Archive for August, 2001

Give Your Characters A Dancing Lesson

Friday, August 31st, 2001

Atlas Games announced the next product in their Penumbra line of D20 adventures, The Last Dance by Chris Aylott. In this scenario, adventurers get pulled into a ghostly dance from the past, and must change history or become permanent members of the performance. Boasting an artifact that amplifies magic, a creature that feeds on it, and sorcerous music as well, characters are sure to get their hit point’s worth. Arriving in November, the 40 page adventure will be for levels 4-6, and retail for $9.95.

The Game In The Brown Paper Wrapper
What kind of RPG is so over the edge, pushing the boundaries so far, that it wasn’t announced ahead of time and won’t be in stores? It’s described as a “16-page book … in a brown wrapper that’s covered with warnings.” Vigilante, aimed at liberal-minded adult gamers, isn’t even trying to get onto store shelves. Instead, Steve Jackson Games is selling it exclusively through their online store, though you may be able to get one at DragonCon or WorldCon this weekend. If you dare! (**cue spooky music**)

Hasbro Rearranging Things Again

Thursday, August 30th, 2001

Hasbro, not content to stop fiddling with things, is making some minor changes in Wizards of the Coast’s upper management. Here’s a quote from the press release:

Dave Wilson, currently the President of Hasbro Games, now takes on added responsibility overseeing the Games segment made up of Hasbro Games and Wizards of the Coast. Vince Caluori, Wizards of the Coast’s President and Chief Operating Officer, will report directly to Mr. Wilson… Wizards of the Coast and Tiger Electronics will continue to operate out of their Seattle and Chicago offices, respectively.

So Hasbro has officially established a chain of command that starts with them. Will this have any significant effect? We shall see. In the meantime, WotC’s Ryan Dancey has offered his thoughts on the D20 OGL discussion group:

…Hasbro for its part has treated Wizards with great respect. It has asked Wizards’ opinion on a variety of topics, and has listened more often than you might expect. It has also required Wizards to conform to a level of fiscal discipline that Wizards sought but never achieved as a private company, and that has been hard on everyone involved. Hasbro has given Wizards more than adequate room to demonstrate that it can and should remain an independent, autonomous entity. Wizards’ success or failure in achieving that goal is almost completely due to its own efforts and decisions, rather than some top-down meddling by suits from Rhode Island.

In fact, if there was ever a person who was a better fit for the gaming industry as CEO of the “biggest company” than Peter Adkison, that person might just be Alan Hassenfeld [CEO of Hasbro], who is very much a big geek just like the rest of us who delights in play, imagination and creativity.

Wizards of the coast has more employees than it did before Pokemon. It has more revenue than it did before Pokemon. It has more resources than it did before Pokemon. Being bought by Hasbro has had less effect on Wizards than the first seven digit purchase order from Wal*Mart did. Pokemon’s decline is having more of an effect on Wizards than any request or demand on the part of Hasbro corporate ever has. And Wizards trajectory forward is being determined primarily by decisions made by Wizards, by Wizards managers, than by Hasbro.

Cautious concern seems to be the prevalent feeling in the gaming community right now, with everyone waiting for the other shoe to drop. Stay tuned.

Precedence Builds Sack Armies Into Website
Precedence has revamped their website, adding a brand new Sack Armies section. Aside from complete rules, a kids version, battlemats, and other goodies, there’s a searchable gallery of tokens and rulings database, an extremely handy tool that’s already surprised me with a ruling I wasn’t aware of.

More Conventions Looming

Wednesday, August 29th, 2001

It’s been pointed out to me that I failed to mention a game convention so close to my home, it could’ve pounced and used my intestines as a bow tie. ConQuest is taking place in Palo Alto, CA this weekend, and numerous companies are scheduled to be in attendance, including Steve Jackson Games, Wingnut Games, and the Wizard’s Attic guys. I just might make it out there, depending on how the cursed house painting goes.

Conventions Looming on Horizon

Wednesday, August 29th, 2001

Just when you thought the cons were done and you could settle into your normal routine, a new swarm of ‘em arrives to lure you out into the light once again.

  • DragonCon strikes this weekend, August 31 – September 3 in beautiful downtown Atlanta. Wish I were going again this year, but alas, I cannot.
  • Troll Lord Games is holding Troll Kon LVII at the Family Games Center in Little Rock, Arkansas, on October 5 – 7. Though a smaller event, Troll Kon boasts a $1,000 Magic tournament, RPGA games of D&D 3, and “a First Edition AD&D game run by Ernie Gygax.”
  • FlatCon, happening September 22 – 23 in Bloomington, IL, already has some impressive guests: Gary Gygax, Lee Bansen (of Pinnacle), Rob Stone (of Citizen Games), and… uh… Chainmail Girl. So that’s what her name is.
  • If you can’t (or won’t) leave the house, try CyberCon 2, the second occurance of the entirely online game convention, taking place October 19 – 21. CyberCon is now a quarterly event, so more than ever, you can get your gaming on without getting your clothes on.

Movie Diversion
We interrupt your regularly scheduled gaming to bring you this tidbit: if any of you were considering renting that recent Heath Ledger movie A Knight’s Tale, read this review first. It may be more entertaining than the movie itself. The review title alone is worth the look.

Early Preview of Victorian Age Vampire

Wednesday, August 29th, 2001

White Wolf has set the release date for Victorian Age Vampire as October 2002. Can’t wait for a look? Tough, the book doesn’t exist yet. However, Justin Achilli’s outline for authors is up for everyone to look at, and should stir up some excitement. Looks like it will be another winner.

Green Ronin Website Improvements
Green Ronin announced some impending improvements to the company’s website: “Currently in development are an online store, an improved gallery, and a review tracking system so you can read what everybody has to say about our products before you buy them.” In the meantime, Green Ronin is keeping busy by going to GenCon UK and continuing to roll out the D20 hits.

Map Tile Download
SkeletonKey Games, who specialize in magnetic map tiles, has a new map download you can grab. You can expect a new map each week, so keep checking back. These tile sets are great — write on ‘em with dry erase markers, adding pools of blood and dismembered limbs everywhere, then wipe ‘em off. Gotta love it.

The Trouble With Harry

Monday, August 27th, 2001

Two weeks ago I was all set to write this snarky post about how Richard Garfield had, in record time, become the Paul McCartney of gaming – alternating between Wings-esque abominations of pablum like What Were You Thinking? and Beatles Anthologies of retreaded former glories, like the Harry Potter CCG. Well, it turns out that Garfield’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in the credits of Harry Potter, despite the interview he did about it in an interior design magazine, of all places, and the fact that it is basically Magic Lite.
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Fools’ Paradise Coming Next Month

Thursday, August 23rd, 2001

Principia Malefex, the RPG of gothic horror in modern Britain, has announced their next product to scare the wits out of your players:

The Fools’ Paradise scenario supplement for Principia Malefex has gone to print and will be released at the start of September 2001, marking the first
release for the game since the line was relaunched in December 2000. Based loosely around the surburbs, it focuses on what goes on behind closed doors, and the culture of silence and non-interference that lets it continue.

The supplement includes six scenarios and new fiction, with a full-color cover by Jon Spelling.

Munchkin Playtest Report

Thursday, August 23rd, 2001

Munchkin is long. Or very, very random. Maybe the latter always leads to the former, I don’t know. We played with four players, and although you should always factor in some inflation for a first game, it took in excess of two hours for someone to get their “character” from level 1 to level 10. Munchkin’s design is similar to that of Chez Geek in that there isn’t any designed-in gravity – the combined forces of randomness and players conspiring against the current leader can theoretically keep things going forever, especially if you have lots of players.

I was just down at Endgame chatting with folks, and John Wick‘s old article about reviews (now lost to the mists of paid-subscription-land) came up in conversation. Heads at Endgame agreed with Wick that opinion should be kept out of game reviews entirely, or at least cordonned off into a single paragraph at the end. I don’t think I agree, but I will say that I came away from Munchkin wanting to write a bad review, despite the fact that I never got bored during those two hours, and actually laughed a lot. So now I just have no damned clue what my opinion is worth anyway.

But if it helps you make an informed purchasing decision any, I’ll say this: two avowed fans of Chez Geek dropped out of our Munchkin game early, because the level of randomness made them feel powerless. This despite the fact that one of them had the “Chicken On Your Head” curse in his hand. Funny cards only go so far, I guess. So, this (Munchkin) is a more extreme version of that (CG). If you loved the concept when you heard it, and screw-your-neighbor games like Chez Geek don’t piss you off, I’d recommend you go ahead and pick up Munchkin – on the person-hours-of-fun-per-dollar principle, it beats most of the movies you’ve seen lately. Just don’t tell me you didn’t know what you were getting into.

Rio Grande Announces Fall Releases

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2001

In a recent newsletter, Rio Grande Games laid out their plans for Fall releases. In addition to several titles which have been discussed before (Dvonn, Lord of the Rings: The Search, Shark and Where’s Bob’s Hat), the schedule includes a number of interesting new games that will see simultaneous U.S. and German releases. These include two $10 card games (Gnumies, David Parlett’s game of partying aliens, and Gargon, in which players steal amulets from flying fantasy beasts), an environmentally-aware business game (Waste), a racing game which puts snowboarders under attack from Abominable Snowmen (The Yeti Cup) and Spies, Incorporated, a somewhat familiar yet interesting-sounding game of strategy and deduction designed by Wolfgang Kramer. Most of these titles should be out by October or November.

Collectible Miniatures, True Believers!

Tuesday, August 21st, 2001

Wiz Kids’ kung fu is superior. Having just recently gained the license to make a CMG similar to Mage Knight that’s based on DC Comics properties, they have now gained the license to do the same for Marvel Comics. The rules to the Marvel CMG will be written by the lead designer of D&D 3′s Dungeon Master’s Guide,Monte Cook. While the two games will be separate, and won’t be compatible with Mage Knight or the upcoming Battletech CMG, the super-powered characters willbe able to take on each other. My god… it’s like the Secret Warscombined with Crisis on Infinite Earths,only more expensive and painted in China.

While you wait for the Battletech CMG, DC CMG, and Marvel CMG, you can check out the beta rules for large scale Mage Knight battles (at the bottom of their downloads page). That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Massive warfronts of figures. Two hundred… and forty dollars… worth of Mage Knight. Awww yeaaah.

Adkison Buys Back Primal Order
Ryan Dancey posted this interesting tidbit to the OGL-D20 email list:

Peter [Adkison] recently signed a deal to take back the Primal Order from WotC. If he gets time in the next few years, I suspect he’ll probably re-write parts of it and release it again.

In case you missed it, Primal Orderwas conceived as a “cap system” that would fit on top of (nearly) any RPG, fleshing out the rules for deities. With Primal Order,gods don’t just think they’re badasses, they are. No, really.

Games Unplugged Unchanged
The Games Unplugged website is still in a holding pattern, not showing anything more than the latest magazine cover. Oh, and a message saying “Come back in 5 days” that’s been posted for going on 7 days now.

Houston, We Have Denial

Monday, August 20th, 2001

ICv2 brings the world an official statement from mega-distributor Diamond that they aren’t interested in buying TSR. Of course, rumors have been flying at least since Origins about TSR getting sold, and any number of potential buyers have been discussed, so maybe Diamond just lost a bidding war. (Doing my part to keep the mill running… don’t mind me…)

They’re Baaaaaack
Marvel is getting back into CCGs. I also saw a headline somewhere that said they were profitable again. I guess this will take care of that.

Is That A Heat Dial Or Are You Just Glad To See Me?
I’m pretty sure this hasn’t been all over the news already, anyway… WizKids just put up a page with a picture of the new Mage Knight-style BattleTech minis, and a whole lot of text, most of which seems to describe how much stuff is going to stay the same in the New Mech Order. [okay, so allan technically posted the link already - dammit] They’ve also posted an online-exclusive BattleTech short story.

Eric Noah’s D&D 3 Site Shutting Down

Friday, August 17th, 2001

This just in: the biggest, and arguably best, site for D&D 3 and D20, Eric Noah’s Unofficial D&D 3 News, is shutting down in the next few days. The invaluable resource and news site has lead the charge in all things related to D&D 3, and is thought by some industry insiders to wield more power than Wizards of the Coast’s website. Here’s a bit of the sad announcement posted on the site:

I will be closing down the site within the next few days. Several factors led me to this decision, and it’s one that I make with some regret. I have enjoyed the past two years immensely, and I thank you for your patronage and support.

I’m sure some of you have questions … I will say that it’s NOT a) some tragedy or other big life change in my life, nor b) some WotC/D20/OGL conspiracy.

As to the future of the site, that’s still up in the air. I believe parts of the site will move to another site at some point. Other than that, there are details to work out and when I know more I’ll be sure to share.

OgreCave will be sure to keep you posted on how this resolves, and where the site’s resources end up when the dust clears. We wish Eric Noah all the best, and salute him for an outstanding tour of duty.

Ronin Runs Rampant

Friday, August 17th, 2001

Green Ronin has posted some art from their upcoming Spaceship Zero RPG,and has let the world at large know about their revised plans for the Freeport: The City of Adventuresourcebook. “It’s now going to be a 160 page hardback sourcebook … it features a beautiful poster-sized map of the city.” The book is being written by the combined efforts of Matt Forbeck, Hal Mangold, and Chris Pramas, and is on schedule for a November release.

Notes on Necromancy

Friday, August 17th, 2001

Over at Mongoose Publishing, they’ve posted a preview of the upcoming Necromancy book in the form of designer’s notes. Matthew Sprange reveals a bit about the process of making mages of death fun to play again without unbalancing them.

White Wolf on the Prowl
White Wolf made so many announcements about upcoming product plans, it’s hard to keep track of it all.

  • Adventure,“the Storytelling game of Pulp Action,” will hit stores on Monday.
  • Early next year, Dark Ages: Vampirewill launch a series of Dark Ages products, including clan novels.
  • The Exaltedline will continue with more Castebooks, and a hardcover book in April, Exalted: The Dragon-Blooded.
  • Vampire: The Masqueradewon’t be left out of the fun, getting Guide to the Anarchsnext February, and Vampire By Gaslight,the Victorian version you’ve all been waiting for, later in 2002.

Fading Suns Goes D20

Thursday, August 16th, 2001

In a press release, Holistic Design let the world know that their stylish Fading Suns RPG setting will make the leap to the D20 System this November. Not only that, but “Fading Suns: D20 will include Open Gaming rules for high-tech devices and artifacts, ranging from blasters and energy shields to cybernetics.” Fading Suns already has elements of science fiction, fantasy and horror. As Bill Bridges, Fading Sun’s line developer, put it, “What better way to grow the Open Gaming community than a game that includes both swords and blasters, theurgy and cybertech, starships and divine artifacts?” The six-year-old, highly detailed setting will reach D20 in the form of a softcover sourcebook, and retail for $25.

White Wolf’s Ravenloft Cover Posted
The cover art and catalog listing for White Wolf’s new Ravenloft D20 book is posted, and it looks great. Streamlined, creepy look. Go take a look if you’re interested.

Stuper Quickstart

Thursday, August 16th, 2001

Wingnut Games has posted the Quickstart rules to StuperPowers Deluxe. The humorous RPG of superheroes with silly or useless powers will be arriving in October, and weigh in at 112 pages.

Pro-Am Adventures Surface
The first round of results from Citizen Games’ D20 adventure writing contest has been posted on the company’s site for downloading. Check out how the pros and amateurs worked together, and try their adventures out for yourself.

New Look for Cheapass Website

Thursday, August 16th, 2001

If you haven’t been by the Cheapass site in a while, go take a look at the site and see what you think. Personally, as much as I like the company’s products, I can’t say anything good about the main page. It’s entirely unintuitive, serving only to drastically slow you down as you find your way around the site. The rest of the site is fine and useful, but the main page has got to go. However, your mileage may vary.

Download Nastiness

Monday, August 13th, 2001

Viking Games has posted an 11-page preview of their D20 book, Monster Menagerie.Check out the stats and descriptions for several beasts, including the Banshee, and the Mantoid, which sounds suspiciously similar to a Tri-Kreen from Dark Sun.

Master Tools Gets New Master

Monday, August 13th, 2001

Due to a number of developments, not the least of which being Hasbro lobotomizing the electronics division of Wizards of the Coast and feeding the properties to Infogrames, the Master Tools D&D 3 software has been delayed until the first quarter of 2002. Considering how far the product vision had strayed, it’s probably a good thing. How far afield did Master Tools range, you ask? Well, the mapping utility was useless for tabletop gaming, serving more as a primer for a non-existant online game.

Ryan Dancey, the man behind the D20 and Open Gaming Licences, is now the man in charge of getting Master Tools back on course. And he’s not gonna take any crap, either, as you can tell from a glance at the WotC message boards:

For better or worse, you’re stuck with me, and I’m an old-fashioned roll-the-dice kind of guy who would rather eat pizza and make Monty Python jokes with my wife and friends than sit all alone in a dark room and click a mouse to kill an endless stream of binary monsters.

Here, here! I suspect Master Tools’ powerdive toward oblivion is about turn into a climb back to the gaming stratosphere.

You’ve Loved The Carrot – Now, Meet The Stick

Saturday, August 11th, 2001

This ICv2 report has a (precious) few more details about the WotC d20 crackdown we reported on early in the week. They say: “Is this a laudable attempt to standardize procedures and enforce a necessary discipline on sloppy publishers, or is it the stunned reaction of an organization that has created a runaway train?” I say it’s nothing so glamorous in either direction – WotC is simply acting with the automaticity of a corporation bound by rules.

What they’re trying to do is avoid the Yo-Yo effect – that is, the means by which a company loses control of a brand by failing to protect it. The word “Yo-Yo” wasn’t always a generic term for that toy that comes on a string; it was once a corporate brand name. Long ago in the hazy mists of the 50′s, courts ruled that, when the Duncan toy company failed to assert its dominance adequately over the term “yo-yo,” they forfeited their copyright on the term. (They got the domain, though.) This is why a number of entertainment companies have sent cease-and-desist letters to Internet fan sites and such – whether or not they recognise the value of fans who do their promotional work for them, they leave themselves open to a legal attack on their copyright unless they guard against every little offense. The OGL is WotC’s attempt to let third parties publish D&D material without running afoul of this trick in copyright law, so it’s no surprise that they’re staying on their toes when it comes to enforcement of the license.

The d20 System Trademark License, on the other hand, is a diabolically shrewd play that keeps other publishers from being able to benefit too much from the OGL’s largesse. Under the OGL, you can use all of D&D3′s rules, but to use that precious d20 logo – and to otherwise take the all-important step of telling people you’re D&D-compatible – you’ve got to leave certain things out. When I first wrote my analysis of the OGL and d20 for Gamers.com, I noted this little piece of brand warfare somewhere amid my general fog of confusion. What we’ve seen since reveals a possible counter-strategy: companies like Atlas Games and Sword and Sorcery/White Wolf have established their own, easily recognizable brands (Penumbra and Scarred Lands, respectively). There may come a point at which those brands will be as strong as the d20 logo, making it possible to produce, say, a Scarred Lands core rulebook, with all those nice OGLed rules and no d20 restrictions. Whether a smaller company would risk WotC’s wrath like that, I don’t know. Maybe we’ll find out someday.

Desperado Preview

Saturday, August 11th, 2001

Citizen Games has a preview up of the Desperado RPG, which uses the D20 System. This looks like a pure western game, with none of that horror or fantasy stuff. Still, I’ll be interested to compare this to Pinnacle’s Deadlands D20.

Green Ronin Gets Arcane

Friday, August 10th, 2001

In October, Green Ronin will present Arcana: Societies of Magic, a D20 sourcebook on mystic organizations, secret or otherwise. Written by Kevin Brennan and James Maliszewski, this promises to be a good one. Here’s the details:

Arcana: Societies of Magic details six different organizations that employ unique styles of magic to achieve their ends. The description of each society includes information of the group’s history, goals, hierarchy, and leaders, as well as a map of its headquarters. New skills, feats, spells and prestige classes make it a complete package.

The supplement will sell for $14.95.

Gaming Outpost Joins Fiction Fantasy Network
The Fiction Fantasy Network announced today that the game news site Gaming Outpost will join its ranks. As GO recently changed to a subscription based service for articles and some other features, it will be interesting to see how this development affects the site.

Episode II Named

Friday, August 10th, 2001

The official Star Wars website has announced some preliminary details about Episode II. Specifically, the name of the movie has been announced as Star Wars: Attack of the Clones.

Uhh… oh-kay. Certainly inspires confidence, don’t it? :-/

Friends and Foes Takes Flight Soon

Thursday, August 9th, 2001

I checked with Fantasy Flight at GenCon about their expansion to the Lord of the Rings boardgame (formerly a WotC game). There was a single, unopened copy of the expansion, Friends and Foes,at a booth dedicated to nothing but the boardgame. From looking at the back, the game will have added feature cards and a single, double-sided board (Bree and Isengard are the two locations on the board). Also, enemy cards will be introduced, which I couldn’t determine much about. In fact, according to the guys at the booth, there’s a chance the expansion will be out a bit early, arriving in stores late September rather than October. The next expansion is targeted for a Fall 2002 release, with the ominous title of Sauron.

I spent Friday night at GenCon teaching the guys from Realm of Imagination to play LotR. Todd’s efforts as Frodo made this cooperative game more cutthroat and competitive than I thought possible. And they still came close to destroying the One Ring. “Frodo, get away from the tiki statue. Dammit, Frodo, stop trying to get Pippin killed!”

Warhamster Rally On The Way
Jim Dietz of Jolly Roger Games found himself telling a lot of GenCon goers that Orcs at the Gates, last year’s Origins Award winning Sci-Fi or Fantasy Boardgame, was out of print. “But don’t worry,” he said, “We’ll be putting out Warhamster Rally soon, and in my opinion, it’s twice the game Orcs was.” Big talk, but if it’s based on the work of John Kovalic (and it is), I’ll be checking it out for sure.

Cards Springing Up Like Weeds

Thursday, August 9th, 2001

New card games were everywhere at GenCon this year. Let me see what I can remember…

  • The Ebay card game from Journeyman Press looked promising, though uncomplicated.
  • WotC’s Harry Potter CCG had major displays inside the castle, and seemed well designed from a cursory glance at the game. However, $3.29 for an 11-card booster was a bit steep.
  • Decipher’s upcoming Lord of the Rings CCG was shown to a select few. I wasn’t one of them, so I had to settle for the movie trailers and booth babes. Wheee.
  • Third World Games had a large booth to display and demo Firestorm, a sci-fi CCG with four different factions to play. A few packages sold at GenCon had damaged cards in them, and Third World has already instituted a replacement program to keep their customers happy.
  • Jolly Roger Games was selling Dia de los Muertos, a trick-taking game with a lot of skeleton artwork.
  • Our buddies at Looney Labs were giving away promo Fluxx cards that added a new goal to the game: time travel (in reference to Chrononauts,of course).
  • The Dragonball Z CCG had a Humm-Vee with their logos all over it, which was amusing to watch as it drove out of the hall at convention’s end (I’m reminded of a quote from The Tick:“Hey cool — they’ve got a blimp!”). A couple of the cartoon’s voice actors were in attendance.
  • A game called Geeks: The Convention had a huge booth with piles and piles of their single game, about… uh… geeks at a convention.
  • R3 Games was showing off their CTG (Collectable Token Game :-) Obsidian Lords,which has a cool name but is rather light on artwork.