Todd Crapper, also known+ as The Warden, is the founder of Broken Ruler Games and the designer behind the award-winning Killshot and ENnie-nominated ScreenPlay. His latest effort, High Plains Samurai, is currently on Kickstarter.
I had the opportunity to talk to Todd about his new game and his plans for making it accessible. If you’re into RPGs with over-the-top action and adventure, read on.
Accessible Games: First of all, thanks for taking the time to talk about accessibility with us. For those of us who aren’t familiar with your work, can you tell us a little about yourself and what you’ve published in the past?
Todd Crapper: Certainly. My name is Todd Crapper (though I have also published under the pseudonym of The Warden) and I’m the owner/publisher/lead designer for my company, Broken Ruler Games. I’m the creator of Killshot (professional assassins), ScreenPlay (an open storytelling RPG), and my work will also be featured in the upcoming anthology, The Imposters, coming out from Ginger Goat Games later this year.
AG: You have a new project on Kickstarter for High Plains Samurai. What’s this game about, and what sets it apart from your other work?
TC: HPS is what I like to call “the ultimate mash-up on acid.” It blends together western gunfighters, samurai warriors, arctic barbarians, Prohibition era gangsters, and steampunk engineers, then gives them superpowers in a post-apocalyptic setting where they’re trying to save their world, known simply as the One Land, from a divine war. It’s quite different from most of the work I’ve done over the last few years because it’s not based on any reality and has a very strong modern fantasy vibe to it. HPS is built from the ScreenPlay system and is incredibly narrative heavy, meaning the players are the ones who drive the story forward with the GM (known as the Director) and the mechanics responding to those descriptions. It’s a game of endless possibilities in a world that will turn to ash unless these characters step up to save the day.
AG: One of the things I loved about ScreenPlay was its narrative style, which I feel is great for accessibility. What does HPS do that’s similar to ScreenPlay, and what does it do differently?
TC: ScreenPlay was actually built for High Plains Samurai from the very beginning. In fact, it was never intended to be published as its own system but once the core mechanics were set it became apparent everything could work for a wide variety of narrative games. Releasing an open version of the rules before this more specific version really helped me flesh out the mechanics and lock down some key elements that I could expand into character options comfortably knowing its strengths. And that was in part to the participants of the public playtest. In fact, ScreenPlay: The Rehearsal Edition was nominated for an ENnie last year.
Something HPS does different compared to the core ScreenPlay rules involves “building your potential.” All characters have a number of open potentials (stats/ability scores) they devise as a way to highlight their characters. Each potential comes with a dice value, a Defence score, and a number of details (think of them as actions or story/character/action beats incorporated into your turn’s description). In order to roll your potential’s dice value, you have to apply that number of details into your description. For example, if you choose your Master of Tai Chi potential listed at a d8, a Defence of 5, and 3 details, you have to apply all 3 details to your description if you’re going to roll that d8. If you can only apply 2 details, then your dice is reduced to a d6, and so forth until you reach the base step of rolling a d4 and dropping to a Defence of 1 (meaning you’re relying solely on your resources, or gear/training/qi power, to defend yourself). This approach encourages players to fill their descriptions with numerous flourishes and embellishments that you would see in an action-packed fight scene, car scene, interrogation scene, and so much more.
And dice rolls are never about success or failure. In a world where gravity is an option, it’s about rolling to complicate matters for other characters. This means you almost never have to roll to leap over a 15’ tall wall (unless the Director spends a challenge to force a die roll). It’s about placing complications on your enemies. Whenever that happens, it will trigger a complication roll and doing so can be risky because you can end up with a complication instead. It places a lot of back-and-forth you see in cinematic combat/martial arts films. But there’s a safety net. You can cheat by spending your Stamina (hit points) to shift the dice roll to alternate who chooses the complication. Just be sure you don’t do it too much or else your character will be facing some harsh outcomes if they’re suddenly dropped down to 0 Stamina and your enemy gets to decide how your character is written out of the scene (or even the story).
AG: I had the opportunity to look over the character sheet for ScreenPlay when it was in development and offer you some feedback about accessibility. Does the HPS character sheet use a similar style?
TC: It does and your feedback was incredibly fundamental in creating a successful character sheet. Any kind of design requires an understanding of how the audience will view and process its information. After working on Killshot, I learned a lot about how others access information and that everyone doesn’t see the world the same way I do. I mean this physically, mentally, psychologically, and other levels. When you have a game that works on a very open, narrative style, it’s absolutely crucial that your components fit that open approach and this means accounting for people with disabilities, colour blindness, and more.
AG: You’ve expressed to me that you’re devoted to accessibility and inclusivity with your games. What else is HPS doing to meet those goals?
TC: The layout and graphic design for HPS has kept accessibility in mind. For example, I’m trying to keep the print size in both the PDF and print version larger than other books for easier reading. The PDF will also be tagged, bookmarked, and I’m considering a ebook version to allow other players options to access HPS in other ways that might not otherwise be possible with just a traditional PDF or print copy. It’s really about providing more options to access your game using the amazing tools available to so many people. It’s something I learned going through my own physical limitations – you never know if the next person who needs those tools is you.
We just unlocked a backer level (the Unstoppable Hunter) that provides a 24” by 36” poster sized map of the One Land along with various references to the game mechanics. Our goal with this is to offer a better means of helping players embrace HPS’ mechanics in an easy-to-read format that works for everyone. One of the benefits of using Kickstarter is the backers themselves. We’ll be working with our backers to ensure this playmat works for as many players as possible and provides the key function of any playmat: help make the game better and accessible to everyone at the table.
AG: Are you also trying to be inclusive with your art, storytelling, etc.?
TC: Yes, part of that involves looking at how inclusive the One Land is to people and we discovered a short while ago that HPS was very “dude centric.” There was never anything that prevented inclusion but without those noticeable examples for people to see when they first look at the project, you’re not encouraging others to feel welcome to your game. As a member of the Indie Game Developers Network (IGDN), inclusion is a major goal for all of our products and so we’ve been working on ways to make it accessible to many people. The biggest chance we’ve made is with one of our main villains, Black Scorpion, who has evolved from a man who simply kicks ass to a woman with a tragic past that now offers a much needed depth and personality to the story. I’ve brought on one of the members of the Development Team, Fraser Ronald, to write up an origin story for Black Scorpion and he’s really done a fantastic job making her seem real. When I look at her now, I can’t help but feel this compassion and understanding for what she’s going through, even if it leads to wanton bloodshed and violence. She is the most dangerous mortal character in all the One Land but now you gain an understanding of how she came to be this way.
AG: Does the game use miniatures, battle maps, cards, specialized dice, or other props that may need to be adapted for people with disabilities?
TC: No props whatsoever (unless you count the character sheet and the scene notes used by the Director to keep track of the game). This is a game where players take on the role of Writers creating a first draft of their own rendition of High Plains Samurai; it’s a game that takes place in the imagination and does not attempt to place limitations normally found with miniatures, battle maps, and more.
AG: Can you describe your core dice mechanic in three sentences or less?
TC: If your description triggers a complication roll, determine your dice value based on how many details you were able to incorporate. Roll versus your opponent’s Defence (set by one of their potentials); if you roll equal to or higher than their Defence, it’s effective against them but if you roll lower than it’s ineffective and will complicate you instead. An even-numbered roll means the roller gets to set the complication, an odd-numbered roll means the target chooses.
AG: Are Kickstarter backers able to get a preview of the game, or do they have to wait for the big reveal?
TC: There is a free preview of the first chapter available on the Kickstarter without backing and everyone who backs the project will get an 84-page Kickstarter Edition of High Plains Samurai through the first update. This edition includes full layout and most of the artwork set aside for the first volume of the game, so it will give you an idea of exactly what you can expect from the finished product.
AG: Fantastic. Where else can we find more information?
TC: I’m stockpiling everything I can on http://brokenrulergames.net
AG: How many samurai does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
TC: None, for a samurai is too proud to screw in a lightbulb when there are servants to do it for them! Unless their master commands it, then it takes an army.
AG: Ha! Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share with our readers?
TC: Just that I’m very proud of the work we’ve created so far and what’s to come once the Kickstarter is over, we have our budgets, and can get to work on making it even better. There’s already four products in the works once we hit $5,000 and can go up by two more based on further stretch goals. I can’t wait to see what finally becomes of High Plains Samurai.
AG: As of this writing the Kickstarter is already funded and nearing its first stretch goal. With 20 days to go, this campaign is shaping up to be something spectacular.