A Massive History of D&D Culture: Art and Arcana by Michael Witwer, Kyle Newman, Jon Peterson, and Sam Witwer

Thursday, December 13th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Art and Arcana-small

Art and Arcana is a massive book that satisfies a strong sense of nostalgia for those who played Dungeons and Dragons in the 1970s and 80s, as well furnishing a history of the game and, to a lesser extent, the people and companies behind it. Focused primarily on the artwork that has helped define the game from its earliest days, authors Michael and Sam Witwer, Kyle Newman, and Jon Peterson have provided a beautiful look at the game’s first forty-five years, with an emphasis on the first few editions.

Even the endpages of this 440 page book indicate what is sandwiched between them. The opening pages show a map of the Village of Hommlet from the classic T-1 dungeon, while the closing pages are a reproduction of a classic piece of Erol Otis’s artwork from Deities and Demigods. A foreword by Joe Manganiello points out that “in [the 1980s], Dungeons and Dragons wasn’t cool.” As someone who began playing the game in 1980 (in Glenview, where the Witwers were from, although I didn’t know them), Manganiello’s comment is an understatement. At the time, the concept that stars like Manganiello and Sam Witwer would be involved with a book about Dungeons and Dragons would have been mind-boggling, as would the idea that the host of a late night talk show like Stephen Colbert would admit to playing it, or that people could make a living as a Dungeon Master and charge people to watch their games.

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Birthday Reviews: Josepha Sherman’s “River’s Friend”

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Cover by Jim Holloway

Cover by Jim Holloway

Josepha Sherman was born on December 12, 1946 and died on August 23, 2012.

Sherman’s debut novel The Shining Falcon won the Compton Crook Stephen Tall Memorial Award in 1990. Sherman collaborated with Mercedes Lackey, Laura Anne Gilman, Susan Shwartz,and Mike Resnick. She  co-edited the non-fiction folklore collection Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts with Toni Weisskopf.

“River’s Friend” saw print in issue #178 of Dragon under editor Roger E. Moore and fiction editor Barbara G. Young in February 1992. As with so many of the stories which appeared in Dragon, this one was never reprinted.

Sherman sets her story in an alternative Russia during the reign of Vladimir the Great. Souchmant has the unique position at Vladimir’s court of a peasant who has managed, through the prince’s good graces, to become one of the bogatyrs. Souchmant knows that he is part of the nobility only at the sufferance of his lord. He also has a secret that, if found out, would force him from Vladimir’s court. Vladimir is known in this world for his distaste for anything that smells of the supernatural, the Other, and ever since he was a young boy, Souchmant has been in communication with the Other, specifically the spirit of the River Niedpra.

It isn’t his communication with the River Spirit that gets Souchmant in trouble with his lord, but rather his frustration at the lack of understanding the bogatyrs have about the way the common people live. Souchmant erupts complaining that they don’t know how to do anything useful or complete a task without violence. He offers that he can capture a live swan without the use of any weapons or even a net. Once the words are out of his mouth, Vladimir banishes him to complete the task.

Rather than do as he was instructed, Souchmant, with some help from the spirit of the Niedpra, saves the river from having a group of Tatars build a bridge over it, which would also serve to stanch its flow. Having defeated the Tatars with supernatural aid, Souchmant can’t admit what exactly he has done when he reports on the attempted Tatar invasion to Vladimir. Thrown in jail, he is eventually rescued by an unlikely ally.

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A Dungeons & Dragons Holiday Gift Guide

Tuesday, December 4th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

MadMageDungeons & Dragons is having something of a renaissance. After a somewhat awkward period era known as “fourth edition,” the most popular roleplaying game in the world has attained a greater reach than anytime in its history.

If you’re looking for some good setting materials or adventures for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, this last year has shown the release of a handful of fantastic resources. Last spring was Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, a great resources of various races, including the Devil/Demon war between Hell and the Abyss. But two books released this fall focused a little closer to our fantasy home, with the classic city of Waterdeep.

Waterdeep: Dragon Heist is an urban-based adventure for characters of level 1-5, centered around a massive treasure embezzled from the government of Waterdeep and rumored to be hidden within the city. The GM picks the main villain at the outset from four options, a choice that determines the season of the adventure, which alters how the subsequent chapters will unfold.

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5th Edition Wizards Suck! Mine Can’t Even Wrestle!

Saturday, November 10th, 2018 | Posted by Derek Kunsken

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I’m not going to make a blanket statement that all wizards suck, or that low-level wizards suck, but my low-level wizard sucks. I’m just going to assume my experience applies to everyone.

My friends play a 5e D&D game and one of them persuaded me that if I role-played out-of-character, it would be valuable for my writing. I normally play fighter-types who are brave and at the front of things, and figured having to play a wizard would show me new things. Here’s what I imagined it would be like:

aFTYou5enU_icon_0

Spoiler. It has been a new experience and so far, it has mostly shown me how to miss on my attacks.

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Modular: Sagas of Midgard Invades… Well, Midgard

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

SoMcoverIt’s been awhile, and not because there’s been any shortage of Norse-themed role playing games! In this time, we’ve had the 5e derivative Dragon Heresy, a d6 system called Vikingr, older campaign settings such as Hellfrost and systems such as Trudvang Chronicles, and many others. Our topic on this Odin’s Day, however, is the latest of these: Sagas of Midgard.

Honestly, I had kind of retired from investment in Viking-age rpgs. My home game hasn’t involved the Norse-specific setting for more than a year, my pocketbook doesn’t drip nine golden rings as Odin’s Draupnir does, and there isn’t much utility in owning much more, since I doubt I’d be able to wrest my gamers from my tabletop version of Fourth Age Middle-earth anytime soon. But the Sagas of Midgard Kickstarter advertised savage, fast-paced gameplay and rules for Raiding—an essential component of the northern milieu and one that I had not ever seen treated to my satisfaction. So I backed a PDF copy, mostly out of curiosity.

When I received it, I realized I was encountering something much more than a few interesting mechanics. This looks like a really good game! You’ll notice that I don’t precisely say that it is simply because I haven’t had a chance to run it yet. Character abilities originate from five separate Domains, and each Domain is governed by a Norse deity. At character creation (and during advancement) players spend points within these domains for specific powers and abilities. These are fueled by a currency called Favor, which characters can obtain through a variety of methods, many of them mechanical. The core mechanic is what the designers call the “Rollover System.” Every task and adversary has a “Rollover Score,” usually between 1 and 100, that a PC has to beat (with a roll of d100) to obtain the effect she wants. There are modifiers, of course, resulting from other game mechanics, and a core feature is that the GM never rolls the dice, something shared by a few other systems and (though denying the GM the pleasure of rolling dice) allows her to focus on storytelling and character interaction.

My main criticism, though, is that the rules explanations can be hard to follow (while recognizing reasons for the authors’ organizational choices). I contacted the authors about this, and they told me that they already had been drafting a “cheat sheet” that should be helpful even to new gamers. And, in the midst of my enthusiasm for their game, I succeeded in getting the creators, Nick Porter and Dominic De Duonni, to agree to an interview.

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The Judges Guild Journal Third Ultimate Dungeon Design Contest

Tuesday, October 9th, 2018 | Posted by Doug Ellis

judges guild journal 18 cover - Copy-small judges guild journal 18 contest announcement - Copy-small

Yesterday I was going through some old notebooks of gaming stuff from high school and found a piece of original art I’d completely forgotten about. Back then, my friends and I spent most of our free time playing role-playing games — particularly Advanced Dungeons & Dragons — and other war games. I subscribed to a bunch of the gaming magazines at the time, including The Judges Guild Journal.

In issue #18 of that mag (December 1979-January 1980) they announced The Third Ultimate Dungeon Design Contest — also referred to as the “Judges Guild Journal Bride of — the Son of — The Worlds First and Greatest Dungeon Creation Contest — Contest — Contest!!!” JG never met hyperbole they didn’t like.

Entries were due by February 29, 1980, and my 16 year old self decided to enter. There were three categories, based on the size of the dungeon you created (prosaically listed as Large Dungeon, Medium Dungeon and Mini-Dungeon). I worked up a medium dungeon, “Catacombs of the Undead.” One of my high school friends, John Sweet, who was a year younger than me and a talented artist, offered to do some art for it.

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Kickstarting Cosmic Fantasy: The Chronicles of Future Earth RPG

Monday, October 8th, 2018 | Posted by Sarah Newton

The Chronicles of Future Earth

In the last centuries of the Fifth Cycliad, a great malaise began to descend on the lands of humankind. The civilizations of the Earth, which for aeons had seemed on the verge of slumber, now finally began to rot from within. From the edges of the world, the ever-present enemies drew close, their hungry claws poised to tear apart the delicate flesh of a fruit a hundred millennia in the ripening. And all around, a cry arose for Heroes, to stand against the dying of the light, and save the world from the sins of its past.

Are you a fan of Clark Ashton Smith’s Zothique? Of Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun? M. John Harrison’s The Pastel City? Do you yearn for a roleplaying game that exudes the vibe of Bruce Pennington’s gorgeous artwork? Then look no further — The Chronicles of Future Earth is here.

On Friday 28 September, Mindjammer Press launched its new Kickstarter for The Chronicles of Future Earth — Cosmic Fantasy Roleplaying in the Post-Historical Age. I’m Sarah Newton, the author of the game, which in some ways is the fantasy counterpart to my transhuman science-fiction roleplaying game Mindjammer. We funded the project in a little under 9 hours, and have been unlocking stretch goals since; as of this moment (Friday 5 October), we’ve raised just under £20,000 (appx $27,000), and have unlocked a Player Character Folio and GM adventure to add to the “Chronicler Pack” which forms the core of our offering: a gorgeous full-colour hardback rulebook, a GM screen, dice, tokens, and an A2 map of the “Springtide Civilization” — the world of the earth of the far, far future where the game takes place.

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Vicarious Roleplaying

Sunday, September 30th, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Stehman

Critical Role-banner

Dungeons & Dragons has become a spectator game, and regularly scheduled, live-streamed D&D games are legion. The voice actors of Critical Role, led by Matthew Mercer, are probably the best known. Their weekly live game has around 30,000 viewers, and each episode gets hundreds of thousands of follow-up views on YouTube.

I’m trying to keep up with Critical Role‘s new Mighty Nein campaign, but it’s 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there. If I had three to four hours a week to watch a live RPG, I’d have three to four hours to play an RPG.

I do, however, have time for podcasts. In fact, between chores, the gym, and the occasional road trip, I average about fifteen hours of podcasts a week. I have a regular list of fiction, gaming, and news podcasts to fill most of that time. However, in the fall, with all the chores that must be completed before winter arrives, my regular list falls very short.

Enter actual-play D&D podcasts. There are many. Most I’ve sampled are not to my liking, but here are the few that stuck with me beyond a few samplings.

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Pathfinder Playtest Update

Saturday, September 29th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PathfinderPlaytestSince Gen Con 2018, the Pathfinder Playtest has been in full swing, testing the new rule system that will form the basis for Pathfinder Second Edition, slated to release at Gen Con 2019. The game looks to streamline the system, and create a more coherent play experience across the diverse options that players of Pathfinder have available.

Participating in the Playtest

The major materials – the Pathfinder Playtest Rulebook and the Doomsday Dawn adventure book, as well as supplements like the Playtest Bestiary and pregenerated characters – are all available for free download from Paizo.com, so that anyone can participate in the playtest experience. Feedback is provided through the messageboards on the Paizo forum and also by entering survey data when you’ve run someone through an adventure or scenario.

In addition to the download of the Rulebook, you should also download the Rulebook Update sheet. This is updated regularly – every couple of weeks so far – and includes ongoing modifications to the rules, which are to be incorporated immediately. The biggest change was a pretty comprehensive revamp of the Death & Dying rules, although they’ve since gone in and modified some of the classes a bit, added an additional healing option for the Medicine skill, and made other changes as needed.

The Doomsday Dawn adventure book has a series of 7 adventures that are linked together in a campaign style, set over a period of ten years, but you don’t always play the same characters. The adventures begin at first level and then skip levels as you proceed. The characters you play at first level show up in subsequent adventures, at higher levels, but in between you play with some different characters, with some adventures focusing more on outdoor adventures or healing characters. The goal is that playing through the entire adventure, you’ll have an opportunity to test out lots of different play styles and aspects of the game.

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Lock and Load with Starfinder Armory … And Beyond

Monday, August 20th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StarfinderArmoryOne of my favorite games over the last year has been Starfinder, the “Dungeons & Dragons in space” game from the makers of the Pathfinder RPG. I’ve covered this game since its initial announcement, and was thrilled to begin playing it when it was initially released at Gen Con 2017.

Pathfinder typically releases a torrent of rulebooks and supplements over the course of the year, at least two softcover supplements a month plus an adventure module, but by comparison Starfinder was much more modest in its approach. As a new game, for one thing, they really had no idea exactly what kind of demand there would be. Since the release of the Starfinder Core Rulebook, there was  a quick release of the Starfinder Alien Archive and then the Starfinder Pact Worlds setting book, both welcome additions. And they’ve released their bi-monthly Dead Suns Adventure Path over the course of the first year, providing an extended adventure campaign, setting information, equipment, and adversaries.

While the array of equipment originally offered in the Core Rulebook was impressive, a science fantasy game of flying between worlds in spaceships calls out for cool gadgets and robots and weapons and power armor, not to mention magical items. Some have been dropped here and there among the creatures and setting information, but Gen Con 2018 saw the release of the Starfinder Armory (Amazon, Paizo), which provides ample options for anyone who felt that their character’s inventory was lacking.

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