The RPG Crowd 3


So, the big news this time is the launch yesterday of Forbidden Lands, the fantasy game combining an old school feel and the modern dice mechanics of Mutant: Year Zero (and Coriolis). It launched with a modest SEK100,000 target (very roughly £10,000) at 1pm my time, and by the time I went to bed, fans had already pledged seven times that amount. This morning as I write, 1033 have pledged, and we’re not even 24 hours into the campaign.

I’ve kicked in, I was backer 108.

The creators, buoyed by the love demonstrated for Tales from the Loop, have once again gone for the eighties nostalgia market. This fantasy epic isn’t set in the eighties though, rather it’s the sort of “wilderness hexcrawl” campaign we all used to play in the eighties, but with the sort of props that weren’t available, at least not to me as a teenager. The campaign map is the sort of open world, bordered by impassable mountains that I might have spent ages drawing out on a sheet of A3, using minimal colour for fear of messing it all up. This one though is full colour and comes with stickers that allow you to place villages, castles and dungeons wherever your players discover them. In the book, the illustrations have an eighties black and white feel and, for Scandinavians at least, will press a particular nostalgia button, as they are actually from early Swedish games.

Player characters start as what we have since come to call “murder-hobos” – amoral adventurers out to seek their fortune, but there are mechanics which will encourage them to build communities rather than just kill goblins and steal their treasure.

One of the first RPGs I ever noticed on Kickstarter was Numenera, from Monte Cook Games. It looked lovely, the illustrations and descriptions evoked Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun.  I didn’t kick in, it has a d20 resolution system that doesn’t press my buttons. It was a a big success despite my abstinence, and Mote Cooke Games have launched a series of well received campaigns since, most recently the deluxe game Invisible Sun. Now they are back for a second bite of the Numenera apple. This campaign funds the publication of two new core books, Discovery, which revises and replaces the original core book (though the promise none of changes make that book or supplements obsolete), and Destiny, which offers additional rules about building communities (rather than just killing … erm Philethis? and stealing their treasure).

To celebrate this new aspect to the game, the Kickstarter campaign has a fun feature wherein backers can help develop the community of Ellomyr, which will feature in another book, The Trilling Shard, as they say in the campaign page “Will it become a thriving city that offers a safe and bright future for Ninth World citizens or will it be lost to the darkness and dangers that threaten it? We’ll only know when this campaign is completed.”


Another quickly funded project is Cavaliers of Mars, from veterans Onyx Path. This is an intriguing take of Burroughs style Planetary Romance that starts with the premise “if Mars has canals it must have Venice!” Using a vaguely Cortex+ style dicepool system, called DEIMOS, it promises a swashbuckling style of play evoking “classic flight scene such as those in The Adventures of Robin Hood, Scaramouche, and The Princess Bride.” I admire their ambition. I’m very tempted and will at least check out the QuickStart rules.


Tiny Dungeon, the simple, quick almost pick up and play fantasy RPG, is funding a second edition, with some nice illustration like that above.

Netflix’s lawyers might be writing to the guys behind Survive This!! Dark Places and Demogorgons, “an OSR RPG set in the 1980s where you play as teenagers from a small town where strange occurrences began popping up all around.” If they do, let’s hope they do so in the way they did to the Stranger Things pop-it bar in Chicago

I’ve never heard of Battlelords of the 23rd Century, but apparently there have already been six editions, the seventh is kickstarting, and with 42% funding, at the time of writing, if you are a fan, they could do with your support. 


I’m not into cyberpunk games, but Identeco looks like one that uses the future to explore today’s issues. The art is inconsistent, but I love the image above.

Finally, I’m taking a punt on what will be the next big thing after Swedish games: Danish games! I have no idea what this game is about, it’s all in Danish, and my Norwegian friends tell me Danish is so difficult even Danes don’t understand it. But if you do, check it out. 

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The RPG Crowd, again

Time for another survey of what’s happening in the RPG scene on Kickstarter. Since my last post on the subject over a month ago, campaigns have come and gone, for example the well-regarded OSR SF game, Stars Without Number, funded a full colour revised edition. I also know that at least one reader of this blog went and backed a game, Spire,  after reading about it in that post.

So I should remind all readers that inclusion here is not a recommendation. I’m just bringing the games to your attention. I am not equipped to review the games, or, perhaps more importantly to make an assessment on the risk of backing any particular project. I’ve been lucky (and sometimes been the beneficiary of good judgement, I chose not to back Far West for example) – the projects I’ve backed have all delivered, if not on time, then not too late. But I am aware of many projects that have delivered only promises, and people who have written-off the money they contributed.

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I hope that Westbound won’t meet the same fate as Far West. This is a genre mash-up like that game, merging the Wild West with the fantasy races of Tolkien and D&D. (I’ll save my rant about how D&D is already a Western for another post.) It features an interesting poker based task resolution system, and its stretch goals seem to be mostly bespoke poker decks for the various character classes. There’s a free basic quickstart available, if you want to play before pledging.

A fun Fate world, Henchmen, offers players the opportunity to play baddies. I know of one GM looking for a campaign like this, so I’ll draw it to his attention. It’s already met its very modest goal, so I wish the producers luck and hope they’ll go on to bigger and better things.

Talking of modesty, alarm bells are ringing over my next project, Superhero 2044. The creator behind this is not modest, seeking $100,000 for a game that appears to be not much more than a concept and some (admittedly nice looking) 3D renders of figures. Lets start there. Plenty of RPGs get more than $100,000, but very few ask for that much. 7th Sea got over $1.3million, but only asked for $30k. Fate Core only sought $3k! Sleeper hit of this year’s Gencon and multiple Ennie award winner, Tales from the Loop, did ask for 100,000 … Swedish Kroner. That’s just $12,000 in your yankee money. “Aha” I hear you retort “but this game comes with figures! Kickstarter company CMON just sought $400,000 for their Rising Sun boardgame.” Yeah, but their first KS project, Zombiecide asked for a mere $12k. Where’s your history of game production success? Actually where is it? I see your history on KS has been three unsuccessful projects. I fear this one will be number four. I have much more I could say about reading this particular campaign ciritally, but is is meant to be a generally positive piece. If anybody want to hear the works, nudge me.

**Update 19/9/8 It seems that the day after I published this post, the creator cancelled the $100,000 campaign, and replaced it with one for a mere $100. It achieved that target quickly. I still have doubts.

Moving on, there are a couple of other brave attempts that I hope won’t dishearten their creators if they fail, but I don’t expect them to succeed: Six Sided System needs more work; Raids should focus on making the core product more compelling, to a wider audience, rather than trying to sell badges, tee-shirts and custom dice to their relatively small audience.

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On the other hand, the people behind Sins, seem to have worked hard to get their product developed before bringing it to Kickstarter. The game itself is not my cup of tea, a White Wolf inspired post-apocalyptic, sentient zombies vs hivemind zombies world, but their professionalism seems second to none. Their campaign gives the impression that everything is done – development, playtesting, writing, illustration, layout and pre-production. All they need to deliver in November is printing and distribution. They’ve been rewarded with almost four times their original target already. They say they want this to be just the first release of many. I wish them well in that ambition.

Vanagard

A quick mention of the RPG/boardgame hybrid Vanagard, which looks to be a lovingly produced family game of anthropomophic (furry) Vikings, is all I have time for before putting this post (and myself) to bed. I count six more RPGs I’ve not mentioned, which I hope will feature in my next most on the subject, in a couple of weeks.

#RPGaDay How do I find out about new RPGs?

One of the wonderful illustrations by Rich Longmore from Bully Pulpit’s Night Witches

I follow my favourite publishers, of course – and those are (currently) Pelgrane Press, Evil Hat, Chaosium, Fria Ligan, Modiphius and (to a lesser extent) Pinnacle – but that doesn’t help me find the truly new RPGs, really. While I’m not a fan of separating out the whole “indy” scene (lets face it, apart from Hasbro’s WoC and Asmodee’s FFG, every RPG company, even those I listed above, is “indy”), there is a stream of really excellent work coming out of very small one and two person companies that can get drowned out by the publicity machines of the bigger players. There are many of them, and their reach, publicity wise, relies on networks and serendipity. I would hang out at The Forge but, I’m not a creator, and I don’t have time to get involved in alpha testing. What I want to hear about have got to be close to becoming finished products.

And of course, I have to admit that there are many games out there I’m not interested in. The access to the market enjoyed by individuals is better than it’s ever been, but that does mean that some individuals can waste my time with games that are either not very good, or not to my taste. So I want a curated experience.

And I’m finding that Kickstarter is that curated experience. Lots of people complain that what started as a way for artists to seek patronage has become merely an escrow account for pre-orders, and some complain when established companies who should simply manage their money better come shaking the begging bowl for their next production. But I don’t mind any of that, if its a way to manage risk, then any sensible company should consider it.

Using Kickstarter though, does not just mitigate risk, it also crowdsources feedback on nascent projects, it shapes projects before they launch on the site but also afterwards as, backers in vest not just their money but also their time, commenting and sharing the project among their own networks.  It brings projects that might, in the old days, have sold a few dozen copies to a potential audience of thousands. It brings projects to my attention that I might never have heard of.

For example, one of the first RPGs I backed, in 2014, was Night Witches. I haven’t played it yet – at the time I was playing with a group that included 40-odd year old men, undergraduate students and one 13 year old girl and the idea of getting them to play lesbian lovers on the eastern front creeped me out – but I really want to. It doesn’t matter if I don’t though, because I get a warm feeling knowing that I helped turn an idea into a great, beautifully illustrated (see above) book.

Of course there are plenty of projects that I don’t support (I’m not made of money). I remember being interested in Monte Cooke’s Numanera, the illustrations and backstory for which were reminiscent of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun. But in the end I decided it wasn’t for me, because mechanically it wasn’t bringing anything new to my gaming life. Instead I went for a far more innovative, experimental, risky project that paid off: Autstralian Phil Day’s SoL. There’s something about all the discussions, videos and previews etc that surround a Kickstarter project that enables potential customers to make an informed decision on such matters. Other projects I might decide not to support at the time, but look forward to buying when it reaches retail. One such is Fate, which didn’t exactly need my support – it did so well you can now pay what you want (including nothing) for the PDF.

If I have one problem with Kickstarter, its that it doesn’t have a category for RPGs. Instead I have to flick through the tabletop gaming category to see whats new. That’s the reason I’ve started what I hope will be a regular fortnighly column on my blog, pulling together and sharing the new RPG rulesets.

The RPG Crowd

The cover of the quickstart adventure offered by the creators of Legacy: Life among the Ruins

This is the first in a regular series of posts where I survey Kickstarter (to begin with – other crowd-sourcing sites might also be included in future posts) to pull out what’s happening in the tabletop RPG sector. Kickstarter has contributed to a golden age for roleplayers, enabling translations foreign language games like current fave Coriolis, reissues and updates of classics like Unknown Armies, and opportunities for new games to reach a broad market. I’m going to be looking at RPG rulesets, generally not accessories, mini-figures or boardgames, though occasionally one or two of those will catch my interest enough to get featured.

My writing about anything here is not an endorsement, neither to I plan to dissuade you from supporting anything. I’m just bringing things that look interesting to your attention – its entirely up to you to make the decision whether or not to kick in. Personally having bought already too many games to play, I’m hoping that these blog posts will scratch my Kickstarter itch, without me having to buy anything.

Lets kick off with two British RPGs. Spire is apparently “D&D crossed with Unknown Armies” set in an urban distopia, you play Dark Elves, rebelling against your High Elf overlords. Rules are tightly bound with setting, and seem to involve a d10, pool-based resolution with echoes of Cortex plus. It comes from Rowan Rook and Decard, indie developers you might have heard of with games like Unbound and One Last Job under their belt. Already funded with twenty days to go, its not for me, but definitely one to check out.

Next up is Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, which feels like a cross between Mutant: Year Zero and Pendragon.  It’s “powered by the Apocalypse”, which is to say it uses mechanics from Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. Those who have played PbtA games before will be used to the idea of creating characters by picking up a playbook, making a few choices then getting stuck into the game. In this game you pick up two playbooks, one for your family, and another for each character you play during the decades long, generational saga. This is a second edition, the first having been Kickstarted as a PDF or  Print on Demand product a couple of years back. This version, which includes updates to the rules, is looking to be co-published with Modiphius to get it into gaming stores. You can download a quickstart adventure from DriveThru if you want to check it out. The KS campaign has almost doubled its target with 27 days to go.

Some of the lovely illustration from Paladin

Speaking of Pendragon, Nocturnal Media are fundraising for Paladin, which applies the same, tried and tested game-system to a more historical period, the reign of Charlemagne. My friends and I have played a single campaign of Pendragon for more than 30 years, so of today’s crop of Kickstarters, this one is the most tempting to me. I don’t think I’d get it for myself, but I’m considering buying it as a gift for our GM. There’s one one thing putting me off. I’m still waiting for the late delivery of a project from the same company, and very sadly the hard-working powerhouse behind Nocturnal, Stewart Wieck, died unexpectedly at just 49 last month. His brother and colleagues have vowed to deliver everything Wieck had promised across a number of projects, but they have their work cut out for them. Stewart had this Kickstarter campaign for PALADIN ready to launch at the time of his death, and many people in their position might have thought it better to cancel or at least postpone the project. But Stewart left behind his wife and four sons, and his brother Steve and colleagues are determined to see this project and all the outstanding ones through for the benefit of backers and Stewart’s surviving family. The illustrations and design so far look lovely, and even if I don’t back it, I wish Nocturnal every success. It doesn’t look like they’ll need my help though, its already almost 500% funded with 28 days to go.

I am soooo not an otaku and even when enjoy anime its rarely (never, to be honest) of the “monstergirl” genre. But if you are, then Heroines of the First Age might just be what you are looking for. Another PbtA game, you play monsters (female or male) at the dawn of creation, everything is fresh and exciting and like many PbtA games the players get to define the world alongside the GM. In fact backers get to design a world too. In an interested conceit, the creators are “putting together a kind of campaign right here on Kickstarter. We’ll be writing and revealing more story and characters as we go and at each stage, Your vote decides who prevails!” With twenty days to go, they are comfortably almost five times over their modest $1000 target. The final product will be PDF and Print on Demand via DriveThru.

Another such Print on Demand game is Gaslight Victorian Fantasy, a setting for Savage Worlds. This is, if you like, the unlicensed RPG of Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but with more fantasy races – Dr Moreau’s Beastmen are joined by Ratlings, Pixies, Ratlings and Wildlings. It’s not my cup of tea, but this is the third edition of the game, and its already funded, so at least 98 people enjoy it. 🙂

There are plenty of other historical eras available in Dark Eras 2, for the Chronicles of Darkness RPG. Vampire the Masquerade was the defining game of the 90s, it spawned a a slew of other creature games (my favourite, in my mind the only playable one, was Mage) and the World of Darkness, which tied them all together. Ill-advised ventures into TV and MMORPGs, left the original publisher a shadow of its former self, and intellectual property was passed around. World of Darkness became New World of Darkness and then Chronicles of Darkness. Following the lead set by Vampire: The Dark Age, this book offers historical settings for the whole family of games. Be a ghost or werewolf during the First World War; a vampire or demon in revolutionary France; a Renaissance Mage; an ancient greek faerie or promethean; a Qing Dynasty hunter or Mummy; or a Vampire living the 1001 nights. For many years Onyx path have eschewed retail channels, and relied on PDF and PoD, so if you want a properly printed book for this, Kickstarter is the only way to get it. There are just eight days left, and the project is fully funded.

Cards from the Axiom system used by Revolutionaries

Another campaign with just a few days to go, only four in fact, is Revolutionaries. In this game you get to take on the role of plucky British Redcoats, working to defend the colonies from terrorist… hold on, no… This is an American game, you take on the role of “Culper” spies, commissioned by George Washington to work against the British. And of course it turns out that behind the Tyrannical Brits, dark supernatural forces may be at work. It looks to have an interesting and different card based character creation/resolution system, that I’d like to explore more. Its got some of the big names behind the aforementioned Vampire: the Masquerade behind it, so I’m surprised that as of writing, this is several hundred dollars short of being funded. I’m really tempted to kick in.

Finally, another game with a short deadline. The Great Rift is a campaign setting and deep space rules expansion for perennial favourite Traveller. If you fancy a more Star Trek style of game, exploring new worlds and civilisations, but in the Third Imperium, then this set might be what you need. There’s a Deep Space exploration supplement, with new rules, and new ships, capable of exploring the Rift, as well as four new sectors with maps and at least two adventures. All in a boxed set. This one is funded, with stretch goals.