The largest exhibition for tabletop gaming is held every year in Essen, in their ‘fairgrounds’ building — four days with six large halls filled with booths from game manufacturers, publishers and dealers. (And, because it’s Germany, there are also booths selling grilled sausages in between.) There is, predictably, a large offering from German manufacturers (not only is the majority of the public German, but there is a real designer boardgaming culture in Germany), but there are also many international offerings. Design collectives from Japan, Singapore, Korea and Taiwan bring pallets of their games and sell out during the pre-orders, and there are visitors from all over the world.
We’ve been going there for a few years now, and we went on the first day — not that we had a specific list of games we ‘needed’ to get before they sold out, but because the first day doesn’t have the most public. (And still it’s noisy and sometimes you’re stuck in foot traffic.) And yes, I did have a list of games I was interested in, but that was just a tentative list: things that I thought looked cool, but if we didn’t see/find them, it would be fine too. There was only one thing that I really wanted to buy, at the request of a friend who wanted to buy it for his wife.

Our day at Spiel Essen 2017 (picture heavy)

And then we arrived home, eleven hours after leaving. Kind of tired now…

Top DM tips

So, if you compile a list of top tips from DMs by looking at a representative sample of responses to a DM survey, you get this top 4:

  1. Prepare to improvise.
  2. Focus on the players and their characters.
  3. Monitor the pacing of your game.
  4. Evoke memorable NPCs and fantastic worlds.

So that’s what other DMs advise you to do when running a game. This is not something that is built in into Dungeons and Dragons, this is something that the Dungeon Masters have to discover for themselves.

Contrast that with this excerpt from Dungeon World:

Your agenda makes up the things you aim to do at all times while GMing a game of Dungeon World:

  • Portray a fantastic world
  • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
  • Play to find out what happens

I’ve written about how Dungeon World is superior, and here is another point of proof: the best advice anyone can give you about running a fantasy RPG is built right into the game.

Most of you probably don’t know who Frank Mentzer is. He’s one of the original old-school writers for D&D, and thus is somewhat of a celebrity in RPG circles. He currently has a Kickstarter running for a setting he’s going to write.

And he is a Weinstein-level creep, as you can read in this Twitter thread.

The pattern is familiar: a white man is using his credits in an industry (RPG in Mentzer’s case, movies in Weinstein’s) to pressure and intimidate victims of his sexual assaults and harassments into silence. The old “I’ll make sure you never work in this industry again!” ploy. And it’s not simply hollow threats (in general): 75% of the victims of sexual assault in a corporate context face retaliations for reporting, while the perpetrator gets away clean. So it’s quite brave for victims to speak out about what has happened to them, and as bystanders we are required to undertake appropriate action.

Everything is political, and your entertainment choices matter: they help shape the culture and the world we live in. If you continue to spend money on things that Weinstein or Mentzer did and do, you are maintaining their power in their respective spaces. You are helping them to be in the position to credibly threaten people into silence. You are directly helping them to sexually assault other people. You just can’t separate the person from their work.

I spend a lot of my time over on RPGGeek, the RPG-focused sister site to BoardGameGeek. I keep up to date with new releases, new RPG Kickstarters, special deals, reviews and session reports. I’m also a big fan of their Question of the Day.
But there’s another thing that I use the site for: Play by Forum. Yes, it’s so much slower than Face-to-Face or even Play by VOIP, but it has the advantage that you can just take your time to craft an artful description or a cool action without people getting impatient. I’ve participated in a few games, and I’ve also GM’ed a few games there. One of those was a game of The One Ring titled “The Secret of Minas Anghen”, a retooling of a MERP scenario (in fact, the scenario we played during my first ever RPG session!), and I had six players. We started in April 2015, and we ended somewhere early summer 2016 — so it really took more than a year to finish! But it was a great game with a great group.

Recently, the Bree sourcebook for The One Ring was released, and one of the players has remarked in the past that his favourite RPG book was the Bree sourcebook for MERP. And this new book has three scenarios in it, and all my PbF games had ended… So I asked him if he were interested in reprising his character for the first scenario, and that turned out to be the case — very much so, in fact.
I contacted the other five players separately, asking them if they would like to play again. And all of them said they wanted to! I’m taking it as a huge compliment that every player from two years ago wants to play again with me. And so we have the whole group together for a new adventure! I’m stoked.

I’ve spent this morning reorganising two of the three shelves that hold my RPG books. I weeded out some photocopies and print-outs of session reports of old campaigns (which I’ve gotten scanned already). I also tossed two of those really trashy supplements that came out in the heydays of the OGL/D20 glut. I don’t know how I ever got those: until 5th edition came along, I had even never DM’ed D&D! I could try to pawn them off to someone else, but really, that trash is made more useful by recycling it…
I don’t buy many physical RPG books these days. It’s all about the PDFs: they’re much cheaper (especially if you factor in the postage costs!), and there’s something to be said for the instant gratification of downloading your new RPG book immediately after purchase. The only exception to that is the whole line for Cubicle 7’s The One Ring. I buy every book that comes out for it, and that policy has served me well: the books are all high quality. But that means that the shelf-space for that game will be expanding in the future, and it had gotten so messy something had to be done!

Here, have some pics (and click to embiggen if you’re curious of my collection):

Not pictured: the enormous stack of books for Rolemaster and Spacemaster and the ShadowWorld modules. Some of those I bought, most I inherited from Rupert in auction.

One of the most epic sourcebooks for Middle-Earth Roleplaying was the one detailing Moria. Lots of maps, ingenious Dwarven traps, and details on all the dark hordes that are camping down in the depths of the mines.
I bought the Adventurer’s Companion for The One Ring (easily my favourite RPG line right now), and that details a few groups of heroes who band together for a common purpose. In the section detailing the “Cragsmen of Balin’s Colony”, it says (page 133 of the PDF):

The Dwarves will not permit the company to engage in the taking of Moria (indeed, that is a tale for another supplement…)

That fills me with a lot of excitement. I was worried that, with the success of the D&D version of the sourcebooks (the “Adventures in Middle-Earth” line), the focus would shift away from The One Ring, but I’m really glad that doesn’t seem to be the case. And the time period of The One Ring is between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, which means there’s plenty of Orcs and even a Balrog to tangle with…

I’m a big fan of the Bundle of Holding: RPG books in PDF form with a hefty discount, and you’re also helping charity! Every time they are bringing out a new offer, I always check it out. I don’t get all bundles, but every once in a while there’s a bundle that I’m happy to invest in.

One of those bundles is the Apocalypse Engine +2 bundle. The Apocalypse World Engine has quickly become my favourite RPG rules engine for it’s “fiction first” approach and DIY attitude. And this bundle has a really diverse set of games with a lot of different genres, including the 2nd edition of the game that started it all.

Meanwhile, there is also the Humble Book Bundle, which also has books in PDF form for pay-what-you-want, in a similar fashion as the Bundle of Holding. They occasionally offer RPG books, but I don’t monitor them religiously — if you sign up for their mailings, you get a mail every day with stuff you’re not really interested in. (Or at least, that’s how it is for me.)
But I got notified that the whole of the second edition of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG was in the Humble Book Bundle. Cubicle 7, who also publish my favourite set of RPG books for The One Ring, have taken over the WHFRP license from Fantasy Flight Games, and they will be publishing a new edition. Third edition made use of the FFG house system (which is also in use for their Star Wars games), but the second edition is its own system, so it’s easy for C7 to offer it in this bundle and make a little bit of money off it too. The whole run for that little money? Yeah, I had to do it.

The bundle also included a coupon for 30% off on the C7 webshop. I had bought the Adventurer’s Companion for TOR at Orc’s Nest during our London vacation. I couldn’t remember the last time I had bought a book at an actual shop — usually I order online or pick up the books at Essen. And the Bree sourcebook for TOR is already out, but Orc’s Nest didn’t have it in stock.
I had planned on getting Bree at Essen, but the 30% off coupon took care of the shipping costs, and more! So it is actually cheaper for me to order it with the discount than getting it at Essen. So that’s what I did.

Or at least, RPG ideas I think are cool.

Guild Orphanage Graduation Expedition

Edo Sprawl

Rogue Sprawl

Dark Amber


Ryuutama: The Forest Shrine

If there’s something in there that you are interested in, let me know! We might be able to arrange something after all…

What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?
Hmmm… I’m kind of drawing a blank here. I mean, anything mixed in with Fantasy is easy: “It’s like D&D, but there are mechas!”, and you can make it work. And mixing cyberpunk with transhumanist hard sci-fi is kinda cheating too: it’s easy to see how you would progress from one to the other.
The best “mash-ups” are subtle. Tales from the Loop seems to mix a modern-day setting with subtle sci-fi elements. Blades in the Dark mixes a Victorian-like setting with a horror/occult undertone. I like those the best, but there’s not something I’m specifically looking for.