In case you haven’t heard the latest news, I’ll summarize it briefly: Wizards of the Coast, owners of the Dungeons and Dragons license and a subsidiary of Hasbro, recently announced changes to their current Open Gaming License which would be highly detrimental to content creators of every stripe. This has led to a mass exodus of D&D players who saw the move as predatory and a serious blow to the community at large.
The good news, though, is that many role-players, for whom D&D was the totality of their RPG world, are now searching for new options and discovering for the first time the wonderful breadth of RPGs available. While I wrote an article not too long ago featuring new and exciting role-playing games, I felt like the times demand that the subject be revisited.
SibirPunk RPG – Gamefound (Launch Date TBD)
Speaking of battling evil mega corporations, the first game on the list is a cyberpunk RPG appropriately name SibirPunk from Red Square Games. This Slavic dystopia is set firmly in a futuristic Russian federation ruled in perpetuity by a strongman president and his oligarchs – Hold on.
Oh, people have metal arms! That’s why it’s in the future. Ok, got it. Moving on.
The majority of the campaign centers around the city of Neosibirsk, affectionately referred to as the Federation’s “digestive tract.” You know, because it chews people up and…well, you can probably guess the rest.
All of the cyberpunk hallmarks are there. Cities are massive. Governments are oppressive. Cybernetic implants are readily available for anyone who can afford them, and AI has become an everyday part of life. Gangs are ubiquitous and constantly in conflict as they battle for money, the drug synthadrenaline, and any other scraps that fall off the oligarchs’ tables. Even the players aren’t heroic adventuring parties, but instead are part of a “brigada”: a tight knit group of friends who stick together for protection. See: gang.
The game mechanics are in keeping with the latest trend of rules simplification. The character sheets will look familiar to anyone who’s played D&D, but there is much more flexibility. Character creation focuses less on classes and more on skill specialization. If you want your character to be a fighter, beef up your combat skills like “Ranged” and “Aim”. Tech more your thing? Load up those “Brainz” skills like “Tech”, “Coder”, and “Nerd”.
While not a surprise for anyone who’s dabbled in other RPG systems, the lack of D20s will likely be the biggest change for any former D&D folk. Instead, characters roll a pool of d6’s, the number of which is based on the number of points a character has invested. Each character also has a proficiency level with each skill from “Unskilled” to “Pro”. The higher your level of expertise, the lower your d6 rolls need to be to succeed. This creates gameplay much like the world of SibirPunk itself: quick, efficient, and brutal.
The Fifth Season RPG – Backerkit (Jan. 24)
While not a household name, Green Ronin Publishing has been churning out quality D&D alternatives for a long time using several unique rules systems. Fans of A Game of Thrones might be familiar with this company and their Chronicle System thanks to their Song of Ice and Fire RPG from 2008. Now Green Ronin is applying this same rule system to another series of Hugo award-winning novels (and recent addition to my “Must Read” list), The Broken Earth Trilogy.
The RPG takes its name from the first book in the series, The Fifth Season. According to author N.K. Jemisin’s website, the series revolves around a mother out for revenge set against the backdrop of a world literally being torn apart. The story takes place on a continent referred to as The Stillness. But the Stillness has literally been broken by a fiery rift that opens in the continent, spewing ash and essentially ushering in a nuclear winter. The Broken Earth trilogy is, obviously, a broken world fantasy, and any stories set in it will come with all of the accompanying problems.
Fifth Season is a game for folks who like fantasy but want to step outside of the generic fantasy box. The world is definitely fantastical, but you won’t find much in the way of standard fantasy tropes. Of course, there are some bizarre creatures such as “kirkhusas”, a creature similar to a large dog mixed with an otter, and the statuesque “stone eaters”, but zero elves, dwarves, or halflings.
The Chronicle System is also refreshingly distinct. Unlike most role-playing games which put all characters on roughly equal footing, characters in the Chronicle System come with their own societal rank. In fact, Status is a game statistic much like Strength or Intelligence. Because of this focus on social rank, there is also a lot of emphasis on intrigue. Manipulation is played out similarly to combat, with the loser being convinced to behave in a way they might not normally or make a choice that favors one character over another. A decidedly big leap from the sword-and-sorcery mentality.
Color My Quest – Kickstarter (Jan. 25)
Whew, those last two games were a bit heavy. But remember, you don’t have to role-play hardened, dour warriors all the time. At the end of the day, RPGs are about letting your imagination off the chain and just telling a good story. And no one is better at this than kids.
Color My Quest is a game to help kids get into RPGs. The younger, the better. It’s designed for kids as young as 4 years old! Now, you’re probably thinking about the multiple tomes and hundreds of pages that are usually required to play a role-playing game, but worry not! Designer Tim Devine over at Dice Up Games understands children and has created a simplified system that plays to a child’s strengths.
First of all, don’t worry about your kids drawing or coloring on the rule book because EVERYTHING in the rules is meant to be drawn or colored on. Character sheets? Tear them out and color the hero pictured on it. Or draw your own! Maps? Since you and the players decide where the encounters are, you must draw and color on them. Oh, and because Pokémon definitively proved that kids like cute animal companions, players will also get to choose, color, and name their own animal friend to help them on their quest.
The quests themselves are pretty simple. An older Narrator collaborates with players to tell the story of the quest, presenting scenarios and asking the players how they react. Based on their reactions, the Narrator will decide which of the player’s four skills best fits what they’re trying to do. The players then roll two six-sided dice and add their skill A 10+ means Success, a 7- 9 means a Struggle, and 6 or less means you’re Stuck. But because it’s a kids’ game, getting Stuck earns you a Condition rather than forcing you to go through the trauma of “rolling a new character”, if you know what I mean. While this game is aimed at kids, there’s absolutely no reason adults can’t play as well. When your current RPG sessions start to sound depressingly like current events and you need a break from gloom-and-doom, Color My Quest is the perfect escape.
Vampire: The Masquerade – Milan Uprising – Gamefound (1st Half of 2023)
I can already hear the grumbling from some of you about this one, but hear me out. No, this is not an RPG in the purest sense, but there are plenty of good reasons to include it on this list.
For starters, Vampire: The Masquerade is a venerable RPG originally created by White Wolf Publishing that has been around for over thirty years. Now a part of Paradox Interactive’s aptly named World of Darkness line, players take on the role of vampires belonging to one of several Clans. In this world, vampires, werewolves, and worse live secretly alongside humans, secretly influencing the direction of the world from the shadows.
But Milan Uprising is a board game where each player is an Anarch, a faction of vampires looking to topple the ruling elite known as the Camarilla. Like an RPG, the game is co-operative and in addition to combat features investigation and area control. It also features something unique: the Teburu system.
Even though Milan Uprising is as much a board game as a traditional RPG, sometimes that’s…nice? Let’s be real, RPGs have a lot of rules. Even veteran players frequently find themselves reaching for rulebooks. The Teburu system is a game board and die upgraded with digital components to take care of all the fiddly bits for you. As your character moves from place to place, the board detects the movement through an RFID tag and generates sounds and encounters based on your new location. When you roll the die, it “speaks” with the board and the app to not only tell you the result but also to log any damage done and rewards gained. While the minutia of RPG rules is what make them enjoyable for some, others are already breathing a sigh of relief at the thought of not needing to consult three different tables simultaneously to figure out your next move. While the recent actions by Wizards of the Coast have caused a great deal of anxiety for a lot of D&D players and creators, one benefit is that we as players are being forced to examine what it is that draws us to games like D&D and possibly chart new and exciting paths in the RPG world. If that leads you to an RPG-lite board game like Milan Uprising, then I say have at it.
By Zane Messina