Thursday, 26 May 2016

Kickstarter, zombies and me

Now on Kickstarter!
I've had somewhat of a chequered experience with Kickstarter over the years. I backed the Shadowrun Online project years ago (July 2012 - Cliffhanger Productions). Now I don't have the time to spend playing it - life seems too short somehow to waste in on a PC game. Since then I've backed some other projects, like Shadows of Esterren and Deadlands Noir, both of which were successful.

I became disgruntled with the Hillfolk kickstarter from Pelgrane Press, which saw fit to begin distributing the game at GenCon before backers had received their copies. This, I feel, was a mistake. Consequently, I avoided backing the Dracula Dossier, although by the looks of it they did not require my help.

Horrors of War, by Adam Scott Glancy, proved the final straw for me. The fact that Mr Glancy had time to focus on the new edition of Delta Green while his HoW project was gamely missing its deadlines has rankled with me. Hence, I decided to swear off Kickstarter in 2016, and have successfully avoided supporting a number of projects, including the aforesaid Delta Green and as well as the new Conan RPG from Modiphius.

However, this has all now changed with the launch of the Red Markets kickstarter this month. Red Markets is being written by Caleb Stokes of Hebanon Games. He ran the gruelling actual play Delta Green scenario God's Teeth on Roleplaying Public Radio (RPPR) which you can still listen to. I have also bought his systemless No Security with a view to running something from that in Trail of Cthulhu. His Lover In The Ice is apparently going to be included in the new Delta Green game.

Caleb's scenarios tap into a disturbing undercurrent of human evil. His characters are seemingly more frightening and loathsome than the monsters they serve. He also brings to his work a level of cynicism and world weariness I quite enjoy. I think being a teacher helps!

For some time now my RPG collection has been lacking a post-apocalyptic game. I do own a copy of Atomic Highway, which I might try out at some point, but Red Markets has been intriguing. I have been following its development on RPPR over the past year, and it has been enjoyable to hear it evolve in regular updates.

Red Markets is essentially a game about people trying to survive and make a living in a zombie infested wilderness. The environment is one where civilization has walled itself off from the zombie menace - e.g. the quarantine in place on the British Isles in 28 Days Later - but many people have been left to survive in enclaves. These individuals would like to buy their way out of their predicament, so must try to earn the money by carrying out missions in the wastelands for others. It does sound like a synergy between Mad Max and The Walking Dead.

Some years back I caught the zombie bug after playing Resident Evil mercilessly. I also picked up a copy of All Flesh Must Be Eaten, but there I stumbled. I saw I could easily run a special forces scenario where a team has to break into a research facility as in the computer game (players of my recent Night's Black Agents one shot will recognise the influences of Resident Evil and Dino Crisis), but it was hard to put together an idea of what a typical AFMBE would look like. Running a campaign where characters have to survive the start of an outbreak was 'sandboxy', for sure, but I still feared it could become too boring or 'samey'. Perhaps I was wrong. I've been fiddling with a Tour of Darkness mini-campaign for Savage Worlds over the last couple of years that might well have suffered from the same, but actually is proving quite intriguing.

Red Markets, however, sounds as if it will bring many established principles of recent RPG design to the cooking pot: GMs have the flexibility to concentrate on the elements they want, be it combat, interpersonal relationships, the bottom line, or all of it together. Players take a role in designing their enclave, just as in games like The Dresden Files, where they determine the nature of the metropolis the PCs dwell in, or Ars Magica with the covenant design system.

The rules are layered, in that it is possible to add more crunch should you so wish. But the clincher for me is that there are more objectives here than simple survival and scavenging, which has been the focus of many post-apocalyptic RPGs. Somehow there is more of a sense of purpose for parties.

While I am looking forward to seeing the new Delta Green and Conan games, Red Market remains one of my most anticipated new RPGs of the year. You can back it here.


  1. Sounds interesting.
    Good news: looks like I am not being asked to teach a 3rd A level. Which I had no qualifications in!
    Bad news: looks like I need to teach myself undergraduate level International Relations! By September! ;)
    But hopefully I will be able to run a couple of Conan-RPG one shots. Fingers crossed. It should arrive on my doorstep by September. Theoretically!

  2. Caleb's scenarios tap into a disturbing undercurrent of human evil. His characters are seemingly more frightening and loathsome than the monsters they serve.

    That's a good way to make horror work. A lot of 70's Doctor Who uses this structure -- some corrupt businessman or politician is exploiting the alien-of-the-week for his purposes -- and you also see it in Alien and -- in particular -- Aliens. It's the best of both worlds; you get the bug eyed monster but you also get the human face of evil, and as you say, that relatable, human aspect often seems more horrible than the monster.

    I have a couple of post-apocalyptic games here that we have not yet touched. I have the first edition of Apocalypse World, and I backed the Mutant Zero spinoff featuring mutated animals. I don't know if either of them are a good fit for our group but I'm keen to try both!