As the independent TTRPG scene has exploded over the recent years, so has the creativity that comes along with an ever-expanding and innovative customer base. While wandering the afterlife (or wandering around as an undead creature) are well-trod storytelling tropes, game designers across the globe have taken folklore and fantasy and merged them to create some incredibly fun and exciting games.
There are two sections to this list, the first dealing with games that take place explicitly in the afterlife, the bardo, the places between life and death. The second gives you games where you play undead creatures of various stripes. Let’s dig in.
Afterlife: Wandering Souls (Angry Hamster Publishing) is a dreamy, atmospheric game where characters take on the roles of Wanderers who have moved on from the world of the living and are searching for their final resting place. The catch is that you have no memory of who you were. As you wander the desert-like Tenebris in search of fragments of who you were, your memories appear on your skin like tattoos as you find a way to untangle your past and find peace.
Wandering Souls uses dice pools to move the action forward, creating an atmosphere that is almost like betting on your own survival. You first begin your journey when you take a ferry into the afterlife, and character creation immediately immerses you in the world and the mechanics.
Follow Me Down (Joie Martin) is a classically inspired game based on the myth of Orpheus and Euridyce. It was successfully funded via Kickstarter in 2021, and the preview ashcan is available via itch.io. With beautiful artwork and an innovative twist on the Powered by the Apocalypse game system, Follow Me Down allows two players to retell the story within a framework of chapters, called the Books of the Dead. This is an exploration of grief and love and the lengths people will go to be with the person they love, even if it means going through hell itself.
Afterlife (Xavid) is a Live-Action Role Playing game (LARP) that allows players to explore different versions of the afterlife based on contemporary and ancient religions. You must chant, fight, and bargain with devils, angels, valkyrie, and Egyptian gods as you attempt to find the right fit for your soul. As the Game Master leads the lost souls through rooms, Xavid’s lyrical prose creates a strange and wonderful setting for immersion and exploration.
Alone in Between (Matthew Gravelyn) is explicit about how you are and where you ended up. You’re a ghost, and you’re caught in between the world of the living and the dead, trapped in a house. This is a solo journaling game using a deck of cards and a 10-sided die, and the narrative is led along by exploring and examining the things that you have left unresolved in your life. Introspective and metaphysical, this game dives into what really ties us to the present, the future, and what might be holding us back.
Death Mask (Ostrich Monkey Games) is a collaborative game where player characters take on the mantle of Revenants, cursed (blessed?) to protect Tomb-City from shadowy aberrants that stalk the streets. This is another game that is light on the rules and big on the vibes, allowing a lot of interpretation among both the game master and the players on how to interact with the tag-based mechanics. As you risk dice rolls to enact powerful moves you also threaten to Fracture your mask, which means your character’s soul might pass on, but also means that your game might come to the end.
Pull Me From the Earth (Corvyn Appleby) has a special place in my heart, as it was inspired by one of my favorite musical artists, Hozier. This two-player game has themes of body horror, queerness, and intimacy at its core, underlined by the fact that some of the play materials include dirt and leaves. One person plays the body that has been unearthed while the other is the person who dug them out. Gameplay exists in a series of questions (prompted by a deck of cards) that the two players ask each other about the nature of their relationship and the circumstances of their lives… and their deaths.
Blade Undying (Club Xero) is a game inspired by vampire lore, and owes a lot of its JRPG flavor to Kadokawa’s Dracurouge which, sadly, has never had an English translation. With a string of interesting, narrative-based mechanics that force the characters to seek out emotional pathos for in-game mechanical currency, Blade Undying follows a group of revenant knights as they explore the clans and world of the Failing Kingdoms which exist in complete darkness. With violence and death at the core of this game, there’s a lot of opportunity for fast combat and the sweet release of undeath.
Thousand Year Old Vampire (Tim Hutchings) is a darling of the indie TTRPG scene, and for very good reason. This solo journaling game has a pastiche-style rulebook that guides you through the life of your character and the lore of vampires throughout the ages. Gameplay occurs through a series of pre-written prompts within the book as well as player character choices and dice rolls based on resources you have or lack. This three-time Ennie-winning game has a gorgeous physical edition as well, and the design alone makes it worth your while to pick up a copy.
Update: Seven of these games are available now as a bundle on itch.io, at a 20% discount.
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