The single page roleplaying game certainly has a place in the industry. Some of them have become very popular, and some have even won awards. All of them take on the challenge of game design with an eye towards keeping rules lite and tight, trying to do more with less and deliver a focused experience. From a publishing perspective, though, there are problems. If you want a physical version, you’re printing the PDF or whatever out at home. Publishers aren’t going to do a print-run for a game on a single piece of paper, right? Well, maybe they just needed strength in numbers, because the Tiny Tome project is going to bring us 50 single-page roleplaying games in a neat book curated and published by Long Tail Games!
Lucky for us, Ash of Long Tail Games was willing to send us a prototype copy of the book for us to look at and to answer some of my questions about the project itself!
Last Tea Shop is “a one-page solo game about tea and conversation. Set up your stall and wait for visitors to emerge out of the mist. Over a cup of tea, chat to the visitor about their life and help prepare them for their trip into the Lands of the Dead. Record their thoughts, fears, dreams and hopes in your journal for posterity.” I was pleasantly surprised to see this game almost the second I opened the Tome, since I’ve seen it before. So have you if you’re a regular reader, as it was the subject of our last Solitaire Storytelling! It’s a delightfully atmospheric game, so go give our actual play and review of it a look.
CH: This project was sourced from an itch.io game jam. Could you talk a bit about why that method was used, what criteria was established, and how we got the 50 entries within the Tome out of the 113 submissions from the jam?
Ash: “The Tiny series is really an elaborate tribute to the amazing jam culture on itch.io.
Although the website is still mostly focused on digital game creators, in the last couple of years there’s been a growing ecosystem for tabletop RPGs. Designers of all backgrounds and experience levels are using the platform to release a kaleidoscopic lineup of games – and it’s only going to get bigger as the market fragments more away from Kickstarter. So I knew I had to turn to itch.io for submissions.
The method for selecting entries was pretty simple: everyone involved in the jam voted on the submissions. Although this didn’t constitute the final list of games, it did create a ranked shortlist of the most-polished entries. I thought it was fitting (and certainly more interesting) to ask the community of contributors themselves which games they would pick.”
“There used to be a greying tower alone on the sea. At its highest level is a garden, containing a single red Rose. That Rose allows a single moment from a person’s past to be undone. The tower may be found by anyone, anywhere, at any time from different worlds and universes, so long as they hold regret in their heart.”
A Kiss From A Rose is a game of strength, vulnerability, and asking for help that sees the player character climbing the tower and trying to gain the ability to erase the cause of their regrets. There’s an interesting little tower crawl map that will dictate what exactly the characters will run into; whatever it is, they are trying to get a 4 or better on the dice. Said dice are a d4, d6, and d8 assigned to Power (physical prowess), Pleasure (mental prowess), and Pain (violence). A 3 or lower on the die means that the character will instead face a Consequence, from losing equipment to death. They always get the chance to push back and roll to avoid the Consequence.
Central to the game is that the only ways to get more dice is to increase the risk. You always know what the Consquence will be before you roll, and if an additional Consequence is added to the stakes you may roll an additional die. Another character may also help you, rolling their respective die. The trick is that you can succeed and face a Consequence on the same roll if the dice get both results. If you’re a helper and a Consequence comes up, you have to face it as well, a vulnerability you’ll have to accept if everyone wants to make it up the tower.
It’s a clever little tower climb with some heavy roleplaying potential, and the rules do exactly what they need to and otherwise stay out of your way. I don’t think you’ll need to climb a graying tower to erase the moment you play this game, because you won’t regret it in the first place.
There are many different styles, in terms of design and layout, within the Tome. Some games are in portrait style, necessitating you turning the book sideways, others are in landscape. Some, if they had been printed-out PDFs, would have been single-sided, and some are double. Some are bare bones and simple, some are highly stylized. As a result it’s not the easiest book to read cover to cover, but even a quick skim will at least give you the impression of the variety inherent in the project.
What sort of challenges did putting them all in the same book offer?
“From a technical point of view, I found the format pretty easy to get right in Tiny Tome. A lot of new creators are dealing with issues such as bleed, gutters, and print resolution for the first time, but I was able to provide slightly more information with this jam, and the format itself is more forgiving than Tiny Library. So, with a bit of tweaking, all the games are going to look great in the final production.
In a less technical sense, there’s a lot of creative energy unlocked by throwing vastly different games next to each other. That’s actually part of the pitch – these titles are massively diverse in terms of mechanics, theme, voice, and so on. It’s kind of what’s written on the tin so I want to be true to that promise/premise.
The main curation involved on my part was actually about heightening that diversity. I’ve tried my best to bring the widest possible range of creators and creations into the series.”
“In Japanese, Omotenashi (おもてなし) is a word that embodies the act of going above and beyond top class hospitality by anticipating customers’ desires through deliberate observation and attentiveness. In this game, you will play as a band of animals who have come together to delight their guests and welcome those looking for an escape, relaxation or even a luxurious getaway.”
Using a deck of cards, pen and paper, and a thoughtful attitude the animals in question will welcome their guests, see to their needs, and send them on their way. The lodgings in question could vary from the typical inn along the road to a lighthouse by the sea to a secluded temple. The staff, and the guests, will be rabbits, dragons, sheep, monkeys, and so on, and the purpose of their visit could range from Escape to Inspiration. All of these facts are determined by the value and suit of the cards drawn.
After determining each animal guest you assign members of your staff to three roles: the Host who greets and sees off the guest and manages the other staff, the Chef who provides the meals, and the Attendant who sees to the guest’s immediate needs. You then resolve at least one of a list of questions for each staff member. The Host may decide how they worked with the local community to prepare for a guest ahead of time, the Chef may detail what sort of edible parting gift they create, and the Attendant might figure out what they had to anticipate about a guest’s sleeping arrangements. A final list of questions covers the Farewell, with staff members detailing what they miss about the guest or will change about the lodging, and then on the next guest.
No actual number of players is listed, so Omotenashi could realistically be a solo game or serve up to three players. With an endpoint of “when you are happy with the experience,” it’s a great pickup game for when you want some, perhaps whimsical, comforting good service.
This is the second gathering of games Long Tail has done – the first was the Tiny Library, which featured 50 one-card RPGs sold as a deck. The Library has recently begun arriving at its backers, and there’s a pre-order option currently on the project.
What lessons learned during the Tiny Library project did you bring to the Tiny Tome?
“It’s not easy shipping a game in the midst of all that’s happening right now. The hobby industry is not somehow immune to world history throwing a curveball. There are delays for raw materials, printing delays, container delays, shipping vessel delays, customs delays, warehouse delays, and of course just regular errors of judgment (mea culpa).
So I’ve learned a lot about how to streamline fulfillment further and hopefully bring Tiny Tome to backers as quickly as possible. But really I’m trying to be more realistic about the whole process, and budget more time for problems and general global catastrophe into the timeline. Every publisher is struggling with this new reality and it’s been great to see folks adapt and move forward.
I’ve also learned it’s possible to build a community of creators around this series. That’s probably the most satisfying part. This diverse group of creators from so many different backgrounds has come together to create and promote a single project that has space for them all. We’re all learning and experimenting and somehow doing our own diverse things… together.”
“The guide said he was going for help. Said he’d be back in two day’s time. That was eight days ago. You tried looking for him, as much as was safe. But between the biting winds, the ice slicked crevasses, and the hungry eyes that gleam at you come nightfall…
Now the food is running out and with the weather getting worse by the day, it’s time to go. Watch your step, keep moving, and above all, stick together.
With any luck, you’ll be in town in a matter of days.”
The Climb tells a story of a doomed expedition, desperately attempting to get off of the mountain and return to safety. Frankly, most of you won’t be making it, and with 3-7 (GMless) players that’s going to be a fair number of bodies lost up there. Setup includes going around the circle of players and fleshing out the characters and the setting – describing the mountain and what can (and can’t) be found there, the characters’ name/pronouns/description, their life before the mountain, the adversity they’ve faced on the mountain so far. and why they can trust their fellows climbers.
Once actual play starts climbers take turns describing a crisis that threatens or impacts a player to their right or left, and the selected player then describes how they want to attempt to deal with the crisis. Here’s where things get mechanically interesting: part of setup also included putting together several pieces of string to form ‘ropes’ which represent both the climbers’ ties to one another and the literal lifelines holding them together. Each player is holding on to two such ropes, one connecting them to the player to their left and the other to the player on the right. Once the attempt to deal with the crisis is described, the two players both firmly tug on the rope between them.
If the rope breaks (one of the strings in each rope is tied to be weaker than the others), the selected player describes how the crisis went wrong, and who was seriously injured or what was lost. If a player lets go of the rope, they describe a mistake or bad decision they made, the other player describes the consequences, and they discuss how that’s ruined trust between the two. If both rope and players hold fast, they describe how they overcame the crisis, including what almost went wrong that they avoided. The turn ends with an in-character roleplaying scene as the characters deal with the aftermath of the crisis for good or for ill, opening up to one another. Then on to the next turn! If a player ever loses both of their ropes, either through breakage or dropping, their character is claimed by the mountain (although they’ll continue to play by describing the mountain’s more sinister facets going forward).
The story ends when there is a single unbroken, un-dropped rope connecting two players, who get to describe an epilogue for their characters as the only ones who made it off the mountain. I’m not going to say it’s the most creative game in the Tome, first of all because that’s very subjective and second of all because I’m only going to get to cover a fraction of the games in question. I will say that, from layout to mechanics to subject matter, it’s one of the most unique and interesting games I’ve encountered anywhere.
While now on Kickstarter the Tome is a project born on itch.io, which is known for having issues with profit sharing between creators on the same project – as in, you can’t share profits between creators without distributing it yourself. That’s one of the areas where itch.io has seriously lagged behind DriveThruRPG in serving the TTRPG space, and with so many creators involved in the Tome…
How are you handling the split between 50 different creators?
“I’m not the first person to ask itch.io for better profit-sharing tools, but… yeah… itch.io please develop better profit-sharing tools.
Until that happens: spreadsheets, lots of spreadsheets.
Long Tail Games sends a royalty statement at the end of every quarter, and each of the 50 contributors is given a payment for their share of the sales. It’s a kind of absurdly elaborate process for what is essentially beer money for many of the people involved. But this kind of boring stuff is very much what publishers are for, and I love sending these little updates to everyone.”
“WHAT IS A (HU)MAN?
…but a miserable pile of animals.
You play as one in a stack of creatures in a trench coat. You must perform a variety of normal human tasks without being discovered. These can be going to the mall, participating in a dinner party, working in an office job, or a series of small vignettes throughout a day in the life of a human adult. Anything that a totally normal human adult would be seen doing during totally normal circumstances. ”
That’s right, you’re Totally Real Human Adults. The basic premise of the game assumes that each player is a different creature within the same stack, although there is a competitive mode where each player controls a trench coat-wearing stack of their own. As a result, TRHA has a larger potential player base than usual, at 2-10 players and one GM. Where a character is in the stack is important: the creature on top is going to be the literal face of the party, one in the middle will be in charge of their hands, the one on the bottom controls movement, etc. Each character has five stats (Communication, Coordination, Athletics, Influence, Know-How, Stealth) that are rated 0-3. Whenever you want to do something a stat is picked, you roll that many dice, and add up your total, while the GM rolls 1-3 dice of their own and does the same. More on this in a bit.
Each player also picks what kind of creature they are playing, and there’s nothing that says they have to pick the same kind of creature. Sadly, the traditional kobolds or goblins aren’t an option, although there’s a note about reskinning. Still, the options we do get are pretty hilarious, and each comes with a Special Ability that if applicable can let you add a die and remove the lowest die on a roll before totaling the result. A toddler/baby can babble away with Small Talk. An Octopus/Starfish is good at Multitasking. The racoon/monkey has Little Grabbers. The capybara/sloth brings Chill Vibes!
Now, the entire stack shares a Credibility rating, starting at 8, which is a measure of exactly how credibly you can pass as a Totally Real Human Adult. If on a roll you beat the GM’s result you succeed, but if you beat them by 5 or more your Credibility rating also goes up 1. If you get beaten by the GM by less than 5 you actually still succeed but there’s a setback and your Credibility drops by 1; lose by more than 5 and you outright fail and Credibility drops by 2. If Credibility ever drops to 0 the stack is exposed as the various creatures they are, and the game is over. So, in short, it’s about completing whatever Totally Real Human Adult task the GM sets before you without getting found out and having to scatter back to your nest/den/crib/etc.
Honestly, this one takes an old joke and manages to turn it into a game that has a ton of potential to bring some laughter to the table. I can only imagine how the sloth, baby, and opossum (with Screaming) stack would play.
What’s in the future for Long Tail Games? Do you think we’ll see, say, a Tiny Archive?
“I’m actually more interested in processes and systems than individual projects. This means I absolutely hope to release future editions of Tiny Library (single-card RPGs), Tiny Tome (single-page RPGs), and even Tiny Twist (mods and remixes of existing board games). There are plenty of great games being made every day with no end in sight.
In fact, if we keep receiving support from the community, I’d like the Tiny series to show trends and developments of game design throughout the years. That’s why it’s so important that titles aren’t selected for inclusion based solely on my own tastes and preferences.
It’s rare to be genuinely surprised at the game table. I hope the Tiny series provides an opportunity for just that. And while you won’t like all of them, you will love some of them. That’s the goal.”
Final words for our readers?
“If you like the sounds of this, please check out Tiny Tome! We’ve got literally months of designer diaries coming out via the campaign page, so you’ll learn plenty more about these amazing creators.”
The Tiny Tome is a no-frills, no-stretch-goals project – more money simply means more to be distributed to the different creators. and most of the updates you’ll see will be designer diaries from the creators. $8AU/~$6US will get you a PDF version with an estimated delivery of April ’22. There s also a $1AU/~$1US Community tier that will get you a PDF copy, for those experiencing hardship or poverty. $18AU/~$13US plus shipping will get you the physical version, with an estimated delivery of September ’22. Note that every physical copy pledged creates another Community copy, and that the regular price for the book is listed at $22AU so it’s also a discount! As of this writing the project has more than doubled the funding goal, so there’s no doubt that it’ll reach the finish line.
The Tiny Tome puts a staggering amount of creativity and variety into your hands. There’s a staggering amount of both just in the games I highlighted here, and they represent only 10% of the Tome’s contents. While anthology rules are no doubt in full effect and not every single game will appeal to everyone, there are enough options that it doesn’t matter. The Tome is going to be perfect for when you want to try something new and unique, whether it’s a regular game night, a convention pick-up game, or a night at home by yourself.
Thank you to Ash of Long Tail Games for sending us a prototype review copy and for answering my questions about the project!
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