RPG.Lab Report V1.3 – Numenera

numenerarpgWelcome to the third and final installment of the Season 1 RPG Lab Reports.  New to all of this?  You can click HERE to read all about the RPG program in our original announcement.

Monte Cook’s Numenera was a tremendously popular Kickstarter and has been a popular game since its release in August of 2013.  Despite Cook’s reputation for deep crunch and rules heavy design, Numenera is a totally new type of game that is driven more by story than the acquisition of experience points and conventional character advancement. Although the world of Numenera has sci-fi elements, I find that its wild aesthetic is more fantastic than rational and is a solid basis for a wide range of adventures and potential scenarios.

NOTE: The bits in italic quotations at the end of each section are player comments and not the expressed views of the RPG Lab coordinator.

SETTING

The Ninth World setting of Numenera is built on top of the previous eight worlds. Characters are agents of the Amber Monolith and a quasi-religious order that serves science and reason rather than gods. The powers that be seek to unravel the mysteries of the past by studying the endless variety of weird technology that peppers the landscape.

“This is where Numenera really stands out.  It has an extremely rich and full setting that can take the players and story in any number of directions.  You have a fantastic world that has a very long, exotic history just waiting to be discovered and explored by the characters.  This history helps provide any number of great stories and adventures for players.  It also gives the GM a great variety of settings they can bring the players into.  Numenera has a little bit of that post apocalyptic steampunk feel to it without being too dark or depressing.  The world actually feels even more full of life, hope and wonder.  Even an old grizzled RPGer like myself can find themselves again wrapped in wonder discovering a whole new world and be more fascinated by the story than by acquiring that next level for my character.”

“I was initially attracted to this game because of the setting. It is unusual and allows for a very wide range of adventures and experiences. The mix of primitive and high tech components is intriguing; I can see a GM having a great deal of flexibility with story creation in a setting like this. I enjoyed the short story created for our game – that mix of primitive and high tech made for a very interesting adventure! And as a side note, the artwork in the books and on the website is absolutely gorgeous.”

“We only really scratched the surface of the broad setting material that Numenera contains.  The 9th world is basically a world of people surviving using the remnants of 8 previous great civilizations that have risen and fallen in the distant past.  Technology that’s indistinguishable from magic to many of the world’s inhabitants is just littered around and put to various uses, most of which are probably different than their intent.  There are several factions with differing, often competing, agendas that the characters can support or work against.  In our session, we ended up with something of a zombie survival horror meets Terminator meets Final Fantasy VII, which was very cool.  I think there’s a lot of possible places you can go with the sandbox that the book provides.”

SUPPLEMENTS & MATERIALS — USED

For the Purposes of RPG Lab we used only the core book and some character sheets. We played a short, home-brewed scenario inspired by the setting material from the core book.

CHARACTER GENERATION

In my humble opinion, the coolest and most innovative aspect of Numenera is the character generation system. Characters select three words – an adjective, a noun, and a verb. These three words generate almost every aspect of the character sans name and a few customizable details. The adjective describes disposition or some other telling trait about the character (such as “clever” or “charming”). The noun is effectively the character’s class (of which there are three: fighter-ish glaives, caster-ish nanos, and rogue-ish skill-oriented jacks). The verb denotes the characters primary power set. This can be something as mundane as “berserker” to something as exotic as “bears the halo of fire” (Yeah. Some of these break from true “verb” but let’s not get overly pre-occupied with that kind of thing…). Once these are chosen, the character needs a name and equipment and you are good to go.

“The character generation took a little time to get used to at first.  It really helps to understand the setting and purpose of the game before creating a character.  This game is more about the story and how players interact with each other and the world more than what attributes or stats the characters have.  I think the game really lends itself to a more story-rich game and tries to remove the aspect of power leveling or min/maxing.  Once you understand the game a little bit better, the character generation process becomes far easier and should take very little time.  What the character generation process really needs are a few simple sample encounters that players can run through to see how the system works.”

“I enjoyed creating a character in the Numenera system. The initial choices are complex enough to give the character depth, but simple enough to make for easy decision-making during the creation phase. Determining ability scores was very easy in this system and I appreciated that a great deal! Filling out the character sheet was a little more challenging as the instructions seem to be lacking some helpful details. Personally I’d like a little more space and a little less decoration on the character sheet so I could write additional details as needed. But on the whole I very much enjoyed creating a Numenera character.”

“Character generation is slightly more complex than the descriptions led me to believe, but it’s still very quick and fun.  It’s described as, ‘You are a (blank) who (blanks)’ and while that’s true, each of those blanks is a choice from a pre-defined list where each choice carries a host of mechanical implications.  That said, the process is still quite fast and the choices we saw all seemed well balanced.  There are three ‘classes’ represented by the second blank that you fill in, one that leans toward fighter, one more of a caster-type figure, and one in between.  The other blanks details your character’s features and abilities.  Figuring out where to record things on the very pretty character sheets takes some trial and error the first time around, but as things progressed it became clearer what the designers intended.”

RULESnumenera-character-sheets-2014-02-24

I’m not going to lie, the rules of Numenera are weird. First of all, the GM never rolls dice. That’s right, the GM never touches the dice. The GM merely assigns actions a difficulty, and the players roll for that difficulty. In combat, PCs roll to attack and defend against difficulties that are modified by various skills and aptitudes. Skill checks during non-combat situations are rolled against a range of difficulties modified by resource expenditure and the degree to which the character is skilled.

Getting used to this was really weird but it ultimately turned out to be extraordinarily simple. The players seemed to enjoy the simplicity.

“The game resolves nearly everything that needs to be mechanically resolved with a d20 roll, which is pretty cool.  Even more interesting, the GM never rolls a die!  While the GM describes the scenes and sets difficulties, the players are always the ones rolling, whether it’s a check to see if they hit the monster, a check to dodge an attack at them, or a check to convince the boy in town to reveal what he knows about the strange goings-on, it’s a d20 rolled by the players.  Monte Cook and company did a great job of getting the mechanics out of the way of telling a really a cool story, while still leaving enough there to handle everything we threw at it.  That said, it did take all of us a couple hours of looking things over and asking questions to really get the feel for it and some of the nuances.”

“At first this was very confusing.  The game tries to lend itself to a more open method, attempting to take all the complex and confusing rules out of the game so you can enjoy the rich story.  However, it also can be very ambiguous and hard to find or reference some of the rules.  It took a little bit of trial and error to really grasp how the mechanics worked.  I think for new players this could be frustrating, especially if there are no veterans around to help explain or guide them through the process.  Once you have learned the base mechanics the game flows much more freely and you can really worry less about what skills you have, what dice you need to roll and more about enjoying the adventure.”

“This game is marketed as a new RPG that scales back the mechanics to their simplest form in order for the story to take front and center. I love that concept! In reality it isn’t QUITE as simple as it sounds, at least not at first. It took a while to understand when rolls were needed, what modifiers to apply, and what target numbers needed to be reached. This happens with any game of course, but with Numenera finding the answers to these questions in the printed materials wasn’t as intuitive as it could have been. However, once we all understood how things worked the roll-playing and combat encounters moved at a very fast pace that I really enjoyed.”

CONCLUSION

Despite its extremely new design, the players quickly learned and implemented the games conventions and we all had a good bit of fun. I suspect Numenera shines more brightly the longer the campaign goes on. The vast setting, the intricate lists of powers, and the utterly strange critters and technology could easily be sculpted into an epic adventure that’s quite different than the sorts provided by other games on the market.

“I had a great time with RPG lab, if anything I feel the time was too short.  Let me start with the things I enjoyed the most.  I thought the group was great, everyone really focused on helping each other understand the rules and the game.  George did a great job describing the world and purpose of the game as well as running the story.  If there were some changes I would suggest, I would say perhaps another 2 sessions would have really helped test out some other aspects of the game.  Also delving deeper into the rules the first session and perhaps run through a few simple encounters prior to character creation might enable players to grasp the focus of the game and better understand how the system works.  But overall I had a great time and experience with RPG Lab.”

“RPG Lab was a great way to get introduced to a new game and some fellow gamers!  We all learned the system together and had a great time doing it.  A couple hours one day a week for a couple weeks, and I got to walk away knowing the basics of a game I’d never played before and feeling confident I could run it for my regular groups.  I really appreciate the opportunity – big thanks to Games and Stuff for hosting this!”

“I love the idea of the RPG Lab and I had a great time learning Numenera! George was very patient and helpful and seemed excited to be teaching (and learning) a new game. I am always looking to learn new games but don’t want to commit time and money to something that I may not enjoy. This mini gaming experience is a perfect sampler and provides just enough experience with a game for me to know if I’d enjoy playing it and which of my friends might as well. I had a ton of fun learning and playing Numenera, so much so that I’m currently setting up a game via Skype with a group of friends. Looks like I’ll need to brush up on those game mechanics since I’ll be the GM …”

What’s next for RPG LAB?:  THE ONE RING (Cubicle 7) is currently running and will continue through July.
Conspiracy X from Eden Studios is in August, and Don’t Rest Your Head from Evil Hat is September.  We may still have a few spots open for these last two.  Please email RPGLAB@GAMESANDSTUFFONLINE.COM if you want in!  (RPG Lab is run Tuesday nights, 6-9pm, for an entire calendar month.)

And here’s our usual disclaimer…

*This program is not for beginners. While obviously, no experience with the specific game is required, it is assumed that anyone participating in this program is familiar with more than a couple RPGs, understands intermediate RPG terminology, and is comfortable role-playing with an engaged group. Games & Stuff offers a number of opportunities for brand new and otherwise inexperienced players to get involved in the RPG hobby. RPG Lab is not that program.

RPG Evolution – 2014 Q2

So here we are again.  Another three months have passed, and what’s the RPG department at Games and Stuff look like?  For those of you just joining us, you may want to check out the first RPG Evolution article from back in APRIL, where we talk about what this whole thing is about.

Let’s start with the raw numbers.  Here are the Top 20 best-selling Role Playing Game lines (by dollar volume) at G&S from April 1 through June 30, 2014.  In instances where the game was in last quarter’s Top 20, I’ve noted that position as well.

1. Pathfinder (Q1 Rank #1)
2. Star Wars (Q1 Rank #3)
3. Dungeons and Dragons (Q1 Rank #2)
4. Warhammer 40,000 (Q1 Rank #5)
5. Shadowrun 
(Q1 Rank #4)
6. Mutants & Masterminds 
(Q1 Rank #13)
7. Call of Cthulhu 
(Q1 Rank #11)
8. The One Ring 
(Q1 Rank #7)
9. Fate 
(Q1 Rank #6)
10. Legend of the Five Rings 
(Q1 Rank #8)
11. Numenera 
(Q1 Rank #9)
12. White Wolf 
(Q1 Rank #10)
13. Lamentations of the Flame Princess
14. Dungeon Crawl Classics 
(Q1 Rank #17)
15. Doctor Who
16. Fading Suns
17. Kobolds Ate My Baby
18. Conspiracy X
19. Savage Worlds
20. Dungeon World

So, what’s interesting here?  Well, first of all, let’s look at what’s missing.  A fair amount.  Fiasco, Torchbearer, Dresden Files, Hillfolk, Victoriana, Deadlands Noir, Tenra Bansho Zero… all of them ranked last time, but are missing from this list, to be replaced by seven different titles.  That’s not to say these high ranking games from last quarter tanked for us in the last three months, as many of them are in the #21-30 ranking.  But what this shows is the ebb and flow of these second and third tier games.

Not every game is Pathfinder, or even Call of Cthulhu.  Which is to say that some games do well for us, but apart from slow and steady decent core book sales, may only put out a supplement a couple of times of year.  So a game like Doctor Who for example, may sell a couple pieces a month, but when a new release hits, we might move 6-10 of them, which gives the line a nice sales bump.  Plus the “hot newness” factor and exposure of the new release may momentarily revitalize interest in the game so that folks who have been on the fence about picking up the Core book might make the plunge. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is another game on the list that saw the benefits of a string of new releases, including a new edition of the core rules.

A few specific thoughts about this quarter’s list:

Kobolds Ate My Baby and Fading Suns are both brand new lines (or at least reprints of older lines with a lot of goodwill behind them).  Nice sales out of the gate were not unexpected, but I can’t imagine either game will see this list again.  And to be honest, I never would have guessed we would move so many units of Kobolds.

Dungeon World, the current darling of Indie Press Revolution, is only seeing a stronger and stronger growth curve, and while I expect to see it continue to do well, a lack of supplementary material means it probably won’t see the sales volume needed to stay on this list much longer.  Especially with the recent release of the new D&D Starter Set, folks looking for that old school feel may simply turn to that.  (Speaking of D&D, it’ll be really interesting to see where that old warhorse falls on this list in three months time, eh?)

The One Ring has been given an intense marketing push on Cubicle 7’s website over the past few months, which has really driven awareness.  We started taking pre-orders for the new Revised Edition on June 25th (the tail end of this reporting period) but other than that, there hasn’t been a new release for the game in months.  I expect a massive sales spike next quarter, with the new edition and a much more aggressive release schedule.  (By the way, any retailers reading this should be aware that Cubicle 7, through the BITS AND MORTAR PROGRAM, is offering the full complete PDF to customers who pre-order the Revised Rulebook from your store.)

Conspiracy X and Numenera both benefited from some in-store play as part of our new RPG Lab program.

Meanwhile, White Wolf is curiously still raising its head.  We stock a lot of the print-on-demand titles for World of Darkness (now through Onyx Path) but the vast majority of the sales volume here is from people picking up the pricey 20th Anniversary Editions of Werewolf and Vampire.

So what’s to be learned here?  Well, it’s those seven titles that switched out from last time that are most compelling to me.  Yes, those top five games are basically unchanged except for a bit of position jockeying, so the majority of my RPG dollars are coming from usual suspects.  And Pathfinder is #1 by a rather sizable margin, bringing in more than five times the amount that Star Wars or D&D do.

But those little guys… ranks 6-20 are important.  Those second and third tier games collectively, are as important as Pathfinder.  Yes, that’s right.  As it so happens the first five games are all tracked as individual departments in my POS system at the store.  Everything else is simply “RPGs: Other”.  I talked about this back in April.

That “Other” category? Brings in as many dollars as Pathfinder.  Often more.  This quarter, “Other” made 18% more than Pathfinder.  What’s the lesson here?  In case you haven’t heard it from me before… stock broadly and shallowly.  Yes, by all means go crazy deep with Pathfinder, Star Wars or whatever those alpha level games in your store are.  But providing a broad, shallow selection tells your customer that you’re serious about role playing games.  Your best RPG customers are grazers anyway, and like a little bit of this and little bit of that.

Your board game sections are driven by newness, right?  You’ve got your evergreens, like Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne and what have you… but it’s your selection and new hotness that drive sales.  Your RPG section should look the same way.  Your evergreens are Pathfinder, D&D, Star Wars.  But new stuff, flowing in and out all the time, carefully curated will reap large rewards.

So I’ll see you all in September, when I’m sure we’ll be talking a lot about D&D, Star Wars Age of Rebellion, The One Ring revised edition, and maybe the long-awaited Malifaux RPG, Through the Breach.

In the meantime, I invite all of you, gamers and retailers alike, to chime in with your thoughts.  What are you selling or playing right now that is exciting?

RPG.Lab Report V1.2 – Monsters and Other Childish Things

Welcome to the second installment of RPG Lab Report.  Each month we’ll be reviewing the game featured in last month’s RPG Lab, with input from both the GM and the players.  This time around we’re also announcing Season Two events, so be sure to watch at the end of the article for instructions on signing up for events this summer!  New to all of this and wondering about WHAT exactly is RPG Lab?  CLICK HERE!

For May, we’ve chosen Arc Dream’s Monsters & Other Childish Things (hereafter M&OCT) by Benjamin Baugh. As M&OCT is written to complement a somewhat sandboxy play style, our challenge was to somehow manage a sufficient tour of what the game had to offer without completely undermining its atmosphere.

NOTE: The bits in italic quotations at the end of each section are player comments and not the expressed views of the RPG Lab coordinator.

SETTING

The monsters of the M&OCT are a strange sort of demon that have odd compulsions and needs that an understanding and often imaginative companion will, at some point, have to satisfy. Some monsters require trouble, affection, or enormous heaps of food. Some simply need to engage in regular intervals of havoc. The lives of the young folk who traffic with such monsters are marked with chaos – sometimes fun, sometimes miserable. With a twist of delivery and an appropriate soundtrack, M&OCT is easily transmuted into a giant, drooling loveletter to Edward Gorey and the tradition of quasi-Victorian morality tales of nihilism and existential toil.

The scenario I selected was the story of a deranged school principal that obsessed over the capture and study of companion demons. The school is secretly a complex occult site filled with traps and peril for the foolhardy and ignorant. The story takes place a few weeks before the first day of school, a day which also happens to be a day of occult significance. If the kids can unravel the principal’s plans before the fateful day, they could have a great school year ahead of them. If not, the school (and possibly the entire town) could erupt into a demonic free-for-all.

“One may see *ill-defined* and *flapping in the breeze* here. Another would see *a great deal of potential.* There are several scenario and campaign books for Monsters, but by itself it’s a framework of a concept with little canon to run afoul of as you blaze your own trail. It is wholly permissible to go nuts creating your own setting and experience with it.”

monstersrpgSUPPLEMENTS & MATERIALS — USED

This time, we kept it simple. The players just had dice and their core rulebooks. Although there are a number of exciting variants for M&OCT (especially if you opt for the advanced Wild Talents rules variant), we stuck to a standard pet demon premise. On my end, I used the Curriculum of Conspiracy mini campaign setting and chose an appropriate story from the back of that book. After some tweaking (since I was only going to use a small bit of the setting for RPG Lab’s purposes), we were ready to go.

CHARACTER GENERATION

The players seemed to find the creation of their characters pretty easy. Points are allocated to attributes and skills, and then six points are allocated to relevant relationships. These relationships are useful pools of dice that can be grown or stressed (and possibly lost) during gameplay.  Some players meticulously custom built their monsters whereas others defaulted to the random system.

Backgrounds for characters included the studious prodigy, the well-meaning bully, and the alienated trickster.  One player used his relationships to create some cool NPCs that evoked loads of story with a mere name such as “Sapphire Lucy, Exotic Dancer”.

“Overall, I thought character generation in M&OCT was fun. I have a hard time understanding new rules systems before I see them in play, so creating a character in such a loose environment can be a little overwhelming for me, but after talking to my co-labmates, I think I got a good grasp on it. I don’t feel like I really had my monster developed until week 2, but it was a lot for my feeble mind to hold on the first day. If I were playing this at conventions, I’d create a cheat-sheet for monster creation just to get all the bits in one place. Overall, pleasant process, fun, and allowed for some cool and funny moments. “

“Fun and easy.  I used random rolls instead of planned build, but either way it provided me with something horrific and entertaining. With a top hat, yet!”

“Character generation is mechanically simple—all you really need to do is allocate some attribute points (Feet, Guts, Hands, Brains, Face), allocate some skill points, and fill in a few details of your child’s family life.

Monster generation is a bit more involved because there are options. It can’t be helped, since the monsters are the title characters in the game. (It’s not called Children and their Imaginary Furry Beasts.) Any location can have attack, defense, or utility to start with. Then dice can be “traded in” on those locations to add extra functionality. Of course, being a One Roll Engine game, they have rules for rolling up a monster at random: Just grab 10d10 and look on the table for any matches. Yes, it’ll likely be a hot, lopsided mess; monster means never having to make sense.”

RULESmonstersrpgcurriculum

The rules used in M&OCT are underpinned by the innovative system known as the One-Roll Engine (ORE) that also powers Arc Dream’s Wild Talents and Godlike RPGs. The game looks for matches within a dice pool. The number on the dice determines the height of the roll and the number of times that number occurs within the set determines its width.  With these two axis generated by a single die roll, initiative, hit location, and damage are quickly realized and combat goes by quickly but without too much hand-waving.

“It’s simple, it’s playful, and it’s quick. I like it, and would play again if offered the opportunity.”

CONCLUSION

I have to say, jumping from the linear endeavor of Gamma World to something as open and narrative as M&OCT spun me around a bit GM-wise. Nonetheless, due to the cooperation and imaginative contributions of Donny, Kevin, David, and John we were able to spin up a bit of a story even with the short run of the game. Risks were taken, monsters did battle, and everyone still made it home on time for supper…. which was still hot.

“It was great. I tend to GM since no one else will, and I welcome the opportunity to explore new systems, but trying to GM a new system is pretty much ‘the thing that will never be’. This was a really cool thing to take part in, and I am stoked you and G&S have taken the time to create something like this. My selfish desire is that everything on the indie game endcap is eventually run by the store, and I get to partake in all of them. But that’s just crazy talk.”

RPG LAB SEASON 2:

So what’s coming up next for RPG LAB?:
Numenera (Monte Cook Games) in June (SOLD OUT)
and The One Ring (Cubicle 7) in July!

That’s right, for the first time, here’s the official announcement of Season 2 of RPG LAB!

July – THE ONE RING (Cubicle 7)

August – CONSPIRACY X (2nd edition. Eden Studios)

September – DON’T REST YOUR HEAD (Evil Hat Games)

How to to participate?
Interested folks can contact the organizer to reserve their spot for their game of choice.  Players will be expected to commit for the full month.  RPG Lab takes place on Tuesdays from 6pm to 9pm. Anyone who wishes to apply for multiple games within a season should submit their requests with the games ranked by order of interest.  Generally speaking, a player will only be allowed to participate in one game per season, but if your preferred game fills up, or space opens up for a secondary game, you will be put on a waiting list. Each month there will be four available slots so it’s better to sign up sooner than later. The games WILL fill up, and in some cases, very quickly.

So don’t delay! Email us at: RPGLAB@GAMESANDSTUFFONLINE.COM

And here’s our usual disclaimer…
*This program is not for beginners. While obviously, no experience with the specific game is required, it is assumed that anyone participating in this program is familiar with more than a couple RPGs, understands intermediate RPG terminology, and is comfortable role-playing with an engaged group. Games & Stuff offers a number of opportunities for brand new and otherwise inexperienced players to get involved in the RPG hobby. RPG Lab is not that program.

RPG.Lab Report V1.1 – Gamma World

Welcome to the RPG Lab Report.  Each month we’ll be reviewing the game featured in last month’s RPG Lab, with input from both the GM and the players.

Kicking off the first month of Season One of Games & Stuff’s new RPG Lab program is Wizards of the Coast’s new version of the classic TSR RPG Gamma World (effectively, its 7th edition). Although there’s been controversy in the past (surrounding both the Alternity 5th edition and White Wolf’s 6th edition), the most recent pass at the concept cleaves closely to the original tone and themes but straddles the line between RPG and adventure board game in a way that is both approachable and compelling without forfeiting either richness or ease of play.

NOTE: The bits in italic quotations at the end of each section are player comments and not the expressed views of the RPG Lab coordinator.

SUPPLEMENTS & MATERIALS — USED

We used it all. We used the Gamma World core box, the Famine in Far-Go expansion, the Legion of Gold expansion, and several sealed booster packs of Gamma World mutation/alpha tech cards. We printed up a fan-created GM screen and got character sheets from the website. Everyone needs a set of polyhedral gaming dice.

SETTING

Long story short, the LARGE HADRON COLLIDER fires up and causes the “Big Mistake”. The result of this is every known “worldline” collapsing into every other one and creating a patchwork reality filled with all imaginable outcomes. My version of this reality looks a lot like a terrible hybrid of Road Warrior, Six String Samurai, Class of Nuke’Em High, Freaked, and The Oblongs with a soundtrack of The Ramones, The Cramps, Dick Dale, and The Butthole Surfers.

As we used the adventure in the back of the Gamma World core book (“Steading of the Iron King”), we came up with some simple reasons as to why the characters would get involved. These reasons were enough gasoline and tobacco to get to a vast radioactive lakeside resort populated exclusively with fun-loving mutant flotsam.

“Gamma World takes the post-apocalyptic setting to a really fun place.  This game never takes itself seriously, and the monsters encountered in the starting scenario reflect this.  Talking ’bout angry, bipedal badgers, drugged out, giant rabbits, and flying bat-lions with insect mandibles and laser eyes.  Friggin’ laser beams!  With a background of a cross-dimensional rift causing endlessly possible realities, there should be plenty here for a group to explore.”

Gamma World Boxed SetCHARACTER GENERATION

Perhaps the most entertaining of Gamma World’s features is its character generation process. Far beyond the usual measures of NICHE PROTECTION, Gamma World has everyone roll for their two character “origins”. The core game gives you twenty or so but with the expansions, it’s likely that a group of four or five players will be quite unique. Once the origins are rolled, the players and GM work together to come up with an appropriately absurd backstory to give the character an explanation. The RPG Lab group consisted of a Shapeshifting Gravity Controller spawned from the reality rending effects of the Big Mistake itself, a Telekinetic Hawkman exiled from a worldline that was ruled by other members of his race,  a slow moving Reanimated corpse spawned from a pool of radiactive goop capable of causing minor earthquakes, and an enormous sledge-hammer wielding Yeti.

After basic character generation, characters get to build mutation and technology decks for themselves from whatever cards are available to the group. We had each player crack a pair of boosters, pick what they wanted, and then dump unwanted cards into a pool for the other players to use. Worked great.

“Gamma World brings a fun, albeit very random, generation system to the table.  Rolling on two charts (to determine two more charts!) will tell you what two mutant types you’ll start as.  That gives you your two primary stats, and a simple 3d6 roll for each determines the rest.  No min-maxing here, which is a fine thing in my not-at-all humble opinion.  Equipment is similar, with a couple rolls on a chart for the basics, and an interesting, semi-collectible card mechanic for your big mutations and “Omega Tech”.  Think super powers and magic items.”

RULESGamma World Far-go Cover

I’m not gonna mince worlds. This version of Gamma World is powered by a stripped down version of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons ruleset. Grid-map combat, hit points, levels, and tap-able at-will and encounter powers. Oh shut up. It’s fine for Gamma World and in fact somewhat optimal. You have so much less to deal with I actually prefer it to its bloated 4e form. Combat is fast and explosive and resolved in far less time than I was used to with 4th edition games.

“Based on Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, Gamma World takes those rules and strips them down even further.  Most characters will have two inherent powers, usually either “at will” or “once per encounter”, in addition to their basic attacks.  This is plenty enough for some dungeon-crawling type of adventures, and makes it very easy for inexperienced players to hop right in.  There are also “Alpha Tech” and “Omega Tech” cards that can be acquired throughout the game.  Alpha Tech cards provide temporary powers representing random mutations coming to the fore, and Omega Tech is the left-behind technology of civilization past.  Each player will have a small deck that they can customize to some extent, allowing you to craft to your character’s strengths (or to cover weaknesses).  Some might be put off by card game style collectibility creeping into their RPG, but I found it to be fun and thematically the cards fit well with the background of Gamma World.”

CONCLUSION

I have to say, this first round of RPG Lab was a total blast. Thanks to Tim, Dennis, Nick, and Dave fun was had by all. Despite only getting through a small portion of the mutant badger fortress and revealing the main tunnel into the Stupendico Robot Fortress, the desire to continue play was inspired and enthusiastic.

“George ran this RPGLab and it was a blast!  He provided all materials, from the rules and character tokens to pencils and dice.  Even your character sheet and powers were prettied up and presented in an easy to digest format after creation.  The game itself keeps a brisk pace with combat being straight forward.  Gamma World might not be able to sustain a years-long campaign, but would be a nice change of pace for a group looking to play something lighter for several sessions.”

Coming up next for RPG LAB:  Monsters and Other Childish Things (Arc Dream Publishing) in May
and Monte Cook’s Numenera in June.


Both of these events are SOLD OUT, but watch for next month’s LAB REPORT to see the announcement of Season 2’s game lineup.

-George Holochwost is the current mastermind behind RPG Lab, and is the Assistant Manager and Used RPG Buyer at Games and Stuff.

RPG Evolution – 2014 Q1

Hey everyone, Paul here again. As many of you know, I take Role-Playing Games pretty seriously, both as a gamer and a retailer.  It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that for quite a while now, many hobby gaming retailers have been talking about the so-called “death of pen-and-paper RPGs” despite the success of Pathfinder.  Or indeed, perhaps because of Pathfinder eclipsing the popularity of Dungeons and Dragons.

I am of the opinion that many game stores are allowing this to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  They’re not stocking enough RPGs, so they’re not selling.  It’s been about 18 months now since I wrote RPG EVOLUTION in an installment of my [Card.Board.Box.] column, and man, does that seem like forever ago (we were still in our old space)! In the time since then I’ve since gone on to teach a number of seminars at various industry events preaching the good word to retailers about selling RPGs.  I’ve become a bit of a go-to guy in the industry for RPG stuff, and it’s been really rewarding, with many retailers approaching me a year after they took my class and telling me they’ve started to see quantifiable results.

This year at the GAMA Trade Show, I taught my RPG seminar a few more times, and some follow-up conversations with some other retailers have lead me here, to the beginning of a new column, to be published quarterly, called simply RPG Evolution.  I hope it is of value to any retailers that may find this, and at least somewhat interesting to any RPG gamers that read this as well.  What’s the point?  Well, it’s a chance to share what it is that people are playing and buying here at Games and Stuff.  Every quarter, I’m simply going to list the Top 20 Role-Playing Games (by sales numbers) for the quarter.  This whole thing largely came about because when I saw the list at ICV2 for the best selling RPGs at hobby stores in the Quarter 3 of 2013 (link HERE)… I wanted to yell“You guys aren’t even f*cking trying!” Now, admittedly, those numbers from ICV2 are largely anecdotal, but still..

I mean, Iron Kingdoms is a perfectly fine game, but it’s been out for 18 months, and only has four items in the line.  I imagine hobby store owners and managers (those with anemic RPG sections) thinking, “hey, we sell Warmachine, I bet the Iron Kingdoms RPG would sell.”  I’m sorry, but Iron Kingdoms was a best-selling RPG (in the country!) in the months following the release of Shadowrun fifth edition, Numenera, and 13th Age?  You’re not even trying. I’m not saying that I know more than anybody else when it comes to RPGs, but the fact of the matter is that at Games and Stuff we sell a LOT of them.  In 2013 alone, we sold slightly more than $100,000 in RPG stuff.  And that’s compared to the slightly more than $40,000 that we made in 2010… so we must be doing something right… we’ve seen steady growth in our RPG section over the last four years.

So.  The Top 20 list.  A few notes about it.  Yes, Pathfinder is #1 (and will probably remain so for a while.)  It’s #1 by a long shot.  But I want to point something out… in our computer system at the store, we separate out RPGs by a few categories: Pathfinder, D&D; Shadowrun; Star Wars; Warhammer 40K; and “Other”.  So yes, Pathfinder is #1, but if you simply listed Other as it’s own category, it would beat Pathfinder to the #1 spot.  And it’s been doing so for years.  Role-Playing Gamers are an experimental lot.  They buy and play (or at least read) lots and lots of titles from a wide variety of games.  So you retailers out there, if you take away one thing from this article, take this: stock more games.  Yes, support your big boys, but it’s the little guys that are making our RPG section so robust for us.  So anyway, let’s take a look at the list.  Here, in order, are the Top 20 best selling Role-Playing Games at Games and Stuff in the period between January 1st and March 31st 2014:

1.  Pathfinder
-It should be noted that this is in the top spot without even accounting for novels, flipmats, map packs or Pathfinder branded dice or card accessories.

2.  Dungeons & Dragons
-Alive and well at #2 thanks to the reprints of older editions and the success of the two Sundering module releases.  Which I think are amazing, btw.

3.  Star Wars
-Interestingly, this rarely gets played in the store.  But the sales on this line are huge, and will only increase with the release of Age of Rebellion.

4.  Shadowrun
-Conversely, we run 2-3 weekly tables of Shadowrun Missions at the store, and I am personally a huge fan, which translates into sales.

5.  Warhammer 40,000
-At a bit of a sales ebb at the moment, though second edition Dark Heresy should re-invigorate the line.  Now if only I could talk FFG into making a Runebound/Terrinoth RPG!

6.  Fate
-Its price point and clean graphic design combined with its equal emphasis on combat and social challenges make it a game with wide appeal.

7.  The One Ring
-My personal favorite RPG of all time.  I promote the crap out of this, and I think more people should give it a chance.  As soon as people really take a look at it, they are instant fans.  Revised edition, and the addition of Rohan and Gondor as playable cultures should blow this game up in a big way later this year.

8.  Legend of the Five Rings
We have a small but VERY loyal following for this game.  I can count on every new release selling 6-8 copies in the first week, without fail.

9.  Numenera
-The new kid on the block.  It will be interesting to see what kind of legs this thing has.  It’s certainly got the aggressive release schedule to back it up.  One to watch.

10.  White Wolf
-This includes all World of Darkness products.  We are part of a beta program with Onyx Path, the current license holders.  So while these games are not available to stores through traditional distribution, we are able to get them via Print-On-Demand services through a deal with the publisher.

11.  Call of Cthulhu
-We stock this line pretty deeply, and we have a couple of Lovecraft fans on staff.

12.  Dresden Files
-This thing sells itself.  It’s only two books!

13. Mutants & Masterminds
-Easily the best superhero RPG on the market.  It’s got great support, it looks amazing, and the DC license if that’s your thing.

14. Burning Wheel/Torchbearer
-Burning Wheel in general seems to do pretty well.  Torchbearer had quite a bit of buzz upon release, but I don’t expect to see this on the list again next quarter.  If only we could get Archaia to reprint Mouse Guard!

15. Fiasco
-Thank you Wil Wheaton.  And thank you Jason Morningstar for creating an easily accessble GM-less RPG!

16.  Hillfolk
-Listed as one of my Best RPGs of 2013.  Really innovative.  Classic RPG play crossed with the collaborative storytelling style of the indie games like Fiasco.

17. Dungeon Crawl Classics
-The preeminent old-school retro D&D experience.  Having a stand up floor display gives this line the exposure it deserves.

18. Victoriana
-Steampunk RPG with Cubicle 7’s excellent production values. ‘Nuff said.

19. Deadlands Noir
-Another new entry.  A bit of nostalgia for Deadlands, plus the appeal of the weird Noir setting propelled sales on this.

20. Tenra Bansho Zero
-I don’t imagine this will stay on this list, but a pretty, good looking anime inspired rulebook with a $50 price point lands it a spot on this quarter’s list.

So there’s that.  What’s actually being played in our store?  Lots of Pathfinder.  A fair amount of Shadowrun.  Plus a little bit of D&D 3.5 and 4E.  And it’s not uncommon to have a group or two that rotates through different stuff every week or month…so there’s a sprinkling of all kinds of weird stuff.

And that’s all I’ve got this time around.  Hopefully useful to other game stores, and at least interesting to gamers.  How about it retailers?  What else would you like to see me talk about here?  I’m here because you asked me to be.

And what about you Role-Playing Gamers?  What were you playing in the first three months of 2014?  Which of your current favorites aren’t on the list?

You can respond here, or email me directly at PAUL@GAMESANDSTUFFONLINE.COM

Announcing RPG.Lab

rpg lab sidebarRPG Lab is a new, in-store opportunity to experiment with Role Playing Games you might not have otherwise had a chance to experience. Most of us have dozens and dozens of RPGs that we’ve only read and never had a chance to put on the table. It’s likely that we all have had the familiar experience of resorting to old standbys because we don’t want to sit through an extensive teaching of a new system, convince our players to buy and read a big fat rulebook, and then try to schedule play sessions on top of our usual playgroup’s sessions.

Enter Games & Stuff’s new RPG LAB!

The main goal of this new in-store play program is to expose experienced* role-players and game masters to games they haven’t had a chance to play.  Games will range from the traditional to the strange and, ideally, we’ll have a bunch of fun on the way.  It will take place every Tuesday at 6pm, with a different game each month.

Why RPG LAB ?

The intention with this program is to provide a sort of workshop environment in which the players and game master can explore all the bells and whistles of the month’s featured game. We’ll spend the first session discussing the game, going over rules, and in most cases, making characters. For the rest of that month, we’ll engage in actual play and see if this is a game we like enough to try out with our regular playgroups.

Seasons & Sign-Ups

Every three months or so, we will announce a three month season of RPG LAB. Each month will feature a single game of which there will be four to five sessions (depending on the number of Tuesdays in the month).

Once announced (and Season One is listed below) interested folks can contact the organizer to reserve their spot for their game of choice.  Players will be expected to commit for the full month.  Anyone who wishes to apply for multiple games within a season should submit their requests with the games ranked by order of interest.  Generally speaking, a player will only be allowed to participate in one game per season, but if your preferred game fills up, or space opens up for a secondary game, you will be put on a waiting list. Each month there will be four available slots so it’s better to sign up sooner than later. The games WILL fill up, and in some cases, very quickly.

So without further ado, here’s Season One!  If you would like to reserve a slot for one or more games the inaugural season of RPG Lab, email us at: RPGLab@gamesandstuffonline.com

RPG Lab Season One

April – GAMMA WORLD (WIZARDS OF THE COAST)

May – MONSTERS & OTHER CHILDISH THINGS (ARC DREAM)

June – NUMENERA (MONTE COOK GAMES)

*This program is not for beginners. While obviously, no experience with the specific game is required, it is assumed that anyone participating in this program is familiar with more than a couple RPGs, understands intermediate RPG terminology, and is comfortable role-playing with an engaged group. Games & Stuff offers a number of opportunities for brand new and otherwise inexperienced players to get involved in the RPG hobby. RPG Lab is not that program.2014

[Card.Board.Box] #12 – RPG Evolution

***I endeavor to make [Card.Board.Box.] about gaming in the broadest sense possible, and not about the Games and Stuff retail location specifically.  In this way, the column is of value to folks that may not be anywhere near the shop or even the state of Maryland.  But just this once, I’m gonna get store-specific.  This is not something you’ll likely see again, but you’ll see why I chose to go that route this time…***

We are, as a species, addicted to stories.  Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”  -Jonathan Gottschall  The Storytelling Animal

There are those who will tell you that traditional table top Role-Playing Games are dead.  More often than not, you will hear this cry from brick-and-mortar retailers.  They will point to the popularity of online games such as World of Warcraft.  They will direct you to the proliferation of PDF sales and suggest that they have cannibalized hardcopy sales.  They will hold up examples such as White Wolf publishing, who, for all intents and purposes, now only publishes print-on-demand.  They bemoan the fact that DUNGEONS & DRAGONS has fallen from its pedestal of “best selling role playing game.”

Role-Playing Games are dead?

On behalf of myself, our Assistant Manager George, every gamer who turns out every Thursday night for Open RPG night, and the whole staff here at Games and Stuff, I respectfully say:  Bullshit.

PathfinderCoreYes, D&D has been knocked from its pole position by PATHFINDER.  But by most counts, if you add up current sales of D&D 4th Edition and PATHFINDER, you’ll discover that the number exceeds the sales figures of D&D 3.5 alone.  So more people are playing some current edition of DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS than previously.  And who would have thought, a scant five years ago that Fantasy Flight Games would return to publishing RPGs and become a giant in their own right?  Their sixth game line, ONLY WAR comes out later this year.  SHADOWRUN has been going strong for over 20 years at this point and is regularly in the top five nationwide.  Not to mention there’s all sorts of smaller RPG lines that have been making big splashes upon their release and continue to do well.  DRAGON AGE; THE ONE RING; the new MARVEL HEROIC ROLEPLAYING; MO– USE GUARD; DRESDEN FILES… the list goes on!  I’m really excited about Cubicle 7’s forthcoming YGGDRASILL myself.

There is also a remarkable quantity of independently published RPGs out there, and some of them are quite ground-breaking. Stuff like DREAD, the horror RPG that uses a Jenga set as its resolution device.  Or games that stretch the definition of RPG by eliminating the Game Master entirely… stuff like FIASCO, recently featured on Wil Wheaton’s TableTop, or LOST DAYS OF MEMORIES & MADNESS, or CHRONICLES OF SKIN.

So let’s sum up.  Most retailers are claiming that the sun is setting on RPGs.  Games and Stuff says “bullcrap.”

So what are we doing about it?

Heh.
DarkHeresyTatteredFatesWe’re expanding our RPG section.  A lot.  You may have noticed that the Fantasy Flight RPG line now has its own dedicated space on the FFG wall.  We also ripped down the old triangular RPG “spinner” and replaced it with a full-sized floor rack.  Role-playing accessories and associated miniatures have a new look, and we’re looking into expanding our REAPER inventory levels.

PATHFINDER; SHADOWRUN; TRAIL OF CTHULHU; DARK HERESY; DEATHWATCH; ROGUE TRADER; ONLY WAR; BLACK CRUSADE; WARHAMMER FANTASY ROLEPLAY; LEGEND OF THE FIVE RINGS; A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE; THE ONE RING; DRAGON AGE; THE LAUNDRY; and HOLLOW EARTH EXPEDITION.  We are currently committed to carrying the full line of all of these games.  We also let things run pretty deeply with SAVAGE WORLDS, CALL OF CTHULHU and of course DUNGEONS & DRAGONS 4th edition.

Diaspora coverIn addition, I recently placed a gigantic order through Indie Press Revolution, with more on the way.  By the time you read this, a lot of it will already be on the shelf.  Scores of new titles.  Stuff some of you have been asking about for a while (like the aforementioned DREAD, or DIASPORA), some stuff that may have escaped your radar but will knock your socks off (REIGN anyone?  How about A DIRTY WORLD?)  You might want to plan to give yourselves some extra time this Thursday to browse those racks, trust me.

As always, if we don’t have what you want in stock?  As long as it’s currently available, we’ll get it for you.  At 10% off.

And we’re continuing our emphasis on having the most amazing second-hand RPG section you’ve ever seen.  (And we’re always buying, by the way.  Talk to George about what we’re currently offering cash or store credit deals for.)  We’re also stocking up on non-system-specific accessories like THE WORLD’S GREATEST SCREEN and more GAMEMASTERY back catalog.  And of course we will continue to run our monthly THOR’S DAY open-gaming-til-midnight events, which were created with RPGers in mind.

RiderWaiteTarotFinally, we’re bringing in non-gaming items that will serve storytellers in any game.  Products like the Creative Whack Pack, RORY’S STORY DICE, plotting toolkits, and of course Sherrilyn Kenyon’s wonderful Character Naming Sourcebook. We’re even bringing in some divination devices like rune stone sets and tarot cards.  If you’ve never used these sorts of things as random creative elements in your games, you’re missing out.

So yeah, I’ve seen stores with bigger RPG sections, but they’re mostly populated by dusty tomes that have been out of print for years and nobody wanted in the first place.  But better?  No.  I’ll put the RPG section at Games and Stuff up against any you’ve seen in the state.  Probably further. Think we can do something better?  Let me or George know and we’ll see what we can do.  It’s hard for me to express just how excited I am about this.

We’ve done our part.  Now it’s your turn.  There are stories to be told.  The world needs more Game Masters.  Get on it.

-Paul Alexander Butler is the store manager of Games and Stuff, where he is the resident Board Game Nerd and the pied piper of Tuesday Night Board Gaming.  Don’t be fooled, his first love is RPGs. [Card.Board.Box.] is his monthly gaming column for gamesandstuffonline.  He and his assistant manager George have recently started a series of workshops for Game Masters called the GameMaster Guild.