Hillfolk (Kickstarter Preview Edition)
I was super excited for Hilfolk when the Kickstarter came up. I backed it because I’d enjoyed Robin Laws’ Hamlet’s Hit Points and was curious about how that approach would be applied to table play. Full disclosure– I contributed to one of the DramaSystem pitches in Blood on the Snow .
When I finally got a chance to play DS, I liked, but didn’t love it. I liked the way the dramatic scenes played out, but the structure sometimes felt constraining. The procedural scenes were a bigger issue, with a weird resolution/resource mechanics which felt overly complicated. That being said, I know some smart players who dig the whole package.
For me, the best part of Hillfolk (and BotS) are the pitches. They’re a great way to encapsulate a tight campaign premise and a great resource. I’ve used that model for several things– many of them are great for other games like Kingdom .
Honor + Intrigue
There are a few games that always pop up when I ask for recommendations. For anything tangentially related to Swashbuckling or Pirates, there’s always someone suggesting Honor + Intrigue . While aimed at Hollywood-ized 17th Century play, it can be shifted earlier or later.
H+I was a Judge’s Spotlight winner for the 2012 ENnies. The game itself is based on Barbarians of Lemuria , a sword & sorcery frpg from 2008 (but which had been around even earlier than that). After a gap of several years Honor + Intrigue has been supported with several releases in the last couple of years.
Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy RPG Core Rules
By 2012, Warmachine had been around long enough to be a solid rival to Warhammer ’s dominance of the miniatures market. Ironically, that game had come about because of the success of various 3.0/3.5 supplements which detailed the world.
This version ditched the SRD in favor of a house system which looked more like the engine powering the minis game, but distinctly wasn’t compatible with that. It is a thick, dense and rich book– and this was before Privateer had developed the Hordes parallel line or added more factions to the setting. It won four ENnies in 2013, including the Gold for Best Game.
The game itself has lots of detail, with many classes, normal and advanced, and a system which really needs a battle map. So, like Fading Suns , this is one of those games I’d tried to figure out how to hack– maybe Fate ? Maybe Dungeon World ? Ironically Privateer has pivoted, with mixed reaction, to a new D&D 5e version of the setting which just came out.
Itras By (Revised English Edition)
Interesting that this came out the same year as the fancier edition of Archipelago . Itras By , by and large, uses that game’s core system, but to a very, very different effect.
It is a game taking place in a surrealist, dreamlike metropolis. It’s great concept and the writing is super evocative. However I found myself butting up against some of the contradictions of it. We have a game that seems like it ought to be an improv, collaborative potpourri. But it has a highly detailed setting. I mean, you can ignore or elide it, but it begs the question: why have it?
There’s also the challenge of drama, plot, and purpose in a game which aims to be surrealist. Like are those compatible? IDK I only know I couldn’t really find the through line when I went to run it.
I have an old review of it from Age of Ravens. But I suspect my opinions of it now may be pretty different.
Kuro (English edition)
Kuro’s an interesting game, originally released in French and given this English translation in 2012. It’s the first of trilogy, with the other two spelling out a meta-plot (which imho deflates some of the wonder of the original premise). It got some attention and then went out of print when Cubicle 7 split with Le 7eme Circle. It’s available pdf but not PoD.
The premise is an attempted near-future nuclear strike against Japan is stopped by something supernatural. The rest of the world blockades Japan, thinking they have some special tech. But in fact it’s a bleed over of the fantastic. So play takes place in a cyberpunk, isolated Japan which is starting to be overrun by horrors, but everyone’s trying to look the other way. I have an overview of the setting here.
I like the concept– especially how it uses J-Horror and mixes it up with some great cyberpunk world building. The system is waaaaay to granular with a wild exploding dice resolution system. But that weirdness actually works in its favor. Lead designer Neko also designed two other rpgs which use Asian elements: Qin and Shayo . I’m unsure what Neko’s cultural background is, but there’s a real absence of culture advisors, consultants, or even obviously Asian names in the credits of Kuro . I don’t know if the same holds true for these other rpgs.