BUT - here I am, just returned from UK Games Expo 2010 and in a reflective mood - or possibly looking for tasks to put off tackling that mountain of emails in my inbox :D
UK Games Expo was great, and bizarrely enough too short! I made (as it turns out) the mistake of signing up to run two sessions over the weekend - one on Saturday "morning" (Legends of Anglerre), one on Sunday "morning" (Starblazer: Mindjammer). I say "morning", as the sessions run from 10am to 2pm. Add to that the 15 minute runover, the 15 minute debrief, and then the scrabble to eat and drink something for lunch, and basically it's 3 o'clock - and the con closes at 5, or 4 on Sundays. Urk! So, my time on the Cubicle 7 stand was perilously thin this time round - next year I'll probably do just 1 sesh, even though they were both great fun.
It was great to see the old faces and put some names to new ones, including Brass Jester, Darren and Gillian Pearce, Ralph Horsley. Had a great time playing Anglerre with Steve Dempsey (gbsteve) and Brian, with a cool denouement involving an unexpected trebuchet and some truly enormous fire arrows (curse those declarative powers of FATE points! :D), and a truly awesome outcome to Escape from Venu (Mindjammer) with Craig and Owen where it turned out the person who'd kidnapped the Amidan princess and delivered her to the nefarious Venu was actually the *starship*! Darn, I wish I'd written that in the official version now! :D
What else? Well, toy purchases were suitably awesome as ever. I always take the chance to strike out on something I wouldn't normally buy when I'm at a con - having "discovered" absolute gems such as Godlike, Unknown Armies, Capharnaum, Umlaut, Duty and Honour, Zorcerer of Zo, and Exalted (ok - a rough diamond, that one ;) ) that way. This time I came away with the absolutely splendid Wild Talents (gotta love that alternative history - Watchmen turned up to eleven!), Reign Enchiridion, the Qin Bestiary, a big pile of sailing ship miniatures (yup... my Legends of Anglerre campaign has turned *very* nautical), and - finally - the Armitage Files.
A word on that last one. I got Trail of Cthulhu at Dragonmeet last year, and despite being generally enthusiastic had a few reservations. Basically, I loved the fact that Ken Hite (princeofcairo) had absolutely exploded the "trudge through the same old Mythos" aspect of CoC by making the whole Lovecraftian shebang mysterious and undetermined again. You know the thing: "hell, I can lick Cthulhu - 700HP, I reckon a handful of spitfires should do it in about 15 minutes flat. Less if we throw dynamite". Right - very scary... BUT, with Trail, Ken nixed the whole "stat-up-a-god" nonsense and even broke out the *definition* of Cthulhu (or Nyarlathotep, or whatever) into multiple different possibilities. Which one's true? Does it matter, if the world's ending?
So - that suits my mindset perfectly. The sheer indeterminacy predicates a subtle menace to the setting - you can't actually *know* what you're up against. Plus, improv and consensual story telling can occur - there is no overarching canon truth (Nodens save us from "Canon"!) to railroad your game.
BUT, the Gumshoe rules seemed at odds with that - at least initially, in the ToC rulesbook. By declaring that "clues are always found", and the "GM decides the outcome, then plants clues leading to that outcome"... well, it seemed pretty railroady, at least on first read. Not personally my cup of tea. So, despite having a refreshingly schizophrenic quality befitting a good Cthulhoid game, ToC languished unplayed on my shelves the past six months.
The Armitage Files changes all that. I can imagine it being *hated* by a certain type of GM and player, but for me it propels Trail from "second place to CoC" to "cutting edge", in one fell swoop, step, or slither... Railroading is *GONE*, *TOAST* - the Investigative skills of the PCs now become the de facto checklist for the GM to determine what kind of clues are going to be found, and - and here is the MOST IMPORTANT BIT - the GM becomes an investigator too, as the players and GM work together to figure out what the hell is going on. Now *THAT* is what investigative roleplaying should be about. Not the GM deciding whodunnit and then guiding the PCs blindfold to a predetermined conclusion - with ToC / Armitage Files, the GM doesn't even know how it's going to end. And that's the starting point for all kinds of awesome.
I take my hat off to Ken, Robin, and the Pelgrane guys - this makes me want to run out and play ToC today. I'm already dusting off Masks of Nyarlathotep and planning to mash it up with the Armitage Files to make *the* awesome improvisational Cthulhoid campaign. Haven't been this excited about Cthulhu for years :D
OK - that turned into an impromptu mini-review, but there you go. Good writing deserves it, and the Armitage Files is worth every penny.
So - what else?
Well, the Cubicle 7 job: that's turning gradually awesome. Initially we've been fighting a bit of a publication logjam, which I get the feeling we're about to release bigtime. But the next year or two look to be truly amazing for RPGs. I love the way C7 prioritizes quality above all - we have some great products coming. I'm responsible for Starblazer, Legends of Anglerre, Victoriana, Qin, other translated games, and Call of Cthulhu (the Cthulhu Britannica line), and we have a corker of a release schedule lined up. On my own writing front, I'm spending half my time programme managing the C7 stuff, the other half writing my own thing, either for C7 (Mindjammer, various Anglerre projects), Chaosium (Chronicles of Future Earth needs a players' guide, if the core book ever comes out), or fiction (short stories coming out shortly (!), plus a Mindjammer novel in the works). It's a whole busy time, but gorgeously fun and stimulating.
Next stop - a couple of months of down periscope again, and then surfacing for my first trip to GenCon. See you there!