Epyllion Lets You (And Your Kids) Be the Dragons In This Tabletop Fantasy RPG
Tabletop gamers can tell you all kinds of stories about their earliest experiences with tabletop RPGs. Playing a variety of different games, getting their starts at a wide range of ages, they can spin you a tale of their first shot at being a part of an epic inspired by their idols of fantasy and science fiction.
But how many of these games were intended for the children and young adults that came to play them so early?
And just how many of them let you be the dragon that so inspired you to play?
Marissa Kelly was wondering the same thing - and then she went about providing the perfect answer - her new game, Epyllion, a fantasy epic RPG intended for the whole family in which the players all portray young dragons fighting to save their home, Dragonia, from an encroaching evil.
Kelly is the co-founder of Magpie Games, an indie RPG development company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Having several games funded via Kickstarter before Epyllion, she and her team have gone the crowdfunding route again - with phenomenal results.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with her about Epyllion and her own experiences with gaming and game development.
Marissa Kelly has been hard at work to bring an epic storytelling game to players that's fit for the entire family, and thanks to generous Kickstarter donors, she's going to do just that with Epyllion.
Jessa Rittenhouse: The Kickstarter for your game Epyllion is 1723% funded. That's pretty incredible. Did you expect it to take off like this?
Marissa Kelly:I was always hoping for Epyllion to be a hit, but nothing prepares you for this kind of support! My team and I had a bunch of plans ready; we didn’t know if Epyllion would be a hit or a flop. We just tried to prepare for all the different options so that we could deliver a great version of the game. Ultimately, I am just over the five moons with how excited everyone is about Epyllion.
JR: In your Kickstarter video, you mention that you released an ashcan version of the game at GenCon 2014, the Epyllion: Drake Edition, and the feedback that you received from it has been incorporated into the full version of the game. What do you think was the most important piece of feedback you received from those who playtested the game for you?
MK: There were so many great playtesters and every comment made it into consideration. If the game was making someone feel a certain way, I wanted to know. From the beginning I have been trying to create an open setting that allows players to shape the world and define what dragon society looks like, smells like, and feels like. But one of the most important bits of feedback I regularly received (in one form or another) was how positively people felt about the mechanics that incorporated how I thought dragon society should be structured.
That kind of feedback really gave me the confidence to build a strong framework for players to explore Dragonia in imaginative and provocative ways while lending them the support needed to do so successfully. Moves like “standing up to an older dragon” grew in importance while moves that I thought I needed, like “battle the Darkness” kind of fell away. It was great to know that people wanted me to bake my version of Dragonia into the core of the game.
In Epyllion, you get to be the dragons you've always loved to see in books and movies.
JR: Epyllion allows players to play as the dragons, rather than fight them. While this isn't unique to your game, it is pretty rare – what led you to choose this particular angle?
MK: The concept was born somewhere from my love of dragons and epic fantasy stories, like The Lord of the Rings. I always wanted to know more about the dragons in those tales and where they came from. I was sad that dragons like Smaug were always just…villains.
I also love games like Spyro that let you play dragons as the main characters. I didn’t see that anywhere in the tabletop RPGs I was playing, so I thought it would be neat to build my own system for that kind of game. Luckily, the Apocalypse World engine was a great fit for what I wanted to do with dragons!
JR: What do you feel most sets your game apart from other fantasy-themed RPGs?
MK: When I created the setting for Epyllion I tried to leave room for players to shape the world, and every time I run the game or hear someone’s write up, I am always blown away with how creative and imaginative Dragonia becomes when the players take the reins. In fact, I think one of the reasons players fight so hard to defend the land from the Darkness is because it’s their land!
Welcome to Dragonia - where kids and adults alike can play the part of a young dragon, or drake, working with the rest of its clutch to save their world.
JR: With more and more people playing games like Dungeons & Dragons than ever before, it no longer carries the stigma it once did, and people are teaching their children to play, as well - but the rules tend to be a bit complicated for young children. You've said that your game is designed with families in mind – something that can't be said for a lot of the more well-known RPGs. What age range did you intend for the game? Was creating a game for kids always the goal? If so, why? If not, what changed your mind?
MK: It was a big decision for me to commit to designing Epyllion for a young adult (YA) audience. The initial design was not made with a YA audience in mind and I was ready to make these dragons’ lives gritty, tragic, and magical, but something wasn’t quite working.
Parents and friends approached me about how excited they were to have Epyllion be the game that they use to introduce their kids to tabletop gaming! Eventually, it just clicked. I had been trying to hone in the mechanics for some time and realized that I had actually been fighting a piece of the fiction that really made the game sing!
JR: Though it's been my experience that there are as many women out there playing tabletop RPGs as there are men who do so, there's still often this sense of surprise from some people that women can and do enjoy these games – and though it happens less often than it used to, some women are still met with open derision or even hostility by their male counterparts when they express interest in playing a tabletop RPG. Not only do you play them, but now, you've made one, and the outstanding success of your Kickstarter indicates an amazing demand for your product. Have you ever encountered anyone who thought that, as a woman, you shouldn't be making or even playing this sort of game? If so, how did you respond?
MK: I was told (in so many words) that it wasn’t enough for me to own a game company, run games, or design for other people to be taken seriously in the gaming community. I had to make my own game. At first, that seemed really daunting, but as I started to let my ideas out, I found that I had dragons running around in my brain, ready to fly and do magic and save Dragonia.
I really don’t take anyone seriously who claims that I “shouldn’t be gaming or designing.” What is this? The 1920s? I would much rather spend the energy I would use fighting with them to make awesome games.
Marissa Kelly has no time for naysayers. After several successful Kickstarters for other games, she's tackling the challenges of Epyllion head on.
JR: Epyllion looks like it's already wildly popular – quite the feather in your cap, so to speak. What do you think is next for you? Will you continue to expand the game, or do you think you'll make another?
MK: Because of the success of the Kickstarter campaign, we’re already planning on publishing a bunch of great supplemental material printed in the Encyclopedia Draconia. In addition, Epyllion also hit its goal of being Creative Commons for anyone who wants to make something awesome out of it (free or commercial). I have tons of other games I would love to make (some already in the works), so I’m excited to move on to my next project when we fulfill everything from Epyllion later this year.
One of the projects that I’m most excited to work on after Epyllion is Bluebeard’s Bride. I’ve been working with Whitney “Strix” Beltrán and Sarah Richardson on another Apocalypse World hack that tells the tale of Bluebeard through the eyes of his new bride. It’s one part feminist exploration of the role of women in these kinds of stories and one part haunted house game! Look for some more public work on it later this year.
JR: What has been your greatest challenge while working on Epyllion? How did you overcome it?
MK: I think a huge challenge for indie games is that the authors need to be great at design, writing, marketing, production, art, directing, etc. And while I am really good at some of those things, I am not so good at others, but I overcame these challenges because of my enthusiastic fans and because I had a team to help me.
I did interviews and live games despite hating being on camera because I had people reminding me how important it all is. Our updates and page looks great because there is more than one set of eyes on it. The innovation really came from building off of shared experiences and having people to bounce ideas off of for new, exciting ways to reach people.
JR: Other tabletop RPGs have been made into PC games with varying degrees of success. Would you like to see Epyllion as a video game, someday?
MK: That would be really cool and I would definitely play it!
As I said, one of my big inspirations was Spyro the Dragon. I remember being SO excited when Cynder became a playable character. I saved up to buy the one video game I knew of where I could play a girl dragon! She had been the villain in the previous game and I loved playing as a kick-butt lady dragon with a dark past. So I would love to see more video games where that could happen!