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Paranormal Friction, Patreon, and Playing Games with Christopher Helton

My first “mainstream” freelance RPG column came as a result of Chris Helton’s open call for EN World columnists. I pitched him some articles and, as my editor, Chris helped to refine my ideas and skills as we worked together. He taught me a great deal about RPG journalism and guided me through my early days writing about RPGs. He’s moved on from EN World, but he’s still a part of gaming and right now he’s developing a tabletop roleplaying game, Paranormal Friction, through Patreon. As such, I’m excited to reconnect with my friend and talk gaming!

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Chris, it’s been a minute since we talked. How are you? Let’s talk about your project! What is Paranormal Friction?
CHRISTOPER HELTON (CH): Yeah, I think that Gen Con 2018 was the last chance that we really had to talk. I've been flitting here and there, and a couple of months ago I decided that my game Paranormal Friction had just been sitting and gathering dust for too long, so I thought it was time to really do something with it. Paranormal Friction is my game of paranormal romance that is built off of the Fate Accelerated ruleset.

EGG: Before we get into the possibilities and mechanics, let’s talk about the inspiration. What is “Paranormal Romance” and how did it inspire this project?
CH: Paranormal romance is sort of like porn in that you know it when you see. Genre-wise, it is adjacent to urban fantasy literature, which more gamers might be more familiar with. I describe the genre as being like horror, where you have supernatural creatures and elements like magic, but they're treated more like how these things are treated in traditional in traditional fantasy fiction. Instead of elves and orcs and dwarves you have werewolves, vampires and spirits. Paranormal romance then adds an additional layer of romance and relationships to the mix.

EGG: Why Fate? Are you planning any non-Fate mechanics?
CH: Fate is a quick and fairly easy to handle game system, and it takes well to a lot of different genres. For me, an important part of "romance" is relationships between characters and their world. Fate's aspects handles such connections with a minimum of work, and then through the various mechanics of the game you can use those relationships to drive how your character reacts to things in the world. It handles competent characters with weird powers well and it avoids the mechanical problem I have with some games where your competent character still has a pretty significant chance of failure. Failure exists in Fate, but you define it in different ways than "it takes half an hour for my world class thief to open up an old fashioned safe." The system leans more towards properties like Leverage and The Librarians, and I like that.

EGG: In a world of player characters as monsters, who are the villains?
CH: Kind of like in the real world, I don't think that anyone (regardless of their morality) thinks of themselves as monsters. The player characters consider themselves to be the heroes of their stories, I'm sure. But it is a bit more complicated than a horror game where characters are overcoming their bestial natures, the players characters want to be better people and often times that means wanting to help out your friends, making your community a better place. It is like Angel trying to rekindle his soul, or Lucifer trying to figure out if he is made for more than just punishing people after they're sent to Hell.

EGG: While there’s an implied setting, you’ve written this to be a Fate toolkit in a way. How do you see it being used at the player’s home game?
CH: A lot of that will depend on how people want to play their home game. Fate is a game that has customization for the play group built right into its DNA. While I present setting material in broad strokes, it is also meant to be a foundation that each group builds upon to make the setting that they want to play in. Or it lets them adapt from other sources. It is pretty simple to rephrase your favorite novels, comics or movies into Fate terminology. But while I present the bones, it is then up to the groups to build their own world from those bones. I am not a fan of metaplot and I would much rather just let groups do their thing. I think that most groups will anyway.

EGG: You’re a champion of inclusiveness, and I want to thank you for fighting the good fight. “Romance” is a beautiful and special part of life; however, some individuals intentionally misconstrue “romance” and leverage it to terrible ends. In a Paranormal Romance RPG, how are you advising GMs and players to conduct themselves so everyone has a fun and comfortable time?
CH: One of the first things that I talk about in the book, on this concept, is that the play group should all be on the same page regarding how they want to approach "romance" in their games. If everyone wants to build up to things and then do a fade to black that is perfectly okay. But the main idea is how romance and relationships drive your characters and connect them to the greater world around them. But a lot of it for Paranormal Friction has to do with how these feelings and connections and relationships drive your character. I think that the default state for most people, fictional or otherwise, is to want to be left alone, but that makes for a boring role-playing game session. That means finding ways to motivate your character into wanting to act, and few motivations are as primal as romantic ones.

EGG: Among the groups you’ve promoted is ConTessa. Do you see Paranormal Friction as one of the games that would be a good fit at their gaming events?
CH: I am the public relations director for ConTessa. Doing things like drafting statements and helping to determine our public reaction to things happening in our gaming communities is a big part of my job. Our goal as an organization is to work towards gaming spaces that are safer (there's really no way to make any space completely safe, but we want for them to be as safe as they possibly can be) and more diverse. A big part of the diversity that gaming needs, in my personal opinion, beyond the obvious need for greater variety in the ethnic backgrounds of gamers and designers, is that we need to hear voices talking about genres that go beyond what is already being done over and again. We have more and more traditional fantasy games every month. There are plenty of horror games out there already. What we also need are for people to make games about the things that interest them outside of the handful of genres that are already over represented in published games. I have shelves full of other games that I like to play that already address a lot of these genres, so my motivation with Paranormal Friction was to make a game for the things that I wasn't seeing. Hopefully other people will see that they can do the same.

EGG: For backers of your Patreon, you’re giving them access to Paranormal Friction immediately. How playable is this version of your game?
CH: The game is playable as it is. There are still bits and pieces that I am developing, but there's nothing that stops people from playing with the game as it is. Most of what I want to plug into the game at this point are worked examples that show the math so that people can see how they can get their own ideas from concept to implementation within the rules. All backers, regardless of their funding level, get access to the full rules as they are developed. Higher paying backers will get access to more, like the sample settings as I develop them, and everyone will get access to blog posts where I will talk about influences on the game, and discussion about the things that can be done with the rules. There is also a Discord server, where I hope to develop the community, and where people will be able to run games via voice and video chat.

EGG: Why sneak peek this game through Patreon instead of rolling it out now? Or going to Kickstarter?
CH: It takes a lot of time and effort to make a game, even a small game. The idea with the Patreon is to make some money that will let me carve out the time to write, to think and to develop. In addition to polishing up my implementation of the rules I want to write some sample campaign frames that groups can either use as the start of their own games, or that they can dissect to see how to build their own campaigns. I see Paranormal Friction as a DIY toolkit that groups can then customize to be able to create their stories in the worlds that they want to interact with. Plus, by doing it this way I hope to build a community around Paranormal Friction that will let me eventually do bigger things, like eventually do a Kickstarter to pay for art, graphic design, developmental editing and all the fun stuff that goes into making a finalized game. So, while Paranormal Friction is playable as it is right now, it isn't in the final form that I have planned that will let me make a ready for primetime game out of it.

EGG: Where can fans learn more about you and your project?
CH: Either the Patreon page for this project, or at my blog Dorkland. I also talk about a lot of different things related to gaming, and non-gaming topics, on my Twitter account: @dorkland. Thank you for talking with me, and letting me prattle about my game. I hope that readers will be intrigued and decide to check out, and back my project.

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