A light-hearted romance emulating dating sim video games/visual novels. Letter writing inspired by Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and Animal Crossing. A bond between a pilot and their AI-linked mech. A theatre performance covering up a heist. Building super-powered characters and settings. Trying to find unused wishes in a world where everyone gets three, and you’ve already used yours. Sounds like an RPG anthology, right? Not quite. These are the six games, the six Possible Worlds, featured in Tyler Crumrine’s RPG subscription box.
Tyler has been on our radar before, with map-labeling RPG Beak, Feather, & Bone getting a nod during Aaron’s 2020 Zinequest coverage, a small nod but notable for the sheer amount of competition it had for attention. Possible Worlds is a fair bit more ambitious. At its most basic level past the usual ‘$1 just to support it’, you’ll get the digital version of one of the games mentioned above. The core of the project, though, is the idea that you are subscribing to a service to get all six games, one every month across a period of six months – at the upper end, you’ll then get a boxed set of physical versions after the subscription period ends.
Tyler reached out to us to see if we wanted to take a look, and the concept of the project alone is intriguing, so we traded a few questions and answers!
CH: First of all: why a subscription box instead of, say, an anthology? What does this way of delivering the project do for you on the designer’s side of things, and what do you think the benefits are on the back side of things?
Tyler (T): “There are a lot of reasons, but what they all boil down to are 1) sustainability & 2) flexibility. This Kickstarter really is as much about kickstarting a sustainable business model for full-time RPG work as it is funding the games themselves. I come from a professional theatre background, and the way most theatres operate is they announce a season of shows at the top of the year and sell subscriptions packages at a discounted price. Not everyone buys a subscription—it can be a large investment up-front—but if the season’s curation is exciting and the company is putting out consistently good work, it offers folks who plan on seeing them all anyway a discount. Subscription sales at the top the year give the theatre a baseline operating budget, and when each show comes out, there’s another influx of cash through single ticket sales. Just how much the theatre raises in single ticket sales varies depending on the amount of buzz an individual show has, how reviews turn out, etc., but ideally it’s subscription sales that bankroll the season as a whole—single ticket sales help you plan and prepare for the future.
If I were to release a single anthology of these games, maybe it’d appeal to a broader Kickstarter base, but if I spread out releases over the course of 6 months, I create additional promo and release periods all year. A series of releases will keep eyes on the company and give new fans the opportunity to pre-order the physical boxed set via Backerkit. Splitting out the games also gives players the opportunity to buy the individual games they’re interested in piecemeal, and by the end of the process I’ll have a catalogue of 6 physical games for customers to pick and choose from if they don’t want the entire set—not just a single tome people can take or leave.”
CH: Beak, Feather, & Bone fulfilled very quickly, but this is six complete game deadlines in six months—could you tell us a little about how you go about tackling such a workload?
T: “The subscription model lets me have some flexibility here too! I’ve been working on some of these games for as long as three years, so the vast majority of the games’ mechanics and assets are ready to go. The fact that no one game is locked into a specific month, though (with the exception of leading off with Grandpa’s Farm), lets me prioritize the games with the most assets and playtesting and give my collaborators any extra time they need to finish up additional art and editing. The fact of the matter is, though, that after theatre work disappeared during the pandemic, selling and fulfilling Beak, Feather, & Bone became my full-time job by default, and thankfully sales got me through 2020. Possible Worlds is my way of leaning into my RPG success as a career path instead of being surprised by it, and this Kickstarter funding means I’ll continue to commit a full-time job’s worth of attention to these games—not just evenings and weekends.”
CH: You mention in the project’s description that you design games for farmers, with “first-time, long-time, and diverse players in mind.” Could you go into a little more detail about how you go about this? What do you have to do to get into that space, and what do you have to not do?
T: “One of the biggest things is always being aware what common elements of RPGs are foreign to folks outside the hobby. Polyhedral dice are a great example—is anything REALLY pick-up-and-play if it requires a d20? And if it requires any dice AT ALL, can they be bought at the corner store? A number of these games don’t require anything beyond pen & paper, but I’ve limited additional materials to six-sided dice and decks of cards because it’s safe to assume that most households either have them already or can easily get them. Another key thing to keep in mind is vocabulary! What terms or abbreviations only make sense to people inside the hobby?
Even if my games include things like dice, PCs, and NPCs, I avoid any kind of abbreviation and define terms early & often (if I can’t avoid them altogether). Ultimately, though, I think the biggest barrier to new players is cost—a lot of people don’t have $100+ to drop on ANY leisure activity, let alone one they haven’t tried before. So if you want your game to be accessible to as wide an audience as possible, making sure it’s affordable is part of that. Which, again, is why I want folks to have the option to buy games piecemeal after they release as well. If I keep an eye on those blindspots, designing for long-time players is the same challenges typical to the RPG design process—making sure games are both novel and versatile enough to attract and retain players.”
CH: These are six very-diverse sounding games—letter-writing, dice-stacking, GM-less, GM’d, troupe-style, setting creation, etc. Are these game ideas you’ve had percolating on their own, and this is a good way to bring them all out, or was it a matter of “want to make a 6 month RPG subscription, what games can I make for that?” Has it been challenging to juggle so many different ideas at once?
T: “Honestly, I had more than 6 games in the hopper before the start of all this! I’d been working on a prison escape game, a detective game, a horror game, and a wargame that were all the same size and design ethos as the rest of the collection. The original plan was a 12-month subscription, but to keep consumer costs reasonable and to spare myself that level of commitment, we downsized to the 6. If this subscription is successful, those other games will be included in future series! Ultimately, though, a boxed set was a much more practical decision than that. As with Beak, Feather, & Bone, I enjoy designing these kinds of short, simple, robust games, and to a degree they’re what people expect from me—but you can only raise so much through a Zine Quest campaign. If I wanted to build a sustainable business for myself but still create the kinds of games I love, I needed to find a way to justify asking for more than just $10 a copy. Bundling multiple games together lets me stay true to my talents and goals while giving those people who believe in me enough that they’re willing to pay more the option to.”
Now, that’s the idea of the project in general, but I wanted to get a look at something a little more concrete, and Tyler was gracious enough to give me a look at the text for Grandpa’s Farm, the closest-to-completion game on the list.
Grandpa’s Farm is the Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley/Animal Crossing-inspired letter-writing game of the lot. There are only two set-in-stone facets to the story that you’ll tell via your letters: you’ve inherited a farm, and you’re invested in seeing it succeed. Aside from that, you have a lot of freedom to work with, and a very helpful allotment of prompts: what sort of setting, what sort of terrain, how you inherited the farm, what you gain from taking up the farming life, what you’ve left behind, what you’re excited about, how you prepared, your relationship with whatever potential neighbors or towns are nearby. In many ways you’re building a setting and a backstory, which can be a little thin on the ground for letter-writing games before the actual writing starts, so the detail of prompts is very nice.
Once you’ve got that done, you see how things go for every season: you draw from a deck of your typical playing cards until you get an Ace or a face card – the value of the cards you draw up until that point are added up by suite to portray how well you did socially, financially, agriculturally, and structurally. The suite you closed the season with on the Ace or face card corresponds to a notable development – positive or negative – that compelled you to write the letter.
Additional mechanics include festivals at the end of every ‘year’ (four seasons, meaning four letters) that potentially let you remove face cards from your deck – meaning you’re likely to get more success every season – with some interesting twists if you’re playing with 2+ players. There’s also advice for speeding play up, spreading it out over a longer period of time than a single session, and moving things online. Like many of the video games it takes inspiration from, Grandpa’s Farm has a time limit: 4 years (16 letters), but if you reach a satisfactory conclusion beforehand, feel free to wrap things up there!
So, of course I had to ask some GF-specific questions!
CH: Grandpa’s Farm is for 1+ players. Could you talk a little bit about designing a satisfactory single player RPG experience, and how you then take that experience and open it up to more players?
T: “Designing a one-player RPG is a lot like coming up with a good creative writing prompt. Writing in itself is fun—or at least it can be when you get on a roll and everything starts to come together—and a good creative writing prompt gives just enough to play with until your own inspiration takes over. With a solo RPG, you’re designing a system and narrative framing that lets you generate multiple prompts before gamifying them. The cards in Grandpa’s Farm tell you what to write about, and you win by incorporating the details dictated by each prompt on each turn.
In a way, all creative writing prompts are games the same way that puzzles are games—you just have more creative leeway in how you “solve” them. Opening up the solo RPG experience to multiple players can be as simple as inviting multiple people to solve a crossword together. Sure, you could do it alone, but sometimes it’s easier and more fun if you make a social event out of it. I didn’t want multiplayer play to just be sharing one farm, though, so I also added festivals to the game, which allow for asynchronous play between player interactions. With festivals, you can develop your own individual farms, address your letters to each other rather than an NPC, and periodically meet up to trade resources you built over the year, roleplay character interaction, and compete in minigames.”
CH: What’s your favorite part of Grandpa’s Farm? What was the biggest challenge in designing the game?
T: “As cheesy as it may sound, my favorite part of Grandpa’s Farm is reading the writing that comes from it. One of the great things about journaling games is that it’s much easier to share actual plays than a typical campaign—your game is transcribed by default. And playtesting the game meant distributing it to a number of friends with and without creative writing experience. Seeing the creativity that emerged from both camps was what ultimately convinced me I had something special here. The biggest challenge, though, is just selling folks on the idea of solo games period. It’s still a pretty new and novel thing in the TTRPG space. I was encouraged enough by the success of other solo-RPG Zine Quest campaigns, though, that once I cracked the code on festivals I felt confident enough to lead the subscription with Grandpa’s Farm. And based on the number of people calling it out as their most-anticipated game in the collection, I’ve felt validated in that choice!”
CH: Let’s say I’m someone who has never played a letter-writing RPG before: what do you think would be the best advice you could give me?
T: “More writing isn’t always better writing, and there’s no need to force yourself to write more than you’re comfortable with! I even included play modifications for short, telegram style correspondence in the game if you prefer. As long as you address the key elements raised each turn, you “win” the turn—it doesn’t matter how much detail you go into. More details will come up in future turns, and any one of them may unlock something that makes you want to write more. There’s no right or wrong way to play this game, though. Take things step by step and when inspiration strikes, you’ll be ready for it.”
CH: So we don’t focus too much on 1/6th of the project: what about the other games will appeal the most to prospective players?
T: “Ideally each of the games will appeal the most to someone! But if you’re already a fan of campaign-style games, Wishless has the most conventional RPG DNA. It still fits into the collection’s larger design ethos, but it’s more conventionally dice-based and includes the session structuring method and conflict resolution rules I use in my own campaigns and one-shots. On the other side of the spectrum, though, both DATING.SIM and Scene Thieves can be played with ZERO dice or RPG experience. Fans of the genre will immediately recognize elements in them, but they bridge the gap between party and roleplaying games to welcome those players too.”
CH: What’s in the future for Possible Worlds Games? Any other projects lined up? If this one works out, think we’ll see more RPG subscription boxes?
T: “This first subscription’s success (and level of success) will dictate a lot, but my plan is not only to put out more subscription boxes but also to add additional designers to those boxes! I’ll still be a part of the subscription, but once people trust my curation, I’d like champion work by early and mid-career designers too. Ideally we’ll get to the point where 3 games are mine and 3 are by other creators whose work I’m publishing through the subscription before adding to our catalogue and distro. Eventually I’d like to get creative with licensing and larger-scale collaboration too. I’m not interested in vying for the next Lord of the Rings RPG, but as someone who’s worked in indie publishing for a long time, there are a number of speculative fiction writers self-publishing or on small presses whose work I think would bring a lot to the TTRPG scene.”
CH: Final words for our readers?
T: “Check out and consider supporting our Kickstarter at https://ttrpg.link/pw! Or, if this set doesn’t appeal to you, sign up for our newsletter at www.possibleworldsgames.com! This is the first of many games and bundles to come, and we’ll continue to tackle different topics and styles with each game. One might eventually be the right game for you! Our newsletter subscribers will also be the first to know if/when we open up for submissions in years to come!”
$5 will get you a single game of your choosing off the list, $25 will get you the full digital subscription, and $50 will get you the physical boxed set (which, by the numbers, is proving the most popular option). As of this post going live, the project has successfully reached its funding goal – so give it a look, and check out these (hopefully the start of many more) Possible Worlds!
Thanks again to Tyler for reaching out to us, letting us take a peek at Grandpa’s Farm, and answering my questions!
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