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Two games of survival horror, often without the survival.

Winner of the 2023 Indiecade Award for Tabletop Design!

Desperation is two small roleplaying games, built on the same dark tone and mechanics, that are truly pick-up-and-play experiences for you and your friends.

Gothic storytelling experiences steeped in actual history, Dead House and The Isabel are dark, lyrical games about people pushed far past their limits.

Desperation asks you to assume an unusual point of view—instead of deciding what people say and do, you decide who says and does the things that must happen. The sense of dread is palpable with each card reveal, because in these games, the things that must happen are a gradually escalating kaleidoscope of unimaginable horror. 

If you like card-based roleplaying games like For the Queen and The Quiet Year but have a dark and unmerciful heart, you’ll love Desperation.

Digital Edition available now on
Roll20, DrivethruRPG, and!

Time: 1-2 hours

For: 1-5 Players

Ages: 14+

What's Included

2x 64-card game decks, Dead House & The Isabel


PDF edition, including rules and print-and-play cards

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Free Downloads and Press Kit

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Dead House

Set during the great blizzard of 1888, you'll meet the people of the tiny town of Neola, Kansas, who find themselves unprepared in the teeth of the storm. As supplies and sanity dwindle in equal measure, who will live and who will be added to the dead house?

The Isabel

The Isabel is set aboard a three-masted cod schooner fishing in the Gulf of Alaska in 1888. Her passengers and crew have unpalatable secrets, and they are sailing into a storm the Isabel cannot weather. A doomed ship, raging seas, and a handful of leaking dories await them—and then the hard times begin.

Actual Play

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From the Designer:

Desperation is fun because it asks you to make a series of really interesting choices. Where most roleplaying games are focused on the how and why, Desperation games are focused on the who - we gradually learn what happens, but as players we get to decide which voice among an ominously diminishing cast of colorful characters is narrating at any given time. And when that voice is telling you they just cut someone’s throat as an act of love and mercy, the who is really compelling. It also means that as players we always know exactly where to put our creative energies, which is really freeing. These games are simple and easy to play but very suspenseful and immersive. The structure and nightmarish fiction you can’t help but create together really grabs people, even folks who don’t consider themselves gamers.

Hear interviews with the designer

  • "The Desperation engine makes these games approachable for new people and different for experienced players. It’s intense and immersive and we all agreed it could be the perfect way to introduce people to these types of games. We cannot wait to play again!"

    — Craig Shipman, Third Floor Wars

  • "Dead House is tragic and weird and somehow beautiful, too. With a few decks of cards, Morningstar has carefully placed each cobblestone on a bumpy road to hell. Like so much of Bully Pulpit's work, Dead House is enriched by the real histories it peers into. You may weep for the town of Neola, but you won't save them."

    — Kurt Refling

  • "A thoughtful, quiet game about hard people, hard truths, and hard choices. Experience the slow, inevitable breakdown of society during a brutal winter in the comfort of your own home!"

    — Casey Hardy, Talented Fool Cosplay, owner of Shadowmoor

  • "It was awesome. It was really cool. It was really nice to just be sitting around and telling a story and bouncing ideas off each other and who's in love with who and who hates whom and who killed whoever might be dead. It was very dire and we all felt the stakes of it. We all felt that loss when a character died. A really good immersive experience."

    — Jillian Kiefer, narrative Designer of ScreamCap

  • "Dead House harvests dread from the smallest seeds: one page of rules and a deck of cards suffused with perfectly specific prairie gothic details combine to provoke a panoply of dark tales from players. My students couldn't stop talking about how much they were into this game."

    — Rick Dakan, writer, game designer, and professor of Creative Writing, Ringling College of Art and Design

  • "Dead House is daring, emotional, and almost desperately bleak—a Bully Pulpit jam. Dead House is a nail-biting chronicle of fear, judgment, and desperate hope, married to a game so raw and sharp that it cuts deep. I doubt any player comes out the other side of this game unchanged."

    — Will Hindmarch, writer and game designer

Play Online!

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DIY Desperation

Join the fun and create your own Desperation-inspired games using our Creative Commons license and System Reference Document!

Learn More Here