Category Archives: Editorial

Reviews, opinions, and whatever else strikes our fancy!

The Trouble With Kickstarter

In December of 2021, Kickstarter made an announcement that it was going to develop a new platform for crowdfunding, using blockchain technology. The announcement received a significant negative response, given the negative environmental impacts of current blockchain applications and the widespread use of blockchain tech, through both cryptocurrencies and non-fungible token (NFT) schemes, to commit fraud. It’s a fair response, though given how little the Kickstarter announcement said, perhaps not entirely warranted.

That all said, the end state of Kickstarter’s blockchain plans don’t particularly matter. Whether or not the new platform comes to fruition, whether or not it uses less energy-intensive proof-of-stake software, whether or not people leave the platform, these are in the long run irrelevant. What the announcement should have revealed to anyone who felt strongly enough to leave the platform over it is that the TTRPG hobby has let Kickstarter become infrastructure. Leaving Kickstarter sounds great in a tweet, but ultimately doing so is going to be tough for many of the creators who, without the company, would have never gotten off the ground.

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The Forest Primordia, or, My First Module

There’s a vast diversity of experiences that fall under the big tent of tabletop roleplaying. From different playstyles to games to even venues of play, everyone plays a little bit differently. There are some things that are common at one table and unthinkable at another. And some products, from battlemats to GM screens to even pre-written adventures themselves just aren’t seen at every gaming table. That said, if someone, say, reviewed RPGs for five solid years and had never once ran a pre-written module, you could be forgiven for saying they might be missing out on a common gamer experience. Well, that someone is me, and this month I made a change.

Do not think that the title of this review is a quip about the Troika module The Forest Primordia. I do not call it “My First Module” out of snark, it is literally the first prewritten module I have ever run in a serious game (my attempt to run the Tomb of Horrors doesn’t count, for multiple reasons). I don’t think I’ve ever had anything against modules, but for me the interest in running games was always couched in writing, and using pre-written material always seemed to produce a disconnect where there didn’t need to be one. As a result, it took about twenty years of my RPG career before I decided to give one a whirl.

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Adding Flavor To The Table

Between spending some time at the Flying Stag earlier in the week and recovering from the trials and tribulations of Thanksgiving, I’ve got food and drink on the mind with a side of tabletop worldbuilding. So your party of characters wander into the tavern and order… what? An ale?  Your freighter crew has two weeks of… consumables? That’s it? We can do better than that; both people running games and playing them can get some extra detail out of their setting and characters by keeping one fact in mind: even most protagonists have to eat.

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Game Wizards Review

The story of role-playing games begins with the story of Dungeons and Dragons; the story of Dungeons and Dragons begins with Gary Gygax. And Dave Arneson. And, frankly, all of TSR. As our hobby evolves and our record keepers get older, we need to look back and make a good record of what got us to this point. With both Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson passed away, the invention of D&D is becoming just a story, in some people’s minds a footnote to Mentzer and Moldvay and Allston and Tweet and Mearls and Crawford that have come since. Well, Jon Peterson to the rescue.

Off the success of Playing at the World, a history of the role-playing game as a concept, and The Elusive Shift, an investigation of the role-playing game as its own standalone ‘thing’, we now have Game Wizards, arguably now the definitive text on the luminaries who invented D&D and how rabidly they fought over credit for that specific thing. Peterson is showing his breadth here, moving from broad-based historical synthesis (Playing at the World) to deep, particular investigation (The Elusive Shift) and now into that popular but difficult historical realm, disputed narrative. In some ways, this is a bit of a departure from Peterson’s earlier work, which was very much grounded in the how and why that made RPGs what they are. That said, Game Wizards as a book has convinced me that, as someone interested in RPG history, the story of Gygax and Arneson is one I need to know.

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Twilight:2000 Review

The RPG hobby is driven by remakes and revisions. Fifth Edition this and Seventh Edition that, yes, but entire movements in the hobby are built around hacking and re-hacking D&D’s sub-sub-genre of play, fantasy dungeon crawling. With this perspective, RPGs fit in nicely alongside movie studios who remake Spiderman and Batman decadally, and media companies who continue to make live-action versions of critically acclaimed anime without asking how they’re actually improving things. In a young hobby like RPGs, though, there is still space for remakes to be good. So if you want to make a good remake, why not start with a game that practically screams ‘don’t update me’, the 1984 classic Twilight:2000?

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The Game Master’s Book of Non-Player Characters Review

There are only so many ways you can spell – or pronounce – the name Bob before your players are going to realize that you’re just making up Dungeons and Dragons characters on the fly. There’s nothing wrong with making up NPCs as you go, of course, but it’s a lot of work! You have to name them, make them interesting, and then you actually have to remember to write down what you made up or next session you’ll have players asking why Ba’ab is named Dave now. Wouldn’t it be nice to have that work done for you, in such quantity that you don’t have to make anything from scratch for a good while? How about, say, 500 characters? Think that’ll be enough? That’s what you’ll find in the The Game Master’s Book of Non-Player Characters from Topix Media Lab!

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Under Hollow Hills Review

How much changes in a decade? A couple years ago I went to my tenth college reunion. I was struck by how different things were; how my old fraternity was simply not familiar any more, and how my favorite late night food spots gave me significantly more indigestion. I couldn’t help but notice, also, how much was exactly the same. The city of Pittsburgh was still the same idiosyncratic mix of rust belt and academic, and the campus very much elicited all the memories I had from being in that place. Ten years seems like both enough time for something to change completely and yet not change at all. And so it is with Powered by the Apocalypse.

It hasn’t been exactly ten years since the start of Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA), Apocalypse World was released in 2010. That said, as the game scooped up awards through 2010 and 2011, we could say that it’s roughly the 10th anniversary of PbtA as a phenomenon. By the end of the 2011 awards season the momentum had built, and Dungeon World, the game that arguably sent PbtA into the next tier of indie phenomena, came out in 2012. No matter your exact accounting, though, 2021 is the perfect time to reflect on a decade of PbtA because the Bakers have released a new PbtA game.

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Deviant: the Renegades Review

Role-playing games are like most media in that they tend to resonate with the largest audience when peddling a blend of novelty and comfort. That said, the hobby has a history of lashing out when too much novelty is introduced. Consider Fourth Edition D&D. Or Traveller:The New Era. Or Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay Third Edition. I could go on, but the point is fairly clear: Gamers like new things, as long as they aren’t actually that different from the old things they already have.

Say, what’s been going on in the World of Darkness recently?

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Fallout: The Roleplaying Game Review

RPG licensing. RPG licensing never changes. In some ways it’s amazing that it took until 2021 to get an honest Fallout tabletop RPG, given the original game’s mechanical dalliance with GURPS and other design elements borrowed heavily from pen and paper games of the time. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until Fallout 4 that the series turned back to its roots and, with the help of Modiphius, got an official licensed port. Fallout the Role-Playing Game leans heavily on the most recent iteration of the video game series; both the mechanics and the setting borrow heavily and almost exclusively from Bethesda’s Fallout 4 for source material. Comparing this game to a Bethesda game ends up being quite apt, though; like most of the modern software titles released by this game’s licensor, Fallout the Role-Playing Game shows a lot of promise and appears at first glance to be ported well into its new mechanics…but in reality it’s hampered by a raft of grave unforced errors in editing and product management. So is it endearingly buggy, or is it hopeless? Let’s take a look.

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