Crowdfunding Carnival: April, 2023

Welcome to the Crowdfunding Carnival! It’s April, which means two things. First, we’re done with ZineQuest for real; there are no more event stragglers (though an odd zine will pop up from time to time) and we’re back to “normal” campaigns. Second, April is my birthday month. Readers, I’m feeling old, I’m feeling it in my bones. Looking at campaigns this month has gotten me all crotchety. I will admit, I’m turning 36 and that’s not actually old; I’d still be ‘the kid’ in many gaming groups I’ve played with in the past. What has happened, though, is that in advance of my birthday a lot of the Kickstarter campaigns have got me complaining. Nothing makes you feel older than complaining about stuff you have no control over.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there aren’t that many interesting campaigns live right now in the wake of ZineQuest. There are plenty of 5e filler modules, which I don’t care about, and a lot of model files for semi-pornographic minis, which is weird and a bit disconcerting. In my usual market, though, new original RPGs, there are only a few of interest and weirdly a bumper crop of ones I can’t bring myself to be interested in or write about. It’s made me realize it may be another good time to go over the crowdfunding market, and ways that the crowdfunding market could be more useful for project backers.

There’s not a lot of commentary on sites like Kickstarter from the perspective of backers; most is from the perspective of designers for the completely fair reason that it’s really the ones bringing the campaigns to the site who are paying for it. That said, it’s worth providing a bit of commentary on what makes campaigns a better bet to buyers and why they’re getting worse (besides any complaints that the campaigns themselves are getting worse, which would be a real fogey thing to do). I am of the opinion that in order for a crowdfunding campaign to serve a purpose to a buyer, it needs to be all-or-nothing with a strict time limit. The entire point of a crowdfunding campaign is to gauge interest in the product and to allow buyers to express interest with some hedging of their risk. A ‘flexible’ campaign where the campaigner gets the money regardless of whether the goal is reached tacitly fails to do this; reaching the goal is supposed to indicate that the project is now viable because the goal is supposed to be set as a reflection of a reasonable minimum. I’ve always said before that it’s probably a bad idea to back campaigns where the ‘goal’ was set at something stupid like $10 or $100, I will similarly say that it’s not in your best interest as a backer to ever back a ‘flexible’ campaign. RPG crowdfunding projects should have understood budgetary goals, be they for a print run or hiring artists or completing the game. If you can’t fix your budget, don’t run a campaign, and likewise backers should never back a campaign without a transparent goal and budget. I am, literally as I type this, reading a Kickstarter update not from a starry-eyed nerd but from the representative of the firm that bought that damn nerd out in bankruptcy proceedings. The presence of big names and big games does not mean that anywhere near the majority of Kickstarters are run professionally. I’ll repeat this, with emphasis: if you can’t develop a goal number from a firm budget, you are not able or ready to run a crowdfunding campaign. As such I have no problem telling readers not to back your campaigns and just to wait until the game is for sale in a zero-risk capacity.

With that out of the way, we’re onto the campaigns. It’s a small number this month, and that comes with some good and some bad. On the good side, there’s several solid-looking campaigns from not-Kickstarter; both Gamefound and Backerkit are delivering some promising entries. On the bad, I found myself skipping over more games that otherwise met my criteria than usual.

If there’s any secret sauce to my crowdfunding articles, it’s that I try to never write about games I don’t think are good. Occasionally I will throw in a sentence about an unavoidably huge campaign that I don’t really care about, but I will not write up a campaign either to trash it or to pretend that I care in order to help the designer. This helps keep the articles reasonable and fun to read; it also keeps me from quitting blogging. This month, though, I’m a little more frustrated than usual, and have a few, for lack of a better term, subtweets. If you list using multiple dice to produce a bell curve as a ‘feature of your game’, you should not be running a Kickstarter. Go do three more months of market research. On a slightly less irritating note, describing your game’s worldbuilding as ‘eons-spanning’ means that your worldbuilding is boring. We went from cuneiform to nukes in 7000 years, and I don’t think your game has 1000x more interesting events than that. Finally, and most repetitively, having a large number of distinct mechanical builds is not a feature. Exalted 3e has well over 700 charms and, in game design parlance, this is a bad thing.

Ahhh. I feel much better now. Onto the campaigns! As I mentioned the non-Kickstarter sites have some attention this month. On Backerkit, Onyx Path is campaigning the Trinity Continuum Player’s Guide, which while a supplement is fairly expansive and can impact all three of the Trinity lines. More germane to my interests, though, is Wayfaring Strange. Based on Americana and folk magic, Wayfaring Strange is a diceless game that all at once gives me vibes of cross-country road trips, New Weird, and Kentucky Route Zero. While the mechanics are described as original, the use of betting makes me think of both Belonging Outside Belonging as well as Amber Diceless. I’m excited to see how this game takes shape.

Over on Gamefound we have a new edition of Talislanta, curiously called the ‘final edition’. Talislanta was originally released in 1986 and has sold itself on, among other things, never having any elves in its setting. While the setting is a really unique one, the system was the sort of trad you could expect in the mid-80s; the fact that this new edition is including a complete 5e conversion indicates that hasn’t really changed. Still, it’s a game that has contributed in significant ways to RPG history, and apparently this is the first edition which is in color.

Back on the Kickstarter side there are a few projects of note. Hellpiercers is coming to us from Sandy Pug Games, likely best known as the designers of Monster Care Squad. Hellpiercers is thematically about fighting waves of demons through Hell, but what makes it interesting is the mechanics. The game contributes to the 4e Tactics Revival spearheaded by games like Lancer and, in addition to split Tactics/RP mechanics like Lancer and its cousin Icon, has a strategic overlayer which even in the campaign is pretty directly called ‘base building’. Hellpiercers could be a new pioneer in crunch-forward gaming, but you only have until this Saturday to back it.

In a very different space is Host. Host is a two player game about the interplay between a parasite and its host. It’s a small game, not more than a zine, and it’s a game with win conditions, which is itself an interesting change. Given the theme this is perhaps not for everyone, but with a $3 PDF, it’s probably worth checking out if you’re in any way intrigued by the concept.

All the Witches is a game leaning into the magic school conceit somewhat…nakedly. I think it became obvious to me as I was reading about the sport written for the game’s setting, a magic broom (they’re staves but come on, we know what you’re doing) racing sport called Ryndarost. Now, a flying race doesn’t seem to have any serial numbers filed off, but when you read about chasing the small golden ring at the end of the track…uh huh. Shade aside, All the Witches looks like an interesting take on fantasy, allowing for a wide variety of different sorts of witches to be created and fleshing out three very specific subsettings within their world’s broader context. The mechanics are basic roll-under combined with the use of playing cards to give the magic a bit more spice through randomizing spells, combat actions, and even magical control. The game’s PDF tier is above-average at $30, but includes enough digital resources even before stretch goals that I think it’s still a very fair price. Check out All the Witches, but know it was designed specifically to spite a certain boy with a lightning bolt scar, as well as his creator. Hell, that might make some of you want to back it more.

The beginning of April is still somewhat of a ZineQuest lull, but things are picking up. In addition to the campaigns here, I’ve started receiving messages about campaigns set to start later in the month. The ebb and flow of Kickstarters will continue, and May is going to be more flow than ebb. At the same time, there will always be dross and gold. Maybe it’s the OGL or OneD&D, but it seems like the bar for original games has been a bit…lower than in the past. I could be imagining things, of course; this is but one month out of one year. Still, we’ll have to see what next month brings. Come join us, as always, for another Crowdfunding Carnival!

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