18 October 2016

THE KRAKEN 2016 Report

Schloss Neuhausen
Neuhofer Straße 20
19348 Berge, OT Neuhausen


The theory was that there would be a “gaming vacation”-type of Kraken on even years, and a shorter “gaming retreat”-type of Kraken on odd years. However, we’ve now had two “gaming retreat” Krakens two years in a row, and I am under the impression that it is going to remain like this... because apparently those who work in the industry find it convenient to have a “gaming retreat” the week-end preceding the Essen game fair. The biggest beef I have with this is that we’re all sort of used to the older version of the Kraken (which was longer), and we all get there with three or four RPG adventures that we’ve prepared, or piles of board games we want to try out with our friends, and, inevitably, we end up not being able to do everything we’ve planned. I feel this has particularly been true this year.

Anyway, I’ll stop ranting – here’s my report. Since there was so much to see and to do at the same time, I have written the report using both my notes and my friends’ – so thank you Éric Vanel and Runeblogger of the Runeblog for sharing your notes with me.

As always, the bad-looking pictures below are by yours truly, whereas the nice-looking ones are by friends, and in particular by Aliénor and Toumy, photographers extraordinaire!

FRIDAY 7 OCTOBER, late afternoon

We arrive at the Schloss after a stop and a good night’s rest in Nimeguen at Louis Kolkman’s place where we have retrieved he and his wife’s impressive Operation Market Garden giant wargame (see past posts about it). We receive our Krakeneers’ kits (less beautifully crafted than the earlier years) and accommodation keys.




21:00 – Opening Ceremony. This year is a slightly special edition of the Kraken:

50 yrs of Glorantha!
I tell Fabi he shouldn’t advertise the Kraken as a “gaming retreat” — but as a “gaming gourmet gathering”! The food is superb, and this year we have a choice of going full vegan! (so three different options at each meal: standard, vegetarian, and vegan). And, of course, the beer is free.

I watch people play a demo game of Khan of Khans run by Chaosium’s Michael O’Brien (aka MOB); the game is going to be launched at Essen. It is a nice and fast little family card game (it plays 2 to 5) in which each player is a Praxian khan who raids Dragon Pass for cattle; whoever has raided most cattle at the end of the game wins. A game lasts about 10 minutes. Most people are enthusiastic about it (Éric certainly is) but I have the impression that it is really a game designed for kids [note that I didn’t play — I just watched people playing]. Anyway, the illustrations are fantastic and perfectly Gloranthan-themed. More on Khan of Khans later.

Khan of Khans demo game

Sandy Petersen is also demoing his new boardgame: Planet Apocalypse. This time it’s not set in one of Chaosium’s licensed universes but in our own world, invaded by demons. Also contrary to both Cthulhu Wars and Gods’ War, it is a co-operative game. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to try it at all, so this is pretty much all the information I have at the moment. Based on how the pieces and the gaming aids look like, I believe the game is still in its early design phases.

Planet Apocalypse

Everyone had been expecting that Volume One of the Coming Storm by Ian Cooper would be available for sale at the Kraken... Unfortunately it is not. Still, I can peruse a physical copy of the book. It is a sturdy, full-colour, 148-page beauteous hardback book. (More about its physical aspect later.) In a nutshell, the book contains the following:
  • Clan description
  • Red Cow clan PC creation
  • Important clan NPCs (loads of them!)
  • Gazetteer of the Cinsina lands
  • Other Cinsina clans

Beateous Hardback

It's real, it's not been photoshopped!

Just like last year, I take advantage of the Kraken to playtest my board game, Gloranthan Realms, outside of my usual group of Parisian playtesters. I run two demo games leading to v3.4 of the rules, which streamlines the turn sequence and (hopefully) makes the game less frustrating for unlucky people who never draw the rune or the card they need. Also I run a game with seven players, which I’d never managed to do in Paris (maximum I ever got was six).

Gloranthan Realms cards

SATURDAY 8 OCTOBER, morning and noon

I referee several times in a row Odile and Louis’s ginormous wargame, Operation Market Garden. It’s really nigh-impossible for the Allied player to win. Now I understand why it took me so many games last year to eventually manage to capture Arnhem!

As a result of my refereeing the Operation Market Garden giant wargame, I miss the “Quo Vadis, Chaosium?” panel. Luckily the Runeblogger attended it and took notes that he’s shared with me; plus I watched the video recording on _THE_KRAKEN_’s YouTube channel.

The Chaosium: Neil, Jeff, Rick and MOB

So here’s the gist of the panel:

MOB & Rick: what is in the pipeline?

CoC pipeline

For Christmas 2016, two books for children: HP Lovecraft for Young Readers, and a Cthulhu colouring book. I think this is good news – there’s never enough Lovecraft and Cthulhu, and the sooner kids learn about the Great Old Ones, the better.

The upcoming gaming supplements are:

Doors to Darkness – 5 scenarios, full-colour layout.

Pulp Cthulhu (15 years in the making!)

A set of four Keeper decks (originally for the KS backers only; now generally available)
  • NPCs
  • Weapons and artefacts
  • Phobias
  • Miscellaneous (events, twists…)

Glorantha pipeline

The Coming Storm (Volume One) – This will feature the new look of all the future Gloranthan books: hardcover, bronzey feeling, colour layout, and the Chaosium logo on the cover!
The Coming Storm (Volume Two) is currently “in layout”.

The Guide to Glorantha is being re-printed, with a ‘50th anniversary’ slipcase, and will be sold to non-backers. It should be available in about three weeks’ time.

The next RuneQuest (definitely called RQ4 now) won’t be out this year (even though the rules are nearing completion) — Chaosium don’t want to have a rules book out without any supporting material, so the idea is to have 4 to 5 books out simultaneously: the rules, a bestiary, a GM’s pack, etc.

First RQ4 book (the rules): we can have a look at the Playtest book, which is really THICK (see the photograph below).
The book is 95% finished (only the examples of play are missing; Jason is working on them, the idea is to build a Rurik-like saga).
Art is being commissioned.

RQ4 rules...

Second book: Bestiary (also PHAT), set to look like the Petersen’s Guide to Cthulhu Monsters; will have rules for monsters as PCs.

Third book: GM’s book; rules on Chaos, rules on Illumination, some Lunar cults (Red Goddess priestesses as allies or as enemies), material on heroquesting, battle rules, a collection of statted encounters set in Dragon Pass...

A policy that Chaosium now want to enforce is: no more rulebooks without scenarios, so this is what they’re working on now: a fourth book, the Dragon Pass Campaign, which will span a year and a half of in-game time, starting just after the Dragonrise, and done as seasonal adventures. Some of it is straight from what Greg Stafford was working on before he eventually switched to working on Pendragon.

Secrets of future RQ supplements!

Mythic Iceland second edition; the book is stand-alone (no separate rules – the BRP line is dead), new magic (shamanic), rune magic re-worked, new scenarios…
It will also have a companion book, hence starting its own product line, with forthcoming scenario and setting books (like Vinland).

Board Games!

Khan of Khans, a Gloranthan family card game by Reiner Knizia (see above); will be KS’ed (5 tribes in the original box) with an expansion (5 more tribes).
Set in the plains of Prax.
Very cute art.
Doesn’t take much time to play.
Hopefully it will be a gateway to more complex Gloranthan games.

Khan of Khans prototype next to an iPhone - small game!

The new edition of Credo is still being worked on; the aim is to have shorter games.

Chris Klug is still working on the new Dragon Pass game; aim: being able to play the game in 2 hours but with the same strategic and diplomatic satisfaction as the original game from the 70s.
The hex map has been abandoned, it will be replaced by an area movement system (personal note: I am not surprised… the early prototype version I’ve playtested was 3+ hours to play, and that was the shortest scenario!).

Fiction Line

The fiction anthology Cassilda’s Song has been named as a finalist for two World Fantasy Awards, for the anthology itself, and for one of the stories in the book, The Neurastheniac.

Neil talks about fulfilment: European customers will now be able to order from the UK; all the products will be stocked in the UK. Also, Chaosium has joined the Brick & Mortar Initiative, see my earlier post.

Next European conventions Chaosium are going to attend:
  • Essen (13-16 Oct 2016)
  • Dragonmeet (3 Dec 2016)
  • UK Games Expo (2-4 June 2017)

Jeff talks about 13th Age in Glorantha:
It will be a very big book. Single biggest book that Rob & Jonathan will ever have written. Hence lots of art, by several talented authors.
The (system-neutral) Gloranthan sourcebook is going through layout & art; it’s sort of a shorter version of the Guide, with a major focus on mythology and with an updated timeline of the Lunar Empire. It also has MAPS!

Q&A session

Q: Are the battle rules in RQ4 going to be based on the ones in Pendragon?
A: No. Pendragon emphasises knight combat, whereas we wanted to take into account all kinds of characters, and especially those that use magic.

Q: How are you going to make your games appeal to Joe Average RPGers?
A: We are aiming at having games that don’t only appeal to grognards but also, for instance, women. We think the new RQ should appeal more to people who are bored with combat.
We are going to continue setting up ‘Organised Play’ (like we did for Call of Cthulhu) also for RQ4.
Also looking to have introductory scenarios, like the one Andrew Bean ran at the Kraken.

Q: Product schedule for the RQ Classic kickstarter?
A: We will resume working on the PDFs when we’re back from Essen…

11:00 – Horror Lottery. For the first time since I have been going to the Kraken, my name has been drawn! I play in Robin D Laws’ game on Sunday – which also means I won’t be able to play in Éric Vanel’s

Rick and Fabi

Just before lunch, I manage to squeeze in a Gloranthan Realms playtest game again, with the new sequence of play. It works really great!

Fabi with a present from my daughter

Lunch is home-baked pizza. The vegan one is so good the non-vegan Krakeneers are stealing our slices!


The usual perk of attending cons— I play a game of the French dark fantasy RPG Les Chroniques des Féals refereed by one of the designers herself: Camille Chiverne Guirou! The universe (which I didn’t know at all, nor did the other players) is quite rich and absolutely not your run-of-the-mill fantasy setting. The system is easy to grasp and plays nicely. It leaves us wanting to discover more.

Chroniques des Féals game
As explained in the introduction, the gaming sessions just override each other because there are so many; I have to cancel my Call of Cthulhu game. I’ll probably run it at the Eternal Con.

19:00 – Excellent and abundant Chaosium BBQ dinner. I chat with MOB. Fans of Tales of Mythic Adventure do not despair: he has seven episodes in the pipe.

Hillfolk game


I play in the secret playtest session of a brand new game by a French game designer well-known for his unconventional ideas. Sorry, super-secret, I can’t add much, except that I have had a blast and I can’t wait for the next playtest session!

During that time, Éric participates in the playtesting session of a future supplement for the Coming Storm. The adventure (DragonRise) should be one of several in said supplement. Lots of feedback for Ian from the players.

Just before going to sleep, I peruse the printout of the new Conan RPG by Modiphius. It just oozes love for RE Howard’s work from each page.

SUNDAY 9 OCTOBER, morning and noon

Sunday morning, lots of people are testing prototypes of new games, or trying out recently published KS’d games. The Runeblogger, for instance, playtests Planet Apocalypse.

Trollball prototype

Trollball prototype

Gods' War


Well, I do the same: I am refereeing for the very first time The Motherland Calls! my new role-playing game set on the Eastern Front during WWII. The idea is to have a fully realistic, non-supernatural game set in a period of time that, apparently, has attracted writers of fiction, designers of war games and board games, but not of role-playing games [yes, I know of Night Witches, but it’s focused on a particular type of missions]! My players are very nice to me (and to the imperfections of this early draft) and I have a great time. I will definitely develop it further and publish it in The Hanging Garden when it’s ready.

SUNDAY 9 OCTOBER, afternoon

New RuneQuest Seminar with Jeff Richard: Spirit Magic in the Upcoming RuneQuest
Focus on the shaman/spirit world/combat rules and their implications on the party (keep everybody adventuring together).
Chris Klug is basically rewriting the whole section to avoid the pitfalls from past editions.

Conan seminar with Jason Durall and yours truly.
We take advantage of the nifty audio/video facility in one of the large rooms of the Schloss. We show “Conan: The Rise of a Fantasy Legend”, a featurette from my Conan the Barbarian: Special Edition DVD set. It’s a nice 20-minute documentary about the life and times of RE Howard, and about the impact that Conan has had on the Sword & Sorcery genre. Jason (who is a bigtime RE Howard and Conan fan and amateur scholar) then comments the short film and tells a few anecdotes about RE Howard and Conan of his own. Since the projector is connected to the internet, we subsequently show an excerpt from The Whole Wide World, a 1996 biopic about Robert E Howard adapted from Novalyne Price Ellis’s autobiography. She was a close friend of RE Howard’s and she acted as an advisor for the film, although she was in her late eighties!

Conan/REH seminar

The problem with the Conan stories is that they were published in a haphazard order by pulp magazines, so we ask Jason which edition we should look at for a definitive text. Jason thinks the authoritative edition is the Del Rey one in 3 hardbacks, edited by Patrice Louinet — who is also an advisor to the Modiphius RPG, which is BTW at its final layout phase; it should be at the printers by the end of October.

All in all, a fantastic panel; I really feel elated. Unfortunately there aren’t many people attending because almost everyone is a player in the traditional Gloranthan freeform taking place outside; this year it is the one called “White Bear and Red Moon”. I am told they have barely stopped Chaos from entering Gloranthan reality (again).

SUNDAY 9 OCTOBER, late afternoon

Finnish pancakes galore by the incredible Risto “Lätyt” Welling. He has brought all kinds of Finnish seasonings but the best one is definitely the home-made cloudberry jam.

Advanced Gaming Lore seminar with Robin D Laws.
  • Suggests alternating core scenes with alternative scenes
  • Ask your players what your bad GM habits are, and try to avoid them in the future
  • Plus mucho specific HQ-related advice (e.g., the economy of Hero Points…)

Dinner: stuffed capsicums and rote Grütze. Rote Grütze is a northern German dessert that apparently stemmed from an experiment to have the highest-possible carbohydrate content per cubic centimetre in the world. After a small serving, I feel I have to drink a gallon of water. Yet some Krakeneers manage to eat several in a row. I know RPGers have a different metabolism to normal humans but still— wow!


Since we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Glorantha, Fabi sets up a Skype conversation with Greg Stafford (who is in California) in the audio/video room. Greg tells us many anecdotes from the early days of Gloranthan gaming, especially about the Dragon Pass/White Bear Red Moon board game, and then we have a short Q&A session.
Scoop: Conan was the inspiration for Harrek the Berserk – which ties in nicely with the earlier seminar.

You could buy some 'forgotten' Dragon Pass counters

Robin D Laws HeroQuest game: The Secret of the Egg. The funny thing is that the game is the sequel of the game that Robin has refereed the previous day but using his Hillfolk system. Anyway, both games are set in the Dragon Pass area a few generations after the Dragonkill, and involve tough choices that will shape the future of the clan for generations to come. The best thing as always with Robin is his incredible skill as a referee and his versatility in impersonating NPCs… The adventure itself is a rough ride, the clan has to face impossible choices, but I guess that’s what clan-based adventures are all about. The interesting thing is that, out of 5 players, only 2 (Fabi and yours truly) are Gloranthaphiles, and yet everybody quickly captures the essence of living in a world where the gods are real and can be met in the hero plane, and in which you just don’t kill a dragon— you have to heroquest to find something to defend yourself against it. Kudos to Janet who played a very trickster-ey Eurmali character.

Robin and yours truly

During this time, Éric referees his Welcome to the Grazelands HeroQuest game. The PCs stop the ice demons who have appeared in the Grazelands during the Great Winter.

Late at night, I ran yet another playtesting session of Gloranthan Realms, again with the new turn sequence.

MONDAY 10 OCTOBER, morning

10:30 – Closing Ceremony (amidst much sorrow).

Yours truly in front of the Schloss

See you next year!

11 October 2016

13G Bison Rider

I love Rich Longmore's art. I usually prefer his black-and-white illustrations, but the following piece (that I received via the 13th Age in Glorantha kickstarter mailing list) is simply superb:

(it's the cover of the latest issue of 13th Age Monthly)