Sunday, 6 May 2018

Interview - Thia & Greebow of Cognitive Merchant

The Cognitive MerchantIt was my great pleasure to interview Thia and Greebow of the fantastic bespoke gamer's products makers Cognitive Merchant. They've been producing hand-crafted individualised tabletop, RPG and LARP products for a while and it's great stuff.

I love this interview because I got a message from them about it saying 'We just pretended you was with us and got somebody to ask your questions', so they quite literally roleplayed their answers. I'm going to have to add a point to their 'awesome' board for that.

Welcome to Farsight Blogger! Please tell us about yourselves and how you got started in the tabletop roleplaying hobby.

(Thia) Hey I'm Thia, I am a leather crafting wood elf! But in real life I run a dance studio, I'm a fire and side show performer along with my amazing girls at Monster Cirque. Plus I create leather gaming goods with my partner at The Cognitive Merchant.

I started playing D&D when I was a kid in Poland. I gamed with my brother and his friends. I was the only girl, but it was never a thing, I was just another geek at the table.

(Greebow) Hi I'm Greebow. I'm a shape shifting Gnome wizard! But unfortunately in the real world I'm just a very flawed human LOL. I used to work running bars and office work until I got diagnosed with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Now I host the odd event but mainly work creating geeky goodness for mine and Thias' business The Cognitive Merchant. I got into TTRPG's just over four years ago after I met the love of my life Thia. She knew I had always been a comic book and fantasy geek but had never real played any table top games apart from a little Warhammer fantasy.

She told me of her love for D&D and that we should find a place to try it. We found the awesomeness that is Fanboy 3 in Manchester (go check them out!), went down for the Sunday Adventure League session of D&D. And I instantly fell in love with that as well! They have both been my world ever since. I love them both so much, maybe Thia a little more.....but only just.

Cognitive Merchant is something pretty special; the bespoke crafted items you create for gamers are unique and quite gorgeous. What made you decide to try your hand at this?

(Greebow) Thank you. Hearing words like that means so much to us, you have no idea. We put a lot of time and love into each one. There all hand crafted by us in our tiny work room or on our front room table. Its a running joke that the only time we are not creating is when we are eating. Projects come everywhere with us!

(Thia) Yeah we really do appreciate the positive feedback.

(Greebow) This all started after we saw the state of a friends players hand book, all falling apart with the cover all messed up. Thia told him she could probably fix it. She was just going to glue it back together.

(Thia) But I wanted to make it look awesome and not fall apart so easy. So I spent a little time working that out.

(Greebow) What she is not telling you is she spent a few days intensively learning how to rebind old books and then learning how to cover them in leather. She added lots of personal touches to his book.

(Thia) He was so happy when he got it. Made it all very worth it.

(Greebow) Other gamers saw it and just started coming to us with there books. Word spread pretty fast.

Then we decided we really wanted to make gaming products that are worthy of the folks using them. Let's face it, the gaming community is one of the very best to be part of. I'm always blown away by the imagination, love, support, and creativity it puts out there. We just want to bring a little of there fantasy to life if we can.

You do custom book covers, dice bags, dice, GM screens, all kinds of things that help to enhance the roleplaying experience. What’s your design and production process?

(Thia) First and most important, we talk to the folks wanting a product. Ask them what they are looking for and what its being used for. Like what game? Or is it something for LARPing! Then we talk to them about themes or colour scheme they like. Maybe they roll play as a Necromancer and a skull motif would be perfect. Maybe there gaming character just slayed an ancient red dragon and wants something made from its hide!

(Greebow) For us its all about keeping their fantasy world going and alive.

(Thia) Then I get to creating the design for it. Some times we have templates we have already made and know work. Sometimes a totally new template needs making.

(Greebow) The practicality and creation of the design is someing I feel Thia really excels at. I'm more about the colour and style. So together we like to think our skills compliment each other.

(Thia) Then we cut out the leather and treat it.

(Greebow) I get working on dying the leather, antiquing or distressing it depending on what's needed. If there is tooling or stamping to be done, we divide that depending on what it is.

(Thia) After that its assembly and adding the extras. This means hours or days of stitching just depending on the product.

Me and Greebow now have perminant tough calluses on our fingers from stitching and lacing LOL.

(Greebow) We then test everything. With the dice cups and bags we make sure they're strong and can open and close fine (leather is always tough and tight at first). With our all in one GM kits we test every part of it from the magnetic initiative board and the dice tray and roller to it actually transforming into the carry case. There expensive to ship out so everything has to be perfect.

(Thia) We always have multiple projects on the go at once as the orders just keep coming in, so its a big juggling act for us. But we have a digital order book as well as a hard copy one that helps us keep on top of things.

What would you say is your most sought-after item?

(Thia) That's an easy one. For sure its our all in one GM kit! There is a 20 week wait on those bad boys at the moment. They are our most complicated and detailed build. They're all custom made for the style and needs of the individual Games Master. There are just so many different aspects to the design, both seen and not seen from the outside.

(Greebow) I think its kinda important to say how that product came about. It was just over a year ago I think.

We had a GM (Jonathan Syson) who is just awesome, we have a lotta love for that guy, but he was always knocking his basic GM screen over.

(Thia) "Oh is that the beholder we must be fighting in the next room? I think we will go the other way!"

(Greebow) So when visiting Thias' family in Poland we decided to try to make some legs for his screen to stop it falling over. We had also been watching a lot of Matt Mercer and Satine Phoenix on their GM tips program. We realised just how hard a GM's job is to bring us all this adventure. How very little room is behind that screen for all they need.

(Thia) So we made the desicion to not just solve the falling over problem but as many problems as we could.

(Greebow) So we contact a big bunch of our local GMs and asked them to give us their top five problems, that are not players! Nothing we can do about them LOL.

Lots of things came up, such as, not enough space, forgetting when a character had a spell on them, dice rolling off the table, keeping initiative order, keeping notes and maps in one place, never having the info they need in view, working out who is in a spell radius, and lots more!

(Thia) They have so much to think about, let alone an entire populated world in their head.

(Greebow) We tackled every problem and listed possible ways to solve it. Brain stormed and brain stormed, and we eventually solved them.

Then we just had to find a way to put it all together so that it became compact. One of the problems that got mentioned was forgetting something vital to the game. Another GM said he kept everything in one big rucksack. THAT WAS IT! A carry case that you could also put your books in and transformed into an all in one GM screen.

(Thia) We made Jonathan and another of our GMs Dave a prototype kit at what turned out to be way less than cost price LOL. With the deal we could borrow them back over time to check them and ask lots of questions.

People saw the kits locally and wanted them. Orders started coming in, with folks wanting all sorts of colours and themes.

(Greebow) Then a friend we had made one for (Oli Wis) posted photos of his on Reddit. Next thing I know I'm getting a message and a screenshot telling me to get on Reddit and answer questions now. The comments and likes had gone through the roof. I was crazy surprised and very humbled at people's response.

(Thia) Lots of people asking how to get one and do we ship to the USA or Austria etc.

(Greebow) It was a really surprising and happy day for us. Big thanks to Oli, cheers mate.

I’ve got to ask; the photo of you two in costume and makeup on the front page is awesome, how did that come about?

(Thia) Haha yeah that was so much fun! We love dressing up as characters. We had an amazing make up artist called Sanita Liepina and one of the best photographers we know, Darren McGinn. Both just amazing creative people.

(Greebow) Basically when we created The Cognitive Merchant we wanted to keep it all in a fantasy world. So we made ourselves characters, Thia & Greebow. The Cognitive Merchant itself is a magical moving workshop that appears and disappears where needed. We create magic items to shape the destinies of adventurer's.

(Thia) For our website and advertising we wanted to bring these characters to life. So we did! You should check out our Patreon video we did at the same time (also created by Darren McGinn). It was so much fun it really was. We often even make stories up of how we adventure to get the materials needed for the magic items. Plus Thia and Greebow are D&D characters we actually play as. So its amazing to become them in real life when working at cons or doing promotion stuff.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting and indoor

What else can we expect to see from Cognitive Merchant in the future?

(Greebow) Ooooh so so much. There is not enough time in the day for all the new things we want to make. But we are currently training up a couple of apprentices to help lighten the load.

One of the main things we are working on and waiting for a special event to launch it is our PLAYERS KITS! We have put a prototype out there and getting feedback, working hard on ways to improve it and patent it. It can be a long process that one. But soon.

I'm gonna be working with Thia to bring out more custom LARPing armour and accessories.

(Thia) We have a range of simple dice trays coming out. The other big project is a set of really cool leather projects for Magic the Gathering and other card games. All custom made and hand crafted as usual.

(Greebow) We are also going to be at some con's soon. First big one for us will be UK Games Expo in Birmingham , then Dragonmeet in London. There will me some con only merch available at our stall there. And if you are in the states we have the most awesome American ambassador, Baylor Banis from the B&B Tavern. He will be selling our magic items at Mechacon this year. He is a really great guy. Our very own happy Hobbit and his little furry face means the world to us.

(Thia) I think another thing that might be worth a mention is that we have just started streaming a fortnightly game with him and some friends. Its called Borovia Bites and you can find it on twitch and YouTube. Its just us playing D&D and making fools of ourselves, so not sure anybody will actually watch it lol. But its fun and a good excuse to play with friends from all over the place.

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