Thursday, November 29, 2018

Ears Are Burning

Ears Are Burning is now on

a dark blue box with the text "Ears Are Burning by Brie Beau Sheldon, a game of superstition & the public eye"

Ears Are Burning is a single-player game using timed observation and body control (low-impact meditation) to explore our connection to the constant flow of input from others, and our own output in desperation to match it, and the way it impacts us physically. It's a simple experience, but everyone knows that when it comes to discourse, it's always possible to lose the game.


Ears Are Burning is super simple but it is expressing an experience I'm struggling with as I work through running a Kickstarter. It's not easy - in fact, it's super challenging - to let your ears cool down. I hope I can find more time to do it soon. Won't you join me?

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Turn in Final Days

Turn is in its final days on Kickstarter!

The project ends near midnight on November 30th. As I look at it now, I wish I had left in an extra day or two, because we may be coming up short of some of the stretch goals. But, I'm glad that we've come so far!

Right now we are looking at Meguey Baker's Smeed Hill stretch goal,
Smeed Hill will explore a town cut in half by closing mills, then closing schools, and now empty storefronts on Main Street and overgrown houses in the hills. There are still opportunities, but also needs that have yet to be met. Meguey has proposed adding a squirrel and a skunk to the available beast archetypes, wonderful new additions to a small town!

Like the other stretch goals, Smeed Hill will introduce some local NPCs to help your story along, a new town type, new beast archetypes, and a new or altered human role.
It sounds like a wonderful town!

We're also in the running for the 525 backers challenge I issued last night! If we reach 525 backers, I'll release The Confidante,
You don't ask for much in life, just for some peace and quiet, and for people to listen to you once in a while. Well, nobody seems in on that plan, so you spend most of your days hearing pieces of everybody's secrets, even through walls. And yet, no one listens when you cry "wolf!" Though, maybe that's a good thing.
Just a sneak peek!

For the stretch goals that we don't reach, I still hope to pursue them in the future, it just depends on whether I can get the funds together, because I still want to pay people fairly! I want to release Gerrit's Halver, Germany ($18k) and Jaye Foster's Harmouth, South Devon ($20k), and my own work-in-progress, a Moose, which has been a secret goal for $20k for a while. What it means if we don't reach them is that they will take more time, and be dependent on things like future sales and success.

a bearded man using a tablet and a clipboard while on the phone
Much like the Overachiever, I'll be juggling a lot trying to make it happen.
However, hope ain't just a theme for way stations! We still have over 50 hours to make every bit of this happen that we can. So share, support as you can, and continue to have enthusiasm for Turn! If you can back, that's just swell. If not, raising awareness - especially on different social media and sites - makes a huge difference to Turn's success!

Thank you SO much for any support you have given and any you continue to give! 

Check out Turn on Kickstarter today!

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Sunday, November 25, 2018

Behold, Products! Taco Ninja Adventure

Today I'm highlighting a product that's currently on Kickstarter called Taco Ninja Adventure

Taco Ninja Adventure is a card & dice game for 2-6 players, and it's team based! It works for ages 10 and up, and has a bunch of fun art of various Taco Ninjas.

Ninjas with tacos for heads in the middle of a fight, with the words Taco Ninja Adventure!
When I asked the creators at Turn Sideways Games to tell me about the product, this is what they shared:

In November of 2016, my little brother William asked me for help with a board game he was working on. He called it "Taco Ninja Adventure" and it's based on a comic book series that he and his friends wrote. William and I have been developing Taco Ninja Adventure together over the past 2 years and it's been a lot of fun and great bonding experience. The little man has a knack for coming up with taco and ninja based puns. We're so excited that the Kickstarter is finally live and we want to share what we've been working on!

Taco Ninja Adventure is a team based, card and dice game that takes 15-20min for 2-6 players. It's definitely inspired by King of Tokyo and Magic the Gathering, and designed to be a light weight game that is approachable for kids and fun for adults. We also put a lot of time and effort into finding an artist that fit the style of the game. Sol Azpiroz (@azpimar) has created some really amazing Taco Ninja artwork and we're so lucky to be working with her. We'd love for you to check out our Kickstarter page to see it for yourselves!

A feminine ninja with a taco for a head and flames shooting out of the eyes and around the feet.

Rusty, who contacted me about the game, has created a game that appears pretty simple, and the theme is silly and fun. On the Kickstarter, the cards and materials all look really nice and they included a clear How to Play section right on the page, plus gif and video options for the rules. The rules are even available in Italian!  

A muscle-bound ninja with a taco head in a karate outfit.
Some of the upcoming stretch goals include an embroidered carrying bag and wooden trackers, and there are social media goals for higher production values (like writing haikus!). It looks like this project is on the right track for success, now that it's funded, but reaching higher production values as stretch goals is always awesome, and it looks like a fun product for a reasonable price!

If you think playing taco-headed ninjas with a team of other players sounds like a fun time, check out the Kickstarter today!

P.S. - The creators of Taco Ninja Adventure have shared social media posts promoting Turn in thanks for my posting this Behold, Products! This post will not be charged for on Patreon.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Five or So Questions on FlipTales

Hi all! Today I have an interview with Ryan Mather on the game FlipTales, which is currently on Kickstarter! It sounds like a fun experience, so check out what Ryan had to say below!


A group of people laughing while playing FlipTales with tokens and cards
Tell me a little about FlipTales. What excites you about it?

So the basics are that FlipTales is a super-accessible roleplaying game for all ages. you play as magical creatures going on adventures that feel like a mix between Disney and Miyazaki. It's for 4-6 players, takes 30-60 minutes, and ages 10+. What most excites me about it is how easy it is for new players to dig into. I loved roleplaying so much because it gave me a chance to try out different identities and personalities. How's it feel to play a femme character? How's it feel to be a bully? Or to be introverted? It's hard to find experiences that facilitate this kind of identity exploration through play. I always felt like TTRPGS were really powerful experiences, but so hard to get started. The community is focusing on accessibility more and more, and this is my attempt to contribute to that conversation.

I've seen some results in playtesting that I'm really excited about. Kids and grownups are able to play on equal footing because the mechanics are simple and story-focused. I've obsessively redesigned the rules so that people who have never played an RPG before can learn the basics in as little as 5 minutes (depending on how fast they read). I've watched players play their first game in one session, then write their own adventure in the next. I love the idea that we can enable all players to be not just consumers but also creators of games and settings.

Lastly, I'm excited about the beautiful art that Caroline Brewer has made for the game. It's gender-neutral and age-agnostic, so all players can find something they connect to.

One more thing! Thanks to some generous backers, I'm able to use funds from the campaign to pay creators from underrepresented backgrounds to make stories for FlipTales. These stories already look like they are going to be a ton of fun to play. It makes me really excited to see what other stories people will come up with

A box labeled FlipTales with a variety of characters on the cover, two cards laid out in front of it with the "arboroid" creature and the "fungus lord" and three tokens of different colors with x's and o's on them.
How is the game "super-accessible," and what did you do during design to make it that way?

I come from an industrial design background, so I was initially introduced to accessibility through the lens of usability. One of my first assignments was to design a toy for blind children, which led to me visiting a blind school and learning more about their students. When you design something to be usable for people who have some mismatch with their environment, it ends up being better for everyone. I'm borrowing the word "mismatch" from Kat Holmes, who does a lot of work in tech accessibility. I think it’s helpful to reframe “accessibility” from something that people with disabilities experience, to something that all people experience when they bump into a mismatch with their environment. For example, a person with vision loss will have a hard time reading text, but so will someone who has to glance quickly at their phone, or someone who just walked into a restaurant on a winter day and their glasses have fogged up.

So from that background, there are a number of things I've baked into the game so that all players can have a good time. Zero industry jargon. Straightforward instructions, with lots of visuals. Simple coins, simple character cards. Abilities and characters that are designed to appeal to players of all backgrounds. A format that requires zero preparation so that you don't need experience or bountiful free time to have a game—and adventures that are as easy to write as they are to play!

My hope is that all these features combine to make an experience that feels straightforward to everyone. Of course, no game is ever finished, so I'm constantly playtesting and gathering feedback. Players' feedback has driven design changes in every element of the game from the creatures and abilities, to how many stats the characters have, the colors of the coins, and how characters level up. I’ve deleted 75% of the game’s content over the course of development in order to hit a level of simplicity that worked consistently. I'm particularly interested in working with sensitivity readers to uncover mismatches that I can't see on my own.
Two cards, the "crustaceanoid" and the "necromancer" with three tokens with x's and o's on them next to the rule book.
What is play like in FlipTales? What do you do and how does it function structurally?

Play in FlipTales consists of two main phases. The prompt, and freestyle. The wiz reads out a prompt and then players "freestyle" by taking turns suggesting ideas for what they would like to do. When players have an idea for what they would like to do, they flip their strength, magic, or smarts coins, depending on what's most relevant. If they use a special ability they get extra coins. It's a lot of storytelling and decision-making interspersed with coin flips. Since the rules are very light, players often will come up with their own mechanics to suit something they want to do in the game, like assist each other or give a friend an upgrade.

Who are you bringing on to design additional stories, and what are some of the ideas on the table for play from the stories?

So far, Sharang Biswas and Clio Yun-su Davis have been confirmed as guest writers. Sharang's story is set in a kingdom where only boys are allowed to learn magic—your goal is to help a small girls’ school survive a visit from the superintendent. In Clio's story, players try to stop a floral arrangement from reaching the empress of a neighboring nation, because an incompetent florist accidentally arranged the flowers to convey a very insulting message that could start a war. I'm really excited about both and am looking forward to finding more :) I'm in the process of confirming a third writer.

A group of people at a table with cards and tokens, all playing animatedly.

What kind of characters are players able to play in the game, and how do the stories and accessibility make their narrative richer?

The creatures you can play as are Humanoid (magic shapeshifting human), Wingoid (bird), Arboroid (tree), Geoid (rock), Sauroid (snake in a wheelchair with cute little arms), Insectoid (any bug), Nucleoid (a single cellular organism), and Crustaceanoid (any crustacean!). There are sixteen abilities ranging from Scout to Fungus Lord to Elementalist to Assassin. They're all on the kickstarter page if you want to check em out.

The stories all invite players to world-build and flesh out their character according to what they care about. Since FlipTales stories are all one-shots, the depth of the characters isn't going to be anywhere near an episodic game. The richness in the storytelling happens as players try different combinations of creatures and abilities and hopefully get their feet wet writing their own adventures.

As a side note, if anyone reading this is interested in writing a FlipTales adventure, or would like to nominate a creator to write a story, feel free to reach out! As a part of the kickstarter, I'm providing funds for creators from under-represented backgrounds to make stories. You can also always submit a story through the website, which I'll playtest for free and help refine if you need.
A cartoon of four people at a table with tokens and cards, animatedly talking.


Thanks so much to Ryan for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it and that you'll check out FlipTales on Kickstarter!

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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Five or So Questions on Thousand Arrows

Hello all! Today I have James Mendez Hodes back to talk about Thousand Arrows, which is currently on Kickstarter! James has written on his own blog quite a bit about Thousand Arrows, but I wanted to ask a few questions here, too. Check out his responses below!


An illustration of a Japanese man having sake and sushi.
Art by Rachel Quinlan.
Tell me a little about Thousand Arrows. What excites you about it?

Thousand Arrows is a tabletop role-playing game of samurai drama and action during the Japanese Warring States Period (1467-1603 CE). It’s powered by the Apocalypse and inspired by both real-world history and chanbara media like Kurosawa films. I’m excited about this game because it highlights an era in Japanese history which is rarely in focus in the West. Most samurai media that makes its way to the English-speaking world focuses on lone wolves and duelists in the Edo period, the centuries of peace which followed the Warring States Period. Instead, Thousand Arrows gives players the roles of military, religious, and political leaders: samurai generals, Buddhist monks, desperate rebel farmers, and even spirits and sorcerers in which the sixteenth-century Japanese believed. Their decisions decide the actions of vast armies, religious sects, and feudal states. This game has personal narratives and romance and duels, but it’s equally about rewriting history in your character’s own image.

I know you research a lot. Could you tell me about the research you did for this project, including any direct consultation you did? What were the challenging topics to approach here?

I’ve put deeper and broader research into Thousand Arrows than I have into any other project of any kind.
  • As usual, I read a lot of Japanese primary sources, history books, and religious texts. If you’ve heard about my research processes for Scion 2nd Edition or 7th Sea, you know what I’m talking about. Brennan and I also watched a lot of Kurosawa Akira’s period films, as well as their modern derivatives like Samurai Fiction.
  • In 2013 I graduated from St John’s College in Santa Fé, New Mexico with a master’s degree in Eastern classics. I learned classical Chinese and read and wrote about a literary tradition that traveled from India through China and into Japan. My undergraduate work focused mostly on African topics, but I had always wanted to study Asian history and religion in more rigorous detail. Reading the Tale of the Heike, the Tale of Genji, and the Pillow Book established the narrative and behavioral conventions underlying the game’s moves. Reading the Buddhist canon inspired Thousand Arrows’s tragic tone and attachment mechanisms. I think an accurate, respectful portrayal of Asia and Asians, whether fantastical or historical, requires understanding where continuities do and don’t exist between different Asian cultures. It makes the difference between cultural exchange and cultural conflation.
  • In 2006 I took up a Japanese martial art called Bujinkan budō taijutsu, which teaches traditional Japanese battlefield and espionage techniques. The Bujinkan's oral and written history begins in the tenth century CE and, like most martial arts’ histories, combines historical fact with fanciful myth—both of which influence Thousand Arrows’s historical fiction. Thousand Arrows weapon masters’ special moves come from my own experience with medieval and early modern Japanese arms and armor. The Kuki Spirit and Cloud-Hidden fighting styles, available respectively to characters from the Kuki Clan and the Iga Provincial League, come from the Bujinkan’s curriculum. But rather than presenting specific techniques and movements which would confuse and bore unfamiliar players, Thousand Arrows models fighting styles in terms of the narrative situations in which they offer special advantages. For example, since the Kuki Clan controlled the Kumano Navy, Kuki Spirit stylists get an advantage when fighting on the rocking deck of a ship, making them effective marines and pirates. Thick forest covered the Iga region during the Warring States Period, so Cloud-Hidden stylists from Iga gain a preternatural ability to leap and swing through a forest canopy, making them excellent rangers and scouts.
An illustration of a samurai in front of a burning pagoda, looking intense
Cover art by Yoshi Yoshitani.
What are actions like in game, in regards to how they feel and what you can do?

Thousand Arrows characters start the game as feudal Japan's movers and shakers. Even the actions they take on an interpersonal scale affect the fate of entire religions, states, and armies. This is wartime, and every character has a section of between a dozen and a hundred well-trained soldiers who follow their orders. Characters without personal skill at martial arts or generalship are crucial to the war effort as intelligencers, diplomats, chaplains, and saboteurs. 

The action also focuses on interpersonal drama via the attachment system: as you get more invested in a value that drives you or a relationship with another PC, you get better at helping or hindering their actions on or off the battlefield, as well as more vulnerable to losing control of your behavior and giving in to impulses related to that attachment. In keeping with Japanese historical narratives, Thousand Arrows’s social atmosphere is highly emotional and volatile. A few characters, like courtiers, may be polished, calculating, and restrained; but most samurai express themselves through passionate outbursts of torrid emotion, extemporaneous poetry, or sudden and uncontrollable weeping.

What is the character creation process like, to create these complex characters?

Two playbooks make up each Thousand Arrows character: an allegiance (what team you play for) and a role (your position on that team). Allegiances include various samurai clans (the Hōjō, Kuki, Oda, Shimazu, Takeda, Uesugi, and Yagyū), revolutionary leagues (the Single-Minded League and the Iga Provincial League), and belief systems (the Nichiren School of Buddhism, Confucian academy, and Catholic Church); or, if you want to play Thousand Arrows on hard mode, you could be a knight-errant (also known as a rōnin) and not really have an allegiance. Roles include the courtier, retainer, knight, secret agent, foot soldier, warrior monk, shaman, and farmer. PCs in the same game frequently share allegiances, but roles are unique. Both allegiance and role modify your stats and give options for your starting special moves, equipment, and followers. 

I’ve found that the process takes about as long as most other Apocalypse Engine games: longer than Monsterhearts, a little longer than Apocalypse World itself, a little shorter than The Sprawl or Masks. I think it’s worth it to help players make characters they feel are their own: a Takeda courtier, a Catholic courtier, and a knight-errant courtier feel very, very different to play. That said, the game comes with eight pre-generated characters in case you prefer to hit the ground running at a one-shot or convention.
What are some of the exciting stretch goals we'll see from Thousand Arrows

We’ve already unlocked Jenn Martin's Fox, a sneaky, sexy, and duplicitous nature spirit who can disguise themself as a human. The Fox is a more traditional playbook, counting as both allegiance and role, and is a good option for players who want to engage with Japan’s wilderness or supernatural landscape. The Corsair, Merchant, and Artisan roles are also coming up. But there are two stretch goals which are larger in scope, and which I’m most excited about.

One is “Dragon King’s Gambit,” a campaign set in winter 1592 CE during the contentious and tragic Japanese invasion of Joseon Korea, then a vassal state of Míng China. During this campaign, the Azure Dragon King of the East Sea attacks with an army of sea monsters, forcing Japanese, Chinese, Mongolian, and Korean combatants to work together against a common enemy. DKG is playable either as a standard campaign, or as a convention game: we’ve run it successfully with three sessions, three tables, three GMs, and fifteen players (five each loyal to the Joseon, the Míng, and the Imperial Regent of Japan).

Another is "Street Samurai versus Code Ninja," which takes Thousand Arrows to a dystopian future where samurai have traded their warhorses and lamellar in for hoverbikes and power armor, where ninja stalk the shadows of the Internet as well as those in the real world. This setting deconstructs the orientalist and Japanophilic tropes which dominate cyberpunk fiction and gaming from the 1980s and 1990s by modeling the cities of the future on early modern Japanese conventions instead of just appropriating Japanese terms to describe Western concepts and anxieties about a looming Asian economic threat. SSvsCN includes futuristic versions of the standard roles: the Social Engineer, Salaryman, Street Samurai, Code Ninja, Ganger, Cybermonk, Technoshaman, and Gold Farmer. It also features new allegiances to represent major immigrant groups in Japan, such as China, Korea, Brazil, and the Philippines.

I really like the way our stretch goals expand what Thousand Arrows is about and to whom it can appeal, with higher-fantasy and futuristic play. I want this game to bring together players who are usually interested in different things and grant them common ground they didn’t expect to have.

An illustration of a person in a white and red kimono, holding a fox mask
Art of the Fox by Rachel Quinlan.

Awesome, thanks so much for the interview, James! I hope you all enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out Thousand Arrows on Kickstarter today!

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Five or So Questions on METAL WORLD

Hi all, today I have an interview with Nick Zachariasen on METAL WORLD! It's currently on DriveThru! I normally don't include game pitches here, but the METAL WORLD pitch is so rad, I had to!

METAL WORLD takes the breadth of the heavy metal genre and throws it all into one game world. It doesn’t care how much sense something makes as long as it’s awesome. It has a demon-possessed lawman who rides a rocket-powered robot horse and carries a pair of 666-shooters. It has an undead ship made of the bones, sinews, and skin of the sailors it kills. Hell is a continent you can get guided tours of from the MegaDevil himself. The cherry on top? It has a volcano made of dragons, which shoots lava and more dragons when it erupts. The game system— including character building— are as loose as possible to allow your group to play the way you want.

With that in mind, check out Nick's responses below!


A very large muscular figure with antlers, dragon's feet, and a tail in thigh armor is holding a large bladed weapon while kneeling next to a smaller individual with colors in their hair and horns, breast ornaments, and a deer-skull headed spear, all surrounded by rocky landscape and colorful sky.
Boris Vallejo's Kalevanpojat.
Tell me a little about METAL WORLD. What excites you about it?

The germ for the idea that became METAL WORLD came about when I looked at the Boris Vallejo painting Kalevanpojat (above). There’s this giant half-man/half-dragon thing posing like he’s trying to impress this only nominally-dressed woman who could not possibly be interested any less. She has an expression as if to say “Yeah, buddy, just get down the mountain, already. Three of whatever you are have passed through in the last half hour. They’re probably at the tavern.” I imagined what kind of world that must be for such a fantastic sight to leave her completely unfazed. Fast forward to after the premiere of Metalocalypse and I finally come up with the vague idea of a world of heavy metal in all its breadth. Of course, a couple weeks later I learn about Brütal Legend, which was sort of what I’d conceived spiritually but for the most part not even close aesthetically, although I did draw some inspiration from it all the same.

METAL WORLD, then, takes every kind of metal— whether basic, “classic” metal like Black Sabbath and Judas Priest or just about any subgenre you can think of like doom, black, pirate, or whatever— and throws it all into a blender so that you can have situations like a barbarian riding a nightmare steed charge a tank crewed by cyborgs and actually have a chance at winning! It’s everything Ronnie James Dio ever sang about. It’s anything you might see in a Dethklok video. It’s everything power metal sings about, with valiant heroes, fire, dragons, The Gods™, and all that. In short, METAL WORLD tries to bring everything awesome into one place without regard to piddly details like “Wait a minute, how does a region with this ecology sustain a tribe of human-hunting giants? They’d strip the population bare in months and then have no food source!”

 METAL WORLD ignores pesky things like so-called “continuity” or “travel time” unless it’s important for the overall story you’re telling with your group, and I think that’s what excites me most about METAL WORLD. I’m not aware of anything quite like it, where any play style your group could want is not just possible but encouraged so long as everyone’s on board, and the game actually mechanically encourages it with a rule set that’s just vague enough to be accommodating but specific enough to be playable while also having fun with its readers to keep from taking itself too seriously.

What are the mechanics of METAL WORLD like and how do they relate to the theme?

The mechanics try to be simple and stripped-down. You have five main stats, each named for a subgenre of heavy metal: Death (your health), Power (strength and “persuasion”), Prog (intelligence, perceptiveness, and actual persuasion), Speed (agility, reflexes, and overall coordination), and Thrash (combat ability). I kept it that simple because A) it keeps creation easy and B) on the eventual character sheet I can put each one at the point of a pentagram.

The design philosophy is that instead of worrying about how far you can move in a round, exactly how long a round is, and that sort of thing you see some other games get bogged down with, METAL WORLD tries to focus in the in-game exploits of the characters and what they bring about in the world around them. It didn’t grow out of a wargame and god-of-your-choice help me if it grows into one. METAL WORLD’s main concern is giving people a setting that facilitates telling an interactive story with evocative imagery. That’s one reason I don’t have classes; they pigeon-hole characters into a predefined type without allowing for a player’s creativity to show through.

You can have a band (METAL WORLD’s term for an adventuring party) containing traditional sword-and-sorcery fantasy characters like elves, humans, dwarves, and so forth alongside robots, cyborgs, Atlanteans, and METAL WORLD’s gnomes, which are a race of mad geneticists called ge-nomes— essentially, they’re a race of Bioshock-style Splicers. The environment contains everything from fantasy’s quasi-medieval environment to near-ish future tech and references galore to metal, its inspirations, and occasional random other things. You need complete freedom to be able to have that kind of spread in characters and environment, so METAL WORLD focuses a lot on group consensus as to the tone of the game, which means the Metal Lord (the GM) has very wide latitude of what to allow or to rein in if it proves unbalancing.

Another important thing I think bears mentioning about that latitude is that the guiding metric of METAL WORLD is “as ______ as it needs to be.” Because everything worries more about the story than thinking about ensuring you have enough provisions for the trip or how much you can carry, let’s say an invading army approaches. Your story is about the epic battle that ensues like the battle of Helm’s Deep, so the band and NPCs have plenty of time to prepare defenses and have a grand old siege ahead of them. Now say you have a story in mind where the focus is more on evacuating those who can’t fight and making a stand to buy time. That same army leaving from the same place will take less time to get to the same destination. In METAL WORLD, space actually dilates or contracts depending on the needs of the narrative, though no character is ever aware of this— it’s just a cognitive blind spot created by reality itself. Similarly, a character can carry as much as (s)he reasonably could.

Then you also have Metal points, which reflect the favor of The Gods™ like Fate Points in d6 Star Wars or bennies in Savage Worlds. They serve two purposes. First, they fuel magic use for those who know how to do that that as well as other effects, like maybe the powers of a magical item. More generally, though, they serve to allow characters to (usually) unconsciously generate special game effects depending on what they want to accomplish. You get them by doing particularly impressive things or just because the Metal Lord feels like it.

A cover for METAL WORLD: The Rough Cut with a note that all art is conceptual/placeholder. The cover is black with an orange volcano design and metallic silver text.

What kind of player characters exist in the game, and what are they like?

As I said before, you can make pretty much anything you can think of within reason and even perhaps a bit beyond. Your band can have an axe-wielding barbarian who rides a nightmare steed, a mad scientist who raises and otherwise experiments on the dead, a lizard man martial artist, a shroom-addled shaman who drives a wicked van with amazing scenery painted on its side, and a dwarf who’s replaced both of his hands with chainsaws. Mind you, all of these are among the sample characters I’ve created— the dwarf is named Angus Mac Chainsaw Hands. You truly are bounded only by your imagination and what the Metal Lord will allow. I haven’t statted minotaurs for use as PCs, for example, but if you want to play one, work with your group’s Metal Lord and figure out how to run one so it’s balanced with the rest of your group’s characters. Maybe you want to play something I haven’t even provided for yet at all. Make it up and work it out! Again, I want people to be able to create the most awesome things they can imagine so everyone can have fun with it.

How do you handle topics like violence, sexual content, and so on in a game themed so wildly and intensely?

bviously, violence is going to be present given that heavy metal isn’t exactly known for diplomacy over tea and crumpets. I mean, Hell is a continent you can physically go to and get a guided tour of, possibly by the MegaDevil himself. As far as sexual content, I do make a note about that in the introduction when I mention the traditional scantily-clad women you’d see in the artwork of Frank Frazetta, Boris Vallejo & Julie Bell, and other fantasy staples who inspired much of METAL WORLD’s aesthetic. I tell people to play it up to their group’s taste. This game tries to encompass the breadth of metal in its entirety. Some of that will involve mature-audience content and if you end up playing those kind of things up to the point where they become ridiculous, that’s totally fine if you’re enjoying yourselves.

As you say, METAL WORLD is indeed wild and intense and I feel the form that takes should be subjective, determined by what you want out of it. It’s like how if you’re listening to metal and you want something dark and brooding you listen to doom metal while if you want something that fills you with a sort of positive energy, you’d listen to power metal. It’s clay in your hands. If you want to make that clay look like something you might not want your parents to see, what’s important is that it’s what you want, not what somebody else wants. When you get right down to it, that’s one of the classic themes of metal as a genre.

What is one of your favorite moments from playtesting or designing METAL WORLD so far, and why?

I honestly haven’t gotten to playtest METAL WORLD nearly as much as I’d like. I mean, having to work a full-time job will necessarily do that, especially when you have a family. That’s why I hope people run through some sessions on their own (via downloading METAL WORLD: The Rough Cut) and give me feedback so I know what makes sense to people who don’t already know what it’s supposed to mean.

That said, I guess I have a few— deviating from your question just a bit— favorite design moments. The first is when I was writing about skills. I mentioned meteorology and added a footnote (the work as a whole is peppered with them throughout as asides, whether for comedy or to clarify without disrupting flow) that the Meteorology skill also teaches you about space because that’s where meteors are. This game is at least 20% puns and that’s probably my worst/best. The one with the best result as far as the overall work is how I added a chapter between the world (the fourth) and the creatures (then the fifth) so that I could have Chapter 666: The Number of the Bestiary. That chapter lists some adventure hooks and an example of play, which I think it really needed. I think the ge-nomes are one of my most clever ideas, having come to me as one of those thoughts that pops into your head about 15 seconds or so after your head hits your pillow at night.

That said, though, I am aware of a moment from a friend of mine running a playtest session. Someone commented that METAL WORLD “reads like it was written by a madman with a law degree.” I don’t know what this person’s clue was, but apparently it caused “tear-inducing laughter” when my friend informed this person that it reads that way because it was written by a madman with a law degree!

The words METAL WORLD in metallic gradient silver text.
The METAL WORLD logo concept rough.

Thanks so much to Nick for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed the interview and that you'll check out METAL WORLD on DriveThruRPG pay-what-you-want!

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Friday, November 16, 2018

Five or So Questions on Nahual

Hi all! Today I've got an interview with Miguel Ángel Espinoza about Nahual, a game currently on Kickstarter. It sounds really fascinating, and I asked about some of the parts of the game that were new to me, like how your characters run a small business! Check out the answers below!

A cityscape with Nahuals, animal angel shapeshifters, traveling across the rooftop
Tell me a little about Nahual. What excites you about it?

I’m mainly excited about being able to bring a Mexican game into existence, to be able to present my culture in this hobby that I am passionate about. I discovered role-playing games in 1994, and almost 25 years later I’m writing a game of my own. I wish I could go back and tell me from the past this is what I’ll be doing. That he doesn’t actually need to be american or work on TSR to make it happen.

I’m also excited about being able to base the game on Edgar Clements works. He’s a very talented artist and also a very generous creator. The ideas he came up with for his graphic novel capture perfectly this complicated culture that we are, heir to a cultural clash that to this day still has repercussions. We are neither Spanish, nor Indigenous… we are mestizo. And Clement’s way to represent that fusion of folklore and myths, is brilliant. The first time I read his work I felt joyous envy, and thought that it was perfect for a Mexican RPG. So here I am, making it happen. Couldn’t be more excited.

The stages of a transformation for a jaguar Nahual
What do players do in Nahual? What kind of characters do they play? 

Players in Nahual play shapeshifting angel hunters. They inherited the power of the nahual, that allows them to transform into their totem animal and perform supernatural feats. But their knowledge is incomplete, because their ties to their ancestral indigenous culture were severed by the invading conquistadors and their armies of angels. So in present day struggle, they use this gifts to hunt down angels, to sell them as a commodity. They could be heroes or liberators, but instead all they manage to do is worry about putting food on the table, and live one day at a time. 
A three-headed doglike creature with red text, unclear, above it
You talk about being mestizo. How does that affect your design work in Nahual? How does it impact your role as a creator in regards to representing this story? 

I’m not sure. All I know is that being mestizo, latino, gives me a certain point of view that has to do with the way I grew up. But it is not something I’m actively paying attention to, or trying to convey. I can see for example how I (and other Mexican players) connect to Edgar’s stories without much trouble, and how some English speaking audiences struggle to understand some aspects of those stories. There’s of course a cultural gap, it is just natural. So what I’m actually actively trying to do is build a bridge for those audiences, for them to cross that gap.

You ask how being mestizo impacts my role as creator, I don’t think it does in this particular case. Because these are our stories, I’m part of it and they are part of me. If I was writing a Euro-fantasy game, inspired by Tolkien and all its tropes, then I think me being mestizo would have an impact, I would be playing as the visitor team, a fish out of water. With Nahual I’m not, I’m the home team, I’m in my element.

A winged person wearing a skull as a helmet, with outstretched arms.

I would love to hear more about the transformation, how it influences play, and the emotional context. How did you design a transformation that is progressive without becoming overpowered or confusing, and how do players react when they play this out in playtests?

The idea is that your character's Totem Animal is really a reflection of your personality. So if you are bold and strong, and maybe violent, your animal will be a jaguar. If you’re sneaky, a bit of a trickster and a little carefree, your animal will be a possum. So, unlike in some classic shapeshifting tropes, when you transform in Nahual you are really becoming a heightened version of yourself, instead of something else.

The design process has been complicated, I had to find a way to convince players to transform—on my first iterations players were hesitant to do it, like they wanted to “save it” for the real moment, which may never comes. So I had to tweak my design and mechanics to not only enforce the transformation, but also tell characters this is something you’ll want to do, something cool, because the game is about that! However I still needed to represent this toll characters have to pay for not having complete knowledge of how this power works (that lost connection to their roots I’ve mentioned before), so I’ve tied the transformation to stress and traumas. To be honest though, I’m still playtesting this, looking for the right connection/combination between its parts to make it work best and be tied to the fiction.

About the progressive power of the transformation, it is inspired in Epyllion, functioning as the advancement system for the game. As with Epyllion ages, each stage of transformation has its own XP track and as you unlock advancements, you push thru to the next levels of transformation. So you get more powerful, but that only means the MC can now punch harder at you! Hahaha.

And as for player reactions, the transformation is my favorite part of the game, whenever each character transform for the first time I tell the player that for each person the feeling is different, and I ask them how for their character the perception of the world around them changes…and I always get awesome creative responses from players, and it helps them getting involved in the game. And what I love is that it is not really a mechanic is only players creating the fiction.
Two images of the cover mockup with a Nahual
Tell me a little more about the changarro! How does it work, and how do players interact with it? Why do you feel it is important to Nahual? 

When I first started working on the game I was trying to include almost everything Clement has on his comic books. And it was all over the place. So, when I got in touch with Mark Diaz Truman, from Magpie Games, he helped me realized I need to focus my design, to tighten it up and make it sharper. And it was a feeling I had already, he just put a name to it, and he called it “holding environment”. And what that means is, I need something to make the characters come together, and it is different for each game, depending on the type of fictions they tell. And for Nahual, it became clear to me I had to focus on the angelero trade, the hunting of angels, and the way to do it was to have the characters working together in a Changarro, were they team up to share the burdens of handling the business.

Once I decided that will be the focus of the game, the holding environment, I started to work on mechanics for how the dynamics of the changarro will be. And something was clear from the beginning, I wanted players to feel what it is like to try to keep a small business afloat to make a living, despite harsh circumstances. So the changarro mechanics are about that grind. About needing to take care of the business in a day to day basis, running out of product…so they’ll need to go hunting, and having a bunch of problems—for players to choose from—that will come knocking at their door. At first it sounds repetitive, but on all the play testing I’ve have the problems characters face are completely different, because they’re also tied to the character’s backstory and relationships between them and the barrio they live in.

So the changarro is the glue that keeps players together and that jumpstarts the action, and also is the engine that will avoid things to stagnate, because there’s always going to be product you’ll need to restock, neighbors that’ll stick their noses in, rivals that will try to take you out of business, unhappy clients, or a big company that wants to either buy you out or crush you.

A Kickstarter promo image showing the cover mockup and noting that Nahual is a Mexican roleplaying game available in both English and Spanish


Thanks so much to Miguel for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it and that you'll check out Nahual on Kickstarter today!

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Thursday, November 15, 2018

Identity Mechanics in Turn

I just wanted to do a brief post about Turn and identity, on this, our turning point to the second half of the Kickstarter. You can check out Turn's Kickstarter at Content warning for discussion of mental health, depression, and mentions of binge drinking/alcoholism and suicidal ideation.

I want to talk about what it means to be two (or more) things in one person. I come at this from a couple of different axes, and some people have more. Mine are really tied to people's perception for some of these, but others are truly just inherently who I am.

Let me try to separate them a little.

As far as perception, to many people, I'm a cis woman. In reality, I'm not. So I live with perceived-me as cis woman, and actual-me as not. As well, I'm not perceived as disabled, but in reality, I am. So I live as perceived-me and able, and actual-me as disabled. I also appear straight - I'm even in a perceived-straight relationship. But I'm not! I'm queer as hell. So, perceived-me and actual-me again at odds.

It goes deeper, I say, in a Morpheus voice.
Morpheus from the Matrix
I am actually both nonbinary and masculine. Simultaneously, most of the time, though in different amounts. This is big, and important. One of the biggest ones, though, is that I have bipolar disorder. Even when I am at the height of mania, my depression looms and can tug at me in moments when I'm sensitive, and vice versa. My mania (including hypomania) and depression, they're a part of me, even when I'm incredibly well-medicated.

Around 2012, I entered into a mixed episode. (A slow slide.) This is when you're kind of manic and depressed all at once! It is, shall we say, a bad time. It lasted years. Many of my readers knew me during this time period, through what I call The Dark Years, because I lost a lot of memories due to blackouts both from mania and from alcohol abuse. Not great. 

However, I started working on Turn in 2013. This isn't a coincidence. I don't talk about this part of Turn very much because it's still incredibly hard for me. I've been asked in a few interviews, and only went into it in detail relating to this specific subject on one, about why shapeshifters are great to tell stories about. There are tons of reasons - they're fun, they can be used as a metaphor, they're powerful and interesting. But shapeshifters - multiple identities in one body? I understand that, I live that.

Vin Diesel saying "I live for this shit"
From 2012 until a ways into 2015, I was what some people consider "crazy." I was fighting with my mental illness, making tons of bad choices, but also continuing to grow my business, attending university, and so on. I was struggling between the intense, high, selfish, egotistical mania and the soul-sucking, exhausting, lonely, self-loathing depression. During all of this, I got to see that neither side - in me personally - existed without the other, that they fed into each other, interacted with each other, and that there were things I could do where both would work together, or where I could find a harmony. That eventual harmony did actually lead me to getting help, going on lithium, quitting binge drinking, and ending harmful relationships.

And there, you can see a burning light of hope. 

I have always identified with shapeshifters, having a hidden identity of some kind with everyone most of my life. They are part of Turn, and are good to make stories about, because of what I said - they're interesting, fun, powerful, and great metaphors for people to place upon themselves. But I would be lying if I didn't say that the actual design of Turn wasn't heavily influenced by my own conflicting identity.

I've had reason to think about it a lot over the Kickstarter, and while I personally struggle to find mental health support on Medicaid. The fear of falling back into those dark days is real, let me tell you. But, in thinking, I wanted to share that the design of shapeshifters in Turn, to have these different parts of their identity that they struggle between, that they must find balance within? That's bred out of true hope.
A bird with the text "I've been through hell and come out singing."
Many people have different sides to them, and it's hard to deal with it sometimes. When I think of when I was first conceiving the Struggles in Turn, the mechanics for how you resolve conflicts between your beast and human identities and their wants and needs when you take action, I thought of how every day when I was struggling with my mental health, I had to choose my consequences. Sometimes it meant I'd sacrifice face, sometimes I'd deal with physical fallout, and sometimes I'd have other worse consequences for whatever ridiculous shit I got up to that day. I couldn't always predict them and sometimes I'd just end up with the whole mess (hello, 6-). 

And it was also always about the drawbacks that my one part of me had pulling against the other. When I was more manic and just trying to slam down a conversation at a convention, my depressive side would push for me to say things that were self-deprecating. When I was a miserable mess and struggling from the edge of suicide, the mania would suggest self-destructive methods. It was kind of rough, honestly. 

When I put these into Turn, though, I didn't want all that bad shit coming with it. For me, I wanted shapeshifters to be something beautiful! I was okay with them having hard stuff they dealt with, but it wasn't about either side of them being dark, or self-destructive, or harmful. They're just both parts of the being with needs and wants that the shifters have to struggle to satisfy or meet, even if it's hard, and the biggest aspect is that they're just trying to show up the way everyone wants them to show up. That's why exposure is a mechanic, because the real hard part of all of this is the world, not their identity. Shifters are good!
Sam Winchester hugging someone saying "Too precious for this world."
I want to talk more about shapeshifters being beautiful and good so I will soon, but this is getting a little long. 

Basically, shapeshifters are whatever you want them to be in what they stand for or are a metaphor for. You can play them in a bunch of different ways! But the reason why their mechanics work the way they do is because I discovered through struggles with my bipolar disorder that these complex multi-faceted identities aren't actually binary structures! Even my mania has some sadness, even my depression has some egotism. It's not exactly a fun way to figure out how to design a game, but it's a real one.

So the shapeshifters in Turn are complex. They are not all beast when they're a beast, and they're not all human when they're a human. They're a little bit of each, regardless of their form, in different amounts. And I thought about this intensely during throes of mania and depths of depression! So I can tell you with all honesty that there are no perfect metaphors. But I'll tell you this: shapeshifters don't have a special tweenie form like many shapeshifter versions do because I will never have a happy medium, and I had to find a way into the light without one. I think the story is stronger that way, and it's a story I know how to tell.

If you liked reading about Turn and want to support it, the Kickstarter runs until November 30, so please consider backing it. If this resonated with you, please feel free to share your experiences with having a multi-faceted identity - you can even use the #turnrpg and #myturnID hashtags if you'd like. I know I'm not alone in being a person with many sides, and I appreciate the power of sharing our stories. 

Until next time:

An oppossum with the words "Do no harm, take no shit, beg no man pardon."

P.S. - If you're a Patreon backer, let me know if you think I should charge for this post!

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Five or So Questions on My Jam

Today I have an interview with Eric Mersmann and Jeffrey Dieterle about My Jam, a live action game currently on Kickstarter! It's very musical, and a unique kind of empowering. Check out their responses below!


a person in party clothes in a room full of people, holding up a wreath of leaves while dancing enthusiastically
This image, done by Lawrence Gullo, is so powerful!
Tell me a little about My Jam. What excites you about it?

My Jam is a one-shot 4-hour larp where you embody high school aged musarchs—people who gain magic power from their relationship to music—during the biggest dance of the year. During the dance, your song will come on and you'll be the deity of the dance floor for its duration. A whole lot excites me about this game! We've been working on it for over a year (our first playtest was at Metatopia 2017) and people seem to get a real rush out of it! The most surprising thing to us was people coming up to us after playing who HATED high school dances and told us that this really gave them the experience they wished they had! It kinda empowers players over something that might not have been such a positive thing at the time. At the same time, folks who LOVED high school dances also said they enjoyed this game so yeah! Music! Magic! Drama! What's not to be excited about!?!?!

What inspired My Jam, and what was the path like from inspiration to reality?

The original inspiration for My Jam is the comic series Phonogram written by Kieron Gillen & drawn by Jaime McKelvie, which is about "phonomancers" who get power from music. Jeff conceived of the idea for this game, and asked Eric if he wanted to collaborate (uh is it ok if we talk about ourselves in the third person? seems weird but let's go with it...) in late summer 2017. We worked up a playtest for Metatopia 2017 just to see if people would be interested in larp dance parties and uh... they were!!! The game has changed a lot since then, thanks to playtests at Larp Shack down in Durham, Dreamation, and elsewhere. Mostly we refined the gameplay to focus on the "My Jam" moment and developed workshops to support play so everyone could have fun which segues nicely into...

How did you design the game to be approachable and fun for all the different types of players?

WORKSHOPS!!! We have about an hour of pre-game that's intended to help people get into their characters and start moving around in response to music. Unfortunately, My Jam is not for everyone, but we've worked really hard to make sure it's for as many people as possible and that the people who do play it are able to enjoy themselves. We've tried to take some of the worst parts of high school dances out while still keeping the drama and emotional intensity. And finally, we reinforce that the players are more important than the game and we give the players some tools to help and empower the palyers to mediate their experience.

How do you handle safety and consent when you have music playing? Do you find players are more free with their movement and action with an environment framed like this?

We use a number of "standard" larp calibration techniques that all focus on the idea that the players are more important than the game (stuff like door is always open, cut, slow down, check-in lmk if you want me to go more in-depth) and we have a few Jam Commandments that we developed specifically for issues that arise in this game:
  1. 1) touching only with consent - this is especially important for dancing, and people have a lot of baggage around being explicit asking for consent so we try to cut through to say that touch should only happen with consent and consent is an ongoing process.
  2. 2) celebrate culture with respect - music and culture are intrinsically connected so we say explicitly no singing along with slurs and no adopting mannerisms or vocal inflections meant to imitate another culture
    3) rivalry without hate - this game is meant to capture the feelings of highschool but we're not interested in giving people an excuse to practice abusive or oppressive behaviors so we forbid role playing oppression-based bullying.
We also recommend making sure that the volume of the music is loud enough to dance to but still quiet enough to talk over and we also recommend having a space where players can be free of the magical powers: a circle of protection/chill-out zone.

Our experience is that with the warm-up workshops and the safety it allows players to embrace their bodies and music with less fear of judgment. There's definitely an added level of vulnerability, but we try to instruct the facilitator in how to create an environment where people can experience that vulnerability. So far our players have reported back success!

Your Kickstarter approach seems a little different from other Kickstarters. Why are you approaching the model differently, and what do you expect to see from it?

We went around and around on what the final form of My Jam would be. At one point we were discussing pressing an audio version of the workshops into vinyl! At the other end of the spectrum we considered putting out a simple pdf. With a little introspection, we realized the thing we wanted more than anything was for as many people as possible to have the game. After that we wanted the game to be uh "cool" for lack of a better term. Hence doing a zine. This let us keep production costs low (keeping it accessible) but still gave us the freedom to experiment with layout and printing styles and create an artifact that was kickstarter-only. We worked with an artist Lawrence Gullo (@hismajesty on twitter) who had played the game to make some cover art and other assets (like the cool moon/records we use on the kickstarter page.) This way the fixed costs were pretty low, enabling us to keep our target low. Luckily we hit it pretty early, and we now have a nice little margin to add more art. We're not doing stretch goals per se, we're keeping everything about those two goals: get the game to as many people as possible and make the game artifact as cool as possible. We had discussed stretch goals (guidelines for how to play as a 50s sockhop! cyberpunk dystopia My Jam!) but ultimately these things felt like distractions.

Then we started adding silly jokes. Sometimes we worry that the jokes make people think that we don't take the game seriously, but it's more like we take it SO SERIOUSLY we needed to fill our campaign with jokes just so we could breathe!!!

We're hoping that our love for the game and for larp shines through and attracts other people who might feel similarly. So far, so good we guess!!!


Thank you so much to Eric and Jeff for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed learning about My Jam and that you'll check it out on Kickstarter today!

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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Quick Shot on Bastion

Hey all, I've got a Quick Shot today with Jerry D. Grayson on Bastion: Afrocentric Sword and Sorcery Fantasy! Check out this take on sword and sorcery for the Mythic D6 system that's currently on Kickstarter!

(All photos are of Jerry D. Grayson.)


What is Bastion, both as a product and as your vision? 

Bastion is a gumbo of a lot of different element I love. Portions of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, mixed with Glenn Cook’s Black Company, mashed with a bit of Gamma World, boiled down in a melange Micheal Moorcock's phantasmagoric Eternal Champion worlds, sautéed in a bit of the Green Lantern Corp, and strained through a cullender of Charles R. Saunders’ Imaro, you get Bastion.

It’s a big fangasmic mess of inspirations.

The original intent was to do a straight vanilla fantasy game with all the standard fantasy tropes. I wanted to see if I could do it with a straight face. Halfway through the process, I couldn’t take it anymore. I like my D&D fantasy, but trying to replicate it started making veins pop out of the side of my head. I was dissatisfied with the elements I created, so I flipped the script and went in another direction.

I brought a few people on board to help flesh out my outlines, and they added their secret sauce here and there and what you have is Bastion as it is at the moment.

What moves you about Afrocentric themes and their application in Bastion? 

Afrocentric elements pop up in all my work. GODSEND Agenda, ATLANTIS: The Second Age, and even in HELLAS to a small extent. What you get when I add elements of Afrocentrism is me. It’s me searching and exploring a lost piece of my identity as I try to learn about Africa. American school systems teach you almost nothing about Africa and only express ideas of an unrefined and strange land filled with primitive people. I know that's not the case, and I wanted to illustrate that in the books I produce.

Africa is BIG, I mean, REALLY BIG. You can fit almost every continent on earth inside the body of Africa. What I offer isn’t a legitimate mirror of any one African culture. I've taken elements of West African cultures (Akan, Yoruba) and made a fantasy game based on those components. Much like Lord of the Rings is an amalgam of Western European history/myth, I’ve done the same with Bastion. I hope what small efforts I've made entice others to dive deeper into the rich and varied cultures. Bastion is only a surface level exploration of Afrocentrism, but it's up to the reader to go deeper.

How did you decide what elements of sword and sorcery really would shine through in the game, and what design choices made them hit the mark?

I love fantasy and the genre of sword and sorcery. It’s a hot mess of debate about what makes a piece “sword and sorcery.” A lot of people stick close to R.E. Howards Conan, but many people fail to mention the mind-blowing work of Clark Ashton Smith. I love the strange and sublime horror of sword and sorcery fantasy. The pyrrhic victories of the heroes, and the changes that cause in their souls. The peculiar and bitter cost of power it puts on the hero. 

I hope I’ve brought all those essentials to Bastion, but I guess that’s for the consumer to say.


Thanks so much, Jerry! I hope you'll all check out Bastion on Kickstarter today!

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