This GenCon was a great experience, for a variety of reasons. One of my personal favorite parts of the whole convention, however, was getting to meet so many of our supporters and fans. So many people dropped by the booth to say hello and share their experiences in the games we’ve made with us. It was really fantastic, and we’re grateful to everyone who dropped by to share the love!
For a while, I wrestled with the ways I could handle canon in my home Dragon Age RPG campaign.
Canon, of course, refers to the works of an author or setting that are counted as authentic lore—the books, stories, games, and more that interact officially and are regarded as What Really Happened. For a vast world like Thedas, that exists across multiple media under the Dragon Age banner, canon is both important to track for verisimilitude and sometimes intentionally blurry, imprecise, or even unreliable. At the risk of spoiling certain Dragon Age stories, for example, characters who are declared dead in earlier works may turn out to have stories left to tell in later works. Just because something is canonical doesn’t mean it won’t have twists and surprises.
Green Ronin has a problem. Frankly, it’s no different than any other RPG publisher’s problem: how many copies do we print of any given title?
It’s an old problem. Print too many and we’ll be sitting on the extras for years—either that, or keeping ourselves warm in the winter by burning them. Print too few, and we run out, killing any buzz and the momentum that buzz can generate. Plus, the more copies we print at one time, the cheaper each copy is and the more likely it is we can turn a profit from that book. It’s basic economics, really, but not everyone knows how it works.
This past GenCon in Indianapolis was my 23rd consecutive GenCon (I’ve attended every year since in 1990) and my 24th total; my first GenCon was GenCon/Origins 1988 in Milwaukee when I was 19 years old. This past year at GenCon I was an Industry Insider Guest of Honor for the first time, after more than 15 years of working in the industry. Quite the transition! (Next year will be my Silver Anniversary with GenCon…I should start making plans…)
As a Guest of Honor, much of my GenCon experience this year was all about the seminar tracks, which was fine by me as the seminars were always one of the things I loved about GenCon. I liked shopping, talking with my industry idols, and trying out new games, but attending seminars has always been one of my favorite parts. I looked forward to the "Superhero Summit" seminar during the years they held it, and made it a point to attend all the seminars for my favorite games and publishers.
So being able to present seminars at GenCon felt like giving back to me, an opportunity to provide some of what I enjoyed when I first began attending the con. Out of my various seminars, two stand out in particular:
The first is technically a couple different seminars: "Cons for Pros" and "Freelancing" both different looks at how to break into the game industry as a professional. I relied on some expert advice from industry professionals in my early days (still do, in many regards), so it was good to talk to other freelancers and would-be freelancers about the opportunities and pitfalls before them. Never before has it been both so exciting and scary to embark on a career as a creative professional in our field. The opportunities for self-publishing and self-promotion abound, but the hobby (and therefore the industry) has changed, and some of the "farm teams" publishers relied upon, like periodicals and the boom in third-party publishing following the Open Game License revolution, are not as available.
My favorite seminar, though, was "Queer as a Three-Sided Die" (which you can watch on YouTube, thanks to the effort of a couple of the attendees): a panel discussion on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered visibility, inclusion, and awareness in the RPG hobby and RPG publishing. I was thrilled at how well-attended the seminar was and how enthusiastic both the panelists and the attendees were about being there. Having first attended GenCon as a shy, closeted geek who didn’t even know any other gay people, to organizing an event like this was a very special moment for me, one I hope to remember for my next 25 years of attending the con!
Con season is in full swing now, with GenCon next week and PAX two weeks after that. Before we get sucked down that rabbit hole though, I thought I’d take the opportunity to talk about our schedule for the rest of this year. Based on how things have gone, and taking into account the always fickle cash flow, we’ve had to move some books around. Below you’ll find the current schedule for our print products, but before I go on, let me issue one caveat. Several of these books are licensed and while we have budgeted time for approvals, it is never a sure thing. Just bear that in mind as we move ahead.
Threat Report: This excellent collection of new villains for Mutants & Masterminds is in stores now. Huzzah! We’ll also have it at GenCon, of course.
SIFRP Campaign Guide, A Game of Thrones Edition: We will have a limited number of copies of the revised Campaign Guide at GenCon and it should be in stores late in August. Thanks to our eagle-eyed forum regulars, we were able to catch and fix errata before the book went to print. Thanks for that!
SIFRP Night’s Watch: What happens when you take the black? Find out in this exciting new sourcebook for A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying. It includes new options so you can run campaigns on either side of the Wall. Night’s Watch is laid out and text approved. Once the art is approved, we’ll release the PDF and start the pre-order. We are shooting for a September release.
Supernatural Handbook: This is our Halloween treat! The Supernatural Handbook is a sourcebook of heroic horror for the Mutants & Masterminds Superhero Roleplaying Game. It lays out the elements for a successful M&M game in which the strange and paranormal are true and a few lone heroes struggle against the Things That Go Bump in the Night. The Supernatural Handbook includes detailed information on character creation, horror-themed series, and adventure design, and a complete system for building your own supernatural menaces for your heroes to hunt (or to hunt them…). You’ll find hero and villain archetypes like the Curse-Burdened Adventurer, Noble Monster, Dark Emissary and Inhuman Juggernaut. The book also introduces the organization ARCADE (American Research Center for the Arcane Defense of Earth) and its agents, who wage a secret war every night. Join the fight against ancient evils and occult menaces with The Supernatural Handbook! Look for it in October.
DC Adventures Universe: The fourth and final DC Adventures book takes you on a tour of the DCU and includes even more characters. This is a fantastic resource for your DC campaigns. Scheduled for release in November.
Emerald City: We’ve scheduled Emerald City, the newest addition to the Mutants & Masterminds "Freedomverse," for a November release. This is a product that’s gone through some changes but all for the better. The plan now is to release Emerald City as a slipcase with three books and a poster map. The books are a Player’s Guide, Secrets of Emerald City, and the full length adventure Emerald City Knights: everything you need to run an epic campaign!
Dragon Age, Set 3: Last but by no means least, we come to my baby, Dragon Age. This set includes the rules for characters level 11–20, as well as a plenty of new source material about Thedas and a new adventure. Since it’d be impossible for us to print this at the same time as Emerald City and DC Universe, the plan is to release the PDF and start the pre-order in November and then release the physical product in January.
I know this is not ideal and that the Dragon Age fans have been waiting a long time for Set 3, but the January release will actually be good for the game. As you may or may not have heard, I filmed two episodes of TableTop, Wil Wheaton’s excellent show on the Geek & Sundry network. I ran Dragon Age for Wil, Chris "The Nerdist" Hardwick, and two mystery guests. My episodes will air in February and they close out Season 1 of TableTop. Getting Set 3 out right before these episodes will ramp up the Dragon Age excitement at the right time, and then in February we’ll have the complete game available for those who watch the show and join us in the shadows where we stand vigilant.
So that’s our plan moving ahead. As you can see, we’ve got plenty of gaming goodness still to come in 2012!
There are times when it would be easier to not see the world from the point of view of a gamer and game-designer. Why? Because once you make the language and process of narrative game design a significant part of your vocabulary, it can be difficult to see things without those "game design glasses" on.
I’ve been asked in interviews just how much of the Freedom City setting for Mutants & Masterminds is my "home" game setting. Surprising to many, the answer is "not much at all." I based fairly little of Freedom City on my own superhero games, partly because the setting started out as a project to create a specific "iconic" kind of superhero setting for publication and partially because, for me at least, "homegrown" settings have more of an organic "patchwork" feel to them, where it would be difficult to sift out the parts I created from the parts I borrowed from all over the place (or "sampled" in music parlance).
You see, my longest running superhero setting started out as a Marvel Super-Heroes game (using the old TSR-era Advanced rules) but I borrowed heavily from major superhero games at the time like Champions and Villains & Vigilantes. One of the first adventures I ran was The Coriolis Effect, and Dr. Arcane’s sacrifice became the inspiration for the player characters to form a team. They received his mansion (near Marblehead, Massachusetts, in my setting) as a bequest from his granddaughter and turned it into their headquarters.
In another early adventure, the heroes fought Armadillo from the Champions rulebook, turning him into the "Stilt-Man" joke character of the series (poor guy couldn’t catch a break). They met the Crusaders from the V&V adventure Crisis at Crusader Citadel (based out of New York City in my setting) and the Soviet characters from the crossover adventure Trouble for HAVOC (with stats for V&V, Champions, and Superworld and, yes, "Soviet," it was 1986…). Nightwraith, a background character from Aaron Allston’s The Circle organization for Champions actually became a player character, when an adventure to find the missing Golden Age hero unearthed him in suspended animation and involved a journey into his mind. One of the players really liked Nightwraith and wanted to play him. Both Nightwraith and Paladin (another PC) were former WWII comrades and members of "The Golden Agency", a name I lifted from Mark Gruenwald’s Squadron Supreme. And so on.
Maybe the best example of the "hybrid" nature of the setting was Deathstroke, the most infamous villain team of the game. They were a group of super-powered mercenaries-for-hire who plagued the heroes on a number of occasions. The name comes from the Champions adventure of the same name, but they share no members in common (I just liked the name). Their leader was Metallus, a magnetic controller and transmuter (able to turn people into metal), lifted from the adventure in the Avengers Coast-to-Coast sourcebook for Marvel. His second-in-command was Helm, a "techno-telepath" inspired by Marvel’s Mentallo, DC’s The Thinker, and the cyberpunk craze of the ’80s. There was Jammer, a power-nullifier pretty much borrowed whole-cloth from Scrambler of the Marauders (of Marvel’s "Mutant Massacre") and Temptress, a pheromone-enhanced life-drainer (looks inspired by a number of cat-suited villainesses), plus Incognito, a master of disguise and martial arts, drawing upon Mystique, Wolverine, and Deathstroke the Terminator, amongst others. Lastly, there was the classic Champions villain Ankylosaur (who got taken way more seriously than poor Armadillo, must be the spikey bits). Deathstroke frequently worked for Thomas Frost, a crooked businessman and rival of a PC’s secret identity, very much in the mold of Iron Man’s foe Justin Hammer, or the corporate mogul Lex Luthor of the late 1980s.
Now, I’m not saying no elements of my old superhero games have ever found their way into various things I’ve written. Envoy from the Golden Age Liberty League is heavily based on Paladin, for example, and Incognito wormed his way into the Villainomicon for Icons. And the player characters’ team? They were called "the Paragons", which eventually found a Mutants & Masterminds use (even if it had nothing to do with the original characters or setting).
Personally, I hope many M&M Gamemasters are treating the Freedom City and Emerald City settings, characters, and adventures, in much the same way: mixing and re-mixing elements into their own unique blends of superhero action and adventure. Indeed, I hope Mutants & Masterminds source materials go beyond the game system and find uses in settings and adventures for Champions, Icons, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Supers! and many other games; my way of "paying forward" for all of the great ideas and fun provided by the superhero RPGs and comics of my youth.
So what’s your style of setting creation: a "canon" published setting like Freedom City or something of your own making? A "remix" from different sources or something drawing primarily from one source? Tell us about your own super-settings (remixed or otherwise) on the Atomic Think Tank forums!
It’s summertime once again (even in Seattle, where the sun has finally come out) and that means that convention season is upon us. I love this time of year because after many months of toiling away under rain clouds, I get to go out, meet people, and enjoy the energy of many great conventions. This year our schedule is packed.
A recent comment over on our Atomic Think Tank forum about how the Power Profiles for Mutants & Masterminds made the commenter feel like he was part of a "living game" got me thinking about the products we put out, the ways their perceived by all of you, and how our philosophy has changed over the years.
Gamers can’t what? Not, not "gamers cannot," gamers’ cant, the unique jargon and terminology that develops amongst gamers and gaming groups. You know, the way you know somebody you’ve just met is a gamer when they slip, laugh, and say "Missed my Dex roll!"
Then there are the specific "dialects" of gamers’ cant that develop amongst game groups. Every group I’ve encountered has their own: in-jokes and references to games, some of them from years ago, which linger in their collective memory. Some have even been passed on to new members of the group, who weren’t even around for the original incident, but still "remember" it through the group’s lingo. My own gaming group (which has been together in various configurations since college) is no different. Here’s a look at some of the more popular bits of gamers’ cant in our dialect: