Aside from all the D&D stuff I’ve already talked about, there were a couple other big RPG developments, as well as a few that I was interested in following personally.
One of the surprise announcements and releases from the convention, FFG obtained various Star Wars game licenses, including the RPG license most recently held by Wizards of the Coast. Available for purchase at the show was a full production value rules “beta” for the first in a set of three RPGs. This volume is called Star Wars: Edge of the Empire and focuses on the players being bounty hunters, smugglers, and other scoundrels operating on the fringes of Imperial society in the classic Star Wars era.
The core of the system is reminiscent of FFG’s recent Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay system, using custom dice that take into account both a character’s abilities and skills as well as the difficulty and related challenges of the action, all rolled into a single dice pool. The symbols indicate successes and failures as well as bigger positive and negative twists, with the positives and negatives canceling each other out to give you a total. While I actually enjoy the use of custom dice in games to open up game design possibilities, I find the symbols completely unintutive. WHFR had symbols that were much easier to parse what was positive and what was negative, while the Star Wars dice (the beta includes stickers to go onto your existing dice to play, or you can pay $5 to download an app) don’t make nearly as much sense to interpret.
Though this is called a beta product, you’d be hard pressed to guess that from a casual glance. Full color pages, good paper stock, art, layout, and everything you’d expect from a complete RPG are here, though I strongly suspect the final product will be a box set not unlike WHFR. There are 8 alien species (including one kind of droid) to choose from for characters, as well as 6 classes, each with multiple specializations encompassing a range of fringe types. There are some basic options for being force sensitive, but Jedi are off-limits until the third RPG books comes out.
One particular stand out mechanic in the game is the obligations that each character must take. Whether your character owes money to a crime lord (a classic) or is drug addicted, the characters all have shady pasts that they are trying to stay ahead of. The GM assembles a list of all the obligations into a chart, which is used to determine randomly whose obligation might come into focus that session, with very real consequences for the character. Of course, the characters can take on greater depths of obligation for more benefits, but increasing the chance that the whole group will get caught up in it.
I’m looking forward to giving the game a try from what I’ve read. I liked Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and there’s enough character options for me to sink my teeth into. FFG has had great success with another sci-fi license– the Warhammer 40k family of RPGs. When the first 40k RPG was released, Dark Heresy, it was a pretty bold step not letting players take the role of Space Marines immediately. Here too, they’re taking a risk with not letting people play Jedi immediately, coupled with the “boxed factor” of WHFR. How it all plays out remains to be seen, as Star Wars has a pretty strong pedigree as far as RPGs go.
I’ve covered 13th Age, the “love letter to D&D” RPG being designed by two RPG design veterans, previously. I was invited to play another demo run by Rob Heinsoo, one of the two designers, while at Gen Con. It turns out I was also in the game with the head Robot Viking himself, who wrote up his impressions of the game after the demo.
After a second play, I can see a lot more of the potential in the game system. Rob focused a lot on using the choices from the players to make characters as world building tools. Your “one unique thing” automatically states something about the world, and that can tie heavily into your relationships with the Icons, which in turn define what kind of stories you’d like the game to be about. A game with some heavy ties to the Orc Lord, for instance, is different than one that has a lot more going on with the Archmage, and so on. In the game, Rob heavily leaned on those connections to Icons to find out why we were together as a group, eventually settling into roughly dividing us into more heroic types and those with a more shady past, put into a showdown before being ambushed by outside monsters. Additionally, the backgrounds (the equivalent of skills) go a long way towards all this as well, for if you have “Trained by the Assassins of the 9th Order +4” the DM now has an organization to incorporate.
The system really held up a lot more on second play, and I’m looking into getting into a campaign of it soonish (as well as tossing money into their expansion book’s Kickstarter). There are still parts that I absolutely adore that I wish more games would use: the escalation die, the method of handling distances (i.e. their answer to grid/no-grid), and the approach to skills. There are also parts, especially in class design, that I’m still not super fond of, but 13th Age still stands out as a strong option for D&D fans.
13th Age‘s publisher, Pelgrane Press, looks like it has become a really strong presence in the RPG world. I picked up Night’s Black Agents, the newest version of their GUMSHOE system that focuses on high action spies opposing a conspiracy of vampires (tailored to the GM’s preferences of style in both spies and vampires) that I am working on a full review of. The biggest news for Pelgrane was the amount of Ennie nominations and wins for their products. The adventures and supplements they put out are inventive and top notch, and I hope they continue to put out settings and supplements that push the bar a little further out there. Plus, between them and Chaosium, there’s an endless wealth of Lovecraftian stories to experience.
The Onyx Path (The Future of White Wolf)
I received updates second hand from my friend Justin who was attending a panel promising a big announcement. Well, it was a pretty big announcement:
White Wolf Publishing, which was bought by CCP Games in 2006, is spinning off a publishing imprint called The Onyx Path which will largely take over the RPG publishing side of things. (Correction: The Onyx Path is its own company with White Wolf veterans with license to produce products that were formerly White Wolf’s- more details in the comments). From what it looks to me, CCP wanted the IP for the World of Darkness, but doesn’t have experience in overseeing a print publishing company, and as a result White Wolf has been spinning a bit over these past few years. Combine that with major changes in technology that White Wolf has been embracing (mainly in Print-on-Demand and Kickstarter) and so you can see why they would need to change their corporate structure. The Onyx Path will be the company that handles the RPG publishing end, while CCP/White Wolf can keep the rights to the IP to continue to work on the World of Darkness WoD and other such projects.
While this hopefully means a better situation for all involved, the important thing to RPG consumers are the products. In addition to a full slate of new World of Darkness and classic World of Darkness books (including Werewolf20), it also means a return of the fan-favorite Exalted, and older beloved licenses like the Trinity superhero universe. It also means brand new games.
Of personal interest to me are the new Mage: The Ascension books coming out. Word from the panels is that if Werewolf 20 does well enough, Mage 20 might be behind it. Let’s get on that, people!
Goodbye RedBrick, Hello (Again) FASA
This was an announcement that slipped by me at Gen Con and is getting more press now: classic game publisher FASA is coming back, taking over many of the properties formerly owned by RedBrick LLC (which is shutting down.) Among the game license pick-ups are Earthdawn, Blue Planet, and Fading Suns. Notably absent from the list are some of the former FASA’s biggest games, notably Battletech and Shadowrun, which are now owned by Catalyst Game Lab. The story behind FASA’s return is still developing.
Marvel Heroic Roleplaying
To close, I’ll talk about the RPG that I was most heavily involved with. While part of a big team that puts out the game (and thus largely avoiding booth duty!) I was really happy to see the game pick up the gold Ennie for Best Rules, silver Ennie for Best Game, and silver Ennie for Product of the Year, all three of which are pretty major awards. As one of the chief playtesters, playtest coordinators, and developers on the basic game, I was really happy for the recognition the game received at the convention. The Civil War book was out in print at the show as well and seemed to be moving briskly- be sure to check out the Premium edition if you’d like to see the random datafile creator I designed, and the entire event itself for a lot of work from the Chatty DM and his team. Additionally, I wrote two of the convention adventures used for the official slots, which sold out very quickly in advance. I ran one session of MODOK’s 11 which went very well (Bob was kind enough to take over one for me) and I got to hear all kinds of stories about trying to punch Galactus. There were also additional games of Marvel happening at Games on Demand and elsewhere. It was very gratifying to see the game being played after so much work from so many people.
That’s the big non-D&D news that crossed my attention from Gen Con. What were you interested in?