(Credit: Maddi Gonzalez)
A year or so back, there was a contest on the Something Awful forums to make a halloween themed game. Paul Matijevic, known as Ettin and creator of Retrocausality, burst onto the contest with his Fate Accelerated (FAE) hack, Breakfast Cult.
A weird mix of cosmic horror, high school, and anime tropes, the title won the contest and a lot of interest on the forums.
Flash forward a few months and Paul has successfully kickstarted the title and is deep in development on a much more robust, in-depth, and standalone version of the title.
Contrasting the elements of a school slice-of-life (at least on the surface) and the terrifying nature of cosmic horror, Breakfast Cult is certainly different from a lot of offerings currently on the market.
I recently had a chance to sit down with Paul Matijevic and discuss the development of his title.
I’d like to thank you for agreeing to the interview. I know the work on Breakfast Cult is nearing completion and that means you’re swamped with work. The title was originally an entry in one of the Something Awful Game Design contests that used to run monthly. What has changed substantially with the title since then?
The main difference is the original was written in a month and this one wasn’t. The original was designed for quick one-shots, so character creation was closer to standard FAE, there weren’t many new mechanics, and it just assumed you knew how FAE works and didn’t explain much. The new “official” version is a lot more detailed.
Also, the original had explicit Lovecraft elements. I decided to make that optional stretch goal content and build up the original parts.
FATE is one of the most popular generic roleplaying engines on the market. Most titles, both first and third party, that use the engine tend to use the “Core” version, not the “Accelerated.” Why did you choose to use Fate Accelerated (FAE) instead of Core and what do you think it adds to the experience?
Because Breakfast Cult can still be used for one-shots I wanted character creation to be as quick as possible, and swapping skills for approaches worked very well. I also wanted players to spend some time thinking about their characters’ hobbies and unique talents, and during a couple of Fate Core test runs some people had trouble figuring out what skills to take to represent them.
The premise of the game is a bit out there. There is no question that it avoids a lot cliches with TRPG settings. Cosmic horror in a school setting isn’t something I’ve seen a lot before. What inspired the setting?
The contest that started Breakfast Cult wanted a Halloween adventure in a month, so there wasn’t a lot of time to think about the premise. At the time I was running a Lovecraft-inspired campaign, and I’d also been playing Danganronpa, so I decided to just mix them.
That got me the concept. The rest was just me thinking about cool things I could do with it, or trying to nail down what I liked about the themes and doing more of that (especially the Ancient Ones).
Despite mentioning cosmic horror, which normally airs on the depressing-nihilistic side of things, your work seems to be rather chipper and in high spirits. What lead to the decision of having such a dark overtone of “gods exists, they are bad, and humans don’t matter” over such a happy high-school experience?
I like cosmic horror more when there’s some hope to threaten.
Besides, the Academy isn’t as great as it looks. It looks that way because it’s designed to provoke feelings of happiness and agency. That lets the Foundation control the lives of their students in the ways they want it to (keeping them on the island where the Foundation can see them, mostly) while minimising (sic) resistance.
Also, it’s still a high school. School can be a huge, complicated, uncaring mess. Every student’s had a black day where it feels like your life is at the mercy of forces beyond your control and nobody cares. Some students have black weeks or months or years. Sometimes it feels like the society waiting for you beyond the walls is just an even more complicated place that you’ll be hurled into whether you want to or not. I had a few black days, I know what that’s like. The Academy can’t control that.
All of this ties back into Breakfast Cult’s themes, including cosmic horror. When that black day happens and something goes wrong, characters should be questioning if the Academy is the best flawed people can do, if the system’s failing, or if it was rotten inside all along.
This isn’t your first title. You also worked on the title Retrocasuality, a time traveling game. It was very different in premise and mechanics than Breakfast Cult. Were there any lessons you learned from your work on Retrocasuality that influenced Breakfast Cult?
Pay someone else to do layout. I laid out Retrocausality by myself in Scribus, and it was an amateur job that took forever. Our layout guy Chris is doing much better things with it.
(Credit: Caio Prugner)
While this wasn’t your first title, this was your first kickstarter. Crowdfunding must make things very different from your previous experiences. How would you say it changed the development process for you?
It’s a lot more work. On top of the usual work I’m handling the KS campaign and updates, communication with backers/artists/layout/etc., art and writing commissions… I’m enjoying it, though. I’m learning a lot that I should be able to use in later projects.
Looking over the kickstarter updates, you keep a monthly correspondence with your backers. That’s rather frequent and, no doubt, helped your backers stayed informed and faithful in the project. How were you able to keep such a regular update schedule?
The (almost-)monthly updates are there to let everyone know that I’m still around and working on the game. That’s important to me, so even if I don’t have much to say that I haven’t already, I focus on updating with what I can anyway. When I’m not able to, I do it as soon as I can.
Getting back to the game itself, what would you hope players get from the game? What’s the response you are hoping to see, if any?
As long as a lot of people play it and most of them like it, I’m good.
That said, I’m also hoping to see some original characters and fanart. I want people to love the setting enough to draw their own characters and tell their own stories. I’ve already seen some art of people’s Breakfast Cult PCs and it was great. I want to see more. I am filthy for it. Show me some fan works, folks.
FAE is a rather cooperative game. It doesn’t really focus on PVP. Breakfast Cult introduces a soft element of PVP through player characters having different agenda. How are you ensuring the expected party dynamics of FAE doesn’t contrast with these more adversarial elements?
I feel Fate already has plenty of room for good stories about characters who don’t always agree with each other, thanks to aspects and compels. Besides that, I remind people that RPGs (especially ones like Fate) are about telling awesome stories with your friends. Players with Agendas are being trusted to use them to make the game fun for everyone, not given a license to have fun at the expense of the group.
It’s worked out great in playtests—we’ve had players who were working for the villains, players who only wanted to defeat the villain so they could steal their stuff, and players who were secretly replacing the other PCs with robots with no problems. Other groups will have different experiences, but I believe most will be able to find a balance that works for them.
As our last question, do you have anything you want to say to our readers about your experience with games, gaming in general, or something of the sort? An open message.
Stay in school. Buy my game. God bless.
Breakfast Cult is still in development as of this writing and is coming soon.
The author has previously developed a microgame about time travel called Retrocasuality, as previously mentioned.
This interview was done for the purposes of helping promote and advertise for the listed product/developer and should be regarded as such when making purchasing decisions.