James Maliszewski Launches The Excellent Travelling Volume

Sunday, March 29th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Excellent Travelling Volume-smallJames Maliszewski, Black Gate blogger and creator of the long-running hobby gaming site Grognardia, has launched a new magazine, The Excellent Travelling Volume.

The Excellent Travelling Volume is a 28-page, digest-sized print-only fanzine dedicated to Empire of the Petal Throne (EPT), the first roleplaying game set on M.A.R. Barker’s world of Tékumel. EPT was first released in 1975 by TSR, making it one of the first RPGs ever published.

Tékumel is one of the most popular and enduring settings in fantasy gaming. No less than four RPGs have used it since it first appeared, including Swords & Glory (Gamescience, 1983/84), the excellent Gardasiyal: Adventures in Tekumel (Theater of the Mind, 1994), and Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne (Guardians of Order, 2005). It was also the setting for several novels by Barker, including The Man of Gold (DAW, 1984) and Flamesong (DAW, 1985).

While Tékumel has remained popular, the original game which launched it, Empire of the Petal Throne, is now 40 years ago and an extremely rare TSR collectible. It was reprinted only once, by Different Worlds Publications in 1987. However, RPGNow sells a PDF version of the original rules for just $11. The game has a strong group of core fans who have kept it alive for four decades.

The Excellent Travelling Volume is produced under license from the Tékumel Foundation. The first issue (cover at left; art by Jason Sholtis — click for bigger version) was released in December 2014 and is already sold out. Issue #2 is now available. Issues have a very limited print run (200 copies) and go out of print fairly quickly; if you’re interested, I would suggest you act quickly.

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Gen Con Threatens to Leave Indiana Over Religious Freedom Bill

Thursday, March 26th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Gen Con logo-smallGen Con has threatened to move out of Indiana if Republican Governor Mike Pence signs a controversial anti-gay law into effect.

Gen Con, the largest gaming convention in North America, began in Gary Gygax’s home in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, in 1967; from 1985 to 2002 it was held in Milwaukee, and in 2003 it moved to its current home in Indianapolis, Indiana. Attendance last year was more than 56,000, making it the largest convention of any kind in the state.

The bill in question, Senate Bill 101 (SB101), has already passed the state legislature and is expected to be signed by Pence soon. It allows business owners to refuse to serve same-sex couples if they have religious objections, in the same manner that white business owners once were legally permitted to refuse to serve black customers in many southern states.

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Gygax Magazine #5 Now Available

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Gygax Magazine 5-smallThe last time I visited a local gaming shop (the excellent Games Plus in Mount Prospect, IL), I noticed that the latest issue of Gygax magazine had hit the stands. Apparently it had been out for several weeks… obviously, I need to get to the game store more often.

Well, better late than never. As usual, this issue comes packed with lots of great articles, including Leomund’s Secure Shelter by Lenard Lakofka, Munchkin Tips & Tricks by Andrew Hackard, Bottom of the Pile by Tim Kask, and Zen and the Art of Game Mastery by Michael E. Shea. There’s also a One Page Dungeon by Will Doyle, with commentary by Gygax editor Jayson Elliot.

Every issue of Gygax has a fold-out adventure, and this time it’s Fox Hunt, and adventure for the Godlike RPG by Shane Ivey. Comics this issue include Full Frontal Nerdity by Aaron Williams, and Order of the Stick by Rich Burlew.

We last covered Gygax magazine with issue #4, released last summer. It’s officially a quarterly, but realistically TSR produces roughly two issues/year, and this one reportedly shipped last month.

Gygax #5 is edited by Jayson Elliot and published by TSR. It is 68 pages, priced at $8.95 for the print edition, or $4.99 for a watermarked PDF available through DriveThruRPG. Cover art by Walter Velez. A one year subscription (4 issues) is $35. Order copies directly from the website.


Building Up Fantasy Readers

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

micemysticsIn a recent post, M. Harold Page gave some thoughts for gamer parents which I found very helpful. Particularly that instead of focusing on our old games, we should look to new games as perfectly acceptable entries into tabletop.

I spend a lot of time gaming with my kids, and it’s very easy for me to want to rush them. For example, at my wife’s urging, when my 9-year-old grew enamored with one of my NPCs, I decided to try to bring him into our adult Pathfinder RPG gaming group by letting him take over the character. He was constantly impatient, wanting to jump his turn in the cycle, asking questions constantly. Enthusiastic … but in a way that clearly drove the other players nuts.

However, instead of going full-on RPG, we can play games such as Mice & Mystics (Plaid Hat Games, Amazon) or the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game (Paizo, Amazon), games which have a lot of moving parts and tell a story, but are also more structurally well-defined than a traditional tabletop RPG.

It’s very easy for me to want to share with the kids the games that I most want to play, instead of taking a step back to find the ones that are more appropriate for them. I have to meet them halfway.

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Vampiric Legions Versus Noble Knights: Avalon Hill’s Dark Emperor

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Dark Emperor Avalon Hill-smallBy 1985 it was pretty clear that J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings was the defining fantasy of the 20th Century — and that the license was a gaming gold mine. SPI had turned it into the classic board game War of the Ring in 1977, which had gone through multiple printings and was still selling well nearly a decade later. SPI had built on the success of WotR with a small line of Tolkien-inspired games, the most ambitious of which was Greg Costikyan’s sumptuous Swords & Sorcery, in 1978.

It took a while for Avalon Hill, the undisputed king of American board games, to get into the act, but by the mid-80s they decided to enter the epic fantasy market. They’d already tried their hand with Magic Realm in 1979, and later Elric, neither of which drew on the epic good-versus-evil model of The Lord of the Rings, and neither of which had been very successful. For their next attempt they lured Greg Costikyan from West End Games, where he’d been gainfully employed since SPI had been shut down by TSR in 1982.

Costikyan, who was only 25 at the time, already had an impressive resume. He entered the industry at 14, assembling games in the shipping department at SPI. He designed his first game for SPI, Supercharge (1976), based on the First and Second Battles of Alamein during World War II, when he was 17. By 1985 his published games included Barbarian Kings (1980), Paranoia (1984), and Toon (1984), not to mention the popular microgames The Creature That Ate Sheboygan (1979), Vector 3 (1979) DeathMaze (1979), and Trailblazer (1981). Perhaps his greatest success, West End’s Star Wars RPG, was just two years in his future.

Dark Emperor, the game Costikyan designed for Avalon Hill, is a two-player boardgame that mimics Swords & Sorcery‘s dual warfare-and-quest approach. Although it lacks both the deep world-building of that game, and its numerous rich scenarios, it’s clear that Costikyan learned from the overly-ambitious design of S&S, producing a more tightly focused game. The Tolkien influence is also clear… if you want to play Sauron, striding across a fantasy land as a nigh-unstoppable Dark Lord invading from another dimension, Dark Emperor is definitely for you.

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Shock Midnight Ambushes, Last Gasp Duels and Paraplegic Dwarves: I’ve Been Playing Mount and Blade

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 | Posted by Connor Gormley

Mount & Blade-smallI’m not, by any means, a PC gamer: the laptop I’m using to write this is just about held together with duct tape and clumps of old twig, and I have no idea where I could even find a graphics card, let alone which one to get.

Mount & Blade, however, makes me want to become one. I’m running this thing on its lowest possible settings: reduced the character models to stickmen, the trees to papier-mâché, the textures to cardboard. I’ve stripped this game of all possible graphical fidelity to get it running OK. I mean it wasn’t all that much to start with, but now it looks like interactive diarrhea.

Yet, I’ve still decided that this is the most fun I’ve had with a game with ages. It’s one of the few games nowadays that can leave me transfixed for hours, or even days, at a time. It’s a shame then, that it’s still pretty darn obscure.

Just one little caveat before we start, though. I’m talking about the original Mount & Blade here, not the jazzed up sequel: Mount & Blade Warband. The two are pretty much the same; it’s just that Warband has a few minor improvements and tweaks, like a greater variety of quests, better graphics, better animations, the ability to flirt relentlessly with the ladies of the realm and a whole new faction to join.

There’s also multiplayer, really, really good multiplayer. If you can get Warband, get that, but the original ran better on my laptop, and I played it a load more, so I feel a little more comfortable talking about it. Although, really, everything I talk about here is applicable to Warband, even more so, probably.

Mount & Blade is an open world, action RPG developed by Taleworlds and published by Paradox interactive in 2008. Taking place in a moderately realistic fictional medieval world called Caladria, players take the role of a nondescript migrant from some distant land, come to make his or her fortune amidst the wars that have torn the country apart.

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Kickstarter Alert: Vault Wars Card Game

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

VaultWarsFloodgate Games has a successful track record of Kickstarter projects, starting with their fun time-travel technology-creation game Legacy: Gears of Time. After Legacy and its expansion, Floodgate Games created Epic Resort (Amazon), an unorthodox game set within a traditional fantasy world. In Epic Resort, you run a resort vacation spot where adventurers spend their time to recuperate and heal between adventures. You accumulate gold and hire workers, and then win with victory points gained by building attractions at your resort and having heroes heal up to full health. The twist of the game is that occasionally monsters attack your resort, and the heroes must stop them, which can result in new injuries or even death.

Something of a thematic (and artistic) sequel to Epic Resort, Floodgate Games’ new Kickstarter Vault Wars  asks what happens when heroes die and their vaults of equipment go up for auction, so that other heroes can gain the benefits of a fallen heroes’ previous efforts. You can find out more about the game and its related stretch goals on Kickstarter, but one of the best ways to get a feel for the game (if you have about a half hour) is by watching this video of a walkthrough play of the game. It features a lot of strategic choices and, as it mimics an auction, is built around the idea of bidding and bluffing. One of the stretch goals that’s coming up is a Worker Expansion, which allows players to hire workers that give special one-time bonuses within the game.

The Kickstarter project has passed its funding goal of $10,000, and the opportunity to back the project ends on March 27. The game is slated for delivery in August 2015. Kickstarting price for the basic game is $20, while $45 will get you a deluxe edition with metal coins. Higher cost tiers include copies of Epic Resort and Legacy: Gears of Time, for those who are interested in those games as well.


Dungeons & Dragons Releases Free Elemental Evil Player’s Companion

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

D&D Elemental EvilThe Dungeons & Dragons world is ramping up for their major event for 2015, which is the Elemental Evil storyline. I previously discussed this when it was first announced, but it’s worth mentioning again for one important reason: they’ve put out some free gaming materials!

Recently, Dungeons & Dragons released the Elemental Evil Player’s Companion as a free supplement, available through both their website and DriveThruRPG. This 25-page digital supplement contains some good material, a set of new races and spells designed specifically for use with 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons. The 9 of the pages are devoted to descriptions, details, and character creation information for 4 races:

  • The avian species Aarakocra
  • The subrace of Deep Gnome
  • The element-linked Genasi, in air, earth, fire, and water varieties
  • The mountain-dwelling Goliath

There are also 13 pages of spell lists and descriptions, featuring a total of 43 spells, almost all of them linked to the four elements (or their related damage type, such as the acid-based spell Vitriolic Sphere).

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TSI Kickstarter is Rebooting the SSI Gold Box Series

Sunday, March 15th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pool of Radiance SSI Gold Box-smallIt’s tough for me to look back and pick just one favorite computer game. Sword of Aragon, Dragon Wars, Wizardry, Starflight, Starcraft, Diablo… there were so many classic games that offered marvelous interactive adventures in the early days of home computing.

But more and more as the years go by, I find myself calling out SSI’s Pool of Radiance, and the groundbreaking Gold Box series of Dungeons and Dragons games it spawned, as the best computer games I’ve ever played.

The Gold Box series was built on Wizard’s Crown, a top-down tactical RPG designed by Paul Murray and Keith Brors and released by SSI in 1985. Keith Brors became the lead designer for Pool of Radiance, which was published in 1988. Pool of Radiance was one of the top-selling computer games of all time, and over the next 10 years more than two million Gold Box titles were sold. All told there were nearly a dozen Gold Box games released, and SSI spun off other RPGs using the same engine, including the Buck Rogers and Spelljammer games.

SSI was eventually sold to Mindscape, and the era of the Gold Box games came to and end. But now a handful of SSI veterans, including Paul Murray and producer David Shelley, have formed a new company, Tactical Simulations Interactive (TSI), to produce brand new titles in the spirit of the Gold Box games. Their first release, Seven Dragon Saga, is being funded on Kickstarter.

Players of Seven Dragon Saga will control of six characters, the Touched, commanded by the Emperor to reclaim the wild Drakelands, which they must explore, tame and conquer, and eventually bring back into the Empire. Game development is already well advanced, and the demos included in the Kickstarter video look very promising indeed — and nicely reminiscent of both the Gold Box games, and later D&D classics like Baldur’s Gate.

The Kickstarter has a goal of $450,000, and in just two days has already raised over $66,000. It runs until April 13. See more details, or pledge your support, here.


Software Review: A look at Campaign Cartographer 3 Plus

Thursday, March 12th, 2015 | Posted by M Harold Page

Jaw-Peninsula-East-Close

Their output is beautiful. Just looking at it takes you places (click for bigger version).

When I snagged a pre-release review copy of Profantasy Campaign Cartographer 3 Plus, smugness quickly turned to irritation… then to understanding and respect.

Let me tell you about it.

Though just a 3-person company, Profantasy are the behemoths of Fantasy cartography.

They’ve been around since 1993 (so far back that I think Richard III was still on the throne) which says a lot. They have a massive suite of programs for designing things like dungeons, cities, star systems and starship.

Their output is beautiful. Just glancing at what people can do with is enough to take you to otherwhen places .

So as I downloaded their not-inexpensive software, I was grinning happily to myself…. just like one of the dark lord’s minions walking into an ambush.

The new version is certainly an improvement on the old (which, however, did as advertised).

It’s more stable, makes full use of the power  of modern PCs, has a prettier, less confusing interface, a really very useful “verbose” tooltip that pops up when you use any tool, and smoother navigation.

I had the power to create beauty. I was mesmerized!

Then the ambush sprung.

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