Long after The End descended upon the Old World...
Humanity started to rebuild itself, albeit wretched and forlorn. Survivors salvaged what they could of government in the form of the American Lands. They rebuilt roads, though in fewer numbers and inferior quality, and they reclaimed the skeletons of old buildings. Nowhere does humankind rebuild so desperately as in the humid swamps of the Backwater, where humanity battles itself and the natural elements to survive. You are a warden here—a roaming peacekeeper in the American Lands—tasked with exploring and keeping order at civilization’s southern reach. You travel the Old World’s crumbling roadways among mosquitoes and snakes. You tend to every small town’s big secret, and you quell strife between old families in a new era. Here in the bogs, you keep mutation at bay, ever-watchful for the wretched and grotesque cousins of ancient humanity. You protect mankind from supernatural horrors that have only started to emerge.
Welcome to Backwater...
where horror writes itself.
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Check out the Backwater Quickstart Guide
The game system is original. It uses a 20-sided die for everything except damage. It is intended to be intuitive and streamlined. The foundation of this system are four basic attributes that provide both a modifier (which you add to rolls) and a goal score (which others roll against). When you attempt a skill roll against another character, you simply roll against one of their attribute goals, for example:
When you threaten or deceive a character, you roll against its Intuition score.
When you hide from or sneak by a character, you roll against its Vigilance score.
When you make a Melee or Ranged attack a character, you roll against its Reflex score.
When you tackle or trip a character, you roll against its Build score.
Unique Survival Elements
Characters have both Health Points (physical stamina) and Resolve Points (mental fortitude), and they are relatively low to reflect human fragility. Combat scenarios are consequential and can move quickly as a result. One especially unique element of the system is its Health rolls and Resolve rolls. Players must try to roll under their current Health or Resolve with a d20 to avoid suffering a condition, like the Bleeding condition. The more damage or duress that a character receives, the more likely it may suffer the condition.
Flexible yet Thorough Character Creation
Character creation is meant to be flexible and robust. It incorporates minor details that flesh out a character in the creation process, such as where a character is from (Origins), their values (Ideals), their socio-economic status (Family Fortune), and any unique qualities (Traits). It also incorporates major details, such as character types: Savants (the brains and the faces), Seekers (explorers and thieves), Seers (psychics and magic users), and Slayers (ranged or melee fighters). In the Backroads expansion, you also get access to Spelunkers, Spiritualists, Sparklocks, and Steadfasts. These types do not pigeon-hole a character. There is plenty of opportunity to play as a Seer with ranged combat abilities, for example.
Backwater also has an abundance of skills, which requires a greater diversity of character types. The book provides extensive descriptions of each basic skill as well as examples for its use. Backwater has three specialty skills, which indicate a character's knowledge of certain subjects, languages, or item production; characters usually gain two or so specializations for free during character creation. In total, Backwater has 22 basic skills (including Melee and Ranged combat skills) and three specialty skills (Craft, Language, and Lore), each of which have between five and twelve specialties to choose from.
Characters can gain skill proficiencies every time they level. Occasionally they also gain Mastery (increased chance of critical success) and increase their Health or Resolve. Otherwise, characters develop mechanically in two main ways: Achievements and Ability Modules. Achievements are minor bonuses that characters earn by accomplishing specific tasks throughout a game or campaign. Ability Modules are groups of abilities from which a character can select every four levels. A character's warden type determines which modules they can choose from. Characters can accomplish up to 25 possible Achievements, and there are thirteen Ability Modules total with eight potential abilities each.
Animal Companions, Items, and Item Customization
Players can customize their characters by selecting from a vast array of and animal companions. The first book supplies nine animal companions and almost 200 items, including books, clothing, light sources, elixirs & brews, kits, body armor, ranged & melee weapons, and item accessories. Characters begin with a slightly more limited selection and can expand their inventory as they level. Characters can may also customize many of their items, cosmetically and statistically. Finally, characters may discover some magical or legendary items throughout game play.
"Backwater has a lot of unique ideas and mechanics. The gamebook is around 200 pages and is stuffed with content. ... I like that they dedicated a chapter to just the bare bone rules, which makes it a great quick reference to jump to if you are having a dispute at the table and you can find it very quickly. ... I really love that this book has a sub chapter on the secrets of Backwater. These include mystical items and story hooks which are both an entertaining read and make great inspiration or planning tools for a game." -TheAbleLexi of The Gaming Table
Wendigo Workshop's review says that the Backwater TTRPG is "quite easy to pick up, and the character creation tutorial is simple to follow, making it easy to make new characters for the first time. [...] Backwater is a very good game, and a nice addition to fans of the horror genre."