Matt Carlson: GenCon 2015 Mega Rundown – RPGs, Electronic, Eclectic

minions - croppedI like games, especially boardgames. However, when I was young I couldn’t always find people to play, so I naturally gravitated to computer (and, to a lesser extent because I couldn’t afford it, console games.) I love me a boardgame, but still am in the situation where I can more often play a game on iOS or on my PC. Role playing games are even harder to play due to the time constraints, but they are so good as providing a creative outlet and bonding time around a table I still follow them and try to fit a game in when I can (very rarely.) Here’s a rundown of the many, many shiny things that caught my eye. (Read on to the end to see the random photos of other things I found interesting that might give you a feel of the greater GenCon experience.)

Calliope         iOS – Tsuro 

Star Wars Tsuro cropped

A copy of the Star Wars themed Tsuro that was released in Europe.

I’m a fan of the path creating game, Tsuro. The original version has excellent asian themed art that caught my eye despite any other nod to a theme. The nice pieces, simple rules, but fun gameplay make it a regular for some of my more low-key gaming meeting. Expect an iOS version sometime later this year. If you’re a BIG fan of the game, there will be a deluxe edition coming your way in a carved wooden box with uniquely designed pieces for each player. As one might expect it will be pricey, around $300-$350 or so.

Fantasy Flight                Star Wars RPG
star warsfoce and destinyFantasy Flight is continuing their Star Wars RPG line. The newest book (and beginner game) is Force and Destiny and emphasizes Jedi and force powers in general. The resolution of actions in this system revolves around rolling custom positive and negative dice. Players roll green dice (or yellow if they’re skilled) against the results of purple (or black if it’s a difficult thing.) If the positive symbols outnumber the negative symbols, it is a success (with a few other symbols that end up giving flavor to the result. There are now three core books in the series, Edge of the Empire (with rules for characters who live on the edge of society like bounty hunters, smugglers, etc… and includes rules to play droids), Age of Rebellion (focusing in on freedom fighters against the Empire), and the new Force and Destiny (Jedi Knights, etc… under the Empire’s rule.) Any core rulebook has complete rules to run the game, while each book has rules for playing different character classes (I see no reason you couldn’t mix and match character options either.) Along with each book is a Beginner’s Game. This is a box containing pre-made characters (including options for leveling them up during play) and a short adventure designed to teach players the game. I’ve played through one and it really does bring in all the rules one dose at a time so there is no need for pre-game explanations. The beginner boxes are a good deal because each box has additional pre-made characters and an entire additional adventure available online for free. The beginner games also have everything a GM needs to create their own adventures for several levels after the players finish the pre-made scenarios.

Fantasy Grounds
There are a myriad of software companies trying to develop computer tools for gamers to use in their role playing games. Some just focus on characters, while others go for managing online play (or both.) Fantasy Grounds is one of my favorite. It does a decent job of letting a GM both manage their adventures offline (keep track of notes, maps, etc…) and a pretty good job of running combat. Character creation is also pretty good. There are quite a few systems it handles (including D&D of various versions, Pathfinder, and a wealth of rules sets for other systems made by the community (although the licensed data is not usually included.) Its primary drawback is the cost for each bit of rules (if you want to use any new rules from recent supplements published for a system it is often a significant fraction of the cost of the original book.) Aside from cost (and the lack of support, for now, of the newest 5th edition D&D) I think this is possibly the best programmed RPG computer tools around.

Green Ronin          The Cosmic Handbook, Hero High, Icons: Great Power
One of Green Ronin’s most famous role playing games is the Mutants and Masterminds line, with an official DC Adventures line using the same system. In its 3rd edition, it provides a nice balance between flexibility and speed of play. Thier newest addition to the M&M line are The Cosmic Handbook and Hero High. The Cosmic Handbook gives gamers the option of playing a Guardians of the Galaxy style game while Hero High is based around superheroes still in high school. The Hero High supplement gives gaming advice for pulling off a high school setting. Players with unknown powers, new powers, perhaps unreliable powers, and a slew of setting, adventure, and NPC advice.

iconsI’m a fan of the even more streamlined Icons superhero RPG. Characters are randomly generated, and players just have to make the most of it – giving it a very zany feel. Icons: Great Power is a new supplement with just that, great new powers to add to character options. In superhero genres, I’m a big fan of More is More, so I’m looking forward to it.
Handelabra        iOS/PC Sentinels of the Multiverse
Handelabra was showing off its implementation of Sentinels of the Multiverse and its upcoming multiplayer gameplay – playable across all platforms at once (PC, iOS…) Not news to most fans. However, I did hear there is a campaign mode on their radar for development along with more challenge modes or “scenarios” as game options. It is also headed toward a smaller footprint (for smaller Android phones) and a bigger one as they are targeting some consoles.

Indie RPG       Call of Catthulhu, Baby Bestiary, No Country for Old Kobolds
I always love to swing by the Indie RPG booth as it is a great place to check out truely crazy and/or zany RPGs. (They have moody ones, too, but I could care less.) I remember the year I found the Sons of Liberty rpg – you play colonial heroes and you could be Ethan Allen, complete with his moose riding Green Mountain Boys.
catthulhuCall of Catthulhu was on prominent display. Players are cats trying to destroy the many cults of the other animals. Designed for 2-6 players, the GM (Cat Herder) plays the other animals and characters each have their own cat with different breeds essentially the different character classes available. It uses a d6 system where 2 sides are “sad” and the other 4 sides are “happy” and you count up the happy & sad markers when you make your rolls. At the convention they were throwing in the special cat-faced dice for an additional $8, very cool…
baby bestiary
Baby Bestiary is not a game in itself, it is a rules-neutral (works with any rules) and simply fills in the gaps of what happens after a bunch of adventurers kill off the poor monster’s parents. Each spread has one page of information (care and feeding, training, etc…) and a second page of one large drawing. The drawings are what make the book, excellent art and cute little images (a couple of little girls playing with their baby Beholder – I don’t remember if they had put any ribbons on its eyestalks, though.)
no country for old kobolds
The last game I checked out (because this was the game designed by the demo/booth guy) was No Country for Old Kobolds. It is a funny little game where players all play kobolds (little lizard creatures) in their village. Primarily a storytelling game, the kobolds have to go on missions to help out their town (get food, goods, etc…) thus increasing the power of their little settlement. The interesting part is when the kobolds die on the mission – that’s how both a player and the village gain experience. A new kobold character is made up that has the abilities of the former character plus a bit more power. Note that if you die on a mission, you get a few tokens you can spend to help the other characters on that mission, at least until they get back to town and you can bring in your new guy. The game comes with a laminated map of the country and part of the game is inventing the territories surrounding your town and what sorts of benefits your village can get from them. So, let your kobold be struck down and you and your village become more powerful than before! (Where have I heard that before?)

Inkwell Ideas    GM accessories: computer programs and other resources
An RPG shop selling both a series of computer programs to assist game masters as well as some “physical” items to do the same. They have a trilogy of computer programs.

hexographerA country/map designer (Hexographer), a city designer (Cityographer), and a dungeon designer (surprise! – Dungeonographer.) I’ve played with mapping programs before and these seem to be some of the simplest ones to deal with. You’re not going to get as fancy a map as the hard-core mapping programs but you can do a lot with less time and still be pretty good. Think about a comparison between Photoshop or a built-in photo editor. Yes, Photoshop does cool things, but it is a pain to learn and until you’re really good it will take a super long time.

cityographer Cityographer makes its name by providing city design at the push of a button. Type in what sort of coastline, rivers, roads, house density, etc… click a button and “wham” instant (a few minutes) town/city. Of course, you can do each level by hand to customize things, but then hit the “finish it off” button at any time. Note that the game even puts in prices and NPCs in taverns, etc.. so you don’t even have to fill in those details if you want. Cityographer works for several different settings (fantasy, modern, future, post-apocalypse, etc…) although one would probably want to buy the add ons for each to have more options available.
dungeonographerDungeonographer can be used to create a dungeon by sketching out the floor plan by hand or by putting in the rooms by placing geometric shapes. If you use shapes you can leave things with clean, black and white lines or you can flip a switch and have the program place in some 3D map style effects. It will also print out a battle map (a map with squares to scale for battles.)
dungeon diceAs for the physical side of things, Inkwell Ideas has a set of dice (3 types, actually – forest, city, dungeon) that show different room layouts. Roll dice and place them together to get an instant map!

npc cards

NPC/Monster cards

They also have NPC and creature decks that are nice photos of various creatures on the front with rules-neutral information on the creature’s abilities on the back. Finally, and perhaps most useful for GMs looking for help, are their Encounter decks. The deck is full of cards (50ish) with one side of every card providing the entire outline of a short adventure, how to get the players involved, some example encounters, and where to go at the conclusion. The back side has a small location map with advice for traps and treasure to be found there. It looks like it would be quite useful for someone looking for a short little one-off adventure.

Obsidian Entertainment     PC game – Pillars of Eternity: The White March
Pillars of Eternity is Obsidian Entertainment’s most recent RPG for PCs. The expansion, The White March provides an additional adventure that is unlocked near the middle of the game. Players go off looking for how to open up the fabled White Forge. If you’ve played through the game and want to use your final characters in the new adventure, the game gives you the option of scaling up the new content to provide a bit more difficulty. The expansion also increases the level cap for characters from 12 up to 14, has two new companions (a monk and a rogue), and introduces soulbound items. An item “binds” to a character and then the item itself also gains experience over time to become more powerful. The expansion should be out later this year.

Paizo      Pathfinder Online, Occult Adventures, Pathfinder Minis: Dungeon Deep
I’ve been playing just a little bit of Pathfinder Online, an MMORPG in the Pathfinder setting. They were on hand displaying their game as well as the newest expansion. The game is still in its beta stage – probably will be until next year some time, but players can still join in and pay their monthly subscription to play. The idea here is that you’re paying and playing with the opportunity to guide along the game development so it is somewhat community built. The newest update is number 10 and it brings in player settlements that they can build as well as territory warfare. Note, the PvP aspect of the game is fairly mild – for the most part only important for those trying to pursue it. I must admit that my play of the game so far has presented quite a big learning curve on how to play, primarily on how to build up and advance a character. The community is very friendly and can offer advice to questions, but at the moment anyone logging in for the first time should expect to do some online reading and not be afraid to ask other players for help and advice (which is very freely given.)
occultAs for the RPG arena, Paizo’s main release (other than the new Pathfinder Minis line – Dungeon Deep) is the book Occult Adventures. This book is carefully researched to be as set in historic occult mythos as much as possible. The book contains several new character classes as well as a few new occult options for previous classes (an occult leaning paladin, for example.) Classes that caught my eye was one that went around eating tomes for power and another who had a strong companion spirit although the character itself might be quite frail. The book contains setting and story advice for GMs who want to run an occult themed campaign and has the obligatory list of magic items (Ouija boards, etc…) and feats available for all classes. This book is very much not in my realm of interest, but I’m sure those who are looking forward to the book know who you are.

Wizards of the Coast       Rage of Demons, Out of the Abyss, Sword Coast Adventure’s Guide, Sword Coast Legends
I got in on a small group discussion with a high mucky-muck designer from Wizards to find out product releases most of us already knew. However, it was fun to pepper him with questions about the overall strategy and other workings of Wizards of the Coast and its parent company Hasbro.
Each year Wizards has a “theme” that permeates much of their intellectual property. This year is the Rage of Demons. Stuff is going on in the online MMORPGS as well as the role-playing area. There will also be a new computer game coming out called Sword Coast Legends. I’m very interested in this as it will have the typical solo campaign, but it is designed for DMs to also use it as a tool to run their own adventures with their players using the engine (think Neverwinter Nights, etc…)

dnd out of the abyssOut of the Abyss is the new adventure campaign book that takes characters from 1st to 15th level as they journey into the Underdark full of demons of the Abyss.
dnd sword coast adventurersFinally, the Sword Coast Adventure’s Guide is also coming out this fall that is a combination of campaign setting of the Sword Coast area as well as new PC options.

That’s it for the main stuff, now is the fun time to check out the many other things going on at the convention. (Well, no collectible card playing as that’s boring to photograph…)

pandemic tourney

A big Pandemic tourney… complete with count-downs for every move and everyone shares the same deck draws… (I liked the intensity the count-down added to the game, I should record my voice counting down for my next game…)

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Star Wars… the little guys or the big walkers.. .you decide.

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Hey, lets attack with big 4 legged creatures that can easily trip and fall, and have medium sized guns only on the front!

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This is Axis and Allies Europe and Pacific combined. I played once… after 3 or 4 hours we called the game after 4 turns. I was bummed, I was the USA and I was almost ready to actually make a combat roll…

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Look a very square dungeon! Like street planning in a not-real city.

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Heroscape lives on! Well, the terrain pieces do… this is some entirely different game.

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You can check to see who won the intense Hungry Hungry Hippos tournament…



lego figures

Lego figures of all types… if you have the cash.

legp figures 2

Please don’t tell my boys that these figures exist.

It’s Friday and time for me to quit (unless you’re reading this later – shame on you for coming late to the table…) Now to rest up, try to get some new GenCon games onto the table and get ready for the fall/holiday game rush.

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About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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