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Author: Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Andrew Zimmerman Jones is the Physics Guide at About.com and author of String Theory for Dummies. His work, which includes fiction as well as non-fiction, has appeared in Black Gate, Pink Floyd and Philosophy, Heroes and Philosophy, Abyss and Apex, and various other publications.
Werewolf: The Apocalypse Brought to Digital Life in Earthblood

Werewolf: The Apocalypse Brought to Digital Life in Earthblood

For a solid year in college, every Saturday morning, a group of us would gather together in a friend’s dorm room and play Werewolf: The Apocalypse. This roleplaying game wasn’t made up of your traditional fantasy werewolves, no. In the dark and contemporary setting of Werewolf, the shapeshifting Garou are an ancient lineage of warriors that fight to defend Gaia, the embodiment of nature itself, from being despoiled by both corrupt influences of decay and stagnant modern technology. Your enemies were multinational corporations and corrupt demonic entities … often working together to ruin the world.

As a game where characters can transform into hulking figures of muscle, fang, and claw, it leaned a bit more into physicality than I generally go for … but there was a strong spiritual aspect to the game, as well, which did well to balance the physical. The Garou weren’t just there to kill things, but to restore a natural balance and harmony. The world was spiritually off-kilter, and the Garou were here to wrench it back into harmony … even if a lot of people had to die in the process.

Which leads me into the most recent incarnation of Werewolf, released today across a variety of gaming platformsWerewolf: The Apocalypse – Earthblood. This game definitely brings together the most crucial thematic elements of the Werewolf setting together with exceptional design and playability, into a package that’s well worth it, for both old fans of the genre and players new to it.

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The Many Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons (Fifth Edition, that is)

The Many Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons (Fifth Edition, that is)

When I began playing Dungeons & Dragons as a teen in the early 1990’s, my initial few games were played in homebrew worlds of the Dungeonmaster’s creation. And, while this has always been a popular part of Dungeons & Dragons, it wasn’t long until I became enamored with the established worlds that were officially sanctioned and supported by setting materials, nor was I the only one. These worlds have been the setting of countless adventures throughout the decades.

For me, the first D&D world I fell in love with was Krynn, the world that is the basis of the Dragonlance storyline. The first trilogy of novels that introduce the world, Chronicles, is a solid adventure, but I could at times almost feel the dice rolling in the background of the combat encounters. The follow-up trilogy, Legends, has a completely different feel, with a much deeper and personal storyline, time travel, complex morality, and an overall that I was surprised to find in novels that were in a tie-in series. I’ve since read some great tie-in literature (see, for example, my reviews of the Pathfinder Tales novels by James L. Sutter, Death’s Heretic and The Redemption Engine), but Legends continues to stand out. And, in terms of adventure, the unusual Dark Sun setting made for some of the most memorable adventures of my teenage years.

These settings were released in AD&D 2nd Edition in the form of setting boxes, with adventures and rulebooks that gave the specific information needed to design characters and campaigns. The current edition of Dungeons & Dragons hasn’t begun releasing similar setting boxes, but they have released supplements spanning a variety of gaming worlds … though not spanning all of their traditional worlds (yet!).

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The Season of Gaming: Pathfinder

The Season of Gaming: Pathfinder

Since its release at 2019 GenCon, the RPG Pathfinder Second Edition has been growing in popularity. With a character creation system that allows for immense character customization, it has won over many converts among the scores of existing fans of the game’s first edition, even with all of the difficulties involved in getting those fans together to play the game during a global pandemic.

It’s worth a quick recap of what Paizo has put out to support and expand this game in just a little over a year:

You can get the harcopies of these gaming resources through pretty much any game shop, but digital copies (as well as the hardcopies) are available directly through Paizo.com. If ordering Paizo products – including First Edition Pathfinder, Pathfinder Adventure Card, or Starfinder products – through their website, there’s a one-time promotional code of “holiday21” good through January 17, 2021.

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The Season of Gaming: Star Trek

The Season of Gaming: Star Trek

There has been something of a Star Trek television renaissance in recent years. Ranging from the all-too-near future (first contact with the Vulcans is slated to take place in 2063, after all) to the far distant future, the ever-growing setting provides ample fodder not only for new episodes and storylines, but for gamers who want to experience the universe by diving into the setting, there are a variety of different games that offer different levels of engagement with the themes of the show. And ones which, if you’re looking for a game to play while in lockdown with family over the holidays, might do the trick … particularly if your family consists of Trek fans.

One of the more curious Star Trek games I’ve run across was the Ferengi-themed sales game Star Trek: Galactic Enterprises, a card game where you spend bars of gold-pressed latinum in an effort to corner the market on a given product. There are of course the various games that are just re-skins of existing games that incorporate elements from the setting, like Star Trek Monopoly, various editions of Star Trek Fluxx, Star Trek Risk, and even Star Trek Catan.

But beyond those games, there are some which delve much more deeply into the concepts, alien species, and lore of the Star Trek universe to provide a more immersive gaming experience, boldly going where no game has gone before.

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Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika – Miniature Future Science Fantasy Wargame

Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika – Miniature Future Science Fantasy Wargame

Warcaster_MarcherWorldsLast spring, I spent some time discussing the Kickstarter for Privateer Press’ new game, Warcaster: Neo-Mechanika. The game is something of a spin-off from their popular Warmachine miniature wargame, which allows players to field an army that includes hulking metallic warjacks. Warcaster is set thousands of years in the future, in a distant galaxy, where human refugees from the Warmachine setting have set up home, technologically advanced, populated the galaxy, and, not surprisingly, found new and more impressive ways to kill each other.

To get you up to speed on the setting, the game is played in battles of armies composed of three different factions that have ample reasons to fight against each other:

  • The Iron Star Alliance are the troops representing the major government in the Warcaster galaxy, the towering monolithic empire that is seemingly necessary in any sort of space opera-style setting. They’re not necessarily evil, but they like order, and they exist to enforce that order.
  • The Marcher Worlds is a loose ragtag group of independent worlds that resists the order the Iron Star Alliance seeks to impose upon them. If you’ve watched Firefly, these would be the equivalent of the Browncoats that Malcolm Reynolds fought for.
  • The Aeternus Continuum represents a darker faction of human society, a vast cult of pirates and murders that is banned across both the Iron Star Alliance and the Marcher Worlds. They are dedicated to a form of techno-necromancy that seeks to use medicine and sorcery to grant immortality to their leaderships.

That initial Kickstarter has been fulfilled, with a surprising amount of speed given that their production facilities had to deal with a pandemic lockdown for COVID-19. I’ve now had the chance to play through the game several times, to develop some more detailed thoughts on the game … and let you know about their next plans for the game, including a current Warcaster: Collision Course expansion Kickstarter that ends at 3 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday, November 6. You can buy any of the factions’ existing or new products through the Kickstarter, but they’re also available through the Privateer Press store or your local game store.

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Character Options Explode in Advanced Player’s Guide for Pathfinder Second Edition

Character Options Explode in Advanced Player’s Guide for Pathfinder Second Edition

PathfinderAPG

Last year at Gen Con Paizo released their Pathfinder Second Edition. The reception, from those I spoke to, was generally positive. People hadn’t been particularly displeased with Pathfinder First Edition, though after a decade of the game there were some balance issues. When people gave it a chance, many players transition to Second Edition without looking back.

In my experience, people are only thrilled about a new edition of a popular roleplaying game if there are serious issues with the existing edition of the game. For example, the flaws of 4th edition D&D paved the way for widespread enthusiasm when 5th edition was released.

The big stumbling block for a previous First Edition Pathfinder player to transition to Pathfinder Second Edition is the sheer volume of content that Pathfinder First Edition has available. Pathfinder is known for the sheer number of character options. An almost dizzying array of character options, one might say. The sort of character options that almost necessitate third-party software like Hero Lab in order to track it.

While Second Edition still allowed for extremely diverse character options right out of the gate, it was nothing compared to the options available for First Edition. One major step toward expanding those options is the recent release of the Pathfinder Second Edition Advanced Player’s Guide (Paizo, Amazon) providing new ancestries, backgrounds, archetypes, spells, equipment, and the Second Edition versions of four Pathfinder class options: Investigator, Oracle, Swashbuckler, and Witch.

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New Faces of War Games with Privateer Press

New Faces of War Games with Privateer Press

Iron Kingdoms Requiem box-small

Privateer Press began in the gaming industry in 2001, creating the Iron Kingdoms campaign setting for the third edition of Dungeons & Dragons. Their first trilogy of adventures in this steampunk-themed fantasy setting received Ennies for “Best World” and “Best Art.” That began a series of roleplaying supplements for their setting … and that setting evolved into the basis of the miniature wargame Warmachine, for which they are now best known. They eventually published a new edition of their game, built around their own gaming ruleset, rather than using Dungeons & Dragons as the mechanical basis of the game.

Their big announcements every year come out earlier in the summer than Gen Con, at their own Lock & Load convention. This year, the convention was of course remote, but they still had a lot of announcements … including that they were releasing a new edition of Iron Kingdoms, which would return to using Dungeons & Dragons as the rule system, although this time the game would be 5E compatible. The game, called Iron Kingdoms: Requiem, is being funded and initially released via Kickstarter, though the date for when that will start hasn’t yet been announced.

Back in February, I talked about the massive setting changes that are taking place in the Iron Kingdoms setting this year. The Requiem setting is built in the aftermath of the Oblivion campaign. The nations have somewhat of a truce developed, having joined forces to battle the major threat of the Infernals that was introduced in that campaign. And Warmachine will also be continuing its evolution through 2021, with new models coming out and the storyline progressing… no doubt in ways that resonate with their Requiem releases.

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Starfinder: Enhanced Starships, Exploring Near Space, and Other New Goodies

Starfinder: Enhanced Starships, Exploring Near Space, and Other New Goodies

StarshipOperationsBack in 2017, when Paizo was ramping up for the launch of their new space fantasy RPG Starfinder, we were fortunate enough to offer exclusive previews on two of their new ships months prior to the release of the game. Since the 2017 release of the game, we’ve been keeping a pretty active eye on what Paizo has been releasing and, though there have been some fantastic additions to the game, there hasn’t been a major emphasis on new options for starships. That all changes with the release of the new Starship Operations Manual (Amazon, Paizo), a July 2020 release that was slated to coincide with Gen Con 2020. (Which, you may recall, is happening online this year.)

There have been some previous supplements in the past that dealt with starships. The Starfinder Pact Worlds setting book (Amazon, Paizo) has a chapter with various starships representing groups and societies, like the robotic Aballonian ships, the militant Hellknight ships, and the living ships of the Xenowardens, that weren’t in the original Starfinder Core Rulebook (Amazon, Paizo), and also provided some related new starship options like biomechanical ships, hydroponic bays, and drift shadow projectors that could be incorporated into other ship designs. The recent Near Space setting book (more on that in a minute) also had a chapter in a similar vein, including ships of the aggressive Veskarium. The mechanics of starship combat itself was addressed more deeply in the Character Operations Manual (Amazon, Paizo), released last winter, by creating the Chief Mate and Magic Officer roles to enhance starship combat for characters who were not well supported under the original set of rules.

So is the Starship Operations Manual just more of the same? While it does contain a ton of these sorts of options – starship weapons utilizing 20 new weapon properties, expansion bays, and security systems – it also goes beyond that, introducing fundamental variations to the core starship mechanics. It is worth recapping here that the core design of Starfinder, as a campaign, is that as the group progresses, the ship itself also “levels up” as the players do. The idea is that you’re constantly tweaking the ship and scrounging/bartering for parts and upgrades, and so you get a set number of Build Points as you level up that you can spend to buy new features for your ship. So the ship really gets tailored to the specifications of what the crew wants out of it, both in terms of mechanics and in terms of thematic feel. A group of mercenaries may have an armored battleship, while a group of smugglers might have a sleek and maneuverable transport, while more honest businessmen might be piloting a diplomatic passenger ship. And with the Starship Operations Manual, you really have the ability, as both players and GMs, to make the most out of the starships within the game.

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I Would Have Gotten Away With It, Too, If Not For… Betrayal at Mystery Mansion!

I Would Have Gotten Away With It, Too, If Not For… Betrayal at Mystery Mansion!

ScoobyDooBetrayalOriginally published in 2004, Betrayal at House on the Hill continues to be one of my favorite games. I have reviewed the original game before, but there’s a new variant that’s just been released, aimed at a younger audience. While I wouldn’t say it surpasses the previous iterations of Betrayal, it definitely has a lot to offer on its own merits, particularly if you’re looking to get young gamers into a game that has more layers of complexity.

In Betrayal at Mystery Mansion (Amazon), you are playing 3 to 5 members of the Mystery Incorporated gang from Scooby Doo!, searching through a seemingly-haunted mansion and the surrounding grounds. You can explore inside and outside of Mystery Mansion, and eventually stumble upon the big bad Monster, often along with an assortment of minions to carry out its nefarious plots. There are, as in the original game, a variety of monsters and scenarios that play out, but it’s definitely much more streamlined than in the original game.

One major difference from the original is that when the Haunt is triggered, players get to choose who will play the role of the Monster. One of the only ways that Betrayal at House on the Hill can go south, from what I’ve seen, is if the “wrong person” is randomly assigned as the Betrayer.  If you’re playing with a casual gamer, in particular, it is possible that they don’t really understand what they’re supposed to be doing when they read their portion of the Haunt scenario, or maybe they’re just not very strategic in how they utilize their powers and abilities. This variant approach gives you the option to make sure that the person in the role of the betrayer actually wants to be put in that position.

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Gen Con 2020 Online

Gen Con 2020 Online

GenCon2020I have been attending Gen Con regularly since 2009, and reporting on the events and new games here on Black Gate. It’s one of the highlights of my year, honestly. But this year, of course, Gen Con has suffered the same fate as so many other major in-person events … a shift to online participation. Gen Con Online will run from Thursday, July 30, through Sunday, August 2, 2020.

Registration for Gen Con Online is free for attendees. There will also be three different Twitch channels that are livestreaming demos, live games, and other broadcasts related to Gen Con, with links available here. There is also supposed to be a Discord server set up, though that is still coming. Not surprisingly, it looks like there will be ample abilities to purchase games through the Gen Con Game Store, and of course to purchase Gen Con merchandise. All of that goes live online when the convention begins on Thursday. Once you’ve signed up for your badge, you can register for individual events on the Event Page, though at this point many of the most popular events are sold out. (It is still worth checking in, though, as some people might not show up for their registered events.)

Favorite annual major events from Gen Con are still taking place, though in modified forms. For example, the annual Costume Contest allowed entries throughout the first half of July. Finalist videos will be placed on the Online Costume Contest website on July 29, allowing for votes from fans (1 vote per person). It isn’t going to be quite the same as the Saturday parade of costumes through the convention center, to be sure, but I’m definitely glad that they’ve found a way for these impressive cosplayers to show their stuff and get recognized for it.

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