Greetings all, and Happy New Year! The Level One Wonk has returned, emerging wide-eyed and determined to face 2018 down! Of course, New Year often means new games. Like I mentioned in the Holiday Special, I’ve wanted to find good write-ups of new RPGs available on Kickstarter ever since Kickstarter began absorbing strangely large quantities of my money back in 2014. While some of these sorts of articles do exist, they are either irregular (covering only Kickstarters relevant to the topic of a given blog as an example) or short-form (there are good Kickstarter threads on RPGnet, but with a max post count north of 1000 these can be quite tough to track with). So I’ve taken it upon myself to plumb the depths of Kickstarter looking for new games.
The idea behind Kickstarter Wonk is to find and pull out Kickstarter projects for new role-playing games. Conversions and reprints are generally out, unless there is new value being added by converting an old game to a new system (Savage Rifts is a good example of this). New settings or game concepts are generally included, so a Fate setting or a Savage Worlds setting could work. Supplements are out, as are tools and toys (things like dice, maps, and software). I really am looking for new games above all else. That said, in months that are thin or in the case of really cool projects that aren’t technically new games, I’ll add them as honorable mentions. This month, I’ve found five projects which are new gaming systems trying to make their way into the world. There’s also one honorable mention, for some gaming software that I think has potential.
Bastille: Fallen Kingdoms has an intriguing premise. This game has all character traits as well as much of the adventure structure defined by cards drawn either at character creation or during play. It looks like a really interesting game, though the 1700 card count in the description strains disbelief a little bit. The really unfortunate consequence of this is that, though there are lower reward tiers, you need to give the creators an eye-watering $100 to get a copy of the game. To a degree it makes sense given the production intensity of a card-based game, but it’s going to turn a lot of people off.
Looking at the ecosystem, there are other games like this, where there’s a baked-in setting, pre-written map, and (nowhere near as many) cards for certain rules. I’m thinking of Mutant: Year Zero, specifically, which also had a very high asking price. Said asking price was justified with gorgeous art and high production values, as well as a unique and interesting ruleset (the fact that it isn’t a Kickstarter but a published game helps a lot in terms of making sure you know what you’re getting for your money, too). I think the ruleset of Bastille could be interesting, but the few hints as to how the rules work in the campaign description don’t give me enough to go off of (though the rules structures that are mentioned seem a little heartbreaker-esque, which makes me cagey). For now, I’d say this one is a pass…with the rules fleshed out a little more and art direction a little clearer, it could be worthwhile. My advice to the creators? Release a full PDF of your rules, right now, for anyone to read. If they need the cards to play there’s no risk to you, and it will make it easier for interested backers to see if the game is for them.
Nightcrawl looks like a fairly bog standard (d20+stat+skill) system around a noir premise. What makes me intrigued is that the description promises a lot of scalability in terms of violence, character options, and story. The mention of mechanics for contacts, calling in favors, and other character interactions which are vital for a hard-boiled or noir atmosphere intrigue me as well. This looks like it could be very interesting indeed.
The character sheet and core system remind me of Cyberpunk 2020, though having the same difficulty numbers with smaller attributes and a larger die worries me. This means the system will be swingy, more swingy than 2020, and this detail makes me wonder about playtesting and completeness of the product. Here’s the rub, though: unlike the somewhat insane price of admission for Bastille, I can back at $10 and get a PDF. I’ve saved this one…I haven’t made up my mind yet, but I may back for the PDF just to see what this is all about.
This project has some really interesting ideas. This is a classless d20 system with three stats, which each exist only to modify the skills within those stat pools. You can level up skills by rolling high enough (typically a 20 on a d20), or by accumulating bonus rolls that can be used for any skill, either by banking them or rolling for a point each time you roll a 20. There’s also mention of a keyword-based magic system, some interesting parry/evade rules offset by static weapon damage and scaled hit point numbers, and a few other things that make it clear that the author has put some thought into how to make his games run fast but still crunchy.
The setting material (or rather lack thereof) worries me a bit. For how much the campaign discusses the “immersive, original world”, there’s very little about the world itself, and the map and race examples provided do not scream immersive or original to me. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with the world, but I have zero clue if the game is worth the price of admission without them…the mechanics as listed, if published as an SRD (no setting), would likely be pay-what-you-want, maybe $5 or $10 if the PDF was nicely done. This campaign requires $25 buy-in for the core rules. That’s a pass from me. It looks like to get the monster book and spell book you need to commit an additional $25…$50 for a complete system is a hard no-sell, and based on the list in the description, this may not even include the setting book.
So Cyneric’s Call has a gimmick…the game only uses a d12. The d12 is likely one of if not the most unloved die in the standard polyhedral family, so making that choice immediately makes the game interesting. Well-played, in that case. The example rules look fairly rules-medium, with five stats and sixteen skills in a fairly standard system vis a vis combat and magic. The Ability Pools rules sounds interesting, but with the limited description given here I couldn’t tell you if the advancement rules they imply are actually unique.
The setting is described a bit, with the caveat that it can be abandoned easily, which makes me think that the design emphasis was around the system (this is a good thing). While the basic ideas are pretty middle of the road in terms of rules constructs, I’m left wondering if you could play the entire game with not only just d12s, but only rolling a single d12 at any given time. This could be an interesting and compact game, but as is often the case in Kickstarter campaigns it’s hard to know for sure. That said, this one has already funded with its modest goal and only $10 will get you the PDF. I’ve saved this one, but haven’t yet decided if I’ll back.
Children of the Apocalypse is a post-apocalyptic fantasy setting, taking place on Earth, but throwing in a Renaissance tech level, psionics, and tinker mages. While the idea of post-apocalyptic fantasy New England is what drew me in, this author has put in a lot of effort to get their Kickstarter off on the right foot. There are demo rules for the new setting on DrivethruRPG, which allows me to look and see if what the author has available is worth $19 for a PDF copy. I haven’t yet had a chance to dive into the demo, but this one is at least a save for me. Since the mechanics are Savage Worlds I can look at what’s called out mechanically (the Tinker Mages, primarily) as well as the setting concepts, which sound pretty intriguing. Setting books are difficult sells for me personally, but this one sounds like post-apocalypse and/or Savage Worlds fans should at least check out the demo.
The Arcane Eye is not a game, rather it’s virtual tabletop software designed to be run on multiple devices over a LAN, a la Artemis. If done well this could be very interesting, using similar protocols as a Chromecast or other streaming device to share dungeon map views to mobile devices and adding some very interesting technology to the gaming table. For this to work, though, it needs to double down on mobile functionality (and streaming functionality, streaming to a TV is noted in the campaign) and the developers must look at how different the software would need to be from its competitors (Fantasy Grounds and Roll20) in order to stand out by offering this capability. I think there’s a very interesting niche to be exploited here, but if the mobile value proposition isn’t fully realized, Fantasy Grounds will eat The Arcane Eye’s lunch.
January is likely a lean time for Kickstarter, with the holidays just over it’s not always the best time to try and get people to part with their money. There were 108 active tabletop games projects, and these five are essentially all of the whole-cloth RPG systems and settings, excepting one that was live when I wrote this but will be over by the time this post is published. That said, there aren’t any really high-profile games to compete with at the moment either. Check out these projects, and see if you agree or disagree with my assessments. Feel free to send me links for new projects too, who knows what’s going to go live in the next few weeks!