Archive for the 'Gaming' Category

RPG-a-Day 2017

August 2nd, 2017 — Wordman

For each of the past few years, David F. Chapman has published a list of 31 role-playing game related questions in August, coordinated under the moniker “RPG a Day”. This year is no exception. I have not participated in this before because, while I like the idea, I dislike the way my social media feed explodes with answers to each day’s question, tending to drown out other stuff. So, rather than make a separate post for each question, I’m just going to answer them all on a single page, and only post the link to social media at the beginning and the end. This year’s questions are:

RPGaDay 2017 questions

1st) What published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?

There are a ton of games on this list, but I really want to be playing something with my six year old son right now, something like No Thank You, Evil! by Monte Cook Games, built on a kid-friendly iteration of the Cypher System. I backed both of the Kickstarter’s for this game, so have a full complement of gear for it. The game scales to age by simplifying the “I’m a {adjective} {noun} who {verbs}” pattern for a character’s concept based on age (e.g. the youngest kids have characters defined just by “I’m a {noun}”. I’ll be interested to see how much complexity my son can handle. I’m guessing this could lead into playing the Cypher System game Predation, which he would really dig.

2nd) What is an RPG you would like to see published?

The teased and hinted at Danger Patrol Gamma. While the current “Pocket Edition” of Danger Patrol by John Harper’s design studio has been the last word in the game, this edition gave up some of the things I liked about the beta version. The author has hinted at a “gamma” version, which looked like it was going to be card based. Using cards (or the half-pages of the beta version), you guarantee that no two people are making use of the same option in their character, which can’t be said of the pocket edition. Yet, the pocket edition has some clear improvements over the beta version, so I’m looking forward to something that does both.

3rd) How do you find out about new RPGs?

Mostly by reading my G+ feed. If you’ve been thinking G+ is a ghost town, you’re wrong, particularly when it comes to RPGs.

Some other sources are worth mentioning, though. One of the best things to happen to RPGs in the last year or two has been the culture of play fostered by the Gauntlet and its associated podcasts, particularly its main community podcast. It’s common for a given episode to call my attention to a game I’d never heard of, or known only marginally.

I also kickstart a lot of games. Unfortunately, Kickstarter’s search is still terrible and its support for RSS is non-existent. Recently, Leo Zovic built a bunch of Atom feeds for Kickstarter. These can be customized, so I built one that provides a custom RSS feed for RPG projects on Kickstarter. One drawback is that it also shows computer games marked as “rpgs”, but that’s as good as Kickstarter’s search can manage.

4th) Which RPG have you played the most since August 2016?

This is, sadly, an easy question to answer, because I haven’t played much in the past year. What I have played has been mostly Dungeon World, by Sage LaTorra and Adam Koebel.

Specifically, we’ve been playing in Monte Cook’s Ptolus setting, using a few custom rules to tune the system to the setting, which is a bit more cosmopolitan and magic item heavy than straight Dungeon World.

5th) Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?

Shadowrun cover

6th) You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do!

clay-that-wokeI’m assuming this means all day, every day, so I’d go somewhere with great scenery and minimal hustle and bustle, like Zion National Park or a yacht anchored off Kleftiko or something. The games would depend on the players, but I’ll guess a bit. This would probably be a trip without the kids. We’d divide each day into three four hour sessions, with meals in between.

Each morning session would be a different game, run as a one-shot. In these games, we’d try to enforce the tone, whatever that might be. We’d probably run, in no particular order:

Each afternoon session would be one installment of a seven session mini-campaign of something. It would probably one of these:

Evening sessions would be games that play well while drinking, and would likely not be serious at all. Most would be one-shots, but maybe a few could go a couple sessions.

7th) What was your most impactful RPG session?

exalted1It wasn’t a bad session. In fact, I barely remember most of it, which was a lot of the problem. I do remember that we didn’t get as far along as I’d hoped, and thinking about why, a blunt question popped into my head: “why are you investing so much time and effort into a game with such shit mechanics? Again?” I still don’t have a justifiable answer to this question, but after that session I gave up on deep diving into irredeemable rulesets just because I loved the setting to which they were attached.

I’d done this before. For years prior, I’d spent a ton of free time building crap for another game with mechanics almost as bad, maintaining a big gear list, even managing the FAQ. It, too, had a world that I loved then and still love now. I gave up on that game, but for kinda the wrong reason. That was more of a feeling that I just wasn’t getting enough back from the game as I was putting into it. (It didn’t help that I burned a bridge with the game’s creators entirely by accident.)

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the worlds of Exalted and Shadowrun, and I will play again in those worlds in a heartbeat, but only using totally different rules. After that session, I’m never going to devote myself to shit systems ever again.

8th) What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?

diesel-micePretty much any game for kids better fit into sessions two hours or less. From what I’ve heard of people running games with really little kids, their attention spans don’t stick with the game for more than a half-hour or so. Turns out you are spoiled for choice in the “games targeted at kids” arena, these days, with games like:

9th) What is a good RPG to play for about 10 sessions?

I tend not to play campaigns in this duration much, usually either shorter or much longer. Any game that can handle more than ten sessions can certainly handle just ten, but there are some games which contain a bit more meat than you can reach in a one shot where you might not want to devote a year of play to it. That seems like it depends more on your curiosity level than it does on the game.

I’d be interested in playing ten sessions of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, to give its multi-generational and family mechanics a good stretch. Maybe I will do that when the second edition (currently being kickstarted) is ready.

10th) Where do you go for RPG reviews?

I almost never seek out RPG reviews. I almost never read “customer reviews” of RPG products at places like One Book Shelf. I no longer frequent role-playing forums.

The only place I even encounter reviews of games are the stray mentions on social media and the play reports on the Gauntlet podcast. I’ve also enjoyed when Rob Donoghue deep dives into one system or another over multiple blog long blog posts (here’s the first one for 13th Age, for example).

11th) Which ‘dead game’ would you like to see reborn?

primalThe Primal Order isn’t really dead. No game really is, particularly with all the resurrections being done on Kickstarter lately. TPO was more dead than most for years, until 2013, when Peter Adkison republished the PDF of the game. Given the lack of support since, though, it seems likely that this republishing was more of a way to retain certain legal rights to the property than any firm desire to resurrect the game.

Also, TPO wasn’t exactly a game, but rather a “capsystem” that allowed you to add gods to any game in a way that made them more than just “NPCs with really good stats”. It also opened an interesting way for playing gods as PCs, in its own early-1990’s fashion. It’s not quite right, but there is a lot of meat there that more modern game design could extract.

The game has been a bit of a legal mess, largely because it implemented its notion of being a “capsystem” (a rules set that sits on top of other rules systems) backwards. At the end of TPO were a set of appendices, each one of which detailed how to use TPO with an existing system (e.g. AD&D, Ars Magica, Shadowrun, etc.). Game rules can’t be copyrighted and the book properly sighted copyrights and trademarks, so legally wansn’t infringing. People brought lawsuits against it anyway. That was part of what killed the game. The other was that its small-time publisher soon had its hands full turning another game it produced a year later, Magic: The Gathering, into a globe-spanning juggernaut.

At any rate, now days, making a “capsystem” would more likely succeed the other way around: being issued as an open license. Publishers (or fans) could then build the conversions themselves, if they needed to. (In the present environment, I’m not sure anyone would really find converting something into whatever system they used that unusual or burdensome enough to need a special document for it anyway.)

I have toyed with the idea of buying the IP for TPO for the sole purpose of releasing it under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license. In fact, I’ve wondered allowed about setting up something like a charity that exists to secure permission to do this with other dormant games. This is probably a pipe dream though, as most publishers appear to be content sitting on games that earn nothing and would cost too much to put back into print, assuming some alchemy will suddenly make them worthwhile again (I guess) rather than find out what cool stuff an unfettered world with do with it.

12th) Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?

Numenera wins awards for interior art for a reason. The whole product line just looks phenomenal and makes me want to explore the place. It also has the advantage of being slightly strange without being grimdark body-horror stuff.

13th) Describe a game experience that changed how you play.

After playing a lot from grade school through a number of years after college, I entered a long stretch where I was moving around and couldn’t really get into a gaming groove. Eventually, I got back on the horse but, in the interim, things like the Forge happened and I missed most of it. So, when I happened across a copy of Wushu, a wuxia action game, I was, appropriately, punched in the face by its introduction:

Action movies have always been at odds with realism. Fortunately for us, their conflict is easily resolved with a series of savage kicks to realism’s face! Impossible leaps, insane acrobatics, and victory against overwhelming odds are all staples of the genre… and the essential elements of action role-playing games.

Sadly, traditional RPGs have long been in league with realism. They penalize players who want to, say, kick seven mooks with one spin kick by piling negative modifiers onto their roll, which makes them less likely to succeed. The inevitable result is that smart players stick to simple, boring actions and take a tactical approach to combat. Wushu breaks up this insidious alliance with a core mechanic that rewards players for vivid descriptions and over-the-top stunts by making them more likely to succeed, each and every time.

For anyone who’d been paying attention to what was happening in gaming up to then, this sentiment would be totally unsurprising and obvious but, for me, it was a satori moment, combining both a sense that I’d been doing it wrong for decades with a clear illumination about how to proceed. (Then, I wandered from the path immediately by starting to play Exalted.)

14th) Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?

monsters-magic13th-ageI’m answering this one with what game I would pick if I wanted to start a new open-ended campaign. Such campaigns tend to feature long player power curves, where characters “improve” over a long time scale, and more traditional games tend to focus on this more. Apart from some of the other games I’ve mentioned in previous questions, it’d be a toss up between two different takes on fantasy.

One choice would be 13th Age. When Wizards of the Coast went off to ruminate on building the fifth edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the lead designers of third and fourth editions teamed up to create an alternative, released about a year before “D&D Next” was. The result impresses me as more than just an extension/evolution of 3E and 4E, but a more cohesive game entirely. Running an open ended campaign in this system, I would definitely throw their unique take on the megadungeon, Eyes of the Stone Thief, into the mix.

Another choice would be Monsters & Magic by Sarah Newton. Unlike some OSR stuff which merely apes early D&D editions (all of which also still exist), M&M is framed to allow use of all those old school adventures you have (particularly the old Judges Guild stuff) right out of the box, but still embraces the idea that game design has usefully advanced in 40 years. (If, for some reason, you want to know if this makes it a “legitimately OSR game”, there are no shortage of self-appointed OSR gatekeepers eager for followers they can shepherd to the answer; my interest in that question is zero.)

There are so many other games, I’m not sure I’ll ever get either of these to the table, but each sounds fun for its own reasons.

15th) Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

anima-primeI’ve had a ton of fun hacking on Anima Prime, a game by Christian Griffen that bills itself as a “fast-paced, spontaneous roleplaying game inspired by the Final Fantasy series of video games as well as Avatar: The Last Airbender and other animated shows and movies”. (Note: because of the name, this game is sometimes confused with the heartbreaker Anima: Beyond Fantasy. There is no relation.)

My immediate thought when first reading Anima Prime was “oooo…I could hack this to play Exalted” and I’ve spent quite a bit of effort doing just that. I posted my first tinkerings on the unofficial Exalted wiki in 2011. Since then I’ve gone a bit overboard with it. I built a big document just for my group called Exaltation Prime, which turned into a full layout project, using inspiring “borrowed” art and lots of changes and iterations (on version 1.5 at the moment). I wound up with something of manageable size that would allow you to play any type of the exalted (each of which required 250 page “splatbooks” in their original system) plus a number of character types that you can’t really play in the original game. (Want to play as a manse? No problem.) Exalted is a “kitchen sink” game, and my hack can also manage most of its more involved systems (e.g. sorcery, shapeshifting, shaping, crafting, astrology, warstriders, etc.).

One of the things I love about Anima Prime is that it is a little bit crunchy, but not massively so. This hits a sweet spot for me. Another thing I like is that with just some simple ideas, there is quite a bit to hang hacks onto. In the time that I’ve been hacking on it, its author has done some hacking of his own, usually aimed at making the game more simple or GM-less or the like. My hacks tend to go the other way, making it a slightly more complicated.

Unfortunately, I can’t really release what I’ve done in its current form, mostly due to the borrowed art, but also because Exalted is a closed system. Fortunately, Anima Prime itself is released under a Creative Commons license. I’ve been toying with the idea of sanitizing the hacks I’ve made to it of references to Exalted and releasing more of a “hacking guide” to the game, called Prime Spiral. I should really get cracking on that.

16th) Which RPG do you enjoy using as is?

Every game. At least the first time I play it. There is a tendency to want to drift games as you read them, thinking “that probably won’t work unless I tweak it like this”. Resist! The designer probably thought about whatever it is longer, harder and deeper than you have. You owe it to both yourself and the designer to try the game as written at least once. It may turn out that you were right, but sometimes you discover surprises during play.

17th) Which RPG have you owned the longest but not played?

vampire-masqueradeThe phrasing of this question results in, to me, a surprising answer: the original Vampire: The Masquerade. While I certainly bought some games before this that I never played, I do not still own them, and haven’t for a while. V:tM is still on my bookshelf, though.

I almost played once, even going so far as to conceive a character, but that game never actually hit the table. After that, whatever motivation I might have had to play was stymied by lack of interested compatriots. I didn’t really look very hard, I suppose.

This game features an example of something that happens to me when I read games from time to time. Occasionally, while reading, I’ll get fixated on a sentence in the text and that leads somewhere for play. I remember reading a sentence in the V:tM that mentioned vampires of a particular clan tend to get “stuck” in the fashions of the time they first became vampires and thinking “man, what if you got turned when fashion sucked?” This, naturally, led to the character I conceived: a young Ventrue stuck in the pastels and stubble of Miami Vice-era fashion.

I still want to play that guy.

18th) Which RPG have you played the most in your life?

universal-brotherhood-flyerThis question was asked on G+ a while back and figuring out my answer surprised me. By hours played:

  1. Shadowrun (second edition)
  2. Exalted (first edition)
  3. Star Frontiers
  4. Top Secret
  5. D&D (second edition)

AD&D misses the list, but only barely. If you combine D&D editions/Pathfinder, it might push into third position, maybe second.

19th) Which RPG features the best writing?

gamma-world-6-gmgEveryone is going to answer this question with Paul Czege’s The Clay That Woke, which is the right answer, but I already mentioned that game above, so I’m going to take a different angle.

A whole bunch of roleplaying games have a “what is a roleplaying” section. Many also have a “what is being a game master all about” section. The vast majority of these are terrible. One, however, was not. The sixth edition Gamma World Game Master’s Guide opens with a chapter called “Some Assembly Required” that might be the best “what is being a game master all about” advice of all time. The book is otherwise fairly unremarkable, but that opening is gold.

That chapter was written by Greg Stolze in 2004, about three years before he wrote Reign (a game that, among other things, lacks both a “what is roleplaying” and a “how to GM” section). Since then, he has made two short PDFs with introductory advice available for free on his download page, called “How to Play Roleplaying Games” and “How to Run Roleplaying Games”. At this point, no game needs to ever add sections addressing these two topics, because these two PDFs already exist.

20th) What is the best source for out-of-print RPGs?

joruneI don’t really want to answer this one, because it means competition for when I want to find something out of print. But, the answer is pretty obvious to anyone who has gone looking for out-of-print RPGs: Wayne’s Books.

The store’s interface leaves a little to be desired, but functions well enough. Most of the listings are also posted on Amazon as well, so searching there may lead you to his listings as well.

When a history of roleplaying games was published (the four-volume Designers & Dragons), it really put a dent in my wallet as I was reminded of games I’d had and lost, games I’d always wanted but had forgotten, and games I never knew existed. I found a great deal of what I was after at Wayne’s Books and the experience was flawless each time, particularly in the accuracy of how the book’s condition was described.

21st) Which RPG does the most with the least words?

mechanical-oryxI’ve seen a lot of RPG contests come and go but, honestly, very few entries of any of them really grab me. But I wanted to play Mechanical Oryx instantly. As the winner of this year’s 200 Word RPG Challenge, author Grant Howitt managed to turn just 200 words into something profound. The game might be thought of as playing as the robots in the world of Horizon Zero Dawn, if the robots’ were intended to be benevolent caretakers of the humans.

Seriously, just go read the thing and marvel at the emergent complexity of how the goals of the players will mix with the mechanics they have available to reach them. All in a couple of sentences.

After the winner of the contest was announced, one of the judges interviewed the author, which is worth a listen not only for talking about this particular game, but also about The Spire, which just completed a successful Kickstarter.

22nd) Which RPGs are the easiest for you to run?

23rd) Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

24th) Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

25th) What is the best way to thank your GM?

26th) Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

27th) What are your essential tools for good gaming?

28th) What film or series is the most-frequent source of quotes in your group?

29th) What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

30th) What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

31st) What do you anticipate most for gaming in 2018?

Deadbeat Kickstarters

December 22nd, 2013 — Wordman

Kickstarter has now added a feature where you can mark delivery of projects you have backed, so I’m going through my list and verifying delivery. Since I’ve backed 400+ projects, this will take a while, and I’ll update this post as I go. Along the way, I discovered some projects with…oh…let’s call them “unreasonable delays”. I thought I’d mention them here for posterity.

I should start by mentioning that, at its core, Kickstarter is a risk transfer machine. The financial uncertainty of a project traditionally borne by the creator (or, perhaps, a publisher) is moved to the backers. This works because a) the meet-your-goal-or-get-nothing approach protects the backer from projects that can’t gather enough interest to be viable and b) because most of the time the creator delivers. (Given the number of projects I’ve backed, it should be obvious that I like this system quite a bit.)

The flip side is that, should the creator not deliver, the backers are left holding the bag and, realistically, there isn’t much they can do about it. Oh, you might entertain fantasies of some sort of legal suit, or punching the guy in the face or something, but neither is really viable. You know this going in. That’s why it’s called “risk”. I’ve not come across any cases of genuine fraud; usually a failed creator had the best of intentions, but couldn’t see them through. But the creator runs a risk as well, not financial, but of reputation. No one backs a failed creator twice.

Which brings us to the following projects (note: the “prognosis” section are my own opinions, not official project statements):

e20 System Evolved

Creator Gary M. Sarli
Funded 16 Mar 2010
Category Role-playing game
History Based on the strength of Star Wars Saga Edition, I backed this heavily. I even lobbied for it on my blog, which I almost never do. The project’s last update is from 27 Dec 2011. The creator’s last update to his own forum was 4 Dec 2011.
Prognosis This project will never be delivered. The creator had some sort of a financial/mental breakdown and has more or less vanished.


Creator Ben Gerber
Funded 23 Aug 2010
Category Role-playing game
History Last update made on 10 May 2012, releasing a supplement to the product not yet completed. Prior updates mention problems, including shoulder reconstruction.
Prognosis This may still deliver, but I’m not holding my breath. The same creator has since run another Kickstarter which already delivered.


Creator Phil Brucato
Funded 1 Oct 2010
Category Role-playing game
History While updates have been constant (and overly abundant), they haven’t consisted of much other than mentions of endless tinkering with the text.
Prognosis This project has become the poster child for flaky role-playing projects (and has led to a good rule of thumb for such projects: only back projects that have already been written). It may ship eventually, but I’m past the point of caring.

PeriodicTable of Elements Dice

Creator Andrew Inaba
Funded 28 Mar 2011
Category Dice
History According to updates, the dice were produced, but most were destroyed during shipping. Refunds were promised, but never delivered. The creator’s web site no longer exists.
Prognosis It’s possible this was just all bad luck, but it smells more like fraud. Either way, no dice.

Wreck Age

Creator Hyacinth Games
Funded 28 Dec 2011
Category Role-playing game
History Last update on 28 Feb 2013, still talking about completing a few chapters.
Prognosis This smells like it will probably ship eventually, but not in a hurry.

Quantum Roleplaying Game

Creator Joshua Frost
Funded 30 Dec 2011
Category Role-playing game
History Last update on 6 May 2014, calling the project “dead”.
Prognosis Creator used the project funds as venture capital or his roleplaying company (and, possibly, to pay rent and such). The text of the project may see the light of day, as it was largely completed.

Warren C. Norwood’s Double Spiral War RPG (Savage Worlds)

Creator Battlefield Press, Inc.
Funded 31 Jan 2012
Category Role-playing game
History Though it ran into a number of delays, this book was apparently done by the end of 2012. Then it looks like the licensor hated it and went all prima donna. It has been revised for her approval, but none has been forthcoming. In the meantime, the creator has run six other Kickstarters, including this same setting for a different system (Traveller).
Prognosis Since it appears that the licensor doesn’t really know what she is doing, I’ll be stunned if this ever gets released, even though the creators seem good.

RISUS Free Adventure Project 2012

Creator S. John Ross
Funded 1 Apr 2012
Category Role-playing game
History What started as a pitch for a single adventure for RISUS has been basically sabotaged by feature creep. First by stretch goals that turned one adventure into five. Then by the creator using the adventures as a springboard for creating a new edition of the entire game, plus supplements, and insisting on finishing them prior to finishing the adventures.
Prognosis Since all this looks like it will be released for free fairly soon, its hard to get hugely bent out of shape about it, and, it probably really will be awesome whenever it is done. Still, probably good object lessons in here someplace.


Creator Autarch
Funded 14 Apr 2012
Category Role-playing game
History Update from 13 Mar 2013: “Dwimmermount’s creator James Maliszewski signed a contract with Autarch that transferred the money we raised on Kickstarter and the responsibility for delivering the promised rewards to him. We understand that James is grieving for his father, but we have to confront the fact that he is currently not living up to this responsibility”. Since then others have taken over, with updates coming progressively less frequent.
Prognosis I’m guessing this will eventually deliver, but not until the very end of 2014, at least.

Nystul’s Infinite Dungeon

Creator Mike Nystul
Funded 3 Jun 2012
Category Role-playing game
History About a year after funding, the creator handed over the responsibility to produce this product to someone else. They seem in no hurry to release it.
Prognosis This will likely ship eventually, but not by any predictably time.

Auror’s Tale

Creator Leo Kei Angelos
Funded 6 Jul 2012
Category Web video series
History One episode of this three-episode series was produced, then all updating stops. Given the creator moved and the series may possibly (reading between the lines) have had some legal trouble with Warner Brothers…
Prognosis This reads very much like the creator just didn’t know what he was doing, mostly in terms of fulfillment. The rest of these episodes will never be created.

James M. Ward needs help

November 24th, 2010 — Wordman

Those of you familiar with “old school” roleplaying may know the name Jim Ward (among other things, he wrote Gamma World). He needs some help with medical bills. I’ve sent some love his way, I hope you can do the same. (And, no idea if he is related to me. It’s possible.)

An observation on the state of the gaming industry

September 9th, 2010 — Wordman

The recent reboot of the Gamma World role-playing game flicked a switch in my brain, tuning me on to something I should have noticed sooner, and that we’re going to see a lot more of: mainstream role-playing game makers have turned the corner on what they do. Going forward, their core business will be less and less about producing gaming rules (with supplements ad nauseum) and will instead center on producing gaming artifacts. That is, games that, like board games, revolve around fiddly bits that are difficult for the average player to produce by himself.

For example, in addition to its 160-page rulebook, Gamma World, now comes with several decks of cards. None of the previous six editions of the game used cards, but now they are required for play. While it is possible for the end user to produce card-like artifacts themselves fairly easily, the end result is not particularly satisfying or sturdy. Producing actual cards is fairly difficult, requiring specialized paper, techniques and equipment. Why would you bother going through the expense, when you can just buy the professionally produced artifact for cheaper?

And that, really, is the point. It’s an end run around the electronic age. Rather than combat the bittorrenting horde, gaming companies will just build products that can’t be replicated in a satisfying way from an electronic copy, at least not without spending more than it would cost to just buy the original.

Cards are only one option (and we’ll see how long it takes before making quality cards at home becomes painless). Gamma World also comes with “two sheets of die-cut character and monster tokens”. These are, in effect, a cheaper version of miniatures but, even so, they are still artifacts the home user would have to do special work to replicate themselves. This would be easier than making cards, but still a hassle that many would be willing to pay to avoid. Plus, even more would rather use real miniatures anyway. If Gamma World is anything like Dungeons & Dragons 4E (and, being rules compatible with D&D4, it is) it relies heavily on tactically maneuvering pieces on a map, creating a market for the miniatures artifact. It is probably not a coincidence, for example, that the Gamma World setting can make use of many of the figures in Wizards’ Heroscape line of miniatures that would be out of place in D&D (such as the omnicron snipers).

In a similar vein, the $100 game Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is based entirely around custom made dice and comes with “more than 300 cards”. (No doubt it will find uses for the extensive line of Warhammer miniatures as well.)

None of this is particularly new. Games like BattleTech, which is more of a board game than an RPG, have long offered game artifacts, like the old Reinforcements boxes, with card stock versions of most mechs with little plastic stands, and recently their map packs have become a bit more interesting. But RPGs used to focus mostly on books. Those days, it seems, may be ending.

End of an era

November 6th, 2009 — Wordman

During and after college, I invested a whole lot of energy into the setting and game of Shadowrun. About all I have to show for it is a large shelf of books that hasn’t really been touched since I moved into my house six or so years ago.

So, I’m selling it all. (And also, some separate fanzines.)

Well, I am keeping a few things. I’ll keep my limited edition hardbacks from third and fourth edition (and the new 20th Anniversary limited edition, if it ever ships), hardbacks from 1st and 2nd edition, an extra copy of the greatest gaming aid in the history of man, and the Denver boxed set. And memories, I guess. And PDFs.

Roleplaying industry predictions

June 19th, 2008 — Wordman

If you follow gaming at all, you know that the fourth edition of Dungeons & Dragons has been released. As I suspected, the rules are, essentially, the rules that govern a video game captured in book form. As I did not suspect, the result is actually pretty good. It’s still very crunchy (i.e. rules-heavy), but it is pretty well designed crunch, with a lot of design focus given to keeping what is fun and ditching what is not.

page imagesThe effort is helped quite a bit by some interesting layout choices. In particular, their use of white comes as welcome change from their 3E design and somehow looks modern and slick. After years of role-playing products designed with ink on most of the page, usually with some kind of pale or gray image as the background, the open style used in 4E might change the way a lot of books get designed. I remember noticing the use of white in the gorgeous Ptolus and wondering why more RPG books didn’t use it. Fourth Edition’s color and font choices (mostly a family called Mentor) are also an interesting break from their past and, I think, well selected.

A few days ago, Wizards of the Coast finally unveiled their new Gaming System License (GSL). Not so good. It’s many shortcomings are being debated in forums all over now, but a thread on ENWorld is particularly notable, as it includes several publishers of 3E supplements using the Open Gaming License (OGL). Posts from a user named Orcus are worth reading, in particular, because he is a lawyer as well as a game publisher (Clark Peterson from Necromancer Games). Even though Necromancer’s page currently claims certain products will be ported to 4E, this forum indicates that at least some of the books mentioned (something called the Tome of Horrors, in particular) will not be, now that the details of the license have been unveiled.

One of the main issues is what some are calling the “poison pill” clauses (even though it isn’t really a classical poison pill). Essentially, it makes converting a “product line” (whatever that means) from the OGL to the new GSL a one-way process, and contains language that essentially would put a publisher’s future into the hands of Wizards of the Coast. I’m not a lawyer, but from how I read the GSL (PDF here), it seems to me that publishers would be fools to sign it as it is presently written, particularly if they already have created OGL content. It also pretty much shuts down any fan-based computer tools, like character trackers, reference tools and the like (though there will supposedly be a “fansite” related policy released later).

So, unless the license is changed, you can bet that not many publishers are going to fully embrace it, though many will probably make a few books for it. I’m guessing that most of the following will occur:

  • Well established product lines (that is, those who could claim a measure of brand recognition and loyalty) will continue to publish these lines under the OGL. They will eventually be forced to remove the d20 logo from them, but it will probably not matter.
  • Well established companies, if they publish for 4E at all, will do so with entirely new product lines. They will be able to leverage their name, but not their brands.
  • A few new companies will arise that make only 4E products, but will focus more on adventures than anything else. At least one of these companies will, in fact, be owned by another established company that is still publishing OGL-only material.
  • After realizing that the GSL won’t let it follow its current plans for 4E integration, Pathfinder will remain 3.5, and will become something of a flagship product for those still using the OGL, mutating into the semi-official mechanism by which the 3.5 rule set evolves.
  • Because of this, friction will be created between Wizards and Paizo, Pathfinder‘s publisher. Since Paizo has a very close relationship with Wizards, the result will be that Pathfinder will be sold before the year is over.
  • More than half of newly created companies that enter into the D&D related publishing business will publish under 3E rules using the OGL.
  • The amount of shelf space given to 4E products in gaming stores will not exceed that given to 3E products. Ever. In Borders and other large book stores, however, you won’t be able to find 3E products at all.
  • Numerous fan sites will emerge that convert third party OGL content into 4E. They will be constantly under threat from Wizards of the Coast, who will pay a lot of legal fees to continually fight them as they shift around.
  • Wizards will become more vocal about copyright infringement on p2p networks.

I’d love to see some other open source game take off in the wake of GSL backlash. Unfortunately, if this happens, it is likely to be Pathfinder, rather than a better system, such as FATE (also available under the OGL license) or Wushu Open (released under the Creative Commons). Even more unfortunately, there aren’t that many other viable alternatives. There are certainly a number of free RPGs out there, but few of them are open source.

Inside joke

May 19th, 2008 — Wordman

Only seven people in the world will actually understand this, much less think it is as funny as I do. And only half of them are probably reading this. But hey, my blog, my rules.

In doing some spring cleaning, I came across this scrap of paper in one of the many piles in my office:

Tanador note

Good times.

UPDATE: not long after posting this, I got a “mysterious” text page from one of the seven people saying “There is no rash.” Trust me, that was hilarious.