There’s something inherently mystical about a small boat on a river. Myths and legends from all corners of the world use the imagery as passing from one realm to the next, or else to signify a profound growth and inward change. That same magic can also be smaller, more intimate and surround a simple journey to fish up food for one’s village home, such as in the minimalist tabletop RPG Riverbend.
Designed by Gustavo Tertoleone and Victor Amorim, Riverbend sends a group of players into a basin armed with rod and tackle instead of sword and sorcery as they haul in a catch to keep their family and neighbors fed for the season. The rules-light system was developed from Nate Treme’s popular Tunnel Goons, which uses two six-sided dice to resolve interactions and numbered tables to flesh out both characters and the world around them.
Once the player holding the rod (or other tool) drops their line, they roll several dice on a die drop table and use the results to determine whether or not something takes the bait. Amorim posted a peek at one of the tables on his Twitter, saying the decision to use drop tables embraces the fact that fishing does “take a bit of skill after all”. Discovering or purchasing gear can modify the dice to explode, multiply the pool or bestow other such bonuses to each cast.
A similar exercise is used to create the river basin players will explore borrowed from mapmaking games. The group tosses a random assortment of dice on a black sheet of paper, using the results of each to connect the starting village to places of interest via flowing rivers. Along the way will be prime fishing spots, other settlements where players can shop or upgrade their boat and mysterious locations likely filled with treasure and danger. The strength of the current will change as the crew explores, making travel and fishing more challenging.
Trophy hunters can opt to chase down the River Aberrations that stalk the waters, not all of them fish-shaped nor willing to be reeled in without a fight. Other creatures and NPCs will offer aid or at least an interesting diversion from hauling in the daily catch. Alongside all of these adventures will be a stalwart feline with unique magical abilities. According to publisher Exalted Funeral, “these cats are descended from the first cats who came from outer space hundreds of years ago.” So, yeah - helpful, fish-loving space cats.
Riverbend’s 40-page RPG is currently available as a physical zine and PDF combo on Exalted Funeral’s website for $17 (£12), though a digital-only version should be coming to Itch.io sometime later. While its scope may not be massive, the fantasy of a fishing trip works best when it focuses on the halcyon, ephemeral nature of a river’s ever-changing waters.