Sunday, October 30, 2011

In Which The Warlock Thinks on a Tricentennial...

It never ceases to amaze me that this blog has lasted as long as it has.  In the midst of all of my ongoing projects and my numerous game nights, I've always managed to come back to little corner of the web.

As the foliage slowly grows brighter, before fading out for the winter, I find myself reflecting on all of the great games that I've been a part of over the years. 

I started this blog when the PlatinumChick and I were back in Fairborn, playing in her Eberron game.  My dwarven sorcerer Harrigan "the Horrible" made his way across the wilds of Xen'drik and into the farthest reaches of Khorvaire, trying to collect the Destiny Arms.  From there, I took over the GMing reins, taking our regular group--Chris the 0th, L-Train, CincinAdam, and ChainMailSarah--into the depths of Saltmarsh.  I remember that group really fondly, crammed in the living room of our tiny apartment. 

Tikka was just a tiny kitten back, she's a pudgy cantankerous kitty of 5 years old!

Since then, our group has changed and rechanged over the years.  We've switched editions and games, we've run lengthy epics and campaigns that have failed after only a few sessions.  Our game (and our comics collection, really!) has expanded enormously, overflowing the shelves of our gaming/dining room.  Since then, we've been to conventions all over the Miami Valley and beyond, making friends all over the country.

But what do I enjoy most out of all this?  Why do I keep coming back, year after year?  Why spend so much on books and dice, when there are any number of other things I could be doing?

I love it when the dice find a way to be ironic, even though they're as impartial as could be.

I love it when one of my players comes up with a plan that no one else at the table saw coming...and it works.

I love the well-placed critical--be it success or fail--that can bring a table to cheers with a single die roll.

I love having jaded players...who I still manage to creep out, despite their cynicism.

And, what's most?  I love the feel of having designed something that others are able to enjoy.  From a well-crafted encounter, to a uniquely built plotline meant to interact with a character's background, to an entire game itself:  I love the feeling when everyone gets up from the table saying "I had a lot of fun tonight...on for next week?"

And yeah...we're on for next week. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Which The Warlock Surmises on Shopping...

Something strange, friends and neighbors.  After all these years, it becomes painfully apparent to me that for a blog meant to discuss the Dayton area gaming scene, I've never really spoken much about the friendly local game stores in the area. 

Well, after the Guild's monthly trip to one of our FLGSes, I think that it's high time to change that!

The Mainstay:  Bookery Fantasy (Fairborn, OH)

Bookery Fantasy--Comics side!
This is the big one--my personal favorite, and my store of choice.  This is where I have my comic file, this is where I get the majority of my gaming supplies, and this is my "home store". 

Bookery boasts over a 25 year history in games and comics, dating all the way back to a little video rental shack, which is still owned and operated right next door.  With over 16,000 square feet of combined space, spanning 4 storefronts, Bookery claims to be the largest comics/gaming store in the United States and I don't doubt them for a second.  And, as you might imagine, a store doesn't get that big or last that long as an accident.  Their continual discounts--10% on any new gaming material or trade paperback--and their friendly staff put forward a good business model that keeps people coming back.  Plus, Bookery keeps a massive "warehouse" of used comics and graphic novels alongside their games section, where some real treasures can be had!  On a whim, I had picked up a pretty rare one-shot--Doctor Strange/Doctor Doom:  Triumph and Torment--only to find out that I actually had grabbed a copy autographed by Mike Mignola himself!  For only $5!  Woot!

Bookery Fantasy--Games side!
Bookery has always been one of the greater supporters of the Guild and of WittCon, as well, even though they don't have a convention prescence themselves (which is a damned shame, if you ask me!).  They've provided donations for our costume contest and free advertisement for at least the last 5 years, probably longer. 

What's more, Bookery Fantasy is nestled in the "Historic Osborn" section of Fairborn--a historic district located just off of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.  The whole strip there is very walkable, particularly around Halloween, when the Foy's Halloween Stores are in full-swing and the entire street is decorated with ghouls, skeletons, and even a massive 9' tall spear-wielding skeletal ogre!  Do yourself a favor and head there sometime soon; you won't be disappointed!

The New Hotness:  Epic Loot (Centerville, OH)

Epic Loot's Logo
Out of all of the stores I'll be mentioning, Epic Loot is by far the newest.  Just off of Route 48, Epic Loot is located in a strip-mall, but don't let that shy you away--these guys know what they're doing. 

The Guild's most recent game-store run came here, and I was eager to go, primarily because I'd only been to Epic Loot once before.  While open since July, Epic Loot's managed to fill their store with material, present it attractively, and attract a huge base of regular players--their spacious gaming area is usually pretty hopping!  On a Saturday afternoon, they had a few tables open, but not many--even as we wandered through, a Magic: the Gathering tournament was in full swing, and several other tables were taken up by board-gamers.

Epic Loot just implemented a pretty novel reward system, based on etched dice with their logo, and offers regular discounts on certain items.  Also, they have a neat system that I haven't seen elsewhere--a locker/storage system!  For the low price of $15 a month, you can rent a locker in their gaming room--the room itself used to be a firing range for a sporting good store--and leave your games there in complete security.  Pretty spiffy!

I see some really good things in Epic Loot's future.  They have a great location, a friendly and helpful staff, and a good amount of saleable product.  Check them out, if you're south of the city!

The Con-Goers:  Superfly Comics and Games (Yellow Springs, OH) and Bell Book and Comics (Dayton, OH)

I'm lumping these two together, as they're both regulars on the convention circuit and are both fairly similar, even though their locations are pretty disparate. 

Superfly Comics & Games
Superfly is somewhat newer, getting their start in 2007 as the offshoot of Yellow Springs mainstay bookstore Dark Star.  With a youthful, energetic staff, Superfly's put forward quite the showing, particularly at larger conventions throughout the Miami Valley and even beyond.  Superfly's been at Origins for at least the last 2 years, and we were even shocked to see them two years ago all the way at C2E2 in Chicago!  They're eager to get their name out there--even Gail Simone is a fan, calling them in the midst of their 4th anniversary celebration/DC reboot party. 

Bell, Book and Comic
Bell Book and Comic has been around somewhat longer--in their current location since 2003--and also makes their rounds at the convention circuit, though on a somewhat smaller scale.  BB&C's been focusing on the smaller conventions--FOPCon, Gem City Comic Con and the like--while Superfly's been trying on the bigger scenes. 

What's also notable about both of these is their utter lack of space.  Bell Book is crammed into a tiny, narrow storefront, making it difficult to navigate through without running into other browsing customers.  While they have significant space for gaming, it's in a back room that's...well, dank, at best.  Superfly doesn't even have that much room--only two tables that would, if full, be a massive pain for anyone to actually move around.  While no game store can have everything--well, Bookery and Epic Loot seem to be pretty close!--this is a pretty dire need, if you want to keep people in your store for longer periods of time.

The Rest--Krystal Keep (Kettering, OH) and Main Street Comics and Games (Springfield, OH)

I'll be honest, though.  Not all of the game stores in the region are of the premier variety.  These two, unfortunately, have some pretty glaring flaws. 

Krystal Keep Games & Hobbies
Krystal Keep rose out of the ashes of the former Wexford Hills Hobbies, taking over its remaining stock and former location, albeit with some pretty sizable renovations.  Krystal Keep, unlike Bell Book or Superfly, has ample gaming space--they even bought up several restaurant booths for gamers to use for board-games, freeing up space for their numerous minis tournaments.  But, what Krystal Keep makes up for in space, they lack in stock.  While previously boasting a huge selection of miniatures from all sorts of games, Krystal Keep has near-empty shelves and little to actually be sold.
The staff has countered this with the perennial offer of "We can order it for you!" but that's little consolation. I patronize a FLGS for the sake of patronizing a local business. If I wanted to order a product and wait for it, I'd do it myself through Amazon or the like, getting a substantial discount in the meanwhile.

Main Street Comics and Games
(Former location)
This problem is even worse at Main Street Comics and Games. The sponsor of Champion City ComicCon, Main Street's original store was a cramped, tiny alley, unfit for a business that needs a fair amount of space. Their new location, while better, has almost nothing in the way of basic store necessities: shelves, tables, and displays. Stock is strewn about the room, with boxes of comics sitting on the floor, and a pitiful bookshelf half-filled with graphic novels. The majority of the store is simply empty space, with no purpose or designation. There are no customer incentives or scheduled games, and the store has the feeling of being run by someone more concerned with saying "I run a comics and game shop" than actually running said business.

Both of these stores are suffering major flaws that need to be overcome, if they want to be sustainable as businesses. In-store events, customer promotions, and good advertising all go a long way towards establishing a regular customer base, willing to spend money on what are, essentially, luxury goods. In a recession/depression, convincing people to part ways with their money for a book, a box of miniatures, or a pack of cards is pretty difficult. But not even offering those items, much less at a discount or as part of an ongoing in-store game, makes for bad tidings. Don't get me wrong--I don't want either of these two stores to fail. The more game and comic stores in the area, the better! But, if they want my business, they need to bring something to the table.

The Unknowns: Heroes 4 Sale (Vandalia, OH) and Another Fearless Readers (Englewood, OH)

These two, ironically in my own backyard, are the two I know least about. I've never been to either, though I've heard good things about Heroes 4 Sale from a friend of mine (then again, that friend loved the Green Lantern movie, and thinks the DC reboot is genius, so I take his recommendation with a mound of salt).

I'll be eager to see what these two have in store, considering their proximity. With any luck, I might just have some new places to browse the stacks...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

In Which The Warlock Accepts a Journeyman Challenge...

Last entry, my good friend over at The Journeyman GM (also known as Will the ManMan, my compadre from Witt, who's been throwing down the bones with me for almost 4 years now), issued me a challenge.  After reading some ongoing rumors regarding Monte Cook's return to Wizards of the Coast, I put down my official prediction for the new edition of D&D.  Will challenged me to put down a few predictions for what I expect to see in said upcoming edition.  So, without further goes!

One of the more popular changes for the role-playing games industry has come in the resurgence of the "boxed set" as a concept.  Fantasy Flight Games experienced great success with this in Warhammer Fantasy, as did Cubicle 7's Doctor Who:  Adventures in Time and Space, carrying over their tendency to include "fiddly-bits" from their massively successful board games.  WotC has tipped their hand in this regard, with most of their 2011 releases being produced in some form of boxed set, usually complete with an element that couldn't be packaged separately:  Madness at Gardmore Abbey, for instance, comes with the Deck of Many Things--a product that may not sell well individually, but when coupled with a mini-campaign-length adventure, makes for a positive price point.  I expect that 5e/Anniversary Edition will consist primarily of boxed rules, with "advanced" classes coming out via additional boxed sets.

"Who knows what the future for D&D holds?!"
Further, I'm finding that D&D--and rpgs in general--are starting to trend away from the tactical, rules-heavy concepts that have been in dominance since 3e D&D.  It's because of this, I believe, that WotC decided to discontinue their D&D minis line, as well as HeroScape--they simply weren't profitable, based on the numbers of miniatures being sold, when compared to the investment necessary to produce the minis.  Coupled with a general trend away from minis-heavy games--look again to Warhammer Fantasy--I expext that 5e/Anniversary Edition will provide only rudimentary rules for miniatures use, but include later conversion rules for a D&D-themed "Chainmail-esque" minis game....which will fail, repeating the cycle of minis-based D&D games all the way back to 2e.

Coupled with the shift away from rules-heavy, minis-necessary gameplay, I believe that streamlined concepts will be on the horizon.  As part of a modular-based, box-expansion style game, the base game itself must be kept simple enough to attract new players, while expansion boxes provide options for more experienced, "hooked" players.  One example of this, I believe, will manifest in the 'skills' system, which will seem like a bare-bones system at release, but then have substantial expansion in subsequent expansions.  However, I do see this skill system being more closely tied to abilities--numerous articles have posited the actual necessity of having skills, when the focus on ability scores or raw stats is so high.  Believe it or not, I think that D&D could take a lesson or two from ICONS, in terms of skill development--they greatly resemble 2e D&D's "proficiency" system in importance, and provide reference back to the all-important 6 scores, rather than cluttering a character sheet with more numbers and values.

A few other quick predictions:
  • No more powers.  I see a great return to class abilities--particularly ones that can be defined/explained in less than a sentence, and won't require an 8+ page character sheet.
  • No feats--at least not in the sense that we understand them now.  They'll be too much bookkeeping for a simple, dungeon-crawling game.  I see them creeping back in around Year 2.
  • Themes will be back, in a big way.  I see themes providing archetypal support beyond that found in the typical race/class combination, and the rules for them provide great modularity.  Plus, they were implemented towards the end of 4e's run, and the later themes have been much less rooted in 4e's design philosophy...
  • No more dragonborn.  For that matter, no tieflings, either.  I see a philosophical return to the classic quartet of human-elf-dwarf-halfling, with other races coming through expansion materials.
  • Additional settings with additional rules.  While I could only wish to see a resurrection of Planescape--which might not be out of the question, if Monte Cook is back running the show--I anticipate that we'll see Forgotten Realms, Eberron, Greyhawk and even Ravenloft (especially since the 4e version got cancelled).  Unfortunately, I don't see any new settings coming out any time soon.
  • A split convention prescence.  I mentioned above that I anticipate WotC putting out a concurrent minis game to accompany D&D, which I see providing a two-pronged attack for major gaming conventions.  The key, though, is to make the minis game appealing to the more "tactically minded gamer" while maintaining involvement on the role-playing side.  Unfortunately, as I mentioned as well, I don't see this going well.

All told, I really do think that a new edition will have quite a bit of merit, but I'll have to see how it hashes out before I invest in another round of D&D books.  Time will tell, I suppose!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

In Which The Warlock Refocuses His Ire...

In a few past blog entries (mainly here and here), I've spent some significant time discussing--let's be honest, reputing--a series of articles by Mike Mearls, made as part of the "Legends and Lore" series on Wizards of the Coast's D&D site. 

Well, for those of you that have been following their site, you may have noticed that the column has changed hands.  In a somewhat baffling move, WotC has handed this column off to a new/old staffer--Monte Cook. 

Those of you that played 2nd or 3rd Edition D&D probably know Cook very well.  Cook was one of the lead designers on 3e, and spent a fair amount of time with TSR, particularly on the glorious Planescape campaign setting, which tossed Victorian-era philosophy and conspiracy into the planar backdrop of the Great Wheel.

Unfortunately, Cook's return to WotC has been...well, rough, to say the least. 

Cook's first article showed almost a complete lack of understanding of the 4e skill system.  While Cook could be excused for this, if he were working on Pathfinder or on a product for his own company--Malhavoc Press--this is the company that wrote 4e!  For Cook to actually have the gall (or ignorance) to put forward the idea of "passive perception" as a new concept--which has existed in D&D for the past 4, almost 5 years--shows a lack of understanding of one of the basic skill systems in the game.  Further, for something like that to pass by WotC's editorial staff is almost embarrassing.  Was no one really aware that he said something like this?  That's almost unfathomable...

Unfortunately, Cook's two most recently articles aren't much better in quality.  Cook expounds upon the nature of magic items, as well as waxing nostalgic about Gygax's original concepts of a team-based game.  But neither article provides many new ideas or innovation; rather, they simply rehash ideas that have been discussed at length again and again, on role-playing blogs, on forums, and even by these authors themselves.

However, all of this raises a greater question:  why is Cook back with WotC?  What benefit does it bring them to have him back in the fold?

Therein lies the rub.  According to currently circulating rumors, Cook was brought on board for a new version of D&D, set to hit playtest in 2012.  Margaret Weis apparently thinks so, and it's a little odd for a company like WotC to utterly deny access to a fairly prolific game designer.  But, on top of this, WotC's release schedule is currently blank--there are no products on the calendar for 2012 whatsoever.  Even WotC's monthly "In the Works" column has been shifting decidedly away from actual previews and more towards subsidiary material--statuettes, comic books, and other paraphernalia. 

If this is the case--as I believe it is--I'm going to go ahead and make my prediction here and now:
Cook has been brought on board to write 5th edition, which will be announced at GenCon 2012.  This edition will be billed as "D&D Anniversary Edition" and will premier in the summer of 2013--5 years after the debut of 4e.

And, if I'm wrong...well, we'll see, eh? 

Monday, October 10, 2011

In Which The Warlock Finds Little to Talk About...

I find myself in a weird pickle, oh lovely readers.  That is, there's just not a whole lot for me to say right now, regarding gaming or the like.

Weird, right?  My weekly Deadlands game is finally kicking back into gear, with the table filling back up and a massive kung-fu battle royale taking place during an underground martial arts tournament in Shan Fan.  Plus, with the PlatinumChick's schedule set to change after Halloween, she'll be able to bring back Paqua, her Hopi shamaness, just in time for for a massive plot dump!

Unfortunately, my Cold Steel Wardens playtesting has hit something of a roadblock.  I've officially decided to cancel my Saturday group, consolidating those players with those in my Wednesday group.  While my Wednesday group has been busy, deliving into the murder of Vincent "Vinny Legs" Moretti, in the hopes to stave off a gang war between the Genovese family and the White Russians, I have yet to even have a real session with my Saturday players.

I haven't actually had a chance to play any games recently, as I haven't even been able to make one of the weekly Wittenberg game nights.  Between grading and prep for my own games, it'd be a treat to actually play, rather than have the responsibility of running game for a while.  While we got a few rounds of Arkham Horror in while we were down a few players on Friday night.

Lady Blackbird:  Adventures in the Wild Blue Yonder
More specifically, I've had a hankering to play a specific game--one that DigitalKat turned me onto a few weeks ago:  Lady Blackbird--Adventures in the Wild Blue Yonder.  With a simple, easily understood advancement system and inobstrusive rules, Lady Blackbird has all of the makings for a heavily character driven, rollicking good time.  My issue is...who would run it?  Or play in it for that matter?  I'd love to be able to break it out at my table, but it's the sort of game that I'd want to have a handpicked group for--one that really could 'grok' the setting and characterization.

I can't even say that there have been that many great gaming releases recently.  There's been little that I've been wanting to pick out of the stacks recently, though word's been slowly coming in on the next Deadlands plot point campaign, as well as the assorted "Trail Guides". 

So, yeah...not much out there, fellow gamers.  I'll be honest, I've been contemplating taking entries down to one per week again, at least until things pick up out here on the gaming front.  Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Warlock's Review: "The New Death and Others"

Being so hectic out here, I’ve had a hard time even getting enough time to keep up with this blog!  Between playtests, grading and my anniversary (2 years for the PlatinumChick and I!), I’ve been somewhat slacking on my blogging duties.

As you might imagine, my opportunities to read fiction anymore are even slimmer.  While I typically read before bed, I’ve been taking that time to do “research” for Cold Steel Wardens—Iron Age comics, other superhero role-playing games, and even a series of essays entitled The Psychology of Superheroes, which I picked up at Half-Price Books a few months back.  While these have been enlightening, as I’ve been working my way through the GameMaster and setting information for CSW, they’re not exactly pleasure reading—at least not in this context.

So, when the opportunity arrived to review James Hutching’s new e-book, The New Death and Others, I decided to leap on the opportunity with both feet, and I can’t say I was too disappointed my decision.
The New Death and Others is unique in that it is a series of short stories, mock parables and poems that bring together three very different styles, each of Hutchings wields with skill.  As a whole, The New Death and Others brings together a scathingly funny degree of social satire with elements of the fantastic and imaginative, providing for a quality read.

Hutchings is at his best in a series of Gaiman-esque parables—featuring primarily Death, Fame, and Justice, among others—which expound upon the modern condition.  One particularly novel snippet comes in “The Doom That Was Laid Upon Fame”, which lambasts reality television.  An even better one comes later, called “Temptation”, which twists a familiar story in such a way that it only becomes apparent at the very end.  The titular story, “The New Death” is particularly good, showing a meeting of the minds between the incarnation of Death on Earth with his counterpart from an alien world.  “The Jeweled City”, as well, provides a sarcastic smirk and a wave towards struggling writers everywhere, just as it tears down the minaret-studded towers of pseudo-Arabian fantasy.

Hutchings also tries his hand at establishing a sandbox setting in his city of Telelee—which sounds just a touch close to a shoggoth’s cry of “Tekeli-li!” for my taste—to varying results.  The descriptions in Telelee are of quality, and put forward the feel of a pseudo-Lovecraftian city in The Dreamlands, somewhere that Abdul Al-Hazred might have wandered freely, expounding upon strange aeons and the deaths within.  However, the tales themselves are of mixed quality, with stories like the nearly nihilistic “The God of the City of Dust” overshadowing others, like the somewhat forgettable “Sigrun and the Shepherd”.  An early story, "How the Isle of Cats Got its Name" is a particular gem, reminding a reader greatly of Lovecraft's "cats of Ulthar" without being plagaristic--Hutchings takes the creatures in a new direction, both creatively thought-out and well-described.

Unfortunately, The New Death and Others isn’t without its foibles.  Hutchings’ poetry, by and large, failed to impress.  While most of his poems come from impressive source material—the “weird tales” of Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith, among others—there’s just something off-putting about hearing of the wanderings of Kull put into rhymed couplets.  Hutchings’ voice tends to get overpowered by the source material providing his inspiration, thereby shutting out his unique, snarky intonation.  Hutchings’ more original poetry, such as “Weary Love” and “The Apprenticeship” are of generally higher quality, though still leave something to be desired and don’t stand up to the parables mentioned earlier.
Overall, Hutchings' work is interesting, provocative, and worth a quick read.  Plus, for it's asking price--99 cents on Amazon or Smashwords--it's well worth the cost.  If some post-modernist satire with some whiffs of the Necronomicon sounds like it'd be up your alley, give it a download--you won't be disappointed.  The New Death and Others

Smashwords:  The New Death and Others