The introduction to their Kickstarter reads: “Wanderhome is a pastoral fantasy Role-Playing Game about traveling animal-folk, the world they inhabit, and the way the seasons change. It is a game filled with grassy fields, mossy shrines, herds of chubby bumblebees, opossums in sundresses, salamanders with suspenders, starry night skies, and the most beautiful sunsets you can imagine. You might be a tamarin who dances with small and forgotten gods, a leporine mail carrier who relies on moths to get packages where they belong, a little lizard with a big heart and a mysterious past, or a near-endless number of other thrilling possibilities.
“No matter what, we’re always travelers—animal-folk who go from village to village and get to see the length and breadth of all the world of Hæth. The seasons will change as we play, and we will change with them. But I can’t tell you all that will happen on our journey together, along the winding dirt road and amid the grassy fields. We’re just going to have to find that out together.”
Doesn’t this sound amazing? I cannot wait to dive into this world and tell these stories. Their Kickstarter was so successful that it was fully funded within 3 hours. Something else I really appreciate about Jay and Ruby is that they have a full team of artists and writers they are working with, and some of their stretch goals were centered solely on being able to pay these creators even more. I love that they are focusing on paying their team well, as we all know that it can be difficult to make a living wage in this industry!
Without further ado, let’s dive into their interview!
An Interview with Possum Creek Games
What's the Possum Creek Games story? How did you two meet?
Ruby: Okay so we actually met at live action roleplaying summer camp where every weird kid in the Hudson Valley ends up–shoutout to the Wayfinder Experience–probably in what, like 2010? When Jay started coming? I have no idea, they were a child. But we really got close 2 years ago when we were both elected to the board that chooses what larps they’re going to run every summer and realized we had a mutual love of spreadsheets, good art, and talking shit.
Jay: Ruby doesn’t remember this but she actually killed me in my first ever LARP–I was some kinda sad little troll cleric and she and her girl gang of harpies murdered the shit out of me.
R: And our dynamic has been the same ever since.
R: So despite larping and playing dnd with my brother’s friends since like 2003 I actually don’t like roleplaying games although I do love to play (1) game of Dialect per year.
J: Unlike Ruby I do actually like to roleplay, and my favorite games are Under Hollow Hills, i’m sorry did you say street magic, and Wickedness. I’m gonna get her to play something one of these days. Stretch goal for Wanderhome maybe?
What inspired you to start writing? Did you start off designing and writing games from the beginning or did you focus on other kinds of writing?
J: I’ve been writing RPGs in one form or another since I was 14 with the Wayfinder Experience. I got used to writing games for 60+ people with production budgets and everything, before I even started playing tabletop. In 2015 I got into D&D and Monsterhearts, and from there I fell in love with tabletop games. I’ve never been good at writing anything else –I’ve been writing RPGs for so long that it’s just how I express myself now.
R: Honestly I feel like Jay has tried to write other stuff but it all ends up rpgs in the end. Art history papers for college — rpg. Sad trauma poems — rpg.
J: You joke but did I show you the LARP I wrote for an art history class about Notre Dame and purgatory? I don’t think anyone’s done a LARP with quite that many footnotes before.
R: Uh yeah I wasn’t f**king joking. LARP with footnotes is our brand.
How did that turn into creating Possum Creek Games?
J: I made Possum Creek Games because I realized I needed a way to handle taxes that wasn’t just freelance work. I kinda made it on a whim, and we’re still definitely setting it up– we don’t have a website yet, or any sort of official online store beyond my personal Itch.io page. It’s been incredibly useful, and gives me an effective way to be taken seriously beyond my personal name, but it also means I’ve gone from aspiring RPG creator to small business owner in the span of a year.
R: Jay is really the heart of Possum Creek and like, I’ll probably never write a ttrpg alone (although we’re planning to co-design one once Wanderhome wraps up.) I’m on the team by virtue of having good taste and a background in print design, and responding to messages in .04 seconds. I guess I officially became art director when Jay realized they wanted someone who was 100% obligated to reply to all of their messages.
J: Also trying to run a small business entirely alone when you’re 23 and have chronic fatigue is a good way to lose a lot of money very fast.
R: Yeah I’m an ancient 26 so like I’ve heard of taxes and already know how to set up an ISBN.
What was the inspiration for Wanderhome?
J: I’ve been working on mechanical systems similar to Wanderhome for years now, as I’d been wanting to write a pastoral fantasy game since I watched the Moomins as a teen, but it all kinda came together very fast during quarantine. I wasn’t doing great and I was sitting by my creek, and I had a sudden deep desire for a game about traveling a world healing from violence. I spent the next day with a notebook in hand, sketching up mechanics, figuring out systems, and rewatching Hayao Miyazaki movies. Although I knew the vibes nearly immediately (hilly field covered in moss next to a wide river) it took me a long time to figure out a setting I liked.
R: For Jay’s birthday this year we and a bunch of friends actually went to hang out by a lake and it was kind of a long drive so when we arrived I was like oh…it’s because you took us to the dream-world in Howl’s Moving Castle. You brought us all to Hæth for your birthday.
J: The heat exhaustion was worth it.
From first conceptualization to the launch of your Kickstarter, what was your process for creating Wanderhome?
J: Once I had a few pieces to base the system on, I wrote up the first playbook – the Dancer. The next few came pretty fast, and the first 10,000 words or so of Wanderhome came together in like 2 days. I dropped it on my Patreon for my backers, and then set to work fleshing it out. I didn’t originally intend for its length, but the more I worked on it the more I realized I needed pieces to fit together, and over the next few months I assembled the manuscript, playtested like crazy, and started putting together a team. I’m still playtesting, and with the success of the Kickstarter among people who haven’t played a lot of indie RPGs, I’m needing to rework a lot of my original text to make sure it’s as easy to get into as possible.
You have so many artists lined up for the book! How did you assemble your team?
J: I’m kind of a maniac, so I pitched this project to Ruby as being an art book as well as a game. That’s what drove us to seek out so many different artists, especially artists who aren’t what you’d usually expect from RPG books.
R: Also I feel (we feel) that if you’re going to get the resources together to make a print edition of your game it should be beautiful–otherwise just release a pdf? We both have art backgrounds so really the games part is all Jay Dragon and Possum Creek Games is just the company that makes beautiful books out of them.
R: In finding our artists, there were so many art-sharing threads on twitter this year, maybe because of quarantine and like general economic collapse. But for maybe two months any time we saw a piece of art we liked we would send it to each other and if we both liked it and it fit the tone, we would put the artist on a shortlist. Eventually we reached out to about 20 people for rates and availability, and some of them recommended friends with similar styles, and that’s our team! It’s actually been so great that a lot of our artists are friends with each other, it creates kind of a built-in support community and also like, two of them had been wanting to do a collab with each other for a long time so we could offer them a stretch goal where they got paid for that, which we’ve obviously now reached.
The preview art on Kickstarter is so beautiful and tranquil. How did you decide on the overall aesthetic of the game? How does that line up with your vision of the stories players will tell?
R: For us aesthetics are a big part of any project, they’re inseparable from the themes and gameplay.
J: Yeah, I need to know the vibes of the game before I can even really start to write.
R: On a long train ride last fall we were brainstorming a larp and it was like–40 minutes of themes, and then 20 minutes of choosing the perfect clever thematic title, and only then would Jay even begin to think about mechanics or how the game would actually look.
J: The stories I want the players to tell comes out of the aesthetic itself. I want people to come into this other environment with me, and find out what that world is like. Often my games are promises of aesthetics, things from my own life and experiences that I fixated on and was driven to create a game to provide people with.
You smashed through your Kickstarter goal and so many stretch goals already. What has the Kickstarter journey been like?
J: Exciting and terrifying and enormous and weird. I realized this was going to be big when I watched as we raised more money than all the projects I’d previously been involved with combined in the first day. It pretty quickly stopped being an amount of money I could conceptualize, and that’s when I realized I would need to be really smart about all this. Budgeting an accountant into the Kickstarter, frantically asking friends how they’ve handled this themselves, and a few pretty sleepless nights have marked the past two weeks.
R: Yeah it’s uh, wild. I took time off of work to see Jay the weekend before we launched and then drove home through a tropical storm in a fugue state updating my friends in the front seat with numbers I couldn’t even comprehend. And since then I’ve been back at my day job, and it’s essentially like I have two full-time jobs right now. I thought we would just push a button and watch the numbers go up but we’ve had to meet with lots of people about production specifics and making new stretch goals and art that we never ever thought we’d get to. There are a lot of spreadsheets.
J: There’s a ton of factors we’ve suddenly got to take into account, also. Kickstarter bloat, rapid company expansion, lots of taxes, a billion different people to constantly be coordinating with, let alone the impact of having a ton of eyes on your online presence a little out of nowhere. Which isn’t to say it’s bad!! It’s just all very very new.
R: Yeah I mean, we can’t actually process the amount of money, but it hugely changes things financially for both of us. Jay’s had years of homelessness and I’m on food stamps and now like–we get excited about stupid things. I bought a nice trash can and their partner can think about going to out-of-network medical specialists.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to break into writing ttrpgs?
J: The best piece of advice I’ve ever gotten from anyone ever was something Avery Alder told me about game design. You wanna always know what you want to get out of the space. I made the choice a fair bit ago that I’m here to run a small business and sustain yourself. If that’s what you want to do, and genuinely want to do, good! But if you just want to write, or you want a hobby in your spare time, don’t feel obligated to transform this into a hustle. I know the gig economy has broken our brains but like, you don’t gotta monetize your passion.
R: My advice is to hitch your wagon to a young visionary who wants support and just lean back and enjoy the ride.
J: Oh, also stop ignoring art. Spending money on art can make your game bigtime.
R: Yeah, get good art. It’s uh, horrifically less expensive than you think, and people are always online looking for work, and it’s going to be mutually beneficial to make a really good project with your combined talents.
What are you most excited for your backers to see when the book arrives in their hands?
J: Oh I’m not sure, maybe just the text of the game itself…
R: They’re lying, it’s the canvas scroll. Right now I don’t even know what most of the interior will look like aside from a couple of quick mockups–I don’t get into actually designing the layout until something like November–so right now I just think the hardcover with the dustjacket and foil is my favorite thing.
Bonus question! Where can people find you?
R: We’re on twitter as @possum_creek, but that’s just for official announcements. For day-to-day updates and cute banter we’re @jdragsky and @rubylavin. Most of our games are on jdragsky.itch.io or their Patreon, and my design portfolio is rubylavin.com. And of course back Wanderhome at tinyurl.com/wanderhomerpg !