Play Infocom’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Game Online

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

I was at the Windycon 42 website yesterday, checking to see if the Guest-of-Honor interview I did with author Christopher Moore has been posted yet (it wasn’t). The theme of the convention is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the website has the friendly words Don’t Panic posted right at the top. As long as I was there I poked around a bit, and I was surprised to find a link for “Infocom Game” in the navigation bar.

Now, I’m a huge fan of Infocom’s text-based computer games. Infocom was one of the most acclaimed computer gaming companies of all time, with classic titles like Zork (1980), Enchanter (1983), Planetfall (1983), and the groundbreaking BattleTech game The Crescent Hawk’s Inception. In 1984, legendary Infocom designer Steve Meretzky teamed with Douglas Adams to create The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of the most popular games the company ever produced.

Well, that’s all the enticement I needed. I clicked on the link, and lo and behold, I was transported to the BBC Radio website, where the BBC has posted a complete Java-based port of the 30th Anniversary Edition of Infocom’s classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You can play right in your browser! And so I did:

Infocom The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

This is well worth checking out yourself. Take a step into the past (and then, uh, into the future) and play the computer gaming classic The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy here.


Forbes on What’s Next For The New Dungeons & Dragons

Saturday, April 18th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Sword Coast Legends-smallForbes columnist David M. Ewalt is a not-so-secret Dungeons & Dragons fan. He’s the author of Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It, and he’s promoted the game in the pages of Forbes over the past two years with an early article on D&D Next, and a fascinating piece on the Books that Inspired the New Dungeons & Dragons. This week he interviewed Nathan Stewart, brand director for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast, to find out what’s next for the Fifth Edition of D&D.

Any plans to tell stories that take place outside of the Forgotten Realms?

If you’re talking about us diving deep and taking a focus like what we’ve done with Tyranny of Dragons, we’re going to stay in the Forgotten Realms for the foreseeable future… But we’re gonna have long cycles, and so when we go all in on Greyhawk or Dragonlance or Spelljammers, that’s going to be awhile… the main focus will be on the Forgotten Realms for a long time.

Is the brand where you wanted it to be at this point?

In my strategy I had wanted a high-caliber video game that really brings back the core of D&D… and I don’t think that in my wildest dreams I imagined that that we’d have a game that really captured the essence of D&D as well as Sword Coast Legends coming out. I think by the end of the year we’ll have this conversation and everyone will agree that we’ve actually delivered that plus some, because we’ve done something that no one’s ever done before, which is really deliver that dungeon master/player tabletop experience in the form of a computer RPG.

See the complete article online at Forbes magazine.


Choice of the Petal Throne

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015 | Posted by James Maliszewski

petalthrone_fullIn my opinion, the hobby of roleplaying has only ever produced two fantasy settings to rival Middle-earth in terms of depth and creativity: Greg Stafford’s Glorantha and M.A.R. Barker‘s Tékumel. Of the two, I suspect Glorantha is the better known, at least in the roleplaying world, if only because the RPG with which it was long associated, RuneQuest, was very successful, particularly in Europe (where it was, at various times, more popular than even Dungeons & Dragons if you can believe it).

Tékumel, on the other hand, has languished in semi-obscurity, despite the fact that the RPG in which it first appeared, Empire of the Petal Throne, was published only a year after D&D, making it one of the most venerable of its kind. Part of the reason why that is the case is that, unlike most fantasy settings, Tékumel owes little to the histories or legends of the West’s Classical and Middle Ages. Instead, its primary inspirations are ancient Egypt, pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and Mughal India – all seen through the lens of sword-and-planet writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jack Vance. Consequently, the setting’s peoples, flora, fauna, mythologies, and elaborate social systems are quite unlike those to which most roleplayers (especially in North America) are accustomed. Add to that the unfamiliarity of Tékumel’s constructed languages – Barker was a professor of linguistics – and you have a recipe for supposed inaccessibility.

I think that’s a shame – and not just because I’m personally very fond of Tékumel.

The truth is that Tékumel’s “inaccessibility” is (mostly) on the surface. The names (like Mu’ugalávya and Tsatsayágga, to cite two examples) and scripts are intimidating at first, I’ll admit, but, with time and effort, they become much less so. The same is true of Tékumel’s lengthy imaginary history and its complex religions and societies. Once those initial barriers are overcome, what you’ll find is a fantastic setting filled with amazing opportunities for adventure, from treasure-hunting expeditions into subterranean labyrinths to cutthroat imperial politics to visitations to other planes of existence.

Even so, overcoming Tékumel’s initial alienness isn’t easy, as there is no straightforward way to learn about the setting, which is why I am so very pleased to see the release of Choice of the Petal Throne.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 Campaign Adventure Module Series of All Time

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Did Bloodstone make the list?

Did Bloodstone make the list?

I’m not really sure when I played my first adventure module, although I think it was at my first D&D Club meeting in 8th Grade. My only clear memory of actual adventure, while I sat in that library on Wednesday evenings after school, was trying, and failing, to enter the Steading of the Hill Giant Chief. So, I assume that G1,2,3 [well, at least G1] was my first ever module, and I think that is interesting because it means my induction into gaming came from the adventures that define what campaign modules should be.

Having recently begun my own quest to create a campaign series of modules, I’ve decided to put my epic game of Risk with Ryan Harvey on hold, tell Kandi to hold all my calls, and pray that Goth Chick doesn’t show up unexpectedly wearing a corset and stockings that would most assuredly derail my Black Gate L.A. productivity for the day.

Why would I do this? Well, to create another Top 10 list of course! This time around, I’m not looking at the best modules of all time, but instead looking at the best/greatest campaign series of modules of all time. Yes, so without running my deadline further into the red, let me get started.

First and foremost, I’d like to say that this is my list, and therefore shouldn’t be judged as some kind of ‘true’ entity. My views are certainly colored by the experiences I’ve had with most of what you see below, and at one time in my life I’ve owned them all.

As for Bloodstone, I’ve played it as recently as 2007, but that said, I can neither confirm of deny the fact that it did or did not make the list. I do, however, hope you enjoy what I’ve created below and that it does bring back a few good memories to you all!

So, let’s get started, shall we?

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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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