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

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

PathfinderAPG

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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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

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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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Protect the Frontier: Star Frontiers Roleplaying

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

thebox

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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Ten RPG Moments of Awesome

Sunday, July 19th, 2020 | Posted by James Davis Nicoll

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And now for something more positive: ten awesome little moments in RPGs, beginning with a very self-serving one.

1) Ex Machina

Bruce Baugh, Rebecca Borgstrom, Christian Gossett, Bradley Kayl and Michelle Lyons’ 2004 Ex Machina was a cyperpunk roleplaying game, published by Canadian game company Guardians of Order. It got a very favorable review from BoingBoing. It was also my first professional editing credit.

It only took me a quarter century of playing and selling RPGs to get into the design end of things.

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James Davis Nicoll on Five Science Fiction & Fantasy Works Inspired by Role Playing Games

Sunday, July 12th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Son of a Liche-small The Order of the Stick 4 Don't Split the Party-small Spiderlight-smaller

I enjoyed James Davis Nicoll’s recent posts here at Black Gate, Ten Classic Unplayed RPGs, and Ten WTF Moments from Classic RPGs. James and I were both introduced to role playing games in Canada in the late 70s, and he shares both my fascination and enduring sense of wonder with the early games of that era.

James maintains his own site, jamesdavisnicoll.com, one of the better SF book blogs. (This month he’s reviewed Roger Zelazny’s 1969 minor classic Creatures of Light and Darkness, David Gerrold’s A Matter for Men from 1983, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s just released Mexican Gothic, about a perfect blend of old and new in my book.) But what I want to highlight today is his regular column at Tor.com, and in particular his June 10 article “Five SFF Works Inspired by RPGs.” Mostly because it showcases one of the greatest webcomics ever created, Rich Burlew’s brilliant Order of the Stick.

Of course, the standard by which RPG-themed satire is judged is Rich Burlew’s long-running Order of the Stick (2003 to present). What began as a gag-a-strip stick-figure webcomic mocking the quirks of 3rd and 3.5th edition D&D quickly grew into something more. Sane Man fighter Roy Greenhilt has assembled a ragtag gang of eccentric colleagues and set out to defeat the evil lich Xykon. Seventeen years later, the lich is still… uh, “alive” may be the wrong word… active.

What began as a simple plan to find and kill an undead being of unparalleled power and evil has spiralled into an epic tale featuring grand sieges, true love, tragic death, character growth, and increasingly alarming revelations about the likely fate of this world. It’s an impressive work. There are reports that a conclusion looms, so this would be a good time to catch up on the archive. Note that print collections are available.

The article also discusses J. Zachary Pike’s Dark Profit Saga, Meg Syverud & Jessica “Yoko” Weaver’s webcomic Daughter of the Lilies, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s 2016 novel Spiderlight, and Phil Kahn and T Campbell’s long-running webcomic Guilded Age. Read the whole thing here.


Demanding Answers on the Harlot Table in the Dungeon Masters Guide

Saturday, July 11th, 2020 | Posted by Suzanne Anderson

Dungeon Master's Guide Emirikol the Chaotic

Emirikol the Chaotic, by Dave Trampier. From the Dungeon Masters Guide (TSR, 1979)

So. Some of my older gentlemen friends are feeling upset and disenfranchised by Wizards of the Coast’s disclaiming of the values and mindsets of early D&D. It feels like a betrayal to them, for what I’m sure is a variety of reasons.

But I have, on more than one occasion, wanted to share this iconic illustration from the 1st edition Dungeon Masters Guide with kids in my middle school club and stopped. Because I remember the steel in my daughter’s eyes as a preteen, squinting at the facing page and saying, “Hey, what’s that?”

Pointing, of course, to the obligatory harlot table. “How come there are 10 extra ugly terms for women in the harlot table, but nothing for mercenaries, thieves, nobles, or tradesmen?” Cocked eyebrows that demanded to know why I would accept this rubbish at all.

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Return to Dragon Pass with The Red Cow Campaign by Ian Cooper, Jeff Richard, and Greg Stafford

Saturday, July 4th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

The Coming Storm Chaosium-small The Eleven Lights-small

The Coming Storm (March 2016) and The Eleven Lights (April 2018), published by Chaosium

We live in a Golden Age of board gaming, and if you’re in the market for a fantasy game, you literally have thousands to choose from. Mind you, that wasn’t the case 40 years ago. In fact, if you were looking for a serious fantasy-based pastime in those days, there were literally only a few games in town: SPI’s War of the Ring (1977), TSR’s Divine Right(1979), and Chaosium’s Dragon Pass (1981).

In terms of gaming history, there’s little question that by far the most important of those was Dragon Pass. It was originally developed in 1975 by Greg Stafford, and published under the name White Bear and Red Moon. Stafford decided to form a company to produce and market it; inspired by the nearby Oakland Coliseum, he called his new enterprise ‘Chaosium.’ Stafford sold White Bear and Red Moon, and its sequel Nomad Gads, in ziplock bags out of his house in Oakland. Chaosium grew rapidly, and in less than ten years was one of the most important publishers in the industry. If it weren’t for the early success of White Bear and Red Moon and its sequels, we wouldn’t have  RuneQuest, Thieves World, and Call of Cthulhu, just to name a few.

The setting for White Bear and Red Moon, a Bronze Age world rich with human and nonhuman gods, cults, clans and mythology, was Glorantha. Today Glorantha is one of the most important settings in modern fantasy, home of numerous role playing campaigns, board games, novels and stories, and even a popular computer game, King of Dragon Pass. There are many reasons for its popularity and longevity, of course, but personally I believe Dragon Pass — the game that introduced Glorantha to the world — deserves much of the credit. If you’ve spent hours staring at the colorful map of Glorantha, moving your outnumbered clans across the rugged terrain of Sartar, through the Skull Ruins and towards a desperate battle in Snakepipe Hollow, the chance to visit those iconic settings in a role playing environment is just too irresistible.

A few years ago Chaosium released an epic two-part campaign set in Glorantha that explores much of the history and rising tensions that eventually exploded into the Hero Wars: The Coming Storm and The Eleven Lights, which together comprise the Red Cow Campaign. I recently purchased both books, and have really been enjoying this chance to revisit the colorful and dynamic setting where I spent so much time in my youth.

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