A downloadable quickstart guide

Quickstart Guide & System Reference Document

The Backwater Quickstart Guide & System Reference Document  includes character creation rules, essential rules for gameplay, a pre-generated character sheet, and a blank character sheet. It’s 53 pages and includes sketches of original art for the core rulebook.

Want to try the game on your own? Grab our solitaire for free/Pay-What-You-Want. Then create a character and play through the story!

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 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 peace keeper in the American Lands—protecting 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 cousins of ancient humanity. You protect mankind from supernatural horrors that have only started to emerge.

Welcome to Backwater... where horror writes itself.

Backwater: Southern Gothic Horror Tabletop Roleplaying

Backwater is a tabletop roleplaying game in the genre of southern gothic horror. The southern gothic genre explores social issues relating to fear, poverty, religion, and alienation through its southern U.S. setting. Prominent among the genre's themes is a conscious criticism of superficial values and regional or familial history, depicted through the region's decaying structures and aristocratic families. It contains the supernatural, though the true horrors are often humans themselves. Backwater is set in a post-apocalyptic future with a tenuous social order, and it reimagines the genre as a reflection on issues in not only American history but also our present world. 

Built with Backbone

Backwater is built with the Backbone Tabletop Roleplaying system. Backbone uses a 20-sided die for everything except combat damage. It is intended to be relatively intuitive and streamlined. The foundation of this system is a set of 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 goal.
  • When you hide from or sneak by a character, you roll against its Vigilance goal.
  • When you attack a character, you roll against its Reflex goal.
  • When you shove or trip a character, you roll against its Build goal.

Did you know? In addition to PDF character sheets, Backwater has a character sheet on Roll20, making it easier for you to play with your friends online. Create a new game on Roll20 and select the "Backbone" character sheet. For a tutorial on adding the sheet to a Roll20 game and an overview of the sheet see: Roll20 Character Sheet for the Backbone Game System.

Unique Survival Elements

Characters have both Health Points (physical health) and Resolve Points (mental health), but they are relatively low to reflect human fragility. Combat scenarios can move quickly as a result, and they often require careful strategizing to mitigate damage or defeat threats rapidly. 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.

What are people saying about our game?

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."

Some comments from our customers:

  • "I love the books, the system and the setting! [...] I love the lore and would love to see it expand to see how different territories have dealt with things and to see what creatures rise from them"
  • "This setting made me overjoyed as someone who really wants to see more stuff from the rich and vibrant culture of this part of the country, as my friends who I've strongarmed into playing this with me can attest."
  • "Really great system! I've been running a campaign for a few friends and I also am really keen on the rest of the universe in this system"

What else do we have?

Check out some of our other items on itch:

Or purchase our Core Rulebook hardcover through Lulu.


Backwater Quickstart Guide (PDF, Pages View) 14 MB
Backwater Quickstart Guide (PDF, Spread View) 14 MB
Backwater Character Sheet (PDF, form-fillable) 823 kB
Backwater Character Sheet, Alternative (PDF, form-fillable) 1 MB

Install instructions

Join the Backwater TTRPG discord to find games, campaigns, or general discussion! Otherwise, for updates and news about Backwater, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter.

You can watch our video tutorials on YouTube, including an example of turn order and examples of rolls; however, we advise that you read and review the Quickstart guide first.

If you notice any errors, please notify us at the Backwater Error Report Form.

Check out some of our other items on itch:

Or purchase our Core Rulebook hardcover through Lulu.

Development log