My friend Jay continued running us through Ravenloft last night. Toward the end of the evening, the party was spent. My cleric had used all his spells (and his turn undead), our druid had used all her wild shapes, and our dragonborn had used all her breath attacks. We were low on health, running on fumes, and still had to stay in the fight to keep Evil from winning.
Since I had also left my weapons behind (because taking weapons to a dinner party is uncouth), I was down to using my sole attack cantrip as my attack. Good ol’ sacred flame.
When my fellow players got sick of hearing me say “I cast sacred flame” over and over again, I had to find a way to accommodate them. The best thing would have been to find a different, more creative attack, and mix things up a bit.
But it was late and I was tired so I just made up new names for my spell.
Here are the alternate names I used for the sacred flame spell. Perhaps some of these are regional variations. Or names for the spell in older spellbooks. Or changes to the name made by a bard who needed a rhyme for “seven.”
Flame of Sacridity
The Pope’s Matches
Lasers From Heaven
Torch of God
The Penitent Candelabra
What are some alternate names for YOUR favorite spell?
I contributed to a community RPG project last year, and now that it’s available to the public, I can tell you where to find it!
The Gongfarmer’s Almanac 2016 is a fanzine-style publication for (and by) fans of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. All the writing, artwork, layout, and editing was done by members of the DCC RPG Google+ Community. This is the second year the team has done this; last year’s Almanac spanned six volumes, and this year we pushed forward to eight.
In addition to editing, I wrote three pieces for the Almanac this year. They are: Random Tavern Generator (Volume 1), Fantasy Food Generator (also Volume 1), and d50 Fantasy Foods (Volume 8).
You can download all volumes of Gongfarmer’s Almanac 2016 from the community’s Google Drive links below. If you want to order the Almanac in print, you can get the whole shebang in one volume from Lulu (pricing is at-cost, simply covering materials and shipping).
This year I only played in one game at Gen Con. Wait, before you repossess my dice, hear me out.
This was the first year I dragged my wife and son along, so I didn’t want to overload them. Also, as a developing RPG writer, I had a lot of seminars to attend and schmoozing to do, so that took a lot of time. (I had a second game scheduled before we arrived at the con, and ended up canceling it to squeeze in one more seminar.) Finally, I’ve learned to prioritize exhibit hall time over gaming time, because the former is in shorter supply.
Anyway, the game I DID get into was fun enough to justify the whole trip!
I’m realizing a time theme in my Gen Con games…I’ve attended for the last 3 years in a row, and every year I’ve been in a time travel game. This year’s was TimeWatch.
I had just bought the game the day before, and got to meet its designer, Kevin Kulp. TimeWatch is a gonzo time-travel game that uses the Gumshoe system. I missed the game’s Kickstarter (and cursed myself for bad timing), so I was happy to see it on sale at Pelgrane Press’s booth. (Their buy-3-get-one-free sale worked out great for me, too.)
Jumping forward in time approximately a day from my purchase…guess who turned out to be the GM for our session! Yep, Kevin. Kevin ran the adventure “The Gadget,” which I later learned is in the adventure book “Behind Enemy Times.”
“An obsessive 24th-century collector (and disembodied brain) tries to steal the first working atomic bomb for his own personal museum. As Agents work to stop him, ezeru slip in to steal his collection of nuclear warheads.”
My son’s drawing of the disembodied brain
I liked the adventure, and I’m happy to report that Kevin runs a good game. He’s good about letting everyone have their time in the spotlight, including letting each of us define something about the setting (such as the color of time travel, which–in our game–is blue). I also liked his suggestion that we not focus on what was on our character sheets, telling us instead to just think of what cool stuff we wanted to do and go from there.
I played as a British big game hunter from the 19th Century with an impressive elephant gun and an even more impressive mustache. My wife was a sexy liquid-metal-cyborg from India in the future. My son took the part of a caveman with a 12-word vocabulary. (This was a perfect choice for a shy kid who doesn’t want to talk much in front of strangers anyway.)
The other pregenerated characters were all cool too. We had an African pilot from the future, an intelligent velociraptor from an alternate timeline, Genghis Khan’s daughter, and an arrogant scientist who claimed to have invented time travel. These are signature characters in TimeWatch book, referenced in examples throughout the book.
In the adventure, we got to visit several different time periods, gather clues, infiltrate our enemy, and fight a woolly mammoth and a brain-in-a-jar. We were, of course, successful in saving all of time and space. I don’t want to give away too many details about the adventure, in case you have a chance to play it yourself. In fact, if you’re in Memphis, I’ll run it for you!
In general, though, my favorite thing about TimeWatch is that time travel is its core activity. It’s not just a way to get you to the site of an adventure, it’s a tool you’ll use frequently, both in and out of combat. You can have your future self leave an item for you in the present (Bill-and-Ted style). You can jump ahead in time to see the effects of recent events on the timeline. Each character has her own time travel device, so you don’t even have to go as a group.
Oh, another thing I liked about this session was Kevin’s use of “Turn Tracker Cards.” They were awesome for keeping track of whose turn is next and who has already gone–including adversaries, divided up into Minions, Flunkies, etc., all the way up to the Big Bad. (As soon as I got home I ordered my own deck. You can too!)
If this were a review (it’s not), I’d say this: if you like time travel, buy TimeWatch. It’s incredibly fun. As I continue to not review it, I must also say I was surprised how thick the book was. The Gumshoe system seems pretty simple, so I didn’t think this game would require a lot of info. The thing is, I was kinda right! I believe you can run this game after reading just a few of the chapters. A lot of the book is dedicated to alternate campaign settings (every one of which looks compelling), adversaries, adventure seeds, and full adventures. This, for me, is how to present a game: not a lot of it is mandatory for running the game, but they’ve given us a large amount of useful material.
A new Star Trek RPG is in the works! Modiphius Entertainment has the license, as they announced recently on their website. I interviewed Modiphius’s publishing director, Chris Birch, for Gnome Stew. Here’s a link!
I found myself taking notes at all the seminars I attended at this year’s Gen Con, so I figured I’d put them here in case any of you are interested. They’re certainly not comprehensive notes, in some cases, because I wasn’t planning on reporting them. So I just noted the stuff I thought was especially interesting and that I didn’t already know.
Designing for the Cypher System (Monte Cook Games)
Monte Cook and company talked about designing products for the cypher system. Here are a few bits of advice that stuck with me:
Put specific cyphers in an adventure, cyphers that will shape how things happen. For example, an adventure with a barrier that must be passed might feature a phasing cypher.
Every good GM Intrusion should end with, “What are you going to do?”
Look at cypher limits (and the number of GM intrusions you use) as suggestions.
Sean Reynolds said designers shouldn’t worry about competing with MCG. For example, if you come out with a book of Western adventures for the cypher system, don’t worry that MCG will come out with a Western setting and outshine you. The customers will want both!
Monte also mentioned that 90-95% of the products from Monte Cook Games are the result of Kickstarter projects.
Cultivating Healthy Relationships With Publishers (Atlas Games)
Panelists: Jess Banks, Cam Banks, and John Nephew.
I wasn’t good at the note-taking at this seminar, so forgive me for not having much to share. (It was a good seminar!)
Atlas Games supports conventions by providing support in exchange for ad space.
Tools they use internally: Slack, Trello.
Playtesting can get their attention at Atlas Games, leading to design opportunities. They like helpful, interactive playtesters.
Jess likes chocolate. Send her some.
What’s Happening At Chaosium
Panelists: (left to right) Greg Stafford, Michael O’Brien, Neal Robinson, Jeff Richard, Rick Meintz, and (unpictured) Sandy Petersen. Also present were Todd Gardner and Mike Mason.
A lot of the talk involved reassurances that Chaosium has turned around its financial problems and is making things right with customers and professionals. Personally, I get the impression that this is true.
Here are a few more tidbits I caught…
Now when you buy a Chaosium book, you get the PDF free. (Love this news!)
Sandy Petersen was wearing an excellent shirt. The front showed the DOOM logo, and the back said, “Wrote it.”
For Call of Cthulhu playtesting, contact Chaosium’s “Cult of Chaos” (through Mike Mason, I believe).
Chaosium isn’t doing monographs anymore. They want to put more polish into what they work on.
Meet FASA Games
Panelists: Mary Harrison, Andrew Ragland, and Josh Harrison. Also present: Ross Babcock, Todd Bogenrief, Morgan Weeks.
The FASA crew talked about all their product lines:
Demonworld is a miniatures game featuring “shamanic humans vs dwarves.” FASA is now creating a Demonworld RPG. Most of the writers on Demonworld are women. The RPG will be based on the same system Earthdawn uses. FASA is hoping to have the Demonworld RPG out by Gen Con 2017.
Fading Suns has been around for a long time, and is my favorite (current) FASA game. New products in the works include Merchant League (which is mostly done) and several Noble Armada books. Fading Suns will also see a book called Where Shadows Lie (about dark evil things between the stars) and one called Rise of the Phoenix (about the empire).
1879 is like an “earlier era Shadowrun,” a setting where magic has returned in the Victorian Age. The Player’s Guide is out now. The game has are Lewis Carroll tie-ins (such as orcs are called snarks). 1789 has a London sourcebook in the works, as well as a plot point campaign book.
Earthdawn: The latest edition has been out for a year. Some books were delayed.
Ross and Josh talked a bit about strengthening FASA. “We’re back to being like an indy publisher,” Josh said, mentioning that all of them also have day jobs. Ross is pushing for releasing more than one book per line per year; he wants to increase that to one per quarter, and eventually one per month.
Ross said, “FASA has returned from a slumber.”
Instant Adventure With Monte Cook
This is the second year Monte has done this amazing event. I went last year and loved it, so I was happy to drag my wife and son to it with me. (Spoiler alert: they loved it too.)
This year, Monte’s players were Bruce Cordell, Shanna Germain, Sean Reynolds, and Tom Lommel. The audience chose the following story elements, and Monte improvised an adventure around them:
PCs: wizard mobsters
Where the PCs just came from: a PC’s daughter’s wedding
An ally: shady cop
The enemy: a priest
I can’t do justice to this event in words, so I’ll put a video here as soon as MCG releases it. Until then, enjoy this replay of last year’s event.
UPDATE: Here’s this year’s Instant Adventure seminar video…
Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff
I didn’t take notes on this one because Ken and Robin recorded it for an upcoming episode of their podcast of the same name. So go listen to that, when it comes out, and pretend you’re sitting right next to me!
Monte Cook Games Seminar
I took more notes in this one because Monte had big news: they’re releasing a new RPG called Invisible Sun. A Kickstarter for the game launches August 15, 2016, with a planned release timeframe of late 2017.
This is the introductory video MCG showed us at the start of the seminar:
And this is a video of the seminar itself:
Invisible Sun will ship in a complex-looking big black box. In addition to the game book, the box will contain “sooth cards” and apparently some kind of statue of a hand. The hand will be used in-game to hold a card. This will be a “deluxe game,” meaning not cheap. They don’t have a price yet, but mentioned that a past Monte Cook whopper, Ptolus, cost $120 ten years ago.
One thing Monte focused on was his intent to address the challenges of modern gaming with this product–such as players and GMs having busy schedules, players missing games, and players having different interaction preferences. Monte mentioned knowing players who don’t talk much at the table but enjoy the game on a deep (but quiet) level that they’re more comfortable discussing away from the table. Invisible Sun will support this in a number of ways, including its own smartphone app (in which the GM can send sooth cards to players) and the possibility of occasional one-on-one gaming.
In the world of Invisible Sun, the world that we as players know is called “Shadow.” It’s not the “real” world. The real world is hidden to most, and it’s called the “Actuality.” Sometimes, player characters feel the pull back to the shadow. This is how Invisible Sun will explain player absences–the player character has succumbed to the pull and vanished into shadow for a while.
The game will also feature a “directed campaign.” Players will tell MCG when their campaign starts. After that, the Invisible Suns website will have a new monthly offering for your campaign, which will be tailored based on input provided by the group of players. MCG will even send props in the mail to players! (The audience LOVED this.)
The game’s website (designed by Gnome Stew‘s Head Gnome, John Arcadian) is at pathofsuns.com. Monte suggested we go there and look for secrets. The site will be updated daily until the Kickstarter begins (or ends, I forget which).
This is not a cypher system game, but it has similarities. Monte says that the system in Invisible Sun has a “different but similar core mechanic.” He mentioned that the system is very tailored to the setting, so it’s not designed as a general-purpose system like cypher. The game does have a GM intrusion mechanic; in Invisible Sun, they call it “complications.” These are usually associated with magic.
Invisible Sun’s system uses 10-sided dice. A zero is a failure. When a player is using magic, she’ll add a “magic die” (or sometimes more than one), and the magic die has a symbol in place of the zero.
Monte says you could describe the setting thusly: “It’s the Harry Potter books if they were written by Philip K. Dick.”
The key word for the game is: surreal. (This–backed up by the images MCG showed in their introductory video–is what really grabbed my son. And he’s not even much of a gaming fan!)
Features joy and despair points as a type of XP.
The game has a “story point” mechanic.
Magic will be presented as weird and wondrous.
Inspirations for Invisible Sun include: Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol, The Invisibles, China Mieville, Philip K. Dick.
Every player character has an arc. There aren’t levels or tiers in the game, but there are story arcs. Reaching a milestone in your story arc can unlock things for your character.
Each PC has a “house” they can develop and define.
MCG gave out shirts to panel attendees. The shirt (which my son wants to wear every day) depicts “the path of suns,” serving as both a map of reality and also of the human spirit.
They also gave out mysterious sealed envelopes which we were urged not t open until August 15. Dammit.
Monte says this is probably the most complex project he’s ever worked on.
Cypher System News
After the Invisible Sun discussion, MCG moved on to talk about products related to their cypher system line.
Numenera Character Options 2 is coming. Among other things, it includes two new character types: the glint (a face man) and seeker (Indiana Jones).
The Numenera Starter Box (intended for new customers, not folks who already have the core book) will be $15. It will be out by Christmas.
Into the Outside won’t give us just any old alternate dimensions for Numenera; it’ll give us extra weird ones. For example, a place where you exist in 3 dimensions at once, and one where you exist as sound only. The book will include instant adventure spreads for each major dimension.
Predation will be out in 2017. They playtested it at this Gen Con.
Unmasked was also playtested here. Dennis Detwiller said that a player told him Unmasked feels like “The Breakfast Club if it were directed by Stanley Kubrick.” In this setting, cyphers are mundane objects that are revealed to be something special when viewed while wearing a mask.
Expanded Worlds will be a companion to the Cypher System Rulebook. It includes new genres, including mythology, childhood adventure, post apocalypse, and near future science fiction.
Numenera Bestiary 2 is coming.
A Numenera novel and a Strange novel are also in production. (I remember talk of these during a recent MCG Kickstarter, and I’m eager to read them.)
Organized play: Season 0 is going on now in 20 stores. Season 1 starts Sep 15.
Will we see more Numenera world books or adventures? Yes. Monte said they’ll keep supporting whatever games have demand, so that’s up to the customers.
What’s New at Goodman Games
Panelists: Joeb Bittman, Michael Curtis, Joseph Goodman, Jim Wampler, Brendan LaSalle, Harley Stroh, and Doug Kovacs.
(I also spotted Rick Hull and Terry Olson in the audience.)
DCC Annual #1 is due out at the end of the year, or early next year. The art for the book is done.
Mutant Crawl Classics is due to release by August 2017 at the latest. They expect it earlier than that, actually. They expect to offer an open license for MCC some time after release.
A DCCLankhmar Kickstarter is coming at the end of the year. It’ll feature a boxed set with maps.
Big news: Goodman Games has landed the license for a Jack Vance game covering the Dying Earth stories.
I arrived late for this one, so only have a few notes.
Ken says horror games are the best kind of game because they tap into emotion. “Most emotions are too ugly or too personal,” he said, so you don’t want to tap them in public.
Ken says the roller coaster analogy of horror (using a series of ratcheting up tension followed by release) is dumb, but it works, “every goddamn time.” Like when you follow a recipe and put together bread and egg and cinnamon you come out with french toast.
He does suggest you vary the pacing to keep players guessing, though.
That’s it for the seminars I saw at Gen Con 2016. You should come with me next time!