Sunday, August 31, 2014

A Confession

So.

I'm a Christian.

Not just sort of a "yeah, I suppose God exists and I go to church now and again" Christian, but an evangelical Christian who loves Christ with all his heart, believes deeply in the love and truth of the Word of Jesus, and believes that God created the world, all the individuals therein, and that everyone--yep, even us gamers--is His child, worthy of love and respect, no matter how we might disagree with their actions or choices. I believe that God loved the world so much, that he sent his only begotten Son, to live as a man, to die without sin, redeeming us so that we can spend eternity with him. I believe Christ is the Way and the Truth and the Life as deeply as I can. I believe that the life without Christ can never be considered complete, no matter how rich or learned or well-liked or how many followers an individual has.

Over the years, especially before I came back to Christ, and laid down the burdens of cynicism and anger that life had given me, I was not always a nice person online (shocker, I know). I can only apologize for that, and to anyone who was hurt along the way. Everyone--even the people I disagree strenuously with--is a child of God, and I was not true to that. Even now, I fail, because I am human.

Much about the angrier, younger me has changed. I don't see my religion as an accessory or afterthought in my life; Christ is the center, and everything is seen in His light. In that sense, I don't just feel I need to share this, but to explain why the tone of this blog may have changed.

So why am I writing this now? I suppose in part, I've noticed around the blogosphere and on Google+, many of us Christians sort of creep around the edges, worried to incorporate any mention of our faith lest we be seen somehow as overbearing or primed for ridicule. But, in the end, it comes down to this: Jesus states in Matthew 10:33 (ESV), "but whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my father in heaven". The Christian perspective and Biblical worldview should be the way a Christian views all things in his life, from his family life to his job to yes, his hobbies.

This can be a very intimidating hobby for Christians. Let's face it, since the early 1980s, Christianity has been seen as at war with tabletop gaming. I think as a consequence, many of us are extremely gun-shy about bringing our religion up, when it should be a source of comfort, of happiness, and the guide for how we treat others in this hobby and in our lives. We don't want to "weird people out", or be seen as some caricature, or have people throw whatever stones they care to. The thing is, we are partaking in a hobby that comprises a small part of a short life. Our interactions online, even in the most mundane conversations, might be the only example individuals ever have on how a Christian lives, or the only time they hear anything at all about the word of God. Sincere and firm in my convictions, why wouldn't I share to the best of ability what is so very important and life-changing?

So, ultimately, I guess if you're not a Christian, know that I still love gaming, and that this is still a gaming blog. (I'm not going to just start blogging about Dragonraid). I still love many of the same games, and will still write about many of the same things. some of the people I love and respect in this hobby are not followers of Jesus. But Christ also wants us to live an edifying life, and that should extend to my words on this site and online. I felt I owed you an explanation for when it does come up--and moreso than that, to let you know that Christianity isn't just one type of person or church. It isn't really found in a person or church at all--both of which are fallible and imperfect. We are tabletop gamers, and minis players. We play D&D and Pathfinder and Savage Worlds and Castles & Crusades and Star Wars and FATE and plenty more games besides. We get angry and sin and mess up--but we have the perfect grace and unending love of Christ as a comfort and a compass. (And yes, for all of us, we remain a work in progess!)

If you are a Christian, it's not just that we don't have to be hesitant or afraid to share our faith; in fact, that's the opposite of what Christ expects. The Great Commission says, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:16-20). Know that there are others of us out there, that we're there for support and encouragement, and that you should never let the temporary slings and arrows of a transitory world stop you from living the life you're meant to live. Share and live your salvation in this hobby, and be a light unto others. Don't be meek, or afraid, or worried you'll rock the boat. If salvation is truly as important to you as it should be, then wouldn't you do what you could to share it with the folks, fans, and creators we all respect and admire so much? And if a few people don't buy our books or unfollow us, what are those losses versus what is at stake? As the Apostle Paul said, "For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8 ESV).

So, that's that. A few paragraphs that took me far, far too many years to type. Whether or not you're a Christian, if you want to talk about any of this, you can always email me at mail.rpblog(at)gmail.com. I'll have a review upcoming of a couple of products hopefully this week, and we'll continue with our gaming stuff, hopefully with kindness, grace, and a love of the incredible blessings we are given to enjoy in this hobby. And if I happen to roll a natural 1 on that from time to time, just remember I'm not perfect--just forgiven.

Monday, August 25, 2014

At The Campaign's End

As a Game Master, some game sessions are flat, or uninspired, or generally just make you feel like throwing your binder out the window. Alternately, some sessions feel like lightning in a bottle, where nothing happens quite like you think it would, but everyone is just hitting on all cylinders, buying into what's going on, and really pushing the creative envelope.

Fortunately, our RuneQuest 6 Middle Isles game yesterday fell in the latter category. They defeated a fallen god's returned human form, had one player character fatality (albeit in a glorious, "last great action" way that probably saved most of the party), and just went out and performed about as well as could be expected. It was one of those battles that felt like if even one character faltered, all would be lost--and it almost happened several times. It was a masterful, meaningful, involved performance, and as a Game Master, I couldn't have asked for much more.

When it was all over, everyone seemed buoyed by how things had gone, and we talked about possibly returning to the setting 100 years later, as each of the player characters have set some things in motion that will impact the history of the Middle Isles. We'll have to see, though--we have a very full schedule as it stands.

Next up, I move from behind the screen and get to play(!) Traveller for the first time since I was 15. I have Refereed multiple times since then, but haven't had the role of a player in the Third Imperium in nearly twenty years. We'll be running that Mongoose Traveller campaign through the new year, which is when I'll take back over. After that will either be a Castles & Crusades Forgotten Realms campaign or Supers game (system to be determined, in my endless, slightly obsessive quest for the Greatest Supers RPGs).

As for RuneQuest 6, it definitely has a permanent home in the rotation. The combat, the magic, the skill system, and the writing continue to set it apart from other RPGs. It's just an amazingly well-constructed game. I pitched the idea of a Mythic Britain game to the group, and I think they were receptive to the idea. I can't wait for Design Mechanism to wrap that book up. For now, though, I get to actually play--and enjoy some time to plan.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

SUPERS! Revised Edition Print/PDF On Sale

If you saw the interview the other day with some of the crew behind SUPERS! Revised Edition, they are currently running a sale on the print and pdf together. In a cool move, it looks like Walt Robillard of HAZARD Studio essentially created the sale thanks to some potential customer feedback over at theRPGsite. I love seeing game companies interact with customers like this--in such a small community as gaming, it's amazing to me some do not do so!

I'm a big fan of print and pdf being offered together, and hope we see more gaming companies move to this further, but for now, if you're looking for a superhero RPG, check out the interview and then go check out the deal on SUPERS! Revised. The sale for now is scheduled to run through Labor Day. I just picked up the pdf and hardcover, and I'm excited to read through this weekend.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

A Super SUPERS! Revised Interview

I was able to interview several of the individuals behind HAZARD Studio and the recently-released SUPERS! Revised Edition RPG. It turned into a pretty awesome talk not just on how the Revised Edition of the game about, but on the underlying ideas of the system, what makes a superhero RPG tick, and what's coming up for the SUPERS! line. You can check it out at the new Articles section over at theRPGsite!


Monday, August 18, 2014

The Best Of Gen Con 2014

After every Gen Con, the first thing I do is rest, because my legs are about ready to fall off. After that, though, it's time to assess just what the highlights (and some of the lowlights) of Gen Con were. This was a fantastic Gen Con in nearly every way, but here are some of my "Bests" that I'm giving out for this year.

If you missed out on my pictures and photos at theRPGsite, you might want to go there first. Otherwise, read on to find my opinion on the Best of Gen Con 2014:

Best RPG Accessory, Part 1: Collapsible Construction might just be getting started up, but these pop-out huts, walls, and towers are simply amazing. They fold down flat, pop into place with zero difficulty, and can be stored in a 3-ring binder. They can bear the weight of even large pewter models with no apparent stress or bending. They should be having a Kickstarter soon, and a completed website, but I already grabbed several of their models. I'm looking forward to doing a long review of these soon, and can't wait to pick up more. For the Game Master who wants sturdy terrain, but doesn't have a lot of time or space, this just might be the best thing I've seen yet.



Best RPG Accessory, Part 2: I really had discounted Syrinscape as another sound program that would overshadow my game and be of limited utility to a campaign. Hey, I was wrong. This is a very polished product that seems to have sound sets and sub-sets for just about everything fantasy, and they just released a sci-fi player as well. I have toyed non-stop with this, and thing the mixing capability, collection of ambient sounds, and a few whimsical on-demand touches (Wilhelm scream, anyone?) are going to really help set the mood in  my upcoming campaigns. Hands-down, this is one of the coolest RPG programs I've seen in some time.

Best-Looking RPG: This was close, because Monte Cook Games is putting out some fantastic books, and no one will doubt how amazing Shadows of Esteren looks, but I have to say for my tastes, the One Ring line is absolutely beautiful while being truly evocative of the best traditions of J.R.R. Tolkien. The revised One Ring rulebook is just incredible.

Best Board/Card Game I Tried: I got to demo a fair amount of games, but aside from Regular Show Fluxx, the only one that I actually went home with was Snake Oil, from Out of the Box. At least two other folks in my gaming circle picked it up as well. It's a card game that's probably going to people who like persuasion-type/funny combo games along the lines of Apples to Apples. I think it's going to be a great game for both the family and for parties.

Best RPG Booth Design: I really thought Shadows of Esteren displayed their product very well, and had a nice layout. Paizo's wasn't as exciting, but they did a good job contending with as much traffic as any booth at the convention, save probably Fantasy Flight and WizKids. I also thought Troll Lord Games was probably the most improved booth overall, with a nice, open layout, with plenty of room for browsing.

Shadows of Esteren
Best RPG Booth Idea: I'm not really a player of Catalyst Game Labs titles, but their booth was very attractive for the passer-by this year. They had shelves of colorful, free quick-start rules for games like Shadowrun, Cosmic Patrol, and Valiant Universe. I know that's not practical for every gaming company at Gen Con, but it sure seemed to work for them.

Best 2015 Opportunity For A Booth To Improve: That's a nice way to put it, right? I was continually frustrated at the Savage Worlds part of the Pinnacle booth. They had amazing stuff, and I had the hardest time trying to get in there to look at product, let alone buy anything. The rows of books were small and crowded, and partially blocked by a bunch of boxes. But on the bright side, there was tons of Savage World love at Gen Con! They should get the display out there for all to see.

Best Dice Pick-Up: Shockingly this year, it wasn't Gamescience! I picked up a lot of dice this year, but my kids love the animal dice I bought from Koplow Games.

Best Fancy Dice At Gen Con: Tough call, but I have to go with Artisan Dice. They aren't cheap, but they are beautiful! Plus, how many places can you get dice made of alligator bone?


Best Non-RPG Thing I'm Not Sure I Can Live Without: Ladies and gentlemen, the Chewbacca Bathrobe:


Best Blast From The Past: I grew up on the Lone Wolf books, so this map of Magnamund made me super-excited to hopefully see this Kickstarter keep blowing past their funding goals:


Best Opportunity To Grab A Print Copy Of Rules Cyclopedia I Missed: One of the vendors had three copies of it for $40 each early Thursday morning, but by the time I found out about it, they were gone.

Best Booth Moment, Part 1: Getting to talk with some of the guys from Troll Lord Games, grabbing my copy of the Black Box, and chatting it up with a few fellow Castle Keepers.

Best Booth Moment, Part 2: Listening to some guy rail about how much he disliked Green Ronin's Legend of the Five Rings for a good two minutes before being corrected on the obvious.

Best Trend: This one is very much personal for me, but as a big fan of Castles & Crusades, it really seems like the game has some serious momentum--I know I steered a few fellow gamers their way, and there was a pretty robust off-the-grid gaming schedule. It just feels like the game line has fully matured and is hitting a really nice stride. I left Gen Con feeling really good about TLG and the future of Castles & Crusades. Hey, it's not Pathfinder-sized, but I think it's going along pretty darn well.

Best Example of The Type of Person You Don't Want At Your Gaming Table: In a year which saw an exhibit hall booth full of rather extreme furry erotica, this honor still goes to the guy who berated a poor convention hall employee for what seemed like three full minutes over his going through the exit door instead of the entrance during a heavy traffic period in the D&D hall. Dude, we get it--you were "just" throwing something away. "Just" go through the right door to do it, and stop acting like the poor lady had simultaneously violated your civil rights and was below your level of intellect. Meanwhile, you're standing in the middle of people trying to get around you and your whining.

Best Upcoming RPG Product I'm Excited About Thanks To Gen Con: Getting a look at the map and some proof pages for Design Mechanism's Mythic Britain for RuneQuest 6 was definitely exciting. With any luck, it sounds as if that one will be out by the end of the year--and I can't wait.

Best Overall Moment: I thought about this, and I don't think I could pick just one. I suppose having breakfast with my daughter just before going into the convention hall, and seeing her face as she grasped just how big this convention is now--that was pretty special.

Best Practice For Gen Con To Follow in 2015: Work a bit on the Exhibit Hall outlay to help the flow of foot traffic. Some of the larger booths could probably be better-placed, as jams tended to knot up around the huge lines at booths like Fantasy Flight and AEG. It would also help clear up some of the "gamer stink" that was pretty bad in places on Friday and Saturday.

Best Takeaway From Gen Con, Part 1: You know, outside of the Supers genre, I'm pretty happy with the games I have right now. That was confirmed at Gen Con--I saw a lot of RPGs I could likely mine for ideas, but right now, I'm pretty happy with my core systems I run. At the same time, there are so many brilliant items in terms of accessories and software right now, I know there's a lot that I can use to enhance the gaming experience for my group.

Best Takeaway From Gen Con, Part 2: It's easy online to get a skewed version of just how many people actually invest themselves into whatever the Social Online Crisis of the Week is for the RPG Community. In reality, most gamers just want to play good RPGs with their friends. They choose to do that in a lot of different ways with a lot of different systems, but most of them are more likely to stress more over how many attacks per round their characters get or where to find a good mini than anything else. I suppose that sounds like a "Kumbaya" bit of drivel, but really, I'm just trying to say most gamers aren't extremists, perpetually offended, or the type to boycott. When we get too far bogged down in the online stuff, we can forget that. I'm glad stuff like Gen Con is there, for gamers to talk about awesome stuff, make awesome stuff, and play awesome stuff. I hope for that same type of focus in my gaming until the next Gen Con and beyond.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Zack's Gen Con Blog Day 3

For more coverage and pictures from Gen Con, please check out the full thread at theRPGsite. Thanks!

9:13am: Just a quick update from Saturday morning at the convention. I've picked up a couple of products I'll be reviewing at length on here in the next few weeks, and feel like I've seen a pretty good look at what people are getting out there for RPG product. I have the GM's Jam seminar later today and a few obligations, but I'll have plenty of coverage on the tail of this thing, too.

Here's a shot of outside the convention this morning, before the light rain started:



I'll be honest--I'm pretty sure my legs might fall off, and I'm ready to bust out some of the products I bought--like Syrinscape. I got to play with this a bit last night after I left, and all I can say is WOW! I also went to delve into the Black Box for Castles & Crusades--I heard the Adventurer's Backpack book therein is seriously cool, but haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Perhaps the booth with the most variety, if not a ton of copies, is the DriveThruRPG booth. You won't see all those book cloistered together in many places:



More later on today, hopefully!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Zack's Gen Con Blog Day 2

For more coverage, remember to visit theRPGsite for plenty of Gen Con commentary!

3:18pm: Just a quick update, as we're on the move again. I've had some folks asking for shots of the Geek Chic tables. Yes, they're still amazing!




I haven't really seen an overwhelming RPG favorite so far (outside of Pathfinder), but whether I'm just keyed for it, by luck, or for another reason, I've seen multiple Dungeon Crawl Classics t-shirts or books today.

My daughter's having a great time, but she's also definitely getting tired! We'll press on, though--more soon, I hope.

12:30: What a morning--again! So what have been the highlights of the show so far? Let's talk about two booths in particular that have wowed me:

One of the absolute, hands-down coolest things I've seen at Gen Con is Collapsible Construction (Booth 465). Their fold-down building essentially lie down flat, and pop into place with an absolute minimum of work. Seriously, this was AMAZING to see. I think I just stood there with my jaw dropped open. I deal all the time with having either the time or space for minis buildings, and here's a really cool solution to that--everything can just be kept in a page protector, popped up when needed, and folds down with zero hassle!

Here's a Facebook page--the website is still under construction. Seriously, seriously impressive.

By the way, that is a HEAVY pewter mini sitting on top of this stuff with no bend or apparent stress.






Received a GREAT demo of Syrinscape, the sound effects player and software that is on display here at Gen Con. I'll confess--I thought this was going to be another simplistic product that detracted from the focus of a game, rather than add to it. I was wrong, I think. The various sound packages, the sliders to increase and mix, and the push-button one-off sounds are presented in a seriously smooth package. Sold.





I was also fortunate enough to receive a look at some proof of Design Mechanism's upcoming Mythic Britain book. Look for an end-of-year release on this one. The map is going to be layered to turn on/off certain features. Can I just say again how great RuneQuest 6 has been?





This one's for my daughters. More later.



Good morning! It's 9:45 am, and I am here today with my daughter. (Awwwww.....)

So, there are a few booths we're going to hit right off, but I wanted to talk about Ticket to Ride for a minute. I know it isn't a RPG, but I know plenty of readers are fans. There's a 10th Anniversary Edition here, and plenty of cool tidbits about the game at the Days of Wonder booth:




On the RPG side, I wanted to show some pics from the Shadows of Esteren area yesterday. They really have a nice booth, and you can tell their quality and production values are top-notch:




More later today!