Category Archives: The Independents

Reviews of tabletop role-playing games created by independent and small publishers!

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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The Independents: Troika: Permian Nations

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?

Apparently, dinosaurs.

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#iHunt Review

“Hitting close to home” is not necessarily a goal of most game design. When meditating on the dominance of D&D, one could logically conclude that being as far away from home as possible is what people are into these days, even when that particular brand of fantasy is getting a bit creaky. It’s striking, then, that a game about disenfranchised gig economy workers would make such a big splash on DriveThruRPG, already in the top 10% of all products on the site after only a month. I should mention, though, that this is a game about disenfranchised gig economy workers hunting monsters. The game of course is #iHunt, and its writing and agenda are backed up with a thoughtful and rather complex adaptation of the Fate system. Written by Olivia Hill and Filamena Young, #iHunt takes place in the dark future that is modern society…and very few serial numbers are filed off.

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Unplugged Independents: Weave: Storytelling Redefined

Pick a card, any card, any card at all . . . and it’ll tell you what kind of story you’re in and what your characters can do. Despite walking around a convention with Unplugged in the name, there were a fair number of plugged-in offerings. It could actually be called one of the motifs of the convention: games crossing the border between physical and digital games (going both ways), digital enhancements to traditional games, and games that blend the two from the foundation up. Among the latter is Weave: Storytelling Redefined, a game that’s half tarot, half roleplay, and all story.

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The Independents: Five Torches Deep

The real trouble with edition changes, once you get past the nit-picking, is the missed experiences. Different editions of a game can offer very unique things to their players, but die-hard fans of the older variety miss out on the active ecosystem of the current edition, while newer players miss out on the playstyle of older dungeon delving that they might very well love. Stepping in to bridge the gap is Five Torches Deep from Jessica and Ben Dutter and Sigil Stone Publishing, a “streamlined adventure game combining the best mechanics and principles of 5e, the OSR, and modern game design.” So how bright does FTD  shine? Let’s go chapter by chapter to find out!

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The Independents: Afterlife: Wandering Souls

“Welcome to the Tenebris. You died and something went wrong. You were meant to ascend to heaven, walk the path of reincarnation, be food for worms—that did not happen. Instead, you took a solemn boat ride across darkened water with other lost souls. Desperately trying to retain memories from your former life, you realised you died and cannot go back. The light at the end of the watery tunnel revealed an endless desert, known by its inhabitants as the Tenebris—the dark.” You’ll have to fight against the death of hope, find your own memories and learn about your own past, and find your way to the true Beyond in Afterlife: Wandering Souls from Angry Hamster Publishing!

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The Independents: Undying

I have a confession to make: I’m a fan of vampires in fiction. I honestly think that they are an excellent concept in supernatural action and horror, largely due to much of their mythos having easy ties to profound themes such as seduction, addiction, lost innocence, alienation, and the loss of humanity. Toss in a large chunk of my formative years suffused with badass supernatural bloodsuckers brought to life in films such as Blade, Underworld, Interview with the Vampire, and Queen of the Damned (plus TV shows such as Buffy, Angel and Hellsing) and you get a player who, even now, gets giddy at the chance to play in a game with a vampire focus. So when I find out that the company that is both behind my favorite Powered by the Apocalypse game (Masks) and already knows how to do horror well (Bluebeard’s Bride) already has such a game on the shelf…well, I couldn’t stay away. Which is what has brought me to Undying by Magpie Games.

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The Independents: Heroic Dark

“Your world will fall unless you risk it all. Are you ready to collaboratively design a world you must defend? Create powerful characters destined to fight the ever-present Darkness? Solve challenges, fight battles, and risk death and injury to save the realm? Heroic Dark is a build-your-own setting game about heroes defying the forces of darkness that threaten their world. The GM and players work together to tell a one-of-a-kind story about danger, sacrifice, and hopefully victory.” The odds are against you. The ending is uncertain. But if this opening pitch catches your eye, then you might find yourself one of those brave enough to fight the good fight in a setting of your own making with Heroic Dark!

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The Independents: For the Queen

There she stands on high mountain, overlooking her domain: My Queen, my Love, the woman who will kill me. I know she has planned my end, yet still I love her with every ragged shred of my darkened heart. No matter how hard she tries, she will not find peace while I yet live. My death will sever the line of inheritance of the Duchess, and quell her rival’s ambition. Perhaps when I lay still this war will end, and she may remove her cloak and veil and rest easy on the throne she has always deserved. Yet for now there is one more path to walk…

Welcome to For the Queen, a storytelling game of political machinations, dark history, and undying love. Put on your travelling boots, sharpen your sword, and keep an eye out for skulking figures in the night as you follow your liege on a fateful journey to broker peace.

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The Independents: Dust Bowl Galaxy

You are in a tin can with half a dozen other scoundrels and there is literally nothing outside for light years. You are tumbling through a bitter galaxy that used to have a lot more people. You are going where many others have gone before. The trick is surviving to come back. You are looking for a new rock for your people to call home. And once you find it, the refugees can leave their overcrowded slums to become settlers so you get rich doing the right thing – just this once. On an unrelated note, you are not pirates. “Not in this port, officer.” Such is the world of a space western game with quick-shooting dice, details in the cards, and a wrecked and dangerous universe to rediscover: Dust Bowl Galaxy by Ilya Bossov and Lagging Dice LLC! Continue reading The Independents: Dust Bowl Galaxy