9 Zine Month RPGs you should check out (and where to crowdfund them)
Stapled and saddle-stitched gems.
February would normally herald the beginning of Zinefest, a Kickstarter-hosted event where indie tabletop designers attempt to design and crowdfund an A5 paper-sized zine, pamphlet or printout RPG. The company announced that Zinequest 4 would instead take place in August alongside this year’s GenCon, leaving the bitterest part of the winter that much colder.
Undaunted, several individuals banded together to create Zine Month as a grassroots replacement that is virtually the same event, minus the Kickstarter’s official blessing and associated branding. Participants are in fact motivated to seek out alternative funding methods for this a future events, whether that be Itch.io’s crowdfunding tool colloquially dubbed “Itchfunding”, bespoke websites or other platforms such as Gamefound and Indiegogo.
Below is a list of nine projects already live and seeking funding. Expect more to be announced in the coming days, as Zine Month projects can fit anywhere inside February. The official website for the event is already showcasing over 100 small games, supplements, adventures and tabletop tools, so this list is far from comprehensive. But creators and events of this size are vital parts of the hobby and hold some of the most interesting and vibrant talent anywhere.
1. Thousand Empty Light
Darkness-induced psychosis is not a billable health claim.
Like Mörk Borg before it, Mothership has become the new indie darling and target for a glut of adventure modules and hacks. Thousand Empty Light stands out by delivering a solo adventure set not in space but in the oppressive depths of a sunken, lightless factory. The zine coopts the tone and language of a corporate brochure, and the artwork looks as if it was fed through a photocopier ten too many times. Players can port the rules over to other Mothership adventures once they’re done freaking their lonesome bean.
Thousand Empty Lights is crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
2. The Skills to Pay the Bills
One of the oft-touted strengths of games drawing on the OSR tradition is the lack of skill trees and other non-combat dice rolls that are part and parcel to Dungeons & Dragons’ mechanical foundation. The folks at Thick Thief Games think that’s all well and good but went ahead and created one for good measure. The Skills to Pay the Bills offers players the option to tack on a skill tree as a way of giving their dungeon delver some brewing expertise, diplomacy or skill at handling birds, for example. You know how some people add pepper to every dish, regardless of the chef’s designs? This is a supplement for those bold folks.
The Skills to Pay the Bills is currently Itchfunding on Itch.io.
3. Vortex Isles
Piracy, point by point.
Some classic adventure prompts don’t need much to capture the imagination, but Vortex Isles manages to gild the nautical lily with a pirate-themed pointcrawl set around a colossal whirlpool. Rumours say a fabled captain’s treasure lays somewhere within its depths, waiting for a crew brave - or reckless - enough to search it out. For the unfamiliar, pointcrawl adventures break down into location-based scenes, offering just enough flavour and information to prompt some juicy storytelling. Vortex Isles is best compatible with D&D and Cairn, two very different approaches to tabletop roleplay.
Vortex Isles is available on the Brooklet Games Patreon.
4. The Mall
Kurt Russell goes shopping.
What if classic monster horror flick The Thing was set in a shopping mall sometime during the 1990s? The creators of The Mall understand how strong of an elevator pitch that is and believe the setting is the perfect place for a semi-modern dungeon. Like its film inspiration, a shapeshifting creature stalks the party and may replace them at any moment. This fear is represented by Whisper cards that change a player’s motivations, leading them to act rash and fomenting distrust among the group. Survival isn't guaranteed, much less ensuring whatever alien threat is picking people off doesn't make its way to Earth.
The Mall is currently Itchfunding on Itch.io.
5. 9 Live to Valhalla
Mjeowlnir - is that anything?
The brutally adorable 9 Lives to Valhalla sounds like the recently announced Heckin Good Doggos by way of Mörk Borg. Players are a group of yowling cat vikings carrying out a crusade against undying tyrannical forces. Death will come for you in spectacular fashion, but the feline characters have lives to spare as they hack and scratch through mouse knights, canine sorcerers and avian assassins. The game is built for fast-paced one-shots and short campaigns where spectacle is everything, and it uses its own lightweight rules system to do so.
9 Lives to Valhalla is now crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
6. Barkeep on the Borderlands
It’s a well-heeled joke that every fantasy-adjacent campaign either begins with killing rats in a basement or sitting around the local tavern. Barkeep on the Borderlands finds a bit more to mine from that trope by expanding it into a pubcrawl adventure that takes place across a massive outpost town festooned with watering holes, vintners, breweries and bars. System-neutral and designed to tell stories as loosely connected anthologies, its setting includes five interconnected factions all jostling to control the Keep, including a goblin NGO and an academy of ale-loving wizards.
Barkeep on the Borderlands is crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
7. Hot Stuff on Shore Leave
A little spice; a lot of lung damage.
Mothership adventures tend to bring an atmosphere of mounting dread and corporate derision to the table, but the second solo jaunt on this list takes a slightly different approach by imagining a desperate queer getaway set against the industrial smog of a hot sauce factory. The fear here is more metaphysical than existential, coalescing as hookups and blind dates on what may be the last safe night for Mothership’s oft-doomed characters. Journaling out their feelings gives players the chance to explore what a queer scene might look like in a universe choked by corporate greed, as well as expanding the options queer players have in the RPG scene.
Hot Stuff on Shore Leave is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
8. Esther and the Queens
Every year, Purim is celebrated as the day Queen Esther saved the Jews from death at the hands of Haman, a Persian official who wanted to cleanse them from the empire. Esther and the Queens reimagines the event through the lens of the Firebrands RPG system, putting players in the role of Esther’s handmaids as they cajole and manipulate nobles while disguised as foreign queens. The session plays out through several mini games with the ultimate goal of buying an audience with the king and bolstering Esther’s resolve to confront him. It’s Ocean's Eleven meets Jewish history, framed as a masquerade - what’s not to love?
Esther and the Queens is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
9. Feathered Adventures
Squawk is cheep.
Serious roleplay takes a lot of investment, both in time and emotional energy. When the group can’t muster the nerve for another dismal delve or three solid hours of court intrigue, RPGs such as Feathered Adventures can offer a lighthearted reprieve. The diceless game encourages pulpy storytelling focused on a group of birds attempting to overcome their faults and let their distinctive strengths shine. The creators include pre-generated characters and groupings that excel at certain kinds of stories - standard adventure, drama, kid-friendly and chaotic. If the playgroup would rather relax with a Ducktales-esque romp through one of the 16 included adventures, this could be the ticket to saving game night.
Feathered Adventures is currently crowdfunding on Game On Tabletop.