Monday, January 16, 2012

A Tale of Two Gaming Stores

Most of my adult life has been spent in two major Canadian cities, Montreal and Calgary. The former is the cultural and financial centre of French-Canada, with a laid-back, fun-loving style. Montrealers play much harder than they work. Hockey and politics have replaced Roman Catholicism as the religions of choice for most of its residents. Montreal is very cosmopolitain and more than a little decadent. If jazz and sex are your pleasure, Montreal is your town. Americans might compare it to New Orleans, with much harsher winters.

Calgary is the home of Canada's oil industry. An island of concrete and suburbia surrounded by a sea of ranchlands and canola fields within sight of the Canadian Rockies. Calgarians play hard too, but they work even harder. Climbing the corporate ladder and owning the biggest, most gas-guzzling, all-wheel drive monstrosity you can buy are what it's all about. Calgarians may be more concerned with padding their portfolios than discussing Sartre over a pitcher of sangria at their favourite terrasse, but their capitalist ways go a long way toward funding the "joie-de-vivre" of Montreal. If skiing and rodeo are your pleasure, Calgary is your town. Americans might compare Calgary to Denver, with only slightly harsher winters.

Both Montreal and Calgary are blessed with truly awesome gaming cultures. French-Canadians love games and there's a fascination with the occult and New Age philosophy that is clearly evident. This is reflected in Montreal's most famous gaming store, the incomparable Le Valet d'Coeur. Though by no means spacious, the gaming mecca of Rue St. Denis is packed to the ceiling with gaming goodness. How they manage to jam in so many titles (in both English and French) is a mystery to me. I'm sure there's a little sorcery involved. In keeping with French sensibilities, they also have a lot of stuff you probably wouldn't find in most gaming stores. Occult supplies, tarot decks, crystal and pewter figurines, puzzles and other odds and ends are displayed throughout the store. Still, role-playing games, collectible card games and miniatures are their bread-and-butter and every trip to Le Valet d'Coeur is a feast for the hungry gamer.

Not to be outdone, Calgary has its own pilgrimage site for gamers, the awesome Sentry Box. Far larger than its Quebecois counterpart, the Sentry Box is unlike anything I've ever seen in Canada. It's inventory of role-playing games, CCGs, wargames and fantasy and sci-fi novels is unmatched. Even more impressive (if that's possible) is the amount of space available for gaming. Weekends at the Box are like mini gaming conventions, with 6-8 tables active at any one time. Miniatures games like Warhammer are particularly popular, making the gaming area a cool place to hang out and watch the proceedings. Workshops on miniature painting are also frequent. Now don't think the Sentry Box is some corporate store with whitewashed floors and immaculate displays, it's not. It's a bit cluttered, the stairs creak, the shelves sag, and dust can sometimes collect on the less popular corners of the place. It is truly a mom-and-pop operation and it's fantastic.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

What do I want from D&D 5?

The short answer is nothing. Now that's not to say I wouldn't play it under any circumstances. I can certainly conceive of the possibility of D&D 5e being a more enjoyable gaming experience than Pathfinder and, if that were the case, I might be inclined to switch. However, I know what the parameters are for the redesign of D&D and they don't excite me. WotC has tried to slaughter a few sacred cows since taking over TSR, but despite the protests of the more vocal critics to the contrary, in my opinion, they've mostly been cosmetic changes. Feats and skills add some complexity, but the fundamentals are intact, hit points, armour class, class-and-level character design and advancement. It's all still there, it's all uniquely D&D and it's all untouchable. Whether the next iteration of D&D looks more like BECMI or D&D 3.x or AD&D is largely irrelevent to me because all those versions of the same game still exist and they all share the same flaws in my mind. Here's the thing though. I don't think D&D 5e should change a thing. Ok, they should change a few things, but they are mostly superficial. D&D is what it is, warts and all, and if they can "Unite the Clans", that's great. But with what I consider to be far superior games like Legend, BRP and Traveller out there, it's hard to get too excited about ascending vs. descending AC or whether dwarves can be wizards.


Monday, January 09, 2012

To no-one's surprise...

WotC has announced the upcoming release of D&D 5e. Learning a lesson from Paizo, they are going with a playtest. Good for them. I wish them all the best and if they make a game that's better than Pathfinder, who knows, we might even play it. The addition of Monte Cook to the design team certainly adds to my level of interest in the project.

Don't expect to see much from WotC on your store shelves in the next 18 months.


Friday, January 06, 2012

Rippin' on superheroes

I've fallen a bit behind in my blogging, what with the holidays and all, so here's a double shot of from Zack and Steve as they explore the Marvel Superheroes and Heroes Unlimited games:

Heroes Unlimited: Villains Unlimited

Marvel Superheroes


Hey, the OSR won.....something! I guess

Some self-described members of the old-school renaissance (revolution, revival,...whatever it is) have declared victory. I didn't even know there was a game on, but apparently we're on the losing side. At least I think it's us, (i.e. non-OSR gamers), since it's not clear what the rules of the game are or even who's playing. Now, it would seem to me, a clear victory condition for the OSR would be for WotC to re-release all the older edition pdfs, but that hasn't happened. According to the "winners", the victory results from the release of the D&D Essentials red box and the fact that Mike Mearls likes old-school D&D. Well, I guess you take your wins wherever you can get 'em. Of course, before they pop the champagne corks, they should recall that WotC just hired Monte Cook. Remember, he's was one the main guys behind D&D 3e, the game the grognards used to complain about before D&D 4e came along. If the OSR guys think D&D 5e is going to be 1974 all over again, I think they're in for a surprise. There are certainly some admirable qualities to the DIY mindset of the OSR, but it doesn't give them much influence as far as the business of rpgs is concerned. Nobody is going to market a game to you if all you intend to do is praise it. Approval won't cover the payroll.


Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Monsters for Christmas

This past year's Christmas haul of gaming goodness was certainly smaller than previous years. Sadly, there simply isn't much new product these days that catches my fancy. However, it wasn't a total loss as I scored two books of monsters, the Pathfinder Bestiary 3 and Monsters of Legend. Although the two books are of a similar theme, they couldn't be more different in design. Paizo's third monster book is typical of all the Pathfinder hardcovers, high-gloss, lavishly-illustrated and weighty. Production values are first-rate and the price (around $40) is reasonable. Perhaps more so than in previous bestiaries, B3 has a theme, or more accurately, a couple of themes that govern its content. One of these is Asian influence, particularly East and South Asian. There are new races of outsiders, such as Asuras and Divs which clearly exhibit a strong South Asian flavour, not to mention a variety of new Rakshasas. Likewise, representing East Asian cultures, there are Foo creatures, a whole slew of new Onis, and the introduction of Imperial Dragons. The second theme is that of misfit monsters. Many of the despised and forgotten beasts from editions past have been given a new coat of paint. In most cases, these atrocities should have been left dead and buried. I am no more enamoured with the Wolf-in-Sheep's-Clothing, Flumph and Flail Snail now than I was way back when.

Now, I'm not much for the Asian stuff and there is a fair bit of silliness in B3, but there's enough cool stuff in there to satisfy me. Clockworks are awesome and I hope to see more in future releases. I also like how they have expanded the Kyton with a bunch of new variants. They are serious nightmare fuel now. The Cthulhu Mythos gets some more love with the inclusion of the Moon-Beast, Zoog and Yithian (aka Great Race of Yith), and best of all, the Demilich rises again.

Monsters of Legend is a digest-sized, softcover costing about half as much as B3. Not every monster is illustrated and what illustrations do exist are black and white. Anyone who owns MRQII Monster Coliseum has seen it all before, including the artwork. Though much less impressive than the Bestiary 3, MoL is a handy little tome. All the Glorantha-specific entries have been removed and what's left are the standard beasties every fantasy world demands, elves, dwarves, trolls, orcs, ogres, giants, dragons, etc. The entries are brief and focused. Even the entry on dragons is a single page. I consider this ideal for a generic fantasy game because it leaves lots of room for the DM to decide things like ecology and social structure. For a mere $20, you get over a hundred pages of monsters. Good deal.