Tis the season to be Wonky! December is not always a very busy month for Kickstarter, it’s more important to deliver and sell near the holidays than it is to fundraise, so in some ways this is an off-cycle time for creators who are trying to kick off projects. As such, there are only eight projects in this month’s line-up. That said, we do have a holiday miracle in store, and in just a couple days eight projects will turn into nine! Thanks to a creator who I am a particular fan of, we have access to a project preview that should turn into an honest-to-goodness campaign just a few days after this article’s publication date. While we’re waiting for that, though, the rest of the projects in this article are all quite promising and worthy of your attention.
GiantLands has two distinctive features. First, it is mythic post-apocalyptic fantasy, contrasting a world of ruin and implied stories of rebuilding with larger-than-life characters and ancient legends. Second, it is written by TSR veterans, James M. Ward and Stephen E. Dinehart. While I have no particular love for the OSR I appreciate the philosophies of old-school gaming, and this is a game that is trying mightily to evoke the ‘how’ of old-school gaming while casting aside the ‘what’ which is where my disdain comes from. While GiantLands bears many of the trappings of old-school D&D, as you’d expect based on its parentage, this is clearly a game born more out of the experiences that the designers want to create at the table. With no PDF or even book options, the lowest level of contribution is a somewhat eye-watering $70 for a boxed set…but if you’re really dedicated to this idea you can move up to the $250 level which includes (seriously) costumes.
Dark Metal is a minis-driven game, but much like D&D Fourth edition it leans on its terrain and movement system rather than turning into a full-fledged minis combat game. What makes Dark Metal interesting is that it’s intended for solo play, with the game’s scenarios and tactical combat system providing enough structure to obviate the need for a GM. So, whether you play alone or bring in some friends to fill out your squad, Dark Metal represents a push into the grey area between solo combat emulators like Mythic and board games like Gloomhaven and Shadows of Brimstone. I’m intrigued by the design choices that could allow compelling solo play, and I think it’s that solo play that could make Dark Metal stand out from its somewhat flashier board game cousins. $16 gets you a PDF, and the game will be completely playable from that PDF assuming you have some minis lying around.
There is a reason that narrative designers keep on returning to the well of the post-apocalypse, and that reason is the power of memory. It is in these broken worlds that the past seems as mutable as the future, and that mutability is a potent thing to pass across the table to your players. Vigor: Into Dust continues this tradition, blazing further into the narrative space than other games like Apocalypse World. Rather than using the trappings of a traditional RPG, Vigor is structured around Journeys, which themselves provide Waypoints at which characters discern more of their innate abilities. On the character side, each are driven by three different sorts of prompts, getting at what drives the character, what grounds the character, and how they work. If that sounds a bit like the Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits from Burning Wheel, well…I believe all designers have to be well-read. Built around the story but still very much a shared experience, Vigor: Into Dust looks like it could be a new push into the narrative territory of the post-apocalypse. $15 gets you a PDF, though there is a $7 tier for those experiencing financial hardship. And as is always worth mentioning, the beta is available at any pledge level.
Electric Bastionland is written by the designer of Into the Odd, and while it’s its own game, it certainly takes thematic cues from its predecessor. The game also takes heavy inspiration from Troika, with the majority of the book detailing 100 failed careers that explain what your character washed out of before getting to the start of the campaign. Much like both of those predecessors, Electric Bastionland is very much about exploring a strange new world, one defined both by the prompts before the game and the prompts during, with both executed by a vast number of random tables. In case I haven’t made it clear in the past, random tables are absolutely my catnip for this sort of game. While your journey into the city of Bastion won’t looks anything like mine, I have a feeling we’ll both enjoy ourselves. £15 (~$20) gets you a PDF.
One More Thing is a two player detective game featuring a detective and a murderer. Now, the detective always catches the murderer in the end…but the real question is ‘how’. And also? This may be happening in front of a live studio audience. Sure, the murderer may not get away, but if the audience ends up seeing them as sympathetic, well that’s a win. Using casefiles that operate similarly to Fiasco playbooks, the murderer and the detective (or teams for each if that’s how you want to play) track the audience’s perception of the murderer as the detective gathers the evidence and works their way towards proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Each decision players make have to balance evidence and perception, shifting between coming off as sympathetic and letting the detective come to the truth too quickly. One More Thing is a new game from the mind of design veteran Nathan D. Paoletta, and is only the most recent in a series of focused and intriguing games. $12 gets you the PDF.
Res Obscura is a steampunk game, leaning both on its Victorian setting and heavy occult themes. In an interesting twist, the world of Res Obscura is imagined as a post-apocalyptic one, a deliberate cultural throwback to imagined ‘civilized times’ after the world we know falls to ruin. While the Victorian/Steam themes play across the setting, the player characters are specifically those gifted (or cursed) with supernatural abilities, providing an immediate hook from which to hang stories. Aiming for relative ease of play, Res Obscura is a translation of an Italian game which is already rules-complete. While mentions of specific mechanics are absent, the designer mentions inspirations from “classical roleplaying”, likely meaning many popular games from the 80s. At the same time, the desire for pick up and play capability as well as the narrow focus of the classes does raise comparisons to PbtA as well. This is clearly a labor of love, and one worth at least checking out. €12 (~$14) gets you a PDF, and you can take a look at the complete rules in Italian if you so wish.
The core conceit of “If Not Us, Then Who?” is ‘teens coming together to fight against incredible odds’. This is the thematic glue that ties together the designers’ inspirations, including Power Rangers, Animorphs, and Sailor Moon. When you see that each character has a signature weapon and a hero color, though, it’s clear that the Japanese super sentai stories like that of Power Rangers are shining through more brightly than the others. Using a card-driven ‘episode’ system, the players go through the story beats, detailing out how their team rises to the challenge of the day. Recognizing that the team is as important a character as the, well, characters, ‘If Not Us, Then Who?’ need not be played with a 1:1 player:character ratio, so long as each character aligns with their chosen trait and gets their time to shine. Examining each episode, the players decide whether the heroes or the villains get Energy, and from there the story builds to a dramatic conclusion. ‘If Not Us, Then Who?’ is a more meta approach to the sentai or teen hero genre than I’ve seen before, and I’m here for it. $20 gets you a PDF.
The Curse of the House of Rookwood is a game about a family with a cursed bloodline. The curse in this respect is a popular and potent horror trope; think about Hereditary, The Haunting of Hill House, or even the hidden object Rusty Lake series, which is what both the art and concept of this game reminded me of. Given a choice to play a standalone family or a longer campaign that takes place over generations, The Curse of the House of Rookwood, places characters in the position of balancing the powers of their Curse with the Skeletons which haunt the family and its interpersonal relationships. The game uses a custom mechanical system, but both the dice and the stakes-setting remind me of Blades in the Dark, in a good way. $15 gets you a PDF, and if you want to know more the playtest rules are already available through a link in the campaign.
This is not something I typically do…this project is technically in review, due to start in the next day or two. But, not only is it the work of a designer I enjoy, it’s a direct complement in thought and action to a design project I’m going through on this very site (admittedly to quite different ends). Retropunk is the work of Fraser Simons, and is a Cyberpunk game which takes inspiration both from Fraser’s earlier work The Veil as well as the perennial favorite Cyberpunk 2020. Retropunk takes a lot of the thematic crossover that was earlier worked into Veil 2020, a pared-back hack of The Veil, and builds it out into a sandbox structure that takes clear inspiration from Justin Alexander’s ‘pointcrawl’ articles. The result seems to me to live in the same design spirit as my own Cyberpunk Chimera: taking the intent and setting of Cyberpunk 2020 and using it as a jumping-off point to build something new. PDF is currently priced at C$17 (~$15), but watch this space; I’ll update the article once the project is live. (Edit: It’s Live Now! Link has been updated)
This might not have been the largest monthly crop of Kickstarters, but I think they all have quite a lot to offer. From exploration to horror to teens with attitude, we’ve got a whole range of interesting games here. Think I forgot something? A campaign start too late? Let me know in the comments, or @LevelOneWonk on Twitter. In the interim, happy holidays, and happy gaming!