Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dorkland Interview -- Orin Rakatha Kickstarter with Mike Penny

Orin Rakatha, the RPG setting with a long and storied background as a U.K.-based LARP, is in its final couple of days of Kickstarter -- and, as of this writing, it only needs a few more quid to reach the funding goal! Despite the busy final stretch, one of the developers, Mike Penny, sat down with us here at Dorkland! to answer some questions we had about Orin Rakatha.

Dorkland!: First up, how has the Kickstarter experience been for you so far? What do you feel you have done especially well? What might or would you change?

Mike Penny: I’ve been a fan of Kickstarter for a year or so, have backed a couple dozen projects and have like I am sure many people thought ‘I could do that’. Well now we are most of the way through and it does look like we will have made it but it’s been a bumpy ride and I have much more sympathy for those successful / unsuccessful Kickstarters I have watched. It has been an immensely exciting project but somewhat all consuming, there’s been some high and low points; the highs have to be the fantastic support we have received I think the lows have been ‘no comments’: we’ve had hardly any comments / questions which I was looking forward to!

The most challenging part has been creation of traffic, Kickstarter is a great platform but you don’t get pledges from them, almost all of our pledges have been via social media links; the best advice I got very early in our campaign was ‘in crowd-funding the crowd comes before the fund for a very important reason’ meaning build your own crowd first; which we did go out in earnest to create from an early stage and it has proved to be successful.

As for changing something not sure I would, lots of people have said that our initial campaign and video were too ‘amateur’ and I agree, we aren’t video of typesetting professionals and our Kickstarter was very much about getting the funding for these professionals for the end product but saying that if we come back to Kickstarter I think we would get some seed funding first for such things on the campaign as it does seem to be ‘expected’

Overall a very positive experience I feel and the support has been tremendous.

DL: How did Orin Rakatha come to be, all those years ago?

MP: Our Live Action Roleplaying campaign started on a world called Murandir; for a while at the time (and this is almost 30 years ago) we had a permanent fixed site for our adventures and most of the LARP games took place there. When the time came to give back the lease on the permanent site and look to the future the decision was made to write a new world to mark this change.
There was also a want to create a world that worked perfectly for the LARP environment, addressing a challenge that we call ‘Suspension of Disbelief’ in that when we LARP we want to minimize the number of times that we have to accept something ‘as it is’ because we cannot physically create it in the real world (something which table-top is not limited by). So we wrote a world that had rules supporting the concept; one of the easiest methods of describing this is via the ‘Laws of Orin Rakatha’, there is an actual law on the lands described as follows: “The Law of Gathering: The people shall not travel the land in groups larger than twenty individuals”, the LARP reason for this is although we might want to we could stage enormous battles every other weekend, our LARP events had 10-15 players and a similar number of crew (monsters) so we wrote a law that made sense of this in-character. The cool thing about transference of these laws to the RPG is that this means that the most powerful unit on the world of Orin Rakatha is the ‘adventuring party’ and here they become the armies of the towers of people they represent.  I’ll cover a bit more about this in the question about sentience below.

The original spark of Orin Rakatha came from a fairly small tight knit group but the development over the years has been handled by a large team of referees and like all the best campaigns but on the tabletop or not by huge input from the players and crew.

DL: What are some of the challenges with bringing a setting with such a long history to print?

MP: The two biggest challenges we are firstly living up to the expectations of those people that have actually been in the world of Orin Rakatha, there are now words with which you can replace a live experience (but we do feel that these live experiences will create, colour and infuse our words) and frankly we want to make sure that those people feel its great, as they will be our harshest critics, get it right for them and we feel it will work for the wider audience.

Secondly the volume of the editing task we have to undertake, there is a lot of stuff to compound into words suitable for a book, and a lot of it was created prior to all the common sharing mechanisms we take for granted today. We haven’t underestimated this task hence why there are 6 of us on the team and we’ve allowed enough time in our plan to do the primary edit (and re-write where needed as not everything fits from LARP to RPG) to meet our current delivery targets.

DL: What unique benefits or challenges, if any, are there in bringing Orin Rakatha back from the LARP to the tabletop?

MP: A fringe benefit to us is that as the campaign has developed over such a long time, there has never been one steward of the history and it has never been collected into one place, this will re-energise our LARP world as much as it will launch the RPG product. As for challenges on top of the ‘we already have a lot of people to impress’ I think it will sit around ‘crunch’ or the stats and rules not covered by the story element, as we can’t directly transfer the LARP stats to the RPG (as the LARP has it’s own unique rule set); so we do have to re-stat everything to suit a couple of the key existing fantasy campaign rules sets, we are currently targeting Pathfinder, the OGL direct, Fate and potential Savage Worlds; this is the area with the largest amount of work we have to do ourselves but we are experienced gamers and are looking forward to it!

DL: Orin Rakatha is a fantasy setting and there is a bit of info about it on the Kickstarter page, but how does it really differentiate itself from existing fantasy settings? What would get existing fantasy-game players psyched up about it?

MP: For me it’s simple to answer this, characterization and plot! This is a long story-line and the characters have actually been played by real people and been ‘experienced’ by hundreds of others. It’s a bit like re-writing a major fantasy novel, after you’ve seen the film but also asked all the audience what they thought about both the book and the film.

DL: 'Sentience' is something mentioned in the description of the game -- what are these semi-sentient lands and sentient towers?

MP: So I am not going to give too much away here! But simply put the land is alive and controlled in a mystical way, it responds to the actions of others to uphold the laws.

The structures in which each of the groups of peoples (small nations) live are called towers and these towers are linked to the mystical power that controls the land, protect the people from the mists that transform the land and also are unique in their own way, in that they are larger on the insider than they appear and have internal climate (which is where all food production and mundane activities take place), you cannot harm a person within a tower nor can you lay siege to them. They are a completely safe haven; but to retain a tower your people must have sufficient power and wealth to do so, this is measured together and known as ‘status’ on Orin Rakatha; so they must send out ‘adventuring groups’ to maintain their status (or in game terms gain xp and gold!) I said I’d talk some more here about how Orin Rakatha came to be; one of the elements we wanted a ‘reason’ for under the ‘suspension of disbelief’ was to answer this question ‘When adventuring as a low level party how come we hardly ever meet monsters that are much higher level than we are? And when we meet some lower level monsters or ones that we out-number how come they just don’t take one look at our cool armour and magic weapons and run away?’ So here the sentient nature of the land actually ‘responds’ to effectively marshal not only its own forces but also the opposing sides of towered people so that much of the time they meet others of a similar rank or level (not always GM’s!) The Mystics achieve this by the pathways being physically changed to redirect those that are travelling across the lands to ‘meet’ in a particular way. The nature of random encounters are also influenced by the lands sentience, many of the indigenous creatures have a simple culture and believe in reincarnation to such an extent that they are actually willing to fight against greater more powerful odds because they will be ‘brought back by the mists as a more powerful creature’

DL: What are some of the inspirations behind Orin Rakatha?

MP: The team and the players of Heroquest LARP developed as the fantasy genre developed in the UK, early on it was 'Dungeons & Dragons' & 'Lord of the Rings' and it's moved over the years as the fantasy genre has developed and become more accessible to everyone. But the single most significant influence during the creation of Orin Rakatha has been our players; most GM's will know this secret - the players come up with all the best plot ;0)

DL: Who or what were the Ikarthians?

MP: The Ikarthians are, or more correctly were, one of the towered people of Orin Rakatha (as described earlier all the towers are akin to a small nation of a few thousand people); they are part of the pre-history of the world (in that they date from a time prior to the player character history) and were in a traumatic incident all destroyed in a single heart-beat. You’ll find out more about them in the starter module ‘Burning Night’ and if we meet our stretch targets the campaign module ‘The Shadow of the Ikarthians’ will reveal all their story).

 DL: The art on the Kickstarter page (which I quite enjoy) seems to give off a bit of a grimdark vibe -- what exactly is the tone of the setting and how is it expressed?

MP: So there are elves, orcs, wizards, goblins, warriors and priests so it is in one way a traditional high fantasy setting but we do agree that it has a gritty more real edge to it, fundamentally this comes from the way the story was written, so firstly in the more traditional sense the story was written down by the referee organizing the LARP events, but what defines Orin Rakatha is the nature of the story development, in that it has been played out and the story developed by hundreds of people both taking part in events and writing and developing the plot as it went along. So as we commute this into the books you'll get the flavour of a number of peoples perspectives on the story. So in short it's a high fantasy campaign but with a real edge!

DL: Lastly, what is your favorite part of Orin Rakatha and why?

MP: For me it has to be the lands and towers around an area called the Ikarthian Triangle, this is made of of 3 towers; one was destroyed long ago (and some of its history is revealed in our first module Burning Night) and remains haunted by its once inhabitants the Ikarthian people; who were all tragically slain in the same moment (the whole tower of 1000's of people all at the same time), and of the other two I really love the Labyrinth of Xenos a tower of enchanters that create golems and clockwork constructs to carry out their will and whom are all linked to a single consciousness. This triangle of towers is one of the few places on Orin Rakatha where the open land is protected from the mists and it is also therefore a hub for the undesirables that have now tower sanctuary to call their home.

We here at Dorkland would like to thank Mike for his time in answering these questions and if you would like to know more about Orin Rakatha please check out their Kickstarter page -- only a couple of days left on it!

Friday, March 28, 2014

March Book One By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

While at MegaCon last weekend I inadvertently stumbled upon the Top Shelf Productions booth and found what is one of the most powerful comic book stores that I have encountered in a long time.

March Book One is a biographical comic, based on the life of U.S. Representative John Lewis, and written by his aide Andrew Aydin with art by Nate Powell.

One of the great things about picking up a book for the first time at a comic convention is that you often get to meet the creators. Aydin's enthusiasm for his writing on the book and Lewis' life was infectious and got me to pick up the book. I don't think that a comic creator's direct enthusiasm has influenced me as much since I met David Mack back in the 90s, and he sold me on his Kabuki comic. Of course, these two have little in common outside of an emotional impact.

This first book in a trilogy talks about Lewis' early life as the child of Alabama sharecroppers, up through his college years and early involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Early on, Lewis' empathy is shown, in his treatment of the farm's chickens when he was a child. This sets the stage for what would become his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

Don't think that is is a dry recital of facts and dates, like some high school history course. Through Aydin's talent as a writer, Lewis and the people in his life are vivid and engaging as you follow them through their fight for equality. Powell's art beautifully compliments the writing and helps to bring the writing to life.

It is amazing how much you think that you know about a subject, until someone who was actually there shows how little that you really know. This book is like that. Not in a "trying to teach a lesson" kind of way, but with the methods that can only come from natural storytellers like Lewis and Aydin. It is obvious from the writing that Aydin has a great deal of respect for Lewis and his accomplishments, and after reading this first book it is a respect that we all have as well.

I don't think that I can speak highly enough of this book. This comic is something that I am going to stick into the faces of friends for years to come, telling them that they need to read this book. In fact the point of this review is that you need to read this book. One of the things that I talked about with Aydin, while he signed my copy of the book, was that comic, and really all forms of geek media from games to movies, need to expand beyond the power fantasies that you often find and explore new territories with emotional maturity. This comic shows how you can do that.

If it isn't obvious yet, you need to pick up this book (and the next two parts when they come out).

David Trampier, 1954-2014

It has been reported and confirmed that iconic TSR Games artist David A. Trampier has died. This is the last known picture of Trampier, from the Carbondale, IL Daily Egyptian newspaper:

Probably best known for his AD&D 1e art, as well as art on the early editions of Star Frontiers and Gamma World, Trampier has a quirky idiosyncratic style of art that helped to define the early D&D experience, along with artists Jeff Dee and Erol Otus.

For those of us whose earliest gaming experiences were formed by this man's art, I can say that he will be missed.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Dorkland Interview - Nefertiti Overdrive with Fraser Ronald

A few days ago Dorkland! covered the new Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter -- an RPG that offers punches to faces and kicks to groins, all in the exotic setting of ancient Egypt. Today we had the chance to sit down with Fraser Ronald of Sword's Edge Publishing about Nefertiti Overdrive and its ongoing Kickstarter.

Dorkland!: Having a successful Kickstarter under your belt already, what did that experience change in the preperation for Nefertiti Overdrive's Kickstarter, if anything?

Fraser Ronald: I've had a successful Kickstarter (Centurion) and a failure (Farewell, Something Lovely). Having a success means I know what to expect, how to get the project rolling, and I also have some support mechanisms already in place, such as using the same company for fulfillment as I did for Centurion.

The problem is that past experiences also create expectations and assumptions, and I'm working hard to rid myself of those.

DL: Why ancient Egypt?

FR: Nefertiti Overdrive is based on a story idea (more of a screenplay idea, but let's not quibble). I stumbled into the story, and the story dictated the setting. I was doing some reading on Sudan, and learned of the Kingdom of Kush. That led me into reading about the 25th Dynasty and its fall to a Lower Egyptian dynasty backed by the superpower of the day – the Assyrians. That sparked the story idea.

I guess I could have transplanted the story. It really would have fit into any setting in which a foreign (but culturally related) dynasty is being removed, but I didn't really see the need. Ancient Egypt is cool, right?

DL: Why wuxia? How does it fit ancient Egypt?

FR: This was also dictated by the initial idea. You can kind of blame the Prodigy for this. I was walking to work and listening to music while mulling over the initial story idea that became Nefertiti Overdrive. The song "Warriors Dance" from the Prodigy album "Invaders Must Die" came on. I was thinking of a scene on a wharf, and when the music came on, I started to think of a fight scene. A crazy fight scene. That's where the wire-fu aspect came into it.

I've been berated – and not without reason – for using wuxia to refer to "wire-fu" (for lack of a better term) – the kinetic, physics-ignoring style of fight choreography made famous in North America by the Matrix and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Wuxia is a literary genre from China, and while many "wire-fu" movies are adaptations of wuxia stories, wuxia is not synonymous with wire-fu. In my defence, everyone to whom I have mentioned Ancient Egyptian Wuxia understood exactly what I meant.

In any case, the cinematic action element came into the story at that point, and then it began to dominate the story in my thinking. It was also the reason why this project changed from screenplay or story idea into a role-playing game. Choreographing those fights in my head, and thinking of other cool fight scenes, I decided I wanted to play it as a game.

And thus Nefertiti Overdrive: Ancient Egyptian Wuxia was born.

DL: You mention the rules are similar to some of your previous titles, what are some of the differences?

FR: The main difference is the task resolution mechanic. Nefertiti Overdrive uses four dice, derived from the character's Attributes, for task resolution. One die is used for initiative, two dice for success, and one die for effect. Using things like Luck, a character can have more than four dice, and those extra dice can be used however the player wishes to increase any of the three results. This task resolution system is completely different than those from Sword Noir, Kiss My Axe, and Centurion.

DL: What is there in Nefertiti Overdrive for fans of your previous titles? What is there to draw in new, potential fans?

FR: I would really like to believe I have fans. If I do, it means they probably really dig my games. What those games share with Nefertiti Overdrive is my focus on cooperatively building a story. The philosophy remains one of cooperation, with players and GM working together to create a fun and exciting story.

That's really important to stress. If you are the kind of GM who feels it is his duty to destroy the characters or make it nigh impossible for them to succeed, this is not the game for you. If you are the kind of player who needs to undermine the story the GM is trying to build or point out to him why he is so wrong, this is not the game for you. If you play RPGs with your friends, if you consider it a win when everyone has a good time, and you all try to support each other and allow everyone to have some spotlight time, I'm pretty sure you'll enjoy Nefertiti Overdrive.

For those unfamiliar with my other games, I hope the cooperative nature of the game would be appealing. I would also hope that potential backers would appreciate Nefertiti Overdrive's easy character customization. While pre-generated characters are provided, the game does include character creation rules, and like my other games, these rules will allow a player to pretty much build the kind of character she wants.

This game is designed to allow characters to be awesome in their niche, and who doesn't want that? This is a wuxia game, after all, and so the heroes are generally going to succeed and be completely amazing doing it ...until the scene in which they get trounced happens, but we're pretty sure they'll live through that.

DL: The characters seem to be quite the motley crew. Why have these specific characters?

FR: One of my favourite movies is the 13th Warrior (I said it was a favourite movie, not a great movie). One of the aspects that I love about that movie is its a-historical nature. The vikings in it all come from different periods and geographic regions, some before the Viking Age or beyond the reach of the Vikings. It didn't matter if a 12th century Orkneyman in an 18th century kilt hung out with a mercenary in 15th century Spanish armour, what mattered was they looked cool doing it.

And they did.

As I mentioned, this all started as an idea for a screenplay. With the 13th Warrior as a touchstone, I let my mind go wild when thinking of the kind of combatants I could have on the good-guys team. I even had actors I envisioned in the roles (you can still see that initial conception at Those characters changed as they needed to fill roles for a game rather than for a movie, but their essence and backstory remain.

DL: The game seems to be rather combat or martial focused. How do the rules handle other situations? What might there be for players that are not as combat-inclined?

FR: The actual task resolution system does not differ between combat and non-combat. The idea is that for combat, the narrative is cinematic. That applies as well to non-combat, but may include details and information rather than a cinematic description. So, in combat, in order to get the highest dice possible from one's character's Attributes, one might say something like "charging at the group of Assyrians, the Monk drops to his knees just he reaches them, sliding under their sweeping swords, then using his spear, he vaults up into the air, twisting and coming down directly on the head of the leader." Outside of combat, you might say something like "The Monk puts the prisoner at ease with his clownish antics and his sympathetic statements, first drawing out some minor personal details about the prisoner to build rapport, and then subtly questioning him about his contact with the traitor at court."

Both of those are detailed narratives describing task resolution, and both of those would get the player the highest dice to use.

DL: The setting seems pretty light. How well will Nefertiti Overdrive's rules work with other ancient settings? Other settings, in general?

FR: Unlike Centurion, which was very focused on the history and its details, Nefertiti Overdrive is style over substance. The Attributes are specific to the idea of cinematic action rather than Ancient Egypt, so it could port very easily to other settings. I could easily envision doing just about any cinematic action game with the mechanics. What it can't do well is different genres. There are games that do investigation, horror, and cultural evolution, but that's not Nefertiti Overdrive. The Three Musketeers? Yeah, I definitely think Nefertiti Overdrive could do that. Oedipus Rex? Um, no.

I have said the game can handle non-combat situations, and it certainly can, but it was designed as a game in which characters punch badguys in the face (or kick them in the teeth, put an arrow through their eyes, hack off their limbs, etc). It handles that very well.

DL: How possible is it to min/max characters in Nefertiti Overdrive? If it is, what's the most min/max'd character you've seen or created?

FR: Pretty much every character in Nefertiti Overdrive is min/max'd. There is no "balance" in the game. I think balance has its place in certain games and for certain reasons, but it doesn't have a place in Nefertiti Overdrive. That would be Nefertiti Acceptable Speed. There's no reason to make a character with an undesirable element. If you want to make the best damn assassin in the world, that's pretty easy to do. It's actually kind of the point. He doesn't have to have a weakness – though it'd probably be more fun to give him one, even if it is only narrative, like the Serpent's curse (one of the pre-gens).

DL: Lastly, what is your favorite part or experience of Nefertiti Overdrive so far? What do you really think makes this title stand out?

FR: Once players realize that the game flushes common sense and the laws of physics down the nearest commode, things get really interesting. Why not go through the wall to beat up the Assyrians? Why not call upon the wrath of Amun-Ra to topple a column, crushing badguys beneath? Using the shields of one's enemies as a ramp and then launch oneself in a corkscrew spin that only ends when you've impaled the evil Assyrian captain? Check!

Because I love outrageous fight choreography, it's my favourite part of playing the game. I honestly love it when the characters succeed and are awesome doing it. Sometimes I love it too much and forget to really challenge them. Seriously, though, when everyone is having fun, shouting and laughing, recounting the unbelievable last scene, what does it matter if the characters were properly challenged? The players were. They were challenged to create amazing narratives. It's always awesome when they succeed.

We here at Dorkland! would like to thank Fraser for taking the time to answer our questions and wish him well with the Kickstarter! If you have any questions about Nefertiti Overdrive or its Kickstarter be sure to check out our previous article, the Kickstarter page and/or Sword's Edge Publishing's website.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Nefertiti Overdrive Kickstarter

There's a new Kickstarter around and, if you've always wanted to punch faces in ancient Egypt, it might be for you. Nefertiti Overdrive by Sword's Edge Publishing -- whose previous titles include Kiss My Axe and Sword Noir -- is a cinematic RPG set in a totally unhistorical ancient Egypt where the focus seems to be on being and doing awesome. But does its Kickstarter page live up to this awesome? We'll see right after these messages (about the game and its setting).

As mentioned, the game is focused on cinematic action -- it's a wuxia in ancient Egypt. The setting -- as much as I got from the Kickstarter page -- is about pyramids and sand and the Nile and such. Basically, if you are looking for a detailed Egyptian setting book -- this might not be the one for you. The rules and mechanics seem to be made with speedier play in mind -- if you are familiar with their previous titles, Sword Noir and Kiss My Axe, it does seem that the rules are fairly similar which means you can check those two games out if you are curious about how Nefertiti Overdrive might play.  Or you can check out the first pledge tier of the Kickstarter.

The first thing to point out (and it is quite obvious on the page) is that this Kickstarter is in Canadian Dollars -- so be sure to convert for your regional equivalents. The second thing to point out is the first pledge tier -- CAD$1 and you get access to the playtest rules. Most Kickstarters just give you a nod for that amount, but playtest rules? That's pretty good. That being said, if you want the PDF it'll only set you back CAD$7 (and still includes the playtest rules). Print copies of the rules come in two categories -- international and Canada/continental USA. The Canada/USA option is pretty simple -- CAD$20 for a print copy (it includes shipping). The international tier is a bit different. From what I can gather it is CAD$17 to purchase a copy via Drive Thru RPG and the shipping will be an additional cost through them. Both of the book tiers also include the PDF and playtest rules. The higher tier extras include a signed copy of the book, game sessions and being a model for alternate character portraits.

Now then, on to the newer section of this article series -- my critique of the Kickstarter, in general.

The first element you see on the page is, of course, the video. Which is done pretty well. It is short and covers as much relevant information as possible. The one minor problem that I had with the video was the sound level -- it just seemed a bit low.

The Amazon, one of the playable characters.
Next is the general content of the page -- it's laid out in a standard Kickstarter way. There is plenty of description to give an idea of what the game is about, though it could use a bit of editing to clean it up and better organize the information. There is also some decent character art present. Some of the best information on the page is in the form of links to Sword's Edge Publishing's website that contains various previews and information about Nefertiti Overdrive, which is nice to see, though some of that information might should be pulled to the Kickstarter page to help flesh out the information there.

Last bit is the funding goal and pledge tiers. The goal is CAD$5,000 which I feel is reasonable. A previous Kickstarter of theirs managed to pass that (by a little bit) and the Kickstarter is almost a quarter funded (as of this post). The pledge tiers seem to be well priced, though the page count is not known for the book -- based on the prices I would assume it being of similar length to Sword Noir. That said, having lower prices in the pledge tiers will require having more backers to meet the funding goal.

If you are interested in Nefertiti Overdrive, and would like to know more, be sure to check out its Kickstarter page and Sword's Edge Publishing's website.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

GMing Survey Over On Reddit

One of the industry mailing lists that I am on spawns interesting topics for conversation from time to time. I don't follow Reddit, so I can't comment directly on any of this, but I found the post interesting enough to talk about over here. You can find a link to the post here. The poster put up a survey for GMs that received 900 responses, and I thought that some of the responses were interesting enough to talk about. I'm not going to look at the whole survey's results. You can do that on your own.
The majority of you GM more frequently than you play. No big surprise, given the fact that this survey was aimed squarely at GMs. 39% of you reported that you GM "most of the time," while 25% said you're always the GM. Another 25% of you said that your player/GM time is about 50-50, 9% responded "rarely," and both "only when I have to" and "I want to but don't know how" each netted a measly 1% apiece.
As a full-time GM, I can see this. Obviously as the survey was directed to people who GM, there will be some bias in answers. It also shows that games need to probably be better explained and have better examples of play written up for them. Yes, that 1% of people who don't know how is only 9 people, however other people who would have answered this way might not have taken a survey like this because they have not GMed.
"World building" and "Reacting to unexpected choices from players" were your two favorite things about being a GM, with some interesting trends. These two answers made up 66% of the total responses to this question, with basically an even split (34%/32%). An interesting fact is that the fun of world-building seemed to follow a bell-curve: <22 year-old respondents favored world-building much more strongly (42% of responses), while 22-39 year-old respondents liked reactionary play more (34%) and instead spent more of their away-from-table time planning adventures than the younger crowd (15% to 10%). However, among the 40+ groups, world-building once again took the top spot (33%). My theory here is that 22-39 year-olds probably lead the busiest lives - starting families, building careers, and so on - and would rather spend their energy at the table than behind the scenes. Alternate interpretations are, as always, welcome.
I would definitely say that my favorite thing about being a GM would be world building. I like the idea of filling in the little bits and pieces, even if the players don't get to see them, and making a world that we will all have fun playing in. Of course, I also don't take the traditional approach of "THE GM CREATES EVERYTHING AND THE PLAYERS WALK AROUND IN THE WORLD" either. I like to let the players, and their paranoid imaginings, fill in some of the blanks as we play as well. It is worth it to see that look when they realize that the things they have been worrying about are true.

Of course the fact that I'm not really a module kind of guy probably is a big part of what makes me want to build worlds. Even if those worlds are just subterranean dungeons for the characters to explore.
Among Fantasy gamers, Pathfinder and D&D 3.5e are king. 46% of you chose one of those two options (Pathfinder - 31%, 3.5e - 15%). This was true among every single income and age group except for players <18 years old, where Pathfinder still reigned supreme but 4e edged out 3.5e by a narrow margin (19% to 13%).
This is a shock to no one, I'm sure.
Outside of Fantasy, Cyberpunk and Sci-Fi were your favorite genres. Cyberpunk commanded 17% of votes, while Pulp and Hard Sci-Fi boasted 16% and 15% respectively. Modern (Magical) and Horror followed close behind with 13% each. Post-Apocalypse netted 11%, with the other pre-defined categories hanging out around 2-3% each. Most of the write-in responses here were variations on "I LIKE MORE THAN ONE OF THOSE THINGS." Superheroes was the only significant new category to arise from write-ins, with <2% of total votes.
Again, probably not a huge shock. To be completely honest, there's not a lot here that comes as a big surprised to anyone who has been gaming for a while. It is nice to see someone doing surveys and trying to collect data, however. I wish that it was one of the bigger publishers who has the time and money to do this sort of thing on the right scale, and it the right ways. The marketing data from the old D&D market surveys are creaky enough at this point to be largely irrelevant, since they are a snapshot of the gaming scene before the OGL, before indie design and even before the massive increase in the PDF market for gaming.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Valiant Comics And Catalyst Game Labs Team Up To Produce Valiant Universe RPG

So, I mentioned this on Friday. Now it is official and the press release follows:

Valiant Entertainment is proud to announce that it has partnered with Catalyst Game Labs to produce role-playing and tabletop games featuring Valiant’s award-winning library of comic book superheroes. The partnership will lead off in mid-2014 with the release of the Valiant Universe RPG—Valiant’s first-ever role-playing game, designed for the Cue System (the Origins and ENnie awards-nominated system first published in Catalyst’s 1950s Rockets/Rayguns/Robots RPG, Cosmic Patrol). Subsequent releases, spotlighting a wide array of Valiant properties, will follow in 2015 and beyond.
The edge between superhero and villain has never been sharper. In the Valiant Universe RPG, players will immerse themselves in a dark and gritty world where every mission and every battle has deadly consequences. Whether playing X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Shadowman or even the all-powerful Toyo Harada—or any of dozens of characters—Valiant’s most fearless heroes will unite for the first time in a roleplaying game, allowing you to join their stories and create new ones! Whether you’re a longtime fan or brand new to the Valiant Universe, this is the only source you’ll need to bring Valiant’s leading characters to life in a fantastic superheroes setting!
“This is really a dream come true,” said Randall N. Bills, Managing Developer for Catalyst Game Labs. “I’ve always been a comics fan—as are most of Catalyst’ employees—and getting the chance to publish great games within a fantastic comics universe is spectacular. The fact that it’s Valiant, with its brilliant combination of heroic action and gritty realism, makes this all the more enjoyable.”
Valiant is a leading character-based entertainment company with a library of over 1,750 characters, including X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, Harbinger, Shadowman and many more. Established in 1989, Valiant has sold over 80 million comic books, and today its characters continue to be forged in publishing, licensing, film, video games, and beyond. Since its summer 2012 relaunch, Valiant has returned to the fore as one of the most highly regarded publishers in comics, winning a 2012 Diamond Gem Award for Comic Book Publisher of the Year. Just last month, the publisher announced Valiant First—a brand new publishing initiative primed to unleash a major #1 new series debut monthly throughout 2014, beginning in May with RAI #1—the first issue of an all-new ongoing series from New York Times best-selling writer Matt Kindt with fully painted interiors by superstar artist Clayton Crain.
“Catalyst is exceptional at what they do, and we couldn’t be happier to be working with a games publisher of their caliber on Valiant’s very first RPG. With such a skilled an enthusiastic team at the helm, we have every faith that Valiant’s first foray into the world of role-play and tabletop gaming will live up to the expectations of our fans around the world,” said Russell A. Brown, Valiant’s President of Consumer Products, Promotions & Ad Sales. “Catalyst is dedicated to doing these characters justice, and we look forward to giving our biggest heroes the gaming debut they deserve when the Valiant Universe RPG arrives later this year.”
Look to in the future for more details surrounding these coming games!
For more information on Valiant’s award-winning library of characters, visit Valiant on Facebook, on Twitter, on Tumblr, and at

For Valiant merchandise and more, visit


About Catalyst Game Labs
Catalyst Game Labs is dedicated to producing high quality games and fiction that mesh sophisticated game mechanics with dynamic universes-all presented in a form that allows beginning players and long-time veterans to easily jump into our games and fiction readers to enjoy our stories even if they don’t know the games.
Catalyst Game Labs is an imprint of InMediaRes Productions, LLC, which specializes in electronic publishing of professional fiction. This allows Catalyst to participate in a synergy that melds printed gaming material and fiction with all the benefits of electronic interfaces and online communities, creating a whole-package experience for any type of player or reader. Find Catalyst Game Labs online at

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Things That You Hear: Licenses And RPGs [UPDATED With Link]

When you're a blogger, or you have contacts within the tabletop gaming industry, you hear a lot of things that never make it out to the general public. Who isn't paying their bills and their freelancers tends to be the thing that you hear about the most. Which publisher lost a licensing deal over non-payment, that sort of thing. DMs on Twitter and private chats on Facebook and G+ give up some of the details on what is going on behind the scenes. Sometimes you pick up things around the gaming table. If you want this information to keep coming you learn to be discrete about things. You want your information to keep coming, after all. This is when a blogger should behave like a journalist and protect their sources.

For example, a piece of information that I have been sitting on for a while now is that one of the well known publishers, known mostly for their science fiction games but also with some fantasy showings, is planning on dipping its toe into the realms of super-hero games by landing a fairly major (to our smaller niche of gaming) comic book license. Will this get past the negotiation stages? I have heard that it has, but as we all well know that doesn't assure that a final product will make the game shop shelves. We will know it when we see it, however. I hope that the game does make it. The license will hold a certain amount of nostalgia for those gamers who are comic book fans, I think, and it will definitely make for an interesting game.

UPDATE: It appears that, while no announcements have been made, there is a holding page for the game on the company's website ( If you want to keep secrets quiet, you shouldn't go live with your web pages. Actually, I looked for this a couple of days ago and couldn't find it. Hat tip to an astute reader for finding the link.

SECOND UPDATE: I've added some screen shots of the page. Just in case.

I am always leery of licensed games because, whether gamers like it or not, they are going to go away sooner or later. At some point the license will stop being profitable for someone in the equation and the game will go away. Yes, there is always the idea that licensed games will, by their nature, bring non-gamers into the fold, but I don't know if this is a prevalent as it would have been 10 or 20 years ago. Sure, there will be some crossover interest from people with the inclination who had never before gamed but I don't know that it is a big of a market as it once was.

Regardless, let's watch and see if there are any big announcements about a new license at the GAMA Trade Show, Origins or Gen Con this year. If this game is going to go through, that is when I would assume that it would start to be talked about.

UPDATE THREE: Expect to hear more soon.

Do you have a tip one something big coming up? Let me know about it privately and I will keep all of my sources confidential.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Examining With Great Power: Grim Realism

For those who may not know, With Great Power was a column in Polyhedron magazine that explore campaign and rule variants for the original Marvel Super-Heroes game published by TSR. Rarely longer than a page or two, these articles looked at different ways to play the game, alternate rules, or something in between.

This particular column, written by then line developer Dale Donovan, talks about making the game more grim and gritty. This was actually a common complaint of the game among players at the time. The era not long after the Marvel Super-Heroes game originally came out saw a darkening of comic book super-heroes, and their stories. Frank Miller's classic Daredevil run for Marvel Comics was one of the inspirations for this article.

The rules are pretty simple, and mostly boil down to retasking already existing rules (which is the best way to do variants).

This is what the article suggested that you change to the Karma rules in the role-playing game:

Continue to use Karma as described in the rules. This will, in most cases, keep the level of mortality about the same as in other Marvel campaigns, if that is what you wish. Good role playing though, especially in a grim setting, will sometimes result in a hero giving up his Karma to kill a particularly dastardly foe. In the Born Again story line in the Daredevil comic a few years back, the Kingpin of Crime methodically destroys Matt Murdock's life after he discovers that Murdock is Daredevil. If Daredevil had been a PC hero in my campaign, I probably wouldn't have objected if Daredevil had killed Kingpin in retaliation, especially if the PC Daredevil was role played as mentally unhinged as the comic's Daredevil was.

Use the villain Karma rules (page 20, Advanced Set Judge's Book) regarding killing the underlings of "master criminals." PCs would lose 30 Karma points for each henchman, underling, or goon working for the main villain who is killed, instead of all their Karma. After all, the thugs aren't important; it's stopping the villain that's the goal. And, if some goons get in your way, too bad—they probably deserved it anyway. All other normal Karma rules apply, though exceptions, like the Daredevil example above, would still be possible.

Play the PCs as outright villains. Again, this is not recommended, as it's not in the heroic tradition of the comics or the game, but I can see where it might be fun to play your favorite Marvel villain and trash the Avengers or the X-Men. Use all the villain rules in the Advanced Set Judge's Book, pages 19-21. These rules are intended to help the GM run his NPC villains, but you can easily apply them to PCs as well. This means that PCs would gain Karma for committing crimes, beating up heroes, putting those defeated heroes
in deathtraps, etc.

I know that there are still a number of people playing the original Marvel Super-Heroes Roleplaying Game around the world, games still pop up on Google+ from time to time, so these variants may be useful to players/GMs in those games. They can also be useful for players of the 4C RPG as well.

You can download a PDF version of the article here.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Apocalypse May Be Rescheduled

By Stephane Gaudry (Flickr: Demolition of the ECVB power plant) [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
People who know me know that I like post-apocalyptic things. I loved Jack Kirby's Kamandi and OMAC (if you don't think that OMAC was post-apocalyptic you need to reread the comics), and as a kid I watched Thundarr every week. I even run Rifts every week (even though I would argue that setting is more like a post-post-apocalypse, sort of like Unhallowed Metropolis).

You're probably all wondering why I'm saying this. It is only because I've been working on the Swords & Wizardry Field Guide for City of Clocks, and I have a couple of other projects in the queue. Having all of this to keep me busy, of course, means that my brains keeps telling me that I need to write an RPG in homage to the first edition of Gamma World. Not a retro clone, we have plenty of those. More like a game that starts from the point of being the old Gamma World game, but adding some bits and pieces to it. Obviously there would have to be magic, because there's a magic-user in Thundarr. I would use the various D20 SRDs as the starting point for the work, and reconstruct the parts of the old Gamma World game that I like under the OGL.

I like the fact that the game was classless, for example. It was pretty ballsy of TSR at the time to not just rebuild D&D and slap a "science fantasy" label onto the game. But it also has that old school sensibility that I like, where the rules are the starting point and characters develop through play, and the actions of their players.

How long will I be able to hold this off? I don't know, but I'm planning on being strong.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

We Have Been Playing Rifts

For a few months now, the weekly Google Hangout group has been playing the Rifts RPG from Palladium Games. We've been having fun. We started on Rifts Earth, moved to Phase World and now the characters are on the 21st century Earth. They aren't sure which 21st century Earth, however.

This does present challenges. There's a Hatchling Dragon and a Imperial Guardsman in the group, both powerful mega-damage characters. There's an Atlantean Ley Line Walker with some hefty spells. There's a Technomancer and a Rogue Scholar. Really, the last two are probably best suited for moving to "modern day" Earth. There is nothing saying that I can't introduce mega-damage creatures into the mix. This actually might be a good way to introduce the Minion War stuff that I have been interested in bringing into the campaign because I think this would make for a good challenge for the characters. I haven't decided yet. I'll give them a week or two to get the lay of the land in their new home before I start pulling any rugs out from under them.

In case you're interested, here are the videos of our sessions so far:

I am trying to make the make more of a sandbox for the characters, as you can see in the last couple of sessions that has led to a bit of paralysis on the part of the players, but we will get over that hump. I am thinking some Mega-Heroes from Heroes Unlimited, or maybe a couple of Godlings who are "undercover" on the Earth of the 21st century as super-heroes before deciding how hellish we may go.

The game has been fun. It has been a lot of fun for me to just be able to throw anything at the characters, and know that they will more than likely survive it (even at first level). I want big, and this will be the game that will give it to us, I think.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Horror Writer Nancy A. Collins Relaunches Horror Classic Vampirella

March 5, 2014, Mt. Laurel, NJ:  Dynamite is proud to announce that Nancy A. Collins, the author of Sunglasses After Dark and Vamps, will revive the iconic horror series Vampirella with a #1 issue in June.  Collins will be joined by talented artist Patrick Berkenkotter (Avengers/Invaders) for the new ongoing series.  Superstar illustrator Terry Dodson will provide the main cover, while a veritable who's who of industry talent will provide variant collectible covers.

"I'm very excited about taking over the reins on Vampirella," says Nancy Collins. "I've really been enjoying myself so far. In celebration of her 45th anniversary, I'm returning the book's focus to its horror roots and giving Vampirella a slightly darker edge.  Dynamite has been wonderful to work with, and have given me a great deal of support.  It's been some time since I last wrote for comics, and it feels great to be back!"

As the debut "Our Lady of Shadows" story arc begins, supernatural heroine Vampirella is sent by the Vatican to investigate the kidnapping of a little girl by the Cult of Chaos... only to become the centerpiece of a ritual invoking Lady Umbra, the sister-bride of Chaos.  Of the fateful repercussions, Collins says, "Vampirella's life is turned completely upside down, and she finds herself having to team up with the strangest bedfellow imaginable in order to battle both a demonic threat and an elite Vatican hit-squad."

Nancy A. Collins has spent the last twenty years writing novels, short stories, and comic books for fans of the supernatural, paranormal, and fantastical.  Her prose works include Sunglasses After Dark, featuring punk vampire slayer Sonja Blue, the YA series Vamps, a collection of Weird Western tales called Dead Man's Hand, and a collection of Southern Gothic stories entitled Knuckles & Tales.  Her comic book work includes Swamp Thing, Jason vs. Leatherface, Machina Jones, and Predator: Hell Come A'Walkin.

Artist Patrick Berkenkotter is a staple of Dynamite Entertainment, having contributed artwork to such titles as Red Sonja, Dark Shadows/Vampirella, Project: Superpowers, and two Dynamite/Marvel crossovers, Avengers/Invaders and The Torch.  "I cannot sing Vampirella artist Patrick Berkenkotter's praises loudly of often enough," says Collins.  "His pencils are spectacular, and he's able to make her sexy, menacing, and bad-ass all at the same time.  I think the fans are going to be pleased with his work when they pick up Vampirella #1, and I hope they take me to heart as well."

"My first exposure to Nancy's writing was in the pages of Swamp Thing, and I've always remembered her run.  When Gail (Simone) suggested Nancy to write one of the anniversary stories in Legends of Red Sonja, it was a great reminder of how good of a writer Nancy is.  As we were prepping for Vampirella's relaunch, and were discussing potential writers, Joe (Rybandt, Sr. Editor) commented that since we all liked Nancy's Red Sonja story, why not approach her.  The rest, as they say, is history.  Patrick illustrating Nancy's story, and Terry Dodson coming on board as the main cover artist really compliment the series as we go in to Vampirella's 45th Anniversary.  I'm confident that fans are going to love Nancy's take on Vampirella, and be in it for the long haul.  It's that damn good."  States Dynamite CEO/Publisher Nick Barrucci.

Dynamite will celebrate the new Vampirella series with a variety of cover options, including a Main cover by Terry Dodson (X-Men, Wonder Woman), Retailer Incentive covers by Jenny Frison, Sergio Fernandez Davila, Jack Jadson, Mimi Yoon, Ken Haeser, and a Subscription cover by Stephanie Buscema dedicated to those hardcore fans who place preorders with their local comic retailers.  Sergio Fernandez Davila (Legenderry: A Steampunk Adventure) has also created a Retailer Exclusive Variant image that can be tailored to promote individual comic shops.

Vampirella #1 will be solicited in Diamond Comic Distributors' April Previews catalog, the premiere source of merchandise for the comic book specialty market, and slated for release in June 2014.  Comic book fans are encouraged to reserve copies of Vampirella with their local comic book retailers.  Vampirella will also be available for individual customer purchase through digital platforms courtesy of Comixology, iVerse, and Dark Horse Digital.


Join the conversation on Dynamite Entertainment's twitter page at

To find a comic shop near you, call 1-888-comicbook or visit

For art and more information, please visit:

Alien Legion Returns Again!

In a galaxy savaged by strife, torn by civil war, boiling with spilt blood, Alien Legion is a cosmic military force doing its damnedest to keep the peace by being always ready for war.

At the tip of the Legion's multi-species spear is Force Nomad – the worst of the worst fashioned on the white-hot forge of battle into the best of the best. Now the squad's grizzled veterans are on what should be a boring milk run; shepherding refugees fleeing a civil war ripping apart their system. Could be a good chance to to toughen the newbies of Nomad into soldiers... until straight-up peacekeeping descends into full-scale war!

This brand-new series brings together the creative giants behind the legendary original Alien Legion stories: Chuck Dixon (Punisher War Journal, Savage Sword of Conan, Batman and the Outsiders) and Carl Potts (The Punisher, The Incredible Hulk) with fantastic art by Larry Stroman! (Wolverine, The Punisher).

A must-have for any fan of the original run, this is also the perfect point for new fans to hit Alien Legion's hot LZ! Get to it, ya damn bospors!

ALIEN LEGION: UNCIVIL WAR #1 hits stores on June 25.

Elric and Void Lead New Wave Of European Graphic Novels From Titan Comics

Following the phenomenal runaway success of Snowpiercer, Titan Comics continues in its bold mission of presenting the highest quality European graphic novels to a brand-new audience!

Titan Comics is thrilled to announce that Elric: The Ruby Throne & Void will be published in deluxe hardcover editions this September!

Elric: The Ruby Throne is the first in a series of graphic adaptations of legendary fantasy author Michael Moorcock’s signature creation Elric. Written by Julien Blondel and beautifully illustrated by Robin Recht, Didier Poli & Jean Bastide, this new comic adaptation of the Elric of Melnibon√© novels has been produced with the full and enthusiastic endorsement of Moorcock himself, who provides an exclusive introduction to this edition!

“The best graphic adaptation of the story,” writes Moorcock, “has to be the current one by Julien Blondel and his team. This is perhaps the first graphic version of Elric fully to capture the sense of utter decadence I tried to convey in the books.”

Gripping science-fiction thriller Void is illustrated by superstar artist Sean Phillips (Fatale, Criminal, Sleeper) and written by Herik Hanna (Bad Ass). Concerning the sole survivor of an interstellar prison ship, this tense and atmospheric graphic novel is Phillips’ first venture into science fiction!

“We’re very excited to be launching a range of European graphic novels, spear-headed by Mike Moorcock’s Elric and Sean & Herik’s Void,” said Nick Landau, Titan publisher.

From late 2014, Titan Comics will follow Elric: The Ruby Throne and VOID with a host of new projects including best-selling medieval thriller The Third Testament: The Chronicles of Legion, which is the prequel to Fabien Nury & John Cassaday’s I Am Legion, and The Rage; a shocking horror about zombie children.

Void will hit comic and book stores from September 2, 2014.

Elric: The Ruby Throne will hit comic and book stores from September 16, 2014.

Void and Elric: The Ruby Throne will also be available to read on the iPad, iPhone, Web, Android and Kindle Fire, exclusively through the comiXology app and

To keep up-to-date with news from Titan Comics, visit , join us on Facebook or follow @comicstitan on Twitter.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Orin Rakatha RPG Kickstarter

Always complaining about not having enough campaign settings to try out? Well, if you are there is a new Kickstarter for you: Orin Rakatha, a decades-old fantasy LARP campaign that is putting itself to paper. We'll move on to the general information on the project next but before that I want to point out that this article -- and all following Kickstarter articles -- will be a bit different as I will also giving my opinion on how the the projects have been set up. That will be towards the end, and since we are still near the beginning -- let's move on.

Orin Rakatha is a fantasy setting that has been designed over some 27 years by associations of LARPers in the U.K. The books will be system-less but feature stats for Pathfinder (and potentially others, like FATE and 3.5).What's the actual setting like? From the Kickstarter page: "a land ravaged by abhorrent creatures, warring nations and powerful magic. Where the only sanctuary can be found within magical sentient towers that the people band together to live within." The 'sentient towers' is the part that sticks out here to me, but there wasn't really much else about them on the page, unfortunately. We'll get into that later in the article, up next is the pricing and goodies.

The Orin Rakatha Kickstarter has a pretty good range of backing levels but the ones we're interested in are the book levels. Starting with the lowest -- just the PDF -- you can get your hands on all of the books in PDF form for as low as £10 in a limited 'early bird' special, with the normal price being £15. For a printed copy you can get just one book for £20 or all of them in soft back for £35 (shipping outside the U.K. is extra). Finally, if a hardbound copy is what you are looking for, there is a limited edition one on offer for £50. Apart from books there are also various ways to get your character into the books and setting material -- either with just text or with art and even a 28mm miniature likeness.

And so we arrive at the new part of these articles -- my thoughts on the Kickstarter project itself. The first thing that caught my eye on the page was the concept art -- there is a good bit of it and I don't know how it all really relates to the setting (there is some description text, but without more context it doesn't help too much), but I really liked the concept art.

The page has a tidbit of information on the setting -- a chunk of which I pasted in above -- but not enough to give me a good sense of what this setting is really about and why I would want to run or play in it. Instead there seems to be a good deal of text given to talking about how Orin Rakatha is a decades old LARPing campaign that has seen a lot of work and such over the years. That is fine, but not really what I am looking for here. I wanted more setting information, less background to the development of it.

The rest of the page basically just mentions that they really want better art, gives a brief description of each book and then the breakdown of expenses and risks. I liked the clear breakdown of expenses -- hopefully it will be something that is stuck to and prevents the wasting of funds (which has been a problem in Kickstarters before).

The funding point may be just a bit too high, as this is largely a system-less setting, but it isn't completely out of the park. Taking off a portion of the art budget to lower the funding goal and setting that up as a stretch goal might have helped to ensure funding is met. The backing levels are good, though it being in GBP does make it a bit pricey for me, at least. I liked the wide use of incorporating backer's characters into the setting and the range of price options for that. You tend to see that in just the higher backing levels of many projects, but its something that a system-less book could really set as a selling point. I might would even go further and include one more lower option in the same vein, if it proved popular enough.

Lastly, the video was alright. It had some humor in it, which is appreciated. The sound levels were a little off during a couple small parts, though. Mostly, it just briefly covered what the page had, which is just fine.

Overall, the biggest complaint that I had was not enough information about the setting on the page. They are selling the setting and the focus of the page should be on that. Especially since there is the nice concept art all over the page -- I would like to know more, which is good, but the information needs to be there.

And that wraps that up, I think. If you would like to see some of the fancy concept art mentioned above, or poke around to see what you can learn for yourself, be sure to check out Orin Rakatha's Kickstarter page and their website.