Create Your Character Backstory with Style: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise

Saturday, October 12th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Call to Adventure-small

I attended Gen Con for the first time in roughly fifteen years this year, and let me tell you, it was an experience. Wandering the massive Exhibit Hall — which quite literally took me three full days  — drove home for the first time just how truly enormous the modern board game market is. 50,000 excited attendees packed the halls and pathways connecting over a thousand vendor booths, displaying thousands of new releases and tens of thousands of games. It was so packed it was sometimes impossible to move.

For a gamer whose very first gaming convention (CanGames in Ottawa in the late 70s) had maybe 250 attendees, it was a revelation. Fantasy gaming — like comics, role playing, and fantasy films — has gone mainstream in a big way. The tiny hobby I was once a part of is now a multibillion dollar business. Fantasy and Science Fiction were the dominant genres, but there were plenty of family games, wargames, and strange unclassifiable titles.

But it’s still about the games. I realized early that it would be impossible to take in every new title of interest, so instead I started at one end of the Exhibit Hall, taking pictures with my iPhone. I  made my way methodically up and down each aisle until I arrived, three days and many hundreds of photos later, at the far end, with a record of every new game of interest. I can’t cover them all of course, but I can discuss a few here on the blog. And I’ll start with one of the first games I ordered as soon as I returned from Indianapolis: Call to Adventure from Brotherwise Games.

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Cults of Prax: Then and Now

Sunday, October 6th, 2019 | Posted by Michael OBrien

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Cults of Prax, first printing 1979. Cover art by Anders Swenson

The RuneQuest supplement Cults of Prax was published by Chaosium forty years ago this year.

RPGNet describes Cults of Prax as the first-ever roleplaying game ‘splatbook’ (a ‘splatbook’ being a non-core sourcebook for an RPG that provides additional rules and material that can be used with the main system) — but its importance and influence goes far beyond that distinction. In a 2010 retrospective review Grognardia said Cults of Prax is

A true classic of the early days of the [tabletop roleplaying] hobby. …quite rightly considered one of the best treatments of religion in a fantasy RPG ever written and it’s certainly one of the most inspirational.

Written by gaming legends Steve Perrin, co-author of the RuneQuest RPG rules, and the late Greg Stafford, creator of the fantasy setting Glorantha, Cults of Prax’s ground-breaking presentation of gods and how they interact with the world through those who worship them still makes it one of the most influential and important works ever released for the RuneQuest RPG, and indeed for tabletop roleplaying games in general.

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Some Random Big Box PC Games

Saturday, September 14th, 2019 | Posted by Stuart Feldhamer

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Wizard’s Crown (SSI, 1986-87)

This is a tactical fantasy role playing game from SSI, somewhat similar to their breakout hit Pool of Radiance, but with simpler graphics (and of course without the D&D license). Up to 8 adventurers have to find some crown that used to belong to some wizard king guy. Although the box says copyright 1985, it apparently was not released until 1986, and the IBM release not until 1987.

I have never played this one. Who has? Please, share your thoughts, opinions, and memories.

Thomas M. Disch’s Amnesia (Electronic Arts, 1985)

This is a text adventure where you wake up naked in a hotel room in New York City, with amnesia (of course), and you need to figure out what’s going on. At some point early on you can steal the tuxedo that it shows you wearing on the front cover. What a handsome guy you are…?

The cool thing about the game is that they implemented locations for all of Manhattan, and the game comes with various guides to the subway etc. for any non-New Yorkers (shame on you). The game came in the standard EA folder, and EA made a big deal out of the fact that it was written by a real author, Thomas M. Disch, but I never heard of him until I saw the game. You can learn more about him here at Black Gate.

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Pathfinder Second Edition

Saturday, August 31st, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Pathfinder2EAs has been the case for the last few years, this year’s big Gen Con release was from the folks at Paizo. Two years ago we got the release of Starfinder. Last year was the release of the Pathfinder Playtest. And this year the Pathfinder Playtest reaches its fruition with the release of Pathfinder Second Edition, released into the wild at the beginning of August.

The gamer fanatics that we are here at Black Gate, we’ve been interested in this since Pathfinder Second Edition was first announced.  Last fall, I covered the Pathfinder Playtest, and most of the basic game mechanics introduced in the playtest stayed constant in the Second Edition release, even if some of the specifics changed.

The pacing is one of the best aspects of Pathfinder Second Edition. The action economy of having three actions each turn, and different tasks taking different numbers of those actions, helps keep players and the gamemaster moving smoothly through the turns. Each character can track their most common actions, based upon their character build, so that they can easily keep track of their options in the action economy.

The character design in Pathfinder Second Edition is around accumulating feats – ancestry & heritage feats, class feats, general feats, and skill feats – that allow for a wide range of diversity. Some of these feats also unlock uncommon task types, which players without those feats aren’t able to access. This keeps the distinctive customization that has really become the hallmark of the Pathfinder RPG over the last decade.

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Not Your Typical Hero

Tuesday, August 27th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

God of war

Good morning, Readers!

On occasion, I review video games for the site It’s really just a small thing I do every so often, when I’ve finished playing a game.  Currently, I’m working my way through Far Cry Primal, and enjoying it immensely. Not too long ago, though, I played through the latest iteration of God of War. I enjoyed the older God of War games on a very surface level. I moved my avatar, rage-incarnate, Kratos, across the screen and used him to utterly obliterate my enemies. I felt nothing for Kratos, and despite cut scenes that were designed to make him at least a little sympathetic, I wasn’t particularly attached to his story. There is nothing compelling or appealing about the embodiment of toxic rage. I played for the mayhem and the silly fun.

Then came old man Kratos and his son, and everything changed.

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A Time for Heroes: The Not-so-Secret Premise Behind World of Aetaltis

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

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I’ve been pretty excited about Marc Tassin’s Aetaltis for years, and I’m thrilled that his Kickstarter has launched at last. Once you hear his take on heroes, you’re likely to be interested yourself. Take it away, Marc!

The world needs heroes. This is the simple premise upon which I built the World of Aetaltis. Especially today, at this moment in history, we need reminders that with the will, the desire, and the determination, one person truly can make a difference. And I don’t mean at the super-heroic level, where larger-than-life protagonists save the entire world with their daring. I mean right here, right now, where one small act of courage can change even a single life for the better.

That is why I chose to launch a new heroic fantasy setting at a time when anti-heroes rule and shades of dystopia permeate every story. Because I don’t think we’re tired of heroes. In fact, we need them now more than ever.

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The Games of Gen Con 2019

Saturday, August 17th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

WarChickenIslandThe summer conventions are winding down, as school starts back up. I have previously mentioned games I discovered at Origins Game Fair earlier this summer, and our intrepid leader John O’Neill has hinted at some of his own exploits in the wilds of Gen Con. John and I usually run into each other when we’re both at the same convention, but Gen Con is massive enough that it’s no surprise our ships didn’t cross paths, particularly since I’m usually busy enough moving through the exhibit hall and participating in demo games that I rarely make it these days to many of the Writer’s Symposium activities … held in an entirely different hotel, as Gen Con has spread tendrils, Cthulhu-like, throughout all of downtown Indianapolis.

This year I’d like to begin my discussion of Gen Con gaming discoveries on the weird end of the spectrum, with War for Chicken Island. This successful Kickstarter funded with over $160,000 and is slated for an October 2019 release. They had a prototype at the Draco Studios booth, but weren’t running complete demos, so I can’t speak to the game play. But this is a game where you fight for control of an island of chickens, using miniatures of crazy battle-ready chickens. I don’t need a full demo to know that I’m interested.

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Support the Hyperborea: Otherworldly Tales Kickstarter

Sunday, August 11th, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill


It’s hard to believe that I reviewed Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea right here seven long years ago. Since then it’s produced a revised and updated Second Edition, and become one of the most beloved independent RPGs on the market. I’m not the only one to fall in love with the system; Gabe Dybing interviewed creator Jeffrey Talanian for us back in 2016, and here’s what Howard Andrew Jones said on his blog in 2017:

The new Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea is a thing of beauty, a work of art. I spent thirty minutes last night just flipping through and soaking up all the artwork. If it’s not THE go-to sword-and-sorcery rpg at this point, it’s tied for first place. It just oozes the right vibe.

Now Jeff’s gaming company North Wind Adventures has launched a brand new Kickstarter to fund two new adventures, The Lost Treasure of Atlantis and The Sea-Wolf’s Daughter. Here’s what Jeff tells us about them.

Dear fellow Black Gate enthusiasts and fans of Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, and H.P. Lovecraft: Do you like swords-and-sorcery and weird-fantasy role-playing game adventures? Well, North Wind Adventures, makers of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, have two new adventure modules coming out soon! Find out all the details here.

The campaign has already more than doubled its goal of $9,000, with seven days to go. It’s not too late to get on board — pledge right here, and check out all the recent goodies from North Wind Adventures in my 2018 Gencon report.

All Aboard! Building the Great Railroads with Railway Empire

Monday, August 5th, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Click for full-size image

Click for full-size image

While I prefer fantasy games, and sometimes, shooters, I’m also a fan of strategy and simulations (sims). As is the case for many folks, SimCity was one of the first I really dove into. Now, you might have read my post on a show I really, really, liked: Hell on Wheels. It was a hard boiled, fictional take on the building of the Trans-Continental RailRoad. You should go read it now, if you haven’t already. I said, NOW! 😊

A game that took up a lot of my time, when I wasn’t swinging a sword and hunting down dragons, was Railroad Tycoon, developed by the legendary Sid Meier. It’s been a while now, and I can’t recall if it was Tycoon 1, or it’s follow-up, Railroad Tycoon 2, which I sunk most of my time into. But regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed laying out routes and successfully completing scenarios. Even in open-ended RPGs, I’m very much a ‘check the box’ kind of player.

I didn’t play Railroad Tycoon 3, so I was done with railroad sims for over a decade. Then, a few months ago, I discovered Railway Empire, which came out in early 2018. And I found the love I had for railroad sims, rekindled. It’s from Kalypso, the folks behind the enjoyable and successful Tropico series. I played a couple of the earlier versions of that franchise, and I really liked being the dictator of a banana republic.

(I REALLY suggest you click on the images to see the details in this post. It helps sell the game)

The game is set in America, between 1830 and 1930, with a couple different play modes. The Campaign Mode has required goals to accomplish by specific dates, with additional optional goals. If you fail to accomplish any mandatory goals, you fail. Succeed, and you can move on to the next Campaign scenario. They do not build on each other. The Campaign itself is not interconnected. You ‘start over’ for each one. Which is fine, I guess. You jump back and forth in time. A connected campaign isn’t as important in a railroad sim, as it is in an RPG.

The Free Mode is more open world, with goals to accomplish by certain dates, but you don’t fail the entire thing if you miss one (or all!) of them. You can decide what order to tackle them in. Or, you can ignore them all together and just play. You still use money to buy resources. In Sandbox Mode, there’s no money and no restrictions. You just play however you want, however long you want to.

The map is divided into regions in which the Campaign scenarios take place. For example, in the third or fourth one, you start out in the South near the end of the Civil War. And the first scenario (which is the tutorial) takes you across the Great Plains. Downloadable content has added France, Germany, Great Britain and Ireland, Crossing the Andes, Mexico, and the Great Lakes.

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Lost in the Halls at Gen Con 2019

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

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I’m here on site at Gen Con for the first time in…. wow, I don’t even remember. Fifteen years, at least. Last time I visited Gen Con it was in Milwaukee, if that’s any clue. It now fills (and substantially overfills) the spacious halls of the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis, where tens of thousands of gamers meet friends, play games, try out new games, play the legendary NASCRAG tournament, and wander through the jaw-dropping Exhibit Hall.

I’m here for the first time in over a decade because I was invited to speak at the Writers Symposium, on topics like Submitting Short Fiction, What Happens to a Story After You Submit it, and Does Advertising Work? I’ve been very impressed at how well organized the Symposium is — it’s run like an excellent mini-convention just for writers, inside a much larger enterprise. And it’s attracted some top-notch speakers, including Howard Andrew Jones, Bradley P. Beaulieu — whose talk on Tension on Every Page was really terrific — the charming Anna Smith Spark, Black Gate blogger Clarence Young, writer and interviewer Seth Lindberg, editor Diana Pho, and many, many others.

Of course, we’re here in the name of games, and games new and old were everywhere. The enormous Exhibit Hall (pictured above) was filled with hundreds and hundreds (and hundreds) of game companies showing off their wares. I didn’t get to spend nearly as much time in the Hall as I wanted — and you could spend weeks in there, believe me — but I did find countless treasures, many in the generously stocked Goodman Games booth at the far end. Over the next few weeks I’ll share the details here. But in the meantime, I have to run to my next panel, Reviews and Reviewers: How to Find Them, How to Keep Them. Wish me luck!

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