Monthly Archives: April 2015

Things I still plan to review

This list is actually getting longer instead of shorter because I constantly forget that I wanted to write reviews for these. Hopefully I get around to do them someday not too far in the future. And if you want to, you can bug me about them still being late. That usually motivates me quite a lot. ;)

  • A Princess of Mars
  • Atlantis: The Second Age
  • Barbarians of Lemuria
  • Conan (Comic)
  • Dark Sun Campaign Setting
  • Death Frost Doom
  • Demon’s Souls
  • Gargoyles
  • Heavenly Sword
  • Hellboy
  • Knights of the Old Republic (Comic)
  • Metal Gear Solid
  • Mirror’s Edge
  • No Salvation for Witches
  • Pitch Black
  • Primeval Thule
  • Red Tide
  • Riddick
  • Seirei no Moribito
  • The Savage Frontier
  • The Witcher 2
  • Thief: The Dark Project
  • Trawn Trilogy

This looks even worse that I thought. oO

Criminal Organizations in the Ancient Lands

When I started collecting lists of all the stuff from other great fantasy settings which I would like to include in my Ancient Lands world, I also made a short list of cool criminal organizations. There are some pretty cool and interesting ones out there, like the Shadow Thieves and Zhentarim, the Dark Brotherhood, Black Sun and Czerka Corporation, the Shadow Broker, and a whole lot of others. But a very important part of good worldbuilding is to keep the whole setting coherent in its premise. And now that I started to really give some thought on the criminal organizations I had floating around as broad outlines, I noticed that most of them really don’t fit this kind of setting.

The Ancient Lands are a world that is primarily wilderness, inhabited by tribal people in small villages with only a few larger cities, which are still relatively small compared to those of other fantasy worlds. Having a Gnome Mafia in such a setting doesn’t really make much sense in such a setting once you start looking a bit closer. Each clan has its own small territory and is effectively controlled by a single extended family that rules without any interference from outside forces. There usually is not even a king and certainly not any state that tells them what they can and can’t do. As long as the minor families don’t revolt, the clan leaders can do whatever they want. At the same time the clans are small enough that the leaders are personally aware of anyone who is stirring up trouble and when someone commits crimes against other people of the clan, the chief can simple have them exiled or executed and that’s the end of it. The chiefs personal croonies might be abusive bullies, but that only makes the chief a tyrant who still is officially in charge.

Which leaves the cities and major towns, but those aren’t actually that big either and there isn’t a lot of them as well. In a city of ten two twenty thousands, you can’t really be building a criminal empire without becoming one of the rulers of the city and spreading out over multiple cities is also not particularly practical. There is also the question of what criminal organizations would do. In a Sword & Sorcery setting the only purpose to smuggle anything would be to avoid taxes, but usually nobody cares what weapons, poisons, and drugs you are selling. And tax evasion isn’t really a terribly villainous crime.

But there are still plenty of people who make money with violence while not being part of the official governments.

Cartel Merchants

In most cities of the Ancient Lands, nobody cares which kind of dangerous goods you can buy at the market or in shops. However, there are some people who care a lot about who may sell which goods or not. If any kind of goods is sufficiently rare, some merchants always try to get a monopoly on them. Be it certain rare drugs, spices, poisons, gems, or other precious materials, usually there’s a small number of rich merchants who control virtually the entire trade with them and they go to very great length to protect their monopolies. These merchants are only losely organized but include those who produce, transport, and sell the goods. Anyone small stores in the cities and towns who are found to sell those goods without getting them from the big merchants who claims the local monopoly on them will quickly be visited by some of his croonies who will make sure it’s not going to happen again.

Smuggling illegal goods by the city guards isn’t really a thing in the Ancient Lands, but secretly circumventing the cartel monopolies can bring just as great profits. However, the price for getting caught is usually much higher as well.

hyboria_hyrkaniansOutlaws

In a tribal society outlaws are not simply people who break the law, but those who have been exiled for whatever reason and cast out whithout the protection of any clan or city. In a world with no courts and no police outside the cities (and even there they are mostly confined to the richest neighbourhoods), the only thing that protects you is the certainty that someone will avenge any crime commited against you. Without a clan to back you up, you’re fate depends entirely on your skill with your weapon. At the same time, nobody can be held responsible for your actions if you commit any crime or cause any damage and you don’t have to worry that anyone else is going to suffer for your offenses. So even people who don’t want to rob or murder you still won’t trust you because there isn’t any reassurance that you will behave. There are really only two possible lives for outlaws, which are becoming a hermit in a place where nobody will find you, or becoming a bandit.

Occasionally warriors down on their luck will try to ambush travelers on the road for a bit of money and food, but outlaw bandits are a whole different class of criminals. These men and women often band together for mutual protection against anyone who might want to rob or enslave them and while many of them have been exiled for some crime commited against their clans, an equally large number were born into these gangs. Even if they have not commited any crimes themselves, nobody believe that these outlaw children could be trusted to be honest and behave either. With almost no other clans or merchants willing to trade with them, bands of outlaws often survive by robbing travelers and caravans on the few roads that cross the vast stretches of uninhabited wilderness of the Ancient Lands. Most of them have their own hidden villages somewhere in the wild, where they keep their loot and their families and slave grow some meager crops and keep a few goats and pigs. Not all outlaw bands are necessarily evil or murderous, but they all know that everyone fears and mistrusts them and don’t take kindly to most strangers. Other outlaws might find a home among them, but all bandits know that they can’t trust anyone, especially each other.

koxinga2Pirates

Pirates are very similar to the outlaw highwaymen that ambush caravans on the roads, but their territory is the sea and the major rivers of the Ancient Lands. Not all pirates are outlaws and many crews are simply warriors of poor clans that are unable to support themselves with whatever resources their homes offer. Coastal and river pirates often make their own small boats which they use to board merchant ships, while sea pirates mostly use ships they have captured from Keyren, Takari, and Mayaka traders. River and coastal pirates defend their territory against competitors as fiercely as highwaymen, but the sea pirates often roam very large stretches of sea for many months and generally avoid fighting with each other. There are several known pirate ports in the islands of Suvanea in the Inner Sea and the outlying islands of Halond to the north, where pirate ships make stops to make repairs, take supplies, and also trade the treasures they captured.

Fences

Both highwaymen and pirates keep a good part of their spoils to bring back home and share with their families, but usually a large amount of the booty consists of things that have relatively little practical value to them. Since they can’t really visit the great markets in the cities and towns without raising questions, they need the help of merchants who don’t have any reservations about trading with thieves and murderers. As the pirates and bandits don’t have a lot of choice where to sell their loot, these goods are often traded well below their actual value, resulting in a huge profit for the merchants. Very often these fences are the same merchants who also control the monopolies on certain goods.

Street Gangs

In the cities and larger towns there are also always some minor criminals who make a living by stealing and robbing people in the streets at night. There is rarely more than a few dozen of them in any place except for the very largest of cities, but often they band together in groups of just a small handful of thieves who each carve out their own territories and drive out any other thieves that might try to compete with them. Too many thieves in any area only make the guards patrol more frequently and keeps rich people off the streets at night, so that’s bad for business. Larger gangs might be able to extort some money from small merchants in the poorer parts of town and in some cities where the guard has no real presence outside the rich neighborhoods they effectively rule the streets themselves. When they get powerful enough it often gets more profitable for them to stop robbing people at night entirely and instead collect a fee from the residents for their service of keeping the streets clear of other gangs or drunk sailors. Such neighborhoods are often actually safer than those which are patrolled by the guards, but only as long as one is paying the local gangs their share. There are rarely more than two or three such large gangs in any major cities, and usually only one in smaller towns. Two gangs in the same town usually don’t last very long.

Worldbuilding and creating non-villain organizations

When creating a larger world for stories that not only focus on the protagonists and antagonists themselves but also deal with the way those protagonists interact with the world around, one very important aspect are usually the major power groups who are involved in the various great conflicts that are shaping the setting. Similar to how it is quite easy to make an interesting villain, it’s usually not very difficult to come up with dozens of factions that have some nefarious goals. There are plenty of examples in fiction from political conspiracies, demonic cults, criminal organizations, societies of sorcerers, megacorporations, legions of hell, the loyal warriors of a charismatic warlord, and so on and on and on. Creating bad guy groups is easy.

However, when it comes to creating the good guys of a new setting, things very quickly get much more difficult. One big reason for that is that heroes and heroic organizations are stepping on each others toes. If the hero starts out as a small guy who doesn’t know about the big threat of the story when it begins, but the organization is well informed and equipped, what do they need the hero for? They should be able to deal with the problem themselves. On the other hand, if the hero himself is really powerful and capable, then what are the members of the organization to do? Cheer while the hero does his hero thing? In either case, the hero and the heroic organization don’t really need each other. The only way to avoid that is to have the protagonist already be a long time member of the heroic organization and be the best guy they have. Someone like Buffy, Hellboy, or the Master Chief. That can work quite well for books and movies, but for a roleplaying game campaign setting you usually want to have a variety of such groups the heroes can encounter during their adventures and have dealings with.

When it comes to looking at precedents from fiction that could be used as templates for a heroic organization, there isn’t a lot to find either. Usually what you get are either Paladins, Rangers, or the Old Men Council. Paladin type organizations are elite groups of warriors who fight evil in the open and destroy it. Jedi, the Knights of the Round Table, Specters, or the Grey Wardens are example of that. Ranger type organizations are also elite warriors and other agents who sneak around in the shadows gathering intelligence and sabotaging the enemies efforts to provide the forces of Good with information and time to organize a defense against that threat. There’s of course the Dunedain from The Lord of the Rings, but also the Harpers from the Forgotten Realms, or Foxhound from Metal Gear Solid. And of course the Old Men Councils, which quite often are actually Old Women Councils in recent decades. Organizations, often quite ancient, consisting of wealthy philantropist or wizards who manipulate things from the behind the scenes to further the good of all humankind. Only the Old Men Council really has any need for outside help as they usually rely on freelance contractors to do all their dirty work, but that usually ends with the protagonist being a puppet in their plans which doesn’t really need to understand their greater plans. There are also Rebells, but they usually have a single goal which makes them too narrow to be interesting in worldbuilding unless the whole setting is about that rebellion. These rganizations can be employers, but rarely make for good allies. And almost always they mainly exist to deal with one very specific villain organization, which limits their possible uses for other storylines. With a single book or movie, or even three or four, that’s not necessarily a problem, but when you want to create a larger universe for multiple storylines, it’s not really a good solution. As much as I like Star Wars, always having the Jedi fighting the Sith gets stale eventually. Both groups need more goals and ideals than to just oppose each other.

My advice to creating organizations to oppose the villain factions is not to attempt to make Good organizations, but simply non-Evil organizations. It’s terribly difficult to create a well though out God faction, and most of the times they do appear, it eventually turns out that they have not been everything they claimed to be after all. Best case scenario is that they are well meaning, but actually misguided and the protagonist only works with them because he really needs their resources. “I’m not doing it for you, but for the people out there who need my help!” Because most writers understand that truly pure goody-two-shoes groups are boring and often annoying.

When you try to think of truly Good organizations from world history that didn’t do anything shady and cruel, you usually only end up with pacifist groups like the Red Cross or other charities. And unfortunately for fiction writers, especially fantasy and sci-fi, pacifist charities usually don’t pick up arms in battle against evil. Great as they might be, they are not really helping here as examples for Good organizations in adventure fiction.

So I say: Don’t try. What you need is not organizations that do hero work (which they always would do much better then the heroes), but organizations whose goals are serving their own interest, while following ideals that oppose the methods of real villains. Make groups that don’t want to fight Evil everywher all the time, but groups whose goals frequently line up with those of heroic protagonists. We’ve all seen evil Megacorporations a thousand times, who exploit the poor and destroy the environment for profit and sell all kinds of horrible inventions to the highest bidder. But big businesses don’t all have to be Umbrella or Wayland-Yutani. Take for example a big corporation that is heavily investing in colonizing different worlds because they want to get a foothold in alien markets. Their goal is still profit, but their strategy is to build stable local economies and create goodwill with the regional alien governments and companies. They would have a genuine interest to hire mercenaries or cooperate with groups that are already trying to fight pirates, slavers, and hordes of alien locust. They want the region to be safe and their employees to be happy. Not just out of charity, but because that’s also part of their business. Or a group that sponsors expeditions to ancient ruins for the search for old technology or magic. Not to protect the world from the possible dangers if they fall into the wrong hands, but to study them and improve their own creations. They might be quite willing to cooperate with the heroes in finding a certain dangerous artifact, if in turn they get to salvage all the other stuff they might find in that place.

Just like there are no organizations in the real world that want to do Evil, there are relatively few that exist simply to do Good, on the great global stage. (Of course there are plenty of charities, but how often do you see any of those mentioned in history books other than the Red Cross?) They all have much more complex goals and causes they are pursuing. So instead ask yourself, what kinds of groups would benefit from cooperating with heroes in this fictional universe. I think this always gets much more interesting results. It won’t work for any nonsensical Hollywood/America saves the world plot where the hero blows up Nazi aliens, but you might notice that those are usually one-shot movies anyway, because the premise is so weak that there isn’t really any worldbuilding for the greater world beyond the hero at all.

Bringing prehistoric fantasy worlds to life

Work on my Ancient Lands setting is coming along nicely and not only do I have all the components parts ready, but also got names for almost all of them. Unless you tried building a fictional world and create a compendium of all the main groups, places, and creatures, you won’t believe how terribly difficult that last part is. Making names is easy, making names that are not total garbage and sound completely made up is unbelievably hard work. And it doesn’t get easier when you get to make some 200 of them that are supposed to come from half a dozen different language families.

Now that I know where all the places are, who lives there, what their relationships with each other are, and what kinds of environments and creatures make up the world outside the settlements, the next step is both much more complex, but I think also easier. A fantasy world is not a map with names on it, but it is all about the people who live in that world and how they interact with each other. How do they behave, what do they believe, what to they want, what do they fear, what do they opposose, who has power, of what kind is that power, how do they live, how do they fight? Take the first half hour of Star Wars for example: You don’t know who any of these people are, what those places are you see, and what everything is about. But it’s still a very evocative setting, just from seeing the people interact with the world around them and each other. (Star Wars is also what I consider to be one of the greatest examples of the effective use of archetypes: The moment you see Darth Vader you know exactly what kind of character he is, and the imperial uniforms make it perfectly clear what type of Empire this is. Nobody has to say it, it’s clear because you’ve seen people like these countless times before, and you’re meant to recognize them.) In Fantasy, it is very common to do things the standard way, which means the popular image of the European middle ages. Connor Gormley wrote some interesting thoughts on why this isn’t necessarily a bad thing at Black Gate a while ago. But the Ancient Lands is specifically meant to not evoke images of a medieval world, but instead aims to feel prehistoric. The reason I think it’s also easier than chosing the elements that you want to put into your world is that from this point on you’re actually staring to thing of people and events and the possibilities now are based on the things you already have in place and don’t come purely from a vacuum.

The idea of a “prehistoric time” is a bit blurry. Originall the term refered to the periods of human civilization and culture from which we have no historic records. Only archeological finds and reports from later times, but no documents in which those people wrote down what happened during their own time. The “historic period”, as least as far as Europe, the Mediterranean, and Mesopotamia are concerned, is generally divided into Antiquity, the Middle Ages, and Modernity (which really just mean old age, middle age, and current age), while the “prehistoric period” is split up into the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. Antiquity is generally considered to start with the rise of the classical Greek civilization around the 5th century BC. (Which is convenient, as Antiquity also ends around 500 AD and the Middle Ages last to about 1500 AD, making it easy to remember.) It was a reasonably good idea to classify past human civilizations, but by now we know how to read Egyptian, Akadian, and Hittite and those people wrote quite a lot, so that we now have a lot of historic documents from the Bronze Age. So technically, it’s not really “prehistoric” anymore. But really, the main concern here is fantasy fiction, so when I use the term prehistoric, I mean the Stone Age, Bronze Age, and Iron Age. But even those terms are not perfect, as different parts of the world developed different technologies at different times or skipped some entirely. Southern Africa went straight from the Stone Age to the Iron Age, and it would be completely justified to say that people in Central America went straight from the stone Age to Modernity, skipping four of the six perioids completely.

And when I say “Stone Age”, I particularly mean the Late Stone Age, or Neolithic. Neolithic people didn’t have metal technology, but they were a far shot from being cave men. The Neolithic begins with the development and rise of agriculture, when people stopped wandering around hunting for food, but settled down in farming communities. And those could get quite sophisticated, with the Inca and Aztecs being great examples of how much you can do without metal technology. Conveniently for us, the move towards agriculture took place about 8,000 BC, which means from the start of human civilization to now it has been roughly 10,000 years. Always a good guideline for considering how much time passes between different periods in your fictional world.

Continue reading

Why Venus is the coolest place to go to

Everyone is still excited about Mars. And I can remember how 20 years ago it really was the big thing to do in space. Everyone was wondering if there was or is water, and perhaps there are some tiny bugs or mosses living in cracks in the ground and things like that. But now we had a lot of probes on Mars that did really well and even had a close up shot of a bit of ice under the red dust. Reaction was “huh, that’s pretty neat”, but didn’t really seem like such a great discovery anymore, with much more interesting stuff going on the Jupiter and Saturn moons and planets around other stars. And even after a decade of combing the desert of Mars, other than ice we ain’t found shit!

Hunting for life on Mars has for a very long time been more about searching for traces of microbial life on Mars from billions of years ago. With some hope to find tiny fish on Europa or Enceladus and methane rivers on Titan, Mars really looks pretty boring now. No real need to get any scientists on the ground there to research microbes anymore. So getting people on other places than Earth and the Moon is really mostly (or entirely) because we could and it would be cool. So let’s scrap going to Mars, that place sucks. Venus would be so much cooler to go to.

venusNow the big problem with Venus is that the surface is about 470°C hot and air pressure more than 90 times higher than on Earth and enough to crush almost all submarines. Also, the atmosphere consists mostly of Carbon Dioxide and sulfur dioxide, which likes to form sulfuric acid. Which makes Venus the worst place to land on in the entire solar system, other than the surface of the sun. However, you don’t have to land on it when you could also cruise around in an airship high up in the clouds. And then it’s actually probably the nicest place for humans in the solar system other thab Earth.

  • At a height of about 50 km above the surface, the air pressure is similar to that found on Earth at sea level, with temperatures around pleasant 20 to 30°C.
  • The atmosphere consists mostly of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, which are both not harmful to humans. You would suffocate because there is no oxygen to breath, but that luxury is found nowhere except on Earth.
  • This only leaves the sulfur dioxide as the remaining nasty environmental factor, but when sulfuric acid reacts with organic matter, it leaves behind pure carbon. Carbon fibre, carbon nanotubes, and graphite are all modern materials that people get quite excited about and they all happen to be really just pure carbon. (Carbon fibre is mixed with fibres of other materials, but there are surely options that also don’t react with the acid. Some metals, like titanium, will react with the acid, but then form a thin layer of oxide on the surface which seals the metal and keeps the acid away.
  • While there are almost no oxygen molecules in the atmosphere of Venus, most of it is carbon dioxide. If you can split the carbon dioxide, you get oxygen to breath and carbon to make replacement parts for your carbon airships.
  • Even 50 km above the surface, there is still so much atmosphere above you that it helps block radiation from the Sun, which on the Moon and Mars would be a lot nastier even though they are much farther away.
  • The atmosphere also makes the whole landing part a lot easier. Landing on the Moon is easy because it has very little gravity. Landing on Earth is also easy, because you can use parachutes and wings to gently float down to the surface. Mars has lowe gravity than Earth, but still quite a lot, but also barely any atmosphere, which makes landing pretty rough. Robots can handle it, but with current technology any astronaut would feel like being in a plane crash. Or not, since he’d probably dead. On Venus, you have all the nice atmosphere so you can use parachutes to slow you down. And best thing, since you don’t actually go to the surface, you don’t have to land at all. If your airship goes down a bit faster and ends up lower than you aimed for, it will just bob back up to the altitude it was meant for. (Unless you get too deep and crushed and baked.)
  • One of the best things about Venus is that it has a similar size and mass to Earth, which means it has also a very similar gravity. Even 50 km above the surface, the pull of gravity is almost the same as on the ground, which for Venus is about 90% of the gravity we experience on Earth. Floating around for a few minutes is fun, but low gravity does all kinds of unpleasant things to muscles, bones, and circulation over time. In an airship on Venus that would not be an issue.
  • A trip to Venus is also shorter than a trip to Mars. Not hugely, but cutting a 550 day trip down to 450 is still 100 days not hanging around in space doing nothing. Carrying around 20% less food will also make the engineers very happy.

Really, the only annoyance about Venus is the sulfuric acid, which really is only a big problem when you get it on your skin and in your lungs. Which is sad, because otherwise you could go paragliding on another planet with nothing but a breathing mask. If weather is good and there are no acid clouds nearby, you probably still could get out on the roof without a full suit, enjoying the sun for a few minutes. Having irritated skin for a week and a minor sunburn would be totally worth it.

So yeah, forget about Mars, Venus is so much more fun.

Fantasy Safari: Monsters of Faerûn (D&D 3rd Ed.), Part 3

Ghaunadan

Ghaunadan

The Ghaunadan is a slime creature very much unlike any other in Dungeons & Dragons. In addition to being an ooze, it also is a shapechanger that can take the form of any kind of humanoid. It is also far from mindless like other oozes and instead a highly intelligent creature. It’s slime has a paralysis effect on living creatures and it also can easily disarm enemies by pulling their weapon into its body. A ghaunadan also has a limited form of charming gaze, which gives it a significant boost to all Charisma checks against a creature it has charmed, which makes ghaunadans excelent for infilitrating humanoid cities and palaces. Ghaunadans are associated with the ancient and evil god Ghaunaur, who rules over slimes and all kind of weird Underdark creatures and is sometimes worshiped by drow. Since all his traits are basically the same in every way as those of the demon lord Juiblex, I always consider them to be actually the same being. I don’t remember seing any hint of ghaunadans in any works older than this book, so it’s quite likely that they were inspired by the Shapechangers from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, who are mostly the same thing but can also take the shape of objects and nonhumanoid creatures.

Fog Giant

Fog Giant

I can’t really say anything about the Fog Giant, other than it’s a giant without special abilities who ranks in power between a stone giant and a frost giant, but is taller than either. But look at this picture! When this guy hits you, you’re paste!

Phaerlin Giant

Phaerlin Giant

The Phaerlin Giant is a creature native to the Phaerlin region of the Underdark in the Forgotten Realms, which lies under the huge Anauroch desert and was once the location of the mighty wizard empire Netheril, but is under control of the phaerimms (more on those later). Phaerlin giants look like slightly mutated stone giants and live entirely underground, which I think is a neat idea. Reminds me of grimlocks. But their stats in this book are pretty wonkey. They are probably the only creature in D&D that is size category Huge and has a Challenge Rating of 3. Like any self respecting Underdark creature they have magic resistance and being primitive and feral they can sense nearby creatures by scent. Almost 70 hit points is also nothing to laugh at, but their backs are bent so badly that they move only very slowly. And for some unexplained, but nonmagical reason, they are so terrifying that characters who fight them have to make a saving throw or suffer penalties to all their attacks and saves because of fear. This is usually an ability reserved for the most powerful beasts and inhuman abominations. Here it just seems out of place. I like the cave giant from Pathfinder a lot more. Continue reading

Voting for Gemmell Awards has opened (last week)

With all the feather ruffling about the Hugo Awards and the mud slinging and bitch slapping about what the awards should stand for, I mentioned at Black Gate that the people who want space adventure books over socially thoughtful science fiction could simply make their own award without getting into indignified fights with the Hugo people. For example there have been the Gemmell Legend, Morningstar, and Ravenheart Awards for heroic fantasy for a few years, which to my knowledge have been very well received by fans of this type of fantasy.

And as someone has pointed out to me, the voting phase for this years Gemmell awards has just opened. You can just go here and vote for the works you enjoyed the most. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I haven’t read any of those on the lists, as I don’t really read a lot and most of it are old classics.

Though I am currently reading Blood of Elves, which I didn’t know got the first Legend award in 2009. (Even though the Polish version had been released 15 years earlier, but whatever. It’s a really cool book.)

Cypher System Rulebook this summer

I’ve been looking at the Numenera RPG this week and while I wouldn’t say I am a fan of it and don’t plan to run a campaign with it, I do quite like the basic rules framework behind it. It’s not quite rules light, but manages to strike a pretty good balance between quick and easy rules while still being relatively open in what kind of characters you can make and what they can do. The problem with classless RPGs like Shadowrun or GURPS is that character creation is a lot of work as you build your custom characters from scratch and assemble them from very small parts. On the other end you get games with character classes like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, where your choice of class determines a huge part of your characters to the point of dictating much of the characters personalty and backstory. And of course, there’s the d20 games which combine the worst of both worlds. There are also games like Fate and Burning Wheel, which define characters more by their role in the story than their own traits and abilities. The Cypher System used by Numenera and The Strange is pretty close to what I consider an ideal approach. There are three classes (warrior, rogue, mage), three ability scores, six levels, and monster stats really come down to only their hit points and the difficulty for all dice rolls the player characters are making against them. Bit more complex than Barbarians of Lemuria, but I think not really very much. I really quite like the idea of the system, though not so much their execution in Numenera.

Actually quite a while ago, it was announced that there would be Cypher System Rulebook, which will be released this summer. I’ve seen stores that already have it for preorder with a release date of late July, but that might just be their personal estimate and nothing official. (Like amazon listing release dates for Baldur’s Gate 3 for years. Good times…) And I have to say I am quite interested in this.

Cypher-System-Corebook-1-John-Peterson

My interest with Numenera started because it’s an RPG that is about explorers setting out into a vast wilderness to explore the ruins of past ages to scavange for pieces of techno-magic they could bring back to their villages and city states, where they could be of great use and further the understanding of these artifacts. Which happens to be exactly the same thing I am doing with my Ancient Lands setting. While Numenera looks good, there is just a lot of focus on electronics and robots, which is admitedly a bit distracting when you want to use a Bronze Age fantasy setting. But it’s still a game about exploring places and finding stuff with special properties, so having a book with just the cypher system to use as a base for your own settings really does sound quite appealing. Might even work well for a Star Wars or Mass Effect campaign.

While Numenera got quite a bit of attention at its release, I hadn’t really heard much about since. But while looking for the original announcement for the new book, I was really quite surprised to see how much stuff there is for both Numenera and The Strange. No clue how well it sells, but it looks like this might be a system we’ll be having around for quite some time to come.

Is Dungeons & Dragons over?

Based on everything I’ve seeing and hearing about it, the release of the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons last year appears to have been a huge and total success. Lots of people really love the game and it appears to sell very well. I’ve seen mention that the Player’s Handbook had been on the number one spot for best selling books on amazon.com, and store owners and employees talking about it on rpg forums very consistently say it is selling well.

When the signs were piling up that WotC would end the 4th edition after a relatively short run, I made the prediction that they would be announcing a 5th edition pretty soon (which they did) and that it would be their last chance to revitalize the game. 4th edition was very unpopular with many old fans (though it is a decent game in its own right from what I hear, just not very much in the long tradition of D&D) and when they prepare to abandon ship after just 3 years, you just can’t get around the perception that the game was a failure. With 5th edition they had (have?) the chance to try to get the brand back into the tradition and style that people think of when they hear about D&D. But if that edition also stumbled and didn’t work out as intended, there wouldn’t be any real chance to fix its damaged reputation. Trying to fix things with a 6th edition wouldn’t be really an option, because who would buy a (pretty expensive) game that gets completely new rules every three or four years?

But they were lucky and the game actually was very well received. Disaster averted, brand saved! But everything that has happened since the release of the three rulebooks has been very puzzling to me. Because based on everything I hear and read, the people who are handling the D&D brand don’t really seem to be interested in the roleplaying game. The focus seems to be on licensed novels and videogames, as well as board games and other stuff. But as far as I am able to tell, there are the tree rulebooks and that is it. Everything else there is for Dungeons & Dragons are adventurers, which they want to tie in with the planned novels and videogames. I think because D&D has been a roleplaying game for 40 years and you can not have a D&D brand without it including a roleplaying game. But this game, as well done as it is, really seems like an attempt to do the absolute barest of minimum to convince people “D&D is still a roleplaying game”. They also really seem to have no idea what to do with it.

A few days ago I found this interview, which really is just painful to read. It really sounds to me like that poor guy is trying his best to make it sound somewhat positive when he is still saying “we don’t know yet”, “probably not”, and “we won’t do that anymore”. As I see it, it’s over. There won’t be any Dungeons & Dragons as most people know it for a very long time. Possibly forever. This is it. There won’t be more than perhaps one or two additional books that are not adventures. I highly doubt we’ll see campaign settings as in 4th edition, which consist of just two books, and certainly nothing like in 3rd and 2nd edition, where settings got a dozen or two of books dedicated to them. Maaaybe a Monster Manual 2 one day, but again nothing like the amount of monster books there have been for the previous editions. It’s not as if there wasn’t any demand for them, but really that WotC isn’t in any way interested in making a successful roleplaying game anymore. The four people who are working on D&D might, but that’s not their choice to make.

So yeah, I think this was it. I wonder what Pathfinders plans are for the future. I think there’s a big untapped market opening up right now.