It’s no secret that we at The Redacted Files are huge fans of the Cypher System. So we were quite thrilled when Shanna Germain, Monte Cook Games co-founder and developer behind the new project No Thank You, Evil! agreed to answer a few questions for us about this project that launched on Kickstarter last Wednesday.
What inspired you to create a game designed and made for kids and families? What are your goals for No Thank You, Evil!?
The idea originally started with the name. When one of the kids in the MCG family was about a year old, she attended a day care that taught the kids that instead of screaming “NOO!” at the top of their lungs, they could politely say, “No, thank you.” Which resulted in the predictable screaming of “NO THANK YOU!” at the top of their lungs every time a disagreement arose.
When she saw a trailer for the upcoming X-Men movie on a store TV, and asked what it was, her dad tried to find a non-complicated way to explain superheroes and secret identities to a one-year-old, and finally just said, “They’re fighting evil, honey.”
So she raised a pointed finger, shook it sternly at the nearest TV, and with all her gravity told it, “NO THANK YOU, EVIL!”
When we heard that story, we said, “We should make a kids’ game and call it that!” and we all agreed and then we went back to working on our current projects. But then we started hearing from all of these players who were playing Numenera with their kids and loving it. Reading the blogs and essays from parents who were spending their family time playing Numenera (and later, The Strange) was inspiring and informative. Then we started getting drawings of characters, letters from young players, and papercrafts of creatures in our mailboxes and inboxes. It quickly became clear that many gamers with kids wanted to bring their families into the fold. So it seemed like a great opportunity to create a game that was designed just for that experience of bringing the family together around the table.
I think it’s super cool that you account for the age differences that you have in a family for character creation; for example a six year old playing a princess while a ten year old might play a super smart princess who experiments with science. Does this lead to an inequality to what they can do with their characters?
Playing at a higher level increases the complexity and variety for the player by providing more choices, but it doesn’t make your character “better.” In a story-drive game like No Thank You, Evil! the creativity of the player is the key; no matter what type of character you have, if you can think of it, you can try it—and potentially succeed.
Of course, what we’re really finding is that some six-year-olds want to play the same way that their older siblings are playing. And when you give kids that opportunity, they really rise to the challenge. So it works both ways – the younger player gets to feel smart because she’s playing with the older kids, and the older kids get to feel cool because they’re helping the younger players learn and understand the game.
In Numenera and The Strange you have three core classes the players can choose from. Is this the same in NTYE, or can the players choose any sort of class they want?
The character types in No Thank You, Evil! are mechanically much simpler, so it’s easy to offer more of them. So there are a larger number of core options–Spy, Superhero, Princess/Prince, Robot and others–and there are mechanical differences between them, but it’s mostly about flavor. So you can be a Spy, and use all the stats and special skills from the Spy, but actually call yourself a thief or a ninja or name yourself after your favorite cartoon spy. Nothing changes except the name. We wanted to make sure that players could play anything they wanted without making that variety a burden on the person running the game.
It’s a good way to introduce players to the concept of roleplaying, because at first they can emulate their favorite TV, movie or book character, but eventually they will leap into their own creations. We wanted to make sure there was room for all of that.
At TRF we are very invested in accessible gaming and supporting companies that care about the same. One of the things that caught our eye about this system (besides being a Cypher System game) is the emphasis you’ve put on making it accessible to players with color-blindness, dyslexia, visual-impairment, and autism. What inspired you to design your game with these kids in mind?
I come from a family that is deeply invested in helping all kids learn and have fun. My grandmother was a school librarian, my mom works with children with special needs, and my sister is a teacher. My family has a farm, and when I was young, we participated in The Fresh Air Fund, a non-profit that provides children from low-income communities in New York City with the opportunity to spend time on farms. As a kid, I couldn’t understand how someone didn’t know the difference between a cow and a goat. But of course, I learned that there was so much I didn’t know about their world too.
All of which is to say that I really believe that the younger generations will do better, greater things than we will—if they’re just given the opportunity. So I wanted to make sure No Thank You, Evil! was as accessible to as many young people as possible. It’s not that hard to open those doors, but it does take some work and attention. The most difficult part, I think, is that there is no “right answer” for making a game more accessible. For example, we looked at all the research on fonts, trying to find the most readable font for players with dyslexia. And the results were all over the board. Even the fonts designed for dyslexia didn’t work well for some readers. The same is true for players on the autism spectrum. Some children are highly verbal, others aren’t. Some are social, others aren’t. You can’t make a single solution that fits everyone.
So in all of these cases, the goal was to do as much research as we could—reading, but also making sure to include players with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, dyslexia, etc. in our playtests—and then choose the best options. Picking a font that seems to work well for most players, and staying away from known issues like italics and complicated backgrounds, for example. And giving players options: you can be verbal or not, you can be social or not, and none of that penalizes you during game play. In fact, you’re rewarded for being creative within your own comfort level and skill set.
We’ve been huge fans of how the cypher system makes tabletop gaming so accessible for the visually-impaired: was that a conscious decision on your part or just a biproduct of your design philosophy?
Thank you so much! I think that it has a lot to do with the lenses that we use when we’re looking at the confluence of game design and player interaction. Our goal is to make it easy to say yes, to take away impediments to fun, and to give players and GMs exactly what they need, but no more. I think when you have a goal of making a game that is accessible for anyone who wants to play it, then those kinds of things happen as a natural byproduct of that philosophy. Which then makes the game even more accessible. It’s like the world’s best domino affect.
Can you explain some of the ways you plan to make games accessible to people with disabilities?
I mentioned dyslexia and autism earlier. We’re also working to make sure that we’re using colors, shapes, and symbols that are good for people with color-blindness. Fonts are a big one—so many RPG books are beautiful, but hard to read. We’re trying to make things beautiful and readable.
For No Thank You, Evil! in particular, we’re also making the game playable with almost no reading or writing on the player’s part. If reading, writing, or drawing is something they love, then they can absolutely do that, but if not, they can use tokens, symbols, and cards instead. We’re making dice and tokens in a size and shape that are easy to grasp and we’re looking into braille supplements for the character sheets, tokens, and cards.
For me, another important part of accessibility for people with disabilities is visibility. So we also have characters in our world and in the art who have visible physical disabilities. One of our Superhero characters is in a souped-up wheelchair. And we have a another character with an artificial limb. This is so important because it makes players with disabilities feel included—they can see themselves, right there on the page—but it also helps the other players develop human empathy and understanding. When both of those pieces come together, that’s how we start to really create an inclusive, supportive culture.
Do you feel that the tabletop gaming genre has become more inclusive over the last few years? Is it an “easier” community to be a part of now than when you started?
It’s kind of hard for me to say for sure, because I’ve been very lucky in my own experiences. I never felt excluded when I was playing games as a teenager. My gender, my sexual orientation—none of that mattered to the people I played with. Even now, most my experiences have been positive and supportive. But I know that’s not true for everyone.
I think everyone has had a different experience with regards to inclusion. Your gender, race, sexual orientation, experience level, location – all of these can impact that. I’d love to say that we’ve moved past that, that everyone can feel welcome and safe at every table, but I know that would be blind optimism on my part. I do think that many people are working harder to be more inclusive, to create safe spaces for everyone at the table, and to create a welcoming, positive environment. But it’s a process, and often a cyclical one, so two steps forward, one step back.
What was the most inclusive gaming experience you’ve ever had?
Any game that treats all of the players like players. Without expectations or presuppositions based on the players’ gender, race, appearance or anything else. If a game isn’t like that, then I do my best to help turn it that way via education.
What are some of the major changes between NTYE and the other Cypher System games?
No Thank You, Evil! has a more whimsical sensibility, with just a bit of a dark edge for older players. It’s also stripped down to the bare essentials, allowing players a lot of flexibility within the rules, while making it easy for even younger GMs to run the game. The game also uses a d6 instead of a d20. This allows the game mechanics to never be more complex than subtracting or adding 1 to a single digit number, which most kids at four or five can do pretty easily. And there are tokens to help with that visually as well.
What are the rewards for backing this Kickstarter?
So far, we have a couple of different options: the PDF version of the game, the basic version of the game, and the KS deluxe version. The basic and KS deluxe version include the rulebook, an adventure book (that was added for our first stretch goal), dice, tokens, cards, and character sheets. The deluxe version also gets you extra cool stuff—next up if we hit our stretch goal is reuseable character sheets. We have a lot of ideas for additional stretch goals, which I’m really excited about!
What has been your favorite part of this project so far?
Watching the kids playtest the game. They get so excited and they are so creative. They just blow my mind with the ideas they come up with, and how willing they are to just slip right into being a character. Roleplaying is something they do all the time anyway—if you just give them some guidance and a problem to solve, they can just take off with it and do incredible things.
I know you have the Cypher System Core book coming out this year. Any other exciting releases coming out?
We’ll have Worlds Numberless and Strange coming out at the same time as the Cypher System corebook later this summer. Worlds Numberless and Strange is the worldbook for The Strange, and just like the Ninth World Guidebook, it’s stuffed with art and maps and all kinds of wonderful new places. Closer to the fall, we’ll have Into the Night – a Numenera book that looks beyond the Ninth World into the far-away places of the sky.
We can’t thank Shanna enough for sitting down and answering our questions. We wish her and No Thank You, Evil! every success! You can find the Kickstarter here! It has already been funded and runs through June 17, 2015.