Archive for November, 2014

The Slow End of GURPS


So a few months back, the folks at Steve Jackson Games started posting a few short essays from their creators and designers celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Fourth Edition of GURPS, their long-running RPG rules designed to be used with virtually any genre of roleplaying. They had essays from folks like Sean Punch, Phil Masters, Kenneth Hite, Bill Stoddard, Steven Marsh, and more. I won’t link all of them, but you can find a listing of all ten of them right over here.

I thought the whole thing was just a little depressing, partly because there were so dang few contributors to the series — they couldn’t even get Steve Jackson, the designer of GURPS and founder of the company, to write up an essay — and partly because the glory days of GURPS are so far in the past.

I didn’t really discover GURPS until after I got out of college and learned they’d put out a sourcebook for George R.R. Martin’s shared-world Wild Cards series, which was, at the time, my favorite book series. As it turned out, the local B. Dalton store didn’t have GURPS Wild Cards, but they did have GURPS Horror, so I picked that up and soon started buying as many of their sourcebooks as I could. In my first post-college job, I’d get home in the evenings, bored out of my skull, and create new GURPS characters — filled up multiple legal pads, just because I loved the detail of their character-design system. I never got to play it — I’ve never lived anywhere where anyone else was interested in the game — but holy zamboni, did I love making new GURPS characters and reading GURPS books.

Around 2004, they announced they were creating the Fourth Edition of the game, I picked up the Basic Set eagerly — and found that I really didn’t enjoy it. I felt like the new version was a lot more complicated — the 3rd-edition GURPS Vehicles supplement had allowed for insane levels of micro-detail, giving RPG gearheads tons of numbers they could crunch all day. And the Fourth Edition rules moved some of that number-crunching detail into character generation, where I’d always enjoyed the more plug-and-play aspects of the 3rd-edition rules. In addition, most of the new rulebooks were hardcovers and a lot more expensive, and I got more and more indifferent to the game as time went by.

But more depressing than one guy losing interest in a roleplaying game has been the decline in GURPS’ status as one of the powerhouse RPG systems and the steep drop in the number of GURPS books published. I’d expected the Fourth Edition books to start out with the core sourcebooks — the Basic Set, Fantasy, Magic, Space — and ramp up to include more far-ranging and esoteric titles. But the Fourth Edition books never got much beyond the core books. A few more unusual sourcebooks were produced, but most of those were only available as digital PDFs. Still, there were a lot of 3rd-edition sourcebooks that I thought were surely going to be republished in Fourth Edition — Cyberpunk, Illuminati, Steampunk, Warehouse 23 — that remain orphaned in 3rd. Sure, you could use the info in the old sourcebooks to play in Fourth Edition, but it still felt like GURPS’s legendary genre diversity had fallen by the wayside.

There were a couple different reasons for the reduction in GURPS titles — first, traditional RPGs had crashed and crashed hard. Magic: The Gathering had more gamers focusing on collectible card games, D&D’s Open Gaming License had tons of companies building new games that operated under D&D’s rules, and computer games, including MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, were a massive and growing entertainment industry that traditional pen-and-paper roleplaying games just couldn’t compete against.

And within Steve Jackson Games, Munchkin happened. Munchkin was and remains massively popular. And SJG isn’t a gigantic company — it’s a moderately popular and successful publisher, and as long as Munchkin was making money hand over fist, it just made good sense to put more of the company’s resources into publicizing Munchkin and creating new Munchkin sets. That meant that attention and support for GURPS and most other games had to drop.

The company is still publishing GURPS books digitally, but last year, they released only one GURPS book in hardcover — GURPS Zombies. As far as I can tell, they haven’t released any books in print in 2014. I’m sure they can keep releasing mini-rulebooks on PDF from now ’til doomsday, but no print products at all in over a year? That’s not a sign of a healthy system. That’s a sign of a dead RPG.

It’s not just a problem for Steve Jackson Games. I think it’s a symptom of a weak market for nearly all pen-and-paper RPGs. I know, we (and I’m including myself in this) talk a lot about the resurgence of interest in roleplaying games. They get talked about a lot in the mass media — it’s not at all uncommon to read an article in a major newspaper or magazine that focuses on people playing RPGs. But what worries me is that most of those articles focus on Dungeons & Dragons, maybe Pathfinder — and that most of them focus on RPG fans returning to games after years away from the hobby. The other games we hear folks talk about are things like Paranoia or Chill or another game that’s getting a Kickstarter designed to appeal to fans of the old game. In other words, the gaming resurgence we keep talking about is more about nostalgia, and I worry that people will end up abandoning the hobby again once they hit on something else to feel nostalgic about.

Still, I do wish that SJG had chosen to commemorate the 10th year anniversary by announcing some neat new print products. As it was, it seemed less like a celebration and more like a eulogy.

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Friday Night Fights: Punisher Punishment!

Gotta get this finished in a hurry today, so here’s our weekly dose of… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from December 2012’s Punisher: War Zone #1 by Greg Rucka and Carmine Di Giandomenico. There’s a reason why people without superpowers should not get into a fistfight with Spider-Man.



That’s it — you guys have a great weekend!

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The Titans and their Trees


Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse #6

Cyborg uses his Justice League connections (he gets B’dg to activate a Boom Tube) so the Titans can get onto the JLA Watchtower to look for their lost Treehouse. Batman is sick of all this nonsense and gets Superman to activate another Boom Tube so he can lasso the Brainiac Club and the miniaturized Treehouse and drag it back home. And now the Titans have lots of different Treehouses from their various adventures during this series. But there’s more trouble on the horizen. Principal Slade has given them all detention for activating Boom Tubes during class — and the detention monitor is… LUNCH LADY DARKSEID! Is this the end?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Well, it’s kinda the end. But we get the implication that there are more Tiny Titans miniseries coming, which would be an entirely wonderful thing. The story itself is all kinds of fun, just like we’ve come to expect from everything Baltazar and Franco do.


Gotham Academy #2

Olive Silverlock continues to have an angsty high school career in creepy Gotham Academy. She can’t remember anything she did last summer, she doesn’t know if she’s even dating her boyfriend anymore, and did I mention how creepy Gotham Academy is? Aside from the weird schoolmates, creepy libraries and schoolrooms, and dogs randomly digging up human bones, there’s the bat cult hiding out in the cemetery. What’s Olive’s connection to all this? Heck, who is Olive, really?

Verdict: Thumbs up. In a way, there’s not a lot going on in this issue. I mean, there’s so much teenaged angst — sometimes way more than you can take, or even understand. But I really do love the stuff going on in the background, the backgrounds, the throw-off characters, the weird stuff that just barely registers with you. And I’d really, really love to find out what Olive’s deal is. She’s got something big going on with her, but what it might be, I’ve got not one single clue.


Velvet #8

Velvet has a thoroughly complicated plan to learn what’s hidden inside the ARC 7 headquarters. First she has to kidnap the director, strap a fake bomb on him, take his picture, freak everyone out and get them to evacuate the building, then glide in on a spy-tech flight suit, subdue the one guy smart enough to figure out her plan, and then make one phone call on one very special phone. Who does she call? What’s her next move?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Beautiful art, amazine action, wonderful plot and development — and I’d dearly love to learn more about what’s happening next. Best espionage comic on the stands? I think it’s pretty likely.

Today’s Cool Links:

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Southern Culture on the Skids


Southern Bastards #5

Earl Tubb tried to clean up Craw County, Alabama, and all he got in return was to get murdered by Coach Boss with his own beat-down stick. So now we’re gonna get a few issues of focus on Coach Boss himself, from his humble beginnings as an undersized and under-talented football player with more ambition and dedication than he knows what to do with to his current status as the man who makes Craw County skip to his tune. Coach Boss is actually keeping the broken tree limb — still blood-stained — that he used to cave in Earl’s skull, and none of his henchmen can quite believe he’s not willing to destroy it, or that he’s willing to attend Earl’s funeral. But Coach soon becomes obsessed with the idea that everyone in town is just going to conveniently forget Earl’s murder, just so they don’t have to remember their own cowardice and complicity in letting it happen.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A bit less of the sweltering, filthy Southern noir we’ve seen in previous issues — this one seems to be more about building the world of Craw County and Coach Boss. We get more of what Boss thinks about, and a bit more about the other movers-and-shakers in Craw County.


The Goon: Occasion of Revenge #3

So the Kid is one of the Goon’s right-hand men. He grew up abandoned by his low-life (but big money) father while his mother poured her own hatred for her former lover into her son. He grew up to be a talented boxer, but a cheating opponent loaded his gloves and almost crushed the Kid’s skull. But the Goon gave him a job, and now that the so-called Magpies are waging war on the Goon and his organization, the Kid has been given an important job — he needs to guard an important ally from an allied crime family that’s willing to help the Goon against the Magpies. But there’s a secret mole in the Goon’s organization, and a secret the Kid doesn’t know about yet.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Lots of seriously gorgeous art in this issue, not to mention to hard-luck noir that Eric Powell does so well. Just one issue left in this miniseries? Can’t imagine how this is all going to turn out.

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Boot Hill


Atomic Robo and the Knights of the Golden Circle #5

Helsingard’s zeppelin, the War Machine Basilisk, is on the move, and Atomic Robo, Marshall Bass Reeves, and Doc Holliday are aboard trying to fight off wave of cyborg outlaw soldiers to bring it down. A few problems: Reeves and Holliday are armed with six-shooters, which are not as effective as they’d like, and Robo’s atomic batteries are just about to run bone-dry on him. Can they stop Helsingard’s plans of conquest? Well, that’s a pretty sure thing, actually, since history didn’t show that Helsingard won. But where does this all leave Robo? Nowhere good, either in the past or the present.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Trying not to give away any spoilers — but could Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener maybe start the next series right now? Like, seriously, right now? Because after this cliffhanger, I really, really can’t wait.


Groo vs. Conan #4

Everyone seems to think either Groo or Conan has been slain, but it just ain’t so — their battle continues, with neither able to gain the upper hand. Groo’s stupidity keeps frustrating Conan, while Groo continues trying to destroy the bakery. Elsewhere, Sergio is still hopped up on pills and thinking he’s Conan — and the friendly neighborhood comic shop may still be torn down! Can any hero solve all these problems?

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s been a really cool series, very much in the vein of “Archie Meets the Punisher,” with the cartoony Groo meeting up with the more realistic Conan. Lots of good jokes, ranging from the expected stuff from Groo to gags about MAD Magazine — and even Conan gets a few subtle jokes in here and there. Definitely worth picking up the collected edition, whenever it comes out, if you haven’t yet read the series.


Sensation Comics #3

A trio of stories in this one. First, Wonder Woman is a combination of superhero and rock star, meeting fans and confronting bullies; second, Wonder Woman meets up with Catwoman, whose scheme to steal the Golden Fleece has Diana facing a dragon; third, Gilbert Hernandez of “Love and Rockets” writes and illustrates a tale in which Wonder Woman is captured and hypnotized by Kanjar Ro.

Verdict: Thumbs down. None of these stories was particularly well-written. The first one is crammed to the gills with illogic, strawmen, and clumsy dialogue and interaction. The second was full of situations where Wonder Woman does the dumbest possible thing every time. (Take Catwoman out of police HQ? Take her to a cafe? Lug around the loot she stole without leaving it in police custody and without even checking to see what it was? Sure, Diana would do all that stuff.) And the third featured sometimes clumsy artwork and Diana being captured way, way too easily by the aliens.

Today’s Cool Links:

  • The lack of any plans to make movies about the Hulk and Black Widow is really the weirdest thing about the recent Marvel movie announcements. No Hulk movie for Mark Ruffalo? No Black Widow movie starring one of the most bankable actresses and action stars of the decade? What is Marvel smoking?
  • This really is kinda spectacular: the Internet Arcade has a few hundred classic arcade video games you can download and play.
  • Tumblr users seem to take a lot of flack, but they often bring the funny better than anyone else.
  • How ’bout one final Halloween video? This one’s even based on a comic book.

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