Archive for Games

GenCon 2017: Talking Starfinder with Jason Keeley

Gen Con had one major release that had me all excited.

Starfinder.

It was a science fantasy game which I had heard so much about at the last Gen Con that I was chomping at the bit to get my hands on it. As more information came out, I was getting more and more excited to get the game and get to playing it.

This year, my plans for Gen Con had been in flux for some time. It took until close to the end of May for things to solidify that I would be attending the show for more than one day. This state of flux meant that I would not be able to get up to the convention on Wednesday. It was not until Thursday afternoon at around 3:30 that I was able to make my way into the Gen Con vendor Hall and make a beeline for the Paizo Booth.

When I arrived, I was to discover that the giant pile of books that I had seen on Twitter for Starfinder had been decimated. There were no more core books to be had.

I was, needless to say, a bit disappointed. I was glad that the game was so popular but I still wished that I had been able to get my hands on a copy.

Luckily, I had an appointment scheduled too speak with the developer of the game on Friday at 4:30 pm with Jason Keeley.

My first questions for Jason were; “What happened and Why do you think that Starfinder was so popular?”

Jason stated that Paizo had brought to this Gen Con 50% more books than they had ever sold for a book at any prior show. The thought had been that they would still sell out by the end of the show on Sunday. They did not expect to sell out of all the books they brought within the first few hours of the convention. Jason stated that the book would most likely be going to a second printing soon. Jason went on to state that he believed that demand for Starfinder might be attributable to a few things. He believed that the good press and hype that the book had been receiving over the past year had really primed the pump for the book. He went further to state that the hobby itself had a dearth of science fantasy games that are not tied to a specific Intellectual property. He pointed out that Starfinder provides a toolbox that allows a group to emulate most of the science fiction tropes with ease. These things combined to create a perfect storm for this convention.

One of the questions that I always have in regards to science fiction games that rely heavily on exploration is the idea of a planet builder. I asked Jason if there was such a thing included in Starfinder. He stated that there were rules for generating planets. These include some charts for environments and such, but no designated planet building section. He did not rule out a future supplement that would do just such a thing, but did say it was not on the schedule currently.

One of the things that I had always noticed about Pathfinder is that the storyline was never fully integrated into the rules. The Adventure Paths are where the setting would shine while the rules were a toolbox left to the players imagination. I asked Jason about this and Starfinder. Mr. Keeley stated that Starfinder was a bit of departure for Paizo in this respect. The setting material was much more integrated into the main book. It provides it’s own hooks for the game to move forward without issue. This can be found in the races, snapshots of planets, and the legacy integration of the fantasy races into the game.

This flowed easily into my next question. “What stands out in Starfinder to make it feel like a science fantasy game as opposed to just a few extra bits of set-dressing for Pathfinder?” Jason mused on this for a moment and then said that there were two things that stood out for him.

First were the Starships. He went on to say that the game begins with the presupposition that the group starts with one. The starship design rules stand out as they not only allow the players to create a ship that fits their needs at the beginning of the game but allows them to keep the same ship while upgrading it easily throughout the levels of the game. Jason pointed out that one of the major tropes of science fiction is that the ship never changes. This would be difficult in Starfinder as the character will continue to get more powerful and need a better ship at certain points. This design systems allows the characters to have a ship similar to shows from Farscape and Firefly and still allow it to keep up power-wise.

Jason also believes that the character classes and themes carry a lot of weight for Starfinder. These two things seem somewhat simplistic but allow for the creation of characters that cover all of the tropes of Science Fantasy outside of the Doctor himself. You are able to create an analog to Spock to Obi Wan Kenobi with ease and still have the flexibility to create anything that your heart desires within the Starfinder system.

Further discussion with Mr. Keeley revealed that Starships were both his favorite part of Starfinder and one of the things he found most challenging. JAson loves the starship combat system. The hex grid system makes it easy to understand how the fight plays out for starships of different styles. The rules are clean and simple with an ease of use that he found lacking in previous science fiction games. Making this happen was the difficult part as he wanted the game to be easily picked up by new people and the starship combat rules to not be so daunting that they would never be used. Jason stated that it was a design problem that he and the team wrestled with and are very happy with what they have created for Starfinder.

I asked Jason what was something about Starfinder that people might miss that he thought were worth noting. He took a moment to think on this and then stated that it were small changes that he loved that would go unnoticed. In particular he spoke of magic in Starfinder. He mentioned that people wondered if Magic Missile was in the game. He stated that it was but that there was a mechanical change that made the spell still iconic without being as overpowering as it can be in prior iterations of the spell. He also mentioned a change to Cone of Cold. He spoke of how instead of being a blast of just pure arctic cold, it was more of a heat sink. It allowed for certain classes to then store the heat stolen by the spell to be used to power spells at some later point in the game. It was small tweaks like these that gave Starfinder that Science Fantasy flavor but that they are easily overlooked when you have starships and space stations to play with now.

It was great to get to speak with Jason at Gen Con. It helped me get a better understanding of what to expect when I would be able to get my hands on a copy of Starfinder. It is a game that embraces the big ideas of Science Fantasy with starships and light swords but does not neglect the details. Every piece was designed to create the look and feel of a space opera and allow one’s imagination to soar amongst the stars.

I can not wait to get my copy of Starfinder.

 

GenCon 50

This weeks begins the 50th Anniversary of GenCon, The Best Four Days in Gaming.

Today and tomorrow, the vendors, event staff, and volunteers will begin to descend upon the city of Indianapolis. The news bursts from the convention itself are predicting another year of record breaking attendance. The badges for each day have sold out which indicates that the mass of gamers present for this convention will be epic.

With the number of people present going to be larger than normal, it is very important to remember a few rules for attending the convention.

Remember the 3-2-1 Rule.

This is a simple rule that keeps you at minimal functional capacity. It stands for 3 hours of sleep a night, 2 meals a day, and one shower.

I will repeat that this is a minimum requirement.

The three hours of sleep will make it so that you will not be nodding off during a game. You will want to push yourself to try to fit in as much gaming as possible and the first thing that gets sacrificed is sleep. Without sleep you will not be a the top of your game and will not only have a less enjoyable experience but will also impact the other peoples experience at the game. So, Please remember to make time for at least three hours of sleep.

The two meals will ensure that you have the energy necessary for GenCon. The convention covers a lot of real estate. You will be walking a lot to get to where you want to be. Keeping the necessary fuel in the system will ensure that you not only have the power to get where you need to be but will also make you more able to fight off the inevitable Con Crud.

The caveat here is that this is two meals. Chips and sodas do not count. Take the time to get a full meal and sit down to enjoy it. Not only will you fuel the human machine, you will give yourself a breather in an otherwise hectic day which everyone can use at GenCon.

Finally, one shower every day. This is Indianapolis in August with well over 60,000 people filling up the downtown area. The heat, if it was like last year, will be oppressive. The crush of humanity will great. taking the time to do some personal care will ensure that you start the day fresh and make it so that your bumping into other people at the convention a less off-putting experience.

Another important thing to remember is to be patient. The convention is going to be filled to capacity. People will be waiting in line to get into events, restaurants, and to make purchases. The likelihood of someone’s patience getting frayed is going to be high. If you take the time to breathe and realize that the person that might be irritating you is pushed to their limits, you will minimize the chance of a not pleasant experience turning into something worse. This extends to convention, hotel, and restaurant staff. They are going to be well over their capacity to be at peak performance. Being patient with them and those around them will ensure that things do not escalate. Taking the time to be kind and generous to everyone you interact with not only makes for a good time for you, but also increases the likelihood of the next person having that much better of a time as well.

Finally, don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. This is a big convention. There will be walls of people that will ebb and flow throughout these four days. Take the time to check on yourself. If things are starting to fray, take a break. I know you may have spent money on that next even, but it is not worth having a breakdown. If things go wrong, you could end up ruining your entire convention as you pushed yourself beyond your capabilities. Take the time to have someone that you can reach out too for support as well. This way you can check in on each other and ensure that you both are doing okay as well as have someone to call bullshit when you are on the edge and really need a break.

GenCon 50 is going to be a very exciting time. There will be gamers of all stripes gathering to enjoy the hobby and the presence of other gamers. Taking the time to make sure that you do everything you can to enjoy the experience is well worth a little investment of your time.

I look forward to GenCon and having an excellent time!

Scythe

Last year at GenCon, One of the hot board games that you could see being played at almost every hotel was Scythe. I noticed it being played a lot and stopped at one game when I noticed that one of the miniatures on the board had a big bear on it. There were mechs that had a very steampunk vibe with a blend of eastern-block Russian styling. I was intrigued but had already spent way too much to be able to plunk down the amount that the game cost.

I have now had the chance to play the game a couple of times and am regretting not picking up the game back at GenCon. It is fun and engrossing with many permutations that the game can take.

The premise of the game is that you are one of five factions that is vying for power in an alternate 1920’s Eastern Europa. A long war has just ended with the closing of The Factory which had created the war machines that had devastated the countryside. You now strive to seize territory and win the hearts of your people and reign supreme by gathering the most treasure.

I love the premise. The game pieces go to great lengths to be evocative of the feeling that this background presents. There are player mats that provide pictures of each faction’s leader. They are presented in a setting depicting both the leader, the mechs of that faction, and the terrain in that home territory. The encounter cards have artwork that provides a story and then the choices that you make are drawn from this story allowing you to choose an option that either wins you the hearts and minds of your people or a path to power at all costs.

The production values on the game are fantastic! Yes, it has wooden meeples. They are the workers that you come to expect from this type of game. The wooden pieces also are buildings, recruits, and markers

The heroes of Scythe.

that are moved about based on the choices you make as a player.The pieces shine in the mechs and the heroes. Each faction has it’s own type of mech that are rendered in plastic and definitely worth painting. The faction’s mechs are designed to be distinct and match up with the illustrations on the cards and game boards. The heroes are also made of plastic and are each unique. Each leader matches the picture on the faction board and has the signature animal with them. I am particularly enamored with the Polania faction as it is the one that has the big bear but each faction leader piece is well done.

The board itself is also gorgeous. It is a map of Eastern Europa divided into hexes. Having done some mapping in prior work, I appreciate well-done cartography. The artwork on the map is also top notch like every other piece of art that is found throughout the game.

The rules of the game are fairly simple to understand but allow for multiple paths to victory. It is very much an engine building game. You begin slowly working your way to building up supplies and taking territories while setting a plan in motion to get to the end game. Much like chess, Scythe requires you to think several moves ahead of the game as well as ahead of the other players. It also allows for flexibility so that if you make a mistake it is not crippling.

I also like that it allows for play for one to five players right out of the box. It is nice to see a game with this type of production values ensure that you can play it with so few people.

My only complaint is more an observation. Scythe has a lot of fiddly bits that have to be put in place to play the game. There are lots of bits that are in motion throughout the game and then have to be cleaned up once completed. I like a tactile game that requires a lot of fiddly bits but the setup and teardown of the game can be a bit off-putting.

Scythe is an excellent game. The background of the game is interesting, the artwork evocative, and game playing engrossing. The way that factions and playmats are distributed make it so that scythe has a large amount of replayability. It does come with a hefty price tag but the amount of detail put into this game makes the price tag acceptable. I, myself, am waiting for the game to come back in stock at my local game store.

Four bear paws out of four for Scythe! If you are a board game fan, this is a game that you definitely need to add to your library.

I bearly recommend it!

Volo’s Guide to Monsters

dnd_trpg_volosguidetomonsters_alt_coverIf you have been in the table top roleplaying game scene for awhile, you will have come accross the Monster Manual. It is a mainstay of Dungeons and Dragons and iterates itself across the fantasy genre like a zombie plague from patient zero.

They follow a format that is predictable and leaves one only looking forward to seeing what the artists were able to do with their orders. The variations are organized around settings or play style but rarely provide a book that is enjoyable and satisfying.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters takes a step outside of the lines to try something a little different.

The conceit of the book is that it is a collection of information on the various creatures of the realms gathered by the inveterate adventurer and writer Volothamp Geddarm.

Volo to his friends.

Scattered throughout the book are observations on the various beasts and ecologies from Volo and his longtime friend, Elminster. The tips range from useful ideas for how the creatures could be used in the game to humorous asides on how interactions with the aforementioned creatures went awry.

The change is presentation is refreshing.

The book opens up with a section that talks about the ecologies of several monsters from previous monster manuals. The very first entry deals with an iconic creature of Dungeons & Dragons, The Beholder. The reader is treated to an analysis of how the creature operates and the reasons behind the behaviors that they display. The description of a creature that sees itself as superior to everything, always aware, and yet in a constant state of fear for something trying to come take what it has is interesting. It takes a monster that you drop into a room without thought and gives it a a background and a purpose that is both entertaining and a useful guide in using it in play.

This section covers a large amount of ground in regards to creatures that are ubiquitous in D&D campaigns. In particular, the information presented on the Gnolls and Illithid is enlightening and entertaining. With the gnolls, Their behavior as slavering monster that ravage the countryside is put in the context of being creations and devotee’s of Yeenoghu. Their being is suffused with the savagery and hunger derived from the depths of the Abyss. Rational thought is something that is difficult for the ordinary gnoll to maintain. The illithid are painted as dimensional refugees that have fled their slaves who have risen up to destroy those that had used them so cruelly. Each story provides both hooks to add these creatures into your story, explanations as to why they behave the way they do, and collects information that has been spread over several tomes in previous editions of Dungeons and Dragons.

This book also collects several new options for races for Player characters. In this edition of D&D, player character race options have been few outside of one or two presented in the appendices of adventures. The addition of them here seems a much more natural fit. The options for player characters is increased by seven.  The authors have brought back another favorite of mine from Fourth edition, the Goliath as well as adding in more exotic choices with the Tabaxi, cat people, and Tritons. This section also adds in rules for handling goblins and other monsters as player characters as well. This is something I always like to have as an option and am glad to see it included in this book.

The rest of the book presents more monsters for use in the game as well as collecting a series of NPCs for quick use of any game master. They are exactly what one expects from a book of monsters.

The book itself is gorgeous.

I picked up the special edition which has a black cover with an Illithid on the front and back cover. The book is full color throughout like the previous books for D&D with new artwork throughout. It weighs in at 224 pages with a retail price of $49.95.

Volo’s Guide to Monsters is an excellent addition to the Dungeons and Dragons Library. It goes off script for a Monster Manual and gives the reader a much better read and a much more useful tool. My only quibble is that for $49.95 I expect a bit more page count. Despite this, it is a definite must have for any fan of D&D.

Four out of Four bear paws.

 

Court of Shadows

courtofshadowsWhile at GenCon, I make a lot of impulse purchases. I was at the Catalyst Game Labs booth to see what was new for Shadowrun. I noticed that they had done something for Shadowrun that I had not seen before. It was an alternate setting book.

Court of Shadows.

I did very well in that I did not scream take my money, now!

The Court of Shadows provides a setting in the Shadowrun universe that incorporates faeries, the seelie court, and all the magic and intrigue that these things entail. It was at the top of the pile as I made my way to complete my purchases.

The book itself is a gorgeous artifact. It is a full color hardbound book that comes in at a respectable 192 page count. The cover art is gorgeous and very evocative of the faerie and faerie courts. The art is very suggestive of the Morrigan of celtic mythology which is a definite plus for me. This art is used again as the end pages of the book which I found to be a nice touch.  I also enjoyed the art throughout the book. It does an excellent job of highlighting the feel of wonder and strangeness that should be associated with the fae.

The pieces of fiction that are found throughout the book are a key piece to the book. They provide and excellent picture for how the faerie and the seelie court would function within the Shadowrun universe. In particular, I like the opening piece where the runners have been doing jobs for one particular Johnson and the last job sees them being told whom they had been working for and how the tilt has changed the game and brought them into the court.

Similar to previous Shadowrun books, Court of Shadows is presented like a collection of data that has been drawn together by Shadowrunners to keep their friends informed. The information gathered is designed to give an overview of the seelie court, how it functions, as well as descriptions of major players, places, and things of interest.

Having read the book, I have mixed feelings about it.

Let’s start with the positive.

I like the idea of an alternative setting for Shadowrun and I love that they would start out with the seelie court. The book does an excellent job of capturing the feel that I would expect from a seelie court setting. It has the high magic that I would expect from the faerie and it ties the faerie and their lands into the Shadowrun universe in a wonderful fashion. I appreciated how they tied the fae to the different ages and the cycle of mana. Having played through Harlequin and Harlequin’s Back, the writers have definitely done their homework. The descriptions of the court and how it works gives a good picture of the byzantine diplomacy that is an everyday fixture of the setting. The ever shifting panoply of signs an signals and the many layers that any one thing can hold is inspired. In particular, I like the side bar that talks about color. It addresses how the court itself is so overwhelmingly colorful and yet the meaning behind the use of color is not so simple to suss out.

I love the descriptions of the factions. Each faction has many layered agendas that provide both excellent hooks for play as well as providing points of reference for how and why each faction exists. In addition, I like that each faction is somehow tied to the material plane. The means can be simply that the faction is named after a card from the Sixth World Tarot. These are magical artifacts that have unknown abilities that are appearing on the material plane. Other factions take a stance somewhere on the spectrum as to how the fae should eal with the world now that the connection has been reforged. These ideas run from integration to isolation and points in between. This provides excellent points of ingress for players as well as jumping off points for game masters to create adventures.

The stylistic change to hacking is also inspired. The fae live long lives and memories become the anchor that drags them down into ennui and madness. To combat this, they strike deals with mortals to hold large chunks of memories. These mortals are called Coimeadai. They are the targets of hacking because everything is remembered, you just have to know who saw what happened. I like how these beings are treated as technomancers even if they were not before striking the bargain with the fae. It creates a unique obstacle for hackers as well puts a different spin on this idea in the game.

One of my problems with court of Shadows is that the style of play that it supports is not something I have ever found in a game of Shadowrun. The closest I have come has been the afore mentioned Harlequin and Harlequin’s Back. The book itself mentions a rules set that is being released for Shadowrun entitled Anarchy that fits much better with this setting. With it feeling so different, I felt like it could have done with more advice around running games here.

The book also feels a bit thin for an alternate setting. Court of Shadows gives lots of flavor but it is light on details. The book mentions that this setting is a metaplane. This implies that characters get here are either brought by the fae for some purpose or are powerful enough to get here on their own. Other means of ingress are mentioned but little detail is actually given. The geography of the realm is hinted at but, outside of the castle, everything is painted with a broad brush. A listing of people of import and creatures is also provided but it suffers from the same lack of more information.

the books gives tantalizing bits of information on the who’s and what’s of this new realm but leaves a lot of work in the hands of the game master to provide the flesh to the bones that are provided.

Overall, I still give three bear paws out of four to Court of Shadows. It provides and interesting setting for Shadowrun that supports a very different play style than your standard run. I love anything that handles the fae and the Seelie court and this book does a good job of capturing the feel that I would expect. I just wished that it offered more in the way of actually setting information or guidance to the game master that was planning on using this as the basis for a new game or a way of expanding an existing game. A great addition to library for any fan of Shadowrun or the fae.

Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound

bloodboundI finally had the time on my journey to Big Bad Con to sit down and read a book. I took F. Wesley Schneider’s Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound with me on the plane as it is a long journey with several layovers. This ensured plenty of time to immerse myself in the realm of Ustalav.

I am so glad that I did as I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I have mentioned repeatedly that I am a fan of vampires and other monsters and this book features vampires, dhampir, priestess of the goddess of death, and many other features of Gothic horror. I was in heaven.

Bloodbound follows the story of two heroines.

Larsa is a dhampir, half-vampire, special agent of the prince of Ustalav. Her job is to maintain the tenuous peace in the city of Caliphas. She is an enforcer of the treaty between the ancient vampires of the city and the human nobility. The vampires are allowed to live in an undercity and thrive but their spawn must not upset the citizenry. When this happens, Larsa ensures that these restless dead are returned to the grave.

Jadain is a young priestess of Pharasma, goddess of death. She is struggling with the dictates of her religion as well as what she sees as the will of her goddess. She is confronted by zealots of all stripes while she wends her way through the labyrinthine paths of power in her church.

Larsa is sent to investigate the mysterious happenings to a noblewoman whom had lived at the outskirts of the city and had been found incoherent on the road into town. Her investigations at the manor house uncover a slew of vampire spawn and the head of a servitor of her grandfather, whom rules the undercity. She also discovers a painting in the home that looks suspiciously just like her. Her grandfather and the nobles she represents would like to discover the cause of this atrocity. This leads Larsa to the asylum that houses the poor noble woman.

Jadain is heard counseling a penitent in the church and chided for her softness on the faithful by the high exorcist of the faith. To test her faith, he takes her to the asylum to remove an unquiet spirit that is plaguing a cell. Instead of assisting her in this task, Jadain is left to fend for herself against the undead and is not entirely up to the task. In a fit of pique, the high exorcist leaves her at the asylum to ponder her failure and await what fate has to offer.

Luckily fate has Larsa in store for Jadain.

Larsa arrives at the asylum to interview the lone survivor of the assault on the manor house and requests aid in her interview. The director of the asylum allows Jadain to assist Larsa in her interview and is there when the poor woman mistakes Larsa for her sister, Ailson Kindler. The mystery deepens as we learn that Ms. Kindler is a much-lauded member of the Pathfinder Society. She created a name for herself by finding and destroying the monsters that haunted Ustalav. The asylum had records in regards to her health and the head of the asylum had become privy to the knowledge that a fiend from Kindler’s past sought to do her harm. The good doctor requests that the Larsa investigate the connection between the patient and Ms. Kindler and deliver his warning in the process.

Some of the information necessary to the investigation is stored within the records of Jadain’s church so her place on this adventure is sealed. It is discovered through a discussion with Considine, a vampire sired by Larsa’s father, that the trouble being caused is from their shared progenitor. This adventure is now sealed and the hunt for the father that abandoned Larsa and fomented rebellion among the vampire is begun.

Schneider has done an excellent job of capturing a gothic tale of horror and combining it with the action and adventure one would expect from Pathfinder. There are points in the narrative where the dread builds slowly and quietly to reveal a horror that is not worth facing head on and there are moments where our heroine’s fight for survival is fast paced and filled with sword-swinging, spell-slinging action. Schneider has an excellent sense of timing for using each thing in this story.

There are a few things that put this book over the top for me.

I love that the two main characters in this book are women. It is not often that I have seen tie-in fiction for a game where the protagonists are female. Both are well-rounded characters that are struggling to find their place in Golarion. I love how we get to get glimpses of how the world works and the ways that these two unique women do not fit in. Watching them struggle with the desire to fit in and being comfortable as themselves was fun.

I also loved the addition of Considine, Larsa’s vampiric brother. He is a  villain but he is allowed to be a character with wants, needs, and motivations which makes him relatable. On top of that, he is also allowed to be a gay vampire that actually cares for one of his thralls and we get to see the consequences of that loss.

Finally, I really enjoyed the glimpses that Schneider gives us into the religion of Pharasma and the country of Ustalav. I am a complete geek for world-building and this book plays into that. Larsa’s story both past and present provides an excellent look at how the ruling class of Ustalav works currently as well as what had happened to this country in the recent past. She also provides an excellent lens through which to view the capital city and it’s accord with the vampires that hide beneath it’s surface. Jadain provides the same service for Pharasma. Every fantasy world seems to have a god or goddess of death. These deities are not often discussed but tend to play a part in larger stories though. Jadain shows how the personal faith works in Golarion as well as how this gnostic could be interpreted and affect the religion as a whole.

Excellent stuff.

Pathfinder Tales: Bloodbound is definitely four bear paws out of four. It gives gothic horror with action adventure without ever dropping a beat. It has two wonderful heroines that I hope to see more of and a villain that both is both a monster and more than that. A book well worth your time and money.

Big Bad Con 2016

BigBadConThis was the second year that I have attended Big Bad Con.

It was, like last year, an excellent experience.

As I was leaving the convention this year, I was contemplating how to talk about my experience. My feeling about this convention are complex which made jumping right in a bit difficult.

Big Bad Con is both a convention and an experience and I was torn on how best to present this. I’ve tossed out several ideas while I was processing everything and decided to go with talking about it as a convention, as an experience, and as a learning moment.

Let’s start with looking at Big Bad Con as a convention. From a high level perspective, Big Bad Con functions like most conventions. It has a period when you can buy your badge online, a time period when you can sign up for games, and then the time period when everything has to take place at the convention itself.

Big Bad Con stands out from ordinary conventions in many different ways.

The first major difference is that it is centered around charities. The convention supports a local food bank as well as Doctors without Borders. In further pursuit of this charitable outlook, Big Bad Con has become a 501(c)3 organization. This charitable focus starts the convention off in the service to others and this feeling is carried through to everything else at the convention.

The next way that it stands out for me as a convention is the staggered way it allows for game sign-ups. I am most familiar with GenCon which has a lottery style game registration system. You create a list of games you want to play in and submit them when registration opens. What you get is determined by your place in line. thus, some never get any games they want. Big Bad Con’s staggered roll-out of sign-ups allows everyone to get two games in the first session and reserves the teen games for age appropriate attendees. The second wave allows everyone to sign up for two more games. The third wave allows everyone to register for whatever you like. I love this idea! It ensures that you should be able to get at least two games that you have your heart set on.

Big Bad Con also stands out for being an inclusive convention that strives to make everyone welcome. It has a community standards page on the convention website. These same standards and the no harassment policy were posted as a large banner fight in front of the registration desk for all to see. In addition to this, there were pronoun ribbons available at the registration desk to make all feel comfortable when speaking with each others. The convention also designed a social metagame for the convention in the vein of PbtA games. Each play book rewarded convention-goers with experience for getting to know someone, checking in on people, working to make others feel comfortable, and so on.

What an excellent idea!

I also love how Big Bad Con has private game rooms. If you have been to a game convention, you will have been put into a large room filled with tables. Your game will be competing with the conversations of several other games which creates a wall of noise that can be distracting to downright alienating. The private game rooms create the intimate experience of gaming at home at a convention. You have your own space in which to create a game unhindered by the other games around you. This makes the games that more fun without having to exert all the more energy just to be heard by those at the table.

Big Bad Con also crafts a wonderful experience.

It is a small intimate convention where you have the ability to get to know the people that you are gaming with. There is this feeling of camaraderie that seems to permeate every activity that happens there. I was volunteering this year and worked at Games on Demand and was granted a brief glance behind the curtain as well. As I expected there was plenty of frenetic energy as the staff and other volunteers worked to get things up and running as well as making sure that everyone had a good time. Despite this elevated anxiety and activity level, everyone remained friendly and caring. Sean took the time to check back with me on one of my shifts to ensure that he hadn’t left me feeling overwhelmed or unneeded. This meant a lot to me.

Another way this stood out for me was on Thursday night before the convention began. I had went to Endgame Oakland with a friend and we had returned to the convention hotel to find many games taking place. We did not make it far into the lobby before someone came up to invite to join in a game that was taking place. Being a shy person, It was amazing to be asked to participate in a game. I ended up getting to play in a game of Ravenloft using the Saga system with Renee Knipe. It was a great time and wonderful to get to talk to her about projects she was working on as well as getting to game with her.

These were small moments in the convention but they loomed large for me. They had a large impact as I am a shy individual and always worried that my presence is not wanted or appreciated so I hang back. It was nice to feel included, and accepted.

Big Bad Con also provided me with a teachable moment. At this convention, I see groups that get together and play games. These groups are diverse and accepting of others despite their differences. There are designers here that work to create games that also have this same aim. It makes me want to see this community to the greater hobby as a whole. It made me take a step back to look at the tables that I play at both at the convention and at home and view them more objectively. I asked myself a question, would I feel comfortable bringing someone new to this game? Would the new person feel welcome at the table? At Big Bad Con, the answer was yes. The GM’s running the games took the time to be welcoming and open to other ideas, used lines & veils, and the X card to create a more welcoming environment. I could not say the same for all of my home groups. big Bad Con gave me the impetus to try and change my home games to be more welcoming and inclusive. It also made me want to try and find a way to make the hobby as a whole more welcoming to those of us that don’t fit the stereotypical gamer mold.

Big Bad Con 2016 was once again a rousing success from my perspective. I had a wonderful time with old friends and met new people whom I hope to call friends soon. I was able to play in fun games with a great groups of people. I was able to play games that I don’t get to play at home. I was able to help out at the convention which made me feel like a part of the community. Big Bad Con is definitely a convention you need to get to at least once if you are a gamer and want to feel welcome and include.

Four bear paws out of four from this Geek Bear!

Zombies, Run! Fall 2016 Virtual Race

zr-vrI am a runner.

I am not the fastest nor can I run the farthest, but I am still a runner.

One of my favorite apps for running is Zombies, Run! I did a review of the app earlier and you can find it here.

One of the recent trends for runners has been the advent of the virtual race. They allow runners that may be self-conscious about their speed, pacing, or the sheer number of people that show up at 5 and 10K races participate. These races very on the amount of tracking that they provide for your participation and what you receive for the money you put into the event. I was interested in the idea but put off participating until recently.

The note that comes in the race package from Sam Yao.

The note that comes in the race package from Sam Yao.

I love the Zombies, Run! app as it provides and excellent story line mixed with music for any length of run. I saw that they had done two virtual races and saw that both had been well received by the community. When I received the notice on the app about the fall 2016 race, I finally decided to take the leap and give it a try.

The price for the fall 2016 Virtual Race was not prohibitive and is inline with the prices for a normal 5 to 10K run. The basic race was $35 and this gets a runner the race, training missions, access to the race forums, a medal, bib, badge and certificate. The next price point is $55 and includes a tech shirt. The third tier of pricing is $65 and includes a long sleeve pro-spec shirt with zip collar. There are further tiers which allow for multiple race entries at multiple levels. I chose the third tier as I wanted the long sleeve shirt to see what it’s quality was like.

The shirt for the mission.

The shirt for the mission.

I have to say that I am impressed. The forums that they provide for the race are filled with people that are discussing the story line that is running through the game. They are also supportive of each other in their quest to become more physically fit and active. This type of community is an excellent addition to a race as it helps one build up to the race as well as providing a community in which to participate for an activity that is normally done alone.

The first training mission dropped the same day that I received my race packet. I complete the mission before I opened it. The training mission dovetails nicely with the items that you receive in the package and makes the race feel more immersive. I don’t want to spoil it but was cool to open up the envelope and to see the spoils of the training run there before me!

The long sleeve shirt is a of excellent quality. I wore it on a mission one cool evening at it kept me warm for the beginning of the run and did an excellent job of wicking the sweat away after I had been running for a bit. I especially like the thumb holes in the cuffs as they kept my hands warmer and less sweaty to make it easier to access my phone during the run.

I know that they sounds small but it is really helpful.

All in all, I am very impressed with the Zombies, Run! virtual race. What you get for the money is very nice and the sense of community that builds around the race is a great thing that I wish every race had. If you are wanting to try out a virtual race, I have to say that you should give the Zombies, Run! virtual race a try. An excellent story line, wonder props, and a great community that makes it well worth the money.

Four bear paws out of Four for the 2016 Fall Virtual Race from Zombies, Run!

Pathfinder Horror Adventures

horror-adventureAt GenCon 2016, I had the pleasure of interviewing wesley Schneider. He is the editor-in-chief at Paizo but also a contributor to their newest release, Horror Adventures. He was kind enough to give me a copy of it and the book, Bloodbound. Life has been busy but I have finally had the time to dig into Horror Adventures and share my thoughts on the book.

The book itself is a gorgeous artifact. It is a 254 page hard bound book. The interior is full color and continues in the tradition of the other books using the iconic heroes as the subjects of the art throughout the book. I always love the art in the Pathfinder books. It is well done and evocative of the themes and mechanics that are found throughout the tome. I especially appreciate the work done on the index. It makes finding specific things much easier and in a book this size it is important.

Horror Adventures is a tool box. It gathers together game mechanics, character options, spells, monsters, and advice to allow both players and game masters to run horror games using the Pathfinder system. The book is filled to the brim with useful information and tweaks that can be made to run a great horror game or campaign.

I am just going to hit the pieces here that stood out for me.

The first thing that I love about this book is that it takes the time to address expectations from both the player and the game master side. From the game master’s perspective, it addresses the need to understand whom you are trying to scare or creep out. Are you trying to scare the characters or the players? Both are viable options but require different ways of handling the game and a different level of consent. I like that the authors of the book make this distinction. Trying to scare your players can crossover into territory that can be very uncomfortable. Taking the time to talk to the players about what they can handle and having a system in place to just stop if things become unbearable it important in games like this. From the player’s perspective, it addresses the need to give up a level of control on the character. Your character has to be afraid of something and react poorly to situations or the power of a horror game is muted or lost.

The authors also take the time to address the differences between a fantasy adventure game and a horror game. In horror, the process is loss and degradation of resources. This leads to the loss of most of the characters in a horror setting save the few lone survivors. In Fantasy, the progression is the opposite direction. Characters get stronger and stronger an collect more and more resources. The authors point out how this does not make horror impossible. They show how the threats scale despite the inevitable triumph of the player characters. There are several techniques highlighted in the book for making this possible. In particular, I like how they call out players to give their characters family, friends, and goals. These things create more in depth characters and also give them things to lose in a horror game.

Another thing that stood out for me was the addition of Corruptions. These are templates that you would add to a character after they have been exposed to something horrible in the world such as Vampirism or Lycanthropy or due to choice, Lichdom. Corruptions provide a system whereby characters have certain benefits and drawbacks from these conditions. This allows for the player to struggle with both the power that comes from the whatever they have garnered as well as fight against the descent into darkness. These formalize processes that are more vague in the standard Pathfinder game or are easily overcome with a single spell. Thus, a series of games is strung together to overcome this path of destruction.

A great idea!

The books provides plenty of options for making changes to player characters. There are new racial benefits that fit better within a horror setting as well as class archetypes that create some terrifying villains for players to face. My favorite player facing changes are the story feats in this book. Twisted Love is my favorite. This is a feat that is very much a riff on Strahd from Ravenloft. You are mistaken for a monster or villain’s lost love. You gain a certain benefit for having this feat and an additional feature for completing the storyline. I love that there is this call out in the book and that this trope is something mechanically supported by this book. I can not wait to give it a try!

The book also provides a plethora of mechanics around fear, madness, curses, and setting to help create an environment that is inimical to the lives of the heroes. In particular, there are rules for creating domains for powerful evil creatures. This dovetails nicely with the story feats allowing game masters to recreate Ravenloft or any domain of dread that they may want to utilize. The rules give directions on how the domain is formed, the rules that would hold sway within it and how the borders are closed and ultimately how to destroy one. It allows cooperative group to come together and craft a story together to explore a specific trope of horror for a while within their own heroic fantasy game.

Paizo has created a great toolbox for for horror fans with Horror Adventures. It provides players and game masters with plenty of new bells and whistles to add to the game along with excellent advice on how to run any type of horror game you would like in Pathfinder.

Four bear paws out of four! A definite must have for any fan of horror or fantasy gaming.

 

7th Sea

7th_sea_cover_V17th Sea is a game that captured my imagination when I first played it. The idea of a game that revolved around piracy, intrigue, romance, and swashbuckling adventure was something that I loved. I wanted to play in games where I could swing from chandeliers and rescue my paramour, race to the side of my comrades in peril, and slide down the sail of an enemy ship to defeat the villainous captain. It was something my group played for awhile but then drifted back into Dungeons & Dragons.

The kickstarter for 7th Sea reignited these passions and I quickly backed at the level to get myself a print copy of the book. I was also able to interview Rob Justice, one of the designers behind this new version of 7th Sea, at Gen Con. After some time with the book, I thought I would give my thoughts on this new iteration of 7th Sea.

Let’s start with the book itself.

This is a prodigious tome at 303 pages all of which are glossy full color. The layout is done so that it presents the information without being cluttered or distracting. There are two things that stood out about the book. First, the cover piece is phenomenal. It is a dynamic piece that captures the adventure and flair that is the heart of 7th Sea. The piece also places the female character front and center. I Loved that they made this choice for the cover piece. Second, there are two page illustrations for the start of each chapter. These pieces are beautiful as well in addition they capture the tone and purpose of the chapter they precede.

Now to the meat of the book.

7th Sea leads off with some short fiction to give you an idea of how ideas that can be found within it’s pages. A Day’s work does this admirably.

My standard edition of the book which I have signed.

My standard edition of the book which I have signed.

It provides a nice framework with which to view the ideas that are going to be presented throughout the book. This was important for me as I tend to refer back to the fiction, when present, in a roleplaying book as proof of concept. I ask, “Can my players do what happened in that piece of fiction that I just read?” If the answer is yes, then I am happy. The answer for A Day’s work is also a yes.

The book has the standard introduction to the game. In 7th Sea, this consists of breaking down the game into what types of adventures can be found within. These are broken down into pairs; Swashbuckling & Sorcery, Piracy & Adventure, Diplomacy & Intrigue, Archaeology & Exploration, and Romance & Revenge. Each of these pairings give a brief description of how this pertains to the game. I appreciate that it calls out the tropes that you can expect to find supported within the game. It sets a new player or game master up with a solid idea of what types of games can be played and help them to plan accordingly. This section also provides a brief overview of the important parts of the game world. It creates a nice foundation for understanding the setting material that follows and sets up the reader to better understand the world of 7th Sea.

Before getting to character creation, the book takes the time to introduce the world of Theah. The first section of this deals with the Nations of Theah. It takes each nation in turn and talks about it’s makeup. It goes through and talks about, the politics of the land, the recent past, current situations, as well as delineating how daily life for the different stratas of each nation appears. Special attention is gent to how each nation is special and what this means both at home and on the geopolitical board. The nations are the bulk of this section. The rest is dedicated to the other powers that are found in Theah, the Church, Pirates, and Secret Societies with the lion’s share of the information being given over to the church as it’s influence is so pervasive. I liked descriptions of the different nations. I have a few quibbles which I will bring up later. In particular, I like the breaking down of Avalon into the separate nations that make up this Kingdom. Instead of a united front, it creates a nation with more depth that I want to explore. I also like the addition of the Sarmation Commonwealth. It brings a new flavor to the Theah. The commonwealth has a prussian feel that is refreshing to see in a roleplaying game. It is nice to see Poland and surrounding countries being given some exposure.

On to the important part, character creation and game mechanics!

Character creation is a simple affair. It starts like most games do, with a concept. To help you refine this concept, there is a list of 20 questions to help you better understand the character you are creating. One of the important questions that needs answered is what nation does your character come from. The answer provides a few advantages further along in the creation process. You then put points into the traits; Brawn, Finesse, Resolve, Wits, and Panache. Each starts at a 2 and you may assign two more points at this stage. You will then apply your nationality bonus which provides a further trait bonus. The next step is to choose two backgrounds. This provides the player with a set of skills, personality quirks and advantages. The backgrounds range from y

My pirate edition of the book which arrived while I was at Gen Con.

My pirate edition of the book which arrived while I was at Gen Con.

our standard pirate to more nation specific things such as a Knight Errant from Avalon. Once you have made your choices for backgrounds, you then have 10 points to spend on further skills. This is where you will be able to buy a skill up to the starting maximum of three. This is advantageous in that is allows you to reroll a single die on a risk involving that skill. This could make the difference in having enough raises or not. You will then have 5 points to spend on Advantages. There are many choices in this arena with some being designed specifically with each nation in mind. You will then choose your character’s arcana. This is one of the ways that your character will generate Hero points throughout the game. They are presented in a fashion to resemble the Sorte deck that Fate Witches use in game as part of their sorcery. It is for flavor only though as you pick what you characters Virtue and Hubris to better reflect the concept you chose at the beginning of the process. The process is rounded out with Stories and Details. Stories are how a character improves. The player decides what they are trying to improve in the next few sessions of the game. They then create a one to three step story that addresses the steps to achieve this story and receive their reward. Details is somewhat self-explanatory as it deals with wealth, Secret Society Membership, and what-not.

The creation process is not difficult. If you have a solid concept, the choices just flow into place. If you do not, the twenty questions are designed to help to get a better grasp of the character and make character creation simpler. By far, Stories are my favorite part of character creation. They give players a level of narrative control that I like. The book does not say to work collaboratively on the stories but I feel that this would be a great way to get players invested in the story as well as get the game master invest in the player’s ideas as well. For me, this would take the responsibility of story generation off of my shoulders as game master and share it proportionately with the group. A good thing in my opinion.

The mechanics of 7th Sea are easy to grasp. If there is nothing at stake with an action, you do not roll dice. If the opposite is true, then what takes place is a risk. This situation can either be an action sequence or a dynamic sequence. An action sequence is a set piece where time is of the essence and the consequences are immediate. A dynamic sequence is piece where the drama is drawn out over time and each action takes up a large stretch of time, such as a state party. Once the scene is set, the players decide the approach that they will be taking to address the risk. This indicates the skill and attribute which will be used to create a dice pool for the risk. The game master then sets the consequences for not overcoming the risk as well as an opportunity that can be seized by the players in the scene. The player then collects dice equal to the number of his skill plus trait and looks to create collections of dice equaling 10 which are called a raise. A raise is used to lower consequences as well as take advantage of an opportunity.

Simple really.

I love all of these mechanics. The idea of each scene being a risk is nice. It sets up the idea of only rolling when things are important in a nice fashion. I especially like how the dice mechanic works. The player takes dice to create raises. Any leftover dice can be offered to the game master for purchase. This makes it so that the player can choose to make no raises and offer all the dice up for the exchange of a hero point and a danger point. This places more power into the hands of the players both for the level of opposition that they face as well as their ability to respond in kind. This allows for skill iterations that make higher skills important. For instance, at a skill rating of 4, the player has the ability to create two raises with dice adding up to 15. A definite advantage. The ability generate hero points is also nice. They are used for many things such as activating arcana, advantages, and as an extra raise. Definitely something that needs to flow freely to keep the game moving.

I have mentioned in a prior post that I love the diversity that can be found in the book. It takes the time to mention that different ethnicities can be found all across Theah. This makes it simpler for players to have a broad range of characters. In addition, the designers also note that women are just as capable of being whatever they wish in Theah as their male counterparts. The art, though still not completely balanced, presents women in as active participants within the world which is a nice switch from what the standard has been in the table top roleplaying game arena. It is in the art that 7th Sea soars for us in the LGBT community. There are two pieces that show same sex couples in a romantic kiss. These pictures are well done and portray the romance of the situation in line with the 7th Sea setting. I can not say that have ever seen pictures like these in any other game.

To be able to see myself in the art for a game is an important thing.

There are a couple rough edges that stick out. First is the index. I am happy that the book has one. The issue though, is that it is rather sparse. With the book tipping the scales at over 300 pages, a more thorough index would be appreciated. Second, despite the powerful imagery presented via the art in the book, this diversity does not appear as much in the text. We have a picture of two musketeers having a kiss and two lady sailors doing the same. Nowhere in the text does it address how this is taken by their societies. I know that space is limited but a few lines here or there addressing this would be nice. The same could be said of the treatment of women. The text states that women hold the same positions as men in Theah. Further reading shows that in places like the Highland Marshes and Vodacce seem to have the same backwards views about women as their historical counterparts. I would have liked to seen these ideas as things to kicked over. The lack of a map is annoying . I love the map that is at the front of the book but it is not easy to reference. They put a lot of effort into this beautiful piece of cartography to then not give it to us in the book.

Overall, I love 7th Sea. The art is gorgeous and the mechanics are inspired. Everything comes together to create a game that captures the look and feel of swashbuckling adventure. I want to get into a campaign and watch how the story mechanic unfolds over time.

7th Sea is definitely worthy of four bear paws out of four. It should be on your gaming shelf.