Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for October! This month, as the leaves turn and the days grow shorter, many designers, from the US and Italy and Sweden and other far-off places, are all ready to bring you autumn light in the form of new RPGs! Like most months, there were far too many games to cover all sufficiently, so here is my top ten; nine games and one collection of indie gaming material that (in my opinion) is too good to pass up. Whether you’re looking for Autumn leaves in The Forest Hymn and Picnic or something spooky in Things from the Flood, this crop is a perfect harvest for October.
Imagine a classic 1950s town, if you will. See it, your American Graffiti or Grease or Archie? Now, Shadowrun it (yes, Shadowrun is a verb now). Americana is what you end up with. An idyllic 1950s that never was, stocked with orcs, elves, and dragons, among other fantasy creatures. Then, because you Shadowrunned too much, it’s all run with a d6 dice pool system (albeit the one from the game Mirror, not as complex as Shadowrun itself). Americana takes its unique setting and adds a town creation system for each group to make it their own, a whole character sheet to organize your ongoing mystery, and the ever-present challenges of being a teenager. $10 gets you the PDF, but there’s a free quickstart available too.
CULT! is a quick-playing game of elder gods and cultists. Based on the same system as the designers’ previous game, CHOMP!, CULT! uses totally random characters and easy to set up adventures to mix the dread of creatures from beyond with silliness usually best achieved with a few festive beverages. Light and fun, the “Weirdness Magnet System” has a solid history of convention kudos and now allows sanity attacks! Might not be that far afield of the state of the art, but only $5 gets you the full PDF.
Using the iconic Judge Dredd comic and promising to expand the system to more of the 2000AD anthology, this RPG is one of the first licensed games to use the What’s Old Is New (WOIN) ruleset. While WOIN hasn’t made a huge splash as a generic system, the preview materials for their Dredd game look gorgeous: comic-y but still dense with info. If you’re a fan of the 2000AD comics or if you’re wondering when WOIN will get a killer app, this is a good campaign to check out. 15 pounds (~$20) gets you a PDF of this one.
Bunnies and Burrows is a classic game of playing rabbits in a hostile world where pretty much everything is larger than them. One thing that’s fascinating about this game is that it was written by a zoologist and biologist, both with PhDs. As a result the game has a lot of consideration to real-world fauna, which is then contrasted sharply and bizarrely with a magic-like herbalist system, and the ability to learn the languages of other animals. Bunnies and Burrows was last published as a standalone game in 1982, so this update has a lot of potential to expand what was a small (but memorable) franchise. The new game includes the original designers, and expands the species list to include chipmunks, porcupines, and opossums, among others. $25 gets you a PDF copy, but the quickstart rules are included at any pledge level above a dollar.
Return to the Stars is a Fate-based game which takes place in a setting where faster-than-light travel was lost, but has now been rediscovered. Characters are, as the description notes, “a new generation of geeks — makers, genetically enhanced cosplayers, scientists, and pop culture enthusiasts setting out on an adventure of exploration and discovery”. The setting of the game is intended to be optimistic, think Star Trek but with other human civilizations among the stars waiting to be reconnected. If you’re looking for something exploration-focused, or a different sort of setting flavor from the likes of Traveller or Stars Without Number, this may be a good choice. $15 gets you the PDF version.
The Forest Hymn and Picnic is centered around ideas of mysterious forests and magical woods, pulling influence from everywhere from The Wind in the Willows to Winnie the Pooh to the music of the Decemberists. All this adds up to a strange set of ideas for a typical RPG, but it’s pulled together by using the mechanics from Shadow of the Demon Lord. Not that I can quite put my finger on what about this combination intrigues me, but this really intrigues me. If you like magical creatures, enchanted woods, the OSR, or the idea of an RPG unbound from a traditional gameplay loop, I’d check this one out. $15 gets you a PDF.
Things from the Flood is the sequel to the award-winning Tales from the Loop, and like Tales from the Loop it’s heavily based on art by Simon Stalenhag. In Things from the Flood, it is now the 90s. Your characters are teenagers, balancing their day-to-day lives with strange happenings and creatures emerging from The Flood, strange dark waters transforming the islands nearby. Things from the Flood is separate from Tales from the Loop, though it is possible to port your characters from an earlier game of Tales from the Loop into Things from the Flood. The emphasis has changed from kids to teenagers, and the era has progressed as well. These two games could make for a really fascinating long campaign in the hands of a motivated GM. For 200SEK (~$22) you can get a PDF copy of the game.
Based on an Italian RPG first published 25 years ago, Lex Arcana takes place in an alternate history Rome where the Empire didn’t fall. Characters are part of the Cohors Auxiliaria Arcana, a special detachment of agents sent to the far corners of the empire to investigate supernatural threats. Both historical and fantastical, Lex Arcana sounds like an intriguing twist on your typical fantasy game. If you agree, you can check out the quickstart rules for free, and a PDF copy is available with an 18 euro (~$21) pledge.
The Dawnline has a fascinating premise. The characters are vampires protecting a nomadic village which is travelling along the Dawnline, the twilight between endless day and endless night on a tidelocked planet. While the vampires defend their villagers through traditional combat mechanics, a solid half of the game is helping your village grow and prosper, and emphasizing the symbiosis between vampires and villagers. While the goals and systems are broader, the rules system is traditional and d6-based. $15 will get you a PDF copy of The Dawnline.
Codex is the zine put out by The Gauntlet, one of the most vibrant and diverse indie RPG communities extant. While this hardcover compilation doesn’t feature new material (and as such is an honorable mention), each issue is packed with inspirational and mechanical material for a range of indie games as well as new games and hacks. Tie this together with some fantastic art and layout and this and hopefully future Codex compilations should make great coffee table books as well as RPG material. $50 is the tier to get the hardcover compilation, though there are lower tiers if you just want PDF copies…that said, all PDF issues of Codex have been on sale previously (Author’s note: There is a $35 tier for just the hardcover without the PDFs, which is a cheaper way to get the physical book).
There were many games that didn’t make the cut here, including some solid-looking games built on existing rulesets and some less-solid ones which probably needed a campaign revision or two. Nonetheless, the market is active, and any of the games I’ve listed here (as well as some I haven’t) would be worth your money. Do also note that Kira Magrann’s Kickstarter for Something is Wrong Here ends the day after this article is published; it wasn’t included in Kickstarter Wonk this month because I did a whole article about it! Definitely worth checking out. Additionally there continue to be dozens of quality supplement and accessory Kickstarters. Think I missed something? Want to highlight a Kickstarter you like that falls outside my typical purview of new games? Drop a line below!