Pittsburgh company helps artists get into gaming with Forethought Initiative | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh company helps artists get into gaming with Forethought Initiative

click to enlarge Artwork by comics artist Linnea Sterte
Artwork by comics artist Linnea Sterte
Tabletop gaming has become more popular, resulting in a long list of mainstream and indie titles suited for a wide variety of tastes. In an effort to continue expanding the field, a local tabletop roleplaying game company has helped create a new initiative.

Possible Worlds Games, a Pittsburgh-based company, announced a collaboration with Afterthought Committee to create the Forethought Initiative, described as a “paid digital residency that introduces promising artists from other fields into the TTRPG community.” Possible Worlds founder and designer, Tyler Crumrine, launched Forethought Initiative with Reilly Qyote, a project lead at the Afterthought Committee, a team of editors, authors, and artists with “a passion for TTRPGs.”

The inaugural Forethought Initiative residents are comic artist Linnea Sterte and multidisciplinary author Renee Gladman. A statement describes their work as flirting “with the fantastical and surreal while bucking conventional fantasy and sci-fi trends, and the Forethought Initiative will introduce their creative talents to TTRPG worldbuilding.”

As Crumrine explains, from May through March 2023, Sterte and Gladman will “alternate sharing pages each month, providing the other with inspiration for their own work and creating a wholly unique setting in the process.” As the art and in-world fiction is turned in, Crumrine will design a new tabletop roleplaying game alongside the residents.

At the end of the process, the residents receive final approval over the game as well as the right to use any of the material generated in their own projects and portfolio. From there, the team will work alongside the Afterthought Committee and Possible Worlds Games to prepare the game for print distribution.

“A good way to think of it is Renee, Linnea, and I working on three separate levels that complement each other,” says Crumrine. “Linnea is on the ground floor, visually representing people, places, and objects. Pull the camera back some and we have Renee, giving voice and description to the world itself through vignettes, travel logs, and in-universe writing. Pull the camera back even further and you have me, writing out-of-fiction instructions to the reader on how to insert themselves into the world and continue building on it.”

Updates and excerpts on the project will be shared through the Possible Worlds newsletter and social media accounts.

Crumrine spent years working in theater as a professional dramaturg before branching out into game design. He founded Possible Worlds in 2021, a year after he launched his game Beak, Feather, & Bone, which “invites players into a city populated entirely by ravenfolk, anthropomorphic bird-like beings.”

Crumrine believes gaming has started to move away from the complicated, often restrictive rules and systems of original games like the fantasy RPG Dungeons and Dragons, the origins of which date back to the 1970s. These kinds of games, while fun, can be overly complicated and time-consuming, making them less accessible or intimidating for new players. Crumrine sees his own company, as well as Forethought Initiative, as a way to make games more open and customizable, as well as welcoming and inclusive.

Forethought Initiative also serves to help artists spin their talents into gaming, which will help them build careers in the industry. Gladman, for example, says she has “never done anything like this—no RPGs no TTs: I don't play video games, I barely read comics—yet I find the proposal compelling and challenging."

Gladman adds that Linnea's work is "beautiful and strange, and I'd love to work with someone who sees the world this way. It sounds like it’ll be a great adventure, and I'm really excited to be a part of this."

Qyote sees introducing new people to the industry as a major goal of the initiative.

“Welcoming new voices at the table is everything to me,” says Qyote. “We’ve already seen a hundred iterations on the RPGs we grew up with, but what might someone who has never touched an RPG before imagine? What insights could someone studying improv theater for a decade bring to tabletop gaming? What would someone with a degree in art history think about the worlds we create and how would they interpret them in play? The way ‘outsiders’ can revolutionize what we previously thought was possible is extraordinary. This project represents freedom of expression and creativity, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share it with the world."

While this is the first Forethought Initiative, Crumrine wants to see it continue.

“Tabletop RPGs tend to be a very insular hobby — both in terms of audience and influence,” says Crumrine. “The Forethought Initiative’s hope is to inject new creativity and perspectives into the scene by providing artists with a relaxed, funded opportunity for experimentation. Ideally, fans of residents’ work will follow them into TTRPGs while players are exposed to indie comics, poetry, and prose. It’s an arrangement that benefits everyone, and a residency structure we plan to repeat in the future.”

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