Thursday, July 30, 2009

Best Regalia

So, this is the category I hear more about than any other. Technically it's, "Awarded for the best product which, while it does not complement role playing game play, does enhance the lives of RP gamers." In practice, it's a bit of a 'catch-all' category for that stuff that deserves a nod, but doesn't really fit into the usual products that the awards try to represent.

This year it saw a lot of neat stuff, especially with the abolition of the Fan Products award. Unfortunately there were also several things that come right to mind as having been missed because of the lack of space and different nature of the award.

First, the actual nominees:

Devil's Due Publishing - Worlds of Dungeons and Dragons, volume 2
This is an excellent compilation of several Dungeons and Dragon comics that adds a face to some of the worlds and characters we've come to know from the system. The art is excellent, the writing is good, and it provides a nice contrast between worlds.

White Wolf - The Art of Exalted
There's no question the Exalted's art has a lot to do with its success. It illustrates exactly what to expect from the book, is often dynamic, and always well done. This book features some of the best works the system has showcased over the years.

Catalyst Game Labs - Battletech: The Corps
An absolutely fantastic primer into the world and intrigue behind the Battletech world. I know a lot of people think of the minis game when you first hear Battletech, not helped by the Mechwarrior game being co-opted for use in the video games, but these stories give a little insight into what can be done in this evocative setting.

White Wolf - Hunter: Deadly Play
One of my personal regrets about the ENnies is that they don't specifically cover board games. This is done on purpose, as it's important to the management that we keep our rpg focus, and probably for the best, but it would sure be fun :) We do however cover games with a roleplay focus in Regalia however, and that's where this one fits in. It's a quick, fun look at the world of hunter, that actually feels a bit like playing the game. It plays fast, and I think it might make a good 'mood-setter' while waiting for stragglers and last minute eaters before a game session.

Paizo Publishing - Planet Stories: Infernal Sorceress
This is an excellent piece of light fantasy, and classic Gygax in every way. The characters are fun, the writing is enjoyable, ad all in all in makes for a nice farewell to one of the forefathers of roleplaying.

Beyond just the nominees however there are several products that really deserve a special mention.

Innsmouth House - Lovecraftian Tales from the Table
This is a fantastic compilation of Call of Cthulhu files distributed on DVD that centers around audio recordings of two of the most famous scenarios in Call of Cthulhu's (and perhaps the hobby in general's) history. Listening to the Bradford Players as they make their way through these adventures bring you a little piece of the excitement, mystery, and fun. Beyond that however is a fantastic assortment of interviews, discussions, and even handouts from the games. This product is absolutely amazing, and it's a shame it didn't find a place on the final list.

Open Game Table - Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs
This books collects some of the best articles that RPG bloggers have to offer, and that's really saying something. It's a bit of an odd-duck, leading me to include it here, and maybe why it didn't get all the attention it deserved. It contains everything from system-specific game information to an absolutely amazing article about the formative history of modern roleplaying. This book is fantastic, and has a bit of something for everyone. Even if you don't check it out I can't encourage you to go read the excellent blogs it was based on enough.

Gold, the Series
If there was ever a series by gamers, for gamers, and about gamers, it is Gold. Clearly a labor of love, well designed, excellently produced, and fantastically written. The only look at gamer culture I've ever seen that doesn't just hit you over the head with the comedy. It's funny, but it's also touching and endearing. If you haven't seen it yet, I reccomend that you check it out, either online, or at the special screenings that are being held at GenCon on the 14th and 15th, and maybe meet some of the cast.

Exalted: Legacy of the Unconquered Sun
Like I said above, we don't get a lot of board games, but this one was definitely my favorite. Moreover, it actually makes for an excellent primer for the Exalted world. Like a lot of my favorite board games it doesn't just pit you against other players. It gives you a mission, and tells a bit of a story. The components are absolutely fantastic, and the board itself is a sturdy an beautiful copy of the map of the world of Exalted. I'm very impressed by this game, and what I hope it represents for the future of White Wolf's board game production.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Best Free Product commentary, part III

As I said before, Free Products is one of the categories that suffered when we had to drop Best Fan
Product, and it really caused a lot of great stuff to get overlooked. There are a couple fan products in particular that jump to mind when I regret things that never found a home on the lists.

Dragonlance Nexus - Adlatum
For anyone who follows my Twitter ( this probably won't come as a surprise, but I absolutely loved this product. Dragonlance is a gaming icon, and a bit of a shared experience for pretty much everyone from my generation of gamers. This PDF introduces a new 'third continent' to the world, and manages to keep the distinct flavor and feel of the world while introducing a whole new storyline. It's beautiful, well laid out, and well written.

When Autochthon Dreams
This neat little PDF is a compilation of dozens of cool new items for Exalted games. They're interesting, fun, and there's a ton of variety.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Best Free Product commentary, part II

Given the combination of Best Free Product and Best Fan Product this year we were left with a wide variety of content, everything from complete games systems, to rich setting material, to previews of some really great new games. This gave us some really neat nominees, but unfortunately it meant that some products that deserve a nod never found room on the short list.

Obviously there's no way I'm going to cover every product in any given category, but sitting here a few weeks later there are a few that come easily to mind. First, the nominees:

Catalyst Game Labs - Battlerun
This fun little product is a bit of a guilty pleasure, and is obviously the result of an April Fools release that went way too far. It's pretty, and a fun read, and full of neat little call-backs that will be familiar to anyone who enjoys the Battletech and Shadowrun lines. Well written, extremely well produced, definitely worth the download and read.

White Wolf Publishing - Hunter Quickstarts: The Hunt and One Year Later
Obviously only The Hunt was nominated, but I feel like One Year Later could have just as easily been on the list, so I'm going to cover both here. It's no secret that White Wolf does a fantastic job with their quick start rules. For the last three years in a row their contributions have been nominated, and of course Hunter was no exception. Changeling (which won), Scion, and Mage (which took silver) have all been nominated in the past, and Hunter continues this Legacy with the inclusion of a couple really great mini-adventures, and a nice preview of what is, in my opinion, the most versatile and fun World of Darkness setting yet.

Green Ronin Publishing - Song of Ice and Fire Quickstart
There's no escaping the fact that SIFRP really hooked me this year, and this product is partially responsible for that. It was the first thing I read about the system, and the book that I passed around to my players when I was convincing them to play it with me. The adventure is quick and straightforward, but a nice introduction to the kinds of characters and rules you are most likely to see in the game. If you have any interest in this system or setting at all I recommend that you give the Quickstart a try.

Mythmere Games - Sword and Wizardry
I've heard it said that the hobby is going through an "old school renascence", and if you spend any time looking around at some of the great products being produced and distributed through non-standard means then you'll have a hard time denying it. Swords and Wizardry is the perfect example of this 'back to the basics' style philosophy. It's fun, it's familiar, and it's extremely well produced. Clearly the product of a lot of hard work and well-thought revision, if you have any interest in the 'old school' feel of RPGs you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you don't give S&W a look.

Imagination Sweatshop - Trial & Terror: Supernatural Victims Unit
This little 26 page game is another fantastic example of the kinds of interesting and innovative games being produced outside of the standard channels. It's an extremely approachable game that covers the kind of police/trial dramas that we've all seen on TV for decades, with it's own, fun twist. The kind of game you can pick up today and play this afternoon, I'm really glad this one made the list.

Now an apology. I hadn't intended to drag this out longer, bu work has been busy this week as a lot of stuff I've been putting off has begun to catch up with me. I hadn't intended for this to be three parts, but it looks like it's going to have to be, because I have to run in to the office real fast. Next up I'll cover a couple things that didn't make the nominee list as soon as I have a chance: Dragonlance Nexus Adelatum and When Autochron Dreams. If I'm missing anything someone would like a commentary on, please let me know.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why I judge

This is a little off topic, but as I look toward the nomination deadline for judging next year and think about whether or not I should try again it passes through my mind a lot. Iappologize if it goes a little off the track, or pushes back the other, more important stuff I'm working on, but I feel the need to get it out.

Please feel free to skip it. There's no great insight into the award, just my own ramblings and random thought process.

I judge first and foremost because I am a fan of the elements of roleplaying games. I love rules, I like mechanics that make me think, ones that solve problems in interesting or elegant ways, or ones that simplify overly-complex process. I love setting design. I love worlds that are interesting, unique, or that hook into me. I love to share that little piece of someone else's creativity, and maybe make it my own in some small way

I judge because I love being introduced to products and people I wouldn't otherwise see, and spreading them around to make sure everyone see what I've discovered. There's a certain, simple joy in introducing someone else to something cool. It's a little akin to having made the thing yourself.

I judge because I love the process. As much as I whine or complain about those nights sitting on the floor of my livingroom, surrounded by books, with a spreadsheet out, lists in hand, a pen and highlighter clenched between my teeth, and dozens of pages of notes scattered about, it feels absolutely amazzing. It's a sort of high, being completely in the zone like that.

I judge because I like the questions. I love being challanged on the reasons I chose what I did. I like discussing the process and what can be done to make it better. I love the immedaite and constant feedback, for better or worse.

I judge because I think I'm good at it. I don't know that there have ever been any major complaints over the choices I've made, but I stand behind them. I stand by my process, and I stand by the work that I do. I feel like I do my best to keep people informed, and I think I do it better than most who have come before. I have the time, I put in the effort, and I do my best to do it right. I feel like I have a lot to contribute, and I think I've done at least some good for the awards, for the people who submit, and for the public's perception in my time here.

I judge because I value the ability to contribute something to the hobby that has given me so much. I'm no great shakes as a writer, I'll never be the kind of guy who can put out consistant content for a blog or podcast, I don't have the drive or desire to publish anything myself. I feel like this way however, I have skills when I can point people toward places where they can find others that are the best at doing just that, and in that way, I have something to offer.

I judge because the arguments don't really bother me. The frustrating moments are fewer and further between than most acknowledge (and are more often than not built around real points). I feel like I'm less likely to take it personally. I know that opinions are not attacks, and most people will be calm and rational if you just listen, acknowledge their points, answer their questions, and stay calm and reasonable yourself.

Last, but not least, I judge because it is fun. No gaming geek could tell me that the idea of sitting around, surrounded by a mountain of the best products that rpgs have to offer and trying to figure out in which way, which one is the best.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Before product discussion begins...

I know I said I’d finish my Free Products commentary today. I’m sorry to push it back, but as I was typing it a thought came up, and I felt it was important enough to take precedence. Sorry it pushes things back a bit.

Before I get started I wanted to thank everyone for all the helpful discussion and commentary over the last couple days, especially those here in the comments section of my own blog.

Now, to the actual topic:

Talking about individual products is always hard because it's impossible to cover everything. I really enjoy judging, but I'm no blogger or reviewer. Coming up with content is tough for me, and I don’t always have a huge amount to say about every single thing that I read. If I miss something you want to hear about let me know, it’s probably not because I disliked it or anything, most likely I just didn’t think about it.

Following the nominations announcements you can count on a few things: Some people are going to disagree and tell you what should be on the list. Some will pat you on the back and tell you what a good job you did. Some will find something important enough to them to argue about. Some will be disappointed that their pick didn’t make it, and wonder why.

The last one in the tough one. The others are easy enough. They can be chalked up to differences in taste or misunderstandings for the most part. Some are because of something that really does need to be looked at, and therefore can be far more valuable than the kudos.

That last one however? It sucks. It sucks because there isn’t always a good answer. It’s not like people throw their time and money away on a product that they don’t think has a good chance of winning. Therefore almost everything we get has some real value. In the probably 500 products I have reviewed for the ENnies I can probably count the number of actually “bad” products on my fingers.

No, most often the real answer is, “It didn’t make it because we only have five slots, and the five of us fight over them tooth and claw so the things that we want to see recognized.” It sucks, but it’s the truth.

Beyond that however, it breaks down even further. Roleplaying products are curious beasts, they come in different shapes, sizes, and varieties, and not only to our own individual tastes need to be sated, but the variety of different types of products needs to be considered. If you have a category that’s an amalgamation of products that are really different, but could be grouped on some similarity (read: almost every RPG product out there) you need to make sure that not only the absolute best is represented, but also the best of its type.

For example, if you have one cover with an amazing art piece on the cover, one where the cover is dominated by a fairly simple, but extremely attractive logo, and one with an embossed, textured cover, but maybe not an attractive hard-cover, I feel like they should all be represented if at all possible. Therefore you can’t just look at the five best books, but must make some attempt to show the best of the various types, even if they can’t be directly compared to one another well.

In their Origins Awards episode the Brilliant Gameologists touched on this with their “best of breed” analogy, and they do a far better job of explaining it, so I won’t go into details here, but I will steal their analogy.

What’s important here is that in every category there are only five possible winners, regardless of how many of the 260 or so products that we reviewed qualify. Those five slots must be broken down according to the various sub-types in each category, and then further sorted by each judge’s tastes. If there are five covers with absolutely amazing art, we must still at least consider the one that is just a fantastic logo. It may not always make it, but if it does then we only have one four slots left for those five amazing pieces. It doesn’t mean that fifth piece is any worse; it just means that something, somewhere, had to give.

I say this because I want to make sure that it is clear that just because something didn’t make the list it was somehow ‘rejected.’ Most likely we just didn’t have room for everything we love.

More often than not one or more of us comes out of each list just as disappointed that something we were rooting for didn’t make it as any other fan.

Like maybe a book whose cover is just an awesome logo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Best Free Product commentary, part I

I'll admit that I'm a little hesitant to jump right into this, but I think it's an important discussion, so I'm going to hope that it's best to start the dialog right away.

The biggest source of controversy with the ENnie awards comes from the disconnect between what people want/expect them to be and what they are. This year's debate over the appropriateness of allowing quick-start products into the category next to full RPGs is a perfect example.

You see, it's not a matter of allowing quick-start's to compete in the other RPGs' category, but rather allowing other RPGs into the category that was specifically made to cover things like quick-starts that is the problem.

Yeah, the full title of the award is Best Free Product or Web Enhancement.

Until this year it has always been a category designed to acknowledge all the extra stuff companies give away for their game lines. Of course quick-starts are done for promotion and advertisement, but they're still a service to their fans, and still products worth acknowledging. In addition to usually including a quicker, easier version of the rules, most include a sample adventure and some characters so people can get started playing right away. All in all they're generally a pretty neat package of gaming goodness.

So, to illustrate this I thought I'd do a little research. Here are last year's Free Product nominees:
  • Changeling Quickstart, White Wolf Publishing *Silver Winner*
  • Fire and Brimstone!, SammichCon Creations
  • Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Alpha, Paizo *Gold Winner*
  • Shadowrun Quick-Start Rules, Catalyst Game Labs
  • Signs & Portents, Mongoose Publishing
  • Honorable Mention: Bits of Magicka, Tabletop Adventures

  • Two quick-starts and a playtest document.

  • Black Industries Web Site, Black Industries
  • 6Guns: Lawmen- Earps and Mastersons, Dog House Rules
  • Nevermore Gazetteer, Expeditious Retreat Press
  • Classic Battletech Free Package, FanPro *Silver Winner*
  • Savage Tide Player's Guide, Paizo Publishing *Gold Winner*
  • Honorable Mention: Scion: Hero- Of Shadows Yet to Come, White Wolf

  • Two quick-starts and a player's guide for an adventure path.

  • Age of Worms Overload (Paizo Publishing) *Gold Winner*
  • Gates of Hell (Dicefreaks)
  • Mage the Awakening Demo (White Wolf Publishing) *Silver Winner*
  • Return to the Tomb of Five Corners (White Wolf Publishing)
  • Six-Guns: The James-Younger Gang (Dog House Rules)
  • Honourable mention: Temple Quarter: Ceremonies and Rituals (The Game Mechanics)

  • A quick-start, an adventure path intro, and an introductory adventure.

    This isn't to say that those who want to see complete products have their own place don't have a point or a right to complain, but I just wanted point out that it's a little misplaced. The mixing of this category was the result of an attempt to include these products that wouldn't have had a category of their own at all, not an effort to compare a product used as an advertisement against those produced just to share with the community.

    Most years these sorts of products fit into the Best Fan Product category (which could use some renaming given the shifting way and reasons these products are being produced), and so there is less of an issue. This year however there simply weren't enough products to allow for a category of their own. This is hugely unfortunate, and I'm not a fan of the decision, but according to the rules as they have always been presented there wasn't much choice. The judges had to find a home for the eight qualifying products that would have normally gone in the Fan category, and we chose to include them here. It's not ideal, but I don't see what other option there was left to us.

    Hopefuly future judges and staff members can find a way to encourage enough free, complete products that this won't have to happen again. Maybe a partnership with programs like Game Chef and the like could be encouraged.

    I don't know, and I don't have a great answer right now, but I hope people can see that this unfortunate circumstance was just the result of trying to be more inclusive, not any effort to push corperate products against those which are independant.

    I took a couple days off

    Sorry I haven't been around, I know there have been several questions asked, especially in light of the nominations being posted, and I feel bad about not responding sooner, but the last week or so of finallizing ENnies stuff was extremely time consuming, and I decided to take a little break. I tried to stop and offer congratulations whenever I thought about it, but for the most part I haven't been keeping up well with the discusions.

    It's late, and I don't have a huge amount of time right now, but I wanted to at least drop in, appologize, and let everyone know that I'll begin my post-nomination commentary and product reviews afte I get some sleep. I'll also try to catch up on what discussions I have missed (and my twitter feed) and answer the questions I've been asked here.

    Thanks for the patience, sorry about the delay. Bear with me a bit longer and I'll do what I can.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    2009 ENnies Nominations

    Best Cover

    3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars

    Scion: Ragnorak

    Howl of the Carrion King

    Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide


    Best Interior Art


    Mouse Guard

    Dark Heresy RPG


    M&M: Wild Cards

    Best Cartography

    Pathfinder Map Folio

    Sellswords of Punjar

    The Saltshacks

    Modern Floorplans: Victorian Mansion

    SW Saga: Scum & Villainy

    Best Writing

    Don't Lose Your Mind

    Hot War

    Hunter Horror Recognition Guide

    Baron Munchhausen

    Kobold Quarterly

    Best Production Values

    Mouse Guard


    Anima RPG

    Dark Heresy Core


    Best Rules

    D&D 4e PHB

    Dark Heresy RPG

    Song of Ice and Fire

    Starblazer Adventures

    Hunter: The Vigil

    Best Adventure

    King of the Trollhaunt Warrens

    The Rose Bride's Plight

    Howl of the Carrion King

    Land of Darkness: The Barrow Grounds

    Purge of the Unclean

    Best Monster/Adversary

    Witch Hunter: Grand Tome of Adversaries

    Night Horrors Grim Fears

    Dark Heresy Creature Anathema

    D&D 4e MM

    Freedom's Most Wanted

    Best Setting

    Pathfinder Campaign Setting

    Hot War

    Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies



    Best Supplement

    Hunter: The Vigil

    CthuluTech Vade Mechum

    Dark Heresy: Disciples of the Dark Gods

    Star Wars: The Clone Wars

    Scion: Ragnorak

    Best Aid/Accessory

    D&D Insider

    Dwarven Sweatshop Dice Box

    Hunter Horror Recognition Guide

    Kobold Quarterly

    M&M Deluxe GM Screen

    Best Miniature Product

    Alea Tools Neo Markers

    Star Wars Clone Wars Starter Set

    Fat Dragon: Cliffs and Mountains

    Halls of the Giant Kings Dungeon Tiles

    Paizo Game Mastery Flip-Mat: Waterfront Tavern

    Best Game

    D&D 4e

    Starblazer Adventures

    Song of Ice and Fire


    Dark Heresy

    Best Regalia

    Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons, Vol 2.

    Art of Exalted

    Planet Stories: Infernal Sorceress

    Battletech: The Corps

    Hunter Board Game

    Best Electronic Book

    Hard Boiled Armies

    The Death Mother

    Tales of Zobek

    Collection of Horrors: Razor Kids - CCP

    Blood of the Gorgon

    Best Free Product


    Hunter Quickstart: The Hunt

    SoIaF Quickstart

    Sword & Wizardry

    Trial and Terror: SVU

    Best Podcast

    All Games Considered

    Order 66

    Return to Northmoor

    Brilliant Gameologists

    Voice of the Revolution

    Best Website


    Critical Hits

    Kobold Quarterly

    Mad Brew Labs

    Obsidian Portal

    Product of the Year

    D&D 4e PHB

    Mouse Guard

    Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies

    Song of Ice and Fire

    Hunter the Vigil

    Dark Heresy Disciples of the Dark Gods

    Don't Lose Your Mind

    Star Wars Clone Wars

    Scion: Ragnorak

    Starblazer Adventures

    Friday, July 10, 2009

    Thursday, July 9, 2009

    Nominations are done

    Well, the judges' meeting is over, and we have our final list of nominations. One way or another these will be out on Monday.

    In the mean time, tomorrow starts the fan part of the nomination process, the Best Publisher award. This will be using a whole new system this year that should make tracking much better.

    As for the nomination process itself... It was more painful than I expected. The list is good. Really, really good. As always however I didn't get everything I wanted. That sort of goes with the territory. The hardest part was the loss of a new category I advocated which I thought was pretty much a done deal.

    Final List of categories:
    Best Cover
    Best Interior Art
    Best Cartography
    Best Writing
    Best Production Values
    Best Rules
    Best Adventure
    Best Monster/Adversary
    Best Setting
    Best Supplement
    Best Aid/Accessory
    Best Miniature Product
    Best Game
    Best Regalia
    Best Electronic Book
    Best Free Product
    Best Podcast
    Best Website
    Product of the Year

    19 categories.

    Last time we did it via message boards. This year we did it by chat. Both have their strengths. Chat feels more confrontational, less wheeling and dealing, more 'getting it done.' This is good because it make a three day process three hours. It's bad because it can make someone with a temper like me unreasonably hot.

    Still, it felt right, and these guys did a really great job. Everything on those lists absolutely belongs there, and when you get five people with such divergent tastes, that's hard to do.

    My hat is off to those other judges, who did an outstanding job, and even managed to put up with me even when I got pushy. Can't wait to see everyone at GenCon.