Kickstarter’s annual Zine Quest is live for the third year, with projects reminiscent of old school tabletop roleplaying games, like early D&D.
Dungeons & Dragons veterans may recall that the first version of the game was a set of three simple pamphlets. They were staple-bound sheets of paper folded in half, and together they encompassed the entirety of what would become the juggernaut of the TTRPG industry nearly 40 years later. During the pandemic, as sales of D&D 5e rise and next-gen video game consoles have launched, the “zine” format has not only survived, but thrived.
Kickstarter’s third annual Zine Quest (ZQ3) has surged in popularity as new gamers have entered the market and begun looking for new games to play. The Old School Revival (OSR) is based on the idea of taking D&D back to its roots, to simple rules and deadly encounters. Meanwhile, story games like Apocalypse World and its Powered by the Apocalypse (PBTA) offspring have created an alternative world of games.
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What both types have in common is a home-brewed design, with low costs and high innovation. With average costs of $15, fans can splurge and receive several games for the price of a single 5e splatbook. Zine Quest 3 runs through the end of February and several projects have already completed, but many have just begun their sprint to funding.
Several ZQ3 projects have been tied to the cult of Mörk Borg, an apocalyptic and feverish OSR from Fria Ligan and Stockholm Cartel. Other entrants include Errant by Ava Islam, a brand new ruleset for fantasy RPGs that bills itself as “rules-light, procedure-heavy.” The “procedures” essentially create meaningful decisions for players at every turn, while keeping the time between those decisions to a minimum.
Once players have invested in a game like Errant, they might need some more monsters to chuck at players. For that, there’s Lethal Fauna Bric-a-Brac, which includes 16+ brand new creatures that can be used in any fantasy RPG. Designed with OSR games in mind, the odd fauna can transfer to D&D 5e too. There’s The Honeyglum, “a sticky, cowardly honeycomb golem maddened by voices and pursued by bees,” and the Alchemical Yak-Men, a “transmuted, philanthropic cattle endowed with human intelligence and chemical knowledge.” Bring out these oddities to really surprise a party.
Speaking of strange creatures, 3DIE6: A Dungeon Creepy-Crawler Roleplaying Game takes players to The Shimmer, where they can play as warrior insects who must ward off the many terrible and strange threats to their people. The game has rules for solo play, or it can be played as a one-shot. Either way, it’s designed for “fun and mayhem,” because if there’s one thing that bugs are known for, it’s dying — and die the characters will. 3DIE6 has a “funnel adventure” angle to it, in which characters die as they delve into a dungeon, only to be replaced by fresh new characters. Kris McClanahan’s art style and the original setting make this one a steal for $20 that includes both the core rules and the “Egg Hunt” adventure zine.
3DIE6 is only somewhat unusual for having solo rules, as the solo RPG genre has exploded during the pandemic. ZQ3 features many new games designed exclusively for solo play. Some are journaling games, some use a Jenga tower and others, like Apothecaria by Anna Blackwell, use a deck of cards. Inspired by farming games like Stardew Valley and Studio Ghibli Films, Apothecaria players find ingredients for and brew potions and other remedies for the poor villagers, adventurers and monsters who need their help. Players are guided along their solitary way through the story to find reagents with random encounters and new locales — hopefully while moving fast enough to help their patients.
Even farther from the d20 OSR scene is the “GM-full” game for 2-3 players called Tension by Adira Slattery. It’s a “dark comedy thriller romance” of a game based around a tarot deck, in which the players collectively create (and sometimes kill) 22 characters in the process of tracking a murderer. Based on shows like Killing Eve and Hannibal, Tension is simple enough to play in a few hours, and since it only requires 2-3 people, could also be the perfect changeup for a cold pandemic Friday night.
Another game that could shift perceptions is A Loud Noise in a Quiet Place, a game about temporary hearing loss. A Loud Noise is a “reflective and introspective game for two people.” Based on author Marx Shepherd’s experience with temporary hearing loss, the game plays in scenes, in which sounds, either heard or misheard, define the story. Designed to be fully accessible, this game’s original premise and mechanics should make it an award contender.
Of course there are many more Zine Quest projects out there. There’s The Door Locks Behind You, a Zelda-style dungeon puzzler, Have You Heard about the Beast, a world-building game in which all the tall tales are true, and The Sun’s Ransom, where players are vampires who must save the sun. There are even zines that are full of other games, like d36, a quarterly zine full of tables, micro games, spells for OSR games and much more.
Zine Quest is a great chance to find favorite new writers, artists and designers, and to support them and get well-made products in return. It only lasts through the end of February, so better get on board now.
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