Words from the Wise (Guys)

Copyright Nicholas HM Caldwell © 2007

Edited by Nicholas HM Caldwell for The Guild Companion


To the 103nd issue of The Guild Companion. It's been an eventful month.

Recombination Report

Let's start with Recombination.

It successfully took place at New Hall on 10th-12th August. All our guests and their dependents made it safely there and on-time, and were joined by somewhere between two hundred and two hundred-fifty gamers, sf fans and filkers, as well as a posse of traders, over the course of the weekend.

After a swift opening ceremony (our Chair disliking them intensely), the two panel streams kicked off. I joined Chris Pramas (our extremely genial and knowledgeable Gaming Guest of Honour, supremo of Green Ronin Publishing, creator of Freeport, and author of the Black Industries' edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay inter alia ) and Phil Masters (UK freelance writer) for the traditional State of the Gaming Industry panel ("Business as usual") where we collectively bemoaned the current state of the industry, how pdf-first products were probably the only sensible route for new ideas from newcomers, and Chris predicted that he'd be hearing release dates for 4th Edition D&D and what companies were doing to insulate themselves from that.. The rest of my evening was spent performing committee duties and chatting with traders.

A chunk of my Saturday morning was spent assisting a delegate around New Hall. Then it was back on a panel with Chris Pramas and veteran gamer John Dallman to discuss the pitfalls of revising game systems. One thing that was quickly apparent was that even among those who were serious D&D gamers, there was little enthusiasm for a new edition of D&D just yet and indeed that 3.5 had come to soon. I got to explain the intentions behind Rolemaster Classic and Rolemaster Express and where RME had managed to divest itself of awkward rules from old RM2 to make low-level play much more fun. I had lunch with Chris Pramas, which was good fun, and then returned to committee duties. It had been my hope to have run HARP SF on the Saturday but some GMs were having difficulties attracting sufficient players so it didn't seem sensible to add another option. It was just as well - the delegate whom I had been assisting in the morning became disruptive in mid-afternoon and was eventually removed from the convention. Unfortunately it required a team of doctors and paramedics to remove the delegate from the actual site and that happened after midnight. I was involved in trying to resolve the situation for more hours than I care to count as were the rest of the committee. The convention carried on happily without the committee with panels, games, Guest of Honour talks and auction virtually unaffected.

Other than a distinct lack of sleep from the night before, Sunday was much more relaxing, starting with a 10 o'clock panel on how to keep campaigns exciting over the long-term with Marcus Rowland (designer of Flatland, Diana: Warrior Princess and Elvis: The Legendary Journeys, and creator of Forgotten Futures) and Chris Pramas, and a chance to visit the dealers where I bought some strange dice (large transparent d10s and d20s with normal dice inside them) and second-hand copies of original Traveller reprints, a Brave New World supplement, and a pair of old 3rd edition GURPS supplements. The afternoon was easy committee duties and shutting down the official convention - although people staying at the college continued to play games, filk and drink beer for many hours. The committee enjoyed a meal with our guests - with Ian Watson (our SF Guest of Honor) as witty raconteur par excellence being entertaining and charming even when not on duty as a guest.

Reports from attendees indicate that they really enjoyed themselves at Recombination, so another successful convention.

D&D 4th Edition

The biggest news at GenCon (US) was the announcement that the long-expected 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons will debut in May 2008 with a new Player's Handbook. Online support is to be a major component of the new edition with the successor to the former Dragon and Dungeon magazines to be an electronic offering known as D&D Insider, which will eventually charge a monthly subscription for access and provide adventures, supplemental material, online character generators, electronic versions of the books (which may or may not be downloadable pdfs) and software for online "tabletop" gaming.

None of these are particularly new in and of themselves but the combination is clearly intended to provide WotC/Hasbro with the steady revenue stream that MMORGS enjoy and another way of locking in their customer base to their offerings. It appears that some material from the new edition will be extracted into a new System Reference Document and placed under the Open Gaming License. What is unclear at present is the status of the d20 logo and trademark license. It seems likely that the existing license will be pulled in an effort to clear the deck of third-party 3.5 material using the d20 logo, and that any new license may cost money or have tighter restrictions.

Personally I'm not that interested in playing or running 4th edition D&D, though like 3.5, I'll probably have to buy the three initial core rulebooks for reference purposes. From the perspective of TGC, 4th Edition is equally unwelcome. Our very first product, City of Archendurn, will also need to be tweaked as it has a d20 logo that will almost certainly need to be removed. That's the easy one to resolve.

The harder problem is the Shadow World Master Atlas d20 Edition that's been trying to get through layout for an eternity. As of the time of writing this editorial, we are still determined to publish it. It will be under the OGL (and indeed has to be) but we may dispense with the d20 logo. Terry Amthor will be taking over the layout process as soon as he is done with his Xa-ar module (our last volunteer layout person has failed to deliver despite a promising start). Robert Defendi has also volunteered to revise the mechanics to 4e compatibility if there is a market.

Mongoose gain Traveller License

The other big announcement of August was Mongoose Publishing acquiring a license for Traveller, the classic science-fiction roleplaying game. Their intention is to become the new hub for Traveller resources and to produce a new edition of the game, based on the original Classic Traveller. Most (but not all) of the other Traveller licenses will not be renewed after their current terms expire in an effort to consolidate the Traveller fan base. In addition to using their version of Traveller to support the Imperium setting, Mongoose intend to use it as the rules engine for other settings such as Starship Troopers and other licensed properties. Moreover the Mongoose Traveller (more correctly, an extraction of the rules set) will be placed under the Open Gaming License and a Traveller Logo License will be created allowing for third-party commercial use of Traveller materials.

Mongoose's strategy here is identical to what they've already accomplished with their version of Runequest - used as the engine for Elric, Lankhmar, and Hawkmoon and also OGLed. It's clever in that in gives them an existing large fan base associated with popular game systems. Using the OGL means they can have third parties support their systems with niche products, etc., exactly as Wizards used the OGL and d20 STL, just on a smaller scale. With Traveller joining Runequest as a Mongoose house system, Mongoose will have rules sets independent of D&D for both fantasy and science-fiction, so if 4e D&D and its licenses go in directions that Mongoose dislike, then they can simply walk away from D&D. Very clever.

Mongoose intend to kick off publishing Traveller in February 2008, so I'd better get a move on and finish HARP SF before that happens!

Farewell for now ...

Version 4f of HARP SF is calling me, so I'll leave you to enjoy the rest of this issue. We'll be back with Issue 104 in October, but until then …

Keep gaming and have fun,
Nicholas HM Caldwell
General Editor for The Guild Companion