Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes — Disturbing Entities to Inspire Great Adventures… or Nightmares

Saturday, June 16th, 2018 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallDungeons & Dragons 5th Edition seems to have a good handle on what’s needed for a rule book, and what’s needed for an expansion. Like its immediate predecessor, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes covers a variety of topics. It’s meant to fill in some gaps for specific areas players and game masters might want to have more detail about.

It’s broadly divided into two sections: five chapters devoted to the history of different races and their factions and how they can be used both by the GM and the players, and a generous bestiary stuffed full with old favorites and permutations of them that haven’t reappeared yet.

This includes new monsters and monsters specifically related to the first half of the book. You’ll see what I mean shortly.

It’s a great book, probably my favorite yet of the expansions, and maybe the first one I’d consider a must-have for all campaigns, owing to the wealth of information provided on basic character races like Elves and Dwarves.

Don’t get me wrong, I think most game masters would want Xanathar’s Guide on their shelves, because it offers so many tweaks and suggestions. But I believe Mordenkainen’s Tome will be even more broadly useful to a slightly higher percentage of players

I must be the odd man out, but I’ve never been especially interested in demons or devils, and the fascination many have with them has always baffled me. So I probably wasn’t the target audience for the first chapter, devoted to the long war between the two races, but darned if I wasn’t impressed anyway.

No, I’m not suddenly inspired to run a campaign centered on interactions with the infernal, but there’s a lot of cool and clever information, and, should this be more your cup of tea, some interesting hooks. It’s also rounded out with lots of ideas that can help players flesh out their Tiefling characters.

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Modular: Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes Looks to the Horizon

Tuesday, June 12th, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes-smallThe newest supplement for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes (Amazon), continues to provide the high quality of content we’ve come to expect from this series, focusing on quality and story depth over serious escalation of power.

Tome of Foes expands on setting and background information for the main setting, with the bulk of the book being the 137-page Bestiary chapter, containing monsters from across the dimensions, including a variety of duergars and drow templates to a host of Demon Lords and Archdevils. And that’s all just in the D section of the Bestiary, not even account for the constructs, elder elementals, and ample quantities of undead!

While the monsters are great to have, the first half of the book has a lot to offer for the Dungeon Master in terms of depth, as well.

The first chapter gives a wealth of detail on the eternal Blood War between the armies of demons and devils for who gets claim on being more evil. It’s easy to treat demons and devils as villains just there to be killed, but after reading this chapter, you’ll be more inclined to treat them as unique creatures, with their own goals and motivations. I’m looking forward to using this information to build a storyline where my players are stuck between the goals of demonic cults and devil cults, who hate each other nearly as much as they hate the party of adventurers.

Subsequent chapters provide details on the cultures of elves, dwarves, halflings, and gnomes. Information on the Feywild and the Underdark is also provided where appropriate, for those who want to incorporate them more into their campaigns. In addition, a chapter focuses on the endless war between the two gith races, the githyanki and githzerai, who escaped their enslavement from the mind flayers (who are themselves not covered in detail Tome of Foes, but are well covered in the previous Volo’s Guide to Monsters) only to find themselves in a brutal clash against each other.

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The Storm Breaks: Torg Eternity (Part Two)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Day OneLast Sunday I ran my first session of Torg Eternity, meaning I can now finish my review of the game by discussing how the rules worked in practice (the first part is here, with a description of the basic idea of the mechanics and of the game setting — an Earth invaded by seven different dimensions). Worth noting to start with that I’d been spending time on the message boards for the game, discussing the different realms and how I wanted to play them. Some minor questions I’d had about rule interpretation had been cleared up; more than fair to say I found the boards a useful resource for gamemasters, especially since one of the designers, Deanna Gilbert, is very active in responding to questions and comments.

Along with the Torg Eternity rulebook, I had two anthologies of short adventures, the Day One collection and the Delphi Missions: Rising Storm collection. The Day One adventures followed pregenerated characters through adventures set on the first day of the invasions. That was useful in giving me a sense of what the opening of the invasions was like, but I didn’t immediately see anything I wanted to adapt to a regular group — each of the Day One stories followed a group of Core Earthers caught up in the invasion of one specific cosm, whereas my players had characters from across the realms. The Delphi Missions adventures ranged from relatively brief scenarios to stories that’d clearly occupy a full session or more of play. Again, though, all the adventures focussed on one cosm. I could see the benefit for an introductory collection of adventures; each showed something of the feel of a given realm. But what always made Torg fascinating to me was the crossing-over of realities.

Both books had some very well-designed scenarios in them. I particularly liked “The Dumas Gambit” in Delphi Missions, which describes a setting in the Cyberpapacy occupied by various factions of street gangs and then introduces the players with an objective that sets the factions against each other. Meanwhile, there’s a moment in the Day One adventures that really gave me a feel for the splatterpunk reality of Tharkold just by describing a certain corpse the characters find. That sort of thing makes both books worth looking at for Torg Eternity gamemasters, I think, moments and descriptions that help establish the feel of the different realities, the kind of stories that get told in them.

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How Much Adventure Can Fit on One Planet? Find Out in Tarsus: World Beyond the Frontier

Tuesday, April 24th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Tarsus Game Designers Workshop-small Tarsus Game Designers Workshop-back-small

I started playing Traveller in 1980, using Marc Miller and Frank Chadwick’s original 1977 boxed set from Game Designers’ Workshop. I really enjoyed it although — as I noted in my 2014 article on GDW’s Dark Nebula and Imperium board games — it was a little light on setting.

The original boxed edition of Traveller didn’t really have a setting — it was sort of a generic system for role playing in space, and it drew on the popular vision of a galaxy-spanning human civilization found in the science fiction of the time by Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, Keith Laumer, H. Beam Piper, and others. (James Maliszewski did a splendid job of re-constructing the formative SF behind Traveller in “Appendix T.”) It was a game desperately in need of a rich setting, and it found one in Imperium.

Looking back, that critique was perhaps a little harsh. Yeah, the 1977 boxed set forgot to include a setting, and the publisher had to steal one from Imperium. But it wasn’t long before GDW began to improve the situation by producing high quality supplemental materials for Traveller. One of their better efforts was the boxed set Tarsus: World Beyond the Frontier, designed by Marc W. Miller and Loren K. Wiseman and released by GDW in 1983. I recently tracked down a copy, and I really wish I’d had it for those early gaming sessions in the trailer in my back yard in 1980.

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Roleplaying the Possibility Wars: Torg Eternity (Part One)

Monday, April 16th, 2018 | Posted by Matthew David Surridge

Torg EternityLater today, early tomorrow, sometime next week, the world began to end.

Imagine the Earth wreathed in storms spitting red and blue lightning. Imagine invaders from beyond reality turning the world piece by piece into something other than what we know. Imagine a cyberpunk theocracy in France, dinosaurs overruning the great cities of the United States, colonial gothic horrors in India, a post-apocalyptic wasteland in Russia haunted by decadent technodemons, zombies in East Asia, a mad pulp super-villain and would-be Pharaoh building a fascist empire among the pyramids of Egypt, and elves and wizards and dungeons and dragons in the British Isles and Scandinavia.

The storm has a name …

Torg is a tabletop role-playing game first published in 1990 by West End Games. I started running a campaign in 1991 that lasted for over a decade, off and on. Last year game publisher Ulisses Spiele launched a successful kickstarter to fund an updated edition of the game, Torg Eternity; they’re currently running another kickstarter for the rebooted game’s first sourcebook, The Living Land. The original Torg was the most explosively imaginative game I’ve ever played. The new is an intelligent update, refining the first version’s rules and concepts while respecting what made it work. Preparing to run the first session of a Torg Eternity campaign, I was shocked to realise how much power the original game had for me; and how well the new game not only maintained that imaginative power but added to it.

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Danger in Every Dark Alley: 40 Years of Adventuring in Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber’s Great Fantasy Metropolis

Tuesday, April 10th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Lankhmar Savage Worlds-small

Back in October I splurged on the Lankhmar Collector’s Box Set, a massive collection of setting material for the Savage Worlds core ruleset from Pinnacle Entertainment Group. It was a $70 indulgence, but I ended up being very happy with it. Partly because it’s the size of a giant brick and looks stately and awesome there on my end table. I mean, just look at that thing.

I had to educate myself a little bit to understand what the heck I’d just purchased, though. I thought Savage Worlds was, you know, a role playing game, like Dungeons and Dragons and Dallas. Turns out it’s a lot more than that. According to the two hours of research I just did, Savage Worlds is the umbrella ruleset for all of Pinnacle’s roleplaying titles, like their supernatural pirate game 50 Fathoms and their SF setting The Last Parsec, as well as their classic game conversions, including Rifts, Deadlands, and Space 1889.

I’m not precisely sure how many settings and adaptations are out there are but, man, there’s a bunch. Here’s a partial list. Bring a snack, ’cause it’s going to take a while to get through it.

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Modular: Walk the Streets of Ancient Rome in Mythic Rome by Pete Nash

Thursday, April 5th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Mythic Rome-small Mythic Rome-back-small

Almost exactly a year ago Chaosium announced a brand new edition of RuneQuest, one of the oldest and most acclaimed RPGs on the planet. While that was great news for many gamers, it did leave the folks at The Design Mechanism in the lurch — their lovingly crafted RuneQuest sixth edition, written by Pete Nash and Lawrence Whitaker, was the best version of the game in decades, and now they’d lost the license.

The Design Mechanism folks had also supported their version with some of the most exciting releases we’d seen in years, including the Book of Quests, Shores of Korantia, and  especially the brilliant Monster Island. While I was curious to see what Chaosium would do with the property, I was chiefly concerned with how the announcement would impact them.

Of course, I needn’t have worried. You can’t keep an outfit as creative as The Design Mechanism down for long. Without missing a beat they released their own full-fledged RPG system, Mythras, which picked up and elaborated on the work they’d done with sixth edition RuneQuest, while simultaneously expanding the rules to accommodate more diverse game settings, from Sword & Sorcery to Science Fiction and Urban Fantasy Horror. They also revamped all of their existing back catalog — including the irreplaceable Monster Island — to bring it up to date with the new system. And best of all, they’ve continued to release top notch new products, like Pete Nash’s fabulous Mythic Rome.

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Video Game Review: Tunnels & Trolls Adventures

Wednesday, April 4th, 2018 | Posted by Sean McLachlan

Iphone+6+plus

I’ve been hankering for some old school pen and paper adventuring lately, but not having a gaming group here in Madrid (or indeed any gaming group for a few decades now), I did what old school gamers always used to do when they found themselves all on their lonesome — I played some solo Tunnels & Trolls adventures.

But I did it with a modern twist. I played Tunnels & Trolls Adventures, a free app by MetaArcade. The app takes you through various classic adventures such as Sewers of Oblivion and Buffalo Castle and runs very smoothly. It’s been decades since I’ve played T&T, so I read all the intro material, which explained the game quickly and concisely and had me playing within minutes.

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Modular: Explore Starfinder’s Pact Worlds

Sunday, April 1st, 2018 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

PactWorldsThe Starfinder RPG allows for literally a universe full of original settings, giving Gamemasters the opportunity to create their own worlds and societies as the basis for their games. For those who like working with a framework of existing source material, though, the Starfinder development team has done a great job of presenting exactly the sort of rich, diverse system of planets, races, and societies that one could hope to find: the Pact Worlds.

Starfinder is set in the distant future of their Pathfinder RPG fantasy setting, after the dominance of magic and superstition has given way to science and technology (and, of course, technomagic). The planet of Golarion, the center of the Pathfinder fantasy setting, has vanished. In its place rests the massive Absalom Station, surrounded by the remaining planets of its solar system. No one knows what happened to Golarion or who built Absalom Station, due to a break in history known as the Gap.

The planets of the system have joined together with Absalom Station to form the Pact Worlds, a loose defensive alliance formed against external threats. These fourteen locations (not all are planets, as they include the Sun and an asteroid belt) get a couple of half-pages apiece in the Starfinder Core Rulebook, but the newly-released Starfinder Pact Worlds sourcebook (Amazon, Paizo) fleshes them out and provides a variety of related starship and player options for Starfinder characters. Both players and Gamemasters will find much to love about this newest installment in unfolding universe of Starfinder.

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Big Adventure, Tiny Dungeons: SPI’s DeathMaze Mini-game

Monday, March 26th, 2018 | Posted by Deven Atkinson

Deathmaze Magic Capsule 2 SPI-small Deathmaze Magic Capsule 2 SPI-back-small

Disclaimer: No chits were punched in the playing of this game.

I recently obtained a near-mint copy of the 1979 bagged version of DeathMaze for my collection. My interest was in its design and gameplay mechanics that some people thought linked it to other SPI products such as the Citadel of Blood mini-game, the Sword and Sorcery boardgame, and the DragonQuest RPG.

Because I collect these games, I look for examples that are in un-played condition. I take the effort to make my own game pieces that I then use to play the games with. In the case of DeathMaze I simply made my own copies of the ½ inch square cardboard game piece counters, normally referred to as chits by war gamers. I also carefully removed the staples from the rule book, photo copied it and reassembled it with the original staples. I now have a rule book that I can handle without worry of damage.

The original near-mint game has been packed away in my collection. SPI historically allowed for the copy of record sheets and for reproducing damaged or lost counters. The back cover of the DeathMaze rulebook is a complete black and white printing of the game’s counter sheet, provided for just such a purpose.

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