After the main ‘magazine’ portion, a full transcript of the interview plus references is provided (in addition to a complete campaign layout).
Table of Contents:
2) Playtest Session Layout
3) Interview Transcript + References
2) PLAYTEST SESSION
3) INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT + REFERENCES
M: So, Timothy, thanks for coming out to this interview with me, a definitely real person. I really appreciate this opportunity to sit down with you and discuss the finer points and details of your game. Which is useful, since this interview is probably going to take up most of the space in the latest issue of our magazine.
T: No worries, I’m glad to be here as much of a cliché as that is to say. Sorry (laughs).
M: (laughs) Yeah, we get that a lot, it’s fine (both laugh). Anyways, I’m just going to get right into it. For the people out there who have maybe just picked up this magazine and are curious as to what this is, can you give an introduction and overview of what Oscilfunk is?
T: Sure thing! So in one of my blog posts discussing the game, I gave a…description, uh, that briefly outlined the game, but that was something I wrote as an opening monologue for my friends as part of our ‘playtesting campaign’. I’ll go into the details of the world, the rules the experience, all of that a bit later. But at its core, Oscilfunk is both – what I would call – an amalgamation and a simplification of many other roleplaying games and tabletop games. What I mean by that is how, for me, mechanics are very much secondary to the roleplay, to the storytelling. Which I think is true for me across almost all RPGs, right? I’m much more concerned with how a character is going to escape public execution or how a powerful laser pistol owned by a legendary bounty hunter fell into the hands of a bartender and why they’re now hanging it above their pub door. I don’t really care about grappling being possible in a specific room or measuring the distance of how far a character can move across tiles. That doesn’t pique my interest.
There’s a decent definition of game mechanics that says they’re “techniques, methods, models, and physical instalments, which are translated into specific game content that makes the game work in a desired and meaningful way…” (Ulrich & Helms 2017, p. 696). Basically, game mechanics help to…frame the game’s story, it’s world into something tangible and bound by rules that you can actually play, where there are consequences for your actions and usually whether or not you win or lose.
But even so, I-I find mechanics to be an inhibiting and…uninviting factor of those sorts of games, games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Shadowrun you know. I mean to be fair, you are seeing these games, especially Dungeons & Dragons, go for a wider audience by releasing pared down rule-books, trying in part to step away from the built-up perception of D&D as a mechanically dense game to play. They even say as much when they say they “want to put D&D in as many hands as possible…covers the cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard, presenting what we view as the essential subclass for each…” (Wizards of the Coast, 2018). I mean the language there is very specific, saying that it’s basic and that it’s only covering the absolute essentials.
Even with that though, I feel that those games can push people away from enjoying what I find to be the most enjoyable…part of a roleplaying game, because of these built-up preconceptions. For me, I love it when I’m able to just talk with people, create characters and explore fantastical places and stories. Hopefully, “the large variety of scenes in the story hopefully gave each participant many opportunities to both feel and aware themselves, and to react as if they were in their character’s shoes…” (Dyson, Chang, Chen, Hsiung, Tseng & Chang 2015, p. 92) I think that’s what Oscilfunk provides which means people looking for something more mechanically sophisticated and complex will have to look elsewhere. But that’s the niche I’m looking for, right? I’m looking to create a game with a broad and rich setting that’s ripe for modification, expansion and homebrewing while mainly appealing to people who want a simplified version of preexisting tabletop games that they can dip their toes into.
So that’s the simplification angle. And the amalgamation comes in with how the game…borrows, from many settings. It borrows from a variety of games while I’m still putting my own twist onto it, right? I mean, a while back, I did a course on tabletop game design at university and one of the things that stuck with me the most was basically borrowing…preexisting mechanics and then merging it with your ideas.
M: That actually brings me onto my next point which is about the game’s genre, type, story and so on. You’ve said before that the game is very broad in its setting while being very “homebrewable”, very extendable and how the mechanics play into that. Can you elaborate on what you mean?
T: Yeah so…Oscilfunk-I mean, the genre is obviously cyberpunk which to me is about a future where technology has evolved to such a point where parts of our culture are indistinguishable from our own reality or even our past reality. Like how…in Oscilfunk, you can go to certain parts of the world which are entirely virtual, like these virtual bars like one I made called Drinker’s Choice which has a distinct red-tinted 60s aesthetic, right? When you walk in through the front door of this bar, you are immediately-I mean, it’s like you’re transported into a pocket dimension, almost like you’ve joined the server for an online game.
But it feels so real, ‘cause in this world, they’ve…they’ve managed to make these virtual environments so authentic and true to life, everything from the warm sound of the jazz music to the rough feel of the bar top. So that’s what cyberpunk is to me and it’s a big part of why I picked the genre. It’s that level of sophistication in technology that I think allows you to really play around with the setting and allow you to do whatever you want. Which is why I think it’s perfect for people to just muck about with it however they want as a tabletop RPG: players can be whatever they want to be and the game master running the campaign can go nuts with world design because it amalgamates fantasy and futurism which I think almost entirely covers your bases for stuff you can do in a made-up imaginary world.
M: When you say it ‘amalgamates’ fantasy and futurism, what exactly are you referring to there?
T: Well, let’s say that if…if Oscilfunk did have an overarching story, it would be something like this: in the world in which Oscilfunk takes place, there’s the planet called Oscilion, and on Oscilion, it’s made up of a single enormous continent bar a few islands here and there…which is where the DLC takes place (laughs). But yeah, so…Oscilion is largely a high fantasy world for a long time throughout its history until a planet-wide event occurs that disrupts its evolution forever. At some point, technology from our world and other dimensions of varying technological ability come into Oscilion – through portals, magic, demonic possession, no-one’s quite sure, the origin is something that is lost to time. Or is it? Maybe that’s a homebrew campaign idea for others to explore (laughs).
Whatever the case, it’s here now. And different species and different areas of Oscilion have different levels of technology “given” to them, you see. There are some who have industrial age weaponry and building materials and then there are others with ridiculously futuristic tech that’s practically indistinguishable from magic. And now, all these different places are vying for control over the continent. Factions are made and then subsequently crumble and eventually, the more advanced technology comes out on top. It’s very much like Scythe in that regard as well as how “Scythe is more a game about the threat of war, or at least of violence, than all-out carnage…” (Zimmerman, 2016) There’s that tension under the surface in Oscilfunk as well and, depressingly enough, in our own world too. I mean, Oscilfunk is a game like Scythe insofar as…it-it’s history is rooted in war and in exploring alternate history. In fact, Oscilfunk is almost what I would call ‘the alternate history of a fantasy world’.
Anyway, after these wars, that’s when you see nation cities get created, these huge labyrinthine complexes stretching for hundreds of kilometres in every direction, billions of people and species in each one. And from there, you can ask all sorts of interesting questions: Has technology stagnated in Oscilion? Has it advanced? How do these different fantasy species get along? Is there a hierarchy that’s born out of that? Is there a distrust between different races because of conflicts in the past? What does a government look like in that world? Is there even a government? So I think there’s a lot to play with there.
M: Speaking of play, can you give a quick rundown of the game’s mechanics?
T: Sure. So a lot of it is going to feel pretty familiar to fans of Dungeons and Dragons when it comes to the attributes. So you have intelligence, charisma, wisdom, strength and dexterity as your main attributes which you roll for, pretty standard stuff. But what I’m trying to do with them is ‘flavour’ them with my Oscilfunk setting. So, for example, I describe intelligence as being just as much about hacking or the ‘speed of the microprocessors that have been soldered onto your brain stem’, that sort of thing. When it comes to the rules, well…rules are lame (laughs).
In all seriousness, Oscilfunk is more about storytelling and telling the best story you can between the players and the game master. For me, “Rules and dice only need to be used when one wants to insert some unpredictability into the storyline, in order to push the plot forward…” (Sich 2012, p. 64) So the game has a more traditional, almost film or novel-like three act structure for the player experience. The entry act is introducing your characters to the world and each other, the second is about exploring that world, those characters and fleshing out their backstory and the third act is about finding a satisfying conclusion to that story. So, with Oscilfunk, you’re not in competition with the other players or the GM – it’s very much a collaborative storytelling experience in that regard.
I’d say it shares more in common with video games like Dwarf Fortress and RimWorld. I mean those games describe themselves more like fantasy slash sci-fi story generators than outright ‘video games’. Dwarf Fortress in particular is extremely complicated – it creates and keeps track of hundreds of years of history, it has the ability to develop “generated poetry, musical forms, instruments and dances…” and the combat is absurd! It includes “skills, body parts, individual tissues, material properties, aimed attacks, wrestling, one-time opportunities, charging…” (Adams & Adams, 2020) It’s all simulated and so grossly in-depth that it brings even rather powerful computers to their knees. And in those games, you will eventually lose but it’s more about the story you make along the way. And I think the same is true for Oscilfunk in that you can’t really win it and that there’s much more emphasis on telling a story.
And there’s also a new mechanic which I’ve adapted from a webseries called Guest Quest where you have blessings, wishes and curses and there’s a rare group of people known as Wishmakers who have these powerful but devastating abilities to ask for wishes but in return receive terrible curses. And…the beauty of this is that the ‘game master’-I mean, I’m tinkering with a custom name for them, perhaps something cheesy like the ‘Master Computer’ or the ‘Central Processor’. Anyways, the game master actually makes these custom blessings for the players to choose from and they can be absolutely anything! Same for the curses. I can actually give you a rundown of how those work with a playtest I did with my friends if you’d like!
M: I’d love that!
(AUTHOR’S NOTE: A FULL TRANSCRIPT OF THIS PLAYTESTING SESSION LAYOUT CAN BE FOUND AFTER THIS INTERVIEW – STAY TUNED).
T: Alright! So in my playtesting campaign, I gave my friends a few options of what they could pick for their blessings. My friend ‘A’ picked:
“You have the ability to read people’s minds, but only for 10 seconds. You can read them for longer, but you risk significant psychological and physical damage.”
My friend ‘C’ picked:
“Your strange, mysterious heritage allows for communication with the dead, which may prove useful in certain situations. However, you can see and hear them at all times, which can prove distracting.”
Some of the ones they avoided included a cute cybernetic creature which enhanced their charisma but lowered their strength value or having access to a small pocket dimension to pull ‘light-based’ weapons out of nothing. I was really able to let the creativity flow with these, in part due to how broad I made the setting, right? I mean…my game, my rules, right? (laughs) But Oscilfunk really has become a playground for my imagination and the imagination of the players to flourish. The first iterations of the game were based almost entirely on already existing tabletop games like D&D and of course games like Cyberpunk 2020 and weirder more niche stuff like Audiomancer, this bizarre setting I found on a 4chan clone of all places!
In it, the human genome can be edited and “by recording over a person’s “junk measures,” all sorts of skills and implants can be imparted with ridiculous ease. Techno beats jack up a person’s reflexes, TROMBE! imparts giant robot piloting prowess…” (XANAndy Waltfield N/A)! You know, it’s weird outlandish shit like that – excuse my language – that really fills my mind with all sorts of weird and grand ideas! Now, because of stuff like that, in the latest iteration of the game, I have a strong grasp on the game’s setting and I can picture so many of the elements so distinctively: the tech wars, the nation cities, the intermingling and relationships between fantasy species…It also helps that there’s graphic artists like Klaus Pillon who really nail how I view the crossover between fantasy and futurism to be, even if it only represents a portion of my vision for Oscilfunk!
M: I really like seeing you get fired up about Oscilfunk, but I’m afraid we’re running out of time here. Just as a final question, is there anywhere in particular you want to take the game, anything you want to refine?
T: I mean, I think the main thing is really making the mechanics my own. Borrowing is all well and good if you’ve got an interesting world to back it up, but I think I need something a bit more to really drive the game forward if it’s going to have any longevity beyond a “cool setting”. Other than that, I think I’m pretty happy with it!
M: Alright, well I wished we could’ve talked more but that’s all we have time for. Thanks for dropping by!
T: Nah, the pleasure’s all mine!
Adams, T & Adams, Z 2020, ‘Dwarf Fortress Features’, Bay 12 Games, viewed 16th June 2020, <https://www.bay12games.com/dwarves/features.html>.
Door Monster 2020, ‘A Dungeon and a Dragon | Guest Quest’, YouTube, viewed 10th June 2020, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ioEQ6cZZlc>.
Dyson, SB, Chang, YL, Chen, HC, Hsiung, HY, Tseng, CC & Chang, JH 2015, ‘The effect of tabletop role-playing games on the creative potential and emotional creativity of Taiwanese college students’, Thinking Skills and Creativity, vol. 19, no. n/a, pp. 88-96.
Pillon, K 2016, ‘Sightseeing’, ArtStation, viewed 12th June 2020, <https://www.artstation.com/artwork/agLmR>.
Pillon, K 2018, ‘City Chase’, ArtStation, viewed 14th June 2020, <https://www.artstation.com/artwork/Rm25r>.
Sadlos, A 2017, ‘Cyberpunk City’, DeviantArt, viewed 15th June 2020, <https://www.deviantart.com/artursadlos/art/Cyberpunk-City-683952796> .
Sich, D 2012, ‘Dungeons and downloads: collecting tabletop fantasy role-playing games in the age of downloadable PDFs’, Collection Building, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 60-65.
Ulrich, F & Helms, NH 2017, ‘CREATING EVALUATION PROFILES FOR GAMES DESIGNED TO BE FUN: An Interpretive Framework for Serious Game Mechanics’, Simulation & Gaming, vol. 48, no. 5, pp. 695-714.
Wieland, R 2020, ‘A Beginner’s Guide To Cyberpunk Games’, Forbes, viewed 15th June 2020, <https://www.forbes.com/sites/robwieland/2020/05/18/a-beginners-guide-to-cyberpunk-games/#3f465d51402c>.
Wizards of the Coast 2018, ‘Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dungeons’, Dungeons & Dragons, viewed 16th June 2020, <https://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/basicrules>.
XANAndy Waltfield N/A, ‘Audiomancer – / tg / – Traditional Games’, 4chan / SupTG, viewed 16th June 2020, <http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/2714934/>.
Zimmerman, A 2016, ‘Scythe review: The most-hyped board game of 2016 delivers’, Ars Technica, viewed 17th June 2020, <https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2016/07/scythe-the-most-hyped-board-game-of-2016-delivers/>.