Threadbare: Game Design and Stitchpunk with Stephanie Bryant

In a world... Abandoned by humans, discarded toys fight to survive, repair themselves, and perhaps to build connections with each other, in spite of the fact that everything in this broken world cruises toward destruction. "Plushie or plastic, mate?"

That's my hypothetical movie trailer narration for Threadbare, a "stitchpunk" Apocalypse World-powered game that puts players in the roles of broken toys in a broken, human-less world. Characters' forms are forever changing as they get damaged and replaced with scavenged bits. 

I'm especially pleased to be interviewing the rockstar Stephanie Bryant, a writer/game designer of many contributions and accolades, including winning the 2015 200-Word RPG Contest with her game Escape Pod One Launching. She was also a staff writer when ConTessa's blog won an Ennie last year (check out her articles!), so she's A Very Big Deal in our book.

Threadbare's Kickstarter is already funded and is cruising toward some amazing stretch goal material written by Josh T. Jordan (Gingergoat Games) and Alex Roberts (Backstory Podcast), so back it to get immediate early access to the game!

DR: What a catalogue of games/supplements on your website! What got you started in game design, and which experiences do you think you’ve gotten the most out of?

SB: Aside from a dozen or so campaigns I've written for playing with my home groups, probably my first game was Kings & Queens, which is a stripped-down deck builder card game for 2 decks of standard playing cards.

DR: Could you give us the pitch to Threadbare, this “stitchpunk” game powered by the Apocalypse World engine?

SB: Play a broken toy in a broken world, trying to fix yourself and the world around you.

Illustration and article cover image by  Emily Block

Illustration and article cover image by Emily Block

DR: Where did the idea come from?

SB: About 9 years ago, I wrote and published a comic book for knitters, called Handknit Heroes. I managed to publish 4 issues before burnout and finances made it no longer feasible, but I wrote a total of 8 scripts for the series.

The world of Threadbare was introduced in Issue #8. It was a kind of "underworld" for the Handknit Heroes-- a weird place where "softies" and "mekka" were at constant war with each other.

Obviously, the tone of the game has changed a lot since then. I discovered through playtesting and as my own tastes evolved that what I really liked about the game was this kind of "do it yourself" aesthetic. I wanted to mashup the stuff I saw in the Maker community with the stuff I see on Ravelry and among the fiber artists I know. I've been moving away from math-heavy and combat-heavy systems for a few years now as well.

DR: What’s your favorite part about it so far?

SB: In nearly every playtest I've run or observed, someone comes to the game with a favorite toy from their childhood, and they want to play *that.* At conventions, I've had a lot of people show up with a stuffed animal that they're using for their photo albums (often sending the pictures back to their own kids), or just a favorite tchochky that they end up using as their "avatar." The joy people have when they get to revisit their old childhood friends is priceless.

DR: The beta rules hold some great and entertaining GM advice, which is something that I love to se when trying to get the feel for a new game. (I’m specifically thinking of the 'Playbooks Say What Your Players Want' & 'Making New Moves sections'.) This suggests to me that Threadbare might be quite accessible to GMs that aren’t already familiar with PbtA games - was this an intention of the design? Do you have some thoughts about who the audience for this game might be?

SB: I always wanted this to be playable by newer players and GMs, although I didn't always know how to do that. The helpful GMing sections were added later in the process of writing the game.

Making New Moves isn't just new-GM advice. A big part of Threadbare is about upgrading and changing yourself, and the GM needs to be ready to reward players for doing that. There are no class levels in Threadbare, just "I'm upgrading my arm now." So the GM needs to be able to suggest Moves for the player that would do what they're trying to do.

DR: What would be good inspiration for this game?

SB: The movie 9 is obviously a huge inspiration. Toy Story has a big role, but of course, Threadbare doesn't have any humans around. I'd also put Wall-e up as an inspiration. There's a movie about a made thing that goes on to make more things and change his world and hack things together-- and really, his lonely actions and inventiveness are what save the day, in the end.

DR: You’ve already sailed past your funding goal - is there any really exciting stretch goal you could hint about for us?

SB: Well, as I write, we're moving towards a new adventure by Alex Roberts, about a dance competition! I think that's a wonderful premise, and I'm looking forward to it.

I have probably a dozen pitches right now in my inbox and I'm trying to figure out how I can make them all happen. I think it'd be wonderful to have a setting and adventures about the Toy Senate, or fund the Still Shrinkwrapped horror scenario.

DR: What’s a recommended beverage to accompany a game of Threadbare? Chocolate milk? A stiff cocktail with a doll leg garnish?

SB: Ooh, that's a tough one. Let me ask my favorite toy..... yep. She says there's only one good choice, and has sent a picture along to help you out!

DR: Thank you so much Stephanie! Can't wait to see the stretch goals and final product. Readers, be sure to back Threadbare by June 8 to get in on the playful post-apocalyptic action!