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.
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.
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?
Capitalism, ho! All the so-called fame and glory go to the adventurers, heading out into the wilderness to fight the monsters threatening the town. That’s not the life for the likes of you and me, though. After all, what happens to all that gold they loot from the monsters’ lairs? They have to spend it on more gear to fight more monsters, and someone ends up with that gold in their pocket for good. Might as well be us! So let’s put our shiniest inventory on display, hire some hawkers, and make a profit off of the local heroes . . . and if they never come back, well, they won’t exactly be asking for a refund, now will they? This is Bargain Quest, a game of adventure and capitalism from Designer Jonathan Ying, Artist Victoria Ying, and publisher Renegade Game Studios!
The strong increase in popularity of Dungeons and Dragons brought about both by the increased accessibility of D&D’s Fifth Edition as well as the growth of the nascent streaming and actual play communities has meant that there are a whole lot of people getting introduced to D&D. Now that this growth has been going on for a few years, there is burgeoning realization that role-playing games as a medium are capable of a lot more than dungeon crawls and Tolkien derivatives. This is great news for everyone, right? We all know there’s a whole world of RPGs out there, from the big glossy traditional games to indie zines and everything in between. Well, something’s getting lost in translation for some, and in the #dnd world on Twitter you’ve likely seen questions like this:
“How can I make John Wick in D&D?”
“What can you do to run Star Trek in D&D?”
“It would be really cool if I could run Harry Potter in D&D!”
Fortunately, these all have easy answers: Don’t, please don’t, and I don’t think it would.
“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.
Sometimes it’s not about slaying monsters, or resource acquisition, or worker placement, or even building railroad lines. Sometimes a board game is about relaxing with friends and loved ones, taking it easy and having a good time doing something as simple as watching the flowers grow. I’m working through the list of board games I came across and snagged copies of at PAX Unplugged 2019, and I decided something like that would be just the thing to start. Place tiles, build a beautiful array of twisting vines, and watch the flower (pieces) bloom with Trellis, a game of zen and blossoms designed by Teale Fristoe, illustrated by Vikki Chu, and published by Breaking Games!
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.
As I’ve wandered into the Indie Frontiers this past year, I’ve heard tales of a fabled place where indie RPG designers gather from across the land: Big Bad Con. This yearly tabletop and LARP convention is hosted in Walnut Creek, CA, a short seven hour drive from my home in Los Angeles. I had never been to an RPG convention before, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. I left LA with a backpack full of dice and a mission—a mission to interview as many up-and-coming indie RPG designers as I could find.
Today’s interviewees: Taylor LaBresh, Suzanne Schenewerk, Justin Ford, Adam Vass, Sidney Icarus, and Charles Simon.
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.