Steve Dee Interview – Discussing Tin*Star Games and Relics Roleplaying Game

We spend a lot of time on various social media sites and this allows us to connect to creative people all over the world. Recently, Steve Dee at Tin*Star Games and Rolling Boxcars began following each other on Twitter. As such we began to get some insight into Tin*Star Games and the creative force behind the company and roleplaying games. Steve gave us the opportunity to get an advanced look at his newest game, Relics. Rolling Boxcars felt this was a great opportunity to talk to Steve about Relics, Tin*Star Games and gaming in general. Please sit back and enjoy our interview with Steve.

RB: Steve, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule for this interview. The first question I almost always ask is how did you find your way into gaming both as a player and a designer?

SD: I honestly don’t remember a time when I wasn’t playing games and making games. I still remember the wondrous birthday when I received Mouse Trap and we put it together as a family. And I was always fiddling with them, changing them. I loved the idea of Trivial Pursuit when it came out, but it was very expensive, so I just decided to make my own. I just collected trivia questions from wherever I could find them – and trivia was everywhere in the 80s, so that wasn’t very hard. Bar mats and matchboxes and beer bottle lids and calendars, I wrote them down and turned them into cards.

RB: As a player, what are your favorite genres of games? What is your favorite and least liked game? Why?

SD: When I game I want to feel things. I want all of us together to feel things, things we couldn’t feel alone. Big emotions. I look for that over the genre. Collaborative games are a great way to share an experience, as are head-to-head team games. Games rich in story and discovery tend to have big emotion too, whereas a lot of euro games tend to be “who is best at solving this puzzle” and there’s not a lot of emotion going on. But abstract games can tell a story too; bridge and chess can have incredible moments of tension and release. My go-to answer for my favourite game is Pandemic. It changed my life and really changed what I believed we could do with games and it’s still fun and I still play it. The first series of Pandemic Legacy was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my life. Games I don’t like are ones that are dull and random. Munchkin springs to mind.

RB: Why did you start Tin*Star games? Can you give readers a little taste of your company history and the other products that you create and sell?

SD: Tin Star Games kind of started by accident. The name evolved from my first game, There Is No Spoon, and I first used it when I switched my email over to Gmail. I didn’t really have any games that I was selling and I didn’t even know if I would make more or have a company or anything. But I’ve always believed in generally assuming things will work out and aiming high, so I thought if I ever do have a company, that would be an excellent name. Now that I’ve started making card games I was talking to my co-designers about making a new company but Tin Star Games has been around for years now building up name recognition, waiting until I really needed it. Which is great.

Mostly we sell roleplaying games; that’s been my bread and butter for the last twenty years as a freelancer. But there’s not always traditional RPGs. We have a solo RPG for example and a strange political game about Shakespearean sex robots. I have some new games I’m planning which aren’t going to be anything like the standard D&D model. And similarly, I’m also exploring other kinds of games. We’ve just added some card games to our catalogue and we’re exploring board games in playtesting. Tin Star Games has a certain style, but we also won’t just make one kind of game. Baby Dragon Bedtime is a fast-paced real-time family card game, which is nothing like the strange party game of Elon Musk’s Ipod Submarine or the dark horror storytelling RPG of Afraid of the Dark.

RB: Before we get into the heart of the interview, please take a moment to tell us about you and your team of creative folks who are working to bring Relics to gamers.

SD: Well until a few months ago Tin Star Games was just me. I’m a 42-year-old dog trainer who lives in Sydney, Australia, and everything in the design of Relics was done by me. But just recently I’ve teamed up with an amazing graphic designer named Matthew Roberts. Matt’s made things so much easier because I don’t have to do every bit of promotional material in Word or MS Paint. Relics also wouldn’t exist without Jake Nelson who wrote a ton of fiction for the game and the adventure in the Quickstart Guide and has been running it for us at conventions. Plus some other lovely volunteers like Teja and Keiran. People have been very kind.

RB: Let’s switch gears and talk about Relics. Having had the opportunity to look over Relics, I get the sense that it is inspired by other works. Is my observation correct? If so, what other works were your inspiration?

SD: Nothing happens in isolation. If I hadn’t played In Nomine twenty years ago, Relics might not exist. The system comes from Alas Vegas, by James Wallis. I first began work on it when I was working for White Wolf and decided I wanted to build my own gothic noir modern horror universe so I’d control all the rules of the supernatural and not have to look things up all the time. And because it’s investigative horror, it’s not far from Call of Cthulhu and its descendants. Reviewers have compared it to Nephilim and Kult, which I can see but didn’t intend as I was writing it. I think this can be a very good thing in a game: the familiar gives people things to hang on to. And it allows me to introduce unfamiliar things. The places where my angels differ and the things my game does that others don’t.

RB: Relics is the newest entry in a sub-genre of tabletop roleplaying games that is not overly populated and where new entries are likely to get lost. What sets Relics apart within the “angel” games and in the wider world of modern urban fantasy games?

SD: I think a lot of angel games focus on the war and the rebellion – being cast out, fighting god, fighting demons, fighting good vs evil, for the fate of the earth, and that is present in Relics, but what I’ve tried to do is bring the game to focus on the life of the angel. So the game is about memory, for beings who have lived for thousands of years. About isolation, for beings who are fundamentally alone. About confusion, for beings who may have outlived their purpose.

RB: Far too often, designers release a core rulebook that does not have any scenarios or story ideas for gamemasters to use or work with. Will Relics include either or both of these to serve as inspiration for prospective gamemasters?

SD: A big part of the design of Relics is making the work of the GM easier. We have not yet finalised if there will be an adventure in the core book, but one is already available in the Quickstart Guide. There’s also an enormous amount of story hooks written into the core – 44 unique powerful Relics with their own story hooks, whole chapters of secrets, different villain factions, unsolved mysteries, and random scenario building tables.

RB: Your Kickstarter campaign is set to begin in early April. Do you have previous crowdfunding experience? If so, what have learned from these previous experiences that will set you up for success with Relics? If you have not had previous experiences, what steps have you taken to reduce the risks for backers?

SD: I’ve never run a crowdfunding campaign before, but I’ve worked on a few in different capacities. I’ve been studying them for four years now, reading books and blogs and internet groups. I think I know how to run a good one, but also I’ve worked in game publishing for twenty years, too, so I know how to publish games. Most of the things are in place, ready to go, as soon as we get the money.

RB: Crowdfunding has changed the landscape for tabletop games over the last decade. Pricing models and incentives for backers have also changed. Although I have not seen a preview of the campaign, I’m curious if Tin*Star Games will price Relics at MSRP (SRP) or will you offer a discounted entry price for the physical book? Either way, why have you taken this pricing position?

SD: It is a tricky thing. On the one hand, backers are like investors and are taking a risk. On the other hand, early bird specials and Kickstarter exclusives make campaigns more confusing, riskier, and they can make buying a game in a game shop feel like you are getting a lesser product. We are going to have some PDFs as stretch goals that will be available to backers that will later be released for a small cost, but the book itself will be the same price for backers as it will be when sent out to stores (shipping dependent, obviously). We’d rather give people more stuff BEFORE the Kickstarter, as a reward for being interested. That’s why the rules are entirely available for anyone on our mailing list, and the Quickstart Guide is totally free, and there are secrets being doled out on the Instagram thread. The more you pay attention, the more free stuff you get. We’d rather reward you for your interest and then let you decide if that interest drives you to get the game.

RB: What does the future look like for Relics? Can gamers expect to see supplements or scenario books in the future? Are there other related products in the works, maybe miniatures?

SD: Relics is a “boutique” style game, designed more to be a single release than a whole line. It’s very expandable but our intention at the moment is to give you a beautiful game that has everything you need in one package. As mentioned we have some ideas lined up for some PDF support if the Kickstarter goes well, but print is a different question. It depends a lot on the reception, really. The better the Kickstarter goes, the more we hear from fans, the more we will think about making more books. Way back in my mind is material for a sequel stand-alone game. And there are other things I’d like to do with the game. We also have things we could do with the world, as well. I’ve spoken to some folks about novels. I have a draft of a board game in my cupboard. So while we have nothing we can announce yet, it’s unlikely this will be the last you see of Relics.

RB: With convention season coming, what conventions might gamers find you and Tin*Star Games at so that they learn more about Relics, your other games, and your company?

SD: Coming up in the next six months we have EyeCon, Phenomenon, GammaCon, LFG, and EttinCon, where we’ll be running games of Relics. We’ll also be out at other cons with some of our card games. Look out for a small social deduction/bluffing con coming up soon in Sydney called ConCon.

RB: Can you give readers a rundown and short elevator pitches about your other games?

SD: I already mentioned Baby Dragon Bedtime above. Our other card game is Elevator Pitch, a madcap madlib game of throwing together insane movie pitches. Then we have some small roleplaying games, all of which are pay-what-you-want on DriveThruRPG.

Afraid of the Dark is a rules-light horror RPG about young children who discover the monster under their bed is real and can definitely kill them.

Five Go A-Roleplaying is a kid-friendly RPG about the Famous Five novels and other books by Enid Blyton

Daughters of Exile is an experimental RPG about robots built to be the perfect wives, rebelling against their programming and trying to find true love.

It Is Forbidden is a shared story building game for large groups about creating clashing cultures.

The Tin Star is a single player story building game about Westerns and the dark battle of morality between sheriff and outlaw.

Relics, for me, seems like it might scratch a gaming itch that has not been satisfied in many years. Back in my younger days, I did enjoy games like In Nomine, Nephilim (even if it was horribly broken), and Witchcraft. To see a new entry into this not-do-often exploited genre of games excites me to no end. If you think Relics is something that would interest you, I highly recommend following Steve and Tin*Star Games on all the Socials to stay current and learn more about the game. I will be watching the Kickstarter closely to see how well the game is received by gamers, but I suspect it will be pretty well received. Especially by those that like enjoyed any of the inspirational games mentioned throughout this interview.

If you have any specific questions for Steve about Relics or any of Tin*Star Games’ other games, post your questions below or on Twitter in response to the link to this article.

You can learn more about Relics and Tin*Star Games at any of the following social media sites.

Tin*Star Games Website
Tin*Star Games on Facebook
Tin*Star Games on Instagram
Tin*Star’s Relics Page
Relics’ Facebook Page
Relics’ Instagram Page

~ Modoc

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