Picture a typical board game. Now imagine it without the pieces, the deck of cards and the board. What’s left are rules of play, maybe some dice, paper and pen — and your imagination.
That’s the gist of a tabletop role-playing game, known by fans as a TTRPG. Players get started creating their interactive fantasy world with a game’s foundational book, which has rules of play, world-building information and character backgrounds.
While “Dungeons & Dragons” is probably the most famous example of TTRPG, the genre has many other popular varieties — including some with Jewish themes, especially if Ambler resident JR Goldberg has his wish.
Goldberg, 35, is one of two project organizers of “Doikayt: A Jewish TTRPG Anthology,” an attempt to explore different aspects of Judaism through play. “Doikayt,” which in Yiddish translates to “hereness,” consists of 10 separate games with Jewish themes. Instead of fighting goblins or exploring castles, for instance, players find themselves playing a family of Jewish bootleggers in 1930s New York.
Goldberg, a Cleveland native who’s written for Kotaku and Paste Magazine in addition to creating his own TTRPGs, launched an online crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter for “Doikayt” in October and set a $5,000 goal. That goal was reached in less than 30 hours, and the funding has since doubled.
This isn’t Goldberg’s first Jewish-themed TTRPG. He also created one called “God of Vengeance” based on a Yiddish play of the same name. It was named “Best Adaptation” by online technology blog Techdirt.
“A tabletop role-playing game is essentially the same thing that we did when we were kids, where we would pretend to be other people and do dramatic play, but just in a more organized, mechanized fashion,” Goldberg said. “With a game, we can take something that already exists and create and subvert it in interesting ways and maybe make older ideas enticing and exciting for new people to think about.”
Goldberg has published his games on the website itch.io, a digital platform for hosting, selling and downloading indie games. That’s where he met Riley Rethal, 20, a biology student from Atlanta, Georgia, who is also a Jewish game designer. The two came up with the idea for a TTRPG anthology that would explore the diversity of Judaism and spark conversation on Jewish culture.
Over the summer, they sent a call out for pitches on Twitter. Jewish writers from across the country submitted ideas and the duo selected those that resonated with them. One of Goldberg’s personal favorites has players role-play as a Jewish family out to dinner at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas.
Goldberg’s hope for “Doikayt” is to show that games about Jewish culture can be commercially viable. He also hopes its success will inspire others to make their own Jewish-themed TTRPGs.
“I want people to see the rich tradition and folkloric culture of Judaism,” Goldberg said. “Sometimes Judaism, for someone who wasn’t raised with it, can come across as foreign. The things discussed in Judaism that we focus on are stories around our universal experiences, and what makes them Jewish is the way we interact with them. I want people to see the lives that have been lived and how they’ve led us here, and hopefully they can find ways to experience those things themselves.”
The Kickstarter ends on Nov. 9 and the book will be sent out to project backers sometime after. Goldberg plans to continue selling “Doikayt” past its initial run, with PDFs sold online and potentially physical copies in stores.
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