Thursday, October 9, 2014

Interview: Five Moons RPG Kickstarter

I interviewed Sean K Reynolds about the Kickstarter for the Five Moons RPG. Among other things, Sean talks about design choices that make the game easy to play.

Please also check out the Kickstarter page and Sean's blog, where he also discusses the Five Moons RPG!

Welcome, Sean! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I was born in California, moved to Wisconsin to work for TSR, Washington to work for Wizards of the Coast, California to work for Interplay, Washington to work for Paizo, and Indiana to run my own small game company. I’m a vegetarian, a cat enthusiast, and generous to a fault. I met a gamer girl named Jodi at Gen Con, and married her at NeonCon. I trained in teacher education, have a degree in chemistry, and have been in the gaming industry for 20 years. 

How did you get into RPG design and what have been your best experiences?

I’ve worked on a lot of game worlds and a lot of games. There’s something really fun about each one, even if other circumstances at the company weren’t the best.

I was hired by TSR to be their webmaster. After a year in that job, I had become friends with the people in the Creative Services department (the one who actually designed and edited the RPG books) and they let me write part of Children of the Night: Ghosts, a collection of short adventures for the Ravenloft setting. After that I did a little freelance here and there for Birthright and D&D, gaining experience.

When Wizards of the Coast bought TSR, I became part of their web team, but once they folded the TSR website into the WotC website I realized my presence on the team was redundant, so I applied (and was accepted) for an upcoming designer position, which put me on Team Greyhawk working on the “Greyhawk revival” of 1997–1998. It was a good time to be working on that setting, as the fans were enthusiastic about the products we were doing, like The Scarlet Brotherhood and Slavers. As 3E D&D approached, I was shifted to work on the Forgotten Realms, and eventually that earned me a slot on the 3E Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting book with Ed Greenwood, Skip Williams, and Rob Heinsoo. Later, Monte Cook and I were given free reign to create a one-shot campaign setting book, which became Ghostwalk.

I went to work for Interplay in 2003 on what would have been Baldur’s Gate 3, which was a great project and I learned a lot from really talented videogame designers like Josh Sawyer and Chris Avellone. Interplay lost the Forgotten Realms license, so we decided to use the new BG3 engine to create Fallout 3. Unfortunately, Interplay’s money problems came to a head 6 months later and they laid off most of the Fallout 3 team.

I left to work for Upper Deck on card games for Marvel, DC, Huntik, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and World of Warcraft. That was a very different business and I learned a lot about other kinds of games and dealing with influential licensors. When Yu-Gi-Oh took a downturn, Upper Deck downsized much of my team.

By that point I had been writing god articles for Paizo (continuing my earlier role as “god guy” for Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms) and they offered me a developer position. When they launched Pathfinder, I was moved to the PF design team and worked on books like Ultimate Magic, Ultimate Campaign, all the Bestiary books, the Beginner Box, and (most recently) the Advanced Class Guide. Just before my sixth anniversary at Paizo, my wife got accepted into law school in her home state of Indiana, and we decided to move there so she could pursue her goal of being a lawyer and I could work on solo projects I had been too busy to write while I was at Paizo. 

When and how did you come up with the idea for the Five Moons Kickstarter? Where does the name come from?

After working on AD&D and D&D for 10 years, and Pathfinder for a few more, I had grown tired of really complex rules systems. Working on the Beginner Box was a joy, as it let me condense or ignore many of the problematic Pathfinder rules and focus on the essential experience of easy, fun gaming with your friends. It reminded me of my days as a substitute teacher, explaining difficult concepts in easy-to-understand terms. Although my initial goal as a self-employed game designer was to freelance for other companies and self-publish some of my own small projects, the idea of making my own, new-player-friendly really started to grow on me, and many of the initial concepts developed out of conversations my wife and I had while driving from Washington to Indiana.

The number five popped up a lot in the early math of the game, which is why we gave it the code name “Project Pentagon.” We thought up and abandoned many names because they sounded too silly, or we discovered other games with similar names, but we really liked the idea of including “five” in the name. We decided on “Five Moons RPG” because the associated setting is a flat world on an ocean of strange ether, with five giant moons orbiting above it instead of a conventional solar system. The setting is “the World of Five Moons,” and the game is “Five Moons RPG,” but you don’t need to use the setting to play the game. 

What can you tell about the Five Moons RPG? What are the best things about it?

It’s easy to read. It’s easy to learn. It’s easy to play. Caster characters don’t dominate gameplay compared to martial characters. The game encourages you to roleplay. It rewards social interaction and teamwork instead of just number-crunching your character to deal the most damage. 

I've read your blog posts related to Five Moons, and one of my favorites is the article about the stone giant stat block. In a number of ways, it looks different from both Pathfinder RPG stat blocks and the various versions of D&D stat blocks. What are main design principles behind the new format? What are the intended effects on how the game is played?

The main purpose of a stat block is to convey information to the GM in a way that’s easy and fast to use. A lot of my work as a webmaster and developer was about making it easier for the reader to find information, and I’ve applied my experience to monster stat blocks.

The Five Moons RPG stat block cuts out redundant information so there’s less on the page to distract you from what you’re looking for. For example, a 3E D&D/PF stone giant has the Iron Will feat; its stat block includes the +2 to Will saves from that feat, and lists “Iron Will” in the monster’s feats… but in the middle of combat, you don’t need to know it has Iron Will, you just need to know it’s Will save bonus, so the Five Moons RPG stone giant stat block doesn’t list Iron Will, which means there are two fewer words cluttering up the page. That doesn’t seem like much, but most stat blocks have a lot of redundant information, whether it’s Weapon Focus, Improved Initiative, or listing the Perception bonus at the top of the stat block and in the Skills line.

For some D&D/PF monsters, it’s a designer’s judgment call whether a particular ability is listed in the stat block under Aura, Defensive Abilities, Special Attacks, or SQ, so the GM has to look over the entire stat block to make sure all of the monster’s appropriate abilities are being used. With a Five Moons RPG stat block, it is divided into sections based on whether it is the giant’s turn or not the giant’s turn; that allows the GM to home in on exactly what the giant’s options are. For example, when it’s the giant’s turn to attack, you usually don’t need to know its AC when it is attacking, so AC isn’t listed in the “My Turn” section. Likewise, when it’s not the giant’s turn, it can’t move or make attacks, so its Speed, Melee, and Ranged information isn’t listed in the “Not My Turn” section.

All sections are alphabetized by the first letter, instead of whatever way made the most sense to the designer who created the original stat block. We’re trained at an early age to use the alphabet to organize things, and following an alphabetical organization is the easiest way for a person to find individual items within a list. 

Is there anything else you would like to tell about the Five Moons Kickstarter?

If you’re looking for a game that is easy to plan and run (like old-school D&D), but still offers a lot of customizability for your character (like Pathfinder), you should give my game a look. In particular, if you enjoyed playing through the Beginner Box and you’re looking for a similar experience that also allows you to advance to higher levels, you definitely should check out Five Moons RPG. 

What advice would you give to someone interested in running a Kickstarter?

Read Kicking It: Successful Crowdfunding by Monte Cook and Shanna Germain ( It has tons of useful advice. If you’re running an RPG kickstarter, it’s a good idea to listen to the power couple whose kickstarters have a combined funding of nearly a *million* dollars.

Build your kickstarter and—before it goes live—share it with people you trust. Listen to their feedback and make adjustments to your kickstarter. They’ll spot things you overlooked and suggest great ideas you never would have thought of. It helps if you know people like Monte, Shanna, or Bryan Stiltz of Reaper Miniatures (another veteran of hugely-successful crowdfunding).

Join a discussion group with kickstarter veterans, such as Kickstarter Best Practices and Lessons Learned, which is on Facebook. Some people in that group have run many super-successful kickstarters, and they’re very good at giving helpful advice.

Before you run a kickstarter for a big project, create a kickstarter for a small project, just to get the feel of how it works. When that’s over, dust yourself off and take what you learned to make your big project’s campaign even better.

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