Heroic Story raises $6M to build tabletop RPG platform for Web3￼
Heroic Story has raised $6 million to build a Web3-enabled tabletop role-playing game platform.
The Los Angeles company’s aim is to enable storytellers to create new worlds for open game franchises, and it recently released an online version of Legends of Fortunata, a tabletop role-playing game franchise created by the company’s founders.
Upfront Ventures led the round with participation from Multicoin Capital and Polygon Technology, bringing the company’s total financing to date to $7.4 million, said Jay Rosenkrantz, CEO of Heroic Story, in an interview with GamesBeat.
The round also included participation from strategic angels including Jonathan Lai (a16z Games Fund One), Steve Arhancet (CEO Team Liquid), Richard Ma (CEO Quantstamp), Orange DAO, George Strompolos (founder Fullscreen), Wolfgang Hammer (head of film, Miramax), and screenwriting duo Ryan and Kaz Firpo (Marvel’s “Eternals”).
Previous investors include Transcend Fund, Kevin Lin (co-founder Twitch), Holly Liu (co-founder Kabam), and Furqan Rydhan (CEO Thirdweb). The funds will be used to hire talent, market the live beta, and build on-chain technology to support a massively multiplayer world governed by professional game masters and directed by millions of players.
Rozenkrantz and his brother Scott started Heroic Story in the summer of 2019 at the Y Combinator accelerator. Since September 2021, the company has been building a massively multiplayer version Legends of Fortunata.
Heroic Story reimagines the traditional gameplay of pen-and-paper role-playing games into a new gaming platform that combines matchmaking services with the world’s best game masters, and story-led digital collectibles that allow players to direct their shared adventures together.
Legends of Fortunata, the company’s first game franchise for the platform, is a brand new living campaign set in the fantasy world of Fortunata. Fortunata was created by Heroic Story’s in-house narrative team of novelists and screenwriters, with contributions made by their community of thousands of fanfiction writers and digital artists.
The immersive game experience eliminates the pain points of playing traditional tabletop games online, with no stress scheduling and an exciting virtual rewards system designed to broaden the reach and appeal of TTRPG to new audiences. Legends of Fortunata is now available to play through Heroic Story’s game pass gated platform.
“The intersection of storytelling and technology has been the theme of my career, from my early years as a top online poker pro and entrepreneur, to designing and directing one of the first adventure games for consumer VR,” said Rosenkrantz. “At Y Combinator, Scott and I doubled down on solving problems for storytellers, the world’s most undervalued talent, and after spending the last year and a half exploring Web3, we truly believe smart contract powered platforms will transform gaming, storytelling, and community building.”
Legends of Fortunata was released on September 23, 2022 with a free-to-own collection of 1049 World Passes. Shortly after the mint, the Fortunata World Pass collection became the top traded collection on OpenSea.
The platform launched with several celebrity game masters, including Ron Ogden (host of the Dungeon Run), Jason Charles Miller, Aliza Pearl, April Hill, Patrick “ThatGreyGentleman,” and Luke Gygax, the son of the inventor of Dungeons & Dragons.
“We fell in love with the vision for Heroic Story because they are building authentic online RPG experiences for large, global audiences passionate about the tabletop RPG genre. There is no better founder we know than Jay to serve this community as demonstrated with the successful launch of the Fortunata World Pass collection,” said Mark Suster, managing partner at Upfront Ventures, in a statement. “He lives and breathes the spirit of this community and we’re thrilled to support him building this into a live game.”
The team includes art director Paul Adam (Bioware, Wizards of the Coast), programmer Martin Beierling-Mutz (EA), and esports industry veterans Matt Elento (Team Liquid) and Daniel “Tafokints” Lee. The team has 11 people overall.
As the company and gaming platform grow, the plan is to improve the economy within game franchises — made up of players, game masters, and content creators, many of whom currently buy and sell goods and services through siloed, inefficient marketplaces — by incorporating platform-wide tokenomics that incentivize and reward participants to improve gameplay together.
A life of pivots
They created the company as a result of a series of life pivots. Rosenkrantz said he thought he was going to be a screenwriter. He went to film school in Boston, and graduated into the middle of the online poker boom. He veered into that community and ended up becoming a top 10 player in the world.
“I was super fascinated by how the Internet was changing the culture of poker all around the world,” Rosenkrantz said. “And so I started making movies about the people — documentaries, short films.”
His Bet Raise Fold feature film is a documentary about that online poker boom and its eventual bust, which occurred in 2011 when the Department of Justice shut down the industry in the U.S.
“That was a very big turning point,” Rosenkrantz said. “And all my friends left the country to keep playing. I really wanted to tell the story of the community right and finish this documentary. We had to re-edit it from scratch. My younger brother, Scott, graduated film school right around the same time. And we had always been telling stories together.”
They moved to Austin and began making VR films, as they believe VR would change the way stories were told. They moved to Montreal and started a game studio and shipped a VR adventure game in 2018: Chiaro and the Elixir of Life. Sadly, they concluded they were 10 years too early to the market.
Then they made their way to the Y Combinator, where they studied Web3 and the opportunities in blockchain games.
“For a totally different idea, Web3 wasn’t even a thing in our minds. But our concept was always around this convergence of entertainment and technology to solve problems for storytellers using these new media,” Rosenkrantz said.
The brothers figured out “how not to die,” per instruction from Y Combinator, and they watched as non-fungible tokens exploded in 2021 in art and gaming.
“We’re trying to figure out how to work around the problem that like writers and storytellers,” Rosenkrantz said. “There is so much value created by writers but so little is captured by them. It’s very thankless.”
Rozenkrantz added, “And so we wondered, ‘What if it was more like a video game? What if you had this repetitive game?’ What do smart contract-powered writing products look like?’”
They wondered if it were possible to do NFT books. That kind of thinking led them to tabletop RPGs and the collaborative storytelling that happens in them.
“We started experimenting with NFTs where we built this collaborative storytelling game, and built a creator community of writers who really love to write fanfiction around sci-fi and fantasy franchises, and fan artists who really love drawing,” he said.
They started holding creator contests every week and brought in a novelist to help with the story. They started to create the story and that was how Legends of Fortunata was born. They noted how Dungeons & Dragons had a resurgence during the pandemic, particularly as Netflix’s Stranger Things became more and more popular.
“Tabletop has never been more popular,” Rosenkrantz said. “If you have the right group of people, if you have a good game master, it’s great. What if we just solved all that? Like, what if we create compressed time to fun so you could find the players or a group of players that you wanted to play with? At a moment’s notice? And you could be paired with an excellent game master?”
And eventually they concluded, “And then what if you could influence them direct the story in a giant MMO skilled world? That was really exciting.”
As they pitched this idea to investors, they got excited.
“They just intuitively agreed with that hypothesis that you could expand the games audience, make it more accessible, and it would solve tremendous pain points for them,” Rosenkrantz said. “That was when we started building the platform in the game.”
As for Luke Gygax, the son of D&D creator Gary Gygax, Rosenkrantz met him, and he’s running quests on the online platform now.
“He’s a great person to have on board and just building the relationships with our crews,” Rosenkrantz said.
Some of the game masters started off as extremely skeptical of Web3. But as they saw the shared world-building in the first project and saw that the company was giving profits to the community of creators, they came on board, Rosenkrantz said.
“Heroic Story is building with a very principled approach,” he said. “I think our game masters are really like great resource in bridging the gap between the mainstream and Web3 right now.”