This tremulus RPG interview with Sean Preston won’t cause sanity loss
Sean Preston and Reality Blurs are currently funding tremulus: a storytelling game of Lovecraftian horror on Kickstarter which you should totally check out. If you’d like to know more about tremulus, then you’ve really come to the right place. Sean Preston was kind enough to take some of his time to answer my battery of questions about tremulus. It’s a really great read.
Can you take a moment and introduce yourself to us?
Certainly. I’m Sean Preston, president and founder of Reality Blurs, a game design studio based in Memphis, Tennessee. I’ve been designing games professionally for over eight years in a variety of systems and genres, primarily Savage Worlds. A lot more folks are now discovering me because of tremulus.
How did you get into RPGs? What games have influenced you, both as a player and a designer?
I started gaming at the beginning. An older brother of mine who was (surprise) in the chess club at college got turned onto it, and I begged and pleaded to play, and he (and my other brother) let me (just a bit). We later opened a hobby shop, and introduced a lot of folks to roleplaying games, board games, and war games. I always preferred the less competitive sorts of games, so leaned towards roleplaying games. As you can imagine, growing up in a hobby shop, I got to play a huge variety of games, such as RuneQuest, Stormbringer, Call of Cthulhu, in addition to Dungeons & Dragons, and other systems like Rolemaster and MERP. I got turned on to Savage Worlds in 2004, and decided to make the leap into professional design. With the continuous rise of social media, I’ve been exposed to a lot of other games and systems, such as FATE and Fiasco. I learn lessons and gain inspiration from exposure to board games, video games, and other roleplaying games out there.
How did you come up with the idea for tremulus?
I was turned on to Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World last year by Jason Morningstar (one of the minds behind Fiasco)at Games on Demand at Origins in 2011. I had heard people tweeting about it on Twitter before that, but I was deep in development of Agents of Oblivion, and marked it to check out later. What finally drove me to examine it was hearing about fronts, and I thought they might be useful conceptually to drive some dynamic play in Agents of Oblivion. I have a toolbox approach towards game design, and this sounded like some of the principles applied to adventure creation. As I got into Apocalypse World, I felt the need to deconstruct it to fully understand what was going on, so did so. Once I had it all apart, I wanted to build it back up, and mulled over what I would use. I really dig horror stuff and, having developed Realms of Cthulhu (for Savage Worlds), I thought the narrative system could work really well to tell some of the different types of stories embedded in Lovecraft’s works. The feel of play is very much Twin Peaks meets Stephen King by way of HPL. I did this on the sly without anyone on the team knowing initially, as a sort of passion project. Something fun and creative to challenge my thinking as it was so different from anything I’d worked on before.
You mention on the Kickstarter that the game is built on the chasis of Apocalypse World, if I understand correctly, but takes things from other RPGs like Fate and Fiasco. What do you feel like you take from each of those games?
The core engine is built on AW and will be familiar to those who have played it. There have been tweaks and modifications to the rules. The attributes have been changed to reflect what is needed to tell the types of weird stories we want to tell, and there have been new moves added to add in exploration and investigation. The FATE influence is two-fold. First off, there is a riff off of declarations with one of the moves where the players can create a bit of the setting. Secondly, I was inspired by The Dresden Files section on town creation, and took that away conceptually for the town creation which, itself, riffs off of Fiasco. Another aspect of Fiasco is really getting the players involved to cooperatively create the game space, and to aid in driving the story forward. The Keeper serves to help navigate the game space, and helps everyone work together to tell a weird tale of terror.
How do the playbooks work, for those not familiar?
Playbooks are most akin to archetypes found in other games, but they are different. They are a combination of your specific character and all the moves (actions) you can take in a game. Each playbook is different. If you’re The Heir, for example, you’re the only heir in the story. This provides niche-protection and aids the narrative. Each playbook has a list of common moves you can take, as well as the specific options available only to you. The playbook begins with a loose background about yourself—enough to ground you, but with enough creative space for you to make it your own—and then you work through your character’s look, who you trust, your attributes, your special moves, your Lore move, and your gear. This takes a handful of minutes the first time, and even less time once you’ve done it before. Your playbook serves to be a reference for you, but does not entirely define you. You, as a player, breathe life into it. People get quickly invested in their characters faster than I’ve seen in other games. It’s very cool.
Can you give us a brief overview of a cool story that has played out in tremulus?
Tough question. There have been so many. Can I just provide a few links? Or is that cheating?
I ran a game for John Roger’s (co-creator of Leverage) and he speaks about it here.
I ran a game for Michael Wolf (of Stargazer’s World) and his impressions are here.
What do you think makes tremulus special?
On a purely personal level, I think it’s because I wrote something that I never expected to reach beyond a few of my friends. I let my writing style go unfettered, as I wasn’t working within any constraints other than those I placed upon myself. In some ways, I feel it’s really exposing some of my personality and, perhaps, a side of myself I haven’t revealed before. I don’t know. Something clicked on this. The style and tone fell into place quite likely because I could focus purely on the work and the act of creation. I unapologetically made the game I wanted to play without regard to a potential market.
Ultimately, I think it’s the fusion of a number of elements combined. The core mechanics coupled with the framework system, and the ASHES system (for creature creation), and the town playset. If I had to choose one thing, however, I think it’s the playset that steals the show, and it’s really what makes it pick up and play. Imagine sitting down and running through a series of questions and having not only the basic layout of the town, it’s moving pieces and a major and secondary storyline before your eyes in just a few minutes. Ebon Eaves, the town playset, enables you to do this easily. The Frameworks system enables you to generate one or two sessions of play in under a half hour. The ASHES system lets you create creatures or NPCs in moments. Everything is designed to keep the focus on the story, not on the mechanics. The mechanics are there to help determine outcomes and further serve to shape the story as well.
Has it surprised you at all with the huge success of the Kickstarter?
We felt we had something pretty special here, but didn’t know how well it would be received. For me, on a creative level, I’m excited to see so many people want to play tremulus and tell these types of stories too. I had created something my friends really enjoyed playing, even some close friends who were non-gamers before this, so I considered it a huge success even before hitting the launch button. I am absolutely overjoyed and thank everyone for giving it so much attention and loving support.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like to ask everyone to check out our Kickstarter and help spread the madness! And for those of you wanting to get in on future playtests follow me on social media…
Where can people find you and tremulus in the online world?
I’m not too hard to find. I’m most active on Twitter @realityblurs and frequent Facebook @realityblurs as well. And our website is www.realityblurs.com. (You can see there is a recurring theme here.) We will likely be setting up a website specific for tremulus down the road, and will announce it through our social media outlets when we do.
Again, it was awesome of Sean Preston to take his time to answer my questions about tremulus, and I’d really encourage you to check out the sites he provided as well as heading over to tremulus on Kickstarter. Once you’ve done that, I’d love to hear your thoughts about tremulus in the comments! If you’re finished checking out tremulus, why don’t you take a look at the Related Posts below, the Recent Posts in the sidebar, or go to a random post on Futile Position.