When you meet with someone who is truly passionate about their project, their exuberance is contagious. Thus was my meeting with Patrice “Pat” Long, illustrator and co-system/lore creator of the Kickstarter project Changed Stars. Although I’ve bounced into a few of their streams about the game and had read about it a bit, I was looking forward to interviewing her about this project so that I could learn even more about it. Most roleplaying games seem to focus on a post-apocalyptic, post-ruin world, where there are very few “good guys” (characters usually included). The grimdark rules Kickstarter, it seems. When I started looking into RPGs and talking to content creators on Twitter, I was quickly aware that Changed Stars (and Pat herself) were something different in a beautiful way.
Set in a more “utopian” universe, Changed Stars most certainly turns the norm on its head, and in a good way. With compelling artwork, easy to follow rules, and a beautiful layout even in the quick start guide, it is clear that a lot of work went into this project. More than queer friendly and somehow more than feminist, Changed Stars embraces the change that sci-fi and RPGs so desperately need to see.
Now, without further ado, my interview with the lovely Ms. Long:
Is this the first project you’ve worked on?
Yeah, this is not the first project I’ve been involved in, but it is the most major and the first thing that I’m creating. I’m the lead creative mind behind it. So, I’ve done a number of projects in the past. I’m mostly an illustrator, so I’ve illustrated for a few products that Diesel Shot has put out, just some minor stuff, like you know an adventure here and there. Probably mostly D&D stuff. A lot of my old sketch art went to that. The biggest recent thing that I’ve done before this was the Descendants of Darkness, which is a Kickstarter that launched during the Zine Quest period and we got the total was around two to three thousand dollars, so it wasn’t major like what I’m…it was major, yes, but it wasn’t what I am aiming for with Changed Stars. I’m actually still on the hook to perform my duties for that Kickstarter, as well. So, I’ve got two in the hole right now. It’s the story of, I’m not sure…it was spearheaded by a member of the Garblag Gaming Community, which is a Twitch channel, much like Diesel Shot, and a kind of company slash group of friends, which is how a lot of these things tend to be in the community. It was spearheaded by a world builder who brought me on as a full-time partner when we reached a certain stretch goal, which was really nice of them. And, so, it’s about telling stories where you’re an other-worldly woman, someone born with fae or celestial or demonic ancestry and contending with that as well as the shitty world in which they live.
Tell us a little bit about your project, Changed Stars?
It’s very forward on the queer. And Changed Stars is kind of a cathartic game compared to a lot of the games that are queer-focused, I would think. A lot of them deal with-and this is absolutely something that needs to be delved into, and it’s a very compelling narrative, and it’s something that I personally enjoy playing in-but a lot of the queer themed games out there focus in on overcoming the oppression of your surroundings. You know, the fighting, the homophobic men or, you know, being empowered woman taking down patriarchal societies. And I love that. That’s absolutely great and crucial to tell those stories. Changed Stars takes place after that, in a post-patriarchal woman, it’s not considered “normal” to be heterosexual. It’s just one of the many manners in which you can express your sexuality. There’s no focus on it at all as being the normal. It’s a post-patriarchal, post-heteronormative society, and it’s where, it’s not perfect, but it’s where people like myself and like a lot of folx at my table can feel a degree of comfort with the society that they’re potentially expected to work within.
Cool! Is that kind of what brought you to create it?
It’s definitely one of the main reasons. It’s not that I’m trying-there’s a lot that went into creating Changed Stars as a concept. I based it more on what my own group of friends and my table wanted to play in, wanted to live in. It’s funny, actually, the way that Changed Stars started. I wanted to try a system I hadn’t tried yet. Alien RPG (great system, by the way) and my players didn’t want to play that setting, so I pitched them an entirely new setting that used the same rules. It came-I gave them a couple of different options in a poll, and we had a couple ties, and a few different polls. Basically, how that grouping of polls and questions was the foundational setting of Changed Stars, which is especially funny because the entire setting that night did not pertain to the setting at all, they just crashed on a planet, but I’m so dedicated to world building that I couldn’t like not create something that they could say was their home after they got off the planet.
So, did you use your group to kind of play test the beginning?
Oh, yeah! My group has seen all the iterations of Changed Stars as a setting and a setting. It didn’t start exactly as it is now. It was a wee bit more dystopian in a direction, opposite of a lot of dystopian sci-fi. Then I kind of reined it in, and I thought it was more important to tell a story in which the society was not evil, for once. I think a lot of sci fi deals with a lot of very evil societies, even if they are optimistic. Like Highlands shit, which depicts a very evil society every single time. But he’s in favour of it, which makes it worse. Changed Stars is very an anti-Heinlein game. My statement that I’ve made a number of times is that this is not a game that tells you you’re a member of humanity and humanity’s at war, go kill the bugs. That is not Changed Stars.
I was going to ask-Utopian is not the thing right now. Dystopian is more the thing. There’s a lot of hope and positivity in Changed Stars. It’s refreshing, especially after the last year. It sounds like that was an evolution rather than where you started?
It was an evolution, but it was a quick change, within the first 8 games. This has been going on more than a year now, we’ve had waaaay more than 8 games. But within the probably the first month of Changed Stars being a thing, I rather quickly pivoted away from the little bit darker to a little bit more hopeful. I would not say Changed Stars is inherently– it’s not a full utopia. The idea is that we are closer to one. It’s supposed to be kind of optimistic realism as opposed to a full-on utopian setting. There’s still a myriad of problems, both social and practical. There are no replicators for food, so, you know, people still need to do farming on planets and there’s all sorts of different challenges that still need overcoming. One of the biggest logistical challenges is the mess that the human empire left when they fell. Human settlements spread far and wide across the stars and there are not enough ships to regularly ship them the things that they need. That’s the biggest kind of struggle in Changed Stars– kind of contending with the dark legacy that this new, hopeful society has left.
It’s really amazing. I like that it kind of evolved from there. So, you said it took more than a year. How long overall-what kind of work went into something like this. This is a huge project.
Yeah! It didn’t start as a project of the same sort. I literally just made this as a setting to play with my friends. I had done this in the past with a setting called Whismore that we put on Diesel Shot which was kind of a D&D 5e setting, which was kind of a grim dark, spooky kind of world. Changed Stars started as another kind of setting I wanted to play with my friends, and it kind of evolved out of that as we kind of realised we had something that was an individual property sort of thing. We put so much world building into it, and the idea that we would make it a game that we would sell to people actually happened a couple of months after I made Changed Stars and coined the name and started hash tagging about it on Twitter. Lee and I – Lee, my collaborator, is the co-author of the book and the system creator. Lee and I were just kind of hashing it out and were like, this is cool, this is big, we’ve put a lot of work into this. Why don’t we put this out to the community? Let’s share this. Let’s do a Kickstarter. And it’s working out great!
This is a huge project. What would you say the biggest challenges have been?
The biggest challenge-oh gosh-I’m thinking, so, there have been a lot of hurdles and I don’t necessarily talk about the actual biggest problem, which is kind of more a behind the scenes thing–just logistics getting it out to Kickstarter and putting out the advertisements and figuring out what it takes to make a Kickstarter happen. That was the biggest challenge realistically.
But it would be more interesting to talk about the various hurdles that we had to overcome. I have – so for instance, Lee has made a system before. Lee has created a game called Ackroyd Diesel age as well as a number of different things. He’s a writer and a system developer more so than me. And Lee had to come up with a new simple system for Changed Stars based on some of the Year Zero Engine stuff, you know, making our own – I don’t want to say improvements – Year Zero Engine is great, and ours is designed to have a similar feel, and coming up with that was a challenge.
On my end, getting to where I am as an artist has not happened overnight. I have worked tirelessly to become the artist that I am today, and to be proud of the professional quality of my work and, you know, offering something to the people who are purchasing this that they will enjoy and cherish. Getting myself to where I am as an artist is probably one of the biggest hurdles.
That’s one of the things that really stands out about Changed Stars. The artwork! You really went out there with the different species and the artwork-one thing I found interesting is the system. Anytime you immerse someone in a world like that, you expect them to kind of pick up on the world and having to also pick up a system is sometimes a barrier for some, and the system that you guys have created is really easy to follow, like I can see that being something that works just about anywhere. That’s amazing.
Thank you so much! We really wanted to get a very simple and straightforward system. The game is designed to be played. The game, as far as my input on making the game, was that we need to have this be a simple game that people will be able to pick up, have one shot of, and, if they like it, have as many as they like. Or expand beyond just a one-shot and create a campaign for themselves, but it’s a game that I want people to play and enjoy and understand. That was the communication between me and Lee while we were making the system. I’m not really a system junkie, unfortunately, I’m a little bit more on the artistic side rather than the crunching numbers side, and so-it was a collaborative effort. But that one was mostly Lee, and Lee did a freaking amazing job!
I think most projects work better if you don’t decide to do it all yourself because everybody has their different skill sets.
Absolutely! The collaborative team that I’m working with is amazing. I would definitely not be able to do this on my own by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve come up with a lot of the lore and dig deep into the world building and created conlangs and do all the art and all that – I provide direction and everything, but, you know, I would not be able to create the amazing system that Lee has and do a lot of the brunt work on the writing and coming up with the tables and everything. I mean, you know, I could hypothetically do that-but it would take a lot longer! But we’ve also had an amazing team behind the scenes doing a lot of the design work and layout stuff.
Quick shout out to Casey, who is kind of our lead graphic designer, followed by Luc Byard, who is also kind of a co-graphic designer. Both of them worked together to make the logo in addition to all the various Kickstarter assets and the really cool, shiny shit we’ve got to show off. Also, a shout out to Palace, who is our other graphic designers and the layout guy, he’s just been amazing. The whole lot of the team has been amazing. Knock Fenix, a member of the roleplaying community helped make our roll20 sheet. It’s just been an amazing collaboration and I love the hell out of everybody on the team.
It’s handy when everyone gets along. Were they people you’d worked with before, or gamed with before?
Yes! Diesel Shot is a team of creatives and a team of amazing people, but we’re also a team of friends. Lee and I obviously are very long-term collaborative partners at this point. We have great working rapport. Luc Byard knew me before I knew Lee. We met in a Lego forum where my character was like this evil science lady and Luc’s character was a cool kind of space trucker. It was like a roleplaying game in a forum called Eurobricks. It was a great time and we just kind of stayed in contact after that. Now he’s designing logos and stuff for us. It’s amazing. Lee – sorry, Palace and Casey are both members of the Diesel Shot community and players on our channel and just amazing people to be working with and to know.
Are you guys planning on doing anything like this again?
[Nods emphatically] So, our main focus right now is putting Changed Stars out. We’re not talking about new projects until we’ve dropped this book on as many doorsteps as we can. We’re working on making sure everything is perfectly lined up and the papers all ship around January, when we are planning on making our delivery date. We want everyone to have their pdfs and their hardcover books and their art assets and their electronic albums. Sorry, I haven’t given him a shout out, but Cole made a soundtrack to go along with Changed Stars, which is part of the Kickstarter, which is just amazing. It’s a synthwave soundtrack – sorry, we have a synthwave song track as a leitmotif for every species in the game.
So, we are planning on doing more projects after Changed Stars is delivered. We are thinking–we have a number of ideas–we’re definitely planning on putting out expansions. There’s more to the lore than can fit in one book, and I’ve already discussed that there are other species and other aspects that we just won’t be able to fit into one book. The goal is to keep expanding the lore.
In addition to kind of expansions, like Changed Stars 2, Electric Boogaloo, we’re definitely going to put out some adventure paths within the setting and a variety of other supplementary content, as well. And after we’ve put out a good bit of Changed Stars content, or while we do that, we have other games and projects that we have in mind. I don’t necessarily want to tell you all of our plans without getting the consent of my collaborators before explaining what we have even further in the future, but rest assured, we have some other games that we want to hone and get to a place where we can put them out, too. Diesel shot is a gaming company now. We’ve got an LLC. We’re going to be there and continue to put out content for the foreseeable future.
And what is the best way for people to follow so they stay up with all of that content?
Following myself and my collaborator Lee on Twitter. My Twitter is @long_spider – Spider Queen Long, and Lee is @quadkorps on Twitter. We’re just very talkative on Twitter and we’re very easy to contact there. In addition to that, we also have a Facebook page for Diesel Stars. There’s a Twitter page, as well. I think it’s @stars_changed. We also have a discord that we are very communicative in. Changed Stars also has a webpage of its own, as well as a Tumblr. I don’t remember if Diesel Shot has its own page–I think we used to, but we don’t anymore. We also have a Discord that we are very communicative in.
Twitter, Discord. Those are the easiest places to reach us. Facebook. A number of other places. We’re out there.
Look for the following installment, all about the Changed Stars universe!