The Diana Jones Award is an annual award created to publicly acknowledge excellence in gaming. The award was first made for the year 2000, and the first award ceremony was on August 4, 2001.
Jason Morningstar’s roleplaying game of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Grey Ranks, commands attention for many reasons: its fidelity to and evocation of historical detail, its unique and harrowing subject matter, its elegant mechanics of play, its unflinching assessment of war and heroism. But it deserves highest marks for two factors.
First, it is a game of inexorable tragedy, sacrifice, coming-of-age, mortality, and self-destruction. Against a backdrop of doomed heroism in the face of implacable evil, the game builds characters with emotional depth and powerful connections to a world being destroyed around them. Over the course of ten sessions, these characters battle not only fascist invasion but their own inevitable end along with everything they hold dear. These truly mature literary themes are almost unexplored in gaming of any sort, and virtually unseen in roleplaying. If gaming is to approach the other arts in depth and richness, it will be games like Grey Ranks that make such an approach possible.
Second, the game’s emotional grid mechanic anchors a solid, powerful rules design that drives such themes home in play. With no GM to intermediate between the characters and the abyss, every player must assume personal responsibility for his character’s fate. The rules force choices between personal goals and the greater good, and the emotional grid precisely limits the moral damage the character suffers as a consequence of those choices.
This is state-of-the-art narrativist game design, married to a topic worthy of such. Jason Morningstar has not created a game that lazily appropriates the historical horror at its heart, he has created rules that reveal that horror, rules that recreate that horror in the players’ hearts and minds. Aristotle said that all true tragedy must end in terror and pity. It’s hard to believe that Aristotle never played Grey Ranks.
Wolfgang Baur began his career in gaming as the assistant editor at Dragon Magazine, working under the auspices of Roger Moore and Barbara Young. He moved up through the ranks until he took the helm of Dragon. Eventually he left that position to work as an editor at Wizards of the Coast. After writing countless game supplements and articles, he then left Wizards in 2006 and plunged into freelancing full time.
In trying to find an innovative way to fund the kind of game design Baur wanted to pursue, he went back hundreds of years to dig up the concept of patronage, add a few modern twists to it, and apply it to the problem. In Open Design—as he calls his system—Baur posts a number of ideas for potential projects and publicizes them along with a monetary threshold for each. As the sponsors chip in, they vote on which project Baur should pursue. When the funding for the chosen project reaches its threshold, he starts work in earnest.
Baur supplements his exemplary work by letting his patrons suggest various directions for each project and then allowing them to look over this shoulder as he chips away at developing it. Those who pay more have deeper access to his thoughts and notes and can comment on the manuscript more as it develops. In this way, each project becomes a master-level class on roleplaying game adventure or supplement design for those privileged to be a part of it. In the end, Baur’s patrons also wind up with an exclusive, patron-owned-only professionally designed product they can truly say they helped bring to life.
In addition to this, at a time when print magazines seemed doomed, Baur has brought many of the most popular writers and designers back for an all-new magazine called Kobold Quarterly. After a single year in print, the magazine is growing strong, showing Baur’s dedication to both his roots and the roots of adventure gaming, as well as to breathing new life into them in new and interesting ways.