Enter the Fold: Indie Tabletop RPGs to Play if You Love Shadow and Bone

The Shadow and Bone Netflix series is so close we can almost touch Ben Barnes’ scruffy 5 o’clock shadow he’s been effortlessly maintaining.

With a rich fantasy world that author Leigh Bardugo has styled ‘Tsarpunk’, the Shadow and Bone series is full of engaging characters, elemental magic, and, of course, a hell of a lot of darkness. As Netflix adapts the first five books of the Grishaverse into a show, we’ve only gotten hints about what the content’s going to be like, and where it will differ or align with the books. We know the (approximate) cast, the episode titles, and… that’s about it.

Now, while it is a shame that nobody has snatched up the IP rights to the Grishaverse series for its own Tabletop Role Playing Game, it’s not really a huge problem if you ask me. If you love the Grisha, Ravka, the crows of Ketterdam, Fjerdan’s druskelle, and, yes, even the Darkling, don’t worry. There are games out there, just waiting to be played, threads ready to pulled, tales of steampunk magic just waiting to be told. We, intrepid adventurers, do not wait to be told what will happen. We make our own stories.

 

For the Grisha

The Grisha are the magicians of the Shadow and Bone series—mages with control of a singular domain. A Grisha will fall into one of three categories; Corporalki, magicians who can control the body; Etherealki, those who can manipulate the natural elements around them; and Materialki, who experiment with materials, poisons, and alchemy. They’re trained for war, for pleasure, for survival, and there are plenty of games out there just ready for a Grisha skin.

First, a game that doesn’t need any work to turn into a Grishaverse game, One More Notch by Pamela Punzalan. This game is the full package, an in-depth 200+ page self-described fanfiction handbook that is full of settings, factions, and an understanding of what people love, really love, about being magicians in a dangerous, cutthroat world. Full disclosure, this is much more suited to a Six of Crows style game than a Grisha game, but it’s so in-depth and wonderful it had to get first billing.

The Grisha fight at one border, against the Unsea, the Fold, a great rift in the middle of Ravka where monsters live. Two games, in particular, speak to this fight against the inevitable gloom, the bright-eyed mages who delve into the dark. The Wizards and the Wastes, by Batts, is an incredible movement into the mind of a magician, the mental mapping it takes to cast a spell, and how to navigate the thinking/unthinking of intuition against the backdrop of war. It’s wonderful! It’s beautiful! It’s perfect for a Grisha Army hoping to hold back the inevitable end! Also, if you just want to stand and fight a monster, that’s fine, but Behemoth and Killer is going to make you feel things while you do it.

Alina Starkov is our protagonist in Shadow and Bone—a rare Sun Summoner who has the power to control light. She’s technically an Etherealki, but her story is less about magic and more about a loss of innocence, a desperate need to belong, and her dreams for Ravka. To really get into this, we start with Princess with a Cursed Sword. Alina is no princess, but she holds the key to Ravka’s end, and this game explores the trope of the young female savior with focus and clarity.

Hesitation at the Gate is another game about finding enlightenment (see what I did there? Sun Summoner, enLIGHTenment?) while struggling to unseat a great power. Lastly, one of Alina’s struggles is the way that she is used, wanted, and created in another’s image, over and over again, for different ends. Prize by Kate Bullock, a game designer who has focused on trauma in gaming, is about the end of the war, and what happens to the young girl who becomes the hero’s trophy, his reward, his shadow. What end does she meet, after power is no longer needed, when only an approximate love remains? (Also, this is a game about Katara and why she deserved better than Aang. It’s Very Good.)

Now, for our beloved villain (and resident hot boi) the Darkling, I have two games to recommend. The first is Godsend, a setting for Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, where you are an avatar of a God, and it is your job to save the world, or, perhaps help bring about the end days. It’s a sweeping, beautiful piece, with high fantasy and deep lore, and if you ever wanted to tear apart a world, it’s perfect. Second, if you’re looking to dive into something by yourself, pick up a copy of The Magus. This game is wildly beautiful, absolutely weird, and dives into the sacrifices a mage will make for power. It includes a calamity, sacrifice, bonds, and an incredible play experience that walks you through your own destruction, spell by spell, as you unmake the world. Or perhaps in The Magus, like in most stories, the world unmakes you.

 

For Ravka

You want sweeping lands. You want Big Pictures stories, you want capital-E Epic fantasy. I got you. These games are for the child soldiers turned mercenaries, the lost-at-sea princes, the wastelands, the orphans, the unimaginable beasts you slew to suit your own powers. These games are for the Tsar, the last of the royal line; you are the king-killers and map-makers, the lore-builders, the adventurers who want to lose themselves in Ravka, in the whole messy world of it.

Much like Ravka, All these games have some Russian inspiration to them, either in the art, lore, or movement through the world. Starting with massive games, reminiscent of Old School Roleplaying classics, there’s Free From the Yoke, an explicitly Slavic fantasy about Houses finding their footing in a land free from a despot’s power. It’s another game using the Legacy system, and it’s perfect for long campaigns and extended explorations into factions and power struggles. If you just want to go out and hit things, two games fit the bill; Weird North is for adventurers and bounty hunters out for blood, powerful players caught in systems that don’t care for them at all. Hounds of the Tsar also allows for quick and brutal combat as you play as members of Ivan the Terrible’s feared oprichnina, hunting down heretics, aristocrats, and traitors to the crown. It’s easy to turn this into a game of a select group of Grisha hunters, led by a supernatural tie to the Darkling, sent out at his bidding. This is a darker game, and if you want to ditch the YA notes of Shadow and Bone, Hounds of the Tsar is the way to do it.

Following that, if you want to lean into horror, into struggles, into mythic creatures at every turn, you should pick up Mountain of Raay. A short game, this is a futile fight against the Slavic-inspired folkloric monsters who haunt an old mountain. Now, if you’re yearning for magic and lore, and care more about fantasy than swords (but still, you know, enjoy a good sword) check out Elkryheim. In this game, the world is suspended on the antlers of a massive Elk, through which all magic flows via runes and bones. With a heavy Morozova’s Stag vibe, it’s a perfect, rules-lite, lore-heavy set up for a mythic Ravka.

 

For the Crows of Ketterdam

Six of Crows, a duology in the Grishaverse, will be part of the Netflix show alongside the first trilogy. These books absolutely slap and while we don’t know how much of them we’re going to see, we do know that the last episode of the series is titled “No Mourners”. This is a nod towards the Ketterdam gang’s motto; “no mourners, no funerals.” We’re ready! We’re waiting! We have games to play until then!

I’m recommending Beak, Feather, and Bone not just because it fits so well into the crow theme, but also because of the massive amount of supplements out there. Using a premade map, players use a deck of cards to create factions, buildings, and neighborhoods, creating a unique city every time. Some selected additions include a map replacement using cards (Welcome to Koronis), additional tension using history and action to refine your city (Clashes), and Fragments, which allows you to draw the city as you label it.

What would Ketterdam be without Coin? This is a short microgame that uses coin flips as a betting mechanic while you attempt to lie, cheat, and steal from your neighbors.

SoC is all about the heist, and we’ve got some great fantasy-heisty adventures for you. First, 1400 Sneak, a hack of the 2400 microgames toolkit, is an easy-to-pick-up, easy-to-play game where everyone has a price on their heads and bounties are levied against high bidders. Royal Blood, by Grant Howitt, is a tarot-based heist game that can easily be molded to suit Ketterdam’s crows. Corner the arcane, take their power, ascend.

One of the reasons Six of Crows just killed it is because we had sympathy for all these rogues and wretches. In Corvid Court, you’re the baddies. Regardless of circumstances, you are bad people doing bad things. Trust me, Corvid Court is Kaz Brekker energy in game form, a perfect piece to show off cleverness, desperation, and loyalty, at any cost.

 

Linda H. Codega is an avid reader, writer, and fan. They specialize in media critique and fandom and they are also a short story author and game designer. Inspired by magical realism, comic books, the silver screen, and social activism, their writing reflects an innate curiosity and a deep caring and investment in media, fandom, and the intersection of social justice and pop culture. Find them on twitter @_linfinn.

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