I am a man with too many hobbies and interests, but James’s lovely ode to OD&D has me thinking about the game once again. Some of the longest campaigns I’ve ran and played in have been OD&D games: impressive for a game that came out 6 years before I was born. The 50th anniversary of D&D is this year. I suspect we’ll see a lot of writing about the game over the coming months. For example, here is a great post from Gus that looks at the history and design of the earliest D&D dungeons: The Underground Maze or Primordial Stack. Something worth revisiting this year is Philotomy’s Musings by the enigmatic Jason Cone. A lot of the modern thinking about OD&D feels like it comes directly from his writing about the game. I plan to re-read the OD&D booklets: it’s been a while.
Last year Prismatic Wasteland ran a cool little tournament of sorts called the Bloggies, where he picked an initial pool of really cool blog posts, and then had people vote to crown the best blog post of the year. Zedeck won last year, and so was tasked to continue the tradition into 2023. And so the Bloggies 2023 have begun. The first round of voting is taking place now, with a set of 16 posts on RPG theory.
I love this: nicer warband and campaign sheets for The Doomed, aka Grimlite from traaa.sh. If you haven’t seen traaa.sh before, it’s such a well designed blog. They always post useful stuff. So this is really par for the course. Evan and I have been playing The Doomed recently, continuing our epic multi-system neverending Warhammer 40,000 campaign. I’ll have to write about those games soon. I have been tracking everything in Google Sheets. Looking at these sheets gives me ideas for how to tweak my digital set up, though I like the idea of writing things out on paper. That feels more legit.
I haven’t played Magic: The Gathering seriously since High School, though I stil have many of my cards and decks from the 90s. (Sadly most everything I have are the sorts of cards that no one cares about, nevermind my cards are hardly pristine.) Reading Jay Dragon talk about a diffferent format for playing the game, what he’s dubbed the Magpie Cube, was really facinating. I was only vaguely aware of the cube format of organizing games, which Jay sums up before expanding upon in ways game design nerds will surely enjoy. Briefly, you and your friends play magic games drafting cards from a very small fixed pool of cards. If you’re already playing Magic and want to make it feel more fresh, this seems like a great approach. This format also feels like it strips away the whole pay-to-play aspect of the game. Every so often I’ll see something about Magic and feel this energy trying to pull me back in. Thus far I’ve always resisted: not today, satan!
The Mythic Bastionland Kickstarter is wrapping up today. For those unfamiliar this is the Arthurian take on Chris’s games Into the Odd and Electric Bastionland. I’ve been excited about this game since he first started talking about it, as it ties into my interests in this genre. (You may recall my aborted attempt to create a vaguely Arthurian / Dark Souls setting many months ago now: The Misericorde.) Chris is working with Alec Sorensen, and the art they have shared so far looks really incredible. My friend Alex was running the playtest version of this game when it was first announced, and we had a fun time questing around the hexcrawl he created. The game works well, and I assume knowing Chris it’s only been tightened up and improved upon since first announced. He’s one of my favourite game designers. This will be great.
Patrick turned his blog into a giant bible sized book: Speak, False Machine. I have the more modest PDF, which I have been reading on my iPad here and there. When Patrick told me he wanted to make this book I thought him a bit mad: “who wants an absolutely beastly book of blog posts?” I thought. The scope of this thing is kind of incredible. Reading it now, though, I can see the appeal of this format: it’s a much nicer way to read his writing. There is some slight rearangement of texts to form more of a cohesive narrative of sorts through his posts. I had forgotten some of his earlier posts, like his gaming with “the teenagers”. The new art work he commissioned for the book is great! There is no reason not to grab the PDF, and if you love False Machine the big book looks amazing.
Now that Speak, False Machine is shipping, he has moved on to getting his Wodlands setting turned into a proper book. Once again he’s found a great artist to work with. This project is looking great, and so obviously good I don’t really understand why it isn’t more wildly successful. (Well, probably because Patrick refuses or fails to do all the things people do when running Kickstarters, I suppose.) The original Wodlands posts are on his blog, for those who want to read them before throwing your money at the computer screen. I am looking forward to this book a lot.
Michael, of Trilemma fame, has started running a zombie survival game set on the Isle of Wight. The game takes place at the end of the cold war turned hot. The players are all crew of the cargo ship BF Fortaleza. I managed to join in for one session, and hope to make some more in the future. I love Zombie World, as you all ay now, but the system Michael cobbled together for his game worked really well. I think it illustrates neatly how you can really jam a bunch of ideas together and make something compelling enough. (I hadn’t encountered the encounter move from The Regiment before, and it seems like something everyone should steal for their games.)
Eric’s Hobby Workshop takes a look at one of Game Workshop’s craziest games, Inquisitor! The video is a great overview of the game if you aren’t familiar with its whole deal. Eric managed to track down a bunch of 54mm models from the range which he’s built, painted, and shown off in the video. It’s been a few months since I last mentioned Inquisitor. I should write about my own experiences with the game. One day.
by Ramanan Sivaranjan on August 04, 2023
2022 was a slog from beginning to end. I was glad to be done with that year. Whenever my mood is sour I end up spending too much money: they call it retail therapy. My longlist of RPG books going into these awards was very long. My shortlist was anything but short. This has been another year where zeroing in on my final picks was a struggle.
The Ramanan Sivaranjan Awards for Excellence in Gaming exist to highlight truly standout RPG books. They sit in contrast to the Ennies, the teen choice awards of the RPG industry. In this way I am the Pepsi to the Ennies Coke-a-Cola, since they never talk about me, but I always talk about them. But honestly, we all know who the real thing is when it comes to matters of taste.
The books in contention arrived at my doorstep, or digitally in my inbox, during 2022. That’s a long while ago now, I know, but that’s really my only rule with these awards and I will stick with it. So, while Trophy, which arrived at my home in January, should clinch some awards at the Ennies this year, it will need to wait till next year to fight for its spot as Ramanan Sivaranjan Award for Excellence in Gaming winner. If I had backed it digitally, I’d have included it for contention this year. Simple, right?
Anyway, what are we fucking around for: you want to know who won.
Best Gaming Supplement: Gig Economy by Colin Sproule
I love this unassuming booklet. Gig Economy is 200 weird little NPCs to people your world with: retainers, rival adventures, townsfolk. There are no wasted words: everything is short and to the point. You can pick a random person and read what their deal is in seconds: great if you need someone mid-session. Each NPC has personality, some equipment, and a name. What else do you need? Nothing, that’s what.
Best Attempt at Distilling 800 Blog Posts into a Game: Errant by Ava Islam
Errant is chonky book, the sort of book I would normally ignore because it’s so chonky. Ava Islam has tried to jam all of the OSR into one game. There is advice and rules for almost anything you can imagine happening in a game of D&D. Ava has documented her journey through the OSR, from a novice game master to one with plenty of experience and advice to share. I think for people who find the OSR opaque, confusing, or off-putting, Errant might be the game they are looking for: something that tries to be far more self-contained.
The Ramanan Sivaranjan Excellence in Gaming Best God Damn Books of 2022: Into the Odd Remastered by Chris McDowall, with art and graphic design by Johan Nohr.
Chris McDowall’s Into the Odd feels like a real masterpiece. In the years since its release Into the Odd feels like it’s become an impactful and influential game, a classic of the OSR. You can see the games influences in many modern OSR games. I had ignored this game when it first came out, more obsessed with OD&D and LotFP. I’m glad we all have a second chance to revisit and enjoy this game. Into the Odd Remastered is a beautiful book. Johan Nohr is a champion of graphic design, and this book highlights his versatility. (Of course, anyone paying attention to MORK BORG should have been able to see he’s a man of talent.) The collage art found throughout the book captures the weird aesthetic of Into the Odd perfectly. I can’t recommend this book enough.
It feels like everyone is sleeping on Demon Bone Sarcophagus, the latest adventure from Patrick and Scrap Princess. I loved reading the book, and am disappointed I haven’t found the time to get it to the table yet. I also loved &&&&&&&& Treasure by Luke Gearing, ANNA-X66: Redux by Slade Stolar, The Book of Gaub by Charlie Ferguson-Avery, Evoro, The Furtive Goblin, Ivy H, John “Unlawful Games” Gregory, Rowan A. and Paolo Greco, Downtime in Zyan by Ben Laurence, Fermentvm Nigrvm Dei Sepvlti by Gord Cellar, The Frost Spire by Jacob Hurst and Joshua Alvarado, Skorne by Sam Doebler, Where the Wheat Grows Tall by Camilla Greer & Evlyn Moreau, and Wanderhome by Jay Dragon.Comments
My current obsession is the 2021 edition of Kill Team. This game is probably most famous for using shapes to represent distances, but not having those distances have anything to do with the shapes used. How many inches do you think a square represents? If you said 4” you’d be wrong, it’s 3”. You might be asking yourself, why wouldn’t you use a triangle for 3”. Well, they had already used the triangle to represent 1”. For reals. Anyway, this is a big tangent, because the game is actually loads of fun when you give it a chance. I’ve been playing it over the last month or so at the other local game store, Negative Zone Comics, and been having a really great time. It’s more complicated than Warcry, but feels like it’ll be manageable once you have more games under your belt. The core of the game feels fresh and interesting, rather than simply re-skinning 40K. Fighting in close combat is a simple dice game of trading blows or parrying. Shooting is complicated by marking models as concealed versus engaged. The various Kill Teams have really flavourful rules. I’m hoping to play a short campaign with Evan, and will write up more thoughts once that’s done.