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Genesys Review

December 26, 2017 2 comments

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I spent some time over the holidays digesting the new Genesys Core Rulebook from Fantasy Flight games. As an avid fan of the Star Wars system that basically uses the same core mechanics, I figured I would enjoy FFG’s adaptations of those same concepts to other settings. The short version is, I was right! This will be my go-to system for creating unique settings, or adapting popular worlds (and IPs!) that either don’t have an RPG of their own, or the licensed RPG leaves a lot to be desired.

In my experience, other one-system-fits-all RPGs like Savage Worlds, FATE, or GURPS were OK, but failed to be really satisfying. Since you have to be able to do everything, they tend not to do anything exceedingly well.

gns01_upgradediceGenesys uses the narrative dice system from their Star Wars line with very few modifications. While the symbols on the dice are different (and some could argue more clear) if you have the Star Wars dice you can certainly use those, and do not have to buy new dice. The terminology is the same: Success/Failure, Advantage/Threat, Triumph/Despair, Boost/Ability/Proficiency dice, Setback/Difficulty/Challenge dice etc. The one omission being the Force die. Destiny points are called Story points in Genesys, and you start out with a static pool of one point per PC in the player pool, one point in the GM pool. I personally will likely house-rule this and include a roll of the force die to see whether the winds of fate are blowing for or against the PCs. Having a larger pool of destiny/fate/story points is more fun in my opinion.

This book packs a lot of great material in its 256 pages, for a very reasonable MSRP of $39.95. The system has certainly benefited from years of refinements in designing an entire shelf worth of Star Wars supplements. Sections of it read like a design guide for creating balanced skills, talents, species, and items. It offers insights in to the design process and provides a pretty elegant way to design a skill tree that feels both familiar, yet provides the tools and guidance to customize your setting.

Included are some basic profession archetypes like Laborer, Intellectual, and Aristocrat which could be adapted to any of the outlines of included settings like Fantasy, Steampunk, Space Opera, Sci-Fi, Modern and Weird War. All of the included settings have brief sections on possible species/races, items and adversaries. While not being exhaustive, they certainly cover the main tropes for each genre that provide the blueprint to allow endless expansion.

One section that got a significant overall is Social Encounters. Star Wars was moving in this direction with a lot of the more recent sourcebooks for socially-focused characters, but Genesys takes it a few steps further. As part of a social encounter (and potentially during combat using social skills!) PCs and NPCs can trade verbal barbs that actually cause strain damage equal to uncancelled successes similar to typical combat checks. An opponent is defeated once you exceed their strain threshold. All PCs and Nemesis NPCs have a Strength, Flaw, Desire, Fear, and Motivation that can be learned or accidentally revealed during the course of the encounter to the advantage of their opponent in future rounds. I think the key to successfully running these will be to allow the story to drive the mechanics rather than the other way around. PCs will still need to be fairly clever and creative in their social maneuverings, but the dice and motivations may be a fun way to represent or even inspire the ebb and flow of these encounters.

gns01_magic.jpgThere are also a few optional rule sets that make more sense in some settings than others. The vehicle rules/combat are very similar to Star Wars with very few additions. I did notice an additional range band added beyond extreme: Strategic range. This could be used in a variety of settings, but is defined by not being able to see each other with the naked eye, but only through some other means: sensors, spyglasses, radar etc. The magic rules are fairly unique and will be a pretty big departure for those used to playing wizards in D&D or similar systems. Spells are defined in broad strokes, allowing PCs to flavor them as they like, or as would be appropriate for their character. Examples include Attack, Augment, Barrier, Conjure, Curse, Dispel, Heal and Utility. Spells are divided into three main skills: Arcana, Divine, and Primal. Casters can also add special effects by increasing the number of difficulty dice. Turn a fire bolt into a fireball by adding the Blast quality and one difficulty die. Empower an attack to do damage equal to twice the characteristic linked to the skill for two extra difficulty dice. Bigger, badder spell? Harder to cast. Very elegant.

My only complaints are mostly aesthetic, which is a first for FFG RPGs. I knew going in we weren’t going to have the incredible art that drives the Star Wars universe, but the original art we do get are basically just sketches. I get its a toolkit/blueprint but not only does it look rough, it is much more sparse. At least give us a lot of it if its going to take a quarter of the time. Beyond that, the headings and subheads are in a very compact all-caps font in two shades of blue. Gross. Ideally, the various setting-specific books will have their own layout and design team, because this book is below par.

That being said, I would highly recommend picking this one up in print or PDF! One benefit of not being under the yoke of the Disney/Star Wars license is modern digital formats! For an example of what can be built using the system, check out the Fallout theme over at d20 radio.

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History Check: Gary Gygax High School Yearbook

December 17, 2017 Comments off

A facebook group I frequent auctions numerous gaming items, sometimes common and sometimes very rare.  Several of the members are known gaming industry talents, and others are just collectors like myself.   At the end of November, Garrett Ratini put up an item that was a rare gem from his collection. It wasn’t a game book, but books containing a surprisingly rare set of photos that made up a part of gaming history. And how the auction ended is where the real surprise happened.

The items auctioned were the 1953 and 1954 years of the Geneva Log, the Lake Geneva High School yearbook.  It was during these years that Gary Gygax, Don Kaye and Mary Powell were all in attendance.  A treasure for the gamer who wants to own a piece of history, but especially for the rarity of the photos inside.  To appreciate just how rare, you have to know a little something about the history of these three individuals.

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Gary Gygax, for one, did not finish high school, though did finish his degree years later.  A few months after his father passed, he dropped out of high school in his junior year.  These volumes then contained rare pictures of him as a student.

Secondly, Don Kaye is depicted in the book as well.  Don Kaye, a close childhood friend of Gygax from age 6, co-founded Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) with Gygax and made one of the first Dungeons & Dragons characters, the infamous Murlynd.  While the depiction of these two legends in one book might not appear to be noteworthy in itself, it is one of the few rare pictures of Don Kaye.

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TSR was founded in 1973 by Gygax and Kaye.  Later, Brian Blume bought in and supplied the capital to allow the publication of Dungeons and Dragons.  However, Kaye suffered from a heart condition and needed surgery.  He never disclosed this to his partners, and died of a heart attack before the scheduled surgery could take place, dying at age 36 just as Dungeons and Dragons was beginning to gain momentum.  As a result, few public pictures of Don Kaye exist.

Mary Jo Powell was a friend of Kaye and Gygax, and was wooed by Kaye for some time.  However, Gygax was also smitten, and proposed marriage at 19 years old.  Kaye was upset enough to not attend the wedding, though they later reconciled. Ernie Gygax recently posted a picture of Mary Jo the day after the proposal, shown below:

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Mary Jo once suspected Gary of having an affair while she was pregnant with her second child, but going to confront him in a friend’s basement, found him sitting with friends around a map covered table.  She may have been the first of what my wife calls “Gaming Widows” (being spouses left by the wayside for the husband that games too much).


Garrett Ratini put these items up for auction, and the true collectors of gaming history began to come out to bid.  The buyout price for the books was $1,200.00 and likely that number would have been met, I suspect, knowing the habits of this community of bidders.  But an unexpected bidder placed a bid at somewhere around the $400 mark, and that was Luke Gygax himself, founder of Gary Con and Gary Gygax’s son.

With the permission of all involved, Garrett terminated the auction and gifted the books to Luke.  Now, these books and images of his mother and father are with him, where they truly belong.

Pre-digital history like this is easily lost, and is not on the radar of many historians, with the exception of Michael Witwer and Shannon Appelcline. Hopefully books like this will make it into the archives like the one held at GenCon 50 this past year.  Fortunately, I believe we can anticipate  these books being treasured by the Gygax family, both for themselves and for posterity.

DnDonations 4 – White Plume Mountain

December 6, 2017 Comments off

It is that most special time of year again: Dungeons & Donations! Our intrepid FLGS The Wyvern’s Tale is hosting a 24-hour marathon D&D session as a benefit for Extra Life that supports Children’s Miracle Network hospitals that will stream live on Twitch starting this Friday at 6pm EST! Just like in years past audience members can make donations that affect the game either to the players benefit (boons) or detriment (banes). The more you donate, the more dramatic the boon or bane!

New this year will be an assortment of raffles, prizes and auctions including a mini figure painting commission, the 2017 Gongfarmers Almanac, a hand-painted wooden shield, and some particularly weird items like a CD by David Hasselhoff, signed by David Hasselhoff. It is going to be a fantastically entertaining time!

Players will be adventuring through the classic White Plume Mountain converted to fifth edition from the awesome Tales from the Yawning Portal. Organizers are hoping to surpass last year’s awesome total of $3,275 raised, with every cent going to benefit Children’s Miracle Network. Be sure and tune in to twitch.tv this Friday, and watch your donations help or hinder the party. If you want to make the journey to the store and play in the game, details are here. Either way you’ll be helping out an awesome cause. Donate here. For the children!

Categories: 5e, holiday, Kids, News