A cliff overlooking the eastern sea, six miles from the town of Layton (known for the roast boar prepared at the inn of the Bowman’s Pony), “Dragon Altar” is said to be where kings and queens of old were joined together by no lesser officiant than a true dragon. A weathered stone monument at the highest point describes the ritual in the ancient tongue of dragons. Only a few scholars can read the marks in this fallen age, but the ritual not only binds two souls in matrimony, but involves the dragon’s pledge to protect them and their lands. Since it is said that when dragons pronounce their own speech, the words are magic itself, enforcing the truths pronounced by the dragon, the ritual is thought to have made a mystical connection between the dragon, the monarchs, and the land. Some scholars believe this accounts for the reported longevity of these ancient rulers, when they were not killed in battle.
Sadly, dragons have been absent from the land for many years. When the king from beyond the eastern sea came with his men and ships and the power of foreign gods and conquered the land, his people knew nothing about the traditions linking the dragons and the kingdom, save that dragons were in service to their enemies. Then, later, the remaining dragons were seen as feral menaces to be eliminated, because they had lost their connection with the land and the people had forgotten the traditions which would have made dragons their allies. Now, dragons are legends, and haven’t been seen near these settled lands in generations.
Weddings are still held at the Dragon Altar cliffs, though, in front of the slab where the words most cannot read are inscribed. High ranking officials of the land travel to these cliffs to be seen honoring the old traditions, not knowing what those really were. If a pair were to find a true dragon and enact the true wedding ritual of this altar, they could obtain a connection with the land which has been absent for centuries. Besides being able to command the loyalty of a dragon, the lands belonging to a pair so mated will be blessed with fertility (as will the pair themselves). The humans in the bargain gain the ability to properly pronounce the speech of dragons, and thus perform magic in their way. The dragon gains the ability to transform into a human at will, and may dominate the minds of any humans who owe loyalty to the pair it is joined to. The three may speak to each other in the tongue of dragons at any distance as well, though they may not lie in that speech – for attempting to do so will levy a curse, because peaking in dragon language makes magic, and speaking lies in it will thus twist the speaker. Dragons might learn to lie to each other without twisting themselves, but between those bound by oath at Dragon Altar, the oath ensures any lies among the three will be punished. Some possible ways the liar might be twisted:
1 Hears all speech as lies.
2 Sees people who are not there occasionally.
3 Fails to see people who are there occasionally.
4 Can’t hear people who aren’t first perceived by another sense.
5 Colors are muted and hard to distinguish.
6 Both eyes change to random colors, and hair changes color and natural shape.
As formerly noted, one of the secrets of the gaming industry, comparable to “The Emperor has no clothes!”, is that the former King of roleplaying games, Wizards of the Coast’s Dungeons and Dragons, was deposed from, or more abdicated from the Throne of Games and dropped out of the top five roleplaying games. The gaming mega-con, GenCon 2014, was held August 14 through 17 and it was clear there was no vaccuum of power left in their absence at the ENnie Awards.
Evil Hat Productions, publishers of the Fate Core System, ranking #4 in ICv2’s top five role playing games, received eight ENnie awards at GenCon, including the Silver award for Best Publisher.
Monte Cook Games, LLC, Numenera ranked number five of the ICv2’s top five role playing games and took nine ENnie awards including the gold for Product of the Year. Monte Cook formerly worked on Wizards of the Coast’s on their newly released version of their dungeons and dragons genre game, “Next” but left due to differences of oppinion with the company.
From this year’s ENnie awards it is clear that Evil Hat Productions and Monte Cook Games have truly risen to the level of Lords of Gaming but who has risen to the top?
The Paizo Publishing Company‘s Pathfinder ranked number one on the ICv2 list of the top five role playing games and at the GenCon Ennies their pathfinder products took eight ENnies for Paizo as well as two for Whiz Kids for their Pathfinder miniatures. Among their eight awards, all gold, was the gold award for the Best Publisher.
According to the ENnie Awards website:
“The ENnies were created in 2001 as an annual award ceremony, hosted by the leading D&D/d20 system fan site, EN World in partnership with Eric Noah’s Unofficial D&D 3rd Edition News. Since they were originally conceived the ENnies have expanded from an Internet-based awards selection to an annual award ceremony at Gen Con Indy.”
So, while Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast failed to produce anything worthy of a nomination by the dungeons and dragons playing community at GenCon’s 2014 ENnie awards, Paizo’s Pathfinder has clearly risen to claim the throne with Monte Cook Games, LLC and Evil Hat Productions at their sides. While Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast struggles to keep their brand alive, the dungeons and dragons genre thrives on without them. So, in the meantime, if your kids say they are playing dungeons and dragons, chances are high that it is Pathfinder from Paizo. The King is dead! Long live King Paizo!
The Wizards held their launch party under a tent on Georgia Street where the food vending trucks were selling their wares. As far as parties go it was more lively than a typical wake but less celebrative than a New Orleans funeral procession. They had distorted music blaring on substandard speakers and it was difficult, at best, to enter the tent without earplugs. The exciting gift for those attending was a cardboard face mask. While most of the folks on the street were there for the food trucks, the attendees of the party were kept moving as they looked at the few cases of items on display, much like an open casket viewing.
A few members of the press were on the fringes of the tent discussing how much Wizards of the Coast had dropped the ball in terms of marketing and, indeed production of quality gaming. In 2012 they put on an extravaganza that impressed all who attended even though it was all smoke and mirrors with no substance and was followed by problems and delays in producing a replacement for the much maligned fourth edition. This year at GenCon 2014, Wizards of the Coast doesn’t even have a booth in the Exhibition hall. As far as the demonstration gaming, Michael Tresca, veteran gamer, respected game reviewer, and National RPG Examiner commented that he had played one of their adventures and experienced TPK, total party kill. Even though the players had played intelligently, they were slaughtered without mercy. This is not what one might expect from a company that is trying to gain new players for their system.
After paying appropriate respect to the Wizards of the Coast the next stop for the evening was the Ennie Awards. While it was no surprise that Wizards of the Coast didn’t take any Gold or Silver awards, it was a bit of a surprise that they didn’t even place in the top five in any Ennie category. The Wizards’ “party” had already disbanded and the displays were being packed up after the Ennies had ended.
Will 2014 truly mark the end of Dungeons and Dragons as a viable brand as the dungeons and dragons genre continues to expand with Paizo’s Pathfinder, Monte Cook’s Numenera, Evil Hat’s Fate Core System, and others? Will Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast pull a true resurection or are they just pumping good dollars after bad and doomed to earn the titles of Hasbeens and Withereds of the Coast? While only time will tell as it is not yet a total flatline, the future looks pretty grim for the brand. Speculation has already begun on who will next own the Dungeons and Dragons name when Hasbro pulls the plug.
There is a place of dragons and demons, angels and avatars, Knights and knaves, in which the Kings and Queens of the gaming industry gather every year to present their best to gamers from all over the world. This, The Throne of Games, is Gen Con in Indianapolis, Indiana. Gen Con was founded by the Grandfathers of roleplaying games such as the Great Patriarch, Gary Gygax.
The name Gen Con is from the original location of the convention, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. The name is more to those gamers who know and love it as a true Geneva Convention of gaming where all games and gamers can come and play their favorite games that have been out of print for years and games that are not yet available. Where every gamer has a chance to play and every game has a chance to be played – where no game is left behind. Peter Adkison is the former CEO of Wizards of the Coast and of Gen Con L.L.C. and he remains as the primary shareholder and member of the board. He is The Man behind The Throne of Games.
John Collins (JC): Thanks for agreeing to do an interview with me Mr. Adkison. As a roleplaying gamer I have known about some of your major projects for decades and have lived under its influence from playing Dungeons and Dragons to attending and then covering Gen Con as a photo journalist, so thank you for years of enjoyment!
Peter Adkison (PA): You’re very welcome!
(JC): Could you tell us a bit of your background? I know your business background, but what turned you on to gaming at the outset, and what led you into games and gaming as a career?
(PA): I was blessed with being born into a family that loved games. Some of my earliest memories were playing Rook with my grandparents as a child. At least I thought it was Rook. It turns out we were really playing Pinochle rules with Rook cards, which I discovered to my embarrassment when I went all rules-lawyer on someone years later. When I was in 5th grade my dad was teaching high school and one night some of his students brought a game of Risk over to play. That’s when he and I both became hooked on board games. Within a year we had a small collection of Avalon Hill board wargames and within a couple years of that we were playing the big ones like War in the East and were subscribers to The General and Strategy & Tactics. In 1978 I discovered Dungeons & Dragons and that really rocked my world. RPG’s have been my primary pastime ever since.
I’ve always been a rules tinkerer. When I founded Wizards of the Coast our primary motivation was to publish various roleplaying systems, adventures, and sourcebooks. The first product ever released by Wizards, called The Primal Order, was written by yours truly (with a lot of help) and contained a “capsystem” for running deities, divine artifacts, and so on using many of the popular RPG’s of the time. If not for Magic: The Gathering, Wizards would probably have lapsed into the nostalgic but forgettable, heavily-littered battlefield of dead RPG companies.
(JC): Before we get to your current projects I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you to tell my readers a bit about Gen Con. So could you tell us a bit about Gen Con?
(PA): Of course! Growing up as a fan of D&D in the 80’s I, of course, heard of Gen Con frequently. I’d read the event listings and fantasized about what games I’d play if I ever got to go. In 1992 that dream was realized when Wizards of the Coast exhibited for the first time at Gen Con. We were selling The Primal Order and Talislanta and we booth-shared with AOL! This was before Magic and our booth was homemade and looked sort of like a castle! It was grand. I fell in love with Gen Con and haven’t missed it since.
In 1997 of course we had the good fortune of buying TSR. Obviously, D&D was the real prize – or at least we thought so at the time – but Gen Con was part of the deal and that was always the cherry on top of the deal in my mind. When we sold Wizards to Hasbro in 1999 that deal included Gen Con. When I left Hasbro a couple years later I said, “If you ever divest any of these businesses let me know. I’d be interested.” A year or so later I got the call that several businesses within Wizards were for sale and that’s how I ended up with Gen Con and Lisa Stevens ended up with Dragon Magazine (which is gone now but that’s how she got the momentum to start Paizo.)
Gen Con has turned out to be more than “a bonus”. It’s an awesome event that has turned into a great business too. The attendance has almost tripled since I acquired it in 2002, but at the same time it hasn’t drifted away from its original charter. It’s still primarily about tabletop games, yet has programming to appeal to nearly every facet of geek culture. It’s had basically the same format for 20 years, just scaled up bigger.
(JC): In your personal life you have taken off in an entirely new direction and as of Gen Con 2012 it is expanding into your public life. Could you tell me and my readers about your current projects?
(PA): After winding down Hidden City Games in the spring of 2011 I was looking for something new to do. I was tired of the publishing grind but I wanted to find something that would keep me active in hobby games. After quite a few twists and turns I decided I wanted to get into filmmaking. So I enrolled in film school and I’m excited to report I’ll be finished in mid-December 2012!
As soon as I started film school I immediately started a web series called The First Paladin. I’m very interested in exploring the intersection of my first love, roleplaying games, and filmmaking. I figured I’d start by filming a roleplaying campaign. I admit this sort of thing has limited appeal – as Jeff Grubb told me once, a roleplaying session is 20 minutes of excitement crammed into four hours. But I have this morbid fascination with the topic and it’s turned out to be a fabulous “first project” web series. I’ve had a ton of fun figuring out how to spruce it up by adding illustrations, celebrity appearances, testimonials, and so on.
Then it occurred to me that what might be interesting in this vein would be to film one-off RPG sessions featuring great game designers or great games (ideally, game designers running their own games). For example, I’ve filmed Luke Crane running Burning Wheel, and I have Vince Baker coming out in early December to run Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World.
I’m also interested in making narrative films that tie to roleplaying in some way. You’ll start to see some early attempts at this within a couple months and I’m hoping by the end of 2013 I’m decent at it.
(JC): Where do you think your dreams and plans will take you from here?
(PA): My fantasy now is to get good enough at narrative films over the next year or two that I can move on to feature length movies. And my goal is to make movies that are inspired by roleplaying games, settings, and stories created through actual roleplaying. As an early test in this direction, my first short film in 2013 will be based on a screenplay that we will adapt from a Fiasco game run by the designer, Jason Morningstar.
(JC): In addition to writing for Examiner.com, I write for my own site, The Weird Review, and I like to close my interviews with giving my interviewee the opportunity to tell my readers something weird and wonderful about themselves that there fans wouldn’t otherwise know. Do you have anything interesting about yourself that you would like to share?
Author’s note – For years I had wanted to attend Gen Con but it was not until 2009 that I first attended the event and I was hooked. In January 2010 after working with a photo journalist in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, I was hooked on photo journalism. It was only natural for me to combine these and request a press pass for Gen Con 2010. As I applied I knew that I didn’t meet their requirements for a press pass and so did their Director of Marketing, Megan Culver. She, out of kindness, granted me one. In January 2011 I started working on my site in earnest and used Ms. Culver as a resource. After several months she asked if I intended to take on advertising and if so, to let her know. So Gen Con became my first sponsor beginning January 2012. For the sake of full disclosure it was necessary to mention this relationship, but I have been a big fan of the event for a few years and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity for an interview with Mr. Adkison and to write about my favorite gaming event, Gen Con.
If you enjoy the following photo gallery from Gen Con 2012 check out The Weird Review’s Gen Con Photo Gallerys from 2010, 2011, and 2012