Interview with Erik Bernhardt

Erik Bernhardt is part of the team behind Crone, a role-playing game where you play as witches.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

My name’s Erik, I’m the Product Manager for Crone, and I’ve been making my own games ever since I was 12 years old and couldn’t afford the upgrade to 3.5e’s manuals. Working with me are my friends Marek and Michelle. We’ve been designing games together for about two years now, though Crone is our first major release. Our artists are Jamie Kinosian and Meghan Penton, and our Graphic Designer is Byron Swain.

Describe Crone for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

Crone is a roleplaying game about witches. You and your friends work together to cast powerful spells, go on adventures, and turn the occasional hapless peasant into a frog or maybe some sort of fowl.

What works of fiction helped inspire Crone?

Everything from The Little Mermaid to Strega Nona. I think we were all told stories about witches as kids. Sometimes they’re the villains, sometimes they’re more helpful and friendly, but they’re always powerful and always interesting. I think there’s a lot of inspiration from classic fairy-tales in Crone, but we do put a modern spin on a few things.

I’ll give you an example. “The Magister” class is based on old, story-book and Disney-style witches. The kind of witch that would turn a prince into a beast for not letting her into his castle. Her visual design is reminiscent of Malificent, with a lot of high collars and flowing gowns. She very much plays into the role of the witch in relation to justice. In a lot of fairy-tales, the witch tends to mete out some form of judgment, whether it be rewarding Cinderella with a gown and turning a pumpkin into a coach, or whether it’s dishing out a suitably ironic and malevolent curse to someone who has transgressed. That’s the kind of witch the Magister is.

Crone is described as a card-based RPG. Does this involve a standard poker deck or a special set of cards similar to the Torg Drama Deck? How would it be employed in gameplay?

Crone uses a set of cards similar to what you might find in a game like Sentinels of the Multiverse or Magic: The Gathering. Cards are used exclusively during combat, transforming Crone from somewhat of a free-form roleplaying game into a fast, fun, and tactical card game. Players use the cards to cast spells, launch attacks, or manipulate their environment. One thing we’re especially proud of is that all the game’s rules can fit on these cards, and they all use the same standard 3d6 plus modifiers resolution as the rest of the game.

What aspects of Crone do you believe cause it to stand out from other settings on the RPG market?

I believe that Crone‘s themes and play-style will make it stand out. There’s a lot of great games out there, some of which you can use magic or play as a spellcaster, but none that I know of are really about witches. Even more specifically the kind of elderly, immensely powerful witches that Crone focuses on. In Crone, the player is given a tremendous amount of power right off the bat; you aren’t hunting down bandits or killing dire rats, you’re laying judgment down upon cities while slaying dragons and ogres! I suspect that Crone will feel a lot more “epic” than a lot of other games.

If Crone proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

Right now, we’re focusing on making Crone the best game it can possibly be. That being said, we do have a number of stretch goals on our Kickstarter where, if we reach them, a number of awesome writers and designers will help us add additional lore and adventure modules to Crone.

Mindjammer

Mindjammer. The role-playing game.

 From: Mindjammer Press

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

Mindjammer is a new role-playing game from Mindjammer Press.

Writing a really good hard sci-fi or space opera game seems to be a definite stumbling block for humanity. Some that we remember fondly like the original Traveller fall a little short now. Others like the awesome SpaceMaster game can get bogged down in a dearth of rules and tables. D20 Future was just a tiny bit off overall and Alternity never gained a following. Mindjammer, in my opinion, has finally brought greatness to the genre.

From the back cover: “Never has there been a greater time of opportunity. The universe is in flux, and for the first time in ten thousand years no one knows what the future will bring. Charge your blaster, thoughtcast your orders to the starship sentience, and fire up the planning engines. Come and defend the light of humanity’s greatest civilization as it spreads to the stars.”

Sarah Newton and crew have created a monster and a masterpiece all in one. The pre-release PDF was 502 pages. Don’t let this scare you. I have never played a game using the FATE rules before. I opened the PDF and did a little spot reading. I admit a few terms confused me. When I started at page one and read through all became clear.

The FATE rules use a simple ‘4DF,’ four Fate Dice system. While they sell Fate Dice (and I would suggest buying them if you play often) you can make do with regular six-siders. The Fate Dice have a ‘-’ (minus) symbol on two faces, a blank (or zero) on two faces and a ‘+’ (plus) symbol on two faces. Basically you roll four dice and add results together. This gives you a shift of -4 to +4 for your skill check or other daring attempt. In practice you can expect a lot of -1, 0 and +1 totals.  This simple roll is it for the system. The complexity and genius come in how it is applied.

Skills are rated as both a number and name. You have Mediocre (+0) to Superb (+5) for your basic list. These are where the average starting character’s skills will lie. Rolling a skill attempt is the above four dice result plus your skill. For example, if you have Good (+3) Ranged Combat and get a net +1 on the dice roll you have a Great (+4) result. Unless your opponent has a very good defense, that’s going to be a solid hit. Characters have other attributes and actions such as spending Fate points, invokes, compels or teamwork that can and will affect the result.

Let’s step back a bit to character creation. The book suggests character creation be your first game. After reading through I agree. To make a character you come up with a high concept. This is a descriptive such as ‘Drifting dancer with a dark secret’ or ‘Long range explorer with a mental issue.’ There is no limit. Descriptors like this really drive the game. Once you have your high concept and an idea of what race you want to play, you can really dive right in and create your Aspects, Skills, Stunts and Extras during play. I’ll leave it there. You should pick this up and play a game. I mentioned that reading through the book was a good idea. I suggest that the Game Master absolutely needs to do this.

I mentioned the descriptors. This is what I call a true Role Playing game. Getting into character in this game will be rewarding. While Roll Players can enjoy fights and other conflicts, the immersion factor is high with this one. For example, when you are hit, you or the GM can state a descriptor like “You have a Bruised Rib” or “Bloody head wound” that will have Role Playing affects. Very different from the usual “You take 5 damage” of many systems.

From page 5 : “The New Commonality of Humankind is a beacon of light in the blackness of space; hyper-advanced technology and transcendent intelligences are its gifts to the stars.”

The Commonality of Humankind (or just the Commonality) is the setting described for this game. It is set several millennia from now. Old Earth has seen ups and downs. A time of expansion where the moon, Mars and other places in the solar system were colonized has escalated to slower than light generation and later stasis crew ships headed towards distant stars. When faster than light travel was discovered explorers headed out again. Many of the ‘slowships’ made it to their destinations. Some were still thriving colonies. Many were struggling or had regressed technologically.  A large fringe area of systems and planets exist ranging from barbaric Stone Age societies to transhuman populations on exotic worlds. A few actual alien intelligences were discovered. One human society turned extremely xenophobic and attacked the Commonality. Using crude faster than light engines bleeding deadly radiation they cut a swath through known space before being stopped. No truce was signed; the Venu Empire is still a known threat.

There is so much packed into this book I cannot possibly describe it all – rules, history, tech, scientific information on planets, stars, space in general and more. The chapters on stellar bodies and planets are worth a read just for any space buffs out there. I haven’t even mentioned the Mindscape. While computers as we know it are obsolete, data and thought can become one with data boosting thought and actions. Imagine if you could access Wikipedia or Google and have that knowledge available at hyper speed any time. Now imagine you could have that as well as real time satellite imaging and more in the middle of a firefight. That analogy just touches the surface of what the mindscape is capable of. Entire campaigns can exist within it.

The real magic of this game is variation. The setting is vast. Since all you really need is a concept to start playing you can enjoy a long campaign building your characters to greatness or short campaigns or a bunch of one-off games. One week you can be intrepid explorers on the outer fringes, the next a diplomatic corps group bringing a new world into the Commonality fold. You can be a group of diehard marines in a planetary assault or covert operatives on a secret mission in the core worlds. You can be a traveling troupe of entertainers visiting stations, ships and worlds on the fringe or a cultural expert changing a planet population’s way of thinking during assimilation. You can be a small ship full of Venu raiders looking for an easy kill or deep core miners trying to survive after a collapse a hundred miles beneath the surface. You could be a group of Mindscape sentinels defending a core world node or a barbaric world ‘mage’ adapting to space travel. This rules set can handle it all. Your imagination will be the only thing slowing you down.

In conclusion, this is a fantastic game. When I first read the guidelines for reviews on the Gamers Codex site I never thought I would find a product that would merit a ‘critical hit’ of 20 on the Codex Rating scale. This product has impressed me more than I can put into words. Even with a copy of the PDF, I may raise the money to get a print copy of the book.

For more details on Mindjammer Press and their new RPG “Mindjammer. The Role Playing Game” check them out at their website http://www.mindjammerpress.com, and at all of your local game stores.

 

Codex Rating: 20

Product Summary

Mindjammer

From: Mindjammer Press

Type of Game: RPG

Written by: Sarah Newton

Developed by: Sarah Newton

Cover Art by: Paul Bourne

Additional Art by: Earl Geier, Jason Juta, FIl Kearney, Eric Lofgren, Marco Morte, Andreas Schroth, Ian Stead, Jeff Ward, Andy Wintrip

Number of Pages: 496

Retail Price: $ 54.99(US) Book and PDF bundle

Item Number:  MUH042201

ISBN: (ebook) 978-0-9574779-5-7

ISBN: (physical version) 978-0-9574779-3-3

Email: info@mindjammer.com

Website:  www.mindjammerpress.com and www.facebook.com/mindjammerpress 

 

Reviewed by: Joey Martin

Castellan

Castellan
From: Steve Jackson Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Castellan is a new table top game from Steve Jackson Games.

At Origins 2013, I saw a lot of demos of a game called Castellan being played and I really wanted to try it out.  Try as I may, I could never find an open table with someone there to teach me.  It looked like a very simple game, reminding me of that game you play with your kids in restaurants while waiting for your food, connecting the dots and making more squares than your opponent.  I was very curious on how they made this into a board game.

From the back cover:
“The King commands two builders to raise a great castle … but only one will rule it!”

A game cannot get much more simple than this.  You form walls of a castle with the pieces that fit together, with certain restrictions for a legal placement.  These walls are connected by towers.  Completing a square allows you to place a colored keep in the middle of it.

However, it is not as simple as just placing walls and towers.  Each player has two sets of 7 card decks – a Wall Deck and a Tower Deck.  You draw from these decks into your hand and the cards tell you what pieces you can play to build you walls.  You can play any combination of cards from your hand and in fact, you can play all of the cards in your hand.  Once played, you draw the pieces from the supply in the game and build your walls; then place keeps where you complete a square or courtyard.

From the back cover:
“With every play, the castle grows”

There are subtle strategies that can allow you to get more points, like creating courtyards with an extra tower or dividing existing courtyards.  The rules recommend that if you can avoid it, don’t play all your cards and I found that was true the hard way.  Sometimes you feel like you can’t avoid it or your opponent will run away with the game but in most cases, it is simply a bad idea.  Be very careful how you place your extra walls and avoid leaving openings for your opponent.  Be very aware of how many your opponent has or she can lay down a bunch and rack up the points.

The games are nicely package and marketed.  There is a second set with different color keeps that allow you to play with 4 players.  After playing with two, I really want to see how this game player out with 4 players.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.

For more details on Steve Jackson Games and their new Table top gameCastellan” check them out at their website http://www.sjgames.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 16

Product Summary

Castellan
From: Steve Jackson Games
Type of Game: Table top game
Game Design by: Beau Beckett
Developed by: Steve Jackson and Phillip Reed
Number of Pages: 4 page rules
Game Components Included: 108 plastic castle pieces(26 long walls, 30 short walls, 32 towers, 20 keeps), 28 cards
Game Components Not Included: Additional set to make it a 4 player game
Retail Price: $34.99(US)
Number of Players: 2
Website: www.sjgames.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

40 years of D&D through the eyes of authors

Dungeons and Dragons celebrates forty years this year.

I started playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons in high school. We would gather at a friend’s house around lunchtime, order pizza, and play until dark. My first character was a druid, who used a silver sickle and immediately used it to tell an overly friendly character to back off.

As an author, I frequently write about my characters, whether it’s backstory, or little stories, or adventures. At the same time, D&D has introduced me to a wider world of science fiction and fantasy literature and I like to think has helped improved my writing.

I was curious about how D&D had influenced some of my other writer friends who happened to be roleplayers.

Jaym Gates is the Communications Director for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association (SFWA), a freelance publicist, editor, and author.

Misty Massey is the author of Mad Kestrel and numerous short stories.

Gail Z. Martin is the author of the Ascendant Kingdoms Saga, The Chronicles of the Necromancer series, and the Fallen Kings Cycle.

Laura Haywood-Cory is an Associate Editor at Baen Books.

1) What was your first introduction to D&D? (And When?)

Jaym Gates (JG): My first knowledge of it was when I was a kid. I grew up in one of those scary right-wing, super-Christian environments that believed D&D was Satan’s tool, and we had several books explaining why it was so awful. Read those cover-to-cover and came to the conclusion that it was quite awesome.

Misty Massey (MM): When I was 15, my mother went off to a professional convention and brought me back a book she thought I’d like: the first edition Player’s Handbook. I had no one to play with at the time, but I read that book cover to cover, over and over. By the time I found a group, I could quote it to you.

Gail Martin (GM): Friends in high school would get together on a Saturday and play all day. Classic D&D.

Laura Haywood-Cory (LHC): My first introduction to D&D was in high school, 1985, and it was AD&D. The same boyfriend who introduced me to Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni books offered to be Dungeon Master for an AD&D game with me, his twin brother, and a friend of theirs. I was the only female in the game. My character was an elven magic user, and our first adventure was the Temple of Elemental Evil.

2) How long have you been playing D&D?

MM: 1979. Junior year of high school. I finally found a group to play with. Two of the folks were in my class, and the DM was the older sister of one of my friends. We got together on Saturday nights and played in their den. We all had characters of good alignments, so I learned a great deal about working together to bring about a desired outcome. I played with them until I went off to college, where I put a note on the cafeteria bulletin board asking for a group to let me join. Dangerous, I know, but I was lucky enough to again find another gaming group. This one was much different from my hometown friends. There were evil characters and plots against other members of the party and thievery…it was AWESOME.

GM: My husband had been playing D&D with his cousins before we got married. Afterwards, we played with them until we 1) had kids, and 2) moved away. Sadly, that kind of spare time just hasn’t been available between kids, writing the books, and running a business, but I have every intention of organizing all the games at the nursing home when I’m finally old enough to be carted off there!

LHC: I played D&D for all of my senior year of high school and for a year or so in college. Then, some friends, including my future husband, corrupted me to the dark side of points-based character generation RPG systems instead of random roll-based character gen, and I quickly converted to HERO System/Champions. I’ve dabbled in D&D a few times since; played in a 2nd ed D&D game long enough to know what THAC0 means, and played in a D&D 3.5 game for a bit. So while I’ve moved on from D&D proper, playing tabletop RPGs has stuck with me — I’ll be 46 next month and am looking forward to getting back into a Fantasy Hero game that’s been on hiatus for a few weeks.

3) What is your favorite type of character to play?

JG: Fighter/tank/armored behemoth, which is great until the GM is pissed at you for drowning one of his NPCs and zaps your fully-armored self with lightning…while you’re standing in a pool of water. I love being the damage-absorbing sort who kind of hangs back until the big battles and then just mows through foes.

MM: Thieves. (Yes, I know, they’re called Rogues now. I don’t care. *grin*) I love trying to be sneaky and sly, especially because I’m not at all like that in real life.

GM: Warrior/mage.

LHC: My favorite type of D&D character to play is some sort of magic user or healer.

4) What challenges have you faced playing D&D?

JG: My RPG life is cursed. I can schedule 20 board/card game nights a month and get all of them, but schedule one RPG and every single participant has something happen to them.

MM: I’ve been lucky. Only once did I ever run into gender discrimination with gaming. Between receiving my book and finding my first group, I attempted to join a group of guys at my high school. The first time I went to a game session, I’d already prepped a character — a fighter/cleric who wore armor and carried a mace. They laughed and told me girls couldn’t fight. They were okay with me being a cleric, because I could heal them, but they didn’t want to let me do anything else. I took my books and went home immediately because I wasn’t going to stick around with a bunch of jerks. It wouldn’t have been any fun. And the whole point of gaming is to have fun!

GM: More orcs than I can count.

LHC: I haven’t had a lot of issues from fellow gamers. Especially when I was first getting into it, female gamers were such a rarity that we were given warm welcomes and made to feel at home, and the other players were good at helping me understand the rules, even if I never did become a master at min-maxing. There was sometimes a little bit of “Oh, you’re only here because your boyfriend is playing,” but once they realized that no, I was playing the game because I wanted to be playing the game, then I was treated as just another part of the group.

The main challenge I had, and it’s specifically linked to D&D since there weren’t many other RPG systems out in the mid ’80s, was that my mother was convinced that D&D was a tool of Satan and that I was going to burn in Hell if I didn’t quit playing. For this I squarely blame Patricia Pulling and her group BADD (Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons), a book by one Jerry Johnston called The Edge of Evil: The Rise of Satanism in North America, and Rona Jaffe’s novel, Mazes & Monsters, that got adapted into the Tom Hanks movie and led to people all over the country internalizing the stereotype that gamers are freakish loners who get lost in steam tunnels and take the game way too seriously.

  tom hanks

It’s my fervent hope that this issue primarily affected those of us who are Gen X gamers; thankfully the “Satanic panic” of the ’80s and early ’90s has faded, and role-playing games don’t seem to get that knee-jerk “Evil! Bad!” reaction that they once did. But I was a teenager and young adult right smack in the middle of the Satanic Panic, and my mom fell for it, hard. For example, our copy of Johnston’s book had the section on D&D highlighted, dog-eared, and underlined, and it was very clearly aimed at me, since neither of my siblings played RPGs.

It was actually helpful for me, then, to move to playing Champions in college; when my mom would call me up and ask if I was “still playing that ‘evil D&D,'” I could tell her in all honesty that no, I was no longer playing D&D.

That said, when I had to move home for a year after college, I left all of my gaming books, dice, and character sheets with a friend, until I could get my own apartment.

5) What’s your favorite D&D memory? 

JG: My first actual D&D game was at Gen Con, and not only was it all pros, it was That Special Kind of Pro, with a fairly straight-laced GM. We were told that we’d be playing characters that matched the players’ genders. Right off, Peter’s rogue was a cross-dresser always sneaking off to check his makeup, Ari’s wizard was trying to defeat monsters with puns, and my character entered every delicate situation with “I try to hit them over the head with my giant sword.” The GM was chugging whiskey within moments.

Or, within that same game, the look on the DM’s face when I stuck his kobold NPC headfirst into the water to see if it was booby-trapped. “Why would you DO that?” Needless to say, that’s when he fried me with lightning.

MM: There are so many! This is the first one that comes to mind: I’d been playing a neutral evil half-orc/half-gnome cleric/assassin named Kestrel (no relation to the pirate!)  She’d fallen in love with a shipbuilder (NPC, which meant he was being played by my RL husband, the DM) in the town the group was adventuring in, but he didn’t want a lover who moved around all the time, so he’d broken things off with me and agreed to marry the daughter of a local landowner instead. I was so angry and heartbroken, I hatched a plan to make sure the wedding never happened. I inveigled myself into the daughter’s household, convinced her we were friends, then murdered her and burned the house down.

No, it wasn’t nice at all (evil, remember?), but you should have seen everyone else’s faces when I pulled it off. Glorious. And yes, I eventually won back the man of my heart. But that’s another story.

GM: I think my favorite memory is having been so immersed in the story and the action that I kind of “woke up” six hours or so later with absolutely no idea of how much time had elapsed, feeling as if the adventure had been real.

LHC: A favorite memory comes from an Oriental Adventures campaign; I was playing a wu-jen (a sort of magic user). I forget what happened but I started laughing and couldn’t stop, and one of the other players, in character, asked mine what was so funny. I looked down my nose at him and said, “The things which amuse the wu-jen are far beyond your comprehension,” at which point the rest of the group cracked up, too. It’s a “you had to be there” moment, but it’s stuck with me after all this time. 🙂 

6) What do you think you learned from D&D that you might not have picked up otherwise?

JG: I’m not sure it was D&D-specific, but a game is what you make it. D&D is THE heroic fantasy cliche, but you can make something absolutely unique out of it if you have the right people.

MM: I learned how to work with a team and how to blend my ideas with those of others to make a perfect plan. I learned that sometimes you get a better result by trusting your buddies than you would alone (although sometimes it’s a good idea to ditch them all and take the treasure for yourself, too.) I learned that it’s okay to stand my ground and fight for what I believe, even if I lose and have to go along with the group anyway.

Most of all, I learned that you never, ever assume that the groaning sailors shambling all over the deck are zombies. Sometimes they’re just under a spell.

GM: I really got a sense for the teamwork needed in a quest adventure, which translated both to fiction and to real life. I also learned just how creative people can be in inventing stories to amaze and amuse, and how inventive folks who don’t always consider themselves to be “creative” (i.e. engineers, math majors, programmers, etc. as opposed to artists, writers, etc.) really are and how they need to give themselves credit for that! And I get the gaming references in pop culture!

This video goes rather well with the topic, Natural Twenty by the Blibbering Humdingers

http://youtu.be/THv9k5ol5g4

And Mickey Mason’s “Best Game Ever”

http://youtu.be/M60zW_Mfm58

LHC: One thing that D&D taught me is that I’m much more interested in collaborative efforts than competitive ones; it’s why I used to not like convention or tournament-style gaming. It always felt too much like I was competing against the other players–because I was. To this day, I’m very much a fan of collaborative games over competitive ones like Monopoly or Risk. And in real life, I’d much rather work on something as a team, rather than trying to be a general barking orders and having people say “How high?” when I shout “Jump!” So what I’m saying is that I’d make a lousy drill sergeant. 🙂

In conclusion: gaming is fun, and learning teamwork is good. Play on!

Interview with Christina Stiles

First and foremost, tell us a little about yourself, your gaming experience and your writing experience?

I’ve been gaming since I was 12, and I’m in my 40s now. I started with the Basic Set of Dungeons & Dragons. My brother had purchased the game and needed a victim…ah, player. I was immediately hooked—even though most of my characters died horrendous deaths—and I spent way too much time thinking about my characters and the plots going on with them while I was in school. In fact, I’m not really sure how I graduated high school with honors, as my head was definitely NOT in my schoolwork!

I’ve played all the versions of D&D since (though not 4e so much), and I branched out into other games over the years: RIFTS, Savage Worlds, MAGE, Call of Cthulhu, D20 Modern, Traveller, Castles & Crusades, Pathfinder and many others. I admit that I’m mostly a tabletop RPG gamer. I don’t play boardgames, and I’ve only played a few card games. In the future, I intend to branch out to try the things I’ve been missing. I was sitting at Mysticon this past month, hearing people talk about so many different games that I haven’t tried, and I decided then and there that I really should see what else is out there and broaden my gaming experiences.

In terms of writing, I got my first gaming piece published in DUNGEON #61, “Jigsaw,” which I co-authored with Dan DeFazio. I actually started working with Dan after I had sent a letter to him and his co-author about how much I enjoyed their “Is There an Elf in the House?” adventure in an earlier issue. We hit it off well through snail mail, and that was how it all began. It would be years later, when the Open Gaming License came out, that I turned seriously to pursuing more writing. I wrote for the D20 System during its heyday, and I was lost as a freelancer when 4e came out—it just did not click with me. I then turned to writing for White Wolf Studios and Troll Lord Games. I got into writing for Pathfinder through several Kobold Press patron projects. I’ve kept very busy with Pathfinder for the last few years, and it is the game I play the most.

Tell us a little about your other work?

I mostly write games and edit them. I have had two short stories published, and I’ll be working on more fiction this year—some with the NYT bestselling author Faith Hunter. I’ve got a nonfiction book on introducing women to tabletop gaming in the works, and it’s on IndieGoGo right now: Medusa’s Guide for Gamer Girls (it ends March 19th). I’ve had a lot of women from the gaming industry sign on to write something for the project. I’m very excited about this! Just some of the ladies joining me include: Jodi Black, Filamena Young, Amber Scott, Amanda Hamon, Carinn Seabolt, Lillian Cohen-Moore, Jen Page, Ree Sosebee, and many others. I have male contributors, as well.

You do a lot of work for other groups (Green Ronin, Paizo, etc).  How does that differ from your own works?

I’m occasionally much sillier with my own works. For instance, I’ve published the gingerbread golem monster under my Christina Stiles Presents company. I laugh just thinking about that monster! But, mainly, there isn’t much difference. It’s just a matter of my own works being things that I’m passionate about getting out in the world. When I work for others, I’m generally writing something that they have outlined or have a specific vision for.

Describe Medusa for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

I’ve done several women-and-gaming panels at conventions over the years, and this book is aimed at explaining tabletop RPGs to the curious, and it seeks to offer ways to make gaming, a generally male-dominated hobby, more welcoming to women. Plus, we talk about how women can break into the gaming industry, and we talk about ways to introduce kids to gaming.

What made you focus on Gaming for Girls?

Honestly, the lack of seeing very many women gaming at the cons and game stores that I’ve played at. I have SO MUCH FUN with this hobby, and I want other women to join the fun. If they’ve tried the hobby and soon dropped it because they weren’t treated well by the males at the table, I want them to know that they don’t have to deal with people who want to exclude them or treat them as sex objects rather than as fellow gamers. I’ve gamed with way too many excellent male gamers who have been nothing but inclusive and appropriate; such groups are, in fact, more often the norm in my experience. Yet, I hear lots of horror stories about how women have been treated. As a teenager, I had a bad experience gaming with a 30-something GM who behaved extremely inappropriately toward me, in that he was hitting on me. I believe I was 13 at the time. His behavior turned me away from gaming with those other than my family and friends for a long time.

What are you most proud of in this work?

The book is really in concept stage at this point. That said, I’m most proud at this moment that so many people have reached out to me to become a part of the book. Lots of folks—both men and women—it seems, are just as passionate as I am about the subject.

What made you bring in such a variety of other contributors (comic book authors,fans, etc)?

Mainly, I wanted the reader to see how many of us women are out there. Not only are we gamers, we are professionals in the field or have been gaming for a long time. I don’t think women gamers realize that there are women out there contributing to the hobby, and I wanted girls to have some role models. I hope we inspire some ladies to consider entering the industry in a capacity that matches their talents.

What advice do you have for girls who want to game?

The biggest advice I have is this: There are groups out there that are very inclusive of all gamers, so don’t believe that a few bad experiences with sexist gamers are indicative of the hobby; find an accepting group—they really do exist!

Additionally, if you will be at Congregate and want to learn how to play a roleplaying game, come out and game with me. I’ll be there running a few things—possibly Rogue Mage and Pathfinder.

Interview with Vincent Venturella of Venture Land Games

Hello, Mr. Venturella. Thank you for taking the time out to interview with us.

First and foremost, tell us a little about yourself, your gaming experience and your writing experience.

I started playing RPGs 25 years ago. My road to RPGs started in two ways. I was super sick on vacation and a friend gave me The Hobbit to read while I was stuck in bed. I finished in it in a day and immediately started on The Fellowship of the Ring, I was hooked. I didn’t know RPGs were a thing; I just knew I loved fantasy worlds. Later, I found myself in Walden Books (now I sound like my Grandma saying she was down at the Soda Fountain) and I was entranced by the cover art of these strange D&D books. I just asked one of the associates what I needed in order to play and they gave me the Player’s Handbook, DMG and Keep on the Borderlands. My friends and I spent several months playing completely wrong until we eventually found an experienced DM. I wouldn’t say our games were amazing or groundbreaking, but we certainly had fun. D&D was of course the gateway drug; soon I moved on to Rifts, Vampire, GURPS, Mechwarrior and anything else I could get my hands on.

Everyone who plays RPGs dabbles in design, that is the beautiful part of this hobby. We are all entitled to make changes and make the game our own. On a road trip in 2003 my friend and I were discussing wanting to play a cyperpunk RPG but being unhappy with anything that was on the market. Looking around, I noticed the OGL and so our first game was born; Future Lost. It wasn’t great and it was rife with all sorts of problems, but it was fun and it gave me the taste for design. Since then I have designed 4 more games including the most recent; NGS, the Narrative Game System.

For perspective and context purposes, tell us what other systems you have played and enjoyed.

I would be hard pressed to find a game I have played that didn’t have something great in it. If there is one thing I have learned it’s that making something like an RPG is an act of real love for your product. I have never met a designer who didn’t invest their heart and soul into their game, and such dedication doesn’t always equal a great game, but it means there are always some great ideas.

A sampling:

D&D: What is not to love? As the father of it all, D&D has an incredible legacy. I love that it has created a shared vocabulary and set of experiences that so much of our community shares. What I think I love the most was the insight of Rule 0 – the reality and acceptance that the designer can never write enough or make rules smart enough to cover every situation. The GM has to be the author – of their worlds, their story and ultimately, their experience.

GURPS: I love the idea that a game can be a template for any setting and so many different experiences. That idea was definitely a big inspiration for us with NGS.

Vampire: This game was a revelation for me on two levels. First, it was the first game I played that was really focused on the narrative and an evolving story. Second, I loved how much you could make a whole game focused on the exploration of a single theme, tone and concept. From rules to even art direction, this game sold you on its world.

FATE: Fred Hicks and team are incredible designers. The game they created, like GURPS before, showed people that you could have a game that allowed exploration of so many different worlds and settings. I also liked their mechanics because they showed you could keep things simpler and still have a rich experience.

There are so many more, Battletech (Who doesn’t love Giant Mechs shooting each other), Rifts (Kitchen-Sink Sci-Fi where anything from a homeless man to a godling are legitimate characters), Burning Wheel (Incredibly inventive and smooth mechanics that pair well with the ability to tell a story), Marvel Superheroes (probably some of the most creative design around Super Hero powers). I could go on, but I think I have beat the drum enough.

What is Narrative Game System to you?

In simple terms, the game I am most proud of designing of everything I have done. To talk about the actual game, NGS is a rules-light game focused on collaborative story-telling. The three things I love the most about NGS are the following.

1) The ability to play in any world, any setting, anytime. Its our catchphrase, but we really mean it. In the updates of our Kickstarter, we have a complete cooperative setting-build. We go from nothing to a ready-to-play world in an hour and a half. We are very proud of the guidance and method we offer in NGS to empower not only the GM but his entire group to create an engaging and compelling world, fast.

2) The ability to collaborate in your story-telling at every point in the process. Our focus on collaborative story-telling is total, you make your settings together, you make your characters together, you tell the story together and you even assign experience together.

3) Simple, but powerful mechanics. Our mechanics are very light; it is basically 4 mechanical abilities with a single die + a bonus. It’s so light that it never gets in the way of the story. I have seen people I would never describe as role-players come out of their shell and try things they might otherwise never do because they weren’t worried about the mechanics or failing, they were just thinking about the story and completely immersed in their characters.

What inspired you to write Narrative Game System?

It was a combination of factors. I was interested in tackling a common problem, mechanically forced character and story design. What I mean by that is that if you have ever played an RPG, then you probably experienced something like the following.

You show up to a new game with a character idea, lets say a grizzled space pirate or a dwarven bounty hunter, it doesn’t matter. You have an idea. When you then start to go through the mechanical choice points of the game (perhaps there are tens, hundreds, or maybe even thousands of choices you make) you will come to the following dilliema. You come to a choice between A and B. A is the more “powerful” choice within the context of the game, but doesn’t actually align with your character. “B” is for your character but “weaker” in the same context. So what do you do? Do you change your character and play what the game forces you to do? So you end up with a different character than you intended. On the other hand, you can choose “B” and stay in character but then risk having a negative play experience. I wanted to design a game where you made one mechanical choice. If you want to be strong or good at combat or a master of necromancy – then you are, its one choice. Everything else is choosing what matters – who your character is. I wanted most of the character creation to focus on your character’s past, present and future, their goals and motivations, their flaws and failures. That leads me to the next item that led me to the game.

I was very interested in creating a game solely focused on collaboration. As I said in our Kickstarter video, if you wanted to play a game by yourself, why did you have 5 friends come over to your house? RPGs have always been about collaboration, you were on the adventures together from the first games of D&D. I wanted to make sure we took that idea all the way. So we set about to design a game solely focused on working together, players and GMs, to craft worlds, characters, stories and ultimately, the experience.

A common debate in the RPG design industry is narrative story making vs. tactical simulation vs. a balance of both, such as in Ron Edwards’ GNS model of Role Playing Theory. What is it about the narrative to you that makes it paramount, over say tactical aspects of the game or structured rules of the game?

I think the GNS model gets invoked where Ron never intended it to. By that I mean people use it to try to say that one game or type of game is superior, or that there is some perfect game that could be written. Edwards later moved to the Big Model and I think that accurately captures something; there is no perfect game. I think it goes back to Howard Moskewitz and Pasta Sauce. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iIiAAhUeR6Y). Basically, the story breaks down like this – A man was charged to create the ultimate pasta sauce and after copious research he came back and said it was impossible. There was no one perfect pasta sauce. What they needed was 3 pasta sauces, (or more) to meet the various tastes in the market. This has become the norm in food, when we go to the grocery, we don’t expect one perfect coffee or cereal or anything like that. Instead, we find the one (or even multiple) that suit our tastes. Somehow, we haven’t made that move in gaming.

I think Ron’s insight was in identifying the Creative Agenda. The appropriate game and the nature of the rules and experience is all about the group being willing to agree to a single creative agenda. I love both rules light and more mechanical RPGs; both offer a unique experience depending on the creative agenda I am pursuing.

So there isn’t something that naturally makes the narrative more paramount in all cases. It’s only relevant if you are pursuing that creative agenda. My feeling would be if you are seeking after a story-driven, narrative experience, then what you should be after is the lightest touch of mechanics possible that allows for the most immersive and collaborative story-telling, and I think that is what NGS delivers.

What is more satisfying to you when playing in an RPG – a great single session of story making or the extended story made over many sessions in a campaign?

I would say either can be great. Undoubtedly every gamer carries stories and memories of some game that only ran one or two games but produced something that sticks with them. In the end, though, I love the ability of a story to develop over time. I think there is something deeply rewarding about working with your friends to create a shared experience that you will all carry with you for the rest of your lives, and something that rich can only happen over a protracted series of sessions where people have successes and failings and basically experience all the complexity of life itself within the game.

What are you most proud of in this work?

I touched on this in detail earlier, so I would simply say the whole product. It has been a true labor of love from my entire team. One additional item I didn’t mention earlier was that in the NGS book, we focus a great deal on the behind-the-scenes. We are trying to show everyone not just how to play the game but why we made the decisions we did and empowering them to change things to tell the narrative they want to tell. If NGS helped people tell deeper, more engaging and exciting stories, then I would be very proud indeed.

What is in the future for NGS after your Kickstarter?

We have already reached our funding goal and now it’s a question of how far into the Stretch Goals we will get. Kickstarters are such an emotionally involving experience, its hard to imagine until you do it and even though I read so much and thought I was mentally prepared, you are never really ready.

One great thing about NGS is we don’t intend to write more books of rules to sell people – we don’t need to, everything you need for a lifetime of play is contained in that one book. We would like to continue to foster the collaborative aspect of the game, so after the book is published, we want to create a community where people can come and share their experiences. We want to give them a forum to share the worlds they created, the Narrative Abilities they have made and the stories they have shared. The game is about collaboration in play, and I would love to see that extend all the way up to the collective experience of all of our players.

Thank you for this great opportunity. I would encourage everyone to visit the Kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/617292343/ngs-the-narrative-game-system) or visit www.venturelandgames.com for additional information.

You can find us on facebook and follow us on Twitter @VentureLandRPGs

Interview with Jim Thomson

Jim Thomson is the writer of Judge Fool, a time travel superhero setting to be published by the Savage Worlds licensee Plain Brown Wrapper Games.

To start off, tell us about yourself and your history in gaming.

I’m from nowhere. But let me be more specific.

When people ask me where I’m from, I usually say “Alaska” because I spent more of my childhood there than anywhere else. But the truth is that my dad is a wildlife photographer. We traveled the country constantly, and I grew up in the back of the van, reading comics and playing role-playing games with my brothers. So the road is my home town, or the wilderness is. But no specific road and no specific wilderness. We traveled them all.

Around 1979 I cobbled together a version of AD&D from copies of the books that we read bits of in bookstores. I had scribbled the fragments of the rules we’d been able to read down in notebooks that we lugged around with us on the trail. Later I came up with a superhero game that everyone seemed to like a lot more. You might think that wilderness D&D adventures would have been what we liked best. But wilderness adventures were our real life and RPGs are what you do to get away from real life. So superheroes were our thing.

I’m the oldest of eight, so I generally got stuck being the GM and the game designer, too. Roles I seem to still be stuck with today.

When it was time for high school after having been home-schooled for most of my life, I went to live with my grandparents in a wealthy suburb of Chicago. I had come straight from the wilderness and I worried that I was going to be a fish out of water. I particularly feared that role playing games were a weird hobby that no one would find acceptable. But in fact it was the early Eighties, every teenager was into RPGs, good GMs were in demand and being a wilderness kid made you exotic and cool.

All through the Nineties I foolishly hid my nerdy past, pretended not to like role playing games or even to have heard of them. But somewhere around the beginning of the 21st Century, I realized that I had been a moron to stay away from the scene for so long. But even then, by some weird joke of fate I actually started writing RPG books and getting them published years before I returned to playing the games. I am still kicking myself over how much fun I missed.

If there is a moral to this story it’s: Be who you are. Revel in your weirdness.

Describe Judge Fool for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

A crazed, brain-melting cosmic saga that will sweep your player characters off to the far ends of time and space. Take one part superhero comic, one part time travel story, one part psychedelic weirdness, shake until addled, feed it bad drugs and you’ve got Judge Fool.

The Lords of Dust and Silence are coming, eating the future as they draw nearer, and only you know how to stop them before they devour all of reality. You’re going to have to go tumbling across the centuries, zig-zagging up and down the timeways, to intercept them in the Sixty-First Century. All the while their dread minions will be at your heels, and these are far from the only dangers that you’ll face along the way. And you’ll get to punch out a dinosaur!

What works of fiction helped inspire Judge Fool?

I started reading comic books in the late 1970s, right when the whole world went crazy for Star Wars and every comic and Saturday morning cartoon in America suddenly had a space theme. I ate up all of Jim Starlin’s wonderful, lunatic outer space adventures–Captain Marvel, Adam Warlock, etc. I thought this was what all superhero comics were supposed to be like! I had no idea that superheroes might spend their time lurking on shadowy rooftops downtown, waiting to beat up muggers. Why would anyone bother to do that when they could go punch out Thanos?

Of course these days I seem to write nothing but “gritty, street-level” stuff when I produce comic book related work (Bedlam City was four hundred pages of that kind of material.) But I never lost my love of Adam Warlock, The Forever People or their groovy, mind-bending cosmic adventures.

So I would say that Judge Fool was influenced by Jack Kirby’s New Gods, Jim Starlin’s aforementioned work for Marvel, Bryan Talbot’s The Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Terry Gilliam’s movie Time Bandits, Grant Morrison’s weirder and trippier work (Doom Patrol, Marvel Boy, The Invisibles, etc.) with more than a little Doctor Who thrown in.

Is the risk of paradox going to be a significant element in Judge Fool?

There are two points in the story where time paradoxes come into play. One is easy to avoid, and one is critical to the plot. If the time-stream does get damaged thanks to the Player Characters’ actions and reality begins to fray out and fold back on itself, we have some rules for the effects this has. Sorry to be so coy and obscure about the specifics, but I’m afraid if I tell you more details it’s going to wreck some surprises.

Aside from the time travel angle, what aspects of Judge Fool do you believe cause it to stand out from other superhero settings on the RPG market?

Didn’t I mention that you’ll get to punch out a dinosaur? But seriously, the scenario’s fast pace and crazy exotic settings are its most notable features. The PCs are going to get to see some very strange future worlds and some past ones too, and each one is really distinctive and really different from the others. It’s all going to come at the Player Characters very quickly, with lots of narrow escapes and rapid-fire action. (One of the great things about Savage Worlds is that combat gets resolved so fast and easily that you can pack a whole lot of it in.)

Judge Fool also gives the PCs more options for taking individual initiative than a lot of published adventures do. The Player Characters will get to make real choices and the choices that they make are really going to matter.

Many Savage Worlds settings feature what is known as a Plot Point Campaign. Will Judge Fool have one, either in the main setting book or a future supplement? If so, are there any details about it you’re willing to reveal at this time?

Judge Fool is somewhere between a long adventure module and a short campaign. It’s really meant to be a single lengthy and complex adventure that occupies a superhero group for five or six issues of their comic, rather than an entire comic book series. Still, we could easily wind up expanding it into something longer if the first book does well.

If Judge Fool proves to be successful, are there any additional supplements you would like to publish for the setting?

Plain Brown Wrapper Games is already producing a companion volume called “Tales of Tomorrow,” but that’s going to be a strictly limited edition book, available only to people who have backed the Kickstarter. It provides additional material on each of the different future eras the PCs will visit during the course of the adventure.

However, if people like Judge Fool, there will be a sequel. And if they like the sequel too, well, there are all kinds of other adventures a group of player characters could have up and down the timestream…

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf
From
: Gale Force Nine
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf is a new Board Game Expansion from Gale Force Nine.

One game that has really impacted me this year is Spartacus, A Game of Blood and Treachery. Not only am I a huge fan of the series but the game itself is great, whether you like the series or not.  It is one of those games that has so many satisfying elements in it that I crave to play it every opportunity I get.  However, one of the more disappointing aspects of the game was the player limit.  I prefer games that allow for 5 or 6 players and the base game only allowed 4.

Enter the Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf expansion.  Not only does it allow for 5 or 6 players, it brings a lot more to the arena.

From page #1:
“The shadow of Rome has fallen over Capua.”

The two new houses (and thus 2 new players) it brings to the game are House Seppius and House Varinius, based on second season (the prequel season) houses.  Seppius is a highly defensive and insidious house.  It can increase the Influence requirements of any card played on it (thus basically nullifying the card) by exhausting a guard.  They also gain gold whenever someone else gains gold from a scheme.  That last one really had a major effect in the game.  House Varinius, on the other hand, is a rather forceful and connected house.  They can demand support for a scheme rather than request and may gain guards from the discard pile by exhausting three that he has (calling upon support from Rome).  Both houses bring new play into the game while remaining reasonably balanced with everyone else.

Along with the additional houses, the expansion adds 31 new Market cards, and 55 more Intrigue cards.  These are mixed in with the base set, giving a much larger selection of items and schemes for the players to choose from.  A new aspect to Schemes is a new Influence requirement – Higher Influence and Lower Influence.  In this case, the Influence Requirement is not a specific number.  Instead, for example, Higher Influence means you have to have higher influence than the target of the Scheme. Each new card is marked with a serpent head symbol so they can be distinguished.  Most of the cards are on par with existing cards in the base set in terms of power and effect.  A few are fairly surprising, but as a whole they are not too surprising or unbalancing.

From page #1:
“The influential houses of Seppius and Varinius are now vying for power!”

Another big addition to the game is the Primus – the super bowl of arena fights.  This allows for teams of gladiators – 2 on each side – in the arena.  Once the Host has been decided and he has received his Honor, if he has enough Influence, he may call a Primus.  A particular Scheme card may allow for a Primus to be called regardless of the Influence requirement.

The Host must send out 4 invitations into the arena and no house may receive more than two invitations.  The effects for refusing an invitation are the same as the base game.  The Host then must form teams of 2.  If a single house received two invitations, that is considered one team.  Wagers for the Primus are handled similarly except Victory is decided from the perspective of teams rather than individuals.

An interesting aspect to this is Treacherous Gladiators.  Some Gladiators are able to switch teams in the middle of combat.  This can be a particularly nasty result, creating a 3 on 1 battle in the arena.  That can create some enemies in the game really quickly.

In conclusion, this is an awesome addition to an already awesome game.  It improves on the areas of the game that had room for it and doesn’t over complicate the game.  It only makes me want to play the game more.

For more details on Gale Force Nine and their new Board Game ExpansionSpartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf” check them out at their website http://www.gf9.com, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 19

Product Summary

Spartacus: The Serpents and The Wolf
From: Gale Force Nine
Type of Game: Board Game Expansion
Written by: John Kovaleski
Game Design by: Sean Swigart, Aaron Dill
Number of Pages: 12 page rulebook
Game Components Included: 31 New Market cards, 55 New Intrigue Cards, 2 New house cards, 50 tokens and coins, 2 gladiator figures, 26 dice, 12 page rulebook
Game Components Not Included: Base Spartacus board game
Retail Price: $25.99 (US)
Number of Players: Increases base game to 5 or 6 players
Player Ages: 17+ due to adult content
Play Time: 150+ minutes
Website: www.gf9.com

Reviewed by: Ron McClung