June 10, 2012

[Interview] Jake Richmond about The Magical Land of Yeld

Some time ago, before my mysterious disappearance,  My eye got caught by The Magical Land of Yeld: Mermaid Hunters. Why? Could be the fresh ingenuity to the approach to the fantasy setting or the retro vibe was flooding me with.
I asked Jake Richmond for an interview and he agreed, so here we are!
He also agreed to show me (and you reader) some of the illustrations of the full fledged RPG The Magical Land of Yeld, so be thankful!

1) Let's talk about The Magical Land of Yeld: Mermaid Hunters. It's a 36 page game in the land of Yeld which is the setting of your RPG coming out in the summer. Releasing a standalone game and a full fledged RPG in just a bunch of months is an interesting choice. Do you want to boost the sales, using the Mermaid Hunters as a trial version, or do you address two different audiences?

Yeld is a fairly different tabletop rpg than most people are used to.
It plays a lot more like a Final Fantasy or Zelda game than Dungeons & Dragons or other traditional rpgs. We wanted to make sure that players had an easy way to try the game out and see most of the basic concepts that they'll interact with as players. So Mermaid Hunters is a tryout kit, and easy way to teach people how to play the game without asking for them to commit to buying and reading a larger and more expensive book.

Mermaid Hunters is also just the tip of the iceberg. Each of the systems introduced in that book are massively expanded on in Yeld. Mermaid Hunters gives you a taste of combat, magic, monsters and the Special dice system, but there's just so much more to show! Plus, Mermaid Hunters doesn't even touch on some of the really unique aspects of Yeld, like the map and calendar system, the rotating GM and the player quest. These ideas are just too big to fit into a small, single session tryout kit!

2) Normally RPGs try to simulate as best they can a coherent reality. Your game is very often bending the "reality approach" to the "console game logic" (respawn, no permadeath, loot/treasure mechanics, etc...). Why this choice? Is just for a nostalgia feeling you wanted or do you think that this kind of simplifications can change/make better/make easily approachable the gaming experience?

I grew up playing games like The legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior and Secret of Mana. When I first tried a table top rpg in high school I was horribly disappointed. It was nothing like the console games I loved. Dungeons & Dragons felt stale and colorless next to Final Fantasy. We designed Yeld not so much with a sense of nostalgia, but with the idea the fantasy rpg's don't have to stick to the D&D/Tolkien traditions that we're all so familiar with.   You mentioned a "coherent reality", but traditional style rpgs like Pathfinder and GURPS games are often as abstract as any console game.

I think, at least for a certain audience, that a game that plays like Final Fantasy Tactics or The Legend of Zelda is going to be much more interesting and much more approachable than D&D. It's a very different game experience, one that caters to a certain kind of player. The kind of player that traditionally hasn't been very satisfied with table top role playing games.

3) Both The Magical Land of Yeld and the Mermaid Hunters standalone game are heavily tied to a fixed type of campaign (child gets trapped in a fantasy world and must defeat some evil bosses to return back home). This type of approach, a fixed narrative structure, is similar to the one chosen by the latest Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Basic Game. Why choose this approach and what are the benefits?

Again, this idea goes back to Yeld's console game roots. We want players to experience Yeld in the same way they experience the new Final Fantasy game or the new Tales game. You play Yeld like you'd play a video game, except instead of sitting in front of a TV you sit at a table with friends. You can beat the game,and you can share your experience with other players who have also beat the game and see what they did differently.In that way Yeld provides a fairly unique experience in gaming, a semi-fixed narrative structure, complete with milestones along the way, where the players fill out the details and ultimately decide what happens. Of course, players can and will use Yeld in any way they see fit, but the narrative we're providing is the structure that the entire game is built around. It provides players with a beginning, middle and end, and if they choose to use it instead of a typical, run of the mill dungeon slog.

Nick (Smith, the co-author. NdP&P) and I have done this with other games as well. Classroom Deathmatch, Ocean and GxB all have set narratives that guide play. The key to making this enjoyable is to provide plenty of details, but also leave all the choices in player hands. We'll gibe you a compelling premise, we'll provide you with a sketch of an interesting world that you can fill in and we'll create enough milestones that you can find your way through it, but following those milestones, exploring that world, expanding on that premise... that's all up to you.

4) Your games are deeply rooted in Japanese RPGs. Choose three of them that I have to play before playing The Magical Land of Yeld.

Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions was the obvious inspiration for Yeld's combat system. It's a deep, complex game with rewarding game play, great characters and a kickass story. The Legen of Zelda: Link to the Past isn't an rpg, but it's model of an explorable world full of secrets and challenging dungeons leading to memorable boss fights is something I always wanted to see in a tabletop rpg. Secret of Mana was the first co-op rpg I ever played, and still one of my favorites.

5) This is not the first game you have done together. Do you want to talk about you previous collaborations and how this type of combined style of writing works for you?
We have a pretty simple design method. Generally we get together and throw ideas back and forth. I think all three of the games we've worked on together were spawned out of a single night of this kind of brainstorming. Once we have a basic text we decide what we want to add and divide op the writing. Nick will work on this bit and I'll work on that. generally it all goes pretty quick. The first draft of Yeld came together in about a week, and the next draft, based on playtesting, came about 2 months later. I think we created a total of 4 playtest drafts over about 14 months in 2008 and 2009. We took 2010 and most of 2011 off from Yeld to work on other projects. Nick produced The Tulip Academy's Society for Dangerous Gentlemen and I created Panty explosion Perfect and GxB. We've been working on the finished Yeld text since late in 2011, and at this point we're down to the fun stuff like designing the big boss dungeons and creating new monsters!

6) Now a question about another of your games: Sea Dracula. This game is about crazy animal lawyers who are prosecuting an important case in Animal City’s highest court. Do you think that the RPG world need to take himself less seriously?

Maybe. RPG fans and publishers are pretty damn humorless, and rpgs that are designed to be funny are usually pretty awful. Sea Dracula, which was originally an adaptation of the Hugh Jackman van Helsing film, and later a hospital drama game, is really not so much about humor as humiliation and pride. It takes a lot of guts to get up in front of a room of 30 relative strangers at an game convention and give some other dude a lap dance. Or let some woman climb on your back and pretend to be a crab while she talks about how awesome ham is. It's impossible to play Sea Dracula without looking like you're on drugs, and Nick and I have got  a lot of mileage out of watching our friends make total asses out of themselves over the years. And of course, if you can get over yourself it's actually a ton of fun to pretend you're a 7 foot tall beaver in a suit with a law degree and a lisp who has to do a sexy waltz with a woman pretending to be a raccoon in order to keep your city from being destroyed by some type of Godzilla.

7) Do you want to talk about your future projects?

I know Nick has a game that's right on the edge of being ready. My own next project, a very different kind of console style rpg called Leviathan Knight, probably won't be done for quite some time. After that... I have no idea!

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