One of the best parts of releasing Krendel as free has been people telling me about their own free and low cost games. This selection expanded with Dave Chapman's RPGaDAY in August, where people share their thoughts and favorites with respect to RPGs, a new theme each day. I wanted to take a moment to talk about some of the games that I have had a chance to read over. Each of them offers something different, and you can explore them yourself by following the link each section leads with.
Dungeon Solitaire by Matthew Lowes offers a clever means of playing out a dungeon delve just using a standard deck of cards. Each card is given special meaning, being it a monster, a new skill, or a treasure hoard. The most interesting twist is that the aces repesent spent torches. Once all the aces are drawn and you are out of torches, you are lost in the dungeon forever (the Joker can save you if you are lucky). So there's a bit of urgency in your quest.
The basics of the game are something I could see adapting for a more complicated game, such as Dungeons and Dragons, offering a means of playing solo adventures. That is something I'd like to see come of this actually. Something else I would like to see is an ap that runs this game. Its simple enough and yet interesting enough that I think it would make a cool game on smart phones.
Giant by Matthew Lowes is essentially a simplified game of Battletech. It has the feel of early wargames like Ogre, and it certainly looks like it would be a quick game to play. Unfortunately, it loses the charm that made early Battletech so great. There was something weighty about saying you have a 50 ton mech rather than saying you have a Type B Titan. Where it is certainly simplified, the fewer options for customizing your mech (there are only 15 types of mech and 9 types of weapon) just seemed to be too few. So maybe it could work out as a good intro into something else.
The presentation in some areas could use another pass as well. For example, it took me a while to figure out where and how weapon damage was listed since it wasn't in the damage chapter and the weapon chart doesn't have a column for damage (its actually the number in the weapon type designation). Also, missiles are essentially unplayable as written as they are given the same range modifiers as guns and lasers (+3 penalty at range 9-11, and +4 at 12+), but they also automatically miss anything less than 10 hexes. I'm pretty sure one of these is a major typo.
Ronden Marr by Jesse Morgan is a setting for fantasy games rather than a game in and of itself. Where it does have some fantasy game tropes I have become exhausted with (e.g. multiple top tier predators cohabiting, aka more races than you can shake a stick at), I found the approach to its societies quite refreshing.
The basic story is that there was an apocalypse on the surface world and everyone fled into the dwarven kingdom for safety. The dwarves don't seem to be huge fans of this, but they are totally calling the shots. With so many people crammed into such a small place, the decisions they've made have been pragmatic, brutal, dismissive, and even genocidal (arguably with bias as well). This "reality" of the situation is fascinating.
Adventures within Ronden Marr essentially have two locations: the city itself and the Undercavern, a sprawling network of caverns that provides a fresh take on the Underdark. Like the dwarves that rule the city, the Undercavern is pragmatic, brutal, dismissive, and even genocidal.
Right now Ronden Maar is system agnostic. So you can easily drop it onto whatever system you want, such as D&D, FATE, or even Krendel.
The Murder of Mr. Crow by Rickard Elimää is more of a party game than a typical RPG, but it can be a lot of fun. Its a murder mystery, but one unlike most other games you don't strive to find the traitor. Instead it recreates the end scene from classic mystery novels and movies where the detective goes around uncovering everyone's secrets, casting doubt upon everyone until the big reveal.
Who is the detective? Everyone. You all take turns wearing the proverbial hat and asking questions. Who are the suspects? Again, everyone. This removes personal investment from wanting to be named or avoiding suspicion. The Murder of Mr. Crow is all about steering the ever more convoluted narrative in a direction you want when its your turn.
Lady Blackbird by John Harper is basically a one shot story game. It presents a charged, steampunk inspired scenario that immediately throws you into the action. The rules seem simple enough to use, even though their presentation required a another read, as if it assumes you already understand its internal terminology.
Where you could easily assume that the game is about a party of adventurers breaking out of jail and finding the pirate king. The section on how to GM changes the nature of the game dramatically. This sets things up to potentially be more in the mold of Cortex or Apocalypse World games where the journey is just set dressing for inter-character relationships. All games should involve both external and internal drama, and where that balance is in your game will depend on the players and the GM. I am glad that Lady Blackbird does encourage this character interaction as the scenario would end much quicker without it.
Dream Askew by Joe Mcdaldno describes itself as "a game that queers the post-apocalyptic genre, exploring how the apocalyptic process could impact our sexuality, genders, livelihoods, experiences of marginalization, and experiences of liberation." That is to say, improper usage of the word queer aside, it is Apocalypse World with a different engine. The only difference is that Dream Askew takes place immediately after the end hit, rather than sometime much later. Like AW, Dream Askew goes for a certain amount of shock value in its [limited] fiction to convince you that it is special. Also like AW, I found this to be a turnoff rather than anything that gained my interest. Sell me on quality, not on jive and bling.
The mechanical engine that Dream Askew runs on is amazingly simple. Each character type has three kinds of moves: strong, regular, and weak. Strong moves cost you a token to perform, and weak moves give you a token when you perform them. There's other ways to get tokens too; though, it usually relies on the actions of others. This creates a simple give and take economy around the table.
Where several "situations" are presented, these are not full scenarios. They are really just problems the GM presents to the players to serve as instigation and background noise for inter-character drama, which is where Dream Askew tries to place its focus.