Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for July! Now, don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of games being campaigned out there this summer. You may be wondering why I don’t have ten this month, if there were more than ten to choose from. Well, I see two potential reasons. First, even with the delays from COVID, we’re entering GenCon season. GenCon season means people worried about *selling* games are running to Kickstarter, producing dozens of campaigns with that two-character automatic disqualification: 5E. Don’t get me wrong, these games might be perfectly fine, but they aren’t original games, so they fall outside my criteria. Beyond that, a number of the games out in the Kickstarter aether this month were… well, not great. I’m going to tend to not cover games which use some of their precious campaign wordcount to tell me they “use a dice-rolling mechanic”. Oh brother. Fear not, though! These eight campaigns are worth reading. Are they worth spending your hard-earned cash? You’ll only know if you read past the jump.
The OSR is about the experiences we had first picking up an early RPG, moreso than the rules of most of those early RPGs. Chromatic Dungeons aims to capitalize on that. Looking to capture the feel of an 80s childhood game rather than D&D’s actual old rules, the game picks, chooses, and streamlines from across multiple editions to create the author’s platonic ideal of an old-school game. Of note to me is that the designer is also trying to capture more modern messaging around gaming and its capability to be inclusive; whether or not you think it’s missing from the OSR completely, it’s definitely shouted down by the movement’s loud and unsavory accidental spokespeople. While I agree with the message and think the designer’s heart is in the right place, it still remains to be seen if Chromatic Dungeons will rise above some of the already extant gems of the OSR like The Black Hack and Mork Borg. I think we should give it a chance, though. $10 gets you a PDF.
When it comes to music, I love mashups. When it comes to the Cthulhu mythos, it’s really what we have left in the design space. And though it was hinted at in Pirates of the Caribbean (The third one? The fourth one? Who knows), the RPG space has been left without a Cthulhu/Pirate crossover for too long. Cursed Captains of Cthulhu has mostly hallmarks of a trad game, though with a Savage Worlds-esque lean towards accessibility. When you see that the design team is mostly Modiphius alumni that makes a lot of sense (and that’s a compliment). I’m not sure how much of this game will end up being “new” (a new 4d6 system? OK), but it looks fun, and with the team behind it I’d almost certainly enjoy it. £15 (~$21) gets you a PDF.
Defiant is an urban fantasy RPG, and a fairly traditional one at that. What makes it neat, at least in my mind, is the caste of supernatural beings it chooses to populate its word with: angels, demons, dragons, big creatures which are defending the mortal world from equally big threats. While the game does have ‘World of Darkness’ written all over it, there are some really neat indie twists that help sell the game as something unique; the ‘theme cards’ help build up character concepts as well as core relationships both to other characters and to the key organizations which characters may lead or influence. Not entirely new but not mired in the old either, Defiant is worth a look if you want a different angle on urban fantasy from what White Wolf has to offer. PLN108 (~$29) gets you a PDF.
You know the classic setup. All you need to do is spend one night in the haunted house, or graveyard, or abandoned mental hospital. Well, Dwelling is the game for that setup. Dwelling is a solo game that takes the player through rooms of a haunted house, the outcome of the game changing based on how a player responds to the prompts. In addition to that, the game includes a number of safety tools which allow players to decide how directly they engage with the content of the game. Though not quite as freeform as some journaling games, Dwelling looks to be adding to the ever-expanding number of intriguing solo experiences, and backing that up with some great-looking layout. C$15 (~$13) gets you a PDF.
You know Ghastbashers is a comedy game because it uses a d12. As much as people wonder why the d12 gets so little love, there’s a good reason for it, which is that increasing granularity by merely 20% at the expense of departing base 10 makes it uniquely hostile to interpreting results…that and the d20 is so ingrained in gaming history now that the d12 has little to recommend itself with. You may be wondering why I’m talking about d12s rather than Ghastbashers, and that’s because Ghastbashers doesn’t talk about itself. It’s a horror comedy game built around paranormal investigators, and borrowing thematically from its sound-alike. It does claim to allow the GM to tune the horror/comedy ratio, which is something that I think could make the game quite good. That said, there are three paragraphs describing the game, and the only unique thing about it I came away with was that yes, it uses a d12. Ultimately, you’ll have to decide whether the premise (rules-light narrative horror comedy) outweighs the real horror (an obvious heartbreaker that’s somehow taken 15 years to develop, yet only has three stats and nine skills). I wouldn’t leave it to the ghosts entirely. $10 gets you a PDF.
I Came Here To Win is not complicated, but its premise is gold. The game is a GMless storytelling game about a reality TV show. Each character has three stats with either a d6, d8, or d10 assigned (one of each in total), and each round is a different prompt for a reality show challenge. At the end of the round, roll the relevant die, lowest result gets to go home. The mechanics are clearly dead simple, but this is the sort of game that lives and dies on the table talk and the quality of the prompts. Fortunately for all of us wondering about these things, the game was released on itch.io, this campaign is primarily for better layout and a print run. Not the heaviest subject matter in the world, but it’s immediately clear to me that this game should be a riot. $5 gets you a PDF.
As much as I thought “giant robots” would be so blissfully simple, the mecha genre continues to astound me with both the quantity and type of tropes which surround it. The Tears of a Machine leans into these tropes, not only providing its ruleset with a downtime mechanic but rather an entire set of “slice of life” conflict resolution mechanics that then feed into what happens when the characters are fighting in the mecha. Of note too is that the game will be available in not only PDF but also both plaintext formats like epub and as an audiobook, which is an accessibility boon considering the complex and under-annotated nature of most RPG layouts. The Tears of a Machine not only sounds like a neat mecha game in its own right, but could also potentially help you bring some mecha action to those of your friends who have the most difficulty with traditional RPG sourcebooks. $15 gets you the book in epub, while $25 gets you epub, PDF, and audio.
One of the biggest darlings of the indie/RPGnet crowd in the aughts was an action RPG called Wushu. Wushu was a simple game, where more detailed and impressive stunts got more dice and more agency. Tide Breaker looks to take the philosophy of Wushu and put some more meat on its bones. While Tide Breaker claims to be a full featured RPG (and has some neat tricks on the periphery, like a setting creation system), it lives and dies in its combat system. While there’s some mechanical differentiation described in the game, the core (and most Wushu-like elements) of the system lies in its Stunts, Showstoppers, and Tricks. Stunts encourage flourish in description, granting extra dice to any specification over and above “I punch him” or “I shoot my gun”. Tricks reward interesting ideas and good planning, letting a solid plan add extra abilities to a stunt. Showstoppers let players embrace the meta; if their description leaves the table howling, it’s a showstopper. While there are plenty of action RPGs out there built around quick resolution, Tide Breaker seems to bring big damn hero dynamics to the gaming table environment mechanically, and I’m here for that. $25 gets you a PDF.
Hot pandemic summer is in full swing, and high Kickstarter enthusiasm means someone has to separate the wheat from the chaff. Any you think I should have covered? That didn’t use the phrase “dice-rolling mechanic” or “all-new fantasy world”? Let me know in the comments below. Either way, check us out next month for another Kickstarter Wonk!
Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can follow me @LevelOneWonk on Twitter for RPG commentary, relevant retweets, and maybe some rambling. You can also find our Discord channel and drop in to chat with our authors and get every new post as it comes out. You can travel to DriveThruRPG through one of our fine and elegantly-crafted links, which generates credit that lets us get more games to work with! Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!