The Best of the Unknown
By The Warden
On Friday, the ENnie Award nominations for 2012 were announced. If you’re a publisher, one of two things happened. Friday was either a really good day leaving you tweeting like a mad dog in heat or you felt left out in the cold with the occasional condolence email for comfort. For the fans, the ENnie nominations are a perfect time to see our favorite games get the recognition we feel they deserve (such as the love given to the Marvel Heroic RPG) and check out others we’ve never heard of before.
With the increase of online sales and non-traditional product launches (PDF sales, for example), it’s near impossible to keep up-to-date on everything available in the wide world of roleplaying games unless your entire job is nothing but keeping track of every single RPG released on every single day of every single year. For this year’s nominees, three in particular stand out to me, though they may be very familiar and popular with your own group.
From the makers of Diaspora (and they’re Canadians, no less, demonstrating just how influential Canadian tabletop game design is today), Hollowpoint is a hardcore quick-play RPG tag lined as “bad people killing bad people for bad reasons.” Players are agents in a variety of settings, meaning the rules engage whatever movie, comic, or video game you want to emulate and relies on existing works to demonstrate the concept and philosophy of the game. Using a dice pool mechanic, players roll a number of d6s to determine sets against GM’s opposed roll. Agents can also call on the Teamwork Pool (5d6 per agent piled in the middle of the table) to boost their dice or ask for help from another agent.
It’s a game highlighting the ultra violent and is populated by sociopaths. While you’re best to work together as a team, you’re also allowed to be a prick and refuse to help, stealing two dice from your comrade. In response, the refuted agent can simply take dice from the Teamwork Pool and screw over the rest of the agency, but will that result in everyone being left high and dry near the end? This leads to a fairly simple yet dynamic player mechanic working hand-in-hand with a heavy story element to game play.
Here’s the other kicker: as the fight goes on, the number of dice used in the opposing roll goes up. This level of escalation forces agents to hold onto their assets, such as skills and traits, for as long as possible rather than burn them all right away. Based on the responses I’ve read about this game (such as the following review on RPGNet), I’m adding this one to my wish list.
DO: PILGRIMS OF THE FLYING TEMPLE
This is a game I’ve been hearing a lot about for various reasons, the first of which being Daniel Solis, its designer, was a major source of research for my own Kickstarter campaign. With Do’s nomination for Best Game and Best Interior Art, I’m running out of excuses for why I haven’t picked this up yet. (Although poverty is still a good one. Or not, the PDF’s only listed as $10.)
Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is a role-playing game (notice the hyphen) without dice or standard designations of success. Perhaps a more accurate way to describe Do is “storytelling game.” Each player takes on the role of a Pilgrim taking on challenges received at the Flying Temple by letters from people around the universe with big and silly problems. Watch the Kickstarter video at the top of the link above and you’ll see what kind of problems you’re looking at for this game.
In the interest of keeping the text short, the gist of the game is to take turns telling the story of how your Pilgrim helps with the problem or gets into trouble based on the stones pulled from a bag. Everyone takes turns telling the story and learning from their experiences until one player has 8 stones in their hand and the story must come to an end. Each Pilgrim has to tell their story within a certain amount of time, thereby keeping the game fast-paced and silly. Like I said, the short version, but you can find out much more from Daniel’s blog. While these kinds of game are usually not my cup of tea, the old improv competitor in me itches at the chance to give it a try.
What? Hold on, there’s a supplement taking the action of Pathfinder and mixing it with the investigation mechanics of GUMSHOE? Now we’re talking. Even the title’s a mashup: Loremaster.
A few months back, I played my one and only game (so far) of The Esoterrorists and found myself baffled at how a game emphasizing investigation could treat combat so poorly. Most investigators are law officers and they carry guns, right? Even the idea of a private investigator – Mike Hammer, for instance – never shies away from violence and will smack a couple of guys around or shoot them if he has to. Just the thought of this product alone takes all those questions and chops their heads off.
On the flip side, Pathfinder’s skill system has always been a bit weak when it comes to non-combat issues and often leaves players dependent on dice rolls for answers rather than clues. Incorporating the never-fail attitude of the GUMSHOE system and combining it with the combat gears of Pathfinder is an absolutely brilliant idea.
A NOTE ON THE BEST FREE PRODUCT CATEGORY
Before I go, I’d like to take this forum to vent a bit about a category in particular: Best Free Category. This year, four of the five nominees are introductory supplements or previews for larger, complete games; only the Shadowlands Conversion Guide exists as a stand-alone product. Last year, two out of the five were quick-start products with Old School Hack, an original game, taking the Gold. And in 2010, there was only one (the Advanced Players Guide Playtest) that took the Gold.
While there’s no disputing the fact that each of those products in Best Free Product are free, it seems to me there’s a huge difference between a preview product and an original product. Previews exist to highlight what’s to come in an upcoming purchased product. What you see there is solely for the purpose of promotion, not out of the kindness of the publisher’s heart. When the Advanced Players Guide Playtest won in 2010 over Lady Blackbird, it was a bit insulting because the latter was a complete game available free of charge. The Advanced Players Guide Playtest went on to become the Advanced Players Guide and sells for $39.99 in print or $9.99 in PDF.
As the quick-start products have become an over-dominant feature of this category, I hope it will be divided into two separate and equally important ones: Best Free Original Product and Best Free Preview.