Before SXSW takes over town, Austin will play host to an expo that celebrates various artistic media, with a clear focus on independent creators and their art.
STAPLE! Independent Media Expo is an epicenter for a variety of artists — comic artists, animators, pop culture podcasters and many others. Fans of indie tabletop gaming will also have plenty to pique their interest, particularly with one of the top names in tabletop game designing, Jason Morningstar, featured as a main panelist.
Morningstar, along with business partner Steve Segedy, serves as the creative head of Bully Pulpit Games, a small press publisher of role-playing games and related products based out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The games created and designed by Morningstar can certainly trace their lineage back to some of the classic RPG tabletop games played when he was a kid, such as Dungeons & Dragons, but Morningstar has worked to adapt his own games to a new vision as he evolved from fan to designer.
“I recognized a need for games that had a very small social footprint, that you could play in a couple of hours, that don’t require a lot of preparation.”
“Anybody who plays RPGs is also a game designer. You’re making your monsters and your traps, and I think that impulse is very common,” says Morningstar on how technology advancements of the early 2000s made it possible for small publishers to create games on a large scale. Entering into a partnership with Segedy in 2005, Morningstar started making and publishing the games that he wanted to play.
Morningstar’s personal vision is built upon past tradition as well as new trends in tabletop game design. “There’s a trend in game design for games that don’t require a game master, for example. It’s a tradition in RPGs that you got one person who creates the world and paints the picture and everyone else reacts to that.” For his games, Morningstar was influenced by a new movement to spread that authority among all players, allowing everyone to exercise their imaginations.
His games not only diverge from tradition in their overall design, but also in their themes and stories. Morningstar grew up like many gamers playing in fantasy worlds populated by dragons and necromancers, but his own games reflect what interests him in pop culture.
One primary example is Morningstar’s award-winning series Fiasco, a game that allows players to live out a neo-noir right out of a Coen Brothers film, where simple criminal ideas careen into chaotic messes. The superhero genre will also provide the main influence for his newest game being brought to STAPLE!, Superhero Bakery, where players can play the unique scenario of superheroes and villains trying to manage a successful bakery.
But no matter what his games are about, Morningstar will always focus on one element — accessibility. “I recognized a need for games that had a very small social footprint, that you could play in a couple of hours, that don’t require a lot of preparation.” That mindset guided his design of Fiasco, a game that can be played in the time it would take to watch an actual Coen Brothers movie. The layout of the game could be compared to improv theater, with players actively acting out the story as they play.
“There are fewer mechanical pieces to get in the way… it’s about social interaction and characterization.”
With that mindset, Morningstar combined gaming with his other passion for education. As an employee of the University of North Carolina School of Nursing, he uses gaming as a teaching tool, with accessibility again being a vital component.
“A lot of instructors, when they hear games, they think electronic games and technology that’s fairly limited in its scope and is very expensive to implement. And then I come in with sharpies and index cards… very low tech, very easy to implement and reproduce.”
“What I’ve found in my experience with role-playing is that it’s all about empathy,” Morningstar continues. “You can get a feel for what it would be like to be someone in a very different situation and that’s a very valuable thing to incorporate into a curriculum.”
Morningstar brings his passion for this niche medium to STAPLE! on March 2.and 3. Join Morningstar as he explores the small press world and shares his love of the game.