Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What is Accessibility?

Lately I have been working on a project called Discovery. It's a teenage superheroes game. It's pretty simple, system-wise and concept-wise. The dilemma for me is my intentions for the game.

I want the whole game to be able to be explained in a less-than-10-minute video and be supported by a single-page character sheet. I mean, so far, not so hard, right? If it's super simple, someone can explain a game in 10 minutes (Archipelago, The Quiet Year, etc. - good examples of super low social footprint games with easy explanations - even Apocalypse World is pretty easy to explain in a few minutes). However, I have a combination of problems I'm working on.

It has to be a video with sound. Why? Because some people can't see. The video has to have subtitles. Like, absolutely has to. Why? Because some people can't hear well or process audio well. There has to be an accessible transcript so that people can translate it easily. These are all things I can easily manage with the help of my in-house video editor.

The character sheet has to be available in an easily-downloadable format. This is not an issue. However, the BIGGEST problem I have is the character sheet itself. It's purely visual. It requires someone to explain it. It can't be used by someone who can't see. I have no means of getting around this roadblock. I was tasked with finding a way around colorblindness, and I figured that letting people use their own color markers would work. However, I have not found a way around having a visual character sheet for a game that is about making a visual presentation of skills and emotions. Is it even possible? Is this a way I will fail in making my game accessible? Is it even failure?

One of the keys of this project is also for it to be free. This means that I can't do anything with it if I don't have +John Sheldon able to work on the video, which means I have to work around his schedule. It means I need to make sure to have a place to host it where downloading it for free is not an issue, where you don't have to sign up for membership.

So, I guess, my question is: where do we stop on accessibility? How much responsibility does a designer have to their consumers? How can we make games more accessible, and what does accessible really mean? There are boundaries that some people cannot cross due to accessibility issues, including comprehension issues, physical disability, and even financial limitations. How do I make my games meet those expectations?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on G+. I look forward to hearing them!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Five or So Questions on Standard Action Season 3

Season 3 of Standard Action goes live TODAY! Check out the webpage at

Sorry for posting so late - illness and such got in the way.

Tell me a little bit about Standard Action Season 3. What excites you about it?
Answered by Rob Hunt, director, cinematographer and editor for Standard Action:

Season 3 joins our heroes a few months after season 2 has ended. First and foremost we answer the question everyone has been demanding to know.. What happens to the Efreeti head in a bucket after the party abandoned it in the forest?

Season 3 has a lot of interesting things going on in it. We can look forward to many guest stars from other web series including Transolar Galactica and Journey Quest. We will get to see a few old faces from season 1. We also get to find out more about Ikosa and who she is. The Rogue, Gary joins the party to help them on their quest to find Martin the Druid as he has been lost in another realm of existence.

I'm really excited to be launching the card game and Pathfinder module for Standard Action. Both projects help expand the Standard Action world and are part of our season 3 Kickstarter. The card game is a simple party building game where each player builds a party of heroes and goes on adventures. Torvel can betray his party every round! Slay baby eating kobolds! The Pathfinder module explores the adventures of the party between season 1 and 2. As they try and identify a magic bracelet and how it ended up becoming a taxidermied squirrel by season 2. Take your role playing to new heights with encounters like, the fashion show! A taxidermied zombie shark with a wand of magic missile on it's head! Kobolds!

Finally, as post production guy, I really enjoyed doing different looks for some of the different alternate realities they visit. I started that a bit with the office portions of season 2 being silvery and desaturated. I got to do looks for a dream world, a musical world and a science fiction world. It was a lot of fun working on that.

What characters are we going to see the most of this season, and why?
Answered by Joanna Gaskell, producer, writer and actor for Standard Action:

Well, we ended Season 2 with Edda, Fernando and Wendy whizzing off into the planes to go looking for Martin, and taking a very surprised Rogue with them - Gary, played by David Pearson. We're definitely going to be seeing a lot of those four characters, but fans will be pleased to know that they certainly haven't seen the last of Martin the Druid, who has been with us since the beginning. We're also coming full circle a bit on this season, so fans will see a lot of the faces they saw back in first season reappear. Jaina the Bartender will show up again, for instance, as will Cedric the Wizard, who has always been a fan favourite.

What did you have to do to prepare for the new season using the Kickstarter funds?
Answered by Joanna Gaskell, producer, writer and actor for Standard Action:

This season has certainly been our biggest yet. The script was a little more ambitious, including five different sets that had to be built in the same small space. We had a lot more cast to deal with as well, all of whom had to be costumed, and some of whom were special guests being brought in from out of town. We upgraded equipment and added a slider and some better tripods to the mix, as well as a better sound recorder. The musical carried a few of its own expenses, developing the songs and lyrics, and booking the studio time needed to record. As always though, our biggest expense is labour, so we put aside a lot of that Kickstarter money to fund the actual production. We had to bring a few more people to set this year to deal with the complexity of our stories, and we try to pay everyone as best we can.

Tell me about the music for this new season. Who all do you have on the project?
Answered by: Kersten Tennert, sound and music for Standard Action -

The music for the new season is a wonderful concoction of both effects-driven samplers & synths with big delays, reverbs, and even reverse effects, and recordings of acoustic instruments. The fantasy element of "Standard Action" allows us to bend the rules of classical orchestration, leaving the opportunity to build an assortment of instruments that are processed in unconventional ways, such as tribal drums, glockenspiel, or celeste with heavy reverse delay & reverb, or even ring-shifters.

That being said, it is still important to incorporate acoustic elements that play an important role in the show's setting, and overall mood. I'm using a fair bit of mandolin, acoustic guitar, acoustic-slide guitar, and even banjo for this season's score. Yes, even banjo! It is also important to change orchestration based on setting, and circumstance in a scene. For example, in Episode One, the team is aboard a space vessel in another plane, in a galaxy far, far away. So you'll hear that classic, familiar sound of a theremin in there. In more-comedic scenes with Cedric, for example, staccato notes, chromatic runs, and instruments with short decay may help push the goofy mood along. The writing is strong, and a huge part of the score is also knowing when the dialogue can speak for itself, and not being too obvious or suggestive that the audience "should" feel a certain way, by shoving music in their face.

Lots and lots to consider with score! This season's post-production schedule has been arranged to have enough time to really polish each episode off, down to every last little detail, so I'm really thankful to be granted the opportunity to experiment. Joanna has been pretty good about making sure that I'm on the right track. Like with any collaboration, things can be up for interpretation, so it's fun to find out that we've had different takes on what certain scenes might need for music. For example, the first scene of Episode Two was intended to be dramatic with a darker tone, but wacky, maniacal, lighter music actually really sold the scene.

There is a musical episode this season! Our cast did vocal training with Camille Johnson, who wrote a number of songs for the musical episode. She laid down a piano scratch-track and we worked out what the tempo would be for each section, and where all the pauses would be, and then we brought everyone into the studio for one massive vocal session. It was amazing. Everyone had such a fun time and really shone. Some of the cast came from a musical background - even opera trained! - and others hadn't had much experience at all. Camille & and the cast did SUCH a great job. After all the vocals were edited & mixed, the scratch tracks were then built into these large orchestrations to sound totally Disney-esque. That episode is a standalone, for sure.

This season is the biggest, by far. Everyone has grown, professionally, and people are constantly upping their game; more complex writing, more elaborate costume design, more sophisticated visual effects, longer episodes, more tools and toys. It is so amazing to be part of a team of such eager, hard-working and friendly folks. Joanna is such a strong leader who fully understands that this is entirely a team effort. She knows how to step back and trust people to handle things, and allow them the space for their talents to shine, while also being able to pull things together and be our general.

Season 3 Episode 1 launches on Nov.18th - Get ready for it.

Rock on, Indie Filmmaking!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Five or So Questions with Rafael Chandler on The Astounding Antagonists

What was your inspiration for The Astounding Antagonists?

In comic books and films, people with superpowers commit violent acts in the name of justice. A while back, I started thinking about heroes, and how they might be designated as criminals or villains if their idea of 'justice' differed from the status quo. And the novel emerged from that idea.

Are these characters antiheroes, true heroes, or just freakin' awesome superheroes, and why?
In the novel, they're referred to as villains, and they embrace the term, because they steal, destroy, and kill. However, they believe that their actions are justified, so they do see themselves as heroic.

Tell me a little bit about Helen Damnation!
She's an blue-skinned extraterrestrial who wears a suit of high-tech armor developed by Dr. Agon. It turns out that the armor doesn't do what everybody thinks it does. Helen is somewhat contemptuous of any society that values material wealth. She likes dogs. She enjoys sweets. She's fiercely loyal to the people that she loves. Though she will not kill, she enjoys combat, and is quite proud of the scars that she has earned.

Your RPG work is known for being a little gore heavy. Is it the same with this work?
It's not particularly gory. Like my previous novel (Hexcommunicated), this is a fast-paced adventure. There's some violence, and if it were a movie, it'd be rated R -- but it's nothing like the splatterpunk work I do in RPGs.

What's up next for you, post-Astounding Antagonists?
I'm working on the second book in the Agent Tepes series; it's called Hextermination, and it features shoggoths, ghouls, and witches. Should be fun! Also, I'm nearly finished with my kickstarted monster manual, Lusus Naturae. Very excited about that.

Thanks so much for the interview, Brianna! The Astounding Antagonists is available here:

Amazon (Kindle):

Amazon (print):

Lulu (print):

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Five or So Questions with Steve Wallace on No Country for Old Kobolds

Tell me a little bit about No Country for Old Kobolds. What excites you about it?
No Country For Old Kobolds is Dungeon World hack that focuses on the lives kobolds lead in most rpgs. Basically, they’re constantly being wiped out by first level adventurers and that has to have a negative impact on their day to day lives. The game is built to explore that situation. I’ve modified basic Dungeon World to better model this sort of thing so there are unique components like a shared village character, leveling by dying and mechanics to allow you to continue to affect the game after death.

I’ve started different games and hacks off and on throughout the years and this is the first time I’ve really pushed one through to completion so I’m really excited by that! I’ve also been pretty blown away by the positive feedback I’ve gotten throughout play testing, it’s really humbling to see people enjoy something you’ve created.

I’m really amazed but the themes that players have brought to the game as well. Throughout play testing I’ve had some really great conversations with players about racism, colonialism and poverty and I think if nothing else that’s worth it!

What made you choose Dungeon World as your system for hacking?
I had the idea of running an all kobolds campaign for a while and DW was/is my preferred system for fantasy based games at the moment so it seemed like a natural fit. As brainstorming went on I realized I needed to make some pretty heavy modifications to the system to get it where I wanted so in the initial rule set I used John Harpers World of Dungeons. I think WoD is a great system to start hacking because it's already so stripped down, as work went on it ended up somewhere in between - or beside - DW and WoD.

You mentioned conversations about racism, colonialism, and poverty - what about this specific content do you think spurs those conversations?
The way the game is built the players create all these external forces that push on the village and kobolds. It's given that the rest of the world hates you and wants something from you. The players tend to gravitate toward things that are familiar so I often see pressures like 'they want our land', 'they want our resources', 'they want us as slaves' etc. and those naturally bring up these conversations.

What modifications did you make to Dungeon World to make it work for the game?
A lot. Basically I kept the base AW roll mechanic and the DW XP by failure mechanic. I took the skills and some of the abilities from World of Dungeons but I've heavily modified just about all of them. Every ability is now basically a move and skills just add +1 to related actions. I added a shared character, your village, which is the thing that actually gets XP and advance moves. All kobolds level by dying so you actually play a few generations of your kobold family during a session - on average players run 4 generations per session. I added in death tokens which allow the players to affect combat after death - because there's near 100% chance at least 1 player will die every combat. The tokens allow you to put other characters over on their rolls - bump them up to the next tier - or they can be turned in at the end of combat for village XP. The game is also more mission based than normal DW, you have these wants that you have to fulfill for your village or risk losing population - basically it mechanically enforces the fragility of your village. The players also create all the kingdoms that surround the village so the GM doesn't get involved there, they just extrapolate off what the players provide. I also added in unit combat based on Sage & Adams Inglorious work, I think it makes swarm style combat easier and it really helps to drive home how much more powerful everything in the world is. Throughout the game you can take advance Village moves that will give you new units like homonculi, trolls, wizards and even a dragon.

Once you're done with No Country for Old Kobolds, where do you think you'll go next?
I haven't quite decided but the thing that is interesting most at the moment is a game that would model the in fighting between the great houses in Dune. I really like the idea of an intrigue based role playing game where you - as the leader of your house - have abilities that are more high level than a player character in most rpgs. You can send armies to a planet or hire assassins or the like, basically you set the wheels in motion instead of being the wheels.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Five or So Questions with Matthew McFarland on Chill

Don't forget to check out the Kickstarter!

Tell me a little bit about Chill. What excites you about it?
Chill is a horror game in which the players take on the roles of members of SAVE. SAVE (the Eternal Society of the Silver Way) is a secret organization dedicated to protecting people from the Unknown. SAVE members (called "envoys") aren't necessarily highly trained, deadly Special Forces types. They're just people who encountered the Unknown and couldn't stomach the idea of other people getting hurt.

That, in a nutshell, is what I find exciting about the game. SAVE envoys aren't well-funded, and most of the time they don't know what they're up against. The organization has had a rough time of it (one of the things we're doing in 3rd Edition is updating the SAVE timeline; it's been 25 years since 2nd Edition and a lot has happened!), but they soldier on, because the Unknown doesn't slow down. The Unknown isn't a directed force - there's no "big bad" at the head of it all, as much as some SAVE envoys would love to think otherwise - but it's relentless and it's hungry. SAVE probably isn't going to win the war, at least not any time soon. But what they can do is save this neighborhood, banish this ghost, destroy this vampire. It might not turn the tide of the war against the Unknown forever, but it makes a hell of a difference to the people who would have otherwise been drained of their blood in an alley or frightened to death.

What made you decide to pick up Chill for a 3rd edition? What makes this game special?

I played Chill in college. It was my first horror game and it's what made me fall in love with the horror genre in general. I probably ran 200 sessions of it over the course of my freshman and sophomore years, and it was responsible for me learning how to handle horror as a GM, as well as getting a lot of people who weren't nominally gamers into roleplaying.

But apart from the nostalgia factor, the humanist angle that I mentioned above is a big part of why it's special to me. SAVE envoys don't have superpowers. Some of them have some low-grade psychic ability, but it's not the kind of thing where they can just roll in and solve everything magically. The game is about investigation, attention to detail, courage in the face of evil, and teamwork. As I've been running playtests, one thing I'm hearing consistently is that SAVE groups have to work together and play to each other's strengths, or the Unknown wins. And that's exactly what I want.

I love RPGs that encourage cohesive, interactive roleplaying. I want everyone to know everyone else's characters and their abilities and strengths, so that the group works together. In Chill, you have to work together, or else no one gets out alive.

What kind of research did you have to do for your diverse character backgrounds in the pregens?
Four of the five pregens were taken from Chill 2nd Edition books (BB, Thomas, and Jennifer were in the Chill core and Maria was in Horrors of North America). The plan initially was to take all five from the 2nd Ed material, because it would give people familiar with that edition a point of reference for the changes we made. The diversity spread in 2nd edition pregens isn't bad; it's fairly close to even between men and women, and while it's not as representative of people of color as I'd like, it's not completely devoid of them, either. It is, however, devoid of any LGBTQA+ characters. Rather, the only characters for whom sexuality is ever mentioned are characters that have spouses, and always the opposite sex. So while nothing says that, for instance, BB is straight, none of the pregens are explicitly referred to as non-straight or non-cis.

I wanted a character in the quickstart that wasn't straight or cis, and in thinking about how to do that, I came up with Rory. Now, I'm a cis man, and so writing the character was a little outside of my comfort zone, which is why the dynamic with his ailing father is in there; that was something I did understand, and it gave him a point of conflict that wasn't centered around his father not accepting him - his father does accept Rory. The point of conflict comes from his father's dementia, and the difficulty he has understanding his child now, post-transition.

Tell me a little about the mechanical system for Chill. What mechanics really show off the game?
Chill 3rd Edition uses a percentile system, much like previous editions. Players make rolls against a target number (T#). Players make two kinds of checks, general checks and specific checks. A general check either succeeds (the roll is lower than or equal to the T#) or fails (the roll is the higher than the T#).

A specific check has five possible results:
  • Botch: The roll is a failure (higher than the T#) and the dice come up doubles. If your T# is 60 and you roll 88, for instance, that's a botch.
  • Failure: The roll is higher than the T#, but not a botch. 
  • Low Success: The roll is equal to or lower than the T#, but higher than half the T#. If your T# is 60, and you roll anything from 60 to 30, it's a low success. 
  • High Success: You roll less than half your T#. If your T# is 60, anything lower than 30 is a high success. 
  • Colossal Success: You roll any success and the dice come up doubles. So, if your T# is 60 and you roll 55, 44, 33, 22, or 11, it's a colossal success!
In addition to the dice mechanic, Chill uses a set of tokens (coins work just fine, as long you can tell one side from the other - one's "light" and one's "dark").

Players can "flip a chip dark" (turning a light chip to the dark facing) to add to their target numbers (before or after a roll!), to sense the Unknown, to use their training in the Art, and, in truly dire straits, to save a character's life.

Of course, once a chip's dark facing is showing, the Chill Master can flip the chip light to activate a creature's Disciplines of the Evil Way, to hinder the characters in minor in-genre ways ("I'm not getting any reception!"), or to add to a NPC's target number.

Who do you think would like Chill most, and how would you suggest introducing it to a new group?
I think anyone who's a fan of horror gaming with a personal, immediate feel would enjoy Chill. This isn't Lovecraftian horror, in which the only "victory" is survival and retaining one's sanity. In Chill, you can actually defeat the Unknown, it's just hard. Gamers who enjoy investigate RPGs, and exploring a world that is, at points, hostile and dangerous, should check it out.

The way that I used to pitch Chill to new players back in the day (and I think this still works) is: The world of Chill is much like ours, except that the supernatural is real. It feeds on misery, fear, and death, and at some point, your character saw it. Maybe your character was attacked, maybe they just witnessed something inexplicable, but sometime thereafter, a group of people from an organization called SAVE showed up to ask you about it. You chose to ask them what was really going on, and when they warned you that digging deeper was dangerous to your health and your sanity, you refused to let it go.

Why? What brings your character out into the dark to fight monsters?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Clueless and Teenage Drama

I just finished watching Clueless.

Now, not everyone knows that I was homeschooled, but many people do. I didn't have a standard high school experience, and I always envied people who did. While I know the likelihood of me surviving standard high school is low, a part of me always feels like I missed out on things that I could have really used - good friends, better education, greater awareness, and some support for my learning disabilities that would have been great.

On top of that, I also really regret not doing high school things when I was in high school. A lot of the stuff - going to parties, dating, etc. - didn't happen for me until after, and it left me a little unprepared. Hell, I've never even actually dated people. I don't regret being married to John or our long relationship, but had I been in public school, I feel like I'd have at least witnessed other people dating, and been less blind to how romantic relationships are supposed to work, and might not have needed the extensive time reading and researching.

This might all be wishful thinking. A lot of people hated high school, and it was very unkind to a lot of people. It's still pretty cruel to a lot of people. It's probably just a grass-is-always-greener thing, but that doesn't make it go away. I still cling to high school media, like Clueless and Mean Girls and Bring It On. They're not realistic, but they aren't supposed to be - they're the way we wish things could be, or wish we could control them.

Bringing this back around to something people reading this might actually care about...

This is why games like Monsterhearts are my favorites. They take one thing that is deep in the heart of my fantasies: a real high school experience, then add something I love and enjoy: supernatural fantasy, and mix it with fictional control. I can tell a story I want to tell with heartbreaks and falling in love and good grades and worse grades and werewolves and cheerleaders and it's fucking awesome. And Monsterhearts is not alone (School Days is another good example), but I'd still like to see MORE games like this, with different twists and different systems.

I've been quietly working on a teenage superhero game with evolving patterns of skills using a graphic representation hex grid for character growth. It's a slow moving process, but this kind of thing is key to what I would want to happen in the game. Players acting against each other, twisting narratives, emotional investment, and discovery. I want to see more games do things like I saw the early version of Masks do - make me love and hate a character, want to be them and want to ruin them, make me want to be a hero and a villain, and turn the expected on end. Let people judge me and let me judge them back. Let me fall in love with the wrong person. Let me spurn lovers. Let me do it at a point in life where my emotions are completely out of my control, because for once, teenage hormones are a good excuse for something. Let me cheer. Let me hang out behind the bleachers.

Let me be a teen, in the best way and the worst way. I want to live it in new and different ways every time I hit the table.

I guess this is just kind of a love letter to the teenage drama. I wish for more. There is nothing quite like living a life you've never led.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Dread - Suspense and Control

I'm thinking today about the game of Dread by Epidiah Ravachol I played at midnight-to-four-am last night, and how freaking awesome Dread is as a game. I know, tons of people say this, and they say it for a reason. I am sure there are people who don't like the game, but hell, I really dig it.

Here's why.

I like scary things. I like suspense. However, I'm also a giant coward. I can't watch a ton of horror films or read scary stories like I could when I was a kid because I have wild nightmares. So, roleplaying is one of the ways I get my scary fix. Dread is awesome at this.

There is suspense like I've never felt in a game. I liked Black Stars Rise (Sage LaTorra) because it was creepy as all get out. I like Dread because I hold my breath for at least half of the game. I am on the edge of my seat, but trying desperately not to bump the table. My hands shake for reals instead of just because of medicine. It's brilliant.

Introducing an element that takes so much control but removes so much control at the same time is really interesting. The Jenga tower is something for people with steady hands and knowledge of physics, so I expect plenty of people can play the game without as much worry about it falling on simple early pulls, but for someone like me, the chance of the tower falling is there from the first pull. It takes all of my brain and physical power to pull out a block, controlling my actions more than I normally do. But it also removes any of my control. I can narrate freely most of the time, but when it comes down to it, I have to give up to a pull to see whether I live or die.

And that's another interesting part: one failed pull and you're gone. There aren't second chances. In many games, I hate character death, but in Dread, I wait for it anxiously, and then end up staring at the tower as the rest of the players go out in a blaze of glory.

Plus, the questionnaires are great. They give the GM just enough information to go on, without taking the players too long to answer questions. It provides elements of curiosity as we watch others write out their answers but can't see what they're saying, watching the little smiles or grimaces on their face betraying some of the parts of their story.

This is kind of a short post, but I wanted to chat a little bit about it. I hope you enjoyed the read. Tell me what you think of Dread in the comments!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Five or So Questions with Rob Trimarco on Fortune's Fool

Check out Rob's Kickstarter for Fortune's Fool Ultimate PDF Edition!

Tell me a little about Fortune's Fool. What excites you about it?

Fortune's Fool is a tabletop Roleplaying Game set in a fantasy version of the European Renaissance that uses tarot cards instead of dice as it's main conflict resolution mechanic.

The exciting parts about it are the ways in which players interact with each other, the tarot deck, and the GM. First, the GM never draws a card against a player. The players draw cards to succeed at skill checks or combat actions and then draw to dodge attacks or avoid actions taken against them.

Second, the character creation system is very simple yet robust. It is a life path system that helps players craft a story as they choose the attributes that are notable and special about their characters. Social class, religion, race, birth order, and other factors all contribute to a character's abilities, skills, and how lucky they are.

Thirdly, the game has within it a "Fate Twist" system which is a completely "meta" mechanic that allows the players themselves to influence the cards being drawn to steer the outcome in their favor. Players can "twist fate" at any point in the game even when it is not their character's turn.

What made you choose to use tarot cards?

Part of the decision to use tarot cards was the feel of the many decks that are out there to use. Many of them have beautiful art that truly helps to invoke the feeling of the setting and the mood of a game. We have used multiple decks when running it. One I have is very much in the style of old renaissance paintings and it has gold edges. Very useful for when I ran a game dealing with royalty and saving a prince from impending doom! Another we use is a fairy tale themed deck which we used when writing and play testing our Grimm Tales campaign supplement.

Another part of the decision was the multiple ways the deck itself could be used. For those that do not know about the tarot deck structure, The tarot deck is broken up into 2 sections. It has cards called "minor arcana" which consist of 4 suits with 14 cards in each (similar to the standard deck of playing cards we use today) as well as "major arcana" with cards like "The Magician", "The Hanged Man", and "Strength" of which there are 22. This variety allows us to use the numbers on the minor arcana cards, the specific suit they are, and the major arcana cards all as ways to express levels of success, failure, damage from attacks, spell effects, etc.

They all work together seamlessly and intuitively with the story being told and with the actions being taken by the player. The minor arcana cards determine success and failures on a basic level by comparing the suit and the number to your character's skill ratings and to which minor arcana card suits are considered "fortune smiles" or "fortune frowns." The major arcana cards represent critical successes and critical failures. If you draw a major arcana card and it is circled on your character sheet, the action is considered a "fortune shines"; a critical success of the highest order. If the major arcana drawn is not circled on your character sheet, your character has fumbled an action badly with a critical failure. These "Fortune Shines" and "Fortune Weeps" are determined during the course of character creation.

Tell me a little more about character creation. What do you think is vital to character creation in games?
Depending on how players approach participation in roleplaying games, they may view what's vital to character creation in different ways. Someone can certainly make choices to give them the best social or weapon skills. Making selections that raise their charm or attack numbers, and generally be amazing at certain aspects of a physical or social conflict. Someone else may think about their character choices as more of a storytelling vehicle and focus their choices on what is most interesting to them in the vein of defining their character's struggles or most powerful life events. I believe the vital part of the Fortune's Fool character creation system lies within this diversity and the ability to accommodate many points of view and play styles.

Twisting fate sounds awesome! How do you do it?
At character creation the number of times you can play a fate twist and which specific ones a player has are determined. The luckier a character is the more fate twists their player possesses. There are many different fate twists listed in the book and they all allow a player to affect the deck in many ways. From being able to peek at the top 3 cards of the deck to shuffling in your choice of major arcana into the top 5 cards.

Let's say, for example, in a scene there is a group of brigands attacking the player characters. The lead brigand has his flintlock pistol out and expresses a deep desire to shoot one of the characters in the face. In order to see if the shot hits, the player must draw a card to dodge. Let's call the player "Aaron." Aaron's draw must be lower than his dodge score or be a major arcana card that is favorable to his character in order for the shot to miss. Guns being very deadly weapons, Aaron decides to use a fate twist. This happens before any cards are drawn to resolve the action at hand. Aaron announces to the other players at the table and to the GM that he will spend a fate point and use his fate twist called "Devil's Laugh." This fate twist states that the Major Arcana card "The Devil" needs be shuffled into the top 3 cards of the deck. Since The Devil card is a "Fortune Shines" for Aaron if he draws it, the gunshot will not only miss but it will cause his opponent to fumble, causing the brigand to drop the gun or even have it explode in his hand! The degree of success or failure of a draw determines all of this so picking the right fate twist (or twists - many can be played before a draw occurs) definitely matters in any situation where life or death is on the line!

So the GM now picks up the deck and searches it for the card and when it is found he or she then shuffles it into the top 3 cards of the deck. Aaron now has a one in 3 chance of drawing a card that is really good for him so the tension of the draw is high! It's very exciting to see happen during play! Will the brigand's shot completely miss Aaron? Will Aaron's face be shot?Oh boy!

Will we be seeing more from you soon, and if so, what will it be?

We are currently running a Kickstarter project to enhance our PDFs. If it funds it will allow us to do the following: layer the art in the book to allow it to be viewed in "text only" mode so it speeds up loading and allows for slower devices to read the file easily, resizing the files for optimal viewing on a phone, tablet, PC, or other PDF capable device, linking the rules internally to different sections to facilitate looking up different rules and definitions we use in the book, and adding more original artwork from our favorite artists.

We also have a new supplement in the works called "Tales from the Ganges" that will detail the region of India! It will allow players and GMs to expand their game into the region with new races, skills, religions, spells, and a myriad of other fun bits.Did you ever want your character to ride a huge, demon possessed bull elephant into combat with your enemies? Well now you finally can! This supplement will breathe new life into a current game or bring inspiration to start a new one. It is currently part of our Kickstarter's stretch goals but even if we don't meet the goal this supplement will still be released just on a different time table.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Five or So Questions with Joshua Unruh

Check out this interview with Joshua Unruh on his new Patreon project! With this post, we're having a contest! If you become a Patron of Joshua on Patreon, then comment on this post, you'll be entered to win a copy of his book TEEN Agents in The Plundered Parent Protocol. Leave a means of contacting you in the comment so we can let you know if you've won!

Tell me a little bit about your project. What excites you about it?

The short explanation of the project is monthly, serialized bursts of superhero prose. Faster and cheaper than full comics, I'll get to tell exciting stories about people in colorful costumes punching their way to justice without needing a huge production team.

Two things excite me most about this project. First is the opportunity to tell superhero stories about heroes of my own creation that are different. I don't mean to say that I plan to reinvent the wheel with my superhero fiction. In fact, I hope to give the same thrilled feeling I had as a kid of following larger-than-life heroes through their serialized adventures. I stand on the shoulders of giants from Jack Kirby and Curt Swan through Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, and they all reinvented things a bit as they went. But I do mean the heroes will be different. Different colors, different genders, different walks of life.

The second reason I'm excited about this project is how I expect it will stretch me as a writer. I've got outlines and have done some writing ahead, but not a ton. I want to see what happens when I'm under a deadline for a story and not even the sky is the limit. That, I feel, is one of the stronger things the superhero genre has going for it. Tight deadlines and no locks on "the rules" meant that the superhero genre has some delightfully weird tropes. Sometimes that resulted in crazy stories where Superman had the head of a lion. Sometimes it resulted in entire cities of super-intelligent gorillas or teenage super clubs from the future.

Weird, ridiculous, or amazing, these ideas literally couldn't have been created in any other situation. And I can't wait to see what a similar situation pushes me to create.

Talk to me a little about your three goals for your superhero fiction. What are they and why are they important?
The three goals for my superhero fiction are 1. Make it all ages, 2. make it fun, 3. make it diverse.

All ages is an important concept to me because, as an adult, I've realized just how much learning I did reading comics that didn't talk down to me. All ages doesn't mean "for kids." And even if it did, "for kids" too often means "talks to kids like they're stupid." I don't want that. I want to be entertaining to a broad swathe of ages. The all in all ages overpromises, but it's still a goal I want to aim for. Kinda like Pixar, they make the effort to entertain both the kids and adults in their audience on different levels.

This has been a thing superhero stories have lost. By and large, they aren't all ages anymore. Every Free Comic Book Day, I struggle to find something my seven year old son can enjoy. And let me assure you, at this point, if you name a popular superhero book that was either all ages or for kids, we've read it a hundred times. There just isn't new stuff churned out for him. And I want there to be. So I'm being the change I want to see.

As for making it fun, that's just what I want from my superhero fiction these days. There are absolutely places where superhero comics can be grim and serious affairs. Watchmen is the quintessential example. But one reason Watchmen works is because there's all this fun stuff that it can be an opposing reaction to. I've just sort of grown past the point where I need superheroes to be taken seriously. Especially when "serious" means drab colors and compromising of heroic ideals rather than living them out in technicolor. I want superheroes to be a roller coaster ride again, and I think kids do as well even if they can't articulate it yet.

Make it diverse is just something that's close to my heart. My wife and I were foster parents after our son came along. We wanted to add to our family and thought that would be a great way to find the little girl that belonged with us. That got me thinking about how the stuff my son and I enjoyed just didn't have enough action heroes that would look like her. We fostered an African American boy and I couldn't shake the same thought for him. I know I'm not alone in wanting more diverse heroes, but once again, all I can do is try to be that change with my own work.

What kind of characters can we expect to see?
You can expect to see heroes! Selfless people who want to make the world a better place! It just so happens that they want to do it while wearing masks and capes! Other than that, I'm just asking myself how I can make my character base more diverse. Of the first five characters I have in mind, four of them are girls or women, two of them are mixed race, and one of them is Greek (like, ancient Greek). But they're all still multi-faceted, detailed, completely realized characters.

On the villainous side, you're going to see a similar approach to characterization and diversity, but maybe a bit less diverse than the heroes. I mean, the fact that a lot of evil people in the real world are old white guys with a lot of money will filter into my superhero work.

Maybe some examples will help. Catfight and Hell Kitten are from a recently broken home. Their mother is African American, their father is white, and they're moving in with their maternal grandfather (who just happens to have been a mystery man in the 30s and 40s). Think of these girls as the Spider-Man type. Broken home, struggling with money, but they still aspire to heroism. Catfight and Hell Kitten are my coming of age story, so they'll face villains that represent everyday troubles.

My second character (should I get that many patrons) is The Gray Angel. She's what happens if Buffy the Vampire Slayer decides to become Batman. She works in Pilgrim City. The Grim is controlled by supernatural evil and criminals...who are also usually supernaturally evil. Gray Angel is where I'll tell the horror and crime stories.

The last character I'll mention is Andromeda. She's the Andromeda from Greek myth, except she's no wilting princess. That's just the Zeus-fueled PR machine at work. When Perseus failed to show up and fight the Kraken, she yanked the chains from the cliff, dove into the Aegean, and killed it herself. She's adventured all over the place, including to the peak of Mt. Olympus where she got these stunning little strappy sandals with wings. Later, she punched Nazis and even become a warrior queen in another star system.

What kind of inspirations do you have for your villains?
I think the best villains are the opposite number of the hero. And if you have a truly great character, like Batman, you can have several opposite numbers that are nothing alike. Coming in right after that are villains that represent a problem the hero is facing or a problem from their past. The Lizard is, for Spider-Man, a mentor and father figure he couldn't save, especially from his own inner demons. And then there are villains that are just cool concepts or a twist on cool concepts. Solaris the Tyrant Sun is just epic and scary while Klarion the Witchboy is weird and scary.

So I have plans for Helena Handbasket who is, in some ways, the shadowy reflection of Catfight and Hell Kitten. She's new in town, also comes from a broken home, and has found unexpected power. But she's going to use it for her own ends instead of to help others. What will the girls do when they realize that, except for a few blessings, they could have been her?

Over in Pilgrim City, you'll meet Chilly Graves. He's a mobster who crossed the wrong guys, found himself thrown in a freezer to die, and then got dumped into unholy ground. When he awakens, he's a zombie fueled by cold. He's the "what happens when the problems you bury arise?" kind of villain (and also a twist on some favorite Batman bad guys of mine).

I don't want to give away too much, but you can see how my inspirations come through those two characters I hope.

Who do you think this project will appeal to most?
I sincerely hope it appeals to everyone who wants to read some superhero action! I mean, let's be honest. I have some ideological axes to grind that are influencing some of my creative decisions. But I don't expect these to be seen as "superheroes for girls" or "the diverse universe." I just want them to be fun, exciting, and full of wonder in the way that Spider-Man and Legion of Super-Heroes were for me when I was a kid. If along the way I get to reflect a readership that isn't being served as well as it could be, then I am totally okay with that!

Really, I just love superheroes and have for most of my life. My wife and I were discussing how she can't even imagine who I'd be without superheroes. I want to appeal most to the person that might become a lifelong fan of this incredible genre like I did. It would be one of my greatest joys as an artist if my stories were the portal through which even one person became a true believing superhero fan.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Five or So Questions with Justin Bow on Of Gods and Heroes

Justin Bow is from Green Fairy Games!

What's exciting about Of Gods & Heroes?
I talked about this in the Kickstarter description, but I can't say it enough - the game plays like an action movie. It's traditional game mechanics designed to promote creativity and strong character-centered stories with the over-the-top feel of mythology. I think one of the most important aspects of the game are Legend Points/Legendary Feats.

A lot of games have rules that let you reroll a failure, gain a one-shot bonus, or otherwise boost your chances for success. Legend Points let you do all those things, but they also let you perform Legendary Feat. Legendary Feats are myth-level abilities that each player will, on average, get to bust out once per adventure. If they're not an attack against an opponent, they automatically succeed. So you can simply hand over a Legend Point as a Fast Hero and say "I run across the water, because I'm FAST." A Tough Hero could go without food for a month or a Strong Hero could row a ship fast enough to escape a tidal wave.

Legendary Feats are also important because they're where players get to interact directly with the plot - it's a way to completely throw things off the rails in the coolest way possible. A good example from a beta playtest a few years ago had some Viking Heroes chasing another ship, which had just burned their village to the ground. They weren't making much headway (and the enemy ship was supposed to get away), until the Strong Hero said "You know what, I'm really strong. Forget this. I'm jumping over to the other ship."

And he did. Ultimately, both ships ended up sinking when one of the other players decided to ram the ships together, but that's neither here nor there...

What mythology most inspired your game?
This kind of feels like you're asking 'which is your favorite child.' OGH is pan-mythic, so it discusses a whole range of mythologies, from Aztec to Japanese to Norse and Greek. The basis for the game, though, is sea-faring mythology - your Heroes are assumed to be from a sea-faring culture and a lot of the game is about the crazy things that are beyond the Horizon. If you look at mythology, there's often this idea that, sure, there's magic and gods and stuff in day-to-day life, but the really crazy stuff is over the Horizon. Islands of dog-headed people, rocs guarding valleys full of diamonds, women who try to lure you out of your boat by singing, the edge of the world, that sort of thing.

So that's a strong theme. I'm pretty familiar with a wide range of mythology and folklore, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that I'm most familiar with Greco-Roman and Viking mythology, so a lot of the random example names come from those myth cycles. Both the sample adventure list and the opponents draw pretty widely from a lot of different mythological inspirations - there's even a monster from Australian mythology in there (the bunyip).

I should also mention that there are guidelines for running non-sea-faring games in the Chronicler (GM) chapter. These are essentially just little tweaks that exchange the ocean for a different geographic barrier - whether that's jungle, desert, mountains or whatever. The sense that the wide world is dangerous and you're safer at home wasn't exactly rare in iron-age societies.

Tell me a little more about the basic mechanics of the game. What is the system like?
OGH uses a d6 dice pool mechanic where 5's and 6's are successes.

There are no attributes - only skills and Prowess. Prowess is, essentially, what makes your Hero a Hero. Classically, Heroes are exemplary in every way, but are far more than human in a single area – as Hercules is known for being strong and Odysseus for being cunning, every Hero has a defining capability and this is Prowess. Prowess allows a Hero to stand proudly before the gods and sometimes defy fate itself.

Most dice pools are made up of a Skill + an appropriate Prowess. Both skills and Prowesses max out at 6. Starting characters max out with 5 dice in their areas of focus.

I suggest using two visually distinct types of dice for skills and Prowess because Prowess dice explode if they come up 6 - that is, you can bank the success, reroll the die and get another success or keep rolling 6's, building successes.

The overall goal of the mechanics design was to keep things streamlined - so dice pool modifiers are only for important elements and there aren't many of them. We've found that even with people who've never played an RPG before that the system - from character creation on - is intuitive and easy to learn.

In addition to common things like social conflict, combat, and magic, there are a number of subsystems for warfare, speechifying to crowds, and ritual combat. These are kept modular so that unless you're actually, you know, going to war, you don't need to worry about those rules - but at the same time, their structure is the same as the core game systems, so you're not suddenly getting jumped by a much more complicated ruleset just because you wanted to introduce one of these story elements.

I really felt having that flexibility was important because players are going to see those rules and say "holy crap, I can start a riot!" Because the rules exist, people are more likely to put those elements in their games and tell crazier, more exciting stories.

You mentioned Tough Heroes and Strong Heroes. What's the difference? Are there other types of heroes?
I mentioned before that there are no traditional attributes in Of Gods & Heroes and talked a little bit about Prowesses. Tough and Strong are two of the 12 or so different Prowesses. A Tough Hero would be someone like Achilles whose super-mortal abilities are focused on being resistant to damage - they're also berserkers, so the more they get hurt, the better at melee combat they are. Tough Heroes mostly handle defensive roles in a group of Heroes, making sure that opponents focus on them rather than their squishier friends. Strong Heroes are pretty much what it says on the tin - strong. Think Hercules or Thor. Their job is to punch things really hard and lift heavy objects.

Some of the other Prowesses are: Cunning (liars, tricksters, geniuses - like Odysseus or Coyote), Eloquent (smooth-talkers and beautiful people, like Helen of Troy or Orpheus), Dextrous (people with exceptional agility, famous archers - like Monkey or Artemis), Wise (sages, mages, the guys who speak the language of creation - like Taliesin the Bard), or Beloved of Death (literally the child of the god/goddess of death).

Each one of these "styles" of Hero has an important role to play in an epic. Personally, I like to run/play in games with around 4-5 players, but I've had sessions where we've done a whole adventure with just an Eloquent Hero and a Strong Hero and it worked very well because they were able to cover each others' backs. I think you could successfully run a full epic with just one combat-capable character and an Eloquent, Wise or Cunning Hero.

What do you hope players get out of the game?
First, I hope that Of Gods & Heroes lets people make new myths. As a GM, I am constantly surprised by the stories this game creates. There’s real agency given to players through the Legend Points mechanic without making the game about who gets to tell the story. Every game session I walk away from the table feeling like we (myself and the players) created an interesting, exciting story. One time, I had to just end the session with “… and that’s why, to this day, all the snakes on Crete can talk.” It’s a really fun, collaborative process to get to that point. A process that involves punching a lot of things in the face.

I also hope that OGH encourages people to take another look at mythology, whether they read myths as a kid or last week. Mythology is public domain, which means there are plenty of websites that have comprehensive collections of various cultures’ myth cycles. Combined with Wikipedia, ‘researching’ a campaign setting or finding new material to inspire adventures is insanely easy. And I just think it’s cool to see how different cultures all tell similar stories and then to realize that we’re still telling those stories today, just modified to fit our culture.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Five or So Questions with Shannon Appelcline on Designers & Dragons

Tell me a little bit about Designers & Dragons. What excites you about it?

Designers & Dragons is a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. It starts with TSR and runs through Posthuman Studios and along the way it provides complete histories for over 80 other roleplaying publishers. Each history focuses on the roleplaying production of one company, but also charts out all of its highs and lows, so you can learn about TSR's lawsuits, Palladium's Crisis of Treachery, the few times that Chaosium teetered on the edge, and much more.

This all excites me because it's the backstory of the industry. It's the tales of people who are remembered, the ones who were forgotten, and the great games they created — most of which are no longer on the shelves. It's about the companies that prospered (often in unexpected ways) and the companies that failed (usually in equally unexpected ways).

I started writing Designers & Dragons because I wanted to know what had happened to these companies of the past — where they'd disappeared to and what their stories were. I found that uncovering this knowledge was fascinating, and it appears that readers do as well!

What do you think are highlights of the 00s that new designers should really be aware of?
First, designers should look at the indie movement. Some of the early indie ideas like resource management and freeform attributes have already hit the bigger time in releases from larger publishers. However, indie games also contain lots of other interesting design like unconventional narratives, distributed authority, scene framing, and stake setting. Not all of it's appropriate for every game, but a designer should be aware of the entered toolbox, and that toolbox has been expanded a lot since the mid '90s.

Second, designers should look at the OSR movement. I'm not necessarily talking about the retroclones, but the newer games that have melded together modern design aesthetics with old-school design tropes. I think that Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG (2012) is the game that's probably done the best job of managing this merged landscape.

If you know what made the industry appealing in its early days and if you know the newest ideas about how to develop roleplaying games, then you've probably got a pretty good handle on interesting design.

What is your favorite thing to talk about in RPG history?
I love the scope of history: the fact that the RPG industry has been around for forty years and that it traces its origins back even further; the fact that its created parallel industries like modern miniatures games, CCGs, and computer RPGs. I love how you can often trace a designer's production through multiple companies, to see where they started and where they went. I love the scope within an individual company, as you see how it rises (and sometimes falls).

However, I find it just as intriguing to talk about the reasons behind all this history: why a person started a company and why they decided to create an RPG on a specific topic. I love discussing why an abrupt change occurred at a company: why an old RPG line went away or why a certain type of product was discontinued,

So I'd say those two things: the big picture and the little reasons that underlie it.

Who do you think will benefit the most from the books, and why?
My first reaction is to say that old-time gamers will benefit from Designers & Dragons the most, because the books talk about all the old companies that they remember and the old game systems they still play. Equally, the books reveal the secrets of the smaller presses that old-time gamers might have heard of, but never investigated. However, I think that newer gamers will benefit from the books too, because they're full of everything that's gone before — the companies and games that are the foundation that modern gaming is built upon.

So I'd have to say anyone who wants to learn more about the gaming industry, the companies that made it up, and the games they've produced over the last four decades.

What do you suggest people do, aside from reading Designers & Dragons, to learn more about RPGs and the industry?
I love the old gaming magazines for what they reveal about the industry. Wizards of the Coast's Dragon Magazine Archive is awesome for the fact that it lays out 25 years of industry growth, and you can get it on eBay for about $100. The generalist magazines were also good because they tended to be full of news, interviews, and game design notes from a wide variety of companies. I'd particularly recommend The Space Gamer, Different Worlds, White Wolf, and Shadis — which together form a nice chronology from the late '70s through the '90s.

There have also been a couple of great books. Heroic Worlds, a catalog of the games of the '70s and '80s, and Playing at the World, a dense investigation of the origins of roleplaying, are particularly interesting.

Finally, there are a number of OSR blogs which do a good job of looking at the history of the industry. Grognardia was my favorite until it fizzled out, but it's still got interesting things in its archives.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Five or So Questions with Jão Pedro on Love Gift Cards

You can check out Jão's Patreon here: 

Tell me a little about your Game Chef winning game, Love Gift Card. What excites you about it?
First and foremost, It's been peoples' reaction to it! The game's premise is a little far-fetched, and to me it really was a game design exercise, just as the competition calls for. I didn't think it would score, but people get excited with the idea, even folks outside hobby circles! So there's that, and I'm still a little baffled.
But what's really nice is that people get the game's goal: to expand autonomously driven by the human desire to do good, and to foment that very desire by doing so. It's a cycle they seem to recognize as something which could be, as something viable. That people can so easily correlate the game's mechanism to what goes on in real life, even when the game isn't really playable yet, makes me really proud of it.

I'm interested in bleed in RPGs, when boundaries between players and character worlds get blurred. I think that's when this games acquire the potential to produce the same kind of reaction as good art does: touching emotional layers, offering new perspectives about the world we live in. The Love Gift Card Game is an attempt to to get people, specially geeks like myself, wondering about their roles in real life, and their real-life behaviour and real-life communities. That sort of thing, I think, should be what game designers should be dealing with.

What were your inspirations for the game?
The whole idea derived from the contest's theme, There is no book. I was talking to Encho (last year's Game Chef World champion) about it, we were both trying to stretch it to "there are no game instructions" and figuring out how could a game like this be, and I said it would be cool if people had little pieces of the game that only made sense when they met and put them together. It would be a decentralized game, forever ongoing, and I thought it would be even cooler if carrying around little "pieces" of the game were some fashionable thing, so the game could expand carried out by this fad and "happen" in the events of two carriers bumping to each other. I thought this went well to the ingredients Absorb and Wild. Then I reminded of this annoying thing called The Game, a one-rule game that you "play" only by knowing it exists and you "lose" every time you remember it (by the way, I just lost it!). The only element of this game is a meme, that propagates by itself. It doesn't even need players to decide to play it! And I just recently played a larp called White Death, which impressed me by how deep a game could get using just a set of simple instructions for the players to perform, so I figured what I needed was some simple trigger-action combination people could apply to their everyday lives.

That's when I got to the "hug game" idea. I don't know, there's a cant here to describe friendly social events as love-something, like "new year's eve party of love", or "RPG tuesdays of love", so I decided to do a proper "game of love". To me, it sounded like something that could be relevant as a message to the real world, and I liked it. So I probed our local Indie RPG facebook group with a mockup card, got some positive feedback, and here we are!

Tell me a little bit about the mechanics. What makes the game work?
Actually I don't really know if it will work! It depends on how people face the instructions. I suppose that if people receiving cards find it too silly, it won't work at all. It really depends a lot on the social structure in which it is seeded.

But the idea is this: you get a card (buy it or receive it from someone else) and it presents you with a slightly socially-awkward challenge, but that is really a good deed you're tasked to do. And it also informs you that if you can accomplish that you kinda become part of some secret group, which members you could recognize by their actions, and that you should pass along the card, helping the "game" to expand. It's an appeal for you to take part in a sort of benign wave, to willingly become a link in a chain reaction designed to make the world a better place. Hell, if it doesn't make people scratch the itch, then humanity is indeed doomed! :-)
Technically, it should work as a challenge type of game. But, as I said, It was designed as an theoretical exercise of game design. I'm expecting critics if it even qualifies as a game at all! God knows what could happen if it is materialized.

Art-wise, though, I expect it to instigate reflections on relationships (or the absence of them). If this occurs, even if it doesn't function as a real game, I'll be satisfied.

Talk a little about bleed. What do you think is so interesting about it?
We tend to see games as entertainment solely, as something you do to escape from a harsh reality. That's a very narrow perspective. Games can be a media as fruitful as any other, they can be as powerful as the cinema or literature, or even more, since it engages you on another level. Dungeons & Dragons can be about cooperation. Horror RPGs can be tools to explore the human condition. Why not? The other day I learned Monopoly was originally designed to warn people about the trouble with abuses of private property, and if you think this through, its a hell of a demonstration! When we, humans, need to cope with unsettling issues we play: we create music, pictures, tales. Games are just another way of playing out this issues, and we should use them. So I'm all for the nordic school of larp: do touch, seek the points of convergence between fiction and reality, and use the opportunity to learn about yourself and others.

I talked about White Death previously. I'm new to larping so I might be overreacting, but that game touched me deeply. The game itself is very simple, but the music, the constraints... it forces you to contemplate your helpless imperfection as a human being, the caos that emerges inevitably from human interaction, and death. It printed really strong images in my brain. It made me cry. How could this be just a game?

What's up next for you now that you've won the contest?
On The Love Gift Card Game front, I'm talking publishing it with Kobold's. I don't know yet how this will play out, since the game follows no known business model, but we're studying the best way to bring the idea to life.

Also, I've got a bunch of unfinished projects, including another game which was finalist in a contest and is (was?) due to publication, the Massa Critica RPG, and I just couldn't make time to work on them. So I'm taking this Game Chef prize as an incentive and finally setting up a page on Patreon to concentrate some effort on those projects (I'll send you the final link shortly so you can include it here, ok?). Who knows? Maybe I can squeeze out some more good ideas!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Five or So Questions with Avonelle Wing on Convention Organizing

Tell me a little about what you do as a convention coordinator. What's exciting about it?

What do I do? that's a very complicated question, because I wear many hats, and the list of things I do could read like a resume.
From the practical and very concrete perspective, my job is to make sure the resources are available for the convention staff to provide the most satisfying convention experience possible to the broadest segment of our population. Among the things I do are:
  • Remembering to buy the right envelopes (peel and stick, #10), card stock, poster board, tape, packing tape, duct tape, and knowing which brand and why.
  • Keeping track of ridiculous things, like remotes, wires, plugs, components - making sure everything gets packed to and from every con, and I know where each important piece is. all the time. 
  • Refreshing our extension cord supply. 
  • Counting bed spots accurately so senior staff and guests all have a place to sleep.
  • Soliciting and tracking prize support and library copies of games.
  • Keeping track of special guests and making sure they have satisfying experiences at the con. 
  • Maintaining a social media presence so the conventions are people, not faceless corporate entities to attendees. 
My brain holds a million vital little details that mean we don't ahve to reinvent the wheel. and we never have to deal with the experience of buying the wrong duct tape again. (the whole Big Board system fell off the walls at DEXCON. Within hours of putting it up. It's my job to remember that horror and to make sure we avoid it in the future. 1,000 events on the ballroom floor. oi.)

I talk to game masters. I help piece the schedule together (my husband does the lion's share of the scheduling and I still get a little swoony when I look at the sheer magnitude of the task he takes on every convention.). I coordinate staff.

On a more ephemeral level, I get to be part of the magic of our community. I am the welcome wagon - I notice when somebody is looking a little lost and I loop them into something exciting. I forge connections, solve problems. When somebody is in the middle of a devastating breakup and needs to hide, they end up in my room, because that's a safe place to hide and I always feed you after I scrape your sobbing self up off a hallway floor. Our conventions are described by lots of people in our community as "giant family reunions" and I get to make that magic happen. It's akin to being the eccentric aunt who rents the pavilion, hires the magicians and buys 100lbs of charcoal. The difference is that our community has chosen to be here. and I love them for that.

I get to facilitate our evolution. When somebody comes to me and says "freeform. it's a thing. we need more of it" I get to say "ok! fill out the form and let's do it!"

When somebody says "gender. It matters in gaming and we need to talk about it." I get to say "OK! space, exposure, attention. let's go."
18 months later, somebody said the same thing about race. "Great. Let's talk. Let's talk long and loud and let's get angry and let's do positive things to change our world. Let's go!"
We hear "old school roleplayers feel lost. we want a home too!" and we launch a convention within a convention to serve them too.
Our job is to be responsive and supportive and encouraging. and I think we do a decent job of it. It's exciting to me to hear somebody say "I want to..." and to be able to say "and I can help make that happen. I'm excited! let's go!"

I am often humbled, watching our community support each other. and I get to know that they've come together because I've given them the venue and the opportunity and the reason to do so.

What is the biggest challenge to hosting a con?
The biggest challenges of any convention lie in the unknowns - will the air conditioning be able to keep up? how many bottles of soda will we blow through this year? The system and process stuff? We've got that down, and it's entirely on us. Once you set the machine in motion, you become dependent on other people to see things through, and on the universe to cooperate.

I drove all the convention badges, the printer and all the other registration materials to a convention once through a storm system that spawned tornadoes. As I drove down the highway, I watched trees falling behind me - it felt cinematic and not as terrifying as it should have been. Those things, you can't plan for. You just have to keep your head screwed on straight and keep moving.

What do you think is the most valuable advice you could give someone starting their own event?
Talk to other local events. Make sure you're not crashing their party. Ask them about venues - sometimes there's a reason an event moved suddenly. Schedule so you're not stepping on anybody's toes. Ask for help - Double Exposure is always happy to help a small even negotiate for space and sometimes we even help staff for your first couple of years.

Figure out a reasonable budget and double it.

Carry the best insurance you can possibly afford. Wait. what? insurance? Yes, insurance. Trust me, it's worth it.

Don't run by committee. Take personal responsibility for things that go wrong and be generous in sharing the credit for things that go right.

What are your goals with Maelstrom and DEXCON, which are two wildly different cons?
Maelstrom is an experiment, and I'm still sorting out my goals. I need to go back to my brain trust and discuss what worked and what didn't, and to set community-guided goals.

DEXCON's goal is, always, to provide the most action-packed, diverse, intense, intimate five days of gaming anywhere. We've got the excitement of one of the mega-cons with the comfort and friendliness of a local con.

What's big for the next year for Double Exposure?
Big... I'm not sure we are ready for much bigger than 2014! We're up to four conventions a year of our own, plus we're doing the First Exposure Playtest Hall at Gen Con.

I'm just getting my feet under me when it comes to talking about the importance of social justice - of advocacy and representation. That has become a bigger part of Double Exposure's program over the last several years, as I've realized that we were above the curve, but had more we could be doing. the rest of 2014 and likely most of 2015 is going to be continuing to present the best possible product to our community while refining and advancing our approach to outreach, education and representation. I have so much to learn, and so many brilliant people to learn it from.

I have a still-flickering hope that we will be able to do a larp-oriented project in 2015, but that won't be decided until we've gotten home from Gen Con, at the soonest.

Why do you run these conventions?
Riding home from Gen Con last year, I found myself pondering the fact that these conventions - even with their stress, financial exposure, physical toll, worry and effort - are as close to worship as I come. We create a thing that is ephemeral. It's temporary, like a play, and when we're done, we strike the set and we go home. But while they exist, we create something that is as close to a Divine act as possible.

Conventions connect people in a very tangible way. We step outside of our daily lives and enter a space outside of time. We storytell - one of the most human and most sacred of acts. We trade pieces of ourselves. We laugh. we cry. We see friends we only see a couple of times a year, and we pick back up right where we left off. There's an emotional resonance to conventions that is unlike anything else I've experienced.

Also, it's safe place to be a nerd - to love My Little Ponies. to know the dialogue to every Star Trek movie. to remember every model number of every Terminator to show up on screen, ever. There's very little fear of mockery or disdain. As somebody who was vexed for being a reader, for being a nerd, for having a grown-up vocabulary, sometimes it moves me to tears to watch folks (often younger folks) come in - a little awkward, a little wound up, a little too much - and to see them unwind, slow down, find their own unique pace. We create a space where we protect each others' weirdnesses, and share them. It gives folks who find themselves on the fringe at school, at work, in their daily life, a chance to be in the middle of the puppy pile - to be respected, to acknowledged and seen and known.

It's a calling, and I've known that since I first walked into a Double Exposure convention in 1997. I welcome each new face like a companion on this path to carve out a spot of acceptance, creation and joy every few months.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Five or So Questions About Snow White

I interviewed the creators of the module, Snow White, now on Kickstarter! Excuse the brevity, we're running against time - this Kickstarter is almost over!

Tell me a little bit about Snow White. What has you excited about it?

The story of Snow White was originally old Hessian folklore from Deutschland (Germany) and was later adopted and altered by the Brothers Grimm. Finally this tale made it to the stage and big screen through Disney who continued to alter the original tale getting even further from the roots. We wanted to go back to the beginning of the tale and pay homage to the old folklore while at the same time providing a new and unexpected twist (or three).

Many of the Grimms’ tales feature “strong and active characters,” as opposed to “strong (usually males) and helpless (usually females)” participants. Who is good and who is bad also flows back and forth, with no one type of person depicted as good and another as bad. Snow White is especially good at this mixing and matching, and the various tales depict all kinds of people, of both sexes, in all their glory or infamy.

We looked at the original tales - Albanian, Armenian, Indian, and Russian for example - and could see some wonderful elements for an immersive rpg. We thought that our greatest asset would be that GMs know the story, will expect certain faerie and magical elements, and then look to see (and hopefully accept!) the additional thoughts and ideas. At the same time we thought that our greatest problem would be that players know the story, and if they get wind of what it is they are playing, expect a certain set of encounters and potentially grumble at anything that deviates from the story. So knowing that the various tales have many similar components, but a few different elements, we found that we could introduce some exciting variations and mysterious new events that would keep players on their toes. And so this prove to be, as our Snow White drew together some wonderful parts from assorted faerie tales and wove them into one grand adventure. -Jonathan & Stephen

What inspired the title of the adventure?

It was difficult to move away from the faerie tale title, although we wanted to disguise this from players. We also wanted to make it clear that this isn’t the Disneyfied version of events - no whistling while you work here, as the intelligent sinkhole will hear you - so the slightly blood-soaked version on the adventure cover came to life. Then we also wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t just an adventure-by-numbers, with the well known, “obvious” ending the only possibility. In fact, we included 8 possible endings, and acknowledge that there could be more! So the tagline, “Not all fairy tales have happy endings” became an important part of the title, as it makes it clear that this could all go horribly wrong if the players aren’t careful. Of course, no matter if they are successful or unsuccessful, at least one person will be very happy and another very angry. Who display which of these emotions all depends on what the players do, and when. So these ideas, based on the elements of the various tales mentioned i the previous answer, all contributed to the way the title turned out. -Stephen

What have you done to be more inclusive with your project?

None of the players are cast as "Snow White" or her "Prince Charming," which I think opens up the door for inclusivity by not pigeonholing either male or female players and their characters into certain roles. As Jonathan said previously, we wrote eight possible endings to the story. This allows the players to make the decision as to how the tale will end, instead of the adventure itself. We hope that there is an ending for everyone, but if not, the players can make up their own. -Will

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Five or So Questions with Josh Jordan on Mask & Crown

Tell me about your current project. What has you excited about it?

Now that Dangers Untold is in layout, I am starting to think more about my next game. It's true that I'm still knocking out a few extras for the Kickstarter backers, but most of my work for that game is done.
The project I'm bouncing around in my head right now is a duet of games called Mask & Crown. A duet of games is two games that can be played separately, but that have been designed to work well together. In this case, I'm designing games to be played in alternate sessions. You don't necessarily play the same characters in both games, but your actions in your previous session of Mask give benefits to your character in Crown, and vice versa.

Mask is a game about internal conflict. You play a seeker of enlightenment on the day of an important festival. You try to overcome selfishness, so that, by the end of the day, you become possessed by a divine spirit. The game uses tokens and a board to help you keep track of where your character is in his struggle, and what sorts of things he is struggling against. Each session covers one day of game time.
Crown is a game about family and noble house conflict. You play one of the noble houses, and can act as any member of that house. You want your house to rise to the imperial throne. You can pursue that through a number of skill trees. Once you advance a skill tree, you open up new kinds of conflicts for your house to face. Each session covers one year of game time.
I'm excited about these games for three reasons. The first and most boring reason is that I want to be able to play in a setting that explores these issues. I like the idea of telling a Game of Thrones-like story, where each player wants her house to seize the throne. And I also want the chance to focus in on a member of that household who just wants to become a better person and touch the face of his god.
Second, for a while now, I've wanted to explore the idea of interlocking games. Each needs to be complete on its own, but they should be even more fun together. I can think of card games that do this, but I don't know of any story games designed to complement each other.
Third, there's a physical element to these games that I want to explore. In Mask, there is a physical mask that starts the game covered, then becomes uncovered, and is eventually worn by the player whose character is possessed. This is a powerful theatrical element that can have a good emotional charge if done well. Likewise in Crown, there is a physical crown that players can seize and wear. Unlike the Mask, you can sometimes take the crown off the head of one of the other players and put it on yourself. Seize the crown!

What do you do mechanically to demonstrate the differences between playing on a personal level and playing on a House level?
The games are still in development, so some of the in-story elements of this need to be hammered out by playtesters. I can tell you that in Mask, you'll have a little token that you move around on a board that represents how close you are to enlightenment. You have a small, fixed dice pool that you roll to overcome challenges. In Crown, you gain a larger and larger dice pool as you overcome challenges and advance your house. By the end of the game, you are rolling a significant pile of dice as you try to control the entire kingdom.

How do you mesh the two games together?
A session of Mask represents one day of in-game time, and it always takes place on a festival day in the story world. A session of Crown represents a whole year of in-game time. So if you alternate sessions, the timeline should work out smoothly.
At the end of the text for each game are a list of various bonuses based on how your last session went. For example, if you were wearing the mask at the end of your last session of Mask, you gain extra dice to pursue the magical hermit/wizard approach to seizing the throne in Crown.

What benefits do you think there are to physical props at the table?
I think physical props are one way for players to engage with the story emotionally. They make the game into a ritual, which is a powerful category of human activity. Part of my intent with these games is to explore how physical props affect players' connection to the story. In other words, if we make a roleplaying game more like a ritual, how will players experience the game differently and how will they talk about their story after the fact? I know that, for me, it will make the game feel more important, but I want to see what happens for other people.

When can we expect to see Mask and Crown in the wild, and what's coming up next?

I'm planning on releasing a playtest version of Mask and Crown shortly after I finish delivering all the rewards for the Dangers Untold Kickstarter. I hope that means by September. We're trucking right along. Dangers Untold should go to print in June, and there are relatively few rewards left for me to create.
That means that Mask and Crown should be playable by October. I'd like to have the games in their final form some time next year.
Otherwise, keep an eye out for other Ginger Goat games in early 2015. I've started work on a trilogy of sci-fi games tentatively called The Soldier of Sympathy trilogy. And you can always check in with my podcast about storytelling, Tell Me Another, at

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Five or So Questions with Brendan Conway on Masks

Tell me a little about Masks. What has you excited about it?

Masks is my Powered by the Apocalypse game of young supers, figuring out who they are when the world keeps telling them different things. You'll play a young superhero type person, someone who's capable already, but not at the peak of their ability. Somebody who's still learning about who they are, and the world they live in, and trying to figure out where they fit, even as adults and peers are shouting at them constantly, trying to tell them exactly where that is. You'll be part of a team of others like yourself, who are of course also nothing like yourself, and who are all struggling to find their own places. And you'll be telling them who they are even as they do the same to you. Oh, yeah, and of course amid all this drama, tons of super-heroic action. Cars flying through the air, ice beams, absurd acrobatics, that kind of thing.

The key mechanical innovation that I'm playing with to get this tone across (and the one that has me most excited) is Labels. Instead of Stats, which are used in most Powered by the Apocalypse games, you have Labels. Stats are sort of objective measures of who you are. If you have a +3 Hard, then you're a hard guy. If you have -2 Volatile, then you wouldn't hurt a puppy. Stats are objective measurements of subjective qualities. Labels, on the other hand, are explicitly about how you see yourself. So they fluctuate a lot. As people tell you who you are, their words have impact on your self-image, and your Labels will change. As you decide who you are, your Labels will change. As a result, the things that you're good at and the things that you're bad at are never quite set in stone. The consequence of being a young person who doesn't quite know who they are yet.

Beyond the fact that I'm psyched to explore that game mechanic, and that I've had great fun testing it so far, and that I just get a thrill putting pen to paper and writing up more ideas for it...I'm super excited by the potential to create a system that consistently produces stories like ones I love. I am enamored of RPGs that set themselves up as story-engines, capable of consistently producing particular kinds of stories that you might find in movies, books, comics, whatever. For Masks, I wanted to create an engine that could produce stories like those in Young Avengers, Runaways, Avengers Academy, Teen Titans, and certain iterations of the X-Men. In particular, I've been watching Young Justice, and every time I think about how Masks could be the system that creates Young Justice style stories at your table, I get chills. That's what I want -- to be able to create my own Young Justice stories with friends. If Masks gets anywhere close to that goal, I'll be pretty happy.

How do Labels work, mechanically?

The caveat is that they're still in development, but here's how the Label mechanics look right now. There are six different Labels: Hero, Danger, Freak, Star, Radical, and Mundane. Each one is ranked just like normal Powered by the Apocalypse stats, from -3 to +3. Each one has a single basic move attached to it, and when you make that move, you'll roll 2d6 + the appropriate Label. All of this is par for the course in Powered by the Apocalypse games.

The difference comes with the seventh basic move, "Tell someone who they are." This move has you rolling+Influence, which is the amount of sway your words have over someone, to adjust that person's Labels. You'll have a different amount of Influence over each other Mask (PC). So if I'm playing Robin, I might have 0 Influence over Superboy because he doesn't really have anything staked on my opinions of him. I'll be rolling+0, then, when I tell Superboy that if he keeps acting the way he has been, he's going to get someone hurt! I'm telling Superboy that he's a Danger. If I get a hit, then my words have sunk in, and Superboy's Danger Label will go up by 1. As a consequence, though, another of Superboy's Labels will go down by 1. That'll be Superboy's player's choice. If, on the other hand, I tell Superboy that he's endangering people and heroes don't do that, then I might actually be telling Superboy that he is not a Hero. In that case, on a hit I can decrease Superboy's Hero Label by 1, and then Superboy's player can increase another Label by 1.

That's the basic idea, but then I've got a lot of other accouterments I'm hanging on it. For example, every playbook has six unique moves, one for each Label. When you are at +1 in a particular Label, you'll get access to that move automatically, but you'll lose access if you drop below +1 in that Label. As you advance, you'll gain the opportunity to permanently unlock those moves. Other advancement opportunities include the ability to add +1 to a Label -- no, you can't be guaranteed that it will stay higher, but it means that on the whole, your Labels ecosystem will add up to one point higher than before. I think of that as having developed a stronger sense of self on the whole -- you're still figuring out who you are, but you're growing in the sense that you are somebody. Another advancement opportunity is the ability to lock your Labels in place at the time you take the advance, to solidify your self-image. You can lock your Hero in at a +3, for instance, ensuring that no one can tell you that you aren't a Hero anymore -- you know that you are. Or, you could lock your Hero in when it's a -3 -- you're not a Hero, and you never will be, no matter what they tell you.

Tell me a little about the Paragons. How do they work and how do they help shape the game?

Paragons in Masks are folks like Magneto and Xavier. They are NPCs, the big, most important highlighted people in the world of these young Masks. They might be anything from teachers to idols to feared criminals to hated enemies, but one way or another they are critically important to shaping the world that the Masks live in.

At the start of play, you'll create three Paragons as a group. Each Paragon embodies one Label, denies another Label, and has a particular type. For example, you might wind up with a Paragon who embodies Radical (he thinks he knows how to change the world, himself), denies Danger (he would never harm anyone if he can possibly avoid it), and be of the Teacher type (with the move: Highlight inexperience). The exact details would be up to your group to fill in, with the GM asking questions about the Paragon until you all have a clear idea of that character. In this case, that Paragon might be Professor Charles Xavier.

After making the three Paragons, each Mask picks one to label as the most important to them. The idea here is to have the Masks with strong feelings already toward the iconic characters in their setting, the way that Young Justice characters like Robin, Artemis, and Superboy have strong feelings about Batman, Sportsmaster, and Superman. Or the way that the young X-Men have strong feelings about either Xavier or Magneto. The Paragons would then give the GM the equivalent of Fronts for Masks, as well as giving the GM a means by which to actually affect the Masks' Labels -- if you deeply care what Xavier thinks and then Xavier tells you you aren't ready to go out there and fight to save lives, you can rest assured it's going to affect your Labels.

The Paragons are there to be pillars, to be the major forces that you can deny, or accept, or join with, or run from. If young people define themselves in contrast to or similarity with the important people in their lives, then Paragons are those important people.

What is the biggest change, tonally, from other Powered by the Apocalypse games and Masks?

Tough question! I don't think that, tonally speaking, the Powered by the Apocalypse games can be easily lumped together. If I had to answer on the whole, the biggest thing I'd call out is the difference in one of the fundamental principles for Masks. While I still see Masks as a "Play to find out" kind of game, I also keep rephrasing it in my head as "Play to find out who the Masks are". Less of a focus on events and actions, per se -- more of a focus on identity and personality. To answer a bit better though, I need to call out some of those games individually.

Monsterhearts is a wonderful game about being a teenager where adolescence is depicted through the lens of being a monster, and it pretty much says whatever I could think to say about adolescence from that perspective. Masks is about being a teenager or a young adult, but with much more focus on figuring out who the heck you are and how the voices of everybody around you can affect you. So beyond just the obvious horror versus superhero fiction difference, I see the difference being between your internal struggle with yourself and with control and understanding and growing up, and your external struggle to hear what other people are telling you about yourself and internalize that helpfully and healthily, without losing yourself to other people's opinions. Or something.

Dungeon World is a wonderful game about fantasy fiction, particularly of the D&D vein. It pretty much does what Masks tries to do in functioning as an engine that will consistently produce stories of a particular variety. A key difference, though, is that I'm working to make sure that Masks has a heavily emotional component, something that produces what I have heard experts describe as "the feels". I don't think that DW is really all that worried about producing said "feels" in the same way, but that's appropriate to the type of fiction that DW is designed to emulate. DW is very heavily focused on action and awesome and cinematic coolness, while Masks is trying to have some of that action, along with its scenes of people yelling at each other while tears slide down their faces.

Apocalypse World is a wonderful game about scarcity and violence and human struggle and right and wrong. Perhaps the most important tonal difference here is about the badassitude of characters. In AW, you're the baddest asses around. You're really, really great at what you do, and NPCs are chumps. Chumps with guns, sure, but in general no NPC is ever really your equal. In Masks, though, you're young supers. You have enormous amounts of potential, and you can still do some pretty awesome things, but it's an explicit element of the game that you're not there yet. You're Robin, not Batman. Someday, you'll be in the big leagues if that's what you want (though who knows what side you'll be on), but right now? You're still learning.

There are a couple of supers Powered by the Apocalypse games that I can think of -- Worlds in Peril is one of the most prominent examples, having just finished a successful Kickstarter. I haven't really delved deeply into Worlds in Peril's rules, so I don't know for sure how exactly it works, but my impression of it is that it's focusing on superheroes generally, with a tone that reminds me more of the Avengers movie, or superhero comics in general. Masks is designed to delve deeply into a particular style of superhero story, not into superhero stories in general, so that alone is a substantial divide. I'm also noticing that Worlds in Peril has mechanics that are meant to reflect the physics of superhero stories, while Masks has mechanics that all feed into the fundamental idea of Labels and figuring out who you actually are. Of course, all that's a very superficial analysis.

Another superhuman Powered by the Apocalypse game is Mutanthearts, which last I'd heard was being worked on by some great people, and which I had the pleasure of playtesting. It deals with similar setting ideas to Masks, focusing on young mutants, and the issues facing them. It was great! I think that this is one of those interesting cases where Masks and Mutanthearts may be playing in very similar sandboxes, but they're not doing the exact same thing, and that means that they're elucidating different ideas about the genre. Mutanthearts, from my perspective at least, is way more about being a mutant and telling X-Men stories in all their glory, and it's GREAT at that. Masks is much more about just plain being a young super person, dealing with growing up and becoming a full adult super person. That has some X-Men elements in it, but not every X-Men story would fit Masks. Mutanthearts' focus on the drama of being a mutant teenager aims it at a different tonal target than Masks, so really what I'm saying is that if both games ever fully exist you should buy both.

Do you have a timeline for Masks, and if so, when can we expect to see it out in the wild?

Right now, I think I have a very strong core for Masks, a set of ideas and baseline rules that are solid. But I think I have a lot of additional work to do, along with a lot of playtesting, before I feel comfortable bringing it to a finished form. My goal, my hope of all hopes, would be that a year from now, I can put together a Kickstarter to make it a real thing. But in the mean time, I'll be playtesting it and working on it and talking about it.

But, y'know, it helps to have people asking me about when it will exist. Because then I feel more obligated to make that actually happen, and think about things like timelines.