DON'T TELL ANYONE, but some of the best roleplaying games out there are not available at your local retailer. Thanks to the magic of the internet, they're completely free.
These irresistible blossoms of RPGs can suddenly appear on Twitter or Reddit only to vanish within a few days. Sometimes they'll quietly bloom on a designer's Tumblr or publisher's homepage. A few older ones thrive quietly in the dark places of the internet to be occasionally plucked by some intrepid RPG gatherer who brings them back into the light. There's even a contest-fed bouquet of 200-word RPGs out there, as Quinns and Paul mentioned in a recent edition of Games News. The brightest flower of all these lovely free RPGs, however, is Lady Blackbird.
None of that prepared me for the bizarre investigations that I commenced upon my return to Minneapolis –– investigations that continue as I write. Therefore, while I still retain enough of my mind to write, I find it imperative to tell you all this:
There is no Lovecraftian mystery game as engrosssing, as well-crafted, or as much sheer fun as Pelgrane's roleplaying game, Trail of Cthulhu.
In other words, if you haven't yet watched Firefly, you need to get on it.
But enough of that! The real question here is whether the Firefly roleplaying game is any good.
Readers, friends: yes. Yes it is.
For this uncanny place is our Earth, far, far, far into the future, after our civilization and seven others have climbed, peaked, fallen, and been rusted over. More than one alien invasion has occurred, and more than one alien species has mingled genes with humanity. A new civilization has arisen, but hasn't really gotten past the middle ages. The perplexing debris of past civilizations, from humming obelisks and transdimensional portals to enchanted amulets and portable CD players, is everywhere. The people of earth call these weird objects "filled-with-power-things": numenera.
Welcome to the Ninth World, the setting of Monte Cook's Numenera. I would say, "come on in, the water's fine," but it's probably filled with flesh-eating microdroids or laced with bubble-gum flavored psychotropic drugs or something. But forget the water, there's so much here. This place is so ancient, and vast, and tremendous. Let's explore!
But there is one RPG that this winter has been mollifying my seasonal adventure disorder and warming my heart just like a good cup of hot chocolate with whiskey in it warms your body. That game, my dear readers, is Mouse Guard. So grab your weapons, fluff up your fur, tweak your whiskers, and tap into your anxieties about owls, weasels, and raccoons. You're about to undertake great and perilous deeds for the sake of all mousekind.
Cynthia: Hello, dear readers! I'd like to invite you all to accompany me to the end of the world, and to your death. Don't worry! I assure you that you're perfectly capable and prepared for the end – as it manifests in the phenomenal indie storytelling game Ten Candles, that is.
Ten Candles is a flexible, firelit game of "tragic horror" designed by Stephen Dewey and published by Cavalry Games. And I'm so totally in love with it. It's many scenarios take place in a variety of apocalypses where thick darkness blankets the earth and an evil force known as "Them" threatens humanity. Oh I know, there are plenty of post-apocalyptic games out there, and I imagine you're all raising your hands to ask what's so special about this one. Well, let me show you. Because what's special about Ten Candles is pretty much everything.
Review Soundtrack: Beat the Champ by The Mountain Goats
Bolds: A siren call of my youth. The gravel-voiced radio or television announcer chanting “Sunday!” and pointing you at an arena of legends. A contest of champions. A wholly made-up, entirely absurd, totally fixed contest of champions. If you did not grow up with it, if you’re just a roleplaying game enthusiast, well, I have an experience for you.
In an entirely approachable, well-laid-out 160-page volume, World Wide Wrestling gives you a set of rules that drive you into a world of entertainment and drama, screaming and spandex, costumes and camel clutches, masks and monsters. In the game, players are archetypal wrestlers - working people who play a role in a show, but also have to live their own lives. It adapts well to either small-scale independent wrestling or the big, media-frenzy contemporary wrestling that gave birth to people like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Hell, allow me some contradiction: I think it’s so precisely designed that it reaches beyond the world of wrestling.
So what? There are a lot of dungeon exploration games in tabletop roleplaying. It's the genesis of the genre, and most of the big tabletop RPGs people are familiar with are of this style. One of the things that differentiates Torchbearer is its heavy emphasis on the crawl. While other games are focused on getting loot, fighting monsters, and generally being completely badass adventurers, Torchbearer is about attempting to get loot and deal with monsters, while being completely worn down by the dungeon experience.
It turns out exploring dangerous unknown environments while lugging a bunch of heavy gear and trying to stay hydrated and rested and fed is really, really hard! It turns out there's only so much space in your backpack and your habit of checking over every room you enter sometimes gets you into trouble and it's hard to avoid getting cranky as all hell when you've been stuck wandering around dank passageways for hours without any snacks.
Luckily for all of us, continuing our journey to Umbra doesn’t require any train wrecks or magical paintings. Only one to three other players, and a few more hours of our time.
Hilary: So, you wanna play an RPG.
You've bought the game, you've read the rules, you've gathered your friends, you've sharpened your pencils and now the magic happens. Well, uh, you assume this is where the magic happens. See, the rules didn't necessarily explain how you were gonna "roleplay". Just "then you play out the scene" or "make choices as your character" or "someone decides when the scene ends" or …hmm.
It turns out there are spaces between the rules of any game left for you, the players, to fill in. Which is all well and good, but what if you have no idea what to do and you're kinda worried maybe you're gonna fuck this whole thing up and oh gosh maybe you're not cool enough or nerdy enough or experienced enough or what if you forget which die is which or…
It's okay! I've got you. Deep breaths. We've got this.
Sometimes magic just needs a helping hand.