Jun 5, 2023

Stars of the VTT Galaxy: #4 Forgotten Adventures ft. Stryxin and Grace

21 min read - Published: a year ago

Greetings to the Forge community, and welcome to the fourth edition of our Stars of the VTT Galaxy series. The regular interview series is meant to shine a light on the already bright stars that make up our community of Bazaar Creators.

We are happy to have had the opportunity to speak with these incredible people.

They draw assets, tokens, and battle maps for use in virtual tabletop RPGs with a focus on fantasy. Their goal is to produce high-quality, diverse, and inclusive assets for use in TTRPGs. And they successfully reach that goal! We leave you to enjoy the super interesting conversation we had with Grace and Stryxin from Forgotten Adventures.

Our sky consists of many stars. Each of them illuminating our planet. As you can guess, the stars are you. Yes, it's you, the great content creators who, in your own unique way, shine on our worlds. Thank you for being part of our heavenly sky and weaving the fabric of our Community.
Let's meet today's star.

Introduce yourself! For those who don’t know what you do, what would you describe yourself as doing for a living?

Grace: I'm Grace, or Android, or AndroidGrace. I stumbled across Stryxin in 2018, and got offered a job about a day after showing up on the Forgotten Adventures Discord server. I started out, and am still drawing tokens for Forgotten Adventures. These days it's my full-time job. I focus on humanoid tokens mostly, and like everything for FA, work in the fantasy genre. Forgotten Adventures is strict about sticking to a top-down orthogonal perspective, so I draw full-figure tokens from that perspective. I love focusing on diverse and versatile tokens.

Stryxin: Hi! I'm Peter, going by "Stryxin" on the interwebs. I'm the founder of Forgotten Adventures. I started it in early 2018 by myself, and by the end of the year, it was my full-time job - when I also managed to recruit Grace into the team. These days we have a full team of wonderful artists, and I'm mostly in more of a management position, plus I suppose something like a Creative Director? While also occasionally helping out with whatever was necessary and annoying everyone else on the team with my stupid ideas. ^_^

What’s one random fact about you?

Grace: I'm guessing we're looking for slightly interesting or weird facts? I'm bad with ice breakers generally, but how 'bout this: I only drink water and orange juice. I can try and come up with something more relevant to the nerd space if needed.😆

Stryxin: I almost drowned twice in my youth.😄 So it's a miracle FA even exists with me being so clumsy. So now I have a crippling dread of depths.

How did you get started creating TTRPG content?

Grace: Necessity. I was playing a home game and found I needed tokens and maps, and what I could find was not to my taste. So I just started drawing my own. For tokens I wanted top-down stuff, so they felt like people or minis on the map, even if we were playing virtually. And then I also needed characters that were black or dark-skinned (astonishingly hard to find), and ladies that didn't have their tits out. At the time, I couldn't find anything that fit all of those needs. I really wanted that true top-down perspective, and I found Stryxin doing assets for that, that worked well with the tokens I had started drawing. Assets felt like a great way to make custom maps for my campaigns without spending forever drawing everything bespoke.

Stryxin: I'm from Slovakia where the whole TTRPG thing doesn't really have much of a prevalence, I would say. I somehow stumbled upon Critical Role in 2016 or so, which introduced me to D&D, and over a year started playing in various campaigns. Then I started DMing too, as that felt more in my wheelhouse than being a player. This was all digital as I mentioned above, there isn't really a TTRPG scene around here, so playing in person wasn't really an option. I wasn't happy with any resources I could find for building maps or tokens at the time, so I started making my own and sharing them on Reddit, thinking other people in the community might be in the same boat.

You founded Forgotten Adventures in 2018. From this point of view, are you satisfied with everything you have achieved in those few years?

Grace: I am at least. I think we've built quite the team, and continue to work on quite the project. It's kind of an overwhelming body of work when I look back and actually realize how much we've drawn. And it's a great work environment, too. I think one of the best things we've achieved is actually just the team and how we work together. For the art itself, we always look back at our old stuff and think, "Uhg, need to redraw that." But that's just part of progress.😄 Still proud of it all in all.

Stryxin: I couldn't ask for more really. I am certainly very fortunate and grateful that I can do what I love and share that with the community. That's been there since the beginning, and still is one of our pillars to this day. To give as much to the community as we can. Accessibility is very important to us, and we try and make sure that most of our content is available for free (for personal use).

I've always thought that if the content is good enough, the community and awesome people within it will support it, which thankfully has been proven right in our case. I believe we've always made our best effort to produce as high quality as we are able, even if it means spending 4+ hours on one asset or token.

It's safe to say that 2018 Stryxin and Grace would've never thought we would get where we are now. We are certainly very lucky and humbled by how much support we managed to gather over the years.

We know that the work of FA is based on strong ideals. How hard it is to keep up with everything? Constantly moving forward, maintaining or improving the achieved level, while not impairing the quality of the final products.

Stryxin: Consistency, cohesive style, and high quality are definitely very important to us. It's definitely not easy, it can feel like a constant uphill battle against time as we are dedicated to releasing content on a regular basis. In the early days, it was usually around 4 packs a month, where 3 of them were assets drawn by me and 1 token release made by Grace.

Nowadays, we have a great team where each artist is more or less responsible for one pack each month, which brings us to our usual five releases. So we've expanded the team, but we've invested a lot of those new resources into improving the quality not just quantity, as we all as artists enjoy and realize there is always room for improvement, and we like to challenge ourselves. This also ensures our artists have a lot of freedom and flexibility in choosing when and what they want to work on. Which I think also improves the quality of our products since something you want to work on is always going to be better than something you "have to" do.

Grace: We also regularly look back at our old work, as our style progresses, to see what things no longer fit, and do our best to update them, while still producing new content.

Where does the inspiration come from in the work you do? Or perhaps, your “muse”?

Grace: For tokens, I generally try and do a split between what I think we "need" to have covered, or perceived blanks in our portfolio, and what I want to draw. I definitely have my own personal preferences, and I lean into them. We have been pulling from 5e pretty exclusively in the past, so that has influenced a lot of what the tokens are like so far. We are just now starting to break from that. I do pull inspiration from my own games. Hard not to.

Stryxin: For me personally, being in more of a management/creative director position nowadays as I mentioned above. I don't draw as much, but I do my best to come up with new and interesting ways how to keep our content "fresh", and interesting or bring new options and opportunities for our community. Examples are our Battlemaps project, Animations pack, or even The Forge Patreon integration. Plus some other projects cooking up in the background.😊 While I think what we have going is great, I do believe innovation is equally important and we need to always be looking for new ways how to improve. For the Assets team, it's usually a combination of trying to prioritize between what are still the gaps in our library, suggestions from our community, and what we personally want to work on.

Battlemap: Winter Trail / Clearing / Lake 

What are your goals moving forward with your content?

Stryxin: It took us a little while, but I think we have a good system now which works very well for everyone at our company. So I don't see a necessity for any huge changes in the near future when it comes to content production. We plan on doing what we've been doing for a couple of years now while doing our best to better ourselves and innovate whenever and wherever possible. As Grace mentioned, we often look at our older content and realize how we could do it better next time, and we do, like for example with our Remaster packs. Which I think speaks to our commitment to delivering the best quality we can.

So in conclusion, the goals are pretty much staying the same, do our best to produce as much awesome high-quality content as we can for our community.

Remaster Update: Pack 02

You draw assets, tokens, and battlemaps. But what made you focus only on the fantasy genre?

Stryxin: I didn't choose the fantasy genre, the fantasy genre chose me...😄 It's a mix of a couple of factors. Honestly, the biggest one is that it's just what we started with, so we are sticking to it. Even with thousands and thousands of assets we have in the fantasy genre, there are still pretty large gaps in our library. So it feels like shifting to something else while the fantasy is not "finished" is not a good idea - and possibilities for fantasy are basically endless so it can hardly feel finished, ever.

We don't want to reduce the amount of fantasy content we produce, which we would have to do if we wanted to branch out to other genres. I'm personally not completely against sci-fi for example, however, to make it work it would have to be a separate standalone project similar to our Battlemaps, as that is the only way we could make it work while not cannibalizing our fantasy production. Who knows, maybe Forgotten Space Adventures or something is gonna happen one day.😊

So you've been going strong for about five years now on FA content. What if any issues have you experienced in this time that you would consider a major challenge for the FA business as a whole?

Stryxin: Wait, 5? Really? For the past 2 years, I've been always telling people I'm doing this for 3 years... Damn, I'm getting old.

We've managed to capture the interest of many people, more than we could've ever imagined... I still don't believe it sometimes. Our community is incredibly generous and we couldn't ask for more. So thankfully we didn't have any issues in this area, and we've been able to keep a nice slow and steady growth over the years. We definitely have challenges though. Especially in the very beginning, before I could do this full-time, in getting Forgotten Adventures off the ground. I was working at a restaurant for 10-12 hour shifts while working on releases in my free time, so I was clocking in unhealthy amounts of work hours per week, with basically no free or social life. I enjoyed doing it of course, since it was a hobby for me, but at the same time looking back, it was rough.

Even nowadays, even though everyone on the team loves what they do, it's a constant churn so burnout happens. It's pretty much impossible to be creative 24/7 with a combination of some mind-numbing work on top, which is also necessary (like exporting all the assets for example, once they are drawn).

We do our best to give everyone a breather if they need to, and make sure they can take care of themselves. I always say that we are in this together, it's generally a meme and a red flag when they call the company a "Family", but I do genuinely feel like each individual on our team is a great person and someone I can call a friend and part of our Family.

Grace: That's what makes it not the meme version of "Family" but just a healthy workspace. We have a lot of autonomy, but also a lot of support. We get to work on what we are passionate about. But if we need time off for anything, everyone is there to fill in the gaps while someone is gone. The whole thing is very democratic and supportive.

How did you end up bringing on Cozy Maps into an official FA Battlemaps Patreon?

Stryxin: Well, speaking of struggles...😀 The Battlemaps project was something we've definitely struggled with. I've wanted to do it since probably 2020. But nothing seemed to be working out as I hoped. So for a long time, the project was on a back-burner, and I was hoping something would happen that could revive it. Nothing really did, to be honest.😀 But when we hired new people Jesh, Mutt, and Levi, suddenly I had more time to start doing other stuff than just drawing constantly... So I started practicing necromancy in my spare time and brought it back to life.

We didn't want to launch anything we were not sure would work,  or could be sustainable in the long run. So we actually had many people try out for the project, and work on maps in the background to see who would be able to meet our standards of what we wanted to be presenting. Most if not all of them were "plucked" from our community actually, as I preferred to reach out to people who are already familiar with our content.

Our quality standards are pretty high, so it wasn't an easy endeavor. And even though we had people that were able to meet those standards, they all decided for one reason or the other not to continue with the project. Cozy and Earl are the only ones that decided to stay and are working with us still. ^_^

Probably helps that Cozy had experience with running a mapmaking Patreon, right? Especially since he used FA assets.

Stryxin: Absolutely. We all work in CSP (Clip Studio Paint) which was also a requirement for the battlemaps. Cozy was using that for his maps too, so he had a huge leg up over some of the other tryouts with less experience that came from other software.

Even though we are not actively looking to expand our Battlemaps team, we are not opposed to it either. If someone appears in the community that has the necessary skill in CSP and Foundry VTT, and can produce content up to our standards, I'll most likely offer them a spot on our team.

When does FA get back to the setting that was planned back in 2018?

Stryxin: There was a brief moment of "worldbuilding" thing going on in the discord channels if I remember correctly. If that's what you are referring to...
I think we've quickly realized it was a futile endeavor and we were definitely not equipped to do anything worthwhile. I still think we are not equipped for something like that. I'm a bit of a perfectionist so I don't like half-assing stuff. I would rather scrap something than release it if I'm not happy with it, or if I know I can't do it properly.

At the same time, I have an attention span of a three year-old child, so I constantly get excited about a new shiny thing that I conjured in my brain every 10 seconds so you know, it's not a great combination.

I have like 50 "to do" projects, none of which have moved anywhere for months... And I'll probably start a new one tomorrow.

We remember Atropos noting his work in your Discord around 2018  on creating a new rival VTT meant to provide a better battlemap focus and performance in general compared to Roll20. In a way, you’ve gotten to watch Foundry VTT since its inception. So going from this point, we'd like to ask you the following two questions:

1. What were your thoughts on Foundry VTT over its initial two years, as it developed from an early access product to something seeing full release?

Stryxin: Yeah, I came across Foundry VTT when it was very early in development, and I immediately saw the potential as I was already getting a bit frustrated DMing on Roll20 at that point. I pretty much immediately got in contact with Atropos and formed a partnership.

I liked what he was going for and he liked our art style for both assets and tokens, so we've decided to partner up. We provided the tokens for Foundry's 5e compendium, cross-promoting each other. I think me and Atropos have very similar ideals and general points of view on things when it comes to accessibility, inclusivity, community, etc. He is a good egg. Definitely deserves all the praise he gets because he created a great product, driven by their community.

2. And are you satisfied with Foundry VTT in its current state? Is there anything you’d still like to see from it improvement or feature-wise?

Stryxin: Even though it's fully released, is it really? I feel like even if you asked Atropos, he would say it's not a nearly finished product. And I don't mean that in a bad way. It's very common these days for software to reach a certain point and then just sit there with little to no support or improvements. Foundry VTT is constantly updating even though it's been "released" for a while.

I can't say I'm completely satisfied with Foundry VTT in its current state, it's definitely not perfect and there are plenty of things I would change myself. I do butt heads with Atropos on occasion in DMs about certain things, he can be very stubborn.😃

But Atropos and the whole Foundry team are very dedicated to keeping improving their platform on a regular basis, which I definitely admire as we at FA share that same philosophy.

You’ve done a lot of work in setting up your Dungeondraft integration and keeping it updated. How successful do you feel this work has been? Are you satisfied with this integration, and Dungeondraft in general?

Stryxin: Before Dungeondraft, there was not really any other mapmaking software option other than Dungeon Painter Studio on Steam, which I didn't really feel good about supporting, since it is clearly abandonware.

So similarly to Foundry VTT, I've been looking at what's new in this space and I jumped on Dungeondraft fairly early in development, and have been in contact with Megasploot to make it work for us since. He's been very helpful and receptive to our feedback, and even though we don't agree on many things and it's obviously not made specifically for us, he was kind enough to make a lot of changes and compromises that I've asked for. I think it was very beneficial for both parties, involved as it certainly brought more people into both communities.

As soon as it was possible, we adapted our assets for DD and it quickly became the most popular software for mapmaking in our community, and it's easy to see why. It's a great tool that is fairly intuitive and simple to get into, it allows everyone to create decent-looking maps quickly.

Dungeondraft Integration 3.0

FA has a style guide, showing in detail your workflow and how you produce FA content. Do you feel it has helped other creators and what is the feedback on it?

Stryxin: A style guide was also one of my pet projects, I'm very pleased with how it turned out. I love to learn new things and I was always curious about how things are made. So I just wanted to share how we do things, and what it takes to bring people the content that we do. I think it helps bring to perspective how much work goes into each and every asset or token, and I think people appreciate both the transparency and dedication or at least I hope they do. ^_^

It's certainly more of a niche content, as it's not too relevant for the majority of people that just want to use the assets and not draw their own, but I still think it's an interesting "peak behind a curtain".

Grace: We've been meaning to make something a little like the style guide for tokens for a while too. Probably videos though, and more focused on making color variants and kitbashes.

Stryxin: And for battlemaps, but alas there is only so much time in a day/month/year, and producing tutorials and guides is a huge time sink.

Grace: I think people have appreciated the style guide, even if they don't end up drawing their own assets, because it still gives some insight into how to work with or edit assets in CSP for making battlemaps.

What's your least favorite piece of content you've created? (If it exists).😊

Stryxin: Can I say everything from 2018 to early 2020?😀 Thankfully, most of it was already replaced.

Grace: Uh, I'm not sure there's any one thing at the top of that list, but there are certain things I've drawn that I didn't care for, either because of the design or I just wasn't truly happy with it, even when it was time to ship it.

There are definitely some uninspired 5e designs that I had no love for but had to draw anyways.

Do you have the opportunity/time to play games by yourself? If so, what game systems do you play? What VTT do you use?

Grace: I've been co-DMing a 5e campaign for 7 years now, so that's the majority of my gaming time. We've done other 5e one-shots and such during that. Recently I've started up a game of Wanderhome, which is wildly different, but very good. I've taken to just collecting and reading different systems in the last few years. I love just reading them. There's definitely plenty I want to try once the current campaign wraps. We run the main campaign in Roll20 because that's what we started it in, and we have just never bothered to switch it. We have run some one-shots in Foundry. And then there are the very rare times we get to be around a physical table.

Stryxin: I'm very passionate about Pathfinder 2nd edition, but unfortunately, I don't really have time to have a regular game. I prefer to be a DM and to do it "properly". It's like another full-time job.😃

And being a player, I feel like I would be that one player who always has to reschedule or cancel and I don't want to inconvenience other people... So I just focus on single-player video games mostly when I have a couple of hours here and there. To fill that storytelling void.😃

Grace: Oh, if we're counting video games, I do try and find time to play those too. Also single player. I prefer TTRPGs for my social gaming experiences.
Or board games.

The spicy question: What is your favorite VTT to run on? What kind of improvements do you want to see for it?

Grace: Favorite VTT is a hard question. I firmly believe that you should always use the right tool for the job. Foundry VTT would be silly to use for Wanderhome but is great for a combat-heavy 5e, for example. My current game works mostly fine in Roll20, but it's not the ideal tool for it.

I think my big hurdle with Foundry VTT is that it's super versatile and customizable... If you know to program.😆 Which I don't really. So I know I can probably shape Foundry VTT into the tool I need for most things, but it's a big learning curve and time investment.

Stryxin: I'm a very technical person and I love all the customization that Foundry VTT offers, especially with various modules. So that's definitely my pick. I would love to see some of those awesome module functionalities be added to the Foundry core tho as it's a bit of a hassle to keep everything updated and compatible all the time. Would love to see some form of map levels for example or something that would allow us to make even better battlemaps in our integration, without relying on more dependencies.

Grace: Roll20 is finally implementing some new features, so it's nice to see it improving. For Foundry VTT, I think the thing I want most as an "improvement" is onboarding and tutorials. Especially for customizing it.

An even spicier question! What are your thoughts on AI, especially within the RPG space?

Grace: I'll be succinct: AI is cool in theory, and the negatives so far outweigh the positives that I can not be excited about it or support it in any way.

Stryxin: I'm a bit more lenient, I love technology and advancements in it and I usually play around with anything new that I can get my hands on. I dabble in blender often, tried an unreal couple of times, etc. Just to see what's what, same with AI, I tried some of the more popular ones for image generation, just out of curiosity.

It's a cool tech for sure, but I agree that the ethics of it are very iffy, and as with everything it's going to be used in malicious ways. It definitely needs regulation of some sort.

I think it's clear that it's here to stay and we will see how things shape up over the next 2 years if not more. These things are often left running rampant because technology is moving forward at a much faster rate than legislation ever will.

Do you have any exclusives to share with us? We know the community would appreciate it if they were the first to know about something upcoming!😊

Grace: It's not quite exclusive, because it's technically a project we started but shelved a while ago, and we've teased it a bit, but we are finally going full steam ahead on a custom token maker. It's a tricky project to do in 2d. If we want multiple poses or body types, we have to hand draw each clothing or gear item in all relevant poses and shapes. But it's something we've really wanted to make for a while, and we're excited to have a more concrete timeline for it.

There are definitely still a lot of questions left on how to present and release the thing. We like to give as much away for free as possible, but we do have to eat. So we're trying to figure out where it goes and how much of it has free access, etc.
It's going to be something that ends up getting regular content updates over time. That way, we can start with a small library, but like everything FA, it will grow with time.

Do you have anything you want to say to the greater TTRPG/VTT community?

Stryxin: I'll keep it simple. TTRPGs are a wonderful thing that brings people together from all over, no matter who or where we are, we can always band together to battle the evil ahead. As two buddies once said... Just be excellent to each other!

Grace: I think I want to say that I'm really enjoying being part of such a passionate and creative community. Storytelling is such a human thing, and that's what TTRPGs are at their root. I love seeing what stories everyone is telling and getting involved in, and all the amazing work that everyone puts into what is, for most people, a hobby. I'm glad that the space is getting more and more inclusive. TTRPGs are such a wonderful freeform creative space, and I like seeing them as a place where anyone and everyone can come together.

What advice do you have for creators wanting to get into the VTT space? What advice would you offer them?

Stryxin: I'm gonna be honest, I don't envy anyone starting now, the market is very saturated compared to when we started. But I feel like it's saturated partially because of people jumping on the bandwagon for the wrong reasons and then giving up. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Especially in the mapmaking space, I constantly see new people doing a couple of maps over a short period of time... Immediately linking to Patreon and paywalling the content, then not getting any support for a month or two, and quitting. I understand that people want to profit from their work, but having some realistic goals is important. It takes time and effort to build a backlog and a library, and with each release, the support is more and more attractive.

It's very similar to what you can hear from streamers or YouTubers, you should start as a hobby, and see if you can grow it into a business over time if there is enough interest. Do not quit your job and bank on your project being a success.
I also think consistency and quality are very important factors.

What are your plans for the future?

Grace: More of the same! More assets, more tokens, the same high quality, the same amount of free stuff! A certain amount of consistency is good. We'll inevitability tackle some of Stryxin's many wish projects, but the core of it should always be assets and tokens.

Stryxin: I think we partially answered that above, we have no plans on stopping, we will continue to release content on a regular basis, for as long as people are going to support it. Hopefully, I'm gonna be in my 60s and still making dumb puns in our release announcements.

Thanks again Stryxin and Grace! We really appreciate all the well-thought-out answers, your time, and all the content you guys create.

Grace: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us!

Stryxin: Thank you for having us! ^_^

You can find links to Stryxin's and Grace's work at Forgotten Adventures, including their Discord server and Bazaar page by clicking on the images below:

Forgotten Adventures website
Forgotten Adventures Assets & Tokens Patreon

Forgotten Adventures Battlemaps Patreon
Forgotten Adventures Twitter
Forgotten Adventures Twitter
Forgotten Adventures Discord
Forgotten Adventure's Creator Page on The Forge