Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! We’re all getting ready for vaccine summer, and it looks like the designers are too! We have another full ten-pack of Kickstarter campaigns here, including a number of first-timers who are putting forth really solid stuff. I’ve already put forth more money than I was planning to on several of the campaigns below, and I have a feeling after you read you may do the same. Keep a tight hold on your wallet, and let’s dive in.
There’s a lot of first-time Kickstarter designers coming up to the plate this month, and that includes our first entry, Arkelon Chronicles. Arkelon Chronicles is science fantasy, though in the narrower, Shadowrun-esque implication of smushing tropes from science fiction and fantasy together. Alien ruins mixed with Elves, Orcs, and Dragonkin give this an unholy Shadowrun/Numenera vibe, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While the campaign describes Arkelon Chronicles as a ‘storytelling game’, the mechanics and combat system described imply more of a light but still traditional RPG. Further reinforcing this is the class-based character creation and very trad 600 page count. Terminology confusion aside I’m fairly impressed with the sample pages, and if you don’t know what to make of my description there is a playtest version. If you want to take the plunge, C$20 (~$17) gets you a PDF.
The Bleakness is a horror game, heavily influenced by the OSR. The game is built around light mechanics with no stats, focusing mostly on survival and using character creation to build out unique (and conflicting) motivations. The rest of the book is, well, the game. Within the book is a strange world, around 100 encounters, and four fully keyed dungeons. Although not a fantasy game per se, the structure of how the game is presented is definitely OSR but also definitely influenced by the most recent generation of style-forward, self-contained games. An emphasis on semi-random encounters helps make each group’s experience unique, while focus on wilderness survival within the mechanics simultaneously adds a new twist to horror while at the same time calling back to D&D. The Bleakness is worth checking out, but be warned…the campaign ends on Friday (5/7/21). $20 gets you a PDF.
Blood, Sweat, and Steel seems to be a game with some OSR influences, but aiming more at the sword and sorcery genre than any particular design philosophy, it ends up being a bit more on the side of Barbarians of Lemuria than Neo-Classical Geek Revival. BS&S uses Fudge as its mechanical backbone, and though most know Fudge for the innovations it lent to one of its successors, Fate, BS&S appears to stay a bit more trad than that. Trad doesn’t mean unoriginal, though. The campaign calls out several interesting mechanical choices that get my attention: simultaneous action resolution is a favorite hill for me personally to die on, zone-based combat from Fate tends to imply a bit more thought given to the action, and freeform magic, while I have no idea if done well here, is always neat. BS&S looks like it might be a diamond in the rough here, and this first-time Kickstarter designer has undercut himself on the pledge tiers. $5 gets you a PDF, but you should throw in at least the $10 for the GM Toolkit. I did.
“The indomitable Human Empire vaulted itself majestically dick-first into space.” OK, DieselShot, you have my attention. ChangedStars is a fascinating space opera setting which, likely unfortunately, has a campaign built around attention-grabbing points like the sentence above. I also can’t help but note the four stats of the game: Cognition, Alacrity, Resilience, and Empathy, a group which with the possible exception of the last suffers from severe thesaurus overdose. Even with these sins I still wanted to include ChangedStars. The game is ultimately about a galactic war which the humans already lost, focusing on how the war and its aftermath changed the three species involved. It’s a very different concept than many space opera games, and I want to see it fully executed, genital-based attention grabs notwithstanding. $15 gets you a PDF.
Court of Blades is a game focused on court intrigue, the underhanded schemes and backroom dealings of noble families. And what better system for that than Forged in the Dark. Similar to Blades in the Dark, Court of Blades places you into its established setting, the city-state of Ilrien. There, your characters take roles within a newly ascendant House Major, navigating around the other six Houses and their plots, parties, and power struggles. Building on a firm meta-structure set around three sessions per ‘social season’, Court of Blades promises setting interaction which will deepen the characters and history of your House as the seasons pass. I’m thinking that Court of Blades could join the ranks of games really pushing on Forged in the Dark, and with $18 for a PDF, you too can find out.
The Deittman Files is another twist on supernatural horror for PbtA. Instead of monster hunting (Monster of the Week), urban fantasy (Urban Shadows), or supernatural romance (Monsterhearts), The Deittman Files is taking on ghost hunting and paranormal investigation. While the conceit is described well and fairly grounded, the campaign doesn’t really go into the GM-side game structure, save for describing adventure hooks that come in the form of ‘redacted files’ (a stylish touch). The player-side stuff is interesting, though. Playbooks are divided into psychics and investigators, and while I don’t exactly see how these break out mechanically I’m intrigued to see if the game supports two differing playstyles with regard to its investigation. This is a campaign that would benefit immensely from a quickstart, but I’ll concede even without it the designer has my attention. $10 gets you a PDF.
Fantasy PbtA is a space I keep on marvelling at the relative emptiness of; Dungeon World overshadowed many other games both finished and not. Fortunately this is changing; last month we had Stonetop and this month we have Fantasy World. Fantasy World goes back to the [x] World naming convention from early in PbtA history, but from what I’ve read so far it should be a worthy holder of the name. Fantasy World is centered around fantasy literature much like the d20 ecosystem is, but the focus is on emergent exploration. Moves are both the core mechanic of the game like in any other PbtA system, but their results are also intended to add new details to the world and to the characters as the game continues. It’s a tall order to execute this successfully, but if the design team pulls it off the result could be one of my favorite PbtA games. The design team is Italian and not only will the book have two language options, but the campaign itself is bilingual, which is a nice touch. €25 (~$31) gets you a PDF.
Ironsworn brought a lot of positive attention to both itself and solo RPG design more broadly. Now, Ironsworn is back with Starforged, a new but completely standalone game. The clearest difference between Starforged and original Ironsworn is the setting; Starforged is a science fiction game, helping players develop a whole galaxy to adventure in. For those who aren’t familiar with Ironsworn or those not sold on this followup, the campaign includes a Preview Edition that’s immediately unlocked when you pledge. It’s looking like the Ironsworn ecosystem is getting bigger, and this will definitely be worth checking out. $20 gets you a PDF.
Orbital Blues is a game finally tackling space westerns from the angle we’re all thinking about: aesthetic. Adapting the mechanics from Best Left Buried, Orbital Blues centers the conceits we know best from media like Firefly and Cowboy Bebop: debt, isolation, and the open road. OI course, here the isolation is hard vacuum and the open road is one of many planetary wastelands frequented by vagrants such as yourself. Following in the footsteps of games like Mork Borg but also completely leaning into some of its influences, Orbital Blues also comes with a mixtape. I hope to see you, space cowboy, for I already threw some cash at this one. £10 (~$14) gets you a PDF.
Tangent Space is a 31st century space opera RPG, and its scope is meant to evoke the same sort of ‘big’ feelings as having a galaxy for a setting does. 10 species with four cultures each, a map with a 100,000 LY scale, this is definitely a passion project with a “go big” attitude. While ‘make it bigger’ is the undoing of many a heartbreaker/passion project, Tangent Space, while still wearing many of the passion project hallmarks, is keeping things together on the mechanics side. Dice-scaling mechanics evoke (though don’t seem to be based on) Savage Worlds, and a freeform skill system with 40 skills is, while definitely traditional, not overdoing it! The campaign also shows some pretty slick page samples and there is (as there should be) a quickstart. If you’re looking for more space opera to add to your collection, or for a new designer who’s put a lot of heart into their first outing, Tangent Space is where you should look. $20 gets you a PDF, though at this writing there’s still a few $15 early bird slots left.
Like all the best months, May has more Kickstarters than I could have possibly covered here, and I fully admit to having more than ten worthy finalists when I was writing. Others I should highlight? Any latecomers I might have missed? Let me know, either in the comments or on Twitter. Either way, I hope you too find some gems here, and that your wallet is ready for when we come back in June for another Kickstarter Wonk!
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