The Game With No Name Math Trade

Matt Golec of the Penny Press design team has hosted a no-ship math trade at Carnage for some years now, coming up with thematic names to make us grin as we figure out what games we don’t want to own anymore. This year, it’s the Game With No Name math trade.

A math trade is a method of swapping whereby people list what they don’t want, list what they would like to get in return from other swappers and a computer figures out the details. The “no ship” part means no one ships anything. Show up to Carnage, drop off what you’re swapping, pick up what you’re getting. Done!

This year, I staked claim to the entirety of the third page of the geek list. You will find a bevy of light, popcorn games like Chez Cthulhu and the Cheapass family. You will find thematic bundles of HERO and GURPS sourcebooks. You will find Werewolf: the Apocalypse and Spelljammer books because I’m acknowledging that I’m not going to get around to running games in most of these settings.

You will also find lots of good stuff for which to trade with other folks posting to the list. Check it out, and offer up what you’re not interested in playing anymore!

#RPGaDAY 10: Favorite Tie-in Novel / Game Fiction

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

I was reading role-playing game tie-in fiction before I knew it was tied in to anything. At the time, I thought Dragonlance was purely a gloriously long list of interconnected books to collect and devour. Then TSR published a series of Spelljammer novels to go with their new setting of the same name. The first one was set on Krynn, so that was an easy buy. I was more leery of the second, Nigel Findlay’s Into the Void, since the back cover blurb promised it would feature the Forgotten Realms, which I had studiously skirted for no real reason. And yet, it wound up being my favorite of the Spelljammer novels, and possibly of all tie-in fiction that I can recall reading, because it was so different and novel. Quasi-sailing ships flying through space, the infamous tinker gnomes with their hamster-powered paddlewheeler, alien menaces in the shape of the neogi and the illithid, Into the Void had a great mix of elements to appeal to me at the time.

I’m a little afraid of what I would think of the novel now. Not that it would hurt my memories of enjoying it then, because I don’t buy into the notion of “this new thing, or revisiting an old thing, ruined my perception of my childhood,” but my perception of the novel as an adult would drown out my fond memories of how I enjoyed it then. I’d be amazed if there were extant copies out in the world, but if I ever run into one in a used book store, I’ll give it a familiar nod, like seeing an old acquaintance, and move on.

Extra Credit

Now, my favorite retroactive tie-in novel is another story. That’s the novel that was clearly the genesis for a role-playing game, or campaign framework. That title easily goes to Tim Powers’ Last Call, which became a cornerstone of the cosmology and occult ethos of Unknown Armies. Powers has written more novels in his self-created patch of secret history and improvised symbolic sorcery: Declare, Three Days to Never, On Stranger Tides, The Stress of Her Regard. I like to think of them as the unofficial fiction line for Unknown Armies — which does have a novel of its own, Godwalker, written by Greg Stolze. I highly recommend reading Godwalker and honestly regret writing a whole post about Into the Void before remembering that Unknown Armies had a companion novel.

Most Honorable Mention

And holy cow, how could I miss the opening fiction in Break Today, also part of the Unknown Armies line? It’s a tight little vignette that’s so engaging, my coworker at the time loved it and wanted the whole book to be the rest of the story.

#RPGaDAY 3: First RPG Purchased

#RPGaDAY prompts.

The #RPGaDAY prompt was concocted by Dave Chapman of Autocratik. Grab the list and join in!

Galael: There's a reason they call him "Heaven's legbreaker."Depending on your criteria, there are several candidates for the first RPG I purchased. For full, self-contained games, there’s WitchCraft, an urban fantasy and horror game in the vein of the World of Darkness. I’d spent downtime during my academic endeavors devouring reviews of various games on and the first time I walked into Quarterstaff Games, years after my last visit for Magic cards, my eyes stumbled across the WitchCraft core book — the whole line, in fact — tucked away on the bottom shelf of those rickety, sideways-leaning wooden shelving units that longtime customers of the store may recall. Clearly, this was fate to see something I’d been reading about right there on the shelf, however cunningly obscured, so I grabbed it and the companion Mystery Codex. And that purchase really set a theme for me, picking up games that sounded interesting, but didn’t have enough of an existing following for me to find interested people locally.

To this day, I haven’t successfully run or played in a single game using the WitchCraft materials in a substantive way, though they certainly proved useful when I brought my Ghostbusters convention series over to Unisystem last year at Carnage on the Mountain. And with the arrival of Madness Dossier, Conspiracy X 2.0 seems like a great starting point for a less crunchy implementation of neurolinguistic brain hacking and warring timelines.

Dragons of Winter Night cover art.Now, if you want to be really strict, the first role-playing book I ever bought was the player’s guide to the Dragonlance setting, without ever realizing it was a supplement to a game — really, without ever realizing there was a game attached to the series of novels I devoured voraciously at the time. And the first mechanical game thing I ever got was the Spelljammer box set, which is another lousy entry point into role-playing for someone who isn’t necessarily aware what Dungeons & Dragons is and how it ties to the myriad of products scattered around a Waldenbooks of the late 1980s, early 1990s.

The Acquisition Imperative

Periodically, I get a yen to buy a board game or role-playing game. It’s a strong enough yen that I’ll fixate on it for some time. A couple years ago, for reasons I still can’t fathom, it was a general impulse to buy HERO System books. I gave in to that one and wound up with two or three feet of shelf space given over to books pushing a system I wasn’t entirely sold on. I think I’ve run precisely one session of role-playing using HERO, the sole session of an ersatz Spelljammer campaign I called Known Spheres. That game actually died for scheduling reasons rather than a dislike for HERO, just for the record.

Anyway, I get on these “want it all” or “I want that so much” kicks. For the most part, I keep on top of them, mostly by waiting myself out. Sometimes I will actually get to try the game without buying, usually discovering it’s not something I want. And there are the times I make mistakes.

Lately, the game I’ve fixed on is Talisman, the old fantasy adventure offering from Games Workshop. I will admit that Talisman is not a good game by any means. You roll a die, move your character and, most often, draw at least one card. Even the direction you move along the board doesn’t always matter, as you’ll draw the same card regardless of whether you go right or left. Nevertheless, I do find the game entertaining. The art evokes a simple, parochial sort of fantasy world that’s miles closer to how I envisioned The Hobbit on first reading than the design of Middle-earth in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films or the dungeonpunk aesthete that’s percolated through role-playing games since the launch of Dungeons & Dragons‘ third edition.

Right now, I get to play Talisman once every couple of months whenever Nonny happens to bring it to Tuesday night at Quarterstaff Games, which is probably just enough to keep me from getting tired of the game. But I do find myself thinking “I could easily pick up Fantasy Flight’s new edition of the game, which is widely available and has a steady stream of new content coming out.” (This sets aside the question of whether I need a steady stream of new content; being disappointed by weak Arkham Horror expansions contributed to the lessening of my ardor for that game.)

Recently, the promotion of the new Gamma World happening on Twitter has gotten to me. I really would like to try this, because it sounds like a goofy good time, which is about the only way I want to deal with the premise of “after the Mega-Whoops.” It’d also be a chance to take a good, long look at the rules underlying Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, on which this iteration of Gamma World is based.

Here’s my conundrum: I’ve always — more often than, fairly frequently, a bit, when it suits me — said it’s better to use the stuff you’ve got than buy yet another set of rules for role-playing that are ultimately only slightly different from the dozens one already owns. But the point of trying the new Gamma World is one’s trying the new Gamma World, not mimicking it with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or whatever else. So the usual tactic of “use what you’ve got” doesn’t work, partly for the system involved, but also because I don’t have any role-playing materials about a wacky post-apocalypse.

My first tactic is to mitigate the risk of a non-utilized purchase. If I actually play this one, unlike the many, shamefully unplayed role-playing games on my shelves, I can better rationalize the purchase — which is probably still a logical fallacy given past behavior and the extent by which similar decisions have changed notably in their outcomes. To this end, I’m trying to find some people to commit to playing Gamma World at Winter Weirdness on January 8th.

At what point does a $40 box set become worth it? One play? Two? Six? A dozen? In dollars per hour, if we play a four hour session at Winter Weirdness, that’s $10 per hour of play, not counting tax. If one considers preparation time entertaining and it takes ten hours to absorb everything in the box, it’s less than $3 per hour, but I don’t really hold with that perspective.

Again, though, I think this is an expression of my recurring “Ooh, new. Want!” impulse. I could just ignore it, stick with Ghostbusters and Fiasco for Winter Weirdness and go on my way. That honestly makes the most sense and saying “We’ll have Gamma World to play!” isn’t really going to make a difference in who turns out, will it?

What would you do?

Spelljammer: “You Got Your Bug in My Feature!”

Spelljammer is one of those settings that gets an unreasonable amount of stick. Monsters and Manuals recognized this. The Cloakmaster Cycle was the second set of tie-in novels I got into without understanding they were attached to a game of some kind, although the original Spelljammer boxed set, AD&D in Space was probably my first role playing supplement. I received it for Christmas, had no idea what to do with it due to a lack of Dungeons & Dragons experience and brought it back to Waldenbooks at the Burlington Square Mall to exchange for store credit — which I probably spent on more Dragonlance novels. I was a weird kid.

Regardless of how I started out, I still hold the grief Spelljammer gets is largely undeserved. Let’s count the reasons down.

The Giff

Some folks hold “militaristic space hippos” are silly. And I hold “Um, why?”

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