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2023 in Review: Awards, Tabletop RPGs, and Creating

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2023 was a big year for me and my place in tabletop RPGs. So many firsts. So many celebrations. It’s a year I’m preemptively telling myself not to compare other years too. Quite honestly, it feels like a series of painless lightning strikes, each event leaving me breathless, invigorated, and a little stunned.

That said, designing and talking about tabletop RPGs isn’t my full-time role. A lot of what I made happen this year came out of sacrificing my wellbeing and skipping events with family. Looking forward, I’ll be reprioritizing my health and relationships. But I’m not stepping away from tabletop RPGs in the slightest, just spending a little less time in the public.

Let’s start at the beginning of 2023!

After participating in a game jam hosted by Sam Leigh for their game Anamnesis, I had an almost finished project called Tangled Blessings.

I hear you asking already: What’s a game jam?

A game jam is an organized group activity usually hosted on that centers around creating something in a limited timeframe, usually a video game or tabletop RPG.

For Sam’s game jam, she invited folks to create and submit anything inspired by Anamnesis. I casually joined, but wasn’t sure I’d get around to creating anything. However, instead of spending a scheduled break/vacation resting, I ended up writing and illustrating a lot of Tangled Blessings.

With a mostly finished tabletop RPG in my digital hands, I wanted to do the thing that felt like the next big milestone in my brief designer career: Crowdfund a print run during Zine Month.

I also hear you asking: What is Zine Month?

Zine Month is a loose community-culture event in the indie tabletop RPG space focused on creating tabletop RPGs or adjacent projects during the month of February. “Zines” are usually A5 or digest size, only require a staple for binding, and usually have a black-and-white interior.

None of these are steadfast rules, and I broke the staple rule by making my gamebook perfect bound. I won’t get into the history of Zine Month and why it’s different from Kickstarter’s Zine Quest, but I knew I didn’t want to use Kickstarter for this project. So I ended up using Crowdfundr.

An image for Tangled Blessings without the text from the book.

In the end, January was spent scheduling a lot of ads and interviews, locking in collaborators, creating so many ads, and trying to force myself to sleep through the stress of launching on February 1.

This was probably the busiest month of my life. I overbooked myself for work and interviews. I didn’t put enough self-care guardrails in place. I crashed. Hard. Using a platform other than Kickstarter made it feel like I had to work extra hard. Not only did I have to convince the public that my project was worth backing, but I had to inform them how Crowdfundr worked.

But Tangled Blessings funded within about 15 minutes, and continued to soar beyond the goal I set. As far as my first crowdfunding attempt, I was overjoyed!

After the chaos of January and February, I slowed down a bit to focus on getting Tangled Blessings where I wanted it. This took longer than I intended, but with only a few nights during the week and weekends to work on it, time slipped away as they say. The digital edition of Tangled Blessings released May 9 with the physical edition finally dropping in June/July (more on that later).

Me, Cassi Mothwin, selling for the first time ever! Fear The Con in St. Louis Missouri

I also spent this time preparing to sell at my first convention. I won’t get into the nitty gritty of figuring out my display, deciding against any banners, and ordering wholesale tarot cards. Just know I made so many pros and cons (see what I did there) lists. I will be ordering banners and adjusting my display for 2024, but as far as starting tables, I’m pretty happy with where I started and don’t plan to complicate it too much.

If I had any advice to offer in regards to setting up a table, it’s make it easy for folks to browse. I didn’t do that here. Folks would have to pick up a game, turn it over to read the back, and look around for the price. I’ve been putting info cards in my books now that contain the price and a short paragraph that explains what the book is about. Shoppers have a much easier time connecting this away, especially in a convention environment.

Instead of resting and enjoying the summer after my first con, I also decided I needed to run another Crowdfunding campaign. I wrote most of Carved by the Garden in May, and illustrated it throughout the summer.

I knew I had another folk horror project in me, and it was so so so fun to bring my art, strange history, and imagination back into a genre where I thrive. Carved was my first attempt at using Kickstarter, and I learned even more about crowdfunding through the process.

Around the end of July, The Sticker Game won Most Innovative during the Indie Groundbreaker Awards!

I should have made a gen con post. Maybe 2024 I can stay on top of things (I say knowing this blog won’t get posted until March).

While I did attend Gen Con with someone, our schedules misaligned most of the time. If you had told me a year ago, that I’d be wandering the expo floor and events alone and thriving, I wouldn’t have believed you, but I think it’s pretty obvious from these curated photos that I had a social-media approved good time.

Early 2023, I applied to be a vendor at a local St. Louis art convention. I was very surprised when SLICE reached out to host me as a special guest! More on SLICE later, but this honor did include me hosting a group play through of The Sticker Game at The Sheldon! To mark the occasion, I researched how to bring The Sticker Game to life through physical means, and had the first copies available for sale in September. If you want your own physical copy, you can buy it from me directly, here.

We played the tracks over the speakers and had a slideshow with a transcript for those hard of hearing. Once the game was over, it was really rewarding to talk to the participants and to peek at their journals.

Further, as part of SLICE, I sold games and art and gave a presentation about solo roleplaying games. I posted the presentation slideshow on my Patreon.

SLICE is the St. Louis Independent Comics Expo and a fantastic local event. While selling, I was surrounded by talented clothing designers, artists, and storytellers. It was honestly refreshing to be in a tabletop RPG adjacent space instead of fully swimming in it like I usually do. The SLICE team was incredible and they did a fantastic job of organizing this single-day event. I recommend it if you’re in the St. Louis area!

Oh yeah, and while all this was happening, I won some more awards.

In November, I was riddled with COVID all month. Thankfully, almost all of my crowdfunding projects had shipped by then, and I had planned to take a break anyway. I wasn’t sure I’d be in the clear for PAX Unplugged, but with a few days to spare, I finally tested negative.

You can read more about my 2023 PAX Unplugged experience here.

I know the odds of someone reading this all the way through are pretty low. But I needed to record this year somewhere. It had a lot of highs. There were lows too. There were many moments I doubted myself. I lost a lot of sleep. I missed going outside. I had (and still have) an eye injury in both eyes that made working at the computer painful.

I’m so glad I gave 2023 my all. But I’m ready to regroup in 2024 and focus on my health. At least for now.