Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk! The world is still a deeply weird place this month, and Kickstarter is still being affected. With the economic uncertainty that comes along with a global pandemic, it makes sense that fewer people have the resources to either pull off a Kickstarter campaign or pledge one at this time. Still, there are creators out there putting in work, and producing some good stuff. If you have the means, check this shorter list of campaigns out. Since four campaigns does not an article make, I’ve also gathered up my thoughts about being a third-party D&D creator, community content programs, and why you should be careful pursuing either.
They say that March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. I don’t know about the second part, but with the last vestiges of ZineQuest, it’s definitely come in like a lion for Kickstarter Wonk! Like last month, I’m splitting this article into two sections. First, I have five full-fat Kickstarter campaigns which you should definitely check out. Then, looking at the end of Zinequest, I called out roughly 25 interesting zine projects which you should check out as well. But first, let’s go to the big projects! From mechas to telenovelas to princesses, there’s something for everyone here.
Forged in the Dark keeps on keeping on, and Beam Saber brings it into the world of mecha. Here, while you pick an archetype like you’d imagine, instead of a crew you have your squad, building the foundation for both the premise and the eventual drama of so many mecha anime series. It doesn’t look like Beam Saber is looking to make waves with how Forged in the Dark is structured, but already in the project description I see that the designers have a solid awareness of how the existing mechanics can slot right in to the tropes of their chosen genre. If you want to see how development’s going so far, backing will get you a copy of the rules as they currently stand. C$30 (~$23US) gets you a PDF.
Horror, especially horror in RPGs, has flirted with trauma for a long time. Seeing the evolution from, say, Call of Cthulhu to, say, Eclipse Phase, you can pretty readily come to the conclusion that mental health representation in RPGs has gotten better…but that’s not the same as saying it is good. The Midnight World aims to change that. Characters in The Midnight World are the Touched, those who have seen horrors from “Beyond the Veil of Reality”. The key mechanical emphasis here is that while games like Call of Cthulhu have mechanics for when a character is broken by their experiences, characters in The Midnight World will have their psyches wounded, and there will be emphasis on how they recover (and what scars the experience might leave). Designer James Davey is a veteran LARPer but also a combat veteran, experiences which align well with the subject matter The Midnight World aims to examine. $20 gets you a PDF.
Just when you thought PbtA had nothing new to show you, here comes Pasion de las Pasiones. Admittedly, Brandon Leon-Gambetta’s game of romance and betrayal has been bumping around in ashcan form since 2017 or so, but this is the first time it’s going to be coming out in fully realized form. To be more clear, this is a telenovela RPG. Telenovelas are somewhat similar in structure to American soap operas, but with their own strong tropes and grounding in Latin American culture. Their use of archetypal characters to help guide viewers through long backstories and intense plot twists has the side effect of making the genre perfect for PbtA. In addition to the typical playbook-driven character generation you know and love, the game also uses Playsets, bolt-on rules and start conditions to help drill down exactly the sort of drama you want at your table. I say, bring on the web of lies and deceit! $15 gets you a PDF.
I was a Teenage Creature is not the first teen monster game, nor is it even the first that tries to lean into the tropes of teen monster TV shows (both Monsterhearts and Monster of the Week play in that playground). What interests me, though, is a dynamic attribute system that isn’t unlike one used in Greg Stolze’s lesser-known ORE detective game A Dirty World. In I Was a Teenage Creature, characters have four pairs of emotional attributes. These attributes are ranked along a scale from one to ten. You roll dice according to the value of a few more traditional stats, but how you determine success depends on your emotional state. For the positive attributes, you’re looking to roll high. For the negative attributes, you’re looking to roll low. I’m always down for games that ask you to look deeper at your character’s emotions, and this one definitely brings them to the fore in an interesting way. $15 gets you a PDF.
Princess World is a game that takes the Disney Princess tropes you may be familiar with and blows them up, leaving something both bigger and better to work with. Using the Powered by the Apocalypse system, Princess World is a game for kids that provides a framework to get younger players into the elements of worldbuilding and player-facing mechanics which make Powered by the Apocalypse so compelling for gamers of all ages. While Princess World is leaning into modern princess tropes as seen in works like She-Ra and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, princesses as they appear in the game need not be girls or, for that matter, human. Rather than looking for a gendered take, the game focuses on the themes of empowerment, responsibility, and teamwork. $25 gets you a PDF (there is a $10 tier for financial hardship), but I’d suggest at least looking at the $40 physical tier because the book is also a coloring book.
Even More Zines
That’s right, even more zines. Zinequest only runs through February, but the 29th is the date by which you have to start, not end, your project. As such, there are still zines running into March, and if you stopped looking already, you’re missing out.
More Games that Start with T: Trophaeum is a horror game that, like several across Zinequest, is ‘Rooted in Trophy’. My other favorite T game, Troika, is represented by the thematically appropriate “So You’ve Been Thrown Down a Well”. Also at least mostly representing the letter T, and a perfect follow-on to a well-centric zine is The Treasure at the End of this Dungeon is an Escape From This Dungeon and We Will Never Escape From This Dungeon. Cheerful!
Even More Apocalypses: Man, it’s like something’s going on out in the world. Apocalypse Survive is a straight-up post-apocalyptic zine, while Bunker is a more OSR approach that imagines the apocalypse as a catalyst for the rebirth of high fantasy. Affliction gives us that familiar zombie flavor we all know and love. Shadow of Mogg is a “post-Brexit RPG” arguably the most realistic and depressing take on the post-apocalyptic genre. Covert Wars is pre-apocalyptic, a Cold War RPG, but as it made me, an American, think about politics, it gets listed in this category.
Let’s Turn It Around. Here Are Some Cute Animals: Eat Trash. Be Free. is a game of being a gang of (probably cute) suburban animals stealing from garbage cans. Stitches and Stuffing is the sock puppet-based RPG you didn’t know you needed. Fabled Dead is somewhat less cute than the others, but according to the art you’re definitely a rabbit, so there’s that. Dungeon Pets features pets. For when you’re in the dungeon. Battle Beasts takes a Pokemon-esque art direction, as well as the same for its implied mechanics. Last and the opposite of least, The Great Bork Team is an RPG about sled dogs. 15/10, would mush.
Finally, a few I just find interesting: Indie luminary Paul Czege is campaigning a narrative project called We’re Just Friends. Agile, Anxious, Attached is a lyric game project about negotiating memory through the lens of RPGs, something that speaks to me personally. Kingdoms is a game employing generational mechanics, another personal interest. Viral.exe looks like it was designed for the AIM generation…which includes me. Finally, I can’t not mention the attention-grabbing, delightful nonsense that is Seance and Sensibility, a Jane Austen/Eldritch Horror mashup.
Zinequest has been fun, but it is good to get back to normal. The conventional projects here all look great, and now that the zines aren’t attacking your wallet like so many compelling narrative headcrabs, you could actually back one! We’ll be back to the normal ten campaign articles in April, but for now these 30 some-odd projects are worth perusing. Other thoughts? Something I missed? Let me know below, and I’ll see you all next month for another Kickstarter Wonk!
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Two weeks ago, we cut our regularly scheduled Kickstarter Wonk broadcast a bit short to bring you a sampling of projects from the second year of Kickstarter’s celebration of all things DIY and RPGs, ZineQuest. As February rolls on so does ZineQuest, with many RPG Kickstarter aficionados like myself already bemoaning the dent in our wallets made by this onslaught. As you may remember, ZineQuest campaigns are limited to a two week run time, so by the time of this posting the campaigns I featured in the first article should be already done, hopefully funded and ready for their creators to get them out into the world. Fear not, though, because here at the midpoint of ZineQuest there’s a whole new batch of campaigns just waiting to drain away even more of your paycheck. Like before, I’m going to try and overview as many campaigns as possible, grouping them either by content or theme. While I won’t claim to be complete (or unbiased), hopefully I can give a rundown that’s more useful than trying to scroll through the roughly 125 projects currently live.
Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! As you may have noticed, RPG Kickstarter isn’t quite its old normal self in February, not since last year at least. No, February is ZineQuest, the celebration of the DIY zine as a harbinger of the indie RPG hobby from way back in the 70s and 80s. Kickstarter celebrates this DIY ethos for setting aside a month to encourage creators of all stripes to make zines, the old bifold, home-printed little magazines with around 24 pages and a bunch of new ideas. Indeed, here in the first week of ZineQuest we’re already near 50 campaigns, and there’s sure to be more as the month goes on.
Welcome to the first Kickstarter Wonk for 2020! Although January is often a thin month for RPG Kickstarters, with designers suffering the same holiday hangovers as the rest of us, this January, January of 2020, is likely to be the worst one so far. This isn’t random, not at all. Last year, Kickstarter threw an event called Zinequest, where game designers were encouraged to put out zine-sized games and RPG supplements in a recognition of the legacy of RPG zines from the 70s and 80s. This was wildly successful, and inspired Kickstarter to throw Zinequest 2. When is Zinequest 2? Next month. What are all the game designers doing? Getting ready for that. How many campaigns does that leave me? Very few.
Tis the season to be Wonky! December is not always a very busy month for Kickstarter, it’s more important to deliver and sell near the holidays than it is to fundraise, so in some ways this is an off-cycle time for creators who are trying to kick off projects. As such, there are only eight projects in this month’s line-up. That said, we do have a holiday miracle in store, and in just a couple days eight projects will turn into nine! Thanks to a creator who I am a particular fan of, we have access to a project preview that should turn into an honest-to-goodness campaign just a few days after this article’s publication date. While we’re waiting for that, though, the rest of the projects in this article are all quite promising and worthy of your attention.
Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for November! What am I thankful for? Well, I’m thankful that not only was November a bumper crop of games on Kickstarter, but it was also one where there were a large number of really solid offerings. Whether you try and take over the moon or try and explore your Jewish identity, this month’s Kickstarters were for a huge number of really diverse games. Check out the descriptions below, and consider what sort of game either tickles your fancy or stretches your mind.
Last month was famine. Instead of putting together a Kickstarter Wonk article at all, I wrote briefly on why Tabletop RPG Kickstarters fail. This month is feast. There are ten games below, and I can say genuinely that there are 2-3 more that easily would have made the cut as well. A great number of campaigns, and I’m probably spending a bit more money than usual this month. Speaking of money. There’s been some turmoil over at the Kickstarter corporate office, mostly involving a distasteful activity called ‘union-busting’. Kickstarter employees are trying to unionize, and someone upstairs fired two of the organizers. Not good, guys. Not good at all.
Nonetheless, Kickstarter campaigns are primarily about the creators. Beyond that, the process to get a union formally recognized is fraught, so even if the company is making distasteful (read: bad) decisions regarding the rights of their workers, the creators on the platform and the broader business as a whole shouldn’t necessarily suffer. For one thing, it makes that whole organizing thing that much harder if there’s evidence that organizing a union is impeding business. The intent of organized labor is to make productive compromises between a company and its employees, and a preemptive boycott fails at that. Therefore I am still here, still promoting Kickstarter campaigns, and still spending some money to support the excellent creators on the platform. If you’re interested in supporting Kickstarter United and are a project creator, you can sign a petition here. After you’ve done that, read on, because there are some really great games out this month.
Kickstarter Wonk is an opportunity for me to, every month, show off some neat Kickstarter campaigns that deserve to get a little extra attention. To write these articles, I read pretty much every Kickstarter campaign that could be termed as an original RPG, and then pull from there to make my list. Some months, getting to ten is difficult because there are twenty or more games, sixteen or more that are worth covering, and narrowing down the list gets really hard. That’s when I apply some really arbitrary metrics like “the campaign ends less than two days before the article will be published” and “I will weigh my choice towards the game with original mechanics as opposed to the one which is using Fate”. On the other hand, sometimes there’s fewer than ten games I want to cover, and the last one or two which are all right will have a bit of sarcasm in the descriptions. What has not happened until now was a month where I couldn’t even muster up half a dozen games I was excited about.
August is GenCon season, but it’s still bumping on Kickstarter! This month we’ve also seen the tagline “Break Kickstarter” pop up, which has produced some intriguing campaigns. Needless to say, there’s plenty to sift through. Don’t worry though, because sift I did, and I’ve come up with my top nine for the month! Check out some hacks, some new games, and some truly odd design projects.