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Rogue Warden’s Comicpalooza Report

Greetings, readers! It has been far too long since I last put up a blog post here. My apologies – April and May were just a madhouse around the Watson household.

Rather than make any excuses, I’m going to jump right in and talk about something a lot more interesting. This blog post is about Comicpalooza 2014 in Houston, Texas.

Celebrities

I was one of the gaming guests of honor this year, and it was an honor to come to Houston and talk about gaming with tons of great fans and other industry professionals. As for the convention itself – it was amazing! There were a ton of celebrities in attendance, from Cary Elwes to Erin Grey. I actually got a chance to briefly meet and speak with two Doctors; Colin Baker and Paul McGann. I met Mike Mignola and told him how much Hellboy had influenced Accursed! These celebrities included Stan “The Man” Lee and a host of cosplay celebrities like Ivy Doomkitty. The Dealer’s hall was enormous; easily the same size as Gen Con’s, but the walkways were very nice and wide. This made travelling through the Dealer’s room pleasant rather than a chore, and I definitely appreciated the feeling of space—which is not to say that the Dealer’s room was empty. It was chock full of amazing stuff, including some comic book legends like Neal Adams.

Costumes and Arcades

Another amazing feature of Comicpalooza was a free-play arcade on the 3rd floor, featuring some amazing classic pinball and arcade video games. I simply couldn’t pass by it without stopping to try out a round or two of Attack on Mars.

Comicpalooza4

 

Costumes were another memorable fact of Comicpalooza—I haven’t seen this many fantastic costumes since Otakon in Baltimore. I took a ton of pictures and saw many, many more great costumes that I didn’t have time to snapshot.

Comicpalooza2

Gaming Guests

And as for being a gaming guest of honor, I was in good company… Adam Daigle of Paizo and Owen KC Stephens (a designer for many companies, amongst them including his own Rogue Genius Games). These two gentlemen have a lot of experience and insight into the gaming industry, and it was a pleasure to sit next to them in many panels on design and game elements.

Breandan O’Ciarrai was also in attendance (although his name is so Irish my keyboard can’t quite cope! Sorry!) of Dark Nova games, and he and his wife were great ambassadors for their games. I had a good time running through a quick demo and I wished I could find more room in the schedule to continue exploring his setting.

Jason Yarnell of D3 Adventures was the gaming guest “handler,” and he did a great job of herding cats—I mean, game developers—to all the places we needed to be on time. He also moderated our panels, and was a big part of what made the gaming track so awesome. We did a panel on getting into the industry, a panel on networking (awkward when it turned out two of the panelists, myself included, forgot to bring business cards…), a panel on encounter design and a panel on monster design. The design panels were incredibly fun, and we ended up working with the audience to design some monsters that were quite interesting; Pirhanaloths, strange, bloodthirsty fish-men who raid coastal villages in packs (or schools?). A unique feature is the hallucinogenic fog that they can create above water.

The Comicpalooza Gaming Track

Joe Charles was the Comicpalooza representative who organized all the gaming at Comicpalooza, and he deserves special mention for his hard work. The gaming track went very smoothly all around, and Joe wasted no time diving right in whenever there was trouble. The gaming areas were full most of the time—Skirmisher publishing had their own pavilion (again, with plenty of space) where they had set up “Little Orc Wars,” a family-friendly miniatures gaming area with lots of great terrain and rubber-band-powered catapults slinging tiny stones around willy-nilly. It was great! Darryl Mott, my co-host for the Gamer’s Tavern podcast, joined me in a game of Pathfinder with the Dungeonstone folks. This game was quite fun and showed off the nigh-indestructible dungeon terrain that they make. I give it two big thumbs-up!

Comicpalooza1

 

One other great feature (and something I sincerely hope the convention continues) is the “indy game alley,” a setup where four independent game groups were able to showcase their stuff right in the main area where they get maximum foot traffic on the third floor. The alley was adjacent to the main gaming area (convenient for both guests and the game groups themselves) and it really helped raise awareness of these smaller companies who can’t really afford a big booth in the dealer’s hall.

In addition, the Cracked Monocle crew was in attendance promoting the steampunk RPG Tephra. These guys are at nearly every Texas convention, and they always represent their game very well—from the awesome costumes to the magnificent facial hair, the Cracked Monocle guys always manage to make many larger game company crews look jealous! I got to play a short game of Tephra, and it was quite enjoyable—I played it with the designer of the game, Daniel Burrow.

The Skirmisher crew teamed up with Darryl and myself for a D-infinity webcast live from the convention on Sunday. It was a real treat to sit at the table with Wil Thrasher, Mike Varhola, and the rest of the Skirmisher guys! We got a chance to return the favor later on when Wil joined in for a Comicpalooza special episode of the Gamer’s Tavern recorded in Darryl’s hotel room.

Party Time

In fact, Wil has a real talent for setting up some amazing industry parties. The Skirmisher open house was absolutely the place to be nearly every night. At least two Doctor Whos showed up to party with us gamers, and plenty of folks in some really memorable costumes. The food and drinks were top-notch as well. If you ever attend Comicpalooza (or really, anywhere that Skirmisher is running the parties), make sure you check out the Skirmisher “traditional” attire of hospital scrubs.

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In Closing

Comicpalooza was awesome, I had a great time, and I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anybody… especially gamers. I’m already planning to head back next year as a guest to run some Star Wars: Edge of the Empire games. I hope to see you there!

Rogue Warden has a new home!

Viking Ross

 

Greetings, readers! As you can see, Rogue Warden has a new home at therosswatson.com, which is my brandy-new personal website. All the posts and comments and images have been moved over here, and keep checking back for more all-new posts taking flight from this site. Thanks for your patience!

Interview Time: Scott Heine

Greetings, readers! Today I’ve got an interview with one of my favorite superhero RPG writers, Scott Heine. Scott is not only a gifted writer, he’s an excellent roleplayer as well–I got a chance to sit down with him at Herocon MD back in 2007. In addition, Scott is a Senior Paster at the Hope Christian Fellowship and spends a lot of time working with young people in his community.
Scott surveys the booths at Gen Con.
Anyone who’s been following the Warden for a while will probably know that Scott worked on some of my favorite Superhero RPG supplements of all time, including the mind-blowing Mind Games, To Serve and Protect, and other books for the Hero System (primarily in its 4th edition–my favorite).
It is a real pleasure to talk to Scott today about his contributions to the Hero System and Champions. Scott’s work is an excellent resource to anyone looking to run a superhero RPG game, and I am always happy to run into Scott at Gen Con. If you ever get a chance to game with him at a convention or otherwise, I highly recommend it!
As always, my questions are in red text.
RW: Can you tell me a little about yourself as a gamer and as a game industry professional?

SH: I discovered my first RPG when I received the boxed Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set back in the late 1970s. The idea of creating your own stories and adventures caught my interest, and I soon connected with a group of players at our local library. When Champions was released by Hero Games in 1981, I was seated at the table for the very 1st convention demo game, and I was completely hooked. The years that followed were filled with some of the best friendships and shared comic-book storytelling that a guy could ever want.
Over time, my attention shifted from being a gamer to being a designer, though it was always more of a hobby for me than a job. I found it particularly satisfying to create characters or storylines that players enjoyed, and I have really enjoyed the relationships with other authors and illustrators in the industry.
RW: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?
SH: After getting married and moving to the other side of the country for grad school, my fondness for Champions remained though life was far too busy and gaming friends were too far away. So I channeled my enthusiasm and puttered away on an idea for an adventure module that would feature the characters from our games. When I submitted the manuscript and sample illustrations to Hero Games, they offered to publish the module. It was definitely a case of being at the right place at the right time. Then came an opportunity to write and illustrate another supplement, then another, and soon I found myself being invited as a guest at a few local gaming conventions. Without realizing it, I had become a part-time freelance game designer.
RW: You’ve written some of my favorite all-time Superhero RPG books during your career. What is it about the superhero genre that you love?
SH: There’s something very classic and “mythic” about the superhero genre; in many ways, comic books offer a modernization of the very ancient traditions of bigger-than-life heroes. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy flying, right? The sense of good vs. evil is exaggerated, allowing for dramatic and engaging stories. Yet the opportunity exist for heroes to be fleshed out with their own personal struggles and challenges which must be overcome, so the “heroics” involve both external and internal conflicts.
RW: Do you have any entertaining stories about creating or playtesting To Serve and Protect or Mind Games?
SH: Mind Games was written at the same time that the 4th edition (the “Big Blue Book”) was in development, so I was developing material without a clear idea of how psionic abilities would work. Though the book was originally going to be a focus on the mechanics of mental powers in the game, the decision was made to shift attention to developing characters and sample storylines instead. I had a lot of fun thinking through the combinations of psychotic psychology and superpowers, leading to a couple of nasty love-to-hate-‘em villains. When I received my first round of notes from editor Rob Bell, the pages were full of red ink with various changes, rules tweaks, etc. — Rob was tough! But the page describing the villain Mind Slayer simply had one word written across it in large, bold, red letters. (It rhymes with “itch.”) I laughed pretty hard that day.
RW: What is something great about working in the RPG industry?
SH: The people are the best — they’re usually really friendly, extremely creative, and super intelligent. It’s really easy to hang out with publishers, authors, and artists and swap “war stories” of various projects, great moments in gaming, opinions of movies and books, etc.
This supplement is one of the best Champions books ever made.
RW: What is something really bad about working in the RPG industry?
SH: As much as the industry focuses on people having fun, it’s still a business. And for some companies, it’s a struggling business. I remember doing work for a publisher and struggling to get paid. The company continued to ask for additional work in order to generate the funds necessary to pay off past debts, and it quickly became an unpleasant vicious circle. Before long, too many conversations between gaming friends included talk about rotten business practices; it sort of diminished the enjoyment of being creative at the time.
RW: How has your perception of working professionally in the RPG industry changed over the last 5 years?
SH: As I’ve grown older, so have the friends I’ve made in the industry, and many folks have moved on to other careers. Naturally, we’ve also seen lots of fresh young talent entering the industry, and I’ve enjoyed seeing new creativity. Technology continues to advance, allowing for beautifully produced books and game elements (the idea of a gaming book filled with color illustrations was unheard of when I began). And the increasing quality of computer graphics and multiplayer experiences continues to create an easy, attractive alternative to traditional tabletop RPGs, though probably at the expense of the relationships that would otherwise be cultivated.
RW: You’ve been in charge of your own projects before… how would you do things differently now as opposed to the first couple of projects you were in charge of?
SH: I’d like to think that my skills as a storyteller and illustrator have grown since the early days. I look back on books from a quarter century ago and smile with the nostalgia of it all but also cringe at the quality compared to contemporary products. If I were creating those books today, I’d enjoy taking advantage of modern publishing techniques and a more seasoned skill for character and plot development. I’d also be more insistent on the inclusion of humor in the products, because I think gaming is best when it provokes a little laughter along the way.
RW: What do you believe is the most important aspect of professionalism in the RPG industry from the viewpoint of the freelancer? What about from the viewpoint of a publisher?
SH: Great questions! Freelancers need to have an accurate understanding of how the market works and what the audience desires so they can apply their creativity toward products that will not only be enjoyable for gamers but also profitable for publishers. Publishers need to interact with their talent in a manner that fosters respect and empowerment, inviting artists and authors to understand the vision and the limitations that apply to the work. Basically, both the creators and the publishers need to have a healthy relationship in which each side is helping the other side succeed at their goals.
RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?
SH: The RPG industry, along with the entertainment industries in general, seem to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to cultural standards. On the one hand, this makes perfect sense; these businesses are there to make a profit and capitalize on whatever provokes a response with audiences. On the other hand, this leads to a disproportionate presence of “darker” themes and genres in the marketplace. Perhaps it’s a sociological slippery slope, or perhaps I’m truly becoming an “old fogy.” But I’d love to see a movement of publishing RPG products that engage families, allowing parents and younger children to experience the fun of shared storytelling, with themes that are fun and uplifting. Perhaps kids who can be lured away from the TV and video games into truly satisfying (and, dare I say it, educational?) role-playing might remain loyal customers for the industry as they grow older.
RW: What do you feel is the best way for a game industry professional to engage with customers and fans?
SH: Designers who make themselves accessible through online forums, blogs, and face-to-face encounters at conventions demonstrate gratitude and respect for the audience that enjoys their work. It’s always important to remember that fans are there to connect with the creators in a way that enhances their enjoyment. Be cool! Have fun!
RW: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an RPG professional?
SH: My most enduring contribution has been the foundational characters from the Mind Games supplement. For some reason, that product has provoked a more enduring response. I was especially pleased the first time I encountered the villain Mind Slayer in the Champions Online MMO. When she actually spoke, I was really tickled. Somewhere a voice actress had brought my character to life. (By the way, I might have had the same reaction when an actress appeared dressed as Mind Slayer at GenCon to promote the initial release of the game, but the studios had radically altered her appearance from what I first envisioned and the final result would make a grown man blush. It was kind of hard to engage that actress in conversation when she was wearing so little fabric.)
RW: What do you feel is your greatest setback as an RPG professional?
SH: At some point, I began developing a book we were calling Champions by the Bay which would have fully fleshed out the characters that originally appeared in To Serve and Protect, and would have provided a rich, detailed campaign environment set in San Francisco. However, delinquent payments on past work from the publisher caused me to discontinue the project. By the time things were straightened out, publishers had changed and the product line was moving in a different creative direction. A while back I ran across my early drafts of that unpublished book, and it was fun browsing through the ideas. It would have been great.
RW: How do you feel about representation of awards and recognition for quality in the gaming industry?
SH: Recognizing excellence prompts the industry to pursue excellence, and a little friendly competition is always fun, right?
RW: What is your favorite part of a gaming-related convention?
One of my favorite Champions supplements.
SH: I really enjoy meeting new people, interacting with gamers, and seeing old friends. Grabbing a farewell dinner at the end of the con is always a highlight. But perhaps my favorite convention experience involved grabbing reservations for a game of Champions, sitting down at the table, and realizing that nobody recognized my name. As the adventure unfolded, we discovered that the GM was using villains that I had created for one of my books. It was a blast watching someone else’s take on the characters! (I never shared my connection to those characters with the GM, but left very satisfied for the experience.) 
RW: If you were a pulp-era adventurer, you’d be a…?
SH: I’d be a bookworm scholar at some university library of ancient religious tomes, and the heroes would call on me and drag me into their adventures for my knowledge of some obscure mythology or something. Of course, I’d never carry a gun, but my old days of boxing as a student would come in mighty handy…
RW: What’s your favorite RPG (that you have not worked on)?
SH: Fortunately, I was able to create for my favorite RPG, though I think I would have enjoyed creating sourcebooks for other genres in the Hero System (especially pulp-era stuff).
RW: If you could pick up the dice and play an RPG right this very instant, you’d play…?
SH: Champions, of course. It would be fun to see what’s happened to some of our old characters. But, more importantly, it would be great just to gather around the table with old friends again.

Genghis Con 2014 Report

Greetings, readers! Today, I’m going to share a brief report of my time at Genghis Con in Aurora, Colorado this year. I was a gaming guest of honor, and thoroughly enjoyed my trip. Genghis Con is one of my favorite conventions, and it is something I strongly urge any gamer to check out if they can.
Eventually, I need to post a follow-up about just what it is that makes Genghis Con such a fantastic gathering of gamers. Something more to put on my “to-do” list! 
Wednesday Night: I arrived and was picked up by DGA president Bill Stilson and his wife Tammy. Bill and Tammy waited with me for Michael Surbrook to arrive and we talked about all kinds of stuff. Bill and Tammy are wonderful people! Unfortunately, Surbrook’s luggage was lost, but would eventually be mailed to the hotel.
Thursday: Started the day out with a nice surprise–the Red Lion hotel for the convention had greatly improved its restaurant! Breakfast was actually quite good. Followed this up with talking to Robert Dorf and his lovely wife Elizabeth A Dorf, hanging out with Jacob Burgess, and generally enjoying the company of friends!
That afternoon, I got a chance to be part of a Savage Worlds Smiling Jack’s Bar and Grill Podcast with Sean Patrick Fannon and Justin Suzuki, with plenty of other folks (including Michael, Sean Gore, Chris Fuchs, and others).
My evening game was very special–I had been invited to a Rogue Trader RPG game where I was to take on the role of my very own PC/NPC, Sarvus Trask! The GM had thoughtfully included an old character sheet for Trask and his ship, and the adventure was a fine time had by all with a clever twist at the end. An excellent start to the convention!
Friday: In the morning, I ran my Shadows Angelus game for Michael Surbrook and a group of four other gamers (among whom I remember “Mohawk guy” as the most memorable) who had played two years ago. It was awesome to find people following Shadows Angelus from year to year. Mike seemed to particularly enjoy the fun, and we fought demons all morning long. My afternoon game was Dreadnaught, ran by Jacob Burgess. In this game, I played a Texas Ranger dealing with a surprising foe in an alternate post-civil-war encounter with trains fighting other trains. It was a lot of fun, and ended with some surprising character interactions. Playing a Texan while BEING a Texan was actually quite fun as well.
Lars Shear (left), Olivia (center, and our awesome server), Jacob Burgess (right).
Friday night was the first of the two most memorable and exciting games of the convention for me (and possibly one of the best games of all time that I’ve been a part of): Bill Keyes’ The Widening Gyre. This game had an all-star squad of players, from Mike to Ken (forgot last name), Dan (forgot last name), Jake, and another fellow (forgot name entirely). Part of the reason I have trouble remembering the names of the players is that we all submerged entirely into our characters for the night, one of those magical games where we were in total immersion for the setting, cracking some hilarious jokes, and basically enjoying the cream of the crop for everything that is Steampunk. My character invented an electric guitar and heavy metal about two centuries too early, and we fought Ninjas, explored ruins, and rescued folk from dire threats. It was absolutely one of the best gaming experiences I can remember.
Saturday: I ran a game of my setting for Savage Worlds, Accursed in the morning. The game overall went pretty well, although there were some bumps along the way with my handling of the character sheets. I always look critically at my own work and I am certain I could have done this much better–and will, in the future. However, I am reasonably certain everyone had a good time (Robert Dorf was doing very well as the golem priest and Mike Surbrook took the Revenant Witch Hunter like a pro!).
Saturday afternoon provided the second incredibly memorable game of the convention. Robert Dorf ran his Champions of Justice 2014 game where we took on the roles of Luchadors fighting for the honor of the ring. The game was incredibly imaginative and entertaining, ending with one of the most climactic battles ever—a 90-foot tall Vampire doing battle with a 90-foot tall Mega-Lucha!
Saturday evening, I participated in one of Sean Patrick Fannon’s Justice & Life games for his setting, Shaintar. This was my fourth time playing Shaintar, but it was the first playing alongside Sean as a fellow gamer rather than with him as the GM. Sean had turned over the GMing reins that night to Sean Gore instead, and the evening’s adventure was a bunch of rollicking good fun. Sean and I had some fantastic roleplay moments between his priest and my paladin, especially when pondering the unique nature of the two worlds (Shaintar and Accursed) colliding as they had. At the end of the night, I was able to throw in one of the Savage Worlds Adventure cards (Noble Sacrifice) to great effect, essentially saving Sean from sacrificing his priest to close a portal to evil. It was great fun, and I definitely see the appeal of the continuing, living universe built by the Justice and Life concept.
Bill Keyes, with Mike Surbrook on the left.
Sunday: The final day of Genghis Con is always a challenge—all the energy and passion of the last few days tends to catch up to people (and lack of sleep!), and this year was no exception. My morning game was to run a game of Deathwatch (once more featuring Mike Surbrook and the crew of “Mohawk guy”). The game went really well overall, and Mike managed to find a way to broker a nearly impossible compromise between the three bickering Space Marine chapters—something that’s never been done before in over six different runs of that particular scenario. In the afternoon, I played in another of Jake Burgess’ games, this time Fantasy Hero! I got to play a big dumb barbarian who was more than he seemed (and the perfect role for someone as loopy and tired as I was). We ended the con with the (by now traditional) Birthday dinner for Tammy Keyes at Pappadeaux… I had a fantastic steak!
And thus ends another year of Genghis Con. I’m already counting the days until I can go again. I’m extremely grateful to the DGA, the Con Committee, Bill Stilson and Leif and Ed and all the other great folks who run Genghis Con, the Rocky Mountain Savages, Chris Fuchs, Justin Suzuki, and all the gamers and GMs I got to play games with this year.

Roleplaying as Another Gender


Sometimes, it is just like this.
Greetings readers, I’m interested to find out how people feel about this particular blog post, because I consider it to be yet another (somewhat) controversial topic: playing RPG characters of a gender other than your own.
  
I should begin by stating that my personal opinion is that the whole point of roleplaying is to be someone other than yourself, and that can certainly include things like race (such as playing an elf) as well as social class (say, a king or prince) and, naturally, gender as well.
To reiterate: My opinion is that roleplaying a character of another gender from your own is just fine.

Also, just to clarify, I’m talking about a player roleplaying as another gender in a gaming group over a campaign, not the DM and not generally in one-shot games (such as ones found at gaming conventions).
This topic is somewhat controversial because there are many gaming groups out there where playing a character of another gender is discouraged or considered “weird.” 
In my experience, many all-male groups find a male player roleplaying as a female character (aside from the GM) to be taboo. There are many other resources on the internet discussing this topic (such as Sandy Antunes’ article) as well.

My Take

I think it is important to start out this topic by stating that I’ve played several female characters over the years, and many of them are amongst the most memorable characters I’ve ever created. So, keep in mind that I’m speaking from experience as a gamer who enjoys occasionally playing characters of another gender. I’m not going to classify myself as an expert by any means, however!
Our world is going through some interesting changes with how gender is perceived, especially with regards to gender roles, their perception (quite recently and prominently in the gaming space), human sexuality, and people who are transgender. I think now is a good time to continue the conversation about these issues through the lens of our shared hobby.

Why Play Another Gender?

Or people pretending to be girls.
This was not an easy blog post to write. My inner procrastinator actively attempted to discourage me from writing this by offering distraction after distraction, but… ooh, shiny! Seriously though, this is a topic I’ve wanted to cover for some time on Rogue Warden.
As I mentioned above, I think roleplaying as another gender is fine—it’s something I’ve done myself on many occasions. In addition, I think there’s something very rewarding about opening up and seeing things through the eyes of someone completely different from myself. This, of course, ncludes gender, expectations of gender roles, and how that gender is involved with the society of the game’s setting.
Roleplaying as a different gender, in my opinion, helps people understand gender issues like stereotypes, the reactions from people that other genders are exposed to, and the ramifications of a gender-separated society. For example, the Zentraedi race in the Robotech RPG are strictly segregated by gender. The males and females go so far as to have their own separate military formations, command structures, and unique war machines. It can be very interesting to explore some of the social issues that flow from such an usual structure.
To look at it from one perspective, I once wrote up an NPC who was the first woman paladin of a specific knightly order. This situation was interesting to me because of the idea of breaking down the social barriers barring women from fighting, and exploring some of the really unique elements (such as the way Paladins in this setting were focused on facing and defeating supernatural evil) that made this setup different. Another perspective is a legacy character I once designed based on the DC Comics setting, involving the son of Batman and Wonder Woman. The direction I wanted to go involved the boy learning to fight from his mother’s people, the Amazons, who have only very rarely welcomed men onto their secluded island.
Ultimately, roleplaying as a different gender is an experience that I would unhesitatingly recommend to most mature roleplayers. It provides a chance to see things through fresh eyes and can add some unique dynamics to make a particular character or campaign that much more memorable. Before I go on, however, let’s talk a bit about character concepts.

Gender and Character Concepts

I’ve been roleplaying now for over 29 years, and in that time, I’ve played a very large amount of different RPGs. My experience has taught me that I can come up with a character concept for just about any particular setting or campaign. However, I have also learned that, for me, some character concepts inherently possess characteristics that move them towards a particular gender.
Some character concepts make sense as any gender.
For example, many of my character concepts are inherently masculine in my imagination. If I want to play Jack Burton, Jr., (from the film Big Trouble in Little China), I simply can’t imagine the character as anything other than a man. Similarly, I came up with a superhero-in-powered armor vigilante character idea called Technicality that just wouldn’t fit anything other than a woman.
Below is a brief selection of characters that I felt were inherently a feminine concept:

Technicality

As mentioned above, Technicality was one of the darker characters I ever played. She was featured in my good friend Grady Elliot’s campaign, Vendetta Rhapsody. You can find her character sheet here.

Monolith

Featured in Digital Hero, this character was originally built for the old Marvel Super Heroes game by TSR. I especially enjoyed the playing-against-type bit in our high school game where she was one of the better football players in her school.

Ramien Meltides

One of my favorite tropes is the young innocent thrust into a world of adventure, and my first character to really take advantage of this was Ramien. She was a farmgirl fresh from the orchards of her homeland when she was plunged into a grand quest.

Miss Junior Olympia

A pastiche of Mary Marvel, this character was actually created by my good friend Robert Dorf for his Young Titans game, but I quickly adopted her. I love the idea of a “Mary Marvel”-esque character, especially with Robert’s particular twist that, in his campaign, each of the young heroes has a particular mentor. Miss Junior Olympia is being trained by Ithicles, a great hero who occasionally gets his ward into trouble.

Shadows Angelus

Now, this example is from the standpoint of a GM rather than a player. I ran two campaigns set in Shadows Angelus, both times with an all-male group of players. In the second game, I ended up with 4 female characters and 2 male characters. This made for an interesting dynamic that we nicknamed “Charlie’s Angels.” Having a group with the majority as female characters made for some very intriguing situations (especially when the characters were off-duty).

Fun Uber Alles

For me, roleplaying games are all about having fun above all. So, while I am an advocate for trying out roleplaying as another gender, and while for me personally, having something like that in a game is never a dealbreaker, I’d recommend testing the waters out with your group (i.e., talk it over!) before jumping in with both feet. I believe that (in general) having fun is optimized when everyone feels safe and comfortable! This next section of the post talks about the best practices (in my experience) that people should keep in mind when roleplaying as another gender.

For the Player

Maturity

This should go without saying, but I am a big believer in getting everything out in the open up front as much as possible: you should be a mature roleplayer to roleplay a gender other than your own. Portraying another gender in an immature or inappropriate manner makes everyone sad. It makes you sad, because doing this is tantamount to admitting idiocy. It also makes everyone else sad, because most gamers don’t show up to the table to see crude portrayals of other genders (especially with stereotypical or exaggerated social tropes).

Even classic characters take on new dimensions when in another gender.
This is not to say that you should never, ever roleplay as a character that exemplifies a stereotype—it can be done, and it can be done well. Even then, however, I would only entrust such a portrayal to a mature roleplayer.

Consistency

Roleplaying any character consistently is a vital element to making the other folks at the table understand what your character is about. I would say that consistency is even more important when you are roleplaying as another gender.

Separation from Reality

Roleplaying as another gender can be awkward, especially if other gamers around the table are focusing on the player’s appearance and mannerisms rather than his or her character’s. One possible solution for this is a tactic that helps separate the two.
One thing that has worked well for me is to have a picture of my character at the table, either printed out or present on an ipad or tablet. Putting this image up so that it is visible during roleplaying scenes can make it easier for other players to imagine interacting with your character rather than the player.
This separation works especially well over the internet. When I was playing on MUXes back in the day, the medium of pure text made the player’s real-life gender more or less irrelevant.

For the GM

Romance and Sex

In a character-driven campaign, it is not unlikely for characters to get into meaningful relationships—either with each other or prominent NPCs in the game setting. This can include situations such as romance and sex, both of which should be treated with respect when you are roleplaying as someone of the opposite gender. Gamemasters often roleplay as males and females of various races during the course of a campaign, and thus, GMs are the kinds of roleplayers who are generally most experienced at accurately and respectfully portraying someone of another gender from their own. Now, the subject of romance and sex in games is a large one—far too big for a single post to cover comprehensively—so all I will say here is that the GM should carefully consider how he approaches these issues in a campaign when the players are roleplaying as another gender. This consideration is just to ensure that (again) everyone feels comfortable during the game and that the most fun is had by all.

In Closing

Here are some interesting links discussing the concept of a man roleplaying as a woman and vice versa. I won’t say I agree with everything in these threads, but I think there’s some very interesting and thought-provoking material there for those who want to know more.

Interview Time: Mack Martin

The man himself.

Greetings, readers! I’m very pleased to present an interview with a good friend and colleague of mine, Mack Martin. I first met Mack when he spoke to me about working in the gaming industry and his podcast (which at the time was Dice Like Thunder) at a convention called Adepticon in Chicago, Illinois. When the time came that there was an opening in the RPG department at Fantasy Flight Games, I unhesitatingly recommended Mack for the job. Mack and I got to work together for a couple of years at FFG and it was excellent to collaborate with him, because he’s very creative and he has a very agile mind when it comes to game design.

Mack is now the head RPG guru and miniature design czar at Wyrd Games, having developed some great games like Evil Baby Orphanage and, more recently, Malifaux 2.0. Mack joins us here on Rogue Warden to answer some of my questions about his experiences in the industry.
As always, my questions are in red text:
RW: Can you tell me a little about yourself as a gamer and as a game industry professional?
MM: Like many game designers I’ve been playing games for a very long time. I was raised (more or less) by my Grandmother, and she tried desperately to stop me from playing D&D and MTG when I was in high school. It didn’t work to well, and now she and I have a pretty good laugh about it.
My true loves are RPGs and Miniatures games. I like games where the two collide a lot. I think that’s pretty evident in my appreciation for both Pathfinder and D&D 4th. I’ve been playing miniatures games for years, and I’ve enjoyed the Warhammer 40k tournament scene a lot in the past. 
Unfortunately, I have bad luck playing in RPG’s.
I call it the 5 level curse. I only get to play about 5 levels worth of an RPG before something happens. Sometimes terrible things (shudder). I occasionally wonder if this has skewed my view of RPGs. If it has, I can only hope that it gives the RPG’s I design a unique feel and that it isn’t readily apparent in my design philosophy.
To date I’ve worked on the following properties: Warhammer 40k Roleplay, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Dust Warfare, Dust Tactics, Malifaux, Through the Breach, & Evil Baby Orphanage. I’ve also worked on a few projects that didn’t see market, and I’m currently working on a hard sci-fi miniatures wargame, but that’s still in early development.
RW: How did you get your start in the RPG industry?
MM: Ross actually gave me my start in the industry during his tenure as the lead RPG developer at FFG. I had been podcasting and making my own homebrew supplements for a while, and I had a degree in Game Design, but I was looking for work, and Ross and the gang at FFG chose me to come on board as a producer.
Mack designed this game within weeks of starting at Wyrd.
A lot of people ask me how to get into the industry, and the answer is simple. Just start doing it. I was putting free PDF’s up online, and it gave me a portfolio of tested material that I believe made it possible for me to get my foot in the door. I only knew Ross from the two interviews he’d done with my podcast, we weren’t friends at the time, I had to prove that I could wrangle testing and produce a decent final product. There are companies (like FFG) who are willing to give a new guy a shot, if he can show he is willing to learn the skill. Start writing and applying!
RW: What is something great about working in the RPG industry?
MM: I wake up every morning excited to go to work. Sick days are a real punishment to me. I often just end up working while lounging in bed. There is just nothing like the joy of seeing a product you made on the shelf at the local game store.
RW: What is something really bad about working in the RPG industry?
MM: For the most part the industry is great, and its fans are the best. I don’t say that to pander to the audience, but to counter balance this next point. Some people are cray-cray! I’ve had guys follow me into the bathroom, make up wild stories and accusations about me, and even try to bargain uh… services for information on future releases. It can get pretty insane.
RW: How has your perception of working professionally in the RPG industry changed over the last 5 years?
MM: Honestly, it’s been pretty much what I expected. I used to think there was a lot more money that went into producing products. Before I started working in the industry I used to have much stronger opinions. Now I have a much broader view. I know that I’m not the only kind of gamer out there, and just because a game doesn’t appeal to me personally, that doesn’t make it a bad game. I would say I’m a lot mellower now, and I look back on what I used to think and it’s kind of embarrassing sometimes. I owe Jervis Johnson a serious apology!
RW: You’ve been in charge of your own projects before… how would you do things differently now as opposed to the first couple of projects you were in charge of?
MM: I’m a bit more “shoot from the hip” now. I used to work very hard to keep a tight schedule so that everything would fit into a standard eight hour day and get done. Now I just accept that sometimes I need to put in a twelve hour day, but sometimes I have a more relaxing schedule. I’ve become much more accepting of crunch time vs. creative time.
I also tend to target certain areas of a game much more aggressively and add extra effort to them. My current project, for instance, sees me giving some real in depth thought to Line of Sight systems, and I think I’ve finally found a way to make an abstract LoS system run smoothly without having pages of explanation.
RW: What do you believe is the most important aspect of professionalism in the RPG industry from the viewpoint of the freelancer? What about from the viewpoint of a publisher?
MM: Staying calm and communicating. This is a tricky one, because a game company is habitually under staff. As long as both parties keep communicating, and have respect for each other, I think everything goes well. This is beyond the bare-minimums in my mind, like paying for work and getting work completed within quality standards and deadlines. I mean the day to day, the building of a game communication.
RW: If you could change one thing about the RPG industry, what would it be?
MM: This is going to get me in trouble… but the pricing system. Games right now aren’t profitable enough to really put a lot of budget behind a project. Luckily, Kickstarter is helping to alleviate that problem, and I’m hoping to see some insane innovations or even just some fresh minds coming to the table.
RW: How do you engage with the fans of your work?
MM: Frequently, if I can. It keeps me wanting to produce games, and it keeps me on task to make them better and better. I’m a classical example of an extrovert, chatting about my job with people who are enthusiastic about it really gets me charged up.
When I can, I even like to disassociate my authorship a bit, and give the fans a turn to guide the boat, usually through big events. In my current project, I’m trying to build it with that design philosophy from the grounds up. I want fans to be able to look at major events in the universe and say “I was there when that event happened. I helped secure the western flank.”
RW: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as an RPG professional?
MM: That’s a tough one to answer. I’m going to go with the way Through the Breach interacts with the Malifaux skirmish game. I’m really happy that the two can interact so well together. Although if you ask me again tomorrow (or in an hour) I might have another answer!
RW: What do you feel is your greatest setback as an RPG professional?
MM: I think the toughest thing I have had to do (and I don’t know if this counts) was handing over the reins of the Only War RPG so that I could helm Dust Warfare. It would have been much harder if I hadn’t been giving it to Andy Fischer, who is brilliant in his own right. I was very excited about the project, and it was a tough hand off for me.
Honestly it was probably tougher for Andy, since I had a lot of balls in the air at that point, and it caused him more frustration than it caused me, I’m sure!
RW: How do you reconcile working on a game that, on the one hand, requires a set of rules… but on the other hand, encourages GMs and players to break the rules or come up with their own?
MM: I just lean into it a bit. I try to prepare a toolbox of well-designed and clearly written rules. I accept that every table is different, and that every GM is unique. Hopefully I make my mechanics transparent enough that the GM can adjust on the fly to his own personal tastes, and that the system is elastic enough to take that pressure.
RW: If you were a space explorer, you’d be a…?
MM: I’d hope for Ethan Hawke. If you don’t get that joke look it up on IMDB! Honestly though, I’d be excited. Deep space imaging is starting to come back with some fascinating stuff and I just wish I could get out there and see it.
RW: What’s your favorite RPG (that you have not worked on)?
MM: I feel bad choosing a favorite. I’m going to go with Pathfinder right now, however. Why? Cus I finally hit level 6… so that means I might break the curse if we play one more session.
I’m going to cheat though and give two answers. My favorite to play is Pathfinder, but my favorite to GM is Shadowrun.
RW: What do you look for… and what is a red flag… for a random freelancer submission?
MM: Red flags are the usual stuff, like trying to rebuild something the writer doesn’t like in the world. Just a sense of “you need me to fix this.” What I really look for though, the thing I want to see, is a sense of the world. Being able to expand on a universe in an interesting way is tricky. I like to see people who have a different view on the world than I do.
A good example with Malifaux, for instance, is that I love the society. I like to consider what it would be like to live in in that world. I don’t, however, have a flare for the unique thought patters of the Neverborn and Gremlins. If we removed those two factions from Malifaux, the stories that I love the most would barely change. But, they are an awesome part of the world, and they deserve someone who really groks them. I can write fun stories about the two groups, but I feel I look for people who have a unique take on them, or people who just have a very obvious love.
RW: If you could pick up the dice and play an RPG right this very instant, you’d play…?
MM: Pathfinder. I’m assuming I can’t name my own game… so Pathfinder.
RW: Tell us a bit about your experience in the miniature games industry!
MM: This one is a bit shorter, since I’ve only worked on two RPG’s that saw print. Dust Warfare was a huge learning experience. What I learned, however, was to trust myself. It’s hard to have the arrogance to stick to your guns sometimes. It turns out, however, that I actually understand the underlying math of a miniatures game very well, and that I can make that math into a fun game. I can focus on a competitively tuning a game, and that actually ends up with a better product for casual gaming as well.
M2E was an exercise in putting that knowledge to practice. I wasn’t alone on that project either, and it was just a lot of fun. I enjoyed it completely.
I also worked on a project (between those two) that never saw print. It was a pretty big deal, however, and I got to work pretty closely with Alessio Cavatore. He’s a fantastic guy and I wish I could game with him every week!
Now I’m working on my new miniatures game. I’m putting all these lessons to the test again. It’s still in very early development, but I get to design everything from the ground up, and more or less with a free hand to do so. If this doesn’t work, I’ve nobody to blame but myself… which is scary!
Mack checks out the design of Dust Warfare.

RW: What is special about your approach to miniature gaming?
MM: I think I take less as written in stone than others. I prefer less randomization, more player control of events, and more rigid timing structures.
For instance, in my current project, the game doesn’t end in a set number of turns. Instead the game ends at a certain score. This still leads to a game of about the same length, but it keeps the strategy more fluid. It isn’t about killing for a few turns then moving in for the objective.  You have to pace yourself differently.
RW: What is your process for working through a system design in an RPG or a miniature game?
MM: While the two are very different, the most important similarity in my approach is that I do it from a player experience view. I worry a lot about how players will interact with the game from start to finish. In an RPG this would be about giving players as many options for their character as possible. In a miniatures game, however, I want players to feel like every unit they choose has a purpose and is able to achieve that goal.
I want players to choose the toys they like and then learn how to use them correctly in interesting ways. The last thing I want is for a player to fall in love with a model or character class and then discover that it just can’t keep up.

2013 Rogue Warden Retrospective


Greetings, readers! It’s the end of 2013 and I wanted to take a moment to look back at this year. It’s traditional in December to contemplate one’s accomplishments and setbacks, and that’s where I wanted to go with this post.

In general, 2013 was a pretty good year here at Rogue Warden. I got to design some games, write some fiction, go to some great conventions, and even flew to another country. At the same time, I can’t help but notice that I didn’t quite live up to some of my own goals—I didn’t get any novels written, I didn’t manage to get enough Rogue Warden going, and it wasn’t my most productive year  for game writing.

This year in: Blogs!

 

I posted 43 entries this year, just 9 shy of one per week. That’s a big improvement over last year, and I’m closing in on my goal of one post per week. However, I’m beginning to believe (and accept) that one post per week probably isn’t going to happen given my schedule and responsibilities to things that, you know, actually pay the rent.
I think Rogue Warden did real good this year: I reviewed 4 game systems (including a big one of all the editions of Champions), showcased 12 interviews, and I even got a nomination for Best Blog in the Ennie awards!
What I’m looking forward to in 2014 is to do some more reviews of my favorite supplements, interviewing more luminaries of the gaming industry, and hopefully posting some more of my thoughts on elements of game design.

This year in: Podcasts!

This year I got a chance to act as co-host for a gaming podcast, something I’ve been interested in doing for some time. I loved being a guest on the D6Generation and several other podcasts, so when Darryl Mott approached me to host the Gamer’s Tavern with him, I signed up fast!
Since we started, we’ve released 12 episodes and we’ve got plenty more in the works. The Gamer’s Tavern has had a great start and I’m looking forward to doing more shows covering different aspects of my favorite hobby.

This year in: Game Design!

One thing I really enjoy are miniature games, from Battlefleet Gothic to Battletech. This year, I got a chance to design a skirmish-level miniature game for Catalyst Game Labs called Shadowrun: Sprawl Gangers. I had a ton of fun designing this game and I can’t wait to see how the models turn out.
Possibly the biggest thing I did this year is that I got together with my good friends John Dunn and Jason Marker to design and develop a dark fantasy setting for Savage Worlds called Accursed. This was my love letter to Hellboy and Solomon Kane via Ravenloft, and we launched a kickstarter for this in September. The kickstarter was a big success and I’m extremely pleased to report that the book is done and on sale now at DriveThruRPG. It was a hell of a challenge, and I wanted to find out if I could successfully get a game book made without a huge license or a big RPG company behind me. The answer is: yes I can! My roles on this project were many and varied, from layout to art direction to fiction editing to overall game development.

This year in: Game Writing!

There’s quite a few projects I just can’t talk about yet in this category, so I’ll stick the ones that are released or announced.
First, there’s the Fatemaster’s Almanac for the Through the Breach RPG. I got to lay it out, write a big chunk of it, and even did some development. I’m excited to see these books come out and it’s a very cool game universe to write for.
My long-running association with Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay continued in 2013, as I was able to write some really fun portions of books for Only War: Enemies of the Imperium, Hammer of the Emperor, and Shield of Humanity. I love writing for 40K, and I hope that these two books aren’t my final entries for the line.

This year in: Conventions!

One of my favorite things about the gaming industry is gaming conventions. I love going to conventions, running games at conventions, doing seminars at conventions, and, well… pretty much everything. 2013 was a good year for me and conventions. I got to attend Genghis Con in Aurora, Colorado as a guest of honor. Genghis con, in case you’re not aware, is simply one of the best gaming conventions (for people who love playing games) period. Genghis Con consistently offers high-quality RPG games, packing in three four-hour sessions per day for a total of 9 over the weekend. That’s 9 great games. You’re nearly guaranteed to have a great time, which in my book is a no-brainer. If you live anywhere near Colorado and love gaming, GO TO THIS CON.
I’m honored to attend Genghis Con in 2014 as a guest again, and it’s fair to say I am looking forward to it with incredible anticipation.
Of course, there’s also the superbowl of the RPG industry: Gen Con.
This year, I attended Gen Con in Indianapolis! It is always fun to head to Gen Con, and this year was extra-special. John Dunn, Jason Marker and myself chaired three seminars on getting into the gaming industry, professionalism in gaming, and working with a licensed product. We also debuted the first preview of Accursed, and got some excellent advice and guidance from folks like Shane Hensley.
By far the most interesting and unusual convention that I attended this year was Tracon in Tampere, Finland. I was very pleased to be the gaming guest of honor at this convention (and you can read my full report about it here). Finland was amazing, the convention was amazing, and I encourage anyone who has a chance to go to Finland to visit. I personally can’t wait to go back.

This year in: Fiction!

I wrote two short stories this year, which is better than 2012’s big fat zero. This is the one area where I feel most disappointed in myself—I consider it a personal setback that I didn’t get more fiction written this year, as that was one of my big goals back in January.
I wrote one short story for the Sprawl Gangers game and another for the Deadzone universe by Mantic Games, and I’m quite pleased with both. Here’s hoping I can build on this momentum in 2014.

In Closing

I want to say thank you very much to all my readers and supporters for Rogue Warden. This blog has been a great way for me to talk about the things that I find most interesting and unique about this hobby we all love, and I deeply appreciate all the support and kind words of my readers. I look forward to seeing great feedback from you about the blog in 2014!

My Top 10 Favorite RPG Systems


Greetings, readers! At the closing of the year for 2013, I think it’s a good time to talk about some of my favorite RPGs of all time. I can’t really say much more than that—I like top 10 lists, the end of the year seems like a good time for that, and I feel like talking about some RPGs that I have enjoyed the most.
There are some things I should go over when talking about this list—these are the RPGs that I remember having a ton of fun with and are judged solely on my own experiences. I’m also grading these games primarily because of their system and gameplay, nothing else. This means I’m not taking into consideration things like setting, artwork, or even writing quality—just the pure “fun factor” of the game’s mechanics through my own subjective lens. 
My standard disclaimer applies, your mileage may vary, and not everyone is going to have the same experiences with each game. Also, the games below are not ranked according to overall quality. Instead, I will rank them based on the number of campaigns I’ve participated in over the years, so the top numbers on the list are going to be older games that I played a lot in my early years.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get this show on the road!

My Personal Top 10 Favorite RPG Systems

#10: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd edition

Why I like This Game: For me, WFRP has two things that set it apart from other games and make me really enjoy playing it: griminess and randomness. I’ll explain. WFRP is grimy—it’s a world where the heroes (the player characters) start on the very bottom rung as rat catchers and agitators who may, if they’re lucky, someday dream of being something like a pit fighter! On top of that, the setting is also grimy—it’s a low-fantasy world where corruption, greed, and many other vices are front and center while “saving the world” is something that rarely, if ever, gets any focus. And, lest you get the wrong idea here, these things are all great.
Also, WFRP is very, very, very random. Sometimes, random is a lot of fun, and I’ve been blessed to have several groups of friends who enjoy this aspect of gaming play WFRP with me. What do I mean by random? Well, almost everything is random in WFRP. Your race, your career, even quirks of your own appearance all have their own chart that you roll on. WFRP is one of the first games (other than classic Traveller) that I ever played where I had little control over my character’s creation. It was oddly freeing, and I really enjoyed the challenge of it.

#9: TORG

Why I like This Game: I’ve reviewed TORG before on this blog, so I’ll keep this one short and sweet. I love the interesting mechanics of the Drama Deck, the interesting premise, and above all—the pulp-y superhero awesomeness of the Nile Empire (which includes special mechanics just for that region and characters from that reality!).

#8: Savage Worlds

Why I like This Game: This particular RPG is on my mind a lot lately, thanks to being the core system for my own, recently-published setting Accursed. There are two things that I think are great about Savage Worlds: the Fast, Furious, Fun approach and the immense amount of support material. The Fast, Furious, Fun approach means that Savage Worlds is one of those games where the mechanics are designed to “get the job done and get out of the way,” prioritizing an enjoyable experience and minimal-effort preparation. My experience with Savage Worlds games means that they don’t bog down and the game allows for—and even encourages—thinking outside the box, roleplaying in-character, and memorable moments… which are all things I enjoy the most about RPGs.
In addition, of course, Savage Worlds has a huge lineup of settings to use with the game, from interesting superhero settings like Necessary Evil to the venerable and awesome zombie-cowboy goodness of Deadlands.

#7: Star Wars D6

Why I like This Game: Star Wars has found its way into several different RPGs over the years, but my favorite iteration has to be West End’s D6 Star Wars designed by Greg Costikyan. While this system has its flaws, the fun flow of force points and the very broad skill categories allow for a really iconic Star Wars experience. It helps that this system was designed in an era when the original trilogy was all we had to go on, so it feels very Rebellion-Era to me… which is my favorite part of Star Wars! The gameplay of this particular system of Star Wars always struck me as a very fun version of “a bunch of guys in a ship,” similar to (but, for me, more fun than) Traveller. Flexible and fun, I also very much enjoyed the starship combat rules.

#6: Rifts/TMNT/Robotech

Why I like These Games: I’m lumping a bunch of games with very similar systems into one for this blog post. On a fundamental level, they’re all basically the same system with a few tweaks—I enjoy playing them mostly for nostalgia factor. I played the hell out of these games in my youth, and I remember enjoying several different games using these books. I don’t think they would hold the same magic for me now, especially due to the way my tastes in RPGs have matured, but I have to say there are still some things that these games do right—offering a very deep player character creation system and some interesting approaches to combat and martial arts. In the end, these games earn a spot on the list more for the memories than for the realities, but they did leave me with some /great/ memories.

#5: Marvel Super Heroes

Why I like This Game: This was probably my first exposure to a really “rules-lite” RPG. I’ve covered it before on this blog, so this will be another short section. The FASERIP system is remarkably simple and yet remarkably complete for a superhero RPG. I have my issues with a few small parts of the design (such as skills), but the overall implementation of the RPG rules make for a very coherent take on the superhero genre. I played a ton of games of this in high school!

#4: Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay

 
Why I like This Game:  Anyone who knows me well probably saw this one coming from a mile away—and it’s important that I point out three things up front. First, Warhammer 40,000 roleplay is very heavily based on the WFRP engine, so mechanically, it’s very similar. Second, I didn’t create this system—that would be Kate Flack, Owen Barnes, and Mike Mason in the original Dark Heresy. Third, I did work on this system for many years at Fantasy Flight Games. So, having said all of that—I love Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay. The system has a lot of quirks, but at its heart, it’s quite flexible (having been built on the foundation of WFRP) and has been used to do everything from man-on-the-street investigation to legendary heroic action on the battlefield. It’s been a lot of fun putting my mark on this game system and I’m very proud of all that it has become.

#3: Shadowrun

Why I like This Game: Most of my experience with this game flows from 3rd and 4th edition, although I’ve been a player and a fan since the very beginning. Shadowrun’s best when it is using its game system to provide a deep, immersive take on a cyberpunk future with magic and monsters. I love the character options, I love the sheer crazy amount of spells and guns and adept powers you can choose from. I love that it is not a class and level based game but allows you to build to an archetype. I love that it has a strong adventuring paradigm. I played the hell out of this game in the 90’s up to the present day (through 4th edition), and I will always look at it fondly.

#2: Champions

Why I like This Game: It should be no surprise to long-time readers of the Rogue Warden that I love Champions—I mean that I have a deep, abiding, heartfelt love of this game. And it’s fair to say that the real heart and soul of Champions is the system. Champions lets you build exactly the character you want, by spending points to build each power or ability by selecting advantages, disadvantages, power levels and limits. It’s a tinkerer’s dream and it solidly placed my feet on the path towards game design early in my gaming life.

#1: Dungeons & Dragons

Why I like These Games: This game is the grand-daddy of ‘em all. The first RPG I ever played and the gateway to a hundred more, Dungeons and Dragons captured my young imagination like nothing else. I learned a ton about games, gaming, game design, social interaction, and even some things about myself through playing Dungeons and Dragons over the years. I’ve gained some amazing lifelong friends through this game. The systems are quite different from the beginning white box set through to the new Next, so most of my memories come from 2nd and 3rd edition (+3.5) where I played the vast majority of my games of D&D. This is also where I got my start as a game designer as well (during the d20 boom). There’s not much more I can say except that there are certain mechanics and gameplay elements that I have firmly lodged in my brain as being “Dungeons and Dragons” and they will always be there.

Champions System Review Part 4: 6th Edition


Greetings, readers, and welcome to the final installment of my review of the Hero System. This particular entry in the series focuses on the sixth edition of Champions, released originally in 2010. 
My review of this edition is going to be relatively short and sweet—the newness of this system and the fact that it is difficult for me to find an ongoing Champions campaign means that I haven’t played very much of this edition. Most of my experience comes from running and playing in one-shot adventures at conventions (such as the amazingly fun Genghis Con in Denver, Colorado).

A Grand Adventure

One of the biggest factors involved with sixth edition that simply must be addressed up front is the fact that the video game studio Cryptic purchased the Champions IP to use in their MMO, Champions Online. This purchase provided a huge money infusion into Hero Games, and paved the way for a major improvement in the overall look and feel of the game in this edition. First of all, the artwork received a much-needed upgrade; nearly everything is in color, and all the art appears to have had a huge jump in overall quality. Secondly, the production values in general for the line (including logos, trade dress, etc.) all improved as well.

Making, or Breaking, the Rules

Sixth edition changed more than just appearances. Steve Long conducted an online poll of Hero gamers to find out what most people wanted to change about the new edition, and took that into consideration when redesigning the ruleset. Sixth edition is a much more refined ruleset than, say, the difference between 4th and 5th editions, and several rules that remained unchanged for decades were altered in profound ways. Figured characteristics were removed, the points costs of other characteristics modified, and a character’s combat value was separated out as a distinct characteristic and not just part of Dexterity. Comeliness as a characteristic was removed, replaced by a “striking appearance” Talent. There are other changes, but the ones listed above are the ones I found most memorable.
Personally, I am a big fan of Sixth edition’s ruleset. I love that Strength has no figured characteristics, because in previous editions of the game, Strength was basically king (leading to a description of Champions by many gamers as “Champions Loves Bricks!”). This separation means that Strength could now be a part of my character power builds, as something that made mechanical sense. I also appreciate the removal of Comeliness, since “Striking Appearance” does everything meaningful you wanted for looking particularly bad or good. In general, I definitely feel that Sixth edition is my personal favorite ruleset of all the editions.
All of these improvements to the rules did come with one drawback–the already-intimidating size of the rulebooks for 4th and 5th edition pale in comparison to the size of the rules for 6th. In fact, the rulebooks were broken up into three separate volumes!

Critical Hits

I love making characters for Sixth edition. I love the way that the new powers work (such as Damage Negation, which is flat-out the best way to represent a “bulletproof” superhero I’ve seen so far in the system). I love the vibrancy that seems to fill the line in the wake of its predecessor, and I love the way that Sixth edition gains quite a bit from the connection to the Champions MMO (particularly in terms of artwork!).
Adding in more contributions to the line from respected authors like Mike Surbrook, Derek Hiemforth, and others has also helped the line feel more distinct and have a different voice from its predecessor. The addition of Champions Complete to the lineup feels like an excellent move to try and get more gamers interested in the system. I’m pleased by the books that focus on the big threats like Mechanon—these are welcome additions to the line. I’d also like to single out the Ultimate Base as being a book worthy of high praise, with a ton of interesting ideas for setting up your superhero group’s headquarters.

Critical Misses

There’s not a lot to dislike in Sixth edition, so all I will say here is that I found the villains books a bit lackluster, but then, my yardstick will always be 4th edition’s Classic Enemies, which is a hard act to follow!

Featured Creators

Mike Surbrook: Mike was tapped to write quite a bit for this addition, adding in his contributions to the Hero System Bestiary and receiving cover credit for the Hero System Martial Arts book. Mike continues to add a lot of value to the Champions line (and make sure to check out Kazei 5 as well, below).
Scott Heine: For more about Scott, see my 4th edition Champions review. Suffice it to say it was very nice to see Scott contributing more material for Hero.
Steven Long: For more about Steve, see my 5th edition Champions review. Steve continues to be the main writer for Sixth edition, producing so much content I am certain that Steve is in fact a golem built by a wizard who wanted more Hero products.

Third Party Material

Sixth edition is blessed with quite a bit of excellent third party material. Especially noteworthy are the pulp adventure The Day After Ragnarok by Kenneth Hite, featuring an alternate WWII involving a mind-bogglingly huge jormungandr serpent, and Kazei 5.
A Note From the Editor. I need to make a correction from something I pointed out in my 5th edition review—Mike Surbrook’s Kazei 5 was actually printed for sixth edition, not fifth, this making this excellent addition for the Champions game part of this section of the review.

Blackwyrm Publishing created a ton of settings for this edition as well, including Bill Keyes’ The Widening Gyre, Grady Elliot’s Terracide, Ryan Wolfe’s Lux Aeternum, and Patrick Sweeney’s The Fires of Heaven.

What the Future Holds

The Sixth Edition of the Hero System is off to a strong start, with over 30 products on the shelf and a robust set of supplements. However, the publisher—Hero Games—is essentially on life support since sharply reducing production and staff in 2011. This is not to say that the game is dead or dying; Champions Complete came out this year, further products are planned, and Darren Watts is putting his characteristic energy and passion into the Champions Live Action LARP project.
I hope you’ll join me in hoping for more and better things for Champions in the future, wishing all of the creators well, and keeping an eye on further developments for the Hero System.

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