Category: News, Reviews & Culture


As GenCon goes, some of mine are just grand and some so-so. I’ve never had a bad one, so like pizza I can rest assured that no matter the quality, it is still GenCon. 🙂

After my first day of putting in some solid work volunteering, I put in a whole lot more work over the course of the weekend. Of course, my time was about 1/2 of what the “full-timers” were putting in at about 40 hours. These guys (and gals) floor me. I don’t know how they do this and get anything else done. I’m not sure they did get much else done.

The Auction was absolutely packed at times this year, especially for the Charity auction Saturday night, but I’ll get to that in a minute. One disheartening realization with the Auction this year was a smaller quantity and variety of RPG material. A lot of the old favorites are just not being sold anymore and there’s less and less each year. Is this hobby really fading, or is more of the used material just in the hands of the online stores and ebay? For example, I heard of only one copy of the 1992 Greyhawk’s “From the Ashes” being sold and I watched it go for a decent, though not obscene amount. If you want obscene, look what the book dealers are charging for it on Amazon.

As the years wear on, fewer of these products survive and they appeal to fewer still gamers, but they are no less desired by those who want them or want a spare copy. However, Auction still has the deals. Consider the companion piece to the one sided above, the year-older “Greyhawk Wars” which went for just $15, but which you’ll find on Amazon again for no less than $40. Naturally I have them both. I love Greyhawk material and the world was my first real non-custom fantasy setting that I explored in depth. Despite my interest in the Mystara setting and campaign that Frank Mentzer created, it was actually some years later that I explored it. Still to this day love Greyhawk and with the Realms I’m always looking for new information for it. I liken it to finding a new novel from your favorite author and setting to expand your understanding of his/her worldview. Speaking of, in fantasy for me lately that’s been Scott Lynch. Somebody needs to get him tied down to his computer and forced to type cuz the boy’s got work to do. If you haven’t read his stuff and you like low/rare magic fantasy settings, do yourself a favor and find his paperbacks.

Ok, let me talk about the Charity Auction a little. Remember this is the last event of the Con and these guys are worn out by this point. That they’re a little loopy is a tremendous understatement. Right before they do this they auction all the unclassifiable crap that gets dumped on them over the course of the weekend. The “mystery” box this year was a box of porn. I kid you not. Someone dumped a volume of vintage VHS porn on them. Amazingly or perhaps not so, it sold for $150. As was noted by a dear friend of mine “They do know you can get that free these days on the internet, right?” Perhaps, but I’m not willing to pry.

I have to say I was impressed by those who still had money Saturday night how willing they were to spend it for charity. There were so many older gamers and gamer couples there all willing to shell out serious cash for sometimes minor stuff. Some of it was not so minor of course, with custom-painted dice bags worked up by some of the best artists in the industry (I didn’t see one go for less than $50) and a medallion Frank put up for Auction for the Gygax family’s new Con that if I’m not mistaken went for around $450. Impressive. I can’t wait to see the numbers.

I passed on Sunday for many reasons, but one was that I was emotionally, physically and financially drained. Plus, people I would have rather attended the Con with were unavailable, which reduced it in some ways for me. It’s not as fun if you can’t share it, as some of you likely understand. When you’ve seen it all before, what’s the big deal?

I’m hoping in the podcast to go over old stories and memories of GenCon’s past. My first was by far the most eventful and my first exposure to a lot of new aspects to the industry. I went as a volunteer for a gaming company I eventually ended up writing for, and got to see the best and worst of downtown Milwaukee (best – tie between Saz’s hamburgers in the mall and the Safehouse/ worst – panhandlers…frickin’ panhandlers).

For now though it’s off to catalog my new (used) purchases and to see if once again I’ve bought duplicates of anything. I know of at least one. I ended up with an extra copy of Harpoon. I love the game but this is I believe copy three. Any takers? 🙂

So I survived my first full day of volunteering at Auction. Most of it consisted of my playing gate keeper at the Auction Store. It was a bit of a torturous thing. You’re _that_ close to all those games and can’t touch. Can’t thumb through them. I did meet a lot of interesting people, though and many had a variety of comments regarding my not letting them in as quickly as they wanted.

One guy asked “Oh so you’re the sheriff huh?” I replied “Look buddy, I’m just the guy they got standing at the entrance.” No, I don’t have an inflated sense of my own importance. Sorry to disappoint.

Although some people were difficult to deal with, most readily handled the waiting, bumping and annoying hassles. I was a little rough myself getting started, but I finally figured the pace of things and kept the line moving. Of course, I had my share of hassles. I had a couple difficult souls and I had a couple of emergencies. Kids wandering far away from their parents (please don’t let the 10 year old lead the other two younger ones away to find mommy in some nondescript nearby location!) were one crisis and a woman trying to buy a truckload of games for her 3 year old (all under $5 – if you’ve got kids, you know how critical it is that they have variety and that it’s cheap for you), but needing her husband who had the list and cash to pay for them waiting for 30 minutes while he took his time coming over to the room.

Customer service at a Con. Have I been reduced to this? 🙂 Everyone else was a blast. There were some interesting people and hey you still get to bid on anything that comes up. I certainly did. I fought for a shot at a nice collection of FASA Star Trek books. It was a lot of the Intel and Romulan/Klingon guides mixed in with the original rules in an old rules box set. Bidding went over $40, which I didn’t really want to spend, but I should have. It was a nice collection.

There weren’t that many RPG’s this year, which is sad. The used book industry in that area seems to be diminishing. I’m sorry to see that trend accelerating. It sucks. I miss tabletop RPG’s more and more every year and mourn the lost companies.

Hey on the bright side I did get to meet Frank Mentzer and chat a bit with him. The guy’s a legend, but of course he wants to be treated like anybody else. He’s very cool. I botched my mentioning to him that his Basic Set revision was my first gaming product. I imagine it’s easy to do. I’m not a fanboy for much, but gaming is definitely one of those things.

The staff’s outstanding. These guys are a well-oiled machine. They’ve been doing this a long time and it shows. Not much gets missed and product just frickin’ moves. A nice side benefit has been to peak into the collectibles room. It’s like walking into a bank vault. You’re afraid to touch anything…and you know, you shouldn’t. Old gamer books are fragile. 🙂

I did get to stop in for a bit of the NSDMG lecture on the Cold War. Wish I could’ve stayed for Mark McDonough’s talk. The brothers were always entertaining. I never did hear the official on what happened to Dan. I imagine it’s not good. I miss his stories at the NSDMG. That was a very funny individual human being.

Well that’s the first day and I’m tired as hell. I’ll be back tomorrow with more amazing insights into the phenomena that is GenCon.

Swashbuckling had certainly been tried before as an RPG. GDW had introduced the genre to the gaming industry with its legendary “En Garde!” in 1975 and a smattering of other titles including one by Fantasy Games Unlimited, Flashing Blades, followed over the years. The definitive work on the “real” era of Swashbuckling and Swordplay circa the 1600’s was probably GURPS Swashbucklers, with its stellar research and the venerable GURPS system to back it up.

All these systems were limited, though, to historical settings and time lines. Unless a GM wanted to heavily invest time and effort into creating an alternate history in order to fool players or at least keep them guessing as to events’ outcomes, this simply wasn’t feasible. Let us not forget, there was also the matter of keeping players feeling like they were more than small cogs in an already running machine. Such feelings can quickly lead to frustration, apathy, boredom and the end of the campaign.

There never was a fair answer to this, not until 1999 with the release of Alderac Entertainment Group’s 7th Sea. An interesting note to start this discussion is that 7th Sea RPG was published in tandem with a very popular card game. Both are now out of print after only about a 6-year run. Even more interestingly, finding an easy reference on Alderac’s home page to the fact that they’ve even heard of 7th Sea is nigh unto impossible.

7th Sea rejected previous models of Swashbuckling adventure RPG by modifying the setting. As can be seen from the wiki entry and as is known to just about anyone who played the game, 7th Sea was basically a 1600’s Bizarro Europe setting with analogs for most historical European powers and several auxillary powers of that era. It was fully stocked with a compliment of very in-depth heroes and villains that controlled the destiny of the known world, but who could all play a part in and be affected by a campaign with no significant loss to any GM-inspired storyline. Another fun fact about 7th Sea, the original supplements were supposed to cover the state of affairs and the condition of the world in only one year, 1668. It was thought that as they progressed, future supplements would be marked with later years.

One thing that impressed me about this game line was the incredible amount of high-quality support material, with each major nation and secret society having their own impressive sourcebook, each again with its own equally impressive cover art. This extensive support made it all the more puzzling when AEG decided to kill the line several years ago. Apparently, although the game had a rabid fan base, they didn’t exist in sufficient numbers to justify continuing production. A sad reality of such games, especially one so intimately tied with a card game, is when gamers move on, companies will these days cut bait rather than support a flagging line.

I recall the system being exceptionally easy to learn and the point system for character development fairly flexible. It was easy enough to play it very hard-nosed with slow character development or cinematic with rapid, but controlled leaps. Membership in Secret Societies and new fighting styles bore huge costs, for example, but the game lent itself readily to flamboyant storyline development and I as a GM certainly made use of that.

My group at the time had craved a shot at such a setting for a long time and quickly grew to love the often fast-pace of the game, mixed with an insanely rich storyline and a, as was noted on wiki, an almost Lovecraftian undertone to some elements of sorcery in the game. Looking back, I seem to have a knack for injecting or enhancing horror in many of the games I’ve run and this one was no different. Unnerving the players seemed to imprint on them almost as much if not more than making them laugh. Each one of their characters left a considerable impression on the other players to the point where years later we were all still sharing stories of their particular adventures or comedic moments. This remains the only campaign I wrote a follow-up piece of fiction to years after the campaign had completed; such was the continued interest in the characters by the players.

I had always wanted to play a game like this, but until 7th Sea the results always fell short. It was just as easy to play a round of Sid Meier’s “Pirates” and call it a day. 7th Sea, later called Swashbuckling Adventures, was one of those settings that produced such a detailed campaign setting that it was like waiting for the next installment in your favorite fiction series to come out. As a parting shot, its very last supplement, Rapier’s Edge (which if memory serves was marked with a later year), even contained a timeline treatment for what they had planned to happen over the next couple of years of game play. For a busy GM, the timeline was a godsend and for anyone else it was worth its weight in gold for ideas.

This game had it all for cinematic gamers, dedicated role players and even card gamers. With such wide appeal, I expected it to still be around and selling, but admittedly I don’t know as much about TCG’ers. I’ve heard they’re a more fickle lot and move on rather easily and if this is the case perhaps I have only them to blame for the loss of this line. 🙂 Because 7th Sea/Swashbuckling Adventures was so intimately connected with its namesake TCG, it conceivably couldn’t survive on its own.

Thus it joins the sad and long list of games on the bookheap of RPG history, but during its tenure it burned brighter than almost any other. This is a game I would readily recommend for almost anyone to play and any collector to have in his or her collection. Any interest in that era makes ownership of this game a must.

With the explosive interest in the paranormal as a hobby, many forget that such trends have been cyclical and that times in even the recent past RPG’s were there to exploit that interest. Many games came out of the period just before and during the interest in the paranormal sparked by the series, The X-Files. Dark Conspiracy was in my opinion on of the very best.

The game was released from the long-lost Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) in 1991, the brainchild of Lester Smith. It posited a near-future setting for a horror/conspiracy RPG centered on a decaying and failing United States and an encroaching and growing supernatural threat. Players took on the roles of those who stumbled upon this encroachment or who were pushed to that end and chose to fight it. The career-choices offered were varied and could be expanded upon, as the whole game was skill-based using the GDW House System.

Any discussion of this game will dwell on the amount of available equipment. In typical GDW fashion, there was a lot, even to the point of an entire book being released dedicated to new gear for the game. The reason for this was rather obvious. First, the GDW guys were gearheads and old wargamers. They liked equipment and they liked equipment variety. Look at any of their other games (Traveller, Twilight 2000, 2300AD, even Space 1889) to confirm this. If you’re a gearhead (and I am) then you really appreciate this level of detail, and if you’re not, who cares? You just ignore the extra pages.

I used the GDW House System for years in the various GDW games, but I was often frustrated by its limitations. It had a modest vehicle combat system, which almost no game at the time had (or likely still has), but I wanted more detail. This is why GURPS’ system eventually won me over in that regard. Want to make an eye shot or shoot the hand? Not so easy in GDW’s system. The skill set was good and expandable and the character career choices were quite acceptable. They expanded this as GDW lengthened their product line.

The back story was a real treat for me. It was just detailed enough to leave you wanting more and GDW added to it considerably with a major array of adventures and source books. Still, they left it open enough that you could customize it with considerable ease. No two conspiracies were exactly the same nor did they have to be and the influence of the antagonists was as much and as pervasive as the GM wanted it to be. I will always remember it as a game with an extremely high body count, at least for my campaign. I ran a campaign that spanned I think eight years of real time. Friend and foe alike saw huge kill tallies as I drove home just how brutal and deadly the world of Dark Conspiracy was to my players. They must have loved it, because they kept coming back for more. I might speak more on my campaign in a separate post.

This dovetails nicely into what I liked most about the game and that was that it tackled a genre that to that point had largely been limited to adaptations of existing science fiction/horror works like Call of Cthulhu. Also, in almost any setting such as that to date, monsters were nearly unkillable unless you had a special weapon, spell, etc. Guns almost always were useless. In Dark Conspiracy, bullets worked and boy did my players use ’em. To be sure, there were still unkillable creatures or hard to kill villains, but the run-of-the-mill Dark Minions were surprisingly allergic to copper and lead. This was immensely satisfying to the players, especially when faced with the knowledge that the worst were unkillable. It gave them a sense of hope, an often false sense but hope nonetheless.

As I noted previously, this game had a tremendous array of supporting material, most of which can still be found and at very good prices on the used market. Its mark was evident in the industry in terms of other companies trying their hands. Even Chaosium published “Delta Green” around this point, a similar “minion-hunter” style supplement to their Cthulhu line I think to answer similar concerns those players had. I’m sure Chaosium vets and fans might deny there was any correlation, but that it came out when Dark Con was still highly popular says it all for me. The great game Conspiracy X by Eden followed some years later and had a similar great run of supplements. I like to think that Dark Con’s popularity made such games much easier to pitch and develop knowing there was a market out there hungry for that sort of material.

Again, sadly, when GDW closed its doors, Dark Conspiracy became an orphan. An attempt was made, somewhat successfully, to revive it a few years later through Dynasty Publishing and it saw limited print release adapted from the unfinished 2nd edition rules that had languished since GDW’s closure. I had the distinct pleasure of play testing the second edition some years later directly with Lester (online no less – very high tech a decade ago) with some outstanding players (yeah, that’s a bit of a kissass, but so what?), but the game hadn’t matured with the industry. It was an early 90’s game in a market fast approaching 2000 and a lot of changes in game styles and gamer expectations had taken place by then.

A major rewrite of the system was probably in order, but there wasn’t the will, time or money to accomplish this. The market balked at the relic being polished up and brought out again for sale, but us die-hards bought it. We appreciated it even if others didn’t, although personally I wasn’t impressed with the team that handled its publication. Outside of Lester himself, who was great to work with, the rest of the team seemed almost uncaring in the quality or development of the new edition. That some of these same souls had been involved in the 4th Edition Traveller debacle wasn’t lost on me and I hate that my misgivings were proven to be correct.

One never knows what the future might bring, though and there are those of us who will always keep its memory alive however we can. I would point out three very worthwhile individuals, Mike Marchi, Geoff Skellams and Marcus Bone, who labored long and hard to develop the exceptionally high-quality fanzine for Dark Conspiracy and later all horror games, Demonground. They were the play testers I mentioned earlier and are some of the best gamers (in addition to my local crew) that I’ve ever had the privilege to know. I had the honor to contribute a few articles to that impressive magazine and if you are a fan of the paranormal in gaming, you could do a lot worse than give it a look. The art for the covers alone was mind-blowing. Should you ever read this, know that my hats off to you guys. You’re the best.

So not to finish off with further kissassing, but I did. I have a special place in my heart for this game, which is painfully obvious, but it’s well-deserved. Despite its dated nature and some issues with the game mechanics I still count it as one of the best RPG’s in its class of all time and if you like the paranormal, you should definitely give this game a look.

Anyone who’s read the earlier pages of this blog knows I’m an avid collector and that I’ve provided my own small, very small pearls of wisdom regarding the collection trade. I’m always on the lookout for helpful resources to assist me in my passion (some would say obsession) and I’ve lately acquired a new one that I thought worthy of noting to you gentle readers.

The book Heroic Worlds by Lawrence Schick was recommended to me as a guide to any collector whose focus was in any way on the earlier era of RPG’s. Schick through connections in the industry and a storied history himself of game play and research had compiled in the early 90’s the definitive tome and catalog of RPG’s. This work is seminal in its history of the industry, review of the hobby and again its completeness. Indexing and trends are even included. Even more interesting is that this book was published just a few years prior to the TCG blow-up that portended the end of the Golden Age of paper role-playing games, which makes it a time capsule of sorts for the hobby.

There’s almost a sadness that comes with looking through this old book. An index of gaming companies and their contact information reads like a casualty list from a great battle. So many companies are gone now or have merged with the survivors. Of course, so many new companies have sprung up since that time, so it’s not quite so depressing. However, it is a reminder that this industry is far from static and that things change and some are not restored.

The book begins appropriately enough with an outstanding reference set of information, such as the ubiquitous “What is a Role Playing Game” chapter found in almost every RPG main book, the history of RPG’s (this is a must-read) and the priceless though brief “Advice for Collectors”. Schick could have made this simply a catalog, but with this 50 pages or so of reference information, he makes it something so much more useful for gaming geeks such as myself.

I also appreciate the style of catalogs in the book. Schick chose to group games in genre and obviously company. Each product has a small blurb that describes it with the occasional side comment thrown in for good measure. One gets the impression that after so many hundred similar entries, Schick felt the urge to write “and yet another supplement that has traps or spells or a dungeon with insert-your-bad-guy-here for PC’s to fight.” Still he manages to maintain his composure and provide concise and effective information, especially for a collector.

Beginning each chapter is a description of the development of that particular genre of games, which games started when and which prospered. For example, although Mekton was the first significant mecha or giant robot game, Battletech came to define the market with Robotech right on its heels. Westerns sadly by this point had not been given much consideration as Boot Hill is the predominant entry for that category. This is one of the many ways in which the book shows its age, missing the advent of such incredible games as Pinnacle’s Deadlands or even GURPS Old West by several years and the Swashbucklers section if of course too early for the grand production, 7th Sea.

The last but certainly not least gem to be found in this book are priceless essays from some of the giants and founders of the industry. Remembrances of the industry, how they developed certain games and the importance of a diet of fried chicken in developing new mechanics are the bulk of what the reader will find in the words of old greats like Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Eric Wujcik and Mike Stackpole. It’s nice to see such things from these authors, not all of whom remain with us. I love old tidbits and war stories from the early days of gaming, because they help me remember why I got into this hobby and more importantly the remind me why its important to keep it alive.

It might be easy to imagine at this point that I consider this book a must-get for any collector or gaming history enthusiast. It is well laid out, packed full of useful information and most importantly still readily available. Such information should be as widely disseminated as possible.

This book was recommended to me specifically because the person knew I was a collector. If anyone else who reads this happens to know of other works that are as or nearly as valuable, I’d love to hear about them and I’m sure others would as well.

If there was ever to be a science fiction game that had considerable promise, it was Star Frontiers. Granted, I may only think so highly of it because it was my first and thus most dear science fiction game, acquired I think around the tender age of 14. Its system was, as many are, unwieldy and not much good beyond basic play with basic tasks (combat, climbing, riding, etc.).

The universe was perhaps generic, but it was at the same time gifted with a certain unique twist in that the races were still very playable and amusing. We of course had our ubiquitous humans. What game doesn’t? Well, some but this had humans. There were gliding apes called Yazirians, who I assume were developed to fit the “wookie” role in the Star Frontiers universe. The inscrutable “Vulcan” like characters were oddly enough insectoid, Vrusk. Outside of Star Wars’ Verpine, rarely do you see PC insects in scifi. And lastly the fourth main race were the Dralasites, blobs of goo looking like Gloop and Gleep from the Herculoids that could shape themselves in any number of ways with any numbers of limbs and a ridiculous sense of humor that was equally pliable.

There were many subraces introduced over a series of adventure supplements, most NPC-level in detail, but these were the four main player races.

Naturally a villain race was introduced, the worm-like Sathar. And yes, they resembled nothing so much as an oversized earth worm with a penchant for large guns. Something that infuriated me as a teenager was the fact that TSR took great lengths to insist that any campaign should keep the Sathar a complete mystery to the PC’s. Some small things were found out about them near the end of the adventure series (in Face of the Enemy and War Machine), but by and large there was never any information produced on them. They killed themselves before capture and blew up their ships if they were losing a battle. I always longed for TSR to flesh them out, as it were, but to my knowledge they never did.

The modules were surprisingly enjoyable. The original “Volturnus” series for Star Frontiers was in my opinion a fun albeit somewhat predictable storyline. I own multiple copies of these adventures and always enjoy re-reading them. What’s not to love? Squirrel monkeys, land squids and desert-dwelling octopi mixing it up with bipedal super smart dinos. Yeah, have to call that one a winner in my book.

The unigov in this game was called, wait, United Planetary Federation (UPF) because the United Federation of Planets might be too obvious. That goverment mixed with local colonial governments gave quite a degree of flexibility in campaigns.

I was a huge fan of the fact that Star Frontiers had its own wargame, “Knight Hawks”. It allowed for UPF and Sathar space battles in a very standard wargame fashion. Everything from fighter to fighter to battleship to heavy cruiser was covered. Again the system was overly simple and not designed to survive much detail. Small detail criticals were included almost as an afterthought, it seemed, but the system was quite playable.

Both “Alpha Dawn”, the RPG set and “Knight Hawks” had maps and counters; a step above almost any other TSR fare at the time. In fact, it outdid a lot of games of its day in that regard. Most companies couldn’t afford all the extra bells and whistles.

Coming out of Star Trek and Star Wars at the time (this was about ’85), I was quite eager to play an actual scifi game and Traveller was not yet fully on my radar. Star Frontiers proved a remarkably simple and satisfying product for that need, but it left me wanting a lot more. I’ve often thought the setting should be modified for other systems, like GURPS, and maybe it has. I might look that up. Yep. I love the web.

If you’re looking for a simple system with great races and a very workable and expandable campaign setting, you can do a lot worse than go with the Star Frontiers setting. The products are highly collectible and even include some miniatures if you can find them. It amazes me how much money TSR threw at this project, but it was in its seriously flush days of the Frank Mentzer D&D sets, so it makes a bit of sense.

If any of you ever played this or it was also your “gateway drug” into other scifi games, I’d love to hear about it.

Twilight:2000, a game of historical fiction produced by Game Designer’s Workshop in the mid-’80’s, stands as one of the most unique platforms of its day and one of the most difficult to maintain. Twilight 2000, for those too young to know better, was not a game of angsty teen vampires and forbidden love. It was an RPG that covered what was at the time poorly developed section of the industry: modern combat environment real-world role playing.

At the time of its inception, Twilight was almost an oddity, born in a market of predominantly fantasy and sci-fi RPG’s. There had been a few other attempts to be sure. Modern combat RPG’s were an interest, but one that hadn’t really taken off. Consider the titles, though.

1979’s Commando was for all intents and purposes a boardgame. There was some RPG action to it, but it was akin to Car Wars in that regard. It was more small unit action than player development. The Morrow Project from Timeline proved a worthy candidate, but its setting was near-future post-apocalyptic with a narrow range of gear and a laughable gaming system. This also was meant mostly as a pseudo-wargame with RPG data grafted on seemingly as an afterthought.

Aftermath by Fantasy Games Unlimited also tried to stake its turf for near post-apocalyptic settings with an almost GURPS-like approach to a “choose your Holocaust” style motif. Although there were a couple of decent supplements, FGU’s horribly overdeveloped math-heavy gaming system I personally believe led it to be less than popular. FGU’s other entrant, Merc, was equally intriguing focusing on the modern “romantic mercenary” figure, but again suffered from FGU’s byzantine game systems.

FASA’s nearly forgotten Behind Enemy Lines (WWII gaming) and the more readily remembered Paladium game Recon (Vietnam gaming) rounded out the early entrants, but none had gained much traction in the market.

Notably, none covered the scenario playing out so frequently in the minds of wargamer geek teens such as myself at the time…the Third World War. Information on equipment and armies for the time was not as readily available as it is now and even bookstores with well-stocked selections of Jane’s directories were scarce. No internet resources existed. If you were fascinated by the concept of the world duking it out instead of going nuclear, there was little to sate your almost hedonistic gaming desire.

This all changed with the older wargamer geeks of GDW. The unique birth of this game is described best from the Guide to Twilight:2000 v.1 you can still get as a free PDF, which itself is excerpted from Lawrence Schick’s “Heroic Worlds“.

The breakthrough came on a long drive back from the Origins Game Convention (Dallas, 1983). In an overloaded rental van, Frank Chadwick, Loren Wiseman, Bill Keith, and Andrew Keith talked for hours about a modern military role-playing game which concentrated on equipment and realistic military situations, and by the end of the trip the concept for Twilight: 2000 was far enough along for specific design to begin in earnest.

This with the enticing description on the back of the original Twilight:2000 boxed set (remember boxed sets?) sold me more than anything. GDW had even solved the problem of hierarchical control by allowing for a limited nuclear exchange combined with significant attrition of command and control to leave player groups (if they wished) practically autonomous.

Twilight:2000 is one of the games that always comes to mind when I’m asked “What was your favorite RPG?” Maybe because I’m a bit of a gearhead and maybe because I loved fiction like Red Storm, Team Yankee and Sword Point is why I keep finding myself going through the old books more than most of my other collections.

Although Twilight’s 1st edition mechanics were unwieldy and combat was difficult (vehicle combat was better and more detailed than most other games however – wargamer designers), the setting, the ability of small groups to make a real difference on the small and large stage and the previously mentioned greatly detailed vehicles and equipment still highlight this as the defining game of modern RPG combat.

Its principal problem, however, lay in its own name. It was speculative fiction, you see. Twilight:2000 was published in the early 1980’s at the height of the Cold War. The events described were plausible and in some cases did come close to coming to pass. However, as history unfolded and the Cold War ended, the history and background of the “origin” story for Twilight became obsolete.

The dilemma here for the game’s original designers was whether they should let the game stand on its own merits as a piece of historical fiction or cater to an audience who truly wanted a game that conformed to modern world conditions. GDW’s fans were nothing if not particular and demanding in that regard. The answer was…a redo. Tune in again for the discussion of Twilight 2.2 and how it was more of a band aid than a cure.

You can’t really have been in the gaming scene these days without having noticed that much of the newest content is available as an Ebook. Whether it is available as a supplemental release with a purchased paper book or as a stand-alone product, ebooks are now a part of the industry and they join us right along with their pros and cons.

I have mixed feelings regarding ebook RPG’s. On the one hand, I like the convenience and “at your fingertips one-click” ability to purchase any game available in that format. On the other, if there’s only an ebook format, then there is no “used” market, is there?

Let’s first focus on the pros. There are many situations where an electronic format comes in handy. Any publication can now be viewed as needed online (admittedly where I’d suspect a lot of gamers spend most of their time) and just as easily printed. In fact, you can print pages as often as you’d like, although any color plates or the like would obviously require color ink and good paper. Printing character sheets or equipments sheets, any kind of handout becomes a breeze with just the click of a button.

It has made old books new again. Go to the big E-RPG sites like RPGNow or DriveThruRPG. You’ll find quite a selection of books, not all of them still in print. Consider their massive catalog for Game Designer’s Workshop, a company that’s been out of business for over 15 years, but who have some of the highest demand amongst the used RPG paper market.

These books can be had in brand new condition with all inserts and pages intact. No worries. No shipping charges. You want it. You get it. There’s also no preservation worries. An electronic file holds up in the short-term much better than a paper book, and if pages you print from the book get damaged…you simply print a replacement.

Newer books are just as available and with the loss of many old neighborhood gaming stores, that’s become a bigger issue than ever before. Since companies are quick to put new stock up for sale as ebooks, it’s a quick and dirty way to find out if there’s new product about without having to keep visiting company web sites or hoping to catch a designer at a convention. In today’s instant gratification culture, who really wants to wait for their book?

Lastly, it’s cheap. All you have to do is produce and then pdf your product. Distribution is electronic so the rest of the costs are next to nothing. And let’s not forget saving on the cost of paper, a material that is closing on being worth its weight in gold.

Of course, there’s a downside to ebooks as well. The most notable one is, no paper copy survives or transfers in the purchase. Sure you can print it out, but there’s no real physical product until you do, and can we all print all our ebooks to have backup paper copies or would we even want to?

A key problem for me with ebooks, where the ebook format is the sole format available, is when companies that produce a product under license lose that license. When the license is gone, all remaining product is usually, by contract, not available for sale. I offer two test cases, one with and one without ebooks.

Think of Last Unicorn Games’ license to produce the Dune RPG. LUG was bought shortly after they’d prepared the print run by WOTC and the initial run sold out at GenCon under WOTC’s banner. After the Herbert estate found out about the sale, they revoked the license, since it was not contractually transferrable. The original book run proved to be the last and became ridiculously collectible; a magnificent addition to the used RPG’s market. Had this been available only in ebook, it would have been available currently only through your local downloading engine (such as Torrent).

For more obscure titles, those published solely in pdf as well as on limited license come and then go. They leave no legacy paper material. If you’re a late comer to collecting that book, good luck. You’re almost back to pre-internet unless you have friends or acquaintances on discussion forums and the like willing to violate copyright and send you a pdf copy.

Such books are often lost to the ether; all their worthwhile material lost except on some few people’s hard drives. These are worse than limited paper print runs. These are true vaporware at that point. *Poof* It’s gone.

All told, the electronic books industry has been a good thing for the RPG market. It’s provided greater access and exposure of product while preserving older materials that might not have readily survived their paper wearing out. The same format limits, though, and has shortfalls consistent with anything stored in electronic format.

Bane or boon, it’s our new baby and we have to live with it.