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THE ZONE RPG

Created by Raphael D'Amico

A tabletop rpg of surreal play-to-lose horror for 1-6 players In The Zone, you and your friends will take characters wracked with phobias & obsessions on a one-way trip into a dangerous place full of beauty, horror, and creative mutation. The fun of the game is taking turns flipping cards full of weird locations, scenes, and complications, and telling the story of how they push your characters towards each of their *inevitable* deaths. In the Zone, the mutations you face are created together, drawn from your character’s worst fears and deepest wishes. → More info here!

Latest Updates from Our Project:

May Update — 99.999%
8 months ago – Tue, Jun 13, 2023 at 12:41:03 PM

Hello friends!

Ok—this one will *actually* be short and sweet, because there's just good news to share. We are at 99.999% complete, and planning to send all the assets to the printer in the next week 🙌

Everything is written, edited, and proofed at least once (many parts multiple times). All that remains is what I'm calling "integration tests", where I give the game to a few folks who haven't seen the game before and ask them to set it up—it's been a great way to detect little bugs and wordings that cause trip ups. Every fiber of my being (and my editor) tells me I'm in diminishing returns here, but it still feels great to sand down the rough edges.

To that end, it's a pleasure to finally share THE ZONE Operation Manual! This is the rulebook for the game, designed to be playable with zero prep, just by reading it out loud together (just like in the digital version at play.thezonerpg.com). 

(Apologies for the delay on this update—I actually wrote all this a week ago but every time I was about to share I found myself wanting to make tweaks to this very PDF—*facepalm*) 

THE ZONE Operation Manual

Another note—this doesn't yet have some of the hyperlinking and other accessibility features that I want to make sure are present in the final print & play.

If you want, feel free to give it a read and drop me an email ([email protected]) with:

  • ...anywhere where you were confused
  • ...anywhere where you had a question or clarification that the book didn't answer
  • ...any comments or questions

And goodness, I just know there's still a couple typos in there that multiple rounds of proofing still haven't caught. If you spot one, let me know!

Cover reveal! 

Finally, I can reveal Jessica Fong's incredible cover for THE ZONE! I'm so thrilled with how this came out—and can't wait to see it on the box! Just... wow!

Incredible work by Jessica Fong! Just look at it!

Alright, back to it

Anyway—you know that feeling where you've left your house and you realize at the end of the block that you left your wallet on the counter? Finishing a game is basically having that feeling ALL THE TIME.  As they say: "Art is never finished, only abandoned." It's so exciting to have that final deadline in sight.

And finally—there are still a handful of you who haven't filled out that BackerKit. Please do so as soon as you can, otherwise I won't be able to send you your game!

—Raph


PS - There are a few incredible projects crowdfunding right now that I suspect many of you will find delightful. 

  •  Triangle Agency, a TTRPG of paranormal investigation and bureaucracy. It's clever, has beautiful art, and is right in the same ballpark as THE ZONE with its deliciously weird anomalies, convoluted shadowy organization, and focus on instructional design.  
  •  Big Bad Con, the loveliest indie tabletop gaming convention.  THE ZONE owes its existence to those first few playtests at Big Bad Con waaay back in 2018, which gave me the confidence and community to keep going. (If you're going this year—come say hi!)
  •  1978: The Night THEY Came Home, is a 1v1 storygame about a showdown between a slasher and the final survivor of what seems to be a rather rough night—it's by one of THE ZONE's very own Twist contributors, Adam Vass!

April Update — On track + white samples!
10 months ago – Thu, May 11, 2023 at 07:36:41 AM

Hello friends!

Going to keep this one short and sweet because I am deep in finishing territory—we’ve got the white sample, which is a *huge* (and very satisfying) milestone!

First up—there are still a few of you who haven't filled your BackerKit pledge manager, please do so ASAP. I will need this info to deliver your game!

Wait, what's a white sample?

It's a key step in the manufacturing process: a complete, handmade prototype of the entire game, just without any printing—just the raw materials. It lets me approve the paper stocks, estimate the weight (for shipping), and most importantly make sure everything fits together.

If you've been following these updates, you know I was feeling some angst about that last part. It's nerve wracking to write a giant purchase order to 3 separate factories and *hope* their output ends up meshing. How easy it would be for a slight miscalculation to creep in! (I mean, if it can happen to Nasa...)

Last time, I showed you the prototype of just the Nanuk custom case foam. What I got in the mail was the rest of it, and the final manufactured glowsticks.

And it ended up perfect!

And some delightful accidental ASMR as I integrate these components with the case and glowsticks.

Book of Mutation, almost done!

Last update, the biggest outstanding item was the Book of Mutation. It's come together nicely, with a way to approach mutation that is (I hope) deliciously idiosyncratic. It's entirely from the perspective of the mysterious Dr Sorben, who had the hubris to think he could wander into the Zone by himself and is now trapped there, doomed to continue cataloguing—and experiencing—mutations. His mutation taxonomy has five elements MANIFESTATION, COMMUNICATION, SENSORIUM, MANIPULATION, and PSYCHE. 

I'm hoping players will find it helpful to pick one or two of these categories and combine them when they feel stuck, creating changes that fit the play-to-lose nature of the Zone.

I still have a few of Dr Sorben's journal entries to write, and there is one final table of mutations to finish. Roughly where I was hoping to be!

Communication mutations
Sensory mutations

On finishing

As I get close to 100% finished, I keep noticing something that in retrospect should have been obvious—I'm now doing all the tasks that past-Raph thought would be the most boring, annoying, or otherwise worthy of procrastination. Thank you past-Raph!

Things like laying out the copyright page; making sure I have "Made in China" and other regulatory markings in the correct places; everyone's names included and spelt right for the credits; getting the image links in InDesign coherent and in the right format; finessing the explanations of parts of the game where it really matters.

I'm so grateful to be working with a wonderful editor (thank you Jenn Martin!) So much of finishing isn't just about "quantity" of stuff. It's about creating a process of making you, the artist, "feel" finished. Deciding that you've got the "right" stuff is always a judgement call. I couldn't get there on my own!

And whoah, the last 10% really does take 90% of the time.

And sometimes it's right to action ideas that crop up at the very last minute! I had been feeling unsatisfied with the way I was handling Fate cards—each player would have a Personnel Code card to match up to the face-down Fate Card that determines their death. But they'd *also* have a cheatsheet card. Felt like too much.

Hmm, too many cards

As I was going through the final pass on the cards, I realized I could combine these into one, and also use it to hide the bottom half of the Motivation cards—which are the Phobias/Obsessions that you didn't choose. Information hierarchy for the win!

A last minute improvement to Fate cards

At every stage you can make things just a little bit better! (And also gotta listen to that voice that says: "You have to stop, Raph, and get this game out!")

Until next time!

And once again, it's clear that I don't know the meaning of "short and sweet"—it's just a joy to share all this with you all. Your support never ceases to motivate me! As always, here to answer any questions or concerns.

And please make sure you've filled out that BackerKit! 

—Raph

March Update — New ship date
11 months ago – Sat, Apr 08, 2023 at 10:13:38 AM

Hello friends!

Let me get right to it: THE ZONE will ship a few months later than expected. I know this is disappointing—I'm just as impatient to get the game out as you are to receive it—but I very much hope it will be worth the wait. Part of the reason is that the game is bigger and better than originally planned!

The print & play will now land in May/June. Physical copies will ship out in October.

I was hoping to avoid this time honored Kickstarter ritual, but I hope I can share exactly what contributed to it, and a few things I’ve learned along the way.

Quick aside—if you're one of the last few who haven't filled out your BackerKit pledge manager, please do so ASAP. I will need this info to deliver your game!

Why the new ship date?

Well, the short version is that funding 3000% of the goal created a flurry of unexpected threads that sucked up a surprising amount of time, and that I also used the opportunity to expand the game. 

It boiled down to three things:

1. The non-finishing-the-game-parts-of-this. It's not the shiniest part, but biggest new thread was the sudden need to figure out the business, logistical, fulfillment, and tax implications of much larger project. Almost every plan I'd made before the campaign had to be rethought and updated (an opportunity I'm unbelievebly grateful for! 💖)

But it meant quite a few evenings and weekends where instead of being able to write or do art for THE ZONE, I was instead on the California Franchise Tax Board website trying to figure out some intricacy, or learning how to use QuickBooks. 

2. Getting physical pieces to fit together. I've talked about this in the last few updates, but the other cool thing that came out of the larger production run is more and better components. It's been eye opening to see just how the many small decisions about numbers of cards or paper stocks can affect each other in unexpected ways.

It's a classic combinatorial explosion—every additional component must intersect with every other one.

A classic combinatorial explosion

So paper thickness determines how many cards you can have, which determines how much content you have to write, and so on.

If you'd asked me two months ago "How thick is paper?" I would have said: "Pretty thin?"

Now, with a distant look in my eyes I'll say: "do you mean coated or uncoated?" I spent a glorious evening last week just measuring my favorite books' paper stock with a micrometer to try to build intuition about how different paper stocks affect the feeling of the book. Yes, I now have a spreadsheet. 

A stack of books that I spent an evening measuring

And I found myself learning some CAD software because I wanted to help get across a detailed idea about the cavities in the vac tray that will organize the books and the cards. The details of the vac tray designs led us to increase the size of the books from 5.5 x 8.5" to 6 x 9" so they would slide more neatly into place, a small change that still required tweaking the layout of 128 pages in InDesign.  

I'm super grateful to have such a great partner in GPI (thank you Tom and Arianne!) to work through all of this. Really appreciate y'all!

The inner tray

If you've read this far you've probably caught the real enemy here: perfectionism. The urge to overfocus on the details is always tricky to draw general lessons from. 

On the one hand, I'm probably spending too much time on very small and subtle things. I'm sure I could satisfice on many of these elements and get pretty close to the same result.

On the other hand, I got into this because I absolutely love the process of learning new things, and as goofy as it sounds it's quite thrilling to take a micrometer to a couple dozen books and start internalizing some of the wisdom that is too small to see. All I can say, my friends, is that I'm working on it, and that thankfully the big decisions are now all in the rear view mirror.

3. Finally: Yes, I totally made the game bigger

In the course of finalizing the game I added ~40 more Tarot sized cards (including 5 more fully illustrated characters than originally planned), all synced up to support the twists. 14 of the additional locations are a brand new set called "Cosmic" designed to be used in more sci-fi themed twists like Aaron A. Reed's marvelous Phaeton Station. 

The big lesson here is that once again—everything affects everything. Increasing the number of elements isn't just additive. New content often required sutble re-editing of everything else to get all the pieces to fit elegantly together. 

The best example of this is what happened when I decided to increase the number of characters in the first place. I had a particular quick & easy character creation process for 7 characters, but players would get overwhelmed if I used the same procedure with 24 options in front of them. And I couldn't simply scale up the original design of 6 motivation cards per character without ending up with 144 cards *just* for motivations, which literally wouldn't fit in the box, and would be really annoying to sort through when setting up a game. I had to rethink the whole deck so now each character has a couple of tailored motivations, but they can all be mix-and-matched, which makes for even more variety!

Whew.

That was a lot!

Ok, but are you *actually* going to deliver in October?

That's the question I ask myself whenever a project is delayed. Will there be more delays? Is this the first of many? 

I'm going to touch wood and say... I will get you your games in October! 

Why am I confident about this? I chose to wait to announce a delay until I could be sure that the end was in striking distance. Since the last update:

  • Glowsticks were manufactured and delivered to the factory.
  • We received the test sample of the Nanuk case (see the picture below—I'm so pumped about how it turned out.) Manufacture will start as soon as we do a final check to make sure the other prototype components fit perfectly inside.
  • All 248 cards are written and most have already gone through an editing pass.
  • The Operation Manual and Book of Twists are 90% finalized. All that remains is a few interior pages (such as the table contents, acknowledgements, and one twist to lay out) and a final round of proofreading.
  • The bulk of my work over the next few weeks is to finalize the Book of Mutation. That will probably require a few late nights (or more than a few 😅), but I'm confident I can get it all done before the deadline.
  • I'm waiting on a final proof to finalize the paper stock decisions, but otherwise the full game specs are locked in.

The current schedule looks like:

  •  Next week: Start manufacture of the Nanuk cases
  •  End of May: Start manufacturing of the game proper, deliver the digital files to y'all
  •  End of July: Assembly of all the components at the factory in Shenzen, China
  •  Aug → October: Pallets of THE ZONE start making their way to distribution centers, and then to your homes! (This is expected to take a couple months with ocean shipping, hence the October deadline)

There's always a possibility of something else I haven't accounted for, but at this point it feels like the project is just converging rapidly. 


Thank you for bearing with me!

I'm excited for the next monthly update (expect around this time in May), which should be a rundown of all the final components going through their final proofing pass. 

Let me leave you on a picture of the first article from Nanuk... and a tease at one of the directions we've been exploring for the cover art. Was so incredible to get to hold the custom case in my hands! 

Ignore the blue glowsticks—they will all be green

Oh and one last thing: THE ZONE is featured in an absolutely delightful project: NEUROBLAST, a HyperCard (yes, that HyperCard) DiskZine edited by James Sime, owner of San Francisco’s very own Isotope Comics.

I *love* this project. Check it out here!

NEUROBLAST!

Thank you so much for bearing with me, and for all the support! As always, here to answer any questions or concerns. Grateful to have you all as backers.

—Raph

(PS — Here's that link to the BackerKit info again)

February Update · Pre-production kicks off
12 months ago – Thu, Mar 02, 2023 at 06:42:53 PM

Hello friends! Going to be a short and sweet one today—things are rolling! 

🥳 BackerKit reminder 

Big thanks to the 87% who responded to the BackerKit! If you haven't had a chance to fill out the survey, please search your inbox for "Reminder — Response needed to deliver your reward for THE ZONE RPG" and click on the button that says "Click here to respond."

The survey takes just a few minutes, and I won't be able to send your copy of THE ZONE if I don't get those details! 

Having an issue? Feel free to get in touch! I've got you covered (and check out the additional guidance here)


🏭 Pre-production has begun

The big news is that purchase orders are signed and wires are transferred, and pre-production is beginning with my manufacturers .

At this stage it's about the many small decisions that add up to the whole experience. What thickness of paper to use? How should the components fit together? Exactly where should each deck go in the box, and how many can fit in the vac trays? That kind of thing.

The biggest risk to mitigate is about how all the pieces will fit together, given that there are multiple manufacturers creating the different parts.  Over the next few weeks I'll receive "white samples" of all the game components (unprinted material samples) from China, a Nanuk 910 case with a handcut prototype of the custom foam from Canada, and the moment of truth will be if it all fits together in my living room! (I already have the glowsticks.)

I wish there were more visuals to share for this part—it's mostly spreadsheets and diagrams like these, and iteratively increasing the amount of shared context with these great partners.

 📚 Operation Manual and Book of Twists 

The other big news is that we went through a full round of editing on the Operation Manual and just this morning I delivered the 90% complete  Book of Twists and all card content to my editor. A couple of the Twists are going to come in hot, and there's a handful of cards that I've added at the last minute to round out the packs. But we're on track!

I'm absolutely thrilled with how these spreads are coming out, and how each one showcases unique art. 

Art by the remarkable Julianne Griepp
Art by the astounding Martyn B. Lorbiecki

Here's an example of a complete Twist. A custom briefing, pithy instructions about what to change about the vanilla rules, and generally a little bit of extra content/tables/etc... 

Art by Caitlin Russell

I realize how nerdy this is, but probably my proudest achievement has been finding a way to cleanly categorized the locations into four "suits" of 14 each. I wanted them to make sense thematically and be easy for different Twists to reference. Library scientists and taxonomists, I salute you.

Four "suits" of locations

 ☢️ Book of Mutation 

The very last major piece of content is the Book of Mutation—full of mutations and systems to generate your own mutations. The goal is to be quick and usable at the table, so it will be short enough to be easily navigated during play, but dense.  

The biggest challenge with this book is that I have no desire to replace the player's creativity. What makes a game of THE ZONE different from other games that feature mutation is just how intertwined they are with characters' Phobias & Obsessions, so I don't want to impose an overly structured system that would crush that creativity.

So I hope to inspire you with 80-120 vignettes, each with specific variation, that can quickly be flipped through and support your creativity (along with some tables to help in coming up with Encounters, Beasts, Creatures, Anomalies, etc...)

What do you think? What are you hoping for from this book?

Mutations. So many... mutations.

Finally a quick note. A few of you have asked about whether glowsticks and posters will be available as add-ons. The answer is probably not, as shipping these separately adds quite a bit of complexity to the logistics of the product (for example, it prevents standardizing the box sizes for the CORE & COMPLETE editions.)

However, I still want you to have them! The glowsticks are available directly from the manufacturer, and it's possible I may make some art prints available after the Kickstarter has shipped, but I'm going to get through fulfillment first before making any decisions there. Thank you for hanging in there with me.

We're in the final stretch!

I'm hoping to finalize all the books in the next month, and then it's off to the printers. If you haven't had a chance to fill out your BackerKit, please do—otherwise thank you for the continued support and stay tuned. 

Thank you so much y'all!

—Raph

January Update — BackerKit time!
about 1 year ago – Sat, Feb 04, 2023 at 10:59:06 AM

Hello friends!

First things first—the Backerkit survey is sent out! As a reminder, this is the survey that allows you to complete your order by supplying your address and payment information for shipping, choosing which print you want (for the CONTAINMENT EDITION,) and picking up any add-on copies. 

It's essential to respond to your survey as quickly as possible since we need this information to fulfill your rewards. Thank you to all of you who already filled it out! 🎉😎

The BackerKit email looks like this

🌈🌟 A few important details:

  •  You do not need to create a BackerKit account to fill out your survey. You just need to find the email with the survey and click the survey link to respond.
  •  Shipping is added later and charged a few weeks before we send the games out (est. May). As mentioned in the Kickstarter page, due to the volatility of shipping prices globally right now, shipping fees will be calculated as close as possible to actual fulfillment so you don't get under *or* overcharged. I will alert you when shipping costs are finalized & before we charge the cards in your BackerKit survey. We will keep you informed all along the way!
  •  You can go back later and change your responses at any time before we close the surveys and get our final counts, for example if you move address or need to use different payment info

🚢 How much will shipping cost?  The estimates on the Kickstarter page are still directionally right for the US, although the great news is that we've decided to work with a fulfillment company that has a global network of centers starting in Hong Kong, which should allow me to get shipping much lower than I was expecting for backers outside the US—especially in regions like Australia and Europe where it's typically very expensive to ship from the US. Feel free to message me if you have any questions about this!


🤚 Help I can't find my survey!

  • Try searching your email by the subject line "Response Needed — Get your reward for THE ZONE RPG" in case it's not in your inbox
  • If you can't find it in your email try to retrieve it by going to https://thezonerpg.backerkit.com and clicking "Lost your survey?"
  • If you used your Facebook credentials to log in to your Kickstarter account, the BackerKit survey is sent to the email address you use for your Facebook account. If you have another email address that you prefer to use, please contact support at https://thezonerpg.backerkit.com/faq.
  • If you Signed in with Apple through Kickstarter, your email address might be a private relay email address. We can help locate your survey and update your email address, please message us through Kickstarter with your Backer ID # found on your Kickstarter confirmation. You can learn more about your email hiding for your Apple ID here.

Alrighty, now on to updates about the game!

It's been a pretty great month!

Most excitingly: as of yesterday the character art is now complete! (That's why I waited a few days to send out the update—it was so close!) I'm so excited for the replay value this will bring, and how each of the characters will interact with each other and with the scenarios in the Book of Twists. It changes the entire vibe of the game to play as a gung-ho soldier compared to a hard boiled detective or curious filmmaker. I hope broadening the range of archetypes will help more people find ones that they resonate strongly with, and it's also a great lens to come up with more tailored (and gnarly) Phobias & Obsessions.

And yes, there IS a secret. I don't want to share it with you yet. I'm sorry. It's just too good. 

All character art! My GOODNESS.

Secondly, I'm still waiting on a few chunks of writing, but have a working draft of the Operation Manual and Book of Twists laid out in InDesign and I'm doing a final pass on it before sending it for a first round of copyediting. It's an interesting tension—I keep wanting to add more, but the most important principle of the game is to be effortlessly zero prep so the goal is actually to keep everything as *pithy* and concise as possible.

The sausage being made

This should end up as ~120 pages, and once I send them off to my editor I'll start assembling the Book of Mutation, which currently lives in a giant spreadsheet with approximately this energy 👇 

I'll tease just one thing for Roadside Picnic fans, which is the output of this random table of anomalies. I don't know what "Cat's Meat Lens" is but I *do not* want to be viewed through it.

And speaking of spreadsheets, I should touch on the other side of the Kickstarter equation, which is my constant amazement at just how many different types of things I've had a chance to do in the last month. I can't think of another project where I've had to context switch between the California Franchise Tax Board, a graphic design problem, evaluating some incredible art, writing weird mutations, going back to shipping estimates, learning about different types of company structures to incorporate as, entering expenses into QuickBooks,  picking fonts, talking to distributors about warehousing, getting annoyed at Quickbooks and entering my expenses into Xero, understanding how to write a purchase order, applying for an EIN number, constructing a financial model to decide how many copies to order, and... well I could go on. 

In the next couple weeks I'll be signing some scarily large purchase orders to hold my place in line for manufacturing, while going heads down to finish all the game materials.

I teared up a little.

To close, I want to share that it's been quite emotional to see the post-BackerKit messages on social media and be reminded how lucky I am to have your support. I'm just so grateful to be able to bring this game to you, and I hope you'll keep sending me any and all questions about any part of the process—it's a lot of fun to share the journey.

(Oh, and please fill out your BackerKit surveys! 😄🙌)

—Raph


——————

🎉 Oh and one more thing! It's Zine Month 2023 and there are more cool projects than my brain can even handle! That's why I want to give a shoutout to Thomas Manuel's "The Indie RPG Newsletter" and Sam Leigh's essential TikTok channel. I love the work both of these folks are doing to help spotlight wonderful new indie games 💖