Nahual: A Tabletop RPG of Mexican Urban Fantasy
Nahual is a tabletop roleplaying game of Mexican urban fantasy. In Nahual you play as shapeshifting nahuales that hunt angels to make a living. You run a changarro—a business—together and sell the angels you hunt as different types of products. Caught in the middle of an ancient feud, you struggle to find your place in a world of fantastical and overwhelming forces.
Nahual builds upon the Powered by the Apocalypse system used in Apocalypse World, Urban Shadows, Dungeon World and more. When your character’s actions trigger a move, the move tells you what happens in the fiction or you roll two six-sided dice to find out. Moves are designed to push the fiction forward, building tension and taking the story in unknown and exciting directions.
Nahual is set in the universe created by Mexican comic book artist Edgar Clément, first presented in the graphic novel Operación Bolivar—which you can find here in Spanish—and expanded in titles like Kerubim, Los Perros Salvajes (I & II) and other short stories. Nahual is yet another addition to that ever-growing universe, using elements from the comics and creating new ideas that add to this amazing setting.
"When our Spanish ancestors first arrived to this continent they were not alone, with them came their gods and their armies of angels. For our indigenous ancestors, these angels were not the incense vendors of the present day; they were emissaries of destruction. Between the sword of Cortés and the sword of St. Michael, the Archangel, there was no difference, and neither made a clean cut to the roots. The brujos resisted. Nahuales, the most powerful shamans, took on the task of fighting the invading angels."
—Edgar Clément. Operación Bolivar.
In Nahual, players are angel hunters, descended from the powerful brujos nahuales. They have special gifts that enable them to contend with gods and angels, but their cultural memory has been taken from them—they no longer possess the shamanic traditions to unleash these wonders to their full potential. Many struggle for survival, others look for answers, but all agree on one thing: a nahual lives to hunt down angels.
The game setting is a Mexico filled with fantasy and sci-fi elements, mixed with a maelstrom of violence, inequality, corruption, folklore and fiesta. In this mess, angels prowl the cities, looking for souls to feed upon. Restless humans pray to God and his angels; where there are people hungry for hope and faith, angels thrive.
And yet...there are angeleros—angel hunters. They have the power to fight back, to get rid of the celestial parasites, to free the people. But these are not times for idealism. What is it to be gained by revolution? It is kill or be killed in the concrete jungle. All you can do is look out for yourself and your closest allies, to try to make a living in the face of poverty, decay, and death. And so they hunt.
Of course, everyone wants a piece of heaven, a fragment of the magical flesh of celestial beings. The drug dealers are interested in the "angel dust" made by grinding their bones into an addictive and potent drug. The Church uses the angels as circus animals to lure in worshipers. The corporations are finally beginning to realize the business potential of these creatures, for experimentation and synthetic replication. The politicians… well, they like to get their hands in everything, as long as there is a profit to be made. Con dinero baila el perro.
The nahuales are caught in the middle of all this. They are the drivers of the angel trade. The laborers. And the cheaper the labor the better the profits. The only thing they can do is fill their role and struggle to survive these shark-infested waters in which everyone wants a bite. Freedom? Revolution? There is no time for such nonsense, is there?
Nahual is a tabletop roleplaying game for 3-5 players that takes about 3-4 hours to play. The game is Powered by the Apocalypse, revolving around moves and their triggers. As you play and follow the fiction of the story, you look for when your character’s actions hit the trigger of a move—like when you assail someone, sneak around, or make a fuss. Sometimes these moves ask you to roll two six-sided dice (2d6) and add the corresponding stat:
- If your result is 10 or more, that means it’s a full hit. You succeed at what you were trying to do, no strings attached—most of the time at least.
- If you get a result between 7 and 9, it's a partial hit. You succeed at what you intended to do but with a cost, complication or ugly choice.
- If you get a 6 or lower, that’s a miss. A miss doesn’t necessarily mean you failed at what you were doing, but instead the game master (the Marakame) says what happens. And yeah, you probably won’t like it.
In Nahual, each angel hunter character has their own playbook—a sort of character sheet and template that contains all the necessary rules for creating and playing your character. Each playbook is defined by a different totem animal, a manifestation of the character’s inner nahual power and a metaphor for the character’s personality.
There are 5 playbooks in the base game of Nahual, but we might be able to add more through stretch goals. The basic set includes:
The angel hunters are known as angeleros. In present day, the people that inherited the gift to see and touch the angels don’t know what to do of it. Some don’t even have an awakened nahual. All the shamanic traditions and philosophies they need were brutally snatched away by the angels and their allies centuries ago.
Now all the angeleros can think of is survival. And what they see in their old enemies, the angels, is a rare commodity that fetches a decent price. So they hunt them, butcher them, and sell them to the highest bidder. It's ugly, brutal, dangerous work, but most angeleros are in the business because they know nothing else. It’s a trade passed through family or friendship, the kind of work that keeps you alive while it kills you by the day.
This trade has three main pillars: La Cacería, the hunting and killing of the angels; La Tablajería, the skinning and butchering of the angel; and El Expendio, the retail sales, which varies considerably depending on the type of the changarro you run.
In Nahual, player characters work together through a business they own—an establishment known as El Changarro, the place where they sell the angels they hunt, in different ways, depending on the type of business:
- Taquería: Your changarro operates as a taco joint; you mainly sell angel meat cooked and served as tacos.
- Carnicería: Your changarro operates as a butcher shop; you mainly sell the angel meat raw for others to cook.
- Cantina: Your changarro is a traditional Mexican bar where you mainly sell chínguere—a spirit drink distilled from angel blood—and maybe also polvo de ángel, a drug made of ground angel bones.
Changarros are usually simple and humble establishments, a taco joint or a local cantina. Most of the clientele are ordinary people looking for food and drink with invigorating properties. For those who live in the harsh conditions of the barrios, eating angel meat and drinking angel blood is a blessing that keeps them afloat, to fight another day.
We all have our nahual: it is the innermost part of the unconscious mind, the wildest part in each of us. But your nahual is also part of something bigger, something infinite. The Nahual is the energy that permeates and connects the Cosmos. It is everything that surpasses our comprehension.
Trying to fully understand and control the power of the Nahual is practically impossible. To ease this endeavor, you must use a totemic animal that serves as an anchor to channel and shape the energy of the Nahual. Your animal is a learning tool that allows you to condense and focus that power which otherwise would consume you. Think of it as a dam holding back a torrent of energy that lets you access that flood little by little, depending on how confidently you can open the gates.
To be able to use the power of the Nahual, you first need to transform into your totemic animal. There are six different levels of transformation, known as the Stages of Nahuality.
- Novato: at this stage the change is barely visible, but you’re able to do things like see perfectly in the dark, climb with uncanny skill, or expand your olfactory sense or hearing.
- Aprendiz: your body starts to show some change; your back is hunched over and you move more like an animal. You can now take on a group of soldiers on your own, make an impossible jump, or make yourself invisible to normal eyes.
- Brujo: you are now in a hybrid stage, with prominent animal features showing. Your power level lets you take on a small army, leap a tall building in a single bound, or phase through a solid wall.
- Nahual: you are now a fully transformed animal. You can rip a car apart with your bare paws, cover a few miles of distance with a single jump, or take on an elite angel or powerful demon.
- Kibal: you can now transform into multiple animals or even mix different ones into a chimeric form. You are now the stuff of legends and can face powerful archangels or ignore the laws of physics.
- Postome: you’re beyond mortal comprehension. You have now acquired godlike power. Upon reaching this stage, you retire your character.
Nahual shines in long-term play, as players engage in the day-to-day hardships of their changarro: managing the business, hunting for angels to restock their shelves, and dealing with competitors or other factions that try to get the best of the pack. In addition to that, each character’s advancement is centered around the power of their nahual and their transformation, expanding and growing over time.
Killing angels and dabbling with the Nahual is ugly business. It takes its toll, represented in play as traumas. At the beginning of play, characters choose one trauma; as the game progresses and they make use of the power of the Nahual, their humanity will erode, and they will take more and more traumas.
Traumas are presented as triggers that give XP to the character if they take certain dangerous and self-destructive actions. Therefore, as characters accumulate XP, they’ll be able to advance their control of the stages of transformation, which in turn may result in more traumas unlocked. This system traps characters in a dangerous spiral: as their power grows, their very humanity is eroded.
The Nahual Corebook will be a 6” x 9” book (approx. 200+ pages), with black and white interiors, featuring the amazing art of Edgar Clement, and a full color cover. The book will come in both soft- and hardcover editions.
The game will be available both in ENGLISH and SPANISH. From the get-go I have been working on Nahual in both languages. At first writing in Spanish, then translating to English, but later I sometimes did it the other way around. In the end, it has been a very organic process in relation to language. For some of the things I’ve written directly in English, Ileana will help me translate into Spanish, and sometimes Mark will proof my English when I translate things from Spanish to English.
At the end of the campaign, if we are funded, you’ll be able to pick which edition you want through your Backerkit survey. If you want both, you can choose one language on the survey and then ask for the other language as an add-on.
Nahual is a Mexican project and will be developed both in ENGLISH and SPANISH: if funded, you will be able to choose your version through your Backerkit survey.
We will be shipping Nahual anywhere in the world! Thanks to our international fulfillment partners, backers in the EU, CA, and AU won't pay any customs or VAT on any of their shipments.
The costs for shipping each tier are included in the pledge levels. When you select your pledge, Kickstarter will tell you how much additional funding you'll need to add based on your location.
Interview with Richard Rogers on +1 FORWARD, a podcast Powered by the Apocalypse. [LISTEN HERE].
Interview on Story Always by Hijos del Rol (In Spanish), follow him on Twitter @HijosDelRol
Playtesting sessions with the wonderful Gauntlet community. If you want to know more about the Gauntlet community visit www.gauntlet-rpg.com
Adam Koebel (@SkinnyGhost) getting excited about Nahual in Office Hours, Episode 58: "The idea of a game set in modern Mexico, with fantasy, sci-fi, angel hunting, and brujos... it gets me in a place where I'm excited to see more." Check here the video:
"Nahual is the most exciting take on the Apocalypse Engine in a while. It’s intense, evocative, and efficient: every move in the game needs to be there. The characters feel vivid and unique; I couldn’t have made my Nahual character in any other game system. Its setting and mythology are darts aimed at colonialism’s heart. Playing Nahual made me feel proud to be Hispanic, and both excited and terrified to tear some angels apart."
—James Mendez Hodes
"This game is not only well-designed and compelling but incredibly necessary, and I cannot recommend it more highly. I had an opportunity to playtest Nahual at Metatopia 2017. Miguel's multiple, interlocking PbtA economies immediately immersed me and my fellow players in the world of the nahuales, and as we played it revealed its brilliant and subversive anti-colonial themes."
—Eric Mersmann (@presenteric)
"Miguel’s many talents collide to bring us this beautiful game of passion, violence, and fun! Nahual is a rare opportunity for players to put on their own mask and step into the world of Edgar Clement, to protect their community from the invasion of soul-eating angels, and feast on the spoils. Moreover, I am excited to run a game that is so accessible to my English and Spanish speaking friends alike!"
"Miguel’s game is a heady mixture of mysticism, mystery, blood, history, violence, and community that fully presents the meat and heart of Edgar’s amazing graphic novels and lets you shape them as your own. It’s been a pleasure having late night discussions about it with Mike and an even greater one to play the game with him at Metatopia last year. Nahual isn’t something you’ve tried before; drink deeply, but, be warned, it will change you."
—Kevin Petker, creator of The Ward
"Nahual is an exciting action RPG that mixes monster hunting with the aftermath of colonialism in fascinating ways. At first, the idea of a game about hunting and killing angels for a living had me a bit worried, but when I found out those angels are the remnants of the oppressive Spanish conquistadores, the whole game went next level. That, combined with a living and breathing barrio where those angels’ body parts are part of a black market economy; along with mechanics for keeping your pack together; and the choice of animal playbooks and powers—it’s a rollicking good time where your angelerros are characters you care about, not just when you tear an angel apart, but when they deal with their pack, their changarro, and their barrio."
"One of the most fun and interesting concept games I have ever played! It was completely transportive. From the moment we built the characters I was hooked! Can't wait to play that game again."
Risks and challenges
Although this is our first Kickstarter, we have the experience from working with important companies in the industry, like Magpie Games, John Wick Presents, Nocturnal Media, among others. We are experts in layout and we’ve helped deliver Kickstarter projects like Talislanta: The Savage Land and Bluebeard’s Bride. We’ve been getting feedback from great designers, and that’s given us a good grasp on how to do game design and a clear path ahead of us. We’re also hiring the services of experts in the industry to help us fulfill shipping of all the products.
The largest problem we may encounter is delays. Even though most of the art is already done by the artist Edgar Clement, there’s more pieces to be commissioned, depending entirely on how many stretchgoals we unlock. There’s also more playstesting to be done—although the core engine has been worked and written entirely, we want to bring to you the best version of the game we can possibly achieve. For that, we want to make sure everything works smoothly by doing further playtest, with the help of all of you. Added to all these, we’re working on two languages (English and Spanish), nonetheless we'll keep backers informed at all times about what's happening with the project.
- (26 days)