TTRPGs, or table-top role-playing-games, are a unique merge between typical videogames and classic board games. Creating them involves the same level of commitment and artistry, with developers present internationally and locally. Locally, we happen to have The Wanderer’s Tome, an ENNIE-norminated TTRPG studio right here in Malta. Read on as we sit down with one of the founders, Chelsea Sciortino, for an interview!
#1 – TTRPGs or ‘table-top role-playing-games’ are more than just your typical board games, they’re open worlds of creativity waiting to be explored. What inspired you to develop your very own TTRPG Studio? What’s your background in gaming and arts?
I’ve been fascinated and interested in games since I was a child. This hobby of mine evolved over the years from video games to board games, to tabletop roleplaying games and lastly to LARPS – a nerdy progression of hobbies if you will.
I started playing tabletop roleplaying games about 10 years ago now. It is actually because of an obsession with the video game series Dragon Age that I discovered TTRPGs. I found a Dragon Age TTRPG and while I had no idea what that was, I knew I wanted to consume as much Dragon Age content as possible! As soon as I started roleplaying, I was hooked.
Tabletop roleplaying scratched that itch I never even knew I had to be able to create any story I wanted. It is also a very social hobby which I loved sharing with my friends. Shortly after playing my first TTRPG, I started to homebrew my own games. This then evolved into designing my own games completely from scratch along with my sister.
In 2020, my sister and I started to design murder mystery games. We designed these games for our friends but thought, why not package and sell these games? We were writing them regardless and felt we had nothing to lose.
Shortly after selling our first murder mystery game, my sister Fleur started working in a board game company, aiding with marketing, graphic design, and Kickstarter management. Things aligned for us – we always knew we had the combined skills of graphic design, game knowledge and writing skills to make our own games, but with this hands-on experience of marketing and funding projects on Kickstarter, we now had the confidence to actually turn this into a business.
This was when we came up with the idea to create our own TTRPG, Flabbergasted, a 1920s comedic tabletop roleplaying game. We took the plunge and launched a Kickstarter campaign.
#2 – As of right now, The Wanderer’s Tome has developed three games – ‘Flabbergasted!’, ‘Murder at Godsgrave Keep’ and ‘In the Shadow of the Lord’. What’s the process and behind-the-scenes of developing these TTRPG games?
With our murder mysteries, we create games that we want to play ourselves. We’ve played many murder mystery games and we wanted to create our own – ones that are a bit less cliché, more LARP-focused, and with themes that we love! We design our murder mystery games with our friends in mind – it helps us create stories that we know they’ll love, and they directly inspire the characters. Every character in every murder mystery game has one of our friends in mind.
Flabbergasted, on the other hand, was our largest undertaking to date and had a longer development process. We had the initial idea in early 2021 to create a rules-lite, comedic 1920s TTRPG that was greatly inspired by P.G Wodehouse and British madcap comedies that we have loved growing up like Fawlty Towers, Blackadder and more. We couldn’t find a game that had a similar setting to this so we knew we could potentially have a unique selling point.
When it comes to design, I love to come up with the setting first before mechanics. There’s no real way or order to design but I get very passionate about settings above all else. So, once I had a setting I was excited about, I got to work alongside my sister to develop this game idea.
The game development process is a lot of playtesting, playtesting, playtesting – be that with friends, online, or blind testing. It is all incredibly important, and you need to be willing to iterate and change your game drastically if something isn’t working. In the case of Flabbergasted, our initial playtest had quite a few mechanics that are still in the game now. You never know how these things will work – sometimes you might have to scrap an entire game and start from scratch, and other times some mechanics just work from the get-go.
After we playtested for months, we felt we had a good prototype – one that we could package into a QuickStart guide and launch on Kickstarter. Once we successfully funded, we worked on writing, editing, and illustrating the final book. Since we are self-published, we also deal with manufacturing, fulfilment, and customer service. These are a big part of your day-to-day if you are self-publishing.
#3 – As recently as July 2023, ‘Flabbergasted!’ was nominated for three ENNIE Awards, an annual fan-based celebration in tabletop roleplaying gaming – what’s it like to be recognized on an international scale? Did you ever expect to be so successful?
We’ve always dreamt of being nominated for the ENNIE Awards and were flabbergasted (excuse the pun) that we got nominated with our first game. It felt truly surreal to be recognised and nominated in some of the biggest categories (Best Art Interior, Best Game, and Product of the Year).
We didn’t expect it – not because we don’t believe in our product but because we have a small player base and are a new TTRPG studio. It was incredible to have been nominated by the judges and it solidified that we are creating high-quality TTRPGs.
#4 – Let’s move locally – as leading stakeholders in the local board-game community, what are your thoughts on where the Maltese scene is at and what could be done to improve it? Otherwise, how can one get involved in the local TTRPG scene?
The local TTRPG scene is quite small. There are, however, a group of dedicated players who love TTRPGs and there are local meet-ups where you can try TTRPGs. Playup Malta is an organization that we play with frequently. There are other places to play TTRPGs like W.A.R.S Malta.
These TTRPG meetups are a great way forward but one way to bring more players into the hobby would be to include beginner-friendly and indie TTRPGs in these TTRPG nights. Some people are intimidated by D&D, and it’s great to have alternatives that could introduce new people to the hobby. This is one of the reasons why we design games with more niche settings.
As game designers, we also need to encourage more local game development. There shouldn’t be any gatekeeping of information and I love when I meet aspiring TTRPG game designers at these events and I can encourage them to pursue self-publishing and provide advice when I can.
#5 – Looking to the future, it seems the Wanderer’s Companion is on its way. What plans and goals do you have to take The Wanderer’s Tome to the next level?
We love narrative games and want this to be our future with the Wanderer’s Tome. At the moment, we have a few games in development that are all within the TTRPG space.
We’d love to announce that later this month, we’ll be releasing a new Murder Mystery Game entitled ‘The Curious Case of Princess Cardamon III’ that is set in the 1920s. We’d also like to announce that one of the projects we’re working on is in fact a Flabbergasted expansion! This will hopefully be released in 2024.
That’s an awesome and extensive look into the world of TTRPG thanks to Chelsea’s answers. We look forward to seeing Chelsea and Fleur’s hard work pay off in the future. In the meantime, we recommend checking out their socials and website to learn more:
Also, on the Wanderer’s Tome website, there’s currently 33% off on murder mysteries for the month of October – could be an interesting way to spice up Halloween.