ZINE MONTH 2022 - PART 4
As February draws to a close we return to the crowdfunding coalface and dig out some diamonds that have caught our eye in our 4th, and final, Zine Month round up.
It's week 4 and this is, probably, our last round up of Zine Month titles for you to check out as hopefully soon after that we'll be starting our own promo push for Wyrd Science - Issue 3, and if you want to make sure you know about that then make sure you subscribe to our newsletter.
But for now, as the month draws to a close, here's a final selection of zines that have caught our eye in what has been an interesting campaign that has both showcased the incredible diversity and talent in the indie TTRPG scene right now and also highlighted just some of the problems facing it.
Whilst a few systems have definitely featured more than others no one game has dominated and for every zine in the, now standard eye catching, Mörk Borg livery or bearing the Mothership logo you've been just as likely to find a whimsical solo journaling game, system agnostic setting or complete stand alone RPG.
From big serious sci-fi and fantasy to games that have well and truly embraced the bizarre and whimsical, from designers from all over the world putting together print titles that wouldn't look out of place on a big indie publishers slate to delightfully scrappy, PDF only first attempts, Zine Month has provided an umbrella for them all and gone beyond that in providing tools and resources for those making their way in games design and, as importantly, publishing.
But it's also hard not to conclude that it has also shown up just how much work still needs to be done in building up the infrastructure and platforms if we want to be less reliant on platforms such as Kickstarter and what the cost of that transition is.
One of ZiMo's stated goals was a de-monopolization of the market place, encouraging creators to try other sources of crowdfunding besides Kickstarter. In that there's been some success and we've seen campaigns hit their goals on sites such as Itch, Gamefound, GameOnTableTop, designers own sites and more besides, so in that regard it's definitely achieved its goal. Still it should surprise no one that of the top 20 or 30 titles that pulled in the most money this month it looks like only one, Jeeyon Shim's rather excellent looking The Snow Queen, raised that cash on a platform that wasn't Kickstarter.
But I don't think anyone expected anything else, Rome wasn't built in a day and the process of creating a more diverse market will always take time and effort and should be a long term goal rather than something we just expect to happen.
It will also require a lot more infrastructure in place than just new crowdfunding platforms, it requires smarter distribution, better promotion and marketing channels and, yes, more effort from people such as ourselves (and more people like us writing and talking about games full stop), that the first five titles we've tipped here are on all ones on Kickstarter after saying all that is an irony not lost on us.
The lopsided nature of the RPG business will take time to fix, but fixable it is and never forget that for all its problems there has still never been a time when more opportunities for game designers existed, and never been a more dizzying array of options for gamers, whatever their tastes, as is very neatly illustrated by the following titles...
ESTHER AND THE QUEENS
Earlier this month when we mentioned Lucid Sea of Dreams we said we were excited to see more RPGs that tap into Jewish folklore and history and, lo and behold, Esther And The Queens is just that.
Well 'that' with a revolutionary feminist and queer spin as the game is inspired by both the story behind the Jewish festival Purim and, coming somewhat out of the left field, 2018 heist comedy Ocean's 8.
Utilising the Firebrands framework Esther and The Queens sees you play a series of different mini-games as you build up to your big confrontation with Haman, advisor to King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes the Great as you may know him from the comic/film 300 and perhaps history) and no friend of the Jews.
It looks like a lot of thought has gone into how to present the subject matter here and we love the concept, plus as an added bonus I have to say congratulations to the people behind it for also coming up with one of the best names for a mid/late 00s indie band that never existed.
Find it on... KICKSTARTER
There's a few 'magical school' RPGs doing the rounds this month and indeed we've already featured one, the Old School Essentials flavoured Brewkessel. Taking a slightly different approach to the genre though is Arcane High, which is less Hogwarts and more Strange Hill (for non British readers there's a long running BBC kid's school based show called Grange Hill and, well, that's killed that pun).
Anyway! Arcane High not only mashes together the experience of, in this case, an American highschool with magic but also sets it in the 1980s for good measure. A totally radical proposition, for sure.
With over 20 different thaumaturgical traditions to pick from and it's own simple '2D6 roll-over a target number' system it's designed to accommodate everything from romantic adventures through to hack and slash corridor chases, just as long as they're set in a school, in the 1980s, and involve magic. Which is as incredibly specific as I suspect it will be popular.
Find it on... KICKSTARTER
Look at that cover by Matias Viro. I mean really, just look at it, how could you not want to know more about what lay past it? Well I certainly did and now you will too.
So unsurprisingly it turns out that Grok?! Is the kind of zine where the word gonzo gets bandied about and dear readers we are always there for that.
The Grok of the title is, or at least was, "once a haven for trans-dimensional migrants and a bastion of advanced technomancy". Sadly, as is the way, it is but a shattered ruin of its former self, but as they say one person's desolate horror strewn death world is another's loot laden playground.
Combining it's own standalone system - and one that's inspired by a wide & pretty solid list of games from both OSR, OSR adjacent and story gaming traditions- with what appears to be a wonderfully weird setting, this art packed 28 page zine contains everything you need to roll up some weirdos and get out there exploring this irradiated landscape
Find it on... KICKSTARTER
Launched just this week is DNGN a vowel free zine from Vasili Kaliman, and oh boy have we been looking forward to this one all month. Designed for Old School Essentials, this is planned to be just the first issue in a series that will build up to create everyone's favourite bit of OTT nonsense, a weird-fantasy megadungeon, or should that be MGDNGN?!
Anyway this is about as old school as it gets, a no nonsense inexplicably massive underground space within which to kill monsters, meet strange folks (and maybe kill them too) and make off with as much treasure as you can carry. No need to ponder much beyond following the chthonic urge to loot the shit out of a dank hole in the ground.
If the wasn't enough then for those like me who are really into the nerdy business (like even more nerdy than standard RPG nonsense) of print media, that DNGN ticks most of the boxes that gets us all sweaty. It's Riso-printed, in ever reliable scarlet and federal blue, printed on some of that fine Domtar Cougar Smooth 70lb Natural paper stock, card cover, we could go on. It goes without saying that the mock ups look fabulous.
Find it on... KICKSTARTER
Sticking with Old School Essentials we have Gig Economy, a 20 page zine filled from cover to cover with 200 strange freelancers for your characters to hire, add some muscle (or brains) to their party, and let's be honest probably end up using as meat shields in most cases.
With 20 lackeys, 40 townsfolk and 140 adventurers to pick from there's plenty of meat for the grinder here, each with their own quirks and personalities from horrible skin conditions through to being terminally lazy or being particularly belligerent and foul mouthed. I mean to be honest sending some of these people through obviously trapped doors sounds like you'll be doing them a favour.
Anyway it's a fun idea and even if it's uses are, if I'm being honest, fairly situational it looks great, any zine that can find space for an axolotl on its cover gets a thumbs up from me. Hell, just reading through the names of some of these hapless types seems like a good way to spend a few hours and I look forward to the second issue where hopefully we get to meet the union representatives advocating for better fantasy freelancer's working conditions.
Find it on... KICKSTARTER
Someone that everyone interested in old school strangeness should check out is artist and burgeoning game designer Perplexing Ruins, whose work -very much in the kind of outsider art tradition of early D&D- we liked so much used to illustrate our feature on the OSR in Wyrd Science issue 2.
Anyway fresh from their Kickstarter campaign for their own complete Fallen RPG, we have Demonsbane a remarkably pink zine for use with Yochai Gal's very excellent Cairn.
Very much in the weird tradition, if you like the sound of a hexcrawl set in a strange, magical setting where Fungal Folk and Mineral Shambler roam the polygons then this will be right up your street. Throw in dragons trying to break through a sky portal, a clearly up to no good Lich and a variety of locations to explore and there's everything here you need for a good few sessions of fun.
Find it on.... ITCH
Ok... All this old school dungeon business is starting to make this feature smell a bit mouldy so let's check out something completely different in the shape of Third Sphere, a set of backgrounds (basically character classes/archetypes) for Troika!
Now there hasn't been a huge number of Troika! zines doing the rounds this year, in fact this is the only one I can think of but even if the month had been lousy with them, I've fairly certain Third Sphere would have stood out, inspired as it is by industrial/experimental/punk hip-hop group Death Grips.
Tired of playing a Monkey Monger? well now's your chance to switch things up and try out the poser impaling Punk Eight with their psychic stereo and honking goose or the big hat wearing, cobra faced Hot Head, complete with D6 serpent eggs. Does any of that make sense? Does it matter?
Find it on... ITCH
A DUNGEON FOR ANTS
From Death Grips to what sounds like an 00s pop-punk band who once played bottom of the bill on the Vans Warped Tour. Actually it turns out that A Dungeon For Ants is, of course, a micro-dungeon of sorts, and one designed to be printed on just a single piece of A4 and then through the magic of origami, folded, folded and folded again until it becomes a tiny 16 page zine.
Anyway, in this zine rather than battling mutated giant ants in some Fallout inspired post-apocalyptic setting you are in fact the titular ants, whose queen has been stolen and it's up to you to find her and save your colony. It's free to download, endearingly odd and, yes, a bit unpolished but it's exactly what the spirit of indie zines should be.
Find it on... ITCH
Whilst the overwhelming majority of zines we've covered this month have been RPGs there's a few titles that have bucked that trend and one that caught our eye this week is Heist, a little boardgame about pulling off a bank job with your, I'm guessing, mouse friends Ernie & Gil and making a clean getaway.
Even more, much much more in fact, than RPGs board games have become increasingly over produced in recent years, with every new Kickstarter seeming to come with an ocean's full of plastic and ever more luxury components, most of which then gather dust on the shelf after 1 play.
So fair play to anyone making board games on the cheap and Heist looks like a nice fun little game to cut out and play with. Bonus points to for the designer's stated goal of running a project that, in their own word, "will be very relaxed". Wise words indeed.
Find it on... ITCH
And last but by no means least we have Wassail, "a game of hot drinks, ancient trees and ritual". Written by James Chip whose A Wood Heart I've been kicking myself for missing out on for a while now, Wassail is a curious beast and one which I'd say definitely puts the emphasis on ritual over game.
Make yourself a hot drink -the wassail of the title- head out into the woods to shoo away the evil spirits and find an old tree and then using a set of Lenormand cards (a deck of cards that like the Tarot has, over the years, transformed from being a party game in the salons of Europe into a divinatory device) tell stories, reveal hidden secrets and scry possible futures.
Is that a game? I don't know to be honest but I think it sounds interesting. As a teenager on weekends we'd play roleplaying games in a mate's living room during the afternoon and then head off into their shed or the woods nearby at night to get stoned and do what we called Pathworkings, but the two were always very separate, who knows perhaps we were just missing the connection back then.
Anyway game or not, Wassail has some lovely cover art by Lizbeth Poirier and sounds like just the kind of nice yet wonderful strangeness that small print runs were made for and should fit nicely with either my game or my occult zines. All and all it seems like a suitably odd note on which to end this month.
Find it... HERE
And so that's it but honestly we've barely scratched the surface of the campaigns running this month, so if you're still in the market for more head over to the official Zine Month website to find lots, lots more including some brilliant resources if any of tis has inspired you to have a go at making your own zines, in the words of a giant multi-national corporation, just do it.
Right, that just leaves me to say thank you for checking out this series over the past few weeks and to all the people who stepped up at the last minute to create Zine Month and make it such an interesting campaign, the indie game community is fractious at the best of times but it's also filled with some wonderful, generous and creative people so here's hoping this is just the start.
If you need more inspiration for new games to check out and play why not subscribe to our newsletter or download our first two issues for free from Itch.io and DriveThruRPG