A John Carpenter-flavored horror adventure that moves from the Antarctic to a 90s mall. Climbing a holy mountain to beg for mercy from the gods. Dark age peasants stumbling upon sci-fi tunnels, and the change that discovery brings. Dark metal fantasy with most of the metal used to build giant robots. A slumber party pillow fight where letting yourself be vulnerable is more important than winning. It’s Zine Month 2022, so let’s start seeing what tabletop roleplaying zines are making their crowdfunding run!
Just in case you’re a little confused and are wondering what happened to all the questing, which would be fair: as previously reported, Kickstarter decided to move ZineQuest to August this year, announcing as much scant weeks before the event’s customary February run. Combined with other Kickstarter shenanigans as of late, this put some fire into the indie RPG scene to make their own February funding fiesta, with blackjack, and you get the idea. Zine Month has popped up as a more grassroots alternative for showcasing zine-style RPG projects, not tied to any one platform. It’s more of, appropriately given some of its logo work, a banner for projects to march under.
I’ll be mulling over ZiMo as a function in and of itself over the course of the month, but for now let’s start looking at some games!
“The Mall is a wet, gooey, practical effects filled TTRPG adventure set in a 199x mall pulled out of time and space. The mall’s denizens are trapped inside with a creature not bound by any one form. It slithers among them now, preparing to assimilate and imitate its victims until no one is left and it can open a rift between its home dimension…AND EARTH!
The Mall is the first official adventure module for Liminal Horror (3 stat roll under, fail forward TTRPG hack of Cairn) by Goblin Archives for 3 – 6 players.”
This is a two-for-one review entry. I’ve actually gotten to take a look at Liminal Horror (thanks Nick!), and I’ve found it to be a very interesting game. The roll-under mechanics, stat damage, and Stress Fallout that occurs when a character’s HP hits exactly zero remind me of Electric Bastionland, which was a hit around here. LH bills itself as OSR horror, and OSR games often take the tack that combat is to be avoided; attacks in LH always hit, so you are very incentivized to play things smart.
As for The Mall itself the elevator pitch, written right out on the game’s itch page, is “like The Thing, but set in a mall.” I don’t typically like horror movies, but The Thing happens to be near the top of those I do like, so this pushes the right buttons for me. Having gotten to take a look at the ashcan version, The Mall is populated with an interesting cast of characters and fascinating mechanics that ramp up the tension and give the player characters secret prompts that may even include being replaced themselves!
Using itchfunding, The Mall is mechanically finished and is spending ZiMo raising cash for editing and art. $10 gets you a playable version of the module, $16 gets you Liminal Horror and The Mall bundled together, There are also some special purchasing options from wanting to help more (“It’s like THE THING!” for $24) to getting help with project management ($39.20) to… hacking a board game called Mall Madness to make it Liminal Horror/The Mall compatible ($800).
“As man took from the land, the Gods who had built and preserved it watched. Waited. Observed, to see if they would turn back from their path of destruction. Finally, after centuries of deliberation and the slow, aching death of the world, they passed their judgment. Millions were lost to the flames that ate through steel and brick mercilessly, to the floods that capsized even the sturdiest ships and thunderstorms that smote the tallest of towers.
Even now, the fury of the Gods remains unabated. Only an impassioned plea to the divine will quell their anger, but the voices of mankind cannot be heard when shouted from the land below.”
“Inspired by LISA, Soul Sacrifice, and Blessed Messiah and the Tower of AI”, Moriah’s creative team made it very easy for me to sum up this game for you, providing several handy bullet points about what’s actually in it:
- Gameplay which revolves around the ascent of a Holy Mountain, meeting challenges and reminiscing about your lives and world, creating a bittersweet gameplay experience.
- A sacrifice mechanic which involves cutting off body parts to temporarily boost dice types from d4 up to d100, or choosing to sacrifice fellow players for an automatic success and immediate boost.
- A GM-system derived from Lovecraftesque, which sees dead players collectively becoming the Deities running the game.
- A character sheet that includes space for a name, profession, and an anatomical model of the body for players to color or cross out which body parts they have needed to give.
- Three preset Roads for the indecisive Deity (The Road Less Traveled, The Road of Thorns, The Road of Beasts) to use during a standard Journey, inclusive of ten to forty challenges for varying levels of difficulty.
- The tools for would-be Deities to create their own Challenges and Roads revolving around a specific theme or lesson they wish to impart.
Normal people struggling against the gods? Sacrifice that actually matters both narratively and mechanically? A way for players of fallen characters to remain involved in the game as literal gods? This game sounds awesome. Moriah is of the “itchfunding to help finish the game” strain with multiple tiers and goals, thus looking a fair bit more like a kickstarter than some other itchfunders.
$3 gets you the ashcan, $10 the ashcan and the eventual full PDF, $15 also gets you access to two other completed games, $20 and $35 gives you a chance to submit Challenges and Places of Respite for the game, and $100 gets you a session of the game.
“Be brave. Be beautiful. Fall in love, just for a moment. And really just nail a beautiful girl with a pillow.
Sapphic Slumber Party is a short zine game for 2-5 about a pillow fight at a slumber party, and all the joyful, melancholy, amorous, and vulnerable feelings that come out when you’re playing in your PJs. Brief and lyrical, Sapphic Slumber Party is GMless and plays in 30-45 minutes.
Sapphic Slumber Party is simple, short, and sweet. Make your character and tell your fellow players about her PJs and her anxieties; they’ll help you figure out what’s beautiful about her.
Then the pillow fight begins. There’s no HP in a pillow fight, no victory or defeat that’s more than momentary, just the vulnerability that being alone together and intimate and playing around create. Eventually that vulnerability spills over in a way that ends the pillow fight; play to find out exactly how.”
Creator Dora Rogers – who it turns out contributed some writing to a project that previously crossed our radar, Hard Wired Island – had this to say about the game when she reached out to us:
“IT IS SAID that giants once walked these lands.
IT IS SAID that they drove armies before them and laid waste to cities.
IT IS SAID that they are all gone now.
Many things are said.
Not all are true.
Mëch Borg is a third-party supplement for MÖRK BORG. It introduces mecha – giant, piloted robots – into the dark metal fantasy world.
Think Vision of Escaflowne meets BattleTech, but fucked up.
Like its parent game, Mëch Borg is rules-light and flavor-heavy. You barely-literate scvm won’t need to learn a ton of new stuff. This ain’t your accursed sire’s Mëch game. Combat remains fast and free-form. Hack and blast your enemies with abandon, until you fall or the world ends, whichever comes first.”
Well, if you know me you’d also know that there are very few things that I don’t think could be made better by the addition of at least one giant robot, so this one sort of has me dead to rights. This is technically Mëch Borg’s second run of funding, as the ashcan edition got a brief print run. This is for an expanded edition which will include basic Mëch creation, five sample Mëchs, lore, a Mörkaiju, and “very” random tables.
A somewhat different example of “funding to make it”, everyone who itchfunds the game will get a PDF of the ashcan right away, as that’s already complete; $10 will get you the expanded PDF, $15 plus shipping will get you the PDF and a physical zine, and $25 plus shipping will add on the very limited (both in number and only until 2/2/22) ashcan print as well.
“Exarch is a setting about Dark Age peasants discovering sci-fi tunnels filled with dangers and treasures. It’s also about life at Home, and the changes that sort of discovery brings. Decades ago, things were simple and rustic. Then a natural disaster, a crack in the glass dome, or some technological failing exposed the endless megastructure that surrounds the place you call Home.
The zine is system agnostic across OSR rpgs, though it lends itself better to classless games like Knave, Into the Odd, Cairn, or Warlock! Your party of peasants will go on deadly expeditions and (hopefully) return with cybernetics, strange futuristic artifacts, and new Utterances in the Steel Speech.
Too many cybernetics might give the mad security AI power over a character, but the Steel Speech will allow a character to command the powerful golems wandering the empty halls. Expeditions are filled with danger but offer rewards that will please a party’s patrons and give the would-be heroes the power to attain their dreams of comfort and wealth.”
Exarch reads like nothing so much as if you were playing characters who lived in the Barrier Peaks who didn’t know they were in the Barrier Peaks until they opened the wrong/right door. Like a lot of system agnostic content, it mostly has to do with making things: “procedural generation for patrons at Home, rooms and area types for the megastructure, and the twisted inhabitants the party will encounter on expeditions. It also includes tables for technological artifacts, Utterances in the Steel Speech that allow a character to manipulate the structure and golems around them, and cybernetics to change a character’s physical abilities.”
No bells and whistles on this one, $5 gets you a digital version and $10 gets you the physical/digital combo, with an estimated release of May ’22.
See the #1 in the title? There’s plenty more where these came from (a quick count of the site as of this posting shows 111 projects flying the ZiMo banner). We’ll have another round-up this Friday, and at least two more as the month goes on. Until then, check out some cool games, and if you find one you think we simply must cover, let us know. Happy Zine Month!