GenCon 2015 is at the end of this month, and I’m not going. This makes me very sad, but I’m at least able to enjoy the flurry of excitement online that coincides with roleplaying’s biggest weekend of the year. Part of that is enjoying a period of retrospection, as we look back over the year since the last GenCon, and see how the industry has matured in that time. A couple of weeks ago, the nominations for the Ennies Awards and the Diana Jones Award were announced, which frames that discussion quite nicely.
With the possible exception of the Origins Games Fair (and its accompanying awards show), GenCon is The Time for RPG awards. The Ennies, Diana Jones and Indie RPG Awards are all announced there, which collectively are as prestigious as RPG accolades get. Most of my roleplaying friends couldn’t be less interested in these prizes, reasoning that the perspectives of faraway judges and voters has little-to-no relevance to their enjoyment of the hobby. I have a weird fascination though. Even as I grumble about bizarre eligibility criteria and “wrong” winners, curiosity (or my competitive spirit) brings me back each year to see who came out on top.
So here’s my perspective on the recent nominations, partly cribbed from discussions I had with friends on social media recently. Maybe I can make it a double bill when the winners are announced.
The Ennies are the only awards I can recall (besides the Indie RPG Awards) that are exclusively for RPG-related products and services, excluding all other forms of tabletop gaming. It’s perhaps surprising then that there are so many different categories, 22 in total. Nominations are selected by a judging panel, but the winners (and the line up of next year’s judging panel) are determined by popular vote. Consequently, being nominated is a huge honour, but WINNING is almost meaningless. Since only a fraction of public voters will have played more than one of the games in each category, let alone all of them, there’s no realistic way for everyone involved to be making an informed choice. The result is that the winning entry is not so much the “best” as it is the game with the biggest fan-base, i.e. the one that sold the most.
Anyway, here are the nominations:
Since Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition came out this year, it’s probably looking at a clean sweep, for the reasons mentioned above. (When 4th edition landed in 2009, it took Golds or Silvers in every category it had products nominated for, including Golds for Best Game, Best Rules and Product of the Year.) I think that’s a shame. Not because I hate D&D 5th (though I certainly don’t love it), but because I think lots of designers worked on interesting and inventive games this year that will be overshadowed entirely by D&D’s monolithic omnipresence.
Bit of a controversy this year, as Don Mappin’s unlicensed, fan-created Mass Effect RPG was nominated for three awards (including Product of the Year!), but subsequently withdrawn for copyright violation. This is also a little disappointing – not because I disagree with the decision the Ennies made in response to discovering the game’s lack of licensing (mandatory disclaimer: intellectual property theft is bad), but because the Mass Effect RPG had been one of the few nominees I’d heard nothing about before. I was excited by the prospect of encountering something unfamiliar that was allegedly very good. Raising attention for under-appreciated, high quality work is a vital service, and one of the things awards like the Ennies do really well. It’s a shame to see it disappear from the line-up, especially as Mappin has also removed its availability to download, but I’m sure the nominees that have taken its place are equally worthy entries.
Anyway, a few more notes…
It’s pretty sad that Monster of the Week can be released a couple of years ago by an indie developer and pick up nothing, and then get re-released by a (semi) major company with minimal changes and get a nomination for Best Rules. That might not be the Ennies’ fault though, it might not have been submitted for consideration on original release.
There’s something a bit weird about all of the big nominees being released at LAST GenCon, but not being nominated until THIS Ennies. I mean, I know why it’s the case, but it still feels my brain is doing mental gymnastics around the timeline.
I don’t understand what the difference between Best Blog and Best Website is. Especially if Age of Ravens is nominated for the latter, not the former.
I should run/play Firefly, given I’m coming up on the anniversary of me buying the book.
I should maybe try Mutant: Year Zero.
I should definitely try the Cypher system.
DIANA JONES AWARD
Conferred at a closed party that marks the unofficial start of GenCon, the Diana Jones Awards contrasts with the Ennies in several respects. Instead of winners being conferred by popular vote, they are chosen by a panel of anonymous industry professionals. Instead of having 20-odd different awards to win, there is only one. And ANYTHING related to tabletop gaming can win that award, including, according to the award’s website, “individuals, products, publications, publishers, distributors, retailers, clubs, organisations, conventions, events, trends, innovations and concepts”. There’s something vaguely cultish about the way the Diana Jones Award operates (which, knowing nerds, is probably intentional), but given my misgivings about the Ennies above, I can certainly understand the appeal.
Here are the nominations:
First thought: how can Torchbearer possibly be eligible? It was an Indie RPG Awards winner LAST year. The PDF on DriveThruRPG was last updated on September 17th 2013; perhaps a hard copy was released since then, but it would seem like a technicality at best. It’s also notable that it’s the only new RPG on the list of nominees, and didn’t pick up any nominations at the Ennies. Perhaps because it was considered ineligible.
I kind of hope the Guide to Glorantha doesn’t win. It looks great, but nothing that big can possibly operate as a play aid in any practical way. If it’s just supposed to a book enjoyed for its own sake, as a celebration of roleplaying, then surely Designers and Dragons is the worthier winner.
What I hope DOES win is College of Wizardry. I don’t even larp really, but that game looked blisteringly awesome.
INDIE RPG AWARD
Why is the website for the Indie RPG Awards trying to sell me homeowners insurance?