Last month was famine. Instead of putting together a Kickstarter Wonk article at all, I wrote briefly on why Tabletop RPG Kickstarters fail. This month is feast. There are ten games below, and I can say genuinely that there are 2-3 more that easily would have made the cut as well. A great number of campaigns, and I’m probably spending a bit more money than usual this month. Speaking of money. There’s been some turmoil over at the Kickstarter corporate office, mostly involving a distasteful activity called ‘union-busting’. Kickstarter employees are trying to unionize, and someone upstairs fired two of the organizers. Not good, guys. Not good at all.
Nonetheless, Kickstarter campaigns are primarily about the creators. Beyond that, the process to get a union formally recognized is fraught, so even if the company is making distasteful (read: bad) decisions regarding the rights of their workers, the creators on the platform and the broader business as a whole shouldn’t necessarily suffer. For one thing, it makes that whole organizing thing that much harder if there’s evidence that organizing a union is impeding business. The intent of organized labor is to make productive compromises between a company and its employees, and a preemptive boycott fails at that. Therefore I am still here, still promoting Kickstarter campaigns, and still spending some money to support the excellent creators on the platform. If you’re interested in supporting Kickstarter United and are a project creator, you can sign a petition here. After you’ve done that, read on, because there are some really great games out this month.
We’ve covered RPGs for kids before at Cannibal Halfling, and slowly but surely each popular genre in the space is getting a game intended for a younger audience. Little Monster Detectives impressed me because, in addition to being a light horror/scary story type game, it’s intended to be a player-facing narrative game for kids. Either by selecting a monster from the book or creating a monster using the rules, the party then determines what it must do. Does the monster need to be caught? Is it lost and needs to be helped? Using these prompts and more, Little Monster Detectives provides the same sort of narrative framework that helps the adults enjoy Monster of the Week and brings it over to the kids’ table. Already popular in Europe, this campaign will help bring an English translation to the US and continue the expansion of accessible and fun RPGs for kids. 10€ (~$11) gets you a PDF.
Vincent Baker is the father of Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA). By virtue of designing Apocalypse World, he brought forth a set of mechanics which have opened the eyes of many a GM and player (myself included) to narrative play and fiction-facing mechanics. So when the father of the system and the designer of what’s still one of the best PbtA games out there has his name on another one, you best be here to receive. Vincent and Meguey Baker are bringing us Under Hollow Hills, a PbtA game about a travelling circus which ventures between the night world and the day world, the mortal realm and the faerie realm. Beyond the fact that I keep on looking out for PbtA fantasy games, the work I’ve seen from the Bakers between the second edition of Apocalypse World and now indicates this should be a fantastic game, both in reception and setting. I personally am getting the PDFs via Vincent Baker’s Patreon, but if you want in here, the PDF tier is $15.
Back when I was an adolescent Cyberpunk, SLA Industries was the first RPG that got me really interested in horror. Taking many themes from games like Shadowrun and Paranoia, SLA Industries managed to walk the line between serious and over-the-top fairly well, though even in its heyday (the first edition came out in 1993) it was really only a cult success. Now, 26 years later, there’s a second edition. The rules are new, the setting is familiar, and the game is hewing to a retrofuturist core that makes me very happy. The PDF tier is £12 ($15), and there’s a set of quickstart rules that anyone can go download and check out before making a pledge.
Coming from Cannibal Halfling favorite Magpie Games, Root is a game of woodland adventure, based on the board game of the same name. Using the PbtA system, Root has you take on the roles of small woodland creatures who are also outcasts, living on the fringes of society and hopefully out of the reach of the tyrannical Feline Empire. To make ends meet, you must travel through the woods, going from clearing to clearing, trying to help other creatures, get food on your table, and maybe just make the forest a better place. With elements of Robin Hood and Redwall, Root looks to be a charming take on fantasy PbtA, with both inspiration taken from Dungeon World and a lot of new elements brought to the table. $20 gets you a PDF, and includes the first supplement that is being made via the campaign as well.
First there was Spire, then there was Strata. Heart is Grant Howitt and Chris Taylor’s latest venture into the world of Spire, though unlike their last project, Heart is a completely standalone game. The world of Heart is the City Beneath, an underground complex below Spire where the struggles of the world above stand in contrast to the mysteries below. Though most gamers will easily catch the distinct “dungeon crawl” flavor, I am enchanted with the focus on exploration. Knowing how effectively Spire and Strata combined excellent worldbuilding with a “draw maps, leave blanks” approach, this is a very exciting addition to the canon. As is maybe unsurprising, I’ve personally backed this one, and you can too for £15 ($19, though there is also a hardship tier priced at £10).
Post-Apocalyptic OSR? Eh, OK. Post-Apocalyptic Shadow of the Demon Lord? That’s more like it. PunkApocalyptic is the latest project from Robert J Schwalb, best known as the designer of Shadow of the Demon Lord. PunkApocalyptic is also based on SotDL’s dice system, so you can look forward to similar types and levels of nonsense as you’d see in that game. There’s two other elements that make me hopeful that this game will have the level of color I’d expect given the theme and mechanics. First, there is a PunkApocalyptic miniatures game, which is very lightly described as ‘irreverent’. So that’s a good starting point. Second, one of Schwalb’s less highlighted resume entries is writing for the last edition of Gamma World, so you know he has dipped his toes in the right radioactive pools when it comes to post-apocalyptic RPGs. $15 gets you the PDF, but there is a secondary tier to get all the digital stretch goals, at $35.
Let’s try some word association. Cyberpunk. Roguelike. XCrawl. Now you should have gotten to the point where these three ideas led you to some iteration of “Aaron, what is this demon game you’re describing”, but if not, I can confirm that ‘Cyberpunk Roguelike XCrawl’ is how I’m interpreting Disposable Heroes. Disposable Heroes is a PbtA game that is also card-based, where your characters go and fight monsters and delve in dungeons to make deliveries for the latest gig economy app. I personally had an idea for a gig economy-based RPG at one point, but it was nowhere near as colorful and crazy as Disposable Heroes is. By cycling through the cards for characters and monsters, the game adds the ‘roguelike’ flair to its PbtA bones, and also makes for an unabashedly high lethality experience, something that cuts a different way than most PbtA games. Count me intrigued. $10 gets you a print-and-play PDF, but as is typical for card-based games, you should at least consider the $35 physical tier.
John Harper is at it again. The creator of Blades in the Dark released his original game of mythic heroes, Agon, in 2006, albeit in a very limited capacity. Considering how limited this release was, I’m letting this new edition of Agon slip by my typical second edition standards. And indeed, to me it’s a new game. Agon takes place in a world crafted by ancient myths and legends, though not bound to the interpretations from antiquity. Each session takes place on a mysterious island, where you’re likely to come across monsters, gods, and all manner of challenges. Played individually or strung together into a longer odyssey, the journey across the sea that your characters undertake will help build myths of your own. $15 sets you off on this adventure in PDF format.
Occultism is one of the great thematic elements of RPGs; thanks to the Satanic Panic, it was a thematic element of RPGs before even being included in an RPG. Nonetheless, the myths around magic, spirits, and the dead that arose in the Christian era are a fascinating and fairly lightly utilized pool of source material. Seekers Beyond the Shroud puts the player into an occult world based around modern London. And yes, I said ‘player’…this is a solo game. From a basis of solidly constructed source material and a lot of random tables, Seekers Beyond the Shroud has the potential of being a unique and intriguing solo experience. Personally, I’m considering it. $12 gets you a PDF.
The 1800s were a time of great upheaval in what is now the United States, and the era after the Civil War especially has been cast into its own mythos that is now the basis for the Western genre. A mythos is created from a limited perspective, though, and the fact that the stories of the latter 19th century were made equally by freed slaves, Native Americans, Chinese immigrants, and many other peoples besides the majority white European immigrants should not be forgotten. Coming off of the critical acclaim of Harlem Unbound, Chris Spivey has created Haunted West, a game that seeks to amplify the perspectives of the many cultural blocs that were influential in the American West. Starting with a fascinating alternate history, the game layers in magic and monsters in the classic Weird West tradition. I’m all for telling more stories that deserve to be told, and this game looks like it will deliver that in spades (you know, plus werewolves). $20 gets you a PDF, and also a cocktail recipe (not a bonus I’ve seen before, but I’m here for it)!
The RPG space continues to have many talented creators who are putting out diverse, fantastic stuff. The creators stand in contrast to the monopolies that exist in our content distribution space, which help enable abuses of power like the ones which have occurred during the Kickstarter unionization drive. Support creators, but always be cognizant of the supply chain and where its rusty cogs are. I hope this all ends for the best; with better representation at Kickstarter it should be easy to bring another crop of games to your attention in the next Kickstarter Wonk.