Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Rambling End of the Year Post for 2011

The Amazing Aluminum Man keeps an eye on Baby New Year - just in case

Wrapping up a few loose ends and clearing the decks for 2012:

 - A week or so before Christmas: Wizards of the Coast's annual Christmas layoffs appear to have begun. So far, casualties appear to include Rich Baker and Steve Winter. Yeah that's great. A wonderful holiday tradition. I've been "downsized" a few times over the years ad it's not fun at any time of the year. Hopefulyy (given their time with the company) there were severance packages sufficient to see them through the holidays and find something new.

 - Going back to Thanksgiving: Hero Games has been around for 30 years with ups and downs. The economy's been pretty rough lately, as has the gaming market. With declining sales and fewer releases, Hero has reached the point where it's no longer possible to maintain a full time staff of three, so it's scaling back. Darren and Steve will be departing December 2nd, with our thanks for a decade of hard work that gave us 108 books, and best wishes for their future endeavors, which may include producing new books under a Hero System license. We'll keep you posted on that. Jason will remain to continue shipping books and handling day-to-day matters. Existing books will continue to be available for purchase, and the company will continue in business, just a bit more slowly. The online store remains open. Steve will continue to answer rules questions on the Hero boards as "the guy who wrote the rulebook." We're looking into doing a Kickstarter to print Book of the Empress, since it's complete and ready to go. For the near future Hero would appreciate your kind thoughts and your patience. Transition periods of this sort take time, and Jason has a lot of work cut out for him, so the support of our fans is much appreciated. Wow more good news. Forum discussion here.

I think Hero's biggest problem is that while it has a great system (one of the best if you like crunch) it doesn't have any compelling worlds to play in. 5th edition was sold primarily as a toolkit and the game universes were left as sort of an add-on. People get interested in systems but they get attached to worlds and Hero has little in the way of shared experiences the way everything from D&D to RuneQuest to Traveller to Pathfinder has. Even Champions has only a proto-universe that gets rewritten every time the edition changes. The first Champions game I played had Gargoyle and Marksman as heroes. Then we got Seeker and Obsidian. Now we have Ironclad and some other new faces. Sure some of the villains are still in the game, and some of the organizations, but they change pretty drastically between editions too, and that's their BEST universe! What's a compelliong reason to play Star Hero? It lets you do anything you want? Traveller covers a lot of that ground, and so does Savage Worlds, and if I'm looking for a universe they have everything from the Third Imperium to Hammer's Slammers to Slipstream! Same question for Fantasy Hero - if I haven't been a fan since the 80's or 90's, why should I even look at it? Between the 14 versions of D&D out there from OSR clones to Pathfinder to 4E I have a whole lot of D&D to choose from. Oh wait, it's "not D&D"? Well I have everything from RQ to  WFRP to Savage Worlds (again! - Evernight, Sundered Skies, etc.) for "not-D&D". Fantasy Hero's potential campaign worlds get 1 book (at most) and then get changed in every edition (80's-90's-00's) anyway! I know the thinking is that Hero players prefer to create their own worlds but does that mean you shouldn't try to create some compelling world to share with your players instead of yet another edition of "300 pages of pre-built spells" ? I suspect 6th edition Hero will sputter along for a while under most people's radar until some new blood/new money gets interested and takes a run at a 7th edition.

 - Dark Sun 4E: I realize I'm a year behind on this one but I finally got it, read it, and it's a pretty good version of Dark Sun. I think it's great for Heroic, interesting for Paragon, and then I'd like to know what Epic is supposed to be about. With no gods and almost no planar travel, then if you're playing the game of thrones at Paragon what do you do after that? Conquer the world? Alright I guess. Restore the world? Even at Epic that seems like more of a long-term mission than something you roll dice for - "Alright now we're in the Great Slat Flats - roll your Gardening check, DC 50 - OK, it's green again. See you next week!" I think it needs something more. Maybe you restore an old battleship and head off through Astral Space to Iskandar or something, but I don't think it's a great setting for Epic as it stands right now. Earlier levels though, I can see it being a fun change of pace from the usual approach.

 - The Sellswords Trilogy:
  • Servant of the Shard - This first one is OK, but it was written yeras before the next two and was notable at the time as the first Drizzt novel without Drizzt. It does wrap up the story of the Crystal Shard nicely though.
  • Promise of the Witch King - This second one is actually pretty good, and serves as a shining example of how an "evil" party of characters might go adventuring together to investigate/avert/steal from a larger threat. I really liked it.
  • Road of the Patriarch - The third one is terrible as it picks up right where #2 leaves off and then goes in a completely different direction, focusing back in on Artemis Entreri, particularly his bad childhood which I didn't find all that interesting. I also think that Calimshan had been covered pretty thouroughly in the earlier books and wow, the world's greatest assassin takes his revenge on a corrupt local priest - whee. A letdown after #2.

 - Obligatory End-of-Year-Prediction: Despite pronouncements to the contrary when 4E was released that we would never need it, and despite pronouncements that Essentials was and was not 4.5, I think that we will probably see D&D 5th Edition announced in 2012, probably at GenCon, for a 2013 release. The timing works with a 2013 release coming 5 years after the 2008 release of 4E. Beyond that I don't think they would have hired Monte Cook this year if they didn't have a job for him to do, and I suspect that job is 5E. 

Now that all that is out of the way, I have to say that for me 2011 started off on the lower end of things and has ramped up nicely in the family, professional, and recreational sense. I hope 2012 continues the trend, and if your personal trend hasn't been going the same way then I hope it turns around soon. I plan to continue the blog through thick and thin so there should be no major changes here.

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year from the Family Blacksteel! See you in 2012!


Brendan said...

Back in Second Edition, Dark Sun play between 20th and 30th level was about metamorphosis into something (a dragon for defilers, an avangion for preservers; I think there were targets for other classes as well). See the old Dragon Kings book for details. I actually think this concept would work rather well in the 4E tier system, though I'm not sure if they went in that direction.

Blacksteel said...

They do include those as Epic Destinies but there's not a whole lot of what-to-do's built in there - you choose it at level 21 and it just kinda happens. So what does the new dragon-king do while he's making this change? Conquer the world? Seems a likely option but you might be able to pull that off by level 20, much less 30.