In the Apocrypha Adventure Card Game, the world is beset by monsters only some people can see and a looming apocalypse only some people know about. We talked to creator Mike Selinker about Apocrypha’s connection to Pathfinder, how it can be both a card game and an RPG, and what The Cure’s Disintegration album has to do with it all.
Apocrypha is a card game that lets the players build on the abilities of their characters while solving mysteries and defeating weird monsters. There’s a lot more to it than that, but we’ll get into it in a minute. Its Kickstarter is already a success, with quite a few well-known writers and designers lined up to add stretch goals. As for Selinker, you’ve probably played something he designed (the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, Lords of Vegas, Betrayal at House on the Hill, and my personal favorite, the Marvel SAGA RPG, among many others).
Given that I haven’t played Apocrypha, and only read the playtest rules, I still have a good feeling about this one. A world of mysterious monsters, powers that destabilize your character, designers with a killer track record — it looks pretty damn interesting. And given Lone Shark’s history with complicated, meta puzzles, there’s a good chance there will be overarching puzzles to solve as part of the game, or maybe as part of the Kickstarter campaign itself.
io9: Apocrypha shares some broad concepts with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, but it’s clearly very different. How does building and improving a character over multiple game sessions work in this game?
Mike Selinker: You start out with a character who has some virtues (Mind, Body, Soul, and Rage), some skills (Heal, Shoot, etc.), and some powers (healing cards, helping people in fights, etc.). That is essentially a very stable character. It does what it does and it probably does it just fine. But as you beat missions in the game, you unlock repressed memories that are about the kind of thing you just defeated. These memories get you new powers but also new negative consequences when you use them. So an experienced character becomes more powerful but also more unstable. Think of a starting character as a line and an experienced one as a sine wave. Both could be great to have around. Also, you also get more cards for your deck based on the types of memories you have. It’s a really different system than Pathfinder, and people seem to be digging how way-out-there it is.
The lineup of stretch goal authors is awesome: Wolfgang Baur, Erin M. Evans, Bruce Cordell, et al. But let me ask you about best-selling fantasy author Patrick Rothfuss. How did he get involved?
Selinker: Pat and I have been friends for a while now. He was instrumental in getting me to think like a novelist for The Maze of Games, rather than just a puzzle designer. So I very much appreciate him for that. He’s also been involved in a lot of things I’m also involved in: Acquisitions Inc., Paul & Storm shows, w00tstock, etc. So when I told Pat that I had a game which needed the best writers in the world to open up their brains, he jumped in. We will probably have some surprises for the Rothfans as well.
Can you explain how Apocrypha can be run both with and without a gamemaster?
Selinker: OK, this is really true: I have been asked many times why we haven’t made an RPG for the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. (I know, I know. People.) But really, we always knew we could make it work for the adventure card game system. There are a whole lot of things going in an ACG that a gamemaster can take agency for. For example, you get repressed memories randomly in the card game. There’s no need for it to be random in a roleplaying game. When I gamemaster Apocrypha, I write out all the memories in advance so that they propel the story along, and then I hand them out at dramatic points in the game. It takes a thing that in another game would ONLY be a roleplaying element and gives it a power to affect that session and all the sessions afterward.
What’s up with Doctor Zeez? That guy creeps me out.
Selinker: Doctor Zeez is just one of 18 rather odd characters that are playable in the game. I’m not sure how he became the star of our show, but he is really fun to write for. Incredible Expeditions designer Liz Spain played him in the video, and she totally freaked everyone out. Also, I think he might actually be me.
What three albums should I queue up when I play Apocrypha?
Selinker: Only three? Heck, I can’t get my designers to agree on what taco shop to go to, so you think I’ll get them to agree on that? Hey, let’s find out, in the order I got their responses.
Tanis O’Connor: The Cure’s Disintegration, Type O Negative’s Bloody Kisses, the Halloween soundtrack
Rian Sand: the scores to Donnie Darko, Heat, and The Fountain, plus Jen Titus’s “O Death”
Gaby Weidling: The Mars Volta’s De-Loused in the Comatorium, Mad Season’s Above, Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” and Beethoven’s Ninth
Paul Peterson: Any Danny Elfman
Liz Spain: How to Destroy Angels’ Welcome Oblivion, anything by Apocalyptica or The Cruxshadows
Chad Brown: The soundtracks to Stigmata and The Crow, Shriekback’s Oil and Gold
Elisa Teague: Any Pink Martini or Dead Can Dance album, Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads, maybe some Rammstein or Mr. Bungle
Keith Richmond: Shakespears Sister’s Stay, Metallica’s Enter Sandman, Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction
Selinker: See what I’m dealing with here? Okay, let me give you my top three.
#3: Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” played on a continuous loop (Gaby was so close!)
#2: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells ringing from every phone in the world at once
#1 by a million miles: The Cure’s Disintegration. Tanis had it bang-on right out of the gate. This is the ultimate Apocrypha album. The game would probably not exist without the song “Fascination Street” on continuous play in my brain for a quarter century.
Also, you need this song by the Doubleclicks:
If I’ve learned one thing from your recent projects, it’s to pay attention to the details. So I won’t ask if we should read anything the ominous numbers that show up in the Apocrypha Kickstarter (a $66,666 goal and similar numerology with $333 and $999 backer levels). So instead I’ll ask, what should we be reading into those numbers?
Selinker: Just the end of the world. Nothing important.