GenCon 2010 – The RPG Report

The annual GenCon gaming convention was held earlier this month in Indianapolis. As is my tradition, I attended for a couple days and thought I’d share my thoughts. The convention has its roots in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Gary Gygax held the first one in 1968 as a wargame convention. It quickly grew as Gygax’s Dungeons & Dragons role playing game became popular. GenCon attendance now approaches 30,000 attendees and will be the 4th largest convention in Indianapolis this year, behind both the NCAA tournament and the national FFA convention. While gaming conventions are common, Gencon is the place to be for fans of role playing games. Many companies use the convention to launch new titles and reveal upcoming plans and the only problem anyone interested in trying out a game will have is choosing from the large number of public games available.

The current front runner for role playing accessory of the year has got to be Paizo’s new pack of small minimaps entitled Swallowed Whole. Sold in the GameMaster Map Pack line, this package of a dozen or so 5×8 inch tiles displays shadow outlines of various iconic monsters. The idea here, is that a player character might “accidentally” get swallowed by one of these monsters (a whale, a giant purple worm, etc…) and thus the player’s mini could “occupy” one of the spaces within the monster’s outline. Swallowed, but not out of the fight! I’m not sure how much role playing use I’ll get out of the pack of maps, but I was showing them off to any of my friends I met during the convention. The other big product at Paizo’s booth was their newest supplement to their Pathfinder RPG. The Pathfinder RPG was designed to preserve the look and feel of old 3.5 edition Dungeons and Dragons when D&D went on to start up their 4th edition. The Pathfinder RPG has quite a few fans and seems to be doing quite well, especially among long-time role players. The new release at the convention was the Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide. This new book gives players six new complete classes (types of characters) to play but also a huge host of options to customize all the classes that already have been covered in the basic Pathfinder book. While they don’t seem to imbalance the game, the options look to be a great way for players to further customize and create characters that are a better fit with their character concepts.

Role playing publishers came from all over the world, including Cubicle 7 who made it all the way from England. And if you’re an RPG publisher from England, you probably want to show off the new Dr. Who: Adventures in Time and Space role playing game. Based around the revamped 2005 (and onwards) BBC series, this is a great way for gamers to get the opportunity to role play a time travelling tourist. Where most games go to great lengths to avoid the problems of time travel, this game gives it a nod and a wink and just digs right in. I have a soft spot for this RPG because of my enthusiasm for the Dr. Who franchise and also for how the system tends to emphasize problem solving over combat.

My most enjoyable sessions of role playing have revolved around Hero Game’s RPG system. This is partially due to the genre (we would always play superheros) and the incredible flexibility of the system. Their newest edition: Hero 6th Edition, is yet another step forward in streamlining the rules and balancing powers to make building characters an easier task. The new edition comes in two volumes – one on character creation and the second describes combat and adventuring. While it may seem overwhelming to have an entire book on how to build a character, keep in mind this system is insanely flexible and able to recreate nearly any comic book or fictional character you could think up. The main drawback I see to the system is the price point. At $40 ($35 if you buy both) each, the two books cost a pretty penny. (However, the books will be cheaper and could easily get more use than two console video games.) One final aside, if you have played (or still play) the Champions MMORPG, this is the RPG system on which the Champions world is based.

If you would prefer being a superhero in a more familiar world of supers, you might want to check out DC Adventures just published by Green Ronin Publishing. They had 300 early release copies of their new system at the show and quickly sold out. The DC Adventures game is based on a new version of Green Ronin’s Mutants and Masterminds RPG. This makes the game (when compared to Hero 6th Edition) much more comparable to common MMORPGs – characters have levels rather than just a pool of points to spend and a character’s level will determine various maximum abilities. It looks to be simpler to grasp than the complex (but very flexible) Hero 6th Edition rules, and has the added advantage of official licensing of the entire DC comics universe… If the game intrigues you, they even have a free quick-start PDF on their web site where you can play a short combat between SuperBoy and a villainess at the local county fair.

The 800lb gorilla in the room when you talk about RPGs is clearly Wizards of the Coast. They continue to expand their Dungeons and Dragons franchise (now in a 4th edition). They always bring out an impressive booth, as the photo shows you could even get in on a live-action “delve” of sorts where you and several friends rolled giant dice and tried to fight human-sized monster cutouts to try to win (local) fame and prizes.
This year’s GenCon for Wizards of the Coast was one of looking back and planning forward. The looking back was in the form of a rerelease of the old Dark Sun campaign setting. This setting was groundbreaking when it first came out back in 1991, as it was one of the few very popular settings that diverged greatly from the standard medieval knights and wizards genre. In the world of Dark Sun, players must battle the elements in a very harsh desert environment where nearly everything is out to get them (including the weather.) The “kings” of the land are fascist dictators with no benevolent rulers in sight. Perhaps the most disturbing of all, there are no divine gods (and thus no clerics, paladins, etc…) present and normal magic more often destroys the local environment (called defiling) than not. Even the standard player races have changed from the familiar – elves are a savage, duplicitous race and the happy-go-lucky halflings (think Hobbit) would sooner eat you for supper than talk with you.

As for the looking forward portion, the folks at Wizards were talking up the new D&D Essentials line. This is a line of 10 products that they are encouraging retailers to always keep on hand. (Wizards produces supplements on such a regular basis, it can be confusing to some less in-the-know retailers.) The essentials products include two handbooks for players, a handy reference compendium fundamental D&D rules, a box of monster tokens (and their statistics), three sets of map tiles for quickly laying out a playing area (one set each for wilderness, dungeon, and city settings), and a couple items targeted at new DMs (the person who runs the game for the other players.) Perhaps the crown jewel of the essentials line is the new “D&D Red Box” set. As a nod to long-time players of D&D, the box is decorated with old-school art and fonts meant to evoke memories of the original Red Box set of D&D back in the late 70’s. This small box of “stuff” contains everything a small group of new players needs to start in on a game of D&D. The box set uses the standard D&D rules, but presents them in a very friendly, progressive manner in order to not overwhelm new players. Even the character creation system is presented in a sort of choose-your-own adventure style. This presentation style is perfect for adults or, even better, kids who want to learn the game but don’t have an experience person from which to learn. The new Red Box version of D&D contains monster and player tokens as well as rules and adventures for players to play through several levels of the game. If they like what they see, they can then progress on to higher levels (and more options) by purchasing the other products in the D&D Essentials line. Even seasoned 4th edition D&D players should be interested in most of the Essentials titles since they introduce new “builds” of old character classes. Care was taken in their design to make them even more iconic and easy to run in a combat. For example, players can choose from an armor-clad knight style fighter who excels at defense or a slayer type fighter who is out to smack things as hard as they can. After the end of the fall/early 2011 season, the essentials line will be completely published and gamers can expect to see a return of

The last item of interest to RPGers at the Wizards booth is the upcoming Gamma World RPG. Styled loosely on current 4th edition D&D rules, Gamma World is more of a chaotic, short-term style RPG with plenty of room for whacky surprises. More than one person mentioned how easy it was to roll up a new character (minutes) which was good because any time you died (not an uncommon occurrence) you could roll up a new character for the next encounter. For those interested in picking any of the new items up, Dark Sun is already out in stores, the Red Box D&D Essentials Starter Set should be out in September or so, while Gamma World releases in mid-October.

There were plenty more RPGs around at the convention, but it is hard to cover them all. If you are even a mild fan of role playing games, I encourage you to make an effort to check out GenCon. Stay tuned for part 2 of this year’s GenCon report – the boardgames.

Discussion Area - Leave a Comment

Tired of typing this out each time? Register as a subscriber!