A Report on Modiphius’s Robert E. Howard’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of — Part One

Thursday, August 6th, 2020 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

Conan-Adventures-in-an-Age-Undreamed-Of RPG-small

That title is probably the last time, in this article, that I’m going to refer to this game with all those words. It was important to get it right, the first time, but usually I just call it Conan 2d20.

Because that’s what it is: it is playing a Conan game by using Jay Little’s 2d20 engine or mechanic, which he designed for Modiphius. There are other Conan RPGs out there, all of them, of course, out of print: an “original” TSR Conan RPG (I’ve never had the experience), a GURPS version (I only just learned about this one, and I’ve never played GURPS — the Hero System was my game of choice during the “universal system” era), and Mongoose’s d20 version (which I did play, at GaryCon one year, and it was a delight!). Outside of RPGs designed — or modified — specifically to accommodate a Conan vibe and setting, there are a number of options ranging from d20 derivations from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea to Low Fantasy Gaming to Crypts & Things to Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells to “other system” derivations such as Savage Worlds to RuneQuest to Barbarians of Lemuria to many others that I’m either forgetting or about which I simply don’t know. Of these other games, when I make an argument that Conan 2d20 is my most favorite system for accurately emulating Conan pulp fiction, I should make clear that I have not played all of them, though I have read (and even played) most of those listed above.

Getting into Conan 2d20, for the casual gamer, or for the merely curious, demands a fair amount of cognitive load. This is because, I believe, the system is so innovative — and those innovations are precisely what makes this a Conan game. I have encountered many anecdotes of gamers and consumers gleefully obtaining this gorgeous hardcover tome (or PDF), riffling through it, saying, “Huh?” then setting it aside with a “Sorry, not for me, but the art is pretty, and this still makes a good resource.” This describes my own initial reception, as I was losing my mind to higher Levels of play in Pathfinder and, with immense relief, was going “old school” by picking up Swords & Wizardry. But I kept sneaking glances at Conan 2d20 and thinking “what if?” Bob Byrne and I tried to do something via Play by Post. In my home group, a year or so later, I got a 1e enthusiast to start running for my casual players so that I could give 2d20 a go with two seasoned players. But then, after I had successfully run two adventures, the pandemic hit, and these two players weren’t interested in online play.

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After Action Report: Gen Con Online

Monday, August 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse


Gen Con is a major — the major — tabletop gaming convention of the year. 60,000 gaming enthusiasts arrive in Indianapolis (where the con has been held since 2003) to participate in thousands of board games, card games, miniature games, role-playing games (including live action), seminars, reveals, auctions, and cosplay. And more. Spread across the Indianapolis Convention Center, multiple hotels, and Lucas Oil Stadium, the scale of Gen Con is unmatched.

However, with COVID-19 disrupting major sports, shuttering millions at home (who are fortunate enough to work from home), and sparking debates about masks, conventions big and small canceled in-person events months ago. San Diego Comic Con. GaryCon. Origins. Who’s Yer Con. TravellerCon. Gen Con. Many have attempted some sort of online alternative, a path Gen Con 2020 followed.

Gen Con undertook the challenging task of offering an extensive virtual convention, featuring many tabletop gaming sessions and the sprawling, chaotic, glorious Dealer Hall of gaming companies, artists, dice creators, and many others hawking and showing off their goods. In past Gen Cons I have run games, participated in seminars, and spent hours roaming the Dealer Hall. From Thursday evening to Sunday afternoon, my weekend would be little else but gaming, shopping, and some sleep along with visiting a food truck to scarf down a meal between. This year would be different.

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

Saturday, August 1st, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones


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

Thursday, July 30th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

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

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

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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Robots, Deep Space, and Star Trek: Free RPG Day at Games Plus in Mount Prospect

Monday, July 27th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Games Plus Free RPG Day-small

Free RPG Day is not something I can remember ever taking part in…. mostly because the only local gaming store here in St. Charles died ten years ago. But when I saw the Facebook announcement from Floyd at Games Plus on Friday (above), I was intrigued enough to make the 30-mile drive to Mount Prospect Saturday morning.

Games Plus is easily the best gaming store in the the Chicago area — perhaps in the entire country. It’s the home of the Games Plus auctions I’ve written about extensively for the the past 10 years. Like all retail stores, it’s struggled as a result of the pandemic, and I was overdue for a visit to show my support (and spend some money) anyway.

And several of the items in Floyd’s pic grabbed my attention, especially the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure from Goodman Games, the Root the Tabletop Roleplaying Game adventure, and the Warhammer Wrath & Glory module. It’d be a challenge narrowing my selection down to two items, but I figured that’d be part of the fun.

So what is Free RPG Day?

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

Sunday, July 26th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

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

Saturday, July 25th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

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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Protect the Frontier: Star Frontiers Roleplaying

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse


When I think back all those years ago about visiting a Waldenbooks in the Terre Haute, Indiana mall, I can never firmly, confidently say whether I bought the boxed set of Star Frontiers or Traveller. My hunch is that it was Star Frontiers, the science-fiction role-playing game by TSR (the company that Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax founded with Don Kaye and Brian Blume) that came out in 1982 – really, a response to GDW’s Traveller, published in 1977. While Traveller, which I had shortly after Star Frontiers, if that’s the correct order, became a personal favorite from then on, Star Frontiers still conjures fond memories.

While the community for Traveller is thriving thanks to Marc Miller’s (the creator of the game and co-founder of GDW) smart decision to retain ownership of the game post-GDW, which has allowed multiple editions to be published over time, Star Frontiers does not have the benefit of official support since the line was ended by TSR in the 1980s. Hence, the game lives on only within a community of gamers who still play it, though they actively do so along with fanzines.

Gen Con has a session or two of it every year it seems, and the Facebook Group, Star Frontiers: Alive and Well, has 2,800 members. Indulging in a bit of nostalgia, I purchased a PDF and print-on-demand hard copy of the game, Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn. This is a version of the original boxed set, including the Basic Game Rules book, Expanded Game Rules book, and the adventure, Crash on Volturnus.

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The Soundtrack to 2020 Was Released 29 Years Ago

Tuesday, July 21st, 2020 | Posted by Dieter Zimmerman

Cyberpunk 2020 cover

Cyberpunk 2020 from R. Talsorian

The year 2020 will always be associated in my mind with the Warrior Soul album Drugs, God and the New Republic. Explaining why requires a little back story, but let me assure you that this is the most relevant album in 2020.

In 1991 when the album came out, I was a senior in high school. While not in school, my friends and I spent many hours throwing dice on the table, role-playing different characters in a variety of different settings. One of the games we played a lot that year was Cyberpunk 2020, a dystopian future game set in the year 2020.

One of the futuristic details of Cyberpunk 2020 is a genre of music called “chrome rock”. As far as I know, chrome rock is never really described in any detail, so I have no idea what Mike Pondsmith and the other writers of the game intended it to sound like. I always imagined it to be lyrically very anti-authoritarian like a lot of punk songs, but musically more like metal and very “shiny” (clean and well-produced, I suppose?) like, well… chrome.

And that’s the perfect description of Drugs, God and the New Republic if you ask me. I heard the album and thought, “Holy f**k. This is chrome rock.” The sound seemed way ahead of its time back then, and I’ve never really heard anything quite like it before or since (except Warrior Soul’s debut album Last Decade Dead Century, but for some reason I didn’t pick that one up until years later). It’s got guitar riffs and drum smashes that would be at home in metal, bass grooves that might not be too out of place in funk, vocals that are more of the gritty hard rock G’n’R style, and lyrics born from a wholehearted punk attitude. Though Warrior Soul was generally considered “metal” at the time, they never neatly fit into that genre. That and the fact that grunge was just becoming huge when the album came out are the main reasons they never received the recognition and praise I think they deserve.

Sadly, I don’t know enough about the specifics of music recording to articulate exactly how their sound was created. Maybe someone more knowledgeable about sound equipment and mixing can tell me what pedals and filters might have been used to make it so unique.

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