Gavriel Quiroga is a game designer and self-publisher from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
He has written and published Neurocity (which I’ve reviewed here) and Warpland (which I can’t wait to receive!), and he’s currently crowdfunding Ascet on Kickstarter, not a RPG but a “minimalist playing card game with roleplaying overtones”.
His games, in my eyes, share a sombre (if not straight on dark) view of the world, or at least offer a bleak view of their worlds. Let’s find out if Gavriel is a gloomy person too!
1 Hello Gavriel. Let’s talk about Ascet straight away. It’s a card game ok, so tell us how it works!
Hello Giuseppe. Well, Ascet is a card game with RPG characteristics. In it players take turns to interpret ascetic monks seeking enlightenment while the rest of the players play the part of demons which will lure them with temptations. It has a minimal character creation and it uses a d8 and a d10, each temptation comes with a small beautiful short description to set the mood of the game. During each turn, the player playing the ¨Ascet¨ needs to choose one of the offered Temptation and roll a result equal or below the Virtue being affected (there are four) if he is successful he will ascend one step in the Stairway towards Enlightenment. Whoever ascends the five steps first wins the game.
2 Now I want to know how role-play gets into the game!
The game requires that you make a very minimal character creation distributing 20 points between your four Virtues (Temperance, Humility, Faith and Compassion) and each Temptation comes with a small descriptive story about how the conflict occurs, so you really get the feeling of being a protagonist. There are also unique special effects cards which cause unpredictable consequences in the game like ¨Lost in the Desert¨ which makes you lose a round or ¨Darkness¨ which allows Demons to play their cards upside down. Furthermore, interpreting Demons is also mechanically appropriate and suitable for scheming and plotting, there is a lot of diplomacy involved in the game. Each player is essentially handling two opposite characters that act as two sides of the same coin.
3 Let’s talk about your published RPGs. Both Neurocity and Warpland share the same basic rules system. Would you explain the core of it for our readers? Can we expect more games with the same system?
Sure! It basically is a 2d6 roll under the stat which creates a complication if you roll 1/1 or 6/6 and is considered a critical success for any successful roll of 8 and above. It also has a damage within the attack roll included (highest rolled number + weapon damage) and I stole Black Hack´s initiative system. That is it. No classes, just skills, you get a negative modifier if you try to do something you are not skilled at and 4 attributes: Might, Agility, Wits and Lore. You also have Willpower that acts as something that enables a single dice reroll and is similar to heroic feats.
I think the beauty of the system is both its simplicity and flexibility. I am perfectly aware that learning a new system is something that few players want to do. Many are just looking for a setting to use with their systems. So I consciously made an effort to design something that was super easy to understand and present it as optional, use it if you like it! I was surprised to find out that our playtesters are effectively including it for their own setting.
4 One thing that struck me in particular with Neurocity is that the book offers more than one possible reason for the game world being what it is. I think that’s the first game that offers such a possibility for the GM to actually choose the true, secret nature and the founding event of the game world. This intrigues me to no end. How did you come to think of that? Did you first think of one “official” version, but weren’t satisfied with it, or what?
Neurociy offers 6 possibilities as to what is its origins and Warpland presents 3 possible different ways in which that setting is tied with Neurocity.
Truth is nobody knows what Warpland is, is it earth? is it another planet? Who are the Eloi? The book is filled with queues and hints that stir curiosity. I think I am very influenced by Gene Wolfe and Raymond Carver, both authors from different genres, but who were masters of the craft of leaving space for mystery to brood. This causes the reader to be involved with the world, and it creates a creative communion, he is now naturally and effortlessly obliged to make his own theories and presumptions about it and that makes the setting so much richer and personal. We all know that always happens with RPGs, we know that my Dragonlance or Mork Borg won´t be the same as yours. So instead of struggling to be painfully specific with details I decided I wanted to embrace that collaborative aspect of RPGs and just concentrate on feeling and aesthetics circulating around powerful themes. Show, not tell. I think that is more or less the ideology behind it.
5 You have two games published and one being funded these days, all of them financed on Kickstarter. Crowdfunding has become more and more important for RPGs. Do you see that changing anytime soon? How would YOU like things to change?
Crowdfunding allows me to live doing what I love. It is a great tool. My only criticism is I wish the community was more conscious that it is a platform for independent creators, artists and small companies. Personally, I feel embarrassed when I see huge corporations launching campaigns for their products and people jumping to finance something that does not need financing. I think we need to draw a line there. Still I feel the schism between mainstream RPGs and, let's call it indie RPGs or the new OSR movement, is bigger and greater than ever, and I think the approach to gaming is so different that both scenes might eventually become considered different things entirely.
6 I know you are currently working on several games. I heard you are working on a game with motorbikes, demons and stoner rock. What can you tell us about it?
It will be called Hell Night and we are having a blast playing it with my playgroup! The project will be presented immediately after Ascet is done. I wanted to make an original premise in an original setting. Hell Night will be inspired by Mandy from Panos Cosmatos and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas from Hunter Thompson, and yes, it will be about demonic bikers hunting other fugitive demons on a brutal night in 1992. The aesthetics relies heavily on doom metal cover albums from the 90s and we are already working on the art.
7 What are the inspirations for your worlds? And for your rules? What games would you consider to be influential to your design?
I think we creators need to be a sponge for whatever catches our interest and we need to try to be in contact with whatever it is the Zeitgeist of our time. RPGs give me a chance to express myself and I need to be absolutely critical of everything I do if I want to mingle with sensible, contemporary issues. It is not escapism for me. Roleplaying is an artform, and like many artforms it is linked with entertainment (like theater, music, comics or cinema) but that should not be forcefully associated with banality. On the contrary, games have always been instruments of learning about the world and about ourselves.
I remember Fischer creating Fischer Random chess in order to turn it into a game about logical thinking and creativity instead of memory. Any game you play ends up being influential if you love game mechanics. From Catan to Magic The Gathering, Rising Sun or Risk, I love them all and I enjoy tearing them apart.
If you are open and pay attention you can find inspiration behind anything from a lame talk in a grocery store to an awfully bad B-movie. Stephen King said you can learn more from bad writers than from good ones, and that is the case for almost anything. I think new RPGs like Mork Borg, Troika, Blacksun Deathcrawl and Mothership have also inspired many of us to do our own thing and that is how art should work. Just like the way the Sex Pistols inspired Joy Division, right?
8 If you could buy any franchise/IP for an RPG, which would it be? Tell us about the franchise and the game you’d make.
I would have a hard time owning an established franchise and not ripping it apart and changing it entirely. I had some offers to become part of the writing team for some cool franchises which I have played and admired since childhood, but the truth is that they are not my worlds. I cannot make concessions in my creative process, I cannot respect canon. I would just use what I like about it and shred what I dislike, maybe even change names or events. It would never work and the fans would rightfully hate me!
9 You have published your games with your own independent label. You never considered submitting your stuff to an established publisher?
That might happen in the future. I had some talks with Exalted Funeral and we are pending on a definition on that. Always looking to go beyond drivethrurpg which at the moment is still convenient. Between creation and promotion I do not have the time or energy to deal with the logistics of living in the farthest country in the world (Argentina) and having a warehouse and taking care of the shipping. But I am working on it, it will definitely happen because I want my books to improve and look better.
10 When I interviewed Diogo Niogueira, I wrote that he was the only game designer that I knew from South America. Well, here’s you now. Do you think your origin has affected your games? Have you ever felt as an outsider in the rpg community at large (in a good or bad way)?
Of course any life experience we have affects our creativity. I used to work for a leather distributing company and thus had the chance to travel around the world for 15 years, mainly shoe factories in Asia and the Middle-east. Now I live in a quiet neighborhood in the Buenos Aires suburbs and I do not miss planes one bit.
I have always felt as an outsider in the Argentine RPG community. It is too mainstream focused. I presented some local organizers with an idea to make a monthly fanzine and they just could not understand the appeal behind it. When I published the first version of Neurocity, they were like "Huh, we play lotr". It was honestly discouraging for me. My own playgroup were originally hardcore Pathfinders players until I managed to make them sit down and help me develop my games just as a favor. Now they cannot believe they used to take 30 min to resolve a combat situation, they are never looking back. I wish there was a scene like in Brazil, I see the stuff Diogo posts about Brazilian creators and it is rad. But we do not get that here, hopefully someday!
I have only words of gratitude for the help and interest I have received from the english speaking RPG community. Even with Neurocity, a game I released without a professional proofreader or editor, all I got was words of encouragement. This is the best community ever, period!
11 As usual, they were supposed to be 10, but I have one more question before we say goodbye. Please point us to a song you think we should listen to.
That's easy! The Untouchables, Ennio Morricone's soundtrack. It is a song that speaks about defiance despite overwhelming odds, quite appropriate for these times.
Thank you Gavriel!
Thank you, Giuseppe, for the interview!
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