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Saturday 1 August 2020

Goodman Games Gen Con Annual III

Since 2013, Goodman Games, the publisher of  Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic has released a book especially for Gen Con, the largest tabletop hobby gaming event in the world. That book is the Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book, a look back at the previous year, a preview of the year to come, staff biographies, and a whole lot more, including adventures and lots tidbits and silliness. The first was the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book, but not being able to pick up a copy from Goodman Games when they first attended UK Games Expo  in 2019, it was actually the second to be reviewed after the Goodman Games Gen Con 2014 Program Book. Fortunately, Reviews from R’lyeh manages to return to the correct order for Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book.

The Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Guide is a vastly bigger book than either the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book or Goodman Games Gen Con 2014 Program Book. In fact, it almost double the size of the first two volumes in the series combined! Its pages contain a mix of interviews, art, scenarios, game support, fiction, and randomness, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book starting off with some of the latter with a series of dice-themed articles. The first of these—and the first of the articles in Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book—is Dieter Zimmerman’s ‘Tables For Thieves’, a set of tables for things such as places to meet in secret and buy on the black market. Its companion piece is themed not along one subject matter, but the type of die rolled, ‘Twenty Funky Dice Tables’ by Ken St. Andre offering up tables such as ‘D2: Random Monster Encounters’ and ‘ D7: Random Dungeon Name Generator’. All of which use the various shapes of dice also used in Dungeon Crawl Classics. Of course, even if the Game Master is not going to roll the dice on these tables, they are will at least serve as inspiration. The various non-standard dice used in Dungeon Crawl Classics come under the spotlight in Terry Olson’s ‘Cranking Up the Funk in DCC Dice Rolling’ which examines the probabilities and mathematics of the Dungeon Crawl Classics—and now Mutant Crawl Classics—dice. It is unfortunately the driest article in Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book, but doubtless it will appeal to some gamers who like both dice and the numbers behind them.

The highlight of the dice section though is ‘An Interview with Colonel Lou Zocchi’. As the title suggests, this is with an interview with Lou Zocchi, best known for his dice—in particular, his one-hundred-sided Zocchihedron—and his long involvement with the gaming industry. The lengthy interview goes into this and his development of dice for the industry, how to roll dice, and more. It is an absolutely fascinating piece, but only hints at some of the stories which the interviewee could tell. It would certainly be fascinating to read more of his tales from the industry and have them in print.

The Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book includes not one, but four scenarios. All four have in common the danger of using big magical items—all the more so because two of the four scenarios are for Zero Level characters. The first scenario, ‘The Black Feather Blade’ by Daniel J. Bishop is for First Level characters who are sent to recover the Black Feather Blade of the title, the famed sword of the infamous Bran Corvidu, Feast-Lord of Crows, who was devoted to the Crow God Malotoch and ravaged the Northern Kingdoms a century ago. They may be doing this for greed, or because they are devoted agents of Law or Chaos. The ‘dungeon’ consists of a number of barrow tombs, the Player Characters needing to determine which one belongs to the infamous warlord is buried and giving the dungeon a slightly dispersed feeling. Another difference is that the scenario includes two rival factions also after the Black Feather Blade, which adds some roleplaying opportunities and a bit of friction to the scenario.

Jon Hook’s ‘Evil Reborn’ is for Fourth Level characters. Although this is a standalone adventure, it can also be run as a sequel to Dungeon Crawl Classics #13: Crypt of the Devil Lich. Since the events of that scenario, the devil-lich Chalychia has been trapped for centuries, but that has given the time to devise a means to escape. The Player Characters will have come to the town of Cillamar which has recently been beset by a series of raids that have seen the town’s children stolen. The Player Characters are asked to both rescue them and stop it from happening again, which will take them into frozen stygian wastelands and Chalychia’s tower refuge. This is a good mini-scenario with some fun twists on classic monsters.

The other two scenarios in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book are definitely its highlight, presenting as they do variations upon the classic Zero-Level Character Funnel which is a feature of the Dungeon Crawl Classics roleplaying game. In the classic Character Funnel, each player roleplays not one character, but four! Each is Zero Level, hoping to survive an adventure and acquire the ten Experience Points necessary to go up to First Level and gain a Class. Both ‘The Seven Pits of Serzrekan’ and ‘The Hypercube of Myt’ are different in that they are Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Funnel Tournaments. In these, each player is given a single Zero-Level character and when the character dies, they are out of the tournament and another player takes his place with his own newly created Zero-Level character. Success in the tournament is measured in the number of encounters a Player Character survives. Advice is given on running such tournaments.

Harley Stroh’s ‘The Seven Pits of Serzrekan’ presents just three of the pits and can be run as intended or be played using Third Level Player Characters. The Player Characters are unwitting agents of the warlock Sezrekan who seeks to avert his doom by bringing an end to the multiverse. For this he requires three artefacts—the Crown of the Seraphim, Tyrving, the cursed foebrand, and Tarnhelm, the dragon-helm. Anyone brave enough to wield them gains access to great power, capable of defeating the enemies and servants of Sezrekan, but courts disaster in doing so, for the weapons are terribly dangerous. In terms of traditional fantasy roleplaying adventures, ‘The Seven Pits of Serzrekan’ lacks a conclusion, the point of it being survival rather achieving a particular objective. This makes it difficult to run, even if using Third Level Player Characters, and then there is the logistics of setting up and running a Funnel Tournament—the playing space, the number of players, and so on. Yet there is something amazing in the scope and scale of ‘The Seven Pits of Serzrekan’, supported by a wealth of detail and grim sub-hellish atmosphere, which just makes you go, “Woah!” Sadly, what is included in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book is just a snapshot of ‘The Seven Pits of Serzrekan’. It would be brilliant to see the complete version.

The other Funnel Tournament in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book is a group effort from ‘The DCCabal’ and unlike ‘The Seven Pits of Serzrekan’, complete. It also has a Science Fiction element. ‘The Hypercube of Myt’ takes place in an artefact of the same name, a tesseract—or hypercube—which is the last remnant of the Keep of Myt, once the estate of grand vizier of the Kingdom of Morr, the chaotic mage Mytus the Mad. The door to the Hypercube opens once a year at the annual Festival of the Fatted Calf. The festival is famous for drawing the curious, the foolhardy, and the incautious from far and wide to ponder the mysteries of the Cube. Inside is a vast space of a limited number of highly detailed locations and there is plenty to be found and interacted with throughout. The rooms and artefacts are weird and wacky and the Judge should have a lot of fun both describing them and what happens as the Player Characters interact with them, as well as portraying some of the actions of the NPCs—including a religious schism between the Player Characters! Unlike ‘The Seven Pits of Serzrekan’, there is definite way of concluding ‘The Hypercube of Myt’ and of getting out of it—there is a definite exit—but perhaps getting to it may well not be quite as obvious as it should be, leading to frustration upon the part of the players and their characters.

Goodman Games’ ‘World Tour’ is a staple of the Gen Con Program series and the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book is no exception. Since it covers the previous year, this is ‘DCC RPG Worlds Tour 2014’ which has been upgraded into a full colour insert of photographs taken at Gen Con and other events throughout the year, showcasing not just Goodman Games’ Road Crew, but the players and winners of various sessions and tournaments. It is a nice snapshot of the year past and from one year to the next, tracks the doings of the team at Goodman Games. The last few pages of the colour insert showcases the art of both Doug Kovacs and William McAusland. Both of their portfolios are given full space later in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book, but in black and white rather than in colour. Both ‘Classic Dungeon Crawl Art Folio: Doug Kovacs’ and ‘Classic Dungeon Crawl Art Folio: William McAusland’ are accompanied by interviews with both artists. Doug Kovacs in ‘D20 Questions: Doug Kovac’ (which originally appeared in Level Up #2, September 2009) and ‘An Interview with Dungeon Crawl Classics Cover Artist Doug Kovacs’ (which originally appeared in Meeple Monthly, July 2014), and William McAusland in an interview new to the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book.

Naturally, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book focuses upon the Dungeon Crawl Classics roleplaying game, but it pays plenty of attention to other titles published by Goodman Games as well. This begins with Brendan Lasalle’s Xcrawl, the roleplaying game of gladiatorial and tournament dungeoneering campaign setting receives attention with a couple of pieces. First with ‘Xcrawl Apocalypse: The Athlete’, a preview of a Class for the post-apocalyptic version of the setting. This is a very physical Class, all about their Strength, Agility, or Stamina, getting in close and grappling—the latter supported by a full table of critical results for grappling attacks and holds. More entertaining is ‘Best Possible Combination’, Lasalle’s short story set in the standard setting for Xcrawl which captures some of the perils and worries of being a participant in the Xcrawl games. This is not only his only piece of fiction in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book, the other being ‘Journey to the Hole in the Sky’, which captures the flavour and feel of a Character Funnel in a story rather than in play.

‘Appendix F: The Ythoth Raider’ is ‘An expansion of the Purple Planet Author’s Edition Glossography’ by Harley Stroh for his Edgar Rice Burroughs and Jules Verne inspired Perils on the Purple Planet setting. It describes what is essentially a Prestige Class for the Player Character who succumbs to the power of ythoth mushrooms and becomes a gaunt, blue-skinned raider who searches the multiverse for more of the mushroom. He is an addicted Thrall to the Bloom—and so this piece is more William S. Burroughs than Edgar Rice Burroughs—and will gain mental powers skin to the Magic-User’s spells, though if the powers fail there is the chance that the user’s head will explode!

The post-apocalyptic genre receives a fair degree of coverage in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book. This includes two articles for Metamorphosis Alpha: Fantastic Role-Playing Game of Science Fiction Adventures on a Lost Starship, the post-apocalyptic captive world set aboard a massive colony starship, both of which do what their titles say. So Robert Payne’s ‘New Devices for the Starship Warden’, which adds lots of mundane objects like adhesive, musical instruments, and utility belts, whilst ‘Even More Mutations’ by Dieter Zimmerman gives new mutations such as Omniphage which gives the mutant the teeth and digestive tract needed to eat almost anything and Apportation, which enables the Mutant to teleport objects he wants or needs from anywhere within a mile. Both articles are useful additions to Metamorphosis Alpha as more objects and more mutations are always welcome. The coverage of the genre in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book is accompanied by a lengthy preview of the forthcoming Mutant Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game – Triumph & Technology Won by Mutants & Magic. Of course, a bit redundant in 2020, but in 2015, this would have really effectively showcased the then forthcoming roleplaying game.

2020 has seen the publication of The Cthulhu Alphabet, but in 2015 it was merely a suggestion. Bradley McDevitt’s ‘The Mythos Alphabet’ was its forerunner, a series of tables such as ‘D is for Deep Ones’ and ‘M is for Madness’, along with ‘A Dozen Demonic Deep One Plots’, ‘Six Fearsome Fanes’, and ‘Six Grisly Decorat ions for a Temple’. This is not the normal sort of thing you see for Lovecraftian investigative horror, but it works as list after list of ideas and suggestions, which a Keeper (or Judge) can grab and add to her game. Again, fun and something to pull off the shelf and consult for inspiration.

Of course, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book is not without its silliness and its fripperies. The silliness includes the advice column, ‘Dear Archmage Abby’, in which the eponymous agony aunt gives guidance on life, love, and the d20 mechanics in an entertaining fashion, whilst the fripperies includes artwork for the ‘2015 Mailing Labels’, which capture a bit more of Goodman Games in 2014. The last thing in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book is both a frippery and bit of history. This is ‘Judges Guild 1977 Fantasy Catalog’, a complete facsimile of the publisher’s mail order catalogue from 1977. This is a lovely addition to the volume, providing a snapshot of gaming as it was forty years ago, a bit history that nicely bookends the interview with Lou Zocchi at the start of the book.

Physically, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book is a thick softback book, which due to the colour inserts in the centre, does feel a bit stiff in the hand. Apart from that, the book is clean and tidily presented, lavishly illustrated throughout, and a good-looking book both in black and white, and in colour.

On one level, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book is an anthology of magazine articles, but in this day and age of course—as well as 2015—there is no such thing as the roleplaying magazine. So what you have instead is the equivalent of comic book’s Christmas annual—but published in the summer rather than in the winter—for fans of Goodman Games’ roleplaying games. There is though, something for everyone in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book, whether that is lovers of history of the hobby, fantasy roleplayers, devotees of Lovecraftian investigative horror, and more. Some of it is gonzo, perhaps bonkers—the two Tournament Funnels in particular, but overall, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2015 Program Book is a bumper book of gaming goodness.

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