Thursday, February 6, 2014

Get Spirited Away by the Whispering Road

Welcome back to another Kickstarter Conversation!  I am pleased to be joined by Brent Newhall who has brought a wonderful Miyazaki-inspired tabletop RPG to Kickstarter with The Whispering Road.  Thank you for joining us today Brent.

Thanks, James! It’s an honor to be interviewed. This has certainly been a surprise.

Glad I could give you a pleasant surprise! Let me start off by congratulating you for beating your initial goal seven times over already! Obviously you’ve found a willing audience for your project, could you tell us about The Whispering Road?  

Sure! The Whispering Road is a tabletop story game. Unlike traditional tabletop RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons, The Whispering Road gives you a toolbox for characters and conflict that focuses on the characters’ personal desires and that rewards you for helping each other.

Now you point out this isn’t a licenced Studio Ghibli game, and that it is only inspired by Miyazaki’s work.  What made you create a game inspired by his films?  

I’ve been an anime fan for about 20 years now, and have been watching Hayao Miyazaki’s movies for years. I’ve been collecting his films since before many of them were released in America. I love his pacifist aesthetic, and how he brings a distinctive spin to standard growing-up stories like that of Kiki’s Delivery Service.

I had two main goals: describe a player’s character with words and no numbers, and reward the player for helping the other players’ characters. Most tabletop RPGs reward you for helping yourself, and I wanted to turn that on its head.

Now The Whispering Road totally sounds like the name of one of his films, but this game isn’t based on any one of his films?  Can you explain how the game plays out and how that fits into the Miyazaki framework?  

Thanks! The Whispering Road isn’t based directly on any of his films, though it’s closest in structure to Spirited Away. It’s also similar in structure to The Cat Returns, another Ghibli film.

The rules include a story framework. The story starts with the characters in their regular world, then the players invent some inciting incident that tosses their characters into a new world. Now, that world can be literally a magical fantasy world, or it can be more of a metaphor, like taking a vacation or moving to a new home.

The rules contain triggers for moving to each new act of the story: entering the new world, encountering the antagonists, encountering allies, going through a dark ordeal, and finally, resolving the main conflict.

Now, that’s traditional screenplay stuff. Here’s how this gets into Miyazaki territory: As the players resolve conflicts, they accumulate good karma if they’re helping out the other players, and bad karma if they’re only helping themselves. If that bad karma outweighs the good karma at the end of the game, the character can’t go home. The players are free to role-play that out however they like, because being unable to go home can work out in different ways.

So the game is done and playable now?  Can backers see preview versions of the rules?  

Yep, the game’s done and playable now. I’ve run a number of playtests.

Backers can see videos of previous playtests on the website, and they’ll get a free copy of just the rules the day after the Kickstarter ends.

Kaitlynn Peavler (a.k.a. thedandmom) looks like an excellent fit for the art style you’re going for.  How did you get her on board?  

I lucked out! I hang out with Kailtynn in the Gamer Assembly chatroom (, which is a collective of freelance tabletop game designers, editors, and GMs. I also just happen to have been the first person to buy one of her prints.

I’ve loved her art for a long time, so it’s a real thrill to have a project that showcases her art and can get her some money. The initial reason for this Kickstarter was to pay for her art.

One of my biggest bugaboos about Kickstarter projects are budget breakdowns.  Knowing the plan for the funds is always important for a backer, especially with projects like yours that have gone well beyond their initial goals.  What was the original $1000 goal going toward?  What’s the plan now that you’ve earned over $7000?  

I hear you on that!

The original $1,000 was calculated to pay for Kaitlynn’s art, plus printing and shipping of the paperback books. For example, out of the $20 for the softcover, $5 goes towards printing the book and $5 goes towards shipping. Because the softcover’s only 25 pages or so, it’s thin and light, which makes shipping inexpensive. The other $10 goes to pay Kaitlynn for all the art I’ll need for this.

The rest of it will pay for a layout professional, another review from my editor (he gave it a check for typos and such, but now he can do a deep grammar massage), possible upgrades to the softcover itself, and the stretch goals: sample characters,  a play sample, a quick-start guide, some sample settings, and cards to represent the different elements of each character. With those cards, you can basically build a “hand” out of your character. So extra money will go to pay for layout and art for those.

How did you discover Kickstarter?

Ooooh, boy. I’ve been pledging to various Kickstarter projects for almost 4 years now. My first pledge was for an alternative comics project back in April 2010.

Then I came across a project to create an animated film about the plight of Japanese girls kidnapped by North Korea. That sort of project would have a tough time finding enough funding, and it succeeded. That convinced me of the power of the platform. Since then, I’ve backed 36 Kickstarters spread among 8 categories.

A key part of successful Kickstarters is backer participation and how to convert a potential backer into a full backer.   How are you engaging your backers?  What kinds of things do you have planned for updates to give notice to those who just hit the “remind me” button and surf on?  Interviews?  Videos?  Stories from the project?

Thankfully, I’m already a success! I’m using updates to tell backers about stretch goals and the folks I’m hiring for layout and editing. I’m trying to keep it simple, and only update my backers when I have actual news.

What kind of media attention have you received with your project?  How are you spreading the word?  Facebook?  Twitter?  Google+? Youtube?  Advertising?  Are you using Kicktraq to track your progress?  

Fortunately, I have about 8,000 followers on Google+, so after I posted there and mentioned on Twitter, I funded within 5 hours.

I’m not using Kicktraq particularly.

Do you have any tips/advice would you give to anyone looking to start a Kickstarter?

Oh, gosh. This is only my first Kickstarter, so I don’t feel qualified!

The Kicksnarker community on Google+ compiled a great list of advice. You have to join their community to see it, so I’ll just list some of the major suggestions: show your Kickstarter page to others before you go live, avoid snark, share as much as possible of your game, don’t claim to be innovative, communicate about issues as soon as you learn of them, avoid custom t-shirts or dice, and remember that your Kickstarter ends only when you’ve successfully delivered to all your backers.

Thank you for spending your time with us!  Do you have any final thoughts for our readers?

Thanks for your time! I hope to make many more games for you all.

Thanks again and I hope to hear good things from your Kickstarter!

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