Venture Society: An Interview With Heather O’Neill (9th Level Games)

9th Level Games has a new all-ages RPG coming to Kickstarter (with an advance preview at Backerkit). Venture Society helps kids and educators with stories and social interactions. 9th Level Games’ Heather O’Neill, lead designer of Venture Society, agreed to answer my questions about the RPG, who is working on it, and how it will help young gamers and educators.

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EGG EMBRY (EGG): Thanks for talking with me about your next project. What’s the pitch for the Venture Society?
HEATHER O’NEILL (HEATHER)
: In this world of animals, the regions used to be at war with each other. Thankfully brave animals from each region united for peace and formed the Venture Society. You and your friends will play as newly inducted members ready to start making a difference! Venture Society is an all ages, non-violent RPG focusing on building communication, social, and emotional skills.

EGG: This RPG is Powered by Polymorph. For those that don’t know, how does that system work?
HEATHER
: Polymorph is a one-die-per-player system where your ROLE is your ROLL. If you are the d6 you are one type of character class while a d10 is another. There is never any math, instead there are set numbers for each stat roll. For example – if you are trying to MOVE you need a 3,4,or 5 regardless of which die type you have. If you roll 3,4,or 5 you succeed. Also, the GM never rolls so the focus is on the players and leans more narrative. You can learn more about the system here.

EGG: At Origins Game Fair 2021, I played a Powered by Polymorph game, The Excellents. At Gen Con 2022, I was able to run a table at 9th Level Games’ MAZES at MIDNIGHT. In my experience, the Polymorph system is direct, easy to explain, and great for convention play. What about this system’s qualities make it right for Venture Society?
HEATHER
: Your comments about it being easy to explain is the main reason it works well for Venture Society. This game will mostly be run by parents, teachers, therapists, or children so having very straightforward, easy to understand rules is key. Also, character creation and gameplay is quick; they can get started fast and finish in under an hour.

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EGG: Who is the target audience for this RPG?
HEATHER
: The target audience is families with children ages 5-12 looking to bring the whole family to the roleplaying table. Our secondary audience is professionals like teachers, therapists, librarians, or counselors looking to use the game as part of their daily work.

EGG: Who is the creative team behind this project?
HEATHER
: I am the lead designer for Venture Society. Back in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic I reached out to two play therapist friends who have been extremely interested in tailoring an RPG to their needs. Dr. Brian Quinones and Timothy Grant are the owners of GATE, Gaming Approaches Towards Education. Later we brought in Erin Gilbert, a 4th grade teacher and director of creative writing youth programs. We’ve also got a slew of RPG designers, therapists, teachers, and parents writing adventures for Venture Society.

EGG: I’ve read that this RPG is “designed on principles of SOCIAL EMOTIONAL LEARNING” and that it’s “defined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL).” Can you walk us through what that entails?
HEATHER
: It sounds complicated but it really isn’t. We designed Venture Society to be a fun, non-violent game about helping the community. It just so happens that our focus is on building the players’ communication, social, and emotions skills (such as following directions, self-control, and empathy).

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EGG: There’s “at least one non-dice rolling encounter” in each scenario. What will that add in terms of CASEL?
HEATHER
: The non-dice rolling encounter is less about CASEL/SEL itself and more about bringing the focus of the players back to the table. Even though we planned all adventures to only take 30-45 minutes, sometimes that is still too long for a child’s attention span. By adding a fun activity such as a maze, a coloring sheet, a word search, or a puzzle the players re-engage with the game.

EGG: Let’s talk about some of the options available with this campaign. First up, you are offering a bonus to anyone that signs up early, correct?
HEATHER
: Yes, anyone who signs up on our landing page and backs for at least $20 will get a free Quick Start Adventure Prompt Card Deck. This is a deck of non-player characters, locations, and problems. The GM can simply draw 1 NPC, 1 location, and 1 problem to create an instant adventure. Sign up here.

EGG: You have a boxed set of this available. What does it include?
HEATHER
: The boxed version of Venture Society is really what our focus is on for this Kickstarter. It includes a ton of useful and high quality components including: The RPG Guidebook, the Professional’s Guidebook, a spiral-bound standing adventure book, 6 dice, 6 dry erase character sheet mats, 6 dry erase markers, quick start rules, adventure prompt cards, a non-verbal action card deck, and tokens.
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EGG: Tell me what to expect with the “Professional Therapist & Teacher Guidebooks”?
HEATHER
: The professional guidebook will house all relevant information for therapists and teachers using this game as a tool in their given profession. This way the professional can take that book out of the box and bring the game into the classroom or office with very little references to the fact that this could be a game used for teaching or therapy.

EGG: Beyond this project, what else is on the horizon?
HEATHER
: Well, 9th Level Games has a lot going on as usual. We’ve got two stand alone books in The Excellents Awesome World line coming out this Fall - Horseshoe Academy (Horses in high school) and Nancy Druid (Druid Scouts solving crimes). Early 2023 look for Wrastlevania (wrestlers vs. Dracula) and Sentai & Sensibility (regency era women squadron).

EGG: I do not believe I could love the titles of some RPGs more than I love those! Nancy Druid for the win! Thanks for talking with me! Where can fans learn more about this project?
HEATHER
: The best place to go for all Venture Society information is [here] and for the upcoming Kickstarter here.

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Venture Society Roleplaying Game from 9th Level Games
  • “An all ages, non-violent RPG focusing on building communication, social, & emotional skills. Join the Venture Society today!”
Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.
 

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Egg Embry

Egg Embry

My only experience with the Polymorph system is with The Very Good Dogs of Chernobyl. It's a fascinating intersection of class, dice, and task resolution. It takes a moment to grok, but once you do it is very simple.
 


SEL sounds like hippie-dippie stuff, as my mom might say, but it's been shown to be really impactful for children's academic success and behavioral and disciplinary issues. Having SEL baked in is a big deal for an RPG aimed at kids.
 

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