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AICN Tabletop! DARK NOVA! #TableToplessGames! The ATLANTIC CITY Controversy! And More!

Hello analog gamers, Abstruse here with this week’s news on all things tabletop. In case I haven’t pimped this convention enough last week, I am attending Space City Con in Houston from August 2-4 at the Marriot Westchase and Hilton Westchase. With great thanks to the wonderful staff at the convention, especially George Comits, I’ve gotten several very exciting interviews lined up. On top of that, I got to have a chat with Lead Designer for Dark Nova Games, Breandan O Ciarrai.

Dark Nova Games is an independent publisher based out of The Woodlands, TX, a suburb of Houston (but one of those towns you usually piss people off by calling it a suburb) and is one of the only female-owned gaming companies I know of (the owner is Tiffani Ui Cirraide). It’s one of the more exciting independent game universes I’ve read about in a while and reminds me a lot of the early BATTLETECH universe if you took the focus off the giant robots (which, surprisingly, leaves a very detailed and interesting world). Without further ado, here’s the interview:

Abstruse Why don't we start by with a bit about Dark Nova and what you do for the company and game?

Breandan Dark Nova originally started out as a series of novels I was working on, initially a trilogy set in the early 24th century in a setting I have been having dreams about since I was a child. I let some of my friends and a sibling who are all avid gamers read what I had written at that point, and they unanimously demanded I make an RPG setting out of it.

Originally we were looking at creating a setting for an existing rules system, but when the decision was made to publish the game that shifted quickly into developing our own. Cue five years of research and development, rules testing, lots of different incarnations and finally we produced the first book in 2006 for playtesting. During this time, I spent so much time focussed on the game development that the novels were neglected. This turned out to be a boon for me as a writer, however, for a very strange reason.

Abstruse Sometimes you need the distance to get a fresh perspective.

Breandan Exactly, and that's what happened. In my case, as I developed the broader universe of the Dark Nova setting I suddenly found idea after idea for novels popping up. So, in a way, expanding out the world in my head into the broader universe of the game setting unlocked limitless potential for the novels. I have gone from a trilogy initially to three books either finished or in progress and five more outlined or plot-pointed. I had to stop myself at that point lest literary ADHD overwhelm me

Abstruse What is the universe of Dark Nova?

Breandan Dark Nova is set in 2318, centering on the Terran Alliance of Nations- a sort of futuristic United Nations that is a loose coalition between the various nations of Terra or her offspring independent colonies. The technology base is widely varied, with tech in the Core Worlds- those first settled by Humans and with populations in the tens of billions or more- being nearly magical, and tech in the Fringe on the other end of the spectrum being very primitive by comparison.

Humanity has discovered thousands of intelligent species as they expanded into the stars, and hundreds of them being star-faring species. Only a few dozen have expanded out to make themselves significant allies or competitors on the galactic stage, but even the lesser races can be surprising. Humanity itself is evolving, becoming post-human in more ways than one. Generations of minor genetic tweaking has led to a significant shift in Humanity from what we see today, and biogenetic and cybernetic augmentation take this even further. Few have gone as far as the Ahruga, who feature heavily in the first two novels, as they genetically engineered themselves into a new species entirely.

This also allows me to shine a window on the growing pains of the transition from where we are now into an entirely new paradigm as a galactic species that is evolving into new forms. I wanted to keep the setting in a range between near-future and far-future to allow for massive technological advances, while at the same time keeping it familiar enough for the players to envision themselves being there and living in it.

Abstruses Ahruga?

Breandan Ahruga- an Athrugaidh properly, translating to "The Reborn" in their language- are descended from a colony of Gaelic settlers belonging to a group called the Order of the Harp. They embraced the ancient customs, faith and culture of their ancestors as a way of banding together during a dark period in the 21st century called The Fall- not an uncommon event in massive civilization-shattering disasters if one looks through history- and evolved into a completely independent people once they settled offworld.

A warrior-poet people, they enhanced their strengths, endurance, and numerous other physical traits, though the modifications they did have created problematic ramifications that they are having to come to grips with. This is part of the major sub-plot of the first two novels- what it means to become post-Human and how a people evolve psychologically and culturally during the growing pains of that process.

Abstruse What other "races" does the game have?

Breandan There are several core races, including three varieties of Humans. That particular quirk is explained in the course of the first two novels, so I don't want to spoil it, but the numerous near-Human and three Human races aren't a fluke. The other alien races were developed based on looking around the natural world and seeing what animals showed signs of evolutionary leaps towards sentience. One thing I noticed is that predators and omnivorous mammals tend to be the species prone to evolving in that direction.

So, many of the races have a background either similar to our own- bipedal primates or similar who developed tool use- or are descended from predators in hyper-competitive environments. There are nine core races in the game, with three more in the two expansions. The core races are the Ahruga, Garoudan- lupine-appearing predators, Humans, K'Thari- felines, though they look very much humanoid now, Kyaren- an arboreal near-human species, Lyncrathi- a very strange race descended from something akin to a deer or horse, Namaran- a tribal nocturnal near-human species, Sarza- a humanoid race that look very different from Humans, but have a culture surprisingly similar to Victorian England, very hierarchal and Machiavellian, and the Teek- diminuitive saurian technophiles who have developed some of the most advanced technology humans have acquired.

The three featured in Fortune and Glory, the first expansion which debuts at Space City Con, are the Duroth- a primitve near-human race from a harsh world, the Rakshasa- a GELF species illegally created by an Indian geneticist from tiger and human DNA that bred true, and the Sleeth- a race of mammals forced into Terran space by the incursion of a brutal and deadly race expanding their territory.

Abstruse Saurian...does that mean dinosaur people?

Breandan Yes, traits of mammal and reptile both, warm-blooded by egg-laying. Strangely enough, the most common non-game item people request are Teek plushies, they are apparently adorable to a lot of people. And this has our Boss Lady on a quest for developing them now

Abstruse What sort of space travel technology do humans use? I know you mentioned core worlds and a frontier. How big is civilized space and how long does it take to get from world to world?

Breandan Terran-settled space covers nearly 11,000 light years along the Orion arm of the galaxy, where habitable or easily-terraformed worlds are common. The space travel technology includes numerous methods of FTL or effective FTL, but the most common is quantum tunneling using wormholes.

I virtually stalked Michio Kaku {Note: Famed theoretical physicist and futurist – Abs} to milk his brain of everything I could about his theories on hyperspace and brane theory in order to try to develop a sound hypothetical method for this form of FTL. I use handwavium in moderation because I want the reader- or players, in the case of the game- to see this setting and think "This could actually happen". As a result, the technology used is based on real or theoretical tech. Thankfully, Michio happily holds seminars and panels to discuss it in-depth, so it was a sort of quantum physics 101 crash course for me.

This ties into the underlying plot of the novels, where I try and shake up the common paradigm of the extant, that what we see now- the races we will encounter in the next few centuries, etc.- are the peak of civilization in the galaxy. Instead, this shows that it is, instead, the latest in a neverending cycle of civilizations evolving over billions of years, and either dying out or going... elsewhere

Abstruse So how does the rules system work?

Breandan We are all avid AD&D players, and we developed the combat mechanics to be familiar to us. However, the system is entirely unique overall. Time is divided up into ten second rounds, with six rounds comprising a minute. Combat is a D20 roll against a target number- called Target Acquisition Class- with both the roll and TAC subject to situational modifiers. It's a hit-or-miss system. If you miss, the round progresses to the next attack. If you hit, damage is rolled according to the weapon and applied to shields, then armour once those are depleted or bypassed, and then finally the squishy bits inside.

It can be a VERY lethal game, which makes sense considering that the average mil-spec sidearm would blow an M1A2 main battle tank into slag.

Abstruse Your website mentions a miniatures game as well. Is that out yet or something you're still working on?

Breandan We are playtesting the very first incarnation of the Alpha rules for Dirtside, the miniature wargame that ties into the Dark Nova RPG. It is largely meant to be a wargame tie-in with the second expansion- WAR!, which focusses on the militaries, mercenary corporations, and warzones- to settle squad, platoon and even company level fights. Another miniature game- Starfire- is on the board to do the same for fleet battles as well, but that'll be a ways off. We have an open playtesting session for the Dirtfire alpha at Space City Con on Sunday, and we hope to get some good feedback to help shape it.

Abstruse Are you going to be running any demos of the roleplaying game at the convention as well?

Breandan I will be running the Dark Nova RPG game Friday night, and two of our developers will be running the games on Saturday and Sunday

Abstruse You mentioned the three novels that started this whole thing off. Have you gotten around to publishing them yet?

Breandan The first novel is getting editorial revisions before being re-submitted, but once the manuscript goes it's up in the air as to how long it will take to get approved and hit shelves. In the meantime, I have seven more novels to work on, which promises to keep me busy.

But, it gives me something to do on my downtime at work, as there's not exactly a lot of things to do in Afghanistan or Iraq. So, I write. {Note: Breandan’s day job is as a combat medic overseas – Abstruse}

Abstruse Are you publishing them traditionally, or are you printing them yourselves and/or releasing electronically?

Breandan The novels are being released traditionally, likely through Baen or Tor, depending on who gives a thumbs-up first. I've thought about publishing them ourselves as I would get paid per-book rather than an up-front flat fee, but for personal reasons and practical I decided to go traditional.

Abstruse Well I've taken up a lot of your time, was there anything else you wanted to say to the readers about Dark Nova?

Breandan Come out and see us at Space City Con, and keep an eye out for The Calling of Heroes, the first novel, to hit shelves sometime next year.

Abstruse And my final question for you...what games have you been playing recently?

Breandan 1st edition AD&D (I love old-school, what can I say?), but with two toddlers running about it's hard to get a lot of tabletopping in. So, mostly it's been videogames for me, Skyrim and The Secret World primarily.

If Breandan managed to pique your interest about DARK NOVA, you can get it in both electronic and dead-tree format from their Drive Thru RPG store. If you need a bit more convincing, they have a free QuickStart for the game also available from Drive Thru.

Say what you will about us gamers, but we do have a sense of humor. Early last week, someone on Reddit discovered that the set used to use the webseries TABLE TOP was also used as a set for a pornographic movie. Wil Wheaton’s response to the “controversy” was to say, “Yes, we shoot Tabletop a loft downtown that’s used for other productions, including porn … like pretty much every location in LA.” He also said that if porn star April O’Neil didn’t star in the porn parody TABLETOPLESS, he would be upset. Which caused Storm from the musical duo Paul & Storm to start pondering what games would appear on TABLETOPLESS.

...and that’s when people around the country probably got really fucking confused as to why the hashtag #TableToplessGames started trending. And yes, I got in on the act too. I’d share some of my contributions, but they’re a bit racy even for Ain’t It Cool News. Vodka was involved. One of the many reasons you should be following me on Twitter.

If you haven’t voted yet for your favorite games in this year’s Ennie Awards, you may want to do so now as voting closes on Wednesday, July 31. There are a lot of awesome nominees this year (including THE WHOLE HOLE by Andy Kopp, a book I will be reviewing in a couple more weeks, and BROKEN ROOMS from Greymalkin Design, which I’ll have my review up for it next week). This year has had the highest vote tally of any years so far, so make sure your voice is heard at the awards ceremony on August 16 at GenCon!

The Ennies got into a bit of controversy this week, though, when a former judge claimed that Fantasy Flight Games’s STAR WARS EDGE OF THE EMPIRE beginner’s set released last year was snubbed for a nomination due to a single judge blocking it due to the “funny dice”. However, in the comments on this blog post, one of the current judges states that’s not the case and, due to the voting system they use, it would be impossible for a single judge to filibuster or overrule any particular nomination. It’s caused a lot of trouble for the awards on social media as bloggers and Twitter users took potshots at the awards through the latter half of the week. But before anyone gets upset, I’d like to remind you that only five people know exactly why SW:EotE didn’t get a nomination, and that’s the five judges. And only one of them has said anything at this point.

Cryptozoic is going for a fourth-wall style marketing campaign for their new game, TRUE BLOOD: NIGHT ETERNAL. While the game is officially licensed from the HBO urban fantasy series TRUE BLOOD, the game itself exists in-universe as an ancient game that vampires have played amongst themselves for centuries. A human managed to steal a copy and take it to a game publisher called Cryptozoic, who is releasing it to the public (how do Public Domain laws work when the author’s probably still around after a millennium or two?). The three to five player card game will release in the fourth quarter of this year and retail for $24.95.

Fantasy Flight Games is trying something different with the release of the second edition of DARK HERESY, their WARHAMMER 40K roleplaying game. You can purchase the playtest version of the rules now for $20 on Drive Thru RPG and, with your purchase, get a $20 off voucher for the release of the final PDF. This seems very similar to what Kenzer is doing with their HACKMASTER gamemaster book I talked about last week, but the other way around. In Kenzer’s case, you can preorder the book now months in advance and get access to the book all the way through its revisions until it’s complete. In this case, however, you’re paying SOLELY for the playtest copy of the rules, getting your money back only if you purchase the electronic version of the rules. This slight difference has upset some people I’ve talked to in the community because...well...they want the HARDCOPY version of the rules when they come out, not the PDF. Therefore they feel locked out of this opportunity to help the refinement of the new edition. So if you’re a fan of DARK HERESY and you know you’re going to go digital when it comes out later this year, this is something you definitely want to get. If you’re on the fence about the game, it may also be a way to try it out for far cheaper than the final product will be. But if you’re still a die-hard dead-tree gamer, then you’ll either have to pay twice or be patient.

THE DOOM THAT CAME TO ATLANTIC CITY should have been one of Kickstarter’s big success stories for tabletop gaming. A couple of experienced game designers licensed their new board game to a brand new company called The Forking Path. The company decided to do a Kickstarter with a modest $35,000 goal that eventually hit $122,874 with 1,246 backers – which may not sound like a lot these days, but this was before VERONICA MARS put Kickstarter on a lot of people’s radars, so this game would’ve had a good shot at getting to half a million or more in the current environment. But after a year of delays and broken promises, the game has officially been cancelled to the...even the word “outrage” doesn’t seem strong enough to describe what’s happening. If the comments on that post are to be believed, dozens of backers have reported The Forking Path founder Erik Chevalier for fraud.

Fraud charges do seem a bit harsh until you find out all the details. According to Chevalier, the Kickstarter was never about funding THE DOOM THAT CAME TO ATLANTIC CITY, but rather about securing financing to start The Forking Path as a business. Part of that financing included moving himself to Portland, OR, and other business expenditures. Speculation abounds that Chevalier basically just used the Kickstarter money to fund his move across the country and then posted this “Whelp, not gonna happen. Sorry guys!” message when his funds ran dry. He even laments in his post that he will have to “get a job” in order to refund backer money, but gives no timeline or information for how refunds will be made. The backers, of course, are furious at Chevalier and more allegations are flying around left and right.

This may only seem like a big deal to the twelve hundred people who invested in the Kickstarter, but if even one of the fraud complaints is investigated, it’s going to have HUGE impact on how Kickstarter is used. First, it will give a legal precedent for exactly what a Kickstarter backer is. That sounds a bit odd, but let me explain. When I go into a store and buy a game, there is a huge set of laws that protect me as a consumer from being ripped off due to false advertising, harmful materials, or just plain flat shoddy and dangerous workmanship. If I’m a venture capitalist and I’m handing over money to a company to invest in them, there is also a huge but different set of laws that protect me if the person I’m investing in is misrepresenting themselves, the company, its earning potentials, etc. Where, then, do Kickstarter backers fall? If we’re just investors and a game like this folds (assuming the Kickstarter accurately represents what the funding was for anyway), oops. Tough luck. Should’ve made a better investment. If we’re consumers, that means we’re basically pre-ordering a product from a company and that means we have legal recourse to recoup that money should the product not be delivered. But there’s a lot more going on that makes me wish I’d taken that stupid law class instead of “Philosophy of Knowledge” when I was in college. There’s protections that investors get that consumers don’t. So when we back a Kickstarter, what are we? Something tells me there’s probably going to be a court case in the near future that’s going to strictly define that for us because of this Kickstarter.

There is a silver lining to this cloud, and that’s designers Keith Baker (creator of the EBERRON campaign setting for D&D and the card game GLOOM) and Lee Moyer (artist for...yeah, there’s too much to list, the guy’s awesome). Baker responded to the cancellation of the product by immediately stating that neither he nor Moyer had any part in the business side of The Forking Path and that their deal was purely a license deal (similar to what Baker most likely has with Atlas Games to publish GLOOM). They were taken in by Chevalier as much as the backers were. They have also announced that, because The Forking Path is dissolving, the rights to the game are automatically reverting back to them. They have gotten a list of all the backers of the original Kickstarter and releasing their original files to them so that the backers can have the game as print-to-play. They admit it’s not as good as the finished product would’ve been, but I think it’s a classy move by the guys who could’ve easily just taken their license with all the publicity surrounding it and sold it off to another company who’d have it on shelves before the year’s out.

Now we can’t let one bad apple spoil the bunch. As I said the last time I reported on a Kickstarter that went south, I do try to screen these things as best I can. Every Kickstarter I feature on this site is either from an established company with a strong reputation, or they’re from an individual or independent group who actually looks like they have their shit together and will be able to fulfill their end. So let’s get started, shall we?

I love my 3D terrain. I think this is the fourth or fifth Kickstarter for 3D gaming terrain I’ve covered. What sets DUNGEON LAIR apart from its competitors is that every piece comes fully-painted. Because I’ve said it before, I suck at painting. There’s a couple of really cool advantages that DUNGEON LAIR has as well that are unfortunately also disadvantages at the same time. First, each piece comes pre-formed with walls, making set-up quick. But it also limits how much you can do with the set as the room sizes can’t be altered. Second, there’s a half-inch gap along all sides of the walls giving you a little more room for your minis. The bad news is this means the sets are most likely going to be completely incompatible with DWARVEN FORGE, DUNGEON STONE, or any of the other 3D terrain sets I’ve mentioned before. But if you’re as lazy or untalented as I am when it comes to your terrain and you either haven’t laid out money for another set or you’d just like a back-up set, this is something you should look into. The base set is $50 with free domestic shipping. And even if you did get on in the DWARVEN FORGE Kickstarter, you can still check out the $25 pledge level which is a slew of pre-painted accents and items to help flesh out your dungeons. Either way, you’ve got until August 18 to get in on this one, which is already over halfway to its goal.

For those of you who prefer your gaming platform to be 2D, Arklight is releasing 11x17 printed battlemaps and damn if these things aren’t gorgeous. Arklight’s been around for ages in the various forums producing some absolutely GORGEOUS maps, so feel free to search around online for what he’s capable of. The maps are breathtaking and generic enough to use in any sort of fantasy setting. Oh, and they’re designed to “link up” on multiple sides, so you can re-use them simply by placing two, three, or four maps together in different ways.  I’d tell you how much the pledge levels are, but that’s another great thing – it’s completely customizable. $25 gets you 14 maps (they’re unlocking more with stretch goals, two of which have been unlocked so far) and $50 gets you 40 or more, and you can add on more maps at $3 each if you have a specific one. The only thing to keep in mind is that these maps at the base levels are NOT laminated! You have to purchase the $10 Lamination Add-On to have your maps ready for wet/dry erase markers (if you go for just the $25 bundle, you only have to pay an additional $5 for lamination). This Kickstarter is more than fully funded and runs until August 8.

And just to give you an update on a couple of Kickstarters I’ve mentioned in the column previously. The multi-generational RED AEGIS roleplaying system from Brian and Matt James has been funded with several weeks left to go and a lot of stretch goals to unlock. Somehow, the awesome multi-system campaign setting PRIMEVAL THULE is still not quite funded, being just 2/3 of the way to its goal as of writing. This Kickstarter runs until August 1st and has added on several big names from the online gaming community to work on the project. And finally, Mark Rein Hagan’s card-based I AM ZOMBIE roleplaying game managed to barely squeak past its funding goal before its July 31 cut-off.

That’s all for this week. Next week’s column will be a review of BROKEN ROOMS from Greymalkin Designs and a few other things I’m going to prepare in advance because I’m going to be spending the weekend at Space City Con in Houston from August 2-4. If you’re going to be at the con or you have some news for me, email me at, or you can get updates on what awesome fun I’m having on my Twitter account @Abstruse.  Thanks for reading!

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