Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Diversity of Product

I realized this morning that it's a bit weird for me to not even mention Origins when it's going on.  And I didn't. I didn't mention the convention or the awards.  Which is very unusual for me.

I was busy.  And, in fact, I'm still busy.  I have a couple of deadlines I'm chasing for things that are due for GenCon and/or Essens Preview and/or Release.

I almost got to go to Origins this year, too.  Almost.  Asmodee asked me if I could, and (for the first time in a very long time) I had to turn them down because I don't have enough vacation time.

It sounds like the Asmodee booth was a good one, though. That "not forcing specific games down peoples' throats" has always been a strength of Asmodee's selection. A lot of publishers go to conventions only with the HOT NEW GAME - and that's what their demo teams push. And push. And push. I feel bad for the demo team members who are stuck pushing One Game that they don't like.

While Asmodee does usually have one or two "focus" games, they have historically made sure that they have other games, including a few old standbys in the booth, too. Like, for example, Jungle Speed, a game which has been refreshed every few years - but which has been in the booth for more than a decade in one form or another.

And the broad base of games means that there is something there for nearly everyone. Seriously.  Poke around a bit. You'll see more games in more categories ...

Want an introductory-level strategy game? They have done a great job of making sure that there is something at or around that complexity level available. Currently, the Timeline series of games fills that "introductory" niche - but it's not alone. Rise of Augustus is also relatively light (and won't bore many of the hardcore, either).

Want a party game? Check out Concept (a Spiel des Jahres nominee this year). Or Mascarade (which has an expansion that's coming).

Dexterity? I already mentioned Jungle Speed. But there's also Rampage (which is undergoing a title change to Terror in Meeple City).

Medium-weight strategy? Spyrium was one of our focus games last year. In my opinion, it hasn't received nearly enough attention. Splendor is another Spiel des Jahres nominee this year. Both are excellent choices.

Want something beefier?  Eclipse and Nations are both pretty beefy games that are well worth looking at.

Seriously: Look at this page. There are 294 results on that page. Yes, there are duplicates there. Yes, there are games that are French versions of other favorites. Yes, there are games that never saw an English release. And there are games coming that aren't on that list, yet.

I honestly think that this diversity of product part of what makes Asmodee one of the best booths at GenCon.  But only part.

There's a lot that goes into a good convention booth. Maybe I should talk more about that at some point ...

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Changing Times, Changing Tastes: New Editions

As I'm sure you all know by now, I am a huge fan of most professional wrestling. So when the WWE Network went live, I subscribed the first day, and have been spending far too much time watching it.

My best friend is a huge MMA Junkie. A few moths ago, he loaned me Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling. A book that is all about professional wrestling, with a focus on its roots - when it was real in all respects.  The book was fascinating - and eye-opening.  But it got my friend interested in some of the current state of professional wrestling. Especially as a number of MMA fighters have started to utilize some of the traditional elements of wrestling in their game.

But that's all beside the point.

The point is this: We've been watching a _ton_ of old PayPerView events. Most of what we watched was from the "Attitude Era" of the WWE.  This was pretty much an "anything goes" era.  A week or two ago, we watched an event in which there was a matchup between Jamie Noble and Billy Gunn in which if Noble won, he would get to sleep with Kidman's valet/manager/friend. A woman who was repulsed by him.

I turned to my friend and said, "Wow.  That just wouldn't fly today."  Because it wouldn't. The WWE moved from the "Attitude Era" into what is being called "The PG Era." In some ways, it's dumbed down a few of the storylines and made some characters less interesting. But in a lot of ways, it's strengthened the product.

But - because this is me, it made me think about games. Because the WWE's transition from one era to the next is - more or less - a new edition of the same thing. The Golden Age of the Eighties became the "New Generation" era of the early nineties, which became the "Attitude Era" of the late nineties into the early oughts. And now we're in the PG era, which is functionally similar to the "New Generation" - only with a handful of innovations (new match types, more high-fliers, etc.)

Through each era, the focus has been the same - athletic showcased presented as a competition with some "behind the scenes" work to create a consistent story for each character. They even managed to transition characters from one edition to the next.

The reinvention was necessary to keep the product form getting stale. "To keep sales up," essentially. When viewership drops, something needs changing.

Each "edition" has borrowed something from one of the other (smaller) competitors out there, too. The "Attitude Era" was, for example, clearly influenced by the old-school ECW product. Which is not surprising, as several of their top names had worked for ECW.

I used to play Dungeons and Dragons, 3rd Edition.  When it first dropped, I enjoyed it.  Mind you, it was clear that a great deal of the system was "borrowed" from Talislanta. But this was not surprising, as Jonathan Tweet was the Lead Designer on both.

As the d20 era continued, however, I was one of those who grew disaffected with it. Around the time 3.5 dropped, I realized that it'd become more-or-less an exercise in optimization rather than what I looked for in a game. They lost the interest of this audience. Pathfinder took that optimization exercise and turned it up to 11. I played it a bit, and really disliked the game.

I am one of the folks who didn't hate 4e. It wasn't 3e. It wasn't a flexible game at all, in fact. The skill system was overhauled and turned into something that was oddly similar to 2e's proficiencies. The gridded combat of 3e remained firmly in place - but if you read 2e, it was there, too.

4e was the first time D&D felt different to me, with its list of specific powers for the various classes. Even the Feats of 3e didn't significantly change the "feel" of the game for me.  But these Healing Surges and Daily Powers and Encounter Powers were all unlike anything I'd seen before. It wasn't a step back for the game - but it wasn't a step forward, either.

And now, here we are, about a month away from the new starter box for 5e. By all accounts, 5e is (in many ways) a callback to the days of 2e. Only with some innovations (high AC values are good, saves continue to be 'roll high').

It's as though Wizards of the Coast has decided it's time for its own PG Era.

I wonder how long before the audience grows bored with this one ...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Currently Backing

I realized the other day just how much my Kickstarter backing has slowed.  I guess if you get burned a time or two, you learn to hesitate before diving right in.

In fact, right now I have only two projects open on my account and my wife is backing two more.

That's a total of four projects between the two of us - I think this is the fewest at any point since late 2011.

So what are we backing?

Reading Rainbow - This was such a huge part of our growing up. In fact, nearly everyone I know that is within a few years of me age-wise is backing this. Reading is fundamental. Period. Anything that increases literacy/reading rates is a Good Thing in my book.

Heroes! - Steph is a sucker for fiction anthologies. But if she hadn't backed it, I might have.  There are some great authors in here, including what is probably Aaron Allston's last story. But any anthology which includes Timothy Zahn and Michael Stackpole is worth looking at. Even if I do have a love/hate with Stackpole's writing most of the time.

Atlantis: Theragraphic - I think I've backed seven or eight of Jerry Grayson's projects, and he's never failed to deliver. The very first Kickstarter I backed was one of his. And I'm a sucker for any book with a monster building/customization system. As an added bonus, I like Atlantis: The Second Age. And the Omega system means I can move monsters from here to Talislanta or Hellas with only a minimal amount of work. Because those games are frequently somewhere in my headspace ...

Short Order Heroes: Locations - I am pretty sure I mentioned the original Short Order Heroes here before, but it is a really great quick character builder for nearly any system.  It works phenomenally well for NPC generation for those times when your PCs inevitably go off the rails and you need a personality on the fly. Now he is working on putting together a similar project for places. I was (apparently) his first backer this time out. 

There is a fifth project that I wish I could back, but my budget refreshes the day after it funds:

Fantaji Universal Role-Playing System - I backed their previous attempt called Mazaki no Fantaji and was disappointed when it failed. This is the same system changed to run as a universal engine.  These guys also did Early Dark, which did several things differently from most games I'd seen. For example, fitting characters into their culture and society - something that is often overlooked in games.  Update: Made some numbers dance and figured out how to make it work.  I'm now backing this.

And ... oops.  This week's post went up two days early.  Ah, well.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

RPG Conversion Work

I have a newfound appreciation for even the worst of the d20 conversions from the heyday of the d20 Boom. You see, I've been working on converting part of one game into another game. For personal use - but I think other folks might get some benefit from it.

Let me explain a bit:

As I'm sure you know, I'm a huge fan of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG. I have at least one of every product published since first edition (with one frustrating exception). I love the system. I love the setting. I just plain love this game.

But there's one thing that's always been lacking for me: Any sense of the passage of time. This is a big deal because of the metaplot. The setting has several large overarching storylines which are running at any given time - and it's really not realistic for PCs to be at every single event that is part of this story.  At the same time, GMs don't want to Infodump on the players. Because infodumps are No Fun.

Not only that, but player characters are eternally young and vigorous. Right up until the point where they are cut down by a foe on the battlefield ...

This is glorious and all, but when you read the fiction, elderly samurai retire from active duty and serve as teachers. Characters do die of old age and natural causes. Admittedly, we see this more from Emperors than from characters who are on the same level as the PCs, but it does happen.

On the other hand, having your character gradually degenerate into unplayability due to advancing age is not going to be a ton of fun, either. Because we'd much rather focus on the Epic Glory Days of our characters.  So a way to introduce new characters to the mix is also important.

There's another game which I very much like.  It's called King Arthur Pendragon, and it has a feature that was 100% unique at the time it was introduced. Several features, really, but one that's relevant here.  It's called the "Winter Phase."

During the winter phase of the game, your character will age (and eventually die of old age or retire). To keep it from being a frustrating spiral of PC decay, however, KAP added a family.  Your character will, by the time he is too old to continue, have an heir ready to step up and become your new PC. Every year, your children will age - and some of them won't survive to adulthood.

It also has another effect on the players.  Suddenly the game isn't about your character, it's about your character's legacy.  It's something I think a lot of games could use.

If you're at all curious about it, I heartily suggest that you check out the current Bundle of Holding which will be Pendragon for the next day or two. If you miss the bundle, it's always available in PDF and print-on-demand via DriveThruRPG. And it's a phenomenal game.

It's something I very much wanted to add to my L5R game. So I decided to make it happen.

This file (PDF link) is the current draft of my project. And it's ... it's more difficult than I thought.  It is, by the way, not even close to finished, because that will require playtesting and more playtesting and tweaking and balancing.  But it's at a point where parts of it are written enough to share. Feel free to download it and check it out and tweak it and adjust it. Find out where it's broken (because I'm sure there are places where it is broken).

And re-download it periodically, as I'll be updating it somewhat regularly ...

But if you decide to do so, I have one request: Let me know what you think. Tell me what flaws you find. I need to know what doesn't work so I can fix it.

I'll (obviously) not be releasing this commercially, but that doesn't mean I don't want it to be as good as I can possibly make it ...