The first thing to say about Liminal Horror is that it’s part of a new wave of OSR-inspired games. It follows the path started by Into the Odd and Knave, which has led to a few other well-regarded OSR-style games, such as Cairn (which is mentioned in the acknowledgements as well).
The second thing to say is that they need to change the itch cover back to Zach Hazard’s cover art. Please, Nick? Please change it back? I get it. This new cover is square (for itch) and it doesn’t replace the cover for the actual pdf or book. But please? Just change it back. The itch cover looks so tacky compared to the mass of darkness and eyes of the old one. Terrify me. Please?
Okay, all jokes aside, Liminal Horror is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a game of cosmic horror set in “present day, present time.” You play as a regular person without a special class or special abilities. You don’t level up. You will most likely die. The goal is to maybe become weird through play; the stress mechanic functioning as an unusual and interesting mutation table.
There are rules for character creation, combat, and so on. It’s an OSR game. I don’t know what else to really say about it. If you’ve read its predecessors, you know what you’ll find within the covers, and that’s to its benefit. Spark tables, randomly created spells, wild relics, and enough monsters to get you started.
It’s a product of several game systems coming together. A true definition of modular design. Proof that mixing and matching what’s come before you can still create something new. Borrowing on Bonds from Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) games to create tension and stakes between the randomly generated party members.
Liminal Horror does its job, which is the best thing you can say about a game that isn’t out to change the world. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you leave the house to get your groceries. Sometimes you just need the car that’ll get you there.
And Liminal Horror will get you there. It comes with a more-than-serviceable adventure. It has a gear list with things like “Chainsaw” and “Road Spikes (caltrops)” on it. It knows what it is and it wears it on its sleeve. It’s almost as if Liminal Horror is looking at you with a wink and a nudge, saying, “hey, you didn’t need us to do this but we went ahead and did it for you.” And I thank it for that.
Liminal Horror is proof that if you have an idea, you can make it. The games you like but aren’t quite all the way to where you want them? You can patch them up. The systems you like from that one book? You can snatch them. The vibes you dig but haven’t been able to find in a book that’s not 300+ pages? You can ride them to success.
Liminal Horror is the essence of small creators making small games. It’s a work that should be appreciated for its brevity and its ease of use. The kind of work we all wish we could hold up as a beacon of the craft. As a marker for starting game designers. The kind of game we can show new people to teach them, “hey, this isn’t as hard as some others might make you think.”
Liminal Horror, despite its vicious cover and its promises of death, is an inviting game that promises you something and then delivers. Go pick it up at Exalted Funeral and grab the multitude of supplemental material for it over on Goblin Archive’s itch page.