Here are some recent game releases of note and some of what I've been up to in hobby gaming over the past month or so.
Strontium Dog Warlord Games, $63, 2-4 players, Ages: 12+ In this skirmish game from Warlord, you play the mutant search and destroy agents, the Strontium Dogs, from the pages of the venerable UK comic magazine, 2000 AD. Designed by the masterful Andy Chambers (Warhammer 40K, Battlefleet Gothic, Blood Red Skies), the game pits the Dogs and their mutant, pirate, and renegade bounty against each other as the two forces duke it out across the galaxy. The very well put-together two-player starter set includes a 122-page rule book, a scenario book, 8 metal miniatures, dice, cards, and other components. The set even includes some cool laser-cut MDF terrain. I love when games include terrain, but you don't often see it and rarely in a game that's not well over $100. Here's a video of Andy Chambers himself describing Strontium Dog.
Terrain Crate Mantic Games, Prices Vary After a very successful Kickstarter campaign (which I backed), Mantic has now released a broad range of affordable fantasy and sci-fi terrain pieces under the Terrain Crate name. Each crate is themed (Dungeon, Battle Field, Dark Lord's Tower, Starship Scenery, Industrial Zone) and includes a generous amount of highly-detailed plastic scenery. The pieces are designed to be used as-is and they also paint up like a charm. I love playing RPGs and tabletop games with lots of evocative scenery and terrain, so I have always wanted a terrain collection this extensive, this affordable, and this well done. Read the rest
Today marks the publication of the $100 Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana box-set, which contains a 400-page retrospective of the classic art of D&D, a reprint of the notoriously hard Tomb of Horrors module (designed by Gary Gygax to challenge the most overpowered characters), and frameable lithos. Read the rest
In the early 1990s Dragon magazine published AD&D stats for various cartoon characters. Bugs Bunny is a 15th-level illusionist with a chaotic good alignment. Popeye is Lawful Neutral and he is either a 9th-level fighter or an 18-level fighter. Rocky and Bullwinkle are an inseparable pair of fighters, with Rocky providing the brains and Bullwinkle providing the brawn. Read the rest
Did you know that there's such a thing as "dungeon crafting?" I didn't, until recently. There are a growing number of YouTube channels dedicated to teaching viewers how to craft all manner of terrain and building components to be used in Dungeons and Dragons and other roleplaying and tabletop games.
My friend, Make: and Geek Dad contributor Jim Kelly, has recently launched a new dungeon crafting channel called Game Terrain Engineering. So far, he has posted videos for such projects as making towers, tombs, crypts, columns and doors, and my favorite, how to make monuments to your fallen D&D characters!
In the latest episode (above), Jim gets to work on creating a set of red herring playing pieces for his (and my) current favorite game, Frostgrave (read my WINK review of Frostgrave here). Osprey Games, makers of Frostgrave, have just released an awesome new expansion for the game, a deck of 40 cards called Ulterior Motives. These cards contain special game objectives that players draw before beginning play. I love this game mechanic of adding individual player objectives to an existing game via a deck of cards. Frostgrave is not an RPG, it's a narrative fantasy skirmish wargame. Adding these individual motives helps to bring more play-depth and narrative flavor to the game.
Some of the objectives in the Ulterior Motives pack are revealed right when the card is drawn. Others remain secret until you make your move as indicated on the card. To get other players off the stink of what you're up to, there are a series of red herring terrain pieces that are called for (a statue, a zombie, a pit, a portal, a sarcophagus, a trap door, an arcane disk, and a runic stone). Read the rest
Neural networks, it is said, cannot explain their decisions. Which is probably a good thing, at least when it comes to the machine mind's ideas for new Dungeons & Dragons spells, as guided by Janelle Shane. [via Patrick Ziselberger]
It’s a really small dataset, actually - so small that in almost no time at all, it learned to reproduce the original input data verbatim, in order. But by setting the “temperature” flag to a really high value (i.e. it has a higher chance of NOT going with its best guess for the next character in the phrase), I can at least induce spelling mistakes. Then the neural network has to try to recover from these, with often entertaining results.
Moss Healing Word Hold Mouse Barking Sphere Heat on Farm True Steake Finger of Enftebtemang Fomend’s Beating Sphere
On the always excellent Expanding Mind podcast, we hear from Jeremy Crawford, one of the designers of the new 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons.
"We discuss identity, the multicultural multiverse, Eastern Orthodoxy, and the sacred absurdity of terrible dice rolls," says host Erik Davis.
By 1984, fantasy roleplaying had evolved from thretening the innocent minds of America’s youth to threatening their eternal salvation. Religious mini-comic author Jack Chick published one of his “Chick Tracts”—those extreme religious comic book pamphlets you find on the bus—about the issue, tying fantasy roleplaying directly to the occult. Called Dark Dungeons, the thin pamphlet tells the story of Debbie, a young woman who gets seduced by a witchy dungeon master who teaches her to embrace evil through the game. Through the course of the story, Debbie uses a “mind bondage” spell on her father to get spending money and finds the body of a friend who committed suicide after losing her game character.
Michael Witwer's Empire of Imagination is a new biography of Dungeons and Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax that not only tells the tale of this marvelous wizard but also explores the profound impact D&D had on popular culture, gaming, and geek culture. NPR spoke with Witwer for All Things Considered. Listen below.
"Many of the derivative games — and maybe it's all of the derivative games we've talked about — whether it be computer role-playing games or whatnot, they actually lack most of the most important fundamental elements of a role-playing game," Witwer says. "That is, sitting around with your friends and participating in this kind of group storytelling exercise: actually being in a room physically sitting at a table with nothing but pencils and paper and dice. There's something very special about that, and it's kind of a social experience that's pretty hard to frankly re-create over any type of electronic media."
Out of the Abyss, the new mega-adventure for Dungeons and Dragons, came out in September. It’s part of the Rage of Demons multi-product launch, which includes board and video games, novels and an officially sanctioned “play season,” all tied to the same storyline.
It’s probably the best adventure we’ve yet seen for the new edition of D&D, improving in many ways upon Princes of the Apocalypse, the previous adventure release, which in itself was a marked improvement over the Tyranny of Dragons story. While Tyranny suffered from railroading, Princes of the Apocalypse compensated by laying out a large sandbox-style world composed almost fully of hack-and-slash dungeon crawl, with a few side treks for breaks — kind of like a 16-bit Final Fantasy game, not that that’s bad!
Out of the Abyss, which was created as a collaboration with independent games company Green Ronin Publishing, looks to be the first adventure that truly gets the play balance right. There’s dungeon crawl galore, but there’s also a compelling, over-arching plotline, with lots of atmosphere and role-playing opportunities. Whereas the previous two campaigns felt like old-school D&D adventures, Out of the Abyss feels a lot more cinematic and maintains an actual story arc with rising tension and plot development rather than just a series of progressively harder dungeons. It’s a lot like the R. A. Salvatore novels that the campaign draws inspiration from (Salvatore’s characters Drizzt Do’Urden and Bruenor Battlehammer make appearances in the book and related media; Salvatore also wrote novels that tie into the Rage of Demons storyline). Read the rest
You can own a D20 die carved from a 10,000-year-old wooly mammoth tusk for just $249. Read the rest