First gameboy Castlevania, where you jump, move forward, and use whip. The soundtrack is good, it definitely kept me going even when I felt like the game was trying to get me killed with pixel-perfect feeling platforming. I don’t have a manual, or any idea what the plot was but I had fun killing Dracula (even more fun after watching a half-hour ‘Timeline of Castlevania’ YouTube video).
The pros: best gameboy music I have heard yet, it doesn’t take long to play using save states (which helps avoid one of my cons gripes), and it felt not intimidating to boot it up as a starting place for playing as many Castlevania games as I can this Fall. Oh, and Madman aka Mud Man is my favorite creature in the game as it will drip from the ceiling then form a lumbering gooey wanderer.
The cons: platforming was very difficult & save states saved my butt for the stage with rising spikes, this game is hard to look at unless you set an emulator to ‘GameBoy Green’ so do that and lower screen brightness for your eyes sake, finally, their are a few things which kill the player in one hit (I am not a fan of this but save states help with dealing with this frustration).
I recommend this game to people who like Castlevania games or want a short game to play (using a handheld emulator of some kind felt great for this). And for everyone else, you can just look up the soundtrack and its GameBoy beeps and chirps online. If I come back for this game, I will be trying it with only save states for the beginning of a stage to up the difficulty for myself.
After I published my last review, that same night a game designer named Evan shot me a message saying how much they enjoyed my review and wanted to see if I would be interested in reviewing their game ‘The Trespasser‘. I said yes! So here we are! The same rules about how I do reviews apply here as they did on the last.
I really enjoyed this solo game of escaping the woods, and becoming un-lost, and since it was semi a journaling game I will also be including my actual play for those that are interested in what an artifact of play could look like (an artifact being any maps, writing, or used character sheets that emerge from playing a game).
NOTE: The Actual Play will be a second post because it would make this one too long to have it also attached to the end of the post. I will update the end of this post with a link to it once I have it typed out and posted. Thank you!
The Trespasser is a solo game with light journaling elements. You play as The Trespasser, someone who has gone just woken up from a camping trip, the fire is dead and a heavy fog wisps between the trees. The trail back home is gone. The Trespasser is only going to stumble deeper and deeper into the strange and ominous forest before they may find their way out.
The player will have to navigate the forest, rolling for encounters after each time they move across a blank grid map to fill in the squares with details. But beware, nightfall can drop at any moment and the darkness that comes with it is all encompassing and will swallow any poor soul that finds itself where it should not be…
The game took me around 40 minutes to play, and I am waiting to finish writing this review before I play it again. The main moods that you should get from this 17 page PDF is a game of: being alone, wandering, sudden descending darkness, and strange quiet.
The quiet only interrupted by the trespassers heavy breathing, the snaps of rusty bear traps, and… the delicious taste of mushroom rings…
The Scary PDF
When I say the scary PDF, it is a black and white PDF with mood setting art and important prose that explains with short lines what to expect from play as a player, but also as a character.
For example, when I first rolled an encounter, I stumbled upon nightfall immediately and it just AHHH! It felt like I was going to be so unfortunate as to not make it out as soon as I left my campsite. I got this feeling because the prose set the stakes of what Nightfall should feel like and the severity of it approaching. With lines such as “You have a limited number of matches to help you see in the dark… Before the night swallows you whole.” This set up that the only thing that would save me are my matches, and I was unfortunate enough to only have rolled to start with 2. That means that even if I made it through this time, I was still many grid squares away from escape and I was on the edge of my seat hoping that darkness didn’t come for the rest of the trek.
Nightfall engulfs the Trespasser. It whispers temptations into your mind. It knows you. It knows what you seek.
The Trespasser (page.13)
If it wasn’t for how the game set up the stakes and tone before starting play, the randomness of encountering nightfall may have took me out of the experience. But the quotes throughout the book, the way it is written sets it up so that you are pulled in further. It felt like I was limited in power, and that added tension.
Playing the Game
To play the game all I had to do was read the rules and then create a character. The font is large and well spaced, so don’t think of these 17 pages as a barrier to play but a gentle ramp that eases you into the warm mud.
Making a character to play as was as simple as a couple dice rolls and writing out a name for my trespasser. The rules for creating a character are around 6 short sentences which both explain what the stats each mean (Vitae, Stamina, Injure, and Matches) and gives the instructions for determining them. You need to make sure you don’t run out of Vitae while escaping the woods. Having a low Stamina will increase the number of encounters that you come up against as it reduces your movement speed and decreases the chances of you being able to flee from any dangers. The game ends with you reaching 0 Vitae, Escaping the Forest by getting all of the way across the map grid, or when the nightfall takes you.
Without spoiling too much of what play is by describing the prompts for writing, or the specific details of what you encounter, I want to give the highlights of my experience playing the game. But let it be known that the prompts for writing happen not too often, so this isn’t a heavy journaling game. It has just enough to keep you writing but not so much that you feel like you are behind on an assignment that keeps you from continuing playing the game-y bits of The Trespasser.
The Trespasser is a light weight experience that held me for the entirety of play. But I have made that clear already in this post, so let me recap the main reasons I would recommend this game as well as what it has taught me as a game designer by reading and playing it. THIS IS WHAT I LIKE!
Spacing out the result lists for encounters, roll results, and writing prompts had me turning pages after rolling the dice leaving me wondering what the result that I got was. Having only a few prompts for writing/journaling, and all of them being at the minimum demanding a word or three in response left it up to me (the player) how much journaling I was comfortable with. It didn’t brow beat me for changing between writing a long paragraph or writing a couple words. This is good design! It means the game can form around my ability to play it. It meant that I felt like the gears didn’t grind even once but flowed effortlessly.
As someone who likes the game-y parts of journaling games and even little microgames, I think the trespasser shows the importance of balance between mechanics. There was just enough that I had to do that I felt like I was in control and knew what I had to do to keep playing. I didn’t once feel like I had to have an overview of play, or a numbered to-do list that I needed to reference in order to find out what to do next. With the document being short and the conceit of the game being focused on leaving the forest it was important for my immersion that flipping through the book enhanced my engagement instead of being apart of becoming re-engaged. It enhanced my engagement because I was only flipping pages when I knew something special or different was happenning. An example (not related to this game) is it is more fun for me to look for the spells result/effects table to figure out what my spell did, than to look for the list of steps for casting the spell itself. One is rewarding to find, the other feels more like a failure on my part for not remembering what to do.
The prompts are good and tinge weird, then as you cascade towards Nightfall become even stranger. Like reality-bending stranger. I appreciate this! I struggle for the balance of having light weirdness, because I always go immediately towards the weirdest metal cover imagery I can think of. But if it is all metal cover art, then does it feel like it is metal cover art when you get there? If everything is? The Trespasser does what I struggle to do, it has it being slightly weird while you walk and then becomes increasingly weirder when nightfall comes. It slaps me across the face and it actually stings because it doesn’t happen every time I roll the dice.
The game itself is pretty and moody inside, but these are my three biggest takeaways about how this game succeeds in design. Congratulations to the people who made this, you have influenced me and how I think about the importance of specific page-turning in a game.
If I could ask for more…
I only have a few things that I would want to see if this game was either expanded upon, or revised to make a new edition of it. None of them are necessary, but they could enhance second and fifth playthroughs.
With how the game plays, I made as straight of a shot to the exit of the map as I could. Having potentially something that I could want or desire to find before leaving the woods could make it so that I do more of a spiral or wander around the grid.
I wasn’t certain of how many mushrooms I could eat when I stumbled upon a circle of them in a tile? It felt like I could only take one, but I am unsure if this is true or not. It may be in the rules and I missed it though, so disregard this comment if I am wrong when you play the game.
As a quick note, because I was having some mixed feelings about including things that I would like to see if a game is revisited or re-released. The points that I make are not deal breakers, or detractions from the experience, they are just something that feels like it would be neat to see. These are not me trying to change the game, but just spouting out things “that would also be cool”. Kind of like whenever Vader comes up in a Star Wars movie, having him do more things is always cool. Is it necessary, no! Would it make me sad if it didn’t change? NO! ITS ALREADY GOOD! Would I turn down more cool Vader force stuff though? No!
I hope that makes sense, I felt like I needed to add this with how I felt writing this section.
If you are looking for a short game to play by yourself that is horror-themed then I would strongly recommend checking out The Trespasser. It doesn’t take long to read, and it doesn’t take long to play.
The rules for playing the game and the actual digital PDF of the game work together to deliver an experience that I will remember. It is probably because of my unlucky first dice roll, but that is definitely not the only reason. The game can be purchased on itch.io for $5.00, so if you like what I have said here, or you are looking for a solo excursion that has creepy folk horror forest vibes then please buy this game and check it out.
I want to see them continue to make stuff, and as a designer myself, I know that the best way to encourage this is by buying their stuff.
I don’t normally write reviews for games, but I think this is as close as it will get on here. In a game review I want to describe what I find most interesting and clever, as well as describe what I would use the game for. When I say that I would use a game for X or play it because of X, that is because it fits that nook and cranny for me. There won’t be a number rating, or stars, or be about me talking about what I don’t like. If there is something entirely objectionable, it won’t be made into a blog post. If it is just the type of content that I would warn about, then I will include a content warning section in my post.
I will try to use this methodology going forward for TTRPG (tabletop role-playing game) reviews. Now onto the game…
What is Shortsword?
Shortsword is a rules light rpg system written by Giuliano Roverato that is “inspired by grim TTRPGs of old.” I don’t know what this means or what this is referencing, but it is what is described on the product page. It currently is for sale for $1.00 (the recommended price is $4.99). I think that this game should be sold at the recommended price, but that is because I really like it and would want more. The game is 12 pages (it was exported as spreads, so that is actually 7 pages of PDF), and it really is rules-light as it only took me a few minutes to read and then make a character. I think that you could run most pre-written scenarios for fantasy games easily with no conversion necessary due to the way the rules are written (I will explain more in the highlights section).
In this game you play as adventurer’s looking “to do odd jobs in hope of gaining some Ceramic.” It is really easy to roll up a random character (3 dice rolls) and each character rolled is very evocative due to the game designer’s efficient use of language.
For example, here is the character I made:
Polo Origin: Ogre (spiky + big) Vocation: Disgraced Noble (spellbook, and bottle of champagne) Skills: Cat Whispering
Each of those three stats has a d6 table with entries of similar quality. What makes it efficient is that without using many words, I feel like I have a very unique and interesting character from then outset without having to write anything more than this to know how to play my character. Like, I can be interesting because I am a spiky ogre, I was a noble so I am aloof a bit and used magic for some reason. Finally, for some reason, I am really good at hearing and understanding what cats have to say. What does this mean? I don’t know, but it is a bunch of hooks and knobs and levers that I can pull while playing the game without knowledge of the world.
Which, since the worlds setting is in between the tables and lists in the rules, this is a good thing.
The GRIM WORLD
When I say that the setting for this game is between the lists, I mean what the lists infer about the world is enough for me to get a good idea of what it is like to live in the world of Shortsword. Since the game is a rules light throwback to grim setting TTRPGs, I know that this is a dark place with big hats and heavy coats.
I know from the origins list that Ogres, Automata (robots?), and Fishpersons exist in this world. And that being an adventurer in this place means you are without ceramic (money) and could be a Mime, Rat-catcher, or a Tuna Fisherman.
What the game doesn’t have is a setting brief, or a paragraph about the world. But it doesn’t need it, that is what character creations lists and the games rules are for.
I like everything that is here, and I think adding a setting paragraph or a section describing a nebulous city or world is unnecessary with what is already here. Could it be useful for running a game? Probably! Especially if the lists are as tight and well-coordinated as what is already inside. But, I think I could just come up with a grim world of my own fine enough without it.
That is the skinny of the game. You may be asking me (Thomas) “what are the game rules??” and I would say. The game is super short and I don’t want to post the whole game that someone worked on and put up for sale in a blog post. My job here, or what I am doing, is describing what I like. Which takes me to the game mechanic-y bits that I like:
The game uses d6 for resolving actions (Tests). Rolling an additional d6 for how well suited your character is to the task. What makes this RAD, is that the same rolls are made in combat as when just doing something. Yeah that is a tight core mechanic, but what makes it genius to me is that the lowest die rolled when acting is how much damage the player’s character takes if they fail.
Because damage is not tied to creatures, and abilities are fiction first (mechanics are flavor, so a dragon breathing fire demands the player roll to avoid, damage is tied to failure etc) this means that all I need to do when converting antagonists/monsters is pick how many wounds they can take before dying. Which the game has a guide for (it’s between 3 and 9). This is why Shortsword would work really well for playing most adventure scenarios written for other systems.
Normally, something that can take a little bit of word count and paper space to describe is initiative and turn order and etc etc. The other golden standout for me is this one line of text in the Combat section: “When it’s important to know who goes first, whoever has the least Armor begins.” That is excellent no-nonsense decision making that I appreciate in rules-light games.
All of the lists in the game. They are all excellent.
Those are the things I would carry forward and learn from this game. I want to write lists as good as these that just fit together like a puzzle. I also envy the cleverness in the damage rules, it just makes this game easier to pick up and run with a prewritten scenario.
If I had more…
This was going to come no matter what. Whenever I look at a game, I always think of what I would want more of. What would I want to see added to flesh out the rules a little more. Based on what I read, I actually only have two things that I would want to see from a revision of what is there (and both are purely selfish desires).
I want a d6 list of Spells for the game. As is it was the only thing that I wanted more of as every other list was tight and succinct. I could grab a spell list from another game or just make up magic as I go, but I kind of wish there was a list of spells as short and evocative as there was for skills, origins, and vocations.
The PDF for the game is in spreads, which means that I can’t print the game as a booklet. If I had a version of the game which has 1 page per PDF page instead of spreads for layout then I could booklet print this game.
That is all I would change or ask for. Both aren’t big things, and with how short the games text is, if I really wanted to I could just come up with my own d6 table of spells and just cut the print outs and scan the pages to assemble a booklet version.
I said before that I don’t want to give stars or thumbs or ratings. If I am reviewing something it is because I find it interesting and worth checking out. That said…
I think this rules light system is EXCELLENT and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a quick to pick up system for playing fantasy rpgs. It is especially good for if you have a system-less or system neutral scenario that you want to run, but that you don’t want to create stat blocks for.