What Skyrim Can Teach Us About World-Building

Tuesday, July 16th, 2019 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

Skyrim Banner

Good morning, Readers!

No one who knows me is surprised when I say I love video games. I’ve written about them previously for this very site. I think it’s hard to overstate just how much I adore video games (specifically narrative-focused games). The one game that got me to buy my first console and actually dive head-first into gaming was Bethesda Studio’s epic addition to their Elder Scrolls series, Skyrim.

This open world game lets you go anywhere, and do pretty much anything. Best of all, it has dragons (which you can kill and steal their souls to fortify your own powers [insert evil laugh]). Loving video games, but without a PC (my home computer is a Mac) or a console, I resorted to watching other folks have fun with them on YouTube. I stumbled across a Let’s Play of Skyrim, and after three episodes, I knew I had to play it for myself. I saved like a madwoman, bought myself a console, and Skyrim.

And I was never heard from again (not really.  I did not ignore my responsibilities… but it was close!).

Skyrim proved to be everything I had been promised. It was epic in scope, the combat was fun, the dragons were amazing, and it let you play however you would like.

For the record, I always play in first person, and my build is always a bosmer (wood elf), whose strengths lie in archery and sneaking. There’s something ridiculously satisfying about sniping fools from the shadows with a good bow.

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Torg Eternity: The Aysle Sourcebook Interview

Tuesday, July 9th, 2019 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Torg EternityAbout a year ago I reviewed Torg Eternity, the reboot from Ulisses Spiele of the Torg tabletop role-playing game. I loved the original, one of the most wildly imaginative settings I’ve ever seen, and found the new version kept the best parts of the old Torg while making the mechanics smoother (I wrote up a session here). The game imagines our world attacked by other realities, each based on a different genre of fiction, which invade by making parts of our world operate according to their rules — increasing or decreasing the level of technology, adding magic or psionics or manifestations of the gods, and subtly encouraging people to behave in ways appropriate to their genre.

Now dinosaurs wander the jungles and mysterious ruins of the North American coasts. A cyberpunk theocracy’s taken over France. India faces colonial gothic horror. Splatterpunk technodemons in Russia have spawned a wasteland north of Moscow haunted by scavengers and monstrosity. East Asia sees zombies and bleeding-edge technology enveloped in espionage schemes. A maniacal pulp-era supervillain’s launched a New Nile Empire based in Egypt, opposed by masked Mystery Men. And in England and Scandinavia, wizards and elves and dragons are caught in a war between Light and Dark.

In the last year, two wildly successful Kickstarter campaigns have launched sourcebooks covering specific realms: first the lost-world realm of the Living Land, then the pulp reality of the Nile Empire. Now a third campaign has begun, for the sourcebook covering the fantasy realm of Aysle. I interviewed the Torg Eternity design team about the new book, how it approaches the fantasy genre, and what gamers can expect.

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Raiders and Rogues in a Cursed World: Forbidden Lands by Modiphius

Saturday, June 1st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Forbidden Lands Modiphius-small Forbidden Lands Modiphius -back-small

While I was at the Spring 2019 Games Plus Auction, I took the time to shop around in the New Arrivals section, since Games Plus is probably the best-stocked games store I’ve ever visited. As usual, I picked up a few magazines and the latest issues of Jolly Blackburn’s excellent Knights of the Dinner Table comic. But there was another game that caught my eye: Forbidden Lands, a boxed RPG developed by accomplished Swedish development house Fria Ligan (Free League in English), makers of the excellent Coriolis science fiction game, as well as the acclaimed Tales from the Loop and the upcoming Alien Roleplaying Game, and distributed in the US by Modiphius.

What drew me to Forbidden Lands? Truthfully it was the cover art by Simon Stålenhag, and the impressively sized (and heavy!) box. Once I picked it up however, it was the back-cover text that fired my imagination.

In this open-world survival roleplaying game, you’re not heroes sent on missions dictated by others — instead, you are raiders and rogues bent on making your own mark on a cursed world. You will discover lost tombs, fight terrible monsters, wander the wild lands and, if you live long enough, build your own stronghold to defend.

Last thing I need is another fantasy RPG crowding my shelves, especially one in a generic fantasy setting. But the evocative text sold me on the promise of a dark world far-removed from routine high fantasy tropes, and characters that sounded a lot closer to sword & sorcery archetypes than I’m used to. The price on the box was $49.99, and I decided to take a chance.

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Like a Phoenix from the Ashes, City of Heroes Returns!

Monday, May 27th, 2019 | Posted by Thomas Parker

(2) City of Heroes-small

In the world of superheroes, nothing is less permanent than death. Just ask Superman; his demise in 1992 was one of the biggest news stories of the year, at least for the kind of easily bamboozled person who doesn’t actually read comic books (like the editors of Time Magazine). The more sophisticated were not fooled however, and rightly so. Superman was only in the ground for a little longer than your average basketball season.

This being so, it should come as no surprise that an entire universe of heroes and villains should return to life almost seven years after completely vanishing in a cataclysmic climax that can still bring tears to the eyes of those who were there at the end, but an enormous surprise it was. The comic book immortality principle notwithstanding, it really did seem as if that universe, the world of Paragon City and the Rogue Isles and the alternate dimension of Praetoria, was truly gone forever. But if comic books can teach us anything, it’s that the impossible is possible and that for the brave and pure of heart, no defeat is final.

In other words, City of Heroes, the legendary and beloved superhero MMORPG (that’s Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, a phrase even uglier and more graceless than its acronym), which ran from April 28th, 2004 until it was shut down by NCSOFT on November 30th, 2012, is back!

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NASCRAG: 40 Years at Gen Con

Sunday, May 5th, 2019 | Posted by David Mitchard

The Book of Nascrag-small

If you’ve ever been to Gen Con, you know it can be an overwhelming experience. More than 50,000 people surge through the halls of the Indiana Convention Center and Lucas Oil Stadium, attending thousands of individual events, often at the tops of their lungs. It’s a gathering that’s grown exponentially from its humble roots as a wargaming get together in the Horticultural Hall in Lake Geneva to become the premiere game convention in North America.

Not much remains of the early Gen Con these days. Its heart is the same as always, of course. Gamers who want to spend time with other gamers. A community of folks who think a little differently than the mainstream. But the particulars have evolved over the years. In addition to the wargames and board games and roleplaying games, there are video games, cosplay, collectible card games and so much more. And gamers aren’t outcasts these days. The crowd is a mix of races and sexes and orientations that the gamers of the 70’s could not have imagined. Good signs of a healthy and still developing hobby. But if you look very carefully, amidst all the hub-bub and growth, you can still find a few things that have endured.

One of those enduring things is NASCRAG; the National Association of Crazed Gamers. NASCRAG is a gaming group that has been putting on RPG tournaments at Gen Con since 1980. Think about it; 2019 will be our 40th consecutive Gen Con.

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Starfinder Update: Space Fantasy in the Future of Pathfinder

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StarfinderBeginnerBoxFor the last couple of years, one of my favorite games has been the science fantasy RPG Starfinder from Paizo, the makers of the Pathfinder RPG. Starfinder has all the magic and adventure of Pathfinder, co-mingled with high technology and a wild space setting. The best way to describe the feel of the adventures is a mix of Dungeons & Dragons with Guardians of the Galaxy.

The game has expanded at a steady pace over the last couple of years. Two Alien Archive supplements have been released, with a third slated for a GenCon release in August. They’ve released the Pact Worlds setting book and an Armory supplement, and a Character Operations Manual focusing on increased player options is coming in October 2019. They’ve also just announced a collaboration with WizKids to produce a Starfinder Battles series of prepainted miniatures.

The setting focuses on the solar system that once housed the planet of Golarion, the main Pathfinder setting, but Golarion itself no longer exists. In its place is Absalom Station, a giant space station that houses the Soulstone and is a hub of travel for shifts traveling through the Drift, the mysterious dimension that allows for rapid travel across vast distances of space. Among many other things, Absalom Station is the headquarters of the Starfinder Society, a group of explorers and adventurers who travel throughout the Pact Worlds and beyond into the Vast to discover new worlds and civilizations, occasionally running afoul of the undead Corpse Fleet or other threats, from space pirates to alien menaces like the vicious Swarm.

For those who haven’t yet explored the setting, and are looking for a guided introduction, the new Starfinder Beginner Box offers a great springboard to get into the game. It comes with a streamlined rule set, some cards that help provide rule and condition reminders, pregenerated characters, a variety of cardboard pawns representing characters and creatures, a gridded map for play, and an introductory adventure module.

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Numenera, Nyarlathotep, and Runequest Glorantha: Some Recent Slipcase Sets

Sunday, April 21st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha Slipcase-small

Kickstarter has fundamentally changed board game publishing over the past decade, and more recently it’s started to have a similar impact on Role Playing as well. Monte Cook’s first Numenera campaign in September 2012 famously raised $517,255 (on a $20,000 goal), and Chaosium’s 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu campaign bested that in June 2013, raising $561,836 (on a $40,000 goal), and those opened the floodgates. Since then some of the most popular RPG properties have turned to fans to get major projects off the ground, with impressive results.

I don’t back crowdfunding campaigns (with the exception of the Veronica Mars movie because, hey, Veronica Mars). But I do trail along after them and buy finished products. Sometimes — not always — that’s more expensive, but it does save me all the drama of late delivery and wondering if the project I funded will ever arrive. Like Judges Guild’s infamous reprint of the City State of the Invincible Overlord, promised in December 2014 and which still shows no sign over ever becoming real nearly five years later.

So far in 2019 I’ve purchased four crowdfunded boxed sets, and I’ve been very, very impressed with all of them. There were:

RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha — $119.99
Numenera Discovery and Destiny — $119.99
Call of Cthulhu: Masks of Nyarlathotep — $129.99
RuneQuest: The Guide to Glorantha — $169.95

All are still available to latecomers. Here’s a closer look at all four.

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By Crom! Conan: Adventures In An Age Undreamed Of Q&A With Jason Durall

Friday, March 22nd, 2019 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Conan_AdventuresPG[I’ve talked about Modiphius’ RPG, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of. Fellow Black Gater Gabe Dybing and I (with some help from Martin Page) were excited to attempt a series of posts, chronicling our online campaign, but, as is often the case, real life got in the way. Here’s the first post, which talks about the game

Even though we didn’t get beyond the first encounter, I’ve remained a fan of the Conan RPG and have read much of the material (I was a Kickstarter backer). Jason Durall, who wrote an excellent entry on “Xuthal of the Dusk” for Hither Came Conan, is the Line Editor for the game (he is also Line Editor for the venerable Runequest). He was kind enough to do a Q&A for Black Gate. Read on!]

Mongoose certainly produced a LOT of content for the two editions of its 3rd Edition Conan RPG line. What impelled Modiphius to bring out a new Conan RPG? And at this particular time?

Modiphius was already partnering with Cabinet Entertainment with Mutant Chronicles 3rd Edition and other properties, and when the opportunity for Conan was discussed, it was an obvious choice. To distinguish this new version, very early we made the decision that it should incorporate only REH context and new material derived from that, and be produced with deep involvement from leading REH scholars from the beginning. As for timing, it seemed right for a definitive Conan game.

(Editor – While I enjoy many of the pastiches, by various authors – some of which I discussed here – I admire their decision to work from Howard’s source material)

And it was a great bonus for the kickstarter that backers got PDFs of ALL the Mongoose Conan line. How did that come about?

Cabinet owns the rights to all part work done with the Conan IP, so they had the rights to the Mongoose catalog. We had many Kickstarters who were fans of that game, and it seemed a nice benefit to provide.

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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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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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