I wanted to take a moment to respond to this last week’s controversy surrounding World of Darkness’s appropriation of the likeness of Tāme Iti, renowned activist and kaumatua of Ngāi Tūhoe, and their response to it. Due to the complicated and confusing nature of publishing for the World of Darkness line between Paradox and Renegade Game Studios, I shall refer to both entities as World of Darkness.
It is already documented elsewhere, but the TL:DR is that World of Darkness released a preview from their upcoming Werewolf The Apocalypse book. In the artwork of this preview was a character that had Tāme Iti’s face, including his Mataora, using a replication of a photo of Tāme. The community noticed and called on World of Darkness to fix this issue. World of Darkness posted two statements, one stating they would look into this, and then later another stating that they would be removing this art from the upcoming publication.
Removing the artwork is the right thing to do, and I have to commend World of Darkness for taking this step. This issue happening at all is unacceptable. That said, it is important that we acknowledge when actions are taken to right these sorts of wrongs. Sadly it is all too common that the injustices against indigenous communities by publishers go unrectified in these situations. So when action is taken I am always glad to see it. Hopefully this is only the start of more efforts to move towards avoiding this sort of wrong completely going forward.
Let me be blunt here; World of Darkness is fortunate that their cultural incompetence was caught in a pre-publishing preview. Had any other page in their book been the subject of this preview, it is highly likely that this appropriation of Tāme’s likeness and our cultural traditions would have been published. And I do wonder what other wrongs exist in the pages yet unseen.
The industry needs to normalize the practice of not utilizing indigenous cultures for their game’s aesthetic. It is very likely that the artist in this case did not know much about the culture they were using, they likely searched the internet for tribal facial tattoos and just helped themselves to the image, making many faux pas in the process. Instead the use of indigenous culture, or any culture for that matter, should be a deliberate act, with the experts of the culture being engaged from the start to ensure it is used with the care, mana and respect it deserves. When you treat cultures like aesthetics or bags of inspiration for the plunder, you are going to put your foot in it, and World of Darkness demonstrated this fully.
Much has been made of the collaboration with indigenous consultants for the current Werewolf line and yet this still happened. This is because not all indigenous cultures are alike. This may seem like an obvious statement, but it is one too often forgotten.
Often when publishers talk about seeking consultation about cultural safety, what they really seek is to be safe from criticism for the use of this culture. But the reality is you are never safe from criticism for using another’s culture, nor should you be. Instead seek collaboration to empower indigenous cultures to express themselves as they see fit, either through their own works or as collaborators on yours. Often we have had to fight, and still do, to maintain the mana of our cultures, so it should be us who shares them with the world.
There is a common saying “It’s better to ask forgiveness than permission”. It is that thinking which has resulted in indigenous cultures having to cling on to the edges of their cultural identity with tight fists as colonial aggressors take take and take some more. When a game designer thinks it’s their right to include our culture, watered down as it is, into their works without permission, they are joining the long line of colonial thieves. So instead, let us change the dynamic. Let us encourage others to not only ask for permission, but collaboration. Let indigenous tell their stories, rather than discover their face upon your page, awkwardly attached to another body bearing Polynesian tattoos.
But until then, I acknowledge World of Darkness for admitting their wrongs and seeking to fix them. What is done is done, but hopefully going forward they learn, at the very least, what not to do. And going forward won’t need to seek forgiveness. I have just seen that Tāme is aware of what happened and has contacted World of Darkness to discuss. Hopefully they learn from him and his mana too. Let us all see this for the lesson to the industry that it should be and aim to do much better.
Whāia te mātauranga hei oranga mō koutou
Hei konā mai
Liam Stevens Ngāti Kahungunu ki te wairoa Chair of KiwiRPG
KIWI TTRPG CREATORS STAND TOGETHER IN NEW ASSOCIATION
There is a new community voice in the international tabletop role-playing games field.
Aotearoa New Zealand’s TTRPG creators have come together to launch Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa, to spotlight their work on the global stage, support emerging talent, and speak out when needed.
The new association, Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa, also known by the short form KiwiRPG, is woven from two major strands of creative work: game design and writing, and creation of content for streams, podcasts, video and live performance. Many local creators work across both strands.
The first KiwiRPG committee is Liam Stevens (Ngāti Kahungunu), Penny D. Boyce, and Morgan Davie, who together bring significant experience across many different facets of the TTRPG industry.
The first act of the new committee was to announce the dates of the second KiwiRPG week, which will run from Saturday 10 June to Sunday 18 June (NZ time).
KiwiRPG week showcases Aotearoa’s TTRPG streamers, podcasters, game designers, youtubers, freelance writers, and live performers, featuring special events, game launches, and special deals.
The creation of Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa | KiwiRPG as a formal association is a direct result of the tremendous success of the 2022 KiwiRPG week.
This evening (Sunday 27 November) at 7:30, all Kiwi creatives in TTRPGs are invited to the first great KiwiRPG hui!
KiwiRPG week was a fantastic beginning for Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa, and it’s time to set ourselves up for the future. This online hui is for all TTRPG creatives (podcasters, streamers, game designers, freelances, others) in or connected to Aotearoa NZ, and anyone else with shared interests.
Join us as we come together, build our community a bit, and make some choices for the future.
A new KiwiRPG association?
One important thing we will look at during tonight’s hui is setting up a proper association for KiwiRPG creatives.
A short description (with a long appendix!) is in this google doc. Check out the comments too; we are working together to make sure this association takes the right shape.
So far we’ve explored lots of exciting games that have been launched into the world from Aotearoa. Look at them all! So shiny! Now, to bring our tour of the game design side of KiwiRPG to a close, we just need to look over our shoulder – yes! You see it now! I know, it’s big, isn’t it? That’s right, it’s heaps and heaps of Kiwi-made material for other games!
As Chief Brody might say, we’re going to need a bigger blog tour series. Well tough nuggins Chief Brody! You’re gonna compare scars and fight that shark in the one blogpost remaining to you, and you’re gonna like it!
The Dargons and the Dungons
Into the 5th edition of D&D? It’s only the biggest game in the world. If you like the 5e-ness of it all, KiwiRPG has a few things for you to check out:
Simon Carryer just dropped a “fan remix” of a legendary D&D adventure module, grab it free from his website! And while you’re there check out his other adventures, his compendium of rules, and a random dungeon generator, which is I think the smartest and most sophisticated and successful random dungeon generator ever made. (And there have been a lot of attempts over the years!)
*final self-promo alert* The biggest thing I’ve been working on is a|state 2nd edition, for Handiwork Games. This is a reboot & reworking of early-2000s cult hit a|state, about hardscrabble troublemakers in a sprawling and haunted sci-fi cityscape, and honestly it is an incredible project.
Malcolm Craig wrote Hot War in the cafes of Wellington! Ha ha, he’s in the blogpost too! You can’t stop me! Nothing can stop anything! It’s the climactic action sequence, the shark is eating the boat, no time for details now!
Wait, that’s it?
Is it really time to stop?
Yes definitely time to stop you are out of control plus it’s the last day
ok ok fine
But only with this final note: that’s definitely not all. There are gonna be other people out there making stuff and getting it out into the world, and they are going to be from Aotearoa, and I don’t know about them yet. Kiwis connect out to the global creative scene in all kinds of ways and, because we often don’t do much shouting about it to each other, their fellow Kiwis might not even know they’re doing it.
So expect this list to grow, as we find out about more people. (It might not literally grow, I’m not committing to editing this post or anything. But it will grow… in my mind.)
(Plus I might remember ones I’ve forgotten, whoops, I bet I’ve forgotten someone really obvious too and I will feel bad about it.)
Well, that’s it then. The last day of KiwiRPG Week 2022. A good time to stop, even though there’s more to talk about, always.
(Stop it morgue, you can’t introduce a whole new subject area in the last few paragraphs of a four-post journey!)
I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour. I am sure you now have many more tabs open in your internet browser, where they will wait for months until you lose them in a computer crash; or maybe you’ll read them now?
Read them now, I reckon. It’s what the shark would do.
Making games, and content for games, in Aotearoa New Zealand was not always easy. We had game designers like everywhere else, but their games tended to get shared among their small groups of friends, and mostly disappeared without a trace.
(One of my favourite game designs ever, and a huge influence on my own game designer journey, was a Famous Five RPG by Karen Wilson, to my knowledge only ever played by Karen’s personal friends in the mid-90s. This game had just two abilities, Boy Stuff and Girl Stuff, and a more satirically astute piece of game design I’ve never seen. But I digress!)
Back then, sharing your game around with your friends was about the extent of it. Because what else were you going to do, try and publish it? Or even crazier, try and get a Real Genuine Proper Overseas RPG Company to publish it?
In 1992, Malcolm Dale wrote a satirical game about desperate vagabonds in 19th century London called Goblins, and with the urging and support of Klaude Thomas, hand-printed and released it into various shops around Auckland. They did it! But that’s not all:
In 1996, Malcolm and Klaude both had their names on the cover of GURPS Goblins, released by Steve Jackson Games, an adaptation (and beautification) of their game to GURPS rules. They had achieved validation from someone from overseas, the dream of every New Zealander! And now, the floodgates were opened!
Note: floodgates were not, in fact, opened. It remained very difficult to get games from here to the world.
Surfing The Internets
Another early building block for Kiwi RPG design was FSpace, by Martin Rait. A development of the FED RPG (1990 – the earliest Kiwi RPG?), developed through the ’90s towards a formal publication by 2000 and in continuous release to this day (get it in the DriveThru bundle!), this imaginative science fiction game in the tradition of Traveller made early use of digital media: I have a spiral-bound hard copy on my game shelves which came packaged with a CD-ROM! By 2002 FSpace was firmly established on the web. Being an early adopter of digital publication has helped FSpace to build up a solid core of fans and followers it maintains to this day.
And the Frog Princess is a good excuse to hop sideways, because it actually began as an entry into…
The Kapcon SDC
Let’s pay some respect to a central hub of KiwiRPG game design and creativity: the Kapcon Scenario Design Competition. Through the 00s, Wellington’s Kapcon convention held a competition each year inviting submissions of playable game scenarios. The result is a free, public collection of games for all.
Many scenarios contained unique rulesets, so this repository is also a hub of indie game design! Early bare-bones resolution systems, as in Matt Cowens’s marvellous Amnesia, opened space for real innovation, as with Jamie Sands’ Matchmaking & Machinations (a redesign of Wuthering Heights to suit Jane Austen), the Penny Dreadful RPG by Matt & Debbie Cowens, Matt’s Simple Neolithic RPG, Bleeding Hearts by Donna Giltrap, Stephanie Pegg’s Patchwork, and more!
Although the SDC is no longer running, all these games and scenarios are still available for you to download and play, and they are absolutely worth exploring.
What about the future?
If you’ve been following these tour-of-games blog posts, you might have noticed two related things about the #KiwiRPG game design scene: not many games that are actually about Aotearoa New Zealand itself, and not many designers who are identifiably Māori. (You can probably guess some reasons why – a big one starts with C and ends with OLONISATION – and if you want to explore those, Liam and I get right into all of it in the latest episode of the Toa Tabletop podcast.) But it’s clear from the state of things that access matters.
The SDC page is a glimpse into history, into a time when sharing game content online was still an unsolved problem. (My first game, dREAL, was distributed solely via a link in the automatic footer of posts I made on the RPG.net forums. These were the tools we had!)
Now, the resources needed to make and distribute games are easily available. Make it on google docs, use free images from unsplash, upload to itch or drivethru, market on twitter and reddit… Everyone carries around in their pockets the power to become an RPG publisher, the kind of power those 1990s innovators could only dream of.
While barriers remain, the power to create has never been greater. Those of us behind KiwiRPG week are keen to support new voices – hey you, creative person, we’re ready, just ask – but we also know that these new voices don’t need us. We’re what we should be, just another resource to a new generation: google, unsplash, drivethru, KiwiRPG.
The future of making games in Aotearoa is simply this: more voices.
In the first part of our tour de KiwiRPG design, I zoomed in on three creators as a starting point for navigating the back roads of TTRPG design in Aotearoa. Now in the second part I’m gonna zoom around lots and lots of others. Maybe it was unwise to cover just three people in the first part but it’s too late now! So jump on in for a high-speed adventure more exciting than a yellow mini driving from Kaitaia to Invercargill!
Our first stop has to be the charming confines the Mall of the Apocalypse! Let’s drive inside and hoon around a bit.
Kiwi designs have been making waves in the PbtA scene since it began, starting with Michael Sands’s beloved game Monster of the Week. This game of TV-inspired monster hunting is rightly beloved all around the world, with podcasts and actual plays galore. (And there’s some big news about it dropping TODAY on the Generic Games site…) MotW has generated its own mini-industry of support products and spinoffs (including some #KiwiRPG examples like those by Sero of podcast Redgate & Wolf, and my own inspired-by riff Paranormal Wellington).
But while you chase monsters, don’t forget Mike’s other games! Live out the wild adventures of a heavy metal song in Heavy Metal Aeons, in the itch bundle! Collaboratively map-journal an alien world in Natural Philosophers, in the DriveThru bundle! Guide a stone-age family through generations in Three Dooms (my personal favourite)!
Elsewhere on the shopfronts and food courts of PbtA Mall you’ll find The Sprawl, another iconic and beloved Apocalypse Engine design, by Hamish Cameron of Ardens Ludere! This superbly focused take on cyberpunk missions is widely celebrated. Hamish has released several supplements, and he’s also just launched another PbtA game this week, the upsetting body-horror SF on Kratophagia.
Okay let’s get on the open road now and hightail it down Game Highway One, our national game road. Look out the window! Watch the interesting hills go past! Do that thing where you imagine that weird mark on the glass is your video game character and you move your head to make them jump from power pole to power pole! WHAT WILL WE SEE!
Hey look going past the window it’s SIMON CARRYER GAMES! His 2009 swords-and-sorcery release On Mighty Thews (in the DriveThru bundle) kicked off the present era of TTRPG publishing in Aotearoa NZ! Nod (in the DriveThru bundle too ) and Tonight We Slay A Dragon Or Die In The Attempt are wildly interesting yet highly playable experiments in structure! World of Conan is PbtA, what is it doing here and not in the mall, it’s because my metaphor is unhelpful! And more, but we’ve already driven past to-
Wow there’s HEXAVEXAGON! Lots of games and tools for games! Big tough guys in shirts! Mecha letters (in the itch bundle)! A whole category of games called “shitposts”! So much to explore but now we’re whipping on past-
Over by that scenic rest-stop, I can see SCARY MONSTER GAMES! Jamie Sands makes neat little emotional games, except when they’re traumatic messy dangerous emotional games! Four Things, High School Princesses (the scariest game I have ever played, OMG, and in the DriveThru bundle and the itch bundle too), and the superbly named Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon, and moar! But oh no we’re accelerating around some corners-
It’s STEVE HICKEY GAMES! Philip K Dick weirdness with Left Coast (in the DT bundle) and pitch-black cult shenanigans with Soth, and if you hunt around you might find some fascinating other games in development… but no time for hunting now-
-okay i was wrong time to stop for ice creams, it’s a road trip, everyone done? back in the car, let’s goooo-
Fast Drivey Bit
It’s the part of the metaphor where the blog post has been going on for a while and we need to speed up and go even faster! There’s a new road! Transmission Gully! Lean forward everyone!
Jacques Cousteau (in the itch bundle) and Battle Royale with Tim at Old Dog Games! Ambitious thoughtful sci-fi with kickstarter success Sapience by Brian Leybourne! The not-actually-a-joke really-very-good DuckQuest RPG by global miniature-sculpting legend Darcy Perry! Brave team action goes down In a Blaze of Glory by Ciarán Searle! And the game being played on a KiwiRPG stream in my headphones as I type this, fast-play multi-genre pick-up-and-go excitement with d12GO! (in the itch bundle)!
How about some road-themed games seeing as I’m like eight paragraphs deep into this ill-advised metaphor! Cosmic taxis dodging trash critters from gothHoblin (critters in the itch bundle)! Extensive roadworks with 200-word-RPG-winner Route Clearance by Andrew Millar and Highway (in the itch bundle) by vonklaude! And drive through crowds of zombies with Z-Land Survival Horror by Rycon (OH! Z-LAND! I GET IT!)!
The islands of Aotearoa have given rise to many interesting designers making tremendous games and across this week we’re going to meet a lot of them but, because I want to be difficult, I’m going to start by looking at just three in a bit of detail; three who stand out for the sheer amount of creativity they have unleashed upon the world. I’m talking about the length of the credit lists you’ll find under their names! They have all been very busy, and those lists are long!
These three creatives also, by coincidence, exist within three completely different spheres of the TTRPG industry: big games for major companies that hit major distribution channels; smart and ambitious independent games released as a small publisher on DriveThruRPG; and clever and lyrical small games launched in the busy self-publishing scene on itch. Talking about them is a good way to begin charting out the vibrant design scene here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and I reckon it’s the ideal place to start our tour de KiwiRPG.
Cam Banks (a.k.a. Boymonster on twitter and many other platforms) has a ridiculous RPGGeek listing. It goes on and on for 8 pages listing all the games he’s written, edited or developed! And in fact that isn’t all the games, he’s definitely done more stuff as well. He’s a legend of the scene, TTRPG’s friendly internet dad, and I think it’s entirely right to begin a tour of KiwiRPG design scene with him.
Cam is an Aucklander who headed to the USA, built an incredible career in the TTRPG industry, and recently returned home to Auckland, continuing that career without pause now that remote working is a genuine possibility.
Cam’s expertise is working with licenses. I reckon he’s the best in the world at taking an existing IP, drinking it in, swirling it around in his brain, and then transforming it into a game. The list of licensed games with his name in the credits is staggering: Marvel Comics, Firefly/Serenity, Supernatural, Leverage, Masters of the Universe, Smallville, The Dragon Prince, and even Thunderbirds.
And this list would not be complete without noting Cam’s enormous role in Dragonlance. He helped keep that fan-favourite Dungeons & Dragons setting alive for its long run outside of the focus of Wizards of the Coast. He isn’t involved in the just-announced return of Dragonlance to 5E, but you can guarantee his contributions to the setting will be noticed in the version that comes to print.
Designing for licenses is difficult, and the history of the RPG industry is littered with licensed games that were quickly forgotten. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the case with Cam’s games. Most of his adaptations have used the Cortex System, a flexible baseline for play that gets reimagined to suit each license. System design nerds excitedly talk about Smallville as a true milestone in TTRPG design for how it made relationships a focus of play. Cam’s innovations with Cortex have led to what might be his most significant work, Cortex Prime, which is nothing less than a toolbox to make a whole new game of your own.
Cam’s unfailingly modest but his work speaks for itself. It’s great. Go explore it all.
I’m going to finish this bit by embedding an hour-long chat I had with Cam over at the Diceratops Presents YouTube channel, diving deep into Cortex Prime and exploring his whole deal! It’s a good time!
Dale Elvy has been making blisteringly innovative games for a long time. Published as Imaginary Empire, he’s been nominated for the ENnies (tabletop roleplaying’s most prominent and highly contested awards) a bunch of times, and has even brought one home. He releases a lot of his games in very playable free versions, and supports good causes as he goes. I reckon he’s your next favourite game designer.
Dale’s games are fresh indie RPGs that are part of no other design tradition. They are entirely their own thing, and they are performance-tuned to good times at the table. Dale has transmuted his experience running traditional campaign games and intense convention games into something entirely new.
Where to start? Easy – choose a genre! He’s covered a lot of them.
You like horror? There’s EPOCH, a horror game like no other, nominated for three ENnies and with a bunch of free playable adventures available.
Murder mysteries? Wicked Lies & Alibis, winner of a Judge’s Spotlight ENnie award.
Mythic adventure? His newest and most ambitious game, Instruments of the Chrysanthemum Throne.
Professional wrestling? Heists? Hard science fiction? Politics? It’s all there! And much of it completely free!
Dale’s honed his craft over the game tables at Wellington’s long-running RPG convention, Kapcon. His games always fill up fast, and I think he has figured out how to capture that energy and load it into his games. His approach to play is refreshing for designers and it appeals to experienced gamers and complete newbies alike. Check out those games!
And hey I spoke to Dale as well! This chat was focused on his pro wrestling game Soaring Lions but it covered a lot of other ground too!
Compared to the other two, Jack is very new on the scene, but they have hit it like a freight train. To quote from their itch bio, “Jack Blair (toyourstations) is a nonbinary game writer from Aotearoa New Zealand designing queer, disabled games for a whole range of genres and styles”. ‘Whole range’ is not an understatement. And they have been BUSY. The huge accessibility of itch.io and the busy publishing culture around it has seen Jack deliver what is an unprecedented burst of creativity for one person.
Start with Space Legs, a PbtA game about exploring the galaxy and seeking understanding with aliens and with yourself.
And then tumble down into the rest, exploring gender, unions, Dracula, zombies, childhood, the apocalypse, the sims, identity, and more more more more!
This section is a bit smaller than the ones above because I haven’t known of Jack nearly as long as the other two, because Jack hasn’t been making games nearly as long. But given the huge impact they have had on the scene already, I can only imagine what lies ahead for them (and how lengthy their itch game catalogue is going to be in another couple years!)
The first ever #KiwiRPG Week has arrived! Tabletop RPG creatives from all over Aotearoa are busily sharpening their dice and honing their microphones in excited anticipation. Are you excited yet? Here’s why you should be:
SALE BUNDLES! Two huge bundles of Kiwi games at a bargain price, one on DriveThruRPG, the other on itch.io!
EXCITING STREAMS! Eight live-play streams, some from studio tabletops, some played online, and some played live on stage in front of a live audience!
NEW STUFF! Two new TTRPG releases during the week, with more announcements to come!
TOUR DE BLOG! Explore #KiwiRPG with a series of blog posts across the week showing off the well-known, the should-be-known, and the nearly-unknown of the local scene!
And that’s not all:
MONSTER OF THE WEEK! If you’re a MOTW fan, you don’t want to miss the big announcement dropping on Wednesday!
BIG BAD ONLINE! Global RPG phenomenon Big Bad Con Online is hosting a KiwiRPG panel during KiwiRPG week!
CHARITY PREVIEW! “The Cult of Keviine” is a lead-in to the amazing YES, AND 24 Hour Charity Livestream!
Here’s a great way to kick off the week: On Sunday night (NZST), a team of stars from around the #KiwiRPG podcasting and streaming scene will gather to play legendary Kiwi game Monster of the Week!
When headless bodies start appearing on the outskirts of a rural NZ town, T.H.E.M. (Tasked with Hunting Extraterrestrials and Monsters) sends their top hunters to investigate this baffling string of deaths.
Watch the show on the Getting Dicey channel at twitch.tv/GettingDicey, at 7pm NZST on Sunday 1st May. That’s 8am if you’re in the UK! (It’s like 3am if you’re in the Eastern seaboard of the USA, so insomniacs welcome I guess?)