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Archive for RPG Pro Interviews
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Last year Strix did an interview with me on a broad range of topics (you can find it here), and we also touched upon Bluebeard’s Bride. This time, I’m delighted to talk with all three designers of this game of feminine horror. Please welcome with me Sarah Richardson, Marissa Kelly, and Whitney “Strix” Beltrán!
Jonas: Would you please introduce yourselves to those of us who don’t know you? Who are you, what do you do?
Strix: I’m Strix Beltran. I’m a narrative designer and writer for video and analogue games. I’m a gaming academic, a diversity and inclusion consultant, a Twitch host who explores indie game content, and I also work in tech startup full time. I don’t sleep.
MK: I am Marissa Kelly, the first of my name, the Unburnt, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, and co-owner of Magpie Games.
Sarah: I’m Sarah Richardson. I am a game designer, layout artist, illustrator, and employee of Magpie Games. Sometimes you’ll find me under the name Doombringer. I bring my clan much honor.
Jonas: Just in case we want to refer to one of us in the third person, what are our preferred pronouns? For me it’s he/his/him.
MK: Traditional lady gender vocab for me.
Sarah: I’m also she/hers/her.
Strix: Same here.
Jonas: How did you get into gaming, and how did you get into game design?
MK: My father used to run his own hacks of Traveler and D&D for me growing up. So I got hooked early. Storytelling is one hell of a drug and it stayed in my life through adulthood. Eventually I spread my beautiful design wings and founded Magpie Games in 2011 with my partner, Mark Diaz Truman. I dabbled in design with our first few projects and freelanced here or there, but my first full game was Epyllion a dragon epic.
Strix: I was playing with the NES before I could walk. I got into role-playing games as a pre-teen. Started running game organizations in my early 20s. Started designing a few years ago. Into elves and Vulcans and basically anything that’s not mundane. I got it all from my mom.
Sarah: I started out playing AD&D with my uncles, and went to my first game convention dressed as a hacker from Shadowrun. I’ve played a variety of games over the years, and began working in the rpg industry as an illustrator and layout artist in 2013. I made a few small hacks, but my first real foray into game design started with Bluebeard’s Bride. Currently I’m working on a new game called Velvet Glove, about teenage girl gangs in 1970s America.
Jonas: Some of you have already published other games that are “powered by the apocalypse”. D. Vincent Baker’s game Apocalypse World has excited many and led to an impressive number of new games that use its basic framework. What does AW and the PBTA “design tradition” mean to you?
Strix: AW’s rules structure is hackable and accessible. The accessibility is especially important to me. It also fits with what we want to do with Bluebeard’s Bride. Out of the three of us, I’m probably the least tied to design traditions as a whole.
MK: It is a way of thinking about games that I find particularly stimulating. I like the challenge of fitting all the design cogs together, starting it up and seeing if it runs. Overall, I am proud to be a part of a movement of players and designers who are as excited about it as I am.
Sarah: There have been some amazing games using PbtA, like Monsterhearts, that show off how strong that basic framework is. I really like seeing how the MC and players parts work together in an unique way to generate a story. Apocalypse World was one of the very first story games I ever played, and it made a really strong impression. It’s also great for horror, which is why we used it for Bluebeard’s Bride.
Jonas: Where do you see Bluebeard’s Bride in the PBTA tradition? What inspirations did you use, what adaptations did you make?
MK: We pushed the bounds of PBTA a bit, but once folks get a taste, I hope it inspires others to drink the PBTA Kool-Aid.
Sarah: I played Murderous Ghosts before starting work on Bluebeard, and the way it facilitated horror at the table really took my breath away. Bluebeard is a little different, though, in that it’s a pretty specific thing, this specific story that gives a specific structure to what you’re doing.
Strix: I hope Bluebeard demonstrates that you can design with PBTA’s structure, but that you can still wholly make it your own.
Jonas: Bluebeard’s Bride is based on a fairy tale: A woman is married to Bluebeard, and he introduces her to his home, showing her everything, but pointing to a particular door and telling her never to go in there. When he’s gone, she discovers the corpses of his previous wives in that room. Bluebeard returns and becomes violent… Does your game retell that story? Does it follow some narrative script?
Strix: There is definitely a narrative arc. Most of the time it doesn’t end well for the Bride, and that’s the point! This game is not about beating Bluebeard, it’s about the feminine experience of horror, the struggle for agency in the face of terrible things. Who are you? What do you become? What do you sacrifice in order to survive? Can you survive? It’s thrilling and deeply terrifying.
MK: Bluebeard’s Bride allows you to tell your own version of the dark fairy tale. It makes the tale into a sort of haunted house game where you travel from room to room, gathering evidence to prove your husband’s intentions - either malicious or innocent.
The game explores a lot of very mature content including violence against women, but we give guidance to help you and your players explore messy themes in a safe way while keeping the tension high.
Sarah: It’s not just for fairy tale or horror fans, although they may be particularly pleased with some parts of the game. I’ve played the game with a pretty wide range of people. It’s not for kids, though.
Jonas: You mention that players explore the rooms of Bluebeard’s house, which makes it sound a bit like a dungeon crawl. But if I put it that way it is probably wildly misleading, right? Can you please speak a bit more about the content of the game?
Strix: I would say this is very different! A dungeon crawl assumes that you can solve your problems with violence. You can’t. The house and the rooms in it hold a lot of symbolism, not the least of which is that it reflects the Bride’s own mind. It’s really about facing the darkness within yourself. What could be lurking there? The rooms create a container for that.
MK: It’s a lot like a haunted house game with underlying feminine motifs. The themes of the horrors in the house call upon struggles that women face. This is a fun way to explore mature feminine horror for folks of all genders.
Sarah: I love dungeon crawls, so I know what you mean. This is different, however, as you’re not looking for treasure, and fighting isn’t an optimal choice. You have a purpose in going from room to room—investigating what happened to Bluebeard’s other wives, and what role he had in that, but there isn’t a map, or pre-set rooms that you go through.Quote:Let the players scare themselves.
Let them define what is scary,
and then draw it out of them.
Jonas: The roles that players take on are not separate characters, but aspects of the Bride’s mind. Can you talk about that a bit? I imagine the “intrapersonal relationships” might help creating a sense of community (or rather, identity?) despite differing voices, which seems intriguing. What experience does your design aim for?
MK: Horror that explores a lack of agency often revolves around one character and their experiences. The story of Bluebeard has only one Bride at a time and we wanted to be faithful to that narrative. When you have a whole party it is easy to fall into a groove where everyone works together to overcome obstacles, but we wanted the conflicts to be internal rather than external.
Sarah: Exactly. We wanted to mimic the internal struggles everyone has when faced with a difficult decision—the part of you that is a little bad, the part that tries to be rational, and so on. Assigning archetypes to each player gives them a character to play, with their own motivations and desires, but they’re also tied into the whole, forming a well-rounded person.
Strix: Yes, certainly we wanted to evoke internal conflict. What person doesn’t struggle with themselves? But also, thinking about the makeup of the Bride archetypally is really useful for telling a fairy tale narrative. It helps give the players a foundation to work with.
Jonas: Can you tell us a bit more about the safety measures you provide? I’d imagine that playing with folks I know and trust would be an important element for me, so I’m curious what sort of mechanics you employ to help players feel safe when letting their guard down and the horror in...
MK: Bluebeard’s Bride pushes a lot of boundaries and explores many taboos, but the book goes over some methods for helping you manage the experience. One tool mentioned is the X Card, developed by John Stavropoulos. It is one way to make sure that content that will ruin your fun at the table is avoided.
Sarah: Playing with people you know and trust is great, and definitely makes for a fantastic Bluebeard’s Bride game. However, I’ve run it at conventions for groups of strangers, and getting scared together is pretty fun.
Strix: I’ve run it for strangers at conventions too, and it’s gone extremely well. Aside from the resources mentioned, we absolutely believe that there should always be full transparency around this game. People should know what they’re in for before they sit down at the table.
Jonas: Do you have more advice for getting the most out of game of Bluebeard’s Bride, for GMs and players?
MK: Doing some fun homework might be in order before play. Watching some horror movies that have a feminine tint to them is alway a fun way to get those creative juices flowing. During the game I like to get everyone in the mood by dimming the lights and playing a creepy soundtrack, like John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.
Strix: For GMs: Let the players scare themselves. Let them define what is scary, and then draw it out of them. Use long, pregnant silences. Let them sit in that silence. Turn up the heat gradually. Give them breaks and time to recover. For players: Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. That’s when you’ll have the most fun. Embrace the inevitability of the outcome and focus on occupying the experiences as they come to you.
Sarah: I’d stress clear communication, and making sure everyone at the table is in the mood for a horror game. There’s advice on generating rooms and such in the book, but mainly I’d tell GMs to remember that what scares them, will probably scare their players.
Jonas: How are your own experiences in the RPG community shaped by your race and gender?
MK: My outlook and ideas are clearly shaped by who I am and what traditions I come from, but when faced with adversity, I keep my nose to the grindstone and work harder to get what I want.
Strix: Until only a handful of years ago, my minority identity as a Hispanic woman made me very much an outsider. It’s been hard to claim space in the gaming world. To be listened to, taken seriously, or even welcomed at all. Parts of the community are amazing, other parts are abjectly terrible. I’ve learned to curate my circles and avoid unwelcoming spaces and that’s helped, but there’s still a lot of work to do.
Sarah: I’ve had both good and bad experiences. I can say I wouldn’t have gone to the Hacking as Women workshop if it hadn’t been only for women, but obviously I’m glad I did.
Jonas: That Hacking as Women workshop you mention was the starting point for Bluebeard’s Bride - it was at GenCon 2014, I think? How has it developed since? Are there any major changes (or design twists, setbacks, cutting of significant material) that you feel are memorable?
Strix: I think we found the heart of the game during that game jam. Everyone in the room felt it, not just us. Our job was to keep that heart beating throughout all our various design iterations, to keep that magic thread of what makes this game special alive. I believe we managed to do that. We were lucky and had to sacrifice very little, all told. Mostly we kept open and flexible, which helped us move on from ideas that weren’t working well enough to satisfy us.
MK: Yep! I was Strix and Sarah’s coach for the 2014 “Hacking as Women” workshop. Since then the game has transformed many times. Because design is kind of like an elegant monstertruck show, we had to wreck a few cars to get here. The most memorable jump was making some of our basic moves diceless. It took some convincing (of myself included), but I think it mimics a tradition of ghost stories that I hold dear.
Sarah: The game still has some of the core concepts we came up with at the workshop, but they’ve been refined over and over again. We did end up cutting one playbook, the Oracle, and integrating it into another, the Witch. We ended up with a stronger, better set of playbooks from that cut.
Strix: I mourn the loss of the Oracle!
Jonas: Looking back beyond GenCon 2014, are there any major influences, personal experiences or creative sparks that led to Bluebeard’s Bride? Can you tell something like a prehistory of this game?
MK: Making a horror game is a dream come true! Now I can freak people out through my art instead of pulling off freaky stunts that risk jail time in order to get a scare.
Strix: I studied mythology in graduate school, which included fairy tales, so I have a deep background in the material. Chelsea, one of my friends at school was a diehard Bluebeard fan, and managed to always keep the fairy tale lurking in the back of my mind. That’s the reason why I put this particular fairy tale forward as a game design idea at the game jam. Without Chelsea’s influence, we might have gone somewhere entirely different! I also wanted to make a game that spoke to experiences that belonged to me as a woman, that were authentic. That drove a lot of my design principles. I think this game has been crouching inside of us, waiting to spring forth for a long time.
Sarah: I’ve always been a big fairy tale and horror fan, so it’s hard to point to any one specific thing. I do feel like my time spent reading feminist analysis of fairy tales and watching horror movies has paid off, though. Some of my favorite media did support some of what I brought to the game, like Angela Carter’s short stories and poetry, books like the Handmaid’s Tale and Fitcher’s Bride, and movies like The Company of Wolves and The Orphanage.Quote:I’ve run it at conventions for
groups of strangers, and getting
scared together is pretty fun.
Jonas: Bluebeard’s Bride is on Kickstarter right now. Within a very short time crowdfunding has practically become an accepted standard for publishing role-playing games. I believe you all have some experience both as backers and as creators. What are your thoughts on this?
MK: Kickstarter has been amazing for our industry. It allows creators and small companies to grow and deliver content in a way that was more-or-less impossible without huge cash upfront. I try to keep it fresh with every kickstarter I am a part of and Bluebeard’s Bride has some great new content to appeal to those who like to indulge their darker side.
Sarah: It’s great in how it allows more creators to reach their audience. I know I have backed some projects that wouldn’t have been available through normal publishing channels, from horror anthologies to games to art.
Strix: I’ve been on both sides of the Kickstarter coin many times now. It’s an integral platform for our industry. It gives indies the leverage they need to make their art. I think it’s great. Kickstarter combined with Print on Demand third party sites have made creating RPGs tremendously more accessible.
Jonas: Can you please tell us a bit more about the kickstarter? What is your favorite reward tier and why?
MK: My favorite has got to be the $150 limited edition level, the Wine Cellar. I am a sucker for swag and deluxe books and that level has it all.
Sarah: I really like the $100 level, the bedroom. Not only do you get both of the main books, dice, tokens, and the Deck of Objects, but you also get PDFs of the books and any stretch goals. I love having pretty physical books, but I also like having the PDFs to refer to.
Strix: I agree with Marissa. The Wine Cellar is my favorite. A beautiful limited edition book, a ring to use for the game.
Jonas: Some of you have also worked as artists. Are you doing illustrations or art direction for Bluebeard’s Bride, too?
MK: If I contribute any art it will pale in comparison to our other artists: Kring, Rebecca Yanovskaya, and Juan Ochoa. As art director, they are my beloved angels of horror.
Sarah: Not this time, although I’m doing the layout for the core book. I’m incredibly excited to have such lovely illustrations to work with, though!
Strix: Don’t look at me. I stick to the narrative stuff. But I love our artists. I literally cried when I saw the first pieces come in from Rebecca. Everything is gorgeous.Quote:Storytelling is one hell of a drug.
Jonas: Thanks for the interview! Is there anything you’d like to add?
Strix: I am extremely proud of Bluebeard’s Bride, proud to put my name on it. It’s been a labor of love undertaken with these two other amazing women over the last two years, and it’s all be worth it. As we wrap this project up we’re all starting to ponder what our next projects will be. I’m already working on something that I hope turns out to be as fun to design as Bluebeard. You can keep up with me on Twitter @The_Strix, or my site StrixWerks.com
Sarah: I can’t think of anything. Thanks for talking to us!
If you want to look closer, here are some links:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/communities/11286569144352749487... (G+ community for Bluebeard's Bride)
Artwork by Rebecca Yanovskaya
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This interview was conducted by our own Modoc and appeared on his website Rolling Box Cars. It appears here with his permission.
I recently had the good fortune to be able to interview the man behind Torchbearer (2013) RPG. This was really exciting for me. I was an early kickstarter backer. In fact, I couldn’t throw my money at the campaign quick enough! Well, enough about me spending money, let’s talk about Thor. This opportunity is just the thing I needed to help spur me on to mastering Torchbearer this year. Damn you Torchbearer! I will win! Ok, without further ado, I present to you Thor Olavsrud.
RB: Let’s start this interview off right, you’re no stranger to the RPG industry. Please tell Rolling Boxcar readers a little about your RPG resume. (feel free to include any links you would like)
THOR: Sure. In late 2003 or early 2004 I made the trek from my home in NYC to New Jersey for a now-defunct little con called UberCon. While there I ran into Luke Crane, who had recently published his fantasy roleplaying game Burning Wheel.
I’d heard about his game online, so I sat down for a demo of the scripted combat system. I think I played a dwarven prince in a fight against an orc chieftain, and we went around for a few volleys before the orc grappled me, locked me up, jammed the sharpened edge of his shield into my face until my armor failed and then finished me off when I hesitated due to the shock of my wound. I was hooked! I loved everything about the game: its aesthetic, its attitude and its rules.
I was (and am) a professional writer and editor, and since we lived in the same city I gave Luke my card and told him that I was available if he needed an editor.
I don’t think I expected Luke to take me up on it at the time, but it just so happened that he was hard at work on the Monster Burner and needed an editor (a friend who is not a professional editor had edited the first published edition of Burning Wheel, but decided one book was enough).
We clicked as a team during that project and we’ve been working on projects ever since. I’ve edited and developed for the Monster Burner (2004), Under a Serpent Sun (2004), The No Press RPG Anthology (editing only, 2004), Burning Wheel Revised (2005), Burning Sands: Jihad (2005), Burning Empires (2006), Under a Serpent Sun Revised (2006), The Blossoms Are Falling (2007), Magic Burner (2008), Mouse Guard (2008), Bloodstained Stars (2009), Adventure Burner (2010), Burning Wheel Gold (2011) and Mouse Guard Boxed Set (2011). I did bits and pieces of writing for Burning Sands, Magic Burner and Adventure Burner.
For a time, I also worked on games outside BWHQ. I edited Michael S. Miller’s With Great Power… (2005), Nathan Paoletta’s carry. a game about war (2008), Michael S. Miller’s and Kat Miller’s Serial Homicide Unit, Brennan Taylor’s Mortal Coil Revised (2009), Brennan Taylor’s How We Came to Live Here (2009), Renee Knipe and Danielle Lewon’s Kagematsu, Joshua A.C. Newman’s Shock: Human Contact (2011) and D. Vincent Baker’s and Joshua A.C. Newman’s Mobile Frame Zero: Rapid Attack (2012).
And of course, I worked as designer, writer and art director for Torchbearer (2013), The Dread Crypt of Skogenby (2013), The Petersen Bestiary, Vol. 1 (2013), The Petersen Bestiary, Vol. 2 (2014), The Torchbearer Player’s Deck (2014) and Torchbearer GM’s Screen (2014).
It’s been a busy 10 years!
RB: I would like to focus on Torchbearer if I may (I was a Kickstarter backer). As the creative mind behind Torchbearer RPG, what or who influenced you during the creation process?
THOR: That’s actually a pretty involved question. There were a number of things going on.
Torchbearer is obviously derived from Mouse Guard, so Luke’s ideas and design aesthetic were a big influence. Having spent so many years working and playing games together, I probably couldn’t have escaped that if I had tried.
My polestar for the project was my memory of what it was like to open the red box for the first time as a 12-year-old kid and get blown away by a game. I didn’t want to recreate D&D, but Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and Tom Moldvay were a huge inspiration.
In the Kickstarter video, I related a story from my college years. I went on a caving trip in upstate New York to Clarksville Cave. I had been to Luray Caverns in Virginia as a kid — it’s an amazing place to visit, but it’s a commercial cave with open spaces and electric lighting. Clarksville is a wild cave with lots of squeezes you have to worm your way through — you need a helmet, and knee and elbow pads are very much recommended! It wound up raining heavily while we were underground, so one of the passages we had to go through on the way out had flowing water that was nearly chest deep. It’s an experience that powerfully affected me and I wanted to bring at least a little bit of that into the game.
I should also mention some of the OSR luminaries. I was inspired by Matt Finch’s A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming, James Raggi’s Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Roleplaying (and some of his incredibly atmospheric adventures), and Justin Alexander’s blog The Alexandrian (particularly a series of posts called Jaquaying the Dungeon, based on techniques drawn from maps created by Jennell Jaquays).
Finally, there was my paternal grandmother. When I was a boy in Norway, she told the most wonderful folktales. Her influence will probably be quite a bit clearer on the Middarmark setting, but it definitely forms the backdrop of Torchbearer for me.
RB: Imagine for a moment that a second edition of Torchbearer was going to be done, what one thing you would add and what one thing you would remove from Torchbearer? What would they be and why?
THOR: It hasn’t even been two years yet! At this point, I wouldn’t change very much. I’d probably rip out the Asymmetric Conflict Goals paragraph on page 149 and rewrite it because it seems to trip up a lot of people. I may just do it when we reprint.
RB: What does the future hold for Torchbearer? Could we expect to see more published supplements or other add-ons in the future?
THOR: More Torchbearer! I’m plugging away at the Middarmark setting/gazetteer that we promised in the Kickstarter. It’s been slow going, but I think folks will dig it when it’s done! We’re also working on the follow-up book to Torchbearer, which will have rules for taking characters from level 6 to level 10, along with rules for wilderness adventures and a bunch of other stuff. We don’t have a name for it yet, but I tend to refer to it as the Torchbearer Expert Companion. We don’t want fans to wait too long for the content in this book, so Luke and I recently released a free PDF of level benefits from 6 to 10 and we’ll release some higher level spells and prayers soon.
A while back we released simple language licenses that allow people to make stuff for Torchbearer using our trade dress and sell or share it. I’m hoping to see folks release some stuff using those licenses this year. My friend Jared Sorensen has already created and sold a number of new classes for the game and I’m really hoping to see some adventures soon. Sean Nittner has been working on one he calls Stone Dragon Mountain and I think it will be amazing.
RB: Let’s face it, Torchbearer is a little on the crunchy side; how do you sell new folks on the idea of Torchbearer?
THOR: It is a crunchy game, but I’m not apologetic about it. I like crunchy games! If I can see everything a game has to offer in a session or two, I get bored. Torchbearer is a game that takes skill to play well. You’ll get better at it over time. And actually it’s not just you as an individual — playing Torchbearer well requires great teamwork. You and your friends will get better at playing as a team, if you’re willing to put in the effort.
Still, I don’t think Torchbearer holds a candle to Pathfinder or Exalted or games like that in terms of complexity. If you play those games, Torchbearer shouldn’t send you running for the hills.
As for selling it? I think people have a lot of love for dungeon delving games to begin with. And some of those people are tickled by the idea that their character could make a wrong turn somewhere, lose their light and die cold, alone and hungry in some forgotten hole. But that end isn’t inevitable. With skill and a little bit of luck you can change your fate!
RB: What advice can you offer to new players and GMs that are committed to learning and playing Torchbearer, but have yet to actually play/run?
THOR: Grab some friends, download The Dread Crypt of Skogenby and give it a try!
Be as descriptive as you can — you want to get the GM to invoke the Good Idea rule as often as possible. Celebrate your accomplishments but really make sure to enjoy the bad things that happen to your characters. Think and act like a team. Keep in mind that the first session is the hardest! Once you have a few Rewards to spend from previous sessions, you’ll have a lot more power to swing things your way. Don’t wait to earn checks. Use traits against yourself early and often so you can camp frequently.
RB: Where can readers purchase Torchbearer?
THOR: You can buy Torchbearer directly from us through the Burning Store. The PDF is available on DriveThru. Your FLGS can order it if they don’t stock it already, or you can get it through Amazon.
RB: For those familiar with Torchbearer and other Burning Wheel products your name should not be unfamiliar to them. Aside from Torchbearer, in your opinion, what is your most important contribution to the Burning Wheel line of games and products?
THOR: Most important is tough. I guess the most recognizable thing is probably the Circles mechanic, which players can use to bring NPCs from their past into the session.
RB: So, what’s next from the creative mind of Thor Olavsrud?
THOR: Right now my primary focus is the Middarmark setting. After that I’d love to do some adventures.
RB: Can you elaborate on the Middarmark setting? What can we expect to see in the wat of modules?
We actually teased the Middarmark setting a bit during the Kickstarter, though we optimistically promised it would be out in 2014 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/burningwheel/torchbeare...). It’s still coming and Kickstarter backers will get a free PDF when we do release it.
The Middarmark is a fantasy setting that draws heavily on Norse mythology and Scandinavian folktales. Luke likes to describe it as if the vikings had conquered Greenland and Nova Scotia only to find the ruins of the Roman Levant beneath the roots of the forests. It’s got new settlements, monsters, Hero Cults and lots of adventure seeds to inspire GMs. Every place in it has at least one weird thing that could be blown out into a whole campaign by an enterprising GM. It’s also just a small part of a much larger world. One of my friends and playtesters has been noodling around with an archipelago to the west of the Middarmark and I’d love to see fans make the setting their own and add to it if they’re inspired.
As for modules, they’re a bit farther out, so I can’t say anything definitive about them. I’ve been noodling around with one in which you find a legendary castle that was swallowed by a sinister forest generations ago and thought lost, and another involving an abandoned dwarven watchtower. Those may be a little involved, but I’d also like to do some smaller modules that could be played in a session or two, like The Dread Crypt of Skogenby (https://www.burningwheel.com/store/index.php/dread-crypt-of-...).
I’m also hoping that we’ll start to see some folks releasing adventures under our licenses. I know that Sean Nittner is currently working on a module under our Torchbearer Sagas license (http://www.torchbearerrpg.com/?page_id=78) that he calls Stone Dragon Mountain. He’s drawing a lot of inspiration from Tibet and Nepal, and I think it will blow people away.
RB: Will we see you on the convention circuit this year? If so, where can our readers meet, talk and more importantly, game with you this year?
THOR: I’ll be at PAX East with Burning Wheel and the Dungeon World kobolds this year. I’ll also be at Gen Con with Burning Wheel, though our booth situation is in flux at the moment. I’m not sure about PAX Prime, but it’s on my radar — it’s tough because it’s so close to Gen Con and I have a day job. Hopefully we will also be able to resurrect Burning Con this year. Sadly, we weren’t able to hold it last year because our normal venue jacked the rates on us, but I’m hopeful we’ll figure something out this year.
If it’s there and it’s happening, I’ll be running games. The past few years we’ve been a bit lax about getting games on the schedule at Gen Con, but I’ve run a lot of games at Games on Demand. I highly recommend checking it out. There are so many cool games to try!
I’m always happy to chat, so feel free to say hello if you spot me.
RB: What are you thoughts on virtual gaming? Do you have any recommended platforms or interfaces for our readers to consider?
THOR: Honestly, I don’t have a lot of experience with it. One of the nice things about living in New York City is that there’s no shortage of face-to-face games. I could have a game very night of the week if I had the time and energy for it!
I played a game on Google Hangouts once and it was pretty decent.
RB: Please tell our readers what three industry or hobby personalities you would love to see interviewed by Rolling Boxcars and why.
Lee Gold, founder of Alarums and Excursions (http://www.conchord.org/xeno/aande.html). I’d love to hear her take on the founding of the zine and its role in shaping the west coast RPG zine in the early days. (there’s a bit about Lee and Alarums & Excursions in this Jon Peterson article: https://medium.com/@increment/the-first-female-gamers-c784fb...)
Jennell Jaquays, artist, tabletop game designer, and video game designer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jennell_Jaquays). Jennell, in my opinion, is one of the greatest module and setting designers in the hobby. Dark Tower and Caverns of Thracia, both published by Judge’s Guild are masterpieces. And campaign settings don’t get much better than Griffin Mountain.
Sean Nittner (http://www.seannittner.com/), podcaster (Narrative Control: http://narrativecontrol.libsyn.com/), project manager for Evil Hat (http://www.evilhat.com/home/), game developer and con organizer. I don’t know how Sean stays on top of everything he does, but he’s masterful at it. On top of everything else, he seems to write interesting actual play posts about all the various games he participates in. I want to know where he gets his energy!
Thor, It has been an absolute pleasure to interview you! I have publicly committed to learning and mastering Torchbearer this year (see here). I was hopeful that your were more involved in the virtual gaming scene, but alas you are not. I was going to ask you to run a game so that I could play. Keep me in mind if you ever do decide to run a virtual game! Anyways, thank you for your time and willingness to let our readers get to know you a little better.
I challenge everyone out there to delve into the world of Torchbearer and master the game with me this year! Form your own groups, inspire your friends to greatness or just make them buy the book and run the damn game for you!
Until next time, happy gaming!
- [+] Dice rolls
This interview was conducted by our own Modoc and appeared on his website Rolling Box Cars. It appears here with his permission.
I recently had the opportunity to interview, Game Designer and publisher, David Brown. David is very active within the hobby and his company, eXtra-Dimensional Publishing, publishes some very high-quality products. You can see my other posts related Adventures in the East Mark: Basic Rule Set to learn about the high quality of their products. This interview was spurred on by the cancellation of their Adventures in the East Mark (English) line of products. So, without further ado, I present to you….. David Brown
RB. I know I was sad to learn that the relationship between eXtra-Dimensional (XD) Publishing and its Spanish partners regarding Adventures in the East Mark was ended recently. For those that may not have seen your press release, can you summarize the situation?
DB. Basic summary is that while we succeeded at delivering our physical products to our backers we required additional investment to produce more units available for retail and combo tiers for future Kickstarter Projects. But distributors are not seemingly interested in carrying our game, often citing price ($59.99 MSRP) and size, and it’s hard to commit to another project launch with debt outstanding from the first. Also, our marketing and community outreach could have been better, despite support by a lot of folks. It’s where I failed, specifically.
RB. If you had it to do over, what one thing would you change that you believe might have had the greatest impact on the future success of the Adventures in the East Mark product line in English?
DB. This one is tough. It’s easy to say that things might have been different if we’d just gone soft cover book versus full box set, but then we would have been just another retro-clone. Yes, the artwork would have differentiated the product, but probably not enough. We definitely sought out from the start to court the nostalgic crowd and the un-inked precision dice with a crayon were my contributions to add to that appeal.
I think if I had to do anything different, I’d have found a way to lower the price of the full-color box set and eliminated the B&W version altogether. That’s what I was hoping to do with the Blue Box.
RB. Would you ever consider undertaking another translation type project in the future?
DB. The translation of the product was very tricky- Pedro Gil and his collaborators liked to use a style of prose that has an intentionally archaic voice in Spanish. Working with that and making it flow well to an English audience was a struggle. We failed initially and had to take a few months going back through it, polishing out as much of the awkwardness as possible. The finished product still wasn’t as note perfect throughout as I would have liked, but we had deadlines and I didn’t want us to become vaporware.
I love what I’ve seen in foreign RPGs, especially those from Europe. There is a ‘je ne sais quoi’ about their games and especially their artwork that really sets them apart. They have a very different perspective as they live in areas that have actually lived through a lot of the epic struggles that we game about.
So, yes, if the pieces were all there and I knew the translation team could get it right, of course, I would. I wish I could have delivered Walküre to the US audience, but the timing hasn’t worked and I didn’t want me to be the delay on that project. Heck, I would do more of East Mark in a heartbeat if I thought I had the means to do it right.
RB. Is there anything the Kickstarter campaign has taught you about being a publisher? Maybe lessons learned?
Cost of shipping, not properly calculated, can kill a project. International shipping is a beast. I’ve seen that Kickstarter has new tools to handle it and I know other companies who only offer a “shipping credit” in the initial pledge.
Also, you want to make a splash with the introduction of your Kickstarter project when it launches, but if the right people aren’t looking when you launch, you can easily get off behind the game. We did OK, but I wish I’d made better inroads with the OSR community before we launch. That was my fault.
And don’t split your first project up with too many add-ons until you’ve hit your initial funding goal. It’s too easy to mistake money earned from them as contributing to your bottom line for delivering your goal and miss the time, effort, and costs associated with fulfilling them.
If you’re new to publishing and product fulfillment, it’s easy for printers and producers to forget that you are new to it. Remind them frequently and ask all the potentially dumb questions. It’s too easy for assumptions to be made and therefore misunderstandings to occur.
RB. What does the future hold for eXtra-Dimensional Publishing?
DB. Well, first we have to continue to sell the product we have. It’s a strong game and just because I’m relinquishing the license so that there is a more likely chance folks will get the rest of the line in English doesn’t mean I will not continue to support the heck out of it. And we still have a few digital offerings to deliver- Tony Reyes’ Lovecraftian adventure and the Beta Blue Box are continuing to be worked on. We have every intent to deliver on those products.
Other than that, I am hoping to focus more on digital only offerings for a while. I love print materials, but I think you’ve got to walk before you run, especially if going in a new direction. East Mark had a following, and as I said before they had defined their product before I came into the picture. Anything else from X-D would be in new areas, so I’ll make no assumption that people will be interested right out of the gate. I have been working on a licensed product for another game line, but I can’t say much on it right now. It’ll be a small release that I’m doing for fun.
My long term goal for X-D will be to RPGs what Image has been to comics. It’s not a perfect analogy, but my hope is to help bring up-and-coming creators together to produce self-owned works. I’m building a network of designers and artists and I hope to help bring them together on projects that they want to do. I make no claim that I’ll succeed at that goal, but I have a lot of passion that drives me to give back to our hobby some of what it has given to me.
RB. In what ways are you connected to the industry apart from being a principle in eXtra-Dimensional Publishing?
I am the lead host on two podcasts focused on Monte Cook Games RPGs- “Transmissions from the Ninth World” (twice Ennie Nominated) focused on Numenera and “Translating the Strange” focused on The Strange. I’ve been a big supporter of what Monte and the gang at MCG have been producing since the Numenera Kickstarter. I started a website “Ninth World Hub” to support a community eager to discuss Numenera in early 2013 and have since been made part of the MCG Editorial Board.
I’ve also started “Legends of RPG” that I hope to become a series of in depth interviews with some of the hobby’s greatest contributors. I interviewed Frank Mentzer for our first episode and it looks like I’ll finally be able to record our second one with Chris Pramas soon. I already have commitments with a list of some big names in the industry and I hope to get to a more regular recording schedule with them.
RB. Our readers would like to know, what are you two favorite RPGs and why?
DB. I’ll skip the obvious answers in Adventures in the East Mark, which I do love, and I am excited about the new edition of “the world’s oldest fantasy RPG”. It would be ridiculous not to acknowledge that game’s prominence and the fact that it’s first edition is what got me started playing.
But I have to say, Numenera is my tops. The setting is so inspiring and I love playing in the weirdness. A huge percentage of the games I play now are Numenera games.
I also love The Strange for its versatility in settings. Don’t miss out on what can be done in The Strange, whether the GM chooses to involve the game’s metaplot or not. You can really capture a game that is reflective of things like “The Fringe” or “Sliders” TV shows. I’ve had a lot of fun with it.
RB. Do you play other types of games? If so, what do you play, what attracts you to these types of games and gives us some of your favorites.
DB. I am a near addict in collecting games. I play card, miniature and video games all the time. I think of every game played as mental exercise of some type; each game training different brain “muscles”. My current favs are “Android: Netrunner”, which I love its asymmetrical gameplay, and I’ve been revisiting “Mage Knight: Dungeons” for kicks. Love that game. On my PC, I’ve been hitting Endless Space for hours and I get drawn back into the XCOM re-release all the time.
RB. Will we see you on the convention circuit this year? If so, where can our readers meet, talk and more importantly, game with you this year?
DB. I’ve been to the past two GenCons and hope to go every year going forward. It’s been pretty cool to attend the past two as an Ennie Nominee, so I hope to make it three in a row in some fashion.
I really wanted to go to GaryCon or even the North Texas RPG Con this year, but not looking likely. There are some more local cons to me (I’m in Charlotte, NC area), so cons like Storm-Con, SCARAB Gaming Con, MACE, etc. are more likely to fit my agenda.
RB. Please tell our readers what three industry or hobby personalities you would love to see interviewed by Rolling Boxcars and why.
DB. I owe a huge gratitude to Frank Mentzer for many reasons. I hope everyone in our industry takes whatever time they can, to thank him and learn from him. He’d be top of my list (in fact, he was!).
And of course I’m a huge fan of all the folks at Monte Cook Games. Monte himself has a huge swath of RPG knowledge. Bruce Cordell is also an immensely talented and I’m digging into lots of his earlier work that I missed.
I am very eager to see continuing contributions by Shanna Germain. I honestly believe that her “Love and Sex in the Ninth World” will be viewed as a turning point in RPG games in the very near future. She may be the chosen one to bring balance to… just kidding, but seriously she’s great!
It was my pleasure and my honor to interview David. David, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions and for allowing me to dredge up some of the issues with Adventures in the East Mark. I know I look forward to seeing what eXtra-Dimensional Publishing will put out in the future!
As always, join the Boxcar Nation on G+ for additional discussions and VoIP games!
- [+] Dice rolls
This interview was conducted by our own Modoc and appeared on his website Rolling Box Cars. It appears here with his permission.
The other day, Peter C. Spahn of Small Niche Games contacted me and asked if I was willing to give his newest Kickstarter project, TROPES: Zombie Edition, rules a look over. After reading the draft of the rules, I quickly figured out he has a sweet little project and that his backers are going to be getting a fun, high-flying, zombie action game. While I am not a huge zombie fan, I think some will be pleasantly surprised with this game. Anyways, I had been wanting to interview Pete and this seemed like a great opportunity. In this interview, I ask Pete about his current Kickstarter campaign and some other fun questions. Well, let’s gets the ball rolling and do this!
RB. Let’s start off by telling our readers about Small Niche Games. What type of games do you design and for what genres?
PS. Small Niche Games is a publisher of original games and game content. The bulk of our products fall into the OSR category (Labyrinth Lord specifically). Most of these titles have been adventures and supplements set in the core Chronicles of Amherth setting, a homebrew that I’ve been fleshing out for over 20 years now. Check out the SNG page here.
On a personal level, I’ve published adventures and/or supplements for a number of game companies including Wizards of the Coast, Precis Intermedia, and others. I’ve also dabbled in a bit of fantasy fiction, including a well-received Viking novel modeled after the Old Norse sagas.
RB. Tropes, Zombie Edition, what is it and what makes it a great game?
PS. TROPES: Zombie Edition [TZE] is the first entry to the TROPES game line. Its system is fast and flexible and uses a handful of d6s making it a great party game. The game itself draws inspiration from zombie films, books, and video games. In some ways, it plays like a board game or video game that also allows for a full range of roleplaying.
Guidelines are provided that let you mimic just about any type of zombie story. I set the default as a fast action romp where characters are fighting zombies, running for their lives, and getting eaten left and right, but you can also play it more seriously if that’s what you want. If you and your group like zombies, all it takes it tailoring the scenario (known as an Outbreak) to your tastes.
The thing to keep in mind is that TZE is specifically designed for one shots. In TZE you design three characters at the start of the game, fold them up, then mix all the characters together. Every player chooses one character. When a character gets killed, the player chooses another character, and so on and so forth, until there are no characters left or the PCs escape the Outbreak. This sort of sets it apart from most other zombie apocalypse roleplaying games where you generate a specific character and then develop his skills and abilities through play.
Another thing that sets it apart is the focus on high-flying action. I’ve played too many “misery tourism” zombie RPGs that were just a slog through a world filled with zombies, horrible humans, and one depressing moment after another. I’m not entirely knocking that style of play–there’s always a place for exploring more serious themes—I’m just saying that it’s not very conducive to a party game. TZE is designed to appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike.
RB. My feeling is that the whole zombie apocalypse thing so over done! Obviously you don’t feel the same way. So, why then zombies? (feel free to use the response you emailed me).
PS. Actually, you’ll get no argument from me. The zombie genre had a fork sticking out of it a long time ago. And yet, every time a new zombie movie comes out, tons of people still go to the movies to see it. Zombieland, Warm Bodies, Shaun of the Dead. Not to mention you can’t go anywhere without tripping over a fan of The Walking Dead. Zombies have now gotten to that weird place where many of the “edgier” people who used to enjoy the cult classic Romero films don’t like zombies anymore just because they’ve become so mainstream.
RB. For those interested that might still be on the fence with regards to backing your project, are you considering running short online demo sessions?
PS. I have considered that. It’s something I would have preferred to prepare better for, though. Online sessions have a slightly different dynamic than a home game where you’re sitting around the table with friends, so I’ll definitely have to think on it. I can see where it might be a lot of fun.
RB. You once referred to Tropes, Zombie Edition as a vanity project, care to elaborate?
PS. Most of my products are what I call “vanity” projects. That is, I write something and publish it because it’s something I find useful or fun at the table and want to share with other gamers, not because there’s any great demand for it. No one was pining for an OSR city sourcebook when I made the Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay, for example. Now that it’s out, almost all the feedback I’ve gotten, about it, has been positive.
That said, TROPES: Zombie Edition is even more of a vanity project than my OSR products because at least I know there is an active market for adventures and supplements in the OSR. TZE has no fan base, so I’m basically starting from scratch. I think a lot of people will find it a fun game once they give it a read, but that’s always the first hurdle.
RB. What are your plans for the Tropes line of games?
PS. There are a lot of directions I’d like to go with TROPES. It’s a simple, but intuitive system that lends itself well to the action genre. In no particular order or rush to publish, TROPES: Miami Vice, TROPES: Pirates, TROPES: Gangs of New York, TROPES: WWII, TROPES: Old West. Another author has already approached me about a TROPES: Cyberpunk-type game. Time will tell.
RB. You’re no stranger to game design and publishing, but what makes you qualified to deliver on you promises and timetables? Have you run other successful Kickstarter campaigns in the past? Any lessons learned that you are employing here?
PS. I have run two successful Kickstarters. The first was the Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay I mentioned above. That Kickstarter exceeded my wildest expectations and set the bar pretty high. The Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay is available now as a free PDF if anyone wants to check it out:
My second Kickstarter project was a fiction novella entitled Time of the Dying Stars: Book One. It is a series of interlinked short stories set in the aforementioned City of Dolmvay. The novella seems to have been well received and is also available as a free PDF:
Although connected by the same source material, these were two very different types of products. The amount of support and encouragement I received during, both funding campaigns was enormous. If I learned anything though, it’s that game content is way more marketable than game fiction. While I’m almost certainly going to run a campaign for the Guidebook to the Duchy of Valnwall sourcebook, I doubt I’ll be running a campaign for TotDS: Book Two. I am proud that I was able to deliver both campaigns on time to my backers!
RB. Will we see you on the convention circuit this year? If so, where can our readers meet, talk and more importantly, game with you this year?
PS. I’m working on getting some of my products into conventions via a third-party vendor, but that’s the only real publisher presence I have planned. As for attending cons, I try to make DragonCon if I can. Someone recently pointed me to a con in South Carolina [Storm-Con] that sounds promising. . .
RB. Please tell our readers what three industry or hobby personalities you would love to see interviewed by Rolling Boxcars and why. (These can be industry professionals, hobby personalities, podcasters, etc)
PS. Only three??? Erik Tenkar of Tenkar’s Tavern comes immediately to mind, although he says so much on his own blog I don’t know what questions he’d have left to answer.
I’ve always had a good working relationship with Brett Bernstein of Precis Intermedia and I don’t think he gets enough credit for his huge catalogue of games and how solid his house systems are, not to mention his innovative Disposable Heroes paper minis line that was one of the first of its kind.
James M. Spahn (no relation, promise) is another underrated game designer whose work always impresses. In addition to his OSR products, he’s also one of the leading writers of Cubicle 7’s The One Ring game line, so if you like LotR you can’t help but be a fan of James’s work.
Pete, thanks for the opportunity to chat with you about your campaign and about Small Niche Games. The insight into your little world was eye-opening and I had a great time interviewing you. Well, I hope the Kickstarter is a smashing success and Small Niche Games continues to publish great products (I haven’t found a dud yet!).
- [+] Dice rolls
This interview was conducted by our own Modoc and appeared on his website Rolling Box Cars. It appears here with his permission.
Every other Sunday I game with the Chief Bottle Washer of RPG Geek, Dave Bernazzani, in his Sunday Mornings in Hell, Labyrinth Lord game. Last year I also volunteered to help organize VirtuaCon and I got to know Dave, the person and not just Dave, the admin. I also got the chance to see a little behind the curtain of RPG Geek; it’s a fascinating place and I am proud to call it home! Dave is a great guy and fun to chat with, but more importantly, he’s a pillar of the RPG Geek community. His volunteerism in the community and the hobby are hands down a shining example for many folks, myself included. I have a lot of respect for Dave and what he does for the community. Over the past two years we have had many chances to chat about all things gaming and I thought it was high time to properly interview him. Without further ado, let me introduce to you Dave or as he is better know at RPG Geek, Wavemotion.
RB: Dave, let’s start this interview off a serious note. How did you become involved as the managing director if I may use that title, of RPG Geek?DB: I like that title! I might just steal it though it’s not quite accurate. I am granted no special title on the site so I usually just describe myself as “Chief Bottle Washer” and leave it at that. In 2009 Aldie (the owner of Board Game Geek) asked me to help with the classic video game section of a new site he had envisioned called Video Game Geek (VGG). He knew my love for all the classic consoles of the early 80s which I collect. I wasn’t sure what form the helping out would entail but decided I’d give it a try. Prior to launching VGG, Aldie decided to test the waters with what he felt was a smaller challenge – a spin-off of BGG that was specific to Role-Playing Games. RPG Geek was developed and the alpha test was, quite frankly, a bit of a mess. There seemed to be serious confusion as to how to catalog and categorize role-playing games. The taxonomy and hierarchy was significantly different than boardgames. Some games had just one core book (think of your typical Indie or small-press game). Some had a series of books (with the extreme of, say, Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder). Some game systems were borrowed from different genres (Fudge, Fate and Apocalypse World spring to mind). Third party products muddied the waters further. As the existing BGG database structure wasn’t a good fit for the role-playing hobby, I started to doodle a structure on the back of some napkins and presented these rough ideas to the Alpha Team. For some reason, I was rewarded with more and more authority to define the data structure. I then put in place the first draft of what has now become our venerable (and daunting!) Guide to Data Entry (http://rpggeek.com/wiki/page/Guide_to_Data_Entry). So while I’ve never been given any sort of official capacity with the site, the site principals haven’t exactly blocked my help … so I found myself in a sort of unofficial leadership capacity with RPG Geek. I am given top-level admin privileges, but I carry no Admin banner over my username nor do I belong to the private admin email list. As such I’m a unique blend of outsider and insider – but with one purpose: to provide legendary service to the role-playing community through leadership and by setting a strong example. At least that’s what I tell people. In reality I mostly just want a place where I feel I belong and can discuss cool geeky ideas with cool people.Dave BernazzaniUnited States
MassachusettsI wish to provide legendary service to the RPG community to help grow our hobby and enrich the lives of gamers everywhere.
RB: Rumor has it your involvement with RPG Geek is all glitz and glamor, is there any truth to this rumor? What exactly do you do to keep the site a pillar of excellence?
DB: It takes quite a bit of my time (which I volunteer) to help out with site management. Much of this comes in the form of empowerment and some semblance of organization. My goal is to let anyone in the community who wants to help do so in the most efficient way possible. If someone has an idea for a contest? Great! Let’s get some prizes behind that, make sure our twitter account (@rpggeek which I handle) gets the word spread, ensure we advertise on the appropriate G+ communities to spread the word. Community members wanted a way to log all of the magazines and zines related to our great hobby – so I worked as a liaison to the site owners to get a system in place to handle periodicals. I created a consortium of interested folks who help make decisions on where things get cataloged in our database (there are lots of fringe cases – don’t get me started on the great miniature debate of 2010!). Mostly I consider myself a lead-by-example member of the community with just enough access to the site developers to get some back-end support for the things we need.
RB: Let’s talk more about RPG Geek for minute. I know there are lots of great things happening there that are not happening at other RPG related sites on the internet. Can you tell our readers some of the things that set RPG Geek apart from other sites. Is there anything specific you are most proud of?
DB: I’m most proud of our community. Really the friendliest place I’ve been to discuss gaming of any kind. Very few flare-ups – we have a group of more than 100 self-volunteers known as the RPG Geek Heroes who really set the tone for the site (yes, anyone can join the RPGG Heroes even if you’re new to the site!). We don’t cater to one game – our database and forum structure gives even the smallest niche games the same forum power as the big-hitters. Beyond the community we have well-supported play-by-forum capabilities (complete with one of the most sophisticated die-rollers around which has been adapted to play every RPG imaginable – even the one that uses the Magic-8 ball for conflict resolution). We have a database which supports not only games and supplements but also links in reviews, session reports, podcast coverage and periodical articles – it’s a one-stop shop in finding out everything and anything related to a game (our off-site links make sure we get you everything you need to research a game even if it’s not specifically contained on RPG Geek directly).
RB: Let’s switch gears a little and talk about VirtuaCon. Labeled as “The Best Three Days in Virtual Gaming”, how did the event come about? What makes it tick and succeed for two years now? What does the future hold for VirtuaCon?
DB: The idea was to bring a full-scale convention that could be attended from the comfort of your own home. Someone suggested it in our RPG Gee anonymous suggestion box (and nobody has stepped forward to claim credit) and we ran with the idea. The model we used was loosely inspired by ConTessa. Our first year we had some growing pains – some unanticipated issues and some technical glitches but it was still an amazingly successful 3 days of virtual gaming. The name is a sort of bastardization and homage to the old 3D fighting game called Virtua Fighter and is so named because the tabletop is all virtualized. The second year we applied much of what we had learned – we had industry guests, speaking panels on a variety of geeky topics, contests, puzzles, tons of sponsors and prizes and, of course, piles of games that ran in time-slots world-wide! We have averaged 60 games with a wide-variety of genres and systems. We have settled on using Google Hangouts (with Roll20 or DiceStream apps) to run our games – had plenty of teaching sessions to get people up to speed and we’re really stoked at the direction we’re headed in coming years. Virtuacon 2015 will take place in October – it costs nothing to attend and we would love to see attendance grow this year (we had roughly 350 people “attend” last year).
RB: In your opinion, why does VirtuaCon succeed where others have struggled?
DB: Part of the answer is simple – we saw what others were doing and did more of the things that seemed to work. If we have seen further, it is only because we have stood on the shoulders of Stone Giants. The other part of the answer is that we have a stable community behind the event – our GMs (and the majority of our players) are people we interact with on a regular basis. They are highly likely to be reliable – showing up for their games on time and they are going to be prepared (both for the game and the technology). In short, the event succeeds because of the community behind it.Dave on Virtuacon wrote:The best advice I can give is to urge people
to jump in and come for some part (no matter how
small) of the virtual weekend.
RB: Do you have any advice for our reader that might be considering attending VirtuaCon, virtually that is, this year? Maybe some advice for those that might be interested in being GMs?
DB: The best advice I can give is to urge people to jump in and come for some part (no matter how small) of the virtual weekend. People who were on the fence and decided to come were surprised at how much fun they had – how close it felt to a real convention and the new friendships that followed. The people you meet have a home base back on RPG Geek – so you can, if you choose, interact with those you got along with again. The event can only succeed with participation and everyone who attends helps ensure that there will be future endeavours.
As far as running a game at Virtuacon – my advice would be to join RPG Geek first and get integrated and established with the community before running a game. A large number of the players come from RPG Geek (though we welcome any interested folks) and having an established presence is a sure way to have your game get the requisite number of players to run.
RB: Now, let’s talk about Dave, the gamer. When did you begin gaming and what are some of your fondest gaming memories?
DB: My family grew up playing games – checkers, chess, cribbage and various forms of Rummy. I recall playing Trivial Pursuit every Friday night with the family – super fun at least until someone questioned the validity of the answer and a family argument would ensue that would sometimes derail the game. In 1980 I saw my first Dungeons and Dragons book. In 1981 I got my very own Box Set (the Tom Moldvay box / Erol Otus cover). I had a mix of Basic and Advanced D&D and never really understood the difference sufficiently (I mixed and matched rules as was my whim). I was almost always the Dungeon Master though I did play in some other games that were beyond silly (players starting at or near god-level). I remember one munchkin player who had a country full of arrows and a portable hole that he could reach into to pull any one specific arrow out. I was more of a low level player – looking to stay alive when dog-faced kobolds came charging! To each, their own. In 1983 we tried some other systems – Gamma World and Star Frontiers were favorites. We liked Star Frontiers enough that some friends and I developed a game called Strike Force which we played for almost 2 decades (the 9th Edition is up on RPG Geek now). By the time 2nd edition AD&D came along I was not playing much anymore – and I didn’t get back into the hobby until Wizards released 3rd edition (I read the 3e books but didn’t start playing/GMing again until 3.5). My D&D group is still going strong a decade later playing every other Thursday. We have since switched to Pathfinder and are enjoying channeling our 12-year-old-selves again.
RB: What are some of your favorite RPGs, new or old?
DB: Pathfinder. Basic D&D (anything from the early 80s or earlier), Dungeon World. Gamma World. Dungeon Crawl Classics. Prime Time Adventures. FATE. Mutants & Masterminds. Star Frontiers. System isn’t all that important – a good GM and fun players make the game. Similarly, a bad GM or uninterested players can kill even the best system. I’ll play almost anything with the right group. I’ll avoid my favorites with the wrong group.
RB: Do you enjoy playing board games? If so, what type of games and why? If not, why?
DB: As mentioned, I grew up playing lots of traditional boardgames and cardgames. Cribbage, Monopoly, Chess, Rummy of all kinds, Stop Thief, Risk among others. I became heavily involved in the German/Euro boardgame scene in the late 90s and had amassed quite a collection of newer games (some favorites include Union Pacific, RA, Liar’s Dice, Princes of Florence, I’m the Boss, Shadow Hunters, Lost Cities, Castle Ravenloft, Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride). My current favorite boardgame is Riichi (Japanese) Mahjong which I’ve been enamored with for a few years now. I’m happy to play almost any boardgame so long as it’s not overly long – my cutoff is about 120 minutes tops (and prefer 90 minutes or less). With RPGs I can play all day long!
RB: Others have mused that board games do not give them the same satisfaction that playing a roleplaying game gives them. Do you find this to be the case as well?
DB: There are plenty of boardgames that provide RPG-like elements. Shadow Hunters, The D&D boardgames (Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt), Shadows over Camelot and the like, but generally those games don’t provide the same level of freedom of choice that a wide-open RPG can provide. With a boardgame you can explore what’s on the board. In an RPG you can always say, “What’s over that next hill?” and the GM can say “Let’s go find out!”.
RB: How often do you get to game these days and is the gaming face to face, virtually or a little of both? Which medium do you prefer and why?
DB: My Pathfinder group meets every other week. My Sunday OSR group meets every other Sunday Morning (we are playing “Sunday Mornings in Hell” as we romp through Michael Curtis’ Stonehell Dungeon). I play boardgames only at big events now – which is a few times a year.
RB: What do you enjoy playing these days?
DB: Anything, really. So long as it’s with the right people. A near perfect day would be a morning of Riichi Mahjong followed by lunch and then RPGs from afternoon into early evening.
RB: Please tell our readers what three industry or hobby personalities you would love to see interviewed by Rolling Boxcars and why.
DB: Really hard to choose… but I’ll go (without explanation) with: Michael Curtis. Frank Mentzer. Alan Moon. Have fun with those three
Dave, thank you for taking the time to allow me to interview you. You are very kind to entertain the request. I hope our readers have gotten a little insight into what makes the ‘Geek” tick and who Dave is. Also, thank you for the advice about VirtuaCon; it is sounds and on point! Dave knows I have a special affinity for VirtuaCon. Virtuacon saved my interest in RPGs at time when I could not game locally! I know I would love to see the “Geek”, the community we call home grow and continue to be even more prosperous.
Want to learn more about RPG Geek? Come on over and visit us here! The site is very well organized, but as with everything these days, there is a slight learning curve. There are folks like Dave, myself and all the other volunteers at RPG Geek that are standing by to help new folks get acclimated and enjoy all the aspects of the site. Need help, just ask!
- [+] Dice rolls
06 Jun 2015
In its nomination for the Diana Jones Award in 2006, the Game Chef design contest is praised highly: Each year the competition has spawned a number of powerful, widely diverse RPGs and semi-RPGs and is now one of the best break-in points for new game designers and small press publishers. One of its strongest features is its development of a community of review and interest in one another’s projects. Game Chef now serves, effectively, as a grass-roots equivalent of the Origins Awards.
That was in 2006. Since then, the competition has evolved, spread into new communities (and indeed, continents), and generally grown better. Game Chef 2015 will start on June 13, so I took the opportunity to interview one of the global coordinators of Game Chef (the other being Rachael Storey Burke). Let's welcome Josh Jordan on stage!
Josh, please tell us a bit about yourself!
Many years ago I lived in Japan: a pet of my master Yoshi, mimicking his movements from my cage and learning the mysterious art of Ninjitsu, for Yoshi was one of Japan's finest shadow warriors.
Now, I'm a talking mutant rat who is raising four turtles. But to the untrained eye, I look like a high school English teacher in rural Texas.
How did you get into gaming?
My parents and grandparents play boardgames and card games. I’ve been playing those since before I could hold my own cards.
In junior high, my brother and I started playing Palladiums' Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness with some neighbor kids. We quickly added superhero roleplaying games and the occasional D&D. I’ve been roleplaying ever since.About organizing Game Chef, Josh wrote:I like the opportunity to inspire new and unusual
games about a particular theme. I like being able to
observe hundreds of talented designers as they work.
It’s as if I have a backstage pass to several geniuses’ desks.
What does gaming mean to you? What role does it play for you?
Gaming in general is a great way to spend time with friends and family. Roleplaying gaming is one of my favorite kinds of storytelling. It has the added benefit that it is collaborative. It is storytelling you do together with friends.
You’ve designed a few games (e.g. Heroine, Doll, or the recent No Longer With Us, co-designed with Dymphna Coy and published in Worlds Without Master #8). Why do you design games?
I design games because it is a fun creative outlet. But more importantly, I design games to help people play stories they haven't played before. I've also designed some of my games, like Heroine, to suit the play styles of specific friends or family members.
For Heroine, your game for telling the story of a young heroine visiting another world, you’ve chosen a stunning visual design by using photos from J. R. Blackwell. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen photography used for illustrations in fantasy gaming (apart from bigger IP brands like e.g. the Lord of the Rings). What inspired you to go for photographs?
I love art. I love creating new and beautiful things. It makes sense to me that game books should be as beautiful as the stories they help us create. At least the bigger budget ones should be. I have nothing against a cheap, simple layout when a designer feels that is the best format for her game.
JR Blackwell is a friend. I love her work. Her beautiful portraits of people with diverse body types, especially her portraits of women, is a great fit to the theme of Heroine. She does a lot of storytelling through the scenes she creates in her photos. I am very happy to have worked with her. I love the way the photos turned out for Heroine and for Shoshana Kessock’s Dangers Untold, which I edited and published.
How did you get into game design, and what were and are your biggest struggles?
Let me tell you a secret. My back story is the least interesting part of my games. I'm a middle class, white, American man. There's nothing about my personal history that isn't true of a dozen other game designers, (except that I'm a licensed Baptist preacher, I guess.) My biggest struggle has always been to complete a project without getting distracted by the next great idea. I love starting projects. I love editing them. I love releasing them. But I tend to get distracted when my projects are about 40% finished. That’s when I start to have ideas for the next big project. Curse my brain!
Is there a common theme underlying your game designs, a shared topic linking them?
Yes. I dare you to play my games and figure out what it is!
What made you decide to become a publisher? And why did you choose the name Ginger Goat?
Ginger Goat is a bit of a pun. I have brown hair, but I have a naturally red (ginger) goatee.
I became a publisher in order to share my games with more people (and to break even or make a profit while doing so).
You run a podcast, Tell Me Another. It is “about all kinds of storytellers and the stories they tell”. That sounds pretty broad, but looking at the names of recent guests, it seems as if storytelling as it relates to gaming features prominently in the show, doesn’t it?
I would say that my interest is in all kinds of collaborative storytelling. I believe game designers can learn from comedians and poets can learn from preachers. Novelists can learn from radio drama scriptwriters. Etc. Many of the collaborative storytellers we have had on the show have been game designers, partly because they are my heroes and partly because I know several of them.Quote:One of my goals for Game Chef this year is
to have over a hundred participants who are
first-time designers. Of those, I sincerely hope
that many are women, that many are people
of color, and that many are not from the US.
Storytelling and gaming is also an academic interest of yours, is that right? Do you have a research project related to these topics?
I am interested in pursuing a PhD in collaborative storytelling, but I am still trying to find the right program. I need to make sure I can take care of my family at the same time. There are some tempting programs in Denmark and Wales, and I'm always open to suggestion.
In other words, there’s a potential doctorate in this area, one or two years from now.
Meanwhile, I have a day job. I teach English Literature to high school students. My interest in storytelling serves me well as we talk about short stories and novels. It also serves me surprisingly well when I teach my students how to write persuasive essays.
How are your experiences regarding gaming and designing shaped by your race and gender?
As a white man, I feel that my race and gender are over-represented in games and in game design. One of my design goals is to make stories about other kinds of people. I love stories about women. I love stories about cultures other than my own, (as long as they aren’t exploitative or exoticizing.)
As a member of the gaming community, one of my goals is to encourage under-represented people to get into the hobby, as players and as designers. One of my goals for Game Chef this year is to have over a hundred participants who are first-time designers. Of those, I sincerely hope that many are women, that many are people of color, and that many are not from the US. In fact, if you are a participant in Game Chef who is a first-time designer, I encourage you to contact me personally so that I can tell you how awesome you are. (If you are participating in a language-community other than English, I may not be able to give you very specific feedback, but I’ll sure try!) First-time designers who participate in Game Chef can contact me on Twitter as @joshtjordan or on Google+ as +JoshTJordan if you would like a little encouragement or hand-holding.
You’ve recently taken on the global organization of Game Chef. That game design contest has grown from a comparatively small event and is now spanning across continents. Can you tell us a bit about the contest and its goals?
Game Chef is an annual game design competition. Each year, the coordinators select one theme and four ingredients. Participants get nine days to create a brand-new tabletop roleplaying game, board or card game, or other analog game.
What does it take to participate?
Everyone can participate in Game Chef, whether you’re a seasoned game designer or have never designed a game before. We welcome designers of all experience levels from all walks of life. I personally encourage first-time game designers to give Game Chef a try. As global coordinator, I’m most excited with helping people who have never designed a game.
Participants design and submit a playable draft of an analog (non-video) game by June 21st, inspired by the theme and ingredients announced on June 13th. Historically most Game Chef games have been tabletop roleplaying games or live action games, but participants should feel free to push the boundaries of what counts as a roleplaying game, an analog game, or a game.
Each participant will also review four games that others submit, and this peer-review process will determine finalists. A winner for each language that Game Chef runs in will be declared, though the real victory is completing a game in the first place.Quote:I design games to help people play stories they haven't played before.
What appeals to you about organizing the Game Chef? What activities fall to you?
Together with my co-coordinator, Rachael Storey Burke, I’m responsible for selecting the theme and ingredients that will inspire this year’s participants to create their games. Rachael and I are also responsible for organizing the various language-community coordinators. This year, Game Chef runs simultaneously in the following language communities: Brazilian Portuguese, English, French, Italian, Korean, Polish, and Russian.
Several things appeal to me about organizing Game Chef. I like the opportunity to inspire new and unusual games about a particular theme. I like being able to observe hundreds of talented designers as they work. It’s as if I have a backstage pass to several geniuses’ desks. I like working with Rachael and the language community coordinators in order to build a sense of community among the participants. And finally, as I’ve mentioned before, I really like encouraging people to try their hand at designing a game for the first time. New designers come up with some of the most interesting games, because no one has told them that their idea is impossible.
Are you still looking for help? How can people willing to support the contest do so?
That’s a great question. There are three good ways to help.
First, join the online Game Chef community in your language. It may be a Google+ community or a Facebook group. It probably also has a presence on Twitter and through email. Make friends and encourage other people, especially new designers.
Second, spread the word about Game Chef. Post about it online, tell your friends, and talk to your local gaming group about it. Point them to http://game-chef.com or to @game_chef on Twitter for more information.
Third, when you participate in Game Chef, make sure you give other participants feedback on their games. Even before the peer-review process, many participants post early drafts of their games. Give encouraging feedback on those drafts and answer the specific questions that the designers are asking about their games. They don’t need you to design their game for them but they probably have specific areas where they want your input.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions, Josh! Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thank you, Jonas. I’ve enjoyed speaking with you.
The only thing I’ll add is that Rachael and I are very friendly. I promise we don’t bite. People shouldn’t be afraid to reach out online or to stop us at a convention to say hello.Game Chef(GameChef)
Visit http://game-chef.com/game-chef-2015/ to find links to the GC communities in several languages. You can contact Josh via the social media links given above, or send a geekmail to his RPGGeek account.
You can also contact Rachael through gamechefglobalgmail.com
Josh has been interviewed for RPGGeek by Steve less than two years ago, but while there may be some overlap, I believe both our interviews are interesting and worth your time.
- [+] Dice rolls
I had the opportunity and pleasure to interview Whitney Beltrán about her research (larp and archetypes; and games as a means for preserving myths and passing them on) and her upcoming game (Bluebeard's Bride, co-designed with Sarah Richardson and Marissa Kelly). We also talked about how to diversify our hobby: a wider range of games and people to play with.
Throughout this interview, we're using the spelling "analogue" instead of "analog" (as in "not-digital").
Whitney, would you please introduce yourself to those of us who don’t know you? Who are you, what do you do?
Whitney "Strix" Beltrán. In gaming circles I go by Strix. I’m an academic and a PhD student who studies mythology, psychology, and play. I’m currently doing research on larp for Carnegie Mellon’s game lab at their Human Computer Interaction Institute. I also work and consult in the creative industry. I do script doctoring in Hollywood, and work with a variety of publishers in analogue role-playing game design across the United States. I’m very active in the gaming community as a minority advocate, and my advocacy crosses over into mainstream non-profit work as well. I like to surf and listen to J-pop. I’m obsessed with Bollywood movies. I am a mind slave to a Siamese cat.
How did you get into games? Are there more gamers in your family?
I got into games because of my mother. She cultivated my imagination very strongly when I was a child. She was a Lord of the Rings fanatic long before it was cool. When I was born she even wanted to name me Arwen! But my father didn’t agree with her because he thought I’d be picked on in school. She used to read me folktales and myths from all over the world when I was a kid. Some of my particular favorites were those like The Seven Chinese Brothers or Hiawatha. She’s also the person that brought our first Nintendo into the house, and was the one that played it the most. Games and stories have always been a part of my life. It makes sense that I would be so driven to put them together. If RPGs had been around when my mother was younger, I have no doubt she would have been all over it.
I started playing video games before I could even walk. When home computers rolled around and I finally had access to the internet at around age 13, that’s when I began playing text based RPGs online. I played my first in-person tabletop RPG when I was 15, my first larp when I was 19. It’s all part of the same fabric though.
What excites you about games, and what type of games do you prefer?
We all go through phases. At one point online freeform RPGs were my favorite, hand down. Then I was singularly devoted to World of Warcraft for six years. Then I had a strong stint with Dungeons & Dragons, switched over to running Legend of the Five Rings larps, came back to playing a variety of traditional tabletop games, discovered the indie scene, and now I’m somewhere in a muddled middle. In regards specifically to analogue games, I currently enjoy splitting my time between indie tabletop, larps, and the emergent American freeform genre.Strix wrote:A lot of what drives me
is the desire to help
minority groups keep their
cultural wealth alive.
I love beating the tar out of people in video games like SoulCalibur or League of Legends, but I want something else from my RPGs. When it comes to role-playing games I am always about the story. Telling a good story through play puts me on cloud nine. I’m definitely attracted to creating poignant moments. I think this is why my characters die so often! Games make a safe space for us to experience things we otherwise wouldn’t in real life. I see RPGs as an access point to exploring the breadth and depth of humanity. Not only that, but we get to create in concert with other people, weaving the threads of our adventures together. I find that terribly exciting! It’s beautiful to create a story through play with another person. And it’s very addictive too.
We’re probably carrying owls to Athens here, but why did you adopt the nickname “Strix”?
What can I say? I’m a geek. In my early teens I kept to myself, and any time I was faced with a compulsory social situation I stuffed my nose in a book to avoid getting bullied. For a while the only time I really talked to people was online. This was back in the days of Instant Messenger. Online I was a different person, and I was always the last one up chatting. I was quite an insomniac, actually. My friends online correctly perceived that I was a total night owl, and that’s where the nickname comes from. Strix is Latin for owl (because of course geeky teenagers think Latin is cool). It is also synonymous with “witch” and there is a rather dark Greek myth that goes along with the name. I could tell it at length, if you like, but suffice it to say it involves a blood thirsty Thracian princess out for revenge against the gods because Aphrodite made her sleep with a bear. She and her half bear sons start eating house guests and Hermes turns her into an owl as punishment. Pretty badass, actually. Anyway, the name has stuck ever since then.
Badass indeed. Thanks for the night owl explanation, though I’ll admit I assumed that the connection to myth came first, given your interest in mythology. Is there a mythological tradition that holds a special place in your heart, or that you focus on in your studies?
The living traditions of Central and South America are the mythological systems that are the nearest and dearest to me. I served in the Peace Corps in Ecuador, and my experiences there are what led me to pursue mythology at a professional level. I’ve always had an interest, but I had come in with an environmental policy degree and plans to become a lawyer or work for the EPA. That all changed after spending time with the storytellers and shamans among the remote areas where I worked. While I was there I took up cultural preservation work, and was very privileged to have access to myths and stories I have never seen recorded anywhere else.
The situation with indigenous cultures around the world is very dire. Far too many are under threat of extinction as local languages and traditions are lost. And not an eventual extinction, we’re talking a time gap as little as 40 years. A global monoculture isn’t good for anybody, and a lot of what drives me is the desire to help minority groups keep their cultural wealth alive. So when I came back from Ecuador the question burned in me. What do I do? How do I do this? It was then that I decided to throw myself into the academy full tilt.Strix wrote:One way to keep the mythic knowledge and stories
of cultures under threat of erosion and extinction
living, breathing, and reiterating is through
narrative play via analogue and/or digital mediums.
Your research questions include psychological processes in larp. Why are you using models from Jungian depth psychology to describe how the engagement with archetypes has effects on our personality?
I often joke that I’m the most Jungian non-Jungian you’ll ever meet. I’m not a Jungian, and Jung definitely has some problems, but I find his model so apt for application to larp that I simply cannot resist exploring the implications. The study of larp is also so nascent that we don’t really have any established models to talk about it with at an academic level. There are a lot of people doing groundwork, but we don’t yet have a cannon. If we want to understand what larp is, what it does, we have to start somewhere. We have to have a language with which to speak, even if it isn’t a perfect language. That’s why in addition to Jung, I often borrow from ritual studies and theories of play.
What aspect of Jung’s theory do you find suitable for modeling your larp theories?
Specifically, Jungian notions of active imagination and archetypal patterns within human psychology.
Is your PhD also on these research topics, or does it have a different focus?
My PhD topic is...complicated. And not entirely sussed out out. I’ve recently passed my comprehensive exams, but I’m still some time away from a proposal proper. PhDs take a long time. My thesis has already taken several quantum leaps, and I’m sure it will take a few more. What I am essentially working on is this: I am looking for ways to preserve the mythic knowledge and stories of cultures under threat of erosion and extinction. Not just preserve, but keep them living, breathing, and reiterating.
I posit that one way to do this is through narrative play via analogue and/or digital mediums. The issue at hand is that the old transmission method is failing. Oral traditions no longer work where, for example, grandparents speak a different language than their grandchildren. That’s something I saw a lot of in Ecuador. Or children go away from their communities to go to school, and would rather play video games and chat online at internet cafes than sit at home. I don’t want to over generalize, but we are seeing big gaps between generations in a lot of areas. So what to do?
This is where my work in psychology and gaming comes in, and this is also where I think my fellow RPG nerds will really get it. When you play a narrative game, a game that tells a story, it’s like watching a movie, but deeper. Why? Because when you play you actively engage with the story. You invest in it, reach out to it, and in some ways it reaches back out to you. This is something we call active imagination. I was raised Catholic, but I couldn’t tell you the 12 stations of the cross off the top of my head. However, I can tell you everything there is to know about Lolth, the spider goddess of the Drow in Dungeons & Dragons. Or Farore, Din and Nayru, the deities of the The Legend of Zelda franchise. That is because I spent a lot of time actively engaging them with my imagination, through games. Not only that, but also engaging with other people to create the story.
I'm reminded of a video game released last year, Never Alone (Kisima Ingitchuna), which was created in collaboration with Iñupiat storytellers, Alaska natives. Is that what you have in mind?
Actually, I was just about to bring that up! Never Alone is a very good example of the type of work I’m talking about. I think one of the most important things about this type of project is that it has to have a strong co-design element. If you’re working with a minority population, the work has to be done with them, and in service to their needs, not for them and for the benefit of status quo consumers.
You are also doing research for Carnegie Mellon. What’s that about?
My work with Carnegie Mellon is very cutting edge. They just opened a game lab out of their Human-Computer Interaction department, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with one of the lab’s co-leaders, Dr. Jessica Hammer. We’re conducting research on technology and larp, with some very interesting finding so far.
Sounds cool. What are those findings?
I can’t tell you yet! The finding will be published some time late this year. However, there’s been some interesting hints at complex relationships between social stratification and the types of games people seek out to play.
We'll be patient and wait, then. Does the academic perspective sometimes distract from or add to your enjoyment of games?
You know, it’s all one piece for me. I’m an academic because I enjoy thinking, theorizing, and researching. It’s a constant thing that’s integrated with my daily life. If anything, my academic life adds to my enjoyment of games, because I’m always trying to puzzling out what’s going on with them as I play them.
You are currently co-designing Bluebeard’s Bride with Sarah Richardson and Marissa Kelly. What was the initial spark for this game?
It’s kind of a funny story. I’m good friends with Mark Diaz Truman of the IGDN (Indie Game Developer Network). He and a few others hosted a hacking as women event at Gen Con this last year and he made me promise to come. It was at the end of a long day and I had been cosplaying in a complicated corseted outfit, so I was tapped out and kind of grumpy! I schlepped into the hacking event feeling super not into it. However, by the time the event was over I was jazzed about what had gone down.
I was randomly paired with Sarah to come up with something and we found we both had an interested in fairy tales. I was like hey, let’s write a game about Bluebeard! It just felt right to both of us and we jumped in from there. Marissa was originally just supposed to mentor our development work during the hacking event, but she got wrapped up in it too. It was very compelling. By the end all three of us agreed that we would keep working on it, and here we are now! We’ve done several playtests and are in talks with Magpie Games for its release.
What is the game about?
If anyone is not familiar with the fairy tale of Bluebeard I would encourage them to go read the different interpretations of it around the web. It’s one of the more twisted fairy tales out there. Basically, Bluebeard is a rich nobleman who has had a bunch of wives who have mysteriously faded into the background. He plucks up a young virgin from her village and makes her his new bride. He brings her to his mansion and gives her the keys to every room, but he points out the smallest key on the ring and says, “That room you must never enter. Never!” And then he conveniently leaves on an extended business trip.Strix wrote:The genre of feminine horror is
virtually untapped in the gaming
world. We’d like to fix that.
This is, of course, a psychological trap. She explores the mansion and finally is compelled into that last room, where she finds the bodies of all the previous brides. He shows back up right then, and there is a confrontation. There are several variants to the fairy tale, so how it ends depends on who you’re listening to. My preferred variant is the one in which Bluebeard cuts off her head. This is of course very grim, but to me it is appealing because it underlines the violence present in feminine horror.
In our game you play pieces of the bride’s psyche, archetypal figures like the witch, the animus, the mother, and they have to navigate the mansion and find out what the deal is with Bluebeard. Does he love the bride? Is she safe there? Of course the mansion itself is also a metaphor for the bride’s own mind.
How does the design process between the three of you work? Can you give us an example of a design choice you had to make, and how you reached a decision?
We do work in two ways. One way is that we have weekly video meetings to discuss progress, outline goals, and make major decisions. Then we divvy things up into individual homework, or make email threads to discuss an issue at length, and we bring all that back to the next weekly meeting. Our meetings are very structured. We have a written agenda and three roles that we trade off on; facilitator, time keeper, and note taker. It works very well.
We make decisions by consensus. We were having issues in play-test with a particular Sister (one of the archetypes) and two of us felt it needed to be cut. The one who came up with the archetype listened to what we had to say, and then together all three of us decided to take it out of play, at least for now. Consensus is sometimes hard to reach, you have to be willing to give and take a lot, but when we make sure everyone agrees before moving on it provides a really solid foundation to work from.
Since we’ve touched upon the relevance of stories for ourselves and our communities, let’s take a look at the mythic or archetypal level of your game. What would you say can we experience with Bluebeard’s Bride?
That’s an interesting question. For us, the game is about feminine horror, designed from a feminine perspective. That means dealing with issues of agency, power, the need to be loved, being trapped in an impossible situation. If we think about it on a mythic level, consider the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. It’s a very masculine story about masculine power, and how Theseus goes into the labyrinth and slays the Minotaur. But a woman’s story is different. In a woman’s story the labyrinth is your home and the Minotaur is your husband. You may not have the power or the physical strength to kill him. What then? How do you live? What does it mean?
I see Bluebeard’s Bride as a way to take the desperate narrative of feminine horror and shrink it down to a manageable bite size. Putting it in a game makes it safe, or at least safer. You can play the game and feel super creeped out in a good way (I have), or maybe you can use it to find context in your previous lived experiences. What I do know is that the genre of feminine horror is virtually untapped in the gaming world. We’d like to fix that, because there’s a lot of interesting stuff in that box.
You’re listed as a stretch goal writer for Dead Scare, a game by Elsa S. Henry that was recently successful on kickstarter. The game is using the popular Powered by the Apocalypse. But what is Dead Scare about?
Dead Scare is cool! It’s essentially a pun on “red scare.” It focuses on 1950s housewives during the United State’s deep enmity with the Soviets. A biological weapon is dumped on suburbia and people start turning into Zombies. It’s up to them to save the day.
And what are these “postcard” stretch goals? Are they effectively scenarios for Dead Scare?
They’re setting snapshots. My own postcard will focus on the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Once known as Black Wall Street, it was razed in a terrible race riot in 1921. And by race riot, I mean white people went into Greenwood and burnt it to the ground. It was once one of the most prosperous minority communities in America, and it never recovered. The stories of women from Greenwood would be drastically different than the typical white housewife with a picket fence and a chrome toaster, which is why I wanted to have them told.
You are part of the Gaming as Other initiative, working towards a more inclusive culture in our hobby. How are your own experiences in the RPG community shaped by your race and gender?
That’s tough to answer succinctly. Over the years I’ve gotten it from both angles, for being brown and for being a woman. At times it’s been very unpleasant. But on the other hand I love this community and I want to make it an awesome place to be, no matter who you are.
I know that my lived experiences have greatly shaped my viewpoint, and that my viewpoint is different from the typical status quo gamer. In the early days I just kept my head down and pretended to be like everybody else, but I was missing something. I was yearning for stories that I recognized as my own. Now I am much more proactive about bringing inclusive culture into gaming, and about engaging in telling minority stories myself.
You are also part of the Different Play initiative. What’s that about, and what is your part in it?
Different Play is the brainchild of James Stuart. He approached me last year about forming an organization dedicated to fostering the development of diversity in analogue gaming. His idea was to take relatively new designers from diverse backgrounds, give them mentoring and access to people who could, say, lay out their game and such, and then actually pay these designers for their product. So of course I said yes!
We started out with four designers and a Patreon page, and it’s gone really well from there. We needed a minimum of $400 support per project in order to make it all work, and as of right now we’re sitting at more than double that. Some of these games will be coming out really soon, and I’m very much looking forward to it.Strix wrote:It’s beautiful to create a story through play with another person. And it’s very addictive too.
What can I (or anybody) do to make gaming more inclusive?
I could teach a whole class on that! Gaming as Other has a lot of resources devoted to this, so taking the time to check them out on my website wouldn’t hurt. But for now, here are a few concrete tips:
Direct invitation. This is the biggest one. Reach out specifically to people and invite them to your game, your play space, your community, to write for you, or whatever else. A lot of us are so used to being ignored that without a direct invitation we won’t believe you actually want us there.
Showcase diversity prominently. Women and other minorities are often very adept at reading for cues as to whether a certain space will be safe and welcoming. If the primary points of contact are all white dudes, this is a subtle sign that they may not be welcome there, or will have major problems feeling comfortable.
Do not tolerate bad actors. In your community do you have That Guy? The one that tells misogynistic jokes that nobody actually laughs at, or says things like, “Don’t worry, you're not one of those Mexicans.” Well guess what, That Guy disproportionately affects people who are already marginalized and may have a hard time speaking up for themselves. Including That Guy is not the type of inclusivity we’re talking about here.
Play different kinds of games. Everyone enjoys a good murder hobo expedition, but that’s really only one kind of story, and maybe not one that everyone can identify with very well. Try specifically focusing some games on the types of stories that wouldn’t normally be told. Some examples would be Night Witches, a game about badass Soviet airwomen during WWII, or How We Came to Live Here, a game modeled off of First Nation and Native American mythology. A lot can be accomplished by simply changing the setting as well.
Media representation. This is especially for game designers and artists. Put minority folks in you games! Show us that we’re welcome and that we belong by acknowledging that we exist. When we see ourselves in the games that we are playing it goes a long way towards making gaming more inclusive.
Thanks for taking the time for my many questions and sharing your views - I enjoyed our conversation very much! Is there anything you'd like to add?
It’s been a pleasure, Jonas. Coming up I’ll be a stretch goal writer for Epyllion, Marissa Kelly’s fantastic game about playing baby dragons. I’m also working on some game related academic essays and papers that hopefully will be seeing publication some time this year. This includes stuff related to the research I’ve been doing at Carnegie Mellon, so I’m excited! If anybody wants to keep up with what I’m doing they should follow me on Twitter (@the_strix) or add me on Google+. Thank you again!
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Just over a month ago, Pelgrane Press announced a new regime.
I've had the great pleasure to talk with Pelgrane's new managing director about
gaming, diversity, bringing horrors into the world - and Fear Itself!
Hi Cat! Would you please be so kind to introduce yourself to our readers? Who are you?
Hey Jonas! I’m Cat Tobin, and I’m the managing director and co-owner of Pelgrane Press, a London-based tabletop RPG publisher.
Congratulations on becoming managing director and co-owner of Pelgrane Press recently! What change does this actually mean for you personally, and for Pelgrane as a whole?
Thanks very much! For me personally, this is the realisation of a life goal. While I’ve always had a strong engagement with roleplaying as my primary hobby, this has given me a sense of engagement with the RPG industry that I didn’t have before.
I believe that the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts. With two partners running Pelgrane Press, I think that we’ll have more scope to develop and grow the business - we’ve published a number of award-winning games, and it’s time to take them to the next level.
Good luck with that! But before we talk more about Pelgrane, let’s keep focused on you for a moment. How did you get into gaming?
My university’s roleplaying society ran a freshers’ event called Assassins, based on Steve Jackson Games’ Killer. I’d never heard of roleplaying, but Assassins sounded like fun, so I went along to the society’s introductory session to see what it was about. When I went back for the second session, I was put into an RPG (FASA’s Star Trek: The Role Playing Game (FASA)), and the concept of roleplaying blew my mind - I was instantly hooked!
What led you to pursue gaming and games as a job, and how did you arrive at Pelgrane Press?
I’m incredibly passionate about games, and roleplaying games in particular. I think play is so important to us as creative beings, and sadly undervalued by society. I worked in finance for a long time, but I’d spend every minute I could steal writing adventures and working on games, so it became clear to me that I was never going to be professionally satisfied until I was working in the games industry.
I’d done some voluntary work with indie RPG publishers before, so I knew a bit about publishing. Most of my experience in the industry came from running RPG conventions like Warpcon, K2, and Dragonmeet, which is where I met Simon. We talked there about running a Pelgrane Press convention, so I started following Pelgrane’s news, and when the vacancy came up for Beth’s job, I applied for it.
Sounds like a win-win situation for both sides! Touching on a serious subject: How are your own experiences in the RPG community shaped by your race and gender?
I always think about John Scalzi’s excellent post about privilege, and I’m aware that as a white person, I’m playing life on the lowest difficulty setting for race. However, as a woman in gaming, I’m constantly aware of my status as an “other”. Like most women, I’ve experienced gendered harassment in gaming. I’ve had to fight hard to be listened to, and respected, as an equal. Plus, I’ve had to challenge some odd assumptions over the years. Examples are that I only game because a partner does; that I can’t be expected to know as much about gaming as men; that I can’t be a “real gamer”; that my opinions, beliefs, and failings can be generalised to all women, or that other women speak for me. I believe that our little corner of the geekosphere is becoming more inclusive of women, and traditionally underrepresented groups, but I think we still have a way to go.
You’re right, there’s still a lot of ground to cover. I’m sorry you and many others have to experience gendered harassment, and I’m aware it’s up to me (and everyone of us) to contribute to a change for the better, and address the sexist aspects of our culture which we all share - I’m not excluding myself here. - But let’s take a look at Pelgrane Press: Like some other companies, Pelgrane publishes soundtracks for many of their games. Ten years ago, RPG soundtracks were much less common. Is that a growing trend on the market?
I think so, as GMs (and players) are incorporating a lot more multimedia into their games in general. We’ve seen a big rise in online character sheet storage, virtual tabletops, using Google image searches and maps, and I think that’s definitely going to continue as the technology improves. We’re very lucky to have the talented composer James Semple as part of our team, so we’re definitely going to continue producing soundtracks.
While I tend to enjoy listening to RPG soundtracks, I have to admit I haven’t yet used them at the table. Do you use music when gaming?
I do most of my tabletop GMing at conventions, which aren’t great for using music, but I very often use music in larps that I run - particularly atmospheric music and sound effects. We use music a lot in home games I play in. I recently finished (re)playing Masks of Nyarlathotep (3rd & 4th edition) using the 7th edition rules for Call of Cthulhu and we had a pulp soundtrack we used to listen to, which was great for tension, but always made us laugh when the Indiana Jones theme came on!
The 13th Age Bestiary, 13 True Ways, and Dreamhounds of Paris recently were all nominated for the Golden Geek Awards (Best Artwork & Presentation, and Best Supplement) - congrats! But what is in your opinion the most underrated product by Pelgrane Press that deserves more recognition?
Thanks very much! That’s a tough question. Most of my favourite Pelgrane products are award-winning, like Hillfolk and Eternal Lies. However, I’m always surprised that Fear Itself isn’t better recognised - it’s got a great concept, it’s quick and easy to learn, it can produce powerful games of personal horror, and it’s easily adaptable to a wide variety of different settings.
Pelgrane is sponsoring our current RPG Geek DramaSystem Contest (thanks for that). If there was a Series Pitch with Pelgrane Press as the subject matter, what would it contain?
Filling the Void: Every time we publish a new horror book, the creatures in it come to life, and we have to secretly fight them, InSpectres-style. So the themes would be if we should keep publishing, in the light of all the horrors that brings into the world, and whether we have more of a chance defeating Gareth’s, Ken’s or Robin’s monsters!
Nice concept! (I have to admit I’m a fan of InSpectres, so it's easy to win me over for that series pitch...) What can we expect from Pelgrane in the next year or two, monsters or other morsels of gaming goodness? Are there any crowdfunding plans or big releases, do you plan to branch out beyond tabletop role-playing games? Where is Pelgrane heading?
Our primary focus is on roleplaying games, as that’s what we love playing and running. We’ve got two big Kickstarter projects - TimeWatch and the Dracula Dossier - coming out this year. I’m probably the most excited about a very cool book of story games we’re working on, which we’ll be officially announcing online shortly, but will be out in December. Next year, we’ve got The Poison Tree, another epic campaign for Trail of Cthulhu in the vein of Eternal Lies, coming out, which might well be crowdfunded.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
Thanks for interviewing me! We’re big fans of RPG Geek, so keep us posted on what you’re up to.
Thanks for taking your time, and may you be successful - not just with the monsters you encounter and release into the hands of eager gamers!
For anyone interested in our DramaSystem contest, you still have two weeks to send in your submission. Voting will take place in the second half of April; all the details can be found in the thread: [WINNERS ANNOUNCED] RPG Geek DramaSystem Contest 2015.
Also, I can sense a Homegrown event, playing games using the pitches submitted in this contest...
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