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Interview: Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games on ‘Thornwatch’

Thornwatch from Lone Shark Games has exploded onto kickstarter with the famous world of the Penny Arcade side-story now on the tabletop. We had a chance to get two cents from Mike Selinker, president of Lone Shark Games and designer on games such as Pathfinder Adventure Card Game and Betrayal at House on the Hill.

thornwatchWhat do you see as the difference between Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories and traditional paper-and-dice tabletop RPGs? How do you seek to bridge that gap?

I love traditional RPGs. I was a creative director on the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons, helped out with Pathfinder, and just overall love them. But they require a ton of work on the part of the gamemaster, who has to be comfortable with bending the rules so that the best story can happen for the campaign. We wanted to remove all of that and still give the Judge something fun to do. So we created a choose-your-own-adventurish system where the Judge can set in motion what she hopes to see happen, but the actions of her and the players make the outcome what it becomes. You get all the feel of an RPG in a board game setting that basically runs itself.

What served as inspiration for the Eyrewood setting, and how did it make its journey from Penny Arcade to Thornwatch?
Mike “Gabe” Krahulik and Jerry “Tycho” Holkins came up with the Eyrewood, an amazing setting for a Side Stories project and somehow it really stuck with the audience. The idea of a magical forest infected by a malevolent Ebb that is protected by boy scout-like Lookouts, powerful druidesses called Daughters, and a summoned band of spiritual warriors called the Thornwatch … well, it was pretty darn cool. So when Mike came up with a game mechanic he called Card Warriorz (with a Z!), he and Jerry wedded it to the Eyrewood and then it just had to be made. We turned out to be the right people to help them make it.
What’s the benefit of using a momentum-based gameplay system?

Oh, tons. The game is designed to be inherently dynamic. With some traditional initiative and damage systems, you create static sequences which require a lot of tracking, note-taking, rulebook lookups, and math. We wanted that all to go away. So we have one system that determines turn order but also determines when monsters get hurt and die, when bad things and good things happen, and who needs to help whom. Since it all goes up again at the end of the round, you have to strategize differently every turn. It’s cool.

How has the game changed through its iterations?
It started as a straight RPG with no momentum track, and was much more like 4th Edition D&D but with lots more cards. But over time, it evolved into the full-on board game experience it is now. It now feels like you are adventuring inside a comic book. Its map has a panel-like effect for 2D pawns in profile, with terrain cards representing “Meanwhile…” narration boxes. Mike K’s ability to draw what’s in his head means every time we iterate a new version, we see a bold new direction come to life.
What’s the coolest part?

I spend a lot of time talking about the game mechanics and the art and such, but my favorite part is being inside Jerry Holkins’s head. When he creates a new element of the Eyrewood—or, for that matter, the work he did on my new Betrayal at House on the Hill expansion “Widow’s Walk,” or on our upcoming game Apocrypha—I get into a totally new place I haven’t been before. But Betrayal and Apocrypha are my places. The Eyrewood is his and Mike’s, and it’s a deep, enriching place to be.

 

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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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