This past weekend was Free RPG Day, the red-headed step child of Free Comic Book Day, where gamers descend upon shops for free SWAG. This year I spent part of the day at a local gaming store, Serenity Games, running a Fate Accelerated game for a busy table, connecting with some friends that I don't get to see often enough, talking about future events and meeting new people. I picked up a few of the items available (the store is much more generous about how much people can pick up than a lot of stores).
Serenity Games is a game store in the St. Petersburg, FL area that gets a lot of things right. Their involvement with Free RPG Day is part of their ongoing commitment to growing the local gaming community. They sponsor a number of events in their store for RPGs, board and card games. There's an active Warhammer/40K community (in fact they were having games to kick off the new edition of Warhammer 40K in the other room) as well as with other miniatures games as well. I met the owner of Serenity Games a couple of years ago, at another Free RPG Day, and this year he told me that this year will see another expansion of the store, as they will be opening a connected café/tavern. I look forward to seeing what they do with the expansion.
Free RPG Day isn't perfect. For an event that is now ten years old, it should really have much better market penetration than it does. Some of this can likely be put upon the shoulders of the "marketing" from the Free RPG Day organization, while some can be put onto individual game store owners not really understanding the value of an event like this. I don't think that it is a coincidence that the stores that do take part in Free RPG Day also take part in similar events like International Tabletop Day or Free Comic Book Day. The other question is why doesn't gaming's trade organization, GAMA, put any of its time or energy behind what is supposed to be the premier marketing opportunity for tabletop RPGs? It probably doesn't help, either, that GAMA scheduled the Origins Game Fair the same weekend as this event, either.
The power of events like Free Comic Book Day for comic stores, and Record Store Day for independent record stores, has shown that well-marketed events can not only increase foot traffic in both the long and short term, but garner media attention for stores as well. In fact, I found out about Serenity Games' involvement with Free RPG Day because they had a table at the record store that I went to for Free Comic Book Day.
For its problems, Free RPG Day can be a good way to look at the tea leaves and see what publishers are hoping to release over the next year or so. So let's see what is in the wind for role-playing games and publishing…
First, let's talk about Starfinder: First Contact. We all know what Starfinder is, so I won't waste words explaining it. This is the first "physical" look that we are getting at the game. This sixteen page preview for Starfinder is a mini-bestiary that gives us an extended look at some of the game's mechanics. There are eleven creatures in the book, all with illustrations. There is a brief introduction to some of the mechanical differences between the Pathfinder RPG and Starfinder. Some things are interesting, but not hugely important (if that makes sense). For example, in an attempt to streamline monster stat blocks, not all feats are listed in the blocks. Feats that just give a bonus of some sort (Improved Initiative is given as an example) are figured into the monster's statistics but aren't listed on the block. None of the creatures in this preview had feats as part of their writeup (a sample Space Pirate has the Opening Volley feat listed, but that's the exception). The monsters also use the various ability score modifiers, rather than having a list of all of the ability scores. Monsters (and I assume eventually characters will as well) have two armor classes, one based on energy attacks and another on "kinetic" attacks that deal physical damage.
From the introductory text, it looks like there are a number of bits introduced from the Pathfinder Unchained rules, but I don't have any familiarity with that book, so I can't really comment on how things are implemented, or if things are different.
I will be able to comment about Starfinder in greater detail eventually, after I receive an advance look at the game. This is just a preview, but I am getting a Warhammer 40K meets D&D vibe from the sample monsters and their art. There is definitely a darkness to the tone of these monsters, and the accompanying art, and a bit of grit to them. I don't expect a setting influenced by 40K as much as the tone of the game.
The Runequest: Roleplaying In Glorantha quickstart rules are a beefy introduction to the latest edition of this seminal game. The full game is told to be in production, and due out at some point around the end of the year. Hopefully I will get to see a fuller look come Gen Con, but this is what we have for now.
Based on the second edition of the Runequest rules, the new edition draws inspiration from a number of classic Chaosium games, and other games that explore the world of Glorantha like Heroquest. Gamers who do not like the more abstract or narratively-driven approaches of Heroquest will probably like how some of the ideas of that game are implemented within the classic BRP framework. Runes and skills still exist, but they are handled in a slightly different manner. They are treated mechanically as "augments" (language that Heroquest players will recognize) now. An extra step is added, in that you must now roll against the relevant skill or rune to determine how much the ability adds to (or subtracts from) the base percentiles of the task check. The new Runequest rules also introduce passions for your characters, which can also be used to augment checks. These are inspired by rules from the classic King Arthur Pendragon rules.
Runequest is still Runequest. The rules are derived from one of the best-selling editions of the game and use the Basic Roleplay rules that fans know and love. They are an interesting evolution of the second edition rules, currently available as the Classic Runequest game.
One thing that I hope for the final game is that it will be playable in settings other than that of Glorantha with a minimum of effort on the part of a game master. Glorantha was not a popular sell to the people that I game with, mostly because of the idea that there is such a high level of buy in for the setting. Our approach tends to be that we develop a setting through play, so a setting that comes with a game gets ignored in favor of our own developing story. I don't think this is that uncommon of an approach, as I think that even with gaming groups that start with a published setting, they sooner or later diverge from that into their own thing. I guess that we will know more in a few months.
While I haven't played TORG in at least twenty years, I have been looking forward to this new edition because I have a weak spot for multi-dimensional games. I don't get to run dimension hopping games as much as I used to twenty or thirty years ago. That said, the Free RPG Day Special quickstart for TORG Eternity looks pretty interesting to me. The quickstart has a short adventure and enough rules to be able to play through it. You also get a look at a TORG character sheet.
One thing that is cool is that the previously used setting and stories from TORG still happened, in regards to the new game. They just happened in another dimension, to another Earth. I think that this is a pretty interesting way to handle this, and it opens up the fun (to me at least) possibility of characters in the new game, dealing with this new extradimensional invasion, working with their counterparts from the Earth where this invasion has been fought and already won.
The setting is inspired by the original one, and shares a number of points of commonality with it. There is a new Storm brewing, and a new war to fight against it. Characters, and campaigns, won't be fettered by the previous stories as they work to win this new war. I think that the release of TORG: Eternity is due for next year, so we still have a lot of time to see what will happen with the game.
Releases from Lamentations of the Flame Princess are almost always controversial for some reason or another. This year's Free RPG Day release of Vaginas Are Magic is not an exception to this. There is a lot of interesting material in this free, hardcover, 50 page book. It features a different approach for magic for Lamentations or other old school games. It is an interesting approach that does away with spell levels and treats all spells basically as if they have the same level. All casters start with three spells, and any new spells are discovered through play. This is a good way to balance the perceived imbalance between magic-users and fighter characters.
While the book is written and presented with the supposition that these spells would be used by characters that are identified as women. The definition of "women" used by the rules is unusually narrow and prohibit their use by trans women, or characters who have been someone rendered infertile. These limits are something that I would personally do away with, because they seem silly to me, and they would cut off some character concepts among people that I game with.
The spells themselves run the gamut from interesting and evocative, to pointless and puerile. But this isn't really all that unusual for a Lamentations product. There are some good spells in the book, and others that don't have much utility in play and seem to be included for some sort of shock value. The miscast table that accompanies each spell is like a simplified version of the misfire rules from the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I welcome that simplification, since the overly complex (for me) magic rules are one of the things that have kept me from enjoying the DCC game as much as I would like.
The main negative to Vaginas Are Magic is that the rules aren't actually new. They are remarkably similar to the variant rules for old school games published by Lost Pages and written by B. Strejcek, called Wonder & Wickedness. Wonder & Wickedness came out a few years ago, and were in fact submitted to Lamentations of the Flame Princess for publication but were turned down by the publisher. As is common with a lot of old school D&D-derived games, there aren't a lot of rules to these rules, which means that parallel development is always possible (I came up with a set of magic rules for a Swords & Wizardry game a few years back that also had some points of commonality with each of these rulesets). In places the text of Wonder & Wickedness and Vaginas Are Magic are very similar, and one of the main points of divergence seems to be that VAM uses a saving throw to determine when miscasting happens, while with W&W the catastrophes are just triggered by certain events. After bringing this up on social media, James Raggi said that this was coincidental in an exchange that turned colorful on his part.
I still hold that, regardless of whether or not these rules were developed in parallel, it wouldn't have hurt either product for Vaginas Are Magic to have acknowledged Wonder & Wickedness, and it would have cleared up some perceptions.
Overall, the offerings from this year's Free RPG Day were strong ones, and gave us some interesting looks into what will be happening with role-playing game publishing over the course of the next year. As a fan of science fiction, I am looking forward to what I hope will be a new surge of science fiction games lead by Starfinder and TORG: Eternity, and hopefully other games as well. Regardless, it looks like we have a lot of new games to look forward to over the next year or so.