Ask me anything…
So, my man Ross Watson over at Rogue Warden interviewed me today. Have a look here.
Ask me anything…
So, my man Ross Watson over at Rogue Warden interviewed me today. Have a look here.
Here’s a little news to get you all excited about actually seeing regular posts around here. I’ve got some books dropping that I’d like to bring to your attention.
Well, well, well. Looks like another of my Fantasy Flight assignments has dropped just in time for all your last-minute Christmas Shopping needs. This time it’s The Frozen Reaches, first book of the Warpstorm Trilogy. There’s a little something for every Rogue Trader player in this book. Back-room politicking for Rogue Traders and Seneschals, secrets to uncover for Explorators, objects of faith and desire for the Missionaries, and more Orks than you can shake a really big stick at for everyone else. So keep an eye out for this one, and Happy Holidays!
Hey look! My latest book, Edge of the Abyss is now on sale. Get your ass to your FLGS or to your favorite online retailer, and lay your money down for this newest addition to the Rogue Trader library. It’s chock-a-block with setting info, NPCs, planets, crazy people, and it has more hooks than a fishing trawler.
Okay, here it is finally. Now that I’ve been able to catch up on sleep and unpack everything that happened, here’s my post about GenCon 2010. Let me preface this by saying that this is from my point of view, and I’m just some opinionated smartass with a ‘blog. I am, in no way, objective or unbiased and I implore you not to assume in any way that this is real journalism. If I miss stuff here, it’s because I missed stuff at GenCon, and I wasn’t going to pretend that I was a really real reporter with a fedora and a little card that read “press” in my hatband. So, keeping that in mind and without further ado, here’s my report!
After a long and perilous ride from North Carolina to Indy, and a fitful night in a bed built for an eight year old girl at my man Zach Houghton’s place (yes, the Zach Houghton of RPGBlogII), I rolled into the convention center after a delicious breakfast at Patachou to get my press pass. The ladies in the press room were helpful and attentive, and after signing a whole bunch of paperwork I got my badge and I was off and running. Now, let me tell you, this was my first GenCon since ’08 when I was with Palladium. Back in ’08 the attendance seemed a little, I don’t know, anemic. Not this year, though. The dealer hall was packed. Packed I say! I heard that attendance was over 30,000 people, which is apparently a record for GenCon. I believe it, too.
Anyway, the dealer hall looked great. Seemed like everyone important was there. WotC seemed a bit subdued, with nothing major to release and a smaller booth than normal. Fantasy Flight’s booth was roughly eighteen square acres in the middle of the hall, where they had their retail part on one side of an aisle, and on the other was a huge game area where
slaves smiling employees demoed FFG’s fine selection of board games all day. In the broiling heat. While chained to their tables. I sat in on a demo of Descent ran by my editor Sam, and it was hilariously awesome. It’s mainly this comic as a board game, which I whole-heartedly support. Privateer was hopping, their demo area is always packed since they’ve got great games. Instead of their steaming Iron Lich they had a giant monster out front in honor of Monsterpocalypse. Hopefully some day they’ll get back to the Iron Kingdoms RPG. That will be a great day. In all, the hall was great and there was tons to do and see save for one glaring exception, White Wolf.
White Wolf didn’t have a booth so much as they had a scene. Their tiny little corner tucked back by the heads was tarted up to look like the shabbier kind of New Orleans opium den. Supposedly this was in support of an upcoming product having to do with the Big Easy, but you could have fooled me since there wasn’t any product. Right, they didn’t have a single book for sale. Not one. They had a DJ though! And (shitty) beer! And a faux edgy, spooky ambiance that was ruined by the hall’s bright-ass lights and the neckbeards milling around in their utili-kilts breathing heavy on the gothy booth girls. Way to go, White Wolf. Seriously, I’ve seen better room sets in a LARP for crying out loud.
After lunch I sat on a panel with Sam discussing Rogue Trader, which was pretty cool. After that I met up with Matt Forbeck, who is a pretty cool guy and a great game writer. He was sitting on a panel called “Writing in the RPG Industry” and was joined by Bryan Tillman and his afro, Owen K.C. Stevens, and Jeff Tidball. Once the panel was over, I had to hurry to grab a snack and a coffee since I had a hot date to make. I’d been invited to the Ennies by the FFG guys! Now, I’d never been to the Ennies before, and I’ll admit that I’d heard some uncharitable things about them in the past. The ceremony itself was very nice, though. A guy came out on stage in nothing but a towel and did a riff on the Old Spice guy, which was hysterical. I have no idea how he fit his huge balls in that towel, I certainly wouldn’t have had the stones to do that, no matter how funny. There were some great celebrity presenters like Stan!, Margaret Weis, and Monte Cook (who looks about fifteen years old), and in all it was a fun night. The results of this year’s Ennie Awards have been discussed at length already, suffice it to say that Paizo swept with Pathfinder. However, many other very deserving games like Shadowrun, Diaspora, Eclipse Phase, and Victoriana won awards, and Fantasy Flight won silver for Fan Award for Best Publisher, so it wasn’t a total rout.
Once the awards were all given out and there was sufficient milling around and congratulating everyone, Ross and Sam and I and a bunch of other great FFG writers and designers all decamped to Scotty’s Brew House for some late night burgers and beer. On the way, Ross asked me a seriously loaded question about what I’d do with Robotech if it were my property, and we got into this great discussion about high-concept, feral children, and giant robots. After a very nice time of talking games and drinking our faces off, we all split up and headed back to our respective hotels. I, having missed my ride back to Zach’s because he wanted to get home right after the Ennies, slept on the floor in an undisclosed location, but it was totally worth it.
I got up surprisingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for having slept on the floor, and made it to a pre-con meeting with Sam about some rewrites I have with time to spare. Saturday was busier than Friday of course, with the added greatness of the costume contest. Now, I’m not really what you’d call a fan of cosplay, but there were some great costumes there. A couple dressed as The Joker and Harley Quin (and she in a vinyl outfit), the requisite nubile young women in chainmail bikinis, a dude in a great Mad Max/Road Warrior costume, and a pair of siblings, both under four years old, who were rocking excellent Mario and Luigi costumes. My personal favorite, though, was a dude dressed as, I shit you not, the Duck Hunt dog. Seriously! My word is bond. He was coming down the elevator and as one part of my brain dismissed him for a goddamned furry, another more astute part said, “Wait a minute, what’s he got in his hand? A duck. A wood duck? Wait, two wood ducks? Hooooooooly shit!”
So, yeah. Aside from the costumes, Saturday was more of the same. I spend the majority of the time talking games at booths with publishers, kissing hands and shaking babies and passing out business cards like crazy. I met some great people, like John Nguyen and Sean Callaway from Dream Pod 9. I didn’t get to make it to any panels, as my day was taken up with shmoozing and seeing old friends like Chris Perrin and Jim and Dianne Brown and Lonnie Langston. Speaking of Chris Perrin, his new awesome giant robot smash-em-up game Mecha is out and sold like crazy during GenCon. He and his partner Mark Reed even got a copy into the hands of Wil Wheaton, who seemed suitably impressed. You should ask Chris about that story, though. I don’t want to steal his thunder. I spent my meager dealer hall budget on a big pitcher of dice from the Chessex Booth, a copy of Cthulhu 101 by Ken Hite (which, by the way, won a well deserved Gold Ennie for Best RPG Related Product), and this here sticker for the Saturn.
Anyway, after a long day wherein I spent all my money and talked my voice out, I scooted back to Scotty’s with Jim, Dianne, Lonnie, and young Connor who was sporting an excellent Horton Hears Cthulhu t-shirt, which I will surely be getting for Katya. Now, Scotty’s seems like a typical meathead sports bar kind of place that I typically wouldn’t be caught dead in. During GenCon however, it’s a nerd-o-rama. They had a special GenCon menu and played nerdcore movies like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings on their huge flatscreen jumbotrons in the dining room. When we got there Saturday night, elements of the 501st Imperial Legion were there, with special appearances by Lord Vader and a sand person whose rifle was made out of an old Mosin-Nagant 91/30! We finally got sat after a long-ass wait listening to a frankly terrible wannabe nerdcore rap group singing awkward songs about D&D and Mega Man. Once inside, we were blessed with a showing of, and you’re not going to believe this Gentle Readers, Ice Pirates! I mean, holy crap Ice Pirates! I couldn’t have been happier. Finally, it was time to head back to Zach’s. I said goodbye to the Browns and Lonnie and his buddy, packed in the minivan and shipped back to Noblesville.
Welp, I don’t have a lot to say about Sunday. I got up and realized that I hadn’t slept in my own bed in 12 days and that I missed the hell out of The Wife and The Kid, so I decided to pack it in and head back to Detroit. After an incredibly surreal denouement to the story where I unexpectedly ran into John Nguyen from DP9 at a Panera in Noblesville and couldn’t string a coherent sentence together due to lack of sleep and want of coffee, I headed north out of Indiana and went home.
And that was that. In my opinion GenCon was a shattering success this year, both for GenCon, the publishers and merchants in the dealer hall, and for yours truly. It looked like everyone was having a blast, I got to meet a bunch of awesome people and make some further progress into the industry, and generally had a great time. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank the GenCon staff and volunteers for rolling out a pro convention this year and showing everyone a great time. Zach and Theresa Houghton for their hospitality at Chez Houghton. Michael Wolf from Stargazer’s World for putting up with me mentioning The War and being nerdy about the Fatherland. Matt Forbeck, John Nguyen, Jeff Tidball, Sean Callaway, and everyone else I met for being gracious and spending time talking to a stranger begging for work. And I’d especially like to thank the guys from Fantasy Flight for continuing to be awesome and showing me a good time like I was part of the team which, in all fairness, I guess I am. Thanks again, GenCon. I’ll see you next year.
*Image copyright Wizards of the Coast
Why, hello there Gentle Readers! So, there were no posts last week because I had a furiously busy Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday then The Wife, The Kid, and I piled in the car and decamped for our annual pilgrimage to North Carolina. Now, after stops in beautiful Columbus, OH and quaint Lynchburg, VA, we have finally arrived in the Outer Banks. See, every year for the past ten or so years, The Wife’s step-uncle, who is a wealthy restauranteur here, has invited us down to spend a week. We, and when I say we I mean roughly twenty adults and children, stay in a huge, fuck-off house on the beach with a pool and direct access to the ocean whereupon we cook, eat, drink our faces off and play a lot of board games and cards. Last night The Wife and I spent a nice evening teaching our nieces and nephews, fine young men and women between the ages of ten and fifteen, the finer points of Pandemic, which was awesome. So, you may ask, is there some kind of downside to ten days of concentrated awesomeness in which we travel through the part of the country where American History was invented and culminates with hot and cold running mojitos and sand in our clothes? Well, kinda yeah…
You see, for me at least, this is also a working vacation. Ever since I started writing full time I’ve been bringing my work to the beach with me. It started when I wrote the majority of Macross down here back in ’08. Then last year, even though I had turned in the manuscript before we left, I spent the week worrying little bits of UEEF Marines. You see where that got me. Now of course I’m a freelancer and you know what that means, I don’t work I don’t eat. I’m well under water with stuff from Fantasy Flight. I’ve got two deadlines, one is an outline due at the end of the week and a full outline due the Monday I get back. Then I’ve got copious amounts of rewrites for a Deathwatch book since I still have a hard time getting my brains around various points of the 40K IP.
It’s not that big a deal, though. People generally leave me alone, I can filter out the chaos (mostly), and this year the added complication of caring for The Kid has been handled by a gaggle of enthusiastic nieces who just graduated from a Red Cross babysitting training course. Even with all the noise and slamming doors I got a few thousand words written yesterday, so I’m not too worried. Then, of course, I’m leaving early to truck on up to Indy for GenCon whereupon I’ll be kissing hands and shaking babies and
begging for work networking.
I, uh, I seem to have run out of steam here. So I’ll leave you with some local attractions that I enjoy, and I’ll talk at you again Wednesday. Probably.
Welp, they made it. Our first night of Rogue Trader was a pretty rousing success. Here’s last night’s game log. Enjoy!
For ease of reference, here are the players:
Marneus Machariel - Rogue Trader
Bors Tovon - Arch-militant
Victrus Karellius - Void-Master
Anastasia Xanatov - Void-Master
Jotham Lentillus - Missionary
Opiter Castus - Explorator
Now, I’ll let Zorak, the writer of the log and our young Missionary, tell you how it all went down.
Marneus returns home after a disastrous voyage through the warp and some wicked time dilation to find that his father is retiring, and the family wants him to have Solo Drakban so he can show them what he’s made of. He’s done a few basic courier-type runs to shake the ship down, and now he’s been sent to Footfall. The mission: meet with a guy, who has some stuff for the ship.
Marneus has Drakban parked in the mooring area while the bridge crew fly to the rock where the meet is to take place. Anastasia and Victrus remain on the shuttle, while Marneus, Bors, Opiter, Jotham, and Seneschal Cornelius, an old family functionary, cheerfully blunder into a trap. With the trap sprung and Cornelius dead, A mob of eight thugs give chase seeking to do bad things to us. Running through a crowded street, Bors deploys his heavy bolter and puts on an exhibition of firepower, generating substantial panic among the bystanders. Opiter sets up overwatch with his bolter. Marneus asks Anastasia to prepare for hasty takeoff, and Jotham runs ahead to try to set an ambush with his flamer. The enemy boss facepalms the nearest civilian, exposing him to Opiter’s fire, and ends up getting pasted badly – the third bolter shot effectively amputates his leg. Opiter claims first kill by a PC. The fire toward us actually intensifies as the bad guys’ rage increases. Their return fire hits Bors and Opiter, bloodying both, but not causing any critical damage.
Meanwhile, back at the ship, Anastasia and Victrus fail perception rolls. It surprises them a lot when someone shoots the viewport, which starts to show a spiderweb of cracks. Victrus investigates and sees a guy in a dockworker’s coverall spraying the shuttle’s hatch with a bolter. Victrus’ return fire suppresses him. Anastasia struggles to expedite the startup sequence. The situation deteriorates as another bad guy comes around the shuttle, firing yet another automatic weapon, forcing Victrus to duck back into the hatch. Even so, Victrus gets nicked.
Bors, seeing the crowd thinning out, decides to engage properly. He finds a decorative buttress and uses it to brace his heavy bolter, taking aim to set up some extreme hate-death next round. Opiter ducks behind a delivery truck and puts two rounds each into two guys. The first guy loses his arm at the shoulder, spraying blood and shoulder bones everywhere. The second guy also loses an arm, and in this case, his severed arm begins twitching and freaking out any perceptive bystanders. Good call on the running away, innocent civilians! Marneus joins the fight with his laspistol but fails to impress. Jotham’s attempt to set up an ambush is failing dismally, but fortunately the bad guys decide that it’s better to run before the properly braced heavy bolter comes into play.
At the shuttle, Victrus’ return fire forces the nearer bad guy to duck again. Sadly for the foe, he ducks behind the engines. Victrus tells Anastasia over the vox to spool up the engines, which deliver unto the bad guy such a vast cleansing flame that Jotham, had he seen it, would have died of envy. Of course there were two bad guys, but bad guy number one is still un-jamming his weapon. When he finally pops back up, Victrus has him dead to rights, and blows a big ol’ hole in his stomach.
Back in the street fight, Opiter tries to hotwire the delivery truck, but gets a nasty shock for his pains, and gets blown out of the cab, smoking and unconscious. The local law draws closer. Marneus tries to hotwire the same truck, and can’t. Bors wakes Opiter up. Marneus moves to plan B: step out into traffic with a power sword and a pistol, and demand that the oncoming car stop. Fear: delivered. We make the youthful driver of the delivery truck sufficiently terrified that he drives us to the docks.
At the shuttle, port control demands that we shut down, but Anastasia patches the Lord Captain through and he successfully commands them to free his shuttle. Sadly they don’t speak for port security, who surround the shuttle and insist that the crew vacate the craft. The shuttle crew refuse to comply. When the landing party arrive, the standoff continues, with port security growing increasingly upset. Marneus gives him some attitude, and they stand down. Victrus opens the hatch and we board the ship. Yay, we got away with it! Except that the Lord Captain seems upset about his shuttle window.
As we travel through the outer system, Jotham conducts funeral services for Seneschal Cornelius, and then the ship enters warp for the week-long trip back to Machariel Base. Victrus keeps an aggressive drill schedule going, beating to quarters twice a day, running out the guns, training them on arbitrary coordinates, and generally keeping the gun crews busy. About two and a half days into the warp, the navigator warns the Lord Captain of an oncoming warp storm. We try to detour around it, but by the fourth day, the whole ship feels the immanence of chaos. On the fifth day, the storm’s strength has the whole ship rocking. Marneus gets a video call from a former shipmate who’s been dead for a score of years. The line of voidmen looking for religious counseling has Jotham busy as a one-handed Eversor assassin. On the bridge, the ship is handling badly, the navigator is freaking out, and the astropath’s third eye is glowing a bit. The captain summons extra security to the bridge. Just as Victrus arrives, a massive warp current strikes the ship firmly abeam, causing klaxons to blare, the navigator to have a fatal aneurism, and bridge deck morale to plummet. Oh yeah, and the comms officer tells us that there’s something wrong with the Choir. In fact, there’s a containment alarm for the Choir room. They’ve gone mad and are ripping each other apart with their bare hands. The Lord Captain summons Chaplain Lentillus to the bridge just before the Gellar Field alarm sounds. Bad, meet worse. We’re down to 60% capacity on the starboard Gellar field, where 50% means breaking. Captain Machariel goes on the 1MC to calm the crew down. Drakban takes another hit from a warp tide, and this time Anastasia can’t hold it; the ship is thrown violently on to another tack. The Gellar field actually flickers, but Opiter manages to correct it almost instantly. Bors decides to annhilate the shrieking Astropaths, but can’t get in to the choir chambers due to the containment door. When Jotham arrives on the bridge, he tries to calm everyone down, but his lack of a human touch prevents him from delivering that reassuring touch. He and Bors go to roam the ship and dispatch any difficulties. Meanwhile, Opiter estimates he will require seven hours to fully repair navigational control.
A bridge conference results in a disturbing realization: we have no control, we don’t know where we are, and the senior remaining navigator can’t see the Astronomcon. If we drop warp, we probably won’t land in a star. Probably. We do have void navigation and propulsion intact, so as long as we don’t land inside something inimitable, we ought to be OK. Jotham finally gets to burn something. A mysterious hand the size of a grown man appeared on the gun deck during the Field failure, and while the lay preachers had done some basic praying over it, a little holy cleansing fire does it good.
We transit out of warp. We immediately get void shield warnings, but it’s just a little debris. We pick up a beacon! We also discover, by comparing star positions, that during our five days in warp, only two days passed in real space. The storm dumped us in Cinefus Maleficum, near The Cauldron. We got flung almost exactly the wrong direction. Opiter takes the warp drive down for maintenance, marooning us in real space for several hours.
For example, combat in Shadowrun 3rd edition, at least the way we play it, is dangerous. Like, really dangerous. This is especially true in our Harn game, the middle-ages crime drama, where something as simple as a broken leg could have disastrous consequences for a character. See, with no magic and no really real medicine to speak of, a deep cut or a broken limb can kill a man in Harn. Granted, this is more a result of the setting than the rules, but my point stands. Brawling is perfectly acceptable, but if blades come out something has definitely gone wrong. Iron Kingdoms is the same way, right? Need a clerical healing? You better have a lot of money or a lot of luck because that cure light wounds spell will fill your body with ravenous maggots just as soon as it’ll heal you, and that’s awesome.
It’s why I don’t go for cinematic games. I like a game where damage goes through your armor, where you can’t dodge bullets, where you run out of ammo, and where a wrong step or a misplaced comment can ruin your night. My friends and I call this hilarity ensuing. I play games like this, I run my games like this, and I write my games like this. When I was writing Robotech, I kept trying to increase the lethality of the game, which of course was every bit as constructive as, well, something not very constructive. I wanted more damage output from my weapons, less damage capacity in my mechs and armor, more reason to use different kinds of munitions, and more threat. I realize that this runs counter to what a lot of people consider the spirit of Robotech, and honestly I didn’t care. I still don’t. Of course increasing jeopardy and forcing critical thinking was never going to fly in a system that was designed, essentially, to let a player win at RPGs. Oh well, c’est la vie, right?
I’ll finish with a story. When I was working on my first assignment for Rogue Trader, which was largely rules and game design, I had a long conversation with Sam about just this very thing. One rule I was writing hinged on the GM making a roll that directly affected the players and keeping the result secret from said players. Sam pitched me an alternate idea, which was easier on the players, then asked me, “So, from a game design point of view, which do you think is better?” I replied, “Mine. Things should always be hard for the players, and if they’re going to do X (where X is the rule that I still can’t talk about) they don’t get to know if something goes wrong until the wheels come off.” Sam laughed and said, “Awesome, do it.” and that rule ended up in the book largely untouched. That’s just the kind of bastard I am, I guess. When I’m a player, I ask for little mercy, and when I’m running or writing a game, I offer even less. So, you know, caveat ludius.
So, as my tens of regular readers know, my gaming group just finished up a long-term epic scale game that was a mash-up of Shadowrun, In Nomine, and Call of Cthulhu wherein we nuked Hastur and then went mad. Now, into the smoking breach in our schedule left by the nuke steps a new campaign called After the Gold Rush set in Fantasy Flight’s Rogue Trader setting. Hilarity is about to ensue.
So, back around the first of the year, after I’d finished my first assignment for Rogue Trader and had embarked on a second, the guys and I were talking about Rogue Trader. We had finished a Shadowrun session one Thursday and had decamped from Shade’s basement to Denny’s, as is our wont, and we were talking Rogue Trader. A couple of the guys had picked up copies of the game when I started jabbering about it back in October, and we were all more than a little curious about it. See, these dudes, my gaming buddies, are hard-core, old-school OG 40K players from way back. They’ve played for years. They have lead poisoning and bad eyes from squinting at tiny pewter orks for hours on end. They have, and I’m not shitting you here Gentle Readers, a whole two-car garage dedicated to tiny little men and fake plastic trees. So when I say that they know their shit, they really know their shit.
Anyway, we knew we were at a turning point with our Harn and Shadowrun campaigns, and over Grand Slams and bad coffee we were looking to the future of our Thursday nights. We were feeling a little burnt out with both games at that point, there was some group drama that was shaking out, nothing serious, but enough that it was muting our fun. So, since I wouldn’t shut the hell up about Rogue Trader, someone suggested, “Hey, how about Yuri runs a Rogue Trader game.” Then five expectant faces turned toward me and I was like, “Sure, it’ll be a good way for me to get to know the setting better and practice with the rules!” Inside, of course, there’s this little voice saying, “You don’t know enough about the setting, fool! You can’t snow these guys, they’ll know! They’ll know you’re a fraud!” Which, of course, is a pretty common refrain for that particular voice that lives in my head. I much prefer the leprechaun that lives under the rock in my yard, but I digress.
Anyway, now it was on like Donkey Kong. We decided that Rogue Trader would replace Shadowrun, as that was the game that had a definite and foreseeable end. I would have six whole months to gin up a game that I would feel comfortable running and would be palatable to my players. What did I do? Well, of course I procrastinated until I finally got around to it over the past couple weeks. Thankfully making a good game for my guys isn’t too tall an order. You see, we go in for more sandboxy kinds of games. In our Harn game for example, there is very little GM driven plot. Munin did all his work on the front end, creating a vividly detailed city peopled with NPCs that are like, well, real people. Events happen all the time in the background in our Harn game, NPCs live their lives, and sometimes we have influence over what happens, sometimes we don’t. I’ve gone on at length here about the importance of good NPCs, so I’ll leave that lecture alone for now. But, yeah. Now it’s up to me to make the Koronus Expanse live and breathe for my players. I need to people it with the kind of characters you’d expect to see on Footfall or aboard one of His Divine Majesty’s voidships. Then, my job is to sit back, stroke my neckbeard, and feed them just enough rope so they can hang themselves. So I’ve made up some pretty good NPCs, who I’ll talk about later, and picked up some good rope. Trust me, with these guys, that’s not a lot of rope.
With this in mind, we met up last Tuesday for some character creation. There’s nine players in the game, including The Wife, which is a little on the high side of the number of people I like to run for, but Rogue Trader seems to lend itself to large parties. We have our own forums and a private wiki that allow us to keep track of everything. One of my guys will be recording game recaps and posting them around, and I’ll probably re-post them here. When we get started, which will be next Wednesday, I’ll introduce you all to the characters and hook you up with the recap, which should prove hilarious. Stay tuned.