This is Audio EXP for the 10th of December 2022, and the title of this episode is “Conan the Barbarian’s Batman RPG problem”.
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #175]
Handiwork Games are in the spotlight this month, as voted for by Patreons.
I’m talking to Jon at Handiwork, but nothing is written up yet, so if there is anything you’d like to ask this veteran RPG creator, illustrator and business owner, let me know.
Meanwhile, hello from a snowy Scotland and the winter sneaking in as dangerously as a Game of Thrones political attack.
Let’s linger on danger for a while, just a short bit. In RPG news, there’s a Gloomhaven RPG on the way, and that doesn’t feel dangerous, and the decision to make it card-based seems to derisk it. Why? I think people will decide quickly whether they want and like it, so the publisher will know after the first print run.
That print run was always going to happen, wasn’t it? Gloomhaven is a hugely successful board game, so an associated RPG seemed inevitable. And that’s a theme we’ll come back to later.
What feels riskier is Hasbro’s bullishness on Dungeons & Dragons and Magic: the Gathering. As discussed in an earlier Audio EXP podcast, the money-movers are worried that Magic is overprinting and that market is saggy and heading down. Wizards of the Coast’s boss, Cynthia Williams, insists she sees no evidence of this.
She may well be right. It’s outside my wheelhouse, but I don’t cover Magic: The Gathering that often because it feels like an all-or-nothing gambit, and I don’t have the time to give it my all. It’s a bit like playing the game, which I used to do. There’s constant new Magic: the Gathering, and if you’re a collector, then is it a bit like collecting interesting stones from beaches? Each one is worth having, but there’s always a better one out there, and it’ll never end.
Meanwhile, Hasbro is bullish on D&D, suggesting they’re not making enough money from the red-hot property. I’ve seen D&D branded slow cookers. Hasbro might not think they’re making enough cash from D&D, but Wizards are certainly trying.
I think the challenge is hype. I’ve no evidence for this, but I fear D&D is at a critical point in the hype cycle. I’m not using hype as a pejorative here, just the natural rise and fall of interest. I’ve been gaming for three decades, but will the new generation of gamers who joined the hobby in the last five years do the same?
Looking at Marvel’s cinematic universe, I think we see something similar because, despite the publisher doing an expert job at keeping it fresh, there is fatigue.
And here we are talking about superheroes and RPGs so let’s get on to the title of the podcast and what I’m hoping won’t be a Conan Batman problem.
There is a Batman RPG on the way and it’s called Batman City Chronicles. It’s due out in September but the Kickstarter has been and gone.
I nearly missed it. The RPG ran with part three of the board game and, I think, the crowdfunded campaign was run to make that board game expansion. The RPG was an extra.
There is a free to download quickstart for the Batman RPG but it’s not even on DriveThruRPG or Itch. You can find links to it in the transcript, through the show notes.
EN World are running the Most Anticipated RPG of 2023 poll, and at the time of recording, I don’t see Batman City Chronicles with a single mention. Actually, Egg Embry gives it an honourable mention, but he’s a professional industry watcher.
Monolith, the Batman RPG license publisher, knows their stuff, so I don’t want to sound critical. After all, step one in their business plan has already been successful. With a Kickstarter done, they’ve an RPG to write that’s been paid for. The next step is to market it. Well, that’s a presumption these days; many RPGs go exclusively to their Kickstarters and barely get a PDF retail release.
All this is relevant to gamers who want to play in a Conan RPG. There’s one already, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed of from Modiphius. Modiphius must be seen as a capable pair of safe hands, given their license locker.
However, Adventures in an Age Undreamed of is coming to an end. You won’t be able to buy it this time next year. Monolith, the Batman publisher, is picking the license up.
Heroic Signatures, who own the rights and were weirdly called Cabinet, have bought into Monolith’s plans for the barbarian. Those plans are to relaunch or perhaps reboot their currently out-of-print Conan board game and then later do a Conan RPG.
I see a parallel between the Batman strategy and what’s proposed for Conan. I also know the business sense that a successful board game can make money, but it’s so much harder for an RPG.
I argue, in defence of RPGs, that they are a longer burn than board games and live through supplements for a lower maintenance cost.
Back in 2019, Pinnacle Entertainment’s Solomon Kane RPG license expired and also reverted to Heroic Signature, or Cabinet as they were known at the time. I can’t say they’ve been quick to rush out a new version, but perhaps there’s not enough demand.
Speaking of old supplements and unexpected demand, are you watching the Willow series on Disney+? I’m yet to watch, but I will. I’m one of those weirdos who really liked the original movie when it came out.
There’s an old D&D Willow sourcebook that came out in 1988 for the movie. It was written by Allen Varney, who now runs the Bundle of Holding.
In an interview, Willow TV series scribe Jon Kasdan explains how he referenced the D&D sourcebook for canon facts about the world for the TV series. I’m no expert, but the Willow D&D seems hard to find. If you’ve got a copy, I hope it’s in good condition.
There are some interesting bits and pieces to fit in before this week’s generous list of freebies and bundles.
The first is something I’m tempted and intimidated by at the same time. There’s an escape room meets LARP experience in Wales called The Locksmith’s Dream. You spend the weekend in an actual mansion and eat fantastic food.
It’s also an occult mystery with actors dressed like people out of a Lovecraftian prelude. I think it’s too far for me to travel to, especially with my time-off-crunch but people have travelled 3,000 from America to take part in the opening events.
Iron Crown Enterprises released Rolemaster Core Law this week. It’s already a best seller at DriveThruRPG.
Rolemaster has been going for more than 40 years, and the next evolution is Rolemaster Unified, with Rolemaster Core Law at the centre of that.
I also spotted an anime called Heavenly Delusions which, in a season loaded with great anime, looks superb. And terrible. And impressive, but familiar and different. I’m judging a book by its cover or, in this case, the anime by its trailer.
We’ve a nursey with robots, and that seems heavenly. We’ve a world ruined and filled with monsters. I theorise that we’ll follow characters from one world as they escape into the other.
In freebies, the first is from Wizards of the Coast, who are using D&D Beyond well again. You can swap registration details for Dragonlance Creatures, a new volume of the Monstrous Compendium.
In indies, there’s a quickstart of Judgement Day 2e from Mystical Throne. PCs are inquisitors in a world with monsters in the shadows. This version of the game uses the Entropic Gaming System.
The first bundle of the podcast is a tiered offer on Itch. It’s for Ind of the Year, loaded with indie games and at the top end $50 will get you $420 worth of downloads.
On the Bundle of Holding, there are a Blades in the Dark deal, which includes quite a few Forged in the Dark games.
There are also two Rowan, Rook, & Decard bundles on Allen’s site.
On Humble, there’s a Dark Horse Lone Wolf and Cub deal. That’s attractive because you’re bound to be asked if you’ve read or watched the samurai story many times in your life.
Humble also has a The Witcher tabletop RPG deal, but I’ll call out the other RTG games in it such as Castle Falkenstein as a quick way to get into some games from the history books.
Lastly, Green Ronin have put a heap of d20 classics from the more recent past and the d20 era together in a 3rd Era mega-bundle and $30 will get you $700. That’s the best value bundle I’ve seen in a while.
So, let’s finish up there; I hope the weather is calm, and I’ll see you next week.
Thoughts? Can you contribute to this article? Share your insight in the comments below.