Steampunk and supernatural games at GenCon 2011

Steampunk Lego airship
Steampunk Lego airship

Continuing my look at this year’s GenCon, after fantasy role-playing games, steampunk is one of the hottest subgenres right now. Cubicle 7, which publishes The One Ring, will also be putting out the much-anticipated Airship Pirates. Another RPG that looks promising is the FATE-based steampunk/superheroic Kerberos Club.

Margaret Weiss Productions, which already had tie-ins for Buffy: the Vampire Slayer/Angel, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica, Serenity/Firefly, Supernatural, and Leverage, will use its Cortex Plus system for the similarly themed swashbuckling Dragon Brigade. It might not be Dragonlance, and although the densely packed introductory “Opening Salvo” might intimidate newer gamers, Dragon Brigade could be fun.

Lady Blackbird is a better model of concise presentation in this mashup subgenre. As much as I like such games, after seeing numerous steampunky sky pirates at conventions in the past year or so, I wonder if they’re are all scrambling for the same audience rather than there being a few rules sets that can capture and build upon it.

Although I’m not currently playing in a steampunk game, I have fond memories of Tim M.B.‘s GURPS 3e “Arth” in Virginia in the 1990s and my own “Gaslight Grimoire” (using GURPS Steampunk, Castle Falkenstein and D20 Etherscope). I am currently reading Perdido Street Station.

Josh C.’s steampunk/fantasy combination of AD&D2 Spelljammer and FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre has wound down for now, and Jason E.R. has proposed running some alternate-history one-shots. Speaking of alternate history, it looks like the fantasy Secret Fire, whose breathless promotions said it would honor the memory of Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax and “end the edition wars,” may have been a bit hyperbolic.

In other licensing news, congratulations to Evil Hat Productions for the Origins and Ennie awards won by the Dresden Files RPG. Greg D.C. and Paul J. have been running the modern supernatural game (based on Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment, or FATE 3e) for their portion of the Boston-area groups. Janice has read Jim Butcher’s novels.

They, Josh C., and Dave S.C. have also run various horror one-shots. I haven’t played in a longer-term supernatural campaign since Hans C.H.’s Storyteller: World of Darkness-Vampire: the Masquerade in the late 1990s in Virginia, but FATE is one of the more popular systems right now in my groups. Like Wizards of the Coast, White Wolf is moving from strictly pen-and-paper games to multimedia entertainment.

While I’ll leave coverage of board games, wargames, collectible card games, and assorted computer games to others, I’ll look at superhero and science fiction RPGs soon!

Horror and fantasy thrive on TV

Camelot wallpaper
Starz's Camelot

Since horror is one of the more accessible genres, supernatural dramas are perennially popular on television. I’ve enjoyed BBC America’s Being Human, and I can appreciate why SyFy’s U.S. version, as well as Supernatural, Vampire Diaries, and HBO’s True Blood, all have strong fan bases. I don’t know if any of them will have the popularity or influence of Buffy: the Vampire Slayer, but Joss Whedon always had an eye for talent and an ear for dialogue. Greg D.C. has been running a Dresden Files game using FATE.

In fact, after the demise of superhero shows and the struggles of space opera on TV, the networks are again banking on fairy tales and police procedurals for their fall schedules, with Alcatraz, Awake, Gifted Man, Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Person of Interest, River, Secret Circle, and Touch. Never mind that shows such as Journeyman, New Amsterdam, Eli Stone, Reaper, and Eastwick all failed. Of the upcoming shows, I may check out Grimm and Awake.

For more traditional sword-and-sandals action, I wonder how Season 2.5 of Spartacus will manage with a new star. I’ve seen only the premiere of the fantasy Game of Thrones, which sports strong writing and production values, but Camelot on Starz should satisfy my sword-and-sorcery (and sex) quota and is not to be confused with the BBC/SyFy young-adult Merlin.

Camelot is based on Thomas Malory’s Le Morte de Arthur, which isn’t my favorite version of the legends, but the series has taken a new look at mythic Britain’s romantic intrigues and attempts to establish chivalrous code. I recently enjoyed Tony Hays’ The Beloved Dead, the third book in a series of Arthurian mysteries that Janice pointed me to. They’re more historical than mystical, like The Last Legion and the 2004 King Arthur.

I’ve considered including court intrigues in my current Pathfinder/Skype: “the Vanished Landstelecom fantasy campaign, but the current teleconferencing party is rather low in experience/power level. If I was to run an Arthurian scenario, I might use GURPS Camelot, D20 Legends of Excalibur or Relics & Rituals: Excalibur, or FATE 3e Legends of Anglerre.

As far as scheduling goes, it looks like Friday nights will again be crowded, with Young Justice, Star Wars: Clone Wars, Chuck, Fringe, and Grimm, among others. It’s worth remembering that for every successful genre TV show, there are many that never make it out of the pilot phase. What upcoming programs are you looking forward to? Have a good Memorial Day weekend!