This evening (Sunday 27 November) at 7:30, all Kiwi creatives in TTRPGs are invited to the first great KiwiRPG hui!
KiwiRPG week was a fantastic beginning for Kēmu Whakatau O Aotearoa, and it’s time to set ourselves up for the future. This online hui is for all TTRPG creatives (podcasters, streamers, game designers, freelances, others) in or connected to Aotearoa NZ, and anyone else with shared interests.
Join us as we come together, build our community a bit, and make some choices for the future.
A new KiwiRPG association?
One important thing we will look at during tonight’s hui is setting up a proper association for KiwiRPG creatives.
A short description (with a long appendix!) is in this google doc. Check out the comments too; we are working together to make sure this association takes the right shape.
Well! Well well well! Well well well well well!!!! It’s been a week and a bit since the beginning of Kiwi RPG week. A week of wonder and amazement, chock full of streams, episode releases, interviews, blog posts, announcements, discussions, friendships, and of course, the blogging team’s gradual descent into chaos and insanity (and I mean really, that was kinda to be expected).
But really, holy shit! And I mean the sincerely holy sort of shit. Our first foray into Kiwi RPG week has been pretty epic. We had an immense amount of support from all across the Kiwi TTRPG-Sphere from podcasters, streamers, writers and creatives from all walks of life. We had the excitement of the Monster of the Week Announcements, we had the absolute chaos of Kiwi creatives collaborating copiously, several new Kiwi TTRPGs being released (here, here, here, and even here), and even Kiwi TTRPG bundles going on sale (here and here!), to name a few of the highlights of the week.
Warm and Fuzzy Insides
But really, what set this last week apart, in my opinion, is the sincerity and wholesomeness that brought together our community. I’ve never before seen such love and care and earnest joy being put into something for the sake of the community and for one another. There have been individuals who’ve been instrumental in Kiwi RPG week who have done so without any expectation of reward or even recognition, people who’ve jumped on board and changed up their release schedules or general life schedules just to make time for Kiwi RPG week, and people who’ve gone above and beyond doing their very best to promote and get this whole thing into the internets and beyond.
And I think that that speaks immensely to what kind of community we’ve built and fostered. People ask and joke and wonder what distinguishes Kiwiness in the TTRPG sphere and I think Kiwi RPG week pretty succinctly depicted exactly what it is that sets us apart. Is it the absurdity? The humour? The accent? Well… Yes. But it’s more than that. It’s also the community, the vibe, the care and the support.
I think it’s important to realise that this whole thing—all the blog posts, the events, the collaborations; everything that you may have seen happening this week—all started with a simple message on a Facebook Group asking for any interest in an idea—just a simple nice idea—to do some kind of thing to showcase Kiwi RPGs. What started off as an unassuming post turned into something that I personally consider a pretty god damn amazing success. What started as a single hashtag (#KiwiRPG) turned into something more; something that we can all look back at and smile about.
Some Shameless Name Calling
The amount of support and excitement we received from the community was unparalleled. I cannot and will not even attempt to name everyone who contributed and went above and beyond for Kiwi RPG week. But, I will be a bit shameless and name three individuals without whom I sincerely do not think this would have come as far as it did.
Firstly, we’ve got the Magnificently Motivated Morgan Davie (also known as Morgue; and I think should also be known by Momo, Morgalicious, Morgtastic and so forth). That Facebook post I was talking about before? Yes, that’s right, it was him. The push, the marketing, the reaching out, the organisation, the idea, the push (electric boogaloo), the patience, the blogging, and the website? Yup, all him. Morgue, if you’re reading this (and I really hope you are, cause if not, holy shit who’s doing the QA on this chaotic post), thank you for everything. Without you this would never have been possible and I just cannot express the sheer level of warmth everyone in the Kiwi TTRPG community feels towards you.
Secondly, we have Blogger Extraordinaire, Lyndon Hood (also known as… Actually just that, but he should also be known as the Lynster, Lyndon the Don, Don Lyndon, Don Hood, Hood Don? DonLyn the Hood? I’m… Really bad at this…). He also had a hand in pretty much everything that needed doing. The organisation? Yes. Blogging? Heck yeah. The website, the push, the excitement? Yupsicles, his hands went places. Lyndon was there from the start. Without Lyndon, Morgue and the rest of us would have had a mighty hard time getting everything done in time. Kudos dude. If you’re reading this (and again, really hope you are cause QA and stuff), thank you. Thank you for taking on so much, for being so impassioned through and through, and for being the awesome person that you are!!
And last, but not least, we have the Marketing Maestro, Liz Parker (Lizarooni, Liz the Lambent, Lucky Liz, Legendary Liz, Liz the… I should stop….). Liz may not have there from the very beginning like Morgue and Lyndon, but damn did she bring it when she started. Not only was she immensely helpful in the social media and hype aspects of things—retweeting and posting and sharing and creating lists and all sorts of things—but she also joined several streams and events and brought her absolute best to everything she did. If you’re reading this Liz (are you? Will you? Can you?), thank you. Thank you for everything you’ve brought to Kiwi RPG week!!
Is it time to panic?
No. No it is not. I’m sure you’re thinking, “But Azul, how can we not panic now that we don’t have the Kiwi RPG goodness that is oh so required for us to survive?” Well… I have some good news. If you squint hard enough, believe in the heart of the cards, and then grow your heart by three sizes that day, every week will be Kiwi RPG week! Yes, you read that right. Every. Single. Frikking. Week. Because we’re all still creating! We’re all still releasing! And we’re all most certainly mostly alive!!
So ask yourselves. Will Brad Zimmerman start a podcast with actual babies? Will Morgue finish his quest to be the One True Morgue? And will you allow the sexy-accented fruit-appropriating anti-gardening-fanatics of Kiwiland to take over your lives and then the world? Yes. The answer to all these questions is yes.
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:
Simon Carryer just dropped a “fan remix” of a legendary D&D adventure module, grab it free from his website! And while you’re there check out his other adventures, his compendium of rules, and a random dungeon generator, which is I think the smartest and most sophisticated and successful random dungeon generator ever made. (And there have been a lot of attempts over the years!)
*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.
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.
(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.
Aotearoa New Zealand’s cultural output has its own unique flavour – as does the kiwifruit (which we imported from overseas and then made our own, naming it after a bird that can’t fly, has its nostrils at the end of its beak, and carries an absolutely enormous egg compared to its body weight).
Like the kiwifruit, the first online TTRPG shows may have come from overseas but we have definitely taken to them and done some surprising things with the idea.
Everyone knows each other As a kiwi overseas, there’s a thing where someone asks you if you know, say, Sharon, who is also a New Zealander. And you have to explain that it’s ridiculous to expect people in a country of five million people to know each other but, yes, Sharon’s mum was your teacher at school.
Our shows mostly know each other, too. More people than there’s room to list here have played in multiple kiwi RPG shows, or made guest appearances. Beyond that, there have also been regular crossover supergroup streams (and here), and, in 2021, people from throughout the New Zealand D&D community joined together for a marathon 24 hour live stream, raising more than $6000 for charity.
Punching above our weight We like beating the world here every once in a while, so also like the phrase ‘per capita’. Aotearoa has heaps of TTRPG shows and not that many people. Are we beating the world, per capita? I don’t know, the maths was too hard.
I can tell you that Brad Thompson, kiwi game designer, writer, and DM, placed in the top three of Wizards of the Coast’s Global DM Challenge 2021. That’s pretty awesome. And now he’s sharing heaps of advice at Cutting Words.
And then there’s Viva La Dirt League. They’ve been producing sketches about computer RPGs since 2013. In 2019 they started the NPC D&D campaign, with characters from the NPC parody videos, and have since turned their sights on TTRPGs with their D&D Logic series. They have 3.76 million YouTube subscribers and earlier this year raised $2.5 million on Kickstarter to make themselves an actual studio. And they’re pretty funny. (Their GM, Robert Hartley, has his own twitch channel including D&D advice and interviews along with VLDL extra content.)
That accent The New Zealand accent was voted the sexiest in the world. If you want to hear it, you’ve definitely come to the right place. For a particularly strong example, Dungeons & Dipshits somehow convinced Invercargill mayor Tim Shadbolt to record an introduction for their episodes. Does this reflect the somehow apt chaos of that podcast’s adventures? Yes. (Dipshits has stopped production, catch it while you can.)
There are plenty of different accents to be found in Aotearoa, though. Check out Asian-influenced setting and kiwi-Asian stars of Dumplings & Dragons. Or if people doing accents is your thing, have a look at the finely-voiced and lovable characters of Saturday Knights or Waterdeep Mountain High, but don’t miss out on the relentless all-round vocal (and everything else) experience that is Danger Team GO!
Or try For Crits and Giggles where, basically by accident, all the dwarves canonically have an Australian accent.
Friendly Often visitors to Aotearoa will be asked “How do you like the country?” before they’ve properly gotten off the plane. The correct answer is, it’s beautiful and the people are very friendly.
Music Aotearoa has produced more than its share of international pop hits, and its own way of strumming a guitar. We also bring you the stirring themes of Saturday Knights and Dungeons & Comedians, a 20-minute chill vibes remix of the The Tear-able Adventures of the Janderson Breffords Parchment Company’s theme tune, the basically-an-overture DM Vahid Qualis has created for Dice Legenz, the 90s-action-cartoon-esque brilliance of the music for Danger Team GO!, and Don’t Forget Your Towel, who deserve special mention for recording a different intro for each of the many game systems they explore.
Swearing We swear a lot in this country, often in a nice but extreme way, while casually roasting our friends. I’m looking at you, Season Quest.
Reticence Kiwis can be suspicious of boasting, and don’t like people who “think too much of themselves”. This is probably a good thing politics-wise but you have to understand the highest possible praise a New Zealander can usually give, for example, their own podcast, is something like, “I think we’ve got something pretty good here.” So please do like, subscribe, and leave a review.
And then there’s Dice Legenz, who call their streams things like “The Most Exciting Episode ?!?”. And if that makes you guess that their streams are full of action, quickfire gameplay, and startling story revelation – well, you’re not wrong.
Special connection to nature In the Diceratops Presents D&D universe, they have canonically killed the moon.
Fungus Might just be me, but listening across various kiwi actual play podcasts, there seemed to more mushrooms that you’d expect. Exploding (Dumplings & Dragons), being recklessly ingested (The Fate of Isen), giving potentially deadly poisoning (GM Breakout), destroying the world (Dungeons & Comedians), and – if I recall correctly? – impersonating people (Waterdeep Mountain High). There are probably more, I lost track.
No gardens We’re a nation of storytellers, and a traditional pastime is trying to convince foreigners of bizarre falsehoods about our country. Unrelatedly: gardening is banned in New Zealand. I challenge you to find mention of gardening in New Zealand TTRPG content. If you do, it will be passing, and furtive.
On the other hand Jewels From NZhas actual facts about New Zealand as well as TTRPG gameplay and opinion from Julz from Fate of Isen (who should not be confused with Jules from Fate of Isen).
Big OE There’s a tradition of young New Zealanders going on OE (Overseas Experience) to see the world. Travel has been tricky lately, so what about a Big Online Experience? Tonnes of kiwis are meeting the world by streaming their games, with a little bit of local flare.
I’ve got personal streaming favorites in Getting Dicey (currently trying to remain the good guys as they explore The Curse of Strahd’s Amber Temple, and hosts to other Kiwi RPG events) and the high energy adventures of Dice Legenz (also good if you like minis and terrain!). But there’s also live streams or replays from The Road Unknown, Māori Nerd, Russell Kirkby,Dice Dice Baby, Evldoa, Table Tales, and anyone who wants to share the story they’re making with the world.
Now head off and sample every flavour of #kiwiRPG show! Start with all the links on our shows page!
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.
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.
Aotearoa’s TTRPG shows do like getting onto a real stage – and a few started there. #kiwiRPG Week 2022 has two of them, and they’re also streaming live.
It has been said that every TTRPG session is a show where the players are performing for each other. But being in the room with a bunch of people who are just there to watch changes things up. Feeling an audience laugh, hold their breath, and applaud can help players recognise and heighten both the clownishness and the drama in their stories – and reminds them to keep up the pace and energy of their play.It’s an experience that might sometimes be available at conventions, but many of Aoteroa’s TTRPG performers, even beyond the roleplaying practice, have backgrounds as comedians, actors, or improvisers, so the stage calls.
And people do come out to see. As Dungeons and Comedians DM Brendon Bennetts told The Spinoff, their first show sold out within hours of him posting a Facebook event. That first episode wasn’t recorded – Bennetts didn’t expect to be making a podcast – but the show (performed in Ōtautahi Christchurch) has expanded to audio and occasional live streams, their anarchic and sustained character choices and commitment to not reading character sheets now enhanced by live illustration. By the end of 2019 they wrapped up their first grand campaign (with each episode a self-contained adventure) in a “masterful, hilarious, and genuinely moving piece of collaborative storytelling and world-building”. When New Zealand’s 2021 lockdown interrupted season 2, they made an online special including two comedians from Taskmaster NZ who had also won Billy-T awards (a big deal), one who won New Zealand Celebrity Treasure Island, and a Billy T nominee (also a big deal).
In 2021 media took notice when The NZ Fringe Festival in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington included four different live shows inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. Two of those were actual-plays, recorded for podcast release: The Fate of Isen and Diceratops Presents. It was neither’s first time on stage – Isen have been Fringe regulars (with the presence of an audience apparently encouraging the comedian performers to choose chaos) while recorded live shows have were a staple of Diceratops’ content from the start.
Later that year, and a little to the North, Saturday Knights started bringing their adorably characterised and character-driven adventures to Te Papaioea Palmerston North.
Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland has also had its share of the recent action, too. Along with recurring seasons of D&D-inspired improv show Can I Get an Underground Location and a Mythical Creature?, there were actual play shows by True Neutral (2020, not a podcast), Guardians of the Gygaxy (2019, not a podcast any more), and Waterdeep Mountain High (2018 and 2019).
Waterdeep Mountain High began with a series of live shows, bringing a group of well-know local comedians together for hilarity, mischief, adventure, and coming-of-age at the high school on the wrong side of the tracks in the legendary D&D city of Waterdeep. (Player Alice Snedden and DM Nic Sampson have gone on to help write kiwi comedian Rose Matafeo’s BBC/HBO comedy series Starstruck.)
Recent years have been difficult for live shows, with regular performances interrupted or switching to online only. But #kiwiRPG week sees two live events, both streaming online. But Dungeons and Comedians is still going strong on stage. (There’s even been a more scene-based Dungeons and Improvisers.)
D&C‘s Kiwi RPG Week show (featuring Billy-T winning task-mastering Waterdeep Mountain High alumnus Brynley Stent!) will be live streamed on Sunday May 8.
On Friday May 6, Kiwis & Dragons will join the fun, bringing their goofy character and traditional D&D adventuring to the Hastings Library Nerdvana Festival.
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!
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.
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
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!)!
But there are lots of great games from Aotearoa and the world, and kiwis are keen to play them for your entertainment!
For real dedication to this idea, go straight to Don’t Forget Your Towel. Launched in 2020, this podcast’s goal is to play every TTRPG game or die trying – and I hope they live a good long time. By my count they are currently on the 25th system of their many-flavoured survey of the world of roleplaying. You might start into DFYT by listening to them play kiwi designer Steve Hickey’s eldrich horror game Soth.
Horror games do seem to be popular around here: Rycon Roleplays started on YouTube in 2017 with their own zombie survivor game Z-Land, while RKDM, Casual RP, and Evldoa have all mixed Vampire: The Masquerade chronicles with D&D and other systems. (Evldoa recently finished well-known vampire-related D&D campaign Curse of Strahd; streamers Getting Dicey and Dice Dice Baby are both continue their own playthroughs. Apparently we like vampires. Who knew?)
And when Season Quest completed their podcast’s initial goal, a year of four seasonal D&D campaigns (each led by a different member of the cast), their next game was the Anthology of High School Horrors (AHH!) created by Season Quester Charlie Leeming. Since then they’ve kept sharing the lead and haven’t looked back to D&D – Charlie is currently running an epic teen superhero adventure, showing off the storytelling potential of the Powered by the Apocalypse-based Masks system.
Diceratops Presents has mixed D&D with other games – ones that aren’t horror at all (unless you’re particularly afraid of Jason Statham or pro wrestlers) while in GM Breakout kiwi player Jeremy joins an international crew of forever GMs playing the (fearful for some?) Pathfinder system.
And, in an earlier crossover stream, Fate of Isen DM Brad Zimmerman introduced his own system, d12GO. Brad and Fate of Isen had form for exploring new systems, employing the game system Suited for their family-friendly spinoff podcast The Gigantic Adventures of Jeff and Simon, and d12GO takes this to a new level.
d12GO is a simple and adaptable system designed to be easy to pick up and play. You can see the fun and storytelling freedom that can be had with earlier versions in the crossover stream and in several Fate of Isen interlude episodes.
The rules for d12GO are out now, and on Tuesday May 6 you can join us live as a new crossover team tackles a randomly generated scenario: Are a band of criminals with nothing to lose the only ones who can save Robot Island?
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.
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 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!
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!)
Looking for the start of online TTRPGs in Aotearoa New Zealand, and checking out a few of the longest running shows.
Some time in 2019 I decided to finally check out my friend’s Dungeons & Dragons podcast (I may have been looking for more after seeing Diceratops live at Bats Theatre in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington). It turned out that podcast was The Fate of Isen. Its crew of kiwi comedians had already been making actual play D&D for more than a year and were into the third chapter of their story. I was quickly hooked.
Fate of Isen continues as a powerhouse, its sixth chapter surging into the world-shattering conclusion the story has been building to for almost four years. I now have podcast subscriptions (and YouTube and Twitch feeds) full of more kiwi RPG content than I can reasonably keep up with.
2019 was a good time to join in, but it turns out kiwis have been making TTRPG shows online since ages ago.
AJ Pickett’s YouTube channel is a a vast repository of mostly-D&D lore advice and gameplay. And it goes back all the way to 2013, kicking into gear with a 2014 live stream of a Heroes Unlimited game set in the universe of TV show The Tick.
In 2015, For Crits and Giggles was born, as DM Keiran Bennett convinced his friends their new campaign was going to be a podcast. It’s probably Aoteroa’s first actual play pod, and it’s a good start, with dry banter mixing in and out of a setting with a real sense of magic. “It’s not frequent, but it is long running,” Bennett told Diceratops’ Morgan Davie (in this conversation mostly about Bennett’s more recent efforts to get politicians together to play D&D on TV).
By 2017 more shows were appearing, again looking further than Dungeons & Dragons. Casual RP has mixed D&D campaigns with interludes in different systems and a Vampire: The Masquerade chronicle; Rycon Roleplays began with a playthrough of their own zombie survival game Z-Land; and Big Red Couch has been pulling ideas out of a hat and trying to turn them into runnable TTRPGs this whole time. Meanwhile, the first live show of what would become Dungeons & Comedians played to a sold-out theatre in Ōtautahi Christchurch.
Since then, there have been heaps of new kiwi RPG shows: podcast, videos, streaming, and on stage; actual play, advice, and interviews; full-bore entertainment product, earnest gameplay, or a peek at a bunch of mates around a table – and while the D&D revival has truly hit, there’s still plenty of interest in other systems.
By 2020 it got so even the people from the TV had to pay attention, with reality show Survive the 80s(video may be geoblocked)playing Dungeons & Dragons (for more on this, see this Diceratops episode with DM Dallas Barnett). Then, in 2021, there was recognition (also noted in the paper) of four different stage shows based on D&D in Wellington’s Fringe Festival alone:
We’ll be back with some samplers of #kiwiRPG shows during the week. For now, go check out the sweet as selection on our shows page!