[20:32] <+MilesGaborit> Hi folks! My name is Miles Gaborit and I’m a dad, nerd, and game-player/maker/lover from Seattle. I’m here tonight to talk about my game Tall Pines.
[20:32] <+MilesGaborit> Tall Pines is a surreal murder mystery roleplaying game inspired by the TV show Twin Peaks. It’s best described as a freeform roleplaying game – it’s a closer cousin to a game like Fiasco than it is to D&D.
[20:32] <+MilesGaborit> It’s a one session game for 3-6 players that requires no planning, no GM, and no prep – you start spinning weird murder drama as soon as you sit down to play. A game of Tall Pines lasts about 30 minutes per player. The game is comprised of 114 cards.
[20:33] <+MilesGaborit> I think that’s a good intro. So, done.
[20:33] <~Dan> Thanks, MilesGaborit! The floor is open to questions!
[20:33] <~Dan> Can you describe some of the surreal elements of the setting?
[20:35] <+MilesGaborit> Most of the surrealism in the game is generated by the deck of Symbol Cards – a deck of weird images that players can inject into scenes, defining their meaning in the context of the scene when they play them. The cards from the Symbol Deck recur and repeat in irregular ways, creating a thread of surreal metaphor that’s different for each game.
[20:36] <~Dan> Interesting… What are the elements of a character?
[20:39] <+MilesGaborit> The player characters in the game are 6 Protagonists that you’ll select from a pool of 9 (or more, depending on how stretch-goal-y things get). The Protagonists are defined by an archetypal role – things like Federal Agent, Psychotherapist, Spoiled Debutante, Cherished Eccentric.
[20:40] <+MilesGaborit> Each protagonist also gets a pair of behaviors that, when they manifest in play, activate mechanics that may reveal SECRETS about the murder victim.
[20:40] <+Geek2theRight> What determines what those SECRETS are?
[20:40] <+MilesGaborit> Finally, Protagonists are defined by the players at the start of each game by answering a question about the Protagonist’s relationship to the victim.
[20:42] <+MilesGaborit> There are a handful of Secret cards – each player will get one – that are activated when certain conditions are met in a scene. When a player’s secret is activated, they get to answer a specific, provocative question about the murder victim by playing a scene. And, unlike in other scenes, other players can’t interfere!
[20:43] <~Dan> By interacting with an NPC?
[20:43] <+MilesGaborit> Activating a secret gives you answer a question about the victim definitively and unilaterally.
[20:43] <+MilesGaborit> *gives you the power to answer
[20:43] <~Dan> (Howdy, RayAtHigherGrounds!)
[20:44] <~Dan> Topic: (Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1503244936/tall-pines-a-surreal-murder-mystery-roleplaying-ga?ref=discovery)https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1503244936/tall-pines-a-surreal-murder-mystery-roleplaying-ga?ref=discovery
[20:44] <+MilesGaborit> Thanks Dan!
[20:45] <~Dan> So the Secret isn’t actually a defined secret, but rather an opportunity for the PC to define a secret?
[20:45] <~Dan> (Howdy, Snoof!)
[20:46] <+Geek2theRight> How do you go about setting up scenes? And I see you said “interfering” earlier, so how does that work, too? Does that PC have to already be in the scene, or can they inject themselves somehow?
[20:46] <+MilesGaborit> Yep, you’ve got it. But there is a specific question/prompt. And some other fun constraints about how you formulate your answer.
[20:46] <~Dan> Example?
[20:47] <+MilesGaborit> Sure, here’s an example Secret question: “What leads you to the woods near the border, and what do you find there that convinces you the victim was afraid?”
[20:48] <+MilesGaborit> The constraints are that you have to build your scene that answers the question out of 3 cards from the Symbol Deck.
[20:49] <~Dan> So the player plays out a scene that answers that question?
[20:49] <+MilesGaborit> Yep!
[20:50] <+MilesGaborit> Getting to Geek2theRight’s question…
[20:50] <+RayAtHigherGrounds> (Howdy!)
[20:50] <~Dan> How does that work? Do they simply tell the “story” of what happens?
[20:51] <+MilesGaborit> Yeah – but it’s important to note that Secrets (which happen infrequently) are the exception. They’re the only kind of scenes that are done by only one player.
[20:51] <+MilesGaborit> To start normal, non-Secret scenes, you select a Scene Card from your hand (a short text prompt) and one of the Protagonists that you’d like to play as the lead in the scene. You are welcome to invite other players to portray other Protagonists (or non-Protagonist townsfolk) in scenes.
[20:52] <+MilesGaborit> Then you start narrating/roleplaying/directing…but other players can grab control of your scene by playing in a card from their own hand, or one of the cards from the Symbol Deck (some of which are visible, face-up)
[20:53] <+MilesGaborit> This leads to a lot of unpredictability and surprising outcomes. And surreal weirdness.
[20:53] <+Geek2theRight> Are there rules to when such cards can be played? Or a limit to how many?
[20:54] <+MilesGaborit> There’s a limit of 3 cards total (Scene or Symbol) in any scene. Otherwise, you can play what you want when you want.
[20:54] <~Dan> I’m trying to visualize how this works in play… Is the character who’s got control defining what’s in the scene?
[20:54] <~Dan> (Welcome to #rpgnet, Guest67! You can set your name with the /nick command. 🙂 )
[20:55] <+Geek2theRight> What do symbol cards look like? I mostly want to know how open to interpretation they are.
[20:56] <+MilesGaborit> Yeah, exactly. If you start the scene, you begin talking about what the camera sees, what your Protagonist is doing/saying, what’s happening in the scene. And then when someone plays in a card, they take over. They may pass control back to you, or someone else may take it.
[20:57] <+MilesGaborit> There are some sample Symbol cards on the KS page ((Link: https://bit.ly/tallpines)https://bit.ly/tallpines), and also the Tall Pines Facebook ((Link: https://www.facebook.com/tallpinesgame/)https://www.facebook.com/tallpinesgame/). However those are just prototype images – I’m working with some photographers to produce some original (gorgeous) works for the game
[20:58] <+MilesGaborit> The prototype images are my own crap photos or CC-attribution free stuff from the internets
[21:00] <+MilesGaborit> As there are a pause in questions, just want to take a moment to freak out that the Tall Pines KS has LESS THAN $1,000 TO GO!
[21:01] <~Dan> Well done!
[21:01] <~Dan> Can the game handle violence?
[21:03] <+MilesGaborit> Yeah thanks. The game doesn’t have combat mechanics or anything – it is SUPER freeform. But violence is often featured…I mean, it starts with a murder and goes from there. The outcomes of violence are defined by whoever is in control of the scene when the violence occurs
[21:04] <+MilesGaborit> There’s nothing preventing, say, a Protagonist losing it and going all murderous. I’ve scene it go down.
[21:04] <+MilesGaborit> (Especially the psychotherapist for some reason???)
[21:04] <~Dan> Hmm… So what happens if a fight starts between two Protagonists? The player in control just says what happens?
[21:04] <~Dan> lol re: psychotherapist
[21:06] <+MilesGaborit> Yep, pretty much. But scenes tend to be pretty quick, punchy, and collaborative. And since nobody owns any one Protagonist, the reaction to intra-Protagonist violence is usually “Oh, wow – cool!” rather than “You killed my guy!”
[21:06] <~Dan> (wb, Silverlion)
[21:06] <+Geek2theRight> You just answered my next question, too. Huh.
[21:07] <~Dan> Okay, so hypothetical here:
[21:07] <~Dan> A PC is playing a Secret scene.
[21:07] <~Dan> Another player takes another Protagonist for the scene.
[21:07] <~Dan> A fight starts.
[21:08] <~Dan> The player in control of the scene decides that the Protagonist he’s controlling loses and dies.
[21:08] <~Dan> What happens to the Secret?
[21:09] <+MilesGaborit> Secret Scenes are always solo, one player affairs.
[21:09] <+MilesGaborit> Like monologues, informed by symbol cards.
[21:10] <+MilesGaborit> It’s the regular scenes of the game (that is, most of the scenes) that get funky with multiple players jostling for control.
[21:10] <+MilesGaborit> But there’s no specific “Secret” question to answer in those scenes
[21:10] <~Dan> Ah, I see.
[21:13] <~Dan> How does a regular scene start, again? (Sorry — I’m slow tonight.)
[21:13] <+MilesGaborit> No worries!
[21:14] <+MilesGaborit> So, each game is divided into 3 Acts, and in each Act each player will start one Regular scene (plus any Secret scenes they may activate). You start a regular scene by choosing a Scene Card (a text prompt) from your hand, and a Protagonist to play as the scene’s lead.
[21:15] <~Dan> (Howdy, Viktyr!)
[21:15] <~Dan> What determines who chooses the Scene Card, though?
[21:18] <+MilesGaborit> Players take turns starting scenes, choosing the Scene Card and Protagonist. Everyone gets to start one scene (and choose the opening Scene Card and Protagonist) per Act.
[21:18] <~Dan> So the number of scenes depends upon the number of players?
[21:18] <+MilesGaborit> Yep
[21:19] <+MilesGaborit> As does game length – about 30 minutes per player
[21:19] * ~Dan nods
[21:20] <~Dan> Do you provide any guidelines for surreal elements?
[21:21] <+MilesGaborit> Just the Symbol Cards themselves, really – images that I selected for being evocative, open to varying interpretations, and – sometimes – arresting and off-putting.
[21:22] <+MilesGaborit> Some of the Scene Cards have semi-surreal prompts, too.
[21:22] <~Dan> I’m just wondering how you keep “surreal” from tipping over into full-blown fantasy, sci-fi, or horror.
[21:24] <+MilesGaborit> Mainly by having most of the Scene Card prompts tend toward the mundane. It works quite well for Twin Peaks emulation – in play you end up with bits of surreality interspersed in everyday scenes.
[21:25] <+MilesGaborit> Your fellow players also end up often being a throttle on gonzo sci-fi/fantasy/horror stuff – because anyone can grab your scene, take it in another direction, and possibly even invalidate something you’ve established as fact.
[21:25] <~Dan> Really? That seems potentially surreal in and of itself.
[21:25] <+MilesGaborit> That being said, though, if the whole table is on board for gonzo business the game will follow you there. But it’ll keep pulling you back to mundane details.
[21:27] <~Dan> Can you give an example of a noteworthy surreal detail that was added in one of your game sessions?
[21:27] <+Geek2theRight> Seconded!
[21:29] <+MilesGaborit> Sure! Let me pull my memory together…I’ve played a lot of games of Tall Pines and they get a little blurry…
[21:32] <+MilesGaborit> Okay, so in a recent game at Comicon, a Symbol Card showing a deep well was played into a scene where a bunch of teenagers were exploring an abandoned tunnel. And, from the tunnel, came the voice of the murdered Victim (also one of the teen’s twin siblings).
[21:33] <+MilesGaborit> When that Symbol Card recurred in future scenes, it was used to have the dead Victim whisper from all kinds of round holes – a straw in someone’s soda, a termite hole in a board fence. And eventually it came to symbolize the dead Victim possessing her living twin!
[21:34] <~Dan> Huh. That’s pretty cool.
[21:35] <+MilesGaborit> Another recent game featured a Symbol Card showing a caged bird. And it appeared a couple of times sort of symbolizing the Victim’s feelings of helplessness before his death.
[21:36] <+MilesGaborit> However, it evolved to inform a bird worshiping cult, who had kidnapped/killed the victim because of what they believed he was “becoming”.
[21:36] <~Dan> The trick I find with surreal elements is that characters in movies and TV tend to just blink at surreal elements and accept them, whereas PCs tend to want to “get to the bottom” of them.
[21:38] <+MilesGaborit> I’ve seen it go both ways in Tall Pines. And I always appreciate it when PCs go all incredulous and “that’s impossible – what’s going on?!”…because I know they’re probably not going to find out, but their struggling to find out is going to be a weird, fun journey
[21:38] <+MilesGaborit> There’s a third option, too – when PCs just lean into surreal elements hard. “Your cult worships birds? I AM THE BIRD QUEEN!”
[21:40] <~Dan> (wb, Upogsi)
[21:41] <~Dan> Heh. That’s cool. 🙂
[21:42] <~Dan> (Howdy, Drew!)
[21:43] <~Dan> Is this your first RPG?
[21:44] <+MilesGaborit> My first published one. I’ve made games for Game Chef for the last 4-5 years, and make games that I play with friends.
[21:46] <~Dan> Do you prefer this sort of “3rd person” roleplaying?
[21:48] <+MilesGaborit> Depends on the game. In Tall Pines you tend to jump between “1st-” and “3rd person”, or “actor” and “director” stance pretty fluidly – or at least I do, and that’s how I’ve observed most players do it. But, you know, I like all kinds of games.
[21:48] * ~Dan nods
[21:49] <~Dan> Good answer.
[21:49] <~Dan> Is this game a one-off for you?
[21:50] <~Dan> (Welcome to #rpgnet, Guest43!)
[21:51] <+MilesGaborit> Not really – I’ve got a pretty broad design palette. Besides Tall Pines, other works-in-progress include 2 Powered by the Apocalypse games, a couple of LARPS, and a funky deckbuilder/traditional-tabletop-rpg/larp hybrid.
[21:51] <+MilesGaborit> So, kind of every project is a one-off. 🙂
[21:52] <~Dan> Oh, I meant “one-off” as in a “one and done” for this particular game.
[21:52] <+MilesGaborit> oh – yeah, totally. There are a couple of expansions that I’ll try to produce as stretch goals, but that’s probably it for my work on Tall Pines.
[21:53] <+MilesGaborit> (those planned expansions, btw, are a Lovecraft-country variant and an X-Files one)
[21:53] <~Dan> Nice choices!
[21:55] <+MilesGaborit> Thanks – I aim to please! And, really, I’ll take any excuse to shoehorn some Lovecraft into a game. Ask players from literally any of my previous D&D campaigns.
[21:55] <~Dan> Nothing wrong with that. 🙂
[21:55] <+MilesGaborit> Truth!
[21:55] <~Dan> So how do you solve the murder?
[21:56] <+MilesGaborit> The thing is, you might not. But in most games you’ll end with a scene that features the murderer. How defined that murderer is though differs from game to game. I’ll explain a bit more…
[21:58] <+MilesGaborit> As I said, the game is made up of 3 Acts. At the end of each Act you play an Act Close Scene, which features a more defined prompt than regular scene cards, as well as some required elements. The Act Close Scenes are visible to players throughout the game, so you always know where each Act, and ultimately the whole story is headed (you know, vaguely).
[22:00] <+MilesGaborit> The Act Close Scenes for the 3rd and final act all feature the murderer. But in practice, they may or may not make a clear appearance. I’ve played games where the murderer is straight up the Local Sheriff (a protagonist) reliving some childhood trauma, or the Psychotherapist (okay, it’s usually the psychotherapist) killing people with outre experiments…
[22:01] <+MilesGaborit> I’ve also played a game where the murderer was revealed to be a room of eternal fire hidden below the town of Tall Pines.
[22:02] <+MilesGaborit> To me this part – not requiring that the murder by “solved” – was a really important design goal. And I think I’ve nailed it – just like in Twin Peaks, you may not figure out who done it, but you’ll definitely learn more than you want to know about the townsfolk and their secrets.
[22:03] <~Dan> Cool. 🙂
[22:04] <~Dan> I think I’m running out of questions here… Is there anything important that we haven’t covered?
[22:06] <+MilesGaborit> You know, I think that’s about it. I hope all the fine people in the chat feel like they’ve got an idea of how play in Tall Pines looks and feels. Also, there’s an Actual Play video up on the Tall Pines Kickstarter page if folks want a more in-depth look.
[22:07] <~Dan> Alrighty then. Thanks very much for joining us, MilesGaborit!
[22:07] <~Dan> As a reminder to folks, my tip jar is here if you’re so inclined: (Link: https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/)https://gmshoe.wordpress.com/the-gmshoes-tip-jar/
[22:08] <~Dan> If you’ll give me just a minute, I’ll get the log posted and link you. 🙂
[22:08] <+MilesGaborit> Thanks so much for having me, Dan! It’s been a lot of fun. The URL for the kickstarter again is (Link: https://bit.ly/tallpines.)https://bit.ly/tallpines.
[22:08] <+MilesGaborit> Great!