Interview with Marissa Kelly, designer of Epyllion
Say hi, and tell everyone a little about yourself.
Hello everyone! My name is Marissa Kelly and I am co-founder of Magpie Games and author of Epyllion. I grew up playing tabletop RPGs and am lucky enough to have made it into one of my jobs. In addition to my work with Magpie Games, I graduated from Umass Boston, with a BA in history and archaeology. However, I now work as a paleontology intern throughout the year, spending my summers in Montana and Wyoming doing field work.
Tell us about Epyllion!
Epyllion is a tabletop roleplaying game where you get to play dragons! In this dragon-centric world, you are the sons and daughters of the Dragonlords, mighty rulers who need your help to investigate rumors, solve problems, and discover the truth of a growing evil in the land. Along with your fellow dragons, you and your clutchmates will protect Dragonia from the Darkness and discover the true value of friendship.
The system uses the Powered by the Apocalypse engine; while you play, you and your clutch will explore what dragons do and how they do it, by building on what each of you adds to the story. Each player will discover the meaning of friendship as you adventure across Dragonia!
I think I played a very early prototype of the game at GenCon last year. Tell us about how you went from concept to the fully fleshed out game as it is today.
The concept was born somewhere from my love of dragons and epic fantasy stories, like Lord of the Rings. I always wanted to know more about the dragons in those tales and where they came from.
The process of creating Epyllion was hard and took a lot of effort, but at GenCon 2014 we made our deadline and released the ashcan version of the game: Epyllion: Drake Edition. This was the bare minimum of text and rules needed to play the game. Since then, I have been working with my team to take in feedback, change the rules, and playtest the game to get it just right.
Now we are kickstarting the game and just over the five moons with the support we have been receiving.
A lot of people who read the blog and play games with us are really interested in game creation. Can you share a bit about the importance of playtesting and how you incorporate what you learn from it into the game?
I generally build feedback into every game I run by taking some time at the end of each session to go around the table and ask for everyone (including myself) to share one thing they liked about the session and one thing they didn’t like. I generally call this “Roses and Thorns.” I think structuring your playtests makes hearing and processing feedback easiest. I try to focus on playing the game first, and save time for all of the comments after the session is over.
I specifically want to know how the game made them feel rather than how they think it should be fixed and that tends to get me the most reliable data for moving forward with my designs. If someone “doesn’t feel like they are dragons” for example I can look at the overall system as see how to better build it into the game. Maybe it’s a principle, a move, or both and more, but once you can identify the problem (“not feeling like dragons”) there are many different solutions to incorporate and test. And at the next playtest I know to ask everyone if they felt like dragons and what it was that made them feel that way?
How did you get ready for your Kickstarter?
This was a big process that we spent a lot of time and effort on. Magpie Games has done our own Kickstarter campaigns before as well as advising on and working with other designers on theirs, so going in I knew it would be a lot of work.
I was most excited about contacting all of the different artists for stretch goals. Hearing their pitches and seeing samples of their work was thrilling and made me super excited to reach those goals as fast as possible!
The hardest part was narrowing down the rewards and pricing out each of the reward levels. We had to make sure we didn’t overpromise some of the cool things we planned on offering. Before the launch we priced every item and built spreadsheets to make sure everything was ready.
The esthetic from the Kickstarter page looks fantastic. Did the artists and writers for the various stretch goals pitch their ideas from scratch or did you have specific guidelines for them?
Thank you! I am also art director for the project, so I was actually the one to have a direct contact with my artist, Jason Poole. I gave him an artist spec outlining the specific pieces I wanted to see in the book and his art did the rest, bringing Dragonia to life. :)
As for the other stretch goal artists/authors I did contact all of them before the launch of the campaign. I talked to them a bit about the project and what the small established setting was, and asked them to submit a short pitch; a few sentences to get across the flavor of what they wanted to bring to the game. Because the Encyclopedia Draconica is all about expanding on the world of Dragonia and I have the pleasure of working with professional writers and designers, it was easy for me to say yes to everything they submitted even with bare minimum of guidelines.
What’s your favorite reward level?
My favorite reward level would have to be the $50 Long-toothed Dragon level. In Dragonia the long-toothed dragons are at the peak of their physical abilities and it’s no coincidence that it’s the level that gives you the most bang for your buck.
You get a PDF copy of the Epyllion book and the Encyclopedia Draconica, as well as any other PDF stretch goals we unlock throughout the campaign
A softcover 6"x9" copy of the book
A full set of 60 Friendship Gems (10 each of
6 different colors)
A pair of dice with the Epyllion insignia (your choice of color)
And the NPC dragon deck, full of portraits and quick-start information on NPCs
Now it’s not quite fair for me to say it’s my very favorite stretch goal because I absolutely love the Custom Dragon Plush offered at our higher rewards! ;)
What advice do you have for someone who wants to make their own game?
Yes! Firstly, you can do eeeet.
Secondly, you don’t have to do it alone. There is a whole community of people out there with knowledge and experience you can draw from. Fans will let you know what they like, GMs can tell you how it’s done, and designers (published or not) can help you think of ways to bring your vision to light in the way you want.