I’ve spent hundreds of hours thinking about all the different aspects of the text of The Tears of a Machine SC. I’ve carefully weighed out my decisions and tinkered endlessly with my word choices (even before my editors saw anything.) I think that’s valuable work – worth sharing, so I’m going to post more of these “director’s cut” blog entries. Hopefully they’ll not only inform but inspire ideas for your own games.
Legulus and Venator
In the basic setting for The Tears of a Machine SC, Earth is first visited by benevolent beings from outer space; the Legulus. They offer to build a high-tech paradise with humanity, in exchange for the use of our brains in their neural network supercomputers. Greed, fear, and xenophobia prevent most of the world from accepting the bargain and the Legulus are driven off. Ten years later, they return but have transformed themselves into the Venator. Now motivated by their own aggression and superiority, they attack the Earth to take what they want.
Why did I write that? Why did I choose to create this backstory? Wouldn’t it just be simpler to have the Venator drop out of the sky and attack? Well, it’s complicated, but it’s the kind of complication I enjoy.
Faceless Foes Are Dull
The invaders could be implacable monsters driven only by an appetite for destruction, but that puts a limit on our stories. By giving them a backstory that includes those days of peace, when the visitors lived alongside us, it opens the door to peace again. Our pilots have room to ask those questions of “what happened to create the Ven?” and “could the Legulus return?” They can strive to be more than pilots in an endless war if they try to learn about their enemies and themselves.
Sometime, somehow, the war between the Preservation Force and the Venator must end. If the Ven are only monsters, then it only ends with an extermination. But if they are something else then the possibility exists for the world to go on once the Saints and Magnas fall silent.
Not So Different, You and I
Robotech was my first mecha-focused anime. It’s not the massive cannons of the SDF-1 that win the first Robotech war. It is (spoiler alert) the music of an up-and-coming idol that appeals to the Zentraedi. Their commanders find a common understanding as pop songs connect them to emotions that were suppressed by their conditioning as cloned soldiers. In addition, the earthlings get their first insights into the minds of their foe when the Zentraedi ace Miriya infiltrates the SDF-1 to kill ace pilot Max Sterling. In a rather ham-fisted scene, the two recognize that they are star-crossed lovers and marry to create the first union between Earth and Zentraedi. Those character arcs made Robotech different to me. They inspired me to think beyond the immediate story of our pilots and their war in The Tears of a Machine SC.
The Tears of a Machine SC is now live and accepting your backing. Help us to make this game something that we can share far and wide. Your support will allow us to transform the text with more art, professional layout, and release in physical and digital formats.
Most importantly, you’ll be funding the recording of the text into audio that can be used as a supplement to the text but also in a read-along accessible audio book.
I’m nervous and excited. Frequently distracted by all the little tasks and to-do’s and occasionally overwhelmed by worry that I’m missing some important piece somewhere. Basically what you’d expect before any creative launch.
The Tears of a Machine S.C. is on its way. The full text of the book is written and in editing. The fancy new logo is ready, courtesy of Nathan Paoletta, and cover and interior art is already in progress with Jennifer Rodgers and Rashad Malik Davis. We’re on track to bring the game to Kickstarter, but there’s a lot more going on here than just a book. When I first created Robot Claw Design for my first edition of Tears of a Machine, I made a commitment to better accessibility for role-playing games. I will continue that intent by creating a human-voiced audiobook of the new edition, and even taking that a few steps further. ePub and rich-media books have developed and grown in the years since I released Tears, and with Tears S.C. I can take further advantage of that to include video demonstrations, as well as audio narration, and even embed the book into a Robot Claw website, allowing it to be its own standard reference document release. And it can continue to grow from that. We have the ability to include interactive features that could even become learning tools for teaching people to play!
Get ready for The Tears of a Machine S.C. Kickstarter campaign July, 2021!
Click play on this embedded audio to listen to this post (Two minutes, forty-four seconds):
Black Lives Matter.
Get involved wherever and however you can to help support people fighting oppression and pushing for societal reform. Visit the official Black Lives Matter homepage, donate to the bail funds, donate to the street medics, but also look to the Black voices in your community, offline and on, asking for help. Scroll through your Twitter feed and see who you can help with a gofundme or ko-fi donation, or even a simple share. Still unsure? Check out this card.
Change is not a sprint, it is a marathon; so get involved now, pace yourself, and see the challenge through.
The rest of this post will be me talking about myself, so feel free to move on – you’ve already experienced the most important part.
The Author is Alive
Making sure our work sends the right message is a challenge to creatives. Unless we are explicitly obvious we run the danger of someone misinterpreting, or even misrepresenting something we’ve created. In the past I’ve very much espoused the “death of the author” as an attitude regarding role-playing games. Once the writing is out of my hands I’m helpless to control what players do with it. In the years since then, a lot of important and impactful articles and posts have been shared that challenge that assumption, so I’m making a pledge to do more with Tears of a Machine 2nd Edition.
Sensitivity editor – As soon as there is enough text to review I will be hiring a sensitivity editor (or two!) to help me assess and correct my flaws.
Content guidance – In the previous edition content and setting were left open-ended or at the Director’s discretion. The new rules include steps for all players to collaborate on the subject matter at the start of play.
Less prescription of the setting – I want players to see themselves in the world and shape it to become a place where they belong. I’m loosening up some of my world building, rather than building in possible stereotypes, and hopefully countering some existing ones.
Language choices – There are some vocabulary words that are charged with meaning that I want to avoid in the new edition. “Alien” for example. While we default to have it mean “space aliens” when writing science-fiction, it’s real-world meaning shouldn’t be overlooked.
There are other changes as well on the way, but they are more specific to the content itself, such as emphasizing the role of the Preservation Force as an emergency response effort, rather than an army. I may share more about them as writing progresses.
Thank you for your time, and thank you to game writers such as James Mendez-Hodes and Meinberg for articles that have challenged me to reassess my own messages, and for designers like Sean K. Reynolds and Shanna Germain for Consent in Gaming, published by Monte Cook Games.
Click the play button to listen to this post (4 minutes, 26 seconds):
If you’ve seen me at a convention in the past year or so, or heard me talk on one of a few different podcasts, you might already be aware that a new edition is in the works for Tears of a Machine, my table-top role-playing game of giant robots and the emotional teens who pilot them. However, it may be that this is all news to you, so I’m going to answer a few questions on the subject. Most importantly- Why a new edition?
I’ve changed and grown as a designer over the past years and have a better understanding of my own talents, as well as the theory that’s gone into making some of the best, most successful games of the last decade. I designed a new game I really enjoyed, but it didn’t feel right to add to a market with plenty of 80’s nostalgia inspired games. My wife suggested that I could take the parts I liked from that design and use it for Tears of a Machine. At first, I didn’t want to go back to an earlier game, but in time I realized she’s absolutely right. With only a few tweaks I was able to begin playing Tears based on that design. What makes it different enough to warrant a new edition?
First and foremost, a new rules system. I’ve experimented with ways to convert Tears of a Machine into other systems, but never felt comfortable that they captured exactly what I wanted to be the focus of action and attention in a game of Tears. I want rules that serve a character’s motivations and build story while still allowing for strategy and critical thinking. What I’ve designed meets those requirements I set for myself, balancing open narration with guiding rules that not only resolve situations but also promote the growth of the characters.
There have been some subtle, but important changes to the game setting as well. For example I’m changing the name of the space-faring invaders to one a find more evocative, and clarifying their master plan. I’m also no longer adding unnecessary capitalization to the code name of our giant robots. What about accessibility?
I am as committed as ever to bringing more accessible features to gaming. Tears first edition is still available as a free synchronized-text audio book, and the new edition will be too. However, with this second edition I started from a foundation of accessibility. I’ve learned more about dyslexia, as well as dysgraphia and dyscalculia, and I challenged myself to create a system that avoided numbers or complex and detailed rules. Tears of a Machine second edition character “sheets” are a few structured sentences with important keywords. The only numbers needed can be tracked with short stacks of tokens. Fate (or Fudge) dice are used because they are easier to read, and the limited possible results balance flexibility with focus. This is not a “Fate” system game however. It is a new system, custom designed to tell these mechadrama stories.
There will be an audio book version, and I’m planning a series of video and audio tutorials to accompany the release. I’m also investigating what it would take to have an interactive PDF version, a support wiki, and roll20 character sheets with built-in dice rolling functionality. The real drive behind accessibility is to provide people with as many options as possible to experience the content, so I’m looking into every avenue I can. When will it be released?
As soon as it’s done. Really, I had hoped to be finished with the beta draft by now, but life and the world have not been kind to my writing output. However, know that the core text is all in place, play tests have all been encouraging, and right now it’s a matter of connecting up all the pieces and beginning a full edit. I’m hoping to get a kickstarter going early next year. More updates on that soon! What about the current edition?
I won’t be deleting the files for the old edition or taking it away from anyone. I’m still quite happy with it, a rare thing for my creative output. While the new edition is a refinement of the ideas that you’ll find in the old, it’s not so different that you couldn’t enjoy both. That said, characters and stats and such won’t really “convert” across editions. As the new edition develops I’ll put together a guide on how to recreate your favorite pilots in the new way of Tears, Second Edition.
Thank you for your interest in my game. I’m looking forward to being able to share more news, and eventually a new game with all of you! Until then, stay safe, stay sane, and remember that from knowledge, comes victory.
Preservation Forces Patch
As editing proceeds, we’re working on getting the other rewards prepared and ordered. Thanks to the generosity of our Angel, those of you donating at the $30 and higher level will receive a patch declaring your enrollment in the future forces that will save humanity from the Mayzor scourge.
When Jennifer Rodgers asked me what the patch should look like, I sent her this:
She, being an actual illustrator took a few hours to tinker with it and then sent me this rough draft:
How about I distract you from that embarrassing comparison by telling you more about Preservation Force tech? Continue Reading →
It feels very official to be getting contracts signed and payments underway for Tears of a Machine. The draft is in J. R. Blackwell’s care, Jennifer Rodgers and I are reviewing my notes on illustrations and planning the sketches. We’re also turning my crayon draft of the Preservation Force’s emblem into a patch, as per the Angel backer reward. I’ll be able to share more about that with you soon. But how about some background on the Preservation Force . . . Defenders of Humanity
The Preservation Force was formed on the order of the Cloistered Research Council. When they revealed themselves as the authority on alien technology they insisted that it should not belong to any national power. The world was in dire straits already and their representative said it would be too easy for a still-powerful nation to abuse the new weapons, taking needed resources from a neighboring country or “walling” themselves in and leaving others to fend for themselves. If they would use this science, it would be a world-wide effort and the weapons would belong to no one group.
Beginning with UN forces, the CRC oversaw the organization of an international military force. Soldiers were uprooted and shuffled and their commanders complained about loss of combat effectiveness but the CRC were adamant. Organizing these armies into a collective was difficult but the need for a defense from the aliens drove the world to put aside differences and cooperate however they could. Meanwhile the CRC was pulling together resources to construct bases of operation for the new army. The Arx. Virtuacon ’13 Jacob Wood has planned a presentation on accessible games for Virtuacon this October. He has invited me to join him and share my thoughts and plans on accessible text and audio books. If you’d like to see the presentation, you don’t have to go anywhere! Virtuacon is a weekend of gaming through Google Hangouts, organized by RPGGeek. You’ll be able to join and play or run games and attend panels all from the comfort of your internet connection. You can find the schedule of international time slots and a list of planned events on the RPG Geek site. And I’ll try to get some more Tears demos on that calendar too!
Thank you and May the SAInts preserve us.