The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in March

Sunday, April 22nd, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder by the Pound at the Frog God booth at Gary Con 2018-small

The most popular topic at Black Gate last month was the Gary Con gaming convention in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, Gary Gygax’s home town. Part 1 of my convention report, in which I detailed the angry fallout among Pathfinder licensees to Paizo’s announcement of an impending Second Edition — including the “Pathfinder by the POUND!!” liquidation at the Frog God booth — was our most popular post for the month, by a pretty wide margin. Part 2 of my report, a 17-photo pictorial walkaround of the gorgeously well-stocked Goodman Games/Black Blade booth, came in at #3.

Gary Con wasn’t the only topic of interest in March, however. The second most-trafficked article for the month was Rich Horton’s commentary on the Hugo nominations, and our look at Unbound Worlds’ suggestions on where to start with Gothic Space Opera came in at #4. Rounding out the Top Five was Bob Byrne’s recap of his epic adventures with Gabe Dybing, Martin Page and his son Xander, and the new Conan RPG from Modiphius Entertainment.

Thomas Parker got into the spirit of our recent Ace Double reviews with “Doubling Down, or Just How Bad Are Ace Doubles, Anyway?” and that was good enough to win him the #6 slot for March. Joe Bonadonna claimed #7 with his review of Tempus With His Right-Side Companion Niko, by Janet Morris. Sean McLachlan picked up on the vintage paperback theme nicely with “STRANGE! WEIRD! EERIE! The Odd, Unusual, and Uncanny Biography of Lionel Fanthorpe,” placing at #8.

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Roleplaying the Possibility Wars: Torg Eternity (Part One)

Monday, April 16th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Torg EternityLater today, early tomorrow, sometime next week, the world began to end.

Imagine the Earth wreathed in storms spitting red and blue lightning. Imagine invaders from beyond reality turning the world piece by piece into something other than what we know. Imagine a cyberpunk theocracy in France, dinosaurs overruning the great cities of the United States, colonial gothic horrors in India, a post-apocalyptic wasteland in Russia haunted by decadent technodemons, zombies in East Asia, a mad pulp super-villain and would-be Pharaoh building a fascist empire among the pyramids of Egypt, and elves and wizards and dungeons and dragons in the British Isles and Scandinavia.

The storm has a name …

Torg is a tabletop role-playing game first published in 1990 by West End Games. I started running a campaign in 1991 that lasted for over a decade, off and on. Last year game publisher Ulisses Spiele launched a successful kickstarter to fund an updated edition of the game, Torg Eternity; they’re currently running another kickstarter for the rebooted game’s first sourcebook, The Living Land. The original Torg was the most explosively imaginative game I’ve ever played. The new is an intelligent update, refining the first version’s rules and concepts while respecting what made it work. Preparing to run the first session of a Torg Eternity campaign, I was shocked to realise how much power the original game had for me; and how well the new game not only maintained that imaginative power but added to it.

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Danger in Every Dark Alley: 40 Years of Adventuring in Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber’s Great Fantasy Metropolis

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Lankhmar Savage Worlds-small

Back in October I splurged on the Lankhmar Collector’s Box Set, a massive collection of setting material for the Savage Worlds core ruleset from Pinnacle Entertainment Group. It was a $70 indulgence, but I ended up being very happy with it. Partly because it’s the size of a giant brick and looks stately and awesome there on my end table. I mean, just look at that thing.

I had to educate myself a little bit to understand what the heck I’d just purchased, though. I thought Savage Worlds was, you know, a role playing game, like Dungeons and Dragons and Dallas. Turns out it’s a lot more than that. According to the two hours of research I just did, Savage Worlds is the umbrella ruleset for all of Pinnacle’s roleplaying titles, like their supernatural pirate game 50 Fathoms and their SF setting The Last Parsec, as well as their classic game conversions, including Rifts, Deadlands, and Space 1889.

I’m not precisely sure how many settings and adaptations are out there are but, man, there’s a bunch. Here’s a partial list. Bring a snack, ’cause it’s going to take a while to get through it.

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Modular: Walk the Streets of Ancient Rome in Mythic Rome by Pete Nash

Thursday, April 5th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Mythic Rome-small Mythic Rome-back-small

Almost exactly a year ago Chaosium announced a brand new edition of RuneQuest, one of the oldest and most acclaimed RPGs on the planet. While that was great news for many gamers, it did leave the folks at The Design Mechanism in the lurch — their lovingly crafted RuneQuest sixth edition, written by Pete Nash and Lawrence Whitaker, was the best version of the game in decades, and now they’d lost the license.

The Design Mechanism folks had also supported their version with some of the most exciting releases we’d seen in years, including the Book of Quests, Shores of Korantia, and  especially the brilliant Monster Island. While I was curious to see what Chaosium would do with the property, I was chiefly concerned with how the announcement would impact them.

Of course, I needn’t have worried. You can’t keep an outfit as creative as The Design Mechanism down for long. Without missing a beat they released their own full-fledged RPG system, Mythras, which picked up and elaborated on the work they’d done with sixth edition RuneQuest, while simultaneously expanding the rules to accommodate more diverse game settings, from Sword & Sorcery to Science Fiction and Urban Fantasy Horror. They also revamped all of their existing back catalog — including the irreplaceable Monster Island — to bring it up to date with the new system. And best of all, they’ve continued to release top notch new products, like Pete Nash’s fabulous Mythic Rome.

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Video Game Review: Tunnels & Trolls Adventures

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan


I’ve been hankering for some old school pen and paper adventuring lately, but not having a gaming group here in Madrid (or indeed any gaming group for a few decades now), I did what old school gamers always used to do when they found themselves all on their lonesome — I played some solo Tunnels & Trolls adventures.

But I did it with a modern twist. I played Tunnels & Trolls Adventures, a free app by MetaArcade. The app takes you through various classic adventures such as Sewers of Oblivion and Buffalo Castle and runs very smoothly. It’s been decades since I’ve played T&T, so I read all the intro material, which explained the game quickly and concisely and had me playing within minutes.

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Modular: Explore Starfinder’s Pact Worlds

Sunday, April 1st, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PactWorldsThe Starfinder RPG allows for literally a universe full of original settings, giving Gamemasters the opportunity to create their own worlds and societies as the basis for their games. For those who like working with a framework of existing source material, though, the Starfinder development team has done a great job of presenting exactly the sort of rich, diverse system of planets, races, and societies that one could hope to find: the Pact Worlds.

Starfinder is set in the distant future of their Pathfinder RPG fantasy setting, after the dominance of magic and superstition has given way to science and technology (and, of course, technomagic). The planet of Golarion, the center of the Pathfinder fantasy setting, has vanished. In its place rests the massive Absalom Station, surrounded by the remaining planets of its solar system. No one knows what happened to Golarion or who built Absalom Station, due to a break in history known as the Gap.

The planets of the system have joined together with Absalom Station to form the Pact Worlds, a loose defensive alliance formed against external threats. These fourteen locations (not all are planets, as they include the Sun and an asteroid belt) get a couple of half-pages apiece in the Starfinder Core Rulebook, but the newly-released Starfinder Pact Worlds sourcebook (Amazon, Paizo) fleshes them out and provides a variety of related starship and player options for Starfinder characters. Both players and Gamemasters will find much to love about this newest installment in unfolding universe of Starfinder.

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Big Adventure, Tiny Dungeons: SPI’s DeathMaze Mini-game

Monday, March 26th, 2018 | Posted by Deven Atkinson

Deathmaze Magic Capsule 2 SPI-small Deathmaze Magic Capsule 2 SPI-back-small

Disclaimer: No chits were punched in the playing of this game.

I recently obtained a near-mint copy of the 1979 bagged version of DeathMaze for my collection. My interest was in its design and gameplay mechanics that some people thought linked it to other SPI products such as the Citadel of Blood mini-game, the Sword and Sorcery boardgame, and the DragonQuest RPG.

Because I collect these games, I look for examples that are in un-played condition. I take the effort to make my own game pieces that I then use to play the games with. In the case of DeathMaze I simply made my own copies of the ½ inch square cardboard game piece counters, normally referred to as chits by war gamers. I also carefully removed the staples from the rule book, photo copied it and reassembled it with the original staples. I now have a rule book that I can handle without worry of damage.

The original near-mint game has been packed away in my collection. SPI historically allowed for the copy of record sheets and for reproducing damaged or lost counters. The back cover of the DeathMaze rulebook is a complete black and white printing of the game’s counter sheet, provided for just such a purpose.

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Modular: My Favorite “Do It Yourself” Products for Roleplaying Games

Wednesday, March 14th, 2018 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

MERPThose who know me a little more than as an infrequent contributor to Black Gate Magazine might be aware that I once aspired to be a writer of fantasy stories and novels, even publishing (for a short time but longer than average life expectancy) a small press magazine with co-editor and lifelong friend Nick Ozment. A few years into my forties, however, roleplaying games have utterly subsumed my creative life. I’m currently gamemastering four games: my home game, the very first roleplaying game I ever ran in my young life, Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP); another MERP game, this one using full Rolemaster rules (2nd edition), via play-by-post (PbP) in a G+ community; and two Modiphius Conan 2d20 games, one via PbP in a G+ community and one (same format) in a Facebook group. This last one is being conducted with Bob Byrne and Martin and Xander Page and is the subject of a new Modular series helmed by Mr. Byrne. In preparing my observations on Modiphius’s licensed Conan property, I have been thinking deeply about various… I suppose I shall call them “styles” of play. Using what I consider two fairly representative rules sets of what I mean by play “styles,” I have done a pretty extensive breakdown here. I expect I also shall have occasion to write about different styles of play in the midst of my experience with the 2d20 playtest. Right now, though, I want to talk about what can be termed the OSR (Old School Revival) — perhaps more accurately referred to as DIY (Do It Yourself) — resources that I most appreciate and are the most often used in my MERP games. Specifically, these resources help me come up with content and develop my fantasy world.

There are a number of “adventure generators” — perhaps more accurately described as “idea machines” — out there. I’m sure all of them are fantastic. You can download one for free from Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea at its website Nearly all of the products and producers that I’m going to mention in this article offer one. Even Conan 2d20 has one, though the focus of that generator, due to the nature of play that Conan encourages, is a bit different, and I expect I will analyze this at length when I get to that portion of the official playtest series. These “adventure generators” almost certainly are evolved from the “story creators” that Ozment once told me that the early pulp writers used, sometimes flicking spinners rather than throwing dice. Hey, modern GMs are under almost the same kind of pressure as those pulp writers were, though instead of needing to churn out words for pennies to put meat on the table they need to come up with an idea quick, tonight, before the players come over expecting to be wowed and entertained. Pre-made modules can do the same thing, of course, but they have to be studied first, details have to be remembered, and sometimes they just don’t work with the ongoing campaign in the way that a few randomly generated elements can result in truly inspired serendipity. All of the products I’m about to profile I own and use in PDF.

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The 1001 Treasures of Black Blade Publishing and Goodman Games: Gary Con 2018 Report, Part II

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales from the Magicians's Skull in the Goodman Games booth at Gary Con 2018-small

New releases at the Goodman Games table, including the magnificent Tales From the Magician’s Skull

In Part I of my Gary Con 2018 report, posted here yesterday, I talked about one of the great pleasures of walking the Exhibit Hall: meeting the creative masterminds behind the most dynamic companies in old-school RPGs, like Goodman Games, North Wind Adventures, Troll Lord Games, Black Blade Publishing, Frog God, Kobold Games, and many others. Today I want to talk about the other great pleasure of a truly rich Exhibit Hall. Namely, all those marvelous gaming treasures.

I do a pretty good job staying on top of the newest releases in the adventure gaming industry. More than that, I have a staff of top-notch game writers — like Andrew Zimmerman Jones, Bob Byrne, M. Harold Page, Howard Jones, Fletcher Vredenburgh, and Gabe Dybing, just to name a few — who constantly keep me informed. And yet virtually every step through the Exhibit Hall was filled with surprises. Anyone who’s ever visited the Exhibit Hall of a major gaming con or science fiction convention knows what I’m talking about. That sense of having stepped into a virtual Cave of Wonders, packed with a dozen lifetimes worth of magical discoveries.

You can’t recreate something that overwhelming with a simple blog post. But what the hell. I’m going to give it a shot anyway. To do that, I’m going to focus on the experience of walking around a single booth at Gary Con. In this case, the largest and most well-stocked one at the show, the joint Black Blade/Goodman Games tables at the entrance to the Hall. The sixteen photos below attempt to capture a few of my delightful discoveries — as well as give you a taste of the countless tantalizing items I had to hurry past in my efforts to be a gaming journalist. Prepare yourself.

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Modular: Take Command of Star Trek Adventures

Monday, March 12th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Star-Trek-The-Command-Division-Cover-No-LogosFans love Star Trek for different reasons, and when a fan moves into gaming within the Star Trek universe, those reasons usually inform the type of character they want to emphasize in their games. Do they want to be, like Spock or Data, the science officer who can coolly reason through any problem that comes up? Do they want to be the medical officer who saves lives while chaos erupts around them? The security officer who goes hand-to-hand with a Klingon warrior? The engineer who can make any technological miracle into reality? The hotshot pilot who can maneuver through any cluster of asteroids? Or the Captain of a starship, in charge of herding together all of these elements as they explore the distant unknown regions of space?

A handful of games have been versatile enough to cater to all of these types of fans. The video game Star Trek Online just celebrated its 8th anniversary, and it has a diverse style that allows easily for group or solo play, where players can create characters and take missions that interest them. There are missions that are mostly story-driven diplomatic missions, and some that are primarily about shooting the bad guys, either on ground away missions or in starship combat.

Last August, at GenCon, Modiphius Entertainment released the public version of their tabletop roleplaying game Star Trek Adventures. I’ve been running a group through since December 2016, when the game came out in a public playtest, and have been really pleased with it through all of the transformations into the official release. The system does a great job of allowing for diverse characters and capturing the feel of an episode of whichever Star Trek series is your cup of tea. (Earl Grey, hot, of course.)

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