The standard news may be a little quiet this week — Hasbro announces a digital convention; a senior designer leaves Wizards of the Coast — but on the crowdfunding front we take a look at some of the biggest Kickstarter campaigns of the season as they enter their final days…
What We’ve Been Playing
For the past few weeks, Amy’s been running Brindlewood Bay, The Gauntlet’s game of elderly women solving eldritch mysteries. It’s a lovely concept, binding together cosy and creepy in an interesting way, with some very clever mechanics and a great session structure. But, the truth is, we’re just not enjoying it.
The intent and function of some rules is a mystery to us. For instance, to engage with one mechanic, you’ll tick a box that might instruct you to “Narrate a flashback showing your fondest memory of your late partner,” — pretty clear — or you might tick a box that just says, “The Pomegranate Kernel” — which is never explained. Some games pull off a combination of clear rules and poetic language, but it just doesn’t gel here.
The balance also feels off: finding clues about the Eldritch Conspiracy requires such high rolls that we simply never have. And because the system lacks much support for ‘failing forward’ — something that’s pretty crucial in a mystery — the game stalls when rolls fail.
The premade mysteries consist of a few rough character sketches and abstract clues (“A wristwatch set to the wrong time,” “A cod with a rat stuffed in its mouth”) — nice tools for inspiration, but not at all helpful for preparation. It puts all the pressure on the GM to create context & detail — you are essentially trying to invent a murder mystery on the fly, with a ruleset that explicitly forbids you from deciding what really happened.
If improvisational GMing is your jam, this game is purpose-built for that, the clue-finding mechanics are neat, and the cosy-creepy setting really is a treat. But we wish the system offered more support than it does, and we probably won’t finish this game.
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Kate Welch leaves Wizards of the Coast, where she has worked since 2018, first as a game designer, and then as a senior user experience designer.
Especially after Orion Black’s departure, we’re tempted to speculate on the reasons Welch is leaving so suddenly, but there’s not much to go on. She points to a culture fit and alludes to frustrations with the game’s “piss-poor” new user experience.
It’s an interesting insight that Wizards employees are not allowed to stream tabletop games other than Dungeons & Dragons. I suppose it’s not surprising that the company keeps a tight leash on its near-monopoly of the market. — Amy
Hasbro announces Pulse Con, its first digital convention, to take place later this month.
Dungeons & Dragons is featured in the Pulse Con advert, so we could see some new stuff featured — though the last time Hasbro’s own marketing promised us a new D&D announcement, it turned out to be something that Wizards of the Coast had already announced.
New & Upcoming Releases
Wizards will release a Wilderness Kit, a collection of tools for running wilderness adventures in D&D.
WizKids announces its largest miniature ever: an ancient white dragon with a 17-inch wingspan to accompany Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden.
Pelgrane Press is playtesting The Paragon Blade, a one-on-one heroic fantasy RPG using the GUMSHOE One-2-One system.
I’m curious to see how this differs from Swords of the Serpentine — Pelgrane’s other fantasy GUMSHOE game, which is also playable one-on-one. — Amy
The Gauntlet resumes its history of licensed RPGs.
Bundles & Deals
Humble Bundle is offering a bundle of 3D-printable terrain.
Noteworthy New Projects
ORBITAL: A zine RPG about a space station, based on the No Dice, No Masters system, by Jack Harrison(Artefact) — September 8th. So far this project has raised over £11,000 ($15,000) from 1,000 backers.
Jack Harrison’s Artefact was the star of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest 2 earlier this year. It has continued to grow in reputation since then (and, with my work hat on for a second, has been one of our top sellers at Leisure Games). Meanwhile, the No Dice, No Masters system developed by Avery Alder originally for Dream Askew has been slowly growing in popularity recently (see Wanderhome, below). So this is definitely one to watch out for. It will be interesting to see how it contrasts with Black Armada’s Flotsam, which a very similar theme. — James
Flotsam doesn’t call itself “No Dice, No Masters”, but it definitely is built on Dream Askew. I love Flotsam, and I’m pretty tempted to grab this too: I’m curious to see what it will do with a similar setting and similar rules in a smaller format. — Amy
Twilight: 2000 is a reimagining of a classic post-apocalyptic game from the 1980s by current critical darlings Free League. So far this project has raised over SEK4.2m ($490,000) from 6,200 backers.
This is now Free League’s most successful Kickstarter project in terms of backers and only slightly behind their Crusader Kings board game Kickstarter project in terms of revenue, so it’s fair to say this is one of the biggest hits of the year. The company is still glowing in the success of the Alien RPG winning a heap of awards this summer, so it isn’t all that surprising. I dare say that this new edition of Twilight: 2000 looks like it could end up being more successful than any of its previous incarnations. — James
James tells me that the original Twilight RPG was pretty famous and the reason I’ve never heard of it is because I am a baby. 😜 — Amy
Wanderhome is a pastoral fantasy game about wandering animal-folk. So far this project has raised over $245,000 from 5,200 backers.
If Twilight: 2000 is the blockbuster hit of the summer, Wanderhome is the indie sleeper hit. It has been championed by both a lot of respected indie designers and influencers such as the Critical Role cast. Not bad for Jay Dragon’s second crowdfunding project. — James
It’s just so lovely. — Amy
Hellboy: The Roleplaying Game is the official 5e RPG of Mike Mignola’s popular comic book series. So far this project has raised over £253,000 ($389,000) from 4,200 backers.
This has been a relatively short campaign, but it has achieved what it set out to do. It has certainly been boosted by Mantic Games’ previous well-received Hellboy board game, and the project makes use of its predecessor by offering backers a range of attractive minis, most of which were originally designed and produced for that board game. It doesn’t seem especially innovative, but the use of the 5e OGL will certainly help make it accessible to audiences mostly only aware of D&D. — James
Dark Matter Starter Set is a beginner boxed version of the Dark Matter RPG, which describes itself as “D&D in space”. So far this project has raised over $191,000 from 2,000 backers.
There have been relatively few serious attempts at producing a space fantasy version of the 5e rules compared to the days of 3e/D20 — possibly due to the success of Starfinder. This looks like a serious attempt to produce a worthy competitor, and they have gone the right way by developing the core book before focusing on a starter set. Interestingly, the project doesn’t have a retail tier, which surprises me. — James
The Grim & Deliberate Beast is a narrative AI system for creating more intelligent seeming monsters in D&D. So far this project has raised over $191,000 from 2,000 backers.
This is the latest attempt to create more intelligent monsters in D&D, following on from The Monsters Know What They’re Doing by Keith Ammann. It seems pretty contingent on rolling on lots of d100 tables. From the examples given, it feels less like a way of giving monsters more diverse tactics in combat and more about a wider range of encounters. — James
5e & Pathfinder
To Catch A Unicorn: A 5e adventure set in an enchanted forest, by Anders “The Night Owl” Jordahl — September 10th
Lost Lands: Tehuatl: A Mesoamerican expansion for the Lost Lands, by Frog God Games (Rappan Athuk, Swords & Wizardry, Tegel Manor) — September 19th
Historically, RPGs have been pretty damaging with books like this: exoticising indigenous cultures, and incorporating racist and colonialist concepts into their settings. I wish there was some sign that Frog God was aware of that, and that it was taking steps to ensure a culturally sensitive approach to the source material. This looks like it will repeat history. — Amy
Adventure Journal: A character journal for D&D 5e, by Adventure Journal — September 19th
The Sentient Selection – A collection of sentient magic items for 5e, by Deep Dungeon Games (The Mineralogy Manual, Niwri’s Marvelous Menagerie of the Multiverse, Harold the Halfling’s Herbology Handbook: Fantastic Flora) — September 8th
Five Torches Deep: Origins: Expanded character options focused on rethinking race for the Five Torches Deep RPG, by Sigil Stone Publishing (Belly of the Beast RPG, Vagabonds of Dyfed RPG, Five Torches Deep RPG) — September 17th
Other and Generic Fantasy
Legends of Avallen: An RPG inspired by Celtic mythology about ordinary folk who rise up to become legends, by Deren Ozturk — September 20th
Over Arms: A rules-light RPG inspired by the Persona series and JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, by Rookie Jet Studio LLC — September 17th
Arium RPG: A two-part RPG, with the first part focusing on creating a world together, and the second part focused on playing stories in that world, by Adept Icarus — September 19th
I kinda like the neat, binary game concept here. — Amy
Origin of Heroes: A set of polyhedral dice for character generation, along with a set of class-focused generic miniature/tokens, by Critit.co.uk (The ‘Spirit Of’ Dice Range, Animal Companion Miniatures, STL Animal Companion Miniatures) — September 7th