SBG Releases DCC-Compatible 0-Level Funnel World-Quest of the Winter Calendar

WQWC V10.1_Page_01Following closely behind its release of NULL SINGULARITY, Steve Bean Games is proud to announce its 2nd, independently-published module for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG this year: World-Quest of the Winter Calendar

World-Quest of the Winter Calendar is a 0-level funnel*** designed especially for players – and Judges – who’ve “been there, done that” when it comes funnels.

In World-Quest, the PCs are thrust into a lost, “living morality tale.” They have to explore six chapters of the WQWC V10.1_Page_54tale and interpret what they see to a god. Their re-counting works like a great, big cosmic game of “Telephone,” fueling a ritual that changes the very nature of their world! The changes affect the Judge’s campaign setting in terms of both narrative and game mechanics. Sample pages are provided in the thumbnails, below (SPOILERS AHEAD!!!)

 

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This module weighs in at a whopping 50 pages of content!

  • A 28-page adventure,
  • Two new Patrons – the Devil-Wraith of Grim Inchyron and The Logos of Lamushea (complete with Invoke Patron and Patron Taint tables and new Patron Spells), and
  • A new class, a race of elf-kin called the Zvarts.

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Print copies of World-Quest of the Winter Calendar can be purchased for $13.00 plus S&H by contacting the publisher at steve@stevebeangames.com. PDFs are available at RPG Now for $8.00.

World-Quest of the Winter Calendar is co-written by Steve Bean and Minneapolis DCC Society founder Julian Bernick (author of the independently published Patron Myassari). It features development work by Goodman Games talents Roy Snyder, Brendan LaSalle (XCrawl) and Terry Olson (Elzemon and the Fuliginous Wing FiendBlood-Drinking Box, and Peril on the Purple Planet adventures Tomb of the Immortal Kahl and The Rock Awakens! plus contributions to The Monster Alphabet and Fifty Fantastic Functions of the d50). Cover art is by newcomer Nathan Campos and the interior art features work by the amazing OSR veteran Thomas Denmark (Warriors of the Red Planet and Colonial Marines, et. al.) and another talented newcomer, Lyle Lynde.

***DCC uses a unique 0-level funnel system for character creation. Players start with 3-4 0-level peasant-type PCs with no class features, combat skill or magic and rudimentary armor and weapons. Character death is rampant in 0-level funnels and players typically finish the adventure with (hopefully) 1, or maybe 2 characters who then level up to 1st level in an adventuring class. The funnel experience gives PCs a substantial backstory and bonds them to the other PCs who endured the same “trial by fire.”

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NULL SINGULARITY: A DCC-Compatible Existential Space-Horror One-Shot Available NOW from SBG!

Null Singularity (Commercial jpeg)NULL SINGULARITY is a DCC RPG- compatible, existential, space-horror-and-survival one-shot.

In NULL SINGULARITY, players take on the role of Voidants, 70s-eras space travellers who left the Earth to flee from the Null Singularity – an apocalyptic entity that is, at once, a massive black hole and a “long-dark night of the soul.” For an unknown period of time – decades or even centuries – the Voidants of the Alektryon mission have played hide-and-seek with the Null Singularity across the cosmos, but today is the day it has caught up with them… or has it?

NULL SINGULARITY plays “vignette style” in 3-5 hours making it a perfect one-shot for your regular gaming group as well as an excellent choice to GM as an event at your favorite gaming convention. NULL SINGULARITY  is also easily adapted to other d20-oriented RPG systems.

Voidant Character Sheet

A softbound hard copy of  the 52 page NULL SINGULARITY one-shot is $8.00 plus $3.00 shipping and handling (through USPS Media Mail). To order (and to arrange for delivery outside the US): email Steve Bean at steve@stevebeangames.com. 

NULL SINGULARITY is also available as a pdf on RPG Now for $5.99. You can view a 27-page preview at the RPG Now listing as well!

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NULL SINGULARITY was inspired by James MacGeorge’s BLACK SUN DEATHCRAWL, available from Aleph Null Publishing and at www.kickassistan.net. Here’s what James writes in the Afterword to NULL SINGULARITY about BLACK SUN DEATHCRAWL :BSDCcover

At Gen Con 2014. Steve, Doug Kovacs and I were out drinking and were a few too many into it when our discussion turned to nihilism and the meaninglessness of existence, as it does. The evening boiled down to: “What’s the point?” It’s a question everyone asks in their life, and most never find an answer. So I found myself asking, what if there was a game that asked that question? What is a game if there are no goals, no victory conditions? What if the end is predetermined and there was no way to change it? What if you took every measure that people rely upon for “gaming” and tossed it down a deep, dark hole? As I was writing it, I imagined players burning all their luck, pushing back from the table and saying, “Fuck it. I’m out.” To me that was the only victory condition, and it was for the GM. I wasn’t writing a game, I was writing an endurance test for players.

Just as no battle plan survives engagement with the enemy, though, no design goal survives engagement with actual players. I’ve seen people trying to “win.” There have been players embracing the darkness and reveling in the absence of morality that can accompany nihilism, there have even players competing for the most absurd reactions  – people find their own purpose, even in the darkest pits of despair and nihilism.

A Designer’s Gotta Design…

As we roll into 2016, my DCC RPG 3PP projects are a hairsbreadth away from being11x17 shirt v3- trans done and the development team and I are focusing our attention back on the publication of our version of Owen Cooper’s beer-and-pretzels, post-apocalyptic car combat game, which we’ve entitled AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA!

When I originally decided to publish AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! I thought “What’s something I’ve played a lot of, that’s almost good-to-go that I could knock up and publish fast?” That was 18+ months ago. We wrote and tinkered and revised and tinkered and when our dev team was unable to overcome personal challenges to meet out May 2015 target publication date, it – fortunately or unfortunately – opened the door to more tinkering.

I can honestly say that we’re ready to stick a fork in the rules revisions and get the graphic designers on our team to finish their work so we can publish.Taking what I thought was a “simple” game that just needed a few tweaks and few formal write-ups to be publishing-ready and actually bringing it to market has been a fantastic learning experience in my evolution as a game designer. It has taught me that what looks simple from a casual perspective is anything but when you’re taking a homebrewed set of rules and turning them into a formal game release.

But all this tinkering also reminded me why I chose ADoR for publication in the first place: this game is a BLAST to play, one I have NEVER gotten tired of playing or teaching. So here are some photos from three recent playtests:

IMG_0836This is the end of Game 1 that George and I played on Dec 6. It’s pretty typical for an ADoR game: 2 out of 4 cars are destroyed. This was a Race Stage (“stage” is the ADoR term for “scenario”) – the one stage out of the six that we really have never played.

If you look at the bottom center you’ll see my van, “Avenger.” I tried to jump Avenger through the gap between the nuclear reactor terrain and the craggy mesa above it in the photo. My fast, light car, “Green Ghost” was coming from the bottom left corner of the photo to try to cross the finish line just out of frame at top center. My idea was to get my heavy van over there ASAP to prevent George from intercepting Green Ghost. I failed, twice to get through the narrow gap, each time my Loss of Control randomly sent me back the way I came. Bouncing off the terrain pretty much ended Avenger.

IMG_0835But hey, I won anyway. Here’s Green Ghost crossing the finish line, despite George’s attempts to slow me down with his Engine Stall Induction Strips (we used Oil Slick templates as proxies.)

Below is Game 2 on the same day. We swapped out cars and changed starting positions and ends of the table. In the Race Stage, teams of two cars start at opposite points on the oval and head in opposite directions around the track, ensuring that they’ll meet somewhere in the first 1/3 of the one-lap race. I did mention this is a car combat game, yeah?

This time, George made good use of the ramps we’d placed to sIMG_0844hortcut the course. You can see in this picture that George’s van has already made the jump across the center terrain and laid down a vicious line of mines on his route. What you can’t see is that George’s other car has already made this jump, essentially cutting the distance he needs to cover to cross the finish line by at least a third.

IMG_0848So my only hope is to follow suit. I line up my run and pray to doG that my Light Weight Class vehicle doesn’t set off any mines…

IMG_0854It doesn’t! I make the jump! But George has the edge on me in a big way. I need a miracle…

IMG_0852Which I get!!! Sort of. George’s lead car misjudges a turn and Collides with some terrain. But the damage isn’t enough to take him out and the scatter roll for the vehicle’s final facing…

IMG_0853Positions him to crawl across the finish line in the following turn! He even manages to survive having to cross his own minefield. Good show George! Classic ADoR win!!!

Game 3 took place on December 12 at the Digital NEST, the drop-in technology education studio where I work. Me and two student leaders host a monthly Game Night. That night I had two players, a great pair of high school MTG players named Elliot and Talu. We played two games, the second one being an Escort Stage that involved BOTH the Super-Heavy vehicle Madd Mack AND a trio of Ultra-Light motorcycles.

IMG_0865This shot was taken towards the end of the game. I was running Madd Mack along with the Light dune buggy-esque Force Recon. I’d managed to run over one motorcycle with Madd Mack. I’d also done a number on Avenger (which you can just make out at the top right in the photo, on the other side of Madd Mack) which Talu was running as his second vehicle. But Madd Mack was in bad shape. A series of unfortunate Systems Failure Check rolls had left the vehicle with no ranged weapons and limited maneuverability.

IMG_0866A couple of game turns after this, both Madd Mack and Force Recon would misjudge turns and have nasty collisions with walls, leaving them spun-out sitting ducks. A couple of shotgun blasts from passing motorcycles and a ram from Avenger put Madd Mack out of its misery and Talu went home the victor!

And he was eagerly clutching a set of beta rules I’d printed up for him. Nothing warms the cockles of a game designer’s heart like the gleam in a fan’s eye – except maybe for the heat of a burning wreck, that is!

Long Overdue Update: We’ve Been BUSY at SBG!!!

WQotWC Front Cover Mock-UpI knew I was behind on updating the site and I thought I’d missed one monthly blog… But I’ve actually missed TWO – September AND October – and today’s the first day of November! Time flies when you’re busy.

And we have been busy at SBG. VERY busy. We’re releasing two DCC-compatible products in the next month.These will be SBG’s first commercial publications!

So I thought that for this blog, I’d move away from my usual “in-depth game essay approach” and do a bunch of bulleted updates:

AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! One of the aforementioned DCC11x17 shirt v3- trans-compatible products was already under development when SBG missed its target release date of May for AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! So “ADoR” lost its priority slot in the production schedule and the target publication date got pushed to August and again to February 2016 – just in time for the new California game convention season.

Shout Out!: Shoots & Liters. Shoots & Leaders is SBG Developer George Feldman’s kids’  version of our AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! car combat minis game. But we demo’ed it at Pacificon Game Expo and it’s pretty damn fun for adults too! Shoots & Liters is SO simple and SO “fast-play” that  you can literally put in your pocket and take on the road. You can buy it now at RPG Now/Drive Thru RPG.

WQotWC DCC Advert HIGH REZ correctWorld-Quest of the Winter Calendar is another DCC-compatible product that I’m VERY excited about. It’s a 0-level funnel, but it’s unlike any other funnel out there. The player characters get trapped in a “living morality tale” and the only way out is “through” – they have to bear witness to the events of the entire tale and interpret what they witness to a god. Regaling the god with the tale acts as a great, big, cosmic game of “Telephone:”  how the PCs interpret the tale fundamentally changes the nature of the campaign world – both narratively and in terms of game mechanics! World-Quest will be also be released on RPG Now/Drive Thru RPG by the end of November.

WQotWC Back Cover Mock-UpShout-Out! The Digital NEST: World-Quest is partly the product of the skillDNEST.Logo__400x400_CROPs and work of the talented young adult technologists at the Digital NEST – the cover art at the top of this blog was produced by a 21 year old NEST artist Nathan Campos! The Digital NEST is a non-profit technology education studio providing tech access and career training to rural, predominantly Latino youth in Watsonville, CA. I became their part-time Enterprise Director in mid-August and I’m incubating my SBG business with help from the NEST’s talented youth! I’m donating a portion of the sales of World-Quest to the Digital NEST and I’m asking fans of SBG to consider making a donation of their own!

NULL SINGULARITY is NS Advert LGv3an “existentialism-meets-space-horror” one-shot compatible with the DCC RPG system. I just play-tested it a second time at Big Bad Con and it runs GREAT if I do say so myself. NULL SINGULARITY is in layout and will be available on RPG Now/Drive Thru RPG by the end of November. Watch SBG’s Products page for release information.

Shout-out!: BLACK SUN DEATHCRAWL. BSDC is a Nihilistic 1-shot with the flavor of Dante’s Inferno written by James IMG_0468MacGeorge. James is a colleague, but I didn’t even know he was writing it. I came across it at Gen Con and was fortunate enough to play a session run by James. BSDC inspired me to write NULL SINGULARITY and you can order BLACK SUN DEATHCRAWL at www.kickassistan.net.

Shout-Out!: NULL3be73b87a8f56c1ea85d50ef8a5acbf0 SINGULARITY playtester Brandon Raasch delivers “Lair of the Lich King,” the first expansion for his OSR-themed bluffing card game, Dubious Alliance.

Shout-Out!: Historical Board Games delivers its AMERIKA Kickstarter. The guys at HBG are real sweethearts and through no fault of their own (Can you say “Longshoreman strike?”), delivering on their Axis & Allies-style alternative WWII history game AMERIKA became a multi-year odyssey. But they did it and I have my copy in my hot hot little hands as we speak.

AmerikaWhite_OpaqueA d50 Tribute to Colonel Lou Zocchi from Goodman Games: SBG contributed three pieces to a collection of 50 Uses in Dungeon Crawl Classics for the Gamescience d50. Colonel Lou Zocchi is a legend in gaming and a pretty awesome guy. Joseph Goodman is an admirer of the Colonel’s so he decided to create this product in the Colonel’s honor. Watch the Goodman Games website for news of its release.

On the drawing board:  Magnum Opus (working title). Who hasn’t wanted to be a rock star? In Magnum Opus you can become a rock god, so long as you’re prepared to suffer for your art. I’m planning a DCC-compatible one-shot instance of BLACK SUN DEATHCRAWL similar to NULL SINGULARITY and toying with the idea of an Apocalypse Engine hack based on the same theme.

Also on the drawing board:  Mystery of the Mirrored World (working title). In this DCC-compatible adventure module, the PCs are drawn into the lives and intrigues of doppelgangers of themselves and people they know. But these are not monsters that can shape-change to impersonate others – they are actual identical twins of people who never knew their counterparts existed!  Where did they come from, why are they here and why do they seem hell-bent on destruction?

So there you have it:  10 updates, one for each month that has already blown by us  in 2015. 2016 is just around the corner and it looks to be the best ever for SBG. See you there!

Bonus Update: Game Night  at the Digital NEST on 10/3/15! Next one: 11/14/15

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Gen Con ’15: Letters from “The Fount”

Pictures – worth a lot of words:

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Before there was Gen Con, there was playing SBG’s Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! with the cousin’s kids. Not wanting to transport painted, kit-bashed minis I carried a few un-modded diecast cars…

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The typical end result of a game of Auto-Destruct-O-Rama!IMG_0422

First day, setting up the Goodman Games booth…

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The gathering of “the Tribe…”

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The Pathfinder “room”… Watch out Paizo, we’re coming for you! IMG_0447

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Family fun! This guy looks remarkably like the owner of Goodman Games – Joseph couldn’t be The Dark Master AND Clark Kent AND Superman… Could he!?!

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The Goodman Games Booth Crew:

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People gamin’.The awesome players in my Thursday morning run of the second DCC adventure I wrote: Trials of the Toymakers. These guys saved the world from eternal night so show ’em a little respect…

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Wrath of Dragons from Catalyst Game Labs looks AWESOME! Meeple dragons razing little Meeple villages…

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Friend-of-Goodman-Games-and-Steve-Bean-Games Jurgen Meyer demos his game Shinobi Clans. I bought a copy!

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It may not have as big a crowd as the Pathfinder room, but dear-to-my-heart Axis & Allies is alive and well at Gen Con…

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IMG_0450Writer-palooza: Michael Curtis, me, Dieter Zimmerman, Tim Callahan, Brendan LaSalle, Joseph Goodman and Jobe Bittman.

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Gaming for charity – just two of the many events:

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Goodman Games Seminar: “How to Write Adventure Modules that Don’t Suck.”

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The fantastic work of indpendent third-party writers and publishers of supplements for the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

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My personal favorite: James MacGeorge’s Black Sun Deathcrawl

IMG_0468Me playing it with the author GMing (and taking this picture):

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Two of my four players for Edgar Johnson’s Against the Atomic Overlord. These guys got to the table at 9am on Sunday to risk their lives in the far-flung future to heal the war-torn city of Mezar-Kul. Steve unable to work the pano feature of his iPhone or magical corruption – you make the call.

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Five days is always too short. Breaking down the exhibit hall:

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The legendary Royandzak, the Tired Draggin’…

IMG_0480That’s it until next year. I’ll leave you with two more. An inspired paint job on a cliche unit:

IMG_0448You fill in the dialogue. What’s Cinderella saying to Spider Man on the last day of the con? Best entry will win something cool from Steve Bean Games!

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Summer Driving Season

In other parts of the country, summer is a time to get outside and enjoy the nice weather before Old Man Winter comes blowin’ in again. In California we have nice weather all the time, so we take it for granted. That means that we gamers have no particular need to go outside at all; staying inside doesn’t waste a nice day – it’ll be nice again tomorrow… and the 11x17 shirt v3- transday after… and the day after that…

But that doesn’t mean we’re not up for frequent road trips – we just like to do them on the table top! As frequent readers know, SBG is close to publishing its beer-and-pretzels, fast-play, Dystopian Derby, miniatures car combat game AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA!

I saw MAd Max: Fury Road on the day it released and ran a game at Kublacon based loosely on the movie and the cars from the film have really influenced my imagination when it comes to minis for AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! So my kit-bashing the past month or so has been very focused on homages to a couple of my faves. The first is the Gigahorse – the double-decker Caddy on the monster truck chassis:Gigahorse painting

I’ve wanted to do minis inspired by the cars in Furious Road but not straight copies. I happened to have a couple of the Hot Wheels 73 Ford Falcon XBs that I was giving out as prizes at Kubla left over – the XB is the “last of the v8 interceptors that Max drives in all the films:

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So I decided to combine two homages into one and build a double-decker XB. I call it the Tetrahawk:

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There are a lot of really f*****g rad cars in MM:FR, but as a self-avowed “tread-headed” war gamer, The PeaPeacemaker paintingcemaker is definitely in the my top three:

So of course I had to do an homage to it. I call mine The Vie-Pers-O-Cuter

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Thanks to some successful procurement missions for cars and bits, I’m working on a handful more – not inspired by MM:FR – but only one is close enough to being built to feature here. I give you… The Luna-Trick:

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BTW, kids, kit-bashing minis is not without risks. Remember your basic knife safety from Webelos and ALWAYS CUT AWAY FROM YOURSELF. Also remember my step-father’s words of wisdom “Do as I say, not as I do:”

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In other news, Brian Merlonghi, aka “The Iron Painter” has recently become a supporter of AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA!

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Brian’s offered to do some painting for AUTO-DESTRUCT-O-RAMA! and while I don’t consider myself a slouch in the brushwork department, I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to have a true professional like Brian loose on some these bad boyz. Here’s a few pix of Brian’s incredible work:  BM_IPS_Star.Wars BM_IPS_TrollBlood

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Well, that about wraps this up, except to say: this summer at Steve Bean Games – whether indoors or outdoors –  we find ourselves continuously saying “What a lovely day!”

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Steve Bean Games is Proud to Be a Contributor to The Monster Alphabet

Monster Alphabet CoverThe Monster Alphabet is a new system-neutral source book from Goodman Games.  This book will add new twists to the monsters in your fantasy RPG. Entries like “A is for Armor,” “M is for MInions” and “W is for Weird” will give your monsters new, unexpected characteristics that will keep your players guessing and ensure that your encounters are memorable.

Steve Bean Games is proud to have contributed “B is for Blood” to this great product!

REVIEW: Lair of the Lich King Expansion for Brandon Raasch’s Dubious Alliance

2-PROTO-Power-Word-PainLair of the Lich King is an expansion of Brandon Raasch’s Dubious Alliance tabletop fantasy card game. If you don’t want to read this whole review, here’s my bottom line. I liked – but didn’t love – the original Dubious Alliance game. But Lair of the Lich King improves on Dubious Alliance in almost every way I would want – adding new ways to win, new ways to die and a drafting mechanic that takes what was a social game too long to be a “filler” and moves it into the realm of a “light tactical” game that can still be competently played on your third beer. I think the Lair of the Lich King expansion moves Dubious Alliance from a game that some hobby game enthusiasts might like to one that has something for every hobby gamer. The expansion is Kickstarting on 5/24/15. I consider it a “must own” if you already have the basic game. If Brandon offers a discount package deal for the basic game and the expansion in this second Kickstarter I’ll recommend to a number of friends that they pick up the pair.

Below is my full review of Lair of the Lich King (Below that is a description of Dubious Alliance – read that first if you’re not already familiar with the base game.)

Running OrcsThe Lair of the Lich King Expansion

In keeping with his “card game with the flavor of Blue Box D&D:” branding, Brandon calls Lair of the Lich King (hereafter LotLK) a new “adventure path” for Dubious Alliance. In the in-game narrative, the Orcs of the Blood-Stained Axe tribe (who in the basic game were focused on raiding the hoard of Snarl the Colossal Red Dragon) are exploring an ancient catacomb and awaken the Lich King a la Tomb of Horrors. Most of the new cards and one of the new mechanics in the expansion match this theme.

Lair of the Lich King adds three new aspects to the game:

  • A new way to die, called Level Drain, and
  • A second, secret way for each player to win, called Secret Missions,
  • A new way to use strategy to win: an optional drafting mechanic.

Level Drain is an effect found on many of the undead-themed cards in the new set. If a player is subjected to Level Drain, s/he receives a gray three-position rotating card similar to the “Traded-Didn’t Trade-Must Trade” Trade-Tracker card. Each time a player experiences another Level Drain effect after receiving the gray card, it turns one position. On the third Level Drain (including when s/he first received the gray card), the player dies and EVERYONE loses. So in the basic game, Level Drain adds another type of lethality to Health Points that can demand positive intervention by the other player2-PROTO-Mass-Fears. This is all it does unless you also add…

…Secret Missions. If you play with Secret Mission, each player is dealt a face-down Secret Mission card at the beginning of the game. Secret Missions give each player a second way to win besides achieving his or her prestige goal. Secret Missions include killing another player, dying yourself, visiting a certain number of Locations (by collecting Location cards), acquiring a certain number of magic items, etc. With Secret Missions, there is suddenly two new factors to consider when deciding what cards to keep for yourself and which ones to try to trade away: does the card help you with your mission AND will it help someone else with their mission, which you may be able to deduce both from what they trade away AND what they play on their board. Your ability to achieve your Secret Mission is still highly dependent on the cards you are dealt, unless you also add…

…the new drafting mechanic. With this optional new mechanic, you are dealt a hand of cards, but you only keep one and pass the rest to the players on your left for them to choose from. You receive cards players from the players on your right and pick one in each passing round until you have three. Then you receive your fourth and final card at random from the deck. With this drafting mechanic you can try to tailor your hand to accomplishing your Secret Mission. But remember, you won’t be able to use ALL the cards in your hand because after two times NOT trading you’ll be forced to trade. So you have to stock your hand with SOME cards you want to trade away. Hopefully those cards don’t help someone else accomplish their mission. If you’re really clever, you can trade away a card, watch it get traded to a second player and trade to get it back from that player!

2-PROTO-Orc-PirateLair of the Lich King: Grabbing MY Attention with an “Un-Death Grip!”

Dubious Alliance is a good social game. One I was apt to break out with friends, crack open a beer (okay, several) and play while I gabbed and caught up on their lives. But I didn’t care if I won because there didn’t seem to be much strategy to winning. Even the trading, which is the core mechanic of Dubious Alliance, didn’t seem tactical. Most of the time it seemed like people traded because it was boring NOT to trade. With 120+ cards in the base deck, there was so much randomness that people always seemed to have plenty of cards they needed to slough off. 120+ cards also made it likely that no one would have a card needed to save someone who was going to die that turn and cause everyone to lose. No it didn’t pay to get too invested in how you played.

The Secret Missions and drafting mechanic greatly increase the fundamental drive to win without changing the core mechanics and overall feel of the game. Trading is still central. But now the trading feels like a real resource management strategy. The bluffing is still fun and funny, but with increased investment in the outcome if you’re angling for a win through a Secret Mission or playing out a strategy that you set up in your draft.

The game still needs every player to have a points tracker so all the players around the table can see at-a-glance where everyone is positioned in the game. And it needs to be in large print for member sof the over-45-eyesight crowd like me.

In addition to all this, the art in LotLK is consistently better than the hit-and-miss offerings of the Dubious Alliance basic game. Watch out Brandon, the fans are going to be clamoring for a second edition of Dubious Alliance with new art that raises the overall quality of the base game to the level of the expansion!

For a gamer like me who likes nothing better than a game where my tactical decisions feel like the deciding factor, LotLK changes Dubious Alliance from a filler game to a serious contender for weekly gamer-group night, without taking tactical card playing into the stratosphere of Dominion. LotLK is the one-beer version of Dubious Alliance with the added intoxication of victory realized through strategy.

The Lair of the Lich King Kickstarts on May 24, 2015.

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How to Play Dubious Alliance

Dubious Alliance is a “cooperative backstabber” card game in the vein of Cutthroat Caverns with a trading-and-bluffing mechanic driving game play. Its in-game narrative makes players the war chiefs of a marauding Orc tribe who also happen to go on PC-style adventures and run afoul of a dragon named Snarl. like a cross between Munchkin and Apples-to-Apples with the look of “Blue Book” Dungeons & Dragons.

Each player gets a character card of one of the war chiefs of the Gore-Stained Axe tribe of Orcs. Each character has a unique special ability that gives a simple, specific advantage in the game.index

You win the game if you are the first player to reach a target number of prestige points. You earn prestige points by laying down cards that have prestige attached to them – these are things like Monsters, Treasure and Magic Items. When you lay down a Monster card it is presumed that you earn the prestige by fighting it, but there’s no actual in-game combat mechanic aside from laying down the card. Playing Monster cards for the prestige usually involves taking wounds as well. Other cards, like Traps, cause wounds, usually without giving you any prestige The hitch is, you have to reach your prestige total without any of the other players” characters dying by having their “health points” reduced to zero. If anyone’s character dies, no one wins.

TomeSo how do you “lay down cards?” Each player starts out being dealt a hand of four cards. In addition to Monsters, Traps, Treasure and Magical Items, there are Event, Location and (mundane) Item (eg armor, weapons, adventuring gear) cards. Every round for four rounds, each player has to take one card from his or her hand and put it face down on the table. If you still have this card in the Resolution Phase, this will be the card you lay down on the table and its effects, good or bad, will be applied to you.

However, before cards are turned over and resolved, there is a Trading Phase. You can offer to trade your face-down card for someone else’s face-down card. You can make a sales pitch about your card so long as the pitch doesn’t give any specific information. If a player doesn’t trade, his or her trading status changes from “Traded” to “Didn’t Trade.” After two consecutive rounds of not trading, a player’s status becomes “Must Trade” and the player CANNOT refuse the first trade offered in the next Trading Phase.

Activating Your Card in the Round

Whether the face down card you end up with is your original card or one you traded for, after trading is done everyone flips their card over and the effect of each card is resolved starting with the player to the left of the dealer and moving clockwise. Some cards are resolved by playing them on other players, allowing you to steal their items, lower their prestige, wound them, send them to new locations, etc. Sometimes a player is compelled by circumstances to play the effects of a beneficial card on another player, eg a healing potion to keep that player from dying (Remember, player death ends the game with everyone losing).

Players continue playing rounds of four-card deals until someone wins or everyone loses.KublaCOn-Tusks-Up-with-the-team

 

Steve Bean Games & Friends Descend on Kublacon!!!

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Kublacon – the Khan of cons!  – encamps once more at the Hyatt Regency near the San Francisco Airport this Memorial Day Weekend, May 22-25. No offense to Pacificon Game Expo, ConQuest Sac, Celesticon, Big Bad Con,  etc., but as far as game conventions in central California go, Kublacon is IT. The biggest and the best – if a Californian can only make it to one con a year, you’ll find him or her at Kublacon. (I’ve even heard from my SoCal brothers and sisters that isn’t even a comparable con in the LA area, which seems odd to me, given the large population base…)

Steve Bean Games will be there in force, or more appropriately, WITH Force: Opposition Force, a Nor Cal miniatures and RPG gaming blog. SBG and OpFor have teamed up to develop and publish: Auto-Destruct-O-Rama!, a fast-play, beer-and-pretzels post-apocalyptic tabletop miniatures car combat game.IMG_2918 Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! is a miniatures game homage to dystopian, gladiatorial gameshow films like Death Race 2000 with a little bit of The Road Warrior tossed in for good measure.

The pdf of the Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! rule set will be available on sites like Drive-Thru RPG, Wargame Vault and RPG Now just in time for Kublacon and a print-on-demand softcover will be available the week after the convention.

IMG_0059SBG and OpFor have run Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! at local conventions for a few years now. Our games have always been well received, but in celebration of the publication of the rule set, we’re pulling out all the stops:  George, Trevor and Mario are running beginner games on Saturday and Sunday mornings in preparation for Steve’s big three-game series “tournament” (We use the term loosely – it’s hard to play Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! with much serious competitiveness…) using scenarios designed to showcase the new rule set that re also based on the plot of the new Mad Max: Fury Road movie due out May 15! Here’s the schedule of Auto-Destruct-O-Rama! events:SBG Kubla 2015 Events

 

 

 

 

 

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Meanwhile, SBG friend Brandon Raasch is launching his second Kickstarter to fund the first expansion/adventure path for his raauschously fun cooperative backstabber bluffing game with first edition D&D flavor: indexDubious Alliance!

The basic game is a crap-ton of fun! Try to be the first player to accumulate a target number of prestige points by collecting cards that tell the story of your adventure: enemies you’ve defeated, weapons, treasure and magic you’ve looted and fantastic locations you’ve visited. But you have to watch your back AND the backs of your buddies – if any player dies by taking a number of damage points that exceeds his or her health total EVERYONE LOSES! Soul Drain

Brandon’s new Lair of the Lich King expansion/adventure path – inspired by everyone’s favorite old-school, S-series, TPK module, Tomb of Horrors – makes this fun social game into a game every hobby gamer can going to enjoy. The addition of new a Level Drain mechanic gives you one more way to die and frequently shares the “lich love” by draining levels from another player and making it all that much more important that you be vigilant about the threat of a buddy’s death resulting in everybody losing the game.

1566231An even better addition to Dubious Alliance in Lair of the Lich King IMHO is the combination of new Secret Missions and a light drafting mechanic. Secret Missions gives each player a second way to win (in addition to reaching your prestige target) and the drafting mechanic let’s you craft your hand of cards to try to accomplish that mission.

Brandon’s offering all kinds of Dubious Alliance events at Kublacon, including a big tournament-style game and a LARP appearance by the Monster Metal band: A Band of Orcs.KublaCOn-Tusks-Up-with-the-team The goblinoid musicians from A Band of Orcs are the characters that serve as players’ adventuring in-game alter-egos in Dubious Alliance and you can meet them in the flesh at Kublacon!

Below is a schedule of Brandon’s Kublacon events:Brandon Kubla 2015 Events

 

 

 

 

 

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Steve Bean Games and Dubious Alliance “personnel” will be helping out at each others’ events and we all hope to see you at Kublacon!

 

DnD 5E: You Can Go Home Again, or at Least Visit Hommlet

Village of Hommlet Cover ArtDungeons and Dragons, aka D&D: “the first commercially available role-playing game.” I started RPGing with the Blue Box edition Basic Set sometime around 1980. For decades, when I said “I play D&D,” I got blank stares. A few people knew “Mazes and Monsters,” the movie where Tom Hanks played a gamer-gone-bonkers who murders a friend while wandering around the sewers of his home town lost in a delusion that he really is a  wizard in an underground fantasy labyrinthe.

Nowadays, when I mention D&D, most people have at least heard the name. It has brand recognition, though it’s still two or three tiers down from Xerox or Kleenex. People usually don’t know how the game is actually played. They certainly don’t know about the Pathfinder Schism, the hatred for 4th Edition (4E), Edition Wars, the Old School Renaissance or that there is a new edition that was released last year that seeks to reclaim the former majesty – and market share – of earlier versions of the game.

If you’re reading this – unless you came by hoping for a Flames of War after-action report – you probably know all that. You probably have your own opinions about the Edition Wars and which edition is the best, or for that matter, even “playable.” I certainly do. Up until 4E was released in 2007 I was still playing 2nd edition (published in 1989), albeit with a plethora of add-ons and house rules that I’d adopted over almost 20 years of playing the same rule set. I’d missed 3E entirely. I looked at 3.5 and Pathfinder and dismissed them as “too crunchy.” My gaming group picked up 4E to be up-to-date with current product offerings but I hated it from the get-go for the same basic reasons others did, primarily because it was, IMO, more a table top miniatures version of a video game than proper “role-playing.”

Sign of the Elder Elemental EyeI am actually grateful to D&D 4E for being something I couldn’t stand. If I had liked 4E I probably would have maintained brand loyalty and played the @#$%&^ out of it. Instead, I went looking for alternatives and discovered that a whole new world of amazing role-playing games had emerged while I was still playing 2E.

I discovered Narrativism – a philosophy of RPGing in which story matters above all.

I discovered Dungeon Crawl Classics, a game that is in a class by itself. DCC combines Old School feel with some great, modern mechanics. DCC embraces a “gonzo” narrative form and is dedicated, context-wise, to the entire body of Appendix N literature not just its works of High Fantasy. (Appendix N is where Gary Gygax, one of the inventors of D&D, cites his influences in literature. It includes a small number of authors, such as JRR Tolkien, who are widely known and many more greats who are either “genre-niche” authors – like Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock – or obscure even for sci fi/fantasy, such as Manley Wade Wellman.)

I discovered games like Apocalypse World by D. Vincent Baker and The Pool/The Questing Beast by James V. West that turn the paradigm of “Game Master as god” on its head, giving world-building and story direction over to the players while providing the GM with a host of tools to use to keep up with the narrative and put his or her own mark on it.

Village of Hommlet Ruined KeepAnd, recently, I discovered 5th Edition D&D. I learned this edition of the game while writing encounter submissions for D&D publisher Wizards of the Coast’s open call for new professional writers. Everyone I had talked to who’d checked out 5E had good things to say about it. No one said they loved it, but no one had anything bad to say about it, either. After thoroughly examining the game in order to be able to write for it, I have this to say:  it feels like older editions (a good thing in my book), it feels like a role-playing game instead of an analog video game (another good thing in my book), it has lots of options to customize the feel of the game play (a VERY good thing in my book) and there’s nothing to dislike about it, because (and this is probably the biggest disappointment) none of it feels new, innovative or exceptional.

So with nothing in it that hasn’t been done before in role-playing games, will it revolutionize the game like the original did? Probably not. (Though it seems to be grabbing industry awards in the RPG world this year.) But there are other reasons to love D&D 5E besides the rules mechanics.

Here’s what I think they are:

Magic so common that it’s… magical – Some recent games, among them DCC, have gone in the direction of making magic something dangerous and unpredictable in an effort to make it more exciting and mystical. I have no beef with this approach and I think the DCC magic system, which takes this approach, is @#$%&^ brilliant. But for lovers of high fantasy this approach loses something. The Harry Potter books captured the imaginations of billions of readers by transporting them into a world where magic was everywhere (despite mediocre writing and predictable plots and themes.) That ubiquity, instead of making magic seem mundane, made the world feel immersively magical. That’s what D&D’s magic system can do.

Elder Elemental EyeHeroism – When the RPG community fell into the Edition Wars, the infighting seemed to translate into a cynicism that got inculcated into the RPG fiction itself. There weren’t any heroes anymore. The idea of player characters (PCs) as classic heroes – bulwarks against evil whose belief that good will always triump serves as a kind of protective charm that helps them live to fight another day – seemed to be regarded as naiive and narratively unappealing in new RPGs.  Anti-heroes, moral grey areas and mercenary sensibilities toward survival and the accumulation of XP, treasure and power became the order of the day. The departure of classic heroism in recent RPGs seems palpable, whether it is DCC’s Appendix N-esque  adventurer-cutpurse protagonists a la Leiber and Howard or Apocalypse World’s violent ethos of “every man for himself after the fall of Man” [sic] or Call of Cthulhu’s indifferent, alien, Lovecraftian gods or even Lamentations of the Flame Princess’  18th century “Alice in Wonderland meets Clockwork Orange” flavor.

D&D has asserted an ethos of PCs-as-forces-for-good since the 1980s, when it had to divorce itself from devils, demons and intrinsically evil character classes like the Assassin and the Anti-Paladin to protect its brand from criticism by the Moral Majority. D&D continues to embrace the PC-as-Hero in 5E and in this day and age I think we could all use some heroes we can believe in, even if they’re made up.

Rich, Detailed Fictional Settings with Real History – If you’re a long-time D&D player, there are characters and locales from published settings that have tremendous gravitas: Elminster, Greyhawk, Vecna. Iuz, Drizz’t Do’Urden, White Plume Mountain, Waterdeep. This weight and resonance is not simply the product of good imagining. Imbuing fictional characters and settings with this much weight only comes from them having been developed in tremendous detail in publishing arcs that span decades.

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I recently had a small, independent RPG publisher claim he could capture that same feeling of deep history in his OSR products with a technique that JJ Abrams discussed in his Mystery Box TED talk: intentional withholding of information. This publisher quoted a line from JJ Abrams’ talk: “I’ve learned in my career that there are three things you DON’T want to do and #2 is ‘don’t hurt Tom’s (Cruise) nose.” The publisher believed that Abrams was, at that very moment in the talk, demonstrating this principle from the Mystery Box. The publisher believed that there was no #1 and #3, but rather that Abrams was drawing the audience into believing that they existed via what I might call a “step-over” or “move past” omission.

This publisher went on to say that he believed that this same Mystery Box technique is what Ed Greenwood did in his Pages From the Mages series of articles to make his fictional Forgotten Realms setting so believable without actually creating all the details. By presenting “pages,” snippets of lore from the Forgotten Realms, rather than a comprehensive account, this publisher is convinced that Greenwood drew his readers into his world and allowed them to fill in the blanks to make it believable. Apparently this publisher is not the only one who believes that this was Greenwood’s approach.

While I wouldn’t say that this element of Abrams’ Mystery Box technique can’t be a valuable narrative tool, I do not believe that it is a shortcut to exceptional world-building and I doubt that this is how Greenwood made the Forgotten Realms such an amazing, immersive, rich experience. I do not know for a fact, but I would put serious money down on a bet that says Greenwood had generated hundreds of thousands of words worth of details on the Forgotten Realms from which he pulled his source material for Dragon Magazine articles. The original D&D writers and creators and their 1000s of amateur DM-fans were world-builders extraordinaire, creating cultures and monsters and ecologies and collections of myths to rival Tolkien himself. I suspect that Greenwood didn’t present bits of lore that implied other details that he never bothered to create; instead I strongly suspect that he wrote reams of lore that never saw publication and was forced by the realities of publisher page counts to limit himself to the choicest excerpts.

Princes of the Apocalypse MedusaeD&D 5E is the heir-apparent to tomes of history both real and fictional. Its world settings are popular media properties in their own right with printed game supplements, comic books, video games and scores of novels in which incredibly detailed worlds are explored. The names of these fictional worlds are etched into geek legend: Oerth, Faerun, The Demonweb Pits, Ravenloft, Mystara, Athas.

If you want to role-play a product line with almost literally as much lore about its fictional worlds as the fantasy worlds are themselves supposed to possess, then D&D 5E is your game.

And if you happen to be passing through Hommlet, be sure to stop in at the Inn of the Welcome Wench. You’ll usually find me there and I promise I’ll buy you a few rounds of the excellent local mead. I’ve got more than a few extra electrum pieces from my recent expedition to the Caves of Chaos.

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