From the Inkwell: Why we run Pinterest boards for the Nights of the Crusades RPG

NotC-NizariNights of the Crusades is an RPG set in a world that blends One Thousand and One Nights, the history of the Crusades, modern and ancient terror. The roleplaying game is free to download from DriveThruRPG.

MJ Alishah is the author and artist for Nights of the Crusades and runs a themed collection of Pinterest boards for the game. Geek Native, also on Pinterest, invited him to put together a guest post and address a single question: Why?

Why Would An Indie Game Developer Need To Pin?

As an Indie TRPG developer (or Indie-anything really), having a well-crafted Social Media web seems to be a necessity to let people know you exist. Everyone has Facebook and Twitter accounts – but Nights of the Crusades (NotC) has had (to my surprise) some very meaningful internet interaction through Pinterest.

In this article I’m hoping to share the experiences that NotC has encountered in the land of Pinterest. It may give you an insight into the setting of Nights of the Crusades, inspire you to create the most popular Pinterst board ever, or it just may be of interest should you have, or be thinking of starting, a Pinterest account.

tl;dr version – Out of all of the social media I’ve used for our game, Pinterest is the most fun to update (since you can Pin whenever you come across something interesting on the net) and easiest (because if you follow a bunch of interesting people you’ll always have something to repin whenever you log on). And it can tell someone a lot about you or your product through a bunch of images – what better way to communicate with your attention deficient internet audience!

The Nights of the Crusades RPG As A Pinterest Case Study

NotC-DarkRoadsPinterest, like Twitter, seems to have two main types of accounts (three, if you count scammers):

1. Individuals – who follow what they like and post whatever strikes their fancy, and;

2. Businesses, products, groups or causes – who have a narrow range of posts focused on what they are about.

NotC is the latter.

After a lot of fumbling around with boards and the naming of boards (and the actual content of boards!), I’ve tried to restrict each one to a single facet of what NotC is about. Luckily NotC is a multi-faceted gem, the result being that NotC has a very diverse following on Pinterest. Some followers absorb everything about the game, while others are inspired by one area and use it to fuel their own creations outside of gaming – such as photography, cosplaying or even just having an interesting Pinterest board. And that’s fine by me.

Pins And Popularity

On the NotC boards there are two types of pins:

1. Those that explain or announce something about NotC, and;

2. Those that I think just look awesome plus fit the themes expressed in NotC.

Most boards have a combination of the two. It’s also hard to predict what pins will become popular (through ‘repinning’ and ‘likes’) – so pinning something for its possible popularity value isn’t really something I bother with. Also, there’s no easy way in Pinterest’s interface to view your pins in terms of popularity rank, so attempting to analyse which of your pins are most popular is a bit of a pain (as you have to go through them one-by-one).

As an aside, I saw recently that my pin of cat painted like the grim reaper, in our Beasts Inspiration board, had a lot of likes and repins. I wouldn’t have expected that, though I suppose I should’ve recalled the universal equation of the web: cats + internet = popular. So I guess the conclusion of that example is to pin cats if you want to be popular on Pinterest. However, some of our other popular pins are actually surprising: An 3,500 year old Egyptian flask containing a carcinogen, a painted image of the Hamsa hand, a stone relief of Ishtar along with a quote from the Epic of Gilgamesh. One of our all-time most ‘repinned’ and ‘liked’ pins is a clay tablet found in Ninevah (the capital of Assyria – now Iraq) showing constellations and ancient text. And here I was thinking that our most popular pins would be awesome digital artworks of medieval/fantasy warriors doing heroic and adventurous deeds!

Boards Of Nights of the Crusades

Here are the boards for NotC. They are all designed to offer a particular service or tool to players of NotC, whether offering ideas for characters and locations, or paths to further explore the setting. They’re arranged in order from the least amount of followers to the most, and, from my personal deductions, it seems that boards with a larger number of pins seem to be the most popular. But I’ll point out the exceptions as well…

NotC-Thief9. Nights of the Crusades news and products

This board is limited to news and releases focused on the game. It’s been a fun year, but we can only release so many new items as an indie-developer. As such, I use this as a message board to compile all our reviews, news and products.

8. Further reading for Nights of the Crusades

I admit: I struggle to pin to this board. A strange thing is though, the biggest inspirations for NotC ARE books. However, I don’t want to put something up here that doesn’t fit the setting or I only half-agree with – however, I find myself breaking those rules regularly.

A pin that breaks both those rules is for the book ‘On Killing’ – where an army veteran analyses why only a small minority of US soldiers shot to kill in World War Two, compared to Vietnam where around 90% were shooting to kill. The phrase from the Fallout games, “War. War never changes,” sums up why I think it’s worth reading and applicable to any setting involving combat. The parts of the book where the author describes cases of mercy in war, and argues that dehumanising the enemy through intense training is necessary to overcome an aversion to killing-on-orders, are fascinating and inspired a part of the trauma rule-system in NotC. But there are also a lot of criticisms of the book and he wanders into territory outside of his expertise, such as video games, vegetarianism and global-politics – so it’s up there, but I’d only recommend about a third of it.

On the other hand – the books that have really opened my eyes and I totally recommend are those written from within the crusades, like those from Jean de Joinville and Usama ibn-Munqidh. Their interesting tales are full of life and really create a humanistic world of individuals. It changed my perception of the early middle ages from thinking it was just full of dirty, belligerent fanatics, to realising that some knights were sort-of honourable and there was plenty of peaceful interaction between a range of diverse cultures.

7. Music for a Tale

When my particular taste in music is discussed around a new acquaintance (or even one who’s known me for a while– like my wife), a common follow up question is, ’why?’ So over the years I’ve developed a response something along the lines of: I’m not that interested in books or movies that revolve around romance, dancing or clubbing, so it makes sense that my musical taste doesn’t involve those things either. Therefore: Metal is the musical genre for me.

As NotC’s setting is built from dark fantasy, war, fanatical religion, unwashed history and the nature of evil then, surely, metal is the music genre for it also. Plus, there’s always seemed to be a self-evident link between metal music and RPGs, as well as the critics of both. (Power) Metal album covers were even created by popular fantasy artists back in the day. So most of the music on this board revolves around metal and I include lyrics within the pins that link back to how they relate to the setting.

NotC-GhulAAlso, as NotC takes place in a very real area of this earth, it would make sense to include the instruments and styles from the countries it is set in. So an album or band I pin includes at least one of these three things: It’s from a metal genre, it’s produced in the countries involved in the NotC setting and/or it uses musical stylings from those countries.

One pin depicts our Spotify playlist (another excellent social media tool for game developers and fans) for our gamers to use. Pinned bands include Eulen (a doom-metal band from Syria), Arkan (a folk-gothic-death metal band with members from France and Morocco) and Melechesh (a blackened-thrash metal band that began in Jerusalem). The idea is that music from this board will add an appropriate ambiance when writing NotC adventures as well as during a gaming session.

6. Miniatures and other useful assets for Nights of the Crusades

This board is interesting because of the fact that is has quite a few followers, yet not many pins and is rarely updated. The pins here are trying to help make life easy for gamers in general, not just necessarily for those of NotC Combat in our game is helped by using a visual aid, so it stands to reason that miniatures would be pinned here. However, I admit, it’s a bit of a mish-mash of stuff we like. I’ve added articles that we find interesting, virtual tabletops (extremely helpful for gamers who have 9-5’s and busy weekends) and the hilarious (in our opinion) Fear of Girls youtube clip where the guys embark on developing the greatest TRPG ever.

Maybe this random assortment of stuff appeals to as wide a bunch of people as it does to us – and that’s as good a case for a Pinterest board as any.

5. Beast inspiration for Nights of the Crusades

One of the themes explored in Nights of the Crusades is that characters are individuals before they are factions, religions and classes. This theme extends to non-humans as well. A quote by ibn Munqidh (written in 12th century Syria) explains our point of view: “Lions, like men, have among their number the courageous and the cowardly.”

NotC-KnightSo the bestiary in NotC is more a ‘creature creation’ section with some specific examples, rather than a set of rigid species-types. Some horses may be faster than others, though less useful in a stressful situation, and the bestiary supplement we are planning to release later this year will explore that in more detail.

How does this relate to Pinterest? Well, luckily, people on the internet like photos of animals. This board is full of animals that would make for an interesting NotC encounter, peaceful or not. I’ve used a macro-shot of a jumping spider as the board’s cover because I used to have a fear of spiders (though reading ‘Spiders: Learning to Love Them’ cured it), so I couldn’t imagine a scarier creature. Also, jumping spiders have always fascinated me as they seem to have a kind of alien intelligence.

Maybe, because of that, the board has a bit more weight on the side of the strange, mysterious and insectile. However, I’m happy to pin any beast that may lead to an interesting story and adds some depth to our understanding of the species. One of my favourites shows Torrero Alvaro Munera, a famous bullfighter, weeping before the final blow as his last bull (covered in his spears) just looks at him. The eyes of that bull turned him into an opponent of bullfights from that point onwards.

4. Locations for Nights of the Crusades

This board came about because I was placing landscape photos into other boards, so I decided to create one dedicated to real-world locations. Apart from the lands overrun throughout the crusades, and those covered in the 1001 Nights, I’ve also added weird and wonderful pins from a range of countries. Travellers (or people who want to travel) seem to be avid Pinners, so this board is like the beast-board in that it draws followers from a wide range of interests (ie; playing RPGs may not be to many of their tastes).

3. Science, philosophy and alchemy for Nights of the Crusades inspiration

A portrait of Al Ma’arri is on the cover of this board. I had to revisit a lot of my assumptions about the early middle ages after discovering that someone like him existed in the 11th century. And that spark of reflection, along with a world of limitless characters, is what NotC hopes to inspire in its readers.

This board holds an eclectic mix of ancient scientists, weird discoveries and steampunk contraptions. It aims to show what types of technologies were being used during the early middle ages, as well as the thinkers behind them.

NotC-SoldierAlso, the ‘magic’ in the NotC mythos is scientific in nature, and is summed up in the phrase, ‘the science of today is the magic of a century ago.’ So we also include pins of an alchemical and steampunky nature as inspiration for what could be created by a brilliant mind, far ahead of the times, in a NotC setting.

2. Historical reference for Nights of the Crusades

This board details historical events relevant to a game of NotC. Pins here also show what people may have worn or armed themselves with, along with their possessions.

This board contains some of NotC’s most popular pins. The reason seems to be that a lot of pinners find archaeological artefacts and mythology worth sharing. It’s an important board for NotC because it reiterates to a Tale-Weaver (or Game Master) possibly the best advice I could give when writing for it: Truth is stranger than fiction.

1. Art for RPG and adventure inspiration

I suppose there should be no surprise that the board with the most pins, coupled with the most visually interesting pins, is our most popular board. Fantasy art is something that appeals to a lot of pinners, but in our board, we also include works by Orientalist painters and artists like Gustave Dore as well as art of the 1001 Nights. That, I feel, lends a bit of seriousness to the action-packed digital art that makes up the majority of pins.

By comparing those art styles, this board is a reflection on NotC. At heart, it’s a game in the genre of action, horror and sword and sorcery (though maybe that should be ‘axe and alchemy’); though it is also a serious look at the weirdness of the 1001 Nights and the tumultuous times of the crusades.

Shared Boards

NotC has been lucky enough to be invited to a few shared boards. I think they are well-worth joining, as popular shared boards seem to get a lot of followers and will give your pins a lot of exposure – though only if you have pins that would interest the users of the boards. For example: I was recently asked to join the ‘Shoe Lovers’ group, (and I was flattered) though I had to decline the offer, as I just wouldn’t have anything to add to that particular board.

I recently made a shared board to fill a gap I found. Here is its tale…

To find new pinners to follow I’d search for key words that would result in interesting pins. A lot if these searches include the words ‘RPG’ and ‘art’, and I was disappointed that there wasn’t a big shared group like the one for ‘Mythology’ I’d recently joined. So I created one, called ‘RPG Art’ and invited everyone that I followed.

It’s very popular now too. I searched for ‘RPG Art’ boards on Pinterest today, and it’s the top search result! It’s also got more followers than NotC’s other boards. Fancy that.

However, invites to shared boards must be done one at a time, using a very time-consuming interface. Maybe Pinterest has done it on purpose to limit spam, but I really like the pins of the people I follow, so would be happy if there was an ‘invite all’ to a shared board. But alas, that’s not the case. I’m trying to find some time to sit down and invite all the people that I’ve added or missed since the first round, but it’s a painful process.

NotC-CavernWyrmThe shared boards NotC pins to are:

Kindred Spirits: This is full of interesting pins of the macabre, the fantastic and the surreal.

Elements: A massive board with a pretty eclectic mix of colour scapes.

Mythology: This is getting a bit spammy because of its massive amount of members – last time I looked it had an image of Hercules next to a recipe for making bacon and eggs in a cup (?!).

Forbidding: A board that would fit in with NotC had we done it ourselves!

Being A Pinner

From my experience with the NotC boards (read: I’m no expert), I’d suggest the following to be a decent Pinterest citizen:

– Don’t be afraid to pin outside your ‘niche’, but create an appropriate board for it. The trade off is that your followers will tend to follow some of your boards rather than your whole account.

– ‘Like’ pins that don’t necessarily fit into your niche if you think they’re good or clever. I do this with pins I get a bit of fun out of (like geeky memes etc) but can’t really repin to any of the NotC boards, and I feel that, if nothing else, it makes you a decent internet citizen.

– Create boards that are easily searchable with key words. If I was going to create a funny, geeky memes board, the first thing I’d do is try to work out what a person interesting in that sort of stuff would search for. However, keep in mind that Pinterest’s search engine isn’t to a Google standard. Just now, searching for ‘funny geeky memes’ results in 0 boards, ‘funny memes’ results in a ton (because that is the exact name for a lot of boards) and ‘geeky memes’ results in 13. In my opinion, searching for ‘funny geeky memes’ should give you a ton + 13 results, but it doesn’t – so I’d probably choose ‘geeky memes’ as a title (because internet memes by definition are supposed to be funny).

– Repin and follow other pinners as much as possible. They seem like nice people* and would prefer an account follow rather than a board follow. *Disclaimer: The pinners I have met in person (approximately 10) seem like nice people.

– Always assign a category when creating a board. You don’t have to but your pins won’t show up on any category feeds.

– Accept invites to shared boards and contribute if your pins will be of interest to the board’s followers.

– Only create a new pin if you’ve searched for something and can’t find it. Repinning decreases clutter on the site, and may also gain you a new follower.

– Make sure your pins are good quality in terms of resolution.

– Don’t spam.

– Watch out for pins that direct users to unsafe sites and report them (and don’t direct YOUR pins to unsafe sites!).

– If someone takes an interest in you and you see it in your news feed, check them out and follow them or some of their boards. Eventually (like Twitter), you’ll get so many followers that you may miss some, but it should be an aim of a respectable pinner.

So What If You Are Popular On Pinterest, I’m All About Business. Does It Direct People To Your Product?

Short answer: I don’t really know. There aren’t any analytics I have access to that shows who plays NotC and buys it’s products because they became interested in it through Pinterest.

But the way NotC has used Pinterest (and Spotify) has aroused interest in at least one gamer forum. The focus of our Pinterest page has always been as a service for our players, rather than an advertising board. The idea is for them to use the NotC boards for inspiration in their own games. What I do know, is that there are a whole bunch of people that have heard of Nights of the Crusades now, who wouldn’t have without our Pinterest account.

So Why Use Pinterest?

As an aside, when I ran games many years ago, I would always set up a Yahoo group for maps and items that the PCs came across. I’d spend (non-gamers would perhaps use the word ‘waste’) a lot of time grabbing screenshots of all sorts of things to add to the photo section of the group. I’d use Pinterest now. It’d be easy to create boards for NPCs, items and locations that can then be referenced inside and outside of the game. And I’d add inventory boards for PCs as well (one of NotC’s recent pins is a Hittite drinking vessel in the shape of a fist – that a character of mine wouldn’t leave home without). So having an individual account is one thing, and having a product account is another – but having a Game Master account opens up a whole range of ideas for pins and boards.

In a nutshell, the main benefit NotC gets from using Pinterest is the easy way I can expand on any aspect of our setting, creating a richer and evolving mythos for fans of NotC. An excellent side-benefit is that our account has opened up the game to a great number of people who have now heard of ‘Nights of the Crusades’, and some may even have had their views challenged as to what goes into the creation of a game world. Also as important – I have gained inspiration from a wide variety of pinners that may not know what TRPG stands for. It actually makes me glad that the themes of NotC transcend some of the barriers associated with RPG culture (as I think most game settings would); and maybe our account could spark a few imaginations to join in the fun at a future point in time.

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