It’s been a while since I wrote my last adventure review, as I examined the GDQ adventure series (Giants, Drow/underDark, Queen of the Demonweb Pits). This time I’m taking a look at the first adventure in the Competition Series. C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan.Read more
I’m about due for one of these Anime & RPG recommendation videos, so it’s time for another.Read more
Dragons of Autumn Twilight ended with the refugees from Pax Tharkas having found a refuge in a mountain pass in the hope of (possibly) making it through the winter. The second book in the Dragonlance Chronicles series begins with the Heroes of the Lance having already gone on another adventure, and having brought the refugees to the Dwarven city of Pax Tharkas. In the roleplaying game modules, your player characters would have gone through this story. However, while much of the Dragonlance modules were adapted to the original Chronicles series, not all of them were. In the late 2000s, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman returned to Dragonlance to adapt this missing chapter into novel form.Read more
When I beat Shadowrun Returns: Dead Man’s Switch, I enjoyed the game but found it lacking in a lot of respects. While Dead Man’s Switch was an RPG that captured a bunch of the feel of the world of Shadowrun and invoked one of the classic adventures from the game, it was missing some of the dynamism of the RPG that other PC RPGs brought to the table. Shadowrun Dragonfall addresses these concerns and creates an RPG that is a more marked improvement over its predecessors.Read more
This time I’m getting into something slightly different. I ordered a copy of the tabletop RPG adaptation of Pool of Radiance, titled Ruins of Adventure, and while I’m getting through the next chunk of the game, I figure this is a good time to talk about that.Read more
This week I have a review of an art book covering the history of Dungeons & Dragons from the start of the game to now.Watch the video…
In this episode (with its light novel adaptation length title), I give some recommendations for tabletop RPGs based on various video games and anime from the last year.
Oriental Adventures was a sourcebook for AD&D 1st edition that sort of re-imagined and re-interpreted the game to fit a setting inspired by various stripes of Asian cinema, with varying degrees of success. However, two things that book did moderately well was to present a setting in microcosm that used the mechanics and the book’s non-weapon proficiency system. What it didn’t do well was to create classes and races that were conducive for adventuring, and it didn’t create a setting that a standard adventuring party could be inserted into.
AD&D 1st Edition received a smattering of different settings. The longest lasting of those were the Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, and Dragonlance settings. However, a little less memorable one is Kara-Tur, which was born out of the Oriental Adventures sourcebook. While it would later be folded into the Forgotten Realms, on the outset it was very much its own thing. Read more
Tomb of Horrors is quite possibly the most infamous D&D module of all time. It’s an adventure that has been credited with annihilating campaigns, and is claimed to be the most broken and unfair adventure ever put out by TSR. However… I think this reputation might be because people are approaching the scenario the wrong way. Read more
I off and on have been reviewing the parts of the first AD&D adventure path – Against the Giants (in two parts – Part 1 & Part 2), and Descent into the Depths of the Earth. Well, now the time has come to the conclusion of the Adventure Path, and while for an inventive ending, it’s kind of a rough one. Read more
The Against the Giants series (the first adventure reviewed here, and the other two here) wraps with a hook for further adventures within the Underdark, based on the premise that the Giants were backed by the Drow. This leads to the party heading into the Underdark to do battle against the Drow. Read more
A while back, I reviewed G1: The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, an adventure that launched AD&D’s first real adventure path, and had some really interesting adventure design concepts. The other two adventures in the series – G2: The Glacial Rift of the Frost Giant Jarl and G3: The Hall of the Fire Giant King, are much more conventional dungeon crawls, so they’re worth discussing together. Read more
Back when I was getting actively into gaming again, I started reading Knights of the Dinner Magazine, and some issues of Dragon Magazine when I could. In those issues of the magazine, I encountered ads for Dwarven Forge, a company making miniature dungeon terrain out of really durable material, what I presume is plastic resin, called Dwarvenite. It was incredibly well sculpted, beautiful to look at, and as a high school and later college student, I couldn’t even begin to hope to afford it, never mind to have space for it. But I really wanted to be able to be in a game that used it.
Fast forward to a few years ago when I finally got in a long-running game again, and much to my delight, my GM owned pretty much all of the Dwarven Forge terrain that had come out to date – so I was able to play with it and experience using it first hand – and it was great. And then I learned about a documentary on Netflix about the guy who started Dwarven Forge, and I decided I had to check that out. I didn’t know exactly what it’s tone would be. However, thus far Netflix had not steered me wrong on the documentary front, so what the hell?
The Dwarvenaut is a interesting documentary – as both an character study of Stefan Pokorny, the founder of the company and one of the sculptors of the terrain the company puts out, and a brief snapshot of what draws people to Roleplaying games. That said, the film is tends strongly more towards the former than the latter. Stefan talks about what drew him to RPGs and we get some interviews with people, often industry luminaries, about what drew them to RPGs – but while the documentary goes to GenCon and other locations we don’t get much of an opportunity to talk to newer roleplayers about why they play, and what draws them to the products that Dwarven Forge makes.
The framing “narrative” as much as there is one, is based around the launching of Dwarven Forge’s third kickstarter, for their City Terrain set, after their earlier “Dungeon” and “Cave” sets. In particular, there are some concerns that due to overpromising on the kickstarter, if they don’t raise $2 million, they will end up going bankrupt. The “will they or won’t they make the goal” part of the
The profile of Stefan is far more engrossing – getting into not only what motivates him as a person who is into roleplaying (specifically designing a product that would motivate people to play in person instead of online), but also as an artist. There’s an scene in the film where Stefan goes back to Venice, where he spent some time after he graduated from art school, and he talks about the wear on the stones and about the stories those buildings must have scene – and that speaks volumes of the artistic motivations behind the Dwarven Forge terrain.
The film also does an amazing job of presenting Dwarven Forge’s terrain, visually. We get some really well shot closeups of the terrain, with lighting and dry-ice fog that makes it look like a miniature from a fantasy movie (and that’s not a bad thing – this is a product that you can buy after all). It kinda makes for a really strong advertisement for Dwarven Forge’s products, which is not what I expected from this documentary.
It’s an engrossing film. I don’t know if it’s one that I’d necessarily add to my collection, but it was definitely worth watching. The film is currently available for streaming on Netflix, and also on Amazon on DVD and Digital.
It’s time for another RPG Roundup video. This time I’m making my recommendations based on Anime series!
13th Age: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Maid: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Champions: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Icons: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Mutants & Masterminds: Amazon, DriveThruRPG
Wild World Wrestling: DriveThruRPG
- Sailor Moon – Toei
- Serial Experiments Lain – Pioneer
- Neon Genesis Evangelion – Gainax/Studio Khara
- Armored Trooper VOTOMS – Sunrise
- Bubblegum Crisis – Pioneer
- Log Horizon (Season 1) – Satelite
- Hayate the Combat Butler – Manglobe
- Tiger & Bunny – Sunrise
- Goseiger – Bandai
- Tiger Mask W – Toei
When I read an analysis of a work of fiction – and the person doing that analysis looks at the world presented in this fiction, sees how it’s fleshed out, and because it’s fleshed out goes “This would be better/best as a video game!” I become kind of frustrated. In particular, I become frustrated because it would also work just as well for a tabletop RPG setting. A great example of this is the below installment of the “Mother’s Basement” video series, where host Geoff Thew discusses the narrative and worldbuilding of the excellent recent anime Made in Abyss, and determines that as good as it is, because of that worldbuilding it would be better as a video game:
My frustration isn’t because the opinion is objectively wrong, or because video games are somehow inferior as an medium. It’s frustrating because there’s this mindset I feel in video game fandom circles that tabletop RPGs don’t exist. They’re the thing that people used to day back before MMORPGs, and now nobody plays them anymore. I don’t mean “nobody” in the sense of nobody of consequence – that tabletop RPGs are viewed with the contempt that was/is shown to LARPers in geek circles. I mean that they just don’t exist – that the person who plays RPGs is like the Tasmanian Tiger, who occasionally emerges from the bush, and then runs back into hiding.
Even the gaming news sources that do talk about RPGs tend to focus on certain more niche sides of things. Austin Walker of Waypoint is way into the narrativist Indie game side of things (which is fine – I don’t believe in bad-wrong-fun). It’s also frustrating because there’s so much more to RPGs than that, and most game sites are only willing to do one of three takes.
- RPGs don’t exist anymore. People played them when I was in college, but nowadays tabletop RPGs don’t exist.
- The only tabletop RPG ever is Dungeons & Dragons. There was Shadowrun and Vampire once upon a time (and I know about those because of their video games), but they no longer exist. This isn’t helped by some forces within the game industry (like the new shepherds of White Wolf and the World of Darkness – and old White Wolf too for that matter)
- Dungeons & Dragons exists, but we’re only going to talk about more artistically minded small press RPGs, like some of the Powered by Apocalypse World games or Dogs in the Vineyard.
Quick note about #3: There is anything wrong in these games – it’s just that there’s an excluded middle – there are games that have gotten visibility among tabletop RPG fans, but nobody outside of that circle knows about that are worth discussing and considering – from Runequest, to 7th Sea, to Savage Worlds.
Anyway, my frustration is born out of the fact that these omissions very much come out of ignorance, whether because the people who made these statements have never had the opportunity to play an RPG, or their experience was a bad time at one game, and they dismissed the medium entirely.
I’ve tried to push back against this through videos of my own, giving recommendations based on existing video games and RPGs that are in print, but my audience is small, and there’s only so much I can do by myself, much as I love tilting at windmills. This also isn’t helped by the fact that, for very valid and understandable economic reasons, much of tabletop RPG publication is done online through PDFs instead of through brick and mortar stores, and any connection between big box booksellers and tabletop RPG publishers (in terms of trying to get their books there) is a thing of the past.
What this does mean is that tabletop RPG publishers need to take some cues from Wizards of the Coast (and then some) when it comes to promoting your stuff. There are a ton of livestreams on Twitch and videos on YouTube through the Dungeons & Dragons and Geek & Sundry YouTube channels showing people playing D&D.
Chaosium, Green Ronin, and other tabletop RPG publishers should be doing something similar for their own systems. Get people to stream Call of Cthulhu, Runequest, Blue Rose, and other games. This not only shows people having fun playing the game, but it also shows people who have never played an RPG before how to play the game.
Additionally, and this is a little thing, but whenever a new Bundle of Holding comes out, the new bundle should get tweeted at @Wario64 (or someone similar), to signal boost the bundle.
Finally, the tabletop RPG industry is kinda in a Crab bucket situation. Tabletop RPGs are surviving and enduring, and as long as the books exist it won’t go anywhere, but unless there’s growth in the player base, there’s no room for growth in the industry – especially for people to make money at this full time, for companies to hire the kind of staff that’s necessary to help maintain a necessary level of professionalism (HR departments and publicists to prevent stupid crap like what happened recently with Bill Webb of Frog God Games and TSR Alum Frank Mentzer.) To do that, the industry needs to stop this stupid undermining bullshit. Politely discourage fans on your boards from slagging and actively attacking other companies games (at least professionally published games – they can slag FATAL all they want), and don’t do that yourself. If we work together, we can get out. If we promote a culture of undermining and slagging each other, we promote the perception that all our games are crap, and not worth people’s time, attention, and money.
So, in short:
- Show people having fun playing your game.
- Use avenues people are already watching to look for game deals, to showcase deals for *your* game.
- Don’t run down other publishers – promote how you’re different, instead of “They suck, we’re better!”
The concept of the “adventure path” – a series of adventures or vignettes strung together to form a larger campaign – has become increasingly more prevalent in tabletop gaming. Even standalone adventures, like some of the adventures for Dungeon Crawl Classics, are built around the idea of being part of a larger world, with the idea that the player characters would have further adventures brought on by the events of this adventure.
Probably one of the first examples of this to be published, though, is the G-D-Q series of adventures published by TSR for AD&D 1st Edition. The adventures were originally created to be run as a series of convention scenarios, but even then, the narrative of the three series of adventures were designed to be strung together into an ongoing story. In the interest of that, I’ve taken a look at the first scenario in the G series – The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief.
G1 is significantly different from Keep on the Borderlands in several very dramatic ways. The most obvious one is that it is designed for more high-level characters, and not a normal sized party either – the recommended party is nine 9th level characters, with less players being viable if the players are more experienced. Not if the overall party level is higher or more powerful, but if the players are more experienced and can consequently metagame better – which is especially interesting that the general vibe with modern roleplaying is in favor of less metagaming.
The other major difference is that Keep on the Borderlands is a more conventional dungeon crawl, though one designed with the concept of a bunch of monster apartments around a central hub. G1, on the other hand, has a much more cohesive structure. To make a comparison to modern video games, I’d compare it to a level from Hitman – you have an objective (Break the back of the Hill giants), and a living breathing environment that you have to navigate to accomplish that objective. Just rushing in and killing everyone all willy-nilly will get you killed, so you have to sneak through the environment trying not to get noticed. Indeed, the main set-piece of the environment, the ongoing feast between of the Hill Giant Chief and his supporters, is a location to be avoided if possible, because if you draw their attention you’re going to get squashed flat.
Further, there are several elements of the set-piece encounter that can be picked off if they show up as random encounters. A DM who wants to put some more work into this can change this from being triggered at random to setting up a guard schedule for some of the roaming portions of the set-piece. This makes it more like a Hitman sandbox level, and depending on your players might make the level more accommodating than approachable than the level as written.
As in Hitman, the preferred way of approaching the problem is to skirt the perimeter, finding a disguise if possible, and picking off guards quietly along the way. The adventure does have room for a more conventional dungeon crawl, mainly within the literal dungeons beneath the steading – where the Hill Giants keep their orcish slave labor. This isn’t a case of wiping out the orcs – but rather wiping out their guards – a few slaves upstairs will tip the players off to an earlier uprising and where the leaders are held, and in turn that if someone can take on some of the guards downstairs they can launch a larger uprising – something that sadly nobody has based a Hitman level around.
My complaint around the adventure is actually the framing narrative – that the band of adventurers are sent by their King to accomplish this task by pain of death. This makes sense within the context of a convention tournament scenario, but not within the context of a home game. Once you start approaching Ninth level, you’re starting to approach name level, and with it the responsibility of staking out land and maintaining it. So, I’d adjust the framing narrative to accommodate that – accomplishing this quest will include not only fame, riches, and glory, but also a land grant from your King that you can use to build your Name Level buildings – with the catch being that in the course of this adventure you learn that to pacify this area you will not only need to take out the Hill Giants, but also the other two groups of Giants as well (with the players learning of the Drow involvement partway through pacifying their new territory).
Overall, G1: The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, is a really well structured adventure that provides a great break from the conventional dungeon delve, and with a few adjustments to the structure of the adventure overall, and the initial adventure hook, will make for something to keep your players adventuring and engaged once they hit Name Level.
AD&D 1st edition and Original D&D started out without much in terms of first party setting support, with the first setting that was commercially published for the games being from a third party – the Judges’ Guild’s City State of the Invincible Overlord. Eventually, TSR got around to putting out their own first campaign setting, the World of Greyhawk, as an official setting – first as a small pamphlet, then as a larger boxed set with fold-out maps and several books describing the world.
The boxed set contains a variety of pamphlets describing the setting of the world, along with a country-by-country breakdown, descriptions of major geographical features and the perils that lie within (such as monster populations in those areas), and the gods of the world.
The country breakdown is less divided by geographic region, and more done in alphabetical order. The reasoning somewhat makes sense, but doesn’t make as much sense from a gameplay standpoint. As a DM, I want to know what countries are in contact with each other, and how they interrelate to each other. This is aggravated somewhat by the fact that Greyhawk is notable as a campaign setting by having multiple human ethnic groups within the setting. Further, the game does recognize the differences between the differences between these cultures by having different deities in the setting come out of different cultures.
Considering that clashes between cultures have been something of a big deal throughout human history, having an understanding of the cultural demographics of particular countries would really help DMs get the flavor of what life is like in the country, and how it relates to their neighbors – and in turn how those cultures relate to the other races (Dwarves, various flavors of Elves, etc.) within their borders.
That said, it is worth mentioning that of the various ethnicities within Grayhawk, something that isn’t called attention to and sadly is forgotten by the art in later editions is that the predominant skin color of the World of Greyhawk isn’t white. It’s various shades of brown – and there isn’t discrimination based on skin color outside of the Great Kingdom (which is one of the predominantly Evil kingdoms in Greyhawk – their version of the Late Roman Empire).
I can infer some cultural information about the various groups based on the deities within those groups, but it’s really up to the DM to figure out what those societies are actually like. We get a bit of this as well from the descriptions of the various countries, but that information focuses less on societal identity – as we don’t get human demographic information – and more on national identity. It’s still useful to a DM, but there’s a bunch of narrative options that are left off of the table.
The religious information is generally nicely done. Unlike in Deities and Demigods, we get some real focus on the “portfolios” of the Gods – what parts of life do they care about. None of them have real combat stats – though some combat information is reproduced from Deities and Demigods. The book gives some information of the vestments that clerics of the various deities have, and what their weapons are (and consequently what you can assume their favored weapons would be, if you’re using those rules).
The book doesn’t get much into the relationships between the various Gods though – whether particular Good Deities would be inclined to take an active role in fighting some of the Evil Gods like Iuz, or if certain acts would be particularly reprehensible to followers of those gods (do followers of Boccob find destruction of books reprehensible?) It comes up in a few occasions – Hextor and Heironeous are in conflict because of how they represent different perspectives on combat and war – but other deities generally come across as being mostly ambivalent.
All of that said, even in comparison to the game materials put out in the “Greyhawk Adventures” Orange-spine book, and the 3rd edition Greyhawk corebooks, this is still some of the most comprehensive rundowns of the society of Greyhawk that have been published. Its omissions are significant, but nowhere near as dramatic as the omissions from setting core-books in later editions, and there’s a lot of useful material from here that is missing from other later editions.
The boxed set is available digitally from DriveThruRPG and the Dungeon Master’s Guild site, and physical copies can be found on eBay.
Earlier I reviewed Empire of the Imagination, one of the more recent biographies of Gary Gygax. Well, David Kushner, the author of Masters of Doom, has co-written a graphic novel Biography of Gygax. I gave it a read, and thought I’d give my thoughts. Read more
I recently took a look at the Dragon Age RPG from Green Ronin, along with the more generic Fantasy AGE RPG, and I want to give a few thoughts on those. Read more
Keep on the Borderlands is a lot of people’s first experience with a pre-written D&D adventure. While it isn’t the first published D&D adventure, or even the first 1st Level D&D Adventure, it’s one of the first ones with a drawn out map and wilderness environment combined, and many people’s first D&D adventure – including mine. Since the first time I’ve played the adventure, I’ve played many more RPGs in a multitude of systems, and had an opportunity to GM a couple times. So, I’m revisiting the adventure. Read more
Probably one of the first sourcebooks put out for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was Deities and Demigods, a book with a collection of beings that would provide something for your Cleric to be, well, a cleric of. However, it doesn’t really hold up very well, particularly compared to later deity books for later editions of AD&D and D&D. Read more
I don’t know if you know this, but I like tabletop RPGs. I really like tabletop RPGs. So, when I learned of the massive amount of scholarship going around RPGs and the history thereof, I got really excited. Though not the first book on the topic that I picked up (that being Of Dice And Men, which I reviewed in the fourth issue of my fanzine) this is one of the first, and one that warrants some discussion. Read more
This time we’re taking a brief look at the West End Games RPG – and the times between the original novels and comics, and the more familiar era. Read more