- John Power Jr.
Updated: Aug 25, 2021
With his new introductory RPG book 'Dungeons on a Dime - In The Red' in shops now and a new Kickstarter, Vice & Virtue, ending this week we caught up with Edinburgh based games designer & graphic designer Brian Tyrrell.
It seems only fitting that ‘Dungeons on a Dime - In The Red’ dropped through the letterbox the same day that multi-billion dollar toy company Hasbro launched their crowdfunding campaign for a new version of the much beloved HeroQuest boardgame.
After all Milton Bradley’s dungeon diver introduced millions of impressionable young minds to the delights of murdering subterranean creatures, hoarding hundreds of unpainted models and spend weekends moonlighting as mighty warriors and wily wizards, a goal that Dungeons on a Dime unapologetically shares.
Thankfully whilst the new release of HeroQuest looks to be aimed, admittedly pretty successfully, at emptying the wallets of 40+ grownups, Dungeons on a Dime has kept its eye focused on refreshing the gaming gene pool.
Following on from a series of Dungeons On A Dime riso-printed zines, ‘In The Red’ marks creator Brian Tyrrell’s first partnership with Scottish comic publisher BHP Comics, who will now be reissuing his previous releases.
As for ‘In The Red’, successfully launched via Kickstarter earlier this year, Tyrrell’s produced a lovely looking book that’s both the perfect introduction for young minds to the world of RPGs and best of all won’t cost you an arm and a leg in doing so.
The book starts off with the usual ‘What Is A Roleplaying Game?’ section that experienced gamers love to hate, except here it’s presented as less of a box ticking exercise and more an actual attempt to explain what on earth is going on here.
Chapter 1 includes a brief primer on what different game systems are available (and how they differ), what the role of everyone playing the game is, some nice tips on how to run a game such as developing plot hooks, improvising, pacing, how to communicate topics with your players and a general admonishment to enjoy yourselves and have fun. Remember that?
We then get into the meat of the book, 3 short, linked and nicely focused adventures set in the same city that feature a sympathetic jewel thief, underworld gangs and an unfortunate wizard’s apprentice.
Each adventure comes with additional plot hooks and tips for creating and roleplaying NPCs and that’s followed by a useful set of tools for bringing the city to life, a selection of NPCs, chase tables, price guides and ideas of making urban combat come to life. Whilst the book is aimed at introducing new, and younger, players to gaming I have to say that there's a lot in the main body of the book that more experienced groups would enjoy too.
Finally the book finishes with 2 appendixes, the first containing Tyrrell’s own Adventures on a Dime system whilst the 2nd just goes into more detail about the other kind of games that you could run this adventure with from DnD down to Honey Heist.
The Adventures on a Dime system itself is very light and easy to get your head round and definitely puts the PG in RPG, no bloody decapitations or gangrenous limbs here. For young kids though it should be more than enough to get them in character and rolling bones. They’ll have a lifetime to worry about things like crunch and simulationist games once they’re hooked, by which point they'll probably long to go back to a system like this.
Finally accompanying the book there’s a handy set of bookmarks listing with some of the system’s key features, a set of maps for the adventures and a handy set of cut out cardboard figures to use. Whilst these were Kickstarter exclusives you do get them as free PDFs along with the book when purchased normally.
There's lots to like about 'In The Red' and we're certainly planning on sending copies to several of our younger relatives this Christmas so we caught up with Tyrrell to find out a little bit more about Dungeons On A Dime, what he's up to now and his new Kickstarter - Vice & Virtue…
Hi Brian, thanks for joining us. So after a successful Kickstarter you’ve recently just released Dungeons on a Dime—In The Red and it’s now on general relelase. You’ve been working on the series for a while now. Can you just tell us a little about what was the inspiration behind it?
As soppy as it sounds, my friends are my inspiration. I have two groups of friends, and they have a major overlap: friends who want to try roleplaying, and friends who are artists. I knew far too many people to be able to run introductory games for all of them (try as I might), and I couldn’t get my friends hired by big companies.
DOAD feeds two birds with one scone—people get to learn how to play TTRPGs at their own speed, and entry-level creative struggling to get into their industry are boosted up with paid work.
You released In The Red in partnership with comic publisher BHP, who will be re-releasing your original DOAD zines. How did that partnership come about?
Originally I met Sha, the director of BHP, through my friend Julie. Julie knew Sha through independent book circles, and thought he would have some good advice for me, as I had just started out.
Sha and I started talking about a TTRPG book sometime in the spring of 2019. BHP had just published Rolled a One, a comic about a group of friends who play D&D, and it felt natural for them to pick up adjacent material!
As well as the reprints of the original zines can we expect to see any brand new games from you in 2021?
Right now I’m crowdfunding a short system-neutral fortune-telling system, called Vice & Virtue. It’s over 300% funded, with a few days left! The main script is written, but illustrations and guest authors need to be organised, so that should be dropping sometime in late February.
I’ve two other prospective projects on the horizon. The first is Carromancy, which will be a short world-building zine based around the divination practice of dripping candle wax into cold water. The second is Carved in Stone is a historically accurate 800AD Scottish setting, with the aim to dispel misconceptions about the countries past by incorporating queer, disabled and POC voices with cutting-edge archaelogical research.
My partners, Glasgow Life and the Society of Antiquaries will provide Educational and Heritage expertise!
Carromancy will go onto Kickstarter in February for Zine Quest, and Carved in Stone is a longer project, which I’m still looking to find funding for. If you know someone with £15k, hit me up!
You’ve talked about how Dungeons & Dragons helped you to develop your own social skills and figure out your identity, what would you say to someone, of any age, who was thinking about dipping their toes into gaming?
Just go for it! There are so many amazing role playing games out there for anyone to try out, and the indie TTRPG community is budding with supportive voices. I recommend you start with a simple 1-page game, such as Grant Howitt’s Honey Heist—you and your friends will love being a conniving bear looking to steal a vault full of honey.
Considering that most of us first get into playing RPGs when we’re kids it’s surprising how few books actually seem to be written with them in mind. When did you yourself get into RPGs and what did you want to pay special attention to to make sure that these books would work for younger players?
I started with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons when I was about 9 years old, playing in a group of about 10 other kids. All of our parents played D&D when they were younger, so one friend's mum (shout out to Yvvone!) ran a game for all of us.
I started writing and running my own games when I was 14, and have mostly been a GM since then. I cemented myself in 5th Ed D&D throughout Uni, but moved into System Neutral content when I became more critical of the media I was consuming.
I very much grew up with the classic ‘Master and Apprentice’ roleplaying education. The biggest flaw in much of the mainstream ‘entry-level’ games out there is that they don’t account for a total lack of experience. The enthusiasm is there, but pages of dense text full or arcane jargon exclude new audiences, instead of enchant them.
I find that writing for younger or older audiences is very similar. I keep the language simple and understandable, and introduce concepts one at a time, building on them as I get further in.
It feels like people are coming to games in very different ways to how we did in the past, and that there’s probably a greater need than ever for good tools to teach new players, especially wannabe GMs, how to approach RPGs.
You offer up some great advice in the book on how to run games. What would you say were the key things someone who has maybe got into RPGs through an Actual Play show know?
I would say that Actual Plays are a very similar experience to some of the earliest TTRPG players—watching older siblings hack away at monsters, having a partial idea of what’s going on and enjoying the story as it unfolds.
Actual Plays are a good way of seeing a system in action. They give context to the rules, and will help you understand why certain things are phrased the way they are. If you can, find a series where some or all of the players are new to the system. That way, you can learn as they do.
Actual Plays can also set up high expectations of what your game ‘should’ look like. It's important to remember that everyone likes to tell stories differently, and not to feel pressured to emulate someone (even if they’re really cool). Try things at your own pace, and remember to have fun!
This week is also the last week of your new Kickstarter Vice & Virtue. Can you tell us a little about that, who else is involved and how it fits in with DOAD?
Of course! I'm super excited for it. Vice and Virtue is a fortune-telling inspired roleplaying supplement. Using themed cards, readings and guided character reflections, players can bring character morality into their games and structure improvised storytelling with mysterious fortunes.
DOAD’s ethos is to help make roleplaying games easier for people to play. With that in mind, I wrote Vice & Virtue to support both players and GMs at the table. Players become active participants in the story's direction, and GMs can easily prepare engaging and thematic scenes. It also helps introduce safety tool check ins and post-session debriefing, so that communication stays strong around the table.
I’m working with the fantastic illustrator Jake Stark. He’s designing the seven gold foiled cards that represent the different themes used in the game. I’ll be writing and designing the book, and it’s edited by the masterful Vi Huntsman, who I worked with previously with on In the Red. The Kickstarter campaign raised enough money for me to pay some guest authors to contribute, so I’ll be doing an open call for portfolios in December!
Obviously it’s been a tough year for everyone but you’ve got two successful Kickstarters underreported your belt, what are your gaming plans for 2021?
I’ll be keeping on with my live show Beast Fables, following tiny animals as they explore the massive world of the Bristley Woods. It airs most Wednesdays, 12.30pm GMT, and is a great midweek pickmeup. I’m also starting an ongoing review swap video series, so keep an eye out for some deep dives into indie TTRPGs with a critical eye for design and construction! If I can find the hours, I’l for sure be playing more games with my friends, too :)