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Exploring the worlds of RPG zines and Patreon. by Nathan Harrison

Close-up partial image: an early black & white proof of the cover of my RPG zine, “Forking Paths”, laying atop assorted notebooks in the background.

Close-up partial image: an early black & white proof of the cover of my RPG zine, “Forking Paths”, laying atop assorted notebooks in the background.

I’ve been out wandering the wastes for a spell! The last project I wrote about, Hinterlands, is not dead. It’s only sleeping, I assure you. Not a ton has changed for it since the previous update, but there have been some tweaks… what they are, I confess it’s been long enough that I’m not sure anymore. The latest version of the playtest packet is different than the one from 2017, though, and there’s a Hinterlands micro-site where I’ve collected all the key things. Something that’s new is a pair of online tools to generate villages and characters with relationships. My coding knowledge (Javascript, in this case) is pretty basic, so they look a little clunky, but are still handy if the need arises.

More recently, two things happened that helped to get me out of a creative rut. The first was Kickstarter’s Zine Quest in February. So, so many cool RPG things were put out for that, and all in easily-digestible zine form! I’ve crossed paths with zines now & again as a reader, including zines by RPG designers, but somehow it never clicked as a medium to explore myself. Looking at the Zine Quest stuff had me slapping my forehead for how many ideas I’ve had that are far too small for a full book, and bigger than a micro- or nano-game. It’s flexible, accessible, and in the scope of my current skill in terms of layout. I shoulda gotten into zines a while ago!

Then the announcement of forthcoming changes for Patreon gave me a little extra push. I don’t have anything like a following or fan base, but I’ve always wanted to try using the platform for something. A couple years back, I tried to puzzle out if my ongoing design efforts on Hinterlands could work on Patreon somehow. It didn’t make sense as a per-creation project, and a monthly project didn’t feel right to me either. I just couldn’t see how I could have something of interest or value to share with patrons, along the way to a finished creation.

Ah, but a zine! Now we’re cooking! A project I can finish in a reasonable amount of time, share some stuff along the way, release something finished, and repeat. I soft-launched in March, which means I fiddled with the page & info but didn’t tell anybody, and got myself into the habit of working on the zine & making updates. I’d be remiss here if I didn’t mention there’s a third thing in the mix that’s helped me to get my creative engine working again: the Portland festival XOXO, which I had the good fortune of attending back in September 2018. The energy from that event is what got me off my butt to put up that Hinterlands micro-site last year, and the general good vibes continue to reverberate around in my skull, saying make more cool stuff. (Here’s hoping I can attend in 2019 as well!)

Anyway, at first I thought I might just make a series of one-off zines, nothing holding them together other than me & the Patreon, but everything’s better with a name. I wanted something left the door wide open to go in a lot of different directions, and that jives with the same themes and inspirations that led me to choose Orbis Tertius Press as the umbrella for my game projects. Those themes being: crossing the boundary between the real and unreal; weaving together the imagined and the possible; etc. The “Orbis Tertius” name I chose is a direct reference to a Borges story, and as I pondered ideas for the zine, Borges kept coming through strongest yet again (via a different story this time). And thus my RPG zine took on the name Forking Paths. When I think about what the process of playing roleplaying games actually involves, and how I’m approaching this specific project, it’s really just too perfect.

Working on a game project in these terms has been extremely rewarding so far. If there’s a downside to it at all, it’s only that it’s seriously making me wish I could work on game design as my real, full-time job. So while it’s unlike me to hustle and promote something I’ve made, that’s what I’ve been trying to do a little, to see if there’s any way I can find a path of my own that forks in that direction. And as of today, I’ve finished issue #1 of the zine! (At least in PDF. I’ll be making an initial run of print copies at IPRC this weekend.)

Doing game design work inevitably begets more game designs on the side of whatever the main project is, so I expect I soon may have more to share here than just updates about Forking Paths. If you do check it out and come along for the ride, that’s super cool! And if not, I hope to have plenty of other things to write about here in the coming months, too.