helps it along.

But it’s also important to remember that not all games require improv. We aren’t on a set stage without freedom to ask questions, or step back. One of the reason my safety measures in Script Change suggest talking before you continue is because prioritizing immersion and story over the comfort, safety, and enjoyment of everyone at the table is not only uncool, but also pretty boring. In games where there’s combat and strategy, being able to step back and be like, “hey, is this okay?” is useful. In games without… it’s also useful.

I’ve heard people condemn out-of-character discussion as metagaming and saying that rejecting other people’s ideas stifles play. I don’t agree with that. There are degrees of metagaming that aren’t unreasonable, like pausing to check in with people before moving the story forward, or someone saying “hey, that is a way gorier way for my character to die than I’m okay with, can we rewind and try again?”

 I think controlling the narrative is part of the beauty of RPGs, and part of that is being able to say “no.”

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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Designer & Devourer Episode 5

Check out Episode 5 of Designer & Devourer by clicking the post title! We’ll be talking recent posts, upcoming stuff, and then some recent development work on Turn. The recipe this week will be road trip kebabs.

Recently did an interview with Jeff Tidball on The White Box, a box of blank parts to help design and game education get started!

Interviewed Colin Kyle on Axon Punk: Overdrive, a cyberpunk game with hip hop influences.

Chatted with Kevin Allen, Jr. on Trouble for Hire, a road adventure game with one player and distributed GM roles for the other players.

Talked to Cam Banks about CortexPrime – my stretch goal hit! It’s still going!

Released Of the Woods: Lonely Gamesof Imagination on DriveThruRPG, includes a game of my design and curated games from other designers. Proceeds go to Trevor Project.

Interviews coming are kinda being juggled right now, but they're on the way. :)

Road Trip Kebabs

Beef, roughly cubed to 1”x 1”x 2” pieces
Chicken, roughly cubed to 1”x 1”x 2” pieces
Sweet onions, sliced
Sweet peppers, sliced
Brown mustard

Cut meat, chicken, vegetables, and thread onto skewers. You can do all one meat on each skewer, or mix it up. Grill until cooked to your preference of done-ness, but make sure the chicken is at least 165° F or there’s no pink left. Season while it’s still hot, right off the grill. Use mustard as a dipping sauce! Great hot or cold. 

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Saturday, May 20, 2017

Playtesters Needed: Turn and Armored Reckoning

Hi all!

I'm seeking online playtesters for my current project, Turn! I'm also soliciting playtesters for John Sheldon's game, Armored Reckoning! Details below!


Turn Summer Online Playtest: Seeking 3-4 players (Respond by 5/31)

Turn tells the story of shapeshifters in small towns struggling to balance their human and beast needs and desires. It is a narrative story game with mechanics focused on social interaction and story development. This online playtest is intended to be a 4-8 session campaign with regular feedback provided.

Player preferences:
Experience with narrative story games (in the style of PbtA, Fate, Archipelago)
Interest in supernatural stories and legends
Comfort with emotional, tight-knit social storylines
Willingness to commit to a code of behavior for the game
Willingness to provide clear, considerate feedback on game mechanics and interpretation
Reliable availability for dates noted below

Online Tuesday or Wednesday nights Eastern
Starting 5pm or later, ending no later than 10:00pm
Sessions no shorter than 2.5 hrs

Sessions will be rescheduled only if there are fewer than 2 players available (GM + 2 players = game on.)
APPLY HERE by May 31, 2017

Armored Reckoning Online Playtest (Respond by 5/31)

World War II hasn't worked out the way the Allies planned. In a deadly and inexplicable Second Blitz, German tanks have overrun Allied lines. Nazis now threaten Paris, Rome, and Warsaw with renewed occupation. Your company of soldiers and freedom fighters, trapped behind enemy lines with barely-operational light tanks, may be the last hope for the war effort.

Work with your teammates in this GM-less roleplaying game to wreak havoc behind German lines. Uncover the source of their renewed military might, and put a stop to it. Alternate between tense engagements using a card-based tactical system and narrative downtime scenes, where characters and conflicts take center stage.

2 to 5 players, 4 to 6 online sessions (each 2 to 4 hours)

Preferred nights are Wednesday or Thursday, starting after 7pm Eastern, online

Email by May 31, 2017 if interested.

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Saturday, May 13, 2017

Five or So Questions with Jeff Tidball on The White Box

In a last minute burst, I have an interview with Jeff Tidball about the project he's currently publishing via Kickstarter, The White Box! It's an unusual concept and when I saw it, I had to ask about it! See what Jeff has to say below.


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

The White Box is very simple: It’s a book of essays and a box of components. The essays are about how to design and produce tabletop games. The components are a very generic set of pieces — dice, cubes, meeples, etc. — designed to get people started experimenting and prototyping right away.

I really, really like making games. For me, this has also become an enthusiasm for talking about the process of making games, which has lead to more and more teaching folks how to make games. The White Box is a very efficient way to spread that to a large number of people, over (what will hopefully be) a long period of time, if we can establish an evergreen place for it in retail stores.

Something I think we’ve seen more and more, in the last 10–20 years, are increasing non-formal educational opportunities for people who just want to learn to do some particular creative thing. They don’t want a degree, they just really like the idea of learning how to do a thing, and I think they also like thinking of themselves as people who could do that thing. We’ve seen an explosion of classes (in person, online, at retreats, during conventions…) about writing novels, composing screenplays, making documentaries, and — yes — designing games.

One of the non-obvious upsides of this interest in learning is that there’s a chance to do this teaching as something other than philanthropy. Am I going to get rich publishing The White Box? No. Neither is Jeremy (its author), or Gameplaywright, or Atlas Games. But it can become a self-sustaining thing. So, in addition to liking to talk and teach about gaming, I’m excited at having (with this Kickstarter’s apparent success) worked my way into a format for talking and teaching that’s financially sustainable,

What kind of components are inside The White Box, and why?

The stuff inside The White Box is a set of relatively common board game components: cubes, meeples, dice, and punchboard counters. The cubes, meeples, and dice come in a variety of colors. The base was four colors; our 1,000-backer stretch goal added a fifth color. We’ll add a sixth if we hit 100 retail backers.

The one unusual thing we’ve got in that vein of componentry is a giant wooden cube in each color. They look great in the pictures, and I’m interested in seeing what they inspire in designers.

What we *don’t* have is also interesting. Earlier versions of the parts list included blank cards, and a blank game board. We had to cut down the list to make the box more affordable, because we were really invested in the idea that The White Box should be a no-brainer purchase for someone interested in design. We really didn’t want to lose them over price. In my design experience, cards are much better created on a printer (cut a sheet of office paper into nine pieces) and then sleeved. We can’t compete with the cheapness of that (and the reusability of the sleeves), and we’d be providing something worse than that anyway. So they went.

The board was both especially expensive, and not large enough to accommodate what I thought would be relatively standard design uses. And large sheets of paper aren’t hard to come by, so again, it didn’t seem like a huge loss to lose it from the roster.

What was the biggest inspiration for The White Box and its specific components as a product, beyond seeing a need?

Jeremy Holcomb, the creator of The White Box, seems like he was most inspired by both his teaching (he’s a professor at DigiPen) and the same questions recurring in convention panels. The essays in the book are calibrated to answers those perennial questions. But I suppose those are both in the category of “seeing a need.”

I can’t speak for Jeremy as to deeper inspirations, but I have done a fair amount of teaching — formal and informal — and mentoring in the area of game design, and I’m inspired by a love of creative pursuits generally, and game design in particular. I also love the entrepreneurial endeavor of bringing a game to market, and so teaching people how to make games that can succeed in a greater marketplace games is something that I dig, and that I think is valuable.

This is such an unusual product, and sounds like a challenge to prepare for a larger audience. How have you tested The White Box?

Jeremy has literally tested the component mix by collecting samples and dumping them out on a table with friends to see what they can make. He’s also passed the book's essays around to students and colleagues in order to garner feedback and improve their content.

For my part as a publisher, I spent a lot of time worrying about whether the marketplace had any interest in a product like this, and trying to figure out how I could test the general idea to get a deeper sense before launching a Kickstarter that might fail.

Those concerns seem ridiculous now that we’ve raised five times our funding goal halfway through the campaign, but it’s impossible to know what will succeed and what will fail beforehand, which is *nervewracking*.

My publisher’s “testing” consisted of creating a graphic that looked as much as possible like the contents we were proposing — it’s more or less the same graphic we’re using as the Kickstarter feature image — and showing it to both designers and retailers. I asked things like, “Do you need one of these?” “Would you buy one?” “How much would you pay for one?” “Could you sell this?” “How much would be too much?” That’s the process that provided as much validation as we could get (without doing it for real), and led us to a $29.95 price point, as opposed to something higher.

What benefits do you think educational game products bring, particularly The White Box? Are there skills (ability to complete tasks), or traits (behaviors and trends in ideals)?

I definitely think you can learn things from other people, whether that learning takes the form of reading their written works, listening to their lectures, or talking with them in a conversation.

But I don’t think you can get all the way to an *understanding* that way, and (obviously) learning in that way doesn’t allow you to directly product anything. (Other, maybe, than notes.) To arrive at a deeper understanding, and to produce something, you have to sit down and make. And usually, you have to make iterations. Drafts of a novel, prototypes of a game, or even individual performances (or rehearsals) of a piece of music. And of course, in a creative pursuit like game design, to produce a thing is also the goal. So you deepen your understanding in the act of making.

But then you wind up going back to learning, as you hit walls, or as you seek feedback on the last thing you made. So, I think it’s cyclic. Learn, make, learn more, make again.

Circling back to The White Box, I’ll say this: I think the best thing a teacher — be it a person, a book, or whatever — can do is to encourage the making phase. If the teacher sees the learning as an end in and of itself, I think the whole enterprise is a little sad and incomplete. So part of the crucial thing about The White Box is that *the things inside of it encourage the making*. It’s not just a book of advice; it’s also a call to action. And I think those two things are both critical to the endeavor.

The White Box teaches skills, probably, except insofar as it takes excitement and investment to begin the process of learning (to trigger the process of making), and the way the essays approach game design — with enthusiasm and love — will hopefully engender those traits necessary to invest the time to learn the skills.


Thanks so much to Jeff for answering my questions! The White Box only has a couple more days on Kickstarter, so if you want in, check it out now

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Friday, May 12, 2017

Five or So Questions with Kevin Allen Jr. on Trouble for Hire

Today I have an interview with Kevin Allen, Jr., creator of Trouble for Hire, which is a game about road warriors and is currently on Kickstarter! Road warriors are pretty cool, and Kevin was real cool about answering my questions. Check 'em out below!


Tell me a little about Trouble for Hire. What excites you about it?

Trouble for Hire is a game that lets 3-6 friends create stylized, fast-paced, road adventure stories set in a trash-culture pastiche of the 1970’s(ish) American West. It’s kind of a reverse roleplaying game; There’s one character –a tough/cool Mexican wheelman– who the game focuses on, while distributing the responsibilities of a traditional GM between the other players. These roles shift throughout play, so everyone gets a chance to do everything in the course of a session. It’s rules light, plays a whole story in single session, and is chock full of really unique color.

What about all that has me excited? Well, beyond the general excitement of publishing a project that I’ve been working on for a little over half a decade, and getting to work with some of my absolute favorite artists, the thing that I’m most jazzed about is seeing what people create with the world I’m giving them. There’s so many games on the shelves, great ones even, but they’ve been telling the same kind of stories in the same kind of worlds for a long time now. Fantasy sword bros. Steampunk gutter thieves. Spaceship superhero armor dudes. I love those games; I play the hell out of those games, but I always wondered where were all the games about Jane Fonda and Warren Oates trying to smuggle 8 kilos of California Kush through Petrified Forest National Park? Trouble for Hire is THAT game. Getting to see the unique content that people make, to hear about their adventure stories: That’s what I’m excited about. I’ve assembled what I think is a really rich toy box, and I can’t wait for people to play with it."

I love this idea of one player, many GMs. Tell me a little more about these roles that the GM style players have - what keeps them involved? How much control do they have?
Glad you're as keen on the Roles as I am. They break up traditional GM duties and assign them out in themed abstract chunks. There's a role for setting stuff, antagonist npcs, neutral npcs, the main character's sidekick or allies, and a few more. There are roles that are optional, depending on if you want them in a particular story or not; one for supernatural stuff, one that introduces a second major character. There's even an Editor role who doesn't so much create content like the other roles do but remixes it (with things like flashbacks and insights) like a live dj scratching your story instead of records.

There were a couple design problems I was looking at when making trouble for hire that speak directly to this issue of control and how it engages your interest in the story and as a device of play. The big one was ‘how do you make a group roleplaying game about the strong silent loner?’ Wolverine is cool in comics, but when he comes to the gaming table he tends to fall flat. The answer I came to was character non-monogamy, allowing everyone at the table the chance to be Wolverine (or in this case, Mexican smuggler Ruben Carlos Ruiz). Once I resolved to have the main character change hands in play it made sense for the rest of the responsibilities to do so as well. Every role has tricks they can pull, situations they can create in the story, general abstract territories they each lord over. When you first start playing certain roles appear more useful or engaging than others (who would want to be unnamed background characters when you could be the big bad villain?) but you’ll quickly realize they all do cool tricks –tricks that the story is just begging you to pull off. They give you ideas for ways to tweak the narrative. Eventually you realize that the scene you’re playing would be greatly enriched by the addition of some unnamed background characters, perhaps the kind who will eventually turn into the big bad villain, but as yet their allegiances are unknown.

The roles offer players a great deal of control. They are more about enabling fun storytelling than putting boundaries on what you can and can’t do. There’s plenty of overlap between the roles and any big important game thing (like initiating challenges where dice get rolled, or advancing the turn rotation) are backed up across many players. It’s less you only get to play with this corner of the sandbox and more you can play with the whole sandbox, but you have to look at it through these particular tinted glasses.

Sweet line art by Amy Houser.
What's gone into the design process, technique and testing wise, for Trouble for Hire over the time you've been working on it? 

I started working on this game way back in 2010. For the first year the game shapeshifted around in different forms before settling into essentially what it is today. I’ve been testing and playing the game since then. Hundreds of hours. It’s the most extensive review I’ve ever given a project before publishing –not because there were unresolved issues, but because I was really enjoying playing the game and crafting the world. A creator’s intention is interesting to examine, but ultimately I believe that art (in this case a game) belongs to it’s audience. My opinion doesn’t matter at your gaming table, I’m not there to lord over you and dictate what’s kosher, so I’ve spent a lot of time with the text making sure it’s jam packed full of my voice and ideas.

What non-game media did you watch or read (or rewatch and reread!) to get ideas, flavor, and style from for Trouble for Hire?

This game was very much born in a cauldron of simmering influences, the biggest being post-western films of the 70’s. By post-western (and I go into this topic a bit more in-depth in the game text) I’m talking about a movement/realization in the latter half of the 20th century that the noble story of the western hero (read: white cowboy) was perhaps not as noble as it once seamed. Or perhaps the vicissitudes of modern life had rendered the romance of a “wild west” irrelevant. Either way, filmmakers started examining the role of the loner hero and a conflicted national identity. Sometimes that influence was serious (i.e.: Vanishing Point) and sometimes less so (anything with Burt Reynolds hassling Jackie Gleason). I present a pretty robust “appendix N” in the game, including a number of inspirations that might not normally be found in a gaming context. I took a lot from the paintings of Rosson Crow and Wes Lang, the photography of Neil Krug, and a musical combination of old school outlaw country, stoner metal, and Mexican narco ballads.

What are some key moments of play you've seen that just really exemplify Trouble for Hire as a game and experience?

There are three flagship adventures included in the game that represent kind of the purest expression of the setting and it’s themes (there’s a bunch of other adventures included too, that deviate from and play with those themes). The one included in the preview document –“Hollywood Brad Freeman’s Special Delivery”– is an adventure that centers on delivering a mystery box to a biker gang and the tribulations that occur along the way. I never declare what’s in the box, that’s for players to discover at the table. It’s always the first question I ask when I hear from people who played the game. What was in the box? Best answers: A solid gold phallus from an ancient Aztec temple; a sex tape featuring president Jimmy Carter; and thousands of poisonous scorpions. I’m really proud to have made a game where those are all totally reasonable and fantastic solutions. I can't wait to see what else people put in my mystery box and what they get out of Trouble for Hire.

More gorgeous line art by Amy Houser.


Thanks so much to Kevin for answering my questions and sharing about Trouble for Hire, and thanks to Nathan Paoletta for hooking up the interview! Please take a minute to check out Trouble for Hire on Kickstarter today, and share this post around! 

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Of the Woods: Lonely Games of Imagination Now on DriveThruRPG!

Of the Woods: Lonely Games of Imagination now live on DriveThruRPG!

Of the Woods is a collection of six single-player lonely games. A lonely game is a game of questions to tell haunting, introspective, and quiet stories. The original game by Brie Sheldon, Locked Away, inspired the subsequent games by Kimberley Lam, Moyra Turkington, Meera Barry, Chris Bennett, and Adam McConnaughey, the last of which involves a tarot card mechanic. When you play a lonely game, you tell a story no one else has told - to keep locked away, or to share with others who are lonely, too.

Proceeds from the sales will go entirely to The Trevor Project ( to support LGBTQIA+ youth.

This project has been slow in progress for a number of reasons, but the first ever Daedalum Analog Productions release, and my first published project as designer & curator, is now on DriveThruRPG.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Directing Anarchy: Guest Post by Paul Stefko

Hi all! Paul Stefko (Patreon) from Nothing Ventured Games is a good friend of mine, a fantastic designer, and a fellow blogger! He also is a bangin' GM and ran Shadowrun: Anarchy for +John W. Sheldon and me a little while ago. I had a great time! Since I don't typically run games, and Paul knows a lot about being a GM and how GM mechanics worked, I asked him to do a brief guest blog. I hope you enjoy it!


This pic is so wonderfully Paul, I can't even.

I picked up the Prototype edition of Shadowrun Anarchy on the last day of Gen Con 2016. I was intrigued by the idea of a slimmed down, narrative-focused take on the Shadowrun setting. And the price was certainly right at $5. (In fact, it was the last $5 of my discretionary "ooh, shiny" money.)

I had chosen to pass on Shadowrun 5th Edition because it wasn't really different enough from the 4th Edition I had already invested a lot in. Anarchy certainly was different, but not so much that it felt like a complete disconnect from Shadowrun's past. It had familiar features like dice pools, Edge, and karma, and of course all the orcs and trolls and magic of the Sixth World.

But at its core, Shadowrun Anarchy is still an implementation of Catalyst's Cue system, which is far more narrative than the stalwartly traditional mainline Shadowrun. What would it be like at the table? The Cue system features round-robin narration, a currency of plot points to let players shift outcomes in their favor, and a pared down adventure set-up called Contract Briefs.

I got a chance to put Anarchy through its paces late last year. I met with a couple friends, and over Chinese food, we made their characters and played through a complete adventure — the Street Sweeper brief from the Anarchy rulebook — in about three and a half hours. I certainly couldn't complain about speed!

The session was fun, and the rules acquitted themselves well enough, but there were a few places where I felt the system rub up against its own rough edges. By default, Anarchy plays out as a series of "narrations" — each player has a chance to describe how the scene progresses until their character performs some action that requires a roll. All the GM does is set the scene's initial conditions and play NPCs (including rolling for them in opposition to the player's action, when appropriate).

This style of narration requires the players to be both comfortable with and adept at framing their own scenes and setting themselves up for interesting opposition. My players were fairly comfortable with this paradigm, but I still noted they were not really pushing the scenes very far or very hard. At the time, I chalked this up to being unfamiliar with the mechanics beyond just the narration system, but I think now that I was relying too much on the back-and-forth of a traditional GM role. They were asking questions and looking to me for the answers rather than just declaring what happened next, and I was too quick to jump in with additional scene details.

This is probably going to be the biggest source of friction for most gamers, as the rest of Anarchy is actually a pretty standard set of action resolution rules. Once you get to a point in the scene where the outcome of an interesting action is in doubt, the way you roll the dice and count successes is going to feel familiar to most gamers. But getting to that point is the more interesting and less obvious part, and unfortunately, even the full Anarchy rules don't give a lot of advice on how to manage your narrations.

Still, I had a lot of fun running, the players had fun playing, and we decided to give it another try. The second session went just as well, but again, I felt like I was running it too "trad" precisely because the rules didn't provide enough direction to run it any other way. When I get Anarchy back to the table again, I definitely plan to push harder in the direction of player narration, encouraging the players to drive the scenes ahead even farther before with get down to resolving an action.

I think the key to Anarchy is in its name: it wants a little less authority and a little more freedom to push boundaries. I'm looking forward to finding out what that feels like.

Thanks so much Paul for sharing your thoughts and experiences with Shadowrun: Anarchy as a GM! Check out Paul's blog and Patreon for games, design talk, and more!

Patreon proceeds for this post will be distributed to Paul for his contribution to the blog. Thanks for your support!

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Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Five or So Questions with Colin Kyle on Axon Punk: Overdrive

Today I have an interview about the game Axon Punk: Overdrive, which is currently on Kickstarter. Colin Kyle , the lead designer, answered some of my questions about this cyberpunk, hip hop game set in 2085 megacities! Check them out below.


Tell me a little about Axon Punk: Overdrive. What excites you about it?

Axon Punk: Overdrive is a tabletop Roleplaying Game that combines classic cyberpunk with hip hop. The game has a very collaborative, improvisational feel like Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, but set in the megacities of 2085. In addition to being futuristic badasses, players together create a Community of locations and fellow city dwellers that they live in during the game. Based on the choices the players make, their Community will produce missions, give rewards, and evolve over time – or it could be consumed by the chaos and anarchy caused by futuristic corporate oppression.

I am so excited about Axon Punk for many reasons. The top thing I’d say is that I get to work with so many interesting and different people. I originally began the game with my brother two years ago for fun and to help us get through some tough times, calling ourselves the Wrong Brothers. When we decided to get really serious about the game, we reached out for help. One of the key people that responded to us was Keisha Howard, who is the leader and founder of the Sugar Gamers and is working on a similar cyberpunk game called Project Violatea. Because of our shared love of games, sci-fi, music, storytelling, and many other things, Keisha began collaborating with us to refine, polish, and share Axon Punk with the world. Since Keisha joined the project, we’ve expanded the team to include a huge range of people – artists, musicians, writers, game designers, and people too hip for labels - that all add their own perspectives to the game. Managing a team of almost a dozen people across the continent, split primarily between Chicago, IL, and Dallas, TX, has had its challenges but it is absolutely worth it. Because we have this team and explicitly incorporate ideas from different perspectives in the game, we are putting together something that is exciting, authentic, immersive, and greater that I ever hoped it could be.

What themes of cyberpunk and hip hop are you aiming to bring together in Axon Punk, and how do they conflict and come together?

In our minds, cyberpunk and hip hop share many core themes that we wanted to highlight. Hip hop was born from the counter-culture of the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, just like cyberpunk. Hip hop ravenously incorporates new and experimental technology (turn-tables, synthesizers, beat machines, etc.) like few other genres of music. Hip hop artists often include science-fiction and social/political elements in their songs and imagery. Examples of artists and groups that incorporate major sci-fi/cyberpunk themes in their music include Janelle Monáe, Saul Williams, Erykah Badu, Afrika Bambaataa, Deltron 3030, Hieroglyphics, MF Doom, Missy Elliot, and OutKast.

One of the foundational themes of hip hop that we wanted to stress above almost all else is the sense of community and connectedness. Hip hop frequently focuses on uplifting people and bringing them together to survive inequality, poverty, and systemic oppression. While cyberpunk absolutely supports the “us vs. them” themes in hip hop, cyberpunk stories often follow disillusioned loners who are isolated by technology and society. We deliberately inverted that trope and built a world where you can only hope to survive by working in groups and depending on your neighbors. Focusing so much on the communities in the megacities in which the characters live gives our cyberpunk a great grassroots feel that players really connect with. In Axon Punk, your motivation during play is to help your neighbors, build your community, and try to change conditions in the megacities for the better.

What are the base mechanics in Axon Punk like, and how do they support the themes?

We built our own home-brew system for Axon Punk because we wanted every component of the game to tie into the desired theme and experience. For example, because cyberpunk and hip hop are so innovative, imaginative, and unorthodox, we incorporated rules to allow players to improvise actions, locations, technology, Non-Player Characters, and other narrative elements of the game. We will never make rules for ever situation and, in fact, we want our players pushing the boundaries of the game to discover new things and tell the stories they really want to tell. We also actively encourage players to collaborate during play and have a mechanic called “Rhythm” that lets players work together and cover each other’s backs.

The United Church of Tupac
To really bring out the hip hop feeling, the game is extremely focused on the community in the megacity in which the Player Characters live. To survive in the dystopian future full of corporate excess and oppression, people band together into communities that exchange goods, services, and generally look out for the members of the group (collectively called “the family”). At the beginning of a campaign of Axon Punk, after players make their characters, they would then follow rules to collectively and organically make up the Community in which their team of cyberpunk deviants lives. Over time, the group’s Community will evolve over time, producing missions, rewards, and challenges, based on the choices made by the players. The Community creation process is one of our absolute favorite parts of the game, but we have a pre-made Community full of Locations that GMs can use to run quick one-shot games or easily start out a campaign. Some of the starting locations include “The United Church of Tupac,” which uses rap music from turn of the twenty-first century as prayers, hymns, and meditations for those oppressed by the megacorporations, and “Cindy’s,” which is a dance hall built in an old paint factory and filed from floor to ceiling with ever changing murals painted by its patrons (heavily inspired by Janelle Monae).

What inspired you to combine hip hop and classic cyberpunk?

I had been into hip hop and cyberpunk independently since my teens. My older brother and design partner, Cameron, was one of the people responsible for introducing me to both genres. To pinpoint it as much as possible for me personally, the inspiration for the combination was first sparked for me one night in 2010 when my girlfriend at the time took me to a Janelle Monáe concert. Janelle Monáe’s music was such a perfect blend of futurism, heart, joy, and all-around, unapologetic badassness that I wanted to wrap myself up in her world and live forever. The end product of Axon Punk is quite different from the universe in Janelle Monae’s Metropolis Saga albums, but her music is absolutely a core inspiration (Janelle, if you want to make a game, hit me up).

We were also heavily inspired by the work of Saul Williams, who blends hip hop, poetry, and cyberpunk into beautiful, raw, and socially progressive music. Deltron 3030 and the Gorillaz were also hugely influential. From a visual and thematic viewpoint, we drew immense inspiration from the anime series Samurai Champloo, which expertly mashes up feudal Japan with hip hop, and Cowboy Bebop, which combines space bounty hunters with jazz.

How did you playtest and work on the game early on to develop the concepts?

My brother and I split the playtests primarily between the two of us, using two different approaches. I took the game to as many conventions around Chicago as I could and ran one-shot after one-shot with groups of different, new players (I took Axon Punk to 9 conventions in the last 2 years). At the same time, my brother in Dallas got together a group of friends, musicians, game designers, and other lovable weirdos to run a long campaign where they played almost every other week for over 6 months.

Splitting the development process between these two approaches was quite challenging. We had to rework many parts of the game repeatedly until we found the right balance that worked for both styles of play. As difficult as it was, this development process was extremely beneficial and we would not have created such a robust, immersive, and authentic game without it.

For example, constantly running games for new people at cons forced me to have very streamlined rules and play materials. I wanted a big hip hop influence in the game from the beginning, but running at cons limited my ability to dig into the flavor and setting during a game and things started off pretty generic cyberpunk publicly. Having the campaign playtest, on the other hand, let us stew over ideas and playtest things that I was not comfortable exposing to random people at a con. The world that we developed in that at-home campaign is what ultimately lead to the final setting and rules of Axon Punk. It took a lot of deliberation to take our personal campaign setting, which was full of hip hop influence, and make it the default world for the game (as opposed to something more generic or “crowd friendly”). But, because we had this successful campaign where we were able to flesh out ideas for things like “The United Church of Tupac” for months at a time, we had the confidence to really embrace and push the hip hop influence in the game publicly. We started asking for help, adding team members like the Sugar Gamers, refining the rules, playtesting at cons using the hip hop inspired communities in the game, and haven’t looked back for one moment since.


Thanks so much to Colin for answering my questions about Axon Punk: Overdrive! Please take a minute to check out the Kickstarter if the interview piqued your interest, and share the interview with anyone you think might like it!

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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Cortex Prime Featurette with Cam Banks on Cortex Prime

This interview is part of a series of interviews sponsored by Magic Vacuum Design Studio.

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Cam Banks on the current Cortex Prime project! Cam shares about the stretch-goal selection process, setting up the Kickstarter, and why he is choosing to make Cortex Prime! (Note: there's a disclosure at the bottom of this post.)


Tell me a little about Cortex Prime. What excites you about it?

Cortex Plus was my first ground-up system build for any published game. I’d messed around with rules from other games before, but when I went to develop Leverage and Smallville for MWP with the two design teams on those projects, I came with a desire to create the games I really wanted to play. So I stripped the Cortex System down to the bare bones and rebuilt it. Each time we designed a new Cortex Plus game, we took that same approach, trying to capture what was great about the license and adapt these rules to it. Now that the rights are back with me thanks to my MWP agreement, and I’m looking ahead to new games and the community creator program, I’m really keen to take what I’ve learned in the past ten years and incorporate all of those lessons into a singular, modular set of rules that anyone can tinker with.

It has all the things I like most: lots of dice of different sizes, descriptive and thematic traits, a game currency of points to spend to make things interesting, and a focus on letting the player choose when and how to screw up or to look awesome.

What are you bringing into Cortex Prime that's different than Cortex Plus?

Cortex Plus was really something like four or even five different games all under the same system umbrella. Smallville, Leverage, Marvel Heroic, Firefly, and Dragon Brigade were different games even if some of the mechanics were common among them all. With Cortex Prime, there’s now just one game system but with a bunch of options. I want to make it a single unified toolkit, which it hasn’t been before, even with the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide.

How did you determine what content you'll be focusing on in the main book, and what to include as stretch goals?
The stretch goals were where I was hoping a lot of settings and genre mashups would go, with expanded rules and developed archetypes or pathways mechanics or even just their own traits specific to the settings. In the Cortex Prime Game Handbook there’s a lot of advice and guidance for implementing genres using Cortex Prime, but I don’t have the space to do every possible combination of ideas. I want to see cool worlds by creators who aren’t me, and make those as integral to the experience of this game as anything else I do.

A more business-related question - how did you plan the Kickstarter backer levels, rewards, and so on?
I used a Kickstarter budget spreadsheet shared by my colleague Jeff Tidball ( and my own past experience managing Kickstarters and producing games at Atlas and MWP. I knew what I wanted to offer and kept it relatively simple. No dice, no T-shirts, nothing that I couldn’t put into a box and ship out at an affordable rate. I wanted to pay additional creators (and myself) a top standard rate, and fairly compensate artists and layout. In the end I found that I could manage the whole thing for $30K and that stretch goals were roughly $10K each, so that helped me come up with the various pledge levels and stretch goal numbers.

Where do you find inspiration for a genre-flexible game? How do you keep it rich without tying it to just one setting?

So much depends on trusting that players are able to put down some fairly straightforward and essential ideas for their character. Cortex has always used narrative and descriptive terms for things, and that’s where a lot of the flavor of a genre lives. The rest comes from knowing what rules best suit a genre and making sure those are part of the toolkit available to players and GMs.

What is your biggest hope for Cortex Prime and the Kickstarter itself, beyond funding and sales?

I hope that the creator community takes off, now that there’s going to be a definitive and straightforward set of rules to use in making new games. I’m hoping that Cortex Prime games scratch an itch for somebody, either a gamer or a designer, who then feels encouraged to use it. I also hope that lots of designers get the chance to create their own stuff who wouldn’t otherwise have that opportunity or a community that includes them.

Thanks so much to Cam for the interview! It's great to hear more about Cortex Prime, and I hope you will all check out the Kickstarter that's running now!

Full disclosure: I'm a stretch goal for Cortex Prime (my Solarpunk setting I discussed in Episode 4 of Designer & Devourer!) and hope to do a continued series with my fellow designers. The interviews are funded, but still include my full dedication to getting good information about the projects for my readers!

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Five or So Questions on The Quick

Today I have a great interview with the creators of The Quick, a Nordic noir ghost story RPG! It sounded really cool to me when I found it scrolling through Kickstarter, where it's currently up, so I had to ask them some questions. Ville Takanen, Petri Leinonen, and Teemu Rantanen were a joy to interview. Check out the answers below!


Tell me a little about The Quick. What excites you about it?
Ville: The Quick started as a twisted lovechild of the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, True Detective and my earlier experiments with the New Weird. It was supposed to be a quick one-off experiment with those building blocks without any greater plans, but the first demo game we had turned out to be a massive success. The Quick let us combine the low-key - or almost magic realism like - touch on the supernatural seen on some of the newer Scandinavian new weird and the brutal storytelling of the new wave of Nordic detective stories.

Teemu: To me, the atmosphere of Nordic Noir has always held a feeling of unseen forces and threats under the surface. What we are doing is manifesting these originally psychological themes in both more concrete and at the same time more symbolic form to the setting. In this way Nordic Noir and Ghost Stories are a perfect match, and I'm loving working to combine them into this cool setting.
(Yeah, when I watched the Millenium-trilogy, I was just waiting for it to turn into a supernatural horror movie)

Petri: I'm a game mechanics kind of guy, so I'm really excited to be creating something like this that takes these Story Game elements and combines them with a more traditional kind of a system. The end result, that I'm really excited about, is the nice coherent engine that drives the character stories forward in a way that fits our genre mashup extremely well.

What mechanics will we see in play the most often? 

Petri: Our base mechanic is pretty simple and revolves around the players having their characters accomplish what they set out to do if they really want to do it, the question always being more about what price they're willing to pay for it. This base is supplemented by player moves (we've dipped a bit into the Powered by the Apocalypse pool, even if we're not doing a PbtA game) that enforce the genre expectations -by making things like violence always a messy option or the closing a gate to a major Echo a very dangerous thing to do.

On the GM side, the most prominent mechanic probably is the Threat Track, which creates mechanical momentum to the story elements the players spend their effort investigating, pushing the story always forward. 

How have you developed the setting for The Quick? What have you done to make it rich?

Teemu: I think that the genre-aware approach has worked well on for us: The starting point has been a sort of mix between urban horror and magical realism. From that point, we started to think 'Ok, so what central themes of Nordic Noir does this embody?'. And then begun building the game around these things. We feel we ended up with something cool, clearly matching the distinct feeling we want the setting to have. This genre-aim has also enriched the material, often taking it to complete new directions from where we have started.

What are the character types in the game? How do they integrate with the base mechanics?

Petri: We drew the character concepts or types from the stereotypes of Nordic Noir fiction and then gave them a spin so that they fit the ghost-hunter stories we’re creating. The seven concepts vary from the very mundane ones that can still play a bit of a Scully to our Mulders, to those concepts that make it clear from the start that there’s something strange happening. The concepts, ordered by their strangeness, are called Spook, Seeker, Old Soul, Bloodbound, Touched, Channel and Rogue Ops.

The concepts provide another layer for the character, giving them a perspective on the world. The system doesn’t have stats or skills, so instead of giving the character something like +1 to shooting or +5 to agility, each concept gives the character a power that will make things easier, and a flaw that pushes the characters to work as one of the Quick.

How has working on English and Finnish texts alike influenced your experience as designers and gamers? Do you find that it influences your design at all?

Ville: I actually find it easier to write in English. The Role-playing and Story Games lingo has in many cases originated from the American gaming community: being able to use the original terms instead of bickering on how it should be translated to Finnish helps us a lot when it comes to writing the game text. 

What is (for each of you) your favorite thing you've worked on in The Quick?

Petri: The Touched character concept is something I've really enjoyed working on. Probably because it's been a long road to get to this point. We knew from the start it was something we needed to have it in the game, but it's taken numerous iterations to get to this stage where it sings with both the mundane and the supernatural side of things (they can detect things from the Echoes others can't). And still, represent a very classic archetype from the Scandinavian Noir stories (the person who is trying to get in touch of something they've lost by immersing themselves in the mystery).

Ville: Aside from the whole book? The track tech we are developing must be my favorite part. I was introduced to the ideas behind the tech by Petri's PtbA hack "New Horizons/H+," and I instantly knew they were the missing part we needed to have for the Quick. The threat tracks create an elegant mechanics for the storyteller to run mystery games, the way I had tried to run White Wolf games as a teenager. And the Harm track which puts the player in control of the character's downward spiral, giving us a neat way to model the character's kinda anti-"hero's journey" found in many of Nordic Noir stories.

Teemu: The favorite thing I have worked on would probably be the Rogue Ops character concept. One thing that has really worked well in this project has been the way we have taken turns in writing items, each writer bringing their own perspective and ideas to the text and then passing it on. The Rogue Ops sort of started as an outside-the-box character idea I played in one of the early playtests. Since then every time someone developed it further, it was enriched in the process, so that when I returned to work on it there was so much better and versatile foundations to build on than there would have been if it would have just stayed with one writer.

And of course, I do find the idea of company men sneaking to save the world behind the backs of their corporate employers charming. It's sort of like an environmental activist with the day job in the oil industry.

When it comes to the stories that will be told, what elements of the game do you hope will resonate with players?

Ville: The combination of Nordic detective story and new weird is a new and fresh take on the urban fantasy genre. The harsh and realistic take on violence, the bleak view of society and the low-fi supernatural create a unique platform to tell player stories.

We feel the way we have modeled the genre limitations, and possibilities to the game engine will help players to bring the things we love about the game to life.

For me, I hope that the main themes of the game, and way the Quick focuses around this with the player concepts and the moves provided by the engine, will resonate with players and let them create new and exciting stories of complex characters and scary ghost stories.


Thanks to Ville, Petri, and Teemu for their responses! I hope y'all enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out The Quick on Kickstarter, and share with your fellows! 

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