Chunkin’ Punkins With The Fleeples – A Conversation With… Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle (oh, and Kirkman)

I’m talking to the Fleeples this time – Ben Pinchback and Matt Riddle. Oh, and we let Chris Kirkman say a couple of things too. We are talking specifically about their new game, Legends of Sleepy Hollow. The game is coming from Dice Hate Me Games and is currently on Kickstarter. It’s fun and I hope you enjoy it.

The Controlling Idea – This is the idea that you are designing for a certain player experience. What are you trying to achieve for the player? What experience do you want them to have?

BEN – The experience is to bring the excitement of a campaign based adventure computer game to the tabletop. We really loved partying up with each other wearing headphones, chatting, and going on these epic adventures back in the day from the comfort of our basements. We thought how much more fun would it be to have a similar experience live action in person with your friends? You level up / build these characters over the course of the campaign and you grow to love them. Jeremiah will be YOUR Jeremiah by chapter 8. And likewise for Emily, Matthias, and Elijah.

Why Sleepy Hollow? What made you grab that idea?

BEN – Frankly it came from a couple years of me hawking public domain stories. I was super interested in designing to a popular intellectual property and at the time no-one was knocking on our door with Star Wars or Lord of the Rings etc. So my research led me to a couple candidates, and when I realized The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was wide open in tabletop gaming I absolutely could not believe it, so we moved quickly from there.

That’s a well that hasn’t been dipped into very much. There are some great properties out there just waiting.

CHRIS – And how. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some more great public domain entities from the literary world that make it into a Dice Hate Me Games title.

Challenge accepted!

This is a co-op game. Why?

BEN This game is a co-op because the online adventure games we played were co-op. Forming a party and going on the adventure together was the initial kernel for the game. It was never in doubt.

CHRIS – I can’t imagine it being competitive. Some people have feared that there would be a traitor element (knowing my gaming history), but Legends of Sleepy Hollow really is about four strangers banding together to face supernatural uncertainty. When you’re playing, we want you to feel like it’s one for all and all for one – and that truly comes through in the story.

Explain the action pool mechanic.

MATT: The action pool is based on all those awesome RPG/MMO skill bars that we all loved in video games. As you use your actions, they “clog” your special and awesome skills until you have used all of your actions and they refresh. BUT as you explore and adventure in Sleepy Hollow and encounter the local denizens, you can take on Fear that add to your action pool and slow down the refresh of your skills.

It’s a campaign based game. It sounds very much like an RPG. Talk about this.

MATT: It totally is! I grew up on PC RPG games and Ben and I played a ton of an MMORPG called Guild Wars about 10ish years ago. That totally inspired the feel and flow of Sleepy Hollow.

CHRIS – I’m an old school roleplayer but I never got into World of Warcraft or Guild Wars. I understand the appeal, I just knew that if I dove in I would be lost and never be productive. That’s actually proven to be a nice dichotomy during development; Ben & Matt would come back and say “now here at the end of the Chapter you get like a super cloak and a magic ring” and I just see all this taking place in reality so I ground it a bit. Instead of bashing a Gobkin over the head with a shovel and 30 gold coins and a cloak pops out, we now have story arcs that explain the natural way that characters upgrade things.

That’s me too Chris. I would probably still be there. I made a conscious decision to go the traditional rpg route and not the electronic one. 

I really like that grounding aspect. Natural, logical progression will go over better and in the long run in more satisfying.

Tell us about the characters.

BEN: Beyond the bios you can check out on the Kickstarter page, here is a little behind the scenes on how players will use / level up our heroes.

Jeremiah Pincke – Undertaker
Jeremiah is your friendly local shovel wielding badass. There’s a bunch of animated trees and pumpkin headed viney guys out there just begging for a shovel to the face, and Jeremiah is more than happy to oblige. Players may take Jeremiah in a couple different directions becoming more of the berserker style physical damage dealer or more of the deliberate tank / shield type of muscle. Jeremiah is crucial to keeping the party safe and directing enemy action.

Emily Van Winkle – Tanner
Emily starts out as a familiar type of ranged attacker with a bow and some nice damage dealing attacks from afar. She grew up the daughter of the local tanner though, and learned comfort in the woods from a very young age. So much to say that opportunities to develop on her stealth and familiarity in the wild will be aplenty.

Elijah Kappel – Dutch Reformed Minister
Elijah will keep players alive. And he will calm their fear. And he will rain down terror on the bad guys. Which one he does more of will depend on players play styles and how they choose to take the old Minister. Don’t sleep on the Minister as a playable character. He’s the leader and drives the action if you’re playing well.

Matthias Geroux – War Veteran
Matthias is awesome. Who doesn’t want to play as the double flintlock pistol slinging Revolutionary War vet? Instead of the normal caster trope from rpgs, what we have here is a multi dimensional ranged damage dealer who relies heavily, more so than anyone else, on the roll of the dice. Remember, those old pistols weren’t exactly super precise. Matthias will be given plenty of chances to increase his damage but also to become the battlefield general that the party needs. He can develop shouts and other abilities that affect the party and uplift the team. Or he can shoot more pumpkins in the face. Your call.

What are some “Wow!” moments from playtests that have stuck in your heads?

BEN: It’s funny, but any time a standup die roll goes the way to save the party you get a HUGE cheer. That never gets old. It could be a landed attack, a missed enemy swipe, a fortunate spawn roll, a perfect wild smash, we love dice and you just can’t beat that feeling.

CHRIS: There is almost always that kind of moment in a game. In our official playthrough for the Kickstarter campaign the game hinged on one die roll and we made it! It’s an awesome feeling.

Ben, Matt – This is a DHMG release. Your first one. How does that make you feel?

MATT: Weeeellllllll, there was as little thing called Monster Truck Mayhem so it has been a long road to Sleepy Hollow but we are super excited to work with Chris. He was one of the first people we met in the industry and became friends with.

Sorry, I forgot about MTM. I backed it and would love to see it come back. Chris?

CHRIS: I have the original Monster Truck Mayhem demo board hanging up in my office as a reminder of 1) sometimes failure happens, 2) learn from it and do your best to never let it happen again, and 3) one day we’re going to get this sucker on the market. One way or another you haven’t seen the last of these monster trucks.

That’s good to hear. I like the Fear mechanic. Talk about that.

BEN: I can’t remember exactly when we came up with it, but the motivation was in our desire to create the cool down for your special skills. Back to the video game on the tabletop, a huge part of those video games was managing your skill bar and when to use each skill. Skills have a cooldown meaning you just can’t hit special skill after special skill with no thought. The action selection and refresh, combined with the fear gives players that planning around the special skills and the excitement of timing them well.

Talk about the art.

MATT: It’s good.

BEN: It’s stylistic but not too cartoony. I think the balance that Abigail Larson found is just perfect, and Colin Chan matched it on the environment tiles perfectly as well.

CHRIS: I love Matt’s response. It’s such a Matt response. Jenn Closson (Greater Than Games’ Creative Director) spent a long time looking for the right artist to give us the look that she and I really wanted but that Matt & Ben would be happy with. When she found Abigail we knew it in an instance. We wanted a dark, fantastical look but with an appropriate age to it. She has nailed it, and Colin Chan (our tile artist) has done an amazing job of crafting the world according to Abigail’s style.

How much of the original story is in the game?

MATT: Legends of Sleepy Hollow takes place three days after the disappearance of Ichabod Crane. Four Tarry Town residents with strange ties to the supernatural venture into an ever-darkening Sleepy Hollow to uncover its mysteries.

Minis – why? Who designed the minis?

Ben: Minis because they are awesome. People expect them now in a campaign game like this and frankly I wanted to play with minis. I love these characters and the sculpts absolutely bring them to life. Francesco Orru blew my mind with these figures.

CHRIS: Yes, I happened upon Francesco’s work because of an interview he did online. He has been an absolute joy to work with; super enthusiastic and incredibly receptive to feedback and art direction.

How much is Chris involved in the design? Will you be listed as a designer?

MATT: Chris is lead developer and story teller. He earned his money and then some.

BEN: Early on we kind of set the pacing that Matt and I would handle the design proper and Chris would write the story and build the world. That probably does make him a designer in the end, but that would mean sharing the massive designer profits with him so…….

CHRIS: Yeah, Ben & Matt deserve the design credit and that massive designer royalty. They don’t need my name crowding their’s on the box. I’m just happy to have had an awesome world to play around in and a great game to showcase a crazy cool story.

Can talk about stretch goals? Other than there will be some.

BEN: One of the major efforts will be to bake in more replayability with different difficulty levels. Going back and playing Chapters again with new wrinkles is the idea. Any potential over-funding would help us further develop these paths and be able to provide even more content. Also, there are some cool component upgrades that we’d love to hit in there as well.

Matt and Ben – what else can we expect from you in the near future?

BEN:Songbirds is a card game of ours coming out at Nuremberg Toy Fair early 2018, and we are super excited for our first German release. Other things you’ll probably see will be more mini expansions and events for Wasteland Express Delivery Service. Keep an eye out this fall for some really cool in store events there.

What’s it like working as a team?

MATT: Great.

BEN: Working with Chris is a dream. We’ve been friends a long time now and watching him dive into a world he’s passionate about is something to behold. It’s been a super team up for us. And then experiencing the expanded Greater Than Games team and seeing them at their best has been amazing. We are surrounded by ridiculously talented and genuinely great people on all fronts here.

CHRIS: I love these guys. I’ve said it before but I have been incredibly blessed to work with such awesome and supportive designers over the years. This has been a dream project – but it’s not over! Now that we’ve funded I have to actually finish production on the whole thing!

Will this be a Rooster or Dragon sized game?

BEN: If it’s up to me, Dragon baby! Print before Chris says NO!

CHRIS: You’d better believe this is a Dragon. Dice Hate Me Games’s very first Dragon. And I’m happy that it’s a Ridback joint.

What mechanic is still largely untapped, in your opinion?

BEN: On a larger scale, roll and write. It had a huge emergence in 2017, but then has quieted down, but I still think there is a ton of meat on the bone. I mean, role players aren’t scared of dice, pencil and paper and I’m just getting started. When you tell me I can just have players write down data in pencil, well I’m not stopping at Fleet The Dice Game. The mechanic is just too good and liberating.

That’s a good one. It has calmed down but there are some good ones being published – Harvest Dice for example.

Do you have a gaming pet peeve?

MATT: Forced social interaction. I am totally fine with social interaction, I do not like it when it’s forced.

CHRIS: Distracted gamers. I’ll take a pic, maybe Tweet out that we’re playing, but after that I’m typically off my phone. Put your dang phones down! Stop watching football on TV! You’re there to play a game and to enjoy your time with people, so make the most of it.

Is it font or typeface?

BEN: Chris is busy in the bowels of the Kickstarter campaign, so I’ll help out here……… font…

And yes, Legends Of Sleepy Hollow will come in a coffee can.

CHRIS: BEEEENNNNNN!!!! shakes fists furiously

Also, it’s typeface. And I won’t speak about the coffee can.

Chris in the bowels of anything. Thanks for that picture.  

Coffee can – Dang! But it is coming in a cool box.

Thanks guys. It was a ton of fun learning about Sleepy Hollow. I’m really looking forward to it.

Readers, you can learn more about Legends of Sleepy Hollow here. I looks like a really cool and fun game. I can’t wait to play it.

You can leave a comment below. And you can contact me via goforthandgame.com or @tomgurg.

Your turn. Share your thoughts: