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James Introcaso: [00:00:00] Through the wall of your ship walks this adorable fox-sized creature with big blue fur all over its body, giant eyes with red irises, a quivering little lip on its snout, big ears, and three bushy tails that are all wagging. They’re wearing a collar that has a little dangly tag coming from it that jingles as they walk over to you. You see one of your companions reach out to pet this thing. And as your companion does, suddenly, the creature becomes translucent and their hand passes right through it.
Lucas: [00:00:54] Hello and welcome to the season two finale of Making a Monster! This is the 27th monster I’ve explored on the show, and I don’t think I could have chosen a better monster, game or guest with which to park the show for its summer break. James Introcaso is a titan of the RPG industry. He’s a tabletop roleplaying game designer who works with Wizards of the Coast on Dungeons & Dragons, Roll20, Kobold Press, and other awesome publishers; he also happens to be very generous with his time and his good will toward projects like mine.
James Introcaso: [00:01:25] It’s really cool. I love the idea and the concept behind it and everything. So I’m very glad that you started it. Yeah. Yeah.
Hey, my name is James Introcaso and I have he him pronouns. I was a freelance television producer. So I was doing game design and television on either side of a scale, if you can picture it that way. And I very slowly managed to shift more and more of work into game design. And now I do game design full-time and I’ll work with MCDM, which is Matt Colville’s production company.
Lucas: [00:01:58] Oh, great.
James Introcaso: [00:01:59] full-time starting in February. So, so yeah, it’s, we will thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate that. So yeah. Yeah. I am a full-time game designer now. And it is it is great. I really love it.
Lucas: [00:02:10] I’m always out there looking for like the weird stuff. And that’s one of the reasons I wanted to make sure that we had a chance to chat, because of Burn Bryte
A screenshot from the starter adventure James sent me for promotional consideration.Lucas: [00:02:26] Uh huh. I have to say, I really appreciate you giving me, access to the game before this interview, because I don’t think I would been really equipped to handle all of the nuances without the couple of hours I spent going through some of the setting and the character creation process before this interview. We need to talk about what Burn Bryte is and what makes it unique.
James Introcaso: [00:02:48] Sure.
Lucas: [00:02:49] First of all, what is the event that the game is named for?
James Introcaso: [00:02:53] Right. So in Burn Bryte, which is a science fantasy role-playing game, right, takes place in the Olaxis galaxy, a bryte, B R Y T E is an age. So in the history of this galaxy, there was an exploration bryte where people were exploring things. There was a war bryte where a bunch of planets were at war with each other and stuff like that.
The Burn Bryte is defined by the “burn”, which is this phenomenon that has showed up and surrounded the galaxy on all sides, top and bottom. And it is slowly and eratically closing in and anything that touches the burn that passes through it is never seen or heard from again- planets, people, spaceships, whatever.
It goes beyond this sort of orange “Northern-Lightsey-looking” phenomenon that no one can see past. And this thing is constricting the galaxy and people are panicked because they don’t know where it came from, what it is or how to stop it.
Lucas: [00:03:49] You did write that the burn has partially swallowed some planets. So it’s possible to be in contact with the burn and not dead. What happens to a planet or a person in that situation?
James Introcaso: [00:04:01] That’s a great question. So you have to pass through the burn or the burn needs to pass over you for you to be, what we call consumed, that never seen or heard from again. When planets, right? Cause the orbit of a planet could bring it by the burn, but then have it not be swallowed.
So when that sort of thing happens we actually have a table of random effects in the book. so weird, but
Lucas: [00:04:24] Because this is an RPG.
James Introcaso: [00:04:25] yes, of course, of course. So weird, almost magical things happen. And I, I mean magic in sort of the dark and sinister way, right. All of a sudden your planet can become crystalline. A weather phenomenon can happen on your planet that turns everybody who lives in your planet into a zombie that can fly through space basically and infect other people. Uh, it can turn an entire planet into gas or an entire gas planet into solid, that kind of thing.
So there are these weird and and strange effects that happen in there. And I should mention the other thing about the burn is that it’s because it’s slow, we still have time left. There’s still going to be some generations of people before the burn consumes the entire galaxy. So it’s not a galaxy without hope.
I think when we think about apocalyptic stories and post-apocalyptic stories, it’s all about like, what are the lengths you’ll go to, to survive? You’ll lose your humanity. And this is more about you play characters who say no. Just because things are bad just because the world is ending is no reason for me to give up being kind and give up standing up for what is right. And so it really is a hopeful game from that perspective.
Lucas: [00:05:41] Yeah, and I think you’ve dipped into science fantasy with that. And I would also like to say that early science fiction was far more hopeful than the science fiction listeners might be familiar with now. So I really appreciate that you’ve brought that back to the genre.
James Introcaso: [00:05:58] Oh, yeah. Yeah. Thank you. That was a big thing. The design team we, we talked about from the very beginning. This idea of like preserving hope and it’s something that Kat and Darcy were really vocal about and it was like, yeah, that’s a great idea because it’s such a, for this time, a fresh take.
Lucas: [00:06:15] That’s Kat Kuhl and Darcy Ross, designers of Burn Bryte.
James Introcaso: [00:06:19] And, and don’t get me wrong, I’ll get it down with some post-apocalyptic, you need to eat your best friend kind of role-playing game, uh, but, for Burn Bryte it was definitely the right decision. And I’m so glad that I was working on and promoting a game about hope in the past year. So, you know, given all of the world events that are going on and the pandemic and everything else, it was great to be able to say, here is something that I hope will distract you and fill you with hope.
Lucas: [00:06:48] Yeah. Yeah, that’s great. And because we’re in that space of conversation, I’ll, I’ll go ahead and date the interview. This is January 9th, 2021. And uh, some stuff happened this weekend
James Introcaso: [00:06:59] yeah, can you believe we’re only a week into 2021.
Lucas: [00:07:02] Uh, It’s not the calendar’s fault. But when I, when I started Making a Monster, I had no idea that the, term or the word monster would be so difficult to define and so difficult to use. I’ve noticed over the past six months of doing the show and putting it together that “monster” is usually the word that we put on maps when we don’t know what’s there.
It’s the word that we assign to the unknown or the other, or the stranger or the thing that we fear, which if my podcast can bring anything to the world right now, it’s a better attitude toward the other. All of which is to ask a monster in the terms of tabletop role-playing games can be a lot of things.
D&D has a very broad definition of what a monster makes. It’s anything with a stat block, anything you can interact with. In Burn Bryte, how do you use the word monster, or do you? Or what would you consider a monster in your game?
James Introcaso: [00:07:57] It’s funny cause we don’t, mechanically, I believe we never use the word monster. We call our, our bestiary “the NPCs section”, because I’m kind of, of the opinion that like anything that isn’t a player character that is alive and is, not a plant or an amoeba or whatever an animal, a creature is an NPC. And so we use creature a lot because I do think creature is more neutral and also evokes a science fantasy sort of Jim Henson type feel. Right. And again, that was an intentional design team decision.
That being said, I do think that monster can be fun. I grew up on Sesame Street so the word monster to me can also mean Grover who, I mean, who doesn’t love a super Grover, right? That man’s a hero. So I don’t necessarily think that monster needs to be a bad term, but I understand it, it comes with a lot of baggage. I think because typically monster means evil thing we need to kill or very “othered” thing that we need to kill.
So yeah, we don’t necessarily have monsters in that sense, but in the RPG sense, if you wanted to call the Burn Bryte creatures “monsters,” I think that’s okay too, because they can be lovable and cute and furry like Grover.
Lucas: [00:09:10] That being said, is there anything I need to understand about Burn Bryte before we can talk about the NPCs section?
James Introcaso: [00:09:17] Yeah. Yeah. So I think the first thing to understand about Burn Bryte is by some definitions of the word monster, everything in Burn Bryte as a monster. Um, uh, So, there’s no humans in it, right. You play in Burn Bryte, as a player, as one of eight species of what we, as humans, would consider aliens that have super powers based on their anatomy and physiology.
Those things are weird and wonderful. So everything from you can play a sapient mech suit, to a swarm of telepathic bugs. You play the swarm that thinks with a hive mind and moves around and stuff to, and this is probably the most quote unquote monstrous of the species that we have, a giant slug that can enter and puppet corpses called the Zivoy. And those are the player characters that we’re talking about Right yeah. So,
Lucas: [00:10:08] you haven’t, if you can’t tell by now, this game is buck wild.
James Introcaso: [00:10:13] Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. Yeah. And people have a lot of fun usually going into this and the reason we didn’t have any humans is because one it’s mechanically, it’s kind of hard to design if it’s like a system for super-powered species , and super power, meaning powered compared to humans, well, then you probably don’t want humans in there.
Lucas: [00:10:31] Yeah, there’s a lot of bit, there’s a bit of Ben 10 in the DNA here.
James Introcaso: [00:10:35] Yeah. Yeah. That’s very true. That’s very true. Thank you. I never really thought about that, but I’m going to use that from now on. Um
But then the other thing is that it’s very easy in games where there are humans, and not all games that have humans do this, but it’s very easy for species, ancestries, whatever you want to call it, become very monolithic when you have humans. Because humans are the adaptable ones who are, have a range of different personalities and interests and are quick learners. Right. And when you remove humans, everything has the possibility of being human, then. Everything has humanity. Everything has that diversity among its different people within the species.
And so that is why we chose that decision. It was like, yeah, we can create this lore and talk about like, this is what their home world and home culture is like, but by the way, part of character creation is you build your own culture and, people have been traveling all over the galaxy for hundreds of years.
You might come from like a, essentially a place that’s like New York City and be in this very diverse place, full of all different kinds of culture and your own that you are a part of that isn’t part of your home world culture. Right? And so we wanted to have that feel to it. So, that’s kind of like one good thing to understand about all of the different species in Burn Bryte.
And then that there are a lot of wild, other what we would call sapient species, right? A humanoid-esque kind of people that you cannot play at the current time. There are also then other sort of constructs and animal-like creatures, right, things that are more mystical.
We just released a new creature pack called the Galactic Grimoire that has more creatures that get even weirder like those spaces zombies I was talking about that you can add to your game. So yeah, so there’s a lot of things, I would say, when it comes to creature variety.
We aim to let you believe we don’t have as many creatures as D and D does yet, but we want you to think like the sky is the limit when it comes to creatures because alien worlds, magic? Yeah. And we, one thing we do is we provide a few stat blocks that can be easily modified. So like we have like a generic animal stat block that you can pull abilities onto, to make your own animals for. Because there’s so many worlds in Burn Bryte, there’s gotta be billions of animal species, right?
Lucas: [00:13:05] Absolutely. Yeah. And we’re a half hour in and we’re about to get to the main thrust of
James Introcaso: [00:13:10] Sorry. I’m talking way too much.
Lucas: [00:13:12] No, no, honestly, this is about par for the course, especially for a game that isn’t Dungeons and Dragons where we have to lay a lot of groundwork. Is there a single one that stands out as your favorite?
James Introcaso: [00:13:22] Yes there is. And it is the blipp. The blipp is I guess what we would call like a cute creature or a cute monster. They are they sort of look like a almost like a Pokemon, they’re like a fennec fox that have these three bushy tails and they can be bright blue or green or red or that sort of thing.
And they’re about the size of a small fox too. So picture this adorable dog with these three fluffy tails. And what I really love about them is that they can phase through solid objects. And so they can they can be hard to get, right? They’re found all over the universe and people desire having a blipp as a pet because when you hold the blipp, you also gain the ability to phase through things. And so, having a blipp gives you a superpower and a super cute best friend.
The problem is uh, blipps are not easy animals to raise. They look like these cuddly dogs and stuff, but I don’t know if you’ve ever seen people, like try to keep foxes? My wife follows a ton of foxes on Instagram, rescued foxes – they are a nightmare. They like never want to do what’s, what they’re told. They bite you. They don’t like to be held, that kind of thing.
And so that’s sort of the fun of a blipp is like, I mean, you can hold on to a blipp if you want to and try to run through a solid object, but if you treat that blipp poorly even by accident, hug them a little too tight as you’re running through that wall, they’ll jump out of your grasp and leave you stranded in a wall. And so, uh, so that’s sort of the fun behind blipps. And there’ve been a couple live-streamed games that I’ve seen and every game practically puts a blipp into the story some point because uh, it’s a lot of fun to have. They’re a cute creature, the players, like as soon as they see the art, they’re like, oh yeah, I wanted this baby. And then, you know, you also have the chance to, to let a player get stuck in a wall.
Lucas: [00:15:23] What a gift you’ve given. That is aggressively cute.
James Introcaso: [00:15:29] Oh good.
Lucas: [00:15:31] uniqueness.
James Introcaso: [00:15:32] Yes. Yeah. There’s a lot of things in Burn Bryte that can kill you too. So I don’t want, you know, we, we’ve got plenty of, plenty of monsters. In the Galactic Grimoire, there’s space spiders that like to suck the magic juice out of your spaceship. And there are a giant lizard people that have been chased by the burn from another galaxy into a Olaxis. So, you know, we got lots of fun going on as well as, as far as that goes, but the blipp just has a place really, really close to my heart and it turned out to be adorable the art was perfect. And the stories people tell with it are so fun.
Lucas: [00:16:08] So now we get into some of the hard works and the heavy lifting of the podcast. When you were putting this together from a visual perspective or from a mechanics perspective, what were some of the influences that you can point to? I have one of my own in mind. I want to see what you say.
James Introcaso: [00:16:23] Ah, gotcha. Yeah. So for me I think a big thing that influenced me that I really like creatures that can phase through walls. I think they make very interesting encounters. So from a mechanics perspective, things like the D&D wraith and spectre and other incorporeal creatures was really cool.
And I wanted a way to give that to characters, but it also felt like a power that was too powerful to have all the time. And so it was like, well, maybe an item, well, you know, an item like they can just use all the time then that’s kind of like, and so, this is where this came up with. Obviously like Kitty Pryde from the X-Men is a big influence as far as the power set goes.
Then as far as the as far as the look goes in Burn Bryte, I was sort of, we don’t have a lot of like conventionally cute creatures, or we didn’t, when we were making this. We did end up with a lot of conventionally for cute creatures. But we didn’t when we were making this the blipp and and so I was like, well, what is sort of cute?
And so, the look is a little, I would say, like, Vulpix-based a little Eevee-based from from Pokemon is sort of, where that, that netted out. Did I hit on any of your influences?
Lucas: [00:17:38] A couple, indirectly. The Vulpix is of course based on the Japanese legend of the kitsune.
Which is like, you know, fan favorite. If we’re talking about Pokemon, those are also aggressively, aggressively cute. They’ve almost weaponized. Every Pokemon has giant eyes, a chubby face, unless it’s supposed to be mean, all these things that like we’re programmed to respond to as cuteness. But the other thing that that is a big flashing neon sign is in my head is the blink dog.
James Introcaso: [00:18:06] Ah, yes. So actually good, good point. Yeah, there is definitely some blink dog DNA in the blipp. And. Ah, I love blink dogs. I actually, there’s a D and D book that I wrote a a three legged blink dog into and and it got cut the book. There’s the whole section got cut. And I’m so sad.
Cause I was oh, I just want you to hang out with this blink dog. And uh, but yeah, yeah, so that’s a, yes, the blink dog very much kind of runs through everything I do because they’re one of my favorite creatures of all time.
Lucas: [00:18:40] Got it. So in terms of game mechanics, and I guess this might be relative, what are some of the mechanics that you’ve given to the blipp from within Burn Bryte’s system that that might hard-code some of what it does into the way the mechanics function?
James Introcaso: [00:18:54] Yeah. So the big thing is that group phase ability, right? So the blipp can phase through solid objects and any creature touching it can also phase through objects, but they have to stay in contact with the blipp while they do so. And if you are inside a solid object and you lose contact with the blipp, you become shunted out of that object and you take damage.
And the place you go, right? So let’s say you’re moving through a, a wall in a spaceship to go from one room to the next. The GM decides where you end up next to the object you’re shunted out. So that could mean you could end up in space depending on where you are and where the object is. Right.
And so that’s probably the, the biggest thing that the blipp really gets that is built into the mechanics of Burn Bryte. Burn Bryte is meant to be played on a map because we use Roll20, right? It’s built optimized for Roll20. You can play it at the table, like physically, if you want to, you still need Roll20 to access just the rules.
And so, so we use a lot of maps because of that. Because Roll20 has a big strength with maps. So that’s the big thing that they get and then otherwise their statistics are that of kind of like a small fox. You know, they have a bite ability. They’re pretty agile but you know, they’re not any more sort of intelligent or aware than an animal like a dog or a fox would be.
Lucas: [00:20:15] Right. And this is where we would I don’t know if we have time to get into this but maybe in brief.
James Introcaso: [00:20:21] do it. Let’s do it. I can be late. It’s fine.
Lucas: [00:20:25] okay. So you know, D and D has it’s couple of signature stats, alignment three mental, three physical stats, and then hit points. Are there corollaries to those in Roll20, or would it be closer to like a, a Monster of the Week where you have sort of a harm track?
James Introcaso: [00:20:39] Oh, sure. So you have three health levels to start with your character and you can get more. So the way health levels work are I would say it’s more like the Monster of the Week harm track. Most attacks deal one damage. And so when you get hit, you take one damage and when you are reduced to zero, you gain a condition, a negative condition, right?
And we didn’t name conditions because there’s so many things that can affect you. So we just said, this is what they do if you’re affected by a condition. It affects one of your skills. It’s a skill based game like Fate. And so it makes your, your skill roles harder when you are suffering from a negative condition.
And when you have a positive condition, your skill roles are easier. And then once you have three conditions and you drop to zero you can die as a player character. For enemies. It’s generally like once you’re reduced to zero, you’re you’re dead.
This is the way we say it is you’re taken out by the attacker’s choice, right? The attacker gets to decide how you’re taken out. So maybe you cower, maybe run away, maybe you’re knocked out. Your health levels are not just your physical sort of toughness, but also your emotional and mental wellbeing. So you can.
Lucas: [00:21:49] your narrative function in the story.
James Introcaso: [00:21:51] Yeah, exactly, exactly. And during combat, you can make attacks with any skill so you can like berate your enemies into surrendering or feeling bad about what they’re doing. You can very much play a non-violent character and still resolve things in combat in Burn Bryte
Lucas: [00:22:09] yeah, that’s excellent. So we’re gonna move here into kind of, the broad, general philosophizing portion of the interview. And it’s much easier to do this I found with like titanic monsters that shake the very core of your being and your relationship with the world.
But I love what you set up with the blipp here because you’ve offered a really excellent ability, but it comes with a lot of risk. When you put a blipp in the game as a designer, as a storyteller, what is it blipp meant to do?
James Introcaso: [00:22:39] A blipp is meant for mischief and that mischief could be, the players can work with the blipp to get into mischief, right? If, if they can endear themselves to that blipp they can use that to cause mischief. They can use that to be more sneaky, do the things we think of as being tricksy.
But it’s also meant to make your players feel like the robbers in a Home Alone movie, right? Because they’re going to want to interact with this blipp, they’re going to want to become friends with it. Players want to become friends with any creature they meet be it a brutal owlbear or an adorable blink dog, right? And so the same is true with the blipp.
And watching them sort of. You know, try to chase down the blipp, give it food, interact with it, is also going to be a lot of fun as the blipp causes mischief. So I think that’s really their, their role in the story is to you know, cause some mischief.
Lucas: [00:23:39] Mischief and trickster gods have a long heritage in storytelling for good reasons. So every time we get to this point in the interview, there’s a master’s thesis waiting to be written in culture and anthropology. But from your perspective what issues or questions do you want your players to grapple with when there’s a blipp in their ship?
James Introcaso: [00:23:58] Yeah. So I think the thing about the blipp is it’s the, it’s a monster, quote unquote, that, because it causes a lot of mischief is going to cause some hopefully fun moments, but maybe some frustrating moments for your players and certainly frustrating for their characters. Right.
And I think the questions that you can grapple with would be, one like what do we do with this thing? Right? Like it’s, it’s adorable. And therefore we don’t want to go to our normal, “time to murder!” Uh right? Which is a good thing. It’s It’s good for players to grapple with that question.
But then the other thing is when the blipp is part of the team, I think one of the questions that they have to grapple with is like, when is it ethically okay to move through walls and break privacy, right? Walls exist for reasons. Walls exist for our comfort, for our safety, for our privacy.
And so, when is it right now that I can do this whenever I want, walls are no longer a barrier, when is it okay for me to do it and how do I get this creature who is an animal to know that like, yeah, just cause you smell some delicious food in that room doesn’t mean you can just walk right into my bedroom whenever you Right? So I think there’s, there’s fun to be had that way.
Lucas: [00:25:16] Burn Bryte asks you to take the leap into an expanding original universe where humanity is diverse and hope wins, and I’m so glad I got to share it with you as the final episode of Making a Monster season 2. Burn Bryte is genuinely worth your time; here’s how to find out more about it.
James Introcaso: [00:25:33] There’s a lot of wonderful and weird creatures in Burn Bryte. The blipp is the very tip of the iceberg.
And like I said, if killer monsters are more your thing, we’ve got a lot of them too. So, you know, that’s been really, really fun making these giant missions, which are like space slug, dragons that used to control the galaxy and stuff like that. So there’s a lot of really, really cool stuff in Burn Bryte that people should check out.
People can go to burn bryte.com. Bryte is spelled B R Y T E a, and they can learn more there. And that’s the, probably the best place to find it out, get links to the game and that sort of thing. There’s already, also several starter adventures. So if you want a lower cost to entry checkout trapped at the edge on the roll 20 marketplace comes with pre-gens.
Everything you need to play like a two to three hour game of Burn Bryte that will teach you the system is in there as well. So that’s a good place to check out. And if you like D and D monsters check out My Dad’s Monster Manual. It’s a monster book that I wrote with my dad. It’s on the DMS Guild.
So took all of the arts in the monster manual and I showed it to my dad and I said to him what do you think this creature does? What do you think, where do you think it came from? What do you think its name is? And a bunch of other followup questions based on those. And then I took that and I rewrote the lower end stat block for about 80 monsters in the Monster Manual based on his responses.
And it’s really great. Seems like it would be a walking dad joke, but they are play tested creatures that you can use at your table and have a lot of fun with.
Lucas: [00:27:07] Thanks for listening to Making a Monster for the past 30 episodes, it’s been an incredible pleasure walking through the kaleidoscopic meaning of monsters in games with you.
I’m taking a summer break, a planned one this time, to work on season 3. If you want to know more about when that season is going to launch and who’s going to be involved, you can join the Making a Monster email list at scintilla dot studio slash monster. When you do, you’ll get a free preview of three monsters from My Dad’s Monster Manual. I picked the three most reminiscent of monsters from the show – the marona, the roabley, and the Ellow – and James pulled them out into a PDF copy you can access by trusting me with your email address.
I send out far fewer emails than I should, so I promise I won’t waste your time, and you will get access to guest incentives from the show including monster stat blocks, discount codes on adventures and supplements, even short stories and artwork from past guests.
So check it out at the link in the show notes or on the show’s website at scintilla dot studio slash monster, that’s SCI NTI LLA dot studio slash monster.
If you want to continue learning about how even the cutest monsters can ask questions about privacy and ethics, consider supporting the show on Patreon. When you do, you’ll get access to even more content from the show, like a bonus bit I just released from this episode on whether Burn Bryte has a hidden call back to the Eberron campaign setting. You’ll also get music I recorded for the show and, as always, there’s stickers! Last episode, I had to go big.
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Thank you again for listening to Making a Monster. I will look forward to seeing you in season 3!