Are you a writer? Do you have writer’s block? You won’t after playing this indie TTRPG. The Last Tea Shop offers players an exercise in writing haunting and beautiful dialogue.
I love to write (obviously), and I find journaling TTRPG systems inspiring and motivating. If you typically associate tabletop role-playing games with Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, the subgenre of solo and journaling TTRPG may be new to you. If that’s the case, The Last Tea Shop provides an excellent introduction to this type of game. Be warned, however, just like D&D and other role-playing games, once you begin your journey down that rabbit hole, you may never want to climb back out.
Journaling TTRPG systems provide a gamified approach to writing, and the style or type of writing varies drastically depending on the game. Some games offer tools to write exciting adventures while others provide a harsh and unforgiving world within which the player must struggle to survive. Whether it be rolling dice or pulling a card from a shuffled deck, randomized writing prompts guide your prose through a loosely structured scenario. By the game’s conclusion, you should have a unique and imaginative piece of work.
The Last Tea Shop is a beautiful journaling TTRPG. The system provides a structure for writing about existential themes. Your characters answer questions like, “Was my life meaningful?”, “Will anybody remember me?”, and “What do I really believe in?” You’re not really going to see content like this outside of the world of indie games. It’s too original, too inspiring, and too powerful for the big companies. No, The Last Tea Shop could only come from the uninhibited mind of an artist.
What’s It about?
On the surface, The Last Tea Shop seems to be about death. The first lines of the book read,
“You run a tea shop on the border of the living and the dead. The recently deceased visit for one last hot drink before their long journey into the Great Beyond.”
I would argue, however, that the game really offers the journaler a lens for examining life. Hindsight is 20/20, right? The characters don’t examine their last moments in life, but rather they ponder the memories they carry with them into the next world. They look back at their regrets and triumphs. They analyze the choices they made in life as well as the relationships that made an impact.
Writing about death really focuses on living people grappling with the death of those close to them. It’s about morning and loss. In this game, the characters are asked to consider their values in life. The journaler must dive deep into their own fears, hopes, and emotional needs. If it isn’t apparent by now, I will make it clear.
This game gets heavy!
How Does It Work?
It’s a Journaling TTRPG; don’t know what that is? Let’s go over that real quick.
A journaling game is often one player, but sometimes, and in this case, it can be played with 2 players. These types of games offer a series of scenarios that prompt the player to write some kind of response. Often the response comes in the form of first-person dialogue, thus “journaling”.
In The Last Tea Shop, you play the owner of a tiny tea shop on the border between life and death. You write about your conversations with spirits on their way from the world of the living and towards the great beyond. As such, the game focuses on developing dialogue, which is a typical structure for journaling games.
What do you actually do?
The player begins by building their tea shop. The game provides a large list of potential locations at the beginning of the book. On my first play-through, my tea shop was located just inside a cave hidden behind a waterfall. Each location provides a unique local ingredient that can be harvested and used in the tea. The player also receives ingredients in gameplay as gifts from the spirits they help. I’ll dive into what these ingredients do a little later on.
The next step is finding your “affinity”. The author (who goes by the pen name Spring Villager) provides a really interesting tool here. Affinities are little skills or corks that help the player control the dialogue. You can choose or roll a six-sided die to determine your affinity. Two tables provide an elemental and physical component to the affinity. The elemental component would be something like “shadows” and the physical component could be something like “book”. After obtaining the two components, your imagination can flesh out the rest; “Book of Shadows”
For instance, my affinity had the characteristic of “secret” paired with the item “deck of cards”. During my playthrough, the shopkeeper called this item their “Deck of Secrets”, and used it like a tarot deck. It would help reveal a hidden truth or theme tied into the spirit’s story. For example, one of the spirits visiting my tea shop pulled a card from the deck depicting a child sitting in a field of flowers. This traveling ghost was a mother whose child passed away many years ago. The card helped the spirit leave behind her regrets and motivated her to move on and be with her child once again.
Yeah, I wasn’t joking earlier. My play-through touched on some heavy emotions. Keep a box of tissues handy while you play.
Do you really make tea?
After you choose your affinity, you fill out your pantry. Spring Villager provides mechanics for obtaining various ingredients for your shop. The game also provides a list of key recipes and their effects on one’s emotional state. In many cases, how you obtain different ingredients depends on the roll of the dice.
Once you set up the shop, travelers begin to arrive. A combination of dice rolls and other mechanical functions determine the nature of the spirits. From there, you begin to generate dialogue between the shopkeeper and the souls passing on their way. How you employ your teas affects their emotions as well as the story you write. Do you use a tea that is calming or a tea that inspires? Do you have the correct ingredients, or do you have to make do with what’s in the cupboard?
What’s my motivation?
Ultimately, it’s up to the individual player as to the nature of the story they wish to write. Given the characteristics of the in-game tools, however, it’s apparent that the tea shop owner should be motivated by helping souls on their path to the afterlife. The game gives you a template for each traveler entering your shop as well as their emotional state. After that, the player must fill in the details and generate a dialogue.
Truly, this game provides an excellent exercise for character development and emotionally charged conversations. Spring Villager wrote a system that provides interesting writing prompts with variety and depth. You’ll walk away from this game having improved your ability to write about human nature and how they communicate their feelings.
Is It Hard?
Accounting for the learning curve and gameplay challenge, I give this game a low-moderate difficulty level for a journaling TTRPG. I want to emphasize the “for a journaling TTRPG” here! These types of solo play games are not known for being exceptionally hard to learn or super crunchy. However, I suggest giving the book a complete read-through before starting. The instructions are step-by-step, but having a full understanding of what you’re trying to do before you start taking these steps will help. But don’t worry, you’ll pick it up quick.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the fantastic art found within the pages of this book. Spring Villager worked with Stoneshore on this project. This was an excellent pairing of complementary talents. Stoneshore’s illustrations bestow the pages with an elegant and ethereal mystery that complements the quiet tone of the content. This game forces you to look through your heart before you look out at the world, and the artwork frames this lens with the subtle and simple themes discovered while playing.
Who is this game for?
I think the list of people that will enjoy this game is going to be a long one. Anyone who enjoys journaling TTRPGs or indie games should have The Last Tea Shop in their library, no doubt. But I think there’s a larger audience here. We have a lot of traits and mechanical features that a wide variety of individuals will enjoy.
I think writers and aspiring writers will absolutely love this game. They already enjoy the craft. The Last Tea Shop gamifies something there already passionate about. The wide variety of writing prompt elements combined with the randomization of the dice maintains novelty and challenge during gameplay. You can play this game dozens of times and have completely different stories unfold.
I also believe there’s a certain personality type that would get a lot out of this game. I’m thinking of emotionally intuitive and introspective individuals. The type of person that has a lot of thoughts about human nature, right and wrong, and who possesses a compassionate spirit. If you take a second to consider these personality traits, I’m sure a few names will spring to mind. That deep and artsy friend who’s always reading poetry. I can see The Last Tea Shop offering them a cathartic mode of expression.
Ultimately, I recommend this game to anyone who enjoys TTRPGs, writing, or has a lot of spirit but doesn’t know what to do with it. If this sounds like you, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy. There’s a link at the bottom of the article if you’d like to check it out. If this description sounds like a friend, The Last Tea Shop would make one hell of a stocking stuffer.
Hell, it’s not expensive and you can print it out at home and staple it together. This would be a good, “oh crap, I forgot about your birthday but I need to get you something right now,” kind of gift.
Well, I consider myself an introspective, artsy-fartsy, TTRPG nerd who loves writing, so I absolutely adore this game. My first play-through was highly emotional and thematically heavy. I certainly made use of the cathartic nature of the prompts. However, most of the spirits entering my tea shop left feeling a little better and ready for the journey ahead.
Overall, I would say The Last Tea Shop is a top-tier solo, journaling TTRPG. You’ll be hard-pressed to find better within this genre. The game mechanics offer a huge variety of potential writing prompts, but it’s also easy to play. After you’ve learned the rules, you’re ready to start crafting haunting characters and dialogue. This game opens the door to your imagination and your heart.
Personally, I believe I found my go-to remedy for writer’s block. Just writing the first character and conversation felt so inspiring. The ideas just kept flowing after the eloquently described setting was presented. I’ll definitely be keeping a copy of The Last Tea Shop next to my writing desk.
If you’re interested in downloading a copy of The Last Tea Shop, I’ve provided a link to the author’s store below. You’ll also find links to other solo and journaling TTRPG reviews I’ve posted. Check them out; this might be your new favorite genre.
Until next time, don’t let the tea steep too long, and keep writing.
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PS: Just before posting this article, I heard that The Last Tea Shop will be published in physical form. Spring Villager is working with the independent printing company Old-School Inspired. This is one game I will certainly be purchasing a physical copy of. I’ve actually already printed and stapled together a copy for myself, but having a well-crafted book from a printing press would be perfect. If you’re interested in seeing what else Old-School Inspired has produced, follow the link.