Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Interesting indie games on my radar

The end of the year is almost upon us, and consequently I thought I'd devote a little time fulminating on some of the interesting indie RPG titles that have come up on my radar in recent months/years which I'm keen to have a go at when the opportunity presents, in 2011.

Luckily, many of these can probably be covered off in a single session, leaving time for lengthier campaigns using other systems, like Pathfinder or Rogue Trader.

Burning Wheel

I've long wanted to have a go at Luke Crane's excellent Burning Wheel system, which has since gone on to form the basis of other games like Burning Empires. I've been dipping in and out of BW in recent months, and have to say, I like what I see. It is not a simple system, by any means; its level of sophistication is comparable to Pathfinder.

I hasten to add that I've not read BW in its entirety, but I have 'burned up' (generated) a character. Initially, I found the XP system slightly off-putting. It requires players to keep tabs on which skills and attributes they test during the game, and how difficult that test was, in order to progress. In some ways this is reminiscent of BRP (Basic Role Playing), but more advanced.

However, in other areas, BW is quite simple, for example in the way it manages characters' financial resources as just another attribute that needs to be tested. Thus, the relative expense and scarcity of an item can be distilled into a single obstacle (target number in BW speak).

I will probably be posting more on BW in the near future as I continue to read up on it, but in terms of the fantasy/swords and sorcery genre, this game looks like it could end up being my favourite to GM.

Monsters & Other Childish Things

M&OCT could be a very interesting one-shot or mini campaign game. I like games which can be completed in between one and four three hour sessions. I don't like being responsible for story arcs that require more than that, to be honest. M&OCT fits the bill very nicely indeed.

M&OCT characters are school kids who happen to have monsters as friends. As a player, you generate your kid as your primary PC, but you also gen a monster. The great thing about the monsters is that you can really build one from the ground up: you have a dice (point) budget that sets a limit on the monster's overall power, but other than that, you're allowed to let your imagination run wild.

I've not figured out yet whether the monsters are invisible to adults, how they are allowed to intervene in day-to-day situations, or what the consequences of this are. The game feels a little bit like a dark version of Pokemon in some respects, as much of the conflict in the game stems from unleashing the beasts at one another, but there is also an underlying sub-game about the kids' relationships with each other, as well as with NPCs and objects/locations they value.

It is a little reminiscent of the Circles trait in BW: characters are not 'outsiders' who tramp into town and cause a ruckus like your typical D&D adventuring band: they have close connections with their community that have to be maintained if they are going to continue to benefit from them.

Chronica Feudalis

CF is a medieval RPG that uses a fairly 'straight' setting of historical Europe in the 12th or 13th century. There are no fantasy or magical elements to this game as far as I can see. It is slightly irritatingly written, as the author has tried to create it using the persona of a monk of the era - all the way through. It probably sounded like a great idea at the time.

The interesting thing about CF is that it is quite good at simulating a political-level game. It is something my group has dabbled with this year, first in our Rogue Trader campaign, and later with Pathfinder Kingmaker. The characters have had political ambitions - in both campaigns they have been granted a large area to explore and develop, and this has led them to take responsibility for their 'domain' at a fairly early stage, plus having to deal with all the threats and problems controlling such a demesne can face them with.

CF can allow players to take on a wide range of roles within medieval society, allowing for a game where they play peasants in a village, or outlaws in a forest, or even members of a noble house. It is highly scalable, and quite interesting to me as a consequence.


Finally, at some point I'd like to have a crack at the Gumshoe system. Esoterrorists was one of the first games published by Pelgrane using Robin Laws' Gumshoe system for investigative games. I played a demo of it at Dragonmeet in 2008 and I liked what I saw. I can understand the author's irritation with some aspects of Call of Cthulhu and other investigation-based games, and many of the mechanics of Esoterrorists have been cooked up to keep research-based plots pacey.

I particularly like the combination of the horror and espionage themes which Esoterrorists represents. It smacks of Delta Green, and I could quite see a Delta Green scenario being easily concocted using Esoterrorists and Ken Hite's Trail of Cthulhu together.

I really enjoyed running Cold City at BenCon this year: it is another horror/espionage game which, like Esoterrorists, uses a stripped down rules framework coupled with an exotic background, to come up with an excellent game. As a GM, I liked running a game which allowed me to focus on plot and characters, and take the game in new directions, without worrying about the crunch, of which there is little in either CC or Esoterrorists.

Having said that, playing as we do on Friday nights, at the end of the week, when everyone is tired, the question remains whether the investigative game has a viable future in our group. It may still work over a limited time arc, but I suspect that players prefer games that are more in your face these days, rather than having characters skulking around dusty libraries or poring over ancient texts.


  1. I'm always up for a bit of investigation-based play, but yes, slotting games in at the end of a week does make it tough on our less energetic members!

    I like the Gumshoe system -- although its design philosophy is rooted in a fallacy -- and I'd be keen to try Esoterrorists.

    I'd also like to play Unknown Armies at some point as it seems to attract the same kind of buzz that the Gumshoe games do.

  2. Yes - Unknown Armies, Cold City.... so long as there is dismemberment, being eaten alive, etc etc in one session, possessed by alien gawds.... you name it.... am all for pared down systems - but fast moving plot - and Cold City did that - I would not want to run a game (or play) which had too many hours pursuing red herrings/ too much time trying to theorise what was happening.... In Cold City the action continued... and it was a game that could cope with a fluid dynamic in terms of what folks did. :)

    all of the above sound interesting - let's play a few - and soon. :) So long as get to kill/ be killed/ eaten or something. :)

  3. another interesting game, simulating politics, is A Song of Ice and Fire - which I think is an excellent attempt to get the political mechinations of feudal politics of the GoT setting....

    I would like to play/ run a claustrophic medieval cloak and dagger game.... which system? Not sure - but ASIF seems to do the job nicely. :) Trick with that game is to make sure the pcs are not over-cooked!! (as in too tough!) BUT I am aware GoT is not everyone's cuppa!

  4. PLUS I also know I must STAY FOCUSSED! :D and faithful to Kingmaker! ;)