Lovecraftesque second edition is live on Backerkit crowdfunding!

Lovecraftesque: a new edition is currently crowdfunding on Backerkit. Pledge now!

Lovecraftesque just went live on Backerkit crowdfunding. You can back it here, or if you’d like to know more, read on!

A Storytelling Card Game Of Eldritch Horror

Lovecraftesque is a storytelling card game of creeping cosmic horror, emulating the tone and pace of eldritch horror stories. The game will guide you to create the story of a lone individual who stumbles upon clues to a terrible evil. It creates slow-building, brooding horror that the main character at first dismisses, until all too suddenly it becomes impossible to deny. The ending will certainly be bleak, and the main character is likely to meet their doom.

A mock up of the cards used to play the game
Brand new cards help streamline gameplay and inspire your group

Lovecraftesque is an emergent mystery game, which crafts a story out of clues that you take turns to create. The game includes hundreds of creative prompts to help you generate your story and guide the main character towards a confrontation with cosmic evil. You take turns to drip weird events into the story, building up your mystery one clue at a time.  Each player creates a secret theory about the horror and the truth about the horror emerges from those theories. By the end you’ll reach a chilling climax that none of you could have predicted at the start.

Lovecraftesque is easy to learn and teach, simple and intuitive to play, with hundreds of prompts to fire your imagination. It can be played with 1-5 players in around 2 hours.

Lovecraftesque is created by Josh Fox and Becky Annison of Black Armada Games, the award-winning publishers who brought you Wreck This Deck, Last Fleet, Flotsam: Adrift Amongst The Stars and Bite Marks.

A mock up of the Lovecraftesque core box
A New Edition

We created the first edition of Lovecraftesque back in 2015. It was our first game design project and we were delighted with its success. It’s received critical acclaim, won awards and gained thousands of fans around the world. But we were new to publishing then, and the costs and risks meant we were unable to realise our full vision for the game. In this new edition we’ve created the game we always wanted to.

The second edition is fully card-driven. It gives your group more support for their creativity through prompt cards that help you get your story set up and populate it with interesting clues, characters and locations. The story will seem to write itself.

There are also brand new card-based scenarios to get your story off to a flying start. Check out the scenarios list to see the incredible range of fresh exciting settings for eldritch horror, written by a diverse slate of talent from across the industry. Like the rest of the game, these are written on cards, meaning you can easily mix and match to make up your own weird tales.

With the new card-driven approach the game is even easier to learn, teach and play. The rules and structure of the game are written into the cards and your progress is tracked on the board, so you always know what you’re meant to be doing. As always we include teaching text to make it easy for you to learn and teach the game at the table, and tools to avoid the stereotypes of Lovecraft’s own work.

We are also commissioning new art by Vincent Sammy and Paul Tomes to make the game look cooler than ever before.

Lovecraftesque second edition will be available as a boxed set with the rules and all the cards you need, and as a virtual tabletop for online play.

Lovecraftesque is crowdfunding from 10 October to 9 November 2023. Pledge now and become one of the first to back the project!

Lovecraftesque second edition has brand new scenarios!

We are just 24 hours off the launch of our crowdfunding campaign for Lovecraftesque second edition. If you are excited for the new edition you should follow the campaign now so you can back as soon as the campaign goes live!

As part of the new edition, we have commissioned a ton of new writers to create brand new scenarios for the game, as well as writing a bunch ourselves and updating a few of the scenarios from the first edition. They really are incredibly diverse – not just the writers themselves, but the fresh and exciting settings that they have brought to eldritch horror. I don’t think you’ll find a more unique and original set of cosmic horror scenarios anywhere (though the first edition of Lovecraftesque gives it a run for its money!)

The new scenarios come on cards, just like the rest of the game’s creative prompts, and provide pre-generated characters, locations and clues that you can use to create a story with a distinct flavour. These aren’t pre-plotted adventures, but rich ingredients that you deploy at the table to create your own eldritch mystery. Whenever you use them, they’re mixed in with some standard cards from the core game. As a result, every play through is different, and every scenario is infinitely replayable.

More than that, you can recombine the cards in the scenarios with each other and with those in the core deck to create scenarios of your own. With about 240 cards across the scenarios, it is an awesome bank of cosmic horror ideas and prompts.

Here is the full list of scenarios.

  • A Place In The Country by Lynne Hardy. The Norton Hotel Consortium plans to turn Rowan Hall into a luxury hotel and spa. But what mysteries lurk within the dilapidated hall and gardens? And why is its current owner so desperate to sell? 
  • A Witch’s Love by Michele Gelli. Caterina Sforza (1460~1509), ruler of Imola and Countess of Forlì, political leader and alchemist, was a tough cookie. She held hostage the Vatican’s conclave and she’s said to be a witch who had a well to dispose of bodies of “discarded” lovers. Can Caterina’s presence cross space and time? Can her love change the destiny of a team of archaeologists that are investigating her old castle?
  • Atlantis Swallowed by Becky Annison. Thousands of years ago and the sea levels are lapping at the heels of Atlantis. With greater technological prowess than anything a modern civilization has seen, they are confident they can hold back the waters. But a deeper rot has seeped in through the cracks.
  • Blow Ye Winds by Sasha Sienna and Jonathan Sims. In 1831, the British port of Peterhead processed the butchered blubber of over a thousand whales a year, hunted and killed off the coast of Greenland. Dr Andrew Campbell has left his landlocked life behind to serve as surgeon on the whaling vessel Sanguine, but his first voyage will not be an easy one as a strangeness begins to affect the ship.
  • Echoes of Vulcan by Darla Burrow. It is strange days in Pompeii. Phantoms walk the streets, doors open to tunnels where once they opened to courtyards, and birds fall dead from the sky. Something awful is coming, but what is it and how does it connect to the mysterious Cult of Mithras?
  • Ex Nihilo by Joshua Fox. A spaceship is sent to explore the last frontier of science by entering the black hole V616 Monocerotis “Mon”. The journey into the singularity is even more terrifying than expected.
  • Mr Giggles Comes To Dinner by Misha Bushyager. Your kid won’t shut up about their ‘imaginary friend’s’ exploits. So far, so normal, until you start experiencing them too.
  • Nothingness has a thousand endings by Bryan Thao Worra. In this scenario, the witness takes a step into the 1990s Southeast Asian refugee community in a working class neighborhood in the US to resolve a mysterious debt of uncertain consequences.
  • On Ilkla Moor Bah’tat by Becky Annison. Ilkley Moor is a dark and foreboding place for a young world war II evacuee miles from the city she called home. What lurks in the soothing waters of the suspicious Hydro Hotel and are the locals friendly or ready to offer her up on a plate?
  • The Chicxulub Horrors by Santiago Villa. In the coast of Yucatán where an ancient meteorite has created a gargantuan underground crater that is now a web of tunnels, a man disappears. During the art boom of the 1930’s in Mexico, painter and muralist Hervé Pelletier has gone missing and his wife, Amaranta Vera, has arrived at Chicxulub Puerto, a town nestled over the crater’s dead center, to look for him.
  • The Hidden Cabinet by Helen Gould. A scenario about whispered rumours, duplicitous politicians, and what really happens in the corridors of power. What will you find behind these closed doors?
  • The Sea Hungers by Thomas Manuel. It’s Bombay in 1728. As the East India Company recovers from a ferocious defeat at the hands of legendary pirate admiral Kanhoji Angre, a naive, young marine discovers a sinister plot involving sacrifice and spirals of blood.  
  • We serve and protect by Kenneth Hite. A long hot summer of protests rocks the streets of Chicago in the 1970s, and you rock with them. Until the cops pen you in, snatch you up, and take you to the precinct house, where worse things than rubber hoses wait in the basement. The Chicago Police Department serves and protects… but what inhuman entity do the cops who have you serve? What dark secrets do they protect?
  • Wolfshead by Joshua Fox. Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, in the 13th century. A hapless cutpurse robs the wrong person and finds themselves in possession of a strange item. Now they have the Baron’s men hunting for them – but that may not be the worst thing that stalks the night.
  • The Copycat Canal Murders by Becky Annison. Ritual murders spanning a century are investigated again in the age of DNA profiling and AI. Will the truth of the horrifying secrets on the foggy banks of the canal finally be revealed?
  • The Outer Gods by Nick Bate. The year is 23XX. Humanity has colonised the Solar System aboard reality-rending liveships, warding themselves against unearthly things hiding in the dark through ritual and prayer. Monette is one such liveship, a salvager investigating the sudden reappearance of a lost generation ship. What will they find aboard the deadship Yog-Sothoth?
  • The Siren’s Caw by W.H. Arthur. Every summer, visitors from London and beyond are drawn to the seaside resort of Brighton. Are they called here by the eldritch forces from beneath the waves, or is there something even more sinister from across time and space?
  • Through The Waters, Darkly by Josh Fox. A research and exploration base has been set up at the bottom of the deepest place on Earth: the Mariana Trench. The small team of scientists are isolated in the cold depths as they explore the last frontier of our planet. Isolated, yes: but not alone.

Lovecraftesque second edition launches on Backerkit crowdfunding tomorrow – Tuesday 10 October, at 11am ET / 4pm BST. Follow the campaign and be one of the first to back the new edition.

Lovecraftesque 2e has hidden UV art!

We’re ONE WEEK away from the launch of the Lovecraftesque 2e crowdfunding campaign and, to celebrate, I want to share with you a very exciting part of Lovecraftesque 2e which is *hidden UV art*. The new edition will come with a UV torch, and when you shine it on the box, board and rulebook you’ll see extra detail that was invisible before.

The cover of Lovecraftesque shows a lone figure investigating some weird-looking cocoons while a skull-like monster lurks behind them.

When you turn the torch on, extra detail is revealed: tentacles, egg sacs and a summoning circle centred on the figure.
A mock-up of what the UV cover will look like

We first saw this approach in the Italian edition of Lovecraftesque 1e by Narrattiva, and we’re stealing it wholesale. Every illustration will contain hidden details and the text itself will be splattered with sigils, blood stains and tentacles. Check out the Italian edition cover below – you’ll be seeing something very similar on the new edition’s rulebook.

The Italian edition of Lovecraftesque 1e

The art for this game is going to be SO GOOD. You’ve seen the awesome cover by our lead illustrator Vincent Sammy, who also illustrated Bite Marks. There’s more where that came from. Check out this gorgeously creepy illustration for the game’s board, also by Vincent Sammy – shown here with its UV art.

The board for Lovecraftesque 2e.

And we also have Paul Tomes creating interior illustrations for the book. We’ve long admired Paul’s style and we’re really excited to have him on board. Take a look at this terrific piece showing horror about to unfold in a mine. Again, there will be UV on this one, but you’ll have to wait to see that.

A cross section of a mine, with tiny figures dressed in high-vis. Lurking behind the rock face are enormous tentacles about to break through.
One of Paul Tomes’ illustrations for Lovecraftesque 2e

As always, commissioning art for games is my favourite bit about being a small press publisher. It’s always delightful to see our weird ideas turned into something gorgeous, and to support artists while doing it.

The campaign for Lovecraftesque 2e is here.

Lovecraftesque 2e: what’s new

We are just TWO WEEKS from our crowdfunding of Lovecraftesque second edition (you can sign up to be notified when the campaign launches here). There are a ton of exciting things to share about the new game and I’ll be announcing them day by day.

But let’s start really basic: what is new in the game’s core design?

It’s still a GMless storytelling game where you share control of one main character, and also share the job of creating the clues that drive the mystery. It’s still about slow-building mystery culminating in worldview-shattering horror and a bleak ending for the main character.

But the game now comes with a plethora of prompts to help you create the characters, locations and clues.

You get a dedicated deck of Location Cards with prompts to generate the places where the horror unfolds, and a deck of Character Cards with prompts to create NPCs your main character might encounter. The two of these together help you rapidly generate the setting for your game; perhaps you’ll be presented with a Holy Place, a Remote Location and a Natural Feature and immediately think to yourself “that sounds like a monastery in the mountains”. Once you’ve decided your basic setting, the cards enable you to create a bunch of ready-to-go story elements that you can grab and quickly turn into a scene.

Then there’s the Mystery Deck, which is the engine that drives the unfolding mystery. The Mystery Deck contains Clue Cards with a theme for a Clue. Themes like technology, strange writings, weird construction, and rites & customs. With each card, you can straight away imagine the sorts of eldritch weirdness you might create. But to make it even easier, the cards contain a handful of prompts that you can quickly flesh out to turn into a Clue.

The Mystery Deck also contains Special Cards, just like the ones in the first edition of the game, that allow you to break the rules. These shake up the story so that just occasionally the main character will get killed midway through the story, and pick up a new character; or, even more surprising, they might actually defeat the horror at the end.

The game also comes with scenarios, just like the first edition, written by a diverse international slate of authors and covering fresh and varied venues for cosmic horror. What’s new is, the scenarios are written on cards. This makes it simple to set up the characters and locations where everyone can see them, and dish out the clues to the group. Further, you can recombine the scenario cards with cards from other scenarios and those from the main deck to create your own scenarios, and for infinite replayability.

The scenarios aren’t stretch goals: we’re funding them as part of our main goal. There will be a set included in the main game, and more available as expansion packs. We’ll be announcing details in the coming days.

Alongside those you have the Story Track and Story Cards, which guide you through the game. They serve a similar role to the teaching guide in 1e, walking you through each part of the game so you always know what to do next. This is a bit like the way games like For The Queen present each new step of the game on cards, making it simple to follow the structure of the game.

We haven’t got rid of the teaching guide, by the way – we know this was a favourite feature of the first edition. What we have done though is integrate it into the rulebook so that the whole text is now presented as a read-out-loud guide.

Finally you have Rule Cards which describe the key rules of the game – things like the creeping horror rule which limit how extreme the clues can be. These serve as a handy reference but also help to highlight when the rules change mid-game – it’s very satisfying to discard the rules that have been limiting the horror and know that the leash is off!

All this makes for a hugely improved experience: better creative support, slicker, easier to learn rules, and a more accessible game. I’ve successfully taught and played a full session of Lovecraftesque in 90 minutes and the group was BUZZING with how much fun they had and how easy it was to pick up.

I’ll be back with more over the next two weeks. In the mean time, if you haven’t already, you should get yourself signed up to be notified when the project launches. Don’t miss it!

Lovecraftesque second edition is coming!

Check out the preview page and sign up for updates

We’re launching a new edition of Lovecraftesque, the classic storytelling game of creeping cosmic horror. Lovecraftesque creates chilling eldritch mysteries that keep the whole table in suspense right until the end: the story emerges over a single session as if by magic without any prep, planning or discussion. The first edition was critically acclaimed, won the Gioco Dell’Anno (Game Of The Year) award, was a finalist in the IGDN indie groundbreakers, and influenced a generation of mystery games like Brindlewood Bay, Apocalypse Keys and Bleak Spirit. We’re crowdfunding a new second edition boxed set, building on the lessons from the first to make an even slicker, more inspiring, easier-to-learn experience, with brand new art and a plethora of exciting new scenarios for the game. The campaign launches in October.

If you like the sound of that you can find out more and sign up for updates here.

Cute familiars and spooky mansions!

Familiar Friends is a cozy journaling game about the lives of witches’ familiars, and the silly adventures they get up to. It’s solo-first but it also works as a light GMless game for a gang of familiars. It’s a lot of fun! You can get it now by supporting the Black Armada Patreon – and of course it will be available on our itch store in a few months.

Ghost Hunt Live! is a game about TV ghost hunters staking out spooky mansions and uncovering the lives of the ghosts they find there. It’s a Lovecraftesque hack where your TV psychic will gradually discover the truth about a haunted place, ably aided by the crew of your TV show. GHL is on its way to the Black Armada Patreon imminently.

It’s a good time to join the Patreon – for a mere $5 you can get our previous release Polis, plus Familiar Friends and Ghost Hunt Live! when it releases. Not bad!

Wreck This Deck is available to pre-order

Wreck This Deck, the dark urban fantasy journaling game of demon summoning and deck crafting, is at the printers and shipping in the next few weeks. If you missed the crowdfunding campaign, you can pre-order it here.

Wreck This Deck is LIVE on Backerkit!

Wreck This Deck is a dark urban fantasy game of solo journaling, demon summoning and deck crafting. Summon and bind demons into your Demon Deck, defacing the cards as you go. The game was first published during lockdown and saw a lot of play, and we’re now crowdfunding the print zine that it always deserved, using Backerkit’s new crowdfunding platform.

In Wreck This Deck you will:

  • Delve into dark knowledge and live life on the edge as a demon-summoning deck runner.
  • Bind demons into your haunted deck, wielding their strength for yourself.
  • Modify playing cards, creating a personalized deck spattered with paint, blood and sigils.
  • Unleash the power of your demon deck to fight corporations, right injustice and protect your community. 

Pledge now to help us get the strongest possible launch!

Play Modena

This last week I’ve been away in Italy at Play Modena, Italy’s biggest gaming convention. I was invited by Narrattiva, who did the awesome Italian Ghostlight Edition of Lovecraftesque, and was at the convention as a guest. It was a pretty interesting experience and I’m going to give you the highlights.

First things first: how do you say “Modena”? This seems to be quite a difficult thing for English people. We get tempted to say “Moderna”, which is wrong. I’ve been studying Italian over the last year and it didn’t help at all. So: the word is pronounced “Moh – duh – nuh“, with a rhythm and emphasis similar to how you say “modelling”.

At the time of the convention Italy was suffering major rainfall and some of the worst flooding its ever had, right near to Modena, something I only started to become aware of as I travelled over. Modena itself seemed unscathed (and indeed fairly dry by British standards) but my hosts were coming from Forli, in the region most affected by the floods. This made life very difficult for them as their daily 1-hour commute became over 4 hours. The convention organisers very kindly put me up in a local hotel and I’m very glad they did because some of the Narrattiva team were surviving on 4 hours sleep a night. But although a gaming con is hardly the most important thing during a disaster like this (several people died), it did affect footfall and some events had to be cancelled. The Narrattiva team stoically (and rather impressively) got on with it and, on a wing and a prayer, managed to keep the show on the road.

Me with some of the Narrattiva team
The Narrattiva team were a very welcoming bunch.

My first day was setting up the stall before the convention. A different experience from what I’m used to – the Narrattiva team had a sort of Ikea-style build-it-yourself booth which initially seemed like madness but looked very good once built. Even if the chaos around the floods meant they needed to do things unconventionally – see the video below for what I mean!

My first takeaway from the convention, on day 2, was that Italian gaming publishers are very showy. We had holographic displays on our booth, showing off the products Narrattiva produce. Next door was a massive table carved to look like a game board. Down the way, an area made up to look like a prison cell you could play Heroquest in. Massive battlemaps big enough to walk on, a room-sized Rubiks cube, and much more. They made UK conventions look a little boring. I’m honestly not sure how much of this is important and effective marketing, and how much is just an arms race of showing off. It does look very cool though.

A gorgeous wooden table carved into a game board.
So cool.

At the convention my main activities were signing books and running games. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever signed so many books. I came in thinking Italy was the place in the world where our games are most popular and the convention confirmed it, with more copies of Lovecraftesque sold than we’d normally do at home. I was frequently approached by very enthusiastic fans who wanted to tell me how much they loved the game, and by designers whose games we have influenced. It was a bit like being a minor celebrity for the week, and that was rather lovely.

As for running games, the flooding meant that the printouts and other materials I had hoped to have never materialised. But luckily I came to the convention armed with a prototype set of cards for Lovecraftesque second edition. These proved invaluable and worked even better than they have during online playtesting. The cards made everything smoother and easier to explain, and the prompts helped to grease everyone’s creative wheels. This was so effective that we managed to play a speed run in 90 minutes, which I think is a record for me. (I think the ideal run time for Lovecraftesque is more like 3 hours, but it’s very easy to cut this down if you need to.)

Playing Lovecraftesque 2e at Play Modena
I display my uncanny ability to close my eyes at the wrong moment.

Narrattiva had set up a 24-person “massive game” of Lovecraftesque (would have been 50 person but for the floods), which was a first for me. 7 or 8 individual games of Lovecraftesque were linked together. The premise was that the main character on each gaming table was the beneficiary of the same will: each character inherited a different house and also an item (which was provided as a physical prop in a box we had to open). There was also a “telegram” system where we could send messages to other tables if we wanted to. In the event, my table did a fairly ordinary (i.e. good, fun) game of Lovecraftesque, without making much use of the props or the telegrams, but I liked the idea of it and there was a certain buzz about playing the game in a room full of other people doing it at the same time.

Indeed my second big takeaway from the convention was the focus on play. Every booth in the convention had its own play area, and many “booths” were nothing more than a set of play tables. Organised play was a standard part of having a booth, and booking a session to play with me personally was part of Narrattiva’s sales pitch for the event. Offering massive/mega-games was an important part of the show. In the UK trade halls are essentially nothing but giant retail areas; they might be next door to a big play area, and the companies involved might offer games, but it all feels a bit separate. Given that we’re all interesting in gaming, presumably, to play games, this now feels a little odd. On a related note I heard from the organisers that they do something called “Play on tour” where they set up gaming tables at other (non-gaming) events around the country, including for example local festivals and scientific conferences. I would love it if we did that here in the UK.

Of course, there was also delicious food. I ate the local gnocco fritto, a kind of fried dough served with cheese and cured meat. Naturally there was also wonderful pasta. I had local wine (fizzy red wine served cold – unusual but very nice) and delightful limoncello brought to the convention by a fan of Lovecraftesque. I made myself into a typical Englishman by constantly asking for “un piccolo po di latte freddo” with my tea.

With the convention being in a peripheral part of town I only saw the centre of Modena on the morning before my return flight, but the convention organisers very kindly drove me in to have a little stroll around before rushing off to the airport.

Gorgeous Italian cathedral
Modena cathedral is striking in white stone.

I want to thank everyone at Narrattiva, particularly Michele, Pietro and Filippo (who acted as my translator on various occasions), and Matteo and Marco from the convention team, for being such wonderful hosts and managing to make my stay friction-free despite all the problems. I had a fantastic time and I hope to return one day.

Why we’re using Backerkit for Wreck This Deck

We’ve done four TTRPG crowdfunding campaigns, starting with Lovecraftesque (first edition) in 2015, then Flotsam, Bite Marks and Last Fleet. All four were on Kickstarter. We’ve had some great success with Kickstarter. But for Wreck This Deck, we’ve decided to go with Backerkit, and I want to talk about why.

First a brief plug for Wreck This Deck. It’s a solo journaling game of demon summoning and deck crafting, where you trap demons in ordinary playing cards by defacing the cards: paint them, stitch them, burn them, scrawl on them. It had some great success when we first released it during lockdown and we’re now ready to give it a print edition. If you like the sound of that then you can pledge on our Backerkit crowdfunding page.

When we first started crowdfunding, Kickstarter was more-or-less the only game in town. Indiegogo was there, but it just didn’t look as attractive, and the campaigns on there didn’t seem to do as well. Kickstarter was an accessible, simple way to get into crowdfunding – and it rewarded its users with what seemed to be a pretty good throughput from people who were just browsing the site.

But Kickstarter has made some weird moves recently. From the resistance to recognising the union, to the flirtation with crypto, it’s simply not been presenting an attractive face to ethical publishers and backers. And for a long time, Kickstarter has seemed complacent: for years it wasn’t even possible to put alt text on images, despite us writing to them to complain about the accessibility implications. (This now appears to have been fixed, thankfully.)

Perhaps in response to the diminished reputation of Kickstarter, there has been a growing set of rivals. Projects using these rivals have seen mixed success. It’s always a risk to move from a popular marketplace into somewhere new. And so there’s a risk of a vicious cycle, with alternative platforms seeing poor outcomes, putting off creators from using them.

Enter Backerkit. This is a platform that already has a lot of understanding of the crowdfunding market. We’ve been using them since our first campaign to provide post-campaign support, tracking our backers, generating helpful post-campaign surveys, managing our digital rewards and so on. Their customer service is second to none: when I’ve had problems working out how to do something they will send me a custom-recorded video by one of their staff made just for me, showing me how to do the specific thing I wanted. Where our Kickstarter campaign pages have always been approved without ceremony, Backerkit actually sent us detailed feedback on the Wreck This Deck campaign page, enabling us to improve it. And their functionality is great.

Backerkit has launched a full-blown crowdfunding platform of its own and it’s shown some pretty good success stories. But much more important, they’ve shown that they know how to run a crowdfunding platform. Their setup is flexible, functional, and well integrated with the kind of tools you need to manage a campaign. And as previously remarked, they have great customer service – both for us as the publisher and you the customer.

It felt like a risky move. We are all too aware of the potential for our campaign to lose visibility because Backerkit is still a relatively small player, with less “passing traffic”. But we think it’s the right move at this time. And early results from the campaign suggest we’ve made a good call. Of course we’ll never know how it would have gone if we’d used Kickstarter, but for a zine campaign Wreck This Deck is doing incredibly well at nearly 350 backers after 1 week, and that’s included a fair bit of people coming from within Backerkit’s website.

Of course, we’re not saying Kickstarter is evil, and we may well use them in the future. So far the crypto flirtation hasn’t come to anything, and they’ve shown they can improve by (eventually) recognising the union and offering alt text on their images. This isn’t some kind of principle-driven rupture. But we do hope that we can be part of a greater move to diversify the crowdfunding market so we’re not all dependent on one big provider. Having that competition will likely be better for Kickstarter too, in the long run.

So anyway, that’s a little insight into why we’re doing this. We’ll be watching closely how well Wreck This Deck does with a view to deciding what to do with our next big project: Lovecraftesque second edition. Watch this space!

How to be a cooperative player

Addie Stardust on Twitter asked for tips on how to be a cooperative player, and it turns out that I have some thoughts about this.

Cooperation means working together to make the game better. This might mean working with the GM but it also means working with the other players around the table. An important starting point here is that WE are working TOGETHER. So it’s not just one person being a cooperative player and helping everyone else, it’s a collective effort, and you get to look after yourself as well as the others. Ok? Let’s go.

The first step in cooperation to make the game better is understanding what would make the game better, and that is mainly about understanding what the people around the table want. So this means three things:

  • Listening to what other people want;
  • Actively soliciting people to better communicate what they want; and
  • Being clear yourself on what you want and signalling it to the other players.

Obviously it will be hard for anyone to cooperate if they don’t understand what each other want. “What you want” means: what you’re interested in; what kind of story you want to tell; what kind of themes you want to address; what kind of things you want to do; what kind of character you want to play; and so on. Some games do a great job of helping to structure and codify these things, greasing the wheels of the conversation. But even if your particular game doesn’t do that, you can do it for yourself. One part of that is getting the information from the other players, by paying close attention and listening to what they’re saying and doing. If they’re not communicating or you’re not clear, or if you think there’s more to know, you ASK them.

The other half of this is playing your part by being clear about what you like. Don’t wait to be asked – the more you share of your preferences, the better other people can help you to enjoy the game. Plus you’re leading by example and likely encouraging others to reciprocate by telling you what they like.

Now that we understand what each other want, we can work to give each other the game we’re looking for. This means consciously and positively:

  • Engaging with the direction and themes of the story
  • Playing towards the role and image of the characters
  • Building connections and synergies with the rest of the group

Engaging with the direction and themes of the story is what, in a traditional GM’d game, would often mean “following the GM’s plot hooks”. In other words, the GM has prepared a story, therefore you engage with that story. You swim with the current rather than against it. But also, whether you’re in a GMless game or a GM’d game where the group are more closely involved in setting the direction, you follow the other player’s “plot hooks” too. If the players have said they want to engage with particular themes, then it’s just as important (maybe more so) to help them do that as it is to follow where the GM is pointing the story. If we’re all here interested in romantic rivalries, then we can have fun playing into that space by flirting, showing jealousy, opening up new relationships, and so on. And we might choose to ignore the GM’s plot hooks to do this, if it seems like that’s what the group are most interested in. In fact it’s just as much the GM’s role, as a cooperative player (the GM is a player too), to step back and take their foot off the gas, making space for us to address these themes.

Of course even better is if we can cleverly make the GM’s plot hooks and our desire for (in this example) romantic rivalries fit together. A really skilled GM will find out about this interest at the start of the game and build their plot hooks around it. And then we as a group will skilfully use the GM’s plot hooks to get the juicy romance plot we wanted. That is what cooperation looks like: everyone striving together towards the story they want.

Playing towards the role and image of the characters is what has been called elsewhere “playing to lift up”. It means having a clear idea of what each of the characters want to do, and how they want to be seen, and taking action to support that. A really basic approach to this is sharing and (where appropriate) ceding the spotlight so they can have their time in the sun. But you can be much more pro-active than that. For example, if another player describes their character as a leader, then that means they want to lead. A leader has to have people who look up to them, who listen to them, who follow them. As a cooperative player, you can help with that by portraying your character looking up to them, listening to them and following them. You might even at times step away from situations where you are naturally inclined to lead, to make space for them to do so. You might give them explicit encouragement when required, saying “these people need your leadership” to prompt the player to push the character into the role they wanted.

You’re like a backing singer or supporting actor working to make the main character look good. This doesn’t have to mean “look good” in the sense of “look like a badass” – if the player wants their character to be comic relief, you can help them do that too. If the player wants tragedy and pain, you can be the one dishing it out. The point is to know what they’re after (again, if you aren’t clear, ask) and help to give it to them. This may mean you have to tweak your own idea of what your character would be like. Hold your ideas about your character loosely, making space to adjust them to be a better supporting act for other people. Perhaps you didn’t really envisage your character as someone’s follower. But take a moment to think – could they follow another person? Maybe they are a leader in some contexts and a follower in others? Try to keep your character malleable enough that they can fit in with what is going on at the gaming table.

As with the story themes, this is a job for everyone, including of course the GM. And it’s also important to say that you get to have your time in the sun too. Sometimes you’ll be stepping back to make space for someone else’s preferred role to play out, but sometimes you should claim your space in the spotlight.

You can be even more cooperative here by inviting others into your spotlight time: if you’re the leader, ask if anyone wants to be your follower right now. If you’re the protector, ask if anyone wants to be protected. This is where building connections and synergies begins to become important. Right at the start of the game, you can look for roles that are complimentary (leader/follower; mentor/student; unrequited lover/oblivious object of desire). You can also do this in real time during the game, identifying where your cool action in the spotlight could involve someone else. Invite others into what you’re doing. You can come up with any pretext you like: perhaps there’s a genuine logical reason why you’d want a wingman for this mission, or perhaps your character just feels like some company.

The reverse also applies. Don’t be shy in asking if you can get involved in what other people are doing. Having two people in the spotlight at a time means twice as many people are having fun, but also potentially they’re having fun in ways they couldn’t otherwise. Sure, the sneakthief could just go off and do a cool stealth mission on their own. But might it be even more fun for them if there’s another character (you) tagging along, permitting the action to be peppered with conversation, perhaps allowing them to rescue you from a tight spot.

Stepping into someone else’s spotlight is a bit risky, because it could feel like you’re hogging the spotlight or treading on their toes. This is a good time to take the conversation out of character and ask the player whether they would enjoy having you along rather than just having your character ask theirs. Once they’ve said yes you can continue to exercise your judgement about how best to support them and lift them up, enhancing their enjoyment rather than crowding them out.

You can weave the whole of this together into the most beautiful connections and synergies if you want to. The themes of the story can support the desired roles and relationships, and vice versa. That’s what a really tight design can do, by the way – some games dish out character archetypes, relationships and mechanics that are all mutually reinforcing. But you don’t necessarily need the game to do that for you if you are actively working together to do it yourselves. There’s probably such a thing as a too tightly-woven mesh of themes, roles and relationships; you may be going too far if you’re just pre-deciding everything that’s going to happen in the game. But definitely having awareness of what everyone around the table wants and consciously working to play into those things, will create a more cohesive and fulfilling game for everyone.

I personally think that cooperation is the apex skill for roleplayers. You can be an amazing character actor, a genius at deploying the game’s mechanics, an incredibly evocative narrator, a brilliant problem solver, and many more besides. These all can make a contribution to a great game. But if you’re taking those skills and pointing them at the other people at your table, positioning yourself to connect with them and support them in what they’re doing, you’re going to come off as a much better roleplayer, and get a much richer game to boot.