About this project
Katanas & Trenchcoats is a retromodern tabletop roleplaying game that drinks in the spirit of '90s gothic media and games. It’s a game about sword-wielding immortals fighting amongst themselves and against vampires, werebeasts, ghosts, technomages, hunters, and more! More importantly, it’s a game about that struggle played out in the style of a supernatural drama TV show.
What does “retromodern” mean? A game system that—on the surface—has some familiarity of popular ‘90s RPGs (“retro”) mixed with modern story gaming sensibilities (“modern”). At its core is a sleek, narrative d10 dice pool system, but always keeps in mind that the point of the game is to foster moments of overwrought drama.
One year ago, a small version of this game was released, entitled Katanas & Trenchcoats, Episode 1: Welcome to Darkest Vancouver. After seeing so many people love that, I want to remaster it into a full-size book for you that’s even more fun to read and amazing to play.
Check out Updates #1 – 15 for game previews!
The setting of Katanas & Trenchcoats is The Darkest Cosmos, a supernatural stewpot of badness that itself has an agenda that’s never known but always felt. In the center is Earth, most notably the city of Darkest Vancouver—a nexus of ley lines and other mystical energies, and center stage for countless power struggles. Darkest Vancouver holds equal opportunities for scenes of dripping pathos and of sparking katanas.
Beyond that are many different realms: lands of the dead, homes of the fey, Heaven and Hell, pocket dimensions filled with the fantastic, and that's just for starters. Some characters are from those places. Others have timeshare palaces there. And still others like to steal cool junk from said timeshares.
And further beyond that? Pouring in from the edges of the Darkest Cosmos is an energy force called Apeiron: the very essence that imbues the world you and I live in with supernatural charm. Under the influence of Apeiron, immortals fight eternally, vampires ensorcel mortal minds, sorcerers create chaotic acts of magic, and car wizards perform miracles behind the wheel. Apeiron is the power that everyone wants, but it’s also a super crazy dangerous power. (Imagine if Lucifer and a mountain of C-4 gave each other a special hug: that doesn’t approach the power of Apeiron.)
What does all that mean for your game? Your supernatural drama can play out across lots of places on Earth and beyond. The world itself is the characters' shady dealer that powers them up while simultaneously putting them into conflict. And there’s always further power available, if you’ll just indulge in a tad more mayhem, just one more time…
This is a genuine game! Though it was born two years ago from a joke that Steve Kenson and I shared on Twitter, the original Katanas & Trenchcoats was made in an earnest, celebratory light that’s a bit self-mocking, but definitely not with a mean, derisive spirit. This remastered edition seeks to share more of the love, and be accessible to more people—that way, if you’re a fan of the ‘90s meta-genre and this game, it’s easier to get your friends who don’t know either as well to try this with you.
But yeah, it's still a setting and system built upon a foundation of loving homage with a splash or two of parody.
For $15: Electronic Goodness. You get the PDF of the book along with any additional electronic media the campaign produces.
For $30: Physical Book. You get all the Electronic Goodness mentioned above and a physical copy of the book, in softcover.
For $45: Hardcover Physical Book. You get all the Electronic Goodness mentioned above and a physical copy of the book, in hardcover! All of the higher-end tiers are in hardcover. (If you want a hardcover and softcover book, add $30 to your pledge to the hardcover tier and message me about it.)
For $80: Name Woven into Lore. Your character is woven into the rumor and lore of the Darkest Cosmos, and is written about in the book or unlocked supplement. You also get the Electronic Goodness and the Hardcover Physical Book—signed by me and possibly other contributors. I’ll ask you for a character name and a couple of details to work in.
For $150: Visage Etched in Time. This includes Name Woven into Lore, and goes further—your character gets illustrated in the book or an unlocked supplement.
For $350: Illuminated Archon. Let's go beyond Name Woven into Lore and Visage Etched in Time. You become one of the heads of an immortal House (or vampire, werebeast, sorcerer, etc. equivalent). You also get to place a secret message in the book. I'll have your book signed by a lot of people, some of them random, perhaps with secret messages of their own. I'll include a normal book (in softcover) so you can keep your awesome book in a safe warded from angels and the fey-touched if you want. And once—just once—you can whisper a prearranged command word to me, and I'll take a knee and swear to you as my liege so long as I'm able.
Note: For the Name Woven into Lore, Visage Etched in Time, and Illuminated Archon tiers, I reserve the right to reject entries that have problems. But I’m super happy to work with you to make something we both see as awesome, and answer questions beforehand if you message me.
Regarding International Orders: I hate having to charge that much for shipping, but there's nothing that can be done about the increasing cost of shipping to individuals outside of the United States. The cost does not include any taxes or duties your country may require. If you want to mitigate the cost by ordering additional books in a single package, please message me. (That goes for domestic orders as well.)
Tim Rodriguez and I used BackerKit for Backstory Cards last year, and that saved helped us out considerably, so I'm going to use them for handling the post-campaign survey/order management.
For the electronic goodness, I'm using DriveThruRPG to fulfill rewards. (If for some reason that doesn't work for individual backers, contact me when I start sending out the survey and we can arrange something else.)
For physical mailing, I'm using US Media Mail for domestic shipping, and US First Class for international shipping. (Unless some other, better and cost-effect solution presents itself between now and when the books are ready for shipping.)
The base funding is enough to get the rest of the game content written, and all of it through a development and editing pass, along with art, layout, and a modest softcover print run. I've already put around $1500 of my own money (and a considerable amount of time) into the project, and I need your help to make the full game a reality.
The more money the project raises, the more resources I have to make this game and book awesome. But I'm not going to focus on funding-based stretch goals—I have a stranger plan that's outlined below…
The base game is about the Immortal condition, with enough content to dip your toes into the other flavors of '90s supernatural drama. Want to pack more into Katanas & Trenchcoats? Tweet photos, made videos, write fanfic! (Details on Update #4)
Current point total: Over 500!
- 100 points (DONE): Other locations on Earth beyond Darkest Vancouver.
- 125 points (DONE): Drama-focused advancement rules.
- 150 points (DONE): Extraterrestrial locations and characters, for those of you that like to play games off-world.
- 175 points (DONE): Detailed magic rules for sorcerers, technomages, and other mojo-slingers.
- 200 points (DONE): Deeper detail on the cosmology and metaphysics, for those of you that want to make chronicles about cosmic events.
- 225 points (DONE): Variant tarot deck rules, for maximum overwroughtness.
- 250 points (DONE): In-universe book of legends and mythology called Lore Immortel.
- 275 points (DONE): The Buffet—a full section of optional rules that tweak the mood and evocation, including a random table of optional rules to use in a given session if you like.
- 300 points (DONE): Really funky Fate version wherein Leonard Balsera and Ryan Macklin burn some of Fate's sacred cows to make a delicious and dark game sandwich.
- 325 points (DONE): Expanded writeup on Darkest Vancouver, which includes me actually visiting Vancouver to research its ley lines and occult architectures. (This could include a meetup this summer!)
- 350 points (DONE): LARP rules redux.
- 375 points (DONE): Map of Darkest Vancouver, with secrets the supernatural community knows.
- 400 points (DONE): The Metaplot—a series of linked adventure frames.
- 425 points (DONE): Mystical map of the Darkest Cosmos.
- 450 points (DONE): Designer's notes, going behind the scenes and explaining decisions made.
- 500 points (DONE): The base game system will be released separately under a Creative Commons Attribution license (after the bulk of the other awards are released).
Ryan Macklin—that’s me!—is the skull in charge of Dice & Whatever Studios. I’ve worked on tabletop RPGs over the last decade, including Fate Core System, the 2013/2014 Technocracy books for Mage: the Ascension, Leverage RPG/Cortex Plus Action, two years of Pathfinder, my own self-published Mythender, and a host of other publications. (Including last year’s Katanas & Trenchcoats, Episode 1: Welcome to Darkest Vancouver.)
Josh Roby is my cohort, my majordomo, my project psychopomp. You may recognize him from the Smallville roleplaying game, his excellent Rooksbridge chapbook series, and the projects we've worked on together (which I'm about to mention). Josh is here to aid me in moments when the myriad of tasks that befalls a creator-publisher pulls me in too many directions at once, when the project needs another pair of eyes, and when I need a voice of reason. He helped me shape Mythender, and I worked with him on his Vicious Crucible series and Void Vultures.
Along with me and Josh, I've got a few dozen excellent humans on board to create this book:
- Steve Kenson
- Eddy Webb
- Rose Bailey
- Ian A. A. Watson
- Adam Jury
- Lynne Hardy
- Emily K. Dresner
- Dave Chalker
- Cam Banks
- Leonard Balsera
- Ed Grabianowski
- Jennifer Brozek
- Clark Valentine
- F. Wesley Schneider
- Stew Wilson
- Carrie Harris
And those are just the vanguard of my horde! When it comes to the art, in addition to artists like Juan Ochoa and Liz Courts (featured in the video), I'm talking with other artists for pieces once the project is funded. Join us if you'd like to see art of the Darkest Cosmos by folks like Chandra Free and others to be announced!
Thanks for reading this, and I hope you’ll join me on the sojourn into the Darkest Cosmos!
Risks and challenges
The last year of Katanas & Trenchcoats has proved there’s interest in this sort of gaming, and I want to address that. A good chunk of the new version is designed and written, but not all of it is—that takes hiring more writers to create the cacophonous vision that fans and I enjoy. I’m doing this Kickstarter to have the funds to pay a good rate for writers, editors, and artists, then print the final book.
Which brings me to this being a book, not a book and a host of ancillary rewards. It's very tempting to add other physical rewards to this Kickstarter, but each reward brings with it a potential for surprise production costs and delays. So I'm keeping this (and thus myself) focused.
I’ve been planning this Kickstarter for the past three months. To mitigate issues that could come up, I’m working with people who understand the various pitfalls that can happen in the production process. That means using a printer that the layout designer is familiar with, having associates who can offer advice and assistance when any problems crop up, and so on. That means having another person I can hand problems to solve. All this is crucial because I also have a day job, so I can’t manage this project 24/7.
If you have questions about this project, please feel free to ask me!
Support this project
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