28/52 New RPGs: Witchburner

I’m on a study project to improve my understanding of roleplaying games. To this end, I already have two reading projects, A Game Per Year and An Adventure Per Year. This is the third, with the goal of reading or playing 52 games made in the last few years. Originally I considered making this “A New RPG Per Week” and that’s where the number 52 comes from, even though a weekly schedule is probably not within my abilities.

The cover of Witchburner

Witchburner is an OSR-style scenario designed by the Slovenian designer Luca Rejec. It’s premise is simple: the characters come to a town and the locals tell them that there must be a witch because of all the bad luck and strange happenings. They ask the characters to find the witch for a trial.

At the surface, Witchburner seems to belong to the genre of nihilistic OSR designs epitomized by Finland’s own Lamentations of the Flame Princess. However, once read through, a more humanist picture emerges, even if it’s a sad one. However, since there are spoilers that seriously impact the adventure, I won’t go into detail here.

This is most of all a social adventure. The characters will progress by talking to people. The majority of the book is taken up by descriptions of the townspeople and they’re nuanced and interesting, each beset with their own sorrows. This is also where the town’s foibles and joys come to the fore.

My favorite detail concerned the residence of the town fool. (The “uncle”.) For local young men, it’s a rite of passage to renovate the fool’s house or improve it in some way. A surprisingly warmhearted touch in a fundamentally melancholy scenario.

The adventure’s structure is built around a schedule of events. The Referee keeps track of days and as time goes on, different things happen. This creates pressure on the characters and pushes the townspeople into being more dynamic.

I’ve seen OSR designers talk about the idea that social scenes can play a big part in a game even if there are no systems for them because a roleplaying game is played by people who talk to each other. Thus, the play situation itself provides support for “humans who talk”. Witchburner is the first OSR adventure that I’ve read comprehensively making use of this.

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