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Why I Wrote the Hippogryph Codex

hippogryph system

If you can stretch your imagination back to the Before Times, I’ll tell you about why I wrote the Hippogryph Codex. At the start of 2020, when we had no idea we’d end up like (gestures broadly at the world), I took a shot at doing a zine. The title was Hippogryph, a name chosen for its symbolism. It was going to be a hybrid of many disparate things.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links to DriveThruRPG.

Why I Wrote the Hippogryph Codex

The whole, I hoped, would be greater than the sum of its parts. My goal was to use the zine to discuss various ideas I had about tabletop roleplaying and design. To facilitate this, Issue Zero contained a quick-and-dirty roleplaying system. This was going to be the example I could use in future issue, when discussing various topics.

More people were interested in the system than in my discourse. Other issues sold okay, but the venture didn’t do well enough that I could pay the bill doing in. Then the world began to unravel, and I had to pivot my attention to other things. I scrapped the zine after seven issues, and started work in earnest on an expanded version of the Hippogryph System. It wasn’t just about giving the people what they want. It was about reevaluating my own creative needs, and mapping out the next couple of years’ worth of Dancing Lights Press projects.

I Needed a House System

Let’s be completely honest here. I stopped being a third party publisher because there are limits to what you can do when playing with other peoples’ toys. If you want to know why I don’t just write 5e or Pathfinder or Fate material, that’s why. It’s not even about content restrictions placed by the OGL provider. It’s about the expectations consumers have around OGL content.

I remain firmly committed to the Black Box Movement. Not just as part of my business plan, either. I believe that it is a way forward for many creators and consumers. The problem is that fans of most licensed systems are firmly entrenched in the consumerism paradigm. I.e., they don’t care how good a product is, or how much utility it might have at their table. Their primary concern is with trade dress.

They don’t want Pathfinder products that look like Dancing Lights Press products. They want Pathfinder products that look like Paizo products. I don’t want to make Paizo products. Or Wizards of the Coast products, or Evil Hat products, or any other publishers’ products. I have my own ideas, my own values, and my own voice.

To do the sorts of things I wanted to do, both creatively and philosophically, I needed a house system to work with.

It’s a Worldbuilding Venue

It’s no big secret that what I really want to do is write settings. Moving in 2021, you’ll see a lot of movement in that direction. Having experimented with system-agnostic settings in the past… they don’t sell well. I understand the people want to pick up  book and play, without having to convert material to the system of their choice. It’s one of the reasons so many publishers make multiple iterations of the same setting for different systems and editions.

The things that I want to do fall neatly into two camps. Real-world and low-genre settings will be handled by the DoubleZero line. All of the high-genre material, including fantasy, horror, and sci-fi, will fall under the Hippogryph umbrella. Some of the settings will be small, 32-page affairs. Others will be full 96-page sourcebooks. It all depends on the idea, and how much space it will take to express it properly.

It’s Still a Discussion Point

This is where we come full circle, back to the original intention of the zine. I’m going to continue writing about my philosophy of roleplaying design and small press publishing here on the site. The things that I publish will be an expression of those ideals. In many ways, why I wrote the Hippogryph Codex is the same reason I created the mechanics in Issue Zero of the zine. There are opinions that I want to express, and things that I want to say, that go beyond publishing a book and making a living.

Interestingly, even though the zine got a “meh” reception, people have asked me to write about the process of creating a publishing a tabletop roleplaying book. As I create new material, I’ll continue to share those thoughts here. Like the hippogryph of legend, we once again have the best of both worlds.


About the Hippogryph System

Hippogryph is a d20-based, story-driven tabletop fantasy roleplaying system. It is the collision of the D20 System and Fate RPG, but like the legendary creature it is more than the sum of its parts. This isn’t off-brand D&D with Fate aspects stapled on, nor is it a collection of feats, spells, and class abilities translated into Fate terms. Hippogryph is a unique system that blends established legacy fundamentals with flexible, DIY story game ideals. Info Page ¦ DriveThruRPG ¦ Our Shop


About Dancing Lights Press

Dancing Lights Press is a lo-fi publisher of tabletop roleplaying systems and system-agnostic creative aids, including the best selling Building series, the DoubleZero action thriller system, and Hippogryph, a fantasy story game system with traditional  roots. Our products embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation because roleplaying is an activity, not a collection of expensive rulebooks.

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