Exploring the Indie Side – A Review of level 1: Indie RPG Anthology

Level 1 (Volume 1, 2020)

Free RPG Day Indie RPG Anthology

Editors: Adriel L. Wilson, Chris O’Neill, Heather O’Neill
Publisher: 9th Level Games
Page Count: 80
Available Formats: Print
Print – Free, during Free RPG Day

This year’s Free RPG Day (FRD) brings us new publishers’ offerings and the omission of several regular publishers from previous years. As one of the new FRD publishers, 9th Level Publishing has hit the ground running with its inaugural offering, Level 1: Free RPG Day Indie RPG Anthology. They are also working closely with Gaming Days, LLC., the new owner of Free RPG Day, and are planning to make Level 1 a regular staple item in the years to come.

Level 1: Free RPG Day Indie RPG Anthology is a new anthology series of independent roleplaying games representing a diverse and varied swath of the independent gaming community. In this inaugural annual volume are 15 complete playable games with each its own style and flavor. Some are genre-bending, while others push play style boundaries. Each truly represents the spirit of independent games.

Here’s a brief look at each game so that you can determine which ones might be a good fit for you and your gaming group.

After Ragnarok by Tyler Omichinski – For 2-6 players of all ages. Does require a GM. A game where characters begin as powerful heroes in a highly lethal setting, but each death strips away some of the old skills and powers. A game about fading legends.

At Least We Have Tonight by Matthew Orr – For 1-8 players of any age. No GM required. A game about enslaved people on a Roman trireme, rowing all day into battle.

Bad Decisions by The Arbitrians – For 3-6 players ages 13+. GM duties rotate. Fleeing from help and splitting the party; absolutely bad decisions! Players will roleplay fateful characters as they gain and lose control of the story narrative. Each change heralds horrific or odds events that will impact that character. Play to see who survives.

Bird Trek by Steffie de Vaan & Maarten Gilberts – For 1 or more players of any age. No GM required. A cooperative game where all the players jointly take on the role of a flock of birds, the Grey Thieves’ Flock. While the dice determine how the journey fares, players narrate the outcomes collectively.

Breaking Spirals by Colin Kyle – For 1 player ages 13+. This is a self-help game inspired by Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques (mental exercise). It’s designed to be a game of self-exploration to help you find meditative peace and perspective. However, it is not a substitute for professional therapy.

Clan of Two by Barak Blackburn & Ellie Hillis – For 2 players of any age, GM duties will rotate. This is a game about a warrior, a soldier, a killer, who has chosen to give up their code and way of life for the protection of another. The gameplay is meant to be a narrative and a shared story.

Dice Friends by Tim Hutchings – For 1 player ages 13+. You line up a set of old dice, these dice are all old friends. You’ll introduce them to a new die, the d20. It’s a game about life, death, and friends as dice.

Graveyard Shift by Mids Meinberg – For 3 players ages 13+. Does not require a GM. A three-player game about working late-night shifts for minimum wage, and the alienation that emerges as a result.

Hellevator by Ty Oden – For 7-13 players ages 13+. GM required. Players, en masse, are stuck in a cursed elevator with a devil. The devil seeks to kill or convert everyone, but can only unleash his infernal powers in the darkness. Players must find and eliminate the devil to escape, lest they all become corrupted or die trying.

Love is Stored in the Elbow by Corrine Taylor- For 1-6 players of any age. No GM required. A story and character creation game that explores the relationship between emotions, memory, and physical touch. Players will create a character together, taking turns relating memories from the character’s life.

Mesopotamians by Nick Wedig – For 3-5 players of all ages. GM Required. A little game about undead warrior kings making it big as a rock and roll band!

Moose Trip by Kira Magrann – For 2-5 players ages 13+. Does not require a GM. You play a moose living in the human-occupied wilds of Montana. You’ve just eaten some psychedelic mushrooms with your friends. The game is about exploring a series of questions, as your moose, while tripping on shrooms.

Savage Sisters by Adriel Lee Wilson – For 2-6 players of all ages. GM duties rotate. In Savage Sisters, characters form a Sodal, a group of powerful, warrior women. Players gather together to portray the daughters who are gathered on the eve of some great event. Here they will share the legends of their Sodal – the tales of their legendary foremothers. Turn by turn, each player will portray a grandmother telling a tale, as the other players role play the legend.

Sojourn by Oat & Noodle – For 1 player of any age. A solo game about a long journey and the three items you brought with you. What changed when you returned?

In the Tank by Graham Gentz – For 3-7 players of any age. GM duties rotate. You are algae slowing developing sentience and attempting to stave off death. Each player takes on aspects of the algae, whether literal or philosophical, and discusses how to proceed within a series of escalating complications. Adapt or die!

I hope those short descriptions shed some light on the diversity of the games collected into Level 1: Free RPG Day Indie RPG Anthology. These games run the gamut from light and fun to dark and serious in their tone. There is bound to be something here for everyone. Quite a few have caught my attention and will warrant a more in-depth read through and possible table time soon.

At the end of the book, there is a multipage spread of safety tools for players and GM to use as they see fit. The safety tools presented include Lines and Veils, Open Door Policy, X-Card, Enthusiastic Consent, Transparency and Content Warnings, The O-Card, and Cut/Brake. Each safety tool has an explanation of what it does to help foster a healthy and safe gaming environment and how to use it in your game. Links, where appropriate, are also provided, pointing readers to additional information on the web.

Of note, for me personally, I found three games to be very appealing. First, there is “Bad Decisions.”  As a fan of horror games and the all-to-common cliché of a horror movie’s protagonists hiding in the basement, this game wants to explore those bad decisions. Second, is “Graveyard Shift” which looks like it could be narratively fun to examine the life of a third shift worker trying to live and cope in a dayshift world. That was me at one time in my life. Third, is “Mesopotamians.” It just sounds cool! Who wouldn’t want to play undead warrior kings trying to make it big as a rock band?

As a counter to the games, I think I might enjoy, three stood out as games that I won’t play. They center around topics or playstyles that I don’t enjoy. For me, these games were “At Least We Have Tonight,” “Breaking Spirals,” and “Sojourn.” The first two deal with topics I don’t wish to bring to my gaming table, and the third, to be honest, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the three sentences of rules.

I would like to point out that several of the games in this volume are dark and deal with subjects some may be uncomfortable with, and that’s okay, just skip these, I am. There are content warnings for some, and I’m sure many will appreciate that, and each game’s header indicates the type of game it is. For example, is it a game with a serious theme or one with a fun and cozy theme? All told, this is a fun new addition to the FRD lineup this year, and I’m excited to see what they come up with for Volume 2.

~ Modoc

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