Interview with Casey Hayes of Team Badass Productions

Casey Hayes is the founder of Team Badass Productions. Their first project is Bump in the Night.

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

Right now, I’m a recent college graduate in English looking to continue on for an M.Ed to work in university administration. Meanwhile, however, I’ve been designing tabletop games in one form or another since I was very young. I started with role playing games my sophomore year of college, and I’ve been running games for my group ever since. Bump in the Night is my first big project, however.

Describe Bump in the Night for us in the form of an elevator pitch.

A game about rookie paranormal investigators trying to establish themselves into a legitimate organization.

What works of fiction helped inspire Bump in the Night?

One of my playtesters enthusiastically refers to the game as “Ghostfacers: the RPG,” so Supernatural is a pretty big influence. I also ended up watching a lot of ghost hunting TV shows while researching the game, particularly Destination Truth and The Dead Files. Lastly, several movies and TV series worked their way into becoming major influences, particularly The Exorcist and the Paranormal Activity series to get more inspiration for the horror aspects of the game, and the anime series Ghost Hunt for inspiration on how investigation can be incorporated into a major part of a game’s plot.

What sort of presence will traits such as magic, psychic abilities, and weird science have in the game?

Scientific and supernatural abilities will both be present in the game, although how much of each is present is up to the GM and players. A major mechanic in the game is the Agency Goal, a statement of purpose the group chooses when they form into a group. This means that a group that chooses an Agency Goal dedicated to uncovering hoaxes is going to be facing way less of the supernatural than a group of exorcists with an Agency Goal of helping people who have been possessed. Furthermore, PCs can be scientists, spiritualists, and mediums, but a spiritualist’s ritual magic can mess with scientific equipment should they be too overt. On a similar note, a medium can see and speak with spirits, but cannot make them appear. So a medium can speak with a ghost all they want, but to a video camera, it will just look like the medium is talking to the air.

What aspects of Bump in the Night do you believe cause it to stand out from other paranormal investigation settings on the RPG market?

When I first started working on Bump, around about the second day of working on it after the initial idea flurry, I looked into what other games I could find on the subject of ghost hunting. In the end, other than Core games like FATE Core or GURPS which can run theoretically anything, the only things I could really find were the WoD Hunter and Call/Trail of Cthulhu. This presented sort of an interesting division; one game was about investigating the supernatural and shooting it, while the other revolved around the inevitability of character death and investigation and research leading down paths of insanity or worse. I wanted to make a game that served as a happy medium between the two, a game with room for horror aspects, but one that focused primarily on investigation, thinking, and working out issues peacefully.

One of the other things that I hope sets Bump apart from other RPGs is the organization aspect. The players’ Agency is a big part of how they operate, and the Agency has the potential to become an independent character in its own right. (My original playtest group even ended up designing a unique logo for their Agency.) Lastly, I tried to make the rules to Bump as player-friendly as possible, ensuring that players of all skill levels could enjoy the game.

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

Providing funding is successful, the big expansion I want to work on is an expansion for playing young characters, more in the vein of Scooby Doo or Gravity Falls than ghost hunting shows and horror movies. Smaller supplements include splat books on specific threats and challenges, possibly expanding into more supernatural phenomena beyond ghosts; A splat about cryptids, one about aliens, and one about miscellaneous world mythology difficult to fit in other places, are possible examples.

B-movie Inspirations: Starchaser, The Legend of Orin (1985)

Rated PG

Through browsing various databases of cheesy sci-fi and fantasy films, I ran across one I did not recognize at all.  I consider myself well versed in all things cheesy where movies are concerned, but this one caught me by surprise.  However, after watching it, I was even more surprised.

Everything I have read claims that Starchaser: The Legend of Orin, is simply a cheap ripoff of Star Wars, in animated format.  One interesting note is that Starchaser was one of the first animated movies to mix traditional and computer animation, as well as one of the first to be released in 3-D.  Watching it, I was impressed with its fluidity in animation and how well it was done.  For its time, it was ground breaking.  It has since gained a small cult status.  However, as I said, it has been criticized over the years due to similarities to Star Wars.  Although some aspects had some similarities, there is enough difference that I found the movie somewhat interesting.

The movie begins in a subterranean mine, where human slaves are mining a special crystal.  They are being watched over by robots wielding laser whips.  The mine work is very dangerous, as displayed by constant tunnel collapses.  The red crystal being mined apparently has great value to their “god overlord” Zygon.  We are introduced to our hero, Orin, a young mining slave with long blond hair and a habit of questioning his position in life and an ambition to go to the forbidden surface above.  Of course, this gets him in trouble, and also gets a few friends of his killed.  Almost resolved to accept his lot in life, he stumbles across a bejeweled sword in the tunnels while mining.  Out of it appears the ghostly image of a bearded old man telling Orin that he has a destiny.  Once this happens, the blade of the sword disappears and he carries a bladeless hilt for the rest of the movie.

Okay, admittedly it starts out with some similar elements of Star Wars, but the underlying subplot is really what got my attention.

Eventually, Orin finds new-found abilities to manifest an invisible and sometimes glowing blade from the hilt to attack his enemies.  Using it, he finds his way to the surface after escaping the mining complex and discovering that Zygon is no god but a sentient being no different from him (for most of the movie, you believe he is a gray-skinned human but eventually discover he is something entirely different).  Chased by Zygon’s robots, Orin causes an explosion (the crystals are highly volatile) that causes a collapse.  Zygon assumes Orin died in the collapse.  Orin is able to escape to the surface and finds a dangerous jungle world above and eventually runs into… wait for it… a gruff smuggler and pirate named Dagg Dibrimi, who owns a tramp freighter, the Starchasrer, and is looking to steal a cargo of crystals.

I promise, I will get to the differences soon.

Of course, Dagg steals some crystals from Zygon in a blaze of glory.  Along the way, the new party finds a feminine robot named Silica. They travel to another world where Dagg attempts to not only offload the crystals but also his new-found passengers.  Along with Arthur, the ship’s annoying AI, they adventure onward and outward, trying to find Dagg some money while Orin tries to convince him that they have to follow a destiny.   Somewhere along the way, we learn about some ancient guardians called the Ka-Khan, who wielded Orin’s sword to protect the humanity.  A major foe of the Ka-Khan 1200 years ago was Nexus, who sought to enslave humanity and ruled over 52 systems.

Okay, I swear there are differences.

They also meet along the way Aviana, the daughter of the system governor, and apparently an authority that Zygon should be reporting too. But Zygon is pulling the wool over the local authority’s eyes by enslaving humans in the minds and not using the robots for their intended purpose.

The underlying differences lie behind the Zygon, who we find out is actually Nexus, an immortal android.  He apparently covertly conquered the mine world (Trinia) with what remained of his robot force after the last time the Ka-Khan defeated him.  The underlying plotline is his plan to enslave humanity once again.  Zygon formed this industrial complex to mine this valuable crystal, supposedly with robots.  Instead, he armed the mining robots, enslaved a human population and built a fleet, all hidden from the eyes of the local authority.  His final plans to attack the human worlds are the bulk of the last half of the movie, and of course they do not go his way, thanks to our heroes.

What I found interesting in this is the plot behind Nexus/Zygon.  He enslaved an entire population long enough to entrap them in a subterranean mine and brainwash them in believing that the surface was hell and he was their god.  At the same time, he is building an army of robots out of mining droids, while the worlds of humanity ignore him, probably because he is trading in a very valuable crystal.  There are some plot holes in there that I can’t quite fill in within the context of the movie.  However, in an RPG game, it can easily work.

Although there are some elements similar to the Star Wars plot,  the underlying plotline made the movie somewhat original to me.  Although the Ka-Kahn plot was somewhat connected to that, I think the movie could have done without it and figured out a more interesting way to motivate the characters.  It was a little too Jedi-like, admittedly.

Visually, the movie is stunning for its time.  The CGI was great for 1985.  The art and scenery was also great.  The vision of the universe alone would be inspiring for any RPG GM.

For an RPG GM, I found the following inspirations

Building of Hidden Army:  This was done in the Star Wars prequels but not to my satisfaction.  Zygon/Nexus actually had a stroke of genius building his army in the mines of Trinia.  The way I picture it (and is sort of implied in the movie) is that he picked a world that mines a very rare and valuable crystal.  Perhaps it is needed in drive system or in weapons making.  As long as the powers that be get their supply of this crystal at a low price, why question any activity that Zygon does?  Meanwhile, he uses the profits to build an underground facility, where he builds a massive robot army.  The locals continue to send him supplies to maintain his robot mining force, while he enslaves a local population to do the work the robots were supposed to be doing.

Of course, the plot hole lies in the population.  How does he render a population into the primitive state where they believe him a god and the surface world is hell?  Were they primitive when he arrived?  Assuming humanity only comes from one place – Earth – they would be colonists.  It would take a lot to render colonists down to primitives.  If this is another universe, like Star Wars, then the state of their society could be anything.

From a fantasy perspective, I could easily see a dwarven tyrant mining gold from the mountains for the local kingdoms.  The kingdoms send him magics and supplies to create clockwork golems to mine the gold.  As long as they get their gold, what do they care what else he does?  In reality, he has enslaved his own dwarven people and used other magic to make the golems into war machines.  Eventually, he will come down from the mountain and conquer the kingdoms.

Ancient Threat Arisen:  Yes, this has been overdone as well.  Can you say Sith?  But because it is overdone doesn’t mean it can’t be done in an RPG.  In an RPG, you can’t call it overdone.  You call it tried and true.  Tried and true usually works well in an RPG.  Zygon/Nexus was an ancient android with a focused hatred toward humanity and a strong desire to enslave them.  The reasons why were never explored.  What kind of android was he?  Was he a cyborg like Vader or Terminator?  Or was he like Star Trek’s the Borg?  Or was he like the Replicators from Stargate?  Why did he hate humanity so much?  Was it the obvious “I am Robot. I hate organics,” or something else?  Never answered.  Unanswered questions leave open opportunity for adventure plot ideas.  Also planted in the information about Nexus was the fact that he was defeated multiple times by the Ka-Kahn.  What does that mean?  What did they do to him?  Why didn’t they finish the job?

An Ancient Order: The Ka Khan are obviously the Jedi of this universe.  Or are they Ancients like in Stargate?   Why does this region need guardians anyway?  Where did they come from?  Again, unexplored areas that can be explored in many ways by a RPG GM.

B Movie Inspirations: Spacehunter, Adventures in the Forbidden Zone (1983)



Rated PG

Having the name Ivan Reitman associated to a film usually does not put it in the “B movie” category, but even the great producers have bad movies every once in a while.  Spacehunter was one of several 3D movies that came out, trying to capitalize on the success of movies like Star Wars as well as Road Warrior.   Combining elements of both movies, Spacehunter is a fairly simplistic story with pretty decent set design and production value but poor scripting as well as story writing.

Starring Peter Strauss, Molly Ringwald, Ernie Hudson, and Michael Ironside, Spacehunter takes place in a future where Earth has colonized multiple worlds, some kind of intergalactic war has occurred, and an Intergalactic Consortium apparently has considerable power now.  At one point, while researching the world at the center of the story, the computer says that the world was explored in 2013.  Boy, were we optimistic in the ‘80s.

In the opening scene, we see a (rather cool looking) star liner stray too close to a very active nebula surrounding a blue giant-white dwarf binary system.  Of course, something catastrophic happens and the liner explodes, with only one escape pod launching.  These survivors land on a desolate world and are captured by locals.  The Intergalactic Consortium sends out a general message to any ship in the vicinity, offering a big reward for the survivors (3 attractive ladies that do not seem to have any other purpose in the plot other than to be rescued).

The main character, named Wolff (Peter Strauss), is a cheap Han Solo knock-off, flying a salvage ship performing a mundane salvage job.  He is accompanied by an android human synthetic who acts as his engineer.  The script goes to great lengths to establish that Wolff is destitute and desperate for a good paying job.  Of course he receives the message and heads to the crash site.

The desolate desert world is called Terra XI (original, huh?).  It was colonized “a long time ago, before the war” but a plague devastated the population “during a stalemate” in the war.  The timing of all this is kind of distracting to me and doesn’t make sense.  The whole 2013 thing threw me, and my mind tried to figure out when this war was and when this plague was, and what a long time ago really meant.  I just wanted it to make sense, at least from a ‘80s point of view, but that’s just how my mind works.  In reality, that’s just nitpicking, I know.

What follows is a journey of meaningless encounters with various threats on this post-apocalyptic world.  It never really answers the question, “What about contracting the plague?”  Is it a threat anymore?  Is it a concern?  Can you only get it from bodily fluids?  Obviously you cannot get it from drinking the water, because they do that some.  The movie does mention something about a serum and a medical team that was sent here a long time ago but nothing beyond that.

Thus we enter the Road Warrior-phase of the movie.  The world is a chaotic mess of mutants, barbarians on souped-up motorcycles, nomadic tribes on sail barges on rails, and more mutants.  The threats they do face are contrived encounters that have no meaning other than to stretch out the movie, show off their set design talents, and make you say “oohhh, aahhh.”  It’s almost like a video game.  Forgive me for wanting more of a story.

The encounters include the aforementioned sail barge on rails being attacked by barbarian bikers.  Then we move on to bloated cocoon-dwelling mutants living in a mysterious ruined tower, followed by water-dwelling mermaid-amazon women in some underground lake or reservoir, followed by mutant child-like creatures throwing bombs from a cliff, to finally the barbarian biker fortress.  During all this, we meet Nikki (Molly Ringwald), a teenaged child of the medical mission and a competitor, Washington (Ernie Hudson), who has also come to save the three ladies who have a history with Wolff.  Nikki annoys you throughout the movie with the silly way she phrases things, implying that she is uneducated and barbaric.  Meanwhile, Washington eventually becomes an ally and helps the team for a split of the profits.

Of course, it would be negligent of me to not mention the bad guy – probably one of the few redeeming qualities of the movie.  Michael Ironside plays the Overdog (very cheesy name), the tyrant rule of the barbarian bikers.  Probably the best make-up and special effects set up in the movie, he is a cyborg with these huge claws for hands, encased in this enormous crane apparatus that lifts and lowers him at will.  At the beginning of the movie, you just think he’s an evil pervert that wants the three women for his pleasure.  However, in truth, there is more to this guy, and it’s perhaps the only redeeming part of the story.

Eventually we end up at the Overdog’s trash-punk super-fortress.  Our heroes infiltrate it, intent on finding the three missing woman (who’s importance is never really explained, other than that they are survivors of the liner).  Inside, we find that the evil Overdog is putting his captives through this twisted maze, Beyond Thunderdome-style (although this was before that terrible Road Warrior-sequel).  There are various traps and perils that seem nearly impossible.  Anyone to make it through is promised freedom.  Of course, we see several individuals attempt it only to suffer a gruesome death somewhere along the way.

This all seems clichéd and boring, at least to me, but come to find out there is more to it.  Unfortunately, you have suffered through too many clichés and manufactured story elements to care anymore.  The maze is apparently a test to see who has the life force worthy of the Overdog.  Planted earlier in the movie, the Overdog and his minion, the Chemist, use an elaborate machine to suck the life force out of viable candidates and maintain the apparently very old life force of the Overdog, in his attempt to gain immortality.

Of course, our heroes win out in the end and escape with the three woman who still never seem to have any other purpose other than be rescued (yes, that bothered me).

Now, from an RPG GM perspective, what is in this movie is not as inspiring as what is not.  There was so much opportunity for deeper story, more adventure and epic ending.  Perhaps because of budgeting, this was taken out, but with so many different beings encountered, I can’t help but think that perhaps it was in the script at one time.

Uniting the Clans: One of my favorite adventure stories is the one behind Flash Gordon.  I couldn’t care less about the actual character but the fact that he united a planet of warring factions against the evil Ming the Merciless was what really grabbed me.  This could have been a re-telling of that kind of story.  And the various factions could be these weird mutants he met along the way.  Instead of one action encounter after another, the heroes could discover that these disparate peoples all have a grievance against the Overdog and he could have found a way to unite them against him.  The fat-suited Blob people are hunted by the barbarian bikers and are looking for some payback.  Perhaps the mermaid amazon’s water ways are cut off or their water is being contaminated by the Overdog.  Perhaps the child-like mutants are being enslaved for the bomb making ability.  And the Sail/Rail Barge people, who were apparently decedents of the original medical mission, hold a secret that the Overdog wants.

Pieces of a puzzle: Couple the above idea with the puzzle plot.  Each faction has a piece to some kind of puzzle or important artifact that will help the heroes in the end goal.  Each of the various factions will have to be persuaded to give up the puzzle, if they know they have it.

The Liche in the Castle: The Overdog character was basically a cybernetic liche feeding off the people.  But obviously, he can’t just feed off anyone.  The maze is a pretty interesting mechanism to test the life force of people.  There are other ways one can test for life force.  Gladiatorial combat, for instance, or a Car Wars-style vehicle race.  Any variety of competitions or challenges could be cooked up.

Plague World: The plague aspect of the plotline was barely touched on.  Apparently the plague caused rampant mutations throughout the colonial population. Is it still viable?  Or has it died out?  Apparently this occurred during some war, so was it a bio-weapon by the enemy?  Does the enemy still have a presence here?

So much unexplored.  So much potential untouched.  Instead, I was left with an empty feeling of unfulfillment and dissatisfaction.

Interview with Timothy Brannan

Timothy Brannan is the author of the new Kickstarter published by Christina Stiles, Strange Brew: The Ultimate Witch & Warlock

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

It is my pleasure and thank you for having me here.

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

Well, like most writers, I can say, “I have been writing my whole life,” but that is not all of it.  I have been playing RPGs since around 1979 when I got a hold of a badly xeroxed copy of the Holmes D&D Basic set.  My first real game came later when I got a copy of the Moldvay D&D Basic set.  I have been playing ever since.  My first attempt at writing was a Healer class that I wrote for myself mostly.  My very first witch class was from around 1986 or so.  I pretty much haven’t stopped writing since.  I have written a number of witch or magic related books. I worked on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG, Ghosts of Albion with Amber Benson (who played my favorite witch Tara) and freelancing gigs for a few companies. 

By day I design curriculum for universities. Prior to that I was a Statistics professor.  I live in the suburbs of Chicago with my wife of 19 years and my two sons. They both love playing D&D with their dad!

What is Strange Brew to you?

Strange Brew actually began for me a number of years ago.  I had all this great witch-related material laying around, somewhat literally to my wife’s chagrin.  I have always loved writing about witches, magic and the supernatural, so much so that I had collected three binders full of notes.  I started collecting them together and realized I had hundreds of pages of stuff.   The new witch class came out for Pathfinder and I tried it and I had a lot of fun, but it felt like it was missing some things.  As it turned out I had those things on my hard drives.  Christina and I knew each other from back in the Buffy and early d20 days.  She was looking to update the wonderful Way of the Witch from Citizen Games that she had worked on and came to me.  I turned around and handed her nearly 500 pages worth of materials.  Together we have been going through it all and realized we had something really awesome here.  We have recruited some more help and decided to make the ultimate book for anyone playing any type of witch character for Pathfinder.

This book really is the effort of nearly 13 years worth of writing, editing, play testing and thought.  I am not likely to ever produce something this big and encompassing again.  Everything I know is going into this book somewhere. The DNA of this book is not just d20 but it goes back to that day in 1979 when I first opened up the Monster Manual and knew everything was going to be much more interesting from then on.

What inspired you to write Strange Brew?

I guess to be honest I was less inspired and more driven.  Like I mentioned, I had been collecting material and writing notes for years.  During my 3.x games with my kids I would write notes on how the witch NPCs or PCs dealt with the encounters or situations.  I would read pretty much any modern supernatural book on the market and I would, as my habit, jot notes down on the book mark I was using.  I have binders of notes, and I got a new one last night ready to go.  So all of this information was there, just begging me to do something with it.   Strange Brew won’t be released as much as it will escape from me.

What are you most proud of in this product?

That is hard to say really. There is so much. I love the new spells I have put in there and think they give the witch something above and beyond “wizards with black cats and brooms.”  Honestly, I think my favorite part is the fact that the book is so complete. Everything you need to play a witch is here. No other book is needed.

Why witches?  What attracts you to this subject and role playing them?

That is a very good question.  I was a kid in the 70s and 80s so I was influenced by the big 70s Occult Revival and 80s Satanic Panic.  I thought they were very interesting cultural touch points. Since that was also the time I was playing RPGs the most, I always bundled them together in my mind.  I also watched hundreds of horror movies as a kid, so witches, ghosts, vampires, and all that stuff belonged in my games.  Vampires, ghosts and werewolves were there already, but witches were not.

My favorite characters were always the witches. The Wicked Witch of the West, Maleficent, Angelique (from Dark Shadows) – these were the women that I adored when I was young.  Witches in fantasy are never the helpless maiden. Sure they are often evil, but never helpless. I like strong heroes and heroines. I have never been interested in the giant barbarian with massive thews. Give me the cunning woman, the sly trickster, the occult scholar sitting in his dark study, the captivating and magical girl.

Both Rachel Boston (@rachelboston), of Witches of East End and Katia Winter (@katia_winter), who plays Katrina Crane on Fox’s new Sleepy Hollow, recently tweeted that “Witches are the new Vampires,” and I feel that is true.  Witches have never been more popular. In recent years we had Charmed and now American Horror Story: Coven, Sleepy Hollow, Witches of East End and soon Salem all on TV.  True Blood has had its own witches and we must never forget Willow and Tara from Buffy.

Can we look forward to more tomes such as these?

I know there is a Shaman book in the works from Christina and from my conversations with the author it should be every bit as cool as this book.  For me personally, I have a lot of freelancer projects out there and I would love to do something more with Vampires or Demons.  I love the dark supernatural stuff and, like the witch, I have a ton of material on them.

Thanks again and good luck with your Kickstarter.

Thanks so much! It has certainly been a fun experience.

The Hub Federation

The Hub Federation
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

The Hub Federation is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games .

The Hub Federation is the closest thing that the Clement Sector comes to a “federation” or “stellar nation.”  It has limited authority and influence but has the potential (and probably desire) to grow.  It is made up of six primary worlds, centered around the capital Hub.  The other systems are Wilhelmveldt, Donar, Reuschle, Sigewife, and Wellington.  This is the companion sourcebook to the Subsector Surcebook 3: Hub, also reviewed here.

Just after the collapse of the wormhole, the president of Hub quickly allied the 5 other worlds after some negotiation and consolidated several available cruiser squadrons to form a space  navy.  Eleven years since the collapse, the Hub Federation remains a powerful entity in Clement Sector.  Facing the Federation now are expansionist factions within its ranks as well as pirate threats throughout the sector.  Some turn to the Federation with the expectation of protection while others shun their help.  In a campaign, they could easily be the bad guy or the good guy, depending on the GM’s approach.

From the Product page:
“The Hub Federation provides an interstellar nation full of adventure opportunities.”

The Hub was where mankind arrived in the Clement Sector.  It is the center of political power in the Federation.  The Federation Senate and President convene on Hub to govern the Hub Federation.  The Federation Navy and Marines operate out of Hub as well.  The world of Hub is a very populous one.  Being the oldest colony in the sector, its politics and culture date back further than any of the other colonies.

Another notable aspect of the Hub system is the existence of the Terminal Station – the entry point for any ships that came through the wormhole before it collapsed.  Now it houses a team of scientists who believe they can reopen the wormhole.  Most believe them to be crackpots but that does not seem to deter them.

From the Product page:
“The six worlds of The Hub Federation are detailed, as is the government which holds them together.”

The Hub Federation is a diverse region of space rife with adventure opportunity and story.  Wilhelmveldt is a pro-imperialistic world within the Hub, ruled by a hereditary monarch.  A temperate world, it is moderately populated by German-descended colonists.  With 4 major asteroid belts, Wilhelmveldt has a number of mining operations important to the Federation.  Hedonistic Donar is ruled by a dictator that overthrew the ruling council some time ago.  It too has several asteroid belts which are mined and also is the location of a Federation Navy training facility.  Reuschle is ruled through a full-participatory democracy where the people stayed linked up and vote through a cybernetic implant.  It is a harsh world leading to a strong bond among its ten million people.  Sigewife is a colony of Hub and is a gateway world to Cascadia.  The world itself is a dust ball and is administered by the Hub government.  The iceball world of Wellington has a small population of what most see as uneducated and lawless barbarians because of the lax laws and poor education system. Wellies however hold their freedom and lifestyle as a badge of honor.

In conclusion, in the review of the Subsector Sourcebook 3; Hub, I stated that the Hub Subsector was a powder keg waiting to explode.  The Hub Federation is either going to be the catalyst for that explosion or the savior from that explosion, depending on how a GM wishes to approach it.  The Hub is very aptly named but as the Sector grows, it will struggle to remain relevant.  Expansion is inevitable if they want to remain a power.  How that happens is in the hands of the GM.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games  and their new RPG SupplementThe Hub Federation” check them out at their website http://, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

The Hub Federation
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Written by: John Watts
Contributing Authors: Curtis Rickman
Cover Art by: Luca Oleastri
Additional Art by: Ian Stead, Matt Kerns, Luca Oleastri, Mike Haywood, Angela Harburn
Number of Pages: 62
Game Components Included: One soft back book or PDF
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller RPG books, Clement Sector setting book or PDF
Retail Price: $20 (US)


Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Subsector Sourcebook 3: Hub

Subsector Sourcebook 3: Hub
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Subsector Sourcebook 3: Hub is a new RPG Supplement from Gypsy Knights Games.

What I like about the Clement Sector a lot is the carried amount of independent worlds throughout it.  However, I also like the possibility of an all-powerful authority somewhere.  The Hub Subsector, the first sector to be populated by humans in Clements, presents an interesting dynamic between a burgeoning “federation” and several independent worlds.

From the product page:
“The Hub subsector is a group of independent worlds which surround The Hub Federation.”

The key to each of these subsector books is to read into them and really appreciate the differences between each.  The differences may be in the printed word in the book or the unwritten potential that a GM sees as he reads, but there is a difference.  What I see in this particular sector are signs of things to come for the rest of the sector.  If you realistically apply human nature and explode what you see happening on this world into the imaginative Clement Sector setting, you can easily see these signs.  This, of course, assumes you use the default setting – a sector colonized by Earth factions through a mysterious wormhole that collapsed 11 years ago.

The Hub Sector sourcebook covers the 13 other worlds outside the Hub Federation.  The Hub Federation is covered in a separate sourcebook (also reviewed here).  The Hub is made up of two major regions or clusters of planets and several “bridge” worlds or worlds otherwise isolated that act as bridges to deeper points into the subsector.  The Hub Federation is one of those major regions and the Sophronius region is the other.

Sophronius region is made up of five independent worlds.   They, like many in this region, have resisted the pull to join the Hub Federation.  This is one area that I think is a sign of things to come.  Independence can be a good thing, like in many cases throughout the sector, but it also can be a bad thing.  On Sophronius, for instance, factionalism can settle in and infighting has torn the world apart.  In the modern world on Earth, violence like that tends to spread, limited only by natural boundaries.  In this setting, the natural boundaries are the Z-Drive limitations.  However, that could be only a temporary limitation.

The other worlds in the Sophronius region vary from small cold worlds with small populations to moderately populated temperate worlds.  They are unaffected by the wars waging on Sophronius but in time, that could change.

From the product page:
“Each world comes complete with detailed information concerning the system and the planet itself, yet leaves the Referee plenty of room to use these worlds as he/she sees fit.”

One particular bridge world of note is Kingston.  Diametrically opposed to the Hub Federation, the population of Kingston (700 million) is ruled by a theocracy based on a fringe cult called Caxtonism.  Stemming from a “prophet” who re-interpreted Biblical teachings, he wrote his own version and many flocked to his cause.  This world is set up as the anti-thesis to the Hub Federation, with rumors of military buildup and sabre rattling.

Interestingly, there also are a few worlds that are prime for take over and could be the trigger to violence in the subsector.  Two low population worlds come to mind for me.  Sheba and Viteges are two prime worlds that factions within the subsector could end up fighting over.  This is only an idea and only vaguely hinted at in the text, but if you read into the subtext of the politics within this sector, this subsector could be a powder keg.

In conclusion, in many ways, this book is very similar to other subsector books.  It gives you just enough to get the picture and enough room to expand however you want.  If you plan on running the Celemt sector setting, I would not get this without also getting The Hub Federation sourcebook.  This book is different in that it gives you a picture of what could happen in the Clement sector as a whole.  With it being the oldest subsector, the politics have had more time to develop and the impact of the Collapse was felt the most.  It has a developing galactic authority and it also has the embers of a sector-wide war smoldering.  So which way will the sector go?  You get to decide.

After reviewing several of these sourcebooks, if I had to honestly criticize, it would be the organization of the books.  I would recommend placing tabs of each system’s name along the top so I could flip through and find them easily.  I also would format the table of contents a little better.  I have always liked the art used in the books, however.  It is very inspiring and appropriate for the setting.

For more details on Gypsy Knights Games and their new RPG SupplementSubsector Sourcebook 3: Hub” check them out at their website http://

Codex Rating: 18

Product Summary

Subsector Sourcebook 3: Hub
From: Gypsy Knights Games
Type of Game: RPG Supplement
Written by: John Watts
Contributing Authors: Curtis Rickman
Cover Art by: Luca Oleastri
Additional Art by: Ian Stead, Matt Kerns, Luca Oleastri, Angela Harburn, Jankaliciak, 3Quarks, Algol
Number of Pages: 107
Game Components Included: One soft back book or PDF
Game Components Not Included: Core Traveller RPG books, Clement Sector setting book or PDF
Retail Price: $25 (US)

Reviewed by: Ron McClung


Tunse’al Quick Starts & Side Tracks

Tunse’al Quick Starts & Side Tracks (Free RPG Day)
From: Obatron Productions
Reviewed by: Ron McClung

Tunse’al Quick Starts & Side Tracks (Free RPG Day) is a new Free RPG Day Quick Start from Obatron Productions.

Tunse’al Quick Starts & Side Tracks is one of the lower quality items from the 2013 Free RPG day, but it takes advantage of one of the more popular and fun generic systems on the market.  It is apparently a Kickstarter setting. By now, they have released a few PDF products on RPGNow or DriveThruRPG.

From their web site:
“[Tunse’al] is a tribal fantasy setting requiring the use of either the Savage Worlds rule book for Savage Worlds play or a rule book from whatever other favorite system you have, in which case you’ll want products denoted as Systemless.”

The first attraction I would have to this product is the fact that is Savage Worlds.  But that only goes so far.  The art and the quality of the product did not pull me in right away.  So you really have to dive into the product to find the value.  It provides a summary of the setting, pointing to the Setting Guide for details.  The gimmick of the setting is the five segregated tribes on a large continent.  These tribes are very different from one another, evolving in different regions with different conditions.  These include the the Korrin of the Footlands (hedonistic, red-skinned, ram-horned freedom lovers), Kresh of the Wetlands (amphibious nature lovers), the Gelids of the mountains (scholars and peacemakers), and the Gales of the Drylands (warring nomads).  There is a common enemy tribe as well called the Skin Eaters and a mysterious group of beings that walk “between the worlds” known as the fae folk.  There is a stunning black and white illustration in the back displaying all 5 races and I have to admit they look very cool.  They are very alien and not like anything I have seen in other games.

From the back cover:
“Money does not exist”

The world itself is significantly different from the typical fantasy worlds (which are usually modeled after Earth in most aspects).  First and foremost, the mountain range that divides the main continent is in the shape of a huge man, as if he had fallen from the sky.  From an astrological point of view, the world has seven seasons, two suns and multiple moons.  The world’s ecosystem is rather harsh.  It is populated by numerous “saurs” (dinosaur-like creatures) as well as giant bugs and other creatures.  Flora is also dangerous.

Socially, because of the disparate and varied cultures, the social structure and politics are a little different from the typical fantasy settings.  The tribal nature of the setting creates a more primitive and chaotic setting.  Couple that with the cultural taboo against mining into the mountain and the setting becomes even more primitive.  There are also many other cultural quirks as well.  There is no common monetary system, for instance.

Magic works differently than typical fantasy settings.  It requires the knowledge of a specific language – the only language that gets the gods’ attention.  Anyone can learn to use magic but because learning the language takes such an effort, only a few learn magic.  The cultural and physiological differences in each race also create variances in magic using as well.

The Free RPG booklet contains something called Quickstarts – six short scenarios that help a GM get something started.  The six supplied average 10 to 12 paragraphs, some more, and are fairly imaginative.  They include an adventure for Novices “coming of age,” tribal diplomatic missions, mystically strange occurrence investigations.  However, they leave a lot for the GM to come up with.  These are great for GMs that can wing it fairly well.  The nice thing about it is the Savage Worlds system lends itself well to improvisation.  You just have to make sure you are real familiar with the core system, however.

The booklet also includes something called Side Tracks.  These are ten fill-in side adventures or encounters in case the GM needs a little something more.  Again, these vary in type and are fairly imaginative.  It supplies stats where needed and really gives the GM some good ideas for simple distractions.

In conclusion, my impression of the setting and the booklet are varied.  Although I am intrigued by the setting, based on what I read on the booklet, I am not sure the dynamic of the setting would draw me into play or run.  The tribal social structure just does not excite me as much as feudal lords and nobility.  Tribal politics are a little simplistic in my view and do not present opportunities of a lot of role play or story making.  On top of that, the technology limitations make it less attractive to me.  I like the dinosaur and giant monster setting, reminding me of the island of King Kong.  Also, the booklet does not really help you with envisioning the character parties.  If it is tribal and each race is separated, the logic would dictate that the party would be all the same race, right?  That’s not very exciting to me.

However, as a product the booklet almost gets the true spirit of Free RPG Day and falls just short by not supplying pre-generated characters.  It implies that there are some available online but I would prefer to have them on hand right there.  I do like the Quickstart adventures and the Side Tracks. If you are into the setting, this is a great product.  It is also useful for ideas in other settings, with a few tweaks.

For more details on Obatron Productions and their new Free RPG Day Quick Start Tunse’al Quick Starts & Side Tracks (Free RPG Day)” check them out at their website, and at all of your local game stores.

Codex Rating: 11

Product Summary

Tunse’al Quick Starts & Side Tracks (Free RPG Day)
From: Obatron Productions
Type of Game: Free RPG Day Quick Start
Written by: Robert L. and Vickey A. Beaver
Cover Art by: Joe Shawcross
Additional Art by: Alessadro Alia, Svenja Liv, Lucas Pandolfelli, Joshua Pinkas
Number of Pages: 20
Game Components Included: One short quick start pamphlet
Game Components Not Included: Savage Worlds core rulebooks

Reviewed by: Ron McClung

B-Movie Inspiration: The Warrior And The Sorceress (1984)

warriorsorceresscoverRated R

Once again, we delve into the dark and weird world of Roger Corman (although he was uncredited as the executive producer).  His work during the 80s was priceless in many ways, while at the same time mind-numbing.  This time, he took a page from Lucas’s book.  He takes a classic Akira Kurosawa film, called Yojimbo, and re-imagines it in a science fantasy setting, in it’s own “galaxy far far away,” on a planet called Ura.  It is an interesting cheesy mixture of fantasy and sci-fi with bad acting, a woman that is topless just about the whole movie (actress Maria Socas), a telepathic (and very poorly conceived) monitor lizard, a dance by a woman with four breasts (beat that Total Recall) and kung fu from the venerable David Carridine.

It is interesting to note that Yojimbo was also re-imagined into a Western called A Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood.  Eastwood’s series of spaghetti westerns were some of my favorites.

The planet Ura is apparently a direct rip off of Tattooine – a desert world with two suns, the people struggling to find water any way they can.  A stranger “dark warrior” with no name (David Carradine) comes into a town of Yamatar (spelling?) that is controlled by two rival factions.  The most valuable commodity on this world is (of course) water, and the two factions vie for power and fight over the local water well in the center of town, the only source of water.

This stranger is apparently some kind of cleric from some lost order, as the script implies, of a forgone age where his kind served a religious order.  This order is symbolized by a sigil that makes up his sword and is also found in a burned out temple he comes across.  There are several other minor hints throughout the movie about this order but eventually it gets lost in the story.  It’s hard to tell if this is a post apocalyptic world or just a fantasy world, as there are hints of both throughout.

The “dark one” (as they call stranger) plays both sides, fighting for one and then the other, meanwhile causing havoc within each.  Eventually, this game he plays brings him across a “sorceress” of his old order that he tries to save.  The only hint that she is a sorceress is that something called the Sword of Ura, which she apparently has the power to make or bless.  This leads to events that don’t go well for him, and eventually a battle for the well ensues.  Both factions fight against each other, then against villagers who attempt to take the well.  A third “outside” faction of alien-looking slavers (introduced earlier in the film) join the melee as well.  Eventually all that is left is the ruthless slavers intent on (of course) enslaving what is left.

Meanwhile, the dark one is recovering from his injuries from being tortured after being discovered playing both sides and freeing the sorceress.  He is now armed with this Sword of Ura, thanks to the sorceress.  The sword, apparently a re-worked version of the sword he was carrying from the beginning, can cut through a stone anvil.  Wielding this great sword, the stranger returns with a force of armed villagers and the (still topless) sorceress to fight off the evil slavers and win freedom for the town.

Overall, the movie is fairly entertaining despite the very poor acting, the deplorable and clichéd script, and lazy fight scenes that are not well choreographed.  Being based on a classic didn’t hurt.  It does create a fairly inspiring world with fantasy as well as sci-fi elements, with an interesting (if not well explored) background.

From an RPG game master point of view, there is a good bit that can be drawn from this movie.

Torn between two factions & playing both sides:  The two factions in this story were not all that well fleshed out.  One was lead by an overweight guy reminiscent of Jabba the Hutt, while the other was lead by a ruthless guy who reminded me of Dennis Hopper.  However, the factions of The Warrior And The Sorceress are just mirror images of each other.  They just mutually hate each other because the script says so.  In an RPG adventure, the GM needs to flesh out the factions, creating deep backgrounds and motivations.  In doing this, it creates more opportunity and deeper motivation behind the actions of playing both sides.

A Fistful of Dollars, from what I can remember of it, did the “playing both sides” a little better than this movie did.  The fun in a RPG adventure with this as its central theme would be seeing the plans and schemes played out in detail, and the results clearly apparent to the characters.  The story that can come out of this kind of plotline can be really rewarding.

At the same time, however, the GM needs to avoid contriving everything.  Don’t railroad the players into certain actions when playing both sides.  Let them figure out various ways to do it.  This is where a detailed background and motivation for each faction is important.  Lay down the foundation for ways to play off both sides but let the players figure out their own ways of doing it.

Forgotten ways & lost orders: Can anyone say Jedi?  This is always a good winner.  Use a pre-built order that may be buried in the setting somewhere or an original one.  But like everything else, it needs to be fleshed out really well and the insertion to the adventure needs to make sense.  I have used ancient orders of Jedis in my Star Wars, as well as ancient cults in my Fading Suns.  They can be something the players can strive to join or a secret organization behind the scenes with questionable motivations.

The artifact that only one person can make or activate:  Though a minor part of the movie and obviously placed in there to give a more fantasy feel, the aspect of a sword that only a certain sorceress can make through a certain blessing was interesting.  This can easily be worked into an adventure.  Someone powerful keeping this certain sorceress prisoner can be the center of an adventure.


MACE 2013 – The Gaming Coordinators Report

It’s been nearly a month since MACE 2013 ended. I have been caught up in various things post-con related as well as real-life related, so this report is late in coming.  Since it has been a month, much of the emotion and energy has died down in me but I have to say that this was definitely one of the best MACE events ever.  Between the tons of gaming and connecting up with so many old and new friends, it was an amazing weekend.

My MACE planning usually starts around August but this year was a little different.  Between all the official events Justus Productions was doing and the cons I chose to attend and run games, MACE is now a year round thing for me.  Starting with SCARAB, Mysticon, and MACE West, and then heading into summer with StormCon and RoundCon, MACE was on my mind quite a bit. I met several good people and ran a lot of games throughout the year.  Good times were had all around.  Couple that with the launch of our web site, The Gamers Codex and there is no doubt that MACE’s presence is being felt in places it was not before.

We took on several new challenges this year prior to the con that we had to prepare for.  I ran tests on my new on-site registration system at the various events we had opportunities to do so, and was heading into MACE with a new plan and a new system.  The ticket system was modified somewhat and last minute, I chose to modify it even further.  That posed a challenge on site primarily because I was not prepared to teach my volunteers the new system.

Also, Jeff and I chose to launch our Living MACE campaign contest, which turned out to be a lot of work for me.  It worked out in the end but the few bumps we ran into through the months before the con distracted me some.


Matt Holmquist and Jim Ryan (from R to L)

Another aspect of this year’s MACE that built up over the year was a two-faceted gem – the Pinnacle Entertainment Group presence and the Paizo Publishing presence.  Of course, the visions of both events started out much larger in scale than they turned out to be, but in the end we could not have asked for anything better.  Thankfully Jeff Smith handled most of this so it did not take too big a place on my plate.  Thanks to Jason Bulmahn, Clint Black, Jodi Black and Shane Lacy Hensley for making MACE 2013 even more special this year.  It was great to help celebrate the 5th anniversary of Pathfinder as well as the 10th anniversary of Savage Worlds at MACE.


In all this, I also had to plan to run some games – both board games and role playing games.  I am afraid I did not dedicate enough time to this, especially the RPGs, because it reflected in the games I ran at the con.  The players had fun but I was not entirely pleased on how they ended.  Maybe I am too self-critical.  I am always over analyzing my games.

Another challenge we faced this year was the change in space.  The hotel called us early in the year about a special client that needed the large ballroom on Sunday.  Being the cooperative clients we are, we worked with the hotel to arrange things for this special client.  Of course, as most know by now, it was the NFL football team, the New England Patriots, here in Charlotte to play the Panthers on Monday night.  They had quite a bit of security requirements, some of which we found out last minute.  These of course caused some challenges on Sunday.  We thought we could handle it and I think we did.  All I had to do was arrange for the main ball room to be empty.  As we found out, that was not all they needed.  We adjusted for that as well.  We have a lot of thanks to go around for that too because I know we did not make certain GMs and players happy with all the shuffling around.

Going into the week of MACE was a mixed bag for me, though.  Even the month before, we had our ups and downs.  Various things with the hotel as well as pre-con discussions with long attendees told me this was not going to be an easy year, operationally.  I still felt like it was going to be a good year for us, but life was going to throw us as many challenges as it could to make it challenging.  And it did.  And, thankfully, we got over them.

Opening day presented the first of life’s challenges.  The hotel had several of our rooms booked right up until the last minute.  This made it difficult to set up all the rooms when I needed to.  This delayed pretty much everything.  And so when I got hit with the unexpected crowd at 2 pm for the first slot, I was definitely not prepared.  I do not think we have ever had a crowd like this at the opening hours.  Maybe I am wrong.  Maybe I felt like it was big because I was interacting with them more than in the past (because of the new sign up system).  Maybe it was big.  I don’t know.  Regardless, it was a challenge for me to handle alone. Thanks to Heath Medlin for helping out and I hate I could not stop and show him how to sign up people to help in that way but he helped big by showing people how to sign up, where to go to get their badge and placing stickers when games closed.

Next time, I will have volunteers for those hours.

After the first wave, things settled in really well.  The volunteers I had scheduled showed up on time and really helped out a lot.  Thanks to Megan Galloway and Jessica Paxton for their help.  I finally got an opportunity to walk around and see how things were getting started.  Across from my gaming registration was the game library room.  Throughout the weekend, I stopped in a lot.  This was also a source of concern for part of the year because I had no idea who was going to man it.  As it turns out, I did not need to worry.  Between the guys from StormCon and the Queen City Gaming Club, we had more than enough people competently handling the room.  I really appreciate everyone that helped out, including Barry Lewis, Pat Daily and Todd Muldrew.  They all did a phenomenal job.  This room was always busy.  Unfortunately, this was one of the rooms the Patriots wanted last minute so we had to close that early on Sunday. We thank everyone for cooperating when we had to do that.

Speaking of board/card games, one of my major concerns going into this year was the board and card game side of things.  Last year, AEG had a major presence in the main gaming room.  Well, this year, our AEG contact no longer works for them fulltime and did not have the pull he had last year.  So we had to fill the space with a lot more variety of games.  I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.  As it turned out, we did.  From various Kickstarted games, a number of well-supported tournaments as well as the support from many of my regular GMs, we had a lot going on in the main gaming room.  Added in there were the guys from Rolling Dice, Taking Names running games and recording stuff for their podcast, it was a very awesome environment.

The NC Gun Bunnies once again held their finals at MACE this year.  For the second year in a row, they ended a year’s worth of qualifiers with a major invitational tournament that took up one big room.  But that’s not all they did.  They were busy all weekend and I do not think I ever saw that room slow or quiet.  They ran various other tournaments and demos, so much so that they spilled out in the hallways.  Stephanie Shinn was the lead and I want to sincerely thank her for her hard work but she had a great team of Gun Bunnies helping her.  Their passion for their game is unsurpassed.  They did an extraordinary job and deserve a lot of thanks for it.

The Fort Mill Historical Gamers along with the Catawba Gamers worked together for us this year to present a few historical miniature and board games.  This is an area I personally want to grow.  I really appreciate the hard work of Jody Pleasant and Charles Cabell for bringing in some very cool games.  They were well received and most had a good number of players.  I was rather pleased with the result, considering it was the first year we tried it.  I hope we have the space next year to do more.  I really want to play more Axis & Allies minis.

The RPGs took up 3 rooms of the large ball room as well as the room called Glenwaters.  I had a total of 45 tables set up in those rooms for RPGs but I think in most cases the rooms were no more than two thirds full (by design).  Everything moved to Glenwaters on Sunday and that was a pretty packed room then, but overall I think I managed the room noise fairly well.  The organized play room was probably the only room that had a major problem and that’s only because they were full all the time.  So by that estimate, I probably had about 175 to 200 tables of RPGs.  That’s about 10% to 15% increase from last year, by my estimates.  That’s the kind of growth I want and can manage.

From what little I could tell (as they were on the opposite side of the building most of the weekend), the organized play games went well – perhaps the busiest RPG room we had.  I heard no complaints.  Thanks to Del Collins, Greg Gershowitz, and Mac MacFarland for all their hard work on their various aspects of organized play.

There was so much going on that weekend, I could not keep up with everything. I can’t congratulate all the tournament winners because there were so many, I could not keep up.  So a generic congratulations goes out to all the winners.  I never really found out how Savage Saturday Night went but I think it went well.  The people I talked to seemed to have a good time despite the great cupcake disaster.  I know that the charity game with Jason Bulmahn went well and had a full table.  I took pictures of that.  Jason was very kind to accommodate his game to use the gaming tables from Jim Barnes.

As usual, the panels were varied.  People continue to ask for them but I don’t set my expectations high because I realize gamers just want to game.  I struggled with panelists this year because of that very reason – they just wanted to game.  So if the panels seemed thin this year, that’s why.

The kids program was a success from what I can tell, although at times the kids were pretty crazy in the hallways.  I did get a few complaints of that and I am sure Jeff and I will have discussions about that and how to change things in the future.

As I said before, my games went fairly well but I was not happy with the way the RPGs ended.  I have to work harder on the endgame plan of my con games, obviously.  I thank all the players for playing and being patient with me.  Running games while running a con is not always a good thing but it’s one of the few moments of true joy I get out of otherwise a hectic weekend.

The height of my weekend is always the auction and I knew this year was going to be tough.  I had a ton of donations from John Reavis’s estate and I wasn’t sure we were going to get through them all in time.  I had already set up an online auction (yet another thing I had to deal with prior to the con) but that only set the minimum bid on certain items.  Amazingly, everything went well for the auction and we got out of there on time.  It was a humbling thing to see so many people give up so much for charity and to own some of John’s cool stuff.  We raised $4000 for the various charities that Justus Productions donates too and I was very proud to be a part of it.

Congratulations to Matt Holmquist for winning the Living MACE Contest.  Also congratulations to Stephanie Shinn for winning the MACE Appreciation award.

In the end, we had about a 10% to 15% growth in attendance, getting us up to about 660 total individuals.  We had about a 30% to 40% growth in preregistrations with a slight drop in at-the-door sales.  Which means more people are preregistering and taking advantage of our online gaming registration system.  If you had any problems at gaming registration, consider preregistering.  Much of your wait times would be eliminated if you preregister.

Sunday was kind of a hassle but we knew it was coming.  We have to deeply thank all those that helped get things moved around and closed up as the Patriots came in.  We know that we rushed people out and I hope people understand that we were being pressured by others to get people out.  This was a unique situation and will probably never happen again.  Next year, we should have all the space we need for as long as we need.

For next year in order to handle the growth I plan to have more changes and more help.  I am already modifying OGRe (our online game registration system) and the various reports that make up my posters and sign ups.  I learned a lot from this year and I hope further changes will only improve your experience.  For a preview of those changes, come to MACE West in Asheville.

Thanks again to everyone who volunteered, ran games and generally helped out.  This was a great year for MACE despite all the new challenges we faced.  Thanks to my wife, Stephanie for her patience and unyielding support through this past year.  Thanks to Jeff Smith and Karen Smith for their hard work on the business end of MACE.  Thanks to the Grinning Goblin crew for the hard work and service.  And thanks to all the gamers that turned out and played games.  I really hope you had fun.  Please feel free to pass on any constructive criticisms if you have any.

Living MACE Campaign Contest: Final Rounds

The last few rounds were the hardest.  Getting from 8 to 4 and then 4 to 2 were some hard decisions.  I thought my efforts to make this a collaborative effort would make it difficult to judge and create patchwork settings with inconsistent visions.  However, much of the opposite happened.  The writers communicated with each other enough to keep the vision and theme, while subtlety adding new ideas and original concepts.  However, this was a curse as well as a blessing and made things very hard towards the end for the judges.

Judging in general was difficult.  Do we judge the setting as a whole or do we judge on the entries individually.  In the beginning, we focused more on the entries. But as time went on, it became more apparent that our focus was going to be on the setting in general.  The entries continued to be a factor but the setting was more important.  Our end result is to come up with a good setting that exemplifies JustUs Productions, and MACE, so the setting gradually became more and more important.

It was amazing how similar many of the settings ended up being.  And perhaps that was the nature of the collaboration.  What we did not end up with was a platypus-setting like many suspected would happened.  Because of good collaboration as well as the nature of the contest, I think that was easily avoided.  The contest started with a macro vision in the first round, with the contestants submitting a general pitch for the world.  Then we asked them to focus down to a sub-continent level.  Then, they had to focus on a major kingdom or province region.  Finally they had to come up with a location that will be the center of the adventure.  This telescoping of focus prevented a lot of the potential for weird amalgamations.  It was interesting to see each writer’s interpretations of what a sub-continent, kingdom/region/province and location were.  There were some differences, telling me that we need to be more specific in requirements.

However, there is still a risk of a platypus-setting as we move forward.  Our plan is to run another contest using the final setting.  What makes that difficult is that while we have the setting, now we are expanding off of it.  Now we have to worry about maintaining the theme and the concept of the original setting, while at the same time allowing for new ideas that take it outside the original boundaries. So as this contest grows, the more challenging it will get.

Never mind the whole living campaign nature of this, which I personally have not completely thought out yet.  My experience with living campaigns are minimal but we have resources that can help us on that end.

Now we head into the final round which takes place at MACE in Charlotte.  The judges are out of it.  It’s up to those that play the setting.  My end game plan was to have 2 settings with at least two tables of players playing in an adventure written by the final writer – which is the original writer of the setting.  I have a list of criteria each player will score the setting on and I hope to average them out.  I encouraged the GMs to work with the other writers on their setting to perhaps schedule other tables, and that is working out pretty well.  So we will have multiple tables of each setting with hopefully enough players to get a good overall opinion of each setting.

Overall, I am very pleased how this worked out, despite the problems and missteps.  We had some very good writers volunteering and some very good input from all of them.  Going in, I was afraid that some egos may have been bruised and in fact, some may have, but I hope everyone understands the motivation and intent of the contest.  It was a blast.  I feel we were consistent enough, fair enough and everyone came out of it for the better.  I look forward to doing a more extended one next year.