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.

The Independents: Something Is Wrong Here

Kickstarter is a wild frontier of new games and new gaming ideas; the wide range of what’s out there is one reason I try to write about it every month. Every once in a while, though, an idea emerges that keys into something and gets people excited. While the Kickstarter for Something Is Wrong Here showed up too late for Kickstarter Wonk this month, I backed the game after seeing friends recommend it. As soon as I shared the campaign to my Facebook page, more of my friends lit up. “Twin Peaks RPG” and “David Lynch RPG” were pushing all the right buttons for many people I knew.

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Kickstarter Wonk: September: 2018

Welcome back to Kickstarter Wonk! We’re apparently in the midst of a GenCon hangover, as it’s once again tough to come up with a full top ten games. There are tons of campaigns, but mostly for settings, supplements, and accessories. And while I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the Main Gauche supplement for Zweihander, we’re looking for new games here, people! Fear not; I’ve come up with nine interesting ones, and rounded the list out with a second edition so intriguing I backed it as I was writing this article. How’s that for an endorsement?

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The Independents: Operators

Welcome back to The Independents! It’s time for a gear-up montage as we check out a new offering from the sibling-run outfit Samjoko Publishing! Action movies and RPGs both grew up around the same time, and during the 80s when both forms were fresh, there was some crossover. The James Bond RPG, Ninjas and Superspies, and later Feng Shui and Spycraft all approached movie tropes when developing their playstyles. Now, though, the feel and, dare I say it, choreography of modern action movies has come to RPGs in the form of Operators. Kyle Simons has taken a very different approach from other games in developing Operators, focusing on the fast pace and tight camera work of movies like The Bourne Identity and Mission: Impossible instead of the technical details of their cars, gadgets, and guns. While the game hasn’t been fully released on retail sites like DriveThruRPG, physical rewards have been sent out to Kickstarter backers, meaning the game is pretty close to final form.

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Adventure Log: Dungeons and Dragons, Part 7

For the first time, Elliot found himself pulled through a fairy door. He could tell he was in his homeland, but nowhere he had ever been. But when he called to the laughing voice, she responded. Apparently the party’s fates were now intertwined with this being, and at some point in the future, they’d have to choose between the fairy world and the “concrete world”.

Elliot awoke in a cold sweat. Actually, more of a hot sweat. He was prone on the floor in a room he didn’t recognize, surrounded by wisps of steam that he did not know were Mephit corpses. “How long was I out?”

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Meet the Campaign: Apocalyptic Hexcrawl

A Cannibal Halfling mainstay since well back into the Mad Adventurers days has been Meet the Party: a collection of ready-made adventurers to get your creative juices flowing for a number of game systems. Today, we’re introducing something different. Nipping at the heels of System Hack but less mechanical, looking for detail like Meet the Party but more broad, we have Meet the Campaign! Cannibal Halfling examples and Level One Wonk playstyle editorials come together in a mashup that might even be useful.

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Pathfinder Playtest Preview

Dungeons and Dragons has a long and storied history, but like all long and storied histories there are some bumpy parts. When Third Edition (3e, and then 3.5e) came out, the first version of the game produced by Wizards of the Coast, many of the old guard were less than pleased. It was this reaction that planted the seeds for the OSR movement, in addition to the Open Gaming License (OGL), which made it easier to use the basic mechanics of existing D&D rulesets. Despite having detractors, 3e was wildly successful, so successful that it too inspired a wave of dissatisfaction when it was replaced by the significantly revised Fourth Edition (4e). The shift in design and the decision to discontinue the OGL at the end of the 3.5e product run not only alienated some players, but left many content producers hung out to dry. One of these was Paizo Publishing, a well-regarded outfit who had made a name for themselves publishing Dungeon and Dragon magazines. When this license expired in 2007, the entire company was in jeopardy. It was then that Paizo made a bold move and developed its own OGL-based game, Pathfinder.

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Kickstarter Wonk: August, 2018

Just when you thought it was safe to go back on Kickstarter . . . the lazy relaxed summer of June and July has given way to the insanity of a pre-GenCon product push! There were over twenty Kickstarters of new games, and even after picking out the second editions of recent games (Reign, Geist) and games we’ve already covered, it was still tough to narrow it down to just ten! The ten here represent games that do something new, whether it be through new mechanics or new ideas for settings. There are also a couple revivals, which are more than mere second editions due to long absences from publication as well as dramatic rules revisions. All in all, this set of ten Kickstarters represents a swathe of games that are giving us something new with rules, genre, or format.

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Adventure Log: Dungeons and Dragons, Part 6

With the mast successfully returned to the pirates, the adventurers began preparing for their trip inland to the Imperial Shelter. When the ship was crewed and outfitted, Salty, the piratical second-in-command had a surprise for the outgoing party. A shabby looking kobold was almost thrown at the adventurers. He was small, even for kobolds, and his ragged clothing was covered in singe marks. Apparently the pirates had picked him up at some point, and wanted him gone.

“I am Weekbadd! Help me prepare for when the First Lizard ends the world in holy fire!”

This was going to be interesting.

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Time Travel: Paradoxes as Improv Practice

Time Travel is a daunting mechanic for any GM to attempt to incorporate in their game. While using time travel as a platform for historical settings and conflicts can be fun, eventually your players are going to ask “wait, what happens if we show Beethoven a recording of his Fifth Symphony before he writes it?” or, even more problematic, “can I go kill my grandfather?” These are questions which, for the sake of the integrity of the concept, can’t be left completely unanswered (though you can probably tell the player trying to kill his own grandfather to drop it before something bad happens). The good thing is that time travel as a game concept leans heavily on improv, and does so in a way that can be very helpful with developing your improv muscles in a fun, non-game breaking way. That’s because with time travel, you can come up with whatever consequences you want…the players already have the mechanism to fix it.

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Level One Wonk: Fantasy

It’s the genre that started it all, and it has set the baseline for what people think of when they hear the term “role-playing game”. It’s a literary genre of astonishing breadth, that still seems to get people thinking about elves and wizards. So why is fantasy role-playing such a different animal than fantasy in general? And what sort of games are hiding in the wings around the 500 pound Gygaxian elephant in the room? Today, the Level One Wonk is going to look around what fantasy role-playing is, how it’s related to fantasy literature, and what that all means when it comes time to sit down and roll dice.

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