My thoughts and impressions on Tiny Tome – “A book of 50 single-page RPGs from dozens of different creators”, a fascinating project crowdfunding on Kickstarter.
Less than a year ago, Long Tail Games launched a game jam on itch.io to collect submissions of RPGs that would fit in a business card. This for a project named Tiny Library, which would go to print by selecting 50 of these submissions and in this way building a small deck. Tiny Library was very successfully funded on Kickstarter a couple months later, and received high praise from all over the indie ttrpg scene. I got myself a copy of it then (actually, got a whole bunch of them for friends), and was positively surprised by the quality and creativity in most games, more so considering the small size creators had to work with.
Since then, I’ve started following Long Tail Games’ projects more closely. Because of that I quickly found out about the Tiny Tome project, which would be crowdfunded too. Fast forward to the present, I’m sitting outside in the sun, with a preview copy of Tiny Tome in my hands, while the Kickstarter for it is blasting through its goal.
2022/03/30 update: Kickstarter was successful, but you can still pre-order Tiny Tome.
So what is Tiny Tome after all? It’s a spiritual successor of Tiny Library, sharing a lot of similarities with the previous project. Both are compilations of 50 games from lots of different game designers, this one also started as a game jam on itch.io to submit and vote for the chosen RPGs, and as before, participants must work with a limited amount of space, this time 2 A5 pages.
There’s no overlap, game-wise, between both projects, but several Tiny Library authors are also making an appearance in this book.
The copy I received is a somewhat sturdy A5 softcover book. Behind the simple and clear cover, an explosion of color and form awaits, once you start flipping through the pages. Before getting to the games, there’s a table of contents which presents the RPGs inside (mostly) alphabetically, along with a small description, and most importantly, the name of the creator and either the twitter username, or a link to their itch.io page. This really shows how much the project is a celebration of collaboration in the indie ttrpg space. It’s also interesting to note that the book has no page numbers, which is perfectly fine considering the size and structure of it.
The many, many games start right after the ToC, and fill all the remaining pages. To accurately synthesize everything in a sentence is difficult, but Tiny Tome is both a work of art and of diversity, and I’ll explore its content with those two aspects in mind.
It’s probably the least surprising one, considering we’re talking about a book built on dozens of games from that many different creators. But let’s imagine Tiny Tome in the hands of someone who only recently got into RPGs, and isn’t yet aware that there’s a lot that fits under that category; it would be overwhelming, but in a positive way. One may find two games as different as Ossuary (a GM-led game where you face traps, terror and treasure) and Oubliette (a solo journaling game played with dice and cards about the last thoughts of a prisoner before execution), just at the distance of one page flip!
In these pages you’ll find plenty GM-led games – like the aforementioned Ossuary, along with other favorites of mine, A Kiss from a Rose (tower-crawling, but with a really cool structure for the tower) or SOAP: the Operatic RPG (you play tv stars trying to save your show while becoming the most popular and important one, even if the methods to do so involve backstabbing others);
lots of GM-full/less ones – Idle Hands Make the Devil’s Work (has the GM role rotate between players each round, in a game about trying to avoid being caught slacking off at work) and The Forgotten Ingredients (played while waiting for the meal where you go on adventures to find crucial ingredients you forgot were necessary to prepare your food) being examples of those;
many solo RPGs to keep you entertained when alone – like Oubliette, or Unreality/Strictness, which features a cool interaction between two sides of you character in two different dimensions (also works for 2 players);
and even quite the number of games made specifically for 2 players, filled with cool interactions between: a spirit invoker and a spirit (Conjur), a host and its parasite (Symbiosis) or a queen and a servant among bees (Where The Queen’s Reign Knows No End).
And the diversity is barely starting at this point! You’ll find games using dice, tokens, normal card decks, tarot cards, ropes, pictures/maps, candles, …; some RPGs are more structured, with creativity-fuelling constraints, while others give you a lot of open room to improvise on the spot; there are experiences to be enjoyed in one sitting, or you can choose one thought for longer campaign play; you’ll definitely find something no matter if you prefer fantasy, investigation, horror, sci-fi, comedy, drama, post-apocalyptic, …
There’s no consensus on what makes something art or not, which is useful for the purpose of looking at Tiny Tome as a whole, and as a collection of parts. The diversity mentioned before makes the book superior to the sum of its parts, but each RPG on its own shows the different ways a game can be artistic.
There are games where the art lies in the presentation: this can be the way the text is written, the pictures/drawings/maps included, how the game is laid out, or a mixture of these. RPGs presented artfully immediately jump to ones eyes when flipping through Tiny Tome. Games like Immortal Festival, Mammoth, Ossuary, Oubliette, Seiðr, Symbiosis (each page is facing opposite sides so it can be read by both players at the table) or The Climb.
In other games the art lies in the mechanics, and the way these interact with the themes: RPGs like Blood//Rush (card-based fighting game that even without the roleplay elements would be a lot of fun), Demonbreakers (base mechanics are akin to a Belonging Outside Belonging game, and the way it adds a card deck to it is really awesome, the prompts it provides are perfectly fitting for a Ghostbusters meet Monty Python game), Gloom (the way the tarot cards interact with the candles is inspiring), ImproVeto (best game I’ve ever read to introduce people both to improvisation and safety tools), Local Traditions (love the rune-drawing, the midnight clock and how each tick on it can be a pretty illustrative step towards the climax), Now You Are a Zombie! (the scale of possible success fits perfectly the comedy/zombie theme), SOAP: the Operatic RPG (well-thought Connections and Traits) or The Climb (tugging on fragile ropes to simulate the tension among a group stuck in the mountains? simply genius!), among many others.
Like with other forms of art, sometimes it lies on how thought-provoking it is, the reflexions it awakens: this is particularly true for carefully structured experiences like ImproVeto (accomplishing its goal to teach about the importance of safety tools), Oubliette, Symbiosis (the relation between a host and a parasite that care for each other is never simple) or The Climb (what happens when one character is completely dependant on the travel partner holding the other end of the rope).
And at the end of the day, art is subjective, so what you and I appreciate can be very different. But there’s definitely enough inside Tiny Tome that you’ll find something for you.
Tiny Tome is a book filled to the brim with creativity and diversity. If you like exploring different games, and don’t shy away from trying new ones, this is for you. If you’ve been meaning to expand the RPGs you play, but don’t want to read something larger, this is for you.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for a new crunchy game, with lots of material, you probably won’t like Tiny Tome. If you’re expecting to get 50 RPGs custom-made for your interests and that will amaze you, yeah, forget that too. That’s an impossible task. Some of the games feel incomplete, like they were too much narrowed down, to fit with the required size. But odds are you’ll find quite a number that align with your preferences, and even more that will leave you intrigued and willing to try new games.
Given how inexpensive and quick to read the book is, it only takes a handful of satisfying games to make it worth your money and time.
And you’ll still have all the other games inside too.
Personally, I can’t wait for the return of the monthly RPG meetings close to where I live. Tiny Tome fills me with the urge to walk in there with the book under my arm, take a seat at a table with other players, and flip its pages while asking around the circle: “So, which one do we want to play this time?”.
A Tiny Tome free preview copy was provided, in exchange for an honest, unbiased opinion.
The final appearance of the product may look different from the images above.
I am a firm believer in giving the proper credit where it’s due, even more so in the indie ttrpg scene. Therefore, here follows a list with the names and social media handles/itch.io links of the creators behind the several games mentioned.
A Kiss from a Rose – AwkwardTurtle (@AwkwardTurtle42)
Blood//Rush – The Dice (@plural_dice)
Conjur – Austin Skye Leavitt (@supernalclarity)
Demonbreakers – Brian Hazzard (@instadeathpod)
Gloom – Paradox Press (@PrdxPressGames)
Idle Hands Make the Devil’s Work – Donald Kelly (@DonnieDynamo)
Immortal Festival – Jason Wardell (@jasonhwardell)
ImproVeto – Andrea Rick (@this_curiouscat)
Local Traditions – Freddie Taylor-Bell (@TheDrunkWizard_)
Mammoth – Exeunt Press (@exeuntpress)
Now You Are a Zombie! – Z Gosck (@zigmenthotep)
Ossuary – Alfred Valley (@ValleyOfAlfred)
Oubliette – Marc Cook (@MarcCook_)
Seiðr – Gavrok (gavrok.itch.io)
SOAP: the Operatic RPG – watcherdm (@watcherdm1)
Symbiosis – Angela Quidam (@QuidamAngela)
The Climb – cnyetter (@cnyetter)
The Forgotten Ingredients – Ashten Saw (@CardBoard_Cult)
Unreality/Strictness – Edaureen Muhamad Nor (@dvaleris)
Where the Queen’s Reign Knows No End – Mitchell Daily (@mitchelldaily)
Long Tail Games (@Long_Tail_Games)