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Weekly Links #290: tabletop RPG edition

06 October 2019 — No Time To Play

All right, I have good news and bad news. The bad news is, one week into October I'm still struggling to get back on track. Please stand by. On the other hand, some things have been moving forward. Space Cruiser Orion is now available for 64-bit Linux, both on No Time To Play and on Itch.io. And more of my games may soon be available in native Linux versions; hopefully that will get people to play them for a change.

As for the world of gaming, what mostly held my attention this week was that Evil Hat Productions, makers of the Fate roleplaying game, uploaded more of their expansive catalog to Itch.io, and several acclaimed titles are now pay-what-you-want. I review one of them in this newsletter, and more are likely to follow. Well, there's also the IFComp, but I have less to say about that.

Which unfortunately makes for a short editorial, and there aren't many trends to comment on. Well, apart from Discord being in trouble. That, and someone was recently noting how popular horror games appear to be on Itch. Which is interesting, and anecdotally matches my own impression. Not that horror was ever not popular as a genre, in any medium, but these days it seems to be everywhere all the time. And it's probably a facile remark to note how that reflects the zeitgeist: we live in scary times, with no way out that we can see, and that's going to show in the art we make. A far cry from roughly a century ago, when fear of industrialization gave birth to the fantasy genre.

Oh well, let's see the week's highlights.


The big news of this week is of course the Interactive Fiction Competition starting up. This is the 25th edition, a major milestone, and one that sets yet another participation record. Notably, while parser-based games haven't been dominant for years, they don't give any sign of fading away either. Otherwise it's the usual mix of goofy and serious; anectodally, a quick look reveals lots of psychological drama, several games that take place on not-so-deserted islands, a few detective mysteries, and the perennial puzzlefests. All come with trigger warnings, estimated play length, and most can be played online. Give them a try, maybe.


I checked Itch.io Wednesday morning to find the Fate Core book had just been made available on a pay-what-you-want basis. Needless to say, I jumped right in, and made it a fifth of the way through before writing these lines. Don't panic! Game mechanics are (almost) fully explained in the first chapter, leaving most of a 310-page PDF to deal with the creation of compelling characters, worlds and adventures.

Speaking of which: this is a tabletop RPG that knows what it wants, namely high adventure and drama, with complex heroes battling their personal demons along the road to saving the world. Not just game masters and designers, but also aspiring writers will find invaluable advice between its pages. Which is a lot more interesting to me than the rules proper. Well, it's nice to see how they evolved since they were called Fudge, growing refined and focused, yet giving players much to work with. In more traditional RPGs, player characters often feel like paper dolls, fun to equip with medieval weapons and gear within their starting budget, but after that they just sort of sit there. In Fate Core, they're mostly made of hooks: friends, enemies, goals and so on. By the time you have to figure out what they're wearing, the adventure is already well underway.

Which, come to think of it, is a fitting conclusion. Highly recommended.


This Friday, the Digital Antiquarian writes about the history of Betrayal at Krondor. I had no idea this cult classic was based on Raymond E. Feist's novels, let alone that said novels were originally based on a tabletop RPG campaign. And there's something to be said about roleplaying as practice for aspiring writers; in fact, Jimmy would know first-hand, as a game I played with him and NightWrath on a forum many years ago only needed light editing to become a perfectly good novella (which was never published, but oh well). A timely insight, given how my recent review of Fate Core stresses the overlap between these two arts.

Nothing exists in isolation, and stories are all about connecting people. In more than one way.


Enjoy the Sunday, and see you next time.

Tags: news, tabletop, rpg, review, history

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