Gen Con 2018

Another Gen Con is behind us, and I’ve finally caught my breath enough to present some highlights of what I did and saw this year.

System Mastery Seminar

I’m a fan of the System Mastery podcast, but this is the first time I had a chance to see the hosts in person. Better yet, it was at a live recording of the podcast. I bet I can hear myself laughing on the recording! I really wished I could have stayed to meet Jef and Jon, but had to rush off to another event before this one even ended because it was a 10 minute walk away. Such is Gen Con!

Plot Points Seminar

The Plot Points crew: Ben, Sarah, and Brad

Remember what I just said about System Mastery? Same deal. I’m a big fan, but never attended a recording before. (Though I was lucky enough to meet Ben last year and hang out for a while.) This year I got Sarah’s business card and chatted with Brad for a few minutes. Wanna know who my favorite is? I’M NOT TELLING!

Monte Cook Games Seminar

This year Monte Cook Games tried something new for their seminar. Instead of sitting on stage and telling us what’s coming up, they divided the attendees into small groups and let us talk to pairs of Monte Cook Games folks about whatever we liked. It was pretty cool, and I learned from Monte that they’ve got Invisible Sun books in the works covering more details about Satyrine as well as more creatures.

Invisible Sun Session

The only game I played at Gen Con this year was a session of Invisible Sun. I’ve been preparing to run the game for my home group, so I was looking forward to seeing what it’s like to play the game. It was fun, though it was strange that none of us ever used our signature character-type abilities. The best thing about the session for me was that it demonstrated that this seemingly-bizarre and outside-the-box RPG is still just an RPG, and plays like one.

The “Strangest Things” Burger

A restaurant called Burger Study ran a Gen Con promotion where they were serving a monstrosity they called the Strangest Things burger. it was a burger with American cheese, peanut butter, and blueberry jam between two Eggo waffles. I am by no means an adventurous eater, but I wanted to try this thing.

Going in…
It was partially edible! I didn’t like the blueberry jam (at all), and it rendered the meat inedible, but I STRANGEly liked the mix of cheese, peanut butter, and Eggo waffle.

Costume Parade

The costume parade on Saturday was an excellent showcase of costumes, as usual. Here I’m sharing my favorite costume of all because I’ve never seen it done before: Firestorm. He even had simulated flame hair, thanks to a lighted fan blowing a piece of flame-shaped gauzy cloth.

Dungeon Master Interactive Stage Adventure

This was pretty cool…a group of performers acted out a semi-improvised fantasy adventure with the help of volunteers from the audience.

Almost everyone on the right is a volunteer!

Goodman Games Seminar

Some of the things Joseph Goodman and crew talked about at this seminar were the upcoming DCC Lankhmar, the soon-to-launch DCC Dying Earth (now led by the excellent Marc Bruner), DCC module #100 by the also-excellent Harley Stroh, and the upcoming Cthulhu Alphabet book.

After-Hours DCC Gaming

This is the first year I caught a glimpse of the semi-organized off-the-books gaming hosted by Doug Kovacs and some of the other Goodman Games crew. I didn’t have time to join a game (because it was late and I value sleep too much), but I loved the atmosphere here, and I hereby vow to game with this gang next year.

A sighting of the famous Judge Evie!

Exhibit Hall

As usual, I spent most of my time in the Exhibit Hall, though still didn’t get to see it all. But I did see Ken & Robin at the Pelgrane booth, saw a lot of my game designer (and editor) friends, and bought too much stuff.

Speaking of buying too much stuff, I was proud to grab the latest Star Trek Adventures sourcebooks by Modiphius and, right next to them, the new Vampire 5th Edition.

That’s It

If you’d like to see more of my Gen Con photos, go check out Gnome Stew’s Gen Con 2018 roundup, featuring some of my many pictures. (My wife and son make fun of me for taking so many pictures–many of them things I already got pictures of in previous years–but I don’t care! It’s fun!)

Gen Con 2017: Writer’s Life: Develop Your Writing Process

This is the second seminar I attended at Gen Con 50. The panelists were stellar and offered a lot of sound advice. Let’s go!

The panelists were (from left to right) Mercedes Lackey, Larry Dixon, Matt Forbeck, Karen Bovenmyer, and John Helfers. Karen was the moderator, and did a superb job at organizing and introducing the topics.

Matt Forbeck mentioned that this is his 36th Gen Con; his first was Gen Con 15. He got started writing in the game industry, and is now a full-time freelancer. Matt is currently contracted for four D&D-branded choose-your-own-adventure style books. (This excited Larry Dixon greatly, as did most of the other work Matt mentioned he’d done, such as the Marvel Encyclopedia.)

Larry Dixon said that he used to do 28 conventions per year. He has been a falconer and a race car driver, in addition to working on 60+ RPGs. Larry also worked on the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films. He said he loves teaching writers.

Mercedes Lackey: “I do this for a living–my mortgage is my muse.” Also, “I don’t have time to fart around.”

Larry backed her up, saying that full-time writers have to work quickly and efficiently. He said his process is “laziness,” because “I wanna go screw around. Fallout HAS to be played.” (He mentioned that Mercedes–who he calls Misty–is currently playing Fallout: New Vegas.)

Matt said that he can’t play or read anything anymore without having to “pull it apart” and analyze it critically.

Matt writes outlines for everything, writing 2-3 sentences per chapter. Matt takes 1-3 days to write an outline. He says he can write 5,000-8,000 words per day if he has a plan. However, he stresses the need to leave room for discovery, because that’s the fun of writing. And says that if you write too much in your outline, it’s hard to throw it away when you feel the need to change the plan. Matt likes to re-outline after a bit of writing, updating the outline with changes that have emerged.

Mercedes writes a skeleton outline:

  1. Premise
  2. Expand to a one-paragraph synopsis
  3. Expand to a five-page skinny outline
  4. Expand to a 40-page outline

Lately Mercedes just does the skinny outline. When she starts work for the day, she first revises yesterday, then writes new words. After she makes changes, she checks for continuity, from the start of the manuscript.

Mercedes added, “I always miss my deadline.”

John Helfers writes in 1-hour bursts, achieving about 1,500 words. When John starts the writing day, he spends about 15 minutes for revision, and then 60 minutes of ONLY writing new material.

Mercedes’s maximum word count for a day was 25,000 words in one 20-hour day. She also works on three different books at a time, each in a different point of the process, such as one she’s outlining, another she’s writing, and another in galleys. One benefit of this is when she’s getting tired of one she can switch to another.

Matt talked about having to juggle projects. He said you don’t know when one you’ve been hoping to work on will suddenly become available. Another struggle for meeting deadlines: “Life happens.”

Larry stressed that you have a system in place for communicating with everyone you’re working with. He said that “editors are there to help,” so writers should use them to do so rather than avoid contact with them when things are running behind. Editors want a good result too, he said. If you’re an inexperienced writer, they’ll already know that, so don’t think you have to hide it. Indeed, Larry said that editors talk to each other, and what’s most important to them isn’t who’s new but who’s an asshole!

Karen Bovenmyer quoted Neil Gaiman’s saying that you can make it in writing by having two of the following three:
* Great writing
* Meeting deadlines
* Being easy to work with
Matt says that only #2 and #3 are in your control.

Tricks the panelists use to get the job done:

  • Coffee (Matt)
  • Remember that what you do affects other people’s salary. People depend on you. (Larry)
  • Listen to soundtracks. (Karen)
  • …without lyrics. “I can’t fucking write to Hamilton.” (Matt)
  • Use a zero-gravity chair (Mercedes)
  • No windows (Mercedes)
  • Comfy chair (Larry)

Matt says that when writing becomes a job, you should take care to find a new hobby, something else that you do for fun.

Karen talked of the value of “thresholding.” She has specified a room where she does her writing, music that she uses for writing, and a time for writing. She also meditates for a set period before she writes.

A panelist (I forget which) mentioned that days off in nature can help recharge your writing batteries.

Larry says to trust your intuition. Matt also mentioned intuition, saying that you’ll learn to trust it more and more, and that following your intuition will help with your speed.

Larry advises considering, “How do I make this awesome?

Karen reminds us that “Fear is the mind-killer.”

The panelists concur that over time, efficiency improves.

Larry and Mercedes like to outline on road trips.

Larry pointed out that readers don’t care about the writer’s problems. All they see is the finished work.

On Editing Your Work:

  • Matt revises as he writes. He says to not be afraid to lean on the editor for some grammar and content issues. It’s what they’re there for! Don’t turn in a sloppy manuscript, of course, but you don’t have to make it perfect.
  • A panelist mentioned that writer David Brin will write a novel, lock it away, and then write it again. None of the panelists are willing to use this method.
  • Matt: “Until you show it to someone, it can suck.” He encourages us to play around with it.
  • Karen: “Do as well as you can, then send it out.”
  • Larry: If you like what you’re writing, others will too.

On Story Ideas, and Saving Abandoned Work

  • Mercedes doesn’t write down ideas. “If it’s a good idea, it’ll come back to me.”
  • Larry does, and says that some old notes are a good way to rediscover ideas that he wasn’t ready to execute at the time.
  • Karen: “I’ve sold short stories based on novels I wrote.” And, “I’ve sold homework!”
  • Larry advises that when you abandon something you’re writing, don’t throw it away. It just wasn’t ready. Karen says to keep sending it out.
  • Larry suggests you make notes, maps, and sketches of your projects, and save them. This can help when you write the sequel!

Recommended Resources:

  • Larry recommends Save the Cat!: The Last Book on Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need by Blake Snyder.
  • Karen recommends a YouTube series of videos by Dan Wells called “7 Point Story Structure.” (Sadly, it’s unavailable right now.)
  • Larry: Studying comedy teaches structure, and economy of words.

I’ll end this summary with my favorite line from Larry:

“Sometimes you have to take a jump. Life is an adventure. Don’t be a spectator.

Gen Con 2017: What’s New With Monte Cook Games

Gen Con 50 was amazing! I wanted to share my notes on the seminars I attended. Here’s the first, the main Monte Cook Games seminar. You can also watch the seminar yourself!

Invisible Sun is expected to ship in March 2018. MCG had a separate seminar for this game. The game will include lots of handouts, such as business cards, letterhead, and other tactile stuff. A mockup of the game box and some of its contents (including a map, some of the cards, and the creepy hand that holds them) was available for viewing and caressing at the MCG booth in the Exhibit Hall.

“Cypher Play” is the MCG demo program. For more info, talk to Darcy Ross. The program will feature three seasons per year, and they’ll be short ones. The first is a Cypher System fantasy campaign by Bruce Cordell. Players are encouraged to tell their local game stores that they want to see this, because this program is driven by store participation. The adventures are free, and a copy is provided for each player (not just each GM).

Shanna Germain talked about the “Cypher Guide,” an upcoming online encyclopedia containing comprehensive info about Cypher System games. It will include page references and rules information for the games. It will be searchable and feature character creation, creatures, foci, types, etc. The Cypher Guide should be live soon. Will it feature 3rd party content? Shanna hadn’t considered this, but said maybe.

Monte talked about the latest Numenera book, “Jade Colossus.” It’s his suggestion about what single book to buy after the corebook. The book contains step by step campaign creation and a Numenera ruin mapping engine.

Unmasked by Dennis Detwiller will finish the Worlds of the Cypher System trilogy, and is due in November 2017. It is a game of psychological horror and superheroes, featuring teens in the 1980s. Masks impart powers, but can also alter one’s personality.

A Cypher System quickstart is coming in September, and will be free online.

Numenera 2: This was the big announcement! This will come in the form of two books: Discovery and Destiny, and will Kickstart in September (for probably $120 for both books in a slipcase). MCG has just started development on it. (Here’s their announcement on the MCG website.)

Discovery will replace the current Numenera core book. (Monte says they are “retiring” that book, which is now selling out from its 4th printing.) It’s not an overhaul to the system; old books will still be usable. It will revise the character creation material, aiming to provide more and better character options. These options will provide more choices when tier-ing up. Monte says this kind of backward compatibility is possible because in the Cypher System PC rules are distinct from NPC rules. He promises a seamless use of old sourcebooks (such as the bestiaries) with the new rules (and vice versa–new bestiaries with the old corebook). He notes that old character options books will be “less useful” with Numenera 2, but the rest will remain useful. Also, the setting chapter might expand on locations that have been added to Numenera over time, such as the city featured in “The Poison Eater” novel.

Destiny will let PCs take discoveries and use them to do things such as build a new base, or vehicle, or help their community in some other way. It will include a crafting system, detailing materials and components with dozens of plans for building things. Destiny will let players be proactive and shepherd a community through long-term campaigns. Monte promises that you can “make your mark on the 9th world.” Destiny will come with three new Types, plus new foci and descriptors. The game will also feature new community-related organizations. (FYI, Monte’s favorite Numenera organization is The Convergence, from Numenera.)

Season 2 of Cypher Play–by Sean Reynolds–will serve as a sort of preview to Numenera 2. Numenera 2 will keep some of the iconic art from the original, but will mostly feature new artwork. The Kickstarter will have a narrative element, involving a community under threat; more backers means more defenses and resources for the community, and this community will become a part of the 9th World. Monte noted that Numenera 2 won’t push any “story” forward in time, because the game doesn’t involve a meta-plot. Monte also asserts that Numenera 2 represents growth for the game.

Selected Q&A:

  • What’s Amp’s favorite game? (Ampersand is Shanna & Monte’s dog) Their answers were “Chase me,” “No Thank You Evil,” and “Anything involving food.”
  • What was your first RPG?
    • Monte: D&D, from the little booklets, when he was 11.
    • Bear: Same as Monte, during boy/cub scouts.
    • Shanna: Bunnies & Burrows, which her babysitter played with her.
    • Bruce: D&D, in boy scouts, playing at a lantern-lit table at night.
    • Darcy: D&D 3rd Edition. (Monte winced at this answer.) Her group played from the Player’s Handbook only, not having the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
    • Zoa: D&D with her brothers (at their demand), when she was 13 and they were 11. They didn’t have a rulebook at all, and she had to make up the rules.
    • Sean: Red box Moldvay D&D. Keep on the Borderlands.
    • Tammie: Ars Magica and D&D
    • Charles: Blue box D&D starting at Christmas ’79. After the newer edition had come out, so he could get his at $12 for the Player’s Handbook, $12 for the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and $15 for the Monster Manual.
  • Will Numenera 2 be open for the Cypher System Creator program? Maybe. Shanna reminded folks that Predation is open for this program.
  • Will there be more Gods of the Fall content? No current plans, but they pointed out that the Creator program has GOTF content now.
  • When will Monte & Shanna’s Numenera novel come out? Possibly November.
  • The Tides of Numenera PC game is how Darcy found out about Numenera.
  • A Cypher System creature deck is coming in November.
  • Will we see a new box for storing cards, since the current one is overflowing? Monte says, “Very likely.” And, “Seems like something we would do.”

That’s it! Tell me what you think about MCG’s plans in the comments!

Gen Con 2016: TimeWatch

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.”

Adventure synopsis:

“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.

End of non-review. It’s table selfie time!

Gen Con 2016: The Seminars

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:

  • Genre: noir
  • 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

Invisible Sun

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 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.”

Miscellaneous notes:

  • 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 DCC Lankhmar 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.

UPDATE: The Spellburn podcast has provided an episode featuring the audio of this seminar. You can find it here: Gencon 2016: What’s New at Goodman Games.

AND: Here’s a video of the seminar…

Cthulhu In Games, with Ken Hite

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!