Category Archives: Articles

Back To School: Why You Should Listen To Unlabelled

There’s an amazing thing with seeing yourself in the works you enjoy. It’s beyond just making you feel seen. It shows the strength within you. That you can do it too. That there’s people blazing a path, waiting for you to join. That you belong. That you’re not alone. Now, before I get really into waxing-Shonen anime, I think it’s important to delve into today’s article. Yes, it’s another Masks: A New Generation topic. Yes, it’s an actual play podcast. And yes, you’re gonna freaking love listening to it.

Where Critical Bits is phenomenal at matching the bizarre and wacky with serious and satire, this podcast excels at the grounded feeling of so many things. Growing up in a new school. Being a trans girl. Having friends who you can depend on. And being a superhero student.

Wait, the last one’s only true if you go to U.A. Or in the case of these three girls, Phoenix Academy.

This is Unlabelled. And it is in my opinion, the brightest rising actual play right now.

Continue reading Back To School: Why You Should Listen To Unlabelled

Kickstarter Wonk: March, 2020

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.

Beam Saber

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.

The Midnight World

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.

Pasión de las Pasiones

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

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

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.

I’m Sorry, Was That Too Dark For You?: Darker Malleus. Kingpink: Darkness. Swords and Wizardry Dark. Dark Path.

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!

Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and want to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can follow me @LevelOneWonk on Twitter for RPG commentary, relevant retweets, and maybe some rambling. You can also find our Discord channel and drop in to chat with our authors and get every new post as it comes out. Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!

A PAX East 2020 Roundup

Having a con ‘season’ of sorts is a new experience for me, with PAX East 2020 following close on the heels of PAX Unplugged 2019 (thank goodness attending South wasn’t remotely an option), meaning that I’m going into this work week pretty darn exhausted . . . and with oodles, noodles, and toaster strudels of new content to write about! Let’s talk a bit about the con at large, and then get down to the details with some games.

Continue reading A PAX East 2020 Roundup

System Hack: Cyberpunk Chimera Gear and Resources

It is time once again for System Hack! Last time we took a look at the Cyberpunk Chimera, we thought about character creation and saw a lot of things come together. Now, we’re examining one of the more emblematic elements of a near-future or modern RPG: the gear. Cyberpunk 2020 was more than fine with giving players access to all sorts of goodies, like gatling shotguns, net guns, and various high-caliber borg droppers with recoil so powerful you needed cyberarms just to wield them. There was also plenty of other equipment detailed, from electronics to vehicles to cosmetics, not to mention the cyberware. Most of this equipment was either finely detailed (weapons, vehicles) or not detailed at all (pretty much anything that wasn’t implantable, driveable, or could kill people). So when building out a new system and looking at equipment, we need to ask the question: What actually matters?

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You Got To Get These Bits: Why You Should Listen To Critical Bits

“Welcome to Heavendale, a City of Clouds.”

We’re about to get REAL weird. And you’re gonna enjoy every moment of it.

In a world suffocating with podcasts attempting to become the next Critical Role/High Rollers/Adventure Zone, it becomes so unique for an RPG actual play that is so unapologetically its own thing. That doesn’t desire to replicate Matthew Mercer’s NPC acting skills, but can make you feel as immersed in the world through sheer personality. A podcast that can make you revolted in the best way, but also tug on your heartstrings like a lute player, oftentimes in the same sentence. A podcast that is about the characters, not the situations they often encounter. Although those situations are pretty good too. A podcast that involves superheroes, body horror, and corndogs all in equal measure.

This is Critical Bits. And it is my favorite RPG podcast in the world.

Continue reading You Got To Get These Bits: Why You Should Listen To Critical Bits

The Helios Conspiracy

The Colonia Revolutionary War is over. The Barony’s colonial administrators are dead, and the remains of its Expeditionary Army are scattered. A new and hopeful Republic rises. But the peace is uneasy, Colonia’s industry stands idle, and the mysteries of the revolution hang heavily in the air. Now, at the world-renowned Helios Grand Hotel, a meeting of Colonia’s most powerful players has been set. Here they will find their place in a new order — whether through negotiation, subterfuge, or force of arms. But it will take more than words or even weapons to win the game. Knowledge is power.”

Whether you prefer cracking puzzles or would rather be wheeling and dealing to shift the balance of power, there’s a little something for everyone in The Helios Conspiracy megagame/escape room experience from Liveware Lab!

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Kickstarter Wonk Redux: Zinequest Wonk

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.

Continue reading Kickstarter Wonk Redux: Zinequest Wonk

The Independents: Trophy

At the end of 2018, The Gauntlet released “Dark 2”, the December issue of their zine Codex. Within that volume was a game by Jesse Ross called Trophy. Trophy was based on Cthulhu Dark by Graham Walmsley, adapted with the dice mechanic from Blades in the Dark. But listing out a series of games which were hacked down the road into Trophy doesn’t give the game quite enough credit. Trophy is, like the best games coming out of the OSR, a reflection and deconstruction of the dungeoneering/ adventuring trope. In Trophy, the adventurers are treasure hunters, following in the footsteps of so many games that came before. In Trophy Dark they are doomed, and their doom comes through a sequence of narrative steps, or rings. In Trophy Gold they are bound by their own debts, and must keep going deeper until they can pay what they owe.

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Masks: A New Generation and the Possibilities of Trans Narratives

If you read my last article (come on, check it out, I’m pretty proud) you know that Powered By The Apocalypse has a queer fandom. What’s more, you likely know that when it comes to RPGs, none appeal to me more than Masks: A New Generation. It utilizes a picture perfect narrative system while weaving it together with the trials and tribulations of being a fledgling superhero who also happens to struggle with the whole teenager thing. I frigging’ love it!  It’s my favorite RPG system.

Hey, you don’t gotta take my word for it. This site has quite a few cool articles on the system I’d seriously recommend giving a read. Now, what I’m here for today is to tackle the systems of Masks in-depth from a perspective inspired by the Masks actual play podcast, Unlabelled. Unlabelled is a Masks podcast set in the Phoenix Academy playset (think Sky-High or My Hero Academia). While I had been dying for a podcast of that playset for months, what truly drew my attention hook, line, and sinker was the fact that the entire cast, both in and out of the game, was comprised of trans women. I love to see myself in my favorite hobby, and I adore to see myself in my favorite game.

During the character creation segment of the podcast, one of the players jokingly referred to the Transformed playbook as the “TRANS-formed”. A lot of trans folx have already noticed this with the archetype, and I briefly touched upon it in my last article, but the Transformed hits on many of the same beats of the trans experience.

Being changed and coming to terms with that.

Discrimination for standing out cos you’re not the same as everyone else.

People not understanding how you feel.

But that got me thinking. If the Transformed, an archetype based on youthful experience, could be so easily a metaphor for a trans narrative, why not all the playbooks? And I thought about it. And I thought. And I thought.

And this article is what came of it. So sit back, grab a drink and let’s dive into: Masks: A Trans Generation.

Continue reading Masks: A New Generation and the Possibilities of Trans Narratives

Kickstarter Wonk: February, 2020

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.

Continue reading Kickstarter Wonk: February, 2020