Karen Wang launched a Kickstarter campaign yesterday for custom gaming dice with a modest funding goal of $20,000. Twenty-four hours later she's raised $1.66 million and the number continues to go up. I am especially enamored of the enamel pins she made:
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John Darnielle, the singer/guitarist of the acclaimed indie band the Mountain Goats, has never hidden his nerdy inclinations. Even his 2014 novel debut, Wolf in White Van, was a mesmerizing downward-spiral descent into the maddening mind of a disfigured man who runs mail-order tabletop RPG games from his bedroom. As a musician, his band had previously released "concept albums" (of a sort) loosely themed around such things Biblical verses, Goth bands, and professional wrestling—so it was only a matter of time before the Mountain Goats put out a self-proclaimed "dragon noir" record, in the form of 2019's "In League With Dragons."
(Or, as the ever-delightful Hard Times put it, "Mountain Goats Make Second Album In a Row About People Who Don’t Get Enough Sun.")
To celebrate the new album (which is excellent, by the way), Darnielle sat down with Vice to play a Dungeons & Dragons campaign loosely inspired by his own album, including a a red dragon and a wizard king who craves clemency. (The album also features songs about Ozzy Osbourne and cadaver-sniffing dogs, but alas, these are absent from the game). Along the way, Darnielle shares his thoughts on storytelling and D&D in general, and the catharsis we can find through communal fantasy gaming.
During the video, Darnielle is also gifted a custom figurine which is so eerily accurate that I'm pretty sure it's actually a voodoo doll. I fully plan to steal this artifact to force him to cover more Fall Out Boy songs for me. Read the rest
Heavy metal and Dungeons & Dragons have an interconnected history that goes beyond just being targeted during the Satanic Panic of the 1980s. Over at Kerrang, John Reppion draws the links from Black Sabbath until today. From Kerrang
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The November 1987 edition of UK RPG magazine White Dwarf was advertised as a ‘Thrash Rock Special’. “Your eyes and minds have been devastated by White Dwarf for the past ten years, now it’s time for your ears to get it!” an ad in the back of the previous issue warned. The magazine came with a free flexidisc whose single track, Blood For The Blood God, was specially written and recorded by British thrashers Sabbat for WD. Printed on the disc are the words “Based on Games Workshop’s Warhammer fantasy roleplay game”, making Blood For The Blood God the first ever official RPG tie-in metal record.
Two years later, death-grind band Bolt Thrower released their second album, Realm Of Chaos: Slaves To Darkness, on Earache Records. The album’s cover art came courtesy of Nottingham-based RPG maker and retailer Games Workshop. Many of the song titles and lyrics related directly to the store’s own sci-fi fantasy RPG, Warhammer 40,000 – of which members of Bolt Thrower were dedicated players. Copies of the album were even sold in Games Workshop, alongside the usual miniatures and rulebooks....
Perhaps the most overtly RPG-inspired band of the moment are Gygax. Named in honour of D&D’s creator, the Californian four-piece play Thin Lizzy-esque hard rock with themes lifted directly from the players’ handbook.
Ingo Dwelling designed a Braille D20 die and uploaded the model to Thingiverse. Here's a time-lapse of it being 3D printed by the folks at Adafruit. Read the rest
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.
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.
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.
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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
Heat on Farm
Finger of Enftebtemang
Fomend’s Beating Sphere
For the best one you'll have to click through. Read the rest
Our dungeon master is back from his honeymoon so we are starting up out game again. Feeling generous, I bought this 35-pack of d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20 dice to make things easier. It's $(removed) For $(removed), you get a 100-pack.
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How many burritos does it take to forge a giant steel dice of doom? Watch Gil Ramirez (aka Vlogsmith) excellent process video and find out!
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Who the fuck is my D&D character generates succinct character concepts for you to roleplay. It's clever how evocative it is! It's by Ryan Grant; the underlying code uses the WTF Engine. Read the rest
Illustrator Noah Stacey (Zen-Master on DeviantArt) created this fantastic burger alignment chart after nearly writing off his inspiration: Read the rest
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.
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"Satanic Panic over Dungeons & Dragons" is one of my favorite genres of journalism, and Eric Grundhauser's article about it is a goodun, with all the right YouTube clips.
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.
They're still going on about it, too. Read the rest
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."
Empire of Imagination: Gary Gygax and the Birth of Dungeons & Dragons (Amazon)
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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