Role-playing games are a complicated medium. The act of reading a game is not the same as the act of playing it, which is not the same as the act of running it. This was not in fact acknowledged in the first role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons; almost nobody understood how to play after reading, and the designers were pretty much just hoping that wargamers would buy their standalone rules rather than doing anything in particular to make it so. As such, for decades, enthusiastic role-players have grabbed their books, put their heads together, and puzzled it out.
The market of enthusiastic role-players is saturated. More and more games are coming out and fewer and fewer of them are gaining the sort of traction which actually pays their designers. The centerpiece to this is the explosion of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition, which grew significantly faster and larger than any previous edition despite not being designed any better than any of them. So why is that? And how do other games do better?
Continue reading Who Is Your Game Designed For?
Seamus and I both came of age at a time where the long-running campaign was considered the platonic ideal of the role-playing game. There’s a lot of historical justification for this; the ‘campaign’ as an innovation in the wargaming space was one of the things that led to interest in the character-driven gaming that eventually became Dungeons and Dragons. The campaign as a procedure within a game, though, has been somewhat of a stagnant thing. Even as games continue to push on notions of advancement and other structures which define how events progress across multiple gaming sessions, it’s still assumed that a long-running game would be played in a series of continuous sessions by a consistent group of players. 15 years ago, a known luminary in the RPG design space ran a campaign that worked quite differently, creating ripples across the hobby. I’m of course talking about Ben Robbins’ West Marches.
Continue reading Meet the Campaign: Intro to West Marches
How many RPGs do you know which consist of a single book? There are definitely some, plenty of indie games especially are singular works. When it comes to the games most people play, though, you can expect that the core rules are joined by supplements, additional books which expand the game through either deepening existing elements or adding new ones. Beyond that, you may have secondary accessories, things like dice, card decks, and maps which add to the physical experience of the game. Taken together these elements create a product line. When you add additional material made by players and designers other than the original authors, then now you have an ecosystem.
Continue reading The Trouble With Ecosystems
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!
Continue reading The Game Master’s Book of Non-Player Characters Review
Welcome to the Cannibal Halfling Weekend Update! Start your weekend with a chunk of RPG news from the past week. We have the week’s top sellers, industry news stories, and discussions from elsewhere online.
DriveThruRPG Top Sellers for 10/2/2021
- WFRP: Empire in Ruins
- Deviant: the Renegades
- Heirs to the Shogunate
- Achtung: Cthulhu 2d20 Player’s Guide
- Soulbound: Champions of Death
Top News Stories
Next revision of D&D expected in 2024: The next ‘expansion’ of Dungeons and Dragons was announced by executive producer Ray Winninger during a livestream event, and predictably it set TTRPG discussion spaces afire. While there isn’t much detail with any official confirmation, guesses about what this will look like center around two pieces of information. First, the new rulebooks have been said to be backwards-compatible with existing Fifth Edition material. This would imply the sort of collation and expansion of mechanics last seen in the ‘Essentials’ revision of Fourth Edition, the lightest touch of the mid-cycle rules revisions seen in modern D&D and the one most easily argued to be backward-compatible. Also building evidence for the ‘5e Essentials’ theory is the paired announcement in the linked article, the ‘Expansions Gift Set’, which seems to do the same sort of collation, albeit with a lighter touch. The second major piece of information has to do with Fifth Edition’s digital ecosystem. Here it would make sense to look to the VTT ecosystem; the VTT value chain is dominated by third parties like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, and digital infrastructure is one place in the TTRPG hobby where a massive corporation should have a distinct advantage.
In summary: As the edition of D&D which has gone longest without any edition-wide revision (Third Edition only lasted eight years), Fifth Edition is unlikely to be changed much by whatever new material is released in time for D&D’s 50th birthday. Fans, players, and DMs likely have little to worry about (though I’m sure many of you will buy the new rulebooks anyway). On the other hand, if you are employed by or invested in Fantasy Grounds or Roll20…you probably have about three years to plan an exit strategy.
Have any RPG news leads or scoops? Get in touch! You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through Twitter via @HungryHalfling.
Adventuring through an old-school-style sandbox setting, or mapping your way through a sprawling hexcrawl? The biggest challenge of playing a game where the characters can go any direction they want is making sure there’s something worth finding in every direction they can possibly go – even more so if the world is functionally boundless. From vast ancient cities consumed by the forest to a monastery of living mummies, from a desert falling into a black hole serving as the hourglass for the world’s life to a barge-bound casino-temple to the god of luck and gambling, there are plenty of options to be found in the Lands of Legends from Axian Spice!
Continue reading Lands of Legends Review – A Thousand Options For Your Game
Recounting the deeds of an evil wizard over metal riffage and proggy synths. A fuzz-laden journey into the sanctuary of snake worshippers, A trippy story of haunted nobles hiding a dark secret. A cautionary tale that pits a demi-lich against grave robbers. Goth rock through the halls of Castle Ravenloft. An Americana-tinged ode to a remote beacon of civilization. A campaign with an all-bard party going on various famous adventures? Well, possibly, it’s not a bad idea, but not quite. If you like Dungeons and Dragons and/or rocking out, you’ll want to give a listen to Hex Volume 1 from Loot the Body!
Continue reading Loot The Body: Hex Volume 1 – Music Review
Raat shi anaa. The story begins. Rising from the Last War brought Keith Baker’s dungeon punk setting of Eberron back to 5th Edition in hardcover form, but it was the earlier Wayfinder’s Guide to Eberron that first brought a world of pulp, noir, and wide magic to the latest version of Dungeons and Dragons – and it also opened up the door for anyone to create Eberron content on the DM’s Guild. When I talked with Baker at PAX Unplugged 2019, the curious implications of that came up. Since it made it to the final three of the Setting Search in 2002 Wizards of the Coast has owned Eberron; while Baker was often brought back to work on supplements and novels, the final creative control didn’t belong to him. He could talk about ‘his’ Eberron, and thankfully did so quite often and at length, building a great rapport with the community, but plenty of material he came up with would never see the pages of a hardcover book. The Wayfinder’s Guide changed that, and now we have Exploring Eberron, Rising’s “perfect companion” straight from the man himself. So let’s go through chapter by chapter and section by section to see how an already big world had even more in its uncharted depths!
Continue reading Exploring Eberron Review
Dungeons and Dragons is the 800 pound gorilla of the role-playing game world. For what is arguably such a small slice of the space (swords and sorcery fantasy), D&D is utterly dominant, commanding a plurality of the hobby’s mind and market share (and that’s a majority if you count all games which are direct derivatives, like Pathfinder and many OSR games). For this reason, when someone lists “overtake D&D” as one of their design goals, even if it’s just part of a Twitter thread, your ears perk up. Indeed, TC Sottek did post those words, in that order, on Twitter. But people are listening. TC Sottek is the designer of Quest.
Continue reading Quest Review
Few segments of the RPG fandom are as misunderstood as the OSR. At least, that’s what they keep saying on Twitter. The OSR, or “Old-School Renaissance”, are gamers who appreciate both the mechanics and implied playstyle of older editions of D&D, any of the TSR versions but usually Basic D&D and usually the versions of it (B/X, BECMI, or Rules Cyclopedia) that existed roughly from 1981 to 1991. The real problem with the OSR is a marketing problem; in the past it has been hard to distinguish those genuinely interested in the play philosophies of older D&D from those who were merely retreating to older games. Every time I’ve tried to look into the OSR and OSR games, I’ve come away asking the same question: “why are there so many hacks of Basic D&D and why exactly should I care?”
Continue reading Around the OSR in Five Games