Rapscallion: Interview with Whistler

Last week we published an interview with the designer of Passing. Today, we’re equally delighted to share an interview with Whistler, the author of Rapscallion. Passing and Rapscallion are the two ashcans that we released at Gen Con -- ashcans are fully playable short-form versions of games. More about our ashcan program can be found here.

Rapscallion is a fantasy game where you play a crew of swashbuckling pirates. The world of the game brings in dark and enticing magic that threads itself through all of your potential adventures. Whether fighting sea monsters or hunting down ancient cursed treasure, there are three constants that remain: the ship, the crew, and the wide open sea.

If you want to buy a copy of Rapscallion, it’s available on our webstore, or on Drivethrurpg.

Hi! So to start off, why don’t you tell us about the most important things that you think people should know about you and your game?

Hey. I’m a writer and artist who slipped into game design by accident. I guess I live here now.

Rapscallion is a game about pirates, and it comes from a boredom-baked story me and some high school friends made up in our senior year. The characters were us. The story was about freedom, and being selfish, and finding a family that keeps you from making stupid decisions. Then making stupid decisions anyway. So that’s what this game is about, hopefully.

What sources did you draw inspiration from? Why did you choose PbtA and how does Rapscallion differ from the traditional PbtA model?

My tabletop inspirations were Blades in the Dark and Urban Shadows... Masks, too. I think Dungeon World is peppered in there somewhere. Funnily enough, though, I think it was my experience in larps that sets Rapscallion apart. In a larp, rules that don’t marry roleplaying are meaningless, and mechanics that aren’t simple enough to remember will be cast against the cold hard rock of practicality. That’s why Rapscallion, a game about pirates, has things like colorful weaknesses with roleplaying-based clear conditions – and “compels” that force characters to give into their vices – and Bonds with crewmates that let you ignore those compels.

Ah, dang, actually, those came from Changeling: The Lost. So there goes my moral high ground.

Were there any things that came up in play testing that surprised you? What has changed the most from the first version of this game?

Lots of things changed, most of them under the hood. In the original Rapscallion, there were six skills, the playbooks had roughly ten thousand more moves apiece, and players had to buy specials from a long list using points. If I had to pick the most important change, though, it was the death of Derring-Do.

Derring-Do was the name of a basic move in the game. It was the generic cool-stuff move: dashing, risky maneuvers, swinging from ropes, leaping across chasms, that sort of thing. For whatever reason, though, it was becoming an issue in playtests... Players said it should use a different skill, or that it wasn’t worded properly. They’d ignore it; they’d forget to use it. As it turns out, the issue wasn’t the wording or the skill. The issue was that pirates should always succeed at the cool stuff. When have you last seen a pirate fail at doing cool stuff? In a pirate’s story, the cool stuff is so commonplace it isn’t even the focus; it’s the window dressing. It’s the backdrop. And Derring-Do was a move that let you fail at doing the cool stuff.

So we got rid of it.

What other projects are you working on? Are they connected to Rapscallion?

I’ve got an illustrated novel in the works, the sort of perpetual project that’s always hovering on your desktop background. It’s called Skykid. Rapscallion really took Skykid’s thunder and ran with it. Honestly, though, games are so endlessly fascinating, so fulfilling, that I don’t mind at all. I have more tabletop ideas that aren’t under the PbtA umbrella, and maybe after Rapscallion gets a proper release (fingers crossed), I can try new projects. As for right now, I’m working on a parlor larp that I hope to run at Intercon called “What They Did in the Dark”. It’s a silly vampire game inspired by the mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows. So if you’re going to Intercon, stop by and say hi! And tell me what you think of Rapscallion.