Interview: Threadbare RPG
Plushie or plastic, mate?
Rebuild yourself, explore a handcrafted post-apocalypse, and save the world with only your needle and thread.
Recently successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter, Threadbare is a brand new stitchpunk RPG from Stephanie Bryant - a seasoned game writer and compulsive knitter with attitude. With the impending launch coming at the end of this month (and pre-orders available NOW on BackerKit), we wanted to find out more from her about this wonderful patchwork universe.
Tell us about the world of Threadbare! What places do we explore? What encounters do we have? What dangers lurk in the shadows?
The world of Threadbare is a post-apocalyptic stitchpunk setting, like the movies 9, Wall-E, or the darker sides of Toy Story. There are no humans left, so these "alive" toys try to overcome obstacles in a world that is made for much bigger creatures than themselves. Along the way, the toys break -- a lot. Everything breaks; it's pretty much the defining aspect of Threadbare. And then you get to repair what was broken, and in doing so, you might make it better or different.
Some of my favorite places in Threadbare are the abandoned train and the amusement park. For dangers, probably nothing is as scary as the Wetlands, which has the only non-playable character types -- a race of awakened taxidermy animals.
One of the classes is “sock”?
Er, yes. We have Softies, which are soft-sided toys, like stuffed animals. We have Mekka, which are hard toys, like racecars and Barbie dolls. And then we have Socks. There's no explanation for why Socks are alive in this world. Perhaps this is where they come after the dryer eats them? Their creative origin is much less interesting; they started out as an NPC race, and one of my playtesters wanted to play one.
Mechanically, the game uses the Apocalypse World engine as a base; are there any interesting changes or enhancements to the system you’ve put into the game?
Well, I took out combat pretty much entirely. There's no levelling system -- you increase your "power" by building modifications and upgrades to yourself. I added a series of "tones." A lot of PbtA games have a single tone that you're going for -- Spirit of 77 is high-octane zany action. Monsterhearts is broody emo teen drama. Threadbare can be played as a really gritty, violent world that gets closer to the original Apocalypse World -- or it can be played super light and friendly to younger players. It's up to the group to decide what works for them. Personally, I keep the tone at "Scruffy," where it's a little dirtier, a little more dangerous, but player characters are a team and there's nothing in the world that you can't deal with non-violently.
The game started its life as a card game - what prompted the transition to a full-blown RPG universe?
The game had a brief iteration as a card game, but it started its life as a setting in a comic book for knitters that I wrote in 2009-2011; the issue where it appeared never made it into print. In its first iteration as a game, though, it was a dice-pool RPG with a terrible death spiral mechanic. I think what prompted it was basically that I like games and I wanted to use this interesting setting that I'd written about but never published.
Was there a story from your roleplay sessions with the game that was your most memorable?
I'm not sure if this is the most memorable, but there's one I loved so much, I changed a core mechanic and used it as an example in the book.
I was visiting my family in Missouri, and RPGs are what we do when I come in to town. My niece, her friends, and my older sister all agreed to play Threadbare. Most of the characters were dolls, and they were in a vehicle that was hurtling towards a chasm at breakneck speed. My niece wanted to build some kind of ramp to get over the chasm, but there wasn't a lot of time-- and the group botched their roll. Doom was impending. My sister, who always surprises me with how creative she is, said "If we all hold our breaths, the ship will float!"
I paused and blinked at her. I do not have a stat on this character sheet for "Floating."
"Well, why don't you roll it? We'll say this is Smarts, to see if you actually know that's how gravity works."
Jenny rolled the dice, and it came up 11, I think.
Everyone holds their breath. I nod. "That is exactly how it works. The ship bumps off the ground and you sail across the chasm."
When I went home, I revised Threadbare to change one of the ability scores, Strongarm. It had previously been used for feats of strength, but since Threadbare doesn't have combat, it tended not to be that useful. Now, it was both how you can push things around physically, as well as how much you can push reality around.
You describe the game as “stitchpunk” - what is that? What drove you to use this aesthetic?
Stitchpunk is a kind of dirty blend of craft and art and the Maker movement, with a heavy emphasis on fiber arts. Probably the quintessential stitchpunk media is the movie 9, which features a little knitted ragdoll in a post-apocalyptic world. The video game Little Big Planet kind of captures that aesthetic as well.
I love steampunk in general, and stitchpunk is kind of a natural transition from that, out of my knitting and fiber arts interests. Since the setting started in a comic book for knitters, there was always the idea of fabric dolls kind of muddling through to do things.
Elsa Sjunneson-Henry is a disability advocate who worked on your game - what accessibility considerations were put into Threadbare?
Elsa is wonderful. In addition to writing The Senate of Toys, which is a delicious little adventure seed for taking a Threadbare game into more political territory, she went through the early draft and helped me refine language to be more inclusive, and to explicitly address ideas of being "broken" and "fixed" from a disability perspective. One of the core concepts in Threadbare is that there is nothing about a character that can break so much they are no longer valid, and Elsa helped me put that more firmly into the game.
In addition to Elsa, I had a few people with mental illnesses read some of the language of the game and help me with those mechanics as well. One of the first iterations of the game had a "sanity mechanic," where you could acquire "derangements" (I called them quirks) in the same way you damage parts of your body. Although they can be fun to play, it's really easy for those mechanics to be unsafe for the many players who struggle with mental illnesses, and there really isn't any way to make the sanity mechanics safe for all players. I took them out and, instead, players can decide if their characters can break parts of their personalities, or not. So, if I want to play someone whose bravery is fragile, I could make that a breakable part. In most games of Threadbare, the player decides which part gets broken, so I might never actually break -- but I could if I wanted to explore that.
You’ve mentioned you designed the game as “gender aware” - what does this mean and why was this important to you as a creator?
Threadbare characters can have any gender, or none at all. They're toys, after all. Players can use any pronouns they like, and they put their pronoun on their name tag at the start of the game. Some of the people I love most are trans and non-binary, and I wanted to make sure that my game both included them and did so in a way that wasn't tokenizing or insulting. There is a character type that most often uses "they," because it's a collective of tiny toys, like a group of army men, or a barrel of monkeys.
What’s the part of the game you’re most excited for people to experience?
I'm really excited about the way this game's actions (Moves, as they are called) cascade into each other, especially when you're trying to fix something or make something. A lot of the emphasis in the game is on fixing stuff that's broken or making new stuff. You can make an entire adventure out of "we need to build a bridge," and it would be just as exciting as a more traditional "we need to defeat the dragon."
When and where can we get it?
Threadbare will be going to press and out to backers and pre-orders at the end of June. It will be available to non-backers after that on DriveThruRPG.com and other fine purveyors of ebook and print-on-demand books. Updates and announcements are on the Threadbarerpg.com website, where you can also pre-order the book on Backerkit. And if you want to wait to see it in your hands before buying, head to GenCon. It will be at the IGDN booth and there's a couple of games on the schedule (and I'm hoping someone will run it at Games on Demand, too!)
The game is ready to release soon, but in the meantime, the game is looking for “Jury-Riggers” to contribute their own content to the universe.
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