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BONUS: Designer Commentary on i know the end
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BONUS: Designer Commentary on i know the end

Transcript

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Hello hello! Today I’ve got for you another between-season bonus episode. This time we’re breaking format to talk about i know the end, a module I published earlier this year about going back home after a long time away and all the horrors that entails. Because if you can’t occasionally publish something self-indulgent in your podcast feed, what’s even the point of having one?

My cohost for this is my friend Nico MacDougall, the current organizer of The Awards, who edited i know the end and had almost as much to say about it as I did.

For maximum understanding of this episode, you can pick up a free copy of the module here and follow along (or skim it in advance).

Further reading:

The original i know the end cover art

The “oops all PBTA moves” version of i know the end

Three of my short films

My previous written designer commentaries on Space Train Space Heist and Couriers

John Harper talking with Andrew Gillis about the origins of Blades in the Dark

The official designer commentary podcasts for Spire and Heart

Aaron Lim’s An Altogether Different River, which comes with a designer commentary version

Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes, a photography theory book that we talked about during recording but which I later cut because I remembered most of the details about it incorrectly

What Is Risograph Printing, another topic cut from the final recording because I got basically everything about it wrong while recording (the background texture of the module is a risograph printed texture)

Before Sunrise by Richard Linklater

Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques

Socials:

Nico’s carrd page, which includes links to their socials, editing rates, and The Awards.

Sam on Bluesky, Twitter, dice.camp, and itch.

The Dice Exploder logo was designed by sporgory, and our theme song is Sunset Bridge by Purely Grey.

Join the Dice Exploder Discord to talk about the show!

Transcript:

Sam: Hello and welcome to Dice Exploder. Normally each week we take a tabletop RPG mechanic, bait our lines with it, and cast them out to see, to see what we can catch. But you hear that different intro music? That means this episode I'm doing something much more self indulgent, a designer commentary on a module I released earlier this year called I Know the End.

And just a heads up here at the top, to get the most out of this, you probably want to have at least read through the module in question before, or as, you're listening. I threw a bunch of free copies up on itch for exactly this purpose, so feel free to go run and grab one. I'll wait.

Anyway, I love designer commentaries. You can find a few of my old written ones, as well as links to a few of my favorites from other people, in the show notes. But I wanted to try releasing one as a podcast, because one, that sounds fun, and two, what's the point of having a podcast feed if you can't be ridiculously self indulgent in it on occasion?

And I picked I Know The End to talk about because it is... weird. I don't know. It's weird. I describe it on itch as a short scenario about returning home and all the horrors that entails. But you'll hear us take issue with, I don't know, maybe every word in that sentence over the course of this commentary. It was a strange experience to make this thing, and I figured that might be interesting to hear about.

It was also the first time I ever worked with an editor Nico MacDougall my friend and the organizer behind The Awards since 2023. Nico was excellent to work with and you can find their rates and such in the show notes and they are with me today to talk through this thing in excruciating detail as you probably noticed from the runtime we had a lot to say. Definitely contracted two guys on a podcast disease.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy this. But regardless, I'd love to hear what you think of it. Should I do more? Never again? Want to organize the Dice Exploder Game Jam we mused about doing at the end of this? Hit me up! I'd love to hear from you. And now, here is myself, I guess, and Nico MacDougall, with a full designer's commentary on I Know The End.

Nico: Well, Sam, thanks for being here on your podcast to discuss your... adventure.

Sam: You're welcome.

Nico: Yes.

Sam: for having me.

Nico: Very first question is adventure: is that really, like, the right term for this?

Sam: Are we really starting here? Like, I, I don't know. I, I feel like I got, I really went into this thing with true intentions to write a proper module, you know? Like I was thinking about OSR style play for like the first time in my life, and like, we were both coming out of the awards 2022 judging, and a lot of the submissions for 2022 the Awards were modules. I thought that was great but it really was sort of like opening the floodgates of this style of play that I knew basically nothing about. And, at the same time that we were reading through all 200 submissions for the awards, I was also reading Marcia B's list of 100 OSR blog posts of some influence.

And so I was really drinking from the fire hose of this style of play, and also, I wasn't playing any of it. Like, I was experimenting with Trophy Gold a little bit, which is this story game that is designed to try to play OSR modules and dungeons as, like, a story game kind of experience. And I was kind of figuring out how it works and like how I wanted to run it and how to make it go And Joe DeSimone, who was running the awards at the time was just encouraging everyone to make weirder shit and like, that was his ethos and those were the people that he got to submit to the awards. Like, it was just the weirdest stuff that I had ever read in the RPG space and... That's probably a lie. There's some weird stuff out there.

It was just like so much weird stuff. It was like stuff on the bleeding edge of a whole side of the hobby that I didn't participate in in the first place. My intro to this part of the hobby was the bleeding edge of it. And I was like, alright, I, I just wanna make something there, I wanna try playing around there and see what happens.

And Joe tweeted out the tweet was like, Now we're all making modules based on songs that make us cry. And I was listening to the Phoebe Bridgers album Punisher on loop at the time to inspire a screenplay I was working on. And the last track is called I Know the End, and just ends with this, primal scream.

And it was, it was a hard fall for me, at the time. And the primal scream felt really cathartic. And I was spending a lot of time in the, small town where I grew up. And, this horror monster idea of a town that is, itself, an entity and like is a whole monster, and like, what does that mean exactly? I don't know, but intuitively, I like, understand it, and we're just gonna kind of drive... towards my intuitive understanding of what this thing is supposed to be. I just decided to do that and see what happened.

And did that give us an adventure in the end? I don't know. Did that give us a 32 page long bestiary entry in the form of a module? Like, that sounds closer to right to me, but also, taxonomies are a lie and foolish anyways.

I don't know, I made a weird thing, here it is.

Nico: Yeah. So I was scrolling back in our, in our conversation to where you first shared this with me, and I... I would like to share with the audience the text that accompanied it. It was the Google Doc, and then it said, This might be completely unplayable, it might actually be a short story, or, like, a movie, but I'm gonna publish it anyway, and, you know... If that isn't exactly it, like...

Sam: Yeah I like that stuff. I don't know, another thing I've been thinking about a lot this fall is writing by stream of consciousness. Like, I realized that I don't have a lot of confidence in any of my work that I feel like I created quickly. Like, the RPG thing I'm most well known for, I think, is Doskvol Breathes, which I just pumped out in an afternoon. It was just a thought that I had on a whim about how you might play blades in the dark maybe. And I finished it and then I released it and people were like, this is amazing. And I still get complimented on it all the time. I'm still really proud of it, but it, I don't have any confidence in it because it came so quickly.

And, like, I know that this is something I need to, like, talk about in therapy, you know, about, like, It's not real art unless I worked on it for six months straight, like, really worked my ass off. But this process, I sort of looked back over my career as a screenwriter, as a short filmmaker, as a game designer, and started realizing just how many of my favorite things that I've made came from exactly that process of the whole idea kind of coming together all at once in like one sitting. And even if it then took like a bunch of months of like refining like it's wild to me How much of my favorite work was created by following my intuition, and then just leaving it be afterwards.

Nico: Yeah, I actually did want to ask about the similarity between your, like, process for TTRPG design versus screenwriting, cause... While I have read, you know, edited this, but also, like, read your your game design work and know relatively well your thoughts on, like, you know, just game design sort of theory and stuff in general, I have never read any, like, screenwriting stuff that you've done. Although, lord knows I hope to see it someday.

Sam: Well, listen, if anyone listening to this wants to read my screenplays, I'm on Discord. You can find me and I'll happily share them all. My old short films are largely available on the internet, too. You know, maybe I'll link a couple in the show notes.

Nico: oh yeah,

Sam: But I I think of my process for screenwriting as really, really structural.

Like, I, I'm a person who really came out of needing a plot and needing to know what happens in a story, and to really especially need to know the ending of a story so I know kind of what I'm going towards as I'm writing the thing. I outline like really extensively before I write feature or a pilot, like there's so much planning you have to do, I think it is really, really hard to write any kind of screenplay and not have to revise it over and over and over again, or at least like plan really carefully ahead of time and like really think about all the details, revise a lot, run it by a lot of people for feedback over and over. But especially for me that, that having an ending, like a target in mind when I'm writing is so important. I just don't know how to do it without that.

Except occasionally when I get some sort of idea like this one where I have a feeling of vibe and I just start writing that thing and then eventually it's done. And I, I've never had that happen for a feature film screenplay or like a TV pilot kind of screenplay.

But I have had a couple of short films come together that way where I don't know what the thing is, I just know what I am writing right now, and then it's done, and then I go make it. And I I don't know why that happens sometimes.

Nico: Yeah, I mean I would imagine length plays a factor in it, right? Like a short film, or, I mean, gosh, how many pages did I know the end, end, end up being?

Sam: 36.

Nico: But I find that really fascinating that, too, that you say that when you're screenwriting, you have to have it really structural, really outlined, an end specifically in mind, when, to me, that almost feels like, well, not the outlining part, but having an end in mind feels almost antithetical to even the idea of, like, game design, or, I guess, TTRPG design, right?

Even the most sort of relatively pre structured, Eat the Reich, Yazeeba's Bed and Breakfast, like, Lady Blackbird games, where the characters are pretty well defined before any human player starts interacting with them, you can never know how it's going to end. And it's kind of almost against the idea of the game or the, the sort of art form as a whole to really know that.

Even games that are play to lose, like, there are many games now where it's like, you will die at the end. And it's like, okay, but like, that's not really the actual end. Like, sure, it's technically the end, but it's like, we have no idea what's gonna be the moment right before that, or the moment before that.

As opposed to screenwriting

Sam: yeah, it's a, it's a really different medium. I still think my need to have a target in mind is something that is really true about my game design process too.

Like the other game that I'm well known for, well known for being relative here, but is Space Train Space Heist, where I was like, I have a very clear goal, I want to run a Blades in the Dark as a one shot at Games on Demand in a two hour slot. And Blades in the Dark is not a game that is built to do that well, so I want to make a game that is built to do that well, but like, captures everything about the one shot Blades in the Dark experience that I think is good and fun .

And that may not be a sort of thematic statement kind of ending, like that's what I'm kind of looking for when I'm writing a screenplay, but that is a clear goal for a design of a game.

Nico: Yeah. even In the context of I know the end, and to start talking a little bit about my role in this as well, as, as the editor, I think the point of view, the vibe, the, like, desired sort of aesthetic end point Was very clear from the start, from the jump. And I think that in many ways sort of substitutes for knowing the end of the story in your screenwriting process.

So that really helped when I was editing it by focusing on like, okay, here's the pitch. How can I help sort of whittle it down or enhance it or change stuff in order to help realize that goal.

And sometimes it kind of surprises me even, like, how much my games shift and change as they reach that goal. Like, sometimes you can, like, look back at old versions of it, and you're like, wow, so little of this is still present. But, like, you can see the throughline, very sort of Ship of Theseus, right? Like, you're like, wow, everything has been replaced, and yet, it's, like, still the thing that I wanted to end up at.

Sam: Yeah, another thing that is, I think, more true of my screenwriting process than my game design process is how very common that in the middle of the process I will have to step back and take stock of what was I trying to do again? Like, what was my original goal? I've gotten all these notes from a lot of different people and, like, I've done a lot of work and I've found stuff that I like.

And what was I trying to do? Like, I have, all this material on the table now, I have, like, clay on the wheel, and, like, I just gotta step back and take a break and refocus on, like, what are we trying to do. I Think it's really important to be able to do that in any creative process.

To Tie together a couple of threads that we've talked about here, talked at the beginning of this about how much this felt like a stream of consciousness project for me, that I really just like, dumped this out and then like, let it rip.

But also, I mean, this was my first time working with an editor, and I think you did a lot of work on this to make it way better, like really polish it up and make those edges the kind of pointy that they wanted to be, that this game really called for. And that makes this, in some ways, both a really unstructured process for me, and then a really structured process, and... I don't know what to make of that. I think there's something cool about having both of those components involved in a process.

Nico: Yeah, it is. I I very much agree that like, yeah, most of my sort of design stuff have, has proceeded very much the same way of just kind of like sporadically working on it, changing stuff, like revamping it, whatever. And it's like, it's sort of, yeah, in a constant state of fluxx up until the moment where I'm like, okay, I guess it's done now.

What I was gonna say, I was gonna jump back just a point or two which is you mentioned Clayton Notestein's Explorer's Design Jam. And I was curious, like, what was your experience, like, using that design template?

Sam: Yeah I really enjoyed it, I really had a good time with it. I had already gotten really comfortable with InDesign just teaching myself during lockdown. Like, that's what I did for 2020, was I, like, laid out a bunch of games myself and they all looked like shit, but they all taught me how to use InDesign as a program.

And I think templates are really, really valuable. Like it's so much easier to reconfigure the guts of another template than it is to create something from scratch.

And I like Clayton's template. I think it's nice and clean. I think you can see in all the publications that have come out using Clayton's template, how recognizable it is. How little most people stray from the bones of it, and on the one hand, I think it's amazing that you can just use the template and go really quickly and like, get something out.

And also I just want to push on it a little bit more. I want something, like the template is designed to be a template. It is not a suit tailored to whatever your particular project is.

But also, I think if I had tried to lay this out without a template, it would look substantially worse, and there are a few notable breaks here and there that I, you know, I enjoyed experimenting with. I like the use of the comments column for little artwork. I think that was a nice little innovation that I added.

And, you know, I didn't write this originally to have that sort of commentary column as a part of it. Like, all of the text was just in the main body of it. And I like the way it turned out to have that sort of, like, director's commentary thing hanging out in the wings. lot of people have talked about how much they like that in Clayton's template.

so I, I don't know, like I, think that on the one hand a template really opens up a lot of possibilities for a lot of people and really opened up a lot of possibilities for me, and on the other hand I do still look at it and I see the template And I'm like, I hope this doesn't look too much like every other person who

Nico: Right, right. I mean, that is definitely the difficulty of providing those kinds of tools, because like, it makes it very easy to make things especially if you're sort of just getting started, or if you don't have a lot of confidence or familiarity with it inDesign or anything like that. But ultimately, I feel like Clayton himself would say that the Explorer's Design Template is not intended to be, like, the final template, right? It's intended to be, like, a tool that you can use to varying effects, right?

Yeah, I was thinking about it when I was going through this earlier, and I was like, Oh, yeah, like, you only use the comments, column a few times, and then I literally only realized maybe five minutes before you said it, I was like, oh, wait, all the little artwork is also in that little column thing, like you just said, and I was like, oh, that's like, that's actually a really cool way to use the template, because that space is already provided if you include that column, but just because you have the column that's, you know, quote unquote, intended for commentary, doesn't mean you have to use it for commentary, doesn't mean you have to put text in there.

Sam: Yeah, you definitely like learn a lot of stuff about the guts of the thing as you start playing with it.

Nico: Yeah. is probably getting on the level of, like, pretty pointless, sort of what ifs, but I'm curious... If Clayton hadn't done the Explorer's Design Template Jam, or if you had, for whatever reason, like, not been inspired to use that as the impetus to, like, make this and get it edited and laid out and published or whatever, like, Do you think you still would have tried to use that template, or would you have just tried to lay it out yourself, like you've done in the past?

Sam: Honestly, I think without the jam this wouldn't exist. I have like a long to do list of things at any given time, like creative projects I wanna

on, you

Nico: Oh, yeah,

Sam: know? And the thing that brought this to the top of that to do list was just wanting to have something to submit into that jam. You know, I wanted to work with you as an editor. I Always want to clear something off the to do list. I always want to have some kind of creative project. And, I wanted to submit something to that jam, but I think if you took any one of those away, I might not have put the thing out at all.

Nico: Yeah, that's really interesting. But I guess that's also, again, kind of what a good template or layout or just tool in general can help is actually get these things made.

Sam: That's what a good jam can do, too, right? I mean, there's a reason the Golden Cobra contest is something that I love. It's like 40 new LARPs every year and they only exist because the Golden Cobra is throwing down the gauntlet.

Nico: That's very true. Well, maybe it's time to move along to more practical concerns

Sam: Maybe it's time to do the actual commentary part of this episode

We've done the waxing philosophical part, but

Nico: we, yeah, checked off that Dice Exploder box. Now it's time to do the actual game talk.

Sam: your bingo cards

Nico: Yeah,

Sam: Yeah, so let's start with the cover.

Nico: Yes, the cover, which I only realized it was a teeth, that it was a mouth with teeth open when you said in the outline, ah yes, it's a mouth with teeth. And I looked at it and I was like... Oh my god, it is. Like,

Sam: I did my job so well. I wanted it to be subtle, but I always like looked at it and was like it's so obviously teeth, I'm never gonna get this subtle enough. But I'm I'm glad to hear that I succeeded.

Nico: I truly don't know what I thought it was before, but it definitely wasn't teeth.

Sam: Yeah. Well, it started as I'll share this in the show notes. It started as this image. It was like a 6x9 layout, and, the teeth were still there, and it was like, all black, and the teeth were this much wider, gaping maw, like, inhuman, unhinged jaw kind of situation. And then, in the middle of it, was a, like, live laugh love kind of Airbnb sign with I Know The End on it. It was like the mouth, like, eating the sign.

And I liked that. I felt like, the problem with that was that... As much as creepy, live, laugh, love sign is kind of the like, vibe of this, I didn't really want to bring in the like, kitsch of that at all, like, I felt like that kitschiness would hang over the whole thing if I made it the cover, and I mean, this whole thing is just about my own personal emotional repression, right? And my feelings about my small town that I'm from, and

about like, my ambition, and, exactly, yeah.

But I, I write a lot, and I make a lot of art about emotional repression , and I think the particular vibe of this game's repression doesn't have space for irony, or satire, or like, Do you wanna live, laugh, love? Like, I don't know how else to put it. Like, it just felt really wrong.

It was like, if you put that into the space at all, it's gonna curdle the whole feeling.

Nico: it's about the framing of it. I, know that Spencer Campbell of Gila RPGs has written something about this on his blog. I don't remember specifically what the context is, but he's a psychologist by training and is talking about how, like, the way that you frame something matters a lot to how people respond to it, right?

So you like, if you're framing it as like, oh, you have, twelve things and I take away six from you, versus like, oh, you have nothing and then you are given six things. It's like, both scenarios, you like, end up with six but

Sam: One feels like a letdown and one feels great. Yeah,

Nico: yeah, and so I think in his article he was talking about in the, yeah, you know, tying that into the game design context, obviously.

And I think it matches here where like, sort of runs the risk of like, priming people to expect kitsch, and I don't think that that's really present in the rest of the game. And that kind of mismatched expectations could really, like, lead to some problems when people are trying to, like, play the game.

Sam: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I mean this cover is just kind of like, oh. Like, it doesn't it doesn't really tell you much other than just like there's something back there that's maybe vaguely menacing, and that's kind of it. That's kind of

Nico: Yeah.

Sam: Alright, speaking of which can we, can we talk about my favorite interaction between the two of us as we were working on this?

Nico: Oh, yeah, I was not sure how to bring that up. yes, please do. Now that we're moving on to... For everyone following along at home, we are proceeding to the credits page.

Sam: The comment I got from you while you were editing this was, IDK if it would look different in print, but having the text so close to the edge of the page is activating my fight or flight response. And I just replied, working as intended.

Nico: It yeah, I had the feeling, I think, even when I sent that, I was like, this, this is not like an accident. Like, like, like no one makes this like no one does this by accident. But, yes, truly, I hope that you are following along at home because I believe that Sam generously gave a whole bunch of community copies of this

game, or made them available.

Sam: I believe it was 42, 069 I'm usually doing some number like that. This game, I might have done a different number, but that's, the other games that I've done.

Nico: So, but the text on this, for credits page specifically, it's truly, like, at the edge of the page. Like, it looks like it could be cut off. It's like, in print, it would be like, cut off by the process of actually like, making it. In fact, feels like if you try to send it to a printer, they could almost send it back and be like, you've gotta give us some space there. Like, you simply can't do that. There needs to be a gutter, or bleed, or whatever the term is.

Like,

Sam: I love it. maybe one day I will print this. Honestly, like if I become a super famous game designer or something, like, this is one of the

ones that I

Nico: screen, slash screenwriter.

Sam: yeah, yeah. This is one of the ones I'd like to go back and hold in my hand, but I also I don't know, I just love it. I, I love designing for digital as, like, a primary thing, because I just feel like most people who play the thing are gonna play it out of digital.

And I don't know if that's, like, the primary audience for a lot of modules. Like, I think there are a ton of people out there who just, like, buy the zine and hold the zine in their hand and probably never get around to playing it. But I, I love the digital. I've always loved the digital. I don't know, I just like making for it.

Nico: Well I mean I was even thinking about it in the context of like, you know, how you talked about how you changed the aspect ratio, I was like thinking about that and I was like, I mean, it's not like that would be impossible to print, but like, most standard commercial printers operate in like, one of the more standard like, page sizes. Even the risograph you said is what it's called, right?

Sam: The, the RISO. Yeah, I don't know if it's Rizzo or RISO, but I'm gonna say

Nico: The RISO background also makes the, again, just from like a fully practical point of view, it's like you're adding color to the whole thing,

Like there are many potential barriers to this as like a physical product that would, that are simply not there when you're designing for digital, so like, it is nice to have that sort of freedom, like, when you're thinking about how to lay this out or, or put stuff on here, it's like, you're freed from a lot of those practical considerations.

Sam: There's a few other details I want to talk about on this page just kind of like references I'm making that are not obvious.

So the first is that the header font and title font of I Know The End is a font that I ripped from Lilancholy, which is this amazing book by Snow, which is ostensibly a game, but but also a reflection on childhood and personal relationship to emotions and trauma.

And I love the look of the font, but I also intentionally wanted to reference that game while I was making something that felt really personal in a similar vein.

And another another reference here is that the color of the whole game, like this red, is pulled from the cover art for the Phoebe Bridgers album Punisher that I know the end is off of. I, I just found the, like, most saturated red pixel that I could on the album and was like, that's the color!

I love hiding little references in every little detail that I can.

Nico: Yeah, it's so interesting because I did not know any of that, you know, prior to this conversation or seeing that stuff on the outline. What did you sort of hope to achieve with those references, right? Because I can't imagine that you're plan was like, for someone to look at it and be like, oh my god, that's the Lilancholy font, and that's the Phoebe Bridgers album

Sam: that's one pixel from that album cover.

Yeah.

What am I trying to achieve? I don't know, like there's, so the Paul Thomas Anderson movie Phantom Thread Is an amazing movie, and it's about Daniel Day Lewis being incredibly serious, scary Daniel Day Lewis, making dresses, being a tailor, and an element of the movie is that he hides his initials inside the dresses, like, when he's making them, he, like, sews his initials in.

And that's a real thing that, that people did, and maybe it's just for him. It's also kind of an arrogant thing to do, you know, that all these, like, women are gonna be walking around wearing these dresses with, like, his initials kind of, like, carved, it's like this power thing.

But my favorite part of it is that Phantom Thread is PT, also known as Paul Thomas Anderson.

Nico: Ha

Sam: And, like, like, I, I just feel like when you're doing that kind of thing, it's just, what an act, it's just so beautiful and arrogant and satisfying. Like I think doing that kind of little reference and joke for myself brings me into the mindset of what I am trying to convey with the game.

Like, if I'm thinking in the detail of the font selection, what do I want to reference? What do I want to bring to this game? Then, I'm gonna be I'm gonna be thinking about that in every other choice I'm making for the game, too. And even if half of those choices end up being just for me, I will have been in the headspace to make the other half that are for everyone else, too.

Nico: Mm hmm. Yeah. Yeah. like, You could almost even call these, like, Easter eggs, right?

But it also made me think about, I had to look this up actually as you were talking, because I was like, about that, the CalArts classroom number that like all of the animators that studied there fit into like Pixar movies and stuff, like, A113, A113.

And I think that's also sort of a good example of it in some ways, because it's like now, with the advent of the internet, and you know, and a certain way of engaging with media, like, everyone knows what that, what that means now, or they could if they just looked it up, or they just see some BuzzFeed, you know, article that's like, you know, 50 easter eggs that you missed in the latest Pixar movie.

But yeah, it's like, it's very interesting because it kind of asks who is the movie for? What's the intended or imagined audience for all of these things? And it sort of shows that, like, you can have multiple audiences or multiple levels of engagement with the same audience, like, at the same time. Maybe, I would say, it's very unlikely that any random person would just like, look at the cover of I Know The End and be like, oh, that's the Lilancholy font, but,

Sam: I have had someone say that to me, though. Yeah.

Nico: but, so, what I was just gonna say is like, but I don't think it's hard to imagine that like, the type of person who would, who would buy, who would be interested in I Know The End or Lilancholy, I think there's a pretty decent chance that they would be interested in the other if they're interested in one of them, right?

And so it is interesting as well, where it's like, I am often surprised by like the ability of people to sort of interpret or decipher things that far outweighs my sort of expectations of their ability to do so.

If only just because I have the arrogance to be like, well no one could ever have a mind like mine. Like, no one could ever think in the specific bizarre way that I do. Then it's like actually a surprising number of people think in a very similar way.

Sam: Another thing I think about with making these really, really tiny references, easter eggs, it's the, not making a decision is making a decision, right? Centrism

Nico: Oh,

Sam: Like, if you have literally anything that you have not made a choice about with intention, that is a missed opportunity, I think.

And... I have so much respect for people who will just pump something out, like, write a page of a game and, like, upload as a DocX to itch. Like, Aaron King is a genius, and I know a lot of games that are put out that way, and I love that stuff. But for me, like, the kind of art creation process that I enjoy and like doing is so based on finding meaning in every crevice, finding a way to express yourself in every detail. just love doing it.

Nico: you are the English teacher that the, the curtains are blue meme is referencing, in fact.

Sam: Yes.

Nico: The curtains are blue in I Know The End because,

Sam: Well, and I know the end they are red, but

Nico: yes.

Imagine that being the new version of the meme: the curtains in this are red because there's a Phoebe Bridgers album that has a single pixel that is that color.

Sam: Yeah, I don't know. It's true, though.

Nico: Exactly. it is in fact true. But so would, in some ways, any other interpretation of...

Sam: Yeah.

Nico: of the red color, right? It's like you picked it because of the association with the album cover. Someone else could be like, Oh, it means this other

thing. And like that interpretation

is correct.

Sam: Yeah, I mean, I also picked it because of its association with blood, you know, like I, I wanted to kind of evoke that feeling too, so.

Shall we do the table of contents? Heh

Nico: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think the most interesting thing to talk about, and I want to know when this entered the sort of the design process, is the blacked out Table of Contents entry which corresponds to an almost entirely blacked out, or in this case, redded out,

Sam: Yeah,

Nico: messily redacted,

part of, the book,

Sam: Yeah, I think this was always there, I think I started writing a list of locations very early on, and on that list of locations was, like, I work in Google Docs to begin with for most of my stuff, and it was a bullet pointed numbered list, and the last list item was struck through, and it was your mom's house.

And I just thought that was a funny little joke. It's like really dark? Another, just like a little detail, I have such a great relationship with my parents. Like really just a better relationship with my parents than anyone I know. And, so much of my art ends up with these like, really bad, fucked up relationships with parents, and I don't know what that's about.

But, there's, there's something about, there's a piece of your hometown that is like so traumatic that you can't bring yourself to look at it. There's a piece of yourself, or your childhood, or like, where you came up, there's something from your origin story that you can't bear to face is a lot of what this is about. And even as the climax of this thing is I think in a lot of ways turning to face everything that you left behind.

I mean the whole module is about that but I think fact that even when you are doing that, there's one piece of it that you can't bear to look at is really tragic and a mood to me. You know, it really felt right.

Nico: it's sort of like, yeah, I'm finally gonna stand my ground and face my fear, or whatever, except for that thing. That thing, that part over there, for whatever reason, because I'm actually just very afraid of it. It really, as always, is sort of like the exceptions to the rule make the rule, or emphasize the rule. You're kind of carving out the negative space around it. And it makes it clearer in so. so Well,

Yeah, so like, then the first thing of the game text itself, so to speak, is like the front and back of a postcard. And where's the picture from? It looks kind of old timey in a sort of non specific way.

Sam: It's from Wikimedia Commons, I believe. I was looking for pictures of old postcards, and I wanted a small town, and, this is what I found.

The postcard image is actually like a hell of a photo bash too. The stamp on it is from a real postcard I received from my cousin. The handwriting was me on just like a piece of paper that I scanned, and then the postcard is another like open source postcard image.

Nico: Yeah. I am, once again, sort of showing, showing a lot of my bias here. I am often kind of against a lot of little, like, accessories, or sort of, like, physical things that are often part of crowdfunding, like, stretch goals, you know, like, it's, I don't know. I don't think it's, like, ontologically evil or anything like that, it's just, I understand, it's part of the reality of crowdfunding, and, like, attracting attention, and yada yada yada, I just personally don't love that reality. Which, of course, is easy to criticize when you're not part of a project is trying to do that, but that aside, I think it would actually genuinely be very cool to have, like, this postcard as, like, a physical object like, if the game were to be printed.

Sam: You gonna make me like, handwrite every one of the postcards too? Cause that is

Nico: I did not say that. Oh, is that really? Well, but then, then you have it already, you can just print it off, like, or you make that the, like, I don't know, the hundred dollar stretch goal, you know, they back it at that level and then the postcard just appears inside their mailbox. Like,

Sam: That wa that is creepy. I will tell you that,

Nico: You say that as though it's happened to you before. You're like, well, let me

Sam: well, I'm not, I, I revealing nothing. How autobiographical is this?

Nico: Yeah. so I guess, yeah, so getting, So this is the introduction page, the background, the introduction, giving the context to what this module, extended bestiary, what have you, what it is. My question here from a sort of meta perspective is like, how much are you trying to sort of give away at the start of this? How do you pitch this to , like to someone you know?

Sam: that's a great question. I'm pretty proud of the execution here. I think I do a good job of, like, leaving some juicy hints here as to what might be going on without giving anything away. Like, the fact that I advertise this as maybe closer to a bestiary entry than a module, like, uh, what? Like, like you, you have an idea of what that means, but also like, where's the monster, what is the thing that I'm looking like, that is kind of planted in your mind in a way that I think is intriguing and sets expectations without giving the whole thing away.

And, also, this is just me, like, trying to figure out how to describe this thing in real time as I'm writing. It really came from intuition.

Nico: yeah. I know that, you know you're on, very much on record talking about how, you know, like, taxonomy is fake and, you know, et cetera, et cetera.

Sam: As much as I love it.

Nico: right, right, exactly, I mean, I feel the same way, but I, I am curious as to like if you were trying to sell someone on the idea of even just playing this game, like, how effective do you think it is of like communicating whatever this is, you know, like, is it effective to say it's kind of this, or it's not this, or maybe it's this, like,

Sam: I think this is going to be really good at reaching the kind of person who will love this, and really bad at selling this to like a mass audience, you know? But luckily, I'm not trying to sell this to a mass audience. I'm like trying to make Joe Dissimone proud, you know? Like I'm trying to make like something as weird as fucking possible.

and I think there's a kind of person who really appreciates that and this struggle to define what this is using existing terminology, I think is going to really appeal to the people who like this.

Nico: yeah, I agree, I think it signposts well hey, you, there, like, look at this thing. Isn't that interesting. And if they're like, If they're like, no, that's confusing and I don't know what to do with it, and they go somewhere else, in some ways, it could be argued that that is like, working as intended, right, like

Sam: I kind of find it interesting in the sidebar here to watch me sort of like struggle with how you're supposed to play this game, like what rule system are you supposed to use?

I do think with some distance from this, the best way to experience this is as a solo game. Like to just read the thing but pause and journal about your character's experience as you sort of walk through it. I have started playing more solo games since I wrote this in preparation for a Season 3 episode of the show, and I think this would serve that experience really well.

I considered even, like, rewriting this to be more of explicitly a solo experience, but I, ultimately was really happy leaving it in its sort of nebulous, provocative, what if, is this, what is this sort of state.

Nico: Yeah. I would genuinely be interested to have like, the two of us play the game, like this game, like one running it, one as the player, because I don't necessarily disagree with what you said, might be better suited as a solo game, but I really do think that there is something that can be gained about, like being in a room with, like, one other person, or, you know, being on a call with one other person, or whatever and going through this,

Sam: Yeah, yeah, I can feel the intensity of that as you describe it. And it sounds harrowing and... Amazing. I do, I do have this dream of like running a Mork Borg dungeon, like over the course of like three sessions, and then like taking one of the players who survives and being like, I've got another module that I think we should play with the same character.

Nico: yeah. Anyways, you go home and you think you're safe, but actually, like,

Sam: I do think that this as a response to OSR play is really an interesting way to try to play the game, like to

Nico: just sort of experience

Sam: Yeah, to try to take the kind of character that you would have coming out of that and the experience you would have coming out of that and then like get tossed into this, like that disorientation I think would serve this really well and would do something that I found I really like to do with the OSR kind of play of like finding ways to bring in more character stuff, to just have people to reflect on their person, rather than on the logistical problem solving.

Nico: Mm hmm. Which, of course, in some ways also is like, I don't want to say direct contradiction, but like, moving perpendicular to a lot of the sort of OSR principles, right

Sam: But yeah, I mean, fuck em.

Nico: exactly, I mean, I'm not, saying that to discourage you from doing it, I'm just saying, like, I just think it's an interesting for those to come into sort of, conflict or, or whatever in, in that specific way.

Sam: I mean, that's what the bleeding edge of something is all about, right? It's like, what are our principles? What if we throw them out? What does that

Nico: Right, right. What if we smash things together that, like, should sort of repel each other like magnets? Like,

Sam: Yeah.

Nico: Let's move on to the town?

Sam: Yeah. So this is the, like, GM spoiler page.

Nico: Right.

Sam: I don't know that I have a lot to say about this particular page. It's, it's the town.

There are, like, two suggestions in the first chunk of this book that came from you that I think are really valuable to this. Like, the first is that the town is always capitalized throughout. Which I like sort of was doing, but you really emphasized, and I think was a great decision.

And, the second is that there aren't any contractions in this book except for possessives. And, that was another suggestion that came from you, to have this sort of stilted, formal, slightly off kind of language of not having contractions, that I think serves it really well and is just really cool.

Nico: Yeah, I have to give credit for that, to the Questionable Content webcomic, which is a webcomic that has been running for

Sam: God, is it still going?

Nico: oh, it very much is still going, I, it updates Monday to Friday, and I, am reading, I am seated and reading,

Sam: stopped reading that like a decade ago.

Nico: It is officially 20 years old. It started in 2003.

but so one of the characters in that she initially never uses contractions. It is always, it is, it is never, it's. Do not, not, don't, you know, is not, not, isn't and over time, as the character sort of gets more comfortable and starts to open up about her kind of mysterious past, and they'll deal with a lot of the sort of like, serious emotional turmoil that is present in the character, she like, starts to use contractions.

And so, it's a specific device that is very weirdly ingrained in my head at this point, because I remember, like, realizing that when it was called out the first time, and then I will fess up and say I have re read the webcomic from the beginning several times.

I have a lot of time on my hands sometimes. And it is always kind of a delight to go back to the beginning and see this character and to really notice that device because you know where she ends up and how much more comfortable she is and so to see that difference in the beginning makes it very effective on a reread in a way that is sort of present in the maybe subconscious the first time on the way through.

Thank you. And I feel like it's similar here, not quite the same because I don't know if you would ever necessarily actively realize, like, oh, there are no sort of contractions here.

Sam: and the town is never gonna stop being a entity of repression.

Nico: Yeah, exactly. And so it's giving this like underlying anxiety kind of like,

like, you're just like,

Ooh, this is

Sam: Yeah. It's like, what is going on? What's wrong with the language here?

Nico: Yeah. And you might not even really be able to, articulate it because it's sort of hard to articulate the absence of something

Sam: And like, that's the feeling of the whole module. yeah,

It's,

it's just, it's a great decision.

Nico: Yeah. And then of course, capitalizing town, you know, are you even really a game designer if you're not capitalizing some random words in

Sam: yeah. gotta have one at least, come on.

Sam: I will say I really enjoy the fact that I give no origin story for the town. I think that's also really powerful, of leaving a hole that people can fill in if they want.

The mom repression stuff is kinda like that too, the like, the blacking out sharpie. Of like, that's a hole you could fill in in play if you wanted to, but I, I'm not going to. I'm gonna intentionally leave that hole there.

Nico: It also is the kind of thing, right, of like, oh gosh, Nova was saying this in the Dice Exploder Discord recently, where like, part of the reason the OSR can be so sort of rules light and stripped down is because like, it is relying a lot on the sort of cultural script of like, what is a fantasy role playing game, or even just like a fantasy story in general, you know? What your knowledge of an OSR game is.

And this, in a similar way, is sort of like, you know what a hometown is. Like, you know, I don't need to tell you what the backstory of this is, because you know what it's like to be from somewhere.

Cause it's also worth saying, like, this game does not give any character creation instructions, right? I mean, actually, I guess that's not entirely true, because underneath the postcard, you know, it just says, A decade or more gone since you fled the small backwater town that spawned you.

And it's like, yeah, that's basically all the sort of character creation information you need, like,

Sam: yeah, yeah, like wait, gonna play yourself and you're gonna be sad about this, like uh,

Nico: Right, or, like, or if you're not playing yourself, you are playing a person who's sad about it, like, you know, it's like, it's kind of all

you really

need,

Sam: you have internalized the tone of this thing, like, your character is in ways the negative space of the voice of the text.

Nico: Like, a weird relationship with your small hometown, we just don't need to spend very much, time covering that broad background. It's much better spent covering the specific, like, locations and people in this town that also sort of help to convey that, feeling, that information.

Sam: Temptations and terrors?

Nico: Yes, probably The closest thing to a system that is in here, inasmuch as it's taken roughly verbatim from Trophy Dark

Sam: yeah, I do think it is notable that when I wrote this I had not played Trophy Dark, and Trophy Dark is the one where you definitely die,

Nico: Right. Right.

Sam: My intention was not that you would definitely die in this. I really want escape to be a big possibility at the end and so it's interesting that I went with Trophy Dark as, like, the obvious system.

Yeah, I like these lists. This is just a lot of tone setting, basically, right? I don't have a lot to say about the details here. The first terror, a children's toy, damp in a gutter, is a reference to another song that makes me cry. The Rebecca Sugar song for Adventure Time, Everything Stays.

But most of the rest of this is just, vibes. Here's some vibes. I don't know, I re read these lists and I was like, yeah, they're fine, great, next page. But I don't know, is there anything that stands out to you here?

Nico: I mean, I think the most important thing about these lists, these kinds of things, you could maybe even sort of broaden this to like pick lists in general, is that, they kinda need to do two things, like they need to both give you a good solid list of things to pick from, if you're like, at a loss, or if you just are like, looking through it, and you're like, this is good, I want to use this.

Or, the other purpose of using it is to have it sort of identify the space that you're playing in to the point where you can come up with your own thing that like, could just be the next entry on that list, right? For me at least, the whole point of like, buying a game is like, I want something that I like, can't essentially come up with by myself, you know? Because I like to be surprised, I like to be sort of challenged, I like to be inspired, and so I think a really good game is one that you sort of like, read it, and you're like, okay, like, there's great things to use in here that I'm excited to use. I also, after having read this, am coming up with my own ideas. Like, equally long, if not longer, list of things that like, fit into this perfectly

Sam: Bring the vibes of your

small town.

Nico: Yeah, exactly, that I could also use. It's like, and so it's like, it's kind of funny that like, for me at least, the mark of a good game is like oh yeah, you both want to use everything that's contained in it, and also you immediately get way more of your own ideas than you could ever use when you're running the game.

Sam: Yeah. Next?

Nico: Yes. Act 1.

Sam: I love this little guy, I love Wes he's just kind of a pathetic little dude, and I feel sad for him.

Nico: It's so funny, too, because this particular little guy, like, doesn't look very pathetic to me. Like, he looks like he's kind of doing okay.

Sam: I definitely like drew, like all the art in the book I drew, and I did it by just drawing a lot of little heads, and then assigning them to people. Like, there were a couple where they were defining details about how the people looked, that I knew I needed to draw specifically. But in general, I just drew a bunch of heads and then doled them out, and like, this is the one that ended up on Wes.

And, I think that the contrast between, like, in my mind, Wes is this skinny, lanky, little kid, you know, he's like early 20s, finally making it on his own, and he has no idea what the hell's going on with the world, and he always looked up to you, and he's finally getting out of town. And then he's, he's like overcompensating with the beard for the fact that he's like balding really early, and like, you know, he's, I don't know, like, I think the contrast is just fun.

Nico: I love this whole life that you have for this, this little, this little guy, like, which is, I can't stress this enough, mostly not contained in the text,

Sam: Yeah. yeah. I think a good NPC is like that. I think it's really hard to transcribe the characters we get in our heads.

Nico: yeah,

Sam: I really like the, the pun in the Town Crier, I mean like the Town Crier feels like a horror movie trope, like the old man who's gonna be like, You got don't go up to the cabin! But it's also, like I wrote that down first and then just started describing this Wes guy and then I was like I'm gonna just like make a pun out of this.

This is something I did all the time while writing this, was I had, like, a little oracle going, actually, at a certain point, like, in the same way that you would in a solo game with an oracle. Like, if I was stuck for an idea, I would just roll on the oracle table and then, like, fill in a detail that was somehow related to the oracle.

Nico: Mhm.

Sam: That, that didn't happen here, but the idea of, Oh, I want a little bit more description for this guy, like, what should I do? I, like, pulled the word crier, and then was like, Oh, that's really interesting, like, when would this guy have cried? Like, oh, that's a great question, let's just, like, put that to the player.

I'm always, like, a thing in screenwriting that is really hard to do, and that I'm always looking for is, like, really good, pithy character descriptions.

Like, a friend of mine loves the one like, this is a woman who always orders fajitas at a Mexican restaurant because she loves the attention that she gets when the fajitas come out.

She hates fajitas. And that description just says

Nico: That's

Sam: much. It's so good, right? And that one's even a little bit long for like a screenplay, but it'd be great for like an RPG thing, right?

And something about like Here's a little bit about this guy. You remember when he was crying once, like a baby? What was the deal with that? Like, it's such a, like, defines everything else about him. Like, I, I, I'm really proud that.

Nico: Yeah. No, that's, that's how I felt a little bit with I ran Vampire Cruise at Big Bad Con this year. And that game has some of, like, the best random NPC generating tables that I've, like, ever seen and played with.

I remember one specifically, it was, like, I was like, rolling to generate a passenger, and I think it was like, the secrets part of the table, or something like that, and what I rolled was like, regrets that she never got to see the dinosaurs, and it's like, what does that mean?

Like, like,

Sam: She had a traumatic experience at a science museum as a kid, or maybe she's like 10 million years old, like, I don't...

Nico: or, yeah, or she's just like a weirdo who like really loves dinosaurs? It's like, it's, Like, it really gives you sort of what you need to just sort of like, spin a world out of that specific detail.

Sam: It's weird because I like completely agree with you, and you know, I was tooting my own horn about like this question about Wes sobbing and also like, in every single spread of this thing, I'm taking like two full pages to talk about like one or two NPCs, which is a terrible way to do the thing that we are talking about doing. Like,

Nico: That is true, that is, it must be said,

Sam: it makes it feel so much more like a short story, or maybe like a solo game, right? It's like, eh, spend two pages, like, getting to know this guy.

Nico: who won't come up again, spoiler alert,

Sam: Yeah, it feels like the right call for this thing where like, I mean it's like the text is forcing you to sit with the memory of this guy, it's like forcing you to come in and like spend more time than you would like to like back at home with these people.

And there's some like location context built into all these descriptions too, and we like learn about the bakery thing here and like old stories and stuff. And like, already it's like, do we need that shit to run this game? Like, absolutely not, like, get, get out of the way, like, but also, I don't know, it feels right?

And it's one of the things that makes all this weird and, you know, unrunnable.

Nico: Which is of course the goal, we don't want people to run this. Yeah, no, that's something that I've thought about in my own games as well, is, is, and just sort of like, my life, I guess, is sort of like, what makes a place that place, you know, like, what makes a town a town, what makes a city a city, like, is it the people who live there? Is it the places?

Like, again, kind of back to the sort of Ship of Theseus metaphor, it's like, if everyone you know leaves, and a lot of the stores turnover, like, is that still your hometown? Like... Does your relationship to it change?

And so I, in defense of, of what we're doing here, it makes a lot of sense to spend so much time thinking about the people and the places that are here because that also basically is the game, right?

Like, like, this is not a dungeon crawl, right? Like, this is not a hack and slash thing, It's not a dungeon crawl, like,

Sam: it's a person crawl.

Nico: Yeah, exactly, you're yeah, the point of you coming home is you're trying to find Sidra, the person who sent you this postcard, asking you to come home, and yeah, you're basically doing a point crawl, trying to find this person.

And then there are various conditions that need to be in place for you to actually find them = And yeah, so it's like, using more words than a sort of your standard OSR like dungeon crawl or point crawl or whatever, or hex crawl, but like, it's kind of the same way where it's like, yeah, but like, that's the game, that's the adventure, like,

Sam: yeah, yeah.

Another detail here I'm really proud of is the like, offhand remark about how Wes and Sidra aren't talking for what are probably romantic reasons. Because the implication, there's like a strong implication that you, player, have some sort of romantic history with Sidra, like, whether it was ever consummated or not.

And I love the just sort of, like, offhand, Wes and Sidra had a thing that didn't work out, because it both... leaves open your potential romantic relationship with Sidra, but also like complicates it and like darkens it from whatever sort of nostalgic quote unquote pure like memory of it you had.

And I love that it just sort of brings a little complexity into what happens when you leave for 15 years. And then like what it feels like when you like, hear, oh yeah, your ex has been like, dating someone for a couple years. What were we talking about? Like just that, like sometimes like a bolt of like, information about like, someone from your past that like, you care a lot about will just hit you and you'll be like, oh, wait, what? And we're just I'm supposed to just like, take that and move on? Like, yeah, yeah,

Nico: It's also a very small town, right, where it's a sort of like, oh yeah, passing reference to this because everyone knows this already, right? Like, this is old news as well as, like, in a small town, it's like, there's a small pool of people your age that you're interested in, so, not like you're gonna get with all of them inevitably, but it's like, yeah, there's a pretty high chance that you might.

Last thing I did wanna say on this, do you wanna share what Wes's name was in the first draft of this that I received?

Sam: What was it? I don't remember

Nico: It was Glup Shitto. It was, it was one of the first comments I left! It was one of the first comments I left! I was like, Sam, you've gotta know this can't be the final thing, right?

Sam: knew it couldn't be the final name. But there was something really funny to me about like the one person who like doesn't fit into town, like this little fucking Star Wars fanboy like schmuck kid is just Glup Shitto. And he's leaving town cuz like when you got that name, it doesn't fit anymore. You gotta get the fuck out of there.

No wonder the town couldn't absorb him. His name was Glup Shitto.

Nico: I want to say, like, I might have, like, made my first round of comments because I was, like, yeah, feeling the same way of, like, okay, obviously this is not the final

Sam: yeah, yeah, I just didn't change it and you were like

bruh

Nico: and then, yeah, and then you, like, made changes based on the comments that I left, and I went back to it, and I'm like, it's still Glup Shitto. Like, it simply can't be this! It's not allowed! It's, it's not legal!

Like,

Sam: there ought to be a law.

Nico: yeah.

Sam: Alright, let's do Act 2 gosh.

Yeah, so I made this little map. I like the little map. This is just my hometown, incidentally. Like, there's so much in this that is just, like, pulling details directly from my hometown. That oracle that I mentioned earlier, like, Northfield, Minnesota was, like, one of the things on the oracle. And you can see that here in like, the riverwalk and this little bridge over it was very Northfield. the Rube, which we're getting to next, these two bars, the kind of cowboy themed bar thing was a thing.

Nico: Again, it's a very small town of just like, no sort of reasonable business person would have these specific

Sam: yeah, but they, they exist here for some reason

Nico: it almost feels like the kind of thing where it's like, like they can exist in a really small town, because it's sort of like, well they're the only things here, and they can exist in like New York City

Sam: yeah.

Nico: everything's in New York city, and like every kind of place is there, but like anywhere in between, people would just be like, I don't understand, and then it goes out of business,

Sam: Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, doctors always also a big portion of my childhood and my past always coming up in my stuff just because I spent so much time in hospitals as a kid. So the, inclusion of a doctor here is also very much something coming out of my hometown.

I like the little mechanic here of, like, rolling and you, like, add one every, every time. I think that's a nice sort of way to handle trying to find Sidra.

Nico: as like a classic Nico mechanic 'cause I simply haven't made and published that many things. But in my mind, my narcissistic fantasy, it is a classic me mechanic.

Sam: I believe that came from you.

Nico: I fucking love a table that like evolves over time.

And it's not like I invented it, but like, I think my more standard thing is sort of like you have a table of like 12 things, and then you change which die you roll on it, you know, it's like, oh you can do like a d4 through d12 or whatever and that's like,

I really like the ability to sort of go back to a table and, like, use it multiple times as opposed to, like, Okay, we have one table for this, we have a different table for that, you know.

Sam: Additional persons.

I really like this format for sort of generic NPCs, like, I'm not gonna tell you anything about this person, but I am gonna tell you what you think about them and your relationship to them.

I think it's a really cool way of doing... Oh, do you just need to, like, bring someone in? You, like, met someone on the street or whatever? In a lot of other settings, you would just have, like, a random person, and it would be, like, the Vampire Cruise thing. If you give them an interesting detail in here, it'd be a cool thing.

But I think, especially in, like, a small town format, the, like, here's your relationship to this person, because everyone knows everyone, and, every character that comes in, like, is gonna have to inspire some kind of feeling and past in you. I think this works really cool, really

Nico: It also feels very sort of true to life in terms of, at least, how I often GM things. Someone will be like, hey, can I, like, ask just, like, the next person I see on the street what they know about this thing? And I'm like, I mean, I fuckin I guess, like, it'll shock you to learn I don't have a name for that person, but, you know, I just have to, like, come up with, like, here's a weird voice, and like, a random thing they know, and like here's a name,

Sam: This is a great way to turn that experience back on the player.

Nico: exactly, yeah, there's this random person, you're like, alright, this is someone who owes you an apology, why is that?

Like,

Sam: yeah,

Nico: I also wanna say that I feel like this was actually a relatively late addition to the

Sam: Yeah, it was. I always intended to write these, but it was like the last thing that I wrote.

Nico: Yeah.

Sam: Yeah.

Nico: There was definitely some time when I sort of came back and looked at it, and all of a sudden there was this relatively large additional persons section in here, and I was like, huh, interesting.

Sam: Yeah. I'm happy with how it came out. I think these are my best little guys.

Nico: Oh yeah,

Sam: I really like the unfinishedness of these little guys that you can project a little bit of yourself onto them while there's still some, like, major details there. This someone you seek vengeance upon looks a lot like a penis, and I don't know how I feel about that one, but

Nico: I was gonna say, I find that one fascinating as the idea of like, this is what the person you seek vengeance upon looks like, you know? And not even like a specific, like, this is what that specific person looks like, but like, this is the archetype of person that you seek vengeance upon, and like, it's very compelling to me, yeah.

Sam: Yeah. Yeah.

Nico: Moving on to The Rubes

Sam: yeah, so this, there was a bar in my hometown called The Rube, short for The Rubenstein, and I didn't realize it was short for Rubenstein for a long time, and like, thought it was just like a, like a cowboy word, because my small town is also famous for being the town that defeated Jesse James, like, took down the James Younger gang, Like, they tried to rob Northfield Bank, and like, we,

Nico: They weren't having that.

Sam: and like, shot a couple of them and drove them out of town, they got arrested a few days later.

And like, there's a carnival in town every September for Defeat of Jesse James Days, and like, everyone comes in from like, miles around to the small little fair in southern Minnesota.

And so I thought, like, The Rube was somehow related to that, and I loved this idea of dueling bars, like, that has always felt like a small town thing to me, it's like, why are there fuckin two bike stores in this town of, like, 500 people, right?

Like really specific bars, and the double meaning of the name felt like a nice thing, so you, you can see, run by Jesse, Jesse James,

Nico: Oh, yeah,

Sam: yeah.

yeah, and Hannah, I guess, here is is supposed to be like a German name or something, I don't know. But I like, this sort of duality of this location, but like, it's all the same, too. Like, you, you're deciding which one of the bars went out of business, but like, it doesn't fucking matter. Like, we know it was a sad, small town going out of business thing regardless. Like, the vibe is the same regardless of which one is still open. The people are the same regardless of what happened.

There's a sadness and a consistency to this that feels very small town to me, I like the karaoke too.

Nico: Mm hmm. it also ties into the overall vibe of the adventure, where it's like... Not only is it a small town thing, they've also been replaced by the town, and so like it matters even less which one is which, because it's all just the town, as like, a creature.

Sam: Yeah.

I tried this weird thing with the last entry in the table, like, fading off the screen, and I, I like it, but also hate it, I don't know, I think it's

Nico: I think it's, I think it's pretty effective.

Sam: I like it, yeah.

Nico: It fits in stylistically with the rest of the the game overall, like, it's reminiscent of the... text right at the edge of the page you know, like on like the credits page, like,

Sam: It's hard for me to take big swings, but I like taking little swings with the graphic design, you know.

Nico: which I also not to say that that's more effective than big swings, but like, I don't know, it's diff, it's a hard line to walk, right? Because it can be distracting, but also it can just be like a, ooh, that's an interesting thing. Like,

Sam: And this is, The vibe of this whole thing is not about big swings, it's about subtlety and smaller details. And

Alright, the bakery.

There's this amazing bakery in my hometown that closed cause the wife of the married couple who ran it got cancer and died. It was very sad. Except for the fact that they were, like, really right wing terrible people. Like, they always had the like, pro life donation cup out at the counter and stuff. And like, there was a point where I like, had to stop going to the place when I like, went back home even though I loved their donuts.

I don't know, I think this little guy he's so sad. I loved this bakery just so much d despite the people who ran it. I think that there's a lot of power in having empathy for the people that you hate I don't know, I just think that that's an important thing to do a lot of the time in life.

Nico: that I agree although it's a very fraught concept in real life, obviously. But I think that a game is kind of an ideal place to, like, put something like that.

Sam: Yeah.

Nico: Because you can just kind of be like, Yeah, all I'm gonna tell you about this guy is that he was, like, kind of an asshole, and, like, how do you want to react to that,

Sam: But his circumstances are so sad, it's like, he definitely sucks, but he's like, no one would want to be where he is. Like, I think there's complication in that, it's interesting.

I also, I want to be clear, I don't think anyone should have to like, empathize with their oppressors, and like, I'm, I'm able to do this because I'm in such a privileged position as a human being, but I think that, I think there's a lot of value in doing that when you can.

Nico: oh, I mean, you don't even have to empathize with someone who's just a dick to you, you know, like, whether or not they have power over you or, like, a bigot or whatever, but I agree that there is some real value in that, like, you're not necessarily gonna be, like, rewarded, quote unquote, for, like, being a bigger person, or, like, empathizing with this person, but, like, it sure is gonna be an experience if you do.

And if you don't do it, it's not like, I don't know, it's not like the adventure is punishing you for not doing it, it's just sort of presenting you with this bakery is closed, the guy is, like, In a very sad position, and also, he sucked, like, how do you feel about that? That's a question you have to answer, or, not, because you can just leave, like, that's allowed.

Sam: Yeah.

So, last thing I'll say on this page is I added in this, like, faded portrait of this guy's wife because I was like, oh, there should be, like, treasure in a module. I just, like, tucked that in there. I'd be like, yeah, maybe, maybe if you are, like, playing this, like, an OSR module, you can just,

Nico: you could loot this, I guess, like, you could loot this from this dying man.

Sam: yeah.

Oh, I did have one more thing I wanted to say about the bakery, which is the original art that I drew for this is actually the art that got into the final book, but I was, like, concerned that it looks too much like Bob Belcher,

Nico: Oh! Ha ha ha ha ha

Sam: I was like, ah, I should really do something else, and I, I drew this other guy who had, like, a very wide head, like, a real sausage horizontal head. I really liked that, that was gonna be the art for sure, but it didn't fit into the column? the little, like slot for art there. So I had to go the Bob Belcher art, and here we are. It's, it's Bob.

Nico: Making art is all about working within the constraints that we have.

Sam: Yeah. What's next? Yeah

Nico: is Sidra's parents old house.

Sam: This is the thing I hate the most in this zine. This is the only, like, location and people where I was really like, Ah, I should've come up with something better there.

Nico: Yeah, I don't remember thinking this specifically, like, when I was doing the editing, but looking at it now, it does feel like the thing that sort of, like, tracks the least. Because it's like, yeah, there is something to capture there, but it's much harder to capture the idea of like, This used to be something and now it's different because it's like the, the, what, the new people don't really matter, right?

Sam: Yeah, that's exactly all right and exactly how I feel about it. And what I should have done was just pair this with some other character who I'd already written, or like, that I already had some sort of specific interest in. Like, these two lovely ladies are great. I, you know, I love them. They're, they're fabulous, but whatever. But like, if I put the doctor in this house, or I put

the baker in this house, that would've given that person and that location a little bit more to like bounce off of each other bit more, like it would've...

like right now the problem is this is a really interesting like container of a location with like a ho-hum filler and I should have just found one of the other fillers that I liked and put it here.

Nico: Yeah, but then there's the difficulty of like, there's not really any other characters that are pulling double duty, you know? Like, the baker kind of has to be above his house. The doctor could be the new resident here, but then you're also going to meet the doctor at the doctor's office.

So, like,

Sam: It could've been a ruin too, like, but, that doesn't feel right. Like it does really feel important to the container that like, someone is living there,

Nico: You almost could have done a meta thing about it of, like, two people live here, but, like, they don't really matter,

Sam: yeah,

Nico: Like, they're nice enough, you don't really care about them, you know, because, like,

Sam: Yeah, I think I should've, as my film professor once told me, I think you really gotta buck up and come up with a better idea. Like, that's how I feel about this. I really should've just bucked up and come up with a better idea.

Nico: Yeah, thinking about it, it's weird because it's not as though these, NPCs are any like, less sort of detailed than other like, named NPCs, but, and obviously this could be a sort of confirmation bias just because I know, have so much context for like, your, experience and like how much this is drawn from your life but like it sort of feels like these are the two NPCs that feel most like they were made up for this adventure.

Sam: Yeah, yeah. I don't have any stories about these two the way I had stories about the baker being racist in my vicinity. Yeah, I, there is something to both of them being pregnant. I like that. There's a story there, and like, I don't know what that story is. That kind of open endedness I think is really nice and compelling detail in NPCs, and that's the only thing that's interesting about this page to me.

Nico: yeah, it's... Now that I think about it, I'm like, where was this insight when I was actually editing this? But I think I might have just not spent very much time on this page, but like, the other, the other details feel a little bit almost like, randomly generated.

Sam: Listen, they can't all be winners.

Nico: Yeah, I mean, a real, I guess I won't say failure, but a real misstep from both of us, honestly.

Sam: yeah. Let's move on.

The beautiful redacted page.

I still love this. I just love this whole bit. It's funny. We talked about it earlier.

I will say this originally covered more of the page and I liked that better aesthetically, like it went all the way to the bleeding edges. But you gave the note that it's nice to be able to just sort of barely make out the text of your mom's house at the top there.

I think it's important that that text is visible like somewhere in the document, and I think in retrospect I maybe wish I had found another place to make it a little bit more visible because I really visually liked this page better when it like went all the way to the bleeding edge.

But this is good.

Nico: Yeah, like maybe the more appropriate thing would've been to make it more visible, like in the index and then have it like sort of completely scratched out here.

Sam: you wanna take that again with Table of Contents so no one comes after you? Just kidding, just kidding.

Nico: table of contents. I'm sorry. say the other thing too I feel like my sort of, like, fantasy world is like, You almost, , write a whole, like, entry for this, and then if you were to ever, like, print physical ones, figure out some way to, like, almost manually, like, black it out or something in some way.

Sam: Yeah,

Nico: I think that going all the way to the edge has a sort of similar impact in that it really kind of feels as though someone had done it, like, intentionally. Like, you don't get any trace of it. It has a similar feeling to, like, if someone was to, like, sit down and, like, meticulously black it out

Sam: Yeah, yeah, well I think if I was gonna do like a RISO printing of this, I would try to find a way to make it look like a RISO printing error, like it was less someone did it by hand, and more like it was so traumatic that the printer itself fucked up somehow,

Nico: it just sort of exploded.

Sam: yeah, and I don't know enough about printing processes to like know how that would work exactly, but I might do something like, try to find a fucked up RISO print job, and then scan that, and then like, put it back through?

Like, I, I don't know exactly, but, yeah,

Nico: it's giving very like, it's a Brian Eno quote of like the imperfections of a medium, like become it's hallmark or something like that like the sort of like the warm like scratchy sound of like a vinyl and how people you know are like super into that now despite like that was just a byproduct of how vinyls were made and how like the sound comes off of it.

Sam: All the like, Christopher Nolan and Quentin Tarantino refusing to not shoot on film. It's like the same thing, right?

Nico: Exactly, exactly.

Sam: The Brian Eno quote for reference is,

Whatever you find weird, ugly, uncomfortable, and nasty about a new medium will surely become its signature.

Which feels accurate.

Nico: The Doctor's office.

Sam: Yeah, wow, this is maybe the most charged spread in this for me partly because, you know, so much of my childhood is wrapped up in my medical issues and the Crohn's disease and all the stuff I was doing to deal with that when I was a teen. So, you know in a supplement about my childhood trauma there had to be a doctor character There's always a doctor.

And all my best doctors have been Indian so I was like, here's the one guy Who's actually on your side, who's like new enough in town that he hasn't been absorbed by the town yet. And everyone hates him as a result.

And I made that, and I liked that, and I was like, oh wait I just created a metaphor for small town racism? Interesting. Interesting. And I think actually, a really apt metaphor for and commentary on small town racism, because like, as soon as this guy, finishes assimilating into the small town, everyone loves him.

Nico: Right,

Sam: They don't care that he's Indian anymore, like, cause he has given up his culture, and he has joined the local culture. And, listen, I'm white and from a small town, I don't know how accurate that is, but I did it by accident, I'm very happy with how it came out.

Nico: It's, it also kind of works, like, on a meta level, because, like, he's not an outsider because he's Indian, right? it's because he's literally an outsider. He's, like, not part of the town yet, in a very literal sense. But that's also exactly how, like, small town racism, like, generally expresses itself. If they don't feel quite comfortable just out and out being like, you know, that person isn't white and we don't like that,

Sam: Well, I think it's usually not about that. I mean, obviously, like, there are people who are just like, if you're not white, get out. Like, we don't like you. Like, that kind of racism, of course, exists.

But, like, where I'm from, the racists were , like, they elected Trump, and then Trump came for their neighbors, and they were like, wait, but not our neighbors. Our neighbors are the good ones. Like, we meant all the other ones.

Nico: It cannot be emphasized enough that we are two white guys or guy adjacent people, like, talking about this.

Sam: But yeah, like, I am pretty happy with where this ended up.

Nico: yeah,

Sam: Okay, before we move on from the doctor, I want to talk about his weird little stories here like, I, I like his weird little stories.

Nico: I never knew what to do with these weird little stories when I was editing, I was like...

Sam: I don't know why, these were such stream of consciousness, like, dump. Like, I, this is where I think they came from.

So, the beach whale is, I believe, a Seinfeld reference. Of George, like, saving the beach whale.

So then he's talking about his home town, um, and everything And, uh, the idea of going back is unsettling for him for reasons he can't articulate. It's like oh maybe there's another one of these out there, you Maybe this town is a species. I like that little bit. And then then, his

Nico: maybe all hometowns are this, actually, like.

Sam: Yes. Everyone is haunted.

And then finally he's got this little sister who died, and that's me. That is just like a self insert, I think.

She had a chronic medical condition, which inspired him to become a doctor, and she passed away last year. I mean, I didn't die, but yeah. Sad.

Nico: It is very interesting that you have a character who died as a self insert. It feels very like, I mean, I am significantly less well versed in like, disability studies than I am in like, queer studies, and I will preface this by saying this is an academic term, but it feels, it feels very related to like, Crip Time or something, how time passes differently for like, disabled people. Similar concept of like, queer temporalities and like, how time and sort of life stages and stuff is different for queer people, you know, because both represent a divergence of the sort of imagined, quote unquote, normal, heterosexual, cis, able bodied, like, life timeline and life story.

Sam: And disabled people are like dying all the time in movies at that age, you know, like it's, yeah, yeah.

Yeah, look at that.

Nico: I think I saw it earlier in the outline, but we never talk about it, but I believe the last line of all of these locations if you stick around, Sidra never comes.

Sam: Yes.

Nico: Because the whole point of this act is that you're going around town trying to Sidra. But in the rules you cannot do that if you just sort of stay at one of these locations and wait for them.

Sam: Yeah, I wrote this for one of the locations, I think for the dinner party at the Sidra's Parents Old House, and then was like, oh, that's nice, maybe I'll just like, put that in all of them. And then like, I like, had it like, in the middle of text in some of them, for, in this doctor's office one, just because the way it was formatted, and you were like, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. That has to be at the end every time, that's the punctuation mark, and it's really effective I think.

Nico: As a punctuation mark, as like, an aesthetic quality, of just an informational like, finding element of things, it's like, it's like, look, if Act 2 was about finding Sidra, then, whoever's playing this, whoever's running this, has gotta know that if they stick around, they're not gonna find them,

Sam: Yeah. Until Act 3.

Nico: until Act 3.

Sam: here they are. Sidra, you met them. , I don't know how I feel about this. Like, I find, I'm really kind of obsessed in life, I think, with these, what I refer to in the outline here as, like, Before Sunrise moments in life. Referencing the movie Before Sunrise, which is this movie about like a young Ethan Hawke and a young uh, French woman whose name escapes me who like meet on a train in Vienna and then walk around all night together and then the morning comes and they go their separate ways and that's the end of the movie.

And it's just like one night, staying up all night, talking, having feelings, and like being emotional about it. And, I kind of feel like those moments in real life, I think everyone's had a few moments like that, every couple of years I feel like I have a day that feels like that, and they are, like, kind of what I think life is about? Like, like I really, I really love those intense moments of personal connection with someone else.

I feel like the, obvious kinds of moments like that are these moments where you've met someone for the first time, like in this movie, Before Sunrise. But of course this movie also has two sequels with the same people who like meet again seven years later and have another night.

And then,

Nico: of that.

Sam: yeah, and then the third one, they like, have been married for a while, you know, it's, it's just like, a day in their lives, and of course you have those moments, again, with people that you like, reconnect with in your life.

And as I get older, I'm like in my 30s now, I'm old enough to be having these moments for the second and third time with people from my past, and

Nico: hmm.

Sam: I find them so strange. Because they have all that like emotional intensity of the initial meeting someone and getting to have that wonderful moment all night kind of feeling. Like I think you've experienced a lot in like college feels like the perfect time for that.

Nico: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Um,

Sam: House, great movie about this in college. But as you get older, it just becomes complicated, because you have history, you have context, you have past. Like, even if you're meeting someone for the first time, it's, you're bringing so much more baggage. And when you are meeting someone that you haven't seen in a long time It's just a lot, you know? It is it is your past together but also like rediscovering who you have each become.

I think this is just like a beautiful thing. I think it is so beautiful to take the time to try to really be present with someone else and learn who they are and understand them and so hard in a way when you have this history.

And like maybe you're in love with each other and like maybe they have trauma, they like sent you this letter. They something is the matter but now you are here and they don't want to talk about it And what does that mean? And it just... you still have this opportunity to maybe reconnect to to have some kind of rekindling of the experience that you had back when you were growing up together. I don't know, it just, everything about this is heartbreaking and beautiful and full of ache to me.

Nico: Yeah, it's very funny, I don't know how much of this is based on the fact that I saw this movie for the first time relatively recently but it's also giving me very weird, sort of like, 500 Days of Summer vibes. Um, I think it's because in this case the way that Sidra is sort of portrayed now like, as a resident of the town, and sort of been subsumed by it, feels very much like how Joseph Gordon Levitt's character, like, treats, you know, Summer in the movie as like a manic pixie dream girl, as sort of just like a vessel for his desires and emotions and stuff.

And, it would be very easy for a character, in fact, so it says, for any given subject, they, Sidra, will tell you a story about it that exactly matches your memory of the incident in question. So like, the town has kind of turned this person that you have history with, right, that you like, maybe loved, maybe, you know, whatever your history is, it turns them into essentially an empty vessel, a mirror of some sort that like, does just kind of reflect whatever your opinions are about them.

Which is like an interesting sort of examination of like, of NPCs in a TTRPG adventure in general. Which is something that I have thought about and it's it's kind of the subject of one of the things I put in my blog carnival thing that you, ran. Talking about like, making characters like, real enough, And this is kind of like a, you know, common sort of like, I don't know, trope or meme or, or behavior or whatever and like, sort of stereotypically like D& D parties, right? How it's like. you just sort of like, murder your way through the world, don't give a shit about NPCs because like, you kind of know that they're like, not real, or like, not as real as like, you and your player character is.

But in the world of the game, like, there is, they're as real as literally anyone else, including the player characters. And you're getting weirdly both of those at the same time in this portrayal of this character, where it's like, As the player character, you can sort of make up and provide on whatever, like, any amount of history with Sidra that is true, because you're naming it, and whoever's running it, is sort of like agreeing to it.

And that, sort of, the is true, and it Sidra real, but the, what's happening right now, it's like, they're not really real anymore, which is, like, unbelievably sad.

Sam: Yeah, I mean, it's horrific. It's literally horror. It is, it is horrific. Like, you're set up to be old enough to know better at the beginning of this, right? Like, some things have changed, or maybe your memory changed things. What two ways is Sidra different? Like, you know that this person is not the same person that you knew 10 years ago, or however long it's been. Like, you know that things have changed that you have grown and that they have grown.

And then the town is like yeah but what if they haven't? Like what if you could just have the fantasy version that lives in your head. And my hope is that like you will encounter that and be like, well, this is intensely uncomfortable

Nico: Right,

Sam: like it's it's not good to to be to be trying to have that intense emotional connection with someone who is just a fantasy.

Nico: Hmm Yeah

and I definitely think that the sort of the rule of threes would probably apply here if I were, like, playing the game. I would say something and like, Sidra would be like, if that's exactly how I remember it or whatever, I'd be like, oh, okay, yeah, that makes sense. And the second time, I'd be like, that's a little weird. And the third time, I'd be like, something is deeply wrong,

You know, like, because it's just like, yeah, like, even your closest friends are not going to have the exact same memories about stuff as you. And so to be presented with something where it's like, oh yeah, this person who you know and have history with, but like, then the GM is telling you that like, oh yeah, like, that's exactly what happened.

It's like, hmm, squinting eyes like. Yeah.

Sam: yeah.

I like the empty portrait of like, this person is gonna be a reflection of whoever you want them to be. Like, this person is more, like, tailored to whoever you are. Or this person is most likely to be an NPC that, like, already existed in whatever campaign you are now bringing this module into.

Nico: Right, yeah, sort of like more likely to have just been part of this person's backstory or something.

The last thing here, just to point out sort of an important inflection point in the game. It says Sidra is clearly interested in you, but hesitant to say so. If the subject is broached, by the time the conversation is over, they will have asked you to stay in town with them. And I think that that, if I'm not mistaken, that would be like the first time the central question of the adventure is like, brought up, right?

Like, will you stay? Will you leave? Like, what are you going to do?

Sam: Yeah. Yeah.

Well, Act 4, Escape, if you try to escape, the town's not happy about it.

c

Nico: Mhm.

Sam: I liked these. This also originally was gonna have, like, I had this ending in mind of a tornado coming into town, like a, there's a tornado in the lyrics of the Phoebe Bridgers song, and I was like, I really want to do that, like, set piece of, like, you are like, Oh no, my hometown is evil now, I'm gonna run. And, like, a tornado comes in, and you're, like, escaping in your van or whatever. I don't know, like, I wanted that image present. And I like, drew a tornado that would've gone on this page 31 here, and it looked like shit, and I was like, meh, fuck it. We'll make a storm be referenced in the text, but that's kinda it.

Nico: Yeah, I like as well the escalation of it, of, gift to request to act of God to residents become violent. The residents of the town becoming violent is obviously not as, like, explicitly dangerous or damaging as, like, a tornado, but it is in many ways scarier. Especially since you've spent this whole adventure talking to these people and all of a sudden you're like, oh my god, like, if I, I'm trying to leave and they're just like, they're, like, attacking me,

Sam: Yeah. Act 5?

Nico: mm hmm.

Sam: Doors! I really like the doors thing, the like, creepy tunnel, of like, I have this image of you like, open a refrigerator door, and it's just like a slimy portal to like, a pit down beneath your house. I love that. I don't know what that is. It's like finally pulling back the subtext and revealing there's something gross under this town.

Nico: Oh yeah, also, I mean, the rule of the tunnel disappears if the door is closed and reopened, like, that's immediately what I would anticipate both myself as a player and any player to do. you see a tunnel, and they're like, okay, I close the door and open it again, It's a refrigerator.

Sam: Yeah. Yeah. It's like,

Nico: And they're like, uh oh, something weird is

Sam: movie.

Nico: yeah, and then, since it's a 25 percent chance that any door you open will reveal the tunnel, like, then they're just gonna start opening doors, so it's like there are some potential problems in here in terms of like, oh, like, how likely is it to trigger something, but it's like, I think,

Sam: Well, the deal

Nico: just a natural curiosity of players is going to sort of

Sam: yeah, my, my,

Nico: do that.

Sam: my favorite bit about that is that You know, no door will turn into the tunnel more than once, but Sidra's apartment has too many doors in it, so if you are, like, sleeping over at Sidra's house when this happens for the first time, you can definitely find a portal if you want one.

The sleep stuff is is a thing. I kind of like this as a vibe that the table entries themselves are kind of like whatever, to me. But I do like that the longer you stay in town, the more, uh, fucked up things become for you. The more you are sort of compelled to stay.

Nico: absolutely. And I think... As I believe we mentioned before, like, it is weirdly OSR inspired, like, and we've talked about it before, you know, like if you're in town for two weeks, X happens, right? And so there's an element of like, yeah, like, you are kind of keeping track of the days and the implication almost as well is almost like, you don't even have to have that much happen in a day. Like, As a GM, you can just be like, you like, went around looking for Sidra, you like, talked to this one person or two people, you went to like, two locations, and like, that's kind of the day. Like, that's kind of it.

Sam: yeah.

The heart. Climax. I love this. I love this. I love how helpless the heart is, that it is hanging over all of this is you know that you're playing an RPG module, you know there's something fucked up going on in this town, you know there's something scary. And then you go through the horror movie, you like, climb through the like, tunnel of slime, you're like, fully in adventure mode, you like, pull out your sword, and then like, the heart is like, my only weapon is weakness, to quote Small Gods, my favorite book.

All it can do is say to you, please love me, why won't you love me? And if you think it's bad, then you go up there and you beat the heck out of it. And like, it doesn't do anything to stop you, because the thing it wants most is you. It just wants you to love it.

And if what that means is you attack it to death, so be it.

I think that's really sad. It's like a dog. It's just it just wants you to be loved.

Nico: And then also, the only weapon is weakness, but also its only weapons things that you provide, right? Because, you know, so first it floods you with visions of your childhood memories. Then it sort of kind of threatens you with, like, what happens if, like, if you left, and then it asks to know what it did wrong.

So I'm imagining just, like, I'm really imagining, once again, like, this feels so playable because it's, like, you just, Imagine, like, a GM presenting to this, like, okay, you hit the heart once, it's damaged in this way. What childhood memories do you suddenly experience, or whatever?

And then, like, if they provide, like, one, they're like, okay, like, what else? What else? What else? Right?

Sam: Yeah, it's just trying to stall you by making you come up with more beloved content about it.

Nico: Right, right.

Sam: To make it harder to actually deliver the killing blow.

Nico: you Yeah. If you had presented this in a very slightly different way, you could have even just had a direction to the GM of like, keep asking questions for these until the player is like, fed up. Like, until the player is like, I'm not doing this anymore, I'm hitting it again, you know?

Sam: Yeah. I think it was your suggestion to, like, take out all references to, like, attack rolls or disadvantage, like, that kind of thing. At one point, like, the slime of the tunnels gave you disadvantage until you wiped it off or something. And that was, like, clearly a great call.

And I love that I basically choreographed a whole action set piece here with none of that mechanical language. Like, I think that fits the vibe of the thing really well and it's just, just really nice.

Nico: And I think that that really does sort of speak to, not to say all adventures must be system neutral or like not include references to like mechanics or whatever, but I think it also speaks to the actual benefits that a system can provide. Where like, if you sort of provide a well written set piece that you present of like these are the tools that you have in the space of like, a chandelier, a grand piano or something, if you have a pretty decent command of a system and the mechanics involved with it, it's very similar to sort of viewing adventures as a toolbox that you can play with.

It's like, yeah, adventures themselves are the toolbox and then also the system is itself a sort of toolbox. Like if you're playing in some system, and you're like, oh yeah, you're covered in slime, and someone's like, like, if I was playing this in The Between or something it's like, oh yeah, like, it doesn't say so, but like, that's a condition. That's a condition you apply, and the conditions do give disadvantage.

I think it's signaled enough, it's like signposted enough, it's like here are bad things that happen to you. Here are potentially good things that happen. Interpret that as you will in your system of choice.

Sam: Well and I love, I love to the way you can mix and match modules and systems to bring out a different tone in each one of them. Like the idea of running this with Mork Borg is so different from the idea of running this with Himbos of Myth and Mettle. And, like, both of those are really weird combinations in, like, really different ways.

And I, I, I think that's beautiful.

Nico: Oh yeah, I mean, and this probably won't end up in the final recording, but one of my, like, little projects I'm thinking of is to do, like, one adventure, and then have, like, a whole book, like a zine or something like that of, like, a short adventure adapted into like as many different systems as I can sort of think of or like want to do Essentially exploring the idea of like does system matter quote unquote of like. Not so much as like I'm putting an end to that discussion as much as like what would it mean to like actually adapt this to like different things and like what different things get emphasized when you have different sets of rules .

Sam: So, the last thing here is With its last moments, the heart begs to know what it did wrong. For the rest of your life, when someone asks you where you are from, or begs you to spare their life, you hesitate.

Oh, I love that too. I love that kind of like, character change, like, like, condition problem

Nico: I really like the difference in the two options, When someone asks you where you're from or begs you to spare their life, it's like, oh my god, like, what kind of, what kind of person is doing both of these

Sam: yeah, and I love it because it's like, someone might beg you for your life in any kind of OSR like game that you're playing this with, but it's actually kind of rare that someone asks you where you're from. And like, that's so weird that like, in these games, someone begging you for their life is actually more common than someone just like, asking you where they're, where you're from. That's, ah, ah,

Nico: right, right.

Sam: Endings and Epilogues, So, I did intentionally kind of want to leave it open whether the town is good or not, like, it's unsettling, but also like, why wouldn't you subsume yourself into the town and like, settle down and have a nice little life here? Like, what's the problem with doing so?

I kind of like that the text doesn't have an answer for that like this whole thing is creepy. Like don't you want to like keep your individuality? I mean like yeah But also I'd kind of like to just be nice and live in a fantasy world where nothing bad happens to me also like I don't

Nico: Yeah. It's very interesting to me that that's how you see it, because I don't really interpret that in the same way. I mean, obviously, do see the, like, oh, the creepiness of the town, you know, like, yeah, you're from here, et cetera. I don't think it comes through quite as much to say that, like, oh, if you sort of agree to stick around, you'll just have a nice life where, like, nothing bad ever happens.

I feel like that might have even been more explicit in, like, previous iterations, or maybe just less so in this one. To me the town seems a little bit more unambiguously like, you know, not bad, but like, yeah, you know, sort of bad in the sense of like, losing your individuality, and then it's, but the tension just comes in of like, okay, even if that's bad, like, are you willing to just like, never come back to your hometown?

like, is that the alternative? You know, it's like, are you going to choose that? Really? Like.

Sam: mean, it's interesting to me that you feel that way, because like the literal last line of text in this is, If you commit to staying in the town, you live out the rest of your days there in contentment happily ever after. Nothing of note ever happens to you again.

And like, the fact that I end on that but everything else up to that point has been so ominous that you just like straight up forgot about that and like don't believe it, it means I like did the job right, you know? Like what, like why wouldn't you believe those lines of text? Like there's no reason not to except for all these other fucking reasons that I've given you.

But like, like, also, I kind of take it at face value, like, I don't know, why

Nico: I guess, yeah, I guess the difference is that like, I look at that and I'm like, okay, sure, that's what it says, but like, that's not what it actually is, right? But yeah, it's interesting, like, yeah, you could take that at face value and be like, yeah, I'll stick around here,

Sam: I mean, this is, this is just all about, like, what I talk about in therapy every week. It's like,

Nico: heh.

Sam: my inability to, like, I don't want to settle, like, I have that creative drive. I have this belief that is false, but this belief that, like, my friends who didn't leave the town I grew up in, didn't leave Minnesota, and have like settled down there, are like having these great lives, and are very happy and don't have problems.

And, of course that's not true, I'm just not living their lives, but it, every time I go back it feels idyllic, it feels like all I would have to do is give up on pursuing my artistic and creative dreams like, the ambition that I have to, like, be famous and successful and, like, have a lot of people look at my art and stuff. All I would have to do is give up on that stuff and I would be happy and content.

And I know that's not true, but it feels like that's true. And the idea of presenting: That's true. Why, like, why aren't you willing to do that? Is the question I think the heart is, like, asking. You know, like, that is, that is the thing at the core of my being, that, like, I'm trying to turn into horror with this module.

what is so wrong with you that you won't do this?

Nico: And it's so funny because it's like, I think you sort of hit so much on those final lines, and I think my perspective is hitting it so much on the penultimate pages lines, which says, you know, If you escape the town, the next time you turn around to look for it, it is gone, replaced by an empty field. It is as if the town you once called home never existed. No one else in the world remembers this place.

It's like your options are stick around, lose your individuality, know, you'll, you'll have a happily ever after, side question of like at what cost, but you know it's like if you're happy, then like why does it matter?

But then the alternative it's like okay but if you choose not to do that then you can never go home again right so it's I think it's interesting in telling like what we sort of what parts of those the endings we focus on.

It's also very interesting to be talking about this now, because literally three days ago, four days ago, I went to my 10 year high school reunion.

Sam: Oh my gosh, And I, and I had to skip mine because I was moving to LA at the time.

Nico: That's incredible.

Sam: Yeah.

Nico: And and. And yeah, it's like, it was a nice time, and I was like a little surprised at like the number of people that I talked to who were like either had like never really left the town or like left for a little while and like had since come back and like seemingly with the intent to settle down.

So and of course, part of that is a biased sample because it's literally in our hometown, so of course the people who have come back to live there will be able to go to reunion, but it was very interesting of like, oh like, how many people have actually sort of come back to stay, more or less.

Sam: Yeah. And that's

Nico: Mm hmm.

Sam: Yeah, so a couple of like, last things to kind of wrap up here, couple months after we put this out, I, was reading Aaron King's Reading the Apocalypse, which is this incredible zine of custom PBTA moves with no system, based on novels. And it's so good, these moves are like poetry, like it's really wonderful.

And I was like, what if I rewrote the entirety of I Know The End to be like PBTA moves? And so I did it, and it's weird. Like, like, the one thing from it that I really loved was this idea that there were a bunch of moves where you would like, hold one because of the result of the roll. But you could never spend the hold on anything. There was just an overall rule that if you lost track of how many hold you had, then you were subsumed into the town. And I think that's really weird and funny, and I like that a lot.

But the whole thing was so mechanized in a way that, I don't know, that you very much convinced me did not feel right.

Nico: Yeah, and there is kind of something interesting too with the idea of, PBTA as like, being like, a framework as opposed to like, a system exactly.

Like, there is an interesting argument that you can make of like, oh yeah, you could make like a system neutral PBTA adventure, or something, you know. Riot.

Sam: play like PBTA moves already, right? Like, When you sleep in town, you make yourself vulnerable, roll, whenever you wake up. Like, that's PBTA move trigger, you know? there are such things in this.

Nico: part of what I really like about this adventure sometimes my concern with adventures that are like sort of specifically not Railroad y is that You have a hard time of finding direction in them and, I guess albeit this game is technically railroad in that there's kind of one or two different things that can happen at the end, you're kind of inevitably headed there, I don't feel like I would have a hard time figuring out how to sort of fill in the gaps here,

Sam: Yeah.

Nico: I just don't ever feel like I was lost, like, if I were trying to run this for someone, I would not feel lost in terms of like, how to create the connective tissue, when creating the connective tissue in general feels like the actual point of adventures to me, right? And sometimes adventures don't feel like they give me enough information to do that.

Sam: Yeah. Well, I'm glad you like it. I still don't know if this thing's any fucking good. Obviously, we had, like, way too much to say about it.

My favorite fact about this is that my friend Merrilee is making a hack of it for fucking Slugblaster? Which I find uh, just, like, what a concept. Like, I, this hobby is amazing and diverse and you can make whatever the fuck you want

Nico: love the idea of in Slugblaster you like shift dimensions and arrive like in your hometown and you're like, hang on, what?

Like,

Sam: yeah. yeah. And then this happens.

Yeah, I mean, it's a fucking thing. I made it. People have read it now, I guess. Yeah, tell me what you think about it. do have another idea for what the next module in my Songs That Made Me Cry series will be if I ever make such a thing.

Nico: I think that should just be the first Dice Exploder Game Jam.

Sam: I feel like that game jam has probably happened already. But yeah, I mean like yeah, maybe

Nico: There's nothing new under the sun. Just like, do it again.

Sam: I mean, really, like, I don't know, really want someone else to take up the mantle of running a Dice Exploder game jam. Like, please, community people, like, get involved, like, I will give you permission to use the Dice Exploder brand name if you're just on the Discord hanging out.

Nico: I was gonna say, genuinely all you have to do is ask, considering that someone else proposed it. Like,

Sam: Yeah. Thanks for being here, Nico.

Nico: Yeah, no, thank you for having me on. Slash, having

Sam: me about my own fucking game. Yeah

Thanks so much to Nico for being here and powering through all that with me.

You can find them on socials at gigantic underscore spider and be sure to check out the winners of this year's of The Awards. There's a link in the show notes. Maybe even apply to be a judge next year or submit your stuff. You do you, awards shows are silly and or a scam, but also maybe it'd be fun for you. I don't know.

Okay, as always, you can find me on socials at S. Dunnewold. You can also join the Dice Exploder Discord, come and talk about the show, tell me what you think about this module and this kind of episode, plug your own shit, whatever. I don't care. We'd love to have you.

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And thanks as always to you for listening. See you soon, actually, for another bonus episode.

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Dice Exploder
Dice Exploder
A show about tabletop RPG design. Each episode we bring you a single mechanic and break it down as deep as we possibly can. Co-hosted by Sam Dunnewold and a rotating roster of designers.