April TTRPG Maker

The ever wonderful @Kiranansi over on Twitter set up a really fun hashtag this month where RPG makers answered one question a day about themselves, the games they make, the company they keep and so on. I thought it might be nice to store the answers in a bit of a nicer format, so here we go! Keep in mind I’m pulling these direct from Twitter so, formating might be odd.


Day 1: Who Are You?

Hi, I’m Liam! I’m a huge nerd that loves making RAD characters, Fiasco playsets and really weird system-agnostic campaign settings about ice ages and giant trees. I have a badass crew of doggos I take care of too

Day 2: Where are you from?

I’m a British immigrant here in sunny sunny Washington DC, or close enough, anyway. I could probably be using this location to do all kinds of cool networking with the TTRPG crowd buuuuut I have no idea where to start. Its an ok city! I’ve lived in worse!

My hometown is a small ex-mining industrial town called Middlesbrough in the North East of England. It’s not a very nice place, but obviously I have things I’m nostalgic about – the amazing take-aways, for one. I don’t miss it, but I do miss England itself sometimes.

Fun fact about Middlesbrough; there’s times when the sky is perpetually covered in smog and it reflects the light from the city so the sky glows purple/orange/red all night and it’s bright enough that it’s sometimes hard to sleep

Day 3: How did you start creating TTRPGs?

So I guess I started making settings and games back in 2006ish when I asked my friends if they’d like to “Try that DnD” thing, then bumbled through my own half-arsed homebrew version of a D&D campaign staring everyone that had a cool image in the MM. The first “Real” game I designed was a board game called Mole Man Defense Squad. it’s not very good, but it was inspired by EDF2017 and was kind of a half-deck builder half-RPG thing. Neat concept but I wasn’t ready to make good on the idea.

The first time I contributed to the indie RPG scene was when I made the first fillable PDFs for . If you filled in a digital PDF back when Dungeon World launched, it was probably mine! After that, I designed some video game character inspired playbooks, but I was still very focused on board games, until that kinda fell apart and my dog got sick and I had to focus on Real Work for a while. I couldn’t sell the sheets I’d made cause I had no artwork, so they just sat on a hard drive somewhere for a couple of years.

Last year I stumbled on OpenGameArt and realized there are options for people with zero drawing skills. I took some free art, made a cover and put the VG Class Pack on sale. Since then I’ve not stopped, making 3 major setting books, 20~ characters and a few of other things. Some of these were huge projects that took months and I had no idea I’d be doing that when I released those 3 classes last year. I’ve gotten SO much better at art, it’s even something I’m genuinely proud of now-look at these sheets.

Day 4: Describe Your Work

I try to make games that no one else does. That’s a bit trite, but I’m deeply inspired by games like Morrowind where the setting is alien, unique and special. When I sit down to make something, the first question I ask is “What isn’t here already?”

to be frank tho, SPG started as me making Dungeon World characters based on video games, so originality isn’t exactly my roots, I’ve since moved onto weirder ideas. I’d also say I often bite off a lot more than I can chew as part of my design process. Iunno if thats a good thing. It often leads to huge ambitious projects that frankly SPG is too small to promote properly that kinda die on the vine. Still, that’s a minor problem probably.

Day 5: Favorite Game You’ve Worked On

My favourite game is probably Boughs. Its was a huge undertaking for me! It’s a campaign setting where entire societies live in skyscraper sized trees in this uber-deadly forest that only The Rangers can survive in.

It’s a clear high water mark for me, the art is really nice, the book is really clean and professional and it’s this incredible unique and vibrant incredible world that I just love working in. I hope to make more stuff in that world someday soon.

Day 4: Favorite Mechanic

My favorite mechanic right now has to be ‘s Flashbacks in Blades In The Dark. It’s such a great solution to something games have struggled with for decades, and it’s a lot of fun too! Also a huge fan of the character sheets in Dungeon World.

 Day 7: Post Your Workspace

 

I have the privilege of working from my couch most of the time, surrounded by dogs who whisper game secrets to me all day – Observe, the socks they steal and hide under the couch, the chewed up cardboard tube they never clean up.

Day 8: Describe Your Routine

I’m kinda embarrassed by my lack of any real structured process – I get an idea, open the relevent word template (Or start making on), type up the idea, test it a couple of times, then spend a couple of hours making artwork for it. This is of course only relevent for the smaller projects, character classes and Fiasco stuff in particular. For larger projects I tend to start by securing the visual design, as its the part I have most trouble with, then I type the words, do the testing, then make more art.

A lot of my work process involves sending drafts to every friend I have, so big thanks to , , , and everyone else who puts up with that, it means a lot and my work only exists thanks to your incredible input and insights. Something a lil less peppy is that I’m pretty obsessive when I work, I often skip meals, ignore obligations, become lost in the work for 12+ hours. It’s especially bad when I feel the work is nearly “done”. I’m trying to work on this cause its unhealthy as fuck.

One part of my process I’m trying to evolve is the late game promotional aspect of things. I see my contemporaries getting lots of retweets and featured on podcasts and the like and I know part of that is survivor bias, but its clearly something I could improve upon.

Day 9: What’s Your Process?

I’ll level with ya’ll I kinda answered this with My Routine so the deal is I’ll post some more pictures of my cute dogs and ya’ll like and RT this as if I wrote something clever and insightful instead of misreading the prompt? Cool? Cool

Day 10: What Games Do You Relax With?

Games To Relax With! I don’t really relax with tabletop RPGs, I’m far far too energized and fired up enjoying the game and story. Dixit, Tokaido and The Duke are my most relaxing board games, with 0N0W, Into The Breach and GTA5 being my chill video games. GTA might sound an odd choice but anyone who’s grabbed a van and drove around that world at a medium pace just absorbing how dang pretty they made everything knows how relaxing that can be.

Day 11: What’s Your Brand?

Cute dogs and trying too hard, I think. (Another banner image joke there)

Day 12: How do you get your work out there?

Ho boy. That’s kind of two questions I guess. First, you can find all my work over at Or at Sandypuggames.itch.io

Secondly, how do I promote it? I have no freaking clue. I post goofy jokes on this twitter and get involved in lots of bundles and the like to build up an email list and use that occasionally. I post my stuff in relevent G+, FB and other social media pages.

Does any of that work? No idea, I guess my sales have been climbing a small amount over the months, but part of that is just cause I make so much stuff that the long tail is always gonna do that. Recently I’ve taken to emailing and DMing TRENDSETTERS I admire a little more, and I have plans for doing some AP shows with friends who run podcasts, and some cool stuff has already come of that so.

While I’m here yo check out , it’s genuinely a fantastic place for the community, big thanks to both and for repping it hard recently. Its feature base is just phenomenal for a sales front

Day 13: What Are Your Influences?

This is gonna be a long one, but first up my main influences are the incredible conversations I have with my dear friends and partners. 99% of my ideas evolve from those chats.

Films are very influential to me: Fury Road, Dredd and The Raid are at the core of The Boughs. Aronofsky, The Coens, The Wachowskis, Del Toro, Miyazaki, Satashi Kon and Yoshitaka Amano all lend a bit of their souls to my work-Oh, and Brick. I’ve ripped off Brick like a lot.

Books: The work of , and all make up a lot of my works, in addition to Peter Watts’s Blindsight, Dune of course, Ursula K Le Guin, the writings of Angela Davis and other revolutionaries also color a great deal of the work that I do.

TV: I think you can trace a pretty clear line from Dragon Ball Z to everything I’ve made since, but besides that I don’t think TV influences my designs as much as other things. Not sure why that is, I love plenty of shows. Weird.

RPGS: Of course and both influenced me a GREAT deal both in my GMing and my game design, but I’d also give a shoutout to and Golden Sky Stories, Paranoia, Noblis and Exalted. Thanks to for getting me into in the first place.

Other Stuff: The bold made me love board games and embrace love as a central part of game design. and other design focused Youtubers have refined my eye, and a BUNCH of people I follow on here inspire and influence me every day.

OH SHIT COMICS: I forgot about comics! Prophet and Saga are obvious big influences, as is Kill 6 Billion demons, The Manhattan Projects and Transmetropolitan, Orc stain, Wicked+Divine, like a billion more who’s voice echos in every thing I do.

Told you this would be long! A vital part, I believe, of design and any creative work is imo the absorption and re-contextualization of art, and finding influence in every aspect of the world is just at the core of good design, I find. Hell I didn’t even mention how deeply Miyamoto Musashi’s ink paintings or the vast vast pile of nature documentaries and history books/Youtubes ( !!) influences me. Ya gotta drink deep from the well.

One area I missed when posting this on Twitter was the video games that influence me – Persona, Jet Set Radio, Final Fantasy, Morrowind, Vanquish, Panzer Dragoon, Shenmue, a million more.

Day 14: Dreams and Plans

All I really want is to make some cool stuff and to maybe have that cool stuff bring in a lil money so I can make more cool stuff I have plans for a DBZ inspired DW hack, a noir god murder mystery game and a SECRET KICKSTARTER.

Day 15: Do you Design In Public Or In Private?

I will blab about everything I’m doing to anyone who will listen tbh, and even some that don’t. I recently put up a website to post ideas and design drafts, and I ADORE Itch’s DevLog features.

Day 16: Design Partners

did a bunch of work with me on Boughs, and we’ll make that PBtA post-humanity hack one day, currently working with on a SECRET THING.

Day 17: What Kind of Feedback Do You Like?

I like direct feedback, preferably face to face or over messenger or some kind, random comments or reviews are often helpful but not nearly as much as a trusted design companion walking through the flaws/positives of your work with you.

Day 18: Current Inspiration?

Currently drawing on lots of Noir sources and microgames for a couple of projects, but I’m also watching some Guy Fieri projects, rewatching Rebel without a Cause and playing bunches of Blades In the Dark. I should specify these are all for specific projects, Guy Fieri isn’t some wildly inspirational core aspect of my design process or anything. Yet.

SOON

Day 19: Game Most Essential To Your Design

Well, I mean it’s gotta be Dungeon World, most of what I make is either for, or inspired by, that. As I expand and make my own systems tho, that becomes less and less true, I feel. If the question is what have I done that is essential, it’s Boughs. I’m so proud of this work and it contains a lot of what I am in it

Day 20: Favorite Design Tools?

Honestly, nothing special. Word, Google Docs, Photoshop.

Day 21: How Many Playtests?

Fewer than you think, more than you’d like.

Day 22: How Do You Document Ideas?

TBQH I need to do much better at this, I used to have a notebook back when I did board game design, but now my ideas get randomly slapped in Gmail drafts, notepad documents and just In My Head. Must do better!

Day 23: People Who’ve Helped You

An obscene amount of people have poured hours to proof-reading, editing, ideas-bouncing and more with me, any success I have is theirs as much as mine, Nothing I do would exist if not for the network of people around me.

But in particular, I owe a lot of thanks to , , my partners and friends and all the rest of the extended Sandy Pug Team who suffer through my babbling and demands. covered a game of ours in our very first media experience, that was amazing. I think a lot of folx are gonna name other designers with this question, and I’d like to but tbqh I’ve not really found a place among ya’ll just yet, soon, hopefully. gave me some great advice at the talk I saw him at, and has shared wisdom when I see them

Quick shout out to the little acts of help that are out there, folx who share my posts or like my tweets or leave reviews or comments or ratings on stuff, I see ya’ll, ya’ll are fucking rad and that kinda stuff keeps my heart beating. Thank you so much.

Day 24: Most Notable Achivement

It’s funny, until last month the things I’m most proud of and the things that are most successful didn’t quite align for me. I’d say I have 3 major achievements so far;

1) Mirror, the RPG where you play as your friend. It’s beautiful and elegant as a system, creates incredible scenes and plays with emotion and vulnerability most games don’t cover. Plus I managed to get some buzz for it for the first time ever and got a bunch o’ downloads.

2) Boughs and Ice – A twofer here, but they’re two complete books with two unique and amazing worlds I labored over for years. I love these places I built, and I love the books they ended up in, with gorgeous art and layouts by and in Boughs

3) I have a huge back catalog of entirely fantastic games and ideas and supplements. A huge number of Dungeon World characters, Fiasco playsets and Blades stuff. The rate at which I’ve produced quality content over the past year is an achievement unto itself imo

Day 25: Being a TTRPG Designer Means

Using words like surgical tools to create experiences, emotions and ideas in the minds of people you’ll never meet, in rooms you’ll never visit, in worlds you’ll never step foot in.

Day 26: Blogs, Podcasts, Etc?

I started to do some design blogging, I used to make a podcast all about space and often overlooked aspects of space you can check out at VoicesFromL5.Space

Day 27: Feature a Designer

Just one? Nah, lets go on a trip.

First off let me s/o both for making the Kaiju game of my dreams and also just being rad, an uncompromising machine of a designer who knows what games should be and will make you a believer in that vision through the art of words.

Never before in Orc history has there been a games designer like , and there probably won’t ever be again, someone to keep an eye on there.

Imagine writing something like The Veil by on your first try! That blows my mind.

and the folx at New Agenda aren’t just great designers, they’re like a brutal fist tearing through the accepted “norms” of the hobby and remaking from the ruins something brilliant, I wish I could be even an ounce as bold as them

The designers that most influenced me tho have to be , and . I could talk about how elegant the systems they made are but the truth is what they did was show me that anyone can design something and built games that encourage that, FATE and Dungeon World aren’t just games I love, they’re games that gave me a toolkit to build from and taught me those valuable first lessons of design. Without them I wouldn’t have Sandy Pug Games, and I wouldn’t be doing any of the boss shit I do now.

Day 28: Interviews

I’ve only ever really had one, and thats the io9 piece on Mirror  – https://t.co/SqJK7UObG6, BUT!!!!

I used to basically interview people about Space all the time! I once interviewed who was involved in a Mars Simulation out in the desert and we recorded it complete with time delays and everything That’s prob my favourite one, maybe. The one where I had a NASA guy come on and tell me all the wild stuff they’d do on the moon with infinite money was also great – they wanted to do a reality TV show where someone just tries to do every day tasks on a moon base and see how it works out.

Day 29: My Community

I have a few spaces I’ve been lucky enough to call home – firstly the various activist communities I’ve worked closely with over the past few years in both DC and Charlottesville have been a real strong support for me. Obviously there’s ya’ll, the small indie designer RPG community we have kicking about here that I’m slowly trying to wiggle into a little bit, the whole LGBTQ Feelsy Game Squad is like a warm bath after a cold day in the snow sometimes.

Recently I’ve been getting into the Math Squad discord and chatting it up in there too! They seem like nice folks! There’s a few other places but not super relevent to games design – the space settlement community, the console homebrew community, etc I have loved being a part of

Day 30: Advice, Tips. The Final Day

I don’t know how qualified I am to give anyone advice on design, but if I have any wisdom, it’s this. Write something. Don’t get bogged down in what you should be or ideas of who is allowed to make games. Open a window, type some words.

Keep typing words. Don’t stop. Write every idea you have as often as you can as much as you can until something sticks. Worry about the marketing or image or brand or experience or playtesting or kickstarting afterwards. Build something first. A huge thanks to for running this lil event, I had a blast and it introduced me to so many amazing people. Thank you!

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