Interview: Tony Grasso (Part 2)
The second half, where we talk about skill trees, Hellboy, and dinosaurs.
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This is Part 2 of the interview. Part 1 is available, and was posted Tuesday.
In this half of the interview we talk about resource pools, combat, and dinosaurs.
Health and Grit act almost like spendable resources or currency! How did you develop that idea?
They are a currency, for sure!
Players are encouraged to spend their Grit all the time to boost rolls (i.e. add to a roll's result) or when using a power (i.e. abilities granted through animal talents or blisters). In Blister Critters, this resource is replenished by eating! So it can be tricky finding viable foods two decades past its expiration date...
The Stillfleet team wanted a system that involved some level of gambling. Our system of boosting (gambling) with grit allows players to make truly epic moves at 1st level, to get results of 12 or higher in a system where a 6 is a win. But you still fail on a 1! You’re much more likely to fail boosting a score to which you’ve allocated a d6 as opposed to one that’s a d12.
Can you talk a little bit about how combat works in Blister Critters vs. using a tactical map or specific positioning?
By abstracting the distances, the goal is to encourage more creative and less crunchy play. We wanted to provide some amount of structure to measuring distance, but beyond labeling them, there are way cooler things to be focused on during combat.
Combat in Blister Critters is pretty simple. Roll Scrap to attack a target, and they roll their Scurry to dodge. The higher result wins, ties go to the initiator. If successful, you'll get to roll Scrap again to deal damage.
But, what's rad about Blister Critters, is that rather than your weapon of choice (be it a carabiner clip or a coffee mug) having a discrete damage die that you roll alone, you actually roll both your Scrap (your natural ability to fight) and the weapon's Bonk (how hard this thing can hit something) to deal damage.
This speeds up combat quite a bit by increasing damage output, offers more opportunities to explode, and lets the players roll more dice! This also just doubles down on the cartoon aspects of the game, making combat a series of heavy blows that keep the episode moving without getting bogged in round after round of combat.
Advancement is based on episodes completed. And Blisters for upgrades use a skill tree, which is something I love in video games.
This was really a strange amalgamation of, “I want to make a classless game, I want it to feel different and a bit video-gamey, and I've drawn up this sweet piece of artwork... how can I make this work?”
From there, talking with Wythe, we were able to conjure up a really sweet advancement system that offers a ton of variety and replayability.
For one, it's not a terribly straight forward way to develop or balance a game (we've learned that first hand). It has all the issues that come with standard skill progression, but now its arranged like spaghetti. I also think that it will likely become more common in the future as TTRPGs experiment and blend more with their board and video game brethren.
Many games allow for a "respec" where you change which spots you picked on the skill tree. Did you consider that as part of the design? Or does that push the game too far toward video games?
I've absolutely considered this! Honestly it's implementation would be pretty straight forward for Blister Critters, but would be pretty square in the Zany category as far as rules go.
Personally, I'd love for a mid-season respec after a Critter goes through huge character growth or even if the player is just truly needing a change of pace. I can't speak to how it'd be implemented mechanically, but there'd be some sort of cost or sacrifice for sure.
I’m all for the blend and blurring of the line when it comes to mediums. If it’s a good idea, why shirk it for convention's sake?
Your art is amazing, and really makes Blister Critters come to life! What inspires your art and what does your process look like?
My work is heavily inspired by the works of Mike Mignola. His work, along with a long, long list of others (Marco Mazzoni, Jakub Różalski, Johan Nohr, [Brett Helquist] who illustrated for the A Series of Unfortunate Events books) have had a lasting impact on my work.
I do truly feel like all my prior work as an artist is now put to the test with Blister Critters, and I've been quite happy with the results thus far.
I work almost exclusively digitally these days, hunched over my desk like a goblin. Because my work is so linework centric, I typically get right to work on that, scrapping the need for sketches and thumbnails (often to the chagrin of my clients. oops.) and then go in to color on a single layer! I’ve developed the gradient(s) for Blister Critters over the past couple years. So now I can just apply the gradient and all the fancy colors already look nice.
Mike Mignola (of Hellboy fame) is one of my favorite artists! I can see the influence now that you say that! Where can we see more of your art?
Unfortunately I've fallen into the trap of only illustrating for work for the past few years. Work is creating tabletop games, so I can't truly complain I guess. A curated selection of my artwork can be found at Artstation/oddgobgames and everything else in-between resides on Instagram/oddgobgames.
What are the details on the upcoming Blister Critters Kickstarter? How can people get the full version?
Blister Critters launches February 6th!
The full version offers a deluxe boxed set that includes the full book as well as a ton of rad extras! Blister Critters dice, a 48 card encounter deck, a huge Stuff poster, stickers... yeah it's sweet.
Head to play.blistercritters.com to reserve your copy of the game today and pick up the exclusive mini-zine we’re making set in Wythe's childhood hometown, Atlanta.
Fight the feudal squirrels! Be weird! Do crimes!
What’s next for you? What else are you working on?
If all goes well, hopefully more Blister Critters!
I just launched a Patreon for MAD Borg, a modern apocalypse TTRPG built using MÖRK BORG! It's almost the exact opposite of Blister Critters haha. If you wanna bash in zombie brains and chew decades old bubble gum, check out MAD Borg.
Where can people find you online?
The most important question… what’s your favorite dinosaur?
For two very specific reasons.
That scene in the aviary from Jurassic Park III where one emerges from the fog and yoinks that little boy off into the air. The creepiness of that scene has stuck with me for a long time. (Upon a rewatch of that scene... it held up better in my head.)
At the end of The Rugrats Movie, the father Stu Pickles has crash landed his dinosaur shaped winged flying machine thing near a bridge trying to rescue the babies. The shot of him shambling up all covered in the debris and machine parts, the haunting noises he made, the framing, it was also super creepy to me as a kid. Having rewatched it recently as part of Blister Critters "research," that scene actually holds up.
Thanks again to Tony for taking the time to talk.
— E.P. 💀
P.S. You know what would be awesome? You in a Skeleton Code Machine shirt.
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