GenCon 2016 Mega Rundown – RPGs & Digital

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGenCon 2016 has come and gone.  Thankfully I was able to attend, if only for a couple days.  Do not worry, however, as I have once again undertaken to cruise the dealer hall, looking for photos to share with you in my annual Mega Rundown!  I took piles of (electronic bits of?) photos and wrote down notes on almost 100 different games.  If you have the stomach, follow along this week as I go down the lists.  Today, we’ll start off with a look at role playing games and some of the digital offerings I found at the convention (because they’re the shortest of the lists.)

Hunter’s Books


The ABS of RPGs

As a gamer with small kids, this kid’s book caught my eye.  I didn’t read it all the way through I appreciate the art and clear text.  I could see reading this to kids as a bedtime book.  It is not a funny grown up book written in the guise of a kids book.
Lone Shark Games



Thornwatch is another RPG/card game hybrid, perhaps lying slightly more on the RPG side of things. (Think Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, as this also has Mike Selinker as a designer.)  The game was brought to GenCon with the intent to get a final round of feedback before it goes into final development.  It won’t be published until (hopefully) some time in 2017.  The game is played with players who each take on a set role and a “judge” player who manages the story and the opponents.  First, the Judge will set up a list of possible encounters (at the moment, a stack of papers folded into a “tent” with one side visible to the players and another to the Judge.)  Each encounter will list out the story narrative and other pertinent information to each side.  Players then play through the scenario and, depending on their performance and the decisions of the Judge, will then progress onwards to more scenarios in the series in a sort of choose-your-own-adventure style.  


The Judge has a large leeway in how things go, they can set things up in a railroad fashion, where the players just plow through a linear story, or they can allow the players the option of choosing between possible side quests and other options.  (Although a completely successful quest would end with players finishing off the bottom story tile in the series.)  Each player has their own deck of cards and the core gameplay focuses around the momentum track.  This track is a line of cards containing monsters and characters.  The objective is to push the monsters off one side of the row.  This part of the game is very tactical, as players need to figure out how to use their special abilities and the locations of creatures in the momentum track.  When players take damage they add wound cards into their decks.  Players can lose an encounter by failing the objective or just using up all the wound cards available.  Failing an encounter doesn’t mean the game ends, players may be able to complete different (possibly more difficult) tasks to achieve a partial victory or full victory.


Dodeca System Games


There’s a Game in this Book

There is a tension in role playing games, should the rules be entirely free form or should they be carefully codified.  A very rules-based game will tend to limit the freedom of players to create the story as they wish, but those very same rules give the feeling of a game where players can achieve a clear victory or loss in a session.  Free form games allow gamers to pursue any kind of story, but due to their open ended nature, some players may find they lack the same feeling of accomplishment for a well played session.  Passing by “There’s a Game in this Book”, I stopped to check it out.  The name clearly indicated a game that targets beginner gamers or those looking for a simpler rules set.  The rules are designed to require only a single 12 sided die.  The book (and the game system) is meant to give players a much more free form world than the typical castles and dragons.  I was informed that players in the past have played as “a box of monkeys” and another player who was “the greatest magician in the land” but also “half-puppet.”   Characters’ main attributes are brains, brawn, charm, cool, health, looks, notice, savvy, and speed.  These have sub-skills.  For example, the listed sub skills for Charm include vicious taunt, dancing, persuade, and armpit music. Of course, creating one’s own skills is expected and encouraged.  The main book includes everything needed for the system.  A second book, Now What? Additional Notes for Aspiring GODs provides advice for the GM.  (GOD stands for Game Organizer and Decision maker.)  The third book, There are Monsters in this Book, contains 88 examples of the types of monsters/NPCs for use in games or simply as templates for your GOD’s own creature designs.





Announced just this summer, Starfinder will be an entirely new RPG published by Paizo in fall of 2017.  It will, of course, be similar to their popular fantasy RPG, Pathfinder.  However, it will be a unique game with some different aspects, consider it “conceptually compatible” with Pathfinder.  The game is set in the far future of the Pathfinder universe, where space travel is now common. Sort of a Space opera with a touch of magic.  there will still be some magic around, but there will also be standard high technology like rifles, lasers, and space ships.  Players can still be wizards but they can also be snipers or starship marines.  Starship combat will be included in the rules, but the current intent is to create situations where every player will have a role in combat and it won’t simply be one person driving the ship and one person shooting.  The core rulebook will contain all the rules as well as the background for the setting.  The setting will receive ongoing support in the form of adventures and other supplements, but at a much slower pace than the Pathfinder line – probably just a few books or supplements a year.  

In other news at Paizo, the newest hardcover books in the Pathfinder line are Ultimate Intrigue (launched last summer) and Horror Adventures (launched this month.)  The former focuses in on player options for investigations, spying, and that sort of thing while the latter provides fodder for both players and GMs to run horror-themed campaigns.


Role 4 Initiative


Role 4 Initiative had a nice 12” tall cardboard castle dice tower on display at their table.  With two castle walls (able to hold up game notes) and a central dice tower (with a magnetic strip for tracking initiative), it looked nice and functional (you can even store pencils in the sides of the walls.  


However, they were very excited about their Dry Erase Dungeon Tiles.  These are durable (3mm compressed chipboard) interlocking square tiles.  The tiles display a 1” square grid and can be used with dry erase or wet erase markers.  (While not recommended for use, marks made by Sharpies can even be removed.)  The boards come in 5” and 10” sizes and can be bought in sets of either size or a mixed set.  


Finally, the company also has a line of “high contrast dice” that are bright colors and are larger than normal dice.  The idea is that they may be useful for those “more experienced” gamers who wouldn’t mind having having slightly larger numbers to read.


Lone Wolf Development


Realm Works and Hero Lab

When it comes to using software to assist with role playing games, Realm Works and Hero Lab are at the top of my list.  Other programs attempt to serve as virtual tabletops for players to get together online, but for pure assistance at the gaming table I found the features of Hero Lab to be the most useful.  It makes character creation a breeze and runs as a character management tool during encounters.  Realm Works is designed for gamers to build and develop the background, world, encounters, and adventures in their game, while Hero Lab focuses in on creating and managing the statistics for characters, NPCs, and monsters.  To that end, Hero Lab is now available for iOS on the iPad.  It has most of the features found in the PC version, accessed in a tab-like interface.  If set up properly, it can even be used to run multiple characters or creatures.  Since Hero Lab comes with a license for two computers, owning one copy will allow the program to be run on both a PC and on an iPad.   (There is a free iPad version that allows players to use characters in “play mode” – track a character in combat after it was created by the Hero Lab program.)  In Realm Works news, the long awaited “Content Market” is almost complete.  This will allow gamers to purchase prepackaged content like digital modules or campaigns, complete with maps, important NPCs, story arcs, and other things including linked interdependencies.  One purchase would allow the download of everything needed to play that adventure into the Realm Works program.   Phase 1 of the project should be done by the end of the year and will allow Lone Wolf to sell specific content.  This would include Pathfinder content as well as other branded things mentioned in its Kickstarter.  Eventually, phase 2 will allow gamers to create their own content and share or sell it to the wider community.  


Meta Arcade


Meta Arcade Adventures Platform

Probably the second-oldest role playing game line in existence was Tunnels and Trolls.  It was initially developed to have simpler, less complex rules than the early Dungeons and Dragons books.  One of its claims to fame involve the considerable number of published adventures designed to be played by a single player.  (These solo adventures even predated the popular “choose your own adventure” books of the early 80s.)  In true mix of retro and future styles, Meta Arcade is developing their Meta Arcade Adventures Platform as a electronic version of the old solo gamebooks.  The software is designed both to provide players a way to play classic adventures (like those found in early Tunnels and Trolls solo gamebooks) as well as a platform for gamers to create new works.  To that end, Meta Arcade is creating a library of images, sounds,  and other resources for use by budding creators.  Meanwhile, the platform (which will run on iOS, Android, PC, and Mac) will be used to republish the old Tunnels and Trolls solo books.  As things progress, Meta Arcade hopes to add in the ability for creating projects using other rules systems.


While not the GenCon videogame mecca of early 2000’s there were still a few computer screens around displaying upcoming works.



Definitive Game Studio is working on Archmage Rises, a single-player game that attempts to create a simulated world where every action (or inaction) has and effect, similar to a pencil and paper role playing game.  In the game, one’s character is a wizard (no party system, although one might find a pet to fight alongside, etc..)  It is attempts to be very open ended.  You can try to overthrow the throne, hide away in your castle mastering spells, cause chaos in the countryside, whatever.  Time will pass in the world, with NPCs and locations changing (or even dying off.)  Choices made by the main character will affect development.  Selfish choices will open up more options on the “evil” side of things while noble acts will provide different options and consequences.   The goal is for the game to launch in Q1 of 2017.



Meanwhile, Digital Dreams is developing Mutant Football League.  Think of it as NFL Blitz with magic and chainsaws.  Developed by the same guy who worked on the Sega Genesis “Mutant League Football” game in 1993, this title is an homage to the previous one.  Players can crash up and down the gridiron to try to outscore each other for victory, but it is not uncommon for a win to occur when one team simply runs out of players.  Most teams are a clear parody of NFL and fantasy tropes and they have different tricks up their sleeves.  While teams have some specializations, they also have unique power ups that can be used a few times per game.  Expect the game on Steam, PS4, and Xbox one in the fall of 2017.  As one might expect from the title, it will likely be M rated although the blood and gore can be dialed up and down.



Hairbrained Schemes was on the hall floor showing off a pre-alpha-alpha of their Battletech game.  It is a turn based game of battling Mecha for the PC.  Gamers can play a quick mecha skirmish battle vs the AI or multiplayer, but there will also be a campaign mode.  Starting at the beginning of the Battletech timeline, 3025, players will manage a team of mecha and pilots through a campaign mode.  Pilots will gain experience and abilities over time, while players will also be able to use salvage from battles to improve or purchase new mecha.  The target release date will be 2017.



Finally, in a sort of surreal card-digital game hybrid, I saw a few people playing Ascension VR.  Temple Gates Games has an electronic version of Ascension playable in a VR environment.  I didn’t give it a go, but monitors showed how your avatar stood there and had a 3D display of all your cards in front of you with your opponent and their cards standing across the room.



And that’s the highlights of the RPG and digital stuff I was able to check out at the show in between my many boardgaming stops.  Stay tuned for plenty more to come on the 2016 GenCon show….

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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