For posterity’s sake: This is the week the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. I’m torn between feeling like roleplaying is frivolous nonsense, and wanting normalcy as my country realizes this is the real deal. But! I have lots of readers who also crave normalcy, and online play is a great way to while away the time at home. So let us proceed to 2015: the last year I thought I could keep up with the release of new games.
Also a quick note: this period of isolation means I’m now home-schooling my kid for the indefinite future, and what’s left of my professional career is drying up fast. If you like my work, please consider supporting it through a small monthly Patreon. Thank you.
2015: Urban Shadows
Urban Shadows is, in my opinion, the most technically rigorous iteration of PbtA style play on the market. It’s clearer than the first edition of Apocalypse World itself, and laid the groundwork for many other games that came out after in terms of examples of play, clean moves, and campaign structure.
Urban Shadows is also probably the most complex PbtA game I’ve ever played. To support the modern urban fantasy theme, there are two additional economies, debt and corruption. The playbooks themselves are exquisitely engineered little jewels. I love this game and continue to learn new lessons every time I bring it out again. Magpie has a second edition in the works.
Prime Time Adventures 3e
The first edition of Matt Wilson’s tv-show-as-game came out square in the middle of the Forge. I played a few sessions of it with a Meetup group I was part of circa 2007ish. It was interesting but very capital-s Storygame. I didn’t know how to appreciate that until I got to play the third edition with the grand master of the form, Tucson-area ultra-GM Jason Corley. PTA is the sharpest weapon in his arsenal, and he gave me a very clear understanding of the game’s enduring power. If you want a game that explicitly leverages authorship and audience concerns framed in television terms, Primetime Adventures is still the best in class.
World Wide Wrestling
I’ve only played one session of this game, but it put designer Nathan Paoletta on the map for a lot of folks. Less deadly serious than his previous big-deal games Carry and Annalise, World Wide Wrestling plays with pro wrestling’s meta-narrative and real-world/kayfabe-world split. Not sure anyone else has pulled this off yet.
Nathan announced a second edition on Twitter recently, so that’s exciting! But it also means hardcopies are sold out. If you want the PDF, it’s available via DriveThruRPG. All of NDP Design’s stuff is on Itch, as well.
Fall of Magic
Fall of Magic is a beautifully produced freeform game that guides the players across a scrolling map filled with provocative fantasy locations. I had played Ross Cowman’s previous game in this mold, Life on Mars, and really enjoyed the chill vibe. There’s as much or as little conflict-driven drama as you want, you can narrate scenes as long as you want in any given location, it can be as tight or as loose as you want. There are very few rules-rules, but what’s there prompts good stuff even from story-averse players. Receiving the gorgeous weird long box, I was immediately skeptical – how can a complete game only have a small pamphlet? – but I’ve played it many times at many conventions at many tempos, and it continues to be a pleasure. His newest game (as of March 2020), BFF!, is a girl-powered hangout game built on a similar framework. My young daughter and I have played both FoM and BFF!, and enjoyed both.
Fall of Magic is available directly from Heart of the Deernicorn in various formats. Do yourself a favor and get the physical production.
Mouse Guard 2e
BWHQ’s original Mouse Guard came out before 2010 but the second boxed edition arrived in 2015 so I’m gonna slip it in here. Without Mouse Guard we wouldn’t have Torchbearer, so all hail Mouse Guard. I’m glad it still shows up on convention schedules.