Those who lived through the 1980s and ‘90s likely remember two decades of bright, crass commercialisation, constant economic tensions and a return to ‘measured, respectable’ politics. They also probably remember the iron grip that normality held over families, schools and popular culture, against which multiple pockets of counterculture scenes rebelled - even if only between classes and on weekends.
The Lost Bay is an ode to that time and place, the generic suburban America present in every city - and every city the setting to a different mundane horror show. This tabletop RPG setting and system borrows a lens from slasher films and thrillers of the era, heightening the lurking danger behind every picket fence and the unease of a shopping mall suddenly empty of patrons.
Players embody Vibes, archetypal young characters from these iconic films with names like Firestarter, Splinter and Screamer. Each Vibe, a social outside and weirdo, brings an arsenal of unique powers they can wield against the Bay’s sinister elements and boast specific opportunities to grow throughout the course of a campaign that can be played solo or with a group. Fail at using one of your powers, and players earn Scars that can manifest new abilities or awful - but helpful - realisations about The Lost Bay, itself.
Learning the system powering The Lost Bay is as simple as understanding a pool of six-sided dice. Built on similar tactical foundations as indie RPG peers LUMEN and Cairn, meaning combat is tight and tactical, and characters only care about two stats: Heart and Weird. The world is coloured in broad strokes with plenty of gaps for the group to fill in as they play - what worldbuilding there is has been woven into the rules, tables and layout of the rulebook, and players are encouraged to gradually discover the shadows haunting this seaside town’s skate parks, beaches, arcades and restaurants.
In a press release, The Lost Bay’s designer (who goes by the same pseudonym online) said in a press release that the ‘80s and ‘90s evoke horror “because they’re a decade where the ancient analog world mixes with the modern digital one.” The resulting clash of culture and understanding, ancient creatures out of folklore anachronistically juxtaposed against beepers, the space race and a burgeoning internet is a heady mixture for spooky storytelling that cuts to the bone.
The Lost Bay’s creator harbours a more personal attachment to this RPG setting, as they explain further into the press release: “I grew up in an environment where toxic masculinity was the rule. Both at home, and outside of it…That was just the way things were, the world of the grown ups. Normalcy. I didn’t find that normal at all! I was pretty scared most of the time. But I was lucky enough to be part of a gang of kind souls. We loved each other and helped us survive the harsh world of the Bay. We were Geeks, Punks, Queers and Dreamers. The normies called us Weird,” they said.
“Eventually, I made “Weird” my one-word motto, and used to wear a Why be normal? pin. I was proud of my Weirdness. Things felt better, the Bay was my playground, I loved its marshes, forests, beaches, junkyards and skateparks. I was happy. Then one day, something unexpected happened. I had to leave the Bay, without notice. Like in the movies. At dawn, hiding, in secret. I didn’t come back for more than 15 years. During that exile the Bay grew in my mind like a place of fantasy, and actual memories blended with fiction. The Lost Bay became a dream, partly familiar, partly alien, a place of wonder shrouded in a terrifying mystery,” the creator said.
The Lost Bay is currently available through its Itch.io page as a digital download. The price will scale as more play material, adventures and supplements - such as the mini-dungeon delve into the prefab house/nightmare scenario Unit DH-17 - are added to the main release. There’s not yet word on when and where players might be able to pick up a physical copy.