In the world of Powerpunk, science and technology occupy a funny space. During the Cold War, technology was viewed as a necessary median; “the only true measuring stick for a nation’s greatness” necessity. It was a grand love affair, with the known limits of science being reestablished almost quarterly and the great nations treating scientists like rock stars. The East and West both took to collecting doctors, professors and engineers, like children collecting trading cards. Giving them larger budgets than many of them had ever dared to imagine, these scientific minds were tasked with finding and cultivating any potential advantage against the opposing bloc.
It was amidst this age of political desperation that all avenues of science, including the fringe sciences, were being treated with open minds and open wallets. This was a glorious time for scientists who started signing up with grant after grant and put real effort into experiments and inventions that they hadn’t ever thought they could complete. This was the age of “hypertech”.
Super-science tools capable of bending terrestrial and celestial energies into fuel for weapons and vehicles, bending minds, transforming the body of a person into a walking arsenal of bio-weaponry. These tools that pushed through the established limits of the scientific field and into storied fiction appeared in every field. All the while the tensions of the Cold War grew closer and closer to the brink of open conflict.
The era came to a screeching halt as prolific communist agents like “Soviet Supreme” and other frequent criminal collaborators from soviet nations were caught time and again by the U.S Government’s special forces, D.A.N.G.E.R. These communist agents seemed to favor the use of hypertech knockoffs from the Eastern bloc that never seemed to quite work as intended under pressure. They favored it so much that although the USSR was pretty far behind the U.S in production of hypertech in both number and quality it became, in the eyes of the public, communist or”pinko” tech.
This stigma brought an end to free and unchecked scientific experimentation and discovery and saw the rise of tighter restrictions on independent laboratories. Hypertech faded into obscurity, a technological oddity known for being highly unreliable for some to marvel at while the wider world passed it by. However, the turn of the millennium saw a drastic slowdown in hardware innovations across all markets.
The early 21st century, as the short lived Russo-American alliance went to war against extremists in the middle east, was perhaps the last time new hardware was released. Very quickly companies had to turn to releasing re-packaged versions of the same model already on the market over and over as programs grew in complexity to sell the illusion of breakthroughs. Cracking into the hypertech market had made anything less seem paltry by comparison.
A generation of people grew up with the knowledge that advancement was out there and being kept just outside their reach and so some turned to expensive, custom goods that could grow as they needed. Still a few companies have re-discovered the idea of Hypertech and with clever re-branding are eagerly rushing to market determined to ride at the forefront of an inevitable tech-boom.
This is where characters in Powerpunk find themselves currently; mostly recycled tech that has inched on slowly for more than two decades. Programming has grown at a reasonable pace but has seemingly caught up to hardware now and both are growing at a controlled, predictable pace. All the while, visible on the horizon, is the dreaded return of hypertech.
Dev-X & Ethereal | Stock & Bull Entertainment
I ran my first D&D game at the age of 12. It was a pre-made adventure from a magazine and had a redemption arc for a villain who forgot they were a villain, emphasizing that compassion begets compassion and “hurt people hurt people”. I loved the idea and couldn’t wait to see it all play out around my living room table. It was a disaster. The players were all older and more experienced than I was. They convinced me to let them bring their “usual” characters from another DM’s game with all their gear and within ten minutes the game was laying in broken pieces while they cheered one another on, whooping and hollering with sadistic glee at having broken the adventure so thoroughly. I was mortified and never wanted to run another game again. I was GM for my group until I was about 32.
The near collapse of this project made this more of a priority, then there was the mental toll that our dissolving partnership inflicted, the thousand cuts of everyday responsibilities etc. I found that there was nothing in the GM tank. I figured that with time and mental recuperation things would come back to me. Twenty years of running not only D&D but a variety of other ttrpgs had shown I had a depth of ideas for story seeds and though the games rarely saw a storybook conclusion, I was sure I would be ok.
Then something happened. We reached a point in the development that someone had to run playtests and since there are only two of us now and I have all this GM experience it was decided that I would be the GM. I thought, “No big deal. Hell! This is just the excuse I need to get back into this. I’ve had a long hiatus, it’ll be great.” I had an anxiety attack and had to cancel my session 0. I was embarrassed, no, not strong enough a word…mortified might be better. I may not be confident in a lot of things but storytelling? I tell stories like Spider-Man swings web! I kept telling myself “You got this! You pull together games and improv entire sessions! You’ve made your players sit in awe, you’ve made them shake with frustration and explode with elation. This is your wheelhouse.” but it didn’t ring true in my own head so how could I believe myself?
I pushed for another session 0 but getting players this time was harder and scheduling was near impossible. The demand of being parents, unreliable work schedules, self-imposed medical quarantines and the thousand cuts of life that everyday imposes brought that endeavor to a quiet implosion. Recently however an old friend came around and had an itch to play. He was so insistent that I reached out to those that I could from our old group and one by one worked with them to find a suitable day until a new game day was born and with it a new story. I was to be the GM though and the idea scared me. I felt nauseous and inadequate. I hadn’t run game in more than 2 years, I couldn’t even run a session for the game that I have dedicated so much of my life and time to. How was I going to do this? I had, for a time, convinced myself that in truth I could NOT run this game, or any other, anymore. It hurt to think that I was no longer a gamemaster, worse, that I was no longer a storyteller.
In a flash of optimistic nihilism, I figured it doesn’t matter if the game sucks. If they hated it, if I hated the system we were playing. None of that mattered in the grand scheme of things. If the game was perfect, the world and my life would still be what it is and if the game was the worst thing I had ever run, the world and my life would still be what it is. With a cold lump of fear in my chest, sweat rolling down my overly hot skin and my old, overinflated collection of dice; I sat down and began to unfold my tale for my group. I noted their reactions to certain things and did not shy away from impressing on them the feeling of helplessness that they were facing in this small jungle hamlet. When the session was done, I looked into the faces of these grown men and saw them lighting up with excitement. They turned to one another making plans, asking questions, engaging with one another and my story. But I have been a walking wound for some time now and though this was nice it did not dispel my idea that I was no longer a “real storyteller”. Perhaps, I thought in a self-destructive manner, that this was merely a fluke. They were so eager to play that any story would have made them excited or maybe this was all just the last wisps of storytelling ability burning up in a grand hurrah but I kept writing down notes for other sessions and places where the adventure could go because the players seemed to like the story but all agreed that the game itself wasn’t exactly landing well.
It took one session to save me from the feeling of being dragged down like Joukahainen into the mire.
The players had managed to convince our friend, my partner here, to join us. He was destructive and his out of the box thinking made his encounters run differently but the others sat there mostly in silence as we went back and forth. They were enthralled and so invested in the tale we told that they did not mind that the whole of the session went to just one player. The only concern from the table was why we were playing a game that no one seemed to be mechanically enjoying. They asked about the game that we have worked on and if they could try that out instead.
I won’t say all anxiety is gone. I am still very scared. The fears I face now though are what any creator feels for their art. When I look over the notes for the sessions and adventures I was planning to run, I can see that at their core they were always going to be for a Powerpunk game and I am looking forward to what they do in, around and to the story and world that I build for them. In time, I hope to share it with all of you.
Dev-X & Ethereal | Stock & Bull Entertainment
We've finally done it; we've put together several practices for the prototype of the game. With these done we'll be able to test every inch of the game! We have Proto-Traits; what you roll to accomplish tasks and actions. Proto-Physical and Proto-Social combat styles; what you can get to make you better at combat and customize your characters fighting style. Proto-Practices; what shapes, hones and customizes your characters out of combat action like; crafting, medicine, investigating, profiling, sporting and more. PROTO-POWERS; Absorbing dangerous energies, Transforming into strange creature of your own making, Controlling the minds of the weak, bending the laws of physics and nature and uddles of Noddles More!
As for this blog; we're going to shift slightly from our system development blog style to shed some focus on the setting. In the coming weeks we will post the names of the four Exims you'll be playing around with. As well as a small overview of the powers you'll be able to choose from as that specific Classification. We're also looking to finally building a "gen-you-ein, bone-ee-fide" project page, yay...
Last; as you all may know we're doing this on a shoe string budget and we now have enough saved up for more art. We have a few artist in mind but we are open to suggestions. The four pictures will be for the aforementioned exim classifications and we'll be looking to nail down a overall art style for the game.
Ethereal Deep Diver "Sam" | Stock & Bull Entertainment
“The Future” as a term calls to mind images of great gleaming towers, lights and high tech toys that borderline on magical. Scientific breakthroughs that allow for exploration of what we in the present call “The Impossible”; be it the deepest seas, distant stars or different timelines. The technology of the future is the key to those wondrous notions because in “The Future”, people remain a toss up.
In “The Future” we may envision utopian peace enveloping the globe and all of humanity under one united peaceful sky but that is not always the case. Dystopias mar the distant horizon just as often as their utopian counterparts and one such popular dystopian playground is the “Cyberpunk” setting. In Cyberpunk, many of the trademarks of “The Future” are there; the gleaming towers, bright flashing lights, wonders of technology at and within the fingertips of the common person. But while the world is high-tech, the people are low class. The people at the top are greedy and corrupt, the “good” people of the middle are embedded into a hivemind collective that dare not stand against blatant injustice for fear of how it will affect their status and those at the bottom are treated like a disease. The “heroes” of this world are disenfranchised; teetering just at the edge of falling into the lowest rungs of society. These dregs are offered an opportunity to use their impressive skills to “stick it” to the Corporate overlords that have taken over the world and pull their lives back from the brink.
How does it get that far? How does the line from “Utopia” to “Dystopia” get crossed so easily and left so far behind that it can never be uncrossed? Choices; Shaking hands with the Devil one too many times, making the call that the “lesser of two evils” is the best choice time and again. This is where the world finds itself when the curtains rise on the “PowerPunk” setting. We refer to it as “The Day before Cyberpunk”. This time frame is a special place that we feel is under explored. This is a time when corporations are on the prowl, growing stronger, tying their economic leashes onto lesser nations and ascending to the would-be masters of the world (while greater nations are still capable of pushing against these plutocratic leviathans).
Technologies that can and will revolutionize the lives of every person such as; augmented reality, automation and artificial intelligence have hit the market with full releases. Meanwhile those branches of technology that make us reexamine the human condition; cloning, genetic modification, cybernetics and cyber-augmentation are entering into open testing. Society though is waning; economic disparity is growing, legal opportunity for social growth is fading and criminal enterprises have become more attractive. More people think they can just make a few dirty dollars for a bit to make ends meet and then go back to being clean again. The pieces of the “Cyberpunk” puzzle are there and already fitting into place but with a great effort someone can change that puzzle into something else.
If not for a special “X factor” or two, our future would seem set in stone and the Blade Running, silver handed, vaporwavers with subwoofer augments in their trench coats would be a bygone conclusion. But, as Rafael Huereca points out, in cyberpunk, it is the "power" of this wondrous tech that shapes the people of the era. Robotic limbs are used to interact with the all encompassing stimuli pumping data directly into intrusive data ports that carry information directly to the brain, milking serotonin and adrenaline with a thought. In this Dystopia, a person is barely recognizable as such; the technology is almost parasitic.
In "PowerPunk", before those technologies can grow into their apex and take their more familiar role of ubiquitous enhancements that possibly dehumanize; it is superpowers that surface from within the disenfranchised. These powers do not shape them however, the powers serve only to amplify what is already there. A jerk becomes a villain when they are bulletproof, a patient person can become a Saint when even the worst emotional outburst is tangible and changeable. The nicest person can sometimes amplify their darker urges and become a real monster unfettered by conscience but it is not the power that makes it happen, it is the person.
The question arises, are superpowers enough to make a utopia out of the gathered pieces of a dystopian cyberpunk tomorrow? Or do they fall short against the momentum of time, greed, fear and power in its myriad of forms. It all boils down to choices.
Dev-X | Stock & Bull Entertainment
P.S: Still Running PowerPunk in a Dedicated Space
Yes, it's at a Library but beggars can't be choosers! Hell they made this Boss poster for us!
We'll be teaching people how to RPG using our System and Setting. If you can make it, AWESOME! If not, don't fret, I'll be posting the best bits here on the site.
Ethereal Deep Diver "Sam" | Stock & Bull Entertainment
(Gulliver = Head, dva = two: Nadsat)
I hate having to figure out how to say the same thing in another way over and over. It’s a strain on my mind and if I am lucky I can get it past you readers once or twice but then when you figure it out; you see I am just saying the same stuff with a twist. So, here is a rare straight shot; we used to have 6 guys at our best and now we are down to 2. It was not easy and it was not kind; I have gone through romantic breakups that have hurt less and healed faster. Some time last year we sat down and evaluated where were we going. What did this project mean to us and where did this project fit in our lives. For two of us it fit well enough that we could continue moving on, for everyone else; life has more pressing matters. It hurts to say- type those words; the guys that are no longer working alongside me aren’t just my friends, they were my new family. I suffered alongside these guys, lost sleep, shed sweat, tears and I had great experiences with them. I suffered through terrible experiences and they were the rocks that I turned to when I couldn’t let my actual family see how worn down I was. I wanted to make every concession in the world for them but in the end this project is nearly 10 years in development. If it takes anymore time; we wouldn’t even be an also-ran, we would be a never-was.
The two of us that are left have to do the lion’s share of the work now. So all the rule clean up, fiction and setting clean up and expansion that we had to work on has to also be done alongside being the voices and faces of the company. We have to talk to artists, run playtests, look for places to test on the cheap, keep the lights on, set up commissions, basically design AND business. It was always supposed to be a growing experience, a shared learning experience and stumbling was expected but now we know there are no reinforcements. The woods are darker and scarier now, the path is twistier and every mistake seems more grave, every wasted opportunity seems more dire however we have less overhead, less gatekeepers to ideas and no seeking approval. We know who to blame for missing posts here and elsewhere and can rectify it appropriately so while there are no reinforcements, we are also focused entirely on what lies before us.
I hope that we will find our groove quickly and that we will earn the patience and forgiveness of those of you who have stuck around have given, if you are new, pardon our dust and mess from our growing pains.
Dev-X | Stock & Bull Entertainment
Good news everyone! We tested the demo, it proved everything we knew and everything we didn't know! Let's thank Chad from NYC Tabletop RPGs for letting us crash his wework gamer space. His crew runs tabletop games over in Brooklyn, New York and all are welcomed. If interests are peaked check them out on meetup, drop in on their comfy discord chat or if you're feeling frisky throw some coins at their Patreon.
In spite of me leaving some important docs at home, forgetting everything I was going to do with the premade adventure; It went better than I thought it would. The system handled everything the players wanted to do. We were able to see physical combat and a number of powers "in action". Among the boys in the lab, there were worries, concerns one could say; if people would be confused by the wording, how fast people would pick up on the internal logic and the system, the concept of your powers being used through your normal stats in order to make them feel more like an extension of the character and of course the powers themselves. Now we know which were “shadows” and which were actual problems. I will now share with you all the shadows that loomed in the darkness, the terrors in the night, that this demo has dragged into the light.
The first “shadow”, the learning speed and comprehension. What I mean is how long it takes to understand the system and how long until players start actively exploring out from the normal bounds of basic tabletop gaming. You can learn something but until you’re comfortable with it you won't venture deeper into it and we needed to know how long till they got comfortable. Answer, not long whatsoever. Once they knew their stats and they got a few tastes of how much they could actually do the floodgates opened. The taste came in the form of an out of combat medicine check that revealed a bullet wound was made by a large screw, not a bullet. The use of telepathy to skim the minds of the enemies, transforming into a tiger for stealth attacks, high density body blocks and face destroying super speed punches. Somewhere in between these points each player came to understand just what they could pull off and began to dive deeper. Fears dispelled, the”shadow” was just a jacket on the chair.
Second “Shadow”, Basic combat and out of combat. Ease, Balance, and Versatility are the cornerstones of combat in any game. Now when I say combat I really should be saying conflict because any time you want something to go one way but circumstances say otherwise, there's conflict. Wanting to beat a villain, pick a lock, break into a place, pass by unseen, win a race, keep someone alive; all these things would have some form of opposition ... conflict. That's what we tested as well, normal strikes, weapon strikes, power strikes, out of combat tasks and challenges as well as power assisted tasks out of combat. Other than one problem-child among the powers(We'll probably talk about that in a different post) it all went awesome sauce. Basic combat works which means we can implement more advanced combat options in the form of “COMBAT STYLES” (also a future post). Combat styles will add a crunchy layer to combat that lets you flavor how your character throws down. Out of combat actions worked too which now allows us to bring in PRACTICES, all the things you know and know how to do outside of combat (Ha! Not a future post, we already touched on it in a previous post but since changes are being planned, well, we will get back on it. In a future post). Fears dispelled, this “shadow” was jus- CRAP WATER BUG! Could have been worse.
Finally, the last “shadow” were things we knew before going in; Social Combat and the Demo. Full Disclosure, we actually started retooling Social Combat just after finishing the demo but the retool would take us a while to finish so we just went with the version that we knew wasn't going into the final version. You might ask "Et tu, Brutus!?!"; hear us out, since inflicting emotions is a large part of social combat in both versions and we wanted to see what people thought about the base idea we continued. The demo's layout was, to put it kindly, a little on the messy side, it was our first time making one but I don't think we did that bad. In the adventure we have easy, medium and hard options of running the encounters but they're right on top of each other which does add replayability but makes it difficult to read and the NPC list at the end of the adventure leaves much to be desired. It helped us learn though so we can say with confidence the next demo will be better. It'll have more focus on the setting, not just test the basic system and it will test some of the more advanced system options and who knows; maybe it'll even look good. Fear dispelled, it was the monster from the closet just hiding under the bed. Wait, what?
Once again we cannot thank NYC Tabletop RPG and the people that helped us test this out enough. From right to left; D,M,K and J(Thumbs Up).
Ethereal Deep Diver "Sam" | Stock & Bull Entertainment
"NPC, thy hight is conveyer belt, ferry me deeper into immersia!" - PCs (Player Characters)
Move the story along: the raison d'etre of all NPCs (Non Player Characters). Exposition-Dump-R-Us, vil-tagonists, or windows into how the world views you and your cabal of characters. NPCs (Non Playa Chumps) work to enrich an experience while you grind for experience. Now you may be wondering, why I'm slap boxin' the significance of these GM-faced masses? Simple, the Bulls of Stock have been busy paving the future stomping grounds of your Project Powerpunk characters. This feat has lead to Pinky-and-the-Brain-levels of pondering on NPC; non player created people, places and parcels (Yes I am illuding to the idea that places and items can be npcs). Whether it's a dude in black fleeing across the desert, millions of voices crying out just to be silenced, or even a bustling city full of life, all have a purpose that must be served.
NPCs (Narrator Provided Companions) matter as much as you need them to. Depending on the importance of the area or people, you can dial up or down the details of NPCs you create. The importance of NPCs can be dictated by your players’ interaction: the more interaction with an NPC (Narrator's Personal Cat's-paw) your players have, the more important that NPC will become. If your players frequently visit Colgate, the weaponsmith, a burly woman wanted in four cities for aggravated assault on an anvil with deadly skillz, then they would naturally reserve more Fs for the happenings in her life than that of the seldom seen state governor's. So when your players next visit Colgate and discover her daughter, Dentyne, had been kidnapped by a band of rollerskating street barbarians, you know it's about to go down. It becomes a cycle: GM add details to an NPC, PCs will invest more interest into the NPC (Nobody Puts babies in a Corner) and the game master gets to add more details to that NPC's life.
Working on Project Powerpunk, we found ourselves asking how do we go about building NPCs for the game? Do we bang them out as if we were making an adventure for any old campaign? Unfortunitly that's not enough, we realized we needed to build the Big Daddy Kane NPCs (Naturally Procreating Cores) that all other NPCs will come screaming out of: the setting, tone, theme, and mood of Project Powerpunk. These are pretty big NPCs (Necessary Plot Components) and they serve as the precursors of all future NPCs that we, and eventually you as game masters, will create. They dictate the basic motivations and emotions of the average poor, middle, and high class person. To help each cog like NPC (Narrator's Player Containers) move in unison to suspend disbelief and to better immerse the players and GM.
After days of batting and boiling down phrases like "bucket of crabs", "Zero sum game", and "take a penny leave no penny", the developer known as Dev X pulled two words out of the dark cauldron: Needless Desperation.
Sam | Ethereal Deep Diver
The last few months have been interesting at Stock & Bull. We’re hard at work bringing you the Project Powerpunk demo. And the biggest challenge of this is turning all our rules, ideas, and thoughts into a product meant for human consumption. A large portion of this is editing and rewriting our rules. The rest of it is organization: How do I display all of this information to my reader in a form that is clear to read and easy to understand?
If you have read a Tabletop RPG book, you may have some idea on how daunting a task this is. If the purpose of my rulebook is to teach you how to play my game, then what should I teach first? Or second? Do I start with how to create a character, or how to roll for a skill check? Which is more important?
Most tabletop RPGs use similar conventions. Most of which I believe were established with Dungeons & Dragons: start with how to create characters (because without those you can’t play the game), then introduce the rules of the game. It explains what the numbers on your character sheet mean, then explains how they are used to play the game. I can largely copy what other games have done in the past and get by.
Even still, Project Powerpunk is different. It’s not D&D, Fate, Gumshoe, GURPS, or Shadowrun. It’s different. The rules are different, the procedures are different. Within sections I still have a lot of choice as to how the steps are ordered. Take character creation for instance. Do I have you choose your powers first, or your traits? You can assume that I have complete freedom in what and how I accomplish this. However, each and every decision holds weight. It means the difference about you understanding or not understanding how to play Project Powerpunk.
While researching how best to approach the layout of the Project Powerpunk demo I came to the realization that I made lots of mistakes. I was too focused on the words, their meaning, and the order in which I was delivering them. What I never paid attention to was how I was displaying those words. What you are reading is just as important as how it looks like. Time and time again the subject of typography had come up in my research. I would have to learn its dark arts and esoteric forms to make meaningful choices about how the Project Powerpunk demo would look.
Typography deals with how text is visually displayed. Placing text on a screen, paper, or sign and showing it to someone is applying typography. It’s a crude example but true. You may think that I need no more than just picking a font and adding a cool background to my rulebook. Those are certainly a part of it. However, it’s a lot more involved. Typography goes beyond aesthetics, it’s utilitarian. The font I use, it’s size, the spacing of line and letters, how I point out key terms will do more than just make it pretty. It will have an effect on how readable the Project Powerpunk demo is. It’s the difference between you reading it from front to back, or putting it down after a page. Honestly, if I can’t hold your attention, does it matter how good Project Powerpunk is?
Let’s try with an example. Here’s a snippet of the rulebook:
Do you see any key terms in that paragraph? Maybe. Would you guess that the key term I would like you to know is “narrator?” Likely not. I’m more inclined to assume that your eyes jumped to NPCs since I have it capitalized. But that subtle difference is enough to throw off what is most important about that paragraph.
The next two are the same as before but with “narrator” made to look different than the surrounding text. I stuck with two very simple and easy to do methods. One is bold the other is italic:
Now choose which of the two makes the word narrator stand out more, bold or italic? I may split the vote on this one but I’m going to bet that more of you had picked bold for this. Why? Honestly, italics in this case does not really pop. The font used here is a sans serif font. In sans serif fonts, italics are simply made to be slanted versions of the original letterforms. There is not a large enough contrast to truly stand out against the rest of the text. Bold here does a better job.
If you’re scratching your head about why italics is so bad in this case take a look at these next two pictures:
I’ve got the same sentence in Times New Roman and Arial. Arial is another example of a sans serif font. Times New Roman is a serif font. Serifs refer to the small horizontal protrusions of every vertical line in each letter. Look at how the italicized version of a word in Times New Roman looks. It’s letter forms are actually changed, not merely slanted. In Arial, they really are just crudely tilted to one side. Italics make a real difference in serif fonts. Not so in sans serif ones.
Let’s look at those examples from Project Powerpunk again:
We already established that bold in this case was the better option, but ask yourself is it the best option? To all whom felt italics was the right answer before, you might have felt that way because bold in this case does not really pop either. I do agree with that assessment. Bold does contrast, but not a lot in this case. What if I combined the two?
Is this just right, not enough, or too much? It’s a small example so it may be hard to tell. I probably will get a different answer to that question from each person who reads this, but try to look at it objectively. Does “narrator” stand out from the rest of the words? Absolutely. Now, does it stand out so much that the effect is jarring? Does this combination of bold and italic make this block of text easier or harder to read? From what I have learned the latter is true. Typography takes a “less is more” approach to applying emphasis. By doing both I’m making this harder to read and directing your focus too much. It might not truly register by reading one paragraph. However, a bit of focused robbed at every instance over the course of a book and I’m likely to kill your attention span before you have finished reading the Project Powerpunk demo. That’s not good at all.
I bring up bold and italic because they are things that anyone who has used a word processor has seen and used. You might have fiddled with these decisions when writing essays for school and possibly made or avoided the mistakes I’ve discussed so far. They are not the be all and end all of adding emphasis to words or phrases. I just recently found out how effective small caps can be.
See how “narrator” looks? It’s definitely eye catching. All capital letters run counter to how our eyes are trained to read text and will always stand out (all caps is also an effective method of emphasis). But it’s not super jarring.
See how typography goes beyond aesthetics? It looks nicer and is easier to read. I’ve attracted your attention and helped conserved it at the same time. That’s not to say that small caps is the absolute best option for everyone or everything. It might not work well for everybody. It probably won't work well if I changed the typeface or the size of the text and it probably won't work if I were working on a different project with different needs. Typography’s true message is illustrating that regardless of what I choose, my choices have weight. Much like how it is to play Project Powerpunk.
"A tight, uncomfortable place? Like the back of a Volkswagen?" - How We Fit Fiction into a Real Setting
I love fiction, which I find funny because I don't like to lie. Still, the creative process for making something that is fantastic and unreal is fun for me; it's the draw of urban myths and cryptozoology like the Candyman, Katy Perry, or Bigfoot. The things that cannot REALLY exist, no matter how much you want them to, are the best. The same goes for places like Santa's workshop in the North Pole or Sesame Street on the East Coast of America. Right now, my focus is on settings. Realms of myth and legend, castles and dragons; the idea of planets with diamond rain or plasma snow fascinates me to seemingly no end. The fictional settings that most resonate with me, however, have a root in the real; where you are 98% sure that strange oddity isn't real, all the while that 2% is still there leaving you with a lingering doubt. With Project: Powerpunk, we went to capture that excitement of "what is not, but could be." Then we were met the greatest problem of this creation model.
"Where do my ideas fit?"
For example, your game master tells your group that you’re hunting a vampire in Paris, a city that is known for its landmarks, its people, its "character.” However, in an effort to put his own spin on Paris, the game master has decided to take some liberties and replace the Louvre with a "Texas Longhorn Steak Shack," the Eiffel Tower with "Mack's Truck Stop and Shrimp House,” and have all the Parisians speak with a thick American southern-twang, calling people "Ya'll" and "Hun.” Of course, this will evoke very different feelings from what you’d probably expect from the "City of Love.” Doubt will set in and the ability to connect with the setting will suffer. However, it’s not always so fun to run a local history lesson in the guise of a game either. While the Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile lists every major French military victory and the general that is credited with that victory, I don’t want to play a game to learn all of their names nor do I want to play through each day of the arc’s construction.
Marrying the fun part of fictional setting work with the solid foundation of a real location can yield something amazing and thus come the ideas of “interpretation” and “adaptation.” Returning to Paris, instead of bizarre setting concepts or pointless and boring information, your game master could take you down into the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier buried beneath the Arc and reveal how the Unknown Soldier is just an alias for an immortal who stalks battlefields preying on fallen soldiers. “Adapt” reality and “interpret” it within your fictional setting.
Before we accepted these concepts of adaptation and interpretation, we kept finding that our setting ideas and the changes we wanted to make were pigeonholed; forced forward the way one would shove something into a tight, uncomfortable place (and I don't mean the back of a Volkswagen). Given that we were not naive folk on the rebound after a bad breakup, we were not very receptive to this process. But when we started to adapt the real world and omit certain real life changes, make unique changes of our own to make it part of OUR story and OUR world, we grew more comfortable and we were finally able to make something that is specially made by us.
The setting of Project: Powerpunk is our own "scientifiction" adaptation of New York City; open to fantastic, almost magical, changes and futurist ideas. I loved the idea of New York for two reasons. First and foremost it is my home; I know NYC better than I know any other place. If we made the setting Paris or London, it would ring false and hollow. That being said, I’m not a playboy party machine so I don’t know the city as well as I want to either, but then again a lot of the allure and danger that I anticipated in going to certain clubs and hot spots have been dashed as they have since been closed down. This leads me to my second reason: the city I was prepping for is not the city I grew up into. I had family members through my childhood tell me of the dangers of this club, that alley, this drug, that party, or this neighborhood. There were tales of danger and excitement such as fleeing from a gang at one party only to end up facing other enemies at the club you hide out in or deciding to approach a new lady at a bar only to find out that she is actually looking for you to sell you out and cover her debt with someone else. There were dirty, grungy tales of a tough as nails city that shined bright for tourists and locals alike only to cast deeper shadows that would drag everyone down.
I know that it is for the best that the real New York City is no longer that romanticized wild metropolis anymore but there has always been a part of me that wants to rub elbows with today's nobody band, watch them do a show in the same neighborhood bars where I once thought I would drink, and after telling the lead singer that the last song of the set was kind of trash, get his fist to my face, break a bottle over his head (preferably his bottle too, you know, add insult to injury) and use the broken glass to fight off the rest of the band as I made my getaway. Then I would ingest some poison that I shouldn't and go to a blue-collar job the next morning so I can start the cycle again from the beginning the next evening. (Some months down the line, after watching them skyrocket to fame, I could have a spiteful chuckle to myself when that crap lead singer goes to jail after his bassist dies of an overdose at the biggest nightclub in the city.) I know that realistically I am better off not having done ANY of that but a part of me laments the path not traveled. Not simply because I chose not to fall to its allure, but because that avenue was closed off and the choice was taken away for me.
In Powerpunk, I have been able to put to the page the romanticized, dangerous playground of the "rubble kings," the "Gordon Gekkos," and the "Agent J’s" and that wouldn't have the same feel if I threw together a bunch of big buildings and called it "Metrotopiaville." With the basis still being New York City, that history and presence is preserved even as we added augmented reality advertisements and NYPD drones in Manhattan that are knocked from the sky by “Gargoyles,” customized drones belonging to gangs. In Queens, we have a medical research organization that has begun to release new analgesic drugs and promising medical breakthroughs in the field of “Ansenectum” (anti-aging) in the form of wrinkle removal salves and muscle rejuvenating diet programs as cyber-cowboys mount non-lethal weaponized motorcycles and patrol the borough protecting the people from law-breakers that the NYPD can’t “be bothered to” apprehend. All the while, an average blue-collar worker heads off from a mob-owned work site to a bar to down a drink before getting into an argument with the lead singer of today’s nobody band about a crappy last song only to get hit in the face then bash the lead singer over the head with a bottle and make his getaway home all to do it again tomorrow.
The foundation is real but what we present is not (at least not yet.)