The Hype Strikes Back: (Possible) 2016 RPG Releases

About a year ago I wrote about RPG releases I was looking forward to in 2015, and examining the list now is pretty embarrassing. Of the ten games I mentioned, two already had PDF releases in 2014, two still haven’t come out yet, one has been officially abandoned for now, and one seems to have been unofficially abandoned (or least, the hint of an upcoming Cortex Plus “Heroic Roleplaying” game no longer appears on the Margaret Weis website).

I’m hesitant, then, to do something similar for 2016… but whilst writing my review of 2015, I realised there were plenty of games (currently) scheduled for 2016 that I was looking forward to, and that I wanted an excuse to talk about. So here is a less structured presentation of what is currently being worked on in the world of roleplaying games, and which will come to fruition this year if we’re very lucky. Enough looking back – let’s look forward!

 

PARANOIA

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When I backed the Kickstarter for Paranoia in 2014, delivery was scheduled for June, but from the updates coming through it still seems to be work-in-progress. The lead designer, James Wallis, even went so far as to promise that if the writing wasn’t finished by Dragonmeet, any backers were welcome to punch him in the face – I didn’t seem him at the convention, so I’m guessing he was worried someone would hold him to that pledge. Then again, this is the same James Wallis whose Alas Vegas remains one of the most infamously unfulfilled Kickstarters in the history of roleplaying (funded in February 2013, apparently it’s still coming), so expectations should be adjusted.

That disappointment aside, a new Paranoia edition is still something to be excited about, and early drafts glimpsed through backer updates are promising. I’ll definitely be running a game or three once my boxset comes through, and hope to get a review up shortly afterwards. Updating the setting to more contemporary hysterias, and ditching the last edition’s anachronistic design baggage, seem to be positive steps. It’s just a matter of seeing how the new card-based system works out in practice.

(And speaking of Kickstarters I backed and am looking forward to seeing delivered this year, Bulldogs and Undying will be shooting to the top of my play lists upon arrival. Microscope: Explorer has already!)

 

SCION AND DARK ERAS

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Whilst we’re complaining about undelivered Kickstarters, I’d like to point out it’s totally not my fault that neither of these games arrived in 2015 as I projected! I was going by Onyx Path‘s own estimates. According to the Kickstarter, my Mage PDFs for Dark Eras should have arrived in September, and whilst they’ve had a pretty dramatic end to the year (as detailed in my last post), it’s pretty demoralising to read that Dark Eras has been delayed because it “had so much added to it with the Stretch Goals that we are naturally off-target for our delivery“. My mistake for backing then I guess! Perhaps if the fans had worked to make the Kickstarter less successful, they’d have the book in a more timely fashion. Or perhaps having stretch goals that require so much extra content generation they delay the shipping of everything else is not the best way to run a Kickstarter.

Sorry, this is getting pretty cynical for a looking-forward-to-the-future bit. Happy-happy, exciting-exciting, hype Hype HYPE!

The point is, I’m really excited to get my Ancient Greek on. Either adapting ancient mythology to our contemporary world in Scion, or adapting contemporary mythology to the ancient world in Dark Eras’ Alexander the Great chapter. The latter might be the release to finally get me back into running Chronicles of Darkness since my Promethean game wrapped three years ago. European, Persian and Indian mages meeting for the first time, synthesising their magical styles and exploring the resulting culture clash… before being stepped on by a war elephant. Sounds right up my alley.

 

BLUE ROSE

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I wasn’t into roleplaying when Blue Rose first came out as a D20 OGL release. I understand it was very controversial at that time because it had gay people in it – and this was in prehistoric 2006, when gay people had only just been discovered. Nowadays the output of Avery McDaldno and other story game designers (not to mention DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS) makes that outrage seem all the more disproportionate, but far be it from me to disparage the impact of the progenitors that introduced queer content to the mainstream roleplaying consciousness.

Thanks to Will Wheton, the Adventure Gaming Engine seems to be the “in-thing” right now, so I’m looking forward to giving it a go. Though it appears to be a glorified D20 variant (and my problems with D20 have been documented elsewhere), its “romantic fantasy” outlook presents a refreshing contrast to adventurer dungeon crawling that’s the default for fantasy roleplaying (and which I’ve also complained about here).

Maybe I’ll work out a way to incorporate the One Unique Thing and Relationship Dice from 13th Age into the Blue Rose system. That way I can enjoy all of the last decade’s D20 innovation at once!

 

NINETIES NOSTALGIA: UNKNOWN ARMIES AND DELTA GREEN

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Speaking of old game revivals, at least two more look to be coming in 2016, both properties from the even-more-prehistoric Nineties: Atlas Games’ Unknown Armies, and Arc Dream Publishing’s Delta Green.

Upon original release, both were retaliations of sorts to the prevailing popularity of Call of Cthulhu. Whilst Call emphasised the insignificance and fragility of humankind, Unknown Armies gave the human spirit pre-eminence at a cosmic level, restoring our species’ agency in manufacturing its own horrific downfall. Meanwhile Delta Green was itself a Call of Cthulhu setting, but updated for a modern era with high-powered tactical assault rifles and an action-horror spin, eschewing a puritanical outlook of “it’s not REALLY Lovecraft if the players have any agency” entirely.

Maybe Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition finally arrives this year, maybe it doesn’t; to my mind, these are the more interesting releases. Unknown Armies will probably Kickstart sometime soon – the beta is already out and being circulated to playtesters. Delta Green’s Kickstarter is over already, with a slew of supplements funded, including a standalone Gumshoe game “The Fall of Delta Green” from Lovecraft-maestro Ken Hite. Speaking of…

 

GUMSHOE’S TEN YEAR ANNIVERSARY

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Gumshoe is ten years old! Robin Laws‘ game engine for investigative roleplaying will celebrate the milestone this year with a number of key releases: The Fall of Delta Green (as mentioned above), a second edition of Fear Itself, TimeWatch (maybe, release has been delayed a few times already because the book just turned out that massive) and a beginner’s box for Trail of Cthulhu (that aims to introduce new players to the hobby with a more accessible board game aesthetic).

Most exciting to me is Gumshoe One-2-One, an adaptation of the core system for one-player, one-GM roleplaying. As my friends continue their irritating trend of growing into proper adults, getting full gaming groups together is proving a logistical challenge – more opportunities to roleplay just with my girlfriend, brother or best friend would be keenly appreciated. The “Cthulhu Confidential” series will kick off with a series of adventurers for Lovecraftian horror in 30s Las Vegas – but after that, there are countless directions in which a one-2-one gaming system could expand.

Pelgrane Press’ Dragonmeet seminar covers their plans for the year in a lot more detail – you can download a recording here.

 

2D20

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Since the attention heaped on Mutant: Year Zero at last year’s Ennies, I’ve been hoping for an excuse to give Modiphius’ 2D20 system a go. It’s intent to model the fictional output of heat and momentum sounds interesting, in a crunchy sort of way, and I wonder what kinds of stories it can help to tell that are less obviously emergent in a more abstract gaming system.

My main trouble right now is deciding which 2D20 game to give a go. Mutant doesn’t appeal as a post-apocalyptic fiction simulator in a reality where Apocalypse World still exists. An adaptation of the Infinity wargame just Kickstarted, but similarly, life seems too short to learn the mythos of more than one science fiction wargame. The recently announced John Carter could be fun, but the upcoming Conan RPG is probably the safest bet. It’s yet another IP that I know absolutely nothing about, but I can easily correct that by watching one or two movies. And also, how much does one really need to know about setting background before rampaging into a Conan game anyway?

Apparently the Kickstarter is just a few weeks away, but I’ve no idea if books will be arriving in 2016. This one could be on the back-burner for a while.

 

BLADES IN THE DARK

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“A tabletop RPG about a crew of daring scoundrels building a criminal empire in a haunted city full of thieves.” The Kickstarter for this one funded in April 2015, so semi-complete PDFs have been in circulation for ages (and are now on DriveThruRPG). Perhaps petulantly though, I’m holding out for a hard copy release.

From the mind of John Harper, much-touted innovator of indie roleplay designs, Blades is set to be the “Next Big Thing!TM” in the story gaming world. Except now the beta’s been out long enough that it’s already old news. Indie roleplay crowd sourcing is weird.

To be honest, I’ve had a mixed appreciation of Harper’s output in the past. I like Lady Blackbird and Lasers and Feelings fine. But I also ran a short campaign of Ghost Lines (set in the same universe as Blades) and found it to be profoundly dysfunctional. So here’s hoping that Blades In The Dark is finally the game to get me joining the John Harper cheerleading squad. I might try hacking it for Mordheim.

 

APOCALYPSE WORLD SECOND EDITION

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Apparently Vincent Baker is working on a second edition of Apocalypse World. Since I absolutely love Apocalypse World, this is very exciting.

I admit I’ve been trying not to get TOO excited. Baker would be first to admit that many of the games he works on never see full release (“Most games don’t survive their own creation. Watch them die” his Patreon header reads), and I’ve been here before with Dark Ages last year, which currently languishes in game design limbo.

But given official confirmation from Baker that he’s started working on the Kickstarter set-up… Yeah. 2016 will be a very exciting roleplaying time.

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