If you have been keeping an eye on the Hessan's County Youtube Channel, you might have noticed a new series of videos that has been recently popping up. These TTRPG Talk Shorts have been looking at games from the Pay What You Want TTRPG bundle. This bundle has 111 different games, tools, and supplements for literally any price you would like to pay, so what is featured here is a drop in the bucket. You can find not only those videos in the second list below, but also written forms of the reviews if you would prefer to read them instead!
The Written Game Reviews
The Heroic Archivist
Created by Richard Kelly, Heroic Archivist is a solo gamified habit tool. Basically it encourages you to read, rate, and review TTRPGs. However, has an interesting lore and mechanics behind it.
The backstory is that you are an archivist for a surviving part of the Library of Alexandria. When the Library was, according to legend, partly burned by Julius Cesar, some of your fellow archivist managed to take the texts related to magic and other obscure topics into a separate dimension and create a branch of the library there. Your role is to collect more texts to prevent further losses for the whims of time and humanity. You gain points for reading, rating, and reviewing ttrpg materials which help you defend this second library from regular attacks from fire-happy legionaries.
Thanks to generous translations, this game is also available in Spanish and Brazilian Portuguese.
Hotshots is a multiplayer TTRPG by Mitchell Daily. Designed to be a light, OSR-style game with potentially deadly consequences, it allows for the creation of space-fighter stories or dogfights or races. Each pilot is defined by their skills that add small bonuses to tests, their past that can give them large one-time session bonuses, along with their unique ships with different levels of engines, weapons, and so on. Each level on a ship component represents rolling the next size up of polyhedral dice and component durability. An action roll involves rolling a d20 and added the result of the systems dice (between a d4 and d12) with success being a total of 14 or more, though damage taken to that component subtracts from any roll using it.
Ranges and engagement rely mostly on theatre of the mind, though some tweaking may allow a Game Referee to add basic ranges for ease of use. Stats exist for larger ships, but the center of the action will be the fighters.
One great thing about Hotshots is that the system is rather modular. It is entirely possible to combine this flight system to a different game that emphasizes ground and direct character action. For example, if you wanted you, you could easily combine the ship combat with another system to recreate a game like the largely defunct Babylon 5 rpg or a quick adaptation of any space/advanced air/ or mixed combat focused anime that you wish. The ship setup with some basic stats, an advantage, and a liability make it easily customizable to match existing ship classes from scifi or anacronistic media from Tie Fighters to Vipers to even the Striker Units from the anime Strike Witches.
The First Knight
The First Knight is a creation of W.H. Arthur as the first of their Superhero Cinematic Universe TTRPGs. These games seek to tell the story of a team on a specific mission. They are designed to be played by a Master of Ceremonies and 3-6 other players, one of whom play the titular knight or the so-called First Superhero. They have been tasked to stop a villain who is attempting to activate a powerful artifact to further the causes of some Evil force in your characters' world.
Mechanically inspired by several Powered by the Apocalypse games, this game the familiar playbooks and moves, It also also utilizes two clocks. One tracks the progress of the players attempting to secure the Artifact, while the other is a Doom clock tracking the Villain's progress on using the item to fulfill their evil mission.
Despite the game's references to knights and many of the supporting player roles being fantasy or medieval references, the game also recommends a number of possible settings like a steampunk or 20th century setting. The game includes good advice for the MC on framing scenes, how to play the villain in a distant, but satisfying BBEG to best fit its story inspirations in Captain America and Wonder Woman.
When looking over the game, I was also reminded of the Babylon 5 episode "A Late Delivery from Avalon" which features a man who believes he is King Arthur. While it turns out to be a fantasy created to cope with his trauma from his role in accidentally starting a war, it does help him due some good in the end. I could easily see playing this game while the "Hero out of place and time" trope.
Bonded by the Red Thread of Fate
Bonded By the Red Thread of Fate is by Benjamín Aníbal Reyna of Mundos Infinitos. This game is also available for play in Spanish if you would prefer under Unidas por el hilo rojo del destino.
This multiplayer, mini-TTRPG attempts to simulate the experience of a dating sim or anime & manga centered around the characters' friendships and romances like Love Hina, Ranma 1/2 or Anohana. Love and relationships in the game are built around mutual interest, bonding despite differences, and improving one another, so the backstory can have any setting you wish so long as it does not interfere with the relationship aspects of the game.
Like many characters in these forms of media, the player characters or Protagonists have romantic personality types like Tsundere, Kuudere or Dojikko, Advantages and weaknesses, and Barriers that interfere with their forming relationships with others. The Barriers are the main opposition that the players face. In order to reach the end of a love story and build a firm relationship, a Protagonist needs to not just build a strong relationship with another character, but also overcome their barriers.
The Tea Shelf
The Tea Shelf was a creation of K. Ramstack based on Cat McDonald's Carta system, and Alone Among the Stars by Takuma Okada. In this solo game, you explore a relationship between two people based on their conversations held over tea.
Utilizing most of a Tarot Card deck, you will be drawing cards that give you prompts about the topics of discussion. These prompts are immediately somewhat vague in order to give you room to potentially explore a wide variety of different types of relationships, Whether that is a friendship, romantic relationship, or maybe a strained relationship with a family member. However, they are somewhat more personal questions, so addressing business type relationship or relationship with a coworker might not necessarily be possible.
The game primarily utilizes the major Arcana, so the suit of your card describes the location of the conversation. For example, if it's coins, then it was an expected visit at your house while cups is a conversation you're having somewhere outside, like an actual tea shop or something. The number associates with a prompt question that will actually describe the basic topic of the conversation and a type of tea which could be what you're drinking, might be just a backdrop in the scene, or even help influence the answers that you might give. The game finishes up with the ace of swords which is the coffee. On this card, you resolve the current status of the relationship.
Syzygy is a Science Fantasy TTRPG that truly tries to lean into the weird. Each of the characters play Mendicants seeking to further explore and survive the touched environment they reside in.
Please keep in in mind that the current version of the game is considered an ashcan edition of the game, so any of the mechanics I discuss here are subject to change. I will try to speak generally.
There are two things I want to bring to the forefront. Firstly, I appreciate the game's use of tags. Applicable tags are what get you the chance to roll more dice, whether that tag is attached to your class, gear, or come from other character elements. Tags also help define the environment and the Mendicants' enemies, making it easy to create new resources for the game.
However, the most Critical elements that define Syzygy in my mind is the Strange. When the character is attempting to complete an action, they can choose to roll a bonus die to improve their chances of success by inviting the bizarreness world around them into the scene. If this bonus die has the highest value in the pool of dice that was rolled, then a strange twist of fate follows or the tags of the characters, enemies or environment may suddenly change due to this outside influence.
I think this game would be great for potentially exploring the more metaphysical or fantastical of science fantasy pieces. They could be more horror leaning like a lot of New Weird can be, more action but still surreal like The Fifth Element or Everything Everywhere All at Once, or a bid toned down to embody elements of magical realism.
The Video Reviews
The Heroic Archivist
The First Knight
Bonded by the Red Thread of Fate
The Tea Shelf