Q&A: Tabletop RPG gamemaker Tracy Barnett

From the January 30, 2014 edition

Tracy Barnett wants to make tabletop role-playing games (RPGs) accessible to anyone, even though he knows they aren’t for everyone. With the looming release of his third game, “Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone,” the gender-fluid writer, gamer and designer has made a concentrated effort to feature characters that represent the gamut of human identity. As the Kickstarter success shows, Barnett’s ability to incorporate characters from all walks of life was exactly what RPG enthusiasts were hungry for.

Getting started on “Iron Edda: War of Metal and Bone” was an accident. I was playing “Skyrim,” and thought, “What would happen if the dwarves in ‘Skyrim’ got pissed off and rebelled? What would the humans do?” That was the initial spark for “Iron Edda.” From there, I based the rest of the game on Norse mythology’s interpretation of the end of the world.

Tabletop RPGs are just interactive storytelling with dice serving as a dispute resolution system. People get really turned off when you talk about gaming, but really everybody games now. It isn’t like it was in the 1980s with weird guys in a basement together. For better or worse, shows like “The Big Bang Theory” and “Community” are bringing up gaming and making it more mainstream. And now, even the people who played in the ’80s are having kids and showing them, so it’s definitely growing.

Iron Edda is the third RPG I’ve designed. I also designed the games “School Daze” and “One Shot.” I got the idea for “School Daze” on a road trip back from Kansas. I thought, “Everybody knows about high school,” so I thought an RPG based on that would be easy for people to get into. The narrative of role-playing games is my favorite part, so after I got the initial idea I just started writing.

As a gender-fluid person, I wanted to make a game that represented the entire human spectrum. Most game characters are geared to appeal to white men, because that is typically the gaming demographic. It might not seem like a big deal, but it’s pretty tough shit when your reality isn’t represented. That’s why I made it a point in my previous games to include really strong female characters.

When I added a transgender character in the novel I based “Iron Edda” on, a person on Kickstarter withdrew his donation. For the past two years I have funded my projects through Kickstarter donations. Throughout the fundraiser, I let the people donating have a say in the game or novel. When I announced I was adding a transgender character, one person said he didn’t see a need for the character, and I could move forward without his donation. Sure enough, he took his $10 donation back. What was really moving was when another person who originally donated $300 upped it to $1,300 because they were transgender and wanted to be represented. It means so much when something you’ve made, in my case a game, touches somebody so deeply.

Though I have reached my first goal on Kickstarter for this game, I want to keep adding to it. I originally set the goal for this game at $10,000. I’ve already surpassed that, so now I am looking to add to the game every time we hit a new mark.

Photo by Meghan Ralston