Spring has sprung! With it, the games are coming up through cracks in the pavement. There was a bumper crop of fresh ideas showing themselves on Kickstarter, and sadly only ten of them can fit in this month’s rundown. Whether you’re looking for old-school Swedish dungeon crawling, 1980s wizards, or a two player game about ‘The Chase’, there are ten solid games here to contemplate as the days get longer and warmer.
Ruin Masters doesn’t tell you much with its name, but it’s an interesting OSR-adjacent project. “Drakar och Demoner” was a Swedish RPG released in 1982 which was an offshoot of Runequest in mechanical terms. The game took off and was one of the most popular games in Sweden, and had a “retro version” released in Swedish in 2016. Ruin Masters is an adaptation of that, providing a rules expansion and an English translation. The new version includes rules for dungeon crawling, hexcrawling, and more traditional unstructured campaigns as well, and is a setting-agnostic system which does come with an example campaign. Looking at the rules presented in the campaign this looks like a much tighter game than what you’d see in modern Runequest or BRP; it also provides another way to get into the Swedish RPG scene which has been making waves on our shores in recent years. SEK 175 (about $19) gets you the PDF version.
Ballad of the Pistolero is an Old West game, and one that’s unapologetic about emulating fiction. Taking the WFRP tack to a d100 system, Ballad of the Pistolero aims to make combat deadly, a nice alignment to a genre where typically one shot killed, and it was whichever shot was fastest. Like Ruin Masters, Ballad of the Pistolero aims to take a fairly light touch to d100, while still having probability be probability in the end. This is an admittedly slim campaign, but there are already beta rules to download for free, which are worth checking out if you’re interested in a Wild West game that’s a bit lighter than, say, Aces and Eights. The art-free version of the PDF can be had at $5, making this a hoot-and-hollerin’ deal.
Critical Core may not technically be a new ruleset, being adapted from the Fifth Edition SRD. That said, Critical Core has a strikingly different and vital design purpose, and that’s to engage players on the autism spectrum. The campaign and encounter design is done drawing from the clinical state of the art, with encounters mapping to the Functional and Emotional Developmental Capacities (FEDC) framework. While therapeutic engagement is a strong backstop to the design work going into this game, it is still very much a game, an RPG intended to bring forth the sort of scenarios we know, love, and like to grapple with. Critical Core is designed to be more comprehensive in its design goals than many games, and as such, the $30 PDF tier is reasonable considering what you’re getting. This is a game with a very narrow niche, but it helps promote and reinforce the social and creative enablement which happens through all RPGs.
A thin campaign for a game about wizards in the 1980s. Apparently to gain magical abilities one must have survived a near-death experience, making wizards the sort of people who aren’t necessarily all that stable. Now, there’s not much else in the campaign, but the concept was one that I was intrigued by, so here we are. The game has met its funding goals, and there are more details filled in through campaign updates (ten of them so far). With the updates covering combat and magic already there, it’s at least clear that the designer does in fact have a game in there, so it may be worth chipping in and seeing if he does the concept justice. $15 gets you a PDF.
Mysthea is the next game from Jay Iles, creator of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins. Using the clan-based character creation in Legacy, Mysthea places you in a “geomantic” fantasy world and places each character in control of a House. The game has some mode of player-facing worldbuilding, like most PbtA games, though this sits in contrast to the fairly robust world already developed for the pre-existing Mysthea board game. Still, this isn’t your typical fantasy world, and as far as I’m concerned “designer of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins” is a pretty strong pedigree. Check out the campaign to get a feel for the setting and the intended gameplay mode, and then consider handing over 15 GBP (about $20) for a PDF.
BASE is a storygame, a GM-less system designed to use playing cards to tell a variety of stories. Like many card-based games, the cards represent four types of actions, in this case detailed by the acronymic title: Brains, Anatomy, Social, and Estate represent the four character attributes and action types which happen ingame. The game grounds the stories with vocations for character definition and plots for story definition, more details on these will be released as the game hits social stretch goals. Being setting-less, it will be interesting to see if the vocations and plots given will be sufficient to make the game as broad as the creators advertise. $10 will get you the PDF to try it out.
Cut to the Chase is a two-player RPG employing a narrow conceit in much the same way as Bully Pulpit’s Star-Crossed. Instead of doomed lovers, though, here the two players are predator and prey, building narrative around the eponymous chase. This sounds narrow, but then you look at the scenarios: a mad scientist much catch his evil body double. A submarine is hunted by a destroyer. An intrepid archaeologist must return an artifact to Cambodia before being caught by the Illuminati. The very basic story frame is inhabited with a number of rich and intriguing ideas, giving an otherwise straightforward game the potential for a lot of replayability. Check out the full list of scenarios in the campaign, then look into the PDF version for only CA$10 (about $8). That tier also includes an at-cost code for POD, which makes it a great value.
Veil of the Void is a science fantasy game biased towards narrative play. While the game is interesting enough and unique enough not to be a heartbreaker, per se, you can tell based on how the rules and classes are described that there are only so many touchpoints that have gone into the game from a design perspective. The “living ruleset” as described sounds more like a light ruleset designed to take well to OSR-like house ruling, not a bad thing but also not as revolutionary as described. The setting and the races described sound interesting, so if you’re looking for a unique sci-fi setting with lighter rules, this may be worth checking out. $20 gets you a PDF copy.
So yeah, you can play a corporate in Cyberpunk 2020. In Deniable Assets, though, you’re all those slimeball middle management Mr. Johnson types, you know, the story hooks for all those other Cyberpunk characters. So yeah, another “play the villain” game, right? Well, this one happens to tickle my gaming funny bone in just the right way, as it describes everyone in the game, both players and GM, as on “Team Outrageous Spectacle”. Now *that’s* the stuff. Deniable Assets is PbtA, so you’re well established to make every roll hefty and crazy. I’m feeling this, seriously…in fact, I just backed the game. So yeah. $5 for what could be a crazy Cyberpunk ride? I’m on board.
OSR with a twist. So OSR games don’t necessarily interest me by default, being how most of them are, well, D&D. This is one of the first ones where the shift in conceit caused a raised eyebrow. Yes, the classes are familiar, as are the mechanics, but here’s the thing: In From The Ashes, your character is already dead. You must ascend the mountain to reach Valhalla, but if you fall you awake at the foot of the mountain, in the same village in front of the same old crone. Don’t fall too many times, though, or you’ll be condemned to Purgatory. Sounds familiar? Well possibly, but now it’s a game. 10 GBP (~$13) will get you a PDF.
OSR? Check. Cyberpunk? Check. d100? Check. Swedes? Yup. PbtA? Got that too. Filtering this month was hard, but I think I got a decent spread of games which both have a good shot of funding but are also strong original efforts. Check out these games and hopefully find some to back; new Kickstarters help new designers bloom like April flowers. Until next time, I’m the Level One Wonk, and Kickstarter is where I do my best Wonking!