Monday, October 05, 2015
I'll be honest. I have a definite bias in favor of Delta Green. And, if for the only reason that the timeline of the setting will finally be pushed past 9/11 and into the new century, I support a new iteration of Delta Green.
Many, many years ago, when I was still living in Cleveland, I went one day into a newsstand/magazine shop (something that you don't see very much of anymore) and I found something peculiar. I found a gaming zine. A. Gaming. Zine. I had heard of this zine in passing because it actually shared a printer with another zine that I bought when I could, the official Cyberpunk RPG fan magazine called Interface.
I could go on about Interface, but it is only tangentially connected to the story at hand. The other zine was one that focused on Lovecraftian material, and had quite a bit of support for the Call of Cthulhu RPG. This magazine was called The Unspeakable Oath, and it was published by some people who called themselves Pagan Publishing. This particular issue of The Unspeakable Oath was interesting because it was a sort of cross over between it and Interface. There weren't any articles or characters that crossed over, just concepts.
See, as I said these people all shared a printer. While working out having their respective zines printed, the creatives from both of them met. This lead to talks about the thematic similarities between Cyberpunk fiction, and the Chtulhu Mythos fiction that H.P. Lovecraft and his circle of writers spawned. So, they decided that they should cross pollinate in their zines.
Interface had an issue that brought the Mythos into the realms of the Cyberpunk RPG. It was an interesting piece, and I won't lie...I used material from it in a Cyberpunk campaign of mine once. It was well written material. The Interface issue is currently in a box in storage, and I hope to see it again one day soon.
The issue of The Unspeakable Oath had something pretty cool in it too. It had a modern day (modern day to when the issue came out) Call of Cthulhu adventure featuring government agents investigating a UFO siting that, unfortunately for the investigators, turns out to really have to do with the Mythos. This adventure was the first time that Delta Green made a public appearance. It was an awesome adventure, and for someone who enjoyed Cthulhu, conspiracy and weird alien shit in my gaming it was as if doorways opened up in my mind. I wanted...I needed more.
Keep in mind that The X-Files hadn't aired yet at this point.
I'm not sure how much later it was but the people at Pagan Publishing put out an immense setting supplement for the Call of Cthulhu RPG called (you guessed it) Delta Green. It had all sorts of options for running a Call of Cthulhu game in the modern era (a time period that Chaosium mostly stayed away from in favor of the eras of Lovecraft's fiction). It was great. Then, a bit later, they put out a supplement for their supplement that was bigger than the initial book. Delta Green: Countdown expanded the world and the conspiracies in it. The writers expanded the role of the Mythos god Hastur, and talked more about Robert Chambers' eerie King In Yellow. These books were some of the best things ever written for the Call of Cthulhu RPG.
Now, it isn't a secret that the once and former Chaosium wasn't a paragon of professionalism. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that when we fast forward to today that the people who have been publishing Delta Green material all these years might want to be able to have more control over their game and what they publish, and not be at the whims of Chaosium's nature. Note that this is just conjecture, and not based on anything that the people at Pagan Publishing/Arc Dream Publishing have ever said, but knowing the hole that the previous Chaosium had dug for itself, it honestly wouldn't surprise me.
This isn't the first crowdfunded Delta Green book (I have two books that they put out before Kickstarter existed), and I doubt that it will be the last. However, if you are a fan of any of the things that I have talked about in this post, you really should get out there and support the Delta Green Kickstarter. These people have consistently done some of the best Lovecraftian RPG material on the market, and with your help they will keep on doing it. Tweet Follow @dorkland
I'm sure that's a confusing sentiment. Hopefully, I will make it clearer as I put this post together.
I picked up on the second edition of Stormbringer, and the supplement/stand alone game (don't ask, it was the 80s) Hawkmoon, both adapted from the works of British fantasist Michael Moorcock, when a friend brought them to college with him. I was already familiar with Chaosium's horror game Call of Cthulhu, because I had picked up one of the boxed sets while I was in college, and I had a passing familiarity with Runequest at this point, but Stormbringer was new to me. I borrowed the two boxed sets that he had in his dorm room and read them (each game is probably less than 100 pages of text, so this wasn't that hard). My diagnosis? I hated the game. I felt that, despite being a well made game, it did a bad job of simulating Moorcock's works, and because of that I wasn't interested in the game. I wouldn't come back to the game until the Elric! edition (probably closest to being a 4.5 edition of the rules) a number of years later.
While I still think that the first few editions of the game aren't very good at simulating Moorcock's works, I do think that Stormbringer (talking the first through third editions) is probably one of the best dark fantasy games, perhaps second only to first edition Warhammer) that the RPG "business" has managed to produce.
I admit that I have never really been a huge fan of the Dungeons & Dragons stream of fantasy role-playing games. Class and level based games just don't get me as interested, which is why I am more interested in the games that Chaosium has produced over the years. I love dark fantasy. Whether we're talking about Moorcock or Smith or Howard or any number of other writers in the genre, that kind of fantasy gets me a lot more interested than the works of Tolkien or his imitators. This is why I regret missing out on Stormbringer for so many years.
Really, we have two "streams" of Stormbringer. I don't want to call them editions (since there were in fact five or so editions of the game), but there was definitely a philosophical shift in the game between the third edition (produced by Chaosium in conjunction with Games Workshop...which would inspire the creation of their house game Warhammer) and the fourth edition. While the game did move closer to the source material with the fourth edition, it also managed to somehow become more generic at the same time. I'm not really sure how that happened. For the rest of this post, I'll refer to the first three editions as Early Stormbringer and 4th, Elric! and 5th edition as Later Stormbringer. There's no real judgment in this split, it just seems the best way to break up the conversation.
Why do I think that Early Stormbringer is such a great dark fantasy game? Where other RPGs had magic-users who could throw fireballs, Early Stormbringer would have your sorcerer character summon and bind a fire elemental to their will and then compel it to throw fire at your opponents (or perhaps you could even throw an elemental at people, even though this would be a wasteful use of an elemental). This flavor difference alone makes for a whole new gaming "ballgame." In the Later Stormbringer, this was diluted by the addition of spells with more traditional effects.
"Classes" in the game aren't really classes in the sense of D&D, and they aren't yet quite the Professions or Occupations that we will find later in other Basic Roleplaying Games, either. They are a cluster of skills and bonuses to skills that make character generation go quicker. When you have a class-based game and you want a "Fighter," you just pick the appropriate class, roll up some attributes and go. In games like Runequest this process can take longer because you have to pick out all of the relevant skills and everything else. Stormbringer shortened this process with their classes. Combined with random determination, it might actually make Early Stormbringer characters as fast to make as an early edition D&D character. And considering how fragile characters could be in either game, fast character generation could be important.
As often as not in the early days of gaming, I think that Ken St. Andre and Steve Perrin accidentally created a game that was so much better than the one that they intended to create. For example, Stormbringer characters were much more "heroic" than early edition D&D characters, without being the "super-heroes" that a lot of old school gamers disdain. I like a "heroic" character much more than I like the zero-to-hero approach. I want to play Conan or Elric. I don't want to play the guy who is going to be Conan or Elric.
I think that much of the stripped down and quicker approach of the rules owes itself to the design sensibilities of St. Andre. His Tunnels & Trolls rules were the definition of stripped down, in an era when even D&D didn't have a lot of rules. His approach to gaming is to keep things simple. Combined with the sensibilities that would bridge between how D&D was played and how Runequest would be formulated (Perrin came up with the highly influential and widely adopted D&D house rules known as the Perrin Conventions that would inform the creation of the Runequest rules), Stormbringer is a tight little example of how a game can be simple while still being a highly robust engine.
If I had to state a preference between Early Stormbringer and Later Stormbringer, it would probably have to be for Early Stormbringer. The simplicity, the ingenuity and the robustness of the design all combine in a game that hits a sweet spot for me. The best part is that the fact that, for me, it didn't do a good job at simulating Moorcock's work just means that it all that much better of a game to use for a variety of campaigns that I would like. I wish that I could go back and tell my younger self to get over it and play the damn game. This way I would have decades of fun with this game behind me, and I probably would have spent a lot less time looking for "the right game" for my fantasy needs. Luckily, that isn't a worry anymore.
I think that I want to add a Red Sonja game using Early Stormbringer to my gaming bucket list now.
If you're interested in a "clone" of Later Stormbringer (the Elric! version and 5th edition), be sure to check out Chaosium's excellent Magic World game. This is (basically) Stormbringer 5e with the specific Moorock-related IP stripped out, leaving behind a really good set of fantasy rules. Unfortunately no "clone" of the earlier, more rollicking, editions of Stormbringer yet exists. Stormbringer also still exerts an influence on contemporary role-playing games. The seminal indie game Sorcerer by Ron Edwards shows an influence of the demon summoning from Stormbringer in its own demon summoning rules. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Friday, October 02, 2015
Amidst all of the hustle and buzz of the moving and the house selling, I am emerging from my cave for a few days to attend Necronomicon in Tampa on October 9th & 10th. My availability will be limited, so if you want to meet up, or play a game, contact me in advance so that we can work something out.
Here's my schedule for the con:
White Ibis South
How to Get Started Publishing Games
What Makes a Game Fun
What's New in Gaming
Space Opera Then/Military SF Now
I'll be hosting the Space Opera Then/Military SF Now panel, so my expertise isn't as important to that. The block of gaming panels will likely be entertaining, as least I hope so. If anyone wants to meet for a late lunch or some gaming midday on Saturday, get in touch.
The convention will be at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay, on Bayport Drive.
Hopefully I will see some familiar faces. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Monday, August 24, 2015
|Lamentations of the Flame Princess publisher James Raggi and a copy of the new print run of Vornheim.|
The blog has been quiet for a while since Gen Con. Who knew that getting a house ready for going to market was so much work? I certainly didn't. I also didn't expect to haul as many bags of rock as I have the last couple of months. Regardless, "real life" work has eaten up all of my free time of late, and cut into my ability to write both here, and over at Bleeding Cool. Being a grown up sucks.
So, this post isn't about my talking about the fun of landscaping and painting. No, it is to talk about the eminent return of Zak Smith's Vornheim supplement. Today, Lamentations of the Flame Princess publisher James Raggi informally announced that the new print run of Vornheim was done, and ready to be flung out into the world again. The second print run is double what the first was, with 4000 copies this time. Considering that Smith's latest A Red & Pleasant Land has just about gone through its print run in 9 months, I expect the second printing of Vornheim to move just as quickly (if not faster).
For those who do not have a copy, you might be asking "What is this Vornheim of which you speak?" Ostensibly an OSR product, I see Vornheim's place now as being more the opening shot of the OSR offshoot that has been named "DIY D&D." Where the OSR would be philosophical and exploratory about discovering the play styles of older games, and revisiting the older rulesets in a way that would make them available again in ways that wouldn't require spending hundreds of dollars on eBay, the DIY D&D movement focuses on play that is happening now, with or without older rulesets, and how you can create material that grows organically from play. In a way, DIY D&D is very much a return to the idea of the early days of the hobby, the idea that groups generated the material that they needed for their table themselves, using their chosen ruleset as their foundation.
When gaming became big business in the 90s, there was a move away from this idea, mostly because gaming companies wanted to make money from campaign settings, character option supplements and many other things that groups had previously made mostly for themselves. Yes, some of these things would eventually be published, like the Arduin Grimoires or any of the Judges Guild material, but that consumerism wasn't the focus of gaming groups.
With the release of Vornheim, Smith triggered a return to that Do-It-Yourself mentality. Yes, Vornheim was published in book form, and pieces of it appeared over time on Smith's blog, but the primary idea of Vornheim isn't to sell you something that you drop into your game world and play until you kill all of the monsters in it. No, the idea of Vornheim is to teach how to do it yourself, how to build a city that will engage and intrigue your players and get them to want to have their characters explore it. This is why Vornheim's subtitle is The Complete City Kit.
The idea of Vornheim the book is to give to GMs a set of tools that will allow them to create their own interesting and unique fantasy cities. There have been a lot of fantasy city settings over the time of gaming as a hobby, and a business. What makes Vornheim so different, and much more useful in the long run, is how it shows GMs and players how to make their own worlds, their own cities. The setting of Vornheim is an example of how you can use the tools in the book Vornheim to make a city. It is a worked example, and not just a bunch of stuff thrown together to fill out a book, because the setting of Vornheim was developed over years of play. This is the two big things for DIY D&D from my viewpoint: make things that are useful for your game and use your game as the basis for what you make.
There is a huge amount of different between the feel, and utility, of gaming material that is written for the sake of filling a book, and material that is written to fill in the gaps in a campaign. While our hobby was built on the idea of the latter, it has evolved into being about the former. Big books are written to fill spots on supplement treadmills, because gamers have been conditioned to let game designers do their thinking, do their working for them, instead of realizing the simple reality of tabletop gaming: the best stuff is that which grows out of play, at the table. Getting back to this mindset is what makes DIY D&D so important, probably in some ways more important than the OSR out of which it grew.
The reason that Vornheim and Red & Pleasant Land have sold so well isn't just that they are so much more creative than a lot of what is being made in the D&D space, but because of the idea that they give permission again to GMs and players to do more than just engage with material as it it, but to make it their own. Our group ran Red & Pleasant Land as a classic Marvel Super-Heroes game set in 1970s NYC. Would we have done this without the idea of DIY D&D? Probably, but we're probably also not the most representative of gaming groups either.
Outside of all of this, Vornheim is a great toolbox for a fantasy GM to have. It ranks with the Midkemia Press book Cities for usefulness in creating and filling out a fantasy city. One of the things that makes Vornheim useful is the fact that most of the tools are designed to be used on the fly. I don't think that I have gotten as much use out of a random chart as I have the "I Search The Body" chart in Vornheim. The Urbancrawling rules let you make sections for your city on the fly. The front and back cover drop tables speed up combat and creating adversaries for the PCs. There are a lot of useful things to be found in this book.
Not only that, but there is going to be a renaissance of use of this book. People will be using it at their tables, and bloggers will be talking about how great it has been to use it in their games. Those 4000 copies are going to go a lot more quickly than anyone thinks, and then they will be gone for a while again. Does anyone really want to be one of the people who has to watch everyone else talk about how cool this book is, and how much they've enjoyed it in their games? Don't be that person. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Sunday, August 02, 2015
It is Saturday of Gen Con, and tomorrow I go home. It was a busy con, and a weird con.
Zak won some ENnie awards for Red And Pleasant Land, and Contessa won one for best blog. Good goings for good people.
More importantly, however, I got to meet Jeff Grubb at the Monte Cook Games launch party for the Cypher System Core Rulebook. Jeff Grubb, as anyone who reads this blog really should know, was the creator of the original Marvel Super-Heroes RPG.
Now for me, there are really two seminal games for my gaming: Call of Cthulhu and Marvel Super-Heroes. These games showed me that there were things besides fantasy to gaming. I might not have continued on with my gaming if I hadn't have found these games.
Regardless, Marvel Super-Heroes has remained one of my favorite games. I still play the game periodically (in fact we played a game of it a few months ago), and still have fun with it. It is a fairly simple game, and it may not be the most modern of games, but I like it.
So, I walked up to Jeff Grub to introduce myself and a stream of nonsense that might have come forth from my mouth.
The long and short of all of this was that people should get over themselves and follow do things like talk to our idols, even if we sound stupid when we do it. If I hadn't have approached him I would have regretted it. Eventually (sort of) I calmed down enough to talk semi-coherently with him. It was pretty cool to get to talk with him. I'm not going to forget it.
This is what makes going to Gen Con so cool. It is always nice to be able to meet the person who helped give you so many hours of entertainment. It is also cool to be able to tell them this.
This is still posting from the phone, so excuse the ugliness.
More to come once I get home and rest up.Tweet Follow @dorkland
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
I'm not even at the airport to head to Gen Con yet, and this news happened (I'm blogging on my phone from the shuttle):
TACTICAL ‘MECH COMBAT RETURNS TO THE PC. Harebrained Schemes is pleased to announce their return to Kickstarter this Fall to partner with backers in co-funding the creation of BATTLETECH. Jordan Weisman, the creator of BattleTech and MechWarrior, is back with the first turn-based BattleTech game for PC in over two decades. Steeped in the feudal political intrigue of the BattleTech universe, the game will feature an open-ended Mercenaries-style campaign that blends RPG ‘Mech and MechWarrior management with modern turn-based tactics.
Sorry that the presentation is ugly, there aren't a lot of frills from the phone version, but I wanted to get the basics out. I'll pretty this up, and get more details to you when I'm at an actual computer.Tweet Follow @dorkland
Sunday, July 26, 2015
Okay, so it turns out that I lied...I do have another post. As gamers, I know that all of you have maps...so here are some maps related to Gen Con. Save them to your phones and/or mobile devices and make sure that you don't get lost on your adventure this upcoming week.
You can also find a PDF of the Exhibition Hall here.
These are all .PNG files, so you should be able to blow them up without them getting fuzzy.
Downtown Indianapolis (Around The Convention Center)
Indiana Convention Center (1st and 2nd Floors)
The Nearby Hotels Where Con Events Are Scheduled
Tweet Follow @dorkland
So, before the radio silence I wanted to get a couple of short, capsule reviews out of the way while they were still on my mind. Neither of these are really new books, but they are new to me.
The Complete Vivimancer. I had heard good things for a while about this book, and I have the PDF of Norman's earlier Theorems & Thaumaturgy, which had a lot of interesting ideas in it.
I love weird fantasy stuff, and I love spell books for fantasy games (they are my favorite types of supplements for fantasy RPGs), so this should have been a big hit for me. Guess what? It was.
This slim A5 books is basically a "splatbook" for the Vivimancer class created by Norman. They are a spell-casting class that focuses on "bio-sorcery," which is, for all intents and purposes, magic that impacts the body. Whether via sorcerous genetic alterations to people, animals and plants or through physical or mental alterations to the Vivimancer or their targets, there is a lot to add to games in this book.
Campaigns with the Vivimancer will probably quickly move to horror, and even body horror, genre explorations, so if you don't want these elements in your campaigns then this might not be the book for you. However, even if you just use this book to plunder for new spells for the Magic-Users in your campaigns, instead of using the Vivimancer wholesale, there is still a lot to get out of this book. The Complete Vivimancer contains a write up of the new class, 130 new spells (and complete "Basic" and "Advanced" spell lists for the class), a sampling of squicky new magical items and some rules for the use of magical laboratories in your games.
Obviously, with the basic similarity of many OSR systems, this book can be used not just with Labyrinth Lord, but with Swords & Wizardry and Lamentations of the Flame Princess as well. In fact the Vivimancer would probably be at home in most Lamentations games. I would let parents be the judge, but this book probably wouldn't be suitable for most games with younger players involved in them. You can even use this book with your Basic and Expert D&D books to bring a weird fantasy edge to your games.
I can't wait to use this in my next fantasy game. The fact that flipping through the pages have given me many ideas, not all of which are player-character friendly, is a good thing. I thoroughly recommend this book and suggest that everyone who runs an old school game grab a copy of it.
Whitehack. I have to give a shoutout to +Brian Isikoff for this book, because he had a copy of it sent to me a couple of months ago now. Based off of the Swords & Wizardry Whitebox rules, Whitehack does the unthinkable...it streamlines those rules. Whitehack is available in two versions the "Standard" edition (which I have), which contains all of the Whitehack rules, and the "Notebook" edition, which contains all of the rules and 192 pages of "notebook" space that you can use to fill in with notes for your campaign, characters or anything else that you might want to use the notebook space for. The notebook edition is a pretty cool idea.
I think that our regular group would enjoy the Whitehack rules, but since we are an online only group, the lack of a PDF version of the rules makes this a hard sell. $28 might not be a lot, but it is a lot to spend on something that we might end up only playing for a few sessions. Honestly, this lack of a PDF was about the only thing that I didn't like about Whitehack.
One thing that others might not like about Whitehack is the fact that there is no art in the book. Just rules. This would be a deal breaker for many, but wasn't as big of a deal for me. The design and layout of the book reminded me of a textbook almost. Keep in mind before making a snap decision that the book is only 64 6x9 pages. There is a lot packed into those pages, however.
Everything that you need to play is in the book. Instead of the standard D&D classes, this game goes with more abstract character classes: The Wise, The Stong and the Deft. These classes are much more archetypal than your standard D&D classes, which means that you can build a lot of concepts that might not easily fit into the standard classes with Whitehack classes. Another concept, which I think was inspired by video games, that was interesting was the idea "rare" character classes. The idea of rare classes is that they aren't available as starting characters, but are "unlocked" if a character dies during a campaign, in case a player would be interested in creating a different sort of character.
Spell effects are similarly abstract, and instead of traditional spell lists you instead create your characters spells on the fly, using their class and descriptors as guides to what the character might be capable of doing.
I like the abstraction in this game. Old D&D was already a fairly abstract game, so you don't loss much in translation when you abstract it further. Whitehack would be a good game for people who are looking for some more modern approaches to the workings of games, while keeping the simplicity and abstraction of old school D&D.
If is definitely worth checking out, along with The Complete Vivimancer. These two books are examples of why we are in such a golden age of gaming right now.
Well, there probably won't be any posts until I arrive at Gen Con (you never know if this would change), and if you are a reader of the blog and attending Gen Con please try to track me down and say hello. Check the link to my Twitter feed at the beginning of this post, and my post about Gen Con from the other day, for the most up to date information about where I may be while at the convention. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Friday, July 24, 2015
Next Wednesday I will be in Indianapolis, IN for Gen Con. My schedule is pretty busy, with interviews and wandering around trying to cover as much as possible for Bleeding Cool and this blog.
This is me ---->
Gen Con 2015 will return to the Indiana Convention Center next week. THE BEST FOUR DAYS IN GAMING™ will be held July 30 - August 2, 2015 and badge sales to date indicate it will be the biggest and best year yet.
Gen Con is the original, longest running, and best-attended gaming convention in the world. For over 47 years, Gen Con has been setting the trend and breaking records. There is so much to do, see, and experience at Gen Con between the exhibits, special events, and more than 14,000 events taking place over four days. Attendees meet movers and the shakers in the gaming industry, have the opportunity to play the newest games, and get a sneak peek at the latest developments.
Gen Con 2015 will be open to the public Thursday, July 30, through Sunday, August 2, 2015. Thursday through Saturday, the Exhibit Hall is open 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday from 10 am to 4 pm. 24-hour gaming takes place at the convention center and at area hotels during the four-day event.
Everyone attending Gen Con must purchase a badge. A badge allows the individual entrance to the show, admittance to the Exhibit Hall, Art Show, Anime events, seminars and any events happening in the public areas that do not require an event ticket.
- Badges are available now at www.gencon.com with Will Call pick-up on-site.
- 4-Day Badge Price: $90
- Single-Day Badge Price: $55
- Sunday, August 2 is Family Fun Day! $35 for a family of four
Updated Headlines for Gen Con 2015
- Badge Sales at a Record Pace – Last year, Gen Con reached a four-day turnstile attendance of more than 184,500 and a unique attendance of more than 56,000. This year, badges are moving at an even faster rate.
- Sun King Brewing’s Drink On and Prosper Tapping Party - Indy’s own Sun King Brewing is releasing their 4th official Gen Con beer, Drink On and Prosper, a golden ale, for the first time in commemorative collectors cans. An open-to-the-public tapping party will serve as the official kick-off to Gen Con 2015, beginning on Wednesday, July 29 at 5 pm on Georgia St.
- Marina Sirtis, Media Guest of Honor – Gen Con, in partnership with Co-Sponsor Mayfair Games, has announced Marina Sirtis as a Media Guest of Honor for the 2015 convention. Marina Sirtis gained worldwide acclaim as the sexy, cerebral Deanna Troi in the Star Trek: The Next Generation TV series and related films. She will participate in autograph signings on Saturday and Sunday, August 1-2.
- Summer Glau, Media Guest of Honor – Gen Con is excited to announce its second Media Guest of Honor for 2015, Summer Glau. Summer is an actress best known for her iconic characters River Tam in Joss Whedon’s TV series Firefly and the feature film, Serenity, and Cameron Philips in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. Ms. Glau will participate in autograph signings and photo ops Friday, July 31 and Saturday, August 1.
- Mayfair Games Charity Event – Gen Con Co-Sponsor Mayfair Games will host an event supporting Official 2015 Charity, The Julian Center, Friday July 31 on Georgia St. Participants will play their newly released game “Star Trek: Five Year Mission”. Media Guest of Honor Marina Sirtis, of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame, will also be making an appearance. Last year, Mayfair Games raised more than $20,000 for Gleaners Food Bank of Indiana.
- Paizo Publishing at Gen Con – Voted “Best Publisher” for five consecutive years during Gen Con’s ENnies award ceremony for excellence in tabletop roleplay gaming, Co-Sponsor Paizo is returning this year bigger and better than ever before.
- 30th Annual Costume Contest - Numerous awards will be bestowed across a wide swath of categories during the 30th Annual Costume Contest beginning Saturday at 3:30 pm.
- New Cosplay Events and Guest of Honor - New for 2015 is the inaugural Crossplay Contest, one part pageant, one part RuPaul’s Drag Race, and all parts fun. Author of Cosplay in America, Ejen Chuang, will also be joining the festivities as Gen Con’s first Cosplay Guest of Honor and taking pictures at several photoshoots throughout the convention.
- Author’s Avenue and Writer’s Symposium - This year’s Author Guest of Honor Terry Brooks, creator of the Shannara series and author of the recently released novel, The Darkling Child, leads a group of prolific and high-profile authors in the convention’s annual Writer’s Symposium. Those interested in autographs, informative writing seminars, and exposure to literary luminaries should attend. Brooks’ Shannara series is coming to MTV soon.
- Art Show and Artist’s Avenue - Acclaimed fantasy illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi has been selected as Gen Con 2015 Artist Guest of Honor. More than 80 artists will take part in the annual Art Show, and prints and original artwork will be available for purchase from many participating artists in the Exhibit Hall.
- Film Festival and Anime - Interested in seeing a show at the show? More than 130 films and digital projects will compete across multiple categories at the Gen Con Annual Film Festival. Anime enthusiasts can also choose from nearly 100 free screenings, talks, and workshops.
- Inaugural Puppet Program Guest of Honor - Gen Con is thrilled to welcome Trace Beaulieu as the inaugural Puppet Program Guest of Honor. Trace is a comic actor, writer, producer and goofball best known for his work on the award winning, cult hit show Mystery Science Theater 3000. In addition to writing, occasionally directing, and designing sets and props, Trace performed the puppet character “Crow T. Robot.”
Family Fun at Gen Con 2015
- Family Fun Pavilion - This is an area dedicated to family gaming for all ages. It includes exhibits, demonstrations, activities and much more!
- Training Grounds - is the place to introduce kids to the gaming world and all its possibilities. The Training Grounds are most appropriate for kid’s ages 4-12 years old and located in the Family Fun Pavilion.
- Family Fun Day, Sunday August 2 - There will be events specifically designed for family involvement, including face-painting and learn-to-play events, along with discounted badges.
This came over the wires the other day:
This is the end of an era for a lot of gamers, because I have known a lot of people who have played or used GURPS Traveller over the years. Having seen the licensing belt for Traveller tightened as Traveller 5 was in the works, I hope that this doesn't mean that the only version of Traveller that gamers will be left with will be the mega-tome of Traveller 5. I would hate to see Mongoose Traveller go away, only because it is the only version of Traveller now that appeals to me, and it appears to be about the only thing by Mongoose actually still available in print.Since 1998, Steve Jackson Games has published GURPS Traveller source books under license from Far Future Enterprises. Traveller, a science fiction game of merchant princes and mercenaries, has long been a favorite of gamers everywhere. On December 31, 2015, Steve Jackson Games’ Traveller license will expire, and will not be renewed.What does this mean for GURPS Traveller fans? This: You should go directly to Warehouse 23 (warehouse23.com) and purchase any downloadable GURPS Traveller books you’re missing; they’ll no longer be available after 2015. Items in print will be available until the current stock runs out."All good things must come to an end," said Loren Wiseman, GURPS Traveller Line Editor for Steve Jackson Games. "After over 50 products, not counting T-shirts and the like, working with Traveller has been more fun than human beings should be allowed to have, and we at Steve Jackson Games would like to thank Marc Miller and everyone else connected with Traveller for allowing us to play with our version of the game for 17 years. Thanks!"
Traveller fans are used to versions of the game coming and going. I hope that this won't be the last version of the game that we see licensed for another system as well. That would be a shame. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Monday, July 20, 2015
Updated 7/24/15: Here is a downloadable PDF of the schedule for the food trucks. It tells you times and locations for the trucks, which you can use in conjunction with the info below. I'm storing it on my Google Drive for now.
Over at the MadFoamingCat's Fumbled Creations blog, +Sarah Landis has put together a list of the food trucks at Gen Con this year, and a tentative schedule of who will be where.
You can find her post here.
This is a resource that Gen Con really falls down on. Last year's schedule was a mess, and I spent a couple of days tracking down websites for menus and Twitter and Facebook for more direct contacts with the various trucks appearing. This seems like something that Gen Con should be doing, rather than bloggers. I am glad that Sarah put this together, because I was stalling doing this myself because it was such a pain in the ass last year.
Thank you, Sarah, for doing what Gen Con should have already provided to everyone.
PS: I haven't compared her list to the one that I compiled last year, but if there are any duplicate trucks that I tracked down the Twitter/Facebook accounts for you can find my old post here.
I'm looking forward to seeing everyone at Gen Con in a week and a half. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Friday, July 17, 2015
Dorkland: What is it about the Cthulhu Mythos, the works of Lovecraft and associated authors that make them so enduring?
Sandy Petersen: He evokes cosmic terror - a different type of fear, and a new style of writing. No one before him even tried.
DL: What is it about the Call of Cthulhu game that makes people so passionate about it?
Sandy: I think much of the appeal is that it is contrarian by nature. In other RPGs, you seek out combat. In CoC, you avoid it. In other RPGs, you adventure. In CoC, you solve mysteriies. In other RPGs, you acquire powerful weapons and items. In CoC, you find musty old books that are dangerous even to read. In other RPGs, your character gets stronger over time. In CoC, your character gets less stable and in many ways weaker. I have no problem with the other RPGs - but there are plenty of them around. If you want something different, then CoC is it - it does almost everything "wrong" from a normal RPG and I think that's what its fans love.
DL: When you first designed Call of Cthulhu, did you think that there would still be so much interest in it after all of this time?
Sandy: When I designed Call of Cthulhu almost no one even knew who Lovecraft was. I thought it would an obscure cult game that would sell maybe a thousand copies and vanish.
DL: What would you like to see for the future of Call of Cthulhu 7th edition?
Sandy: I want to see an awesome campaign with scenarios set in the Cthulhu Wars world, after the Great Old Ones have returned!
DL: What non-Chaosium games are interesting you currently?
Sandy: Well most obviously my own games, from Petersen Games - Gods War, Cthulhu Wars, Orcs Must Die! the boardgame, Dicenstein, and Theomachy. But probably you meant what games that I didn't work on, in which case I just played Terra Mystica and had a great time. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Monday, July 06, 2015
Dynamite proudly announces that fan-favorite author Warren Ellis will be writing the James Bond 007 ongoing comic book series, the first to appear in over two decades. James Bond 007 is scheduled for release in November 2015, featuring interior artwork by Jason Masters (Batman Incorporated, Guardians of the Galaxy).It sounds like it will be some cool work:
The first six-issue story arc in the James Bond 007 comic book series will be entitled VARGR. James Bond returns to London after a mission of vengeance in Helsinki, to take up the workload of a fallen 00 Section agent... but something evil is moving through the back streets of the city, and sinister plans are being laid for Bond in Berlin.This sort of "hard man" character isn't anything new for Ellis, who helped to popularize it in super-hero comics with characters like The Midnighter, and in his non-super-hero books like Red, Desolation Jones or Jack Cross. The James Bond DNA, whether Ellis realizes it or not, has seeped into so many of his creation that it only seems natural that he would take a swing at writing the character itself.
We'll see what happens this fall when the first issue hits the stand, but it sounds interesting and doing James Bond is definitely smack in the middle of Ellis' comfort zone as a creator. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Sunday, July 05, 2015
An email about Eventbrite's study of convention attendees showed up in my inbox the other day. The statistics are interesting, I think:
Any emphasis in the quotes is mine. Yes, the conventions that they did these studies at appear to just be comic-related, but from attendance at Gen Con and other conventions, that my observations hold these statistics across the board. Gaming conventions may not be as close in these numbers, but they really seem to be getting there.Gender and the Single's SceneThe demographics of fandom convention attendees are now trending equally male and female. In Eventbrite's survey of the fan community, respondents were 48.9% female, 48.7% male, and 2.4% non-binary/other. Although the split is close to 50-50 male-female for attendees, the survey found differences in male and female attendee's interests. Women reported they were most interested in comic and genre-based media (59%), while men said they were most interested in comics/graphic novels (64%).Looking at the single's scene, 50% of romantically available attendees are men, while 47% are women. Additionally, the survey found that single men are more likely to go to a fan event alone (29%) than single women (18%).
It is fashionable for other "fandoms" to bash cosplayers, but I think that one thing that gamers and genre fans need to understand is that cosplayers have always been a part of the fandom. If you go back to some of the photos from conventions as far back as the 50s and 60s you'll find a lot of people cosplaying their favorite characters.Con Attendees Spend BigThe majority of survey respondents (59%) said they spend between $100 and $500 at fan events they attend, not including basic costs such as tickets, food and parking. Overall, the most popular purchases that fans "always or usually" buy at conventions across all groups surveyed are original art and prints (37%), toys, figures and collectable (28%), fashion merchandise and t-shirts, and collectible comics and graphic novels (both at 27%). And, despite anecdotal reports to the contrary, only around 20% of people reported that they regularly purchase celebrity autographs at conventions. With nearly 38% reporting they "never buy" these items, they ranked among the least popular purchases according to the survey data.Survey findings also revealed that 10% of con-goers reach into their wallets and shell out $500 or more at fan events over and above logistical costs and more men than women (66% vs. 33%) spend $500 or more at fan events.Cosplayers Pay to PlaySerious cosplayers are repeat attendees; 64% of them attend three or more fan events per year and 27% attend five or more fan events per year. When they attend, seven in ten will spend $100 or more at the event. Age and gender are also factors; the majority of cosplayers (60%) are between the ages of 23 and 39 and female (65%).Primary fan interests for cosplayers are unique to that group as well. The top three interests reported by cosplayers were anime/manga (29%), comic and genre-based media/entertainment (21%), and science fiction and/or fantasy (18%).
We really need to get over this and realize that the thing that all of us wanted has happened: geekery has mainstream appeal and greater numbers of people want to be involved in these fandoms. We need to remember that there aren't rules to being a "true" or "proper" fan of something. You just are a fan. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Gaming needs to be weird.
We have enough derivative, sanitized content for our games. The family friendly, all-ages part is covered. We need more singular visions and high concepts, and less creation by committee. This is where Zak Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land comes in.
On the surface this supplement for your D&Desque game of your choice is Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland meets Bram Stoker's Dracula, where they get into a sort of first fight, but the complexity in this book is much more than that. There are vampires, and there are weird creatures from beyond the Looking Glass, but there is much more to this book than a rehash of Dungeonland or Ravenloft.
Our group just came off of a six month campaign using this book as one of the inspirations for our game. Instead of D&D or a retroclone, however, we used the classic Marvel Super-Heroes game that TSR put out in the 80s. One of the central conceits of A Red & Pleasant Land (RPL) is that there is a "slow war" going on between vampiric factions in what may, or may not, have once been Wonderland. I interpreted that in our game as the vampires being sort of "unstuck from time," and not experiencing it in the same way that others (in our case the player characters) experienced it. In fact each powerful vampire that they encountered experienced time differently from the others.
Good RPG supplements/adventures are toolkits, whether they are intended to be or not. You should be able to slice and dice a well done RPG supplement and repurpose it to do what you want. RPL passes that test with flying colors. In fact, for many people it is probably for the best that they do dig into the book and make the pieces fit with the sort of games that they run, and the sort of world that they want to create. There is a lot of weirdness in this book, and it isn't all in easy to digest chunks. Smith assumes that there will be some level of remixing done by a GM and presents his material in such a way to make changing the text accessible. He may not make it easy, but he does provide the tools.
Much like in his more explicitly toolbox book Vornheim, RPL has a lot of random tables that allows for the quick creation of random content on the fly. Since players are notorious for zigging when they should zag, it is good to have some back up that allows you to create things as you go. The Alice character's player in our game got extensive use out of the Random Objects table, when she decided that the Alice would be able to randomly pull things from the pocket of her pinafore apron. It is tools like this that makes a GM's job so much easier at times.
In the book Smith gives you all of the pieces that you need to run the "slow war" of the setting. You have all of the important, powerful NPCs and their various "warring" factions. It is easy to take all of these pieces and repurpose them for the game at hand. Don't want to set your game in a loose, fantasy Eastern Europe? Take all of the factions and drop them into a 1970s New York City instead. Use the Pale King and the Colorless Queen as the overlays for famous people of the era and have them play out their strange, involved intrigues against the backdrop of the 70s nightclub scene instead.
Now, if you're playing a D&D game you really don't have to worry about how you're going to fit the pieces of the book into the puzzle of your game, at least not as dramatically as we did for ours. All of the monsters will fit fairly easily into a campaign, and many of them aren't all that much stranger than a lot of the creatures that you would see in the early days of RPGs.
One of the absolutely biggest selling points for me is the Alice class that I mentioned earlier. It is sort of like a Fighter, and sort of like a Thief (Specialist if you play Lamentations of the Flame Princess), with the wit and mercurial nature of Carroll's signature character rolled into the writeup. I like the random special abilities that the character receives at leveling up, because it fits well into the conceit of Carroll's Alice. And, really, are there many other characters who are as ready for the strangeness of a fantasy RPG campaign as Alice?
A Red & Pleasant Land is as much a mimetic weapon pointed at your campaign, infecting it with rogue ideas and strange, impure thoughts, as it is a game supplement. Putting this setting into your game will change it into something that you may not recognize, and that is a good thing. Instead of the stale old dungeon crawls, explore the castles that can jump and shift when your characters are turned around. Where up can be turned into down without you realizing it. If you want a more "social" campaign in your game, there are the factions of the Red King, The Red Queen, The Colorless Queen and all of their servants and creatures aligned, and unaligned, to explore and interact with. The social structures are given as many rules and details as are the monsters that you can fight in the game.
Definitely check out this book and bring it into your games, either in part or in whole. I think that you are going to like the variety that it brings to your game. A Red & Pleasant Land is one of the best books to hit gaming this year, and it is probably one of the best books for gaming in a very long time. Side by side with Smith's earlier Vornheim and his "redo" of James Raggi's DeathFrost Doom you can get a world of gaming that is outside of the ordinary.
Also, be sure to check it out when voting time for the 2015 ENnies happens. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Thursday, June 25, 2015
As anyone who has ever gone to Gen Con, or really any major convention, can tell you it isn't cheap. Travel is expensive. Accommodations are expensive. Food is expensive (we all have to eat). So, +Annah Madriñan and +Reynaldo Madriñan are having a fundraiser to help defray some of the expenses of their trip to Gen Con.
Once, a long time ago now, I put up my first ever guest post on the blog, a post about the Maid RPG from a woman who I met through G+ and had some cool things to say about gaming. That woman was Annah. I'm proud to say that I knew her before she was cool (not that she wasn't really cool then).
+Kiel Chenier of the Dungeons & Donuts blog asked for a little bit of a signal boost to help with this fundraising:
You can check out Kiel's full post with details here.Friend of the blog Annah Madriñan is raising money so she and her husband, Reynaldo Madriñan, can afford to go to GenCon 2015! Annah is one of the official ENNIES judges and has been doing great work as one of their few female judges.Please consider donating a few dollars to her GenCon fund. Annah is an important voice for women in tabletop gaming, and Reynaldo is one of the masterminds behind BREAK!!Donate $1 or more and you’ll be sent Von Bottom’s Hoard, a system agnostic adventure PDF we all collaborated on!
(Full disclosure: I run my own fundraising campaign for Gen Con, to be found at the right. It is expensive for everyone.)
The adventure is pretty cool, and anyone interested in a short, whimsical dungeon crawl type of adventure with anime tropes will enjoy Von Bottom's Hoard. Styled for the concepts of D&D, there really aren't much in the way of mechanics to this adventure, letting you use it under any system. If, for some reason, you don't want to help these people for the contributions that they've given to gaming through their blogging and their social media posting, then do it for the adventure. Von Bottom's Horde makes for an enjoyable night of adventuring that would be fun for the whole family.
Click the blog link above and get the information to support these guys now. Hit the Trouble Alert, call all the Teen Titans and move like you've never moved before. Tweet Follow @dorkland
Tuesday, June 23, 2015
The Cypher System Rulebook is coming from Monte Cook Games (or conversely it might have already arrived by the time that you are reading this). With the Cypher System Rulebook, Monte Cook and company have taken the rules that debuted in their highly successful Numenera RPG, and were further refined in the collaboration between Cook and fellow designer Bruce Cordell in The Strange RPG.
Featuring a streamlined "class" based system for character creation, and simple rules that allow for quick and easy play, the Cypher System rules hit a lot of sweet spots for me. Where Numenera was one of my Must Have games last year at Gen Con, the Cypher System Rulebook will be one of the top games of 2015. Hyperbole? Maybe, but I can count on one hand anymore the number of new games out there that make me want to play them just by reading the rules and the Cypher System Rulebook is one of those games. Is it going to revolutionize gaming? No, probably not, but if it motivates others to want to play it in the way that it does me it is going to build one hell of a following.
Character creation is relatively quick and class-based. The quickness comes in that you get a lot of the basics from the class (called character type in the rules), which you then customize to make the character that you want. Special abilities are given to a character at each tier of progression (think character level) which allow you to fine tune the concept of your character and customize them as their story progresses. Unlike a lot of class and level-based RPGs, however, progressing through the tiers isn't going to mean that your character is going to change a great deal during play, but instead moves along the path of their story, allowing it to change them. Cypher System characters are not zero to hero types, starting as fairly proficient characters and becoming moreso as they go.
There is some of the DNA of the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons to be found in the Cypher System, which makes sense since Cook was one of the main architects of that game. I see these rules as a progression of those, changing as the designer's tastes and interests in gaming change over time. Knowing that Cook had been one of the designers of the fifth edition of D&D, along with The Strange RPG co-creator Cordell, it makes me wonder who much of this system could have been the game that we could have gotten if Cook and Wizards of the Coast had not parted ways? I will say this, if some version of these rules had powered D&D 5e, I would probably still be playing that game now.
Old school players and game masters will find this game an interesting one. Like with the D&D 5e rules, there is a current of influence of the older D&D editions that run through the Cypher System Rulebook. The simplified approach to play, and the ease of character creation, show this influence and the underlying rules for Cyphers in the game hark back to a lot of the handling of magic items and treasure in older editions of D&D. Like in older editions, the stats of characters are relatively unchanging, and not directly linked to play, which leaves transient Cyphers to influence and inspire your character to great heights beyond what the character sheet might tell you during play. Like the potions or belts of power of old, Cyphers help to describe the world that you are playing in and also give edges to the characters during play.
Stats are interesting because, while they can show how strong or quick that a character may be, they don't directly impact play. Unlike the more recent editions of D&D, the stats do not directly modify your rolls they instead provide a pool of points that can be spent to give your character situational benefits, or sometimes help to power special abilities. This abstraction is definitely a feature for me, but I can see where it might bother others. In this approach to stats, the abstraction helps to enforce the cinematic nature of characters and play in a way that makes better sense to me than with some other systems out there.
While character types are fairly generic, which is the point since this is a generic game, you can customize characters for genre or setting through Flavors and Descriptors. Flavors are optional rules, they are basically a separate set of tier-based special abilities that can be swapped for abilities in your character's type that makes them more unique and flavorful. For instance you can apply the Combat Flavor to your Speaker (the charisma-based character type) to make a character that is like a battle-oriented bard. You can add the Magic Flavor to your Explorer to make a street-savvy occult investigator for your game. The idea behind flavors is that they open up the possibilities for your characters, making them more of a part of the world which they are exploring and less a generic "cipher." Flavors are also where GM customization comes in. You can create Flavors that are specific to the game's world.
Descriptors are character traits, terms that help describe your character and can give them some additional special abilities. Think of them almost like a feat in the recent D&D editions, but you only take this once, during character creation.
Other than the special ability choices that come with progressing to each tier, there really aren't a lot of choices to make for a Cypher System character. While you pick a couple of new ones from the list of tier abilities each time your character "levels up," that is it. There are no exploding lists of feats or combat options to bog down character creation, or advancement, or to give players a fatigue of choices. Many of these options, like Flavors, don't have to be used...cutting down on the number of choices that are made at each level. Regardless, you still end up with robust and unique characters at each tier of play, and it is still easy enough to customize characters that a group can have two warriors and they look different from each other in substantive ways.
One thing that might trip up some groups is the fact that players make all of the rolls in a Cypher System game. Players make attack rolls when attacking some monster and players make defense rolls when they are in turn attacked. Yes, you probably could change this, but the way that the system is set up makes doing all of this simple enough that it really shouldn't slow down play.
The lack of GM-oriented rolls are made up for by what the Cypher System calls "GM Intrusions." GM intrusions are where the GM can inject excitement into a game. A character accidentally drops their weapon. A monster is where they aren't supposed to be. Something goes wrong and now the characters have to do something about it. Some might see this as making a rule out of the GM "being a dick," but at its heart it is an abstraction of things like wandering monster tables from the older editions of D&D that could bring sudden action, that the players or characters might not really like, into the game. It can be a pacing mechanism to speed up or slow down play, to punctuation quiet with a bit of excitement or terror for the characters.
The GM intrusion is also one of the methods for giving XP in the game. When the GM makes an intrusion on a character, they are offered 2 XP for that. That player must then turn around and give one of those XP to another player at the table. You can give that XP as a reward for being particularly entertaining during the session, or because their character helped yours out when they needed it.
What differentiates a GM intrusion from something like a wandering monster table is that the player can choose to opt out of an intrusion by paying the GM one of their XP instead. This is a compelling sounding mechanic that might be familiar to some gamers.
The Cypher System Rulebook is rounded out with a selection of creatures for various genres. GMs could also fairly easily adapt creatures from Numenera or The Strange to their games as well. There are also explanations of various popular role-playing genres, and how a GM can customize the rules to be used in those genres. At over 400 pages, this isn't a small book by any stretch of the imagination, but it gives you everything that you need for play. This is not a basic game, or the expert rules. This is a self-contained game.
These rules are built upon a solid foundation of the great rules found in Numenera, and then expanded through The Strange and countless hours of play by the designers and fans. The Cypher System Rulebook does not invalidate those earlier games, but builds upon them. There are options, like Flavors, that can be folded back into the rules of the earlier games as well, expanding your options for those games. The Cypher System Rulebook is a great game and if you haven't already tried one of the other versions of the game, you should definitely check this one out. This game will be good for those who may already have a setting in mind, and just want a set of rules that allow them to play in that world. The Cypher System Rulebook is that set of rules. Check it out and see for yourself. Tweet Follow @dorkland