Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Three Games I Want to See

Welcome back! Not much new to report as far as professional updates: I already told you all about Prince of Ravens last month. My next publication is going to be in Thornkeep, a Paizo sourcebook created for the Pathfinder Online kickstarter. It’s a good bit of town-building with a hundred great adventure ideas built into the place; keep your eyes peeled!

I’ve also recently done some work with The Sundering, the big Forgotten Realms story event announced at GenCon this year. I’m afraid I can’t say much about my part in the Sundering, since my contribution hasn’t been announced yet. But I think it’s some pretty interesting stuff, and I pulled in a ton of old Realmslore to piece it all together.

Gaming: One of my favorite distractions to engage in is the “What game would I create if I could do anything I wanted?” I have this idea that if I ever win the lottery, I’ll establish a little gaming company that has no particular purpose other than to do things I’m interested in, and provide me with a dozen or so hours of great gaming every week. We’d print a couple of games a year, and to hell with whether they make money or not—remember, in this scenario I’m already rich because I won the lottery. Anyway, here are three things I’d like to do, Just Because.

7th Fleet 2013: I’m a huge fan of Victory Games’ old “Fleet” titles – 2nd Fleet, 6th Fleet, etc. Speaking as a former naval officer, they had pretty high sim value. And speaking as a fan of strategy games, they had some really elegant mechanics for organizing the game turn, handling formation defense, and dealing with detection as a critical part of modern naval warfare. Well, the bad news is that all of those games were focused on the Soviet Union as the primary adversary, and the most recent of them is now close to 20 years out of date. So what I want to see is an updated 7th Fleet that zeroes in on East Asia—the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Korean peninsula—and takes a serious hard look at China’s navy and all the new assets for the USN, the PLAN, and Japan’s MDF. Believe it or not, I don’t think this would be that hard to do; the basic game engine is fine, all you need to do is work up a new map, produce a new order of battle, stat out some new units, and think up some interesting scenarios.

War at Sea 1914: I’m also a big fan of the old Avalon Hill titles War at Sea and Victory in the Pacific. I’d love to work up a strategic game based on that engine to cover the confrontation of the Triple Entente and Central Powers navies. I think it would be a blast to play for control of the North Sea, the Dardanelles, the Baltic, and the Adriatic. It would be especially interesting if some events like Italian belligerence were not a given; the Austrian fleet looks a lot tougher if the Italians aren’t involved. A few blog posts back, I speculated about good task force rules for Victory in the Pacific; it would be pretty cool to put ‘em in play here. Not being guaranteed of bringing your whole line of battle into play would make the North Sea standoff a lot more interesting. Again, the game engine is there: All you have to do is figure out the order of battle and provide very simple stats for a whole lot of dreadnoughts.

A Coherent Campaign Setting: One of my big regrets about my time with TSR and Wizards of the Coast is that the company abandoned the idea of creating new worlds. On the very rare occasions when new worlds were created, there was so much riding on the concept that creatively we felt obligated to try to include something for everybody. It’s sort of pre-kitchen-sinking your setting, and I think it really dilutes the clarity and usability of the work. Someday I’m going to sit down and write up a campaign setting that stays on message and delivers the hell out of a single design vision. Worlds like Al-Qadim, Dark Sun, and Planescape did that; some other worlds don’t. I often argued that Wizards of the Coast ought to publish a decent, middle-of-the-fairway standard medieval fantasy world again, just to see if people were interested in seeing new iterations of that sort of idea. But I never could talk ‘em into it.

Anyway, there are three games I want to do someday. I’ve got a few more on the list, but those are the ones I occasionally design in my head when I’m stuck in traffic or walking the dog.

Politics/Current Events: I had an interesting conversation with my wife and daughters the other day. Here’s the lead-in: Are the Boy Scouts of America a hate group because they exclude gays? There are a lot of people who would unequivocally answer that question “Yes.” I’m not so sure. I think in America we seem to be forgetting what REAL hate groups look like, and what sorts of things they do. Are Boy Scout troops hiding in alleyways, waiting to lynch gays? Are they burning down gay-owned businesses? Are they burning crosses on the lawns of gays’ homes? That’s what real hate looks like. If you throw around terms like “hate group” or “racist” and use them on everybody you disagree with, you dilute the meaning of the words. To put it another way: When everyone is a hate group, no one is a hate group.

I think the Boy Scouts are more wrong than right, since I don’t think anyone should be worked up about gays in 21st century America. But they’re a private organization, and I wouldn’t call them a hate group just because they don’t hold the opinion I do.

The Finer Things: I’ve only watched a couple of episodes so far, but Longmire on A&E is a darned good television show. Robert Taylor plays the sheriff; other cast members include Lou Diamond Phillips and Katee Sackhoff (Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica).  I’ve always had a soft spot for Westerns; it’s nice to see a good crime drama with interesting characters set out west. Check out an episode or two, and see if you agree!


  1. That's really a pity in regard to the Coherent campaign setting. I would have liked to have seen a return to a "Medieval World" concept. It was one of the many appeals of the Birthright campaign setting (the campaign that we have been running is at a mid to late 14th - early 15th century tech level; "globally").

    I agree in regard to the dilution of meaning. It's become more noticeable since the late 1990s and now it is rampant in the political muck raking that's only served to divide the nation. If you believe in a god, you are "unintelligent" and "intolerant". If you don't hold the same opinion as the "intellectual" crowd, "you're stupid", "racist" or a "bigot". I think people have lost touch with what "hate" really is.

    When Longmire premiered, I didn't think I would like it; it's a good show.

  2. If you get a chance, check out "Alphas" on the Syfy channel. I thought the first season was really good. Another fun show they've been doing is called "The Grims". I haven't seen all of those yet, but once again, the first season got me interested, lets hope they continue to do so. One thing I've also enjoyed about these shows is seeing Star Trek actors like Brent Spiner and Nana Visitor do guest appearences.

    Jenn, you took the words out of my mouth. Thank you.

    1. I've watched a couple of episodes of "Alphas" -- it's pretty good. My wife and I are Warehouse 13 fans, too. I got a kick out of Bret Spiner's appearance on W13.

    2. I missed spiner on warehouse 13 but I did catch Rene Aujerbaun (i spelled his name very wrong lol) on warehouse 13 aka

      Eureka caught my attention for a little, but mostly due to Alecia Day being on the show. She was the creator of "The Guild", a funny little web series you might want to check out. At least google the music video, "Will you date my Avatar" they did, which is actually really good. They also did a Bollywood style music video, I think it's called "Game On" or something like that.

  3. It was great to hear some ideas about naval gaming. The 7th Fleet idea is fun to kick around. I wonder if it would be just too asymmetric--would it be enjoyable to oppose the US, being largely limited to planes, land-based missiles, small craft and subs? (Admittedly this was already true to an only somewhat lesser degree in the old Fleet games.)

    I guess in a way the answers and design decisions would have to tackle some of the basic issues that have been raised regarding the viability and significance of large warships in the modern world--though in gaming terms, I suppose you would want to rule in favor of play-balance :)

    I also wonder if you think developments in stealth, PGMs and other technologies would require any changes to the Fleet game mechanism?

    On another note, I'm curioud whether you've seen the "Team Poseidon" effort to extend the A&A War at Sea game? I don't know if you have any freedom to comment, but I for one would be interested in your thoughts...


    1. Hi, Fred!

      Sure, the US Navy outnumbers China's navy by a wide margin. But the more relevant question is whether *7th Fleet* -- the part of the USN operating in East Asian waters -- does. And right now, the PLAN is catching up fast. The Chinese have 27 destroyers, 60 frigates, and 120 missile boats in service now, plus 50 diesel-electric subs and 15 nuclear subs. The US Pacific fleet has about 12 CG, 30 DDG, 10 or so frigates, and about 25 nuclear attack subs in Pearl, Japan, and Guam. So the numbers are closer than you might think.

      Stealth units probably need some accommodation. B-2s and maybe F-22s would definitely be tougher to fend off with SAMs. PGMs can probably be reflected in bombing values -- more air units would have stand-off missile values, and those might be more accurate.

      I haven't been following Project Poseidon very closely. I've toyed with the idea of publishing a new set of naval miniatures rules that would use a different game engine and be suitable for use with any 1/1800 minis you happen to have lying around, but I'm not terribly serious about that yet.


    2. Hi Rich,

      My first language is Spanish, so I apologize beforehand if I miswrite something. Concerning campaign settings, one that is great and focused the mention of which is missing is Birthright: it is one of my two favorite settings ever. I was wondering if now that WoTC will sell electronic versions of previous products they will sell the updated Birthright CS that was never released. On the other hand, just out of curiosity and being a Latin American myself, do you think a jungle or unknown continent that resembles aboriginal America fits in the setting somehow, given the cultural parallels in Cerilia in relation to our world?

    3. "Updated Birthright Campaign Setting that was never released"???

      Wow! Was this going to be a hardback version of the boxed set (as was done with Council of Wyrms) or are you talking of something else Nicolás?

  4. I love your comments on the Coherent Campaign Setting, Richard.

    One of the things I've always liked about Dragonlance is that it "turns off" certain parts of Dungeons & Dragons (like halflings) as well as adding in new rules.

    I do feel strongly that every campaign setting should be able to "turn off" core rules, as well as add new rules.

    I love Forgotten Realms, but I think that WotC have focused far too much on it during 3rd Edition, not done enough with it during 4th Edition and look to be focusing exclusively on it during 5th Edition. I think that is a pendulum that is going to swing between shoehorning too many things into Toril and not providing enough support.

    Your "to hell with whether they make money or not" comment is like a breath of fresh air, because an approach like that will throw out the odd turkey, but it will also throw out cult settings that are talked about for decades and might also stumble onto something that can be as successful as Mystara, Greyhawk, Dragonlance and Forgotten Realms have been.

    I think the problem with D&D, is that it is now seen as big business and that means that minority settings, which do sell, but which sell at much lower volumes get looked at as failures, when I believe they should be looked at as niche markets.

    I think that WotC needs to develop some sort of niche market strategy that allows them to tap into the smaller markets, without making it uneconomical. Perhaps your Coherent Campaign Setting concept would have worked if WotC had created a small team (even a one-man team) that acted like a small publisher, and worked with a much smaller budged than the sort of cash that Forgotten Realms or Eberron were getting.

    Paperback campaign setting books are cheaper to publish than hardbacks. Black and white books are even cheaper. Print on Demand books do not require a big print run. Paizo pretty much built Golorian in instalments, and I think that WotC could possibly have gone this way too.

    Maybe you could even put out your Coherent Campaign Setting without winning the lottery. Maybe you could write an overview on your blog and see if it can inspire interest at forums like The Piazza, Dragonsfoot and ENworld. Maybe you could write a few articles about it for Kobold Quarterly. Maybe you could design a map and sell it via Print on Demand. Maybe you could take your idea and pull the thing up by its own bootlaces.

  5. Do you mean keeping a coherent campaign setting on message like avoiding changes to its setting like Forgotten Realms - simply to justify the jump to a new edition game engine?

    And PS Mr Rich Baker, I have a bone to pick with you...your memo on Points of Light for 4E flew in the face of the fact that events exert changes on Points of light irrespective of the PCs visit. Event Mass on a Campaign Plane and all that.

  6. And PS The Boy Scouts are haters if they have a sign that says 'lets keep the buggers out' not if they have a sign that says 'keep your beliefs in the privacy of your own mind where they belong'.

    As to Scenarios for the Seventh Fleet 2013 - How about Russia sells off its trillions of carats in diamonds and puts a billion dollars in the bank accounts of every low ranking officer of the US Navy, and China builds a causeway cutting off access to the South China Sea and the Sea of Japan except via shared Locks to which only bordering nations on that sea have access (like Iran will likely do in the gulf).