Interview: Paul S. Riddle (Undying)

I’d like to start with whom and what Enigma Machinations represent. Could you share with us how the company first came to be and what eventually led to the conceptualization of your successfully “Undying” world?

I started Enigma Machinations this year to publish Undying and to publish future games as well. It became clear a couple of years ago that Undying would be commercially viable. Taking the next step to publishing brings in costs, revenue, profits (hopefully), and taxes. To better organize and account for producing Undying, I felt it advantageous to form a company.

How I came up with the name for Enigma Machinations: my last name is Riddle, so I’ve obviously been called the “Riddler” before, so Riddle-> Riddler -> Mr. E. Nigma -> Enigma -> Enigma Machine -> Enigma Machinations. The last bit adds in a little cryptography, but the Enigma Machine is essentially a typewriter and that, well the modern computer form any way, is my primary instrument for game publishing.

2. On the subject of “Undying”, can you describe what it is that sets it apart from other roleplaying games?

Undying takes the best parts of vampire roleplaying and condenses them into a simple and elegant gameplay experience. Undying’s diceless mechanics really hum and the four stats: blood, debt, humanity, and status continually reinforce the tone and themes of predation and intrigue.

3. Would you be willing to give us a brief overview of what we can expect during a typical session of “Undying”? What is the order of operations during a normal cycle of play?

Your first session of Undying starts with character creation. Then the GM describes a conflict that has or is about to disrupt the whole predator power structure. This is called nightly play. You play through these catastrophic events in real time – feeding to take blood and spending blood to do terrible vampire things. Things like, turning into a bat or summoning the dark forces of hell, all of which lead to your ascension and the ruin of your enemies.

Once the dust settles, you switch to downtime play, where years, decades, or even centuries fly by. During downtime play, you plot and scheme using a different set of rules. The downtime play rules provide a structure for predators to interfere with each other and to set up the next conflict. Then, it’s back to nightly play to resolve the conflict. The cycles of nightly play and downtime play repeat every session or two as you explore hundreds or thousands of years of immortality in just a few sessions.

4. “Undying” lets you create your own predator as they’re called in-world. How is it that players go about doing this and what sort of predators are available during creation?

You start by picking a playbook: Devil, Nightmare, Puppet Master, Sensualist, or Wolf. If you’re familiar with Apocalypse World or other PbtA games, then there’s nothing new here.

Next, you choose your character’s status and starting humanity. Status and humanity are fictional prompts that help you understand how your character fits into the predator power structure and how they act towards people – the prey. Humanity and status are also stats and they affect the outcome of the rules in the same way that strength or dexterity might in other genres. As far as your character’s status goes, you start at the bottom –plebeian or pariah – and have to work your way up from there.

Then, you integrate your character into the relationship map by exchanging debts with other predators. The relationship map, R-map for short, is the one stop shop for pertinent details of all the predators in the community. Each predator’s status, debts, grudges, and hunting grounds are on display for everyone to see and build on.

Debts work like strings, if you’re familiar with Monster Hearts. Debt is a favor you owe to another predator or that another predator owes you. As you fill in the R-Map with characters, these debts form an interlocking web of dependencies that makes the politics of the predator community felt and gritty.

5. As a follow-up to the last question, are the players ever able to create any sort of advanced predators during gameplay or do they gradually level up as characters do in many other games?

You always create characters that start at the bottom so they have somewhere to grow. There are four discrete status levels between the very top and the very bottom. These levels are, from top to bottom: Princeps (the ruling predator), Patrician, Plebeian, and Pariah. Most players will choose to start at plebeian, because it’s the highest status you can choose in character creation and it is the lowest status where you have rights in the predator community.

In Undying, you don’t “level up” in the traditional sense. Your status is determined by fictional positioning, meaning that, if you want Princeps status, then you probably need to overthrow the current Princeps. Conversely, if you overthrow the current Princeps, then your status will probably change to Princeps. The GM decides where you stand among your peers and sets your status accordingly at least once a session. Each playbook also has a unique move that allows them to gain patrician status.

6. Your system puts a separation on player and GM responsibilities as well. Would you care to define what you feel to be the primary differences are between the two [GM and Player responsibilities]?

Undying uses a tried and true model here. The players each advocate for their character and the GM describes the world and everyone else in it. Undying continues the Apocalypse World tradition by giving players total control over their characters’ thoughts and actions and gives the GM the same control over NPCs and the rest of the world. Also taken from AW, the players steer the ship. The GM isn’t responsible for an overarching plot. Instead, the GM makes the consequences of the player characters’ actions (or inactions) felt and to present a dark, colorful setting to engage the players’ imagination.

7. What was it like to work with such a talented team while working to complete “Undying”?

It has been and continues to be a pleasure! I’d like to give special thanks to my artists El Tio Drake and Nate Marcel, my design guru John Harper, editors Lillian Cohen-Moore and Ryan Macklin, and to my wonderful stretch goal designers who include Jason Morningstar, Federico Totti, and more to be announced. I am very fortunate to have support of so many talented people and I think that the game really shines because of it!

8. How does it feel to have something of your own creation succeed on such a grand scale?

It feels great! I couldn’t believe that I funded on the first day! That day was a wild ride. The Kickstarter has been making steady progress ever since and I’m hoping for a pick-up in sales on the final few days.

Most of all, as a personal accomplishment, I’m looking forward to have a copy of the game on my bookshelf and I hope that everyone backing the game will enjoy playing it!

9. Finally, for people still on the fence about backing, what would you say are the strongest benefits to backing Enigma Machinations and their “Undying” project?

If you’re on the fence, I really hope you check out the free text version of the game that’s available through the Kickstarter page, here.

It’s all there and in final form, so if you’re wondering how the game will turn out, you can see for yourself! You can also check out the Google hangouts game I ran on Indie+ if you want to see how it works at the table. Links are available through the backer updates here.

I’d also strongly encourage anyone who’s thinking that the hardcover might be worth getting to back the hardcover. I’ve got a beautiful, limited edition book in the works and when you see it, you’ll wish you had it and this is your only chance to get it.

 

Written by Robert Beasley