Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Modern Dispatch #108: Teamwork mechanics

I really like this one and it took me awhile to get it just right. As I was casting about for a dispatch idea, I came across this half-finished article from way back when we revised Blood and Vigilance and released the Mystic Arts book.

I always loved superhero teams. The Avengers, the X-men, Power Man-Iron Fist, even Marvel Team-up. The dynamic of multiple heroes was just cool.

So these mechanics will allow you to play out a really close-knit team, a casual team, even sworn enemies forced to work together. The closer your team is, the better you can fight or perform skill checks.

So check out Modern Dispatch #108 and I hope you like it as much as me.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Comics review: Iron Man "Armor Wars" by David Micheline

David Micheline and Bob Layton have had not one but two of the most famous runs in the history of Iron Man. Their run introduced several variants of the Iron man armor (such as the space armor and stealth armor) as well as two of Iron Man's toughest villains: Justin Hammer and alcoholism.

The "Armor Wars" tradeback collects a story arc originally called "Stark Wars" in which Stark realizes that several of the seemingly endless power-armor heroes and villains of the Marvel universe are using technology originiating from Iron Man. Technology stolen from Stark International by the villainous Spymaster.

Determined not to let his armor technology be used to kill, by a hero or a villain, Stark sets out on a campaign to take down anyone using powered armor built by his technology, one at a time.

This includes heroes, such as the Mandroids employed by SHIELD to fight supervillains and numerous villains from the criminal Raiders to two Soviet villains: Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man.

To the authorities it looks as though Iron Man has gone rogue and to prevent lawsuits against Stark Internation, Tony "fires" his alter ego of Iron Man. As the rogue operations continue, Iron Man becomes hunted by SHIELD and is eventually expelled from the Avengers.

While not as famous as the "Demon in a Bottle" arc where Stark tackles his alcohol addiction, Armor Wars is a great look at an action-filled arc from Micheline and Layton's great run on the book. If you like powered armor heroes and villains, and let's face it, who doesn't, then this is a book you should check out.

Monday, January 29, 2007

10 Questions Mike Mearls

Mike Mearls has pretty much embodied the dream of the open gaming movement. In less than 10 years he's gone from answering open calls, to freelancer, to working on the staff of Monte Cook's Malhavoc Press, to designing for Wizards of the Coast. As someone who's seen the gaming environment from so many levels, I was thrilled to get Mike to answer my 10 questions. We've shuffled the questions somewhat because Mike's more in the print side these days, and since he's Mike, he gets a bonus question.

Thanks again for taking the time Mike, because of your unique position in the industry, I altered the questions somewhat.

1. What do you see as the next big thing in gaming?

I think the Nintendo Wii is going to kick off a whole mess of gimmicky games and game systems. The Wii looks revolutionary, and it is, but it's also the logical outgrowth of games like Dance Dance Revolution, Guitar Hero, and the various and sundry karaoke/American Idol games. These games have a key, shared trait: interaction on an intuitive, immediate, and visceral level. If you move your feet, DDR is dead simple to learn. All these games are more immersive and viscerally exciting than games played via keyboard or game pad. It's one thing to hit the X button at the right time to do something cool. It's another to thrash through Iron Man on Guitar Hero. In a game like Doom, you're always removed from the action. There's an element of immersion, but even at it's best it's no more immersive than a movie. In contrast, when you play Guitar Hero you really feel like you're playing a guitar.

2. Where do you see the PDF market in 5 years? Do you think PDFs will grow to a substantial percentage of total RPG sales?

Unless the RPG market as a whole dries up, I see PDFs only becoming more important. PDFs are one of those technologies in gaming that has a lot of space to grow. Personally, I prefer to buy adventures in PDF over print. It's so much easier printing out maps, making notes on a printed copy, and so on. I still dutifully collect Dungeon Crawl Classics in print, but adventures are just easier in electronic format.

I think PDFs will slowly replace the lower tiers of print publishing and encroach upward depending on how well companies other than WotC work their way into game stores. To really grow, the market needs a resource to sort out and rate all the releases. It's hard to keep track of everything. The interesting thing is how tightly d20 and the PDF markets are connected. It's hard to launch a whole new game in PDF. A core rulebook in PDF is a little harder to work with, but supplements and micro-books are fantastic. A single, shared system really facilitates that.

More and more, when I got into game stores, especially new ones, the RPG section is a rack of D&D books, maybe a smattering of d20 stuff, and perhaps White Wolf stuff. If that continues, I think PDFs can only continue to take advantage of that situation.

3. A lot of people seem to think computer/console RPGs and MMOs are going to do to tabletop RPGs what RPGs did to wargames. Are we seeing the end of an era?

I think it's subtler than that. I don't think RPGs killed wargames; wargames killed wargames. Simply put, historical gaming isn't that big anymore unless you're talking a console first person shooter. By the same token, WW II movies, cowboy flicks, and so on aren't as big. Today's blockbusters are SF and fantasy. Wargames never caught that market. They were too focused on simulation. Today, though, we have thriving boardgame market with plenty of fantasy and SF themed games. Wargames shrank, but Eurogames eventually took their place.

If RPGs die, I think it will be because they fail to remain relevant to Western culture. In other words, if RPGs are old and stodgy, the kids won't play them.

4. How did you get into the RPG business? What was your first job in the industry?

I got my start by simply asking for work. I was on the mailing list for the Unknown Armies RPG back in 1999. Greg Stolze and John Tynes, the games' authors, were working on a big UA supplement that needed lots of writers. I made a pitch and got my first job. From there, I kept pestering people to let me work on games. I think I mailed Stolze about once a week or so for work on the Feng Shui RPG until he finally relented.

5. If you were starting out today and decided to break into RPGs, what would be your first step?

PDFs are the place to be. They're a good way to make a name for yourself. Since everyone is looking for a way to stand out from the pack, making a name is a good way to do that. I'd think of something that I really wanted for my weekly D&D game, make it, see if I actually use and enjoy it, and then ask around to see if a publisher wanted to take it on. I'd then learn as much about PDF publishing as possible, then start my own imprint.

6. What was the first RPG you ever played?

The J. Eric Holmes edition of basic D&D, way back in 1981. I was always the DM.

7. What are you playing right now?

I'm involved in three games. I run a lunchtime 3e conversion of Against the Giants at work on Tuesdays. I just started a new campaign based on Shattered Gates of Slaughterguarde that runs on Monday nights. I play in Jason Bulmahn's Wednesday night Eberron game.

I wish I had time to run or play Shadowrun and Hollow Earth Expedition.

8. If you could snag any licensed property for an RPG, what would it be?

I've never been a fan of licensed RPGs. To twist the question, I'd love to work on a miniatures game based on Gears of War. I love that game, and I think the basic play mode would translate very well to a unique miniatures games.

9. Your career has seen you go from freelancer, to working side by side with Monte Cook, to working at Wizards of the Coast. Did you plan this? In other words, was working at Wizards always a career goal, or did that come organically as your career progressed.

The goal was always to work on D&D. It was the first RPG I played, and the one I've had the most fun with. When 3e came out, I pretty much lost my desire to invent a new RPG. I basically get to do my hobby for a living. I have no right to complain about anything ever.

There are things I'd like to do, especially with miniatures games and maybe with digital games. I'd also love to design games for younger kids, stuff in the vein of Heroscape. In my heart, I still love GI Joe action figures. That pretty much explains my miniatures workspace and my endless obsession with little army men and other toys.

10. Give me a juicy 4e rumor that I can whore out on the web as coming from a “highly placed Wizards staffer speaking on condition of anonymity” that will start flame wars like a match to kindling. Go on, you know you wanna.

Two words: collectible underpants.

Bonus Question! You’ve been on both sides of the OGL. What has it done for the hobby? Give me a positive and a negative.

I think the OGL helped ignite the PDF industry. You have an entire mass of people who all use the same rule set, giving tons of these small companies a market to go after. Without the OGL, the gaming market splinters into dozens of tiny, isolated factions. The OGL brings the majority of gamers together under the same roof, and that lets PDF publishers make 8 - 64 page books that have a viable market out there.

On the bad side, we've pretty much seen the death of the mid-tier RPG publisher. I don't think we'll ever see another time like the late 1980s and early 1990s, when we had TORG, Shadowrun, Feng Shui, Vampire, and tons of other games come out.

Thanks again Mike! Stay tuned for the next installment of 10 Questions when we interview Preston DuBose.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Comics review: Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD tradeback

One of Marvel's most popular characters, Nick Fury's adventures have been chronicled under a variety of titles over the years. Dealing with his adventures in WWII, we have Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos (which I'll be reviewing later). But in the current day, Fury's a Colonel and he runs the secret superagency SHIELD (Supreme Headquarters International Espionage- Law Enforcement Division).

This group, which battles Hydra, was the first book to focus of "superagents" that I know of, thereby creating a whole new genre that has been continued in comics like GI Joe (first published by Marvel and now Devil's Due) as well as in games, with books like Aaron Allston's excellent Superagents (for the Hero system), Scott Bennie's Agents of Freedom (for Mutants and Mastermind's) and of course, my own Blood and Secrets (for d20 Modern).

Besides containing a lot of humor and adventure, this Nick Fury tradeback thus has a lot of value to gamers, especially those looking to run superagent adventures.

But the real attraction in this tradeback can be summed up in two words: Jim Steranko. This young artist, who begins the book inking the legendary Jack Kirby and ends the book as both penciller and writer, had a psychedleic style unlike anything seen in comics before (or since really).

The art is breathtaking and frequently on a huge scale, with whole page panels, and even one 4 page panorama that has to be seen to be believed.

In short, Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD should be in your collection for a multitude of reasons: an iconic character, the foundation of a great gaming genre and look at one of the best artists in the history of comics.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

10 Questions Gareth Michael Skarka

This week we have Gareth Michael Skarka of Adamant Entertainment in to answer our 10 questions. Adamant Entertainment focuses on Pulp, Victorian and Superhero sourcebooks.

Shortly after this interview Gareth announced that he was taking a break from publishing because he had been diagnosed with skin cancer. Our thoughts are with Gareth and his family during this time and we hope for a speedy recovery so Gareth can get back to doing what he does best: making great games.

1. What do you see as the next big thing in gaming?

Sadly, I don't think there will be another"next big thing" in least not "gaming" as we would recongize it. There has been a steady move further and furthertowards the mainstream of toys and games in the past few "Big Thing"cycles -- collectable cards leading to collectable figures, etc. Ithink that the next "big thing" is likely to turn out to be, inessence, a "small thing" in the overall toy and game market, ratherthan gaming-industry specific.

2. RPGNow and Drivethru recently merged. What do you think this meansfor the PDF market?

Overall, not too much, to be honest. The sites which have the most sales will still have the most sales, and smaller sites will occasionally sprout up. Some publishers will get all dramatic and claim that the sky is falling, while others will shrug and continue to produce and sell product. In the long run, it's the publishers, not the sales sites, that drive the success or failure of the PDF market. The sales sites are an incredibly important part of it, obviously, but realistically, if the largest sites disappeared entirely, one or more of the remaining sites would then take up the slack, and become the *new* largest sites. The most important thing, above everything else, are the products. As long as there is still product being released, and still demand among consumers, everything else is just details.

3. Related to question #1, where do you see PDFs specifically headedin the next year.

I expect the trend of rising sales to continue, as more and more consumers become used to the idea of digital content as entertainment media. Right now, most of our target market has grown to accept digital media in music (the proliferation of the iPod helped this immeasurably). Now, that same portability is starting to bleed into video. Broadcast networks are offering online streaming of TV shows, downloads through iTunes, etc. People are getting used to the idea of receiving their entertainment as a download. This helps the acceptability of PDF....although, in my opinion, to really take off, PDFs need to fully exploit their digital nature, and be more than just downloadable print content. It'll happen eventually.

4. Now look further into the future. Where do you see PDFs five years from now?

I expect that downloadable content will become a sizable segment of overall RPG sales -- possibly representing as high as half of all sales, if not more. This depends on several things: The accessability of a portable reader of some kind (similar to Sony's new eBook reader, but perhaps simply functionality added to a second or third generation of Apple's recently-announced iPhone -- adding "digital book reader" to the already-present functions of phone, internet browser, mp3 and video player), the strength of RPG sales in print, and whether or not PDF publishers make the effort to expand PDFs beyond merely being downloadable versions of books.

5. How did you get into the RPG business? What was your first job inthe industry?

I started working at a retailer in 1988....thenworking for a distributor. Then I started designing RPGs andself-published in 1993 ("Periphery" by Epitaph Studios). Since then,I've been freelancing for various publishers, both as a designer andas a business consultant. I started Adamant Entertainment initiallyas a design house in 2001. After we designed "Skull & Bones" forGreen Ronin, I launched it as a PDF publishing operation in 2003. Running Adamant has been my full-time occupation since 2004.

6. If you were just starting out today and were ready to try and breakinto the RPG business, what would be your first step?

To tell the truth, I would advise anyonethinking about it to think again -- most people who get into thisbusiness aren't really prepared (or interested, really) in gettinginto the business....they're just looking to be published. We really have far too many people who want to get in just as a hobby ora lark. Very few who are serious about making a professional attemptat it....and most don't honestly look at their motivations. Forpeople who just want to see their work published, I'd recommendsending product proposals to publishers who are open for submissions. Freelancing for established publishers, and learning the ropes thatway.

7. What was the first RPG you ever played?

My first RPG was TOP SECRET (the first editionby Merle Rasmussen, not the later "S.I." edition). I've been a Bondfan from childhood, and my friends gave me a copy of the game for my12th birthday. 6 months later, my family gave me a copy of the D&DBasic Set for Christmas.

8. What are you playing right now?

Currently, I'm a player in a 7th Sea campaign,and now that the new year has started, I'm getting reading to startGMing a Mutants & Masterminds campaign.

9. If you couldsnag any licensed property for an RPG, what would it be?

That's a tough one. I have three "HolyGrail" game licenses, and it would be very difficult to choose betweenthem: Doctor Who, James Bond and Buckaroo Banzai.

10. What's coming up for you? Sell me something damnit!

The two biggest things we've got coming up: We're finally going to be releasing MARS -- our swords-and-science RPGof planetary romance, designed by Lizard (who did "Iron Lords ofJupiter" in Polyhedron magazine). It will be a stand-alone rulebook,based on the d20 Modern system, and will be released in PDF, softcoverand limited edition hardcover. Later in the year, we'll be branching out from RPGs when we release anew quarterly magazine of pulp fiction, THRILLING TALES (yes, based onour acclaimed d20 pulp line). We're still ironing out details, butthe magazine will be featuring not only tales of original charactersin the pulp genre, but also new stories featuring classic longout-of-print pulp heroes and possibly a few high-profile licensedcharacters as well.

Thanks again Gareth. Check in next week when Mike Mearls and Preston Dubose will stop by to answer 10 questions.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

What is Fantasci?

Once we were legends. Walking side by side with creatures of myth on farflung worlds, soaring through the skies with ease and even mounting chariots that approached the realm of the Gods themselves. For his arrogance man was struck down and the Gods’ fury scorched the world. Despite this grave punishment and the warnings of the Church of the True, there are those who persist in experimenting with machines, called “infernal tech” for weaponry and transportation. Even more disturbing to the Church are those who have embraced black magic and witchcraft. For these transgressions the Black Horde walk the land. Against these hordes heroes emerge, some using the very infernal tech the Church says has caused the Gods to visit another punishment on mankind.

Fantasci is about those who stand against the Black Horde. Heroes to the people, heretics to the church, they are the Men of Legend. The Heroes of Fantasci.

Fantasci is a fantasy role-playing game using an all-new rules light d20 set developed by Charles Rice. This RPG brings the style and flair of popular Japanese RPGs to the d20 system.

This RPG is being developed on a ransom model, meaning Chuck will begin work on the book after donations have reached the threshold of $600. Those who donate will receive access to a members-only group to shape the course of the game with Chuck. The names of each and every contributor will appear on the title page.

The game will be released as a free PDF when it is completed, meaning those who donate will have given the gift of this new and exciting RPG to the gaming world.

Monday, January 22, 2007


I got more comics in the mail today.

Getting comics in the mail is as cool as getting pizza delivered. Pizza rocks but there's something special about it being BROUGHT to you on greasy cardboard slabs.

Comics in the mail is the exact same deal, except the cardboard is filled with styrofoam peanuts rather than being greasy.

My haul this time was rather smaller (or at least more compact) than the Big Ass 70's Comic Haul (TM). Expect reviews in the weeks to come of Marvel Masterworks Sgt. Fury, Nick Fury Agent of SHIELD (collecting Strange Tales 150-168) and Iron Man: Armor Wars.


Heroes: 1-22-07

Well Heroes is finally back tonight. The hiatus almost killed me. Ok, maybe I'm being a bit melodramatic, so sue me.

I loved the bit where Hiro was pretending to fight the T-Rex. Does that mean Isaac's painting has come true? Or will Hiro eventually have to fight a T-Rex (I doubt it but hey).

And in case it's not clear, I love Hiro, he's such a geek. Last episode, his FIRST reaction upon seeing the painting of him fighting the T-Rex was "I must be sure not to step on any butterflies and change the future".

Sunday, January 21, 2007

10 Questions: Roy Thomas

This 10 Questions is very special indeed. It isn't often you get to interview one of your heroes but Roy Thomas definitely qualifies for me. Thomas joined Marvel as a staff writer in 1965 and went on to helm books like the X-Men and the Avengers for lengthy runs, creating some legendary characters along the way, including the Vision, Ultron, Man-Thing and Ghost Rider.

Succeeding Stan Lee as Marvel Editor-in-Chief, Thomas continued to write and create, launching titles like the Defenders, What If and the Invaders (about which I've written before here).

Thomas also steered Marvel into new genres and licensed properties, capitalizing on 70's trends with the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu and creating martial arts hero Iron Fist. Thomas also acquired the rights to several properties that flourished in comic form at Marvel, most notably Star Wars and Conan. It has been said, by one of the editors-in-chief that succeeded Thomas, Jim Shooter, that these licensed properties (particularly Star Wars) single-handedly saved Marvel from bankruptcy in the 70's and 80's.

Well, I think I've established why I would want to interview Roy Thomas, so enough from me, let's see Roy's answers to this comic-themed installment of 10 Questions already!

  1. What do you of the recurring trend of “event comics”?

I think they’ve been so overblown, more so in recent years than even in the 80s and 90s, that they are self-defeating. How seriously can any reader take any continuity today when he/she knows that, a couple of years from now, there’s liable to be yet another “relaunch” in which some yo-yo with more chutzpah and ambition than sense tells you that “everything you know is wrong”? Yecch.

2. When I first became a fan of you was on the Avengers. I’ve heard several stories over the years that you wanted Thor and Iron Man to remain on the book but Stan dictated you use lesser known characters like Cap, Quicksilver, Hawkeye and the Scarlet Witch. Is this true? Were you given any line-up dictates? Any dictates at all?

As I’ve oft reported, Stan made me take Captain America out of THE AVENGERS, and wouldn’t let me bring him, Thor, and/or Iron Man back on a regular basis… till after a few years I just did it without asking, and he accepted the situation.

3. Are you doing any comics these days? It seems you’ve been focusing on “Alter Ego” and other works detailing the history of comics lately.

I’m writing ANTHEM for Heroic Publication (#4 just coming out, #5-6 in the pipeline with more planned), which has been a modest success… an alternate-WWII super-hero comic originally prepared for Spain. I’m also doing three multi-issue adaptations of literary classics for Marvel (starting with THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS), and have been invited to write another Red Sonja story for Dynamite, plus a few other offers.

4. What do you see as the future of comics?

As the tail wagged by the dog of merchandising and other media.

5. If you were running a major comic company today, what would you do first?

If I had to compete with other companies coming out now, I think I’d decline… it wouldn’t be any fun for me. If I had my druthers, of course, that would be quite different.

6. You started as a comics fan and went on to become a comics writer. Any tips for writers trying to break into the industry?

Not really, except to write first in another medium… nowadays, editors seem impressed mostly by people who’ve done movies, etc.

7. Before you started at Marvel, you were a fan, what were your favorite comics?

In the 1960s? I liked esp. FF and SPIDER-MAN and AVENGERS at Marvel…the Julie Schwartz books at DC. In the 1940s, ALL-STAR COMICS and related titles, plus CAPTAIN MARVEL & THE MARVEL FAMILY, and the Timely/Marvel heroes.

8. Jim Shooter seems to be one of those comics luminaries that is particularly divisive. Some hail him as a genius, others seem to really dislike him.

I think both views are totally supportable.

9. Joe Quesada really seems to have revitalized Marvel. What do you think of the job he’s done as Editor in Chief?

He seems to have turned Marvel around to a great extent, though I know little of what’s done. Marvel doesn’t send me free comics, and I rarely buy any.

10. If you could return to write a single comic regularly, what comic would you most want to write?

ALL-STAR SQUADRON at DC… or some JSA thing set in WWII. After that, THE INVADERS… and some Conan work somewhere.

I'd like to thank Roy for answering my questions. Heck, I was thrilled he answered my email query to begin with. He's an important figure in the history of comics, a brilliant writer and one of those guys that convinced me to try my hand at this writing thing.

Thanks again, Roy.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

What the...

Seriously. I got nothin. The Amazon page this comes from says Iron Man takes over SHIELD, but those Amazon pages are notoriously inaccurate. I suppose it could be Bullet Points. Which is my official guess. That this is the cover for the Bullet Points trade and Amazon has their wires a bit crossed.

Either way. Rock. On. I have a new desktop wallpaper now.

Friday, January 19, 2007


So, my draft of the GM's Guide to WWII has been done for a bit and it's moving through the "process". Art selected, editing done, moving on to layout.

After editing was completed, the boss asked me to do a "bloggity" introduction, in the conversational style I use here. You know, something that approximates the way I actually talk. (Yes, I ramble JUST this much in actual conversation)

And what he wanted me to talk about in my bloggity way was why WWII?
It's an interesting question, and something I actually have given some thought to before now. I know, what was I doing thinking about a book before I wrote it.

Anyway, I thought, since it was bloggity and all, it should actually be a blog entry!

Hopefully not too boring.

Although over for more than 60 years, the Second World War is still alive today. Turn on your TV and you can watch a documentary about the war every day of the year. Major historical texts are done examining the major battles and the strategists who fought them. In the realm of fiction, movies, novels and comics are set during the war, either as a backdrop or with the characters actually participating in the battle. In the realm of video games, WWII is the most popular setting for one of gaming’s most important genre: the first person shooter. It’s possible there’s as much daily exposure to the events of the war today than there was when it was happening.

Why is this?

In part because WWII has become a large part of how America sees itself as a nation, in the same category as the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and the Old West. And like two of the three events mentioned previously, WWII also influenced America’s place in the world. When the war started the United States had the 19th largest army in the world, a smaller army than Poland. At the end of the war America was one of two superpowers, an atomic power and the world was aligned along two poles between the U.S. and another power that ended the war far more powerful than when it began: the Soviet Union.

That conflict, known as the “cold war” lasted for 30 years and was a direct consequence of the war. Not only the way nuclear weaponry (which had been an innovation of the war) influenced geo-politics but also in terms of the organizations that would confront one another politically and militarily. The United Nations, NATO and the Warsaw Pact were all attempts at collective security designed to prevent another war. These organizations, like the nations leading the two poles of the Cold War were a direct product of the Second World War. In fact some historians believe that, as more and more distance from the conflict is gained, historians will simply fold the Cold War into WWII, addressing them as two phases of a much larger conflict.

So clearly, there are a lot of reasons to think about, talk about and research about the Second World War. Scholars devote their life’s work to the endeavor. But this isn’t a scholarly work, it’s a game, which brings about a whole new set of questions. Why a game about WWII?

In part, for all the reasons listed above. Everyone knows that the war shaped the world we live in today. The idea of being a part of that, even vicariously, is a powerful draw to a game. And in part because the war exists in our minds as one of history’s few “good wars”. The opponents of the Allied powers unquestionably needed to be fought. In many cases the Allies were attacked first and so were defending themselves. For these reasons, there’s less morale ambiguity about the war. You can really believe that the Allies were the good guys and the Axis were bad guys in a way that’s much harder than a game about, say, the Civil War or Viet Nam. This is why the Axis are frequently the villains in modern pulp literature. Since they were inarguably horrible, there’s no moral quandary about making them cartoon villains.

But mostly, it’s because the war has become a part of our national identity. Like the Battle of Marathon to the Greeks and the Second Punic War to the Romans, the Second World War represents the Allied powers at their best. A time when nations were tested. While some were found wanting, many triumphed in a way they never want to forget. Simply put it was, as Winston Churchill predicted it would be, our finest hour.

There you go. Hopefully this has made you want to read the book more. If not, um... then the rest of the book is much better than this.

Video Game Review: Sid Meier's Pirates

Sid Meier, best known for his epic computer strategy Civilization series has done it to me again. Meier is the master of the "just one more turn" type of game where you're playing it and every few minutes you say to yourself "one more turn, then it's bedtime". Before you know it the sun's up.

Pirates is an open-ended game that puts you at the helm of a sloop through mutiny at the age of 18. Your parents have been thrown into slavery by an evil landowner but you escaped and now, at the helm of your captured vessel, it's time for you to take your revenge.

If you want to. Or you can become an honest merchant running spices from Havana to Port Royal. Or you can become a black-sailed pirate terrorizing the Carribbean. Or you can hang out in taverns getting in sword fights and buying maps to buried treasure from shadowy strangers in back rooms.

Occasionally you'll get a lead on where your family is held but pursuing that angle of the game, like every other angle of the game, is strictly optional.

Your career is tracked by the game in a variety of ways. How many treasure chests have you unearthed? How many family members freed from servitude? Have you served any of the colonial powers loyally enough for a military commission? (And hilariously, the answer to this is often yes multiple times- my current character is a Captain in both the Dutch and British fleets, the uniform he wears varies according to the port he's in).

How wealthy are you? This is rated in terms of gold and land, which is usually bestowed upon you for loyal service to one or more of the colonial powers.

How many governors daughters have you romanced?

At the end of your career, all these things will be tallied and your career as a pirate judged.

I can't recommend this game enough. It's addictive. It's fun, it's light hearted. You could even technically play it in small doses, though I'm not sure why you'd want to.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Episode Review: Smallville "Justice"

We saw the Justice League in action on Smallville tonight, which is definitely moving more and more toward a straight up superhero show. Sure there have been paranormal abilities from the beginning but we're starting to see costumes, teams and Lex is definitely in serious bad guy territory.

In fact, the only thing I don't love about the direction of this show is that Lex is less interesting as a bad guy than the guy who might one day become bad.

An excellent episode written and directed by Steven S. DeKnight, a former writer for Angel who's good with action sequences.

For those who would like to see what the fuss is about, I recommend the first season very highly. Heck, just go rent all of it. A really great show in the tradition of Buffy and the X-Files.

10 Questions Joe Browning

Joe Browning, head honcho of Expeditious Retreat Press is our second 10 Questions volunteer for this week. Previous interviewees at 10 Questions have been Russ Morrissey, Fraser Ronald and Phil Reed.

ERP are the creators of Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe, one of the best conceived products the PDF market has seen in a long time, which educates fantasy GMs and world designers on the actual mechanics of medieval politics, religion and economics, as well as taking magic into account, assuming you're not running a strictly historical game.

As for the rest, let's let Joe speak for himself.

1. What do you see as the “next big thing” in gaming?

Honestly, I have no idea. For me, the products that I’ve always liked aren’t the things that have been big things in the industry, so I think my opinion here isn’t of much value.

2. RPGNow and Drivethru recently merged. What do you think this means for the PDF market?

I think the merger between RPGNow and Drivethru has illuminated the distribution risks associated with allowing a single entity to dominate a publishing company’s electronic gaming products. The associated fee increase was a shock to the publishers who helped build both of those businesses and informed them that their profit margins are fair game when the OBS goes looking to increase its bottom line. Having less choice in distribution is not a benefit to anyone but the distributor in the PDF market.

3. Related to question #1, where do you see PDFs specifically headed in the next year.

Hopefully over to Your Games Now! J But seriously, I think the market is maturing. I believe we’ve passed the initial growth spurt where PDF products gained acceptability as a viable option for publishers. There are now almost no publishers whose products are outside of the PDF market. Growth now will come from continued production within PDF producers as opposed to growth from adding print publishers into the PDF mix. That’s not to say everybody’s here yet, but I expect they will be within 5 years.

4. Now look further into the future. Where do you see PDFs five years from now?

Bigger than they are now, probably roughly 40%+ of the rpg market. PDF will slowly gain converts from those who were formerly against the medium. As our society as a whole adapts towards a more digital-friendly view, such a migration will naturally occur. If digital paper gets off the ground in a cheap and durable form, the change could be quiet rapid.

5. How did you get into the RPG business? What was your first job in the industry?

I wrote the book I’d always wanted to read: A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe. After over 2,000 PDF copies, I’m glad I did. J I’ve never had a real job in the industry outside of our publishing company Expeditious Retreat Press, and in ways that’s both a blessing and a curse. I’d like more knowledge about how other companies manage their production, but at the same time having to find our own way has helped us as well.

6. If you were just starting out today and were ready to try and break into the RPG business, what would be your first step?

Have a goal of what you want out of the business and try to make a plan that fits what you want. If you just want to be creative, don’t try to publish. Publishing isn’t creative work, it’s just work. If you’re going to publish accept that a lot of your time that you could spend on doing something creative is going to be spent doing something else. But more than that realize that people make buying decisions on appearance, marketing, and content. I wish things were more content driven, but that’s not the case. But to be honest, appearance and marketing ARE content, just of a different sort than what many think of as the content of a game.

7. What was the first RPG you ever played?

A mix of red-box and blue-box basic D&D. Rules were optional, dice were rolled for fun and profit, and I got killed by a big centipede. Nasty critter, that.

8. What are you playing right now?

Unfortunately, nothing on the rpg side. I’ve been too mobile (moving roughly 11 times in the past 6 years) to have any established gaming group. That said, last GenCon I played in a great game of Expert D&D and when I was in Austin last year had a lot of fun trying out various board games with Wil Upchurch and the various folks he’d prod and poke out of Steve Jackson’s company. Lately, with getting Your Games Now off the ground I haven’t had any time to play anything in the past two and ½ months. Even BuyWord and hasn’t been dusted off lately.

9. If you could snag any licensed property for an RPG, what would it be?

Thundarr. Something about that series just grabs me and I’d love to produce a little rpg for it. For something more serioius, the Kane novels by Karl Edward Wagner would make a great world and system for a dark and gritty rpg.

10. What’s coming up for you? Sell me something damnit!

We at Expeditious Retreat Press are continuing our 1 on 1 Adventure line (adventures for 1 GM and 1 player) and the Advanced Adventures line (for the OSRIC/1E system). We have another Magical Society book in mind, but it’s going to be a beast and I’m not prepared for a real announcement yet. But I've just finished a new chapter for A Magical Medieval Society: Western Europe about warfare, so our Magical Society fans will have something to chew on for a while. That'll probably come out in PDF before February.

But our real big news this year is Your Games Now. I’ve started up a cooperatively run sales site for tabletop gaming e-products where site profits are shared with the publishers who actually make the material that’s sold. I think this model is going to do very well for us, publishers, and customers. The more money that reaches the hands of the Creatives in this industry, the better and more varied the products will be for all gamers.

Id like to once again thank Joe Browning for taking the time to answer my 10 questions, he has a lot going on in the writing and business arenas.

Stay tuned for further installments in the series, upcoming interviews include Gareth Michael Skarka of Adamant Entertainment and Mike Mearls of Wizards of the Coast.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Blood and Guts II: On the Ground released

Never rains but it pours.

The last of the Blood and Guts "three word" vehicle books, On the Ground, has been released (the other two, for those playing the home game, were Wild Blue Yonder and Deep Blue Sea).

We also have a couple of bundles that we put on sale today, since the heavy lifting for Blood and Guts II is done, a bundle of the three vehicle books mentioned above and a bundle of the entire Blood and Guts II line, for the multi-classed completist-procrastinators among you.

Book Review: Carrier, A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier by Tom Clancy

Known for his excellent naval military fiction, Tom Clancy is also a writer of naval military NON-fiction. In Carrier, a Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier, Clancy takes a look at the most powerful warships in the history of the world from a number of different angles.

The book is divided into 7 chapters that are more or less independent, more like an essay collection than a unified book. This approach works to the book's advantage and is almost required by the enormity of its target. A modern super-carrier is as wide ranging a subject as a major city and a large airbase combined.

Chapter 1, Aviation 101, explains why the aircraft carrier supplanted the dreadnought as the most feared vessel in any navy's arsenal and examines the costs associated with such vessels, such a huge financial drain that even 1st World countries frequently ask if the financial cost of a carrier is worth the benefit.

Chapter 2, Hand on the Helm, interviews Admiral Jay Johnson about what it's like to command a supercarrier, with numerous surface and submarine forces under your direct command and an air arsenal larger than most countries' entire air force.

Chapter 3 looks at the pilots who fly naval aircraft (they prefer to be called aviators). As you can imagine, these are a special breed of folks.

Chapter 4 looks at what it takes to put an aircraft carrier together, while Chapter 5 looks at the planes that form a carrier's primary weaponry and the rockets and bombs that arm those carriers.

Chapter 6 looks at the carrier group, a battle group that serves both to defend the carrier but also expand its tactical options on the battle field. Between the missile cruisers, destroyers, frigates and submarines in the group (as well as over 70 combat aircraft), a carrier commander has a tremendously flexible arsenal at his disposal (indeed if you read Chapter 1 of this book you'll learn that this flexibility is the main thing that makes a carrier group so deadly and so valuable).

Chapter 7 puts it all together at last, completing the overall picture Clancy introduced the reader to in Chapter 1 by first looking at a real carrier group response to an emerging situation, during the Persian Gulf in 1997.

Chapter 8 presents a fictional carrier group scenario, set in the Indian Ocean around a conflict involving India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, set in 2015. Clancy's gift for military fiction is well known but this fictional scenario is even more riveting than usual since you've read about 250 pages making familiarizing yourself with all the moving parts of the group before you read the story.

Having just finished a book on naval warfare, this was invaluable to me to see how all the pieces of a carrier group fit together. But more than that, it was an interesting read for anyone interested history, the military or even geo-politics, since the mere presence of an American carrier group exerts political pressure more often than military conflict.

Another Golden Age creator passes away: Joe Gill RIP

Like WWII veterans, Golden Age writers and artists are passing away more and more frequently. Let's take a moment to remember the prolific Joe Gill, a mainstay at Charlton Comics from the Golden Age until the business folded in 1986. He also did a little work for Marvel and DC during his days.

Chuck's First Law of Game Design

If something is important to a setting, it should be represented as such mechanically. Fluff is not a good way to represent theme.

For example, say you want a gritty military game. You can't use standard d20 mechanics and tell your players "but don't do anything that would get you killed in the real world, or it will kill you here".

As another example, if you want to run a game where magic is dark, mysterious and dangerous to your soul, don't use the standard D&D magic rules.

This might seem simple... but you'd be surprised how many games ignore this sort of stuff.

And some people might be philosophically opposed to the basic premise I'm operating under here, namely: crunch > fluff.

If you have a philosophical disagreement with this, tough. This is my law. Go write your own law. However, I think you'll find that setting attributes in crunch are much easier to apply and much easier for players to buy into because, you know, they actually affect the game world.

Telling players death could come at any time and to act appropriately is a hard sell if they can charge machine gun nests with little danger.

Not to rant but... business matters

Many gamers recoil from the statement above like a vampire from sunlight. Game companies are SUPPOSED to operate on whisper-thin margins where a single mistake (or a single distributor who runs off with your money) leads to certain bankruptcy.

Then you have their RESPECT, and when you go out of business, they can sit around and talk about how awesome your books were, and how great it would be if you were still around.

Example #4,579 of this behavior is right here: a gamer starts a thread and says "hey, no random minis please".

The thread goes on for a bit with a lot of people basically chiming in and saying "yeah! random minis are an evil corporate scam! way to rake in stupid dollars hasbro!".

Then, Charles freaking Ryan, former brand manager for D&D at WOTC steps in and says "guys, they have to be random, or else we have to guess what minis will sell, then the distributor has to guess, then the retailer has to guess and prices would rise by 50% and every step along the chain is choked with unsold product and there are no more minis to buy, it wouldn't be worth it".
That last part is really really important. If they sold them that way, they wouldn't be selling them. The line would be as dead as Julius Caesar. Or in other words, it would be Alternity.

And then... everyone completely ignores Charles Ryan's post.

They don't even deign to respond with a "nuh-uh!"

They just continue on like no one ever posted with "random minis suck!"

Like two pages later you get a response, the first I've noticed so far with "distribution is the problem, now go fix it".

Except they freaking did! Randomized minis fixes it!

And then someone else pointed out that WOTC offered a non-random pack of that most common of all monsters, the orc, which was pulled because distributors weren't ordering them.

Followed by a bunch more posts "random minis suck!"


Am I losing my mind?

Basically this entire thread boils down to a bunch of customers saying "I want X product packaged in X way". The company says "if we sold X product in X way we'd go out of business". And the customer responds "yeah but *I* personally would buy them if you sold them that way, staying in business, that's YOUR job".

Martin Nodell: RIP

Martin Nodell, co-creator of the Green Lantern has died at the age of 91.

The fact that this man created Green Lantern, then went to Madison Ave and created the Pillsbury Doughboy, died without money shooting out of his eyes tells you everything you need to know about what's wrong with the world.

In related news, while the creators of Golden Age heroes die with no stake in their creations, a group of soul sucking lawyers continue to milk creations Edgar Rice Burroughs and R.E. Howard.

And it appears one particular writer is in a foul mood this early AM.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Gary Gygax interview

Two part 2004 GameSpy interview with the master of games himself. You can check out Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Marvel Masterworks: Ant-Man/Giant-Man

As you probably know, I'm a huge Avengers geek. And for me, the appeal of the Avengers was always about 4 characters, two of which I've written about extensively in the past (Captain America and Iron Man) but two of which I'm going to talk about today: Giant Man and the Wasp.

Don't ask me why, I just love these characters. The idea of being incredibly small, of exploring the insect world on their level, is just a great idea and showcases Stan Lee's science fiction roots at a level unseen anywhere outside the fantastic four.

Before being seen exclusively in the pages of the Avengers, Giant-Man and the Wasp were seen in one of Marvel's anthology titles of the day, Tales to Astonish. The first story featuring Ant-Man's alter ego, Henry Pym, isn't a superhero story at all, but a horror story.

In "The Man in the Ant Hill" scientist Henry Pym tests his shrinking serum on himself for the first time and ends up unable to reach his growth serum, trapped in an ant hill on the run from a horde of creatures who want to eat him. Creepy stuff.

Luckily the potential for super-heroism occured to the folks at Marvel so when we see Henry Pym again 9 issues later, he's developed his patented helmet to let him CONTROL ants, and the ant-man is born.

Now you might not know this, but Stan wrote a LOT of different kinds of comics in the 50's and early 60's, before superheroes caught on again and one of his strengths was the romance/soap opera comic (those of you who have read a lot of early Stan Lee are doubtless shocked by this). So as the ant-man began to find his footing, it was decided he needed a love interest.

But not some retiring, fainting female, a "partner in peril" as she is referred to on the cover of her first appearance. You guessed it, the Wasp. Still not done tinkering with the character, two issues later, Ant Man becomes Giant Man.

Marvel Masterworks is one of my favorite Marvel lines right now. They take classic comics and reprint them in full color, on glossy paper, in library-quality hardbacks. Even for die-hard Avengers fans like me, these early Tales to Astonish stories were too expensive to pursue in the 70's and 80's. The Marvel Masterworks titles give me a way to pick them up relatively cheaply.

If you'd like to see a bit of Marvel history, and one of the most unusual heroes ever created strut his stuff in some rare solo appearances, pick up this great title.

Down the hatch

So we just released B&G II: Deep Blue Sea and I just got my first look at the PDF for B&G II: On the Ground.

The draft for the GM's Guide to WWII is done, and the draft for WWII Small Arms is underway.

I love being busy.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

10 Questions plus 1! Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey is the head honcho of two important RPG entities, ENWorld, the single largest d20 fan sit on the web and ENPublishing, one of the largest PDF companies. As such, he might have his finger more on the pulse of the game community than any other single person. For that reason I am delighted to have him as my third guest here at 10 Questions. In fact, since he wears so many hats, he gets 11 questions!

1. What do you see as the “next big thing” in gaming?

4E, I guess, whenever that appears - assuming you mean RPGs.

2. RPGNow and Drivethru recently merged. What do you think this means for the PDF market?

I don't think it's nearly as dramatic as it has been made out to be. Those two sites merged, ENGS closed, a couple of other sites opened. Some publishers moved from one site to another, in both directions.

EN Publishing has seen a sales increase at RPGNow/DTRPG over the past 3 months; I hear that experiences have varied from one publisher to the next. In the long run, though, it's business as usual.

3. Related to question #2, where do you see PDFs specifically headed in the next year.

I'm not sure I understand the question. I don't anticipate any *major* changes in the nature of PDF publishing. ENP is trying to promote the subscription model heavily throughout 2007 - I know a couple of companies have done this already, but we'll be interested in seeing how things work out with it. So far, pre-orders of the subscription have been very high indeed.

4. Now look further into the future. Where do you see PDFs five years from now?

Lots of varied smaller shopfronts; possibly some specialization amongst them. Electronic product as a whole will increase its market share - heck, even WotC is gearing up its new subscriber-based online resources.

5. How did you get into the RPG business? What was your first job in the industry?

My first "experience" in the industry was EN World. My first "job" was launching EN Publishing (then called Natural 20 Press) with "Wild Spellcraft".

6. If you were just starting out today and were ready to try and break into the RPG business, what would be your first step?

I don't think I'd bother! There are easier ways to make a living. But PDF publishing, rather than being the "hobbyist" end of things, is becoming more and more accepted, and is a good first step.

7. What was the first RPG you ever played?

It was a wargame which I thought was an RPG - the Warhammer black & white boxed set. I was 11 or 12, and misinterpreted the rules and ended up playing it as what I later learned was an "RPG".

8. What are you playing right now?

D&D. Age of Worms Adventure Path. To be followed by EN Publishing's War of the Burning Sky Campaign Saga.

9. If you could snag any licensed property for an RPG, what would it be?

Eh.. ummm. It would have to be DC Comics!

10. What’s coming up for you? Sell me something damnit!

ENP has two major lines for 2007:

WAR OF THE BURNING SKY - hopefully you've heard about this! If you haven't, I haven't been doing my job very well. It's a massive Campaign Saga. 12 adventures, available individually or as a subscription, plus a Players Guide and a DM Campaign Overview (the last two will be free). We're also thinking along the lines of art books and stuff for the saga. It's going to be REALLY good. More info here.

The other major line deals with organizations. Each book will detail a specific organization, such as a thieves guild, a magic school, a town guard, an evil cult, a clerical order, a knightly order and so forth. Each will detail the organization, with maps, NPCs, an adventure involving them, etc.

11. Bonus Question: Before I broke into the business, I read about being involved in RPGs at ENWorld, which I first heard of in Polyhedron Magazine of all places. Could you tell me what it’s like to run THE d20 fan site?

A mix of pleasure and pain! At times it's a lot of hassle, but at other times it's a joy to do. It gives me the chance to be involved in a wonderful community, to do things and branch out with things I'd not be able to do otherwise. On balance, it's a very positive experience - I can't imagine not doing it.

Thanks again Russ! And you gentle reader, stay tuned, 10 questions isn't quite out of volunteers yet, with Joe Browning and Gareth Michael Skarka up next.


Old School Review: The Invaders

As part of my great comic book buy from the 70's recently, I picked up a complete run of the Invaders (41 issues).

For those who don't know the Invaders is a comic set in WWII starring Marvel's three greatgolden age heroes: Captain America, the Human Torch (the original android, not the one in the Fantastic Four) and the Sub-Mariner.

Written by Roy Thomas, long-time scribe of the Avengers, X-Men, Conan and Red Sonja, the Invaders is purposely written in a throwback style to Marvel's golden age.

It features appearances by Adolf Hitler. The heroes have sidekicks (Cap has Bucky, Human Torch has Toro) and a lot of the villains are purposely on the cheesy side (Baron Blood, a Nazi vampire being the favorite here).

As the series goes on, new heroes and villains begin to appear and these are by far the highlight of the series. British superheroes Union Jack (best superhero name of all time) and Spitfire, villains Master Man and Baron Blood. It's silver age comics at their best. Light hearted, unafraid to be what they are.

To the best of my knowledge the Invaders have never been collected into a tradeback. You're nosing into a slightly obscure corner of the Marvel Universe here. That said, for those willing to look into back issue collections online, it's not that expensive either.

I picked up low quality copies that averaged about a dollar an issue (or about a third of the cover price of a brand new comic). If you want high quality copies of course it'll cost more, but I went with Good quality comics that I wouldn't feel bad about packing around with me and actually reading.

There's more old school reviews on the way, with the rest of my big-ass comics buy to look at. I also got an awesome new Marvel Masterworks that I will be reviewing in the coming days, so stay tuned.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Blood and Guts II: Deep Blue Sea released

Well it took us awhile thanks to the holidays, but Blood and Guts II: Deep Blue Sea has finally been released and can be found at RPGNow.

You can find more infromation here.

Dancey speak...

you listen.

And don't neglect to read the comments either, because personally, that's where one of the best insights he offers is:

As a gamer, this is a mini-golden age: a little work on my part and I have access to a wider, and more diverse set of product offerings than have ever been commercially available at any one time before. Via the internet, I can find and join communities of people who share my interests, and often interact directly with the people who make those games in ways never before possible. That's incredibly exciting!

My business focus is on the "industry" side though -- the people I know who are trying to build companies and earn a living making and selling games, and for those people, there are real structural challenges that threaten their ability to succeed; and I find exploring those issues to be perpetually interesting.

This is DEFINITELY true.

As a gamer myself, I understand why many of my fellow gamers can't wrap their minds around the idea that business isn't great right now, because it's a great time to be a gamer.

Unfortunately, one of the many messed up aspects of the gaming "industry" which perpetually forces 99% of all companies to more like hobby boutiques than real companies is the fact that great times for gamers and great times for game companies don't necessarily co-exist.

In fact, in most cases, it seems like you have to pick one.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Video Game Review: Sega Genesis Collection

Classic compilations of old games is a genre that's harder to do than you'd think at first. Emulating an older system with new hardware isn't easy, but even worse at times is that new controllers just aren't built like old controllers.

And of course, a lot of old games just don't hold up that well. I remember thinking Pitfall was *awesome* in the arcade. Now? Not so much.

Still, when I saw Sega Genesis Collection, I snapped it up, largely because of the price. I figured, for 20 bucks, how bad could it be.

As it turns out, it's really GOOD. The games I bought the collection for, Sonic, Sonic 2 and Columns are all great and there are some games I played only a little in the Sega days, like Ecco that appeal to me more now than they did then.

And I've even discovered a game I had never heard of, Flicky, that I am totally addicted to.

The ports are all pixel-perfect and the control scheme just works. You don't even notice that you're using a controller with about 6 more buttons than the class Genesis controller.

10 Questions Fraser Ronald

Fraser Ronald is a d20 writer and owner of Sword's Edge Publishing. Their three major lines are Modern Medieval, which presents fantasy classes using the d20 Modern rules, Roles and Classes, which present modern military and espionage classes for d20 Modern and Spec Ops, which provides modern special operations and adventure material.

They have also written a book for Blood and Guts detailing the British special operations forces, B&G II: In Her Majesty's Service. They are a contributor to the Modern e-zine, Modern Dispatch.

Finally, he is the host of the Accidental Survivors podcast that I have spoken of in earlier posts.

I sent Fraser the same questions I asked Phil Reed earlier this week.

1. What do you see as the “next big thing” in gaming?

There are games coming out of the Forge and Indie Press Revolution that dispense with the idea of a GM, making the game more cooperative. That idea intrigues me. There is also an espionage game called “Wilderness of Mirrors” which has the players actually dictate the obstacles which they must overcome. This kind of cooperative gaming, as opposed to having an adjudicator or judge of some sort (like a GM or Storyteller), is very exciting. I don't think it's for all tastes, but I think its a natural evolutionary step in RPG gaming.

2. RPGNow and Drivethru recently merged. What do you think this means for the PDF market?

I was one of the people not particularly pleased with the situation. It creates a behemoth that is very tough to compete against. It allows a single organization, based on its market share, to dictate terms to publishers. There was a lot of argument on whether the merger created a monopoly. I think time will tell.

Now, how could that affect the PDF market? Simply put, the actions of OBS (the merged RPG Now and DTRPG) may be seen by many as the actions of the PDF industry as a whole. If OBS creates a negative impression, that could drive people away from the PDF market. Also, one would expect a merger to create savings, but either this has not been the case, or those savings have not been passed on to the publishers, who have actually seen an increase in costs. This could (and in some cases has) drive the price of PDFs up, making them less attractive. With a lower profit margin, many smaller publishers could disappear, and we might miss the next big thing.

We are already seeing new electronic storefronts popping up, the question is how will these e-stores compete against OBS. It seems, for the most part, these e-stores are letting the publishers do that. By offering lower commissions to the publishers, they offer the publishers incentives to direct traffic their way, in essence, advertising for them. Still, I would be surprised if any other e-store offers OBS serious competition, at least in the near future.

3. Related to question #1, where do you see PDFs specifically headed in the next year.

I'm not good at predictions. I would guess that we may see fewer PDF publishers. To some extent, that's already happening. I think a lot of the smaller publishers will either disappear or get swallowed. Is this a bad thing? Well, in some ways yes but in other ways no. Losing smaller publishers means many niche products won't see the light of day. On the other hand, a lot of people think there are too many products already.

4. Now look further into the future. Where do you see PDFs five years from now?

I expect publishers will continue to push the envelope of the digital format, trying to create something other than electronic books. Already Silven Publishing has included sound clips with a PDF. I would expect that we'll see more innovations like that. What about video clips? Maybe even links to online resources only accessible through the PDF link.

Also, as younger people—comfortable with reading off a screen—enter gaming, I expect the PDF market will expand. The big complaint right now is that people don't like to read off their screens. For those who grew up with computers, this is going to become less of a difficulty.

5. How did you get into the RPG business? What was your first job in the industry?

In all honesty, I can't remember how I got in touch with Neal Levin at Dark Quest Games, but my first job was a really short piece of fiction. It never got used, but Neal liked my writing and gave me a major part of Gnomes: Masters of Illusion to work on.

6. If you were just starting out today and were ready to try and break into the RPG business, what would be your first step?

I was lucky because I didn't really have a hard time getting my first two gigs with Dark Quest Games. Neal Levin liked my writing and offered me work. However, when I decided to get into writing for Modern, I had some legwork to do. I would still do what I originally did: put together the best damn proposal package I could and cluster bomb the industry. That proposal got me work with RPG Objects (the original Blood & Guts: In Her Majesty's Service). It also got me a great note from Goodman Games which basically said that they weren't doing Modern but they really appreciated the professionalism of the proposal. Even if I hadn't scored work with RPG Objects, that note from Goodman Games would have told me I was on the right track, and I would have kept going with the same: think up a new angle, get a proposal together and send it out.

7. What was the first RPG you ever played?

D&D, the basic set in the red box. I ran our group (two other guys) through Keep on the Borderlands. Oh man, was that a blast. I still have very fond memories of KoB, even though it really made no sense at all. One of the fun things was I had a whole political thing going on at the keep that was always in the background. The group went back to the keep three or four times during the module, and that was the part I really loved running.

8. What are you playing right now?

Sadly, nothing. I recently moved to Ottawa and my wife and I had a baby girl in November, so I haven't had time to really get a group together. Before that, I was in Chris Groff's (another host at Accidental Survivors) Warhammer Fantasy RPG game, which was a lot of fun. I'm working on two possible campaigns right now, one that's a science fantasy rip-off of Flash Gordon and a military adventure set in Albenistan. Neither are for publication, just for fun.

9. If you could snag any licensed property for an RPG, what would it be?

Since Green Ronin snagged “Black Company,” I'll have to say Glen Cook's “Dread Empire” (which he wrote before “Black Company”). The Dread Empire books includes the usual Western European milieu, but it also includes a desert kingdom--very Arabic and Muslim in flavour--a group of city-states and the Dread Empire itself, Shinsan, which is basically China but with an uber-class of sorcerers called the Tervola.

I also wouldn't mind getting licences for any of Guy Gavriel Kay's books. Each setting is basically a template from our own history, but they've each got a unique twist. I think I'd want the Tigana licence.

10. What’s coming up for you? Sell me something damnit!

Right now I'm working on an update of Covert Forces, imaginatively titled Covert Forces Redux. Through the SEP forums, I got in touch with Dominque Sumner, who works in law enforcement with SWAT. He writes for the special operations and SWAT community, and he was able to get me in touch with a lot of new information. I decided if I was going to update the unit entries, I might as well update the whole book, and expand it as well. Covert Forces Redux will include new classes (a mix of the concept of 'training classes' from B&G: Military Training Manual and the spec ops classes from SEP's Roles & Classes line), expanded 'fluid situations,' expanded discussion on mission types, and more equipment and weapons along with updated unit entries.

I'm also hoping to update our Albenistan series. The plan is to present simply the adventure scenarios, hopefully in one volume. I was never completely pleased with the way Raid on Ashkashem was presented, especially when compared to the Khorforjan Gambit.

There is a military science fiction project that I also want to do some work on, but I have my doubts. A new baby takes up a lot of time.

I'd like to thank Fraser for taking the time to answer my 10 questions. Check back early next week when I'll post my next 10 Questions volunteer, ENWorld's own Russ Morrissey!

Night Ride Part 1

Night Ride Part 1 “Look, Pa, it’s my turn. Also, Nana is having one of her spells again and she has no idea who I am when she gets this w...