I previously wrote about Runebound (2nd Edition), an RPG-like board game from Fantasy Flight. You might want to give it a quick read to get the basics down. I also did a post on The Sands of Al-Kalim expansion. Next up is a look at another of the big box expansions: The Mists of Zanaga.
Mists is another of the ‘big box’ expansions for Runebound. It comes with a board that you lay over most of the original Runebound board, completely changing the terrain.
Runebound is a traditional Middle-Earth type of fantasy world, while The Sands of Al-Kalim was a desert setting. Mists of Zanaga is the classic jungle environment, with lost stone cities and desolate outposts in the wild.
The idea is that some powerful entity known as Tarakhe sleeps deep beneath Zangara. It is a primal force that corrupts the world and drove the lizardmen to abandon their empire and descend into barbarism.
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Yesterday Mindjammer Press launched a Kickstarter for my far future transhuman science-fiction roleplaying game and fiction setting Mindjammer, to fund a series of RPG supplements and fiction for the game, including sourcebooks, adventures, and even a version for the Traveller rules. It made its initial funding goal this morning in a little less than 24 hours, and John very kindly invited me to Black Gate to speak about the Kickstarter and the Mindjammer setting.
You may know something about Mindjammer already — John O’Neill and Howard Andrew Jones have both written about it before, and I’ve blogged about it here too. It’s set in Earth’s far, far future — approximately 17,000AD — during the Expansionary Era, when a formerly stagnant civilization on Old Earth has reinvented itself as a “New Commonality of Humankind” following the discovery of “planing” — faster-than-light travel. Now, two centuries on, the Commonality is journeying to the stars, rediscovering lost colonies settled from Old Earth by slower-than-light generation and stasis ships millennia before. Cultural conflict is everywhere, between this vibrant, optimistic, yet overwhelmingly strong interstellar civilization, and the disunited, often highly divergent lost colony cultures which are facing “integration” at the Commonality’s hands.
The Commonality considers itself the brightest and greatest civilization of humankind. The Mindscape, a vast interstellar shared consciousness and data storage medium to which all Commonality citizens are linked by neural implant, gifts its citizens with technological telepathy and the awesome powers of technopsi. It also lets them upload their memories, and download the memories of other people — even dead people. Artificial life forms with synthetic personalities based on the memory engrams of dead heroes abound: even the starships are sentient beings, the eponymous “Mindjammers”, faster-than-light vessels which travel between the stars, updating the Mindscape and knitting transhumanity’s interstellar civilization together.
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OGL and D20
When Wizards of the Coast rolled out the Open Game License for 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons, a plethora of third party companies would produce products, leaving players with a seemingly unlimited number of options available for purchase. A few were great, more were terrible and most were in between.
That period was known as the d20 boom, which inevitably led to a d20 bust and is explained in depth in Shannon Appelcline’s tremendous, four-volume RPG history, Designers and Dragons. If you have any interest in role playing history, you will love those books (they are broken up into decades: The Seventies, Eighties, Nineties and Two Thousands).
Along the way, many new and existing companies entered the official Dungeons and Dragons world. One of the most popular and successful was Necromancer Games, founded by Clark Peterson and Bill Webb. Under a different name, Necromancer’s offspring is a major player in the RPG scene today.
The Open Gaming License (OGL) made the 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons mechanics permanently “open use” and the basis of a System Reference Document (SRD). The OGL was accompanied by the d20 license, which verified that third party products were compatible with 3rd Edition.
The OGL and d20 licenses had distinguishing characteristics and somebody more versed than I in the intricacies should write a post on that whole shebang. Suffice to say here, companies began rolling out d20 products from day one.
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The Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is one of the most successful OSR (“Old School Renaissance”) games on the market, with a well-designed, modern rules system grounded in the origins of sword & sorcery. Now publisher Goodman Games is going back to press with a fourth printing, and to fund it they’ve announced a Kickstarter. Here’s the basic spiel.
Return to the glory days of fantasy with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. Adventure as 1974 intended you to, with modern rules grounded in the origins of sword & sorcery. Fast play, cryptic secrets, and a mysterious past await you: turn the page…
What if Gygax and Arneson were able to build upon thirty years of game design when they created D&D? What if they were freed to focus on their stated inspirations — rather than creating the RPG building blocks from scratch? What if someone were to attempt just that: to immerse himself in the game’s inspirations and re-envision the output using modern game design principles?
That, in short, is the goal of DCC RPG: to create a modern RPG that reflects D&D’s origin-point concepts with decades-later rules editions. From the company that was publishing old-school modules before the OSR ever existed, DCC RPG is not an old-school clone, but a re-imagining of what D&D could have been, utilizing the game’s primary sources of inspiration.
The goal was a modest $15,000; as of this writing the campaign has surpassed $91,000 in pledges, with 18 days left and absolutely no signs of slowing down. The publishers have added an extravagant number of stretch goals — and the ones that have already cleared include sewn-in satin ribbon bookmarks, a full color dust jacket, two built-in 4-panel judge’s reference panels, reprints of five out-of-print modules, and gilded page edges. It’s not too late to jump on board and get all the stretch goals — and the 480-page hardcover rule book — for just a $40 pledge.
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By the time Forgotten Realms hit bookstore shelves in 1987 I was off to college and long absent from Dungeons & Dragons. I never played 2nd Edition, nor leafed through Unearthed Arcana, and while I saw the books and occasionally glimpsed a Forgotten Realms novel, I never read one. It wasn’t that I thought myself too good for gaming, it was just that I’d moved on to other systems.
It was years before I returned to appreciate the simpler, archetypal approach to character creation and streamlined combat as presented in Castles & Crusades and in true retro-clones like Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord. The idea behind them was that the 3.0 and after D&D engine had become encumbered with all sorts of add-ons that bogged down character creation, combat, and play. Having tried to run some of the newer iterations of the game I found myself in sympathy with that philosophy, because for me the story creation got lost in all the rules.
5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons took a lot of what had come before and re-presented it, with innovation and re-organization and a lot of care. It made all those cumbersome feats and skills and fiddly combat bits optional or streamlined (or jettisoned them), which impressed me. I’m still using other systems, but I like what I’ve seen enough that I’ll probably try running it some time.
All that pre-amble is to say I may be the perfect audience for this new Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide, because I’m familiar with Dungeons & Dragons and partial to the new game but know almost nothing about the Forgotten Realms or the Sword Coast that’s one of its regions.
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Due mostly to time constraints, I don’t play RPGs these days, but I still read RPG books pretty regularly – primarily Pathfinder and 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons. The pulpiest, most Robert E. Howard-ish stuff I have found is Morten Braten’s World of Xoth. Morten, who wrote the quasi-historical Ancient Kingdoms: Mesopotamia for Necromancer Games, clearly draws heavily on Robert E. Howard in his RPG design. If you haven’t discovered Xoth, you should give it a look. You can start by downloading the new, free, Player’s Guide! Here’s Morten…
I was around 14 or 15 years old when I discovered the Hyborian Age. Hanging out at a friend’s house, waiting for my turn to play some late 80s computer game, I noticed some black and white Conan comics on a bookshelf. The inside cover of each comic had a map of Conan’s world, apparently our own earth as it looked 10,000 years ago.
Even before I had read a single Conan story, the evocative names on that map filled my mind with colorful visions of long-lost lands: Hyperborea, Stygia and Zembabwei; and mysterious places such as Shadizar, Kutchemes, Kheshatta and Xuchotl.
I immediately knew that I wanted to run a role-playing game set in that world. Just around the same time, I had been introduced to Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D 2nd Edition, to be more specific), but at the time I was just learning the system as a player and was not yet ready to take on game mastering duties. In fact, my Hyborian Age campaign did not become a reality until a decade later. By then I had been game mastering several traditional fantasy campaigns, and I had learned a lot about world building from the Greyhawk boxed set.
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In a lengthy and sometimes rambling article for The New Yorker, Jon Michaud reviews Michael Witwer’s new biography Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons, with particular focus on the anti-D&D satanic scares of the late 70s, and the apparently surprising fact that Gygax was a practicing Jehovah’s Witness. Ultimately though, he finds Gygax a worthy subject for a 320-page biography.
Gygax was an ur-nerd who not only changed the way games are played but who also endured a tumultuous business career that, in the right hands, could make as compelling a story as that of Steve Jobs. He was a high-school dropout who lost his father when he was still young, never had a driver’s license, married early, had six children, two wives, turned an obsession with military war-gaming into a worldwide phenomenon, started a successful company from which he was later pushed out only to return and then be bought out once again. Following a well-trodden path, he went to Hollywood, where he briefly prospered, snorting cocaine and hosting pool parties at King Vidor’s mansion, before failing, miserably, to get a motion picture made. His influence can be seen in everything from video games to The Hunger Games. Like Debbie in Jack Chick’s Dark Dungeons, Gygax, who died in 2008, made his way back to God at the end of his life, writing in January of that year, “All I am is another fellow human that has at last, after many wrong paths and failed attempts, found Jesus Christ.”
Read the complete article here.
Pelgrane Press has produced some of my favorite RPGs and game adventures over the last few years, including The Dying Earth, 13th Age, and the brilliant Ashen Stars. Their latest release, Cthulhu Apocalypse, is a trio of linked adventures for Trail of Cthulhu, which suppose that that the world ended on November 2nd, 1936 and, now that the stars are right, horrific aliens — and darker things — have claimed the remains of the planet.
Cthulhu Apocalypse consists of three standalone products. The first, The Dead White World, contains five linked adventures in the aftermath of disaster that take Investigators through Britain, across the sea to America, and beyond the veils of reality as they struggle to survive. The Apocalypse Machine is a sandbox setting for the award-winning Gumshoe system, which gives Game Masters the tools to create their own global catastrophe, from the first strange rumblings to the final, cataclysmic event. And the third, Slaves of the Mother, contains three long adventures set years later, as the few survivors find their humanity cracking and moulting in the process of becoming something new.
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Previously I talked about what made the main branch of the Shin Megami Tensei series so amazing when it comes to Japanese Role Playing Game (JRPG) design. While the series has been going strong for over two decades at this point, it doesn’t have anywhere near the same number of titles as Final Fantasy. The reason has to do with how the developers have expanded things with side stories.
The concept of a side story is something we see a lot from Japan: Where a story takes place within the same universe or features the same themes as the main narrative, but has something unique to distinguish it. Some other video game examples are the various titles in the Kingdom Hearts series, or direct sequels such as Final Fantasy X-2.
Due to some side stories remaining exclusive to Japan (at least at this time,) we’re going to focus on the ones that have been ported to the US. With that said, we have several side stories to talk about and I want to save the most popular for last.
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I saw a report that the latest issue of Gygax magazine had hit the stands, and checked out the TSR website this morning. Sure enough, it’s now available, and there’s even a very sharp video showcasing the contents and the great layout.
This issue has content for Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, plus a superhero roleplaying from Steve Kenson, Pulp Era. Here’s the issue contents:
Last-Minute Locations: Fantasy Villages, by Jason Sinclair
Leomund’s Secure Shelter: Telepathy in First Edition AD&D, by Lenard Lakofka
The Great Outdoors: Outdoor Survival and the Early Years of D&D, by Jon Peterson
The Correllian Starduster: A New Starship for Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, by Dave Mansker
Through the Arcane Lens: Six Magic Spyglasses for D&D, by Paul Hughes
Rituals: More Than Just Magic, by Eytan Bernstein
Policing the Stars, by Steve Kenson
Pulp Era by James Carpio (complete RPG)
Dracovalis by Jeremy Olson (complete game)
Every issue of Gygax includes a fold-out adventure or game, and this time it’s a complete board game of dragons attacking, capturing, and destroying cities: Dracovalis, by Jeremy Olson and illustrated by Aaron Williams.
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