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Looking for a tabletop RPG to capture a certain 'grim Slavic' vibe

I just watched a playthrough of a video game called Black Book (technically it's just a teaser; the game has a Kickstarter going on), where you play a young woman who wants to resurrect her dead lover by becoming a witch and unlocking seven seals on a black spellbook. The storyline has you encountering creatures from various creatures and legends from Russian folklore, as you travel through hollow forests where the stars weigh overhead and explore looming windmills which demons use as their lair.

It's got a vibe of 'you are weak and the world is full of horrible things that will kill you, but if you learn to wield the powers of darkness you can perhaps outwit the monsters.'

You gather different magical spells that you can combine to hold monsters at bay while you find their weaknesses to defeat them. You often stand still in a circle of chalk rather than running around. You are certainly not a daring warrior.

Is there a good tabletop game that has a similar vibe, one where you adventure to locate different types of magic, rather than simply unlocking them as you gain XP? One where death is near, but you can use tactics to hold it at bay? Or do I have to write this myself, because I want to play it.

(And if I write it, how do I make it work as a party-based game? One vulnerable person facing evil has a different vibe than four people working together, unless we make the monsters really hard to hurt.)
 

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DMMike

Guide of Modos
You gather different magical spells that you can combine to hold monsters at bay while you find their weaknesses to defeat them. You often stand still in a circle of chalk rather than running around. You are certainly not a daring warrior.

Is there a good tabletop game that has a similar vibe, one where you adventure to locate different types of magic, rather than simply unlocking them as you gain XP? One where death is near, but you can use tactics to hold it at bay? Or do I have to write this myself, because I want to play it.

(And if I write it, how do I make it work as a party-based game? One vulnerable person facing evil has a different vibe than four people working together, unless we make the monsters really hard to hurt.)
Modos RPG is not that game.

But it could be, if you write a decent rules module for it! I'm not seeing a lot of specifics in your post, but you might consider:

  • The GM can grant PCs skill points in each spell they "gather," no need to level up.
  • The protective-chalk-barrier could be, rules-wise, a metaphysical (willpower) contest against monsters when they try to break in, or a fixed amount of progress points that a monster needs to wear down (if the PC drew the circle fast enough!).
  • Finding monster weaknesses could be a matter of justifying the use of each spell based on the creature description. For example, if a creature's description mentions that it wears "tattered rags," then choosing to use Fire 1 against it is going to be a viable choice. Obviously, the GM should make descriptions interesting here and be generous in rewarding player ideas.

To make it party-based, you need to emphasize that the party members are helpless against monsters unless they work together. So drawing the chalk circle, gathering at the nearest spot, observing/knowing about the monster, and casting spells need to be done in the right sequence and on the right initiative counts to make sure no one gets caught outside the circle when the monster makes its first attack!

Hard-to-hurt monsters is a possibility. You can do this (in Modos RPG) with large physical damage pools (hit points), increased protection (reduces damage), or just say that supernatural creatures are immune to physical damage, leaving PCs to worry about causing mental or metaphysical damage instead.
 

Voadam

Hero
Slavic fantasy made me think of Free from the Yoke an Apocalypse World based RPG set in Slavic Fantasy where it says you make pacts with the land and its spirits as you go. Seems to be more focused on nation building/house advancement though.
 

Big Bucky

Explorer
The Trophy games might be what you’re looking for. Have to delve into dark forests to bring back artifacts.

Symbaroum also has a dark Slavic feel although the rules are not great imo.
 

5atbu

Explorer
PEGinc Solomon Kane.
The PCs are all criminals who have been executed and have been brought back and given one last chance for redemption before they are judged again.
It's grim dark.
However it's not Slavic. But you could take a book of Russian Fairy Tales and stat them up easily.
Complete game: The Savage World of Solomon Kane | Product categories | Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Mythic Russia from Firebird games, which is probably perfect.

Curse of Strahd has a very Slavic feel to it, my Latvian friend feels right at home and it's horror and they are all tougher than you.. at first.

I have enjoyed all three.
 

Nytmare

Adventurer
Trophy or Torchbearer spring to mind first. Maybe Dread or 12 Candles if you're not looking for it to be a campaign.
 


Doug McCrae

Legend
It's got a vibe of 'you are weak and the world is full of horrible things that will kill you, but if you learn to wield the powers of darkness you can perhaps outwit the monsters.'

You gather different magical spells that you can combine to hold monsters at bay while you find their weaknesses to defeat them. You often stand still in a circle of chalk rather than running around. You are certainly not a daring warrior.

Is there a good tabletop game that has a similar vibe, one where you adventure to locate different types of magic, rather than simply unlocking them as you gain XP? One where death is near, but you can use tactics to hold it at bay? Or do I have to write this myself, because I want to play it.
Call of Cthulhu (1981) published by Chaosium is very close to this. PCs are normal humans, monsters can be very dangerous, all magic is found in play.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
There's a PbtA game called Monster of the Week that might work for you. It's designed to cover a lot of ground genre-wise, but defaults to something like Supernatural or Sleepy Hollow. There are certainly playbooks that aren't combat oriented and playing a game like that would be more about finding the right magic than about getting the right gun out of the trunk. PbtA is a cinch to hack too, so a couple of twists and it's probably spot on.

Another option is Chthulu Gumshoe, which is Mythos, but specifically mystery oriented. That would also work pretty well.
 


Razjah

Explorer
Burning Wheel, especially if you use the Codex for corruption or other magic. Magic takes time, taxes you, research is hard and long, combat is deadly.

Using the Dresden Files RPG with some core tweaks can work great. Changing the setting impacts very little mechanically. Lower the thresholds and play up the danger of sponsored magic. You can have several people working on a ritual which needs to be defended (and doing that well takes time and research).
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Fundamentally, the problem you have is that you're trying to recreate a video game's feel, when the core of that play is learning through failure. In a video game, this is more easily done because the media accepts save points and restarts, so you, the player, can now apply your harded earned knowledge to solve the puzzle. This doesn't translate well into RPGs, where failure is hard to model. You can insert hitpoints, but that mechanic really reduces the intended feel you want by abstracting out too much and removing the visceral impact of failure. So, what you're looking for is a way to make failure meaningful and painful in game but still allow the PCs to learn from failure so they can eventually overcome the challenge. That's hard when your threats are powerful creatures that want to kill or maim or otherwise render a PC into an unplayable status. I don't think you'll find a suitable system because that's an intractable problem for RPGs, especially if you don't want to create ablative 'failure points' or similar mechanics.

Honestly, the best RPG for this kind of play might be Dread. The only problem with that is that it's intended to eventually result in failure, and failure in your context is pretty much character retirement through undesirable means. However, the mechanic of the tower really does sell the increasingly dangerous nature of the creatures and learning the necessary steps to defeat them. "Pull six" sounds absolutely terrifying towards the end of a game!
 

Horacio

LostInBrittany
Supporter
Mythic Russia is just that. It uses the HeroQuest game system (the one used for Glorantha), and it's written by Marc Galeotti, a real scholar on Russian matter and deeply passionate on Russian history and myths.

Mythic Russia is one of my favorite RPG, and simple reading it is a true pleasure and a great learning experience. And it seems a perfect match for the kind of story you want to tell :)
 

TheSword

Hero
Supporter
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay sounds right up that alley. Grim and Perilous adventure in the old world.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay sounds right up that alley. Grim and Perilous adventure in the old world.
That's certainly grim (and a personal fav of mine) but I don't think the magic system is really what the OP is looking for. Perhaps newer editions have changed this, but magic WHFRP tends not to be very flexible or open. You could certainly hack that I suppose, and the setting is pretty spot on, but I think it would be a lot of work.
 


Horacio

LostInBrittany
Supporter
You can dial up or down the grimness, but the base level is way more grim Slavic that happy fantasy...
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Usually I find people don't get it, find us "grim", which is also a meme in Slavic forums and such.
 

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