9 Zine Month RPGs that let you explore sunken submarines, wait for the train and be a hungry seagull
This second batch of RPG zines will send you to the furthest depths of the ocean or just into your backyard.
Half of February may already lie in the rearview mirror, but that’s a pessimist’s view on what’s already an incredible month for indie tabletop RPG projects. The Zine Month submissions keep churning out, so Dicebreaker has another list of some standout entries worth a look during their brief crowdfunding windows. Some are hosted on Kickstarter, some more can be found on Itch.io, while others have opted for their own solutions.
As with the previous list, the games outlined below represent a small slice of the creative output from the indie tabletop scene over the past few weeks. All entries in the 2022 Zine Month challenge can be found on its official website. Plenty more will likely crop up as we head into the back half of the month - they only need to fund during February to comply with Zine Month’s brief guidelines.
The entries span run the gamut of introspective solo journaling experiences to harrowing subnautical delves and monstrosities built from Scrabble tiles. As mentioned with the previous list, the typically smaller projects submitted during Zine Month - and Zinequest before it - thrive within their creative constraints and show just how much can be accomplished within the saddle stitched pages of a little booklet.
1. It’s Lunch Time!
My British colleagues here at Dicebreaker have informed me that any coastal city - but especially the southern border - deals with a winged scourge known as seagulls. The aerial trashmongers look for any opportunity to yoink a chip, crisp bag and even ice cream cone from the ground or hands of the unsuspecting target. What drives these peckish poachers to cause such mayhem? Well, quick RPG It’s Lunch Time might help you enter their mindspace.
The premise of It’s Lunch Time is dead simple - you are a hungry seagull, and it’s time for lunch. Its designer, ell0, describes a simple dice roll system using at least one ten-sided die and a run-time of approximately an hour played solo. Good for a launch or a spot of entertainment during your own food break, It’s Lunch Time should probably be played indoors as seagulls will likely mistake your dice for an easy treat.
It’s Lunch Time is currently crowdfunding on Itch.io.
One for my woodland homies.
Much of the Northern Hemisphere is still in the frigid grips of winter, meaning it’s the perfect time to play an RPG where you brew up a hot bev and go perform a tree ritual. Such is the exact premise of Wassail, a game by designer James Chip performed in the depths of the woods with a flask in hand and a prayer on the lips.
The digital version has been out for a bit, but Chip is using Zine Month to produce physical copies that will include more artwork, a hot cider wassail recipe and a guide on using the preferred Lenormand cards in the ritual. After blessing the oldest tree in the woods with an offering of cider, each player will take turns approaching it and learning some of its wisdom through the cards. After learning a smidge about the past and future, the players should thank the tree and return home for some of their own spiced wassail.
Wassail is crowdfunding a physical zine on James Chip’s Itch.io page.
3. Crush Depth Apparition
Fear at 10,000 leagues.
The thought of travelling into the lightless depths of the ocean in an overblown metal pillbox is frightening enough, but Amanda Lee Franck’s Crush Depth Apparition dials up the terror by using a submarine as the location for a nautical haunting. Things won’t deteriorate immediately but shut down and get weird in progressive stages that the players must either control or understand before the only thing protecting them from all of that water insteads becomes their tomb.
Players will share a character sheet for the submarine and attempt to maintain its core systems while also exploring its impossible, weird insides. A hallway that wasn’t there before, apparitions in the steam, and a seemingly endless graveyard of pipes might hold the key to freeing themselves from their oceanic hell. A crew of NPCs will share stories and teach them invaluable skills, and a map of the Atlantic ocean contains plenty of open water to navigate, along with its hidden hazards and horrors.
Crush Depth Apparition is funding now via Project Nerves.
4. For Small Creatures Such As We
To fluffily go.
Anna Blackwell continues her exploration of spaces through the lens of solo journaling games with For Small Creatures Such As We, which puts players in charge of a spaceship crewed by non-human aliens. As such, all manner of modifications and enhancement can enhance the crew’s comfort, health and morale as they travel between galaxies on a mission that’s not nearly as important as the long, shared moments between launch and touchdown.
Blackwell explicitly mentions the Wayfarers book series as inspiration, and the mechanical underpinning of her zine will focus on the crew members’ individual stories and their connections. The card-based prompt system will introduce happy accidents and minor crises as well as small moments of joy and mundane achievements. Each has been written to bring the player closer to their group of aliens, understanding them through emotions that might just transcend humanity.
For Small Creatures Such As We is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
5. Signal to Noise
Extremely long distance relationship.
Humanity was invited into the stars by an alien signal and chose to follow it in great generational fleets. Massive as they were, those vessels only carried a fraction of Earth’s peoples, and those aboard left behind nearly everything. Signal to Noise provides rules to tell one story among thousands about two people and their attempts to maintain a bond as lightyears carry them further and further apart.
An epistolary game, both players take turns composing letters based on prompts derived from a deck of playing cards. Before sending them - either digitally, in person or through the real-world mail system - they must introduce an ever-increasing amount of noise through random letter replacement. Gradually, tragically, these letters will become garbled and illegible. Their recipients can only guess at the sentiments they contain as the shared bond fades into the background radiation of the universe.
Signal to Noise is currently raising funds through Game on Tabletop.
Supplication and sacrifice.
The Gods passed judgement on humanity and long ago found them wanting. They visited destruction upon civilisation to repay in kind the violence the world had suffered, and now the remnants make regular pilgrimages up the mountain to beg forgiveness with throats hoarse from screaming. Moriah tells the story of a group of worshippers from a solitary village braving a perilous journey for the sake of all humanity.
The game uses dice to resolve simple challenges as groups ascend the holy mountain, focusing more on questions of morality, sacrifice and selflessness and unfolding the quiet lives of ordinary people called to do the extraordinary. Players may improve their chances of success using parts of their own body - or even the lives of their fellow players - and those who die on the path will then roleplay as the scornful and capricious gods living at the peak.
Moriah is currently Itchfunding on Urania Games’ Itch.io page.
A, E, I, O, U and why?
Perhaps the most lighthearted game on this list still asks players to splice genetic material together to create battle-ready monstrosities. Abominations is the breakout TRPG from designer Elliot Davis and uses letter tiles from board games such as Scrabble to customise lab-grown creatures designed for combat. Two to six players will create a scientist and their pet project, and each letter confers specific abilities, mutations and enhancement that will give them an edge over the other eggheads in the scientific arena.
The three-round battling system is fairly simple, using ten-sided dice that can be modified using the letter tiles representing each monster’s unique genetic enhancements. Abominations is a simple game by design but houses at its core a clever use of another game’s pieces to power quick combat that anyone can pick up in minutes.
Abominations is currently funding a physical print run through Itch.io.
8. The Station
Train stations are often nexuses of emotions, anxieties and transitions, and tabletop designer Pidj Sorenson has attempted to capture all of that and more in their latest collaborative worldbuilding game The Station. Inspired by Avery Alder’s The Quiet Year and Caro Acersion’s i’m sorry did you say street magic, the game uses playing cards instead of dice to lead a group of players to create the small world around the station as well as the people waiting there for a fated train.
Rounds are fairly simple - draw a card, read and answer the corresponding prompt and mark down new information on paper or index cards. The players will gain points as play proceeds and the train chugs along its predetermined path. At the end of the game, those points can be spent to resolve hanging storylines and close the book on the characters created during the game. The train brings with it many endings and beginnings, but the game only sees through the window of the station.
The Station is currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
Gobbin’ in the dark.
The goblins of Kokono are at a crossroads, and their mountain village seems beset at all sides with trouble, mysteries and change. One of the village’s most respected crafters has not returned from a reconnaissance into the nearby cave system, and the close-knit community fears the worse. And that’s all before a group of adventuring outsiders show up at their doorstep. Cavehaven is a goblin-centric setting and companion adventure designed to slot into most fantasy worlds and game systems.
Designed by Braden M. Rohl, the setting describes the mountain village of Cavenhaven, along with all its denizens, in plenty detail to hook a group of roleplayers into exploring further into the randomly generated caves beyond. Rohl claims this setting is meant to be the beginning of a much larger exploration and will contain hints at a “alarming schism in reality itself” and will tease players with connections to the broader world. It also includes a full bestiary and taxonomical notes on the cave system’s plants, fungi and minerals.
Cavehaven is currently itchfunding on Rohl’s Itch.io page.