This year's list of Roleplaying game nominees is one that should give fans of the hobby a great deal of hope for the future. While the folks at Boing Boing may lament the new GSL and believe that it is the end of the roleplaying game industry and the beginning of the end of civilization, they are wrong.
All the OGL did, and still does by the way, is allow other people to make money on the backs of other people's hard work. The GSL will still allow that, it will just require that your derivative work be attached to a newer "operating system." This is not to say that a great deal of OGL products weren't creative and worthy products, they were (the Iron Kingdoms or Paizo's Pathfinder come to mind), just that they were derivative. Even the True 20 RPG, one of the most innovative adaptations of the d20 system ever created, is still an innovative adaptation. It should be noted that most of the independent gaming press is "closed."
Meanwhile in the world of game designs not dependent on other people's work, some game companies have created some remarkable game systems of their own and attached them to some great settings. For years we've seen high quality narrative design, but this year's nominees are showing us that design creativity is not a thing of the past.
Published by Fantasy Flight Games
Written by Robert Vaughn and Christian T. Petersen
Ever since 2003 when I first caught a glimpse of Fantasy Flight's d20 mini-campaign book for Grimm, I have wanted to see Fantasy Flight Games develop this great concept into its own roleplaying game with its own task resolution system. The initial book had promise and style, but the integration of the d20 system with the dark -- yet playful -- tone of a game where children adventure "in a world of twisted fairy tales" never quite meshed.
I waited four years until I was rewarded with last year's non-d20 GRIMM RPG. Gone is the d20 system and in is the Linear d6 system. This new system is easy to learn and allows those that are skilled at a particular task to succeed more often than they fail. Sure, there is still room for failure at tasks that should be routine or success at tasks that should be impossible, but those cases are rarer in the Linear d6 system than they are in many other games. This lack of wildly disparate results allows for the darker side of this game to shine. If a task needs to be done in order for the children to escape, but no one has sufficient skill in that area the tension of the scene is escalated and that is the root of horror.
My only quibble is that at $39.95 the book isn't full color. Given that the 1983 DMG for AD&D cost the equivalent of $31.93 in inflation adjusted dollars, this isn't too big a deal, but I would have liked to see more of the fairy tale artwork in color.
The Savage World of Solomon Kane
Published by Great White Games/Pinnacle Entertainment Group Written by Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams (with Shane Lacy Hensley)
I have long been on the Savage Worlds bandwagon. If you want a quick and easy, yet surprisingly adaptable, game system you can do a lot worse that the Savage Worlds roleplaying game. The original Savage Worlds rpg was inspired by pulps, Flash Gordon serials, pirate movies, and westerns and the games focus was on fast, furious, and fun action. Savage Worlds succeeded in general at this task. With The Savage World of Solomon Kane, Shane Lace Hensley and Paul "Wiggy" Wade-Williams take that general success and apply it to the particular. The result is one of the finest licensed roleplaying games ever written.
Wade-Williams writing is clear and concise, the artwork is of sufficient quality to capture the tone, and the fast, furious, and fun Savage Worlds rules set works as a perfect skeleton to run adventures in the world of Robert Howard's dark Puritan Kane. If you are a fan of Howard, or a fan of good rpgs, you can't go wrong with this game.
Published by Mongoose Publishing
Written by Matthew Grau and Fraser McKay
This game combines four things that any real geek loves: HP Lovecraft, Mecha, Modern Horror, and roleplaying games. CTHULHUTECH takes high concept to the next level and it pays off. Like the other games in this category, this game uses a "closed" system. As the designer puts it, "Framewerk, the proprietary system upon which CthulhuTech is built, is not only simple and intuitive, it is cinematic, exciting, and puts destiny back in the hands of the player. Its easy to grasp nature makes the game straightforward to learn and quick to start. Its clever dice mechanics make even the simplest of task resolutions exciting." At $49.95, you might balk at the price, but this is a strong entry in the field.
Published by Margaret Weis Productions
Written by Jamie Chambers
Jamie Chambers applies the Cortex system he developed for the SERENITY roleplaying game to Margaret Weis Productions second licensed television show roleplaying game and it works equally well. The system focuses on quick and easy resolution in an attempt to simulate the subject matter. The rules are very good, but as with any licensed product one must ask how well they apply to the material and how well researched is the material in the game. In both cases, the answer is quite well. Jamie Chambers is one of the hardest working people in the industry and it shows in this game. I can't wait for MWP to release their SUPERNATURAL roleplaying game and I will certainly be purchasing the forthcoming Cortex rulebook.
Faery's Tale Deluxe
Published by Green Ronin Publishing
Written by Patrick Sweeney, Sandy Antunes, Christina Stiles, and Robin D. Laws
FAERY'S TALE DELUXE attempts the very difficult. It attempts to be a roleplaying game that can be taught to children 6 and older while still appealing to the core (older) roleplaying audience. I think that it succeeds. Patricia Ann Lewis-MacDougall's artwork is reminiscent of Arthur Rackham's work providing the book with a real sense of wonder, but allowing it to be (as Barrie would put it) "innocent and terrible." The fairy's that the players of the game control are good at heart, but if their magic is put to evil purposes there are consequences which can be terrible. The game system is easy to learn and simulates its source material well. It's not a "universal" system by any means, but it is a good simulation of fairy interaction. The game, and supporting adventure products, is high quality and inexpensive.
Aces & Eights
Published by Kenzer & Co.
Written by Jolly R. Blackburn, Brian Jelke, Steve Johansson, Dave Kenzer, Jennifer Kenzer and Mark Plemmons
Have you ever wanted to play a really robust simulation of a showdown at High Noon? Have you ever wanted to use a plastic overlay to determine just what part of the varmint you just shot with your Colt Peacemaker was pierced by your bullet? Have you ever wanted to play in a detailed "Old West that Never Was?" If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then ACES AND EIGHTS might just be written for you. This is a game which has rules tailor made for its source material. Blackburn and crew put their nose to the grindstone and created a worthy successor to BOOT HILL.
MY PICK: All of these are worth your money, but there's something about GRIMM that keeps me coming.
Next Week, I'll hit the remainder of the nominees.