I had a chance to talk to Grace Collins (they/them), CEO of Snowbright Studio, Quill Kolat (They/Them) the Creative Manager and Communication Specialist Carrie Linden (She/Her/They) about the forthcoming 5e-compatible RPG Verdant Isles: Teatime Adventures. That’s the same system that D&D uses, but Teatime Adventures feels very different, as we’ll find out.
Verdant Isles: Teatime Adventures is a heartwarming game, and living up to its theme, each adventure comes with a tea pairing.
In the interview, we talk about inclusion, diversity, accessibility, why the name Grace Collins might be familiar if you read US news and the Harmony Magic system.
Can you introduce us to Teatime Adventures?
Carrie: Teatime Adventures is a series of cozy mysteries set in the fully realized village of Oakbend. In each adventure, players will explore different aspects of this whimsical village, help the village residents with all manner of tasks and challenges, and follow the clues to unravel the story of the town just like in your favorite mystery books.
The game is 5e compatible so you can get to playing right away, but it feels much different than your typical adventure with dungeons or dragons. Each adventure also comes with a vegetarian recipe and a recommended tea pairing for players to share. As part of the Kickstarter, we’ll be shipping the game with custom blends designed just for these adventures by Friday Afternoon Tea!
For readers outside the United States of America, can you bring us up to speed with why the name Grace Collins might be familiar to our American readers?
Carrie: Before starting Snowbright Studio, Grace Collins led games and education policy at the US Department of Education under President Barack Obama. They also led game projects while working at the Smithsonian Institution and at FableVision Studios which was founded by the famous children’s author Peter Reynolds. They have appeared in news outlets from the New York Times to ABC News and are a frequent guest speaker on gaming, education, and esports events and shows.
Is there a connection between Teatime Adventures and education? What’s the relationship between games and education?
Grace: Absolutely. You learn something from every game. Teatime Adventures has a heavy focus on “social-emotional learning”. You can’t solve the challenges and mysteries of Oakenbend with a sword or even with a well-timed Diplomacy role. The game challenges you to get to know the villagers of Oakenbend and to understand their motivations. The game provides tips on conflict resolution and navigating emotionally charged conversations. This emphasis on understanding each other is also mirrored in the shared spellcasting system which requires the whole group to work together to achieve common goals.
That’s in addition to all of the other cottage life content that we’ve packed in here. Real advice on gardening your own foods, on baking, and of course brewing tea.
And tea! There’s a strong tea connection here. Is it true that some versions of the book have actual tea-stained paper?
Quill: The pages are dyed with black tea and rooibos! The textures the tea brings out in the paper are always interesting, and it’s a fun experiment to see how the tea and paper react together.
Different kinds of paper will stain in unique ways. For Teatime Adventures, I used sheets of heavy cold-press watercolor paper and hot-press Bristol paper. Some of the sheets were folded, crushed, or scratched before going into the tea bath to make more interesting patterns.
As an added bonus, my house smelled like a tea room, and my acidic soil loving plants enjoyed the leftover cold tea!
Okay, that’s different. You’ve mentioned that alternative magic system too. Can you elaborate?
Grace: Yes! The Harmony Magic system. I’ve been working on this mechanic ever since I played Vlaada Chvatil’s Galaxy Trucker game at GenCon back in 2011. Playing that game for the first time, I marveled at how much my skill level went up from my first game to my fifth. I combined that feeling with another problem in tabletop RPGs: the loneliness of spells.
I mean, spells are amazing! You want to walk in there and kaboom literal magic happens! But in most tabletop RPGs, it’s kind of anticlimactic to say “I cast fireball” for the twentieth time and the rest of the table is off planning their own turns by then.
The Harmony Magic system puts together a frenetic, whole group effort with a really big payoff. You all have a role to play as you participate in a shared spell casting circle that’s almost like rapid jigsaw puzzling. In the game, your actually aligning Astra energies that form up the components of the spells.
It’s tricky at first. But you grow as a team together and quickly learn which patterns suit which players. You help each other find pieces to match patterns. And all of that takes place in a really short period of time. When you cast a spell as a group, the whole team shares in that success. It’s such a powerful moment. I’m not announcing anything here… but I wouldn’t be surprised if you see some deeper expansions around this system in the near future from us.
This blogger has arthritis; my fingers are an absolute mess. When RPG designers think about accessibility, they don’t usually have to think that much about 3d-space, mats and tokens. How have you tackled this?
Grace: While I love the Harmony Magic system, others might not. That’s why we’ve built the system to be optional from the start. For our mobility or dexterity limited players, you can experience everything wonderful, magical, and wholesome about Oakenbend without it. The stories and people and relationships are what’s important here, and that’s what we’re most excited to share with everyone.
We’re also working hard to make sure the game is fully colorblind friendly and also working with the amazing Sara Thompson from the Witcher and Cyberpunk RPGs on other accessibility aspects. I know this isn’t what you asked, but I just had to add that we’re also really excited to be working with Sara on disability representation throughout the setting and game. Many folks that we work and game with have disabilities, including some of us on the team, and so rarely get to see that kind of representation rendered with love and care.
(Disclosure: This blogger supports Sara Thompson’s Patreon)
I see on Snowbright Studio’s website that you describe yourself as a friendly LBGTQ+ Game Studio. Is that identity also part of education, inclusion and accessibilities goals?
Quill: We are a largely LGBTQ+ team, and that identity absolutely factors into our process. We strive to promote representation in all of our projects. With more positive portrayals of diversity that people see, the more their empathy and understanding of our beautifully complex world will grow.
Grace: Yes, and I’ll add on to that too. Many of us never got to see ourselves in games when we were growing up. Even now it can be hard to find LGBTQ+ representation in games that acts as more than a plot hook. Particularly transgender representation. So we’re just always happy to be able to share out those perspectives with others.
How has this affected the game and the Kickstarter?
Quill: Our focus on inclusion and accessibility have definitely shaped our approach to the Teatime Adventures game and the world of the Verdant Isles as a whole.
We are making a conscious effort to include a diverse cast with rich backgrounds and experiences, so players can see not only aspects of themselves reflected in the characters and events, but grow in their understanding of how multifaceted and unique all of our human experiences can be.
Why else should people hit that “Notify Me” button?
Carrie: Well, beyond having a ton of LGBTQ+, neurodiversity, and disability representation, the game is also just really relaxing! It’s a perfect opportunity to get together, have some hot tea, and get to know the world of the Verdant Isles. Even if you just stop by to back at the $1 level, we’ll be sending you all kinds of background and setting information about the Verdant Isles that you can plug into any game.
Oh and every time we get 10 more followers on Kickstarter, one of our pets gets a treat. The cats and dogs on our team need more snacks!
- Kickstarter and Verdant Isles: Teatime Adventures RPG.
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