A subjective retelling of my game-designer journey
The idea of Le Rafiot Fringant was born a while ago, during the fall of 2018. At the time, I was unsatisfied with my work, which was no longer interesting to me. I was going through the motions, in the name of an economic doctrine that left me wanting.
At that time, I was still working for the publisher Sans-Détour, but this company I had helped to create was not what it was supposed to become. Unless I was the one who had changed. Or both.
But before that, there were a number of steps in my game-designing career.
My first gaming steps
At the time, as an independent graphic designer, having free time while earning just enough to get by, I wanted to explore the game-designing world. As I knew how to lay out and print books, this seemed like a good idea. And it was. In 2005, Arkeos was born with the help of a few friends, including Sidney Merkling, game master of my roleplaying group, Lionel Davoust, now a prolific author, and Mike, a childhood friend and talented illustrator.
Arkeos, a modest roleplaying game, was a UFO in the genre: it followed a comic book format and had a detachable 4-page cover that served as a screen, all in colour for 12 euros, accompanied four times a year, by scenarios “to be continued” in a bigger campaign. In a Pulp universe, Indiana Jones style, the game met with great success, though it had its faults.
But being a manager is not for everyone, and economic difficulties put a premature end to this adventure, nipping in the bud the project of Jean-Laurent Del Soccorro : the game Cirkus, for which only the core book was edited. It was also at that time that I began collaborating with the great graphic designer Oliver Trocklé.
Following that first initiative, I envisioned a number of projects with a various people. Nevertheless, my personal situation did not allow for much activity, since I was jobless. To stay in the games industry, I launched indie-rpg.org, a platform where games were sold in PDF format. It was without a doubt a first in 2006, but I had notable successes like Wushu from Daniel Bayn, edited in French by Pierre Pradal, with over five hundred copies sold, or Star Drakkar, by Eric Nieudan, which also had its merits.
I personally published the entire first edition of Forensic, Profiling & Serial Killers, by Emily Tibbats, a Francophone specialist on this topic, and participated in the “spin off” of Arkeos: the board game Expédition Altiplano by Christian Martinez, published by Matagot
At that time, Jérome Larré and I organized the first French Royal Rumble, a 24-hour roleplaying game writing competition.
The Golden Age
2007: I’m getting by thanks to my initiatives, but mostly due to government subsidies. The manager of Ludikbazar, who had bought the stock of Arkeos when the company closed, contacted me to help create a publishing company—with the idea of publishing the newest edition of Call of Cthulhu. How could I refuse? It was the chance to work on a game that had animated many roleplaying nights…
Thus was born Les Éditions Sans-Détour in 2008. After months of hard work on Call of Cthulhu to turn it into the sixth French edition, modernized, consistent, and as perfect as I’d hoped, our baby was printed. And what a project! It was acclaimed by the public. I admit that this edition remains my pride and joy, and that my copy signed by the founding fathers, Greg Stafford, Sandy Petersen and Charlie Krank, occupies a special place in my library.
After that came a long period of production at breakneck speeds, with highlights, like the collector’s edition of At the Mountains of Madness, which was a huge project, and the new edition within the Call of Cthulhu franchise of Forensic, Profiling & Serial Killers, still dear to me, just like the Musée de Lhomme, the anthology of scenarios written by Tristan Lhomme.
During that time, I met numerous talented authors who became friends, such as Philippe Auribeau and Camille Guirou, Gregory Privat, Romuald Calvayrac, Mahyar Shakeri, Tristan Lhomme and Thomas Berthier. I also collaborated with Loïc Muzy. And I had the honour of participating in Bimbo and Les Lames du Cardinal.
I also met people whose passion is infectious, like Jeff Richards, whose benevolence gave a new life to Chaosium, and Mike Mason, whose vision and professionalism are heartwarming.
Finally, I have to talk about Au Cœur des Années Vingt (In the Heart of the 20’s), a book I took years to finish, since it was a monster of over five hundred pages. This background supplement, extremely exciting and very well received, made me realize that fancy writing was not for me. I craved more compact and straight-to-the-point books.
The end of an era
With the seventh edition of Call of Cthulhu in 2015 and its incredibly successful crowdfunding campaign, things changed.
At least for me. The frantic pace left me exhausted. I spent months on sick leave because of a disease worthy of a Doctor House episode (spoiler: it wasn’t lupus). In short (like my breath was at the time) I suffered hypertension (without obvious physiological causes) that proved the source of rare autoimmune illnesses with exotic and annoying names.
The road to recovery and the nights spent pondering made me take a step back, as situations like these often do. And going back to work was only more difficult. Did I want to focus on financial objectives? Did I want to follow the yellow brick road concocted by executives who, in their newly minted “directorate,” dreamt of countless zeros in a world consisting of little more than a spreadsheet ?
The answer came by itself over the course of successive crowdfunding campaigns whose only goals were to reach financial summits.
Where was the love of games that fueled the start of the company? This was what I felt. And still do.
After years of passionate work, I was left with a job I did for financial reasons, without any joy, simply to receive what I was owed, I dreamt of more. I began to reimagine myself, to think about leaving and spreading my wings.
Unfortunately, the future only confirmed what I was dreading, but it’s no longer my story.
A new beginning
Resilience and boredom are born from the need to earn a living. And then, the need to throw oneself in new adventures!
One morning, two neurons collided and, a page of scribbles later, Dino Soldiers was born. A week later, the first prototype was ready, and the first game played.
My mind was alive again. The ideas kept coming, following a common thread: rediscovering the sources of the games, like those we played when we were kids, where anything could be fun for hours.
But … how to do this? I had neither the means nor the structure. No matter, I would manage with what I had.
The Rafiot Fringant was born.
I began designing Print and Play games (a term I discovered later) using only my smarts and my personal resources.
On that subject… I still had an idea for Arkeos, from almost fifteen years ago, that had grown since. Now was the time to work on it! And also to reconnect with friends from the start of my game-designing career, to keep in touch with those from the Golden Age, and to meet new people, whose support is dear to me, like Sandy Julien.
To calmly look at the future, surrounded by those who are the true wealth of the game industry.
To play, and to share the joy of playing, that’s all.
By the Way…
Why the name Rafiot Fringant* ? I live on an old Tjalk (a Dutch barge), older than the Titanic, that I spent many years refurbishing. It’s an apt metaphor for my journey towards creative independence.
* : What means Rafiot Fringant ? It’s French slang, that could be translated as “Dashing Tub”, a kind of leaky old boat that’s still hardy.