GTS Over

GAMA Trade Show ended today. I did not attend for the first time in nearly a decade, which was a little weird. Nicole, Bill, Hal, and Rob represented for GR though and reports indicate it was a really good show for us. In addition to making the A Song of Ice and Fire announcement and the Faery’s Tale announcement, we got to show off the True20 Companion and advanced copies of Walk the Plank (a family-friendly card game), promote our new publishing strategy for Freeport, and give retailers our new slick catalog. In an era when print advertising is less and less effective, opportunities like GTS to do direct marketing to retailers are very much worthwhile.

The strange thing about this year’s GTS is the lack of big news. I had been a little worried going into the show that the A Song of Ice and Fire press release would have to compete with a lot of other big announcements. For whatever reason though this year was more subdued than any I can remember, the upside of which was that our news really got to shine. The most interesting thing I heard from the show is that some new company is bringing back Avalon Hill’s old Titan boardgame. And poor John Kovalic got food poisoning again (sorry John!).

I have to wonder if all this is just happenstance or whether it portends something about the year to come. After the last couple of years in the industry, I hope it’s the former.

Addendum: For you podcast fans, I made a return visit this week to 2d6 Feet in a Random Direction. You can hear the show at

A Song of Ice and Fire RPG

I won’t post the full press release here, as this is my personal page, but I am happy to report that we announced a deal with George R.R. Martin today for Green Ronin to do A Song of Ice and Fire RPG. Everyone at GR is really excited, as we are huge fans of the books. We are going to design a new game that’s built from the ground up to reflect Martin’s world. You can check the press release at

In short, hell yeah.

More Thoughts on the Fate of Dungeon and Dragon

I’ve been pondering the fate of Dragon and Dungeon, trying to make sense of it like many gamers. Right now we don’t know what WotC has planned for its digital initiative and until we do we wont’ really be able to judge the wisdom of recent events. What I’m trying to understand is what about the digital initiative required the cancellation of Dragon and Dungeon as magazines?

I’m sure it has not escaped the notice of WotC’s higher ups that World of Warcraft is kicking D&D;’s ass up and down the street on a daily basis. The advantage of WoW and MMOs in general is the subscription model. Gamers pay a fee every month to play, while traditional RPG companies sell their fans a core rulebook and may never get any other sales from them. If WotC could get 100,000 people to pay them $10 a month, that would be way more profitable than publishing endless sourcebooks (not that I’d expect these to go away entirely either). The trick would then be to figure out what D&D; players would pay $10 a month for. This could be things like a way to play D&D; online, combined with the sort of social networking you see on places like MySpace. It would also no doubt have to include content (articles, adventures, etc.). This content would need to be a) good and b) exclusive to subscribers. I can see how planners of a digital initiative like this would look at Dragon and Dungeon and think they had to go as print products. Better to use those brand names to sell the new venture, right?

If WotC is going to do something bold, I salute them. It’s easy to do the same old thing, so if they really are trying to strike out a new direction, that’s great. No matter what their news plans are though, I would think that keeping at least one magazine going as an additional form of marketing would be a smart move. Any jackass can start a website, but creating a viable periodical today is ridiculously difficult. To take a successful magazine like Dragon and just abandon that market seems crazy. Why not use Dragon to complement the digital imitative? When the plan is revealed (this summer presumably) that’s the answer I’ll be looking for.

Two Flavors of Nostalgia

Well, this is turning into a week or nostalgia. It’s come in two flavors: happy and sad.

Reading the new Tolkien book, the Children of Hurin, is making me happy. It’s reminding me how I got into fantasy fiction and thus into gaming in the first place. If any other author opened a novel with two pages of genealogy, I’d put it down. For Tolkien though it works, because it mirrors the real world mythology he was building off and really does inform the entirety of the story. And just because his style has been imitated badly by countless authors, there’s no reason to write off its originator.

The story will be familiar to anyone who read Unfinished Tales. It’s basically a novel-length version of the tale of Turin and his sister, edited together by Christopher Tolkien from many drafts and pieces left by his father. Although Christopher tries to give readers unfamiliar with the Silmarillion enough background to make sense of the story, I think you really need to be familiar with the bigger picture of the First Age of Middle Earth to fully appreciate it. Even if you haven’t read the Silmarillion though, I’d recommend the Children of Hurin. It’ll show you how deep Tolkien’s mythology was before he even started working on the Lord of the Rings, and how it informed everything that happened in those books.

Unfortunately, this week also brought the news that the magazines Dragon and Dungeon are being taken behind the shed and shot. As with many gamers, Dragon in particular played a big part in my introduction to hobby gaming. I remember getting a subscription when I was 12 years old and it opened up a new world to me. I learned about new authors from Giants in the Earth, I discovered new games through the reviews section, and I got a wealth of material to make my D&D; games better. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on game books back then, so Dragon was really important to me. It gave me a monthly dose of my hobby and kept me connected to what was going on.

The current state of D&D; has been making me sad for some time now, so perhaps this announcement is a fitting coda. D&D; today just doesn’t seem like the same game that captured my imagination when I was 10 years old and under its current custodians I don’t see that changing.

I wish all my compadres at Paizo good luck in navigating the waters of the RPG market sans the D&D; logo. I look forward to seeing what they have up their sleeves.

My Other Game Group

A couple of years ago I joined my “other” game group. Tim had decided to start a D&D; campaign after a year of planning. As I was keen to get out the GM’s chair for awhile and the game was only twice a month, I added another game to the rotation. About six months ago the D&D; game fizzled and it seemed like that group may be on a long (perhaps permanent) hiatus. One of the other players, Dean, had gotten Spirit of the Century though and he wanted to give it a spin. Another stint as a player and a chance to try out a new game? Sold.

We’ve played a couple of sessions so far and it’s been a good time. We’re all pulp fans, so it’s been easy to get into the proper mindset. The core of the game is FUDGE, which is easy enough, but it has been customized nicely to give it that pulp feel. I think the best part of the game is the aspects, which are reminiscent of Pendragon’s personality traits but are wider in scope and even more useful in play. I also liked the way you could use aspects to build out your character background and reap mechanical rewards for doing so. A normal character has 10 aspects. The first eight for my character, Tristan Leclerc follow (the other two I’m still sorting). While many of the example aspects in the book are one or two words, I found that I liked creating more flavorful phrases. “From Paris to Peking” just sounds more exciting than “well-traveled.” I also tried to create a couple of “gimmes” for the GM, like Enemy of the People. These will not only make it easy for Dean to come up with plot complications that involve my back story, but will also give me a way to earn more fate points when he does so.

From Paris to Peking: Tristan’s father worked in France’s colonial administration. He spent most of his young life in places like Algeria and Indochina. He is familiar with many foreign customs and showed a talent for languages at a young age.

Connoisseur of Decadence: The colonial administrators lived in a different world than their subjects. This gave young Tristan an appreciation for the fine things in life, from wine and foie gras to cognac and cigars. During the war Tristan took particular delight in seizing such luxuries from the billets of enemy officers. To him such booty became synonymous with victory.

Demon of the Trenches: Ironically enough the longest period Tristan spent in France was during the Great War. He volunteered for the army to defend a country he had visited only a few times in his life. He developed into a fearsome trench fighter, eventually leading a unit of irregulars specializing in infiltration and close combat. Leclerc’s raiders were greatly feared by the Germans.

A Pox on All Generals: Watching the way his father was treated in the colonial administration gave Leclerc a healthy distrust of bureaucracies. During the Great War this blossomed into a full fledged hatred of hierarchies, and generals who led from the rear. The carnage of the trenches taught him that only the officers on the front line knew what was really going on. While these beliefs helped make him a highly effective combat leader, they also caused him to have no end of trouble with authority figures inside and outside of the military.

Allied Zeppelin Corps Veteran: After the war Leclerc thought he was done with the military. When he was offered a large sum of money to join a new unit called the Allied Zeppelin Corps, however, he changed his mind. This multinational force was posted to Archangel as part of the anti-Bolshevik effort organized by the victorious allies. Leclerc made a name for himself by thwarting the plot of Commissar Krasnaya to blow up the Zeppelin’s Corps headquarters.

Enemy of the People: The Soviets never forgot the Allied intervention after the Great War. Nor have they forgotten Leclerc. In addition to earning the enmity of Commissar Krasnaya, Leclerc also led a bombing raid that derailed Trotsky’s armored train. He has been dogged by Soviet agents ever since.

Brother of Heaven and Earth: Leclerc was cut adrift after the Allied Zeppelin Corps fell apart. He drifted across Latin and South America for several years working as a mercenary. He eventually ended up in China, where he was hired by the Kuomintang. There he became acquainted with several Triad organizations and the notorious Green Gang, who backed Chiang Kai Shek. These Triad connections have proved useful over the years.

Magnificent Butcher’s Apprentice: While in China Leclerc met Lam Sai Wing, “the Magnificent Butcher”. A famous martial artist, Lam had been a student of the legendary Wong Fei Hung and was later appointed the chief instructor of the army in the Fujian Province. Leclerc met him shortly after Lam’s official retirement. He convinced the old master to give him weapons training for six months, until events transpired that took the Frenchman to the USA.

Conflict at Studio Seven

When I was first getting into punk rock at age 15, I started with the English class of ’77 bands: the Clash, Sex Pistols, the Damned, etc. It didn’t take me long to start delving deeper into the music and discovering the disparate scenes and bands that fell under the overall punk moniker. I was particularly drawn to the anarcho and peace punk bands, as they were the most blatantly political and I was all about that as an angry young teenager. I got into English bands like Crass, the Subhumans, Flux of Pink Indians, and Rudimentary Peni. My favorite of those bands was Conflict though. They were like Crass (and in fact started on Crass’s record label before starting their own), but their music was more aggressive and they advocated direct action instead of Crass’s straight up pacifism. This was quite appealing to me when I was in high school. I kept hoping that Conflict would tour so I could see them, but they only came to America once in the 80s and that was a West Coast tour. A few years later they broke up.

Imagine my surprise then when I saw in the paper that Conflict was playing here. Naturally, I had to go, even though I hadn’t listened to much Conflict in some years. The show was this past Friday night at Studio 7, a cozy club in “Sodo”, a largely industrial area near the port part of the city. There couldn’t have been more than 250 people there, which suited me just fine. I got there towards the end of the Bloodclots set and based on three of their songs I’m OK with that. Next up was Anima Mundi. They were very much Crass influenced and somewhat interesting in that they had two drummers and four female members. As with many bands in this vein though, watching them play was like being lectured at for half an hour. They were, however, better than the final opening band, Scarred for Life. These guys were about the 3,000th band to ride Discharge’s coattails since 1980. The only thing even mildly notable about them was that the singer was cutting up his head and chest during the set and bleeding all over himself. Alas, such hackney antics don’t make a mediocre band any less mediocre.

At last at 11 pm Conflict hit the stage after a pre-recorded five minute bombastic intro. As near as I could tell it was mostly the original members and they passed the first reunion test by clearly being into what they were doing. The band was tight and they did not fuck around. For 75 minutes they slammed from one song into the next in a furious barrage of classic anarcho punk. They only played a few songs from their first record, but that was fine because they did most of side 1 of “Increase the Pressure,” which was the band at its best. I was pleased to hear both the single “This Is Not Enough” and its b-side “Neither Is This,” which date from the same era. Later in the set they did a bunch of songs from “the Ungovernable Force,” an album which managed to be more musically sophisticated while maintaining the band’s power and edge. The two singers from Anima Mundi came out at several points to do additional vocals for these songs and they were clearly geeked to be onstage with a band they must idolize. Overall, Conflict delivered a solid show. Good song selection, plenty of energy, apparent sincerity. And yet I could not escape the feeling that I was seeing this show 20 years too late.

Giving Characters Their Moments

I came down with some kind of flu today, so I’ve spent the day drinking tea, sleeping, and watching movies. Tonight the Western Channel was showing all the various Magnificent Seven movies in order. The original is one of my favorite westerns, but I had never seen any of the sequels. Each one follows the same basic framework. Downtrodden Mexicans need help, a gunslinger named Chris recruits a team of badass specialists, complications arise, and then there’s a big shootout in which some of the seven die.

The third one, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, was better than I expected, even with George Kennedy replacing Yul Brenner. You can definitely see the influence of 60s politics in the script (the likable kid who endears himself to the gunslingers, for example, is supposed to a young Zapata). This time there are some interesting new characters, like the mighty John Henry-like heavy and the one armed ex-Confederate trick shooter (played by Joe Don “Mitchell” Baker no less). Here’s the problem. In the final confrontation, none of these characters get their cool moments to show off their shticks. The really strong guy does not perform some heroic feat of strength before getting gunned down. The trick shooter does not make the improbable shot that saves the day. The guy who is supposed to be best knifeman in the west doesn’t even use a knife in the fight!

The whole climax was pretty disappointing because the writer didn’t follow through on the promise of the characters. Each one of these guys should have had his moment as the overall plot moved towards its conclusion. It’s a good thing to remember when writing fiction or when running roleplaying games.

Happy Happy, Joy Division

Thanks to one of my co-worker’s expansive collection of Joy Division CDs, I have been listening to a lot of Manchester’s bleakest lately. I’ve had a soft spot for Unknown Pleasures since I was in college but never did get around to acquiring their other material. Now a lot of their earliest songs have been made available, so a pretty complete document of the band has emerged. Joy Division is not a band for everyone, that’s for sure. They are like the soundtrack to a life movie of industrial and moral decay. Since Ian Curtis famously killed himself, the somberness of his lyrics and delivery has an undeniable authenticity. That guy was feeling it. And really Morrissey should have learned an important lesson from Joy Division. If you want us to believe that you are a tortured soul, just go ahead and kill yourself.

Now you might get the idea that me listening to a lot of Joy Division means I’m depressed or something. In fact, quite the opposite is true. I’m in a great mood and many good things are happening. Maybe the ghost of Ian Curtis just wants to make sure I’m keeping it real.

There Goes the Weekend

I had planned to go to the Emerald City Comic Con this weekend, but I had too much work to do. I probably didn’t miss much, since I was at NY Comic Con less than two months ago. Probably better for my wallet in the end and I did manage to catch up on a lot of stuff yesterday. Today I have to write. Well, after I am shanghaied into making breakfast anyway. Before Kate went to bed, she said, “You know, there’s bacon in the fridge. . .” She cracks me up.

Last night I came upstairs to find Kate watching House, which she loves. At one point House says to a patient, “Did you ever star in any pornos?”

Kate says, “What’s that supposed to mean?” Then she turns to me and asks, “What’s a porno?”

I tell her, “It’s something 11-year old girls don’t need to know about.” Though this answer would not satisfy many kids, Kate accepts it. Since she’s spent so much of her life around adults, she understands that there are adult things and kid things and that she’s not old enough for everything yet. She is really mature for her age though, so I suspect this acceptance isn’t going to last beyond age 12 or 13.