April 24th, 2012

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In Praise of Small Press Games (part one)

I'm a long time roleplayer. There. I said it. Not that I've ever denied it, but take it as you will.

Despite what Wizards of the Coast would have you believe, there are more interesting games these days than Dungeons and Dragons 4E. Over at places like DriveThruRPG.com, there are a slew of straight to .pdf RPGs that worth your time and attention. I could ramble on about Icons or Courtesans (dude, SPITE is a STAT???) or a slew of others, but I think I'll switch gears and chatter on about a couple of games I have had a chance to interact with lately.

First up, Fiasco from Bully Pulpit Games. This story based system started out emulating the quirky-characters-screwing-their-neighbors-to-get-their-neighbor's-stash style of heist stories-the flicks made by the Coen brothers and the books penned by Christa Faust, Donald E. Westlake or Jim Thompson.


The system is fascinating. It's all player oriented, no need for a GM, and it works incredibly well. In a nutshell: the game goes around the table a total of four times, each player's character (who is defined by their relationship to the characters on the player's immediate left and right as well as a motivation or object or location) becomes the star of four seperate scenes (and a secondary character in others). That scene ends either well or poorly for the character, and it's always up to the player to keep things going and keep things interesting. It's pure narration and improv, it's all fun. The mood can be goofy or chilling (or some combination of both). The game is supposed to take the same amount of time that watching a flick would take, but it's hella more entertaining. I played this while in a vacation condo at Corpus Christi over a bottle of wine. Much laughter and fun was had! The three players were all low life characters from a small southern town--backstabbing, blackmail and murder ensued. Fiasco's subtitle (A Game of Powerful Ambition and Poor Impulse Control) is oh, so true. Woot!

On the other side of the coin, we have Macabre Tales, a game of Lovecraftian horror. Sure, we have Call of Cthulhu (and Trail of Cthulhu and Gurps: Cthulhupunk and Arkham Horror), but Macabre Tales is something far different. It focuses on Lovecraft's works, instead of including the contributions to the mythos that other writers brought. The game is also designed for two people: One GM and one Player. The mechanics revolve around two sets of dominoes. Sounds hokey, but it works. A fun, fun way to game.

Macabre Tales

I loved the concept so much, I actually penned an adventure for it, which became the line's first sourcebook release (The Secret of the Dead Man's Satchel).

The response to "Dead Man's Satchel" has been so strong (it hit #3 on Drive Thru RPG's Hot Small Press list when it was released last month, and it's still in the top 25 small press sellers) that I'm currently writing another sourcebook for it.

With so much creative spirit pouring into RPGs, it's a great time to be a gamer!
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