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Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Fri Jan 08, 2010 4:02 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
Hoping I'm not the only person on the boards with an interest in less mainstream RPGs. Or that if I am that maybe I can expose gamers to some games they've never heard of and hopefully want to give a shot sometime.

Anyway bigger more well-known games get plenty of coverage so it's easy for the lesser-known variety to get overshadowed so I thought it'd great to have a thread to discuss all the great, smaller RPGs that are out there.

Hopefully this thread can be a place to discuss such games and introduce players to new games.

I'll start with some of my current favorite games.

1. Burning Wheel
This was really my introduction into indie games and is still one of my favorite RPGs I've ever played. It's all about fighting for what you believe in and finding out how far you're willing to go to get what you want.

It's got an awesome mechanic called Duel of Wits which is the only well-done social conflict mechanic I've come across.

There are some cool mechanics for player authorization. There are Wises which allow players to state facts of the world and Circles which allow players to create NPCs on the fly.

Burning Wheel also taught me that failure should NEVER be a roadblock. There should be a twist or complication so that the game doesn't stop flat and, instead, heads off in a new, interesting direction.

The #1 driving force behind Burning Wheel are "BITs": Beliefs, Instincts Traits. Beliefs have a few different sides. They are an actual belief, but they're also a goal, and a flag for the GM. For example: "My brother is a traitor to the family name. I'll stop at nothing to reveal his crimes." Aside from what's obviously stated, you're also telling the GM you want to be challenged here. An obvious way to challenge it might be that the character needs something that only the brother can provide. Even better if you tie it in to other Beliefs the character has.

Instincts are sort of macros that your character always performs and can never be denied you. They might give you an opportunity for a test when you otherwise wouldn't have one or allow you to accomplish an action before other people. A basic Instinct might be "Always draw my sword at the first sign of trouble." Bam, it happens. The fun part comes in getting into trouble because of the instinct. Say you're in a situation where it would be very inappropriate to draw the sword. As the player you can choose to ignore your instinct (boring) or choose to follow it (exciting!); doing so earns you rewards.

Lastly are Traits which are 1) descriptions of the character in someway that sometimes have 2) mechanical effects on the game. A Trait could be something like maimed, alert, or cold-blooded killer.

All wrapped together BITs create very interested, dynamic, and conflicted characters.

Also the online community for BW is awesome. Luke Crane (the designer) is very active on the boards as well as loads of other people with lots of experience. There's a ton of great advice to be gleaned there.

Okay, I'll stop there. I could go on a lot longer about the game (I'm a bit of a BW fan boy).

2. Misspent Youth
This isn't actually in publication, yet, but you can get an ashcan version of the rules on the website. I met the author at GenCon and he's kept me up-to-date with the newest edit as he makes changes to the book because I was willing to run it for my group and give him feedback.

Anyhow it works great as a short-term game. Maybe 4-6 sessions, which includes one session for character/world creation. In the game the players play teenage protagonists that are fighting against some Authority. The specific Authority is decided by the group. It could be some huge evil corporation, a corrupt government, a powerful cult, or even just a single individual.

The game focuses on the relationships between the characters (called Youthful Offenders, or YOs) as well as their struggle against the Authority.

As the game progresses, to win, the YOs will eventually have to start becoming more Authority-like if they want any hope of victory. In the game, this is called selling out. So for instance there's a trait called 'tough'. If it sells out in the course of play it becomes vicious. One of my favorite parts of selling out is that, as GM, when someone sells out something, I physically take their character sheet and redact the trait that sold out. It doesn't seem like much, but it's actually a pretty visceral feeling watching someone take a sharpie to your character sheet (or in the case of a guy at GenCon, he actually cut a small square of the character sheet.

Anyhow, by the end of the game things turn dark as the YOs sell out more and more of their traits. In the game I just finished someone had sold-out Intimidation to become Terrorism, which ended up getting used to blow up an orphanage and framing it on the authority. Hot stuff!

The game was really a lot of fun and it's a great exercise for story telling. There's a scene structure that I had a little trouble with at first but that I think does work it just took me some time to get my head around it.

If anyone's interested in reading some actual play reports and other commentary I did write-ups on all our sessions over at story games: ... onID=10405

3. Mouse Guard
Based on David Petersen's Mouse Guard comics and designed by Luke Crane. It uses a similar but stripped down version of Burning Wheel. One of the best written RPG books I've ever seen. It's made to be accessible to players new to RPGs and does a great job, but at the same time is still satisfying for veterans.

One thing that's great is that MG is even more explicit than Burning Wheel about failure results not being roadblocks. It explicitly states there are only two possible results of failure: 1) Condition or 2) A twist.

So, for example, say you're making a test to blaze a new trail between settlements. The question isn't whether the trail will be blazed, but whether you'll come away unscathed. So, on a failed roll a condition might mean that you've blazed the new trail, but you become Tired from all the travel. A twist might mean that while blazing a trail you happen upon a hungry badger's nest; and once the badger is dealt with one way or another you continue on.

It's also a pretty good game for kids. I've seen a number of people report on playing it with their children with a fair bit of success. Older ones grasp most of the concepts and parents of younger kids just gloss over some things and focus on what interests them: mice with swords!

4. Burning Empires
Sometimes referred to as Burning Wheel in space. It uses the core BW mechanics and based Christopher Moeller's Iron Empires graphic novels. A perfect game for doing space opera.

I've only played in a demo of this at GenCon and I'm currently reading the rulebook, but my group is about to start it soon.

Pretty much all of what I said about Burning Wheel plus some new things. The game centers on the conflict between the Iron Empires and an alien race, the Naiven. There's an over-arching mechanic called Infection that tracks how well the humans are keeping them at bay or how well the Naiven are subverting a planet.

There's also really cool rules for creating your own technology on the fly. Most technology is just color until a conflict arises. So, yeah, being a Lord Pilot means you have your own ship (fleet of ships, probably), so making use of that is no problem. But if you need to scan something, then you can come up with sensors for your ship on the fly so they can be tested. This goes for just about any kind of technology, whether it's vehicles/spacecraft, weapons, enhancements to those, or something else.

There's also a really tense physical conflict mechanic called Firefight that scales really well whether it's a small conflict between two characters or a big conflict between armies on the ground or ships in space. It's chaotic and brutal.

There's probably a few more I could post about, but I'll leave it there and see how much interest the thread gets before continuing.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Tue Jan 12, 2010 10:15 pm UTC
by shalbamo
I gotta say, as for indie RPG's, Risus is my absolute favorite. Such simple rules, such advanced use.

I have started a discussion about Risus, if anyone would like to hear more.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Thu Mar 25, 2010 2:25 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
I considered letting the thread die since there didn't seem to be much interest, but fuck it. Maybe if I keep posting about indie games I enjoy someone will see something they're interested in.

Anyhow, there was a small convention in Madison, Wisconsin this past weekend, Forge Midwest, and I got to play a number of games I hadn't gotten to try before.

1. Dust Devils (currently out of print, but I believe the author is planning to have it republished soon)

Dust Devils makes for a great pick-up game, I think. Character creation is super easy: 4 stats, 2 traits (whatever you want them to be), 2 occupations (past & present), and a demon (generally something negative about your character -- mine was cowardice). By default it's a western and conflicts are handled by drawing cards (modified by your traits & demon), and discarding/redrawing (via occupations) and making the best 5-card poker hand you can. Winning hand wins the conflict, single highest card wins narration rights (so yes it's possible to lose the conflict and then earn narration rights, so you narrate how you lost). You damage your opponents stats based on the hand you play and the suits that make it up.

Because you're directly damaging stats, and the game ends when a stat hits 0 (almost, but that's a simple enough explanation); the game has a pretty short fuse.

I only flicked through the rule book a bit, but there are apparently some rules for using the system in a few different settings. Of course, the cards mechanic fits best with a western-theme, but the mechanics are so easy & straight-forward you can drift it to just about any setting.

2. Shab al-Hiri Roach

I know very very little about this one. It was pretty late and someone had dropped out of the game. I didn't have anything else to do, so I took up the seat and more or less went with the flow.

Very strong Lovecraftian vibe. You play academics vying for power (presumably tenure?). Oh, and there's some otherwordly roach/sumerian god thing that gives you power. For a price of course.

What little I gathered of how the game is played is to make things happen you stake your reputation (to win you have to have the highest reputation at the end). Winning conflicts means you gain reputation and get what you want. Amusingly, when you're roached you have all sorts of random things happening. At the begining of each event (a turn of sorts) you draw a card. It's going to have some sort of effect, but if you're roached, before your turn the card over you have to say what other player it will be used on. Hilarity ensues. Of two rounds, one round I was in love with another character, and another I had to obey any commands given by another character.

Oh, and you can't win if you're roached. And there's limited ways of removing it once you have it, of course. It's entirely possible to get to the end and have everyone one roached. Noone wins. Well, the roach does.

I'd like to learn more about this game for sure.

3. Poison'd

I'll go ahead and stamp a trigger warning on this one.
In Poison'd you play pirates. And not Disney pirates. Real raping, pillaging, murdering, scum of the earth pirates. This can be a tough one to play. You really have to be in the right group, and a social contract would be pretty important to make sure the game stays within everyone's comfort level. I have to say I wasn't entirely comfortable playing it with complete strangers.

With that said, I did enjoy the little taste I got. The system really enforces how nasty pirates were. Character creation starts with deciding what sins your pirate has committed (rape, sodomy, blasphemy, murder, etc.). In the end, you have 4 main stats: soul, devil, ambition, brutality. To do most things you roll one stat against another: so killing someone that can't fight back would be brutality vs soul. The stats are designed in such a way as to be circular (A vs B, B vs C, C vs D, D vs A), so at best you can hope to focus on 2 sorts of activities, or just aim at having everything as equal as possible.

Also, fighting can be pretty brutal. It pretty much demands that you escalate to higher forms of violence and harsher stakes if you're at all serious about getting what you want. It's pretty easy to get in a spat over something that doesn't seem serious, but all of a sudden someone's got a pistol out, ready to shoot someone else.

There's some ship to ship combat which I didn't see a lot of, and there's rules for finding prizes (treasure and such). Unlike the previous two games, there's no hard-set end condition. I think there tends to be a couple end conditions: everyone's dead or a ghost (you can haunt other people if you die), or your distaste in your character reaches a level where you can no longer play them.

Oh, the last interesting thing is the social mechanic. Being a pirate is all about striking bargains. And when you strike a bargain with someone else, they pretty much have you by the balls. You can, of course, accomplish what you promised to, "you promised to help me kill Black Pete". However, the person you made your promise to can, at any time, withhold dice from a roll you're going to make. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but I believe this is a one-time thing and once they do so, the bargain is erased, but you've probably just failed a critical roll in the process. So, balancing bargains is a tricky business. There's also deals for striking a deal with God or the Devil.

4. Justifiers/Exchange system

Apparently this is a pretty old game from the mid-80s, but the system was pretty awful. Ron Edwards ran this and he absolutely loved the source material, but really didn't like the system (I don't want to put words in his mouth, but that was my understanding from things he said), so he used the "exchange" system. Apparently it's just a standalone system, designed to be used for about any setting you can think of. It's really just a way for resolving conflicts.

Anyhow, what I understand of the setting (I started late to this so I missed a bit of the explanation) is that the PCs are basically slaves. You play anthropormorphic animals (called betas) that humans have engineered (our team had a fox, ram, tiger, & coyote). They (I guess the government or maybe some powerful corporation) send teams of Justifiers (a sort of military-like organization) out to planets to determine if they can be colonized and constantly dangling in front of you is the hope of being able to buy back your freedom. Which is, of course, extemely rare. And even when/if it does happen, you're still not as free as humans. Like I said, I didn't get a firm grasp on the setting, so it'd be interesting to check out the original material and catch up on what I lost. But what little taste I did get really led me to believe there's a lot of interesting things in the setting to explore.

On to the system Ron was using: exchange. Pretty simple system. You have a number of traits in a pyramid structure -- so like 1 level 4, 2 level 3, 3 level 2, 4 level 1. There's no set list, so the traits can be pretty much whatever you want them to be. Then what happens is in a conflict you can invoke any trait that's a higher level than what you previously used. In other words, you go from the bottom up. Once you've fleshed out your actions via what traits you invoke you roll the dice (1 per trait) and compare results, highest die to highest die, if there's a tie you go to the next highest, etc. The winner gets what they want and generally gets to give their opponent an "injury". Injuries are sort of like negative traits. They function in the same sort of way, but it's generally opponents that will invoke them against you. So, for example, if I don't have a level 1 trait I like, but you have a level 1 injury I can bring in to play, I can get a die for that instead.

Definitely a nice usable system. It uses d6's by default, but most of us at the table agreed it would be worth seeing how it played with d10s and maybe give a bit more variety in conflicts, especially once you're rolling 4 dice and you have teammates helping you, just 6 values doesn't seem to be enough of a distribution of numbers sometimes.

5. Dogs in the Vineyard

This is one I've been looking forward to play for quite sometime. You play as "God's Watchdogs" (Dogs), who are sort of warriors for the King of Life (God) in a western-type setting. The dogs main duties are to deliver mail between settlements and take care of any problems -- usually sinning. One of the premises of the setting is that there's an agreement with the King of Life to keep life for his followers good, so if anything is ever bad somewhere it's because someone is sinning. So it's your job to track it down. There's a lot more about the setting, but I don't want to drone too much more. Suffice to say I think the setting is really interesting and I've barely scratched the surface.

As for the system you have 4 stats, and some number of traits, relationships, & equipment. All at varying types of dice (d4,d6,d8,d10). So when it comes to a conflict you start out with a base of stat+stat. And as the conflict pushes on you can bring more dice in my involving traits, relationships, or gear. So you have a pool of dice you've rolled and you want to "raise" to your opponent with 2 of them (adding the value together). Your opponent wants to "see" that value with as few dice as possible. If you can do it with 1 die, you can turn around and use that same die (plus another) for your next raise, 2 dice simply blocks, and 3 or more dice means you "take the blow", i.e. you'll take some damage. Eventually one side or the other will run out of dice or simply give up. At that point you get what you want (or not) and then look at any times you had to "take the blow" and then you take damage, which is called taking fallout. Depending on the type of conflict (talking, physical, guns) depends on what type of dice you roll for fallout. At the end of the scale Fallout can kill you. Often you earn new traits, lose traits, increase/decrease trait dice, lose equipment and such.

I really liked how subtle the die mechanic is. I think most people's first instinct is to just always throw out your two best dice, but if you're not careful this can lead you into a world of hurt. Also, depending on the nature of the conflict, you may want to hold back for fear of too much fallout on your opponent (maybe it's a parent or sibling and you don't actually want to kill them). There's a few layers of strategy there I'd really like to look into further when I get a chance to play again.

6. Universalis

This was... interesting. It was awesome because I got to play with one of the authors, Mike Holmes. It's a very... I guess what you'd call, narrativist game. I never actually flipped through the rule book, but Mike specified he plays it pretty fast and loose. He enjoys pushing against the system until someone at the table says no (he mentioned that the other author, Ralph Mazza, doesn't like to play that way at all). Anyhow, everyone starts out with a pile of "coins" (whatever counters you want to use). And you basically spend coins to bring things into the game. Setting elements, rules, and really to accomplish just about anything. Rules can even be social contract stuff. Setting elements could be themes and such, or even ruling out things. For example "no zombies." Also, any time someone brings in something and you don't like it you can challenge it and pay a coin to basically block them. This can lead to spending all your coins if you really want something (or don't) in the game, but then you have less power to accomplish things later.

So some examples: the first phase of play is basically meant to create the setting. In our case we had things like: horror, no zombies, space, out of fuel, isolation, planet-size ship. After that you get on to making scenes. First everyone bids for control of scene setting by secretly choosing a number of coins. Whoever bids the most gets to set the scene, but they must use all those coins -- so basically that many elements have to be set. At a bare minimum, location, time, and some component (person or thing usually). Beyond that you can bring in more things or add traits to things. For instance a priest (component), with 4 arms (trait of priest), who is brilliant (trait) is performing a ritual (component) was in the first scene of our game. Play goes around the table with players adding more things to a scene, usually until someone tries to do something that directly changes something about a component someone else owns (of course you can also spend a coin to steal a component that someone owns, at which point you can add traits and such to it), in which case it's time for a conflict.

When a conflict happens you get diced based on components you own and traits you're able to bring in. You're rolling for number of successes (0-4 on a d10) -- there's also rules on dealing with ties and determining overall winner. Winner gets narration rights and can narrate a number of things based on how many coins they won in the conflict. Narration starts with the winner (and any lesser winners in the case of multiple people) then the losers. My understanding is narration rights gained from the conflicts are sacrosanct and can't be challenged. But you have to make sure and get the things you absolutely want so that a later narrator doesn't do something you might not want. For existence if there's a specific character in the scene you don't want to die you can say they survived the conflict. Or you can have them exit the scene entirely so later narrators can't add or remove traits to them.

I'd definitely like to see more of this game. We played it Sunday morning and it got rather silly. I enjoyed seeing how the system worked, but I wasn't necessarily up for that kind of silly at the moment. Of course, the great thing is if I'd been on the ball, I could've done my best to challenge any sort of silly elements that were creeping in -- for instance the space jaguar, the 4-breasted virgins, and the giant space eels that were brought into the game.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Thu Mar 25, 2010 8:48 pm UTC
by Axman
I always thought octaNe was alright:

Gas up your smartcar, tune up your six-string and don't forget to feed your monkey. octaNe is a roller-coaster ride through irradiated wastelands and strip-mall paradise from the alien rockstar splendor of Shangri-L.A. to the decadent neon strip of Lost Vegas. Masked wrestlers rule the lands of New Texaco and sentient monkeys study the Tao in the flooded ruins of San Francisco.

Global warming? The world got a whole lot cooler.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Thu Mar 25, 2010 9:20 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
I hadn't seen that one. I've only seen a little of other games by Jared Sorensen. I've been wanting to give InSpectres a try for a while. And I'm really excited about Free Market that he's doing with Luke Crane. I've got the free pdf they released, but I haven't had much chance to look through it. They're supposed to be announcing the pre-order this month.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Fri Mar 26, 2010 2:41 am UTC
by McCaber
I'm a huge fan of Don't Rest Your Head, a whacked-out little RPG with a simple dice mechanic and a balls-trippy setting (picture the Phantom Tollbooth, but a dystopian nightmare).

So the players have three different colors of d6s, and they throw them all together to try to get more successes (1-3) than the GM's one pool. If they win, what they wanted happens. At the same time, the dice pool that has the most 6s in it is considered "dominant". You get three Discipline dice (the only ones that cause good things by dominating), a set amount of Exhaustion, and as much Madness dice as you feel comfortable throwing vs. the GM's Pain dice.

So you're trying to balance out your Discipline, Exhaustion, and Madness with his pile of Pain, and still have enough to win the fight.

Basically, you stayed awake too long, and now things from outside our reality can sense you and therefore eat you. But you have superpowers from your exhaustion and your lack of sanity. And if you don't like the twisted urban vibe of the enclosed setting, it's very hackable into ... pretty much anything. I've seen it done for vampires, Changeling, the Venture Brothers, even a form of Exalted.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Fri Mar 26, 2010 2:53 am UTC
by pseudoidiot
Cool, I think I remember seeing the book for that at Forge Midwest in the pile of books for community use, but I didn't get a chance to check it out.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:05 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
I finally got a chance to check out Luke Crane's & Jared Sorensen's newest game, FreeMarket. Last night was one of the best gaming experiences of my life and two of players there I'd never even met, let alone gamed with, before.

Wanted to jot down some thoughts for anyone that's curious (it's a bit lengthy). If it sounds interesting enough, definitely pick it up, they only made 1000 copies and there won't ever be any more.

A bit about the setting
FreeMarket is a transhumanist sci-fi game. It takes place on a space station orbiting Saturn, dubbed FreeMarket station or Donut (for it's round shape). It was founded as a data relay station to house 20,000 some people. This is a couple generations later and thanks to lots of hard work and ingenuity the population is pushing 80,000. Space is a premium, but everyone's comfortable for the most part.

It's a bit of a utopian society. You really don't want for anything. All your living needs are taken care of. You have sustenance. Somewhere to sleep. You only work if you want to. Most people spend time pursuing hobbies. There's no money, although a sort of currency system has popped up called 'Flow'. Flow is sort of a measure of your usefulness. The Aggregate (the AI that controls the ships function) rewards things like working together and social networking. Some ways you can earn flow are friending people, giving things to people, fulfilling signed contracts. Ways to lose flow are things like de-friending someone, or if you displease someone enough they might give you a frownie, which also reduces your flow.

Now a bit about what goes into a character.
First of course is character creation. You come up with your concept figure out what sort of skills and items and things you have. There's lots and lots of room for creativity here. Have fun with the setting.

The first thing you do is decide what generation you are (somewhat analogous to a race in other games). There's four options: 1st gen (direct descendants of the first people to live on FreeMarket), 2nd Gen (1st gen's kids), Blanks (basically vat-grown people with implanted memories), and Immigrants (people newly arrived)

The second thing you decide on is your geneline. It's somewhat comparable to a class, but it's still pretty different. You come up with a name and it gets three tags (everything in Freemarket has tags, they basically describe things, tell you what they do. So, for example, I gave my character a geneline I called 'Tesla'. I gave it the tags Tinkerer, Eccentric, Pale. I can bring my geneline into play if any of those tags are appropriate to what's going on.

Then you get some amount of experiences based on your immigrant. Experiences are basically skills. There's 16 to choose from. They came up with some creative names, but it includes things like creating things (technology, plants, animals, whatever), negotiating, creating art. Whatever.

Then there are interfaces. They generally come in two forms: some kind of software or some kind of cybernetic enhancement. Each interface has 3 tags, the first must be an experience. For example, my character had an interface I called "HP Soft", it's tags were Printing, Database, Comprehensive. FreeMarket has matter printers which is how you create technology and some other things, even plants and animals if you want.

There's also technology, which tend to be more physical objects. I had some nanobots that helped create/repair interfaces.

There's two more things: memories & MRCZs, which deserve their own sections.

Next a bit about MRCZs, which are basically groups that are formed with a common goal in mind.
Basically, if you want anything more than a bed to sleep in you find some friends and form a MRCZ. It gets you more space and access to more of the station's resources. As your MRCZ contributes more (earns more flow) your MRCZ gets more space and better resources.

As an example, in the game last night I made the eccentric tinkerer I mentioned. One of the other players was a noir-type detective, and the third was a rocker. We came up with a MRCZ we called The B-Team, "we solve your problems!" We tagged the MRCZ with negotiation, well-meaning, and versatile.

Now memories, which are really the advancement system in FreeMarket
The naming for the advancement is a bit off at first. But it works and it's a lot of fun. You have two memory types: long term and short term. You get 3 slots for each. At the end of a session you can erase any long term memories you want. Then you can upgrade any short-term memories to long-term if you wish. Any remaining short-term memories are erased. At the beginning of a session you have the choice to upgrade a single long-term memory into experience, which allows you to erase the memory and increase the rating of any of the 16 experiences by 1 (no experience can go above 3).

Now the fun part. Memories are fleeting. With the technology available it's entirely possible to implant or remove memories from people. You could be running around with a short-term memory that someone completely made up or a memory that happened to someone else. But you remember it as if it's your own. The awesome part is you can choose to make that a defining part of your character and make it a long-term memory and eventually advance experience from that. All from something that your character never actually experienced. It's awesome.

There are some guidelines for memories, they must have 3 of the following elements: a person (not yourself), a location, a MRCZ, an object, an action. Be specific. I had a short-term memory "My first power supply exploded and destroyed my bedroom".

It's possible when messing with someone's memories to only affect one or two elements. So someone could have changed the above memory and only changed one element, maybe not it's "My first power supply exploded and destroyed my dog, fido." In-game, I'd be none the wiser. That's how I remember things happening. I had a dog, and the poor thing was destroyed by my faulty engineering.

There is much fun to be had with memories.

Oh I should also note there's really no permanent death on FreeMarket. The main effect of being deathed is you lose memories, which is the main motivation for deathing someone. And depending on your resources you may lose all your interfaces and tech. But those are easier to replace (chances are you can find someone to gift you some since it earns them flow). Memories can be harder to come by.

Actual mechanics:
Accomplishing things is pretty structured. Each of the 16 experiences have their own challenge type with rules for how they work and what you can accomplish. There's no dice, everything's done with decks of cards supplied with the game.

The first thing that always happens is you invest flow, the amount and method of this varies. But basically you can't accomplish anything without investing flow to do it. Remember how flow has a social worth aspect to it? You're really staking your reputation in a way. In a deck there's 4 types of cards -- Freemarket always scores, Geneline scores based on your geneline, experience scores off your experience, and a hazard has no effect for the moment. You can draw cards, bring in your geneline/experience to support (so able to earn more points off more cards), you can turn hazard cards into bugs which allow you draw more cards, and you can draw from the communal technology deck if you have applicable tech. Players take turns until someone calls at which point everyone tallies the number of points, and the higher total wins. Margin of victory can be spent on effect (up to 3, which means you get what you want perfectly, no caveats) and efficiency (the Aggregate always rewards efficiency), which allows you to get a rebate of some of your invested flow.

All challenges follow this format. The exact meaning of the effect levels vary based on what you're doing. A negotiation effect 3 means you get what you want 100%, no concessions. A printing effect 3 means you make the item you want and you get to assign all three tags (lower effects mean the superuser (GM) sets the remaining tags).

A broad overview of what went down in the game last night:
The detective wanted some wetworking (used for deathing) tech, his words were "I need some heat!". I turned around to the printer and made a piece of tech I called HEAT that resembled a zippo lighter with the tags wetworking, microwave, and finicky.

Then a famous musician that our rocker character had heard of came into our living pod. He'd woken up with a strange piece of tech beside him. He didn't know whose it was, but he'd like it returned to whomever it belongs to. I quickly realized it was a power supply made by a rival of mine, Edison. I still owe him for ghosting (stealing/sneaking) some tech out of my lab. I figure out he'd made it and gifted it to a wetworking MRCZ, The Quick and the Deathed. I first wanted to rig the the power supply to explode, but I realized I didn't have the flow to invest in that kind of modification. So we go find the guy and let him have his tech back, which he's happy to have back. We agree to have our rocker come up with a jingle for their MRCZ and he'll friend all of us.

I decide that's not good enough so we convince him the power supply is a piece of junk and he frownies Edison (which loses Edison some flow). I immediately taunt him "Dude, a frownie? That sucks!"

We get back to our pod and find a deathed body on our floor being taken care of by the aggregate's drones. We realize it's the sister of the rocker's ex who he'd recently slept with. We figure out the guy that dumped the body in here is the guy that the ex left the rocker for. We track him down to find out what's up. There's a challenge and we intimidate some information out of it. He deathed the sister because she wanted to forget about the night with the rocker so she wouldn't tell the ex.

The session ended with the rocker putting on an awesome show and performing the jingle he made for the Quick and the Deathed. He did so phenomenal that he got to give everyone that experienced it a short-term memory, "I was there when Jimi Peck rocked the house for the Quick and the Deathed".

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 4:57 am UTC
by reaction
By the way, we still need to finish that game of the Roach. Next Forge Midwest?

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 12:31 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
Sounds like a plan. I'm hoping to make it again since I had so much fun at this year's.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 3:58 pm UTC
by Jessica
Favourite indie games?
Best friends - A game about the petty problems of teenage girls and their best friends. It's really interesting to one shot because character creation is part of the game. Your stats are created by sitting around the table with friends, and then you ask the question to yourself "I'm jealous of X because they're stronger/smarter/richer/prettier/cooler than me"
when your finished you add up who is jealous of you for each entry and that's your stat.

The game is cooperative storytelling where your resolve conflict by "pushing". If stat a > b, a wins. If b pushes (spends a token, giving it to the person they're jealous of for that entry), b wins. Anyone can push if they have a reason to.

It's fun to play.

Uh, what else. Kobolds ate my baby's fun...

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 4:10 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
I've only gotten to play Kobolds Ate My Baby once and it was a blast. All hail King Torg!

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 4:21 pm UTC
by Vaniver
I've had good experiences with the Wuthering Heights RPG, but the actual mechanics could use quite a bit of improvement.

So, FreeMarket looks exciting but I am unwilling to spend $75 on a game unless I have played it and enjoyed it. Am I missing out on much by opting for the PDF instead?

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 7:00 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
Yeah, $75 is a bit pricey, but I have to say I'm really impressed with the production value of everything in the box.

The box set comes with tokens, cards, and pre-made sheets and such. The rulebook lays out the makeup of the decks so that's easy to replace and you can use anything for tokens.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Sep 29, 2010 9:32 pm UTC
by Jared A. Sorensen
You should definitely NOT shell out the $75 (plus shipping!) for the boxed set unless you really want the game.

Reason 1: it's a nice chunk of change, Read 2: there's only 1,000 and we'd rather it go to people who will play it.

That said, the PDF is $10 so it's a good way to try before you buy (and making cards and stuff isn't that difficult when it's all said and done).


- J

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Mon Oct 04, 2010 4:06 pm UTC
by El Spark
I had a friend who was friends with the guy who published Adventure Maximum. which was one of those universal systems. It was built around opposed difficulty/ability rolls, and was done with percentage dice. We had a hell of a lot of fun with it, mostly because we were able to get away from medieval sword-and-elf types of games for a little bit.

That said, it was a mediocre system that probably would have broken if we'd pushed it too hard. DAMN good times, though.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 3:30 am UTC
by Vaniver
Jared A. Sorensen wrote:Read 2: there's only 1,000 and we'd rather it go to people who will play it.
But, this is free market we're talking about. If I buy it, am disaffected, and then resell it, I will increase the chance that it does go to someone who will play it because of the lower price (assuming I decide to resell it before you run out of boxed sets). Regardless, thanks for the response!

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 2:50 pm UTC
by Jessica
Agreed! Thank you for the response Jared! I want to give it a try, and I might pick up the box set to run at a con. But that'll be in a bit of time. Thinking March right now.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Tue Oct 05, 2010 3:02 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
You might also check out I know of at least one friend that has tried running Freemarket there and it sounds like the first session went pretty well.

Well, when it comes back up at least. It appears to be down at the moment.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Oct 06, 2010 2:22 pm UTC
by existential_elevator
How would you rate running Don't Rest Your Head and/or Dogs in the Vineyard?

At the moment, I'm trying to put together something for Monsters and Other Childish Things. It looks like a very fun game, and my god, is One Roll Engine just beautiful.

I also recently picked up Remember Tomorrow which is... odd. It is properly collective in that nobody has a charater per se, you just choose from the pool. I have absolutely no experience of running or playing in a game like that so.. if anyone has, any experiences you'd like to share? I'm guessing it needs a superb group in order to work well.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Oct 06, 2010 2:40 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
I wish I had more experience with Dogs in the Vineyard. I have absolutely none running it. Hell, I've only barely skimmed it. My understanding of how situations are created is that it damn near runs itself. You run through this whole process of creating a town and by the time you're done with that you should have a situation so ready to burst at the seams that running things should go pretty well.

I haven't tried Monsters and Other Childish Things. My only experience with the One Roll Engine is in Godlike & Wild Talents. Honestly I'm not a huge fan of the mechanic. It sounds really awesome on paper but in practice it hasn't impressed me. It works really well for combat, but, for me, it falls flat for everything else.

I don't know anything about Remember Tomorrow, but I've played a bit of Gregor Hutton's other game, 3:16 which is pretty fun and will surprise you with the amount of depth it has. Think of the beginnings of the game as Starship Troopers and you won't be far off.

Damn, now there's more games on my radar that I have to keep myself from rushing out and purchasing. :)

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Sat Oct 09, 2010 11:29 pm UTC
by She
For those of you who like Dogs in teh Vineyard (and the rest of you too): its author Vincent Baker has a new game called Apocalypse World. It's post-apocalypse and it's awesome. Stats are cool, hard, hot, sharp and weird, and you roll whenever you make one of the predefined moves, such as "going aggro on someone" or "acting under fire". Most often you get the weak hit, 7-9 on 2d6+stat, meaning you get what you asked for but some it comes bundled with some shit or a mean choice, or you get to back down. >9 is a full hit, you get it, and <7 means the GM does something, "and I promise you won't like it".
The thing about it, though, is that there are detailed rules and tips for the GM which really improve and focus the game's feel. I haven't read all of these as I'm not the GM in our group, but from what I've seen it's clearly formulated principles to stick with. And it works, at least in our group.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Sun Oct 10, 2010 5:52 pm UTC
by hatten
Are any of these free to try out?

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Tue Oct 12, 2010 2:21 am UTC
by pseudoidiot
I don't have specific links, but I know some designers offer free pdfs of their games.

Also, currently, Vincent Baker is offering all of his games in pdf version for $25. An excellent deal. link

I'm sad because Vincent was at the Burning Wheel con this past weekend and I didn't get a good opportunity to talk to him. I did get to play Freemarket with Jared Sorensen, though. That was awesome.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Mon Oct 18, 2010 3:54 am UTC
by hatten
Just found Brutal RPG and it looks very promising. I like their walkthrough-like first adventure. Found it at ... llist.html

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Tue Oct 19, 2010 4:44 pm UTC
by Sarr
I am slightly disappointed nobody has mentioned All Flesh Must Be Eaten yet. I've never actually played the thing (never played any RRGs, actually. Working on that as we speak), but from what I hear, it's the best zombie system out there.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Tue Oct 19, 2010 5:14 pm UTC
by El Spark
hatten wrote:Just found Brutal RPG and it looks very promising. I like their walkthrough-like first adventure. Found it at ... llist.html


Awesome. This is totally happening on game night at some point.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Sun Oct 31, 2010 4:52 pm UTC
by hatten
I tried out brutal, and it was a total flop. I (GM) was a little confused about the rules, one guy was tired as hell, and two guys just kept talking about other stuff. I know that the game wasn't really at fault there, though the first 'beginner' adventure is really weird.

If you compare the example characters and the orcs, once they have dropped their bows, are roughly equal. And there's 12 orcs. No way you'll get 12 players. I tried a one on one fight with the example cesspooler vs an orc. And the orc won. Have I misunderstood the rules, or is it very unfair and the players must gang up on one orc at a time?

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 11:06 pm UTC
by Serrin
So, Don't Rest Your Head sounds awesome, but I'm already up to my eyes in tabletop, so that'll have to wait. I just wanted to comment on how cool it looks.

I've recently started as a player in a game of Lacuna Part I: The Creation of the Mystery and the Girl from Blue City. I don't have the rules. I don't know the GM. The game is awesome.

If you'll pardon a bit of quick and dirty description, it's Paranoia meets Inception played somewhere between Straight and Grimdark. You're one of several agents. You have a target. You have to plant a thing on them and activate it. That's all you know when you start out, or at least all I knew. You're also in a dream city that's set roughly all over the 40s to the 80s (if I had to guess, I'd say the time experienced by everyone presently living, minus the immediate past to make everything retropunk)

The dice mechanics are interesting: you roll Xd6 based on your stat (2, 3 or 4, with three different stats), add 1 die if it falls under your specialty, and then get bonus dice if you have helpful equipment or conditions. 11 or higher succeeds. You can reroll as often as you like, but every roll (not just every final roll) gets added to your heart rate. If your heart rate gets too high, you lose certain abilities (the ability to roll as many dice as you want, for instance, ignoring however high or low your stat is), and get certain penalties. I think if it gets too high, your heart might explode. I don't want to find out.

Certain awesome things are revealed over the course of the game; it is not my place to make those revelations here and ruin the experience of discovering them in game. But if you remember the point at which in The Matrix, Keanu wakes up from his incubation pod and first sees the immense human farms...well, it's kind of like that. But only kind of.

tl;dr version: Awesome setting, interesting, fresh dice mechanics. Total lack of information, and I like it that way. If you guys like games who don't have multiple editions, and whose licenses haven't been passed from company to company since the 80s, you should definitely consider this one.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Nov 03, 2010 11:52 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
I've heard good things about Lacuna. It's on my to try list. Unfortunately that list is ever expanding.

Also, on that same site, check out Jared's Parsley games. They're pretty amusing. Text-based adventure games in the form of an rpg. I've only got the first one, but I'd really like to get all of them. He just released a Halloween version, too, which sounds like a lot of fun.

Best thing about Parsley is how quick it plays and you can play with a group of nearly any size. I saw a video where Jarad ran it for an entire roomful of people at PAX East I think it was.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Tue Mar 01, 2011 11:56 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
If you've been looking for an excuse to check out some great small-press games now is the perfect opportunity.

Some gamers are working to raise some money to help out someone with an eye disease that will eventually make her blind.

So, for the low price of $10, you can get 6 great games (as well as a supplement for another fantastic game). No to mention warm fuzzies. ... 860&page=1

Remember Tomorrow, by Gregor Hutton
Mars Colony, by Tim Koppang
Polaris, by Ben Lehman
Murderland, by Elizabeth Shoemaker
Perfect, Unrevised, by Joe McDaldno
Geasa, by Jonathan Lavalee
Apocalypse World character class: THE HOARDER, by D. Vincent Baker

I haven't yet had the chance to play any of these, but I have played other games by some of these authors, not to mention having the opportunity to meet some of them and even gaming with a couple.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:47 am UTC
by McCaber
I have Freemarket, actually. It's strange - very game-y, actually - but it ended up being a lot of fun. We were a posthuman rock band who built and destroyed in conjunction with the music we were playing.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 2:40 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
I've only gotten to play it twice so far (once with Jared!) and both times I had a great time. There's some really interesting themes and stories to explore.

The game with Jared started out very silly (somehow we got focused creating bees). And don't get me wrong, that was a lot of fun. But at the end we got into some interesting stuff. One of the characters in the game had a long-term memory about her grandfather, so Jared brought in a character that in every way seemed to be her grandfather, albeit rather confused. After some investigation we found out it wasn't her grandfather at all. It turned out there was some 1st genner with a buttload of flow. He hacked Aggie to create a fake MRCZ and using those resources he'd flood blanks with memories of loved ones. It was a really awesome setup and made for some really cool thoughts and discussion at the table as well as after the game.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:19 pm UTC
by bigglesworth
I really enjoyed the FUDGE-based Spirit of the Century when I managed to run a stripped-down version for my friends. It was much easier to run than anything else I've ever played (though you get a loss of game-fun when you're not rolling on tables and such). The way it was set up, once character creation was done I could create a story in just five minutes. Even my friend who wasn't really interested in playing ended up having fun, despite having created a character for lulz (turns out lulz was good).

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:43 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
I've only played Spirit of the Century once and that's my only experience with the FUDGE system, but my impression was overall positive. My favorite mechanic by far is the GM offering you bennies (or whatever they're called) for complicating something based on one of your traits or aspects or whatever they're called.

I absolutely love getting characters into trouble like that and in the one game I played I don't think I ever turned down the offer.

In the game we played my character was basically Albert Einstein. The bad guy was trying to open some sort of portal to some other planet for some reason. Our party was, of course, trying to stop him. I had the most know-how of what to do with the portal. I believe I got offered a benny for not dismantling the portal correctly and something happened and some big alien creature started to climb through. Oops! But awesome.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:45 pm UTC
by bigglesworth
I liked the Aspects best, they're best way ever I've seen for rewarding playing in character.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:48 pm UTC
by existential_elevator
My experience of playing Spirit of the Century was also good. I'd recommend it. The system is nice and easy, too. If you like systems that are easy to, ahem, fudge.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:51 pm UTC
by pseudoidiot
Plus the setting is awesome. Pulpy rocketeer sky captain goodness.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 4:52 pm UTC
by bigglesworth
Although apparently once everyone at the table is au fait with it, it takes on a very strategic air if that's what you like.

Re: Indie & Small Press Tabletop RPGs

Posted: Wed Mar 02, 2011 10:08 pm UTC
by McCaber
I've tried SotC, and I just didn't like it. Aspects are fine and cool, but everything else about the system didn't agree with me. The skills, all those stunts that seemed more to limit the people who didn't have them than enable those who did.

It was sold to me as a rules-light narrative game, but it seemed more like GURPS with funky dice.

But Aspects are still awesome, and Houses of the Blooded (a non-FATE game with them) is a pile of win.