Magicians RPG Interview with designer Kyle Simons
Man, if you want to know anything about the Magicians RPG from Kyle Simons which is totally on Kickstarter right now then you are in the right place. Kyle was gracious enough to cover a ton of stuff in an interview, which you should really read below.
Take a second to introduce yourself.
My name is Kyle Simons, I’m 27 years old but I’m actually fairly new to roleplaying games. I got into them when I first came to Korea to teach English and when 4th Edition had just launched. After getting into it, after about a year I started GMing for the group and am one of those GMs that always needs the newest shiny thing. I started working on Magicians, though I didn’t know it then, as a side project at the school I was teaching English at and set it aside when I couldn’t find away to take it out of the classroom. Once I heard about dictation apps and programs like Siri and Majel being integrated into smartphones it clicked for me and I’ve been playtesting it ever since.
So, what is Magicians RPG all about?
Magicians is all about telling stories about teenagers growing up and finding their place in the world – in a world they have to relearn everything about after discovering they can do magic. More than that though, the mechanics are designed to teach you a language. It’s about taking away all the obstacles at the table to learning a language – all you need to play the game is a few hours a week to get together with your friends and a smartphone at the table. It’s about connecting players to their characters in a way that’s never been done with tabletop roleplaying games before because your skill as a player is what determines the skill of your character in the game. As you get better at the language, a language that has value because you can use it in real life, your character will also get better at casting magic and doing awesome things so it’s also about making education feel like advancement. There are very few restrictions on magic because the game is about creativity and casting spells so the more you’re doing that the faster you’re using a language – instead of having a list of spells or restrictions in the mechanics the only obstacle you have to overcome is you not knowing the language so it’s also about facilitating and motivating language learning.
The idea of using an RPG is a really unique one, since we all learn such nonsense to play these games anyway. Were you afraid that it might have been too unique?
It being too unique was a really big concern of mine, not only just about using an RPG to learn a language but also which language was the target language. I’m certain that if I’d done Japanese out of the gate, for example, it probably would have garnered even more support but doing it for Korean has it’s advantages; the Korean writing system, Hangeul, takes about 15 minutes to learn, a bit more to master, so it’s really easy and the fact that it’s so foreign and looks nothing like what a lot of people have seen helps a lot with the immersion factor because it really could be this magical tongue – a feeling you wouldn’t really get if I’d done it with a romance language or something similar I suspect.
What sort of stories have you told using the Magicians RPG?
I designed Magicians to emulate my favorite books about magic – stories like the The Magicians, by Lev Grossman, the Earthsea series by Ursula K. Leguin, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling and there’s even some urban fantasy elements and nods to The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher in there. Coming of age stories with teenage drama and hormones, pride and humility, people trying to grow up with the power to change the world at their fingertips along with urban fantasy inspired by Korean mythology, superstitions and folklore.
What is the learning curve on the system (language not withstanding)?
The game is designed for people to be able to pick up and just play – no knowledge necessary or barrier to entry – not even knowing any Korean or the writing system. The basic system teaches you 13 different words, verbs and nouns, that you put together to form any kind of spell you can think of. Your pronunciation of the words determines whether you’ve cast the spell and you achieve your intent or not via a free dictation app on your smartphone. As you get better, master the words and a bit of pronunciation along with it you may decide you want to move up to a the mid-level magic system where you need to learn Korean Hangeul (again, take 15 minutes to learn, a couple days to master) where, instead of using the 13 archetypal words, you have to choose your own noun and verb to fit the situation. So whereas before I may have just used 불 (fire) and 없애요 (remove) to extinguish a fire in a library I might use 도서관 (library) and 꺼요 (to douse, put out), etc. Finally, there is the higher level of magic that requires making full sentences and I tie certain types of magic with certain target vocabulary and grammar patterns. For example, if you wanting to use time magic you’d first need to know your numbers, if you wanted to do some telekinetic you’d first need to know directions, prepositions, etc.
The goal of the game is to make the only thing that requires time and effort to master is the actual language learning so all the other systems are really simple and intuitive. Character creation only takes a few minutes and getting an game session and adventure going shouldn’t take you more than 15 minutes even if it’s your first time. At the same time, you don’t miss out on anything because of that simplicity, it’s a collaborative storytelling game where all the players basically come up with things they think are cool in that game session after having decided on a central idea for that adventure like “a murder mystery” or “kids start turning invisible randomly and no one knows why”. The story keeps changing and actually makes it impossible to prep for a game so people can really just relax, have fun and it creates a great atmosphere with no pressure to learn a language casually in.
I know some about various folk mythologies, but very little about Korean folklore. What do you think makes it interesting? What might people find in it?
Korean folklore is so interesting because Korean history is so long and interesting in itself. Religions in Korea stretch back all the way back to animism and shamanism and each time a new religion is added into the mix from somewhere it changes and becomes this very different thing as Koreans make it their own. There is still a larger number of practicing shamans in Korea than any religion and you can see influences of Korean folklore everything, especially in superstitions and the same goes for Buddhism and Confucianism. I’ve taken these really cool, interesting, old ideas and used them for inspiration in the setting. So even people who know their religions will find new and interesting takes because they’re all very different, as most religions tend to be, in their respective local areas. Superstitions like whistling at night bringing ghosts and snakes to your door, or that insects at night may be carrying souls in them, that mice and vermin can turn into or steal your soul by eating your finger or toe nails or things like household spirits and the “God disease” are all such cool concepts that work really well when brought into an rpg game.
Can you give us a brief example of how a scene would play out?
At the beginning of the game players sit down and come up with the pitch for that session – let’s say it’s “a murder mystery” – after which players write down cool plot elements they want to see brought into the story that work well with that concept, 1 object/location, 1 person, 1 threat and all of these cards are shuffled together and put in the middle after players put down a number on the card that shows how big a part of the plot they want to make it (the higher it is, the longer it will be in the story). The GM draws one of these cards on their turn and uses that card to frame the scene and tell the story. So, if the GM draws the card “the cellar, 6 points” he might start the game off by saying that there is the students are awakened when a sudden shriek jolts them out of bed, the scream seems to have come from somewhere deep beneath the school. Players have points that they both start off with and also acquire as they put their characters in situations where they either fail, are affected negatively, or up the drama of the game which is the currency used to cast spells. Any spells cast during the scene the GM framed with the card “The cellar, 6 points” goes to reducing the number on the card. So, if a player casts an invisibility spell to not be scene to go check out what happens, one point is removed so that “The Cellar” now reads 5 points instead of 6. A card is resolved and taken out of the deck once the number of points it has is reduced to 0. If there are still points left on it after each character has taken their turn and said what they want to do, the card goes out on the table and people can “tag” that card in a scene whenever they want as long as they incorporate that element into the game and, when they do, and they spend points casting spells in that scene, the points on that card are reduced until the card is discarded.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I’m just glad that people are responding so well to the idea, it’s something that I’ve loved working on (most of the time), has been incredibly challenging, but I think that will be good for the hobby in general. A large portion of the backers on my kickstarter have mentioned to me that they’ve never played an RPG game before – they just love the idea of being able to learn a language by playing a game and everyone has played RPGs before love the idea of getting even more value out of an already rich and rewarding past-time.
Thanks again to Kyle Simons for doing this interview and all of the great information. If you want to know more about the game, check out the Magicians RPG Kickstarter.