Interview: Tracy Barnett, Designer of School Daze and One Shot

Tracy Barnett is a good friend of ours that has waged a one-man war on his own spare time. With his second KickStarter game, One Shot, ending in just over two days I offered to chat with him a bit about his projects and his thoughts on designing open to the public as he has made a habit of doing. You can also read more of Tracy’s thoughts on that subject in posts he wrote for us earlier this year, Game Design and Openness and Designing in Public.

Critical-Hits: Hi Tracy, we at Critical Hits are quite familiar with you and your work, but for our readers that may not be, please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you’ve been doing lately!

Well, I’m a guy who writes and develops RPGs and campaign settings, though I’ve been doing a lot more game design recently. I wrote and published my first game, School Daze, earlier in the year, and I’m currently Kickstarting my next game, One Shot. I believe in openness in everything that I do, so all of my design happens in pubic (my blog, Facebook, G+, Twitter, etc), and all of my work is published under a Creative Commons BY-SA license. I do all of this as Sand & Steam Productions.

In addition to the games I’ve published, or am working on publishing, I’ve always got different ideas floating around. Inspiration comes from a variety of sources for me, so I always keep my mind open, and a notepad handy.

CH: We followed the School Daze Kickstarter very closely, can you tell us a bit about how that project originally came together and about some of the things that surprised you about it as you brought it from concept to published RPG?

School Daze was a surprise for me. I had been working on a campaign setting called Shadows of the Collegium, and the idea for School Daze just sort of snuck up on me while I was driving home from a trip to Kansas City. I talked about it on Twitter, and the concepts seemed to resonate with people. I worked out some of the kinks in the mechanics over the next few weeks, playtested it a lot, and then launched the Kickstarter in March.

The Kickstarter blew me away. The project was funded in less than 36 hours (with a $3,000 goal), and ended up getting well over 200% funded. I added a bunch of text to the book, and ended up making custom dice with Chessex, and getting custom dice bags from Dragon Chow. I also learned a lot.

The thing that surprised me the most was how much work it takes to make sure a product is done correctly. There are tons of little details that go into making a professional product, and the sheer number of them can be daunting. Do your research in advance, get all of your numbers lined up, and make sure that you’re not getting in over your head.

CH: What inspired the One Shot project?

A couple of songs by a band called Redlight King. Bullet in my Hand, and Something for the Pain. Those are the first two tracks on their newest album, and combined, they gave me this image of a person at the end of their rope. They’ve been beaten, kicked around, had something precious taken from them, and someone has given them the chance for revenge.

Revenge is a common theme in stories, and one of the most interesting aspects of revenge is the cost of it. Revenge is never pretty, and it’s never clean. There’s always something a little bit unnatural about it to me. People are willing to give up what they hold most dear to get a chance to “make things right.” And that’s what One Shot is about: what it costs to get your vengeance.

CH: What are the key features of One Shot that make it stand out as an RPG product?

The first is that it’s just for two players. I’ve had some people ask if it could be hacked to accommodate more. Sure, it could (and might end up looking something like The Expendables, but I like it a lot as a two-player experience. One player is the Shooter, and the other is the Forces. The Shooter is the one who has to sacrifice their relationships (friends, loved ones, family) to get their shot. Keeping those interactions tied up between two people enhances the emotional impact, and makes it feel more personal. That’s what I love about it.

The game is also very easy to learn. It uses the Simple Six System, the same system that I used for School Daze. You roll one d6, and anything higher than 4 is a success. This system leaves a lot of room for the narrative to drive the game. The system comes in when it’s needed to support the story.

CH: What can players expect from an iconic session of playing One Shot?

Emotional intensity. The topics that they game deals with are serious ones. There are only two people, and that means that all of the emotional weight of the Shooter’s decisions rests with those two people. At the same time, there’s a sense of satisfaction. The bullet is guaranteed to hit if the Shooter gets the chance to take the shot. At its core, vengeance is satisfying, even if it is wrong.

CH: Do you have any fun anecdotes that have arisen from designing games openly and with public involvement?

This isn’t so much an anecdote as it is something that I’ve found to be true for me: it’s awesome. I absolutely love putting ideas out there and seeing the reactions they get. I often feel like I’ve got a good idea, but when other people respond positively to it… man, that’s a great feeling. It’s how I know I’ve hit on something good. It happened with TerrorForm, with A Verbis Ad Verbera, Mythos History, and Light the Darkness. I’m sure it’ll happen for other cool ideas that I come across.

It’s not necessarily the way to work for everyone. What I do know is that it works for me, very well.

CH: I am personally a big fan of your Terrorform concept, please tell us about that and the other ideas you’ve posted about that we may be seeing on Kickstarter in the future!

TerrorForm is based around the concept of being trapped on a planet while it’s being terraformed. The original idea was to have that happen to Earth, which will be the default scenario. The Forgotten are left behind, and survive through two more generations, becoming something other than human during the process. Each generation will play out as a series of 5-6 adventures, and will have a profound impact on the next generation. During the last generation, humanity comes home, but they’re the invaders.
I’m planning to use some variant of Apocalypse World for this one. I really like how the narrative is tied to the mechanics in AW. There’s also a lot of room for various planets/circumstances for the game. It’s an idea with a lot of potential, I think.

Thanks Tracy for taking the time to answer our questions!


  1. […] Tracy Barnett, creator of School Daze and One Shot was interviewed by Bartoneus @ Critical Hits recently and they covered everything including a great idea for a new game – Terrorform – we may see in the future! […]