I wanted my daughter Lark’s first RPG experience to be one that reflected her personality and interests (at age 4), so I designed one, Storylike, for us to play New Game Day. I snapped this photo from her first-ever gaming session.
A little while back game designer Jason Morningstar said this about his solitaire RPG METAL SHOWCASE 11PM: “Half solo RPG, half choose-your-path novel, half nobody has ever bought or played this and I think it is really good!”
Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted. I ordered a copy, played it, and now I’m going to talk about it. Only briefly, though, because this is an RPG with potential spoilers.
It took me about 30 minutes to play, and I had a great time. I’d happily play it again. But part of the fun was knowing almost nothing about it going in, and while it’s a tricky line to walk in a review I want to preserve that experience for you.
Pictured above are the book, the two dice I grabbed (black because \m/), and the back of my character sheet. The latter shows all the notes I made during the game, hopefully tantalizing you without spoiling anything. I named my band Suppurating Maelstrom. My favorite note from the session was “Enabled [character’s] morbid obesity.”
Here are my impressions after one play, which I jotted down immediately after playing.
What a fantastic little game
It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy book, only better written and more fun. You have a character and stats; you make choices and compete in contests.
But you’re also asked to get inside your guy’s head at different points, and those choices — and the notes you made about them — matter later on. My first session was 30 enjoyable minutes long, told a story (a rather depressing one; my guy was kind of a dick), and made me want to play again.
That might sound like a subtle tweak on the formula, but in combination with the tight presentation and writing, an alchemy occurs: There’s roleplaying here that I’ve never experienced when playing a gamebook. I felt involved in a way that was much more like how I’d get into a non-solitaire RPG session, or a solo board game session when playing a board game that tells a story, like Arkham Horror or Astra Titanus. It’s hard to explain, but: good stuff.
There are plenty of choices involved, and the stuff you make up on the fringes of the game space will be different every time, so I can see this having good replayability. It’s also difficult to win; that’s a good thing.
I’ve never played a game quite like it. I’m enamored of it, and I recommend it.
I often see posts asking for Lulu RPG recommendations, and Lulu’s search functionality is pretty lacking, so rather than type mine up every time I wrote this post for easy reference. It’s up to several dozen recommendations, mostly old school products and story games, and I keep it more or less up to date with new purchases (latest update: May 29, 2018).
If you just want one recommendation, you should buy ASE1: Anomalous Subsurface Environment, which I liked so much that I bought Brian Thomas’ original art for the sasquatron (seen above, as yet unframed). The sasquatron, a robo-yeti with a crab claw, is just the tip of ASE’s iceberg of gonzo awesomeness.
Lulu runs coupons so regularly that I never order without Googling “Lulu coupon code” first. Coupon discounts come out of Lulu’s end, not the publisher’s end.
Notes about the list
Some of the links below are to specific versions (like softcover or standard paper), so you might want to check for other versions.
If I loved something and want to have little game babies with it, I *ed it. (To be clear, I like everything on this list.) If you’re curious what I think about a book in more detail, I eventually rate and comment on every gaming book I own: Here are my RPGGeek ratings.
Looking for tabletop RPG products on Lulu? Try these!
Here are a whole mess of gaming books I’ve bought on Lulu that I would recommend, in alphabetical order with links:
- * Advanced Edition Companion
- * Adventures on Dungeon Planet
- Adventures on Gothic Earth
- * ASE1: Anomalous Subsurface Environment
- * ASE2-3: Anomalous Subsurface Environment
- * Augmented Reality
- * Barbarians of Lemuria: Legendary Edition
- The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
- Dark Dungeons
- * DCC RPG Reference Booklet
- * Delving Deeper Reference Rules Compendium
- A Dirty World
- * Dodecahedron 2015 Cartographic Review
- d30 DM Companion
- * d30 Sandbox Companion
- Drowning & Falling
- * The Dungeon Dozen
- Dyson’s Delves
- * Elysium Flare
- Encounter Critical
- * Fight On! Compiled Compilation +4
- * Fight On! Foliated Folio +8
- 43 AD
- * 44: A Game of Automatic Fear
- Grey Ranks
- The Hell House Beckons
- * The Hyqueous Vaults
- * KEFITZAT HADERECH – Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals
- Knives in the Dark
- Knockspell 1-3
- * Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition
- Lair of the Unknown
- Last Train Out of Warsaw
- * The Lazy Dungeon Master
- * Love in the Time of Seið
- * METAL SHOWCASE 11PM
- * The Metamorphica
- NOD Magazine (link is to issue 1, but there are many more after that one)
- * Norwegian Style
- Original Edition Characters
- * Petty Gods: Revised & Expanded Edition
- Planet Motherfucker
- * Play Unsafe
- * A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming (direct link to free PDF)
- Realms of Crawling Chaos
- Santicore 2011
- * Santicore 2013
- Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume One
- Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume Two
- Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume Three
- Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume Four
- * Shadowbrook Manor
- * The Shadow of Yesterday
- * Stalker RPG
- * Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls
- Stonehell Dungeon: Into the Heart of Hell
- * Super Mission Force
- Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Rules
- * Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque
- * Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque II
- Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque III
- Teratic Tome
- 3d6 Supers!
- * Tomb of the Iron God
- * Transylvanian Adventures
- * Uresia: Grave of Heaven
- Warriors of the Red Planet
- * Whitehack
- * Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols! Volume One Compilation
I apologize to your wallet in advance. Happy gaming!
 Super Mission Force is a skirmish miniatures game, but it supports campaign play, features characters with skills useful outside of combat, and deliberately straddles a the fuzzy line that separates RPGs from wargames, so I included it here.
I’ve done a bit of design work in the tabletop RPG industry, and like most gamers I’ve started and abandoned game designs over the years, but today marks only the second time I’ve designed a complete RPG and shared it with others.
After enjoying my experience with RPG Geek’s 24-hour RPG design contest in 2012, during which I designed my first complete RPG, Eaten Away, I was intrigued when I heard about Game Chef 2013. I also hoped I wouldn’t get an idea for a game, because I didn’t think I’d be able to finish anything, but that’s not how ideas work, is it? Of course I got an idea I couldn’t ignore.
Signal Lost is a story game about exploring the Distant Star, a deep-space survey vessel that has gone dark, and facing an alien terror. Here’s a direct download link: Signal Lost RTF file.
Here’s the cover:
I designed Eaten Away on October 15, 2012. After waking up at 4:00 a.m. with a splitting headache, I got the idea for what became the Attrition System at 7:00 a.m. while I was drinking my morning coffee. My first thought was, “Hey, this is pretty neat.” My second thought was, “Shit, my 24 hours just started . . .”
I fleshed it out, decided it was perfect for a zombie horror game — which would also save me some time by sidestepping the need for setting material — and did most of the conceptualization in the car that morning. From idea to playable game, Eaten Away took me about 13 hours to create.
Its inspirations include the countdown clock in John Wick’s Shotgun Diaries, the core mechanic in James V. West’s free RPG The Pool, the toolkit approach to setting creation in Eden Studios’ All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and the construction of free-form dice pools in Margaret Weis Productions’ Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, as well as the safe house concept and narrative arc in the video game Left 4 Dead. The setting and theme were inspired by a range of zombie movies and fiction, but especially by The Walking Dead — both the comic and the TV show, in slightly different ways.
If that sounds appealing, you can download it as a free PDF.
Part of my inspiration for this project came from my copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. The DCC RPG is based on Appendix N, and itself has an Appendix N. In that appendix is this picture of all of the Appendix N titles the author, Joseph Goodman, read before and during the time he worked on the game:
I saw that picture and immediately thought, Holy shit, that looks like fun. As inspirations for Reading Appendix N go, this one played a big role. Something about not only reading all of those books, but also tracking them all down, hit me somewhere primal. “Book + collection” goes straight to my rat-brain.
Joseph also proposed the same common-sense guidelines I’m following for this project: Read everything listed by title or series, and pick a representative work where no title/series is listed. While I didn’t crack open the DCC RPG to use as a template for Reading Appendix N, I’m sure Joseph’s guidelines helped frame the whole project in my mind. Some of the books he picked I followed his lead on, some we both chose independently, and some don’t overlap at all.
The DCC RPG
The DCC RPG is awesome and well worth checking out; here’s the Amazon link (paid link). Even if you never play it, the amount of amazing old school artwork it boasts is worth the price of admission.
An Amazon Listmania! list
I’m not the first to post an Appendix N reading list online — something I’m going to do shortly, having spent several days working on it. This Amazon Listmania! list (paid link) was inspired by the DCC RPG, and appears complete.
I’m in favor of any effort to spread the word about Appendix N, but that list isn’t exactly the kind of tool I need. It’s not in a useful order, doesn’t list individual works by title, doesn’t provide notes or other extras, and doesn’t explain the thinking behind the personal recommendations the list creator made.
I’m also not the first person to undertake reading Appendix N (and I certainly hope I’m not the last!), and that’s fine by me. What I’m trying to do here on Yore is tackle this project in a way that’s useful and interesting to others as well as enjoyable for me. Where a tool exists — like the above list — that’s less than ideal, I aim to build a better one. Stay tuned for my Appendix N reading list, which should go up shortly!