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Dead Stop: A Meditation on Failure

by Charlie Plaine, Dead Stop Co-Designer

27th October 2017

Frame of Mind

The Continuing Committee is proud to release Dead Stop, a nine (9) card, Halloween-inspired, boutique expansion for Second Edition. The cards within represent the feelings of suspense and costumed revelry so associated with October 31st. You'll be able to download the complete file, free of charge, on Tuesday, October 31st, 2017.

I had the privilege of working with Jeremy Benedict [flrazor] on the expansion. It was Jeremy's second project, and his second working with me, and he's a skilled designer with a methodical approach. I can't wait to see more from him. But, aside from Jeremy and I, there have been a lot of volunteers putting their time and energy into Dead Stop. Please take the time to thank all of the testers, proofreaders, rules, art, and creative volunteers that help ship this, and every, expansion.

Dead Stop will not feature a release kit or a special donor badge. The expansion released on Tuesday, October 31st and will be legal in all Second Edition formats one week later, November 7th.

A Meditation on Failure
I'll open with a confession: sometimes, I'm not very good at doing what I'm told. It's not something deliberate; I don't go out of my way to ignore tasks I'm asked to complete or requirements I'm given. My flaw is that I tend to read more into a requirement than is actually there. On occasion, this means I bring some artillery to a knife-throwing contest and blow right past the target. Dead Stop ended up in a very fun place, but in spite of my ignoring the original instructions I was given (not because of them).

Here's what we were asked to deliver:

Here's what we actually delivered:

Empok Nor

So what happened? Well, Jeremy and I started out by making a list of Halloween episodes and Halloween-related themes we could explore. From there, we started looking for themes and ideas we could explore. It turns out that there aren't a lot of "fun" Halloween episodes (unless you count dressing up on the Holodeck, which we didn't.) However, there are quite a few on the scary/suspenseful side. We latched onto the idea of "suspense" as theme and started making new cards.

I have always been enamored of this quote from Alfred Hitchcock about the difference between suspense and surprise. I shared it with Jeremy, and he agreed - we set out to make cards that would be suspenseful in Second Edition. We wanted the opponent to know that something bad was going to happen - just not exactly what or exactly when. As is typical, we spent a few weeks brainstorming ideas and came up with a lot that we liked - including a new, suspense-based mechanic.

The first file that we turned in was eighteen (18) cards, included the two requests, and featured a host of suspense-based cards. The new mechanic we'd made - which all call "Steve" for ease of writing - required more support than nine (9) cards. We also turned our file in early so that rules could look over Steve and the outline we'd made for the mechanic. I was excited, and proud of the work that Jeremy and I had done.

However, the Rules team identified an issue that made Steve not work the way we wanted. And while Steve technically would still work, the rules issue eliminated almost all of the suspenseful feeling we liked. That left us faced with a hard choice: a) fight with Rules about how Steve should work, b) leave Steve in, or c) gut Steve from the file. Jeremy and I had a candid discussion about Steve and our file and made the decision to kill the mechanic. I was devastated; losing Steve left me depressed and disillusioned about everything in the file.

Fortunately, GenCon was right around the corner. Jeremy and I were both going, and could talk through everything in person. Jeremy was very supportive and understanding, and helped me realize that losing Steve didn't mean that we had to lose all of the suspense. We kept a cycle of three (3) dilemmas that shared a cool new suspenseful effect. We also kept Frame of Mind, which has been a story I've wanted to use for years. In fact, I've asked a few cards over the years to change story because I didn't feel the card was the perfect fit for the name.

James T. Kirk

We also kept Empok Nor, which is another story I've wanted to use for some time. Out of all of the Empok Nor stories, it made sense to use the creepy one from the titular episode. We were inspired to make a mission that actively tried to kill you, and gave the card a variant of Quantum Filament as its gametext. It felt suspenseful - someone will die each time - who will it be?

However, Steve's removal still left us with less than nine (9) cards, and saw Susperia and Zora get left on the cutting room floor. Jeremy and I were looking for ideas, and he suggested that we do some costumed characters. We'd originally rejected that as a concept, but decided it would work well. We could make some main characters in unusual configurations, they would be simpler to test at the late hour, and it would add back some needed fun to the file.

At this point, it would be remiss of me not to thank those players at GenCon that pitched ideas for some of these characters. Not only did they suggest costume options, but they contributed to the final designs. So while these folks might not be credited on the design team, I'd like to extend special thanks to Sean O'Reily, Dan Hamman, Rogue Shindler, and Maggie Geppert; as well as to anyone else that I might be forgetting. It's due to you guys that we have cool cards like James T. Kirk (Organizing Crime).

For the costumed characters (there are four), we wanted fun, cool, flavorful versions. Gangster Kirk comes with an ability that literally gives him "a piece of action," giving card draws when your opponent scores points. Since he's off the ship, he loses the staffing and Commander keyword - as well as some of the skills - associated with being in command. However, as is the case with most [TOS] personnel, you can upgrade him to get those back - at least for a turn.

It turns out that my failure to meet the original goals of the expansion led me through a wild emotional journey. We created something really cool, a new mechanic (Steve), that I am confident we'll bring back some day. It led me to some disappointment and disillusionment, but to all of your benefit: you're getting a much better product in Dead Stop. My character flaw, in pushing the limits, means I failed; but, I don't feel like I did. Jeremy and I created and explored, and crafted something fun and exciting. We hope you'll enjoy these new cards.

Dead Stop will be available on Tuesday, October 31st. Happy Halloween!

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