Happy New Year! Kickstarter is as quiet as it can be in January, not only because of designers taking much-needed holiday time but also because many try to get their Kickstarters ready before Christmas to capitalize on the season. As such, there weren’t many campaigns live in any tabletop games category, let alone the somewhat restrictive box of original RPG. As such, I have an abbreviated list of eight this month, and several of these games don’t fit into the traditional criteria for Kickstarter Wonk. We do have one reprint and one play aid, but all eight of these campaigns are really neat and worth looking into.
Map Maker Adventures is a GM-less game, where players quest into a dungeon procedurally generated by rules within the game. The generation tools and random tables are interesting, while the game itself seems to be a pared-down d20-based system with maneuver categories inspired by 4e. Without a GM these sorts of games can get repetitive, though here the monster maneuver system and keyword-based obstacle descriptions allow for a pretty wide variety of experience even without someone adjudicating on the other side. If you’re a fan of the Mythic GM Emulator or are just interested in some solo gaming, this is worth a look. $25 gets you the PDF, or if that’s too rich for your blood, there are demo rules available to try before you pledge.
Maelstrom Rome is an update to the old-school UK RPG Maelstrom, and an expansion of the first reboot of Maelstrom, Maelstrom Domesday. There aren’t many details in this campaign, other than a mention of Rome-specific rules and lifepath-based character creation. Despite having a thin campaign, it appears the developers have run several others before, and working off an established system is another mark in their favor. If you’re familiar with Maelstrom or are looking for an Ancient Rome RPG with old-school roots, this may be worth the 10 pound (~$13) cost of entry.
Low Fantasy Gaming is one of a handful of OSR games that are actually interesting, modifying mechanics and using modern game design to update the core D&D experience but keep it tight and light. The aim of Low Fantasy Gaming is to provide a gritty fantasy experience in a low magic world, while adding both more tactical options and more player-facing elements. While LFG originally came out in 2016, this edition adds several rules constructs that were developed after the fact (gunpowder weapons, hirelings, mass combat, and naval combat) as well as errata and rules streamlining. Despite the changes, this edition is claimed to be completely backward-compatible. LFG is a great entry into OSR for the skeptical, and the A$20 (~$14 US) price of entry also includes two print-at-cost codes if you really like what you see.
What Tale is really trying to do is buried within this campaign. While I can understand the designers may be loathe to compare themselves to existing games, the ecosystem comparisons help, not hurt…I promise. So let’s start: Tale is, at its core, a PbtA fantasy game, taking its lessons from Dungeon World and Tremulus primarily. There is a bit more rules complexity, and the basic moves push it back in the D&D direction, with each ‘Action’ corresponding to a maneuver or skill in most fantasy games (as opposed to the broader and more esoteric moves PbtA fans are used to like ‘Defy Danger’ or ‘Discern Realities’). This approach of taking a PbtA framework and pushing it back towards the traditional is interesting, and hasn’t been attempted as often as the reverse, taking a traditional game and trying to loop in lessons learned from PbtA (one could argue Low Fantasy Gaming above falls into this category). If you’re one who finds PbtA hard to understand, or if you’re interested in the PbtA and OSR design spaces, Tale is likely worth checking out. NOK100 ($12 US) gets you a PDF.
They Came From Beneath The Sea is a b-movie game, where characters take on weird aliens and cosmic threats in over-the-top 1950s style. The game is based on the ubiquitous Storypath system, Onyx Path’s modernization of White Wolf’s Storyteller. There are two additional mechanics, though, Quips and Cinematics, which are designed to up the flavor and give the game the hammy b-movie acting and terrible special effects you know you want. They Came From Beneath The Sea uses a known system to explore a fairly untapped genre conceit, and looks to be a lot of fun. $25 gets you the PDF, but you can gain access to the Early Access version at any pledge above $5.
Somewhat more limited than a full RPG system, Dragon Scales is a game mechanic using a set of handmade runes in either wood, iron, or brass. While there is a rules booklet for the symbol meanings, the stars of the show are the rune tokens, which are gorgeous in all three materials. Play aids aren’t normally something I cover, but this rune game does add something interesting to any RPG, more of a twist than something like dice, tokens, or minis. You can get a physical set of the runes for as little as $15, so if this is at all interesting I suggest you check it out.
Somewhat of a boardgame/RPG hybrid, The Noticeboard has a similar conceit to Map Maker Adventures above in that the game is played with random quests and no GM. Here, though, the game is based on quests as opposed to dungeons, and there’s more of a narrative angle as the players fill in the details around the required rolls. The game is listed to have three modes, including head-to-head, cooperative, and the GM mode, which is more a hybrid of the first two. As the game does use characters in a D&D-esque system, the game also works as an interesting development tool for characters in another RPG, possibly serving as a session zero before the real quest begins. 20 pounds (~$26) gets you a full digital copy, though this is one where the physical version should be a strong consideration.
This is a neat little thing. Adventure Post is a subscription to a set of mini-adventures sent to you by postcard. A newer twist on the old play-by-mail games, the reason Adventure Post piqued my interest is because of a novel by John Darnielle, Wolf in White Van. In that novel, the protagonist runs a play-by-mail RPG called Trace Italian with an apocalyptic theme…what’s neat in the novel is that the protagonist responds to every player’s moves individually. While I don’t think Adventure Post will necessarily involve that much custom material, it’s still a neat corner of the RPG form and yet another game this month that is aimed at players who can’t find a willing GM. $9 gets you PDF materials, but $28 for the actual postcard experience is worth it if you’re interested.
Apparently the gaming community at large is exhausted by people after the holidays, because there were no less than three campaigns aimed at playing without a GM, be it randomly generated dungeons, an RPG-like board game, or even play-by-mail. As for the other games, this is an easy time to overlook Kickstarter and other new publications as everyone tries to figure out their plans for the year and their top ten lists for last year. What these campaigns should show you is that there’s good stuff coming out year round, and it’s always worth it to take a look. Enjoy your 2019, and come back next month for another Kickstarter Wonk!