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Note: this is a transcripted interview, edited for ease of reading
Hatchling games can be found here.
- About Rich
- What inspired Inspiriles?
- What is unique about Inspiriles?
- What are some other mechanics?
- Age ranges
- Favorite stories
- Advice for creators
- Advice for getting parents on board with TTRPGs
- Closing words
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am Rich, and I am the director of Hatchling Games, which is a new business creating tabletop roleplaying games for all ages with an emphasis on promoting deaf awareness and sign language. The Rich of before is a creative writing graduate and family man.
What inspired you to make Inspirisles?
I’ve been working for a deaf charity in the UK for a good part of 12 years now. I love the job; I’m a support worker promoting independent life skills.
At the same time, I was running a teenage roleplaying game group with Dungeons and Dragons and all kinds of indie games since post university. I called it Hatchlings.
Then one morning, I woke up with an epiphany… Why can’t I combine my hobby with my day job?
It’s not like I go to work and I think it’s a slog. I go to work, and I’m learning sign language and am interacting with the deaf community all day, and it’s a really positive job role. Why not take that positivity from that community and apply it to a role playing game? And that’s how the inspiration came about!
I’m always inspired by teachers and educators who use role playing in extra curriculars or in the classroom – that’s very much the path I want to walk.
What is unique about Inspirisles?
Involvement with deaf community:
Obviously the sign language element and deaf awareness is huge. The fact that we built it from the ground up using deaf consultancy and production is unique.
All the sign language elements come in sheet material but we also include video production and visual tutorials. We just produced them last week actually after finally being able to get into the studio after COVID restrictions, and we’ve managed to put together a really professional package of video tutorials. I’m really excited about that.
To make it fully accessible, it really needed [the videos]. It’s all very well seeing a sign sheet, but it doesn’t show you the technique of doing the letters, numbers, or sentences. We definitely need some sort of performance aspect.
Sign language integrated into gameplay:
Within the game, it’s all completely integrated, so it’s not like we threw a [sign language] manual in the middle of a roleplaying game and are like, “learn the alphabet”. It’s all completely integrated into the system.
You have something called shaping, which is like our version of elemental magic usage, and how you cast or produce the elements is through sign language. So, if your element is fire, you would sign the BSL or ASL for fire before you do your casting of the element.
All ages accessible:
It’s also written in a way that would appeal to all ages, and that comes from my background of having a writing for young peoples M.A. degree. So, I’m pretty experienced with that type of writing and making it very clean and very accessible.
Can you explain some other interesting aspects of Inspirisles mechanics?
Belief and disbelief, not good and evil:
The heart of the game is a push and pull struggle between collecting belief, which is the positive energy, and fighting disbelief, which is the negative energy.
There’s no good and evil in the game; creatures that would normally be seen as evil are really just ignorant or greedy because no one would willingly destroy the land they live upon. It would essentially destroy themselves. They’re just not aware of it or are too ignorant to recognize it.
So, you’ve got this push and pull between those two elements. It’s very much in favor of the players because…with all ages games, we want to encourage a theme of heroism in the pendragons, which are the player characters in the game.
However, you can gather disbelief when you fail tests. When that happens, the grail guide, which is our version of the DM, goes to the calamity chart. If you earn enough disbelief, it triggers a calamity that goes all the way down to the portal that you arrived in collapsing. It’s almost like an end game state, but the grail guide can figure a way for them to reopen it
We don’t want to focus too much on failure, but there are some negative events that can be triggered, and you’ll have to deal with them at that moment. Like, a troll bridge is built or a creature, called a questing beast, which our mythological creature, kind of stalks you across the whole island. You have to deal with all of these events. It’s a slight punishment, there’s no death in the game or hardly any injury, but it still is a high stakes mechanic and creates some tension.
Something we just introduced is a Gog. If you crit in the game, which is quite hard, you have to roll three 6’s on a 3d6… if you do that during a test, and elemental dog appears and becomes your companion during the game and has unique mechanics tied to that. If someone gets this amazing crit moment, they’ll see this little pup appear made of water or fire.
All the teachers in the game are actually dragons; they signed a pact with Guenviere not to hoard anymore, and so instead, they’ve become teachers who teach sign shaping, basically. They also gift the various elements to the players.
What is the age range for Inspirisles?
Your pendragons in the game are all 15. It’s like a coming of age kind of thing; in fiction they’ll have a running event or climbing a mountain challenge. In the game, it’s kind of like that. You’re 15, you’re led to the portal by a well-wisher because you’re found to be one of the pendragon’s, Arthur and Guenevier’s, descendants.
So, 15 is the character’s age, but, at the moment, one of the teachers is playing with 12 year olds, and they absolutely love it.
I’ve also played it with my 6 year old, and the fundamentals can apply to anyone. It’s just a simple 3d6 dice roll, and even my 6 year old can add up three dice. Admittedly, they solved every test with, “I give it food”, but they still get the fundamentals of fighting fire with water and so on.
So, 15 to adult is where it’s aimed at, but it is written to be for very much younger as well.
We do say the grail guide role should be taken by someone older or with experience in storytelling, so as long as the grail guid is a little more confident and can show the players the ropes… they can take the reins eventually.
Our next game, Feathers, which I’ve not talked about much, will apply to more players, so a much younger age group all the way up through adults.
What kind of playtesting have you done with Insprisles?
It’s been in schools now for about a month and a half. A couple of schools in the UK have tried it out and given really good feedback.
And the bit they love the most is the sign language, which the teacher wasn’t expecting, and to be fair, I wasn’t thinking the sign language would be the most fun part of the game. When you think of a learning tool or a teaching tool, you think that’s not going to be the most engaging part of it.
I’ve tried it out with a couple of groups on discord, I’ve done it on charity streams, I’ve done it with a couple of close people, other designers, and with the Hatchling’s group.
It’s rules-lite enough for it to work well quickly; the dice rolls are very simple and quite intuitive. The game is basically narrative based or character based, so it’s just a matter of how adept you are at making stories and characters. It can grow as much as you are comfortable.
What is your favorite story from the Inspirisles play test?
Every single time I have run the tutorial test with the players, they have to get a golden trout out of the lake, you wouldn’t believe the amount… well, maybe you would believe the amount of variety that people use the elements in.
Often the person using fire is slightly behind the others, especially at the lakeside, but it is at nighttime, so they have to light it up or like setting the flames out over the surface to catch the reflection of the scales of the fish. Some of them were cooking it when they got it out of the water.
People will go around the outside blasting air to get the fish to go into the center. People were using earth shaping on the lake bed, making it rise up into a dam sort of situation. One group even made an earthenware dish out of earth, air, and fire, and plonked the fish into it.
I think the elements are very versatile in terms of storytelling. I don’t know if you’ve seen Avatar the Last Airbender series, but there’s so much depth in it with the elements in terms of storytelling. It’s just really nice to see people using it in inventive ways.
Do you have any advice for other TTRPG creators?
If you don’t have passion for your idea, it will not amount to anything. 100%, you have to keep that faith in it, as well. There’s no way I could have crowd-funded it unless I thought it was going to at least make the £1,000 I needed to make it on my own. Thankfully, my faith was repaid in kind, and people really connected with the sign language element, which was brilliant.
And just ask people for help. Like, I just had a conversation with a publisher today, and instead of signing with them, they said go it alone. They said you have so much enthusiasm and so much drive, just go alone and make Hatchlings into a publishing company, and you can come to me any time and ask me to put you in contact with printers and all these resources.
Just through that communication and reaching out to people, you find things. And that’s the best way to build a community too – just keep engaging with people and asking people and they’ll make your dreams come true.
Do you have any advice for helping parents, teachers, and other facilitators get more comfortable with introducing their kids to TTRPGs?
When I established Hatchlings, I created a poster with flavor text with highlighted words… like the words TEAM, FUN, LEARNING, and ACTING. Within that paragraph, it had keywords, and from that, I made a list for the parents. It said like, “what does performance mean – Acting, and confidence, performing arts, expressing yourself”
Taking those key words and breaking it down for adults, educators, and parents, makes it a lot more accessible to them.
A lot of them were very cynical, even if their child was really into the idea of it, they were like, “No, you’re not doing that”.
That’s a real shame, but if I show you this poster explaining it’s creating all these benefits from it and is very easily written and read down, maybe it will convince them to join the group… and that’s what happened!
One example, I had a parent come in and say, “Why are you doing this at your age?” That was the first thing that they asked me in a really derogatory way. I just said, “I enjoy it. It brings me a lot of happiness.”
I was put on the spot, so I couldn’t break all the benefits down then, but, by the end of the year, because the parents came to the session to check on it and make sure it’s safe and everything, they were joining in the game as a player.
I think my advice would be to break it down in a way to engage the person reading it, the parent or educator.
Do you have any closing words?
It’s just out on itch.io and DriveThru, we’ve done the sign language videos, and I’m incredibly excited because Anna, who does the layout, is going to drop it in my inbox in a couple of days, and I’m sure I’ll be crying.
All that work… I can’t wait really. I think it is going to be a really positive game for the community and lead to bigger and greater things! Things like Feathers, and even maybe board games… imagine if I were talking to someone about that?
A lot of good things are happening, and I still get to work with the deaf community, which is amazing!
Thank you Rich for taking time for the interview!