Become a vampire-hunting clown or walk the halls of a forgotten cosmic prison with these new RPG zines.
Pagliacci packing pranks.
What if I told you clowns shoulder a sacred charge that has little to do with oversized shoes and pratfalls into pies, at least directly? Clown Helsing is a new tabletop RPG that imagines such a world, where the jesters of the 21st century protect mankind from the scourge of undead vampires.
Small press Spear Witch has published Clown Helsing alongside two other new physical offerings. Designed by Jake Eldritch, the 36-page softcover book provides everything a group needs to enter a world in which laughter isn’t just the best medicine - it’s the only thing that will put down a vampire for good.
“Their immortality depends on their dignity. Clowns must destroy a Vampire in a hilarious way for it to stick. This war has gone on for ages, and unfortunately the old gags like garlic and crosses barely get a chuckle nowadays. Sure, folks thought being impaled on a stake with a brick in your mouth was the acme of comedy once, but today's Clown plays for a tough crowd,” reads the game’s description on DriveThruRPG.
Clown Helsing relies on a roshambo system to resolve conflicts, keeping the rules light and the preparation load as nonexistent as possible. Players build their entertainers/hunters via deadly Shticks that don’t always seem like martial prowess at first glance, along with a moniker. Perhaps Bungo seems fairly non-threatening at the birthday party, but those elegantly twisted balloons might contain aresoled holy water.
Also on offer is Kiran Gill’s collection of design notes, tables and tableside addendums titled Fragments From The Ludography of Chester G Saltmarsh. The game guide is framed as the research notes and ramblings of the eponymous 19th-century rambler who had a habit of inscribing his observations as games and notes on possible games. The 20-page book works as a readable document or a supplement for a group’s current adventures because Saltmarsh had a propensity for ending up in both strange places and times.
Those searching for more tabletop inspiration can look towards the last previewed book, Nate Treme’s Kozmik Objects and Entities. The designer of other indie titles, such as In the Light of a Ghost Star and Tunnel Goons, constructed Kozmik to serve as a collection of places and NPCs that slot into sci fi campaigns ranging from the weird and wacky to the deeply unsettling. It successful funded a Kickstarter in early 2020 and is finally seeing retail copies in the wild.
The premise is that a long-forgotten god - or perhaps godlike ruler - imprisoned their foes in a terraformed asteroid. That monarch may be gone, but their living trophy room has survived and is a gathering place for occult worshippers, glory seekers and academics of all stripes. Kosmik describes what still lurks on the floating rock, but how they affect a campaign is entirely up to the group that cracks it open.
It’s worth it to keep track of what small press publishers are selling, as not only do they help indie designers find a larger market but their catalogues often fit into the spaces of the tabletop hobby not often served by the larger companies. Exploring Clown Helsing could be a welcome reprieve from a long-running and more traditional campaign, or one of the supplements can inject vitality in a storyline gone limp from age.
Clown Helsing, Fragments From The Ludography of Chester G Saltmarsh, and Kozmik Objects and Entities can be purchased on Spear Witch’s website for $20, $12 and $18 (£14, £9 and £12), respectively.