5 ZineQuest games that would make great actual plays

Surprisingly, games that know what kind of story they want to tell, end up telling good stories

5 ZineQuest games that would make great actual plays
Credit: Cory Vincent

With the season of ZineQuest coming to a close, hundreds—if not thousands— of new TTRPG projects are preparing to emerge into the world. A number of the projects have actual plays as part of their crowdfunding model, using the medium as a way to provide a glimpse into the experience they’re trying to curate. 

Not every game is made with the intention of being turned into an actual play, but it’s inarguable that recorded (and, gasp, even edited) stories told through the playing of these games has expanded the reach of indie games to a new audience. Once the game is out in the world though, an actual play using the system branches out from merely marketing strategy to transformative art. Having the shared language of Dungeons & Dragons remains a major reason why so many actual play shows default to using the system, but other games are better equipped to tell certain stories (namely, any story that isn’t high fantasy). 

What lends a new indie game to being a good actual play? More than anything else, a clear and coherent theme. Everything else can be flexible: mechanics can be crunchy or rules-light, settings can be fleshed out or left for the players to create, stories can be told in a campaign or a single session, a facilitator can be present or not; even solo games make for great one-person shows. A game in which every element is compounding into a single unified theme gives the players and performers a foundation to build on, a framework of tropes, archetypes, and narrative traditions to engage with and—in the case of many actual plays—subvert. 

I’ve made a (non-exhaustive) list of ZineQuest projects I think do this incredibly well, and would lend themselves well to being an actual play…

…or already have.

Disclaimer: I tried to get a variety of games here. I am only human and was not able to sift through all 1,490 projects listed on Kickstarter alone. If I’ve left out your favorite ZineQuest submission, know that it was actually a personal insult to you. Yes, you. You should post this article on social media about how ridiculous it was that I left out X game, with a recommendation of what zine you think should be made into an actual play. And then you should make that actual play. Do it, I dare you.

Credit: City of Mist

Legend in the Mist 

Starting off with the most traditional genre of actual play (don’t worry, it’ll get weirder), Son of Oak’s new sword and sorcery fantasy game feels primed  for telling character-focused fantasy stories. According to its Kickstarter page, the mechanics of Legend in the Mist “focus on bringing story and gameplay together.” The streamlined conflict resolution mechanic of rolling 2d6 is modified not by a complex series of base stats, but a fluctuating series of “tags” which focus on narrative description, environmental factors, and character motivation. 

This balance of story and mechanic carries over into combat, which is a source of friction for many actual plays, often slowing down narrative pacing. Tactical combat can be “quick” or “tracked,” depending on the GM’s preference and what the narrative moment calls for, a flexibility that only comes through fudging rolls in some other popular systems used in AP.  Legend in the Mist centers character agency, with transformative narrative arcs encouraged by constantly shifting themes or motivations to reflect the emergent storytelling that is often restricted by more rigid class distinctions in other systems.