There’s a bear near the top of Itch.io’s list of physical games. Roughly written in black ink, it wears a small bowler hat and hides in something too short grass. Its lumpy eyes are dark with a deep hunger and an animal’s cunning, contrary to the cozy headdress.
Since we arrived at the digital gaming platform four years ago, Honey Heist has not gone too far out of the top ten or so, and has a steady success that few other titles can boast of. The extremely popular and extremely silly role-playing game on one side of the table is the work of designer Grant Howitt. He created it in 201
But it struck a chord with the internet, and became one of the best posts of all time in the RPG subreddit and raked in tens of thousands of views on the original Imgur upload. Critical Role, the most popular show for table games, actually Honey Heist in three separate videos at the end of 2017, giving what could have been a glimpse in the forehead to change the tabletop’s RPG landscape.
The stunning success, almost overnight, put Howitt on track to become one of the fundamental voices of the current generation of RPG creators on the table.
“I like to think of myself as’ what if John Harper could not do graphic design and also released a game every month before it was ready? “” Howitt said, referring to the designer of Blades in the Dark, Agon, and Lasers and emotions – three other, longer, products that have cast a long shadow in the TTRPG space. Living in the UK with his wife Mary “Maz” Hamilton, Howitt considers each question with long glances out of his office window before answering with either quiet skepticism or his trademark as self-deprecating humor.
Howitt has been making games since elementary school, cramming downloaded PDFs through a word processor and hacking the almost invisible results with a teenager’s disregard for pace or taste. In college, he fell into the live action role-playing game (LARP) audience and discovered a home for both his comic sensitivity and his passion for building story structures. It was also where he met Hamilton and his best friend who became a business partner, Christopher Taylor.
After graduating, Howitt moved to Australia with Hamilton and started a Patreon to compensate for his legal inability to work in that country. It was there that he designed his own full-size table games, such as Goblin Quest, which consisted of dozens of pages and weeks of work. The schedule was drainage and hindered his ability to support ongoing projects, for example Unbound, his and Taylor’s first collaborative release. In 2016, Hamilton came up with a strange proposal: focus on a single page.
“[Hamilton] had clocked that people did not buy role-playing games through my Patreon; people supported me. They were like, ‘Cool, we like what you do. We want you to do more of that. Go for it, ” said Howitt. Hamilton does not remember where they got the idea from, but they knew that their partner needed a new creative framework.
“I was trying to get him to be okay with not completing anything or not having to be perfect,” Hamilton said. “I just wanted to give him permission to have some fun, make a little idea and do something manageable, playable, but not necessarily comprehensive.” These games delighted Taylor’s growing Patreon audience and provided what he characterized as a pressure release valve for ideas that were obviously unsuitable for their larger projects. Then found the internet Honey Heist.
These early games – The golden sea, Big gay orcs, and Force-Blade Punks – is charming and rough, pen on paper in Howitt’s own hand, often cut out and scanned to create a finished PDF. The resulting documents will be thrown on the image sharing service Imgur with revenue generation delegated as a future issue. He describes this phase as punk, but full of sincerity and honesty that people appreciated.
Released in March 2017, the simple game with two stats – Bear and Crime – went through Imgur, Reddit, Twitter and all other major internet channels on the short road to digital fame. Howitt remembers someone sharing a formatted PDF with a homemade logo the next day, which is the version used on the Critical Role. That moment did not make Howitt feel like he had done it, but sitting in a Scottish hotel room the night before an uncle’s funeral and watching several famous strangers play his “pretty stupid game” still felt important.
Elsewhere on the Internet, Howitt’s daring one-sided play had begun to convert an incipient amount of eager artists. Hopeful designers like Samual Mui in Malaysia, the Philippines and all of Southeast Asia studied Howitt’s fast and dirty games on Imgur.
Believe it or not, the very first games I made were ‘published’ on Imgur because I saw it Honey Heist did the same, ”said Mui. “Honestly, we all modeled after Honey Heist in one way or another. Then came Itch.io and we all migrated yours. ”
Mui has since released several titles through Itch.io and crowdfunded Our widths anthology project with several other Southeast Asian designers. Taylor describes one-page TTRPGs as “so easy that you’ve probably already done it twice already”, but also as an art form that easily realizes the value of the creator’s ideas – a powerful tool for those without access to more traditional training.
Hamilton agrees: “One of the wonderful things about Honey Heist is that the democratized game in a way that many other games have tried to do, “they said. Through a self-executed combination of privilege, talent and a bunch of luck, Howitt and Honey Heist came to the top of Kickstarter’s popularity and the rise of Itch.io as a serious alternative to Steam for the sale of independent games.
The class of young designers who cut their teeth The witch is dead, Garbage and Honey Heist has taken advantage of his punk tendencies and skillful balancing of comedy and emotional vulnerability to create today’s experimental zines, poetic wordplay and cavalier assurance that collaborative play can take place anywhere, in any form.
Howitt still clings to the concept of having a legacy and claims: “I am known for what is equivalent to a Lasers and emotions hack. Harper himself said that Howitt’s one-sided play is placed next to a long game story that flirts with brevity: the work of Failure creator Jason Morningstar, his own Lady Blackbirdand the 200-word RPG challenge. Nevertheless, Harper agreed that it is difficult to reduce Howitt’s modern influence. Hamilton and Taylor mocked him lovingly throughout the mess.
Howitt is much happier and more excited when he discusses his more complete TTRPG settings, Spire and Heart, places he created to share and inspire other people. The former ended a recent Kickstarter campaign with the support of 1,964 supporters, while the latter is the system that runs the final season of Friends at the Table – an actual game series led by Austin Walker with more than 3929 Patreon supporters. The company he started with his friend, Christoper Taylor, is called Rowan, Rook and Deckard. The staff recently hired full-time employee Mina McJanda for a living salary – a fact all three were proud to share.
Howitt seems laser-focused on giving back. Even his game-a-month promise turned in early 2021 into a collaboration with a curated selection of upcoming indie game designers, who have the opportunity to share in Patreon’s funds.
The creator of Honey Heist, the little game that became everyone’s second favorite table title behind Dungeons & Dragons, still has a long life ahead of it, but Howitt at least hopes his boldness continues to inspire new artists who wonder if they can make games too.
“Showing people that you do not have to have a bunch of money or time to create something that resonates and give people a fun experience,” Howitt said. “And I hope people saw how I did and was, ‘Well, if he can do it, I can.’ If it’s a legacy, I hope it was. ”