I Went to Gen Con

Gen Con

I did. It was my first time and everything. Yes, I’m a little tardy in summing up my experience. I was out of town for two weeks for not only Gen Con but NecronomiCon as well, and had work waiting or on its way to me when I returned. But, finally, I’m passing on a few thoughts.

So, how was it? It was quite nice, really. As a first-time attendee of such an enormous and long-running convention dedicated to gaming, I was prepared to be overwhelmed, which was indeed the right mindset. Having experienced Comic-Con International‘s staggering expansion over the last twenty years, I have developed convention survival skills that serve me well. While Gen Con isn’t as big (you don’t need to squeeze through people or perpetually stand in line), it’s still difficult to see and do everything you’d like to.

Eternal LiesI got to reconnect with and meet a lot of people that I’ve worked with. I picked up contributor’s copies of Eternal Lies and The Esoterrorists, 2nd Edition from Simon Rogers of Pelgrane Press, who released ten new books at the convention. As with all things Pelgrane, they’re beautiful books, and I’m honored to have had a hand in them as a copyeditor. Eternal Lies is Trail of Cthulhu‘s foray into the kind of globe-trotting campaign that Lovecraftian roleplaying is renowned for, and The Esoterrorists, 2nd Edition is a refinement with additional material for the game of occult conspiracies that introduced GUMSHOE’s investigative genre emulation to roleplaying. I met Mike Mason at the Chaosium booth, congratulated him on Call of Cthulhu‘s 7th editiThe Esoterrorists, 2nd Editionon, and told him how much my group enjoyed playtesting it. His new role as line editor hadn’t been announced yet, so I didn’t have an opportunity to congratulate him on that as well. He gave me a print copy of the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Quick-Start Rules (the updated version is now available for download). I met lots of other great people and chatted with them about their games, and I attended some instructive panels on freelancing in the industry.

Gen Con’s a game convention, but I didn’t sign up for any beforehand for a couple of reasons. Again, not having attended before, I wasn’t sure how much time I could devote to that activity. Also, I wasn’t able to log on when game registration went live, and, considering what I’d heard about how quickly games fill up, I wasn’t surprised that there wasn’t much available for me. I started hearing about Games on Demand in the days before the convention, so I knew to check that out.

I don’t have a lot of experience with playing games in convention settings, so the hard-working folks behind this have set the high standard that I will now judge all such activities by. It was an excellent opportunity to try out different games. The flexibility Games on Demand provides worked out just great, and I got to play in five fun games over the course of the convention (and if I’d wanted more, I’m sure I could have gotten into some). It could sometimes be hard to hear over all the commotion, but I’m sure players at the adjoining tables were occasionally frustrated by my own volume.

I played School Daze written and run by Tracy Barnett and Carolina Death Crawl presented by Adam Drew. I played in a Dungeon World game run by Will Hindmarch, the head writer of Eternal Lies; I also played Always/Never/Now, his cyberpunk game based on Lady Blackbird, run by Mark Causey. And I got to try out Monsterhearts, run by Anne, a game I’d been intrigued by for a while. I read it a couple of months ago, and it was definitely interesting but not necessarily something I foresaw getting a group together for, especially  for a campaign. With the wrong group of players, Monsterhearts could be a disaster. That’s true of any game, but the sexually charged subject matter in this game makes the chance of blundering into the wrong group and having an uncomfortable experience seem a little higher than usual. I’m quite happy that I had a great time with it, developing more of an emotional attachment to the characters than I almost ever do, especially in such a short time. I’d love to be able to explore that particular story further.

Sex has never been a big part of my roleplaying experience. Even in games where players take more time with creating backgrounds and developing characters during play, romantic connections are rare or an afterthought. And, when I’m the GM, it’s not something I press. But thinking back on it lately, I realized there were more positive experiences with it in my history than I initially remembered, some quite recent. It was far easier for me to recall the awkward or annoying experiences, the ones that help make me trepidatious about including such material. It’s a quandry that we are generally more comfortable with roleplaying violence than we are with romance and sex. I know I’m not alone in this; it’s been a fairly frequent subject of discussion lately. Here are two recent Google Hangouts on the part sex can have in roleplaying: Indie+ Sex and Dice, with game designers discussing how it factors into design and gameplay, and Sex & RPGs, where two of the Games on Demand folks discuss how they approach sex in their games.

The X-CardI also got to experience the X-Card at Games on Demand, a device for creating a safe playing space by allowing any player at any time to non-verbally indicate that the game has veered into uncomfortable material. Of the five games I played, only one didn’t utilize it (and, in that one, we had a discussion beforehand about what themes we didn’t want to include). After its introduction each time, the card sat in the center of the table, accessible but, ultimately, unused. Regardless of its inactivation, I think its presence was a positive one. Just because no one at any point saw fit to use it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t doing its job. I found it reassuring, even though there’s very little, at least in the abstract, that I am likely to object to in a game (it depends on presentation, and I’m more likely to be annoyed than outright offended). Possibly I was more reassured to know that everyone else had recourse to it, in case I or anyone else verged into uncomfortable territory. Certainly, when you’re playing a game like Monsterhearts with complete strangers, a device like the X-Card can be very welcome indeed.

So I did indeed have a great time, both productive and fun. I’m going to do my level best to get there next year. And I expect I’ll make some time for games.

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I Eagerly Await Your Counterfeit Check

Dear “Joan Barnett,”

Thank you so much for contacting me regarding the revision and editing work you need done. I occasionally get emails from people I’ve never interacted with before, inquiring about my services. It’s always a nice surprise to meet a prospective new client this way, and this, in itself, isn’t particularly odd or suspicious. When I saw your subject line, WRITER/EDITOR NEEDED, I thought, “Hey, that’s me!” And you certainly need help with your informative pamphlet for teens about the dangers of STDs. It looks like you’re trying to do some good work here.

I can’t wait to dive into it. I’m not sure why your sponsor has already sent a check. I haven’t really done anything yet, except exchange a few emails with you to discuss the details of this very important and completely genuine project. I’m also quite sorry to hear that, in his haste, he wrote it for some unspecified amount more than what he should have. Since I never specified an amount, either, can we really be sure he wrote it out for the wrong amount? I mean, all I’ve provided is an hourly rate and an estimate of how long the project will take. Did I mention that I haven’t actually performed any work yet? I appreciate your eagerness, but I’ll invoice you, don’t worry.

In any case, that “extra fund is needed to provide shelter and drug for less privilege kids and organize seminar about the STD/AIDS program.” I’m not sure about that. I hope you mean “medicine” rather than “drug.” I mean, I have my doubts about the whole “drug war” thing, but I don’t want to be involved in anything nefarious. Anyway, the simplest solution would be to cancel the check, all of which is overpayment at this point, after all. I’ll happily mail it back to you or shred it. But if you’d rather I deposit the check and then let you know I’ve done so, I suppose that’s reasonable enough. Then you’ll let me know where to send the excess amount (don’t forget to also let me know what that excess amount is). Again, that all seems needlessly complicated, and I’d hate for anything to go horribly, horribly wrong somewhere in the transaction. I hate to think of those kids not getting the shelter, unspecified pharmaceuticals, and informative seminars they need (be sure to distribute that pamphlet to them as soon as I’ve finished it for you).

Sincerely,
Christopher Smith Adair

So, it’ll come as no surprise to anyone who waded through the above that this is all a scam, a phishing attempt targeting writers and editors. I wasn’t aware such a particular variation existed until earlier this morning. Nanci Hamilton writes about her own experiences with this type of fraud here: http://www.hamiltonpdx.com/blogs/index.php/email-scam-detailed. The emails she received are quite similar to the ones I did. Mine were less elaborate and didn’t provide any Youtube links. Either the person or persons involved are trying a variety of approaches or they’ve developed them over time. In any case, I’m glad I figured it out early enough. I’ve filed a complaint with the FTC, and, once the bogus check arrives, I’ll alert USPS. In the meantime, I have some actual work to do.

ACHTUNG! Trail of Cthulhu

My Trail of Cthulhu conversions of Modiphius‘s first two Achtung! Cthulhu scenarios are now available.ACHTUNG! CTHULHU The Achtung! Cthulhu setting pits agents of the Allied nations against those of the Axis as they seek to harness the cosmic power of the Mythos. The backdrop of WW II has previously appeared in Cthulhoid roleplaying, but Achtung! Cthulhu is the first setting to provide substantial material for games set in that era. Here’s a link to a bundle deal on the PDFs (where they can also be purchased individually).

The scenarios are Three Kings and Heroes of the Sea, the first two parts of the episodic Zero Point campaign, written by Sarah Newton. Each stands alone, providing an individual mission to challenge the players. Modiphius previously provided versions for Call of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu, and PDQ. This is one of the benefits of PDF publishing, though print versions will follow at some point. Based on the great success of their recent Kickstarter—which started with two books and funded to about five times that, with the addition of miniatures, a board game, and more—this line will have a long and healthy life.

My conversions provide statistics and rules, including, of course, Trail of Cthulhu‘s method of providing clues. While these scenarios have more opportunities for furious action than Lovecraftian ones stereotypically do, they have many of the familiar qualities of investigation, cautious approaches, and mind-shattering horror. If you are unfamiliar with Ken Hite’s Cthulhu Mythos version of Robin D. Laws’s GUMSHOE rules, more information can be found on Pelgrane Press’s website.

While a lot of conversion work is more or less mechanical, though requiring creativity and judgment (this stat equals this one, this Call of Cthulhu skill used to find the clue is equivalent to this Trail of Cthulhu one, etc.), this project’s setting provided further interesting challenges. Sarah Newton had provided CoC rules for vehicle combat and large-scale engagements (including rules for PCs commanding such forces). I wrote rules for these aspects of warfare to fit ToC‘s style, and this was probably the most extensive design work I did on these. Also of interest to Keepers are the numerous spells I converted (three for Three Kings and seventeen for Heroes of the Sea, with two overlapping between them). Some of these are spells I’ve converted in the past, but I looked at each one to determine if changes needed to be made to fit the scenario or my own evolving sensibilities.

The Untimely Death of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

CIVIL WAR EpilogueIn one day, the license for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying expires with such force that official outlets for the game and supplements will cease to offer it. I know this is definitely the case for PDFs; DriveThruRPG has to stop selling them by the end of 4/30. I think Margaret Weiss Productions has to stop selling its physical stock by that point as well, but I base that on implications and inferences. Since the last three printed books (the Civil War supplements) never made it into normal distribution, that severely limits access to physical copies of over half the published material for the game. The first Annihilation book won’t see print and pre-orders will be refunded. The advance PDF is the only way to get it. Whatever final changes would have been made to the material will never be implemented.

What exactly happened can only be speculated upon by those of us not directly involved. Here’s my basic understanding: MWP had acquired the license from Marvel. It published the rulebook and a first round of supplements and had an ambitious schedule of future releases announced. Lots of work had already been done on these (and, apparently, work had begun on at least one that hadn’t been announced). Marvel and MWP were negotiating the renewal of the license. At some point, MWP decided they couldn’t continue with the license. They then had a week before operations shut down completely. (The official announcement is here, at the end.)

I don’t have any insider’s knowledge here. But without engaging in baseless theorizing, it does seem odd that there is such a short window of time to finish selling these products. I have to assume this was Marvel’s choice, and it doesn’t seem like a fair one. In any case, the situation is sad. It’s sad for the creators who put so much work into material that will never be seen. I don’t know what MWP’s payment terms are, but there’s a very good chance those hours of work will never be compensated. And if they were, then it’s MWP that will never see compensation. It’s sad for MWP, the company that worked to bring out a great game based on a beloved license and now has to deal with the effect this has on its operations and reputation. It’s sad for me personally, because this game did something I would have thought unlikely at best, and I was looking forward to more.

The unlikely thing that Marvel Heroic Roleplaying did was make me interested in a comic-book roleplaying game for the first time in twenty years. That it was for a licensed property, and that the way the license was implemented factored in, only makes it more surprising to me. The second roleplaying game I ever ran or played was TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes Basic Set. (Before that came out, I used AD&D to run games set in the Marvel universe, just as I did Star Wars). I cajoled my parents into buying me the Advanced Set the day I saw it in a store. But I moved on a few years later. I began to feel that superhero roleplaying games just didn’t quite feel like they represented the comic books I loved. The rules focused on straightforward combat and benchmarking abilities. They didn’t have the fluidity and scope I wanted. Since I left those games behind, I’ve found some great games that have super-powered characters, such as the Wild Talents line of settings and Mutant City Blues. But I believed a game that really felt like playing a character in a comic-book story wasn’t going to come along.

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying appeared to do that. I say “appeared,” because I still haven’t run a game. But reading online discussions got me to pick up the first book and the Civil War event book. When I read the recent announcement, I scrambled to get everything I’d been waiting for. I still hope to play the game sometime soon, but it’s unfortunate that, as far as official material goes, the end has come.

Golden Goblin Press Launches with Kickstarter

Golden Goblin PressISLANDS OF IGNORANCE has started a Kickstarter campaign for its first book, Island of Ignorance, the Third Cthulhu Companion. The Kickstarter went up on Friday, 4/19, and it’s been heading steadily toward its initial goal since.

I’m in the running to write a bonus “mystery” scenario. What’s the mystery? Almost everything about it. Backers at the Private Eye level and higher will vote on the elements they want to see in the scenario, as well as who will give life to the patchwork monstrosity. The other authors vying for the spot are Chad Bowser (writer of Cthulhu Invictus), Adam Gauntlett (writer of numerous historically based Trail of Cthulhu scenarios), Stuart Boon (line developer of Cthulhu Britannica), Bret Kramer (editor of the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion), and Jeffrey Moeller (Lost in the Lights). Those are just a few of the credits these impressive writers have justifiably received accolades and awards for. That’s going to be some tough voting.

Oscar Rios is in charge of Golden Goblin Press. He’s well regarded for his numerous contributions to the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, including the integral role he’s played at Miskatonic River Press since the beginning, both as a writer and an associate editor.

I’ve worked with him or been published alongside him a number of times. As impressive as his bibliography is already, I don’t think we’ve really begun to see what he’s capable of, because he keeps getting better and better. His Cthulhu Invictus campaign, The Legacy of Arrius Lurco, stands eye-to-eye with any Call of Cthulhu campaign, which is saying a lot for a game renowned for its campaigns. And “The Tenement,” one of his latest offerings (included in Tales of the Sleepless City), is a masterful exercise in dread and despair. Under his leadership, Golden Goblin Press promises to be an exciting and vital new CoC licensee.

A Double Threat

Two books I worked on were published recently. Finally! (Working in publishing is an exercise in patience.) Paul Carrick was one of the many great artists contributing to both books.

Tales of the Sleepless City Cover

Paul Carrick’s cover for TALES OF THE SLEEPLESS CITY

I was a copyeditor on Tales of the Sleepless City, a collection of Call of Cthulhu scenarios from Miskatonic River Press. It’s another beautiful book from them (their production quality keeps getting better and better). Each scenario spotlights an area of New York City in the 1920s, full of great atmosphere and details to bring the cosmopolis to life. Some friends and I got to play in a couple of the scenarios (“To Awaken What Never Sleeps” and “The Fishers of Men”) at MythosCon in 2011, courtesy of MRP president Tom Lynch.

Paul Carrick art from "This Village Was Made for Us"

Paul Carrick’s nightmarish painting from “This Village Was Made for Us”

I wrote a scenario, “This Village Was Made for Us,” and some scenario seeds for Atomic-Age Cthulhu from Chaosium.  This Call of Cthulhu collection takes place during the 1950s, a previously neglected era for the game. It also provides resources to create characters and run games during the period.  My scenario takes place in one of the communities established to support the nuclear industry, a surreal and oppressive environment for an investigation. I recently received my copy, and I look forward to reading the rest of the scenarios. Brian Sammons put it together, and it was great working with him again. I made my first RPG submission pitch to Brian back in 2002, for Strange Aeons II.