Saturday, August 30, 2008
Thursday, August 28, 2008
(A little background: My last regular Realms campaign was in 2003, but I've done some one-shots and convention play since then. I also read some of the fiction in sort of a hit-and-miss style, but do enjoy the setting, even if Greyhawk remains my first love. I was a fan of the box sets of old, but in between spent time in a lot of other campaigns. As such, I'm not a die-hard canon fiend, nor a detractor of the setting--when I do play in it, I tend to enjoy it. Please keep in mind this is very much a "first impressions" overview as much as anything. That said, here's a few of the Pros and Cons as I saw them from my reading):
-This is a very readable book. There are some irritating and abrupt editing choices, but by and large, this book is easy on the eyes and easy to get through.
-Nice region-by-region overview. They do a good job of throwing in plenty of adventure hooks, even if the cultural stuff is rather lacking (see below). You don't have to go far in here to find an idea for a game.
-There appears to be very adequate GM support and accompanying (needed, not overblown) crunch for setting a 4e Realms campaign on the right track. I think it has the 3e Realms beat on this note.
-God, I loved the cartography in the 3e campaign setting. Unfortunately, as Martin Ralya pointed out in his 4e Realms review, the map in the 4e setting is sub-par. Bluntly, compared to the 3e map, this is a poorly-defined, poorly-colored, uninspirational miscue.
-Perhaps in the most inadvertently hilarious part of the new edition, the barely-there index is mentioned not as a "comprehensive reference", but as a "source of inspiration". I didn't believe this until I saw it. Having a crappy index and trying to pass it off as a jumping board for ideas is pretty damned novel, I'll give them that. Hell, why not have a map showing only Cormyr, Sembia, and the Moonshaes separated by wide blank spaces and say "Let Thy Imagination Run Free Within Ye!"?
-The cultural aspect of previous editions is largely lacking. Although there are plenty of descriptions of places and people, few stray appreciably from basic stats and numbers. This is a bit of a downer.
-I know especially with new editions, there's a time and a place to hit the "reset button". But I'm not certain how well some of the changes were done. The biggest event, the Spellplague doesn't seem as mystic or cataclysmic as it does arbitrary. The addition of the Dragonborn has all the calculated subtlety of the addition of Poochie to Itchy & Scratchy. The return of Netheril was interesting, but I found the presentation of the of the setting's "fast-forward" a very mixed bag at best. This is where I wanted (needed, I think) to be sold, and I'm not--yet.
In conclusion, I think a big draw for a lot of the Forgotten Realms fans are the detail in which the Realms are lovingly described. In 4e, we see a move away from that to a less-defined, fuzzier Realms. While some will embrace the change, it and other changes will likely drive other long-time Realms fans barking mad. While there is no shortage of campaign ideas in here (those overview parts of the setting are a great read), I think it'll largely come down to the setting changes, and if players embrace or rebel against them. There's some good stuff in the 4e Realms, and some very good support for a 4th Edition game, but we'll have to hope that point doesn't get lost in the shuffle.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Make no mistake: I love visiting the message boards I frequent, but I find that the quality of writing and coverage on gaming blogs continues to skyrocket. A lot of discussion you won't find anywhere else goes on in gaming blogs; a lot of interesting issues get treatment they might not otherwise get, and there's event and convention coverage galore! Obviously, the format has its own challenges, but a lot of the good conversation and articles in our hobby are out there now on some blogs. From Grongnardia to Jeff's Gameblog to the ChattyDM, I firmly believe there's a gaming blog out there for everyone.
I do hope this network continues to grow, that folks continue to read, and that the doubters take a peek to see just what a high level of excellence many of these blogs have attained. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. I think more and more important discourse, interviews, discussion, and coverage of the hobby will continue to gravitate to the RPG blogging community as they refine and hone their craft (and hopefully avoid the "edition wars" that have really shaken some of more prominent RPG forums out there). The RPG Bloggers Network shows how much talent is out there, and just what it may be capable of.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I also wanted to let you know I'm hoping we'll have some exciting news and updates for you regarding the ENnies very shortly. For right now, I want you to know that we're working on ways to make the awards even better and more exciting, to maximize participation, and to ensure publisher confidence. Keep it tuned here, and I'll let you know whenever there's an update.
Podcasters, get those kickass post-Gen Con review shows going. I've got a lot of yard work to do, and need plenty to listen to.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
This week's gem was: C&C DB1A The Haunted Highlands Map, by Troll Lord Games. My players are just getting into some rugged terrain I did not anticipate, and this actually fit closely in the geographic sense for that area. With only a little slapdash modding, I was ready to go, and looked like I had some semblance of a plan for a week when I had ZERO prep time.
I find that this is an especially excellent way to procure maps or encounters when you really are just at a loss for what's going to challenge your group.
I will add this has led to my purchasing products, when a free demo or product line freebie has really impressed me with its usefulness. So let's call it win-win, shall we?
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Now, I'm a judge. I can suggest, prod, poke, and lobby. Its not a matter of legislation. But as an ENnies judge, I owe it to the folks who voted for me and those interested in the process to help give the smoothest, fairest, best ENnie Awards possible. So without further ado, here's my preliminary list of items to focus on for the 2009 ENnies:
1) Redundancy in Key Positions: Unfortunately, no matter how well-intentioned folks may be, real life can get in the way. The ENnies are no different. Solicit or find volunteers to work with, complement, or back up those in key positions, such as coordination and website admin. That way, if stuff does happen, there's no interruption, and no single-fail point.
2) Better Technical Performance: This can be largely helped by Point #1. Voting delays and miscues have the potential to really hurt the awards. Make it a TOP priority, before any dates are announced, before anything is opened, to have the software/website up and going. Ensure you have dependable people in place to make this happen.
3) Clear Submission Procedures: For websites and podcasts this past year, there were confusing or simply no entry procedures. We ended up with some great entrants, but how many entrants could be lost with a clear submission form or procedure to follow. Make sure we don't lose entrants in this way.
4) Quality Assurance: Hundreds of products are submitted for the ENnies. Simply put, we need to be certain that every product is valid in the category submitted. Another set of eyes or just keen attention to this detail. Finding out after the fact products may not have been eligible for a certain category is something to avoid.
5) Keep Communication Open: I know the awards have gone back and forth on this over the past couple years, with one faction wanting a united front/cone of silence from the judges during and after the judging process, and some definitely for I personally feel that generating product discussion and discussion about the process can only draw more attention to the awards and the products involved. Of course, one needs to respect the integrity of the awards, but I feel the way to build confidence in the entire procedure is to show how it all works as far as is possible. Let the sunlight in, and let no one be able to say there is a hint of anything shadowy about any of the proceedings
6) Accessibility: The folks at the ENnies do work hard to solicit as many different groups for the awards as possible. Some folks are going to disagree with me on this and I know it means more work for the judges, but the ENnies need to make it clear that electronic download of an electronic book or podcast is acceptable. Look, the ENnies judges didn't always have 9 months to judge product. Its still a lot of work, but I feel making this move opens it up to those folks on the fence about the whole business and especially folks on a tight budget. I do think the Best Electronic Product category requirements do need to be strongly enforced, however.
7) Innovation: I love the ENnies Lifetime Achievement Awards of this year. They were something touching, important, and entertaining. The ENnies needs to stay flexible, with an eye towards changing up categories, doing extra features, and keeping the awards not only held in good esteem, but relevant to Joe Gamer.
Because these are our awards, I'd like feedback and suggestions before up channeling matters any further. What can be improved upon? What part of the process would you like better handled? What wouldn't you change? How do you feel about the present category breakdown? Let's hear what you have to say, because that's what's really important.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
John was nice enough to give me a pretty full pitch, and I loved what I heard (and later read up on). As an Amberite (OK, RPG Amberite), I am all about the intrigues, passions, and struggles of a privileged nobility. The admitted inspirations of the FATE system and Jared Sorensen's Octane are both plusses in my book as well.
That said, I'm curious to see if this makes waves with some of how the game is being presented. John has gone out of his way to call the purported differences between it and D&D. I hate to use Wikipedia, but to quote the article there on this game:
Its author has described itas the "anti-Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying game," emphasising elements of the fantasy genre that D&D overlooks. Taking a more swords and sorcery approach (rather than "generic fantasy"), the game focuses on romance, intrigue, courtly dangers, and domain management.
Now, I see what he's driving at, and I like the way he's talking about emphasizing those parts he doesn't think D&D does a good enough job of exploring. But I guarantee it'll not sit well with some of the D&D partisans out there. Hey, I have my Rules Cyclopedia, and I'll sling dice for Uncle Gary any day. But if John Wick has a game geared and designed to do a, shall we say, more focused job of focusing on romance, intrigue, politics, etc., then I'm more than happy to check it out (as soon as I can!).
In the end, if nothing else, it comes down to the familiar "what can (or can't) D&D do?" question. Folks feeling D&D doesn't do enough or does too much of some things is one of the bigger reasons we have so many different RPGs out there. People that were playing earlier D&D editions in the 70s and 80s will tell you they didn't need any sort of social mechanic to roleplay those items out, and they're right. Kingdoms fell, backroom deals were brokered, and dynasties made all without the benefit of any social rules to reinforce that. But just like with a combat system that might emphasize the gritty or the cinematic, a game dedicated to certain social aspects by its rules may also serve to enhance a certain type of play style. It doesn't mean you can't have martial or social struggles without the specifc rules for it, it just means that with the rules, you might be moved or encouraged towards a certain style.
Will there be a backlash against a gaming claiming to be the anti-D&D? I don't know. Likely not a huge one. But in the larger sense, its one more entry in the book on the nature of rules, how needed they are, and what they mean to a game.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
Today's Quick 6: Making Your Wilderness Wild. Many games I've been in have completely lost any sense of challenge that might come from characters tramping through hostile, unknown territory. All, too often, long journeys in the spaces between civilization become minor nuisances at best, pleasant camping trips outside at worst. Your travels into the accursed, barbarian-filled Kargon Grasslands isn't a nature walk. It involves hardship, deprivation, and almost constant risk of physical harm. Don't let your players traipse through mountain ranges or automatically cut between urban scenes--consider playing out some of that journey as a true, true challenge.
Next time you've got your players out in the boonies and away from town and village, keep these items in mind to make the wilderness a true challenge.
1) Where the Hell Are We? It's wilderness for a reason. Maps of areas should be sketchy and inaccurate, if they exist at all. Getting lost should be a very real possibility. "Here there be dragons" is perfectly acceptable for filler on blank spots that few mortals have seen...or lived to tell about. This also makes each discovery, each encounter on the way seem that much more significant. Its nice to be the first to do something, like say live through a journey to some horrid destination.
2) My Feet Hurt. Screw rings of power and dwarven talismans. After 4 weeks in harsh mountain terrain, you'll be praying for a new set of boots. As terrain and weather attack clothing, be sure to report on the degradation of those items. If its a lengthy enough trip, your characters won't be rushing into the next town to buy potions of healing or magic weapons, they'll go right to the cobbler to get something to replace the bloody rags they've had to wear on their feet the last 2 weeks of the journey.
3) Whither the Weather? Cold. Rain. Snow. Heat. Mud. You don't just camp at night, you have to find a place by the river you've been following that a) isn't a muddy swamp of a site, b) isn't infested with millions of mosquitoes, and c) affords some protection from the driving, freezing rain. Elements affect people and equipment alike. Food and spell elements spoil. Metal rusts. Nimble boots become muddy behemoths of collected soil and plant matter that slow you down. In the mountains or desert, you might bake at night and freeze during the day. Wind might destroy your shelter. Snow brings frostbite and hypothermia, heat brings heatstroke. Jungles bring poisonous plants and exotic disease. With the elements doing their worst, a good resting place shouldn't be around every corner, and it should be a treat for the traveling party.
4) Camp. Let me guess. A nice quiet night of 3-4 "watches", punctuated by the odd wandering monster? Everyone settle right back down? Hey--unless you've brought a fair amount of stuff, that ground is rocky, sleep can be hard to come by, and in a hostile place, every whispering leaf turns into a wight just beyond the dancing light of your campfire. Or did you have to go without a fire, worried about the bands of trolls you know claim this territory. Pity, cold as it is. And if you did bring enough stuff to spend the night in comfort, you still have to lug it around. We don't all have Leomud's Tiny Hut, you know.
5) Terrain Reigns. There's no easy mountain path. You fall and cut yourself on jagged rocks a half-dozens times that morning. Your well-tailored tunic is slashed in 7 different places, stained with blood, and that's just from this morning's hike. Its still better than that time in the Great Elemental Desert. It seemed like no matter how hard you tried, you kept sliding back down in a cloud of sand the threw grit in your mouth, nose, eyes, and apparently lungs. You thought the plains would be easy, until your horse broke his leg on a hole hidden in the long grasses. Make the players work to overcome the terrain--give them a chance to prepare for it. If they leave right from their masquerade ball into backcountry, they need to realize every terrain has proper accessories to help overcome it.
6) Supply & Demand. Sort of goes with #2. OK, so we all hate tracking rations and crap. But its not just food you can run out of on the trail. Water can be scarce or undrinkable. Your rope can be left or lost on one mountain cliff, making the next one all the more terrible. If your waterskin is damaged, that can spell disaster. Knapsacks torn, armor and warm clothes rent, basic supplies lost--these can turn a wilderness journey into a race and war of attrition very quickly.
Its true that magic can overcome many of these issues at least in part, but when you throw all the elements together, your players not only remember why there aren't a lot of folks wanting to brave the wilds, they'll realize there are elements that sword and sorcery alone cannot defeat. A sand-blinded swordsman, a delirious mage suffering from pneumonia in a unrelenting hailstorm, a rogue hampered by near-impossible terrain--these are the challenges of wilderness travel.
Above all, these aren't ways to just screw with your players (though no one's arguing that isn't fun at times, especially if they're cocky). They're ways to give them a sense of achievement, of perspective, of true distance, and of mighty accomplishment. Make every aspect of their heroic journey a tale to be told!
Monday, August 18, 2008
I also wanted to thank everyone who returned me to office for my 2nd (and final) lap as an ENnies judge. Many of you said many kind things, and I want you to know I will endeavor continuously to be worthy of the faith and honor you've bestowed upon me. And you can bet I'll keep you in the loop every step of the way! There are a lot of ideas and questions for and on the ENnies that need to be thrown out there, and your feedback can only help the process. For now, Game On!
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
I wrote last year about how my first time at Gen Con reminded me of when they opened the big gates in Jurassic Park--the wonder, the sense of tremendous scope & size, of a world entirely unto itself.
It strikes me, as Indianapolis cheerfully (if somewhat bewilderedly) handles the registering horde of Gen Con attendees, that the convention is also very much its own community. Whatever roles people have in the outside world, for four days the role they have in our hobby are magnified. Fan, player, critic, publisher, writer, artist--all are heightened and admired (if not revered) in their own way here.
The happiness of meeting up with old friends, the bustle of exhibitors trying to get ready, the lines of people comparing swag bags, the games already starting at every available restaurant table, bench, and open area in the interconnected skyways and hotels around the convention--that is the herald of Gen Con.
Sadly, we also miss together old friends no longer with us, friends that gave and gave and gave to us and to this hobby. We also gather as inseparable part of their legacy ourselves.
This is an event that takes over nearly every aspect of downtown Indianapolis. Every hotel, every conference room, every last usable bit of the convention center, and every skyway that keeps it all wonderfully interconnected, gaming plants its flag, having no master but itself for a glorious, extended four-day weekend.
Gaming culture here--even for those who do not claim it as their own--is strong here. The currency is dice, accolades, and available gaming time. A lilting gamer jargon becomes the 2nd language.
I'll keep repeating this, but until you've gone to Gen Con Indy, some of these descriptions migth seem forced or far-fetched. For me, and I suspect many of the others who attend, they aren't. Seeing your dream, your love, your passion amplified, praised, and loved makes a physically enormous event mentally and emotionally so as well.
The pulse--the buzz--the feeling--of tens of thousands of expectant souls will not go away tonight, a night where gaming will be set to a neon hum, where again where all kids awaiting Christmas morning. Along with the thrill of a year-long wait fulfilled, that feeling will grow, reaching a crescendo just before 10 a.m. Thursday morning.
This is the event in gaming. Gen Con is ready for launch.
And I cannot wait.
My Gen Con coverage will continue on TheRPGSite, where you can make coverage requests, ask questions, and have me hunt down new product releases for you! Follow this link and stay tuned as I bring you all the coverage and pics you (hopefully) want from Gen Con Indy!
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
In addition to the scavenger hunt (delivered in a separate sealed envelope for each player, not to be opened until Gen Con), each envelope has the name of a game and a hint on how to find the game in the dealer hall. I made each title I was one I was sure they hadn't heard of: Hellas, StarSiege, Obsidian--and so on from there. I'm really excited if they manage to find the game title that was in noted in their envelope.
So, here's the list. I wish I could have listed more, but don't worry--I'll have plenty more recommendations for them:
Zachary the First’s Gen Con Indy 2008 Scavenger Hunt
1) Palladium Books (Booth 501)
Have Jason Richards or Kevin Siembieda sign this paper. Look out for Jason Richards impostors. Hang out and play some games!
2) Wizards of the Coast (2638)
- Get a date for when the virtual tabletop will be a go:___________________________
- Find out from a learned booth employee in what ways Wizards of the Coast are different from Necromancers of the Interior. Essay room on back as needed.
3) Dark Matter Studios (506)
Have Kent or Chris run a quick demo for you (tell them Zack sent you!). Get a signature! Get into a longer game if you can!
4) Gamescience (1815)
Have Colonel Lou tell you why Gamescience dice are superior to all other dice. Write a one sentence summary (if possible) here:_________________________
5) Indie Press Revolution (1939)
Time to try something different! Play 3 demos here—any 3 games of your choosing!
Game 1:______________________ GM/Demo Person Sig:__________________________
Game 2:______________________ GM/Demo Person Sig:__________________________
Game 3:______________________ GM/Demo Person Sig:__________________________
6) Paizo (2221)
Get a rundown of all the factions of Pathfinder Society. List your early favorite:_____________
(Check for open spots for Pathfinder!)
7) Play Collective/Ashcan Front (2039)
Get the rundown for someone at the booth on a game you’re unfamiliar with. Give title, author description. Demo if you can!
8) Out of the Box (1439)
Demo a new game!
9) Iron Crown Enterprises (504)
Name 3 different game lines or systems Iron Crown currently sells:
10) Kenzer (2201)
Part A: Name Kenzer’s first non-GSL, D&D 4e-compatible pdf product:______________________
Part B: Get a demo or overview of Aces & Eights. If not, procure some Aces & Eights swag or souvenir.
11) Troll Lord Games (615)
Find and list 3 products with Gary Gygax’s name on them, including the most recent release:
12) Mind Storm Labs (2107)
Talk to someone at the booth about Alpha Omega.
a) What is the page count for this RPG?
b) What is the name of their free downloadable adventure?
13) Dwarven Forge (1221)
What is their most recent release?______________________
14) GPA Showcase (402)
Get a demo of one product here.
15) Cubicle 7 (1236)
-List the name of their most recent sci-fi RPG:__________________________
-Get a system overview. What system does this product use? ______________________________
-What’s the name of one of the upcoming RPGs they’re working on? _____________________________
16) Reaper (1521)
Find the following miniatures. Record catalog numbers:
-A fierce-looking gnome: ______________________________
-A dual-wielding barbarian: ______________________________
-A foppish-looking noble-type: ______________________________
17) Goodman Games (2535)
Look at stuff. Also, please list who wrote Goodman’s Points of Light setting: ______________________________
18) Miniature Building Authority (1327)
What is their most expensive item for sale at this year’s Gen Con? ______________________________
19) Catalyst/Iron Wind (1303/1307)
Play in a short demo of CthulhuTech.
Game Time/Date:________________ GM Signature:____________________
20) Fat Dragon Games (1417)
Get a good tip for getting the most out of your cardstock terrain: ______________________________
21) North Star Games (1535)
Play in, and participate in, every last event & demo they have at this booth.
Grand Finale: THE QUEST FOR ED GREENWOOD!
Ed Greenwood must sign your sheet, complete with a quote from one of his selected literary works.
ED SIGNS HERE:_________________________
(Note: If Ed Greenwood absolutely, positively cannot be found, then you must discover, sit through, and provide a report of the seminar of your choosing, in full paragraph form).
Monday, August 11, 2008
Above all, I hope you take the time to read about all the candidates, and make the decision you feel is best. I know we have other candidates on there who sometimes grace this blog, and I hope I get to serve with them. Bottom line, I want to be your elected judge, your point of contact for the ENnies when you have questions, and someone who fights to keep what's working and fix what isn't--and recognize some truly wonderful, deserving gaming products, with an eye towards making sure every product, big and small, gets the best look possible.
So, I guess that's my stump time. Thanks, guys, and I'm looking forward to liveblogging Gen Con for you this week.
Saturday, August 9, 2008
1) Tower of Gygax: Keith Baker is organizing this amazing-sounding event. Its pure Gygaxian Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, run 24/7 in Room 115 of the Convention Center. New slots should open about every hour. No experience needed!
2) Roll The Dice: Be sure to bring some dice to donate to the Grand Gygaxian Dice Collection for Gen Con's opening ceremonies. After the main ceremony, you can still toss some dice in his memory at the collection point outside the Main Entrance of the exhibit hall. The Collection will then be auctioned for charity auction Saturday at 6 pm. I don't know about you, but I have an old, inherited, much-loved crayoned set of dice I think will be extremely fitting for this.
3) Stop by Troll Lord Games (booth 615). Many of Gary's works and works inspired by him will be out for your perusal, including Castle Zagyg: Upper Works. And don't forget your Gord the Rogue novels!
4) Incorporate some Gygaxian fun into your game--blindside your players with an improbable monster or treasure item. Act as if nothing is amiss.
5) Bring a Character: Along with the Grand Gygaxian Dice Collection (that's so much fun to say!), Gen Con Indy is also providing a Memorial Book to honor Gary's memory. Bring that old AD&D character sheet, a story of how D&D and Gary's work impacted you, or something in that vein you feel is meaningful in honor of his legacy. They'll have paper if you want to write something on-site.
6) Grab your copy of D&D 4e. Where they mention the first campaign settings early on in the "History of D&D", scribble in "Greyhawk, too!". If you don't have a copy of 4e, instead roll your dice when meeting someone at the show and say "It's a...[roll]...pleasure to meet you!" (see Futurama)
7) Cherish your friends, cherish every second of your gaming, and have the best time possible. It may have started at Gary's house in Lake Geneva, but wherever Gen Con is held, the most important thing is having a good time doing something you love.
Friday, August 8, 2008
One of the things that drives me crazy is having anything bulky or unwieldy on me when I'm walking around Gen Con. My backpack is bad enough, but I don't need a bulky catalog I need to pull out every time I need an event or booth location.
My PDA's organizer has been unreliable, to say the least, which is why I now use a PocketMod for Gen Con. For those who haven't used one, a PocketMod is printed on a single sheet of paper, and folds up to become a very cool little pocket organizer. They have a Flash application that allows you to customize yours, with different pages for contacts, shopping lists, task lists, and other custom information. It takes about 2 minutes to make, and another few to customize. And that's it! All the information you need in one little thin organizer that easily fits in your pocket!
I'll have my pocket mod this year full of companies I want to visit listed alphabetically with booth number, the contact information for my lodging, and a list of my scheduled events. Between this and cutting out the maps in the back of the Gen Con guide, I'm traveling light and hoofing around one less book--which at Gen Con, can never be a bad thing.
Thursday, August 7, 2008
I've been messing around with a few smaller banners for the site. Here's my latest, All-Paint effort:
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
While I'm up, I wanted to mention that the ENnies product voting runs through tomorrow. So if you haven't voted yet, get out there and do so. I haven't really felt the flurry I felt last year for the Summer Revolution, but perhaps that's just my vantage point. Fred Hicks might have a totally different perspective. I guess we'll see soon enough. Does anyone have a dark horse they're backing?
I'm also curious overall how much stumping some companies have done--it seems like some have been more active than others. If you're out there, nominees, how much stumping did you do? Mention it in a press release? Pimp it on a message board? Solicit your gaming group(s)? I'm curious how much you put into the, shall we say, "voter education" effort. I'd like to get some comments/feedback here that give an overview of the different attitudes and methods at work in getting out the vote for your ENnies-nominated product. So please, comment away!
Don't forget, once the product voting ends, the judge voting begins! So that's a whole new round of discussions to be had!