Tag Archives: Dungeons and Dragons

Editions and Edition Wars

Last week, the first in what’s assumedly a fairly long series of playtest documents came out for One D&D, the revised version of Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition that is scheduled to be released in 2024. Fifth Edition’s product lifecycle is quite long for modern D&D: 10 years is the second longest any edition of D&D has gone with no major revision, still not quite beating out the first edition of Advanced D&D which went without a revision for 12 years. The main difference between AD&D 1e and D&D 5e, though, is that Fifth Edition is the best selling version of D&D ever and AD&D 1e is one of the worst; Basic D&D sold better at the same time and saw three iterations over those 12 years, clearly getting more of TSR’s attention. This contrast gets us to the broader point that running an RPG business is a complicated game, especially when it comes to figuring out how to maintain your product lines.

New editions of games have been part and parcel of the RPG industry since Gygax attempted to close the Pandora’s Box of D&D hacking by releasing AD&D. Even that first public revision of a game, a wholesale rewrite as opposed to small revisions gained over time, laid bare the various and sundry motivations designers could have for revising their game. It may be an attempt to regain editorial control, or appeal to a new audience. It may, cynically, be a way to sell more books after the product line has flagged. And maybe, in some limited circumstances, it could actually be to improve the game.

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Doctors and Daleks Review

Gamers have long memories. In the early 2000s, the first iteration of the Open Gaming License was released by Wizards of the Coast, and accompanied by the ‘D20’ branding, which allowed many games to claim official compatibility with the Third Edition of Dungeons and Dragons. While this new era in licensing created some new and interesting games, it also created a lot of, well, garbage. This large quantity of garbage combined with Wizards handing out the ‘D20’ branding to essentially anyone combined to erode consumer confidence in the brand. Unfortunately, D&D was the biggest game in the industry at the time (much like it is now), so this, combined with some misplaced faith in the brand on the part of game stores and publishers, caused the ‘D20 bust’. Books didn’t sell, publishers and game shops went bankrupt, and Wizards…well, they published 3.5e and went on their merry way.

The point of recounting this is that the D20 bust is one of the root causes of distrust in the current crop of games developed using the D&D 5e ruleset. Because D&D is the largest, most successful RPG brand, it stands to reason that associating yourself with that brand is a way to make more money, regardless of the quality of your game, and regardless of whether or not your game aligns with the mechanics of D&D. It also doesn’t help that one of the recent high-profile games using the 5e ruleset, the Dark Souls RPG, was released in a pretty messy state, giving it no real chance to disprove the notion that D&D was a poor choice for emulating the ‘Soulslike’ video game genre (whether or not it could have otherwise is an open question).

It was in this environment that Cubicle 7 announced ‘Doctors and Daleks’, a Doctor Who role-playing game built on the 5e ruleset. The announcement was met with a fair amount of criticism, much of it baseless given that there wasn’t a game yet. The surface-level thinking, though, made sense. Doctor Who, especially the newer runs which started with Christopher Eccleston playing the Doctor, is a fantastical series about time travel, the history of the world, and a generally optimistic outlook on coexistence with life all over the universe. The Doctor has a code against killing, gadgets like the TARDIS and the Sonic Screwdriver have capabilities mostly defined by the scripts in that season, and the stories rapidly shift from small and intimate vignettes involving Vincent Van Gogh to apocalyptic, universe-ending plots where the Doctor faces off with the Master, or the Daleks, or the Cybermen. Dungeons and Dragons, on the other hand, is a game where the rules are roughly 90% predicated on killing things and taking their stuff. The mismatch observation is a fair one.

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The Trouble With Ecosystems

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.

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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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Lands of Legends Review – A Thousand Options For Your Game

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!

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Loot The Body: Hex Volume 1 – Music Review

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!

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System Split: Worlds Without Number and D&D Fifth Edition

It’s never been a better time to be a dungeon crawler. Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition and Pathfinder, two versions of the same underlying D&D ruleset, are bestsellers 1 and 2 in the RPG world, and have been for some time. Pathfinder is built for detail and breadth of options, while D&D’s Fifth Edition is built for accessibility and continuity with earlier versions and settings. They offer two versions of a fairly modern D&D experience, where GMs run story arc-based campaigns built around fighting monsters and exploring dungeons. Characters are treated like protagonists, and death is relatively rare. At the same time, we’ve seen a resurgence in “old-school” playstyles, usually represented within the D&D ecosystem by the OSR. Old-school games tend to have fewer rules, presenting challenges and decisions to the players rather than the characters. They tend to have weaker characters who aren’t treated like protagonists, and they need not be organized around a story.

There is a middle ground, though, and a new entrant in the middle ground has stormed into the DriveThruRPG sales charts. Worlds Without Number presents a dangerous old-school world, but uses rules innovations from later versions of D&D (and other role-playing games) to make the game more accessible and make the characters feel a bit more heroic. On top of all that, it provides tons of tools to help GMs run interesting game worlds with or without a driving story. Although many people will simply call Worlds Without Number an OSR game (and there are fair reasons for that), I think that it deserves to be examined against the current state of the art. That’s why this System Split pits Worlds Without Number against Dungeons and Dragons Fifth Edition.

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So You Don’t Want To Play D&D

It’s wildly common on Reddit: A thread complaining about the popularity of D&D, or a thread complaining about 5e being hacked into things it doesn’t work well for (I am guilty of that second one). Half the commenters will agree that yes, there are so many other games out there, and people should broaden their horizons! The other half will say that if people are having fun with D&D, why must you rain on their parade! And the fights continue, eventually, like they do in all discourse, repeating themselves. But you out there, venty thread creators and venty thread agree-ers, I see you. I know the real reason you’re creating these threads. You, personally, don’t want to play D&D, and either you can’t find a group to play something else with, or, more likely, your home table has you outvoted. Or, if you’re in a slightly better position, maybe you see these threads online and simply can’t imagine going back to playing only D&D (and you like fighting on the internet).

No matter the reason, I know the pain of playing a game you’re not really interested in because you still want to hang out with your friends and roll dice. There are ways to diversify your gaming experiences and be a happier gamer in general. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t involve complaining on the internet. It also doesn’t involve slagging on D&D.

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