If you aren’t a gamer, you might not be aware we just celebrated the closest we get to Christmas this past weekend: Free RPG Day. Inspired by Free Comic Book Day and started in 2007, Free RPG Day works with participating gaming retailers and RPG publishers to put new and exclusive RPG quickstart rules and adventure modules into the hands of gamers.
I love FRPGD, I really do. I think it’s a great opportunity for game stores to celebrate the hobby, and get players new and old through the doors. Sadly, FRPGD events have been sporadic here in Edmonton; no stores have regularly taken part on a yearly basis. And this year the two stores listed on the FRPGD site, Warp 1 and Red Claw Gaming, had product but no events. Don’t get me wrong, kudos to both of them (especially Warp 1, where I picked up my samples) for taking part and bringing in the product. But I think product without event is a missed opportunity, for both gamers and stores.
That said, I picked up some great free gaming product and that’s what I want to focus on here. Every FRPGD is always a blend of the established publishers and interesting small publishers, and this year was no exception. I’m going to focus on my favourite three “small” press publishers today; I’ll post my favourite “big” publishers in another post.
Cosmic Patrol: Quick-start Rules/The Eiger Agenda – Published by Catalyst Game Labs, Cosmic Patrol is a retro sci-fi game, inspired by the pulp sci-fi era. It is a rules-lite storytelling game, with play led by a Lead Narrator that switches throughout play, instead of a set game master. The book packs a lot of information in a 24-page package formatted very close to a pulp sci-fi mag. Rules take up only ten pages, the rest is given over to pre-gens, maps, and the included adventure, The Eiger Agenda.
I’m only just getting into storytelling-style RPGs, via games like Fiasco and Microscope. As a lover of classic sci-fi, Cosmic Patrol fits into a very specific and potentially enjoyable niche for me. I liked the book overall, and I am definitely going to find a time to play this with some friends as a one-off.
Better Than Any Man – Better Than Any Man is an OSL-style offering from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. In a break from the tradition of small publishers including quick-start rules, LFP opted to publish a rather hefty adventure offering instead (though they note the rules are available for free download on their site). Rules aren’t really necessary, of course; if you have a fav OSL rules-set you can play through this adventure. An important thing to note, and it says this right on the cover: this is an 18+ Explicit Content product. I won’t go into details, but a quick glance through the art will show you why, and reading the adventure definitely drives it home. It isn’t for everyone, but if you like some hardcore OSL horror, this product is going to be somewhere in your wheelhouse. And it’s so substantial, it’s hard to believe they gave it away for free. Definitely a treasure.
Hall of Bones – Hall of Bones is another OSL offering, from Frog God Games for their Swords & Wizardry RPG. There are quickstart rules included, but if you played any of the original D&D box sets, including up through Basic, the rules are covering old ground. You really can sit down and start playing this adventure in minutes with the supplied pre-gens, and the adventure is hefty enough to last you at least one session of dungeon delving.
I loved the old-school design and feel of Hall of Bones, and it brought me right back to reading my first modules like Keep on the Borderlands and Village of Hommlet. I also liked that they included a little primer on old school gaming, sort of a “back in my day” section that I got a kick out of. And what I really liked was how “portable” this adventure could be. Because it’s written for a very simple OSL style game, it would be so easy to strip out the mechanics and drop it into any fantasy RPG you want. For a busy GM like myself it makes Hall of Bones worth its weight in electrum.
That’s it for the small press finds. In Part 2 I’ll give my top three picks from the Big Guys. Until then, drop a note in the comments and tell me what you thought of your FRPGD finds. Anything catch your eye? Share!