As with any creative medium, some of the most exciting new RPG elements on the table come from experimentation. Once you break free from the bonds of Dungeons & Dragons, you’ll be able to better observe the smaller designers – mad scientists and provocateurs working to push the mold to see what they can do or even just get away with. Every year, Zine Month is the perfect place for this creative community to show off their quirky flags, whether it’s Zine Quest on Kickstarter or Tabletop Nonstop on Crowdfundr.
The 2023 TTRPG zines were incredibly diverse and included everything from entire games to fifth edition hacks and even a few titles aimed directly at kids. But there were a few that really stood out, projects that tried to challenge not just the players but the very idea of what a tabletop RPG could be.
Expect these and other Zine Month inspired games to hit backers throughout the year.
My mother’s kitchen
Tarot-based solo games are a big part of Zine Month and the itch.io design scene, but My mother’s kitchen Fleet Detrik uses recipes to twist the tarot a bit. You play as a ghost with a cookbook who tries to use saved recipes to regain lost memories.
IN My mother’s kitchen, Role-playing is both creating memory and filling it. The drawn tarot cards help fill out the family tree and represent the people who will actually cook. They also give players a spooky power that helps influence the success or failure of the larger family. Detrik said they designed the game to help come to terms with the helplessness they felt when their grandmother’s health deteriorated due to age and worsened, and how cooking helped them cope.
Border riding is a cooperative story building game that takes place in a small village, a rural place that exists near the border between two countries. The game was inspired by designer Jo Reid’s childhood growing up in the Scottish Borders, but it doesn’t have to be set in Scotland. As a group, players will trace the history of this city over the years, reacting to events and exploring issues of inclusion, xenophobia and the impact of time on communities. Players have to struggle with who is “us” and who is “them” and how and why such distinctions are made at all. All this takes place on a large hand-drawn opaque map, with each new map stacked on top of each other to reflect changes over time. The instructions even come in the shape of a map, meaning you can assemble everything for later.
strictly between us
Eli Seitz and Kristen Dabney strictly between us is a live role-playing game for up to 20 people musicians who use blues dance explore the relationship. Players play out two narratives, together and separately, representing the beginning of a new relationship and the end of one. The dance is quite literal, and instead of being just action, the dance is used by players to express their emotions and feelings in a way that differs from other games. It even has its own curated playlist to maximize the impact.
Taking inspiration from easy-to-watch movies like The human centipede AND Helena boxer, Samuel Mui Horse girl it’s a deeply disturbing game concept. In this solo TTRPG, you play as a woman moving in with her “dream man”, rich and handsome, who has her own room in his mansion. Reservation? You must be turned into a horse. The game uses a slow, surgical transformation into a horse to explore the loss of self caused by systematic abuse. There are many typical journalistic game items (deck of cards, dice, etc.), but one item sticks out: a red marker to draw on your own skin.
Psychic Trash Detectives
You see a lot of found items used during Zine Month. Coins, sentimental pictures, bones. Brigitte Winter Psychic Trash Detectives asks what you can do with something we all have but probably don’t think about touching: garbage. Orange peels, empty cans, rolled up handkerchiefs. You play as any number of garbage-loving creatures with a psychic connection to garbage, and the various visions that shape the story use garbage to make connections: sketching garbage, writing poetry on or with garbage, or creating a memory of garbage. Anything can improvise, so why not make it a little cheesy?