In the Mail

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

AE08Despite what my post last week may have implied, I too have been culling my RPG collection. This isn’t driven so much by a concern about space – that’s what garages are for, after all – but utility. In the thirty-five years I’ve been involved in this hobby, I’ve accumulated a lot of games, but how many of them do I actually play with any regularity? Heck, how many of them do I play at all?

The answers to those questions are surprisingly short, as I’ve discussed before. Of course, I’m not so stonyhearted that I’d consign to the flames (or at least eBay) any RPG I hadn’t played in the last year or two. I’m a hopelessly sentimental guy who revels in nostalgia and youthful memories. That’s why I keep around Gamma World and Gangbusters, neither of which I’ve played in decades. I used to play these games with great regularity and I hold out hope that I will get to do so again (plans are afoot for a new Gamma World campaign later this month!). But Blue Planet or Spycraft or even D&D settings like Planescape or Dark Sun? Nah.

Overall, then, my RPG collection is growing smaller, though I prefer to think of it as growing more “focused.” That said, its size isn’t wholly on a downward trend. That’s because, while I’m buying very few new games, I’m continuing – even increasing – my purchase of RPG fanzines.

When I was a kid, gaming fanzines weren’t on my radar. I read Dragon and, later, White Dwarf, and was vaguely aware of Different Worlds, but all three of those were professional magazines produced by game companies rather than photocopied (or “Xeroxed,” as we said back in the day) pages lovingly stapled together in someone’s basement and then sent through the mail. I dimly recall hearing about Alarums & Excursions, probably from one of the older guys who hung around the hobby shop, though, as they would have been quick to point out, A&E is an amateur press association, not a ‘zine, a distinction that’s still somewhat obscure to me even today.

Regardless, fanzines played a vital role in the early days of the hobby, disseminating not only news and reviews, but also ideas derived from what players and referees were actually doing with RPGs at the time. Reading them, one could see the myriad ways that roleplaying games were being interpreted and expanded upon, which in turn sometimes gave birth to whole new games and approaches to gaming, something that, even now, sets them apart from the slicker, better produced “pro ‘zines” that followed in their wake.

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Art of the Genre: The Art of Selling your Past

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

photoConsidering the fact that James ‘Grognardia’ Maliszewski is one of my office mates here in Black Gate L.A., I’m often inspired by what he has to say on the subject of gaming.  Now sure, James comes at the hobby from a more mechanics angle, while I take on the artistic side, but nonetheless, we are still cut from the same cloth and overlap on many details [he’s two years older than me, so MUCH wiser].

After reading his The Golden Age article this week, I couldn’t help but find an odd pleasure in the fact that I too was revisiting my gaming past, only once again from a different angle.

So, when he posted his image of the ‘treasure’ found at his ancestral home, I couldn’t help but smile because I’d just taken a picture similar to it myself the day before.  You see, James, according to the article, was enjoying the nostalgia of his TSR collection in his visual framing, but for me, I was working toward the reality of parting ways with mine.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been selling off parts of my RPG collection.  It began as a quest to raise capital for other projects, but as it continued, it turned into a kind of cathartic shedding of unneeded pounds.  Last year, I wrote an article for Black Gate entitled The Weight of Print, and over the past weeks I’ve toted at least a hundred pounds of books to the USPS from my RPG shelves.

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The Golden Age

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

Optimized-IMG_5384There’s a famous epigram mistakenly attributed to a number of different people – as famous epigrams so often are – that states that “the golden age of science fiction is twelve.” Some quick research into the matter reveals that its actual author was Peter Graham, an editor of fanzines in the late 1950s and early ’60s. My research also revealed that the original quote stated the golden age of science to be thirteen.

I turned thirteen in the Fall of 1982, three years after I first discovered Dungeons & Dragons. By that time, I was hopelessly in the thrall not just of D&D, but of a wide variety of roleplaying games. RPGs played a very important role in my young life, complementing many of my earlier interests and hobbies (like mythology, science fiction, and fantasy) and fostering many news ones (such as history, foreign languages, and philosophy). It is no exaggeration to say that I’d be a completely different man today if it weren’t for these games.

Consequently, I tend to look back on that time as a golden age, a time when the hobby of roleplaying was just right for a kid like me. I was reminded of this recently when I returned to visit my mother at my childhood home. Though I haven’t lived in that house on a permanent basis since I first went away to college in 1987, it still holds a great many things belonging to me that I simply hadn’t had the time to take with me as I traveled up and down the East Coast of North America. This year, I vowed that, during my visit, I’d do a proper inventory of what I’d left behind so that I could get rid of the stuff I didn’t want and once again take possession of at least some of the rest.

What I found was a time capsule of the inner life of my thirteen year-old self.

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Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook 5th Edition: Character Options & Rules Overview

Sunday, August 31st, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

5E Players Handbook CAs previously announced, Dungeons & Dragons has released their new 5th edition D&D Player’s Handbook (Amazon). This is the flagship product of their revamped new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. At a time when every aspect of the gaming industry seems to be going gangbusters, it’s a perfect time for Dungeons & Dragons to relaunch a new version of their rules system. Now that I’ve had the book for a while, I’m ready to give some initial thoughts on the system.

When I earlier reviewed the Starter Set, I mentioned that I wasn’t too fond of 4th edition. Let me clarify that statement a bit in context, because my major problem with 4th edition has a direct bearing on how I view 5th edition. It’s not that I disliked 4th edition, per se, it’s just that I didn’t feel that 4th edition felt like the Dungeons & Dragons game system anymore. If someone had shown up and said, “Hey, I just stumbled upon this brand new RPG system” and shown me a book with the mechanics of 4th edition but without the Dungeons & Dragons branding, I might have been quite impressed. But as a transition from edition 3.5, I saw no reason to give up 3.5 and dive into an entirely new system just to play in the same setting. By contrast, the rules in 3rd edition seemed enough of an improvement over 2nd edition to easily justify the transition.

More importantly, though, I didn’t feel that 4th edition was a good entry-level rules system any longer. A year ago, my aunt approached me about my younger cousin (age 12) wanting to begin playing Dungeons & Dragons. I immediately suggested that I could send him my 3.5 edition manuals. I specifically suggested against trying to learn 4th edition rules, unless the kids he was wanting to play with were already using it.

So allow me to begin my review of the 5th edition Player’s Handbook by being absolutely clear:

If I were to introduce a brand new player to a fantasy roleplaying game today, the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons would be my top choice.

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Experience the Second Era of Space with Mindjammer

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mindjammer-smallTrying out a new role playing game takes a pretty serious investment of time and energy, and I don’t do it often. I think the last time was probably Pelgrane Press’s excellent SF game Ashen Stars, which turned out to be worth the investment.

A few months ago, the talented Sarah Newton sent me a copy of her ambitious new RPG Mindjammer, and I found myself intrigued. Early this year, it beat out 13th Age, Hillfolk, and other great games to win the Griffie Award for Best Roleplaying Game, which only sharpened my interest.

So over the last few weeks and months, I’ve been digging into it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a really terrific SF role playing game, with a flavor all its own.

Mindjammer describes itself as a game of “Transhumanism Adventure,” which in practical terms means it’s a mix of science fiction and superhero gaming. Hyperadvanced technology, synthetic intelligence, cybernetics, and ancient lost tech have changed what it means to be human, opening up a wide range of fabulous and inventive skills for your players — things like Xeno-empathy, Starship therapy, logic shields, and many others. It makes character generation a lot of fun, and really gets players thinking about the type of universe they’re about to step into.

And what kind of universe is that, exactly? One where humans mingle with divergent hominids, uplifted animals, synthetic beings, and stranger things. Players can even play a sentient starship — which may give you some idea of the scale and ambition of this fine game.

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Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook Now on Sale

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook Fifth Edition-smallIn June of 2008, Wizards of the Coast launched the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons with considerable fanfare. While there was a lot of initial interest — and solid early sales — it never truly caught on.

Personally, I enjoyed lot of the supplemental material, like the updated Dark Sun setting and the excellent Shadowfell boxed set, but by 2011 I noticed new releases had slowed to a trickle. Eventually, they stopped entirely.

This was bad news for RPG fans. When sales of the world’s most popular role playing game collapse scarcely three years after the launch of a new edition, the entire industry suffers. Was this the end of the most famous game franchise in the adventure game hobby?

Fortunately, it was not. Wizards of the Coast made a major commitment to re-launch D&D, and in January 2012 it announced what was then known as D&D Next. The game had a few name changes over the next two years (it was Fifth Edition for a while, until WotC eventually settled on just Dungeons & Dragons), but for much of that time WotC maintained an open beta on the rules and kept players involved and informed.

It paid off. The buzz surrounding the game has been building nicely. On Tuesday of this week, the first of the three core volumes, the highly anticipated Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, finally shipped (click on the image at left to see it in its high-res glory). And according to io9, it was the number one selling book — of any kind — at Amazon on the day of its release.

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GenCon 2014 – Part 3: Pathfinder, Pathfinder, and More Pathfinder

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PathfinderAdvancedClassGuideEvery year, one of the most enjoyable booths to attend at GenCon is the Paizo booth. And I’m certainly not alone in that belief. Last year, the massive rush at Paizo to get copies of the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords base set (more on this later) resulted in a line that snaked its away across a massive section of the Exhibit Hall. This year, they had to actually have a line out in the hallway to even be admitted into the booth, to avoid cluttering up the Exhibit Hall itself with all the desperate Pathfinder fans. And there were certainly a lot of great products to inspire a spending frenzy this year.

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

The flagship product coming from Paizo Publishing is the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Pathfinder always has a ton of great releases coming out on an extremely aggressive schedule – a range of adventure modules, player companion supplements, campaign setting supplements, and so on – but here are some main hardcover rulebooks slated for the next few months that are of particular interest to anyone who plays Pathfinder.

Advanced Class Guide (Amazon, Paizo)

This new book provides details on 10 new hybrid classes, which are designed to meld together traits from two of the core and base classes from previous supplements. For example, the hunter is a hybrid of the ranger and druid, a martial character who is able to channel animal powers and bond more closely with their animal companion, but still wield spells. The bloodrager mixes the combat features of the barbarian with the mystical bloodlines of the sorcerer. The brawler is a fighter who gains several of the unarmed combat benefits of the monk, but without the spiritual aspects.

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GenCon 2014 – Part 2: Kickstarters of Future and Past

Monday, August 18th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

DungeonDwellersTitleYesterday, I spent some time talking about some new games that are becoming available from smaller game publishers. Several of these had their origins in Kickstarters … and that’s becoming such a common thing that it’s worth devoting a single post just to Kickstarter-based games. This model by which fans can directly support their games that are under development is growing more and more popular among the GenCon crowd. It seems like most of the smaller, independent game companies have been going the Kickstarter route.

We’ll start with the new games and products that have already been successfully funded on Kickstarter:

Dungeon Dwellers - This is a cooperative dungeon crawl-themed card game, which I stumbled upon while trying to get across the Exhibit Hall on Sunday. Unfortunately, at the time, I didn’t have time to play a demo of the game, despite the fact that it looked like a lot of fun. Fortunately, their website has a number of videos showing how the game is played for those who are interested.

Incredible Expeditions: Quest for Atlantis – This steampunk exploration card game was so new that they didn’t even have copies to sell at GenCon because it was held up by U.S. Customs. (People who have backed games on Kickstarter have no doubt gained an amazing appreciation for how diligent our nation’s Customs officials are … at least when it comes to slowing down delivery of games.) They did, however, have demo copies and a great booth that drew a lot of attention and traffic to make use of those demos. The game can be played either cooperatively or competitively, as well, which I always consider to be a bonus. Again, their website has a great video talking about the game, though, so check it out.

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GenCon 2014 – Part 1: Boosting the Signal

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

ThunderscapeThis year marks my sixth year of attending GenCon to represent Black Gate, and one thing that I always enjoy is finding some more esoteric, outside-the-mainstream games to suggest to people.

I definitely have some solid booths I attend every year — Paizo, Wizards of the Coast, Privateer Press, Cryptozoic, and so on — but those are generally games that people will hear of through normal advertising and marketing channels. If I can shed some light on a game that’s being overlooked or is just starting up, well, that’s the sort of thing that Black Gate was really built to do.

With that in mind, I’m going to start my GenCon coverage by discussing some of the less well-known games and publishers that I came across this year, but which have new and upcoming games that might be of interest. I’ll cover the big guys over the next few days, but I definitely want to get the word out on these as soon as possible.

A lot of these games are so new they aren’t even available for purchase online yet, but I’ll provide information as they become available.

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Runebound – The Sands of Al-Kalim

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne


Forget garden gnomes: Those pesky dwarves get everywhere. Even the desert!

The Sands of Al-Kalim is one of the ‘big box’ expansions for Runebound. As opposed to the smaller, ‘card-only’ expansions, these come with a new board. You lay this board over the original game board and it completely changes the terrain. Islands, the frozen north: you get the idea. There are also other components that add to the mechanics, encounters, etc.

Not surprisingly, The Sands of Al-Kalim adds a desert/Ali Baba type of theme to the base game. There are several game play modifications (boy, does exhaustion become a factor!) such as choosing to move at day or night.

But one fundamental change is when you move onto a hex with an Adventure Counter. Now you have two additional options. You can roll the Story die or possibly undertake a Legendary Adventure.

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