Monday, December 31, 2018

Deathbat's Tabletop Gaming Predictions for 2019

Ah, this is going to be a tough one because the game industry (for RPGs, at least) is fairly stable and predictable these days. But I'll give it a shot with some suggestions for what may come to be:

1. D&D will see an official sourcebook for at least two of these: Spelljammer, Dark Suns, or Eberron

It's clear that Wizards of the Coast has been setting up all three for a return at some point, the question is just: when? And will we see more Ravnica/Planewalker stuff for Magic soon?

2. Far West will not appear this year, and therefore not appear this decade

I have no bone in this failed Kickstarter that is somehow still in limbo after something like seven years. Follow Erik Tenkar for occasional "updates" on the Kickstarter, but the only certainty anymore is that clocks are right twice a day, and this Kickstarter kicked the bucket a long time ago, but the author manages to keep stringing it out to hopefully run out the statute of limitations on lawsuits, I am guessing. 

3. Modiphius will hit some sort of Criticality this year

Modiphius is a prolific publisher and distributor, and just acquired the controls to the entire World of Darkness line in the wake of some shake ups at Paradox/White Wolf over poor editorial controls. As a result Modiphius now has a ridiculous number of titles and IPs under its belt, possibly more than they can handle, although I admit I have no information on total staff size or arrangements.

In general Modiphius has been brilliant at handling high quality print and PDF distribution, Kickstarters and distribution deals. I don't know how long they can sustain, and given that they were the only retailer online I ordered from in the last two months that was not quite able to fulfill their orders within the same month that the orders were placed, I suspect that they may be a bit overwhelmed. My prediction is that this year Modiphius could do very well, but it is possible --likely, even-- that they have bitten off more than they can chew at last, and I wonder if some of their product lines are maybe not moving as fast as they should? Even Cubicle 7 seems to have streamlined their product schedule, for example.

It could be that Modiphius is effectively sliding in to a new category of publisher/distributor and maybe is closer to Fantasy Flight Games in terms of scope now than, say, Cubicle 7. But I predict either way that we'll see some sort of impact on their high volume of product output this year.

4. D&D will see more than four major releases from WotC this year

D&D seems to be doing well enough that we're seeing more product creep, which is either a good thing or not depending on who you are. I predict we will see five major releases this year instead of four like last year, with some clever tie-ins to work it all together.

5. Pathfinder 2.0 Release will please the hardcore and capture the curious but fail to expand market share

I don't think this is a brave prediction, unfotunately. I think that the open playtest led to an unfortunate feedback loop in which players turned off by the playtest simply bailed out, and the ones willing to embrace it stayed in, and as a result the playtest will be a solid refinement of what that core likes, while missing the information necessary to expand the game to include the larger overall audience. Will it be playable? Absolutely. Will it be worth playing? Only if it offers an experience that is competitive with D&D in a way that is going to capture new players. Unfortunately I think it's going in the opposite direction.

6. Palladium may go belly up

Possibly not until 2020, but I have a feeling that Palladium will hit rock bottom and finally go kaput this year. Too much negativity from burned fans over Robotech may be the cause, but it's chiefly due to the fact that while many could argue Palladium's games have been stuck in the nineties, now even their business practices are stuck in the nineties, and this along with what seem to be perpetual financial woes may be it for them. I could possibly be wrong here.....but only in that this may not happen until 2020 or maybe 2021, but since I need something contentious for my list this is a good bet.

7. The Fantasy Trip gets a serious revival

This is a no-brainer: TFT is being released, in print, by Marchish. Steve Jackson Games is providing an encouraging online storefront for new product. We'll see the release of classic TFT lead either to serious expansions or a 2nd edition announced before the end of the year.

8. BRP revised finally appears

Fingers crossed, we will see the new 32 page BRP book and maybe an updated Mythic Iceland in PDF at least before December 2019. Of course, Chaosium still needs to get print versions of the Glorantha Bestiary and GM Screen out, which I sincerely hope does happen....even if you're not a Glorantha fan, the game is amazing and deserves attention. It will MAKE you a Glorantha fan!

....okay, that's enough of that! I'll do one for Computer Gaming next.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

2018 Movies in Review

This was a long and movie-filled year. Were they all good movies? Nope. Were any of them great movies? A few. This was also the year predicted by some Youtube Nostradamii as the movie apocalypse, a time in which a big budget tentpole/AAA release hits every week through the whole year and leads to the collapse of multiple film studios and/or publishers. Which did not happen...imagine!

2018 does, for me, mark a couple significant changes in film viewing, though: my son is old enough now to enjoy movies in a more sophisticated manner, meaning the palette of movies he can sit still for has grown exponentially; movies are indeed coming out with greater frequency that tick that box which says "kids and family want to see this, and don't want to wait for it to show on Netflix," and finally I still just love seeing movies in the theater, and theaters locally are really making the experience more fun and easy thanks to luxury assigned seating. So yeah...overall we saw more movies this year than I have in, well, forever.

Here's the best movies in 2018, according to the Realms of Chirak household (so YMMV, of course!):


If you haven't seen Overlord, you are missing out on an unexpected great, if not entirely monumental film. The movie manages to be a compelling, at times nerve-wracking tale of Operation Overlord on D-Day (so, A World War II movie) when it abruptly dives into the deep end of weird Nazi scientist zombie super-soldier horror. I knew very little about this movie before going in to it, and was rewarded with one of my most enjoyable film experiences in years.

Runner Up: there were actually quite a few good horror movies this year, believe it or not. I'll tentatively suggest that Annihilation gets this billing, albeit with the caveat that it was just as compelling as an SF film (see below). So let's also nominate A Quiet Place for runner up!

BEST COMIC BOOK FILM: Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse

I chose the title "comic book film" because this isn't just about superheroes, it's about a comic book style of tale telling writ large. Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse manages to be a great superhero movie but an amazing comic book movie, possibly the best of its class. It takes a relatively incredulous core conceit (the spiderverse), a fan favorite from the comics (Miles Morales) and then tells a tale that does a bunch of things right that not many superhero films pull off: compelling character arcs, plot with resolution, action sequences that you can follow and make sense, surprises all over the place that felt carefully designed that way, and all topped with a CGI cartoon style(s) that blend remarkably well for a perfect package. If you only see one comic book film this year, Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse should probably be it.

Runner Up: that easily goes to Deadpool 2, which thankfully had no backstory to worry about this time around, and made for a hysterical take on the Marvel universe through Deadpool eyes.

BEST SUPERHERO FILM: Avengers Infinity War

You could argue all sorts of reasons for why this is a good movie, but it is inarguable that Avengers Infinity War pays off on eight years of Marvel Cinematic Universe buildup and cashes in on that with great success. The sequel will be just as big, as Marvel and Disney left this movie with a cliffhanger that had the entire audience of children in tears, with adults quickly confirming that their beloved characters who appeared to have been destroyed still showed future movies in development, or actors with future movies still on contract.

Runner Up: Black Panther, which was a brilliant film and a unique exploration of Wakanda in the cinematic universe. One could argue that it deserved top billing and Avengers Infinity War get runner up, but the truth is neither film would have been as effective without the years of world building that went in to laying the groundwork, and both benefited greatly.


Yes, the best movie in SF this year is the one no one saw. Natalie Portman and a team of scientists enter an anomalous region where life and reality are being warped into strange symmetries by an alien presence, and the film is all about the eerie times terrifyingly so, of this event. If you haven't seen it yet, go get a copy or find it on Netflix or something, you have missed out.

Runner Up: Ready Player One deserves this credit for its Spielbergian depiction of a futuristic dystopia in which life is so grey and miserable that even your grandma has retreated into the virtual space, but somehow that's okay because this is an upbeat tale of dystopian futrue romance. Well worth watching, whether you liked the novel or not, for its straight-forward depiction of a future that is unfortunately far more likely to come to pass than the happy singularities optimistic futurists promise us.

BEST COMEDY: The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

It's a Netflix exclusive, and it's also a western, and also it's a surrealistic black comedy, but this was probably one of the most enjoyable films I've seen this year. A series of western vignettes, each one a story of tragically arbitrary failure with only two of the tales resolving in a manner equatable to a happy ending, the Ballad of Buster Scruggs should be seen by anyone with a penchant for Coen Brothers films or subtle, dark humor in general.

Runner Up: oh this is a tough one. I guess Deadpool 2? It's the only movie which made me laugh as hard as it did (and also my son, when got to see the slightly less raunchy Once Upon a Deadpool).

FILM OF THE YEAR: Black Panther

Black Panther  deserves high praise for its depiction of the super-science hidden country of Wakanda. Even more significantly, it handled an interesting trope in the depiction of black characters on film, with Killmonger being a serious contender for best villain in the MCU who represented a sort of depiction of the way that black characters are all too often handled in American cinema, vs. the deadly serious, deep and utterly self assured Black Panther and his many supporting characters.The result is a film that manages to portray a subject in a manner that defies conventional racial depictions in western storytelling and, frankly, just crush it. Black Panther may have benefitted from being able to do so as part of the MCU, but it also managed to demonstrate that this can be done..and should be done, from here on out.

What list wouldn't be complete without some raspberries? Here are some duds for the awards:


Venom deserves no special awards other than somehow being a Sony movie that was actually fun. For bonus credits, watch Venom, then watch Once Upon a Deadpool, and notice how the latter demonstrates how clearly the former film edited itself for a PG13 rating when they realized their R rating would lock out 90% of their target audience.

Runner Up: Aquaman! Who knew they could get Aquaman right, and also make a movie where a thousand laser sharks on screen was a serious moment?!?!?


It was fun, okay? But this movie was the very definition of playing it safe, and demonstrated (I feel) every case study in what people were afraid would go wrong with the MCU under Disney. It had a toothless villain, a lack of any real sense of gravitas, and a general focus on "feel good but don't think too hard" at it's core that made this the least interesting fun movie to watch in 2018. I get it: they need these kinds of films for the series; but this one was just uninteresting enough that I could (and may very well) sit out the next one and wait for it to show up on streaming somewhere.

Runner Up: Bumblebee! I loved it, but this movie was all about making a family-friendly, earnest, heartful course correction for the Transformers franchise, which it succeeded at, but it left very few surprises in place; when your biggest surprise is that the appearance of the transformers matches their appearances from the original cartoon, then....well, yeah.


Look, I can't call it the worst movie of the year because it is technically proficient, and there are worse films out there. But The Predator demonstrates that just because you played a bit role and did some minor dialogue rewrites in a film from 1987 does not mean you are in any way qualified to follow up on it decades later. The Predator effectively killed the franchise and demonstrated that it is completely possible even in this year of 2018 to misunderstand the core conceit of a film franchise in such a manner that you destroy it for the fanbase.

Runner Up: Solo, but not becuase it was a bad movie (it was a lot of fun) but rather because it suffered the backlash of The Last Jedi and demonstrated that Star Wars fatigue had already set in.

WORST MOVIE I SAW IN 2018: Monster Land

So here's the problem with doing a list like this when you're not a hardcore film buff or paid critic: I avoid movies that get bad reviews, or which I suspect I might not find that engaging. The movie doesn't have to be bad (I'm avoiding the Return of Mary Poppins, for example), it just has to be off my radar. As a result, I often don't see the bad movies of the year. However, I may see some truly awful movies within the year, just not films that were released in 2018. For example: Monster Land, a truly miserable little collection of indie vignettes which for the most part are as irredeemable as any Amazon Kindle selection of random short fiction rudderless and without an editor to steer it into some sort of readable direction. So if I elect a truly bad film this year: Monster Land deserves it, even though it was released in 2016.

If I had to mention a movie in 2018 that was truly horrible, I guess I'd suggest Gotti. I didn't actually see the film, but the clips I have witnessed suggest strongly it deserves this honor.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

2018 Computer Gaming in Review

Like the tabletop RPG gaming post, I find myself amused by the fact that far less of what I did this year with computer gaming was actually from 2018. Even worse, I have indulged in plenty of 2018 releases, but to be honest....not too many were all that impressive. This is not a great year for gaming, to be honest....especially not AAA gaming.

So without further delay: here's the Realms of Chirak Household Gaming Top Six List for "Things we Played and Liked" in 2018:

#6: Vampyr
   I think this came out a year ago, but it is notable for being the only 3PS role playing game I have bought this year that is not a distinctive Sony exclusive. It's a great story about Victorian London during a rash of sickness and plague and the physician who finds himself an unwitting vampire. Very much enjoying this one, check it out!

#5: Fortnite

   As a family we have played a lot of Fortnite in the last year. It's ironic because back in 2017 (or was it 2016?) I bought the zombie-killing fortress building retail version of this game for my son and I to play together. We weren't so excited about that mode it turns out, but Battle Royale ended up getting us back in to it.
   This game has the following features going for it:
--it's basically family friendly as shooters go (if you mute the snotty kids in squads)
--you can group up in the game as a team (great for mom, son and dad to play together)
--it's Battle Royale mode is free (but yes you will end up wanting to spend money on v-bucks Just Because)
--just when you get tired of it, a new season starts; also, if you give up the idea of actually being good at it you can instead play the "challenges and achievements minigame" which is honestly the only way to get anywhere in Fortnite anyway unless you are aged 15-25 and stream on Twitch.

#4: Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon: Wildlands

   Did I review this game last year? I played a lot of it, but I kept on playing in 2018 and finished the full campaign then dived right in to the weird DLC. I don't know if this game is ultimately a "reccommend to all" sort of deal, but Ghost Recon: Wildlands uniquely exotic and fun version of fictional Bolivia is a pleasure to explore, and filled with interesting open world content. I continue to revisit the game even months after completing the content.

#3: Watch Dogs 2

   Yeah, over two years since it was released and I finally finished this game, but continue to love it. The theme of millennial hackers vs. the evil cyphers for Google and Facebook is a fantastic open world experience, and I really appreciate that the game let me play a non-lethal character for 95% of the experience. The multiplayer component is singularly unique and digital San Francisco was loads of fun to explore. I am done with it now, but I spent a lot of time getting to this point in 2018.

#2: Diablo III Eternal Collection

   Speaking of family games, Diablo III Eternal Collection on the Switch has also proven to be a household hit. Remember, the family that slays demons together stays together! We all have copies, and have engaged in lengthy demon-slaying sessions. I think my wife and son are way ahead of me, however. Once again, though....this game is several years old, but thanks to a new release of a very good port to a dedicated handheld-optional game console, it's well worth playing again.

#1: The Switch

   This location gets reserved for the portable hybrid console which Nintendo has championed. The Switch is loaded with content that just works for fun entertainment, as only the Switch can deliver. There are games on the Switch (such as Dead Cells, Bayonetta and Octopath Traveller) that I will happily engage with on the small screen in the comfort of bed or on a lawn chair that I would never bother with on a big screen with a regular console. And when I want to play the Switch on the big screen, or on co-op with the family? Piece of cake. I started with one months ago, and now we have three Switch consoles in the house, one for each of us.

Dishonorable Mention:

A lot of new and ongoing franchises just crapped the bed this year. In no particular order I feel that AAA gaming did itself little least for me. Here's the list of shame:

Call of Duty Black Ops IIII: buggy, crashes often, and needs lots of tweaking to make the Blackout mode ultimately worth my time as a filthy casual who can't compete with the hardcore leets. I load it up periodically and think about how cool it would be if they had a single player campaign I could enjoy, but then remember that they decided I am not their target demographic (solo player who likes a story with his FPS game). I need to make sure not to buy CoD anymore, it's like the game dumped me, but will still take my money.

Destiny 2: well, the problems with Destiny 2 are many, and I think they stem from the fact that Bungie doesn't know how to do a living world MMORPG. The fact that Destiny 1 content is gated off from the new game is an example of how they fail to do this right. The newer game has too much hardcore content and not enough stuff for filthy casuals who just want to do missions, have fun and NOT grind for armor and weapons. It has too many locations on odd worlds, asteroids and moons that are singular in their lack of interesting details (contrast with the much more interesting locales in the first game), and a restructured questing format that is just not at interesting as it used to be. I'm still playing, but only barely.

Star Wars Battlefront 2: As this game chugs on it continues to avoid re-introducing loot crates after the debacle last year, but they have added more content. Unfortunately most of the content is just not as good, and often leads less to strategic and interesting experiences on the map and instead leads to confusion and random nonsense. I am sure, if I had the energy, I could find the sweet spot for this one and get it to click, but I find it interesting that I found Battlefront 1 so accessible and fun, and the sequel is just so.....painful and random. I may delete it entirely (although my son might object so maybe not).

The Future:

There are a few games I look forward very much to playing in 2019, but I haven't gone far enough in to these games in 2018  to be able to speak on them much yet. These include:

Pathfinder: Kingmaker -- a computer game in Golarion, with Pathfinder rules!
Numenera: Tides of Torment -- I have it, and my interest in the RPG will get me to try this at last
Assassin's Creed: Origins and Odyssey -- yeah I'm two games behind on this now, still trying to finish Syndicate, but both of the new games I would like to visit in 2019.
Anthem: please EA don't let me down here.
Resident Evil 2 Remake: I can't stress how much I desperately want this game.
Division 2: absolutely looking forward to this one.

Monday, December 17, 2018

2018 RPGs in Review

This was a strange year for gaming in my household. Notable this year was my son's reaching an age where gaming "clicked" for him; dad reached a unique level of gaming burn-out even as son hits his first stride; all of my top gaming discoveries this year were older games for the most part; and I significantly reduced my game collection earlier in the year via ebay.

Wrestling with what has felt to me like close to a year of burn-out has been tough. Part of me is certain the burn-out is tied to the exponential increase in my responsibilities at my business, which does indeed take much more time out of my life than it ever has before. Some of it is a more general genre burn-out, and discovering a game like Cypher System which let me break out of the D&D box a bit actually framed just how long I had been running D&D, and perhaps how uninspired I was now feeling as a result.

However, I have a great crew of long time friends and family I can game with, and that alone makes it all worthwhile. I have (due to work and other issues) taken more time off than usual this year on gaming nights, but with any lucky 2019 will be less arduous and I will rekindle my creative juices.

So in looking at 2018 in review, it's hard to pick out five or six things to address that are topically new. Instead, I'll do a "this was important to me this year" list instead.

#5: Starfinder

This year I tried running Starfinder multiple times, managed a campaign on an off day for a few months, and got several stalled games running that I wish could have gone further. The general consensus is that Starfinder has a great premise and style, and manages to pull off a fun game in a Pathfinder frame. However, due to my difficulties this year it has been very hard to remain committed to Starfinder for the lengthy period that it deserves.

#4: Call of cthulhu 7E

My campaign for 7E CoC wrapped earlier in the year, and it was a truly spectacular event. Call of Cthulhu's latest editions has captured my attention and this was a highlight of gaming for me in the last two years (the campaign started in 2017). I definitely need to run more CoC in 2019.

#3: Dungeons & Dragons 5E

Despite being burned out on it, D&D 5E remains an important staple for me in gaming. Two events keep me inspired going in to 2019: first, my son has active characters (see an earlier post on this) and we are really enjoying this very simple, very straight-forward 5E game. I actually hope it will help me to start enjoying the game more generally again. I am also inspired by the Ravnica setting which WotC released. This is the first genuinely new setting for D&D in a very long time, and I hope it does well; D&D needs new and innovative going forward; it's got the "classic stuff" well covered already, perhaps too much so.

#2: Numenera

I haven't run it yet, but Numenera as a setting is one of the single most unique and fun settings I have encountered in a long time. It's material is inspirational for any fantasy or SF setting, and I have pilfered from it for my Cypher System games. I hope to finish reading through Discovery and Destiny (the new edition of the game) and have a a campaign lined up for this next year.

#1: Cypher System

Discovering and then figuring out Cypher System was a major revelation to me. Just as I found myself getting tired of the old classics (or 5E's version of the game genre), while finding myself without the time or energy to wrangle the more sophisticated modern offerings (Pathfinder, Starfinder) or the dedication to learn new and unfamiliar things (Genesys Core), Cypher System arrives just in time for me. A game designed to be player-facing, loaded with things for players to tinker with while being written specifically with the time-limited or lazy GM in mind who wants to use RPGs for creative release but maybe isn't too interested in the stat block mini game, Cypher System is the best game find I've discovered in the last twenty years.

...So, going in to 2019, I realize I have some interesting things to consider. I want to keep running Cypher System, for both my fantasy-SF campaign I designed for it as well as my super hero setting and more I am working on. But I also want to run Numenera (same game system, so doing this is all about absorbing the volumes of content for the Ninth World), and really want to get back to Call of Cthulhu. I frequently feel a desire to return to Traveller, or something like it....and a couple oddities such as the Everywhen RPG and Fantasy AGE still command my interest.

It is possible, outside of my family game, that I might actually be able to stay away from D&D for a while. We'll see....a few more books like Ravnica and I will probably cave and dive back in.

Games not yet released, or games I am in the process of reading and thinking about using, could finally get some time next year. I still would like to run Cold & Dark, for example. I'd like to experience Elite Dangerous RPG, which looks really interesting in a "totally like yet not Traveller" way. Kult will eventually show up in print one day, and that is a game I very much enjoyed back in it's 1st and 2nd edition days.

A couple new games next year: the "new" Fantasy Trip, for example, deserve attention. Cypher System 2nd edition, of course! Over The Edge 3rd edition. I could easily get derailed with any of these three. But beyond this? I think I may be set, honestly. Such is life as an older gamer....getting stuck in my rut, if you will!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Looking at my January Predictions for Gaming in 2018

Seems like as good a time as any....unlikely any misses will turn in to hits with 16 days left on the clock! Back in this post in January I made some predictions for how the RPG industry (and others) would shape out for 2018....or at least, certain companies. Here's what I predicted, and here's where it landed:

1. KULT: Divinity Lost Will Arrive in Print (or maybe just PDF)

I suppose this wasn't that risky since the new edition of Kult was pushed to a summer release, but it was also a long delayed Kickstarter so....yeah, you could go either way here.

Result: True, for the PDFs for sure

Kult is out, and I have most of it in PDF, but the books were supposed to ship November 21st and I am still waiting to even get notice they have been shipped. I've emailed the distributor and Modiphius on status, but silence makes me wonder if the print copies actually showed.

2. No Pathfinder 2.0 in 2018


Result: FALSE

We got a playtest announcement and book. Next year's prediction gets to focus on whether or not the final release will be a hit or sinks Paizo, I guess. (Yes, I am one of those people who was gravely concerned by what I saw in the design of 2.0).

3. Melee/Wizard and/or The Fantasy Trip get Kickstarted in a big way

Well, this one was pretty well all but implied once SJG acquired the rights to TFT, but I guess back in January they hadn't formally announced any plans yet.

Result: TRUE

And how! The Kickstarter is full of TFT goodness, the "I want it all" option gives you a ton, and from all updates I've read the final product is on schedule for March 2019 release, maybe even just a bit ahead of schedule. Ancient TFT fans, who are almost as numerous as Greyhawk fans, can at last get their just due for hanging in there. I've looking forward myself to getting to play a game again that I haven't run since 1985.

4. A new Marvel RPG will be announced

This was my "out on a limb" prediction. It was predicated on the idea that Marvel/Disney would be willing and interested in letting their IP get licensed for a tabletop game.

Result: FALSE

Oh and how! Marvel has killed various video game tie-ins (notably a fun to play Marvel Diablo spinoff that I enjoyed for a while) and studiously avoided anything that isn't a mobile game. A video game exclusive for next year on the Switch has been announced, but I don't think the Mouse with the House of M really gives a crap about tabletop RPGs.....sigh.

5. WotC releases four books, and brings back Eberron

Well, I think there were hints suggesting they would revisit something not Forgotten Realms so that wasn't too much of a stretch. As for the additional books....again, its all haruspicy using Mearls' and other WotC personalities' twitter tweets to decipher their plans.

Result: TRUE

Yeah, so they actually released more than four books this year (yay), especially if you count map packs and stuff, then a lot more....Waterdeep, Dungeon of the Mad Mage, Ravnica, Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes, and lots of peripheral tie-ins like Endless Quest books and "hook 'em when their young" books, too. WotC is starting to look like they're confident in their product, at last. Well....except for Eberron, which got a PDF release as a living document on So technically back? Yes. The way we wanted it? Not really.

6. Movie Apocalypse in 2018

What is this doing on my RPG predictions? Hmmmm I must have just had nowhere else to stick it? Well...

Result: FALSE

Did not happen in the manner described by sundry youtube vlogers and amateur film critics insisting that the industry was going to murder itself with a flood of weekly blockbusters. This year had a lot of good movies (and more than a few stinkers, too) but it didn't implode any studios or distributors, near as I can tell. And stranger even, Sony released two Marvel Spider-Man tie-ins in a row worth watching! Now predicting that would have been impressive prescience!

7. Loot Crate Apocalypse

At the start of the year loot crates were a popular topic thanks to EA's ability to egregiously overreach and stay off message with their audience, and Star Wars: Battlefront II was too high profile not go unnoticed.

Result: TRUE

I suspected from the negative feedback in 2017 with games using loot boxes as their in-game monetization scheme that this would have repercussions, and it definitely has. EA got the hairy eyeball in some countries, the practice is under legal scrutiny, and while the concept of the loot box lingers on, video game publishers seem to be trying to keep it lower key and focused on purely cosmetic options. Some (such as Epic Games) don't even bother with them (Fortnite's Battle Royale mode, for example). I suspect that good publishers will realize that being up front with what you're offering will work if your product is worth it and your fans are loyal. Meanwhile the crappy publishers will try to hide substandard purchases behind their loot crates (fyi Epic Games get rid of the damned loot lamas in Fortnite's co-op mode, the seventeen people playing co-op fortress defense could use a break!)

8. Still no Fantasy AGE Companion in 2018

If you love Green Ronin it is easy to be forgiving of their schedule. But when in doubt, just look at what Palladium fans go through!

Result: FALSE

I wanted this one to be false, and it ended up coming out like three months later. Joy!!!

9. Runequest will release

Result: TRUE

This was an easy was late, but they were clearly pushing on a release. The book did get in to print before Greg Stafford's passing.

10. Genesys Core Will Expand a Lot

When this released late last year it was a fascinating game and I got a chance to run a campaign in 2018, extracting from the Terrinoth sourcebook. Since then....well, I guess it's subject to interpretation.


There's an Android universe book on the way. FFG only released some card sets following Terrinoth, but a lot of talk on various forums revolves around this game (and usually, inevitably around whether people love or hate the dice). I have come to the conclusion that the game won't catch on due largely to the dice, but it will likely serve to gateway Star Wars gamers in to broader role playing. People either get the dice and find it natural or they don't. This is a sticking point for a lot. Hell, I've already decided I won't even bother with the new L5R since I hear FFG has symboled up it's dice. I will likely try playing Genesys Core more in the future, but admit that my discovery of Cypher System really makes that future uncertain now.

11. Starfinder will make or break in 2018

What kind of prediction is this? What the hell was I thinking?

Result: TRUE (I guess)

2018 showed that Starfinder is a game a lot of people like, enough so that it's gotten fair amount of new material and support from Paizo. Yay!

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Gamma World: Legions of Gold and Famine in Fargo

Gamma World 1st Edition is now nearly complete in Print On Demand:

Legions of Gold is up:

And Famine in Fargo too:

At this point, if they can get the GM Screen and Albuquerque Starport scanned up or even set for print, then pretty much anyone can have a modern, complete edition of classic 1st edition Gamma World in their library. This is cool for me, as Gamma World 1E was actually my first RPG, and the first game I both played and ran as a GM.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Designing RPGs for Kids - Some Thoughts and Ideas

There are a few RPGs out there specifically designed to be kid friendly, although what they interpret those words to mean can vary a lot from one product to the next. With my limited sampling of one, I have noticed that --for my household, at least-- there are some minimum expectations I (and my son, and wife) have for what a good kid-friendly RPG should look and behave like.

First, and this is the sad part: it should look good. Like, really good. It doesn't need to be wild and crazy full color art (though if you can manage it, please do) but it needs to be evocative and interesting. It should help spark the imagination of the kids, who in many cases have arrived at tabletop gaming after plowing through video games, tablets and other venues.

Right now, two of the games my son is most interested in are Pathfinder and Starfinder. The reasons should be obvious: Paizo knows how to make a good looking game, one with iconic depictions of the kinds of characters you can meet or play and the kinds of monsters you can fight. Everything in the game, to a greater or less extent, has an illustration accompanying it that just begs for the PC, NPC or monster (or starship) to jump off the page and join the story.

There are some kid-focused games that do the art well. Monte Cook's No Thank You, Evil! is a good game written specifically for kids that is full of great, evocative illustrations and lots of parts and pieces. It's main issues is one of thematic content and it's actual intended audience, about which I will discuss in a moment, but the game fits the bill here. It is also written at a sort of "parent level" for most of the text. Older kids will get it, but for younger kids there's no supplemental booklet I am aware of that you could hand them right now to help learn the game without parental guidance.

Unfortunately, and this is the second point: Paizo writes games for older teens, college kids and full on grumpy old adults. Their books are not written to be introductory, and in fairness not even the Beginner Box for Pathfinder is a good introductory book for kids, although it makes admirable steps in that direction. That said, some games are written well enough for a nine or ten year old to pick it up: Tiny Dungeons has a version intended for this purpose (though the core rules are accessible to a kid of 9 or 10 just fine). Tiny Dungeons has some cartoony, somehwhat evocative artwork to go with it, but pales in comparison to its big budget adult competition (however I'll note that Tiny Frontiers: Mecha vs. Kaiju solves this problem with some awesome art, fyi).

Now, when I think of "kid gamer friendly" I am thinking of rulesets that are written for kids, and intended to teach the kids without requiring any more than minimum adult intervention. In my day, at age 10, I was able to figure out Gamma World 1st edition on my own, but only after spending months trying to parse out the Otus cover D&D Basic book, while begging my dad to decipher it for me. In the end, for some reason Gamma World spoke to me in a way D&D Basic was missing, and my first RPG game ever was a Gamma World scenario as a result.

Neither of those books were terribly kid friendly on a certain level; but kid friendly doesn't mean "dumbed down" so much as "accessible to read and figure out." In fact, if my own life experience is any measure, a certain amount of esotericism (the Gygax effect, if you will) in the text is useful to engage the young reader; it's why Harry Potter books are so damned successful, for example. They challenge the kid, and also offer him new and strange concepts that he can feel good about figuring out.

I'm not sure many games out there do this well right now. If there are any, I haven't quite found them, although I will label Tiny Dungeons and its lot in the short stack of games that I think are on the right track. Lone Wolf could fit this bill as well. D&D 5E, believe it or not, is definitely more accessible in this regard as well.

Oddly, I don't think OSR does this well. Most OSR games, while simple in design (and providing exactly the right level of complexity for what my son could learn) are written by old men (also called "dads" or "granddads") writing for other old men. Very few are written with a kid in mind.*

Likewise, a game like No Thank You, Evil! is not so accessible. It's actually targeting adults who want to game with their kids in a carefully sculpted environment, while overlooking what the kid really wants or needs.** It takes great pains to focus on a game experience that an adult (dare I say, helicopter parent) might want to curate for their kids rather than, perhaps, the kind of game the kid really wants.

I guess what I am trying to say is this: if you as a parent want to play a game with your child in which they solve problems with their magic hot-wheel trike while making friends of enemies and exploring a Candycane universe, then No Thank You, Evil! has that sort of sanitized child fiction setting down pat. It alludes in the rules to the idea you could do more....but refrains from actually suggesting anything.

But, if you as a gamer parent want to let your kid kill a giant goat and skin it, then save their friend from murderous bugbears by hosing them with fire, then D&D is kind of your best bet.

Put another way: I want my child to have experiences which challenge him with interesting but realistic decisions, and allow for the game to grow in complexity and meaning as he grows. D&D can do that. No Thank You, Evil! can't (well, it can --a bit-- but not in the sense I mean). At least, not in the broader sense that I want it to. Would my kid have fun playing NTYE!? Yes, he has and would. But he's going to want to have Punk Rock Demon blow up candyland if it doesn't play nice, and if we're going that direction, why not play the game where you can actually do that?***

I think Tiny Dungeons could do this, too....but ironically I suspect the rules would eventually fall behind the desired complexity over time. I mean....I've seen the games my son's generation loves. Minecraft only looks simple. It is, in fact, a remarkably weird and complex game of crafting, and my son is already pushing D&D to see what he can craft (e.g. goat meat).

Okay....enough rambling.

My notion here is that there is a market for a game which accomplishes the following, all in one package:

1. Provides a graphically engaging and evocative portrayal of its shared universe in the art

2.  Is written or structured to provide a progression over time in learning the rules and method of play (think Basic vs. Expert)

3. Is written with a kid in mind, rather than an adult, and assumes the kid is smart and can figure things out, or really wants to

....there may be games out there I don't know about that do this. I would welcome suggestions! But that said, I think my son will greatly enjoy D&D going forward, and I may adapt Starfinder content to the D&D rules, or perhaps reskin content for White Star, so he can enjoy the graphic universe depicted in the one game with a ruleset that will be explainable to him by dad (who frankly has enough trouble remembering all of Starfinder's rules without one of my rules lawyers at the table to assist!)

*Here's an example of what I mean: Swords & Wizardry Complete has some good source books with evocative art (3rd edition reprint is nice, although I prefer the 2nd edition look ultimately as an old grognard of sorts). Monstrosities and Tome of Horrors Complete both provide an illustration for every monster by decent artists, for example. However, try reading the S&W Complete book. A version aimed at kids would not need all that exposition on what the Founding Father Gary and Dave intended with initiative, to give one example, or the exposition behind intent of class limits or multiclassing. That's valuable space that you could place working examples of play or add additional useful content to game with. A good take on this is a ruleset that is instructive and provides plenty of exciting examples, but does not cut content; I'd argue that Beyond the Wall is a game that moves in this direction, though it is still written for adults and not kids....ironic, given it provides some of the best tools yet for aiding a new or young gamer in playing. Moving away from the "historical reference" that some OSR games provide, as well as the "OGL reskinned for OSR" format of others would help a great deal in accomplishing this sort of goal. 

**Your mileage may vary, a lot. I could see NTYE! working well for some kids. Others? Not so much.

***I'm showing a little bias here. I just feel like NTYE! is the sort of game written for parents who are aggressively trying to control the sort of content their kid experiences. Any parent should do that, but there's a difference between "You're too young for this stuff," and "I am shielding you from basic life experiences and complex decision making scenarios." I feel like maybe NTYE! contributes more to the latter than the former, by design, since it is aimed at the sorts of parents who maybe worry that Little Johnny shouldn't be fireballing bugbears. The same sort of parents who won't allow their kid to play Fortnite or Call of Duty, maybe, but Candy Crush --a downright evil game by addiction design--is somehow okay. But I could be wrong. 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Starting D&D at Seven (Family D&D Night Actual Play)

Age seven, that is!* Last night I ran a game of D&D 5E for my son (and my wife, who joined a bit late) for a game designed with several overt and covert intents. It was not my son's first game night by any stretch, but it was the first one specifically designed with him in mind.

The overt intent of the game night was:

--Have a fun family game night with RPGs that allowed my son time to process a story designed for his age (he shows up to my Saturday game night with mom, but it's a schizophrenic experience for me as GM to bounce between "adult group narrative" and a refurbishing of the tale for my son to enjoy.)

--Help him learn D&D. I settled on D&D 5E for a lot of reasons I'll discuss in a future post. But short version: he has a tiefling wizard he'd played before and wanted to play again, and he wanted to learn how to make a character this time, rather than have dad do it for him.

--Give old dad a chance to enjoy a really simple, fun D&D arc with a young player who is not jaded and does not metagame. Enjoy the game from the angle of an actual, completely new gamer to whom every single thing is new and interesting, and the sky is the limit; you old veteran GMs know what I mean: new gamers always, inevitably bring a fresh take to the table as they have no preconceptions at all; and young gamers are boundlessly enthusiastic and eager to boot.

But there was a covert intent, too! This included:

--continue to teach my son math. He's now doing addition and subtraction ahead of his 1st grade class, thanks to D&D.

--encourage my son to read. I made him a character sheet that was very "reader friendly" for his age, but as it turned out he really wanted to roll his own new character, and this proved just as effective at getting him to read. This has been an ongoing issue with his school; his teacher explains it like this: he is quite adept at reading, but he's not so great at retention. But his teacher is actively encouraging him to report on his D&D adventures since he seems to have excellent retention in the games. Our trick is "How to merge the power to pay attention to D&D with the power to pay attention to what you are reading." Maybe WotC could oblige with some junior reader books aimed at age 7-10 or something.

Overall, last night was a success for all overt and covert goals. My son played two characters:

Punk Rock Demon, the tiefling wizard necromancer bounty hunter
and his newly rolled character:
Test Subject 930 ("nine hundred and thirty"), the dragonborn wizard evoker

I asked my son about the origin story for Test Subject 930, and he explained that he was a normal guy who was kidnapped by a secret lab, where they fed him a magic potion that turned him into a half-dragon. Nice!

I ran the game in the Vosjin Wood (from Pergerron; scroll down for multiple links), but left the details basic: "You're traveling to the city of Samaskar, where you hear there are lots of mages, including a school for mages where you could learn new spells, when you camp overnight on an old hill. In the morning you wake up, and the road is gone....forest is everywhere, and in the distance lurks a single, huge mountain that was never there before. You see a tower two miles away, what do you do?"

And so began the adventure! He went to the tower, at least partially because I had already put down a beautiful wilderness map with a tower on it (a Paizo map) and he was eager to explore it. Along the way he discovered an abandoned mansion, possibly once inhabited by the tymardiae, so he went to the largest house to explore (new map).

As our trusty hero Punk Rock Demon and his henchman Test Subject 930 approached the mansion, they spotted a goat emerging from a large hole in the crumbling wall. Seconds later, as they hid to approach, a gigantic goat, larger than an ogre, emerged from the same hole and spotted Test Subject 930 (hereafter TS930) in his hiding spot! TS930 promptly fired a scorching ray at the goat, one of which hit a regular goat and sent it fleeing (minimum damage), while another singed the building side and a third angered the super goat. The goat charged, and after a brief battle it was goat meat.

TS930 spent time harvesting goat meat, getting 8 days of salted meat rations to carry with him. Punk Rock Demon entered the collapsing mansion where he luckily was not spotted by a lurking lizardman with more goats. After a tense exchange he approached and convinced the lizard man he meant no harm. "Oh, the forest got you, too. Where were you going?" the lizardman asked....and much to dad's pride, my son announced, "I was going to the city of Samaskar to learn more magic!"

...I have gamed with a lot of adults who can't/won't remember the weird names I come up with for fantasy cities. But my son remembered it after being told once in an intro narrative.

Anyway, the lizardman insisted they owed him 20 GP for killing his prize giant goat, so they paid him and he went on his way. The hero and his henchman then finished harvesting the goat, and then looted the mansion, finding a box in a hidden compartment behind an old stone throne.

Around this time my wife arrived from her finals and joined in with Sartorius the drow warrior, who had snuck up on the two after also being trapped in the Vosjin Wood. He had sisters from his drow clade who wanted him brought back, and two bugbear bounty hunters were on his tail.

After a brief introduction between drow, tiefling and dragonborn they were accosted by the two bugbear bounty hunters who tried to net the drow and tiefling, but botched it. A fight ensued, and Punk Rock Demon put one to sleep before getting clocked with a mace. As Sartorius pumped them full of bolts TS930 then fried them with burning hands. As the last one fled, Punk Rock Demon rolled a 20 on his recovery/stabilization roll.....fortuitous! My wife bought brand new dice and her D20 rolled a natural 20 four out of six times in its first use.....hmmmmm......

They finished looting the hidden treasure cache and the now dead bugbear bodies, and prepared to move on to the tower. The lizardman had warned them that an old hermit named Aruman had been lurking near the tower, and that he might be able to help them escape the Vosjin Wood.....

More to come!!!

*Not the first time I've introduced someone to gaming at a young age. Technically my sister was 8 when I introduced her to D&D (I was 10). Her first character was named Wormi. Wormi is an important NPC these days in the Ages of Lingusia setting. So who knows! Maybe one day Test Subject 930 and Punk Rock Demon will be prominent forces in Pergerron. 

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Cypher System Supervillain: The Demon

The Demon (alias Devon Sloane)
Superhuman (Bioenhanced/Tech Origin) – Level 6 (18)
Motive: Get rich, work the arms market, get revenge for the death of his uncle, the original Demon
Environment: Wherever there is wealth for the taking
Health: 60
Damage Inflicted: 6 points, by cypher, or gauntlet claws 12 points
Armor: 3 (armored costume)
Movement: short; flying long (with Demon Wing)
Modifications: 3 Shifts Strength-Might based defense and tasks at Level 9; 2 Shifts Attack (gauntlet claws) at +6 damage
Powers: Super strength, enhanced speed, gear (suit, demon wing and grenade shooting gauntlets).

The Demon has enhanced strength from the Metahuman Soldier formula after undergoing the treatment in the Army's Super Soldier program. Devon was discharged from the military after his body rejected much of the supersoldier treatment, leaving him with debilitating deformities that some likened to a “demonic mask.” It was with some irony following his discharge that Devon realized he was following in his uncle Jack Sloane’s footsteps….literally….he took to visiting his uncle in prison. Jack Sloane was himself still in peak physical condition thanks to his stolen supersoldier formula which he had used on himself decades ago, but he was crippled from the takedown in 2006 when the League finally apprehended him and would never walk again. During these visits, before Sloane mysteriously died, he left key information to his nephew about the location of his hidden base.

Devon took his uncle’s secret information and found the Demon’s old base. He uncovered the original gear of his relative, and after finding the last copies of the Demon Serum he decided to ditch the treatments provided by the military and injected his uncle’s formula into himself. The formula didn’t fix his gruesome, demonic appearance but it dramatically enhanced his strength and speed, at the cost of his remaining sanity. Now enhanced and geared up, he works in illegal metahuman drugs and arms trades.

The Demon makes a good low to mid level thug for a superhero game. He's not the end boss....he's the guy the end boss hires to do the dirty work. For most mission the Demon relies on his gang of personal thugs, who often wear demonic halloween masks and brandish assault rifles. A typical demon thug is a Level 4 or 5 ex-soldier or ex-con, usually hooked up on one of the synthetic chemical mixes that The Demon brews specifically to force loyalty and remove any sense of self-preservation instinct.

The Demon Suit (Level 1D6+2): this armored (3 points) suit is flexible and considered medium armor by weight. It's got a short cape, a demonic mask, and includes a respirator to resist toxins as well as breathe underwater. (Artifact, Depletes on 1 in 100)

The Demon Wing (Level 1D6+2): this monstrous jet-fueled air glider is a rocket waiting to explode. The original design was a black ops device designed for one-man insertions into hostile territory, but the small one-man glider wing is now a backpack-equipped set of vile looking metallic demon wings which allow for some mobility in flight. The wearer can move in a straight line a long distance and can make one positional change for the next round after that move. If a PC gets a lucky shot on the wearer of the Demon Wing then on a 19 as a special effect the wing can lose control; on a 20 the engine explodes, dealing it's level in damage. (Artifact, Depletes on 1 in 20)

Demon Grenades (Level variable): these are cyphers that the demon likes to use. They are usually Gas Bombs, Detonation (Pressure, Massive or Flash) and Poison (Explosive). He usually has a bandolier with at least 2 of each. (cypher, one use)

Monday, December 3, 2018

Robotech is going Savage. Savage Worlds, that is....

This got my attention!

Robotech powered by Savage Worlds seems like a no-brainer. If you've played around with the battlesuit and mecha rules in the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion then you know this is perfectly doable. If you love Robotech and all its anachronisms then you know its a perfect fit for Savage Worlds. I am totally on board with this!

In case you had not heard, Harmony Gold and Palladium had a falling out last year (which led to a major Kickstarter implosion). The game rights to Robotech properties now currently reside with Strange Machine Games. It sounds like they are partnering with Battlefield Games to do this, and I hope they have the resources to make it as cool as so many of the other Savage Worlds books out there look.

On the plus side, if you haven't dived into the deep end of alt-history crazy that is Robotech but you love Savage Worlds, this will be a good time to do so. 2019 just got a lot more interesting.