Six Questions: Ryan Macklin

I know a lot of interesting people. Some I’ve worked with, some I’ve met while traveling the world, some just owe me money. My name may be on the website, but it seems kind of boring if I’m the only person whose voice is heard here. So I’m bringing some of my friends to the site, as time permits. I’m not a podcasty kind of guy, so I’m just keeping things simple: one guest, six questions.

Today I’m talking to RYAN MACKLIN. You may know Ryan from his blog or his podcast, Master Plan (by curious coincidence, the most recent episode of Master Plan is an old interview with me!). As a game designer, Ryan is everywhere you want to be. He’s been involved in the design and development of a host of games ranging from the Leverage RPG, the Dresden Files RPG, A Penny for my Thoughts and more. He’s contributed a series pitch to Robin D. Laws‘ Hillfolk system, and has a piece in the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide. Beyond any of these, he’s just released an entirely new system of his own design. It’s called  MYTHENDER, it lets you bake Odin’s ravens into a pie, and it’s absolutely free. So what are you waiting for? Follow that link and check it out. And then come back and see what Ryan has to say about it!

Ryan Macklin, what’s your Master Plan?

As you might imagine, I get this question often. My answer for it has changed over time. I’ve joked about world domination (as have some of my guests on Master Plan), but right now the truth is: my Master Plan is to survive and help a few people along the way. And when it comes that second bit, I take a shotgun approach: I write on my blog about the creative process to help those who are new to it. I speak openly about struggles with mental health in the gaming community to help those who need to hear someone tell their story. And I suppose that even games I make help people to enjoy a moment in time, either to unwind or to think about something they wouldn’t otherwise.

This holiday season, I saw you run a game in which the players set out to crush Santa and hear the lamentation of his reindeer. Now that experience is available to everyone. Tell me about MYTHENDER.

Man, Mythender. My pitch is always: DO YOU WANT TO STAB THOR IN THE FACE?

That question has changed in visual meaning since Chris Hemsworth’ take on the Marvel character. SO THANKS UNIVERSE. Anyway, it’s my take on the idea of what truly mythic stories are about: power and hubris.

Much of the design is focused around two things: the emotional brain will hook deeper into language and tactile elements than the rational brain will in mathematical puzzles. And because the game is about telling a story of raging power and corruption, the emotional brain takes priority. So all the things in the game are worded deliberately to trigger a certain emotional space, and the large number of dice the game requires is about feeling the weight of your power in your hand and feeling how that diminishes when you’re hit.

I wanted to make a game the fulfilled the promise I thought Exalted had, and I wanted to play with ideas in Nobilis. I just didn’t realize I would be doing them in the same game. Of course, I’ve pretty much down the “here’s the pitch for game designers” for the last two paragraphs. So, BACK TO LET’S STAB ODIN IN HIS GOOD EYE and try to not become gods in the process, lest our friends End us.

What do you consider to be your finest creation?

That’s a damned hard question. If we stick to gaming, then when it comes to mechanical engines, certainly Mythender. The Game Creation chapter of Fate Core is my finest bit on campaign creation advice/procedure. Or the $15,000 I helped make in a few days for someone’s cancer treatment bills. But I’m hedging by breaking down into categories and whatnot, and the real answer is none of those.

Truthfully, there’s an uncomfortable finality in “finest.” So I’ll say my finest creation is years ahead, at minimum. It’s the one I’m chasing, the one bends like reeds in the wind, whose flaws are like cherry blossoms–for if nothing can be perfect, then let ones flaws be intentional and desirable.

After you die, you are dispatched to a special level of the afterlife in which you must run RPGs for the rest of eternity. What three systems do you take with you?

Mythender, because it amuses me. And I think implied in this answer is “all the stuff to run the game,” which means I’ll have a couple hundred d6s of various colors, as well as two different styles of tokens. So that’s awesome.

Man, it’s hubris to mention two games I’ve been involved in, but I really like what we did with Fate Core. Only I would probably want to also take Cortex Plus. They’re similar enough that I wouldn’t want to take both, so I guess I would take Fate Cor…tex Plus. Sure, I’ll make that hack before I die, so that it exists.

And finally, whatever is the most recent game from Jason Morningstar at the time of my death. If there is a god, that game would be Nine Roosevelts Against the Impossible.

You worked on the Leverage RPG, and you’re currently working on Margaret Weis Productions’ Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide. Tell me about the Guide and your piece of it.

Well, I can do better; you can actually read a rough draft of my article on my blog: http://ryanmacklin.com/2011/11/hacking-stress-in-cortex-plus/

But it’s a treatise on language design in games. I have both a mathematical and creative writing background, so I feel like I can say with a decent amount of authority that language design is a stronger and more important component to creative game mechanics than the math. Some people call this “theme,” which is fair. And for those who would say “what about visuals?” I agree — that’s another aspect of communication/language/whatever you want to call it.

Anyway, my article is about showing how changing what you call Stress traits in Smallville can do for your game. Since in Smallville, how you suffer and deal with detriment is prescribed with language, that’s a really fascinating hack point that I think few considered.

A freak wormhole drops you into Gen Con 2018. What do you find there?

First of all, me without my pants on. PUT YOUR DAMN PANTS ON, FUTURE SELF.

I ohh and ahh at the next iteration of board games that make deckbuilders look antiquated. Like, I can’t fathom what that is, but knowing it’s there excites me right now. And the number of vendors selling phone/tablet games at Gen Con is pretty awesome.

Naturally, I swing by the very impressive booth that Daniel Solis has for his games, and I remark about how I’m entirely unsurprised at his success.

Leonard Balsera is sitting at the bar waiting for me, with a “where have you been, you bastard?” look and a manhattan waiting for me.

Later, after the exhibit hall winds down, I will come up to you and ask you what sort of wizard you are that you knew this would happen. I would beg you to show me the way home. But not without a few pages of notes I’ve taken about upcoming trends in gaming. Still, I intentionally don’t look at anything I’ve worked on — spoilers, after all.

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