Why Did I Make a TTRPG in a Format No One Recognizes?

 What the Hell is a Zine?

That\’s always the question you enjoy answering from people, isn\’t it. It\’s not the main thing I wanted to talk about, so if you genuinely don\’t know, here\’s a much better answer than I could give you. When I first conceptualized Stars Fall Up as a tabletop roleplaying game, I wanted to make something that was going to sell well at a couple of small conventions I was attending with a creative collective I was a part of at the time. Zine fests and other similar events; there were a variety small TTRPGs of a similar format sold there by other folks too, so I wanted to try my hand at one of those. I also just wanted to create a small project. My brain naturally gives in to feature creep, where even if I try to start with something simple, I always end up getting too excited and adding on to it before my editorial side can kick in and spoil the party. So for SFU I pretty distinctly outlined the scope of the project before I even started; an RPG in a zine format, so it had to be under 20-ish pages to keep the indie zine feel and not morph into an overstuffed pamphlet.

Accessibility is Key

The zine format also addressed my concerns about accessibility. Accessibility has always been a big thing for me when it comes to ttrpgs. I’ve noticed a cool trend in the designer space where people do give more attention to accessibility as a design element, with all due credit going to the designers and players who advocate for their own needs on their platforms.

One thing that‘s bugged me about the ttrpg fan space in recent years is its descent into an appearance of hyper-merchandizing. Not to say that RPGs haven’t been merchandized since their inception, but this particular new phase, especially with the advent of 5e and the popularization of real-play podcasts, combined with the ever-increasing ubiquity of social media, has made it hard to avoid just how much gaming merch is advertised to you at all times. Dice, dice bags, dice towers, personalized character sheets, 3D printed minis, worldbuilding management programs, ttrpg-themed apparel; there’s no real issue with any of it on its own, but all together I’m worried that new players will come into the hobby with the wrong message: that in order to play ttrpgs “correctly” you need to buy a bunch of stuff. Not everyone has the cash to afford so much as a dice set, and that is an accessibility issue.

No Merch Needed

To me, ttrpgs are an entertainment form on par with singing or dancing or storytelling; you don’t need anything else besides yourself. One of the best games I’ve ever run was a short campaign with a bunch of friends; we were hanging out and hadn’t planned on running a game, but we were bored and wanted to play. We couldn’t decide what system we wanted to run since most of them require too much planning and equipment. So we came up with what we dubbed the “d6 game”; each player just needed one standard six-sided die. When the GM told you to roll, you rolled your die and you succeeded or failed based on your roll, with 1’s being auto fails and 6’s being auto successes. As the GM I came up with a grimdark fantasy story set in a magical Dickinsonian London, where the players acted as a group of children at an orphanage who acquired magical powers from some mysterious tools hidden in the basement (next to the graves of previous orphans), and used them to procure their escape and survival in the even more dangerous city beyond. It was a total blast and one of our most memorable games, and we spent almost no time prepping it, and of course spent no money.

The nuance of the message I want to convey is, it’s not a bad thing to buy merch, but you don’t NEED it to play ttrpgs. The design philosophy I’ve followed for my “flagship” roleplaying system (the Sher’zade System) is to release the basic rules completely free, to allow myself and other designers to use them to create games of their own, to sell if they wish. But everyone gets the same starter kit; no fifty-dollar player\’s handbooks or specialized dice or anything else. I’m also not trying to champion myself as if I’m somehow the vanguard of this philosophy, but I’d like to add my voice to the message and make it all the louder, and do so by having my actions speak for me. Getting into the hobby of ttrpgs can feel really confusing and overwhelming, especially when a lot of people you turn to for advice have a vested interest in getting you to play one game or another. It\’s hard enough as it is trying to find people for a consistent game, so even at our most selfish it\’s in our interests to break down cost barriers to this hobby.


Stars Fall Up is available on DriveThruRPG or itch.io NOW – Pay what you want!

Thanks for your support!

— Nagi

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