Listen to the Return of Castle Falkenstein!

I’ve been a fan of Castle Falkenstein since 1994 when I grabbed a copy of the newly released role-playing game. I have run it straight at the table and online, I’ve adapted it for alternate systems such as Theatrix, PDQ, and Fate Core (though I’m still unenthusiastic about the spellcasting rules in the latter, need to think more about them). For many old gamers like me, R. Talsorian Games‘ Castle Falkenstein represented a sea change at the time, no longer concentrating on dice rolling and stat values as much as the fiction created around the player characters.

Although the original Castle Falkenstein books are long out of print, they were eventually scanned and released as PDF versions on DriveThruRPG. But until recently, the latest supplement released by RTG had been, if memory serves, The Memoirs of Auberon of Faerie in 1998; and a GURPS Castle Falkenstein supplement, The Ottoman Empire, had been released by Steve Jackson Games under license circa 2000.

This changed last year, when RTG allowed up-and-coming Fat Goblin Games to create and publish additional materials. Since last October, writer J Gray — long-time Falkenstein fan — has authored four supplements: Curious Creatures, a bestiary; The Tarot Variation, an alternate rule system for sorcery that uses a tarot deck instead of a regular playing cards; The Second Tarot Variation, which extends the use of tarot cards to all action; and Firearms and Margarine, an adventure.

J Gray is also a great person — and a great GM. Along with my husband, I’ve had the chance to play in J’s current online game. We’re alpha-playtesting a series of new alternate mechanic options that will allow customization of the Castle Falkenstein system for GMs who like to tinker. J has been recording the the episodes so far and releasing them as a podcast. You can see the campaign site on Obsidian Portal, and listen to the episodes on Fat Goblin GamesPresents. That will give you a preview of some of the rules we’re testing so you can try them too!

Big Bad Con games

Yep, I posted games for Big Bad Con. Many short games, to be specific.

Alas for the Awful Sea

A role-playing game created by Australians Hayley Gordon and Veronica Hendro at Storybrewers Roleplaying, thanks to a successful Kickstarter funding campaign.

The premise: it’s the 19th century and unnatural storms forced your vessel to seek refuge in a poor, troubled little coastal town. Expect intrigue, desperation, betrayal, and supernatural mysteries. The game system is a mean, unforgiving, stripped-down Powered by the Apocalypse.

You can see my game blurb in the schedule  here.

Tortuga 1667

Another successful Kickstarter baby, a card/board game created by Travis and Holly Hancock at Facade Games.

The premise: two pirate ships, one Spanish galleon, and Tortuga Island between them. Treasure, mutineers, and divided loyalties. Up to nine players vie for the gold amid shifting alliances and tides in this social deduction game.

You can see my game blurb in the schedule here.

Salem 1692

Another social deduction card game from Travis and Holly Hancock at Facade Games.

Because the Tortuga 1667 Kickstarter campaign was so successful, Facade games was able to launch a new printing of this game that has already been a success in the last couple of years. Up to 12 people play witch hunters and inhabitants of Salem, Massachusetts, who must find the witches before being accused themselves! Much fun, paranoia, and religious extremism will be had by all.

You can see my game blurb in the schedule here.

To the Temple of Doom! To Defeat the Ancient Evil!

A no-prep, mini-roleplaying game by Hayley Gordon and Veronica Hendro at Storybrewers Roleplaying, which they offer free for download.

I submitted this as part of the line-up I want to offer at Games on Demand. Participating game-masters each offer a choice of two or more games for walk-in players, typically run in two-hour time blocks.

The premise: play archaeologists portrayed in the vein of action movies like the Indiana  Jones series, The Mummy, etc. An ancient evil stirs, waking deep within the bowels of an untouched temple.  An evil that will end the world as we know it. Only you and your fellow archeologists can examine the clues, unravel the mysteries, and uncover the method to subdue this terrible threat.  It’s reportedly very rare to finish a game without a few characters dead or at least cursed…

Loose Threads: A Fate World of Adventure

A lovely adventure for Fate Core by Tara Zuber, published by Evil Hat Productions. I was lucky enough to try it when Tara playtested it and I greatly enjoyed it. Now I’m offering it for Games on Demand.

The premise: you play a secondary character from a fairy tale, one that was forgotten by the heroes of the tale but has since managed to make a life for themselves helping others avoid being the collateral damage of a happy ending.  You and the rest of your Company break curses, retrieve stolen keepsakes and lost children, and chase ogres away.

I also listed half a dozen other games I could offer at Games on Demand, including Cat (Wicked Dead Games), Fate Accelerated (Evil Hat Productions), octaNe (Memento Mori Theatricks), PDQ in its various incarnations (Atomic Sock Monkey Games), Urchin (Clint Krause), etc.

 

 

Talkin’ ’bout Big Bad Con, yeah…

I spent my discretionary time this weekend working on prep for this year’s edition of Big Bad Con. We had our official launch a few says ago, and we’re very excited!

It will be our second year at the new venue, the Marriott Walnut Creek, and we are planning to make better use of the excellent space. (I was bold and already booked a room.) We received a lot of useful (and mostly heart-warming) feedback on last year’s event, which prompted some changes. Notable items include:

  • A new board game track with a game library
  • An expanded program of panels and workshops
  • More games for teens
  • Better access to parking and food at the hotel
  • Quieter space for Games On Demand
  • An all-digital system for on-site game signups

And probably more stuff I’m forgetting. The con have fantastic staff handling all these projects.

Immediately after Thursday’s announcement, we received many game submissions. I spent much time this weekend approving games and communicating with game-masters. And thinking about what games I want to run…

We also received submissions for panels, seminars, and workshops but we’re holding those in draft form until we have our official guest list finalized. This must wait until after the Kickstarter campaign that will run through May. Still, if you have ideas of panel topics you would like to see on the program, send them in!

 

My 2016 in gaming

Time for data analysis, because I’m a nerd!

Unsurprisingly, my gaming in 2016 was affected by my health issues. I had medical appointments, minimal energy, and because of a suppressed auto-immune system, I avoided large gatherings like conventions and in-store game days. The only convention I attended was my beloved Big Bad Con in October, and I still had to have regular naps in my hotel room! The games I did play, I tended to play repeatedly at home, online, or with a small group of close friends. The length and complexity of games I could play was often reduced — even the size, since we played games with a small footprint on a surgical tray in the infusion room during chemotherapy!

By December 31, I still ended up with 47 different games in my list, down from 62 in 2015.  Let’s start with some summary numbers:

2016_in_gamingMy game types were divided between about 55% tactical and strategic play (2 miniatures games, 13 board games, 11 card games for a total of 26 different titles) and 45% narrative play (19 role-playing games, 2 storytelling games, and no live-action role-playing game this year, for a total of 21 titles). This does not reflect the respective amount of time or number of instances I played each; I have not been tracking this level of detail.

  • Games I labelled “storytelling” rather than “role-playing” included Fiasco and Downfall.
  • The distinctions between board games and miniatures games or board games and card games can be blurry, such as in games like Yggdrasil or  The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game.

Some 28 of these 47 different games (60%) were new to me: I had never played them before 2016. And of these new games, 5 were playtests (18% of the new games or 11% of the year’s total.)

To my chagrin, only 6 (13%) included at least one woman among the designers (Megan Bennett-Burks, Emily Care Boss, Peggy Chassenet, Caroline Hobbs, Anna Kreider, and Emma Larkins.) I’m unable to track persons of colour among designers, though I believe there are a few (e.g., Christopher Badell, I think?) I want to do better in supporting diversity.

I also rated each game subjectively, from 1 to 5 stars:

  • Among the 19 games I had played before, the average rating was 4.0 — no surprise there — with my favourites being Night Witches and Sentinels of the Multiverse, each scoring 5 stars.
  • Among the 28 new games, the average was of course a little lower, 3.4; my favourite new games were Masks and Venture City, each rating 4.5 stars, and my least favourite were Exploding Kittens and Haiku Warrior, each earning only 1 star.

I played with a total of 46 different people, 21 of which were new to me (46%.)

Here is what my list of games looked like (after the cut): Continue reading “My 2016 in gaming”

Dungeon World: Our Heroes!

Our Heroes - Ram, Rahi, Merit, and Kanta. Art by Claudia Cangini.
Our Heroes. Front: Ram the Holy Killer; behind him, from left to right: Rahi the Relic Bearer, Merit the Trickster, and Kanta the Mage. Art by Claudia Cangini, 2016.

We’ve been playing Dungeon World for over a year now, in Edmund’s own setting inspired by Southern Asia, “The Land of Ten Thousand Gods.” We’re nearing the epic conclusion of a big story arc so as a holiday present to the whole group, I commissioned a portrait of our four characters from the amazing Claudia Cangini. Tonight I unveiled it for the group and people sounded very happy — I know I am!

For those who, like me, enjoy seeing how a piece of art comes together, I will post the various steps of Claudia’s work. All images are in the slideshow at the bottom.

Continue reading “Dungeon World: Our Heroes!”

In which direction lies progress?

Autumn LeavesI have not forgotten that I promised to go back over the “Two Minutes Hate” issue for the three-month assessment of its impact onto the tabletop role-playing community, and particularly the parts of the community centering on indie and small-press games. Since I started the assessment, I have tallied responses from a variety of threads online, and discussed with and interviewed many people closely involved with and/or affected by the events.

In short, based the evidence I collated I believe that after three months (I’ll get back to this in a moment), the impacts of “Two Minutes Hate” and its follow-up FAQ have been more negative than positive, and that the negative impacts are disproportionately felt by a few people who were already on the receiving end for frequent online abuse. The post failed to clearly convey Mark’s intended message and caused harm both directly and indirectly to people singled out as examples. I see the following as key errors: Continue reading “In which direction lies progress?”

Did we see progress?

Trigger warning: Online harassment in the tabletop role-playing community.

Three-month check-in

depression_hurts_by_deadlywolfqueen-d50nfp0In late July, Mark Diaz Truman posted a reflection on his company blog (Magpie Games) about a perceived conflict in tabletop role-playing sub-communities, followed by a FAQ a few days later. I gave my own opinion back then when Mark asked, in response to my disagreement:

I’d also encourage us all (including me) to look at the effects 3 mo, 6 mo, and a year down the road.

It’s time to check in on the effects of the post after three months. Mark concluded his posts with:

I want to inspire conversation and self-reflection, and I believe that people have engaged in productive discussions both online and offline as a result of the post.

If you have been following the various conversations that Mark’s thoughts sparked, if you have some familiarity with the tabletop role-playing community and particularly with the subsets Mark focused on, OSR and story games, what if anything did you observe? For example:

  • Do you feel this has affected the way you post? If so, how?
  • Are any voices more frequently heard since these posts? Or less frequently?
  • Has the tone of community influencers changed in any relevant way?
  • Have certain frequent or prominent discussions changed in tone, style, or frequency?

If you can cite data, like Jessica Price and Jason Corley did last time, extra special thanks.


Credits: Illustration is called “Depression Hurts“, by Inkin Oddity; released under Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

Mouse Guard Must-Have

photo-sep-08-4-48-55-pmI’m very late in discovering this, but the hardback compilation Mouse Guard: The Black Axe is a must-have for all readers of the Mouse Guard comics (David Petersen, published by Archaia) and especially for players of the role-playing game based on the comic, the Mouse Guard RPG (Luke Crane & David Petersen).

It’s full of information about what the Guard Mice do, the art is as inspiring as ever, and the book offers a nice appendix full of maps, illustrations of locations, genealogies of famous mouse clans, etc. (You can see examples of location art here, but the ones in the book are different and contain much more information.)

Who measures progress?

Context

abused-girlBrouhaha in small role-playing sub-communities, of little interest to most people but with profound impact to a few. On July 26, Mark Diaz Truman posted a reflection on his company blog (Magpie Games) regarding perceived abuse between two sub-communities of gaming, focusing respectively on OSR and story games. The comments on Magpie Games’ blog and Mark’s Google+ discussion thread numbered in the hundreds, and a myriad of additional discussions both public and private erupted. Today (July 31), Mark followed up with a FAQ explaining his position in more detail [Edit: with its own G+ thread].

I will let people slog through the discussions if they are interested but I will not provide a summary. If you know people involved you will probably form your own views; if you don’t, you probably don’t care. But I will provide my own opinions and then address an answer I received from Mark.

My take

(Adapted from comments made on various threads as well as directly to Mark.)

The original post

I love Mark’s intentions, as a community-builder and a peace-maker, but I believe his perception of the situation of the situation is incorrect on many points. In particular, I think he equates behaviours on the part of various individuals (the ones he cites in his original post) that are simply not equivalent at all. In doing so, he appeared to excuse individuals that have a long, well-documented history of online abuse while placing the victims of such abuse in a position of equal blame.

Second, conflating this with OSR versus story games is odd and confusing. The vast majority of indie/hippie/story gamers I know also play OSR games. However, of course there are  sub-communities within these small circles that are less friendly than others; but describing this as two communities at war is bemusing.

Third, I do believe that anger has a place in effecting change, and “civility” cannot be the sole, enforceable mode of discussion. Let’s be clear: for those of us who  feel invisible at times, deeper change is the goal, not fostering unity in a particular geek sub-community. Rejecting anger and its manifestation skirts too close to a tone argument for my taste.

I have a large number of geek women and non-binary people in my circles (there are more than most people realize and they are the primary targets of abusers.) I saw several privately posting their dismay at Mark’s post, which they perceived as gaslighting and support of abusers, despite Mark’s statement to the contrary. Several mentioned that they were venting privately to their select circles because they did not want to become abusers’ next target. Some were brave enough to post openly on public threads like Mark’s (my hat is off to the ones fearing but standing up!)

I also saw several public posts by known bullies and online abusers as well as their supporters crowing over this perceived vindication and use it as fuel to launch whole new attack campaigns at their favourite targets. I find it nauseating.

It’s worth checking who reports and to believe the women and minority gamers who report having been abuse targets. Again, the uncivil discourse from various parts is not equivalent. The problem is not general discourse, it’s about extreme edge cases. It’s about missing stairs.

I do appreciate Mark’s intentions and his appeal to being the best persons we can be by listening, apologizing and collaborating. I just don’t think the later is always achievable or even advisable.

The FAQ-Pology

Mark’s new post on the topic is intended to “both make some apologies and clarify [his] position.” However, as an apology it falls short of the benchmarks; one stalwart commenter pointed out that it fails to provide:

1. A sincere expression of regret.
2. An explanation of the circumstances that led to the mistake.
3. An explanation of how you’re going to try to not do the thing in the future.

After looking at the after-effects for the better part of a week, I believe Mark’s posts have caused more harm than good to the gaming community(ies) and particularly, as many have pointed out, sent the usual targets ducking for cover rather than providing them with support. When I express my sadness at this step backward, Mark answered:

I’d love to talk with you more about how this is playing out Sophie. I’d also encourage us all (including me) to look at the effects 3 mo, 6 mo, and a year down the road. This week has been hard, but I believe that many of the conversations I’ve seen have the potential to blossom into something productive. That said, I hear you! And I’m eager to discuss more and listen more.

And this is what moved me from sadness to anger.

Let me explain again what I’ve been seeing:

  • An appeal to polite conversation that equates the behaviours of victims and their known online abusers.
  • One-sided calling out of flimsy examples versus complete silence on long-documented bad behaviours.
  • Calling out of victims.
  • Proposal for action that is vague and non-measurable compared to the specific call-outs.
  • Agreement with the sentiments overwhelmingly from white males.
  • Significant disagreement from cis and trans women, non-binary people, and other marginalized groups.
  • Renewed abuse from the original bad actors, directed at their usual targets.
  • An apology that boils down to “I wish I’d said it more nicely.”
  • An invitation to let this ride for three, six, or twelve months and check back if things have improved.

Notice the problem? The same people always on the receiving end of the abuse are told to be civil for a while more, endure the abuse longer, and hope the conversations will “blossom into something productive.”

No.

It doesn’t work that way. No progress can be made this way because the pressure has been put entirely on the victims. Sure, they’re already disappearing from the public conversation and retreating in their makeshift safe spaces when they can. In three, six or twelve months the conversation will surely be more harmonious without their voices.

And how are we to measure progress in this blossoming? On one end, I can count participants, threads and comments. We already have some demographic glimpses from early counts by commenters. We have previously documented abuse we can compare to. These are metrics. On the other side, how will we assess progress? Will it be by this lack of participation from the marginalized voices?

I’m sorry, Mark and the rest of the great publishing team at Magpie Games. While I do want to work for a friendly, welcoming, civil community of gamers, I must stand with those whose voices are being silenced again.

War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus is a 2016 ENnie Nominee!

ENnies 2016 Nominee
The 2016 ENnie Awards nominees were just announced and War of Ashes: Fate of Agaptus has made the list in four categories:

  • Best Art, Interior
  • Best Family Game
  • Best Rules
  • Product of the Year

It’s up against high-quality, popular releases but it’s so nice to be on the list. (Now I know that at least four people read it!)  ^_^

I am so very fortunate that on my first professional writing gig in the role-playing world, Evil Hat Productions let me create a book the way I wanted to, with the support of their fantastic knowledge and staff resources. It doesn’t get any better!

War-of-Ashes-Pageheader