Friday, January 18, 2019

Five or So Questions on Wolfspell

Today I have an interview with Epidiah Ravachol about Wolfspell, hitting Kickstarter on January 21, 2019! I actually proofread the original Wolfspell released in Worlds Without Master, and I've been wishing for a fancy new version for ages - though the WWW version played amazing stories about wolves who were once human to start with. I'm super excited to get to interview Epidiah! I hope you like what he has to say below.

Note: The included art is not the art that will be on Wolfspell! There is new art being created by the same artist, Shel Kahn, for the project - that's most of what the Kickstarter is for!

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

You were there for the beginning of it, but for the sake of your readers, I'll recap the Wolfspell origin story. I was writing the short story "One Winter's Due" for the second issue of Worlds Without Master. That story is about two adventuring sisters who, along with a small band of family and friends, seek to turn themselves into wolves in order to mete out vengeance without violating oaths that they had taken. I am, obviously, not the first person to tell tales about humans turning into wolves. And this wasn't even that fresh of a take on the subject, but what hooked into my brain at the time--the part I couldn't shake loose when it came time to dream up a game for that same issue--was this idea of these (mostly) aging, well-traveled folk who have seen it all suddenly finding themselves experiencing the world anew through the mind, body, and in particular the senses of wolves. I mean, you would HAVE to play, right? How else would you learn how to be a wolf? You would run and wrestle with each other, pause to scent the wind, and howl just to hear your own, new, voice. Before that moment, you had lead a hard life of killing or thieving or peering into the forbidding dark, but now you are newly born.

I had a dice mechanic sitting in the back of my brain for quite a while, inspired by the Doctor Who roleplaying game from the 90s called Time Lord. In that game, you rolled two six-sided dice and subtract the lower from the higher, giving you a result from 0 to 5, where 1 is the most likely outcome. I really dug how that worked. I posted about it here shortly after the game was released. In Wolfspell I saw an opportunity to combine that mechanic with the spirit of the Swords Without Master tone dice. You roll two dice, one is your Wolf Die and the other your Blood Die, you subtract the lower from the higher, apply the result to a Apocalypse World style move, but the move is determined to some extent by which die is higher. If you rolled well on the Wolf Die, you can act and think in wolf ways. If you rolled well on the Blood Die, you can act and think in the ways you've been used to. But crucially, you need to roll poorly on the opposite die to avoid confusion. Rolling a 6 Blood only helps you if your Wolf isn't also a 6.

A snowy scene with a carved stone. In front of the stone are five swords stabbed into the snow with two crows resting on them. In the snow, there are human and wolf footprints.
One of Shel Kahn's pieces from One Winter's Due,
a fiction piece included in Worlds Without Master.

You mention that the characters are typically aging. How relevant to the story do you think that is and why?

Oh, good! That's a part of my assumptions I've left unexamined. Thank you for asking! Technically, the only way I enforce aging characters in the game is by the identifying phrases players select for their characters during pack creation. They imply, at least to me, folks we've been around and seen some shit. "Many have tested my sword-arm and now wait to mete vengeance upon me in the afterlife," or "I am witness to stranger worlds than most. The arcane and preternatural are to me as wolves and weather are to the farmer," and so forth. They are not all exclusively evocative of veteran adventures, but as a whole, they hint at a certain field of experience. But it's not restrictive. A clever player seeking to play a young, fresh-faced thrillseeker could definitely pull it off.

For me, though, the aging bit is bound tightly to the central theme of rebirth. Witnessing the world anew through the scents and sounds of the wild has more meaning if you've already seen everything through the narrow scope of human vision.

Plus, I just dig stories about old folks. If you want to play young, attractive folk who transform into wolves to wrestle and groom their way through their sexual tension, you can certainly do that with Wolfspell, but there are many fine--damn fine--games out there that serve that purpose. Now if you want to play broken, old, world-weary rovers who shed their skin-tag-haunted flesh in favor of a lithesome, sinewy wolf bod to wrestle and groom their way through their sexual tension, well that field's a bit smaller.

Well-managed tone is something many people recognize in your games, and in this game it feels especially stark to me - the tone of the game blossoms from the moment you start play. What do you think creates the particular tone of Wolfspell, and what makes it flourish?

That's very kind of you to say! For Wolfspell's sense of tone, I blame Apocalypse World. Or more specifically, the Read a Situation move in Apocalypse World. That thing it does where it says, "Here, here are the questions you are allowed to ask and we must answer," is so quietly beautiful that I think I'll be hacking it for the rest of my days. In Wolfspell you may Behold the World and drink it in through your senses. When you do this and roll Wolf, you get to ask specific questions about what your eyes, ears, nose, and instincts tell you--inviting lush description of the world around you. But when you roll Blood, your questions are of a more human nature, about who is in control, what do they want from you, where are you most advantaged--inviting a more analytical response. It limits how you think about the world to the part of you that is most in control at the moment. All of the moves do this in their own little way.

Also, I dig the way the tone presents itself to new players. The first time they roll to wrestle with the other wolves and someone rolls Blood and is awkwardly isolated by their inability to embrace their inner wolf. Or the first time someone howls and the others must howl along with them. Or the first time someone's hurt...but no spoilers about that.

Or maybe it's just this rule right here: "You are now wolves. Describe your coat, your size, your scent and your voice." That's the very moment the tone is set in most games.

The form factor for the game is interesting and very cool! Can you tell me about it, and why you chose it? 

Wolfspell, like everything that appears in Worlds Without Master, is of the sword and sorcery genre (or sword and sorcery adjacent, but one of the superpowers of this particular genre is its ability to seamlessly welcome adjacent works into the fold). In the 70s rock, prog, and early metal bands would spend long hours in the back of van or bus traveling from gig to gig. To fend off boredom, they would pick cheap paperbacks off the racks wherever the had to fuel up or stop for the night. This was the vector of infection for the sword and sorcery and fantasy genres of fiction into these genres of music. They would read tales of adventure, peril and strange magics, and regurgitate them in song. They would see the covers to these books, illustrated in imagined realism, and demand the same for their albums. Shortly thereafter tabletop roleplaying games followed a similar path, drawing on both sources for inspiration. We're all spokes on the same wheel, and I wanted to acknowledge that.

Plus, how awesome would it be to show up at a con with a milk crate full of these puppies?

Another piece from Shel Kahn's work on One Winter's Due.
You've mentioned the struggles these characters face as they encounter inability to be wolf enough, and I wonder if you could talk a little about the parallel to that, or the opposition I guess. Do characters experience positive feelings more as they progress, finding pleasure or even joy in the experience? How does that happen? 

When you revel in your wolfiness there's an inherent reward of being able to explore the world through the mind and body of a different being. I mean, that's why we're all here, right? To roleplay as something else? The rules feed and reflect that by opening and restricting the paths before you. You act like a wolf, you gain Feral. Feral is the only real stat in the game. It is always added to your Wolf die. So the more Feral you gain, the better you get at rolling a Wolf result. And it feels good to cut loose at peak wolf! No stumbling over human concerns or anxieties. Embracing the wild and running with it! A wonderful way to build this Feral is to wrestle and groom with the pack, to celebrate the life of a wolf the way wolves do.

One of the central questions of this game involves rolling to become human again at the end of it all. Here all the Feral you've collected will count against you. Will you return to civilization, your quest complete, or will you be lost forever to the call of the wild?


Hell yes! Thank you Epidiah for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed reading and that you'll follow Wolfspell and then check it out on Kickstarter on January 21!

Thoughty is supported by the community on Tell your friends!

To leave some cash in the tip jar, go to

If you'd like to be interviewed for Thoughty, or have a project featured, follow the instructions on the Contact page.

No comments:

Post a Comment