Current News: The Dracula Dossier in the Bundle of Holding

Long-term readers of See Page XX will know about my very personal connection with the Dracula Dossier, and it still remains one of the Pelgrane projects I’m most proud of. The two-book core set (The Dracula Dossier Director’s Handbook, and Dracula Unredacted) together form a complex and ambitious sandbox campaign for Night’s Black Agents, wherein the events of Dracula the novel are the redacted after-action report of a real incident when the British Naval Intelligence Division decided to recruit a vampire. Needless to say, it went badly; so they hunted him down, and killed him with extreme prejudice. Or so they thought…

Decades later, Dracula resurfaced in Eastern Europe; he’s the brilliant handler of a mole in (what has in the meantime become) MI6 in the 1970s; and now, in the modern day, your players must hunt down and kill Dracula – for good, this time.

As well as the core set, Bundle of Holding purchasers also get the Night’s Black Agents core book; introductory adventure The Van Helsing Letter; the adventure collection The Edom Files; Dracula Dossier cards, with instructions on how to use them; the Edom Field Manual, revealing the best and brightest of MI6’s secret vampire-recruiters; heartbreaking work of staggering genius The Hawkins Papers (digital only!), and Ken’s The Thrill of Dracula, a whirlwind tour of the myth, legend and media of the legendary vampire himself. Get this extensive high-octane thriller collection for a limited time only in the Bundle of Holding.

NEW: The Dracula Vector

And if you’re looking for a way to introduce your players to the Dracula Dossier, but worried about jumping in too quick, check out our PDF adventure, The Dracula Vector. Set in London, an old contact gets in touch with the PCs, concerned there’s a supernatural cause to his daughter’s illness. Designed by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan as an introduction to the fast-paced and cut-throat world of modern espionage in Night’s Black Agents, this one- or maybe two-shot adventure does double-duty as an entry point into a longer Dracula Dossier campaign. It includes the usual shady bunch of pregenerated characters, but works just as well with your own PCs.

NEW: Elven Towers PDF

Pre-orderers of the print book of this champion tier 13th Age adventure by Cal Moore can now download the final PDF, and Aileen’s colour map folio, from their bookshelves. For those already possessed of groaning bookshelves, who are more interested in the digital version, that is now available, and also includes the map folio.

Work in progress: The Borellus Connection

This globe-spanning campaign for The Fall of DELTA GREEN features eight linked operations, each one playable as a standalone investigation, or as part of an epic hunt for an infamous enemy, using the heroin trade and the BNDD as a narrative spine.

The final manuscript is so massive that we’ve had to hack chunks out of it just to fit it all into one book! (For Handlers only: find a wealth of articles cleaved from the final under the “FINEST EFFECTS” tag).

It’s now finally finished its sensitivity read, and Shao’s delivered an extensive, and really insightful, report from a Southeast Asian perspective. Ken and Gareth are going through her notes now and writing up the edits; once they’re done, I’ll make the changes to the master manuscript, and pass it over to the incredibly talented Jen McCleary, who’s going to do the interior art and layout. We’re hoping to release this on pre-order next month, and have the final to pre-orderers in March 2021.

Work in progress update: Saigon ’68

This ideal companion to The Borellus Connection, this Looking Glass-style writeup of the Vietnamese “Pearl of the Orient” has also finished its sensitivity read, and Ken’s currently going through the edits, at which point it’ll pass it over to the incredibly talented Jen McCleary, who’s going to do the interior art and layout. We’re hoping to release this on pre-order next month with Borellus.

Work in progress update: Even Death Can Die

I’m delighted to report that Christian has finished the final PDF for the printer, and pre-orderers can now download this from their bookshelves. He’s currently working on the cover, and once that’s finished, it’ll be off to the printer. We’re hoping to get this out to pre-orderers in January.

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

Due to the massive size, I put out a call for artists and got more than 400 responses! Which is a good problem to have, but going through so many portfolios really slows down the art process, so we haven’t made as much progress on this as I’d have liked. We’re now looking at 2021 to have this to pre-orderers. Rich Longmore’s belting through the art he’s doing, though – here’s his Buzzing Acolyte:

Work in playtesting update: The Paragon Blade

Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s fantasy setting for the GUMSHOE One-2-One system, currently-but-still-provisionally titled The Paragon Blade, is currently in playtesting until the end of October. Play heroes barbarian Conn the Unslain, Aletheia the Scholar, or mysterious thief Puc, in a fantastical land still scarred by the evil of the fallen Hellbound Empire. Full details on how to take part in the playtest are here.

Work in progress update: The Yellow King Bestiary

Only recently announced, Robin and the other writers have been hard at work on this compendium of Carcosan creatures, and have submitted the final manuscript now. This is nearly finished copyediting, and we’ll shortly be starting art direction on it. Expect a pre-order for it either late this year or early 2021.

13th Age work in progress update:  Elven TowersCrown of Axis, and Drakkenhall: City of Monsters

Rob Heinsoo’s very kindly already written this bit for me, and you can read it here.

And finally, a request.

Wherever you live in the world, but most especially if you live in the USA, please vote.

 

The following article originally appeared in an earlier iteration of See Page XX in September 2008.

Robin D Laws discusses the nature of believability in RPGs, and we present not one, but three interviews from Luke Crane. This month also sees the launch of a flurry of new products, including a Keeper’s Screen, and James Semple’s first Pelgrane release – music for Trail of Cthulhu. The sleeve notes are here for your edification. Finally, Jason Durrall has provided a summary of character creation guidelines for Trail of Cthulhu. Perhaps this is gilding the lily, but who I am to begrudge our customers golden petals?

News from Pelgrane Press

In August we had our most succesful GenCon Indy ever, with lots of demos, record sales and two silver Ennie awards for Trail of Cthulhu. This month we have seven releases for GUMSHOE including a new Keeper’s Screen and music for Trail of Cthulhu. Mutant City Blues got its first public airing at GenCon, too, with a limited edition and demos.

Trail of Cthulhu

As I reported last month, we reprinted Trail. We’ve sold about a quarter of them already, which is pleasing. We’ve also got four new releases for Trail – the Screen, our first music release, the leatherbound and a new PDF. There was a shrinkwrap problem with the new Keeper’s Screen which affected only retail versions, but they should be out next week from your retailer.

New Trail of Cthulhu Releases

  • Regular readers of See Page XX will be familiar with the inspiring and atmospheric music of James A Semple, and this month we release Four Shadows, four music tracks for use with Trail of Cthulhu (and dare I say it) other period horror games. The musicianship is of the highest quality, and features Pulp and Purist themes. You can get it at rpgnow.com, and the Pelgrane Store.
  • We’ve released the Keeper’s Screen and Resource Book for mail order sale from the Pelgrane Store.  The Keeper’s Screen is a three panel portrait affair, with all the important charts on the back, and the Resource Book lists sample clues equipment, foibles and benefits for abilities and occupations; and a set of NPCs.
  • Stunning Eldritch Tales took a while to reprint, because of machinery problems at the printer, but it’s available now, and we’ve also released it in PDF format at IPR, rpgnow, and the Pelgrane Store. Existing Pelgrane mail order customers will be able to get the PDF from their order page.
  • We have a few copies of the Trail of Cthulhu leatherbound edition available from IPR on a first-come, first-served basis. They are signed by Kenneth Hite and Robin D. Laws. They aren’t the last available copies – we still have another twenty to be released later in the year.

More Trail News

  • The final installment of Shadows over Filmland, a collection of adventures for Trail is finished, and ready for layout. The last adventure is a collaboration between Robin and Ken, in which the PCs are investigating strange occurrences on the set of the first talking version of a Call of Cthulhu movie. Here is one Jerome’s illustrations:

The Island

  • Gareth Hanrahan is beavering away at new Trail adventures for Arkham Detective Tales, a Trail adventure supplement.

Mutant City Blues

We printed up 60 limited edition copies of Mutant City Blues for GenCon Indy, and we still have a few of these left, but only for customers in the States and Canada. I’ll be adding them to the Pelgrane store by the end of the momth. Anyone who buys one will be entitled to playtest MCB and get a playtest version of the Hard Helix, some new adventures for MCB.

Esoterrorists

The adventures Profane Miracles and Albion’s Ransom PDFs are out now from IPR, the Pelgrane Store, and rpgnow.com.

The Esoterror Factbook, a big setting book for Esoterrorists, is ready to be illustrated and laid out.

The following article originally appeared in an earlier iteration of See Page XX in June 2008.

by Simon Rogers

In this issue Robin D Laws discusses the use of genre conceits in Mutant City Blues, we have more music from James Semple, and a second interview by Luke Crane. This issue sees the return of Mystic Moo – learn how to get your fondest wishes, with cosmic ordering. I was very pleased with the results of the last poll – our readership is higher than I expected – so I’ve included another one, with a peculiar question. Your feedback really helps.

News from Pelgrane Press

Since the last View, we’ve sold out. But in a good way. We sold out of the first print run of Trail, released Stunning Eldritch Tales for Trail, and sold out of that, too – new stock should now be available. We’ve done reprints of Esoterrorists and Fear Itself, too. Trail is available in PDF, in a number of forms, two quite innovative. All our products are available from the Pelgrane Store and IPR.

Trail of Cthulhu Print Version

Trail of Cthulhu sold through the first 2000 copies, and we’ve just completed the reprint, along with a limited number of leather bound copies. I took the perhaps hubristic decision of printing another 2000. The leather bound version, limited to 50 copies for sale, will be released through various channels between now and Dragonmeet 2008, some through competitions, some for online sale or auction, and a bunch at GenCon Indie 2008. Stunning Eldritch Tales , a collection of adventures for Trail was released and sold out though most outlets. You can read about a review on Yog-Sothoth. A reprint has hit the warehouses already.

Other Trail news:

  • An exclusive Trail of Cthulhu adventure is available in participating stores for Free RPG Day, 21st June called The Murder of Thomas Fell. There will be limited copies, so grab them while you can.
  • The Keeper’s Screen and Resource Book is now laid out and illustrated, and is ready to be printed. It was written by Simon Carryer, who wrote the excellent transport articles in earlier Page XXs. Adrian Bott edited it, adding a dash of spice to the mix.
  • Gareth Hanarahan has completed the first of his Arkham Detective Tales – it’s now playtested and awaiting a partner.
  • Shadows Over Filmland, another collaboration between the Hite/Laws dream team is in playtest.
  • Some Trail of Cthulhu customers have produced GUMSHOE conversions for Call of Cthulhu, and conversion notes of for making your own conversions. You can find them here.

Trail of Cthulhu PDFs

In additition to the full version PDF, we’ve released the Trail of Cthulhu Player’s Guide PDF includes all the player’s stuff from Trail of Cthulhu, including the complete Trail GUMSHOE system, character creation, equipment lists, tips and forms. It weighs in at 100 pages. We also released Trail of Cthulhu Game Group PDF Bundle. The bundle was an interesting experiment in the spectrum of honesty of PDF users. The idea is, the GM gets the Trail of Cthulhu PDF, the players get three copies of the Player’s Guide between them. I’m very pleased with the sales, with about 20% of our Trail sales on OBS being bundles.

The Esoterrorists

Robin D Laws has finished the first draft of the Esoterror Factbook, an engrossing setting book for The Esoterrorists written in the style of an OV operatives manual. It’s a great read, disturbing and filled with gaming opportunities. A bunch of additional optional combat crunch for the Special Supression Forces are in need of testing, and Robin is writing a short adventure to test them out.

Dying Earth

Tooth Talon and Pinion (Excellent Prismatic Spray 7/8) is out now. Subscribers copies have just been sent out, and we’ll add the PDF version next month.

Mutant City Blues

Mutant City Blues is in layout. You can read the in house playtest report part 1 here and part 2 here. And, here is some of Jéromes excellent art:

(Ed. – the following art is from the first edition. You can find the second edition of Mutant City Blues here.)

Flight

Mutant City Blues cover

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in April 2008. 

News from Pelgrane Press

We’ve had a great month, although some shipping issues have reared their ugly heads, mainly with shipments from the US taking their time to reach Europe. We’ve fixed those now. Leonard Balsera’s Profane Miracles, another fastplay Esoterrorists adventure is also out now from sale from Indie Press Revolution. You can also get it from the Pelgrane Press Store.

Trail of Cthulhu

Trail of Cthulhu is our quickest selling game ever, and I am delighted with the response, through all channels. We’ve sold through 70% of the first print run already, and I’m now concerned that we won’t get the reprint out in time. We had a great Trail of Cthulhu launch party, and I had the pleasure of going to see James Semple in his amazing studio. We are very lucky to have him working with us to create original music for the various GUMSHOE games. We’ll be putting together a package of sound effects music, and stings as a new RPG product.

Out Now

Out recently

Available from the Pelgrane Store and IPR.

Printing

Laid Out and Ready to Print

Stunning Eldritch Tales, a set of four Trail of Cthulhu adventures is in playtest,

Further Work

Robin is writing an action-packed new adventure for Mutant City Blues, and Jerome is working on new illustrations for MCB.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in February 2008. 

News from Pelgrane Press

Short and sweet. The blog has more Pelgrane details and a caption competition. This month we’ve released Fields of Silver, Lynne Hardy’s Turjan-level adventure, and Ian Sturrock’s Esoterrorist adventure Albion’s Ransom.

Playtesting

The Mutant City Blues and Stunning Eldritch Tales playtests continue apace, and I’ve had the pleasure of doing some in-house testing of MCB with players are members of the Met Police Heightened Crime Investigation Unit.

Trail of Cthulhu

Trail of Cthulhu is due out mid-February. Pre-orders have been fantastic, and you can get yours as a pre-order from Indie Press Revolution. You can also get it from the Pelgrane Press Store.

Out Now

Available from the Pelgrane Store and IPR.

Laid Out and Ready to Print

In Playtesting

Stunning Eldritch Tales, a set of four Trail of Cthulhu adventures is in playtest, as is Mutant City Blues.

The following article originally appeared on an earlier iteration of See Page XX in December 2007. 

News from Pelgrane Press

This month we’ve released GUMSHOE Unremitting Horror, Robin’s The Birds webcomic and The Compendium of Universal Knowledge. This is the month that we pre-released a limited edition Trail of Cthulhu and the general release version went to the printers. Finally Indie Press Revolution now stocks the full range of Pelgrane games.

Trail of Cthulhu

Trail of Cthulhu is now available as a pre-order from Indie Press Revolution. You can also get it from the Pelgrane Press Store.

Dragonmeet

Dragonmeet is a London-based games convention which happens the first weekend in December. It’s great fun. We sold all forty of the limited edition Trails of Cthulhu we brought, six before the trade hall was even open, and Jerome was kind enough to draw a picture in every one – a real collectible. It was by far our best Dragonmeet in terms of sales overall.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Yog-Sothoth crowd, although I found Paul of Cthulhu’s interview a little disconcerting, purely because it was all “lights, camera, action” rather than a podcast. Steve Dempsey has his Esoterrorists and Fear Itself demo technique honed, and the Trail of Cthulhu session he ran went well, the GUMSHOE investigative system sitting neatly in the background. If you want the demo adventure, let us know.

New Releases

GUMSHOE Unremitting Horror and Compendium of Universal Knowledge are now available through retail. Robin D Laws’ webcomic The Birds is available through retail, from IPR, or from our online store. I’ve set up a website for The Birds – check it out here.

Laid Out and Ready to Go

Now ready to print are:

In Playtesting

Stunning Eldritch Tales, a set of four Trail of Cthulhu adventures is in playtest, as is Mutant City Blues.

The following article about the state of the roleplaying industry in the mid-2000s originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in June 2006.

Is the RPG Industry Screwed?

When you depend on live game designers for sustenance, the health of the ecosystem which allows them to thrive is of paramount importance. Whilst everyone has an opinion on this subject, I asked people who make their living from the roleplaying games – publishers, distributors and retailers – how they think the RPG industry is doing. A polite-worded request is often misunderstood (many of them are brain-addled from an excess comics and food additives) so I screamed “Is the RPG Industry Screwed?” in their ear and suspended them over my squawking progeny as usual. The responses were interesting, varied, and inconclusive.

I’ll start with a successful company, running a business on a fairly traditional model, Mongoose Publishing. Without the irritating self-effacement and modesty typical of the British, co-owner Matthew Sprange said:

At Mongoose, we believe that a good RPG book still has the potential to blow through entire print runs and that sales of 10,000+ units are still achievable with the right product. Because of this, we are still expanding in terms of both sales and staff (we now employ over 20 people worldwide), and plan to support RPGs for at least the next five years. Many companies are being squeezed out of the market at the moment but we take this as an indication of a customer base that has become more refined in its choice of product, rather than one who will buy anything that has a D20 on the cover. At the end of the day, if you produce the right kind of book, people will come to you.

Hard figures, I said. Hard figures. He told me as an example that Starship Troopers blew through 6000 copies in 3 months. That’s a large number – greater than the total sales units for each of the majority of RPG companies in a year.

Aldo Ghiozzi, who represents a number of RPG publishers as a consolidator and marketing agent has been selling through distribution for a number of years. He has a lofty perch – I respect any creature with a lofty perch – above the three-tier distributor model. He said:

Technology has come around to make book publishing easier for the common writer. Between PDF purchasing and Print-On-Demand (POD), the barrier of entry has dropped considerably. One would think this would create a new Golden Age of RPGs; it has done the opposite. With the barrier of entry being so low, there are more options for consumers to spend their dollars on. The flood of the D20 market was just the beginning; now, RPGs are for every genre, system and an endless number of people creating their own systems. Imagine a consumer that spends $10 a month on RPG books. Five years ago their choices were between the 100 products on the store shelves, thus, a publisher would have a 1 in a 100 chance for that $10. Now, there are so many choices for the shelves that retailers cannot carry them all so it spills into online stores and PDF download stores. The 100 choices turn into 1000 — now that publisher has a 1 in 1000 chance for that $10. The dollars are being spread thinner; that is the reality.

Personally, I believe the best chance for publishers to survive or come into this market with a chance is with proven brands and even licenses. Licenses, like Serenity or Starship Troopers instantly breathe recognition with the consumer and influences the dollars to that product. Proven brands, like a new edition of Paranoia or the mimicking of Keep on the Borderlands through the Dungeon Crawl Classics series are great examples.

It’s all about being heard over everyone else and the only way to do that is to scream louder.

His views are supported by the Starship Troopers sales figures, although we don’t know the terms of their license (for reference, the Babylon 5 license was $65,000). I asked Mr Ghiozzi if he thought the size of the market was the same. He was sceptical.

…we are not seeing 50K unit sales as before, but there are a ton more choices now so for all we know, the same amount of dollars are being spent (proportional to the economy) but just spread thinner. I truly doubt that though.

Green Ronin have been publishing RPGs since 2000, and use a combination of traditional print and PDF publishing. Chris Pramas, the CEO said:

You have to put RPGs in their historic perspective. Really, they have been in decline since the creation of collectible games in the early 90s. It’s hard to remember now, but in the late 70s and early 80s RPGs were a good business to be in. They eclipsed wargames and dominated the market for many years. Since then we’ve seen significant events in our own industry, the two most important being ‘Magic: the Gathering’ creating a whole new category of game, and Games Workshop hitting upon a business model that redefined miniatures games. In the same period we’ve also seen computer/console games become increasingly sophisticated and immersive, and the development of MMOs. In light of these events the old RPG business model has a tough time competing. Once players have a core rulebook, they don’t need to buy anything else to enjoy the game. Contrast that with the collectible games, where not only can you sell people the same product over and over again, but also they have to keep up with each new expansion to stay competitive. Or MMOs, where players pay each month for the privilege of continuing to play.

The d20 boom made some folks think the glory days of RPGs were back. While that was indeed a good time for RPG publishers, it could never last and now the gale has blown itself out. One might even argue that it did more harm than good, since most game stores now have hundreds of d20 books that will never move and this makes selling them new RPG product even harder.

So is the RPG market screwed? Well, certainly it is harder to harder to make a living doing traditional RPG publishing. The market decline that was paused by the d20 boom came back with a vengeance in 2003. Since then the successes have been fewer and farther between and more and more RPG publishing activity has moved online. I suspect that the future has already taken shape. There will be maybe 10 RPG companies that will do well enough with traditional RPG publishing to keep forging ahead. The rest of the market will be PDFs and Print on Demand, largely sold direct to consumers. Until someone comes up with a way to radically redefine RPGs anyway. That may be a long wait though.

Chad Underkoffler of Atomic Sock Monkey – creator of the award-winning Dead Inside, slipped through the “makes a living filter” – he has a separate day job – but he is representative of large part of the RPG publisher market.

I wouldn’t say that the RPG Industry is “screwed” so much as “challenged.” For many small press publishers — and I mean “small” in relation to other RPG companies, because nearly all of them could be considered “small press” compared to mainstream publishers – there are difficult issues to surmount in acquiring an audience of customers. Even access to the distribution system is little help, since the number of retail outlets seems to be shrinking. So you have more companies (some with fantastic games to compete with) trying to reach fewer shelves, and therefore customers.

The costs of production are up, the discounts on MSRP for distributors and retailers are substantial, and the customers are reluctant to spend money on unknown or new products. And while PDF-published, Print on Demand (PoD), and direct sale methods help put more money in the publisher’s pocket, the overall amount of profit is low. Truth & Justice is my best selling game, at roughly 525 copies (mostly PDF, but some PoD and distro) sold in under a year. I’ve made around $4,000 profit from it, which is definitely not enough to live on in my major metropolitan area. However, it is enough money to handle a car payment, take care of the phone bill, and roll into a new product for sale.

I doubt that the game industry can support many publishers as their sole employment under the current state of the market, and the outlook isn’t much brighter for distributors and retailers unless they diversify heavily into other product lines and related-but-different types of products (books, comics, toys, etc.). However, as a second job (or a hobby that pays for itself then a little extra, or even a method of artistic expression), the game industry is an admirable fit. If you adjust your expectations of what the industry will do for you, it will not seem totally screwed, but simply a challenge.

The ubiquitous Gareth-Michael Skarka of Adamant Entertainment, and Phil Reed of Ronin Arts, both big players in the PDF market, produce ePublishing 101 e-zine for their fellow publishers. In the latest issue, they bemoan the status of traditional retail.

From approximately 2000 game stores in January 2004 to somewhere around 1200 stores in December 2005 represents an overall loss of at least 40%. Not a good outlook for retailers in this industry.

They also estimate that the total size of the RPG market is about $25 million, with PDF publishing representing between 8-14% of the market – but that proportion is growing. With the relatively low barriers to entry mentioned by Aldo Ghiozzi, and the legs that such products have, pdf publishing is a good way for publishers to connect directly with their customers without pawning the family silver.

In contrast to Aldo’s lofty view, Ben Lehman , creator of the Polaris RPG, comes at the question from down on the ground. He is a new model publish with roots in the Forge – a forum dedicated to creator-owned publishing, with lots of useful RPG game theory. Some of the best games of recent years have come out of the Forge. With typical Forgeite thoroughness, he unasks the question, one which was begging to be knocked down:

I think it’s really strange how people talk about the RPG Industry as if it, and its screwedness or unscrewedness, were somehow the most central or most important thing about role-playing. To me, that’s turning the entire world upside down. It’s such a bizarre way of thinking about it that I can’t even twist my mind into a position where I can see that as the world at all. So instead of talking about what’s actually important to role-playing – the activity itself. Let’s talk about a bunch of people getting together to imagine things together, because that’s what interests me. From my immediate perspective – which is to say my personal play-groups – role-playing has never been better. I and the people I play with are having absolutely thrilling times with basically every single game we play.

Looking out further, I can look into the play-groups that I see from the Actual Play forums on the Forge, RPGNet, ENWorld, and other community sites. Again, I think that over the last 5 years (and I think this trend extends back almost a decade, but I can only talk from my own perspective, and I started hanging out on online forums five years ago) we’re seeing an across the board increase in actual, enjoyable play. I’m seeing a lot less of “fix my broken group” and a lot more of “man, our play rocked.” Further — and more importantly I’m seeing a glacially slow but nonetheless constant movement away from the periodical/collector/fandom model of enjoyment, and more towards creative focus and real play. In this respect, and that’s what matters, I think that role-playing is at its healthiest state since the 70s.

So where does role-playing text and materials production (the ndustry) fit into this? The role-playing business – like any other hobby business – should exist as long as it can boost and support the hobby around it, and no further. Fortunately, and I think not coincidentally, given the upsurge in enjoyable play, we’re seeing a decrease in the periodical “must buy the next sourcebook” model and an increase in texts and materials focused on supporting real people and their real play. To be clear – I don’t think that this is a Forge only or Independent only phenomenon. I think it is spread wide across games like: Breaking the Ice, Nobilis, Eldritch Ass-Kicking, Dungeons and Dragons 3.0 and up, Ganakagok, Hollywood Lives! and so on.
Literally, there are too many game texts to list.

Now, traditionally, RPG text publishing has used what’s been called the “three tier model” although I actually think its six-tier: Designer -> Line Editor, Publisher -> Distribution Company -> Retailer -> Game Player, where each arrow is representing “sells to.” In the 70s and 80s and even into the early 90s this was the most financially sound model of game sales, and so it prospered. But these days it isn’t doing so hot, for several reasons. The one that I have the strongest grasp on is the growth of internet forums, internet commerce (and the PDF), and digital printing technology (AKA print on demand). In the six-tier system, there is economic and creative compromises at every level. The end results is that both the game player and the designer get screwed — the designer has to make artistic compromises and gets paid no money and the game player gets a watered down product and has to pay a lot of money, because each level in between needs to take their cut. By using modern technology I as a designer (to use an example — there are dozens of other folks like me) can sell directly to the game player. The chain becomes Designer -> Game Player. This is not only massively more profitable on both ends (I make more money, the game player saves more money) but also it brings the two creative ends of the spectrum closer together, allowing for game texts and game play which contains astounding creative content.

The role-playing industry, if we evaluate its success based on how well it facilitates awesome play, is healthier than it has ever been, period. The role-playing industry, when we evaluate its success based on facilitating awesome play, is as healthy as its ever been, period. The only possible view I have of role-playing being in trouble is that certain aspects of the role-playing distribution chain are being eclipsed by an economic model that is more effective in both creative and monetary terms, and as a player and designer I just can’t see that as a bad thing.

Eric Gibson of West End Games says that the RPG-only publisher as a mainstream company is effectively dead, and that publishers must diversify.

Absolutely. Without a doubt. But, before you think I’m being a pessimist and over-dramatic, I must expound.

The RPG industry is “screwed” because the question demands it’s so. You ask in the “RPG Industry” is headed for disaster. As long as we force ourselves into the narrow classification of “RPG Industry” then we the publishers are screwed as well. The successful publisher or manufacturer will see the ever evolving tastes and desires of our customers and change with them to bring new types of products to market. We are not a part of the “RPG Industry” we are apart of the “Game Industry”, or, if you will, the “Entertainment Industry”. As long as there are firms that continue to look at the broader market, we’ll survive. If others continue fly the flag of “RPG Publisher” solely, they have a choice, embrace it as merely a cottage industry, keeping costs as low as humanly possible, but never expecting to be financially successful OR continue to pump massive-a relative term, I know-amounts of money into a behemoth that doesn’t want to come back, and die!

This certainly does not mean RPGs will cease to exist as a viable product. Not for some time anyway. What it does mean is that you must acknowledge the scale that the RPG business has taken and embrace it.

Basic economics tells us that as long as long as a product’s revenues equals ALL its costs (don’t forget all your opportunity costs, of course) then the product is making “normal profits” and should be produced. The bite is, that is growing nigh impossible in RPGs from the perspective of a normal industry.

As I tend to do, I’m going to ramble on far longer than I should to try to make my point. Let’s first start by not using the term cottage industry. We have nearly always been, by and large, a cottage industry, and with the advent of the Internet, a cottage industry does not have to equate to small, struggling, or profit-less. Instead, RPGs is becoming a purely hobby industry-pun not intended. A hobby industry is an industry where the primary source of compensation, for the proprietor, is something other than money-love of the game, I guess you’d say.

In order to make “normal profits” within any business model your revenues must equal the costs associated with the business. Again, ALL COSTS. Not simply the break even point on printing. Not just the overhead. By you must also factor in salaries for executive positions and-this is very important-you must cover the opportunity costs for the owner(s), such as the cost of not working a second, paying job, not having more time with family, and not being able to invest the money you’ve put into the business on other gainful investments. All these costs, and many, many more, must be recognized and paid for by the business’s revenues. In a normal industry, a business that fails to meet these costs must logically cease business (given the time to exit fixed cost responsibilities). The current and foreseeable state of RPG publishing means that it is almost impossible to meet these fairly valued opportunity costs and thus make “normal profits”. So, instead we have proprietors who choose to ignore these opportunity costs and often forego monetary compensation and do it instead for the “love” of the industry. I’m not suggesting this is an invalid reason to do it, but that certainly makes the RPG industry a hobby industry and not a “normal” industry.

So, the question asked, “By this, I mean the market for table-top RPGs. I’m not asking if a small cottage industry will continue to exist – just whether it’s in decline and will continue to decline.”

Sadly, the answer is, “almost certainly.” But again, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. To know it up front, it’s actually very good. If you want to simply make RPGs and sell them as a hobby, by all means you should do so.

Likewise, if you want to run a game company as a normal industry would, you should also be aware that you’re not likely to be able to do so as a dedicated RPG publisher. Diversify. Realize that the business and the market have changed drastically since the late 90’s.

The market wants something else. Provide that “else” and you can stay in business and do just fine and may even have a good chance of making normal profits (or even super-profits).

Is the industry screwed? Only if we fail to see the writing on the wall.

Now we here from a different tier of the industry, a major retailer – Marcus King of Titan Games. He’s having to adapt, and like Eric Gibson, suggest that diversifying into entertainment is the way to go.

As a retailer in a very small town (60K population in the city, with 100K TOTAL in the county) I face some unique problems. First, Michigan has a working class slump like nowhere else – the economy is depressed, young people FLEE this town in search of jobs elsewhere. Second, I have a competitor across town who sells everything for 20% off MSRP. Third, I derive 100% of my income from this company. No outside job, no retirement supporting me, my wife works IN the store with me. I can NOT discount, and support my family.
So, we have two ebay sellers working pretty much full time, two websites (titangames.com and 3FREEgames.com), and we have a retail store, do conventions, and some “liquidation” sales.

Now [our stock depth], was designed to make us a destination store. But, that just does not work. Destination stores no longer compete with everyone within driving range, they compete with everyone within clicking range. Every single thing we sell is available on eBay and/or Amazon, for less. So, though we do well online, our main in store categories are used DVDs, CDs with games come in a distant 4th or 5th

We are going to start stocking fewer RPGs in the store – moving from 1400 or so books today, to perhaps 50 titles, and perhaps 200 books total. I am going to stop buying one or two of everything, and start selecting what we carry in the retail store more based on the idea that 80% of our sales come from 20% of our stock, so stock that 20%, and eliminate about 75% of the rest of it.

What will that leave? D&D, True20, Conan, Traveller, Serenity, Star Wars (if it is ever available), Babylon 5, most supplements by Troll Lord Games, and Goodman Games, some stuff by Mongoose and Green Ronin, and everything White Wolf makes. L5R and Spycraft, and a few others. My store is literally morphing OUT of being a game store, and becoming more and more an entertainment store – with books, movies, music, comics, games and some collectible stuff.

However, I could likely fire my retail staff, shrink my store by 70% floor space, eliminate 90% of my games inventory, just carry the DVDs, CDs, Video Games, and keep one rack of Graphic Novels, one rack of Comics, and one rack of games, and run the retail counter with one person, and never miss a beat as far as sales go.

As a business person first, and gamer ninth or tenth, I look at ALL the options for my business – and it may indeed come to the point where I completely redefine my store around a smaller selection, smaller square footage, and smaller staff on the retail floor – and just carry games as a sideline. Then what do we call the store? Titan Games sure won’t fit.

Jeff Tidball, a long-time award-winning RPG freelancer gives a straightforward answer:

Yes, the RPG industry is more-or-less screwed. You can divide roleplayers into two general camps based on style of play, with smash-and-grab-and-level-uppers on one side, and everyone else (storytellers, world-builders, wanna-be novelists, etc.) on the other. The first, much larger, group is now — with current network and console technology — much better served by computer RPGs than tabletop RPGs. The computers are just plain better and faster at the game experience they want. As those customers stop buying tabletop RPGs, it stops being economically viable to produce them professionally for the second group. Tabletop RPGs won’t go away, but yes, the “industry” that produces them is screwed.

So the D&D crowd will moving over to MMORPGs and the rest will be indulging in a little bit of narrativist theatre? Perhaps.

Mark Simmons, founder of National Games week and publisher of Games Quarterly Catalog & Games Quarterly Magazine thinks that the industry is still suffering from the d20 glut:

RPGs got seriously glutted. Worse than the glut of ’79-81. Worse than the small glut of early ’90s. The d20 boom ran it course with so much product that gamers got enough resource materials to last years. It eclipsed nearly every non-d20 title, killing many good games. It will take time for these circumstances to be overcome. It will take getting RPGs back into stores. R Talsorian is doing decently with Cyberpunk’s new edition, FanPro is doing well with Shadowrun and BattleTech. It’s going to be grim for a while though.
The specialty game stores won’t be stocking and selling enough, so book stores and other types of stores must be courted.

Matt Goodman of Heliograph says:

Table-top role playing is a niche hobby, and like many other niche hobbies (wargaming, pulps, r/c planes, model railroading) over the long haul it is only sustainable as a cottage industry. Die-hards may pass along the bug to their kids–a friend’s 7 and 9 year olds are really enjoying their Star Wars game, and the very best player I had at my Zeppelin Age games at Gen Con last year was in high school–but that isn’t enough to sustain the hobby in the mass market.

So, is there anything coherent to be gathered from these disparate views?

The game store is facing hard times, and none can rely on RPGs alone. An online mail order presence which is able to compete on price is pretty much essential. Leisure Games in the UK is an example of this model. The three-tier system is on shaky ground when it comes to RPGs. Some publishers with well established brands and main stream licenses can still shift sufficient books to make the margins needed to keep going. I think this will continue, but such publishers are not solely producing RPGs – Mongoose Publishing for example relies on RPGs for only 40% of its sales. So what stops new publishers from getting to market? I call it the litho barrier. Unless you have the up-front costs for litho (standard) printing, and the certainty of selling through the print run, you can’t do a litho print run, and your per-unit cost for low-run printing means you will make low or even zero margins through the usual channels. The typical volume of sales of an individual title has declined below the litho barrier following the recent glut of d20 titles an explosion in the number of publishers, and a reduction in the number of players due to improvements in the computer moderated online roleplaying experience.

Hybrid publishing, offering PDF and print-on-demand roleplaying games offer a scaleable model for getting RPGs to their customers without the high risks of attempting the litho barrier. They can sell directly, at conventions, and through specialist online mail order retailers. Forge publishers typically follow this model, and make a very big internet footprint, interacting directly with their customers. Such publishers are actively seeking out players to “tell them about their characters” through Actual Play postings. The idea of signing an NDA when doing a play test is an anathema – they are more likely to publish the beta version of their rules online for anyone to try. PDF-only publishers are on the increase, with rpgnow.com, drivethrurpg.com, enworld.org, e23 and paizo.com all channels to market. Their products have low overheads, can be small, and have decent legs. Still, few people other the etailers are making a living out of this so far.

Paradoxically, it’s never been easier to get an RPG published, but never harder for a new RPG company to support full-time endeavour. The scalability of the new publishing model means that although it is very hard to make money, you are much, much less likely to lose it through an expensive litho print run. If you read that someone you haven’t heard of is about to print 3000 copies of a new RPG, by all that’s holy, stop them.

Current News: The Dying Earth RPG in the Bundle of Holding

I sometimes joke that it should be actually be called The Un-Dying Earth RPG, because it’s still going strong since it became the game that spawned not just our company, but also, our company name.

The celebrated fantasy novels by Jack Vance on which this game is based—The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel’s Saga, and Rhialto the Marvellous—portray the exploits of characters ranging from vat-grown beauties to wandering scoundrels to vainglorious magicians, who eat, drink, gamble, explore, and cheat their way through what is widely presumed to be the final era of history.

Vance writes for intelligent readers. His fiction displays consummate style, wit, imagination, and an unmatched ability to conjure vivid, exotic, yet convincing societies, where a flashing sword is less important than nimble wits, persuasive words, and a fine sense of fashion. A Vance character seldom resorts to violence, preferring cunning or persuasion—or, in the Dying Earth stories, the occasional magic spell.

The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game captures the badinage of the books with the tagline, a line of dialogue that you are rewarded for delivering during play, with more advancement points being awarded depending on the appropriateness of the line to the situation – and, of course, the more entertaining your use of the line.

So if persiflage is your meat and drink, take thyself to the Bundle of Holding, where until two days’ hence, the Compleat Dying Earth collection is available to all wise enough to recognise a singular bargain when they see one.

Recent News: Gen Con Online

Although cancelled in its physical format, the best four days in gaming went ahead virtually as Gen Con Online. We attended a number of e-conventions as the COVID-19 pandemic swept through 2020, but this was by far the most ambitious in scope and numbers. We upped our game to match, with Noah spearheading a range of Pelgrane panels on our new Twitch channel. We’ll be uploading and releasing all of these to our YouTube channel over the coming days, so be sure to subscribe and smash that Like button to stay up to date.

And we’re excited to have won the Gold ENnie for Best RPG Related Product, for Dean Englehardt & Robin Laws’ stunning city guide to 1895 Paris, Absinthe in Carcosa for The Yellow King Roleplaying Game. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, there’s a preview of it here (and another one for the YKRPG here). Thanks to everyone who voted for us, and our warmest congratulations to all the other winners!

It wasn’t the same as being together in real life, but it’s always great to hang out and talk about our games and what we’re up to, so thanks to everyone who stopped by one of our panels, and as always, we couldn’t do what we do at any Gen Con – IRL or VR – without our wonderful GMs. A massive shout-out to them all, as they braved scant info and a whole new level of player wrangling to run a host of Pelgrane RPGs at Gen Con Online, introducing a new audience both to Pelgrane games and to our Discord server, where we’ve been welcoming new players and GMs to the Pelgrane community.

New to pre-order: Elven Towers

During a long-ago war between the elves and the dwarves, the Elf Queen drew forth and bound the wild magic of the elves and fey in a single location in the Queen’s Wood, so she could draw on it more easily. When its original guardian became corrupted, the Elf Queen resealed the location with three keys, one for each of the three elven peoples. The keys to unlocking the Elf Queen’s power are hidden in three magical towers, and the elves themselves cannot pierce their defenses.

Available now to pre-order, Elven Towers is a champion tier 13th Age adventure for 3 to 6 adventurers by Cal Moore (High Magic & Low CunningThe Crown Commands, Fire and Faith). It includes plotlines and options for adventures throughout the Queen’s Wood, with multiple elven-themed encounters you can use in any campaign.

Work in progress update: Even Death Can Die

Christian is back at work on this, and is finishing off the art and layout now. He’s a draft final PDF ready for review, and we’re hoping to get the final Even Death Can Die PDF to pre-orderers in the next See Page XX.

Work in progress update: Book of the Underworld

The print pre-orders of the Book of the Underworld have now been shipped, and should be arriving with pre-orderers shortly if they aren’t there already! Friendly local game stores can expect to get this in September.

Books you may’ve heard rumours of during Gen Con update:

Untitled Lunar Society Project

Phil Masters, who we worked with previously on the Dying Earth RPG, joined us on the Swords, Spies & Shoggoths panel at Gen Con to announce that he’s working on a Georgian-era setting book for Trail of Cthulhu based on the historical Lunar Society, a learned society in the British midlands. He’s now submitted the manuscript, which is in copyediting. We’ve commissioned Sarah Saltiel (Black Star Magic, The Doors to Heaven) to work on a parallel setting based on the Blue Stockings Society, a literary discussion group roughly contemporaneous to the Lunar Society. Both will be combined in the final book.

Untitled GUMSHOE One-2-One Fantasy book

Gareth is very close to finishing the writing on this. He’s just finished the last of three adventures, so next week he’ll be writing cards and filling in gaps. We’re hoping to have this available for playtesting in the next edition of See Page XX.

Untitled adaptation of GUMSHOE for younger players

We’ve got a load of really insightful feedback on this from the recent playtests (as well as comments on Discord), so once Gareth’s finished with GUMSHOE One-2-One Fantasy, he’ll start to edit GUMSHOE Kids.

 

 

The following article originally appeared on DyingEarth.com in May 2006.

Game Designers’ Favorite Games

Every games designer has an inner games geek (sometimes not so inner) who spent hours playing the RPGs you know and love. We’ve all played D&D, GURPs and other big names, but what about the slightly obscure? Perhaps they are games you’ve heard mentioned, or seen online, but maybe you’ve never got around to trying them. The Pelgrane asked games designers, “What’s your favourite lesser-known game, and why do you like it?” and we got some surprising answers, and a year’s supply of potential gaming sessions to plan. How did I persuade them? Well, games designers and not noted for their agility, and none are prepared for a lightning aerial swoop. Most of the designers mentioned how hard it was to choose a game, but I dangled them above a squawking nest of pelgrane chicks, and they rapidly complied. I ripped out various soul-searching quotes, as seen below.

This is a long article, and I’d like to give the attention- (and time-) challenged the opportunity to jump to their favourite designers first.

Ron Edwards
Andy Peregrine, Pie Shop
Mike Williams, Earthdawn, President of Living Room Games
Matt Forbeck, freelance game designer and novelist.
Chris Helton, Battlefield Press
Aaron Rosenberg

We’ll start with Ron Edwards (Sorceror), who unasked my question with a Zen-like MU. Here was I expecting (and hoping) he’d list a bunch of his favourite indie games over at the Forge, but instead he thoughtfully undermined my assumptions. When he wouldn’t answer directly, I listed a bunch of Indies games I thought he’d have mention. Ron said:

“…Yeah but, see, to me, those aren’t ‘lesser known.’ I see them as well-known, well-played, highly-discussed, influential games. In order to answer your question the way you hoped, I have to pretend I’m someone I’m not, then look over at where I really am and say I like those games ‘over there’.”

“I’m really not trying to be argumentative. I simply cannot see answering the question from an “industry” point of view. Maybe if I just say, ‘Sorcerer, Primetime Adventures, Inspectres, The Mountain Witch, Dogs in the Vineyard, [quoting me back]’ and let the reader say ‘oh, those are little-known’… would that do? If so, those are my answers.”

At the very least, this will make me more thoughtful when wording my next question!

Naughty Andy Peregrine, creator of Pie Shop,couldn’t make his mind up and gave me four RPGs Amber, Nobilis, Maelstrom, and James Bond. Rather than choose between them (which puppy not to kill?) I’ve left them all here. After all, bytes are cheap.

“While just about every game tries to tell you it is ‘a totally new rpg experience’ Amber (1991 – Phage Press) actually is. It does itself an injustice by calling itself diceless, as it doesn’t just remove dice but uses a rules system that relies purely on storytelling. In one sense this is what all rpgs should aspire to be, although the system is hard to apply to just anything. With Amber characters being ‘lesser Gods’ they can get away with more than your average pc. This game is hard to get used to as you must ‘unlearn’ many rpg habits, but the experience is more than worth it.”

“Maelstrom (1984 – Puffin books) is the cheapest RPG ever written [hmm – this excludes a number of free games, and a number that can’t be given away]. Alexander Scott gave us a detailed 16th century historical rpg, with a magic system well ahead of its time for just £1.95! Everything about this game is simple and very clever. For instance, you note your wounds separately, and they heal separately, one point a day. So if you take 8/8 damage for a total of 16, and someone else takes 2/2/2/2/4/4 for the same damage the second guy is up in 2 days with 2/2 wounds and the first is still in bed nursing 6/6. Simple and brilliant. The magic system is basically the same as Mage, but written 9 nine years beforehand. On top of all that you get some excellent detail on the 16th Century as well as a solo adventure and an introductory adventure. Most companies have trouble getting that much into two rulebooks these days.”

“James Bond 007 (1983 – Victory Games) is of the earliest licensed products, and such a big license too. The system captured the flavour of Bond very well but sadly the license didn’t allow the company to use Blofeld and SPECTRE. The system is simple and inventive. You have a skill chance from 1-20 and it is multiplied by the difficulty (10 being easy and 1 being hard) to give a percentage chance for success. As long as you know your times tables this is a doddle (and it is printed on the character sheet just in case you don’t). The adventure supplements were based on all the movies. However they cleverly changed the details so you got into all the same situations Bond did, but if you assume you know the plan because you’ve seen the movie you will go way off track.”

“By the same token Nobilis [1999 (Pharos Press) 2002 (Hogshead)] is one of my favourites, everything I love about Amber with a stunning world background as well. It is sadly the most under-supplemented game available. One supplement promised in the original edition is still yet to appear. However, if you are looking for a work of art as well as a game, Nobilis is for you.”

Andrew Kenrick also enthuses about Nobilis –

“…for sheer blows-out-your-mind concept and execution, this is one of the finest books ever written, let along rpgs.”

“Playing Nobilis is such a unique experience in almost every way. You play a god who can do damned near anything, which rather widens the options available to the player, and means that the challenges you face are on a whole different level. No other game I’ve ever played in has involved such fantastical and epic foes, or challenged me so much. Oh, plus it’s completely diceless, and with good reason, which takes a certain amount of the frustration of failing to accomplish something out of the game.”

Diceless mechanics confuse pelgranes, who likes shiny things such as gem dice, so I lowered him nearer the chicks, asking “is it GM fiat – and the social contract with the players – which resolves conflict or is there an explicit mechanic which overrides the GM?” He expounded: “Each of the PCs has certain attribute scores, and depending on these determines what they can do and how many miracle points a miracle costs. A PC will automatically succeed at anything they try to do (they are gods, after all) unless another entity tries to stop them, in which case there are conflict mechanics for resolving this.”

Andrew mentioned two more games:
“Unknown Armies – following closely behind Nobilis, UA has the best magic system ever devised and hardwires so much coolness into one small book that it’s impossible to not have a good time when playing it.”

“Delta Green – technically a supplement, but DG packs in so much and changes the dynamic and style of Call of Cthulhu to such a degree that it really is an rpg in its own right. Another damned well written game.”

Staying with the British contingent, Marcus Rowland also suggested Unknown Armies, and added Ghostbusters: “Wonderfully simple rules that really worked well and designed with real humour by Chaosium and good production values from West End Games. Then WEG rewrote it for 2nd edition, dumped a lot of the stuff that made it a fun game, and it sucked.” Finally he offered Space 1889 – not a glowing endorsement, but still. “Wonderful background, shame the actual rules are a little clunky. Still in print from Heliograph Inc.”

Kate Flack was short and to the point with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles , Kult “for creature concepts,” In Nomine “for those great archetype descriptions: If <insert character class> was confronted with a drinks machine, it would…” and HOL “got to love the anguish factor, and the mad scratchy writing.”

Mike Williams gave me Teenagers from Outer Space, one of the few about which I know nothing.
“There are lots of lesser known games that I’m fond of for one mechanic or another, but if I had to pick a favorite I’ve got to go with Teenagers From Outer Space. Nothing is better after a bunch of “serious gaming” than unwinding than playing a teenager in a setting influenced by comedy anime turned up to eleven. It’s high school – you’ve all been there, and they’re all pretty much alike. But the alien kids have landed. A typical group of characters might include an average earth kid, a space princess, the football team’s new linebacker that turns into something that looks like godzilla’s big brother, a whatsit that’s easily confused for the stuff the cafeteria ladies claim is tapioca, a one-eyed one-horned flying purple people eater, and the obligatory cosmic catgirl. The game’s exhausting, and more often than not a game session has tickled my funny bone enough that I’ve laughed so hard it hurts. Yeah, the game’s getting close to twenty years old now, but it’s hard to find a more fun time at the game table.”

Matt Forbeck plugs White Wolf’s Adventure! Whilst WW is responsible for a number of mainstream games, Adventure! is sadly not as well known. He says: “I’m a sucker for pulps of any kind, and the mechanic that allows players to back up and rewrite a scene is brilliant.”

Chris Helton (Battlefield Press developer of the Open Core System) nominates Lords of Creation from Avalon Hill.

“Despite some wonkiness that can really only be found in the best of old school games, it was really the first multi-genre game that I imprinted upon. And its special place wasn’t usurped until GURPS came along a couple of years later.”

“… [I]t promoted that wild and wooly style of wahoo gaming of by-gone days. I loved the fact that it not only had NPC stats for Billy the Kid and Morgan Le Fay but it also had illustrations featuring all the “historical” NPCs interacting. It was a fun gaming experience.”

Utterly without shame, Aaron Rosenberg discusses his own baby: Asylum.

“…first game I produced myself, Clockworks’ first product, and still one of the most fun to play. I’ve played in it and run it many times, including at cons, and it’s always a hoot. Despite being written with allowances for both serious and silly play, it always winds up being very silly and very funny.”

For form’s sake, he also adds the SAGA version of Wizard of the Coast’s Marvel RPG.

“The book itself is a bit of a mess–no real character creation, no explanation of things like initiative–but the powers and the card-based game mechanic (and the deck itself) make up for it.”

Steve Kenson (Talon Studio) is also a fan of SAGA, a sadly unrated system. He also contributed to it.

“[SAGA is] a lot of fun to play and to run. SAGA first showed up as the rules-light story-driven engine for the Dragonlance: Fifth Age game from TSR. Later, after Wizards acquired TSR, a streamlined and updated version of SAGA became the engine for the Marvel Super-Heroes Adventure Game, still one of the best superhero RPGs ever, in my opinion.”

“I was such a fan of SAGA at the time-writing SAGA articles for Dragon and Wizards’ website-that my group got to playtest the Marvel game and we had a blast! It was fast-paced, easy, fun, and the card-play offered some cool mechanics, like damage forcing “discards,” reducing the size of your hand and neatly reflecting “damage penalties” without any additional mechanics. I even wrote a couple things for Marvel, namely the “Avengers: Masters of Evil” Adventure Book and some stuff for “Reed Richards’ Guide to Everything”.”

“Unfortunately, the card-play element turned many people off, particularly when they associated “cards” with Wizards’ “Magic: the Gathering” (which was, after all, annoying many old-time RPGers).”

“Sales were modest, especially by Wizards’ standards. Once D&D 3e got rolling, it was all d20, all the time, and SAGA was no more: the Marvel and Dragonlance games were canceled, with Dragonlance eventually updating to the d20-based D&D rules. Still, I had a lot of fun with the game while it lasted!”

Eddy Webb of Spectrum Games suggested another game I have a soft spot for – Over the Edge (Atlas Games).

“I picked the game up on a lark in 1994, and the lovely blend of surreal conspiracy and modern occult weirdness has been a fond part of my gaming memories for over a decade. I still have a number of the supplements for the line, and hope to one day get another group together to play it again.”

Keith Baker (Eberron, Dying Earth) has no doubt that Over the Edge is his favourite, too.

“I’m just starting up a new campaign myself, after a two or three year dry spell… and despite the fact that I make my living writing for D&D.”

“The relatively simple rules and (more or less) modern setting make it an easy game to spring on non-gamers. The setting allows for a wealth of story opportunities and styles of play, and I find that the rules help focus attention on roleplaying instead of number-crunching… in particular, Robin Laws’ Cut-Ups Method is my favorite all-time game mechanic. “

Elizabeth McCoy, In Nomine Line Editor suggests – In Nomine.

“I like the characterization most — the way that the game can be done silly, straight, gray, black-and-white, bright or dark… As a GM, I really, really adore the Intervention mechanic. It’s not just a critical failure or success, it’s an actual Divine or Infernal Intervention and just about anything can happen so long as it connects reasonably.”

“I’m a sucker for redemption stories, too. And playing the cute little proto-angel reliever NPCs is also fun. Death by cute!” To atone for the self-aggrandizing nature of her choice she says “I’m especially happy about the entirely free “lite” adventure, with all the rules needed to play.”

Caias Ward (Uncommon Character) suggested Run Out The Guns.

“Forget 7th Sea. This was the Pirate Game of all Pirate Games. It encouraged large groups of players (one convention session had 14 players around the table). You got to use the Rolemaster savage critical hit tables. No noble causes for you; you spent entire sessions stealing the sword and pants of the Governor of Puerto Rico after you drugged him on ether at a state party, seizing spanish ships and ransoming their crews, and trying to cure your dose of the clap you got due to the Vice table (well, that was one session).”

“Yes, the vice table. Every time you hit port, you had to roll to see if something bad happened while drinking, gambling, or carousing. That in and of itself meant you often didn’t need a story; just getting out of your latest problem with the law or outraged husband or father was enough to motivate the crew.”

“Although mathematically complex at time and requiring charts, it also was a true example of the Golden Age of Piracy and much fun to play.”

Fond though the Pelgrane is of viscera, Larry D. Hols’ first choice might offer a little too much information for some. Ouch!

“Sword’s Path: Glory by Leading Edge Games. SP:G breaks combat down into increments of 12ths of a second, details exactly which organs or bones get struck, and so forth. LEG used a watered-down version of the SP:G rules in its Phoenix Command line and other games.”

“Powers & Perils_ by Avalon Hill. A very raw game from a design point of view–some really interesting bits surrounded by a lot of ill-conceived and/or -developed dross. The separation of experience and expertise is likely the most interesting aspect.”

“I found the detail in the character definition to be most enjoyable in P&P. There are ten characteristics and generating them involves both random luck and player choice. The background event tables allow for a whole host of good or bad things to have happened to the character before play–from special teachers to special items to crimes accused of to special abilities. The player can choose to have more experience or more expertise or more wealth for the starting character. The game explicitly supports a great deal of variety.”

I lowered Ed Stark (Game Designer and Special Projects Manager, RPG R&D WotC) particularly close to the my offspring’s snapping maws, and that had a salutary effect. He couldn’t stop talking – he suggested seven games, modestly suggesting only three that he worked on himself.

“I worked on TORG, MasterBook, and Shatterzone for West End Games. They all used the same basic system, and I liked them a lot. They certainly had balance issues, but they were just darn fun to play. Very pulp-action oriented, very fun.”

“I also enjoyed WEG’s Ghostbusters game. It had a “brownie points” mechanic and a general whacky fun.”

“Outside of WEG, there was a game called Psychosis I enjoyed playing … once. It had a tarot-card mechanic that was very interesting, but the game was incredibly structured. It would be nearly impossible for a GM to create his or her own adventure; the story-based system was too complex.”

“I don’t know if it’s obscure or not (maybe to our new audience), but I loved playing Rolemaster, particularly in its simpler form: MERP (Middle-earth Roleplaying). I liked the attack roll system and its wild critical hits. The magic system was also interesting, and allowed you to play a character in Middle-earth who could “cast spells” but didn’t feel like he was totally breaking from the Tolkien-style world (not a fantasy world rife with high-powered spellcasters).”

The polymathic Alex Stewart (Warhammer, etc), offers Forgotten Futures.

“[It’s] been far and away the most popular game with my regular group ever since I introduced it to them, and it’s become my system of choice for running pretty much everything regardless of genre or setting. Quick simple mechanisms, easily tweakable if necessary, and more GM resources than you can shake the proverbial stick at.”

“I’m also hugely enthused by 2nd edition WFRP at the moment; the design team have done a brilliant job of streamlining the mechanisms to make it far more playable, while keeping the feel of the original and bringing the background into line with the current Warhammer continuity. From the GM’s point of view it’s felt like trading in a Cortina for a Porsche.”

“And I’d have to put in a vote for Classic Traveller: I cut my gaming teeth on it a couple of decades ago, and still find it fun.”

Finally, I was very pleased to get a thoughtful response from Paul Czege of Half Meme Press. The Pelgrane has played a number of versions of his estimable My Life with Master, including My Life with Santa, My Life with Jesus, and My Life with Tony. And what’s best – this game is free.

“My favorite lesser-known game is James V. West’s The Pool. Playing it in 2001 changed the way I think about roleplaying games. It remains my absolute favorite system for unplanned roleplaying, and always a contender when I get caught up with setting ideas and need a system. In so many ways it just suits me as a GM. NPCs have no stats, so I can improvise them at will. And I never have to set target numbers, because adversity is instead modulated by how many bonus dice I give the player. Every game I’ve designed since The Pool betrays its influence.”

So, go out and try these games! Some are just a mouse click away, others you’ve bought and are rotting in cupboards or on shelves, still more lurk on Ebay. Seek them out. SAGA, In Nomine, Ghostbusters, and Over the Edge get special mention for being nominated multiple times. It would be an interesting exercise (one for the student) to see how this list differs from a similar one compiled from the preferences of the average punter.

In any other year, at this time we’d be rushing around the Pelgrane’s Nest prepping for Gen Con. Although cancelled in its physical format, it’s still going ahead as Gen Con Online. The Pelgrane team is running more than fifty events at it so far, but we’ve got plenty of space left for more games, so if you’d like to run games at Gen Con, please get in touch with us, either by filling in the form here (the list of adventures available is here), or pinging us on the Discord server.

Other News: The 2020 ENnie Awards

We are deeply honoured to have been nominated three times in the 2020 ENnies. Being nominated for an ENnie Award is an acknowledgement of the hard work that happens behind the scenes to create our books, and it means a lot to us to be recognised. Voting is open until 11:45 PM EST on July 12th we’d really appreciate if you’d consider voting for us in the following categories:

We’d be delighted to get a nod as Fan Favourite Publisher too, of course!

If you’d like to see previews of the ENnie-nominated products, you can download those here:

New to pre-order: Black Star Magic

This month sees the release of the pre-order of the very first Yellow King RPG supplement not included as part of the Kickstarter, Black Star Magic contains all you need to add player-facing Carcosan magic to your YKRPG campaign. Black Star Magic features thematic magic rules for all four YKRPG settings, as well as a gross number of starting spells, and a brand-new adventure for Paris (“Dancer at the Bone Cabaret”), The Wars (“A Casket at Le Thil”), Aftermath (“Memories of a Dream Clown”) and This is Normal Now (Love Wears No Mask). Written by YKRPG designer Robin D. Laws, alongside experts such as writer of The Doors to Heaven, Sarah Saltiel; Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, and Ruth Tillman.

New to order: Honey & Hot Wax

Jen McCleary’s layout for Honey & Hot Wax, our brand-new anthology of erotic art games, is a work of elegant, sensuous brilliance (as you can see in the example on the right, from Friend of the Pelgrane Alex Roberts’ game of balloon love, Pop!). The layout is finished and the PDF is now available to purchase and, for those who’ve already pre-ordered it, to download. We’ll be launching it on DriveThruRPG next week.

New to order: Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition

All pre-orders for Mutant City Blues 2nd Edition have now been shipped out, and this should be available in retail stores from the start of July.

Work in progress update: Swords of the Serpentine

Thanks to everyone who’s had a look at their pre-layout PDF, and spotted some typos in it! We’re collecting all of those using this form, so let us know if you spot a typo, or there’s anything that isn’t clear. Layout has been paused while we review the final file, but we’re still getting art in.

Work in progress update: Even Death Can Die

Christian is on holidays at the moment, unfortunately, which has put paid to my plan to have the PDF finalised and to pre-orderers at the end of June, unfortunately. I’m still waiting to hear back from him on his July availability, as he has a lot of family commitments over the coming weeks.

Works in progress update: 13th Age

I checked in with Rob Heinsoo to get an update on 13th Age production, and it’s steaming ahead! Book of the Underworld is on its way, and Rob, J-M and Trisha are hard at work on a total of four announced books (and one that we agreed wasn’t quite ready to be announced yet) at the moment. Here’s a short update on each, with sneak peeks at some art, too:

We’ve approved the final Book of the Underworld print proofs, and this is currently being printed. We’re hoping to start shipping this out to pre-orderers at the end of August.

Rob’s said that Elven Towers is through with design and development and art and about 75% through editing. It’s going to move into layout in the next couple weeks. He shared this illustration by Roena I. Rosenberger, showing the pit that leads down into the dark elves’ Tower of Dreams (actually a stalactite hanging in the underworld).

Drakkenhall: City of Monsters is our latest announced book. Rob’s mentioned that it’s about 75% written and is in the middle of development, and its art order is drafted, but not yet commissioned. This is the first in what Rob’s calling our “mosaic” 13th Age books, so-called because they’re constructed of a mosaic of complementary – and sometimes even contradictory! – perspectives on the subject matter, which allows GMs and players to pick and choose the bits that best describe the Dragon Empire as it exists at their own table.

Wade Rockett’s 1st level adventure, Crown of Axis, is more than 50% designed, Rob says. He has a cunning art plan, but nothing commissioned yet.

Icon Followers is what Rob’s currently spending most of his time on, and it’s about 33% designed. Unlike most of our books, Rob’s handling the art alongside design, to speed things up at the end. Here’s a Rich Longmore illustration of the war bell, a construct used for underground communication and magical thunder. You can see which icon it’s following by the etching!

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