Interview with Pete Spahn of Small Niche Games & Designer of Tropes: Zombie Edition

The other day, Pete Spahn of Small Niche Games contacted me and asked if I was willing to give his newest Kickstarter project, Tropes: Zombie Edition, rules a look over. After reading the draft of the rules, I quickly figured out he has a sweet little project and that his backers are going to be getting a fun, high-flying, zombie action game. While I am not a huge zombie fan, I think some will be pleasantly surprised with this game. Anyways, I had been wanting to interview Pete and this seemed like a great opportunity. In this interview, I ask Pete about his current Kickstarter campaign and some other fun questions. Well, let’s gets the ball rolling and do this!


RB. Let’s start off by telling our readers about Small Niche Games. What type of games do you design and for what genres? 

PS. Small Niche Games is a publisher of original games and game content. The bulk of our products fall into the OSR category (Labyrinth Lord specifically). Most of these titles have been adventures and supplements set in the core Chronicles of Amherth setting, a homebrew that I’ve been fleshing out for over 20 years now. Check out the SNG page here.

On a personal level, I’ve published adventures and/or supplements for a number of game companies including Wizards of the Coast, Precis Intermedia, and others. I’ve also dabbled in a bit of fantasy fiction, including a well-received Viking novel modeled after the Old Norse sagas.

RB. Tropes, Zombie Edition, what is it and what makes it a great game?

PS. TROPES: Zombie Edition [TZE] is the first entry to the TROPES game line. Its system is fast and flexible and uses a handful of d6s making it a great party game. The game itself draws inspiration from zombie films, books, and video games. In some ways, it plays like a board game or video game that also allows for a full range of roleplaying.

Guidelines are provided that let you mimic just about any type of zombie story. I set the default as a fast action romp where characters are fighting zombies, running for their lives, and getting eaten left and right, but you can also play it more seriously if that’s what you want. If you and your group like zombies, all it takes it tailoring the scenario (known as an Outbreak) to your tastes.

The thing to keep in mind is that TZE is specifically designed for one shots. In TZE you design three characters at the start of the game, fold them up, then mix all the characters together. Every player chooses one character. When a character gets killed, the player chooses another character, and so on and so forth, until there are no characters left or the PCs escape the Outbreak. This sort of sets it apart from most other zombie apocalypse roleplaying games where you generate a specific character and then develop his skills and abilities through play.

Another thing that sets it apart is the focus on high-flying action. I’ve played too many “misery tourism” zombie RPGs that were just a slog through a world filled with zombies, horrible humans, and one depressing moment after another. I’m not entirely knocking that style of play–there’s always a place for exploring more serious themes—I’m just saying that it’s not very conducive to a party game. TZE is designed to appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike.

RB. My feeling is that the whole zombie apocalypse thing so over done! Obviously you don’t feel the same way. So, why then zombies? (feel free to use the response you emailed me).

PS. Actually, you’ll get no argument from me. The zombie genre had a fork sticking out of it a long time ago. And yet, every time a new zombie movie comes out, tons of people still go to the movies to see it. Zombieland, Warm Bodies, Shaun of the Dead. Not to mention you can’t go anywhere without tripping over a fan of The Walking Dead. Zombies have now gotten to that weird place where many of the “edgier” people who used to enjoy the cult classic Romero films don’t like zombies anymore just because they’ve become so mainstream.

RB. For those interested that might still be on the fence with regards to backing your project, are you considering running short online demo sessions?

PS. I have considered that. It’s something I would have preferred to prepare better for, though. Online sessions have a slightly different dynamic than a home game where you’re sitting around the table with friends, so I’ll definitely have to think on it. I can see where it might be a lot of fun.

RB. You once referred to Tropes, Zombie Edition as a vanity project, care to elaborate?

PS. Most of my products are what I call “vanity” projects. That is, I write something and publish it because it’s something I find useful or fun at the table and want to share with other gamers, not because there’s any great demand for it. No one was pining for an OSR city sourcebook when I made the Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay, for example. Now that it’s out, almost all the feedback I’ve gotten, about it, has been positive.

That said, TROPES: Zombie Edition is even more of a vanity project than my OSR products because at least I know there is an active market for adventures and supplements in the OSR. TZE has no fan base, so I’m basically starting from scratch. I think a lot of people will find it a fun game once they give it a read, but that’s always the first hurdle.

RB. What are your plans for the Tropes line of games?

PS. There are a lot of directions I’d like to go with TROPES. It’s a simple, but intuitive system that lends itself well to the action genre. In no particular order or rush to publish, TROPES: Miami Vice, TROPES: Pirates, TROPES: Gangs of New York, TROPES: WWII, TROPES: Old West. Another author has already approached me about a TROPES: Cyberpunk-type game. Time will tell.

RB. You’re no stranger to game design and publishing, but what makes you qualified to deliver on you promises and timetables? Have you run other successful Kickstarter campaigns in the past? Any lessons learned that you are employing here?

PS. I have run two successful Kickstarters. The first was the Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay I mentioned above. That Kickstarter exceeded my wildest expectations and set the bar pretty high. The Guidebook to the City of Dolmvay is available now as a free PDF if anyone wants to check it out:

My second Kickstarter project was a fiction novella entitled Time of the Dying Stars: Book One. It is a series of interlinked short stories set in the aforementioned City of Dolmvay. The novella seems to have been well received and is also available as a free PDF:

Although connected by the same source material, these were two very different types of products. The amount of support and encouragement I received during, both funding campaigns was enormous. If I learned anything though, it’s that game content is way more marketable than game fiction. While I’m almost certainly going to run a campaign for the Guidebook to the Duchy of Valnwall sourcebook, I doubt I’ll be running a campaign for TotDS: Book Two. I am proud that I was able to deliver both campaigns on time to my backers!

RB. Will we see you on the convention circuit this year? If so, where can our readers meet, talk and more importantly, game with you this year?

PS. I’m working on getting some of my products into conventions via a third-party vendor, but that’s the only real publisher presence I have planned. As for attending cons, I try to make DragonCon if I can. Someone recently pointed me to a con in South Carolina [Storm-Con] that sounds promising. . .

RB. Please tell our readers what three industry or hobby personalities you would love to see interviewed by Rolling Boxcars and why. (These can be industry professionals, hobby personalities, podcasters, etc)

PS. Only three??? Erik Tenkar of Tenkar’s Tavern comes immediately to mind, although he says so much on his own blog I don’t know what questions he’d have left to answer.

I’ve always had a good working relationship with Brett Bernstein of Precis Intermedia and I don’t think he gets enough credit for his huge catalogue of games and how solid his house systems are, not to mention his innovative Disposable Heroes paper minis line that was one of the first of its kind.

James M. Spahn (no relation, promise) is another underrated game designer whose work always impresses. In addition to his OSR products, he’s also one of the leading writers of Cubicle 7’s The One Ring game line, so if you like LotR you can’t help but be a fan of James’s work.

Pete, thanks for the opportunity to chat with you about your campaign and about Small Niche Games. The insight into your little world was eye-opening and I had a great time interviewing you. Well, I hope the Kickstarter is a smashing success and Small Niche Games continues to publish great products (I haven’t found a dud yet!).

~ Modoc

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