The Coolest RPGs I’ve Never Played

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

jorune2eDungeons & Dragons was the first roleplaying game I encountered – 35 years ago this month, as it turns out – and, except for a stretch during the 1990s, when I foolishly cast it aside, it’s remained my favorite RPG ever since. Nevertheless, it was never my only roleplaying game. Indeed, once my friends and I had been bitten by the RPG bug, we soon tried our hands at pretty much any game we could find.

In those heady days, we played a lot of games, not merely because we had voracious appetites for all things roleplaying, but because there were so many RPGs from which to choose. From our perspective, it seemed as if there were new roleplaying games appearing on hobby store shelves every month, even if an examination of the timeline of RPG releases reveals otherwise. At any rate, there were certainly more games released than we could possibly afford to buy, let alone play. Consequently, after periods of experimentation, we tended to stick toa  handful of games that became our standbys. It was to these games that our hearts belonged and that we spent untold hours playing together.

That didn’t stop my eye from wandering. Over the years, there were a number of games I picked up simply because they looked cool – so cool, in fact, that I didn’t actually care whether or not I’d ever get the chance to play them with my friends. Nowadays, I tend to look askance at such behavior. I find something perverse in treating a game simply as reading material, which is why I’ve been slowly paring down my collection only to those games I actively play or am likely to play in the foreseeable future.

And yet, hypocrite that I am, I’ve made a few exceptions over the years. My shelves are home to a handful of games I’ve never actually played (nor am I likely to), but that I keep around because I find them inspiring nonetheless. In my defense, each of the three games I discuss below is one that I’m not at all convinced can be played as written, at least not easily (a claim that will no doubt result in a flurry of comments from indignant middle-aged men regaling me with tales of their decades-long campaigns using one or more of these RPGs).

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Keep Your Blaster Close: The Many Horrors of Outbreak: Deep Space

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Outbreak Deep Space-smallBeing at the Games Plus Fall Auction can be an exhilarating experience. Take my discovery of Outbreak: Deep Space, just as an example.

There I am, sitting in the second row of the auction on October 4th, ninety minutes into the auction, wondering if I’ve blown my budget already. I’ve just made the decision to add up my purchases when the auctioneer holds up a brand new copy of Outbreak: Deep Space and starts the bidding at $5.

What the heck is that?, I think. And then, I have no idea, but it looks fantastic.

I immediately hold up my bidding card. Unfortunately, I’m not the only one to be intrigued by this strange gaming artifact. About a dozen bidders have their cards in the air, and the auctioneer quickly runs the price up to ten bucks. This is how you get in trouble, I remind myself. Bidding like mad on a book when you have absolutely no idea what it is. 

But my card stays in the air. The bidding hits 15 bucks, then blows past it. The cards around me are starting to waver and drop.

This thing could be on sale at Amazon for $10. Just because you’ve never seen a copy doesn’t mean it’s hard to find.

But I keep my card in the air. It’s a sharp-looking and professional bound hardcover — my instincts tell me it’s going to cost a lot more than 10 bucks to track down a copy if I miss out on this one. And besides… there’s more going on now than just bargain hunting. It looks like a science fiction horror RPG, and a very professional one. I’m deeply curious and willing to pay more than $15 for the opportunity to find out what it is.

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AD&D Figurines: Youth In a Box?

Monday, December 15th, 2014 | Posted by markrigney

DSC04791A few weeks back, a friend (quite unexpectedly) handed me the boxed set of AD&D miniatures pictured at right. I say “unexpectedly” because so far as I know, this friend had no idea that I ever played D&D. Nor were the figures intended for me; the note she enclosed made it clear the box was for my fourteen-year-old son, “just in case.”

My son was marginally interested, but not seriously so. I, however, was kind of downright sorta hypnotized.

Confession: I never gravitated to miniatures. My twin objections were, first, that the figures never, ever looked the way I pictured either my characters or those of my fellow gamers, and second, they were small enough that painting them to my own exacting standards was next to impossible.

I had Testor’s model paint, of course (most boys I knew in the late seventies and early eighties did), so accessing a mouth-watering color palette wasn’t the issue.

Application, however: yipes!

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Art of the Genre: A Call To My Readers!

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

AotG needs its readers!

AotG needs its readers!

It’s the holiday season here at Black Gate and I wanted to thank all my devoted readers for my multiple ‘#1 Monthly Post’ plaques that hang on my office wall for the year.  Art of the Genre is a wonderful way to connect with you all and I truly hope we can continue to lead Black Gate content statistics in 2015.

I also wanted to ask for your continued support with a pledge to my current crowd-funding campaign for the AD&D 1E module, The Folio, that is currently a ‘Staff Pick’ over on Kickstarter.  I need your help to see this project reach its goals.  The content presents the feel of an old school Dragon/Dungeon Magazine while also having a fully removable cover like the TSR classic modules of old.

I’ve put in the work, gotten this thing done and ready to print, but I need my readers to make it a full reality.  In fact, I wanted to share some quotes about the project from my office mates here at Black Gate L.A. so you get a good understanding of the commitment already behind the project.

Editor-in-Chief John O’Neill: ‘It’s in shrink right?  Then yes, I’ll pledge, so I can have an excuse to never read it!’

BG Horror Correspondent Goth Chick: ‘I had to pledge for two copies because the coffee machine in the basement keeps leaking and I needed something to mop up the spills with.’

BG Movie Reviewer Ryan Harvey: ‘Honestly, I pledged so Scott would stop knocking on my door every day to ask if I’d done so yet.’

BG Secretary Kandi: ‘I was promised a starring role in the film adaptation if I pledged.’

BG Gaming Correspondent James Maliszewski: ‘If it isn’t Holmes, I don’t want it, and get out of my office!’

Seriously, with friends like these, I NEED MY READERS!  So give yourself a gaming gift this season and back The Folio and I promise you won’t be disappointed!    Just click on the banner below!

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A Preliminary Look at Dragon Age: Inquisition

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 | Posted by Elizabeth Cady

daI-coverIf you or anyone you know are into video gaming at all, you’ve been hearing a lot about Dragon Age: Inquisition lately (Official Bioware trailer here). Bioware’s latest installment in the Dragon Age series was released November 18th, and some of us have vanished down the rabbit hole after it. Well, more than a few of us: it premiered to strong sales and consistently solid reviews across the board. And having played it, it’s not hard to see why.

A little background first. When I was ten, my brother got a Nintendo. Dating myself, aren’t I? The original grey brick. My brother loved that thing. And I loved watching him play. But when I sat down to play Super Mario Bros., I couldn’t get past the first few levels. I tried for a while, then gave up in absolute frustration. I was convinced I was terrible at video games.

Then Final Fantasy VII came out. By then, I was in college and lived with three other friends. My then-fiance brought home a Playstation and we all took turns playing obsessively. I discovered that I COULD play. In fact, I was pretty good at it. I just had to find the right kind of game.

Flash forward another :cough: years, and Dragon Age: Origins. My eldest daughter was a newborn nurseling, and I played through four times. So it was with great excitement (and many warnings to my husband about his upcoming increase in child-related duties) that I anticipated November 18th, 2014.

And I have not been disappointed.

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A Red & Pleasant Land

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

araplWhen I started school in the mid-1970s, our teachers used the New Macmillan Reading Program. The books in that program, in addition to featuring original stories, also included excerpts from world literature. I credit those readers with instilling in me a lifelong love of reading; to this day, I still remember many of the stories I read within their pages. In the seventh grade – this would have been 1981 or ’82 – one reader included a lengthy excerpt from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 novel, Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There.

The excerpt in question dealt with Alice’s encounter with Humpty Dumpty, in which the anthropomorphic egg boasts that  ”When I use a word … it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” He illustrated his point by quoting from the nonsense poem Jabberwocky. I can’t begin to tell you how profoundly I was impressed with and affected by this excerpt. Humpty Dumpty’s perspective was (and is) abhorrent to me and, along with Alice, I found myself feeling anger at his articulation of it. Despite that, I eventually memorized the whole of Jabberwocky (which I can still recite to this day) and headed to the library to read the whole book, as well as its predecessor, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

I should clarify that, before this point, I was, of course, already broadly familiar with Wonderland and its denizens. Some of that familiarity was achieved via “cultural osmosis” – the same way I “knew” about, say, Davy Crockett or the Headless Horseman. These were things “everyone” knew about, regardless of whether or not they’d ever actually read a book (or even seen a TV show or movie) on the subject. And, as it happened, I had seen Disney’s 1951 film adaptation, inadequate though it was.

Seventh grade also coincided with the high water mark of the early years of my involvement in the roleplaying hobby. By that point, I’d been playing Dungeons & Dragons and other RPGs for a couple of years. My friends and I considered ourselves “veterans” and prided ourselves on how many different games we’d tried. I was also deep into the idolization of Gary Gygax. I hung on the man’s every word in the pages of Dragon magazine (though, to my credit, I never got around to building a literal shrine to him in my basement). It was probably through one of Gary’s articles that I first encountered the idea of combining D&D and Wonderland, an idea that initially struck me as bizarre, but that slowly grew on me as my love for both Carroll and RPGs did. Besides, I reasoned, if such a pairing was good enough for Gygax’s fabled Greyhawk campaign, who was I to think otherwise?

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Explore an Old School Mega-Dungeon with Pacesetter’s The Blood Cult

Monday, December 8th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

The Blood Cult Pacesetter Games-smallGary Con is probably my favorite gaming convention. It’s not nearly as large as, say, Gen Con, but it’s friendly, focused on old-school role playing — and a lot closer to Chicago.

I really enjoyed Gary Con VI last March, and brought home a box crammed with treasures. And then I must have forgotten about it, because I just stumbled on it as I was straightening out the library to make room for the Christmas tree. I was supposed to be clearing away junk and vacuuming, and instead I ended up crossed-legged on the floor, with the box empty and the contents spread everywhere, like a kid at Christmas.

I found all kinds of goodies in that box, like back issues of the old-school gaming journal Fight On, omnibus compilations of the hilarious Knight of the Dinner Table comic, and a handful of boxed adventure supplements.

It was the latter that really grabbed my attention. There was a Whisper & Venom, a thoroughly professional production from Lesser Gnome, with a beautiful fold-out map, custom miniatures and color cards, and even a box of dice. And there was The Blood Cult, a heavy box that came crammed full of adventure books and over a dozen two-color maps — just like the classic TSR adventure sets like Dragon Mountain and The Ruins of Undermountain.

I never did get the Christmas tree up (which means I have some making up to do with my wife). But I did spend some quality time with The Blood Cult, and trust me — it was worth it.

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Art of the Genre: Playing D&D 5E and an In-Depth Look at the new DMG

Sunday, December 7th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

The new 5E artwork reflects Chris Nolan's Dark Knight, which upon reflection might not be such a great thing.

The new 5E artwork reflects Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight, which upon reflection might not be such a great thing.

I’ve spoken a bit in the past about both the 5E Player’s Handbook, as well as the Monster Manual, but today I’d like to take a more in-depth look at the system and the new Dungeon Master’s Guide that will be released this week (the 9th) from Wizards of the Coast.

Unlike my fearless editor John O’Neill, I’m actually going to give you a look at the product beyond reading the jacked cover. [Sorry John, but I couldn’t resist.]

So, let’s get started. My initial impression of D&D 5E was that I wouldn’t be interested in learning a new system as I hadn’t even attempted to pick up D&D 4E. However, after reading the Player’s Handbook, I was intrigued, as were my gaming friends, who had recently returned to playing traditional Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in 2011 after a two year romance with Pathfinder.

Their interest, as well as a thorough read of the PHB, had me wanting to see how the system played on a table. Luckily, in early November, I got the chance to go back to my home town for a weekend in which an extended 5E session was planned.

Delving into the mechanics once more, I designed two characters, both from my Fleetwood family tree, and had the opportunity to lay hands on the system in a way a simple read won’t allow. Character creation, as any gamer knows, is paramount in getting your feet wet, and so once I had characters in hand I was even more excited to see how my abilities would interact with dice, once play began.

As per our usual dynamic, the DM duties were shared by both myself, running the social aspect of the campaign, and my old DM Mark, who ran the traditional dungeon delve side of a new campaign entitled ‘The Runelands of Daro’, set in my Nameless Realms.

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Five Geeky Gaming Christmas Present Ideas

Thursday, December 4th, 2014 | Posted by M Harold Page

…there are also modern board and card games…

…there are also modern board and card games…

It’s that time of year again and our house is filling up with Amazon boxes.

Kurtzhau, our eldest, has hit 11 and finally passed from that awkward age of grown-up interests but explored through toys – mostly Halo Megabloks – to the open-ended gamer phase. This makes him suddenly easy to buy for and relieved relatives have responded with generosity.

Mostly this has meant Warhammer and Firestorm Armada sets. However, there are also modern board and card games on his and our wishlist, or already in the family game cupboard.

The trick with games is to read the reviews on Boardgame Geek and pay attention to what people say on Amazon. However, if you’re buying for kids and teenagers, or for geeky families, then I thought you might like to see what’s on our radar.

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The Doom That Came to Lovecraft

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

santhulhuI turned 45 right before Halloween and once again I feel the cold claws of senescence tighten their grip around my throat. I used to pride myself on my memory, which, while not truly “photographic” – assuming such a thing even exists – was always extremely keen. Note that that I said “was.” Lately, I’m finding it harder and harder to keep the details of my wasted youth straight in my mind.

A good case in point concerns when I first encountered the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. I know for certain that it was after I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons, but before Chaosium released its Lovecraft-inspired RPG, Call of Cthulhu. That suggests, then, the likeliest date is sometime in 1980, since, by then, I’d not only have acquired a copy of Gary Gygax’s masterwork, the Dungeon Masters Guide, whose Appendix N cited HPL as one of “the most immediate influences upon AD&D,” but had also made the acquaintance of older players who frequently extolled the virtues of pulp literature to my friends and I.

What I do remember is that, at the time, the very name “Lovecraft” sounded fantastical to me. I almost couldn’t accept that it was a real name, since I’d never heard of anyone with such a moniker before. This probably contributed greatly to the reverence in which I’d later hold his writings, a reverence that has only increased as I’ve grown older and had occasion to read and re-read his stories countless times.

What I also remember was that, not long after learning about the Gentleman from Providence, I rushed to my local library to find copies of his “books,” not yet realizing that most of his output consisted of short stories. What I found were battered copies of some of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy collections, along with the Scholastic Book Services edition of The Shadow over Innsmouth and Other Stories of Horror. The latter had a lasting effect on my imagination, thanks to its creepily comical depiction of a spectral inhabitant of the titular New England town. From then on, Lovecraft’s creations struck a powerful chord with me and, as I later learned, with so many of my fellow gamers. They were the epitome of horror.

How times have changed.

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