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.

Blue Rose returns

With quite some surprise I just saw that Green Ronin is planing a new version of their Blue Rose setting. There had been quite some talk about the original setting from ten years back on the RPG.net forum the last three weeks and some people brought up the idea of a new revised version. And apparently, people at Green Ronin had been pondering that idea themselves for a while, so now they are actually doing it.

Blue Rose is just old enough that I can say I remember the talk about it when it was originally released. (Or maybe it’s just me who’se getting old enough to say such things now.) While there was a good amount of praise and excitement for the game, a great deal of it was for the then new True 20 system, which was considered an interesting new take on the d20 system. The setting itself was something which lots of people just didn’t care for, and a good number of other people had some great interest in, but where rather disappointed with the actual realization. My own perception was that it was just another d20 game with an overly simplistic black and white setting that was disappointingly naive and didn’t really have much useful advice on how to run it.

18943Blue Rose is described as a Romantic Fantasy setting, as in the artistic period of the early 19th century, but based on more contemporary works like the books of Mercedes Lackey and Ursula Le Guin. While that would appear to be the entire opposite end of the spectrum from my prefered genre of Sword & Sorcery, there is actually some considerable overlapp, in that the two both are fundamentally about high emotions and personal drama. From the descriptions of popular works, I wouldn’t want to read them, but as a Sword & Sorcery GM I have a very great interest in how the genre ticks and what elements I can use to spice up my own Sword & Sorcery campaigns. As much as I love the Sword & Sorcery genre, it’s mostly about preposterous actions and crazy stunts. Which I really love a lot, but I also have plenty of friends who I think might really like RPGs, but for who slaying hordes of monsters and throwing sorcerers off the top of their towers just isn’t doing anything.

Romantic fantasy is neither clean nor pretty, and can get quite ugly and brutal, but it exists in a different context. It’s not about enjoying the thrill of battle and the lust for riches, but a struggle to save the people you care for and to repair your own broken life. It may be a genre about knights in shining armor and fair maidens held in a castle by a dragon, but you might just as well see the knight being mortally wounded or tortured in some terribly dungeon with the maiden having to put on the armor and slay the dragon herself in grueling battle, suffering grevious injuries and and the loss of her friends and allies.

The original Blue Rose game wasn’t really that good at presenting the world in such a way and explaining how it works to GMs and players, and even with the changes of the True 20 system the d20 system was just too fiddly and tactical to really work. Particularly people who are not already great fans of RPGs tend to have a quite difficult time to get into d20 games, and it’s a lot more problematic when it comes to GMs who havn’t run and perhaps even played any games before. (I’d link to Angry DM here, but he’s currently reworking his website.) But I still really like the idea behind the setting and from what I know about the AGE system from the Dragon Age RPG it seems to be a much better fit. So I am quite exited to see how this will turn out. Might even throw in a bit of money if the Kickstarter has difficulties reaching its goal.

Nothing new under the sun?

“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

I’ve been looking around for some more RPG and Sword & Sorcery related blogs to add to my own personal list, and there have been two major things I noticed.

For one thing, it seems that the world of RPG bloggers is entirely dominated by OSR gamemasters. I would say more than four out of five posts about RPGs on those sites are either B/X or AD&D and to a lesser extend Traveller. Which might be distorted that I am primarily searching for new sites by browsing through the links on sites I already know, and perhaps these people just don’t care about any posts about other games like Pathfinder, Vampire, Shadowrun, Fate, or Star Wars. Possible, though there still seems to be an unusually high amount of sites devoted entirely to OSR games.

The other thing is that the amount of posts on these sites has steadily been going down in recent years. Sites at blogspot conveniently display the number of posts per year, and almost everywhere I look the peak is at 2010 to 2011. Some started to reduce their number of posts to a third in 2011, others only in 2012, but from that point on it’s almost always steadily down. Trollsmyth is actually the only one I know of who has been around before 2008.

Which I find strange. I’ve heard in multiple places that the games market has been steadily growing for the past years. By some estimates even 20% every year.

Has everything be said that has to be said with nothing more to add? I find that very hard to believe. Yet, where is everybody?

Signs and Portents

In a discussion about WotCs release schedule for the new Dungeons & Dragons game, I rediscovered an old forum post I made back in July 2011, just three years after the 4th edition had been released:

Since this topic has come up quite a bit in several threads in recent weeks, I think having a dedicated thread for it might be a good idea, so it doesn’t swamp other threads about completely different issues.

I didn’t believe any rumors about 4th Edition until the official announcement, but right now I expect “something” to be announced within this year. It’s not that I think something is wrong with the 4th Edition (though I don’t play it) or have any wishes how any upcomming publications should be. I just think that the current business situation indicates that 4th Edition will not continue as it is to see a full 10 year run up until 2018 (roughly the time AD&D 1st Ed., AD&D 2nd Ed, and D&D 3rd Ed lasted).

  • A revision in the form of Essentials has been nothing unusual for D&D editions, though it has been by far the fastes one.
  • Shortly after Essentials was launched, many upcomming releases had been canceled.
  • Reportedly WotC has been laying off staff over the last months and what books are released are written by freelancers.
  • Some store owners claim that the direct competitor Pathfinder is outselling D&D. Also, recent releases like the Dark Sun books seem to no longer be able to be restocked if sold out.
  • Finally, the head of the 4th Edition development team has released some blog entries in his column on the offixial website, in which he is analyzing what D&D is really about, and what are the bare bones on which every D&D edition has to be build on to really be D&D. I think such thoughts are the first step to develop a new edition, or to look back on your work and consider what was done right and what done wrong.

As it is right now, it does not look as if there will be any more major releases for the 4th Edition. But since D&D is a hugely popular brand and brand recognition is one of the most valuable things a company can have, I really can’t imagine WotC continuing D&D with only four minor releases per year or just discontinuing it and leave the brand dormant.

Something has to happen, and a second reboot of 4th Edition after just one year is something nobody would really dare to risk.

If it will be called Dungeon & Dragons 5th Edition, I don’t know. It’s merely the most simple way to again make some good money with the brand. An alternative could be to pull out of the RPG market as it seems to be widely considered that the real profits of WotC are made in trading card games and other products. And who would have thought that TSR, Sega, or Atari would one day not be the big names of the RPG and video game business? Though as of now, I see nothing indicating a sell of the brand in any way.

With GenCon and PAX the next months, I expect an announcement of any kind to be made rather soon.

15.07.2011 http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?207470

Turned out the announcement came the next january. Looking back, it turned out to be pretty spot on. And it wasn’t a lucky guess, people had been seeing the signs on the horizon for some time by that point. The one point on which I ended up being completely wrong was “I really can’t imagine WotC continuing D&D with only four minor releases per year”. Apparently, yes. This seems to be exactly what they are doing now with 5th edition.

It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.

So these past days I’ve been looking at the old Basic and Expert rules for Dungeons & Dragons to get some clues how I can incorporate dungeon exploration and wilderness travel in a Barbarians of Lemuria game. There are rules for that in D&D 3rd edition and Pathfinder, but they seem incredibly fiddly, tedious, and just plain unfun. So I started to look further out and oldschool D&D really seems to have had a quite strong emphasis on it.

It might simply be because of the kind of stuff that personally interests me, but it always seems to me that most people who write about RPGs on their websites are people in their mid-40s to mid 50s who started with really ancient versions of D&D when they were 10 and stuck with it, while I am one generation later and only got into RPGs when I was 16 and D&D 3rd editon was released. What I have seen of dungeon crawling always seemed pretty dull and pointless, because I always demand for strong stories and roleplaying. But reading other people talking about their really oldschool adventures of dungeon crawlings, it all sounds much more exciting and fascinating. It made me want to learn more.

I had been looking at Advanced Dungeons & Dragons before, but never really got much useful out of it. I am very familiar with the AD&D 2nd edition and the D&D 3rd edition and also reasonably familiar with AD&D 1st ed. and D&D 4th ed. Now I started actually taking a lok at the Basic and Expert sets, and it all just feels very different. Familiar, but definitly different. So I went ahead to learn more about this other version of D&D, and there seems to be quite a lot more about it than I ever expected. Now obviously I don’t know even a bit about the larger history, how it was perceived at the time, who played it and how, or even how the game really feels when you actually play it. A lot of what I am going to write here will be inaccurate, misunderstood, and perhaps even flat out wrong. But I think there are probably quite a lot of people out there who don’t know anything more about Basic D&D than I did and I just feel like sharing some of those interesting things I discovered and learned over the past days. From one noob to other noobs.

Continue reading “It’s D&D, Jim, but not as we know it.”

Mouse Guard RPG 2nd Edition

I just spotted a note that there will be a release of a 2nd edition of Mouse Guard in April. It’s not only going to be a reprint, but an actual revised edition of the game.

mouse-guard-e1366218635577

Mouse Guard is probably one of the most amazing and unique RPGs that are out there. Not only are the rules quite unlike most other RPGs out there, the setting is truly one of a kind and the art of the book one of the best in the business. Even without having seen this 2nd edition, I highly recommend this game to anyone who has an interests in RPGs that are not about killing things and taking their stuff.