May 12

Urban Heroes Interview

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Urban-Heroes--Tin-Hat-GamesOne of the benefits of being on Twitter is that it’s very easy to connect with people. That’s how I hooked up with Alessandro “Alex” Rivaroli of Tin Hat Games to talk about their kickstarter for the Urban Heroes RPG. As I’m not very familiar with the RPG industry in Italy, I thought it would be nice to also touch on that in my Urban Heroes Interview.

RPGames – Let’s start with a small introduction of who’s behind the Urban Heroes RPG.

#UH Alex – This is Alex, the script writer. I’m 29, studied literature at university, and I run a small company as assistant manager. I’m the one behind the idea and the rules of the Urban Heroes RPG. I also have fun with a model agency of mine, sing in a black metal band and I do consider myself a demiurge.
 
RPGames – When did you discover roleplaying games and which ones have you enjoyed the most so far?
#UH Alex – I started with the classic D&D red box at the age of 8 (same time a friend of mine showed me a Marvel comic book) and since then I always pushed everyone I knew to play that game because I naively thought it was way more satisfying and complete than any other game. From that day on I played many others (Cyberpunk, Vampire, Shadowrun, Cthulhu, Marvel Adventures, etc), even many indie ones of whom I can not remember the name. I do not feel ashamed to say that the one I played the most is D&D since I played many different campaigns in many of the lovely settings (especially from AD&D unforgotten love). Even though most of the times I have been playing it “homebrew” in a personal made setting. 
 
RPGames – The game is being published by Tin Hat Games. Have they released other games or has Tin Hat Games been established to release Urban Heroes specifically?

#UH Alex – Tin Hat Games is a developing reality. This is our first product to hit the market and when this is going to be successful, we will think about going serious with it. We have a lot of new projects in our drawers (board games as well as other rpgs) and we hope to make Tin Hat Games a launch platform for such games (so that they can find a major editor) and even think of becoming a big editor one day!

RPGames – What’s it like being a gamer in Italy ? Are there a lot of gaming stores and conventions?
#UH Alex – Nowadays I think it’s pretty easy since the geek culture has spread throughout every social substrate. It was different when we were young. My high school had more than 1500 students in the early 2000’s and only maybe 10 of them were geeks or nerds and we used to know each other (same thing with metalheads, homosexuals, and everyone else that could be labeled “different” ). Also finding products was so hard back then! Learning english was not something nerds did because they were the “teacher’s pet” but just because they needed to translate their Magic cards or their latest GW army manual and so did I.
We were raised with the idea that we couldn’t get all we wanted because it was only available overseas. I think this made our generation stronger and more dedicated to achieve our goals, also by developing our fantasy whenever our books and limited understanding wasn’t sufficient.
 
RPGames – What about the roleplaying industry in Italy? Are there a lot of publishers releasing roleplaying games in Italian? Or is the majority of games being translated from English or other languages?
#UH Alex – You are mentioning the reason we chose to go KS. We started in 2012 with our first edition with the plan to introduce it to the italian market and editors. We received a very good audience response but we were deep into the international financial crisis and all the major italian investors went like “sorry, we only put money in certain investments” which means translating foreigners’ games with the exception of a few Italian excellences like Sine Requie.
We already planned to go play with “the big guys” and when Matt introduced me to Kickstarter, I knew it was our path. There are plenty of authors and game designers in Italy but no one is paying attention or is willing to invest in them. We are now breaking the boundaries for every project yet to come, hoping that when #Urban Heroes will be successful on the worldwide market, some Italian editor will start taking care of our national talents. Why don’t we have a big comic book scene when all the best pencillers in comics are from Italy nowadays???
 
RPGames – I’m always looking to learn about new RPG’s. Which are the three most well-known RPG’s in Italian (not counting translated games)?
#UH Alex – Well there is not so many so I’ll tell you which are my favourite right now: Sine Requie (alternate post-apocalyptic with nazi zombies, retrotech inquisition in Italy, commie comrades in russia, and so on. It also has a nice original tarot GM system and is nowaday considered the standard in Italian rpgs), Nameless Land (post nuclear, diesel punk as fuck with mutants, gang fights on dune buggies and lot of scrap-gadgets a-là Borderlands), Project H.O.P.E. (a golden age super hero rpg set during WWII where you play mission by mission)
 
RPGames – What made you want to create your own roleplaying game, and why did you choose the superhero setting?
#UH Alex – As I said there were few games like #UH 10 years ago. Also games like Aberrant and Mutants &Masterminds were not popular at all in Italy. (they’re also very different from our game mechanics or setting).
The birth of the industrial comic movie era, the emancipation of the nerd, and its universe ( in the 90’s if you mentioned the X-men in public you used to receive a punch in the nuts from the popular guys because they simply considered that childish), the end of the Iron Age of comics, and the beginning of the Hollywood Age which carried the comic book world to be more realistic and connected to the actuality brought me to develop such setting. For the rules I made an encyclopedic work to make everything possible, trying to set up a slim yet technically complete rule system which was studied to get the best from the many systems I played before.
Three-four years ago, the death of one of my best friends suddenly made me realize I had to hit the market before anyone else would publish something like this and that there’s no point in procrastinating for great projects.
RPGames – Tell me a little bit about Urban Heroes. What makes this game stand out from other games in the superhero genre?
#UH Alex – Have you ever heard a game whose setting includes Putin, the financial crisis, Obama, conspiracy theories, the dictator of North Korea as well as brands like Psy-Phone, Xenology, Lola Dakota, Young Giants, Power Shore and other social phenomena like these??? #UH is contemporary to the point that we will keep updating our setting with real life facts revisited under the Earth Z spotlight.
I’ve also seen many games before and found none with this pitch of realism, which is something we used also when facing the Powers descriptions and functionality depiction (among our resources you’ll find J.Kakalios Physics of Superheroes). In #UH if you throw a punch against a brick wall and you have Super Strenght, you break a hole in the wall but your hand will likely explode at impact, unless you have the Invincible Skin Power too. And you will suffer from Mental Disturb when you get involved in a bloody muder.
For these reasons some guys on the internet labeled it a “SUPERPUNK” setting. I’m really getting along with this.
 
RPGames – When looking at the kickstarter page at first glance, the look and feel makes me think Marvel Comics, and more specifically X-men. What made you go for the comic-style graphics instead of a more ‘realistic’ approach like for example Godlike?
#UH Alex – Well if this has been your first impression, then it means we hit the spot! We are depicting reality itself and on tv shows and magazines everything is patinated, shiny and good looking. Or at least this is what the media wants you to believe in order to keep you comfortable while they do what they like.
You probably have seen the most fashionable side of the superhero world in #UH but inside our book you will find everything from the poorest sides of society to the morbid scandals that roam the star system. Everything is shown through a very comfortable operative system (Global Ost) and the graphics will make you feel so.
Our mascot, Molotov Boy, is all kawaii and stuff and will kindly help you by giving you advice (like Windows’ Clippy, remember?), but if you go deeper beyond its superficial cuteness….well there’s nothing cute in a minor wielding a molotov cocktail!!!! This is how they trick everyone and this is what we depict. The narrative part of our book is chaotic like the computer desk of a mad conspiracy theorist trying to unlock these sub-messages and stressed out by this “enjoyable nightmare”.
We studied a lot of media politics and their delusive models (guidos and slutty girls are part of it) and we came up with a work that lies to the reader just like it’s an item brought from our reality (a reality show, a magazine, a social network, a movie star, a pop star, an anti-corporativer movement too), which sometimes hides its worst nightmares behind the most smiling and happy face. Is this the real life or is it just fantasy? ol’ Freddie used to say.
RPGames – How much of an influence were superhero comics in the creation of this game?
#UH Alex – First time I started listing powers for this game was when I was 19 or 20 and I started right from my collection of comic books. Not just the Powers’ conception and mechanism comes from the comics world, but everything that is super-hero-related in our game is a plain reference to actual stories or characters from the history of comic books.
My major influence is Mr. Morrison (and his Supergods is a clear reflection of the world of comics). I cannot hide it but you can find pieces from Kick Ass, Ex Machina, Transmetropolitan, Watchmen and The Boys of course, series that hit the shelves some time after I created the first edition UH and that I followed till the very beginning.
I must anyhow say that the whole world of comics did influenced my work, from indie to mainstream, from jap to french BDs.
 
RPGames –In one of the updates I saw a layout example in Italian. How was the Italian version of Urban Heroes received ? Have more books besides the core rulebook been released in Italy?
#UH Alex – Well our Italian gamers fan base is our first line, as since the beginning everyone seemed enthusiastic about this new game! Maybe our being was so outrageous and impavid that it caught their attention or maybe it was the lack of “something new” on the market, but on the first day of Lucca Comics & Games 2012, we sold more than 100 copies and none of us were known on that market! That might seem like a small number but if you compare it to the Italian market it is seen as a good start for an indie game.
Anyway we did add an “Italian only” pledge as special thanks for those who want to support us and meet us to talk about our game. Everything about #UH will from now on be published both in english and italian. We are also thinking of translating the first adventure module we published for the first edition.
 
RPGames – On the kickstarter page you mention an incremental dice system. Could you explain that a little bit? How does using a skill or making an attack work in this system?
#UH Alex – Ok let’s get to the hardcore part: characters will have dice instead of numeric stats in #UH so for example, you will have Body: 1d6 or Body:1d4.
Abilities basically increase such characteristics by one or more steps so for example having 1 Rank in Sport:Baseball and having a Reflexes of 1d6, means that you will roll 1d8 when required to hit a ball with a bat.
Abilities are not linked to a single characteristic but it’s up to the players to know when and how to use such craft making the game perfect for survival and practical gaming. Your Rank in Sport:Baseball could for example increase your Social die when confronted with the task of explaining the game of baseball to a class of children.
Checks and tests are solved by passing a Difficulty imposed by the Scriptwriter (the rules for whom are described in the book).
Superpowers add some physics-breaking singularities to this highly mortal and gritty game expanding the sense of wonder beyond imagination. What will be the consequences of a human being producing even a few Watts of electrical power from thin air breaking the law of conservation of energy? Would it really be awesome to use teleportation if anyone else can as well like in D&D, Mutants&Masterminds or other “power play” settings?
Combat is round after round and characters can use Actions, Movements and Responses that, mixed with many tactical manoeuvres, make the action highly performing for technical-gamers. The influence of Psychology, Fatigue, Mental Disorders and Contacts will always keep everything real.
 
RPGames – I haven’t seen that many roleplaying games that have separate character sheets for male and female characters. Is it just the illustration or will a character’s gender also have an impact on game mechanics in some way?
#UH Alex – We simply are for sex equality and stand proud against every form of discrimination. Pussy Destroyers are an example of how misunderstood those movements are even in the real world.
 
RPGames – You have divided health points into different body locations. So how does an attack roll indicate which part of the body is hit?
 
#UH Alex – It depends on you choosing to make a regular attack roll or a Targeted one. A targeted one which is way more hard to achieve, will need you to stay still for the round but will let you choose in advance where you are shooting. There’s also a rule to hit specific parts of a location lika a finger for Arm location or an ear for Head location for example.
Health recovery is like real life so do not expect an easy “get out and fight as much as you can” game!
Infections and viruses are a threat too as well as regular physics. Flying over 20.000 meters of height means you reach very low temperatures and oxygen levels, and mastering the Flight Power does not mean you are immune to those conditions!
RPGames – You speak of more than 900.000 possible superhero power combo’s. Could you give some examples of such combo’s? 
#UH Alex – Powers belong to 5 different Origins: Psionic, Genetic, Divine, Magical and Wielders. Nothing new till now but you should consider our contemporary interpretation of these classics where for example Divines are bipolar psychos, and many Genetics become popular and trendy through perfectioning aestethic surgery. There are hundred standard Powers whose descriptions include Target, Duration, Type, Domain, Flaw, Activation and each description is divided in 4 Grades of potency (Minor, Medium, Greater, Superior). 
While Abilities level up by themesleves with a slow practice-based system (no escape to real life man!), players will be able to throw their Experience Points into Power Ups that will let their character’s Powers increase session after session (or better, Episode after Episode). You will be able to save EP for an important Power Up or spend a few of them for little augmentations. You can also increas the above listed characterstics of your Power customizing it to achive a unique hero. For example, if you have the Blast Power, you can choose to increase the number of rays you fire with one activation or maybe augment the area of such blasts. You’ll be able to change the type of energy of your blasts, accellerate the rate of activation, or decrease its related flaw to gain even more control over the fireing.
Every Power (depending on his Origin too) has its own list of Related Powers which will help you build your character’s advancement tree to assemble a more complete super hero (or villain, if this silly definition still has some kind of meaning!) 
 
RPGames – If you could pick a superpower for yourself, what would that be?
#UH Alex – Silverado space surfing device. It took me years to reach this final answer to this question everyone keeps asking but now I am perfectly sure and I have a billion reasons, the main one being “YOU CAN TRIP BETWEEN STARS”. ’nuff said
 
RPGames –Kickstarter has been a great way for game designers to gauge interest in their games. Have you helped fund other projects on Kickstarter and was it evident from the beginning that you would go the crowdfunding route?
#UH Alex – I am not that “cyber guy” so I wasn’t aware of its existence until two years ago. We funded something but we were already deep into our work on #UH.When we decided to go KS we had to explain to everybody what it was. Many still do not understand very well what we are talking about here in Italy (business consultants and lawyers included!).
 
RPGames – What has been your experience so far with Kickstarter with regards to feedback from backers, workload and so on? Do you feel it’s been a positive experience so far?
#UH Alex – We are about to reach our goal when I’m replying to this interview thus I wil say yes. I would have never been able to find all that money in such a short time to launch this game nor would I have had the visibility this platform is giving us! It has been a great struggle to launch it but now we are seeing some good comebacks! 
 
RPGames – Have you identified things you would do differently with a future kickstarter ? Any lessons learned you’d be willing to share?
#UH Alex – Do not over do it (maybe we spent too much on merch) and give the audience what they expect from your product. Many people did not like how we managed to give a free PDF so we simply added a PDF pledge level for 25 bucks as they demanded! Do not try to understand, just give it to them!. And schedule everything. Prepare everything ahead of time.
 
RPGames – According to the Kicktraq website, the Urban Heroes kickstarter is trending towards reaching a 101% goal. While this is not exact science of course, how confident are you of getting those last $2000 funded?
#UH Alex – Pretty much. We did split our dearest gamers friends into two groups, one was asked to pledge at the beginning and the other will pledge in the final days. Being prepared is everything!
 
RPGames – What if, worst case scenario, the kickstarter wouldn’t get funded, what will this mean for Urban Heroes? Will you keep working on it strictly in Italian? 
#UH Alex – As we said we got a bunch of PLAN B and PLAN C options to survive everything! Just joking, but we already planned, in such a catastrophic scenario, to stop, take some time to adjust our target and errors and then launch it again maybe in the next years.
 
RPGames – Following the release of the core rulebook, what could we expect as future supplements for Urban Heroes?
 
#UH Alex – Any kind of supplement: NPCs and monsters files, an equipment supplement, and of course a walkthrough of the setting for every kind of character. We will make different books depicting different social statuses all around the world and how the H.E.R.O.es dwell in such environments (forget the old “clan”, “class” or “continent” themed manual, we go social!)
Not to forget a new adventure module (that we’re already working on) and some extras like the geolocalizing system we would like to improve with the development of an app.
 
RPGames – Anything else you would like to add, closing comments, shout outs, … ? 
#UH Alex – This game is suggested for an aware audience. -RIOT NOW-

As I’m writing this, Urban Heroes has just reached its funding goal. If you liked what you read above and on the kickstarter page, there’s still 3 days left to jump into the Urban Heroes kickstarter and help fund some stretch goals.

Ralph

About the author

Ralph is a gamer, dungeon master, Youtuber, and RPG collector who's incredibly passionate about roleplaying games. Coming from a computer roleplaying game background, he discovered tabletop roleplaying games at GenCon Benelux and a whole new world opened up. When he was properly introduced to them in a local gaming store, he knew he had found the best game ever!



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