All posts by Aaron Marks

Gaming for 15 years and writing about it for nearly ten, I've always had a strong desire to find different and interesting things in the hobby. You can follow me on Twitter at @LevelOneWonk, and read my more personal ramblings at 563rdattempt.wordpress.com.

Genesys In-Depth

Back in November of 2017, Fantasy Flight Games released Genesys. Both Seamus and I wanted a fair shake at reviewing it, and in the process we learned why not to do two-part reviews. Still, a lot of people read it and we continued being excited for the generic version of the Star Wars RPG that many of us at Cannibal Halfing had spent a fair amount of time playing. Now, nearly three years later, it’s a perfect time to revisit the system. Asmodee, Fantasy Flight’s parent company, has reorganized their RPG development resources. In the near future new Asmodee-owned RPGs will be released from the new Edge Studio imprint, and based on a panel at GenCon 2020 this will include new Genesys material (the IP referenced there was Twilight Imperium). For now, though, the Asmodee RPG pipeline is on pause, at least until the last couple Legend of the Five Rings supplements enter distribution. On my personal end, I have finally both played and GMed games in Genesys, which means it’s a good time to give Genesys the In-Depth treatment.

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How Exactly Do I Play This?

The world of role-playing games has been expanding outward ever since Dungeons and Dragons was first released. Within five years of the first published system, games which used different fundamental assumptions and mechanics not only existed but had started to find popularity. Within 15 years, games existed which used the medium in a completely different way than D&D ever intended or expected to. Now, over 45 years later, the RPG world is a vast plane of games with GMs, without GMs, games with dice, with cards, with block towers and with no randomizers at all. There are games which exist to simulate worlds, games which exist to be played optimally, and games which trace out the creation of a story scene by scene. It is, as they say, a glorious time to be alive.

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Kickstarter Wonk: September, 2020

Welcome to Kickstarter Wonk for September! Back to school, post-GenCon rush, none of these events make sense this year, at least not in the normal way we usually understand them. Some of the pent-up demand for Kickstarters is starting to appear in the marketplace again, but everything remains muted, and likely will for some time. The five project article is going to be the norm for the foreseeable future, though luckily we’ve gotten past the point where getting five projects together took effort. Nonetheless, it’ll be a few months before we get back up to the quantity (of quality) that I was used to back when this series started. Even so, fear not! These five projects are worth a look; I even backed a few myself.

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Are RPGs Fun?

The English language would make a terrible role-playing game. There are a lot of rules, many of them contradict each other, and in certain places there still isn’t enough detail to make the mechanics do what you really want. Some words, therefore, words we use frequently in some cases, are surprisingly hard to define. Imagine, if you will, that someone asks you why you play role-playing games. Many of us will answer such a question with our favorite aspect of the hobby, saying something like “I enjoy playing interesting characters” or “I enjoy making a story with my friends” or even “I enjoy the thrill of combat”. These can all be chased down, toddler-like, with another question, “why do you enjoy that?” When you’ve been run down by questions, how many of you will end on (for either accuracy or to get the questions to stop) “because it’s fun”?

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A Glimpse into the Vault: Infomocracy

A Glimpse into the Vault is one of the oldest features on Cannibal Halfling, giving us opportunities to look into our respective “vaults” at other media we consume. These articles have covered a range of different items, but tended to stay in the gaming space…until now. You see, my personal vault doesn’t have many board games in it, but I do live surrounded by books. And recently, I finished a book that is not only a great read, but has some pointed lessons that gamers can learn about worldbuilding.

Infomocracy is written by Malka Older and was first published in 2016. It tells the story of a world in the near future where most of the world is ruled over by a unified micro-democratic government. The population that participates is divided into “cententals” of 100,000 people, who each vote on a government to represent them. Each government has power based on the centenals which elect them, but there is special influence (and statistical benefits) afforded to a government able to win a “Supermajority” of these centenals. The story, which I’ll summarize soon, focuses on the lead-up to an election where such a Supermajority is in play.

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“I’m going to turn my campaign into a novel!”

When we play RPGs, we tell stories. For some it’s a fun consequence of the characters’ exploits, while for others it’s the whole point of the game. These stories can often have great power for the groups who create them, creating characters more personal and compelling than any novel ever could. It’s natural, then, to want to share these stories outside the group. The problem here, really, is that a tabletop campaign is a big, extended instance of “you had to be there”. As fun or dramatic or gutwrenching as it was at the time, you cannot recapture those feelings by turning your campaign into a novel.

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Kickstarter Wonk: August, 2020

Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! In case you’re wondering, no, nothing is normal yet, and I’m still not covering the ‘normal’ spread of ten games. Fear not, though, because Kickstarter volume does appear to be picking up! Once you sift through the awful pandemic and political cash-grab board games, there are a slowly increasing number of RPG Kickstarters, almost enough for me to start upping my numbers again. Of course, there’s also an increase in shorter campaigns, so I’m missing more of them. One example of this? Necronautilus, by Adam Vass, ended the day before this article was published, sadly. Still, I’d watch that one for late pledges if I were you.

Missed opportunities not withstanding, there’s a great crop here, including games about Chinese restaurants, athletes, sign language, and of course, rodents.

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Burning Wheel In-Depth

Some RPGs are demanding. While you can’t homebrew D&D into anything, it is still flexible and doesn’t demand that you play it a specific way. Some games do. There is no end of teeth-gnashing about this; for some reason people take more issue with RPGs having set procedures than, say, board games. But, as the entire indie RPG community knows very well, making a game for a specific purpose and experience often nets you a better version of that experience than trying to simulate it with a ruleset designed with breadth in mind. I’ve been having some revelatory experiences with such a targeted game recently; I will say though that when I say “targeted game” and “specific experience”, most are imagining a zine, something small, not a 600 page hardback with red and gold filigree. Yeah, I’m talking about Burning Wheel.

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Level One Wonk: Fantasy Economics

Tabletop RPGs are not realistic, and this is a good thing. On one extreme we don’t really want to simulate the hygiene of our fantasy worlds, and on the other we don’t really want to play Apartment: The Playstationing. What RPGs should and do have, though, is verisimilitude. Verisimilitude is the appearance of being real, and in RPGs this means that the characters exist in a world which behaves in a way the players expect. One place where games fall down in this respect is in having a world that changes around the characters, one that might even be responsive to their actions. That is why I’m returning to my old stomping ground, the field of economics.

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Quest Review

Dungeons and Dragons is the 800 pound gorilla of the role-playing game world. For what is arguably such a small slice of the space (swords and sorcery fantasy), D&D is utterly dominant, commanding a plurality of the hobby’s mind and market share (and that’s a majority if you count all games which are direct derivatives, like Pathfinder and many OSR games). For this reason, when someone lists “overtake D&D” as one of their design goals, even if it’s just part of a Twitter thread, your ears perk up. Indeed, TC Sottek did post those words, in that order, on Twitter. But people are listening. TC Sottek is the designer of Quest.

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