The Red Star: An Interview with Nils Hintze and Erik Hylander

A Falling Mind is a three-part adventure series for Odd Soot, a d100 Mythras Imperative driven RPG. The first part, The Red Star, is available now. In Odd Soot, humanity reached the stars in the 1920s but an alien plague without a cure now threatens civilization. Player characters have tragic backgrounds but impressive talents. Nils Hintze and Erik Hylander, The Red Star authors, were kind enough to talk to me about this adventure series. My interview with Clarence Redd, author of Odd Soot, about The Comae Engine, will follow in a week or so.

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Yet there are moments when the walls of the mind grow thin; when nothing is unabsorbed, and I could fancy that we might blow so vast a bubble that the sun might set and rise in it and we might take the blue of midday and the black of midnight and be cast off and escape from here and now.Virginia Woolf, The Waves

CD: Thanks for talking with me about A Falling Mind and the first adventure, The Red Star. Please tell us what kind of characters players will be playing in the campaign, what might they experience, and what will they be investigating?
Nils Hintze
(NH): The overall story is “borrowed” from the Tintin comic The Shooting Star – a meteor is about to crash down and, perhaps, destroy the world as we know it. As it grows bigger in the sky, strange things happen to people all around. Not only are some people forming doomsday cults and start preaching about the end of the world, but others are having strange sensations – a psychological state called Fraction. The characters are everyday people who have bonds to each other, and who will find themselves linked to both the meteor and the effects of it. From the start, none of them have been to space and they have probably not met many aliens. The campaign starts with few odd ingredients but becomes stranger and more alien for each scenario. The player characters will probably also be changed by this journey, themselves becoming alienated from their former lives.
Erik Hylander (EH): The first scenario uses this situation to draw the characters into investigating events related to the approaching meteor – because they all know someone affected by Fraction, or they are affiliated to a place where the effects of social upheaval are seen. It specifically sets up the players characters in one of three starting points based on a Circle of their choice, which can either be selected from suggestions in the adventure, or tailored to suit the character. In that way each starting point will provide a specific entry into the scenario.

CD: The campaign consists of three adventures. Without giving too much away, what does each adventure cover and how do they connect?
NH:
One thing we wanted to do was to write a campaign that has a distinct mood and which is about “real” people, instead of comic book heroes – and which at the same time uses different scenario structures for each scenario. This way, the experience of playing them will be varied, and the story will be portrayed from three different angles, as if having different directors for three different episodes of a TV series. The first scenario is a classic mystery scenario, where the characters meet people, examine strange things and try to stop a catastrophe that is about to happen. At the same time, hostile people will try to influence and even attack them. There is room for using the player characters’ backstories and the NPCs from their Circles (friends, relatives etc.).
EH: The second scenario continues to build on the story of the first, where the characters are asked to share the insights they gained from their experiences by competing parties that want to continue the investigations. Without saying too much, this will mean a choice between three different and mutually exclusive ways forward, which we hope will feel like genuine choices – with different pros and cons and where the motivations of the characters can really come into play. Each choice will then lead to a fishtanky scenario in an enclosed setting. The characters need to navigate external hazards, internal conflicts and unforeseen complications, all the while trying to reach their goal as quickly as possible. And by the end they will have a chance to arrive at their destination in a better or worse position – depending on the actions of the player characters.
NH: The third scenario is a sandbox scenario taking place in an alien landscape. The player characters are racing against time and must go on expeditions in a hostile environment to try to understand what is going on and stop it. This part is definitely the most difficult and dangerous. But even if the player characters do not succeed, the campaign will still have a dramatic and fun ending, which may propel the characters into new adventures. Maybe in space.
EH: And it should be pointed out that the outcome of the second scenario will have continuous repercussions in the third, and that it is written to accommodate the different possible entry points.

CD: What is the theme for A Falling Mind and what is the best way for a GM to invoke that theme?
NH:
Well, I think the illness called the Odd Soot, which the game is about, points to how the mind and the personality may become changed without us wanting it, or even understanding it. Such as when someone gets dementia or a psychosis. We humans have a very firm belief of a “self”, a core in our personality – which is probably an illusion. I would say that the campaign builds on this theme, how the mind is changeable and how we can lose ourself and become something other – without us controlling it. These themes are a part of the NPCs and creatures that the characters will meet, but also the state Fraction, which is caused by the meteor. It makes people “fall out of their minds”. Also, the player character may be affected by Fraction. I think it would be fun to focus a lot, in game, on how the player characters are changed from the events they encounter, and really discuss this with the players between sessions. What was the impact of the things that happened last time we played?
EH: The adventures provide a kind of countdown of Fraction, where the GM (with the cooperation of the players for those that enjoy this) can create a set of effects for the specific character afflicted, going from one stage to the next, which we think will help make the theme come alive, so to say.

CD: Nils, I saw your positive endorsement of Odd Soot as well as the opening Virginia Woolf quote. When you two were writing A Falling Mind what tone did you want to tap into and what mood might this tone create for gaming groups?
NH:
We wrote for players who want a serious tone at the table. This a campaign for those who really want to try to portray a real person. Of course, there can be humor in the game, but I don’t think this is the right story for a group who wants to meet up, eat pretzels, drink beer and throw some dice. There is definitely a sad tone to the story.
EH: Well, I agree. To expand, the campaign as mentioned introduces the fantastic elements slowly and let them build through the first and second parts. Though there are supernatural developments and aliens they are for a long period a backdrop and the focus is on more mundane problems, which helps create that grounded and real feeling.

CD: Circles are groups of people in Odd Soot with a percentage score that represents respect and affection for positive Circles and dislike or hatred for negative Circles. How do the players use a Circle to bind their PCs together for these adventures?
EH:
That is a thing we emphasized more and more as the writing progressed, working the Circles into the narrative. As we said, each character should start the campaign attached to one of three starting points, ideally through a Circle. The first scenario provides examples of pre-generated characters that each come with a defined Circle that matches this – for players to use straight up or as inspirations for creating their own. And then the group is encouraged to create a common Circle that works as the glue between the characters – again with an example from the pre-generated characters. This Circle will propel them to cooperate and the basis for continuing into part two.

CD: Do you have any music choices that fit for A Falling Mind and what would you recommend?
NH:
Personally, I think the instrumental pieces from Bowies Heroes work great, and maybe the album Chet Baker Sings.
CD: Where can fans go to find Odd Soot as well as your other work?
NH:
Go to FrostByte Books for Odd Soot and Clarence’s other games, and Free League for other things I have written. There will soon be a kickstarter for my latest game, The Walking Dead Universe Roleplaying Game.
EH: My other writings are also at Free League and under Free League Work Shop (drivethrurpg.com).

CD: Any final comments you’d like to share with the readers of EN World?
NH:
We are very eager to hear what different players make of the campaign – and how they interpret the world of Odd Soot. Hopefully, we will be able to read summarizes of actual play. And we are of course eager for Clarence to publish more material for the game, expanding and digging deeper in the setting. Odd Soot really has a unique tone which we hope more people will have a chance to experience.
 
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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

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