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AICN Tabletop! Abstruse Has A Blast At Comicpalooza! Patrick Stewart! And More!

Nordling here super quick.  Before Abstruse gets into his weekly column of AICN Tabletop, let me tell you about the best thing I saw at Comicpalooza this year.  I was present for Patrick Stewart's panel, where he opened up about the traumatic events of his childhood after a woman asked him about his charity work.  The woman, who was dealing with her own issues of abuse, provoked a very emotional and powerful response from the beloved actor, and I felt very gratified to be witness to it.  It's become something of an online story since last week's event, but if you aren't familiar with what happened, here's a video:
It's things like that that make me love attending and being a part of this event every year.  Next year will be even bigger and more eventful.  I can't wait.
Abstruse here. I started writing this week's column on Tuesday and, two days later, this is the first day after Comicpalooza I’ve had the energy to write. I had the time of my life at the convention, but that was exhausting! The convention was packed with nerdy and geeky goodness, and I only got to see a small amount of it. I know it was only three days, but there was so much awesome packed into the convention that it felt like I was there for a week. It probably didn’t help the time distortion that I think I slept like 7 hours out of the 72...
First off, I would like to thank Comicpalooza and all their staff and volunteers. They did an amazing job organizing a HUGE convention. I would also like to thank all the guests, vendors, panelists, and demo teams who were there for their tireless effort. And of course, I’d like to thank all the people I met whether they were there for work or just for fun. All of you made this one of the most fun weekends of my life.
I saw a lot of awesomeness, so I’m going to be very general about most of them because they deserve a full review and I just haven’t had enough time with the games to judge them. One exception, however, is a game I got to play for the first time...
I had someone in the Talkbacks last week ask why I hadn’t covered STAR WARS X-WING MINIATURES. The answer’s pretty simple – I hadn’t played it. Fantasy Flight released the dogfight miniature game set in the Star Wars universe last year and it’s been a huge hit, even amongst the critical Star Wars fanbase. The game plays like a balance between the rules-heavy miniature wargames like WARHAMMER or WARMACHINE and the rules-lite HEROCLIX and MAGE KNIGHT. The base set comes with two TIE Fighters and an X-Wing (though the game I played was a simulation of the Death Star Trench where my opponent had two X-Wings piloted by Wedge and Luke while I had two TIE Fighters and an Advanced TIE Fighter piloted by Darth Vader) as well as all the tools needed to play the game.
Turns break down very easily. First, you secretly set your maneuver on a dial for each of your ships and set it face-down by the mini in question. In order of your piloting skill, you then reveal what maneuver you chose and move your ship using the cardboard templates provided (no tailor’s tape measure, grids, or hexes required). You then perform an action, which varies depending on your pilot and ship. Finally, you attack by rolling special d8s with symbols on them for attack and evade.
The miniatures in this game look fantastic and the rules are very easy to pick up. I played the demo Sunday morning, and even hung over as all hell, I still had the rules down after just two turns. Many of the game mechanics are the perfect marriage of simplistic game design and the complex tactics of miniature wargaming. Each set comes with multiple pilots and some special payloads, so there’s a lot of customization in the game while still balancing the game via a point-based ranking system for units. So each of your ships are worth X points, each of your pilots are worth X points, and each of your special equipment is worth X points. You add them together and that’s your unit’s point value, which should match your opponents’ for a balanced game.
The only downside to this game is the price tag, which is $39.99 for the base set and expansions ranging from $14.95 for a single A-Wing, B-Wing, TIE Advanced, TIE Interceptor, etc. to $29.95 for the Millennium Falcon or Slave 1. This is a bit on the high side even for a single miniature wargame (a notoriously expensive gaming genre), but the gameplay and quality is well worth it. You just may want to get several of your friends to chip in. While it’s listed as only for two players, I can’t see any reason (if you use markers or custom paint jobs to differentiate units) you couldn’t have more players in a massive battle. You can also rest assured that “pay to win” doesn’t fly here as Fantasy Flight has stated they have no plans to include any capital ships in the game, keeping solely to the skirmishing dogfights we remember from the films. Speaking of, they’re releasing ships from the Expanded Universe but have announced no plans to release ships from the prequels. If you can get over the large pricetag, this is the perfect game for Star Wars fans.
I never got into HACKMASTER in any of its previous forms because, when I first looked at it, it was basically just a tongue-in-cheek version of 2nd Edition AD&D at a time when I was knee-deep in 3rd Edition. My my, how times have changed. Whether you’re interested in Old School Renaissance gameplay recapturing the glory days of AD&D or you like fast-playing modern rules, this game has you covered. I didn’t get to play this one due to a panel, but I watched a group play for about half an hour and the system looks amazing. It has the same old-school flair that the original Hackmaster had, but has streamlined the rules without drastically changing them. There’s a small diamond on your character sheet that has all eight numbers that are immediately useful to you such as attack bonus, defense, etc. so no more hassling with to-hit tables or THAC0. Bonus: The basic rules are completely free to download and try out!
The biggest tabletop gaming announcement during the weekend came from Skirmisher Games, a publisher of third-party supplements and adventures/modules for d20, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, and other systems. On Saturday, they announced at their panel the launch of Skirmisher Bookforge. The idea is to buy enhancements for your games a la carte for a small price, bringing microtransactions to tabletop gaming. Instead of buying a $20 sourcebook of feats, magic items, etc. and only ever using two or three of them...why not just spend $.10 or $.25 for the game items you use? There are many features on the site, which is still being built. The SRD/PRD files are free as per the OGL (translation: you can get the base rules for either D&D 3.5 or PATHFINDER minus a couple of things that make you buy the Player’s Handbook for free), and you can add the microtransaction purchased items on the website to create a custom sourcebook in PDF. You can then print this out and create a sourcebook that is entirely yours.
This is a good idea, but the potential here is even better. I play a lot of games where keeping secrets from the players. I have players who think the idea of PARANOIA is cool but haven’t actually played it, so they don’t know some of the secrets. And SHADOWRUN is ALL about information control, especially when you’re playing in earlier eras like 2050s where spoilers can completely ruin any tension, suspense, or mystery you plan to build. What this means is that I can purchase all the game information I need to run the game, then pick and choose from them and get a PDF to print out for my players. I could even create custom books for my players, which is helpful when introducing new players. I can customize what rules appear in the book so that there’s nothing that the player won’t need to have access to, cutting down on the clutter that can sometimes confuse new players. Why include metamagic feats for a new player who only wants to play a thief? I’m really looking forward to what this concept has in store for the future of gaming.
One of the games published by Skirmisher Publishing is LOW LIFE, a Savage Worlds* game set in a post-apocalyptic future where every apocalypse you can think of has already happened and humans are gone, giving rise to other races who dominate the landscape. To give you an idea of the tone of the book, there is a race called Creamfillians. They are a sentient player character race built on the idea that Twinkies last forever, so after several million years, of course they would eventually gain sentience! The tone of the game is very light-hearted and the art is amazing. The sourcebooks for the game are written in an in-universe style as travel guides, so you can get a feel for the tone right away. A bonus if you’re not a fan of Savage Worlds* or don’t want to learn a new rules system, the world books are mostly fluff with all the game statistics at the back of the book, so you can easily translate the world into any game system you like. I’ll hopefully have more for you concerning this game soon after I get a chance to play it, but definitely check it out if the idea of playing sentient Twinkies or humanoid-sized cockroaches in a Mad Max meets Monty Python style setting appeals to you.
Dungeon Stone is a company based out of Texas who had demos set up of their terrain...and it was both my biggest triumph of willpower and biggest regret of the convention that I didn’t buy a set. While other companies are going to PVC and other lightweight plastic materials, Dungeon Stone is still crafted out of a blend of actual stone as well as silicon and other minerals in order to give them the stability of actual stone but the durability and light-weight portability of other materials. Their pieces feel amazing and, according to the company’s owner, will survive anything aside from willful destruction (IE someone throwing a hissy fit over a failed saving throw and spiking a piece on a cement floor).
The sculpts look amazing and just talking with the owner of the company for a few minutes tripled my knowledge of geology as the guy really knows his stuff. Their prices are competitive (if not far below in terms of the pieces you get) with Dwarven Forge’s current (non-Game Tiles) line and is also compatible, which means they’ll be compatible with the Game Tiles line from the Kickstarter when they come out. And they’re actually IN STOCK, so you can buy them now and have them in time for next week’s game session. Their base set starts at $40 and has enough pieces to create a very large three-room set-up they had demoed at the convention.
TEPHRA is a steampunk themed roleplaying game that mixes a level-based progression with a skill-based system (this means you go up in levels as you gain experience like in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, but you make all your rolls based on skills you have like SHADOWRUN or WORLD OF DARKNESS). I didn’t get a good look at this system, but I got to talk to some of the staff at Cracked Monocle. While the game is very strongly based in steampunk, the underlying system is actually pretty generic and was built to accommodate as many different genres of gaming as possible. The reasoning behind this is that steampunk itself is a mash-up of different genres and they wanted to be able to support strict Victorian themes as well as opening itself up to magitek, clockpunk and other subgenres. By the way, is “clockpunk” an actual word? A friend of mine said it to me years ago and I get the impression no one’s correcting me because they find it funny.
Anyway, Tephra is a very flexible system from what I’ve seen of it, able to work with several different pulp genres with just simple reskinning of the fluff. The damage codes aren’t tied to specific weapons, just a vague “small, medium, large” descriptor and either ranged or melee. The skills are also very generic, so there’s no reason you couldn’t use the system for pretty much any other genre you can think of (I personally think it’d work well with mad scientist or ‘60s spy). It’s based off of the most underutilized die, the d12. Roll 1d12, add a relevant attribute or skill modifier, compare the result to the Tier (difficulty) of the task. 1-9 is easy, 10-19 is hard, 20-29 is extremely difficult, and 30+ is superhuman. There will be a “metaplot” of sorts to the game, but it will be purely through published adventures and not part of the core system, making it even easier to make your own game world. There are fantasy elements to the rules, but those are easily stripped out if you don’t want elves running around your steampunk world.
Steve Jackson Games didn’t really have anything new at the convention. They didn’t do any panels, didn’t demo any new products, and didn’t even have a booth set up in the Dealer’s Room. What they DID have, though, were the Men in Black - the SJG demo team. They permanently occupied three tables in the game room and pretty much anytime the game room was open, they were there with stacks of games ready to play with experienced players and newbies alike. Chez Geek, Zombie Dice, Cthulhu Dice, Ogre, and every type of Munchkin you can imagine up to and including Munchkin Quest. You sat down, you picked the game, and they would teach you how to play from scratch or give you the challenge of a lifetime if you were an experienced player.
If you ever get a chance to go to a convention or game store where Steve Jackson Games has people on-site, DO IT! They are all fun as hell and knowledgeable about both their products and games by their competitors. And they have no problems pointing out when another company designed a similar style game to theirs and did it better. Plus, they give out prizes (yes, I got an official Munchkin coin and four Munchkin bookmarks...neiner neiner).
I’m leaving out a lot of games from the con simply because there was just so much going on that I didn’t have time for everything. I can’t remember a time that Pathfinder Society and Living Forgotten Realms didn’t have at least one game going (though PATHFINDER seemed to outnumber the D&D 4e games by about a 5:1 ratio). There were at least two games of TEPHRA being demoed every time I hit the room. People were breaking out games left and right that I’d never heard of and just didn’t have time to play or even watch (including one whose name I can’t remember but was an awesome board game that was pretty much Tolkien meets PANDEMIC in a cooperative fantasy board game where you’re working together to defeat evil overlords while still also attempting to meet personal goals). And of course, the second alcohol was available either at the hotel bar or at the convention center itself, Cards Against Humanity broke out. 
I got to attend a panel by Louis Zocchi himself, a man who was part of the game industry before Avalon Hill formed and watched as D&D went from Dave Arneson adding a spy mission to a WWII wargame through to the sale of TSR to Wizards of the Coast. There were panels by Skirmisher Publishing, Jolly Blackburn (creating of both HACKMASTER and KNIGHTS OF THE DINNERTABLE), d-Inifity Magazine. There were tournaments upon tournaments upon tournaments, a MASSIVE dungeon crawl set up in 3D terrain that took up two entire 6’x4’ tables, three tables dedicated to HEROCLIX. And I didn’t even get a chance to go to the CCG room or video game rooms! If you ever get a chance to go to a convention, whether it’s as large as Comicpalooza or just at a small town Ramada Inn’s banquet hall, do not pass up the opportunity. You’ll never know the games you’ll get to play or the friends you’ll make.
Jack Vance put the “Vance” in “Vancian Magic”. If you’ve never heard the term before, it’s the description of the “memorized magic spell you prepare, cast once, and cannot cast again until it is memorized again” style of magic used in many roleplaying games. The man was a great influence on Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson when they developed Dungeons & Dragons, to the point that Gygax named Vance a greater influence even than Tolkien on the game’s style of fantasy.
What many gamers forget, though, is that Jack Vance was part of the elite of genre fiction with a multi-decade career that spanned science fiction, fantasy, and mystery from the 1940s all the way into the 2000s. Just ONE of his fantasy series - THE DYING EARTH - influenced pretty much every aspect of roleplaying games at the genre’s formation. This is the man who started “rule magic” as we know it. Before him, magic was simply a thing that happened, like Sleeping Beauty’s spindle or Gandalf’s constantly fluctuating power levels of prestidigitations. Magic was just a way for a protagonist or antagonist in a story to do something supernatural to move the plot forward. Without Vance’s influence, we wouldn’t even think of “spells” as a pre-packaged formula of magic the way we do, let alone there being a set of guidelines that define what magic is and how it works.
Jack Vance passed away this past Sunday at the age of 96, leaving behind one of the most massive legacies in all of fiction writing.
Super Genius Games released THE MERCIFUL COUSINS CAVALIER ORDER, a PDF sourcebook compatible with the Pathfinder rules with 100% of the proceeds from the release going toward the Red Cross and a focus on relief for victims of the Moore, OK, tornados. This is a great way to both expand your collection of adventures and support a good cause. The book gives detailed information on the Order of the Merciful Cousins, a group of cavaliers who focus on rebuilding after disasters and pre-emptively averting them. There should be many adventure hooks and backstory ideas in this book and, as a victim of a natural disaster myself, I cannot stress enough how important even the smallest donations can make a huge difference.
Are you sick of me talking about Shadowrun yet? Well tough shit, because I’m head over heels in love with every single thing I’m seeing about the game so far. Thursday, Catalyst Game Labs released the third preview for the new edition of the game and this time, they cover character generation. The Priority system is back, with several tweaks that I find just absolutely brilliant. 
You have five categories of character traits: Race, Attribute Points, Skill Points, Magic/Resonance, and Resources. You have options labeled A, B, C, D, and E for each of these categories. You pick which category you assign to which priority and boom, that’s it. This is how characters in 1st through 3rd Edition Shadowrun were generated and it brings back a sense of nostalgia to have it back. It also speeds up the character creation process a lot as there’s less finagling with build points. To keep characters from feeling identical just because they picked the same priorities, though, Karma has been added to the character generation, giving you several extra points you can spend to increase any of the aforementioned categories as you see fit. 
These small tweaks fix a LOT of the issues that have come up in other editions of the game on top of the issues caused by attempted fixes for those issues. Whether this ends up better than previous editions, we’ll only see when we get our hands on the game sometime this year. But every single thing I’ve seen so far makes me very, very hopeful.
Are you going to GenCon? First off, I hate you. I can’t afford to go. Second off, amongst other things, you will potentially be amongst the first to get your hands on GHOSTS OF DRAGONSPEAR CASTLE. Why should you care? It’s only the very first official printing of the Dungeons & Dragons Next rules done by Wizards of the Coast, complete with four original adventures that form a campaign from 1st through 10th levels. You can <a href=””>pre-order your copy online to ensure you get it</a>, but you MUST pick the book up at GenCon at Gale Force Nine’s booth.
Are you stuck in some podunk town like me and unable to attend the greatest weekend in gaming? Well then stop by your Friendly Local Gaming Store and sign up for D&D Encounters because even if we can’t get our hands on the aforementioned book, we DO get to participate in the awesomeness in the form of MURDER IN BALDUR’S GATE. This launching point for the new season of D&D Encounters creates a group atmosphere amongst all the playgroups as events at one table at an event or game store can affect the game at another table. The details on how this will work have been sparse so far with GenCon still well over a month away, but it looks to be a fascinating idea.
Okay, there were a LOT of awesome Kickstarters launched this week and I just don’t know how to narrow them all down. So if I’m missing something, odds are I’ll cover it next week. Just in case, feel free to post it in the Talkbacks.
LOW LIFE: THE RISE OF THE LOWLY is the game I mentioned above from the covention. They’re currently running a Kickstarter to reprint the core rulebook to the game system. Remember that asterisk above on “Savage World”? The $100,000 and $120,000 stretch goals are conversions for Pathfinder and Fate Core, respectively. It’s already hit its funding and is working toward those stretch goals until June 24.
Dungeon Stone from Comicpalooza has its own Kickstarter up for its Caves and Caverns set. The big selling point on this one is that the caves are modeled after non-sedimentary caves that...okay, my 5th grade geology is failing me. But basically, the 3D terrain cave sets everyone has seen before are based on the “dripping cavern” style caves. The types of caves most frequently mentioned in game modules, however, are “dry caves” – obsidian from a volcano or deep inside a mountain. It doesn’t matter if you’re a geological purist or if you just like awesome looking terrain, this is a Kickstarter well worth looking into. I got to see the prototype and it looks amazing as well as a good value at $75 for the base set.
CALL OF CTHULHU 7th Edition is the newest version of Chaosium’s classic roleplaying game of Lovecraftian terror and madness. This game is notorious amongst gamers as the codifier of a genre of games that I’ve never really seen named before. Like PARANOIA and RAVENLOFT, the game is less about making sure your character survives (because that’s probably not happening) and far more about the interaction with the environment and monsters/NPCs that slowly drive your character insane. And that’s the fun of this game, wondering exactly how long it’s going to take before you go stark raving mad and start eating your own face before some slithering suckling beast can eat it off for you. $30 gets you both the Investigator’s Handbook and the Keeper’s Handbook in PDF format, while $70 plus shipping gets you softcover copies and $100 plus shipping gets you hardcover copies of both books. Already funded and knocking down stretch goals after only a couple of days, this Kickstarter runs until June 29.
EUPHORIA: BUILD A BETTER DISTOPIA is a city building board game for 2-6 players from Stonemaier Games, whose first game VITICULTURE is currently shipping out to backers of their first Kickstarter. The Kickstarter is already at ten times its goal and the designers estimate a pre-Christmas delivery for the game at a $70 MSRP. This makes the $49 price to get a copy now an amazing discount. If you’ve ever thought you could do a better job than Big Brother, Father, or Andrew Ryan, here’s your chance to prove it by building up your own totalitarian society while controlling exactly how much of the truth your workers know. This Kickstarter ends June 13, so there’s not much time left to get in on it.
Already gamers, that’s it for this week. As always, you can follow me on Twitter at @Abstruse to see pictures of me posing with a life-size working friggin’ DALEK from the convention, and you can email me at with any tabletop gaming news or just to berate me for forgetting your favorite Kickstarter going on right now.
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