Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk! It’s February, and you know what that means: ZineQuest! ZineQuest is off to a roaring start this year, and even after merely two days my eyes are already crossing from all the zines I’ve seen. To make it even crazier, there are also actual full-length games still being funded, and I’m trying, at some level, to cover both. First, here’s three full-sized Kickstarter campaigns which are all worth your consideration and perusal. Second, I’ve picked out 40 Zinequest campaigns that both look cool and are currently active. Don’t think that’s enough? Me neither! Since Zinequest campaigns traditionally last 14 days, 14 days from now I’ll be posting a special ZineQuest Wonk which covers all the zines which have campaigns starting after this publication date. For now, though, let’s check out some games!
Lighthearted is a fantasy game, yes, but it’s also a teen romance game. So while the designer is calling out The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, one of the inline reviews calls the game “beer-and-pretzels Monsterhearts” which is an oddly compelling description. While the design philosophy of PbtA is a basis, Lighthearted uses a roll-and-keep dice system along with some exploding rolls thrown in there to keep things the right amount of random but also compelling. In addition, there are character-driven choices called ‘malfunctions’, and a very Burning Wheel-esque model of establishing consequences for every die roll before they hit the table. Lighthearted is an original game that takes the PbtA style of genre emulation and mixes it with some other sources of narrative crunch, and I’m here for that. $15 gets you a PDF.
Our Shores is a compilation of three RPGs from Southeast Asian creators, being compiled and fulfilled by Sandy Pug Games. Due to the limitations of Kickstarter it would be very difficult (or even impossible) for any of these creators to run a campaign from their home countries, so instead a US-based designer is running the fulfillment to ensure these games get out to a broader audience. Navathem’s End is a PbtA-inspired game where the characters are agents of a lone tower trying to hold back a coming apocalypse. Capitalites is a game about young adults living in a big city, using a diceless system to explore the characters, their relationships, and their drives (Thomas wrote a more detailed review as well). Finally, Maharlika is a science fantasy RPG which uses Filipino mythology to inform a unique spin on the mecha genre. These are three complete games from designers who have to work a lot harder to be seen by the hobby, and this is a great chance not only to see their ideas but also just get your hands on some solid looking games. $35 gets you a collection of all three games; due to the complications of international fulfillment all tiers are PDF only.
I actually own an original copy of Everway. Magdalen and I listened to the (actually complimentary) System Mastery episode which discussed the game and she bought a mint, unwrapped copy off of eBay the next day for a relative pittance. Everway was, to be brief, ahead of its time. The relatively light system came with decks of beautifully illustrated cards that were supposed to drive how events resolved in the game, though the rules were fairly vague on what made that occur. Nonetheless, it was inspirational both in terms of what the rules intended (if not actually provided) as well as the amazing art direction, one of the benefits of being the first RPG published by Wizards of the Coast. Now, Everway has been revised and even in the Kickstarter campaign it’s clear they’ve cleaned things up a bit. While the basic concepts of the game haven’t changed much, the revision very much seems to take an extra three decades of narrative game design and pull some lessons learned there. With some new rules and the old presentation (which is a good thing), a new version of Everway could be coming at just the right time. $50 gets you PDFs of the two core rulebooks, a high though not ridiculous price.
It’s February, and more than anything that means ZineQuest. Even here two days into the month there are tons of things to check out. I have not read all of these in-depth; trying to write blurbs for several dozen zines is a lot more work than doing so for 5-10 games. Still, I want to show off what ZineQuest is all about here, both illustrating the sheer number of zines as well as how crazy and creative they all are. I’ve picked out my personal highlights, and put them into four categories based on approximate content.
The 13th Fleet: A Forged in the Dark space opera game that seems to be a humorous fusion of Paranoia and the video game FTL. Aptly summed up by its tagline: “In space, no can hear you be a jerk.”
Anarchy!: An alt-history game of punks in a post-apocalyptic 1983. You’ve got the punks on one side, and the corpo-fascists on the other, but now the bad guys are imbued with ‘dark mana’.
Arklite: A science fantasy game about rebuilding a shattered world. The characters navigate an increasingly hostile New Earth in an attempt to find the Arkcenter, described as humanity’s last chance for survival. Uses a cut-down Forged in the Dark system, which some nifty supernatural powers thrown in there.
Back Again From The Broken Land: PbtA fantasy about adventurers returning home. Gets rules inspiration from Masks and setting inspiration from Tolkien.
Bloodheist: It’s a heist RPG, yes, but set in a grim world where Dracula and the vampires won. Think of it as an anti-Masquerade.
Bucket of Bolts: Spun off of last year’s Artefact, Bucket of Bolts takes the solo RPG that Artefact put forth and switches it up from a mystical fantasy weapon to an iconic spaceship.
A Complicated Profession: Put yourself in the shoes of former space bounty hunters who have to pay the bills by becoming…cruise directors? You used to be a bounty hunter, now you’re the barkeep.
Hibernation Games: Not one, not two, but five different journaling RPGs for your single player jonesing.
Major Arcana: Actually 22 different rulesets based on the major arcana of the Tarot. Compact but still evocative, they all flow together when used with Tarot cards.
Thursday: What a concept! This game takes the Belonging Outside Belonging ruleset and mixes it with frequent character death in a time loop breaking homage to the Netflix series Russian Doll.
Torq: This post-apocalyptic game takes inspiration from ‘guns and gasoline’ media like Mad Max, but then cleanly splits the rules between driving the abandoned highways and the settlements that exist in between these drives.
Two Summers: A diceless lyric game about being teenagers adventuring through their home, and then being adults thirty years later, coming back to the same place and seeing how its changed.
Weirdwood: A game about dreams and nightmares, the thread that holds everything together is a prompt-based setting creation mechanic which ensures every group plays in their own twisted version of the Weirdwood.
The Witch, The Wolf, and The Wedding: This game takes its notes from Slavic and Germanic folklore, and strings the story together using quasi-adversarial rules between the characters and the narrator.
Settings and Rules-Agnostic Ephemera
Accessible Gaming Quarterly: The second year of a gaming zine aimed at discussion of accessibility issues and inclusion in tabletop RPGs.
All Must Bow: A system-agnostic cosmic horror setting which puts you in the role of the villain. Guidance on system integration is all over the map, including Fate, Mothership, and Genesys.
The Island of the Excellent: A system-agnostic hexcrawl focused on generators and GM ownership, which apparently the kids these days call ‘anti-canon’.
Last Orders!: A compilation of fantasy beverages, namely ales and ciders. Comes with detailed tasting notes and magical side effects.
Old Roads: Oops, all maps! A zine full of hand-drawn isometric maps, eight full-page maps in all.
One Hour TTRPG Prep: Any gaming material can be a zine, even a GM’s advice book. The zine walks through how to prep for any TTRPG in an hour or less using organizational tools, outlines, and advice.
The Power Words Engine: A drop-in verb-based magic system for any fantasy game you can imagine.
Pungeon Quest: A system-neutral pun dungeon. A pungeon, if you will. It’s horrifying how many people I know who should absolutely back this.
Scoundrels: System-agnostic zines for adding a criminal element into your science fiction games. Includes NPCs, GM advice, and factions for your new underworld.
The Sonders: A bluntly described but oddly evocative zine: “A collection of persons and their circumstances that brought them to where they’re at.”
Tabletop RPG Battlemaps: Exactly what it says on the tin, 15 battlemaps and some day/night variants to spice up pretty much any game imaginable.
Zine-O-Maps: Maps! Maps! Maps! More maps for your campaign in this zine.
Bestitchary: A collection of 400 permutated, Dr. Moreau-esque monsters aimed at Mork Borg, but (as usual) easily portable.
Glimpses of a Dying World: A zine chock full of dreadful content for Mork Borg.
In the Shadow of Tower Silveraxe: An adventure in zine form, designed for Old School Essentials but broadly old-school compatible.
Lands of Legends: A collection of five zines (Mundane, Grim, Holy, Fairy, Primeval) that can be mixed, matched, or used on their own to start your own OSR sandbox campaign.
Lowlife: What’s even better than dungeon supplements? Very specific dungeon supplements! Lowlife is an OSR supplement aimed at modelling caves. Specifically caves, not other underground passages.
The Many Crypts of Lady Ingrade: A set of adventures surrounding a dead noblewoman who was terrified of, appropriately, adventurers robbing her grave. System listed is Old School Essentials but that basically just means whatever OSR you want.
The Merovingian Hack: Using the 2d6 scalar reduction seen across many OSR games, The Merovingian Hack offers guidance and tables for playing an OSR campaign in 6th century Gaul.
Through Ultan’s Door Issue 3: The third in a series of old-school pointcrawl zines which further expands on the undercity of Zyan. Also, there’s a chance to grab the otherwise out of print issues 1 and 2.
Zine 3-Pack: A set of old-school post-apocalyptic and science fantasy stuff in three zines aimed at Dungeon Crawl Classics and Mutant Crawl Classics.
Small Supplements for Small Games
The Burning of Carbex: An adventure for Mothership, which tasks you with fighting an alien parasite on the once-lush planet Carbex.
The Company: Conflict Resolution Guidelines: A supplement to a complete game released as part of last year’s Zinequest, and probably the campaign most emblematic of being a small supplement for a small game.
Curse: The City of One Thousand Martyrs: While Curse is structured like many old-school zines exploring a setting element (in this case the city of Curse), it also calls out compatibility with Burning Wheel and Torchbearer.
The Drain: Another adventure for Mothership, using the fun/horrifying funnel mechanics from DCC to really make a (fatal) impact on the characters.
The Grind Turn 3: This Torchbearer supplement comes round again, this time focusing on towns and treasure. Also backer tiers to pick up Turn 1 and 2 if you missed them.
All of these zines are made with lower overhead, shorter campaigns, and smaller buy-in prices, and this both means it’s easier for you to take a chance on something that sounds neat and that it’s easier for the designers to take a chance on something a little more out there, whether that’s a crazy design or trying to fulfill a physical product for the first time. There isn’t a better time on the RPG internet to try something new, and that means it’s the perfect time to support these creators who are taking chances and showing off their passion projects. And whether you pledge or not, be sure to come back in two weeks time for even more zines!
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