Categories
Story games Tabletop RPGs

My favorite gaming books published in 2014 (so far)

I picked up 188 RPG products in 2014 (plus a few more than arent in RPGGeek’s database yet), 43 of which were published in 2014. Of those 43, I’ve spent enough time with enough of them to tease out a partial list of 12 favorites — partial because there are books I expect to love which aren’t included here simply because I haven’t had a chance to read them.

  • The Chained Coffin – Michael Curtis (Stonehell + DCC RPG + a setting inspired by one of the least-known authors in Appendix N, Manly Wade Wellman + a fabulously run Kickstarter that turned out a beautiful product = win. There’s a ton of stuff in this boxed set, including a killer spinning prop.
  • The Clay That Woke – From the concept to the execution, this is a fabulous book. It oozes mood, and the system — which uses tokens, not dice, drawn from the krater of lots and compared to an oracle — is fascinating. This is one of my favorite things I backed on Kickstarter in 2014.
  • Cosmic Patrol – This oddball improv game marries a genre I don’t care about (Golden Age sci-fi, robots and rayguns) and a publisher I don’t associate with weird little games (Catalyst), and the marriage is groovy. I liked the core book so much that I bought the whole line.
  • Cthonic Codex – This hand-assembled, limited edition boxed set is a buffet of peculiar, evocative goodness for any fantasy game. It’s a setting unto itself, presented in incredibly appealing . . . fragments, I guess? It’s hard to describe, but superb.
  • Dead Names: Lost Races and Forgotten Ruins (paid link) – Like other Sine Nomine books (e.g., Red Tide, which is awesome), while this is a Stars Without Number supplement it’s really a toolkit for generating weird places and species that works just as well for other games and genres, and a good one at that.
  • The Dungeon Dozen – This is in my top three for the year — it’s superb. I liked it so much that I reviewed it on Gnome Stew. If you’re a fan of old school games, old school art, and/or random tables, buy it.
  • Dwimmermount (paid link) – After the most painful crowdfunding roller coaster I’ve ever been involved with as a backer, I crossed my fingers that Dwimmermount would be as good as 2012 Martin hoped it would be. And it is! It’s a weird, wonderful monster of a dungeon that begs to be explored.
  • Guide to Glorantha – Moon Design’s two-volume doorstop dominates any shelf it sits on, and both books are simply stellar. I have no idea if I’ll ever need or use this much information on Glorantha, but I’m glad I own them.
  • Obscene Serpent Religion – Need a freaky serpent cult for your game? Of course you do! This is a toolkit for creating one, and for doing so cleverly with a minimum of effort and a lot of flavorful inspiration.

Despite trying to be thorough I’ve probably forgotten something, and I’m confident more favorites will emerge as I make my way through my to-read pile mountain. Happy gaming!

Categories
Board games Tabletop RPGs

My 2014 in games

After making my support payment to BoardGameGeek/RPGGeek, my 1/1 (or sometimes 1/2) tradition, I decided to write the post I meant to write last night — I was too tired to do it last night. So here’s my 2014 in games, by the numbers, and with more personal reflection than I was planning when I started writing

RPGs

I logged 31 gaming sessions in 2014 with my two gaming groups, one face-to-face and one virtual (Hangouts), and probably played another 5-10 that I forgot to log. The number of distinct RPGs I’ve played climbed to 93, which I’m happy about.

2014 was mostly the year of Fate Mass Effect, but we also wrapped up a great Hunter: The Reckoning campaign and a mediocre-to-bad Star Wars: Edge of the Empire campaign (run by me), and I played one-shots and short campaigns across a handful of indie RPGs, including Primetime Adventures and Dungeon World. That feels about the same as 2013 to me. I used to play more sessions, but summer is now mostly taken up by camping and hiking, and everyone in my groups has more obligations than they used to, so the numbers are down compared to a few years ago.

In hindsight, I spent too much time not feeling engaged at the gaming table. That’s happened before, and it usually teaches me some good lessons about my taste in games and gaming. I homed in more closely on what I like (player-driven stories, lighter mechanics, player agency) and don’t like (railroaded stories, filler sessions, lack of player agency, close-mindedness about games) in my gaming.

I didn’t do much GMing in 2014, and the GMing I did was almost uniformly pretty bad. I’m not sure why that is, but my GMing confidence has taken a big hit as a result. I did figure out that I don’t want to run the kinds of game my face-to-face group usually plays at the moment, though, and taking myself out of the GMing rotation for a while has reduced my stress level.

I also got some feedback about my default play style that surprised me. The whole thing was handled badly, but after a few months I’m feeling positive about the situation overall. I’ve created two PCs for 2015 that are strongly against type for me, and I’m excited to play both of them. I wish this had gone down differently, but it gave me a richer perspective on gaming as a whole and my strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots as a player, both socially and RPG-wise.

One notable high point was Google+, which has offered up a steady stream of gaming goodness and been a great outlet for me to blather about gaming stuff. I checked in several times a day most days, and enjoyed virtually all of the time I spent there.

On balance, 2014 was a mixed bag of a year unlike any other year I can remember, with higher highs and deeper lows than usual. I’m hoping 2015 has a more even and more positive vibe.

My predictions for 2015

2015 will be a lot like 2014, numbers-wise. My face-to-face group has two campaigns going, Dragon Age and Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, and my Hangouts group is playing tremulus. My Hangouts group will likely cycle through another half-dozen or so indie RPGs in 2015, and my number of sessions overall will be about the same. I won’t GM much in 2015, but I’ll try to hit 100 RPGs played.

Kickstarter and IndieGoGo

I backed 14 projects on Kickstarter (11 RPG products and 3 board games) and two on IndieGoGo (both RPG products). Compared to the combined 58 projects I backed from 2011-2013, that actually makes it a pretty average crowdfunding year for me. Which is a surprise, because I thought I’d cut way back; apparently there’s still room to trim!

Two of the board games have arrived, and I wish I hadn’t backed either of them. My track record in Kickstarted board games is 100% bad: I’ve never liked or held onto a board game I’ve backed on KS. I’m crossing my fingers that Mouse Guard: Swords & Strongholds will break that streak in 2015.

But man was it a good year for RPG stuff. The highlights were The Clay That Woke, Dwimmermount, The Chained Coffin, and a pile of fantastic stuff from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. And there’s more stuff I think I’ll greatly enjoy on the horizon.

I spent zero time browsing on Kickstarter and IndieGoGo for stuff to back, relying entirely on Google+ posts to point me to interesting projects. I backed less than half of the projects I looked at overall. I saw KS and IGG becoming a problem for me in 2013 and turned them into non-problems in 2014, which feels pretty good. (I also posted less about stuff on KS, which makes sense.)

My predictions for 2015

I’ll continue using Kickstarter and IndieGoGo in 2015, but I doubt I’ll back any board games and I suspect I’ll back fewer gaming products than I did in 2014. Crowdfunding won’t quite fall off my radar, but it will come close. Most things I might back on KS/IGG I’ll just order when they come out, or not order at all.

Board games

I played 58 distinct games, with a total of 181 plays logged in 2014. The majority of games got played once or twice; the highest play count was 20. I started logging plays in 2008, and in 2014 I crossed the 1,000-play mark, making 2014 an average year in terms of plays.

My top five most-played games were Don Quixote (solo), Connect 4 (kids), Disney Dazzling Princess (kids), Ascension: Storm of Souls, and Blokus Duo. That’s a decent snapshot of my year in board gaming, which was a good one for games with my daughter, with visitors, and solo, but a light one for gaming with my wife and gaming group.

I purged 28 games from my collection in February, and another 23 yesterday, for a total of 51 sold off in 2014. I acquired about 17 games (my best guess; I don’t track this), which is light compared to the past few years — and intentionally so. That puts my core collection — the games I want to consider when I ask myself, “What do I want to play?” — at 144, which is still bigger than it needs to be.

My board gaming h-index climbed from 12 to 13, which is a bit of a bummer as I worked on that number throughout the year. But it’s only a few plays (of the “right” games) from hitting 14, and 15 isn’t terribly far off. More games saw repeat plays in 2014, though, which was my goal.

The highlight of the year for me was getting closer to my sweet spot board game-wise. I spent more of my time playing games that I deeply enjoy and rate highly, and less of my time playing new games just for the sake of it or games I wasn’t wild about, and my collection got leaner and better overall. My favorite games in 2014 included Kingdom Builder, Hanabi, K2, Ascension: Storm of Souls, Don Quixote (solo), FlowerFall, and Lords of Waterdeep.

My predictions for 2015

I think I’ll rack up fewer solo plays (that time has been taken up by bodybuilding and other stuff), more plays with my wife, and about the same number of plays with my daughter, my gaming group, and visitors. I’ll acquire fewer new games in 2015, and will do another purge. Past purges have culled everything rated 6 or lower, but dipped into 7s; now I’m eyeing the 7s. Why aren’t they 8s? More of those can probably go too. Finally, I might just make it to 500 distinct games played in 2015.

That went from a short exercise in stats to a long, reflective post. Before writing it, I’d have generically described 2014 as “good” for games, but looking at it all broken out like this I have a more nuanced picture of the year. If you made it this far, hopefully you got some mileage out of my navel-gazing.

Happy new year!

Categories
Story games Tabletop RPGs

My daughter’s first RPG session

I wanted my daughter Lark’s first RPG experience to be one that reflected her personality and interests (at age 4), so I designed one, Storylike, for us to play New Game Day. I snapped this photo from her first-ever gaming session.

Categories
Old school Story games Tabletop RPGs

Gaming books on Lulu.com that I enjoy

I often see posts asking for Lulu RPG recommendations, and Lulu’s search functionality is pretty lacking, so rather than type mine up every time I wrote this post for easy reference. It’s up to several dozen recommendations, mostly old school products and story games, and I keep it more or less up to date with new purchases (latest update: May 29, 2018).

If you just want one recommendation, you should buy ASE1: Anomalous Subsurface Environment, which I liked so much that I bought Brian Thomas’ original art for the sasquatron (seen above, as yet unframed). The sasquatron, a robo-yeti with a crab claw, is just the tip of ASE’s iceberg of gonzo awesomeness.

Lulu runs coupons so regularly that I never order without Googling “Lulu coupon code” first. Coupon discounts come out of Lulu’s end, not the publisher’s end.

Notes about the list

Some of the links below are to specific versions (like softcover or standard paper), so you might want to check for other versions.

If I loved something and want to have little game babies with it, I *ed it. (To be clear, I like everything on this list.) If you’re curious what I think about a book in more detail, I eventually rate and comment on every gaming book I own: Here are my RPGGeek ratings.

Looking for tabletop RPG products on Lulu? Try these!

Here are a whole mess of gaming books I’ve bought on Lulu that I would recommend, in alphabetical order with links:

  1. * Advanced Edition Companion
  2. * Adventures on Dungeon Planet
  3. Adventures on Gothic Earth
  4. Agon
  5. * ASE1: Anomalous Subsurface Environment
  6. * ASE2-3: Anomalous Subsurface Environment
  7. * Augmented Reality
  8. * Barbarians of Lemuria: Legendary Edition
  9. The Barrow Mound of Gravemoor
  10. Dark Dungeons
  11. * DCC RPG Reference Booklet
  12. * Delving Deeper Reference Rules Compendium
  13. DemonSpore
  14. diaspora
  15. A Dirty World
  16. * Dodecahedron 2015 Cartographic Review
  17. d30 DM Companion
  18. * d30 Sandbox Companion
  19. Drowning & Falling
  20. * The Dungeon Dozen
  21. Dyson’s Delves
  22. * Elysium Flare
  23. Encounter Critical
  24. * Fight On! Compiled Compilation +4
  25. * Fight On! Foliated Folio +8
  26. 43 AD
  27. * 44: A Game of Automatic Fear
  28. Grey Ranks
  29. The Hell House Beckons
  30. Hollowpoint
  31. * The Hyqueous Vaults
  32. * KEFITZAT HADERECH – Incunabulum of the Uncanny Gates and Portals
  33. Knives in the Dark
  34. Knockspell 1-3
  35. * Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition
  36. Lair of the Unknown
  37. Last Train Out of Warsaw
  38. * The Lazy Dungeon Master
  39. * Love in the Time of Seið
  40. * METAL SHOWCASE 11PM
  41. * The Metamorphica
  42. NOD Magazine (link is to issue 1, but there are many more after that one)
  43. * Norwegian Style
  44. Original Edition Characters
  45. OSRIC
  46. * Petty Gods: Revised & Expanded Edition
  47. Planet Motherfucker
  48. * Play Unsafe
  49. * A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming (direct link to free PDF)
  50. Realms of Crawling Chaos
  51. REIGN
  52. Santicore 2011
  53. * Santicore 2013
  54. Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume One
  55. Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume Two
  56. Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume Three
  57. Seven Voyages of Zylarthen, Volume Four
  58. * Shadowbrook Manor
  59. * The Shadow of Yesterday
  60. SlaughterGrid
  61. * Stalker RPG
  62. * Stonehell Dungeon: Down Night-Haunted Halls
  63. Stonehell Dungeon: Into the Heart of Hell
  64. * Super Mission Force[1]
  65. Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox Rules
  66. * Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque
  67. * Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque II
  68. Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque III
  69. Teratic Tome
  70. 3d6 Supers!
  71. * Tomb of the Iron God
  72. * Transylvanian Adventures
  73. Ulverland
  74. * Uresia: Grave of Heaven
  75. Warriors of the Red Planet
  76. * Whitehack
  77. * Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols! Volume One Compilation
  78. ZeFRS

I apologize to your wallet in advance. Happy gaming!

[1] Super Mission Force is a skirmish miniatures game, but it supports campaign play, features characters with skills useful outside of combat, and deliberately straddles a the fuzzy line that separates RPGs from wargames, so I included it here.

Categories
Free RPGs Story games Tabletop RPGs

Eaten Away, a 24-hour RPG

I created my first complete RPG, Eaten Away, for the 2012 RPG Geek 24-Hour RPG Contest. It’s a pickup game of zombie horror, no prep required.

I designed Eaten Away on October 15, 2012. After waking up at 4:00 a.m. with a splitting headache, I got the idea for what became the Attrition System at 7:00 a.m. while I was drinking my morning coffee. My first thought was, “Hey, this is pretty neat.” My second thought was, “Shit, my 24 hours just started . . .”

I fleshed it out, decided it was perfect for a zombie horror game — which would also save me some time by sidestepping the need for setting material — and did most of the conceptualization in the car that morning. From idea to playable game, Eaten Away took me about 13 hours to create.

Its inspirations include the countdown clock in John Wick’s Shotgun Diaries, the core mechanic in James V. West’s free RPG The Pool, the toolkit approach to setting creation in Eden Studios’ All Flesh Must Be Eaten, and the construction of free-form dice pools in Margaret Weis Productions’ Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, as well as the safe house concept and narrative arc in the video game Left 4 Dead. The setting and theme were inspired by a range of zombie movies and fiction, but especially by The Walking Dead — both the comic and the TV show, in slightly different ways.

If that sounds appealing, you can download it as a free PDF.

Categories
Books DCC RPG Old school Reading Appendix N Tabletop RPGs

The DCC RPG and a reading list

Part of my inspiration for this project came from my copy of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. The DCC RPG is based on Appendix N, and itself has an Appendix N. In that appendix is this picture of all of the Appendix N titles the author, Joseph Goodman, read before and during the time he worked on the game:

I saw that picture and immediately thought, Holy shit, that looks like fun. As inspirations for Reading Appendix N go, this one played a big role. Something about not only reading all of those books, but also tracking them all down, hit me somewhere primal. “Book + collection” goes straight to my rat-brain.

Joseph also proposed the same common-sense guidelines I’m following for this project: Read everything listed by title or series, and pick a representative work where no title/series is listed. While I didn’t crack open the DCC RPG to use as a template for Reading Appendix N, I’m sure Joseph’s guidelines helped frame the whole project in my mind. Some of the books he picked I followed his lead on, some we both chose independently, and some don’t overlap at all.

The DCC RPG

The DCC RPG is awesome and well worth checking out; here’s the Amazon link (paid link). Even if you never play it, the amount of amazing old school artwork it boasts is worth the price of admission.

An Amazon Listmania! list

I’m not the first to post an Appendix N reading list online — something I’m going to do shortly, having spent several days working on it. This Amazon Listmania! list (paid link) was inspired by the DCC RPG, and appears complete.

I’m in favor of any effort to spread the word about Appendix N, but that list isn’t exactly the kind of tool I need. It’s not in a useful order, doesn’t list individual works by title, doesn’t provide notes or other extras, and doesn’t explain the thinking behind the personal recommendations the list creator made.

I’m also not the first person to undertake reading Appendix N (and I certainly hope I’m not the last!), and that’s fine by me. What I’m trying to do here on Yore is tackle this project in a way that’s useful and interesting to others as well as enjoyable for me. Where a tool exists — like the above list — that’s less than ideal, I aim to build a better one. Stay tuned for my Appendix N reading list, which should go up shortly!