Welcome to a busy and bustling March for Kickstarter! Adding to the tons of projects, Zine Quest, which had submission dates through the month of February, is still going on! Check it out here. There were a couple full games under the Zine Quest banner which I was particularly intrigued by; be sure to check out Dragon and Warrior, Grey Cells, and Be Witching.
Even after taking the Zine Quest projects out of the running, there were still at least a couple dozen games contending for your limited dollars. Among a few heartbreakers and some that just weren’t interesting, there were still more than enough for me to come up with a top ten of intriguing, unique, and worthy RPG projects for March.
The World After has a number of unique things going for it. First, it’s a fantasy world modeling a post-human society after an ecological collapse, and one intended to challenge the Tolkien-esque norms of the genre. Second, the game was developed collaboratively with groups of gamers in Essex in the UK. The outcome looks fascinating, with a relatively simple system tied to five wild Societies and rules like an Evolution system which allow you to determine the physiological direction of your character. These guys have tied themselves into a timeline coinciding with a broader art project, and since that is unveiled in October of this year it’s a pretty tight timeline. That said, with the rules and a chunk of the art complete it might be doable. 5 GBP (~$7) gets you a PDF copy.
“Sci-Fi Western” is a genre that we at Cannibal Halfling call “Fanboy Fodder”, almost entirely due to the existence of Firefly. Manifest is looking to cash in on this trend and is going all-in, down to the point of calling their game mechanics “Fistful of d20s”. The system is broadly traditional, but both attribute and narrative elements are highlighted during character creation. The mechanics are a d20 dice pool with Blackjack rules (i.e. under the target number but then as high as possible), which seems to fit the western feel well. The elements described for characters mean that this game will live or die by its writing, but if the campaign is an indication of how the game is written I’d say these guys are worth checking out. $20 gets you a PDF, but the campaign provides some sample pages and a podcast to let you learn more.
This Kickstarter is a campaign to fund three microgames which each fit on two sides of a three-fold multi-panel screen. The campaign includes “vs. Mirrorshades” (Cyberpunk), “vs. Mars” (hard sci-fi) and “vs. Pirates” (arrrr). In addition, the stretch goals for this campaign include expansions to these games, like the Shadowrun-esque “Magicshades” and “Davy Jones” which adds magical creatures to “Pirates”. Based on “vs. Monsters” by Phil Reed of GURPS fame, these three games appear to be both eminently playable as well as cleverly designed in a physical sense. Pledges of $8, $15, and $20 get you one, two, or three of the games…and remember these are physical copies. PDFs are included as an achieved stretch goal, but the actual threefold screens are part of the appeal. So much so, that after writing this I went ahead and backed for all three. If you like light games and want something you can carry around to any event where an RPG could break out, this is worth funding.
Leviathan Rising is “Enlightenmentpunk”, a fantasy game taking place in the 17th century. Overuse of the -punk suffix notwithstanding, this time period is so woefully underused and underappreciated from an RPG perspective that I knew I’d be spilling at least a little ink on this game. Instead of using a backdrop of the Dark Ages as D&D and its antecedents at least imply, the Enlightenment serves as a similarly tumultuous time with untold opportunities for outcasts and adventurers. Play amidst the backdrop of colonialism and crumbling empires, and maybe dabble in magic via the Peerage. Leviathan Rising is Fate-based, so the strength of the offering is much more on the setting and story than the mechanics (not that Fate mechanics aren’t good, just not new). Saying that, I still think this is a worthwhile go at a niche that needs some more love. 15 GBP (~$20) gets you a PDF.
When Powered by the Apocalypse first took on supernatural horror and fantasy, it was through Urban Shadows, a game that (perhaps unintentionally) presented the ability to play “World of Darkness, but with every game mixed together”, a playstyle which, incidentally, is impossible or painful to do with the actual World of Darkness games. Now, designers are leaning further in, and one of the results of that is Bite Me, a PbtA game specifically about werewolf pack dynamics. This game seems more “wolfy” than, say, Werewolf: the Apocalypse, but lead designer Becky Annison’s credits on Lovecraftesque and Trail of Cthulhu ensure that the horror elements are going to be there too. 10GBP (~$13) gets you the PDF, though there is an honor system economic hardship tier at 7GBP (~$9). Actual plays and the Basic Moves are shared in the campaign, and you’ll get the draft rules immediately upon backing, making this a pretty safe bet to at least check out.
An RPG about “the great American Novel” is maybe not the most interesting sell at first blush. More interesting is two novelists looking at framework-driven games like Ten Candles, Protocol, and Fiasco, and trying to genericize those ideas into a literary RPG. The result is taking your Ten Candles and Fiasco at one end, Fate and Apocalypse World at the other end, and trying to deliver a game which has both the structural bounds of Fiasco and the freedom expected from most RPGs. I’m still puzzling over where this game lands when you play it, but overall my feeling is fascination rather than confusion. If you can envision a hybrid of Fiasco and Apocalypse World it’s likely going to come out somewhat like The Great American Novel; $15 can get you a PDF to really find out.
The PbtA lovefest continues, this time for a game designed to emulate Hanna-Barbera cartoons! It should be unsurprising that Scooby Doo is a core influence here, in addition to Jabberjaw and Josie and the Pussycats. Based on these influences, the game plays more with investigation and wit than with drama and violence. That said, there is also a set of variant rules called “Behind the Music” intended to lean in more to adult themes which are merely implied in much of the source material. Outside that variant, though, Jinkies! is as kid friendly as can be, when concerning a PbtA game. While rebranding to “Groovy Snacks” is less groovy than it sounds, $10 for a PDF is pretty groovy.
What? Another PbtA game? This one is one I funded almost immediately, though I was likely tainted by the emergent awesomeness of High Impact Heroics. Super Destiny High School Rumble is an Anime High School RPG, playing on pretty much all of the tropes which could be implied by that beautiful genre. You could be a student council president and mech pilot, or a class clown and a monster hunter. Every anime subgenre you could think of is represented here, at least every subgenre which has at some point had a high school in it. Super Destiny High School Rumble has the opportunity to take the torch from Masks in terms of adolescent shenanigans, and for $10 you can get the PDF for yourself.
The Ultraviolet Grasslands crosses the OSR, travelogue stories, and psychedelic heavy metal in a product that is atmospheric and trippy. Merely a month ago I wouldn’t have understood what the intent of this game was, but after reviewing Troika I can say that the science fantasy and heavy metal imagery of The Ultraviolet Grasslands meshes well with a corner case of OSR and pulp sci-fi grognards. Unsurprisingly, the editors worked on Troika while Troika’s Melsonian Arts Council is responsible for distributing the game in the UK and Europe. The full book is intended to be 192 pages, and likely atmospheric as hell. $15 gets you a copy, but you can freely check out the manuscript through the campaign page.
“Conclave is a live-action role playing game of the Papal Conclave of 1268.” Completely self-explanatory, and yet still open for interpretation. Conclave is the latest in a number of small LARPs that are as well-executed as they are niche. Heavy with historical information and historical characters, Conclave allows you to play out a pivotal, yet oft-overlooked event as any number of influential Cardinals who were in Rome at the time. Will this appeal to everyone? Of course not! But LARPs like these are one of the reasons I have so much faith and enthusiasm invested in the RPG scene today: people can make what they’re passionate about, no matter how small of a niche it covers. Conclave may not be your jam, but it looks well done and it deserves to get made. $10 gets you a PDF.
Another busy month means a whole range of games out there to check out. We got Hanna-Barbera, we got micro-games, we have a papal conclave. No matter what your interest is, you can throw it up on Kickstarter and see if it sticks. Hopefully these ten games stick, they all show the right combination of execution, marketing, and balls-to-the-wall originality to get my attention.
Any I missed? Any supplements or settings worth the attention? Let us know? Otherwise, Kickstarter Wonk will be back again for April!