Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition Available for Pre-Order

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

I have a deep fondness for old school computer games — especially classic RPGs like Wizardry, Pool of Radiance, Wasteland, Starflight, and Baldur’s Gate. Those games helped get me through my teen years (and most of grad school, now that I think about it). So when Beamdog announced an Enhanced Edition of Baldur’s Gate in November 2012, I was thrilled.

Beamdog was founded by two ex-employees of Bioware, the company that created some of the finest computer RPGs ever made, including Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, and Mass Effect. Co-founder Trent Oster and lead programmer Cameron Tofer formed Beamdog in July 2010 with the vision of bringing old school RPGs to modern platforms, and spent two years lovingly crafting a complete re-write of Baldur’s Gate — originally released only for Windows 95/98 — for modern versions of Windows, iPad , OS X, and Android. Their version eventually included over 400 enhancements, like new high-res cinematics, UI improvements, enhanced multiplayer, bug fixes and higher level caps, and over six hours of bonus quests & new adventures. It was, in short, the ultimate edition of Baldur’s Gate.

As excited as was to see the Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition — and its sequel, Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition, released in 2013 — I was even more delighted to learn that Beamdog’s next project was Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition. Icewind Dale was my favorite of the Dungeons & Dragons Infinity Engine line of games (which included Baldur’s Gate I and II, Planescape: Torment, and several others), and I have very fond memories of playing it with my children over a dozen years ago.

Now Beamdog has made Icewind Dale: Enhanced Edition available for pre-order on their website for just $19.99, in a package that also includes both of the expansion packs: Heart of Winter and Trials of the Luremaster. Check out the trailer for the enhanced edition above.

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New D&D Monster Manual Unleashed on the World

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

D&D Monster Manual Fifth EditionA fantasy roleplaying game is defined as much by the caliber of the villains and monsters as it is by the caliber of the players and heroes. Though Dungeons & Dragons has always been driven primarily by the imagination of the Dungeon Master and the players, the fact is that you can usually get only so far with just the Player’s Handbook (Amazon). It has the basic rules mechanics for playing the game, but lacks the array of exotic monsters necessary to populate – and threaten – the fantasy world that the characters are exploring.

With the arrival of the new 5th edition D&D Monster Manual (Amazon), that gap has now been alleviated. This book contains a beautifully-illustrated 350 pages of monsters, adversaries, and maybe even a few allies to introduce flawlessly into 5th edition games. The name really says it all; it is a manual full of monsters. There’s an appendix of “Miscellaneous Creatures” and one of “Nonplayer Characters” which are also useful, but there is one stand-out mechanic introduced that is worth mentioning in its own right, for those who might be wondering if the book is worth picking up.

Legendary Creatures

The manual contains a class of “Legendary Creatures” which “can take special actions outside their turns, and a few can exert power over their environments, causing extraordinary magical effects to occur in their vicinity.” In addition to these “legendary actions,” legendary creatures also sometimes come along with a lair, which gives the legendary creature ability to take extra “lair actions” and may have ambient powers, representing how the legendary creature’s power has physically warped the terrain of the lair.

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The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes: An Index (So Far)

Monday, September 29th, 2014 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Index_Holmes

An awesome print by Tom Richmond of Holmes on screen over the years. I own print #7 of 450

Surprisingly, The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes has now made it to thirty posts. While I’m sure the dedicated reader types ‘Public Life of Sherlock Holmes’ in the search field to call up all the posts in the series, I said to myself (I talk to myself a lot),  ”Bob, there’s got to be an easier way for someone to bask in the entirety of your writings so far.”

And there is! Below is an index with links to all the posts, followed by some topics likely to come.

 

Sherlock Holmes/Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Public Life of Sherlock Holmes – Introduction to the column (rather unoriginal title, eh?)

Lord of Misrule – Christopher Lee as the great detective

The Case of the Short Lived Sherlock – One of my favorite Holmes’, Ian Richardson

Creation to Death and Back – A good intro to Holmes, focusing on Doyle’s love-hate (minus the love) relationship with his most famous creation

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Art of the Genre: How Paizo Continues on Where Others Have Failed, a Review of Skull & Shackles Base Set

Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

PZO6010_500One of the longest tenured game designers in RPG history has to be Steve Winter, as he started with TSR in the early 1980s and continued on with the company until roughly December 2012, when he was finally ‘let go’ by Wizards of the Coast.  If those 30 years translate to anything, I would think it is an in-depth knowledge of the business of RPGs.

Once Winter was on his own, he posted an incredibly candid blog article concerning how ‘broken’ a business model  any company building around an RPG actually is.  To sum it up, he basically indicated that after the three core books (Player’s Handbook, DMG, and Monster Manual), all other products are A: unnecessary to the system as a whole, and B: that continued supplements ‘break’ any game’s mechanic system eventually and require a ‘reset’ to both correct the system and also increase company profits which will have flagged since the initial release.

That said, it is easy to see why once powerful companies like TSR, FASA, Game Designers Workshop, and White Wolf eventually collapsed under the weight of an impossible business model.  It also helps us understand why self-replenishing profit systems like miniatures and cards actually do work as a business model in the hobby sector.  Look no further than Games Workshop to understand this, and later Wizards of the Coast with their Magic the Gathering bonanza, and finally Privateer Press with Warmachine & Hordes, that directly mimic Warhammer.

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Art of the Genre: The Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings of All Time

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

Sorry Wayne, you aren't making this list

Sorry Wayne, you aren’t making this list

I’ve spent 30+ years looking at RPG artwork and I’ve yet to get tired of doing so. Sure, there are days when I wonder how the fantasy art world went to hell, but those are few and far between, as there are enough great new artists that still manage to inspire me in the mix of things [yeah Cynthia Sheppard I’m talking to you].

Nonetheless, I did begin thinking about well-aged TSR art this past month when James and I started digging in the nostalgia mines of old boxed sets. It prompted me to consider just what a ‘Top 10 list of TSR cover artwork’ would look like.

And to be clear, I wasn’t thinking about D&D in particular, but simply TSR catalogue stuff, which of course puts any artwork post WotC acquisition out of the picture. It does, however, allow for the additional inclusion of other games, although as I comprised this list I found it nearly impossible to include them. D&D, as it should be, dominated the RPG landscape from the mid-1970s, and thus is the bag of holding that any role-player will go back to again and again.

There are so many ‘things’ that could go into the making of this list, but for today I’m going to go with my gut. If I had feelings for it, it gets considered. If I know a lot of people owned it, it gets considered. Other than that, I don’t really have much to lean on other than the fact that this is what I do. I deal in old art. I buy it, I sell it, I broker it, I contract for it, I agent for its creators, and as you can see here, I blog about it. My only regret is that I wish it paid more, but since when does living your dream always to come with luxury?

That said, one name found on most RPG art lists these days won’t appear here because he came too late, and frankly, his greatest recognizable cover was done not for TSR, or WotC, but for Paizo. Yes, this means no Wayne Reynolds, but that is how this list is going to roll, so without further introduction, I give you my personal list of ‘Top 10 TSR Cover Paintings.’

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In the Mail

Tuesday, September 9th, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

AE08Despite what my post last week may have implied, I too have been culling my RPG collection. This isn’t driven so much by a concern about space – that’s what garages are for, after all – but utility. In the thirty-five years I’ve been involved in this hobby, I’ve accumulated a lot of games, but how many of them do I actually play with any regularity? Heck, how many of them do I play at all?

The answers to those questions are surprisingly short, as I’ve discussed before. Of course, I’m not so stonyhearted that I’d consign to the flames (or at least eBay) any RPG I hadn’t played in the last year or two. I’m a hopelessly sentimental guy who revels in nostalgia and youthful memories. That’s why I keep around Gamma World and Gangbusters, neither of which I’ve played in decades. I used to play these games with great regularity and I hold out hope that I will get to do so again (plans are afoot for a new Gamma World campaign later this month!). But Blue Planet or Spycraft or even D&D settings like Planescape or Dark Sun? Nah.

Overall, then, my RPG collection is growing smaller, though I prefer to think of it as growing more “focused.” That said, its size isn’t wholly on a downward trend. That’s because, while I’m buying very few new games, I’m continuing – even increasing – my purchase of RPG fanzines.

When I was a kid, gaming fanzines weren’t on my radar. I read Dragon and, later, White Dwarf, and was vaguely aware of Different Worlds, but all three of those were professional magazines produced by game companies rather than photocopied (or “Xeroxed,” as we said back in the day) pages lovingly stapled together in someone’s basement and then sent through the mail. I dimly recall hearing about Alarums & Excursions, probably from one of the older guys who hung around the hobby shop, though, as they would have been quick to point out, A&E is an amateur press association, not a ‘zine, a distinction that’s still somewhat obscure to me even today.

Regardless, fanzines played a vital role in the early days of the hobby, disseminating not only news and reviews, but also ideas derived from what players and referees were actually doing with RPGs at the time. Reading them, one could see the myriad ways that roleplaying games were being interpreted and expanded upon, which in turn sometimes gave birth to whole new games and approaches to gaming, something that, even now, sets them apart from the slicker, better produced “pro ‘zines” that followed in their wake.

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Art of the Genre: The Art of Selling your Past

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014 | Posted by Scott Taylor

photoConsidering the fact that James ‘Grognardia’ Maliszewski is one of my office mates here in Black Gate L.A., I’m often inspired by what he has to say on the subject of gaming.  Now sure, James comes at the hobby from a more mechanics angle, while I take on the artistic side, but nonetheless, we are still cut from the same cloth and overlap on many details [he’s two years older than me, so MUCH wiser].

After reading his The Golden Age article this week, I couldn’t help but find an odd pleasure in the fact that I too was revisiting my gaming past, only once again from a different angle.

So, when he posted his image of the ‘treasure’ found at his ancestral home, I couldn’t help but smile because I’d just taken a picture similar to it myself the day before.  You see, James, according to the article, was enjoying the nostalgia of his TSR collection in his visual framing, but for me, I was working toward the reality of parting ways with mine.

Over the past three weeks, I’ve been selling off parts of my RPG collection.  It began as a quest to raise capital for other projects, but as it continued, it turned into a kind of cathartic shedding of unneeded pounds.  Last year, I wrote an article for Black Gate entitled The Weight of Print, and over the past weeks I’ve toted at least a hundred pounds of books to the USPS from my RPG shelves.

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The Golden Age

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014 | Posted by James Maliszewski

Optimized-IMG_5384There’s a famous epigram mistakenly attributed to a number of different people – as famous epigrams so often are – that states that “the golden age of science fiction is twelve.” Some quick research into the matter reveals that its actual author was Peter Graham, an editor of fanzines in the late 1950s and early ’60s. My research also revealed that the original quote stated the golden age of science to be thirteen.

I turned thirteen in the Fall of 1982, three years after I first discovered Dungeons & Dragons. By that time, I was hopelessly in the thrall not just of D&D, but of a wide variety of roleplaying games. RPGs played a very important role in my young life, complementing many of my earlier interests and hobbies (like mythology, science fiction, and fantasy) and fostering many news ones (such as history, foreign languages, and philosophy). It is no exaggeration to say that I’d be a completely different man today if it weren’t for these games.

Consequently, I tend to look back on that time as a golden age, a time when the hobby of roleplaying was just right for a kid like me. I was reminded of this recently when I returned to visit my mother at my childhood home. Though I haven’t lived in that house on a permanent basis since I first went away to college in 1987, it still holds a great many things belonging to me that I simply hadn’t had the time to take with me as I traveled up and down the East Coast of North America. This year, I vowed that, during my visit, I’d do a proper inventory of what I’d left behind so that I could get rid of the stuff I didn’t want and once again take possession of at least some of the rest.

What I found was a time capsule of the inner life of my thirteen year-old self.

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Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook 5th Edition: Character Options & Rules Overview

Sunday, August 31st, 2014 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

5E Players Handbook CAs previously announced, Dungeons & Dragons has released their new 5th edition D&D Player’s Handbook (Amazon). This is the flagship product of their revamped new edition of Dungeons & Dragons. At a time when every aspect of the gaming industry seems to be going gangbusters, it’s a perfect time for Dungeons & Dragons to relaunch a new version of their rules system. Now that I’ve had the book for a while, I’m ready to give some initial thoughts on the system.

When I earlier reviewed the Starter Set, I mentioned that I wasn’t too fond of 4th edition. Let me clarify that statement a bit in context, because my major problem with 4th edition has a direct bearing on how I view 5th edition. It’s not that I disliked 4th edition, per se, it’s just that I didn’t feel that 4th edition felt like the Dungeons & Dragons game system anymore. If someone had shown up and said, “Hey, I just stumbled upon this brand new RPG system” and shown me a book with the mechanics of 4th edition but without the Dungeons & Dragons branding, I might have been quite impressed. But as a transition from edition 3.5, I saw no reason to give up 3.5 and dive into an entirely new system just to play in the same setting. By contrast, the rules in 3rd edition seemed enough of an improvement over 2nd edition to easily justify the transition.

More importantly, though, I didn’t feel that 4th edition was a good entry-level rules system any longer. A year ago, my aunt approached me about my younger cousin (age 12) wanting to begin playing Dungeons & Dragons. I immediately suggested that I could send him my 3.5 edition manuals. I specifically suggested against trying to learn 4th edition rules, unless the kids he was wanting to play with were already using it.

So allow me to begin my review of the 5th edition Player’s Handbook by being absolutely clear:

If I were to introduce a brand new player to a fantasy roleplaying game today, the 5th edition of Dungeons & Dragons would be my top choice.

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Experience the Second Era of Space with Mindjammer

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 | Posted by John ONeill

Mindjammer-smallTrying out a new role playing game takes a pretty serious investment of time and energy, and I don’t do it often. I think the last time was probably Pelgrane Press’s excellent SF game Ashen Stars, which turned out to be worth the investment.

A few months ago, the talented Sarah Newton sent me a copy of her ambitious new RPG Mindjammer, and I found myself intrigued. Early this year, it beat out 13th Age, Hillfolk, and other great games to win the Griffie Award for Best Roleplaying Game, which only sharpened my interest.

So over the last few weeks and months, I’ve been digging into it. And I’ve come to the conclusion that this is a really terrific SF role playing game, with a flavor all its own.

Mindjammer describes itself as a game of “Transhumanism Adventure,” which in practical terms means it’s a mix of science fiction and superhero gaming. Hyperadvanced technology, synthetic intelligence, cybernetics, and ancient lost tech have changed what it means to be human, opening up a wide range of fabulous and inventive skills for your players — things like Xeno-empathy, Starship therapy, logic shields, and many others. It makes character generation a lot of fun, and really gets players thinking about the type of universe they’re about to step into.

And what kind of universe is that, exactly? One where humans mingle with divergent hominids, uplifted animals, synthetic beings, and stranger things. Players can even play a sentient starship — which may give you some idea of the scale and ambition of this fine game.

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