Recently, DriveThruRPG held one of its very first game jams, PocketQuest 2022. The goal for this game jam was to make a small pocket-sized RPG, about 10-20 pages, all based around a central theme. It is also a chance to give new creative talents in the TTRPG space a platform to show what they bring to the table.
The first batch of PocketQuest 2022 projects were released at the start of August, with the central theme being “summer camp.” Plenty of these projects have come out, taking many different approaches to the central idea. It is that very creativity that we here at TechRaptor wish to highlight. After enjoying these RPGs at our own tables, here are five from PocketQuest 2022 that is definitely worth a look.
5. Extinction at Camp Summersaurus by Anaphis Press
Extinction at Camp Summersaurus sticks out thanks to some adorable artwork and its central premise. The players are dinosaurs at a summer camp enjoying some friendly activities, all hoping that an extinction-level event doesn't wipe them all out.
What is curious about this TTRPG is that events and the ticking clock aren't resolved with sets of dice, but with a deck of playing cards and a Jenga tower. Each game plays out over the course of ten rounds, with each round representing a day. First, you pick a dinosaur, which has its own distinct advantages and disadvantages. At the start of each day, you draw cards from the deck. The suite determines what happens for that day then players act out those activities. Once that is resolved, you remove a block from the Jenga tower and place it on top.
You repeat these activities until either ten rounds are up, or the tower collapses, signalling the meteor strike that wipes them out. The game also provides dice charts for various locations or clubs, a towerless mode where you shuffle two Jokers into the deck, and even a solo journaling mode.
We reached out to developer Anaphis Press with some questions about the project. First, the idea of a tower of blocks being used as a ticking clock was inspired by another TTRPG: The Wretched by Chris Bisette. While that RPG's tower was meant to represent a spaceship slowly falling apart, the way it is used here adds a sense of anxiety and uncertainty to the dinosaur camp's antics. Will it all end now? Will it end later? Or will it not end at all? Who knows.
When asked why dinosaurs, Anaphis' own Cas Briar said this:
I was trying to think of groups that would be incongruous there. Dinosaurs seemed silly enough to actually work, especially with the added weirdness of the extinction going on in the background.
4. Camp Doanshu Wanabemi by Black Guard Press
Keeping up with the idea of cards is Camp Doanshu Wanabemi. This summer camp TTRPG is a bit more straightforward when it comes to setup. All you need is a 54-card deck, jokers included. Each player draws a fixed number of cards until the deck is completely gone.
From there, Camp Doanshu Wanabemi is effectively a trick-taking game. The idea is that each camp event is highly competitive in nature, each game is seen as a camp activity, and the tricks players win represent their fellow camper's admiration and respect. This all leads up to a finale with the last remaining players attending the Grand Gala for the final prize.
It's an interesting take on conflict resolution. Other TTRPGs have used cards to resolve scenes in the past, Piledrivers and Powerbombs spring to mind, but not so much in the context of trick-taking. When asked about this system, Black Guard's own James Abendroth stated the following:
I had been kicking around random result generators other than dice in my head and trying to think of good places to use them. When the PocketQuest Jam came up, I decided to use cards instead of dice. I'm not a gambler so I don't know poker hands very well but I did grow up playing Hearts and Spades (in fact I knew how to play Spades before I knew how to shuffle cards.) It was easy enough to fiddle with Trick Taking rules from there. In fact, the hardest part was trying to explain how to play a trick and how to determine who wins since its one of those pieces of knowledge I understand intuitively rather than logically.
Alternatively, Camp Doanshu Wanabemi also includes alternate play modes where one of the campers is actually a serial killer and another one where losing players become zombies. Those were just thrown in for the fun of it.
3. A Summer on Tell Tale Island by Oddfellow Games
Moving into a more dice-based affair, we have A Summer on Tell Tale Island. The setup is the players are campers that have been sent to a mysterious island by their all-powerful wizard counselor. If they wish to escape, they must venture into the unknown elements of the island in order to earn a merit badge. But since the island is magical in nature, the campers can encounter just about anything during their travels.
Encounters and conflicts are resolved with 2d6 rolls, using similar resolution results from Powered By The Apocalypse to keep things moving. But what makes this particular take stand out are the magical powers bestowed by earning certain merit badges. These are so important that they can be printed out alongside the character sheets. It helps add to the nature of the RPG being a bit offbeat and quirky, not unlike a Wes Anderson film.
Second is the island itself. The book explains that since the island is magical in nature, it somehow has every single type of animal and plant in the world, every single era of human civilization, as well as multiple fantasy creatures and organizations from folklore and myth. There's even a list of other strange encounters that can occur on the island which include everything from an unsettlingly large amount of stone-ground mustard, an incongruously laid out yard sale, US Senator Bob Dole, and even the 1997 Carolina Panthers football team.
So it's pretty obvious that A Summer on Tell Tale Island takes some of its atmosphere from the TV show, Lost. Odd Fellow Games' Brian Miclon states:
Ever since I watched the show as a kid I thought it would be a brilliant game of any kind. The premise is perfect for rpgs because anything can happen and players always do things that the GM doesn’t see coming. I wanted the game to be fun for the GM as well as the players and that’s why I made all these random tables so that even the GM wouldn’t know what’s going to happen on the island. In this way it becomes a collaborative exploration game for all involved.
2. Campthulhu by Brickslinger Games
Next in our PocketQuest 2022 list, we have a Lovecraft-inspired camp RPG, Campthulhu. First, as with most modern adaptations of H.P. Lovecraft's work, this RPG does include a foreword stating that the RPG is meant to invoke the atmosphere and existential dread of the source material, not about advocating the racism and xenophobia that was present within those works.
Otherwise, Campthulhu does exactly what it implies. There are unusual disturbances at the camp, the players are campers that investigate these disturbances and either go mad, stop it, or even romantically seduce them.
That's right, Campthulhu appeals to those into monster romance. This alternative horror romance was a deliberate choice Brickslinger's founder Destin Hicks.
The underlying fear that we have that someone might turn on us and we might become the next Matthew Shepherd, James Byrd, or any of the thousands of people who have been killed due to their identity - just existing - and that's a terrifying thought. And I thought also, how would HPL see me and my friends if he were here today? That's why the Playbooks are what they are. They're named from the perspective of someone who wants to exile anyone different. Being queer, trans, disabled, etcetera, people have often acted like I was a monster.
Hicks also confessed that adding in such romance was due to player feedback. This means of horror elements as reclamation or empowerment also comes from other influences on the RPG. These include the TV series Lost Girl and the horror movie Jennifer's Body.
1. One Eldritch Summer by Two Cat Club
Finally, we have arguably the most experimental RPG from PocketQuest 2022, One Eldritch Summer. As per the theme, the players are staying at a summer camp, but some horrible ritual has caused demons from hell to spawn forth, signaling the end of the world. But before the end can begin, the events leading to this End of Days continue to repeat in a time loop. Furthermore, it seems your players have gained mysterious powers and are now aware of the time loop happening.
The creator, Jarret Hermosillo, loves time loop stories. There are obvious inspirations like the movie Groundhog Day or the “Cause and Effect” episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. But there have also been recent stories with similar setups like the movies Edge of Tomorrow and Palm Springs, the Netflix series Russian Doll, and even Arkane Studios' recent videogame, Deathloop springs to mind.
And that very time loop is key to progression in One Eldritch Summer. Every single time a character dies, the loop counter goes up and players can improve their stats and gain access to more abilities. It's a unique take on framing a story as a Game Master as well as encouraging reckless and experimental behavior by the players.
I knew I wanted to do a time loop game, and I knew I wanted a progression system somewhat similar to character levels like you'd find in other games, so I decided to make character death the method for what is essentially leveling up.
But this time loop premise isn't all One Eldritch Summer provides. First, there is a Tension and Threat system. Tension are points that are generated as encounters become more intense. Players can spend this Tension either to activate a power or make another skill roll. Alternatively, Threat is generated and used by the GM. However, unlike Tension, there is no limit to how much Threat can be generated, leading to an overwhelming snowball effect.
All of this leads to a fascinating success/failure by degrees system. Hermosillo's inspirations include Fate points from FATE Core, Action Points from D&D 4e, and Plot Points from Cortex.
Finally, One Eldritch Summer uses skill dice. A player's stats are used to generate a pool of dice with different faces, then those are rolled alongside a d20. The player then keeps one of the skill dice rolled. When asked about the inspiration for this system, Hermosillo responded with this:
I wanted to use all of my cool dice, because I've bought a lot of sets over the years and I don't want to see them just sitting on my shelf; I wanted a system that didn't have a binary pass/fail mechanic, so that every Check still did something even if it wasn't quite as effective as you wanted; and I wanted a system that was open to creative interpretation, so no one would spend their turns just doing the same thing over and over.
As mentioned before, there were tons of smaller RPGs made for PocketQuest 2022. It wasn't easy narrowing down these choices down to just five, but if any of these sound interesting, pick them up.