Welcome back to the Carnival! Here at the beginning of May it’s a momentous time to be looking at crowdfunding. Well, that’s partially true. If you’re interested in the high profile campaigns earning hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, it’s a momentous time to be looking at crowdfunding. If you’re another indie fellow trying to get by, it’s another month. If you’re looking for those indies who have broken into the big leagues, though, there’s a great example of that going on right now. We’ve got co-marketing, we’ve got little old ladies solving murders, we’ve got Tarot cards, and, of course, we’ve got Free League. Let’s take a look.
Statistical analysis this month tells two different stories which, due to outliers, look to be at odds with one another. When I looked on Monday, Kickstarter took home about 98% of funding out of the three major crowdfunding sites, and this number is actually an underestimate, as Free League’s Blade Runner opened to pledges on Tuesday, and cleared $800,000 in one day. Still, Free League isn’t even the big winner right now, that’s Monte Cook Games, clearing over $1.6 million (as of Monday) with Old Gods of Appalachia. I’ll go into these campaigns in more detail later, but the larger point is that outliers are driving Kickstarter hard this month.
Gamefound, meanwhile, is still finding its footing but put forth a decent showing with three campaigns that are all (in my mind) winners, Improv for Gamers 2e, Bully Pulpit’s Desperation, and To Change, a neat indie title using tarot.
Now from a numerical perspective Kickstarter is winning out over all comers, but looking at the range of games I think the story is more nuanced. The big winners are coming from three Kickstarter veterans in the form of The Gauntlet (previously winning pretty big with Trophy), Monte Cook Games (one of the first Kickstarter winners with Numenera), and Free League (current holder of #2 largest standalone RPG Kickstarter). What’s key about all three of these is that they have the firepower to use any crowdfunding service they please. Outside of the 800 pound gorillas, though…Kickstarter’s showings are a bit lackluster, at least in original games. Two huge campaigns, two solidly big campaigns (Brindlewood Bay and Tokyo:Otherscape), and then…one true indie of interest? Gamefound, though it’s not attracting as many campaigns, isn’t attracting cruft either, which could help give it some browsing cred.
So let’s talk these indies. On Kickstarter, besides the really big guys, the one campaign to stand out to me was Littlebox Journeys. While these are games 3 and 4 in the Littlebox Journeys series, I find Storybrewers to be a solid outfit and I really like the aim of the Littlebox Journeys series: no-prep one-shots that each tell unique stories. The two for this campaign are called Villagesong and Our Mundane Supernatural Life, and I gotta say that second one is calling to me.
We did have one campaign over at Indiegogo, I didn’t really mention them above but they are still there, despite being a distant third in user experience. Pitcrawler is a two-person RPG inspired by old-school games (though likely a tad too over-the-top to technically be OSR). The talk of many random tables and some “video game vibe” rules like save points and legacy mechanics has me considering this one. I hope some people do find and back Pitcrawler, being on Indiegogo is more likely to be a detriment to its campaigners until they clean up their UX, search tools, and just general categorization.
Like I mentioned above, Gamefound has three campaigns but I think they’re all worthwhile. Improv for Gamers 2e doesn’t technically fit the original game mold, being neither original (2e) nor a game, but Seamus and I both loved the first edition and want to see the second one succeed as well. Additional games to check out and additional editing for accessibility make this a must-back if you missed the first one. After that is Desperation, which is a new Bully Pulpit game! It’s also a game in the structural vein of Fiasco, though the genre is way different. Desperation has two card-based survival horror games included, one taking place in a deadly snowstorm (Dead House) and the other on a doomed ship (The Isabel). I’m definitely curious about how these games play, and can’t wait to see the finished product. Finally, there is To Change, a Tarot-based game (brought to us from the creator of Cuticorium) which focuses on transformation. Using mechanics built around the 22 cards of the Tarot’s major arcana, players explore the change their character is going through, and their choices lead it closer and closer to becoming permanent. There’s even a tier to get a set of Tarot cards to go with the game.
All the indie games being crowdfunded right now offer something new, something interesting. The bigger games offer that too, though not to the same degree; there are licensed games, familiar genres, and in one case a game that’s been live and distributed for some time now. Still, these games are building hype and I’d be remiss to ignore them.
The Big Leagues
First, let’s talk the come-from-behind, out of nowhere winner on Kickstarter this month. Tokyo:Otherscape is a ‘Mythic Cyberpunk’ game using the City of Mist ruleset, which is inspired by but not exactly aligned with Powered by the Apocalypse. We have already reviewed City of Mist, and Tokyo:Otherscape looks like it could be a worthy successor. The campaign is actually funding two books; there is an Otherscape core rulebook (called Metro:Otherscape), and the Tokyo book is technically the game’s first setting. The game’s mythic elements immediately make me think of Shadowrun, though it’s a parallel more than any direct similarities. The heavily heavily Japan-based setting, though, in a Cyberpunk ruleset, makes me, well…it wouldn’t be my choice, let’s just say. Somewhere between ‘Orientalism’ and ‘Played Out’, but not a good first impression, even if we here already know City of Mist. The tropey setting choice seems to have been the safe one, though, as this game is nearing $250,000 in funding.
The other six-figure breakout is less surprising to me, though for a very good reason. Brindlewood Bay is a ‘Murder, She Wrote’ RPG from The Gauntlet, and the opportunity to play little old ladies solving mysteries has been a big hit over at The Gauntlet Patreon, where this game has been in active development for some time. It’s clear that the hype has crossed over, as what should arguably be an incredibly niche game has kicked it out of the park, in part due to the hype generated over at The Gauntlet and in part because the game is worth checking out. The game is around $240,000 at this writing, and even if you’re not sure about backing you can pick up the digital version at DriveThruRPG.
Now we get into the serious hitters, the seven figure and soon-to-be seven figure campaigns. Old Gods of Appalachia is the big, big one, and while it’s nearly done it’s amassed nearly $1.7 million in funding, a pretty serious number. The game is a Cypher System title, and while that doesn’t exactly excite me, the setting kind of does. I have yet to listen to the Old Gods of Appalachia podcast (this campaign will likely get me to though), but I have gone on record saying that ‘Call of Cthulhu would be way more appealing without all of Lovecraft’s BS in it’. A new, different sort of eldritch horror setting intrigues me, and the sort of low-key license that a narrative podcast entails makes me hope that MCG has leeway to make the game really sing. That all said, it’s a Cypher System game by the original Kickstarter pros, nobody should really be surprised that they absorbed all this money.
And finally, surprise surprise, a game that won a ‘most anticipated’ award is raking in money. Blade Runner is Free League’s latest game, and as this is the company that shot Alien into the top-selling RPGs in North America, I have no doubt they’ll print money with this one. I’ve been thinking about the why of the license, and I kind of see it, although the conclusion I came to doesn’t really answer all of my lingering doubts. Cyberpunk is a popular genre right now, and many companies are trying to become the next FASA or Talsorian (Tokyo:Otherscape does seem to paint that picture). Free League does finance a good chunk of their continuing operations through licenses; while Mutant: Year Zero and Forbidden Lands are core properties, Alien, Twilight:2000, and even Tales from the Loop are licensed from elsewhere. Blade Runner is a way to dip their toes into Cyberpunk while sharing the risks with a licensor, and there’s a chance to make a different take on the genre by making the game more investigation-based, and therefore more inline with the movie. I’m torn on this. The relative vagueness of the source material is both a blessing and a curse; on one hand the designers have free reign, on the other hand it becomes much more difficult to push the game away from just making every player a copycat Deckard. I’m willing to give the game a chance when it comes out, but my bet is that it’ll end up like Alien: successful, yes, but ultimately divisive among fans who will disagree over whether it did what it set out to do.
There was a lot of dross on Kickstarter this month, but also some supplemental material that’s at least worth mentioning. D&D 5e abounds, as usual, and as usual few if any of the Kickstarted supplements are going to make an impact on the 5e corpus; that said, Matt Colville’s latest, a monster book called Flee, Mortals!, ended Monday, bringing in a cool two million dollars. To the degree that there’s money in TTRPGs, it’s in Fifth Edition. Sadly, few of the other third party publishers are on Matt Colville’s level, either in fundraising or supplement quality.
Another interesting Kickstarter trend was third-party Mothership content. Mothership was a ZiMo breakout, but three campaigns for Mothership adventures in a non-zine month is high and worth noting. Other supplements of note included a couple of OSE adventures, and an adventure for Shadows Over Sol, an indie title I haven’t seen get much love on Kickstarter. Kickstarter is still the place for anyone who wants to give crowdfunding a go, and the result is a solid number of projects that were not ready to be given a go. In many ways this is little different from any other month, but as Gamefound is starting to find its legs, the differing quality ratios on the two sites (heavily in Gamefound’s favor) is, at least for now, noticeable.
The Carnival is set to continue! The format this month was different, aiming for more analysis and less of the mini-review style. I thought the mini-reviews rehashed too much that was already written in the campaign, and this style let’s me pontificate a bit more on what’s going on, both in qualitative and quantitative trends. Do you think the new style works? Would you rather I stick to the mini-reviews? Let me know in a comment or tweet! And either way, I hope to see you for next month’s Crowdfunding Carnival!
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