Thursday, December 6, 2012

Game News Roundup

Today seems to be a busy day in the gaming industry.

Slitherine has finally put up a pre-order page for the hard copy version of their Field of Glory miniatures rules version 2.0. FoG was very successful when it launched, owing in no small part to the outstanding design of the books themselves. When it was announced that the 2nd version of the rules would be available in electronic format only, it put off a lot of fans of the game, including myself. Fortunately, though, they reversed themselves, and now we Luddites can see the goodness for ourselves.

FASA has decided to fold their ludicrously overpriced Kickstarter for their 1879 game. After a week and a half, they had only raised $2,354 of their $325,000 (!) goal. I'm convinced that much of the problem stems from the sheer sprawl of it all. Not only was it going to be a new RPG in a new setting (a sort of Victorian-era steampunk on an alien world thing), but also a set of miniatures combat rules with full lines of figures and army books, plus a mobile app for the iPad to play an electronic version of the minis game. I think they'll do slightly better if they break it up into digestible chunks.

Mongoose Publishing has released their State of the Mongoose 2012 report. I love how they're so open about the inner workings of the company. Highlights include; fewer, but better, products; switching from full-time writers to freelancers; markets are "miserable" for RPGs and miniatures; apparently selling "a couple of hundred" copies of a new release is doing well, and even WotC (albeit not specifically named-- it could have been Paizo) couldn't make that modest goal with their latest offering; plus mentions of all the lines they produce. Very interesting stuff, and highly recommended.

Goblinworks has updated their Pathfinder Online Kickstarter to include a bunch of what they're calling "reward enhancements". Offerings include miniatures, battlemat books, and a hard copy of a "superdungeon". I'm a bit confused as to why such tabletop gaming items would be offered as part of the MMO Kickstarter (and even weirder, with the Pathfinder Online logo, rather than the regular Pathfinder logo), but stranger things have happened. Some are quite displeased with this approach.

Well, there 'tis. Enjoy!

----------

Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!

Why Are The Standard Races... Standard?

One of the things that has been commonplace within fantasy RPGs since their inception is the roster of "standard" fantasy races available as player character choices. Aside from humans, we have elves and dwarves, and often (but not as often as the others) gnomes and halflings. And of course half-orcs, which are much more D&D-specific and are not nearly as ubiquitous across different game systems.

Now, there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Skyrealms of Jorune famously (one might even say infamously) presented a fantasy world that was almost completely alien. Tekumel, too, veered consciously away from the "classic" milieu mold. Runequest has its ducks. There are many other such examples (and when done to consciously differentiate themselves from the standard, fall into the "our monsters are different" trope).

The inclusion of halflings aside, and despite Gygax's protestations to the contrary, I firmly believe that the reason so many fantasy RPGs present elves and dwarves the way they do are the works of Tolkien. Nowhere in the vaunted swords & sorcery literature that makes up the bulk of Appendix N do we find characters of that ilk. Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser never stole a pouch of gems from an elf, Conan never did battle with a sturdy dwarven warrior, and both are conspicuously absent from the Dying Earth and Mars. The Lord of the Rings seems to stand out, in fact, among the works listed in Appendix N, as something of a different type from its fellows.

Indeed, Tolkien's elves and dwarves do more than make an impression by their presence; their very nature harkens back to his work directly, which itself takes its inspiration from Norse and Anglo-Saxon mythology. The elves of Victorian myth were diminutive fairies only half in our material world. Dwarves were good for little more than hording gold and perhaps clever craft-work. Tolkien hearkened back to pre-Christian mythology and envisioned multiple, physical, races living alongside humans. And that basic model, more than the specifics of the races themselves, are the long shadow that is cast across most RPGs today.

It's very possible that other authors had created works that similarly featured many races of creatures living side-by-side with men prior to Tolkien. But it was Tolkien, transmitted through Gygax, who influenced the RPGs of today. Plus, the humans-elves-dwarves-(halflings) formula was repeated endlessly in fantasy literature after the Lord of the Rings caught on, much to the chagrin of those who preferred human-centric swords & sorcery fiction. So if a particular RPG author was influenced by, say, the Shannara books, he was still indirectly influenced by Tolkien.

That said, it brings up another question. If those are the "standard" fantasy races of today, why do we not see any sort of similarly "standard" science fiction races? Precisely because there was no single work whose influence was so ubiquitous. There's Star Trek, and Vulcans and Klingons (or their analogues) are probably the closest thing we have to such, but the Kzinti of Lary Niven's Known Space novels are also pretty widespread (and themselves can harken back to Flash Gordon's Lion-Men). Without the sort of singular lingua franca with which all or almost all science fiction fans were conversant, in the way that all or almost all fantasy fans were conversant (or at least familiar) with Tolkien, science fiction never produced "standard" races in that way.

----------

Please, if you haven't done so already, consider supporting my Kickstarter for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual, going on now through December 19th. I need your help to make it a reality!