[Editor's Note - We've got some great news this week, as Abstruse will be attending GenCon this year, to report back on the great games and events, interviews, and general tomfoolery. This year's an important year for GenCon, as Dungeons and Dragons celebrates it's 40th Anniversary, and I'm sure we'll hear all about D&D Next at the event, as well as many other games. I can't wait to see what coverage Abstruse has in store. - Nordling]
Hello gamers, Abstruse here again with your dose of Ain’t It Cool Tabletop! As always, I’ve dug around to find the latest news in tabletop gaming for you, even though we’re in one of the slowest times of the year for industry news. I managed to find some good ones, but before I say anything else, I have to talk about the foundation of the roleplaying game hobby. Because this week (or next week... maybe... it’s a little hard to pin down an exact date) is the 40th anniversary of the first release of DUNGEONS & DRAGONS.
The first solicitations for a new game from a company called Tactical Studies Rules (an offshoot of the Tactical Studies Association, a gaming group in Lake Geneva) came out in December 1973 in a letter to Jim Lurvey, stating it combined the miniatures combat from Gary Gygax’s CHAINMAIL and the role play of Dave Arneson’s BLACKMOOR. The first official public announcement came in February of 1974, stating that a fantasy campaign rules “Dungeons and Dragons” (no ampersand) released already, with an ongoing game. So the best estimations put the date of the official publication of the booklets that became the White Box at the last week of January. Jon Peterson, the author of a very well-researched article about the game, has placed the date at January 24, 1974. Me? I say it was January 25. Why do I say that? Because no one really knows for sure except the people there at the time (who may not remember exactly themselves), and January 25 was also my birthday. Which I celebrated by spending all day playing games! If you want more history of the father of all roleplaying games, DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, the Gamer’s Tavern podcast did a two-part series on the history of the game, the first part about the TSR era and the second part on the Wizards of the Coast era.
[Editor's Note: There's also a terrific book that came out last year called OF DICE AND MEN, by David Ewalt. I just read it last week and found it a fun, informative, and enjoyable read. Also, it inspired me to figure out how to run my own campaign. It dives into the whole Gygax/Arneson relationship, the history of TSR, and even D&D Next. Good read. - Nordling]
Speaking of games I’m looking forward to playing, FASA Corporation is back! Granted, it’s as FASA Games, but as a big part of my childhood, I’m insanely happy about this. They’re also Kickstarting a new edition of EARTHDAWN, the fantasy roleplaying game that was basically a prequel to my favorite game of all time, SHADOWRUN. I managed to pin down the lead designer of this game (mostly by being the very first backer of their Kickstarter literally one minute after it went live) and got him to tell us a bit about the game and how it’s being updated.
Abstruse: So EARTHDAWN’s either been out of print or only available as a setting for other systems for a long time. Can you tell the readers a bit about what exactly EARTHDAWN is?
Josh Harrison: Earthdawn is a tabletop, fantasy role-playing game in the classic high fantasy genre, but with a "hopeful, post-apocalyptic" twist. It is set in the aftermath of a period of time called the Scourge, when creatures from the darkest reaches of astral space broke through to our world and wreaked all kinds of havoc.
A: The Horrors...aka "The Enemy" for us Sixth World people...
J: Exactly. People saved themselves by hiding away in underground shelters, and emerged about a hundred years ago. Most of the Horrors have retreated to their home plane, but some remain, and are one of the adversaries in the setting. I've heard it referred to as "fantasy Fallout", and that's not a bad elevator pitch either. Changed world, people emerging and reclaiming and rediscovering what was lost.
A: For those who don't know, the Horrors are basically Lovecraftian beings that feed on pain, fear, and suffering of other sentient beings. And during the Scourge, there were millions if not billions of them in the world. That sound accurate?
J: Pretty close. One of the differences between Lovecraft's beasties and the Horrors is that Lovecraft's beings didn't really care about (or notice) humanity. The Horrors, they feed off of our negative emotional energy. So the more intelligent and powerful ones care about humanity, in the way that a farmer cares about his herd.
A: So what makes EARTHDAWN different from other fantasy RPGs?
J: In some ways, EARTHDAWN has all the classic fantasy tropes like elves, dwarves, spellcasters, and so forth. But it has a setting that takes all of these classic ideas and builds in a reason for these things to exist -- your "dungeons" full of monsters and treasure are abandoned and breached kaers (those are the shelters I was talking about). But there are in-setting reasons for things like levels, classes, stuff like that.
A: Circles, if I recall correctly...
J: Right. All of the players characters are adepts, who practice a Discipline (aka Class) that has a series of initiatory Circles, that they advance through as a kind of mystery cult. The farther they advance, the more powers and tricks they gain access to. So it makes sense for a character to refer to themselves as a "Warrior of the Fifth Circle". It means something to the characters in the setting.
A: Do you still do the step-dice system? Where you advance, the die you roll gets bigger, from a d4 to a d6 to a d8 etc.
J: Yes. Earthdawn was one of the first games to introduce that kind of system -- along with Deadlands. It's a really robust system, from a statistics and math standpoint. And the dice "explode" -- when you get the max value on a given die, you reroll and add to a running total. So incredible and heroic results are possible, even at the lowest power levels.
A: What updates are you making to the system with the new edition?
J: We're keeping the core step system, but making some changes to hopefully streamline and simplify play at the table. For example, levels of success used to be determined by cross-referencing a chart that used distribution and statistics. We're ditching the chart. Now every +5 over the target number you are on your roll, you score an extra success, which translates to better results. It may not be as statistically robust, but the end result is close enough, and easier to deal with in the heat ofhte moment at the table.
A: And it keeps me from having to reference a friggin' chart every three minutes when running a game, which is a good thing in my book.
J: Right. We're trying to integrate this new mechanic into the various talents, spells, and abilities that characters get. The other big change is setting based -- we're actually advancing the timeline.
The past several years have held the setting kind of stagnant, on the knife edge of a conflict that was brewing back when the original FASA stopped producing the line back in 1999. We've skipped ahead to the aftermath of that conflict, setting up a new status quo that makes it easier for new players to get into the setting. The new edition isn't just for the die-hard fans (though we hope they come along) but also for people that have never experienced adventure in Barsaive,
A: Any other teases for long-time fans as to what may happen in that move forward?
J: Let's see... I've mentioned this elsewhere, but the City of Vivane has been turned upside down as the former Barsaivian Resistance is now in charge, and letting the power get to their heads.
So the Therans that didn't manage to escape are now the oppressed, instead of the oppressors.
Throal narrowly averted a civil war in the wake of the death of King Neden.
A faction has left Throal and is trying to resettle the Kingdom of Scytha. The Denairastas are continuing to plot. With the Therans largely out of the picture, they are looking to expand their influence. Especially as Throal has turned a bit inward.
A: Speaking of the metaplot, it used to be very linked to the Shadowrun world. As Shadowrun is described as the Sixth World, Earthdawn was the Fourth World. I realize with Catalyst Game Labs having the Shadowrun license these links won't be as overt as they were when everything was under the FASA umbrella, but are you going to be using any of the characters that survived the downcycle into the Shadowrun world or any other tie-in sort of things?
J: Maybe. There are some characters that are big in both ED and SR -- the late, lamented, Dunkelzhan, for example, is the Great Dragon Mountainshadow in Earthdawn...
A: Harlequin, Lugh Surehand, and the other Immortal Elves. I've never been able to pin down Lofwyr though...and I spent DAYS reading Book of Dragons trying to figure it out...
J: Lofwyr is only referenced in passing in Earthdawn. There's a reference to "Alamais's brother"
But that's the only reference that I'm aware of.
A: Ross Babock [one of the leads on the project] was one of the original founders of FASA Corporation back with Jordon Weisman, right?
J: Yes he was. Way back in the early days of gaming history.
A: And I hate to get into legal wrangling, but is that how you guys got the rights to use the FASA name? I notice the Kickstarter has the old school FASA Corporation logo.
J: Yes. Despite popular perception, FASA never went out of business, they just shifted from producing stuff and managed IP. A lot of that got sold off over the course of the last couple of decades, and everybody had largely moved on to other stuff. But FASA Games is a wholly-owned subsidiary of FASA Corp. It isn't the same FASA as the old days, but it isnt' a cynical ploy to try and bank on the nostalgia of the name.
A: What's the copyright situation with the older works from FASA, Living Room, and Red Brick? Do you guys have access to reprint (digitally or not) any of the other books? Or use the original art?
J: Some of that is tricky. The original FASA stuff, the Living Room Games Second Edition, and much of the RedBrick stuff is ours to use, and is available digitally online via DriveThru RPG.
But I don't know exactly what the rights issues are on some of the stuff out there.
[Note: Josh also confirmed that they do have the rights to the original art from all eras of EARTHDAWN, but they’re focused on getting new, innovative art rather than rehashing the same art over and over, a complaint some versions of EARTHDAWN have received from fans.]
A: Aside from elves, dwarves, orks, and trolls...what races does Earthdawn have that might interest players new to the setting and game?
J: The t'skrang are a semi-aquatic lizard race that sails magical steamboats up and down the rivers of the land. They have a flair for the dramatic. Probably my favorite race in the game.
The obsidimen are large (7-8 feet tall, 900 pound) beings that are kind of like elemental spirits made flesh They are probably the most dramatically "exotic" race in the game. They don't have gender, and are "born" fully grown from a liferock. Which is a powerfully magical source of elemental magic. They live for centuries, and have a very different view of time as a result.
And then you have the Windlings. About a foot and a half tall, winged beings. Depending on your point of view, they are either awesome, or vermin. My wife requires that I consider them awesome.
A: One of the biggest...question marks let's say...about the Kickstarter has been that people feel you weren't prepared for the success. You funded in a matter of hours. What are your plans if you keep smashing through stretch goals?
J: I figured we would succeed, I just didn't expect it so quickly. And so there was a bit of scrambling that first week -- no sooner than we were funded than people were clamoring for stretch goals. We got our feet under us, and while the initial surge has dropped off, we continue to climb pretty steadily.
Our top goal right now is $100k. We're just shy of $39 k at the moment. [They’re at about $43,000 at time of writing – Abstruse] If we start getting close to that top level with a lot of time left... we'll have to see what we can do. We do appreciate the feedback and understanding as we got our feet under us. We obviously can't please everyone, or do everything that is suggested, but things have settled down. And we are looking at the numbers and seeing what we can realistically do.
A: Was there anything else in about Earthdawn you wanted to tell our readers I didn't bring up?
J: It's awesome, and you should play it! If you like fantasy, but are a bit tired on D&D style gaming, this could be right up your alley. I've been running the game off and on for almost 20 years, and is the game I keep coming back to at my table. I always enjoy talking about the game. I probably bored half a dozen people at a local con this weekend when I wouldn't shut up about it.
If this managed to pique your interest, <a href=”http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/783548120/earthdawn-4th-edition”>their Kickstarter is live and currently at over four times their original goal. The setting is a very fresh take on the typical high fantasy setting, and the system was incredibly innovative at the time to the point where many of the mechanics used are just now getting popularity. I’m excited to see what FASA Games has up their sleeves for this classic setting, and I hope you’ll help me unlock some more of those stretch goals!
Wil Wheaton and Felicia Day announced this week that the Second Annual International Tabletop Day will be on April 5th! If you’ve ever been interested in taking the plunge into gaming and don’t know where to start, if you’ve got friends who are curious, or if you’re just a fan who wants to find new people to game with; definitely look up a local event near you and play some games!
After focusing a lot of time on MUNCHKIN expansions, smaller tabletop games like ZOMBIE DICE and CHUPACABRA, and their Kickstarter for OGRE; Steven Jackson Games is turning its attention back to its roots and the Generic Universal Role Play System, GURPS. Not only are they releasing GURPS High-Tech: Adventure Guns, GURPS Horror: The Madness Dossier, two volumes of GURPS Power-Ups, a new GURPS: Social Engineering product, and a GURPS Thaumatology supplement; they’re also working on a second edition of the DISCWORLD ROLEPLAYING GAME and TRANSHUMAN SPACE: Wings of the Rising Sun. Looks like it’s going to be a big year for GURPS fans out there coming up!
Also getting in on the 2014 announcement bandwagon, Green Ronin talked about their new projects for release this year. Superhero game MUTANTS AND MASTERMINDS is getting a 300+ page book detailing Emerald City, and both Emerald City and Freedom City are getting a new PDF-exclusive series called THE ATLAS OF EARTH-PRIME, each one detailing a different part of the world.
LOVE 2 HATE is a party card game in the style of APPLES TO APPLES and CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY where a judge draws a card with a group or thing on it, and gets to decide if he loves it or hates it. For example, Clowns. “I hate the way clowns...” and each player completes the sentence with their card, for example, “...subsist entirely on my fear.” The judge then picks the best one. This game’s scheduled to come out in June, just in time to bring it with you during con season!
Oh, and there’s this other thing they announced is finally coming out, something called DRAGON AGE SET 3...you know, that product that fans have been waiting on for almost two fucking years! This final boxed set for the DRAGON AGE RPG will be out, “printer willing”, in March. There’s also work underway on another setting using the Adventure Game Engine (the system used in DRAGON AGE), but that won’t be out until 2015.
There’s a lot more, but the two biggest ones are PATHFINDER books, both with successful Kickstarters behind them. The first is FREEPORT: THE CITY OF ADVENTURE, a massive 520 page tome of a setting updating and massively expanding on their Freeport setting. The second is the legendary ADVANCED BESTIARY, finally getting the Pathfinder update. Both of these shouldn’t be too far off if you didn’t manage to get in on the Kickstarters for them.
Speaking of Kickstarters, ICv2 reported that tabletop gaming Kickstarters in 2013 raised a combined $55 million.</a> This is up from just under $16 million in 2012. Proof that Kickstarter’s becoming one of the biggest go-to methods for independent game companies to get their games in the hands of fans. And good on you for supporting them! Here’s a few you should look at!
CHAOSMOS is a very unique looking spacefaring espionage game where you play an alien race attempting to find and control the mystical power source known as The Ovoid. You collect equipment and leave it in stashes on various planets, and you can raid the stashes of other players as well as they can raid yours. To protect the items you can’t carry with you, you can deploy traps and other cards to keep your opponents’ grubby little mitts off them. Can you hold onto the power source of the universe before the clock ticks down? A $60 pledge gets you the game and all the stretch goals, and there’s plenty of add-ons already. Oh, and international readers? This Kickstarter has distribution within the European Union, so no hefty customs and shipping fees! This Kickstarter is funded and almost double its goal already and, if you’re on the fence about it, there’s a free print-and-play version available on the Kickstarter page. Hurry, you’ve only got until February 2 to make up your mind!
ARCANIS: THE CRADLE OF EMPIRES is a fantasy campaign setting that happens to include an original game system to use with it. Or not. The book is written so that you can use it as a setting for any other system you like or the game system included. A $15 pledge gets you the PDF and all digital stretch goals, while $50 gets you the hardback edition and a digital copy. This Kickstarter is fully funded and runs until January 28 so get your ass in gear if you want in!
Okay, you guys know I have my own podcast on tabletop gaming. I’ve harped about it enough in this column over the past few months. But I really do have to recognize the competition. And by “competition”, I mean guys who have been doing this for a decade and know what they’re doing far better than I possibly ever will, and that’s THE DICE TOWER, the premier board game podcast on the internet. Tom Vasel and Eric Summerer are looking to raise funds to expand their podcast and network, and their fans have shown up in droves. The Kickstarter is (as of writing) sitting at almost $120,000. And don’t worry about rewards if you want to support them, there’s a ton of physical products such as dice, dice towers, licensed promo cards for various games, custom painted meeples, poker chips, miniatures for various board games, and more. This Kickstarter runs until February 1, so get going!
That’s it for this week. If you want more gaming fun, check out my blog at Gamer’s Tavern, where I go a little more philosophical on the topic of gaming than I do here at AICN (and I talk a lot about cooking too), and be sure to listen to the Gamer’s Tavern podcast! You can also follow me on Twitter to read me drunkenly geeking out because one of the guests on the first episode of Gamer’s Tavern, John Kovalic, was on this week’s episode of Tabletop. And if you have any news about the gaming industry, you can email me at email@example.com.