Is ENniebody listening?

The Gen Con EN World RPG Awards (the “ENnies”) are an annual fan-based celebration of excellence in tabletop roleplaying gaming.
—ENnie Awards website

The 2018 ENnie award nominees were announced on July 4 and as of July 11 the public can vote for their candidates of choice.

Every year I am flabbergasted that some high-quality releases did not make it onto the list. I know one reason for their absence is that it’s a big job and expense for small press publishers to send the application package. But even so, some electronic releases must surely have been submitted?

Conversely, I am also surprised, every year, by how many names I don’t recognize. I live and breathe RPGs, I have made the majority of my friendships through gaming, I read RPGs like others read the Wall Street Journal. In social media, I mostly talk about RPGs, with other gamers.

This year is a little more striking than usual on both fronts, taking me back to the earlier days of the ENnies. And that’s when I remember…

The awards were created in 2001 to celebrate excellence not in “tabletop roleplaying gaming,” but a very specific family of RPGs: D&D 3rd edition, and D20-based games by an online magazine, EN World, that focused solely on these games at the time.

Over the years both the magazine and the awards have started paying attention to other role-playing games and because of the leverage from the largest seller in the RPG world, the prestige of winning an ENnie is powerful. Anyone whose work is nominated has a right to feel proud and excited. Heck, when my own game made it onto the nomination list a couple of years ago, I was thrilled. I knew I was not going to win but it was great to have made the list.

That said, the ENnies don’t even come close to representing the extent of the RPG publication world in a given year, small as it is. Moreover, they are easily “gameable” (ha-ha) both at the nomination stage and the voting stage, by which I mean that a group of resolute fans or opponents of particular games can deliberately skew the results. FFS, the list of candidates for 2019 judges does not even include a single woman among the 12 listed, and all but two are white men. I knew one name among the twelve (Felipe Silva.)  How representative of the RPG world could this be?

In short, I don’t think that winning an ENnie is meaningless, far from it; but I do think it’s largely a fame award among a specific demographics. If you made the list swimming against that current (e.g, Bluebeard’s Bride, City of Mist, #feminism, Harlem Unbound) then you doubly deserve your nomination. But I feel sorry for all the creators of high-quality content whose work is not even on the nomination list; they deserve better.

In a way, I think even a solo effort like the BAMFsies for best in superhero gaming may have more worth in terms of quality, if not fame. (Alas, they did not have a 2018 edition — get better soon, Victor Von Boom!)

I’m not planning to set up an alternate awards show, but here are a few RPGs and related releases that appeared in the period the 2018 ENnies are based on (May 1, 2017 to April 30, 2018) which I think deserve celebrating despite not making the list.

Games:

Adventures:

Supplements and accessories:

Podcasts and blogs:

I did not list all the categories these could be nominated under (cover and inside art, layout, cartography, etc.) because this post would inflate ridiculously. (For example, Blades in the Dark got ENnie nominations for best game and product of the year, but none for cartography.) I make no claims to completeness; in fact I know I’m missing large segments (e.g., the 7th Sea, Mutants & Masterminds, Shadowrun, World of Darkness, and other supplement-rich lines).

But I do know that these were as good as, or better than, about half the names that made it onto the list of nominees.

 

Playtest: Dream Askew

Yesterday I got a chance to play Avery Alder’s Dream Askew (Buried Without Ceremony) for the first time. We tried a playtest of the new edition for which a Kickstarter funding campaign was ending today (you can still pre-order through the page afterwards.) The book is going to contain two takes on the system:

  • Dream Askew proper, where you play members of a queer enclave in a post-apocalypse setting (written by Avery);
  • Dream Apart, where you play inhabitants of a Jewish shtetl in a fantastical-historical Eastern Europe (written by Benjamin Rosenbaum).

Both make me want to play, and I hope to have a chance to try Dream Apart soon. The art looks wonderful for both settings, and amazing contributors have been added through stretch goals. I expect the final result to be a delight.

Preparation

In addition to the playtest materials available on her website, Avery was also kind enough to share a draft of the “How to Play” chapter for our playtest. I love how caring, generous and thoughtful Avery’s writing is. The chapter provides advice for the play environment and behaviours, not just the mechanical aspects.  Continue reading “Playtest: Dream Askew”

My oldest character sheet

While going through our possessions (the great trash/sell/store/keep purge), I found the binder that contained some of my oldest character sheets.

So today I present to you Keridwen, my elf fighter/magic user (I wanted to be a bard, Cú Chulainn-style) for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the first character I ever made. Keridwen was created, rolled stats and all, back in the fall of 1984 at the gaming club of Ecole Polytechnique de Montréal, called Polyèdre (Polyhedron). This makes her character sheet 32 years old—older than many people I play with these days.

In addition to the four-page character sheet (in French), there are lists of spells she was eligible to or barred from, psionic abilities she acquired, and a bad photocopy of a portrait I drew.

The choice item, though, is the last page—the will. Club members had an unwritten agreement that you could only pass a deceased character’s possessions to another of your character if the will had been drawn up. So Keridwen left everything to her half-sister Olwen with the caveat that her cash should be used to avenge her if she had been murdered…

#MayRPGQ2018: Part 2

This is the second half of the #MayRPGQ2018 challenge for tabletop role-playing game enthusiasts from Brie Sheldon.

May 18: Where do you play that most encourages your creative side?

Program, badge, buttons

Big Bad Con. This convention is my Christmas, it’s the best weekend of the year. People who show up there are ready to say yes, to try new things, to take risks. Its effect stretches on through the year for me, recharging me with enthusiasm and ideas. Continue reading “#MayRPGQ2018: Part 2”

Play Report: Fate of the Inquisitor

Inquisitors are a dour lot.

After a delay of over two years, I finally ran Fate of the Inquisitor for the first time yesterday at KublaCon.  It was a moral victory to finally be able to do this!

This game is my hack using:

  • the rules of War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus I wrote for Evil Hat Productions (PDF available on a pay-what-you-want basis on DriveThruRPG, and Open Content rules on Fate SRD);
  • the Warhammer 40,000 (WH40K) setting,
  • particularly  as  presented in the Dark Heresy role-playing game from Fantasy Flight Games/Ulisses Spiele, and
  • borrowing the random tables from my husband’s Fiasco 40K playset for, well, Fiasco.

Why? Because on the one hand I don’t enjoy the native system for Dark Heresy, it’s just not my cup of tea; and on the other, we have a bazillion WH40K miniatures which were handy to demonstrate the miniatures rules for Fate from War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus. 

I had four players, including my husband Edmund. The other three players (the very nice Gregg, Thomas, and Jon) were new faces to us and to each other. Edmund is well-versed in both the WH40K universe and in the Fate rules I was using, of course. However, the other players had minimal knowledge of either setting or mechanics. Their role-playing background was primarily from games like D&D or GURPS, and were there to learn about the Fate system.  Continue reading “Play Report: Fate of the Inquisitor”

My New Development

The news I alluded to in a recent post have been officially announced: in addition to acting as project manager for new books in the Fate line, I am now also stepping in to replace Leonard Balsera as Fate Line Developer for Evil Hat Productions.

Lenny is stepping down to be able to keep up with his own increased responsibilities as COO and Creative Director of John Wick Presents. He has been with Evil Hat and working on Fate in its various forms for nearly 15 years. He is instrumental in creating some of the features I like best in Fate Core, the current version of the system. He is savvy, personable, knowledgeable, creative, and who knows how I will be able to follow such an act!

It’s tremendously flattering to have been invited to fill in the role of line developer for Evil Hat’s flagship line, and even more so when picking up the mantle after someone like Lenny. And it’s wonderful to be associated more closely with Evil Hat, since they have been such great people to work with and for.

One of my official mandates will be to bring even more diversity to the talent pool in all roles (writers, system developers, editors, artists, and so forth.) I will redouble my efforts to attract to our projects skilled people who are as diverse as the world I see around me.

Finally, I will also be scouting for new third-party games based on Fate for which the creators would like printing, distribution, and marketing support. Of course such games need to fit in with Evil Hat’s release windows, quality standards, etc.

So yeah, just call me Doctor Fate…

#MayRPGQ2018: Part 1

For May, we have another neat challenge for tabletop role-playing game enthusiasts, the #MayRPGQ2018 challenge from Brie Sheldon. It has questions for the even days of the month.

May 2: How do you introduce yourself?

To other gamers, I usually mention my long-time online handles, dating back 20 years: Anemone, Evil Anemone, Méchante Anémone, and variations thereof. If I know we have gamer friends in common, I mention them. And to publishers, I mention that I have written for Atlas Games, Evil Hat Productions, Generic Games, Vigilance Press, and ZombieSmith, and that I am project manager for the Fate line at Evil Hat (plus awesome new responsibilities I’ll talk about later this month.) I do have gamer business cards I use at conventions! Continue reading “#MayRPGQ2018: Part 1”

#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 25 through 30

Final round of Kira Magrann’s cool challenge for April, the 30-day tabletop role-playing game maker or #AprilTTRPGMaker challenge.

Day 25: Being a tabletop role-playing game designer means…

Argh! This kind of question makes me worry about gate-keeping. I feared at the beginning of this challenge that many people would self-select out because of impostor syndrome.

I think of the definition as flexible and inclusive: if you create games, supplements, scenarios, settings, rules, playbooks, worksheets, and other tools to share with the world, if you listen to constructive critique and try to improve, if you keep polishing your work, then I’d say you are a game designer.

I’m not saying that keeping your meticulous DM campaign notes since the first game of D&D you ran in 1979 and trying to run games in that compendium at every convention makes you a game designer. Based on my training as an engineer, I think that in order to qualify as a designer:

  • You need to articulate what it is you are trying to create.
  • You need to separate the product of your work from your own identity, enough to listen to reasonable criticism.
  • You need to want to improve the product of your work even if the improvement goes in a new direction.
  • You need to keep informed about approaches other designers have used to solve similar problems so you don’t try to reinvent the wheel or publish fantasy heartbreakers.
  • You need to think of several different solutions to every problems rather than pre-select based on bias.
  • You need to try, evaluate, reject or refine, and try again until your design can be pronounced good by comparing to your objectives.

These are features of design, any kind of design. It’s not about how many copies you sold, or how long you have been working on an idea.

Continue reading “#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 25 through 30”

#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 19 through 24

Part 4 of Kira Magrann’s cool challenge for April, the 30-day tabletop role-playing game maker or #AprilTTRPGMaker challenge.

Day 19: Game that’s most essential to your design?

Fate Core CoverThese days it would be Fate Core, since a lot of the projects I’m writing for are Fate games: Fate Infiltration Toolkit, Tianxia Rules Companion, Uprising: The Dystopian Universe RPG. I’ve also got a small item for Monster of the WeekContinue reading “#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 19 through 24”

#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 13 through 18

Part 3 of Kira Magrann’s cool challenge for April, the 30-day tabletop role-playing game maker or #AprilTTRPGMaker challenge.

Day 13: Biggest influence?

In roughly chronological order:

Over The Edge by Jonathan Tweet (Atlas Games); Robin’s Laws of Good Game-mastering by Robin Laws (Steve Jackson Games); Truth & Justice and The Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo by Chad Underkoffler (Atomic Sock Monkey Press); Fate Accelerated by Clark Valentine, Leonard Balsera, Fred Hick, Mike Olson, and Amanda Valentine (Evil Hat Productions).

 

But the funny thing is that I also got influences from games I thought were deeply flawed such as:

Primetime Adventures, The Esoterrorists, Burning Empires, Apocalypse World,

Continue reading “#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 13 through 18”