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?