Zine Month 2023 Round Up #1

A map for every adventure and an adventure for every map. The horror of magical academia. Making sacrifices to a river spirit. Last of Us a la Twin Peaks. Tracking down an entity that consumes time itself.  Another February, another month of roleplaying game zines, and I’m back for more Zine Month spotlights! 

Aaron already put up signs for 46 different projects in the (first part of) this month’s Crowdfunding Carnival, but I wanted to repeat my coverage of Zine Month (ZiMo) projects as opposed to ZineQuest ones. So, on I go over to zinemonth.com to start my research… and the first project I spot is one on Kickstarter. You know, the crowdfunding site that ZiMo ‘23 was supposed to completely forgo?

It might not even be news to anybody else, but obviously I’d missed a step over the course of the year, so I head over to the ZiMo discord, apologize for my ignorance, and ask around as to the fate of the no-Kickstarters rule. I don’t get pointed to any particularly big decision point, and instead am told that it was a general consensus that ‘we’re not cops.’ Which, hey, fair enough! The sad fact of the matter is that for all its blunders last year, in the long term Kickstarter is doing just fine and remains the best option for most creators. None of its competitors took advantage of those blunders to make any sort of meaningful improvements to offer to the tabletop space that I can find, so why rake creators over the coals and deny them access to a community?

Important to note, but the community of ZiMo is doing just fine – the discord is humming right along with discussion, information sharing, collaboration, and educational workshops. If nothing else ever comes of it, that’s still a huge gain. That being said, the De-Monopolization goal still listed on the About page is functionally dead in the water. There’s no priority given to non-KS projects in the showcase – in fact, there’s not even a category or any way to search for them. Not keeping Kickstarter projects off of the showcase, that I even agree with. Not at least highlighting the other options a little bit more? That’s kind of a shame.

Mind, that would also be more unpaid work for the people behind the scenes, and if there was a lot of room for that then they probably wouldn’t be crowdfunding, now would they? How nice that I can comment from the sidelines, right? So, with Zine Month becoming more of a community event than a specific drive, I’m going to keep up the coverage for those projects trying to make their way outside of Kickstarter’s shadow.

Enough chatter! Onto the zines!

ZVM: Zine-o-Map vs Mini-Adventure

Two books, 30+ maps, 30+ adventures!

Created by freelance cartographer and TTRPG editor David Glass, ZVM is an offering that appeals to everyone who might want themselves an OSR-style map for a rainy day – that it could very reasonably be billed as Zine-o-Map 4 shows that there’s a fair amount of experience behind this one, although there’s even more than you think.

The project is divided into two Books. Book 1 will be familiar to any readers who happened to encounter Glass’s previous Zine-o-Map offerings as part of ZiMo ‘22 and ZQ3: 34 8.5×5.5” maps on individual pages, a single 8.5×11” centerfold map, and a legend covering two pages. Book 2 is where things get different: there are smaller, keyed versions of each map, along with a mini-adventure for each one! Of particular interest to CHG readers is who authored those adventures, all of whom worked on I Have The High Ground and going rogue 2e: design consultant satah, developmental playtester Rhiannon Daly, and creator Jess Levine!

You can get the PDF copies of Books 1 and 2 for a total of $10 on Crowdfundr (a name you’ll see a lot in this article, and we’ll talk about that at the end). $20 (shipping included!) will get the physical version of both as well, and $25 will add the 35 individual PNG/TIFF map files to the pot. There are also broken-down tiers for individual books (digital and physical) and the files. 

Tangled Blessings

“On the eve of your final exam at Brackroot Academy, what mysteries, secrets, dread, and drama will you recall from your last four years of schooling?”

Scary magical school is called into session by Cassi Mothwin and Tangled Blessings, a tarot-powered game that could be either a single-player journaling game or a 2-player duet storytelling affair. Called by the mysterious Speaking Gem and invited to attend Brackroot Academy, you’ll spend four years learning the ins and outs of magic… and how horrifying such a place can be.

Your tarot cards are divided into five decks: the major arcana, the wands, the pentacles, the cups, and the swords. You’ll first use the major arcana to determine your house. Perhaps you’ll be of the Dahlias, who have a tendency towards one or more of creativity, perfectionism, or obsessiveness. You might instead belong to the Elements who favor cleverness, isolation, and/or negligence. You’ll also use the major arcana to determine both the house and the personal nature of your rival, another prodigy at Brackroot whom the magical society has pitted you against in a contest to earn high status after graduation. Perhaps they’ll be a Reckless Roamer who ignores the rules and profits by it, or a Fearless Prophet who sees what is to come. If there are two players, you don’t draw anything for the rival, because you are each other’s rival.

After picking a specialty, which is your own personal flourish of magic that got you noticed in the first place, you begin recalling the memories of your four years at the academy. For each year you’ll draw three cards from its corresponding minor arcana deck (Wands for Year 1), and each will give you a prompt, which you’ll draw a major arcana for to provide inspiration. Perhaps portal magic came naturally to you – where did your first portal go? One attempt went wrong, however – what scar did it leave on you, and have you recovered? Maybe your partner for a presentation told everyone that you didn’t contribute, ruining your reputation and forcing you to make a second presentation alone. What was the presentation about, who was your partner, and why do you think they lied? If the rival is a second player, they draw their own cards at the same time, you both take turns answering your own prompts, and work together to see how you were each involved in one another’s memories. If single player, you draw them yourself and make a note.

The cards you draw will eventually be used at the end of the game to see exactly who comes out on top…

There’s a free preview of Tangled Blessings on DTRPG which has the basic rules, the first year, and some examples of play. The full project is hosted on Crowdfunder where $15 will get you the complete digital version and $25 plus shipping the physical one as well, with a few other options for deluxe box sets or signed copies. 

The River Spirit

A terrible drought threatens your hometown and everyone who lives there. You chose to attempt, or were maybe selected for, a last-ditch effort to save it all: making a sacrifice to the River Spirit rumored to live deep within the Forest. What are you willing to sacrifice for your hometown, and will it be enough?”

Created by Nico MacDougall, The River Spirit is a solo journaling RPG that follows your character as they travel deep within a nearby forest to find the eponymous spirit, unseen in generations, to try and get it to make the rain return. Without this long shot effort, your community will perish – even if the people survive by leaving, the history of it will be lost forever. You’ll need the guidebook (a text-only version of which you can get for free right now), a journal and writing utensil (actual paper a must), a deck of 52 cards, and most interestingly a full vessel of water.

The cards are first used to create landmarks of your hometown and then memories of your community (good or bad) as you leave home to begin your journey, each of these sections ending when you draw a certain number of cards from the same suit. As you travel through the forest the cards tell you what kind of forest spirits you encounter, and what tales you have to tell them – you move on from this section when you can no longer ignore your thirst. You take a sip of water and then find yourself in front of the river spirit, and it demands sacrifices – you draw cards, and drip water onto journal entries that share that suit. Sodden pages are removed from the journal as your memories fade and you lose parts of yourself, all now belonging to the River Spirit. 

$5.00 on Crowdfundr will get you a PDF copy, $10 plus Backerkit-run shipping a print copy as well, and $15 etc. will see your physical copy “dunked in the Anacostia River and subsequently sundried” for the authentic ‘taken from the watery grip of a river spirit’ look. It’s a keep-it-all campaign, so if you pay up you’ll get your order, but the goal will fund a full print run – with 10% of the total being donated to Anacostia Riverkeeper.


“Out a ways from the big city lies the town of Coldwater, named after the body of water it borders. Coldwater is a complacent place and its residents prefer it that way, thank you very much. Most townsfolk will greet you with a smile, but asking about the Incident from about a year back will get you met with cold stares and abruptly shut doors. But here’s the thing, folks have started disappearing again, and this time it was out-of-towners.”

“What if Twin Peaks had a Last of Us arc?”

We have our first CHG/ZiMo coverage alumnus with another adventure offering from Goblin Archives for Liminal Horror, a fail-forward OSR-horror hack of Cairn that brought us the John Carpenter’s The Thing-in-an-80s-shopping-center The Mall for ZiMo ‘22. This time, it’s fungus among us as things once again spiral out of control in THE BLOOM.

Coldwater is very much a sandbox: 36+ locations, 30 NPCs, random search tables, artifacts, and consequences for your team of Investigators to stumble upon. A Doom Clock keeps the pressure on as things get worse, and there are enemies lurking around the town. There are twenty custom backgrounds for the player characters to build off of, part of a customized version of LH character creation tailored for the adventure. Finally, THE BLOOM includes multiple formats: it could be a one-shot, a starting point for playing a Liminal Horror campaign, or integrated into an existing campaign,

If you want to take a look at the base game before heading to Coldwater, a web-based version of Liminal Horror is available here. Taking the itchfunding route, THE BLOOM itself is more obviously of the fund-it-to-make-it style and is emblematic of the itchfunding modus operandi – the on-sale for 25% off price of $7.50 will get you the fully playable digital draft, with those funds being used for layout, art, etc. There is also an itchfunding bundle for $25 that will get you Liminal Horror itself, THE BLOOM, and two other LH scenarios (The Mall and the Bureau).

Project ECCO

“You work for the mysterious organization known only as The Agency , tasked with tracking a time-consuming entity throughout an entire year.

In the end, will you destroy The Entity? Do you dare question The Agency? Can you find yourself?”

Right away we have our second alumnus thanks to Elliot Davis, who last year brought us some ABOMINATIONS for ZiMo’ 22. This time, as the blurb says, Davis has us tracking a being who is actually eating time. You keep track of the entity with a planner, but what’s particularly interesting to me is that you don’t go from January 1st to December 31st in a linear fashion. After all, it’s a time travel game!

You’ll be jumping back and forth as you uncover different methods of traveling through time (using a variety of mechanics involving dice, playing cards, tarot cards, and coins), so your character sheet will actually be a bookmark that tracks things like inventory, encounters, your own identity (which tells us that your identity is a potential casualty), and of course where you are in the year. No two playthroughs will be the same, given how mixed up your travels and the resulting order of prompts will be, but the ending alone has six different possibilities!

$10 on Crowdfundr will pull the PDF out of the time stream for your perusal, and $20 plus shipping will convince the physical version (plus a bookmark-sized character sheet) to get to you as well. $45 will add an official Project ECCO planner for every day of the game’s year, and there are other tiers for creating community copies or adding content to the game.

So, Crowdfundr

What the heck is this all about? It certainly wasn’t around for Zine Month ‘22, and it hasn’t gotten caught in the net for any of the Crowdfunding Carnivals yet. Despite being the apparent new kid on the block it’s being used by the majority of the non-Kickstarter ZiMo projects that are landing on my desk. Granted since none of the other non-KS platforms are doing any of said landing so far aside from itch.io, which remains unchanged in function since last time, that’s not quite as impressive an accomplishment as one might like, but still! So, here are some basic facts:

  • Crowdfundr is the first non-KS platform to actually make an effort in promoting a Zine Month/Quest initiative of projects, with its Tabletop Nonstop Spotlight running until the 28th. Just the fact that there’s a central page where someone could go to find ZiMo projects without having to stagger about in a search engine makes a huge difference compared to itch.io and how things went last year with indiegogo and Gamefound.
  • It’s ‘free’ for creators. It’s a little more complicated than the buzz word would imply, so what means in practical terms is that you have options. Creators could go with Not Free, and be charged a 5% platform fee (“you know, like the competition does”) along with Stripe/Paypal fees for card processing. If creators choose to be Nearly Free, supporters are asked to cover the 5% platform fee and to cover the Stripe/Paypal fees as well. Finally, a creator could choose Simply Free: Stripe/Paypal take their fee cut, and the supporters are asked to give a tip to Crowdfundr itself – “if they tip, we get paid. If they don’t tip, we still charge you nothing.” On paper that sounds like a pretty good deal, but it does mean that-
  • There’s a fair amount of hustle on the part of Crowdfundr. Not hustle as in scam, just hustle as in putting in work to encourage said tips and get more eyes on the project. There are pop-up prompts to sign up for notifications for a project if you don’t want to back it right now, multiple reminders to share/talk about a project on social media, and the expected request for the tip money. Might wear a few nerves out on the supporter side.
  • Campaigns can be Keep-it-All (not unalike itchfunding, really) or All-or-Nothing, which is your standard has-to-reach-the-total-or-else. Keep-it-alls charge the supporter right away, while All-or-Nothings won’t charge any earlier than reaching the funding goal. Double-check what kind of project you’re dealing with if that might be a problem for you!

Of course, those are just bare facts, so one of my secondary goals for this ZiMo is to gather some accounts, supporters and creators alike, to tell me how Crowdfundr functions in practice. If our dear readers want to let me know how it’s been working, you can reach out to me on Twitter @RGM79Ace/@HungryHalfling or at cannibalhalflinggaming@gmail.com.

Well, that’s it for now. Thanks to the work of Hinokodo and Justin Vandermeer we’ve got another spreadsheet giving us all sorts of lovely data, though, and there are lots more projects to check out. Crowdfunding Carnival ZineQuest Check-In and ZiMo ‘23 Round Up #2 are coming later this week, so stay tuned!

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