Play to feel. Play to heal. Play to reveal.

Clashing with Intention: Kicking Big and Startering Small

So Kickstarter is a pretty big deal now, eh?

Though launched in 2009, it was in 2015 when the first image of upcoming board game “Scythe” was posted and set the Internet ablaze. A clear source of “inspiration” for our modern art-churning AIs, Jakub Rozalski’s paintings of rudimentary mechs lording over pre-Industrial Russian peasants in golden fields of wheat were immediately evocative and exciting– nearly $2 million worth of excitement. 

Even that is relatively quaint now: big box board games like Frosthaven (sequel to the equally big-box #1-on-Board-Game-Geek Gloomhaven) and the pointlessly edgy Kingdom Death Monster EACH made more than $12 million, nearly double the amount crowdfunded on Kickstarter by the Fidget Cube™. 

The Fidget Cube™!! 

All Matt Coville, popular RPG Youtuber, promised was a D&D Supplement about making a castle. And that funded $2 million easy.

    But despite being a game designer, a curator of gaming libraries, a lover and sharer of the tabletop space, all I could really do was look on in befuddled bemusement. It wasn’t really my world, nor interest. We were, and are, living in the golden age of board games– new and exciting themes and ideas, booming public interest, and steadily grossing capital. In our world still recovering from COVID, Gen Con attendance swelled back to 50,000+ people and reportedly generated over $57 million in economic activity for restaurants, hotels and other local businesses.

    I make and enjoy small games, odd and thoughtful games. The Weirder the Better. I’m looking to explore, to see what is possible. In my opinion, the roleplaying space is largely unquestioned and unexamined. Big fundamental ideas are brushed aside as the real power and potential of the medium needs critical attention and process.

    I could talk about so many things in regards to this. And so should many others. But I’m going to bring it back to Kickstarter.

    The driving forces are all economical– what sells a little vs a lot, and, also, what do producers think will sell? As it becomes more and more expensive to produce, like AAA video games or massive film franchises, it lacks risk, and certainly, any real motivation for discovery and innovation.

    So it is genuine and delightful surprise that promotions like #ZineQuest has come about. This is the fourth year in a row that an entire month has been given this nom de plume. Tabletop RPGs of a diminutive size, but deviceful nature are encouraged to all post crowdfunding campaigns at once– creators support and find one and other on social media. Kickstarter itself even promotes the event somewhat.

    I’d designed on different projects and games- some for Kickstarter, some for ZineQuest. But I’d never been the sole creator and manager of such an endeavor. And with both the “Ask”, in terms of scope and money required, and with what might be expected or producible, it does get much more doable and encouraging than a punk rock style zine you might expect to be stapled by hand and sold out the back of someone’s van.

    Thus came my first crowdfunded game of which I alone am solely responsible:

    Under the Autumn Strangely

Screenshot of the cover art for Under the Autumn Strangely

    It’s an GM-less experimental storytelling game of pastoral horror inspired by “Over the Garden Wall”. The core idea is Tonal Clash: why does it happen in roleplaying games unintentionally, and, separately, how do you create a mixture and/or interplay of tones with a deceptively complicated work like “Over the Garden Wall”? The goal became, not to run from it, but to create the tools and procedures that could be taught and shared.

Every roleplaying group can benefit from intentionality and communication. The migration of Safety Tools like the X-Card or “Lines and Veils” from the world of LARP means that tables are talking before and during play, rather than after something unintended happens, if ever at all. The TTRPG is a deeply emotional and vulnerable space to occupy with other people, especially if they are people you just met at a convention setting. And I think this vulnerability and immersion should be embraced and explored. But it shouldn’t be done without intention– its potential is too powerful to be utilized haphazardly.

People are looking for a direction to delve in design. It is a growing community and an exciting space to be a part of. You can, with the right intention, be part of it, too.

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