Dice Exploder
Dice Exploder
2023 Year End Bonanza

2023 Year End Bonanza

with Aaron King, Lady Tabletop, and Sharang Biswas

Hello and welcome to the Dice Exploder 2023 year end bonanza! I love me a good ranked list of movies on an end of year movie podcast, but ranked lists are bad and this show’s about RPGs not movies, so you get this instead.

It’s me, Aaron King of the RTFM podcast, Lady Tabletop of the Alone at the Table podcast, and Sharang Biswas of winning tons of Ennies this year. The four of us (plus a half dozen other special guests) are here to tell you about a bunch of cool games shit we played, read, and listened to this year.

Hope you had a great year in games! Come on down and listen to ours.



Aaron can be found on, like, just listen to RTFM, linked above.

Audrey on Tumblr, and her podcast Alone at the Table about solo games.

Sharang is on itch and Twitter and Bluesky.

Sam is @sdunnewold on all socials and itch.

Our logo was designed by sporgory, and our theme song is Sunset Bridge by Purely Grey.

Join the Dice Exploder Discord to talk about the show!

Our picks:

Aaron’s games

Audrey’s games

Sharang’s games

Sam’s games

Game adjacent things

Thing we’re proud of

Picks from friends of the show:

Further reading:



Hello and welcome to a bonus episode of Dice Exploder. Each week, we take a tabletop RPG mechanic and sing a sappy karaoke duet with it. Except this week, we're doing something completely different. This is a bonus episode. It's me, three of my friends, and we're gonna look back at the year of 2023 in TTRPGs and a bunch of cool shit that we thought was great, and we wanna tell you all about.

So today with me, I've got Aaron King first. Aaron, hey, who are you?

Aaron: Hi, I am a co host of the RTFM RPG book club podcast. I'm a game designer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, one of the homes of role playing games. And I said that like there's going to be a third thing, but that's it. That's all I do.

Sam: You're, author of Reading the Apocalypse, which I refuse to stop shouting out in every single episode of this show that I record, apparently.

Aaron: Oh, thank you. Yeah, I love books. That's the third thing. Uh, I actually, I'm turning, my birthday's coming up soon, and every year I release a zine of my favorite books. So that is out. That's free. You can find it.

Sam: There you go. Audrey, you're next. Who are you?

Audrey: I am Audrey, I use she, they pronouns, I'm most commonly known as Lady Tabletop online. I'm a game designer, game player, game runner, all game things. And also I'm a podcaster, so I'm glad to be here, and I don't usually sound like your Aunt Marge from the hair salon, but that's who you get today.

Sam: Yeah, post PAX voice is my understanding.

Audrey: Yes, it was a great time, but I have no voice left.

Sam: Beautiful. And finally, Sharang, who are you?

Sharang: I am Sharang Biswas, I am a game designer, writer, and interactive artist, and professor of games based in New York City, and other cool things.

Sam: and you're my friend,

Sharang: I am also your friend, most importantly. One

Sam: throughout this episode, you're also gonna hear from various other people from the Dice Exploder community, and from just like my friends and past co hosts and stuff, we're gonna pop in with just a short little shout out of something that they love from this year. Well, I'm going to play one of those right now.

I don't know which one because not all of them have come in yet, but we're going to play one right now and then we'll come back.

Ray: Hey, it's me, Ray, for Dice Explorer, and my end of the year wrap up. So, Sam asked me to talk about one game, so I'm going to talk about Decuma which is the R& RPG by Golden Lasso Games, Kimi Hughes.

This is a tarot game that helps you build your adventure, your party, your holding pattern before you go on a campaign. But it's much more than that. It is a game that allows you to tell a whole cloth story with interesting dynamics, so long as you have a couple of things.

And the best part is you can play this with anyone. I ran it for a group of 20 year old Students of mine. And I also ran it for a group of comic friends of mine. And none of them really play RPGs too much.

So, that, in my opinion, makes it super powerful. So, yeah, check it out.

Sam: Wow, that person was really smart and their pick is really great. And I can't wait to hear from more people like that as the episode goes on.

So the way that this is going to work is we're going to go around. We each picked three games from the year that we really loved. And want to shout out and talk about a little bit. We're going to go around and just talk about them. And then we'll have a couple other things after those are done. But to start us off, Aaron what's your first game?

Aaron: My first game is Greed. It says it's designed by CXA and Gormengheist, which feels like fake names that criminals would use, and that works great for me. Everything I'm bringing this year is, like, black and white, cruddy looking, which I say affectionately, and short. Because as cool as it is that RPGs are getting more recognition and becoming luxury items and really intricate, artistic, amazing items, I love the accessibility and the kind of disposability of zines and black and white work. Quick, get something out, give it to your friends.

So greed is like that. Lots of grainy black and white stuff. You mine a strange realm for oil and feed it to a demon, and it keeps your tavern warm on a dying world.

The classes are like Goblin and Bodkin, which is just kind of a jerk, and then John F. Kennedy is also a class that you can play.

Audrey: That's, that's the only thing I know about this game. It's the only page I've seen.


Aaron: it's a great page

Sam: Person who kills the turkey on Thanksgiving also one of the classes, holy fuck.

Aaron: it's it's just like, I don't, there, it feels like a punk album, right? It feels like a 70s punk album that they just like smashed out in the studio one day, and I love that about it. There are weird psychic powers, lots of good random tables. And it's a kind of Blades adjacent system. So if you've played that, you can almost jump right in.

And there are, I normally am a big hater of like fiction at the start of a game. I bought a lot of World of Darkness books in the nineties and it scarred me. But this game has very cool, like short sailor songs and like shanties and weird stuff like that throughout, and they're actually well written, which is somewhat rare for a role playing game.

Gormenguist dot itch dot io is where you can find it. I don't know, that's my pitch, that's what I love about it.

Sharang: the comments on it says it's postmodern Dadaism as a stand up comedy routine in RPG format.

Aaron: If someone told me that I wouldn't have bought it. It's, I mean, there are aspects of like, kind of pompous white poet William Burroughs beat stuff to it that is normally a turn off to me if I just hear it described, but you know, they deliver. This is a great zine.

Sam: The voice of the itch page is just so strong like right away It's it starts with:

What is this a TTRPG like mom used to make if it got left in a dumpster and auto fermented.

Like, yeah, I like know what this game is gonna be from that sentence, and I, I didn't get the chance to read this before recorded, but like, holy shit, I like need more of those sentences in my life.

Audrey: I really like the design of this one too, like it's kind of chaotic, but I'm looking at like the attack effects table, where it just starts to say obliteration over and over and over until it cuts off the page. Like, that's such a good idea, such a good way to communicate the way that attacking things works here.

Aaron: It also says there are two castes of players. One is called the Baron, the other cast can just be called the Players. Um, So it just carries this tone of this kind of like economically stressed apocalyptic fantasy all throughout the text.

Audrey: Right, like baron like oil baron, you know? You know?

Sam: That's like making fun of the idea of having a GM in the first place, too. I love that. Anything else you wanna tell us about this before we uh, push onward?

Aaron: I found out that these people that make this game are like in undergrad right now, which

Sam: my

Aaron: me, right? Makes me mad, but also happy. You know,

Audrey: The only other thing I want to say about this game is that they have a letterbox list about movies that, like, inspired or, like, the same vibes as the game, and they have my favorite movie of all time on the list, The Good, the Bad, and the Weird, which is, like, a Korean Western. And it's, yeah, that, like, kind of puts in perspective for me.

I actually really hate it when people reference media when they're saying things, but I think that doing it through a list is really clever.

Aaron: They also offer examples of all the classes in history and in fiction, and for classes throughout fiction the example for JFK, it just says, he's real.

Sam: Sweet! Audrey, what's your first pick?

Audrey: My first pick of the year is Void 1680 AM by Ken Lowry, who also goes under the name Bannerless Games when he writes games.

So it's a solo RPG. Big surprise, two out of three of my picks are going to be solo RPGs because that's a lot of what I get to play now. But it is a game where you're playing like a late night radio show host of the titular Void 1680 AM station.

You take calls from callers. It can basically be as like paranormal weird as you want it to be because the callers are fictional. That's the part that kind of takes the place of like your journal entries. Versus the way a lot of, like, journaling games would have you saying, Oh, I came to this place. This game is saying, this person called, and this is kind of what their problem was, and how I helped them.

It uses a standard deck of cards that, that kind of guides, like, who your callers are, and maybe what they're struggling with. So in terms of, like, mechanics, it's a pretty standard structure that you see in a lot of solo games, but I like the conceit of being a late night radio host.

And also, if you record your game and do send it to Ken, he plays it on the actual Void 1680 AM station that he has, which is very cool.

I, I just, this one's very slick. It's presented as like the manual for someone who just got their, like, AM radio set up, and here's how it works, and

Yeah, it has a legacy mode, which is something that I have like slowly become obsessed with over the course of this year. The idea that you could play a solo game for a second time and iterate on the elements that came up the first time and kind of continue the story or tell a different story because those elements exist.

And I also just had, I mean, I had a great time. I got to talk to Ken a lot about the game because I played it on stream in November and he was my first caller because I did actually do like a live call in show, which defeats a little bit the spirit of the game, but everybody was a great sport about it, and we had a really good time.

It was one that I picked up at Gen Con because it had been on my radar for a while and so it was definitely a standout of the year for me.

Sam: I just want to say explicitly in case you didn't, like, you are also making a playlist as you play this

Audrey: Oh, yeah, yes, no, I didn't explicitly say that, but you are supposed to be using music because some of the prompts that are coming up are like a song that reminds you of when you were a kid or like a song that you'd listen to after a breakup and things like that. So you're making a playlist while you do it.

Which, Ken also has a YouTube channel to play these on, but because of copyrighted music and stuff often those get taken down, unfortunately. I tried to circumvent that by using only, like, royalty free and permission granted music from my friends for this, so we'll see how long it stays up there.

Sam: Yeah, I've played this game two or three times now and the one that I broadcast got pulled down extraordinarily quickly. Ken had to send me a illegal pirate link recording of it so that I would have a copy

Audrey: That's so funny.

Sam: this game is incredible. Like I really love this thing. I love the feeling of being a late night radio DJ feels so similar to me to the feeling of playing a solo game. Like, you are engaged in this solo activity, that is emotional, and that is, you're trying to like, put something out into the world, and you don't know who's going to receive it, or if anyone's going to receive it other than you.

And like, I, I don't know if this is true for you, Audrey, playing a lot of solo games, I know a lot of people get a lot out of playing solo games just for themselves, but for me, when I'm playing a solo game, it's usually because I wish I was playing a multiplayer game, and that, that feeling of, I'm doing this just for myself, but like, what if I shared this journal with someone one day? Is so strong while playing solo games.

Audrey: Of why I like the legacy playthrough of this, because to me, and it's not explicitly written this way in Void, but to me, the idea of a legacy game is that I can play a game and document my experience playing, and then I can hand it to a friend and say you should also play this. And they've got like my experience to build off of or vice versa. Like I know that when, not to get like super tangential, but there's not a ton of like iterative or legacy solo games out there, and the ones that do kind of allow that play tend to be the ones that are really big and, and like, you know, Dungeons and Dragons. Like you can do it in Ironsworn. That's the one everybody always cites.

But the one that I really like is is The Machine by Adira Slattery, because that one is explicitly like, I am going to mail this game to someone else when I have finished doing it. And they're going to do it and then mail it to someone else. So it's kind of like a chain mail thing.

And this game could be done the same way. Like it, you could very easily hand your playthrough to, to someone to listen to and have them be just like the next host taking over, you know and I, I think that there's something really special about a game.

That invites you to connect with music and other media and not have it be purely based off of what you're writing, because that's the wall that I run into with a lot of journaling games is that at a certain point, just like if I was writing something completely original fiction without the means of the game to create it, that I start to feel stale or like I'm hitting a wall because there's nothing else in there as input. And that's usually, you know, when I have to say, hey, someone read this and tell me what sucks about it.

Um, but with this game, it's like, you need to pause and you have to listen to this whole song, and the song is meant to be chosen by you to evoke a specific emotional response or like, memory that you have, and that, that keeps things fresh and moving, I think.

Also, I just, like, I grew up listening to Casey Kasem and like the Late Night Delilah show and stuff. And so it's just a really fun game that kind of connects me to to memories from when I was a kid.

Sharang: This looks like a game that doesn't have a journaling aspect, right?

Audrey: It does, but it can be super minimal if you want it to, because the journaling aspect is about like, who called and what was their problem, and like, what was their deal or whatever, and what did I tell them? But you could straight up just record it. Like, I didn't journal anything. I just recorded all of mine. Um, Like, my responses to the callers and, like, described the callers themselves and things like that.

But, you know, there are people who don't want to necessarily be recording their own voice and they could be writing it down as in a journal.


Sharang: Because it is refreshing, I think, to see a solo game that the core isn't journaling, right? Because I feel most solo games that you see, the core is journaling, and often journaling in like, large chunks, which is what turns me off of many of the bigger ones, because I'm a writer, and I don't want to be writing all the time, you know?


Audrey: you out. It really burns you.


Sharang: So that's really cool and also I'm a, I mean, I just gave a lecture on this at NYU where like, talking about like verbs and games and what verbs do you use to engage with your game, making a playlist. I mean, I've only heard of that in that, in uh, Avery Alder's game, Ribbon Drive, So it's really cool to be like, oh, your main, one of your major mechanics is make a playlist. That's really, really interesting.

Sam: And the thing about making a playlist that I love is that you then have an artifact that you can easily share with other people. Like the thing that convinced me to play this game was listening to Aaron's Patreon episode talking about it for RTFM and like, talking about the game and what it was like to play it and then just playing some songs in the podcast episode and I was like, oh yeah, like, I'm getting to observe part of this other person's journaling experience. And that's, it's so cool that, like, the game gives you that thing to share with other people so you don't feel as alone playing it.

And then also that Ken has built, you know, a ten person, like, loyal community who just listens every time he broadcasts. And that, that community built around it too just makes playing it feel like you are contributing to something and like not just there alone, even as you're, you're doing it alone.

Sharang: I'm also glad the judges at the Ennies picked a smaller sort of game to feature as a judge's spotlight because I feel sometimes in the community the ennies feel like because they're voted only the big name titles get recognition. So it's very cool that a game like this was selected by the judges at the Ennies.

Audrey: Yeah, absolutely. This is one, like I said, I was super excited to pick it up, like, before any of Gen Con stuff happened and then I was at Gen Con and it won while I was there and I was like, oh god, I gotta get this before people buy all of


Sharang: Oh, you got the physical copy.

Audrey: Yeah, I have the physical copy. I try really hard to get physical copies of like the solo games that just really stick with me.

So this was one where I was like, yeah, must have

Sharang: Now this is really, I, I, I'd seen it when the Ennie nomination came up, I didn't look into it too deeply, but now I'm looking at it more now that you're talking about it, and I kinda wanna sign it in class.

Audrey: I highly recommend it.

Sam: Guys, get a whole semester of Ken just broadcasting your students uh, playlist

Sharang: would

Aaron: That would be so cool! Is there a college radio station at your school?

Sam: Oh my god,

Sharang: I don't, I mean, NYU probably has one.

Aaron: They must, right? Oh, that would be so cool to get them hooked up with that. I did college radio for years, and that's a big reason of why I love this game. I had a Initially a 3am to 6am slot, which is, right, no one's listening, and so you are just talking down a phone, talking down a microphone at nobody, and it feels very strange.

It's a weird headspace.

Sharang: because I've often featured a Long Time Listener Last Time Caller, the game by Jeff Dieterle So this is an interesting, like, addendum to that, but also, your point, Sam, if I assign it as a general assignment, I could have all the students then mail or email their version to Ken and be like, here are all my students playthroughs of this game.

Audrey: He would be thrilled. He would be thrilled, absolutely.

Sam: Aaron, is there anything else you wanted to say about this game? Like I know you've talked a lot about it, but like, yeah.

Aaron: No, I, I love the vibe. My favorite podcast of this year is called SFUltra, and it's a one person podcast who he hates sci fi and he's brainwashing himself into liking sci fi but he has been doing solo podcasting for years and so he talks a lot about I'm just talking down the phone at someone and you're listening to me and that is a kind of strange unique parasocial relationship.

And so I love that this game kind of, even though the callers are there, you never get to hear the voice of them. Like, all the calls are taken off air, and the idea is you come back on, and you say, Oh, you know, Sam called and was dealing with this problem, and it reminded me of this thing that I went through in my life. And this, this kind of, even though other people are explicitly there in the text. They are never there in the artifact of play, and I love that.

Sam: Alright, Sharang, what do we got?

Sharang: So my first pick was Fight with Spirit by Storybrewers Storybrewers is a two person company. It is V. Hendro and Hayley Gordon, who are a pair of awesome Lesbian game designers from Australia, and I explicitly say lesbian game designers because I always highlight queer game designers when I know about queer game designers.

And they're the people who made Good Society, which a lot of people might know, and Fight with Spirit is cool because it takes a lot of learning a lot of stuff from the board game world. So the, the rulebook looks like a board game rulebook in dimensions and look. It uses like tokens that you pass to each other and things like that.

But it's not a crunchy game. It is a very storytelling game. So this is a game that emulates sports anime. Right? So you all are playing a team of whatever sport you pick. I played this game first in 2020 as a playtest. And then I started a campaign recently now the game is out. And we are borrowing a magic sport from another RPG and then fleshing out the rules. So we made up a sport completely and literally as we're playing the game we're like, oh right. Maybe this is a position in this game. Oh, maybe this is a rule in this game, right? So you, it's sports, you don't need to know sports really well. You can make up one, you can do a, take a fictional one from a fictional world you like a lot, whatever.

And the little bit of crunch comes in when you are playing the sport within the game session. But the crunch, Isn't about you know, oh, I kick the ball at a 30 degrees or do I kick the ball at a 60 degree or anything like that. The crunch part comes in like, do you succeed in keeping your focus when faced with your biggest rival who you also have a crush on, you know?

And it's, it's card based. And it's, it's really cool. And it also highlights the like how manipulables and the physicality of games can affect the experience, right? There's a great article in the Journal of Analog Game Studies talking about humans as a platform, just like a PlayStation is a platform, talking about humans as a platform. It's by Ian Bellamy, and he talks about the experiential side effects of physically manipulating things, right? He talks about rolling a d6 and drawing one of six cards probabilistically is the exact same, but physically feels very different and has different experiential side effects.

And that is really apparent in this game when you're like passing tokens to each other and things, especially because the first time I played it, like I said, was in 2020, and it was the playtest, right? So I didn't have the set. I had PDFs, I was playing it over Zoom, and to draw a card, I decided that what I would do is I would maximize my directory on my laptop, I would close my eyes, and I would wiggle my mouse over my screen, and when the other player said, Stop. I would just be like, Oh, which file did I land on? Because all the cards were their own files. And I'm like, great, that's the card you drew, which of course, is very different from, you know, drawing from a deck of cards, right?

And so that that really highlighted, yes, like physicality and games and the meatspace can add different experiences to playing a role playing game.

It's also like, really nice because it's a game about like, teams and camaraderie, which is something I'm a sucker for. Like, show me media about people demonstrating camaraderie and I'm like, I will melt, right? That's really lovely. And it's also very freeform, so you can, pursue the story the way you want.

It's a really cool game. A campaign is three sessions long right? A campaign is basically quarterfinals, semifinals, and finals. And theor Right, it's really lovely, especially because, you know, I live in New York City. I have tried so many times to run campaign games, and the maximum I've ever done is seven sessions, and we're all like, Whoa, we did seven sessions? Right? So I'm like, I was like, my gays, we are playing a three session campaign.

I was like, Amazing. So that's really lovely. Obviously, you can extend it if you want. You can be like, okay, we played one season of the sport, and then we come back and play a second season of the sport, if you want, right? But, basic Campaign is, is three sessions.

That's really cool. They have, like, a little because Kickstarter, they had, like, a little expansion for playing historical sports, for playing fantasy sports. So it's a really lovely game that builds on the mechanics of Good Society of token passing and stuff, but maintains it as a freeform game. This is not a Shadowrun style game. It is really cool and I highly recommend it for the mechanical stuff. I just started playing the campaign. I might use it in my next fall in my indie RPGs course. I might use this as well to talk about bridging between board games and role playing games in a very, very interesting

Sam: Well, I'm really interested in that in particular. Like the board game y element of this. I feel like I'm seeing more and more people try to that bridge this year in particular. Like I have some friends that I know are working on stuff there's one that I'll bring up later in the episode and

Myth works put out c this year which is this cyberpunk forged in the dark game that comes on dry erase character sheets. And even just that like feels more board gamey It functions exactly the same as like a regular Forged in the Dark role playing game. But just that element of it makes it feel replayable. It feels like something you could pull out at a party and sit down and play. And that feeling is really really exciting to me.

Aaron: I remember hearing about that when Jason Morningstar was doing the new Fiasco edition. I was listening to an interview with him, and he said it was a half letter book because everyone was making half letter books back then. I didn't realize an RPG could be anything other than a book this size. And now that we've thought about it, like, decks of cards are so much better for this game.

And so, like, the tyranny of the book is really, I love books. But I also work at a board game store, and so I hate board games, but I'm happy to have an RPG that um, brings in other kind of tactile elements of passing things around, and touching different things, and folding things, and ripping things, writing on things, I really love that.

Sharang: I think the new

edition of, Lovecraftesque, which is by Black Armada Games, that, I think, is using the same philosophy that Jason Morningstar used of, like, what if this is just cards? Because already you can get supplement cards to, to Lovecraftesque, and then you don't need to look at the book that much.

And then this idea of bridging between different game media, like, we talk about, like, Mansions of Madness, right, as a board game that uses digital game tools to run. Now we need to see more role playing game on your digital games, or maybe, like, what if we create a sport, a real live sport that has roleplaying game elements in it, right? What if we hybridize all these things? What if it's an escape room that you play while playing baseball? I don't know. All these possibilities come up, you know?

Audrey: I am a huge fan of any game that provides the components that I would normally create myself at the table if it didn't come with them. Like the amount of times that I run through a stack of index cards playing a game just because it wants you to have tokens or it wants you to have individual things written down and noted and there's not necessarily a good spot on the character sheet if there is a character sheet, or there's not necessarily a good way to represent those things.

For me like, I like creating those things, but I also sometimes for, like, shorter games or for games where they're coming together really fast, like, I'm burning through post its and, index cards and stuff if the game didn't come with those components. And so it's really nice to see games where they're going, okay, yeah, here is everything in a physical form. It's not just a book that's going to tell you to grab a deck of cards and remember what each of the suits is supposed to be. Like, it's really nice.

That was a direct stab at Through the Breach because I love Through the Breach but I made a custom deck with their suits so that I wouldn't have to buy their bespoke deck that you can like hardly find anywhere anymore.

But yeah, I really love it when it all comes as like an all in one.

Sam: All right, we're gonna keep it moving because we are well behind where I was hoping we would be at this point.

Audrey: Big surprise,

Sam: Uh, but my first pick is a Golden Cobra game. So the Golden Cobra challenge, if you're not familiar, is like a game jam for LARPs, but also it's judged, a bunch of award winners, very great thing. Every year, read the Golden Cobras, there's always gems in there.

And this year, This wasn't even one of the winners, but I, like a song stuck in my head, I have not been able to stop thinking about Eating Oranges in the Shower by Hazel Anneke Dixon. I'm probably saying Anneke or Anneke, but here we are.

So this is a game. It's a LARP. It's like four to six people or whatever. You're playing as members of a group chat. You're just like people, friends in a group chat, and you socialize a little bit. And then one of you sends a message to the group that's like, Hey, you all have to check this out. And then they send a link to the Shower Oranges subreddit, which is a real subreddit dedicated to the act of eating oranges in the shower. They're just obsessed with this, it's just pictures of oranges in showers uh, the idea of doing this, and so then you all, in the LARP, go out and take a shower and eat an orange, and then you come back and talk about your experience.

And, on a fundamental level, the very idea of doing this, I think, feels, to everyone, just a little transgressive when you hear about it. Like it feels a little bit, like, smutty. Like it feels, like, forbidden somehow, but it's also just like, all you're doing is, like, eating an orange in a shower. Oh, I can't, like, what, this is the most, like, chaste, normal, like, thing to do. But there's something about the idea of that experience that feels sensual and feels compelling.

But then the game also really, I think, captures the feeling of discovering a weird niche online community and just poking around. Like that, that feeling that I think has become really rare as the internet has become more centralized, of like, stumbling upon something magical and strange that you never would have found In your real life, but on the internet, here it is. And you get to share that with your friends, and that experience is a second, like, magical, ephemeral thing that I am obsessed with and that I think this game captures really well.

Sharang: It really makes me think of Alex Roberts game about balloon fetishists online. Right? Because

Sam: Yeah!

Sharang: the, in Honey and Hot Wax, the anthology of sex games that I co edited with Lucian Khan, Alex Roberts' inclusion in the in the anthology, is a game that emulates online spaces. You play as though you are on different online spaces, but you do it in the meat space. So instead of typing tweets, you write them on strips of paper and throw them in a bowl, things like that. But it's about balloon fetishists, and Alex Roberts joined a balloon fetish community online and talked to them and learned about them in order to make that game.

And it makes me think of that. And like, yes, there's like magical communities of people who have a transgressive interest and, and joining them and treating them as real people and not as like bums. It that's, yeah, that's really interesting.

Aaron: I'm on the subreddit right now, and I would just like to shout out rule number three, no grapefruit whatsoever, all caps. We have strict rules regarding which fruits are suitable in this subreddit. Citrus fruits such as oranges, clementines, tangerines, tangellas, blood oranges, cuties, as well as satsumas are all acceptable.

Sam: Oh my god. Yeah, So the whole subreddit, like, came from one post on an AskReddit reply that was like

in 2005, at beach break, Camp Derby, Italy, on a club beyond youth trip, my male counselor told me something I would never forget. He said, Photon Bandit, would you like to know the most liberating, carnal, and best feel good thing you can ever experience is? Of course I said yes. Have you ever eaten an orange in the shower?

Sharang: I want to do this while stoned.

Sam: Yes, I do think that that is sort of a necessary part of this game, is to, to do this well stoned. Well, now we're gonna listen to our second brilliant maybe even third, we might put two of them here contributor from outside our little panel here. Here they are.

Thomas: Hi Sam, Thomas from the Indie RPG Newsletter here.

This was a pretty good year in games for me. I got to play Apocalypse World 2nd edition for the first time. I got to play Passion de las Passiones, both were amazing games. I spent a lot of time playing my game This Ship is No Mother, playtesting and then after its release, every single session of that game was phenomenal.

I think it was a complicated year for RPG journalism. Lin Codega lost their job and that sucks. But I want to shout out the video essays of A. A. Voigt, Aaron Voigt on YouTube. Who is doing some really cool stuff, doesn't get enough views as far as I'm concerned. I think what you're doing with Dice Explorers is, is awesome. We honestly need more shows like yours.

But if people aren't listening to Daydreaming About Dragons by Judd Karlman that's my favorite RPG podcast and they should definitely check that out. If they're not reading Paul Beakley of the Indie Game Reading Club they're missing out on some great RPG writing. Aaron Marks over at Cannibal Halfling never misses. There's lots of cool people talking about indie games and I hope that people check them out and see what they have to say.

Mikey: Hey there, it's Mikey Hamm, friend of Sam's, designer of Slugblaster,, and I want to talk about those big Smithsonian Picture Encyclopedia books.

You know us gamers, we love our pop culture and our nostalgia and our genre emulation, and I am as guilty as any, but it's so creatively invigorating to get back to primary sources. Science, history, talking to people, you know, real people, not gamer people. Reading about other careers, weird careers, all that kind of stuff.

And these books are just so fun for that. They're visual, they're fun to read, they'll give you, layout design ideas, they'll give you world building ideas, and yeah. Just pick, pick one up, they're really great, and here's a bonus, you know how people are always asking for Christmas present ideas, and you never know what to give them, because it's either like, You tell them, oh, give me a comic book, and they buy you a comic book you don't like, or instead you're like, buy me this specific comic book, and then it doesn't feel like you're even getting a present. It feels like you're just like, ordering something, and you know, it's not fun. Instead, just say, I would like a big picture encyclopedia reference book, or like a big reference coffee table book, because no matter what they give you, it's gonna give you ideas, and it's really fun to build a collection of those things.

So that's another reason they're great. They're just an instant thing you can tell people to get you for presents, um, because I know your mom is asking, and I know you've been putting off texting her back about it.

Anyways, I really like Picturepedia. That's the first one I would get. It is really cool because on one page you'll see like a spread of gemstones and on the next page you'll see like a spread of all the, you know, tanks from World War II you know, the next page will show you like all the different human evolution skulls laid beside each other. They're really cool, and

they were a big inspiration for me. Bye!

Sam: Just geniuses, once again. Like, I really can't express how smart these people are that I haven't heard yet. But that brings us to our second round through this. So, Aaron, what's your second game?

Aaron: This is my most vanilla pick, it's called Undertree Temple of the Elf Gods, It is by Christophe Rochelle slash Happy Kthonian. It's just a little site, a little adventure site, but I live in a world where I would just eat one of these every month, a little place to go with some weird stuff.

There is some good evocative detail, like some really tight, you know, what you would hope for from an OSR style thing without any of the, say, racism or homophobia of a lot of OSR style things. There's a thing called the Theoglut that has the head of a sperm whale and a child sized malformed body, and it eats gods.

And it's just a nice little I mean it's not nice, it gets grody sometimes, which is also why I like it, but just Yeah, I didn't pick it as like, this is the greatest thing ever, but it, to me, is a good example of something that I just, instead of subscribing to a newspaper, I wish I could get a little adventure site every month delivered to my door.

Audrey: We need HelloFresh for dungeons. That's what we need.

Sam: I read this one after you listed it on your picks because it's free. And some of these other games I didn't read because they're not free. And because I was busy as hell but, it is just so bite sized, and lovely, and it has

Aaron: just a reduction. You know, you boil it down.

Sam: And it's also got like, there's yeah, there's

Aaron: the bones.

Sam: that's just like, yeah, bones, it's just random bones, it's D7 for 10's place, D10 for 1's place, presumably they like, that's how many could fit on one spread, and we've got temporal bone, right or left, tibia, trapezium, they're just a random list of kinds of bones. Why Is this in here? I don't know, maybe there's

bone stuff involved in this, I can't remember, but it's just like, it pads out the page count I guess, I don't know, it's nice, yeah, it's vibey.

Aaron: You're the bone. Yeah, I just, I, again, as RPGs, like, get out there and push boundaries, which I love, like, I hope it continues, I also just like that people are back here, kind of, Rehashing these things that maybe have had problematic aspects or didn't have access to desktop publishing in the seventies or anything, and just kind of making them a little refreshed and a little current for our times.

I enjoyed reading this. I might forget about it in five months and that's fine too. Like, I think in my life, there's a nice place for this really temporal experience of a strange, evocative thing that doesn't stick with me.

Sam: There are some sad dryads in this that really stuck with me that are, like, being maybe eaten by termites, and

Aaron: Mm hmm.

Sam: scary and sad and a compelling, memorable image.

Audrey: I think that stuff like this where it's like, you know, kind of an agnostic like supporting document or whatever often gets overshadowed by like big games and like core rulebooks and stuff. But also like these little ephemeral pieces that I don't remember next year, you know, those are the things that actually help my games have bones. Not, not to make a pun, not to make a pun, but, but like when I'm running stuff, if I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel for ideas, I'm pulling out one of these. I'm not flipping through the rule book most of the time. And so I really appreciate people making just like weird, bite sized things that I can kind of stick in anywhere.

Aaron: Right, it's just like good street food to me, it's, I'm not paying a lot of money for it, but sometimes I'm hungry and I just want to shove taco in my mouth and move on with my life. And I don't know if that sounds complimentary, it probably doesn't, but I mean it well.

Audrey: I mean, I think that there is a place, for stuff that is going to stick with you forever and there's a place for stuff that was really what you needed at the moment, you know?

Sam: Well, and the thing about something like this too is like, I read this like a week ago, and I already don't remember anything in it other than that image of a dryad being eaten by termites, but like, I'm gonna remember that the rest of my fuckin life. Like, and I I'm gonna bring that into a game at some point. And it's so short, it's such a quick read, if you get one sticky idea like that out of something of this size, like, that's beautiful.

Aaron: Agreed.

Sam: Audrey, what's next?

Audrey: My second pick is another solo game. It's called Wreck This Deck by Black Armada Games, which is Josh Fox and Becky Annison.

So the thing about this game is that Becky has explicitly said that she started working on it because of how horrified Josh was when they were playing Pandemic Legacy and he was supposed to rip up a card in that game. And this game is about you have a deck of cards, you are trying to bind demons to the deck and do rituals and do kind of like oracle readings and things like that with this standard deck of 52 cards. But every time you bind a demon or every time, like, a ritual goes wrong or anything like that, you have to modify the cards. And you can, like, cast curses on people and stuff, but that requires you to fully destroy a card that then is no longer in your deck whatsoever, and all the cards have meanings assigned to them so that if they pop up in your rituals or in your oracles you can kind of extrapolate from there.

I really like it as a person who reads tarot and also who does a lot of collage art. This game is just like so fun to be able to to go, oh yeah, okay, so I trapped this demon. How do I trap him? Well, I'm supposed to put pins through two of his eyes, but that's not like a long term sustainable solution for me to keep it in my deck, so what am I gonna do here? Like, I guess I'm gonna put these brass brads through the eyes of the king of spades, you know, and then figure out how to keep that in my deck and to keep shuffling it.

And the other part of it that's really cool is that, so during the pandemic, when they were like putting out the prototype drafts of this, people were sharing a lot online the different things they would do. So you'd see, you'd see like this grainy cell phone video that's a guy at like midnight out at the creek behind his house with a card in the creek under a rock that he's going to pick up the next morning, you know.

Just lots of really beautiful art coming out of it too. People painting fully on the cards and they, the fan community is huge and so there's been a lot of like card exchanges where you bind a demon for someone else and then send that to them and like it maintains the meta fiction.

So it is a solo game but there is a Tons of community aspects to it if you want there to be, basically, or if all you want this to be is an excuse to do some messy, imperfect art with your hands, that's a great way to do it too. So this is one that, like, I hadn't heard of it before. I wasn't playing during the pandemic, but when they started doing their kickstarter prep, Becky had heard about my podcast and asked if I wanted to play it on the podcast. So I got to do a good like three part series while during the campaign of just playing the game and I haven't stopped playing it since so

Sam: I love the transgressiveness of this. Like, I, my first experience with the idea of ripping up a card and feeling horrified is playing Magic the Gathering as a kid, and there was a format called Iron Man that was like, if any card goes to the graveyard, you rip it up instead, and people were, like, playing this with cards that, like, now would be worth many thousands of dollars, right? Like, it was uh, it was, like, a such a visceral, like, experience to do, and I I loved seeing a whole solo game made out of that.

I would shout out I first heard about this game on the Yes Indeed podcast, where Thomas Manuel did an interview with With Becky, and it's a great interview. I recommend it if you're interested in hearing more about the design of this game.

Audrey: Yeah, Becky has some really solid design chops to my mind I just think she's got a really unique way of going about things and like wanting to make things fresh all the time. So this one was one where like, it takes so little prep and there's like, you know, you can use the demons in the book, you can make up your own. There's a ton of like fan demon codexes and like other creature type codexes. Like some guy has made like a whole guide to like yokai from Japanese mythology and like there's an angel one like that someone's made.

So it's just, it's a game that is getting like ongoing support from the community in a way that I feel like you don't always see with small games. And that, to me, is just really special and also I just have a bunch of partial decks of cards at my house and I keep feeding cards into my deck and making my character suffer because of it, because she doesn't know where the cards are coming from, so.

Sam: Awesome. Sharang, what have we got next?

So my

Sharang: next pick was The Silt Verses by Gabriel Robinson and Jason Cordova. Caveat, this is a game I have not yet played. But I'm picking it because I'm fairly confident in my thoughts about it, because this is another iteration of a game using Jason Cordova's Brindlewood Bay as a base. I think they're using the term, it's Carved from Brindlewood.

And Brindlewood Bay itself is descended from Apocalypse World games, but they add this really interesting thing about mystery solving where the, so Brindlewood Bay, big shtick of it, which I've written about on Dicebreaker, is that neither players, nor authors, nor GMs know the solution to any given mystery, right?

The game comes with all these mysteries, and each mystery comes with a list of clues, and players, based on certain dice rolls will uncover clues. And then at some point, the players are like, great, we have enough clues, and then they generate the solution to the mystery based on the clues that they found. And sometimes that involves retroactively adding details to the fiction.

The big example they always use in the book is, oh, maybe one of the clues is severed finger. When you're in your solution phase, you can be like, oh, right. That woman must have had a severed finger because she, she was wearing gloves the time we met her, because in the game you never described what she was wearing. Like, oh yeah, let's say now that she was wearing gloves and she had a severed finger, that's why she wearing gloves. Right? So you can do that. Then you as players create the solution to the mystery and that's really, really cool.

And so the original game, Brindle Wood Bay, is about elderly ladies in a seaside Massachusetts town solving cozy mysteries. Except, as you play more mysteries, there's a campaign throughline which is there's a Lovecraftian horror cult behind all this and they're doing, like, horrible stuff, right? So it's a really lovely game. It's a really, really well done game.

So this game, The Silt Versus, uses the same engine with, you know, tweaks and things. I think it's the fourth game in that series. But instead it's based on the podcast The Silt Versus. And in this game, you are in this strange world populated by all these really bizarre gods. It's a semi modern world, but filled with bizarre gods, and you are, like, agents that run around the countryside dealing for the government, or for the big agency, with reports of, like, rogue gods, or rogue worshippers of gods, right?

And I picked this because, well, the engine is already a solid one, but the tone of this game is so interesting. It's just like, bleak sort of world full of these really really bizarre gods and you pick a god to worship at the beginning. And for example one of the gods is the trawler man, and if you worship him, you get a power called either the mouth devouring, where you can eat random objects, just consume any object you want. Or the mouth returning, which allows you to flood locations, right? I'm like, that's strange. Or, you can pick my other favorite god is called The Wax Scrivener, and I'm gonna read out some text:

Followers of the Wax and Scrivener devote their lives to recording of knowledge and then abandoning it.

Their whole point is they must record knowledge and then leave it somewhere for it to get moldy and destroyed. Right, that is their like, purpose in life.

And so, this, this like, world, this weird world with all these bizarre gods that make you do cool things, as you take, um, it's not called wounds in this game, but for this sort of, as you like, take consequences for your actions, you know, you build up stuff, and in the end, you do your final prayer which is this enormous thing that might destroy the town you're in.

It takes inspiration from Heart by Rowan Rook and Deckard. It literally, it says, We are inspired by Heart by Rowan Rickon Deckard. So that's interesting.

It's like a weird, bleak game where you're like investigating, but also like the world is decaying around you and you are contributing to that. And I'm really excited to play a campaign of this It sounds rad.

Sam: Sounds very American Gods,

Aaron: I'm just like, this sounds so cool, I got nothing else to say. I want to

Sharang: read this.

Yeah, I think, it,

Audrey: I had heard about this and like I had been aware of the podcast before but like never picked it up but then someone was like, Hey, what if the what if the Puritans had to survive like a post apocalyptic horror and I was like, Okay, yeah, I'll read that.


Sharang: yeah, and the, you like, never meet the gods, so it's a little bit different from American gods in that way, and it's all, like, the gods are like these bizarre entities that you must feed with sacrifices they're kind of inscrutable. Like, The Trawler Man is this river god, but also, like, Like, is a trash god at the same time. The Saint Electric is the god of small technological items, like, it's just very strange and cool.

Sam: I will shout out, we did a, an episode on this show on the theorize mechanic earlier this year, and I have a lot of opinions about it that people can go check out. I don't like it, personally. I find it weird, and we talked about it for literally an hour, so I won't get into it here. But I, I'm always sad that I don't like that mechanic because so many cool Carved from Brindlewood games are coming out. Like, there's, there's just so many, like, settings that these people keep making that seem great, and I uh, this definitely qualifies.

I might have to check out the fiction podcast, honestly.

Sharang: Yeah I have an article on Dicebreaker which talks about how tabletop games are upending the mystery genre because Remember, early mystery novels were almost conceived of as games, right? Like, mystery writers had rules that they followed, and they need to give the reader a fair chance of guessing the solution, right?

And that's why I really love the theorize mechanic, because I'm like, this is exploding our notion of how games deal with mysteries, which is usually GM knows the solution, and like, blah blah blah. So, obviously anyone can like or dislike mechanics, but yeah, that's something I really like.

Sam: I do love that it is such a like, pushing on the edge of what kinds of games we can design, and I love that part of it, at the very least.

Um, My second pick is Barkeep on the Borderlands by W. F. Smith of the Prismatic Wasteland blog and also innumerable other contributors. It's like a dozen other contributors, I guess you could enumerate them if you wanted to.

This is not a dungeon crawl module, it's a pub crawl module. It is, you know, loosely inspired by the original Keep on the Borderlands module for the original Dungeons and Dragons. But like, what if we were, you know, like a hundred years later or something, and now that keep was like a big town, and all the denizens of the dungeon had been sort of incorporated into the town.

And it's set during like a Mardi Gras kind of town wide celebration, and the monarch who rules over the town has been poisoned, and the antidote has gone missing. And you have one week, six days maybe, to track down this antidote by going from bar to bar and, like, doing your best.

And I read this, you know, this thing won Ennies, and I read it for the first time earlier this year after hearing about it that way. And it's such an easy, breezy read. I think this is a great structure for a module in the first place. You have, like, an overall premise, you got some rumors, you got some factions, you got some locations.

And then it has this wonderful procedure, I guess you'd say, or the OSR people would say, for playing, through the module. Like, the players take a turn, they, like, do one thing, whatever you think that means, and then the referee rolls, and either time passes, or it's time for another drink, and like, everyone has to find out if they get drunker, or a random encounter crops up. And just, the fact that every time the players do anything, the world reacts, all of those things are pushing Momentum, always forward, forward, forward, like, into this party, like, trying to figure out what's going on next.

And then, reading this thing is just a delight on its own. But then playing it, it's so easy to run. You just, like, read the first, like, ten pages through this procedure and some of the background, and then, I didn't read any of the bars. There's, this thing is, like, littered with, like, 18 bars or something in the back that you could use on their own in any given campaign. They're all themed in some way one that's like the wizard bar, and one where there's a phoenix, and they're doing karaoke, there's one that's just in somebody's apartment, and there's one that's like the cheers bar.

And playing through it is just this rollicking good time. I don't know how else to say it. It was just so fun to just have, like, send people out into this party and have it feel like a party, have it feel like they're getting lost in a late night, constantly getting distracted by like, Oh, we gotta like, make sure this bachelorette party stays on track. We gotta like, make sure these two people hook up because we're invested in their romance. And also, what are we doing again? Oh yeah, we have to save the monarch from dying.

All of that is just kind of going on all the time, it feels chaotic. But it's, also clear in tone, clear in purpose, and so easy to use. I just had such a blast running it.

Audrey: I remember when this one came out being really struck by the art because it's all like candy colored you know it's like pink features super heavily and that to me like it being pitched to me as as kind of an OSR style thing but then that being the art I was like well what's going on here? Wait a second. What's going on? So you saying that it's like taking place during a festival and stuff, that really makes sense to me, all the art that I'm seeing.

But it's, I also just, I was a sucker for the kids books, you know, like Where's Waldo and I Spy and all of those, but also had a series of books that were called like Puzzle Dungeon, Puzzle Castle, things like that. And it would do the like 3D cutaways. And the art in this book of all the different taverns and the places that you can go really harkens back to that for me.

So I'm, I'm very excited to hear that it was as much fun to play as it is to look at.

Sam: The other thing about running it was just that procedure that I talked about of pushing forward the momentum of the story, it almost felt like we didn't need more rules than that. Like, it's system agnostic, it recommends using Errant or Cairn, but you could easily run this as like a 5e adventure.

But I also felt like I don't need other rules. Like I would be great to have some sort of game that like gives you character creation to just have an idea of who our people are but like I don't know, I ran this using Himbos of Myth and Mettle, shout out to Aaron's co host Max for Himbo's, but I, you know, Himbo's gave us a good vibe, but I really didn't feel like we needed the mechanics from it much at all. Like, the thing that drove this forward was largely contained in the module itself, and I love to see that. I love a game that, or a module that really supports really freeform play, where the, the sort of bounds of that play are the fiction that the module has given you. And this was just so good at that.

Aaron: Max ran it for me,

Sam: Oh yeah.

Aaron: someone else, and I actually cannot tell you what system we used for it. Partially because, like you said, the module is, like, really good at kind of having its own rules, partially because we were following the drinking game rules included in, uh, Keep on the Borderlands, and I got pretty drunk you know, safely. Alcohol is dangerous, blah blah blah, but I had a roaring good time, like you said.

Sharang: And a quick shout out to it, it was nominated in Dicebreaker's Tabletop Awards this year for both Best Art and Best Role Playing Game, and self call, I was on that jury, so.

Sam: there you go. Alright before we totally move on, here is once again I, you know what, I did have a couple come in, maybe I'll put John Harper here. Here's John Harper.

John: Hi, this is John Harper, author of Blades in the Dark and other games, I want to tell you about Girl by Moonlight, an amazing RPG by Andrew Gillis, about magical girls. It is basically five games in one, a variety of settings, characters, situations for your team of magical girls to fight against the forces of evil, in a really, like, exciting, mechanically interesting, queer positive kind of game. It's probably my most anticipated new to play.

I can't wait to get it to the table. Uh, yeah, check out Girl By Moonlight, it's amazing.

Sam: Thanks, John. Uh, Aaron, what's your next game?

Aaron: Thank you John Harper for not canceling us after Max criticized Blaze in the Dark on our podcast Rtfm, you can find at rtfmcast.com. Um.

My final game is Crushed Depth Apparition by Amanda Leigh Frank. This is the conclusion to Amanda's Bad Boats trilogy, which started with You Got a Job on the Garbage Barge, then Vampire Cruise, then Crushed Depth Apparition.

These are all sort of semi modern, yet old school dungeons that are very strange. Amanda's an amazing artist. All these things are filled with cool ink drawings that are smeary and scary and strange. She's a Chicago designer as well.

This one particularly is uh, about going on a submarine in 1902, and then there are ghosts and kind of ghostly labyrinths haunting the submarine, and it is about kind of dealing with these war weapons as a fun tourist thing, like you're on this fun, Oh, let's go on the submarine. That's so cool that we invented submarines. Let's also deal with all the people who have been killed because of war and how submarines have been added to them. But there's, it's, I mean, that makes it sound really heavy. I guess it's pretty heavy,

Sam: It's gotta be heavy to sink to the bottom of the ocean, got'em.

Aaron: but it's also just a weird, as much as it's like the cool thing to draw parallels to, there are a lot of kind of Jeff VanderMeer Annihilation parallels of like strange spaces and weird echoes that defy time and space.

It's a beautiful book, and I'm so glad that she got to finish her trilogy, and they're all so fun. Like, I've run You Got a Job in the Garbage Barge four or five times. I just think she makes these really readable, accessible things that are also strange, intensely personal, and cannot be separated from her own artistic approach.

Sam: Huge shout out to Amanda Lee's Comradery page, also, where she's regularly putting, like, every she just puts out spot art for people to use in their games, like a couple of pages of it for free. And I, I got a lot of spot art doing that before I uh, ran into money troubles and had to stop.

But her art style has always been really interesting, and looking at Crush Depth Apparition, I feel like she's trying some new things, or at least doing a different kind of art from Vampire Cruise, is the main other thing that I'm familiar with with her. But

the, the kind of like, water colored ghostliness of some of this stuff is

Aaron: Yes. Yeah. And she's like an amazing chameleon as well. Like you can always tell it's her work, but she can do, oh, this is 18th century like embroidery or art deco advertisement kind of stuff. And it feels like that, but it still just feels like her own work as well.

Mouthbrood is another amazing kind of hex crawl, Annihilation style, strange environment in the Tundra that I really love. I mean you can't miss with her stuff, I think.

Audrey: Sage Maine.

Sam: You can't. Audrey, what do we have next?

Audrey: So my third pick is Extreme Meatpunks Forever by Sinister Beard Games. This is one where I'm not going to sit here and be like, oh, this has shown up on any best games of the year list, but this is a creator that I followed for a while because Extreme Meatpunks is it was a video game first. Actually, two video games first.

You're literally living on a fleshy world hurtling through the universe with no star because the star disappeared a while ago, and you have giant meat mechs that you get into. And there's a lot of, like, the antagonists in this are just called the fash. Like, they are fascists, cops, full stop. The game explicitly is like, Don't flesh out these characters. Don't give them names kind of thing.

So it's a really gnarly game, like, with a really gnarly setting. And it's powered by the apocalypse. It's got some basic moves. They're all renamed things like fuck around and find out. Stuff like that. And the playbooks in it are just really evocative to me. I don't think that it's necessarily doing anything like crazy groundbreaking, but there's so much love and care on every page for this setting and for what this game wants to be that to me.

I'm like a big proponent of, yeah, just put out your like plain text game that you've been working on. Don't worry about polishing it up kind of thing. But also polish up your home game and throw it out there because if you have a lot of art for it and you have a lot of fun with it, then, then put it out there and that's to some degree what the tone both like in writing of this game and just like knowing the history of Sinister Beard having done the video games and stuff first is like, this is something that they've been playing for ages with their friends. And to put it out as like a game that people can buy and enjoy and also play in that world is just really cool to me.

I think it's neat when people take something that they love so much and say, no, I'm not going to divorce this from my home tables, like head canons and things. I'm going to just put it out there with all the weird, meaty, fleshy, gross history of this thing.

And then I also. I have been on the hunt this year for a mech game that does it for me because I'm not into super crunchy stuff and there's a lot of really cool mech games out there, but there is something to be said for me about Meatpunks capturing a lot of like the Pacific Rim feelings that I'm looking for in a mech game. um, You are like intrinsically connected to the nervous system of your mech because it is flesh and so, so are you, is kind of the idea. And so there's like specific moves that you take if your mech takes too much damage and like how that kills your mech and also impacts you. And so it's like each specific class has a different move for connecting to their mech and those were really cool to me on a mechanical level.

And then also just like this game. is explicitly like, we are queer, and we are disabled, and we are here, and we're not going away. And that is something that has become very important to me in like a setting terms. this is like bright and hopeful, but it is also very boots on the ground, this is how you have to be if you want to start a revolution kind of thing.

Aaron: It's been on my to read list forever. It's also on our like RTFM we need to cover this game list. I wanna get into it, I wanna run it.

Audrey: I think it's one that you would really like, Aaron, just, it just,

from, like, this game is not apologizing at all.

Aaron: Let's end the podcast, I'm gonna buy it, and I'll run it right now. We're all gonna Extreme Meat

Audrey: We're hijacking it. Also, it has a playbook called Weird of the Waste, and I am just like, aw, man. I wish I thought of that.

Sam: Yeah, I think Meatpunk might be my word of the year. I first heard it uttered by Wendi Yu when I had her on the show earlier this year. And she was shouting out Lichoma, which is a different meatpunk RPG that came out this year by future Dice Explorer guest Strega Wolf van den Berg and the Bogfolk Co op. And which covers a lot of the same themes. Also has even more striking visuals than this game.

But while, I already recorded the episode with Strega Wolf, and they shout out the meatpunk manifesto that Heather, one of the authors of Extreme Meatpunks Forever, wrote. And this meatpunk manifesto is beautiful, I, I just, it's a great manifesto, great reading. Pretty short too, and just, I don't know, I love a body horror, and I love a punk, so

Audrey: think it's really cool, like the manifesto itself, it, subtlety is for fuckers and that's like the thesis of the game especially combined with bodies are weird and gross but also cool. Like that is the whole idea of a meat mech. So yeah, good shout on the manifesto for sure.

Sam: Xiaoran, what do we got?

Sharang: So my last game is a game that Sam and I played together. Facilitated by Sam this Big

Sam: You stole this pick from me,

Sharang: Because I'm Foreign. And It is uh, it is a game by Jason Morningstar and Lizzie Stark, in their guise of Six of Hounds, which is their name when they publish games together, because they're both well known game designers on their own. And it continues this tradition of highly political games that I've seen come out from Jason, but it's a tradition of highly political games that have the players do a task that can like completely engross you, that is different from the role playing that you are doing in the game, right?

So, I compared a lot to Winterhorn, which I sometimes use in my classes, which is a game where you play basically like a CIA task force trying to dismantle a activist group, and you're, you're like doing a whole task of figuring out what, what are we doing to this activist group. So even if you don't want to role play at all, you're still engaging with the themes and ideas the game is discussing.

And the similar, so The Broadcast is a game where, and I bought it immediately, like literally, as I, when I got back home from Big Bad Con, I bought the game because it's so cool. It is a game where you play a news bureau within an authoritarian regime. Most of you play newscasters. One of you plays the state censor, who is sitting in the newsroom with you. And their butt is also on the line if things go wrong, right, not just newscasters.

And the main thing of the game is you have these news reports that are the journalists in the field are sending you, so they're very factual. And you have to then, there's a phase where you decide how much of that you actually read on air, or do you censor parts of it, or do you even change parts of it, right? You can like cross out things and modify, the state censor might tell you to do things, and you have the choice of what you want to follow or not. But depending on how you portray the state, you can meet a sticky end, right? The state censor gives you a grade of how loyal you were to the state after each news report.

And it's fascinating, because again, you can roleplay a news reader who has all these backstory and gold things like Sam and I did, right? For example, like, Sam and my character is like, banged in game, right? Because we decided, oh, I have repressed homosexuality, he has other things going on in his life. We're just gonna have sex to blow off some steam, right?

But, you could play the game without roleplaying much, just being like, fairly like, straight forward, but the act of sitting there and deciding what you want to censor, what you want to change, whether or not you want to censor or change anything, is roleplaying, and makes you grapple with the themes of like, censorship in this game, right? Like, what is the responsibility of the press? What does freedom of speech mean? Like, things like that. It's a fa it's a LARP, by the way. It's a, it's a live action roleplaying game. It's a brilliant game, and if there were more players, I'd run in class more, but I might give it as an optional thing in class.

It's really clever, and again, it allows various kinds of people to play because you don't have to be extremely LARPy to to still get a lot out of the game.

Sam: I have a lot to say about this game also having played it, but I am part of the thing with this game that we did at Big Bad Con was we recorded every rehearsal and then every broadcast that we did. You do sort of a weekend of Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So I have these, like, six recordings of us playing the game, and I'm planning to try to put together a bonus episode of Dice Exploder that is just a recap of the play experience, and like, insert the recordings and talk about what happened between the recordings and what decisions was I making, like, as a player and as a character as the game went along.

And, I'll say that like, the end of this game for me was one of the more profound moments of roleplaying that I had this year. I had like a really, really amazing moment just by myself while everyone else was in another room. That I'll never forget.

I want to touch on the thing you were saying about how the game gives you a task. Like, my, my partner is a theater director, and she has talked about how, she saw this scene staged, like, she's in rehearsals for this play as an assistant director and the director has the actors just like chopping potatoes in the scene and by giving them actual potatoes to chop like when they went from rehearsal to the potatoes are here and it's like time to chop, the scene just completely changed because they have a task in front of them to do. Like suddenly they're not focusing on their lines and what would their character say and all this kind of stuff. They're just like doing the task, and all that stuff kind of comes out around the edges of doing the task. It's, it's like you, it gets, the being your character goes into your subconscious because you put the task at the, the front of mind.

And I think that this game and Jason's other games, and I don't know Lizzie's work as much, but presumably her other games as well, like, just do such a good job of doing that. It's such a great way to, like, get people to get into character.

Sharang: One of my main guiding principles as a games person is that games differ from other art forms in the verbs they ask players to engage with. Right, I've lectured about this before, I've worked on games that use this idea . , and I think designing brilliant games comes from using this uniqueness of the games medium, which is The fact that it involves players engaging in verbs, right?

So the earlier thing about choosing a playlist really resonates with me. Same thing here. By, like, what verbs are you asking the players to engage with that's not just roll dice, by making, like, what verbs the players engage with, what do they add to the play experience, right?

So, Honey and Hot Wax, I talked about, asks players in many of the games of the book to engage in real world sex acts, right? Because the question the book is asking is, how does this change your experience of fiction and of this connection with another person that you're forming while roleplaying with them, right? And so this game, I think It really sings to me because it talks to my guiding principle as a game designer and game's, I'm not going to say scholar, because I'm not a real scholar, but a game's semi scholar, I don't know, appreciator.

Sam: The game's Academic.

Sharang: That is true, I am a game's academic, just not a game's scholar. And it really sings to that idea, like, how do the verbs enhance the emotional affect and, like, all those kinds of things. Oh, it's just, it's really cool, and ooh. So I'm glad I nabbed it from you, Sam.

Sam: You're welcome.

Audrey: It sounds really awesome, and I did used to work in broadcast news, so this is one that would be very interesting to play, I think.

Sam: There's a disclaimer in the game that it's not a realistic depiction of this experience, like they went and talked to reporters in authoritarian countries to like learn about background, but I think they, you still learn something, you get that emotional truth of an experience even if you're not sort of loyal to the practical truth of the

Sharang: Yeah, the game isn't about what is it like to be a journalist in authoritarian country? The game is about making you think about bravery, courage during authoritarianism and the role of media and things like that.

Audrey: Oh yeah, well look, I would never actually want to play a game that wanted me to pretend to be a broadcast news person again. Like, I would never

Sam: Listen,

Aaron: Yeah, that is different from a lot of role playing games. Like, I don't know if you've heard of Dungeons and Dragons, but it is a realistic representation of being an elf sorcerer.

Audrey: No, I haven't. Can you tell me more about

Aaron: I got hours, I got hours on D& D.

Sam: played uh, The Straights Are Not Okay, and that is a realistic representation of going to a midwestern gender reveal party, so,

Audrey: no!

Sam: Anyway, my last pick is self indulgent to some extent, it is The Exiles by Em Acosta which I guess is just called Exiles now. So, Em Acosta, I've had them on the show, they are one of my dear, dear RPG friends. And they they put out this game Crescent Moon several years ago that is, I think of it as like Over The Garden Wall, the RPG. It's like you're tweens, 12, 14, something like that, going into a magical fairy world and you've been trapped there and now you're trying to get back home.

And, they made a sequel game here uh, Exiles, In which you are teens, like 18 to 20 now and the fairy world is hell, and your emo is fuck, and you're just really angsty. And, you're climbing your way out of hell, and I played two short campaigns of this this year, and it was justmy favorite implementation of Forged in the Dark other than maybe Blades in the Dark proper.

But it just does, it simplifies everything down in this nice way. It is so tactile in the way that it feels even though there's just kind of a digital edition right now. But it's got the Mausritter kind of equipment thing going on. Instead of experience points you capture memories and then each memory you like write down a little memory and like put it in a slot and when you get enough memories you like advance. I think that's just such a wonderful way of flavoring experience.

It's Dark and fucked up in a lot of ways. Like there's weird Weird stuff in the basic items and spells that you can get. It has one of my favorite things in any party based RPG of mechanics for the relationships between all the characters. You have like a tracker for each of your other companions and how you are feeling about them, like what's the state of your relationship, and if you get up to a certain level, like, you have a moment where you come closer. And if you get down far enough, then you yell at them, and like, have a falling out and have to deal with that.

And it, it's combining this sort of dark fantasy crawl with all that, like, let's go cry about it energy that I think the best RPGs, or the best RPG groups, for me, kind of get to. And I just, I just really loved everything about it.

Like, basic adventure it comes with is there's a dragon, in a volcano, and they're dying. And all these adventurers are like, descending on the place to get their share of the loot. The whole game kind of feels like that inversion of the fantasy thing, where it's a little bit sad. Like, instead of the dragon being this terrifying thing, it's like the dragon is dying, and we're trying our best to, like, make something out of that, to, like, get back home, but in the meantime, we have to contend with that.

And, since I have played this, like, six months ago, Em has gone on and is re like, continued to develop it into, frankly, a game that I like less but which is coming out and finally being delivered next year. And it's even simpler, and both versions of this game, I think, do a really interesting job of like, bridging the OSR and story game kind of places. Em has become someone who like, just hates rules. Like the thing that they want is like, Two pages of setting lore, and then, a simple d20 roll under mechanic and, like, let's fucking go. And, eventually when the Exiles becomes fully published, as opposed to just being a preview version on Itch, it will be something closer to that.

But it's also maybe gonna become like a card based thing. They're doing a lot of interesting stuff with like bringing in those board game components that we talked about before with the other game. And, I don't know, just the flavor of this, the play experience of it what it represents, it's a fusion of two styles of play that I really like. Everything about this game was just such a wonderful experience to play. And

Audrey: The art is, I was going to say, the art is really striking and the way you're describing it has like a bit of like the Seanan McGuire series wayward children is kind of what I'm envisioning, which is a little bit about like, how do you go home if you can't go home? You know? so it's it's very compelling.

Sam: And you don't like yeah, you don't take harm in this game You shed tears, right? Like it's that kind of like

Audrey: I'm also really compelled about kind of an emerging trend where people are making like sequels to games that they've already created or like direct continuations which I really, really enjoy. I think this is very cool.

Sharang: I'm also a fan of, I mean, this is, this might sound snobby, I hope it doesn't sound snobby. People should make whatever art they want to make, right? I will never be angry at someone or think they're lesser for making art.

But I very much appreciate When people take existing game engines and add new ways and new mechanics and new things, right? Because there are a lot of games that use Blades mechanics to me they just feel a bit like re skinned, right? Which is like, amazing. Make the art you want to make. Everyone should do that. But I really like it. When people are like, well, this base engine of Blades is great, but I'm gonna tweak all these things to make a new thing using this base engine, right?

So, I'm thinking of uh, Stras's Band of Blades. I love Band of Blades. I played a campaign during isolation of Band of Blades run by Ross Cowman. And it was lovely, it uses the base mechanic, but it does all these nifty things with it. So, you talking about another game like that, that uses the blades the forged in the dark, like, base, but does cool, unusual things with it, really gets me excited. New mechanics are always cool.

Audrey: I agree because the thing is, is when it's like a reskin of a setting, I'm like, that's very cool, and I think it's very awesome, but also I could have just taken the setting, you know, or like made my own setting if we're going to use basically one to one same mechanics. So I really appreciate that this one is referencing Slugblaster too, because that's like my go to forged in the dark that doesn't feel like forged in the dark hardly anymore because he's done so many

Sharang: Right.

Audrey: with it.

Sharang: Like

Brindlewood is like that for Apocalypse, right? Like it uses

Aaron: I was, I was going to say, like, that first generation of PBTA games, you got stuff like Dungeon World and Monster of the Week, which are like re skins. Totally fine on their own. And then you had like Monster Hearts,

Audrey: Which is a

Aaron: this was all this other shit out of the water, but it's still like very clearly descended from Apocalypse World and so yeah,

Sharang: mean, and John

Sam: get to dream askew, right, and it's something else completely,

Sharang: yeah, and

Audrey: I mean, so much so that it spawned its own, like, genre of

Sharang: and like John Harper talks about Blades being descended from Apocalypse, right? So,

Sam: Yeah, I think overall people don't realize how tailored a system like Blades in the Dark is to its setting. There are so many decisions in the design of that game that are there to support doing heists in a steampunk ghost world

Audrey: Well, and also about the expected type of person that your character is in that game. Like, that is so ingrained in the system. Like, you're doing these hard, bad things because you are probably a bad person.

Sharang: Yeah, but you're also a very competent person, right? Like so many mechanics that just, no, no, you can succeed, bad things will happen, you can succeed. And that's like that's not the same game as a, like, you know, if you're playing a heist as the two villains from Home Alone, who are not competent, not the same feel as Blades, right?

Audrey: Right.

Aaron: Shout out to the sticky bandits, the

Sharang: Wet bed? Yeah, yeah.

Audrey: Wet bandits, it's holiday time, it's about time for a watch of Home Alone anyway.

Sam: I haven't seen it since childhood. I should I should put that on the list for this month Hold on. Let me do that.

Sharang: We were, I was talking about Home Alone with a Friend recently, how we're like, yeah, the, the, the show says that it is okay to do extreme violence as long as you're defending property. And we're like, huh.

Audrey: Look, you can't discount the power imbalance between a child and two adults, okay? That also matters.

Sam: Alright Let me just put home alone on my list of movies to watch in December real quick while I play another message from... actually Em sent in a message. We'll play Em's right here.

em: Hello Dice Explorer, Em here. I come to you with The Zone, a game by Raf Diamico and Lovin Kaiju, very inspired by Annihilation, where you portray a group of investigators going into a weird, dreamy, psychedelic zone. It's literally Annihilation.

What I loved about this game. was that, despite being a fun game and an engaging one shot game, what really drew me towards it was that I could glimpse into what the future of online play could look like. Because the team built this incredible digital experience for playing where all of your hardware information is on a screen with all the other players, you have a private room, it's all free which is incredible at least for the demo. And a lot of the gameplay elements come together very organically and easily, while also being flourished with great visual effects.

So it really is a very pleasant experience to play and I can only hope that more games take this approach in the future or that doing so potentially becomes easier so that you can have these super smooth sessions.

Number two is something I'm really looking forward to next year is Blades in the 68 by Tim Denee, which I got to try out since Tim was kind enough to lend me access to a preview.

And it's just such a refreshing take on Duskvol. I'm a big Duskvol fan I'm playing in the same city with all of the major factions and setting still being there, but having to interact with this futuristic sixties style setting was just really, really fun, and it allowed us for some really creative choices on how we chose to portray the future of Duskvol It's kind of like writing your own sequel to your favorite show.

The type of stories, while still being rooted in the same ideas are really refreshing to play with because you get a lot of new opportunities with how the technology interacts with the pre established settings.

So the playbooks are great, the crew types are excellent, and I really cannot wait for this to be out in some fashion. Evil Hat please publish it. And that's it for me. Peace. And for an even greater, more packed 2024 on this show.

And that's it for me. Peace. And, uh, for an even, greater, more packed 2024 on this show.

Sam: So that is all of our picks for favorite games this year, but I wanted to do two more rounds, one for ourselves, we'll get to some stuff we were proud of that we made this year in a second, but before that, I wanted to do a round for game adjacent things that we loved this year. Like what is something like a blog post or an article or a podcast episode or whatever that was exciting for you this year?

So, Aaron, tell us about yours.

Aaron: I'm gonna talk about a comic book. I think the stuff that Sharang was saying about kind of the formalist aspect of games And if you're not engaging with those, maybe you're not making a brilliant game. And seeing RPGs go through that is really similar to seeing what comics went through in the late 90s and early 2000s with the arrival of webcomics and a lot of smaller indie publishers and stuff like that. I've always been a huge comics fan.

And so I wanted to bring a comic called Grog the Frog, the Book of Taurus by Alba BG. And Davalorium It is, I've never seen Adventure Time past, like, GIFs on Tumblr, but I get big Adventure Times from this. It's about an evil frog wizard named Grog who is kind of pursuing his own selfish things and gets drawn into this, ancient prophecy.

But, the artist Alba does lots of really great formalist things with pacing and panel size and page structure and bringing in stuff that is almost like character sheet adjacent for these weird characters where you get "who is Grog the Frog," and then there's a picture of him saying hello there peasants. And it has his info, and his likes, and his dislikes, and his different facial expressions. I think it is, it starts off as kind of a fun scene.

It feels like a, Gen Z millennial kind of goofy comic. And then gets to some emotional depths that you might not expect from a comic about a frog wizard.

Audrey: This is so cute. I'm definitely going to check this

Aaron: It's really good. It's published and distributed by Silver Sprocket who do amazing work publishing a bunch of young queer, trans, cartoonists, indie artists that Maybe it wouldn't get picked up otherwise. Artists from outside of the U. S., I think, if you don't know anything about comics and you want to get into them, go to the Silver Sprocket website and just pick three random books and you will be well rewarded by

Audrey: Hell yeah.

Sam: Yeah, this comic is gorgeous, like the colors are gorgeous, it did these people draw for Adventure Time? It is so Adventure Time.

Aaron: I don't know. I can't, like I said, I never saw it. I know there are a lot of other cartoonists who did end up working on Adventure Time. I think these people are like, young. Like, they grew up on Adventure Time and just thought, let's do our own thing.

Sam: Totally.

Sharang: the art is lovely. The

Aaron: yeah, she is such a good artist.

She's on Tumblr, she's on Twitter, Alba BG, go follow her. It's just, to wake up in the morning and be like, I'm gonna doomscroll Twitter because I hate myself, and then just see one of her drawings in my Twitter feed is like, oh, I could make something. I could get up and do something cool instead of being a grump in bed. It's really nice.

Sam: Wonderful comic. Audrey, what'd you bring us?

Audrey: article, by Lin Codega which, uh, not, any of the ones you're thinking of, I'm sure, because there was obviously a lot of really, really good reporting done by Lin this year. But I picked one called Roleplaying Games Enter the World of Ballet in a Unique New Performance, because this is something that I had seen because I follow Sam Leigh anamnesis, which is a solo game about being a person who doesn't necessarily remember themself, who also maybe is a changeling. Very cool game, definitely check it out.

But Sam got commissioned by Ballet Collective, which is like an experimental group in New York City, to write a game. And the game served as like the basis for a ballet that they then performed.

Sam has a ton of cool stuff on their TikTok about it, and you should definitely check it out, but also, you know, read the article, it links to all of the relevant stuff. I just thought it was such a cool idea to collaborate in that way in a medium that I don't think games has really touched, like dance. And so, so Sam wrote a really very cool game the current edition of it that was provided to Ballet Collective is up for free, and the full edition will be out next year with a ton of art and additional just supporting rules for if you want to play it solo or with a larger group of people.

But the ballet itself is really beautiful. I really enjoy watching dance and ballet performances. And the game is also very fun, although I haven't gotten to play it yet. I just think it's fun to read and that, like, I can see the direct influences on the ballet. And so that, that's very cool to me, just as a way that games are kind of breaking the orbit of just being in like game spaces.

Sam: this article has real dancing about architecture vibes to it, like someone heard that quote and was like, bet, and then did this, and I love to see that, like, the kind of like cross medium smashing up stuff is just always so interesting and fruitful, I think, for both mediums.

Sharang: I'm a, been trying for the past few years to like intersect other what are called fine arts. I'm just saying what are called because what makes an art fine, but fine arts and games in different ways. Like I've been trying to do like to my students, like, make games based on museum works that we go see and things like that.

So when I heard about this, like, Sam was a researcher at Dartmouth while I was teaching at Dartmouth. And so when I heard about this, I was really excited. I'm like, ooh, I didn't actually go see the ballet because the dates did not work for me. I think I was out of town. But yeah, it was a very exciting project.

Audrey: The whole thing is up to stream on YouTube, which is nice. So that is something too, because I know that with fine arts, as they tend to be called, right, there is often a barrier to entry, which is the other reason I was really excited about this, because it's on YouTube, it's free, and that's not necessarily the same as being in, like, the auditorium, but it is still a way to view this that I wouldn't have otherwise had because it's expensive, it's not local to me you know, lots of barriers to entry, I think, for fine arts, and so it's nice to see a collaboration like this that is really accessible to everybody.

Sam: Awesome. Sharang, what do we got?

Sharang: I also picked an article. I picked an article in the New York Times by Keri Blakinger, and I may be getting that wrong, I'm probably getting that wrong. It's called the Dungeons and Dragons Players of Death Row. Um, It came out in August, as soon as I got back from my like LARP summer

Sam: Hot LARP summer?

Sharang: it was, a, LARP about people going to a house the haunted house drives them insane and into murder, incest, and madness. So it was kind of hot but

This is a very moving article, I felt. It profiles and talks about death row inmates in the United States, which is a country that still has the death penalty, many countries have abolished the death penalty. And it talks about the carceral system in the US, which is considered by many people to be Horrible, me being one of them and inhumane in many cases and about how people in Death Row find kind of purpose and meaning for the remainder of their lives through playing role playing games.

Now it's specifically Dungeons and Dragons because that is, it is not a lie that this is the world's most popular role playing game, right? it's big and accessible accessible in, in a certain regard. But it, ultimately it's about how, like, storytelling and play uplifts the human spirit. And it's a really, it's kind of a touching piece because, Keri, the author, speaks to many of these death row inmates and, and speaks to their, like, fellow players and things,

and it's really, It was really moving about like, why do we tell stories? Why do we play? How do we form human connections when we play? When we collectively imagine together, right? Uh, It's really lovely and sad and I would recommend it to anyone, even if you're not interested in games, though I don't know if you're listening to this podcast, if you're not in that case, but I mean, if you're listening to this podcast, send the article to your friends who don't play games, maybe, because it's a lovely, lovely thing.

It also makes you angry about the carceral system in the United States, so which is, I think, an important thing for us to be angry about,

Aaron: The pictures from this article I remember are just, like, beautiful and heartbreaking.

I used to volunteer at a bookstore here that also sends books to prisons. And most prisons don't allow hardcover books. Many prisons don't allow dice because they're related to gambling. Certain writing utensils aren't allowed.

And so you, this article has these pictures of, you know, we're talking about role playing games and we're talking about tokens and all this stuff that we have printed and, like, they have often paper and pens, and maybe an old softcover book, and they are doing everything else by hand. And so these pictures in this article, like To keep track of these amazing play artifacts that are like lovingly rendered and beautifully done and it is just like you said like so uplifting that people can find this joy in this hobby and also so heartbreaking that like the way they are doing it and the way they are producing these amazing play artifacts are because of this oppressive system that is to most of the world a war crime.

Audrey: Yeah.

it's, I mean, it's a really, stark dichotomy, right, because it's so uplifting and hopeful to see that, like, storytelling and play are so intrinsic to the human spirit, but the circumstances that these people are in are absolutely awful and unethical, you know?

Sam: The artifact that I remember from this is the D20 spinner, because they're not allowed to have dice, they had to make by hand, like a, a spinner

Sharang: Randomizer

Sam: or 20 slots on it. Yeah, it's, the creativity required to figure out how to play this game in this place is amazing. And just to echo what everyone else has said under such horrible conditions too.

Sharang: and we, I mean, not to get too into the nitty gritty, but like we think about crime as a breakdown of society, right? There's one way of thinking about crime is not this person is evil, it is that society has failed in some way, right? And in some way, we say, well, what better way of rehabilitation or whatever you want to call it, I'm sure I'm not using the right language, than to make people social. Right? Like, play this game together, be social together, reconnect with other humans through imagination, through voicing desire and dreams and goals. And it's so, it's lovely and sad and yeah, you know.

Sam: I think there's also a piece in this that is so relatable for me this year, especially. I lost both my grandmothers this year, and I've been sort of more acutely aware of my own mortality, and the mortality of everyone around me as a result.

And the feeling of, death is coming for us all, how are we going to spend our time? One of the things that we want to do is to spend it in community with each other, telling stories, and creating places for us to share together is something I really saw in these people in myself.

Well, I have to follow that act, but

Audrey: I was gonna say, Sam, what's yours?

Sam: yeah. I, so, so I picked The Ink That Bleeds by Paul Czege, which is this zine essay about the playing of solo games.

And Paul is this fairly well known game designer. He goes back to the Forge era and before, and he's written this zine about how he thinks solo games are meant to be played. Or how he gets the most out of solo games. I think he has some strong opinions that will not work for everyone and that I do not always agree with in this, but I do think that the the ideas in it are really interesting and compelling to engage with.

So is one of his big things is to try to unlock your subconscious mind is his goal for you while playing, or his goal for himself, anyway, while playing these solo games, and he, he really wants people to get in touch with their subconscious mind, and to play these solo games as what he calls your proximate self, like, to play as a version of yourself and to use solo games as a tool for self reflection and a, like, way of journaling, a way of exploring your own mind and, like, what your subconscious is trying to tell you, and that you may or may not be able to hear for yourself in just your day to day life.

And I started getting into solo games this year because I'm planning an episode on solo games and started like researching for it by like playing a bunch of solo games. And I picked this up somewhere in the middle of that and it really made clear for me that solo games as an activity are so fundamentally different from other, like, group RPGs. That, like, playing them by yourself as an experience to understand yourself is just such a completely different medium than playing collective RPGs with other people, trying to, like, share something together, to communicate about yourself with other people, to tell a story together.

It's just a completely different goal, and that that's probably a more useful, or more compelling at least for me, way to think about solo games as this tool of self exploration rather than a tool of trying to tell a story but I'm missing the other people to help me do it.

Yeah, I don't know. I'd be really curious to hear, Audrey, if you've read this and if you have opinions

Aaron: I was about to call out Audrey and be like, please tell us about this and tarot and how you feel

Audrey: I haven't actually read this yet, and it is on my list of things to read. I think that I mean, I 100 percent agree that solo games are less about the story that you're telling and more about your own reactions to the game, the content of the game, and what the creator of the game wants you to think about.

I, the biggest disparity I think that I can come up with in games that I've played this year is that I was playing Village Witch by Elliot Silvarian, and that's a game that is, like, ripe to be, like, a Ghibli knockoff, or to play a very classical, Baba Yaga type character, or, like, witch in training type character. And I immediately was like, Yeah, no so my witch lives in the magical weird west, and locomotive engines can be feral here.

And so it's, like, there's a lot of prescriptiveness, I think, in journaling games, especially when we talk about solo RPGs, where because there are things that are assumed about the setting or the genre that the game is written, and there's, like, already these preconceived notions that it's really easy to direct ourselves towards. And then the question you ask yourself is, are, are you okay being directed towards those things, and if so, what exercise or what purpose is that serving for you because sometimes I do go into a game and I lean really hard into the genre that it's presenting me with and it's because I'm in a writing rut and I just need to write, you know, and it doesn't need to be original and it doesn't need to be deep, it just needs to be words on the page.

And there are other times where I go into a game and I'm like, well, how can I make this more fun for myself? Like, what am I going to do to get the most out of this? Or like, how can I get so invested in this that the characters will start to surprise me? And that's really my ultimate goal with soloing games, journaling games, specifically. I like to get really invested in the story in a way that makes it feel alive, because then it does take away some of that, like, FOMO of, I wish that I was playing with other people.

So yeah, I would be really, really interested to actually get my hands on this zine and kind of compare the experiences that I've had with his experiences

Sam: I want to just shout out a couple other weird things that like Paul has in this zine. Like he really encourages people to write in dialogue, which I think is really interesting, and what he sees as like a way of accessing those subconscious voices or thoughts that you might have by putting them in the mouth of quote unquote other characters but he also really loves the idea of playing as the same character in more than one solo game at the same time. So you sort of like, take one turn in one game.

Audrey: zine because I do that also.

Sam: he would love to hear from you too, I'm sure. Um, And the other thing about this zine is that Paul is kind of persnickety in some ways and like has refused to publish a digital edition of this. So the only way to get it is to actually order the zine from his site. There was an excerpt published on the indie game reading blog that I'll link in the show notes.

But yeah, he wants you to have that tactile experience of getting the zine in the mail and opening it up and reading it and the whole thing is it's an experience and again, I don't agree with everything that he says in it. I'm actually, I'm halfway through writing a piece that will come out next year with the solo game episode when I record it, about the ways in which I disagree with him. But, yeah,

Aaron: eat shit, it's it's

Sam: I think it's really, really interesting to read and to sort of get his perspective on playing these games. Alright so here's, here's one last friend of the pod, as it were.

Nova: Hi, I'm Nova, also known as Idle Cartulary, and Sam asked me to talk about my favourite RPG adjacent thing this year.

I was having trouble sorting the wheat from the chaff because there's just so much wheat, you know, and then I realised that actually my favourite thing this year was a trend rather than a game or a module. Amanda P got me into it, and it's mindfully drawing fantasy roleplaying game maps.

A few of us share our mindfulness maps with each other on the discord. I started keeping screenshots of maps I think are pretty, I bought a notebook and a few pens, and I keep them in a few places I frequent. And when I need some space or have spare time, rather than doomscroll, I draw a map of a dungeon, or a cave, or a town, or a building.

For me there's a simplicity of scale, and lots of small things like stipplings. or crosshatching that just really work to make it very mindful in a way that meditation or colouring in or other suggested mindful activities don't.

And if I'm doing it at home, I do it on my iPad, and then I've turned it into a side hustle and a reward for my Patreon backers called Dungeons Regularly, a little zine of pretty maps that anyone can use in their publications if they need to.

So, my favourite trend of the year: mindfulness map drawing.

Sam: Thank you, additional friend of the pod. So we're going to end our roundtable here with a thing from each of us that we are proud of having made this year. So Aaron, apart from the many great episodes of RTFM, or maybe not apart from, what is something that

Aaron: Yeah, that's all I was gonna say. I don't know.

I started this podcast at the height of the pandemic as a way to hang out and to read all the RPG books that I have. And I think we have like 50 main feed episodes now and a bunch more on the Patreon. It's called RTFM, rtfmcast. com. Max is game designer and also a fellow games scholar teaching, I think, at the University of Toronto.

And so come listen to us talk about games. I'm the boring one. So if you've been bored here with me uh, Max is much funnier and more active.

Sam: Max has strong opinions, if you also

want those.

Audrey: I love Max's strong opinion.

Aaron: And I think Strong Arms as well, um, so don't get in a fight. No, that's it and also all this year I've been working on a game called Speedrune, which is a rules light ancient world fantasy RPG. And I'm doing a big jam, like, through the new year to make weird stuff for this game.

And so if you wanna make a game inspired by my favorite fantasy writer, Tanith Lee, or a terrible video game that I can't stop playing, Skyrim, or anything weird and old like that check that out. That's in the RTFM discord as well

Sam: Audrey, what are you proud of?

Audrey: So this year was kind of like my first year really writing for something that wasn't 5e. I wrote 5e sci fi stuff for like four years and then kind of into last year was like, nope, I'm gonna do some other stuff.

And recently wrote a game with my friend Zeb, it's called Behold: A Game! and it's very tongue in cheek and about arguing what is a game with, like, the stipulations of ancient Philosophers on there.

So, so it's free. It's a single page front and back game, just very tongue in cheek and we wrote it in like 12 hours, and I am pretty thrilled with it. It's like I find often that writing comedy is a thing that I enjoy more than writing serious works and that comes easier to me, but also is the thing that falls apart the easiest. So I was really proud of this one because I do think that it holds up and it was entirely based on like me shitposting. So it's a fun

Aaron: I hadn't seen this before, this looks so rad. This is so cool.

Audrey: so silly and so fun. And it was just kind of like I had spent the year writing various games and writing hacks for various games and talking with lots of cool people, including in the Dice Exploder discord about what makes different types of games and the history of, the tabletop hobby and things like that.

And, um, it's just kind of culminated in that.

Sam: This rules. I can't wait to read

Audrey: Hell yeah. You have to let me know what you think.

Sam: Alright uh, Sharing, what do we

Sharang: this is a year of doing a bunch of new things, which, so there's a lot that I'm proud of. For example, I swam in the Gay Olympics this

Audrey: Oh, hell

Sharang: super proud of and stuff, right? But the game related thing I'm very proud of, and this is gonna sound extremely big headed, is that I won my first three Ennie Awards this year,

Aaron: Woo!

Audrey: Hell yeah.

Sharang: which brings me up to seven major game design awards throughout my career which makes me very excited. Thanks. It sounds very big headed, I'm like, look at me winning awards,

Audrey: No, but

that's so

Sharang: a Golden Cobra.

Sam: We're in the proud of part of the show. Like,

Sharang: Right, right. I find a lot of validation winning awards, because, you know, artists always need validation.

Yeah, so I won. I was on the team that designed Avatar Legends, the role playing game based on Avatar The Last Airbender, the beloved children's TV show. And we won two awards for that. We won gold for best rules and best family game. And then I'm extra proud because the judges spotlight award, I feel, is very cool, for a game I wrote for, which is Moonlight on Roseville Beach with Richard Ruane as the main designer, and it's a very gay game about supernatural urban fantasy on Fire Island.

Sorry, on

Audrey: If you like Brindlewood Bay, that's the game for you because it's Brindlewood Bay, but very queer. So

Sharang: It's extremely queer, it doesn't have the same mystery mechanics if you're looking at Brindlewood Bay from a mechanics standpoint, but

Sam: could always just pull those in if you wanted to. Like moonlight on Roseville Beach is like, there are rules but there's more

Audrey: it's so rad.

Sharang: Yeah, yeah. It's really cool, and Richard did such a good job working with the layout designer to make a brilliant looking book. When I first

Aaron: like an old pulp novel, it's so good.

Sharang: and the interiors, when I first saw you know, he showed us the pre print version, we were all like, oh my god, this is so gorgeous. I also get royalties from both those games, so wink wink to our listeners.

So, I'm actually, I mean, it sounds silly, but I am very proud of winning this. I've never won an Ennie before, I won three this year it's, it made me very happy,

Audrey: doesn't sound silly at all. Like it's exciting. Yeah, congrats.

Sharang: Thanks.

Sam: Alright so I was going to say my thing here, and then actually one of the messages from a friend of the show came in as the same thing that I was gonna be proud of, so I'm gonna play it here. From Moe Poplar, who is my rideshare up to Big Bad Con.

Moe: I remember when I was telling my game design buddy we should do a podcast where we just talk about all the game mechanics and he said you know nobody would be interested in that. I said this is all we do talk about game mechanics.

And then I stumbled upon Dice Exploder. And I get to hear the most awesome people having amazing conversations about all the crunchy bits in RPGs and I love it.

Audrey: Aww.

Sam: So, I, I don't know, I'm like, self conscious, like, what am I gonna say, like, I made an amazing podcast this year. This thing fucking rules, I'm so proud of it, I'm so good at making podcasts, like, to just toot my own horn in this section,


Sharang: toot your horn, Sam.

Sam: Thanks, Sharang. Part of the reason I wanted to make this podcast in the first place was I had all these opinions about how podcasts should be made, and I wanted to prove that they were right. And they all were, and I'm very validated professionally, and I'm just so proud of this show.

I'm so proud of the Discord community, too. Like, I'm really, really happy with how that Discord feels right now. Although, if you aren't, please DM me and let me know so I can help make changes.

But really, this has just been such a, such a wonderful year for me in the RPG world, and a huge part of that has been because of this podcast.

So yeah. Thanks to all of you for being here, and thanks to everyone so much for listening. I say it at the end of every episode, but like, more people will be listening right now than normal, so, thank you, truly, for listening.

Where can we find everyone? Aaron?

Aaron: The podcast is rtfmcast. com. Twitter is dying. Burn it down. Go listen to my podcast.

Sam: Audrey?

Audrey: Uh, you can find me on Tumblr and Itch if you search for Lady Tabletop, that's me. I host Alone at the Table which is a solo podcast where I do actual plays of solo games and then talk about what I thought worked and didn't work You can find that at moonshotpods. com, that's the network that I'm part of.

Sam: Sharing.

Sharang: And I'm on most social media as Sharang Biswas. I'm still kind of lurking on Twitter, even though I was dying. I'm on Blue Sky now more and a bit, and on Instagram. My itch astrolingous. itch. io you'll also find links to Honey and Hot Wax there, which is published by Pellegrin Press, and oh, and watch out, I have a book coming out next year called The Iron Below Remembers, so watch out for that.

Sam: Hell yeah. Alright, well, as always, you can find me on all the social platforms at sdunnewold including itch, where you can find my games.

You can come join the Dice Exploder Discord, as I mentioned. Come and talk about the show!

Our logo was designed by Sporgory, and our theme song is Sunset Bridge by PurelyGrey.

Thanks again, truly, to all of you for listening, thanks to Aaron, to Audrey, and to Sharang whose name I will never be able to pronounce. I'm too white for it. I'm so sorry, we'll figure it out eventually. You're foreign I don't know what to do about it. And uh, thanks, we'll see y'all next year.​

Dice Exploder
Dice Exploder
A show about tabletop RPG design. Each episode we bring you a single mechanic and break it down as deep as we possibly can. Co-hosted by Sam Dunnewold and a rotating roster of designers.