When he launched the Kickstarter for his homebrew RPG Fragged Empire on June 27, Melbourne graphic designer Wade Dyer wasn’t expecting to smash his goal by nearly 500%. But now, with just nine days remaining, Fragged Empire has 850 excited backers, $72,000, and a distribution deal with a major publisher.
“The first two weeks were such a rush and a blur,” Wade said to us. “I expected the initial rush, but the three weeks of constant support was quite a pleasant surprise. I think I have only allowed myself to really embrace the excitement during the last couple of weeks.”
Fragged Empire began in 2008 as a homebrew game amongst friends, but Wade has been working on it as a commercial product since 2010 — his first commercial venture into RPG design. “I understand that people are putting a lot of faith in me,” he says. “I have always tried to be very open with my work, putting up all of my rule systems on YouTube for everyone to see.”
A “post-post-apocalyptic setting”
In Fragged Empire players play as one of four genetically engineered races, seeking to build a new society after a massive war. Much of the setting, along with the YouTube videos Wade mentions, are available on his website. Wade explains that, in his opinion, good sci-fi is “about exploring our own humanity”.
“I think Fragged Empire has a lot more heart than most sci-fi projects,” he says. “Not only in that indie, passion project kind of way, but also as a setting. The setting is all about how four very different cultures must learn to work together and how everyone not only has baggage of some sort, but just like us, they also live for something — be it family (like the Kaltorans), personal success (like the Corporation), skill (like the Legion) or self-confidence (like the Nephilim).”
Wade explains that the rules system for Fragged Empire is designed to be adaptable into other settings if needed. “It’s all about giving players more choices, without giving them more complexity,” he explains. “It’s a difficult thing to do.”
“My system can be used for other science fiction settings (with just a little home brewing). There are several systems that facility this flexibility, such as customisable weapons, armour and space ships. You just need to use the rules to build the technology from the setting you want to play in.”
The importance of presentation
The first thing you notice about Fragged Empire is that, unlike many indie offerings, the art direction and presentation are slick and professional — as you can see from the art in this article. Wade attributes this to his own experience working as a graphic designer and illustrator, and says that the importance of nailing the visuals can’t be overstated.
“I think a lot of people mistakenly confuse good visuals as nothing more than a ‘nice coat of paint’ or just ‘polish’,” he says. “It is so much more than that. Your art not only tells people how seriously you’re taking your project, but it tells them about your world. It sets the tone, before any words are said or read.”
“I am very passionate about working with emerging artists,” he adds. “You will see no big names on this project.”
Delivering on the promise
We asked Wade about how he was handling distribution and production, and he explained that he knew from the start he was going to need some help. “Modiphius is handling most of our distribution, as they have run a couple of very successful Kickstarters before,” Wade explains, “and my brother is an accomplished industrial designer, so he has a good eye for materials and is able to act as a contact for me with Chinese print shops.”
“Chris Birch (of Mophidius) approached me, so it has all gone quite smoothly,” said Wade. “I had a couple of companies approach me before the launch of my Kickstarter, but Chris really stood out from the crowd. He has not only run a couple of his own Kickstarters, but he is a super nice guy who really believes in what he is doing.”
“I have worked very hard to keep postage costs down,” Wade adds when we ask him about dealing with the postage realities of Australia. “I have backed many Kickstarters, I know how annoying high postage costs can be.”
Once Fragged Empire ships, Wade plans to work on some additional books, and to look at having official miniatures made.
The Kickstarter platform
“The Kickstarter model is ideal for a designer like me,” Wade enthuses. “If you are driven by passion and you genuinely care about your product and people, you should definitely look into Kickstarter.”
“It’s a nice feeling to know that so many people believe in you.”