There are so many excellent tabletop gaming crowdfunding projects going on right now it's hard to keep track. Check out these creator interviews, previews, and highlights from our favorites.
The award-winning 13th Age RPG is being adapted to the classic Glorantha RPG setting, a campaign world that dates back to the mid 1970s. We talked to Rob Heinsoo Games about this project.
io9: Glorantha is one of the oldest RPG settings — what keeps drawing people back to it? What's different about Glorantha?
Rob Heinsoo Games: Like JRR Tolkien, Glorantha's creator, Greg Stafford, drew on the primary sources of world mythology and the sagas rather than basing his creation on the works of other fantasy fiction authors. Glorantha is primal and pagan and uncompromising in its depiction of a world created by warring and loving gods rather than science. Each goddess and god is the hero of their own story. The heroes of Glorantha roleplaying games strive to emulate their gods, and the stories that result at Gloranthan gaming tables play out as pieces of new shared mythologies.
io9: This world has a very distinctive visual look — can you talk a bit about the art direction and capturing the proper feel of Glorantha?
Rob Heinsoo Games: Glorantha was born from our primeval mythology; similarly, its look is inspired by our own Bronze Age. It has no Vikings, no medieval knights or clerics, none of these mainstays of fantasy art. Weapons, armor, tattoos, jewelry, and decorations often serve a magico-mythic function: an obsidian sword can be far more effective against a dragon than iron, and a warrior naked but for runic tattoos can be better-defended than a soldier clad in bronze. The people of Dragon Pass are bronze-hued as well as Bronze Age, and might ride a bison or zebra instead of a horse! Glorantha's geography and even its celestial phenomena are important for many pieces - quite a few of them feature the 8 mile high mountain called Kero Fin or the Red Moon in one of its seven phases. As a result, getting the look of Glorantha right can be a challenge for many artists.
io9: How do Glorantha and 13th Age mesh? There's a lot more going on here than just applying the 13th Age rules to a new setting.
Rob Heinsoo Games: Jonathan and Rob created 13th Age the way they did partly because of what they'd learned about storytelling and roleplaying from Glorantha. The icons who shape the world and give the player characters direction from the start, the One Unique Things that drive 13th Age campaigns to legendary climaxes no one could have foretold, these are Gloranthan tropes! Our goal with the new book is to make the splendid Gloranthan tapestry of wondrous locations and mythic elements fully playable in a system that blends player-driven storytelling and fun adventure/combat mechanics. It's a two-way exchange, because Glorantha is going to provide new perspectives on classes, icon relationship mechanics, monster mechanics, and adventure formats that will become wonderful new toys for all 13th Age campaigns!
Game designer Tracy Barnett and artist Brian Patterson have teamed up to form Exploding Rogue, and their first project is an epic fantasy world called Karthun that isn't tied to any specific RPG system.
io9: Could you talk about writing a system neutral RPG setting? It seems like something wrought with both many opportunities and many difficulties.
Brian: Honestly, it is an awesome experience. It seems like most of the time campaign settings begin with a handful of core ideas and during the creation process those ideas and the world lore are tailored to fit within the borders of a specific rule system. It's great and the method makes a lot of sense, but when it comes to Karthun, the idea is to just dive in and design the best campaign setting and world lore possible, without the restrictions of one specific set of rules. We will of course keep an eye on rules and offer a few suggestions on how to translate elements of Karthun into in various systems (especially when it comes to the GM's Guide to Karthun) but the rules do not dictate how Karthun is shaped, Karthun shapes the rules.
Tracy: Brian's right. It's a freeing thing, in my case. I'm familiar with a bunch of different gaming systems, and as I write for Karthun, I'm going to be thinking about how each system I know will handle the stuff I'm writing. But I'm not beholden to any one system. What it will do is force me to write interesting hooks and really deliver on the promise of the setting, because I won't have a system to support me.
io9: Brian, Karthun has obviously existed in some form in your head and your strip for a while. How did the world begin to take form, and what inspired it? What was the process of expanding it into a full setting like?
Brian: Pieces and concepts of Karthun have rumbled around in my campaigns since I was 10-years old. Inspiration for Karthun comes from so many sources it would take an editor, 3 assistants, and a spreadsheet large enough to send an corporate accountant into shock to chronicle everything. At the core of Karthun, my broad stroke influences are high-fantasy stories, science, and horror. One of my directives for Karthun's design is when creating something, if we can add a small touch of sci-fi or horror to it, we will. In my comic, Sam the GM made the statement that Karthun isn't his father's game and I think that says a lot about where we want to go with the world and it's presentation.
io9: What kinds of adventures or campaigns can you have in Karthun that you might not have in other fantasy settings?
Brian: I like to think there is something for everyone in Karthun but the core concept that sets it apart goes right back to designing a system-neutral setting: Freedom. I was raised on classic sword and sorcery gaming and now I want something more high-fantasy contemporary. Karthun is a world where the five gods of the pantheon walk among their followers and shape the course of history. It is ancient cities filled with mystery. It is mages bound to and powered by powerful elementals. It is a world where death is feared not because of the unknown but because of the horrible truths known about what lies in the domain of the Mother of the Dead. It is political intrigue, war, espionage, and betrayal from gods and mortals alike. Karthun is about taking everything we love about fantasy gaming and turning some of those ideas on their ear, while reimagining how things work.
Tracy: For me Karthun is this: a modern take on a fantasy setting. Rather than being rooted in a medieval take on a fantasy setting, with Karthun, we're taking fantasy tropes and asking how we can make them more modern, or more horrific, or how we can give them a sci-fi edge. People will see things that they think they're familiar with, and they'll find them twisted. The traditional fantasy races all have different presentations, like the three elven kingdoms, each bound to one of Karthun's moons, undergoing lycanthropic transformations as the moons shift phases. We want people to open the book, take any given page, and find something on it that they don't expect, or that they think is awesome.
Sean K. Reynolds is a veteran RPG designer with tons of high profile credits to his name (Pathfinder, Ravenloft, Birthright, and more). He's creating his own take on fantasy RPGs with Five Moons. (The top image of this article is taken from the 5 Moons cover art).
io9: How did your experience designing the Pathfinder Beginner Box influence the process of creating Five Moons and making it accessible to new players?
Sean K. Reynolds: I have a background in teaching, and I've studied how to write games for a younger audience. For the Beginner Box (which won a fan-voted Product of the Year award), I used those skills to translate an existing, very complex set of rules into something easily digested. For Five Moons RPG, I'm able to start from scratch and write the rules in an understandable, reader-friendly manner. Some of these changes are simple, like always writing directly to the reader using second-person language ("at 6th level, you can attack a second time each round" instead of "at 6th level, a character gains a second attack per round"). Some require reworking the overall tone of the writing to a more conversational style instead of sounding like an encyclopedia (like "Add +1 to your Will save against fear" instead of "A fighter gains a +1 bonus on Will saves against fear").
io9: I love the ideas about teamwork that you plan to include in this game, especially power synergies. Pathfinder has had teamwork feats for a while, but they always seemed unlikely to work out very often, and no one in my group has ever taken them. Could you explain a bit more about these power combos, how characters access them, and maybe an example or two?
Reynolds: For most characters, the problem with the teamwork feats is they only work if an ally has chosen the same teamwork feat that you did, and have no effect if that ally isn't in the right position on the map. In Five Moons RPG, your teamwork ability has a useful effect when used on its own, and has an additional effect if used in combination with a related ability—whether that ability is something you or an ally did. That means you don't have to rely on an ally for that ability to be effective, but you can plan "combos" with an ability you or an ally has.
For example, if you're an archer, you can learn a Burning Arrow attack that sets your target on fire for extra damage in later turns, and learn an Exploding Arrow attack that does extra damage if your target is on fire. Your wizard ally might know a Sticky Fire spell that sets her target on fire, and an Explosive Combustion spell that does extra damage if the target is on fire. Whether the target is on fire because of Burning Arrow or Sticky Fire, you and your wizard friend can take advantage of that with your explode-if-target-is-on-fire attacks, and you're both rewarded for coordinating your special abilities instead of focusing on separate targets.
io9: What were some of the inspirations for Five Moons' campaign world?
Reynolds: I have a chemistry degree and I've always liked a scientific approach to some aspects of fantasy. The backstory of the world is that mysterious entities transported humans from Earth to an alternate reality, and crammed DNA from many Earth creatures into the human genome. Now the human race is prone to fast mutation from environmental pressure or natural genetic engineers called shapers, creating many near-human "races" that express DNA from various animals, creating pig-like orcs, bat-like goblins, cat-like elves, and so on. One of the overall concepts of the setting is questioning what it is to be human in a world where a person's physical features, apparent "race," and even their gender are extremely mutable. In other words, would you be so casual about killing enemy orcs if those orcs might mutate into humans under the right circumstances? Or if you yourself might mutate into an orc?
I'm a big fan of Steven Brust's "Dragaera/Vlad Taltos" books—an ancient alien race added animal DNA to humans to create a new race (the elf-like Dragaerans) that organized themselves into "houses" according to the animals they took after. Octavia E. Butler's books often feature genetic engineering, particularly the "Xenogenesis" series (formerly known as "Lilith's Brood"), which features an alien race of natural genetic engineers who travel from world to world to "trade" DNA with the local inhabitants. Another inspiration is Barbara Hambly's Those Who Hunt in the Night, which was the first book I read that presented the idea that vampirism is a virus that rewrites the host's flesh.
On the heels of their massively successful Deep Magic, Kobold Press is assembling a mouth-watering collection of books and supplements describing the ancient mysteries and adventures possible in a fantasy desert kingdom. They've given us a preview of a deadly cult that players might find themselves at odds with:
Cult of Nkishi, the Laughing Darkness
A growing cult is spreading rapidly north from the Sarklan Desert, aggressively converting gnoll bands under threat of death, sacking and desecrating the holy places of other gods they encounter, and slaughtering their priests where they can. They worship Nkishi, a god who preaches that it is holy and right to prey upon and terrorize humanity. All other religious pursuits are distractions to them, and their religious leaders attempt to drive out the influence of other gods from priests as though they were possessed by evil spirits.
Composed of wild bands of gnolls from deep in the southern deserts, the Cult of Nkishi was first seen further north among the battlefield scavengers in the wars between the Mharoti and Nuria Natal, where large packs of gnollish sellswords shadowed the movements of both armies, and many were bold enough to enter the battlefield as troops were still withdrawing. The gnolls and their accompanying packs of hyenas set to work within hearing of the retreating men, who were forced to listen to the cackling, growling, and howling as both two and four-legged scavengers squabbled over the marrow of their fallen comrades' bones. Their work was so thorough that few signs are still visible that battles took place, save on the gnolls themselves, who are occasionally seen wearing bits of armor scavenged from those old battlefields.
The cultists have lately shown a marked animosity for gnolls of the Mharoti Empire, going to great lengths to hunt and slaughter a detachment of jambuka inside the Empire's borders before disappearing back into the desert. Worse, they have intentionally left shape-shifting bouda (were-hyenas) in their wake among the human populations they meet, unleashing chaos and horror long after the followers of the Laughing Darkness have fled the area.
Designer Tim Brown, co-creator of Dark Sun and designer of several editions of the Traveller RPG, is creating a new sci-fi setting of galactic exploration using the Savage Worlds RPG system.
io9: In The Last Parsec, the Known Worlds are set in the Orion Arm of the Milky Way galaxy. Was it designed as a future Earth setting?
Tim Brown: Not really. Earth definitely exists as part of the setting, but only as an historically important world among many, many others. It is not a center of governance nor an economic powerhouse outside of its local region of stars. Most people in the rest of the Known Worlds have never visited Earth. It's important the way that the Cradle of Civilization is important to all of us today: an interesting fact, but not so compelling that many of us travel there to take a look. We wanted to put a lot of humans out into space, and speculated many slower-than-light efforts to seed terrans to different star systems in the centuries before hyperspace travel was invented. That lets us put lots of human-dominated worlds out there, each with its own centuries-old, unique culture. There are many humanoid races, too, but all true humans in The Last Parsec trace their genetic stock back to mother Earth.
io9: What is the role of JumpCorp in The Last Parsec's setting?
Brown: We decided to not have any strong, central government controlling vast regions of space, but wanted some unifying influences that players could recognize and deal with in most places where they traveled. Enormous corporations transcend most boundaries, and JumpCorp is one of these, sprawling from system to system, diversified into every conceivable area of commerce and exploration. Troubleshooting their widely varied interests across the galaxy takes intrepid, self-reliant adventurers – exactly the sort of characters one might create using the Science Fiction Companion. JumpCorp (pronounced with two hard 'p's) serves as a unifying element, a bit of stability, and a consistent employer that hands out assignments and brings resourceful star-farers together.
io9: How does The Last Parsec compare to some of the other science-fiction game settings you've worked on?
Brown:The Last Parsec – like Savage Worlds – is all about the action. Traveller was a game of enormous detail, all carefully balanced and calculated, and while that's fun (I personally like to know that it takes just this sort of power plant to get so many G's of acceleration for my starship's maneuver drives and also fire up my particle beam weapons), it's also time consuming and largely a solitaire activity. 2300 AD was an even 'harder-science' sci-fi setting than that, postulating every detail of stutter-warp FTL technology, and steeped in a detailed near-future Earth history. The Last Parsec is a game to be played, with just enough detail and backstory for the players to take a dramatic role in each new tale of awe and wonder. I look forward to building the setting until it becomes as rich and harmonious as those two classic games.
Feng Shui is a bullet-riddled, high-flying action RPG devoted to bringing Hong Kong action films to your tabletop. Designer Robin D. Laws ( Hillfolk, Dying Earth RPG, Fiendish Codex II) is updating the game to make it easier to play, with free-flowing fight scenes, more character archetypes to choose from, and GM advice on creating exciting gaming sessions. Check out this preview of the game's introduction:
Getting Started With FengShui
In Feng Shui, the action movie roleplaying game, you play heroes of the chi war, struggling to protect humankind in a titanic struggle across space and time. Victory depends on your gravity-defying kung fu powers, your ancient magics, your post-apocalyptic survival instincts, or your plain old-fashioned trigger finger. You might be a maverick cop, a cranky kung fu fighting master, an everyday hero, a masked avenger, or an enigmatic drifter from a post-apocalyptic future. Your battles pit you against a legion of fearsome foes. This battle rages throughout time, pitting you against sinister eunuch magicians of the past, imperialist oppressors of the colonial era, secretive conspirators of the present, and cyborg rebels-turned-tyrants whose excesses collapsed the future.
This chi war is waged by those aware of simple, elemental truth of existence: the power of the Earth. Certain sites which harness and intensify chi, the life force that animates man and nature, lie scattered across the planet. Those who control these sites benefit from the increased flow of chi, and gain great fortune in matters both mundane and mystical. Since ancient times, the Chinese have honed their knowledge of Earth magic—or geomancy—into the discipline known as feng shui.
History belongs to those who are attuned to feng shui sites—those who have formed a mystical bond with the chi energy of those sublime locations. The flow of chi controls the flow of time and the course of history. With changes reverberating through the time stream, the scramble to possess them ramps up as never before. When the war ends, we will live the way the victors want us to. Only you and your fellow heroes can prevent these powerful sites from falling into the hands of despots and maniacs.
To travel through time, you move through a mysterious realm known as the Netherworld, or Inner Kingdom. Some participants in the great struggle take their cue from this and refer to themselves as innerwalkers.
Fortunately, you move and shake in a world that rewards heroism. If your heart is strong, you can dodge machine-gun bullets. You can take eighteen slugs in your chest and still come back for one final blazing attack against the bad guy. If your kung fu is mighty, you can run sideways up a tree, bounce off a branch, and clash swords with your opponent who has just done the same thing from the opposite direction. The world of Feng Shui is a world where it is not a dumb idea at all to cling to the bottom of the bad guy's Maserati as it screeches down the midnight streets of Hong Kong. In Feng Shui, armed only with a toothpick, you can face down a ten-foot tall, flame-cloaked demon fresh from the bowels of the underworld and still have a chance of winning.
In the world of Feng Shui, high melodrama rules. You might seem to be a ruthless, icy-cool assassin, but in your heart you know that you're doing just one last job to pay for your mother's lung transplant. The villain you've been tracking down for years might turn out to be the best friend who betrayed you in a moment you remember just like yesterday. The new masked ally who just saved your bacon with some well-placed throwing stars could well be the mysterious lover you met last night in the club. The master who raised you from a shivering orphan may be the leader of an evil blood sect.
In Feng Shui, there's no such thing as a hoary plotline. Here we proudly admit that we tell the same stories over and over again because those are the best stories.
is an indie RPG that replicates giant robot battles from your favorite anime. It's tough balancing life as a mecha pilot with the usual struggles of being in high school. Creator Chris Perrin is developing an expansion that will add a host of inventive and terrifying kaiju to the game.
One of the cooler stretch goals for this campaign is Kaiju a Week. For one year, the designers will create a brand new kaiju and illustrate every week for a year. Even if you're not into playing this particular RPG, that sounds like an awesome project.
In a case of terrible luck or poor planning, there are two miniature castle terrain Kickstarters running at the same time. They're both rather pricey, but they both will let you build some amazing castles, towns and fortifications, perfect for a miniature combat game or an RPG.
Both of these crowdfunding campaigns have ended, but I'm including them here because they're both awesome, and if you keep an eye on their pages, both should be available to non-backers in the near future. Spirit of 77 promises the action, sideburns, insanity, and mayhem of 70s TV and movies using the rules-light Apocalypse World RPG system (I backed this project because I have a deep, abiding love for 70s movies).
The Sprawl is also an Apocalypse World variant, this time focused on a cyberpunk setting. If you love cyberpunk games but have always been put off by fussy, complicated rules systems, The Sprawl is like a dream come true.
Finally, though it's not a crowdfunding campaign, the current Bundle of Holding is a pretty enticing deal for fans of classic 90s RPGs. Dark Conspiracy pits heavily armed humans in a near future world against hideous monsters encroaching on our reality. It's a pay what you want system with an impressive lineup of Dark Conspiracy core books and supplements.