Many play fantasy RPGs for escapism. Could even call it power fantasies. A world where things that we could never imagine seeing in reality are as commonplace as rain falling from the sky. Dragons breathing flames. Gods that walk the land as if they were anything else of the world. Relics of grand, divine power. But it’s not just that. In these worlds, the characters we create are important. They’re important in shaping, travelling and influencing the fantastical world around them. It’s not only that they are powerful figures and beings. It’s that what they do matters. That creates an issue, however. What does “actions that matter” mean? Sure, you could slay some grand old Lich and raid their tomb/lair. But what does that mean when you’ve done it a thousand times. Sure, you forge the dragon’s scales into a set of armor. But when you can take an arrow straight through your bare chest and laugh, why do you need the armor other than as a rather intricate piece of jewelry?
This is the issue of fantasy games. Your characters are strong, yes. They can make big changes, yes. But what does it matter if the world will always have more dragons. Always have more giants. Always have something else for you to fight. Does it really matter if the rules simply don’t account for this rise to prominence within the world itself. This feeling resulted in me feeling a tad burnt out on fantasy RPGs. It began to feel hollow to slay yet another walking skeleton, despite reassuring myself it mattered. I moved towards superhero games such as Masks or more relationship and character based fantasy games, such as Thirsty Sword Lesbians.
However, recently I picked up a new RPG. And reading through it, I discovered something that I had been searching so long for but never found. I discovered a fantasy world where you are powerful, but not for the sake of power. You are powerful to unseat the corrupt and decadent rulers of the world within it. It’s a game where the Bards of the system can sway the masses with rules to accompany it. A game where you can stare down beasts of heaven and hell without blinking, because you know blinking would lead to your own downfall. It’s a game where you’re powerful to make change.
This is Karanduun. And with it, you will make Gods bleed.
In a world of dazzling magic, airships, and gunpowder, the Empire forged in conquest and slavery stretches sea to sea. But the core of its heart is rotten, and a revolution is brewing in the underbelly of its floating capital. How many rebels does it take to bring the whole House Huffington down? Time to draw some cards, recall some memories, and swash some buckles as we swing into action with Dashing Scoundrels, a “high-heavens, gunpowder and airships world of dazzling magic where players are rebels and pirates undermining a corrupt empire by performing heists and swashbuckling shenanigans,” brought to us by Ilya Bossov and Lagging Dice LLC!
Oftentimes in combat within tabletop roleplaying games, the dealing of damage and conservation of health points seems to be all that matters. The concept of getting in your hits and hoping to all hope that it’s more harm than the opponent gets in. It often treats opponents in the game as a roadblock, similar to video games. “You must get past me to receive more story.”
And there’s no harm in that, on the surface at least. A challenge can be enough of a motivation for fun. Strategizing and planning to surpass the foe in front of you so you can get what you want. Video games wouldn’t have made an entire industry and genre on the concept if it didn’t work. But, sometimes you don’t want a compilation of stats and HP. Sometimes you want an enemy you can empathize with. An enemy who has motivations, internal strife/virtues and a personality that makes you feel so many conflicting emotions about them. Above all, that’s it. You want a foe you can feel for. People in real life, no matter how detestable and wretched, are rarely as binary in “100% good or bad”. Like the saying goes: People contain multitudes.
While nearly every RPG can be used to achieve this goal of a complex and nuanced villain, I’ve yet to meet one that incentives it. A game that makes it an imperative of the message within. A game that damn near bakes it into every mechanic.
Until I played this game. When I joined the playtest for this RPG, I had such fun even in it’s beta stage. It was what I had been searching for in a fantasy RPG: a game where it’s not about how big your numbers are or the modifiers on your special sword. But about how your character feels about the world around them and people within.
Silent Falls is a small coastal town in the heart of Northern California. It’s quiet here, and since the recession a few years ago, people are not as friendly as they used to be. It’s been a rough few years for everyone. Alice Briarwood is a junior at Franklin Academy – the local high school – with a pretty decent number of acquaintances and friends, but as dawn rises on the first morning of winter break, nobody has seen or heard from Alice in three days. A friend returns to Silent Falls and reaches out, wondering at Alice’s silence, sparking off an effort by her loved ones to find her. However, this is no normal storytelling game; during play, you won’t say a word. Instead, as characters scatter across Silent Falls to find Alice, a text group chat will be the only way to tell your tale. This is Alice is Missing – A Silent Roleplaying Game.
The world can be a dark place, peopled with demons of all kinds. In XII: Inner Demons, Witch & Craft Games take the inner demons that haunt people and ask the question: but what if there were bigger demons that found that delicious? In their own words, “With the help of a ragtag band of lesser demons who certainly don’t have your best interests at heart, or perhaps another human with a kindred soul and no clue what they’re getting into, you have twelve days to confront the suffering that has been plaguing you… or face a very unfortunate end indeed.”
Combining urban horror and a punk ass-kicking aesthetic, XII: Inner Demons asks you to go on a journey to save yourself from a slavering Archdemon by traveling to personal anchors from your past. It’s also currently on Kickstarter! In the first of a series of interviews with diverse game designers, Cannibal Halfling Gaming talks to the founders of Witch & Craft Games about the past and future and some stuff in between.
There are many phenomenal tabletop roleplaying game kickstarters occurring presently, as can be seen in the latest Kickstarter Wonk article, but one that particularly stood out to me was one that centered around a very specific and intriguing concept.
Preparing For Paris is a game where you play discontinued Olympic Sports, personified as high school students, training to become once more an Olympic Sport. They will also do, as teenagers in high school are likely to do, all the humdrum of adolescence that comes with it.
I sat down with PfP’s creator, Logan, to discuss his new (and fully funded) game.
We all know the series. The one with the boy who had a scar upon his forehead. The great tale of a chosen one and their band of friends going off to challenge the far too powerful evil and bring them to reckoning. It’s a story that spawned millions of fanfictions and fanart. Millions more in profits off spin-offs and merchandise. Oh! It’s also responsible for slingshotting a violent and disgusting transphobe to having her hateful opinions validated and listened to by wide audiences and those in power.
Yes, the Harry Potter series cannot be detached from the many actions of harm done by its creator. Death of the Author is an act of cowardice when used to simply continue liking something without ever fearing being criticized for it. There’s also the fact the books themselves are far from free of her problematic ideals. Be it the depictions of Goblins and the valid issues the Jewish community brought up in how they are portrayed in relation to harmful stereotypes of them. The oppression tourism and mishandling of the topic of slavery with relation to house elves. And many, MANY more that could fill up the brim of this article.
All in all, JK Rowling is not someone anyone should try to emulate. But that leaves the question of what should be done with the books that had such an impact on so many throughout the world. Harry Potter is something we can’t simply do away with. People will have the idea of it, of how it can be done better, on their mind quite often. So, what do we do?
Well, I don’t have the answer. I’m not a smart or genius woman. The fact I just used two words that mean the same thing separately should show that. But when it comes to RPGs, we may have the answer for how to quell that Harry Potter craving without having to whip up your own homebrew. And most importantly, how you can do it better than that shoddy TERF ever could.
I miss the old days. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Things are better now, without a doubt. The Empire took everything from us that made us who we are. It ripped apart our most sacred monuments, it dismantled every part of our government that we prided ourselves in. It took our children away to be “reeducated”, they even took the spirit of the land itself away from us. But while they were directly in front of our faces, we hated them with unfettered ferocity. Before, in our old lives, you would have had a scion of a rival family that you would have been obligated to feud with for tradition’s sake. Now, they were in the work camp right next to you, swinging the same pickaxe. At the end of the day you both were literally too tired to care. The Arbiter saw that and knew what he could do with it. We were able to unite, to ignore generations of contempt for each other because our contempt for the Empire was so much greater. After bitter struggle we have at least some measure of ourselves back, but we bear scars: monuments defiled, power structures crippled, refugees who barely remember their old lives pouring back. Even the magic of the land itself has begun to forget us. But as those things are far from normal, our old rivalries have begun anew as every old faction, necessary in our struggle, now wants their voice heard. While we’re Free from the Yoke, we risk forgetting a grave truth: the Empire is still out there. It has not forgotten.
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.
Math wizards, monkeymongers, and lawyers with swords—the citizenry of the Crystal Spheres come in all shapes and sizes. Last year Aaron dove into the deep end of a fever dream and reviewed Troika, “a science-fantasy RPG in which players travel by eldritch portal, non-euclidean labyrinth, and golden-sailed barge between the uncountable crystal spheres strung delicately across the hump-backed sky.” Troika has long held the title of one of the strangest and most flavor-drenched pieces of RPG media around: with the amount of esoteric lore attached to each character, item, and spell, you might as well be playing Dark Souls on acid. Can the world handle another dose of uncut whimsy? What more could you even want from the Other World’s Favorite RPG?