Fans of tabletop games should be taking note of Todd Michael Rogers and French Toast Gaming Company. Their unique new card game, Spell Saga, passed its funding goal on Kickstarter this past month. Now, as the deadline winds down and the stretch goals stack up, I had a chance to talk to Todd about his game and plans for the future.
For the uninitiated, Spell Saga is a first-of-its-kind "tabletop novel." The game is played by a single player, exploring the world of the Highlands and experiencing the story of the Last Minstrel over the course of three chapters and a finale. The first chapter, "The Highlands," has been fully funded for a print edition thanks to this Kickstarter, with the later chapters to be added as expansions. As of right now, a free print and play version of the first deck can be downloaded from Todd's website with no obligation.
Let's start with the basics! Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Todd Michael Rogers. I make things. Spell Saga is a thing I made a few years ago, and kept making until, well I'm still making it really. It's a tabletop novel. You use a deck of cards and fall into another world, using simple game mechanics. The game is a post-apocalyptic high fantasy medieval western. There are scary enemies, magical items, unexplored ruins, a haunted revolver, and a cat-like thief called a Meow-Meow. The game rewards people for exploring, so the more you search The Highlands for answers of how the world ended, the more new things appear.
The game is quite unlike anything else I've played. Were there any particular games that helped inspire Spell Saga?
Oh thanks. There were definitely some games that helped inspire it, in the sense that I wanted to make something new, that felt as exciting as the first time I saw Final Fantasy VII. I had a friend in middle school named Julius, he was from Hong Kong, and his family seemed to buy him every cool thing I had never seen before. I walked into his room once, where a giant 90's cube of a big screen sat in a custom recessed wall. On the screen was Julius, but he was running around in a polygonal avatar in the shape of the game's protagonist. There were green fields, and beautiful music, bright colors, story and battle. I had never seen an RPG before, and it changed my life.
So in that sense, yeah... I definitely was inspired by Final Fantasy VII and a few other games, no so much in trope or mechanics, but in how to tell a story someone could fall into, and do it in a way they had never felt before.
What have been some of the challenges you've faced getting your game made?
I just actually wrote a piece for Entropy magazine called "The Untold Embarrassing Story of How I Made a One Player Card Game and then Got Divorced." Which is a funny title for a strange time in my life, but there you have it. To be honest the most challenging thing of getting the game made was trying to figure out how to present it to a world that is used to multiplayer games, and recycled mechanics. This game is weird. It doesn't feel like other games. That's why I started calling it a tabletop novel; my buddies and lead playtesters Sakroka, and Joshua Rizzo and I felt it was a new type of media, and it needed a title for explanation. So that's been the hardest—oh and the constant failure every time I tried to get it published. That too, haha! This December is five years of working on the game. It took awhile.
How early in the creative process did you decide to offer the game as a free download? And what has the response to that been like?
No one ever asks that, how interesting! It was terrifying to offer it for PnP. I was afraid to even mention the idea to a public internet, much less have them download it as "less-than-holy" printer paper. But just before the first campaign in 2013 (spoiler: we didn't fund) it seemed the best way to have people demo the game. I can't stress this enough to anyone reading this: Offer your game for PnP. Offer the whole thing. it will only grant you the best moments in the life of the game.
Before I knew anything about Spell Saga, I was totally drawn in by its wonderful artwork. Was the game's look inspired by any artists or styles in particular?
Holy shit, my Cousin Lauren can draw. Here, she's just an internet away, let me ask her:
Cousin Lauren: Hm, there are particular artists I enjoyed at the time (and still look up to), but I wouldn't want to name them because my stuff is shit compared to theirs.
[Ed: I have a hard time imagining that!]
What are your plans post-Kickstarter? Do you have another project lined up, or is Spell Saga keeping you busy?
The original plan was to take a few months off and work on my novel, Merry Men, and write some music for a project called Jesus Destroy Them. But now the Kickstarter is successful, and we have so much art and playtesting to finish. Since we funded we're going forward with plans to kickstart the two other decks that finish out the game (all stories have a beginning, middle, and end, even tabletop novels, it seems). And I offered my first novel Welcome Home, You Lowdown Caballero! as an incentive, so I'm going to have to spend quite a bit of time re-writing it out from the embarrassing crevice I left it in back in 2009. It'll be a busy year, but the friends and fans we made on Kickstarter this time will make it all worthwhile.
Thanks so much for taking time to talk to me!
Thank you for your thoughtful questions!