Friday, January 30, 2015

Shopping for Superhero Systems: The Icons Assembled Edition

Over the course of the last few days I was reminded that Green Ronin produces awesome stuff on occasion, albeit some of it requiring a great deal of effort to properly absorb (I'm looking at you, Mutants & Masterminds 3rd edition). While reviewing my MnM 3rd collection (I have all of it for various arcane reasons, although the DC Adventures part is probably easy enough to figure out the "why" on for me) I realized that the problem with MnM ...for the last two incarnations, at least because 1st edition did not have this that it's very dense, and requires a lot of personal time and effort to parse through, at least for the sort of gamer I am who likes to go into things fairly well informed. It's D20 roots aren't helpful, either; a lot of terminology in MnM requires that you not only learn the system, but you must unlearn all the numerous extremely similar features of other systems in the process.

This isn't really a knock on MnM at all, but rather my recognizing that the game is beyond the scope of what I want in an RPG these days. It is to superhero gaming what Pathfinder is to D&D: a much more iterative, complex process that is delightfully majestic in its labyrinthine mechanical design for those who are into labyrinthine mechanics. I guess in this analogy that would make Champions equivalent to Chivalry & Sorcery, then?

Realizing that what I really want is a superhero system that does for the genre what D&D 5th edition (and also 13th Age) did for the "D&D fantasy" genre, I started a bit of shopping around. There are a lot of contenders out there in this market, actually....but there's an interesting Goldilocks-space in the realm of superhero games, not unlike that equivalent Goldilocks-space that D&D 5th edition walks in, where you can easily find lots of games that are too complicated, and also plenty of titles that are too simple, but very few that are "just right."

As it turns out, a bit of research does suggest a magnanimous contender for ideal superhero gaming, and it comes from the same designer as MnM (Steve Kenson): The Icons Assembled Edition. I have ordered a print copy and picked up the PDF. It appears to be a very concise redux of the superhero RPG genre, with precisely as many rules as one would need to run a fast-paced comic universe campaign without stopping to check your scientific calculator for anything or get into yet another argument about grappling (slight hyperbole there, I would assume MnM fixed that issue).

Helping this decision along was the unexpected reveal that Icons is very well supported online and has more than a few print products, including from 3PP. My next closest contender was Supers!, which still looks fascinating and may be on my hit-list in a few weeks; we shall see. I have some vague memories of D6 Supers from many years ago being rather cumbersome in actual practice, but Supers! looks like a more refined edition of the same.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Fostering good eating habits in gamers

When you're having one of those weeks where there's just no inspiration to blog, it can be a great time to point out other amazing blogs instead. To that end I would like to turn you to The Bedrock Blog, where Bedrock Games discusses the benefits of eating right at the game table (and in general). This is a subject near and dear to me as I have had diabetes for going on 15 years now (discovered I was diabetic in 1999-2000) and keeping a good blood sugar is a careful juggling act.

My diabetes may have been a "tipping point" issue, where I maintained excellent health and eating habits throughout college and early into my post-degree years, but around 1998-1999 I landed my first serious desk jobs*, got married to my second wife who was an amazing cook with a serious sweet tooth, and dropped biking from my regular regimen (mostly due to downtown Seattle being a nightmare to traverse on a bike, and my job requiring a lengthy driving commute). The story of everyone's life....stay fit because it's routine, then one day the routine changes and time becomes precious. These days I am forcing all the time I can in; I plan to be around as long as humanly possible for my family, and eating right is part of that process.

At my game table I like to drag along snap peas, mini sweet peppers, celery sticks and carrots (among other things). Do it long enough and pretty soon the pizza, candy, potato chips and endless high-carb dessert snacks start to looks positively disgusting. Trust me! It's worth it.

*Also I tended to work weird hours, mostly to get that shift differential, and later because that's just the way it was. Turns out that diabetes is not helped by poor sleep habits and weird work schedules. There were months --months!-- at a time that I functioned on 3-4 hours of sleep every night. So protip: don't do that if you don't want to be sticking yourself with an insulin pen for the rest of your life, m'kay?

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How to Tell if You are in a High Fantasy Novel

This is absolutely hysterical, and reminds me of Diana Wynn Jone's "Tough Guide to Fantasy Land," another fantastical mocking gem of satire on the industry of heavily churned fantasy novels. Thanks to Akratic Wizardry for finding this!

Monday, January 26, 2015


Just a reminder that if you're not following Elfmaids & Octopi's adventures in BRP Babylon then you're missing out on one of the few "adventure logs" I really enjoy. Great stuff. Konsumterra has a lot of blogs on the subject, with an archive here as well. I like his stuff so much I just feel the need to keep plugging it, not least of all for the reason being this is the kind of stuff I like to read myself.

Fantasy AGE's newsworthy first setting is....

ENworld folk speculate here. The mystery all boils down to the statement from Chris Pramas that the announced setting could be perhaps the "biggest story of the year." Everyone at Enworld, being typical of our hobby, are thinking in terms of literary and game worlds. I'm going to suggest that we may in fact find out it is this: a tie in to....

...Pillars of Eternity:

if you're saying "Huh? Wazzat?" then congradulations, you are a hardcore tabletop gamer who's venn diagram does not overlap with an interest in the recent isometric CRPG revival. Among gamers into that stuff, Pillars of Eternity is a pretty big deal, though.

A second guess would be maybe a license for this upcoming big release:

Bonus points if you are like me and think that Andrzej Sapkoski's books alone are worthy of adaptation into a pure RPG setting.

A Third likely candidate, the one I personally consider most news-worthy, is the grand multi-title arc that is the Elder Scrolls Universe. That would definitely be news-worthy, and in keeping with the AGE System's origins with another popular fantasy CRPG.

But which version of The Elder Scrolls? Done right, it could be any of them...

These days a "story of the year" for a tabletop RPG is going to inevitably involve a big video game license....just my opinion. I do agree, a Fantasy AGE edition of a previously D&D-only world setting would be huge news....but the likelihood of that happening seems infinitesimal.

Although.....I imagine if they announced an Arduin or Blackmoor book for Fantasy AGE, that would be pretty impressive. Now I'm kinda hoping for one or both....but I don't think either would qualify as "news of the year," unfortnately. The only IPs out there in game and ficiton land that are currently without a host system are Moorcock's Eternal Champions books (Elric, Hawkmoon and co.) and of course Howard's Conan. Landing either of those properties would be big.

So...I'm gonna call it: we're either seeing an Elder Scrolls pnp RPG or Moorcock's Eternal Champions get a new home. I'd say Conan but I think Conan's still got some legal problems to sort out.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Fifth Edition Foes gets a general pre-order release date

If you're like me and have decided you like your books complete and available for general release --or at least protected by more conventional consumer laws-- then there's some good news: Frog God/Necromancer Games' Fifth Edition Foes is apparently getting released April this year, and they have opened it up for pre-order.

Ordinarily I'd try to get this through the usual retail local outlet or online, but I've noticed Frog God seems to keep themselves exclusive, so it may not be possible to find a copy until some of their books trickle down to the secondary resell market on ebay.

Anyway, pre-order page is here. If it ends up being as good as the Frog God Tome of Horrors Complete then it should be well worth it. Given WotC seems to be aiming for a very lite official release schedule of actual RPG books, this could be a much needed follow-up tome to the Monster Manual.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Green Ronin Shows how a Real Game Company Announces its 2015 Game Lineup (but...)

Green Ronin apparently also made an announcement for its 2015 book lineup, In this listing we have some very robust entries, including:

The AGE System gets:

A new Dragon Age Core Rulebook comprising the contents (revised) of the three boxed sets

An Inquisition sourcebook and revised GM's Toolkit

Faces of Thedas (formerly a PDF line) gets its own book

A may release of the long-awaited Fantasy AGE engine with a Gencon-release setting book

Mutants & Masterminds gets:

The Cosmic Sourcebook so you can have faux Guardians of the Galaxy Adventures

Freedom City revised book

Atlas of Earth Prime continues with an eventual print release

Other Stuff:

A Return to Freeport book for Pathfinder

Two Song of Ice and Fire releases for people who are into that (I have only ever read the novels. Seriously. We don't get Cable so no HBO, and until they show up on Netflix I am not going to see it)

Some card game called Love2Hate

Ork! the beer-and-pretzels RPG gets a re-release! This is kinda cool.

Now THAT is a proper game line-up. Of course, there is that giant BUT......

And if you know Green Ronin, you know what the BUT is: they are ambitious, determined, and produce fantastic books, but they are also notorious for slipping deadlines, sometimes by a year or two. So when it comes to much of their planned schedule (especially and chiefly for their licensed IP) I suggest adding 6 months to a year minimum to the release dates. I could be wrong.....I seriously hope I am wrong!.....but it's just how it's been for a long time now.

However, the good news is Fantasy AGE is not tied to any IP, and the rules are functionally out there now, so we just need the "IP-free" edition and we're good. My post yesterday mentioning to Paizo that we need a competitive "lite" edition of their game to go up against D&D 5E with more product support? Yeah, forget that.....I think Green Ronin may have this one handled just fine.

As a complete aside: I really need to look at Mutants & Masterminds seriously. I don't know why I am not playing this game (at all). I loved 1st edition, liked (but did not run) 2nd edition, and own all of 3rd.... 3rd edition appears to be amazingly well done, actually, and the DC Heroes books, despite being pre New-52, are also great resources. I don't know why I'm not doing something with this, need to investigate.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Adventurer's Handbook may not actually exist?

So my predictions for 2015 are ahead of schedule as it is apparently being rumored at ENworld that the Adventurer's Handbook that was to accompany Princes of the Apocalypse is not actually a thing. Hmmmmm.

So, does this mean WotC really doesn't have a coherent game plan for 2015 right now, or one which is actually still months from seeing fruition? So...what has WotC announced, then....

Elemental Evil: big event time! What's lined up for it? 

Neverwinter MMO expansion (oh the humanity). Who cares, its a substandard MMO for the brand and fails to live up to the standard set by D&D Online.

Princes of the Apocalypse super module, now scheduled for April 7th (yay an actual RPG product)

Elemental Evil Booster Mini Packs - okay.

Temple of Elemental Evil board game. Whatevs

Sigh. I sincerely do look forward to saving all this money in 2015 since I won't have much to spend it on, 

Hey, Paizo, can you hurry up, confess that you realize there's a market for people like me, and make a real "Pathfinder 2E lite edition" I can run? Cause I can see room for this in the giant hole that WotC is not filling right now.

I kid....a little....I suppose its nice knowing I don't have to worry about lots of future rule books and scenarios crowding my gaming shelves....right?

Post Script: it may seem glum, but you know what, then I just remember I can go poach anything I like from and update it to 5E and I'm good!

Monday, January 19, 2015

13th Age - now with a monthly subscription; also, Mutant Year Zero arrives

ENworld talks about it here, but apparently Rob Heinsoo and co. will be doing a monthly 4000+ word subscription service for 13th Age content. Interesting idea....I've seen these concepts crop up in the past (Dungeon-a-day, for example, or the endless array of 'zines and content-delivery services that can be found on rpgnow) but no idea if it will have legs or not; prior examples of this subscription approach usually didn't have a game with a lot of clout and a real following behind it, though....13th Age has both.

 Personally I'll wait for the PDF and print compendium, but the idea of a monthly service delivering 13th Age content is tempting.

In unrelated news, my copy of Mutant Year Zero, along with dice, cards and map showed up this weekend. Beautiful book, much more to discuss about this one soon....some quick observations so far though: very high production quality, sturdy tome, cards are utilitarian but useful, map is great but not essential (reprints the images from the interior cover of the book), and dice are cool. It was passed around at my Saturday group and generated much interest.

Friday, January 16, 2015

More 2015 Acquisitions: Renaissance Deluxe, Entropic Gaming System and Deus Vult

Continuing my January/Winter trend of snagging new RPGs to explore, I have acquired PDFs and print copies of a few more interesting RPGs worth discussing.....

Legend has three settings for those who didn't know: the citybook settings which include Sheoloth and Skaar (traditional fantasy with a D20 origin), the world of Xoth (hardcore traditional swords & sorcery in the vein of Howard, Smith, Wagner and Carter), and the third, which is Deus Vult, a world of medieval witchcraft and demon hunting in the name of the Catholic Church's top-secret medieval monster murder units. Or something like that....I have print copies but no PDFs on the way, will discuss more when the GM's book and Player's Book arrive.

Of very similar nature to Deus Vult is Renaissance Deluxe, published by the fantastically-named Cakebread & Walton. Renaissance Deluxe has been out for a bit, and if I recall it originally was slated for a release around the time Mongoose lost their RQ license, which put something of a crimp in release plans. Anyway....they seem to have a robust collection of D100-based historical and steampunk RPGs on rpgnow these days, and Renaissance Deluxe with its promise of a relatively purist take on historical renaissance gaming grabbed my attention. The PDF is quite interesting, looking forward to my print copy.

My third find is an exotic take on something I thought I'd never see: it's essentially a Savage worlds-inspired game system called the Entropic Gaming System. Published by Mystical Throne Entertainment, this is easily the first time I've encountered what could amount to (depending on how you look at it) a Savage worlds heartbreaker, an Advanced Revised edition of Savage Worlds, or a game system with heavy inspiration from Savage Worlds. Yes, it's got a lot of Savage Worlds DNA in it's design. Up to now, not surprisingly, Mystical Throne has been known for some concise historical supplements for Savage Worlds and even some Legend books....but it looks like they decided to branch out into their own system.

However, before you dismiss EGS out of hand as a SW-wannabe, I need to tell you this: I like it. A lot. The mechanics may have started from Savage Worlds, but the end result is a much more developed game with a metric ton of interesting additional content, extrapolations and improvements. This is in many ways what a future edition of SW might look like if that system ever saw progressive iterations beyond the most rudimentary. EGS adds a couple more attributes, a metric ton of additional skills, a more elaborate yet somehow easier combat system, and all with the same level of focus and ease of use in multigenre gaming that its forebear offers. It's Savage Worlds on steroids and Mutant Growth Hormones, and I really hope EGS grows and gets's a better version of the game.

So confident am I that I'll actually use EGS, that I actually purchased the first two supplements for it, both of which are revisions of prior SW/Legend books: The Xenopedia and Ultimate Roman Legions Guide. The books are decent looking but do rely on stock art (much of which I recognize)...but the formatting is concise and user-friendly.

Anyway, I wish Mystic Throne luck in this endeavor, they have taken the core concepts of a great game and made an even better one.