Zine Quest 4: Little Games About Outlaws, Outer Space, and Animal Crawling

This year’s Zine Quest has been controversial. Founded in 2018, the annual celebration of small-format tabletop RPGs traditionally takes place every February, helping independent game designers start the year off with a little cash. This year, Kickstarter hosts chose to hold the event in August to better align with Gen Con. Designers weren’t happy, with many jumping ship entirely in favor of Zine Month. Consequently, Zine Quest 4 has been a comparatively subdued affair. But while there aren’t that many projects that fill the associated label, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some hits in the mix.

One of the best things about Zine Quest, whatever and wherever it is presented, is seeing relatively unknown artists come up with a genius idea that fits perfectly into the small book format and two-week funding period. We’ve selected some standout RPGs, adventures, and supplements from the current entries that carry the torch high.

A two-page spread, blurred so you can't read it.

Image: James Lennox-Gordon

One of the largely hidden gems of the indie RPG scene is Jason Tocci’s 24XX system, a set of modular rules the designer has massaged into dozens of genres and story structures. 1400 Lo-Fi High Fantasy it does the same by packaging five microgames, all designed for a lo-fi, high-fantasy setting, exactly as it says on the tin.

These five little games from designer James Lennox-Gordon have been available digitally for a minute, but this is the first chance for gamers to get them together in a physical magazine. Quest is a classic D&D adventure, while Plans leans towards more interstellar fantasy. Sneak and Mage aim to replicate the experiences of their respective classes in a contained game, and Below delves into dark and dangerous dungeons. All five can be easily connected to each other in any combination (along with other 24XX titles), and instructions and help will be included in the magazine.

And yes RuPaul’s Drag Race took place in the Amazon jungle? Drink dragula (the Boulet Brothers show, not Rob Zombie’s place) but fill it with the inhabitants of a zoo. That is the essential premise of ball of the wild, a collaborative storytelling RPG where everyone plays as animals dressed as other animals. Designers Nat Mesnard and Adriel Wilson aren’t shy about the title’s inspirations, describing the game experience as embracing goofy performances that finally allow our true selves to take center stage.

Players alternate between the animals, the judge, and Mother Nature, who awards prizes for the best performances in various categories. Since it uses the Polymorph system, each player will take one die from a standard array as their only tool to roll throughout the game. Each die comes with its own role and rules that determine success and failure, but it’s all geared towards improvisational play and emergent narrative. ball of the wild it’s resoundingly queer and celebrates loud, public gender performance, whether it matches or deviates from the daily lives of these animals, with a simple yet clever metaphor providing the setting.

Two men on improbable ostriches engage in gun battle in the clouds.  A trio of bridged minarets rises in the background.

Image: Jeff Williams

It’s not every day you see a competitive RPG. It’s less often that one comes along with such a wonderfully silly name and premise as Flying ostriches and floating castles. This RPG can be played solo or as a PvP game in which players are knights astride flying ostriches and joust amongst the clouds. Its rules are derived from the Melsonian Arts Council’s Troika!but it doesn’t require that book to hit the table.

Players can explore an overarching narrative about cloud castles and their enigmatic builders, the giants, or they can simply jump across the procedurally generated hex tile map to search for mountaintop treasures and take down enemy ostrich knights. . Character building and combat are kept simple so Flying ostriches and floating castles It’s still a light experience, but there are plenty of additional systems, including a castle exploration game within a game, if players want to fully embrace a night of goofy RPGs.

A bounty hunter lands on a dust-swept planet, alone save for a trusty weapon by his side. They have a name, a species, and their target’s alleged crimes with which to track them. The nearby townspeople will know more, but they don’t trust intruders, least of all armed intruders. Bounty hunters bring trouble, noise, and death, no matter what the so-called Nomad Code dictates. The bounty hunter will have to work, or pay, to curry favor with the city to find their target. Catching the scum and villainy of the galaxy isn’t the hard part, it’s making sure they don’t fall into the mire along the way.

Notorious is a solo tabletop RPG where players embody interstellar bounty hunters known as nomads. Sessions play out as above: Locate a target using minimal information on one of six planets before finally deciding the outlaw’s fate. Two six-sided dice comprise all the skill checks and rolls in the game, and the length of the sessions is highly dependent on the player. Notorious allows ample opportunity to enjoy world building through journal entries. Players choose one of six different nomads, each with their own fighting strengths, as the central figure in a story that has equal parts. Star Wars, cowboy bebopY Bounty hunter.

The last couple of years have produced a great crop of indie RPGs for lovers of tight quarters and the sheer emptiness of space. one breath left, the debut game from designer Ian Howard, fits right into that paradigm with its stories of solo survival aboard derelict, derelict spaceships filled with mystery and danger. As explorers for hire, players must comb the ship for useful tools, clues as to what exactly happened, and ultimately for the ship’s manifest. Meanwhile, your oxygen supply is dwindling, setting a finite clock on your expedition into the dark and dangerous unknown.

A deck of room cards will randomly generate the design for a given shipwreck, with each action costing oxygen levels. Players encounter hazards along the way and ultimately have to decide if running out of breathable air is worth the risk… or worse. Between sessions, your payment can be used to fulfill wishes and ultimately buy a way out of this dangerous line of work. one breath leftThe book emulates technical manuals from the 1950s and 1960s, giving the entire game a feel of beefy and perhaps unreliable technology that could fail at the worst possible moment.

Adventure modules are a mainstay of Zine Quest, especially for popular systems like Mothership. This ship is a tomb distinguishes itself by promoting a procedurally generated possibly demonic colony container that players will build as they explore. The groups board the Advent Dawn to find out what happened to the massive ship’s mission to distant stars. His experimental drive allowed him to slip into the gaps between dimensions to reduce travel time, but it seems something sinister and completely alien came out the other side with him.

The 72-page book will detail over 20 locations, dozens of unique monsters and threats, and plenty of changes to both as Advent Dawn morphs around the party. Imagine event horizonConcern for the hidden horrors that lurk in the quiet reaches of space combined with classic dungeon crawling where players will struggle to keep their wits at hand and their eyes sharp. It’s perfect for Mothership’s panic mechanic and the sense of dread that’s already brewing.

I’m over this endlessly hot summer and I’m longing for the season of falling leaves, crisp cider, and a cold wind that heralds spooky season. This transition period is a time for stories that remind us of the necessary decadence and bitter aftertaste of life’s joys, and Under the Autumn Strangely seeks to capture that exact tone. Graham Gentz’s “pastoral horror game” for a group of shared storytellers draws heavily from the animated series. over the garden wall and embraces the contradictions of cozy ghost stories.

Players will alternate between the role of the Traveler, who narrates the characters’ passage through the liminal landscape of Never Was; the Arcadian, who embodies the earth itself and its many strange inhabitants; and the Terror, which is both the evil threat lurking in the shadows and its influence and calling cards. Each role can interact with the other two in set ways, affirming, contradicting, or adding to the story as it goes. This tug of war sparks conversation and hopefully births a story full of chills and heartwarming moments.

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