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Monday, May 23, 2016

The Trouble With Tabletop Gaming Is...


We have trolls. Horrible, terrible amounts of sad little people who are looking for the validation of their sad and tired little squeaks of anger and outrage. They're "fighting" against a world that has moved and left them behind in the dust. The think that their only hope now is to shout long and loud enough to drown out other voices, those voices that truly represent the world of today, and of tomorrow.

These trolls spout racist, sexist and homophobic diatribes under the the auspice of free speech. Which is fine, they are absolutely right that they have the right to say what they want. The problem is that having the right to say whatever you want, and being protected from the consequences of what you say, are two entirely different things. Freedom to speak your mind also doesn't mean that the rest of the world is required to listen to your tiny, squeaking voices.

We need to stop giving up the public spaces of the internet, because that is exactly what those trolls want. They want people on the outside, people who might be interested in the various hobbies that fall under the umbrella of Tabletop Gaming, to think that they are the only voices, the ones who are in charge. This is a lie that is perpetuated by good people keeping quiet, so only the sour grapes, the squeaking voices of those choking on the dust of the Modern World are the voices that are being heard.

This needs to stop.

Don't Feed The Trolls. In a way, this is right. Engaging with the trolls, the tiny-armed dinosaurs with arms waving to protect themselves from the approaching comet, does no good. They aren't interested in discussion, they want to derail and make sure that the conversations are about them rather than the topics that they don't want discussion about. Make sure that in places like Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social media sites you talk about the harassment of anyone being wrong. Don't talk to the trolls, but let everyone else know that there are other voices, rational voices that aren't coming from places of fear and anger.

Of course, this will mean that harassment and the squeaking voices of the trolls will be directed at you, as they attempt to use their techniques to shout down opposition. Block or mute and move on. Trying to talk to them is pointless, because they aren't interested in conversation, just hearing their shrill, squeaky voices.

These people are all big, bad and tough online, with their fear-based bullying, but they really don't have any power over any of us. They don't even seem to think that they have any power over their own gaming tables, since they insist upon the narrative that someone is trying to take away their games. If they don't have power over themselves, why should we assume that they have power over others?

The squeaky-voiced trolls can't even win initiative in a combat. All that they can do is react to what others are saying and doing. These are not powerful people, these are sad and fearful people who don't know how to handle a world that will no longer excuse their hatreds.

Don't Read The Comments. This is what has allowed the squeaky-voiced trolls to take over so many websites and forums. Just like above, the point isn't to engage the squeaky but to point out to others that their voices, their hate and fear is not what defines our hobbies.

We Need To Look At Both Sides Of This. No, we actually don't. There aren't two sides to these discussions. Supporting racism is not a side. Supporting homophobia is not a side. Supporting sexism is not a side. Supporting transgender harassment is not a side. These are not sides, they are bigotry pure and simple. If being against bigotry is wrong, I don't ever want to be right.

We need to stand with the victims of these fear-based harassments and let the ineffectual attacks of the squeaky-voiced trolls bounce off of us. Together, we have the power. All that they have is fear and ineffectual anger.

Update 5/23/2016: Kudos to Chaosium Publishing (publishers of fine games like Runequest and Call of Cthulhu), who have published an anti-harassment policy and Code of Conduct for their organized play. They site my EN World piece on the harassment of women in gaming as a reason for the policy.

Written while eating Jelly Belly Superfruit jelly beans, because pipes are gross.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Fanboy Expo Experiences And Talk


Fanboy Expo is a series of pop culture conventions in Florida and Tennessee. I've never attended one of their conventions (Lakeland is a bit out of the way for me to go to a show) but I have been asked by my brother Jason Helton to share his experiences at the most recent show in Florida.

I don't often talk about my brother, expect to mention him in passing when we attend conventions together. He is a life long fan of comics, professional wrestling and other of those things that we have started to lump under the umbrella of "pop culture." He travels around the Florida area attending conventions, so that he can meet the people who make the comics that he has enjoyed, and the people who do other forms of his favorite entertainment.

I asked Jason to write about his experiences at the convention, after negative talk was removed from the Fanboy Expo Facebook page.

This past weekend, he went to his first (and last) Fanboy Expo.
I attended my first and last Fanboy Expo on Saturday, March 12, 2016 in Lakeland, Florida.
First the positives of my experience: their website was accurate about the guests who canceled as of the night before, about separate lines for methods of payment, and the site map being given out at the ticket window.
The negatives I experienced: There was an $8.00 parking fee to the facility that is nowhere on the Fanboy Expo website.  When I mentioned to the cashier it got me a response of “I didn’t know either.”  
One comic guest was Tom Nguyen, an artist who has worked on books from DC Comics like Batman, Green Lantern and the JLA.  When giving a site map at the time of ticket purchase it showed where his table was to be located, but there was no table at the location, or anyplace else on the convention floor.  I asked a badged staffer and that staffer responded with, “Oh, he is our photographer for our photo ops.  Let me go see something.”  The staffer went to room where a photo op was being done.  The staffer came back saying Tom will be doing a photo op for at least 45 minutes and would sign after that.  At no place on the Fanboy Expo website did they mention any of this.  There was no mention of it at all at the Expo site.
I asked at an information booth to complain to someone.
I spoke with a person named David.  When I complained about the parking fee and availability of Tom, he did not respond the parking, and to say that Tom was there as a staff photographer. David then apologized that some older guests were taking longer on photo ops than expected.  David said he would get my items signed and even ask for a sketch to be done for me but I would still have to wait until the current op was done.  When I stated I didn’t want to wait my response from David was,” It is what it is.”   I then countered with why this information was not mentioned on the website or onsite and nothing.  I said I would not come back to a Fanboy Expo and David saluted me and said there was nothing else to say and walked away from me.
I put two posts about my experiences on the Fanboy Expo Facebook page, and both were removed within 30 minutes of the posts.
After Jason spoke to me about this on Saturday afternoon, I reached out to a few people that I know in the local comics scene and asked them for their thoughts on the Fanboy Expo shows.

"Disorganized" came up more than once. Advertising was not adequate for the convention, and attendance for the show was proportional to that.

The show is branded as a comic convention, but the obvious emphasis (as you could notice from Jason's experience above) was on the celebrity guests. Even this emphasis was not well-handled, as I received reports of attendees that were upset by the cancellation of former professional wrestler Ric Flair.

I was told that sales for vendors were not great, and that the arrangement of areas (like the Artist Alley) was cramped and badly planned out.

As so-called geek culture rises in popularity in this country, there are going to be people trying to cash in on that. Comic-Con International in San Diego makes a lot of people a lot of money, and people see that, and want to be the next big convention. However, running a good convention takes a lot more than wanting one, or even "being a fan." It takes skill in organization, skill in marketing and a desire to build a community around your event. Without that community, all that is left is shilling.

I know that the Florida convention scene is exploding. There are more conventions within a few hours drive of where I live than there ever have been. There are conventions in Orlando, Tampa, Miami and Lakeland. There are good conventions that thrive, building a strong community and local infrastructure that get people excited about being a part of things, rather than just consuming. I have said before that my favorite local convention is the Tampa Bay Comic-Con. They do a lot of things right, and they have the constant growth to prove that. Conventions try to muscle their way into an area (I'm looking at you Wizard World Orlando) and others seem to collapse under the wright of their own size and mismanagement. It seems that even a buy out from a larger convention company can help them out, or keep them from losing the faith of vendors or their own staff.

Comic and Pop Culture/Geek Culture conventions are going to make a lot of people a lot of money, before the bad conventions start to burn people out. These are the things that we need to think about when we support a local (or even national) convention. Do they (the convention) support the local fan community? Do they support the creators that come as guests? If the answer to either of these is no, then it isn't a good convention.

Obviously, there are a lot more factors that can go into the decision of whether or not a show is good or bad, but these are easy, and they are fundamental. There is more to "treating a guest well" than providing a well-stocked green room, or providing a hotel room. Time is money, as they say, and if the time of the guests isn't treated as being important by making sure that their attendance is well-promoted and well-attended, and that people are spending money, then that convention is not fulfilling their promise to that guest.

Convention guests are a two-way street. It is important to a convention that they get good guests, because this means (in theory) that they can draw more foot traffic. This increased foot traffic should, in theory, mean that the guests are getting more attention, and making some money.

I'm not saying that a convention owes it to guests that they show a profit. The guests have to work at this as well. Just being invited to a show does not insure financial success, and the optimal way for this is for everyone to work together to make the show and the guests successful. If just isn't something that we see happening a lot.

Now, as someone who likes going to conventions I want a thriving local convention scene. I want conventions to succeed. That takes work, and it isn't always something that we see.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Angry Robot Books To Publish Numenera And Strange Novels In Conjunction With Monte Cook Games

This is some pretty good news for fans of Monte Cook Games' Numenera and The Strange game lines. MCG has announced a deal with Angry Robot Books to publish and distribute fiction based on their games, including the previously announce Numenera novel The Poison Eater by Shanna Germain and further novels from Monte Cook and Bruce Cordell.

If you aren't familiar with Angry Robot Books, you should check them out. They have published novels from authors with gaming credentials like Matt Forbeck (A-Mortals [no longer in print at Angry Robot Books but worth finding a copy of]), Chuck Wendig (Blackbirds) and Dan Abnett (too many things to list). They are top flight publishers of great genre fiction.

Hopefully this will also end in better representation of games from Monte Cook Games in places like Barnes & Noble, where Angry Robot Books already has a strong shelf presence.



Thursday, February 18, 2016

DC Comics Rebirth?


It will start with a voice, "I love this world,  but something is missing."

"It" being the next "event" (my words, not theirs) from DC Comics: DC Universe Rebirth. According to CCO Geoff Johns, DC Universe Rebirth follows in the steps of Green Lantern Rebirth and Flash Rebirth. A next chapter in the DC Universe.

Each of the previous Rebirth minis were about returning something to the DC Universe. Green Lantern Rebirth brought back Hal Jordan, Sinestro and the Green Lantern Corps to the DC Universe. Flash Rebirth returned Barry Allen as the Flash. So, it stands to reason that DC Universe Rebirth will be about returning something to the DC Universe. But what?

What they seem to be saying is that DC Universe Rebirth will bring back the aspect of Legacy to the DCU. 

The more important question is...is it too late?


To be completely honest, neither of the so-called Big Two comic publishers have ever completely bounced back from the crash of comics in the 90s that nearly ended comics. These days, standard operating procedure is to bounce from one big Earth-shattering, status quo changing event to another, dragging readers along on a ride of change and "rebirth" where everything is "All-New" and "All-Different," and of course everything gets a shiny new coat of paint and a fresh set of new #1s to prop up sales.

Until the steam runs out on that, and everyone realizes that things have to change again because they need the sales.

According to an interview with DC Comics CCO Geoff Johns at the Comic Book Resources website some of the basics are:
With "Rebirth," the mainline DC Universe titles will be renumbered with new #1s -- except for "Action Comics" and "Detective Comics," the two longest-running series in DC's lineup, which will return to their original numbering at #957 and #934, respectively. All DCU books will return to a $2.99 price point (currently their lineup is split between $3.99 and $2.99 single issues), and select core titles (details to come on exactly which) will shift to a twice-monthly schedule.
Yes, because nothing will set readers straight quite like 30-some comics with shiny new #1s, and two books that are numbered in the 900s.
It started when [DC Co-Publishers] Dan [DiDio] and Jim [Lee] came to me and said that they wanted to end things at #52, and work build back to a shared universe and big stories. They wanted to take another look at everything.
I think that a lot of this goes back to the last "event" at DC, the less than spectacularly selling Convergence. There were some really good stories in that event, and some old time readers were happy to see the return of "their" heroes, even if for just a short time. The problem was that those readers wanted everything turned back to what they were used to. Personally, I think that would have been a bad idea.

I liked what I have read of DC Comics' "New52" line. They brought a lot of freshness and showed a willingness to do comics that weren't "just" super-hero books. We saw the return of horror and war comics, westerns and science fiction, as the powers that be at DC tried to regain the interest of lost readers, and gain new readers. Some of it worked, some didn't. A lot of books ended up getting cancelled because they couldn't find an audience, and the realities of post-Crash comics (even with deep corporate pockets backing the Big Two) mean that comics that once could have been given time and attention to find an audience no longer were given the chance.

This ended up creating a further disconnect between publisher and readers, as books fell to the wayside. It wasn't just DC doing this either, Marvel has had spates of cancellations of low selling books as well (particularly recently). This is just supposition on my part, based with talking to a lot of comic fans of all different walks of life over social media, but it seems to me that this is one of the lowest points for reader faith in the big comic publishers.


Over at Comic Book Resources, Johns says:
I've been a fan for years -- I have over 60,000 comics and 99 percent of them are DC Comics. I really see this as an opportunity, and like I've said before, take all the characters and thematics that we love -- from the past and the present -- and build a story that brought them all together, revealed new secrets and truths and mysteries, and moved it all ahead. Again, as someone who absolutely loves the DC Universe, to me it's maybe lost some things. Not only characters, but more intangibles. Some essence to what makes the "DC Universe" unique and brilliant and unpredictable. And every single character matters -- from Batman to Cassandra Cain to John Stewart to Saturn Girl to Blue Beetle to Lois Lane-- everyone is someone's favorite. And in comics, anything's possible.
"Everyone is someone's favorite." That right there is the bedrock of fandom, and why waves of cancellations brought dissatisfaction to readers. "Everyone is someone's favorite." This is something that I see often come up in comics conversations online, people don't feel that they should invest themselves in comics because they will probably end up being cancelled. With DC we've seen Blue Beetle, Static Shock and Jonah Hex books get caneled. Soon we will see books like Black Canary go away. Why? Because they want to bring back Birds of Prey (apparently).

I am not alone in feeling that the current (at the time of this writing) Black Canary book is pretty great. It is quirky and original, taking a character who was fairly generic in the New52 relaunch and making her interesting. The creative team found a way to make the character engaging, and something more than what she had been previously. I had always enjoyed this character, but in its 50+ years of history and stories it was typically little more than a face in a group, or part of the side story of some other character. For the first times in my decades of comic reading, I wanted to know what was going to be happening next month with Black Canary. The character became the lead in its adventures, rather than just an adjunct to another character's story.


Having Birds of Prey come back is great, particularly if it means that we will get to see a return of Lady Blackhawk to comics. But, part of my problem, part of where this disconnect between publishers and readers is that for those of us for whom Black Canary has found engagement cancelling her book so that the character can go back to being a team player is nonsensical. Women-lead comics shouldn't be a zero sum game.
It's in the same vein as "Green Lantern: Rebirth" and "The Flash: Rebirth." Some things alter and change, but it's more character-driven, and it's also more about revealing secrets and mysteries within the DC Universe about "Flashpoint" and The New 52 that are part of a bigger tapestry. A hidden and forbidden secret.
So, DC Universe Rebirth is going to be about restoring a legacy to DC Comics. We're going to get a new Justice Society book. The currently ongoing Titans Hunt mini is going to restore the classic Teen Titans to the DC Universe (I'm still not entirely sure how they're going to get around some of the changes like Cyborg being in the Justice League, but I'm guessing that he isn't going to have been a Titan now period). But, still, is it too little, too late?

A big part of the problem that DC Comics has had with issues of its own continuity have always been because the "fresh starts" have always been half steps. Whether it was Crisis On Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, Infinite Crisis or even the New52, each time there has been a reboot they have tried to make everything new and not change anything that they didn't have to change. For the New52, DC had Grant Morrison rationalize a way for a new character...who could still access the old stories (like Doomsday). In the Batman books Batman had three Robins over the course of five years, one of them dying and coming back to life. So much could have gone so simpler with a clean sweep each of these times.

But they didn't, and that is partially what brought DC to this point today.

Comics have been an important part of my life since before I could read. They've inspired many other of my hobbies throughout my life. Now I am wondering if this might now just be the jumping off point for the Big Two.

Update: DC Comics has announced the schedule for the next few months, so we know what titles are surviving and some of the new launches. None of these have announced creative teams.

June:
Rebirth Specials:
• AQUAMAN REBIRTH #1
• BATMAN REBIRTH #1
• THE FLASH REBIRTH #1
• GREEN ARROW REBIRTH #1
• GREEN LANTERNS REBIRTH #1
• SUPERMAN REBIRTH #1
• TITANS REBIRTH #1
• WONDER WOMAN REBIRTH #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping twice monthly):
• AQUAMAN #1
• BATMAN #1
• THE FLASH #1
• GREEN ARROW #1
• GREEN LANTERNS #1
• SUPERMAN #1
• WONDER WOMAN #1

New Issues (Shipping twice monthly):
• ACTION COMICS #957
• DETECTIVE COMICS #934

July
Rebirth Specials:
• BATGIRL & THE BIRDS OF PREY REBIRTH #1
• HAL JORDAN & THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS REBIRTH #1
• THE HELLBLAZER REBIRTH #1
• JUSTICE LEAGUE REBIRTH #1
• NIGHTWING REBIRTH #1
• RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS REBIRTH #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping twice monthly):
• HAL JORDAN & THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS #1
• JUSTICE LEAGUE #1
• NIGHTWING #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping monthly):
• BATGIRL #1
• BATGIRL & THE BIRDS OF PREY #1
• THE HELLBLAZER #1
• RED HOOD & THE OUTLAWS #1
• THE SUPER-MAN #1
• TITANS #1

Fall
Rebirth Specials:
• BATMAN BEYOND REBIRTH #1
• BLUE BEETLE REBIRTH #1
• CYBORG REBIRTH #1
• DEATHSTROKE REBIRTH #1
• EARTH 2 REBIRTH #1
• SUICIDE SQUAD REBIRTH #1
• SUPERGIRL REBIRTH #1
• TEEN TITANS REBIRTH #1
• TRINITY REBIRTH #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping twice monthly):
• CYBORG #1
• DEATHSTROKE #1
• HARLEY QUINN #1
• JUSTICE LEAGUE AMERICA #1
• SUICIDE SQUAD #1

New #1 Issues (Shipping monthly):
• BATMAN BEYOND #1
• BLUE BEETLE #1
• EARTH 2 #1
• GOTHAM ACADEMY: NEXT SEMESTER #1
• SUPERGIRL #1
• SUPERWOMAN #1
• SUPER SONS #1
• TEEN TITANS #1

• TRINITY #1



Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Before The OSR -- Talking True20


In those dark days at the end of the D&D 3.x era, I cast around looking for something simpler. My tastes in gaming were in flux, and I found myself wanting something that was a lot less complicated, but still let me have games with some robust characters in them. And along came Green Ronin's True20 game.

Based off of the D20 SRD and rules from Unearthed Arcana and Green Ronin's Witches Handbook (also by Kenson), designer Steve Kenson created a streamlined set of rules that were robust and still recognizable as being derived from the D20 rules. Originally designed for the first edition of the Blue Rose RPG, the True20 rules were like a breath of fresh air. And Blue Rose was great for more reasons than just the system. The game's setting material broke with the traditions of fantasy gaming and distanced itself from fantasy influences like Tolkien, Moorcock and Howard, and embraced the "romantic" fantasy genre exemplified by authors such as Diane Duane, Mercedes Lackey, Tamora Pierce and others.

It was a nice breath of fresh air to see other genres getting some representation in fantasy gaming. Unfortunately some gamers, those who were used to their tastes being catered to, lost their shit over the fast that someone dared make a game that didn't allow them to continue to play in their same, safe fantasy settings.

I ended up playing the hell out of Blue Rose, and then when the generic True20 came out, I was even happier because then I could take a solid ruleset and use them for other genres besides just fantasy.

Here's some of the things that True20 gets right:

  • It uses the stat modifiers instead of the ability scores to quantify your character's abilities.
  • There are only three, fairly freeform, and broadly defined classes (adapted from the open content material of WotC's Unearthed Arcana for 3.x), and modifies them with Backgrounds and Paths to give you more customization options for your characters.
  • It gets ride of the long, long, long spell lists and replaces it with an again freeform Feat-based system, derived from the magic system for Witches that Kenson created in the Witches Handbook for 3.x from Green Ronin.
  • It seriously streamlines the skill lists.
  • Magic works in the exact same way as skills, so all of the task resolution revolves around the 20-sided die. The game uses just one dice.
  • Damage uses a Saving Throw rather ran a dynamic number that comes from rolling more dice. This streamlines combat further, meaning that there is a lot less dice rolling in the game and everything does faster.
A lot of this is fairly standard practice in a number of games now, but in 2005 while all of our heads were reeling from the hundreds, if not thousands, of D&D 3.x books that came out from Wizards of the Coast and pretty much every other publisher in tabletop RPGs, this was a breath of fresh air.

The timing of all of this coming out couldn't have been more fortuitous for me, because I needed something simpler, something that was easily available for players. True20 fit that bill rather nicely.

There was also a nice level of support. Green Ronin and a variety of third party publishers produced setting material for the system, and Green Ronin had supplements expanding each of the casses (and giving examples for using them in genres outside of just fantasy).

I won't say that there wasn't anything bad about True20, for example the importance of Feats meant that there were a lot of Feats in the rules and supplements. With a Feat-based powers system, that meant needing a lot of Feats in your games. Yes, they were slightly streamlined from "standard" D20 Feats, but each one still ended up being a special case for the rules. Depending on the type of campaign that you were running, that could mean a lot of Feats, and a lot of things to remember.

That didn't bother my games at the time, since we were all still dealing with a lot less complexity than we had been used to with our D&D or D20 Modern games at the time. So, it was all a matter of scale to us.

For those wondering about the title of this post, let me make a transition.

I got into True20 for much the same reasons that I would (eventually) get into Old School Renaissance games: I was looking for a much simpler approach to gaming. A few years back, when +Ethel B+David Rollins+Josh Thompson and eventually +Stacy Dellorfano got together to start playing fantasy games, we could have just as easily been playing a True20 game. In fact, we almost did.

When drafting +Ethel B into tabletop RPGs from MMOs like World of Warcraft, I went to look for simplicity. I didn't want her to deal with learning a bunch of complex rules and then find out she wasn't interested in RPGs. I wanted to "keep it simple, stupid" and find an easy to Grok, easy to run fantasy game that I could run via video chat. The first game on my list was True20, but I started nosing around the internet and discovered the whole retroclone movement where people were rebuilding early editions of D&D using the open content from the D20 SRD (much in the same way that Steve Kenson developed the True20 rules).

I started reading about games like Swords & Wizardry and the Basic Fantasy RPG and realized that I had found what I was looking for. These games were even simpler than True20. Reading up on the varieties of rules, I ended up deciding upon Swords & Wizardry Whitebox (with a couple of tweaks so that we could have thieves in our game) and we were off and gaming for more than three years now (and +Ethel B has attended two Gen Cons with an eye on her third).

There are probably a lot of things that could have gone a lot differently if I had decided to use True20 as my ruleset back when I was starting out.

I will also remind people of the standard rules around this blog:

https://xkcd.com/1357/




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

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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.