This bizarre, vague Kickstarter promises a "multimedia fantasy RPG experience" including a D&D-compatible sourcebook, an actual play series, an animated short film, a vinyl soundtrack, a scented candle, and (somehow) more

 An old man with a fearful look in ProgCore Fantasy: Dark Age of Theer.
Credit: Todd Stashwick

In the world of tabletop roleplaying, we're certainly no strangers to over-ambitious Kickstarters, but in all my years in the hobby I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like ProgCore Fantasy: Dark Age of Theer. Not just a book, but a whole "multimedia fantasy RPG experience", it promises everything from an actual play series to custom scented candles.

Launched this week by actor Todd Stashwick (you might recognise him from season 3 of Star Trek Picard, if you made it that far), the project is asking for $150,000 to bring ProgCore Fantasy to life, seemingly in every medium Todd could think of. That includes:

  • A "system-agnostic" TTRPG sourcebook with D&D 5e conversion.

  • A "documentary-style" actual play series starring Todd and his friends.

  • An animated short film set in the world of Theer.

  • A prog rock soundtrack album, also available in vinyl.

  • An audiobook.

  • A custom scented candle reflecting the smell of the setting.

  • And, somehow, even more, including tons of merch, signed postcards, and opportunities to have Todd run a game for you and your friends.

So, what actually is ProgCore Fantasy? Well… it's vibes, basically. The pitch is incredibly vague, evoking nostalgia for the era of '70s and '80s fantasy and prog rock while giving almost no details about the setting. Its three core pillars are, we're told, "wonder, mystery, and danger". Well, we all like those, but if you want to know anything about how it's going to be wonderful, mysterious, or indeed dangerous, you're out of luck even after watching the full eight minute pitch video.

Experienced TTRPG players and savvy Kickstarter backers will already have spotted some other red flags here. For one, $150,000 is a small amount to raise to make even just the core products here happen—even if that goal is far exceeded, the project is unlikely to raise the kind of money realistically needed to produce a book, a web series, an animation, and a soundtrack, plus all the other physical rewards being promised across the various stretch goals and 21 (!) different pledge levels.

A golden dragon in ProgCore Fantasy: Dark Age of Theer.
A golden dragon in ProgCore Fantasy: Dark Age of Theer.

(Image credit: Todd Stashwick)

Another is the book itself. "System agnostic" means there's no actual game here, just a setting. Given the incredibly scant details given (there are ancient ruins and dragons is about all we get) and promise that a significant portion of the book will just be short fiction, it's really unclear what gameable content is actually being offered. Even the promise of D&D 5e compatibility is a little misleading—it's suggested what that will consist of is mostly just advice on achieving the ProgCore Fantasy tone in a D&D game, with a few suggested house rules, rather than things like new character options or monster stats.

To be clear, I don't think it's cynically driven—there's clearly a lot of real passion for the hobby here, and I definitely share Todd's love for the era of fantasy he's evoking. The pitch video also states clearly the team's opposition to AI art and belief in paying creators fairly, which is laudable.

But what's on offer is a whole lot of promises and fuzzy nostalgia, and precious little indication that they can actually pull all this together and deliver something substantial. Unfortunately, it's got future trainwreck written all over it—I'd really caution against backing, even if you are intrigued by the pitch.

The good news is that if you love '70s and '80s fantasy, retro-style role-playing, and prog rock, you're already well served in 2024. The current OSR ('Old School Revival/Renaissance') movement is already full of fantastic games suffused with exactly those influences. If you're intrigued, here are just a few recommendations to get you started.

Adventurers battling monsters in Dungeon Crawl Classics.
Adventurers battling monsters in Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Adventurers doing battle in the deadly realms of Dungeon Crawl Classics. (Image credit: Goodman Games)

Dungeon Crawl Classics

A weird and wonderful take on the early days of D&D, combined with bags of its own creative ideas and a huge library of really electric adventures to play. Features some of the best old school fantasy art in the business, including some dungeon maps that have to be seen to be believed.

Ultraviolet Grasslands

A strange adventure through a world inspired by psychedelic metal and apocalyptic fantasy. Brings the vibes but with loads of substance to back it up, allowing every party to carve their own unique path along its mythic journey.

Vaults of Vaarn

A series of zines and adventures detailing a surreal science-fantasy world and its bizarre inhabitants, with a simple set of rules for bringing it all to life. Features crazed clones, synthetic ferrets, and a playable race of mushroom zombies.