For our inaugural newsletter, we here at Space Penguin thought it best to turn to the man himself and ask a few questions on the what, the why, and the how of starting a publishing company.
DAI SHUGARS: let’s pretend we don’t know each other so you can introduce yourself properly.
JARRETT CRADER: Hi, I'm Jarrett/Jert, co-owner/editor-in-chief of Space Penguin Ink, LLC.
DS: A lot of people probably know you from your editing work, both by yourself and with Fiona Maeve Geist as part of Moonrat Conspiracy. What compelled you to go from editor to publisher in starting Space Penguin Ink?
JC: I've been dabbling with a few projects over the years with friends, stuff like the Violence Jam, House of Dogs, and various zines like Flammable Hospital and Country Crawl Classics. Most of those have been short run for conventions, benefits, or to just make a thing, ya know?
I also worked with Exalted Funeral for 2+ years doing project management, production manangement, convention organizing (I wear/wore many many hats, haha), on top of celebrating 11 years working part or full time in rpgs. I decided I needed to get out of my comfort zone and do my own thing, my own way, with folks I enjoy making cool weird stuff with.
DS: You're definitely coming out of the gate strong—five different books for three different systems, including one miniature skirmish wargame! What was your decision-making process like when you were picking out which projects to open with?
JC: Tough one, haha. I asked myself: “what are my favorite systems?” DCC is my favorite modern system, hands down, and getting a chance to work with Forrest, finally, after all of these years, I just couldn't pass that up, so Beyond The Silver Scream I knew I had to get out early. Garden of Corda is exactly the sort of slot-in situation that I see a lot of asks for when it comes to Troika! content, and Cade's writing and art is stellar, and hits that whimsy note but without going into slapstick (anyone who plays with me knows I lean in hard on slapstick).
I have been Lucky to work with Reece on many things MOTHERSHIP, and he had Distress Signals already in the works, so that what as sure shot. I've worked for the past two years with Disaster Tourism Games on a lot of their line (Bucket Bash is soooo good!) and we did an ashcan version of Adrift for PaxU last December, and polishing that one up has been super fun.
And that brings us to Will's Dread Nights. I've been editor and project pusher for the Forbidden Psalm line for a couple years, and every project we push the refinement and revision juuuuust a bit more, plus I love love love some vamps and wolves. Slotting all of this in line with store launch and business build has been a challenge, and these fit that sweet spot of covering a bunch of systems I am close to, being really close to completion timing-wise, and I hope everyone digs them!
DS: Focusing on MOTHERSHIP for a second, as that's a system I know you have a lot of experience with. There's a lot of great MoSh content coming out these days, and the system has taken off in a way very few non-fantasy systems have. Both of the MoSh supplements you're publishing hit on something I haven't really seen elsewhere: particularly, the anthology of quick adventure hooks Distress Signals and the mind-bending dungeon/pointcrawl Adrift. Were you deliberately looking to fill gaps in the market when you decided to publish these?
JC: One of the really cool things about RPGs, and MOTHERSHIP particularly, is the plethora of takes on any particular subject within in the realm of a specific system. One of the great things Reece is doing with a lot of his content is providing great pick-up-and-play tools for Wardens running open table/public play games that showcase the system to new players. His previous release, Dead in the Water, has moved to the top of the newbie-friendly list on the official MOTHERSHIP Discord server, and Distress Signals is an extension of that: quick ship/station scenarios to introduce new players, yet it also has plenty for returning crew as well.
On the flip side, with Adrift the dimension flipping aspect has long been a staple of the inspirational material behind MOTHERSHIP, and when they pitched it my way I was immediately sold. Keep your eyes peeled: we have a strong long term plan for Adrift and the rest of Puck Sector, and if you like “The Weird“ in your horror you'll feel right at home.
DS: So what are your long-term plans for Space Penguin Ink? Do you intend to keep putting out supplements for several different systems, or are you looking to hone in on a few that you really like? Are you considering accepting submissions, or do you prefer to choose projects yourself?
JC: One of my favorite quotes from the past several years in all of the myriad gaming spheres I've dabbled in is: “Be Content With Content.” There are for sure going to be some system/mechanical books that make their way to the stacks from SPI, but our primary focus is modules/adventures/bestiaries/what-have-yous for other systems, especially content that can be used with several systems with no or minimal conversion. Mixing chocolate and peanut butter works for candy, let's do it with books!
And for the current time, submissions are closed. One of the cool things about being on the production side of books for many years is that I have worked with a bunch of keen folks whose work I really love, and helping to get that out there is priority. Aaaaand I also have a couple of board games of my and my partner's creation in the chute. Board games take a slightly different tack with regards to production, so we're working there as well, and learning a lot!
DS: Alright, let's get a little personal. When you're looking for things to play, what grabs your attention the most? Does your table go in for wacky adventures, weird critters, unique player options, or what?
JC: My kind of question, multipart answer (of course, right?). I have been playing and running shorter length sessions for a few years, so when I pick up something to run I look for high impact weirdness. I play JRPGs in my “spare’ time, so anything that throws me multiple forms of creatures (we killed it... no wait, it is evolving before our very eyes!) is a plus, as are fleshed-out locations and scenarios.
I've been slowing down on my generator consumption since busy, and these days if there are multiple smaller books in a box I will insta-buy. A great example of this is Chris Bissette/Loot the Room's Dungeon Drops, which has a bunch of modules in it that I can pull out and run quick, or slow savor if necessary. Modularity is the big key for me these days, and cobbling/compiling stuff from disparate sources keeps me interested.
The other really big thing I look for when picking something up is the depth of research/information. I love to learn, and when I find new words or concepts or history that someone has slipped into their work I get super excited. Give me biology, sociology, geography with my fantasy, ya know?
DS: I really like the current trend of trying to incorporate real-world biology and science into games. Garden of Corda has that—I learned a lot about fungal life cycles just by reading it.
JC: Yes, Cade did a neat dive in there, and it is super fun to get to be an antibody of a sort! Plus, running around inside a giant's heart—how fun!!!
DS: Alright, last question: what advice would you give someone who's looking to break out into the RPG market with their own work?
JC: Read! Read! Read! Pick up and read other books, whether they rpg books or comics or fiction or biography. The more you read, the more you have stewing in your brain, and the more will rise to the top. Don't be afraid to ask for help. There are tons of folks who will point you in the direction of information, from writing to editing to design to art to printing to publishing to shipping to taxes to marketing to conventions: the list never ends! And the biggest one, and something I have to remind myself a lot: HAVE FUN!!!
That’s it for this transmission. Stay tuned for our next newsletter, where we’ll be talking to Reece Carter about the sci-fi horror anthology Distress Signals!