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FRAG! Shrapnel Games Newsletter September 2011 Issue #121

Charles Rector's Weblog; Oct. 1, 2011; By Charles Rector
Type: News

If you have trouble reading this newsletter click here.Issue 121, September 2011"He who is prudent and lies in wait for an enemy who is not, will be victorious."   
~ Sun Tzu

  1. The September Editorial Introduction
  2. News Direct from the Frontlines of Shrapnel Games
  3. Trivia Time: The Fallschirmjäger Dutch Defeat
  4. Q&A With Total Eclipse’s Creator
  5. The Dice Of War: Fortune And Glory
  6. Sizzling Sellers and Those Special Offers
  7. Link O' The Month
  8. The Crystal Ball

FRAG! is Edited by Scott Krol

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The hunchback will have something to say about this!1. The September Editorial Introduction

In a gaming world in which characters and landscapes can be rendered in almost photorealistic appearances, is there still room for the human imagination?

Decades ago two gents took a miniature wargame system that they crafted a campaign world onto and added a healthy does of “let’s play make believe” to create the first role-playing game (RPG). It was improv theater with dice, and it was one of the most exciting additions to gaming since the creation of the combat results table.

"So yes, there is still room for human imagination."

Unlike any other game here was something that said the rules were a framework and not the end all, be all. The ultimate rules lay within each player’s head. With endless freedom came endless possibilities. And all without maps or counters.

Fast forward to today’s gaming landscape. Computer RPGs are much more impressive than the days of wire frame dungeons and boops and beeps for sound effects, and yet they still pale in comparison to what can be achieved in a tabletop pen and paper RPG. While obvious from the amount of player interaction that can be achieved consider it from the game master’s standpoint. A traditional game master can create a world on the fly. A computer designer needs dozens of workers, thousands of dollars of hardware/software, and who knows how many hours of labor. And even then it will still pale in comparison to that of good flavor text.

So yes, there is still room for human imagination. And I’m very excited to be part of what will hopefully be

one of the most talked about releases of a pen and paper RPG system outside the mainstream.

The game is Total Eclipse, first hinted about in last month’s newsletter. Since then we’ve officially announced the game and put up a forum for it (http://forum.shrapnelgames.com/forumdisplay.php?f=241). You’ll find an Q&A session with the game’s creator, Steve N. Jackson, later in this newsletter. He provided some extensive responses and it makes a great read.

Total Eclipse is exciting for a number of reasons. It’s a universal gaming system that actually ports to other genres fairly seamlessly. Total Eclipse is easy to get into, with a stripped down character model that provides plenty of individuality. Unlike a class based game not every character will look and act like every other character of the same type. Combat and skills are handled logically, and easily. This is a game of imagination, not pushing collectible miniatures around or min/maxing skills. Several game mechanics are pretty unique.

I don’t want to go into more because we’re about to talk about again in the news section, but you get the idea. This is not a clone game but this does hearken back to the ancient days when Black Sabbath blasted from stereo speakers and player skill, not character stats, meant more to the success or failure of an adventure.

Continue reading the newsletter and discover Total Eclipse. Let your imagination fly free.

2. News Direct from the Frontlines of Shrapnel Games

What’s up beautiful people? It’s time for yet another death-defying issue of Frag!, the Shrapnel Games newsletter delivered once a month to your inbox.

Let’s kick things off with the announcement of Total Eclipse, the pen and paper role-playing game (RPG) for your smart phone and tablet device! And well, about anything that can read PDFs—although they have been specifically formatted to take advantage of portable devices.

Developed by Disrupted Gears/Steve Jackson (another Steve Jackson…you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting Steve Jacksons in the RPG industry) Total Eclipse is a genre-free system. Designed to handle everything from swords to nuclear tipped intergalactic missiles, Total Eclipse can move between worlds effortlessly.

With an emphasis on role playing over roll playing, stats are kept to a minimum. One of the most interesting concepts is the idea of micro-advancement. Levels are advanced quickly, but the jumps between them are not as much as in most games. There are still improvements though, creating a character that logically grows over the course of a campaign. After all, it’s not like most people in the real world start off as near experts and then after a few weeks on the road become champions.

The first set of campaign books (in the virtual sense) to be released for Total Eclipse will be a set of fantasy rules and campaign world, Virdea. Virdea is not your typical fantasy world and players will be excited to play some truly unique races, such as a race of undead! Virdea has been around for quite some time and one can expect quite a bit of support for the world.

Initially there will be a total of four books released: the Total Eclipse core ruleset, the Virdea player’s guide, the Virdea game master’s guide, and then a campaign book. Further releases will expand the fantasy genre with a book dedicated to warriors and one to magic users. From here the sky is the limit. Adventures…splat books…completely new genre books…software tools…there is no shortage of what Disrupted Gears has planned. This will be a strongly supported RPG.

As mentioned all releases will be in PDF format. If there are enough requests print on demand options

will be examined.

So what exactly does formatted for smart phones and tablets mean? Instead of the tradition two column layout the system is laid out in a single column, making reading on a small screen quite easy. It does have the side effect of making each book seem gigantic in page count, but really they are fast reads with no confusing Gygaxian syntax.

Expect an official product page to go up soon but for now direct yourself to the Total Eclipse forums, located athttp://forum.shrapnelgames.com/forumdisplay.php?f=241. The creator of the game, who goes by Darkfather on the forum, along with some of his internal playtesters are available to respond to inquiries about the system.

Currently the game will be in beta testing with our group of testers. Total Eclipse has been around for a long time, and has had many internal testings at Disrupted Gears, that we don’t expect the beta to last very long. It’s meant more as one more look from a fresh perspective as opposed to digging in and trying to find every little obscure issue like a PC game beta period. This also means that the game is very close to release.

Look for more information on Total Eclipse and the world of Virdea in the near future. All signs point to a release of the system before the end of the year.

Before we end the news for this month we just wanted to remind you that you can look for the Bronze board game sometime next year. Developed and published by Spiral Games Galaxy of the United Kingdom, this will be a very exciting Eurogame to add to your collection.

Be sure to play the acclaimed computer game it is based upon.

As they say, may all your hits be crits! See you in a month!

3. Trivia Time: The Fallschirmjäger Dutch Defeat

Before Germany invaded France during the Second World War the Third Reich had set its sights on the Low Countries: Belgium and the Netherlands. Belgium was a stepping stone to France, but the Netherlands was a slightly different story.

While the Netherlands probably would have remained neutral if it could, having not fought a major military conflict since the days of horse and muskets, the Germans were worried that left unchecked the Allies would violate Dutch neutrality and use the country as a forward operating base. This was especially troubling since the major industrial center of Germany, the Ruhr, was a stone's throw away. Of course we know what happened in 1944, with Operation Market-Garden attempting to stab at the Ruhr from the Netherlands, just as the Germans feared in 1940.

So the Netherlands had to fall. Being a region of waterways the bridge network in the Netherlands played an important role in defense, and a thorn in the side for any attacker. If the bridges could not be seized quickly to allow the passage of massed troops any attack would stall, and while there was no doubt that the Germans could defeat the Dutch, a delay could have meant Allied troops joining the fight. A quick conquest meant a quick invasion, which in turn meant airborne forces.

By 1940 the Germans had about 4,500 trained paratroopers (Fallschirmjägers), and nearly 4,000 of those were tasked with the invasion of the Netherlands. The airborne forces had two main objectives: seizing bridges, especially those at Rotterdam, Moerdijk, and Dordrecht, and to attack the government offices at The Hague. This attack was meant to force the Dutch into early capitulation.

The Holland conflict only lasted five days, from the 10th of May until the 15th, ending in the defeat of the Dutch forces and the government, led by Queen Wilhelmina, escaping to exile in England. Just from the brevity of the campaign it would seem like an overwhelming victory for the Germans, but a careful examination of the role of the Fallschirmjägers shows that for at least that service branch, victory was not easy.

The Dutch had studied the Polish campaign and were well aware of the need for the Germans to strike quickly, meaning a heavy use of airborne forces. The Dutch were prepared though, and dealt the Germans some serious blows.

The first surprise for the Germans was the Dutch air resistance. Boasting a modern air defense network of nearly 300 anti-aircraft guns, the Dutch AA, along with its air force, wreaked havoc on the Luftwaffe's airborne assault. While the Dutch air force was essentially wiped out, with nearly 70% of their aircraft destroyed, out of 930 Luftwaffe aircraft the Germans lost 328 aircraft. Of 430 JU-52 transport aircraft used to deploy German troops on seized airfields, 310 were lost. The 310 figure includes 280 outright destroyed, with the

remainder suffering various problems that made it impossible for them to fly again. It should also be noted that many of the transport pilots were trainers for bomber pilots, and so not only was the JU-52 fleet wiped out, but so were scores of valuable trainers.

The second surprise was that the Dutch knew that hitting the Fallschirmjägers right after they landed was the most opportune time. Why? Because German airborne forces had little more than pistols to defend themselves with on the initial landing.

German parachutes, the RZ-16s and RZ-20s, were based on an Italian design that forced the jumper to do a rigid forward dive when leaping out of the aircraft. Worse, upon landing the Fallschirmjäger had to do a forward roll. Besides a high rate of inflicting injury on the Fallschirmjägers, the forward landing roll meant they couldn't carry much equipment. A pistol, maybe some grenades, and that's about it. Instead they had to relay on their Waffenhalters

A Waffenhalter was an equipment container, capable of holding about 200 pounds of equipment and about five feet long. A platoon needed fourteen Waffenhalters to carry all their equipment and ammunition.

So if you're a German paratrooper you were expected to dive out of your JU-52 like you were diving into a pool, float down under fire, somersault forward and hope you didn't break any limbs, remove your parachute, and then hope that all your equipment canisters landed nearby. And hope that you're not under fire when trying to locate said equipment canisters.

The Dutch would simply watch the German airborne forces float down and then race to the area with armored cars and troops, attacking the helpless Fallschirmjägers. While never enough to halt the attack on the Netherlands, the Dutch did inflict serious casualties. For example, the attack on The Hague was considered pretty much a failure for the Germans, with hundreds of paratroopers killed and/or captured.

In the end though Holland was overrun. The Germans did not put all their eggs into one basket, and indeed the ground forces used in the invasion outnumbered the airborne forces by a considerable margin.

Still, though defeated the Dutch essentially annihilated the German airborne arm. The Germans would make one more major airdrop later in the war, that being Crete, which was another disaster. In that operation nearly 4,000 paratroopers were killed (or turned up missing). Remember, in 1940 the Germans only had 4,500 total paratroopers and the Crete invasion was only a year later.

Crete was the straw that broke the German airborne's back, and from that point on the Fallschirmjägers saw most of their action from the ground.

4. Q&A With Total Eclipse’s Creator

FRAG!: Hello Steve, let’s begin with a little background of who you are and what is Disrupted Gears?

STEVE N. JACKSON: Hello Scott. Who I am is easy, what Disrupted Gears is, that is much harder.

I am a television producer, a college professor specializing in digital media, a digital media consultant for higher education, and I work in law enforcement as a forensic investigator (currently as a consultant, not attached to any agency right now).

Disrupted Gears is the name of a story I wrote in 1983 dedicated to Hilda Roselli and Jamie Miller, last in a series of stories I started writing several years earlier. Last year I made the story into a small low-budget movie using my students as crew (to help them get educational experience) and the name of the production group stuck. It is now the umbrella I work on my games under.

FRAG!: How about an overview of Total Eclipse the role-playing game?

SNJ: I started writing Total Eclipse as a game system that could support my “Green Lands” or Virdea campaign. The main issues I saw with role playing was that the area where it shined was in face-to-face human interaction. So the game had to provide a useful set of rules that encouraged role playing rather than standing in its way.

Many role playing games in the past three decades have taken left turns from cooperative to competitive game play, a trend that has been accelerated with the advent of computer gaming. In an era when role playing games are trying to be just like computer games, even using rules derived from the MMO movement, there is space for a game that returns to the roots of role play, but that has a better tool set for game play than first generation role playing games.

The main features of Total Eclipse are:

  • A complex character generation system that eliminates the sins of role play killing min/maxing or attempts at play balance as if characters will fighting each other. Unlike most role playing rules that need streamlining, players who play Total Eclipse will treat character generation as a game session in its own right. Play testers liked to create characters around the table as a game session in itself.
  • A skill system that recognizes not everyone leaps from the womb swinging a sword. The adventurer - farmer who sets off on their road with a farm implement slung on their shoulder is a valuable member of the team. As they gain skills they will look more like the traditional dungeon crawl veteran, but the system assumes most adventurers start out as something else.
  • A simple rule system that relies on game master’s common sense. The skill system has both a quantitative and qualitative method of determining success, and game masters are encouraged to take the broadest possible understanding of what a skill can do.
  • An expansive encounter system that allows encounters to be scaled for the adventuring crew, allowing adventures written at the lowest levels to be simply recast to meet the needs of higher level adventures.
  • Micro-Advancement is one of the key issues that allows a character to move forward often, but in small increments. This eliminates the need for play altering respecs and other unhealthy game tools because no character advance is more than a blip, easily changed simply by not moving forward in that life direction. This improves the role playing aspect of long term character development.

Recently, while writing a forward to a new game, I set down a quote from Mr. Gary Gygax which I think says it all:

“The essence of a role-playing game is that it is a group, cooperative experience. There is no winning or losing, but rather the value is in the experience of imagining yourself as a character in whatever genre you’re involved in, whether it’s a fantasy game, the Wild West, secret agents or whatever else. You get to sort of vicariously experience those things.”

FRAG!: Pen and paper RPGs have been declining in sales since around 2000, yet at the same time there are probably more choices available than ever before. In a digital world are storytelling games still viable?

SNJ: Here there is actually a mistake in concept. The average cost for role playing games has been increasing much faster than inflation for 30 odd years. I purchased my first role playing game for $5.00 in the mid 1970s and it was an entire rule set. Traveller “little black books” were $15.00 for a nice set. In 1980 you needed three books for around $10.00 each. In 1990 the three books were at least $20.00. Now these games cost nearly a hundred dollars for the minimum three books. The curve is astounding when you look at it mapped out like a researcher would.

Part of the expense has been the rapid increase in quality of printing and the quality of art. No one who flips through a copy of Shadowrun from the 1990s and compares it to the games published in the 1970s can be anything but impressed with how far desktop publishing has brought the industry, but the quality was bought at great expense.

Think about it compared to a college education. College expenses have risen far above the inflation rate for decades, but the cost has not gone into higher pay for professors, more professors, or even much in the way of technologies (which is what drove the increase in college expenses thirty years ago). So where has all the money gone? Administration is the main place, followed by luxuries that do not directly impact education, and athletics programs that are sold as money makers but never do.

Now here is the bad part of the price increase: fewer people take a fly on a game that costs $100 to get into. When five players each need a set of books, then gathering a group becomes a challenge. Story telling in a digital world has not declined, it has merely priced itself out of popularity. It could be argued that playing a game that costs $100 is actually a great deal - that hundred dollars leads to thousands of hours of play time, but people do not make purchases based upon logic.

So the main point is to find ways to reduce the cost of the game while keeping the useful quality in place. Once you can find a way to deliver a quality product at a reasonable price, you will find that the potential audience is not smaller but larger. The theory is, all of those people who go to fan conventions, play MMOs, or play video games might play a role playing game in the future if they only had one to try.

FRAG!: Typically a RPG will be released as a dead tree book and then a PDF. Total Eclipse though is avoiding the whole physical book aspect and straight towards PDF. While not completely unusual, one difference is that it has been formatted specifically for smart phones and tablets. Why aim for that market first?

SNJ: The game has, nearly from its first version, had an electronic version. In 1986 I distributed a very early version on a floppy disk to players. The map of Virdea was first created on Superpaint and likewise was passed around on disk rather than printed. Most of the adventures where written in Hypercard until 1992. Despite this, there was no intention of electronic distribution even when some elements where turned into a simple webpage in the mid-1990s. It is merely a convenience using disks to distribute the game to players.

Around four years ago I noticed that my play testers were routinely bringing laptops and smart devices to games. In response, I did a survey of gamers, and came up with 58% owning a smart device and using that device to read some form of PDF. That was higher than the market penetration of these devices into the general public, and implied that I could make the game for electronic delivery. I consider 2008 to be the birth of the modern Total Eclipse.

The main issues in making it friendly for the new generation of games is recognizing that all of my previous experiences in electronic media where useful but had to be rethought. Normal printed game books use columns to speed reading, with the reader moving up and down a page. PDA and smart phone users found columned pages annoying and difficult to read, so columns are eliminated in favor of linear page layout. Our first versions were setup for use by iPads, whose graphics engine is robust and could digest nearly any graphics we could throw at it, even embeds of video. Some of our users though started buying and using Nooks, which had a more finicky constitution. After a few go arounds we made Nooks happy.

One other aspect was the use of ebooks formats. Turns out there are a lot of them, and it is hard to find one that everyone can read easily. After different versions we returned to the PDF as the most versatile format. Adobe has really done great work with the PDF, and as long as we avoided the cutting edge, it turns out that nearly every portable electronics device has some way of reading it. In addition, the PDF format allows interactive tools such as linking that makes the game easier to use.

One other seldom thought about concept I considered was longevity of the format. I have a game book purchased in the mid-70s that sits in my library and occasionally gets used. I wanted any electronic format chosen to likewise be around decades after it was purchased.

FRAG!: Does Total Eclipse emphasize old school gaming, the new tabletop miniatures combat gaming, or something else?

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SNJ: Old school role play. There is a system that allows miniature play on a table, but the game was originally designed for playing in the imagination. A game master can break out the miniatures and have everyone’s position plotted, but that is not really required.

The main idea is that the interactive story does not require me to know how many feet I am away from a bad guy. I can always ask the game master and get an answer, or try to communicate to the game master my desires. In a quick and dirty combat though, the idea is to get the combat solved so the game can continue.

FRAG!: Over the years there have been a few “universal” RPGs, the most famous being GURPS (hey, by someone named Steve Jackson) and Fudge. For a gamer looking for that kind of game system what are some of the reasons to choose Total Eclipse?

SNJ: I am sure a marketing person in the more cutthroat land of traditional publishing would want me to heap scorn on Mr. Jackson’s efforts with GURPs or Mr. O'Sullivan work with FUDGE but I cannot, which is one reason why working with a press like Shrapnel Games is so rewarding. Total Eclipse is different, not better or worse than either of the two efforts you mention.

GURPs was the first game to try to be a generic rules set, and it took a tact now popular in MMOs of point buys for character creation. This works well, to a point, but it does lead to min/max issues. I studied GURPs years ago for an abortive article on gaming design and had 100 people each make ten GURPs characters. Those thousand characters were surprisingly generic as each player sought to maximize outcome rather than maximize role playing experience. Among experienced players the uniformity between character design was shocking.

This is not to say that GURPs was not fun, it is just that groups of characters lacked variety (despite a rule set that hands down offers more variety than almost any other game I have ever seen) which could affect play, especially with inexperienced players. I even wrote a suggested work around for GURPs that would solve this problem. The problem is the work around I suggested was to complicated to apply to a pen and paper game (although it would work fine in MMOs, which have the exact same problem).

FUDGE had a different problem when I studied it. With FUDGE, its popularity has been limited due to the wide open vistas it represents. Experienced game masters with time on their hands can do wonders with the game, but the amount of writing needed to turn the system into a focused game is difficult. It also features some unique rules and dicing conventions that would be easier to use if it had a larger fan base. There is a reason many games follow the same mold, and that is the mold is what people know and increases speed of uptake by players. One of the challenges with Total Eclipse is that it was initially written before there was much of a mold and early versions simply went to far away from the gaming standards that make gaming easy to play. I liken FUDGE to Vanguard: Saga of Heroes in rating it as the best game that no one has ever played.

That said, I do not think that it is not an either / or issue. In my gaming career I have played 25 systems. Some games have brilliantly written worlds and game systems that are useless for game play (think about Shadowrun). Some games are brilliant systems but are simply too hard to play around a table (think Pete Fenlon and Coleman Charlton’s I.C.E). Some systems are released incomplete (such as Morrow Project which was released lacking a skill system for anything but shooting guns) or were never intended for serious long term play (Paranoia). I still keep all of these games around because there are times I will play them because they best fit the needs of the group I am with.

FRAG!: Virdea is your fantasy campaign setting and the first set of supporting books to be released for Total Eclipse. Did Virdea come before Total Eclipse?

SNJ: Yes. The Virdea setting even predates my experience with role playing.

FRAG!: Why choose to create a universal RPG system? Why not simply stick with a fantasy RPG and then maybe borrow some of the mechanics for other genres, much like the concept behind d20 OGL gaming?

SNJ: Over the years Total Eclipse has become universal, leaving a lot of materials ready to be deployed. There is a spaceship design and space combat system. There is a lot of World War Two material for a greatest generation game, a Steampunk magical setting, and a Wild West setting. So one of the best reasons to make the game universal is that it already is. The main problem was reducing the rule set to the point where it was simple but comprehensive.

FRAG!; Although it seems like with each new edition it loses more and more players Dungeons & Dragons is still the 800 pound gorilla in the room. Do you think it’s difficult for other fantasy RPGs to compete against D&D?

SNJ: Traditionally, Wizards of the Coast has one great advantage, and one great disadvantage. The advantage has always been the great mass of creative talent that the company has gathered into one place. How can a single designer with a handful of play testers compete with the stable of talent that traditionally Wizards has attracted to Seattle? The potential for producing sale-able products and creating synergy is immense. Wizards on paper is unbeatable, unless you take into account Wizard’s great disadvantage: Hasbro.

Up until around 2008 Wizards of the Coast was run by stellar names from gaming and if it was being managed poorly from Hasbro, you could not really tell. The big dogs in the Wizards line up were all performing, and the product line looked like it was set for a decade of slow growth.

Sadly, the fall of the economy also saw a Hasbro attempt to reel the Wizards group in by the corporate fire. Leadership and hiring at Wizards was slowly handed from gamers with business sense to business professionals from the Hasbro stable. Instead of seeking a Steve Jobs to blaze the way, you start to find a series of Leo Apothekers steering the Wizard’s creative ship. Now, anyone knows that Apotheker is a competent and useful manager, but they can also scratch their head at what sort of leadership team would put him at the helm of a company like HP. Wizards has the same problems.

So Wizards has been defined by its missteps for the past four years instead of its leadership, and it has not reacted well to the downturn in the economy by trying to meet the audience requirements with new product.

Dungeons and Dragons online strategy is an example. In 2007 the “old” Wizards hired a crew to program a new online suite of tools for Dungeons and Dragons. DnD Insider was one of those gaming advances that would have dominated face-to-face gaming for decades if it had been rolled out well. No small designer could meet the requirements for art, interactivity, or play testing required to put that sort of product on the market. There was also every reason to believe they could pull it off. For the past decade Wizards has run a very competent programming group around its Magic: The Gathering franchise. This group has been printing money AND making a good game for years, although they tend to fly below the radar of the game industry.

By the time the DnD Insider was announced, a new generation had come to Wizards, and good gaming means good money ended. Insider was built on a software platform that made it hard to develop for the iPhone and other smart devices, What is worse, it was sold without key components, and those components never made it to prime time release. When third parties tried to step in, a win / win for Hasbro, the response was to sue rather than license. To many observers including myself Hasbro had a copy of a marketing manual from 1953, not a copy of the Players Handbook at their elbow.

So Wizards has gone from being the gorilla that cannot be competed with, to one whose creative power is hidden behind corporate flab. A small independent like me could never compete with the art department, the writing department, and the design departments of Wizards. If I was dumb enough to make a new Magic: The Gathering either for table play or online, those two worthy groups would chop me and my efforts into mince meat and feed the results back to me. But Wizards is no longer someone a game designer needs compete with. Customers of Total Eclipse are a totally different cohort than someone who still trades with Wizards for printed books.

FRAG!: If you play D&D what are some of the reasons you should abandon that game and come over to Total Eclipse and Virdea?

SNJ: If all you know is DnD 4th edition, then you really do not know role playing gaming, because DnD 4th edition has moved far enough away from the traditions of role playing as to be a new thing all together.

MMOs, as games, had and have numerous limitations. They give you a limited number of key strokes to throw a limited number of powers at enemy, with powers beings fairly generic, they mostly boil down to how much damage you do per second, and what sort of armor you can defeat (or on the most complex side, how much damage you can keep the enemy from doing to you). The games that have fought that trend, such as Vanguard: Saga of Heroes and its diplomacy sub-game, are few, far between, and do not have large audiences.

Someone at Hasbro must have played an MMO, then ran out and had a focus group of 16-year-old raid monkeys convened. That focus group was asked: what sort of table game do you want to play? The response in this imagined focus group was to have cool powers that are used in a given order to do a given and predictable amount of damage. One - two - three - rinse - repeat. This same focus group also demanded models of game play that were predictable and easy to relate to. Big warrior, uncouth barbarian, holy priest, book worm wizard, and so on.

4th Edition is, in essence, a dumbed down table top game with as much of the role playing stripped away, simulating an MMO. Now, I love MMOs and play them all the time, but I play them for different reasons than I do table top. Having a table top try and emulate an MMO is a mistake because the only reason MMOs do things the way they do is because the technology limits force them to. Sort of like hanging pedals onto your car because the popularity of bicycles implies peddling is the main reason to ride one.

So there is a great reason to switch from DnD 4th edition to Total Eclipse, and that is because one is a role playing game and the other is something else. If you want to defeat evil dragons, Total Eclipse is your game. If you want to defeat 12 hit die fire breathing mobs that guard fat loot, then maybe a table top game is not what you were seeking in the first place.

FRAG!: What is the future of the Total Eclipse system?

SNJ: I am addicted to the idea that any game system cannot be owned by one person. One person is, in the end, needed to keep cohesion, but a game system is populated by a world written by hundreds of people, so the first concept I would like to explore is how many authors can be invited into Total Eclipse to write adventures. If you look at the best TV shows, from Firefly, to Star Trek, to Homicide: Life on the Streets, you see that a single writer develops a core concept and then defends that core concept, but has to be open to other writings who are willing to enter that concept and expand its corners.

Out in the world today there are hundreds of adventure writers that the domination of gaming by a few big players and the destruction of the magazine outlets now have no good way to get their work in print. They all have day jobs, but they desire to write and have their name on a peer reviewed creative work. Maybe they only make a hundred dollar and bragging rights, but they have the desire to see their work in print, and maybe they need a little editing to get it there.

Somehow I would like to tap into that group and see if there was a way to bring it to market. So one of my future goals, if I can figure out a way to do it, is to create a way people can get their works published in the Total Eclipse system.

Next, there are two more books coming up rapidly behind the first set. These books are Ironmongery and the Fellowship of the Staff. Ironmongery gives more depth to warriors, while the Fellowship of the Staff gives more depth to magic users. Right now I am play testing this content with an eye to dumping everything I can find on these two subject that did not make it into the main books into these books.

Next, there are around 45 adventures created for play testing that, if expanded and explained (you would be surprised how many assumptions a game master makes when they write only for themselves) could make good, and hopefully cheap downloads for desperate game masters. I would like to see a set of one or two night adventures that are short and sweet, and do not break the wallet of the game master.

Inexpensive online tools like a character generation tool or game master tool for iOS are possibilities. Several play testers are programmers so I am hoping some of them come through with proposals that Shrapnel can consider for low cost publication.

On the horizon, distant but visible, I see the expansion of the system. A lot of work was done for both a science fiction version of the game, and for a World War Two game. A short and sweet western adventures game is already finished, mostly lacking a game masters treatment.

One of the main questions will be what games people want to see. Any independent developer has one limit, and that is they cannot quit their day job. Between working as a forensic investigator, a professor, and a video producer, my days are full. Games are the labor of love that I lose sleep producing. If I am going to lose sleep, better to lose sleep making something the players want to play. Only time will tell what that is.

FRAG!: Thanks Steve!

5. The Dice Of War: Fortune And Glory

Fortune And Glory (Flying Frog Productions)

Admittedly it doesn’t have a lot to do with war but it does have Nazis, so close enough.

Fortune And Glory (Fortune) is the latest release from Flying Frog Productions, makers of heavily produced thematic adventure games. In Fortune one to eight players take on a dangerous 1930s pulp world, seeking out mystical artifacts and places while battling undead, Nazis, the mob, and more. And yes, if the name and the theme sounds more like Indiana Jones the board game, that’s because it is.

In Fortune each player represents a pulp hero with some unique abilities. Some perform better at certain skill tests while others begin with extra goodies. The object of the game is to gain “fortune” through selling off found artifacts. The “glory” in the title refers to a type of resource that is gained through conquering enemies, overcoming obstacles, et cetera. “Fortune” is what wins the game, either for a single hero in a competitive game or as a group for a cooperative/team game.

Gameplay unfolds on an area based map of the world, with major and minor cities and terrain markers listed. The map is quite attractive. In fact, as what you can expect from Flying Frog, the whole game is gorgeous. Fortune once again uses photos for content and they all look fantastic. Plastic figures represent the major villains, their goons, and the heroes and are extremely well sculpted. There are about a million and a half cards (and the scary thing is I only exaggerate slightly) that dictate everything from what the artifacts are, to encounters, to friendly NPCs.

The standard game is competitive. In this mode the game system plays the bad guys but players can also interfere with each other. In the cooperative game (or team, which is sorta combination of both styles) the players are all working against the game system only.

On the map will be four artifacts (always four, so when one is claimed another is laid down). Each artifact gives the hero “fortune” when disposed of in a city. Some artifacts have special powers that can be used before this happens, and often it is important to keep and use an artifact for a few turns before handing it over.

Artifacts have a number of danger events (and in general, as events also happen in cities or while traversing the map) associated with them. Each

danger event dictates what type it is, from combat to chases to tests of dexterity. Success hinges on rolling enough successes on a pool of d6s (pretty much the standard Flying Frog action system). Failing to do turns the danger into a cliffhanger, which halts your hero’s turn and possibly will lead to knocking the hero out. There is no death in Fortune, only being knocked out, although with the chance of losing all artifacts you currently have on you a KO is just as bad as death.

One of the core mechanics of the game is a push it mentality. While on a quest for an artifact the hero has the choice of continuing on to the next danger, after collecting his or her reward for defeating a danger, or camping down for the turn. Camping down ends your turn but allows you to bank the “glory” earned. Continuing will cause the hero to lose all “glory” earned so far if the hero fails one test.

In a solo game or against one or two other players this mechanic doesn’t really add much. There are enough artifacts on the map that no one will be racing to tackle the same one. This means that time doesn’t become a factor and so playing a turn, resting, playing a turn, resting, is a perfect viable strategy. Boring, but viable. Once you add more players though, or some villains also going after the Sword of Horus, then suddenly whether you complete all the dangers in a single turn or not comes into play.

Oh, a word about dangers. In the game players can sometimes explore temples, which crumble as heroes explore. Even though there are decks for everything there is no temple deck and so regular danger cards are used. Which would be fine except for how does one have a plane chase inside a temple?

If you’ve played a Flying Frog game before and thought it was more theme than game Fortune And Glory will not change your mind. If you’re a fan of their style then you’ll be in heaven. Games play out surprisingly quick and interestingly often it never feels like one player just dominates. Games end often with some very close scores.

Fortune And Glory is probably Flying Frog’s best game to date. It has a fun theme, great production values, is fast moving and boasts exciting game play of risks and rewards. Strap on your fedora, grab your bullwhip, you have golden skulls to find and Nazi goons to kill.

6. Sizzling Sellers and Those Special Offers

Another month, another look at our top selling games from the previous month.

Surprising absolutely no one is the fact that Dominions 3: The Awakening is once again the best selling game for the month. Absolutely jam packed with gaming goodness the ratio of enjoyment to dollars is off the charts. Unless you hate fun you should own Dominions 3: The Awakening.

In the second slot is a blast from the not too far past, BRAINPIPE: A Plunge to Unhumanity. Digital Eel’s award-winning game of weird sights and sounds, and one of the few games to be honored by being played on a building by passerbyers.

Finally, rounding out the top three is another evergreen product, winSPWW2. This is another game that provides the strategy gamer with so much gameplay that it could very well be the last game the gamer ever needs. Well, throw in winSPMBT and you’ll never ever leave your computer again.

The rolling thunder of Dominions 3: The Awakening.

Feed your mind with BRAINPIPE.

Iron horses come claiming your lives in winSPWW2.

The Gamers Front specials of the month can be found here.

The September specials include BCT Commander and Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa.

BRAINPIPE

BCT Commander is available for Windows as a download. A real-time modern warfare simulation developed by ProSIM, makers of other realistic titles such as The Falklands War:1982 and Air Assault Task Force, BCT Commander is one of their earlier titles.

BCT Commander is a grand tactical game of modern combat featuring a nice selection of Western and Russian AFVs, plus a full complement of supporting units including aircraft. Focusing on the brigade/regimental scale (maps can be 50km by 50km in size…so truly grand tactical) battles take place in Cuba, North Korea, Iraq, and Russia. The NTC in California is also included.

Gameplay is pausable real-time but as with all ProSIM products real-time is not a four letter word. Real-time allows the player to feel the urgency of making split second decisions on the modern battlefield, where entire platoons can be wiped out in minutes. Additionally, it allows a better understanding of how these battlefield platforms actually work; getting from point A to B isn’t a matter of computing mythical movement points, but figuring out how fast in kilometers per hour the units actually travel.

Visually the maps used are full color military style maps with grid, elevation, and phase lines displayed. Maps can be zoomed in and out and units can be displayed as NATO standard icons or stylized graphical depictions.

Play against the challenging AI or against other

players (made easy by using the integrated BCT: Arena matchmaking software) using the included scenarios or create your own.

PC Gamer awarded BCT Commander a 88%. Computer Games Online 4 out of 5 stars. Now it’s time for you to experience the greatness for the low price of only $15.95.

Scallywag

For more information on this title and to download a demo please visit the product page.

Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa is available for Windows as a physical product delivered to your door or as a download. Part single-player action RPG with a Rogue-like quality and part dungeonbash creator, Scallywag offers up plenty of gaming for its small price.

As a single-player game Scallywag serves up eighty levels of randomly generated dungeons, taking characters from first level Tramps to god-like twentieth level Scallywags. While there is plenty of monster bashing, skull crushing, and shroom ingesting as you’d expect in a dungeoncrawl, Scallywag offers a couple of twists on the usual formulas.

First, in Scallywag splattering orcs isn’t the end game. Rather, in each level there is an exit. The player must find the rope to drop into the exit to proceed to the next level. Players are of course free to explore every single chamber but the game is suited perfectly for blitz style play. Not to mention there is a small matter of the encroaching darkness if you stick around too long.

See, the second twist is that being able to see in Scallywag is a matter of resource management. Your adventurer has a lantern which burns oil. Turn the lantern up and you can see further but at the cost of burning more oil. Run out of oil and discover that while you can’t see too well in the dark there are plenty of things that can. Too bad they want to eat you.

Speaking of that the lantern is not just a gimmick but an actual tactical tool. Bright light allows the player to see monsters at a further range (while they can see the player, too) and react sooner. Low light allows stealth. Throughout the game players will have to balance going dark and going bright to survive the denizens of the dungeon.

Thanks to its inherent randomness, not to mention the four increasingly difficult modes of play, Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa never truly has to end. But when you reach a stopping point you can always craft your own adventures. Scallywag was created with user mods in mind from the outset. Easy to import, Scallywag adventures can be crafted using nothing more than basic Windows applications. Of course, if the modder has access to more serious tools the sky is unlimited.

Throughout September purchase Scallywag: In the Lair of the Medusa for only $23.95. Read more about it here.

Be sure to check the Gamers Front at the first of every month for the latest and greatest specials!

7. Link O' The Month

Want to hear a little bit more about the Total Eclipse system and Virdea straight from the horse’s mouth? Then you’ll want to check out Disrupted Gears’ official site for Total Eclipse.

While a work in progress expect to see more information as the game gets closer to release, and then of course all the good stuff coming post-release. For now read up on what the various books contain and meet the fine Life Engineers behind the game.

Visit the site at:

http://www.virdea.net/


Get it Now!8. The Crystal Ball

Total Eclipse: 2011

All American: The 82nd Airborne In Normandy: 2011

Eat Electric Death! (Board game): 2011

Star Legacy: 2012

Copyright © 2011 - Shrapnel Games, Inc.

 

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