This February is an intense month for Kickstarter Wonk, with tons and tons of content. First up, February is the month of Zine Quest! Zine Quest is a Kickstarter event supporting RPG zines, small publications that have had an outsized impact on RPG history. For the event, there are 35 different zine projects (as of this writing at least, the number keeps going up), and pretty much all of them are worth looking at. Cyberpunk zines, PbtA zines, a Torchbearer zine…I could go on. Check out all the projects here!
In addition to 35 zines, there were nearly 20 different RPG projects I checked out. Some don’t fit my criteria, but are still worth checking out, like the third edition of Interface Zero. Others…the less said about them the better. Overall, though, it was tough narrowing this list down to ten, as there was a lot of quality stuff out there.
When it comes to licensing properties for tabletop RPGs, it seems like no one is safe. Judge Dredd? Been there. John Carter of Mars? Old hat. And now, what do we have but Zorro, the famous swashbuckler with a penchant for calligraphy. The Zorro RPG is timed to coincide with the centennial of the franchise, and makes use of the West End Games d6 System, most famous for the original Star Wars RPG but here updated for a second edition. The book employs both the new rules (which are available for preview through the campaign) and a lot of history, using artwork from over 70 years of Zorro in books and TV. $15 can get you the PDF for this fairly singular licensed game.
You all know me, I love me some Cyberpunk. Carbon 2185 is a Cyberpunk game, but using D&D 5e bones to offer a new twist on the genre. While using the well-known class structure for 5e, Carbon 2185 emphasizes the subclass options as well as a beefed-up version of the background system to try and follow in the (life)path of the greats. I appreciate that the designers are trying to emphasize the straight Cyberpunk milieu, instead of trying to reskin the magic system for something largely unsuited to the genre. That said, it’s Cyberpunk, it’s 5e, you’re probably getting what it says on the tin. That’s enough for me, I backed this one. 15 GBP (about $20) gets you the PDF.
Vulcania looks to be a fairly traditional RPG, taking place in a steampunk setting. It does advertise that it uses an all-new d12 system, but my initial reaction is that is just as much because d12s are weird and unloved as it would be for any statistical reason. Fear not, despite my ribbing Vulcania looks well-written and well put together, even if it isn’t particularly unique. Character generation gives a fair amount of detail, allowing the player to choose backgrounds, past experiences, personality, and vices in addition to the standard skill and attribute spread. The mechanics tying into backgrounds help the world look realized even from the text of the Kickstarter campaign, which should help push this one over the edge. Less helpful, though, is the startup cost: 25 euro (~$29) for a PDF.
As far as RPG concepts go, “Be the dragon” is a strong one. Lex Draconis has the players playing dragons in modern times, balancing immense power with personal conflicts and the inherent liability of trying to keep up a hoard in these uncertain times. Each dragon must balance bestial power with their ability to participate and become invested in the mortal realm, and these choices aren’t meant to be easy. Lex Draconis uses Modern RPG, a set of rules tweaks for the Pathfinder system. Backing for a PDF is only a small chip off your hoard, $20.
Oh look! They made an RPG out of a roguelike! Ancient Domains of Mystery is one of the OG roguelikes, and one of the few left of that type which are still updated by the developer. Tied into efforts on the digital side, including an upcoming Ultimate ADOM, the ADOM RPG looks to tie OSR sensibilities with ‘fast and furious’ gameplay which almost made me think the game was done in Savage Worlds. Instead, the system is old-school inspired with an Order/Chaos alignment system, non-Vancian magic, and the ever-present (and let’s be honest, almost always welcome) corruption mechanic. Here, 20 euro (~$23) gets you a PDF.
The Bone Marshes
The Bone Marshes is primarily an adventure, but it does come with standalone, old-school friendly rules, as well as a great primer to old-school hexcrawling. The Marshes as described come with not only an intricate map but also their own set of timekeeping rules for watching night-day cycles as well as the tides and the resultant flooding. Along with the system, The Bone Marshes includes a series of three adventures which serve as an intro to hexcrawling and make good use of the dynamic environs set forth in the map. $10 gets you this PDF.
Clockwork Depths is described as a steampunk underwater RPG, but what’s most notable is that it’s also described as both LARP and tabletop. To enable this, the system is based on a “Sack System”, where conflicts are resolved by a blind draw from a sack with various colored tokens inside. The character’s attributes determine which symbols are in the bag, while the character’s skill ratings determine how many draws they make from a bag. A fairly intuitive and ingenious system which allows the LARP/tabletop crossover to happen fairly easily, though there will always be a subset of tabletop players who would have just preferred dice. $25 gets you a black and white copy of the book…there is no PDF option which, based on the relatively high entry point, may be a mistake on the part of the creators.
Reach of Titan
Reach of Titan is, without a doubt, Shadow of the Colossus the tabletop game. The game is primarily designed to model battles between characters and massive monsters from folklore. The combat system is described as a combination of puzzles and resource management, while the game is noted to also include systems for settlement building and overland exploration, among others. The centerpiece of the game is of course the asymmetrical combat system, where each part of each Titan is statted out separately to model the intricacies of fighting them, working in concert with special sets of strengths, weaknesses, and necessary killing moves. Tying it all together is a d6-based dice pool system. Reach of Titan is a different take on a combat-focused RPG, and for $25 you can check it out.
Beat the Boss
Just when I thought there was a PbtA game for everything, this comes around. Beat the Boss is a PbtA game centering on community and labor organizing. While, surprisingly, this isn’t the first game (I’d argue that goes to Winterhorn by Bully Pulpit Games) that addresses the topic, it’s likely the one that’s the most general, and intended as a teaching tool in a broad sense (as opposed to Winterhorn’s fairly specific conceit). Tested with both gamers and organizers, Beat the Boss is showing the flexibility of PbtA as well as the return of the labor movement into public conversation. Appropriately, the PDF is only $10.
Like the other Titan game in this list, Titan Hunt is about fighting giant monsters. It takes a different tack beyond that broad conceit, however. Titan Hunt is a Fate-based game, and the Titans it tackles emphasize their mythological origins more than their intricate combat challenges. There are other parallel paths, like how both games emphasize heroes’ relationships to communities, though in Titan Hunt that’s more in the form of community relationships than settlement building. Both the approaches and mechanics of each game are different, and both are worth considering and examining. In the case of Titan Hunt, 65 DKK (about $10) will get you a PDF to do that examining with.
A big honking month, this one. There were way more games here than I could cover, and narrowing down to ten took some effort. As far as those cut out, let me just say Zine Quest again! Zine Quest is a really neat event that looks to be producing a ton of neat content…if I wasn’t a human bound by the laws of time and space I would have written about all of them. Instead I’ll say check out the landing page, and consider backing a few of them. Zines were supposed to be low-budget, DIY affairs, and here the price of entry has stayed low. Of course, also check out the games I covered here, each one is enhancing the RPG corpus and potentially bringing together new gaming groups and attracting new gamers. I’m stoked that it was a big month, even if that meant a whole lot to write about. Until next month, back some games and let’s see what new stuff comes out!