Tabletop RPGs in 2024 - Everything but D&D

Oh, man. I played a ton of ACKs. It was my favorite OSR rule set too. Unfortunately, the author veered off into the alt-right and I didn’t feel comfortable supporting it.

Now I play Old School Essentials with house rules from Third Kingdom Games. OSE is basically the same ruleset, and the Third Kingdom supplements add in the domain level play that made ACKs so great.

Interesting, I haven’t read the Third Kingdom Games stuff.

I really like Shadowdark a lot. I think it does a lot of smart things to strip 5E down to simpler rules and it plays really well. I also think the core book and the zine supplements have a terrific sense of style that helps to communicate the neu-OSR-lite approach.

All that said, the creator seems to understand that it’s very much a niche of a niche and isn’t trying to “fix” 5E or compete with D&D. Unlike something like DC20 or Daggerheart, Shadowdark is content to appeal more to the Mork Borg crowd who live by the “rulings not rules” tables.

Not another one. I backed ACKS II, and it’s currently on deck for the next campaign.

This reminds me of Alpha Blue, which I loved for the idea of being '70s adult sci-fi RP. Then I watched five minutes of some show where the author had to open his mouth to agree with the bigoted host and swore off supporting future projects. I know no one’s getting rich from RPGs, so my feeling is closer to “I never want to license unethical treatment of others”. Because these communities are so small, it does seem closer to a personal statement of support.

Yet, I never engaged in any conversation to establish their values or provide my desired behaviors in an opportunity for them to change. Because, it’s not exactly personal, and I’m only active through my purchases. (And here, I guess.) What a weird distance to be at. I don’t think I have a great framework for it.

Thank you for the reference. I grabbed the quick start and will add it to what’s being considered for my next game.

While on the topic of TTRPG YouTube content, I need to vent on an issue that I have with a lot of the videos I find purporting to be a review of an RPG. In most cases when you get to the end of a video, you find out that the people doing the review have never actually played the game they are reviewing. I feel like 90% of ‘reviews’ are them doing unboxings, reading through the rulebook, and at the end saying “this seems cool. I can’t wait to get it to the table.”

I know that can be helpful in some cases (seeing what the materials actually look like is nice), that it’s time consuming to play an RPG, that it can be difficult to find people to play something other than D&D with, that if they are YouTubing professionally it is necessary to aim their content to discussing D&D, etc., but it seems disingenuous because stuff that sounds cool in theory does not always work out in practice. Also, it would be cool to know if an RPG has ‘legs’ or if they lose interest after a session or two. As mentioned, it also undercuts whatever points they make when you look at their uploads after a given ‘review’ video and never see anything else about that game again. There’s nothing wrong with only doing unboxings, but most do not seem to be upfront about that.

I griped about this already. It’s a peeve of mine.

Going back to DC20 (I guess this is an issue with a lot of Kickstarters, not just DC20, or even TTRPGs in general) look at this insanity:

$30 for the pdf of the core rulebook is probably right on the edge of what people will pay, but they’re trying to claim that it’s normally a $70 value. In what world is a core book TTRPG pdf selling for $70? That’s crazypants. Does anyone think the post-Kickstarter price will suddenly shoot up to $70? Good luck with that.

I agree completely, and the same goes for blogs that “review” TTRPGs. I’ve spoken to a few people about it who are involved in that vein and the responses are always a version of “ Well, I have plenty of experience with games so I don’t need to play it necessarily” And when I ask About why they don’t state upfront whether they played the game or not the response is always a version of “ Well, then people won’t take the review seriously. “

Personally, I think both those points are just sophistry and lead to a poor circular logic. And completely one of my peeves too.

On the other hand, I really respect people who just state that they are doing an unboxing and that it is not a review, And that they haven’t played the game. I take the reviews more seriously when they do play the game and they tell me that.

If you want reviews by people who have played the game, 2 safe bets are:

Seth Skorkowsky: https://youtube.com/@sskorkowsky

Quinn’s Quest: https://youtube.com/@quinns_quest

Both are excellent in their own way.

While I get that gripe I also undertake it is an unrealistic ask of you want timely reviews of new TTRPG. How much is enough? Is a two hour one shot with pregens enough for the game? Laser & Feelings? Maybe. Pathfinder 2? Hell no. If you play, do you need to play level 1 to 20 in a 5e derivative? With the amount of games around if we want any impressions and reviews shortly after a game releases this is something we have to live with. What good is a review for a game that has been out a year to the YouTuber too? They should be more transparent about it though.

Overall I respect Seth because of his commitment to only review things he played and I like his content alot. But I will never check his channel for a game that currently kick-starts ot just released. His reviews are more post mortems really. Any hype for a game is gone by the time he gets around to it. Though they are still absolutely useful.

The complaint is about YT people that review a TTRPG without even one played game in their pocket. Literally not a single live game session. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

Is it though? We routinely expect video game reviewers have put in 10, 20, or even 30 hours before they post theior reviews. Many of them are multiplayer as well, and they still manage it.

Even the experience of only playing a few hour one-shot would be better than “I can’t wait to get it to the table” and allow them to actually experience whatever differentiating features a given TTRPG markets with.

I’m not expecting them to run a levels 1-20 campaign for each game they ‘review.’ Honestly, even a single session could be instructive, so I think this quoted part is the main thing for me: simply, they should not title these videos “reviews” if they have not played them.

Here’s an example I did while writing this post: If I search Dragonbane RPG Review on YouTube, the first two results with “review” in the video title—one from a bigger channel, one from a smaller one—both have conclusions stating something like the reviewer is “considering running it” or “looking forward to running it." I should not have to jump around a review video to figure out if it’s a proper review or not which, to me, means engaging with whatever is being reviewed on the level it is meant to be experienced. You probably wouldn’t look at a book review expecting it to be mostly about the paper it’s printed on or a music review expecting it be about the packaging of the vinyl and ending with “I am strongly considering listening to it this weekend!” Those things are not unimportant, but you were probably hoping to hear about the reviewer’s take on the quality of the writing / music, which they cannot give you unless they’ve read / heard it.

I do not usually get hung up on language in more casual settings like this, but this sort of thing does waste my time so that can be frustrating or at least disappointing when you burn a decent chunk of time clicking through videos only to find that there aren’t any good reviews for a game you are interested in. I suspect the YouTubers know that putting “review” in the title gets them more views, so I am not terribly sympathetic to them here either. Doubly so because, by doing so, I reckon that they can bury lesser known but potentially more helpful videos. And the thing is, these channels could still pump out content about new RPGs with YouTube-friendly titles like “7 cool rules in [RPG]” or “[RPG] Boxset Unboxing” or “Hot New Game on Kickstarter” and I would have no complaints. Sometimes I might even want to watch that kind of video. I’ve even watched some nifty videos where someone simply creates a character in a system, except they title it “Creating a Character in [RPG]” not “[RPG] Review.”

I should add that a lot of times when I do this, I am usually not looking for ‘new hotness’ RPG titles. I’ve only been in the hobby for a few years. There are lots of cool RPGs from the past that I have never played but am curious about. Further, I do not get to play that often. So, I am usually not looking for timely reviews of new releases. While it might be reasonable to note the time crunch certain YouTubers are under regarding covering new games, I also do not have much sympathy there either because, again, if they are not able to do a proper review of them, maybe they should be upfront about that and call the videos something else?

The “quality” of a new RPG system is a terribly subjective thing. I used to do reviews for these in the stone age of the internet, back when people still read that kind of stuff.

Of course, the physical aspects of the book need to be mentioned. There’s a range between “stapled together bunch of photocopies” and “4-colour hardcover, 500 pages, silk bookmark ribbons”. Also, the quality of writing and the illustrations can vary, and occasionally you get stuff odd stuff like super inconsistent artwork, rules written in such purple prose that you can’t readily decipher the mechanics, craptons of typos that a decent editor should have weeded out and what have you.

Mechanically, RPGs are a matter of taste. Some groups prefer crunchy, rules heavy games and play the whole affair like a combat boardgame. Some are more into the freeform theatre angle and prefer systems centered around the shared narrative. Some folks prefer stuff a simulationist approach with the dice deciding their fate, some prefer manipulating the narrate with tokens.
You get the idea. There’s no one size fits all.

However, the rules should be checked for obvious flaws and oddities. Modern day game and no rules for explosives and vehicles? Melee armaments suspiciously absent from the equipment list? Rules that run so contrary to reality/common sense that it’s probably unintended? Stuff like the Alien RPG panic cascade, which is intentional, but definitely noteworthy?
Stuff like that belongs in a review. You don’t necessarily need to have played it, but you need to have read and “grokked” the rules, to reanimate some ancient lingo, before you start calling things a proper review.

And even then, there’s still the reviewer’s bias. I’ll be frank, I utterly despise D&D and it’s mechanical baggage. Me reviewing any more recent edition of D&D would not leave a positive impression, no two ways about it.

It’s hard enough in writing. Cramming it in a 10 minute YouTube vid for people with nonexisting attention spans probably destroys any shred of nuance it might have had. Besides, outrage sells, so it’s either the best thing ever or utter shite, all hail the mighty algorythm. Like and subscribe, and make sure to use a preview pic that makes you look like an utter moron.
I’ll quit before I get further into “git off ma lawn”-territory.

For a video game I might want a reveiw ASAP but with TTRPGs there is the entire cycle of one or more people getting the game, digesting it enough to want to run it, convincing a group to have the time to run it in place of or in addition to whatever else they are playing, and so forth. It seems that taking a week or two to get one or two play sessions in isn’t a big request.

Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive had announced a planned TTRPG a while ago. They’ve set the crowd funding launch date.

Modiphius has announced a Heroes of Might & Magic TTRPG.

In other news, people are going absolutely nuts over how Mothership “1e” has rolled out.

The previous “0e” pdf version is gone from DriveThru and the new version is priced thusly:
Player’s Guide - Pay What You want
Warden’s Manual - $20
Unconfirmed Contact (Monster Manual) - $20
Shipbreaker’s Toolkit (Spaceship rules) - $20
Another Bug Hunt (Starter adventure) - $20

The “Core Set” is $20 cheaper physical + pdf on their website. I just picked it up!

Yeah, that’s part of the kerfuffle too because some folks are really pissed that the physical version is staple-bound 'zine format.