31 March 2022
Do not fear, explore
The indie RPG scene is a little ephemeral – much of it locked into short print run zines and niche, hard-to-know-it-exists pdfs. And as much as I like to carry take a little book of ideas around with me, in the hope that a peaceful moment appears where I can nibble at the concepts within, I often have to take a little bundle to get new campaigns to open up.
So, when the beautifully designed and produced Haunted Almanac arrived, I couldn’t be happier. How about all those good ideas in one hardback?
This anthology brings together the work of indie designer Nate Treme from 2018-2021. It offers four full game systems with adventures, a bunch of one page games, some micro-settings and over a dozen adventures that you can even use with D&D.
Tunnel Goons is the standout game here, a 2D6 system where health is also target numbers for monsters, roll higher than the difficulty score (DS) and that’s the damage done – reducing the DS for the next round. The bundled in adventures and dungeons can be strung together easily, and each is extremely charming. Encounters give room for all sorts of inventiveness from players and the GM, and it’s maybe the most level playing field when it comes to that GM-Player balance. Simple but satisfying puzzles abound.
Prole is a coin flipping RPG system where add an extra flip for each mark you have down against a stat. The bundled-in Halloween trick or treat adventure Pilgrims of the Nighted Path is a treat-collecting joy that turns to culty horror, if the players explore that direction. The micro-setting East of East is a lovingly created hex-world with simple fantasy tasks (‘take this here’/‘don’t die’) that can leave your characters ready to sprawl out into a wilder, weirder world.
And What Child Is This? is a Dungeons & Dragons adventure that plops a newborn god-baby into the laps of the players who are then asked to hexcrawl their way to the fortified town across the map. The baby has a stat block and powers that can, sometimes, render enemies impossible of hostilities. Monster Manual references (with page numbers) throughout again shows the kind of generosity of design at play here.
And these are all just tiny snippets of what you get. A swirl of ideas that you might only grab a single table from, or plan an entire campaign around. And they’re simply all extremely good.
There’s something about Treme’s writing that is pitched on the absolute razor edge of ‘just enough’ – a description for a room will give GM hooks to get your players interested in whatever is going on, without any feeling that you’re going to ‘get it wrong’. You’re not, and it’s going to remain fun throughout. There’s sci-fi and horror too, but we really can’t list them all.
All the systems are light, but deep. Every mechanic is there to nudge you gently towards roleplaying. This reviewer has never directly voiced so many NPC in a game as in Tunnel Goons, simply because the adventures seem to encourage players to talk to monsters and potential antagonists. There are very limited assumptions on how aggressive anything might be – and anyway, it’s funnier to have made friends with the giant flaming skull who can’t fit through the doorway, rather than hit it.
Everything here is short, with no fat, except that which gives flavour. It’s not minimal in the sense of being severe or obtuse, but a series of trusting systems that can either be the starting point for something huge, or merely one bright and fond memory.
And beyond that, these scenarios and games are truly universal. They can be plugged into a single game night, or to introduce someone to the hobby, or to play with children.
I still carry the book around with me now, because there’s the sense that there’s something more there. There’s more to explore, and if that isn’t the perfect feeling for a roleplaying book to have about it, we don’t know what is.
Christopher John Eggett
PLAY IT? MUST-PLAY
A stunning collection of extremely generous games, adventures, and sometimes just really good ideas. You could easily use these systems as an introduction to roleplaying for young people, or inject your current campaigns with whimsy
If you like a grab-bag of good ideas, then Haunted Almanac will serve you for a very, very long time.
Designer: Nate Treme
Publisher: Games Omnivorous