Interview: The Wizard of Oz (AUS) – Joe Sweeney from StoryWeaver Games, Part 2

Yesterday we started chatting with Joe Sweeney of StoryWeaver Games on a variety of topics… (You can read Part 1 here.) What do you think about continuing that now?


Joe the GM!

Joe the GM!

Q: What are the keys to exploring the world of horror at the game table without sacrificing sanity to the Old Ones?

If I told you that, I’d have to kill you! Or perhaps you’d kill me first? Who can tell!

Actually, I produced a short video that discusses the psychological and physiological foundations of fear, and how you can use that knowledge to create a great horror gaming experience. Rather than going into detail, what I would say is that a good horror game uses the same mental pathways as humour: it is about cognitive dissonance. You want to give people just enough ‘fear’ in a manner that does not trigger deeper fight or flight reactions. I’ve run horror games where I genuinely upset people, which took them out of the story and thus game. Not fun. These days I’m much more careful and introduce horror – even gratuitous splatter horror – in a way that most people would find amusing and ridiculous. You can think of this as the difference between “Cabin in the Woods” and “Saw.”

Q: What is your favorite story as a GM at the game table?

I don’t really know to be honest. It depends upon the group of people around the table. If I know the gaming group are largely “story swine” in the game is going to be all about their character development, or exploring (and blowing up) social concepts. If I am playing with a group of “hard-core gamers” then the game might be a little bit more plot driven, with quite a bit more combat. Either way I’m happy just to be getting some gaming time!

I’ve mentioned this above, but I see GMing primarily as a way being of service to the gamers. It’s a discipline. Thus, it’s not so much what sort of game I want to play, as much as what the players want to play.

Of course there are some game mechanics that I really don’t enjoy. But that’s a completely separate discussion.

Q: What drew you towards the dark side (publishing) side of gaming?

I began writing games when I was about 15-16 years old. However it was not until I turned 40 that I decided to finally publish. To be honest, I was far too shy, even embarrassed, to publish. Which is rubbish of course, because my games rule! 🙂

What actually happened is that I got some really good personal coaching, and began to realise that there were reasons why I wasn’t pushing myself to publish games. Basically, putting yourself out there in the market is a sure way to scare the crap out of yourself. I talked to quite a few other gamers, including some folks who have written absolutely brilliant materials for cons and realise that this was a common situation. So when I published Rapture, which was not the first ever game I wrote (far from it) it was as much a way of me facing my fears as anything else. Yes I know that sounds very new age and hokey pokey, but it is actually the way it all came about.

In fact, StoryWeaver has been structured as a business in order to help others overcome their fear of publishing (putting themselves out there). I’m a real believer that many, many gamers have a game inside them just wanting to burst out and take the market by storm. Now with the Internet, virtual table tops, kickstarters and all the other channels available to us, there’s really no longer an excuse.

Q: Any guidance for prospective publishers? Perhaps the top three things to remember as they start down the dark path?

First: being a game designer is a bit like being a musician. Don’t give up your day job.

Second: don’t scrimp on production excellence. Surround yourself with people who are better than you. No really I mean this. You will need to invest heavily in artwork, editing, and play testing. It’s not enough to have a great game or even great writing. The entire package needs to be put together professionally and beautifully. That, more than anything else, is where people fall over.

Third: Playtest! Playtest! Playtest! And don’t stop until you have completely rewritten the game. Twice.



High-Space Full Color 3.5 x 7Q: What has been your favorite project so far as a publisher, writer, or artist?

That is a hard question! Too many!

Rapture still has a huge place in my heart. I did the original artwork, wrote the text, produced the audio files, background music, and more. From the ground up, I wanted to make Rapture a completely engrossing, transmedia gaming experience, yet retain the purity of the tabletop experience. It’s also a truly evil product, in that on the surface it can be played as a schlock horror game, yet underneath that it poses some deep theological, and philosophical questions. Plus, how many other games are there where you can only earn experience by having your characters killed off in horrible, horrible ways?!

Another project I really enjoyed working on was Hael, a sort of sci-fi fantasy mash up by Patrick Taylor. Its production quality was high, and took ages, but I really enjoyed working on it. Unfortunately Hael has not sold too well: perhaps just bad timing, or too many fantasy settings already for Savage Worlds? Makes me a bit sad.

These days I’ve been enjoying working on the soon to be published game “Deniable” which is about as far away from Rapture as you can get. The artwork is all stark photography, the world setting light, and the tone incredibly sardonic and humorous. There is no real deep subtheme to Deniable, other than “people are all pretty messed up, and that’s just fine.” What I like about Deniable is that it simply plays well, even with newbies. The extended play-test phase has given me some of the most fun games I’ve ever played.


(Miss part 1 of this interview? Check it out here!)

First, I have to thank Joe for answering my litany of questions… Second, I have to thank Jaie, his trusty sidekick and gnome illusionist, for helping wrangle the questions to and from with all the relevant bits.

Want to know more about StoryWeaver Games? Check them out on the web, on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Google+. They’re very busy folks!

Want to interact with Joe, Jaie, and many other folks? Sign up for AetherCon which is a cool online gaming convention happening in November!

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