Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! While I wouldn’t say anything is normal, exactly, we almost got a normal-sized crop of RPGs this month! I was able to rustle up nine projects that are worth a look, and nine is very close to ten! You might have scrolled down and counted and seen only eight games. That is true, and it’s because my co-authors are quicker than me! The honorary ninth campaign for this month is Thirsty Sword Lesbians, which Maria already covered in depth. Check out her article, and consider backing the campaign while you can! Beyond that, there’s a stronger flow of high quality campaigns this month, hopefully a sign that the Kickstarter market is going to pick up in the coming months. Check it out!
The Dee Sanction
In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth passed the Act against Conjurations, Enchantments, and Witchcrafts, a sweeping ban on the practice of magic within England. John Dee was responsible for adding The Dee Sanction, an exception to the law which allowed the use of magic in defense of the realm. The Dee Sanction the RPG, as you might guess, places you in the role of someone spared under the Dee Sanction, put to work as an agent of the crown, working against supernatural horrors. Inspired by rules-light horror like The Cthulhu Hack, the Dee Sanction takes the supernatural archetypes we know and love and casts them into a historical era that isn’t always well-loved by RPGs. With simple mechanics and historical context that reminds me a bit of Revolutionaries, this small volume holds promise for some spooky Tudor fun. £4 (~$6) gets you a PDF.
Wildsea is a fantasy game that catches my attention by virtue of its originality, or at least its choice selection of influences. Using a dark fantasy setting inspired by China Mieville and a narrative ruleset inspired by Blades in the Dark, Wildsea tells the stories of Wildsailors, who pilot steam-powered ships over the treetops using articulated legs and massive saws. While the setting evokes books like Perdido Street Station and The Scar, it isn’t adapting one directly, which I appreciate. The campaign provides overviews of character options as well as art, which is gorgeous, and provides a link to a Quickstart, which I highly recommend you check out. If you come to the same conclusion I did (i.e. pledge some money), $25 gets you a PDF, though there is a $12 hardship tier if you’re currently facing financial difficulty.
Shiver is a game of pulp horror, urging you to ‘create your own cult classic’. The rules are relatively simple but stat-driven, though there is a twist. Shiver uses Skill dice with symbols corresponding to each of the core skills, and Strange dice with either Talent (representing skills) or Strange (representing, well, strangeness) symbols. While I’m ambivalent towards custom dice, symbol counting is quick for fast-paced play, and the designers have already made a Shiver dice app, which I appreciate. Horror RPGs end up flowing into either “Cthulhu” or “World of Darkness”, so Shiver definitely has an opportunity to break in if their mechanics are as quick and fun as they advertise. £15 (~$20) gets you a PDF of this one.
Urban Shadows Second Edition
While a second edition of a contemporary game technically breaks my rules, Magpie Games’ RPG of urban fantasy is certainly worth a look. Urban Shadows was a relatively early innovator in the PbtA lifecycle, both adding interesting new mechanics and at the same time creating the perfect game for running “World of Darkness with all the games combined” that World of Darkness itself could never actually do. The new edition of Urban Shadows revises the core rules down to the basic moves, completely rewrites several playbooks, and adds new ones as well. In addition to that the designers have significantly beefed up the GM-facing rules, including ‘faction turn’ mechanics that I’m really excited about. Urban Shadows has been out six years, and this new edition looks to make good use of all the innovations that have happened in the RPG space in that time. $19 gets you a PDF.
While dungeon crawls don’t sound like an ideal GM-less experience, they were one of the first. Perilous is no Fighting Fantasy book or Mythic GM Emulator, though, it’s a tag-based game of finding clever narrative solutions to dungeon problems. Where ‘GM-less’ comes in is the contribution of Spenser Starke, known most recently for Alice is Missing. Spenser’s contribution comes in the form of a card deck that, like the Mythic GM Emulator, ‘runs’ the game in the form of presenting challenges to players much in the way a GM would. In both GM-less and GMful forms, Perilous puts a more narrative, puzzling twist on the traditional dungeon crawl. $15 gets you a PDF.
Small game, small campaign goal, big ideas. Drakar is a micro-RPG “inspired by climate crisis, Norse iconography, and episodic science fiction television”. You want a killer intro, there it is. Drakar tells the story of the ship Drakar, being piloted to its new home, Valhalla. The game has five stats across both characters and the ship, and uses dominoes to determine the nature of the challenges in the game and the opposition they provide. Off-season for a zine but still tight and intriguing, Drakar is worth a look. £8 (~$11) gets you a PDF.
Weirdspace bears some of the logistical hallmarks of a Heartbreaker: a largely self-published game, tested and tweaked in a home gaming group over years and years and then unleashed upon the world with a hope and a prayer. Thanks to Kickstarter, this will not be a Heartbreaker in the traditional sense because there won’t be stacks of expensive unsold books in the designer’s garage! While the campaign is a bit rough, the premise of Weirdspace is intriguing: Humans sent terraforming machines out into the rings of Saturn in an attempt to make a new homeworld. While the machines worked, when the humans finally arrived they found that things had gone quite awry, creating the eponymous Weirdspace. This game has a lot more creativity than most passion projects I see on Kickstarter, and the campaign is just right for what the designer is trying to do. £10 (~$13) gets you a PDF.
Boldly Go is a light and clearly Star Trek-adjacent RPG, fitting character and ship creation, captain creation, and even NPC and random session generators into an 80 page book. Designed for episodic play, Boldly Go is the brainchild of one Geoff Bottone, who while not a household name, is the lead designer on Cannibal Halfling favorite board game Red Dragon Inn. Boldly Go looks like a fun and light way to riff on some Star Trek tropes, and while Geoffquest is no Modiphius the game looks like it’d be a good time. $15 gets you a PDF, though there is a $7 tier for those experiencing financial difficulty.
Everything’s looking weird in November: Halloween was a letdown, Thanksgiving will be muted, and none of the normal end-of-year momentum is there for any of us. Still, RPGs are coming back on Kickstarter, and my Kickstarter coverage is starting to lengthen out again. It’s a small good sign, but I’ll take it. Stay safe, keep wearing your masks, and be sure to join me next month for another Kickstarter Wonk!
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