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The Only Devil Book You’ll Ever Need: The Book of Fiends – A Malefic Bestiary for Fifth Edition by Robert J. Schwalb

The Only Devil Book You’ll Ever Need: The Book of Fiends – A Malefic Bestiary for Fifth Edition by Robert J. Schwalb

The Book of Fiends (Green Ronin Publishing, March 8, 2022). Cover by Svetoslav Petrov

It’s a cliché to say that a good role playing campaign is like a satisfying fantasy series, packed with realistic characters, compelling action, and vivid settings. It’s more accurate, I think, to say that truly great role playing shares an essential ingredient with the best fantasy. I mean, of course, that it’s all about the villains.

Want to keep your players coming back, clutching well-worn character sheets and eager for action? You need challenges worthy of their time, and you won’t get that with the same generic dragons week after week. You need truly malefic opponents with legendary skills, cunning agendas, and awe-inspiring magic at their disposal.

There are some terrific resources out there to help you craft really memorable villains, but for my money the best one on the market is The Book of Fiends by Robert J. Schwalb, with Aaron Loeb, Erik Mona, and Chris Pramas. It’s a massive 254-page tome filled to the brim with inventive and truly original infernal menaces for Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons. There isn’t another book published in the last five years I’ve drawn from as heavily for my own game as this one. I don’t care why kind of RPG you play, The Book of Fiends will up your game.

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Adventure in a Nightmare-fueled Landscape: Deadlands: the Weird West

Adventure in a Nightmare-fueled Landscape: Deadlands: the Weird West

Deadlands: the Weird West (Pinnacle Entertainment Group, April 2021)

Kickstarter completely transformed board gaming a decade ago, and over the last few years it has thoroughly reinvigorated role playing as well. It’s the de facto launch platform for the hobby gaming industry these days, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon. I’ve been playing RPGs since 1979, and in all those years I’ve seen countless new and innovative game systems fail because they couldn’t grow beyond a small but dedicated fan base. Kickstarter has brought those systems a whole new lease on life — and an explosion of new content.

Deadlands is fine example. Created by Shane Lacy Hensley and published by Pinnacle Entertainment Group in 1996, the horror/steampunk game was a huge artistic and creative success, easily one of the most talked-about RPGs of the 90s. Talk wasn’t enough to keep it alive though, and for long stretches of the last 25 years the game has sadly been unavailable.

In 2017 Pinnacle stuck a toe in the waters with a reprint of the 1999 edition, Deadlands 20th Anniversary Edition, funded by a crowdfunding campaign. Emboldened by that success, last year they tried something much more ambitious: Deadlands: the Weird West, a massive box set containing a complete system relaunch using the Savage Worlds core rules. Deadlands‘ small but loyal fanbase enthusiastically rallied to support the new Kickstarter campaign, and it blew through its $10,000 goal, with 4,973 backers pledging a whopping $568,636.

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Solo Adventures on Grim Worlds: Modiphius’ Five Parsecs from Home and Five Leagues From the Borderlands

Solo Adventures on Grim Worlds: Modiphius’ Five Parsecs from Home and Five Leagues From the Borderlands


Five Parsecs from Home and Five Leagues From the Borderlands (Modiphius, 2021 and 2022). Covers by Christian Quinot

Modiphius Entertainment was launched in 2012 by husband and wife gamers Rita and Chris Birch to publish Achtung! Cthulhu, a game that remains near and dear to my heart (you know anything featuring Nazi supervillains, Cthulhu, and roleplaying is going to get some love in these quarters). But in the decade since they founded their unassuming little gaming company it’s captured the attention of the entire industry with a litany of innovative and exciting titles, including Coriolis: The Third Horizon, Alien RPG, Forbidden Lands, Star Trek Adventures, Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of, and much, much more.

Their newest releases, Five Parsecs from Home and Five Leagues From the Borderlands, may be their best yet — at least for product-staved solitaire gamers like me. These are finely crafted solo adventures games with rich narrative campaigns that allow you to explore exotic locales, earn experience and level up your team, find exotic gear, trade, and even upgrade your starship or hideout. They’re the most exciting solitaire gaming releases of the last few years, and that’s saying something.

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More From Pathfinder’s Lost Omens Setting

More From Pathfinder’s Lost Omens Setting

Since Pathfinder Second Edition is a complete revamp of the Pathfinder rules system, they have balanced supplement releases that focus on the rules with those that provide Second Edition expansions of their Lost Omens setting on the planet of Golarion. That setting has been explored in depth by Paizo for over a decade, in supplements for D&D 3.5 that predated the release of Pathfinder First Edition, so they have a large foundation to build upon with new setting material for Second Edition.

While some of those – like Lost Omens: Gods and Magic and the Lost Omens: World Guide – have had a lot of mechanics that can be incorporated into game play, their main focus is narrative, providing setting information that Gamemasters can use in planning out a story set in the world of Golarion. Their two most recent supplements in the Lost Omens line have focused a bit more on the narrative.

In Absalom: City of Lost Omens (Paizo, Amazon), the emphasis is on a single city. The “city at the center of the world,” Absalom is the largest, most cosmopolitan city in the entire Lost Omens setting. A variety of adventures and scenarios have been set there, including the entire Agents of Edgewatch (Paizo, Amazon) adventure path, so there’s no shortage of previous material for them to draw on in this 400-page tome about the city.

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Galactic Magic for Starfinder

Galactic Magic for Starfinder

Since its inception, Paizo’s Starfinder RPG has been a science fantasy game. The deep melding of magic, science, and technology is built into the setting from the foundation, and classes like Technomancer and Witchwarper really exploit a mystical connection with scientific and technological knowledge. One of the major deities, Triune, is deeply tied artificial intelligence and computer technology. Many of the rulebooks released for the series have included magical devices and new spells.

Despite all of the emphasis on magic, though, Starfinder has not previously had a supplement fully devoted to magic. They’ve had a variety of technology-focused supplements like Armory, Starship Operations Manual, and Tech Revolution.  (Tech Revolution, it is worth reminding people, introduces mechs into the game. Seriously, look into it.)

The drought of magical supplements finally ends with the recent release of Starfinder: Galactic Magic (Paizo, Amazon), which sets the stage to add mystical flavor to the game.

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Guns and Gears in Pathfinder Second Edition

Guns and Gears in Pathfinder Second Edition

I recently covered Pathfinder‘s exploration of the magical arts in my review of their Secrets of Magic rulebook. At the more physical end of the spectrum, the Guns and Gears supplement explores the role of firearms, clockwork devices, and other forms of impressive technology from the Pathfinder world, including the introduction of rarer classes into Pathfinder Second Edition: the Inventor and an update on the Pathfinder classic Gunslinger class.

With this book, they’ve definitely recognized that these two mechanical systems are in many ways very different, and might have very different audiences. While some might want a character to walk around with a gun, they aren’t interested in going full steampunk (or even clockwork punk) by incorporating this level of technology into the game setting on a regular basis. On the other hand, a player might want the technological aspects of steampunk, but feel that the firearms themselves don’t fit with their play style. As such, they book really splits these two sets of rule systems apart, so you can use the portion of the book you want to as see fit, or adopt all of these rules for your game.

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Diving Deeper into Pathfinder‘s Secrets of Magic

Diving Deeper into Pathfinder‘s Secrets of Magic

Magic is the cornerstone of a fantasy roleplaying game (although a good strong sword and armor usually helps). While over the years since it’s release Pathfinder Second Edition has had no shortage of emphasis on magic, from the classes, spells, and items contained in the Core Rulebook to those in the Gods & Magic supplement and the Advanced Player’s Guide, their release of Secrets of Magic really represents the most significant exploration of magical systems within Second Edition Pathfinder to date. In addition to the various magical systems and spells, this book provides two Pathfinder classes from First Edition, reworked for Second Edition: the Magus and the Summoner.

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Twilight: 2000 Reflections

Twilight: 2000 Reflections

For Black Gate, I spent much of 2021 re-visiting Twilight: 2000‘s first edition adventures and sourcebooks. Twilight: 2000, published by GDW in the mid 1980s, absorbed into its setting much of the worries and fears of the late Cold War — but turned it into a game. The Soviet Union and China begin a war that eventually brings in the rest of the world. While the war is starts out as conventional, the temptation to use tactical nuclear weapons cannot be held back. The world inches across into nuclear Armageddon.

While Twilight: 2000 was not unique in suggesting a nuclear apocalypse, it did have a compelling twist that differentiated it from things like Mad Max or By Dawn’s Early Light: it happens in the immediate aftermath. Armageddon is happening — society is breaking down. National governments like the US or USSR exercise very little control. Environmental devastation is in the early stages. Yet people continue to live. Some even continue to fight the war. Most try to simply survive.

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Learn RuneQuest by playing an Online Solo Adventure: The Battle of Dangerford

Learn RuneQuest by playing an Online Solo Adventure: The Battle of Dangerford

The Battle of Dangerford (Chaosium, 2021)

Happy New Year, fantasy gamers! If you’re like me, all your resolutions this year involve trying new games. At least two dozen. And maybe a truckload of snack foods.

Yeah, but which games? There’s a ton to choose from. Fortunately Chaosium has made it a little bit easier — by publishing their newest RuneQuest solo adventure online completely free. And also structuring it so that you can learn the rules as you play! The title is The Battle of Dangerford, and it really is a simple as it sounds:

Learn to play RuneQuest in the best way possible — by playing! The Battle of Dangerford is a single-player scenario designed to teach you the rules of the game as you play. Take on the role of Vasana as she joins her Sartarite brothers and sisters in an epic clash against the invading Lunar Empire.

Get all the details below — or jump right in here!

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Five Reasons Hades Deserved that Hugo

Five Reasons Hades Deserved that Hugo

Hades (Supergiant Games, 2021)

When I looked at the list of Hugo winners this past week, I was thrilled to see one of my favorite video games had won for Best Video Game.

(And then I froze and said, “Wait, there’s a Hugo for video games??” Answer: yes! This was the first year an award was given for Best Video Game, and it was proposed as a special award category. The last two years have seen a sharp rise in the video game market as first time gamers and previously casual gamers suddenly found themselves with a lot more time and a need for both entertainment and a new way to connect with others. Hopefully, this will be established as a continuing award category for the WSFS, but time will tell.)

Hades, developed and published by Supergiant Games, now carries the honor of being either the first or the sole winner of this category, and it solidly deserves it. Is it the best game in the last twenty years? No. There are bigger, grander, more ambitious games out there. Dragon Age comes to mind (Origins or Inquisition, anyway), as do Skyrim and Call of Duty. But with that conceded, Hades is absolutely a worthy Hugo-bearer. Why?

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