Tabletop Thoughts: Inspirisles Dev Interview

Hello everyone, I’m Monster Review Girl. Today I’d like to talk about a tabletop RPG I discovered a couple of weeks ago that really caught my attention. So after a few days of talking, I got an interview with the Dev, Rich.

For the people who don’t know, who are you and what do you do?

I’m Rich Oxenham, the director of Hatchlings Games and developer of indie TTRPGs that promote deaf awareness and sign language.

What inspired you to start writing inspirisles?

I’ve been running a Dungeons & Dragons group for young teens in my hometown called Hatchlings. We were playing Wizards pre-written modules, but I felt the urge to homebrew so much of the content over the months, especially as the kids love to railroad best-laid plans. So I thought, why not create something for them, something they could have a hand in developing and playtesting. Inspirisles came from this. 

Why did you choose Sign Language for your magic system?

For the past 12 years, my day job has been with a prominent Deaf charity here in the UK. I learned BSL through the service and am passionate about the work I do. I woke up one morning and had an epiphany: what if I combined my work with my hobby? What if BSL was integrated into Inspirisles? 

The magic system (Shaping) with its somatic handshapes and gestures fits perfectly with sign language. 

You use King Arthur and Queen Quinevere in your story as the progenitors for the heroes. Do you plan on using any other figures from Arthurian Legend, like Morgan le Fay and Merlin?

The Arthurian elements are very much in the past, as we want our young players (and older!) to feel like the heroes and be the world’s renowned figures. Merlin’s descendent is in the game, and we want to bring Mordred and his mother into a later expansion, but we obviously can’t talk about that quite yet.

What made you choose Arthurian Legend and Celtic Mythology for your world-building?

Well, I’m from the UK, and the mythology here is ingrained in me from my father’s side. Also, after studying creative writing at Masters level, I quickly learned that writing what you know is well advised. I would love to create a ttrpg set in mythological Japan, but cultural sensitivities and knowledge are huge barriers to an authentic and convincing game. 

Will there be any factions that are trying to further the demise of the world tree actively and intentionally instead of the arguably unintentional ramifications of the dragons hoarding Belief?

There are no inherently evil factions in the game. This stems from my own beliefs on morality. No Island inhabitant would purposefully destroy the land they live upon, but they push it towards the brink of collapse through their negative actions. The only exception to this is the Wellbeings, creatures that have strayed through the portal players arrive through from another plane of existence.

Do you have a concrete timeframe for release? I know it’s in June, but are you thinking early, mid, or late June?

We’re looking at mid-June. We have booked the filming of the sign language tutorials for the end of May, and we only have a few pieces of art left to add to the final book. Much of the game has been influenced by The Legend of Zelda video game series, so we’d love to release it simultaneously as the trailer for the Breath of the Wild sequel. 

15 is a very specific age. Is there a reason you picked it?

Largely because I feel the Grail Guide role would be difficult for much younger children and because many of the adult players we’ve polled started roleplaying around this age.

So that age has the balance of childlike belief and adult physical capability, in your eyes?

That’s it exactly. Also I’ve always liked that idea of a coming of age milestone.

This is just me being a cat person, but will there be elemental cats like the Elemental dogs? (art)

Hehe, I’m afraid not, though; for Grail Guides, there’s an opportunity to create a cat Wellwisher. Also, we have these feline wisps.

Wellwishers are blessed mammals which seek out Pendragons and lead them to the portal.

Cool! Did you anticipate Inspirisles taking off as much as it has?

Not remotely. So I had a period of low mental health (like many have right through Covid). And thankfully, instead of shrinking away, I said, ‘To hell with it! I’m 42, and my writing career hasn’t happened. Let’s go for this!’

I launched the KS with all of my own art, hoping to raise £1k. It ended up 3,500% over its goal. We couldn’t believe it. I was the sole developer at this stage. Now we have a team of 12.

I can only imagine. Do you have a map of the Island figured out or are you putting the map in the hands of the game master?

There’s a cool map of the British Isles still in development. It is drawn from the perspective of the Giantheld (our Scottish-based Freinds). They believe the Islands are sleeping giants just waiting to wake.

That’s a WIP.

And it’s so cool!

We’ll also have the local dialect from Cornwall, Wales, Ireland and Scotland to represent the quotes in the game.

I love how much thought, time, and effort has gone into this game.

Thank you. That’s really kind. We are really trying to be as accessible, inclusive, diverse, and culturally sensitive as possible. I’m not an expert, and this is my 1st attempt, but I’m doing all I can.

And it shows.

One highlight is our Inspired character Athelyn who uses They/them pronouns. Folks have really appreciated that inclusion, especially as our younger generations will play it.

What exactly is an Inspired? They look like some sort of Elemental.

Yeah, they’re really elemental deities but are desperate to fit in, so they have their own trades. Athelyn, for instance, runs a bathhouse for ailing Fae and is the place our players can go if they’re severely injured. It’s very Ghibli, and Zelda influenced

A weird question, but since the Pendragons are going to another world it seems, does their personal timeline still pass in the real world? Or is it on pause until they come back?

Paused like Narnia. We were in 2 minds about this but figured returning to the exact point you left at was the least potentially triggering outcome.

Yeah, that makes sense. Having it be like Narnia also handles worries about people’s parents and stuff.

That was the thought. If they spend years there they would start to question the cost of their responsibilities.

Is it possible for Pendragons to go back and forth? Like, they get there, realize they need supplies, return to our world and raid a camping supply store, then return.

Nope. Once they step through they have to fulfill their pact. Almost like earning their ticket back home. Harsh but they are playing heroic characters

I ask all these questions because I know any group I run this for will also be asking that question.

No problem. I’m enjoying it.

Awesome! So, how exactly is would the players gather and give Belief? Is that left to the storyteller or does it have a concrete form in this world?

So it is a kind of energy yet detectable by all who inhabit the Inspirisles. As is Disbelief. When they collect it through tests created by the Grail Guide, it is drawn into their 5 essential items where it is stored. They can then spend it how they wish.

For some reason I was imagining opalescent crystals or something that the players break to free the energy within, but that’s also cool.

Because it is always contained in something, your concept as Grail Guide, is completely legit. Opalescent crystals are the sort of items the Knockers would store Belief in.

I love these little mole people. What advice would you give for somebody who wants to run Inspirisles for their friends? Should they look up sign language and figure out what ones chain into magical effects in advance or see what the party creates on their own?

No prep necessary beyond the Grail Guide reading the safety section and giving the players the handouts. Character creation is super intuitive and narratively driven. The game will come with full tutorial videos for BSL and ASL produced by my Deaf friends. We’re making this introduction to the culture and language as accessible as possible. Reason: we want it in schools everywhere and I want to establish a workshopping business beyond the game sales. It was the intention from the very start.

Right, and that makes sense, given how useful Sign Language is in day to day life.

Also in the UK schools are establishing a recognised qualification in BSL from September. Our game will be the bridge. It’s a coincidence but a timely one.

That’s fantastic! Congratulations!

Thanks. Additionally I believe a near future Marvel character will be Deaf. All helps. 

Pretty sure the existing character Hawkeye is deaf in some incarnations, but it’s great there will be a character who is across the whole thing deaf.

Yes, a character that’s actually part of that community.

Yeah. Would you like me to put you in touch with Tat about doing a podcast interview closer to release date?

I would love to do one after we launch mid June. Is that ok? I’ve really enjoyed our chat. Hope you got some helpful insights.

Yeah, of course we can do a podcast interview then! I’ll talk to Tat about a schedule!

If you want to pre-order their game, go here!

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