Short, sweet, and to the point: **In The Light of a Ghost Star **by Nate Treme of Highland Paranormal Society is a wonderful zine-rpg that is easy to pick up and run after a quick read through. Players take on the role of martian explorers being dropped off on a dead Earth to explore its treacherous ruins filled with strange inhabitants. That’s literally all the story we have, and it’s all that’s really needed.
The rules and character creation are simple: Characters consist of 3 stats (Fighter, Explorer, Scientist) and at creation a die rating is assigned to each (d8, d6, d4). When performing actions, you want to roll 4+ to succeed. Additionally, character start with 10 inventory slots and 3 hit points. To level up, the characters need to retrieve 5 treasures and return them to Mars.
The entirety of game mechanics and rules fits on a single page, including sample gear and artifacts. The rest of the 14 pages include a sample adventure, where players get dropped off in the center of a hex map and the pilot tells them they have a week to meet back. The map is hand drawn and has this wonderful indie comic vibe to it. In addition to the hexcrawl adventure there’s a sample dungeon, location tables, and then a blank hex map and dot grid for you to make your own.
It’s so god-damned simple but in a brilliant way. No mention of race or species, no professions, no skills — just your three broad stats. Judging by the portraits of player characters posted on his blog, this means freedom to just kinda be whatever you want to be. Be an alien, be a robot, be a mad scientist, or a replicant human or whatever — it’s not in the stats but how you choose to play.
I also love how in the sample adventure it advises that there’s no real story to follow — it just happens in play. Mind you the NPCs and factions within the hex-crawl ruins have their own agends and what not, but this is an example of _Show, Don’t Tell _style gaming where the players sort of have to explore and interact to figure out what’s going on.
It may not follow traditional D&D standards, but this is definitely an “old school” game in that it’s a sandbox, non-linear experience with a high risk of danger, and where story emerges in play and not along a pre-crafted plot arc.
I was fortunate enough to purchase a limited physical copy. Full disclosure: while Nate had been posting sample pics of his work in progress, I pretty much ran out and bought similar tools so I could mimic it. Rounded corners and colored pages are fun!
The zine arrived in a baggie, with not only the game booklet but a cool poster-sized version of the adventure map, some character sheets (with rules referenced on the back), and a collectible pin. The envelope was even adorned with a custom illustration and a d6 “Daily Quest” table filled with positive tasks.
Love and care went into this. It’s hand made and hobbyist grade, but if there’s any imperfections they just add to the charm. For $5 I definitely got my money’s worth. On a personal level, the work and aesthetic put into this publication has set the bar that I want to work towards with our future games here at The ChaosGrenade.
Where To Grab It?
The game is PWYW at Itch.io and Drivethrurpg. As of this writing, the first batch of physical zines are sold out. A second printing should be happening soon, and then it will go POD (but not as colorful).