Every month we feature an independent creator we love.
Steph (also known as Frey online) is an illustrator and writer most well known for her cute, feminine-focused Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) modules like Toe Beans, a homebrew shop module ideal about a cat cafe, and indie TTRPG The Breathing.
After working in Saudi Arabia as a teacher, Steph moved back to the UK to pursue design work and during the pandemic connected with her friend Logan, a bookbinder and printer. Together, they are Fistful of Ink (a printer) and Fistful of Crits (a publisher), which combines both of their hobbies with D&D and indie tabletop games.
Women Creators in Tabletop Roleplaying Games
“I got into TTRPGs in college, but back then it wasn’t as acceptable, really, for women to be in that space, so I kind of fell out of it.”
Her love of tabletop gaming was reignited after she returned to the UK and began listening to podcasts — Friends at the Table, in particular — about tabletop gaming.
“I was really lucky because I passively watched the community on Twitter for a long time and then gained the courage to interact a bit more and all the people that initially started chatting to me were women…It’s such a different atmosphere to what it was when I was in college.”
Now, Steph sees more and more women openly playing (and creating) TTRPGs and feeling more welcomed in the community as a whole — which goes right back to the feminine vibes of her games.
“Inclusivity in gaming is so important, and not just with gender. It absolutely needs to be a space where people feel comfortable. I was invited to run tables by an event organizer in Manchester for female, non-binary, and trans people to come and learn how to play TTRPGs and, you know, I caught some flack for it. But I was really happy to offer that space because I wanted somebody to offer that space to me when I was younger.”
Creating Toe Beans and Fyrefall
Steph loves cats, especially her cats, and one day while on Twitter she saw a tweet asking “if you could run a business in a D&D world, what would it be?”
“I replied, ‘Oh, cat cafe, a magical cat cafe where wizards go to chill,’ and a bunch of people tagged on and said, ‘Are you making this? You should make this.’”
The thread popped up at just the right moment, too, because at the time Steph was thinking about what to do for her first big project — and now she had it.
Creating Toe Beans began with doodles and soon moved into a high design module.
“I noticed a lot of the shop modules are super basic and I wanted to create a game in and of itself.”
Fistful of Crits modules bring experiences to players. Toe Beans includes things like cafe loyalty cards and tea bag labels. The book itself is styled to look like a menu so that it also fits in with the theme and brings the magic close to home.
Fyrefall, Steph’s other D&D module, is a seasonal one-shot focused on stars, divination, and casting.
“We came up with this idea of a table mat that you cast your dice on to read fortunes for your players as a way of building an improv or an early campaign.”
“There’s definitely a market for that cutesy, feminine entry into tabletop…D&D is a lot of people’s way into the hobby as much as some people want to argue — and that’s good.”
What’s next for Steph?
“One thing about me is I have zero chill and I’m working on, like, seven projects at once. So, in the pipeline at the moment, just let me check my massive to-do list…”
Steph’s next indie installment (in collaboration with Logan) is Afterglow, an indie TTRPG Metroidvania-style level discovery game with two opposing playbooks. Since it uses two playbooks, a player could play it solo and switch between playbooks, or the game can be played with a friend where players use opposing playbooks. For this game, Logan is working on a double book to play with the idea of duality.
“I want [Afterglow] to be a prequel game to a big powered-by-the-apocalypse game I’m going to make toward the end of the year.”
The game is a creation for a game jam hosted by Rene Pier at FariRPGs, creator of Firelights, on which Steph's Afterglow is based.
She is also working on mini module drops, a journaling game about objects the player finds in thrift stores, and a three-part Christmas-themed game just in time for the holidays.
Advice for creators
Don’t forget the admin work
A lot of being an independent creator is managing every facet of your business (and creations) from brainstorming, writing, and art to marketing, fundraising, and events.
“If you’re just starting out, learn about what you need to give printers. It’s such a huge barrier...Take some time to learn about the admin, print specs, all of that…because it’s a lot and I didn’t even realize the intricacies of print design until I started working with one.”
She also warns creators to stay away from AI art, most of which create images based on the work of other artists, thus stealing it without the permission of those artists.
“There are other ways of doing this. There are lots of people who will help you — game testers, editors — and there’s stock art and images. The Breathing is all stock art that I applied filters to. I’m an artist and an illustrator, so I could’ve done it myself…There’s definitely great ways of getting around things and experimenting with design.”
Start creating — and be brave
“Be brave. Bravery is a big one for me. I hated my art for a really, really long time and I wasn’t confident enough to show people my writing and I didn’t know if this was going to work with Logan and I was really scared. Being a woman in the community, I had all these concerns and anxieties and then you’ve just got to be brave. Failure is good, actually, because you learn from it.”
Taking pride in your work as an independent creator is a huge step — and it’s important to also know the value of what you create.
“Somebody from the community came up to my store at Tabletop Gaming Live and saw The Breathing and said, ‘You absolutely cannot be selling this what you’re selling it for. You need to be selling it at a higher price point.’ They were so wonderful and offered me advice and brought me in [to the community] and I think that gave me the confidence to value myself properly.”
Then, Steph had the confidence to help others in the community.
“If you get to a point where you can give back to the community, you absolutely should.”