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Interview with Matthew J. Hanson of Sneak Attack Press

Matthew J. Hanson is the founder of Savage Worlds licensee Sneak Attack Press. Their latest offering is Kronocalypse.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

Sure thing. I began gaming in the Eighties with the Mentzer red-box edition of Dungeon & Dragons. I always enjoyed creating my own adventures and settings, so at some point I figured why not get paid for it? I started freelancing in the early 2000s during the d20 boom. In 2010 I decided to start my own company, Sneak Attack Press, and we’ve been growing ever since.

Describe Kronocalypse for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

It’s a time-travel mash-up setting where cavemen, wizards, sky pirates, and cyborgs unite to save time itself.

What works of fiction helped inspire Kronocalypse?

The biggest inspiration is the old SNES game Chrono Trigger, which has a similar premise of characters hopping around time. I think it’s currently available on the DS for anybody who hasn’t played it. Beyond that I’m mostly influenced by fiction of the individual eras, so things like Blade Runner for the cyberpunk era, and everything from Lord of the Rings to A Song of Ice and Fire for the fantasy era.

The four genres represented in Kronocalypse are stone age, fantasy, steampunk, and cyberpunk. Were there any reasons for using those specifically?

A few things. First I wanted eras that I thought would be fun to game in and would be fun to write about, which I think all of these are. I also wanted eras that are iconic. You can just say “stone age” and gamers get an idea in their head right away. I also wanted the eras to feel distinct from each other, to help the players keep things straight as the heroes adventure through time.

What aspects of Kronocalypse do you believe cause it to stand out from other multi-genre settings on the RPG market?

I think time travel is really the key, as a lot of multi-genre settings I’ve seen focus more on dimension hopping.

To focus on the time travel theme, one of the major goals is that while it incorporates different genres, I want the setting to still feel like a unified whole. While each age is distinct, there are many threads running between them.

For instance, the dominant religion, called The Faith, exists throughout all eras. It starts as a form of tribal animism in the stone age and evolves to a more structured religion akin to Shintoism by the medieval era. It is still around in the steampunk era, though fewer people believe in the “miracles” the old books talk about. By the cyberpunk age most people consider it an old superstition, but a few true believers still persist.

Families and places also tie the settings together. They’ll see ancestors and descendants of various NPCs through the ages, and watch how locations change and grow.

The characters start near a city called Aberwyvern, which is loosely based on Cardiff, Wales. There’s no city there in the stone age, but by the medieval era, a Duke has built a castle there, and a large town has grown up around it. In the steampunk era, it’s a major industrial city, thanks in large part to the coal deposits nearby. By the cyberpunk age, most of Aberwyvern has been abandoned, as global sea levels have risen, flooding the streets.

One thing many Savage Worlds settings feature is known as a Plot Point Campaign. Will Kronocalypse have one, either in the main setting book or a future supplement? If so, are there any details about it you’re willing to reveal at this time?

Yes, the plot point campaign is a major part of the main book. As the players bounce around in time, they start to notice there are other time travelers out there, many of whom are wreaking havoc on the timeline. As they learn more, they’ll discover that somebody is manipulating things behind the scenes, and the heroes eventually learn that whoever it is seeks to destroy time itself.

I’m being a little vague here for spoiler purposes, but I’ve got an introduction to the big bad guy in the GM’s part of the playtest documents that are currently available to backers of the projects. Backers can access it through the backer-only first update.

If Kronocalypse proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

I want to focus on the main book before solidifying plans for supplements, but I’ve got a few ideas I’ve been brainstorming. I might have books that introduce new eras or that expand upon the current eras. I also have thought about other possible plot point campaigns that use the multiple eras in different ways, such as a flashback campaign, or one where heroes are reincarnated through the ages.

Interview with Rob Jordan of Keep Games

Rob Jordan is the President of Keep Games and Lead Designer behind Labyrintheus.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I’m Rob the lead designer of Labyrintheus. Personally, I’ve been a gamer (board, computer and pen/paper RPG) since I was very young. My favorite games from when I was a child were Heroquest, D&D (First and Second Edition) and Magic: The Gathering. I used to dabble a little in programming and at one point thought that my calling in life was to create video games. But life took hold, and I went a different route getting into data and voice networking. Around 2000 I really started branching out from the normal RPG style games (D&D, Vampire, Werewolf, etc.) into Warhammer 40k and Mage Knight. Then on to non-CCG like Munchkin and Red Dragon Inn. As far as professionally, none. Keep Games is a new venture for me, a chance to actually do what I’m passionate about. A chance to chase a dream and live it!

Describe Labyrintheus for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

For years this King has taken the adventurers and put them up against each other in this magical dungeon called Labyrintheus. And if you can survive Labyrintheus, then you are offered a place in among the King’s Champions, his personal body guards. It’s really a way of finding the best of the best. It’s a card game where you choose your persona, or character you want to be and utilize their special abilities to survive monsters and traps and sometimes the other players. But if the king is bored with you, he will increase the difficulty of everything inside of Labyrintheus to increase the carnage. You use items found from killing monsters or treasure chests to increase your odds of survival. Each persona comes with their own unique monsters, traps and items. So every time you play with a different persona it’s a different experience.

What works of fiction helped inspire Labyrintheus?

Tolkien for one. Roman history as well. Most, if not all, the items in the game has artwork based off of actual items from that time frame. For instance, the Orcs in this world are pretty much the Roman Empire.

What aspects of Labyrintheus do you believe cause it to stand out from other dungeon crawler-style games on the tabletop market?

The art style is fantastic. The Persona Card System is the inventory system and give a unique feel to the game. The Encounter Level Up Cards are very flexible. You can use those to speed up or slow down a game if you desire. The game is playable from 2 to as much as 6 players if you want. We put on the base box 2-4 since it only comes with 4 personas. But with the expansions you can increase that. And increasing that will only increase the time slightly since its time factor is more controlled by the Encounter Level Cards. You could be twenty minutes in and think it’s going to last much longer. Then all of a sudden, wham! Things just got harder. The longer you go the more difficult the game becomes.

If Labyrintheus proves to be successful, are there any additional expansions you would like to release?

When we started designing Labyrintheus we originally came up with between 10-12 personas. We picked four to begin with, but we have plans for others. Each expansion we’ll want to include two additional personas. The first expansion will have a Half-Dragon Paladin and a Halfling Druid in it. Each will introduce a new mechanic to the game and new Encounter and Treasure cards. The expansion after that we are thinking Human Cleric and Gnome Bard. The Encounter cards will also have some of the same mechanics as the other persona decks, but will have new mechanics not already in the game to spice things up.

Interview with Christopher Moyer of Hard Luck Workshop

Christopher Moyer is a member of Hard Luck Workshop and instrumental in the Kickstarter for The Lost Territories RPG.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I’ve been playing RPGs since I was a kid, probably like most of us. I cut my teeth on Dungeons & Dragons when I was in middle school, though the group I played with had to keep it rather secret—all of our parents had bought into the moral panic of the late 80s about how this was an evil hobby for maladjusted people. At sleepovers, we didn’t play until people went to sleep. Or we played on camping trips around a campfire, which was a perfect fit anyway. Later, I moved away from D&D and played a lot of Alternity, another TSR offering—though it came out in 1998, a year after Wizards of the Coast bought D&D. I was in high school by that point. There’s a lot of Alternity influence in The Lost Territories in terms of its mechanics, almost a mash-up of things I think that game did well, things from 4th Edition that work well, and a smattering of mechanics unique to this game. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started following indie games more closely.

Describe The Lost Territories for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

The Lost Territories is for groups who love to immerse themselves in a new world and learn about the way it works. It’s for the players who prefer hatching and executing a good scheme to constant battles. It’s for everyone who likes rules but doesn’t want so many of them that the game has to stop frequently while the Game Master consults the books. It’s also a game that, thematically, is meant to be about forcing characters into difficult choices and situations, situations in which there are not necessarily black and white “good outcomes.” This world is messier than that.

What works of fiction helped inspire The Lost Territories?

Not many. My reading tends to fall strongly along literary lines, a product of my educational and professional background, I suppose. I don’t read a lot of genre fiction. Neil Stephenson’s work has proven influential, though, especially The Diamond Age and Anathema. I do adore comics, and there are several that have inspired the game in small ways, though not so much that anyone is likely to tell. Those include Saga, everything Sandman, The Wake, and Matt Fraction’s run on Immortal Iron Fist.

The Lost Territories features something called celestia, which functions a bit differently from magic in most other RPG settings. Could you elaborate?

Magic, as otherworldly a concept as it is, tends to become a mundane aspect of life in various fantasy universes. It’s a thing a lot of people can use, a thing that’s suffused throughout society. Celestia is a physical substance that occurs in the world of The Lost Territories—typically as a liquid, under certain circumstances as a gas, that is tied to the way the physical world evolves and decays. The inhabitants of the world don’t really understand the specifics and are only now beginning to learn more, and part of the main campaign setting’s appeal is that players can play some role in helping drive those discoveries. Good Game Masters will withhold information about celestia, allowing players to learn more about its nature gradually as they venture out into the places in the world where celestia exists.

All of this said, exposure to celestia can have dramatic effects on living creatures. For many, it may cause unwanted mutations or degradation of mental functions in sentient beings—this is where the game’s monsters come from—and in humans it may also simply result in death. There are some, however, who are exposed to celestia in one of its forms and instead find themselves developing new abilities. With practice, they are able to harness and channel these powers: these are, of course, the skills and abilities Player Characters employ during gameplay.

Celestia is a powerful thing that has yet to be harnessed in the world of the game, and attempts to control and refine it may have very dire consequences: this is one of the game’s primary driving forces.

What other aspects of The Lost Territories do you believe cause it to stand out from other settings on the RPG market?

The setting, most of all. The area of the world known as The Lost Territories (from which the game receives its namesake) is constantly in a state of flux. Landmasses in this region of the world may evolve and decay in the course of days, hours, or minutes, and new species may spring into life in an instant. There are rules for groups to randomly generate the current state of an area in The Lost Territories, though players generally won’t know what they’ve generated. They’ll get some information, depending on certain skillsets (Meteorology, Biology, etc.—nerd skills are extremely valuable.)

Mechanically, we’re not reinventing the wheel in many regards, though there are some aspects people will find new: personality scores, for example (based on the Myers-Briggs model), play a role in character creation. Dice rolling mechanics work a little differently than most games popular right now, too. And as I’ve hinted at before, “nerdy” skills play a more central role than they do in most games of this style—so don’t pass over skills like Chemistry or Tailoring during character creation.

The Lost Territories also uses a classless character system. That’s hardly unique to this game, but it’s worth mentioning.

If The Lost Territories proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

Absolutely. Five of them are already available as stretch goals for the Kickstarter campaign that we’ve just kicked off. If we hit those goals, we’ve got a couple of guest writers ready to write adventure supplements (Kris Straub, David Crennen of the Crit Juice podcast, Michael “ThriftyNerd” DiMauro from Drunks and Dragons, and more to be announced.) We’ll do a compendium of monsters and human enemies at $25,000—”The Encyclopedia of Threats.” There’s also a book called “The Modes of Conveyance” planned, which lets parties geek out on airship technicalities, boat to boat combat, odd steampunk land vehicles, and even controllable golems. We’ve got to meet our initial funding goals before we can even begin to worry about those, though.

Interview with Jesse Galena, writer of Timeline Fracture RPG

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I am a twenty eight year old fiction writer who recently married a wonderful, intelligent woman. I started playing tabletop RPGs ten years ago when a friend introduced it to me in college. A few years after, I began making my own RPG systems for me and my friends. I wanted to play games, use mechanics, and tell stories that I could not find in other games.

Tell us a little about Timeline Fracture and it’s inspiration for it? What experience do you have with it?

The original idea came when I wanted to make an RPG party with a first-generation astronaut, a warrior, and a cyborg. I looked into genre-bending RPGs that already existed, but their rule books were all so massive I was unsure I could convince an entire group of friends to learn such a dense system. I decided to try a different approach.

Everyone I knew who played RPGs has played a game that uses the d20 system. If I made a game using the d20 system, then everyone would already know the core mechanics. I started looking at all of the different d20 games I could find, examining their classes and feats and understanding how my players and myself could use them together. There were already tons of games giving players options for different classes from virtually any timeline. The wealth of possibilities was astounding, and I knew this was the method I would use to create Timeline Fracture.

I wanted to create a world where, rather than jumping from dimension to dimension, the entire planet was made up of disjointed pieces of different worlds from alternate dimensions. This gives the world a strange economy and each land holds an interesting relationship with its neighbors, since they all have a long history but none of them were familiar with the practices or capabilities of the others before they came together. Players can walk across a border from one land to another that is drastically different, but both lands were forced to be part of the new world.

After more research into the d20 system, I ran my first Timeline Fracture game. That was over two years ago. I have run many more Timeline Fracture games and campaigns and done exponentially more research on the d20 system and its different games over the years. Now I have a polished product that I want to share with the gaming community so everyone can enjoy it.

Why does anyone need Timeline Fracture? Can you use d20 books together without it?

Regardless if people like the idea or not, everyone seems to ask this question. The short answer is yes, you need Timeline Fracture or years of researching the differences in d20 games and play testing them to streamline the numerous unexpected problems you will discover so you don’t have to stop your game and search for a solution that is fair to all of your players. You need Timeline Fracture because you need answers to the problems that surface when you mix multiple d20 games together. What do you do when one of your player’s classes get action points but your other players don’t? If anyone can buy a laser rifle that deals 4d6 damage, why wouldn’t everyone in every timeline use a laser rifle instead of a crossbow, pistol, or any other ranged weapon? What’s the exchange rate between gold pieces and galactic-standard currency? How do you resolve a grapple check when two character’s are using two different methods of making the check? Timeline Fracture offers you the solutions.

Another problem Timeline Fracture solves is completely non-mechanical. Let’s say you’re playing a game and you tell your players, “You come to a land with mythical creatures and people who dabble in the arcade. This is a fantasy setting.” One player thinks of Narnia while another thinks of Game of Thrones. Both are fantasy, but they are incredibly different and each player will be expecting something very different. You might have created a fantasy setting that’s not like either of those, but that is still what players will be expecting if they don’t have a clear reference.

Timeline Fracture provides lands with distinct histories, atmospheres and expectations. This allows the GM and all of the players to better understand the world and know what is to be expected in each of the lands they discover.

Why crowdfund Timeline Fracture instead of writing it and releasing it?

Tabletop RPGs are social at their core. A book of mechanics and lore are not very exciting without a group of people to experience it with. When I starting making Timeline Fracture, I had the social interactions with my players about what they liked and what they thought. I wanted to make the final stages of the production process mimic that social interaction and connection with the future players. I wanted to have open dialog with interested gamers, hear their thoughts, and let them help change the game for the better. I wanted to get those who want to be involved involved, and make the game even more enjoyable and personal, for them and all the players, because of it.

What about using elements from games that say they are d20 but have some alternate rules?

When a company makes their idea into a d20 game, they tweak the rules to better suit the feeling they want to capture. They add some things, take other things away, and change a few things. This is great, but it causes problems when everyone isn’t using all of their material from the same book. Some books use different methods of giving players skill points, resolving grapple checks, initiative, and more. Timeline Fracture offers ways to streamline the use of multiple d20 books together, keeping your game from crashing to a halt to find solutions to unexpected problems.

What does the Timeline Fracture setting add to the game play?

Timeline Fracture adds variety, a new, original setting, and the ability to create characters and campaigns that you couldn’t do with any other game. Using Timeline Fracture, you have access to hundreds of classes and thousands of feats to create the most intriguing character you can. You can even cross-class between different books. If you’re new or are only familiar with one d20 game and you don’t want to experiment with using multiple books, you can create a character using a single book and it will fit perfectly into Timeline Fracture.

For the GM, Timeline Fracture offers a world players have not experienced before. This allows the GM to use technology, magic, differing social standards, and other factors of the environment to introduce new challenges for their players to overcome. Having such a variety allows the GM to create new situations in which players cannot rely on their old methods of problem solving to resolve.

Once this Kickstarter is successful, what is next?

I have written a fantasy novel and am looking for an agent, I want to create and release even more material for Timeline Fracture, and I have a new, completely different RPG system to make. What order those get released is not entirely in my control, but they are sure to happen.

 

Interview with RPG Legend, Lester Smith, creator of d6xd6 CORE

core-rpg-adThank you for taking the time out to interview with us.  It is an honor and a privilege.

The privilege is mine! Thanks!

For those that might have been living under a rock, tell us about yourself and your proudest accomplishments in the gaming industry.

Most long-term gamers know me as the designer of Dragon Dice–an Origins award winner–and of the Dark Conspiracy role-playing game. I worked on staff at both GDW and TSR in the late 80s and 90s, and have done freelance work for Shadowrun, Mechwarrior, Star Wars, Deadlands, and many other properties, participating in three other Origins winning products. I was also a reviewer of small-press games for Dragon Magazine for several years. Beyond that, the publication list is pretty long.

For the past decade, I’ve been publishing poets and fiction writers via Popcorn Press–including an annual Halloween anthology for the past five years. Last year I added a half dozen card games to the catalog, and this year I’m tackling a role-playing game. I’ve also contracted a couple of dice games with SFR, Inc.: Daemon Dice last year, and SuperPower SmackDown! this year.

What is d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?  What drove you to create it?

A relatively full answer is published on my blog (www.lestersmith.com) under the title “Serendipity is the Kindly Grandma of Invention.”

In a nutshell, a few people over the past several years have commented on my old Zero role-playing game design, saying they wish it were still in print. While I don’t own the rights to that world, I’ve always been happy with the unique central dice mechanic–d6xd6–based on a single stat–Focus.

In July of 2013, I started adapting that mechanic to other settings, and ran a ghost-based adventure at Quincon that year, with very positive responses. So I set out to draft a full set of rules online, planning to write a plethora of different genres for it.

Then in the fall of 2013, Douglas Niles asked if I’d like to publish an ebook of his New York Times bestselling Watershed trilogy. While laying out and proofing that work, I suddenly thought, “Why am I planning a new fantasy setting when there’s an amazing one right here?” Doug agreed to let me include Watershed as the default fantasy setting, and something clicked in my head: “Why write new settings for any genre, when there are amazing novels out there to draw from, if the novelists agree?”

Suddenly a multi-genre project switched from something I’d have to devote lots of time to for each setting, to something that would serve fans better by providing a few specific rules for entering a novelist’s world, and using those novels as source books. It became a perfect cross-promotional vehicle for everyone involved.

So I invited several novelist and film-making friends to join, and nervously wrote to some absolute strangers whose work I simply loved. Andrea K Höst, Adrian Howell, Matthew Bryan Laube, and Hanna Peach were the first four strangers, and they all said yes! Things snowballed from there, to the thirty-four authors currently involved, representing thirty-eight different worlds.

You have an extensive and distinguished resume in the gaming industry.   In the time you have been involved with it, what has surprised you the most about the changing and evolving environment of the RPG market?

To my mind, quality print-on-demand and PDF publishing has been the happiest change in not just games, but also books and films. Add crowdfunding to the mix, and an explosion of creativity has breached the temple walls, allowing anyone, anywhere, with vision and drive, to reach a viable market. It used to be that a few big publishing houses decided what would be available to read, and a few fanzines dared to survive outside those environs. Now those fan efforts are in the majority, and the big houses are struggling to survive. I mentioned earlier having been a small-press reviewer for Dragon magazine. That term doesn’t really apply any longer; everything is small press.

Yes, it does mean some poorly executed work runs wild, decreasing the “signal to noise” ratio. But readers are pretty adept at tuning in to the best, and social media lets us all share those recommendations. Viral is the new marketing. The days of Madison Avenue convincing us to buy things we don’t need are fading.

I’m a huge fan of the Information Age.

In the world of today’s RPG market, what does d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game bring to it that sets it apart?

Five-minute character creation that allows any conceivable occupation. A unique number curve that handles “initiative,” success, and amount of success in one roll. A fast and easy combat system based on my three decades of writing and reviewing rules. An unlimited number of possible worlds that can be added on pretty much “on the fly.” And the experience system is unique, too.

Has any of your previous work influenced d6xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?

Zero was the first place I experimented with a single-stat “Focus” concept. My years at GDW produced a healthy respect for clean combat rules. Work with Dragon Dice at TSR taught me a certain poetry of game mechanics–drama without structure is chaos; structure without drama is death. Writing sonnets, haiku, and Web code revealed the ways magic blossoms from the right framework. As WordPress says, “Code is poetry.” See also Wordsworth’s “Nuns Fret Not at Their Convent’s Narrow Room” sonnet. Game design is poetry, too.

Would a setting like Dark Conspiracy work well in  d6Xd6 CORE?

Abso-tively! We’re currently just a couple hundred dollars away from demonstrating that with Colin F. Barnes’ twisted cyperpunk Techxorcist series, and just a Secret Goal or two from adding J. Robert King’s surreal Nightmare Tours and Jason Daniel Myers’ mythic Big Trouble in Little Canton. The d6xd6 CORE RPG could easily adapt Dark Conspiracy itself.

What is in your plans for the future of d6Xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game?

Unsurprisingly, the current Kickstarter is having a big say in that. Besides the creators currently engaged, we’ve been approached by other authors and artists interested in the engine. We’ve also been approached about distribution, which would certainly help. And we’ve been asked about licensing the engine to other publishers; I’m working a draft of that now.

I’m certain we’ll be adding new worlds as standalone ebooks in the future, with print books of those if the page count justifies it. In short, the system is a platform upon which we can build countless things. And the more successful it grows, the more time I can devote to expanding its multi-verse, and to working on other games.

Thanks for your time.  Good luck with the d6Xd6 CORE Role-Playing Game and all your future projects!

Thank you! And keep up the good work promoting this wonderful hobby.

Interview with Jack Reda

Jack Reda is self-publishing Black Forest, a horror-themed worker placement game.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I’m 45, and I’ve been gaming since I was about 10. The 4-year middle school I went to had a class in Dungeons & Dragons, which I took every year. Around that time I picked up Cosmic Encounter, which is my favorite game of all time. I have a website called The Warp that has chronicled the different editions of Cosmic Encounter, along with all the many custom variants and expansions fans and players have contributed, many by me. Because of my high octane enthusiasm for Cosmic Encounter, when Fantasy Flight Games republished it, I got to consult on the new edition. I’ve contributed to the base game and first three expansions. I’m also one of the designers who worked on the upcoming fifth expansion, Cosmic Dominion.

When I discovered BoardGameGeek.com (BGG), I found an terrific outlet for my ideas on custom expansions and variants for many of my other favorite games, like Pandemic and Galaxy Trucker. Most of those are available on BGG. I also started using The Game Crafter to make some of my original ideas available through their Print on Demand storefront.

Describe Black Forest for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

Black Forest is a board game where players seem to be working together to develop their village, but one player is secretly a werewolf, bent on the village’s destruction.

Were there any particular works of fiction which helped inspire Black Forest?

As a long time fan of horror literature and movies, the setting for Black Forest was an easy decision. There are many folktales centered around that part of Germany, and it’s rich with the fables from the Brothers Grimm. Just the name, “Black Forest,” conjures up images of dark and foreboding trees and atmosphere. The Schwartzwald (as it’s called in Germany) is really quite charming and beautiful, and having that idyllic locale juxtaposed with menacing werewolves is a very interesting concept to me. Of all the “classic” monsters, I’ve been drawn more to werewolves than any other. I have a terrific anthology of werewolf short stories called The Ultimate Werewolf, that includes tales by Harlan Ellison, Philip José Farmer, and Larry Niven that I read every couple of years. It has been very important for me that the art work for Black Forest help convey a spooky, Gothic atmosphere, and I’m thrilled with how well it’s turned out.

What aspects of Black Forest do you believe cause it to stand out from other worker placement games on the tabletop game market?

One of the things I’m most pleased about with Black Forest, is how the worker placement mechanic unfolds. Typically, players compete with each other when taking turns placing their workers on a board. In Black Forest, they are ostensibly working together for a greater good. However, with one player trying to covertly slow progress or disrupt it altogether, everyone has to pay close attention to the moves each player makes, and try to read intent into their actions. The level of suspicion in the game is high, and the non-werewolf players are looking for any clues as to the identity of the werewolf. And of course, as the game progresses, players begin losing their workers, making progress even more difficult.

If Black Forest proves to be successful, are there any expansions you would like to publish?

While developing and playtesting Black Forest, I had a lot of fun and interesting ideas that I had to start scaling back so that the published game was manageable from the point of cost, weight, etc. Thus, there are quite a few things that are ready for an expansion, and a few more that I’ve been working on in the last several months. The game can be expanded to more then 5 players, but it can also accommodate some new modes of play, including teams (as well as teams where the teammates don’t know each others’ identities). I’m also keen on introducing more aspects to the game that involve difficult decisions for players to make, and the “Village Elders” expansion will focus quite a bit on that.

Interview with Thomas Eliot of Sixpence Games

Thomas Eliot is CEO of Sixpence Games. Their latest game is Cultists of Cthulhu: Miskatonic University.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I’ve been gaming since before I can remember. I started out with only the classic American games like Clue, Scrabble, and Risk, but very early discovered better ones, like Catan, Puerto Rico, D&D, and all of the Cheapass Games. I’ve been gaming non-stop ever since. Strangely enough, I play no videogames.

Describe Cultists of Cthulhu for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

Cultists of Cthulhu is a game of mystery and intrigue, investigation, cooperation, and betrayal. Players are students and professors at Miskatonic University, investigating strange phenomena. It’s cooperative, except that one of the players is secretly a Cultist trying to kill the rest.

Which Cthulhu Mythos stories were a particular influence in creating Cultists of Cthulhu?

At the Mountains of Madness, The Fungi from Yuggoth, Call of Cthulhu (of course), and The King in Yellow and Other Stories, to name just a few. Lesser inspirations came from The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow Over Innsmouth.

What aspects of Cultists of Cthulhu do you believe cause it to stand out from other Lovecraft-themed games on the tabletop game market?

A lot of Mythos games go for a comedy angle – that’s not what I’m doing at all. Cultists focuses on secrets and betrayal, creating a genuine feeling of paranoia and distrust. The mechanics are just really good and fun and evocative of the theme. The art and music enhance the mood. Cultists is semi-cooperative, that is, cooperative but with a traitor, and I don’t know of any other Lovecraft themed games that do that.

If Cultists of Cthulhu proves to be successful, are there any expansions you would like to publish?

Yes! In particular I want to do a stand alone game using many of the same rules and set in the same universe, but with a few significant twists, called Cultists of Cthulhu at the Mountains of Madness. It would start with a drafting minigame about the voyage to Antarctica, and then would be about exploring that frozen wasteland and forgotten cities of the Elder Things using mechanics from Miskatonic University. The games would be compatible (you could take a character or item from one and use it in the other) and also standalone, and in addition to the scenarios it would come with, I want to make a mega scenario that starts with a game of Miskatonic University and then afterwards transitions into a game of Mountains of Madness, telling a single, enormous story.

Interview with Erik Bernhardt

Erik Bernhardt is part of the team behind Crone, a role-playing game where you play as witches.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

My name’s Erik, I’m the Product Manager for Crone, and I’ve been making my own games ever since I was 12 years old and couldn’t afford the upgrade to 3.5e’s manuals. Working with me are my friends Marek and Michelle. We’ve been designing games together for about two years now, though Crone is our first major release. Our artists are Jamie Kinosian and Meghan Penton, and our Graphic Designer is Byron Swain.

Describe Crone for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

Crone is a roleplaying game about witches. You and your friends work together to cast powerful spells, go on adventures, and turn the occasional hapless peasant into a frog or maybe some sort of fowl.

What works of fiction helped inspire Crone?

Everything from The Little Mermaid to Strega Nona. I think we were all told stories about witches as kids. Sometimes they’re the villains, sometimes they’re more helpful and friendly, but they’re always powerful and always interesting. I think there’s a lot of inspiration from classic fairy-tales in Crone, but we do put a modern spin on a few things.

I’ll give you an example. “The Magister” class is based on old, story-book and Disney-style witches. The kind of witch that would turn a prince into a beast for not letting her into his castle. Her visual design is reminiscent of Malificent, with a lot of high collars and flowing gowns. She very much plays into the role of the witch in relation to justice. In a lot of fairy-tales, the witch tends to mete out some form of judgment, whether it be rewarding Cinderella with a gown and turning a pumpkin into a coach, or whether it’s dishing out a suitably ironic and malevolent curse to someone who has transgressed. That’s the kind of witch the Magister is.

Crone is described as a card-based RPG. Does this involve a standard poker deck or a special set of cards similar to the Torg Drama Deck? How would it be employed in gameplay?

Crone uses a set of cards similar to what you might find in a game like Sentinels of the Multiverse or Magic: The Gathering. Cards are used exclusively during combat, transforming Crone from somewhat of a free-form roleplaying game into a fast, fun, and tactical card game. Players use the cards to cast spells, launch attacks, or manipulate their environment. One thing we’re especially proud of is that all the game’s rules can fit on these cards, and they all use the same standard 3d6 plus modifiers resolution as the rest of the game.

What aspects of Crone do you believe cause it to stand out from other settings on the RPG market?

I believe that Crone‘s themes and play-style will make it stand out. There’s a lot of great games out there, some of which you can use magic or play as a spellcaster, but none that I know of are really about witches. Even more specifically the kind of elderly, immensely powerful witches that Crone focuses on. In Crone, the player is given a tremendous amount of power right off the bat; you aren’t hunting down bandits or killing dire rats, you’re laying judgment down upon cities while slaying dragons and ogres! I suspect that Crone will feel a lot more “epic” than a lot of other games.

If Crone proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

Right now, we’re focusing on making Crone the best game it can possibly be. That being said, we do have a number of stretch goals on our Kickstarter where, if we reach them, a number of awesome writers and designers will help us add additional lore and adventure modules to Crone.

Interview with Christina Stiles

First and foremost, tell us a little about yourself, your gaming experience and your writing experience?

I’ve been gaming since I was 12, and I’m in my 40s now. I started with the Basic Set of Dungeons & Dragons. My brother had purchased the game and needed a victim…ah, player. I was immediately hooked—even though most of my characters died horrendous deaths—and I spent way too much time thinking about my characters and the plots going on with them while I was in school. In fact, I’m not really sure how I graduated high school with honors, as my head was definitely NOT in my schoolwork!

I’ve played all the versions of D&D since (though not 4e so much), and I branched out into other games over the years: RIFTS, Savage Worlds, MAGE, Call of Cthulhu, D20 Modern, Traveller, Castles & Crusades, Pathfinder and many others. I admit that I’m mostly a tabletop RPG gamer. I don’t play boardgames, and I’ve only played a few card games. In the future, I intend to branch out to try the things I’ve been missing. I was sitting at Mysticon this past month, hearing people talk about so many different games that I haven’t tried, and I decided then and there that I really should see what else is out there and broaden my gaming experiences.

In terms of writing, I got my first gaming piece published in DUNGEON #61, “Jigsaw,” which I co-authored with Dan DeFazio. I actually started working with Dan after I had sent a letter to him and his co-author about how much I enjoyed their “Is There an Elf in the House?” adventure in an earlier issue. We hit it off well through snail mail, and that was how it all began. It would be years later, when the Open Gaming License came out, that I turned seriously to pursuing more writing. I wrote for the D20 System during its heyday, and I was lost as a freelancer when 4e came out—it just did not click with me. I then turned to writing for White Wolf Studios and Troll Lord Games. I got into writing for Pathfinder through several Kobold Press patron projects. I’ve kept very busy with Pathfinder for the last few years, and it is the game I play the most.

Tell us a little about your other work?

I mostly write games and edit them. I have had two short stories published, and I’ll be working on more fiction this year—some with the NYT bestselling author Faith Hunter. I’ve got a nonfiction book on introducing women to tabletop gaming in the works, and it’s on IndieGoGo right now: Medusa’s Guide for Gamer Girls (it ends March 19th). I’ve had a lot of women from the gaming industry sign on to write something for the project. I’m very excited about this! Just some of the ladies joining me include: Jodi Black, Filamena Young, Amber Scott, Amanda Hamon, Carinn Seabolt, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Jen Page, Ree Sosebee, and many others. I have male contributors, as well.

You do a lot of work for other groups (Green Ronin, Paizo, etc).  How does that differ from your own works?

I’m occasionally much sillier with my own works. For instance, I’ve published the gingerbread golem monster under my Christina Stiles Presents company. I laugh just thinking about that monster! But, mainly, there isn’t much difference. It’s just a matter of my own works being things that I’m passionate about getting out in the world. When I work for others, I’m generally writing something that they have outlined or have a specific vision for.

Describe Medusa for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

I’ve done several women-and-gaming panels at conventions over the years, and this book is aimed at explaining tabletop RPGs to the curious, and it seeks to offer ways to make gaming, a generally male-dominated hobby, more welcoming to women. Plus, we talk about how women can break into the gaming industry, and we talk about ways to introduce kids to gaming.

What made you focus on Gaming for Girls?

Honestly, the lack of seeing very many women gaming at the cons and game stores that I’ve played at. I have SO MUCH FUN with this hobby, and I want other women to join the fun. If they’ve tried the hobby and soon dropped it because they weren’t treated well by the males at the table, I want them to know that they don’t have to deal with people who want to exclude them or treat them as sex objects rather than as fellow gamers. I’ve gamed with way too many excellent male gamers who have been nothing but inclusive and appropriate; such groups are, in fact, more often the norm in my experience. Yet, I hear lots of horror stories about how women have been treated. As a teenager, I had a bad experience gaming with a 30-something GM who behaved extremely inappropriately toward me, in that he was hitting on me. I believe I was 13 at the time. His behavior turned me away from gaming with those other than my family and friends for a long time.

What are you most proud of in this work?

The book is really in concept stage at this point. That said, I’m most proud at this moment that so many people have reached out to me to become a part of the book. Lots of folks—both men and women—it seems, are just as passionate as I am about the subject.

What made you bring in such a variety of other contributors (comic book authors,fans, etc)?

Mainly, I wanted the reader to see how many of us women are out there. Not only are we gamers, we are professionals in the field or have been gaming for a long time. I don’t think women gamers realize that there are women out there contributing to the hobby, and I wanted girls to have some role models. I hope we inspire some ladies to consider entering the industry in a capacity that matches their talents.

What advice do you have for girls who want to game?

The biggest advice I have is this: There are groups out there that are very inclusive of all gamers, so don’t believe that a few bad experiences with sexist gamers are indicative of the hobby; find an accepting group—they really do exist!

Additionally, if you will be at Congregate and want to learn how to play a roleplaying game, come out and game with me. I’ll be there running a few things—possibly Rogue Mage and Pathfinder.

Interview with Vincent Venturella of Venture Land Games

Hello, Mr. Venturella. Thank you for taking the time out to interview with us.

First and foremost, tell us a little about yourself, your gaming experience and your writing experience.

I started playing RPGs 25 years ago. My road to RPGs started in two ways. I was super sick on vacation and a friend gave me The Hobbit to read while I was stuck in bed. I finished in it in a day and immediately started on The Fellowship of the Ring, I was hooked. I didn’t know RPGs were a thing; I just knew I loved fantasy worlds. Later, I found myself in Walden Books (now I sound like my Grandma saying she was down at the Soda Fountain) and I was entranced by the cover art of these strange D&D books. I just asked one of the associates what I needed in order to play and they gave me the Player’s Handbook, DMG and Keep on the Borderlands. My friends and I spent several months playing completely wrong until we eventually found an experienced DM. I wouldn’t say our games were amazing or groundbreaking, but we certainly had fun. D&D was of course the gateway drug; soon I moved on to Rifts, Vampire, GURPS, Mechwarrior and anything else I could get my hands on.

Everyone who plays RPGs dabbles in design, that is the beautiful part of this hobby. We are all entitled to make changes and make the game our own. On a road trip in 2003 my friend and I were discussing wanting to play a cyperpunk RPG but being unhappy with anything that was on the market. Looking around, I noticed the OGL and so our first game was born; Future Lost. It wasn’t great and it was rife with all sorts of problems, but it was fun and it gave me the taste for design. Since then I have designed 4 more games including the most recent; NGS, the Narrative Game System.

For perspective and context purposes, tell us what other systems you have played and enjoyed.

I would be hard pressed to find a game I have played that didn’t have something great in it. If there is one thing I have learned it’s that making something like an RPG is an act of real love for your product. I have never met a designer who didn’t invest their heart and soul into their game, and such dedication doesn’t always equal a great game, but it means there are always some great ideas.

A sampling:

D&D: What is not to love? As the father of it all, D&D has an incredible legacy. I love that it has created a shared vocabulary and set of experiences that so much of our community shares. What I think I love the most was the insight of Rule 0 – the reality and acceptance that the designer can never write enough or make rules smart enough to cover every situation. The GM has to be the author – of their worlds, their story and ultimately, their experience.

GURPS: I love the idea that a game can be a template for any setting and so many different experiences. That idea was definitely a big inspiration for us with NGS.

Vampire: This game was a revelation for me on two levels. First, it was the first game I played that was really focused on the narrative and an evolving story. Second, I loved how much you could make a whole game focused on the exploration of a single theme, tone and concept. From rules to even art direction, this game sold you on its world.

FATE: Fred Hicks and team are incredible designers. The game they created, like GURPS before, showed people that you could have a game that allowed exploration of so many different worlds and settings. I also liked their mechanics because they showed you could keep things simpler and still have a rich experience.

There are so many more, Battletech (Who doesn’t love Giant Mechs shooting each other), Rifts (Kitchen-Sink Sci-Fi where anything from a homeless man to a godling are legitimate characters), Burning Wheel (Incredibly inventive and smooth mechanics that pair well with the ability to tell a story), Marvel Superheroes (probably some of the most creative design around Super Hero powers). I could go on, but I think I have beat the drum enough.

What is Narrative Game System to you?

In simple terms, the game I am most proud of designing of everything I have done. To talk about the actual game, NGS is a rules-light game focused on collaborative story-telling. The three things I love the most about NGS are the following.

1) The ability to play in any world, any setting, anytime. Its our catchphrase, but we really mean it. In the updates of our Kickstarter, we have a complete cooperative setting-build. We go from nothing to a ready-to-play world in an hour and a half. We are very proud of the guidance and method we offer in NGS to empower not only the GM but his entire group to create an engaging and compelling world, fast.

2) The ability to collaborate in your story-telling at every point in the process. Our focus on collaborative story-telling is total, you make your settings together, you make your characters together, you tell the story together and you even assign experience together.

3) Simple, but powerful mechanics. Our mechanics are very light; it is basically 4 mechanical abilities with a single die + a bonus. It’s so light that it never gets in the way of the story. I have seen people I would never describe as role-players come out of their shell and try things they might otherwise never do because they weren’t worried about the mechanics or failing, they were just thinking about the story and completely immersed in their characters.

What inspired you to write Narrative Game System?

It was a combination of factors. I was interested in tackling a common problem, mechanically forced character and story design. What I mean by that is that if you have ever played an RPG, then you probably experienced something like the following.

You show up to a new game with a character idea, lets say a grizzled space pirate or a dwarven bounty hunter, it doesn’t matter. You have an idea. When you then start to go through the mechanical choice points of the game (perhaps there are tens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of choices you make) you will come to the following dilliema. You come to a choice between A and B. A is the more “powerful” choice within the context of the game, but doesn’t actually align with your character. “B” is for your character but “weaker” in the same context. So what do you do? Do you change your character and play what the game forces you to do? So you end up with a different character than you intended. On the other hand, you can choose “B” and stay in character but then risk having a negative play experience. I wanted to design a game where you made one mechanical choice. If you want to be strong or good at combat or a master of necromancy – then you are, its one choice. Everything else is choosing what matters – who your character is. I wanted most of the character creation to focus on your character’s past, present and future, their goals and motivations, their flaws and failures. That leads me to the next item that led me to the game.

I was very interested in creating a game solely focused on collaboration. As I said in our Kickstarter video, if you wanted to play a game by yourself, why did you have 5 friends come over to your house? RPGs have always been about collaboration, you were on the adventures together from the first games of D&D. I wanted to make sure we took that idea all the way. So we set about to design a game solely focused on working together, players and GMs, to craft worlds, characters, stories and ultimately, the experience.

A common debate in the RPG design industry is narrative story making vs. tactical simulation vs. a balance of both, such as in Ron Edwards’ GNS model of Role Playing Theory. What is it about the narrative to you that makes it paramount, over say tactical aspects of the game or structured rules of the game?

I think the GNS model gets invoked where Ron never intended it to. By that I mean people use it to try to say that one game or type of game is superior, or that there is some perfect game that could be written. Edwards later moved to the Big Model and I think that accurately captures something; there is no perfect game. I think it goes back to Howard Moskewitz and Pasta Sauce. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIiAAhUeR6Y). Basically, the story breaks down like this – A man was charged to create the ultimate pasta sauce and after copious research he came back and said it was impossible. There was no one perfect pasta sauce. What they needed was 3 pasta sauces, (or more) to meet the various tastes in the market. This has become the norm in food, when we go to the grocery, we don’t expect one perfect coffee or cereal or anything like that. Instead, we find the one (or even multiple) that suit our tastes. Somehow, we haven’t made that move in gaming.

I think Ron’s insight was in identifying the Creative Agenda. The appropriate game and the nature of the rules and experience is all about the group being willing to agree to a single creative agenda. I love both rules light and more mechanical RPGs; both offer a unique experience depending on the creative agenda I am pursuing.

So there isn’t something that naturally makes the narrative more paramount in all cases. It’s only relevant if you are pursuing that creative agenda. My feeling would be if you are seeking after a story-driven, narrative experience, then what you should be after is the lightest touch of mechanics possible that allows for the most immersive and collaborative story-telling, and I think that is what NGS delivers.

What is more satisfying to you when playing in an RPG – a great single session of story making or the extended story made over many sessions in a campaign?

I would say either can be great. Undoubtedly every gamer carries stories and memories of some game that only ran one or two games but produced something that sticks with them. In the end, though, I love the ability of a story to develop over time. I think there is something deeply rewarding about working with your friends to create a shared experience that you will all carry with you for the rest of your lives, and something that rich can only happen over a protracted series of sessions where people have successes and failings and basically experience all the complexity of life itself within the game.

What are you most proud of in this work?

I touched on this in detail earlier, so I would simply say the whole product. It has been a true labor of love from my entire team. One additional item I didn’t mention earlier was that in the NGS book, we focus a great deal on the behind-the-scenes. We are trying to show everyone not just how to play the game but why we made the decisions we did and empowering them to change things to tell the narrative they want to tell. If NGS helped people tell deeper, more engaging and exciting stories, then I would be very proud indeed.

What is in the future for NGS after your Kickstarter?

We have already reached our funding goal and now it’s a question of how far into the Stretch Goals we will get. Kickstarters are such an emotionally involving experience, its hard to imagine until you do it and even though I read so much and thought I was mentally prepared, you are never really ready.

One great thing about NGS is we don’t intend to write more books of rules to sell people – we don’t need to, everything you need for a lifetime of play is contained in that one book. We would like to continue to foster the collaborative aspect of the game, so after the book is published, we want to create a community where people can come and share their experiences. We want to give them a forum to share the worlds they created, the Narrative Abilities they have made and the stories they have shared. The game is about collaboration in play, and I would love to see that extend all the way up to the collective experience of all of our players.

Thank you for this great opportunity. I would encourage everyone to visit the Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/617292343/ngs-the-narrative-game-system) or visit www.venturelandgames.com for additional information.

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