It’s June, and you know what that means: RPG Kickstarters are in full gear! There’s a bunch of games out here fighting for recognition and funding before hitting the convention circuit, and that only means more choice for you, fine readers. This top ten is about half of the campaigns I read through, and there were way more good ones than bad ones. Still, these ten are the ones I think you should take a closer look at.
Quietus is a Forged in the Dark horror game. That said, it pushes away from what we typically envision as Forged in the Dark. Quietus uses the dice mechanic and the clocks mechanics from Blades in the Dark, but the game isn’t based around gangs or heists. Instead, the game focuses on tragic horror, where the action comes from building dread. Whenever you try to build up your dice pool, you must make difficult decisions. Lead yourself to a moment of panic? Doom side characters to die because of your actions? There isn’t an easy way out here, just a race between the Hope and Despair clocks. Quietus is a very different take on Forged in the Dark, which looks perfect for horror fans. 8 GBP (~$10) gets you a PDF.
Weirding Woods is a hybrid of card-based RPG and game book. The adventure through the Weirding Woods is set up by cards which are dealt out in a grid like a map. The game book has the encounters associated with each card, and each encounter has four choices which define how you wind through the woods. While the legacy of game books like the original Fighting Fantasy has been all but overshadowed by the Choose Your Own Adventure series (which was much more directed at children), there is still life left in the medium, especially when designers take liberties with the format to make it more interesting. There is no PDF-only tier for this game, but a box set of everything you’ll need to play (including tokens and dice) is 30GBP (~$38).
The Deal is a narrow concept, but a really cool one. The Deal is a LARP where the characters are all at a poker table. The twist? While the players are actually playing poker, there are cards dealt into the real deck of cards which introduce twists, complications, and character elements into the table. Maybe not as far-reaching or free-wheeling as a boffer LARP or Vampire hotel game, The Deal still adds to the gaming experience through real acting and physical, theatrical elements. From the designer of High Plains Samurai, The Deal is a personal yet still very physically-driven LARP that serves as a great jumping off point to go from tabletop to live action. C$10 (~$7 US) gets you a PDF copy of the game, though like most LARP Kickstarters I’d recommend springing for the print version, which comes as an at-cost coupon at every tier which gets you the game.
Somewhat following in the footsteps of the vs. Kickstarter games a few months back, Gate Watch is a compact game, fitting on 18 playing cards. More a story game than anything else, Gate Watch casts the characters of members of the eponymous Gate Watch, guarding a gate between realms. Of course, the gate can be one of many passages, ranging from a gate into hell or the Feywild to a gate between the ritzy Hollywood Hills and the hardscrabble working class LA neighborhoods below. Built on a three-act structure, Gate Watch is a great example of using a broad plot situation to tell many stories, and looks like it should be a great play. $12 gets you a hard copy of the game if you’re in the US.
Golgotha is a far future dungeon crawler. Wait, what? The Golgotha, or the Tomb Worlds, are ancient Mausoleum planets, long-abandoned, and filled with ancient technology. Golgotha uses the ruleset of The Black Hack to port the D&D sensibilities into a far-future setting, and dare I say it sounds like a fascinating match. The designer has taken steps to create a degree of internal logic for all of the pre-existing rules; the explanation of classic leveling mechanics as genetic gifts bestowed by the mysterious Overseers is a nice touch that I noticed in particular. The designer is a Kickstarter veteran and has made some very pretty games (across a number of mechanical systems) in the past, so I have no doubt that the art of Golgotha will live up to the striking sample pieces in the campaign. 10 GBP (~$13) will get you a PDF.
Harsh Generation is described as a post-apocalyptic storytelling game, but while it has a clear dystopian bent I’d almost call it more Cyberpunk, along the lines of John Shirley’s A Song Called Youth trilogy. Taking place in a far-future Philadelphia, Harsh Generation leans into the themes of theocracy, body modification, and what communities of the future will look like. The gameplay is built around “crises”, intended to provide a framework for a campaign arc that is specific enough to aid the GM yet broad enough to be used more than once without feeling repetitive. Harsh Generation is a new set of mechanics, though the designer claims inspiration from Fate Core and Powered by the Apocalypse, which should inform (at least as much as the label ‘storytelling game’) what side of the narrative spectrum it falls on. $15 gets you the PDF here.
MÖRK BORG is a game of aesthetic, and that aesthetic is one that’s almost as Scandinavian as the game’s designers: metal. While MÖRK BORG is technically OSR-adjacent thanks to some of the designers’ influences, they make it clear that the intent of the game isn’t to emulate classic D&D, but rather to provide an easy rules platform for their story, their setting, and their art. Described as an artbook/RPG, the promo graphics look astounding, and the goals the designers have laid out for print are ambitious and awesome (glow in the dark ink? Dude). If you like the OSR design ethos, are looking for a light but gritty pre-apocalyptic game, or think that the art these guys have is just amazing, this is worth checking out. SEK100 (~$11) gets you the PDF, SEK250 (~$26) gets you a print copy.
Hard Wired Island
Hard Wired Island is retrofuture cyberpunk, also known as “Level One Wonk Bait”. But even with me predisposed to love the concept, there’s some cool stuff going on here. The game focuses on the setting of Grand Cross station, a space station sitting at the L5 point between the Earth and the Moon, so we’re already leaning on the sci-fi end of the cyberpunk spectrum (hard sci-fi though it may be). The system accounts for heist-based prep much like Blades in the Dark, but also puts equal weight on the economic issues of the characters, because ultimately the driving force of cyberpunk ends up being capitalism most of the time. Hard Wired Island is well timed to expand the pool of retro cyberpunk games right before Cyberpunk Red kicks onto the scene, and looks to be a solid entry. A$22 (~$15 US) will get you a PDF copy, though there’s a lower cost tier for those experiencing financial hardship.
Hearts of Wulin
Hearts of Wulin is the latest project to come from the esteemed indie RPG community The Gauntlet, and is the product of Lowell Francis and Agatha Cheng, who both have their own lengthy resumes in the indie RPG space. Hearts of Wulin is Powered by the Apocalypse but heavily influenced by its forebears, using fewer, more generic playbooks and driving story through entanglements, which every character starts with. While Wuxia isn’t really my genre of choice, this is a PbtA powerhouse and worth checking out for anyone who either loves Chinese Martial Arts movies or simply wants to see how PbtA as a game design ethic is being pushed these days. $15 gets you a PDF.
Dark Trails is a Weird West game, following the trail blazed by games like Deadlands in terms of mixing Westerns with fantasy and the occult. Dark Trails is also based on the Dungeon Crawl Classics ruleset, one of the more celebrated retroclones in the OSR oeuvre. Dark Trails leans into the class-based mechanics of the D&D framework while also putting Lovecraftian elements front and center, making this a much clearer picture, genre-wise, than some other entries in the Weird West canon. It’s not the first Weird West game and it’s definitely not the first D&D-alike, but it might be the first class-and-level Weird West game, as is claimed in the campaign. $20 gets you a PDF and a chance to test that claim, though the quickstart rules are available at a lower tier if you’re not ready to jump in.
As we gear up towards summer convention season, the Kickstarter circuit is going to pick up as well. Think my top ten missed a few? Started a campaign less than 36 hours before this article posted? Have opinions about these games? Let us know in the comments below. Keep on pledging, and keep on Kickstarting!