Tuesday, March 19, 2019

War and Remembrance

On this day, 11 years ago, the 2008 Fantasy RPG Wars began. And we won.

By “we” of course I mean everyone who plays RPGs. Paizo shocked WotC into going back to basic principles and discovering that their fans don’t want 80 lbs of rules, nor is a new giant stack of character classes, etc. every few months or even every year a good way to support an RPG.

And now D&D has shocked Paizo into improving their games further, seeking to be the more mechanically complex game, but streamlining it to make it accessible to new players. At the Paizo booth at the GAMA Trade Show, one of the Paizo folks said, “We want Pathfinder to be the game you graduate to.” That sounds like a good place for them to be.

I used to think that WotC would eventually sell the license to D&D in order to keep the IP alive and save themselves the expense of making the game. I no longer feel that way. D&D is healthier than ever, and this rising tide appears to be lifting most, if not all, the boats.

Make the most of it, folks.

Art by Wayne Reynolds.  The genesis of Pathfinders goblins can be read here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Let the Good Times Roll

Just got back from the GAMA Trade show, and the big news this year is… that there’s really no big news. Certainly nothing on par with the bombshells dropped by WotC and others on the state of the RPG industry last year. WotC told us that ’17 was the best year for D&D in its entire history and that ’18 was even better, but beyond that didn’t give us anything new in terms of details. We’ll be seeing more alternative covers. They appear to be sticking with the take-it-slow publishing strategy.

What about the influence of the OSR? Well, in addition to The Forbidden Lands (more on that very soon, but maybe not until next week), everybody’s gotta have a boxed set. Most of these are intro starter sets, but even these are getting beefier and beefier; the one coming for Cubicle 7’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying (itself very much a call-back to the original version of the Warhammer RPG) sports more than 100 pages of rules and campaign material, suitable for running as an entire campaign or using as a segue into their (very OSR) The Enemy Within “director’s cut.”

R. Talsorian is back. They’ve got The Witcher tabletop RPG and are working with CD Projekt Red on their new Cyberpunk 2077 (based on Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk 2020) as well as the “Cyberpunk Red” tabletop RPG which Pondsmith is crafting to bridge the timeline between the two.

Production values continue to inch upwards. Cubicle 7’s new boxed sets promise lots of neat handouts. We’re seeing the design decisions of the OSR/DIY bunch leaking into the mainstream, things like maps on the endpapers. They haven’t quite embraced the focus on ease-of-use-at-the-table, but they’re sliding that direction.

And we’re seeing a lot more openness in mechanics. I think that’s coming from a strong interest in making the games textured but simple. By “textured” I mean delivering more than just a core mechanic, an equipment list, a spell list, and a bestiary. Mechanics that serve to deliver an experience or tactical flexibility at the table. Things like rolling for depletion of consumables in The Forbidden Lands or Pathfinder 2.0’s new action economy and how it interacts with the spells. (For those not keeping up with it, you get three actions every round. Many spells now come in three flavors: a one-action version, a two-actions version, and a three-actions version. So you get to decide when you cast a healing spell if you want to heal yourself with the single-action version, someone you can touch with the two-action version, or send out a wave of healing energy to everyone in 10’ with the three-action version.)

We’re seeing a lot more variability on ICv2’s list of top five best-selling RPGs. (The Autumn 2018 list replaces Pathfinder with Lot5R. Yes, I’m serious.) They say that RPGs are selling well. Renegade Games, a relative newcomer to the RPG scene, sold through their original printing of Overlight, a very high-concept RPG.

So no big news, just lots and lots of good news. Our hobby appears to be doing quite well. There appears to be lots of room for big and flashy projects like Invisible Sun and little experimental things like Mothership. The Golden Age is rolling along apace. Make the most of it!

Monday, February 25, 2019

Rolling Dice is NOT Playing the Game

I'm going through a review of a sci-fi RPG and the reviewer alluded to something I see a LOT in Space Opera RPGs. (I'm not going to mention the name of the game here because first, the way the reviewer mentioned this implies but does not state outright that this game is guilty of this sin; and second, I don't know this reviewer so I'm not sure how much I can trust there statements yet.)

The problem is starship combat. Designers want everyone to have something to do during the starship fight, so they try fall back on Star Trek bridge stations and try to come up with something everyone can do every round. What usually results is something extremely uneven.

If you're using minis and some sort of hex grid or the like, usually the most avid wargamers will pick the ship's course and speed. Then everyone rolls dice to see if their character's station succeeded that round.

If there's no grid and you're playing theater-of-the-mind, the course of action is usually pretty obvious: flee, chase, whatever. The group might decide together at the beginning of the encounter what they want to do, and they might revisit that choice as the situation changes, but generally that's the last important decision made. After that, everyone rolls dice to see if their station performs a function that contributes to the goal.

Here's the problem: ROLLING DICE IS NOT PLAYING THE GAME!!!

I suppose rolling a die to see if you can squeeze extra speed out of the engines or get a better targeting lock or put a torpedo up someone's tailpipe is better than nothing, but lets not fool ourselves into thinking that this is fun. If the player isn't making an interesting choice, they're not engaged with the game. If the choice of group goal dictates their action for every round until the goal is achieved or changed, all the player does is roll the dice and note the (usually marginal) adjustment this causes to the situation. You don't even get much of a gambling thrill since the stakes are watered down by being spread across four to six stations.

I realize that the starship duel presents a serious challenge to RPG designers. You want this to be an epic moment, you want everyone involved and sitting on the edge of their seats. But you've got to actively engage the players if you want that to be the case. You have to stop falling back on Star Trek as your model. If the gunner's only interesting choice is between "shoot" and "don't shoot," what the hell kind of choice is that? Make it interesting, or it's dictated by circumstances. Give your GMs help crafting interesting starship duels that require players to do something more interesting than just roll dice, that allow the players to be clever, that invite them to use their skills and tools in creative ways.

And don't give me another cockamamy attempt to make the communication station important and "exciting" in combat.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

And the (Spam) Hits Keep on Hittin'

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Monday, February 18, 2019

Are You Tired of Being Human and Good Posture?

Pruning spam from the comments is damn near a daily thing. It's not unusual to wake and find some ad for Australian limos or alternative utility companies speckled through my posts.

On occasion, however, I get a real doozy. This one combines poor English skills with an insane, whack-a-doodle premise to rise above the rest:


Are you tired of being human, having talented brain turning to a vampire in a good posture in ten minutes, Do you want to have power and influence over others, To be charming and desirable, To have wealth, health, without delaying in a good human posture and becoming an immortal? If yes, these your chance. It's a world of vampire where life get easier,We have made so many persons vampires and have turned them rich, You will assured long life and prosperity, You shall be made to be very sensitive to mental alertness, Stronger and also very fast, You will not be restricted to walking at night only even at the very middle of broad day light you will be made to walk, This is an opportunity to have the human vampire virus to perform in a good posture.

I will admit, I am intrigued by the idea of posture as integral to being a vampire.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Daniel Horne Looking to Return to Fantasy Art

And he's started a gofundme towards that end:

Although I feel that my skills as a classically trained and apprenticed Brandywine School artist are sharper than they have ever been, I've found that there is little engagement among art directors to work with me and thus the ability to inspire fantasy enthusiasts has become nearly impossible. It is my hope that with the support of the fans of fantasy art that I've built up over the past four decades, I can have the opportunity to paint a piece, or even pieces, of art that might reopen doors to various publishing houses. But as I live paycheck to paycheck, like most artists, having the time and piece of mind to take on an inspirational cover isn't something I'm allowed.

This isn't a Patreon or anything like that, nor is it kickstarter with a specific product at the far end; it does appear, however, to be an excellent opportunity to say "Thank you!" to a great of the you-are-there school of fantasy art and hopefully get him back in that game.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Patrick Reviews the Memoirs of Usama Ibn-Munqidh

In days just recently gone by, I would have posted this to G+. Not quite sure what to do with this now, so it goes here.

This sounds like an utterly fascinating read:

The cultural situation is equally incoherent. It is a time of cosmopolitan prejudice and cultural-exchange murder-fests. If you picked out one half of these stories you could have a nice low-rent twitter link about how the period of the Crusades was a time of "wonderful diversity and cultural growth", which is true, so far as it goes. If you picked out the other half you could have a nice alt-right article about how Muslims and Christians are destined to endlessly muerderise each other. But all of these things are happening at once, all the time.

To me the randomness is baffling, strange and frightening. It feels very realistic and it makes it seem to me as if the world is a stupid place...

This is simply a great book for anyone who wants to spend an few days with a crazy Islamic grandad. I would strongly recommend it.

The past is a foreign country, and the Middle Ages is, quite frankly, an alien world at times, even if you're reading about the western parts of it our culture descended from. A deep, day-in-the-life sort of read like this can only boggle the modern mind, but it's a fascinating boggling all the same.