Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Interview: Charles White – A High School Floor Plan For RPGs

July 11, 2013 Leave a comment

FELogoFabled Environments is in the midst of a new Kickstarter campaign! This time their objective is to create a complete floor plan of a high school for use with tabletop RPGs. I talked to Charles White about the Kickstarter, the creation process and possible future projects.

Check out the Kickstarter HERE.


Music by Kevin MacLeod

And Now an Interview with Charles White

September 11, 2012 Leave a comment

(The audio of this interview is available at the bottom of this post!)

Fabled EnvironmentsJR: Today I am talking to Charles White of Fabled Environments. Hello, sir!

CW: How are you?

JR: Good! How’s it going?

CW: Not too bad, not too bad at all.

JR: So first off, tell us a little bit about Fabled Environments, for folks who might not be familiar.

CW: Well, Fabled Environments is a modern cartography company. We create modern floor plans for role-playing games. We use the term “modern” a little bit loosely than most people would. We have plans – everything from airships to modern Arctic research stations. So really, the gamut is huge – usually anything from the 1900s forward is what we would consider modern. And we’re actually potentially pushing backwards even further, too.

JR: And you are doing your first Kickstarter.

CW: We are and we are super-excited! This is going to be for a 100-store, two-story mall and it’s a little over 750,000 square feet. To give you an idea of what that compares to our other maps, I believe the Victorian Manor, which is two 36″ x 48″ sheets, was only about 20,000 square feet. So when this map is completed it’s going to be absolutely massive. The Kickstarter, at the base level – and if you don’t know much about Kickstarter, Kickstarter usually has a base: this is what we’d like to do, and then if we exceed our funding these are all the nice little things we either give or we add to the project. But our base is going to be – we’re going to detail one of three anchor stores and we’re also going to include a sheet of AutoCAD icons that you can use to flesh out the anchor stores. OR we’ll also have four repeating floor plans that are four different floor plans of shops throughout the mall. And the ones that are blank can be used in that repeating floor plan or you can use the icons. It should be interesting. We’re also going to have a food court. We’re also obviously going to do center court and then the add-ons where we’re going to add more detail and things like that. It’s a huge project, but we’re really excited about it.

JR: That’s awesome. What was it that made you choose a mall for your first really big project like this?

CW: A couple things. We’d heard a lot about people wanting a mall for zombie, terrorist – somebody wanted one for a teen setting type of game…

JR: Oh, nice.

CW:  And we do a lot of research on our plans before we do them and the mall, quite frankly, was one of the easier ones to research because most malls – they have their layouts. Because if you’re going to buy retail space, you see the layout. So it really helps us to get a handle on what that space should look like. So when we go to draw it, we can pull the inspiration. Obviously we’re not going to copy anybody’s mall…

JR: Yeah.

CW: But that’s pretty much why. And again, like I said, there’s nothing out there like this and there’s been some draw for it so I thought it would be a really great project. And as a player and as a GM I thought of about fifteen things off the top of my head I could do with a mall.

JR: It is true, I don’t think I’ve seen anyone put out, for RPGs, floor plans for a mall like this, even though it’s such a basic thing that you’d think would be out there.

CW: It’s so massive, and that’s part of the problem – it’s that you’ll see smaller structures done in various ways, but you don’t see anything of this magnitude because I think quite frankly it’s too large. And a lot of them are publishing in 8.5” x 11” so if you put a project this scope into that small of a space, it’s going to get lost.

JR: Yeah.

CW: So it may be in part just logistically challenged.

JR: I seem to remember seeing part of a mall as part of an adventure that they released with the Basic Marvel RPG from back in the TSR days, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen any actual stabs at the whole thing.

CW: Yeah, I think you’re right, I think I remember that too, and I think that’s just generally been the reason why – it’s because of just the scope of the project. And that’s something we’ve taken into account when we’ve done this, because once the Kickstarter ends we’ve probably got about four months of drafting to do to get it where we want it to be. Because our projects have a lot of detail and a lot of options and we want to make sure that whatever we release is going to be a good quality product that can be used over and over again.

JR: Fabled Environments Victorian MansionSo I take it you’re going to have a system where people – they’re not going to have to put the whole thing on the table at once?

CW: No, the great thing about it – we’re going to play with a different way of doing things this time. This is thanks to a good friend of mine that was talking about this. Typically there’s no one that’s going to print out 8-10 sheets, 36” x 48”, throw them somewhere and use them. The good thing about the way this will be designed is it uses Adobe X, so you can tile large format and print out chunks of it. Again, we’re going to have the store repeating floor plans, but what we’re probably going to do as well is do venues. And what I mean by venues is that we’ll detail that corridor area – you know, when you walk down the middle of a mall, you’ve got shops on one side, shops on another and that walkway area with gondolas and things like that. We’ll detail things like that as well so they’ll be easy to throw on the table because that’s usually where a lot of fights are going to happen anyway.

JR: Yeah.

CW: So we’re going to try and provide some of that as well. And then obviously the flexibility’s there – if you want to print out an entire section of the mall and just use that, you can. We’ll detail center court, because that’s going to get a lot of traction and a lot of use. So we’re trying to pick and choose venues like that. But again, because of the way this project’s going to be designed, if you want to, you can print out anything you want to on the map. So you’re not going to lose anything by using venues.

JR: So, as of this interview, you’ve actually surpassed your initial goal. I’m looking at it right now and you’re over $2000.

CW: Yes.

JR: So at this point, what sort of stretch goals do you have that we’re looking at, here?

CW: Well, we’ve got a lot of them. There’s a couple of them that I’m really excited about. The first one would be at $3450 – typically all of our maps have been put together in 1 inch = 5 feet grids. What we’re looking at now at $3450 would be a 6 foot to 1 inch hex and 6 foot to 1 inch grid because there’s a lot of other systems. But the two we’ve already hit would be a children’s indoor play area and a parking lot around the mall, so you know, if you want to take it outside, if you will, you can. The one that I would really love to see – and it’s not a monetary thing for us, but it’s the last stretch goal. Because I think it would be really cool to have this large mall and then have the outdoor expansion. Because the great thing about the outdoor expansion is it could be taken and used separately, too, if you wanted to have a little piazza or if you wanted to have just a little shops area. And that’s what we’re all about – it’s trying to make these versatile enough that you can pull it out of our map and use it somewhere else. So, a lot of cool stuff like that, but plans to really detail some additional shops, add another anchor store to the floor plan, things like that that’ll really expand this project. And on that same line, I mean, there’s a lot of pledge points left. We try to make this as creative as we can. If you don’t have all of our maps and want some, there’s a pledge that you can get our retail stores or our entire catalog. Or if you want something that’s very interesting you can actually name either one of the stores that won’t be fleshed out or one of the ones that will, part of the food court, the entire mall. A lot of people have found that’s been pretty fun – just being able to name something, too, especially if they’ve got a lot of the maps.

JR: Now again, as of this interview, there are only a few days left on the Kickstarter, so I urge everybody to go and check it out. If this does well for you, what next? Are you thinking about doing another one some time?

CW: Oh, absolutely. This was really to put our toes in the water to see if it works, but we really want to do a school next. Pretty much an elementary/high school. We’ll probably do an elementary school and then – I don’t know how we’re going to work it. We may do the stretch goals to add things to it to make it also a high school, or vice versa, I’m not sure which. We also want to do a hospital and probably an airport. And those are just the things we have off the top of our head.

JR: Very cool, very cool.

CW: And Jim, one thing I do want to add, and people may not know this, is that at the $10 pledge, you get a copy of the map – I will to tell you that when it’s released on Drivethru and RPGNow, we’re going to have a 2-month delay out of respect to the people who have donated, but it will be more expensive than the pledge level. So if you like our products, jump in and get it at a cheaper price and you’re actually helping us with the project.

JR: Excellent, okay. So, get it now if you want to get it at the lower price!

CW: Exactly.

JR: So do you have anything else you’d like to mention or that you’ve got going on right now?

CW: Yeah!Charles White We’re going to be releasing some maps here fairly soon in concert with Silver Gryphon Games. They’re redoing two of their modules and so there are going to be some bar-type floor plans as well as like a pool hall. So we’ll release those as well. I think we’re probably going to do those as one big conglomeration because they’re small maps. I know there are some plans in the works to redo a couple more of the Silver Gryphon Games modules and then Silver Gryphon is using some of our stuff in a few others. So we’ve got a lot of products that our maps are going to be in soon. And so just kind of keep an eye out for that. And once they’re released through Silver Gryphon, we always let fans know we’ll bundle that together so that folks can get a little bit of a break on the cost and things like that. We’re also going to be at MACE this year. We’re going to be a vendor again, so we’ll have print product on hand. I don’t have all of my maps in print, but we have a bunch of them. And I’ll be on some panels and running at least one game, so it should be a lot of fun.

JR: Awesome. And I’ve got to say, as far as your other upcoming projects go, you had me at “pool hall.”

CW: (chuckles) Yes, they’re really cool, I mean I think a lot of people are going to have a  lot of fun with them.

JR: Yeah, that’s like the most fun place you can possibly have something strange happen. (chuckles)

CW: Exactly.

JR: Okay, well if folks want to find you online, where should they go?

CW: They can go to and if you want to find us on Kickstarter, go to Kickstarter – you can search for us, we’re under the Games tab and the project name is Fabled Environments: A Two-Story Mall for Tabletop RPGs.

JR: Excellent! Thanks very much for talking to us.

CW: Absolutely, I appreciate the time!


Music by Kevin MacLeod

And Now an Interview with Jenn from the Jennisodes

July 10, 2012 2 comments

(The audio of this interview is available at the bottom of this post!)

Project NPTJR: I am talking to Jenn from the Jennisodes. Hello!

J: Hi!

JR: So I see that you are in the midst of a Kickstarter.

J: I am. The grueling part of a Kickstarter – right in the middle.

JR: And this is for a game called Project Ninja Panda Taco.

J: Yep.

JR: Tell us a little bit about it.

J: Well, this is a storytelling role playing game where you get to play a Mastermind trying to take over the world and you also get to play a Minion character who loves to help the Mastermind. It is lots of fun, it’s zany, it’s great for kids and families alike. And adults. (laughs)

JR: Or those of us who are both adults and kids at the same time.

J: Yes. The target audience is the adults who want to act like children.

JR: Awesome.

J: It’s your inner mastermind trying to come out and like, take over.

JR: Excellent. Mine tends to try to come out way too often I think (chuckles) but it’s always good to encourage it from time to time.

J: Well with this game you can hone it all down into this and then you’ll feel much better.

JR: Ah, a channel! A channel for it!

J: Channel your mastermind into this game.

JR: (laughs) Cool, awesome. Maybe that means that I can get rid of this nuclear reactor I’ve been building in my basement.

J: Yes, you don’t have to build a real one. You can build it in the game.

JR: Awesome, okay. (chuckles) Oh, I’ve got to figure out what to do with the carbon rods… Er, I’ll do that after the interview.

J: Okay.

JR: Anyway, tell us a little bit about how this game works. What do you do in it?

J: Okay. Well, during character creation you create a Mastermind character. There’s some special traits and Qualities. There’s also a collaborative part that I wanted to add in where other people at the table are going to help build your character too. So they’re going to give some insight and make a Quality for your Mastermind.

JR: What kind of input do the other players have?

J: Well, what you’re actually going to do is you’re going to pass your character sheet around the table and they’re going to write something down on it.

JR: Nice, so they write down like qualities that your character has?

J: Yeah, they’re going to write down one Quality. So like either an item or something about them like, you know, if you have one of those Whipley mustaches or a crazy hat or a secret power, I don’t know.  It’s very creative – whatever you want, whatever you can come up with. You put it down.

JR: Very nice.

J: And then you also get to make a Minion character. Minions all belong to a union – Union 1521.

JR: (laughs)

J: And you also get a tool belt, so it’s kind of like Despicable Me, where they’re always pulling something out and they’re like, “I can help you!” (chuckles) So, you get a tool belt item. Then during the game, it’s turn-based, so the first player will start by playing that Mastermind character. And every Mastermind always has a Nemesis, because you wouldn’t be a Mastermind if there weren’t anybody to stop you.

JR: Well, of course.

J: Right? You’d just be like the ruler or whatever. That’s not very much fun. Masterminds have plans, and to take over the world there’s always a three-step plan. Because that’s how Pinky and the Brain did it. It’s just the rulebook of Masterminds. So you have to come up with your three-step plan and try to complete it while your Nemesis tries to stop you. And then the other players at the table will play their Minions. You and the Nemesis are trying to get the Minions to help you and offer them shiny things. You’re like, “Come help me, Minions! I will give you… a gigantic RAY GUN if you help me!” And then the Minions are going to get to vote, because you know they’re part of a union – they can make their own choices. And there’s a quick mechanic and then you see who succeeds – the Mastermind or the Nemesis. And then if the Mastermind succeeds, you get to complete the first step of your plan! And if not… aww, sorry. You can try again on your next turn. It’s quick play. It’s fun. You’re making up crazy ideas on the spot, so you’re trying to pull in all that cartoon watching, all those video games, all those movies that you’ve seen. (chuckles)

JR: I don’t tend to see that level of collaboration – especially with creation of characters – in a lot of games.

J: Mmm-hmm?

JR: Was any of that inspired by any other RPGs that you’ve been playing?

J: I think so. It came from somewhere. I play a lot of like quick, fun RPGs at conventions and stuff…

JR: Uh-huh?

J: And there’s something that… I wanted it to be collaborative. I wanted people to have input. It’s kind of like Fiasco, where you’re picking the different things off the lists and you’re putting it on someone else’s Relationships.

JR: Yeah.

J: So like you’re impacting what’s happening at the table. It’s a lot easier, when you’re trying to come up with ideas, if you get to put it on someone else’s, or there’s always a constant, new group of ideas to look on. Because you get to read what the other people wrote and be like, “Oh, this character! This would be so cool if he had THIS!” Instead of trying to come up with six things for yourself. That’s a lot harder, I think.

JR: Yeah, brainstorming is always easier if you’ve got other folks to sort of bounce ideas off of.

J: Yeah, so you’re all talking and doing silly things and being like, “Aw man, this guy would be so cool if such-and-such…” (chuckles)

JR: Yeah. As a side note, I have made it one of my missions in life to play as much Fiasco as possible…

J: (chuckles) That was definitely an influence on the game.

JR: Yeah, I think that’s very cool. I like the direction that these short-form RPGs are going these days and I think it’s very cool that you’re contributing to that. What is it that sparked your interest, do you think, in evil masterminds, mad scientists, things of that nature?

J: Well, I’ve always loved those movies like Despicable Me, Megamind – they’re probably like my go-to movies – the Incredibles. Anything cartoony, if it’s on TV, like I’ll watch it. So I’m sitting there one day and I’m like, “I wish I had a minion to like do my work, or like do this other stuff. I mean like I REALLY need a minion.” So it’s always just been like a joke, I’ve always been like, “Where’s my minion?! Where is it?!!” And someone’s like, “You should make a game about that.” And I’m like, “I CAN!” You think I’m fun and silly, but really I have this evil, underlying theme to take over the world somehow.

JR: Excellent.

J: And I will start with the gaming community and move on from there. Muahahahahaaa!

JR: (laughing) It’s always the ones you don’t suspect.

J: Exactly. Who would expect me? I like pandas and tacos.

JR: Of course. And actually that very neatly folds into another thing that I wanted to ask about. And that is that the title of the game is Project Ninja Panda Taco. I take it you have a deep interest in these three things in particular?

J: Well it turns out that I needed a code name. I didn’t know what I wanted to name the game. And I was like, “Project X! Okay, I like ninjas. Let’s look up Project Ninja on the Internet.” And I was like, “Aaah, there’s already one of those.” I was like, “I like Pandas! Project Panda.” And of course the Internet already has that. And then I was like, “Project Taco! No one has to have this!” And apparently there’s like ten sites that have it.

Project Ninja Panda TacoJR: CURSE YOU, INTERNET!!

J: I’m like, “Damn it! Damn you, SEO!!” So I was like, “Yeah, well if I put them ALL together what does the Internet say?” And there’s nothing on the Internet that has all three of them together. (chuckles) So that was the name. And then actually it turns out the more I played around with the development of the game- If you do complete your three-step plan, it’s going to be called Project Blank Blank Blank. So you’re filling in the blanks during your turn. So you might only complete one step of your plan – so you might only have Project Ninja. But these are going to be different words during YOUR game. So it kind of makes sense.  And it also evokes a funny, zany feel like when you say it you’re like, “What’s that? That sounds like a lot of fun!” And that’s the feeling that I want to bring out when you play the game, when you think about it.

JR: I actually like the aspect where you can combine these three disparate things…

J: Mm-hmm.

JR: …to go forth with your evil plan. So something else that’s very interesting about this project – or something that I find interesting at any rate – is that you are Kickstarting it. How did you first get into Kickstarter?

J: I’ve backed a lot of projects that other people have done. I knew that if I wanted to publish this I wanted it to look a certain way. I wanted it to be full-color, hardcover, gorgeous. And art isn’t cheap. Editing isn’t cheap. Layout isn’t cheap. I mean, you CAN do it, but this was what I wanted to do. So this is my personal goal. And the more I looked into it – and like what would be the best way to publish it, to print it, who to get – I needed the capital somewhere and I don’t have that. (chuckles) My dogs eat everything. (chuckles)

JR: D’oh!

J: I need to raise the funds somehow and so Kickstarter seemed like the best way. It’s not just the game design of it, it’s the business aspect of everything. You have to plan everything out – what pledge items are you going to get? What about taxes? Creating your own business? There’s a whole bunch of stuff. I’ve learned a whole myriad of things going through this whole process, but Kickstarter was the way I wanted to go. I kind of knew that from the beginning, as I was like, “Oh what if I did this and this? And then I could do THIS!!” Which is really BAD.

JR: (laughs)

J: And I love to shop, so the whole shopping thing comes into it. I’m like, “Oh! Oh! And I can have… oh!!” (laughs)

JR: I know, Kickstarter is kind of addictive, actually. I’ve thrown… usually it’s like a dollar or two to quite a few projects. It’s a very cool phenomenon. The thing that I really like about it is you do get a kind of almost a community feeling when you’re contributing to these things.

J: Yeah, because you want to see things succeed. I would like mine to succeed. Hint hint.

JR: (chuckles)

J: But seriously, I like seeing other people’s projects out there and finding out about them through Twitter. I’ll see somebody retweet something, I’ll be like, “Oh! What is that?” and I’ll go check it out. And it might not be part of the indie gaming community. It might be something completely different. And seeing what else is going on in Kickstarter, I like clicking around now and it’s dangerous but… there’s a lot of awesome projects out there.

JR: It is dangerous, but the rewards are good as well.

J: I know. I just backed a project for Magic: the Gathering. They’re doing the card sleeves, and so you get custom card sleeves. So I’m like, “Aaugh! I can have Jennisodes Magic card sleeves.”

JR: Good lord.

J: (laughs)Like my own little set. I’m like, “I need these!”

JR: I don’t know if one person should have that much power. (laughs)

J: And you get a mat and like, the box… Oh, yeah. When you give me accessories, game over!

JR: I think that, yeah, accessories might be part of the means by which you take over this planet. And speaking of accessories, what kinds of stuff will people be able to get if they go in and pledge?

J: Yeah, well we added a couple new pledge levels so that people can get all the cool stuff. Of course there’s going to be the PDF and the full-color hardcover book – it’ll look GORGEOUS. All this art with Brian Patterson from d20monkey. He’s done a lot of stuff so far within the video and the pictures on the Kickstarter, so it’s gorgeous.

JR: I really liked the art up there. It was really good.

J: Yeah. I saw his artwork and I’m like, “That. That’s what I want. I want THAT. In my book. Now.”

JR: Very cool, very cool. (chuckles)

J: So you’ll also be getting… We just put up a thing for a custom bumper sticker, so he’s already done some art for that. So you can stick it anywhere – on your car… on your butt… on a book… y’know, things that start with B…

JR: Ah yeah, so that’s where you start and you work your way through the alphabet, presumably.

J: Yeah! And then you also… they’re also going to have like T-shirts and then a custom dice bag with custom FUDGE dice and tokens.

JR: Nice.

J: So you get the voting tokens and some Mastermind pins and Minion name tags. And you can name a Mastermind and Minion in the text. And then if people pledge for the highest level, I’m going to host a party for you at GenCon and run the game for you.

JR: Very cool.

J: There’s like a special edition T-shirt, and… Yeah, and then there’s a League of Masterminds where you get a custom Mastermind portrait done by Brian Patterson.

JR: Nice. I know there’s got to be someone out there who would see that and go, “I must have it!” (laughs)

J: Some people have, which is amazing. So I can’t wait to talk to them and see what Brian comes up with.

JR: Well now, this is not the only thing that you have on your plate at the moment…

J: (chuckles) I know! Why would I do one thing when I can do three?

JR: (chuckles) Exactly. So, tell us a little bit about this Lamentations of the Flame Princess project you’re working on.

J: Yeah, right now there’s a big crowdfunding campaign going on on Indiegogo with 19 adventures. So each one is a separate Indiegogo campaign, which is crazy. The creator of Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Jim Raggi, came up with this idea. He wanted to get more adventures out for this game, so he got in a WHOLE bunch of writers like Monte Cook, Vincent Baker, myself, the lead person from Gwar

JR: Wow.

J: …a whole bunch of guys from Finland and overseas. It’s crazy awesome and everybody has these amazing ideas – a lot of people that you might have never heard of, too. So it’s a great way to find out more about the gaming community around the world. And not only am I writing one of them if it gets funded, but I’m doing interviews with each of the writers. That’s going to come out during the month of July on the Jennisodes podcast.

JR: Very cool, excellent.

J: Good people – that’s 16 special episodes, just for you!!

Jenn from the JennisodesJR: (laughs) I have to say it has been a pleasure talking about all this.

J: Yes!

JR: And I am looking forward to seeing where things go. Now, for the Lamentations project, if people wanted to go online and look for that, where would they go?

J: They would go to the Indiegogo web site.

JR: Okay, so they just go to Indiegogo and they just do a search for Lamentations of the Flame Princess?

J: Yep, or my name. And you can also find it on the Lamentations of the Flame Princess blog, which I’ll give you the link to.

JR: Okay, excellent. That link will appear embedded in this interview, for anyone who’s looking at this on the blog rather than just listening to it. If you’re listening to it, then you must go to the blog – – and go and seek out the link. It’s like a treasure hunt!

J: Yes!

(Jenn’s LotFP project can be found HERE and links to all 19 of those projects can be found HERE.)

JR: And then if folks want to find your Kickstarter project, what’s the best place to go for that?

J: You can search for it through or you can check out the web site and that’ll give you the link and direct you right there. And then later on when the game gets published – fingers crossed! – all the downloadable stuff, like the character sheets and any more information will be based at that web site.

JR: Awesome! And of course you have your podcast, the Jennisodes.

J: Yep.

JR: And if folks want to check that out, where do they go?


JR: Excellent. I urge everybody to check that out. Jenn, thank you very much for talking to us. It’s been a pleasure.

J: Thank you so much for having me on.


Music by Kevin MacLeod

And Now an Interview with Eloy Lasanta

May 18, 2011 Leave a comment

(The audio of this interview is available at the bottom of this post!)

JR: I am tThird Eye Gamesalking to Eloy Lasanta of Third Eye Games and we’re going to be talking about his game Part-Time Gods. Welcome, sir!

EL: Hello everyone!

JR: First off, for anyone who might not be familiar, tell us a little bit about the game Part-Time Gods.

EL: The game Part-Time Gods is where you play characters who are just regular people who have been imbued with the powers of gods. And you are given this huge amount of divine responsibility that you then must go and enact. And there’s a certain amount of juggling that has to be done – as in, you have to juggle your real life versus your divine responsibilities, and going and trying to obtain power is actually the same thing as leaving your mortal life behind. And it’s a fun kind of balancing game that Part-Time Gods has become.

JR: Let’s talk a little bit about the Source. What’s that?

EL: The Source – oh, the Source is the entity within the setting that has released the energy that then produces what a god actually is. Way back in the day the gods actually sealed it away and found a way to kind of siphon its power and it has now recently erupted again and it’s trying to escape. And that’s why now, in the game, there’s a big surge of a lot more gods popping up in the modern day – very suddenly, and it’s because the Source is trying to come back. So you might just be walking down the street – all of a sudden, you get hit with this immense power and you find out that you’re the God of Sidewalks or whatever. And then all of a sudden you have this giant Cyclops coming after you at that point and it’s like, “Wait! What’s going on here?!” And it’s very much about that. It’s very much about a regular person – what if a regular person was put in these types of situations?

JR: So I guess the primary conflict… well, it’s that you have two different layers of conflict, which – let’s talk about that a second. I find that very interesting that you’ve got both the supernatural conflicts and then the mundane conflicts that you have to deal with. I’m curious how you weave that together in the game.

EL: Well, very… very awesomely, I’d like to think.

JR: It sounds it!

EL: (chuckles) The divine conflicts are mostly between the gods, themselves. So a lot of it is god-on-god. You and your other people in your group – they are the pantheon that rules that area. And a lot of the game is contingent upon the pantheon getting along, maybe doing things to countermand each other – kind of like how gods used to be back in the day. Also other gods coming in to try and take your territory or even if you and your group want to go and try and expand into other gods’ territory, you can do that as well. But the way that the game works and how it kind of interweaves the mundane and the divine is you create what are called Bonds during character creation for your character. And these are the things in their life that link them to their humanity, which link them to being a regular person. And as these things come under fire or get damaged, they then start to take on some of the worst aspects of humanity, basically. And then they start to kind of drift away from being a regular person and more into becoming a god. The reason for this is because it’s more to reflect kind of what the gods of myth all kind of represent. You know, and it was Hera – at one time – was a very motherly deity.

JR: Yeah.

EL: And then she was consumed with jealousy and hatred and all of these things, and these are very real things that can happen to your character – where, you know, it’s no longer the love of your wife that starts to motivate you, it’s the hatred for this thing. And it starts to become a balance of you becoming less caring about the things that a human would care about.

JR: How do you set up the mechanics in a game like this? What are the mechanics like?

EL: The mechanics for this game actually follow the DGS Lite, which is a slightly lighter version than the classic DGS – Dynamic Gaming System – which I created for my other two games, Apocalypse Prevention, Inc. and Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade. And this one is broken down a little bit more, but just like the classic DGS it only uses a single d20 and it uses difficulties from 10, 20, 30 and up to 40. And you can go higher as you get more and more powerful but 40 is usually about the max that a starting character can actually get to. It’s a simple – roll a d20, add your attributes plus skills plus applicable modifiers and see what you roll and then see what happens. It works really nicely and the playtests for Part-Time Gods have come back and everybody’s very happy with the results so far.

JR: Okay, that’s very cool. And part of what I guess I was wondering when you were talking about that was if there was any sort of mechanic that had been put in there specifically to represent that whole balancing act.

EL: You know, when you get your Bonds, you have to have actually built them and they get numbers to represent the strength of the Bond. And these numbers are counterbalanced with the strength of your divine Spark. And the more powerful that your Spark becomes, you’ll eventually have to start giving up some of your Bonds or weakening the ones that you have.

JR: That is very cool. I really like that idea because it’s just so often that you see in RPGs where people seem to have superpowers of some kind with absolutely no consequences for wielding them.

EL: Exactly.

JR: That is very good. So where did you get the idea for this game?

EL: It came from me watching a TV show called Dead Like Me, and I was watching the show I mean, like, “You know, that would be really interesting. What if it wasn’t just grim reapers? What if they were just a collection of gods? What if they were a pantheon who sat in a coffee shop just talking about baseball? It kind of became the idea of these very mundane things where basically being a god isn’t what it’s really cracked up to be.

JR: Yeah.

EL: Being a god is actually more of a hassle than, you know, “I’m a divine person and I ought to go on mythic quests!” No, sometimes it’s like, “You know what, I really would just like to go home and eat dinner with my wife but I can’t do that because I have to go get this goblet from the Fire.”

JR: (laugs) “Sorry, I’m going to be late for dinner, honey. I’m fighting Titans this evening.”

EL: Exactly. That’s kind of where the humor of the game also comes out. Anything that I write has to have at least a little bit of humor. I don’t have it in me to write a completely serious thing. So yeah, it has to have a little bit of humor and that’s kind of the tone that Part-Time Gods is taking.

JR: There have been one or two other games that try to do something similar – I believe Scion is one of the bigger ones – and so the question would be what really separates Part-Time Gods from something like that?

EL: When you play Scion, first of all the power levels get ridiculously wonky as soon as you are not like a starting character. And so, I mean, there’s that. Part-Time GodsThe whole thing about Scion was you aren’t really a regular person. You’re the child of a god and you have to go and you fight things that are just destroying everything and you are super-powerful and you eventually become a god yourself and travel and will join the pantheon and stuff. And Part-Time Gods actually leaves a lot of what you would expect from a quote-unquote “god game” behind and I’m trying to really kind of take a new angle at it. The other game that tried this was Nobilis, but then Nobilis is more of a – like you are a concept. Like you’re not a God of Death, you ARE Death. You’re not a God of Enlightenment, you ARE Enlightenment. And that’s why there’s no dice and whatever.

JR: More sort of anthropomorphic personifications rather than gods.

EL: Yeah, yeah. Like it gets kind of weird. And what I tried to do is I read up on both of the games and I’m trying to hit a nice balance between the two. When I say that you can be the god of fill-in-the-blank, you really can.

JR: Whenever I actually get around to playing this game I now have a terrible urge to play the God of Fill-In-the-Blank.

EL: “I am the God of Mad Libs!”

JR: Yes! “I can take any concept and replace it with another concept!”

EL: You know, if I was actually going to be the God of Mad Libs I would just make it sound like you’re saying ridiculous things.

JR: Yes, exactly!

EL: And you have no clue you’re saying it, but everyone else is hearing you saying ridiculous things.

JR: That would be so cool.

EL: It would be hilarious. I try and gear people away from that sort of thing when in the character creation (chuckles).

JR: (chuckles)

EL: You know, there really should not be a Goddess of Cheese or Jeff, the God of Tacos. There really shouldn’t be these types of things. Gods should be like big, mythic, flashy things. You know, like you really don’t need a God of Sidewalks.

JR: Well, the sidewalks aren’t going to go on existing by themselves, are they?!

EL: I mean it’s gonna happen, but I’m just saying… (chuckles)

JR: (laughs)

EL: I try to give people a way…

JR: Doing what tiny amount of damage control you can get in at this point?

EL: Exactly. I also give tons of examples so I try to cover all my bases and – giving lots and lots of examples of different things that you can do with the power sets and stuff like that. So, I’m hoping it goes off well.

JR: One of the interesting things about this project is the way that you’re funding it. You actually have set up a Kickstarter campaign for it. So what led you to decide you wanted to do that?

EL: You know, I actually hadn’t heard about Kickstarter until a friend of mine actually mentioned it and they said, “I saw this kickstarter for Do.” And I’m like, “What’s a kickstarter?” So, they sent me a link to this game called Do and it’s pretty cool, and I went ahead and contributed to that and I started thinking about what I could do. And I like the setup. It reminds me of back in the day when the kings would become a patron to an artist and would take an artist under their wing and pay their room and board and make sure that they had all the materials they had and everything. Then like the king gets to say, “I found this artist and look at all of the wonderful things that I have allowed him to do!” It kind of reminds me of that, only instead of a nobleman, it’s all of the fans. All of the fans get to let me make a game for them. It’s a really fun concept and a fun way of approaching it versus the, “I’m going to release a game and I hope people like it.” You know, it’s more of a, “Hey, here’s what I’m doing! If you are interested in this type of thing, preorder.” Because basically I’m using it as a preorder but I’m also giving lots of incentives, T-shirts, stuff like that. Trying to make sure that anybody who does give to the kickstarter is gonna get their money’s worth for helping up front.

JR: It’s an interesting thing because you feel kind of like you’re a part of the project…

EL: Yeah!

JR: …when you contribute to it.

EL: And I’ve even gone through and I’ve started taking some chances on a couple of smaller projects to see if they go through. You know, and that’s kind of the thing, is – Kickstarter isn’t guaranteed. If you don’t make enough money then…

JR: Yeah.

EL: …it all kind of falls through and then whatever. But if you hit your goal, then it’s awesome!

JR: As of this recording, you’ve still got a bit over a month left if anyone wants to go on and contribute to this project. I think it’s really cool and I’m looking forward to playing it – I really want to play this game. So I really encourage folks to do that. Before we sign off here and we give information for people who want to go and check that out, is there anything else that you’ve got going on you want to give any quick little plugs for?

EL: Yeah, most definitely! The newest sourcebook for Wu Xing: the Ninja Crusade, my second game line of warring clans of ninja, just dropped its first sourcebook and it already has a 10 out of 10 review. So if you guys are waiting for a review, it’s got a perfect review on RPGnet so yay! Just got that today – so happy about that. And the newest sourcebook for Apocalypse Prevention, Inc., which is Demon Codex: Spectrals just dropped a couple of months ago. And it’s getting also very good reviews, so if you’re a fan of Apocalypse Prevention, Inc., don’t forget to go get that thing.

JR: Cool, awesome. I actually have some friends in a gaming group that I think are wanting to try out API sometime soon, so there may be more of that happening.

EL: (chuckles) Well, and we’rEloy Lasantae also working on an API: Savage Worlds Edition.

JR: Oh, cool!

EL: …which I’m really, really hoping that I can get out by GenCon. I’m REALLY, really hoping that we can. (chuckles) It’s hitting all of its playtest marks so it’s looking like there should be no issue, however it COULD not make it, but I’m really, really hoping it does.

JR: Nice! Me too, that sounds great. Savage Worlds obviously being a system I’m a lot more familiar with, so… (chuckles) That always makes me happy.

EL: Savage Worlds is a setting that I kind of fell in love with from the first time that I played it. And you know it has a different flavor from the Dynamic Gaming System that I designed, but both are really fun ways to play. So, API: Savage Worlds Edition – we’ve been working really hard to make sure that it keeps the feel that the DGS has, but reflecting in Savage Worlds rules and it’s coming along VERY nicely.

JR: Yeah, Savage Worlds is moldable enough that you can do a lot of different things with it.

EL: Most definitely.

JR: So that’s always very cool that that’s working out. So if anyone wanted to go online to find you or your site or the Part-Time Gods project, where would they go?

EL: Well, the Part-Time Gods project is primarily on Kickstarter. If you just go to search and hit “part time” it’s gonna come up, it’s gonna be the first one. Our web site is I also have a blog and that’s

JR: Excellent. Well, I urge everyone out there to go and check it out. And thanks very much for coming and talking to me. I appreciate it!

EL: Thanks, Jim.

Click below to hear the interview:


Music by Kevin MacLeod

I Can Quit Whenever I Want

March 6, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been playing a ridiculous amount of World of Warcraft lately.

I’m sure if a cyber-cop pulled me over on the Information Superhighway and gave me a virtual breathalyzer test I’d be several points over the legal WoW limit.

Why am I so captivated?  What is it about this game that’s got me wondering if I need to join a 12-step program?

My troll fighter Gorbirian, who enjoys knocking back and fishing when the mood strikes him.

Is it the Immersion?

Have I begun to slip heedlessly into a fantasy world and lost all sense of reality?  Nah, probably not.  I’m more of what one would call a “casual gamer.”  I understand the fear of entering a game world and feeling as though one is more a part of it than one’s own life.  That’s often the kind of problem one sees in science fiction stories about people entering virtual reality and losing all sense of self.  But the truth of the matter is that World of Warcraft is pretty cool, but the Matrix it’s not.  Heck, even the Matrix MMO wasn’t.  Besides, I don’t have all that much of a sense of reality to lose in the first place.

Is it the Simplicity?

World of Warcraft is very easy to play.  The controls are easy to learn.  There’s very little in the way of resource management (aside from how much space you have in the bags you carry around to stuff quest items, fishing poles, alchemy bottles and magical pairs of pants into).  You receive instructions, get pointed in a direction and usually go off to either kill things or pick things up off the ground – sometimes both.  Not a lot of thought is required.  If you want to interact with other players, you can, but recent updates to the game mean that you don’t really have to socialize if you’d rather go solo.  I must admit that the game’s convenience factor is a pretty big deal.  The fact that I don’t have to devote a lot of time to it means that I end up… devoting a lot of time to it.

Azeroth in 2011. Is there an island or two missing, do you think…?

Is it the Potential?

One of the major draws for me with games like World of Warcraft is not what you can do with it, but what you COULD do with it.  Azeroth is a huge, new, shiny, undiscovered world (okay, maybe a bit less shiny since the Cataclysm) and I haven’t visited every single corner of it yet.  I’m one of those obsessive bastards who tries to see ALL of a game’s available content.  Some of it – like, say, any given dungeon – requires you to team up with other players, which is something I don’t usually have a lot of time for, but I still feel a need to keep quests involving said content on my to-do list.  Even though it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever get to them.  If you add to that the fact that they’re regularly updating the game with MORE shiny, new things, you can see that this game may be holding my attention for a very long time.

Is it the Adventure Gaminess?

Back in the crazy, carefree days of the 1980’s, we had these things called “adventure games.”  Among my favorites were the games in the Quest For Glory series.  These were games in which you had a character with RPG-like stats and the freedom to have him wander around, fight monsters and explore different plot threads.  The developers at one time had an idea to make it into an online game, but that plan never came to fruition.  World of Warcraft seems, to me, to be the closest thing to what they had been hoping to do.  So maybe I play it as a way of trying to recapture my youth – which I’m told is much safer and cheaper than the usual method of buying a muscle car and treating every road as though it’s the Daytona Speedway.

But, anyway…

My gnomish wizard, Map. He’s currently working on a degree in Engineering.

I think that if I try to be brutally honest with myself, World of Warcraft – or any other MMO, for that matter – is, more than anything, an excuse to listen to a bunch of podcasts.  I like the game music and only listened to it while playing at first, but as soon as I got comfortable enough with the game that it didn’t require my full concentration, I started playing podcasts in the background instead.  MMOs and podcasts can make an awesome combination.  I’ve already blogged about my deep podcast affliction, so I won’t go into detail about it here.  But I think it’s interesting that I’ve essentially got two addictions that feed into each other.  If one desperate need wanes, the other will always be there to drag me back to my plush Obsession Suite in the Junkie Hotel overlooking Dependence City.  Lucky me.

All kidding aside, though, I’ve gone several months at a time without playing WoW, and if my schedule requires it, I’ll go cold turkey once again.  I’ve done it voluntarily before – most recently when I hit a point in the game at which I felt I couldn’t progress further on my own and decided to just park my characters in a corner and wait for the Cataclysm.  And, lo and behold, when the Cataclysm happened, there was enough new content to pull me back in.  I’m not sure what it says about me that it takes a near-apocalypse to garner my interest these days, but that’s another topic entirely.

To return to somewhere in the general vicinity of the point, I’m sure that what with all the various things I’ve got going on my life, sooner or later I’ll need to take another break from WoW.  It will be a sad day indeed but I’ll find some way to survive.  After all, there’s always City of Heroes.

Click below if you’d like to hear me read the article:


Music by Kevin MacLeod

And Now an Interview with Joel Kinstle

September 1, 2010 1 comment

(The audio of this interview is available at the bottom of this post!)

When I went to ConCarolinas this year I got a chance to sit down and talk to Joel Kinstle, VP of Pinnacle Entertainment Group, the makers of Deadlands and Savage Worlds.  The interview was for one of the shows I do on War Pig Radio and we talked mostly about the Savage Worlds Showdown rules – and tapioca!  Here’s the interview in full.

JR: I’m here at ConCarolinas and I’m talking to Joel Kinstle, who is Vice President of Pinnacle Entertainment Group!

JK: Well hello, folks!

JR: Greetings, sir!  And the specific thing that I wanted to talk about today is the Showdown rules, skirmish rules for Savage Worlds, because I don’t think that gets very much attention.

JK: Well that’s kind of sad.  They’re actually very nice rules and, special bonus: they’re free!

JR: Yeah, that’s always the really awesome thing.  You guys are giving things away left and right.  It’s like, every time I go to the web site, they’re giving away more stuff and I’m like, “I hope they can stay in business!” (laughs)

JK: That’s because we love our fans so much and are such foolish business people that we’re desperate for milk for our children.  All donations are welcome!

JR: (laughs) Awesome.  Just for those who may not be familiar, how do the skirmish rules differ from the regular RPG rules in general?

JK: The skirmish rules differ from the regular RPG rules in general in that they focus pretty much on the mechanical aspects and tabletop use.  All the Hindrances and most of the social Edges that you might run across tend to be washed out or transmuted into something that would apply on the tabletop.  Some of the Edges that tend toward being social or like a quirk that may be in how you play a character get defined mechanically in a way that you can repeat on a tabletop setting.  That doesn’t really make for a good role playing experience, but the role playing experience does not translate at all directly to a pure minis game.

JR: How many different Showdown settings do you have out right now?

JK: The Showdown rules, themselves, the 2.0 version, are somewhat recent.  Probably out for about five months or so…?

JR: Okay.

JK: But, my brain’s something like tapioca, so you’re gonna have to take that with a… well, grain of tapioca.

JR: I know the feeling.

JK: (chuckles) But, what we have out right now for them is… we have a couple of scenarios that are not really so much setting-specific on the web.  We have Raid on Fort 51, which is a Deadlands-specific scenario.  It’s really more of a mini-campaign.  It’s a series of engagements that things change for one engagement based on what happened in the prior engagement, and the force makes changes a little bit as the story unfolds and that’s a product for sale on the web site.  We’ve got a Weird War II scenario that will be coming out on the web site hopefully soon.  I’m not sure what will be the next piece out but it can be easily suited to any of the settings.  If you could’ve played it in Savage Worlds, you can play it with Savage Showdown.

JR: That’s cool.  Now, I remember Rippers started as a Showdown setting, didn’t it?

JK: Well, for the history of Showdown – for those folks who remember The Great Rail Wars, which was the minis version of Deadlands – Deadlands Classic – that was the game that’s kind of turned into the Savage Worlds game itself.

JR: Yeah.

JK: And so, distilling it back down to minis only wasn’t so tough since a lot of that had really already been done.  But with prior rules and trying to get everything balanced out there was still some work to do to it.  So, the minis game that came of Deadlands Classic turned into Savage Worlds, which produced, of course, Deadlands: Reloaded. (chuckles) So really, it’s all very much related.  There’s a lot of similarities amongst it all.  Rippers: The Horror Wars was sort of a Great Rail Wars or Showdown-ification of the Rippers setting.  There’s nothing out there right now for Showdown 2.0 that is in the Rippers setting, but that’s a setting that’s rife with stuff that can be turned into Showdown.

JR: Well, it seems to me that virtually any setting, because of how simple Savage Worlds is… and by simple I mean easy to play with!

JK: I know what you mean!

JR: (chuckles) It seems to me that any setting – any of your settings could easily be converted over to a Showdown setting.

JK: Oh, they really could.  But what you don’t tend to have is a lot of the social, discussion, investigation.  Because at that point you’ve turned it into a me-versus-you or us-versus-them fight game.  Which I’m not about to say is a bad idea!  There’s a lot to be said for sitting down and going, “You know, that boy needs to die.”  And putting him down.  There’s a LOT to be said.

JR: Well yeah, sometimes you’ve just gotta go bust some heads.  But, er… I know that there was probably another question in there… floating around in my melon and I… have to now fish for it…

JK: You may borrow some of my tapioca. (chuckles)

JR: Ah, thank you!  I appreciate it!  Mmm… delicious Brain Tapioca… (chuckles)

JK: For the younger folks out there, tapioca used to be a form of pudding that only old people like me and my father ate.

JR: (laughs) I remember tapioca!  We used to have that served to us in my grade school cafeteria, and that’s probably…  I’m going to try to blame the fact that I can’t remember my next question on the fact that I was served tapioca as a child somehow…

JK: I will admit that I’m wandering very far afield here, but when I was in elementary school our lunch ladies tended to like to make homemade chocolate pudding, which was great!  The pudding was excellent.  But they really did make homemade-cooked pudding, so they would always end up with this not quite inch-thick layer of skin on the top that they would pull off, cut into squares and give to children who wanted it.  And there were FIGHTS for that stuff, man.

JR: Wow.

JK: There is no accounting for the taste of children.  But since I never had it, in full fairness I can’t claim it was horrible.

JR: (groans) I can’t imagine – just the…  They get into fights over pudding skin in a school cafeteria… I think…

JK: I grew up in a rural area. (chuckles)

JR: Well, you know that actually…  You’re talk about kids getting into fights in a school cafeteria over pudding skins.  That… You may be coming up right now with a possible new Showdown setting.

JK: That could EASILY be a Showdown scenario!  Special bonus points if you dunk the nerdy kid straight head-first into the pot.

JR: That would be great! (laughs) Well, let’s see…  Is there anything that you can tell us that we might look for in the future at some point with respect to the Showdown rules?

JK: The Showdown rules are broad and kind of all-inclusive and occasionally when you try and use the building tools to simulate a specific setting very closely, you can run into a few points mismatches.  You can produce something that just seems like, “X seems more powerful than Y, but really, shouldn’t Y cost less, I mean something’s wrong here…”  They’re kind of rare, but when you’re trying to pin something down PRECISELY, if you’ve got that persnickety feel that you know exactly how that setting ought to go, it can go a little bit around it.  And one of the things we’re considering doing is making setting-specific packages for Showdown.  Like, perhaps – and this is pure speculation – perhaps repackaging an actual Great Rail Wars-specific set of Showdown bits.

JR: That would be cool!

JK: Or something like that for some of the other settings.  I would say the ones most prone to having so much combat that you’d want to do that for would be Great Rail Wars and the Weird Wars lines.  What I CAN promise, though, for sure, are more actual Showdown scenarios that’ll be up on the web site and maybe some more freebies for it as well.

JR: Awesome.  Well, believe it or not – perhaps it was the ingestion of tapioca, I don’t know – but my brain has returned to me the question I wanted to ask.

JK: Oh, so we’re getting to the ambush part of the interview, is that it?

JR: Potentially, potentially.

JK: You can’t prove I was there, I tell you!

JR: Ah ha!  I’d like you to look at these photos and tell me your immediate reaction…

JK: Never seen that girl before in my life.

JR: Wait… those are the wrong photos… never mind.  (chuckles) ANYWAY.  Well, one of the questions I wanted to ask is have you had a chance to play the skirmish rules at all at any point?

JK: A little bit.  I’ve honestly not played a whole lot of them myself because when I have gamer buddies handy, they tend to be handy in big “we wanna role play” clumps.  I don’t tend to have the occasional gamer buddy show up and just want to blow stuff up.

JR: Ahhh.

JK: If they’re mad, they just want to blow stuff up, they don’t come looking to me. (laughs) I’m not sure exactly what that says but it tends to be true.

JR: (laughs) Well, you know, yeah…  I was gonna ask what you think your favorite setting might be for use with the Showdown rules?

JK: My favorite setting…  One thing I’d really like to see done in Showdown rules which I think would be very nifty – and now that you’ve brought it up I think I may have to set somebody to it – is some material for Sticks and Stones.  Sticks and Stones had come out as a minis game a long time ago and we’ve reproduced it in a different format.  Last year it came out as a card game.  The actual role playing game is in the works.  So, yes, I’m sure somebody out there will have an “Ooga Booga” stat, but… (chuckles) or perhaps it’s a skill, I’m not quite sure.  It’s not finished yet.  But having some scenarios for Sticks and Stones I think would be a lot of fun.

JR: I’d love to see that.  That would be great.  If people want to come and find your products and they’re roving about online, where do they go?

JK: They would go to the Pinnacle home page, which is

JR: Thanks very much!

JK: Any time, happy to help.

Click below if you’d like to hear the interview:


Music by Dave Girtman

And Now a Look at Mad Scientist University

December 1, 2009 8 comments

What with Christmahannukwanzaayuladanivus coming up, people have begun scrambling about like ants in a recently-stomped sandbox searching for original-looking gifts to buy.  As it happens, I have a suggestion on that front.

Not too long ago I got the opportunity to try out a very interesting game called Mad Scientist University.  It’s been available from Atlas Games for a couple of years now, but with the influx of independent card games we’ve been seeing lately, many folks might have lost it in the shuffle.

I think one of the most interesting things about it is that even though cards are used, it’s NOT actually a card game.  This is more of what we’d call a storytelling game.  As the name implies, players each take the role of a student at a university full of mad scientists.  Three to seven people sit and take turns as the Teacher’s Assistant (or TA), handing out a card to each other player.  Each of those cards has a single Unstable Element listed on it such as Mud, Kitty Litter or a Rubber Chicken.  The TA then reveals the randomly selected Insane Assignment, which can be anything from winning an election to mapping a black hole.  Each player must then come up with an explanation of how they can use their Unstable Element to complete the Assignment.  Whoever the TA decides has the best plan gets awarded an Insane Assignment card.  Then another player becomes the TA and another turn is begun.  Play continues for at least three rounds, at the end of which whoever has collected the most Insane Assignment cards is declared the winner – and has thus beaten their fellow mad scientists to the top of the class!

This game was a lot of fun to play.  Of course, being an incorrigible ham probably helped me out a great deal with that.  Taking on the role of a megalomaniacal college student is not for the easily stumped or embarrassed!  Thankfully, I myself have very little in the way of shame.

I very much like the way in which the game promotes the idea of the players throwing themselves into their roles, the TA in particular, who’s encouraged in the text of the rules to behave as an insane demagogue!  You certainly don’t see THAT in every rules document.  The rules are also presented quickly and simply, on the underside of the game box – which is pretty small and easily portable; after all, the only things you need to carry are the cards.  This means you can pretty much just read the rules and get going without having to deal with much of a learning curve.

I can see this game working pretty well as a gateway to get friends and family members interested in new and different kinds of games, though it helps if they’re inclined toward the Weird to begin with. There’s also an expansion planned called Spring Break that looks like it’ll bring in some new and interesting twists.

When my friends and I played this game, we had a very good time with it, though you should keep in mind that the more players you have, the longer the game will take.  In our second game we were at the upper limit of seven players and I found that quite a few folks were about ready to move on to something else by the time we got into the second round.  I should point out, however, that we were all veterans of RPGs and were rather specific and grandiose in our descriptions.  There was also beer involved – though, granted, a few of the players said the beer enhanced the experience for them rather than detracting from it.

All in all, the only problem I really have with this game is that the suggested retail price of $24.95 is a little bit steep.  However, that said, I still recommend it as something you may want to look into picking up this holiday season.  With the massive number of games out on the market, finding one that stands out AND that encourages the use of the imagination can be a real challenge, and Mad Scientist University does both in spades.

Click below if you’d like to hear me read the article:


Music by Kevin MacLeod

The Confession of a Talismaniac

November 20, 2009 Leave a comment

I discovered the board game Talisman back in the 90’s, when it was just coming out with its 3rd edition. I had a bunch of friends – henceforth known as “pushers” – who initiated me into the ways of that game with its 2nd edition. We only played once or twice but that was enough to engender a deep and sometimes disturbing addiction.

I eventually got a hold of the 3rd Edition of Talisman, which most of my friends had never seen before. It wasn’t long before we were having regular games of it over at my house once a week – sometimes more often than that. We couldn’t get enough of it. It was like a drug that had grabbed hold of our brains and wouldn’t let go.

Two of the things that made this game so horrifyingly addictive – and still do – are that 1) it’s easy to learn and 2) it has expansions. The game is very accessible and appears to have infinite potential right from the start! For someone like me, that kind of game is nigh-impossible to resist. That’s especially true when you consider its D&D-like fantasy setting and the fact that you’re all playing characters who you can choose to move in any available direction when you roll the die and whose stats you’re trying to improve enough to make it to the final challenge at the center of the board. All qualities that sucked me in like a tornado.

And then of course you have the expansions – separate boards you can enter, whenever you like, to fight different kinds of monsters and earn rewards that help boost your stats in different ways. When the 3rd Edition came out they started making those expansions L-shaped so that they could fit together with the main board – with the exception of a 3-dimensional tower that you could put at the board’s center. That little innovation only served to make the game look that much cooler and, naturally, that much more addictive.

Now, in reality, while the game IS very replayable, after you’ve played a few times you pretty much know what’s going to happen. The players are going to try to build themselves up as fast as they can. The process will inevitably take at least a few hours and will continue until one of the players calculates he or she can’t possibly lose and decides to charge to the center and end the game.

I’ve just described almost every Talisman game I’ve ever played.

Of course, by the time my friends and I discovered that little fact, the game already had its hooks in us, and knowledge of the endless cycle we were now facing didn’t really matter. We still played in marathons that seemed to last days on end as late nights would bleed into early mornings. Then we discovered Drinking Talisman, and it was all downhill from there.

There were no real rules for Drinking Talisman – not the version we came up with, anyway. We’d take a drink whenever somebody won a combat… or was turned into a toad… or crossed into a different region… or pretty much whenever we felt like it. We would all begin chanting “TOAD! TOAD! TOAD!” whenever someone was possibly about to be Toaded – a chant that would only become louder and more elaborate the more inebriated we were. One night after nursing a particularly large bottle of Scotch for a while I started going and lying down in the next room between turns and, despite my drunken stupor, always managed somehow to figure out when it was time to come back and sit down to take my next turn. I’m told that, disturbingly, the only thing different about me on each occasion was that my hair had become wilder and more chaotic every time I returned to the table.

2nd Edition Talisman in play. Photo by Wikipedia contributor “Frecklefoot.”

This kind of addiction doesn’t seem to fade. Even though I’ve moved twice – and the game has gone out of print twice – since falling prey to it, I’ve continued to play whenever I can convince my friends to do so. I still wander around online every now and then looking for fan-made add-ons to the game (I highly recommend the Talisman Island site for that, by the way). I try going cold turkey every now and then, but sooner or later I always find myself breaking out the game board in a cold sweat and caressing it lovingly until I can rope someone into playing. There is no hope for me.

The game is now in a revision of its 4th Edition and is currently available from Fantasy Flight Games. I have the original 4th Edition, but I haven’t had a chance to buy anything for the revised version as of yet. Fantasy Flight has already put out three expansions for it and there may be more on the horizon. As you can imagine, I’m chomping at the bit to get a hold of them. Especially if the revisions help with some of the afore-mentioned predictability issues I’ve come to know and loathe over the years.
In the mean time I’ll continue applying house rules and fan material as needed. And alcohol, when desired.

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A Quick Announcement… and a Retraction

October 29, 2009 1 comment

Hey, folks!

Just in case anyone might still be wondering, no, I was NOT really hacked!  That last blog entry was a promo.  So, no need to worry about that!

Just wanted to record a quick update and let you know that I shall be conspicuously absent for the next few days because I am going to ICC.

What’s ICC?

Why, the International Camarilla Conclave! (Or, in layman’s terms, “the big meeting of all of the people who are in that pretending-to-be-vampires club that I’m in.”)  So, I’m afraid no new journal entries until after this weekend, but just wanted to give you the heads-up on that and record at least a tiny little something so that you know I am, in fact, still around and desire to continue to produce content for ya!

Take care, folks.  See you later!



Looks like some last minute issues came up and it turns out I will not be going after all.

So.  Feel free to ignore everything I just said.

Ha ha ha ha… ha.  Ha.

Right.  As you were!

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The Grinder vs The Showboat in RPGs

October 19, 2009 Leave a comment

Here’s a question that comes up from time to time when I’m playing role-playing games.  Is it better for your character to have a mechanical advantage on its character sheet or to have a non-mechanical advantage gained through role-playing with NPCs and interacting with the plot?

I realize that with a question of that level of complexity the immediate reaction is probably, “Wha… huh?”  So, let’s break this down and analyze it a bit.  There are a couple of types of gamers that personify the extreme end of each option: the Grinder and the Showboat.

1: The Grinder

In the lingo of MMORPG players, a “grinder” is someone who goes out and kills things repeatedly just to get the experience necessary to level up.  This term has mutated a little and drifted over to tabletop, where it refers to a player who’s only interested in gaining more and more of a mechanical and tactical advantage – and often does so by focusing solely on the hack and slash elements of the game.

Grinders can be fun to play with if you’re not taking the game too seriously.  Unfortunately, they can also kill the role playing element by encouraging the rest of the group to focus solely on the game’s tactical or mechanical aspects.  Now, some groups are fine with this.  If you have a group full of Grinders, then there isn’t really a problem.

If the group is a bit more diverse, however, then having one or more Grinders can become more of an issue.  If they just keep going on unchecked without considering the rest of the group, they can hog attention and make the game less fun for everyone else.  Similarly, if the GM or other players crack down too hard on the Grinders in a group, then that means less fun for the Grinders, which isn’t good either.

So when I feel like grinding as a player I try to keep it reined in enough that it won’t stomp all over other players’ fun.  When I’m running a game with a Grinder in it, I try to make sure that there’s enough action to satisfy him or her without it getting too ridiculous for the other players.

2: The Showboat

The term “showboat,” while originally referring to a paddle-wheel steam ship used as a traveling theatre, has also come to mean a person who likes to show off for the sake of attention.  I’m sure anyone who’s played a lot of RPGs has run into their fair share of individuals who like to role-play their characters and are very good at talking.  That’s all well and good and even encouraged in most games, but when they overdo it to the point that they’re showboating, it can become a problem.  I will admit that as a former theatre student, this is a trap I’m a bit more prone to fall into.

Like Grinders, Showboats can draw a lot of attention away from other players if they don’t watch themselves.  Some will deliberately play their characters to the hilt with the express purpose of hijacking the game’s narrative.  That means they can end up taking control of the plot to make their characters more important or to gain advantages that aren’t mechanical but effectively exempt a character from game mechanics the other players still have to deal with.

When I feel like I’m starting to show off too much I try to take it down a notch.  These kinds of players can be tough to keep in line, but the important thing for a GM to remember is to keep paying attention to the other players as well as the Showboat.

Whether you’re dealing with mechanical rewards or story rewards, the key is moderation.

As a GM, I think it’s important to have a good balance of rewards in a game.  Offering both mechanical and story rewards will encourage players to go for both.  Keeping an eye on what aspects of the game each player enjoys and scaling the different elements of the game accordingly will go a long way towards keeping the players happy.

As a player, I think that having mechanical advantages on your character sheet is very helpful – after all, it’s much cooler when your character’s effective – but those advantages always need to line up with the concept you have for the character.  That includes how you’re going to role-play him or her.  Similarly, gaining power, influence or other story-based perks through role-playing is great, but not to the extent that you completely undermine the game’s mechanics.

So which kind of advantage is better?  Neither.  Or both.  It really depends on your playing style, but in my opinion if you try to set a balance between the two, you’ll get a lot more out of the experience – without having to grind OR showboat.

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