The lifeblood of the TTRPG world is in the fans and creators. Those that take the core rules, bestiaries, and expansions and delve further into them creating new experiences and tools to help players and DMs alike to further flesh out their world. One such book is NeverEnding Inc's Anansi's Tapestry of Lives, we were lucky enough to sit down with CEO and Founder of NeverEnding Inc to talk about this NPC Source Book, what players can expect by backing it, and the importance of the book as a platform to promote smaller voices in the TTRPG space.
To go into some details first Anansi's Tapestry of Lives is a D&D 5e supplement that was created with the purpose of allowing TTRPG creators big and small to create over 100 unique and diverse NPCs for DMs to quickly populate their games with. Instead of the party stumbling into a new location forcing the DM to come up with a character through pure improv each of these NPCs has a location they'd likely be found, a backstory, goal, and even interchangeable features decided by their own roll table. As well as the book being available in hardcover and PDF format part of the Kickstarter rewards will also include a VTT token, professionally voice-acted monologue, pre-made micro-settings, and optional NPC flashcards to have readily accessible at your table.
What is Be Never Ending?
The Be Neverending platform as it stands today allows players to easily create characters, artwork, and scenes that can be used for multiple TTRPG systems and is a way to "give you a whole new way to create and share content without you being front and center." While that's the main thing they do Anansi's Tapestry of Lives serves as a little detour on their main path "because this is a space that we play in [and] have been creating some fantastic relationships in this space."
Anansi's Tapestry of Lives was named for the West African God of Stories, Anansi. When taking into consideration the purpose of the book to highlight representation and inclusion, as well as the thematic parallels of the God of Stories being the namesake for a book of a variety of NPCs and their own individual stories it just made sense. Van Doren highlighted that "people say 'All stories are Anansi's' so really who else could we have picked!" There was also no hiding his love of Neil Gaiman's works as he also mentioned how much he enjoyed Anansi Boys and American Gods. The spark that became Anansi's Tapestry of Lives came from Van Doren not seeing himself in the worlds of video games that he played or movies that he watched, a sentiment that he shares with other BIPOC and LGBTQIA+.
The premise for NeverEnding as a whole was to create a space where people see themselves being better represented. "As we started looking at the avatars and characters that you can create in our app we started doing some internal writing around those," Van Doren explained, "As I started to talk to people we had people who were interested saying 'wow, I would love to create a character for that book' and I realized we have an immediate opportunity to let these authentic minority and marginalized voices be heard and to give every game master the tools to make their world more colorful, representative, and colorful."
Jamie Van Doren is the CEO and Founder of Never Ending, inc. Van Doren comes from a different kind of background that you'd expect to hear a lot of tech startup CEOs come from, he is gay, mixed-race Latino, and grew up in poverty. While growing up with his intellectually disabled mother and stepfather who was a drug dealer Van Doren had to deal with all kinds of external pressures such as bullying and even homelessness at the age of 13. Wanting to get away from this identity with the advent of Social Media Van Doren quickly realized that Social Media too isn't a very nice place, "I was excited to put myself out there before I realized, Woah, I don't actually like putting myself out there."
What kind of NPCs will you find in the pages of Anansi's Tapestry of Lives?
Having a chance to read through an in-progress portion of Anansi's Tapestry of Lives I was met with characters from all kinds of upbringings and backgrounds but I had to take a moment to highlight my love of Belram Wildboot the Dwarf baker who bakes a variety of pies for the town. As an Australian, having an NPC who specializes in a variety of meat and vegetable pies leapt out to me immediately but there was a closer connection that Van Doren had with Belram Wildboot, a creation of his own. "I pulled from my own life, I did not grow up with my biological father, my stepfather was problematic to say the least. When I was homeless as a teen [...] I did a lot of couch surfing so I didn't realize until after I'd written Belram that he was the dad I would have loved to have had." Van Doren had to pause for a moment to compose himself before talking more about Wildboot and his half-dozen adopted children whose parents might have fallen in goblin raids "He's kind of gruff on the outside, but he totally loves those kids. Even in his Quirk where it mentions how he falls asleep any chance he gets because he's always exhausted but he also takes his kids on wild horseback rides through the town square. That's like fantastic!"
There are a lot of other NPCs that were highlighted as we continued to talk. Barkav is a half-orc professor, written by Professor Stefan Huddleston, who was specifically written to get around the trope that orcs are meant to be savage. This NPC shows that they can be scholars. For a DM interested in adding him to your campaign Professor Barkav is also a Polyglot so could be an invaluable resource to your party if there are any languages that they want to learn, or uncovered ancient texts with important plot hidden in their script. Another NPC that we discussed was Centauren, a half-elf traveling salesman who is lost in the wilds. You'll find Gnome fortunetellers, a non-binary street urchin who runs a gambling ring, and so many more than Van Doren lost his train of thought trying to remember more specific ones.
The Intro Monologues for each character were a decision that was made early on. Reflecting on his own DMing Van Doren explained that he only sometimes performs voices for characters, and when he does they're not great voices, but remarked that it can be a lot of pressure. The thought for these introductions is "imagine instead if you can just play a monologue on your phone or tablet or [over VTT], being able to play that for your players you can get a sense of the mood of that player. So much comes out of the voice and it was also another way for us to add this level of authenticity [...] and to get more people involved." What might have begun simply as a supplement for players and DMs to use to enhance their own game evolved over the course of the project's life to "provide a space for creators to shine." Taking some time to gush about how great all of the monologues are there's a real hope that all players will immediately fall in love with the characters. There are some characters that will be written and voiced by the same creator, some creators have written one character while they'll be narrating another, and some of the monologues will be performed by a voice actor solely.
Who is involved in Anansi's Tapestry of Lives?
For this project, there are a lot of big and small TTRPG content creators that have been brought in to create characters, write about them, and even provide voice acting for each character's introduction monologue. Some of the names joining Anansi's Tapestry of Lives include writers who have worked on official Wizards of the Coast projects like Journeys Through The Radiant Citadel, titles from Ghostfire Gaming, MCDM, and more.
Some of the names that fans of TTRPG literature might recognize include Jim Zub (writer of Savage Sword of Conan and the Rick & Morty D&D 5e supplement), Keith Baker (creator of the Eberron D&D setting), Johnny Stanton (Fullback for the Cleveland Browns), four writers from Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel including Mario Ortegon, D&D personality Jasmine Bhullar aka ThatBronzeGirl (Twitch, Critical Role, Dimension 20), Cosplayer Isa, Tanya Depass (Into the Motherlands), and so so many more. As Van Doren was listing off collaborator after collaborator you could see just how much excitement there was to gather so many names for one publication. Of the 50+ writers contributing to Anansi's Tapestry of Lives "well over 70% of [the] contributors are BIPOC, which is Black Indigenous People of Color or Mixed, or LGBTQIA+ and/or disabled. Jennifer Kretchmer is a disabled writer and actor, she both wrote an NPC and voice acted that NPC."
In talking on connecting with and sourcing all of these TTRPG creators and personalities Van Doren highlighted that their first aim was to specifically make sure there was space for smaller creators. They reached out to a number of smaller creators to make sure they were included, this also helped them work out some kinks in the process from the communication to their collaborators all the way to tracking the progress of submissions through editorial. From their Van Doren explained he "kinda took his shot, and he reached out to some folks" by reaching out first to those creators that he had managed to build up relationships and out from there but he "still did not expect Jim Zub or Keith Baker [...] to say yes [but] they have all connected with the goal of this book which is to uplift these minority and marginalized voices."
With the publishing of Journeys Through the Radiant Citadel, Van Doren feels that there's a desire for more BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ voices in the industry. This is leading not only to more creators wanting to help create content that has their own voices and lived experiences in it, such as Anansi's Tapestry of Lives, but more people are interested and open to supporting those projects no matter their background. When being asked by someone on Twitter in relation to the product "Can't a writer just write an NPC, why does it have to be from that background?", in response he explained "Yeah, I could write an island diver and have it be ok, but it's different if we have a writer [...] who is Filipino write that character because there are things that [they'll] know about that character that I have no idea about. I did not know that today they still have kids that do diving, and it is kids because they can handle the water pressure. There are authentic details that come in that writeup that I never would have had and it just makes the character feel more real."
When can you expect to see more of Anansi's Tapestry of Lives?
There will be a Kickstarter for Anansi's Tapestry of Lives launching later this month on Tuesday, September 27th, if you're interested in learning more about it right now then you can head to the official Backerkit for the project. You can also get a sample PDF of some of the NPCs through this link. The book is already mostly written with the current goal to be adding more stat blocks, sidequests, and Magical Items. There will be more chances for extra NPCs to be added, and there will be a Backer Tier for fans to be able to create their own NPC or to work with their writers to have their NPC created. This NPC will also be professionally voice acted offering them the full Anansi's Tapestry of Lives treatments. Luckily with the situation that they're in Anansi's Tapestry of Lives will be published no matter what as "90 of the 100 NPCs have already been written and there's so much writing already done it's crazy."
If you're interested in looking into Never Ending or Jamie Van Doren more yourself then you can find them on their official website or on social media. If you're interested in trying out their platform to create characters, artwork, and scenes then you can also check out their web app.
TechRaptor would like to thank Jamie Van Doren for his time talking about Anansi's Tapestry of Lives with us.