Friday, July 11, 2014

David Guyll and a Sundered World.

So +David Guyll  and I had a pretty good conversation via hangout chat. I asked him if I might ask him some questions over email and then share them here. Not only did he say yes, but his answers are sure to entertain and inform! I decided not to edit David's responses, cause lets be honest, we're all looking for something to read whilst in the John. So the more the better. David, thank you so much! Readers, enjoy!

What is your favorite memory of role-playing?
Heh, do I have to pick just one? Well...I would say that it would be a toss up between a scene from two separate Sundered World sessions, back when I regularly ran Dungeons & Dragons (4th Edition, of course).

The first would be when the characters traveled to a corpse star looking for a weapon that could slay a formion king (corpse stars are made of cold iron, which is a big no-no for fey critters). They travel to a star, land on it, and find an entire city made of cold iron. They wander through the city, and despite finding naked people covered in whispering mouths and flying brains with tentacles decide to keep going.

Eventually they find a temple that is channeling some kind of psychic signal off into the sky, and figure that it is probably important, so why not look there? They go inside, then head underground, find a pool with an aboleth, one of them gets a psychic shard imbedded in their mind that starts to make them mutate and hallucinate, and it is only after that that they decide it is a bad idea to be there.

They flee, get out of the temple, are chased by people that are full of clusters of tentacles, and finally make it outside the city. While they are looking for their ship (it was completely dark everywhere, plus time and space are more guidelines near corpse stars) they are found by a kind of mutated, tentacle cluster wearing a human flesh suit that could manipulate its body into metal (basically a lot of stuff I ended up using for the DW battlemind).

They managed to kill the creature, a fortress-sized star wurm shows up, the shaman dies for a bit, they get swallowed and blow it up from the inside, and just barely manage to get off the rock.

What I liked about it was how scared they were of being in the city and of the things they found, as well as how dynamic and tense the fight was at the end, namely the back and forth between the bladesinger and the tentacle cluster thing. It was a clear indication of the stuff you could do with 4th Edition, especially if you gave things minor and immediate actions.

I know people criticize 4th Edition for having characters that seemingly “cannot die”, but none of them felt safe because they knew I did not stick to the default encounter difficulty: you want to venture to a corpse star full of ancient, eldritch horrors with unknowable powers and agendas? I do not care if you are only 5th-level: you get aboleths, mind flayers, people covered in mouths, mutations, and giant worms that eat you.

They never went back to one, not even when they made it to paragon tier.

The second and probably most favorite moment would be when the same characters (yes, all of them miraculously survived for some ten more levels) went to a multi-tiered city built around the exploded essence of a sun god.

One of the player’s characters (goliath shaman) had been searching for objects that the World Serpent’s essence had been stored in, and when they arrived at the city he was surprised to find that he could feel one nearby. He followed the sensation to a cathedral that was used to contain objects and entities deemed to risky to destroy, or that could not be destroyed. You know, unholy weapons, urns containing demon lords, copies of FATAL, etc.

They tried going underground into the storage vaults but were stopped by an angel, which one of the characters (a human warlord) knew from previous, well, “encounters”. Both he and the bladesinger manage to distract the angel long enough for the shaman to get past and into the vaults.

While the angel is looking for the shaman, the warlord starts giving this holier-than-thou speech about how the angel knows that the fragment is bad, and who is he to judge and so on and so forth. I keep cutting back to the shaman while he finds the door, forces it open, and gets inside the chamber. As he starts to astrally project so that his soul can speak with the fragment, the warlord finishes his speech and the angel replies with something like “How do you know it is good?”

The warlord players stops and looks at the shaman player, who just shrugs as the last few fragments he has found were friendly enough. This time, the spirit form of the fragment is black, covered in spikes, and breathing a cloud of toxic gas. It glares at him, thanks him for bringing the rest of his essence, and that once he devours the shaman’s soul will be able to finally break free of its prison.

I just love this moment because it was the dialogue that just perfectly fell into place. Like, I knew that the shaman would find this fragment, which would represent the World Serpent’s destructive aspect and would have to fight it, but having the whole thing be preceded by this lengthy speech about fearing what you don’t understand, and what is truly good, and how angels have a +5 holy stick up their ass? You would have sworn it was scripted by Joss Whedon.

If you were a traditional fantasy monster, what would you be?
Assuming we are talking “D&D” traditional and If I got a choice, like if a wizard appeared and told me that I had to choose a monster to get transformed into right now, that her polymorph spell would not fuck up, with no time to research my decision, I would go with a mind flayer because they are awesome-looking. The red dragon being a close second because I like their look the most out of all the other dragons, and are also pretty badass.

What is it about Dungeon World that has you focusing your creative juices there? Why not let D&D handle a D&D setting?
The only edition of Dungeons & Dragons I like is 4th (I am totally willing to get into those reasons another time), and unfortunately the market for that is pretty dry.

I ended up settling on Dungeon World partially because it is a popular game, partially because when I started running it I realized that it was very similar to how I was running Sundered World in the first place: have the players declare an action, then figure out what they roll, and if they are trying to avoid something I would often have them describe how they were trying to avoid it and making a roll. Dungeon World is not a perfect fit, but it has been easy enough to develop for so anything I do not like (namely cleric and wizard spells) I have been able to remove and replace.

If the Kickstarter goes well, I plan on running a separate one for FATE since I also enjoy that system quite a bit.

What are the three most exciting elements that you think A Sundered World will add to the gaming/Dungeon World circle?
Almost everything about it: I cannot think of just three things. I guess in a general sense I can  distill it down to three broad categories: the setting, inhabitants, and classes.

The setting’s high concept is very different from the “norm”, and could be roughly described as similar to a kind of stylized “fantasy space”, with floating islands, corpses of dead gods, impossibly large skeletons of ancient beasts, and rotting husks of alien beings drifting about. People can get about by willing themselves to fly or riding on ships that either catch astral winds or use magical engines, there is no sun to track the passage of time, plants and animals are born from dead gods, primordials, or powerful spirits.

Oh, and everyone can fly.

As for what lives there, some of it might sounds familiar at first, but there are some key fictional and functional differences.

Like, you have humans, but they do not have a long history: most of them sprang from the blood of slain gods, fully formed with instinctive knowledge and inclinations (humans born from a god of war knew how to make and wield weapons, and were more prone to violence). Dwarves are probably the closest to their traditional roots, though they are made of metal and stone, and slowly “return” to stone as they get older. Elves are about halfling sized, and look different depending on which Court they belong to: some have icy flesh, others have antlers and other bestial qualities, and still others look more like trees.

Then you have the elemental cthon, machine-like kytherans (like, machine machine, not the warforged combintion of metal, stone, wood, blood, souls, etc), kobolds actually inline with their mythological counterparts (ie, spirit creatures), cambions (half-fiends analogous to tieflings, but evoke a specific sin), devas as disempowered angelic beings, and a kind of thought-based entity that wraps a body made of astral matter around it.

For monsters you have nightmarish creatures that slither in from the dark edges of the astral, elementals that emerge from the Maelstrom, dragon’s as the embodiments of violent emotions, angels looking to continue the work of the god they were allied with, protect mortals, or do whatever it takes to restore them.

The classes have been a lot of fun. Well, except for the shaman. That has been the hardest one to get “right”. A lot of them at least conceptually draw from 4th Edition flavor, like the warlock and battlemind, but seen through the lens of Dungeon World: for example you have the invoker, which possesses a shard of divinity from a god, the battlemind, which can transform her body and limbs into weapons and armor, and the new wizard draws upon elemental building blocks to perform magic (no pseudo-Vancian stuff).

Altogether you have some pretty crazy building blocks to work with, but all of it can be used outside of the setting (you just have to reskin what some of the moves do). I think it better supports more “gonzo” stories, and will give people some good examples on alternative ways of handling class design and resource management, as well as locations, monsters, and magic items.

What do you need in order for A Sundered World to succeed?
Well it is going to get published one way or another, even if that means I have to draw everything myself (which, for the sake of my ego, is something that I am not sure should be interpreted as an incentive).

If you mean a successful Kickstarter, I am going to make the plain-content pdf freely available so everyone can look at it and see if they like it before pitching in. This is similar to how Jason Lutes handled his Servants of the Cinder Queen Kickstarter, which I appreciated because I have been burned by several Kickstarters that make a bunch of claims about how unique, evocative, awesome, fantastic, etc the final product is going to be, but when you finally get it in your hands are, it is alright.

In that regard I just need to get enough people to spread the word, hope that everyone else thinks it is as awesome as I do (or at least the majority), and keep spreading the word. I am also going to take that time to further tweak and polish it based on feedback (backer or no), so brutal honesty and constructive criticism would be welcome.

What’s “the dream”? (personally, professionally, whatever)
Well since I was a kid one of my dreams has been to make fun things for other people, but I have been doing that for a very long time, even if I have not been charging for them.

Sooo, since right now I don’t make nearly as much off of what I have written as I do freelancing, I guess my current dream is to get enough content out there that I can step away from that to an extent, focus more on writing, and keep making fun, awesome things.