Julep of July

July was here. It came, raged, went. From our vantage point, these quotes sum up the month:

“When you start on a long journey, trees are trees, water is water, and mountains are mountains. After you have gone some distance, trees are no longer trees, water no longer water, mountains no longer mountains. But after you have travelled a great distance, trees are once again trees, water is once again water, mountains are once again mountains." 

-- attributed to Ch'ing-yüan, from The Way of Zen by Alan Watts

also

It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing” 

-- Duke Ellington/Irving Mills

Schedules

We believe in being super transparent with timelines. Here’s the latest:

  • August: Writing, Editing, Conventions.
  • September: Layout.
  • October: Digital Edition Available.
  • November: Printing.
  • December: Fulfillment

This is our job and our passion; we are treating the work with all of the seriousness and respect that privilege demands. Dates for game delivery are tracking later, but not due to idleness. Good writing takes time and we are putting in the time. Progress continues with each and every day and we will burn bright through the night.

Backerkit

Fulfillment can be a beast for backers and creators alike. After exploring a variety of options for how to do fulfillment in a graceful, compassionate way, we went with the tried and true path: Backerkit. (We actually visited their physical office to make sure the fit was right)

Backerkit will allow you to easily manage your shipping address (and extend the same kindness to us). It will let you update your pledge if you’re so moved. It’s also a familiar system for many veteran backers and that means one less moving part in the Kickstarter clockwork.

Look forward to a dedicated update from us regarding Backerkit as soon as it’s set up!

Artwork

Our artists also burn the candle at both ends. The indomitable Erica Williams has been working on a centerpiece for the book and it is here and finished. What started as a string of nouns qua art direction (animals! ruins! The hint of a library lost!) has taken form. Taking in the detail, it’s kind of hard to fathom that a human drew this, but it gives us hope that the robots haven’t taken that from us, yet.

Since we believe great art should be everywhere, a screen printing of this poster will also be included for all AESTHETE OF IDIOM backers along with Jill De Haan’s lovely art. Nice.

GenCon 50

From August 17-20, Thorny Games will descend on Indianapolis for the hallowed yearly rite of GenCon. Here’s where we’ll be -- may our paths cross!

  • Trade Day: A day of talks for educators and industry folks. We’ll be shouting about “Empathy and Play” and “Language and Games”.
  • Sign x 2: Two runs of Sign are on offer and pre-registration is open through normal event listings
  • Dialect x 4: Drop-in play through Games on Demand.

If you haven’t played with Games on Demand, it’s a group of wonderful folks who offer games on a walk-up basis, no pre-registration required. We don’t know our exact schedule, but we’ll be there for ample portions of the weekend. Come say hi!

Off the Books

  • Night Forest is entering its final day on Kickstarter! It’s a quietly magical game about lost memories wandering through the woods. We’re both big fans, having played it last year at Origins and Big Bad Con respectively.
  • Game Design Axioms: K recently recorded a new Game Design Roundtable with Dirk Knemeyer and Rob Daviau on the guts of games.
  • K & H gave a talk in SF about the power of play in adult lives last week. It’s still mesmerizing how much this stuff touches folks to their core.
  • The Golden Cobra LARP challenge is currently accepting applications! Sign started its life as a Golden Cobra submission, so it has a dear place in our hearts. H is a judge! Hisssssssssssss.
  • Good books. This is a set of them. Free Play: Improvisation in Life and ArtArt & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking

The Good Work

Time to put in the time. As we head back to words and editing, we are so grateful to have you folks along with us. Do know that we’re putting all of the fire in our bellies into this every day.

Be easy like Sunday morning,

B+T n H+K

Interlude: Daughters of Destiny

 A full July update is coming right around the bend, but before then, we wanted to share a brief interlude on something tremendous and dear to us.

Dialect is lucky enough to have many formidable people as contributors. Working with these folks has been a delight and their voices have added dazzle and depth to the game. These writers are a mix of designers, activists, linguists, language inventors and generally remarkable people. We’d like to highlight one in particular.

In the realm of games, Ajit George is a designer, community leader, and (fortunately for Dialect) the author of the backdrop Velayuthapuram, Tamil Nadu. 2006. Outside of games, Ajit does incredible work as the Director of Operations for Shanti Bhavan; a non-profit school that supports, empowers, and educates the poorest children in India. Shanti Bhavan has reimagined non-profit education by caring for Dalit children, those from the lowest castes, from their first day of school to their first day of work. Shanti Bhavan fosters academics, leadership, dignity. This is work that transforms the lives of the poor and offers tangible hope to some of the most vulnerable communities in India. 

After twenty years of operation, Shanti Bhavan is now getting widespread and well-deserved recognition. Among many media spotlights, Netflix has just released a 4-part documentary about Shanti Bhavan called Daughters of Destiny. The series tracks the story of girls through their time as Shanti Bhavan students and how it shapes their lives in profound ways.

 

This series is an eye-opening and powerful look into rural India, the real struggles these children face and the ambition of the project. Ajit’s leadership gives inspiration to his backdrop in Dialect. In his own words:

“My work at Shanti Bhavan has made me passionate about Dalit (Untouchable rights), because more than 90% of the children at our school (including the girls in the series Daughters of Destiny) come from this deeply discriminated and segregated segment of India's population. Through the decade I have worked with the organization, I have seen all forms of discrimination against our children and their families, including ostracization and isolation. That ostracization is destructive, and has claimed the lives of more than a few parents of the children who attend Shanti Bhavan. I hope in building this setting (which was directly influenced by real life events), I have been able to give voice to those who would not otherwise be heard and that their stories are acknowledged, at least in part.”

Ajit is a dear friend. In fact, he played in the third game of Dialect that was ever run (back in Metatopia 2015). H himself got to visit Shanti Bhavan on a trip to India and see with his own eyes what meaningful work is being done there. Now that experience has opened up to everyone with a Netflix account.

If you have access to it, we urge you to watch the documentary. If you have the means, and the work moves you as much as it did us, do consider a donation to the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project. They do an incredible amount with the resources they have. 

More soon.

Thorny K, H, B, T. 

The Jinn of June

Ya know the feeling when you’ve been chasing something for a long time? Following clues, hitting dead ends and leaving breadcrumbs to find your way back. Wishing and hoping it all leads somewhere. Well, oh boy, IT HAS. June has been the month that two of our longheld wishes came true. (And let it not be misunderstood, “wishing” has involved an embarrassing number of emails, phone calls and face-to-face meetings, but all the same). This is going to be a linguistics-filled update, so Chomsky up. 

Dialect and Language Vitality

Dialect is about language loss and what that means for culture and identity. Players spend most of the game building language, it’s true, but in the end, people leave the table as the only speakers of their invented dialect. That’s meant to create a morsel of empathy of what it’s like for many around the world whose heritage language is fading.

Rewind a few updates and you might recall we committed to a rulebook chapter about language vitality; covering what can and is being done to fight against language loss and the slide to sameness. Given how important this is to us, we’ve been carefully considering who should author this chapter. Enter Steven Bird: linguist, academic, community organizer and champion for language vitality around the world.

Steven Bird is a pretty amazing guy; when we first tried to reach out, he had been away from internet while living with an aboriginal tribe in a remote area of Australia and learning their language. Steven cares deeply about language vitality and fighting for the treasure languages of the world. He has dedicated a large part of his storied career to it. He is a fantastic combo of academic rigor, on-the-ground experience, along with genuine curiosity and playfulness.

We’re thrilled to share that we’ll be working with Steven to include specific actions players of Dialect can take to fight language loss both across the world and within their own community. He'll be writing a standalone chapter for the book.

This means Dialect will come with two contributed chapters from world-class language experts; David Peterson on language invention and Steven Bird on treasure languages and language maintenance.

Along with the backdrops from so many neat perspectives, we’re so happy with how this has come together. Take a look at an art piece-in-progress that speaks to the themes of rebirth and vitality in language.

 

Sign and Native Speakers

For Sign, we’ve long wanted to involve the perspective of native speakers of Nicaraguan Sign Language into the game as well as the voices of those who originally studied the language. The work felt incomplete without it.

We’ve now been in contact with folks who run the Nicaraguan Sign Language Projects and the first group of people to study ISN as a new language. James and Judy Shepard-Kegl helped arrange a wonderful opportunity for us to meet two native speakers of Nicaraguan Sign Language, allowing their perspectives to be part of the game.

Through an English/ASL/ISN interpreter, we had a long conversation where they gave us feedback on game art, writing, and a bunch of other tidbits to make the game’s voice true-to-life. In our conversation, we also learned a few ISN signs and we were floored. We all knew the story of Nicaraguan Sign Language well by this point, but to actually see the signs and their ties to their origin was quite moving.

Some favorite signs:

California. When we mentioned where we were from California, one of the native speakers, Yuri, signed it by making interlocking circles with thumb and index finger over and over like a chain. We were so curious about the origin! Well, if you remember, Nicaraguan Sign Language first emerged over the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Right around this time, California was in the news for a very particular reason. The chain was the Olympic rings!

Vaccination. During our conversation we asked everyone for their favorite signs. Many were fascinating, but here’s one that really caught our attention. Yuri did a sign for vaccination by indicating an injection on her arm with three fingers and then, as someone later explained, made a motion with her right hand harkening to the marching of army soldiers. We asked why army soldiers were part of the sign for vaccination. They told us that the children had all learned about vaccination from the same picture book, “Louis Pasteur and the Rabies Vaccine”. In it, the first time vaccines are introduced, it includes a cartoon closeup of soldiers marching through the bloodstream. This illustration in a children’s book gave life to a new piece of language all on its own! From a single book in a single schoolroom to part of a whole language! Folks who have never seen that book now know this as their word for vaccination across the country.

Tldr: Lots of language goodness in June. Now onwards with game making.

 

Play what you think is good,

K&H (and the Thorny cats)

 

P.S. We’ll be at GoPlay NW in Seattle this coming weekend running games and hanging out with our gamer kin. Say hi if you’re there! We’ll be running both Dialect and Sign!

From the Mines of May

May was a month in the making, bringing us the sweet satisfaction of forward motion. We’ve been treading deep in the word mines: chipping at chunks of book-writing and polishing up any soot in design. The update this month is tardy — our apologies! The start of June brought us to Origins game convention in Ohio and Japan for work, so time and space are a little slippery. Let’s recap the recent spoils.

In the Word Mines

Writing for Dialect is making steady progress; the bones of the book are falling into place for the core rules and game play. All contributor chapters are complete and the majority have been through editing. For the rest of June we continue the editing and revising process, with July scheduled for the remaining writing and layout.

We continue to indulge our art appetite and work with artist Jill De Haan; new card backs are underway along with a special design for the cloth bag components we shared in our last update. Lots of good things are being crafted here and it’s a pleasure to see things take shape.

Meanwhile, we’ve added new cards to accentuate the changes within language. If you’ve listened to some of our early playthroughs, you may know that some of the language generation cards in Dialect are considered “Action” cards which serve to form new words off of an existing base or change the meaning of a word created in an earlier part of the game (like asking why a certain group of the Isolation has chosen to use another word for a concept for a term that already exists or why the meaning of an existing word has become much more intense).

Well, we’re adding a metric-ton more, since they really make the dialect sing. We trialed many of these cards in local playtests and at Origins game fair. The dirty science of play testing worked its magic — we separated the wheat from the chaff and now have quite a few new cards.

Sign: Unbound

This has been a banner month for Sign. Ever since Sign was first released, it’s been our earnest work to treat the topic of Nicaraguan Sign Language the right way. Studying a story and the logic behind it is one route — but best yet is getting perspective from the source itself.

We’ve solicited lots of feedback from various folks on the topic of deafness and sign language, but to date, despite an embarrassing number of emails, we hadn’t connected directly with someone from the original research. That all changed this month where we got to talk to the project’s director and have him recount the original story to us. What’s more, we’re now scheduled to meet some native speakers of Nicaraguan Sign Language. This will let us incorporate their perspective into the game, what their language means to them and hopefully learning some ISN to boot!

And art and layout are humming along here, too. We have a new cover for the game box. Check it out:


A conventional summer.

 Our summer is packed-to-Tuesday with game gatherings. We just got back from Origins in Ohio where we hosted many fine games of Dialect and Companions' Tale, by the formidable Laura Simpson. You’ll also find us at:

  • GoPlayNW
  • GenCon (Games on Demand and Trade Day!)
  • Big Bad Con
  • SHUX (Shut Up and Sit Down Conference in Vancouver) 
  • Metatopia

Let us take a small moment to sing the praises of Big Bad Con — our favorite place to game where Thorny Games is a stretch goal special guest. No convention does more to make role playing and gaming as a whole more approachable and inviting than Big Bad Con. Being welcoming towards those who have historically not felt completely at ease in gaming environments is one of their absolute top mission statements, and they’ve done an outstanding job. It was one of the first locations where we got introduced to story gaming and LARPs, and the rest is, as one would say, history. We hope to meet some of you wonderful folks there!

Other Game Happenings:

In our game-filled lives, here’s a link-happy version of assorted news:

  • #Feminism on Actual Play. We dipped our toes once again in Twitch and played a stellar set of microgames from this patriarchy-smashing collection. Bonus: it includes two of our fantastic backdrop writers.
  • Cthulhu Dark is on Kickstarter and entering its final days! A lovecraftian horror RPG from the twisted and talented mind of our peerless backdrop writer, Graham Walmsley, author of “Worcester School”. All our love to that wonderful project.
  • In logistical news, 49.93% of us are now full-time on Thorny Games (H, specifically). This doesn’t change much except for more hard, earnest work. Perhaps we’ll finally win a bet the next time we’re asked to show our indie game dev challenge coin.
  • We brought back some weird and wonderful Japanese designed games, like the Cat and Chocolate: Business is Business and A Fake Artist Goes to New York. They are everything we hoped it would be. Perhaps we’ll play some on Twitch in the future! 

Wikipedia Hole:

K consumes way too much Wikipedia. As a gift for our update tardiness, here are a few choice articles:

Rage, rage against the dying of the light,

Thorny Games

K+H (Tarski and Banach, too) 

Arches of April

April has been a month of motion with highs and lows. We have been busy -- the kind of busy that comes from making any good, honest thing. We wrote and edited. We collaborated with our writers and added a few new wonderful folks to our ranks. We sampled components from across the country and redezvous'ed with manufacturers in business parks and online phone calls (the less glamorous but entirely-necessary side of game design). 

All this means earnest progress  -- and to that end, we have news in high and low forms. 

The Highs: We're thrilled to unveil something we've been working on behind the scenes for some time. Simply put, if you bought a physical book from us, come delivery time, you're getting more than you thought. Read below for the details. 

The Lows: It's going to take longer to get here. We're on track to ship in October. But trust us, it'll be well worth the wait. 

We have lots to share. Let's get right to it. One two three ... GO. 

Upgraded Books for Vernacular (Softcover) Backers.

Hey you, plucky softcover backers -- or should I say, former softies. Thanks to the ample support for Dialect, we will be upgrading all of you to glorious hardcover. (Book YouTube has a lot to say on the topic of hardcover vs soft, but it's clear where our sympathies lie). Our printer Taylor Specialty has made books for some beautiful titles that we admire (like this stunner), and we selected them especially for their hardcover craftsmanship. Sturdy with cushioned pages, soft to the touch, sincere and tall in the spine ... truly the only way to travel. 

Two new, handmade components for all Glossopoet+ (Hardcover) Backers.

A game deserves a home; a fitting place to be stored and carried with the requisite bits to jumpstart play. We've long wanted the right componentry for Dialect while not distracting from the fundamental game. We have been chasing this stealthy pursuit for some time. Now, we’re excited to announce our partnership with Heart of the Deernicorn, who will be contributing a lovely additional piece for your Dialect set. For all backers who were previously receiving a hardcover book, you'll also get a handmade silk-screened pouch to hold your hardcover copy of Dialect along with one other beautiful new component. These pouches are completely handcrafted by artisans in Olympia Washington. If you haven’t had the pleasure to make the Deernicorn’s acquaintance yet, they are a friend to art and shunner of the ordinary. Case in point, their game Fall of Magic as an example of their unerring dedication to beautiful components and stunning quality. 

Second, we will be including custom adornments for all hardcover backers. In plainspeak, that means three beaded loops to separate the three ages on your playspace. Currently we have a beautiful waxed cotton rope picked out that lays flat and shapes your playspace nicely.

New adornment. Bead design super subject to change

 

These are completely free additions to these backing levels thanks to the outpouring of support we've received from the community. Why do this? We feel like both of these additions deliver on a longheld and personal wish for the game -- high quality craftmanship through and through. There will be a way to upgrade pledges come nearer to our delivery deadline if the feeling strikes you. You'll have plentiful opportunity.

Professional Editing

Books need editors and we've got a great one. Karen Twelves has agreed to edit both Dialect and Sign. Karen has a storied resume in game editing for all the greats, so we're super lucky to have her. More better words -- we are thrilled. 

Timeliness: Late

Next, the news that no creator wants to give. We are serious about delivering the highest quality game we can -- and to that end, it's become clear to us over April after discussion with our editors and printers that to achieve our quality bar, we'll need to push back the delivery date for Dialect. Keeping in mind the remaining steps we need to produce the physical book (copy editing, layout and printing) and the chapters being written our end, we're tracking to a shipping date in October. We're bummed not to deliver the physical book in July, but know this is done for all the right reasons -- taking time means being methodical and steadfast when it comes to quality. In a retrospective moment, coordinating the huge number of writers and contributors we have on this project ended up being much more demanding on our time than we initially envisioned. Don't get me wrong, it was totally worth it and the game is richer for it. It's just clear that working with large groups of humans just takes a lot of time. 

Despite this, our pdf delivery date still remains July, so you should get your chance to play and try Dialect over the summer. This will let us share the game with you as early as possible and give all of you wonderful backers a chance to help us spot any issues with production before we go off to the printers.

Where are we now?

Writing is in full gear. All writers have either wrapped up or are delivering the last of their contributions in the next couple of weeks, including David Peterson's chapter! We've done first drafts of most of the chapters of the book including the rules. Writing and internal Thorny Games revisions are our main agenda for May. Since game making is serious business, 50% of us (Hakan, to be precise) have taken a leave from our day jobs to focus on making sure writing and production on Dialect is as high quality as our compulsion dictates.

In addition to Dialect, our backers at the Kindred in Language and Play and higher levels are also receiving the first print run of Sign: A Game about Being Understood. In addition to writing in April for Dialect, we also did our first layout pass on Sign and rules layout for cards and a booklet. Here's a prototyped printed version for Sign!

 

Over the month of May we'll complete copy editing for Sign. We'll also be holding a roundtable discussion at the Rochester Institute of Technology, home to the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, with the goal of making sure Sign tackles the subject of deafness appropriately and with respect. To round it out, we're also commissioning a few more pieces of art because we're like that.

As always, thank you for being on this journey with us. We're stoked for how this is coming together.

BUT WAIT: Dialect in Waypoint

We're thrilled that Dialect was featured in a recent article in Waypoint, Vice's gaming arm. "Language can be quietly—or loudly—revolutionary in 'Dialect,' a tabletop game about communities and the words that make them. " Read a thoughtful, important perspective from Alex Roberts, one of our dear writers, on playing through the language. 

Onwards and on words, 

Hakan & Kate (plus the mathy floofs Banach & Tarski)

March en marche

March was relentless in a toothy productive way. 

We are gamecrafting at a deliberate clip; production, writing, collaborating, and art all moved forward this month. We’re satisfied with where we are (well, as close to satisfaction as debilitating perfectionism allows) and we’re excited to share some details with you. If you only have a brief wondrous moment to spend on this, ignore all these words and scroll to the bottom for some choice art. 

Now let’s get right to the juicy bits:

Sign. 

A timely update for those kindred who doubled down on language games, you brave souls. We’ve been perfecting the layout for Sign over March. That means time in the layout lab, prototyping, talking with manufacturers, and getting samples. We have a typeset version we’re quite pleased with - but it’s been a tricky journey. After all, despite the Indie RPG Awards’ prediction that we’re on the cusp of the Children in 1970s Nicaragua game engine takeover, Sign is a special bird. Cards are key and have a good deal of content for players to consume every class and recess. Laying this out in an intuitive and accessible way is a lovely exercise in information architecture. We have our first box/card/booklet speced out. Now we’ve sent it off to our layout-type designer, who is both good and wise. After that, we tally up final dimensions and it’ll be off to the printers! Hip hip!

Dialect Backdrops. 

Collaborating and editing was all-consuming this month. We’ve finalized the rules on our end, with a few more playtests on the horizon for minor edits and new content. Also, win of wins, most of our contributors have now completed their backdrops! They are so flipping good. In a few weeks time, all backdrops (with edits and playtests) will be complete. Keith Stetson has been hard at work on the guide for incorporating Dialect into a homebrew campaign and David Peterson is getting started toward his chapter on language creation. Even with such formidable collaborators, it’s always hard working with so many humans in creative pursuits, but behold sweet friends, it’s coming together!

Dialect + Blades in the Dark. 

In gaming, just like in particle physics, you can’t go wrong smashing two things together at high speed in the pursuit of truth. Trust me, I knowTo test Keith’s rules on using Dialect to make language for another system, we made a Thieves’ Cant for Blades in the Dark! If you don’t know Blades, think a crew of scruffy scoundrels cutting their way to the top of a city that’s already overrun with scoundrels. Also, the city runs on demon blood. It is beautifully designed and super fun. In Part 1, we playtested Dialect in the world of Blades to build the language for a canon group called the Graycloaks, with an eye towards fleshing out their origin story. In Part 2 we played a round of Blades in the Dark as members of the Graycloaks using our new cant! Game in a game of fractal ouroboros games. Words were made, plots were twisted and in the end, the weather was so bad we almost dropped our chains (handy dandy glossary for the game here compiled by the wonderful Karen). Also, all this fun gave us decent signal for playtesting our supplemental material, so win was had by all.

Art. 

Art. No really, art. Working with artists never ceases to amaze. We continue to collaborate with Jill De Haan, letterer aesthete for Dialect. She is deep in the clutches of a two-page spread based on the punchy guidance of “language phoenix.” She is taking that on and then some. (Seriously, it’s so good!) Since we have a compulsive appetite for good art, we decided to commission even more for Sign by the fantastic Miranda Meeks. That happens next month. And for those who have signed up for art prints and the rare Glorious Mystery Language Box, we have something to show you. I know you’re not really supposed to share things before they’re done, but what the hey. The piece by Erica Williams is nearly finished and it’s spectacular. The prompt was something along the lines of “animals walking through a ruined library filled with runic books” and well, see for yourself. Erica is in the process of coloring it and then it’s time to print and behold.

Just wow.

march1.jpg

 

Phew. April is heads down writing for the rulebook. In fact, my cursor is blinking expectantly right now so I best be going. Happy Spring!

Play with courage

K+H. Also, Banach and Tarski, the paradoxical cats

Love and Fire from February

The prophecy is true; Thorny Games persists. February was a month of steady progress through playtesting and collaborating. We wanted to give you a peek at recent happenings in getting this game into form. We'll do this every month of the journey.

Convening and Playtests

We attended Dreamation in New Jersey, a fantastic con with a big heart and an excellent contingent of players and designers alike. Being from the wondrous West, this gathering is quite a trek for us, but duty calls. In happy form, we ran a whopping 5 sessions Dialect, each fully booked. Much story and language was made and we learned a lot in the process. Here’s a few kind words from players:

“Really loved playing Dialect, a storytelling-world building game in which we explored how a language evolved in an isolated community -- an intense process that included collaborative language building as well as interactive character exploration and storytelling.”

And another …

“Saturday night, though, was when I discovered my new favorite game, Dialect... From the moment we sat down, and started creating the world, I was enjoying myself. In creating our world, it was clear that this game was truly a cooperative experience between the four players . We navigated how things made sense, and it didn't feel like any one of us HAD to do something on their own, and it was a wonderful amazing experience. I realized later that there was literally NOTHING random about it - though unexpected things certainly came up!”

We also learned a bunch from these runs. Playtesting is a core part of the game dev’s journey and we’ve been walking that line for quite. a. while. As a whole, Dialect’s structure is set and stable. But in making anything wholeheartedly, you find that you are always reaching to make it better. We’ll continue to do that until we can’t anymore. We’ve been very happy with our latest additions: introducing a few variations into Age 3 and the Epilogue by focusing on the story and perspective of the characters at the end of the game. It's satisfying to move from language creation to a set time for exploring the world that you've architected at the table. Right now we’re spending a few mental eggs on refining the age transformations and crafting some guided examples for language creation.

Playtesting is a dark art unto itself. Every time we play with external groups, we provide a feedback sheet with a list of questions that help us evaluate the status of the game. Human behavior is a tricky thing to bottle up and make actionable data from, but by golly, we do our damndest. Take a listen to this episode of the Backstory podcast where H soliloquizes on playtesting science.

A collective noun of Dialect feedback sheets!

A collective noun of Dialect feedback sheets!

A collective noun of Dialect feedback sheets!

 

Backdrop writing

 

We’re working with our collaborators to write their backdrops! Three of the 5 external playtest runs were for drafts of Backdrop content (The Sanctuary and Worcester School). It is a joy of joys to see other brilliant people transform your game in new ways.

As a peak, here’s a glimpse at some of the aspect generation questions for The Sanctuary:

Recall, the description: 

“There were 186 of us on the island when it hit. All of Boston was dying, a sickness that killed fast and mean. Joseph Shea had taken the boat the three hour's row to Back Bay that bright September day to get supplies, and he'd seen the bodies in the street, lying beneath the quarantine sign. He turned around without even landing, so we did without the cigarettes and such as he'd been sent for. We figure the island wasn't named Sanctuary just for it's pretty little west-side harbor and seaweed-fed soil. It's 2018 now, and we still keep to the island, though there's closer to three hundred of us now.”

Light drives death away: How have we kept the lighthouse lit and operational for 100 years?

Softness breeds sickness: Without exposure to the weaknesses and medicines of the blighted mainland, what have we done to become strong and resilient on our island?

More for this backdrop and the rest in the coming months. 

Up next: more playtesting and refining. More writing and collaborating with our backdrop writers.  More art, with rumors of a language phoenix on the horizon.

TTFN,

Thorny Games and the mathy cats

Hello from the Jaws of January

Good tidings in 2017! We have lots to tell you. Dialect barrels ahead furiously, with playtests, design polish, art-in-the-rough, and the sweet satisfaction of forward motion. We’re doing our damndest to shepherd this project along and it is pretty work. Here are a few updates from the jaws of January.

Regarding Time

Timelines from here to Tuesday (and the Tuesday 6 months from now). We are knees-deep in project plans for how design, writing, layout, art, and production will puzzle-piece together. Our focus for this month is to crystallize a set of rules that honor our ambition for the game. This will serve as an input into the next stage. February will bring the start of collaboration, with our band of writers fleshing out the bones of their settings. Following that, it’s words, words, words (revisions, more writing, editing). The final trial is layout, production and then shipment.

Of Art 

Art continues. (A happy thought!) Jill De Haan is constant in her work for Dialect; producing a pageant of wonderful for the game that only seems to get better. The Thorny Games piece by Erica Williams swirls and takes inky form. Close your eyes and picture an old library. Once great, now reclaimed by nature, covered in small runic books of cryptic symbols and ciphers. Open your eyes and click here. Oh, art. <3

On Play and Design 

  • Our playtests and design polish saunter on. We’ll wrap up a stable set of rules by end of January, but knowing us, playtesting and refining will continue to the very end. 
  • If you are a purveyor of game design, take a listen to the Game Design Round Tablepodcast, including this episode featuring Thorny Games. In bright news, K will join as a new co-host for the podcast soon! 
  • The ever wonderful Sean Nittner wrote up a kind report on a recent playtest set in a trial version of the “Worcester School, 1950” backdrop. His write-up gives a peek into how our design has evolved over the last few months: more ways to guide players to decision has really helped streamline the play process! Our last point to iron out is tightening the screws of Age 3 - and then we wade into backdrop playtests and refinement. Beyond that is the abyss of our next project and the vulgar unknown.

Respecting Convention 

  • Boy, do we like to convene. 2017 will bring us many opportunities to do so. We’ll be traveling for game conventions across the US throughout the year. February takes us back to the wilds of New Jersey for Dreamation. Come and say hi to us! We’ll be playtesting, naturally. We may also sneak by Dundracon, a local Bay Area gathering.
  • For 2017, count us in for Origins in Columbus, Kubla Con in San Francisco, Gen Con in Indianapolis, Big Bad Con in Oakland, and Metatopia in New Jersey. We're suckers for a good playtime so you’ll probably find us elsewhere, too.

Onwards and chin up, 

K+H and the mathy cats

99.998% of Thorny Games are named Gen Con Industry Insiders

We are so honored to be chosen as Industry Insiders at Gen Con 2016. We'll be presenting on cryptolinguistic game design, how more games should be in Hungarian, and a set-theoretic approach to play.

We'll ALSO be presenting on a slew of panels with some amazing folks: 

  • Language and Games
  • Empathy in Game Design
  • Gaming and Community
  • How to Make RPG Welcoming to New Players
  • Beyond Combat: Adding Story to Your Game
  • Finding Your Spark
  • Improv for Gamers

When not paneling, we'll be running a slew of games at Games on Demand.

 

 

Play Report: Juggernaut

Juggernaut was the offering for our Indie RPG meetup this month - and oh boy did we find that our group had a LARP shaped hole in their hearts that needed filling by a three foot by six foot by eight foot, clicking and whirring mechanical abomination full of punch-cards. It filled up faster than any other game we offered to date!

A description by Bully Pulpit:

It is July third, 1950. The Korean War is eight days old. National Security Council Report 68 is sitting on Harry Truman’s desk, a grim outline of the Cold War that is to enfold the world for the next 40 years. Alan Turing’s paper “Computing Machinery and Intelligence” is circulating for review. Cinderella is a box office sensation. 
And you have invented a computer that can see the future.

Play kept a solid clip and everyone was engaged in the creepy vibe - we had a great time. I especially liked it for new players (half the players were new to LARP). There's a lot to explore internally for the characters, but there's also so much external weirdness going on that players have a lot to focus on in their environment if they don't want to dive too deep into introspection.

Our Juggernaut: Built from our color-coded bookcase, speakers, and a theremin.

Rainbow-theremin Juggernaut is never wrong. 

Rainbow-theremin Juggernaut is never wrong. 

Some observations coming out:

  • I love giving the players tools to ratchet up intensity and pace - it feels like you're given a set of tools to craft what works for your group, on that day, in the time you have, under those emotional conditions.
  • We ran Juggernaut as an mp3 file on a phone attached to my computer speakers surrounding our bookcase. Those four speakers together could really blare when we ran a summary output job. I was really glad we did this - keeping the noise loud enough that it immediately interrupts and stifles conversation does so much to build tension.
  • What I focus on during the safety brief has such a big effect on my relationship with the players. I'm so used to being the person making sure everything's running smoothly mechanically, that sometimes I err too much on the mechanics of safety. This time, I focused more on love and trust. It really felt like the players felt they needed to be less guarded in their play after seeing the facilitator open up like that. A great feeling to engender as we introduce new players and try to grow out the community in the Bay Area.

Here are some of Joe's thoughts coming out of the game too (our Dr. Takahashi): https://twitter.com/JoeSondow/status/724406747327131648

While looking through other play reports online, I noticed something funny. Ours wasn't the only game that had a cat wonder into the play area (pics included in Joe's tweets) - it also happened at the Larp House: http://larphouse.tumblr.com/post/92007181095/if-this-machine-does-half-of-what-we-think-it

Dr Takahashi seems to have been the cat lover in both cases.

RPG Settings for The Last Unicorn?

I've recently been overcome with an urge to play a scenario set in The Last Unicorn universe. ::cue the music:: Is this a thing that already exists in the world? A bit of furious googling didn't net out anything, but I'd love to be surprised. 


Hacking Fall of Magic for The Last Unicorn

At first blush, Fall of Magic seems like just the fit. 

A 2am back-of-the-envelope mod:

  • The Unicorn is the Magus. All players collectively embody the Unicorn and accompany her on the journey to Umbra to find the others.
  • Umbra is the location of King Haggard's Castle/the Red Bull/Final resting place of unicorn-kind
  • Starting location of Ravenhall should focus encounters in the surrounding woods or gardens. The woods around Ravenhall are the unicorn's home. 
  • Presence of magic. Only the magically inclined can see unicorns, so everyone accompanying her has some relationship to magic, however tenuous. 
  • The Unicorn should be transformed to human form through some magical means around the midpoint of the game. At the very least before the Sightless Sea or The Deepway.

And then the rest plays as is! I imagine lots of deviation from the actual plot of The Last Unicorn, but the beautiful scene prompts of Fall of Magic still leave plenty of room to be faithful, too. 

Play Report: Dogs in the Vineyard

For last month's Indie RPG meetup, I ran Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard for the irrepressible +Derek Wollenstein  and +Mady Mellor . I always secretly thought more dogs should deal with their distrust of organizational hierarchy through baking and, oh yes, we went there.

DOGS IN THE VINEYARD
roleplaying God’s Watchdogs
in a West that never quite was. 


A few thoughts. The methodical process of building a town does so much behind the scenes. You will define the seeds of pride that gave rise to the colossal shitstorm the players find themselves in, but whether or not the players ever come across it is left undefined. They have a problem to solve, the reason is there if they smoke it out, or run headfirst into it - but it lives on its own. It makes the town feel alive and breathing independent of the players.

Second, the conflicts require the players to confront and deal with the emotional stakes you lay out head on. When you raise with a character getting spit on, the player doesn't get to brush it off and move on to the next move - their character needs to deal with it. It makes the emotional beats so much more reliable.

Third, initiations are just plain cool.

Parallel to us was +tom denton running Lacuna. Hope I get to play in one of Tom's games soon too.

On a final note, how freaking cool are these illustrations? They're by Dylan Meconis for the Italian translation (http://www.dylanmeconis.com/portfolio/portfolio-series-dogs-in-the-vineyard/).

Metatopia 2015 Recap

Metatopia 2015 was a stew of wonderful, exhausting, humbling. One of the most creatively alive weekends I've felt all year. 

New friends. This was by-far the highlight of the convention. It's exhilarating to find insta-kinship with such thoughtful and passionate people. I walked around all weekend with an inner conviction that I was right where I should be. 

Games. This place was alive with creative energy and no where did I feel that more than in playing game prototypes. Stras Acimovic's Atlas Reckoning was my Neon Genesis Evangelion dreams in a tabletop. I especially loved the mechanics around synching minds and revealing inner secrets to pilot a mech. Another delight was Kristin Firth's Everyone's A Suspect, which showed me how entertaining it is to act suspicious! I really enjoyed our bizarre social-media-meets-classical-music setting. We'd love to run both of these games at our monthly RPG meet-up.

Panels. Metatopia panels were like glimpses of the RPG dojo of my dreams. J Li and Jason Morningstar's deep larp breakdown was a highlight, accompanied by a very useful handout that I've consulted multiple times since the con. Seriously, I coudn't get enough of the panels - there were many more discussions I wanted to attend than time allowed. I also participated with some great folks on a Your Game as a Product panel, the main result being yet another fun way to meet people! 

Playtesting Dialect. +Hakan Seyalioglu and I ran 4 alpha playtests of Dialect over the weekend. We'd been working on the game in earnest for 2 months, so we knew we’d be going into the convention with an alpha stage design. We were very happy at the reception. The caliber of our playtesters was off-the-charts and we received lots of insightful feedback to mull on. Hearing people use the language hours after a game had finished to recall table play was magical. More work to do until this is in a publishable form, but it is very satisfying work. 

Some Metatopia playtesting thoughts:

  • A-ha moment. Watching other people enjoy your game is tremendous.
  • A single mechanic can stifle a game. Our first playthrough on Friday was rough, but the remaining playtests shined after shedding a heavy, pervasive rule. The best tests saw people delighting in word play, bursting with new language. What a range!
  • Simple social validation and story-building is a powerful incentive. Mechanics around incentivizing language use, at least how we had implemented them, were confusing and made the experience feel transactional. Less was more - though we'll need to watch how groups not seeded with professional level storytellers interact with the game.
  • Emergent behavior is fascinating and provides a litmus test for the strength of a ruleset. A character died during one playtest (Tima was a real bless!), the first time it had happened in play. The consequences of the death felt clear and natural from the rules as defined, even though it hadn't been encountered before. However, we didn't have immediate solutions for other emergent behaviors. A few people wanted to define their own words instead of picking from a centralized dialect deck. Some tables were very collaborative, others were rigidly turn-based. We're still sorting out what behavior we're going to advocate for, but it's fascinating to see.
  • Artifacts of play can serve many purposes. In Dialect, we build a diagram of concentric circles that tracks the progress of the community and language over time. Visually, it's a linguistic map. Mechanically, it helps pace the game and controls the speed at which language is added. Practically, it helped garner attention. People were curious about our table; many people took photos at the end of the game. 
  • Small differences in phrasing can lead to strikingly different outcomes. Are we doing an event, a scene, a dialogue or a conversation snippet? Something as simple as a choice of word can deeply affect how players react to the concept.


Looking forward to making Metatopia a yearly tradition!