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Friday, February 05, 2016

Steve Perrin Joins RuneQuest Development Team




In the spirit of bringing the band back together, Chaosium is delighted to announce that Steve Perrin is joining the design team for Chaosium's new edition of RuneQuest. "We knew that Steve Perrin’s place at the table, as both the creator and lead author of the original groundbreaking ‘78 and ‘79 editions of game, was a natural fit that harkens back to the genius and originality of RuneQuest", said Rick Meints, President of Chaosium.

In late 2015 Moon Design Publications and Chaosium successfully Kickstarted the RuneQuest Classic Edition campaign, a triumphant reissue of the iconic 2nd Edition of the RuneQuest rules and the supplements produced for it: Cults of Prax, Pavis, Big Rubble, Griffin Mountain, TrollPak and many others.

"We want to usher in the newest exploration of Glorantha with a tribute to the masterpiece opus of work that has come before. Part of Steve's role is to help insure that this edition contains the best possible game mechanics while maintaining backwards compatibility with RuneQuest 2", said Jeff Richard, creative director at Chaosium.

The new version of RuneQuest maintains backwards compatibility with earlier editions, while also containing a number of unique innovations that resonate with Glorantha, Greg Stafford's mythical campaign setting where RuneQuest started and to which it returns. This new edition incorporates Runes directly into both your character and the magic system you use, including their passions and motivations.

"The rules reinforce immersion in the setting even more than the original RuneQuest rules did, and ideas experimentally brought forth in Griffin Mountain reach their fruition", said Richard.

Seizing this unique chance to get this right, Chaosium has brought in a team of notable game designers to support Chaosium's rebirth of RuneQuest, including Sandy Petersen (Call of Cthulhu), Ken Rolston (Paranoia, Elder Scrolls, RQ3),  Chris Klug (James Bond 007 RPG, DragonQuest) and Jason Durall (BRP, Conan).

A special pre-release version of the new rules will be revealed at Gen Con later this year, along with introductory scenario sessions. A wealth of all-new campaign material and supplements for the new edition will follow.


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Heavy Metal Meets Big Hero Six In Skydoll

Skydoll is one of those European comics that I have always been curious about. It hits those spots for SF and cutsey that lay deep, deep inside of my soul. Now, thanks to Titans Comics, it looks like I might finally get to see what's up with it.

"Including work previously unpublished in English, Skydoll: Decade contains the first three books of the series with new lettering and translation, the 10-page "art book comic" Sky Doll #0, 12 unpublished pages from Heaven Doll, and 40 pages of tributes from artists including  Claire Wendling, Lostfish, Marguerite Sauvage, Lilidoll, Mijn Schatje, and Benjamin."

"When Noa the Sky Doll is liberated from her life of drudgery by missionaries, it turns out that she is more than just a pretty android built for pleasure. With religion, sensuality and what it means to be human all at stake, Noa must find her true purpose in life."







SKYDOLL: DECADE
Writers: Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa
Artists: Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa
Cover: Alessandro Barbucci and Barbara Canepa
Publisher: Titan Comics
Format: Hardcover
Page Count: 232
ISBN: 9781782767367
Price: $19.99
On Sale Now

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Heavy Metal debuts on comiXology and Amazon’s Kindle Store


February 3rd, 2015 — New York, NY— Heavy Metal, comiXology and Amazon announced today a distribution agreement to sell Heavy Metal’s fan-favorite science fiction, fantasy and horror digital comics and magazine across the comiXology platform as well as Amazon’s Kindle Store. Today’s debut sees the addition of the acclaimed science fiction and fantasy anthology, as well as two new original comic series on both comiXology and the Kindle Store.

“We’re excited to finally bring longtime Heavy Metal fans a first class digital reading experience, and equally excited to introduce this classic anthology to a whole new generation of readers thanks to comiXology and Amazon,” said Heavy Metal co-CEO Jeff Krelitz. “Blowing the minds of first-time Heavy Metal readers is something that never gets old!”

“At comiXology, we’re thrilled to carry such an established publisher as Heavy Metal and we’re sure that sci-fi, fantasy, and horror comics fans everywhere feel the same,” said comiXology CEO and co-founder, David Steinberger. “Heavy Metal brings an edge to comics that we’re happy to have join us on comiXology and Kindle.”

Today’s digital debut of Heavy Metal on comiXology and the Kindle Store sees the following titles available, including two comic debuts:

  • Interceptor by Donny Cates and Dylan Burnett
  • Narcopolis based on the UK film
  • Heavy Metal #280

The Kindle Store gives readers access to millions of books on the most popular devices and platforms, including Fire tablets, Kindle e-readers, iOS, Android and more.

With over 75,000 comics, graphic novels and manga from more than 75 publishers, comiXology offers the widest selection of digital comics in the world. ComiXology’s immense catalog and cinematic Guided View reading experience make it the best digital platform for comic fans worldwide.

About Heavy Metal
Heavy Metal is an American science fiction and fantasy comics magazine, known primarily for its blend of dark fantasy/science fiction and erotica. The fourth oldest American comics publisher at nearly 40 years of age, some of the greatest European and American comic book writers and artists in history have appeared in the pages of Heavy Metal. Since the magazine’s inception in 1977, the Heavy Metal banner has been seen in video games, television, and a 1981 animated feature film. In 2015 the brand established it’s first-ever line of traditional monthly American comics.

About comiXology
ComiXology, an Amazon.com, Inc. subsidiary (NASDAQ:AMZN), has revolutionized the comic book and graphic novel industry by delivering a cloud-based digital comics platform that makes discovering, buying and reading comics more fun than ever before. ComiXology's Guided View reading technology transforms the comic book medium into an immersive and cinematic experience, helping comiXology become a top ten grossing iPad app in 2011 and 2012 and the top grossing non-game iPad app in 2012 and 2013. Offering the broadest library of comic book content from over 75 publishers - and independent creators as well - comiXology will not stop until everyone on the face of the planet has become a comic book fan. ComiXology is based in New York City, with operations in Seattle, Los Angeles and Paris. For more information visit www.comixology.com.

About Amazon
Amazon.com opened on the World Wide Web in July 1995. The company is guided by four principles: customer obsession rather than competitor focus, passion for invention, commitment to operational excellence, and long-term thinking. Customer reviews, 1-Click shopping, personalized recommendations, Prime, Fulfillment by Amazon, AWS, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kindle, Fire tablets, Fire TV, Amazon Echo, and Alexa are some of the products and services pioneered by Amazon. For more information, visit www.amazon.com/about.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Warren Ellis' Recommended Podcast List


The one who writes comics and novels.

I'm not one for podcasts myself, I should probably give them another try...but I'm just built for them apparently. I always see people who are looking for new podcasts, however, so here are some on a variety of subjects.

I copy/pasted this from his mailing list, so the links look wonky because of that.

The annotations on "type" are by Warren Ellis, not myself. I don't know what you will find at the other ends of these links.

All of these are reasonably current, as I recently swept out the podcasts that appeared to be dead.  I use the Downcast app for iOS to manage my podcasts.  The app can sync between different instances - I have Downcast on my iPhone and my iPad, and each instance will update to reflect what's been listened to on either device.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

One Million Moms Goes After Olive Garden Over Fox's Lucifer Show


This has been all over much of the comics-related geek media, but the organization known as One Million Moms has targeted restaurant chain The Olive Garden over its sponsorship of the new Fox TV show Lucifer. Lucifer the TV show is in turn based upon the successful Vertigo Comics comic that itself spun out of the even more successful Sandman comic by Neil Gaiman and a variety of artists.

This organization has previously attempted boycotts against the 21st century when they fought against a gay male character in Archie Comics, railed against both Marvel and DC Comics for including gay characters in their children's entertainment and an "adult" version of The Muppets.

One thing that you will note that is in common with all of this organization's "campaigns" would be a lack of success. I think that is is interesting that they target The Olive Garden, while leaving both Fox and DC Comics (parent company of publisher Vertigo Comics alone). Part of this is because Fox was targeted when the show was announced...to a resounding lack of success...and DC Comics have been target any number of times by anti-diversity groups (also to a resounding lack of success).

The thing is that inside of the geek communities, we have similar regressive elements to deal with. We have to deal with misogyny from within our communities, most particularly those people who think that they are being helpful to "lady gamers." Every community has its share of stupid, but perhaps because of social fallacies, they get a gimme because "he's a nice guy" or "you just don't know him" or any other number of reasons. As a middle-aged white guy, it is particularly dismaying to see so much of this coming from my particular demographic. I will admit that I have not always been the most enlightened of people, and that I have made mistakes, but it would scare me if I still held beliefs now that I held in my childhood, or even 20 or 30 years ago.

The slurs against gays that were once considered okay, are not okay. Treating woman as if they need guidance from men is not okay. Being an ass to someone because of the color of their skin, or because of their belief system is not okay. More and more anymore, I wonder why it seems that so many people are still struggling with the idea that people are just people. Yes, it is easier to hold onto old views, old ideas, but fighting against the changes in the world, or better saying that people who are against your archaic views are the actual problems, isn't going to magically roll things back and make it 1972 again.

Fanaticism, regardless of the group that it comes from, is not pleasant. We need to do better, we need to treat people better than this.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Dennis Detwiller To Join Monte Cook Games


Illustrator, writer, editor and designer Dennis Detwiller will be joining the team at Monte Cook Games as a Managing Editor. Detwiller and Monte Cook first worked together on the Call of Cthulhu d20 adaptation at Wizards of the Coast. Detwiller leaves the video game design studio of Harebrained Studios to take this new position with Monte Cook Games. Detwiller has worked on Magic: The Gathering, the [PROTOTYPE] series for Activision, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for Nickelodeon, and Delta Green, GODLIKE, and Wild Talents for Arc Dream Publishing. Detwiller is also a multiple Origins and ENnies awards winner.


Detwiller responded, in true editorial fashion, to my "tense" issue on Twitter:
Monte Cook Games already has one of the strongest teams in tabletop role-playing, and the addition of Detwiller only makes that team stronger.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Martin Ericsson On World Of Darkness -- "My Goal Is Getting Adults To Play"


We know that the World of Darkness is coming back, after having been purchased by Paradox Interactive. This is old news.

I think that some are going to purposefully misinterpret the quote that I used in the headline. Yes, adults are already playing role-playing games. That isn't the point of that quote, although I could be putting words into Ericsson's mouth, but I see it as the company wanting to bring more adults into the fold of tabletop RPGs. Expanding the number of people playing games is a good thing across the board...whether you play World of Darkness games, or whether you play D&D or Pathfinder. Or if you play Fiasco or Sorcerer.

You can watch the presentation made by Ericsson and Tobias Sjögren recent World of Darkness fan convention in Cologne. I think it is worth watching if you are interesting in seeing where the World of Darkness is going, or if you have been on the fence about the game in light of all of the recent announcements and purchases.


One of the best quotes from the presentation is probably this one from Ericsson: "The best way to save the fucking planet is to get people to walk a mile in someone else's shoes and empathize through the power of play."

Now, I'm not the most kid-friendly gamer on the planet. I respect those who play with kids, and who want games for their kids, but it always makes me happy when I see games that are being promised for a grownup audience. Nothing against "all ages" entertainment, but there has to be a place for people who want more "adult" forms of entertainment, too. Variety is the spice of life.

Sjögren mentions an emphasis on "mature entertainment," and Ericsson goes even farther saying, "while we might approach really difficult subjects, I think it is important for us to not just flash [I think I heard him right on the video, but the sound quality isn't always the best]them as gratuitous images, but actually go deep and finish the conversation about really, really hard stuff." Ericsson goes on to add that this "requires time and depth, and a high level of intellectual discourse around it."

As someone who isn't invested in the World of Darkness, or White Wolf games in general, this is a selling point for me. I played in my first World of Darkness game back earlier this summer, a Werewolf 20 game run by +Stacy Dellorfano. In January, we're going to turn this into an ongoing game, so I am excited for that. We aren't playing in the World of Darkness per se, but drawing on more contemporary urban fantasy and paranormal romance influences for the game. However, it is still very much a game for grownups that we're playing.

Where the previous incarnations of the World of Darkness always intrigued me, they never drew me into their "embrace" quite like the talk around this relaunch has. I will probably wait until they get to Werewolf, because that interests me more than Vampire does, but I will be watching to see what is next from White Wolf Publishing, and I urge fans of horror and dark fantasy gaming to do the same.

Friday, November 20, 2015

'Tis The Season...To Kill Them And Take Their Stuff

There's a new Munchkin set in town (and it isn't that super-cool looking Marvel one that's making all of the social media rounds). This is Munchkin: Christmas Lite, and what makes it cool is that it is a casual version of Munchkin designed to be played in about an hour.


"What?" I hear you asking. "Isn't Munchkin already a casual game?"

Well, yes, but this is a casualer...more casual...version of the same game. You play a game in an hour. Honestly, that is a great thing. I am hoping that this means that we're going to see more casual versions of this game line. I'd love to see a basic version of Munchkin itself boiled down into a couple of decks, that you can just easily carry around and play in a smaller space. This is what makes games like Fluxx (and its near endless varieties) such a great game, you can toss it into a purse or backpack or handy Think Geek Bag of Holding and whip it out at places like the coffee shop to play.

The easier it is to play and move these games around, the easier it will also be to recruit new people and make new gamers.



Underneath, this is still the same Munchkin, so it you know how to play the game you aren't going to have to learn anything new. Because they went for compact and portable, some things are missing. There's no die, and you will have to come up with your own method of level counters. But, I think taking a die from another set (because you do have other Munchkin sets in your house...right?) or grabbing a couple of index cards to use as counters(or even if you just write on the back of one of those coffee shop napkins) fixes this quickly and easily.

I am a great advocate of casual gaming. I like my games, across the board, to be simple and portable, but with enough scalability to be able to add more detail if it is wanted by the people playing. The Munchkin games are pretty good about that, and there are enough sets these days that there should be a Munchkin that will appeal to almost anyone.

Like I said, I hope that this is successful enough that we see a Munchkin Lite. I think that it, and Munchkin: Christmas Lite, will be excellent for the casual gamers in your life.

This game costs $9.95 and will only be available until January (or they run out), so grab yours soon.

As a side, if we're making requests for casualer versions of Steve Jackson Games' games, I would like to put in my request for a quick and easy playing version of Illuminati. Please and thank you, as the kids say.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Roleplaying Kickstarter Coverage

I'm about to make an announcement that won't be very popular, and it might cut back on followers (as well as people sharing posts from the blog), but I think it is time.

Effective immediately, this blog will no longer promote Kickstarters.

Now that a lot of people have gone, I'm going to discuss the whys of this decision. This is something that has been peculating in my head for a while, and I think that I've reached the point where it is time to make a change.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Fate And Getting Over The Hurdle Of Aspects


Coming up soon, I have a rare face to face game. Not having been able to previously find a local group that matched up with my interests, I have done a lot of online gaming over the last two years. One isn’t really better than the other, and I’m not planning on giving up on online gaming because of this, but it is nice to find myself once again prepping for people who will be around the table with me.

We’re going to be playing a pulp-inspired game using the Fate Accelerated rules as the base for the game. Since this will likely be a once monthly sort of thing, the less time we spend on making characters means the more time that we have for the game itself. This is exactly the sort of thing that Fate Accelerated excels at.


Only one of the group, besides myself, has a passing familiarity with the system, so while the rules itself aren’t a problem the creation and care of Aspects has been a slight hurdle for some of the people. There’s a lot of resources out there for creating aspects, but I thought that I would share some things that I have come up with in my long, long association with the Fate rules for the benefit of the people that I will be gaming with. Perhaps they will help some others, so that is why I am sharing them in this blog post rather than just privately with the people with whom I will be gaming.

Let's cover the mechanics of aspects quickly. From the Fate Accelerated rules:
An aspect is a word or phrase that describes something special about a person, place, thing, situation, or group. Almost anything you can think of can have aspects. A person might be the Greatest Swordswoman on the Cloud Sea. A room might be On Fire after you knock over an oil lamp. After a time-travel encounter with a dinosaur, you might be Terrified. Aspects let you change the story in ways that go along with your character’s tendencies, skills, or problems.
When I talk about about aspects with players, particularly players who are new to fate, the first thing that I try to explain is that there is one slight difference between making a Fate character, and making a character with a lot of other traditional systems. Where a lot of other RPGs are built around coming up with as much detail as possible for your characters, Fate is built around the idea that when you build your character you are highlighting those parts of your character that are important to you as a player. The aspects that you choose for characters are the important "aspects" of your character, to you, and for the GM they are flags for the kinds of stories that you want to take part in as a player.

A player whose character's aspects are built around romantic relationships and feelings want to play in a game that, if it doesn't revolve around romance it should have romantic elements to it. The same goes for the player whose character is about exploring the unknown. Consciously, or unconsciously, one of the determining factors around a player's choice of aspects should revolve around these two things: what is important about the character to you, and what sorts of stories you want to be a part of crafting.


This is where the "Establishing Facts" part of the mechanical weight of aspects comes into play. Sometimes this is lost in the shuffle because of the fact that Invoking and Compelling both have direct impacts on play. Establishing Facts, on the other hand, have a more indirect impact on play. For example, one of the players in our group has played Spirit of the Century and wants his character (a talking gorilla) to have been a part of the Khan's army before breaking away from it. After making a high concept aspect around having been a part of the Khan's army he then asked "Does the Khan exist in your world?" My answer was "You established the fact of the Khan in your aspect, so yes. He exists in this world." In a lot of ways, "Establishing Facts" is one of the most powerful parts of an aspect in the Fate rules, but it can easily be forgotten.

My advice to players making aspects is always two-fold: be flavorful and be succinct. Let me unpack these.

Be Flavorful. Aspects should be exciting and dramatic. Not only do they describe your character, but they will help to guide the drama of the story as your games develop. Why "be flavorful"? I would turn that question around and ask "Why would you describe your character in a way that isn't exciting?" Particularly in a pulp-inspired game, where you are playing characters so much larger than life, you need to make sure that your aspects are up snuff for the characters.

"Mediocre" Aspect: Science Adventurer

"Fair" Aspect: Body Built By Science

"Superb" Aspect: Shaped By Secret Sciences To Save The World

Just note that there really isn't a problem with any of those aspects. Any of them have their uses in games, but it will be easier to work in Invokes and Compels when your aspects have some drama to them. Not only is the writing for the "Superb" aspect more dramatic, but it also helps you to establish at least one fact about the world that you are going to be playing in. The most obvious fact would be the "Secret Sciences" part of the aspect. Does this mean that there are sciences developed in secret, away from the prying eyes of mankind? Does this mean that there are lost sciences, from civilizations hidden away in the fog of time? It can also mean that there is a group behind the scenes, using these sciences to create heroes (or villains) like your character. When you put all of this together, you get a "Superb" aspect. It is so much more than just the writing of the aspect itself, although that helps too.


Be Succinct. Why is this important? I will admit that this is probably more of a personal preference, but I think that an aspect that is more compact is easier to use in play. Sentence-length aspects can have their place, but they end up with extraneous information that could be broken out into other aspects. This ends up making an aspect "too" useful when it comes to invoking, and it can make compelling difficult. For example, the above "Superb" aspect could easily have been written as "Raised By A Secret Council Of Scientists To Save The World From The People On It." This is still a valid aspect, but it also has a lot of information that can be overwhelming in play, and it limits the choices from the above paragraph as well.

Spelling out too much in an aspect is like creating too much of a backstory for your character. Yes, it gives your character a rich history, but it also takes some of the fun out of the story that is going to emerge during play. When you put more detail into the parts of your character that you are not going to play, it can inadvertently give you fewer options for your character when you get to junctions in the future. For my style of play, the emerging story of your character is much more important than what has happened before. It isn't unusual for the actions of your character to shape them in ways that you didn't expect when you created that character, and that is a good thing. Aspects can be changed during play, that is a part of using the Fate rules, but it is also good to not create your own road bumps in the emerging story.

Creating aspects is like any skill. The more that you do it, the better that you get at it. Think about the existing mechanics, as well as the story that may emerge during play. Craft your aspects accordingly to optimize both your approach to the mechanics and to the story.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

John Wick Presents Purchases Publication Rights To 7th Sea From AEG


There was a not unsizeable gaming announcement made today:
AEG is excited to announce that we have entered into a deal with John Wick Presents to sell back the publication rights for the 7th Sea game line. AEG will still retain rights to publish a number of products within that line over the next few years and we are negotiating and planning what that will be but have no announcements at this time.
 +John Wick also announced this on his YouTube channel:


Wick originally codesigned 7th Sea with Jennifer Wick and Kevin Wilson.

At the end of his YouTube video, Wick announced that he would be doing a new edition of the game in 2016.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dark Circle's The Shield By Wendig And Christopher

This cover is awesome. I had to pick it up.

I think that one of my favorite things about comics, one of the absolute cornerstones of the medium, that keeps me coming back to it is the heroic legacy of characters. This has nothing to do with continuity. Fuck continuity, most of the time it just calcifies storytelling and leads to empty wankery.

Today at the comic store I picked up The Shield #1 from Dark Circle Comics (aka the fine people who bring us Archie) and the new creative team of Chuck Wendig, Adam Christopher and Drew Johnson.

I have been anticipating this comic since it was first announced. I have been a fan of The Shield and the various "Archie Super-Heroes" since the 80s revamp of the characters under Rich Buckler and the Red Circle Comics. Then in the 90s I loved the Impact! Comics featuring these characters put out by DC Comics. I even liked the 2000s revamp from DC Comics. These characters may not always stick with comic readers, but they represent a legacy that goes back to the golden age of comics and that is (in part) what makes them so important.

The reason why legacy is more important than continuity is because the world of today isn't the same as the world of the 1940s, or even the 80s...or the 90s. Comic book characters, for better or worse, work best when they are a reflection of their time, rather than trying to imitate some earlier time period because of nostalgia or a yearning for a time that really never actually existed. Those Shield stories from the 40s and the 80s, and etc.? Those stories have already been told. And read. And they aren't going anywhere. New times calls for new stories. Fans of popular entertainment forget that sometimes.

This is a new Shield for a new era. This new comic upholds the legacy of the old comics, while rebuilding it for new ideas and new sensibilities. The Shield was the first patriotic hero in comics, and that isn't forgotten in this book. This new Shield is patriotic and proud of her country, but not in a jingoistic way. The patriotism of this books isn't an "America right or wrong!" type of patriotism. It is a patriotism that comes from loving your country, and loving the fact that other people want to be a part of your country, and that with loving your country comes the responsibility of doing the right thing for it...and on the behalf of it.

I don't know if that makes much sense, but I was brought up to love my country because its people weren't afraid to do the right thing, even at great personal consequence, not because it would bring accolades or fame, but because it was the right thing to do. This is also at the root of the concept of super-heroes, and why super-hero comics are predominantly such an American thing. This desire to do the right thing out of love for your country and super-heroes are so deeply entwined that comic book super-heroes start to falter when you move away from that base line of doing the right thing.

So, what does this have to do with The Shield? Well, the comic embraces that aspect of being a patriot, and being a hero, without being jingoistic and showing that doing the right thing is sometimes the only choice that a hero has. We learn fairly quickly in this first issue that there is a toll to be paid for being The Shield, for being a hero, but Victoria Adams, the heroine of our story, knows that she must be a hero regardless of the outcome. It is the right thing to do.

Wendig and Christopher's writing manages to create a character in Adams who is both grounded in the real world of the 21st century, and who is also larger than life and legendary. Johnson's art helps with this in no small part. The three of them create a world for our hero (and yes, she is very much our hero) that manages to be both realistic and epic at the same time.

Why is a heroic legacy so important to storytelling? When done right, they can show us how we can do grand things and be larger than the world around us. With The Shield, Wendig and Christopher have created a larger than life character who lives up to the legacy of The Shield. They have created a hero who is ageless and a product of their contemporary world, just like every other good super-heroic concept that outlasts its creators. This was a comic that thrilled me while I was reading it, yet made me sad that I have to wait 30 days in order to see what was going to happen next. That feat alone is something that doesn't happen every day in my comic reading, and that is why I will be back for more next month with The Shield.

If you like super-hero comics you really should be reading The Shield. Put it on your pull list and demand that your store stock it, if they don't already.

Monday, October 05, 2015

The Delta Green #RPG Now On Kickstarter


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.

Talking Stormbringer

Recently I came into some stuff for the early editions of Chaosium's Stormbringer game. This fills a hole in what I actually do collect in gaming because, even though Michael Moorcock is one of the few fantasy writers whose work I enjoy, because I never really liked the early editions of the game. What I wish that I could tell my younger self is that a game can still be good, even if it doesn't fulfill what it is trying to do.

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.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Necronomicon FL Schedule


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:

DAY
TIME
ROOM
EVENT NAME
Friday
2:00:00 PM
White Ibis South
High SF
Saturday
10:00:00 AM
SHC South
How to Get Started Publishing Games
Saturday
11:00:00 AM
SHC South
What Makes a Game Fun
Saturday
12:00:00 PM
SHC South
What's New in Gaming
Saturday
5:00:00 PM
Audubon C
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.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Vornheim Returns

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.