Friday, July 7, 2017

Interview with Danielle Lauzon from John Wick Presents

Hi all, I had the chance to speak to Danielle Lauzon about her work at John Wick Presents, and wanted to share with you what she had to say. Danielle is a staff developer and design lead for the 7th Sea live-action roleplaying game, which is at Gen Con this year and should have a few spots left!. Danielle shared with me some of her background, too, so get to know her below!


Danielle Lauzon

Tell me a little about yourself! What is your background in games, non-game work, and what do you love about what you do?

I've been playing RPGs since I was a kid. First trying to get my older brother to let me play AD&D or Magic: The Gathering with him, and then playing Nintendo with my mom. I finally got someone to play a tabletop with me in high school, which is also where I was introduced to Vampire: The Masquerade. When I got to college, I played in my first larp, and well, I've been playing pretty much whatever I can get my hands on ever since. I have played in, run, and organized games on every level from small table-tops to large larp events. 

I have a Master's degree in Animal Nutrition and worked as a neuroscientist for the past eight years, until I slowly transitioned to writing for games full time. I had originally wanted to go to Veterinary School, but when faced with a decision between Graduate School and Vet School, I jumped at research. I loved it, except no one told me that if I wanted to really practice my degree, I'd have to move to the Midwest. Let's talk about how when I lived in Dallas, the place was too cold and dry for me. Anyway, I made due and put my research capabilities to work anyway. The rest I learned as I went. Now I use my degree to tell my friends why the new fad diet they are on is probably no good for them.

To say that I love what I do now is pretty much an understatement. My hobby has become my life, and it's pretty damned cool. I get into high level game design discussions with people, and they actually take what I say with gravity. I get to go to larps all across the country as research for my job. I mean, other than the isolation of working from home as a fully fledged extrovert, it's pretty cool.

It isn't all fun and games though. Deadlines cause a lot of stress, and anyone who has ever written can tell you that writing every day is really a job.

What is happening with the 7th Sea larp? You have a broad plan for it, and I'd love to hear more. 

Oh man, I'm so excited about the 7th Sea larp. We're looking to create a multi-chapter Chronicle that can run for several years. Our goal is to create a meta-plot that incorporates the actions of individuals in different cities to steer it and give it life through over-arcing Stories. These Stories will be high level decisions that generally take place between games, something like inviting an important character into town, or directing troop movements. This isn't something the characters do immediately, but their immediate support will go towards influencing the outcome of the Story. Some Stories will only be locally focused, but many will tie into that overarching meta-plot.

For the basic gameplay, we're marrying some American Freeform/Nordic styles with some of 7th Sea Second Edition's player facing action. I.E. the players mediate actions between themselves as much as they can. And when it comes to characters taking actions against Game Master threats or characters, they simply do, just like in the tabletop. The indecision comes from how the other players may react to what you do, or how your actions push the story forward, and not from whether or not you can do a thing. Of course you can do the thing, you're a Hero!

As far as setting, I'll have to refrain from saying too much, other than it's going to be set mostly in Theah. Though, characters from other areas of Terra may be allowed in the future.

What exactly does a staff developer do in a games company? What is rewarding about it?

You ever wonder how a game book goes from a seed of thought in someone's head to that beautiful 208 page, full-color supplement sitting in your hands? Well, that's what I do. Developers in general take the seed of an idea, figure out how it looks in book form, outline the book including giving direction on themes, moods, and overarching story. Then I hire writers to take my ideas and direction and make them into chapters. Then I work with an editor to polish that writing. Then I work with the layout artist to make sure that stuff looks good on the physical page. I work with the art director to make sure the art they ask for fits the themes and mood of the book. Mostly, I'm like a project manager, I take the book from project to project and work with the person doing the work to make sure it fits the vision. If there's a hole that needs filling, I write it. If there's a question about the project, I answer it. If there's feedback from the thousands of Kickstarter backers, I go through and incorporate it into the book, or cry about how I can't rewrite the whole book to accommodate it.

As a staff developer, I do this for multiple books at a time. I also get to wear the unofficial hat of "Theah expert" here at John Wick Presents. Which really just means that I know where to find that piece of information about what year Eisen tried to invade Ussura and failed miserably.

What's rewarding about it? Well, these books are like my babies. I get to see them out in the world, and people exclaiming over parts they love, and lamenting on how I cut out their sacred cows from the First Edition. (Something I'll admit gives me great joy.) But really? I get to work with so many talented people each time I develop one of these books. I get an insight into so many different people's writing styles and thought processes, and then I get to take the best parts of that and teach them to everyone else. Everyone learns, grows, and as I do more and work with these same people, I get to see them grow as professionals. That is by far the most rewarding part of my job.

What challenges do you encounter working over multiple projects and just keeping it all together?

Oh man, there are all sorts of challenges associated with it. The first being that it's really hard to switch gears in a single day. I try to schedule stuff so that I can work on something different each day, but sometimes a lot of things come up in one day. I have two methods. The first is bullet journaling, where I make a monthly and daily task list and try to keep up with it as best I can. The other is spreadsheets. I keep project deadlines and schedules in spreadsheets so I don't lose track. Between that and google calendar, which sends reminders for me (yay!), I am keeping it together. For the most part. Though sometimes things slip through the cracks. :/

Are there specific techniques, software, habits, and/or methods you use to go through the larp design process and separately, the development process?

Google Docs is a great invention that lets me share working projects with other people to get input. Larp writing is a collaborative process, no matter what anyone says. And beyond just converting rules into something larpable, I'm always coming up with scenarios for running the actual larps. And that need collaboration. The same is true with development. I use Dropbox and Google Drive the most for collaborative work, and word or excel files for stuff I keep locally.

As far as habits? Man, that one's harder. I try to work when I can. Some days I get really distracted, or I can't concentrate. On those days I make lists of stuff that need to get done to help me organize myself. I may make shopping list for larp props, and I might crowdsource questions I'm having problems solving on my own. Other days, I put my nose to the grindstone and write, edit, and create.

Have you ever had your background education and experience lead to a "whoa, this does not work!" moment when doing development work?

Never directly. I've had some moments where I think "science doesn't work like this" and I might correct something small. For the most part, working with 7th Sea, I don't have to worry about that. They weren't known for their scientific genius so much during the Renaissance. Especially not in the fields of nutrition or neuroscience.


Thanks so much to Danielle for answering questions and sharing so much about her work with me. Remember to check Gen Con schedules for the 7th Sea larp and watch for more from John Wick Presents!

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