Tag Archives: Opinion

Apocalypse Keys Review

Powered by the Apocalypse, or PbtA, is one of the most popular RPG rulesets in the indie gaming sphere. After getting its start with Apocalypse World and the Bakers’ permissive license, PbtA blew up first among single designers and small groups and then in the wider gaming sphere. While Apocalypse World was modestly successful in its own right, many of the games it spawned, including Monster of the Week, Dungeon World, and Blades in the Dark, multiplied its success many times over.

Mainstream PbtA success continues to this day, fed mostly by two mid-sized publishers: Evil Hat Productions and Magpie Games. Magpie Games, arguably the largest and most successful company to design primarily PbtA games, first saw success with titles like Urban Shadows, Bluebeard’s Bride, and Masks, and has gone on to rake in millions of dollars from some of the first licensed PbtA games, Root and Avatar Legends. Evil Hat Productions, more known as the company behind Fate, doesn’t design PbtA games in house, but publishes several of significance. Evil Hat publishes Monster of the Week, Thirsty Sword Lesbians, and Blades in the Dark, and they’re about to add another PbtA game to their library.

Continue reading Apocalypse Keys Review

The Trouble with RPG Prices

In the past we have discussed playing RPGs, of course. We’ve also discussed reading RPGs, and collecting RPGs. One thing we haven’t discussed much, though, is buying RPGs. A tabletop roleplaying game is a creative work that can take up to hundreds of man-hours, not to mention the intellectual and emotional investment of almost everyone involved with bringing it to fruition. Despite this, there are plenty of people on the internet who deign to call RPGs overpriced. This is in spite of the fact that most indie RPGs cost $30 or less while D&D Monopoly, a monstrosity of branding that should pay me for having to know it exists, costs about $50.

The trouble with pricing is that people not trained in economics think it’s a science. I, however, am the Level One Wonk, with over five years of real actual economics experience and actual professional industrial economics training. All economics aligns to a popular aphorism by George Box: “All models are wrong, but some are useful”. The notion of an ‘invisible hand of the market’ is wildly incorrect, even something you consume every day, electricity, only can be sold in a carefully constructed market that is watched every day by engineers (and still fails wildly from time to time anyway). Similarly, creative goods, far from the ‘widgets’ of every dismal Econ 101 textbook, don’t follow nearly any of the rules proscribed by the masters of micro. So, in order to speak more clearly about RPG pricing, we’re going to talk about some of the economics that doesn’t really work for role-playing games, and then talk through some of the psychology that does.

Continue reading The Trouble with RPG Prices

Back Again from the Broken Land Review – Small Heroes, Heavy Burdens, and Stories

You are small people who walked into a big war. The Doomslord’s forces were gathered in the Broken Land, and your fellowship unexpectedly played a key role in the Doomslord’s fall. Now, laden with stories to tell and burdens to bear, you set off on the journey home. But the Doomslord’s Hunters are still out there, and it’s a long way to walk. Let’s see if you can make it Back Again from the Broken Land with a storytelling game of small adventurers and a journey home from Cloven Pine Games!

Continue reading Back Again from the Broken Land Review – Small Heroes, Heavy Burdens, and Stories

Power Rangers RPG Review

There is a new generation of companies emerging in the RPG world. Free League and Modiphius were founded in 2011 and 2012, respectively, but an even younger studio is making big waves. Renegade Game Studios was founded in 2014 by hobby game industry veteran Scott Gaeta, and his business acumen shows through in Renegade’s portfolio. In addition to publishing more indie titles like Alice is Missing, Kids on Bikes, and Overlight, Renegade rocketed into the trad scene when they took over publishing White Wolf games Vampire: the Masquerade and Hunter: the Reckoning from interim publisher Modiphius. Now, they’re internally developing licensed RPGs that have already turned them into a sales powerhouse. Two Renegade titles showed up on the ICv2 top 5 RPG list last quarter, and I was unaware either were out, let alone already selling so well.

These two games, GI Joe and Power Rangers, make sense as sales successes. The licenses are for properties that peaked in the early 90s, aiming squarely at a mid-millennial market while Wizards aims younger (the core D&D demographics have been teens and twenty-somethings at least as long as Wizards has owned the game, if not even longer). And if it wasn’t these games it could have been others; Renegade also published a Transformers RPG and will soon release an official My Little Pony RPG as well.

Continue reading Power Rangers RPG Review

Crowdfunding Carnival: September, 2022

It’s September! A slight bite in the air, days shortening, and the kids are off to school. Quick, go look for crowdfunding campaigns now that you have a spare moment! September marks a change in the season but also a change in focus among RPG crowdfunding coverage as ZineQuest 4 wraps up. ZineQuest 4 puts the bow on what was a really messed up year in RPG crowdfunding, so I’m going to talk about that a bit. Beyond that, there are some ZineQuest campaigns which are still trying to finish off strong, and of course there are plenty of full-sized campaigns across Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Gamefound, and Backerkit.

Continue reading Crowdfunding Carnival: September, 2022

Editions and Edition Wars

Last week, the first in what’s assumedly a fairly long series of playtest documents came out for One D&D, the revised version of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition that is scheduled to be released in 2024. Fifth Edition’s product lifecycle is quite long for modern D&D: 10 years is the second longest any edition of D&D has gone with no major revision, still not quite beating out the first edition of Advanced D&D which went without a revision for 12 years. The main difference between AD&D 1e and D&D 5e, though, is that Fifth Edition is the best selling version of D&D ever and AD&D 1e is one of the worst; Basic D&D sold better at the same time and saw three iterations over those 12 years, clearly getting more of TSR’s attention. This contrast gets us to the broader point that running an RPG business is a complicated game, especially when it comes to figuring out how to maintain your product lines.

New editions of games have been part and parcel of the RPG industry since Gygax attempted to close the Pandora’s Box of D&D hacking by releasing AD&D. Even that first public revision of a game, a wholesale rewrite as opposed to small revisions gained over time, laid bare the various and sundry motivations designers could have for revising their game. It may be an attempt to regain editorial control, or appeal to a new audience. It may, cynically, be a way to sell more books after the product line has flagged. And maybe, in some limited circumstances, it could actually be to improve the game.

Continue reading Editions and Edition Wars

Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom part 2

The role-playing hobby is an embarrassment of riches. There are so many games, so many game ideas, and in contrast to that, only so much time. You don’t need to be all that prolific to reach a number of campaigns you want to run that will take literally your entire remaining life…and do so even if you’re just in your 30s. It’s from this massive buffet that we want to find one dish we can savor; that’s the concept of anti-boredom.

If you were here with us last time, you saw a discussion about the plots and premises that can feed a long-running, deep, and memorable campaign. Today, we’re going to start executing on our anti-boredom campaign by figuring out what support we need to make it happen. There are so many games under the sun, but some are better suited to long-running games than others, and an even smaller number still can truly support the breadth of play that will keep you, the multi-genre, multi-system, and ultimately very easily distracted GM, from abandoning them.

Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Anti-Boredom part 2

On Character Creation

Role-playing games are games about characters: Who they are, what they do, and what happens to them. In most games, a character is the lever through which the player interacts with the world, and even in broader games the actions of characters are still primary in terms of what happens. What this ends up meaning is that game setup for a role-player, the act of character creation, takes on much more importance than setting up would in most board, card, or other tabletop games. 

Character creation is game setup, yes, but it’s also a game in and of itself, and was the solo act of role-playing well before solo games were popularized. Making characters is fun, and many of us who either couldn’t find people to play with or had more desire to game than time would make sheaves of characters who would never be played. As this was the one way everyone could interact with RPGs, friends to play with or not, it created a shift towards games with interactive and evocative character creation systems. Making choices was fun, though rolling random dice and seeing what you got could be fun too.

So where are we at with this? Character creation has broadened significantly since the days of D&D, and games now have longer, shorter, simpler, and way more complicated character creation methods. Each one generates different results and puts you in the head of your character in a different way, and not just because of math. This past week I had a gaming weekend with my primary gaming group, and as preparation I made characters for games of Legend of the Five Rings, Twilight:2000, and a couple others. It was the first time in a long time I had sat down to make a really involved character, and it made it clear that character creation can provide a lot more than stats if you want it to.

Continue reading On Character Creation

Crowdfunding Carnival: August, 2022

Welcome to the Crowdfunding Carnival for August! You know what time it is, it’s…well, you might not know what time it is, because while yes, it’s ZineQuest, 2022 is both the first and last year ZineQuest will take place in August. It’s ultimately a little confusing, which may be why Kickstarter moved next year’s ZineQuest back to February before this one even happened! Nevertheless, it’s happening, and there are a lot of zines to go through, just like every year.

Because it’s August it’s GenCon, which means that usually crowdfunding channels are a bit quiet as many designers and publishers look to the con for promotion. This does seem to be true this year, though there are major campaigns on each of the competing platforms which are worth a look.

The big news under the carnival tent, though, is ZineQuest. It is day three as of this writing, and the initial flood of projects looking to start strong on August first are already out in the world. How are things going?

Continue reading Crowdfunding Carnival: August, 2022