A Weird Dungeon Crawl… IN SPAAACE: Metamorphosis Alpha Deluxe Collector’s Edition

Tuesday, February 12th, 2019 | Posted by Ryan Harvey

Metamorphosis Alpha reprint

This oversized volume arrived in the mail last week: the Deluxe Collector’s edition of Metamorphosis Alpha, the first science-fiction roleplaying game. Originally published by TSR as a slender booklet in 1976, it’s essentially a weird dungeon crawl … IN SPAAACE! … taking inspiration from Brian Aldiss’s novel Non-Stop (which I love, BTW).

Its combination of radiation and mutant people/animals later formed the basis of Gamma World, one of the most out-there RPG settings ever. This volume contains the original Metamorphosis Alpha manual, an interview with creator James M. Ward, playtest notes, and all the supplemental material and errata published in Dragon and other RPG magazines of the time.

So why did I buy this? I’m one of those people who rarely plays RPGs (I don’t know enough people around me who want to) but enjoys reading RPG books as entertainment. I’m also interested in RPG history, since I came of age right as they did, during the advent of AD&D in the late ’70s. The only game system I would ever play is Fudge, the best universal system ever and wonderfully flexible, but that only makes it easier to read about other games and sourcebooks — they can all be run in Fudge!

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Gaming on the High Seas

Sunday, February 10th, 2019 | Posted by Jeff Stehman

My wife on Labadee with... uh... not a board game

My wife on Labadee with… uh… not a board game

Gaming on the high seas! Or at least medium seas. My wife and I went on the 2019 Dice Tower Cruise, a sold-out floating board-gaming convention of 600 adults plus 200 children. Five days aboard the Independence of the Seas, with stops in Jamaica and Haiti and access to the Dice Tower library of games.

Some of those 600 adults and most of the children didn’t participate in the gaming action, and some only dabbled. It’s a cruise, with usual huge array of activities available. This makes it an excellent vacation getaway for gamers whose families are less than enthused about the hobby.

Independence of the Seas holds about 4,400 passengers, so the DTC was a sizeable group, warranting its own dining room. We had the conference center for round-the-clock gaming, and additional table space was available in various restaurants at certain times of day. We also had the big theater for recording a live episode of the Dice Tower podcast, and a smaller venue for a few other Dice Tower gatherings/shows.

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Tiny Epic Defenders and the Table-top gaming Renaissance

Sunday, February 3rd, 2019 | Posted by Nick Ozment

Tiny Epic Heroes

Funny how some of us predicted video games would virtually wipe out RPGs and board games, and yet here we are. We have entered a golden age of tabletop gaming. So many new games, with great graphics, great playing pieces, and game mechanics that expand on systems that have been tried, tested, and improved on for decades.

I’m certainly not the first to make this observation, but much of this game renaissance must be thanks to funding platforms like Kickstarter. No longer limited to what a few big corporations deemed were mass-marketable enough to release to retail outlets, we could now team up with a few hundred or a few thousand other people who wanted what we did and JUST PAY TO MAKE IT HAPPEN OURSELVES.

Also, tabletop games, for families, have become a welcome alternative to everyone having their heads planted on a screen in their own little world-shells. A way to gather the family collectively around a table again to interact face to face. But for online-game-savvy kids, old chestnuts like Sorry aren’t necessarily going to cut it (no knock on Sorry; I played the heck out of that game when I was about 6).

Just consider: We live at a time when the original TSR game Dungeon! has made a big comeback – a perfect starting point to introduce young players to the wonders that await with a flat surface, a few dice, and a little bit of imagination. And beyond Dungeon!there are now dozens of games that have picked up where that 1970s oldie-but-goody left off.

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A (Belated) First Look At Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game.

Thursday, January 24th, 2019 | Posted by M Harold Page

Bronze Golem by Luigi artikid Castellani

Bronze Golem by Luigi artikid Castellani

Cover

“A rules-light game system modeled on the classic RPG rules of the early 1980’s”

I just purchased a copy of the Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game, “a rules-light game system modelled on the classic RPG rules of the early 1980’s”, which is code for an Old School Revival (OSR) game based on the old D&D mechanics that Wizards of the Coast released under open license some twenty(!) or so years ago.

The thing about OSR games is you never quite know whether they are reviving the experience or just the rules of yesteryear’s roleplaying. The two are different because the world has changed.

Sure, the rules generate the experience, but the same way music generates the gig. This isn’t the sound of one hand clapping in the woods. The context matters. Just as Bill Haley and the Comets wouldn’t trigger a cinema (!) riot these days, the uneven rules of yesteryear aren’t going to conjure up the edge-of-seat experience of our youthful roleplaying, because things have changed.

I’m old enough to have played 1st Edition AD&D as a teenager, just at the point when the supplements were stacking up to obscure the original mechanical simplicity. I yearn for the cosy shared world  — the Vancian magic, the stock monsters and magical items, the delightful abstraction of character classes — but have no nostalgia for epicycle-heavy non-recursive mechanics — ascending armor class, anybody? — nor the nerdily statted list of polearms, nor the tribble-like burgeoning of scene-stealing new character classes. Luckily, we were fortunate enough to have an adept DM (Hello Andy, Calum!) who could act as a layer between the mechanics and the flaky teens (Sorry, Andy, Calum…). Nor have I any interest in revisiting old controversies — Wot? No thief?

And this is the first way that the world has changed: standards.

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The Complete Borderlands Campaign now Available in PDF from Chaosium

Saturday, January 19th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Chaosium Borderlands-small Chaosium Borderlands-back-small

A few years ago I took a nostalgic look back at one of my favorite adventure settings, the boxed set Borderlands published by Chaosium in 1982, in the provocatively titled “Can Playing RPGs Really Make You a Billionaire?

Some of the most treasured possessions in my games library are the boxed adventure supplements published by Chaosium between 1981 – 1986. They include some of the finest adventure gaming products ever made, such as the classic Thieves’ World (1981), Michael Moorcock’s Stormbringer (1981), the brilliant Masks of Nyarlathotep (1984)… Borderlands is still very much worth a look today. It’s a complete, self-contained adventure scenario in the River of Cradles in Prax, part of Greg Stafford’s world of Glorantha, and is (relatively) easy to adapt to Sixth Edition RuneQuest and other modern game systems. Players play the role of down-on-their luck mercenaries drawn to the lawless borderlands along the river, “a fertile valley separating the devastation of Vulture’s Country and the wretched chaparral of Prax.” There, in the employ of the generous Duke of Rone, they will help civilize a new domain filled with tribal peoples, creatures, and monsters (ducks to dinosaurs, whirlvishes to wraiths.)

Like all the Chaosium boxed sets of the era, it came absolutely packed with content, including a heavily illustrated, 48-page Referee’s Handbook, a dense 32-page Referee’s Encounter Book, mostly filled with tables, two sets of maps, and seven individually bound, linked scenarios.

The article frustrated more than a few readers since, like virtually all Chaosium’s boxed adventure supplements from the early 80s, copies are highly collectible and very pricey today. Even the Moon Design paperback reprint from 2005 is ridiculously expensive, routinely commanding $100 and up on eBay. So I was delighted to see a completely remastered edition of the Borderlands boxed set offered as a single PDF by the original publisher, Chaosium, as their final PDF release of 2018.

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God Of War (2018): Masterpiece

Saturday, December 29th, 2018 | Posted by Matt Drought

god of war

God Of War (2018) is an incredible work of art. I believe that it is the best game of this generation. I understand this is an incredible claim to make. Each component of the game, story, graphics, and gameplay complement each other, providing a fun and immersive game that resonates with the player.

(Beware spoilers if you have never played a God Of War game)

The God of War series of games began in 2005 on the Playstation 2. The first game was named, appropriately, God Of War, which is also the name given to the entire series.

The story begins in ancient Greece, with a Spartan Warrior named Kratos. Kratos is tricked into killing his wife and daughter by the Greek God Of War, Ares. Kratos, armed with the Blades of Chaos, and fueled by utter rage, kills Ares and ascends to become a God, the new God Of War. In the following titles, it is revealed that Kratos is the son of Zeus. Kratos, disgusted with the behavior and manipulation by the Olympians, embarks on a dark path, destroying allies and foes alike to take down Zeus and the pantheon of Greek Gods.

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A look back at E3 2018: Playstation’s Conference

Friday, December 21st, 2018 | Posted by Matt Drought

sony-playstation-e3-2018-theaters.jpg.optimal

Every year, in early summer, the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3) showcases the industries upcoming games, gaming tech, and gaming culture. Studios from around the world vie to create a buzz for their brands by announcing new games, new content for existing games, and upcoming new hardware.

The largest Studios, such as Xbox, Bethesda, and  Playstation hold live, large press conferences that can be viewed in person, streamed live, or be watched later on the internet. These press conferences are fairly long events, often lasting over an hour. Typical content for these events are live game demos, prerecorded game demos, and short video teasers for games not far in development. These presentations sometimes include celebrities and often include developer commentary.

This year at E3, Sony announced some fantastic exclusive games. Of the games that were presented at Sony’s E3 Conference, Call Of Duty Black Ops 4, Tetris Effect (PSVR), Beat Saber (PSVR), Destiny 2 Forsaken DLC, and Spider-Man have been released. The rest of the games presented are expected to release in 2019.

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More Than Meets the Eye …

Wednesday, December 19th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Transformers Trading Card GameA few months back at GenCon, I stumbled across a well-placed demo area with a large cardboard display of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. As a child of the 1980’s, I wasn’t about to miss out on this … my introduction to Wizard of the Coast’s Transformers Trading Card Game.

There are two components to the game: double-sided oversized character cards and battle cards. The character cards are foil cards that represent various Autobot and Decepticon characters with one side having a Bot Mode and the other side having their transformed Alt Mode. The battle cards are a deck of regular-sized cards, consisting of single-use Action cards and Upgrades that can be attached to individual transformers to provide Weapon, Armor, and Utility equipment that (generally) stick with the characters they’re upgrading.

The game plays out as a battle between two teams of Transformers, with victory coming to the player who is able to KO all of their opponents’ characters. Each character card has Attack, Life, and Defense stats, which alternate as you flip between the Modes. Some Modes also have powers of various kinds. Some of the powers activate when you flip the card into that mode. For example, when you flip the Optimus Prime card into its truck Alt Mode, you immediately draw a battle card. Other powers are always active so long as the character is in that Mode.

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A Massive History of D&D Culture: Art and Arcana by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer

Thursday, December 13th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Art and Arcana-small

Art and Arcana is a massive book that satisfies a strong sense of nostalgia for those who played Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s and 80s, as well furnishing a history of the game and, to a lesser extent, the people and companies behind it. Focused primarily on the artwork that has helped define the game from its earliest days, authors Michael and Sam Witwer, Kyle Newman, and Jon Peterson have provided a beautiful look at the game’s first forty-five years, with an emphasis on the first few editions.

Even the endpages of this 440 page book indicate what is sandwiched between them. The opening pages show a map of the Village of Hommlet from the classic T-1 dungeon, while the closing pages are a reproduction of a classic piece of Erol Otis’s artwork from Deities and Demigods. A foreword by Joe Manganiello points out that “in [the 1980s], Dungeons and Dragons wasn’t cool.” As someone who began playing the game in 1980 (in Glenview, where the Witwers were from, although I didn’t know them), Manganiello’s comment is an understatement. At the time, the concept that stars like Manganiello and Sam Witwer would be involved with a book about Dungeons and Dragons would have been mind-boggling, as would the idea that the host of a late night talk show like Stephen Colbert would admit to playing it, or that people could make a living as a Dungeon Master and charge people to watch their games.

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Birthday Reviews: Josepha Sherman’s “River’s Friend”

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jim Holloway

Cover by Jim Holloway

Josepha Sherman was born on December 12, 1946 and died on August 23, 2012.

Sherman’s debut novel The Shining Falcon won the Compton Crook Stephen Tall Memorial Award in 1990. Sherman collaborated with Mercedes Lackey, Laura Anne Gilman, Susan Shwartz,and Mike Resnick. She  co-edited the non-fiction folklore collection Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts with Toni Weisskopf.

“River’s Friend” saw print in issue #178 of Dragon under editor Roger E. Moore and fiction editor Barbara G. Young in February 1992. As with so many of the stories which appeared in Dragon, this one was never reprinted.

Sherman sets her story in an alternative Russia during the reign of Vladimir the Great. Souchmant has the unique position at Vladimir’s court of a peasant who has managed, through the prince’s good graces, to become one of the bogatyrs. Souchmant knows that he is part of the nobility only at the sufferance of his lord. He also has a secret that, if found out, would force him from Vladimir’s court. Vladimir is known in this world for his distaste for anything that smells of the supernatural, the Other, and ever since he was a young boy, Souchmant has been in communication with the Other, specifically the spirit of the River Niedpra.

It isn’t his communication with the River Spirit that gets Souchmant in trouble with his lord, but rather his frustration at the lack of understanding the bogatyrs have about the way the common people live. Souchmant erupts complaining that they don’t know how to do anything useful or complete a task without violence. He offers that he can capture a live swan without the use of any weapons or even a net. Once the words are out of his mouth, Vladimir banishes him to complete the task.

Rather than do as he was instructed, Souchmant, with some help from the spirit of the Niedpra, saves the river from having a group of Tatars build a bridge over it, which would also serve to stanch its flow. Having defeated the Tatars with supernatural aid, Souchmant can’t admit what exactly he has done when he reports on the attempted Tatar invasion to Vladimir. Thrown in jail, he is eventually rescued by an unlikely ally.

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