Last time I wrote about the RPG campaigns I played in this year (with an unflattering spotlight on Dungeons and Dragons), along with the conventions I attended, the gaming brunches I ate at, and the blog I’m currently writing for.
Today I’m aiming for something a bit less egotistical, with a review of 2015 for the roleplaying hobby as a whole. Though it might just be the bits of the hobby that I find interesting. My ego can’t be contained.
THE BIG RELEASES
Roleplaying tradition is for all the major releases to launch in time for GenCon, and this year was no exception…
- The Wheaton Effect, which states that any game reviewed by Will Wheaton‘s Tabletop can expect a sharp hike in sales, reached its absurd extreme this year, with Wheaton essentially commissioning a new gaming system for his buddies to play. Hence Titansgrave, Geek and Sundry’s new show, led to the release of the Fantasy “Adventure Gaming Engine” (AGE), formerly developed for Green Ronin’s Dragon Age RPG. Both Dragon Age and Titansgrave received accompanying hard-copy releases too, and for Dragon Age, this is the first time the game has appeared in a complete rulebook package, rather than a series of boxsets. At it’s heart, AGE is a D20 game without a D20, but it seems to be making waves.
- Monte Cooke‘s Cypher System, which debuted with Numenera in 2013 and followed up with The Strange in 2014, was released this year as a settingless, standalone product. The intention here seems to be to replicate the success of Fate Core – conventional wisdom is that settingless RPG systems do not sell. Cypher doesn’t seem to have as loyal a fanbase as Fate Core, but Numenera did triumph over Fate as Ennies “Product of the Year” last year, so clearly it has its adherents.
- Feng Shui 2 landed after a freefall from an exploding helicopter, and it was awesome. Interestingly, from Robin Laws’ testimony at Dragonmeet, there doesn’t appear to be any intention to follow up the rulebook with supplemental releases. I guess Atlas Games have their sights set on something else next year…
- The new Star Wars RPG trilogy concluded with Force and Destiny, the game of Jedi and other Force wielders. I’m sure Fantasy Flight Games will be pumping out their usual sourcebook formula for years to come, but I wonder if they plan to follow up with any other core Star Wars lines. We know they already have the license for The Force Awakens miniatures – a tie-in roleplaying game would be a logical next step.
I’ve not played any of these games yet (excepting a beta test of Feng Shui 2 at GenCon ’14, and a one-off Edge of the Empire/Force and Destiny mash-up this Autumn), but they’re definitely on my radar. Force and Destiny is The Game I want to be starting in the new year, and I would not say no if someone ran me a game of Numenera. For the AGE system though, I’m holding out for Blue Rose. A conventional kill-and-loot adventurer fantasy game does not interest me.
Although they’re not high-profile releases, two other games launched this year piqued my interest for a different reason: I playtested them!
The first of them is Evil Hat’s War of Ashes, aka the reason this blog exists. Adapted from the ZombieSmith wargame, War of Ashes adapts Fate for use in miniatures combat, within a “grimsical” fantasy setting. Following the example set by Rick Neal for the Dresden Files playtest, my early posts were entirely a fulfilment of the “Disclosure Agreement” I signed with Evil Hat to talk about the game as much as possible. It seems so long ago that flicking through a finished copy is a little surreal, but also an absolute delight. The book is beautiful – the top notch artwork throughout matches the unique tone of the game perfectly.
The second is Elizabeth Lovegrove’s Rise and Fall, a short story game presenting the lifecycle of a dystopia, that features in Pelgrane Press’ Seven Wonders anthology. I signed a Non Disclosure Agreement for this one (hence why I didn’t mention it as I did War of Ashes), but since my name is now printed in the book’s playtester credits, I figure it’s safe to mention my involvement. The best thing about owning this one is I now have six other story games to try out as well, including ones written by friends within the London Indie RPG Meet.
I had problems with both of these games during the beta stage, but that’s sort of the point of playtesting. It certainly doesn’t dent my enthusiasm to see these games now completed and in print. I hope other players will have fun with the now-completed versions of these games.
In the lead-up to this year’s GenCon, I blogged about the nominees for the major RPG awards, providing my perspective on the most likely (and most deserving) winners. I suggested I would post again when the results were announced, to see if any further insight could be gleaned from the ultimate outcomes.
I never did write that follow-up post, so here it goes:
This year has been an interesting one for internal shake-ups within major RPG companies.
First was Chaosium, one of the oldest player characters still in the game. After ongoing failures to deliver on the Horror on the Orient Express and Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Kickstarters, a dramatic change in leadership led to the restoration of company founder Greg Stafford as President, and Call of Cthulhu creator Sandy Petersen as VP. Since then, announcements at GenCon revealed a merger between Chaosium and Moon Design Publications that switched out the management team again, as well as restoring the rights for RuneQuest, HeroQuest and other Glorantha properties back to Chaosium.
Perhaps less dysfunctionally, the year ended with an announcement that Paradox Interactive had snapped up White Wolf Publishing, and stated their intention to start producing World of Darkness roleplaying games again. Whilst intriguing, the news was also somewhat unsettling for fans of The Onyx Path, who have been licensing roleplaying games for both Old and New Worlds of Darkness for a few years now, and making steady improvements over their predecessors. Particularly alarming was Paradox’s stated intention to create “One World of Darkness”, which suggested that one half of the divided continuity could expect to be purged.
For now though, it looks like good news. Onyx Path have had the go-ahead to keep making anniversary editions of the classic World of Darkness games. Meanwhile the new name for the new editions of the new World of Darkness has been announced as “Chronicles of Darkness“, a rebranding designed to distinguish it from the continuity better-known by non-roleplayers. Other than the name change, the game line will be unaffected. Personally, I’m not wild about “Chronicles” as a game title, but anything is better than “New World of Darkness”. The game has now been out for over a decade. It’s not new. Not even slightly.
As for Chaosium, well, the company’s declared bankruptcy twice and still isn’t dead, so I’m sure they can weather worse than this. Early signs indicate they’re making steady progress through their heavily delayed Kickstarters, and presenting the return of the old figureheads as a back-to-basics reboot seems to have restored the confidence of their fans for the most part. We’ll see if their faith is rewarded next year.
Something pointed out in the “What’s Hot in Indie RPGs” Dragonmeet seminar is that 2015 has been a great year for game design contests. In addition to the regular competitions like Game Chef, and the return of Golden Cobra from 2014, two new challenges are worthy of special attention.
The first in late-Spring was David Schirduan’s 200 Word RPG Challenge. Which was exactly what it sounded like – write a micro-game, hack, playbook etc and present it to the public for review. Amusingly, the contest was actually started by accident. Schirduan originally posted the rules as a challenge to himself, and was pretty surprised when other people started sending him entries!
The second, arriving at the end of the summer, was the Threeforged RPG Design Challenge. For this, three designers worked together to create an RPG, but entirely in isolation and in sequence – first once designer had a go, then another designer picked up the game and revised it without consultation with the original author, then the third designer did the same. Amazingly, for a contest with such a steep commitment (you had to be willing to work on someone else’s game before you knew what it was, twice), there were over a hundred completed entries.
Both of these competitions sounded great, and appear to have produced some excellent games. I love challenges like this, not because of the competitive element (which doesn’t matter), but for the way it inspires people to actually give game design a go, within the context of a community that is working alongside you and inspiring each other. I really hope they both continue into 2016, because hopefully, I might actually give them a go.
So that’s what happened in 2015 – what can we expect for the coming new year? Join me next time for the sequel to 2015’s hype train, Hype Train 2: Revelation.