Monday, December 31, 2012

In Which The Warlock Ends a Year in the Life...

Apologies on the missed post this past week--between the holidays and focusing on ending out the Cold Steel Wardens Kickstarter drive, my attention has duly been focused elsewhere, as you might imagine.

In spite of everything, though, my Kickstarter for CSW has forged on.  As I write this, we're a mere $330 from achieving our funding goal.  We experienced a fantastic surge in the few days following the Christmas holiday, and it's looking like we're going to be funded.  For a first-time RPG-designer, this is more than I could have imagined.  While I would have loved to meet some of our stretch goals, the sheer idea of my dream being funded, being expected still astounds me.  The work ahead is going to be huge, but it's work that's worth it.

That said, I've learned more than I've ever wanted in the last few weeks about starting and marketing a Kickstarter drive, to say nothing of how I work.

  1. There is never enough sleep.  I'm an insomniac by nature, but the sheer stress of running the Kickstarter in addition to all the other works has run me down like a renegade truck.  While I've managed to sleep while off from school, spending numerous nights with 3 or less hours of sleep definitely took a toll on both my health, my sanity, and my ability to focus.
  2. Publicity is a bitch.  It's all well and good to update your Kickstarter.  I made the mistake of updating too sporadically at the start, but swiftly changed to a twice-weekly rotating schedule of videos and text updates.  But, each update requires publicity of its own, which means time set aside for Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter updates.  Needless to say, that's a lot of work, in and of itself.
  3. Your base is extremely important, particularly if you've never done this before.  I underestimated this one drastically, and my recovery from this may well be the only reason that I'm on the verge of success.  While your ability to draw in new backers does hinge on your ability to provide a solid product for people you've never met, it's the people who know you that are going to do the most publicity for you and spread the word.  Further, they're much more likely to invest more money, given that they have an emotional investment in seeing you succeed.  Ensure that your base is on deck, before launching!
  4. December isn't the cruelest month.  There's been a lot of debate recently as to whether it's worth it to run a Kickstarter over the holidays.  As someone who's sitting in the midst of that debate, I don't believe I've seen a real difference based on the time of year.  With an intent to publish by August 2013, I could have waited for January, but it seemed like folly--I'd rather have the extra time to begin working on ensuring that CSW is a fantastic rpg.  Further, one might need only look as far as the FATE Core Kickstarter or the KS for ICONS: Great Power to see drives that are experiencing massive success in the holiday season.  That said, I wouldn't want to push into January or February, as peoples' wallets begin recovering from the holiday splurge.
  5. Appearance matters.  While I've been happy with my updates thusfar, my lack of finished, finalized art for Cold Steel Wardens has definitely been a drawback.  However, that pushed me into that conundrum:  do I pay for art before running a Kickstarter drive with the intent to pay for art?  While that would mean additional funding set aside for layout, it also means a greater up-front investment.  That cost, coupled with the delay in waiting for said art to arrive, pushed my hand towards a December drive.  That said, I may have recouped the cost by tossing in more money up front.
  6. Get your international shipping options straight from the start.  One of the first things that I was asked early in the drive was "Why aren't you offering international shipping?"  I truly hadn't given it any thought and, when I decided to actually offer such an option, I had to add all-new pledge levels specifically to accommodate them!  It seems like a small item, but it's one you want to have in order as you set up your drive!
  7. Stay in touch.  If someone drops you a message, respond to it within one day.  If you have a comment on the Kickstarter at large--which everyone can see--respond as soon as you can get an answer, even if it's "I don't know right now--I'll look as soon as I'm able."  
  8. KickTraq is a double-edged sword.  While it provides fantastic data in regards to what projections one might expect...the math is hard to tear away from.  And that math?  That math lurks within a realm of madness and guilt.  The more you stare at the numbers, the more you wonder "What haven't I done?  What am I doing wrong?  Why aren't people backing me?"  While those are good questions to ask, they eat at you.  He who gazes into the abyss, and all that jazz...
And the biggest piece of advice?  Never give up.  Even when hope seems lost.  Persevere.  
2012 is over, and the next step awaits.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

In Which The Warlock Breathes Deep...

Friends and neighbors, despite my earlier post, I knew full well what I was getting into this fall.  Mind you, that doesn't make any of it any easier, but knowing that you're walking into a trap does give one an advantage.

My students' final hurdle before
their holiday break!
However, here at the end of 2012, things are finally starting to clear up.  My online professional development classes finished out around the 10th.  My holiday break from Northmont started today, after I subjected my 'weasels' to my annual holiday tradition--a viewing of the absolutely abysmal He-Man/She-Ra Christmas Special.  And, I'm almost entirely caught up with grading.

So what does all this mean?  Well, it means that I'm ready for the final sprint in the Cold Steel Wardens Kickstarter.  We're just a hair below 50%, with 12 days to go.  We weathered the "lull" section relatively intact, but it's still going to require a strong push over the holidays in order to meet our funding goal.

I had hoped to stave off the "lull" via two strategies:  the reveal of our publisher, Chronicle City, and through what I called the "Warden's Bounty" system.  However, what I'm finding is that neither piece of news was really effective in bringing in new pledges.   Nothing against the crew at CC--they've been spectacular--but even though awareness seems to be up regarding CSW, that hasn't proved to put any dollars in the proverbial bank.

The Warden's Bounty system was my attempt to mobilize my "base", spreading CSW virally.  The basic concept was simple--convince one person to pledge, and you could "claim bounty" on them, earning a free set of tokens for your Hero Pool.  Convince 5, and I would automatically bump the bounty-hunter's reward level to the next tier, at no additional cost.  While this would require some extra recordkeeping on my part, which I was prepared to accept, I still have yet to actually have a backer claim bounty on another!  While I have no doubts that this method could be effective, it just hasn't been for us.

That said, we fight on!  The last sprint-to-the-end makes up a good deal of every Kickstarter's funding, so I still fully believe we can make it!  If you haven't pledged today, we could really use your support!  And don't forget that you can still take advantage of that "Warden's Bounty" program--be the first to claim your bounty today!

Oh!  One more thing!  I recently was interviewed by the Farsight Blogger about my work on CSW and in the gaming world in general.  Take a look:  Farsight Blogger Interview--Andy Klosky!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In Which The Warlock Says, "But Wait, There's More!"

For Immediate Release:  December 14th, 2012

Blackfall Press, LLC announces tentative partnership with Chronicle city for new tabletop RPG
Cold Steel Wardens: Roleplaying in the Iron Age of Comics currently in development

Englewood, OH, December 14, 2012– Blackfall Press, LLC has reached a tentative agreement with UK publishing company Chronicle City to produce Blackfall Press’s flagship roleplaying game:  Cold Steel Wardens: Roleplaying in the Iron Age of Comics.  This agreement is pending the results of the Cold Steel Wardens crowd-funding drive, which is active on Kickstarter until January 2nd, 2013.

“Working as a print/publisher partner with Chronicle City enables us to put forward a fantastic initial product with great distribution channels.  Angus Abranson was one of my first points of contact as a freelance RPG writer, and it’s an absolute thrill to work with him on my first solo game,” said A.P. Klosky, the owner of Blackfall Press, LLC and the creator of Cold Steel Wardens

Cold Steel Wardens: Roleplaying in the Iron Age of Comics emulates such classic comic book storylines as Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Daredevil: Born Again and countless others.  Using a new game system—the MAFIANAP mechanics—Cold Steel Wardens brings the thrill of street-level superheroes and their moral struggles to the game table.

“I’ve known Andy for some time, and have always been impressed with the work he has done for me in the past, so when he mentioned he was planning his own game – and a superhero one to boot (one of my favourite genres) – I was more than happy to talk to him about teaming up. Cold Steel Wardens has a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to exploring those dark streets with him,” said Angus Abranson, owner of Chronicle City.

Blackfall Press, LLC is a new producer of tabletop roleplaying games located in Englewood, OH.  Cold Steel Wardens: Roleplaying in the Iron Age of Comics is their first wide-release game.  The Kickstarter drive for Cold Steel Wardens can be found at the following address:

Chronicle City is a new British based games publisher set up by Angus Abranson (ex-Cubicle 7; Leisure Games). Chronicle City are working with a number of companies and designers to publish their games, as well as designing their own roleplaying, card and board games.

# # #

If you would like more information about Blackfall Press, LLC or Cold Steel Wardens: Roleplaying in the Iron Age of Comics, please contact A.P. Klosky at or visit the Blackfall Press, LLC Facebook page at

You can find out more information about Chronicle City, and their games, at or follow them on Twitter @Chronicle_City, Facebook, Google+ or by emailing

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In Which The Warlock Continues the March...

I've often compared my life to that of a juggler.  I taught myself to juggle while working at an amusement park, while toiling in the long days of gift shop hell.  And, while I'm only a competent three-ball juggler, I remember my long conversations with the street entertainers during my days there, in which they spoke of greater and more impressive feats--juggling buzz-saw blades covered in lit gasoline while balancing on a tipped-up chair, or chainsaws while balancing wine glasses.

My life right now is one of carefully juggled chaos.  Between teaching, grading, taking two online professional development classes, writing and editing Cold Steel Wardens, contacting artists and layout experts, conferring with industry folks, managing and updating the Kickstarter, and publicizing for the game itself, I'm up to my eyeballs.  Each of these things spins whirls about my head, and it's all I can do to metaphorically keep tossing them back up and forging on.

Take, for example, this past weekend.  I managed to eke out a session of Hell on Earth with the PlatinumChick on Friday night, but even then, I was hard at work on my Friday update for the Kickstarter.  Saturday, amid shampooing our carpets and making curry for the annual WittLARP, I produced a series of GM screen adverts for my upcoming demo series and printed off the character sheets necessary for said demos.  Sunday was spent out at Bookery Fantasy, showing off my game in the hopes of gaining some more backers.

Only THREE?  Man, he's got it easy!
Yesterday might have been the singularity of this madness.  I arrived at my school at 7am, as usual, but downtime and breaks within the teaching day were spent editing a video update for the Kickstarter and e-mailing various contacts and potential artists.  On my prep, I took my final exam for my online history exam, which went about as well as I could have expected, given the circumstances.  Upon arriving home, I attempted to upload that video update, only to find that it exceeded YouTube's length requirement.  That meant re-editing the video to trim out about a minute of footage, then re-uploading it.  By that point, the PlatinumChick had returned home and I managed to cram down dinner and a short "de-stresssing" bath before my featured #rpgnet IRC chat.  The chat lasted nearly 3 hours, and I only managed to log off at 10:45 that evening.  My workday?  15.75 hours.  Ouch.

If you're looking at building a Kickstarter, I can't stress this enough:  don't have anything else in your life going on at the same time, if you can help it.  Minimize the level of distractions that you have overall, so that you can focus on providing quality updates and timely communication with your backers.  The less you have going, the more you can focus on your product and the publicity monster that will constantly devour your time and attention.

I'm in the "lull" right now in Kickstarter terms--that period between a project's initial surge of backers (made primarily up of a loyal base) and the end-of-project spike (primarily brought about as the project nears its deadline).  Considering that we've hit 41% this week and still have 3 weeks to go, we're doing fairly well, though our projections are very near.  Depending on the number of pledges we get in a day (some days of the lull have been great, some have been all but blank), our projections drift back and forth over our funding line.  It's easy to become absorbed in watching the numbers, but at the end of the day, playing Nostradamus helps no one and only makes a project manager more nervous.  Realism only gets you so far.

But, we still forge on!  I keep juggling my many priorities and hopefully things'll turn out in our favor, and I'll have a great game for you.

For those interested, feel free to take a look at the full transcript of my #rpgnet IRC chat.  And, if you're a Dayton local, swing by Epic Loot Comics and Games in Centerville this coming Sunday (12-16) starting at 1pm for a free demo of Cold Steel Wardens.

Oh.  I nearly forgot.  I have news.  Stay tuned on our Kickstarter page for forthcoming information!  :D

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

In Which The Warlock Contemplates the Kickstarter...

Friends and neighbors, I'll make no bones about it.  This week has been an utter whirlwind, between Kickstarter publicity, setting up demos, virtual meet-ups and the like, on top of my normal schedule of gaming and teaching.

However, I'd like to use this space over the next few weeks to record some thoughts about my Kickstarter experience and how things have been rolling out over time.

At the time of writing this, I've just hit the 30% funded mark, thanks to two massively generous donations from ChaoticLauryn and CinciNick, as well as ChaoticFrederick.  For whatever reason, the 30% mark seems to be the "magic number" for determining the success or failure of a Kickstarter drive.  According to Kickstarter's own metrics--as cited here, by a successful film project--if a project manages to hit that 30% mark, it has a greater than 90% chance of being fully funded.  While the actual reasoning behind this seems to be somewhat nebulous, the fact remains that people seem to be more likely to shell out for a product that has a demonstrable chance of success.  As such, hitting 30% only 5 days in means that we have a real shot of making Cold Steel Wardens a reality!

All the KS stats you could possibly want!
I've got to say, the whole Kickstarter process is incredibly nerve-wracking.  The temptation to keep hitting F5 in the hopes that someone has pledged in the 5 minutes since the last time you've looked is overwhelming at times.  A mixed blessing among the Kickstarter furor has been KickTraq--an analytics site devoted to processing data specifically from Kickstarter.  While KickTraq has been invaluable in assessing the relative success and failure on any given day, it's hard to avoid "armchair quarterbacking" every moment of the drive.

Publicity has been a struggle, though I feel that I've been fairly successful in areas.  My attempts to contact actual comics news sites has been an utter failure, with not even so much as an email back from any site that I had contacted (of seven).  Facebook has been useful, and I've seen good metrics from the Blackfall Press Facebook page, but the limitations on page-based posting (at least on a free basis) makes it difficult to keep word spreading.

I've also encountered something of a conundrum, for which I have no easy answer.  I began this Kickstarter drive for three primary reasons:  art, layout, and an initial print run.  As is, I can afford none of these three.  The Kickstarter was designed specifically to pay for these items.  However, I'm finding that one of the biggest criticisms leveled at the KS is that the art doesn't look "professional" or "refined".  Well...that's probably because it's not.  It was done by a good friend, pro-bono, who's never had formal art training.  While I like the cover image we've been using--I think it fits the tone and genre of the comics I'm attempting to emulate--it's not professional by any stretch.

But, because of this, I find myself in a catch-22.  I ran the Kickstarter to afford high-quality, professional art...but I find myself in need of said art in order to succeed at the Kickstarter.  Established companies have a decided advantage in this regard, as they have both numerous freelance art contacts and, in many cases, in house artists.  But, if that's the case and they have that funding already available, why are they doing Kickstarter?  Frustration, thy name is crowd-funding!

That said, the drive goes on!  I'm the featured guest at the Beautiful Brains BackRoom Chat tomorrow evening (9pm EST), so if you'd like to chat with me,  you can catch me then!
If you haven't pledged, check out the Cold Steel Wardens Kickstarter page, and stay posted through the Blackfall Press Facebook page!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

In Which The Warlock Officially Announces...

For Immediate Release: November 30, 2012

Blackfall Press, LLC Announces Tabletop RPG Kickstarter: Cold Steel Wardens: Roleplaying in the Iron Age of Comics
Cover Design for Cold Steel Wardens
(Courtesy of Julia "Kit" Mowry)

[Englewood, OH] Blackfall Press, LLC is pleased to announce the opening of a Kickstarter to finance publication of their first tabletop roleplaying game, Cold Steel Wardens: Roleplaying in the Iron Age of Comics. Utilizing the new “MAFIANAP” mechanics, Cold Steel Wardens players take on the roles of masked vigilantes taking back their city from the vicious gangs, metahumans and other criminals infesting the streets. 

Cold Steel Wardens emulates the Iron Age of Comics: an era of comics writing from roughly 1979-1996 made famous by works such as Alan Moore’s Watchmen, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Dennis O’Neil’s seminal run on The Question, and countless other masterworks. In Cold Steel Wardens, heroes not only have to contend with the scum of the streets, but also the intense moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding vigilantism, personal rights, and justice. 

“What sets Cold Steel Wardens apart is its focus,” said A.P. Klosky, president of Blackfall Press, LLC and creator of the game, “Cold Steel Wardens is built around slow-burning investigations, brutal combat, and difficult moral quandaries. It’s a game meant to challenge players just as much as their characters.” This is Klosky’s first solo foray into designing a full roleplaying game, having worked as a freelance designer and editor for Cubicle 7 Entertainment, GameWick Games, and Gun Metal Games in the past. Provided that the Kickstarter drive is successful, 

Cold Steel Wardens: Roleplaying in the Iron Age of Comics is slated for a Summer 2013 release in both PDF and print. A follow up volume—Cold Steel Wardens: Rogues’ Gallery—is already in the planning stages. 

The Kickstarter itself is available at and runs from November 30th to January 1. For more information on Blackfall Press or Cold Steel Wardens, contact A.P. Klosky at apklosky AT or visit our Facebook page at

Monday, November 19, 2012

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

In Which The Warlock Creates a Comics Conception...

In designing Cold Steel Wardens, my original intent has always been to emulate the Iron Age of Comics.  Heck, it's in the name of the game!  I wanted to build a game that focused on the investigative aspects of being a masked vigilante, on the moral dilemmas faced with putting on a mask, and on the brutality of street-level combat.

But, how would I know if I had accomplished my goals?  How could I determine whether these aims were successful?

I spent yesterday evening writing up a series of pre-generated characters for my upcoming session of CSW this weekend, as part of the Wittenberg RP-Guild one-shots.  While I started with two of the characters that originally inspired the game--the PlatinumChick's gunslinger, CheapShot, and DigitalKat's psionic paralegal, Scheherazade--I quickly had to come up with some archetypal Iron Age characters of my own.

Gender-swap good ol' Nightwing
and you've got a brand new Hero!
So where did I turn?  Right back to the source material, of course.  Within a few hours, I had recreated a female version of Nightwing, struggling to escape the shadow of her overbearing mentor, a Rorschach-ian private detective, and something of a mash-up between John Constantine and Kitty Pride, among others. What better way to measure the success of my ability to emulate the Iron Age than to rebuild some of the era's classic characters in my brand new system?!

And, truly, I was astounded at the result.  After each character was finished, I passed off the character sheet to the PlatinumChick, who simply smiled and nodded.  As I finally put the finishing touches on the last of the characters, I asked her "Which one are you planning on playing?" fully believing that she was going to gravitate towards her old character.  I was surprised, however, to hear her say that she was more interested in Sawbones--the aforementioned Shadowcat/Hellblazer mash-up.

It's then that I knew--I had knocked it out of the park.  And it's now time to take things to the next level.

Presenting:  the new home for Blackfall Press, LLC--our official Facebook page!
Like us on our page to receive all the latest news regarding Cold Steel Wardens, The Pendulum Method, and all of our other publishing efforts!

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

In Which the Warlock Pencils a Potential Plotline...

It's been a while since I've jumped in on the RPG Blog Carnival, but this month's entry gave me some special impetus:  it's being hosted by Lindevi, over at!

In light of NaNoWriMo and the concurrent-running NaGaDeMon, DigitalKat posits the following question:

So what about you, RPG Bloggers?  Why do you write about games?  In what form does your writing crop up in your campaigns?  What's your process, your stumbling blocks, your passion?  How has writing helped you or your table?  Or is writing more like a CR 8 Succubus whose torturous siren song hurts so good and dominates your very being?

Writing is part and parcel of my gaming 'process', as you probably could imagine.  Between my work on Cold Steel Wardens and the various convention games I've run over the years, it's been my continual effort to provide a series of adventures and materials to serve as my role-playing "legacy".  While doing so can sometimes be tedious--writing up stat blocks is a particular bugaboo of mine--there are quite a few tasks that I particularly relish.

One of my favorites is the "character vignette".  Usually stemming from an NPC's contact with given PC, these vignettes flesh out the world at large by speaking within a character's voice.

Case in point:  my "Tear of Ioun" campaign from a few years back.  Chris II's character, Martook, came in a veteran of Blackfall's most elite guard, tasked with the unenviable task of securing and destroying evil artifacts.  Chris depicted Martook as a grizzled veteran and family man, on his last mission before retirement from the force.

However, when the group's mission went afoul and the PCs were accused of a series of murders which touched off a small-scale war, Martook and his compatriots had to flee to another plane.  Upon their return to the Prime Material, Martook received the following from his wife:

Dearest Martook— 
I don’t really know how to say this.  I’m going to do my best to not cry as I’m writing this, but I can feel myself already welling up. 
When you told me that you were being recruited to work in The Vaults, I didn't want you to go.  We had just started to raise our family.  We were only married two years when you started there, and Maximilian was only six months old.  But, I let you go, knowing you’d come back to me.  
When you were promoted to Field Agent, and you were sent to find these…things…I didn't protest.  That was last year, and Maria was just a bulge in my belly.   I let you go again, and I knew that you would come back to me. 
When you left to look for this Tear of Ioun, I didn't object.  Maria had just been born, and I was getting back on my feet.  Little Max was only 5, but he was helping around the house as much as he could.  The neighbors helped out, too.  I let you go one more time, knowing you’d come back to me. 
And now?  I have Cathedral Agents at my door, telling me that you’re wanted for murder and treason.  I have Max asking me if Daddy is ever coming back, now that the King’s Men are waiting for him.  He asks me, “Mom, what did Daddy do wrong?  Why does the King hate him so much?”  I don’t have an answer for him.  Little Maria barely knows you.  She’s three now, and caught Gray Fever last winter.  She wheezes at night still, but the clerics of Erathis are confident she’ll recover sooner or later.  
I've been waiting for you most of my adult life.  We've been taken care of, thanks to the Cathedral, but that doesn't mean that we have everything we've ever wanted.  The kids want a father.  I can’t say I blame them.  I want a husband again. 
But now, with you being hunted…I just can’t wait anymore.  There’s been someone else, Martook.  You know him—Dengild Oathhammer, from across the street.  He helped fix our roof about a year ago, after a snowstorm and I asked him to stay for supper and then one thing led to the next and… 
I told myself I wouldn’t cry. 
I can’t even tell you what I want right now.  I've stopped things with Dengild, but my children—our children—need a father, and I need my husband.  I just can’t manage to let you go, the one time where it might matter. 
The kids and I are about to leave Blackfall for a while.  We’re going downriver, to a cottage my parents had east of Kasserine.  I gave this to the priestess Valandor, at the Cathedral, and she promised that she would get it to you.  I’m not sure how, because they say that Wellspring, the town you were at, is in ruins.  I hope it gets to you.  You deserve to know, at least. 
I’m sorry, Martook.  I really am.  Please forgive me. 
Obviously--just take a look at my picture up yonder!--I'm no scorned woman, much less one with two children to take care of and an illicit relationship with her next-door neighbor.  But, being able to write as such a character allows me three primary benefits.

Firstly, it allows me, as a GM, to immerse myself in my own world.  Did I know about Kasserine or any of the other characters in this letter, prior to writing it?  Absolutely not!  But, by including them, I can help flesh out my own world, building in people, places, and ideas that normally would never make an appearance.

Secondly, this provides me an opportunity to directly address a PC's background.  When our group was galavanting through the Shadowfell, it became hard to justify any expansion on Martook's relationship.  But, by including this vignette upon their return, I've not only shown that time has passed (in the fact that Martook's wife has moved on) and hooks him with a personalized side-quest:  make it back to Kasserine to make things right with his wife.

Finally, this allows my player, Chris II, the opportunity to expose the other players to Martook's own personality.  While we can see Martook's personality in the context of the group, there are aspects to his personality which would only emerge when in the presence of his personal friends and family.  Our identity, many philosophers have claimed, is mutable over time--who we are varies based on the course of our lives, the experiences we've had, and the memories we retain.  As such, our group experienced a side of Martook that they might never see otherwise...

While I don't use the character vignette often--maybe once or twice a campaign per character--it provides ample opportunities for both myself as a GM and as a player.  Plus, since it usually takes up less than a page, it's quick!  Try it!  You'll like it!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

In Which The Warlock Happens Upon Horror...

It's been my distinct pleasure over the course of my gaming life to be exposed to dozens, if not hundreds, of game systems and genres.  It honestly astounds me at times that some gamers only play D&D or only play a particular version of a game system.   And yet, I recall that once upon a time, my own experiences were exactly that:  D&D and nothing more.

A bad moon rising...
It wasn't until I'd reached Wittenberg that I started to branch out.  And, truth be told, it wasn't until one fateful  night that I received my first taste of the Call of Cthulhu RPG.  Thanks to some great players, BLof's extraordinary gamemastery, and a harrowing walk home at 1:00 am beneath a bloody red-orange moon, I was hooked.  My gaming life would never be the same.

My first real shock came in character generation.  Used to (and rather sick of) the min-maxing of D&D, I decided to go all out in characterization, breaking from anything even remotely familiar.  I settled upon writing up what I lovingly referred to as a "Wicca wench"--a heavily overweight woman who fancied herself something of an "occult expert", when her actual arcane knowledge came only from her part-time job in a New Age store.

BLof's scenario began with our characters investigating the disappearance of several campers in a nearby state park.  After a day of fruitless searching, evening led us to the campers' cabin.  And that?  That's when the real horror kicked in.

Run away!  Run away!!!
Marooned in the park, our cabin was overrun by ghoulish infant-like creatures which would latch onto the living and begin digging into their flesh with needle teeth.  The ghoul-children burrowed in through the walls of our cabin, driving us onto the roof.  While we were lightly armed, it quickly became apparent to me that Call of Cthulhu was not a game of combat.  We barely were able to beat a handful of the creatures back, but were forced to retreat into the depths of the darkened woods, the infant-dead wailing after us.

I'm not sure whether it was the setting, whether it was the stark contrast between this game and my prior forays in D&D, or maybe it was how BLof described the wails of these demon-children as we fled into the dark.  Regardless, I was hooked.   Call of Cthulhu had blown my mind, completely and utterly.  That evening, I slowly made my way back to Ferncliff Hall beneath the blood-orange moon.  With those hideous wails embedded in my ears, the horrified look of my characters' face emblazoned onto my imagination, I knew that I'd be back for more.

Our campaign lasted for the majority of that semester and, while many of our sessions were nowhere near as horrific as that first one--our highway-chase/gunfight in Harlem comes immediately to mind--that first session set me down quite the path.  The flirtations with horror gaming I'd had in the past through Ravenloft were just that--mere flirtations.  With Call of Cthulhu, I'd found real vehicle--and my options have only spread open since then.

By now, you're probably wondering what brought this entry on.  Obviously, the holiday spirit is my primary motivation, but not necessarily for the reason you think.

You see, friends and neighbors:  that fateful first session, which brought me full-bore into horror roleplaying...that session was played on Halloween, eleven years ago today.

Now, isn't that spooky!?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In Which The Warlock Peruses the Perfect Party...

For those of you that were hoping for more cross-blog shenanigans, never fear:  it's just The Journeyman GM's turn to host our info.  This time around, we take a look at one of his games--his Deadlands "Heart of Darkness" conversion!

In the meanwhile, I wanted to spend a little time talking about a recent game that really blew me away, which is only more fitting considering the time of year!

I'm talking, of course, about the PlatinumChick's Call of Cthulhu game, "Welcome to Zendik Farms", which I ran for the first time this past Friday for the WittKids.  I've spent quite a while running over-the-top steampunk action in Deadlands, and it had felt like ages since I'd actually run a true 'horror' session.  Upon arriving, the PlatinumChick and I found ourselves with no less than 11 players--more than enough for two full tables.

I've got to say, though:  I think I ended up the beneficiary of that division, though.  My table was nothing short of immaculate, with a series of spectacular role-players who bought into the nihilistic, cult-driven storyline like none other.

If you haven't played the PlatinumChick's "...Zendik Farms" scenario before, you're missing out.  Based on an actual real-life cult (from which people have actually escaped!), the scenario seems simple on the surface:  characters start on what seems like a relaxing excursion to an organic arts community.  But, the plot delves into deeper secrets and horrors, the longer that the investigators stay.  No session ever truly plays the same way twice, as the farm itself provides a mini-sandbox for the investigators to play through.

So, let's talk a little about my players.  I was excited to have Lindevi (also known as DigitalKat) on board, as she was aching to play in horror game as much as I had been aching to run one.  She's well known my capacity for Wicked GMing, having played in my Deadlands "Follow the Walkin' Man" campaign as well as a Ravenloft one-shot I'd run years ago:  "An Incident at Ravencroft Asylum".  Lindevi was coupled by a familiar face from our Friday night sessions, Chris I!

I knew these guys could role-play.  I see it on a regular basis, as they delve into deep character interactions and difficult moral choices.  What I didn't know was how much the other three would get into it--two WittKids and a community member totally new to the Guild, LatinJoseph.  The three of them played their parts to the hilt, with WittDrew even converting to the Zendik cult partway through the scenario!  The stark looks of horror on the others' faces as their comrade willingly started going along with the farm's plans was priceless--you can't script emotional responses like that!

The segment of the game that struck me most, though, was the willingness for players to put themselves in vulnerable positions.  Characters continually committed that "cardinal sin" of splitting the party again and again, even isolating themselves with members of the cult.  LatinJoseph astounded me, leaving his traumatized college activist alone with Zendik scion Fawn, all the while under the effects of various psychotropic drugs.

I've posited before that the social contracts inherent to role-playing games are fundamentally a variation on the same relationships and contracts held between dominant and submissive members of a BDSM-style relationship.  I've been doing quite a bit of research into this concept, actually, in the hopes to expand my theory into an essay suitable for my upcoming Pendulum Method compilation.  LatinJoseph showed his flexibility and versatility in storytelling by allowing his character to submit to the given plot element:  the psychopathic Fawn.  His metaphorical submission allowed for fantastic role-play opportunities in that his own character slowly came out of their psychotropic haze (which he portrayed spectacularly!) but also for Lindevi, whose then-insane investigative reporter did her best to save LatinJoseph's college student!  By relinquishing a degree of control in the scene, that narrative power was magnified and spread out through my own NPCs, Lindevi's character, and even through himself!
It's okay to give up control
once in a while!  Cut loose!

Throughout the course of the game, the role of 'dominant' was passed back and forth between players and Keeper almost seamlessly.  Lindevi herself took the reins when a horrific event caused her reporter to lose a significant amount of Sanity, leading her to take WittSean's character hostage!  WittSean rolled perfectly with the scene, mentally handing over control of the scene to Lindevi.  Later on, Chris I's housewife stole the show, overturning tables in a desperate, last-gasp stand against the Zendik faithful.  However, the narrative power swiftly changed hands to WittSean's crisis of conscience:  does he betray his 'innocent' friends or does he believe the idyllic truth put forward by Wulf Zendik?

It's that sort of continued, extensive power exchange that takes an average table and makes it a good one or, in the case of this group, takes a good group of players and pushes them into an evening of phenomenal gaming.  This group's ability to build opportunities for one another through narrative power exchange allowed them to achieve some of the best table-based role-play I've ever seen.  When we staggered out of our room in Shouvlin at nearly 12:30 that morning, the group was worn, beaten down, and thoroughly smiling.  And, after a long session of dominance and submission, that's about all you ever want...

Friday, October 19, 2012

In Which The Warlock Illumines the Shadows--The Journeyman GM's Perspective!

As mentioned last entry, this is part of my October cross-blog shenanigans with Will Herrmann, better known as the Journeyman GM.  Here's his perspective on our "Shadows of the Cold War" game!  Enjoy, and have a great weekend!

Shadows of the Cold War was my second campaign ever. I was in the middle of a Dungeons & Dragons 4e campaign and, as a new and eager roleplaying gamer, was interested in trying out a new roleplaying game system. Heroes Unlimited was definitely an interesting one to have chosen (like all games from Palladium, it's riddled with typos, very messy character creation, and internally inconsistent mechanics), but fortunately, Andy had houseruled the egregious problems and we spent far more more of our time talking things out than we did worrying about the game mechanics.

"Aren't the stars and stripes a little...
Having always been a Captain America fan, I decided to create a super soldier. In his backstory, I decided that him and his twin brother were experimented upon (experimentation on twins was pretty common in Nazi Germany and I figured the Soviet Union might have done something similar with a super soldier program). Using the random character generation in Heroes Unlimited, Ulrich Hartmann wound up with speed, strength, endurance, and fighting prowess that far exceeded that of a normal human. He knew a variety of fighting styles and could pilot just about any vehicle with ease. And at night, he became even more deadly, perhaps out of a realization that the darkness would hide his brutality. Despite this, Ulrich definitely had the Captain America attitude of using his power to protect those who were weaker than him. Ulrich's full character sheet can be found here.

The thing that meant the most to me was Ulrich's hindrances. In Dungeons & Dragons, characters are generally flawless. Sure, they may not be proficient in certain skills or they many be deficient in some attribute, but they don't really have any character flaws. Ulrich on the other hand received constant headaches and had a metabolism four times that of a normal human (this led to a lot of fun situations and his nightly ritual of going to the Happy Panda all you can eat Chinese buffet). In addition, he had escaped from the Soviet Union and was being hunted down by his twin brother, Jakob Hartmann, who had the same powers, but a much more brutal and self-serving outlook on how they should be used. And perhaps the most defining thing for the campaign was that he literally started by walking off of a bus. With no money, no job, no place to stay, and a poor understanding of the English language, the early sessions were largely focused on Ulrich trying to find a place to live and a job to support himself. These hindrances to Ulrich's character wound up defining him just as much as his superhuman abilities and I think because of that, I wound up gravitating toward systems with hindrances later in my gaming career.

Ulrich followed the meaning,
not necessarily the movement.
Being on the run from the Soviets, Ulrich naturally needed a superhero identity. Having always admired the words of Karl Marx (but not how the Soviets had "corrupted" them), Ulrich decided to take on the name "Manifesto" and made it his goal to right the injustices he saw. And what better place to do it than in America? Hub City itself had recently constructed skyscrapers for the rich to work in, but had the poor living on the streets next to it.

Eventually, Manifesto teamed up with several other superheroes and started tracking down an individual who had kidnapped a young girl…and it was clear that he was too powerful for the police to take down. Admittedly, this nature of this villain made me a bit uncomfortable (see Andy's description) but it definitely made our final fight of retribution against him ore meaningful.

Unfortunately, Ulrich met his match not from some violent super-powered killer, but from a car crash. How that happened is a fun story in and of itself, but ultimately it meant that Manifesto's crime-fighting streak came to a premature end. I'm told that future plots would have had him meet his evil twin brother again and have his past catch up to him again!

This was my first exposure to Andy's GMing style. He's big on creating overwhelming challenges and creating very personal stories. Although I'm not as crazy about Watchmen-style superheroes as Andy, I found the game overall to be really enjoyable and the first real exposure to having characters that seemed "real".

All in all, Shadows of the Cold War is one of the most memorable games I've played in. It was the first that really let me play a character that was human and had his share of flaws and, much to my surprise, it was fun having to deal with the challenges of daily life. Manifesto is one of my favorite characters and a Savage Worlds version of him will be included as a pregen for Wild Card Creator.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

In Which The Warlock Illumines the Shadows...

Continuing our cross-blog extravaganza, the Journeyman GM and I decided to stop and reminisce about one of our first real campaigns together--my Heroes Unlimited/Call of Cthulhu mash-up, "Shadows of the Cold War".  While the campaign was somewhat short-lived, it provided some great moments of role-play around the table and really showed off some of the things I love about gaming at Wittenberg, to say nothing of Will's skill and creativity as a player.

For those of you that don't frequent my blog, I billed "Shadows of the Cold War" as something of an "alternate-universe Watchmen", in which the events of that seminal graphic novel never actually happened:  Ozymandias never detonated his squid, Silk Spectre never determined the identity of her father, and Dr. Manhattan simply up and left.  Our heroes took up residence in the DC Comics underworld of Hub City, which was all but polluted with crime and vigilante activity.

Rorschach's vengeance:
an inspiration for Manifesto's
first investigation.
While our three other heroes--played by the PlatinumChick, DigitalKat, and L-Train--played "average" citizens of Hub City, Will had decided to take a slightly less orthodox route.  His hero, Manifesto, was the semi-successful result of an East German/Soviet super-soldier project who had gained most of his combat experience fighting in Afghanistan.  After falling out with his handlers over ideological issues, Manifesto escaped Soviet control and stole into the United States, hoping to spread the word of Marx to the impoverished masses of the Hub.

While it might not seem exciting to many, the two introductory sessions of "Shadows..." may be among my all time favorites.  Manifesto was literally a "stranger in a strange land"--bereft of basic 'givens' like citizenship, a drivers' license, or even the ability to speak proper English, Will/Manifesto stared down a greater threat than a supervillain or a back-alley ganger:  the plight of poverty, viewed through the eyes of an illegal immigrant.  Manifesto was lucky in many regards--he managed to procure work as an unskilled laborer at a construction site, was able to find his way to a housing and human services branch through which he procured a small apartment, and received some significant donations from the Salvation Army.

Throughout these sessions, nary a die was rolled--after all, what good is combat prowess or technical expertise, when your character is living on the streets?  But the buy-in on Will's part was spectacular, and the table was riveted throughout.  When Manifesto finally managed to get his feet under him and meet some of his fellow vigilantes, it was like he had finally 'made it'.

This isn't to say that our game was a matter of The Sims-lite.  Rather, our game focused heavily on investigation and several ongoing attempts to thwart an arms-trafficking ring run by The White Russian, an enigmatic criminal mastermind.  Leads into a Benson and Hedges Holdings warehouse led our heroes to what may be the most foul villain I've ever created:  Mr. Kisses.

Meant to be a riff on "Mr. Fantastic gone mad", Mr. Kisses was a serial rapist and murderer, with a penchant for targeting under-aged girls.  His deranged psyche had fetishized the "American Ladies" young adult novels of the time, leading him to kidnap school-aged girls, abuse them, and then kill them.  However, with an in-born elastic ability, Mr. Kisses' victims died messy, horrific deaths.  With each clue they found, with each step closer the group took, Mr. Kisses provoked a powerful sense of righteous vengeance, which I've rarely seen around the game table.  When Kisses died--and they most assuredly did not let such a madman live--there was a collective sigh of relief around the table.  One less girl would be made a victim in this world.  One less mother would spend sleepless nights in tears.

While Mr. Kisses certainly hit home with a Rated-R, Iron Age sensibility, this isn't to say that our campaign didn't have moments of comic relief.  As a side-effect of his super-soldier experimentation, Manifesto's metabolism worked at four times the normal rate:  he had to eat a full meal every few hours or be stricken with crippling migraines.  It became a running joke at our table that Manifesto would hit the Happy Panda Chinese Buffet on his way home from work, eating the place clean!  Set in 1986, our game was rife with references to The A-Team, MacGuyver, and the worst of 80s music.  Lockshanks, L-Train's character, even made a point to go see Return of the Jedi on its opening day!

The treacherous roads of Centralia, PA
As I mentioned earlier, our heroes met an untimely end, mainly due to a poor choice of driver and some phenomenally bad die rolls.  Our campaign ended just as it hit its nascence.  I had planned for our heroes to visit Centralia, Pennsylvania in the upcoming session, uncovering Cthulhian horrors amongst the smoking ruins.

Despite our tragic (and more than a little ironic) end, "Shadows of the Cold War" left a sizable influence.  The wonky mechanics of Heroes Unlimited left an ashen taste in my mouth and the Iron Age of Comics remained a relatively untapped realm of inspiration for a would-be game designer.  In designing Cold Steel Wardens, I dropped elements directly from "Shadows..." into the game--The White Russian, Mr. Kisses, and even Manifesto himself have made it into my first draft copy as NPCs and, in Manifesto's case, a fully playable pre-generated character.

And Will?  Well, despite my tendency to kill off his characters, he's still coming back for more...and next week, we'll take a look at what it's like as a player in one of his games!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Warlock's Exclusive: An Interview with the Journeyman GM!

While I've mentioned him numerous times on here, it occurs to me that most of you readers might not know much about The Journeyman GM, better known as Will Herrmann.  So, this October, Will and I are engaging in something of a "cross-blog interview".  My interview with him is below, while his interview of me is here:  An Interview with the PlatinumWarlock.


The Journeyman GM himself,
as The Doctor!
First off, tell us a little about yourself: who are you?
My name is Will Herrmann. I'm the president of Journeyman Games and the author of The Journeyman GM. I recently moved to St. Paul, MN as part of an AmeriCorps service year and I do independent computer programming as well.

Tell our readers a little about our experiences together.
My Freshman year at Wittenberg University, I joined the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild, which was founded by Andy. As an alumnus still living in the area, he still actively participated in Guild events and I got to know him from there. He helped me prep for the very first game I ever GMed and since then I've been both a player and gamemaster for Andy. More recently, we've been trading advice back and forth as we're forming our companies.

What upcoming RPG products do you have your eye on?
This summer I bought way too many RPG products, so I'm trying not to buy too many things! I think I'd just like to get my PDF of Deadlands Noir and my hardback copy of Hell on Earth Reloaded, both of which I've preordered.

What are you playing/running right now?
Just started a campaign for Deadlands: The Last Sons with some people I met in Minnesota. Not playing anything right now sadly.

If you could be a gaming die, which one would you be and why?
The d6. So simple, yet so versatile.

Will and Will and Will and Will...all hard at work on
the Wild Card Creator!
What are you working on currently?
I'm working on Wild Card Creator: a character creator for the Savage Worlds roleplaying game that lets you import content from any published PDF. The Kickstarter drive for it just ended, but I'm still taking PayPal backers!

What’s exciting about your current project?
This isn't the first character creator, or even the first Savage Worlds character creator, but it's got lots of innovative features that nobody has ever developed before. The big one is the ability to import Edges, Hindrances, Gear, etc. straight from the text in the PDF. There's other great stuff too like being able to export characters onto any form-fillable PDF character sheet. Plus I've got full support from Pinnacle and 20 third party companies.

Where do you pull inspiration for your games and designs?
For my programs, I get a lot of inspiration by asking myself "what sort of features do I want?" There's a saying in computer programming that you should "eat your own dog food" to see if what you're making is a good product. To continue the analogy, I often start by being hungry for dog food and then creating my own brand of dog food to my tastes, which I figure will then probably taste good to others.

Apple is a big inspiration too because they put a whole lot of effort into making things easy for the user, even if it means a whole lot more work for the programmer. The book The Design of Everyday Things has been great for me as well because it really points out that there really is a "right way" and a "wrong way" to create intuitive programs for a user.

For gaming, inspiration comes from all sorts of things: books, video games, movies, TV shows, you name it. Sometimes I produce things that are directly inspired by those sources (like my Savage Worlds conversions  and the scenarios I've run for them) and sometimes they are more indirect (like my Pulp campaign about finding Atlantis which was primarily inspired by Indiana Jones and National Treasure).

What would be your dream RPG design gig?
I'd love to write a campaign for Doctor Who:  Adventures in Time and Space tentatively called "Children of Gallifrey".  It's for a party of at least one Time Lord and companions who survived the Time War, but don't know that The Doctor is still out there.  There will be a whole bunch of scenarios that can be played in any order (some of which have links to each other, creating lots of timey-wimey, wibbley-wobbly fun!).  Many of these scenarios will take place in distinctly British locations that haven't been seen before, like India during the British Raj and King Arthur's court.  Ultimately, the campaign will end with the discovery of Gallifrey in a parllel universe where The Master took command of the Time Lords to win the Time War, but he committed unspeakable atrocities to do it.  Ultimately, they'll have to decide if they want to stay in this universe where the Time Lords are alive, albeit broken, or their home universe where Gallifrey is but a memory.

Also, I'd love to turn The Elder Scrolls into a bona fide tabletop roleplaying game.  I've got a Savage Worlds conversion here, but I'd love to see something like it in print.

What’s your favorite system?
If you haven't guessed by now, it's Savage Worlds. It has everything I want in a system: simple, fast, and customizable. That said, the D6 System will always hold a special place in my heart for being a system that is dead simple and infinitely customizable (plus it had the best version of a Star Wars RPG in my opinion).

What is your favorite campaign (as a GM and as a player)?
As a GM, I think my favorite was probably Star Wars: Infinity run using a hybrid of Star Wars D6 and D6 Space. The whole premise is that C-3P0 and R2-D2 get shot on the Tantive IV, so they never make it to Tatooine, Luke never finds Ben Kenobi, and the group never hires Han. Looks like the Galaxy needs new heroes to destroy the Death Star and defeat the Empire!

I haven't played in nearly as many campaigns as I've run (a few too many fell apart soon after they started), but my favorite is probably Andy's Shadows of the Cold War campaign (a precursor to Cold Steel Wardens). It was the first campaign I was in where it wasn't just about killing the monsters and there were so many great moments in it that I still talk about years later (including how our party of superheroes died in a car crash).

What's your favorite settings for Dungeons & DragonsSavage Worlds, and any one other system?
For D&D, definitely Urban Arcana, which is D&D in the modern world (technically it's a d20 Modern setting). All of the classic D&D tropes are turned on their head where you've got dragons running the board rooms, bugbears roaming the streets, and mindflayers heading the mafia!

It's probably no surprise that Deadlands is my favorite Savage Worlds setting. It's based on history, but it's got lots of interesting twists to it. And who doesn't love card-slinging sorcerers?

My favorite setting for another system is one that I've actually never run or played: Torg. This setting has sparked my imagination like no other setting has. Basically, a whole bunch of "invading realities" are overtaking Earth as we know it to create pocket realities at various points on the globe, which you can travel to. Some fun realities include The Cyberpapacy (medieval theocracy plus cyberpunk covering France), The New Nile Empire (pulp plus ancient Egypt covering…well, Egypt), the Living Land (caveman and dinosaurs, covering much of the US), and Orrosh (Lovecraftian horror in Victorian Indonesia, where player characters go to die). Characters can be from any of many these realities and more, so you can have a holy knight, a dino-riding caveman, a vampire, a ninja hacker, and a Navy SEAL all in the same party!

What's a setting and/or system that you've always thought was underrated?
The Cortex System. It had some really great mechanics, like pairing an attribute with a skill (want to convince the Dwarf you mean business by challenging him to a drinking contest? Roll your Vitality die plus your Persuasion die)! It even includes a sample setting that is basically Law & Order: The Roleplaying Game, which I don't think any other RPG has ever come close to trying.

The system was used for the Serenity RPG as well as Supernatural, but I think it was deemed to be "too generic" without any exceptionally innovative mechanics and has been replaced by "Cortex Plus" used in Leverage, Smallville, and more recently the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game. Too bad.

How would you describe your GM style?
Freewheeling, challenge-dealing, and epic. I'm known for making up enemy stats up in my head and improvising entire plotlines when the players go off the rails, but it generally works out well for me. I enjoy presenting huge challenges, but love it when the players actually overcome them. And I'm a big sucker for epic adventures involving larger than life characters and events. In general, I think I'm more of a narrativist GM in that I'm always looking for the most fulfilling story.

What’s the best advice you could give a budding GM or player?
Learn to improvise. It's the most useful skill in your GM arsenal. As a second piece of advice, try to say yes as often as possible, even if there's a "but" attached to it.

What’s your ideal player like?
One who enjoys the narration, plans ahead when approaching combat, and shares my desire to see huge challenges surmounted by a really close call.

What's something different that you've always wanted to run, but haven’t?
I've always wanted to run a game where the player characters are Disney heroes and they're fighting against a team-up of Disney villains like Jafar, Maleficent, Ursula, and Captain Hook. Kind of like Kingdom Hearts, I guess. Trouble is, I don't know of a good system to do it with and I feel like I'd need the right group of players in order to have it turn out right.

Who was your first character and how did they turn out?
That would be Paelias, the Eladrin Warlord. In his quest to explore the Keep on the Shadowfell, he bravely fought toe to toe with Kalarel, but perished along with his comrades. Oh, and Andy was playing Kalarel at the time (this was the first of many characters of mine that Andy killed).

How would you describe your player style (and is it different from your GM style)?
I think I'm a bit more of a powergamer and less of a narrativist than I am as a GM. I still love a good story, but I think I enjoy reveling in the power a bit more when I'm playing.

What's a gaming quirk that you have at the table?
My characters must have birthdays (randomly rolled by a d12 for the month and a d30 for the day, roll odds or evens if you roll a 30 and there's 31 days in the month).

Anything else you’d like to share?
Despite the fact that I'm a Savage Worlds fanboy, I love trying out new systems and will regularly try them at cons. I also love running Traveller and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space.

And Andy has killed every single one of my player characters in a campaign he has been in. Paelias, Manifesto, Rev. Elijah Jacobson, and Cpt. Jason Cauldwell, you shall all be remembered fondly for your heroic sacrifices in the face of Andy's evil GM tyranny!

Thanks, Will, for such a great interview!

Thursday, October 04, 2012

In Which The Warlock Lauds the Commendable...

So, last post was something of a downer, no?  It's easy to criticize, easy to point out the negative.  By nature, I tend to be a bit cynical--then again, who among my generation isn't?--but there's a lot to love within the pages of today's roleplaying games.  Let's pull some of my favorites!

The Doom Pool!

Roll that Doom Pool!
Chalk one up for Margaret Weis Productions' Marvel Heroic Roleplaying for an absolutely fantastic mechanic.  Even the most experienced GMs sometimes balk at having to make a judgement call on complex environmental actions, and even the most worthy of players sometimes chafe at the concept of 'GM fiat'.  For me, the Doom Pool mechanically addresses this difficulty in a simple, but effective manner.

Making your way through a burning building?  Roll against the Doom Pool to avoid falling debris or smoke inhalation.  Weaving through girders while flying?  Roll against the Doom Pool!  Need to make that super-science device extra-fast?  Doom Pool!

While it's not a be-all, end-all device, the Doom Pool serves as a quick outlet for all those times where a GM might be stuck.  It keeps play at the table moving and keeps the GM with his players, rather than referencing a rulebook.  Really, any mechanic that provides a quick resolution fits here:  the Savage Worlds "common knowledge" roll, the WEGS "frozen roll".  They're great!

In Text Fluff!

Now, this one's a spot of divisiveness.  Some gamers love the atmosphere and mood that in-text fiction brings, while others tend to loathe it.  While I tend to view rpg books more as instruction manuals than fiction collections, the occasional bit of in-character fiction really hits home the ideas and themes behind the game itself.  Plus, it pushes those archetypal ideas that form the core of a setting.

While I have issues with their fundamental rules-set, the Fantasy Flight Games' publications of Dark Heresy/Rogue Trader/Deathwatch really capture the essence of what it means to live in the Warhammer 40K universe.  While they have a ton of material from which to generate this setting info, the tone and descriptions in these books blend the world and the mechanics together beautifully.  If only the rules themselves weren't such a mess...


This, above all else, is something that I've been reveling in.

Burned spies kill vampires?
There's a game for that...
So many games for so long have been about "universal" mechanics.  d20, GURPS, even Savage Worlds, all try to wear so many hats that they fail to focus on one particular sort of game.  As I mentioned last entry, Savage Worlds makes for a great system for pulp and action, but I'd never want to use it for a horror game--it's just not built for that genre.  But GURPS?  What's the purpose?  Why this system?  Yes, I'm sure you could run a horror game, a sci-fi game, and a fantasy game with it, but why would you?

The print-on-demand and PDF era of publishing has granted us not just the freedom of choice, but also the ability to enter new genres and tell new stories using systems built specifically for genre-emulation.  Want to run a game about down-on-their-luck boxers?  There's a game for that.   Want a game that focuses on the backroom dealings of Japanese samurai families?  Yup, a game for that, too.  Want to be a former CIA agent hunting vampires?  Yes, you're covered.

The Kickstarter Revolution!

Yes, print-on-demand and PDF are great.  But, as I'm finding out more and more, getting a product off of the ground takes start-up capital.  Kickstarter and other crowd-sourcing sites like it have become great ways for rpg designers to not only come up with said capital, but also to publicize their works.

That'd be great in and of itself, but what's best comes right alongside the Kickstarter revolution:  the discussion and analysis of an industry that, for a long time, really hasn't had any intellectual critique at the marketing and distribution level.  Now, it's a daily occurrence, through Facebook groups and message board discussions aimed not just at the design and development end of role-playing games, but also how to take a game and make it into a clean, published product in a cost-effective, efficient manner.

It's that type of discussion that really pushes forward revolution and innovation.  While I can't say that every product has benefited from these discussions, they're a massive benefit to any would-be developer.