GenCon Seminar Recordings

I attended a series of seminars at GenCon and I am posting them with the permission of the speakers.   Feel free to link or copy any of the MP3’s.

1) Improvising: The GM’s Backup Plan by Patrick Benson

If you like his seminar, here are his haunts online.

2) Design an RPG in an Hour by Machine Age Productions where we designed an occult World War 2 game with a card-based resolution system.   The write up will be released under creative commons at Machine Age Productions.

3) World Building in an Hour by Machine Age Productions where we built a world where attachment is suffering, the sunlight is a precious dwindling resource and the world is a dream they seek to escape. The write up will be released under creative commons at Machine Age Productions.

4) The Intersection of Games and Stories by Matt Forbeck, Stan !, Jeff Tidball.   Excellent discussion on how stories may be told with Roleplaying games, board games, video games or in novel form.

5) Game Design is Mind Control by Luke Crane and Jared Sorensen and recorded over by the fine folks at The Walking Eye Podcast.

How to Play and Run Roleplaying Games

In my wanderings I have been able to locate two essential resources for anyone interested in Roleplaying.    Both of these pieces were written by the illustrious Greg Stolze, whose work inspires me on a daily basis.   Just so you know I’m not misappropriating them for my own gain, here are the man’s words from his site.  You can also find these under the “Links” tab on the right.

Attribution/Non-derivative Downloads

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

These are a bit different. The license on these articles lets you show them wherever you want, including in commercial books. But you can only use them if you attribute them to me, and if you don’t change a word of the text. Feel free to read them, share them, print them out and leave them lying in subways — just don’t change them.

How to Run Roleplaying Games

How to Play Roleplaying Games

First up is “How to Run Roleplaying Games”, where he expounds on the best tips and tricks for running a compelling and enjoyable game for yourself and others.  He details the most common mistakes that Game Masters can make and offers solutions.  Whether you are an expert GM or someone interested in running your first game, check it out.

Next is “How to Play Roleplaying Games”.   Not only does it explain the general nature of the games, but also the best ways for a player to contribute to a fun and enlightening game.   Everything from character creation, conflict and setting are explained in easy and vivid terms.  It’s a must read, as I’m certainly not directly reproducing this particular wisdom in the Spark RPG.

I stand on the shoulders of giants.  I would love to hear any thoughts you might have about his essays as well.   Please feel free to to expound in the comments here; my soapbox is your soapbox.

Reign Enchiridion – A One-Roll Alternative

I just finished reading my copy of Greg Stolze’s new book by the title of Reign: Enchiridion.  I am a fan of Stolze’s which meant I was proud to support during the auction for this particular book. Oh, you can find my name in the acknowledgments section on page 221 if you are curious.

Greg is the pioneer in the field of self-publishing as a method of directly satisfying the fans without need for middle-men.  Not only is his marketing an inspiration, his creative writing blows me out of the water.  It is a pleasure to recommend this book as an excellent Alternative Game to the Spark RPG.

Most of his books are supported via a method called the ransom model, where fans choose how much they would be willing to pay for a given product.  If enough people pledge up to the chosen total, the payments are made and the book is printed.  If a fan gives a small amount, they may get a PDF of the product for instance, while a larger amount might give a copy of the printed book or more impressive prizes.

Reign Enchiridion is developed by Arc Dream Publishing and Published by Cubicle 7 Entertainment.  The full credits for Writing and Design go to Greg Stolze.

Explanation of The Alternative

Reign is built on the solid ORE (One Roll Engine) system which you may know from “Godlike”, an alternate history superhero game set in World War II.  Wikipedia describes the task resolution system in a more concise fashion then I am currently capable of, so I include it here.

Reign Enchridion Corebook

Arc Dream Publishing

The O.R.E. system uses a dice pool of d10s equal to the character’s Stat and Skill similar to that used by Storyteller system, but the method to determine success is different. In the O.R.E. system, success is determined by die result matches, such as a pair of 8s. The Width of a roll, the number of matching dice, determines the speed (and damage, if in combat) of a roll, while the Height of a roll, the face up result on the matched dice, determines how successful an action was and location of a hit in combat. Shorthand notation for writing results is Width x Height, so a pair of 8s would be written 2×8 and three 2s would be written, 3×2. (Wikipedia)

The game is played on two levels simultaneously.  The first level of play is that of the character, with personal motivations and trials.  The second level of play is that of groups or “companies” which a player may direct.   The interface between these two types of games is well detailed and this system allows for kingdom-level action.  This fills the same niche as the old Birthright setting for 2nd Edition AD&D, though Reign is a better quality product in my opinion.

The Merits of The Alternative

Reign shares many of the same strengths as Savage Worlds; tactical richness, accounting for unworthy opponents and a tool-box approach which permits for creative setting-building.   By contrast, Reign also focuses on encouraging deeper roleplaying with the use of traits called “passions”.  Each character can have one of each of the three different varieties of passion; a mission which must be accomplished, a duty which governs your life and a selfish craving which you fall prey to.  You receive either a mechanical bonus when you act with your passions, or an equivalent penalty when you act contrary to them.  It’s a excellent mechanical support for good roleplaying.

Reign also comes with a series of tools for random generation of characters, of spells and of monsters.  These one roll characters, one roll spells and one roll monsters help the game master and a ton of fun to beat.

You might also be pleased to hear that the digest sized softcover book (~230 pages) has a listed price of $9.99 each.  You know what I said earlier about the merits of economical, portable and attractive books?  This holds true for Reign: Enchiridion as well.  I currently have two copies of the book and I am grateful that I have a spare copy to loan out to friends or use in game.

The Merits of Spark RPG

Spark has been designed for somewhat different purposes compared to Reign.  A portion of the game system in Spark is inspired by Unknown Armies, one of Greg Stolze’s past masterpieces. By using more free-form skills, there is a bit more room for creativity and no two characters are the same.  This allows Spark RPG to be focused on utility across multiple genres, rather than being optimized for a single genre like Reign.

Spark is built on the principle that physical, mental and social tasks are of equal importance.  As a result, there is less emphasis on specific combat maneuvers, defensive options or precise definition of harm.  Spark generalizes damage, as opposed to Reign which clearly identifies when a character’s left arm is heavily bruised.  Personally I think the more generalized approach leads to games that I am more likely to enjoy.


Reign is a captivating game, optimized for telling stories of great deeds in fantasy worlds of your imaginings.  It is a game suitable for rich combat, for larger scale strategic pursuits with the company rules and for excellent roleplaying opportunities.   If this sounds like it’s up your alley, I recommend picking up a copy or two at Indie Press Revolution, Arc Dream Publishing or your local FLGS.  You can also explore some of the free content at the official Reign site and you may choose to pick up the larger main book including the richly detailed world of Heluso and Milonda.   If you prefer a more flexible multi-genre accommodating game system with less focus upon physical combat, you may appreciate the Spark RPG.    Either way, you will be able to tell compelling stories and enjoy yourselves thoroughly.


Support for the Shattered Glass Project

The lovely and talented Jess Hartley has launched a project, experimenting with a new form of alternative publishing. Chiefly, this is a patronage system where only those who sponsor the project up front will get the early access/printing of a new piece of fiction. For an additional donation, particularly generous patrons can be written into the story as characters.

I am glad to try to support this experiment and I hope it works out well. For more information, check out her site.


Savage Worlds – A Pulpy Alternative

This will be my first offering for my reoccurring Alternative Games feature and it is a good one.  Savage Worlds© is a product produced by the talented folks over at Pinnacle Entertainment, well renowned for their Deadlands© RPG system.  The Savage Worlds system is a simplified variant of that behind Deadlands, designed to enable “Fast! Fun! Furious!” gameplay (in their words).

Savage Worlds Book, Explorer Edition

From Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Explanation of The Alternative

Savage Worlds has a great many elements which are similar to that of Spark.  Attributes are associated with Dice sizes, so that the better a character is at such an attribute, the larger the size of the Die.  The attributes in this system consist of Agility, Smarts, Spirit, Strength and Vigor.     Those attributes affects some of the derived traits and interact with the costs of skills when they are purchased.    Skills are also on the same die scale as attributes and tests involves rolling either the skill die (if they have it) or the base attribute (if they don’t).   If the single die rolls good enough compared to the static target number, the character succeeds.  If the die rolls the highest possible, it “aces”, meaning that you can roll the die again and add that number to the total.

Any individual is classified as being either a Wild Card (for important named character) or an Extra (for minions and other lesser unnamed foes who are far less effective).  All PC’s are Wild Cards, meaning that they get to roll an additional D4 on every test, statistically helping the characters to a decent extent.   Extras drop like flies, but Wild Cards are durable and potent individuals.

The system accounts for Bennies, a resource given to the players each session to affect fate and increase their chances to succeed on important confrontations.  Likewise, these Bennies are given the ST so they can support NPC’s at important times.

Each character is principally differentiated by their Edges and their Hindrances.  These are the mechanical benefits or drawbacks for their specific characters and the book gives lists of all of the common ones, remarking that more Edges and Hindrances are found in setting books.   Edges have specific requirements and prerequisites, often appearing to be special tricks or capabilities of the characters which have more in common with Feats (AD&D) then with Fortunes (Spark).    Edges also allow for players to use Powers, gained from a proscriptive list of generic effects listed in the book.

The Merits of The Alternative

Savage Worlds is an award-winning product and has earned its place among the forefront of the crowd.   It was built on the foundation of miniatures gaming and has a robust combat system, allowing for a wide variety of different kinds of combatants and tactical options.  There are rules and tables covering every eventuality, from dehydration in the jungle to a chase scene in the streets of New York.   The system lives up to its promise of being fast, fun and furious when physical conflict comes around.   The combat system ideally functions with a battle map, miniatures and the appropriate templates, allowing the mighty heroes to stand against hordes of minions led by mighty leaders.  The disparity in power between the Extras and the Wild Cards means that players can slay countless foes with relative ease.

Beyond the system-specific merits, there are also a number of areas in which the publisher has excelled.  Firstly and most impressively, they have produced the “Explorer’s Edition” of the core book which is a digest size version of the core book.  This essentially contains the entire game in a 160 page small soft cover book and manages to get a price tag of  $9.99 each.  It is often worth buying multiple copies of the explorer edition due to how economical they are; I purchased two of them myself.   Their decision to make an affordable, portable and attractive book certainly wins my praises.   They also produce a number of premade setting & adventure supplements which they call “Plot Point Campaigns”.

The Merits of Spark RPG

With Spark, we have taken a different approach in the game design process compared to the fine folks at PEG.  One of our key goals was to have physical conflict; social interaction and mental puzzle-solving hold equal prominence.  In Spark, physical combat is less emphasized and is dealt with in a more abstract fashion.   Rather than rolling on a critical hit table for instance, the Spark system generalizes and assumes that the group may interpret the dice rolls appropriately for the situation. Combat progresses quickly even in the hands inexperienced players, as Spark has fewer mechanics and has less of an emphasis on miniatures.

The major advantage with Spark is creativity during the character creation process. The player decides what Trainings, Tools or Glories would best suit their character, potentially coming up with innovative and unique traits.   These traits are then named and written upon the character sheet as opposed to picking the traits from a proscriptive list. As a result, each character is unique and memorable and there is more flexibility during game play for interpretation.   The Spark RPG is built on the principles of natural language description rather than categories or numbers, potentially more comfortable for the right brained among us.


Savage Worlds is an excellent system, ideal for dynamic pulp-style action with plenty of tactics to keep you entertained.   If this sounds attractive to you, I would suggest you try to purchase their Explorer Edition; the price is most certainly right in my opinion.  If you prefer a non-pulpy game system with less focus upon physical combat, you may appreciate Spark once released.    Even if you fall into the latter camp, I would still recommend picking up at least one copy of Savage Worlds as it excellent quality for a remarkably low price.


Pinnacle Entertainment Group

Savage Worlds Wikipedia Page