Thursday, August 11, 2016

Gen Con 2016: The Seminars


I found myself taking notes at all the seminars I attended at this year's Gen Con, so I figured I'd put them here in case any of you are interested. They're certainly not comprehensive notes, in some cases, because I wasn't planning on reporting them. So I just noted the stuff I thought was especially interesting and that I didn't already know.

Designing for the Cypher System (Monte Cook Games)


Monte Cook and company talked about designing products for the cypher system. Here are a few bits of advice that stuck with me:

  • Put specific cyphers in an adventure, cyphers that will shape how things happen. For example, an adventure with a barrier that must be passed might feature a phasing cypher.
  • Every good GM Intrusion should end with, "What are you going to do?"
  • Look at cypher limits (and the number of GM intrusions you use) as suggestions.
  • Sean Reynolds said designers shouldn't worry about competing with MCG. For example, if you come out with a book of Western adventures for the cypher system, don't worry that MCG will come out with a Western setting and outshine you. The customers will want both!

Monte also mentioned that 90-95% of the products from Monte Cook Games are the result of Kickstarter projects.


Cultivating Healthy Relationships With Publishers (Atlas Games)


Panelists: Jess Banks, Cam Banks, and John Nephew.

I wasn't good at the note-taking at this seminar, so forgive me for not having much to share. (It was a good seminar!)

  • Atlas Games supports conventions by providing support in exchange for ad space.
  • Tools they use internally: Slack, Trello.
  • Playtesting can get their attention at Atlas Games, leading to design opportunities. They like helpful, interactive playtesters.
  • Jess likes chocolate. Send her some.


What's Happening At Chaosium



Panelists: (left to right) Greg Stafford, Michael O'Brien, Neal Robinson, Jeff Richard, Rick Meintz, and (unpictured) Sandy Petersen. Also present were Todd Gardner and Mike Mason.

A lot of the talk involved reassurances that Chaosium has turned around its financial problems and is making things right with customers and professionals. Personally, I get the impression that this is true.

Here are a few more tidbits I caught...
  • Now when you buy a Chaosium book, you get the PDF free. (Love this news!)
  • Sandy Petersen was wearing an excellent shirt. The front showed the DOOM logo, and the back said, "Wrote it."
  • For Call of Cthulhu playtesting, contact Chaosium's "Cult of Chaos" (through Mike Mason, I believe).
  • Chaosium isn't doing monographs anymore. They want to put more polish into what they work on.


Meet FASA Games



Panelists: Mary Harrison, Andrew Ragland, and Josh Harrison. Also present: Ross Babcock, Todd Bogenrief, Morgan Weeks.

The FASA crew talked about all their product lines:

  • Demonworld is a miniatures game featuring "shamanic humans vs dwarves." FASA is now creating a Demonworld RPG. Most of the writers on Demonworld are women. The RPG will be based on the same system Earthdawn uses. FASA is hoping to have the Demonworld RPG out by Gen Con 2017.
  • Fading Suns has been around for a long time, and is my favorite (current) FASA game. New products in the works include Merchant League (which is mostly done) and several Noble Armada books. Fading Suns will also see a book called Where Shadows Lie (about dark evil things between the stars) and one called Rise of the Phoenix (about the empire).
  • 1879 is like an "earlier era Shadowrun," a setting where magic has returned in the Victorian Age. The Player's Guide is out now. The game has are Lewis Carroll tie-ins (such as orcs are called snarks). 1789 has a London sourcebook in the works, as well as a plot point campaign book.
  • Earthdawn: The latest edition has been out for a year. Some books were delayed.

Ross and Josh talked a bit about strengthening FASA. "We're back to being like an indy publisher," Josh said, mentioning that all of them also have day jobs. Ross is pushing for releasing more than one book per line per year; he wants to increase that to one per quarter, and eventually one per month.

Ross said, "FASA has returned from a slumber."


Instant Adventure With Monte Cook



This is the second year Monte has done this amazing event. I went last year and loved it, so I was happy to drag my wife and son to it with me. (Spoiler alert: they loved it too.)

This year, Monte's players were Bruce Cordell, Shanna Germain, Sean Reynolds, and Tom Lommel. The audience chose the following story elements, and Monte improvised an adventure around them:
  • Genre: noir
  • PCs: wizard mobsters
  • Where the PCs just came from: a PC's daughter's wedding
  • An ally: shady cop
  • The enemy: a priest
I can't do justice to this event in words, so I'll put a video here as soon as MCG releases it. Until then, enjoy this replay of last year's event.


UPDATE: Here's this year's Instant Adventure seminar video...



Ken & Robin Talk About Stuff



I didn't take notes on this one because Ken and Robin recorded it for an upcoming episode of their podcast of the same name. So go listen to that, when it comes out, and pretend you're sitting right next to me!


Monte Cook Games Seminar



Invisible Sun

I took more notes in this one because Monte had big news: they're releasing a new RPG called Invisible Sun. A Kickstarter for the game launches August 15, 2016, with a planned release timeframe of late 2017.

This is the introductory video MCG showed us at the start of the seminar:


And this is a video of the seminar itself:


Invisible Sun will ship in a complex-looking big black box. In addition to the game book, the box will contain "sooth cards" and apparently some kind of statue of a hand. The hand will be used in-game to hold a card. This will be a "deluxe game," meaning not cheap. They don't have a price yet, but mentioned that a past Monte Cook whopper, Ptolus, cost $120 ten years ago.

One thing Monte focused on was his intent to address the challenges of modern gaming with this product--such as players and GMs having busy schedules, players missing games, and players having different interaction preferences. Monte mentioned knowing players who don't talk much at the table but enjoy the game on a deep (but quiet) level that they're more comfortable discussing away from the table. Invisible Sun will support this in a number of ways, including its own smartphone app (in which the GM can send sooth cards to players) and the possibility of occasional one-on-one gaming.

In the world of Invisible Sun, the world that we as players know is called "Shadow." It's not the "real" world. The real world is hidden to most, and it's called the "Actuality." Sometimes, player characters feel the pull back to the shadow. This is how Invisible Sun will explain player absences--the player character has succumbed to the pull and vanished into shadow for a while.


The game will also feature a "directed campaign." Players will tell MCG when their campaign starts. After that, the Invisible Suns website will have a new monthly offering for your campaign, which will be tailored based on input provided by the group of players. MCG will even send props in the mail to players! (The audience LOVED this.)

The game's website (designed by Gnome Stew's Head Gnome, John Arcadian) is at pathofsuns.com. Monte suggested we go there and look for secrets. The site will be updated daily until the Kickstarter begins (or ends, I forget which).

This is not a cypher system game, but it has similarities. Monte says that the system in Invisible Sun has a "different but similar core mechanic." He mentioned that the system is very tailored to the setting, so it's not designed as a general-purpose system like cypher. The game does have a GM intrusion mechanic; in Invisible Sun, they call it "complications." These are usually associated with magic.








Invisible Sun's system uses 10-sided dice. A zero is a failure. When a player is using magic, she'll add a "magic die" (or sometimes more than one), and the magic die has a symbol in place of the zero.

Monte says you could describe the setting thusly: "It's the Harry Potter books if they were written by Philip K. Dick."

Miscellaneous notes:

  • The key word for the game is: surreal. (This--backed up by the images MCG showed in their introductory video--is what really grabbed my son. And he's not even much of a gaming fan!)
  • Features joy and despair points as a type of XP.
  • The game has a "story point" mechanic.
  • Magic will be presented as weird and wondrous.
  • Inspirations for Invisible Sun include: Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol, The Invisibles, China Mieville, Philip K. Dick.
  • Every player character has an arc. There aren't levels or tiers in the game, but there are story arcs. Reaching a milestone in your story arc can unlock things for your character.
  • Each PC has a "house" they can develop and define.
  • MCG gave out shirts to panel attendees. The shirt (which my son wants to wear every day) depicts "the path of suns," serving as both a map of reality and also of the human spirit.
  • They also gave out mysterious sealed envelopes which we were urged not t open until August 15. Dammit.
  • Monte says this is probably the most complex project he's ever worked on.


Cypher System News

After the Invisible Sun discussion, MCG moved on to talk about products related to their cypher system line.

  • Numenera Character Options 2 is coming. Among other things, it includes two new character types: the glint (a face man) and seeker (Indiana Jones).
  • The Numenera Starter Box (intended for new customers, not folks who already have the core book) will be $15. It will be out by Christmas.
  • Into the Outside won't give us just any old alternate dimensions for Numenera; it'll give us extra weird ones. For example, a place where you exist in 3 dimensions at once, and one where you exist as sound only. The book will include instant adventure spreads for each major dimension.
  • Predation will be out in 2017. They playtested it at this Gen Con.
  • Unmasked was also playtested here. Dennis Detwiller said that a player told him Unmasked feels like "The Breakfast Club if it were directed by Stanley Kubrick." In this setting, cyphers are mundane objects that are revealed to be something special when viewed while wearing a mask.
  • Expanded Worlds will be a companion to the Cypher System Rulebook. It includes new genres, including mythology, childhood adventure, post apocalypse, and near future science fiction.
  • Numenera Bestiary 2 is coming.
  • A Numenera novel and a Strange novel are also in production. (I remember talk of these during a recent MCG Kickstarter, and I'm eager to read them.)
  • Organized play: Season 0 is going on now in 20 stores. Season 1 starts Sep 15.
  • Will we see more Numenera world books or adventures? Yes. Monte said they'll keep supporting whatever games have demand, so that's up to the customers.


What's New at Goodman Games



Panelists: Joeb Bittman, Michael Curtis, Joseph Goodman, Jim Wampler, Brendan LaSalle, Harley Stroh, and Doug Kovacs.

(I also spotted Rick Hull and Terry Olson in the audience.)

  • DCC Annual #1 is due out at the end of the year, or early next year. The art for the book is done.
  • Mutant Crawl Classics is due to release by August 2017 at the latest. They expect it earlier than that, actually. They expect to offer an open license for MCC some time after release.
  • A DCC Lankhmar Kickstarter is coming at the end of the year. It'll feature a boxed set with maps.
  • Big news: Goodman Games has landed the license for a Jack Vance game covering the Dying Earth stories.

UPDATE: The Spellburn podcast has provided an episode featuring the audio of this seminar. You can find it here: Gencon 2016: What’s New at Goodman Games.

AND: Here's a video of the seminar...



Cthulhu In Games, with Ken Hite



I arrived late for this one, so only have a few notes.

  • Ken says horror games are the best kind of game because they tap into emotion. "Most emotions are too ugly or too personal," he said, so you don't want to tap them in public.
  • Ken says the roller coaster analogy of horror (using a series of ratcheting up tension followed by release) is dumb, but it works, "every goddamn time." Like when you follow a recipe and put together bread and egg and cinnamon you come out with french toast.
  • He does suggest you vary the pacing to keep players guessing, though.


That's it for the seminars I saw at Gen Con 2016. You should come with me next time!