Friday, September 12, 2014

Two Unpublished Superhero Role Playing Games I'd Love to See Printed in Print on Demand

I am an avid collector of Superhero Role Playing Games with a collection that ranges from Superhero 2044 to Icons: Assembled Edition. It's a bit of an obsession with me and I have it as a goal to eventually own every super hero role playing game ever published. The advent of digital publishing has made this a little more difficult than it was, as it has led to an explosion of super hero games, but I am still trying. 

A perfect example of how difficult this can be is Plaid Rabbit's Modern Knights superhero role playing game. Have you never heard of Plaid Rabbit or Modern Knights? They were a part of the growing digital publishing industry in the late 90s and early 00s. Much like Steve Jackson Games' digital Pyramid, finding copies of Plaid Rabbit games is nigh impossible - especially if you are like me and seek to only acquire your games through legal means. Digital is great, but when material disappears it strangely really disappears. And this is in a format that should allow for truly deep catalog retention due to ease of "shelf space" etc. 

But we collectors don't just have to worry about the evaporation of digital games, because our collecting mind is also tortured by the "advertised but never released game." These are games that were far enough along in the development cycle that the publishers spend advertising dollars to promote them, or at minimum to offer them for solicitation. When it comes to this category of games, there are two superhero role playing games that I would have loved to see in print. I also hope that the publishers - one that is still in business and one recently resurrected - see fit to at minimum offer these games digitally.

d20 Modern Spectaculars
Yes, you read the title of the first game correctly. Wizards of the Coast at one time planned to publish a superhero role playing game for there d20 Modern rules set. Wizards had already released a number of high quality products in the line. Enough that any skepticism I might have regarding the ability of the d20 System to smoothly handle superheroic action were dismissed by my enthusiasm. Here's the advertising blurb for d20 Modern Spectaculars:

New for July in WoTC 2005 calendar:

d20 Spectaculars: New rules for running a d20 Modern campaign in a super-heroic setting.

This new supplement for d20 Modern provides a campaign setting where player characters become the first super heroes. Characters begin with only a few tricks, but as they increase in level they gain fantastic powers. d20 Spectaculars provides everything players and Gamemasters need to participate in super-heroic adventures, including rules for super powers, power trees, new classes, and equipment. A full campaign setting with material and adventure seeds suitable for all levels of play is included.
by Mike Mearls, Bill Slavicsek, Owen K.C. Stephens; 160 pages, $29.95

Let me repeat those designer names again. Mike Mearls (who's work on D&D has been spectacular), Bill Slavicsek (Paranoia, Star Wars, D&D, Pokemon Jr.), and Owen K.C. Stephens (a designer who can make the d20/3.x/Pathfinder system do essentially anything) were the designers on the project. Stephens has been as open as an NDA allows on the subject, but he has made it clear that the designers were paid and treated well even though this product was cancelled. I desperately wish that Hasbro would devote like 60 hours of development to finish the manuscript and put it up on their D&D Classics page. That's all I ask...that or a super secret copy of the unpublished manuscript which I will put into a steel vault and never mention to anyone.


On the opposite end of the "graphic design" and "modern mechanics" spectrum is Judges Guild's never released Supra-Sentinels role playing game. The game would have likely been published in 1983 if Judges Guild hadn't gone out of business. Based on the publisher, the art, and the advertisements, this game would have been an interesting glimpse into what a late stage old school superhero role playing game would have looked like mechanically.

There has been some talk by the designers of the game - on rpg collector message boards - that there is interest in seeing this game published. Given Judges Guild's stuttering rebirth in the early 00s, followed by their recent Kickstarter and cooperation with Goodman Games, it seems like a possibility. Given that Goodman Games is publishing old Judges Guild modules - and Journals - in hardback format without "updating," I would love to see them give Supra-Sentinels a similar treatment.

I honestly don't know what the market outside of "me" looks like for these products, but I would purchase them in a heart beat. I'd even try to get my players to play them for a spell.

Then again, if I could get reliable contact information for Donald Saxman I'd love to see if he would be interested in doing a 2nd edition of Superhero 2044 with some rules editions by Wayne Shaw. I'd love to do an edition of the game that highlighted the influence that it had on the superhero game genre. Speaking of which, it's time for me to get my nose to the grindstone and finish that Superhero 2044 combat tutorial I promised.

Monday, September 08, 2014

#RPGaDAY Days 8&9 in one Post Because "My Favorite Character" Stories are Painful

I honestly cannot believe that Dave Chapman (@autocratik +Autocratik) actually asked gamers to discuss their favorite character. There are fewer things in all of geekdom more annoying than listening to gamers convey the "epic" adventures of their favorite characters. In fact, the order of annoyance in geekdom is:

1) Filksinging
2) Guys who blog about "Fake Geek Girls"
3) Conversations about a player's favorite character and why you should allow his/her 25th Level Anti-Paladin of Asmodeus who wields a +10 unholy avenger, rides an Apparatus of Kwalish, and lives is a Fortress of Daern into your low-level campaign because "I can mentor your other players how to win at D&D."

There are no exceptions to this being annoying. It is even annoying when I do it. I could discuss how much I love my Cathar Vampire from a short lived World of Darkness Middle Ages campaign. I could discuss my steampunk influenced Amberite who manufactured a Golem horse with which I rode through Shadow opposing the vile Benedict. I could even mention "Molecular Man" my Vision-esque character, and one of the first characters I ever played in Champions.

I could mention all of them, but no. I'm going to take you down the rabbit hole that is Tae Pao Kee. When Oriental Adventures came out, I noticed three things. First, the Kensai was badass. Second, the new martial arts rules were crazy cool. Third, the changes to the Monk class shifted the character from a Destroyer pastiche (as stated in the preface to Oriental Adventures...yes...Monks are Remo Williams)  to a mix between one of the Five Deadly Venoms and San Te from The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

From that moment, I knew I had to make a Human Kensai who became a Monk. After all, being a +5 weapon who can declare maximum damage "x" times a day comes in really handy when you have all the Monk abilities added on. And when your martial art does somewhere between 5d8 and 15d8 (depending on when you multiply the damage from a flying kick or add bonus Monk dice), you quickly see why the good folks at TSR designed the Bloodstone series of adventures. Oh...and not only was Tae Pao Kee grossly overpowered...he lived in a Fortress of Daern.

As for my favorite dice? I have to say that I love the Zocchi set that is used in Dungeon Crawl Classics the rpg.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

Answering SF Signal's Questions/Meme Regarding Science Fiction and Fantasy Reading/Buying Habits

A Small Glimpse at the Bookshelf

I'm a regular reader of the SF Signal blog. I think it and Blackgate blog are two of the best fandom based blogs on the internet. I am also not usually one for answering book memes, but since this one is directed at science fiction and fantasy - my two favorite genre - and since it offers plenty of room to avoid pretentious answers I'm all in. I also think that this is a list of questions that can spur on some discussion.

The questions come from John DeNardo's post earlier today.

Here’s a book meme that focuses on reading habits and buying habits.
You know the drill: Copy the questions below and paste them into the comments with your answers. Answer as many or as few as you’d like.
  • What was the last sf/f/h book you finished reading? David Gemmell's DARK MOON
  • What was the last sf/f/h book you did not finish reading and why? This does not happen. As a "completist," I feel a need to always finish a book. This is maybe especially true when I dislike it.
  • What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you liked but most people didn’t? This is kind of a tough question, but since it is supposedly the worst writing ever done I'll say the EYE OF ARGON. It was nowhere near as bad as I feared, and doesn't compare in syntax/creativity/spelling errors to "The Quest for the Holey Grail" that Luke Y Thompson has been reading on Topless Robot.
  • What was the last sf/f/h book you read that you disliked but most people did? The Wheel of Time series prior to Brandon Sanderson joining the team. While I may love my D&D campaigns to be a patchwork quilt of all the fiction I love - like Mystara - I'm not sure I like my fantasy epics to be.
  • How long do your 1-sitting reading sessions usually last? Depends upon the book. A short book is 2 hours a long one might be eight, but I rarely do longer than an 8 hour 1-sitting read.
  • Do you like it so far? Yes. It's the third book in the series, but it covers a good deal of Bosch's background. I was surprised to see how they integrated the plot from this book into the BOSCH pilot.
  • How long ago did you buy the book you are currently reading (or the last book you read)? About a year ago/just a couple of weeks ago.
  • What was the last physical sf/f/h book you bought? ROGUES and PROMISE OF BLOOD
  • What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you like the most and why? Sword & Sorcery. Have you read Michael Moorcock, Fritz Leiber, Garth Nix, David Gemmell, Elizabeth Moon, C.L. Moore, and James Enge? If so, you understand.
  • What is the sf/f/h sub-genre you dislike the most and why? Steampunk. It's not that I don't like the genre, it's that I don't like the classification. Too little Steampunk has any punk element at all. They all seem oddly conservative in their nostalgia and focus. There are exceptions, but as a rule I think if you are going to call yourself "punk" you ought to have punk elements. So I call it Steampulp.
  • What is your favorite electronic reading device? Kindle.
  • Do you read books exclusively in 1 format (physical/electronic)? No. I like both tablets and books for reading. 
  • Do you read eBooks exclusively on a single device (eBook reader/ smartphone / tablet)? No. I tend to avoid using the iPhone because it can cause eye strain and I don't like reading books on a laptop screen. Tablets and Kindles both work well though.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

#RPGaDAY #7 Most "Intellectual" RPG Owned -- My Answer Might Just Surprise You

For the seventh entry in his #RPGaDAY project Dave Chapman (aka +Autocratik aka @autocratik) asked the members of the gaming community to answer what the most "intellectual" RPG we owned were. Dave's own answer set the tone when his response was non-ironic. He wanted us to share the game that we legitimately thought was most intellectual -- though some people still answered the game ironically with responses like "Marvel as it has the most super geniuses." In the non-ironic responses there were references to Nobilis (Dave's own choice), Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth, Mage: The Ascension, and other games from the "avant-garde" or "artiste" era of role playing game design.

In many ways, I think that the listed choices does a disservice to the many games that preceded the games of this era, not to mention many games that came after these admittedly intellectual games. When I think of intellectual, I tend to think of it in two categories. The first is "thought provoking" in the philosophic sense and the second is "well researched" akin to a dissertation or research paper. All of those above qualify by both standards, but so do many others.

One cannot deny that Chivalry and Sorcery by Ed Simbalist and Wilf Backhaus wasn't a well researched role playing game, or AD&D for that matter.  

Steve Perrin and Ray Turney's Runequest is a mythopoeic marvel - especially in its use of Greg Stafford's Glorantha setting - that provide interesting intellectual fodder regarding the origins of faith.

Tom Moldvay's Lords of Creation touches on many of the issues that the later "artiste" games cover. Being a "Lord of Creation" in that game is to be a game master who makes new worlds.

There are many others of the classic era of gaming - I didn't touch upon Empire of the Petal Throne for example - but there are also more recent games like LacunaMy Life with Master, or the controversial Vampires by Victor Gijsbers. Vampires is an attempt at a deconstructionist roleplaying game, but requires an explanatory essay. The essay and the conversation around the game are thought provoking though and all three of the games mentioned are story telling games of the post-modern school.

I own all of the games mentioned above, but not one of them is the game that I believe to be the most intellectual game that I own. That game - a game that combines scholarship, mechanical innovations, and is thought provoking - is Joseph Goodman's Dungeon Crawl Classics. The game was inspired, and is informed, by the author's intellectual desire to understand the literary inspirations that influenced Dungeons & Dragons. Goodman read the entirety of Appendix N for the purpose of learning about D&D and this led him to desire to create his own RPG. Given the length and breadth of Appendix N, that's a pretty scholarly effort in my opinion and worthy of praise. His game balances mechanical innovations and nostalgia. It also fosters discussion as to what exactly the purpose of role playing is.