Saturday, April 22, 2017

40K Friday (Saturday Edition): 8th Edition Announced!

An email came through this morning:

The new Warhammer 40,000 is coming soon

This is the game you have been asking for. The Warhammer 40,000 game you know and love, but better. Get ready for the best edition of Warhammer 40,000 ever.

With a link! (it's that "new edition coming soon" part near the bottom)

The most interesting part is the New Edition FAQ!

The site seems to be having trouble loading so here's the text:

Is my army still valid?
Yes, it certainly is! You’ll still be able to use your army in the new edition of Warhammer 40,000. All current armies will be supported with new rules.

Can I still use all my models?
Yes. Every Warhammer 40,000 miniature we sell today will be usable in the new edition of Warhammer 40,000. What’s more, they’ll be supported with new rules, which will be available from the get go in handy, low-cost books.

Even Forge World models?
Yes, even all of your Warhammer 40,000 Forge World models.

Wait, did you guys blow up the universe?
Nope. This is very much still the Warhammer 40,000 setting you know and love. Now, that’s not to say we won’t see the story advance - there’s some pretty epic stuff ahead! You can certainly expect to see the story arcs that began in the recent Gathering Storm campaign books continue to unfold with plenty of exciting developments to look forward to…

How can I get the rules?
We’re going to make it easier than ever to get your hands on the rules and start playing. The core rules for the game will be free, and you’ll have several options on how you get your hands on the full rulebook. Watch this space for more.

Have you dumbed down 40K?
Not at all. We’ve made it easier for new people to enter and get to grips with the basics. At the same time, we’ve made sure you can add as much depth and complexity as you like - there’s some fantastic new gameplay elements coming. What we’ve done is reexamine every aspect of the game, and made plenty of improvements, many based on the gaming community’s feedback and suggestions. If you play today, this game is recognisably still Warhammer 40,000.

What happens to my codexes?
The rules in our current range of Warhammer 40,000 codexes aren’t compatible with the new edition of Warhammer 40,000. These books will be going off sale very soon. If you do want to pick any up, now’s the time - as all of the great hobby content and background information will be as valid as ever.

What's in the new starter box?
A new starter box? That’d be exciting! I guess we’d fill it with some awesome new miniatures…
(come on, we can’t spoil all the surprises for you!)

Are you getting rid of points?
Not at all. There will be a full points system, for use in matched play - one of three ways to play covered in the rulebook.

What do you mean “3 ways to play”?
We realise that people like to play Warhammer 40,000 in different ways. 3 broad systems are covered in the new edition: 1) Open play is the most flexible, and easiest to get started with, allowing you to use any miniatures you like. 2) Narrative play is where you can refight the iconic battles of the 41st Millennium, or create your own campaigns and sagas. 3) Matched play is designed for more balanced and competitive games, ideal for gaming clubs, leagues and
tournaments. However you want to enjoy playing Warhammer 40,000, there will be rules for that.

Why should I not just stick with current Warhammer 40,000?
This is the version of Warhammer 40,000 you've been asking for. We've listened to your feedback, and we really believe that this is the best Warhammer 40,000 has ever been.

Will the rules be updated annually (ala, the General's Handbook)?
What a great idea! We've had such a fantastic response to our community-led approach with the Warhammer Age of Sigmar rules updates that we're committed to doing the same for Warhammer 40,000. You’ll be able to submit your questions and queries on the Warhammer
40,000 Facebook page and we'll make sure we continue to evolve the game as feedback rolls in.

I haven’t played 40K in a while...
Welcome back! The new Warhammer 40,000 is easier to learn and quicker to play, but still has all the tactical, strategic and narrative depth you could want from a game set in the incredibly
rich setting of the 41st Millennium. It’s going to be easier than ever to get started, and more fun than ever to master.

Why should I trust you?
Come on! This is New Games Workshop™

Seriously though, everything we're talking about now is just an extension of all the community engagement work we've been doing over this last year and a half. We've learned a lot from you guys and gals, and we've tried really hard to make sure everything you've asked for is included. And if we've missed something? Drop us a line on the Warhammer 40,000 Facebook page and let us know. We'll make sure your requests are given proper consideration.

Where can I find out more?
We’ll be running daily articles on the run up to release on Every aspect of the new edition will be covered, from rules, to new miniatures and advancements in
the setting.

I love it. I want it. When can I have it!
Really soon. You’ll be playing the new Warhammer 40,000 this year.

We’ll let you know when we have more news on an exact release date. Stay posted. For the latest news, follow us on the Warhammer 40,000 Facebook page , or subscribe to our newsletter .

What do I do now?
Now's the time to start getting your army ready.

With the addition of 3 ways to play, there are now more ways to build your collection than ever before. Open play frees you from all constraints, so now's the time to just pick a model you've always wanted and paint it up. For you narrative players, why not start theming your collection around your favourite battle? Just like many of you, we want our armies to be fighting fit for matched play in the new edition. That's why you'll be able to read daily articles on the Warhammer Community site that will tell you all about the new rules, great units to include and tactics for every army.

OK, funniest entry; Why should I trust you - that's funny and hopefully a good sign they really are changing their approach.

Best news: Rules will be available free. I assume that may be only the most basic of rules and that there will be several levels of printed rules available too for not-free. I also assume that means we get free pdf codex entries for each unit like we did for Age of Sigmar back when it launched. If so I am on-board big time.

Worst news: Your codexes are obsolete! Even the ones we released less than a year ago! Yay!

Actually this is not as bad as it could be as a truly new edition would pretty much require that the existing codexes go away. I'm not thrilled about it, and I'll probably go ahead and finish picking up the two or three books I was planning to get just in case the new thing ain't that great, but I'll be bargain-hunting even more than I was planning to do.

So there we go, big news for a big game!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Steve Jackson Games - Part 2

Steve Jackson Games recently put out their annual report to stakeholders and I saw some things I think are problems. Yesterday I talked about the problems I see with GURPS. Today let's talk about Kickstarters. From the report:

The 2012 Ogre Kickstarter project is still not completed. We made big steps forward on all of the various commitments, but we're coming up on five years after the project closed, and we are still sinking time into the project. The good news, though, is that we're seeing real progress; several outstanding pieces of the project are finally coming to a close. Whew.

Wait, what? Five years on and they still haven't finished this thing? Damn! This is the kind of mistake that hurts a company's reputation, especially when they plan to keep doing other kickstarters! Clearly that project was beyond their capabilities to handle. I would add "at that time" but they are still struggling to get it done from what I see there. I'm glad they didn't just walk away like some other problematic Kickstarters have seen but this is still not a good situation.

Their KS profile shows 5 projects (oldest to newest):

  • Ogre
  • Car Wars Arenas
  • GURPS Dungeon Fantasy
  • Ogre Miniatures - Set One
  • Munchkin Shakespeare

(note: I did not back any of these)

From the GDF "Risks" section:

Risks and challenges

The greatest risk of all is completing the artwork, layout, and manufacturing of the game. The text for the box set is 100% complete, and artwork and layout have started, but there are always opportunities for things to go sideways during a creative project.

None of the stretch goal PDFs have been written yet, because whether we even get to do them depends on you! However, we've produced high-quality PDFs every month for years, and we feel confident in our ability to deliver on our stretch-goal promises in a timely manner.

We believe we have taken all of the steps necessary to bring the game to completion and ship on schedule. Our last Kickstarter project -- Car Wars Arenas in 2015 -- delivered on schedule, and we think this game will also ship on time. As always, we will update backers throughout the entire process and deliver as close to on time as possible.

First paragraph, fine.

Second paragraph - that was a red flag to me because the KS projects that seem to do the best are the ones where the material is written and basically what it needs is editing and art. Once you make those stretch goals that stuff becomes a commitment  just like the core stuff and stretch goals are where a lot of KS efforts hit the rocks.

Third paragraph - I think there's a fine line between "Marketing" and "Deception" when you mention that your last project went great even as you're still trying to finish the one from before that - three years before that! I don't like that at all.

Now from the report:

Ogre Miniatures Set One - This expansion to the new Ogre Sixth Edition game was another Kickstarter project last year, and we've again caused delays that have pushed the release back later than we had planned. The problems here are less disruptive to our schedule than Dungeon Fantasy's ongoing "Destroy all deadlines" crawl to the finish line, but the lateness of the project is a source of frustration and many sleepless nights. Lesson learned: Finish all CAD work and miniatures tooling before launching any more Kickstarter projects involving minis. This is risky -- what if a project fails to fund? -- but it is worth taking the risk.

Really? There's more:

Dungeon Fantasy - Our Kickstarter project to create a GURPS introductory box set has run into more troubles and derailments than we would like. A game that was meant to go to the printer before the end of 2016 is still clogging our pipeline and causing constant distractions. The project was not as far along in the process as it should have been, and miscommunication regarding the game components ballooned our costs. At the moment, barring a miracle, what would have been a profitable project is rapidly turning into a loss. This is becoming an ongoing problem for GURPS projects (see Discworld and Mars Attacks, below, under Failures).

Sheesh. I like these guys. I've bought a lot of games from them. Besides all of my Car Wars, Ogre, and GURPS stuff there are at least 7 different Munchkin games floating around the house. That said this is not a great place to be. Out of your first 4 Kickstarter projects (over a span of 4 years) three of them have had problems and you are still working to complete them! How is that smart? Why do you keep doing it? Why are you making these same mistakes? How much is this impacting your non-crowdfunded projects? And what about that "the core text is 100% complete" yet somehow "the project was not as far along in the process as it should have been". That's not good.

They keep talking about doing a Kickstarter for the new edition of Car Wars when it's ready and I would normally be an hour one backer on that but now after looking thru all of this ... I don't know if I can. I think my first question will be "are you done with the Ogre Kickstarter from 2012 yet?" and the answer will have a big impact on what I do.

I've been worried about other companies biting off more than they could chew with multiple open Kickstarters, mainly Pinnacle. They like to run several Kickstarters a year but they haven't fallen behind on any that I've been a part of or that I have heard of and they seem to have the whole thing figured out.  That said I think it is a huge risk for a small company to have multiple simultaneous unfinished Kickstarters in play. The failure of one could cascade into the others as your talent is exhausted and it could impact cash flow severely, not to mention your reputation.

Business-wise a Kickstarter is an unusual situation in that you're getting paid for the product before creating, printing, and shipping it. That helps with cash flow but it does mean you have a fixed pile of money associated with the project. If costs go up, you're eating into the margins and you have zero recourse like you would with a more traditional project - say, raising the price or just cancelling it altogether because it's not economically viable given the costs. No, once you've funded, you have committed and you have to produce it or else face the lovely scenario of refunding 100% of what people paid with only 90% of the funding - KS keeps their cut regardless of your ability to produce.

So I am worried about one of my favorite game companies. One reason they might keep doing the KS thing is that their structure has become dependent on it. I hope that's not the case but I wonder about it. That would be bad, because if they keep overloading themselves and running into delays and ongoing problems then at some point people are going to stop spending money on them and the whole thing will fail. I hope that doesn't happen. I also hope they don't start any more KS efforts until the ones they have are complete.

They do end the report on what I think is an appropriately somber note:

  A Brutal Year

We expect 2017 to be a difficult time for our team. We must complete our Kickstarter commitments; every day that the Dungeon Fantasy and Ogre projects run late is another day of stress for all of us in the office. (Fortunately, our team has the Munchkin Shakespeare project humming along wonderfully, and there's a strong chance that the project will deliver on schedule.) We will get through the year, we will complete the projects that are weighing us down, and we will do all we can to close 2017 on a high note and set everything up to make 2018 a year that makes us proud.

I hope they do, I hope 2017 is the year this sh*t stops, they clean things up, and set the company up for a solid 2018. We don't want to lose you, and we don't want to see your name tarnished! Please set things in order and lets move on.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Steve Jackson Games Stakeholder Report for 2016

I'm a little worried about SJG. The latest Report to Stakeholders covering 2016 is not all that great and has a few specific things that concern me. They're a Texas game company, they've been around a long time, and they've made a lot of things I like so I take an interest in how they are doing.

  • In the 80's they were Car Wars and Ogre
  • In the 90's they were GURPS
  • In the 2000's they've been mostly Munchkin
Lots of people have been touched by those games. 

They have always seemed to have a handle on cash flow, which is the thing that tends to kill game companies. That part still seems to be OK, largely due to Munchkin I would guess. They're selling Munchkin at Walgreen's now - Walgreen's!

Today I'll talk about the first issue I see, then tomorrow we will hit the second. 

The first thing I see that might be a problem is GURPS. From the report:

Discworld and Mars Attacks - We published two new GURPS hardcover books late last year. GURPS fans celebrated, and the books turned out well, but their disappointing performance further supported the unfortunate realization that sales are no longer strong enough to make traditional distribution work for GURPS hardcovers. Today's cluttered market, combined with our insistence on getting it right, made both books expensive experiments that tell us one thing: Do not produce more GURPS hardcovers until we have guaranteed that the sales are there. Does this mean more crowdfunding for GURPS? Maybe! But until we see the retail sales of Dungeon Fantasy, we're holding off on any more printed GURPS releases. PDFs will continue, and we'll revisit the question of "print GURPS?" later this year.

OK, I'm sure some of the rest of you can see a potential problem here. After the big Kickstarter (which we will get to in a bit) the two big "kickoff" books were Discworld and Mars Attacks?! Seriously? 

I love the Discworld books - I've been reading them for 30+ years and I own most of them but I would never try to use it as an RPG setting because it's just not going to work. It's the same reason there's not a Hitchhikers Guild to the Galaxy RPG - a huge part of it is the wit, and your players are not going to be able to do that on the fly while playing the game. As a Big Book of Stuff About Discworld I'm sure it's great but for a roleplaying game it's a niche of a niche at best and the people who wanted one got it with the third edition books.

Then there's Mars Attacks. I don't even know where to start, really. I know Mantic put out a miniatures game of it in 2015 and it looks as though it's already being discontinued.  Who do you know that's really passionate about MA? What's the fanbase? It would not surprise me if the total number of people in North America saying "I can't wait to run a Mars Attacks RPG!" is in the single digits.  What else is going on with the universe? A new movie? There was a movie 20 years ago that was not all that big a hit even then. I'm sure the license is cheap because NO ONE CARES ABOUT MARS ATTACKS! It's not something to build or reboot a game line on!

I know, I know, but it had to be said

GURPS has always had a problem in that while it inspired some system loyalty, it has no marquee setting, and settings are what keep people interested over the decades. Consider:
  • D&D has gone thru a ton of changes from the 80's to now but there's a core group of Forgotten Realms fans that stay with it and provide a big chunk of the energy around the game. They're the ones buying the novels and other product tie-ins. They're the ones recruiting new players  talking about all of those overpowered NPCs, arguing the history of fictional countries, and all of the things that come with a deep setting. Greyhawk has fans too, as do the other D&D worlds. Regardless of the rules particulars, they keep coming back.
  • Why does any edition of Runequest that ditches Glorantha struggle? Because for that game the Gloranth-philes are the biggest mass of players. That's where the energy is! 
  • What was the early core of Savage Worlds players? Deadlands players! It's probably still the biggest single setting but now they have Rifts, Lankmahr, and they're working on Flash Gordon! They have a strong mix of original IP and licensees that draw people in. 
I've talked about this before, back when the Dungeon Fantasy Kickstarter was going. It baffles me that GURPS still has no well-known setting of its own. Would you play 1920's Call of Cthulu without the Mythos elements? Well, that's GURPS. Sure, it's a great toolkit for making your own game but the core books have been out since 2004! If you want to draw new players in, get people excited, and most of all have people spend money on it then you need something people care about beyond mechanics! That would be "setting" and they just do not have one.

So no, I don't expect a big resurgence for the GURPS line, particularly when they are making decisions like this. I expect Dungeon Fantasy will hit the shelves and barley make a ripple as it sinks under, much like these other two have. The window for this to be a big deal was probably 2011-2014, while D&D was at a low ebb and people were looking for alternatives. Now, with 5E booming in popularity, Pathfinder still a strong second, and a bunch of OSR stuff taking up the rest there just isn't that much room left for something else. 

There might have been room for a sci-fi game in there too for the last few years but over the last 5 or so years we've had FFG's 40K universe games, their new Star Wars game, a new edition of Traveller, a new edition of Mutant Chronicles, Savage Worlds Last Parsec, and later this year we get Starfinder and a new Star Trek game! There's probably not a ton of room there either!

This is pretty clearly something that could happen in an RPG
"Remember that time we took out a tank with some muscle cars?"
To show I'm not just slagging them, how about some ideas of what they could do? OK:
  • GURPS Fast and Furious - You want to bring in some new people? Want to stretch the creative muscles a bit? Want to get some attention? Strike now! I think the company that's been doing a game called "Car Wars" for almost 40 years and that has a back catalog of GURPS books on thrillers, vehicles, espionage, and tech could do pretty well at something like this. Sure, it's a license but it's not one we've seen in RPG's before and they plan to make at least two more movies over the next 4 years. For a game that's "realistic" with some cinematic options this seems perfect. (If you think it's a bad RPG license then first, take a look up there at their last two licenses. Second, look at how many people have gone to see these movies in the last 5-10 years. It's a big number and getting bigger, at or beyond Star Wars and Marvel. It's also a heckuva lot more relevant than Mars Attacks.)
  • GURPS Big Superhero World - I think we all know superhero movies are big right now. There's room for another Superhero RPG if it's good. This takes two things:
    • One, put out a single-volume book combining the GURPS rules and the powers book. It can be a big book, but it really helps if you can point players to one book to play this game, not 3 or more. Champions did it and has done it again. M&M has always done it. It's time to make that change. 
    • Two, create an original setting that has some specific flavor, some likable, interesting iconic heroes and some detestable iconic villains and put out a setting book! Support the game with something beyond more rulebooks! It should look as good as Freedom City and Emerald City but with its own take on a superhero world. 
  • GURPS Munchkin - Start with GURPS Lite. Add maximum cinematic rules. Put in all of the monsters from the card game. Make it something like Dungeon Crawl Classics in tone, add a little Hackmaster, add a little Paranoia. Make it "The First RPG You Can Win". Make it playable in less than 2 hours - maybe everybody who's still alive levels up every ten minutes of real time. It's an IP you own and there's a ton of stuff to mine from it so why not explore it in RPG form?
So there's my thinking on the whole GURPS side of the problem. Tomorrow - the other stuff!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Kickstart Something Fun - Sentinels of Earth Prime

Take one good thing: Sentinels of the Multiverse

Take another good thing: Freedom City for Mutants and Masterminds

Now mix them together via Kickstarter and you get a cooperative superhero card game using characters and locations from the Freedom City setting! I already like SOTM and we have a good time whenever we play it. To now have the lore of Freedom City's universe presented in a similar way, something I am already running an RPG in, well, that;s just too damn cool.

I'm in. Figured I should post it here in case anyone else that might be interested had not yet heard about it. It's already reached its goal so it's really just a question of "how high can we go?" at this point.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Filling in Some Gaps - Bard's Gate

When we were playing 3rd edition I was not a huge fan of most of the published WOTC adventures but I did find some greatness in 3 places: Goodman Games' Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures, Sword and Sorcery's own Scarred Lands setting, and Necromancer Games' adventures. For coming from three different companies and lots of individual authors I found they fit together really well. For my Scarred Lands campaign the backbone was DCC's shorter adventures + Necromancer's longer adventures and material of my own. I doubt I was the only one, and I was very happy with the way it worked out.

While the DCC adventures were purposefully independent from one another the Necromancer material as produced as if it was all part of the same setting and there were notes in many of the individual adventures on how they fit into this shared world in relation to one another. This was a lot like the early D&D adventures with their notes on where they were set in Greyhawk. SOme of the major pieces were:
  • The Wizard's Amulet + Crucible of Freya which was one of the early 3E starter adventures and is great. My players had a really good time with it and it was our starting adventure for the campaign.
  • Vault of Larin Karr which was an area the campaign could have gone to but ended up not using in that game.
  • Demons and Devils which is a collection of short adventures involving those creatures. I was going to use one of them as the end of the paladin's quest for a holy sword but we didn't quite get there. 
  •  Hall of the Rainbow Mage was another adventure where I dropped some hints and connections and we ended up not using it. 
  • Lost City of Barakus - also hinted and rumored in the game but never actually used. 
  • Rappan Athuk which I did not use after playing through part of it. It could always have come up later if I needed to abuse my player characters.
  • Tomb of Abysthor which we spent around a year playing and had a lot of fun in the dungeon and back in the city they used as a base for exploring the dungeon.
I think that's how a lot of campaigns go - there's a lot of material gathered/prepped/written that never gets used but you can't know that until your players wander somewhere else. This is just the Necromancer stuff too - there were 4 or 5 DCC adventures and a couple of the Scarred Lands adventures in there too. 

So how does Bard's Gate fit into all of this? Well it's the city that is mentioned in all of these things, a reference point, and a possible home base while playing through some of them. I didn't own the book so I used my own city ideas while we played through Abysthor but I always wanted to pick it up and find a place to add it in to the campaign. Once that game ended the priority dropped quite a bit but it's been in the back of my mind in the "one of these days" file for years. I finally picked it up and I am not disappointed. 

One of the best parts of a campaign I have run

The short version: It's a guide to a D&D style fantasy city. The signature 'thing" about the place is that it's home to a Bardic College so there are a lot of those types in the city and a player who wants to run one has a ton of hooks readily available. You could drop it into almost any campaign anywhere you need a city on a river and it would fit just fine. Each chapter in the book covers a district of the city in some, though not ridiculous, detail. You won't find stats for every bartender and patron or notes on every single structure in each area - it's mainly the high points and notable locations in each one with a general sense of the district. There's a sidebar for each that covers character, Businesses, prices, gold piece limits, building type, and note on the guards (number, timing, and size of patrols). It looks very usable for the DM - practical stuff like that goes a long way with me. There are roughly 15 chapters like this covering the city. It also comes with a roughly 3'x2' poster map of the city which is a nice touch.

Towards the back are some additional sections:
  • One covers the area around the city and notes various adventure locations
  • In the local area is a gnoll fortress and an abbey, boith of which receive their own chapters
  • There's a chapter on new magic, one on NPCs, and one on new monsters - these are all fairly 3E-specific and so not super uiseful 
  • There is also a chapter on the gods of the setting and they are somewhat different from the usual generic deities. It's a mix of Norse, Celtic, and some D&D demons along with some new - or renamed at least - non-human powers. This fleshes out some of the names mentioned in other adventures by Necromancer and is a nice touch. It would not be terribly hard to ignore this if you were dropping it into another setting. 
Downside? Well, there really are not many that I can see at this point. It's from 2006 and it's black and white so it's not as pretty as a lot of the books that we get today. Compared to something like Ptolus it's definitely a step down in presentation but that aside it's a completely usable fantasy city supplement. There was a Kickstarter last year to redo the book for 5E and Pathfinder in full color so there are updated and nicely presented versions out there but at $100 for a print copy I abstained from that one. I paid a tenth of that for my older version and I think it does what I want it to do just fine. There are PDFs of the original version available as well. 

When will I use it? I'm not sure. It's one of the major missing pieces of that Necromancer series so I would probably drop them in to a game as a whole set.  I liked the way they fit into the Scarred lands and wit hthat being redone for 5th Edition D&D I'd say there's some chance we go there again if we ever do a real 5E campaign. Pathfinder is an easy fit as well. Regardless of the system I will be happy when I finally do get to return to these adventures again.