OUT OF THE BOX
Well, as we run down toward Halloween and the Annual Horror Gaming Column (and cross our little keyboard-flattened fingers in hopes that White Wolf’s Hunter: the Reckoning, TSR’s Dark Matter, and Eden Studios’ All Flesh Must Be Eaten will soon be here at Out of the Box Review Central, and be as swell as all of us here at Out of the Box Global HQ know and hope they will be), we hit the occasional speed bump of gaming news as we run down toward Halloween and the Annual Horror Gaming Column. Deja vu? No, just a way of subtly foreshadowing the reviews to follow, all of which are reviews of revisions, most of them intentional ones. But before that, a revision of a review; in last week’s review of Continuum from Aetherco I bemoaned that intriguing time-travel RPG’s lack of an index. Well, up in the future, they read my comment, traveled back in time to July, and made sure to put in a whole column of index on page 221. That’s the last time I cross swords with a bunch of time-travelers. (Oops — no it’s not, I have another one marked on my character sheet.)
But Previously, The News
Again with the deadline timing thing. In a release dated Wednesday, September 29, Pinnacle Entertainment Group CEO Shane Lacy Hensley announced that PEG will, in fact, be reversing its decision of two years ago to merge business offices and (eventually) companies with Alderac Entertainment Group. Basically, geography seems to have been the villain; Pinnacle has been based in Blacksburg, Virginia for four years, and AEG resides in desert splendour in Ontario, California. “[T]he difference in geography, time zones, and duplication of staff,” Hensley said, made the merger “prohibitive,” especially given the new directions both companies are moving in. In yet more geographical brouhaha, Pinnacle President Matt Forbeck has relocated to Beloit, Wisconsin, to write for his brand new Brave New World RPG, which will remain in production on the West Coast, and eventually bear the AEG logo. Although the split is amicable, and obviously the two companies had not merged operations inextricably, Hensley said that “This does mean a temporary delay in some of our larger projects… We have to … make sure that all the changeover in personnel, accounting, and shipping is in place, and generally prepare to take on all the duties that our friends at AEG have handled for us for the past two years.” As you can tell, the split seems friendly enough; I can tell you from experience that beating the communication and time zone lag is a non-trivial challenge, especially in an industry that demands as much hands-on control as game design and development. Combine the vagaries of four or five different RPGs, two sets of managers, and so forth, and it truly must have been a “move it or lose it” proposition. “For now,” continues the release, “distributors and business relations should continue dealing with the Pinnacle West staff. Changeover information, including demo teams, billing and shipping addresses, distributor terms, and so forth, will follow as Pinnacle East re-hires its staff in October-November. The change should be complete by the first of the year.” And there you have it, news from coast to coast.
Speaking of Splitting
For their new edition of Deadlands, the folks at Pinnacle decided to combine the core rules with the nearly-core setting book The Quick and the Dead, and release the thing split back up into the Deadlands Weird West Player’s Guide (208 pages, including 32-page full-color insert, $25 hardback) and the Deadlands Marshal’s Handbook (208 hardback pages, including 16-page full-color insert, $25 hardback). Changes to Shane Lacy Hensley, et al’s (relatively deft) writing are fairly minimal; changes to the (relatively hairy) rules slightly less minimal than that. The biggest one (all of which are given on the last page of the books) to my mind is the change in hucksters, (the way-cool magicians who draw poker hands to cast spells based on coded passages in Hoyle’s Book of Games — no wonder this game sold so well they needed to reprint and refurbish it) who now all work off a single skill, and have a slightly better chance against the bad ol’ manitou. If you’ve already got the first edition, and it’s still holding up, you don’t really need the second, but I have to admit it’s a more attractive package, more intuitively put together this time around. (The biggest presentation change is that the art and graphic look is much cleaner; some of the skills, monster traits, etc. are better-organized as well.) If you’ve been holding off on Deadlands for whatever reason, this edition ought to either convince you to take the plunge or make up your mind the other way ’round. It’s a superb advertisement for itself; no pig in a poke here.
Yep, Still Fading
On the other hand, the second edition of Bill Bridges and Andrew Greenberg’s Fading Suns (310 pages, $34.95 hardback) is a significant change from its high-science-fantasy forebear. First off, it’s about 40 pages longer, most of the additional meat being in the Technology chapter. The very powerful church — which no longer seems like quite the “eeevil chuuuurch” stereotype it was in first edition — bans technology, blaming it for causing the suns to fade and civil war and all sorts of awfulness. Speaking of tech, the cybernetics rules have changed dramatically — it’s much easier to be cyber than before, which seems odd. The other main change is the character creation system, which now bosts lifepath rules rather reminiscent of the Icon System Star Trek RPG rules that Andrew and Bill helped us whomp out a couple of years back. Sincerest form of flattery, then, as well as a really good way to bolster the characters’ immersion in the setting (always one of the most flavorful, if not most coherent, elements of Fading Suns). I approve. There’s new psionics paths, and some of the theurgic magic has changed, too. Much has been expanded, from starships to Questing Knights, and almost all of it is for the better. I particularly enjoyed the two page addition laying out the designers’ view of “Passion Play roleplaying” — Fading Suns has long had the potential to become the Pendragon of science fantasy, and with those two pages, it takes a giant step in that epic direction. Short form: probably worth buying, even if you have first edition, which is probably all beat up from your constant reading. Certainly worth checking out for anyone with an eye on top-hole game work, and if you can get into the gallant galaxy it presents, you won’t be disappointed.
Room Enough For Space
By which cryptic headline, I mean to impart the news that David “mighty man of GURPS” Pulver’s third edition revision of GURPS Space (176 pages, $22.95) is 48 pages bigger than its deservedly Origins-Award-winning predecessor by Steve Jackson and William A. Barton. And its cover at least is even prettier; Vincent diFate has captured, for me at least, the heart of SF roleplaying. The art, of which there’s much more, isn’t, especially the uncredited-for-their-own-protection splash pages. But let us ignore the art (please) and move into the words, which were wonderful then and are just as wonderful now. Pulver’s additions primarily involve retrofitting the spaceship construction and space combat rules for GURPS Vehicles (and general GURPS 3rd Edition) compatibility, although his hand is felt in a few other updating touches hither and yon. But bottom line, if you don’t own this book, don’t bother running a science fiction RPG. Or, to be more positive and bright-eyed on the topic, once you own this book, running or designing a science fiction RPG or campaign (GURPS or no GURPS) will become transcendently easier. (For example, I blush to admit how often I consulted the earlier edition while writing the Space chapter in the Star Trek: The Next Generation RPG. Or rather, I would, if consulting it didn’t identify me as a man who knows an indispensible resource when he sees it.) Even leaving GURPS rules aside, there’s reams of advice on selecting the technology level (and types of tech available) to fit the campaign, campaign design questions (evil empires and corporate systems and good federations oh my), complete (and impressively accurate) solar system construction guidelines, stellar mapping assists, variant human races and a few aliens tossed in. Bottom line; the third edition is certainly worth it for GURPS purists, even those who have the second edition. If you don’t have GURPS Space in any format, hie thee immediately to a game shop and get this one — your sleek spaceships will swoosh more soundly, shoot more starkly, and scout more scientifically when you do.
Well, if I were a gambling man, I’d wager we’ll have a few more reviews to conjure with, assuming that you’ve already got the pig’s blood and the chalk circles and the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto and the virgin sacrifice and the Enochian Words of Power and all you need to summon up the Lords of the Horrific Outside is a few more reviews. But if that’s the case, I have to express my doubts as to the veracity (much less the utility) of your grimoire. You, my man, have been had. It’s a good thing I’m not a gambling man, or I’d be walking off with your wallet about now, isn’t it?