Interview with Brian Engard, developer of “The Demolished Ones” by Rite Publishing



Could you tell us a little about yourself? (bio and professional bibliography)

My name’s Brian Engard, and I’m a game designer. I do a lot of work for Evil Hat (The Paranet Papers, Fate Core, The Fate System Toolkit, Shadow of the Century, etc.), and I’ve also done work for Rite Publishing (The Demolished Ones) and Galileo Games (Bulldogs!). I recently successfully Kickstarted a game called Becoming, which I’m publishing through Galileo Games too. Beyond that, I’m a soon-to-be Austinite thanks to a job offer from Steve Jackson Games, and I live with my wife Nicole and my two dogs, Coda and Beau.



What is your home game like?

Sporadic to non-existent. I don’t live around that many gamers I can regularly get together into a group, so most of my gaming is at cons these days. I’m anticipating a reversal in that dynamic after I move to Austin though.



Besides FateCore, what is your favorite Evil Hat product and why?

The Dresden Files RPG. I’m an enormous Jim Butcher fanboy and that game captured the world of the novels spot-on. I was pretty thrilled when I got to work on the supplement, The Paranet Papers.



545_DemolishedOnesFrontCoverRite Publishing has just released The Demolished Ones (Fate), which you wrote, how did you start working for them and how would you characterize your relationship with the company today?

Steve Russell contacted me after getting my name from Fred Hicks. He pitched me the idea for the game and told me it was Fate-based, then asked if I was interested. My immediate response was “Yes, definitely.” Since then we’ve become collaborators on the project; a lot of the ideas are as much his brainchildren as mine. Steve was willing to take a chance on me before I got fully swept up into this whole game design thing, and I’m grateful to him for that. I’m glad to have been a part of this project.



Could you tell us a little about The Demolished Ones (Fate)?

The Demolished Ones is a Victorian noir horror story. It’s a game about identity and power, about being a stranger in a world that is both alien and familiar, about being hunted and shunned by the people around you. It’s a game in which you start with a blank character sheet and no memories, and you slowly fill your character sheet in through play, as you regain your memories. Things, however, are not always as they seem.



What was your best moment working on that product?

Early in the project I had an epiphany about how I wanted the amnesia mechanic to work. I decided that your memories were also your aspects, and the whole “make your character as you go” thing grew from that. It formed the core of the gameplay, and I’m happy with how it turned out.



What do you feel was the most ingenious part of that product?

I’m quite proud of the mechanics for pushing, tuning, and shaping. These are new ways that you can use some of your aspects, and they’re built on the standard invoke/compel mechanic, but they’re overtly supernatural in nature.


When you push, you’re doing something clearly impossible. Maybe you’re lifting a car or running with blinding speed. It’s like an invoke, but more so. When you tune, you’re forcing someone else to behave in accordance with one of your aspects. It’s like you get to compel your aspect on them and alter their behavior in a really invasive way. When you shape, you’re using your aspects to alter the world around you. You might create a door in a blank wall, or make it start raining acid. It’s powerful, but not without heavy cost.



What was the most challenging aspect of working on it?

Coming up with the storyline probably. I had to enlist some outside help for that; my friend Dean and I taped butcher paper all over the walls and talked the whole thing out, pacing around and writing our ideas on the butcher paper with markers. We created mind maps, plot diagrams, lists of character aspects. We acted stuff out and went through all the permutations. It was a lot of fun, and very helpful.



Did you learn anything while working on it?

I learned that I can write an entire book myself. I learned that I can put together a cool mystery story. I learned that I like Dark City a lot, and need to watch it again.



Other than your own work, what is the best 3rd party Fate product out there? (Cannot be an official Evil Hat product)

Geez, I have no idea. I haven’t read half of them, so if I pick something my choice isn’t going to take into account all the stuff I haven’t read. Diaspora’s good if you like really hard sci fi, and it’s got some great world-building stuff in it. That’s a bit of a cheat because it’s currently in the Evil Hat stable, even though it wasn’t Evil Hat when it was designed. I’m also going to give a shout out to Kerberos Club, even though I haven’t read it. I’ve heard great things, and I know Mike Olson does good work.



What in your opinion makes a good Fate product?

First, you have to know the system. Know its strengths and weaknesses and make sure you keep them in mind when you’re writing. Second, you need to know what your game is about. Make sure the mechanical bits support the narrative of your game. Third, you need to make sure that Fate is the right system. It’s a great system and very flexible, but it’s not perfect for every genre or every type of story.



Who is your favorite game designer?

Not fair; most of my friends these days are game designers, and I’m a huge fan of all of their work! I have to admit that I’ve got an obsession with all things Apocalypse World right now, so I’ll have to give the edge to D. Vincent Baker.



What advice would you give to would-be-freelancers?

Practice your craft. Don’t give up. Keep trying. Whether you’re a writer or an editor or an artist or a layout designer, you know how to do something valuable. The more you do it, the better you’ll become. The more you do it, the larger your body of work becomes, which makes it easier to get jobs. The more you do it out in public, the more people will talk about what good work you do. It’s a really small community, and people talk to each other. A lot. Keep that in mind, always.



Who is your favorite Illustrator?

Hugo Solis did a fantastic job on The Demolished Ones, and my artist for Becoming, Christopher H. Barley, nailed the style I wanted better than it looked in my head.



What has been your most memorable fan response to your work?

There are three. There’s the time when someone backed $1000 for a project I wrote. There’s the time there was a fantastic review of a thing I wrote. There’s the time someone took a thing I wrote and made their own thing out of it. All three were awesome.



Could you give us an exclusive hint or teaser about an upcoming product you are working on?

Variable Hyperdimensional Simultaneity. That’s all I’ll say.



Do you have any goals as a game designer that you have yet to obtain?

Sure; you never stop having goals. As soon as you do, you retire and drink mojitos all day, right? I want to publish something completely on my own. I want a complete stranger to walk up to me at a con and tell me how much they like what I do. I want to make a card game. I want to make a board game. I want to make games with any number of friends of mine. I want to publish an advice book. The list goes on and on.



Can you talk a bit about Becoming?

Becoming is a game about heroism and sacrifice. It’s a game about stepping onto the path of being a hero, and about what you have to leave behind when you do. It’s about the things you have to give up, the pieces of yourself you have to compromise, in order to do what you need to do. It’s about victory at great cost.



How does Becoming work at the table?

Four people sit around a table. Three of them are the Fates – they’re a little like GMs. The fourth is the Hero. The Fates take turns narrating and roleplaying back and forth with the Hero, and presenting challenges for the Hero to overcome. One of the Fates presents the challenge and rolls against the Hero, while the others tempt the Hero with offers of power at a cost.


Is there anything else that folks should know about you and/or your work?

If you want to talk to me (about games or other nerd stuff or whatever), Twitter’s a good place for that. I’m @Zelgadas there. Also, if you see me at a con, come up and say hi! I don’t bite unless I haven’t eaten for a while.


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About Jonathan G. Nelson

Jonathan G. Nelson is the editor-in-chief and owner of NERD TREK. He is also owner/publisher at AAW Games /, a tabletop gaming company based in Snoqualmie, WA. Connect with Jonathan via Facebook.