The Independent Insurgency
Interviews from the indie game design world.








May 2008
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Episode 19: Seth Ben Ezra on Dirty Secrets In this episode, I talk to Seth Ben Ezra of Dark Omen Games about his game, Dirty Secrets. Dirty Secrets is a modern crime/noir/mystery game without the mystery being predetermined. Our conversation touches on many issues surrounding the game, including how it intersects with Seth's religious faith and the roles of race and class in the game and in society. We also talk briefly about Seth's new game, A Flower for Mara.

NOTE: This episode was shot in a hotel room where the air conditioning kept popping on and off. Hopefully it's not too distracting. Sorry!

This episode is 63.6 MB big and 1:09:25 long.

00:00:57: Dirty Secrets is a "detective crime noir" game, similar in tone to the works of Raymond Chandler, Ross Macdonald, and Dashiell Hammett, but it's set in "your home, last week," and thus also bears similarity to the movie Brick or the show Veronica Mars
00:02:05: Robin Laws covers similar ground with his GUMSHOE rules system in a somewhat more traditional way (with a gamemaster and pre-plotting, for example)
00:03:03: Fred Hicks describes the game as having one player and many GMs
00:05:46: Situation generation
00:07:40: Scene framing
00:10:10: Conflicts use liar's dice and has a back-and-forth similar to Dogs in the Vineyard
00:12:05: Structuring the session
00:14:18: I make reference to the HBO TV series The Wire which is, in the context of this interview, absolutely obligatory
00:16:50: The crime grid
00:22:08: "When Ron Edwards in [The] Sorcerer's Soul talks about relationship maps and drawing them out of detective novels, he's using Ross Macdonald novels as an example."
00:26:31: Seth blames John Tynes and Greg Stolze, and their game Unknown Armies (which was pitched as James Ellroy meets Tim Powers, for his designing Dirty Secrets
00:27:58: The darkness of Ellroy's books and the perhaps-surprising implications for Seth as a Christian
00:30:56: The place that Dirty Secrets has vis a vis Seth's other games, Legends of Alyria and Mara
00:32:28: Ben Lehman describes Alyria as something C.S. Lewis would have written if he'd grown up playing Final Fantasy VII, but Seth sees it as the "intersection of Tolkein and Gene Wolfe"
00:35:41: An obligatory Chinatown reference
00:40:04: Seth loves In A Wicked Age..., and feels that Grey Ranks, Steal Away Jordan, and Dogs in the Vineyard are really "about stuff"
00:42:08: The demographics system, the racial implications, and my issues with it
00:47:14: Challenging design issues
00:47:32: Seth was inspired by the The Iä! Iä! Ph’iles by Christoph Boeckle, which reminds me of Kat and Michael Miller's Serial Homicide Unit
00:49:22: How many times was the game played before you published?
00:55:51: Anything you'd change in the book as published?
00:57:49: Defining success
01:00:18: A bit about Flowers for Mara, Seth's Jeepform game.

Closing song is Toccata and Droog by the Hub City Stompers
Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis:
Direct download: independent-insurgency-019.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 7:25pm EDT

Episode 18: Luke Crane on Mouse Guard RPG In this episode, I talk to Luke Crane of the Burning Wheel Headquarters, about their RPG adaptation of the comic book Mouse Guard. I'm really happy with how this interview went; it's one of the best I've put out so far. Luke has some really interesting things to say about the use of art and the way layout and editing work. We also get to talk a bit about how the HQ is constructed and who does what.

NOTE: This was obviously recorded before the release of the Magic Burner, but it's funny to listen to Luke toy with me.

This episode is 64.5 MB big and 1 hour and 10 minutes long.

00:59: The MGRPG will be based on the Burning Wheel system
01:25: Like Burning Empires, MGRPG is an evolution of the BW rules
02:18: Differences include: changes in how you can use dice, advancement, and the way rewards work
02:43: I tried the game at Ubercon
03:05: Mouse Guard is a comic written by David Petersen Published by Archaia Studios Press, which is owned by Mark Smylie who wrote the comic book Artesia and published the Origins-Award-winning Artesia: Adventures in the Known World roleplaying game
03:55: Part of a tradition of fantasy about mice, which includes The Wind in the Willows, Redwall, (parts of) the Narnia series
05:04: Kid friendly?
07:09: MGRPG is "essential Burning Wheel," a version of the rules is as stripped-down as BW can get and still be BW
08:08: The game has tons of new and previously-unpublished Petersen art
09:56: The new ubiquity of the enmity clause: Twists and Conditions
10:51: Conditions (hungry, angry, tired, injured, and sick) are the new damage track
13:31: The new way advancement works
14:47: Versioning through new games rather than re-releasing games
18:34: Why did you design this game?
19:37: Clinton R. Nixon made BWHQ aware of Mouse Guard; he had tried an earlier adaptation, Tiny Triangles
22:07: Other designs that arose from creating MGRPG?
26:51: Anything you had to drop?
27:58: How Traits work in MGRPG
30:24: GM turn and player turn
34:36: The most useful feedback received from playtesters
36:26: The hardest thing to fix
38:14: Choosing a printer
43:07: How are you using art?
48:40: Layout/design challenges
54:16: Marketing
56:05: Playing the game with Dave
58:10: Defining success
59:27: Magic Burner?
59:53: A peek behind the curtain at BWHQ

Closing song is Jenny Whiskey by the Hub City Stompers
Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis:
Direct download: independent-insurgency-018.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 6:12pm EDT

Episode 17: Judd Karlman on Dictionary of Mu In this episode, I talk to Judd Karlman, about his game The Dictionary of Mu. We talk a lot about the purpose of setting books, what constitutes game design, and even discuss the possibility of Mu for FATE. I'm really proud of the quality of this conversation, and I want Judd to design more fucking games so I can do more interviews with him.

This episode is 60 MB big and 1 hour and 5 minutes long.

01:17: Dictionary of Mu: A supplement for Ron Edwards's Sorcerer
01:36: A combination of Conan, Kull, Barsoom and the Bible
02:25: The Kim Stanley Robinson Mars trilogy inspired me to want to do a parkour game set on Mars
03:29: Mako of the Conan movie and Avatar: The Last Airbender
06:31: Settings that do what Judd likes settings to do include: Legend of the Five Rings (1st Edition), Midnight (original hardcover), and Exalted
07:12: Rules differences between Mu and Sorcerer
08:19: Judd's dad made a kill puppies for satan character with Mu
11:19: In a lot of ways, Mu is really a supplement for Sorcerer & Sword
13:11: Luke Crane and Ron encouraged Judd to bring the game to print.
13:54: Charnel Gods also came out of the Sorcerer mini-supplement project
16:35: Giving money to Joshua A.C. Newman for layout consultancy was a big impetus to me to complete
16:49: Rich Forest was Judd's editor for Mu and Jennifer Rodgers did the art.
17:10: Why did you make Mu?
21:55: The shock: solar system game we want to play some day
25:37: Don Corchran played Mu with Judd
27:38: The most useful feedback
30:07: The editing process
31:34: Thor Olavsrud talked about editing on an episode of the Theory from the Closet podcast
34:05: Use of art in the book
35:56: Keith Senkowski nearly called Judd a pussy
39:09: Choosing a printer (he uses Lightning Source now).
41:21: The economics of a print run and the sales flow
44:20: Marketing (having a podcast like Sons of Kryos "doesn't hurt")
47:14: "If I could change ANYthing...."
50:20: Defining success
57:33: The big announcement: Dictionary of Mu and FATE?

Closing song is Leave Me the Fuck Alone by the Hub City Stompers
Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis:

PS: Thanks to Rich Rodgers of The Canon Puncture show for help with a niggling Audacity problem.
Direct download: independent-insurgency-017.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:36pm EDT

Episode 16: Judd Karlman on Robert Bohl on Misspent Youth In this episode, Judd Karlman, writer of The Dictionary of Mu and my
guest on my first episode, was kind enough to interview me about my
game, Misspent Youth. Misspent Youth's tagline is "Teenage rebellion in a
fucked-up future" and is a game about friendship and standing up to
authority. It's coming out in ashcan form at Gen Con 2008 and it's the
ashcan edition that we talk about here. It was a pleasure to talk to Judd,
who is my oldest friend and someone I'm very glad to know. I'm grateful
to him for doing me the honor of allowing me to piggyback on his renown
for my self-aggrandizement.

This episode is 54.8 MB big and 59:45 long.

00:59: Jennifer Rodgers did the cover art for the game and Joshua A.C. Newman (writer of shock: social science fiction et al.) provided layout consultancy.
01:56: The Adobe website has a lot of good tutorials to learn the InDesign layout program.
02:11: I stole layout ideas from the seminal punk 'zine, Maximumrocknroll.
03:01: Tell me about the game
04:10: Clockwork Orange (film or book) meets Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Ocean's 11 (2001)
04:24: Why did you design it?
05:06: A problematic game of Cybergeneration at Dreamation 2006 helped birth MY
06:28: Covert Generation, a game somewhat similar to Misspent Youth, came out at Gen Con 06 and got me nervous!
07:49: Other designs, such as Obvious Monstrosities--the werewolf game--that arose from the process
09:43: The very first playtest, with Andrew Morris (designer of the free RPG Unistat), and the crappy version of the rules
11:00: Misspent Youth's system is a version of craps that is easier than the one that crackheads play
11:47: Who I stole from: My Life with Master, Dogs in the Vineyard, FATE, World of Darkness, Burning Wheel, The Shadow of Yesterday, and Cybergeneration
14:20: Judd, Joshua, Andrew, Tony Lower-Basch (designer of Capes), and I played in a seminal-for-me game of My Life with Master which Michael S. Miller (designer of With Great Power) GMed
15:00: What got dropped in the design
17:17: Joshua Roby's game, Full Light, Full Steam inspired some now-gone mechanics after I listened to an episode with him of Master Plan
18:50: carry: a game about war by Nathan Paoletta
20:32: Primetime Adventures
20:34: The hardest thing to fix
28:10: The most useful feedback
30:42: Epidiah Ravachol (designer of Dread) and Nathan helped me with a thorny design issue.
32:06: Mickey Shulz (of the Geek Girls Rule blog and podcast) ran the one game that was run without ever having played it with me and found helpful problems
34:27: The Ashcan Front
37:30: The editing process (Tom Mazorlig and Adam Dray)
40:52: Use of art in the book
46:25: The game is being printed by Publishers' Graphics.
49:31: How do you define success?
50:42: Nathan's game Annalise
52:55: What if you can't get to Gen Con? How do you get a copy?

Closing song is Letting You by Nine Inch Nails, from the freely-available album The Slip

Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis:
Direct download: independent-insurgency-016.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 12:54pm EDT

Episode 014: Ben Lehman on XXXXtreme Street Luge In this episode I talk with Ben Lehman of These Are Our Games (aka
TAO games). We touch on his game about the lives of microcelebrity
extreme athletes, XXXXtreme Street Luge, while conducting a wider-
ranging discussion about microcelebrity of another kind, playtesting,
ashcanning, and "what's wrong with the indie game design community,
and what's always been wrong with the indie game design community."
Warning, this one gets a mite prickly.

This episode is 56.5 MB big and 1:01:43 long.

01:43: Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy
02:12: Joshua AC Newman
02:52: The $3 (negotiable) price point
03:21: The free pdf of the game
03:47: Carl Rigney gave away copies at Endgame for Free RPG Day
04:45: Rachel found In a Wicked Age... at Greenfield Games while at JiffyCon on Free RPG Day
05:23: Tell us about the game
06:16: "Look vaguely like Vin Diesel!"
06:23: Pull quote by Elizabeth Shoemaker, who's coming out with It's Complicated quite soon
06:34: New quote, attributed to Joshua and Ralph Mazza
07:11: Ashcans aren't playtested
07:53: Dogs in the Vineyard is a game about Vincent Baker's issues and adolescence
08:27: Polaris about is Ben dealing with issues around activism and burnout
09:14: Bliss Stage is about sex and relationships
10:22: The kill puppies for satan reference in XXXXSL
14:21: The question that XXXXSL is investigating
15:28: Story Games
15:51: Ben's problems with Jason Morningstar's and Clinton R. Nixon's problems with fame
17:43: Ben is working with Anna Kreider on Thou Art But a Warrior (about which more in Episode 12
20:13: Luke Crane
22:41: "Playtesting is somewhat overrated"
24:49: What Ben doesn't like about Playstorming
27:08: Tony Dowler and Ben's snags in making a new race for How to Host a Dungeon
29:18: Primetime Adventures's series creation reminds me of playstorming
30:23: XXXXSL's lineage: The Pool > Inspectres > Universalis > PTA
33:03: Paul Czege of The Ashcan Front
33:34: A game written for Game Chef 2008 is going to be released as an ashcan this year
34:39: What Ben doesn't like about ashcans
36:49: Ben has been playing a lot of Shooting the Moon by Emily Care Boss, Don't Rest Your Head by Fred Hicks, and carry. a game about war. by Nathan Paoletta
38:04: Ben chickens out
40:51: Ashcans and the Sacred Cow Defense League
42:47: The Cockzilla cover for Misspent Youth and its SCDL
47:25: Taking turns in the bullshit phase of XXXXSL
50:36: Defining success for XXXXSL
52:04: The origin of XXXXSL
55:05: Summarizing Ben's prescription for a healthy hobby
57:29: XXXXSL's "amazingly good illustration of Vin Diesel" by Shreyas Sampat
58:40: A reading of the game's ad for 1001 Nights by Meguey Baker

Closing song is Sissyfit by the Hub City Stompers
Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis:
Direct download: independent-insurgency-014.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:12am EDT

A break in schedule, probably Hey folks,

I don't ordinarily do this for my show (I have this silly pride in not breaking the fourth wall), but at the moment I don't have any shows banked that I can use and things are a little hectic, finishing up my game (Misspent Youth). If you're a game designer and you wanna do an interview and you're reasonably close to NJ (I only do face-to-face interviews for the show), maybe you can help me avoid missing Thursday's show-coming-out-failure.

Anyway, it might be a little while for my next show(s), but I promise I'll get back on the stick.
Category:general -- posted at: 9:52am EDT

Episode 013: Jason Morningstar on Grey Ranks

In this episode, I talk with Jason Morningstar of Bully Pulpit Games

about Grey Ranks. Grey Ranks is a game about the 1944
Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis in World War II (not to be confused
with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising). In the game, you play teenage kids
(roughly the equivalent of the Boy Scouts) to fight (to ultimate futility)
to defeat the Nazis. I get very verbally fumbly at the end, discussing the 
status issue. Hope you enjoy the show.

This episode is 52.8 MB big and 57:35 long.

00:56: Camp Nerdly
01:07: What it’s about
03:12: The arc of success and failure in the game
04:29: The grid, a map of mental states of characters
06:11: The scene/chapter structure
06:27: In A Wicked Age...
08:50: Historical games and the "getting it wrong" factor
09:15: Anna Kreider
11:33: Radio Lightning
14:02: The Things Held Dear mechanic
16:21: How the conflict system works
19:21: Character death
20:06: The reputation the game has as being dismal
21:49: Why did you design this game?
22:34: Mid-Atlantic Convention Expo
22:46: Luke Crane
26:06: Influences on the game (The Mountain Witch, Shab al-Hiri Roach, My Life With Master)
28:55: How many times was it played before publication?
29:41: The most valuable feedback received
31:18: The hardest thing to fix
31:28: Bill White (designer of Ganakagok)
32:38: What doesn't work?
33:12: A peek inside the structure of Bully Pulpit Games
33:37: Printed by Publishers' Graphics
34:05: Jason says Alphagraphics (aka RPI) are good now (Joshua AC Newman mentioned them in an earlier episode)
35:28: Jason's podcast, The Durham 3
35:50: How Jeff Bent's art is used in the book
38:08: Scott McCloud
39:10: Layout issues
40:02: Form factor & Lulu
42:03: Marketing
42:39: Defining success
44:09: How profit-sharing works in an indie press company
46:58: The Story Game Names Project
47:22: That whole "status" thing
50:52: Anything else to say?

Closing song is Little Julie Swastiska by the Hub City Stompers
Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis:
Direct download: independent-insurgency-013.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:14am EDT

Episode 012: Anna Kreider on Thou Art But A Warrior

In this episode, I speak with Anna Kreider about her supplement for
Ben Lehman's
game Polaris, Thou Art But A Warrior. Thou Art But a
Warrior is a game where your Muslim knights seek (ultimately, in good

Polaris style, in vain) to fend off Christian crusaders. We recorded this on
the first night of Camp Nerdly 2 in the woods of Triangle, VA. Hope you
enjoy it.

This episode is 77.9 MB big and 56:45 long. 

01:11: Began as an entry in a setting design contest
01:40: The game is about the Reconquista
03:04: The doomsday clock
05:14: How the game works
05:45: In A Wicked Age
09:46: Ways TABAW is different from Polaris
11:28: Structure of interlocking stories, like Crash
14:14: One-shot game rules
15:51: Why did you design the game?
17:58: Wrestling with the label of "game designer"
20:07: Any games arise from the design process?
20:59: Game Chef
: The way the Discord mechanic works
24:38: Troubleshooting the Discord mechanic
26:52: Anything you had to get rid of that you wish you didn't?
29:29: Steal Away Jordan by Julia Ellingboe (of Stone Baby Games)
30:59: How many times has the game been played?
31:14: "Knife-fight"
34:00: The most helpful feedback you got from playtesters
36:55: Picking a printer (Pandora Press)
37:56: Lulu
38:25: IPR
39:16: How is art used in the book?
40:56: Joshua AC Newman
41:23: What form factor, and why?
42:41: Marketing the game
44:02: Emily Care Boss
44:50: Gen Con and The Forge booth
45:16: Defining success for the game
46:35: Personal religious beliefs and how they intersect with the game
50:13: Anything else to say?
52:17: Master Mines


Closing song is Latina Rose by the Hub City Stompers
Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis:

Direct download: independent-insurgency-012.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 1:04pm EDT

Episode 011: Kat & Michael Miller on Serial In this episode I talk with Kat and Michael Miller about their upcoming
game, Serial. Serial, which will be published by Incarnadine Press, is a 
game based on true crime investigations of serial killers. The game is 
careful to focus most of the interest on the victims of these crimes rather 
than the cops or the killer. In fact, no one plays the killer. It's an exciting 
and interesting game that I enjoyed playing. 

This episode is 80.9 MB big and 58:55 long.

01:14: "A game about the horrors of serial murder."
02:30: The Forensic Files and City Confidential TV shows
03:50: Dreamation (A convention from Double Exposure)
06:03: An overview of how Serial works
09:42: The chains of evidence system
13:10: Rules, re-summarized
16:20: "Not really" a GM in the game
17:07: Design goals replicating fiction?
18:04: The Boston Strangler
18:47: The BTK Killer
19:43: Killers in Serial aren't "cool, sexy outsiders" (from Vincent Baker on Episode 10)
21:49: What happens if you run out of victims?
22:34: Serial attempts to make an experience that is unique to roleplaying rather than emulative of another genre
23:22: Serial is a one-shot game
23:45: Compassion fatigue
25:02: Serial will be presented as a CD with included reference material
25:46: Russell Collins is doing the music for Serial
27:48: With Great Power
28:34: Serial is "done in one" gaming (from Michael O'Sullivan on Episode 9)
29:25: Unofficial estimated cost of Serial
30:06: Sons of Kryos thread including discussion of audio delivery of RPG rules
32:15: Why design this game?
33:25: Any other designs arise out of Serial?
35:20: The Czege Principle (named after Paul Czege)
37:18: Who did you steal from the most?
38:02: Acts of Evil by Paul Czege
38:38: My Life with Master
38:53: InSpectres
39:15: Michael's game, Discernment, in the No Press Anthology
39:22: Division of labor in the design process
40:56: Lessons learned from playtesting
43:17: Anything you had to drop that you wish you didn't?
45:59: The hardest thing to fix
46:34: Don Corchran
48:34: How to press CDs, the new frontier
51:48: "This is Not a Pipe"
51:52: Two definitions of success for Serial
53:52: Spirit of the Century
55:20: Illusionism
55:44: Planned (hoped-for) release date


Closing song is Skinhead Boi by the Hub City Stompers
Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis:

Direct download: independent-insurgency-011.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:38pm EDT

Episode 010: Vincent Baker on kill puppies for satan In this episode, I interview Vincent Baker of Lumpley Games about his
first published roleplaying game, kill puppies for satan. This was kind of a
silly one, as many of the questions I'd ordinarily ask a little weird in this
context. You'll see.

This episode is 01:01:48 long and 84.8 MB big.

01:36: What is kill puppies for satan?
02:39: "It is extremely mean to Vampire: The Masquerade."
03:33: Obligatory Forge reference
04:57: Conpulsion in Edinburgh and the kpfs resurgence
05:31: Malcolm Craig (of Contested Ground Studios)
05:45: kpfs 2nd edition?
05:35: Ralph Steadman
06:36: How does the game work mechanically?
10:03: A bunch of different kinds of NPCs
11:25: Meguey Baker (of Night Sky Games)
12:11: A parody of gamers or a certain kind of game?
12:44: Alas, now the 23rd hit on Google
12:57: kpfs hate mail site
16:27: Trying to get back to mechanics, conflict or tasky?
18:17: How indie is kpfs?
20:45: Why did you design the game?
22:59: The Lumpley Principle
27:58: kpfs is also self-parody
28:17: Comparing Vampire and Ars Magica
30:13: A reading from kpfs: A character sheet for a vampire
34:30: Playtesting? Fuck no!
34:51: The evil hamster wheel, a mechanic which coincidentally worked fine
38:52: kpfs saves lives
42:17: kpfs and the Columbine Massacre
42:40: The kpfs gun rules
43:32: Why Vincent doesn't run the game anymore
45:54: The DNA that kpfs shares with Poison'd
47:11: Angry threads sell games
48:33: Ron Edwards: "You make games about the morality of people you don't think are moral."
50:33: Is kpfs a success?

Closing song is Bridge Over Troubled Squatter by the Hub City Stompers

Logo courtesy of Daniel Solis:

Direct download: independent-insurgency-010.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 9:14pm EDT