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Shaw Schiappacasse, a copywriting student at the VCU Brandcenter, has turned his passion for Dungeons & Dragons into a successful crowdfunded project and portfolio piece, one that now is bringing his written words to life.

Schiappacasse has played the role-playing game for years. He is active in the online community for the game and loves writing about it. 

“One night at 2 in the morning, which is when all fun ideas come in, I started to think of ideas for a setting,” Schiappacasse said. “I just started to write about it.”

In the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy game, a dungeon master leads players through campaigns. The players encounter monsters and often must solve a problem. The game uses imagination and requires players to work together.

The dungeon master helps paint a picture of the world where the characters are adventuring. The dungeon master bases the campaign on a module, and Schiappacasse imagined an entire world to help a dungeon master manage a campaign. 

“It’s a module,” Schiappacasse said. “It’s a setting. It’s a world. I didn’t make a game. I didn’t make a story. I made a place for your games and your story.”

Schiappacasse told Berwyn Hung, a professor in the Brandcenter, about the project. Hung was impressed with the work that Schiappacasse had already done and encouraged him to do more. Hung had played Dungeons & Dragons in the past and knew visuals were a huge part of the game. The books and modules associated with the game have illustrations of the monsters, charters and settings. It helps everyone imagine the world.

“I felt like he had a small presence in that space and I thought that it could be more,” Hung said. “He had most of the writing done and needed artwork.”

Hung encouraged Schiappacasse to put together a crowdfunding project on Kickstarter. Hung thought Schiappacasse, who was well connected to the online Dungeons & Dragons community, could raise money and hire illustrators and other creative professionals to finish the project.

Schiappacasse launched the Kickstarter campaign in December and set a moderate goal of $1,500. Within a few hours, he had reached that goal. The campaign eventually raised $10,000, stunning Schiappacasse. He knows a half-dozen of his supporters, and the rest were people who just wanted to support his project. 

“I am super flattered,” Schiappacasse said. “It was flooring to me.” 

With the money, Schiappacasse hired an illustrator and a designer to help him lay out the material. People who supported his campaign were able to choose between receiving a PDF copy or printed material. A lot of the money he raised will cover the printing costs. Schiappacasse hopes to have everything designed and printed by June. 

Hung believes projects like Schiappacasse’s are important for students and work great as part of a portfolio. Employers want to see initiative by potential employees, something that demonstrates their abilities.

“I think employers these days are looking for that entrepreneurial spirit,” Hung said. “Even if the area where he ends up working is tangential to the game, it will look good.” 

Schiappacasse said he never planned to create a project that he could use in his portfolio. He enjoys thinking of new worlds and helping people play Dungeons & Dragons.

“It started out as neither for portfolio or profit,” Schiappacasse said. “It was totally just for fun. And the magical thing about it is that it is still fun. It doesn’t feel like work to me.”


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