All posts by Aaron Marks

Gaming for 15 years and writing about it for nearly ten, I've always had a strong desire to find different and interesting things in the hobby. You can follow me on Twitter at @LevelOneWonk, and read my more personal ramblings at 563rdattempt.wordpress.com.

Level One Wonk Reviews: Xanathar’s Guide to Everything

After much hype and hullabaloo, Wizards of the Coast has released Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, the first rules supplement for the Fifth Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. While there is nothing revolutionary within this volume, it offers some great new options for both mechanical and story aspects of D&D. I’d say it’s nice to have for players but more recommended for GMs due to the expanded proficiency and downtime rules, trap creation and encounter expansions, and the solidly integrated rivals system.

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Unearthing Mass Combat

Before Halloween, Wizards of the Coast took the hype level for their new D&D supplement, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, and turned it up to 11 by releasing the table of contents. Now it’s known what’s in the book and what we can expect to use in upcoming games once the book is released on November 21st. Also important though is what didn’t make the cut. New classes like the Mystic and the Artificer were left behind, and so was a set of mass combat rules. Even if the mass combat rules have not been built into a sanctioned product yet, the version released in Unearthed Arcana has some neat uses and is definitely worth considering for use in your game.

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Level One Wonk: Don’t Rest Your Head

Welcome to a special and spooky edition of Level One Wonk! Here on Halloween Eve, we’re going to take a look at horror in RPGs: how it’s different than most genres, why it’s so tough to pull off, and how Don’t Rest Your Head manages to do so. Don’t Rest Your Head was published by Evil Hat in 2006, and both serves as a great precursor to the player-facing narrative tools developed for Fate Core, and a creepy tale of downward spiral into madness as your insomnia awakens you to the true nightmares in the world.

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System Split: Basic D&D and Basic D&D Retroclones

Dungeons and Dragons, by many standards, lives up to Wizards of the Coast’s claim of “The World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game”. It has the longest history and the greatest impact of any game, paving the way for the expansive role-playing hobby we have today. And the versions published in the 1980s are those which had the strongest impact on one of the earliest generations of gamers. Between TSR’s mismanagement and the limitations of technology, though, these early versions were almost lost to history. The desire to rekindle support for the playstyle of Basic D&D was one of the collective motivations which kindled the OSR, or Old School Revival, movement. Today’s System Split splits four ways, looking both at two versions of Basic D&D (B/X and Rules Cyclopedia) and Retroclones which were designed to give them renewed accessibility: Labyrinth Lord and Dark Dungeons.

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Level One Wonk: Game Balance

The history of Dungeons and Dragons, especially recent history, is all about the mystical notion of game balance. Fourth Edition was designed the way it was in part to repent for the excesses of Third Edition, and Fifth Edition was designed the way it was in part to repent for the excesses of Fourth. Fifth Edition also comes closest of any edition of D&D (save maybe the very first) to accepting a more broad axiomatic truth: Mechanical game balance doesn’t actually matter.

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Adventure Log: Grandfather’s Bastards, an Apocalypse World Tale

A world-weary medic, everyone’s Angel but not by choice. A naive young soldier, who becomes the Gunlugger to protect himself physically and emotionally. The Chopper, who’s still not sure what makes the difference between a leader and just another Rawsteak. These are just a few of the characters who came out of a short but intense game of Apocalypse World I ran between 2016 and 2017.

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Level One Wonk: NPCs

Creating characters is ultimately the launchpad of any gaming experience. This is equally true for the GM, which can present an interesting set of challenges. While each player need only focus on who they’re playing for the game, the GM must populate the whole rest of the world. The balance is, like any other number of storytelling strategies, making the world seem real while not doing an exhausting amount of work. The key strategies for writing memorable NPCs are differentiation, motivation, and improvisation. That last one in particular can take on a couple of different forms…so if you don’t think of yourself as an “improv GM”, fear not!

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Level One Wonk: The Sandbox

Are you a Butt-Kicker, a Specialist, or a Story-Teller? There is a huge world of games out there to satisfy every player’s and group’s style. And while there are academic discussions in every corner of the internet, sometimes it’s best to start at level one. Join the Level One Wonk in exploring the possibilities that RPGs have to offer, from Aberrant to Zorcerer of Zo. Today we forgo the plot and go exploring! If your GM wants to build a world but is short on story, see if your group will put the work in to go play in a sandbox!

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Level One Wonk: Game Design

Are you a Butt-Kicker, a Specialist, or a Story-Teller? There is a huge world of games out there to satisfy every player’s and group’s style. And while there are academic discussions in every corner of the internet, sometimes it’s best to start at level one. Join the Level One Wonk in exploring the possibilities that RPGs have to offer, from Aberrant to Zorcerer of Zo. Today we transcend playing, running and hacking games, going all the way to designing them! Prepare for a project and grab some graph paper, things are about to get real.

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Level One Wonk: The OSR

Are you a Butt-Kicker, a Specialist, or a Story-Teller? There is a huge world of games out there to satisfy every player’s and group’s style. And while there are academic discussions in every corner of the internet, sometimes it’s best to start at level one. Join the Level One Wonk in exploring the possibilities that RPGs have to offer, from Aberrant to Zorcerer of Zo. Today we go back to the beginning, with a design movement that’s keeping it old school! The OSR is a group of gamers and designers who start with the earliest versions of D&D and go from there. Do you like the playstyle of old games, or have been waiting for someone to iron the wrinkles out of Basic D&D? Read on!

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