5 Things You Should Know About ‘Mario & Luigi Paper Jam’

Mario and Luigi’s newest adventure is now available for the Nintendo 3DS! Mario & Luigi Paper Jam combines the action of a Mario & Luigi game with the adorable 2D characters of Paper Jam to make a fantastically fun title.

Here are a few things you should know about Mario & Luigi Paper Jam before you pick it up for that new 3DS you gave the kids for the holidays.

Continue reading 5 Things You Should Know About ‘Mario & Luigi Paper Jam’

Getting the Non-Geeks in Your Life to Try (and Have Fun!) Playing a Tabletop RPG

In our family, holidays often mean gathering around the table twice: once to eat (duh!) and once to play board games. As our daughter has gotten older, this has become more fun; we’re no longer confined to the excitement of Candy Land and have instead moved onto Scrabble, Monopoly or Apples to Apples. But as our daughter has gotten older, she’s also gotten geekier… and it didn’t take long for my husband to recruit her to try a tabletop RPG.

The problem? Those games require at least two players plus a game master. Great. Dad’s the game master. Kid’s one of the players. That leaves Mom for the second player, and Mom has absolutely no experience or interest in playing. What are a geeky dad and daughter to do? Well, they convinced me… and we all learned a few things along the way. Continue reading Getting the Non-Geeks in Your Life to Try (and Have Fun!) Playing a Tabletop RPG

PAX Australia 2015 (Part 3): Tabletop Review

If you are new to the PAX Phenomenon, you could easily mistake it for a big computer game nerd hub. But no matter how many flashy-lights and big badda-booms you saw, almost everybody there spent some time recharging with cards, miniatures, or boards.

And it was good.

Continue reading PAX Australia 2015 (Part 3): Tabletop Review

Welcome To the World of Aetaltis!

Image: Mechanical Muse Press
Image: Mechanical Muse, LLC

“Journey to a distant land where bold adventurers wield magical blades against dark creatures from the shadowy depths. Thrill to the arcane power of enigmatic sorcerers as they master forbidden arts to strike down their diabolical enemies. Marvel at the courage of common folk who refuse to surrender to the tide of evil sweeping over the land. These, my friend, are the CHAMPIONS OF AETALTIS!” –Marc Tassin

I’ve been working on a really exciting project for the past couple months alongside the folks at Mechanical Muse and Aetaltis. Champions of Aetaltis is a heroic fantasy anthology that is set in author/game designer/creator Marc Tassin’s world of Aetaltis. It’s going to include stories by some of the top authors in fantasy today, and will develop the already wonderful world into something truly spectacular.

What is Aetaltis? Well, above all, it’s a fantasy world, much like people are used to seeing in Dungeons and Dragons, Forgotten Realms, and Pathfinder. What makes Aetaltis exciting is that it is a platform upon which many things can be built—games, stories, comics, art—and as we are learning, the possibilities are endless.

Image: Mechanical Muse, LLC

With the anthology, 20 popular authors, including Michael A. Stackpole, David Farland, Lucy A. Snyder, Larry Correia, David Gross, Elaine Cunningham, Ed Greenwood, Cat Rambo, and more, will be exploring the different aspects, areas, cultures, and legends of the world of Aetaltis and creating a rich story base concerning the people who live there. What excites me about this project is that it takes the tropes I grew up loving, and runs with them instead of fighting them or trying to reinvent them. Yet, the world still manages to be fresh and exciting. I asked Marc Tassin, the world’s creator, to explain this concept a little better than I can. So please, welcome Marc!

Image: Mechanical Muse, LLC
Image: Mechanical Muse, LLC

GeekMom Melanie: What makes Aetaltis different?

Marc Tassin: I’ve been asked this question a lot since I launched the Kickstarter, so I figured I’d better address it. So here we go…

Readers: What makes Aetaltis different from other classic fantasy settings?

Marc: It’s not! <Use your imagination to insert the screeching noise of the needle scraping across a record!>

Not the answer you were expecting? No problem. I’ll explain.

Anyone can break the rules, because breaking the rules is easy! Sure, it takes skill to break the rules in an artful way, but it’s not hard to smash the norms. You just go in and swap out a bunch of stuff and kick the rest over. Boom! You’re done!

But taking something beloved, embracing a long-held tradition, or working with ideas that are so deeply ingrained in our imagination that they’re the stuff “everybody knows”—taking those things and then doing something really wonderful and compelling with them? Now that is hard. In fact, it’s really hard.

Image: Mitchell Malloy for Aetaltis
Image: Mitchell Malloy for Aetaltis

That’s why Hollywood often avoids the hard thing. For example, trying to present Superman in his purest man-of-steel, heart-of-gold, “there’s always a better way,” boy scout in red underpants form without looking stupid is really, really hard. Do it wrong and it comes out really wrong since, like I said before, “everybody knows.” Hollywood can’t afford that risk. It’s way easier to skip all that and just change things up a bit. Doing it the other way is hard!

But… it’s not impossible.

Which brings us to Aetaltis. I decided that I wanted to embrace the traditions and tropes that we love about fantasy, and I took the hard road. After all, I love that stuff! I just wanted to see it done right! It’s like the artisan food movement. It’s not about avant garde departures from the norm—it’s about doing the classics exceptionally well.

So if I’ve done my job right—and if the reaction I’ve received from the authors and pre-readers is to be believed, I have—Aetaltis will give you even more of everything that made classic fantasy classic in a way that you’ll absolutely love. It will do it so artfully and respectfully that you’ll give it a place in your imagination, along with all the other wonderful worlds that it was borne from.

This is also why I turned to the authors I did. I’m not ignorant to the fact that having a New York Times bestseller on your project is a good thing (it is), but that isn’t why I asked the authors I asked. I asked them because they’re really good authors, and you need a really good author to achieve the goals I’ve set out to achieve. Like I said, doing this right is hard. Not just anyone can pull this off.

So there you go! How is Aetaltis different? In the ways that count, it isn’t—and that’s a good thing.

Thanks for reading! I hope I helped to shed some light on my goals with this ambitious project.

Image: Mechanic Muse, LLC

Thanks so much for joining us, Marc, and for explaining why Aetaltis brings the best of the old and the new together into one world. The Kickstarter campaign for Champions of Aetaltis will end on June 23, so if this sounds like something you would enjoy, I encourage you to head over and back it!

Shadows and BURPS: RPGs With Kids!

shadow pic small
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

Gather your family at the table with paper, pencils, and dice.

First tell them to draw a quick picture of themselves—stick figures are fine. On the same paper, they should draw their shadow: the person, monster, or alter-ego that is longing to get them in trouble, to do whatever they want regardless of the consequences. Then assign one die (different colors) to each of these drawings. Finally, say to your family, “You are asleep in the house. Suddenly you wake up to a strange sound.” And so the Shadows game begins.

This is one of the simplest role-playing games around, which makes it great for kids. And perfect for adults who are interested in RPGs, but don’t know where to begin. Shadows, by Zak Arntson, is a group storytelling game with a fun twist. Whenever the leader of the group asks about a move, the player has to answer twice—what they want to do in a situation, and what their shadow wants to do. The decision is made by dice.

My children and I have played the Shadows game many times, and this was the game I chose when I did an “Intro to RPG” event at my local homeschooling group. I wanted a game with a short prep time, so we could jump right into the action. Experienced gamers really, really enjoy character creation, spending weeks on stats and backstories. But with kids, they just want to play.

There are many systems out there (feel free to comment below with your favorite) that are quick on the start-up. Risus by S. John Ross is one I like. It has enough structure to satisfy kids who want more than Shadows, but with a twenty second character creation, there’s no waiting. My favorite part of Risus is how characters are defined by cliches. You can make up your own or be inspired by their example list:
Gambler: Betting, cheating, winning, running very fast.
Computer Geek: Hacking, programming, fumbling over introductions.

My kids enjoyed the Percy Jackson series, so one afternoon I took out Risus, a list of Greek gods, and a list of Greek monsters. I told the kids they were demi-gods, and monsters were ravaging our downtown. They grabbed their dice, picked whom their powerful parent was, wrote down a cliché or two, and we were off on an exciting adventure.

Now perhaps you are an experienced gamer and want to bring your geeklings into the fold of serious RPGs. There are also many systems that allow for expansive character creation and detailed worlds (again, list your favorites below.) Anything with the PDQ# system by Chad Underkoffler is creative and easy to run. I once ran a long campaign with my kids and their friends in the Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies world with great success.

My husband did a few one-shot Dungeons and Dragons games with the kids when they were younger. But he made their simple character stats for them, “I want to be a really cool warrior with a big sword!” I had asked if he ever wanted to run a family game, but he remembers the amount of time it took to create a satisfying game week after week for his friends way back when. So that was a “no.”

My personal introduction into RPGs is a system called GURPS (generic universal role playing system). However, I will never read all those books for the GM (game master). Luckily, there’s this handy-dandy version called GURPS LITE. It’s perfect for playing with kids, and I used it for a short series with my own kids a few years back. The character sheets were still too unwieldy, so I wrote up my own called BURPS (beginner universal role playing system). Please feel free to grab it for your own game.

Not enough suggestions? Go here. Spend an afternoon on an adventure with your children using your collective imagination and the clattering of dice.

Choose Your Own Adventure in Fantasy Life

© Nintendo / Level 5
All images © Nintendo / Level-5

Fantasy Life, out October 24 for the Nintendo 3DS, can perhaps best be described as a cross between Final Fantasy and Animal Crossing. The game is a blend of RPG and life simulation, giving you the opportunity to choose a Life (or class) that best suits your play style. If you prefer fighting, magic using, crafting, or gathering, there’s a Life for you.

With a title illustration by Amano Yoshitaka and music by Nobuo Uematsu, Final Fantasy fanatics might be tempted to pick the game up on that pedigree alone. While there is an overall quest with a standard RPG story line, you’re not in any rush to complete it, so the similarity to Final Fantasy pretty much ends there (give or take an airship). If you would like to merely stand in the blacksmith shop and work for two hours, there’s nothing wrong with that. You’ll level and complete tasks for your Life master all the same.


12 classes, or Lifes, are available in Fantasy Life. I chose Angler for my first Life, as I often enjoy gathering and crafting classes in games. After working my way through the first two chapters of the main quest by mostly dodging enemies, though, I decided to try a new Life. My days of being an Angler weren’t all that terribly exciting as they were, although Applefish did tremble at my expert prowess with a fishing pole. Okay, not really. Once I switched to Magician, though, I started progressing through the main storyline at a more enjoyable pace. But I keep eyeing the cooking Life…

If you switch your Life at any point in the game, you keep the skills you’ve already learned, so you have the opportunity to master all 12 Life classes in Fantasy Life. Sorry, Applefish, but you shall keep trembling. This gives the game a large amount of playability and bang for your buck, always a welcome feature when buying any video game.

fl-screen1The localization team deserves a special shout-out for the clever wordplay and jokes in the character dialogue, which couldn’t have been an easy task when translating the original Japanese release. More than once I’ve caught myself grinning at the in-game text, which is well-polished and flows well.

If you’re a lifelong JRPG fan, or the type of gamer who fishes and tailors more in games like EverQuest than you do hunt, Fantasy Life might be right up your alley. It’s a quiet, colorful game that even kids 10 and up can play, making it a great diversion on those long road trips you have coming up for the holidays.

Fantasy Life is available October 24, 2014, for the Nintendo 3Ds at a suggested retail price of $39.99.

GeekMom received a promotional copy for review purposes.

Gaming for Kids: Dragon Con Kaleidoscope Track Game Tips for Families

Image credit: catthulhu.com

Since 2011, the Kaleidoscope track at Dragon Con has added a special place for kids 9-13 and their parents at a convention that can sometimes otherwise have a more adult feel (especially at night!).

One of the best things about the track is that it offers those families a place to meet each other and talk about the great geekery that they find they don’t have in common with most of the other people on the playground or PTA meeting. This year I attended one of these, “Gaming for Kids,” which brought together Jodi Black of Beautiful Brains, dads Bryan Young and Jonathan McFarland, and 12-year-old Sam Rittwage.

The panel had a lot to say about video games, especially, of course, Minecraft. It served as a perfect example of a game to use to teach your kids about online interactions, as well as a way to give them a safe space for their first online gaming by using servers to which only they and their friends have access. Through this method, the panel encourages teaching them proper behavior in online gaming, including saying only things to one another that you would say if you were with them in person.

“If you’re the parent of a young boy, talk to them about the rules, and make sure they know,” McFarland said. “My son said something that would be common for adolescent boys, and I asked him if he knew what it meant.”

Kids easily pick up language from other players in games as well as from other kids at school, but they often don’t realize the nature or severity of the language, particularly the violent imagery often brought into online gaming chat. The panel recommended playing with your kids or first playing through the games they want to play, even if they’re not particularly appealing to you. It will give you the opportunity to both understand the content as well as to lead them in appropriate online interaction.

The range of games recommended for kids varied somewhat with age but ranged from the distinctly kid-friendly Skylanders and Disney Infinity to M-rated games like Assassin’s Creed. Young noted that he chooses games not by the rating but by the actual content. For example, slaughtering zombies is different from Grand Theft Auto, where the focus is entirely on real-life illegal activities.

In the second half of the panel’s time, they moved on to tabletop gaming, largely with a long list of recommendations for all ages and interests. Many were old favorites for us, but some where new. I suspect our family’s new favorite (which we picked up in the dealers’ room after this panel) will be Call of Catthulhu! If you’re looking for something new to try out, here are the rest of their suggestions:

For pre-readers

We all know how hard it can be to find a game that’s interesting for you but easy enough for your little ones who can’t read yet. For that problem, try:

Iota: The Great Big Game in The Teeny-Weeny Tin
Rory’s Story Cubes
Hey That’s My Fish
Tsuro: The Game of the Path

For older kids and the whole family

⚫ Get them started on RPGs. It doesn’t have to be Dungeons & Dragons. Find a game that interests them and is at the right level of complication. You could try Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space, Toon, Buggin’, or The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men. There’s even an older game, Fuzzy Heroes: The Game of Conflict For Stuffed Animals and Toys, that pits your kids’ stuffed animals in battle, but it can be hard to come by. Conveniently, the second edition is available at Drive-Thru RPG in PDF format. (This is also a great site to surf through for other RPG ideas!)

⚫ Cooperative games like Flash Point Fire Rescue, Pandemic, and Castle Panic. The latter also has a zombie version, Dead Panic Board Game, and a forthcoming mashup with Munchkin, Munchkin Panic.

Telestrations is a mashup of Telephone and Pictionary. (Of course, you can also play this with a notebook and your own list of words without buying the box.)

Finally, the panel had two great suggestions for your general family game play enjoyment:

⚫ Institute the 20-minute rule. You can play anything for 20 minutes. After that, check to see if everyone’s still having fun. No? Time to move on.

⚫ Make old games new again. Create your own rules. Young suggested the example of adding dice and action figures to Candyland, calling it “Siege of Candy Castle.” Make the kids figure out the mechanics and why the pieces are there, which also gives them insight into why rules exist in games and how they can change the outcome.

What Your RPG Character Says About You

Guy McNorm4 copy
A cute version of Guy by Purple Lantern Studios

Do I really want to be a large, bearded Scottish warrior with a quirk called, “Piss and Vinegar”? At the moment, that’s my role-playing character in a GURPS game. His name is Guy McNorm and his only goal is to live quietly as a blacksmith in a small town. Unfortunately, he’s a Weirdness Magnet, so that’s not possible. Which is why he’s really grumpy all the time. Yet when the crazy starts to happen, he’s the first one in the mess of things swingin’ his blacksmith hammer. Fun character to play. Totally unlike me…well…huh, come to think of it:

I fantasize about having quiet days, but they rarely happen. Honestly, when I have too many days in a row without kid interruptions or mad dashing around, I’m itchin’ for something. And when chaos strikes in my family or friends, I’m right in there.

Darn. Going into this post, I was going to say how I was the opposite of my character, how our fantasy life is a way to escape. And that’s true too.

I’m not physically strong—Guy is. I’m the least intimidating person I know in real life—Guy is a six foot four, large man with long white hair and a kilt; he has lots of points in “Intimidation.” So, perhaps there is some fantasy happening. Unlike in my real life, Guy punches people in the face when they annoy him. He doesn’t care if you’re crying or hurt; he’ll just tell you to keep moving. He doesn’t cuddle. He’s not romantic. Guy eats whatever he wants, whenever he wants. And very unlike me, Guy curses a lot.

However, Guy also writes bad limericks. We share that in common.

There is a survey that can tell you what you would be if you were a Dungeons and Dragons character. But that’s “what kind of dream will I have according to who I am?”, instead of “what do my dreams say about me?” If you are interested in taking it, or seeing results of over a thousand other people taking it, go here.

Each game system is different in character creation, whether it’s online or tabletop. GURPS has a wide range for types of characters, which makes it very revealing about what you choose. Some people take on similar guises from game to game, while others (like me) never have the same type twice. My theory is that my character creation is less about overall personality, and more about what’s happening in current situation.

What about your characters? Do you agree?

Let’s look at my characters over the years and what was going on at the time:

Kira: A beautiful, red-haired female mage, very nice and shy. I didn’t create this character. She was an NPC I took over as my first introduction into RPG gaming with friends in college. That sums up my life at the time since I didn’t feel much control of any part of it either. Yet I managed to be happy with what I had anyway.

Essie: A small, quiet female exotic dancer, deadly with knives, with a horrific past that gave her a death wish, and wore only black. This was my first original creation. My life at the time was homeschooling two small children in a parenting world where everyone was ten years older than me, while going back to college with students ten years younger. I didn’t fit in anywhere and was kinda angsty about it. That’s reflected in my character. Not sure about the exotic dancer part…

By Lilianna Maxwell at 14

Lindor: A pre-gendered teen with awesome magical powers, dewy-eyed and ready to explore the world. I had graduated college and was amazed at how much time I suddenly had. I  was also teaching music to a great group of kids. So, I guess my character reflects my happiness? The pre-gendered thing was an odd, but interesting concept I made up with dangerous herbs Lindor’s people took to delay any knowledge of gender until firmly established as an adult. Maybe having two kids on the verge of puberty made me realize how much our culture pounds in gender-specific stuff?

Percy: A squeamish male vampire dandy who had sex with pretty much anything that moved. This is less about my life at the time, and more about acting as one of the callous jerks I have met too often in reality. He is probably one of my favorite characters ever, and you can read more about him here: How To Get Laid in Every RPG Session.

Takamina: Tak! Tak! She’s a pyromaniac! A short, young woman with two long braids, who made exploding potions that she wore in a bandolier. She was cute and dangerous. In the midst of playing this character there was a lot of stress financially and career-wise with my husband, and then my social network collapsed. Or exploded. Exploded is probably a better word since I felt like my life was daily picking up pieces.

Guy McNorm: See description from beginning.

So what’s next for me? In two years I will have both kids away from home, and I’m still not sure what I want to be when I grow up. I’m curious how that will manifest in a fantasy world. Maybe someone with wings…






Shouldst Thou Gets to a Theatre for Knights of Badassdom?

Source: http://knightsofbadassdom-movie.com/

Once, long ago (circa the year two thousand and ten), in a faraway land known as “Hollywood,” a film calleth Knights of Badassdom was born unto us all. But nay, dost thou wit what vile knave durst keepeth this greatness from yon public til now?

Well, it’s complicated. At San Diego Comic-Con 2011, screaming fans-to-be got to see a glimpse of KoB. And then hardly a word about it was heard until last year when there was a buyers’ screening in March. Fast forward to July when Entertainment One acquired its distribution rights, and fans started hearing that there would finally be a release. And that is about the shortest synopsis possible of a lot of mostly uninteresting drama.

Fast forward again to last month when Entertainment One announced there wouldn’t be a regular release, but instead a limited release through Tugg.com.

Tugg works by being the middleman between anyone at all and local theaters. When the opportunity was announced, I filled out Tugg’s brief request form, asking for a screening of Knights of Badassdom in my area. A week later, they contacted me having also made contact with a theater willing to host the screening. At that point, Tugg posts an event page where people can buy tickets. If a minimum threshold is met (set by the theater), the screening is a go.

Our local screening, like many others, sold out easily. Though many of the screenings were held Tuesday, others have not yet happened and tickets are still available.

It’s not the director’s cut, but it’s the movie, and sometimes you take what you get.

Is it worth it?

If you already knew all that and haven’t yet bought a ticket, then you probably are wondering whether those 85 minutes are worth your cash. I can answer that with a single-question quiz:

a) have you, or someone you love, ever played in a LARP?
b) have you ever played an RPG?
c) were you tortured by the Ye Olde Butchered Englishe in the first paragraph of this post?

If you answered a and—and this is critical—have a sense of humor about your beloved activity, then yes, you should absolutely see this movie. If you answered b, you are likely to enjoy it as well. If you answered c, it’s going to be a long 85 minutes. And if you’re not familiar with RPGs, much less the world of LARPing, you’re going to get a little fun out of Peter Dinklage and his swords, and then you’re going to spend the rest of it wondering if people actually do this and WTF is going on on that screen.

Is this going to be the greatest piece of cinema of the year, nominated for eight Academy Awards and inspiring children everywhere to stop bullying and love the LARP? Nope, not even a little bit. What you are getting is precisely what you expect from the trailer, so let me summarize:

Imagine Tyrion Lannister and Steve Zahn get Jason Stackhouse to pass out from a wicked bong/bourbon combo, drag him unwillingly into a LARP, and then accidentally summon an actual succubus, which they fight with River Tam and a Viking who doesn’t know how to break character. Throw in a George R. R. Martin body count, the fake blood budget of The Cabin in the Woods, a rubber monster suit similar to the effects quality of the Golgothan in Dogma, and a shiny glaze of metal (both weapons and music), and there you are.

If that’s not the funniest thing you’ve heard all day, then you should absolutely not see this movie. And we probably shouldn’t hang out.

Further, if you don’t have a sense of humor about your nerddom (and I fully expect to see some blog post somewhere to this effect), you’re going to rant about how it’s actually a movie about two people who didn’t want to be in the LARP, that they’re really making fun of LARPers, and that the pretty girl with “+3 ass of perfection” (Summer Glau) is only there because she came with a guy (who is her cousin, not her boyfriend), and something something stereotype something. Lighten up and go see something from a foreign film festival. This one’s not for you.

The alternate nerd rage option is something about how they’re just pandering to nerddom. To which I say, pander away! Amuse me in ways I like to be entertained! Those of you who object can go watch another generic movie about a handsome guy with a gun that you won’t be able to distinguish from all the other handsome-guy-with-gun movies in six months.

Source: http://knightsofbadassdom-movie.com/

If you love the game Munchkin because of what it was designed as—playful humor about that one person in your game group who’s taking it all a little too seriously… If you’ve been in a LARP with that guy who seriously just refuses to break character even in the face of actual danger… If you want to see Peter Dinklage on shrooms swinging a pair of swords… Then. This. Movie. Is. Yours.

Yea, verily, get thee to a screening. And further, let’s hope that someday we might get a director’s cut.

Ever, Jane: An Austen-Inspired Virtual Game

© 3 Turn Productions

As a female gamer, I am acutely aware of the lack of interest gaming companies show in what interests and attracts me. Certainly I find games that I enjoy, but historically women have not been the target audience nor the participants of most game development. If we were, there would be more female characters with more role playing options and we would have the sensible option to don yoga pants and running shoes in fight mode. Fortunately, there is a new girl in town: 3 Turn Productions.

A new game development company focusing on women and gaming, 3 Turn seeks to produce games that extend the female imagination and play preferences. How the company came about is just as interesting as its founder. Judy Tyrer, mother and English Literature major, had always been a gamer. When she found programming, however, she found her calling. Rather than listen to statistics, she launched herself into a game development career at the age of 50. Being over the age of 30 and a female in the game development world is unique in itself, but Judy committed to her new life and learned everything she could. By six months in, she was pitching games to the company she worked for, gathering experience and information as she went. Eventually, her belief in doing what you love turned into a belief in creating what you love and she decided to embark on a new adventure.

“Games are an extension of our imagination,” Judy explains, but if 99% of games are focused on the male imagination, women are marginalized as an afterthought. Her love of virtual worlds and role playing, combined with her fascination around what inspired women and how women choose to obtain power, led her to form 3 Turn Productions and begin prototyping their first offering: Ever, Jane.

Ever, Jane is a virtual RPG based on the collected works of Jane Austen. A life long fan of Austen’s work, Tyrer knew it was the world she wanted to begin with. The basis of many women’s fantasies, the world of Austen is intriguing and proper, seductive and clever. Players can create their avatars based on the personal and physical traits of beloved characters from the books. The objective is to improve one’s station, solicit invites, and ruin your enemies by getting noticed, either through gossip or actions, but not too noticed. Blatant misbehavior will backfire, and so just as in Austen’s society, propriety is a delicate dance.

A prototype quality version is already out and available to download and play. According to Tyrer, this initial phase is all about forming community. So far, people are loving what is available, with many individuals spending time in the game to help newer players assimilate and build relationships. She tells the story of a player who jumped in and immediately began using inappropriate language and more. Instead of feeding the troll, the other players began questioning, treating him as a foreigner, asking what land he came from and pretending to look up translations. Eventually, he left. That seemed like a very Austen (and hilarious) way to handle the situation to me.

3 Turn Productions has recently launched a Kickstarter to raise development funds. You can access the game from there to try it for yourself, and become a backer for game perks once it is released. I asked Tyrer what characters she has developed herself and she said she had created an Emma-type character to be a liaison to new people in the game. This kind of character would be well acquainted with the village and rich enough to not have to participate in the quest for marriage. She also created a Mr. Collins type character so that she could be awkward and appropriately inappropriate. She is attracted to the weird characters, and I can’t blame her. I myself would jump at the chance to play someone who exemplifies the ridiculous or oblivious like Mr. Collins or Mrs. Jennings. It is, after all, these characters that reveal some of the best traits in our heroes and heroines.

But the most important question, the one I was sure my dear readers would be most interested in hearing, is whether or not we will be able to virtually watch Mr. Darcy emerge from a lake, soaked and deep in thought. It may not be in the books, but has certainly become part of the fantasy. Tyrer laughed and assured me it was possible, but this idea, like much of the Ever, Jane world, relies on getting enough funding to support the beautiful graphics they want to cultivate. If you are a gamer (or not) and a fan of Austen, I encourage you to check it out. I’ll see you in there, with a character based on the naughty Crawfords.

Accursed RPG Kickstarter Launches on Friday the 13th, 2013

Accursed RPG, Image: Melior Via
Accursed RPG, Image: Melior Via

The guys behind the Accursed RPG clearly have a sense of humor, choosing to launch their dark fantasy game full of monsters and witches on Friday the 13th of 2013. I suppose that gives this wonderfully dark RPG an extra dose of wickedness.

The world of Accursed is one with Witches that have ruled the land and turned innocent humans into monsters forced to do their bidding. These monsters are the Accursed and now that the Witches have lost their hold on the world, the Accursed have turned from minions to adversaries.

Their terrible forms prevent them from ever returning to the lives they’ve left behind, but it doesn’t stop them from working against the Witches. The Accursed now try to help the humans they once hurt and to lift the world from the darkness cast by the evil Witches.

Accursed is an officially licensed Savage Worlds product and the plan is to produce two core rulebooks for the game. They’re currently seeking funding to produce those books, complete with beautiful artwork created just for Accursed.

You can check out the Kickstarter for Accursed and make a pledge to get PDFs, hardcopies and even a chance to have the designers GM a game for you and your friends.

ConnectiCon: Gamin’ and Art

Image By Lilianna Angel
Image By Lilianna Angel

ConnectiCon is such a visual treat. As Corrina mentioned in her post, the cosplay is fantastic, usually homemade, and enough to keep you entertained if you just sit and watch the crowd. I kept my giggles in check on the elevators in the hotel because they were always filled with random cosplayers having banal conversations.

Zombie: Have you tried any of the hotel restaurants?
Power Ranger: Not yet.
Wonder Woman: The one near the front desk is pretty good.
Zombie: Thanks.

Image By Rebecca Angel (permission given for photo)
Image By Rebecca Angel (permission given for photo)

Here is a family from The Legend of Korra.

But there’s so much to do! I’ve written about this con in the past, but this year I did something I’ve always wanted to do: play a long RPG. In previous years, I did performances and panels, which made it hard to commit to anything that took up a huge chunk of the day. But this time, I was there to help my daughter at artist alley, make sure my son was busy, and enjoy myself. Part of the fun was getting to talk with some of the guests. I kept exclaiming in delight while reading Jim Cummings’s bio. I had no idea he was the voice of so many characters! And a delight in person. I did not have a chance to see Marina Sirtis, but several friends did and filled me in with how cool she is.

I played Caravan on Friday and after four hours the group was in a walled, rat plague infested desert city surrounded by a tribe of gnolls, and huddled in a ziggurat where we just found a giant spider. Of course I had to go back on Saturday and figure out how to get out of that mess! Lots o’ fun.

TeaPunk. Image By Rebecca Angel
Guy McNorm by Purple Lantern Studios

I spent time with my daughter selling her art and eye swirls, chatting with our neighbors: False Mind, Purple Lantern, and Grinning Narwhal. Rayna of Purple Lantern did a great commission of my current RPG character from a home game: Guy McNorm of the Clan McMahan.

I also met up with friends I only see at this convention, juggled, danced, danced, and danced some more (with glow sticks!) A nod to the first DJ of Friday night who really kicked off the party. ‘Til next year!

Venture Into the World of the Mistborn Adventure Game

Mistborn, Art by Ben Mc © Crafty Games
Mistborn, Art by Ben McSweeney © Crafty Games

The Mistborn Aventure Game, developed by Crafty Games, is based on the Mistborn trilogy written by Brandon Sanderson. The original three book series follows a band of heroes put together to accomplish the impossible and defeat a god. The world of Mistborn is populated with memorable characters, a setting where ash falls from the sky every day, and a magic system that is compelling and unique.

Mistborn seems to be tailor-made for creating a game in that universe, so when I had the chance to ask one of the Mistborn Adventure Game creators, Alex Flagg, some questions about the game, I just had to know what it was like. He talked about developing the game, the world of Scadriel, working with writer Brandon Sanderson, and more.

(Warning: Some spoilers for the novels follow.)

Mistborn seems like a setting perfectly suited for creating an RPG. Did you find that to be the case, or were there some unexpected challenges?

It was Mistborn’s suitability as an RPG setting that drew me to the series in the first place. After I read the first 30-40 pages of Mistborn: The Final Empire (the first novel in the series), I said to myself, “This guy’s a gamer.” The fundamental conflicts of the Final Empire’s society, the well-thought-out and highly detailed magic system, and challenges Kelsier’s crew faced seemed almost purpose built for a tabletop game to me. The world was just bursting with possibilities for fun and adventure. As it turns out, I was right; Brandon was indeed a player, and jumped at the opportunity to have an RPG made of his books. And he’s been highly supportive of all our efforts since.

Continue reading Venture Into the World of the Mistborn Adventure Game

Meet Our Sponsor: Check Out BPAL’s RPG Scents

We are pleased as (absinth-spiked) punch to welcome our new sponsor for the week, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab; “Purveyors of Fine Esoteric Goods, Purfumes, and Oils.” The lab is a great, geeky, gothy store featuring unique scents formulated in the spirit of some beloved genre institutions.

We specialize in formulating body and household blends with a dark, romantic Gothic tone. Our scents run the aesthetic gamut of magickal, pagan and mythological blends, Renaissance, Medieval and Victorian formulas, and horror / Gothic-themed scents.

To give you an idea of the whimsical potions they produce, we’ll be featuring a different (and especially geeky) product each day this week. Today’s featured item: their RPG series of scents:

In most pen and paper fantasy RPGs, three of the primary attributes that you must choose for your character are race, class, and alignment. Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s RPG scent series was designed to emulate the character creation process, and are meant to be layered in order to create a character concept. In short: you layer your class, race, and the two fragrances that compose your alignment to construct your character scent.

So, for example, I might choose to create your character thusly: Continue reading Meet Our Sponsor: Check Out BPAL’s RPG Scents

James Stowe’s D&D For Eight Year Olds: Streamlined Character Sheets for Kids

Image by James Stowe, via his website. A bard gal. Couldn’t love her more.

This weekend I was looking for easier 4th Edition D&D modules, and came upon the art of James Stowe through the magic of a Google Search. I couldn’t be more in love! This dad was searching for the same sort of thing I was, but instead of waiting for someone else to put it together, well, he did it himself. His series “D&D For Eight Year Olds” is ideal for starting a game with the younger crowd not quite ready to jump into the nuts and bolts of D&D.

I absolutely love the artwork and his clever re-tinkering of the spells, but it’s even better that he did an entire series for boys and for girls. As an avid RPG gamer girl, I can’t tell you how tickled that makes me. Extra super bonus? They come in wide variety of shapes and sizes! Because no matter what you look like you can still rock out and have a blast playing D&D.

You can find the whole set, as well as more of his great art, over at his website.

The GeekMoms Podcast #21: All About LARPing

LARPing or Live Action Role Playing is an incredibly popular and misunderstood part of geek culture. The image many have of loners who live in their parents’ basements eating junk food only to emerge on the weekends as wizards and warriors couldn’t be further from the truth. Lizzie Stark decided to find out just what LARPing was all about and then wrote about it in her new book, Leaving Mundania. Listen in as Lizzie and GeekMom Nicole Wakelin chat all about her LARPing adventures and why everyone should try it at least once.

(You can also check out the written interview with Lizzie over at GeekDad.)

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Music: Rebecca Angel

Getting Back Into The Groove

My Dragon Age Character (Image: Mandy Horetski)

Having a baby seems to disrupt things in your life, but that’s to be expected. But I didn’t expect some of the things that fell to the wayside. Now that my daughter is three years old, I’m finally getting back into a groove with some of the geeky pursuits I had put on the back burner.

I love video games. I have since my family got an NES in the mid-80’s for Christmas. Thankfully I married a man who loves video games as much as I do so we have nearly all the latest and greatest consoles. We are very well known at our local GameStop because we are always trading in games to get new ones.

But when my daughter was born, things changed. I had to decided to try and breastfeed her. It worked out well, but she nursed a lot which tied up one of my hands since it was being used to hold her. I learned how to surf the internet and play World of Warcraft one-handed, but it was impossible to play console games.

As my daughter got older, I considered playing console games again. But I thought a lot of them might be too scary for her to see. She also would grab at the controller and try to push the buttons. So I got out of the habit. I still used my Nintendo DS a lot and played quite a bit of World of Warcraft. But I was missing out on a lot of great games being released on the consoles.

Finally, I’m getting back into the groove. My daughter is old enough now that she can play with her toys while I’m playing a video game. The game that really got me back into wanting to play console games is Dragon Age: Origins. My best friend has been telling me how good this game is and finally I see how right she was. I don’t get a lot of time to play it, but it’s nice to be able to use my xBox 360 again and play a great game. I have Dragon Age 2 waiting for when I’m finished with the first game.

It’s just nice to be able to start to do some of the things I enjoyed before I was a parent. Is there anything you were interested in that it took you a while to get back into after you had kids?

Glitch Gone Wild?

I never thought this would be the way I’d have the “Don’t Do Drugs” talk with my kids!

After signing myself up for Glitch, I decided to let my kids develop characters of their own (under my e-mail addresses and with my close supervision). Over the weekend my oldest son took a trip to the dark side of Glitch: “Glitch Hell“.

Simply put, you visit Hell by dying. You can visit Hell several times, and there is even a separate set of achievements you can earn from multiple trips to Hell. Those who are experienced in the game might think that my son simply walked away from the computer, forgetting to “Exit the World.” But in my son’s case, he was mining rocks with another character who offered him a substance called “No-No Powder“.

No-No Powder is Glitch cocaine, my friends. You sniff it, get high, and then encounter this horrible crash that can only be saved from death by another “hit” of the No-No Powder. I have some in my backpack, picked up from someone who left it on the ground. I haven’t used it, but instead was planning to sell it for money.

His avatar sniffed the stuff, experienced the 6 minutes of maximum mood and energy, and then crashed HARD. The avatar died, went to Hell, then resurrected upon completing a task (my son crushed grapes).  Upon resurrection, you have zero mood and near-zero energy and are very close to dying again. My son had very little food, very little currants (money) and no skills to make anything.

Sounds like a textbook drug addict…rehabilitation time!

This was not something I expected to have to do so soon, but I grabbed my arsenal of inspirational, lesson-teaching messages and quickly took over the computer control of my son’s Glitch character. We got Mace Windu fed, educated and built up his account a little under my direction. Then we had to discuss drug use, Internet chatting, the existence of hell and responsible gaming all at once on Saturday night.

“What did we learn?”

“Don’t sniff the no-no powder….”

“When is it a good time to use drugs?”

“When a doctor says so….”

“Will we ever sniff no-no powder again?”


“Do we take stuff from strangers?”


This whole experience — which took about an hour of our Saturday night, also got me thinking about how family-friendly this game might actually be. There’s a lot of…um, sophomoric humor scattered throughout the game that my sons probably won’t understand, but I feel nervous just the same about exposing them to it.

My feelings about my kids seeing Glitch are becoming similar to my concerns about my sons watching The Simpsons, by the way. They really enjoy the humor, but (a) Mom and Dad have to be nearby when they’ve watched it and (b) it has to be a rerun that Mom and Dad are already familiar with so they know what adult themes to expect.

I had written on my personal blog about what fun the family was having developing our respective avatars, but with the Global Chat and IM-ing looming out there, we’ve decided to change things up a bit.  Whereas before I’d let my sons control my avatar with me in the room, I think I need to keep the controls and just keep the kids to the decision making. In other words, if Mace Windu wants to go harvest some allspice, he’ll tell me where to go and I’ll sure he gets there.

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s RPG Line of Perfume Oils

Image: Mandy Horetski

Ever wonder what a Chaotic Gnome Mage smelled like? The perfume oil company, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab, has answered that question with their line of RPG scents.

I’ve been a fan of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab (BPAL) for years. I was never able to wear regular perfume because it all smelled the same to me and made me sneeze. But BPAL was different. I was given an imp (which means sample in BPAL talk) of Hamadryad and I was hooked.

So when there was news of a RPG line of oils, I was really excited. I knew that Beth Barrial, who is the genius behind the BPAL perfumes, was a geek so I knew she would do a great job with this new line. With all BPAL perfumes, these are perfume oils that can morph and change due to the wearer’s skin chemistry. When people review BPAL perfumes they usually smell the oil straight from the bottle and then try it on their skin.

I was able to get the original set and smelled my way through them. There are the standard races, classes and alignments that you find in games such as Dungeons and Dragons.  I was a little afraid I wasn’t going to like Chaotic, since I am Chaos Mandy, but it turned out to be great on me.

I’m not the best at picking out the different layers in BPAL perfume, but here are my impressions of the BPAL RPG Line.

Dwarf – In the bottle, Dwarf had a slightly fruity scent that was underneath the smell of leather. On my skin the leather smell came out more.

Elf – This one had a strong amber scent in the bottle, but on my skin there was an undertone of fruit with the amber.

Half-Elf – Straight from the bottle, Half-Elf had a strong smell of sandalwood with just a hint of white tea leaf. On my skin, I lost the white tea leaf and it just smelled like sandalwood.

Halfling – This was the most foody of all the RPG line. It smelled like a nutty pastry in the bottle, with the pastry coming out more on my skin.

Gnome – The layers on Gnome are complex and hard to pick out. It smelled almost mechanical with a sweet smell over top in the bottle. On my skin the sweet came out even more and it was almost overpowering.

Orc – Both in the bottle and on my skin, Orc smelled of vetiver to the point that it was a little overpowering.

Ranger – This was a very patchouli scent, both in the bottle and on my skin. I’ve had issues in the past with other oils that had patchouli in it where all I can smell is the patchouli.

Mage – I couldn’t pick out any of the notes that are in Mage. Both in the bottle and on my skin it just smelled like perfume. It was a little disappointing since Mage is my favorite class, but the perfume didn’t really work for me.

Fighter – In the bottle, the wonderful leather smell was the most powerful. On my skin, it was still very leather but there was a lovely undertone of musk.

Cleric – This was floral in the bottle but not too bad, as it didn’t make me sneeze. Usually florals and I don’t get along but Cleric was actually rather nice. On my skin, it got better as there was a woodsy smell to the florals.

Paladin – In the bottle, Paladin is very light and clean. There is also a hint of vanilla underneath. On my skin, the vanilla all but disappeared.

Rogue – In the bottle, Rogue is equally the smell of hemp and leather. On my skin, the hemp came more forward with leather being the underneath scent.

Good – This one is very musky in the bottle with that scent coming out even more on my skin.

Neutral – Another one that is a musk and I really can’t tell the difference between musks. Though the musk is muted on my skin than it was in the bottle.

Chaotic – In the bottle, Chaotic is a woodsy musk that reminded me a bit of my first BPAL love, Hamadryad. On my skin, it is muted with a hint of a nut smell coming out.

Lawful – This smelled like woods and berries in the bottle. It was much the same on my skin, though muted somewhat.

Evil – In the bottle, Evil smelled like green tea to me. On my skin, it became more complex with a hint of tar coming through.

The BPAL RPG line is currently available at the Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab website. It’s a great addition to the wonderful line of perfume oils and really appeals to any geek who has played a RPG before.

Note: I received a copy of these perfume oils for review purposes.


Fitocracy – A Geeky Way to Track Weight Loss

A recent picture of me

Losing weight can be a challenge, but if you treat it like a quest in a roleplaying game, might actually make working out fun!

I am overweight. Not terribly, but enough that I’m not very happy with my current weight / shape. Add in the fact that I had a c-section with my daughter, and nothing stays in like it’s supposed to anymore. I’ve been trying to lose weight, but it’s hard with such a busy schedule. And I will admit that I can be a procrastinator. It’s hard to make myself work out at the end of the day after I’ve been doing school and my stay at home mom chores.

I’ve been using some online and Android apps to track my weight loss journey, but none of them really helped me stick with my weight loss program. But then I found Fitocracy.

Fitocracy is an online program that allows you to track your weight loss, but it tracks in such as way as if you were the hero in an RPG. Each exercise is worth a certain amount of experience points, so as you exercise you get experience points. Once you get enough points, you rise in level. There are also quests you can go on and achievements you can reach.

I’m currently level 3 and I just finished my first quest. It’s really a neat little program that puts a geeky twist on weight loss. I’m going to continue to use it, so if anyone joins up, friend me!

How To Get Laid in Every RPG Session

I refer to role-playing, not actually having sex with your fellow gamers (unless it’s a whole different kind of role-playing group.) I played a character for about a year that had had sex every single gaming session (not alone), and you can do it too!

I did not set out to make such a stud, but it became a highlight in my role-playing career. He was a good guy, but a total jerk. I had the fun of acting like a villain in my personal life, but plot-wise I always did was the hero (so the party wouldn’t kick me out.) I’ll tell you my experience and I encourage you to steal any part of my character for your own sordid enjoyment.

First of all I played a guy. I had always played girl characters because I am a girl, and feel we need to be represented in the traditional male-dominated fantasy setting. But I had just played a couple of girls, and one pre-gendered teen (long story for another post) and was in the mood to try something different.

Into my imagination waltzed Prince Percy (Percival, but don’t call him that) Victors, complete with 18th century pink satin and ruffles; looking at me with a bored expression. He was a royal, pampered, wealthy “dandy”, a squeamish vampire (hated the sight of blood- yes, it made for interesting moments), was lecherous and very, very charming. He was also bisexual, but preferred women. Percy was an impeccable dresser and carried a black-lace Hello Kitty parasol to keep off the sun. Oh, and he was a complete asshole.

I announced quite early on that I planned to seduce the entire party one way or another. Some of that was because I needed blood to survive, and it was convenient to feed during sex; I was distracted from the icky blood thing. But I also enjoyed the conquest and told them that letting me screw them would be the best night of their lowly peasant lives.

We had three women and three men in the role-playing group. In the first game, I rolled a critical success for charming one of the ladies, along with her critically failing any resistance. This meant that she was desperately in love with me. I used her on a regular basis, and the rest of the party was immediately disgusted. Yet, I still managed to make one of the other women drunk enough to come to my bed, another was tricked into sexual favors from some plot episode where I helped her, and I did manage to kiss one of the guys (though he tried to punch me afterwards.) Along with having sex with every NPC (girl or guy) that came along, Percy was perfectly promiscuous.

I had a great time, and the other players couldn’t help but laugh (out of character of course.) I also had a ridiculously lucky set of dice. In the entire year of playing Percy, I only failed a seduction role once (and the barmaid poured water over my head) and had regular crits for how good the sex was. So although I was just being my egotistical self when I said the sex would be fantastic, it turned out to be true. Even the party members I tricked had to admit I made them very, very happy.

The best part was constantly flirting with the girls in the group. In every role-playing game I’ve played, flirting is awkward or silly because no one wants to make anyone think they’re “really” trying anything. Flirting and sex were always with NPCs or glossed over like a movie where the actors fall into bed kissing and the camera moves to the flowing curtains and CUT! But my real life sexual orientation is heterosexual, and the other players know that. So when I was flirting with the girls, it wasn’t awkward, it was hilarious. When I flirted with the guys, they got annoyed. I think this was because my character was having more sex than they were in real life, but that’s just a guess (heh.)

The only part of it that annoyed me, was how much the girls liked my character. He was a jerk. He used them and was proud of it. And yet, they still giggled (in and out of character) and flirted back. And even though the two girls I tricked into sex were mad for a few sessions, they quickly wanted a real relationship with the guy, and tried to “get” him. I (Rebecca) was incredulous.

Girl Player: My character secretly wants to marry Percy.
Me: Marry Percy?! You know he’s a jerk, right?
Girl Player: Yes, but there’s something good in him.
Me: Of course, but don’t think he’s going to change for you.
Girl Player: We’ll see.

So there you have it role-players. Be a rich, sexy, blood-sucking, egotistical slut (with good taste in clothes) and other characters will not only succumb to sex, but also secretly wish to marry you. Who knew it could be so fun to be a guy?

The French Side of… Steampunk Literature

"The Nyctalope is watching over Paris"… La Brigade Chimérique. Image: Gess / Editions L'Atalante.

Les Moutons électriques (Electric Sheep, just like Philip K. Dick’s famous novel) is a French publisher that offers some wonderful collections for every geek. Its bibliothèque rouge (Red Library) proposes biographies of imaginary characters in a convincing academic style. One can read Les nombreuses vies de… (The many lives of…) Harry Potter, Jane Austen, Dracula or even Cthulhu! Its bibliothèque des miroirs (Library of Mirrors) includes essays about various aspects of pop/geek culture, such as zombies, vampires, space opera, Monty Python… and of course, steampunk!

In the more than 300 pages of Steampunk!, Etienne Barrillier tries to define steampunk (as Robin pointed in her primer, that’s not an easy job) and to cover most of its aspects. The book is historical, trying to depict steampunk’s evolution, as well as geographical (a special chapter is devoted to Japan and another to French steampunk, of course). It studies  not only steampunk literature and comics, but also cosplay, fashion, gadgets and music, in a section labeled “Being steampunk.” Like all books of this collection, it includes a lot of (beautiful) pictures. That’s clearly a must-have for any steampunk fan or steampunk scholar… at least if one reads French !

Barrillier’s opinion on French steampunk literature is especially interesting. He concludes that French authors came to use different sources than great Anglo-Saxon steampunk authors, to find their own kind of steampunk. For example, they often set their stories in Paris’ “Belle Epoque” rather than Victorian London. They try to use characters and events from French history (such as Jules Verne, of course, like Johan Héliot in his novel La lune seule le sait). They don’t hesitate to mix literary genres (fantasy, sci-fi, alternate history…), and often don’t stick to “classic” steampunk. Another example is Pierre Pevel, who sets his Ambremer as an alternative Belle Epoque Paris with a Faery Court and legalized wizards.

My own favorite French steampunk novel, though, is somehow “mainstream” steampunk, with automatons, aether, opium, romance and even Queen Victoria as a guest star (even if the plot is set in Paris). It’s called Confessions d’un automate mangeur d’opium, which could be translated as Confessions of an Opium-Eater Automaton (from famous Thomas De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater). It features a fine heroine, a young actress (and, incidentally, a lesbian), along with her psychiatrist brother. The authors are Fabrice Colin and Mathieu Gaborit, both quite famous in France, and both writers of other steampunk-like novels in various styles. Like many steampunk authors, they play well the game of intertextuality: to identify references and characters is part of steampunk’s fun. The novel isn’t translated into English. That’s a shame !

The same Fabrice Colin contributed to wonderful French steampunk comic series, recently adapted into a RPG, La Brigade Chimérique (by Colin, Serge Lehman and Gess). Wait… are they really steampunk ? That’s uncertain. As “clockpunk” is sometimes considered as different from steampunk, they forged the term “radiumpunk” to define La Brigade‘s universe. Romain d’Huissier, one of the authors of the RPG, explains :

We cannot talk about steampunk since the comics are set later: steam engines are far outmoded. Since Marie Curie’s discoveries, radium is the new center of attention, you only have to look at the ads of that time. La Brigade chimérique imagines that radium has become the new energy, the one you uses for everything, medicine, transportation, weapons… Even most importantly, that’s radium that gave their powers to the first “supermen” ! So, undoubtedly, that’s radiumpunk.

La Brigade Chimérique is built upon some wonderful ideas, as one of the co-writers, Serge Lehman, tells:

[I thought] that would be really great to write a comic about the end of European super-heroes. True comics in 12 episodes, set in the 30s, including hypnosis, quantum physics, psychoanalysis and featuring the great figures of European literature. Show what happened to them.

And this dream came true!

La Brigade Chimérique (6 books rather than 12, at end) explains why European superheroes seemed to disappear after WW II, and features many wonderful characters, historical (Marie Curie, surrealist writer André Breton…) or fictional (the Nyctalope who might be considered as the first superhero character in literature, Dr. Mabuse, or Harry Dickson). The press release gives a good idea of how cool the series are:

They’re born on the battlefields of WW I, in gas breath and ray-X guns blow. They took control of European capital cities. Serial authors changed them into icons. Scientists are fascinated by their powers. However, at the center of the Old Continent, a threat is growing that could erase the very memory of their existence…

I strongly recommend reading them!

La Brigade Chimérique : the comics and their official website

La Brigade Chimérique : the RPG, published by Sans-Détour

If you’d like further recommendations, the people of Steampunk-fr are compiling a list of steampunk books and comics, both French- and English-speaking, and discussing their readings on the forum.

Moms, Get Your Game Face On!

I played over thirty video games while I was at PAX East last weekend. As I predicted in my previous post, most of them were disappointing clones of other games. Also as predicted, there were a few great new games on offer at the convention. It would be exhausting to review everything I played, but what follows may be taken as an introduction to some of the most (and least) GeekMom-friendly video games coming out in 2011.

Snapshot, by Retro Affect, handily claims my “Best Game Overall” award. Its unique photography-inspired game mechanic is interesting enough to set the game apart, but Snapshot manages to be challenging and family friendly, too. Because this puzzle-platformer is gentler and more creative than most video games, I strongly recommend Snapshot for ALL AGES.

Bastion, by Supergiant Games, easily wins “Best Art”. This game is gorgeous! Bastion also has exceptional adaptive narration and between that and the art, it’s very easy to get engrossed in the story. Apart from those high points, it’s a standard – but highly enjoyable – fantasy RPG. Some mild cartoon violence prompts me to recommend this game for players AGES 5+.

Warp, by Trapdoor, is my “Favorite Underdog Story” because players help an alien escape from captivity. This game has that ‘cute-but-deadly’ combination I’m such a sucker for, but the cartoon violence in it is just a little too bloody for all players. My recommendation: AGES 12+.

Swarm, by Hothead Games, is the hands-down winner of my “Catharsis” award. You get points for directing empty-headed little minions to their doom – what’s not to love? This side-scrolling sci-fi adventure is a bit gross, and definitely not for everyone, but I think it’s harmless for players AGES 12+.

Dyad, a beautiful abstract tunnel-shooter, wins my award for “Fastest Game.” Dyad is a ‘tunnel-shooter’ in format alone because there is no actual violence in the game; there are no antagonists or weapons, just obstacles and tentacles. Because of the skill and speed involved, I recommend Dyad for players AGES 7+.

Afterland, from the experimental game designers at MIT, gets my “Thinker” award. This game takes all the trappings of conventional video games – from health meters to inventories to ‘enemies’ – and turns them upside down. The gameplay is non-intuitive, but figuring it out is half the fun. After all, Afterland was designed to make players think. Recommended for ALL AGES.

Firefall, by Red 5 Studios, is the only MMORPG to get an award from me: The “Ooh, Shiny” award for being the most interesting new or updated MMORPG at PAX East 2011. This game is light on story and heavy on team-based shoot-em-ups, but at least the art style is out of the ordinary. Unlike other games of its type, the art of Firefall has strong comic book appeal instead of all the creepy realism and chibi-adorableness we’ve grown inured to. Because if its anti-environmental militarism, violence, and the standard risks associated with playing MMORPGS, I recommend Firefall for fans of the genre AGES 14+.

It wasn’t all fun at the gaming convention. Plenty of games bored and annoyed me and most were just not worth commenting on. However, there were a couple of games bothersome enough to deserve remark: Brink, by Splash Damage and Shoot Many Robots by Demiurge.

Brink has art in its character customization, but it’s otherwise like every other first-person shooter around. Maybe worse. Just think about the setting for a minute: How can a near-future sustainable society ever occur without women? And at the rate the men kill each other in Brink, the place would be a ghost town overnight. I suppose that’s great if mayhem is all you want in a game, but if you like a little substance in your playtime, you can easily find better developed games than Brink. Not surprisingly, I rate this game FOR ADULTS ONLY, but I don’t recommend it to anyone.

Shoot Many Robots wins my “Worst Game at PAX East 2011” award for having no redeeming qualities. The concept is vapid to start; there isn’t even gratifying catharsis to be had from destroying mindless automatons until you develop a weird aversion to nuts and bolts. Speaking of weak euphemisms for male anatomy, this game is best described by paraphrasing its trailer thusly: “Grab some nuts and learn absolutely nothing!” I really wanted to have a sense of humor about that, but it’s just too lame. Rating: FORGET IT.

After three days of searching PAX East, I came to three conclusions:

The most interesting games tend to have genderless Player Characters. This is true of most of the games described above, and many beloved classics (Centipede, Frogger, Q*Bert, etc.). Ask me why this is so, and I could go for hours. Instead, I leave you to examine the games we play – with and without our children – and question how and why they make use of gender, and whether and how that affects us and our kids.

Games with the best character customization tend to be the least interesting to play. This seems counterintuitive, but I’m having a hard time finding an exception to the rule. I enjoy MMORPGS like World of Warcraft, Guild Wars, and so on, but eventually the quests all blur together and the grind becomes… Well, a grind. And yet every time I spot a new MMORPG on the horizon, I start to drool. Why? I love character customizers. I’m sure not all gamers feel the same way, but I think it’s worth figuring out why we like what we like, and whether that bait is really worth the hook it leaves in our wallet.

Finally, non-violent video games are rare and generally bland and violent video games are far too common and usually disappointing. This means that I don’t buy many games, but that’s probably for the best. In a way, I’m glad there are so many lousy video games made; they give me no excuse to play indoors if I don’t have to.

The French Side of… RPG

The beautiful GM Screen for French 6th edition of The Call of Cthulhu. Image: Sans-Détour. Used by permission.

I don’t know if you had the same feeling in the US, but for a while, we French RPG players were quite convinced we were the last generation of a very brief-lived phenomenon.
Younger people seemed to mark no interest at all in our favorite hobby. We saw people growing (relatively) older around RPG tables and on LARP fields.

Image: Willy Favre. Used by permission. WarsaW cover, featuring JFK famous quote “Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.”… As you can see, French RPGs obviously have American references, too.

Then it changed. I cannot date it.
But we experienced a sudden revival of RPGs.
One of the symptoms was the creation (or come-back, in the case of the once-famous Casus Belli LINK) of RPG magazines.
But even more interesting and encouraging was the increasing number of new French-created RPGs.

I found it worthy to investigate. As I am writing for you (mostly) American readers one of my major inquiries was the differences between French and American RPGs.
Don’t misunderstand me:  AD&D, The Call of Cthulhu, the White Wolf games and Warhammer are the most played in France as well as in the US. A poll was recently organized by Mystery Machine among 3 000 French RPG players (or ex-players) and the results are clear: among the 10 favorite games of French players, only two are actually French (In Nomine Satanis/Magna Veritas and COPS, two games actually written by the same author, Croc).

However, the GROG (a reference website for French RPG) counts not less than 11 new French RPGs published in 2010.

So… why are all these French people creating RPGs? Are they not satisfied with American ones?
What about the old cliché? Do the French RPG creators really see American RPGs like “blockbusters”? Do they believe French RPGs to be more subtle?

I interviewed 3 of these newly-published RPG creators and as you will see, their answers are quite different.

Julien Heylbroeck aka Wyatt Scurlock is the author of WarsaW, a survival RPG set in a dystopian version of the Polish city in a parallel 1964 where WWI never ended. Warsaw is published by John Doe Editions (yes, they’re French, despite their name).

Jerome Larré is the author of the critically-acclaimed Tenga, an historical RPG set in 16th century Japan, published this January, also by John Doe. Among the archetypes offered by Tenga Core Rulebook is a “Mother Courage”. How cool it is! How many RPGs feature mother heroines?

Yann Lefebvre is a history teacher and the author of Crimes, an historical RPG set in the “Belle Epoque” (end of the 19th century), aimed at investigation, horror and atmosphere. Nine extensions have already been published (+5 free scenarios) by Les écuries d’Augias. The last published scenario for Crimes, L’amour d’une étoile (A Star’s Love) may be played by adults or children PC, offering two different perspectives on the story.

So… what sort of audience are their games aiming at?
Most of them admit that would be a mature audience because of the serious background of the game (WarsaW), the dark atmosphere, and the literary style and references to classic works. (Crimes).
But all of them also think about a passionate audience, players sharing their desires and interests, such as Orwell’s 1984 or Guillermo del Toro’s movies (WarsaW), the Japan depicted in Masaki Kobayashi‘s or Hideo Gosha‘s movies, with heroes not necessarily less gifted but more tragic, with dramatic issues and personal dilemmas (Tenga).
Crimes‘ author guesses his game could help non-gamers interested in ending 19th century, roles and psychology to discover RPGs.

Crimes cover art by Benoît Guillaumot. Used by permission.

Are they reading and playing American and/or French RPGs? What do they appreciate and/or regret in those games?
I got very contrasted answers on that one. Only one of them actually sees American “mainstream” RPGs as blockbusters lacking maturity and originality and stopped playing them.

But there’s so much diversity in the American RPG production that they all find games they appreciate such as Deadlands, Legend of the 5 Rings, Obsidian, Angel (Wyatt Scurlock), Battlestar Galatica and Robin D. Laws‘ games (Jérôme Larré) and Dark Heresy (Yann Lefebvre).
And all of them are interested in the new “indie” RPGs from US, GB and Scandinavia and their many innovating creations such as Parsely games and Fiasco.
In the same way, the French games they like best are very recent ones, such as the other RPG from John Doe (Exil, Patient XIII which takes place in a mysterious asylum, or the wonderful “film noir” atmosphere of Hellywood), or La Brigade Chimérique about which I’ll write again.

They mostly deny the cliché and don’t find any “typically American flavor” in these games.

So it seems that the real parting isn’t between American games and French ones, but between “oldies” and new, more diverse and innovating games. Yann Lefèvre (Crimes) declares :

I like their choices, formal (new formats) as well as thematic (non-consensual topics) or artistic/narrative (new ways of writing and playing RPGs— Crimes is actually written as a game-novel).

Do they feel their games have something “typically French”?

They mostly… don’t know.

Which is a good sign, isn’t it? At least that’s how I’m feeling about that. They tried to design original games on subjects they love, and that’s the important thing.

Obviously, only one of the games (Crimes) is actually set in France. Both Crimes‘ and WarsaW‘s authors assume their games have to do with European culture and history that may not be familiar to everyone in the US. Warsaw‘s author points that

our relationship to History, both WW, occupation are not the same as [the American’s].

Crimes adopts also a very literary approach of horror and fantastic, something between gothic novels and French author Maupassant which may or may not be typically European.
Jérôme Larré (Tenga) points a few differences between the American and French RPG markets: more American players means usually wider ranges of extensions, by example.

A very special case to illustrate the complexity of the matter :

An example of the use of old photographs: the cover of the Lands of Lovecraft: Arkham extension. Image: Sans-Détour. Used by permission.

The last edition of the well-known RPG The Call of Cthulhu (L’Appel de Cthulhu in French) was published in France by Sans-Détour Editions.

But that’s not a regular translation. They changed the rules (only “dust-removing”, they say), changed most cover art, changed the formatting of scenarios…
As Samuel Tarabacki, one of the publishers, says:

Since the earliest contacts with Chaosium (American publisher of the Call of Cthulhu), we let them know we wished to (…) adapt the extensions in our own way. We gained Charlie Krank’s and Greg Stafford’s trust and were allowed to rewrite the Corebook, without betraying the game’s and rules’ spirit. We also choose to complete it with everything we thought useful to help the players entering this world.

Among the most adapted extensions are the “Terres de Lovecraft” (Lands of Lovecraft) series, whose visual identity is very original, using photographs from the 20’s and 30’s.

I’ll talk about another RPG published by Sans-Détour quite soon. Let’s say for now it has something to do with super-heroes, and the reason why they seem to be mostly American…

Tenga cover art by Pierrick May. Used by permission

You read French and would like to buy these games ?
Try Amazon.fr:

You may download a free demo of Crimes.
If you want to buy the complete game, you’ll have to contact their shop and ask about a US delivery. They’ll probably manage it, as they often sent the game to Canada.

You’re an American RPG publisher and would like to translate these games? As the snobbish French cliché was proved wrong, you’ll probably be more than welcome… Feel free to contact them.


CABIN FEVER: Help For RPG-Frustrated New Parents

Of course, you SHALL NOT let your baby play with the game. I'm serious here: lots of tiny bits to swallow. It was for the picture-minute only and I was watching him closely.

Imagine your kid is too young to care about the weather outside.
Imagine (s)he’s so young (s)he won’t even notice it’s snowing, except if you stick his/her tiny nose to the window and point the strange white falling things, exclaiming loudly “Look! It’s snowing!” (or “Regarde! Il neige!” if your geekling is supposed to understand French better than English, such as mine.)

Then you don’t care about Cabin Fever (yet), do you ?
But being a young parent is a seemingly endless Cabin Fever for you, if not for the baby!
Especially if you’ used to be a gamer. Even worse if you used to be a RPG player.

For let us put things clear:
– your spawn is too young for most games (don’t even talk about RPGs, even if Rebecca pointed some RPGs for/with kids, (s)he’s unfortunately not old enough, even for those)
– even if you’re very lucky parents (nice baby, sleeping the night at an early age, grandparents living nearby, and so on), you won’t be able to go out and play RPG as often as you’d like too.
We are lucky parents. We managed 3 RPG sessions in almost 6 months and actually are quite proud of ourselves.

So, how will you stand this long RPG-less cabin fever?

Here are a few ideas.

If/when you’re alone (or if your Significant Other isn’t that much interested in such games):

– you might play Echo Bazaar, as I suggested a few weeks ago.

– you might try some adventures gamebooks. There are the classics, if you feel really nostalgic about The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (there’s a 25th anniversary edition) in the way Chris remins us on Betterblog:

“You are in the wizards tower. If you go down the clear, well-lit passage that certainly doesn’t contain inescapable death-traps of any sort, turn to paragraph 278 you gullible fool. If you go through the door with the cheerful music behind it, turn to paragraph 40 and be prepared to throw the book against the wall in frustration.”

But there’s also something new and really cool. The same Chris pointed us to different adventure gamebooks: the Fable Lands series. They appear to be classics for certain categories of (English-speaking) RPG geeks, but I hadn’t heard about them before.

Fabled Lands by Dave Morris and Jamie Thompson, illustrated by Russ Nicholson. Image: Amazon.com

The first four books are available on Amazon. I bought and tried the first one, The War Torn Kingdom, and I enjoyed the experience. The really great thing it that the game is defined to remember your past quests and accomplishments from a book to another.
The first book is also available as an iPad App.
Fabled Lands Blog announces they actually plan to write a real RPG… you may hope your kid will then be old enough to let you play (a little) more often.

– while you’re at it, you may opt for multiple-choices games designed for mobile use, such as the wonderful, fun and mature Choice of Games issues. You’ll enjoy the med-fan Choice of the Dragon (“Play as a fire-breathing dragon who sleeps on gold and kidnaps princesses for fun.”), the Anne Rice atmosphere in Choice of the Vampire (“Begin your two-hundred year journey as a vampire in New Orleans, 1815; choose whether you will seek love, power or redemption as you negotiate the growing-pains of the young Republic.”), the wonderful and original Choice of Broadsides (“swashbuckling naval adventure, in the spirit of C. S. Forester’s Hornblower or Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin books, with a dash of Jane Austen.”) and the incredible Tudor-with-magic Choice of Romance (“Play as a young courtier who catches the monarch’s eye.

Will you find true love? Gain a crown? Lose your head? A text-based multiple-choice game of romance, deception and court intrigue.”)
All these games offer great gender issues, allowing you to play a female captain in matriarchal Navy courting elegant stay-at-home men, if you like, or to seduce the Queen as a female courtier and use magic to produce an heir.

All are available for free on the web or as mobile versions.

They even offer you to develop games using their ChoiceScript programming language. I’d love to write such a game… if only I had time… in which I’m sent  back to the newborn’s parenting issue.

If/when there’s two of you, as your Significant Other is as frustrated as you are about your lack of RPG activities :

– you may of course plan and play solo RPGs, but there’s a serious problem here. One of you shall be Game Master and design a whole solo adventure. Well, you probably won’t have time (and energy) enough to do that. Neither will your Significant Other.
If you know about (great) published solo adventures for RPG, please let me know! That’s really hard to find.

descent, pieces of the game, board, figurines, cards
"I'm sorry, Love. As I feature Fate-of-Doom, Fearsome-Leader and so on, I'm afraid you're dead again…" Image: Amazon.com

– you may decide to play boardgames for a while, in a RPG-like way to partly dismiss your frustration.
There’s another problem here.

  1. If you want a boardgame to be RPG-friendly, set in a (geek) universe you like, you might find some.
  2. If you want it to be playable (I mean really playable and enjoyable) for 2 players, that’s already far more difficult.
  3. But if you also want it to be cooperative, then you’ll find yourself facing the same problem as we did.

BoardgameGeek tried to list cooperative boardgames and found that most are not completely co-op as they featured a GameMaster and/or a traitor… which means they’re not co-op (or not playable) at all if you’re only two.

I love cooperative games. That’s one of the things I actually enjoy in RPGs.

Plus, when I’m playing in couple, I don’t like being put against him. You might enjoy compete your Significant Other, I don’t blame you in the slightest way. I can do it when I have to.

female investigators cards from Arkham Horror
One of the great things about Arkham Horror: it’s much more open-minded than Lovecraft’s original stories. Many cool female Investigators and non-Caucasian ones are featured. Disclaimer: some of them come from the extensions.

But anytime I play Dungeon Master at Descent (a great AD&D-like boardgame that perfectly fills the first two issues of the list), I found myself apologizing because I killed his poor adventurers (again)!

Same problem (and less re-playability) for Middle-Earth Quest.

As fun as Mansions of Madness sounds, and even if we’ll buy it anyway, it will bring the same problem: one of the players has to be the Game Master.

I found only one game that completely fills the bill, but that’s a great one.
Arkham Horror (and its many worthy extensions) is a wonderful boardgame set in H.P. Lovecraft’s world, like the Call of Cthulhu RPG. It may easily be played at 2 (even if you have to pick 2 Investigators each, if you wanna have a chance to win), it has the greatest re-playability  I ever experienced in a boardgame (at least if you use the extensions) and it’s completely cooperative: you play against the game with no need of a Game Master.
The game is clearly thought to be enjoyed by RPG-players: the many Investigators have backgrounds, special abilities (and even Personal Issues if you choose to play this extension), the Monsters get an “atmosphere” line to be read aloud, the encounters features iconic characters of Lovecraft’s world, and so on.

I highly recommend it.

But I’d love to find a few more games answering my 3-points list. Do you know any others ?

Geek the Vote: Politics for Kids

The number of American political geeks under age eighteen is predictably low. I mean, why should kids geek out about something they can’t even participate in?

The better question is: Why shouldnt they? Kids aren’t allowed to vote, but that doesn’t mean they’re incapable of understanding what’s going on around them. Besides, kids are natural debaters, negotiators and compromisers. Politics are right up their alley.

All it takes to nurture budding civics geeks is to frame political events in a context familiar to kids. Take the divide between campaign strategy and governing strategy, for example. We address this with our kids all the time, we just may not be aware of it. In practical terms, it’s the choice between the shiniest toy advertised everywhere on TV and the old favorites that survived our toyboxes long enough to handed down to our kids. It’s figurines versus Legos. Kids are perfectly capable of deciding for themselves whether they want a delicate treasure on their shelf or a reusable component in their adventure kit. In the long run, people don’t always want just one kind or the other, and with toys as in politics, we get some of both in the long run.

After the campaign, there’re winners and losers. A sports analogy would work right now, but comparing politics with sports is overdone. Cooperative board games and roleplaying games work better, anyway. In co-op games and RPGs as in politics, it’s possible for individuals to lose a contest even if their team is victorious overall, and vice versa. Whatever analogy you use, there are two important further lessons here: First, everyone loses sometimes. Second, nobody likes a sore loser. Kids catch on pretty quickly (faster than most politicians, it seems) that they need to accept their losses with at least a modicum of grace if they want to play again later. The same rules apply to winners, actually.

In politics as at home, when the game night victory laps and concession speeches are over, it’s time to do the chores. It’s important work, but there are some in every group who try to put it off until later or shirk it altogether. Parents and voters reserve the right to withhold privileges from those lazybones, and let that be a lesson to the rest. And just like people in families, politicians in DC usually don’t have the option of doing only the easy stuff or the jobs they like best. All the work has to get done – the trash has to go somewhere, debts must be paid, and arguing about it doesn’t help much – but when we work together, everything gets done faster and better.

I’m not sure about politicians, but schoolchildren will probably find this lesson remedial.

Representation is another necessary civics lesson that may be easier for kids to grasp than it is for some politicians. Put simply, “It’s only fair if everyone gets to play”. Even the teams are unimportant if most of the players are locked in a penalty box before the game begins. And if you think kids can’t wrap their heads around what it means when people are sidelined and stereotyped for their gender, race, and sexuality, think again. Kids hate feeling left out, so this is an easy lesson on principle, but teaching it could be complicated by the fact that there are no African-Americans in the next US Senate.

True, a lot about politics is mystifying, even to the adults whose job it is to analyze policy, vote on it, and govern. But the basics are certainly accessible to kids if we’re willing to parse them into contexts children can relate to. Don’t underestimate what they’re able to puzzle-out on their own, either. Even little kids possess a formidable arsenal of analytical capacities, and they automatically look to the experts (that’s us, grown-ups) when they want to understand the rules at play.

So satisfy their natural curiosity; answer their questions and include them in your political conversations. You never know, but a little civics geekery could go a long way. Someday, game night at your house might turn into election night at the white house.