AUDIO: The sounds of a traveler walking along a rainy Satyrine street, then ducking into a warm, cheerful establishment. Jovial patrons and clinking glassware echo off the walls in time to a haunting ragtime tune issuing from an unseen piano. The bartender looks up and says:
You’ll pardon me, but — is that a Sharweni die on your cloak? You’ve walked on the banks of the River Soaring?
Please, tell me — is it all true? I’ve heard tales of the Masters there, the testaments and tokens and cards they produce — the clarity of rule, and vividness of setting. My duties keep me here, at the center of the Path, but — I long to visit Silver one day.
You’ve… brought back a book? Would you mind if I —
Oh, I’ve nearly forgotten my manners. What are you drinking tonight, wise friend? It’s on the house.
This show obviously owes its existence to Invisible Sun, my roleplaying game of choice and the system and setting that has most deeply left its mark on me.
But nearly two years ago, I had an experience with a different system and setting that caught me completely off-guard. So much so, that I ended up talking about it on episodes 5 and 6 of this show.
Well — this isn’t a podcast centered around Descent into Midnight, but — I am going to take us down into the depths of the sea one again tonight, because — something wonderful has happened.
That weird beta playtest of a game I tried on a whim at Gen Con 2017 is now an imminent reality — the Kickstarter will be launching in two weeks! — and it’s my absolute joy to bring two of the creators of the game (Rich Howard, whom you have met, and Richard Kreutz-Landry, who is new to the Cellar) onto the show tonight. Sadly, I wasn’t able to get them in a single interview — and also sadly, you’re missing the perspective of the third designer Taylor LaBresh, who was also spoken of fondly in absentia on Episode 15 — but at the same time, it’s great listening to these men talk about each other behind their backs with such obvious love for each other and respect for one others’ work.
I mean — we’ll talk about the game, of course. Where it’s at now, what to expect from the campaign… But the really good stuff is between the lines.
A common theme in The Secret Cellar is how intent and design affect experience. I will say this: if you are a student of games, or a game designer, or — really, a player of games or a seeker of stories — find a way to play this game. There is something unexpected and special here, in this experience. Through different lenses, we’ll be talking tonight with the game’s designers about exactly what that is.
There’s also some really thoughtful bits about ephemerality, and memory, and community — and hope.
We could all use a bit more of that these days, right?
My friends, hark! Visla’s Call.
Visla’s Call: An interview with Richard Kreutz-Landry
Jason Robinson: Richard Kreutz-Landry, I made a huge deal out of the first person who came down to the Secret Cellar and asked for just water. But you — you also add to that number. What, uh, what, what are you drinking tonight?
Richard Kreutz-Landry: I am having the fine, fine vintage of El Cajon water, which is from the Helix Water District in San Diego, California.
It’s some of the worst water in the country, but I think it’s delicious. Yeah. I’ve got my Klean Kanteen insulated aluminum bottle here that I pretty much always have with me. It’s like my cell phone, but for hydration.
Jason: Every third person in Flagstaff carries a Klean Kanteen around. So you would be in good company here.
I don’t even know how water districts work. What is the Helix Water District?
Richard: So it’s the company that sends me my bill. And I know they occasionally send me a report, but there’s a hill around here called Mount Helix. I guess it’s technically a mountain, if you want to call it that, it’s not very big —
But, uh, they, they actually do a lovely play up there every once in a while. There’s a nice little amphitheater where we saw a production of Mary Poppins once where they used stripped down mobility scooters for the, the carousel scene with the carousel horses, and then they had a giant drone to do a flying Mary Poppins exiting the stage at the end of the show. Yeah.
Jason: That’s fantastic. I feel like stagecraft in 2019 is like — there’s so many interesting things that — mechanical things that just wouldn’t have been possible like even 10, years ago and ever before that. It’s pretty interesting.
Richard: Oh yeah. And with the digital projection technology, there’s so much stuff that you can do visually as well, not just even with practical effects.
Jason: Yeah, super, super good.
I’m drinking sparkling water. The brand is, I dunno, Bubly? It fascinates me because it doesn’t have sweetener but it has a weird sweetness to it, which doesn’t appear in other just-sparkling waters. I’m not exactly sure why.
Richard: Interesting. I wonder if it’s the bubbling agent.
Every time. I see one of those though, I always think Bublé cause isn’t that the commercials for them? Right.
Jason: Maybe I should just give in and say that out loud every time going forward.
I’m so excited to have you here. I had a really, really interesting conversation much earlier on in the history of Descent into Midnight with Rich Howard; back in episode five and six we talked about it.
But you are also a very important part of that team. Do you want to tell us a little about who you are and what is going on with that project now?
Richard: Sure! So I am Richard Kreutz-Landry on Twitter. I’m @RKreutzLandry. I’m one of two people on the planet with that last name, as far as I’m aware.
I am a software developer by day. I actually get to work for an education company that teaches kids math online, which is super cool cause I actually trained to be a math teacher in college, along with my theater degree.
And I am also an origami artist. It seems like about every, every year or so, I get the bug and I’ll create five or 10 designs and just throw them up on the website.
And then recently, if you want to call the last two and a half years “recently”, I’ve become a game designer! So, Descent into Midnight is our baby, and it’s a Powered by the Apocalypse game about playing sentient, psionic sea creatures on an alien world in a universe where possibly people have never existed… Protecting your underwater city from an existential threat, some form of corruption that you define at the table. And it gets real, real wild and real wacky every time.
Jason: We’re going to come back and spend a good amount of time talking about Descent into Midnight because as you know, I have fond feelings about Descent into Midnight, and I’m very excited as it gets closer to becoming a real product I can hold in my hands.
But I want to back up a minute.
I mean, so many good things! Let’s see: game design, origami, software development. All these things are fascinating to me.
Origami!? Where does this come from? How did you — ?
Richard: Okay, so I will say that I am quarter-Japanese. My grandmother is from Japan. My family has a history with the Navy, and so my grandfather met her over there. My brother actually met his wife in Japan after going and teaching English over there.
However! My Japanese grandmother is not the one who taught me origami, funnily enough. It was my German grandmother, who every year would make custom greeting cards.
And I remember, I must’ve been maybe, maybe 10 years old or so, and she made this greeting card. And it was actually an eight and a half by eleven piece of blue construction paper. And what she had done is she had cut out a bunch of plant shapes and things like that and attached to them on there. And then she had taken these dollar bills and folded them up so that they formed together… a stegosaurus.
Jason: That’s incredible!
Richard: Yeah. It’s one of those things that has stuck with me for years, you know?
But, I would go over there and she had these relatively simple origami books, I thought this was so cool, and I just started reading and folding. I think I was about five when I first found the books and I started getting into it a little bit.
And you know, when you’re five, you’re not very good at this sort of thing, so it took a while to sort of ramp up to it.
And then in high school, I would frequently be done with the homework before the class was out. And so I’d be sitting there bored. So I’d either be, you know, reading a novel if I could get away with that, or I’d be folding just, you know, my notebook paper or my lunch money or whatever I happened to have.
And then flash forward about 10 years and I’ve been doing origami for a while; I’ve gotten to the point where if I can find diagrams online, I can fold it. It’s not a matter of if, it’s just a matter of if I want to spend the time.
And I had gotten to the point where I was like, okay, I can pretty much fold anything. I had that level of confidence of someone who’s been doing something for 10 years or so, you know?
And then I ended up going to an origami convention. They had a design challenge portion of it… And so I spent this time and I designed a couple of things and I submitted them and I was really excited. And I got there, and I get to the showcase room and I look around and I go: ” Oh.”
Because… you know, you get used to being a big fish in a small pond?
Richard: I ended up actually, stopping folding for a couple of years after that.
What finally got me back into it was my wife’s family invited us out to Albuquerque to hang out with them. So we went out there and my, I guess niece-in-law, was really interested in dinosaurs so I was like, “Oh, okay.”
And I had some free time ’cause we’re just sitting there around the TV, and I looked up some diagrams to make a dinosaur and just like the way that her eyes lit up was just like, “Oh, right. You don’t have to be Rembrandt or whatever to be valuable and have your art have meaning.”
And it was kinda like, “Oh, okay,” you know? And I’ve kind of kept up with it since then for the most part.
Jason: So at some point along the way, you went from only ever looking at a plan in a book and then trying to copy it [with increasing levels of success over time] to sitting down and looking at a piece of paper and going, “Huh! I wonder if I could make…”
Do you remember when that transition happened?
Richard: I think sometime in high school, and the only reason I can pinpoint that with any accuracy is I ended up diagramming some things and I remembered to put the date on them, which — Good Lord, if you do art, please, please, please do yourself a favor and date your work because it will be really cool, if you have it around 10 years from now and you can look back and go, “Oh yeah!” and sort of attach that to other things going on in your life.
You know, a lot of it when I first started out was, “Oh, well here’s this thing”, and, and you start by… You know, first you do models that are very specific and have key reference points that are unmistakable, like mathematically, this is the exact place that it should be. And then you kind of move on and you will find models that are like, “Oh, we’ll just kind of make the, the neck go like this, or put the leg sort of here.” And you sort of get used to that.
And then eventually you start going, “Oh, well, you know, I kind of want to do something that’s really, really, really similar to this, but I wish that this thing could have toes, you know?” And you go, “Okay, well I have this other model where they split one point into two, and this is how they do it…” So you try that and all of a sudden, “Hey, cool, I’ve got this thing with toes now.”
But the first model that I remember just actively designing, which you can link in the show notes if you want, is a $1 bill TIE fighter from Star Wars, where the round part that represents the cockpit actually has George Washington’s face in it if you make it with a $1 bill.
And you know, it was one of those really cool things where, I remember having this idea because there was something about how to do a 60 degree angle using a square. You know, because all of this origami stuff is geometry, and I looked at it and I went, “Oh, well, you can do the same thing with the edge of a rectangle and still get that same angle.”
And then I’m looking over there at a TIE fighter and I’m going, you know, “The wings of those are basically hexagons, and that’s all 60 degree angles. I wonder if I could…” And next thing you know, I’ve got this thing.
It’s still weird to me looking back on it and going, Oh, that was like 16, 17 years ago now, but it’s always had a special place in my heart, you know?
Jason: Yeah. For sure.
It’s interesting hearing you talk about the tactile.
Your memories of these things are so clear: the blue construction paper, that accompanied the stegosaurus. There’s something so inherently physical and tactile about this. And then of course, in your day job, you’re developing software, which is kind of the opposite…
When I was in, hmm, the early two thousands, I was in college, I just had the itchiest feet and I needed to be somewhere else. So without really caring much which way it took me, I signed up for the National Student Exchange program and then picked three large cities on the East coast: Boston, New York, and Chicago…
Richard: Oh cool!
Jason: …and signed up for schools near them and then let the fates carry me where they will. And I just needed to be somewhere far away.
I ended up getting picked at a school in New Jersey, but near enough to New York city.
And there was a particular art exhibit that I stumbled into once, called the Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries.
And the Magdalen Laundries, I believe, were in Ireland. It was a Catholic sort of institution that was set up to go recover and save and offer hope to, you know, prostitutes on the streets and people who had no other place to be.
But as with a lot of things like this, it was like: in some ways, charitable and good perhaps, but also this very, like, “Hi, whatever life you had, you are now in a convent and, you are leaving your whole life behind you and now you’re forced to be a nun if you want to like have food coming from whatever life you’ve come from.
Richard: Right — it’s like the experience that LGBTQ people have with, let’s say Salvation Army, that kind of thing where it’s like, “Uhhhnnnnh”. That kind of thing? Yeah.
Jason: Exactly. And so this, this was exploring all of that.
It was this room that had clothes lines strung all across it.
And then there were sheets hung on those clotheslines and there were photographs, printed into the sheets, and they were always, in every case, a photograph of a woman. And then there would be an object, like a child’s tricycle and then a page from an actual diary from a woman that was working in these laundries at the time. So you were just reading these little snippets from their lives.
But the really compelling and wild thing about it is that there were tiny speakers that were sewn into the sheets, and motion sensors.
Richard: Oh, okay.
Jason: And the whole place would be quiet — it’s a gallery; everyone’s standing still — but then some new person, would open the door and just walk in and New York wind would whip in for a moment and all the sheets would just like start moving for a moment, and then the speakers would play snippets of kind of randomized audio.
They might be moans of pleasure, or they might be sighs, or they might be just murmurs of, a woman thinking to herself.
But all of these different voices, coming to life at the moment, spatially spread throughout. And then, you know, everything would kind of die down and it would get really silent and pensive. And then everyone would be kind of afraid to move because they don’t want to be the one to like stir these voices.
But it had a very ghostly effect of the reveries and internal thoughts of these women being spoken, only… Sort of a Schrodinger’s cat kind of situation, like you stop and look and hold still to read and then everything quiets down.
I remember very distinctly having a moment where I realized that my entire life as an artist up til that point had primarily been digital and there was something so tactile about the fabric and the smells and the images and the voices in the space that I wanted to make sure that in some form I was creating art that could be folded up and put on a shelf after it was done and occupy a physical space.
Richard: You know, with my origami, that was something that, I had to kind of reckon with. Cause I could fold something and I would think at the time, “Oh yeah, this is permanent, right? This is a thing that I folded.”
But paper will unfold over time, if it’s something that’s complex and has many layers. Or you will lose it, or you will throw it in a box and it will get dented, or all of those things. And I think in a weird way, it kind of helped me appreciate the way in which, you know, it’s, it’s not actually permanent, even if it feels like it at the time.
You know, I ended up doing theater in the rest of high school and then college, and one of the things that really struck me about theater was just the way that it sort of viscerally connects with you.
Other media, you know, TV or movies or whatever, you can sit down and you can watch the same movie twice and it will be exactly the same. And there’s something permanent about it — like, you can go back and watch it 10 years later.
Where, with a theater production, you might do it two weekends in a row for a high school production or a college production you might do a little longer, but that’s it.
Richard: And you have to, you take all of that energy and you build it up and you do this thing and then you put it out there and you’re getting energy back from the audience — and then it’s done. And then, there’s like this sort of beautiful sense of having accomplished something, but also of loss. It’s a lot of emotional energy for something that only exists in that moment. And it’s wonderful and it’s beautiful, and I love going to see theater, but working on it is… It takes energy.
Jason: Absolutely. Yeah. It’s neat to kind of recognize both sides of that.
I know there are whole traditions… like, Christian and Buddhist monks each had versions of: “Here, you are going to go into a forest and you’re going to make this beautiful thing that is only for you. Like, it’s only between you and God. You’re going to create this mandala or whatever, and then you’re going to go pour it out and watch the sand drift away, and…
Jason: And there’s something really beautiful in that, or in the sharing of creating art that is for viewers, but you and the viewers both know: “Pay attention! Because this moment right here, this is it, this is everything” — and then it’s all going to fade.
And then of course, also with things that do last, there’s that lovely interpretive thing where any movie that you loved 20 years ago, you’re going to look at now, and if it’s really a truly great movie, you will probably love it just as much or more, but it’s absolutely going to mean something very different, or carry different weight…
Jason: …because you’re changing around it.
So you mentioned that recently you have become a game designer. Is Descent into Midnight your first or only foray into game design?
Richard: I would say that it is my first quote-unquote “real game,” the project that I feel comfortable saying to your average person, “Ah yes, I am a game designer. Here is a thing that I, am working on bringing into the world” that I can hand you and you can read through it and go, “Ah, yes, this is a game.” You know?
Jason: Yes, excellent.
So you’re in the middle of the crazy, crazy production part of this process now, right?
Richard: Yeah. You know, we’ve assembled a team of people to work on layout and art direction and document accessibility, and we started looking at artists,
it’s starting to come together. And Taylor LaBresh [@LeviathanFiles] did an amazing job with writing the game text, and Rich Howard [@UmbralWalker] has really done a great job, sort of spearheading the concept and design aspects of the newer playbooks.
It’s been I think his baby from the beginning, and then the three of us sort of came together and transformed it into what it is now. Which has just been a phenomenal process, going from, “Hey, here’s a Google Doc that started with a joke on Twitter, as all things do, to a thing where we have 10 playbooks and about 70 pages of the main game text and handouts, and we’re assembling a team and we’re looking at deadlines and production things and…
Jason: The last time I really played the game was, over a year ago at this point.
And in any product that matures as it gets closer to breaking out into the world, things are changing really rapidly at the beginning, and you’re trying concepts and you’re figuring things out. And then at a certain point, you know, you’re starting to narrow things down and it really starts maturing.
I’m curious what kinds of solidifications you’ve seen in the last couple months of design leading into production and how that may have changed from what I would have encountered a year ago. How would you characterize the last year of maturation?
Richard: I think a lot of it comes down to looking at what gaps there were in the playbooks.
You know, we’ve got five stats. As with any PbtA game, because it leans so heavily on genre and story arc for the playbooks, you want to make sure that there’s a variety for people to pick from so that it doesn’t get stale and you’re not playing the same thing over and over.
We wanted to have a couple of different ways to lean into each of the stats and the last four playbooks, if I recall correctly, Rich basically came up with the ideas for them and did a rough draft of all of those. And then sort of handed them over to Taylor to refine some of the design and the mechanics, and then I did sort of the final pass.
Taylor is definitely our wordsmith and our PbtA mechanics expert. Rich definitely has a strong vision of what the world is and what we want it to be.
We all think something slightly different about what we want the game to be, and sort of hashing that out — that’s been such a rewarding experience.
I think the Corruption Moves are also relatively new. We created specific tailored Corruption Moves for each of the playbooks, um, that sort of like go with their story or their theme to where it’s like you get access to something powerful, but it has a severe consequence. And as you advance through a campaign, you start to unlock those and have these choices that you can make where you can rely on the power that the Corruption gives you to do things that need to be done to fight the Corruption, but you’re also opening yourself up to it, which gets really interesting.
And I think that also pushes the need for the Harmony and the coming together and the healing, which is another focus of the game that maybe you don’t get as much in one shots.
Because in a one shot at a con or among friends where you’re like, “Hey, let’s play a game. Let’s do this thing,” the first half of the game is you’re building up the setting and you’re finding all these interesting things and you go, “Ooh, those are some really interesting dominoes!” And then the second half of the game is, “Let’s knock those over and see what happens,” and really hit those emotions and those feelings and the relationships of the characters and how they’re dealing with all of this.
And then after that, if you’re doing a longer campaign, you start to get into the, “Okay. These things have happened. Now let’s talk about it; let’s work through that. Let’s heal the community.” And longer play allows that part of the playbooks to shine a little bit more or the mechanics or shine a little bit more.
Jason: Very cool.
Richard: And I think the biggest thing that has sort of come into our minds with the last year or so is how to facilitate longer term play.
Because we’ve had a game that runs one shots well for more than a year now. We know that the game works. We know that people have fun, that it does a lot of what we want it to do. And so it was a question of, “how do we tell longer stories with that?”
And to that point, we’ve added the Community Map and some Community Moves, which are representing the city that you’re defending and the harmony that you’re creating as you’re coming together to face this threat.
And then the effect of the threat itself to sort of act as like a narrative prompt for like, “Oh, well we created the Crystalline Memory Tower that educates all of the new Sapient beings in the city, but the Corruption has, you know, attacked it or something, and so there was some corruption marked there on the map, but there’s also some harmony there because we brought the community together to fight that off,” or something like that. And then seeing how that changes over time.
Jason: You said earlier, “We put this together and realized, ‘yeah, this is, this is doing what it set out to do.'” What were the initial goals that you had in mind when you were trying to create this product together?
Richard: Rich has a passion for all things aquatic and especially bringing aquatic content to gaming.
And Taylor is probably the person who I know personally, who is most excited about fishing, and even wrote a rad game about it called This is a Game about Fishing.
Jason: Wait, what — what was that — What was that game about, again?
Richard: Which is —
Yeah. Yeah. Uh, it’s actually, it’s transformed into something really, really interesting. It’s like queer punk, taking it to the man, but also fishing? It’s really, really cool.
And so for both of them, it definitely made sense to have this aquatic content.
And myself, I actually realized after we had been working on this for like a year and a half or two years that I actually have a fair bit of connection to aquatic stuff.
But as far as the game itself, we knew that we wanted to create a unique aquatic setting. And one of the secret goals of the game is to educate people about cool marine science stuff.
During the early play tests, pretty much every game that we sat down at, somebody had a cool character idea or a cool setting idea because they had seen some totally wacky, true fact about the ocean. And so that was one of the goals.
We also knew that we wanted to create something that wasn’t… [how should I put this?] That wasn’t a mechanically crunch-driven equipment-fest type thing. We didn’t want to do, you know, Shadowrun underwater or D&D underwater, because you know, Rich had tried that with some of the D&D 5E supplements he’d written with aquatic content, and hadn’t really found something that told the kind of stories that he wanted to tell.
And after playing Masks and going, “Oh. Wow, this is, this is amazing. This tells these fraught emotional stories, and all these kinds of things.”
Richard: I think that’s something that he wanted to do, and of course with Taylor who does amazing emotional games and has that poetic sensibility, to sort of add that flavor and add feeling to the game text itself, we really had the, winning combination to do exactly that.
I remember distinctly at one point we were planning on having different species or types of species or categories where you could be like, “Oh! Well, I’m in a cetacean form, so I’ll have the echolocation power,” and we pretty quickly scrapped that once we realized that people were coming up with way cooler stuff when you just let them choose from a couple of descriptors. And Taylor came up with the alliterative description names like, you know, “Hulking and Huggable”, and it was like, “Ohh, that’s brilliant!”
Because then somebody can be like, “Ah, yes, I’m going to play the concept of echolocation,” and you go, “Oh, yes, okay, that makes sense. Let’s do that!” And it works. You know, or “I’m playing a colonial organism made up of a bunch of minnows,” or, or whatever you want. Or you can just be like, “Hey, I’m playing a cool dolphin.” And you go, “Okay, cool.”
We wanted to give people the freedom to engage with the aquatic content in a way that was comfortable for them, and we found that that really, really shines through.
So if you’ve got a group who says, “Hey, let’s play a dolphin and a whale, and a sea otter and an eel,” you can do that, and that’s pretty relatable.
But you can also say, “Okay, let’s get really conceptual with it and really abstract,” and you can do that if you want to, or you can say, “Oh, I’m a Marine biologist, so I have all of this really specific knowledge,” and you can add that in and it just works all together. Because there isn’t a rigid framework and you don’t have to spend an hour or 10 or 20 or a hundred learning this setting to be able to play. You just sit down and make it together at the table, you know?
Jason: So when will this thing actually arrive [is your best guess]? I realize, I realize this is ever, ever changing.
Richard: I personally want to see this done by the end of next year, so the end of 2020 and it will hopefully be much sooner than that.
Richard: Cause I want to hold a book that has my name on it and give it to all my relatives who don’t know what a role playing game is and go, “Hey look, I made a weird thing about fish!”
Jason: They’ll at least understand the fish part. So.
Jason: Very cool. On the day when you wake up… You know, everything is done and it’s been shipped and you can’t do anymore.
Aside from resting a little, what are, what are you going to do after that with the creative space that opens up in your brain?
Richard: Well, that’s going to be a mad dash to write a bunch of scripts for Aqua Talk, which is a podcast that I’m working on.
Jason: This also came out of a Twitter joke, yeah?
Richard: Yeah. Yeah. So the premise is: it’s a kid’s marine science sketch/comedy and listener write- or slash call-in kind of show. So it’s half Sesame Street with the sketches and everything having to do with marine biology or oceanography, that sort of stuff. And then the back half of the show is listener questions about marine biology.
The big secret of the show is that I love marine science stuff, and I have since I was a kid, but I kinda got distracted by all these other things. And so I don’t have the in-my-face motivation to go and learn all these really cool things about the ocean and I’m like, “I really need something to kind of kick me into embracing that,” and I thought, “What better way than having children write me questions about Marine science that I have to then go research and answer, lest I disappoint the children.”
Ah, and if that is not motivation, I don’t know what is, right? You don’t want to disappoint the kids!
Jason: So I will have Emma, who is three, start thinking about fish questions. I’m sure she will have some.
Jason: We’re going to be going on a big boat for the first time and so…
Richard: Oh, cool!
Jason: She may have spent a little time watching the water and have some good questions for you.
Richard: Mm hmm. Yeah, it, it scratches that itch of writing silly, bad jokes…
Richard: …doing acting, and learning cool new stuff! So, you know, what’s not to love?
Jason: Yeah. That all sounds perfect.
So where can people find you, once again, on the wider internet?
Richard: So, you can check out my website, which is www.OrigamiGaming.com but mostly I live on Twitter and that’s “R K R E U T Z L A N D R Y”, @RKreutzLandry. And like I said before, I’m one of the literally two people on the planet with that last name, so I’m pretty easy to find, if you can spell it.
Well, thank you so much for your time, Richard. It’s really nice to talk with you and I’m looking forward to, uh, holding that book in my hands as well.
Richard: Me too. Me too.
Jason: Have a wonderful evening.
Richard: You too. Bye.
Corruption seeks to destroy, to damage, to ruin. You know what drives it back?
Hope, Calm, Altruism, Drive, Community. These happen to be LITERAL STATS for the player characters in Descent into Midnight — but they are also real weapons we, in real life! can use to band together and fight darkness.
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I have some followup about the exhibition I mentioned, Secrets of the Magdalen Laundries. It was first shown at Gallery Henoch, New York, NY in October 2000; the primary artist was Diane Fenster, in collaboration with Michael McNabb, who did the sound design. I’ve placed a link in the show notes, with some audio and video samples — it’s every bit as chilling as I remembered it.
I should add that the Laundries themselves were far more oppressive than I remembered and spoke about in the interview. 30,000 women were basically imprisoned in these institutions across Ireland, often abused, sometimes ending up in mass graves. So — apologies for not reflecting the actual gravity of the situation.
Now! Onto our interview with Rich Howard.
Visla’s Call: An Interview with Rich Howard
Jason Robinson: So — congratulations, Rich Howard, on being the first repeat visitor to The Secret Cellar. I think this makes you officially a regular.
Rich Howard: Oh, I’m honored. It was pretty, amazing last time, so we’ll see how this one goes.
Jason: I’ve, I’ve invited you here today to ask you just one simple question…
Rich: Yeah, that’s what you said last time.
Jason: Yeah. I know. It’s, it’s a tradition at this point.
You know, I got to talk to Richard for a while and we had a really good conversation about Descent into Midnight, which is forthcoming, and also about his kind of creative process and history. And it was really good!
But we didn’t talk a lot about setting. I know I’ve made like two podcasts already about that setting, but I do think that there’s something I want to key into that just lends a little more context for what this game is and where it’s come from, but also what you’ve learned about it in your entire process of design and play testing, and now getting ready to launch a Kickstarter.
So what I want to ask you is: “Why the deep sea as a setting for Descent into Midnight?”
Rich: As opposed to…?
Jason: Like, It’s right there in the title: Descent into Midnight talks about diving deep into dark places, which is…
Jason: …the sea, and also maybe operates on some other levels too, but you could set this in the middle of a city, or in the middle of a desert or in the middle of the Arctic, and you could maybe get great stories — but I think they wouldn’t quite function the same. And I’m curious what you have seen as you’ve been working on this for — ?
Rich: Two and a half, three years? I think it was 2016 when we started.
Rich: I’d have to go back and look. I’ve been saying two years for so long that it’s gotta be close to three.
Rich: Yeah. And when you asked me when we were talking about this, and you asked me this question, I was like: “That’s a really good quote-unquote “simple question” that does not necessarily have a simple answer.
Rich: Obviously, as we talked about last time, I, I have a degree in Marine Biology, so the ocean setting always fascinates me.
Yes. Although technically, like you’re saying, there’s a world, there’s a setting for this, but the setting is defined by the players at the table, right?
What we’ve set up is just bumpers, basically: an environment in which you’re going to tell the story.
You could use the mechanics of Descent into Midnight; theoretically re-skin it, tweak it, maybe tell it in some other places? But I agree with you; I don’t think you would get the same kind of connection.
Rich: And I think part of the reason — Richard and I were actually talking about this — the ocean, like, how do I put this without being cliche?
We know more about outer space; we know more about the surface of the moon; we know more about what’s outside of our own solar system than it seems like we do about the depths of the ocean that’s on our own planet. Now. That’s an answer that’s very common, and almost cliche at this point, but here’s the thing: it’s so accessible!
Rich: It’s there.
Rich: …and yet it is absolutely inaccessible. And we get hints of these things. It’s a constant, constant level of discovery that we’re having, just even washing up on our shores. The fact that a prehistoric, like, a living fossil like a coelacanth, was until [I believe the late seventies, early eighties?] thought to be entirely extinct and been extinct for millions of years …started being brought up in Japanese fisher’s, fishermen’s nets live…
Rich: …and realizing that this living fossil was not actually extinct at all.
Rich: And with being found, you get this sense of wonder and fascination. And your imagination cannot help but be stimulated about these things, right?
Rich: And in addition to that, there’s a lot of goals that I as concept lead for the game have been wanting to put in a role playing game since I was literally a kid and there were no mechanics for that.
The technology of role-playing games had to catch up with what I wanted to do in games, right? Just like George Lucas with Star Wars. He always wanted to do a Star Wars TV show back in the ’70s but there was no technology to be able to make that happen, right? And now we have shows like The Mandalorian or whatnot that has movie-level special effects or The Expanse, brilliant special effects on a TV show.
So the technology has caught up. And when I kind of woke up from my, almost a hiatus of really thinking about games in this simulationist way and started years ago, learning about all of these other amazing, basically technologies that were happening in role-playing games and understanding that mechanizing — kind of mechanizing emotion, or allowing game mechanics to guide people into certain spaces of emotion was a possible thing?
One of the first things I thought of was wanting to do something that drove emotion, compassion, empathy… for things that are not us. Like somehow doing that.
And when this kind of running joke, I don’t know if Richard may have talked about it, how Descent into Midnight started out as a Twitter joke, and within 24 to 48 hours, Richard and I had hammered out some ideas and then brought on Taylor, and then it was off to the races, because some of these things have been stewing in my subconscious for so long.
The absolute fascination with underwater worlds for me is something that’s primal to human existence. Of course, we want to know about the unknown, but what’s fascinating about this ocean setting is that it’s not on another planet. Like, we’re not making this stuff up!
The other thing that hit me as I was talking for years in articles and on podcasts talking about incorporating aquatic settings into other role-playing game settings is looking at the things that limit people in what they want to do.
Cause they: “Oh, I don’t know about pressure; I don’t know about oxygen; I don’t know about how this works!” Right? And so I was trying to explain how some of the things work. And then realizing this intimidation factor might be too tough. And I get it. I get that. We hand
wave going up a mountain with altitude sickness because we kind of are more familiar with that.
But there’s an intimidation factor. And what I want people to do is adventure in these aquatic settings and understand them. Use real world science if you want to inspire you, but not feel like —
I want people to be inspired to the level that they want to be inspired.
So by placing Descent into Midnight in an alien ocean on an alien world and asking people: the only thing that you need to bring to the table is something that fascinates you about the ocean or creatures in the ocean, or something that terrifies you; something that sticks in your memory about that thing that you heard on that documentary that one time when you were six — and bring it to the table.
And by adding a level of this bioengineering and adding a level of psionics, [and the psionics is really kind of our coding that helps to smooth a lot of this out] it allows this to be an alien setting, to feel almost futuristic and high tech in many ways, but also alien and can cover some of these things that maybe if we were trying to do a real world ocean exploration setting, people might question, right?
Rich: We have had characters that cross such a wide range of things. People are really questioning what it means to be a character in a roleplaying game in Descent into Midnight, because you can do a lot because it’s all in the player’s hand with player agency. And so we often have players come to the table who say, “I don’t know anything.”
We’ve had so many people who their first role playing experience at this point was Descent into Midnight. And that —
Rich: That blows me away. Uh, I had a Gen Con game this last Gen Con where I had five players that signed up at the table and the only thing that they’d ever played was Pathfinder.
They never played anything outside of that standard Pathfinder genre. And we had multiple people who signed up who had never played a role-playing game before. And I think there was someone in your game that you talked about in your session that had not played a role playing game before as well, right, or was not as familiar with it?
Jason: No, yeah. He had never played. Yeah, that was true.
Rich: So having somebody who’s never played a role-playing game before, or having somebody who is coming to the table with a very specific background, whatever that happens to be, in role-playing, we don’t want them to be intimidated at the table.
We want the game to welcome them, to guide them, to give them inspiration, to go to places they want to go and bring that to the table without feeling like you need to know a whole bunch about marine biology. And inevitably, those people who come to the table who say, you know, at least somebody at the table, who says, “I don’t know that much about marine biology” ends up teaching the table about that thing that they learned on that documentary that one time when they were six and people have never heard of it before and now they feel, hopefully, welcome at the table.
And everyone is fascinated, particularly when someone says, “No, this really exists. This thing that I’m telling you about? Yeah, it sounds really interesting and cool and bizarre and strange and all those things, but it’s literally in the ocean, like on our own planet.”
It ends up being inspiring to the imagination, but also helps to inspire curiosity about our own world.
Jason: For sure.
Rich: Does that answer your question?
Jason: Yeah, that’s a, that’s a great, that’s a great start.
So, you know, I’m always thinking about — I’m always thinking user experience thoughts.
Rich: Of course you are!
Jason: And a thing that we think about professionally a lot is barrier to entry, right, and friction? And, you know, what thing, at what point in a process is going to be just too much, where someone’s like: “Meh, this isn’t worth it!” and they walk away.
And if you just described to me a little of the setup process for what it’s like getting a new player started playing Descent into Midnight. I probably would raise very serious concerns about how abstract it seems, but in the actual experiences I’ve had — admittedly limited, but I’ve, I think three games I’ve either played in or been observing closely for a while near that kind of set up process — It’s surprising to me in a delightful way, how quickly people are able to jump into this idea of: “Wait, I am creating very free form…”
As you said, even the question of what a character is, “Oh, I can be a beam of energy. I can be a swarm of something. Oh, I can be an animal. I can be something humanoid. I can be…”
Rich: It could be a manifested concept, which has happened in so many games.
Yeah, sure, you’ve had experienced players who’ve played this game for a while, they’re comfortable with each other, they’re familiar with the setting… But the fact that this kind of thing regularly happens at conventions even, um. I mean a) it says something about you and Richard and Taylor and the others who’ve been playtesting. You are incredibly thoughtful and hospitable — but also the design of the rules and the setting, this combination of kind of alien and familiar and mystical and scientific and womblike…
There’s this mishmash of all this stuff, but what is it that really enables people to just so quickly jump in and feel free to explore?
Rich: Yeah. This leans into the technology as I’ve been saying, the mechanics and the technology of the Powered by the Apocalypse system that we have really had to lean into or, or I’m not going to say “had”: we got the luxury of leaning into.
When I give the elevator pitch at a con game, people will be like, “Oh, okay, this is interesting,” and then I don’t go into the rest of the marine science. The playbooks are designed to help you. We have 10 playbooks developed at this point. Each of those playbooks is designed to be around a theme, a concept, an idea that people can grab a hold of, and the moves are designed to be understandable, right?
So: The Redeemed. The Redeemed is a character that was created or trained or was a part of, for some reason, some form of conflict, i.e., like a war or something else. It could be anything that you decide it is someone has been designed for this conflict. And they are no longer that person anymore. They have all of these skills that they are in in many ways, either trying not to use or figure out who they are. So, if you remove the marine science away from everything, and you present someone with, Oh, it’s Super Boy from Young Justice; it’s Captain America, a man out of time. It’s the Incredible Hulk, right?
If you talk to someone about The Cultivator: The Cultivator is our bioengineer. They have a garden that they tend, but this garden is full of bio- and genetically-engineered creatures and real-life creatures and plants and whatever you want it to be. But they are the engineers. They can literally manifest things like armor and generators and all of the things you can think of in the bioengineering field. They’re basically the Iron Man of the setting in many ways, but they could also lean from Iron Man to a Druid from a D&D setting, right?
So you’re — we’re crossing these boundaries of genres, which makes the game difficult in many ways to describe to people.
We can’t just look at them and say, “Oh, it’s high fantasy.” Right? “Oh, it’s like D&D; oh, it’s science fiction; it’s cyberpunk.” This thing that ended up being created ended up being a little bit genre-less. It’s kind of science fiction, kind of hopepunk in some ways? Like it’s kind of a bunch — some other things? So it’s hard to describe.
So because of that, we want to make people feel welcome at the table. And to do that, we start with concepts people get. People will say like, “Oh, Redeemed: I understand. Captain America, love Captain America. Okay, I got it.” And then they look on the way that Taylor in particular has used his beautiful poetic language that he puts in his games — which is one of the reasons why I really wanted Taylor working on the setting — in the descriptions of the characters, the things like the “look” that you often see in playbooks from other Powered by the Apocalypse games and in other systems. He has written things about the look and about, your home and where you come from and things that aren’t specifics.
Like, our “homes” on the playbook used to be things like “a kelp forest” and “a hydrothermal vent field” or “a deep trench”. Those were too specific for us. And Taylor started playing with this amazing idea where are these homes are now concepts, right? “A warm, brightly lit place.” One of the homes is described as just “Too many teeth”, right? “A center of culture”, right? So instead of your home being like, “Oh, what part of the ocean did you come from?” your home starts to become, “Where does your heart live?” Like, “Where did you become you?” Right?
Rich: And one of the things that comes up, particularly with The Redeemed, but some others as well is one of the descriptions. One of the descriptions of the Look is “A colony of creatures” — and that one really resonates with people. It helps to break them out of this idea of, “Oh, I’m going to be a Merfolk”, right? Or “I’m going to be a Triton”, or “I’m going to be something I’m familiar with”. And they’re like, “Wait — I can be a colony of — what does that even mean?” Right? And it starts to guide them into a space of their imagination that we hope will be helpful.
And again, I reference people back to Weep and Whale, your episode, because — was it the Republic of kale or something? One of your characters was a Redeemed that was a genetically-engineered or -modified colony of coral creatures or something, right? And so this starts to guide people into opening themselves up to defining what a character really is and by saying “yes, and” and moving into things, the Guide’s job…
The reason we call it a Guide and not a Game Master, and I know it’s just, neurolinguistic programming really. The person who’s there at the table helping you with the story that you’re telling is not “mastering” anything. They’re not a “Game Master” of anything. I am sitting at the table and I am listening to the story that you as players are creating at the table yourself and I am simply trying to find cogent through-lines that maybe you don’t see to bring together to guide you through this world that you are creating at the table.
The game itself is a guide. The game is self is not dictatorial. That leads heavy into the storytelling aspect of role-playing games these days, but we want people to feel comfortable and have the safety net of mechanics to be able to guide them, to scaffold the experience we want them to have so that they can easily climb into that experience and and play around in that space and feel safe that, “Oh, I know what I can do. This move does X. That makes sense to me. It makes sense with the character I’m playing. Oh, I get what this general theme is,” and not have to be stressed about knowing every mechanic of the game and all this stuff about science and, “Am I going to get decompression sickness? Am I going to have the bends?” Like, you just deal with things.
One of the examples I like to use is: a friend of mine, he’s like, “I don’t know anything. Can I just be a walrus?” And I was like, “Yes, you can be a walrus.” My first thing was “Yes!” and my second thing was, “Okay, everybody else is a water-breathing creature under water. How are we going to do this?” And I said, “We’re just going to have you be a walrus that can maybe breathe, like hold their breath for 24 hours.”
And he’s like, “That sounds great.” Well, that character evolved into this enigmatic being in the culture because he could walk between worlds. He could go to the surface and breathe, and he decided that he was going to play a flute…
Jason: Which is a breath instrument…
Rich: Right! A thing that no one else can play underwater because he’s the only being that would hold oxygen in his lungs.
It was a self contained Nautilus thing that was like a flute that had almost like a… how a a bagpipe works really. The air goes in and out and so it’s self-contained, so he was the wise being on the mountain top playing this music that was haunting, through the whole city that no one else —
It was amazing from him going like, “Yeah, I just want to play a walrus.” Right?
So, not having the weight of this on a single player, like “You must come up with this yourself” is also part of it.
Rich: Everyone at the table is saying like, “Oh, I have this idea” and “Oh, that’s interesting. I’m going to change my concept to plug into your concept,” and…
Some of the, the early development of games are very reactionary and I love those games. I’ve written for those games, I love those. Here we’re looking for a different experience and that is: that heavy player agency of leaning into what your imagination is, not me dictating to you what that is.
And because of that, people can come in or out or float around the edge or really dive deep at their comfort level, which allows them to go to places that I think if we had set a canon setting, people would not be able to go to.
Jason: Yeah. You’ll forgive me for being grandiose, but: you talk about kind of the technological advancement of RPGs and of course these all feed into each other over time, and enable new types of stories and new types of players to join.
There’s something in this experience from my perspective that has advanced that technology. There’s something about being able to take these incredibly high level abstractions of the human experience. [And I say that knowing full well that people are not playing humans in this game by and large, and that’s a part of that freedom, I think.]
Jason: But… that hospitality technologized? A system thoughtfully put in place to draw people out, to rely on each other, to create safely in a space… is of course something lots of other games do and have done in different ways.
But. Huge blank canvases are very scary…
Jason: …and all of the things that you have worked on to allow that freedom and yet at the same time, mitigate that fear and give just enough structure at a abstract, again, deeply-human level to free people to explore being anything but human, if that’s what they wish to do, is…
Um, I feel like it’s a thing worth studying.
Because I feel like the lessons learned in the design process of this, and in the final product [by which I mean the game and also the stories that come out of it and the experiences people have] — it’s really a thing for game designers to study because if weaponized hospitality, if that can be applied in other genres and other settings and other games and other stories, all the better.
Rich: Thank you. That’s very kind of you.
Jason: I love hearing about the process of how you’ve gotten here.
Rich: Well, I appreciate that.
I mean, there’s definitely something… Big sandbox, tabletop role playing game settings that some of my friends enjoy running. like, “My world is open! You tell me what you want to do.”
That gives me personally anxiety, even if it’s a fantasy world that I’m familiar with, because I’m like “Why don’t, why am I reading this book?” Like “Why am I watching this movie? Why am I playing this game?” Like, “What? What experience am I having?”
And I can try to present that as much as possible, but there’s a table full of people that may be wanting different experiences. And if we don’t know what we’re coming to the table for, then that experience might be great, or it might be a train wreck, right?
And so I like open world video games, for example, but I also want to have that open world sandbox/video game exploration aspect of it to have some kind of through line that has an emotional resonance with me.
And so Descent into Midnight has evolved into its own animal. You know: pardon the analogy. Because Taylor is adding his beauty of writing. Richard is adding some incredible things that aren’t even technically game mechanics, but how the game presents and opens and closes itself, that changes how — it’s bringing in things into roleplaying and stirring it into the soup that I would never have thought of, even though I’ve — I don’t know why I’d ever have thought of it. And so we’re all bringing these things to ourselves so that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts.
And it’s become a thing where, yes, we can have this open world. We can give you this freedom to be able to do it, but we’re not leaving you alone. Right? We’re not going to just say, “Hey, make this up.”
The game should — and seems to based on play test feedback — do what we want it to do, which is guide you into a place that you can have that freedom and we can take you to where you want to play and how you want to play in this space. When you have a character who “just wants to be a walrus” quote/unquote, and another character who was the “Psychic Repository in which the Regrets of those who have Found Peace and Grace in their Life Enter” — yeah.
That was a character in one of my Gen Con games, and I was like, “Fantastic. Who’s your mom?” And they were like, “Oh, well…” And it turns out that their quote unquote mother, or the concept that spawned them, was “The Psychic Unification of the Music of the City.” So that the city itself — every noise made by someone, every song sung, every thing spoken — would unify itself into basically the city having its own constantly ringing theme song, that you could feel how the city felt. And then when one of the characters died, that character’s mother unified the city into a dirge of grief — !
I was like, “How — what is this thing you guys created?” Like, “I’m like, I’m not, not what I created. You made this up, right?” I’m just guiding into that space. Right?
Jason: So what’s tripping me out, just hearing you reflect on these stories from other people is… There’s a unique kind of imagination space that — just hearing those stories immediately brings me back to our own stories from our game, which has now been two years ago.
And it was a different story, created whole cloth from blank canvas with totally different people…
Rich: Yes. Very different setting. Very different characters, different culture.
Jason: Yes. But there is a. I dunno. It’s a, it’s sort of a deja vu-y sense of, “Oh yeah, I know that world. I know that space. I’ve been there and I remember when my squid was — “
You know, it all kind of comes flooding back because there is something about it that stood apart from my both day-to-day, real life experience and also my other role-playing game experience in a, in a positive and a beautiful way that feels like it came from that same place.
That’s just a fascinating emotional response. It’s Interesting.
Rich: Yeah. And I think that’s our job.
Right? So as game designers, our job is — and this is my opinion about game design:
What experience do I want to help you explore, right? What is the sandbox I want you to play around in and where do I want you to go?
And, what we want — the three of us — I think I can speak for Taylor and Richard both on this. What we want from this game is to have an emotional connection to the character themselves, the character you make, the team that you’re with, and the community that you’re in.
Rich: And of course the beginning, the inciting incidents of your campaign, the “why are you reading this book?” is going to involve the Corruption that is affecting your community, whatever that happens to be.
And we’ve had it everything from literally Cthulhu to a sun going nova, which was, I — they resolved that in a one shot! It was incredible to me — you know, to poison, to pollution, to ancient weapons, like we’ve had all kinds of different kinds of corruption, right?
Something is affecting this community that you created, and in the longterm form of the game, the campaign of the game, we want people to be guided to the idea that hope — hope and compassion for each other, even when you go through terrible times, even when terrible things are happening to you, even when you’re racking up corruption moves in the game and making sacrifices… Love, Hope, Compassion, Altruism, Community, Drive, Calm, all those literal statistics we have for your characters in the game, will, WILL move things forward, WILL bring you out of hard times. That’s the experience we want.
And to have that needs to start with some hard times. But we don’t want to dictate to people what those hard times are that they want to experience. We are honored that Aram Vartian from Godsfall had played the game for the first time at last Gen Con and he had cornered Taylor and I and talked about how he felt like it allows players to reflect on hard things going on in their life.
But because of the idea that these are not human at all, this is an alien culture. These are, if anything, there’s simply some kind of vague parallel to a stress that someone might be going on —
Rich: It allowed them a safe place to look at a few things that maybe they weren’t looking at before.
And that is not necessarily what we intended by creating this underwater interesting fish game, when we started. It has evolved to this over three years, and not just from us as designers, but literally from the play testers telling us, “This is the thing that jumped at me. This is the thing I’m carrying away,” and saying “Of multiple Gen Cons that I’ve been to,” or even some people, we have some tweets up on our, the DiM Twitter feed right now where somebody said, “This is the most impactful, memorable experience I’ve had in gaming ever” —
Jason: It is.
Rich: That That’s a bold statement, and when someone goes to a game and we play test this over the years and they’re telling us that’s what they’re carrying away, then guess what we’re going to lean into? And guess what makes us happy, right?
We realize, yes, that is what we want. Wow, okay. We’re heading in that direction? How can we do this and help people feel safe, help people feel excited and comforted. Also have a bit of the emotional roller coaster that they want to have, whatever level that is, and come out of the other side of the game basically saying like, “I don’t know how to describe this game to you.”
It seems like a weird goal almost to have people come play your game, and then you’re not sure how they’re going to explain it to other people. Even after they played it, continuing to say, “I don’t know exactly how to tell you about this game.”
Amelia Antrim from Character Creation Cast was like, “I dunno, it’s underwater… Fish… Horror… But in a good way? I don’t know how to…”
Like there’s, everybody describes it in a different way because everybody has their own experience.
Jason: Absolutely. Well, I am grateful it is an experience that is happening to people because I think all of that: the hope and the teamwork and the compassion and the empathy and the safe space to process… Gosh, the world needs that all so much right now.
Tell us just a little, ’cause we’re now closer than we were previously to the Kickstarter, when is this kicking off and what should we look for?
Rich: Yeah, this moment the Kickstarter is lined up to start on February 15th. It’s a Saturday, the day after Valentine’s day, and we’re going to be doing a full 30 day run, so a month long run.
Right now, as we’re recording in December, we have brought on all of our consultants, all of the extra people that are working on the game that is not us. Accessibility consultants, of course, copywriting. We have VJ Brown who’s doing all the layout stuff. We have a new website and design currently. In addition to that, we have our Kickstarter advisor who’s helping us tighten up our tiers, what stretch goals we’re going to have.
We have a few surprises for stretch goals that I’m… I’m not going to say anything about yet at this point until we can officially announce them, but there are stretch goals that I think will help push not just our game, but some other people in the industry’s projects forward and give the game some, not just exposure, but be able to kind of show some fascinating and interesting ways that it can be played.
So… pretty excited about that. So, February 15th, 2020 is our current target start date. And unless anything major trips us up where we should be pulling the trigger on that day.
Jason: That falls within a week of my birthday, so I know what I’m asking for.
Rich: Happy birthday.
Jason: That’s great.
And then in closing, yeah. Where can people follow you, find you, read more from you in the coming weeks?
Rich: Sure. You can of course check out the website, DescentIntoMidnight.com. You can go there. From there, we’re having a new website designed and we might have a shorter URL for that. No matter what happens, DescentIntoMidnight.com should redirect to that. You can go to Twitter @DiMRPG, you’ll find us mostly on there.
We do have a Facebook page, Descent into Midnight, as well. We are working on getting our Facebook page more active and up to date. The Twitter feed is definitely where we’re posting a lot more of our information. You can find links to Taylor, to Richard, and myself from there, from that simple one instead of giving you all of our Twitter feeds. And you can find information there.
You can find some of my other work on DriveThruRPG. You can just search my name, Rich Howard and I come up. I’ve worked on a lot of projects for Pathfinder, for Fifth Edition, for some other other companies as well, ,small press and larger. You can check that out.
And of course I have a list of podcasts. There’s a link, a pinned tweet, to the top of my personal Twitter that will take you to a list of the podcast appearances I’ve been on, including this podcast, previous to this.
Jason: Episodes five and six of this podcast: episode five, Weep and Whale is kind of my personal experience recorded just after walking out of my first experience with Descent into Midnight. And then the next episode, Episode six, was a full-length interview with Rich, talking about all aspect of thing.
Rich: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So you can check out my other podcast appearances at that pinned tweet.
Jason: Perfect. Thank you again for your time! And I’m very much looking forward to seeing this all take final form. I appreciate it.
Rich: You bet. Thanks so much.
Jason: Sure thing. Bye bye.
Last Call (Outro)
I love hearing about the ways Descent into Midnight has been so thoughtfully crafted to welcome players in, and to stir the deep places, for those who want this. Watch for the Kickstarter on February 15th! I sincerely hope this project has all the success it deserves.
Before we lower the sham lights for the evening, I want to tell you about a small project I’ve become involved with. I’m sponsoring a team of undergraduate students in the School of Informatics, Computing and Cyber Systems at Northern Arizona University, where I work.
As part of their capstone, they’ve taken on a challenge at my behest — an open-source computer vision project that will attempt to train a Machine Learning model which can look at images or video of polyhedral dice (the kind used in RPGs) — and read them. How many dice were just rolled, and how many sides do those dice have? What are the results?
I’m interested in this for several reasons, but I’ll tell you about two of them.
One is this: I’m intrigued by the possibilities for using technology to enhance face-to-face RPG gameplay. There are so many possibilities for getting computers involved with the math at our tables, so the humans can focus on their stories — but one thing gamers absolutely don’t want to computerize is our DICE. Clicky, clacky, shiny, lovely physical dice. Certainly, no one wants to take time to do data entry and start recording the results of every die roll… but if the robots in our cell phones can do that for us, there are all kinds of interesting things we might do to simplify our mechanics AND enhance our experiences.
There’s another reason, too — accessibility. For some players, the ability to roll physical dice and have the results read out loud or perhaps displayed prominently in real-time, or have calculations automatically performed on them is really exciting.
Whatever the team learns and whatever model they train will be released open-source in May 2020.
SO! If any of this sounds interesting to you, I’ve got a favor to ask: In order to train the robots to read the dice, we need lots of training data — which means, lots of pictures of dice.
If you own dice, even just a set! And would be willing to take some photos of them OR if you just want to find out more about the project, please write firstname.lastname@example.org so I can provide you with some photo guidelines and a Dropbox link for upload. The more variety we have in dice, backgrounds, cameras, lighting conditions — the more robust the training data will be.
I have to say, Dice Twitter is amazing Twitter. I put out a request on my personal account @vafer this weekend, and in just a few days have received over 2 thousand photographs from beloved and generous dice goblins out there. But, robot thoughtforms are insatiable. We need all the data we can get.
Good night. Stay warm under the light of this New Snow Moon.
Audio design for the Secret Cellar is by Casey Ross. Invisible Sun is the intellectual property of Monte Cook Games, with whom Zeros.Bar and the Secret Cellar are unaffiliated.
May you find freedom, my friends, from Shadow.