Saturday, May 3, 2014

Interview with a Designer: Victoria Jaczko

This time I'm interviewing this year's RPG Superstar, Victoria Jaczko! My thanks to Victoria for taking the time to answer my questions. :-)

Once again, congratulations on winning RPG Superstar! What piece of advice would you give to people who are interested in entering the contest?

Thank you! The best advice I can give is this: Never count yourself out. I'm not meaning that as a pep talk. At the end of every single round, I told myself, "well, guess that's it for me!" and thought doing too much work on the next round would just lead to disappointment. Even if you think you have no chance--work on the next round. Your stress levels will thank you.

Your entries involved many female characters – a bitter widow, a ghost bride and a matriarchal tribe of orcs. I'm curious, was it merely coincidence, or would you say it was social commentary, or a strategic choice?

Coincidental. Or just what the story happened to demand. There's also the influence of my "default" settings: I AM a female, therefore I tend to write female characters.

The veil was born out of a mourning theme and led me to the war widow idea, but it could just as easily have been a male. But I was dinged for the name as it was and "Bitter Widower's Veil" sounds even worse. :)

The ghost bride cropped up as a part of the underpinning story in my Encounter round, but was actually the only female character/entity anywhere in it. She was the "boss" but, in my head, had a specific story reason for that. So story demands.

The matriarchal orc tribe... well, there were a lot of steps that took me from initial concept to final execution in Daughters of Fury and I won't take all day describing them. Suffice to say there was a lot of gender flipping of major characters in the beginning as I sorted out the story I wanted to tell. There certainly seem to be some themes I've touched on and promised to explore with the module, but those weren't conscious decisions I made at the outset.

Both as a spectator and contestant, which round of RPG Superstar is your favorite and why?

Despite being the most stressful round for me, the Bestiary round was my favorite. It was the most fun to read and was the round I had the most ideas for. (The chwal was also, far and away, what my friends liked best of everything I designed.) I've always felt a well-made monster should inspire story ideas just by reading it. Heroes are defined by their villains and their obstacles, and what is a Bestiary if not a book of hero-defining antagonists?

When designing an adventure, it's fun figuring out the setting, placing loot and theory-crafting with your players about what powers they'll get, but its the memorable monsters and villains that define it more than anything.

What do you consider your biggest strengths as a designer? What skills do you seek to improve the most?

I have some helpful knacks as a storyteller. I'm pretty in tune with story structure and character arcs, and I can translate those concepts into an RPG setting. It helps with story pacing and lending NPCs verisimilitude. That means I also have a pretty good sense for where fights should go.

I need improvement with game balance. I tend to either overestimate or underestimate a party's capabilities and throw off the challenge as a result. I'm still developing a sense for how certain abilities and tactics affect a party in combat.

And, of course, there's storytelling's dark side: I have to be vigilant about loving my story TOO much and hamstringing PC involvement. That's got to stay in balance.

Other than Pathfinder, what games do you like to play, whether tabletop or computer games?

My current group has been on a White Wolf kick for the past few years. Their new reboot has a lot to love, though I am a biggest fan of Changeling: the Lost, Geist, and old, wildly imbalanced Scion.
I adore Cyberpunk, but only when playing with people who understand how completely insane the game is supposed to be.

I used to play the Warlord and L5R CCGs until I grew too time-strapped; card games ended up being too much investment for too little play time.

My computer game rotation right now includes Civilization V, The Elder Scrolls Online, and anything SimsI do love my virtual dollhouses.

Winning the contest will surely open up many opportunities in the RPG industry. What type of design work are you most interested in?

Anything on the GM side of the screen. I'm not a big fan of designing stuff primarily for player use. I'm a cranky GM that thinks my players have too many options as it is. :) I will, of course, but I'm happiest coming up with stuff that helps GMs run a good game. So sign me on for adventures, settings, NPCs, beasties, encounters, and so on.

Have you started working on the prize module? How has it been so far?

I just got my NDA to sign and send in, so looks like I'm officially starting. It's going to be an interesting learning experience. This is my first go at writing a full adventure, at least for anyone's use but my own, so I'm in for a steep learning curve. I've got some major revision work to do on my initial concept, but that was to be expected. I think it will end up better. Aaaaaand that's probably about the limit of what I'm allowed to say!

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