Interview: Tony Grasso (Part 1)
The first half, where we talk about influences, stats, and failing with impact.
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This is Part 1 of the interview. Part 2 will be posted on Wednesday.
According to the SCM Annual Ready Survey, creator interviews were one of your favorite types of posts. That’s good, because I really enjoy doing them and there are a couple more already lined up!
Tony is also the artist and creator of the upcoming Blister Critters TTRPG, co-developed with Stillfleet Studio.
We talked about game mechanisms, art influences, and The Rugrats Movie.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk! Let’s start with your background. Tell me about how you ended up making games!
Thanks for having me!
I'm a Florida based tabletop creator with a specific affinity for what I've been calling "whimdark" games. A healthy dose of whimsy with a humbling sting of dark to keep everyone on their toes.
In 2019 I got really invested in a choose-your-own-path style adventure I ran (illustrated and wrote) via Instagram posts for about two years. Through that I was able to pick up steady work illustrating for smaller TTRPG publishers and have been doing that for almost three years now. It wasn’t until I actually conjured up a little system agnostic adventure for people to run, my 2023 entry to Zinequest (AMMU: An Eldritch Extermination) that I realized, “Oh! I actually enjoy CREATING the games that I’ve been doing all this artwork for.” Immediately following the campaign I was flooded with inspiration for all sorts of games.
I definitely lean heavier into creating roleplaying games than board games, but I enjoy finding ways to blend the two.
Are there any particular games that have influenced your designs?
Games like Tales from the Loop are up there. Strong narrative focus, amazing visuals, and my preferred flavor of strange. Also the wildly and beautifully designed MÖRK BORG (and its many iterations and supplements) have seriously impacted how I approach layout and what a TTRPG can look like.
Perhaps not the right answer here, but my main influences when I get into a creative flow are films! "Oh, that'd make for a great mechanic!" "Man, that'd be a sweet session." Most recently, Paul Blart: Mall Cop.
Can't tell if you are serious with Paul Blart or not! 😂 What inspiration did Mall Cop provide?
We watched it over the holidays, as it is a Christmas movie, and I couldn’t help but think it would be so rad to play a game where you are parkour/BMX/skateboarding thieves trying to rob a mall. Do sick tricks and flips, yoink the mall’s goods, all while avoiding the security guard.
I pulled my phone out to write the game in a Google doc while the movie was still on; I was so jazzed about the idea.
Do you have any favorite tabletop game mechanisms?
Roll-over, contested rolls, roleplaying... all the trappings of a TTRPG. I've been really interested in giving players the power to drive the game in a way I have not personally seen in other TTRPGs. To almost hand them the game master's pen and let them run with it for a minute.
I want to experiment and try more push your luck mechanics. I feel like there is a lot for valuable tension there for players. I’d be interested in finding roleplaying games where the push your luck is slightly adversarial between player and GM. I’m sure they're out there and my inbox is open!
Let’s talk about your upcoming game. What is Blister Critters and why is it awesome?
Blister Critters is a TTRPG about mutated animals exploring a humanless suburbia, all wrapped in a surreal and kinda dark Saturday morning cartoon!
You start play as a cute little animal, and as you advance (gain Blisters) you grow more and more mutated under a supercharged sun. There’s feral, hyper-mutated, and violent animals (Beasts) to encounter. The humans left plenty of their stuff behind to find and use as weapons and armor! Sometimes the human stuff gets blistered and comes to life, called Bliffs! (BListered stuFF! Get it?)
It’s a Saturday morning cartoon episode you can play in!
I read the Blister Critters quickstart and that’s what we will be talking about today. How’s the quickstart different from the full version?
The quickstart has everything you need to play a few episodes (sessions) of Blister Critters.
The full version, however, offers seasons of play. Over 60 different animals to play as, the entire Blister Tree of powers to mutate through, a catalog of Stuff 200 items long, legacy character rules… I could go on and on. The full version is just jam packed with everything you’ll need to play as many seasons, in as many different ways, as you’re animal brain can handle.
The setting is “POST-ECOPOCALYPSE”. Can you talk about what that means and how you handled building that world?
The "poof" that caused humanity to vanish, though not explicitly stated in the game's text, is almost certainly the climate wars. The game explores—in the goofiest possible way—what it would feel like for other sapients (in this case, cute lil animals) to inherit the Stuff-filled earth. This is very much in line with the kind of games the Stillfleet Studio are focused on making, discussing the problems of capitalism and climate disruption.
On the lighter, more cartoony side, I found that there are a number of small animal TTRPGs, but most still sit squarely in the somber and medieval or at least, low-tech world. I thought it'd be a blast to be a wacky squirrel exploring my local arcade. So I made it possible!
The game supports two styles of play: Zany vs. Gnarly to satisfy two different types of players. What challenges did you have in doing that?
We, myself and the Stillfleet Studio, talked about this pretty extensively!
Wythe, the studio's founder, runs pretty much every game as a version of The Walking Dead as written by Bertolt Brecht: people reconstituting some sort of society in the wake of the eco-apocalypse that late capitalism is.
But, I run it as an everything goes, paws to the wall, use your rabbit ears as propellers, cartoon-hijinks filled romp. Very zany.
It isn’t necessarily a binary, there are plenty of gnarly rules that would feel right at home in a zany game. We recommend discussing the genre of Blister Critters that your table wants to play prior to beginning a season!
This also starts to lean into how crunchy you want to approach playing! Some players just want to play a freaky rabbit wielding a pencil and not worry about the gnarly crunch. Others want a serious discussion about the moral implications of restarting civilization anew. Luckily, its all here and can be explored at each table's preferred pace.
Critters have five stats. How did you come up with those stats, and how do they differ from the typical Str/Dex/Wis?
Blister Critters is built on top of the Stillfleet Studio's Grit System!
The Grit System is built on five scores that were reskinned for Blister Critters: Combat (Scrap/SCP), Movement (Scurry/SRY), Reason (Nogin/NOG), Will (Instinct/INS), and Charm (Vibe/VIB).
Rather than a value attached, or a bonus to be added, the scores are all rollable dice. Meaning you could have a SCP (scrap) of d12 (high) or a SCP of d6 (normal), or even a COM of d4 (low—maybe you’re a kid, maybe you have a broken leg due to an accident).
Where other games may have their stats/scores apply broadly, these scores are used for pretty focused purposes. Scrap is used exclusively for combat rolls. Noggin used almost exclusively for rolls related to human Stuff and human knowledge.
I like the concept of “failing with impact” when you roll a 1. Can you explain what you mean by that and perhaps give an example?
Failing should be as consequential, especially on a 1, as actually getting to do the thing you wanted.
During a playtest here at home, I had a player try to squirt a hot sauce packet into the eyes of a Beast the pack was fighting. They jabbed it full of holes, aimed at its face, squeezed real hard and... rolled a 1. Now, not only did the hot sauce not go into the beast's eyes, it squirted back directly into the player’s eyes, and their packmates behind them needed to make Scurry rolls to not be hot sauce blinded as well.
The players loved it, it made for a memorable mishap, and one of the hot sauce blinded players lost a limb as a result... it was replaced with an action figure limb, so win, win.
To be continued…
My interview with Tony was really interesting, and I didn’t want to cut it down to a single post. So I’ve split it into two parts.
This concludes Part 1 for today. Part 2 will be posted tomorrow. It’s a double Skeleton Code Machine week!
While you are waiting, why not check out some of Tony’s games like Frogs with Shotguns, and I’ll see you tomorrow!
— E.P. 💀
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