Jul 12, 2023

Stars of the VTT Galaxy: #5 Arcane Affinity

13 min read - Published: a year ago

Greetings to the amazing community, and welcome to the fifth edition of our regular Stars of the VTT Galaxy interview series. In this series, we illuminate the already bright stars that make up our community of Bazaar Creators.

We are happy to have had the opportunity to talk with Allie from Arcane Affinity, one-half of a small talented team that has deservedly taken its place under the stars in a relatively short period.

Arcane Affinity enhances your gaming experience by turning their love, passion, and experience for tabletop gaming into creating unique and compelling magic items for your RPG games. We proudly present our interview with Allie below.

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?

Allie: My name is Allie, I'm a 30-year-old nerd, who grew up in Detroit, and has lots of stories to show for it. My full-time gig is being a dispatcher for Amazon. I get to manage a lot of people, and I love every moment of it!

As for the Business, Arcane Affinity is not even a year old, but I find it slowly taking up more and more of my life in a good way! My partner Damir and I started this first and foremost to have a lot of fun while creating some(hopefully) awesome stuff for people to enjoy! I've been into tabletop games for about 2/3 of my life, but once I started brewing, I could not stop, I'm one of those people with an entire binder of handwritten homebrew stuff!

What’s one random fact about you?

Allie: I grew up on the west side of Detroit. I'm not gonna lie, it wasn't always great, but I did go to an awesome high school where I learned to fly a plane. By the time I graduated, sadly, the school wasn't open anymore due to a lack of funding. But it was an awesome experience. I'll never forget it.                                          

Also, I can't seem to be as organized with my notes digitally. Even for my online games, I still have a notepad in front of me and write it all down.

How did the two of you in Arcane Affinity get started creating TTRPG content?

Allie: I am (and always have been ) a chronic over-preparer. I probably have more unused homebrew than anyone else you will ever know. I decided after I got good enough at making it, that it made sense to do something with all that content. So I got together with my best artistic friend, and we started pumping out content that has been relatively well received so far. I could not be happier with how fast everything seemed to be moving.

We started just posting our brews on Instagram, then as more people said they liked it, we move to Patreon, and now we put content up everywhere. It's great, thinking about it now it's hard to believe it hasn't even been a year yet.

Flint Frostbeard's Foldable Forge

Was there a particular need or gap in the existing magic item offerings that you wanted to address? Or is it still about love and passion for it? Or both?

Allie: It's mostly passion, but with that said regrettably there is a lot of low-effort content out there muddling the water nowadays. At first, I never used any content that wasn't my own, for like 15 years I refused to run non-homebrew settings or use items I didn't make. My mind was changed when I first discovered Loot Tavern about 2 years ago. I saw some truly innovative ideas in their stuff, and it inspired me to both give other 3rd party content a chance, and eventually decide that I could do something similar to what they do.

Loot Tavern also was the first Patreon I joined. Now I probably have too many, lol. But I really want to support the people who make awesome stuff!

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

Allie: It's hard to say, so many things have inspired our content. I'm really into anime, and while I try not to let it interfere with our artist's direction, I'm willing to bet subconsciously a lot of the items are inspired by some random show I have watched.

My other main creative input would be any book by Brandon Sanderson, he really turns a pen into a paintbrush. I can't get enough of his stuff. I have even listened to his speaking events about how to write a story. I think about it all the time when I'm writing now.

What are your goals moving forward with your content?

Allie: Our next big goal is a Kickstarter, containing one of my settings and tons of items, classes, and races! It's a huge undertaking, and I'm loving every minute of it. Other than that I hope to be able to expand the team soon so we can create more awesome stuff. I also want to make a large resource of points of interest that can be dropped right into any campaign.

I run Hex crawls or large-scale campaigns often, where getting to where you are going is most of the adventure, so I have a lot of great ideas for things for players to stumble upon that I'm excited to share.

How do you approach designing unique and compelling magic items for 5e? What factors do you consider to ensure the items are balanced and enhance the gameplay experience?

Allie: This is tough to put into words.

We have adapted our design process a couple of times now, and I think we are nailing down something special. Our process always starts with a set theme, sets are usually about 10 to 20 items.

Once we think of a concept in line with a theme, we tend to lean into player expectations for most items. That way when we subvert them it's so much cooler. When we make an item we want to either solve a problem, create an interesting situation, and or make a player feel awesome. Our best items to do all 3 without breaking the game!

The balance part is always after this, sometimes certain class features can make an otherwise awesome brew impractical and it needs to be reworked. For balance, we don't really have the resources to playtest every item, but I’d like to think we do a pretty good job of using mathematical analysis and comparing it to the relative power of other items of similar rarity.

Hmm, even with that it's hard to explain, lol.

Our steps to create keep changing or better yet evolving. If you ask me that again in a few months, I'd have a different and hopefully better answer.

*The Black Cat Pendant*
The Black Cat Pendant

Have you encountered any unique challenges when designing magic items for 5e? And how do you navigate the existing rules and mechanics of the system while still adding something fresh and exciting?

Allie: Actually, I just brewed an item a few days ago that took a lot of work to get right. I was making a bard-only two-handed Axe Guitar (Think rock and roll), and I had some awesome features built around it that really let the bard get in the thick of it.

But as we were working through it, we realized that the bard's martial subclasses aren't great at using two-handed weapons, and they don't want a Strength-based weapon. The item was actually so pigeonholed by the rules of the game that only a tiny subset of players would actually get the full use out of it. After an hour of looking through subclasses and rules, we made what is probably one of my favorite items ever.

Basically, fresh ideas are easy to make into something cool, but you really do need a lot of deep game knowledge (or an awesome partner) if you want to brew things that bend the rules. Anyone can make an all-powerful god-slaying blade, but you need the practice to make one that doesn't break the universe wide open while you are at it.

Or maybe not- overpowered items can still be fun once in and while! And then you can turn it into a multiverse campaign, lol.

Do you have a favorite type of magic item to create?

Allie: I can't say that I do really. Perhaps wondrous items, since they can be anything that's not already defined as equipment. I have made a lot of truly unique designs in that space. One of my favorites off the top of my head is a chest full of porcelain dolls that can come to life!

Kalidor’s Chest of Porcelain Servants

Have you given thought to creating content for other systems, such as PF2e?

Allie: I actually love PF2e but I don't have a good enough grasp on it to comfortably make high-quality content for it. It's been on my mind to spend more time on the system, and or make some more system-agnostic content like the points of interest book.

The OGL stuff was spooky for us, we were still so new back then. I'm glad we can now comfortably publish under creative commons.

What motivated you to create a Patreon page for your content? What spurred its creation when you began releasing content?

Allie: Honestly, it was mostly made to test the waters, like a proof of concept if you will, to see if people thought our content was good enough to pay for. Turns out they do, but I kinda needed that as validation to justify taking this to the next level and working on larger projects. Also, knowing I have people that are into our work really motivates me to keep creating. I love seeing people thank me for an awesome item that really made them, and their players excited or spurred on a compelling situation that created roleplay.

Now giving my patrons the content they want is my top priority, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I just finished putting our whole catalog on our website so patrons can sort through all the content in one place. All because a Patreon suggested it!

Are there any more specific projects or initiatives that you hope to pursue with the support of your patrons?

Allie: I want to make monthly one-shot adventures that are fully illustrated and everything but frankly, with our current team size and workload, it isn't possible. I'm hoping the support of our patrons can make that happen one day! Even if that never happens, I really appreciate all the support I've gotten so far. They really give me the confidence to keep going!

How has the reaction been to your free 42-item PDF offered via your newsletter? What prompted you to put it together and offer it?

Allie: This is going to sound horribly cliche, but it really, it's a love letter back to the D&D community. D&D has been such a huge part of my life that I wanted to make sure I put some high-quality stuff out there, just to give back to the people who have given me many awesome moments throughout the years. Also, we put those same items into the free version of the Emporium (our searchable database) to make them as easy as possible to use in games! Yeah, I think some people see free RPG content and assume it's of low quality because most of it is, but I'm hoping I have surprised a few people with what we are offering.

We were admittedly on the fence about giving anything away let alone so much, but we started to remember all the great campaigns we have played in, and it took us over the hump. I have been on some truly epic adventures and I want other people to be able to do that too, even if they can't fully finance their hobby yet.

What's your least favorite item you've created? (If it exists).🙂

Allie: Oh, no.🙂 It was from our very first item set. It was called the Crown of Stolen Eyes. It had a kick-ass name and even better art but I feel like we dropped the ball of the mechanics. Thankfully, it was a Patreon exclusive at a time when we barely had any support then, so not many know about it. I have considered going back to adjust some of that stuff if we get a chance.

Crown of Stolen Eyes

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

Allie: I play once or twice a month, way less than what I used to be able to do. I play 5e and Cypher System mostly nowadays. Scheduling is so hard when all players are adults with family and whatnot. I use Foundry VTT exclusively, migrated from Roll 20 and never looked back at the best $50 I've spent in a while.

My partner Damir plays once or twice a week, and I'm extremely jealous.
I'm big on maps and automation. It lets me focus on telling compelling stories and not math, I love it.

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

Allie: Foundry VTT is the best VTT for how I like to play. As far as improvements to Foundry VTT, it's hard to say it's so much better than everything else that I've used. It could use a better onboarding experience, the learning curve is pretty steep when you first start using it.

Are there any other aspects of TTRPG content creation that you're passionate about exploring in the future? Any other projects or ideas you're excited to pursue beyond magic items?🙂

Allie: I want to branch out to one-shot adventures that can be dropped into any campaign and system-agnostic content, to help people run games their players will never forget. I want to help other people love D&D as much as I do! I can't think of anything else I haven't already said.😃

What are the biggest issues facing you as a smaller content creator?

Allie: Exposure! It's been a long climb to try to separate ourselves from all the effortless content (AI Stuff Mostly) out there, and I think we still are battling this to a degree, as some marketplaces like DriveThruRPG still allow it on their platform.

I spend just as much time managing our online presence as I do writing content.

What’s your opinion on AI-generated and assisted art?

Allie: Well, I honestly sympathize with the creators who can't afford to or don't have access to the artist to illustrate their content. It's really hard to find any kind of footing in this industry without awesome graphics.

My biggest issue is with AI-generated text for items, and/or adventures or campaign ideas, they feel soulless, and it just doesn't sit right with me , with them being presented right next to say Griffon Saddlebags' next book. At the very least, it should all have a disclaimer. It's fine if people knowingly use it to make their games more fun but it feels a bit dishonest otherwise. I don't have as strong of an opinion on AI-assisted work frankly. I believe that is likely what the future will look like for people leveraging AI to make even more impressive works of art!

Do you think there’s a way to ethically use AI in RPG content creation?

Allie: That's a hard one, to making, and marketing good content is hard even if you have world-class artists and writers. It's spooky as we see AI making huge strides and getting less and less recognizable. I think for now I am fine as long as they have to say the content is AI-generated, and perhaps storefronts should consider a degree or separation between the two types of content. I really don't want potentially amazing creators to never have a shot because they're under a ton of AI-generated content.

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

Allie: I will say this, even as primarily a D&D 5e creator, people need to branch out more. There are so many great RPGs, and the best part is you can take the cool mechanics and lessons from those games, bring them back to your D&D table, and make them that much better. If I never opened Blades in the Dark or the Cypher System book, I would play D&D completely differently. Don't miss out by not trying other stuff.

What advice would you give to players who want to create their own magic items for their 5e games? Any tips for maintaining balance and ensuring the items add value to the overall gameplay experience?

Allie: If you're just starting out, I would lean heavily into either having your items cast spells or small variations of spells. Then it's easy to track how powerful an item is if you use official content as a litmus test (but not Fireball, it's special).

If you're just making content for your home game, focus on the fun and think about the balance afterward. Tell your players ahead of time you might need to adjust the item on the fly until you get it right.

Once you get into more advanced stuff or making stuff for other people, you have to consider so many things. The only way I know to prepare for that is to get a lot of experience and play a lot of games. And remember this is supposed to be fun, and if I wasn't having fun I wouldn't be doing this, and neither should you.

Thanks again Allie for this great conversation, and for your time. We appreciate it.

Allie: Awesome. That was a lot, but pretty fun, thanks for having me.

You can find links to Allie's work at Arcane Affinity, including their newsletter and Bazaar page by clicking on the images below.

Arcane Affinity's Creator Page on The Forge