The Games of Gen Con 2018

Wednesday, August 8th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones


As you walk through the convention hall at Gen Con, moving from demo to demo and panel to panel, you can’t help but be overwhelmed by the advertisements everywhere, trying to catch your attention for the latest big game. Usually, there are one or two big new games that just seem to overwhelm the convention, often tied into big properties.

This year, the big new game at Gen Con wasn’t new. Not really. Pathfinder has long had a strong, even overwhelming, presence at Gen Con, so the promotion of the release of the Pathfinder Playtest this year felt pretty natural. Next year, we can anticipate the big release to be the Pathfinder Second Edition RPG, but for now the playtesting has begun.

I’ll cover the details of the Pathfinder Playtest in more depth in the upcoming weeks and months. I played two Pathfinder Society sessions of the playtest, at levels 1 and 5, so got a fair idea of how the bones of the new system operates. Fortunately, you don’t have to, because the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook along with all other materials needed for play are available for free download at the Paizo website.

These downloads include the Doomsday Dawn campaign, a series of 7 adventures ranging from levels 1 to 17. These adventures aren’t all played with the same group of characters, although the core group of characters created for the level 1 adventure are re-used every couple of adventures at higher levels, so they’re really the “heroes” of the campaign. There are also three Pathfinder Society scenarios built for the playtest, to teach and test various elements of the game. And, of course, the Rulebook contains everything that a Gamemaster needs to create an original homebrew adventure or campaign for their group, to test out the rules in ways of their own devising.

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Modular: Pathfinder Planar Adventures

Sunday, July 29th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Planar_AdventuresFor as long as it has existed, Dungeons & Dragons (and its spin-off game, Pathfinder) have not been about a single world, but a multiverse of different worlds and dimensions. The entities that exist within these realms can be good or evil, or sometimes merely strange and exotic. But regardless of their precise nature, they are distinctly other than us, because these different realms and dimensions are governed by rules different than event he fantasy rules that govern the main adventuring worlds.

As Pathfinder First Edition begins slowing down its cycle of new rules releases, paving the way for the upcoming Pathfinder Playtest starting at GenCon and, ultimately, the release of Pathfinder Second Edition at GenCon 2019, it’s good to see that their final First Edition hardcover rulebook release, Planar Adventures  (PaizoAmazon), provides a mix of setting material that will be broadly applicable to any game set within the multiverse that contains the Pathfinder world of Golarion.

Following a general tradition within Pathfinder rulebooks, the first chapter focuses on characters. There are a dozen new planar-related archetypes, such as the Azatariel (Swashbuckler champions of Elysium), the Gloomblade (a Shadow Plane-influenced Fighter), and Progenitors (Druids with powerful bonds to the First World of the fey). Character options include new feats, spells, and magical items related to travel throughout the planes.

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Birthday Reviews: Gary Gygax’s “At Midnight Blackcat Comes”

Friday, July 27th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Dennis Kauth

Cover by Dennis Kauth

Gary Gygax was born Ernest Gary Gygax on July 28, 1938. He died on March 4, 2008. Although Gygax tried his hand writing fiction, he was best known as one of the creators of Dungeons and Dragons.

Gygax was inducted into the Origins Award Hall of Fame in 1980. In addition to Dungeons and Dragons (and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons) and various modules and accessories, Gygax also had a hand in creating the role playing games Boot Hill, Cyborg Commando, Dangerous Journeys, and Lejendary Adventure.

Gygax wrote “At Moonset Blackcat Comes” as an introduction to the character Gord the Rogue, about whom he had already written the novel Saga of the Old City, which would be published later. The story appeared first in the 100th issue of Dragon, edited by Kim Mohan. Accompanying the story were the rules to the game Dragonchess, described in the story. Although Gygax published a series of five Gord the Rogue novels, plus the short story collection Night Arrant, “At Moonset Blackcat Comes” was not included in the collection and has not been reprinted elsewhere.

The story introduces the main character and his barbarian companion while also trying to give the reader a feel for the way the City of Greyhawk, alluded to in many of Gygax’s AD&D articles and modules, is set up. Rather than exploring the city, however, Gygax quickly separates Gord from his companion and the city, setting the action, such as it is, in a sporting house, with Chert the barbarian going off to find female companionship while Gord settles in with Rexfelis to learn to play a chess alternative.

While Gygax is clearly trying to make Gord a likable character who is extremely competent and sure of himself, he comes across as arrogant, placing his own amusement and desires above those, like Chert, with whom he has surrounded himself. Although Gord is on guard against being taken in the game of Dragonchess, it is clear that Rexfelis had been playing Gord throughout the evening with the eventual end of using Gord to rob Rigello the arch-mage, a task Gord readily accepts.

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Conjure Puberty: The Sword and The Sorcerer (1982)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2018 | Posted by John Searle

The Sword and the Sorcerer 3-blade-small

The Sword and The Sorcerer (1982)
Dir. Albert Pyun
Starring: Lee Horsely, Kathleen Beller, Simon McCorkindale, et al.

In case it needs to be said — spoilers.

Okay. Let’s go…

The Sword and the Sorcerer is the cinematic equivalent of the first homebrew table-top gaming campaign run by a 13 year old.

I know this because I turned 13 in 1982. I also know this because I likely ran my first homebrew table-top game that year. The step from 12 to 13 seems like nothing to an adult; we forget the power these thresholds hold for children. At 12 you are a child. At 13 you are a teenager. There is, I believe, a biblical injunction that calls for us to put away childish things as we leave childhood — but that never really worked for me.

When he was interviewed before his tragic death, the late, great herpetologist/artist/song stylist/adventurer and man of mystery Dean Ripa was asked to explain happiness. I’m paraphrasing, but his answer was something like “Everything I loved doing at 10 years old, I just kept doing.”

I can get behind that thought. What I loved as child I have kept. What you love is an act of self-creation. What you love reveals part of who you are — at least I believe that. Among the things that I loved enough to bring forward were books. Specifically, fantasy books — and more specifically — sword and sorcery books. Another thing I brought forward was a love of table-top gaming. Both of these things were so central to my childhood that I have carried them with me for the four decades since in one way or another. So as you might imagine, in 1982 I was completely stoked for the release of one movie over all others.

That movie was not The Sword and the Sorcerer.

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Newman: Monster-Killing Gnome Webcomic with 50% More BDSM

Saturday, July 21st, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

Newman Josh Ulrich-small

I hadn’t been reading webcomics for a bit, so I went back to and skimmed through their fantasy section. I had previously enjoyed (and blogged about them here) Elf and Warrior and Cyko-KO. This time, I ran across Newman and immediately loved it.

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A First Look At Elysium Flare (A Fate Space Opera RPG): #1 Fate Variant Ruleset

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

Elysium Flare: Unashamedly SciFi Space Opera, with a strong sense of galactic geography

Elysium Flare: Unashamedly SciFi Space Opera, with a strong sense of galactic geography

I know I shouldn’t have, but on impulse bought a new tabletop roleplaying game. Listen!

The Gulfs between the Arms are nearly empty of stars and difficult to navigate. In these places there are few civilizations but there are other things. In the Gulfs horrors lurk, sleeping for slow millennia until the fast bright minds of the civilizations come too close. As with the Rim, there are inhabitants of the Hub that believe these horrors can be harnessed or at least aimed and unleashed. This almost always ends badly. But if they can be tamed or at least directed, the power one might wield over the Hub worlds would be unstoppable.

Imagine a roleplaying game that put boots on the ground — or was it flippers? — in a the kind of wide-angle galaxy depicted by strategy games like Stellaris or Eclipse, or perhaps Twilight Imperium? Or Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, only good.

That’s what Elysium Flare promises to do.

Elysium Flare unapologetically emulates sweeping Sci-Fi Space Opera, cheerfully mixing magic (sort of) and science. In tone, it’s more Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok than Rogue One. However, it’s not actually Starfinder‘s leaner more narrativist cousin; it has much stronger sense of galactic geography, which offers a quite different aesthetic.

Perhaps best of all for overstretched middle aged players like me, it seems to do it in a way that’s both “lite” and structured using an elegantly hacked-down Fate variant that’s narrativist — of course! — but still offers playable peril.

It’s also a delightful read — tellingly, I’m not the only person to use that term. It’s nicely illustrated without going over the top, presented in well-written and readable form, has an Index (ARE YOU READING THIS MONGOOSE???). I counted about three minor typos and I don’t know what the softback is like because it hasn’t arrived yet. It’s missing blank character sheets, but I believe these are on their way. So it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a mature “indy” games publisher

It comes from VSCA, the same team that made Diaspora, meaning mostly Brad J Murray and his mates on Google+. Though this is very different in both setting and complexity, the strengths have definitely carried over from one to the other.

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Origins Game Fair: Games Galore

Thursday, June 28th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

moonshaestormsTwo weekends ago, I trekked out to Columbus, OH, from my home gaming grounds of central Indiana, in order to experience my first Origins Game Fair. I’ve covered it in a couple of previous posts, the Origins Awards and my talk with the folks at Paizo about their upcoming Pathfinder Playtest and organized play options. But, of course, when you’re at a convention like this, one of the nice things is to walk around the exhibit hall and get exposed to new games.

Origins is different from GenCon, in that many companies build their entire annual release schedule around having big GenCon releases and announcements of upcoming releases. Origins, on the other hand, is more about playing games, and there seemed far less of an emphasis on having the early release of brand new, never-before-seen games. Still, there were some new treasures there … either ones that were completely new, or ones that I was exposed to for the first time, at least.

One of the big new releases being shown off at Origins was Catalyst Game Labs’ new expansion for the Dungeons & Dragons deck-building game Dragonfire. The new “campaign box” expansion, Moonshae Storms (Amazon), was available. Moonshae Storms adds new adventure cards and continues the “An Ancient Evil Arises” campaign storyline from the Dragonfire base game, and also expands the options with a Mountain setting, various new monsters to fight (including lycanthropes and fomorians) and market cards and magic items for players to acquire as part of their decks, as well as 8 new character cards. Dragonfire has had a couple of smaller Adventure Packs released over the last year, and a couple more on the horizon, but Moonshae Storms is a much more substantial increase in the game options than presented by those smaller adventures.

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Experience the Terrors of the Mythos in the Old West in Down Darker Trails

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Down Darker Trails-small Down Darker Trails-back-small

One of the many things I love about the Call of Cthulhu RPG — besides the prospect of gathering with close friends to cheerfully go insane together — is the rich array of settings. The core game is set in 1930s America, where Lovecraft (who died in 1937) set virtually all of his fiction, and that serves the pulp horror aesthetic nicely. But over the years Chaosium, and other publishers, have produced several top-notch supplements giving players the option to adventure in a wide range of times and places.

These include Cthulhu Now (1987), Terror Australis (1987), King of Chicago (1992), The Cairo Guidebook (1995), Atomic-Age Cthulhu (2013), and many, many more. The Dreamlands, Victorian London, Scotland, even the Orient Express… no other game invites you to go stark, raving mad in such finely detailed surroundings.

However, CoC has been sorely lacking a weird western sourcebook, so I was very pleased to see Kevin Ross and his friends at Chaosium release Down Darker Trails, a massive full-color 256-page hardcover which lovingly brings Mythos horror to the old west. The book is an excellent addition to Chaosium’s catalog, and contains a splendid historical re-telling of the American Territories, plenty of famous individuals, two complete towns, four western-themed Lost Worlds (including the weird subterranean world of K’n-yan, and the eerie Shadow Desert), and two complete introductory adventures.

Down Darker Trails invites you to play American Indian heroes and famous gunslingers, visit famous sites, and discover just how deeply the terror and mystery of the Great Old Ones has seeped into the West.

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Origins Game Fair: Pathfinder Society Organized Play

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PathfinderPlaytestEarlier this week, I spoke briefly about attending my first Origins Game Fair event in Columbus, OH, over last weekend, and about the Origins Awards they handed out for best game products of the year. But I wasn’t there for the awards, of course. I was there for the games themselves.

Origins gave the one of the first real opportunities in the wild to see the upcoming Pathfinder Playtest in action. (It has previously been available at GaryCon, PaizoCon, and the UK Games Expo.) We have previously discussed the announcement by Paizo to release a public playtest at GenCon 2018 for their Second Edition, which will then release at GenCon 2019. Unfortunately for me, those events were fairly consistently sold out, and busy enough they didn’t want too many loiterers around the table to slow down the game for those actually playing. The tables were in a fairly accessible location, though, and the people playing seemed to be really enjoying themselves, but my attempt to get a glance at the character sheets were consistently thwarted. (I am signed up in one of the first Playtest slots at GenCon, though, so that I can provide feedback at that point.)

I’ve been following Paizo’s releases about the Pathfinder Playtest on their blog with interest, though, and was able to have a discussion with Paizo’s John Compton and Tonya Woldridge, to get some answers to the questions I had about how this would all play out … so to speak. John and Tonya are focused on the Pathfinder Society (and Starfinder Society) Organized Play program, so that’s where we spent the majority of our conversation. But before getting into the Organized Play questions, I wondered what to expect from a story-based perspective: Will Pathfinder Playtest (or Pathfinder 2nd Edition) come with a realm-shattering storyline?

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Traveller Resources Without Dice #1: The Travel Survival Guide by Lloyd Figgins

Thursday, June 21st, 2018 | Posted by M Harold Page

Travel Survival Guide

How travel works beyond the developed world

“That moment when you realise some of the people you follow on Twitter are Traveller characters…”

We’d been chatting about buying a second hand (deactivated) Bren Gun. (I once nearly impulse bought one, but ended up saving the money to spend on swords and armour like most if the other responsible adults I knew.) This led to a consensus that fair fights are bad. Then @wandering_andy tweeted:

30 years, mostly in the crappier parts of the world has developed what I would like to be my new family motto;
‘If you find yourself in a fair fight, you got your strategy wrong’

Not as catchy as the current one I guess… but more realistic

Intrigued, I clicked through to his profile and found:

Listening – Watching – Advising. Covert Intelligence, Security Adviser to UHNWI & Trainer

Yep, from that and his tweets,  he’s a British veteran turned security contractor. Up until this point I’d mostly been interacting with gamers and writers who only play at this sort of thing. Hence my tweet.

That moment when you realise some of the people you follow on Twitter are Traveller characters…

Guess what Andy tweeted back?

Free Trader Beowulf…

Why didn’t I use that as my twitter name!!!

A tingle went down my spine. Marc Miller’s immortal text:

This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone… Mayday, Mayday… we are under attack… main drive is gone… turret number one not responding… Mayday… losing cabin pressure fast… calling anyone… please help… This is Free Trader Beowulf… Mayday….

Somebody out there who had rolled the dice was now walking the walk.  A very odd feeling.

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