by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 05, 2022
The Ennies are today? Well, this year has certainly zoomed by. I should say what I have to say before the Teen Choice Awards of the RPG scene monopolize the conversation. When I looked back on the games of 2021 I found an odd mix of stuff. The quality of material coming out nowadays is quite amazing. We are really spoiled right now when it comes to indie RPGs. Someone needs to tell you about them: why not me?
The Ramanan Sivaranjan Awards for Excellence in Gaming exist to highlight truly standout RPG books. Unlike previous years I had a strong sense from the start what books I’d end up picking. As usual there are some real gems in my honourable mentions, so don’t sleep on those either!
The books in contention arrived at my doorstep, or digitally in my inbox, during 2021. That’s a long while ago now, I know, but that’s really my only rule with these awards and I will stick with it. Will the categories be the same as last year? Read on to find out!
Best Adventure: Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier by Gus L
Gus continues to put out some of the best adventures in the OSR. He’s spent the last however many years really going full-on nerd when it comes to dungeon crawling, and his adventures are all the better for his deep thinking on this topic. There is much to love about Gus’s Tomb Robbers of the Crystal Frontier. As with Prison of the Hated Pretender, an honourable mention from last year, there is the occasional editorial note for new (or old!) DMs to better understand how to go about running these sorts of adventures. I love these snippets. The book features great art, also by Gus. He also did the layout. A real renaissance man!
Best Skirmish Game: Space Weirdos by Casey Garske
If you’ve been burned by Games Workshop and their bloated and expensive rule sets then Space Weirdos will be a breath of fresh air. Space Weirdos is a nice and simple skirmish war game. I watched the game come together over the course of the pandemic, Casey sharing early drafts in my not so secret 40K discord server. I play tested it a few times over the course of the pandemic. Thanks to ZineQuest he did a very DIY print run, commissioned a cool cover, and added some solo rules. The game feels like it’s gained a lot of traction over the course of 2022, finding a nice audience of fans. If you have a handful of minis and some time you can and should be playing this game.
The Ramanan Sivaranjan Excellence in Gaming Best God Damn Books of 2021: Cartel by Mark Diaz Truman
Hold up: this isn’t an OSR game. Yeah I know, but the heart wants what the heart wants. I picked up the ashcan version of Cartel at the end of 2016. Over the following years Mark would develop the game into something really compelling. A scandalous game about the cartels and the drug war that has you playing the compromised people that make it all go: drug kingpins, petty gangsters, corrupt cops, complicit spouses, etc. The best Powered by the Apocalypse games feel like engines propelling the players forward, and I would say Cartel is one of the best Powered by the Apocalypse games. I’ve played the game several times now, and each time has left me wanting to play more. This game has likely been overshadowed by the success of Magpie’s other games, but it’s too good to ignore. I really love Cartel, and hope more people check it out.
A special shout out to Forbidden Psalm by Kevin Rahman; Fimbria by Giuliano Roverato; The Haunted Hamlet and other Hexes by the Lazy Litch; Kriegsmesser by Gregor Vuga; Lowlife by Sam Sorensen; Rebel Crown & Serpent Oak by Michael Dunn-O’Connor & Eric Swanson; Reign in Hell by Adam Loper and Vince Venturella; and Ross Rifles by Daniel Kwan, Patrick Keenan, and Daniel Groh. Forbidden Psalm takes everything you love about MÖRK BORG, and adds minis: that’s what I’m talking about!