By Phillip Russell
This feature is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #160. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.
This series of articles is made possible through the generous sponsorship of Exalted Funeral. While Exalted Funeral puts us in touch with our subjects, they have no input or approval in the final story.
As I’ve gotten older, it’s become increasingly hard to carve out time to play games, especially of the tabletop variety. There’s a mess of rules to learn, stats to track and don’t get me started on scheduling hangout times. What I know to be true, however, is when I do make the time for tabletop roleplaying games, the stories I partake in and the fun I have with friends during those long hours into the night are so, so worth it.
Brazilian game designer Diogo Nogueira is keenly aware of how much of an obstacle the time and energy needed to start a TTRPG session can be for most people. He spends his time creating games that are easy to start up, breezy to play and quickly get players into the action with little need to spend hours learning the rules.
His most recent release, Kosmosaurs, harkens back to the classic aesthetics of pulp science fiction novels, but with a twist – dinosaurs! Kosmosaurs is a TTRPG about dinosaurs who protect the galaxy from evil forces. Players create their own dinosaur character, a Kosmo Ranger by trade, who is one of the galaxy’s greatest protectors. Your Kosmosaurs go out on missions to a vast array of planets, spaceships, asteroids and more, fighting off mystical dinos, fascist broccoli people (yes, it’s that amazing), undead pirates and whatever else you can dream up.
When I paged through the Kosmosaurs rule book, I immediately was brought back to my childhood. Leafing through books on dinosaurs, old school videogames and more specifically, a long forgotten animated TV show called Extreme Dinosaurs. Kosmosaurs does a tremendous job of capturing your imagination, and allowing players to live out their fantasies without the baggage of complex rules. Reading through the rule book brought me back to simpler times, ones that are crystalized in spending hours with friends imaging worlds unlike our own.
Nogueira has an eye for making easily approachable titles that specifically allow players of all ages to join in on the fun. This was all by design. “I think of Kosmosaurs as a love letter to my childhood. I desire to create fast paced games with this retro feel that’s also super approachable to kids. So, my focus is on making the feeling, fast paced rules and tools easy for players to get the game going.”
In Brazil, Nogueira informs me, it’s very rare for people interested in playing TTRPGs to have the funds to buy multiple rules books and campaign guides that have become common in games like Dungeons & Dragons. Instead, most players buy the core rule book and never buy any additional material.
Nogueira’s games take inspiration from the smaller, indie titles he loved playing in his youth like Whitehack, The Black Hack and Into the Odd. He admired the zine-like quality of Old School Revival (OSR), which emphasized swift play sessions, and world building and narrative over mechanics.
Playing and reading these smaller OSR games gave Nogueira the courage to try making games himself. “Watching the zine culture emerge in the OSR community, and especially within the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG crowd, inspired me to start contributing to them myself.” Nogueira went on to tell me that around the same time he started contributing to smaller OSR games, he also was reading Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. “I realized ‘Hey, I bet I could do something like that too.’ So, I set a goal to make my first game in less than 64 pages. Digest size. I wrote at least 500 words a day and in less than a month I had my first game, Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells. I have tried to keep going since then.”
Something I loved in Kosmosaurs as someone who hasn’t played a lot of TTRPGs outside of Dungeons & Dragons is its approachability. While playing most tabletop games, it’s easy for me to get invested in rolling dice and trying to game the mechanics. What’s a bit harder for me is to fully embody my character, thrust myself in the narrative and really play my character around their narrative implications as opposed to whatever I’m trying to min-max for.
In Kosmosaurs, Nogueira keeps things open and up to interpretation. When it comes to difficulty, however, he makes a point to push game masters to not make everything a dice roll. Instead of simply making everything a check, he suggests that use checks sparingly, for narrative-related moments. This keeps the game going along smoothly and also increases the tension of actually rolling a check.
“I need a game that allows me to keep the feel of the story I want, with a robust, flexible and unified system. I want to be able to apply the rules seamlessly, making judgments and rulings without needing to consult the rulebook. Rulebooks won’t cover all situations, but they should give you the tools to do so. Adding a few helpful tools like random tables and generators for players who need help and a single book can provide the ingredients for years and years of fun, with very little work.”
Tabletop roleplaying games are for everyone. We’re living in a time where more and more people are showing great enthusiasm for trying out tabletop games, but often are compelled away by the complexity of the most known franchises. I admire how Diogo Nogueira is approaching game design these days. In childhood, we were all dreamers; Nogueira is creating games that allow people to channel that childlike energy once more. There’s so much power in that.
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Check out more of Diogo’s work in print on Exalted Funeral and in digital form on itch.io.
Phillip Russell is a Black writer and podcast producer. His writing explores the intersections between pop culture, Blackness, and our connection to land and identity. Follow his work on Twitter @3dsisqo.