Ian Yusem - Hull Breach

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Ian

I think there's something about Mothership that makes it feel like a new frontier, you know, I think that Sci-Fi has not been given its due in role-playing games. Certainly in indie, like artsy sort of role-playing games. So it just feels like so much space to cover that feels, not yet done. That feeling of newness is exciting for me.

Iko

You're listening to The Lost Bay Podcast a show about indie table top role playing games and the people who make them. This show exists thanks to the support of its patrons. A big shout out to Lasse Borly, Richie Cyngler, Qpop, Matthias and Krys Kamieniecki, thank you so much folks for supporting the show. If you too want to support The Lost Bay and help the show give voice to amazing indie ttrpg creators head to patreon.com/thelostbay

Today my guest is Ian Yusem, publisher editor and writer of Hull Breach. Hull breach is an anthology book, collection of adventures and articles for the Sci-Fi horror RPG Mothership written by 20 authors that have been coordinated by Ian, who both publishes the book and writes content for it. Ian has already been a guest of The Lost Bay Podcast. The first time we spoke about the industry, in particular labour and financial aspects. Today we will talk about Ian's writing experience both as an author and as the editor/publisher of Hull Breach.

What's like the physical, writing routine of yours? You know, how, and where do you write? Some people like to write in the morning, others at night, others whenever it's possible. So what about you? Do you have like a ritual?

Ian

Um, I think it's just whenever I'm feeling able to do it. My health kind of comes and goes and I need to strike whenever I am clear headed. My rituals are my trying to feel better rituals. Having a nice cup of tea, having an ice pack nearby for my head.maybe having, you know, just a few moments of peace, and trying to purge my brain of various maladies before heading into writing. I write at my desk, in my office. I, have two monitors set up, and, I will write into Microsoft one note, which is a note-taking program. It's nice because it has lots of tabs that you can break out for different aspects of a project, and you can just sort of put floating bricks of text and rearrange them and that kind of thing. And it's really good for jamming out early ideas and, you know, incorporating little like graphical, structural things. Sometimes I'll draw out a pamphlet in lines and with boxes and things, and like brick, make bricks of potential layout and see like, okay, this section can go here and this section can go here. I really like one note for writing.

Iko

Okay. When you have an idea, how do you work on it? How do you develop it? I can really focus only on one thing at a time, So when I have an idea, I spend quite a lot of time in an early development stage, creating a foundation of related thoughts and concepts Even before building out the potential structure or any kind of coherent outline, I open up Excel spreadsheets of movies, and video games and books that I've read, played and watched.

Ian

And I think about them I just write down ideas. and I try and find, you know, okay, I'm writing, a scifi book, about sort of pastoral farming horror, like The Drain.

Iko

The Drain is a level-0 funnel adventure set in a ravaged farming habitat. Funnel adventures are typically adventures where each player has a lorge number of level-0 characters, most of whom die during the adventure.

Ian

So what's a bunch of movies that are sort of along those lines. And then I'll just think about the movie and write down an idea.

Iko

Are you going to watch the movie again? Are you going back to those sources or?

Ian

Usually, no, usually I'm just sort of letting my mind pull memorable things from an enormous body of media that I have consumed.

Iko

Because you're a, heavy consumer of, movies?

Ian

Yeah, to be honest, recently I've had less and less time to read And watch movies, but, I used to watch a lot, so I have a lot of experience to draw from. I don't know. I find myself going back to similar wells of just some of my favorite movies and, sometimes I go to more esoteric, weird thing.

Iko

Did you have any writing experiences before starting writing RPGs?

Ian

To be honest, not really. I've always enjoyed writing. I think when, you know I had writing assignments in high school and college, I took pleasure in putting a creative spin on an otherwise boring assignment and, you know, trying to twist clever sentences into a generic essay. And I think for a long time, I thought that I wanted to be a writer, but, I never quite found the path. Maybe sounds weird, but I've always felt silly whenever I attempted creative writing. And I think that writing for role-playing games feels utilitarian in a way that I feel much less self-conscious even when I am doing creative writing. You know, even when I'm just writing a paragraph of flowery description, it still feels like there is more of a purpose there. Whereas if I try to write a short story, I think I would be too embarrassed and I would.

Iko

Hull Breach is massive, it's over 200 pages, 20 authors, probably all you need to play Mothership for months, it's divided in 5 chapters: Missions, Entities, Intel, Assets, and Locations. And judging by the size of the project I can on imagine it has been a gigantic work.

How long have you been working altogether on the project?

Ian

We started working on Hull breach in March and that's been almost my sole focus for the majority of the year. It sort of started small, started as a zine that just a few people were going to contribute to. And then it snowballed to, uh, over 200 page hardcover book.

Iko

Let's talk about numbers. How many stories or settings or adventures?

Ian

So there are, I think 28 articles Articles can take many different shapes and forms. Some of them are actual essays, that are, about running horror games, running Mothership. There's about 12, complete adventures, which are each effectively, you know, like a short zine in its own right. There are big generators. So there's a generator for, weird planets with scary things happening on them. There's a generator for, creating slimy corporate handlers who are sort of the face of the corporation that your players are dealing with. So this is, you know, the person who's giving you a, doomed job or something. So there's, so there's that kind of stuff just miscellaneous tools and, and little fun toys that you can drop in your campaign like here is one very highly detailed monster or here is a new corporation, and their catalog of equipment.

Iko

Ian has been publishing for the last two years fun and useful Mothership stuff. And I'm regularly blown away by the layout of his books. In the past months I have been studying the layout of Ian's pamphplets and books, Because although he's not a layout artist himself, I can tell that there is a very strong consistency in how information is presentend and organized in his zines. It's interesting that you start working or outlining some elements of layout from the beginning Layouts, plays such an important role in, the books or pamphlets that you have, published. So I was wondering how, and when do the, layout artists come on the projects?

Ian

I think you, you have to, particularly when you're working in small formats, like a pamphlet or like a really short zine, I'm not a layout artist. I have tried to dabble in it and I'm absolutely terrible at it, but I, I have to early on think about, the structure of what I'm creating and not just total word count, but, you know what one spread might look like, what I can fit here and there. I have become very, very close friends, with two amazing layout designers, Eric K. Hill and Meredith silver, both of whom, who I met, working on dissident whispers back in 2020.

Iko

Dissident Wispers is an anthology book published in suport of the national bail fund during the black lives matters protests in 2020. Ian worked in the logistics, and orgnanisation team of the book. We've talked about it in the first inteview we did with Ian in June 2021. Back to Ian talking about Eric K. Hill and Meredith Silver.

Ian

And they are now two of the people who I collaborate with most frequently. and so we're always, you know, we're friends, we're always chatting. And so over the course of the writing process. There is a building out of, plans for layout, aesthetics touchstones, you know, I'll check in periodically, you know, I think that by the time my manuscript is complete, it is a very close fit for layout and doesn't need a ton of extra trimming to make it work.

Iko

I don't know If it's a Mothership style or if it's a Ian Yusem's style, because when I read your pamphlets or zines, I find that there's a, yeah, something very consistent in how the information is conveyed in an extremely structured, but also, somehow very open way.

Ian

I think the, balance I find between open-endedness and, useful structure for the game master is, where there is room for choice, I leave room. But where there is possibility for an idea, I try to provide it. if you can provide master a useful idea, you should. You should not leave blanks for the sake of leaving blanks. I always try to give them a starting point and idea that they can use optionally, and when I leave a blank, it's more to maybe help the game master understand that this is not something worth preparing for, and that they should just present the situation to the players and see what they do.

Iko

That's super interesting.

Ian

Like in, design, I think there's a place for white space, and I think that that's important in writing.

Iko

And I was wondering, who are the artists? And, when did they, they come onto the project.

Ian

So early on in the planning of Hull breach, before we even got into writing, we got, sort of a management slash design team together. So that would be me, Matt Umland, who's helping me, manage the project. And then our three graphic designers: Meredith Silver, Eric K. Hill and Lone Archivist. And the five of us got together and put together a style guide, and after that we said, okay, who should we get to illustrate the book? We want a core roster of enough artists to give the book variety, but not so many that it looks chaotic.

Iko

The artists doing the illustrations they are Daniel Vega, Nikolai Fletcher, Joshua Clark who worked on Orbital Blues, LF OSR you might know for their Med Fan illustrations and zines, and Sajan Rai.

You told on social media that you have created a mood board that was influenced by seventies and nineties instruction manuals .Can you talk about that about the kind of images that you draw inspiration from?

Ian

Most of it was not my doing, most of it was the designers, the things that we were all excited about were these like industrial catalogs and, old software manuals, Okay.There was This one really, really great, manual from an old video game that was all in these shades of like pale green. And we just stole that color palette, straight up and, some of its layout sensibilities. Doing that and figuring out what our visual style was going to be book was really the first thing we did. And if the book has an identifying theme, it is in approach to layout and design.

Iko

In several occasions I have talked with Ian about the importance of playtesting. I can imagine it's an even more crucial step in an athology work like Hull Breach.

Ian

My final,publish ed adventures comes as a result of playtesting experience. think playtesting is absolutely essential to everything I've ever published. once I have a minimal comprehensible draft, comprehensible to me, I play test it.try to get my writing to the table as soon as is usefully possible. Often I'm just running from, barely fleshed out notes. I'll run the game. I'll be taking notes during the game, when I catch a moment, I'll do a debrief with my players and then I will, write down as much as possible. And then critically after the playtest, I will try and record as much as humanly possible about what just happened before it escapes into the, far reaches of my memory. And I think most of the best design that I do comes an hour after running a play test. It becomes so easy to figure out what decisions I need to make, what areas to focus on. Playtesting always draws things into such sharp clarity. I think it was the most useful tool that I have as a writer.

Iko

And you have like a pool of players like to playtest your work with, or?

Ian

I try to vary play tests between, running games with my friends, and running games with strangers. For every adventure I published, I tried to do at least one playtest with each group.

Iko

Ian writes almost exclusively for Mothership, which you probably know is not only a sci-fi RPG but a horror game. I wonder what writing, designing for the horror genre does imply. Here's Ian about horror and RPGs.

Ian

I think that the, broadly old school style of playing RPGs just sort of inevitably trends towards horror. I think that dungeon crawling is a fundamentally horrifying experience. Even if it, that's not the textual intent of a lot of, you know, deep, more fantasy D&D adjacent role-playing games. So for me running and playing games have always sort of been horror.

I think it's hard to have an experience fighting monsters in caves that isn't horror. I think that the, horror of that experience is probably, the easiest and most immediate emotion to tap into. And I think that it is also maybe the most universal, And I was wondering, how do you set like boundaries to the horror you're writing, you know?Because writing and, playing horror is certainly fun but it can be a very intense experience. So, how do you find the limits of the horror you're writing? I don't know. I'm not sure if my horror affects me. I think that it is, sort of an empowering experience to be able to put a shape to horror. And I think particularly mothership, which explores horror themes of, economics and, horrors that are related to, our contemporary experience. So being able to construct those myself, I think is cathartic. I wouldn't say that I, I use writing to work out my own experiences. I think it's a little bit more escapist than that, but, it's definitely empowering

Iko

The Hull Breach Kickstarter campaing is running until February the second. The campaing is doing phenomenally well, proof that the Mothership audience is huge. Sevral stretch goals have already been unlocked, among those an online planet generator, and a sci-fi RPG conversion guide to bridge Mothership's stats and mechanics with other RPG games.

Ian

On the actual stretch goals we're doing cool things like we'll be able to print the book in fancier ways. One of the things that I'm excited about one of our early stretch goals is we'll be able to deboss the cover. It's cool and, and swanky generally, but specifically with our cover where we have this Hull Breach, you know, that our cover is portraying a breach in a ship's hull. We're going to deboss the breach that's looking out into space, so that there'll be a physical depression in the cover where the ship's hull is bowing out into the vacuum of

Iko

If you back Hull Breach, you'll get a second book, called Breach of Contract. It's a rather thick wire-bound collection of horror contracts.

Ian

So actually this Kickstarter is for two books. There's Hull Breach, but then there's like a companion book that you can get with it. A companion handbook that we're calling Breach of Contract, full of some pregen, but mostly blank Sci-Fi legal contracts that you use at the table as a prop.

Iko

All those contracts have been written by Emily Weiss who is the author of the Mothership adventure Picket Line Tango. Emily is a real-life attorney and brings their legal experience into writing these game props.

Ian

The one that I am, most excited about, we're calling it The Death Indemnity Policy. This is a life insurance policy, but what it represents in terms of actual gameplay application is, processing of a character's death, a way to make that character's death feel meaningful and important, and to extend that memory of that character beyond, their actual death int the game. And so whenever a character dies in Mothership,the rest of the crew is going through this ritual to make good on the policy.

Iko

So it's almost like a funeral.

Once again, your book, Hull Breach is a proof somehow of how much the Mothership community is alive and strong and creative. And that's something that really strikes me, I don't doubt that there are creative and productive and strong communities around other systems and other games, but there's something definitely with the Mothership community.

Ian

I think there's something about Mothership that makes it feel like a new frontier, you know, I think that Sci-Fi has not been given its due in role-playing games. Certainly in indie, like artsy sort of role-playing games. So it just feels like so much space to cover that feels, not yet done. That feeling of newness is exciting for me.

Iko

And so did you write for Hull Breach yourself?

Ian

I will write for Hull Breach, but my articles are going to be the last done because I have, been completely busy developing

Iko

What can we expect? Are you going to write adventures or some other kind of content?

Ian

I have one idea for an essay that I want to write about different sub-genres of Sci-Fi horror. And there is a system hack of Mothership, that I'm very excited to write I'm calling Manhunt, which is about playing aliens and fighting humans. But I wanted to make sure that, it still feels like Mothership. So it is horror from the perspective of an alien, which I think is going to be extremely difficult to communicate because what does that mean? What is it like to be afraid as an entirely different species? But I think it'll be fun to tackle. And it's also about humans as monster.

Iko

Yeah, that's exciting. Those disgusting human.

Ian

Yup.

Iko

I must say I egoistically hope Ian is going to write this system hack, I'm super curious about it, and I could enjoy playing a scared Xenomorph fighting human predators invading their natural habitat. Anyway. That was Ian Yusem, writer, editor and publisher and editor of Hull Breach, and anthology Mothership book written by 20 different authors. The Hull Breach campaign is in its final stretch, if you want to back it just search for Hull breach Volume 1. on Kickstarter, I'll add the link to the show notes and the the episode page.

You have been listening to The Lost Bay a show about indie table top role playing games and the folks who make them. It's produced by me Iko. Editing supervision is by Laura Elle. Music is by Avery Isles. This show exists thanks to the contribu tion of its patrons. If you want to support the show just head to patreon.com/thelostbay. I'm working on a collection of new special episodes on broader themes, there's a lot of exciting stuff coming up in the next months, and I can use your support every little counts. The first special episode has been released a couple of weeks ago, it's about IRL community copies, it's kind of a sound trip. And lasty if you want to stay informed the upcoming TTRPG shenaningans I'm working on at The Lost Bay Studio, including upcoming zines, and more, subscribe to the newsletter at thelostbaystudio.substack.com

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