An Interview with N.K. Jemisin
about 1 year ago
– Tue, Feb 21, 2023 at 08:29:22 AM
We wanted something special for the last three days of the crowdfunder and here it is: an interview with N.K. Jemisin herself!
Q: Roleplaying games and speculative fiction are close cousins. What did you find most intriguing about bringing The Stillness to tabletop RPGs? Do you have any experience with RPGs yourself?
I played a little tabletop back in college -- Marvel Superheroes, if I recall, and just a little D&D (back then it was AD&D). My group back then was mostly into adventure with a lot of fighting, which I wasn't much into, but they were my friends. I had fun with them no matter what or how we were playing. Since then, I've been invited to join a couple of groups, but just didn't have time -- juggling two careers doesn't leave a lot of room for leisure. But since I've ratcheted down to just one career, things are better, and I'm gearing up to join a new D&D group now. Also playing around with world concepts for if I decide to try GMing for the first time.
As for bringing the Stillness to tabletop, honestly, I'm still just fascinated by the idea of other people wanting to go to this place where the apocalypse happens every Tuesday! For fun! LOL. But I can't wait to see people play it.
Q: You incorporated a lot of real-world orogeny, geology, volcanology, and plain physics into your novels. What was the most interesting thing you learned in your research for the Broken Earth?
Mount Rainier. This probably isn't super interesting to other people, but I constantly see character in concepts and natural forces, maybe because I partially grew up along the Gulf Coast where hurricanes have names, and we speak of them like they're people... or maybe just because I think like a fantasy writer. I'd been to Seattle before and just thought, "Ooh, such a pretty mountain." Then I read up on it and realized it's a Decade Volcano -- one of the most potentially destructive mountains in the world. It could wipe out Seattle and Tacoma like that, in a variety of absolutely horrific ways. There are worse volcanic threats out there (there's a chance the Yellowstone supervolcano could wipe out humanity), but the specific danger of Rainier is its beauty. People want to live near it, and I can't blame them. I would love to wake up to the sight of that mountain every day -- but a population that size in the vicinity of a mountain that terrible is a horror movie waiting to happen.
Nothing but respect for people who choose to live in such places. I get that the ephemerality of it is part of the appeal. I just prefer for my own natural disasters to be slower-moving, and not so apocalyptic.
Green Ronin is based in Seattle so we’re in the blast zone. Lucky us! Nicole, our COO, grew up in Oregon and she remembers the Mount St. Helens eruption vividly.
Q: The Broken Earth Trilogy tells a specific story, but game groups will create their own. What ideas do you think they could explore in the Stillness?
The Stillness is a pretty big world, and there's lore throughout it that got alluded-to but not shown in the Broken Earth books. I'd love to see people play around with all that hinted-at stuff. What other secrets do the lorists keep behind their black-painted lips, and why must they stay secret? Were there ever expeditions that tried to sail around the great empty ocean that covers half the world, and did they find anything (maybe like an ancient city full of stone eaters) when they did it? You've seen some of the ways that terrestrial animals and insects change during a Season, but what about the plants or marine life? If a quiet farming comm discovers a huge and dangerous ancient ruin lurking underneath it, how do they deal with that? How do people have fun in a world that's constantly on the brink of extinction? There's lots to explore.
Q: Can you give aspiring Game Moderators a few things to bear in mind when they are making their own stories in The Stillness?
- The cultures of the Stillness are different from those of our world in one key way: They understand that rapid adaptation to change is essential for survival. A typical comm's structure is modular, with every resource -- food, weapons, labor, knowledge -- meant to be shuffled around as needed in the event of a Season. This means that comms which opt for democracy or consensus at ordinary times turn instantly authoritarian once Seasonal Law I declared. Hoarding or charging money for goods and services within the comm is instantly illegal. Having more children without permission is instantly illegal. A wealthy merchant becomes neither wealthy nor a merchant once the Season comes, because any resources they possess are confiscated for the community pile, and the merchant's life becomes governed by their caste and its duties.
- Every person is trained to expect this modularity from childhood, though some keep the lesson in mind better than others. The formerly-wealthy merchant knows better than to protest if their goods are confiscated -- but they might do it anyway, because they're used to the privilege of wealth. Too much protest means exile. Meanwhile, members of the Strongback caste are always aware they can be exiled if they aren't willing to work and obey others. The partners of Breeders, if not Breeders themselves, must be prepared to accept non-monogamous behavior and to raise a child which might not be their own.
- The people of the Stillness are exactly like us, psychologically -- especially in being prone to react irrationally under stress. The onset of a Season is a critical time in which a community's survival depends wholly on if its Leadership can overcome the natural human tendency to freak the hell out during an emergency. If they fail, the people of a comm could revolt against their Leadership, wasting resources and effort that should be spent on survival on infighting. Comms that do this rarely survive Seasons.
- Good Leadership, therefore, requires a balanced approach, discouraging change resistant behavior while not being too heavy-handed. Too much authoritarianism, or totalitarianism, is inadvisable.
- Seasonal Law is resource-focused but still explicitly anti-eugenicist. Bigotry, which is known to destroy or weaken communities, is illegal at all times. Disability is not a cause for exile in itself, though a disabled person must find a way to be useful; fortunately there are many necessary tasks that can be done by someone with limited mobility or cognition. Medical care is in a permanent state of emergency triage: those who can be saved more easily are prioritized over those who will need more resources or whose condition is more precarious.
- Commless people aren't all bandits. Many are "free spirits" who can't or choose not to function within the expected modularity -- or who want to develop their own ways to survive a Season. Some of those ways, such as those of the comm of Meov in the books, are viable -- though the only way to be sure of viability is to wait for a Season and see.
Q: The Fifth Season RPG will be lavishly illustrated. Will this be the first time (apart from cover art) that readers will get to see visual interpretations of the Broken Earth?
No. The Subterranean Press special editions of the Broken Earth books feature astounding art by Miranda Meeks, and since the books have been published in many other languages, several of the foreign editions have had unique cover art that's astounding. I also regularly see fanart from my readers that blows me away! But I always love seeing new depictions by skilled artists, and I'm loving what I've seen so far from you guys.
Q: We understand that the Broken Earth trilogy has been optioned for a television or streaming series. Can you tell us anything about the progress of that project?
Just that it's not going to be a TV series anymore, but a feature-length film series; the rights were bought by Sony Tristar. I turned in the first movie script a few months ago. Beyond that, I can't say, sorry!
No worries, a feature film series is exciting stuff! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today.
Fifth Season Preview: Character Creation
about 1 year ago
– Thu, Feb 16, 2023 at 09:40:04 AM
Continuing our previews of things-not-in-the-quickstart, this week Steve Kenson is back to talk about how character creation will work!
Once a Fifth Season
game group has created their comm (detailed in Fifth Season Preview: Comm Creation
) they can get down to creating individual characters. Those familiar with Adventure Game Engine
character creation know it often involves choosing a character Background, a Class or Profession, Talents or Specializations, and a Drive or Goals. The Fifth Season RPG
is similar in many regards, with a few notable differences. Let’s take a look at the steps of character creation:
Step One: Concept
Come up with the sort of character you’re interested in playing. Talk with the GM and the other players in your group about your character concept and how well it will fit into the kind of game the GM is looking to run, the kind of characters the other players want to create, and the comm you have co-created for them.
Orogenes and Stone Eaters? Yes, they’re mentioned in Fifth Season. The Orogene talent allows for the creation of feral orogenes, but there’s no provision to play a Fulcrum-trained blackjacket with one or more rings yet. Likewise, there are no rules yet for playing a Guardian, much less a nonhuman like a Stone Eater. The focus in the core game is on the human inhabitants of comms in the Stillness. Further development of character options will appear in later Fifth Season supplements.
Step Two: Caste
In the society of the Stillness, each person has a role to play in the survival and well-being of their comm. These roles are broadly defined by use-castes, or simply castes: the ways in which people are useful to society. People are generally born into the use-caste of their same-sex parent by default, although it is not unusual for someone to apply to change castes, or to be encouraged to do so, as particular talents or inclinations emerge as they reach adulthood or even later in life.
Fifth Season focused on five of the seven primary use-castes (the other two being Guardian and Orogene), as follows:
Breeders have a bonus to Perception and choose from the Companion, Crafter, and Safeguard specializations.
Innovators have a bonus to Intelligence and choose from the Geomest, Geneer, and Lorist specializations.
Leadership has a bonus to Communication and chooses from the Diplomat, Organizer, or Trader specializations.
Resistants have a bonus to Constitution and choose from the Caregiver, Cultivator, or Stalwart specializations.
Strongbacks have a bonus to Strength and choose from the Guard, Hunter, and Laborer specializations.
Step Three: Abilities & Focuses
All AGE system characters are defined by nine abilities. They’re scored on a numeric scale from –2 (quite poor) to 4 (truly outstanding). A score of 0 is considered average or unremarkable. The abilities are:
Accuracy measures aim and precision, and your ability to hit targets with lighter and ranged weapons.
Communication covers your character’s social skills and ability to deal with others.
Constitution is overall health, fortitude, and resistance to harm, illness, and fatigue.
Dexterity encompasses your character’s agility, hand-eye coordination, and quickness.
Fighting is your character’s ability in close combat with heavier weapons.
Intelligence measures reasoning, memory, problem-solving, and overall knowledge.
Perception is the ability to pick up on and notice things using any of the character’s senses.
Strength is sheer muscle power, from lifting heavy things to feats of athletics.
Willpower measures self-control, discipline, mental fortitude, and confidence.
In this step, you allocate points to your character’s abilities, modified by their caste. You also choose focuses. An ability focus (or just focus for short) is an area of expertise within the broader ability. For example, while Communication determines in general how effective a communicator your character is, the Persuasion focus describes a particular expertise in convincing other people to agree to the character’s proposals.
Step Four: Drive
Your character’s Drive describes what motivates them to act, to say “yes” to an opportunity. Drive gives you cues for action as a player and provides the GM with “hooks” to encourage your character to take action. While some drives are more common for particular castes than others—Leader for Leadership, for example—any drive can be combined with any caste or specialization as the player sees fit. Interpret your character’s drive based on their other traits.
Your Drive provides you with a quality and a downfall, one ability focus, and one talent.
Step Five: Improvement
In this step, round out your character’s traits by improving two of them. You can choose the same option twice, but the benefits don’t stack. So, while you can choose two Ability Improvements, you cannot apply them both to the same ability score.
Ability Improvement: Increase an ability score of your choice by +1. This can increase the ability to a score higher than 3.
Ability Focus: Gain a new ability focus of your choice.
Talent Improvement: Gain the novice degree in a new talent, or improve an existing talent by one degree.
Step Six: Finalize Abilities
Once you have allocated abilities and chosen caste and drive, along with their associated choices, and made your improvements, now it’s time to finalize your character’s abilities. You can make any tweaks or adjustments, shifting an ability point here or there, or changing around some of your focus or talent choices, to get the final set of your character’s abilities.
You also use this step to calculate your character’s secondary abilities like Speed, Defense, Toughness, and Fortune.
Step Seven: Goals
While a character’s drive moves them forward, the character’s goals are what they move toward. Ideally, goals should help to define what is important to your character, and offer the GM inspiration for stories and ways to involve your character in adventures. You’re asked to come up with at least one short-term and one long-term goal for your character.
Step Eight: Relationships
Comms are made up of people, held together by a complex web of relationships: parents and children, siblings and cousins, lovers and spouses, friends and rivals, and more. All of these various relationships define the comm and the place of the individual characters in it. Certain relationships are especially important to characters, and Fifth Season reflects that by giving those relationships a description (the relationship bond) and a numerical value (the relationship intensity).
Your Fifth Season character starts out with an intensity 1 bond with their comm, defined as they see fit, along with additional relationship intensity ranks equal to the character’s Communication ability score, if it is 1 or higher. Relationship bonds can be spent as bonus Stunt Points for actions related to that relationship.
Step Nine: Challenges
As an optional step of character creation, you can define one or more personal challenges for your character. A personal challenge is similar to the kinds of challenges the characters face and overcome in the course of their adventures, but this challenge is both specific to your character and something they carry with them wherever they go. It can show up in the course of the game, by your choice, to challenge your character. A personal challenge can be a physical disability, a psychological difficulty, or a social challenge, as you define it.
Encountering and dealing with a personal challenge in the context of the game provides a bonus to the character: they gain Fortune. The Fortune gained from overcoming personal challenges is temporary, so it can restore lost Fortune, but if it raises the character’s total over their usual Fortune score it only lasts until it is expended, then it is gone.
The key thing about personal challenges is that they arise as challenges only when the player wants. Otherwise, that aspect of the character still exists, it just doesn’t particularly pose a challenge. This allows players to portray characters who have particular qualities without feeling burdened by them, if they don’t want to be, or when they are not in the mood to deal with that particular challenge in game. We don’t always have the option of consenting to challenges in our real lives, which is why it is important to give players that option when it comes to their characters at the game table.
Step Ten: Description
Finally, you take the opportunity to gather up everything you’ve learned about your character during this process and put together a description of them: their name, what they look like, how old they are, what their personality is like, and some of their likes and dislikes. It doesn’t have to be long, just a paragraph or so to briefly introduce others to who the character is, just like you’re describing a character from a favorite book, movie, or television show. In fact, if you like, you can even “cast” an actor or personality in the role of your character and use that to enhance your description!
Next: With the comm and the characters in place, we look at moving the story forward on two different levels of game play.
Fifth Season Preview: Comm Creation
about 1 year ago
– Thu, Feb 09, 2023 at 10:38:32 AM
While the freely available Fifth Season Quick-start
provides a substantial “test-drive” of the Fifth Season RPG
necessarily leaves out some things in the interests of space and getting folks up-and-playing the game as quickly as possible. For those interested in the Fifth Season RPG
, we’re going to take a tour through some of the features of the full-fledged game that the Quick-start
doesn’t touch upon, starting with comm creation.
A Fifth Season campaign also starts with comm creation. As the book itself says:
“The comm is what binds the characters together as a group. Presumably, whatever their personal goals and agendas, the success and survival of their shared comm is foremost in the characters’ minds … In many ways, the comm serves as a kind of “meta-character” within a Fifth Season chronicle, a shared part of the story created and sustained by the entire group. While individual player characters may come and go, survive or perish, prosper or fail, the comm goes on. In a long-running chronicle, the comm may even outlive all of the characters, as future generations come up and take their places and see to the care and growth of the community.”
The game group creates the comm before creating their individual characters. This provides a good basis for character ideas and concepts, ensuring they fit in with the comm and the overall direction of the campaign. That said, players may have certain character ideas in mind while creating the comm, and it’s perfectly valid to guide comm creation in the direction of those concepts as well.
The process of creating the comm has four steps:
Step One: Concept
First, the players as a group decide on an overall concept for their comm. Where in the Stillness is it? How big is it? How old? What kind of comm is it? This is influenced by the game’s Session Zero and the type of campaign the group wants to run.
It is best to keep the concept loose at this initial step, subject to changes based on the rest of the process, just enough to offer a basic framework for the group to create the comm around. For example, it’s sufficient to say “A small comm in the Nomidlats, probably north of the Tufa Mountains, possibly near a river.” Even that narrows the field of possibilities considerably and offers some direction to the comm creation process.
The comm’s concept can help to direct further decisions about the comm and its traits, people, and qualities, but those things can also affect and change the comm’s concept as they develop.
Step Two: Traits
Like characters in Fifth Season, comms have traits that define them, describing areas where a comm is strong or weak, fortunate or unfortunate. The primary comm traits are related to five of the primary common use-castes of people in the Stillness:
● Strength: Strongback caste. A combination of the comm’s ability to perform physical labor and their military might in fielding soldiers.
● Resistance: Resistant caste. The comm’s ability to withstand disease, starvation, and related challenges, both due to the presence of a strong Resistant caste and their skills in caring for others.
● Innovation: Innovator caste. The comm’s ability to come up with new solutions and ideas and to practice technical skills.
● Leadership: Leadership caste. The quality of the comm’s leadership and organization and the comm’s ability to handle matters diplomatically.
● Resilience: Breeder caste. The comm’s resilience and ability to recover from setbacks and losses.
Comms also have the secondary traits of Size, Cache, and Stability. The players assign values to the comm’s traits as a group, as well as choosing focuses for them, similar to the ability focuses AGE system characters have.
Step Three: Qualities
Traits provide quantitative values for the comm. This step looks at the comm’s qualities. It poses a series of questions to the players (chosen or randomly rolled from a table) wherein each player answers something about the comm: Qualities include Status, Geography, History, Features, Culture, and Secrets. You can use the prompts provided in the game or make up your own using those categories. Each player gets input into what the comm is like, and ideas about the comm may develop and change as different qualities are applied.
Step Four: The Year Before
To complete the comm creation process and move on to the creation of the primary characters the players will portray, the group plays through one year (four seasons) of comm level game play as defined in the rules. This defines the kind of year the comm has had just before the campaign begins.
Some groups might want to play out a longer or shorter time, anywhere from just a season or two to multiple years, but the year before is the minimum recommended time. Play out this time before creating the player characters, as the events in the year before might well spark some ideas for characters and their own stories.
Next: Character creation in Fifth Season, including use castes and specializations, along with talents and some possible secrets…