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: The Kitchen Sink

Welcome back! I’m the Level One Wonk, and today we’re throwing things at a wall to see what sticks! Most popular games out there exist within the framework of a genre or existing setting, and use those constraints to create interesting stories. In Dungeons and Dragons you have magic, monsters, and an underlying battle between good and evil. In Star Wars you have the Force, liberties taken with the laws of physics, and…an underlying battle between good and evil. At the end of the day, though, sometimes you want to mix chocolate and peanut butter and get something else. What if your D&D setting was invaded by aliens? Who were actually Force Ghosts…who actually came from the world of Exalted? What if they were all psychic? Why stop there? Sometimes you want everything and the kitchen sink.

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Level One Wonk: Session Zero

Welcome back to Level One Wonk, where new campaign day is every day! Starting scenarios run a huge gamut in role-playing games, but it’s the tropey tired ones that continue to haunt the institutional memory of this hobby. “You all meet in a tavern” has steadily been replaced by “you all wake up in prison”, but the fact remains that establishing a campaign introduction without player input makes you vulnerable to these and other contrivances. There is of course a time and a place for every kind of campaign introduction, but sometimes you want to both get into the stuff your players care about as well as make them care quickly. This is when you want to run a Session Zero.

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Genesys Review: Part Two

Last week, Seamus gave a comprehensive overview of the first part of Fantasy Flight Games’ new toolkit system Genesys. The first section presented a new angle on the Narrative Dice system which lived up to the promises of a genericized Star Wars game, while the second section on settings left a lot on the table and a bit to be desired. But there’s a lot more book here! Even if Seamus got more page count, this last section is the one that’s really full of the stuff you’re going to want. Now, if you need to get the lowdown on the basics of the mechanics and how this book differs from the Star Wars games, you should go ahead and check out Seamus’ first review. If you’re ready to talk toolkit, though, read on. All four of these chapters are from Part 3, the Game Master’s Toolkit. Overall, the toolkit is very well done, though there are several missed opportunities to have taken an addition that was merely good and make it great.

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Level One Wonk: There Can Be Only One (GM)

Welcome back to Level One Wonk, where together we will wonk out on various and sundry gaming topics! Now that you’ve finished gorging yourself on turkey (and maybe checking out some Burning Wheel characters), it’s time to look down that home stretch of the year, get ready for the holiday season, and maybe even make some New Year’s Resolutions. Instead of thinking about the game today, let’s think about the gaming group. While playstyle, system, and campaign all play into a gaming group having fun, there are even more basic structural elements that are key, and it all comes down to who’s doing what.

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Meet the Party: Burning Wheel

A strange cultist who everyone ignored until he accidentally summoned a lesser demon. A noblewoman, cast to the nunnery for birthing a bastard and now on the run from a coup. A rebellious participant in said coup, who found his true god within the Cult of the Dead Stars. Meet the Party is jumping systems again, this time generating a trio of unlikely heroes for Burning Wheel!

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Xanathar’s Guide to Everything Review

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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