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👾 A Metroidvania tabletop RPG
Also is your art CRUD? | last games of Zine Month | and more
1. Tabletop Metroidvania, Firelights
French Canadian game designer René-Pier Deshaies-Gélina’s latest solo RPG, Firelights, is about exploring and rescuing a plagued world. It captures the feeling of playing a Metroidvania-style video game combining elements of Hollow Knight, Spiritfarer, and Ori and the Blind Forest.
✅ Lingo check: "Metroidvania" is a side-scrolling action-adventure video game where the player traverses a map collecting items and abilities which open up the world. The name combines two genre-defining games: Metroid and Castlevania.
Designed and published in two weeks, Firelights launched instantly into the top solo RPG slot on itchio. It was surprising given the competition for gamers’ attention during the annual RPG crowdfunding event, Zine Month.
René-Pier says the Metroidvania style is key to the game’s popularity. “I don’t think the whole Metroidvania genre has been vastly exploited,” he explained. “Trying to emulate that type of game made people wonder, ‘How can a tabletop RPG work like a Metroidvania game?’”
Firelights’ premise – a sole protagonist, lost in an unknown world, with a big quest – is a genre hallmark. But the Metroidvania theme is carried through to the game’s mechanics too.
René-Pier explained, “Firelights has a big focus on building up a map using a deck of cards, as this is such an important aspect of the Metroidvania genre. I added boss fights against Curses, ways for you to discover treasures and secrets, and use them to unlock paths in your journey.”
Beyond the game’s mechanics, René-Pier says the cover art, $6.00 price, and one-page rule format are also draws.
The Firelights Creator Kit includes guidelines for people to adapt the game’s mechanics to create their own games and tell different stories. This also allows the rules to be previewed for free.
You can put the kit to use in The Firelights Jam, which runs from March 1 to April 30. More than 100 people have already joined the game jam.
Next up from René-Pier is Stoneburner, a solo-friendly tabletop RPG about a bunch of space dwarfs inheriting a demon haunted asteroid mine. It also features fantastic illustrations by Galen Pejeau who created the cover art for Firelights.
2. Last chance to back
The annual crowdfunding event, Zine Month, is officially behind us, but there is still time to back these GMless games.
🏍️ Hit the Road, Jack - full throttle chase
In this gasoline-fueled journey across an empty stretch of highway, the criminal Jack Be Nimble is chased by the lawman, Jack Be Quick. By drawing tarot cards and responding to journaling prompts, you will flesh out the nature of the Jacks, their relationship, and how they deal with whatever the road throws at them. Hit the Road, Jack is designed by Kyle.
🧳 Broken Cities - urban exploration and renewal
This GMless game has two roles: the Travelers and the City. City players describe the streets and present hard choices to the visiting Travelers. Travelers need to fix a problem for the City, it may require sacrifice. A beautifully laid out 88 page manual is packed with easy to follow instructions and examples for creating the surreal setting, quirky Travelers, and interesting quests. Broken Cities is designed by Côme Martin.
🗼 Kaiju Don’t Care About You - monster survival
Inspired by tokusatsu movies like Godzilla and Gamera, this solo survival RPG plays across two modules. In the first you are trapped in a crumbling building during a kaiju attack and must escape before it collapses. In the second, you are part of a secret multinational team that shipwrecks and must survive on a mysterious island. Kaiju Don’t Care About You is designed by Cicada Human.
😌 Soft Focuses 2nd Edition - experiencing ADHD
Soft Focuses is a solo journaling game that encourages players to experience life with ADHD. Create a list of stats and then experience moments from your day as as an alternate version of yourself. Soft Focuses 2nd Edition is designed by Chris Legge.
🦔 Hedgehogs & Hot Air Balloons - cosy journey
In this cute solo journaling game, you are a hedgehog discovering the world in your hot air balloon. You can explore anywhere you choose to land, and what you find will change depending on the season. Perhaps you will make a friend who will travel with you, or maybe you will find out what happened to the 'humans' who once dominated the land. Hedgehogs & Hot Air Balloons is designed by Sophie Atkinson.
3. Is your art CRUD?
René-Pier’s comments about Galen’s Firelights illustration has had me thinking about the importance of art in indie tabletop games. Recently I’ve noticed AI-generated images being used on game blogs, as game cover art, and game illustrations. Scroll through itch.io’s new & popular physical games and you’ll see examples. They’re not difficult to spot.
Ethical questions aside, if you are a game creator, think about what using AI art says about your game’s brand. When considering art for your game, see if it passes my CRUD test.
Credible: Is it authentic? Does it match the scale of your project? Indie gamers aren’t expecting Greg Rutowksi art in their 16-page Indie zine.
Relevant: Does it reinforce the theme and tone of the game?
Unique: Does it draw the eye and stand out from everything else on a digital marketplaces and social media?
Distinctive: Does it feel original, with quirks and style that is recognizable and ownable?
Game creators almost always include the names of people who collaborated on a project. If it’s not clear who did the work, players should ask.
It’s never been easier to source art or create your own. Here are some options.
Hire a freelancer - Artists are available to hire for projects.
Jason Lutes, cartoonist and game designer who publishes under the Lampblack & Brimstone imprint, explains, “When I’m looking for artists, generally I google using search terms for the kind of art I’m looking for (e.g., ‘old school black and white rpg illustration,’ etc.) and compile lists of people whose work might fit the bill.”
He also recommends browsing the #drawingwhileblack hashtag on Twitter.
I keep a list of game illustrators on Twitter. It’s also used for inspiration and joy-scrolling, so not everyone followed is open to commissions. Ping me if you want to be added.
Public domain art - Free to use public domain images are a fantastic source of content. Artist Grant Creegan, has a good overview of public domain resources.
Do it yourself - Go for it! Create your own style. YouTube is full of great advice and tutorials. Here are a few of my favorites:
Steal like an artist - Great advice from Kyleatino
Photobashing - Chacolypse has an new how-to video on combining photos to create amazing imagery.
Sci-fi graphics - For your moody space trucker games.
Drawing maps - JP Coovert’s excellent videos cover everything from character art to dungeon design.
Making a zine - Nate Treme’s classic how-to on all aspects of Zine creation.
This is just scratching the surface of the resources available. So get out there and start making CRUD art!
4. My ZiMo picks
I backed 15 projects during Zine Month. This thread lists all of them with links to the projects and the creators. I can’t wait to play them!
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