Log in Sign up
Desperation by Bully Pulpit Games Bully Pulpit Games
Desperation provides a unique, card-driven game play for gothic storytelling experiences steeped in actual history

Project story

1 - 5
Play time
90 min
14 +
Two games of survival horror, often without the survival.

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

Both games are designed for 1-5 players in an hour or two.

Dead House is set during the great blizzard of 1888, and in it you will 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 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.

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

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

What is the Desperation Engine?

The Desperation engine provides a unique, card-driven play experience for one to five players, focusing on exploring a web of locations and relationships and then inexorably demolishing them.

Desperation engine games ask 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.

What’s in the Box?

Desperation will be as high-quality a product as we can make it. It will come in a beautiful magnetic-closure box and inside will be the twin games, each as a deck of cards and their own tailored rules.



How it Plays

The Desperation engine is different because you don’t decide what is said—you decide who says it. And in a small community, who says “I burned a house down with the family trapped inside” makes all the difference in the world.

The cards for each game include an entire claustrophobic world of characters that form a web of relationships you will then apply agonizing pressure to and, in most cases, destroy.

Each deck also includes the isolated locations where all the action will take place. The locations are, themselves, characters in the unfolding horror.

Finally, the bulk of the deck consists of prompts that follow the inexorable passage of time. Some will drench the experience in unforgettable color, and others will drench it in blood—or worse. And each time, you will have to decide who among the survivors is saying the words.

The two games included here—Dead House and The Isabel—have subtle connections between them, but each also stands alone. Since every playthrough will result in different decisions, replay value is high.

What's Included

Digital Edition

This reward contains PDF files of the game rules and two 65-card print-and-play PDFs for Dead House and The Isabel.

Print Edition

This reward level includes the printed edition and everything you need to play both Dead House and The Isabel. Each game comes with 65 "blackjack size" cards (63 x 88mm) in a tuckbox with rules, inside a magnetic closure outer box.
Roll20 Add-on

This add-on includes a code that will unlock everything you need to play both Dead House and The Isabel in Roll20, including rules, card text in handouts, illustrated cards in custom decks, and helpful hints for playing the games in a virtual environment. (You'll need a free Roll20 account to redeem product code and play.)

What People are Saying

"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. Hotter than blood and colder than snow, Dead House demonstrates how a master of the craft like Jason Morningstar collaborates with players across space and time through the power of design. In the inevitability of an historically grueling winter, it mashes an unstoppable narrative force against the dramatic power of each player's honesty and empathy. As winter turns to hell, players discover their own limits and face wrenching decisions while the characters' torrid, fragile lives crack and break like ice. 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

Actual Play Videos

We have a bunch of actual play streams lined up in the coming weeks to showcase Dead House and The Isabel. Stay tuned for more!

Third Floor Wars plays Dead House! Join Craig, Shidika, Navi, and Shawn as they venture into the teeth of the blizzard!

TrooperSJP's Academic Foxhole played Dead House on Twitch with guests Markus, Leoni, Susanah Grace, and Simon. Check out their game here!

TrooperSJP's Academic Foxhole played The Isabel on Twitch with guests Brandy Rose, Drakoniques, LaughLoveLindy, and The Strix. Check out their game here!

Actual Play takes on the Isabel with our own Jenn Martin and Javier P. Beltrán, along with Mad Jay and Rae! Check out Part 1 and Part 2 for the nail-biting conclusion!

Stretch Goals

Nope, none. For real. We’re making this campaign the best we can right from the start, and we are keeping everything dirt simple. We have lots of ideas for the future, but we aren’t going to rush them and risk delays or lower quality in exchange for a few bucks or extra buzz.


Now for the really unpopular part!

In order to keep this campaign as simple and efficient as possible, and particularly in light of recent increases in world-wide shipping costs and VAT changes, we will only be offering limited international shipping for this product.

Shipping of the print edition will only be available in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.

For our many friends in the rest of the world, we hope that the digital options are sufficient. We love you and want to serve you, but it just isn’t a practical option for our small team at this time.

Thanks for your understanding! We do plan to extend our reach to more international distributors and make Desperation available in stores. If you’d like to see it for sale in your country, please contact your friendly local game store and ask them to stock it, or have them contact us directly!

Shipping Estimates

Shipping costs will be charged through the pledge manager when it opens, four weeks after the campaign ends, when we begin gathering shipping addresses.

Estimated shipping to backers in the United States:
  • $10 per shipment

Estimated shipping to United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, or New Zealand:
  • $15 for the first copy of the game
  • $5 for each additional copy in the shipment
  • taxes should be included, but are difficult for us to estimate at this time

We'll be making every effort to include any taxes into the reward price and paying them ourselves before shipping. However, there may be exceptions that we can't foresee and particularly for orders with multiple copies of the game, you might be charged for taxes in the pledge manager.

Refunds and cancellation

As with any crowdfunding campaign we run, you'll be charged for your pledge at the end, and you are free to change or cancel your rewards at any time.

Once the campaign ends and you have been charged, you can contact us directly by email at info@bullypulpitgames.com to ask for a refund or cancellation.

We Need You

This campaign is designed to be as simple and straightforward as possible. We want to focus on making a great, high-quality product!

This is a risk for us. This game—these experiences—are unusual, and at first blush a little out of sync with our troubled times. What we’ve found, though, is that embracing the darkness can be cathartic, and that people routinely have the best time making the characters miserable, particularly when we’ve made the whole package as accessible and appealing as possible.

This is also our first time running a crowdfunding campaign somewhere other than Kickstarter, which means we're taking some risks that people won't know where to find it. We're excited about using Gamefound, and we hope that you are too!

We want to spread the word about how fun and horrible Desperation is. If you like what you see, we hope you'll give us a hand and tell your friends!

About Us

Desperation was created by Jason Morningstar and published by Steve Segedy. Together we run Bully Pulpit Games, and we've been creating and publishing award-winning games such as Fiasco, Star Crossed, Night Witches, and The Warren. This is our seventh crowdfunding campaign.

Brennen Reece created the layout and visual design for Desperation, as well as doing all of the illustrations for The Isabel. Brennen is an essential part of the BPG team and has helped us create a number of great games including Fiasco, Star Crossed, Night Witches, The Warren, and The Skeletons.

Jabari Weathers did the fantastic illustrations for Dead House. They absolutely nailed the style and atmosphere we were looking for in the game.

Jenn Martin is our Production Manager, the producer for the Roll20 edition of Desperation, and is the one keeping this train on the rails. Jenn is a maker, editor, writer, and game designer. She's also the Larp Coordinator for Big Bad Con, one of our favorite conventions!

Javier P. Beltrán is our Production Artist, helping adapt our digital art assets for the Roll20 edition, creating visuals for our campaign, and filling in extra visual design needs as they arise. He brings digital software skills as well as experience in graphic design and print production to our team.

Kristine Hassell is our Social Media Manager and a key part of our goal to let everyone know about this game! She is also the Director of Panel Programming at GeekGirlCon and the Big Bad Con Social Media and Community Coordinator.

Our eagle-eyed editor is Karen Twelves, who has worked with us on multiple projects, refining our voice and catching our slip-ups every time.

Our Heartfelt Thanks

Thank you for checking out the project and for helping us bring this game to life.

If you can’t back us right now, remember that telling a friend, or sharing on your social media channels, is a big help too!

We're very excited about this project and we hope that you are too. If you have any questions for us, please let us know: info@bullypulpitgames.com.

Risks and challenges

Bully Pulpit Games has a long track record of successfully producing high-quality games. This project is modeled on our many previous successful crowdfunding projects, so we know how to manage the challenges of a campaign and deliver rewards on time. While working with Gamefound is new to us, we've been working closely with their staff to make sure that this campaign will go as smoothly as possible.

Desperation is already mostly complete and ready to go to the printer. We've had a lot more time than we planned for during the pandemic, and we have a great team, so the final product will be well-polished and ready to go as soon as this campaign ends.

We’ll be printing with Panda Game Manufacturing again for this project, as we did for Ghost Court. While we don't expect any problems, shipping from overseas, particularly during the pandemic, means that there is always a slight risk that a cargo ship will be late and things will be delayed. We will keep you informed as things unfold!

We'll be using the same local fulfillment service through our friends at Atomic Empire as we have for all of our previous campaigns to handle shipping of the print editions. Inevitably a few shipments will get lost or damaged but every customer should receive tracking information and we'll be following those shipments closely and making sure backers get what they pledged for during the campaign.

Finally, we're committed to keeping you informed and being transparent about the process. If anything does go wrong, we'll let you know right away and tell you how we're going to fix it.

If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know!