[Interview] Lone Shark Games and Penny Arcade discuss their collaboration: Thornwatch

Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade and Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games talk their tabletop RPG Thornwatch.

Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade and Mike Selinker of Lone Shark Games talk their tabletop RPG Thornwatch.

Lone Shark Games, known for their exciting and innovative card games, teamed up with Penny Arcade, best known for their popular, long-running webcomic by the same name, to bring players the fantastic world of Thornwatch. Thornwatch is a tabletop RPG that takes place in the Eyrewood, an ever-changing forest teeming with people, ancient creatures, and a mysterious, malevolent force called the ebb. The Kickstarter for the game has had overwhelming success, accumulating over 500% of their original goal with over a week to spare.


I recently got the opportunity to ask Mike and Mike a few questions, to really learn more about the world of Thornwatch and their extremely successful Kickstarter campaign.

Alex Anderson: In the Kickstarter video, it was mentioned that Thornwatch’s design was based on 2D comics. Were there any in particular that helped develop the direction of the game’s art and storyboards?

Mike Krahulik: Really just all the previous Eyrewood comics we’ve done. We have made comics about the Lookoutsthe Daughters and the Thornwatch over the years. We even did a big series called the Tithe that shows all three factions. I feel like this game is a very natural extension of those comic projects. 

AA: What was the inspiration behind sending players straight into the action instead of having a build-up?

Mike Selinker: The Thornwatch are spirits called into action by a villager tying a bramble knot in a birch tree. There’s no “meet at the inn and consider the offer of the mysterious stranger” here. Players love that. They don’t know what’s coming, and they don’t know where we’re going. They just know it’s happening now.

AA: Your Kickstarter page mentioned part of the core of the game was addressing the problem of players not paying attention during other’s turns. I’ve noticed this a lot in any genre of turn-based play. How does Thornwatch’s gameplay eliminate this problem?

MS: We started with the principle that all action in the game would focus attention down on the board. Your goal is always teamwork-oriented: You can’t really win against your enemies by yourself. So you have to strategize. And then with the momentum track resetting every round, you have to strategize again. It’s fast and very involving. You won’t be checking your phone.

AA: Why did you decide this game would work best as a tabletop RPG as opposed to some other medium? Do you think Thornwatch’s concept could have worked in another genre?

MK: I actually had the game mechanics before I had the setting. It wasn’t that I thought Thornwatch should be a board game. It’s that I had designed a board game and didn’t know what it was about. We created the Thornwatch at that point and fit them into the story of the Eyrewood. 

AA: The Eyrewood seems like an amazing environment. How did the idea to have the setting always changing come about?

MK: That was actually Jerry’s idea. He had this cool vision of the Eyrewood always changing and I loved it. Lookouts actually carry something called a camping spike that they drive into the ground when they have to spend the night in the woods. It holds their camp in place almost like an anchor. There are lots of cool stories about Lookouts who forgot their spike and beasts that steal them. 

AA: You mentioned there are three groups of protectors of the Eyrewoods: The Lookouts, The Daughters, and the Thornwatch. What’s the difference between these three groups?

MS: The Thornwatch are a group of mystical ghostly spirits that are called by the villagers to save them from the Ebb, the malevolent force that blights the forest. The Daughters are the godlike druidesses who rule over glades that they themselves shape and control. The Lookouts are young scouts who are tasked with learning about and defeating the monstrous forces of the Eyrewood. No one of these groups could hold back the Ebb by itself. Together, they might. 

AA: The Kickstarter has been really successful. The game has a lot more funding than you initially asked for. What was the experience like with trying to get Thornwatch crowdfunded?

MS: Mike and Jerry have been giving their fans glimpses of the Eyrewood and the game for some time, so people really wanted to see it go live. From the Lone Shark side, we’ve never had a day like the first day of the Kickstarter launch at PAX West. We’ve got some amazing fans.

AA: Do you have any plans on how you’ll be using the extra funds?

MK: The goal is to make the game as beautiful as we possibly can. We call Thornwatch a graphic novel adventure and that’s really what it is. This game is going to be full of art and we’re going to pack as much into it as time and funds will allow. 

AA: When do you expect for Thornwatch to ship to backers?

MS: We want to be playing it live, out of a real box, at PAX West 2017. If all goes well, a whole lot of backers will be doing that too.

I’d like to thank Mike Krahulik and Mike Selinker again for taking the time to answer my questions.

If you’re interested in supporting Thornwatch, click here to head over to their Kickstarter. There’s free print-and-play version available here and you can give your feedback on this form to give your input on the game.

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