Thursday, August 8, 2013

Gen Con, What Game Companies Need to Do & Apologizing to Rifts

I will be at Gen Con next week, Friday through Sunday. That should give Sherri plenty of time to play Animal Crossing: New Leaf and possibly deal with the new kitten. I’m looking forward to picking up my Hillfolk Kickstarter and some other things from Pelgrane.

If you’re going to be at Gen Con, hunt me down. I haven’t signed up for anything, planning on mostly seminars and shopping. I hope to go to the podcasting seminar on Friday. I have an appointment late Saturday afternoon and late Sunday morning, but otherwise planned nothing out. I’ll have a copy of my board game Right of Succession and the homebrew rpg, Action Cards, we’ve been playing for the last decade+ if anyone wants to see those. I’m going to try to keep my kit otherwise to a minimum, with maybe Microscope and some other stuff. Anyway I hope to run into some people I know. If you’re going to be there, leave a comment or email me at edige23 (insert obligatory symbol here)

My Gen Con hunting list includes:
2. 43AD
3. The Justice Trade for Ashen Stars. (maybe…there's a bunch Pelgrane stuff on this list…)
4. DragonMech (If I can find a bundle of this stuff for a decent price)
5. The Edge of Midnight (They had a bundle deal on these last year that I passed on because of the weight. I might try again. Another maybe.)
6. The Esoterrorists 2nd Edition (maybe- if it is available)
7. Eternal Lies (The new ToC campaign. Even though I'm not sure I'll get a chance to run it, I want to read it. Another maybe.)
8. FATE Accelerated (The one thing I didn’t get a printed copy of from the KS).
9. Iron Kingdoms (I’d like to find some older stuff cheap perhaps? Someone contacted me that they have some to sell, so I might hold off.)
10. Monsterhearts (Sherri wants a printed copy of this.)
11. Double Tap for NBA
12. Over the Edge (2nd Edition) (Another one someone offered to sell me. If I see a really cheap copy, though).
14. Robinson Crusoe: Adventure on the Cursed Island (The one board game my wife insists I buy if I see it).
16. Strongholds of the Empire (I'm hoping AEG might have a POD copy of this at their booth.
That’s a wishlist, so we’ll have to see what fraction the budget can support.

A couple of weeks ago I had the chance to play a demo game of 13th Age via G+Hangouts/Roll20. I had fun and importantly it closed the deal on my decision to pick up a copy of the game. It occurs to me that online demos, done regularly could be an effective supplement to f2f conventions. They reduce the overhead costs of travel and create an AP video which can be pointed to. Companies could tie participation perhaps to a coupon or discount.

To really do that well, companies need to step up the kinds of tools and packages they have available for online play. Demos specifically created for online play- with an interactive packet. For example, pre-generated characters but with form-fillable sheets to mark damage or conditions. Create a set of tokens to match those characters. That would be enough to allow GMs to easily use those with their own scenarios online. Going a step further, maps from the demo could be put together and made available on these services- in this case I’m particularly talking about Roll20. Tokens for opposition and NPCs could be possible as well. The maps and extra tokens could be a nice touch, but not necessary.

Roll20 has made a nice cottage industry for artists creating general tokens and maps. For a number of years smaller companies have been creating token and map packs, particularly for VTT but often useful in jpeg format for other applications. Savage Worlds in particular has been great about providing image and token support for their products. However many of these still appear on sheets, requiring the GM to cut, paste and size to create them. I think companies need to be really looking at how to support online play by providing ready-made tokens (and maps) suitable to these kinds of games. That’s true even for games which don’t require a fully tactical map. It would be nice to have a set of tokens based on the art work for games like Night’s Black Agents or Ashen Stars. The GM could use those to show relative positions and groupings. Use the art assets from the books. One company who really ought to be doing this is Privateer for Iron Kingdoms. They have great art assets- for face-on tokens. But they also have the various overhead icons and silhouettes they use for the rpg and miniatures game diagrams. I’d love to run Iron Kingdoms online- and if I could buy several packs of those, it would make my life easier.

Games with odd or unusual tracking systems or set ups really need to think about how someone will play their game online. I’ve seen various approaches to Fiasco. We played using a shared Google Doc, but I’ve also seen some lovely set ups that create a board space and make writing and placing the detail cards really easy. In the near future I want to run Microscope online- and to do that I’m going to have to figure out the best way to have the players write up and arrange the cards. I’d love an interactive app for that that displays nicely in Roll20. The same thing holds for similar games like Last Best Hope and Durance. Ideally I should be able to pull up simple tools that recreate some of those visuals onscreen.

That’s one of the challenges facing DramaSystem aka Hillfolk. I really hope that they’ve already developed the best and most attractive methodology for playing online using Roll20 or something like it. I’m not talking about just screen-share and a document, but art or tool bits to handle the several oddball stages of the game. For example, we need an easy way to build the relationship map. That should be possible with those tools- but a template would be helpful. We also need a means of tracking the various expendables. Finally we need a guide for how to easily set up the card resolution system with the Roll20 tools.

Because here’s the thing- my best chance for trying out these new games and sharing them with people lies in online play. Maybe I’ll be able to try them out with my f2f group, but we’re likely deep in our campaigns. Maybe I can get to a convention, but I only go to a couple each year. But if there’s a well set-up and attractive option to play online, I’m likely to take it these days.

I posted about running Hollowpoint last week. We had a moment during the break when Nick, glancing at my gaming shelf, spotted Fantasy HERO and commented “somebody likes math.” That turned us onto a brief discussion of systems and history. I’d played HERO for about twenty years before setting it aside. The same thing with other clunky systems like Rolemaster. I made a joke about all games being worthwhile, except Rifts. At which point a couple of people said that’s where they’d started and they’d had a great time playing it. Consider me properly schooled. I thought back to the predecessor of Rifts and the whole Palladium canon, the original Mechanoid Invasion. We’d played and loved that. The system was a hot mess, but we had a good time playing it.

In the monthly board gaming group we have a couple of people who loudly and angrily decry Worker Placement and Deck-Building games. That seems weird to me, but then again I’m not a fan of race games. I have to remember a system may not be something I want to play or run, but that doesn’t invalidate it. For example, I don’t particularly care for Dungeons & Dragons 4e- but many people do. I thought I might want to try a classic game so I picked up a copy of Dark Dungeons. But man, I do not want to work through that. It doesn’t do anything for me…but lots of people talk about the Rules Cyclopedia fondly. OSR has no particular appeal to me, but many smart and creative folks embrace it and I've tried. The same with pure story games.

That’s a lesson I have to relearn every few years. There’s sometimes the pressure, especially in the high social media age, to rise to defend vigorously anything you like. I don’t think that’s a bad instinct, except that people carry it too far. Someone’s dislike of your favored system isn’t a crime to be vilified. Someone suggesting alternative approaches isn’t an assault on your game practices. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Shoepixie has a great postconsidering what she gets out of radically different games. She contains multitudes, as I hope do we all. 

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