Thursday, November 30, 2017

Five or So Questions with Jaye Foster on Poor Amongst The Stars

Jaye Foster has out a new space-based setting for Malandros that's got billions of possibilities - literally. And I got to ask questions about it! Learn about Poor Amongst the Stars, currently available on DriveThruRPG, in the interview below!


Stars by Ethan R ( CC-BY-ND-2.0 

Tell me a little about Poor Amongst the Stars. What excites you about it?

The possibilities. There are twentyish questions asked during creation of the generational ship and at least three suggested answers for each question. Not taking into account player creativity, that's 3486784401 possible ships, each subtly but importantly different.

So while the book does encourage you to select from a limited list of answers the players are not actually that restricted in the scenario creation. I'm pleased that I was able to find so many options for ways to describe how the characters are trapped aboard ship and what that cage feels like.

How did you figure out the questions?

I originally started with a more technical approach, describing the ship in mechanical/physical way; how long is it in meters, how big are the cabins, what scientific instruments does it carry. I quickly realised that this approach was not compatible with Malandros. What matters more is how the ship feels and how it influences play. So I started from the point of view of an unimportant person on this ship and built the questions to give context to their life rather than just measurements. For example, I don't ask you how big the ship is, I ask you how does its size feel to the characters; is it cramped, cozy, spacious or nearly empty?

ISS by Daniel Lombraña González ( CC-BY-SA-2.0
What about the questions makes the creations interesting? How do they spur creativity?

The questions and prompted answers themselves don't make the creations interesting. That comes from players and their creativity is spurred from a lack explanation. The prompted answers never tell you why the ship is as chosen. In selecting an option, the players are partially forced to consider why they are picking that option and to consider what history the ship has that resulted in this current condition. For example, if the players decide that the ship's crew are segregated from the passengers a lot of the story detail will come from expanding the reasons why. In my test game, the players decided that the crew slept in a virtual reality to keep them in a pseudo-stasis to preserve their precious skills and knowledge.

Where did you get your inspirations for the Poor Amongst the Stars?

I was thinking about writing a setting for Malandros and had the thought that a science fiction would be an interesting diversion from the original Imperial Brazil setting. Another author had already tackled a colony style setting so when the idea of a generational ship fell out of my brain it interested me. Fiction that influenced me during writing included: Macross Frontier, Cities in Flight, WALL-E, Dark Star and Red Dwarf.

What are a few examples of scenarios for the setting?

I wouldn't say the book has any pre-generated scenarios. With Malandros, the scenarios are created by the characters relationships with themselves and the constraints the ship puts on a person's ability to improve their standard of living. The book does have a short section on episode themes for the game master to apply if they feel the need to inject an external stimulus.

Crab Nebula by NASA GSFC ( CC-BY-2.0

Thanks, Jaye, for a fun interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading what Jaye had to say and that you'll check out Poor Amongst the Stars on DriveThruRPG!

All images CC-BY-ND-2.0 sourced by Jaye Foster.

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Five or So Questions on Kids on Bikes

Hi all,

I did an interview with Doug Levandowski on the RPG Kids on Bikes, which is currently on Kickstarter. Doug's using Script Change in the text and while we chatted, shared his Kickstarter link so he could tell me more about this rules-light kiddo-adventure!

Tell me a little about Kids on Bikes. What excites you about it?
Doug: Kids on Bikes is a narrative-driven story telling game set in your favorite 80's movie or TV show. We like to say that it takes place in a town small enough that everyone knows each other (for better and for worse) and in a time before cell phones could take videos of monster. The GM acts more like a facilitator, and the players are really the ones telling the story.

One of the things that excites me about Kids on Bikes is the way that the game starts! The town and character creation, especially the rumors and the questions about the relationships between the characters, helps to start the game even as you're creating the world you'll be playing in. Stories often start to emerge and tensions start to become clear there in pretty cool, open-ended ways!

What was the motivation for putting together Kids on Bikes? What about the concept put your hearts into it?

D: Stranger Things! Two summers ago, like most of America, I'd just binge-watched the first season, and I posted on Facebook, "Okay - who wants to make this a game?" Jon responded, and we got rolling on it. But even more than that, I grew up as an AD&D player. I had a paladin, a wild mage, and a few classes I created myself, and seeing D&D played on the show really made me want to replicate that in some streamlined way - but also to pay homage to the wonderful 80s tropes that I grew up on.

How do you approach violence and violent content in Kids on Bikes?

D: Personally, I play games for escapism, so violence for me in games has to be one of two things: either absurd, cartoonish, and completely divorced from reality like it is in D&D - or nonexistent. Kids on Bikes is super close to reality, which is something that I love about it, but that also means that the violence in it is supposed to be terrifying. In the rulebook, when we talk about combat, one of our statements is that there's no such thing as "safe" violence in Kids on Bikes. And our first step in creating the world of the game is having all of the players establish what they want to see and what they don't want to see. Ultimately, Kids on Bikes is a framework for players to create what they want within it, but it's definitely a framework that discourages casual violence.

Tell me about the design process. How did you start mechanically? What has changed since the game's inception?

D: We started with thinking about making a game that felt like AD&D but streamlined. I had a bunch of ideas that complicated things, and Jon was really great at saying things like, "Yeah, THAC0 was a thing...but maybe that's not in anything anymore for a good reason." As we went, we kept streamlining and streamlining to keep the focus on the story. That's something that Jon is really, really good at...and that I'm learning from him!

Another thing that was probably the main aspect of the design at the start was the notion of duality. We love the idea of inversions and balancing acts that happens in so many of these things from the 80s, the way that the villain is some corrupted version of the good guy or the way that every negative is a positive and, usually, vice versa. In our initial creation, we kept asking ourselves, "Great... What balances that? What's its counterpoint?"

What is your focus audience for Kids on Bikes, and why? Is it a nostalgia product, considering the timeline restriction, or something different?

D: Our audience is new and experienced RPG players. It's an easy enough to pick up game that even folks who've never rolled a d12 before can jump in and get rolling, but we think the opportunity for narrative is rich enough that it can appeal to people who love narrative games and have played a bunch of them. I don't think of it as, first and foremost, a nostalgia product; I think of the time restriction as a way to complicate what, in the modern day, would be easy solutions and drive the narrative. Like, if a current high school stumbles upon a cult, they shoot some quick cell phone video, they post it to Snapchat, and it's a scandal. 30 years ago, though, they have to convince people that it's really a thing. That's the kind of space I'd want to tell stories in right now, so that's the kind of engine we made. That said, there's for sure a nostalgia element to pretty much everything I design, so I think that influences the kinds of stories I want to tell.


Thanks so much to Doug for the interview. I hope you all enjoyed reading it and that you'll pedal your way over to Kickstarter with a few friends to catch the last few days of Kids on Bikes!

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Five or So Questions with Steve Radabaugh on Cast Off

Hi all! I spoke to Steve Radabaugh about his latest mobile game, Cast Off, a movie trivia game! It sounds like a fun time so I'm sharing what he has to say about Cast Off with you!


Tell me a little about Cast Off. What excites you about it?

So Cast Off was originally designed by Jonathan Lavallee as a card game. I've turned it into an app. It's a game where one team will select a famous voice and a role from a selection of 3 each. Someone on the other team will audition for the role by reading a line while impersonating the given voice. The rest of the team has to try to guess the voice and various facts about the movie the line came from.

I'm excited because I think the game really works better as an app than it did as a card game. It's more convenient to pass around a phone than a deck of cards, and you always have it with you. I really think this will open it up to a new audience.

How did you go about getting authorization to make an app based on someone else's game? What kind of process is that?

In this case, it's probably a bit different than normal. I put a message out to IGDN members noting that I was looking for things to collaborate on, or just straight contract work. Jonathan approached me about this project last spring. He's been great to work with, I've given him test builds along the way, and he gives me feedback. He also helps me make sure that the audio and visual elements that weren't in the original game are on brand.

Images from the Radical Bomb website.
What is the interface of Cast Off like, from the player perspective?

I really tried to stick to the idea that it's a card game. The players will see the 6 initial cards, and they choose two. It then displays just those two cards much larger for the person who is doing the audition to read. I added tutorial elements that can be turned on or off into the game to really guide the players. After doing testing, I found that most people tried just playing without looking at the tutorial.

What are the major mechanical functions of Cast Off, and how did you make them work?

The biggest part is just drawing and displaying cards. When you start playing it builds an array of the cards that you have access to. (There are 5 sets total to choose from, and you can choose as many as you like. One comes with the game, the other four are in app purchases.) It pulls three random cards out of the array displays them, and them puts them into a second discard array. What's interesting to me as a programmer is that I don't actually every "shuffle" the deck of cards. Its more like grabbing a random card out of the middle instead of just grabbing the top card.

How can people access Cast Off and how do they play once they have?

Cast Off will be available as of October 26th, 2017 on both iOS and Android. The best way to play is with a group of at least four people, it can easily play a group of twenty or more. Everyone shares one device, so there's not a huge requirement of everyone having the device. The players divide into two to four teams, there does need to be at least 2 people on a team. Team one will start with selecting the cards for the role and the voice, then pass the device to one person on team two. That person will attempt to impersonate the voice while reading the line. The rest of their team will have 30 seconds to try and guess the voice and facts about the movie the role came from. The person who did the audition marks which things were correct. Then it'll be team two's turn to draw cards.


Thanks to Steve for the interview! Make sure to check out Cast Off on Radical Bomb's website and share with your friends!

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Thursday, November 2, 2017

Five or So Questions with James Mendez Hodez on 7th Sea: Khitai

Hi all! Today's interview is with James Mendez Hodez on 7th Sea: Khitai, which is currently on Kickstarter. Khitai is a standalone RPG and is exploring beyond the boundaries of 7th Sea's core setting, Théah. There is currently a free, 36-page quick-start on DriveThruRPG. Check out what James had to say below!

This is so damn pretty regardless of anything else. Dang. By Shen Fei.
Tell me a little about 7th Sea: Khitai. What excites you about it?

The Khitai setting expands 7th Sea’s 17th-century swashbuckling fantasy to Asian, Oceanian, and Pacific settings. I’m excited to represent times, places, and legends close to my heart and my real-life ancestry, many of which have never appeared before in tabletop role-play. Khitai also ups the scale of the game’s heroism: one Hero can lead an outlaw gang in the marshes of Shenzhou, a slave revolt on the peninsula of Han, a pirate fleet in the islands of Tawalisi, or a samurai clan governing a warring state in Fuso. We get to stretch the boundaries of what a Hero looks like and how they can change the world.

I know in previous interviews we've spoken about your academic and personal expertise, but I'm curious what new you may have studied, played, or what kind of media you looked at to work on Khitai. What were some specific things you enjoyed reviewing as you've worked on the project? Tell me how they're reflected, at least a little, in the game.

Khitai has brought a great deal of new media into my life. Here are a few inspirations that really stand out.

The Water Margin Classic, also known as Outlaws of the Marsh, is probably the single most significant influence on Asian swashbuckling adventure in general, and my vision of Khitai in particular. It’s one of Chinese literature’s Four Great Classical Novels alongside the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Journey to the West, and Dream of the Red Chamber. It’s about 108 martial heroes whose … eventful … lives drive them to join a bandit gang in the Chinese swamps, where they make trouble, rebel against the unjust government, and then ascend to positions of responsibility and authority in a new government.

I based indigenous Fusoese religion on The Song the Owl God Sang, a book of folk songs and stories compiled by a young woman of indigenous Japanese ancestry who mysteriously and tragically died hours after she completed it. Fusoese Kamuyru will reflect the sometimes-playful, sometimes-deadly kamuy who rule the land, animals, and humans’ relationships with the foregoing in Ainu thought.

To research Han, I started watching a K-drama called Slave Hunter because it’s set in seventeenth-century Joseon Korea, where somewhere from 10% to 33% of the population were slaves or serfs of some kind. I think I might have gotten more than I bargained for, because it’s sexy swashbuckling pseudo-historical nonsense in exactly the same genre as 7th Sea. I highly recommend it. Things I have learned so far about historical Korea:
  • only NPCs wear shirts
  • disguising yourself as a member of a completely different social class is trivially easy
  • all combat involves super jumps and/or backflips
  • hip hop is the most traditional Korean musical genre
  • the more complicated someone’s hat, the more likely they are to be evil.

Han sourcebook cover! By Shen Fei.

[Brie's Note: As someone who is a big fan of some major K-pop/Korean hip-hop style bands, this amused me a lot actually.]

What are some challenging aspects of creating adventuring type games that travel over sea and in non-Western/Western-assumed settings, in regards to fictionally aiming it towards players and gathering interest?

Tropes define a great deal of Western popular media’s relationship with Asian material. Navigating and integrating those tropes into new stuff is tough because so many people have such different assumptions and feelings attached to those tropes. Let’s look at martial arts as an example. If we’re telling a swashbuckling story about Asia, we should of course include martial arts action. But gamers have different priorities about these topics: some players get really excited about fidelity to their understanding of realistic combat, others want to do unrealistic things on purpose, and many gamers are just tired of martial arts storylines because all too often, that’s all there is when it comes to Asian content. 

Still, Asians developing and excelling at martial arts has a strong basis in both military history and fiction, with characters like Preceptor Droṇa from the Indian epic Mahābhārata or places like the Shàolín Monastery. So we’re going to feature both realistic and unrealistic (but still well-sourced) martial arts action in Khitai; but what we can’t do is perpetuate the stereotype that martial arts are either a) peculiar to Asia and Khitai and not other continents, or b) assumed to be known by every individual Asian or Khitan you meet. Nearly every culture in history (and every culture in 7th Sea without exception) has practiced martial arts; fewer, but still many, have traditions of martial fiction as robust as China’s. Martial arts figure prominently in The Three Musketeers, Things Fall Apart, and The Summer Prince. America’s 52 hand blocks and Nigeria’s dambe are no less effective boxing systems than wing chun or karate. It's okay for tropes (though not stereotypes) to inform and expand our storytelling. It's not okay for them to limit us.
Naoko, a young Hero whose home was destroyed by bandits. By Charlie Creber.

What are heroes like in Khitai?

They’re complicated! To answer that question I want to revisit the Water Margin Classic’s 108 Stars of Destiny, the rebellious outlaws of Liángshān Marsh, because they represent a lot of the internal contradictions I hope to see in Khitan storytelling. They prize honor and loyalty, but they spend most of the story getting drunk and committing crimes for reasons ranging from revenge to boredom. They rebel against the corrupt government, but wind up in positions of authority in that government. This theme comes back again and again in Asian heroic literature: very often the individual who winds up with the job of “hero” isn’t very good at their job, and the one who winds up with the job of “villain” seems way better in comparison. 

Similarly, the arch-villain of the Mahābhārata, Prince Duryodhana, is a pretty bad guy; but his best friend, King Karṇa of Anga, is the most badass, loyal, and honorable warrior in the entire epic—he just winds up on the wrong side because he’s of mixed-caste parentage, and only Duryodhana is willing to look past it. In the final Battle of Kurukshetra, Karṇa’s chariot wheel gets stuck in a rut and he gets out to fix it, reminding the hero Prince Arjuna that attacking him while he’s coping with technical difficulties would violate the laws of honorable warfare. But Arjuna’s charioteer, Lord Kṛṣṇa—who is an avatar of Viṣṇu!—tells Arjuna to shoot Karṇa now because Karṇa’s harder than Arjuna and it’s the only way they’ll ever beat him. So the shining hero shoots the villain in the back, his head goes flying, and that’s how you win a land war in Asia. These are the kinds of problems the players will have to sort out. Or cause.

Agnivarsa sourcebook cover. Such drama! By Cassandre Bolan.
What has been your favorite part of working on Khitai, in any aspect of the project? 

The most exciting part of this project has been watching the creative team and the players—myself included—go from knowing nothing whatsoever about certain places and times in history to champing at the bit to play characters from there. John Wick has gone from doubting we could do Korea justice to posting excited links about Admiral I Sunsin on Facebook. I never knew about the Sultanate of Sulu and the Moro pirates until I started reading about them for background on the Kiwa Islands, and now I'm plotting what might be my first ever Renaissance faire costume. A little while ago, a fan posted a sea shanty she’d composed herself with reference to Théans sailing to Nagaja and seeing the elephants there. I get to watch 7th Sea's world grow larger and more colorful one player at a time.

This is so cool! By Shen Fei.


Thanks so much to James for the interview! Remember to check out 7th Sea: Khitai on Kickstarter, and download the quick start on DriveThruRPG!

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Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Boy Band: The Game

Hi All! Got an idea today, so I wrote it down. Check out Boy Band: The Game, which will get a fancier version at some point, but until then, get ya grabby hands on it.

Boy Band: The Game

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