It's Zine Month 2022... So I Made an Awesome RPG!
In this one, I’ll tell you about my latest game, DADDY ISSUES, and the crazy world of zines.
I haven’t posted for a long while, but I’m here today showing proof of why that is. I’ve been busy making things! Namely, a dark comedy, print-and-play, roll-and-write, solo RPG thing. Now that’s a mouthfull!
Have you heard the story of the father who "went for cigarettes" and never came back? You play as that guy. All you need to do is go get a pack of smokes and come back home… but that’s not easy when criminals and werewolves attack you every step of the way!
DADDY ISSUES is a little self-contained game. You download the PDF, print it on three standard sheets of paper, and fold it into a little A5 booklet. You learn the rules as you play and you go on a sad-but-humorous adventure!
That's how it looks
This thing, of course, is based on the old joke about the father who abandoned his family under the pretext of going to the store.
Back in the summer, I was having sushi with a few friends. Somebody excused themselves to go to the bathroom and mentioned “going for cigarettes” jokingly. We laughed it off and then it hit me—why isn’t there a sad game with this premise?
You play as the dad and you genuinely just want some cigarettes from the nearby shop. But as fate would have it, you’ll get mugged, attacked… maybe even caught in a zombie apocalypse? To make matters worse, you would get news from your family, slowly watching them lose faith in you ever coming back. Now that’s a funny, sad, and engaging concept! This idea immediately went on the list of games I want to make (which is prominently featured on a whiteboard in my office). Initially, I thought a deck of cards would do the trick but didn’t quite have a clear idea as to what mechanics to use. Then, inspiration hit me once again.
I was enjoying Feretory, a badass supplement for MÖRK BORG which came bundled with a tiny dungeon crawler game by the same name - Dark Fort. It was a simple, but highly engaging roll-and-write style of game entirely contained within a double-sided A4 sheet. Its best feature was drawing your own dungeon map. I loved it and I thought I can totally steal some of its concepts, but change them completely to craft my own experience. Then I connected the dots - this is perfect for my dad adventure idea!
Who will you be?
I got super excited and motivated and immediately got to work. I wrote the entire thing in two nights and immediately sent it out to friends for testing. The feedback I got was very encouraging! Little to no bugs, and lots of positivity - the people got the joke and ran with it. I had something here!
Initially, I thought I would be working on this on and off until a nebulous point in the future when I’ll consider it done. And that’s when I heard about the 10th Board Game Geek Roll & Write Game Design Competition. It was already running and I had little time to join!
I obsessed over this and spend a huge part of my Christmas holiday working on the game, polishing the text, and creating the layout. I hadn’t really touched Photoshop since my days in university and I had to re-learn even core things, but I was super determined to finish this thing all by myself: writing, graphic design, everything.
Of course, I got tons of help from friends, especially Todor Doychev who guided me in my graphic design process and made the amazing Film-Noir-inspired logo.
I also got tons of ideas and playtester feedback from the guys in the BGG forum. You guys rock!
I would be remiss if I didn't name-drop Ivan Alexiev from the Player Lair who performed the amazing voice-over you can hear in the games' teaser and trailer.
The deadline came and the jury cast their vote. I got a silver award for Best Thematic Game, yey!
You should really try to read the game in a growly, hard-boiled voice
Zine Quest vs. Zine Month
If you’re reading my blog, there’s is about an equal chance of you being involved in the RPG Zine scene in some way or entirely not knowing what that is, so here’s a brief explainer.
Tabletop role-playing games are inherently creative experiences that spark the imagination and provide gamers with the tools to go crazy and make amazing, totally custom content. Thanks to D&D, the big daddy of all RPGs, many game systems (D&D included, obviously) also have some form of an official open gaming license, allowing users to legally create, distribute and sell custom content. As you can imagine, there is a huge, thriving scene of such products, and many of them are very creative.
Many of these little books come in the shape of simple, DIY “zines” - usually magazines and books that are compact in size and rich in unorthodox graphic design and art.
Naturally, this also leads to a spin-off culture that creates zines that are only loosely connected to D&D (systemless content) or do their own, completely separate thing.
Kickstarter used to support this movement with a regular event called Zine Quest every January. In essence, creators would make these little zines, and Kickstarter will promote their work to help them crowd-fund their production.
This time, though, Kickstarter found itself in hot water. First, they announced that they’ll be moving their operation to the blockchain which pissed off many indie game-makers for various reasons. Then, they made a last-moment announcement that Zine Quest 2022 will be moving to August to coincide with GenCon - something that sounds good on paper, but also pisses off small indies for other, various reasons.
Enter Zine Month 2022 or #ZIMO for short. An independent Zine Quest alternative ran entirely by indie creators. Their goal: to promote all the lovely zines that were scheduled for release this month and got screwed by Kickstarter, to offer resources for the creation and promotion of indie game designs, and to stick it to the man. This is the true indie spirit right here!
Needless to say, I was happy to throw DADDY ISSUES under the ZIMO banner and proudly included their flag logo on the back cover! The deal is sealed!
Riiiight, this is a game design blog! So let’s discuss the game design in brief!
I can’t really provide a full post-mortem of the game, since the story and the mechanics are completely entwined, and talking about it here will be spoiling the thing. So please, go ahead and play the game. It only takes 5 to 20 minutes anyway!
I was very particular about the design process and had everything figured out pretty much since day one. Here are a few deliberate choices I made that hopefully will be useful in your own designs:
I opted for a learn-as-you-play approach from the ground up. One very particular aspect of print-and-play games is that the game sheet IS the game. I’ve noticed that many titles have an elegant, simple game sheet, but also come with a 16-page rulebook that immediately makes the game look uninviting and scary. I wanted to avoid this feeling.
This genre has the unique property of making you, the player, draw and write things. This is its biggest advantage. I deliberately did not include any rules for creating the map and used evocative, description language everywhere I could to create the sense that this is your journey.
The dark humor in the game made it prone to sensitive and distasteful writing. I made sure to not go in this direction. This is a joke, nothing else. Of course, I did get some crap for the name and the subject matter by over-conservative folks, but this was expected. I was respectful in my communication, and so were they.
Working in a home-printer-friendly format was a very interesting challenge. I wanted to make a game that fits in a small page count, reads well, doesn’t have crazy graphics, and goes light on your toner, while still looking like a professional, well-crafted product. This was tough and only the players can decide if I pulled it off!
So, this about covers the subject of DADDY ISSUES’ creation. I’ll end this blog with two humble requests, or CALLS TO ACTION, as the kids say:
Check out Zine Month and the other works there. Some of these things are insane and I mean it in the best possible sense!
See you next time… and try not to get eaten by a paranormal creature on your next trip to the shop.