Aether Studios, Kickstarter Introduction
Tabletop gaming has been around for centuries. You have classics like chess, checkers, and poker. Many people are familiar with modern board games such as Catan, Ticket to Ride, or Monopoly. Then, there are those that conjure up whims of fantasy and adventure; Role Playing tabletop games (RPTTG). The most popular RPTTG is, undoubtedly, Dungeons and Dragons. There is a team that is participating in revolutionising this particular style through the latest technology of 3D printing. The team at Aether Studios has launched a Kickstarter to bring quality, printable designs to teleport your tabletop gaming experience to the next level. I interviewed with a key member of Aether Studios, William Walker.
William, thank you for taking the time to let us know more about Aether Studios and your first Kickstarter! I’ll start by asking:
How did you come up with this idea?
We started with a simple request from our fans. They asked for a set of swamps back in December 2018, and we went to work right away. A month later, we had the first 40 tiles done and distributed to them as patron sets.
Why Kickstarter, as opposed to other crowdfunding methods?
We have used Patreon and average product sales through DriveThruRPG, but we had planned to do a Kickstarter as soon as we formed Aether Studios. We started with a different idea first before the swamps request captured us. It took about two weeks into production of the swamps to realise just how special the set was going to be.
Once every few months we have a collection that captures our attention and talents, before this in October 2018 it had been the Dockyards set. That month we punched out almost 200 terrain tiles for village dockyards. After finishing the dockyards, we realised a Kickstarter would have worked as good or better, and we decided on the next special project we wanted to try it.
How is running a Kickstarter? How is your Kickstarter doing, compared to what you thought it would do?
Running a Kickstarter is the most challenging task we’ve faced as a group, but we are so very proud of the results so far. We never expected this for “first time at bat.” A few of our members thought $10k would be a big win for a first Kickstarter.
How did you determine the incentives for your early backers on Kickstarter?
We had a pretty good idea on how to arrange things based on our customer experiences in the past. We used their preferences to dictate our production.
What makes your product stand out against the competition?
We are committed to listening and engaging with our customers daily. Us embed ourselves in their games by crafting special requests every day. We move heaven and earth every month to deliver vast terrain and miniature sets under fast production and delivery schedules so they can enhance the gaming lives of many groups around the globe. Our customers know this, and they love us for it. They show it regularly with a mountain of social media support that is crystal clear in the success of this Kickstarter.
Does Aether Studios offer a “starter set”?
Yes, we have a free set of Dwarven Terrain available We’ve done six expansions to it since that has been distributed to our Patrons. We love designing for the dwarves, and two more sets are currently in production including a Swamped over Dwarven.
How much should someone just starting in Table Top Gaming (TTG) expect to invest in having the basics for a successful campaign?
The Ender 3 is the FDM printer we recommend and can be had for about $250 on Amazon. Each piece of terrain costs about 40 cents, allowing you to expand your vision and designs with affordability very efficiently. Aether Studios member Aaron Mulder has even designed a piece of software to maximise your plans and print only what you need. (www.dungeonprint.com)
What do you envision for the next 5-10 years of TTG future?
Five years ago I couldn’t have imagined where we are now, so I can’t even guess where it will be headed. We’re exploring some Augmented Reality options for the long term, but for now, we want to keep making the best dungeons, miniatures, and terrain that we can.
How do Aether Studios fit into supporting that vision?
Aether Studios isn’t a business so much as it is an operating framework. We allow our artists to keep their art and to develop it over the long term. That is why we have such substantial set lines with multiple titles that bind together a thematic setting. Our competitive advantage towards the future is our lean, artist-centric foundation that is continually engaging our customers on where they want to go. We don’t have to feel the pressures and fears of the unknown future so long as our customers keep taking us where they want to go.
For someone who has never played a tabletop RPG, how would you describe what 3D printing has done for this industry/ community?
When I first played D&D, it was on graph paper with pencil marks. It took an extreme amount of imagination to bridge the gap between the mind’s eye of what the DM described and the actual game board in front of us. At Aether, we have eliminated that hindrance and elevated it to an art form. This unlocks new types of players who usually wouldn’t be interested in playing. New customers with unique tastes grow industries.
How long have you owned a 3D Printer?
I got my first printer around October 2016, and I’ve owned about half a dozen since. Currently, I operate an MP Mini and an Anycubic Photon.
How long have you been making terrain?
I started making Terrain about February of 2017 after seeing requests on the Fat Dragon Games Forum. I met Colin Christenson and Aaron Mulder on that forum, and we were the first three members of Aether Studios. Almost immediately we added Tia Norah to the team, followed by Jacob Armour and most recently, Nasos Maloudis.
What printers do you use to print terrain?
Most of our staff use the Ender 3 or Anycubic Photon for test prints. The Creality CR-10 is also a popular choice with our test print team along with Prusa printers.
What software do you use for your modelling?
I use about 30 software programs in the overall construction process. While it is not at all the best for sculpting, I use Meshmixer on almost every tile. It is very intuitive for zooming around a terrain tile to inspect alignment and errors.
What got you interested in modelling 3D Terrain for printing?
People liked the first small projects I did, and I’ve always enjoyed helping people. Over time people began to tell me how the tiles worked in their specific games and how they influenced the story or players. They would say to me with excited voices how their players fell in love with a miniature we crafted or a terrain feature needed for a critical story element.
You can hear the excitement and passion in their voice, and you know it comes from a pure and pleasant place. Over time I also began to realise that playing Tabletop Games is usually the best part of my week. I expect that it is the best part of the week for a lot of people, so by enhancing that for others, I feel like our work has a higher purpose.
What was your first model?
A remixed Cavern Ledge requested on the FDG Forum.
Do you have a favourite model you have created?
Two favourites, and both for the same reason, Nasos and Jacob both did Snake Statue models for the Aztlan line of terrain which was our first self-published set. They both did these models because I asked them. They did them and poured their hearts and souls into them. I was speechless and emotionally overcome when I saw these models for the first time. My heart grew in size with love and respect for them because these models show their passion for sculpting, and they made them for me.
What is your workflow for creating pieces?
As soon as we figure out a standard workflow, I’ll let you know! Hopefully, in our next KS interview, I can do a better job answering this one.
If you are looking to help them or see more information- Swamp of Sorrows
Interested in other interviews views- City of Tarok – Meet the Designer