I don’t play many PC or video games, despite the somewhat silly amount of money I’ve spent on acquiring them and on making sure I can enjoy them in comfort. My solo gaming is divided between a small number of well-loved strategy games such as Ticket to Ride and Monster Prom that I play casually to while away low-energy afternoons and long role-playing games full of subplots, romance, choices, and level-up choices. I am a fiction writer, after all, and I thrive on narrative. It is among the latter that the small-release Japanese RPG I Am Setsuna claimed its niche in my life, and it is among the latter that it quite impressed me.
Tabletop roleplaying games are a site of boundless creativity. The fact that the processor that runs them is a series of human brains rather than a computer means that any given instance of a tabletop game can venture much farther from what its designers had in mind than a PC or console game is likely to support, but more than that, whole new games can form much more easily. In addition to venerable institutions like Dungeons and Dragons, Shadowrun, and Warhammer, with huge bodies of accumulated resources and long histories, numerous smaller games populate the less mobile shelves of gaming stores. These don’t often get their due, even with demonstrations and endorsements from the likes of Wil Wheaton.
There’s a tier below that, though, of roleplaying game rulesets released to the public without any hope of eventual profit. Some folks write entire new roleplaying games and turn them loose on the Internet for fun and notoriety, and these efforts are fascinating, unusual, and (importantly for us) don’t cost anything an RPG enthusiast hasn’t already paid. They represent monumental undertakings in conceptualizing, integrating, and devising game material, without even the glimmer of profit that might someday visit the games that do get formally published.
I’ve come across two of these in particular that are now freely available online, extraordinarily different in tone, scope, and intensity and worth every tabletop gamer’s time at least once: Pokémon Conquest and Actual Cannibal Shia LaBoeuf.