Sunday, July 15, 2012

ENnies, You So Crazy

The ENnie nominations came out this weekend; you can find them here.

Compare that to the list of submissions, here.

Now no doubt some folks elsewhere will grouse about the absence of things like Weird Adventures or Carcosa on that nominee list.  Or pretty much anything OSR-ish.  I'm not going to complain about those particular products not being nominated, for two reasons: one, someone else could probably speak to those better than I, and two, their respective authors aren't out whinging about it (Trey is too classy and Raggi too 'because F U', I suspect), so who am I to steal their thunder?

I will, however, whine a little about Secret Santicore being left out.  There's a nice little pic of it on the right-hand side there, you can download it for free.  It's 100+ pages of short articles, adventures, random tables, illustrations, maps, and NPCs for use with all sorts of games.  Primarily OSR-type-stuff, but not all of it, and much of what's in there is easily adaptable to something like 3.5 or Pathfinder.  I was disappointed that Secret Santicore wasn't nominated for Best Free Product, and that's probably natural.

But it did get me thinking.  If the mighty Santicore wasn't in the judges' top five for 'Best Free Product', what was?  I had to see these things that left the gift-swapping beastie in the dust.

So I downloaded all five nominees for that category, and I've been reading through them.  Let's take a look.

Broken Chains
What is it?  A 32-page "preview adventure" for FFG's 40K roleplaying line that highlights the (then-) upcoming Chaos version of the game.
Is it pretty?  Yeah, of course, it's FFG and 40K stuff, of course it's got more of that same art and design.
What all's in there?  Short how-to-play summary, four pregenerated characters, and a 16-page adventure.
How's the adventure?  A handful of captured heretics bust out of stasis on an Inquisition ship to find that they've been asleep for centuries and their captors' vessel has floated way off course and the crew's descendants have gone feral.  Certainly a decent enough "let's get this party started" kick-off scenario.  The PCs have to deal with the Carrion Queen and her feral minions as well as a handful of Inquisition types who also (of course) have just popped out of stasis.  It's fairly railroady, but offers advice on how to push just the best bits of the adventure so you can blow through it in a single session (which makes sense to me for a preview adventure).  There are exactly zero maps of the ship in the adventure.

We Be Goblins
What is it?  A <20-page one-shot adventure for Pathfinder, meant as a preview of sorts for the 'Goblins of Golarion' supplement.
Is it pretty?  Of couse it is, it's Paizo.  It has little Paizo goblins everywhere.
What all's in there?  Four pregens and a short adventure.
How's the adventure?  The conceit of 'We Be Goblins' is that, um, you be goblins.  The PC goblins go after a possible store of fireworks on a beached boat, and in the process deal with some animals and a feisty goblin druidess.  It's cute if straightforward; there are funny names for everything, and there's a decent goblin-y vibe going on.  At least there are a couple maps in this one.  The takeaway: goblins dig fireworks, who knew?

Shadowlands Conversion Guide
What is it?  A ~30-page supplement introducing (very briefly) the Shadowlands campaign setting, along with the rules for adapting "standard Pathfinder" to the Shadowlands milieu.  You know that stack of campaign notes you handed your players that one time so they could make characters 'your way'?  It's that.
Is it pretty?  Yeah, it looks kinda like a Paizo Pathfinder product, which makes sense if you're doing third-party PF stuff.  Expectations and all that.  Some pretty continental maps, although there's a lot of ground covered in those maps.
How's the content?  The Shadowlands Conversion Guide covers everything you'd expect it to.  Here's the Shadowlands, here's the schtick.  Here's what our elves are like, and our dwarves.  Feats, racial powers, gods of the setting.  That kind of stuff.  I was hard-pressed to find something in here I wanted to steal, though.  One thing that caught my eye (ha!) was a bit about how spellcasters in this setting have glowing eyes, and the color of the glow indicates how powerful the mage is (ie, what level spells he or she can cast).  I thought that was pretty different, and there's a Paranoia gag in there somewhere.

Words of the Wise
What is it?  An eleven-page mini-adventure for The One Ring.
Is it pretty?  Sure, it's Cubicle 7.  Modern design, looks sufficiently Tolkien-y with the trade dress.
What all's in there? Just the mini-adventure.
How's the adventure?  There isn't much to it.  PCs go hunting, get jumped by orcs, have an audience with the elves, then fight orcs until Radagast shows up to save the day.  No, really, that's the way it's scripted.  There are no maps, but there is a nice drawing of an orc.  I don't have other One Ring products to compare this to, but I suspect it's meant as an aid for a new GM (sorry, 'Loremaster') -- either that or One Ring products are crazy wordy.  And railroady.  "So, gang, what did you think of that introduction to the One Ring game?"  "It was fun until NPC Theatre ended the scenario."

Dragon Age Quickstart Guide
What is it?  A ~35-page quickstart and adventure for Dragon Age.
Is it pretty?  Yep.
What all's in there?  Condensed rules and how-to-play, short adventure, five pregenerated characters.  What is it with only including four or five (usually four) pregens in quickstarts?  Can't you throw us six characters and tell us to pick four?  Sheesh.  Also includes a presumably-quite-useful summary page for use in-play (tables and such).
How's the adventure?  Big props for explicitly letting the pregens purchase extra gear.  Other than a few setting-specific notes (Elves are servants here!  Tee-hee!), the adventure is a straight-up escort mission for a noble.  There's a missing rope-bridge to be dealt with on the journey, some humanoids to fight, and a potential kidnapping scheme, followed by a giant owl (with a pretty cool illo, I must say) and more humanoids.

So here's the deal. What we have here are some decent, but not earth-shattering, quickstarts and mini-adventures, and every last one of them is quite nice-looking. I certainly have no beef with any of the publishers or their contributors. But really? An eleven-page mini-adventure is "better" than a hundred-page supplement? It can't just be the looks of the things - Secret Santicore looks fantastic and holds its own against any of these products design-wise, although some of the art may be tickling a different aesthetic.

A few ultimately-meaningless but cathartic rantish points:

* Secret Santicore has almost as much goblin-centric content as 'We Be Goblins'. Which just goes to show you how much gamers dig goblins, I guess. And, in fact, all that gobliny stuff in SS could be used quite easily with 'Goblins of Golarion', by the way.

* Secret Santicore contains more maps than any of the nominated products, two of which don't have any maps at all. Are maps out of fashion now? If you're running the Dragon Age adventure and want to locate the Arl in a castle, use the castle in Santicore. Ditto if your PCs want to track the darkspawn (or the orcs in Words of the Wise) back to their caves -- there's a cave complex waiting for you in Santicore.

* Vast swaths of Secret Santicore are statless or nearly so and could be used to fill out some of these anemic, boring railroads that are passing as mini-adventures. If you need extra encounters while your One Ring characters are tromping through the woods, they're in Santicore. If you want killer plants and mutant freaks to add to your time-tossed ship in Broken Chains, guess what? They're in Santicore.

Okay, that was cleansing. Done now.


  1. I forget who pointed it out, but notice that all of the nominees are introductory or precursor material for the real packages.

    That is, advertisements.

    Secret Santicore, OTOH, is made of... free stuff, with no aim to upsell to another product that I'm aware of.

  2. Yep, that's what I was thinking as I read this, "It sounds like they picked all this commercial stuff over the homegrown one... hmmmm... I wonder why?"

  3. This does seem to be a big assed bugbear for everyone at the moment, and leads to a reasonably obvious conclusion that the big boys can throw a lot more money at a free product. To give FF a bit of credit - and it is only a little bit - they usually release a couple of extra characters through their own website for the adventure. Just GMed their latest for Only War, and without the extra characters I can't say I would have even bothered. the two additions are far and away the best of the bunch, and added a lot more to the scenario and the scope for roleplaying.

    I would love to see the judges spend a hell of a lot more time on gaming sites that cater to free RPG stuff and check out the massive amount of positive reaction this stuff gets from the gaming community and take that into account at least to some degree.

  4. Thanks for recognizing my inherent classiness, Erik. I think the most disappointing thing to me as I consider it more is not that informercials were judged slicker and more appealing than amateur content (because they are) but that a majority of fan judges seemed to have not even have considered that or that comparing the two might call for some consideration of that fact.

  5. The Ennies are horseshit and always have been, mate.

  6. I took a look at the PDF for the 40K Roleplay Product - mostly because the fluff for 40K has always been so appealing to me and it sounded like a good enough adventure, but lacking even a simple map it was incredibly confusing and felt unfinished. Additionally, while the art was slick it all felt rather 40K clip art to me, without any real link to the adventure it was supposedly for. Overall, I was bored by it and wandered off to look for Gories videos on YouTube and draw Chum monsters long before I got through it.

    Still, Erik's art point is well taken - a big chunk of the joy of prepared materials is the art, and the OSR doesn't always do a great job (understandably). In rebuttal - if the "OSR" (as if its a single monolithic entity) had ten to thirty odd years of professional high quality art files to pull glossiness from - the love and creativity poured into OSR random tables would far surpass the railroading rehash of these nominated products.

  7. Thanks for taking the time to write this, Erik. While I had a eensy teensy hope that the OSR community would have been recognised for its great DIY attitude, it was a long shot and we can't all be winners. Over on G+ someone made the point that the ENnies are industry awards, not hobby awards; I would argue that a number of the people involved are industry pros, but anyway. Shiny accolades are nice, but the lack of them in no way detracts from how good a product is. Thanks to your examination of the nominees, I now know where Secret Santicore needs to lift its game in 2012: I can promise lots more railroads :) At least this time there will be more than 4 weeks for inception to delivery, and hopefully more people will get on board to highlight the awesomeness of the OSR DIY community.

  8. Thank you for outing Secret Santicore. It is fucking amazing.

    At first I thought your complaints were unjust and self-serving. Now that I've read Secret Santicore I now see you are RIGHT.

    Feh and Bah to the Ennies...