KiwiWeek unites RPG fans in New Zealand and around the world
Sunday May 1st saw the start of New Zealand‘s first KiwiWeek celebration, dubbed Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa. Aims to spread awareness of Kiwi games and designers, organizers created a stacked schedule of events for the week, including game releasesactual game live streamsPanels at the Big Bad Con and bundles up DriveThruRPG and juck.io.
“Aotearoa New Zealand has developed a vibrant and exciting community of gamers and game designers. We don’t make it to GenCon or Dragonmeet or the JoCo Cruise that easily,” Morgan Davie, a game designer and podcaster from Te Whanganui-a-Tara, Wellington, shared with io9 via email. “But we believe that our games and gamers have a fresh and unique energy that everyone can enjoy.” Even though you might not know it, games like monsters of the week and The spread are both written by New Zealanders.
io9 was able to chat with some of the designers and attendees involved in KiwiWeek including Liam Stevens (who describes himself as Kaitiaki, a steward or maintainer who is part of the community responsible for KiwiRPG) and Brendon Bennett’s. “The community belongs to all of us, and the [forum] to the community. No head stands above the other here.” Stevens too who runs it Toa table top podcast, told us. Stevens constantly stressed the importance of community in KiwiRPG. “Te Ao puts the Māori community first, so I felt it was important that we build a community that is self-sustaining and less dependent on foreign parties supporting Kiwi individuals.” he added.
Liz Parker, a Waipā-based podcaster, said in a press release provided to io9 that “Aotearoa’s history of creative industries makes our small size our greatest strength because it’s easy to share knowledge, work quickly, and try new things with the community behind you. We’ve seen it in film, television, and video games, and now in tabletop RPGs.”
“We’re an extremely social culture that puts the community and the group before the self and that fits well with a hobby like RPGs that is inherently social,” Stevens added. As a Māori creator, Stevens wants to help bring other local, indigenous voices to the forefront of design. “By creating a community that is uniquely based in Aotearoa, it would send a signal to other Māori in the hobby that their voices are wanted. We’re few and far between in this hobby, especially design, so I want to give the shout out and see who we can welcome.”
Bennett agreed. “As a community, I am amazed at how generous everyone is with support and collaboration. If I get stuck with a bit of adventure design, I know there are a dozen experienced GMs out there who are happy to give me advice.”
“The theater of the absurd is true to our art,” Stevens said about the kind of Kiwi culture we can expect from Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa, “and RPGs are no different.”
“It’s difficult to make generalizations [about Kiwi gameplay culture]” remarked Bennetts. “BBut I think Kiwis have a keen sense of humor that shows when we play games: the dead serious can sit right next to the very stupid, followed by unexpected moments of poignancy.”
“Everything is ironic and self-deprecating. This extends to our culture, which shys away a little culturally from attempts to be taken seriously. However, we shake this and find our voice much better,” Stevens added. When asked what he hopes international audiences will benefit from, Stevens expressed a desire for people to see and appreciate the breadth of talent that exists in Aotearoa and “from a Māori lens, love it that way many international creators to incorporate Māori cultural tropes into their own games, maybe now they can see how we actually make things ourselves.”
“There is a Māori proverb that goes ‘Kāore te kūmara e kōrero mō tōna ake reka’, meaning ‘the kūmara (sweet potato) does not speak of its own sweetness.'” Bennetts who is also the DM of Dungeon & Comedians(which will have a live stream on May 8th). “Kiwis tend to be so humble that they refuse to advertise themselves even when they have something amazing on their hands. Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa is an opportunity for us to talk about the amazing things each other is doing.”
“TTRPGs are getting bigger and bigger all the time… I think what’s really growing is the acceptance of other TTRPGs beyond that D&D. For example, I know a lot of people who play monsters of the week (especially after playing on it The Adventure Zone), but don’t even realize the game was made here in Aotearoa by Mike Sands of Generic Games.”
io9 asked Stevens about the state of contemporary game design and asked him to pick a few favorites to share. “It’s very difficult, like choosing between children,” he joked. “I think Greg Stafford was a serious contender for greatest game designer of all time. This man was a darling. When it comes to contemporary designers, the two I’m most excited about are the following Pam Punzalan and Zedeck Siew. As for games, I keep coming back to this mothership and Mork Borg. You just talk to me.”
bennetts was more specific and choose games by Aotearoa. “I have a real soft spot for Steve Hickey’s game sun. It’s sort of the reverse of the usual Lovecraftian-influenced games, where you play a group of small-town cultists trying to summon a dark god. The audio is dark but (at least when I play it) it turns into a hilarious chaotic mess like something off breaking Bad,” he said. “I would also like to mention Morgan Davies’ new game Paranormal Wellingtonthat captures the deadpan humor of perfect Wellington Paranormal (as the title suggests). If you’re familiar with both Powered by the Apocalypse games and Kiwi idioms, then a 7-9 roll that’s a ‘Yeah, Ne’ result is extremely satisfying.”
Stevens helped design the event’s name, Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa, which honors the Māori Te Reo (language) and gaming culture at the heart of the Kiwi sensibility. “Te Ao Māori and RPGs integrate very well. We are a storytelling culture, our traditions are oral, and we use metaphor and story to teach lessons and explore philosophy,” he explained. “It’s something we get deeply involved with from a young age, so RPGs feel natural as we’re primed from a young age to examine problems through the lens of history and others.”
You can browse either of the Tag #KiwiWeek over to itch.io to find some great games, or you can read the bundle over at DriveThruRPG. Here are some popular games from Aotearoa:
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