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.
On New Year’s Day, 2010, the RPG hobby wasn’t feeling very lively. Dungeons and Dragons was plodding along with Fourth Edition, though a lot of players had abandoned it for Pathfinder, or, as your friends called it, “D&D 3.75e”. The New World of Darkness was out, but you were having trouble finding the new part. Shadowrun 20th Anniversary came out…but that was just Fourth Edition from 2005 with errata. Though things weren’t looking so hot, there was some interesting stuff going on. This new website Kickstarter had been causing a stir in tech news, and more and more of the games you’ve been looking for had been made available in PDF. Something’s going to change, you think.
Exploration has been baked into humanity from our earliest history. It has inspired epic journeys, discoveries and legends that have shaped us. So, of course it would seem natural that our wanderlust and thirst for the unknown would lead us deep into the reaches of space. However, with that discovery has always come an immediate complication: who owns what’s newly discovered. It wouldn’t be humanity without quarreling over it, and with an entire sector of recently settled space, you better believe that there is room to move that petty bickering to a (literally) astronomical scale, and with Mongoose’s newest splatbook, Traveller: Behind the Claw, there is material for a resourceful GM to build for years.
Sent back in time, you must save humanity from its enslavement by a godlike overlord. You must
protect John Connor stop Cthulhu! …wait. What? We’ve talked about kitchen sink games before, and this mashup definitely edges towards that territory even while sitting firmly in Lovecraft’s Mythos. If you’ve seen one too many investigator go over the brink, spent one too many hours in a briefing room with Delta Green or can’t seem to get all of these Laundry Files out of your inbox, here’s another angle on Lovecraftian Mythos: Time Travel. That’s right, it’s time to go 30 years in the past to 2020 and help change the Fate of Cthulhu.
Every successful RPG must have a strong setting or a strong ruleset. When Fantasy Flight Games hit it out of the park with their trio of Star Wars RPGs, they clearly had a strong setting. As it turned out, though, the system was pretty solid too; the Narrative Dice System had been patched to tone down the excesses of WFRP 3e, resulting in a game that was a good balance between robust and quick, and added a good amount of narrative flair and interesting in-game decisions. It was so good that people were able to overlook the expensive proprietary dice. From Star Wars came Genesys, a generic RPG which truly begs the question of whether the Narrative Dice System can succeed on mechanics alone.
This article is a log updated periodically throughout the day, and then published when complete.
Arrival: 8 AM
First of all, an update and correction from my last scouting report. While we had been warned off the changes in entrances previously, for some reason it hadn’t sunk in. For those of you taking a train in, stops around 14th -16th streets will be superior than hiking over from elsewhere. In addition, Will Call has moved from the location originally sent out by email, and is now by the entrance hall. This means that everyone is all going to the same location, which, well…
This is the sight of the entrance hall at 8:00, two hours before the con is supposed to open, and an hour before event registration was set to begin. I had already picked up my badge, and I knew where I was going to RPG registration, but I was far from the first.
To reiterate, this is an hour before registration opens. If anyone thought I was overstating the morning pileup, things look like anything but right now.
However, in spite of the backup I did it! After striking out last year, I managed to get into one of the Star Wars modules run by Fantasy Flight Gaming. There is also a neat change from last year: along with Games on Demand, people have games that they are offering to run that have been included on the docket. I am seeing some people are using it to demo games they have/are developing, which seems like a great way to generate interest and stress test.
10 AM – 2 PM
“Begun the Clone Wars Have” was a fun module, and I know enough about the system that I can see the hallmarks of a module designed for this kind of event: early rolls to get people used to the system while getting them to use resources, challenges that stretches people out of their niche followed by a finale that left two thirds of the party down for the count.
I won’t say to much about the events, because I really don’t want to spoil it for people, but I think FFG is definitely leaning into the Rise of the Separatists and Collapse of the Republic splat books on this one, and that character choices heavily come from those books: Clone Commander, ARC Trooper, Jedi Master, Jedi Padawan and Senator were all included in the group of up to 6 players with an Outlaw Tech to round it out. Considering Seamus’ work on both of these books, I was excited to play, and I think I can definitely say that a full Clone Wars campaign seems really viable. I even got to take a look at some of the squad combat rules from Rise, and they could really do nicely in an Age of Rebellion game to make being a Diplomat more interesting in combat.
As an observation, the time slot bills itself as four hours for all of the games FFG is running (also Legend of the Five Rings and Android: Shadow of the Beanstalk). My group was one of the first to let out, and the other two games were still going strong, so I would say that four hours is indeed the expected time.
Finally, I learned something cool! There is a fan community run version of Pathfinder Society for Star Wars: Legends of the Galaxy. It has a shared, generally running plotline for GMs and players, along with resources for both (including hosting the Oggdude character builder!). The creator and head of the site was actually one of the GMs, and hopefully I will get the chance to sit down with him and learn more.
Ignores his own advice, quickly scarfs down crab fries in the cafeteria while typing updates
While signing up for events, I had seen something that piqued my interest: a recently Kickstarted (though not yet released) game by the name of Zafir. It’s billed as a tactical RPG along the lines of X-COM, but set in an alternate Earth where an industrial revolution has been set off ahead of schedule with new magical ores. It sounds like an interesting idea, but I’ve signed up for a card game tournament, so I can’t stay for the whole time. Still, I manage to chat with the developer, watch character creation and plan to meet up to find out more later in the con.
There’s a cool little racket being set up in the tournament center, a soft drink tavern. You buy your mug and have free refills for the day. It’s great for people here for the whole day, especially as you get thirsty, and they seem to be making bank.
Oh, and I got bounced from my tournament in about 15 minutes. *sad trombone music*
Well, the Zafir game is still running. Fortunately, they are still in combat, and I get the chance to see how combat works over a few encounters. It seems pretty intuitive, but I hope to go over things a bit deeper in another article.
I catch Seamus between Transit sessions and check in before I prepare to leave. Yes, it’s early, but I’ve been going at this for 10 hours now, and cons are marathons and not sprints. I plan to be back tomorrow with friends, and I have the whole expo hall to explore!
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 back to System Hack! Over the last few months I’ve been slowly but surely building out elements of a Cyberpunk game, inspired by but not really based on Cyberpunk 2020. At this point, we get into the weeds. Until now, the articles published so far have all dealt with simulationist aspects of the game. That is to say, when a character in the game wants to do something, what happens? At this point, we’re going to pivot away from the characters and focus instead on the players.