Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Thank You, Steve Kenson

The "Thank You" series was inspired by my post to the late Aaron Allston, as well as the passing of industry greats Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. There were many things I needed to say to these men and never got the chance. I don't intend to let that happen again.

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One of the best parts about being a gamer of the roleplaying variety is that games that are designed to help you create your own worlds--by definition--give you the tools to personalize those systems almost infinitely. As Rogue Genius Games' Owen Stephens posted recently, playing with these systems, testing them to see what they can and can't do is just as much fun for some of us as playing them.

In other words, Theoretical Gaming is just as satisfying as the practical kind.

When 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons released way back in 2000, the Open Gaming License resurrected the then-archaic Original RPG by allowing those of us who had spent decades designing, imagining and breathing life into our own worlds to enter the game design market. The market was flooded with material, most mediocre, some brilliant, and sorting through it was a challenge. The gems, however, were well worth the effort. Green Ronin Publishing became well known for the quality of their material and two of their supplements not only changed my tabletop experience, but my personal one as well.


The Shaman's Handbook did something I had never seen before; it presented the varied cultural implications of shamanism in a well researched and thorough way. As a practicing shaman, I was impressed by the respect the author had given the material, not to mention the elegant bridge he had created between fluff* and crunch*. The fluid game mechanics and the respect with which the real-world material was handled felt like Steve Kenson had written a love letter to my own personal geek.

The Shaman's Handbook wasn't "just a game supplement" for me, it was a reminder that I wasn't alone in my spiritual outlook at a time when I needed it, and it reminded me why I love my gaming community so much. 


Psionics were first introduced in the 1st Edition AD&D Player's Handbook and gamers have either loved them or despised them. I fall into the former camp. With every evolution, though, I came to understand that I'm not really In Love with psionics, just the idea of them. Psychic powers in both v3.* and the greatly improved Dreamscarred Press Ultimate Psionics for Pathfinder are variations on D&D's spell system and don't have that satisfyingly unique flavor I've always craved. Enter Mr. Kenson again. The Psychic's Handbook created an entirely new system based on feats and skills that not only made psychic powers systematically different than spells, it made them more compatible with the numerous variations of the d20 system (d20 Modern, for example). Now playing in a Cthulhu-esque horror game with strange and twisted mental powers, or creating your own Force-like scifi space knights were not only possible, they were inspired.

These books have been a foundation of my gamer shelf for over a decade; in fact, the Shaman's Handbook is one of the inspirations behind my own project, The Ultimate Shaman, coming out later in 2014 from Misfit Studios. Odd I only recently realized they were written by the same author. For that I say, thank you, Steve Kenson, for taking two of the things I love the most in RPGs and putting them to paper with elegance, fun and, most of all, respect. Thank you for the time and effort you put into creating these books and know that they are being put to good use creating laughter, fun and even chills for the dozens of players who have graced my table over the past decade.

If we ever meet, the drinks are on me.

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* Fluff: A word commonly used in the gaming community to mean flavor text--the description of the world that the story takes place in or the description of a character's personality or abilities that have nothing to do with game mechanics. The opposite of crunch. Example: A fighter in Pathfinder may describe his fighting style as dance-like, or a superhero in Champions who turns himself into living flame may describe his attack power as an fiery explosion.

* Crunch: A word commonly used to describe game mechanics. The opposite of fluff. Crunchy: commonly used as a derogatory term to describe a system's game mechanics as overly complex. Example: The fighter above may take a feat that grants him a +2 bonus to Acrobatics checks. The superhero above may build his attack power as an 8d6 Energy Blast with the +1/2 Explosion advantage.

4 comments:

  1. I always admire your command of gaming history, and your ability to really showcase the great stuff and explain why it's worthy of our attention. Thanks for sharing Rich!

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    1. Thanks for posting, John. I appreciate it.

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  2. Thanks so much for the post, Rich. I'm hoping Green Ronin will be able to bring some of the content from products like the Psychic's Handbook back into print, perhaps updated for use with Pathfinder, as the current iteration of the D&D 3E rules set.

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    1. Funny you should mention that. Owen and I have already been in discussions. It's like I'm Kenson 2.0.

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