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ZiMo23 Interview: Oscar Biffi

Oscar Biffi, of the Italian game design company Nessun Dove, is raising funds for an English translation of On the Way to Chrysopoeia.

Q: Easy question first: Give us the elevator pitch of your project. Tell us about it in two sentences or less.

A: On the Way to Chrysopoeia is a letter-writing ttrpg for two alchemists, a Master and their Disciple working together and traveling apart from each other to accomplish a world-changing Great Work. It's also a real and imaginary travel journal, inviting players to transmute the objects and places of the real world around them into elements of the characters' fictional journey by enriching each letter with sketches, photographs and little keepsakes.

Q: Is this your first ZineMonth project or have you done it before? If it's your first, talk a bit about what inspired you to give it a shot this year. If you've done it before, what's something you've learned from previous crowdfunding projects that you may be doing differently this time, or, if you're not doing anything differently, talk a bit about your previous projects.

A: We've often participated in ZineMonth as backers, but this is our first time on this side of the breach, even though it's our fourth RPG crowdfunding campaign overall. Our first projects, the Crescendo Giocoso series, were anthologies that spanned across different genres of chamber larp, with bilingual editions and plenty of contributors. Not the easiest pitch, but we could count on the support of our fellow Italian players, and we were indeed taken aback by their overwhelming enthusiasm as well as the interest it generated abroad.

This time, however, our keyword is "simplicity": a single game, in English only. On the one hand, On the Way to Chrysopoeia is a project whose charm is more readily apparent: we're confident it'll grab the attention of players who would enjoy a slow-paced, intimate experience that leaves as much space for developing a relationship between its protagonists as it does for adventure and wonder in a fantasy setting. On the other hand, we're stepping out of our comfort zone by focusing entirely on the English-speaking world: the game was originally released in France by Morgane Reynier, with amazing watercolor art by Marion Bulot, then we worked with her to update the book with a new layout and translate it into Italian. We've always felt it was a shame that more people didn't get to play it, so here we are, trying to push the borders of the World All Around a little bit further. We can only hope people will embrace it as wholeheartedly as we did.

Q: Finally, tell us something about your current project that really excites you but the average backer may not be aware of. Maybe a twist to an old trope, a new way of presenting something, or maybe just something you've never tried before that you're using this as an opportunity to try out.

A: The way Chrysopoeia manages to blend fantasy and reality, focused entirely on their players' creativity, is what first attracted us to the project. Its setting, what I've been referring to as the World All Around, is painted in broad strokes within the book itself, which features a few tableaux of floating cities, vast deserts and wind-powered sail-trains soaring across the landscape. The gaps are there for you to fill in. The game actively dissuades you from googling pictures of castles to match the imaginary wizard's tower you've made up in your head; rather, it wants you to look at the neat building across the street from you and wonder whether a wizard is hiding up there. You snap a picture, attach it to your letter, and reinvent the story of a place close to you to make it part of the fictional setting. I played a long game of Chrysopoeia with our translator Chiara during the pandemic, when taking a short walk around the house felt enough like a miles-long journey, and I can assure you that thinking about the game was a great way to look at my restricted corner of the world with new eyes.

Which leads us to the neatest little thing about the game: its online component. In-game, the Floating Archives are the greatest library ever built, a repository of all knowledge-- and in the real world, they're a website that hosts players' contributions to the setting. You can draw as much or as little inspiration from it as you like for your own games, and upload your own additions to the World All Around for other people to enjoy. It already exists, in French and Italian, with a small but dedicated group of contributors; the final stretch goal of the campaign will be to translate the entire thing into English and provide continued trilingual support, curating and translating future entries for the time to come.

In the end, On the Way to Chrysopoeia is a new avenue for daydreaming: with your eyes open and other people joining in.

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