Hello gamers, it’s been a while since we’ve done a straight-up post without any big convention coverage, so we’re going to catch up on the news after an interview with Andy Hopp, creator of the roleplaying game LOW LIFE and the DEMENTALISM card game set in the same world as well as guest on episode 2 of my new podcast, You All Meet in a Tavern.
Abstruse: You've got a pretty insane world you've created in Low Life. Can you tell us a bit about it and where it came from?
Andy Hopp: Sure thing, man. Well, first, here's the lowdown: Low Life takes place gazillions of years in the future. Every possible calamity, cataclysm, and apocalypse has happened and humans are extinct. The current denizens of Oith have evolved from cockroaches, Twinkies, and the other dregs that survived. Society is based on the misinterpreted archeological evidence of extinct humans.The original concept was pretty tame. Way back in the day I was doing some work with Goodman Games on a series of books called The Wanderers Guild Guides. They were super-snazzy books (nominated for an ENnie back in 2003) that focused on creatures of a certain realm (underground, underwater, etc...). Anyway, I had the idea to do a book about slimes, fungus, molds, puddings, oozes, and all that sort of stuff. I thought Low Life would be a cool name for it.Anyway, it never happened (The WG is going to be resurrected soon, by the way, so look for Wanderers Guild books next year from Mutha Oith Creations, if I may go off topic for a sec).
Abstruse: Amazingly useful but underrepresented group of monsters, especially for dungeon crawls.
Andy Hopp: Indeed. I was really proud of those books and I'm excited to get them started again. Anyway, fast forward a couple of years and Shane Hensley, the creator of the fantastic Deadlands RPG, asked me to do a book for his new Savage Worlds game. He really dug my drawings from past products and wanted me to illustrate something for him...So I said, "Sure thing! What do you want it to be about?" He said, "Anything you want." I said, "Awesome, can I write it too?" He said, "Send me a sample of your writing." I did. He said, "Wow! You write as well as you draw, serve that shit up!" (or something along those lines)...so I decided to do something with that Low Life title I was all about for a while. Originally it was going to take place in the plumbing. Bugs and things living under the sink and all that, but that world turned out to be too restrictive and I enlarged it to an entire planet. Now it's kind of steamrolled into this enormous setting with so many possibilities. It's enough to keep me busy until I croak, I'm sure. Then you can raise me and I'll do it some more (if you're into that sort of thing).
Abstruse: So it's an official Savage Worlds setting book at this point. When did you decide to do DEMENTALISM?
Andy Hopp: Yes indeed, it was an Official Savage Worlds Savage Setting when it was released in 2006 (or maybe 2005, math is hard). Since that time it has developed something of a cult following in certain necks of the woods and I decided to start publishing supplements and expand the game through my own company, Mutha Oith Creations (www.muthaoithcreations.com). Dementalism, the first Low Life card game, originally came about because part of my deal with Shane was that I would still own the rights to all the art and everything. So I was thinking, I have hundreds of pictures I did for this book and they're just sitting there not doing anything. How about I use them for a card game? That's what I asked myself, but probably not out loud.So I brainstormed quite a bit and came up with something that turned out to be really fun and started developing it from there. I also redid it all with full-color art, so my original plan to earn more clams from my existing art didn't really happen, but I am really thrilled with how the game turned out.I did a Kickstarter campaign to get it funded last year and it enters retail distribution this month. There's a current Kickstarter campaign happening right now (that's what current means) at www.dementalism.com. The goal of that one is to nab us some sweet expansion decks and promo cards to enhance our Dementalism experience. Also, since it uses art from the Low Life RPG, every time I do a new Low Life book I can also do a Dementalism expansion.
Abstruse: It's a pretty cool game and has an interesting theme. What was the design process like?
Andy Hopp: Well, the design process began with me asking myself what card game mechanic hasn't really been done to death or hasn't really been exploited by the modern tabletop gaming cornucopia yet. Cool, I managed to use cornucopia in a non-Thanksgiving themed paragraph.
Abstruse: A difficult feat...
Andy Hopp: Anyway, I wanted something that had a lot of art, was engaging and innovative, and wasn't just another attrition-based "who got dealt the highest value cards" sort of mechanic. It had to use strategy, maybe a little bit of luck, but not be based on luck for the game to work. I wanted it to be easy to learn but hard to master. Also, I wanted it to be fun for people of any age (larva to crone). So I struck on the familiar "Memory" or "Concentration" mechanic that everyone has been playing since toddlerhood and used that as the basis. So Dementalism is basically Memory that you don't need to have a good memory to enjoy. There's a lot more to it than that, but that's the gist. Simple, yet hideously complex.
Abstruse: So DEMENTALISM is at its core a matching game, but with twists...
Andy Hopp: So, Dementalism is immediately familiar to most people because they've all played Memory before, but it goes way beyond that. For example, in Memory you have two of every card and you are flipping them over trying to make matches. That's the whole game. In Dementalism, you have three of each Denizen (the guys you are trying to match), but there are also giggities (wild cards), and Turmoil cards (random events).You are still trying to make matches (called Stacks), but there are many ways to do it. AND, here's the cool part, you can nab Stacks from other players if you know which facedown Stack in that Player's Store is the one you want. For example, say Darryl has a Sneaky Stack made up of The Boss of Lunch and a Giggity, then I flip over another The Boss of Lunch Denizen card. I can make Darryl flip his Stack over and, if I'm correct, I nab it from him. The giggity gets discarded (into the Keister of Gawd) and I now have a Stacked Stack (Two of the same Denizen)...But them say Krystal flips another The Boss of Lunch Denizen card on her turn. She can then nab my Stacked Stack and add her card to it to make it a Safe Stack. Safe Stacks go face up instead of face down, they can never be stolen (that's what safe means) AND she now has access to the special Denizen Power listed on the Denzien card...Denizen powers do all sorts of things, from letting you flip extra cards to making other peeps reveal their Stacks or let you peek at them. There are some weird ones, too. Like the Sockstrosity, for instance. her Denizen power is that she's worth extra points if you wear socks on your hands for the rest of the game. So, because of the Denizen Powers and Turmoil cards, players have many opportunities to peek at Stacks and cards, so you don't really have to have a great memory.
Abstruse: So make sure I'm not wearing my flip-flops to the game...
Andy Hopp: Exactly! I found a way to sneak past the system by tying a sock around my hand instead of slipping my hand into it like a puppet or filthy, filthy Abstruse. That allows me to still have a sock on my hand but it's not difficult to pick the cards up (as it would be if my fingers were restrained by said sock).
Abstruse: Your art is amazing, very unique and striking and it got you a couple of ENnie nominations this year. Did you go to art school or are you self-taught?
Andy Hopp: I've been drawing forever. I originally went to college for zoology and then I switched to art after two years. I think, with what I do now (drawing monsters), that combination was a good one.Art school was good for learning the basics, but to really develop a unique style is difficult when your teachers all want you to draw like them.
Abstruse: Gives you a strong basis in anatomy.
Andy Hopp: Well, that's one reason I really enjoy drawing imaginary creatures. Nobody knows what they are supposed to look like, so they can't tell you the anatomy is wrong. Still, they need to make sense within their own context.To me, being unique and original is actually more important than being good. I am fully aware that there are hundreds of artists in the gaming industry who can draw a realistic dragon or a muscly dude in a chainmail halter top far better than I can. The thing is, there are dozens of peeps out there who can do that. No matter how awesome and realistic your dude with a sword is, he's still a dude with a sword.My career has been built on doing something different, in both my writing and my drawing (and my game design too, I suppose). I don't want to compete with the guys drawing dragons. Because they will beat me and I will be unemployed. But if you want anthropomorphic twinkies and seven-eyed snot monsters I'd like to think I'm your guy.
Abstruse: Do you have any artists who influenced your style?
Andy Hopp: Abolutely. There are a lot who have influenced the way I design creatures (Dr. Suess, Tony DiTerizzi, Jeff Easley, Tim Burton, Bosch, Brom, everything I've ever seen ever) and a lot of people who, while they didn't necessarily influence my style have really influenced my career, either through encouragement, friendship, or inspiration (Larry Elmore, Shane Hensley, Joe Goodman, Glen Angus, Arnie Swekel, thousands more). I'm sure I'm leaving some important people out.
Abstruse: I never would've thought of Dr. Suess but now that you say it...it makes a lot of sense...
Andy Hopp: Maybe not in the actual design, but in the whimsy. My creatures are sometimes very dark and deadly, but there's always a hint of whimsy to cut it with. Especially the creatures and characters I've mde for Dementalism and Low Life. They are probably 80% whimsy, 10% real, 5% ridiculous, 3% dark, and with less than 2% natural and artificial colors and flavors.
Abstruse: So your last Kickstarter for DEMENTALISM raised $5,147 when it ended. You're sitting right now (Wednesday, October 9) at $4007 with 26 days left. How does that feel?
Andy Hopp: Pretty good, but I know we can really do a lot better. We've hit the first three goals (the Garden of Smellemental Glee 72 card expansion deck, and the Milf and Cremefillian of the Danged promo cards), but there's so much more I'd like to bring to the peeps.
Abstruse: Do you feel it shows a vote of confidence from your players?
Andy Hopp: Absolutely. Oithlings are the best. In fact, almost everybody I've ever demoed Dementalism to has bought it on the spot. That's very encouraging. It makes me feel confident that it's a really fun game, but the trick is spreading the word and getting people to take notice. I think about 90% of the funding came on the first day, which is mostly the people who have already played the game. Letting the other people out there know about it is where we're kind of stagnating at the moment. Which is why I really appreciate opportunities to spread the word, like you are doing right now. So, much love, my friend.
Abstruse: You also Kickstarted the new edition of the LOW LIFE RPG book. How is that going so far?
Andy Hopp: Oh, dude. It is going so well. I just did an eight page chart of random traits a giggity gigger can yoink from a giggity. The book is at 230 pages right now, and about 250 illustrations. It'll be around 300 when it's done. Something super cool (I think) that I'm doing with this one is it's not just the RPG. The book also includes rules for using Low Life Miniatures and also a Low Life LARP called Playing Dirty (co-written by the amazing Will Thrasher).The other thing about the book, and all Low Life books, is the context. They are all written as if they are actual books within the setting. There are absolutely no game terms or charts or numbers or anything that takes you out of the narrative until you get to the appendices, which is where the rules live.
Abstruse: So if for some reason I don't like the SAVAGE WORLDS rules, I can port it to my PATHFINDER or FATE game if I'm willing to fudge around a bit with the rules.
Andy Hopp: In fact, my good man, we have Fate and Pathfinder versions in the works. They will be available as pdfs and possibly in print sometime next year. That's another reason why having the rules in the appendices is so jazzy. You don't have to rewrite the book to port it, just change the appendices.
I planned to include a review of DEMENTALISM as well, but Andy covered most of what I would say about how the game works. In the same way that RESISTANCE is WEREWOLF with more options, DEMENTALISM is like Concentration or Memory with a lot more options. Each player can get special powers based on matches they make, like being able to flip three cards instead of just two. The game is a blast to play, and the art is just amazing. It’s like if Dr. Seuss drew Garbage Pail Kids, only more awesome. If you’re looking for something that’s easy to teach and doesn’t take up a lot of space in the gaming bag, this is a must-have game. You can order it through the Mutha Oith Creations website or you can get the original game as well as the new expansion through the Kickstarter for the new expansion.
Another You All Meet in a Tavern podcast guest, John Kovalic, recently released a new party game called ROFL! (yes, the exclamation point is part of the title). The only real drawback to this game is that it surprisingly doesn’t include much of John’s amazing artwork (which you know from MUNCHKIN, APPLES TO APPLES, and his comic strip DORK TOWER). This is a blast of a party game, and I’d pull this out over any mainstream game any day of the week.
The gameplay is incredibly simple. One player is the guesser each round. Everyone else gets to see a random card which has a phrase on it, though the guesser only gets to know the category (Movies, TV Shows, Songs, Books and Comics, Politics/History, and Sayings). The goal of the other players is to write that phrase in as few characters as possible on a whiteboard so that the guesser can figure it out. Here’s the catch – You have around 30 seconds to write. Pens down. At any point while the timer is going or after it expires, you bid the number of characters you can convey the phrase in. However, each number can only be chosen once, so if you have 8 characters but someone beat you to playing that number, you’ll have to bid 9. After the timer is up, the player who bid the lowest shows his board to the guesser. If guessed correctly, both of them get points. If not, it goes to the next lowest bid and so on with decreasing points for each subsequent guess.
There’s a few very minor quibbles about the game. The box itself is oddly-shaped and I have trouble getting the components back inside in any organized fashion (easily fixed by either reboxing it or taking out the insert). The hourglass timer included is I think supposed to run for 30 seconds, but tended toward somewhere between 35 and 38 seconds (not that big of a deal anyway). Finally, the card themselves swing a bit when it comes to how well known the statements you’re guessing are. But again, these are nitpicks at most and don’t detract from the fun of the game whatsoever. Aside from the hourglass, the components in this game are top-notch and they even do you the favor of having a little sponge eraser on the end of each pen so you don’t have to get ink all over one of your washcloths.
This game is a great addition to your shelves to break out at the end of game night when no one wants to go home quiet yet but aren’t in the mood for something heavy, or when your non-gaming friends and family visit. It’s a blast and it’s easy to understand the rules right away. And I should note that, while this will probably be known to everyone as “the texting game”, the word “texting” doesn’t show up anywhere on the box or in the rules. Even if you hate txt-speak like I do, this game is still way too much fun not to love. Click on the above picture to purchase!
So the open playtest of the new edition of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is officially at an end. The next time the general public will see D&D Next (or whatever it ends up being called), it will be in stores. You can pick up the final playtest packet at the official website with the final updates to Druids and Paladins included. I can’t officially review the product since it’s still a playtest version, but I would like to thoroughly recommend that you check it out even if you’re a die-hard player of a different edition. There’s no cost and there’s some cool mechanics involved you can easily steal for 4e, Pathfinder, or OSR.
If you’re curious about Next but don’t want to bother reading the rules, starting on November 2, several members of the R&D team for Wizards of the Coast are playing a benefit marathon 25 hour game of D&D Next. Some of the players will be swapping in and out, but DM Greg Bisland and player Rodney Thompson are going to be there all day and night. Your donations can name PCs or give them special benefits like potions and magic items as they play or help the DM by giving him new monsters and traps to throw at them, allowing you to influence the game. All proceeds go toward Extra Life, a gaming-centric charity who works with the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.
PATHFINDER’s been in a little bit of a lull when it comes to big cornerstone must-have releases for their roleplaying game, but that’s about to end as BESTIARY 4 is right around the corner. Paizo released not just one, but two previews of the new monsters. This is the book with a much more mythological and literary bend to the monsters, including the Cthulhu Mythos pantheon, monsters of the Beowulf world (Grendel happens to be the first preview), and many others. And if you want to catch up on releases you missed spending time with the Next playtest or 13th AGE, Paizo’s running a 30% off sale on digital versions of their books from the Paizo store until the end of the month.
FIREFLY: THE BOARD GAME is now out to the general public and, to celebrate the launch of this well-received game, Gale Force Nine has launched an official website for the game which does a great job of bringing you back to the Verse and really makes you want to get your hands on this pick-up-and-haul game. I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on it yet, but every review I’ve read has been glowing (yes, I intentionally avoided saying it fellow Browncoats) with the biggest complaint being solely that they picked the wrong mission to suggest for new players.
[Editor's Note - Holy shit, I want this. Nordling]
Upper Deck made waves when the trading card company released the pretty damn fun LEGENDARY: MARVEL DECKBUILDING GAME. Last week, they announced they’re bringing that system to their franchises FIREFLY, PREDATOR, and (in a move to ensure Nordling will buy) [Editor's Note - You bet your ass I will], ALIEN. Speculation abounds that the system will be unchanged enough to be cross-compatible, but there’s been no official confirmation one way or the other, so we may have to wait for the release to see if we can have our giant Aliens vs. Predators vs. X-Men/Avengers vs. Mal and the Serenity crew match.
Comic publisher IDW announced the creation of IDW Games, a new division to create big-box games based on their properties in a partnership with Pandasaurus Games. Starting in spring of 2014, they will create board games for 30 DAYS OF NIGHT and KILL SHAKESPEARE with tentative retail prices of $60.00 each. 30 DAYS OF NIGHT will be a story-driven survival horror while KILL SHAKESPEARE will be a semi-cooperative game designed by Thomas Vande Ginste and Wolf Plancke.
We’ve been doing a lot of coverage of conventions and I can’t express how amazing conventions are to attend. You’re surrounded by people who are as big if not bigger geeks than you are, and no reference you make is too obscure. If you’re like me, though, you live in a small town that doesn’t have the crowd to support a big convention or maybe you just don’t have the funds to go to these cons. Well worry no more, because there is AETHERCON, a virtual gaming convention. By using the magic of cam-based conference calls, this convention will have gaming and panels galore (some of them moderated by yours truly), complete with real-time Q&As. Guests include Tracy Hickman (Dragonlance), G. Ernest Gygax (Gygax Magazine), Mike Mason (Chaosium), Ken Hite (Pelgrane Press), Wes Schnieder (Paizo), and more.
The charge for all this? FREE! So if you’re a hardcore gamer who has been itching to get some gaming on in this lull in the convention season, you have no excuse not to attend. If you’re curious about gaming but don’t want to drive out to a con and pay lots of money for a badge, you have no excuse not to attend. If you just want to connect to more gamers, this is the perfect chance for you. The convention is running from Friday, November 15 through Sunday, November 17.
Okay, this Kickstarter breakdown is going to be packed. Let’s start with ones I have a personal connection with. Congratulations to ACCURSED and GOLEM ARCANA for their funding! I can’t wait to see the final versions of these two amazing products.
DEMENTALISM: LOTS OF SNAZZY NEW STUFF is the Kickstarter from this week’s interview with Andy Hopp and it’s an amazing game. For $20 you can get the expansion of your choice, for $25 you get the print-and-play version of the core set and all the expansions, and $60 gets you the core game, two expansion decks, and all promo cards unlocked by stretch goals (which they’re working through at this point). The Kickstarter runs until November 4th.
Another You All Meet in a Tavern guest, Bruce Cordell, has a new roleplaying game project he wrote with the legendary Monte Cook called THE STRANGE. Based on the Cypher System of the amazing NUMENERA, THE STRANGE is a science fiction/space opera game where mankind discovered ancient alien technology giving them access to alternate realities called Recursions. Different Recursions hit different tropes and subgenres, such as dark fantasy, transhumanism, cosmic fantasy, and others. Oh, and you know there’s some secret wars going on back here on Earth Prime to control access to Recursions. As you travel from one reality to the next, your character changes subtly to fit into the paradigm of that universe, so your super-intelligent computer hacker on Earth becomes a super-intelligent “reality hacker” (aka wizard) in the fantasy world. This Kickstarter just launched about two hours ago at the time of writing and is already gotten 80% of its funding goal. A pledge of $10 gets you a PDF download of the Player’s Guide, $25 adds on a PDF of the core rulebook, and $60 gets you both digital and physical copies of the core rulebook (plus a $10 voucher toward shipping, which will cover basic domestic shipping in the US and should reduce costs if you want expedited shipping or need international shipping). This Kickstarter runs until November 22.
BEARD! THE CARD GAME is a hipster gamer’s wet dream. In this game, 2-6 players compete to become the first to grow a badass epic beard. You’re trying to collect cards to be the first to have the B, E, A, R, and D cards. But beware, there are cards that can force you to shave (losing cards) or allow you to steal from your opponents (not sure how that works logically). This game is a fast-playing game meant to be taken with a grin and a few PBRs. The Kickstarter is at its halfway point in every way that matters – it’s almost halfway to funding and ends on November 1st. $10 gets you the print-and-play version, while $20 gets you a physical copy of the game.
If you’re looking for something light in the roleplaying game realm or if you’re just a huge fan of cyberpunk like I am, Mike Shea aka SlyFlourish has a cyberpunk scenario for FATE Core called AEON WAVE, inspired by the works of William Gibson and Bruce Sterling. For $7, you’ll receive a digital copy of the game book in either ePub or PDF, while $12 gets you a copy in both formats. That’s literally it for funding levels. This Kickstarter runs until October 31 and is fully-funded with several stretch goals for additional art and player handouts left.
That’s it for now. Until next week, you can reach me at email@example.com if you have any news stories, you can follow me on Twitter @Abstruse, and you can listen to the You All Meet in a Tavern podcast and read my editorial blog on gaming at the Gamers Tavern website. If you've got a new game you want me to look at, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!