How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition

Wednesday, October 7th, 2015 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook Fifth EditionThe newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons, 5th edition, recently passed its one-year anniversary. Though I reviewed the books when they first came out, my gaming group didn’t want to give up their current systems to switch over. They’ve been playing edition 3.5 for years, are comfortable with the rule structure, and like leveling up into prestige classes.

One thing that is notable about this edition of Dungeons & Dragons is that players have not been swarmed by supplemental books or a variety of rule options. After a year, it’s rather refreshing that Dungeons & Dragons continues to have retained an emphasis on their core three books:

But this does mean that hardcore gamers like me, who are used to geeking out over systems where you’re really allowed to customize many aspects of your character, may feel like Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t cater to us. This is a bit unfair, and may be a sign that we’ve just gotten too spoiled with abundant choices in other games system.

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Adventures in Spellcraft: Rope Trick

Monday, September 28th, 2015 | Posted by markrigney

Calling all old-school gamers, the folks who cut their teeth on the Players1st-edition-players-handbook Handbook, the Monster Manual, or even those long-lost oddities like Eldritch Wizardry and Greyhawk. For those of us still standing, which I do hope is the majority, I’d like to take a quick stroll down Memory Lane.

Don’t worry, it’s only a block or so away, just past Green Town, Illinois, and not so far from my last (highly opinionated) write-up on the ill-behaved sorcery known as Chain Lightning.

Great. Now that we’re walking, let me ask, do you remember that clever little escape hatch spell, Rope Trick? Very handy for “taking five” in the midst of a battle not otherwise going well. Very useful for getting undisturbed shut-eye while camped overnight in hostile territory. Very helpful when the goal of your particular role-playing adventure is to drive the GM bats.

The basics, for those who may not recall, is that the casting of a Rope Trick causes a length of rope to suspend itself vertically in mid-air. Anyone shinnying up the rope will disappear, arriving in a pocket of extra-planar space. The Players Handbook phrased it this way:

The upper end is in fact fastened in an extra-dimensional space, and the spell caster up to five others can climb up the rope and disappear into this place of safety where no creature can find them.

(I’m on page seventy-one, second level magic user spells, for those of you following along on the app.)

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Peril on the Purple Planet

Monday, September 28th, 2015 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

purple planet 1With NASA announcing astonishing news about the red planet, I thought it high time to talk about the purple planet, and the perils therein.

Maybe YOU were clued in, but despite a widely advertised Kickstarter campaign the impending release – nay, even the existence – of the purple planet completely passed me by until I swung by and read an enthusiastic review of a splendid sword-and-planet setting. I determined then and there to lay my hands on the product and learn about those perils myself.

purple planet 2My verdict? If you love sword-and-planet you need it. Even if Dungeon Crawl Classics isn’t your role-playing system of choice, you need it. Hell, you might even need if if you like sword-and-planet and don’t intend to game, because it’s just a blast. And I can highly recommend getting the boxed set. In his own review at tenfootpole, Bruce Lynch laments that it could be even cooler if there are more locations, because he read only the basic adventure. Voila, there ARE, within the set.

For once, the hype on the back cover copy delivers on all that it promises. If this sounds good to you, go ye forth and buy it: “The Purple Planet: Where Tribes of man-beasts wage an endless war beneath a dying sun. Where might death orms rule the wastes, befouled winds whistle through ancient crypts, and forests of fungi flourish in the weirdling light. Where ancient technologies offer life… or a quick death.” If that doesn’t sound interesting, I won’t bother trying to convince you to look within.

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Modular: Kickstarting The Northlands Saga Complete (Frog God Games)

Friday, September 18th, 2015 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Northlands CompleteThe Vikings are coming!

I’m a fan of Frog God Games. Rising from the ashes of Third Edition D&D’s Necromancer Games, they make RPG products for Pathfinder, 5th Edition and Swords & Wizardry. Way back in 2014, I wrote here about The Lost Lands, the campaign world that would synthesize almost all of the Necromancer and FGG products — from classics like Rappan Athuk and Gary Gygax’s Necropolis to newer deadly adventures like The Slumbering Tsar saga.

I’ve happily backed several Lost Lands Kickstarters the past few years (including Sword of Air, Cults of the Sundered Kingdoms) and there’s been a ton of Pathfinder goodness for me (Don’t let the list price put you off — the PDFs are more affordable). The latest Lost Lands Kickstarter, which wraps up October 2 (and is 75% funded as I type this) is one I have anxiously been awaiting.

In 2010 and 2011, Frog God released the first four modules in Kenneth Spencer’s series set in the Northlands. The first two had a bit of an American Eskimo feel, then moved into pure Viking territory in the third and fourth. You can read my thoughts on the series here.

Then, the modules stopped coming. Greg Vaughan, Pathfinder Creative Director (and author of the previously mentioned Slumbering Tsar epic), told me that The Northlands was on hold and that it would become a separate campaign book for The Lost Lands. So, I waited… and waited…. and waited. Wait no more!

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RuneQuest: Korantia and Mythic Britain

Monday, September 14th, 2015 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

Shores of Korantia-smallIn 2013 I wandered over to Monster Island, one of the first journeys I’d ever made to a RuneQuest destination. I found it excellent. And recently, after I returned from GenCon2015, I  travelled once more into RuneQuest realms and learned that excellence is a standard practice in their products.

Shores of Korantia is a setting book for a bronze-age land rich in intrigue and adventure. It covers the regions of the empire in detail that’s thorough but not dry — not so much an encyclopedia entry, but a travel guide with adventure hooks, so that every page you turn sets your mind ablaze with ideas to spin adventures from. Like Monster Island before it, one doesn’t have to be at all familiar with RuneQuest in order to utilize the setting, or even a gamer to enjoy reading it. If you like reading about imaginary worlds, any of the RuneQuest Design Mechanism books I’ve read are a great time.

Korantia is a tottering empire propped up by a noble young ruler that you just can’t help but find yourself rooting for, which is pretty typical of what writer Jonathan Drake manages throughout the book — the people detailed are engaging, their situations interesting. In short, it’s chock full of the potential for story. There are fascinating places to go, engaging people to meet, and mysteries to unravel.

[Click on any of the images in this article for bigger versions.]

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Diablo 3: Fourth (Season)’s the Charm

Tuesday, September 8th, 2015 | Posted by Josh Bycer

Screenshot093Diablo 3 has gone through a lot since its release in 2012: From the lead designer moving on, to patch after patch after patch attempting to address complaints about the design. Of course, we can’t forget about the Auction House system that left a major black stain on the game until its removal.

Flash forward to today. Diablo 3 has come a long way, as we just entered the fourth season of ladder play. Normally I don’t take a look at games I’ve already reviewed, but given everything that’s happened and the latest patch, today I’m making an exception.


Before we talk about the latest patch, I want to bring everyone up to speed on what’s happened since Diablo 3 was released. For the first few years of its life, Diablo 3 was marked by polarizing reviews; many people loved the game’s streamlined design, but the poor loot distribution and auction system made the endgame a nightmare.

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How G.O.G. Rescued the Classic Forgotten Realms Computer Games

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pool of Radiance SSI Gold Box-smallLast year I signed up at, the digital video game distribution platform, because they had great deals on classic RPGs. I’m not kidding — this site requires some serious self control. I got Starflight & Starflight 2 for just $2.99, Planescape: Torment for $3.99, Wizardry 6 & 7 for $2.99, and Baldur’s Gate for $3.99. Best of all, they did all the hard work of converting the games to run on modern versions of Windows, so I could stop fussing around with DOSBox and my Amiga emulator. GOG is owned by CD Projekt, a Polish company that also owns CD Projekt RED, the developer behind the popular Witcher games.

A few weeks ago I was delighted to discover they were now offering a package deal on my all-time favorite computer role playing games — SSI’s Pool of Radiance and its various sequels, the so-called Gold Box games. I bought a package of eight games for $9.99 (and I swear I’m going to play them soon. All of ’em!) But I hadn’t realized the amazing story behind GOG’s new offering — that in order to secure these classic games, the company had to navigate a legal ownership maze to obtain the rights, before they could begin the hard work of converting them for modern platforms. Dan Griliopoulos at PC Gamer posted an excellent article yesterday exploring just what was involved:

With the trail running cold, GOG tracked down SSI’s original President and founder, Joel Billings. “As a huge fan of D&D he was willing to help walk us through a detailed history behind SSI mergers and narrow the search down to two potential candidates: Mattel, or Gores Technology Group (who had acquired The Learning Company). The latter was a hit. We had found the actual rights owners to the Forgotten Realms games, and after several more months of negotiations, they agreed to sell them to us outright.”

GOG managed to recover thirteen games this way. They are: the party-based RPG Pool of Radiance; its sequels Curse of the Azure Bonds, Secret of the Silver Blades and Pools of Darkness; C&C creators Westwood’s minigame RPG Hillsfar; the RPG construction kit Unlimited Adventures; Westwood’s first-person Eye of the Beholder Trilogy; the roguelike FPS Dungeon Hack; the two Savage Frontier games; and the Ultima Underworld-like Underdark exploration game Menzoberranzan.

Then they had the not-so-small matter of getting all thirteen running and bug-free for modern systems including Windows 10. Considering these were huge games — and not bug free in their release versions — that’s a massive task that the GOG team has been working on since April.

Read the complete article at PC Gamer — and check out the amazing and fast-growing library of old games at

Vintage Treasures: The Pocket Games of Task Force Games, Part One

Thursday, August 27th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Starfire Task Force Games-small Asteroid Zero-Four-small Valkenburg Castle-smaller

The Shiva Option-smallTask Force Games, based in Amarillo, Texas, was one of the very best board game companies in the business in the 80s, especially for science fiction fans. They published the majestic Federation & Empire (and its follow-up, Federation Commander), Kings Bounty, Godsfire, Battlewagon, Armor at Kursk, Musketeers, and the RPGs Crime Fighter, Prime Directive (based on Star Trek), and the glorious Heroes of Olympus — among many, many others — before the company was sold to Might & Magic developer New World Computing in 1988, and then went out of business.

Of course, who could afford big games like that? Not me, that’s for sure. But that’s okay, because Task Force Games was also a pioneer in the microgame market, with a line of truly stellar Pocket Games, starting with Starfire in 1979. Starfire was one of the most successful microgames ever released. It sold a zillion copies, went through six different editions, and is still being sold today by Starfire Design Studio. It was so popular it eventually inspired a series of novels by David Weber and Steve White, including the New York Times bestseller The Shiva Option.

Starfire wasn’t even the most popular Task Force pocket game. That honor belongs to the ubiquitous Star Fleet Battles. Everybody owned a copy of Star Fleet Battles in the 80s. I think it was required by law. I’d tell you how many editions of Star Fleet Battles exist, but no one truly knows. Academics around the world have gone insane, just trying to figure out how many editions of Star Fleet Battles there are. It’s like writiing your Ph.D. thesis on the Necronomicon.

Anyway, Task Force Games had a huge hit with their Pocket games line. Shipped in zip locks bags (eventually shrinkwrap), and priced at $3.95, the games were designed to be easy to learn and quick to play. All told they released twenty-two, all but three with science fiction or fantasy themes, including many that are still highly regarded today. The most successful, like Starfire, Star Fleet Battles, Armor at Kursk, and Swordquest, eventually graduated to  full-fledged boxed editions, but the zip-lock versions were fully playable (and a lot more portable).

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New Treasures: Pathfinder Tales: Liar’s Island by Tim Pratt

Friday, August 21st, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

Pathfinder Tales Liar's Island-smallTim Pratt, who also writes the Marla Mason fantasy series under the name T A Pratt, is one of the most popular authors in the Pathfinder Tales stable. His previous Pathfinder books include Reign of Stars and City of the Fallen Sky, and his last tale of Rodrick the thief, Liar’s Blade, was called “Fafhrd-and-Grey-Mouser-style sword and sorcery adventure” by SF Signal. His latest, Liar’s Island, on sale next week from Tor, sees Rodrick and his magical sword Hrym called to the court of the exotic southern island, Jalmeray, where they become pawns in a dangerous game of political intrigue… and the only way to escape is to find a legendary artifact.

A Thief and His Sword

Rodrick is a con man as charming as he is cunning. Hrym is a talking sword of magical ice, with the soul and spells of an ancient dragon. Together, the two travel the world, parting the gullible from their gold and freezing their enemies in their tracks. But when the two get summoned to the mysterious island of Jalmeray by a king with genies and elementals at his command, they’ll need all their wits and charm if they’re going to escape with the greatest prize of all — their lives.

From Hugo Award winner Tim Pratt comes a tale of magic, assassination, monsters, and cheerful larceny, in Pathfinder Tales: Liar’s Island, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

Our most recent Pathfinder coverage includes Howard Andrew Jones’ upcoming Beyond the Pool of Stars, Dave Gross’ Lord of Runes, and The Emerald Spire Superdungeon.

Pathfinder Tales: Liar’s Island will be published by Tor Books on August 25, 2015. It is 295 pages, priced at $14.99 in trade paperback and $9.99 for the digital version. The cover is by Michael Ivan.

Vintage Treasures: The Man of Gold by M.A.R. Barker

Thursday, August 20th, 2015 | Posted by John ONeill

The Man of Gold-smallI remember exactly where I was when I learned M.A.R. Barker had died. I was at the games auction at Gary Con IV on Saturday, March 24th, 2012, when Luke Gygax solemnly paid tribute to the industry giants we’d lost that last year — and he announced that M.A.R. Barker, the brilliant creator of the world of Tékumel, had passed away at the age of 82. When I got home that night, the first thing I did was write an obituary for Black Gate, honoring the man who’d done so much for the hobby.

Tékumel was a unique creation in fantasy gaming. It was home to one of the earliest RPGs ever written, Empire of the Petal Throne, published by TSR in 1975, and later a series of well-received fantasy novels by Barker, beginning with The Man of Gold, published by DAW with a marvelous cover by Michael Whelan in 1984.

Tékumel is a distant world populated by both humans and aliens, who have built a vast and intricate civilization over thousands of years. Ruled by the upper clans of the land, the planet’s culture is based upon the teachings of gods and demons, upon the ways and wiles of alien races, and upon the layered traditions of monarchs ancient and current. Tékumel is an exquisitely detailed world where surprise and adventure are as natural as night and day.

The Man of Gold is the first novel based on the Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne RPG. Follow the quest of Harsan, acolyte of the temple of Thumis, as he ventures forth to seek a forgotten empire’s super weapon known only as the Man of Gold.

Tékumel has been revisited many times by talented game creators over the decades, and is now the setting for multiple game systems.

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