Well. It has been a MONTH. I’m late with this newsletter and considered not sending one at all, but I found a pocket of time as if by magic so here I am writing from what might be a small tear in reality. Be not alarmed.
There are a few reasons for the delay but the big one is that I got laser eye surgery the week I would normally be sending this. So writing was infeasible on account of my not being able to use my eyes for several days. Which was challenging.
Nevertheless I somehow still found time to get some gaming and game design done around all that, so I have both a play report for Monster Hearts and the next instalment of my development diary for you. But first! Some exclamation updates!
The Awards! I want to highlight the winners of The Awards 2023 - a celebration of the weird, the wonderful, and the DIY side of the TTRPG community which I consider my natural habitat. Now that the winners are announced I can reveal that Drama Llamas was a finalist. Sadly not in the final cut, but I was honoured to get as far with my first full system. Normally I wouldn’t put any stock in awards but I like the mission statement and approach behind this particular accolade, so I was very happy to be involved.
Conventions! I’m very shortly going to be stall-ing back-to-back weekends at Dragonmeet and then Airecon NW. Come and find me if you’d like to see my face (now with laser eyes!) and/or purchase physical copies of my games. I’ll also be running my usual dinosaur adoption agency (if you know you know).
Development Diary: Jude’s World
I’m still writing a solo journaling TTRPG about divorce, satirising “parent trap”-style media. It now has working title: Jude’s World. Jude is the eponymous pre-teen protagonist into whose shoes players will step to tell their story through a series of top secret diary entries.
Last newsletter I made a promise that I would have the first play test done before I wrote again. And I kept my word! I am a woman of integrity, you see. The mechanics aren’t finished yet, most notably the piece around tracking the status of the parents’ relationship, but I managed to generate my main cast of characters and write my first three diary entries as Jude. I had a great time listening to music from my 12 year old era (so much Ace of Base, you guys) and taking on the role of a well meaning but self-indulgent kid writing for their own eyes only. It felt so fun and freeing and I have lots of ideas for where to take my story next. All good signs. I’ve finished integrating my notes into a v2 of my draft, so play test part deux will be coming soon. Possibly over Christmas?
So what did I learn? Well, some of the flow of drawing cards to generate story was clunky and needed revising. Lots of my writing was unclear or tonally inconsistent. And as I mentioned there are some very important mechanics missing. This game will have an end condition with a sort of win/lose: does Jude manage to get their parents back together? I haven’t decided yet how to track progress towards that goal, but I know I want that outcome to be nuanced no matter what. I want players to discover things about this central failed/failing relationship as they go along that cast it in new lights, maybe even lights that make them ambivalent about repairing it. What I’d like is for this to be a game I could have played in my late teens and early twenties when I was still struggling to process the turbulent emotions I had around my own parents’ separation and the subsequent complex fracturing and extending of my family unit. A little lofty, maybe, but I feel like it’s on the right track. I’ve seen tarot described as an “introspection tool”, and in using the cards for this game I’d like to bring some of that goodness along for the ride. Ultimately I want this to be a game that says something about the layered complexity of romantic and familial relationships. An ode to their imperfections and imprecisions.
Putting my practical hat back on: I’m happy enough with how things are progressing that I’ve commissioned a front cover from an artist I’m very excited about. Hopefully I can show you that next time. It’ll be nice to have this one piece of art set early, not only to help me start the promotion cycle (ugh), but also as a little talisman of inspiration. A design focus and something to help the project feel more real. You need that sort of stuff when you work mostly in isolation, I feel.
Play Report: Monster Hearts
I recently got invited to play in a game - a rare treat! I love GMing but sometimes I want to grab the spotlight and go a bit ham without the obligatory post-session anxiety. I know at least some of you over-thinkers are reading this and nodding. Anyway, the suggestion was to play Monster Hearts, which I knew very little about other than it’s a PbtA system about monstrous teenagers. Sounded spooky and fun, so I was in. Then I read the actual game and got some frosty cold feet.
I would describe this game as deliberately sexy. Every play book (the PbtA version of a character class) literally has a “Sex Move” which you use when your character does the deed with another. I, on the other hand, have not been deliberately sexy for a single second in my entire life. I found myself thinking back to a different game where I decided to flirt in character with an NPC bar tender, only to find that I, Real Me, had zero life experience to draw from and no mental map for how that encounter should go. I think in the end I just said “hello” and ordered a drink before awkwardly winking. What can I say? We really do learn things about ourselves through these games and I have ascertained that I have no game. At all.
Mercifully we were able to discuss this in our session 0 and it turned out everyone was feeling a little unsure about how to navigate this. Even knowing that we were all in the same uncomfortable, sexy boat was a big relief. So we were able to go ahead and start setting up our characters, creating NPCs, fleshing out the small town and school. American high school drama is such well trod ground that we found ourselves syncing up on characters and themes very easily. Also I have seen more Vampire Diaries seasons than I generally like to admit in polite company so I felt like I knew what to aim for.
We’re on session 2 now, playing once a month, and I’m having a wildly good time playing my little fey social justice warrior. It was unclear from reading the source material what exactly our characters would doing, but in practice the setting provides so many opportunities for events and conflict. The great thing about playing teens is that there is a near universal set of things that they want and while those things might not seem like promising, firm goals - acceptance, validation, admiration - the teen desire for these things is so strong it drives them to behave in outlandish ways. Which creates all manner of interesting problems to solve. Especially when you’re secretly a monster.
Oh, and it only took till the second session for our characters to start flirting with each other. Nature finds a way, I guess? Truthfully when one of your most useful moves is called “Turn Someone On” you’re going to get there eventually, even if it feels squirmy at first.
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