The cosy murder mysteries of tabletop RPG Brindlewood Bay will soon be a pair of hardcover books, thanks to an upcoming crowdfunding campaign aiming to create a core rulebook alongside a separate volume for the Nephews in peril supplement.
But Brindlewood Bay wasn’t always meant to be a full tabletop RPG in its own right. Designer Jason Cordova wanted to test a smaller part of his Victorian-era, Powered by the Apocalypse title, The Between, without rewriting pages and pages of text with every iteration. Mysteries were one small part of The Between’s dense world of high society, gods, subterfuge and magic, but he wanted them to feel emergent without relying on a single, puzzle-like solution.
“I came to a crossroads. I knew how to make this feel like a mystery and make it work like a mystery because I'm running it all in my head,” Cordova told Dicebreaker. “That's easy for me to do, but how do I systematise this? How do I make it so that there's repeatable gameplay structures and processes that anybody can pick up and do it right?”
Cordova coupled the isolated mystery mechanic with a simple, yet evocative hook suggested by a professional acquaintance - Murder, She Wrote meets the Cthulhu mythos. The resulting game was a small yet surprisingly strong RPG that emphasised non-combat conflict and a creeping otherworldly dread. Plus, the player characters were cunning grannies - called Murder Mavens in the game - wielding baked goods and sewing needles instead of broadswords and daggers.
Fans and players immediately took a shine to Brindlewood Bay, even though it was only available digitally and released new content through Codex, the monthly RPG zine Cordova edits as part of Gauntlet Publishing. He said playtesting individual parts of a game and gathering feedback from the community allowed him to hone the resulting experience to a keen edge. The process worked, as Brindlewodd Bay became a platinum best seller once released in full to DriveThruRPG.
He decided not to host the game on Itch.io for a number of reasons - DriveThruRPG’s platform requires exclusivity to access certain promotions and deals - but the main motivation was ensuring his work retained “perceived value”.
“I do think, as a general matter, indie tabletop RPGs are undervalued, and while Itch.io is a really fascinating design and community space - and there are lots of good reasons to be there - I do think the games there are frequently underpriced or are expected to be purchased in a bundle where the price of each game is extremely low,” Cordova said. “On the rare occasions we put our games on sale, it’s through very special, well-known events like Deal of the Day or Bundle of Holding because we want to maintain perceived value. But Itch.io works great for a lot of people, and that’s awesome—I love how much it has opened up the space.”
Launching a crowdfunding campaign for Brindlewood bay’s two-book print run is another method of realising that value, as Cordova wouldn’t have felt confident taking this step if not for the response from groups playing his game. He is finished designing Brindlewood Bay and is ready to release control of it to the public. He said watching people talk about the game, hack it into their own work (Paranormal, Inc. and The Unquiet Dark are two standout examples) brings him joy.
The plan to use Kickstarter as their crowdfunding platform was already in motion when the company announced its largely criticised plans to investigate blockchain’s potential. Cordova said he was “not thrilled at having to justify” their decision to the indie tabletop community that roundly turned on Kickstarter. The initial anger has tempered into a deep mistrust as many designers leave for competitors such as Indiegogo and Gamefound, or else wait for the proposed advisory council to steer Kickstarter’s ship away from the iceberg.
“We already have to do so much in this space to find anything that resembles success. We already have to make so many sacrifices, and we have to do so much with so little,” he said. “Are we looking at like other possibilities? Yes. Is it great that so much of our success depends on one platform? No, we don't love that.”
The Kickstarter campaign for Brindlewood Bay’s physical print run separated the two books so that the several designers and artists who worked on Nephews in Peril can enjoy their own spotlight. The supplement will contain 10 additional mysteries that build out the setting of Brindlewood Bay’s seemingly sleepy coastal town. The core book holds all the rules, Keeper support and six mysteries of its own.
A special item first available as part of the campaign is a cookbook written as an in-fiction item and containing recipes submitted by residents of Brindlewood Bay. Cordova said it will only exist as a physical book and will be available to purchase after the campaign ends. David Morrison has designed a solo mystery that plays out in the margins, composed of notes and edits from the Maven who previously owned the cookbook.
Brindlewood bay’s Kickstarter campaign launches on April 26th and will run throughout May 30th.