Cannibal Halfling Radio Episode 13 – Now Playing: Electric Bastionland Pt 2

When last we left Dabber, Alistair, Grubs, Thick McRunfast, and Little T.M., they were facing off against an automaton with orders to kill them. See how they strike at the mechanical man’s heart, check their rival’s ambitions, and how they react when the other shoe drops in the thrilling and spooky conclusion to the Cannibal Halflings’ foray into Electric Bastionland!

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Kickstarter Wonk: April, 2021

Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! Oh it’s an exciting month, this month. Maybe it’s because of holdouts from ZineQuest, or maybe it’s because there’s a vaccine, but there’s actually a full, healthy crop of Kickstarter campaigns out there! We couldn’t even stop at 10; if you haven’t already, check out Seamus’s review of Tyler Crumrine’s Possible Worlds Kickstarter. And after you’re done with that, scroll through these 10 handpicked campaigns. The world is healing!

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Possible Worlds Kickstarter Review: An RPG Subscription Box

A light-hearted romance emulating dating sim video games/visual novels. Letter writing inspired by Harvest Moon, Stardew Valley, and Animal Crossing. A bond between a pilot and their AI-linked mech. A theatre performance covering up a heist. Building super-powered characters and settings. Trying to find unused wishes in a world where everyone gets three, and you’ve already used yours. Sounds like an RPG anthology, right? Not quite. These are the six games, the six Possible Worlds, featured in Tyler Crumrine’s RPG subscription box.

CH: First of all: why a subscription box instead of, say, an anthology? What does this way of delivering the project do for you on the designer’s side of things, and what do you think the benefits are on the back side of things?

T: “The subscription model lets me have some flexibility here too! I’ve been working on some of these games for as long as three years, so the vast majority of the games’ mechanics and assets are ready to go. The fact that no one game is locked into a specific month, though (with the exception of leading off with Grandpa’s Farm), lets me prioritize the games with the most assets and playtesting and give my collaborators any extra time they need to finish up additional art and editing. The fact of the matter is, though, that after theatre work disappeared during the pandemic, selling and fulfilling Beak, Feather, & Bone became my full-time job by default, and thankfully sales got me through 2020. Possible Worlds is my way of leaning into my RPG success as a career path instead of being surprised by it, and this Kickstarter funding means I’ll continue to commit a full-time job’s worth of attention to these games—not just evenings and weekends.”

T: “One of the biggest things is always being aware what common elements of RPGs are foreign to folks outside the hobby. Polyhedral dice are a great example—is anything REALLY pick-up-and-play if it requires a d20? And if it requires any dice AT ALL, can they be bought at the corner store? A number of these games don’t require anything beyond pen & paper, but I’ve limited additional materials to six-sided dice and decks of cards because it’s safe to assume that most households either have them already or can easily get them. Another key thing to keep in mind is vocabulary! What terms or abbreviations only make sense to people inside the hobby?

Now, that’s the idea of the project in general, but I wanted to get a look at something a little more concrete, and Tyler was gracious enough to give me a look at the text for Grandpa’s Farm, the closest-to-completion game on the list.

CH: What’s your favorite part of Grandpa’s Farm? What was the biggest challenge in designing the game?

CH: Let’s say I’m someone who has never played a letter-writing RPG before: what do you think would be the best advice you could give me?

CH: What’s in the future for Possible Worlds Games? Any other projects lined up? If this one works out, think we’ll see more RPG subscription boxes?

T: “This first subscription’s success (and level of success) will dictate a lot, but my plan is not only to put out more subscription boxes but also to add additional designers to those boxes! I’ll still be a part of the subscription, but once people trust my curation, I’d like champion work by early and mid-career designers too. Ideally we’ll get to the point where 3 games are mine and 3 are by other creators whose work I’m publishing through the subscription before adding to our catalogue and distro. Eventually I’d like to get creative with licensing and larger-scale collaboration too. I’m not interested in vying for the next Lord of the Rings RPG, but as someone who’s worked in indie publishing for a long time, there are a number of speculative fiction writers self-publishing or on small presses whose work I think would bring a lot to the TTRPG scene.”

Weekend Update: 4/3/2021

Welcome to the Cannibal Halfling Weekend Update! Start your weekend with a chunk of RPG news from the past week. We have the week’s top sellers, industry news stories, and discussions from elsewhere online.

DriveThruRPG Top Sellers for 4/3/2021

  1. Worlds Without Number
  2. Warhammer Age of Sigmar Soulbound: Bestiary
  3. Cyberpunk Red
  4. Sentinel Comics Core Rulebook
  5. The Company of the Dragon

Top News Stories

UFOPress and Rowan, Rook, and Decard merge

Mina McJanda, sole proprietor of UFOPress and designer best known for Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, is joining the Rowan, Rook, and Decard team currently consisting of Grant Howitt, Chris Taylor, and Mary Hamilton. 

PAX East cancelled for 2021

In what is likely the highest profile example of COVID-19 continuing to impact the con and event schedules of gaming industries, PAX East, already delayed to June, has been officially called off. The organizers are ‘cautiously optimistic’ for the remainder of the year’s in-person slate, and are planning an online event for the summer.

TroikaFest is here

TroikaFest is next week, celebrating the delightfully quirky OSR riff and leading up to the Kickstarter campaign for the new supplement Academies of the Arcane. In addition to everything the Melsonian Arts Council is doing there is a game jam on itch which goes the whole month of April.

Discussion of the Week

Cyberpunk, but it sucks

Redditors turned out this week to talk about how the modern scourges of trial subscriptions, DRM, and always-on connections (among others) could and should roll into cyberpunk gaming.

Have any RPG news leads or scoops? Get in touch! You can reach us at cannibalhalflinggaming@gmail.com, or through Twitter via @HungryHalfling.

Star Trek Adventures In-Depth Review

Gamemaster’s Log, Stardate 57252.7. It has been several months since the launch of the New Orleans-class starship U.S.S. Verrazzano, NCC-07302, from the Foggy Peak system. Since that time, I have seen her crew serve with distinction in accordance with the finest traditions of Starfleet. I have also seen them called before a board of Admirals to review their actions and directive violations, and while impressive the fact that no fewer than three starbases have had to be commissioned to deal with the discoveries from their missions is beginning to put a notable dent in the power requirements for the local sector’s industrial replicators. As the Verrazzano is currently away, responding to a distress call from a Vulcan Expeditionary Group, I have decided that this is a fine opportunity to review their so-called ‘Star Trek Adventures’ in-depth, to better understand how they have and will continue to boldly go where no one, not even the rest of Starfleet, has gone before.

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System Split: Worlds Without Number and D&D Fifth Edition

It’s never been a better time to be a dungeon crawler. Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition and Pathfinder, two versions of the same underlying D&D ruleset, are bestsellers 1 and 2 in the RPG world, and have been for some time. Pathfinder is built for detail and breadth of options, while D&D’s Fifth Edition is built for accessibility and continuity with earlier versions and settings. They offer two versions of a fairly modern D&D experience, where GMs run story arc-based campaigns built around fighting monsters and exploring dungeons. Characters are treated like protagonists, and death is relatively rare. At the same time, we’ve seen a resurgence in “old-school” playstyles, usually represented within the D&D ecosystem by the OSR. Old-school games tend to have fewer rules, presenting challenges and decisions to the players rather than the characters. They tend to have weaker characters who aren’t treated like protagonists, and they need not be organized around a story.

There is a middle ground, though, and a new entrant in the middle ground has stormed into the DriveThruRPG sales charts. Worlds Without Number presents a dangerous old-school world, but uses rules innovations from later versions of D&D (and other role-playing games) to make the game more accessible and make the characters feel a bit more heroic. On top of all that, it provides tons of tools to help GMs run interesting game worlds with or without a driving story. Although many people will simply call Worlds Without Number an OSR game (and there are fair reasons for that), I think that it deserves to be examined against the current state of the art. That’s why this System Split pits Worlds Without Number against Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition.

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RPGs Have Two Sets Of Rules

Role-playing games are different from any other type of analog game because of their relationship with rules and procedures. When you sit down to play a board game, or a card game, or even a game of darts, you follow a set procedure to determine an outcome. Wargames took half the steps away from board games by introducing rulesets which could be adapted to a wide range of scenarios, the only limits being how many minis you had and how big your sand table was. The early ‘Braunstein’ campaigns started the other half, walking away from simple win/lose conditions in scenarios. For the role-playing game to turn from a weirdo version of wargaming a couple nerds were running to a repeatable, salable product, existing wargaming rules had to be supplemented with rules for writing and executing free-form scenarios which very much didn’t resemble battles any more. Every traditional role-playing game, from the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons onward, has rules for players and rules for the person running the game.

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Meet the Campaign: Star Wars: Inquisitorius

Listen, I don’t care if you don’t want to sign up with the Alliance. We’re not exactly the conscription types, you should know that. But you’ve got to admit, if you can touch the Force? The Empire is going to be hunting you. If you signed up we’d protect you, yes, but if you’re going to keep ‘listening to the Force and following your Destiny’, we still don’t want you caught. Moral considerations aside, we don’t need more redblades getting added to the roster. Alliance Special Operations has put together some dossiers on Inquisitorius agents. If you have nothing else to do with us I still want you to read these and be careful – we lost people getting this information, make it worth it.

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The Independents: Facing The Titan

I’m a fan of games with some heft to them. Rules and procedures are the elements of role-playing games which enable them to generate bigger, more interesting stories than the players could have come up with themselves. Unfortunately, rules-heavy and procedure-heavy games are stuck with a long history of taking up the mechanics of their wargame-based forebears without a great reason to do so. Rules and procedures can be so much more than physics engines and combat mechanics, after all. What if your game built out rules and procedures that were distinctly literary in origin? Imagine that the game not only traces out the course of your story, but also gives you procedures for establishing your own symbolism within the story. It’s quite possible that the game you’re imagining looks a lot like Nicolas ‘Gulix’ Ronvel’s Facing the Titan.

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Revisiting Blacow’s Model

As soon as a role-playing game had been run in at least two places, the attempts to categorize and catalogue gaming styles began. Even in the 1970s, when most of the market only knew D&D, foundational work in understanding how and why role-players play had already started. One of the most influential early theorists was Glenn Blacow. Originally exposed to D&D at MIT, Blacow published an early typology of gamers in the small gaming zine The Wild Hunt. This typology, after being expanded for publication in another, larger zine, Different Worlds, became one of the first and most influential classifications of RPG playstyles. Among other things, Blacow is credited, through the Different Worlds version of his essay, coining the term ‘power-gamer’.

Although one might guess that Blacow’s model has declined in relevance somewhat since its original publication in 1980, in reality it still serves as a foundation for many player and play style classifications in wide use. GNS Theory owes its start point to Blacow’s Power Gamer and Storytelling archetypes, and D&D’s seven player types start from Blacow’s four play styles as well. As much as we still see story and optimization as driving forces among gamers, the dichotomy of fantasy and wargaming is a concept that has slid from relevance as the days of the wargamer/fantasy reader schism grow further behind us. Still, behind this dated framing is an idea that’s still worth investigating.

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