Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Origins Awards: Nominees Are Up

As you may recall, I really like the Origins Awards some years. Other years, it's an exercise in irrelevancy.

The complete list of nominees can be found here.

I do think these awards are flawed. I've discussed this before. Tom Vasel has an excellent rant about it here.

So here are the categories about which I feel qualified to have an opinion:

Best Roleplaying Game:

Abney Park’s Airship Pirates - Cubicle 7 Entertainment - "Captain" Robert Brown, Peter Cakebread, Andrew Peregrine, Ian Sturrock, Ken Walton
Arcanis - Paradigm Concepts - Eric Wiener, Pedro Barrenechea, and Henry Lopez
Ashen Stars - Pelgrane Press - Robin D. Laws
Leverage: The RPG - Margaret Weis Productions - Cam Banks, Rob Donoghue, and Clark Valentine
The One Ring - Cubicle 7 Entertainment - Amado Angulo, Marco Maggi, Dominic McDowall-Thomas, Francesco Nepitello

Two nods for Cubicle 7 here. This is an excellent list with some truly amazing games. In fact, I don't dislike ANY of these games. But I'm disappointed that one of the games which was on the Shortlist didn't make the final cut. Bulldogs is really good.

And why is Leverage on the list, but not Smallville? Leverage is good. It's really really good. But Smallville is mind-blowing. It really is.

Airship Pirates is fun, but I'm not fond of the Heresy Engine (the system that drives it). But that is, of course, an issue of taste.

Ashen Stars is really good - I've become a huge fan of the Gumshoe system. I own all of the Gumshoe games, and have not regretted a single purchase anywhere on the line.

The One Ring is also very good. Its design pays clear homage to both old-school and indie game design concepts that is faithful to the source material. One of the best games of the last year - no question.

And, even though I prefer Smallville, Leverage DID blow my mind the first time I read it.

Who should win?  Tough one. I'd say either Leverage or The One Ring.
Who will win? My money is on The One Ring.
Best Roleplaying Supplement or Adventure

Bookhounds of London (for Trail of Cthulhu) - Pelgrane Press - Kenneth H. Hite
Dragon Age, Set 2 (for Dragon Age) - Green Ronin Publishing - Steve Kenson, T.S. Luikart, Chris Pramas, and Jeff Tidball
The Great Clans (for Legend of the Five Rings RPG, 4th Edition) - AEG - Shawn Carman, Rob Hobart, Brian Yoon
Monster Vault (for Dungeons & Dragons, 4th Edition) - Wizards of the Coast - Rodney Thompson, Logan Bonner, & Matthew Sernett
Shadows over Scotland (for Call of Cthulhu) - Cubicle 7 Entertainment - Stuart Boon

Again, one of the shortlisted books didn't make it, probably because it's harder for retailers and distributors to get: The Fiasco Companion (for Fiasco).  Honestly, I think it's a better product than anything else on this list. Not that I dislike this list, either - again: there are some great books on this list.

Who should win? From the provided list? Either Shadows Over Scotland or The Great Clans
Who will win? Monster Vault. There are just too many D&D players at Origins for a non-D&D title to reliably win awards.

Best Board Game

Conquest of Nerath - Wizards of the Coast - Richard Baker, Mons Johnson, & Peter Lee
Automobile - Mayfair Games - Martin Wallace
Hibernia - Closet Nerd - Eric Vogel
High Noon Saloon - Slugfest Games - Cliff Bohm & Geoff Bottone
Pastiche - Gryphon Games - Sean D. MacDonald

Here's what's sad: This is the category about which I care the most, and I ... I don't care about any of these games. Or any of the shortlisted ones. See Tom Vasel's rant (linked above) for a better list of nominees.

Who should win? Eclipse.
Who will win? Conquest of Nerath. Again: Wizards of the Coast.

Best Traditional Card Game

Cthulhu Gloom - Atlas Games - Keith Baker
NUTS! - Wildfire LLC - Matthew Grau
Red Dragon Inn 3 - Slugfest Games - Geoff Bottone, Jeff Morrow, and Cliff Bohm
Star Trek Deck Building Game - BANDAI - Alex Bykov
Struggle for Catan - Mayfair Games - Klaus Teuber

I'd have included the (shortlisted) The New Era in place of the Star Trek Deckbuilding Game, but this is otherwise a pretty good slate of card games, even of three of the five are effectively rehashes or new editions.  Cthulhu Gloom is ... a standalone expansion to Gloom.  It's fun, but not groundbreaking or astounding.  Red Dragon Inn 3 is ... a standalone expansion to Red Dragon Inn. Again: Fun, but not astounding.  Star Trek Deckbuilding Game was ... meh. I was hugely disappointed when I opened the box and it was about two-thirds foam and was only one-third filled with cards. Bandai didn't just hint that they were planning expand this one, they practically screamed it in your face.  Struggle for Catan is a new edition of the two-player Catan: The Card Game, which I liked a great deal.

CORRECTION: I was just informed via e-mail that Rivals for Catan is the new edition of of the card game. I knew that, too. Oops. While I enjoyed Rivals for Catan, I was so-so on Struggle for Catan. I've adjusted the "Who should win?" for this category to reflect the change, as well.

Who should win? Struggle for Catan. Red Dragon Inn 3. I'm a fan of the series, and it's fun.
Who will win? Either Struggle for Catan (even non-board/card gamers know the Catan name) or Star Trek Deckbuilding Game (again: name recognition).

Best Game Accessory

Dungeon Tiles: The Witchlight Fens - Wizards of the Coast - Peter Lee & Jason Engle
Dice Earrings - GameScience - GameScience
Dungeon Masters Keep - Gale Force Nine - Gale Force Nine
Munchkin Zombies 2: Armed & Dangerous - Steve Jackson Games - Steve Jackson
Shadowrun Runner’s Toolkit - Catalyst Game Labs - Elissa Carey, Rusty Childers, Cole Davidson, Mark Dynna, Adam Jury, Robyn King-Nitschke, Adam Large, Drew Littell, Elizabeth Nold, Brandie Tarvin, Peter Taylor, Malik Toms, Michael Wich, Russell Zimmerman

This continues to be one of my favorite categories to write about, because it's the Kitchen Sink Category. Don't know where else to stick a product that you think deserves recognition?  It goes under Best Game Accessory.  They really should open up a "Best Cultural Additive" category or something similar. Seriously - Earrings vs. Tiles vs. the Shadowrun GM Screen vs. Munchkin Zombies 2?  I realize that there isn't an "expansion to board or card game" category, but ... wow.

I have no idea who should (or will) win this one.

Best Game-Related Publication

Cliffourd the Big Red God - Atlas Games - Kenneth H. Hite & Andy Hopp
The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design - Open Design LLC - Mike Selinker with Rob Daviau, James Ernest, Matt Forbeck, Richard Garfield, Dave Howell, Steve Jackson, John Kovalic, Richard C. Levy, Andrew Looney, Michelle Nephew, Paul Peterson, Lisa Steenson, Jeff Tidball, Teeuwynn Woodruff, and Dale Yu
Designers & Dragons - Mongoose Publishing - Shannon Appelcline
Untold Adventures - Wizards of the Coast - Alan Dean Foster, Mike Resnick, Kevin J. Anderson, John Shirley, Jay Lake, Sarah Zettel, and many more.
Everything I Need to Know I Learned From Dungeons & Dragons - Wizards of the Coast - Shelley Mazzanoble

This category is ... books about gaming and ... Cliffourd the Big Red God.  The Kobold Guide to Board Game Design is phenomenal. So is Designers & Dragons. 

Who should win? Either the Kobold Guide to Board Game Design or Designers & Dragons.
Who will win? Either Cliffourd the Big Red God or Untold Adventures


and that's about all I have to say about this year's Origins awards, other than Congrats to the nominees.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Character Generation Project: Ghostbusters International

Those of you who are new to the blog can find an overview of what's the Character Generation Project is all about here. Stephanie's overview of her normal approach to character generation is found here.

For this character, we did things a little bit differently. See, I received Ghostbusters International as  a Christmas Present this year, and immediately decided that I needed to do a one-shot.

Since I'm planning to do a one-shot of the game, I sent instructions to the group on how to make a character. I didn't tell them what the game was, however, other than it was "urban fantasy/horror with a comical touch." I was curious what I would wind up with - and the group did not disappoint.

Stephanie was the only one who knew what game these characters were being made for.

No-one (including Stephanie) was given a skill list. Skills in this game are called "Talents."

Ghostbusters International
Click on the sheet to see it (larger) on Flickr.
Which game is this for?
Ghostbusters International

How long did it take you to generate the character?
Maybe half an hour

What was your character concept going into generation?
A fame-hungry Kaylee from Firefly 

Did you feel like character generation captured the flavor of the setting? 

How much control did you feel like you had during character generation? 
Quite a bit

Did the game help you make the character you wanted, or did it feel like you were fighting the game?
It was very open, so I felt that I was able to make just about anything I wanted.

Do you like the character you ended up with?

Do you think your character fits your concept?

Do you feel like your character would be effective and/or useful in a game?
I think so - she’s not much of a fighter, but she’ll keep your car running and can probably plan pretty well. 

Was there anything in particular that you struggled with mechanically? 
Not really - I had more trouble coming up with the talents, because they were open to just about anything. 

Did anything run more smoothly than you had expected? 
I didn’t expect it to go so quickly.

What changes would you have made to the character generation process? 

Did anything leap out at you as obviously broken or unbalanced?
It would depend on how the GM would allow people to use the talents they came up with, because it’s possible to make some vague talents that could be broken if the player pushed it.

What led you to choose this game as the next one to make a character for? 
We want to do a one-shot of this game soon.

How would you compare your experience with this game to your experience with other games?
It was very easy.

Is this a character you would be willing to play in a campaign? 

Does this character make you want to play this game?
I’m definitely looking forward to it.

Have you given any thought to what game you'd like to do next? 
Not yet.


The complete list of Talents I received from players was pretty good.  Here are the Talents which the other players came up with:

  • Something Doesn't Add Up Here
  • Me? I'm Indestructible
  • Run Away!
  • Dressed for the Occasion
  • Intuitive Leaps
  • Impenetrable Immune System
  • Fast Reflexes
  • Unflappable
  • Good At Remembering Names and Faces
  • Stronger Than He Looks
  • Quicker than Shit
  • Fades Into The Background
It's got me looking forward to the one-shot ...

Which reminds me: I have more handout material to work on.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Lost Art of the Player Handout

GBI Welcome
Campaign Introduction for my upcoming
Ghostbusters International one-shot.
Click on it to see it larger.
And now, I slip on my "crotchety old gamer" hat.

Ten years ago, when you bought an adventure, it often came as a spine-stapled bundle which was unattached to its cover, because the last few pages were nearly always handouts for your players that you could cut out and/or photocopy "for personal use only."

There were threads and threads on the various USENET groups about creating good player handouts - tutorials on how to age paper so it looked like leather or parchment or vellum or any of the other thousands of types of paper we have used down the years, discussions of fonts and links for places to get other fonts that mimicked handwriting or engraving or calligraphy, and the like.

One of my favorite discussions from back in the day was about the campaign introduction handouts. A good campaign introduction set the tone for the game and at least hinted at the world the players would be dealing with. Sometimes, it would reveal the major players in the setting. Either way, a good campaign introduction allowed players to generate characters who would fit into the setting, as opposed to creating characters without any idea how they would be used .  My favorite campaign introductions were at least two pages long - one page in character and one that was out of character.  The in-character page would take the form of a summons from the king or a wanted poster in a fantasy game.  The out-of-character page would note any special rules for the game: "no Healing magic exists in the world of Saphaara," was one I vividly remember playing.

The in-game handouts (meaning, of course, handouts that were given during play) were always something different - a partial letter from one NPC to another, for example.  Pieces of a map.  Good handouts included clues that led the party where the GM wanted them to go. Or where the adventure needed them to go.

Handouts weren't quick references for the system or character sheets. Those were nice, but the purpose of a handout was to further immerse the players in the setting or adventure.

But somewhere along the way, we lost them. I haven't seen a good player handout from a publisher in a very long time - it's rapidly become a lost art. All of the best handouts these days seem to be fan-created - and by "fan" I mean "GM." With very few exceptions.

Fantasy CoinageI'm in a D&D game which is currently on hiatus while the GM finds his work/life/new baby balance.  The very first session, we were given a "stone" code wheel with two sets of characters that he had made out of foamcore.  He clearly spent a lot of time working on it - and it's not complete, either. There are more pieces for us to discover.  As the game went on, we received map fragments and notes. When we searched an NPC's home, we received several letters that had been in his desk, not all of which were in "common," so we couldn't read them.

He even invested in campaign coins which - by the way - are REALLY neat in person. And are one of the rare exceptions to the "all of the best handouts these days are fan-created" claim I made early on.

But he clearly worked very hard on his handouts - and they were immersive.

Does anyone else miss the Good Old Days of Handouts? Or is it just me?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Digital vs. Film

A few weeks ago, I discussed (briefly) photography as a hobby of mine.

For the last few years, there has been a lot of discussion in the photography community about digital vs. film - and proponents on both sides have good points.

And, yes, I'll bring this back around to gaming before I'm done with the post. I promise.

The discussion became relevant to me a few weeks ago when a customer gave me a couple of classic cameras which are in really great shape. And by "really great," I mean, "completely functional." So I started poking around at what it'd take to actually use them.

Answer? Not much. But the expense adds up pretty quickly. My cheapest camera (film-wise) uses 35mm film. It's a couple of bucks per roll of 24 (or 36) shots. And then it's about five dollars to get it processed.

Once I have a negative scanner, that'll be all of my expense for a roll of film. So call it $10 per roll of 24, or about $0.42 per shot. For now, I'm paying to have the processor scan the negatives as well. Another $5 or so per roll, making it closer to $0.63 per shot.

But that's not a fixed cost. I have another camera that uses 4x5 sheet film negatives. The film is about $1 per shot. Processing it will be about $10 per shot. If I pay to have the processor scan it, it can be another $10 per shot. So that camera costs me $21 every single time I trip the shutter.

Going digital doesn't have a lot of those costs involved - I buy an SD card for $35 (if I'm going for a high-end expensive one), I can use that same card over and over and over again. There is no processing fee - while I have Adobe Lightroom, it's not necessary.

The advantage - cost-wise - is clearly on the side of digital.

I can also modify images after they are shot with a digital camera. There are ways you can tweak film photos during development, but they require an expert hand and can screw up the original if you're not careful.

Oh - and did I mention flashes? Manual cameras use manual flashes, so I need to know how to use them or else I wind up completely washing out my images (or having them turn out too dark). My digital camera automatically compensates for them.

Again I tell you that the advantage is digital.

So why do I persist in shooting film?

Tangibility. I don't know what it is, but I love the ability to handle and view the negative - I can't do that with a .jpg. Even the act of loading the camera allows me to focus more on what it is I'm doing with the camera itself.  I have a digital SLR, and I usually go fully manual with it. I (honestly) have exactly the same degree of control over my finished images as I do with the film cameras. But I don't acquire the same degree of focus digitally as I do with the analog film.

Right now, the RPG industry is undergoing a significant revolution - PDF publishing. It offers many of the same advantages over print publication that digital photography offers over film - it's inexpensive to produce, easy to store, simple to duplicate or modify.

I have a sizable library through DriveThruRPG. But, for the most part, my PDF library supplements my print library - and it's for that same reason. Tangibility. I like being able to touch a book and flip through it.

PDF's have some significant advantages. My Kindle, for example, currently holds about two dozen game books, which I can read or search very easily. Two years ago, print was clearly better (for me) at the table. Now, it's not as easy. As a player, I have been using my Fire at the table quite a bit - it makes it easy to look up rules questions.

But the PDF won't replace print for me anytime soon.