Grim Noir Out Now!

Northern Realms, best known for their Bronze Age fantasy game Bliaron, has released another game. This time, it is the long-waited Grim Noir, a GUMSHOE-based supernatural investigation game. There seems to be a strong vibe of classic noir running through it, and the cover just oozes style.

“Vicious Spiral”, the introductory adventure from the core book is also available as a free download for the curious. Though the genre is classic noir, Grim Noir appears to be secondary-world fantasy, set in the City, whose map evokes New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles alike. This is an interesting choice, but I feel the stylistics of the genre support it. It is a genre of strong archetypes, the hard-boiled detective in the dark and uncaring city, the femme fatale, the corrupt councilman. Details like whether the body was found in Griffith Park or the Central Park are irrelevant.

GUMSHOE is always a solid choice for a detective story. I have yet to read how the fantastic elements of the setting play out, but I am looking forward to giving the game a whirl.

RPG Research Rundown

This is the weekend of Ropecon 2021, virtual for the second year in a row. As there have been a lot of role-playing game studies books coming out in the past few years, we felt we needed an excuse to catch up, and thus was born the clunkily and slightly inaccurately named “Jukka Särkijärvi and Evan Torner Chat About Recent RPG Monographs” (there’s one book there that’s not a monograph).

I was also asked for a bibliography, so here’s the books we covered, the books we mentioned, and the books we obliquely hinted at in the program description by mystifying references like “Bowman (2010)”. You can find the International Journal of Role-Playing here, Analog Game Studies here, and as a bonus, the Japanese Journal of Analog Role-Playing Game Studies here.

Of course, accessibility is always an issue, especially when dealing with academic publishers who price their stuff for institutions, not private individuals. Some we bought, some we received straight from the authors, some we wrested from the jealous grasp of university libraries. DriveThruRPG carries a lot of the McFarland books, but not all of them. Some are entirely or partially free downloads, and I have linked to those. I can only wish the best of luck to those embarking on the same journey.

Bowman, Sarah Lynne. 2010. The Functions of Role-Playing Games: How Participants Create Community, Solve Problems, and Explore Identity. McFarland. Link.

Carbonell, Curtis D. 2019. Dread Trident: Tabletop Role-Playing Games and the Modern Fantastic. Liverpool University Press. Link.

Deterding, Sebastian and José Zagal. 2019. Role-Playing Game Studies: A Transmedia Approach. Routledge. Link. Open access articles.

Fine, Gary Alan. 1983. Shared Fantasy: Role-Playing Games as Social Worlds. University of Chicago Press. Link.

Grouling Cover, Jennifer. 2010. The Creation of Narrative in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. McFarland. Link.

Hedge, Stephanie and Jennifer Grouling. 2021. Roleplaying Games in the Digital Age: Essays on Transmedia Storytelling, Tabletop RPGs and Fandom. McFarland. Link.

Henriksen, Thomas Duus, Christian Bierlich, Kasper Friis Hansen, and Valdemar Kølle (eds.). 2011. Think Larp. Rollespilsakademiet. Download.

Jones, Shelly (ed.). 2021. Watch Us Roll: Essays on Actual Play and Performance in Tabletop Role-Playing Games. McFarland. Link.

Kamm, Björn-Ole. 2020. Role-Playing Games of Japan: Transcultural Dynamics and Orderings. Palgrave Macmillan. Link.

Loponen, Mika. 2019. The Semiospheres of Prejudice in the Fantastic Arts: The Inherited Racism of Irrealia and Their Translation. PhD thesis, University of Helsinki. Download.

Mackay, Daniel. 2001. The Fantasy Role-Playing Game: A New Performing Art. McFarland. Link.

Mizer, Nicholas J. 2019. Tabletop Role-Playing Games and the Experience of Imagined Worlds. Palgrave Macmillan. Link.

Mochocki, Michał. 2021. Role-play as a Heritage Practice: Historical Larp, Tabletop RPG and Reenactment. Link.

Montola, Markus and Jaakko Stenros (eds.). 2008. Playground Worlds: Creating and Evaluating Experiences of Role-Playing Games. Ropecon ry. Download.

Montola, Markus and Jaakko Stenros (eds.). 2010. Nordic Larp. Fëa Livia. Download.

Peterson, Jon. 2020. The Elusive Shift. MIT University Press. Link.

Saitta, Eleanor, Johanna Koljonen and Jukka Särkijärvi (eds.). What Do We Do When We Play? Ropecon ry. Open access articles.

Schallegger, René Reinhold. 2019. The Postmodern Joy of Role-Playing Games: Agency, Ritual and Meaning in the Medium. McFarland. Link.

Seregina, Usva. 2016. Performing Fantasy and Reality. PhD thesis, Aalto University. Download.

Seregina, Usva. 2018. Performing Fantasy and Reality in Contemporary Culture. Routledge. Link.

White, William J. 2020. Tabletop RPG Design in Theory and Practice at the Forge, 2001–2012: Designs and Discussions. Palgrave Macmillan. Link.

Williams, J. Patrick, Sean Q. Hendricks, and W. Keith Winkler (eds.). 2006. Gaming as Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity and Experience in Fantasy Games. McFarland. Link.

Additionally, I have been working on a series of articles for the Loki role-playing webzine about many of these books. Only in Finnish, I’m afraid.

My Finncon Program

Convention season is upon us!

Well, it’s been upon us for over a month now. However, Finncon is this weekend in Turku. It’s the major sci-fi convention in Finland on years when we don’t all do irresponsible things with our personal schedules and run a Worldcon. Finncon’s got awesome guests of honour, the authors Lauren Beukes and Maria Turtschaninoff, and the academic GoH Merja Polvinen.

Because I’m bad at saying no and panels are easy, I’m on a bunch of things this year.


  • 12:00-12:45: Namedroppauspaneeli (or, The Name Dropping Panel): Wherein I moderate and Nina Niskanen, Marianna Leikomaa, Sari Polvinen, and Leila Paananen tell you what English-language sci-fi and fantasy you should be reading right now. Ostensibly in Finnish but the notes I’ll be putting up during the panel will be in English.
  • 13.00-13.45: SF and Fantasy in Musical Theater: How do science fiction, fantasy and horror translate into musicals? Hamilton’s been all the rage recently, but surely there are other examples of SF musical theater as well? A presentation by Marianna Leikomaa, Sari Polvinen, and Jukka Särkijärvi.
  • 14.00-14.45: Kirja tulee kirjan luo: Wherein Shimo Suntila moderates and Jukka Särkijärvi, Sari Polvinen and Boris Hurtta discuss the ways and means of book collecting. I swear, I’m by far the newbie on that panel and I have around 3,500 titles. Only in Finnish.
  • 16.00-16.45: The Masquerade: A playful masquerade show that I host, as is tradition. Bilingual. Signup is still open. The award ceremony is at 21:00 at the Koulu restaurant.

On Saturday evening, starting at 19:00 at Koulu, there’s also the collective release party for a total of six different sci-fi, fantasy, and horror titles. I have a short story coming out in the anthology Valitut, which is nice.


  • 13.00-14.45: The Hugo Panel: The panelists talk about this year’s Hugo finalists: what’s good, what’s bad and what’s ugly. Have the recent changes in the Hugo nominating process had an impact on what makes it to the final list? Sini Neuvonen, Marianna Leikomaa, Tommy Persson and Jukka Särkijärvi.

Come and see us talk smart things! Come and say hi! Or not, no pressure!

Ropecon in two weeks!

Stuff I’ve Been Up To: Sharks in Water Elementals

I haven’t been writing here a lot lately. The reason, as I around a year ago mentioned, is that I’m writing craploads in a lot of other places. While you wait for me to finish the report from Knutpunkt where I spent last weekend, here’s a selection of links to other games things I’ve written.

The post title is a bit of a clickbait maybe, since while I did write a long article studying the infamous cartoon about a shark summoned within a water elemental and what it means from the point of view of marine biology, the historical theory of magic, and the rules of the game, it’s only in Finnish. It’s on LOKI, along with another text of mine written since I did this last time.

There’s also a bunch of new things on PlayLab!:

Plus some research highlights based on other people’s texts, “Dungeons & Dragons & Deleuze”, based on a paper by Curtis Carbonell; and “The Hegemonic Masculinity of Rules Lawyering”, based on a paper by Steven Dashiell.

There’s also some reviews based on games played with me, and they’re pretty nifty as well, so here’s Markku Vesa’s Battle of the Reds and the Whites in Finland 1918 Review”, Aleksi Kesseli’s Arkham Horror Review”, and Elisa Wiik’s Finnish-language review Tales from the Loop – roolipeli teknofuturistisesta 80-luvusta”.

And then there’s that Chernobyl Mon Amour crowdfunding campaign still going on. In addition, I’m working with Jaakko Stenros on a book about role-playing games called Roolipelimaa, out sometime in the autumn.

And running Ropecon! Ropecon season is upon us once again, and the call for program is open. This time around we’re also doing an academic seminar on Friday on the theme of intersections in games. The call for abstracts is out, and will be until April 4th.

New Year, New Tricks

So, that was 2013.

For Worlds in a Handful of Dice, it was not a particularly remarkable year. I managed to pen a total of mere 15 posts, mostly convention reports. The year’s main event seems to have been in February, when I reported about Laborinthus, my peculiar find in a Zurich game shop. Reddit found it and showed up in great force.

The conventions were largely the reason it was so quiet over here. Between Ropecon, Tracon, and a third non-gaming event, I had way too much on my plate and came close to a burnout in the spring. I managed to muddle through Ropecon, had fortunately very few responsibilities for Tracon, and then had another annoying load of metaphorical bricks come down on me in the autumn, leading to me blowing a number of deadlines and generally not getting a whole lot done.

The year’s gaming was mostly Pathfinder Society, which has now reached sufficient autonomy that it barely needs my intervention to continue and grow. I also ran a game of Stalker late in the year, which I thought went rather well and drew my attention to an interesting fact about the system: it is possible for the GM to keep it entirely hidden from the players if they so wish. There was additionally a session of Paranoia XP, my first since the 90’s, which I shall not talk about any further. I played some Lamentations of the Flame Princess, too, and did some Myrrysmiehet playtesting. Alongside the Pathfinder Society campaign, a friend of mine started running Curse of the Crimson Throne, which is about one session away from wrapping up the first book.

I also larped for the first time in April. I am happy with both the experience and the blog post, partly because of the excellent photography of Tuomas Puikkonen.

The gaming world at large, then?

Well, Myrrysmiehet came out with the GM book for our game Vihan lapset. My contribution was primarily editorial, and I am very happy with the game. We also released Lännen maat, a role-playing game about the Egyptian afterlife, written by Risto J. Hieta, the Father of Finnish Role-Playing. The Glorantha Association of Finland released their translation of HeroQuest, which is also a very solid piece of work. There’s also Melidian, the spiritual successor of the elfgames Rapier and Elhendi. This is the only time you will ever see me use the term “elfgame”, by the way. I make an exception for games where you explicitly play only elven player characters. Tracon also saw the release of Lohikäärmeliitto, an OSR-like curio, and late in the year, Burger Games produced the free PDF of Crimson Rovers (scroll down a bit), a game about exploring and colonizing Mars. It’s in English, by the way. There was also the usual pile of Lamentations of the Flame Princess products, such as Vincent Baker’s The Seclusium of Orphone and his charmingly titled Ropecon scenario Fuck for Satan.

Paizo ran the open playtest for the Advanced Class Guide. While I am not strictly certain of the necessity of adding yet another pile of base classes to the already teetering tower, the hybrid class system seems to be a good way to do it. It limits multiclass dipping, and some of the ideas seem fairly clever. I am not fond of the hunter being married to their pet, though.

This year, I shall endeavour to have a higher rate of actual content-to-hamsters. Thanks to being involved with the Helsinki in 2017 Worldcon bid, I will also be digressing to that side of the fandom more frequently. These Hugo Awards are utterly fascinating…

Conan the Barbarian

It’s now May 14th, the 30th anniversary of the American release of Conan the Barbarian.

It’s not, unfortunately, the 30th anniversary of the world-premier. That was back in March. However, it’s the one I choose to observe because it coincides with my birthday. Fortunately, I’m a few years younger than the film.

I picked the day to rewatch the film. My friends can tell that this doesn’t exactly require a lot. It’s one of my favourites and moreover, one of the few films that I can watch over and over again without ever growing bored. Somehow, there’s very little in the film that does not work. The direction is good, Schwarzenegger has the physical presence and sense of timing to pull it off, the art design is sublime, and the Basil Poledouris soundtrack knits it all together into something that is more than the sum of its parts. Every fantasy movie between Conan the Barbarian and Fellowship of the Ring – and quite a few afterwards – owe it a great debt, and there’s nary a sentence in its dialogue that is not quotable.

It’s a classic for the ages.

Fittingly, this is also the 200th post of my blog.

ENnie Nominations for 2010

The ENnie nominations were actually announced last Friday, so I am ridiculously late with this, but the voting isn’t starting until the day after tomorrow, so I figure it’s not that bad.

Overall, it’s been a strong year for quality gaming material, and this is reflected in the nominations (translation: I bought a lot of this stuff). Here are some of thoughts on the categories where I could give reasonable commentary.

Best Cover Art

The category where judging a book by its cover is expected, and one where pretty much every nominee, the honourable mention, and probably great many books outside the shortlist would deserve to win. Personally, I am partial to the art in Eclipse Phase, though I think the interior illustrations are a fair bit more impressive. I’d give the gold to that and the silver probably to Paizo’s Pathfinder Bestiary, with its Wayne Reynolds piece.

Best Interior Art

I’m kinda surprised Eclipse Phase isn’t represented here, since this is a real strength for the book. I’m guessing this one is another category where you have more deserving winners than you have room on the shortlist, though. While it isn’t as easy to keep up the quality throughout an entire book (WotC’s 3.0 Deities and Demigods springs to mind – some absolutely stunning pieces of art side by side with positively hideous scrawlings), it’s still quite doable when the art director knows what he’s doing. I’ve got both Rogue Trader and Pathfinder RPG, and can verify that they are the prettiest ever, and will be probably voting for them. Then there’s this one that I’ve never even heard of, Willow Palecek’s Escape from Tentacle City. I know nothing about it except that it has won an award called Game Chef Golden Katana that Shoots Smaller Katanas Award for Game That Looks Like it Was the Most Fun to Write. This is awesome.

Best Cartography

Not much I can say about these, since I never even got the obligatory Paizo product, Pathfinder City Map Folio. I suppose it’s possible even WotC has a good claim on this award, since their maps at least have always looked good. I must say I’m a bit surprised to see Death Frost Doom here. I would’ve expected to see it vying for the title of Best Adventure.

Best Writing

Finally, we get to the meaty part of the awards. I’m only familiar with Eclipse Phase (that one seems to be popping up a lot, doesn’t it?) and The Kerberos Club, and both are books with such engaging prose that I read most of them off my computer screen. Aloud, as I recall, in the case of Kerberos Club. Also up for nomination is an interesting game called Colonial Gothic that I know very little about except that a sourcebook for it was part of the Haiti Relief bundle on DriveThruRPG some months ago. Notable about it is that it’s coauthored by James Maliszewski of Grognardia.

Best Production Values

The “oooh, pretty book” category. I’d give the gold to Rogue Trader, because the binding on these books is something magical. I’ve probably mentioned this before, but a year or two ago, I dropped my Dark Heresy rulebook so that the entire binding was torn away from the spine and was only attached to the covers by the cover papers. Well, I pushed it back into place and tried to find a way to repair this, but then I found I could no longer separate the parts. It’s as if the book had regenerated. I can grab the book by the spine and shake it vigorously, and the pages stay in place.

Best Rules

A category where I have no first-hand experience with any of the works. However, Wild Talents 2nd Edition is based on Wild Talents 1st Edition, which is based on Godlike, and is therefore awesome. Likewise, Diaspora uses the FATE system, which is also used by Dresden Files, which is also awesome. I also like some of the things I’ve been hearing about Diaspora’s take on the ruleset.

Best Adventure

Also known as “the Award That Paizo Publishing Will Probably Get Anyway”. While I’ll be voting The Grinding Gear (the first ENnie nominee ever that was produced in Finland, by the way) for gold, I don’t expect it to have enough popular support for even the silver. Don’t get me wrong, I think Stolen Land is also an excellent module, and what Paizo is trying with the Kingmaker Adventure Path is commendable. I am not intimately familiar with the other works in this category, though a Trail of Cthulhu adventure that has the name “Kenneth Hite” or “Robin D. Laws” somewhere on the cover is pretty much guaranteed to rock, and here we have two.

Best Monster or Adversary

Of this bunch, I’ve only read Pathfinder Bestiary and Classic Horrors Revisited. Both are excellent books for what they do. I especially dig what the latter book did with ghouls. There’s a bit of John Romero, a bit of Wolfgang Baur, a bit of H.P. Lovecraft… a lovely book, overall. The Bestiary is more of a utilitarian work, made to be used at the table, which is a task it performs quite well. While it is pretty much a retread of the old Monster Manual, it lacks some of the more annoying monsters like the allip and the tendriculos, and there’s something to be said for the improvements on the ruleset as well.

Best Setting

In this category, I’m only familiar with The Kerberos Club, which, as I mentioned earlier, is made of win and awesome. It’s a Victorian take on superheroes, in the vein of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Somewhat amusingly, one of the NPCs in The Kerberos Club is Christina Rossetti, who is the real-world author of the poem “Goblin Market”, from which another nominee, Goblin Markets for Changeling: The Lost takes its name and, I assume, significant inspiration.

Well, I think it’s amusing. Good poem, too. (And there’s also an adventure inspired by it in The Great Pendragon Campaign.)

Best Supplement

I am not familiar with any of the products here, though I suppose the Rebellion Era Sourcebook for Star Wars Saga is probably pretty good. Also, this Lucha Libre Hero thing looks so insane that it has to be awesome. I am also just going to assume that Ascension for Dark Heresy came out too late to be nominated, because otherwise its absence is quite strange.

Best Aid or Accessory

Well, here we have the Pathfinder Game Master’s Screen, which is again one of those new, shiny and heavy affairs the thickness of rulebook covers. It deflects thrown dice, can be used to slap around unruly players, and also looks pretty good and has really handy tables on the GM’s side. The only complaint I have about it is that it didn’t come with a booklet of something, which seems to be the norm with GM screens. The Dark Heresy screen came with an adventure module, for instance, while WotC’s old DM screen for Forgotten Realms had random encounter charts for pretty much the whole Realms, and the Eberron screen had a big poster map of Khorvaire.

Best Miniature

This is an odd one. It seems that WotC and Alkemy Minis have entire product lines up for nomination, while the others have single products. Very strange. Even stranger is that WotC is here at all since at the present their miniature work can be outdone by a six-year-old with some play-doh and finger paints. The quality peaked around Blood War and Night Below and for some reason plummeted at Desert of Desolation and the subsequent releases. The Alkemy miniatures look very good, but I am irritated by the lack of information on their website. When I buy miniatures, I buy them for roleplaying games. This means they must be compatible with the rest of my collection, i.e. they have to be the same scale as what Games Workshop is releasing, and I can’t find any mention of scale on the Alkemy website. They look like they’d be around 35mm, though.

Best Electronic Book

Yet another category where I haven’t read any of the products, though amusingly some of our local Pathfinder Society players did play The Devil We Know Part I: Shipyard Rats and declared it mediocre.

Best Free Product

Ooh, free swag! I think the best one here is Wayfinder #1, for the sheer size of the thing. The one I have substantial practical experience with is the Advanced Player’s Guide Playtest Document, with the playtest versions of new base classes from the upcoming book. I’m playing a summoner, another guy I know is playing an alchemist and there’s a cavalier in my Rise of the Runelords campaign and thus far nothing has been broken.

Best Website

Interesting things here. The best is probably the Pathfinder Reference Document, but the ones that really catch my eye are Epic Words and Obsidian Portal, which are different takes on the concept of a campaign management website, much like the Finnish Mekanismi wiki that I’ve been using. I figure that if I ever need to do a campaign website in English, I might look at one of these, though they do seem terribly involved compared to the simplicity of Mekanismi.

Best Blog

Well, I like GnomeStew, and there’s something strangely compelling about One Geek to Another, even though I do not quite get the whole concept and feel it may be a subtle satire. The strength of Kobold Quarterly I feel lies in the magazine, not the blog, and the rest of the nominees seem to post little that I find interesting.

Best Game

Pathfinder RPG, obviously. Wild Talents also rocks on toast, as does the new Shadowrun. While I can understand that the clunkiness of Eclipse Phase’s system may keep it out of this category, the absence of Rogue Trader is noticeable. I am a great fan of its party generation rules, among other things.

Product of the Year

And here we get to the Big Kahuna. The list of nominees is certainly impressive, with heavyweights like Pathfinder and Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play, and innovative little works of art such as The Kerberos Club and Eclipse Phase. I figure this one goes to Pathfinder, though, and will be voting it for gold. I can’t really comment on the new WFRP, since I still haven’t had an opportunity to try it out. There’s something about the game that makes me deeply suspicious, though I am trying to keep an open mind. The new version of Shadowrun is also of interest, though I already have the third and fourth editions and I’m not sure if getting a third rulebook for a game I’ve yet to play is a good idea.

The Dawn of a New Year

In what is apparently forming into a tradition, I hereby post about the last year several days into the new one, after every other blogger has already done their recaps. Like last year, I also blame World of Warcraft, and also Steam for selling me Mass Effect for a little under four euros and a pack of LucasArts adventure games from the early 90’s for a bit under two.

My tauren druid is now level 80, finally. He’s totally awesome.

This is how you know it’s a gamer blog. The normal people would blame the delay on the hangover after New Year’s. Had that one, too, though. Several, actually.

Aaanyway, let’s take a look at what I wrote a year back about 2009.

Well, to start with, The Dresden Files RPG did not materialise. However, it’s not vapourware yet and Evil Hat is aiming for release at Origins 2010. I feel they’re being realistic and refreshingly honest about their chances of hitting a definite release date. Still looking forward to this one. I’m a huge fan of the novels – not so much the TV series – and I feel they will translate rather well into a roleplaying game. Indeed, they were strongly inspired by RPGs in the first place.

Adamant Entertainment’s and Cubicle 7’s Tales of New Crobuzon has also failed to appear. I do not know the status on this, though Adamant is still apparently up and running. Their site is going through a redesign and is inaccessible at the time of writing. Cubicle’s site contains no mention of the game, though they do seem to have announced the playtest of an unnamed licenced fantasy RPG back in September. I think we can definitely say that Tales of New Crobuzon may or may not be coming out at some point in the future. Then, in this industry, release dates often do have that Xeno’s Paradox effect going on. We’re still waiting for Sinister Adventures’ Razor Coast, too.

However, there’s one product that I can pretty confidently say is dead, and that’s Kahriptic Knights’ Deliverance. Their website hadn’t been updated for six months by the time I last posted about it, so it doesn’t come as a great surprise that they still haven’t updated it after that. Well, it wasn’t a game I was overly interested in, anyway.

But then there was the stuff that did come out, and boy, is it pretty. As predicted, we got Rogue Trader, from Fantasy Flight Games. I haven’t yet digested my copy wholly, but will probably be posting about it if I ever get around to reading the thing entirely. We also got another big, fat science fiction RPG, Catalyst’s Eclipse Phase. I’ve read the setting stuff in the book and it is awesome, easily worth the price of the PDF by itself, but have yet to start on the rather impenetrable thicket of the ruleset.

I’m pretty bad at reading rules, to be honest.

Eclipse Phase is also notable for being licenced under a Creative Commons licence, making the PDF freely distributable. It’s a bold thing they’re trying and I wish them luck with it. I bought both the PDF and the hardcopy.

There’s also that Starblazer Adventures thing, but I already bought two 400-page science fiction RPGs last month.

In addition to Rogue Trader, FFG released the third edition of Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play. It seems to be dividing opinion, and looking at the components, it is certainly unlike any RPG I’ve seen before in its presentation. The price tag is too much for me, though.

And then we got Pathfinder RPG, which was pretty much everything I hoped it would be. I currently have two active campaigns, though both have been on a holiday break due to the players in Rise of the Runelords scattering to the four winds for December and the DM in Legacy of Fire being a lazy bum and not getting anything done about playing the game during the Christmas break. The bastard.

Pathfinder Society in Finland seems to have sorta dried up and whithered away, likely because it never attracted sufficient DMs to keep the game running on its own momentum. Also, were I to compile a Top Ten list of the weakest products released by Paizo, it’d include every dungeon crawl they’d released for PFS up to Drow of the Darklands Pyramid, which is the last module I am familiar with. I stopped keeping up after that. It seems the last PFS game in Finland was played back in October.

That said, there are some outstanding modules in there. I’d name Frozen Fingers of Midnight, Perils of the Pirate Pact, Tide of Morning and The Decline of Glory as the best of the bunch.

The most awesome thing last year, though, was the RPG course I took at the university. For those of you who missed it, here’s a link to the records.

This year, Ropecon is on the 23rd-25th of July, at Dipoli, in Espoo. It’s gonna be awesome. Tracon will be a two-day event in the summer, from 3rd to 4th of July, this time in Tampere-talo, where Finncon was back in 2008. It will also be awesome. Then there’s the con in Turku, Conklaavi, from April 10th to 11th.

I don’t see anything of magnificent, mind-blowing awesomeness in the future, but Paizo is coming out with the GameMastery Guide in May and the  Advanced Player’s Guide in August. The APG is in open playtest and the six new character classes can be downloaded from the Paizo website. I’ve been busy so I’ve yet to take an in-depth look at them, but hope to do so at some point, preferably before the end of the month when they stop taking playtest feedback.

I also remember hearing that indeed, Fantasy Flight Games will follow the original game plan laid out by Black Industries about releasing three Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying games. Two down, one to go, and that last one will be Deathwatch, about the finest of Mankind, the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines. I can’t find a source for that, though, and don’t know if it’s slated for 2010 or 2011 release.

So, that’s what 2009 looked like and what can dimly be discerned in the mists of the future. Let’s see how it all works out in practice.

Pathfinder Bonus Bestiary

The Free RPG Day was last Saturday. I live in Finland, so I didn’t get any loot. This is not, technically, because the local stores didn’t take part in the event, though they did not. It’s mostly because the Free RPG Day fell on the Midsummer’s Day, a date when the sovereign state of Finland is closed and everyone buggers off to the deep woods to enact strange pagan rituals with bonfires and intoxicants, culminating in ritual human sacrifice to the lake spirits.

So, in short, no loot for me.

However, there was really only one free product I was really interested in anyway, and Paizo Publishing was considerate enough to make it available as a free PDF a couple of days after the event. It is the Pathfinder RPG Bonus Bestiary, a short booklet containing sixteen monster entries that didn’t make it into the Pathfinder RPG Bestiary coming out in a couple of months.

For some reason, there hasn’t been much noise made about this. While it is true that the offerings are an inherently second-string bunch of beasties, Paizo has time and again showed that they have the ability to breathe new life into the bestiary of D&D (cf. Classic Monsters Revisited, Dragons Revisited, Dungeon Denizens Revisited), and though the page count per monster is rather smaller this time, they’ve done good things.

First up is the allip, a real fuck-you monster back in 3.5. A CR 3 incorporeal monster that inflicts Wisdom drain on a touch attack, no save? A DM had to be a sadist to pit this baby against a level-appropriate group – in fact, back in the Living Greyhawk days, the title of Real Man was bestowed upon those characters who’d started out in ESA3-08 Prisoners of the Calling Mines, a first-level module that started the characters unarmed and unequipped as prisoners in a deep mine,  and featured an allip end boss. That module claimed a great many characters.

Now, the allip is a much more bearable opponent, inflicting only Wisdom damage with its touch of insanity. A critical hit no longer doubles it, either, but does one additional point of Wisdom drain. Still dangerous and nobody you want to mess with, but no longer a floating, babbling TPK waiting to happen (okay, technically, an allip cannot actually kill anyone – a character with his Wisdom reduced to 0 is only comatose, not dead, but a comatose character in a dungeon isn’t going to end well).

For those not up on their D&D crunch, the difference between ability damage and ability drain is that ability damage heals normally at one point per day. Ability drain does not, and requires a restoration spell to be healed. Restoration would be available to the party cleric around level seven.

There’s another reason, too, to be happy that the allip is in the Bonus Bestiary – it’s not gonna be in the actual Bestiary, and that one page can be used for something else.

Then we get the giant ant lion, with its evolved form, the giant lacewing. The monster entry also includes stats for the ant lion’s sand trap, which is nice. I suppose it’s also to illustrate Pathfinder RPG’s way of presenting traps. It’s followed by the ascomoid, which is a bigass puffball fungus that will run you down and infect you with spores. It perhaps ought to be noted that the copyright notice in Bonus Bestiary’s Open Gaming Licence mentions Tome of Horrors Revised, a 3E book from Necromancer Games that brought many classic monsters from the olden days that WotC’s guys either didn’t want or hadn’t got around to including in the game yet. The ascomoid is one of the creatures where one is forced to concede that they may have had a point there.

Neither Tome of Horrors or WotC’s 3E offerings ever included the giant space hamster, though, which sorely disappointed me. Unforgivable.

But I digress. Ascomoid is followed by the caryatid column. It used to be a stone golem variant, which it still essentially is. The caryatid column is a support structure in the shape of a sword-wielding woman with an entablature on her head. It’s got a nasty habit of sundering weapons, too, which is rather more bearable in Pathfinder RPG, where a sundered weapon isn’t irrevocably destroyed. Also, the caryatid column is one of the few instances where having a load-bearing villain is justifiable.

After that, there’s the old favourite, faerie dragon. They’re cute and whimsical pranksters, and with the price of just one Improved Familiar feat, they can be yours. It’s followed by the dragonne, a sort of a lion-dragon hybrid with no breath weapon, which can become your mount if you take Leadership, or an animal companion. The monster entry includes animal companion progression for the monster as well.

Then there’s the annis hag, which I’d rather have in the Bestiary, to be honest. The greenhag, the sea hag and the annis belong together so they can form coveys. Sure, there’s always the night hag, but they’ve always had a different niche for me. Hell, in the 3E Monster Manual the night hag was even filed under Night Hag instead of Hag like the others were.

The Bonus Bestiary also features the huecuva, which is finally shedding the typographical error which has haunted it since its first publication (it’s been called “heucuva” for, well, a heucuva long time). Looking at the Bestiary preview, the other famous typo of the Monstrous Manual, the sahuagin, is still untouched.

The huecuva is an undead cleric who renounced his deity before death, but there are also rules for raising one with create undead. This seems to be a common theme throughout the Bonus Bestiary. For nearly every monster there’s an entry for its creation or use as familiar, cohort or animal companion.

Then there’s the  lammasu. Nothing really interesting here. Big lawful good winged lion man.

With the water naga, we get the first illustration of the creature that I’ve ever seen – and it looks good. It also has poison. If I’m reading this correctly, PFRPG’s approach to poison is very interesting. One round after you’re bitten, you roll ten Fort saves and take one point of Con damage per failed save. I think this is an example of a very potent venom and most other poisons would have fewer saves, but I can see how that might slow down the game unless the DM tells the DC beforehand.

Edit: and it turns out I wasn’t reading it correctly. Apparently, the way it works is you roll a save every round for the next ten rounds or until you succeed twice and fight it off, and take the listed damage for every failed save. Makes much more sense.

Then we come to the nixie, a water sprite. The creature itself isn’t very interesting, but it’s got a subheader for Nixies in Mythology, with a short description of how the nixie appeared in traditional mythology (a malevolent trickster) and a few modifications you can apply to its stat block to make if fit the mythological version. I like this concept, and hope they put it to good use in the Bestiary. While D&D’s visions of mythological creatures are often classics on their own right, it never harms to go to the source (except maybe with the bonnacon), and running a more mythological campaign might be cool.

The booklet closes with the shadow mastiff, with rules for summoning one.

It’s a nice preview into how things work in Pathfinder RPG, and includes some tantalising hints about the eventual content of the Bestiary. And, well, it’s really hard to argue with the price tag.

Legacy of Fire: Howl of the Carrion King, First Session

We played the first session of my Legacy of Fire summer campaign last Sunday.

On the whole, it went well. We were all pretty excited about the new campaign and though one of the players was a bit ill and had to lie down for most of the session, the game worked. We got a feel for the PCs, played through the first two parts of the module and had great fun.

The party met their employer, helped put out a burning wagon, solved the mystery of the fire, and cleared out an abandoned monastery of Sarenrae so the caravan they’re accompanying could camp there. Next session, they’ll start the attacks on Kelmarane, the old battle-market taken over by gnolls.

The combat encounter design in Howl of the Carrion King is excellent. The module introduces the pugwampis, tiny and mischievous gremlins that spread ill fortune. In game terms, anyone within a twenty-foot radius of a pugwampi must roll 2d20 whenever he makes a d20 roll and pick the lower score. Apart from that, they are nearly defenceless, with low AC, low hit rolls and low damage output. However, they can really bring the pain in the correct environment. The module features a thicket of cacti, a kitchen liberally strewn with improvised caltrops, and an abandoned chapel of the sun goddess, where a significant part of the battle takes place in the rafters, high above the ground.

The pugwampis make an excellent first-level enemy for PCs in the right environment. They provide a good challenge with a cool mechanic without the risk of sudden death through a critical hit (the reason I never put anything with a falchion or a scythe against a first-level party).

During the session, I used Pathfinder Paper Minis to represent some of the NPCs and especially the pugwampis. While I prefer three-dimensional miniatures, they came in handy, since the sets are tailored for the adventure paths. Nobody is going to release a set of metal pugwampis any time soon, and while one could always proxy them with Tiny-sized WotC miniatures, it’s a bit unsatisfying to have two Flameskulls, a Bat, an Imp and a Quasit standing in for a bunch of little dog-headed gremlins. The paper miniatures are cheap and quick to assemble, and I bought all available sets.

I also considered purchasing and assembling the Ruined Undercrypt of Kelmarane terrain set, but then I noticed that the file clocks in at 102 pages, with a 57-page manual. It would certainly be nifty but I don’t have that kind of skill, printer ink, or time.

The next session is on Friday.