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So, I said I would talk about FFG’s new Star Wars Beginner Game awhile back. I’ve been out of the loop in the blogosphere for a few months, and I suspect this has already been done to death, but I wanted to give a bit of commentary on it from a player’s point of view.

I played through the Box Set adventure twice, once by myself and once with our old WFRP group. Since I’ve most recently been playing Vampire, my tactics were a bit different when by myself than when with the group; I ended up exploring quite a bit more and doing more RP than fighting. Still, the two experiences had some key similarities that reveal quite a bit about the system itself. I didn’t GM this, nor did I look extensively through the books. Star Wars is my husband’s specialty, and I’d never want to GM it for him because he’s the sort who knows that “they don’t have that kind of electronic lock on Tattooine” and so on. So fair warning: this isn’t a review from a GM’s point of view.

Production Value:
Like all FFG products, Star Wars has outstanding production value. Included are full-color premade character folios with a couple of levels of stats, a picture of the character, and the character’s history on the back. Lavish full-color maps of the city and starport also add quite a bit to the game, although the scale doesn’t accommodate minis well, if that’s the direction you want to head. I only gave a cursory flip-through to the books, but they seem just as lovely as everything else FFG creates, with lots of full-color images on every page. The colored, custom dice are high quality, as is the dice app, which we had to use because you can’t yet buy dice separately and we needed more than two sets to make a four-player game run smoothly. (To be fair, we’re quite a dice-greedy group; normal humans could probably just share.) The dice app includes some “fun” SW sound effects that are way too distracting for the gaming table, but it’s easy enough to turn down the sound on your phone.

dicephone

Adventure:
The included adventure cleverly introduces new players to the game. Each new encounter teaches you a bit more of the rules. By the end, you’ve mastered not only social and combat tactics, but you’ve also had a chance to try out space combat. Each section includes complete descriptions of the logic behind the rules so that the GM can explain to the players not only their options, but also how the game works from the GM’s side of the screen. It’s a neat idea that other games with unusual mechanics might consider.

Players have a clear goal with several obstacles that can be solved either through violence or wit, and there’s a section where the players can wander around the town and get into trouble they create if they wish. If you’ve spent your entire life under a rock and don’t know much about Star Wars, I fear for your sanity, but you’d get a pretty good introduction to the feel of the series from the adventure. The one thing that didn’t thrill me was the fact that the “wander about” section feels forced and mechanical since you’re supposedly running from a powerful enemy. Why would I take time to go window shopping with a crazy pursuer on my heels? Further, since there’s not a lot of ‘there’ to this adventure, so you’re unlikely to get into deep RP, but again, since this is an intro, that might not bother you.

Mechanics:
What can I say? It’s watered-down WFRP, but not necessarily in a bad way. FFG has removed the stance trackers, party sheet, cards, and the million fiddly tokens, which, in many ways, is a relief. (I know, I know. I defended those bits vehemently elsewhere on this blog and on the internet, but they annoyed even me after awhile.) You build dice pools in much the same way as in WFRP, adding ability dice and proficiency dice to represent your character’s core capabilities in an area, boost dice to show effects in the general area that would aid in his/her action, and difficulty, setback, and challenge dice to represent the NPCs and environmental factors that would oppose your action. Rolls then indicate successes and allow players and GMs to spend additional rolled points on other effects. As with WFRP, the system works well if you have a group that wants to narrate its own outcomes, because the dice give both players and GMs the flexibility to have a bit of wiggle room in their interpretation of events. The premade character sheets show you clearly what types of dice will make up your pool, so players can easily get everything ready before their GM adds difficulty/setback/challenge dice.

The Destiny Point tokens provide a nice mechanic for bonuses. Tokens begin either on the Light Side or Dark Side; players can use the tokens to give their abilities a boost when tokens are turned to the Light Side, but each time they use  a boost, they must flip the token to the Dark Side; then the GM has the ability to use the same boost for one of his rolls.

Overall, game play is pretty straightforward and streamlined. As I say, I think the system intends for players to narrate their successes and GMs to push back a little by narrative negatives, adding a dimension of gameplay around the negotiation of outcomes itself, although that’s not really how our group has played in the past, so it’s not how we played Star Wars.

Play:
Play went relatively smoothly for us, but then again, it should have gone relatively smoothly for us, since we were already familiar with WFRP. Our group playthrough skewed towards the silly, with one of our players deciding to change the medical droid’s background so that he had once been a sex droid. The Wookiee PC character invites all kinds of hilarious language barrier problems, so if you’re not up for that kind of hilarity, you might want to take that character off of the table. On the other hand, the SW universe invites that kind of silliness to a certain extent, so that tendency isn’t as game-breaking as it might be in another genre.

Missing From the Box:
There are no chargen rules in the Box, and the Bestiary only includes a handful of enemies. Having adapted a bunch of 2e WFRP before to FFG’s system, I suspect that NPC creation isn’t too hard; you can take material from other systems and pretty easily scale it for this edition, which my husband did when he added in a handful of encounters to the middle of the adventure. Not having the bestiary isn’t a big deal, then, especially if you have the old d20 Star Wars books and can crib from them. Chargen is a bit more of a problem. You could easily work out characters similar to those in the Box, but obviously there’d be no way to branch out to new skills.

Looking Forward:
FFG’s SW seems like a solid system with many of WFRP’s strengths and fewer of its bits. FFG has already released a longer adventure arc for the premade PCs that a GM could follow until the complete set comes out in April, so if your group eagerly wants to keep this rolling, it certainly can. The opening adventure felt a bit canned, but then again, all opening adventures feel a bit canned, and FFG’s main goal was to teach the system, not come up with a stellar storytelling experience. I haven’t taken a look at the rest of the existing story arc to see how it plays out. Having worked with the premade material for WFRP, I do know that FFG has a tendency to release uneven adventure content; GMs will find a few moments of utterly brilliant writing mired under a whole bunch of junk meant to justify new mechanics. On the other hand, perhaps Star Wars will remain free of some of that nonsense since FFG doesn’t seem to want to follow its earlier “buy lots of bits” strategy and therefore won’t have to use adventures to justify a million new mechanics.

I can certainly say that I’d be up for playing this system again, although I must admit that after playing Vampire, it felt really mechanics-focused. On the other hand, it’s hard to tell if that’s because of the system itself or because the designers wrote the first adventure to highlight the mechanics…or because practically anything might feel really mechanics-focused to me at this point.

I stumbled across the link to iheartprintandplay tonight while surfing Twitter. Its owner, Derek Weller, creates charming printable standees in the style of the Order of the Stick for your D&D games. He’s got a whole host of mini beasties and PCs for D&D, and he’s also got plans for printable origami dice! He’s also created adorable character condition cards, too. Definitely worth a quick trip over, especially if you run a light-hearted game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I may just print these little guys out to put on my desk at work because they’re so awesome.

There’s also a great section of the blog dedicated to other free print and play games. There are only a couple of games listed now, but if you’ve got one of your own, you might want to contact Weller and tell him about it!

This week, my husband and I are vacationing at my in-laws’ place. They live in an area of the Adirondacks that one might describe as “remote.” It’s not quite shack-in-the-woods remote, but the nearest townlet, about fifteen minutes away, consists of a bank, three or four stores, two gas stations, and lots of Burma Shave-style signs with religious slogans along the road. While I enjoy my time here spent hiking, swimming, and boating, it does always confirm that I’m a city girl. On the other hand, I always see some hilarious things that would make awesome adventure hooks. Today, I present you with four things I’ve seen so far that would make stellar Warhammer FRP adventure hooks:

  • A man burning the corpse of a horse in the front yard of his house. One of the horse’s legs sticks out of the flames at a jaunty angle.
  • A tiny shack with barely enough room for one man to sit suddenly appears in an unowned part of the woods where there was no shack just a few months ago. My husband and I happened upon a charming bench near a pond in a previously uninhabited part of the forest, and just when I was about to sit down, he suddenly whispered, “Stop! There’s a hut behind you.” I thought he was making a Star Wars joke, but the reality was much creepier.
  • A live dog strapped to the top of a car, (or in Warhammer, to the top of a carriage.) I could see my PCs stalled for half an hour of hilarious roleplay trying to figure out if they should save the dog, or if they should set the carriage on fire because the dog’s likely a demon and the people in the carriage follow some lord of Chaos.
  • A group of stern-looking children striding purposefully towards a stand of trees in the middle of nowhere carrying nothing but a long chain.

And really, there’s the real joy of vacationing: the stories you bring back. Most people want to tell those stories to their families and friends, but some of us twisted souls want to get together and retell slightly more violent versions of our vacation tales as we sit surrounded by piles of dice, stacks of cardboard scenery, and sets of miniatures.

 

Unsurprisingly, I went ahead and coughed up the $42 for the Codex: Space Marines just to see how Games Workshop managed the iBooks format. My willingness to do so is entirely inexplicable, by the way; I don’t play 40K, and I don’t have a Space Marines army. I did enjoy the fluff in the book, though, and if I ever get around to running Rogue Trader, I suppose it will come in handy. Also, it’s almost my birthday, so why not? It’s not my intention to critique the book’s content; instead, I’d like to say a few words about Games Workshop’s use of the format itself.

If you go to iTunes and look up this book, you’ll see more than a hundred reviews that give the book one star. Many of these thoughtful, honest, ethical reviewers haven’t even bought the book–they’re just complaining about the price point. Apparently they feel as though an electronic version of a book shouldn’t cost the same as a print copy, and that’s enough for them to give the book one star. What we’ve learned here is that iTunes shouldn’t allow you to review a book you haven’t bought from them. After having spent some time with the text, I think GW’s implementation of the Codex is a wee bit flawed, but very promising as a whole; it’s not yet five stars, but it’s certainly not one star, either. Many complaints say that much of what the iBooks version accomplishes, a PDF also accomplishes, and that might be true. Still, as far as I can tell, the only PDF versions of the book available are illegal copies, so I’m not wholly swayed by comparing the functionality of a legal copy of an item to the functionality of an illegal copy.

Here’s the scoop on the details of the iBooks implementation:

PROS
Players will likely find the iBooks copy very useful during actual play, and the interactive visuals make it a delight to sit and read.

  • The hot-linked sections of the book will make it easy to find the information you need with a click. For instance, long fluff descriptions of individual units in the “Forces of the Space Marines” chapter link to the crunchy details in the “Army List” at the back of the book and vice versa, so you can get from fluff to crunch easily.
  • Standard iBooks navigation features allows for you to move from chapter to chapter easily, and GW has made the solid design choice to make each new chapter start with a visually distinctive page so you can quickly navigate to the section you need.
  • The searchable glossary has all the game terms you need. If you don’t play a particular army or unit all of the time, you might easily forget how to use a specific skill you’re seeking. It’s faster to do a search for it in a digital glossary than to look it up in a paper copy. I’ve found that it’s also much faster to search the iBooks glossary than to do a search in a whole PDF, but perhaps that’s just me. You can also click on individual special rules within an Army List entry and have the glossary entry for the rule pulled up automatically.
  • The iBooks built-in notes feature allows you to include house rules, refinements, and tactical information near the units and/or rules they modify right in your text without ruining the look of the book.
  • The high-resolution graphics and pictures of miniatures look great on a Retina screen. For once, I could actually get close enough to see that not every ‘Eavy Metal painter is flawless. That gave me a +15 bonus to my Self Confidence.
  • The Citadel 360 (or 360 Citadel?) models are kind of neat, and let you see how the painter has managed all of the details of a particular mini.
  • You can re-use the graphics. Games Workshop probably won’t be thrilled that I point this out, but of course, you can take a screen shot of anything you see in iBooks. That means that you can grab included graphics, put them in your own graphics program, and use them for your own scenarios, RPGs, etc. For a GM like me, this may be one of the most valuable things about the Codex.
  • You can’t lose or damage this book, since you can always re-download it once you’ve purchased it. Your iPad is also significantly smaller and lighter than an actual hardcover GW Codex.

CONS
GW has made a handful funky, bad, or just weird decisions that detract from the overall experience. I suspect that eventually these things will get ironed out as companies like GW come up with standards for publishing iBooks documents, but I was surprised that a company with such a solid design team would make some of these mistakes, even on their first try.

  • The designers use the slideshow function inconsistently throughout the book. It’s not a big problem–or a problem at all from a useability standpoint–but it’s rather offputting. Some galleries have thumbnails of included images at the bottom, while others simply have dots that indicate how many images are in the current slideshow. I found the differences distracting, as I ended up trying to figure out if the logic behind the choices.
  • Similarly inconsistent is GW’s use of the Citadel 360 feature; I couldn’t always figure out why they’d decided to allow me to see some of the models in 3D and not others. If, say, they’d done 360 models of every commander and flat images of lesser units, I’d get it, but their choices didn’t seem so straightforward.
  • While you can go to full-screen for some of the graphics, allowing you to see an individual item on a plain black background, you can’t zoom in to get a better look at the details of the images in the book. For a company that prides itself on detailed miniatures, I thought this was a weird decision. Some of that may be limited by iBooks; when I’ve played with it, I haven’t had many images that needed zoom functionality, so I’m not sure whether or not it’s possible within the iBooks structure itself.
  • GW didn’t use the change page-orientation feature. I realized when creating my own iBooks that it’s kind of a pain in the arse; the engine doesn’t let you look at certain page elements when you have your iPad in portrait orientation that you can see in landscape orientation. Still, it’s often more pleasant to read long blocks of text in portrait orientation, so it would be nice if GW had given readers the choice. On the other hand, perhaps they were thinking that you would primarily use your iPad propped up on its SmartCover in landscape orientation as you played the game itself.

FOR FUTURE TEXTS
Here are some things I’d like to see in future Codices and other RPG/miniatures rulebooks. I realize that these high-tech details can add quite a bit to the digital file size; perhaps companies could release both a bare-bones and a digital Collector’s Edition of their books.

  • Sound. I’m a sucker for gimmicks, so I’d like to hear some sound. Have one of the Black Library voice actors read us some of that fluff at the beginnings of chapters.
  • More color. Companies cut back on color when printing because it costs so darn much, but it doesn’t cost in a digital copy. Go ahead and color in those little details at the top of the pages. Make it look more like a Fantasy Flight or an old-school White Wolf book.
  • Video. Gameplay tactics, miniature painting tips, or fluff delivered as video would take digital manuals a significant step ahead of paper copies.

OVERALL VERDICT: LET’S SEE MORE!
Quite honestly, I’d repurchase most of my RPG/miniatures manuals if they were re-released in this format. I think the search, glossary, and notes functions alone would make them far more useful at the table than a printed copy of the book, and being able to yoink graphics from rulebooks for my own personal use fills me with joy. Further, I’d much rather carry one iPad to my local gaming store or to my friend’s house than a whole stack of hardbacks, especially if I’ve also got to carry a box filled with minis. Let’s face it; I’m probably going to take the iPad anyway, so why not cut back on other stuff I have to carry?

I will give all of the one-star reviewers the fact that there’s some sticker shock; it made my heart skip a beat to push the PURCHASE button on my iPad, since I’ve never bought any single item that expensive before. Yet I think we have to move beyond automatically valuing paper copies over digital copies. When I pay for a digital copy, I consider the unlimited downloads and the green factor, both of which are worth money to me; YMMV. In fact, if GW included video and sound not included in the paper copy, I’d highly support its costing the same as the paper book. At the moment, though, the former isn’t where we are in our cultural assessment of the value of etexts, and the latter isn’t where GW is in its iBooks production values, so they should probably offer a modest discount over the hardcover copy until digital copies become more commonplace.

I can’t tell you if you should purchase this item. If you’re a tech junkie who’s attached at the hip to your iPad like I am, then it’s a no-brainer. If you already own the paper copy of the Codex and happily lug it everywhere, then it might not make sense for you. I can say, though, that I hope other gaming companies leap on the bandwagon and use this technology, since I think it could really take gaming books to a whole new level of useful interactivity.

…and if that doesn’t prove my loyalty to Games Workshop the Emperor, I don’t know what will.

A couple of weekends ago, we visited an area with a plethora of gaming stores. As usual, we spent a day of our travels tooling around and checking them out. Ultimately, the experience reminded me that we can never move away from where we live now. It’s kind of gaming heaven here, whereas the place where we were was…gaming something else. Purgatory, maybe? I mean, there were gaming stores, so it couldn’t be hell. Still, at the end of it, I was so glad for my own Friendly Local Gaming Store and my own gaming group that I couldn’t help but feel like I need to stay put at all costs.

Here were some of the stores we saw:

The Store in Death Alley: Behind three rows of abandoned warehouses, this storefront seemed like something out of a bad horror film. No cars anywhere. Roads with huge pot holes. A CLOSED sign in the window, even though I’d just talked to the guy on the phone and he’d said they were open and that, yes indeed, they were in that building. A mysterious red substance on the concrete steps that led down into the basement storefront. A warped cardboard sign on the door. No windows. This was the area’s “premiere gaming store”? I’d hate to see the second-rate ones. Sorry–no thanks. We passed.

The Friends’ Living Room: This store was in a tiny suburban neighborhood, in an old one-story house. It was a cute enough place, but the store’s entire footprint was taken up by miniatures gaming tables with people parked at every available space. (And by “every available space,” I mean about as much room as I have in my living room if I pull out all the Warhammer tables at once.) They had some minis for sale and a shelf with a handful of board games, but this was really a living room full of the proprietor’s friends posing as a shop. In fact, I suspect he and his friends make up the majority of the sales, too. Secretly, I like the business model. Perhaps I could open up a board gaming store that only orders in what my gaming group wants to play. Still, it’s not so exciting to visit unless you’re one of the crowd, and in fact, we could barely get into the shop because there wasn’t enough room for the ten or so of them to move their chairs to allow us to enter.The vibe was good, but the buying wasn’t.

The Store that Time Forgot: One store was nice enough in terms of size, footprint, and presentation, but had nothing newer than about four years old on its shelves. In fact, a FFG game that had been discontinued in 2009 was on its shelf of “New Arrivals.” When your gaming group is made up of people who endlessly scour BoardGameGeek and RPG blogs, someone generally has new stuff the minute it leaves the boat from production. If I wanted something made in 2009, I would have, you know, bought it in 2009.

All of this just made me really glad for my own FLGS, which, even though it’s a half hour away and not actually the most “L” of the stores in our area, really is a wonderful store. It’s not a huge place, but the owner has wisely put the majority of product up front and the gaming tables in back, so you don’t have to navigate a million screeching Pokemon/MtG/40K/Wings of War/etc. players to get to what you want. He carries a decent selection of RPGs, board games, miniatures, and comics, all of which are displayed sensibly and with enough space that you can see his product and pull it out without disturbing a delicate ecosystem. His “New Arrivals” section actually consists of stuff that came out this week–and it changes every week because he orders things as soon as they come out. He can and will order anything for you, and, if you visit often enough, he’ll keep on the lookout for things you might want and will save a copy for you. He follows the news in board games and RPGs, so he knows what’s coming up and happily makes suggestions if you’re receptive to that sort of thing.

I came away feeling really lucky to have a supportive and well-informed gaming community where I live. I haven’t always been that lucky, and this little reminder of what other places are like made me incredibly grateful. Even better, my local gaming community is filled with highly-educated gamers with excellent social skills–another great bonus. I’m not sure if the gaming stores nearby are great because of the great customers, or whether the great customers are shaped by having access to such wonderful gaming stores, but either way, it’s a win-win situation.

In other news, I talked about the Zombies, Run app a couple of posts ago. I will say that it’s made my existing inclination towards being a running snob even worse. While I’m at the track or the gym with others who are simply there to knock off a few pounds to get into their wedding dresses or whatever, I’m running to save a town from zombies. There are over a hundred souls in my little town now, and they depend on my treadmill run every other day. It makes me feel vastly superior to the other runners in the gym. And then I feel ridiculous for feeling vastly superior because I’m completing a running RPG on my iPhone and should really get a grip.

I’m going into week two of being terribly sick, so I’m grouchy today. Instead of fighting it, though, I thought I’d take advantage and talk about some of my pet peeves that I usually avoid because I’m in a good mood when I write about RPGs. I’ll be honest; I’ve been relatively lucky as a female gamer. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve come up through a very male-dominated branch of academia or whether it was something about my upbringing, but I don’t tend to get patronized at the table or treated badly when I post on boards (although I do tend to be relatively careful about which boards I choose to visit; Paizo, for instance, is absolutely a no-go for me.) Still, even for me, there are three assumptions that get made about me because of gender that I absolutely hate.

#1) Because you’re a woman, you’ll just LOVE the chance to babysit my kid at the gaming table!!

Okay, so…no. I work with (much, much) older children, but I’m not keen on the little ones. I know most normal humans find it adorable when little Tommy mispronounces his pasta as “basghetti,” but I’m not normal. My initial reaction is to wonder why mom didn’t correct him so he can become more facile with language at an earlier age. I don’t think it’s “just kids being kids” when tiny Amy spills on the character sheets; I wonder why dad let tiny Amy, with her limited motor skills, have juice at the gaming table filled with papers and minis–and yes, I’m pissed about having to redo my character sheet. (I’m equally pissed when a drunken adult does the same thing–I’m equal-opportunity grump when it comes to people Messing with My Stuff.)

For some reason, kids have a tendency to flock to me during gaming conventions. Here’s the thing, parents: just because I’m not openly hostile or rude to your kids doesn’t mean I don’t resent it if you don’t pull them off of me and redirect their attention to someone or something more appropriate. All too often, I’ve seen kids dragged to gaming conventions or taken to games in which they can’t participate or can’t participate fully because of their age. My heart goes out to kids whose parents didn’t bring them something to do, but just because I gave the child a sympathetic look, it doesn’t mean that I want to provide him with something to do. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve ended up with strangers’ kids glued to me for the duration of a convention day just because I wasn’t a chilly ass to the kid. You brought him, you pay attention to him. That’s what you signed on for when you became a parent. I just want to get back to concentrating on my game, and the only reason I’m not being a jerk about it is because I think the kid will take it more personally than the parent will.

#2) Because you’re a woman, you obviously put the sisterhood of women above all else and want my girlfriend/aunt/friend/cousin at your table because she’s a girl, too!! You can talk about shoes together!

Also no. Here’s the thing: I like having a relatively gender-balanced table. Right now, I’m really grateful that my game includes a vibrant, intelligent, witty, educated female player whose great social skills often pull the party out of tight situations. But while I like having another female at the table, what I like most about her are all those other descriptors; I like her as a person and as a player, and that person/player just happens to be female.

I think gender balance can open some opportunities for game play that might not otherwise exist. I know that there are bits of story I couldn’t have presented as easily without a female player; the men wouldn’t have made the same assumptions about the hook or have been as interested in it at least in part because their cultural programming is different from hers. On the other hand, I don’t just want any player in the world because she’s female. If you’re disruptive, easily distracted, uninterested in narrative, rude to the other players, or self-centered, you’re a nonstarter for me regardless of gender. If you think that because I’m a female GM that game day is the time to have girly talk, we have a problem, because I’m way more interested in getting my scenery on the table than chatting about nail polish. And while I’m more than happy to help ease women who haven’t had a solid background in fantasy or in gaming into the worlds and rules of RPG play, I’m not more than happy to act as a crutch for a player with crippling self-doubt because of her gender or who can’t be bothered to put in some of her own time to play catch-up if necessary. I’d expect the same of a male gamer who didn’t know anything about the rules or setting; I’m not patronizing enough to have different expectations for females.

#3) You must really be excited that WotC has Shelly Mazzanoble out there representing you! Isn’t it great to have high profile women in gaming?

Again, not so much. For various reasons, I have very little in common with many of the high profile women in the RPG industry and blogosphere. I’ve already posted about how I feel about Shelley Mazzanoble. In fact, since I’m grumpy, I’ll take this opportunity to talk about exactly the kind of move she makes that drives me crazy. Check out this quote from Dice Monkeys’ interview with her:

9.   There’s been a lot of talk recently around the blogosphere about women’s portrayal in the art of RPGs. They’re seen as eye-candy rather than as serious warriors like male characters are seen. What’s your opinion?

I think this is a very worthy discussion and one that our Art Director gets into every day. Not too long ago we were looking at art from 1st edition books and laughing hysterically. The women were not warriors. They looked like victims, complete with palms over forehead and looking upwards at their male counterparts to save them. Since when does being well-endowed imply weakness? But that was a product of the time and the times are a changing. In a good way. The art of D&D today will look very different from the art of D&D tomorrow. And it will look very different ten years from now. Art will continue to change and evolve as long as these discussions are happening. Why does the armor on a barbarian female leave her navel exposed while her male counterpart is fully covered? Why does the female wizard look like she stuck her dry-clean only robes in the dryer? First and foremost, your armor should protect you! It’s not an accessory you put on to go clubbing.

Personally I would never let my character go out in tight leather armor and a breastplate. I’d be like “Button up, young lady! You’re not going into the dungeon looking like that!” But that’s just me.

Instead of saying something meaningful here about how WotC’s art directors actually address the issue, she pretends that the problem with images of women in games an “old school” problem that we no longer have anymore. Golly gee, that problem’s so archaic that we can just laaaaugh at it! Please. If we take hobby books as a whole, you’ll still find more women without clothes than with–and don’t get me started on miniatures. It’s not “yesterday’s issue,” and it makes the problem worse when a prominent female in the hobby says it is, even if it’s in her company’s best interests to pretend that the problem doesn’t exist.

I respect Shelly’s right to describe her own experiences playing DnD and I respect the women who identify with her; what I dislike is the fact that she’s being held up by WotC as the face of female gaming. I find 99.999% of what she says profoundly alienating (and I have a feeling she’d say the same about my writing, to be fair.) Because we have such drastically different interests as gamers and as human beings, I wouldn’t invite her to my game, and if I were the sort of person who tended to think in terms of reductive social identifiers, I might be loathe invite any other woman to my game if her books represented the only sample I had of the intersection between “women” and “RPGs.” I get what WotC tries to do with her writing; they’re trying to claim a demographic that they haven’t had as purchasers before, but why not have several different kinds of women stand up and become the voice of female players? After all, we have a bevy of different kinds of male voices represented in WotC’s magazines and online sites; why not at least a handful of women, each with a different but equally strong perspectives?

To go feminism 101 for a second, Judith Butler and other post-structuralist feminists of the late 80s and early 90s worked tirelessly to undermine the assumption that there is “a female identity.” No single identity defines women’s needs and desires; for heaven’s sake, we’re 50% of the population. How could we possibly agree on anything? The only thing we have in common is the assumptions you (male or female) bring to bear when you sit down at the table about who we are. So, you know…don’t.

I’ve been too swamped at work this week to have thought about RPGs much, unfortunately. Here’s the news from my end of the earth:

#1: Like everyone in the whole world, I want one of these. The ePawn is just awesome, and I’m glad they’re keeping the price down so that it’s within reach of many gamers. If you haven’t seen the ePawn in action, do go look at the videos on their website; it’s definitely an interesting product.

I’m also hoping that the fact that they use Mansions of Madness in some of the promo materials means that they’re working out some deals with FFG.

#2: Speaking of FFG, I’m a little miffed that we haven’t heard anything about the release date for the Black Crusade Collector’s Edition. I ordered that thing, oh, I don’t know, about a bazillion years ago, and there’s been no word for months about its release date. I guess it turns out that it’s going to be “sometime in February,” but for such a pricey item, it’d be nice if they were a bit more forthcoming about how they’re calculating release date schedule. Oh, well. It’s FFG. I can stay mad at them until I go to their website, then I see their great art direction and end up forgetting what was making me mad in the first place.

I have some very strong opinions about what Apple’s textbook announcement means for schools, but I won’t go into them here for fear of alienating my readership. (Short version: the tool is great, the public schools are irreparably broken.) We’ll use the iBooks Author tool at my workplace, though, and as one of the local Apple Fanatics, I knew I’d be asked right away for my opinion about the program, so I wasted no time in downloading it. (Translation: I wanted to play with it, and I justified spending the day messing with it by convincing myself it was “work-related.”) I spent some time considering all the professional things I could do with it, but at the same time, I kept thinking, “This would be great for presenting RPG scenarios!”

As with most Apple software, the iBooks Author program allows you to create content from templates that ensure your work will look professional and attractive. If you know Apple software well, the tools work roughly the same as those in Keynote or Pages, so you won’t have a huge learning curve. Best of all, though, the multimedia options in the new iBooks Author app make it easy to include the kind of sound and interactive images that make a GM’s job much easier. Literally all relevant information–including sound effects, background noises, notes, charts and tables, slide shows to present to the players, and maps with GM notes–can now easily fit into a single package to distribute to other GMs. I spent a little time this morning with my camera, GarageBand, and the iBooks Author tool to get a sense of the kinds of things this might do for RPGs. Here are some screenshots from both my iMac and my iPad that give you a sense of what it’s like to create and distribute content through this program.

The first thing that struck me was that the program allows you to make an image that has clickable call-outs. It occurred to me immediately that those would be a great way for a GM to see a map and notes; she can click when information’s necessary or just see the image if she needs to see the overall terrain. Making an image with a call-out is as easy as dragging an image into the box, clicking the + in the Inspector to create a new call-out, assigning a place for the text and the pointer, and then entering the text:

Want to add an image or sound so that you can show it or play it for the PCs? Again, you’ve got drag-and-drop functionality for most types of files, and you can turn the title/notes on or off for each piece of media you add. Comment if the GM needs the info, or leave it simple if not:

Editing and adding text to the map call-outs is a snap:

Here’s the authoring tool showing a page that features a map with call-outs,  a sound file, and a chart:

But how does it look on the iPad, you’ll ask? Great, of course!

In this image, the GM has clicked on the chest to get more information about what’s inside:

Want to add notes about things you’re likely to forget while running the scenario? iBook’s got you covered:

You can also view and search your notes all in one place for convenience. (For those of you who are actually students, the iPad will automatically turn your notes into flash cards to help you study!)

Overall, I think this tool will work wonderfully for schools and GMs alike. I’m considering writing a Skaven adventure soon-ish, and I may distribute it in this form just to see how it works. In the meantime, check out the iBooks Author tool for yourself, since it’s free!

My husband and I often end up at the mall. We live in the sort of area where most people think they’re too good for mall shopping, but we both have a raging technology habit to support, so continual trips to Best Buy are simply unavoidable.

I assume everyone does this, but I just want to check: you continually search for NPCs at the mall, right?

There are two kinds of NPCs at the mall. The first simply adds local color. If you asked these NPCs about the town, they’d ply you with a bunch of junk lore and maybe throw in a couple of tidbits relevant to the overarching plot, but it’d be next to impossible to tell the two apart. These NPCs are mostly dressed normally–in fact, hyper-normally for your area–but always have that single ornament that signifies their character type. Look: check out that man standing next to the Brookstone in the perfectly boring collared shirt, the brown leather jacket, and the nondescript jeans, who just happens to have a deflated inflatable plastic fish sticking out of his pocket. If you roll particularly well, perhaps he’ll give you that fish and you can use it in a future encounter.

The second kind of NPC at the mall is the plot hook. She’s outrageous. You literally can’t miss her. In fact, the Great GM in the Sky generally gets so desperate to make you take the hook that he makes it awkward not to interact with the plot hook. Behold! There’s a forty-something woman in a Hello Kitty sweatshirt and a tiara carrying a large Target bag entirely stuffed with leopard print slippers. Which part of that mess will begin your adventure? The tiara? Is it magic? The shoes? Are there twenty five missing children who need those slippers to turn them back into humans after the evil wizard made them orangutans? Is the woman being forced to wear the Hello Kitty sweatshirt as a punishment for something she did long ago? When you investigate her crime, will it turn out not to be that bad after all?

My husband and I spend an inordinate amount of time in public playing “spot the NPC.” Often we supply the lore that we think “local color” NPCs would give. If we locate our plot hook, we spend another chunk of time writing the adventure around him.

Naturally, I assume that this is what everyone sane does at the mall. That fact may not reflect well on my own sanity, now that I think about it.

It’s been a busy week, made more complex by a cold and now by a case of food poisoning. Nurgleriffic! If I don’t get well soon, I’m definitely going to have to draw a corruption card.
 
Just a quick post to praise Pantheon Press’s two item expansions to their Fortune’s Fool RPG, available here. As I’ve said before, part of the reason I love the setting of this game because it doesn’t shy away from issues of religion, and its well-researched historical background pulls out some of my favorite fun tidbits of European history. These two item expansions, Pax Romana and Vaults of the Vatican, make use of some of the most delightfully bizarre hagiographical and literary stories of the age as they provide your campaign with a wealth of magic items inspired by saints, writers, and heroes. Both documents are delightfully illustrated with full-color historical images, and come in PDF form so you can easily view them on your iPad, which is always a bonus, as far as I’m concerned. Best of all, they’re free! So if you’re jonesing to sneak in a new RPG goodie before the holidays, you can treat yourself (and your PCs) without guilt.

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