Catalyst is a role-playing game set in an alternate-present in which demons have invaded, bringing with them war, plague, and magic. Players assume the identities of a select few survivors, vying for their lives amidst the world’s ruins as their game master’s tale unfolds. Here, we will follow Karmen, a young and rebellious woman, as we showcase what makes Catalyst special.
The world as we knew it is destroyed. Between sickness and sword, less than one percent of humanity remains to oppose the demons. Whatever. No one was living before this anyway; most of us were just drifting from paycheck to paycheck. Now I can be free; free to make art, free to love who I want, free to exist where I choose. Hell, now I can drink on the street without getting hassled.
Almost. Those demons are out there, lurking. We lost them when we entered Seattle. Maybe they know there are still enough souls here to kill a couple scouts. I lead my group to my old church. St. James Cathedral was a place of torture for me as kid, getting dragged to those dull sermons by my step-mom every week. It’s cathartic to burn the pews for warmth.
The contemporary setting lets players explore familiar places in the war-torn alternative to their town. Fantasy worlds can only garner so much sympathy; people would rather save their favorite bar than the elf forest. Familiarity draws people new to role-playing games into the genre. Our producer wrote a heartfelt post about being introduced to RPGs through Catalyst on our CPG blog.
The demons’ beast sniffed us out while Johnny and I were looking for food. Of course, the thing had no chance; Johnny might be an insufferable, egotistical jerk, but he’s hands-down the best fighter in our group. Before I could even aim my pistol, he used his force magic to throw the creature into a truck. As it struggled to regain footing, Johnny did a little showy spin and he drew his shotgun against the hellhound’s head. Buckshot and brain splashed against the truck’s door and his face maintained that cocky smirk the whole time.
In Catalyst, a character starts by defining their pre-demon life: the professions, attitudes, and passions that made them who they were. With this base, players are given free rein to customize their characters thanks to a class-less leveling system. You can be a former spy with skills in illusion magic and persuasion, a spoiled frat-boy turned unscrupulous mercenary with mind-control magic and unnerving dagger proficiency, or an ex pro-wrestler who teaches demons respect by beating them with folding chairs. Our design blog lays out the exact steps for making a character in the Catalyst universe.
Sure, the demons completely overwhelmed us at first. They had the surprise advantage. But now we have their magic. Now it’s a matter of being smarter than them. If we outsmart them in every fight, we’ll win this war. Johnny rushed ahead to the demon raiders. I’m convinced he can’t aim that shotgun; he just shoves it against the bad guys and pulls the trigger. Regardless, with Johnny ahead, Tucker and I could find cover and open fire on the demons. I could think. Breathe and know enemy and ally alike. I took a gamble and let my magic flow through my veins. I readied a spike spell to shut down the enemy sanguimancer. My guess was correct: he tried to fry Johnny’s nerves as the kid narrowly dodged the other demon’s axe. Tucker unloaded his SMG into the axe-wielder’s side, exposed as he swatted towards our acrobatic companion.
Catalyst keeps combat tense by having everyone in battle select their action simultaneously. All players place an action card face down, then reveal their actions simultaneously when the entire party has played their card. Your action is locked for that turn;the fastest character resolves their action first. As demonstrated in Karmen’s fight, there is a counter system built into Catalyst cards. Attacking, defending, moving, spell casting, and other actions having pros and cons to weigh when committing. Every player will be nervously awaiting the fate befalling their character and fretting over their allies’ decisions. Our design blog goes into more detail regarding the card mechanic.
Communication is a pain ever since the cell towers lost power. Lucky for us, Tucker figured out how to splice in some magical crap to some old headsets and give us a little team radio system. In the first couple days of the invasion, we learned to miss all the conveniences technology gave us. It’s nice to get one back every now and again.
In addition to the manual to define lore and mechanics and the action cards to assist in game play, Catalyst also includes mobile apps to help facilitate stat tracking and battle. The player app lets players create and store characters and replaces physical cards during combat. The game master app helps manage multiple characters, NPC templates, and facilitate combat encounters by tracking any orderings or variables during fights. Both apps are entirely optional, but will be helpful tools to both new and experienced role players. Currently, we are targeting Android and iOS.
Work on Catalyst started in 2011. Over the last three years, we have developed and refined the game’s mechanics and lore through weekly playtests. Your backing lets us bring this experience to the public. The funds will go primarily towards publishing costs and artist fees. In the interest of transparency, here is a detailed breakdown of how your backer funds will be spent.
Digital Copy of Catalyst (Every Tier) – A PDF file of Catalyst’s gameplay manual. This includes digital versions of the cards and all supplementary reference material.
Kickstarter-Exclusive Campaigns (Every Tier) – To help introduce players to the Catalyst universe, we will provide digital versions of two campaigns. These guides will lead a game master through a particular scenario, giving them a storyline player will follow, non-players characters to flesh out the world, and any other notes or maps to enrich the Catalyst experience.
Physical Copy of Catalyst (Survivor Tier and Up) – The Catalyst manual will be published as a soft-cover, perfect-bound book with a full-color cover. A deck of action cards (approximately 150) will be bundled with it.
T-Shirt (Conscript Tier and Up) – A t-shirt designed by Catalyst’s artist. Backers will be given the choice between a minimalistic logo design or a flashier demon-inspired design.
Custom Dice (Hustler Tier and Up) – A set of dice fitting the game’s aesthetic: a crimson, veiny pattern representing the magic flowing through them. Backers will receive 1d4, 6d6, 2d8, 2d10, 1d12, and 1d20.
Portrait in the Manual’s Artwork (Mercenary Captain Tier and Humanity’s Savior only) – Backing at these tiers will add your Catalyst persona (your likeness or otherwise) to the game’s manual. Our artist will hold a brief session with you discussing which traits to highlighting the illustration, what magic or weapons you are wielding, and any other action notes or special requests to consider.
Leather-bound Manual (Scribe Tier and Up) – We will upgrade your soft-cover manual to a hard-cover manual and wrap it in a custom leather binding produced by a Seattle-area leather worker.
Small Custom Campaign (Demon Hunter and Humanity’s Savior Tiers) – Backers at these levels will get a custom campaign, similar in format to the Kickstarter-exclusive campaigns. Our writer will have a brief session with you discussing what kind of tone, setting, and characters you would like in your campaign. Small campaigns are designed to last three to five sessions.
City-Based Custom Campaign (Master Demon Hunter and Humanity’s Savior Tiers) – These campaigns will be grander experiences for players and game masters than the other campaigns, lasting anywhere between ten and twenty sessions. We will set the story in the city of your choice. Our writer will discuss with you the landmarks to be featured, prominent citizens surviving the apocalypse, and any other touches to deeply personalize your gaming group’s Catalyst experience.
Party Time (Humanity’s Savior Tier) – When we’re ready to send Catalyst out the door, there’s going to a big party in Seattle. You should join us. Backers at this high tier will also be welcomes into pre-release playtests, design discussions, and any other special events we host.
If you're backing from outside of Washington, please add $5 for shipping.
If you're backing from outside of the United States, please add $10 for shipping.
$11,000 (HIT!): Physical Copies of Campaigns - We will upgrade the premade campaigns given to backers from digital-only to physical, printed copies. This will apply to everyone backing at the Survivor tier and above.
$12,500: App Developer - With a bit of extra funding, we can hire an app developer to assist with the Player and GM mobile apps. They would ensure a robust experience with additional utilities out of the current scope, such as cross-app integration and character sharing.
$15,000: Battle App - In addition to our player and game master apps, we will implement a tablet app to help facilitate combat. Users will design battlefields in which their Catalyst wars will wage. The app will have movement, turn ordering, and range logic built in.
$17,500: Additional Backer Campaign - Three premade campaigns will be included with every reward tier, instead of two. This will be a unique storyline and different experience for your players to embark upon.
$20,000: Large-Scale Combat Module (Rules) - Catalyst lore discusses grand battles between the demon and human forces. We will design a strategic war-game set in the Catalyst universe using similar mechanics to allow such epic encounters. This will use similar card-based mechanics to streamline the war-game experience. Rules will be provided as a PDF sent to all backers and as a physical rulebook to backers at the Survivor tier and up.
$22,500: Large-Scale Combat Module (Battles) - Expanding upon the previous stretch goal, pre-made scenarios will be designed for wars between demons and humanity. These will feature cities and locations based upon where our backers hail from. Like the war-game rules, we will provide digital and physical copies appropriately.
$25,000: Large-Scale Combat Module (Board Game) - Should we hit this goal, the Catalyst war-game will be transformed into a full-fledged board game, with cardboard unit pieces and maps. The stand-alone board game will be extra add-on once the Kickstarter concludes. Backers at the Demon Hunter tier and above will receive this as part of their rewards.
*Note: Stretch goals will likely be delivered after the promised delivery date of May 2015 for Catalyst-proper.
Cherry Picked Games is a plucky new company dedicated to bringing you only the finest games. Catalyst is our first product, but we already have plans for our next tabletop experience. Your contributions afford us the opportunity to prolong the current golden age of tabletop gaming. As of now, Catalyst is being created by the hard work and dedication of these people:
Alexander Jerabek (Designer) – Having worked on Catalyst in his spare time for over three years, Alexander quit all of his jobs and founded Cherry Picked Games to bring this game to the public. He handles most of the writing, design, and playtests. Most of his time is spent around board games, but he can also be found cooking and performing improv comedy.
Allison Smith (Producer/Editor) – Part-time writer, editor, and photographer, fulltime traveler. Allison spent a year wandering the globe and ended the trotting with a longer-than-planned stopover in Seattle, where she joined the Cherry Picked Games team. She’s interested in spending her time working on good projects from smart folks, valiantly losing Catan, and scouting attractive selfie lighting. She writes sporadically and publicly here.
Bennett Durfee (Artist) – Illustrator, animator, hand model. Bennett works as a freelancer in Seattle helping to create visual identities for fledgling startup projects and small businesses. Rarely emerging from the studio to seek sources of caffeine and bacon, Bennett works tirelessly to improve his creative skill set. Evidence of which can be found here.
Sean Munday (Web Design/App Development) – Born and raised in the Mariana Trench, Sean grew up with gills after a long and incomplete study in standards and measurements. Years later he can be found drinking coffee and eating pie. The best unpaid intern allowed to write his own bio ever.
Risks and challenges
Let’s quickly lay out the post-Kickstarter process, then we can show where the risks lie.
The core of the game is complete; it is not only playable, but a unique tabletop experience. Going forward with Kickstarter funding allows us to dedicate more time to the project to finish art assets, mobile apps, and Kickstarter-exclusive campaigns. After those are done, we can self-publish the manual and cards, print backer-rewards like t-shirts and posters, and ship it all to you.
The members of CPG have years of experience in illustration and software development, so we expect our time estimates to be accurate. We’ve done the research on all our purveyors and found them to be reliable. Should an issue arise, we have backups and contingency plans for publishing services, but that may cause a slight delay getting the product to you.
All this said, if a production hiccup occurs due to unforeseen consequences, we will be 100 percent open and communicate updated timeframes to our backers.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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