Friday, December 29, 2023

Deathbat's 2023 Best and Worst in Tabletop Gaming (and VTT)

 I got to try a variety of different new RPGs this year which was nice....I didn't stick to my usual barrel of tried-and-true regular games entirely, and as a result some interesting gems such as Mork Borg and Vaesen rose to the surface. I did a lot of collecting and reading this year, but much of it was focused on indie zine RPGs (see that series I have temporarily been ignoring!) and I managed to get aquainted with an entire subset of the hobby that I consider to be a movement toward hyper-focused, art zine style minimalist RPGs with a goal toward simple but effective rules and exotic, creative settings. This style of RPG is essentially a reproach to the modern obsession with giant books, huge campaigns, lavish color paintings for art and big price tags. I also got heavily in to collecting and reading the many offerings of Swedish gaming giant Free League Publishing, which relies on its own special brand of game system (the Year Zero Engine) to build various RPGs. 

What I didn't do this year was make a clean break from D&D though I did do so, fairly decisively, with Pathfinder 2E around --I want to say March?-- of this year. An inter-player conflict and a generally negative response toward the way Pathfinder 2E plays (using Roll20) from about half the players left me with a really bad taste in my mouth for the whole experience, which was made worse by the fact that I as a GM was really enjoying the system from the GM perspective. I subsequently got to be a player in another game, and while I did enjoy it, I found the excess tedium , of the mechanical gravitas of PF2E less to my liking as a player. Now that the new books are out, I am considering a re-entry, but I am also a bit gunshy.....and I know that choosing Pathfinder again may mean some players simply won't show. 

Anyway, here's my take on the Best and Worst for 2023!

RPG of the Year for 2023: Basic Roleplaying System

The new edition of BRP (5th edition) brings lots of minor tweaks and clarifications and a tighter focus, while still containing all the content of prior editions and the framework for any number of BRP powered genre adventures. It does not incorporate the Call of Cthulhu 7E changes as such, so that's about the only issue one might have with it (if you love the 7E changes, that is), though it does remain compatible and you could easily mesh the two iteratons together with minimal or no effort (as I have already done). So this is my Book of the Year overall!

Best RPG Discovery of 2023: Mork Borg

Sure its been out for a while, but Mork Borg was new to me! Sort of....I think I got the RPG a year or two ago, but found it perplexing as to full intent and set it aside. Following the OGL kerfuffle in January I decided to start exploring other RPGs (and simpler ones following the March meltdown as I call it), and Mork Borg rapidly grew to the #1 place on my list as I was able to finally grokk its deceptive emergent complexity out of a simple mechanical premise, and its elaborate yet deliberately obscure setting. Mork Borg may or may not be an ideal system for long term gaming, but it is most definitely a game you can pick up and play at any time and have fun with (as long as you enjoy brutal, grimdark Swede-punk eschatonic nightmare worlds, that is!)

Worst RPG Trend of 2023: Eternally Delayed Books 

There's a BattleZoo Book that was supposed to release months ago (EDIT: literally hours after writing this I got a notice the book "Strange & Unusual" is shipping today, so I guess this one is off the list). There's An Esper Genesis book that's like three years or more past due now. I'm still waiting for the Mothership 1E boxed set and it may not be out until March or later. For my own purposes, I've cut back on backing Kickstarters. By the time the books arrive I am often completely disinterested in the game at that point, having played and finished with it, and the new product is not enough to engender new interest. For various reason 2023 has felt like a tipping point for me: I am done with wondering if or when these products will ever manifest, time to stop pre-ordering or backing these uncertainties once and for all.

In a sense this issue has been around for many years and is as old as Kickstarter, but with one exception all of the delayed books I am waiting on are pre-orders or an ordinary sort, so I guess for me at least 2023 is the year this issue hammered in to the old noggin that its a bad idea.

Best RPG Style of 2023: The Zine RPG

I've spent a lot of time blogging about it this year, so it is no surprise that I think the new style of RPG fostered over the last few years has finally become its own cottage industry and now holds it place as a special subset of gaming in contrast to more mainstream RPGs. The focus on creativity, artistic exoticism, minimalist design and a very conscious effort to foster ad hoc play styles are all fairly unique to this new style of RPG, and those elements which are not unique still get realized in new and unique ways.

Worst Flub of 2023: Wizards of the Coast's OGL Kerfuffle

I won't belabor the issue, but WotC's attempt to destroy the OGL and force third party publishers into draconian contracts where they get a cut of the take backfired and caused the core supporters and fandom to lose trust in WotC. While the giant can no doubt continue with a broader casual fanbase, it will be interesting to see how this impacts them next year when the next edition of D&D arrives, ready to push people into WotC's online D&D Beyond playspace, located just west of micrtransaction hell, I am sure. What we're seeing here (I think) is the idea that D&D as an RPG may now be transcendent to RPGs as a hobby...the hobby will continue on and find new corners and darlings, while D&D itself becomes more, just, "D&D the hobby" and very occasionally a D&Der might be tempted into seeing what the whole other "tabletop are-pee-gee" hobby is all about. Honestly? It's kind of already like that, but the really interesting things is going to be whether or not the concept space of D&D Beyond and a focus on online microtransaction-based VTT gaming can sustain in a hobby who's key appeal has traditionally been that you can socialize around a table. Maybe, in the end, this just further bifurcates the hobby.

Best VTT Environment of 2023: PlayRole

I have to say that Role20 has done a lot to improve this year, so its a good VTT to play with, but my accidental discovery of was rather profound, and our experimenting with it has proved to me that it is not only a viable place to run games, but preferential to my style of play. We're about to start a full fledged Mothership game tomorrow using PlayRole, so I expect to have a lot more to say about it as we go forward, but my current experiments with OSE, Mork Borg, Dead Mall and UVG has so far been rather satisfactory. 

I'm out of "Worsts" so is one more "Best" to ponder:

Best Revision of 2023: Pathfinder 2E V2    

Not much to say here, other than the new books (Player Core and GM Core) are considerably better organized and laid out, and I really appreciate that. The color scheme is nicer on the eyes, the focus on a new player experience is better, and the minor changes (Mainly extracting OGL content) are non-invasive for the most part. It is enough to tempt me back to trying Pathinder 2E again even though I've had a string of unfortunate incidents with it leading up to March when I abandoned the system entirely due to disgruntled player issues.   

I'll mention a runner-up: Swords & Wizardry Complete was revised by Mythmere Games (and is also back to publishing it), and the revision is very nice indeed! It's mostly the familiar system, but a bit more exposition and some minor but relevant additions make for an even more complete 0 edition retro experience.

2024 Expectations

So for 2024, what do I foresee? 

I'm focused on trying out more of these cool games I have read and discovered in 2023. I want to try out the Mork Borg spin-offs (CY_Borg, Death in Space, Vast Grimm and Pirate Borg) if opportunity presents itself. I want to use Liminal Horror to run The Bureau module, and Runecairn (or regular Cairn!) look fascinating.

I am 100% on board for 2024 with a not-too-distant BRP powered supers game, and I want to play a straight up Open Quest 3 game, especially now that Open Quest Dungeons is out. I am ready for ducks and mallards alike, because I still want to run Dragonbane and am disappointed the chance never presented itself in 2023. I would like to try the Alien RPG and Blade Runner RPG as well, but we'll see; I have never been as good at running IP-property-based games as I have more original fare. Most importantly though I plan to run a ton of Mothership and Traveller 2E, and I predict 2024 will be a big year for me when it comes to science fiction RPGs. We'll see!

I also want to chill out on collecting next year. I did a pretty good job this year, overall, but probably not by volume (I still bought as many books as ever, just many are smaller zine RPG books). I still need to reduce my overall collection, or my descendants will be cursing me in the future with the mess I leave behind. 

I may not get another chance to post before 2024, so see you all in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Deathbat's 2023 Duds in Computer Gaming

 You know what...I don't have too much to complain about in 2023 when it comes to bad games. Somehow, despite the fact that it often feels like the current approach to game development is strongly at odds with my own desire for more conventional story-based adventure tales with a semi-linear play experience, I still found plenty of games this year (and from prior years) in the general style of what I like to feel content. But I still do have a few worthy duds of mention! So let's get to it...

The Games as a Service Nightmare Award: Tied between Destiny 2 and Fortnite

As someone who has played way too much of both of these games I am approaching Steam-Reviewer levels of territory by leveling criticism; you know the kind, the "I hate this game, and here is my manifesto why," type of review accompanied by a listing indicating 6,000 hours of game time. I am not that bad, I think, but I've sunk enough time into both to have noticed unfortunate trends here between my two darlings in the GaaS genre....

Destiny 2's main problem is that they have built and sold their game around its environment, storyline and thematics. They can't sustain a GaaS setup and not compromise on story, so over the last few years they have done lots of stuff that is anti-consumer, including "vaulting" previous campaign content (leaving no way to play prior campaigns), gating single player content behind primary multiplayer-focused season passes, making it impossible to progress through the story without excessive and inane grinding, and while I am not a multiplayer fan I have read plenty about how they are not happy campers, as the Destiny 2 team seems to ignore multiplayer a lot in favor of grindy stuff and more readily monetizable bits.

On top of all that, Destiny 2 has flubbed their annual releases, and seem to have derailed from the core conceits of their own plot with the new Lightfall expansion this year. Then they got hit with layoffs from Sony and had to push out their next expansion to mid 2024, creating an uncertain gap in their seasonal schedule which is already too rapid and troublesome for normal human gamers with jobs and lives and families to keep up with. Yeah....Destiny 2 has problems.

On the plus side, I've hardly played any of Destiny 2 at all this year. I logged in to get some story missions done, and those in turn stall when they suddenly require group excursions or grinding (I have had patience for neither), so I really haven't been that in to the game this year. I got the expansion after I found it on a steep discount, but maybe I can resist entirely in 2024.

Fortnite, meanwhile, is on the surface going quite strong, but I can safely say its getting old around the edges, and their brief return to a classic era 1st season map this year shined a harsh light on how wacky and complex the new game worlds have gotten. Even so, I have found the game less fun as the resurgent interest dragged back many of the crazy build-focused madmen who once dominated the game and made it unfun for all us filthy casuals. Aware of their need to innovate or at least offer a bigger buffet of online content, Epic has added Lego modes, a racing mode and a rhythm game mode to the game, along with Unreal 5 Engine demo content. All of this is fun, and I suspect the Lego mode will have lasting appeal to some younger fans, but for me.....I grow less and less enthusiastic for the game as it begins to feel less like fun and more like an old, bad habit I need to shake off.

Maybe for 2024 I'll make a new year's resolution: no more GaaS experiences, and delete Fortnite and Destiny 2 from my PC, Playstation and Xbox. Y'know, that sounds like a nice goal here. I can finally stick them in the same box of memories as World of Warcraft and Guild Wars from back in the day.

The Boomer Shooter Hellscape Award for Worst Zooter: Zortch

Here's a protip! If you want to experience the boomer shooter craze all over again, but you are like me in your 50's and no longer have those reflexes of youth with you (or, like me, were never good at them back then anyway), go watch the Youtube channel Civvie 11 and he will provide you with an entertaining way to enjoy these classic and modern retro shooters without wasting your own precious time and energy on them. Just don't get excited by them like Civvie 11 sometimes does and buy one outright, unless you check out a few other sources first! I did that with Zortch and holy crap was I in for a disappointment. YMMV and all, and I didn't play long, just long enough to realize I was gonna hate the entire experience of this game. Now, in contrast I did discover Turbo Overkill thanks to Civvie 11 so not all is lost here! But Zortch? Man, I just don't know what to his playthrough and make your own decision, but if a demo is available, maybe try that first. Civvie makes the game look way too good for what it actually is.

OopsieSoft Award: Far Cry 6

There are so many Youtubers and reviewers out there analyzing why Far Cry 6 is a terrible game that I hesitate to spend any time myself doing this. Instead, I'll relay my brief experience with the game: It involved a villainous actor murdering a boat of people to make some point to his son, setting an incredibly dark tone. It involved a team of revolutionaries who use stark blue as their secret hideout marker, and it then sent me off to talk to a old drunk with a pet alligator that appeared to be both immune to bullets and much, much better at murder than my dudette was. It was a nightmare of tonal inconsistency and was also largely the same now tired, mundane formula that used to be what made Far Cry cool, except now it is all wrung out and dead. So dead I won't even contemplate trying Avatar because I already have played that game, I am sure of it.

Why Did I do this to Myself Award: Modern Warfare 3

Okay I did get it for 33% off. And I do love the open world Warzone style Zombies mode, which is the first mode in a Call of Duty game I've really enjoyed. Also, the multiplayer modes are tight and have the best "handling" of any Call of Duty game to date. But the campaign....not really the strong point here. Will I even be playing this in a month? Probably not. My son hasn't even touched it. 

The Game I Want to Critique But Can't: Lethal Company

This goofy game is fun if you are young and haven't had to work a real job. It's otherwise at best good for a couple sessions of fun with friends who are drunk, I suppose. But I can't say anything too bad about it because my son loves it and even bought me a copy for Xmas, so I guess I'll be playing this one a bit. Will call it "Baby's first GTFO." Yeah. That's the ticket.

That's it! I had a few games I tried and gave up on, but hard to critique them when I probably played less than an hour before getting a Steam refund. So overall not a bad year when it comes to the gripes.

Sunday, December 24, 2023

Deathbat's 2023 Year in Video Games

It's always a good year when I manage to finish some decent games, and even better if some of them were even new for this year! Without adieu, here is less of a "Death Bat's awards for 2023" list and more of a "These are the games I found most encapsulating of my time" list.

I'm going to be straight up, though: I haven't touched Baldur's Gate 3 yet. There are several reasons for this, not the least of which is I am afraid I'll pick it up and discover it is not as exciting to me as the many, many reviewers and friends around me who have played the game suggest it might be; I'm also a bit gunshy of Larian Studios based on their prior titles, which I found interesting but not enough to dive deep in to; I've always preferred my fantasy gaming at the tabletop, and it takes a lot for me to motivate to play a CRPG. 

On the plus side, this means not playing BG3 has allowed me to enjoy Starfield (somewhat) without judging it against its better competitor. Instead I have been able to enjoy Starfield on its merits and flaws as a Bethesda game. 

Anyway, the list!

I spent an inordinate amount of time in Outriders, a game from 2020 which took me a while to motivate myself to play. There is a point in Outriders where the story suddenly gets more interesting, and it is a shame that getting to that point was hidden behind some fairly rigid cover-based shooting experience right out of the Xbox 360 era. When the game finally opened up a bit and revealed some more depth to the plotline I got more in to it; the Outriders universe is about humanity's war-torn survivors coming to a grim world that does not want them there, and then they descend into thirty years of war, creating one of the grimmest crapsack worlds in gaming history. This is an example of a game world I do not want to visit, and it takes some effort to truly enjoy it as a gamer, too. But I did....and I ended up really enjoying it as a result.

The game's plot is fairly linear, but I was really in the mood for linearity earlier in the year and I stuck with this one for weeks as I uncovered the grim and incredibly unpleasant universe of this game. I can't say I'd suggest it for the multiplayer (which I am sure is dead) but as a single player linear campaign goes this one ends up paying off fairly well. The expansion campaign was also worthy of a playthrough, and despite some reviewers online I found it sufficiently robust and interesting. The endgame content is decent enough too.

Runner up goes to Resident Evil 2 and Resident Evil 3 Remakes, both of which I finished this year. Great remakes! I have not, as is tradition, touched Resident Evil 4 Remake yet, though my son finished it the same day it released. Gotta save that for a future year!

Starfield is not actually bad, it's just an old design approach on an old engine that was renovated mainly for shiny graphics and totally overlooked the possibility of some B studio competition coming along and eating their lunch. Starfield has been fun so far, and I am likely to be playing it in spurts for the next several weeks or even months (I can't binge play games anymore, just not able to do it), and its totally fine. When I am done I will finally get Baldur's Gate 3 so I can marvel at how much better that game is, but thankfully I can enjoy this one now without comparison.

If you're wondering, though, I have found this game runs well enough on the Asus ROG Ally, and its been a fine experience on my desktop. The complaints about the menus, while slightly exaggerated for effect, are not wrong; it can be hard to find things sometimes. There are weird mechanics in odd places. Why is my guy running out of oxygen in New Atlantis? It's weird. Why are some planets not worth visiting? Why put empty filler in that has no redeeming value to it? Bad design choices. But....nestled within is a classic Bethesda experience, for better and worse.

Runner up goes to Solasta: Crown of the Magister, which I finally started playing, as I figured it would also be another game I'd find less enjoyment in if I don't play it before Baldur's Gate 3. I love how faithful Solasta is to the D&D 5E system, and its a solid turn-based experience. 

Also, honorable mention to Final Fantasy XVI for trying really hard to be interesting. Now why can't I properly get into FF games anymore? I have only completed FF VII and VIII back in the old PS1 days. 

Not quite a retro boomer shooter and not quite a modern glamour shooter, Turbo Overkill presents you with a cyborg character who has a chainsaw leg and sliding maneuver to rip enemies apart as well as one of the finest and most overall useful arsenals of weaponry you could ask for in a fast paced FPS like this. By the end of the game you can end up all chainsaws as you chew your way through a plot worthy of the nineties, and all I can say is that I have enjoyed this game a lot more than other recent AAA shooters.

Runner up goes to Trepang2 which is am amazing and wild ride, and some people feel it is comparable to the original FEAR Games, which I can see (at least the feel, not the supernatural stuff). Trepang2 is a real pleasure to play. I would have ranked it as the top shooter of 2023 for sure if I hadn't also discovered Turbo Overkill.

Obviously Dead Space! The Dead Space reboot is the right kind of remake, and the prospect of new and more Dead Space in the future is a good thing. I also quite enjoyed Callisto Protocol, but playing that and then Dead Space sort of hit home how there's a special kind of magic going on with the original that is hard to beat. Still, both are worthy of a playthrough or two.

Runner up is Alan Wake Remastered and Alan Wake 2. A real trip, but make sure you play Alan Wake Remastered first if you haven't. I actually hadn't played Alan Wake before, so needed to tackle that game first. Also, if you have never played Control before that's in the same Remedy Universe, and its really interesting to play these games in their related context. Avoid only if you dislike precocious authors whose written works seem to recalibrate reality!

I sank more time in to Earth's Shadow than many other titles with bigger teams and greater budgets. Earth's Shadow is an exploratory procedural roguelite that plays like a budget edition of Returnal. Just like Returnal I can't get past the first boss (what I assume is the first boss, anyway....dude in the temple), but I have to say I have really enjoyed my hours with this game. Check it out on Steam if the concept of a Returnal-like roguelike sounds fun to you.

Runner up is Dungeons of Sundaria, a crazy entry into the "small team with big concepts" roguelikes with procedural design. Make a heroic dungeon delver, join a team or go solo into eight different dungeons. I just got this and while I was initially thinking, "No way this has staying power for me," before I knew it I was compulsively leveling my elven fighter and seeing how deep into the haunted graveyard I could go. The strikes against it are that the gameplay is interesting enough that I wish it was a real game with a storyline and not a roguelite. It reminds me of Hunted: The Demon's Forge and Kingdoms of Amalur, except without much of a plot beyond "go in dungeon, murder the stuff you meet." The skeleton of a better game lurks within Dungeons of Sundaria, but as a mindless dungeon hack'n'slash it's pretty good.

Some new games did not get played yet so I just can't speak on titles such as Atlas Fallen, Lords of the Fallen, Diablo IV and of course Baldur's Gate 3. Any one of these games could have soaked up way too much time for me, so I have held off on them for that reason. I'm also saving conversation on "games as a service" entries for next time, when we talk about the year's duds.

Okay, that's enough for this year's interesting titles. Next up, maybe we'll chat about the duds! I have a few I think are worth mentioning...

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The 2023 Death Bat Year in Gaming and Looking to 2024

 What a weird year it has been for me. I spent a lot of this year overworked and with less free time for fun than I would like, but on the plus side I got a bit better at managing what free time I did have. My son, who is now 12, monopolizes a fair amount of that, but he's also very into D&D now and plays in a school group as well as my Wednesday night group....which doesn't play D&D as often anymore, but hey, we're starting a new campaign this week, so there ya' go.

This year kicked off with Wizards of the Coast annihilating trust in their shepherding of Dungeons & Dragons through the OGL, resulting in numerous spin-off games appearing under a creative commons or new license (ORC) through Paizo, including the revamped Pathfinder 2E v2, and the imminent Tales of the Valiant from Kobold Press. It's a boost for existing products like level Up! A5E RPG, though honestly Morrus and his ENWorld crew are not really the sort to dramatically capitalize on the negative hype aimed at WotC, and they continue to do their own thing. 

I spent a lot of time this year deep diving into the alternative and indie RPG market that I dub "zinerpgs" because most of these seem to have spun out of the zine scene where small publishers and authors (usually one and the same) along with their art-generating college buddies create elaborate, minimalist, starkly artistic and utterly weird entries into the market. I stalled out a bit on that project of reviewing all I had found but need to get back to it. Maybe 2024 will be a slower year for me....sheeya right!

This year I did manage the following:

First and best, I got the Wednesday group back to live nightly gaming again. This has been a welcome relief, as I tend to associate facetime on web events with work; it is not fun for me. My Saturday game remains on Roll20 out of necessity, but even then I am thinking about making Roll20 a bi-weekly deal and interposing a live event every other week.

As a player I got actual action in this year. I played in a campaign of Pathfinder 2E run by a friend; found that being a player in this edition is more frustrating and unfun (imo) than being a GM. Another friend in Seattle has managed to run a lot of Victorian Gaslight Call of Cthulhu for much of this year until unfortunate circumstances led to that group collapsing (temporarily; three of us wish to resume it in January). He has also run a fun bi=weekly D&D 5E game I have played in for the better part of the year using the Kobold Press Southlands campaign.

I have run live games this year of BRP in a near-future hard SF/Cyberpunk setting, Pathfinder for Savage Worlds, D&D 5E at very high levels (levels 15-20), a couple D&D mini-campaigns on Roll20, an aborted Pathfinder game (what I like to call "the one that made me gun-shy over Pathfinder"), Vaesen (a game I'd describe better as Dark Fantasy and less horror), Call of Cthulhu (both modern day and Cthulhu Dark ages, using the 6th Edition of the Dark Ages rules), Mork Borg (which was a blast but I have not been sure what to do with it next; it is most decidedly a beer & pretzels dark metal RPG), and at the start of the year we had a 1st edition Gamma World holiday campaign wrap up. Fun stuff! I may have blogged less this year, but at least I kept the gaming up. There might have been a game or two I forgot about....OSE maybe? I think I ran that all last year, though.

Of those games I ran, I came away a bit cool on Vaesen (fun but hard for me to get in to, which is damning if you're the GM), happy that Mork Borg was so fun (but also realizing it is best used sparingly), excited for the Call of Cthulhu games, but also realizing I need to give it a rest a bit so my idea engine can recharge, and for BRP I am now intrigued at the idea of exploring how many oddball genres I can get out of it. I really enjoyed the Savage Worlds Fantasy and Pathfinder adaptations, but I am not 100% sure my group did as when I suggested returning to it they all seemed "m'eh" so I think the joyful simplicity of Savage Worlds may not be as endearing to them as it is to me. As for, I want to, but I've had some issues and bad experiences with running it now and that is proving tough for me to get over. D&D remains viable and my energy to play it is recharged, thankfully, but I plan to ditch it entirely for Tales of the Valiant unless whatever WotC pumps out for new editions next year knocks my socks off. My suspicion is it will be a product aimed to steer me toward their online platform, and that will be a no deal situation. Meanwhile, Kobold Press is more or less continuously making smart and fun books and their grip on Shard Tabletop is where I'll put my online money. I am confident the Kobolds won't forget their analog wood-grain table crowd.

My biggest issue this year has been wrestling with GM burnout. Playing more helped a bit, but I have never been very good as a player (I know too much how the cheese is made, so it can be tough to feel invested unless the GM is shockingly good at running things). I got pretty tired of D&D for a bit, but I feel more interested now, especially as I did get a chance to explore other games there, and that, if anything, helped hammer home that the grass is not greener on the other side, and what really makes things fun is what I put in to it more than what system I am using. Getting to play D&D 5E for once was a godsend, and my friend Mike runs a mean, tight game in the Southlands, loads of fun.

For 2024, I hope to run a good long fun D&D 5E game in my Pergerron setting. I think the Roll20 Saturday group would like to do part 2 to an older Pathfinder campaign in Oman'Hakat, and I may be up for that. I have strong plans for a Traveller campaign, maybe before we do D&D or Pathfinder on Saturday, especially now that it seems they finally have some real character sheet support. The 2022-2024 revisions of Traveller have been great books, not really necessary but welcome nonetheless, and I may even use them to continue the campaign concepts I started in the BRP campaign earlier this year. 

Beyond that, I have some hopes of experimenting with Dragonbane, which I almost ran but never quite got to this year, as well as Mutant Year Zero. I'm hopeful that Friday Knight Games finally coughs up the gigantic Kickstarted boxed set of Mothership 1E this year so I can resume running that. Steve Jackson Games is making a big monster book for The Fantasy Trip, too, and I am thinking about what sort of logistics it would take to give TFT a spin. And, of course, Mork Borg and its evil cousins Death in Space, Vast Grimm, Pirate Borg and Cy_Borg call for my attention the next time I have a week with nothing better going on. 

I'll try to do more blogging, too! I have found lots of RPG bloggers on Substack, may forge a new blog over there as well to see how it goes, but I am reluctant to abandon this one as I have so many years behind it now. We'll see, who knows.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

WotC Layoffs = Good News for Paizo and Kobold Press?

 The stories circulating about the large scale layoffs at Wizards of the Coast have gotten interesting. I initially thought this was just the usual Xmas layoffs WotC has been more or less known to go through thanks to their corporate Hasbro owners for the last couple decades, but in reading some stuff (here, for example, and here) it seems like these layoffs are larger and more profound...messier, and more destructive, if you will...right when WotC's D&D team needs stability the most. 

The net result, of course, is it could mean problems for all the product lineup for D&D's 50th anniversary, or at the very least a lessening of vision. At a time when we are all hoping for a decent new iteration of the rules and new prospects for gaming, it's a troubling sign when whole swathes of the creative drivers are suddenly let loose, with no clear objective to this action other than achieving some bottom line short term savings in sight. I am also surprised they are trying to ditch their movie deal with Entertainment One, as I was vaguely under the impression that they had done well enough to merit future installments of at least the D&D movie line. Can't say for sure on Transformers and other films, though; toy line movies, baring Barbie, have not done well for years now. 

As far as the gaming side goes, this does mean potential good news for the current two largest competitors (as I see it) for D&D's cultural cachet: Kobold Press with Tales of the Valiant, which intends to do for D&D 5E what Pathfinder 1E did for D&D 3.5; and of course Paizo's Pathfinder 2E (v2) which is poising itself to be the alternative to the popular system, filling a role as the friendly but more sophisticated alternative. Either way it is good to know that WotC's implosion attempt on the OGL at the beginning of the year liberated both Kobold Press and Paizo, as well as countless other smaller publishers, to move away from a potentially revocable license and into a more sustainable role as providers of a decent fantasy RPG experience.

I am considering running more Pathfinder 2E, with the new core books now in hand. The revisions are minor, but the rewrite and reorganization is greatly appreciated. The support Pathfinder offers for a more rigorous and tactical game with consequences is something I crave, though I need to work carefully to generate an experience that isn't too punishing to the players. 

Pathfinder though serves as my interim system until Tales of the Valiant takes root. Their lineup of books is proving to be extremely crafty, a well curated D&D-like experience with a 5E compatible ruleset that will let me use whatever I want. If they integrate TotV into the Shard Tabletop experience --and they surely will!--then it will make the system a shoe-in for future online gaming. Check it out if you haven't yet, its a really fine VTT for 5E style play. 

Either way, we shall see how it all goes. Next year will, for better or worse, be yet another year where the top three fantasy offerings are all essentially D&D variants....but luckily we are getting more fun stuff that tries to break or deviate a bit from the D&D mold, such as Dragonbane, Mork Borg and Runecairn. More on all those when I finally find more time to write!