The KiwiRPG logo comes out of the water like the big shark in JAWS.

So far we’ve explored lots of exciting games that have been launched into the world from Aotearoa. Look at them all! So shiny! Now, to bring our tour of the game design side of KiwiRPG to a close, we just need to look over our shoulder – yes! You see it now! I know, it’s big, isn’t it? That’s right, it’s heaps and heaps of Kiwi-made material for other games! 

As Chief Brody might say, we’re going to need a bigger blog tour series. Well tough nuggins Chief Brody! You’re gonna compare scars and fight that shark in the one blogpost remaining to you, and you’re gonna like it!

The Dargons and the Dungons

Into the 5th edition of D&D? It’s only the biggest game in the world. If you like the 5e-ness of it all, KiwiRPG has a few things for you to check out:

Away from 5th edition, in the broader dungeon-type dragon-ish scene:

There! Lots of dungons for your dargons!!

Every other heckin’ thing

SF game Mothership is one of the hottest things in gaming right now, and making epic contributions to it (the one at that link is just the start) is Liam Stevens a.k.a. Toa Tabletop! (Also Mothershipping it up: that very same Scrap Princess who was just mentioned a few paragraphs ago!)

Malcolm Harbrow has been steadily releasing amazing stuff for science fiction game Uncharted Worlds

Marcus Bone! Where to even start on Marcus – years of highest-quality free content you can just go and download and use right now! Call of Cthulhu and Conspiracy X and Open D6 and The Esoterrorists and so much more!

Grant Robinson has been knocking out Shadowrun material for a long time, contributing to loads of books, chummer! (ED: Do Shadowrun people still say “Chummer”? Check before publishing – NO DON’T NO TIME KEEP GOING)

Tim Denee’s mapping for Blades in the Dark (in the DriveThru bundle!) is legendary and that’s just a kind of iceberg-tip of what he’s contributed to the RPG scene.

Who’s that in the contributor list for the Brindlewood Bay Kickstarter, currently cruising past the quarter-million mark with weeks to go? Why it’s Donna Giltrap, another veteran of the Kapcon SDC discussed in the last games post!

*second self-promo alert* I wrote some books for the Doctor Who RPG, good stuff if you like Doctor Who. (I like Doctor Who.) But hey lets do a REAL deep cut and link to these articles by Kelly Buchanan for Time Lord (the 1990s Doctor Who RPG from Virgin Publishing), published in legendary DW fanzine TSV. 

*final self-promo alert* The biggest thing I’ve been working on is a|state 2nd edition, for Handiwork Games. This is a reboot & reworking of early-2000s cult hit a|state, about hardscrabble troublemakers in a sprawling and haunted sci-fi cityscape, and honestly it is an incredible project. 

Do they even go to this school?

Paul Cockburn was there at the ground floor of Warhammer FRP, and has his mitts all over iconic 80s RPG mag IMAGINE, among other contributions. He’s been in New Zealand for years and years so does that make the Old World part of KiwiRPG? No? How about the D&D world of Pelinore then? Maybe a little bit? It’s in the blogpost now, too late, hahaha!

Colin Chapman, best known for free RPG Atomic Highway. has a long list of RPG freelance credits on amazing games you know.  He’s now in New Zealand too! What does that signify exactly? I dunno! But he’s in the blogpost now too!

Malcolm Craig wrote Hot War in the cafes of Wellington! Ha ha, he’s in the blogpost too! You can’t stop me! Nothing can stop anything! It’s the climactic action sequence, the shark is eating the boat, no time for details now! 

Wait, that’s it?

Is it really time to stop?

Yes definitely time to stop you are out of control plus it’s the last day

ok ok fine

But only with this final note: that’s definitely not all. There are gonna be other people out there making stuff and getting it out into the world, and they are going to be from Aotearoa, and I don’t know about them yet. Kiwis connect out to the global creative scene in all kinds of ways and, because we often don’t do much shouting about it to each other, their fellow Kiwis might not even know they’re doing it.

So expect this list to grow, as we find out about more people. (It might not literally grow, I’m not committing to editing this post or anything. But it will grow… in my mind.)

(Plus I might remember ones I’ve forgotten, whoops, I bet I’ve forgotten someone really obvious too and I will feel bad about it.)

Well, that’s it then. The last day of KiwiRPG Week 2022. A good time to stop, even though there’s more to talk about, always.

(Like, hey, what about discussion & consideration & criticism of gaming? Like the long-running Gametime group blog on livejournal, or (Kapcon SDC veteran!) Alasdair Sinclair’s epic critical work – his Brindlewood Bay review that’s actually a multi-part deep dive into the nature of investigative roleplaying is a masterwork I reckon.)

(Stop it morgue, you can’t introduce a whole new subject area in the last few paragraphs of a four-post journey!)

I hope you’ve enjoyed this tour. I am sure you now have many more tabs open in your internet browser, where they will wait for months until you lose them in a computer crash; or maybe you’ll read them now?

Read them now, I reckon. It’s what the shark would do.

– morgue and the KiwiRPG crew

Let’s start with goblins.

Making games, and content for games, in Aotearoa New Zealand was not always easy. We had game designers like everywhere else, but their games tended to get shared among their small groups of friends, and mostly disappeared without a trace.

(One of my favourite game designs ever, and a huge influence on my own game designer journey, was a Famous Five RPG by Karen Wilson, to my knowledge only ever played by Karen’s personal friends in the mid-90s. This game had just two abilities, Boy Stuff and Girl Stuff, and a more satirically astute piece of game design I’ve never seen. But I digress!) 

Back then, sharing your game around with your friends was about the extent of it. Because what else were you going to do, try and publish it? Or even crazier, try and get a Real Genuine Proper Overseas RPG Company to publish it?

In 1992, Malcolm Dale wrote a satirical game about desperate vagabonds in 19th century London called Goblins, and with the urging and support of Klaude Thomas, hand-printed and released it into various shops around Auckland. They did it! But that’s not all:

In 1996, Malcolm and Klaude both had their names on the cover of GURPS Goblins, released by Steve Jackson Games, an adaptation (and beautification) of their game to GURPS rules. They had achieved validation from someone from overseas, the dream of every New Zealander! And now, the floodgates were opened!

Note: floodgates were not, in fact, opened. It remained very difficult to get games from here to the world.

Surfing The Internets

Another early building block for Kiwi RPG design was FSpace, by Martin Rait. A development of the FED RPG (1990 – the earliest Kiwi RPG?), developed through the ’90s towards a formal publication by 2000 and in continuous release to this day (get it in the DriveThru bundle!), this imaginative science fiction game in the tradition of Traveller made early use of digital media: I have a spiral-bound hard copy on my game shelves which came packaged with a CD-ROM! By 2002 FSpace was firmly established on the web. Being an early adopter of digital publication has helped FSpace to build up a solid core of fans and followers it maintains to this day.

Helped by increasing connectivity via the internet, Kiwi designers began to find ways to overcome the distance and get involved in the industry. Conan McKegg contributed to a 2001 book for legendary game line Tribe 8. A.J. Pickett was published in Palladium’s Rifter magazine in 2003. In 2004 I was contributing horror-themed articles to Mongoose Publishing’s magazine Signs & Portents (including an unofficial Doctor Who RPG “Time Space Voyager” that is sadly completely unavailable now!) Luke Walker and Conan both wrote for the Wilderness Bestiary (2003) for Mechanical Dream. In 2006 Luke’s scenario for Blue Rose, ‘The Frog Princess’, was published as a free web exclusive by Green Ronin. 

And the Frog Princess is a good excuse to hop sideways, because it actually began as an entry into…

The Kapcon SDC

Let’s pay some respect to a central hub of KiwiRPG game design and creativity: the Kapcon Scenario Design Competition. Through the 00s, Wellington’s Kapcon convention held a competition each year inviting submissions of playable game scenarios. The result is a free, public collection of games for all.

Many scenarios contained unique rulesets, so this repository is also a hub of indie game design! Early bare-bones resolution systems, as in Matt Cowens’s marvellous Amnesia, opened space for real innovation, as with Jamie Sands’ Matchmaking & Machinations (a redesign of Wuthering Heights to suit Jane Austen), the Penny Dreadful RPG by Matt & Debbie Cowens, Matt’s Simple Neolithic RPG, Bleeding Hearts by Donna Giltrap, Stephanie Pegg’s Patchwork, and more!

Although the SDC is no longer running, all these games and scenarios are still available for you to download and play, and they are absolutely worth exploring.

What about the future?

If you’ve been following these tour-of-games blog posts, you might have noticed two related things about the #KiwiRPG game design scene: not many games that are actually about Aotearoa New Zealand itself, and not many designers who are identifiably Māori. (You can probably guess some reasons why – a big one starts with C and ends with OLONISATION – and if you want to explore those, Liam and I get right into all of it in the latest episode of the Toa Tabletop podcast.) But it’s clear from the state of things that access matters. 

The SDC page is a glimpse into history, into a time when sharing game content online was still an unsolved problem. (My first game, dREAL, was distributed solely via a link in the automatic footer of posts I made on the RPG.net forums. These were the tools we had!) 

Now, the resources needed to make and distribute games are easily available. Make it on google docs, use free images from unsplash, upload to itch or drivethru, market on twitter and reddit… Everyone carries around in their pockets the power to become an RPG publisher, the kind of power those 1990s innovators could only dream of.

While barriers remain, the power to create has never been greater. Those of us behind KiwiRPG week are keen to support new voices – hey you, creative person, we’re ready, just ask – but we also know that these new voices don’t need us. We’re what we should be, just another resource to a new generation: google, unsplash, drivethru, KiwiRPG.

The future of making games in Aotearoa is simply this: more voices.

Hey you, creative person: make your thing. 

 

 

– morgue and the KiwiRPG crew

 

 

In the first part of our tour de KiwiRPG design, I zoomed in on three creators as a starting point for navigating the back roads of TTRPG design in Aotearoa. Now in the second part I’m gonna zoom around lots and lots of others. Maybe it was unwise to cover just three people in the first part but it’s too late now! So jump on in for a high-speed adventure more exciting than a yellow mini driving from Kaitaia to Invercargill!

Apocalypse Mall

Goodbye Pork Pie, 1981 – Humour – Te Ara Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Our first stop has to be the charming confines the Mall of the Apocalypse! Let’s drive inside and hoon around a bit.

Kiwi designs have been making waves in the PbtA scene since it began, starting with Michael Sands’s beloved game Monster of the Week. This game of TV-inspired monster hunting is rightly beloved all around the world, with podcasts and actual plays galore. (And there’s some big news about it dropping TODAY on the Generic Games site…) MotW has generated its own mini-industry of support products and spinoffs (including some #KiwiRPG examples like those by Sero of podcast Redgate & Wolf, and my own inspired-by riff Paranormal Wellington).

But while you chase monsters, don’t forget Mike’s other games! Live out the wild adventures of a heavy metal song in Heavy Metal Aeons, in the itch bundle! Collaboratively map-journal an alien world in Natural Philosophers, in the DriveThru bundle! Guide a stone-age family through generations in Three Dooms (my personal favourite)!

Elsewhere on the shopfronts and food courts of PbtA Mall you’ll find The Sprawl, another iconic and beloved Apocalypse Engine design, by Hamish Cameron of Ardens Ludere! This superbly focused take on cyberpunk missions is widely celebrated. Hamish has released several supplements, and he’s also just launched another PbtA game this week, the upsetting body-horror SF on Kratophagia. 

And just down the escalator is a play area full of happy dinosaurs! By Hamish Cameron and Dana Cameron, it’s the ENnie-winning Dinosaur Princesses (in the DriveThru bundle), a very fun and very clever RPG for young and old! Of course all around Dino Fun Park are cats, because Dana has carved out their own niche in game design as surely the globe’s premier designer of cat-focused game weirdness !

But wait – there are a few more sights to see before your tour of PbtA Mall is done! How about hopping through the wardrobe to labyrinth wonderland with Lauren McManamon’s amazing Girl Underground (and then checking out her other game designs)! And you already read about Jack’s Space Legs & Sea Legs on Monday, right?

Game Highway One

Goodbye, Pork Pie: Mini - Influx

Okay let’s get on the open road now and hightail it down Game Highway One, our national game road. Look out the window! Watch the interesting hills go past! Do that thing where you imagine that weird mark on the glass is your video game character and you move your head to make them jump from power pole to power pole! WHAT WILL WE SEE!

Hey look going past the window it’s SIMON CARRYER GAMES! His 2009 swords-and-sorcery release On Mighty Thews (in the DriveThru bundle) kicked off the present era of TTRPG publishing in Aotearoa NZ! Nod (in the DriveThru bundle too ) and Tonight We Slay A Dragon Or Die In The Attempt are wildly interesting yet highly playable experiments in structure! World of Conan is PbtA, what is it doing here and not in the mall, it’s because my metaphor is unhelpful! And more, but we’ve already driven past to-

Wow there’s HEXAVEXAGON! Lots of games and tools for games! Big tough guys in shirts! Mecha letters (in the itch bundle)! A whole category of games called “shitposts”! So much to explore but now we’re whipping on past- 

Over by that scenic rest-stop, I can see SCARY MONSTER GAMES! Jamie Sands makes neat little emotional games, except when they’re traumatic messy dangerous emotional games! Four Things, High School Princesses (the scariest game I have ever played, OMG, and in the DriveThru bundle and the itch bundle too), and the superbly named Silver Kiss of the Magical Twilight of the Full Moon, and moar! But oh no we’re accelerating around some corners-

It’s STEVE HICKEY GAMES! Philip K Dick weirdness with Left Coast (in the DT bundle) and pitch-black cult shenanigans with Soth, and if you hunt around you might find some fascinating other games in development… but no time for hunting now-

-okay i was wrong time to stop for ice creams, it’s a road trip, everyone done? back in the car, let’s goooo-

Fast Drivey Bit

Cars in Film : Goodbye Pork Pie - AROnline

It’s the part of the metaphor where the blog post has been going on for a while and we need to speed up and go even faster! There’s a new road! Transmission Gully! Lean forward everyone!

Jacques Cousteau (in the itch bundle) and Battle Royale with Tim at Old Dog Games! Ambitious thoughtful sci-fi with kickstarter success Sapience by Brian Leybourne! The not-actually-a-joke really-very-good DuckQuest RPG by global miniature-sculpting legend Darcy Perry!  Brave team action goes down In a Blaze of Glory by Ciarán Searle! And the game being played on a KiwiRPG stream in my headphones as I type this, fast-play multi-genre pick-up-and-go excitement with d12GO! (in the itch bundle)!

How about some road-themed games seeing as I’m like eight paragraphs deep into this ill-advised metaphor! Cosmic taxis dodging trash critters from gothHoblin (critters in the itch bundle)! Extensive roadworks with 200-word-RPG-winner Route Clearance by Andrew Millar and Highway (in the itch bundle) by vonklaude! And drive through crowds of zombies with Z-Land Survival Horror by Rycon (OH! Z-LAND! I GET IT!)!

Going real fast now! Western game Tombstone! Epic magic in DriveThru Gold bestseller The Runed Age! Art heists in Masterpiece! Ghostly tea in The Last Tea Shop! Ghostly ruins in The Ruin! No future no past in Mayfly (in the itch bundle)!

OH HECK NO

NO WE BROKE THROUGH THE REALITY BARRIER 

WHERE ARE WE

the other place

welcome to the other place. here your car is actually your ??book. relax. walk over here.

this is normality. it was released in 2009. it was released in 2021. everything is normal here.

sit down, now. sit down and open the ??feet in front of you.

everything is fine

 

-morgue, with apologies to the rest of the KiwiRPG team 

 

The islands of Aotearoa have given rise to many interesting designers making tremendous games and across this week we’re going to meet a lot of them but, because I want to be difficult, I’m going to start by looking at just three in a bit of detail; three who stand out for the sheer amount of creativity they have unleashed upon the world. I’m talking about the length of the credit lists you’ll find under their names! They have all been very busy, and those lists are long!

These three creatives also, by coincidence, exist within three completely different spheres of the TTRPG industry: big games for major companies that hit major distribution channels; smart and ambitious independent games released as a small publisher on DriveThruRPG; and clever and lyrical small games launched in the busy self-publishing scene on itch. Talking about them is a good way to begin charting out the vibrant design scene here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and I reckon it’s the ideal place to start our tour de KiwiRPG.

– morgue

Cam Banks

Cam Banks (a.k.a. Boymonster on twitter and many other platforms) has a ridiculous RPGGeek listing. It goes on and on for 8 pages listing all the games he’s written, edited or developed! And in fact that isn’t all the games, he’s definitely done more stuff as well. He’s a legend of the scene, TTRPG’s friendly internet dad, and I think it’s entirely right to begin a tour of KiwiRPG design scene with him.

Cam is an Aucklander who headed to the USA, built an incredible career in the TTRPG industry, and recently returned home to Auckland, continuing that career without pause now that remote working is a genuine possibility.

Cam’s expertise is working with licenses. I reckon he’s the best in the world at taking an existing IP, drinking it in, swirling it around in his brain, and then transforming it into a game. The list of licensed games with his name in the credits is staggering: Marvel Comics, Firefly/Serenity, Supernatural, Leverage, Masters of the Universe, Smallville, The Dragon Prince, and even Thunderbirds.

And this list would not be complete without noting Cam’s enormous role in Dragonlance. He helped keep that fan-favourite Dungeons & Dragons setting alive for its long run outside of the focus of Wizards of the Coast. He isn’t involved in the just-announced return of Dragonlance to 5E, but you can guarantee his contributions to the setting will be noticed in the version that comes to print.

Designing for licenses is difficult, and the history of the RPG industry is littered with licensed games that were quickly forgotten. It’s worth noting that this isn’t the case with Cam’s games. Most of his adaptations have used the Cortex System, a flexible baseline for play that gets reimagined to suit each license. System design nerds excitedly talk about Smallville as a true milestone in TTRPG design for how it made relationships a focus of play. Cam’s innovations with Cortex have led to what might be his most significant work, Cortex Prime, which is nothing less than a toolbox to make a whole new game of your own. 

Cam’s unfailingly modest but his work speaks for itself. It’s great. Go explore it all.

I’m going to finish this bit by embedding an hour-long chat I had with Cam over at the Diceratops Presents YouTube channel, diving deep into Cortex Prime and exploring his whole deal! It’s a good time!

 

Dale Elvy

Dale Elvy has been making blisteringly innovative games for a long time. Published as Imaginary Empire, he’s been nominated for the ENnies (tabletop roleplaying’s most prominent and highly contested awards) a bunch of times, and has even brought one home. He releases a lot of his games in very playable free versions, and supports good causes as he goes. I reckon he’s your next favourite game designer.

Dale’s games are fresh indie RPGs that are part of no other design tradition. They are entirely their own thing, and they are performance-tuned to good times at the table. Dale has transmuted his experience running traditional campaign games and intense convention games into something entirely new.

Where to start? Easy – choose a genre! He’s covered a lot of them.

You like horror? There’s EPOCH, a horror game like no other, nominated for three ENnies and with a bunch of free playable adventures available.

Murder mysteries? Wicked Lies & Alibis, winner of a Judge’s Spotlight ENnie award.

Mythic adventure? His newest and most ambitious game, Instruments of the Chrysanthemum Throne

Professional wrestling? Heists? Hard science fiction? Politics? It’s all there! And much of it completely free!

Dale’s honed his craft over the game tables at Wellington’s long-running RPG convention, Kapcon. His games always fill up fast, and I think he has figured out how to capture that energy and load it into his games. His approach to play is refreshing for designers and it appeals to experienced gamers and complete newbies alike. Check out those games!

And hey I spoke to Dale as well! This chat was focused on his pro wrestling game Soaring Lions but it covered a lot of other ground too!

 

Jack Blair

Compared to the other two, Jack is very new on the scene, but they have hit it like a freight train. To quote from their itch bio, “Jack Blair (toyourstations) is a nonbinary game writer from Aotearoa New Zealand designing queer, disabled games for a whole range of genres and styles”. ‘Whole range’ is not an understatement. And they have been BUSY. The huge accessibility of itch.io and the busy publishing culture around it has seen Jack deliver what is an unprecedented burst of creativity for one person.

Start with Space Legs, a PbtA game about exploring the galaxy and seeking understanding with aliens and with yourself.

And then tumble down into the rest, exploring gender, unions, Dracula, zombies, childhood, the apocalypse, the sims, identity, and more more more more!

This section is a bit smaller than the ones above because I haven’t known of Jack nearly as long as the other two, because Jack hasn’t been making games nearly as long. But given the huge impact they have had on the scene already, I can only imagine what lies ahead for them (and how lengthy their itch game catalogue is going to be in another couple years!)

Anyway, dive into Jack’s games if you want to be cool. And you want to be cool. Sure you do. 

 

 

 

It begins: KiwiRPG Week!

The first ever #KiwiRPG Week has arrived! Tabletop RPG creatives from all over Aotearoa are busily sharpening their dice and honing their microphones in excited anticipation. Are you excited yet? Here’s why you should be:

  • SALE BUNDLES! Two huge bundles of Kiwi games at a bargain price, one on DriveThruRPG, the other on itch.io! 
  • EXCITING STREAMS! Eight live-play streams, some from studio tabletops, some played online, and some played live on stage in front of a live audience! 
  • NEW STUFF! Two new TTRPG releases during the week, with more announcements to come!
  • TOUR DE BLOG! Explore #KiwiRPG with a series of blog posts across the week showing off the well-known, the should-be-known, and the nearly-unknown of the local scene! 

And that’s not all:

  • MONSTER OF THE WEEK! If you’re a MOTW fan, you don’t want to miss the big announcement dropping on Wednesday! 
  • BIG BAD ONLINE! Global RPG phenomenon Big Bad Con Online is hosting a KiwiRPG panel during KiwiRPG week!
  • CHARITY PREVIEW! “The Cult of Keviine” is a lead-in to the amazing YES, AND 24 Hour Charity Livestream!

Make sure you don’t miss a moment! Check out the week’s schedule, which is being constantly updated as new things are added to the programme.

 

Monster of the Week: The Faces Of TolTeTotl

Here’s a great way to kick off the week: On Sunday night (NZST), a team of stars from around the #KiwiRPG podcasting and streaming scene will gather to play legendary Kiwi game Monster of the Week! 

When headless bodies start appearing on the outskirts of a rural NZ town, T.H.E.M. (Tasked with Hunting Extraterrestrials and Monsters) sends their top hunters to investigate this baffling string of deaths.

Watch the show on the Getting Dicey channel at twitch.tv/GettingDicey, at 7pm NZST on Sunday 1st May. That’s 8am if you’re in the UK! (It’s like 3am if you’re in the Eastern seaboard of the USA, so insomniacs welcome I guess?) 

 

Tell your friends and find us on the socials:

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/kiwirpg

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/kiwi_RPG

INSTAGRAM: https://www.instagram.com/kiwiRPG/ 

 

See you soon!

morgue and the #KiwiRPG crew

Kiwi games, for everywhere.

Aotearoa New Zealand is home to a thriving creative scene for tabletop roleplaying games. We’re pretty small, but we turn that into a strength by watching the rest of the world closely and supporting each other to learn fast, chase our ideas hard, and stay kind. 

 

close up of polyhedral dice. some are pink and some are sparkly
In the Southern Hemisphere, dice spin in the opposite direction. That’s a totally true dice fact. Photo: Vahid Qualls

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