When we play RPGs, we tell stories. For some it’s a fun consequence of the characters’ exploits, while for others it’s the whole point of the game. These stories can often have great power for the groups who create them, creating characters more personal and compelling than any novel ever could. It’s natural, then, to want to share these stories outside the group. The problem here, really, is that a tabletop campaign is a big, extended instance of “you had to be there”. As fun or dramatic or gutwrenching as it was at the time, you cannot recapture those feelings by turning your campaign into a novel.
Some RPGs are demanding. While you can’t homebrew D&D into anything, it is still flexible and doesn’t demand that you play it a specific way. Some games do. There is no end of teeth-gnashing about this; for some reason people take more issue with RPGs having set procedures than, say, board games. But, as the entire indie RPG community knows very well, making a game for a specific purpose and experience often nets you a better version of that experience than trying to simulate it with a ruleset designed with breadth in mind. I’ve been having some revelatory experiences with such a targeted game recently; I will say though that when I say “targeted game” and “specific experience”, most are imagining a zine, something small, not a 600 page hardback with red and gold filigree. Yeah, I’m talking about Burning Wheel.
Dungeons and Dragons is the 800 pound gorilla of the role-playing game world. For what is arguably such a small slice of the space (swords and sorcery fantasy), D&D is utterly dominant, commanding a plurality of the hobby’s mind and market share (and that’s a majority if you count all games which are direct derivatives, like Pathfinder and many OSR games). For this reason, when someone lists “overtake D&D” as one of their design goals, even if it’s just part of a Twitter thread, your ears perk up. Indeed, TC Sottek did post those words, in that order, on Twitter. But people are listening. TC Sottek is the designer of Quest.
In 2018, 25 years after the debut of Magic: The Gathering, Fantasy Flight Games released Keyforge, a game from Magic designer Richard Garfield. Keyforge is a hybrid between a trading card game like Magic and a living card game like Netrunner, which has no trading aspect and includes all the cards needed to play. Keyforge is sold in complete, playable decks, so the card trading and acquisition (and significant financial outlay) aspects are reduced, though not eliminated. In 2020, Fantasy Flight decided the Keyforge setting was strong enough to be the basis for the next setting book for the Genesys RPG. And in June of 2020, my copy of that book, Secrets of the Crucible, showed up on my doorstep. Time to take a look.
When I stopped updating our first spotlight for Itch.io’s Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality it had slightly more than 1,000 video and tabletop games and had raised about $3 million to be split between the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund. As I write this, less than a week later, the Bundle consists of 1704 items and has raised more than $7 million. That is, frankly, a staggering effort that shows what a community – one that often exists on the edges of its respective industries and has a larger percentage of marginalized creators – can do when rallied to a good cause. Millionaires and corporations have sacrificed and given less, and we’d be wise to keep that in mind.
Still, the actual contents of the Bundle is still staggering by itself, and after picking Chalice, For the Honor, and Dragonhearts out of the haystack Maria was good enough to point me towards two more that will be worth your time to check out – whether they’re currently sitting on your dragon’s-hoard-sized bundle of charity or you need one last incentive to pitch in as the Bundle winds down.
Right now, brave protesters across the world are standing up and fighting for the rights of the far too often overlooked Black community, campaigning to dismantle white supremacy and ending the authoritarian reign of police brutality. And we here at Cannibal Halfling have nothing other than complete and utter respect and support for these brave protesters. And many others are stepping up to help support these courageous fighters. In particular, today we are going to talk about the Itch Bundle For Racial Justice and Equality.
Clocking in at currently over 1000 games (it started with 700+), this bundle can be yours for a five dollar purchase. Of which all proceeds go towards NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Community Bail Fund, split evenly. As of this writing, it sits at an amazing
$2.8 $3 million accrued so far.
This an amazing bundle of games that has a commercial value of over $3000, all for $5. Some of these games alone are worth five times as much as the bundle by themselves. But, the amount of phenomenal products you get for your donation can be overwhelming to sort through. So, these series of Spotlight articles hope to help sort through and show which ones would stand out the most to your interests. And while you’re buying it, consider buying some as a gift to your friends. Or paying above the minimum.
Cos it’s damn sure worth it for the cause.
Let’s say you want an original game. D&D is played out, Star Wars requires dealing with Star Wars fans, and Cyberpunk seems like 1989 cosplay. You’re tired of all these tropes, you say, you want something built from the ground up to be new and strange. Let’s say that this game exists. It’s free, even, and the free PDF is filled with gorgeous art. The entire book is gorgeous because the publisher is a design studio first, and happens to be an exclusive partner with Riot Games. It’s even a second edition, with rules revamped to improve speed of play. This sounds perfect, you think. What’s the catch? Well, there are 720 pages to read and since it is wildly original, you need to read all of it. Welcome to Degenesis: Rebirth.
Comedy RPGs are a tough nut to crack. There are broadly two challenges to writing funny role-playing games, and even the best ones have only overcome one of these two. The first challenge is to create humor from situations and premises that remain relevant. Paranoia is one of the most successful games at doing this, and that’s because ultimately the humor is about RPGs themselves and violating in-game expectations. The second challenge is to create a game that remains funny after the first session. While there’s no formula to solving this challenge yet, leaning on structures from other long-running comedy media is certainly a viable strategy. Teenagers From Outer Space is a comedy game from the mind of Mike Pondsmith, best known as the designer of Cyberpunk. Using tropes from comedy anime, he created a game that is light, smart, and self-aware about how it’s going to be played. Unfortunately, this game is 23 years old (33 years old if you count the first edition) and feels that way, which can lead to some awkward reading in a game about teen romance. Teenagers From Outer Space was given away for free as part of R. Talsorian’s response to the current pandemic, so now is as good a time as ever to take a look.
Let’s face it, some of the most popular RPGs out there are part of popular franchises. It’s hardly something to complain about. Roleplaying comes out of investment in a story, and a lot of things that hook people is a universe in which they are already immersed. I don’t believe that it is an accident that we’ve written a number of articles that include the Star Wars, Mistborn, and Witcher RPGs, nor that there are numerous iterations of RPGs based off of pop culture phenomena (I am personally aware of Buffy, Firefly and Doctor Who RPGs) as well as my personal experience with GMs use Genesys as a universal system to build games in the Harry Potter and the Stormlight Archive universes. Even for systems that were always games first there is an impressive amount of lore that has been generated over the years in novels, such as the adventures of Drizzt Do’Urden in the Forgotten Realms or Theo Bell in Vampire the Masquerade, and for any players these stories are distinctive part of what they love.
This leads to what I refer to as the “fanfic quandary”. The reason why you pick a work of fiction to base your own story on is that you want to immerse yourself in it, but how do you make your mark on that universe? Players generally want to have agency, want to be the heroes (or villains) of the day, but how do they do so when that work’s main character is the Chosen One.Well, the problem is not unique to RPGs. The aforementioned “fanfic” can get a bad rap, but quite a few have turned out interesting over the years, and as previously mentioned some have been officially licensed novels, so why not take a look at some of the techniques these writers use and see the potential benefits and pitfalls.
Reading a game and playing a game are two different experiences, which both teach you different things about the game text, how the rules work, and indeed whether the game is something you enjoy. When it comes to traditionally-styled RPGs, the big hardcovers with lots of art and glossy pages, the reading experience is placed often on equal footing with the play experience. Sometimes the reading experience ends up being better. Eclipse Phase is not quite like that. While Eclipse Phase is a game that draws readers in with a great setting, evocative art, and a fair dose of in-line fiction, the mechanics definitely hold their own, though the game has benefited greatly from revision.