Philip Reed’s Dank & Dark, A Children’s Board Book TTRPG

Phil is creating a full TTRPG in a unique physical format. It’s really cool, so I asked him about his latest project, Dank & Dark.

Through his time as CEO of Steve Jackson Games and Philip Reed Games, Philip Reed created a ridiculous number of TTRPGs, supplements, adventures, sourcebooks, zines, cards, pamphlets, dice and more. I’ve interviewed him about many of them including discussions of “Zeck's Shoppe of Riches,” “Mimics, An Unnecessary Work,” his and Ed Bourelle’s Mörk Borg zines, “GURPS 2020 PDF Challenge & Book of Dungeon Encounters,” “The Fantasy Trip: Decks of Destiny,” “Quickstarting: On Your Mark, Get Set, Fund!,” that time I named him the most prolific RPG Kickstarter creator of 2020 (a title Phil crushed in 2023), and, coming soon, a review of Dank & Dark in Knights of the Dinner Table #312. This time around, Phil is creating a full TTRPG in a unique physical format. It’s really cool, so I asked him about his latest project, Dank & Dark.

dankandark Cover - Resized.jpg

EGG EMBRY (EGG): Tell me, what is Dank & Dark?
PHILIP REED (PHILIP)
: I’ve long wanted to create a rules-light RPG, to the point I have dozens of half-started and failed attempts on my computer. If we go back twenty years or so, we could find even more experiments in the format… none of which worked. Dank & Dark grew out of that desire. It was then coupled with a second goal of producing a small RPG in the physical format of a children’s board book. Those two thoughts drove the process, leading to a fantasy RPG that offers just enough hooks for the GM to build on. There is a smattering of slightly whimsical and silly ideas tossed in for fun (such as the dinosaur and cheese pies presented in one of the dungeons). “Don’t be too serious” was a rule for myself, as well as “don’t be slapstick stupid.” I’m not a fan of “humor” fantasy fiction, so I grounded the work in something that sits between a classic dungeoncrawl and “Lighten up, Francis.” Which, I suppose, is a long-winded way of saying that Dank & Dark is a rules-light RPG designed mostly for one-shots, but with enough built into the work that short campaigns are possible.

EGG: It’s a children’s board book, correct? What is that?
PHILIP
: The quickest way I can think to describe board books – which everyone has seen if not handled at some point in their lives – is that it is a book built of thick, chipboard pages. If you think of the typical die-cut “punchboard” sheets found in a lot of boardgames, then imagine them being used for every page of the book… you’re heading in the right direction. Dank & Dark comes in at a total of 24 pages, which includes the front and back covers. Inside, the pages are broken down as follows:
  • an introduction (one page)
  • an overview of the core mechanic (one page)
  • characters (two pages)
  • gamemastering basics (two pages)
  • monsters (four pages)
  • an example of play (two pages)
  • treasure (two pages)
  • three dungeons (six pages)
  • a section of commentary/thoughts on the game (two pages)
While the example of play (and comments on the game) may seem like a strange addition to a rules-light RPG, these two sections greatly help in understanding some of the mindset of playing a rules-light RPG. In many instances, when watching others try to run a rules-light game, I’ve found players and GMs to be frozen with uncertainty as they realize the game leaves a lot of holes. Players used to more rigid structures (such as D&D) get very confused when they find out how many “expected” mechanics simply don’t exist… like initiative rolls or movement speeds.

dankanddark - Adventurers.jpg

EGG: Generally, this physical format is for children. Is Dank & Dark an all-ages TTRPG?
PHILIP
: While not designed for children, the game received an in-depth review where we worked to strip out things that may not be considered kid-friendly. Lex Morgan, my editor, was particularly cruel in tearing out such wonderful words as “kill,” “eviscerate,” “flesh,” and “murder.” It would seem that my standard authorial voice isn’t exactly suited to children. I was informed of this when "decapitate"… got the axe. Dank & Dark will possibly make a good tool for parents who wish to introduce younger kids to roleplaying games. With only minimal statistics, HP, and inventory scores to worry over (and gear, of course), there’s a lot less for a player to track during a session. However, I say “possibly” because the game has not been shown to a child of any age as of yet. Well, one child: me. I count because I'm mentally twelve, right? I think parents will have to decide for themselves whether or not the game is appropriate for their kids. That said, we did work to remove the parts that might be of a questionable nature. (“We” meaning Lex, since I had no idea that “disembowel” wasn’t an appropriate word for children. Who knew?)

EGG: No one knew that. Lex had to look it up to be sure! When creating this project, format seems to have been the driving creative direction. Did you write the script in WORD (or the like) or take the prose straight into InDesign?
PHILIP
: I write directly in InDesign. My process is to build a visual outline and then adjust the graphics and art as I write. It gives me more control over the final look. There’s a lot of refinement – and sometimes major changes – to the visual outline as a project comes together, but I almost always start by crafting the overall appearance before diving into the writing.

EGG: I envy your ability to create directly through InDesign.
PHILIP:
Thanks! I’ve used this approach for decades. Prior to InDesign, I used QuarkXPress and the exact same process. Before that, there was PageMaker. If we go back far enough, we find a 13-year-old me using The Newsroom on a Commodore 64 back in the mid-eighties. I learned at a young age that I work best when looking at the overall package, and I embrace that part of myself when creating new works. (I now wish I still had some of the printed pages from The Newsroom. I can almost visualize some of the works in my head, and it has been almost 40 years.)

dankdarkmockup02 - Resized.jpg

EGG: Phil, you’re doing it again! You’re making something new, something that others aren’t and it’s 40 years later. No one else is making a 24-page children’s board book TTRPG. Where did the idea come from?
PHILIP
: The idea came from picking up a Strawberry Shortcake board book from the early eighties. As I was holding it, I thought, “this would be a great format for a rules-light RPG.” I’m a huge fan of experimenting with formats, so I’m always looking at products outside of the traditional RPG space and trying to imagine ways to slot a game or expansion into that physical footprint.

EGG: You experiment with printing formats over and over again. For those that don’t know, what are some of the more unorthodox formats you’ve printed your work on?
PHILIP
: Oh, wow. That’s a tough one. I’ve created folding maps as expansions. A 7” vinyl record with a three-panel gatefold sleeve (and two booklets) that came together as an adventure. A few CDs. An accordion book. I even produced a Sony mini-disc, but Lex would rather I never speak of that again. (Though I do want to create another mini-disc one day if Lex will permit such a travesty to happen twice in a single lifetime.) I’ve recently been in talks with a small outfit that handles 8-track tapes, because I want to make an 8-track. Why? I don’t understand the question. Doesn’t everyone have an 8-track player? I’ve also looked at newspaper broadsheets, but I’ve not yet come up with a great idea that fits the format. In that vein, a box of cereal – with game content printed on the box and a booklet packed inside – is on my list. I’ve had chats with a few factories, but nothing where I’m ready to pull the trigger. One of these days, I’m going to create that RPG cereal. There’s no way I can avoid it.

dankdarkmockup3 - Resized.jpg

EGG: Honey NAT 20-os? Going back to the game and away from the format, what made Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons the right engine for this TTRPG?
PHILIP
: From the first time I encountered Tunnel Goons, I was in love with the mechanics. The pure simplicity of the system, and how it steps aside to let the GM focus on their imagination, spoke directly to me. The core mechanic – roll against a target number – is about as heavy as I want to face at times. The game’s willingness to imply a mindset of “you figure it out” is what attracted me to the engine. I took a lot of inspiration from not just the core game (you can find the Tunnel Goons SRD here), but also the small dungeons/adventures that have been published for the game. When writing the three dungeons in the Dank & Dark rules, I definitely had the Tunnel Goons adventures in mind. I feel like it wouldn’t be appropriate to mention Tunnel Goons without pointing everyone at the Haunted Almanac. Published by Games Omnivorous, Haunted Almanac is loaded with Nate Treme’s work. In addition to Tunnel Goons and adventures for that game, there are one-page games, micro-adventures, and more goodies. The book is absolutely worth grabbing if you’re a fan of RPGs in all their forms. And for those curious about how much of Dank & Dark is new – vs content from the SRD – I think it is safe to say that 97% or 98% of Dank & Dark was written by me, while the core kernel of the engine is Tunnel Goons. Mechanically, they’re nearly identical. My contributions that transformed the SRD into Dank & Dark are in how the information is presented (including mechanical tweaks), offering scraps of GM advice, monsters, treasures, dungeons, etc.

EGG: I’ve reviewed Dank & Dark and I’m eager to play it; the system offers a tight gameplay loop. The system for Dank & Dark uses the Creative Commons license and SRD from Nate Treme's Tunnel Goons. In like fashion, is Dank & Dark open to third party supplements? Because I can see some tear-resistant, oversized cards like I had when I was a kid, each featuring a creature for the GM to put into the fray. (wink)
PHILIP
: Absolutely! The text of the game is going to be released under Creative Commons. I want to give something back to the community. If someone were to find this inspiring and create something to work with it – or build a new game off of what’s here – that would be wonderful. I do hope some folks out there do just that. (On a similar – though very unrelated – note, I released the vs. Monsters engine under the OGL in the mid-2000s, and I still smile when I see someone producing material using that system. I hope that Dank & Dark inspires creators to design new games and adventures.)

EGG: The art for this is specific with fun, cartoony preview images. Who are you working with on this project?
PHILIP
: The artwork is from the Bertdrawsstuff Patreon. It took some time, but I eventually realized that merging the art with the Tunnel Goons core mechanic could be a hell* of a lot of fun. And it was! *I’ve been informed that “hell” is also on the list of “words that are not friendly to kids.”

dankanddarkpreviewimage - Resized.jpg

EGG: You do many, many crowdfundings a year. How many did you create in 2023?
PHILIP
: 25 Kickstarter campaigns in 2023! It was a lot of work, but it honestly doesn’t feel like work most of the time. Creating new things keeps me happy.

EGG: 25?! Good gravy! You’re always working on something else, Phil. That’s amazing! What’s in the pipeline for 2024?
PHILIP
: A ShadowDark third-party supplement (which may be crowdfunding now, depending on when this runs). A sequel to Combat Banes and Combat Boons (both co-written with Lex Morgan). Maybe a game based on the Tricube Tales engine (I’m still experimenting). The Deck of Mini Things (also written with Lex). Backstory cards for 5E characters. Oh, and a third Deck of Old-School Encounters. I’d also like to tackle more Dragonbane third-party titles. The audience is small, but it is a fun system, and I’ve enjoyed what I’ve written so far. And that doesn’t touch the many other projects in various stages on the computer. If you ask me what I’m working on next week or next month, I usually have no idea. It all depends on that day’s inspiration.

EGG: I can’t get over 25 campaigns in a year… Wow! Where can fans follow your work?
PHILIP
: The best way is to follow me on Kickstarter. While not everything starts as a Kickstarter campaign, the majority of the works do find their way there. You can also follow me at DriveThruRPG to receive notices of new releases. I’m pretty awful at self-promotion, so I don’t exactly have a central “go here!” to learn about all the stuff.

Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Egg Embry

Egg Embry







talien

Community Supporter
Thanks! I did some digging, but I haven't found any evidence that this format has been used for an RPG before. If anyone knows of such a title already out in the wild, I'd love to learn more!
Hey buddy!

The closest is the Cthulhu-for-kids style books, which took Cthulhu characters (some from RPGs, I suspect) and put them into board book format. Trust me, when my kids were little, I bought all this stuff (and then my mom was like, "WHAT are you reading to your children?" ha).

Pretty sure you're the first!
 

Hey buddy!

The closest is the Cthulhu-for-kids style books, which took Cthulhu characters (some from RPGs, I suspect) and put them into board book format. Trust me, when my kids were little, I bought all this stuff (and then my mom was like, "WHAT are you reading to your children?" ha).

Pretty sure you're the first!
That is NAT 20 parenting right there!! You're referring to non-RPG books like C is for Cthulhu, correct? Or are there others?
 


Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top