Sunday, June 29, 2008

Gen Con Customer Service & Nearing The Finish Line

Before I do anything, I want to thank the customer service folks at Gen Con. I had a question on a Satruday night that they not only answered in a few hours, but they responded to my follow-up email within minutes. Sometimes we only hear about the bad stuff, but those are some folks who care about what they're doing.

Right now, I'm going through Best Podcast/Fansite, which were combined into one category this year. Our submissions/rankings are due to tonight, and then the ENnies folks will start the tallying on where each of us rated items. Each judge enters a Top 7 (and I will share mine with you once the nominations are released), with #1 being their top pick, #2 being their second pick, and so on. #1 gets x amount of points, #2 gets an amount less than #1, and so on down the line. Five products will be nominated in each category (with one honorable mention), except for Best Product, which will have ten.

So, this while process is new to you and me. As always, I'll keep you posted on how its going, and what I've learned--except for leaking the nominees, I think they might frown on that. But I'll discuss anything and everything else under the sun. Feel free to email with your question as well.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Quick Update

As I thought, I should have my picks sent off to the ENnies folks by tomorrow. The only hangup is that I need to make sure I have a list of all fansites submitted. After that, I plan to take a bit of a break.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Wherein I Admit My Mistakes Re: Mongoose Traveller

As of tonight, I believe I have around 4/5ths of my categories finalized. Best Supplement, Free Product, and Interior Art are especially tough for me right now, and are still at least partially up in the air. I have a little more reading to do, and if I can squeeze out 1 or 2 more playtests this week, I will. By this weekend, everything should be done and submitted. Then I wait to see how many categories I was with the judging majority on, and on how many I stand alone.

One later entry that I had already had a little experience with this year was Mongoose Traveller (affectionately known as Riki-Tiki-Traveller), which I'd like to discuss for a minute:

I admit to being a junior member of the Traveller's Grognard Society. That said, I really wasn't blown away with Mongoose Traveller the first time I read it. In fact, whether I was in a pissy mood or just not feeling it, my initial "wow factor" for this new edition of Traveller--Traveller!--was close to nil.

But you know what? The more I think about it, the more I admire what this product did--stuck pretty close to the base simplicity of Traveller while adding on some of the better innovations that came through the later refinements and editions of Traveller. Right now, I'm arguing to see if and where this will find a spot on my lists--it won't win on Production Values, and obviously Interior Art won't cut it, but how can you argue with Traveller getting at least a look for its rules? I'm not saying I'm 100% sold yet, but its amazing what a little re-reading and time for consideration can do. And here I thought Thousand Suns might be the only sci-fi/space game I was really, really sold on this year.

The more I read it, the more I admire what they've done here--namely, resist completely reinventing the wheel when it didn't need reinventing, but being brave enough to tweak what needed tweaked. This might--might--even be a late addition to my Best Product list--aside from Rules, it hardly stands out in any category, but overall, I think it pulls off what it wants to do quite well. But we'll see--even if I decide it has a place, there's 4 others folks who might not agree.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Moot is Moot?; A New Space Map

Another year has gone by, again last night I subscribed to a year of the Imperial Moot (link may not work for all). Its funny--I really don't have $12 to spare, and it's not like the Moor forums are that active, but I don't know--as many great ideas as I get from primarily lurking about on the Citizens of the Imperium boards, its a gaming purchase I'm fine with. So even thought most of the "benefits" of subscriptions (mainly enhancements to the CotI forums) don't do much for me, in the end, I'm happy to part with my 10plus2 to support it. And hey, I get to be a Peer of the Realm in the process, so that's something.

In other sci-fi/space gaming-related stuff, with judging/reading ENnies products just about completed, I'm currently working on a project for my next campaign (slated to start in December when my current fantasy campaign ends). I'm making a rather large star map for a Marches area, somewhat Traveller-esque in style. Just for fun, I'll be doing it start-to-finish with Paint.NET (I was going to do it just in MS Paint, but wanted some layering/transparency capability). I think the final look will be not crude, but basic, functional, and more than a little old-school. I ended up altering this hex map from this Star Fleet Battles site for use as a base template. It'll be an off-again, on-again product, but I'm excited about it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Mongoose: A Grand OGL Archive?

OK, I promise to stop posting GSL/OGL stuff in short order. But I found this thread too interesting to pass up.

In essence, Mongoose Publishing is looking at doing a free archive of their Open Gaming Content at their site. Since Mongoose published dozens upon dozens of d20-related product, this would be a not insignificant chunk of material. Not only this, but there's talk of building a Grand Compilation or Grand Archive of OGL/OGC material. Its all still being hashed out, but it sounds like the support is there. Now I think that would be something to get excited about.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

GSL Fallout

  • Here's some thoughts over at Necromancer Games (hope you didn't want a Tome of Horrors 4e).
  • TheRPGSite debates, only less purple-y.
  • On that note, Paizo's community seems alternately belligerent & gleeful. Take note of about halfway down page 1 where Erik Mona responds to a comment from a poster saying, "I don't think I would publish under this license if I was in this industry, professionally speaking" by responding "That's my take, too".

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

GSL Out, And My Home Gets A Face Lift

I'm rereading Paradigm Concepts' Year of Ill Harvest tonight for the 3rd time. I have to say, between Witch Hunter (which is not as flashy as its rival Solomon Kane, but feels a little more fleshed out and inspiring) and their Living Arcanis products, I'm pretty impressed with what they've brought to the table this year. I'm pretty comfortable right now with my Top 4-5 choices for Best Adventure product, but Ill Harvest is worth another look, at the very least...

So, the big news today was the release from Wizards of the Coast of the Game System License, or GSL (direct pdf link). Click here for the bread n' butter of the thing, and here's the System Reference Document itself (pdf link), which is basically a large index of what can be used, but does not include rules or descriptions themselves. And the module and supplement mill/race begins!

Also, TheRPGSite has gotten a facelift. My compliments and thanks to everyone involved, especially Brett! I will not miss the purple n' yellow--this new theme/color scheme/layout gives us one great-looking message board. Stop by and give it a look. And if you register, say howdy.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

In the Thick of It

Well, Happy Father's Day to all the dads out there, first off. Hope you guys are having a relaxing Sunday.

The judges are all busy as can be. There's been one last Master List sent out, to double-double check everyone has everything, and that no products have fallen through the cracks. There's some lively discussion going on in most categories, and I think each category has at least one or two items that are close to "sure-fire" picks. Myself, I know I'm carrying a torch for a few products with a slim chance of entry, based on the discussion I've seen so far. But, that's how we do it, right? You argue passionately for the products you feel are most deserving, you vote, and see what comes of it all.

I know I've mentioned a lot fo products I've really enjoyed this year--from well-known products like Kenzer's Aces & Eights and Green Ronin's Pirate's Guide to Freeport to smaller-press entries like the Epic RPG, Thousand Suns, and Two-Fisted Tales. There have been mild surprises, like how great the rules are in a game titled Ninja Burger. And I still don't have my mind nearly made up on a lot of games. Best Game is especially hard, because you have to look at each area that makes up a game--writing, production, rules, etc.--and see how it is overall as a game. If its weak in presentation but amazing in the writing department, does that strength trump that weakness? You really have to look at the overall game, and not be blindsided just because you love element X or Y--though those singular elements may well be enough to put it over the top.

In the end, it still comes down to, "Does It Bring the Awesome?" The problem I'm having right now in some categories is not enough slots to hold all the products that warrant a "yes" on that....

Monday, June 9, 2008

Erick Wujcik Passes Away

I just came home from my game night and found out the news. I can say nothing to add to what others have said far better than me except to add my own feelings: thank you, Erick, for sharing your gifts with us. The inspiration, joy, and love lives on in all of us.

From the press release:

Beloved role-playing game designer, Erick Wujcik, passed away Saturday evening, June 7, 2008. He died from complications related to pancreatic and liver cancer. Kathryn Kozora, his sweetheart of nearly 30 years, and other loved ones were at his side.

Erick was diagnosed with cancer in late November, 2007 and given 6-8 weeks to live. True to Erick’s indomitable spirit and zest for life, he proved the doctors wrong by lasting more than six months. Most of that time was spent with friends and loved ones.

Erick Wujcik’s accomplishments are many.

To the role-playing game community, Erick is best known for his many RPG games and contributions to Palladium Books®, including The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles® RPG, several TMNT® sourcebooks, After the Bomb® RPG and sourcebooks for it, Ninjas & Superspies™, Mystic China™, Rifts® China One and Two, Revised RECON®, Wolfen Empire™ and many others. He is also famous for Amber® Diceless, the first truly “diceless” role-playing game, published under Erick’s own label, Phage Press. Erick also published Amberzine® and founded Ambercon™, a series of conventions celebrating gaming, friendship and the world of Amber, hosted at numerous locations around the world.

Erick Wujcik was also the founder, heart and soul of the Detroit Gaming Center, served as Adjunct Assistant Professor of Game Design at Hong Kong Polytechnic University (2003-2008), and worked in the videogame industry for the last several years, including UbiSoft China and most recently, as Senior Game Design/Writer at Totally Games, Novato, California.

Erick Wujcik’s greatest accomplishment, however, is his contagious joy for life and love of ideas and imagination that inspired people around the world. Whether they were one of his students at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, fellow game designers, or fans sitting in the audience at a convention or seminar listening to Erick speak, to those who had the pleasure of gaming with Erick (he loved to run games at conventions and everywhere he went), to those who knew him best, they couldn’t help but to love him. Even the millions who only knew him through his published works or communicated with him online, considered him a friend.

Erick is survived by Kathyrn Kozora, Kate's granddaughter – his beloved Sara, mother Nora, sister Peggy, his Aunt Mary and Uncle Sam and Nancy, along with dozens of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews.

Erick’s last months of life were the same as he had always lived, full of friendship, joy, grace and beauty. He went quietly into the night, like a snowflake falling gently from the heavens.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Very Busy Weekend...

The sheer amount of product pouring in the past week has been unbelievable. If you are a publisher and are reading this, first off, thank you for entrusting your product to us for this. I promise you no matter how many products we get, yours will get a good and fair look.

Let me get to some of the overviews of a few recently-received products:

Faery's Tale Deluxe: This is a sweet game, and is really nicely though out, as you might imagine a game at least partialy geared towards children would have to be. My daughter has been sitting here, looking at the illustrations with me (which I think are pitch-perfect for this sort of product).

Skeleton Key Games: Finally, a rebuttal to 01 Games' submissions! I think likely my favorite submission of theirs is Key Encounters: The Volcanic Shrine, which I can't wait to print out and put to good use.

Confessions of a Part-Time Sorceress: Aside from reading the myself, I took the step of giving this to my non-gaming wife to read, as it purports to be "A Girl's Guide To Dungeons & Dragons. Understanding my wife is much more of a card and board gamer than a tabletop gamer, I can tell you this book was not well-received by her. It's harmless enough and cute in places, but didn't really do much for either of us.

Adventure Games Publishing: The Wilderlands of High Adventure Campaign Map 18: Souther Reaches (link for map enthusiasts) is pure gold. I love it when a map makes you want to kick down the door and go adventuring.

WarpWorld: BTRC subitted this, and its a clever campaign set in two different periods (two different, but related campaigns, really): one set immediately in the days after the world is thrown into a cataclysm by the return of the old gods, and one some 300 years later, where the players' earlier campaign has affected the world for good or for ill. I'm still reading through this, but my initial impression is definitely favorable.

Mongoose Traveller: I actually already had this previously, but I guess I'm just getting around to posting about it. It's definitely better than the abysmal playtest reports that were going around online, but its still a very average iteration of Traveller. It's definitely closer to Classic Traveller in a lot of ways, and there's been a bit of streamlining and improvements, but it doesn't really excite and inspire (aside from the fact its Traveller) in any one category. I'm not saying its a bad RPG by any means, just not one that swept me off my feet.

I'm curious to see who the 11th-hour submission folks were! I know there's more books out there, but I'm not sure what yet. I'll try and update more a bit later, but I definitely just wanted to let everyone know I and the other judges are in the thick of it now. I think this is going to be a really exciting, close contest in a lot of categories, with a very good possibility of some surprises in store!

Two-Fisted Tales Actual Play

Our last session of Two-Fisted Tales went off without a hitch. We played at a less gritty level, somewhat cartoony, definitely not serious, and things went beautifully. To make it short, here's a series of events:

1) Players travel on zeppelin to Malagasy pirate shipwreck off the coast of Dinosaur Island (to recover the Jade Monkey, of course).
2) The surviving pirates have become the hired muscle/semi-prisoners for the Nazis on the island, who are trying to domesticate wild dinosaurs to be used in battle for the Third Reich.
3) The beastly villains capture our heroes, and are going to feed them to the dinosaurs for entertainment, a plan foiled by a clever use of a sonic wrist watch and reinforcements by way of a guy in a stolen rocketpack.
4) A big fight happens, with a tremendous amount of Nazis jaws being socked.
5) The good guys are about to win when Sky Pirates from the Ape Empire buzz in and use the Hypnotic Radio Transmitter to bend the bad guys to their will. More fighting, worse odds.
6) Our whiskey-breath, rundown private detective fired his 1911 Colt on an impossible shot, destroying the Hypnotic Radio Transmitter before it could be turned against the dinos.
7) The Ape Commander cursed our heroes' names, and went back to their secret jungle lair.
8) Dinosaur Island again is a haven for these relics of Earth's past....

...But For How Long?

I don't claim to be a pulp expert or purist (obviously) by any stretch of the imagination, and clearly we had a lot of silly stuff going on. But I was impressed with the ideas and inspiration of the GM's section, the very easy learning curve (with these players, that's saying something), and tight and quick resolution was. The character Archetypes, Schticks, and background options got things moving quickly, and still allowed for that all-important degree of customization. I'm looking forward to running something a bit grittier next time out--the system certainly seems in reading that it would scale just fine.

I know many folks out there have latched onto Spirit of the Century or Hollow Earth Expedition (Secrets of the Surface World=Awesomeness, by the way), but in my estimation, Two-Fisted Tales also deserves a spot at the pulp podium.

I have no qualms in saying I am as fond of this game as any product I've seen thus far. We'll see how the other judges feel.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Are You Reading Grognardia?

If not, why not?

Seriously, it's a great gaming blog, with an old-school bent. James Maliszewski pens some great posts on there, about the origins of the hobby, throwback products, gaming traditions, and a whole lot of gaming history. What's not to love? Give it a look-see.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Wizards of the Coast Arrives

Yep. The Wizards of the Coast package arrived today. Again, some items I had already seen, some I hadn't.

It's weird, with Wizards, it's like half the people expect them to sweep the thing, and everyone else is split between wanting to see them "upset" and just being another contestant. Here's the thing: there is no "upset" if they don't win every category. Yes, they are the largest gaming company, and the most well-known. Neither of things matter a fart in a tornado to me. Quality of product alone wins the day. I think they do very quality work much of the time, but their designers, writers, and artists would be among the first to tell you this is a hobby where talent isn't just at one or two big companies--it's found everywhere between Renton and that garage press in Wisconsin where some guy is monitoring his sales on in the dozens. I suspect that among all the decisions we judges make, either including or excluding various Wizards products from the nominations based on what we think of them will easily be the most controversial and angry-email-producing.

That said, here's a quick look at some of the items I've already seen, and my thoughts:

The Good:

-D&D Miniatures Starter Set:
Keeps up the quality of previous sets, if a little skimpy on the minis included.

-Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk: Erik Mona helped write it. It shows. This is a good thing. Excellent work start to finish, even if it does leave a few holes here and there.

-Inn-Fighting Game: I thought this was a fun, Regalia-type product.

On The Fence:

-Elder Evils, Drow of the Underdark: Nice production values on both, but the writing left me a bit flat in both cases--nothing really jumped out and grabbed or inspired me. Both at least warrant a re-read, and some Actual Play incorporating them.

The Bad:

-The 4e Preview Books: Races & Classes and Worlds & Monsters. The art isn't my style for the most part (though there are some beautiful individual pieces), and it might win the "Least Bang For the Buck Award".

But, again, every entrant deserves the best look we can give them, and that's what Wizards will get, same as anyone. (Oh, and no, Keep on the Shadowfell did not make this year's cutoff date, I don't believe).