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Saturday 18 September 2021

Goodman Games Gen Con Annual IV

Since 2013, Goodman Games, the publisher of the 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, the first to be reviewed was the Goodman Games Gen Con 2014 Program Book. Fortunately, a little patience and a copy of the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book was located and reviewed, so now in 2021, normal order is resumed with the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book.

The Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is a double anniversary and warrants a double cover. In fact, it is a double fortieth anniversary. The Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book celebrates not just forty years since the publication of Metamorphosis Alpha, but also forty years since the founding of Judges Guild. To celebrate, it includes not just content dedicated to Metamorphosis Alpha and Judges Guild, but sports a handsome double cover—one for Metamorphosis Alpha and one for Judges Guild. In addition to the celebrations, the anthology includes support for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, the Appendix N, and more, along with the usual fripperies and fancies to be found in each volume of the Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book. Which means scenarios, articles, histories, quizzes, and more. After all, Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book is not just for Christmas, it is for Gen Con!

The Metamorphosis Alpha support begins with ‘Forty Years of Metamorphosis Alpha: A Legacy of Innovation’ by Craig Brain. This charts the history of the roleplaying game across numerous and not always successful editions, and is a nice accompaniment to the anniversary edition of Metamorphosis Alpha. If there is a major omission to the article it that it should have included images of the covers of these editions. That would have given the article some context and tied it more into the individual editions. It is followed by ‘Metamorphosis Alpha: 4 Tables 40’, a quartet of tables by the roleplaying game’s designer, James M. Ward. The tables, each with forty entries, cover ‘GEL Nanobots’, ‘Surprisingly Good Things’, ‘Traps for the Unwary’, and ‘Unusual Things’, and all provide good inspiration. For all that Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book celebrates the fortieth anniversary of Metamorphosis Alpha, the actual gaming content for it is thin. A scenario or an area aboard the Starship Warden fully detailed, would perhaps have served as a better selling point for Metamorphosis Alpha.

The fantasy gaming content begins with more letters for The Dungeon Alphabet: An A-Z Reference for Classic Dungeon Design by Michael Curtis. These are ‘G is also for Guardians’ and ‘H is also for Hazard’ and just like the supplement they are inspired by and written for, they consist of tables devoted to their subjects. Both are generic fantasy, but easily adapted to the retroclone—or even not of the Game Master’s choice. This is as entertaining and as inspirational as the original book, and perhaps Goodman Games should think about returning to original supplement, if not in a reprint then in a full sequel with another twenty-six entries.

As expected for a volume in the Goodman Games Gen Con Program Book series, the majority of the gaming content is designed for use with the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. It begins with Michael Curtis’ ‘The Return of the Wild’, which gives a new Patron god for his Shudder Mountains setting from The Chained Coffin campaign. This is Nengal the Wild One, a primal force of raw nature, and comes complete with tables for Invoke Patron checks and Patron Taint. The Patron spells feel somewhat underwritten, but the unfettered and raw nature of the god and his faith should provide some fun roleplaying opportunities.

Dieter Zimmerman contributes the first scenario in the anthology, a wholly new, and weirder introduction to the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game. The scenario is a Character Funnel, one of the signature features of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game in which initially, a player is expected to roll up three or four Level Zero characters and have them play through a generally nasty, deadly adventure, which surviving will prove a challenge. Those that do survive receive enough Experience Points to advance to First Level and gain all of the advantages of their Class. Typically, such Player Characters are peasants and the like from the average fantasy world, but here Zimmerman takes the idea of the ordinary person from Earth being transported to a fantasy world where he or she becomes a great hero the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game

So first, in ‘1970’s Earth Characters for DCC’, Zimmerman gives tables for Occupations, Personal Items, and Astrology so that the players can create some funky characters ready for their strange encounter in the accompanying scenario. This is ‘Not in Kansas Anymore’, co-authored with Matt Spengler, a reverse dungeon up through Ezaurack’s Volcano Fortress in which the would-be heroes not only have to save the day against a viscous dragon cult, but do so whilst avoiding rising lava! The scenario is as over the top as you would expect and best played as if the Player Characters—let alone the players—have no idea as to what is going on. Indeed, the scenario is intended as an introduction to the roleplaying game. It is as fun and as gonzo as you would expect, and all it needs is a dose of Doug McClure.

Another then new would-be licence comes under the spotlight with Michael Curtis, not once but twice. First with ‘Rat-Snake: A Lankhmar Wagering Game with Dice’ provides the full rules for a gambling game set in Fritz Leiber’s Nehwon and the tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Prefiguring the release of Dungeon Crawl Classics Lankhmar the year  following the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book, this is an immersive addition to the setting and should find its way into the Player Characters’ adventures in the city of thieves. Second, with ‘The Hand of St. Heveskin’, which details an artefact sacred to the Rat God, but which anyone can use—though there is some danger in doing so. Although presented for Lankhmar, this would work in almost any fantasy setting and is a very well done and themed item. The adjacent list of publication dates for the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories is also welcome.

Gen Con is of course, a very big event, and Goodman Games supports it with a tournament adventure that both fans of the publisher and attendees in general can join in and play. Instead of the typical adventure, in 2015, Goodman games offered ‘The Way of the Dagon’, a spell duelling tourney. Instead of a party of adventurers delving into deep, dark hole, this has wizards and sorcerers throwing spells at each other for the pleasure of Father Dagon. Spelling duelling is part of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and this module gives the full rules for such arcane battling in the realm of Father Dagon. It works a little different to standard spell duelling, adjusting counterspell power and adding the Wrath of Dagon, plus a little bit of randomness to play. This would be fun to play at the table with a normal group as change, but really comes into its own as a big event. The notes on how the event’s origins and the report on some of the game play are entertaining also.

However, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book includes a Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game Tournament Funnel too. Written by Jim Wampler, Stephen Newton, Daniel J. Bishop, Jeffrey Tadlock, Jon Marr, and Bob Brinkman, ‘Death by Nexus’, which as the title suggests, is another Character Funnel. However, instead of three or four Level Zero Player Characters per player, each only has one, and when a character dies, his player is out and replaced by another player and his character, and this goes on until the end of the scenario. In ‘Death by Nexus’ nine such characters, three each for the three Alignments—Law, Neutrality, and Chaos—are thrown into six different and increasingly challenging arenas for the entertainment of the Primal Ones. Each written by a different author, the arenas vary wildly, from a combination of ice, wind, and fire to a giant sandbox via the end times. Combat focused instead of the spelling-slinging focus of the earlier ‘The Way of the Dagon’, this Tournament Funnel is again fun and silly and over-the-top.

Harley Stroh expands on his ‘Glossography of Ythoth’ from the campaign, Perils on the Purple Planet (now sadly out of print), with ‘Appendix D: Ythothian Liche Kings’ with a guide to the corpse kings who prey on dimensional travellers and possess various psychic powers. This is a nasty monster which no player would his character to encounter, but the dimensional originals means that one of these could turn up anywhere.

Appendix N is an important facet of the Old School Renaissance since its original list of books in the back in the Dungeon Master’s Guide for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition showcased the inspiration for original roleplaying game. The Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book shows how the authors of various titles for Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game have delved into its equivalent of Appendix N in search of their own inspiration. It opens though with ‘The Way of Serpents’, a short story by Howard Andrew Jones which is also inspired by Appendix N fiction. This is nicely enjoyable piece in the Swords & Sorcery vein, which tells of a priestess and a veteran soldier forced to seek aid from a dragon to save a kingdom not his own. The short story is accompanied by some game content, in particular stats for the creatures encountered in the story.

In ‘Appendix N Inspiration’, sources are in turn discussed for Peril on the Puppet Planet, DCC #87 Against the Atomic Overlord, The Chained Coffin, The 998th Wizards’ Conclave, and Doom of the Savage Kings. All provide insights as to the creative process and suggest authors and their works that would be worth reading prior to running any one of them. Those for DCC #87 Against the Atomic Overlord and The Chained Coffin are longer, more detailed, and more interesting for it. In hindsight, the inspiration for The 998th Wizards’ Conclave is the most interesting because it prefigures the recent development of Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game.

Perhaps the highlight of the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is ‘An illustrated interview with Errol Otus’. This runs to almost forty pages and covers the classic fantasy gaming artist’s time at TSR, his time after, and his return to the hobby industry with both the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game and then the Old School Renaissance. It is an entertaining read and is profusely illustrated with paintings and drawings from across his career, serving as a showcase for both. The only disappointment is that the covers that Otus did for Goodman Games have not been reproduced in colour. All it would have taken is another two pages of colour and it would have pleasingly rounded off his contributions up to 2016.

The other half of the fortieth anniversary celebrations in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is dedicated to Judges Guild and this is celebrated by another pair of articles. It is an unfortunate truth that the reputation of the publisher has been greatly damaged in the years since the publication of these two articles, but this should not mean that the contributions to the hobby by Judges Guild should be ignored. ‘Forty Years Judges Guild: A Legacy of Awesome’ by Jeff Rients—author of Broodmother Skyfortress—presents a history of the publisher from founding to closure, along with a look at a few of the releases over that history... It is informative, but this is very much written from a personal rather than an objective point of view, accompanied with a discussion of the author’s favourite titles. There are of course, more objective histories of Judges Guild available, such as the Judges Guild Deluxe Oversized Collector’s Edition and Designers & Dragons: the ‘70s. Ultimately, what lets this article down is the lack of captions for its various photographs taken from Judges Guild history.

It is followed by ‘Unknown Gods: Revised and Expanded’, by Robert Bledsaw, Sr. and Robert Bledsaw, Jr. This presents an expansion to The Unknown Gods, the 1980 supplement supplement of grandiose gods and deities which would have been particular to the Wilderlands of High Fantasy setting. From Grunchak, Markab God of Technology to Margonne, God of Evil Plans, the Devious Ones, they are all quite detailed and quite different to the gods seen elsewhere in fantasy, as well as each possessing a certain weirdness. That weirdness applies to the statistics given for each god, which use a different system singular to the original supplement rather than any variant of Dungeons & Dragons. It would be fascinating to see the whole of the supplement updated with this content for a game system that was more accessible.

Rounding out the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is the usual collection of fripperies and fancies. 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—this time what t do about rules lawyers, whilst the fripperies includes artwork for the ‘2015 to 2016 Mailing Labels’, which capture a bit more of Goodman Games in 2015. Elsewhere there is a quiz or two, interviews with several of the Judges who work as the Goodman Games Road crew, a photographic recap of Gen Con 2015, and more.

Physically, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is a thick softback book. It is decently laid out, easy to read, lavishly illustrated throughout, and a good-looking book both in black and white, and in colour.

On one level, the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book, as with other entries in the annual series, is an anthology of magazine articles, but in this day and age of course—as well as 2016—there is no such thing as the roleplaying magazine. So what you have instead is the equivalent of a comic book’s Christmas annual—but published in the summer rather than in the winter—for fans of Goodman Games’ roleplaying games. The Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book follows closely the format of the previous entries in the series, so there is bit of everything in its pages—gaming history, adventures, previews, catch-ups, and more. Its celebrations of the two fortieth anniversaries—Metamorphosis Alpha and Judges Guild—are underwhelming, but everything else in the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is either fun or entertaining, sometimes even both. As ever the Goodman Games Gen Con 2016 Program Book is a must for devotees of the Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game, but there is plenty in the annual supplement for fantasy gamers to enjoy or be inspired by.

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