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Tag Archive: Dungeons and Dragons


It’s a big week for Dungeons & Dragons players.  This Tuesday is the release date for Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus, the eagerly-awaited next adventure in the Fifth Edition of Wizards of the Coast’s original roleplaying game.  One city has fallen into hell, and it’s up to players to see that Baldur’s Gate does not meet the same fate.  The game takes players from levels 1 to 13 as they journey through Baldur’s Gate and into Avernus, the first layer of the Nine Hells.

And the biggest feature that fans have been waiting for is here: Infernal Machines, making this new journey a mash-up of dark fantasy and Mad Max.  The machines are battle-ready vehicles, which you can build and customize as your characters enter the Blood War.

Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus is a thick 256 pages, with an exhaustive, detailed history of Baldur’s Gate (popularized in the video game of the same name) taking up the first quarter of the book.  Look for lots of new creatures, several interesting NPCs, a pronunciation guide, and even a new lettering script to adapt for your own designed supplemental materials.

 

This new D&D volume features extensive artwork, and attractive maps by Dyson Logos, Mike Schley, and Jared Blando, including a giant double-sided foldout map.  You’ll also find a unique appendix featuring concept art sketches, designs, and characters, providing a peek behind the scenes at Wizards of the Coast.  Note: There’s even a disclaimer for anyone wary of the darker nature of this adventure.  The short version?  It’s all for fun (but you already know that).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’ve ever wanted to start playing Dungeons & Dragons, but didn’t have anyone around that knew how to play, Wizards of the Coast has released a new boxed set with everything you need to get started.  Expanding on its earlier D&D Starter Kit, the all-new D&D Essentials Kit includes all of the components to get started on an adventure out of the box, with hours of adventuring for 2-6 players.  Unlike with the Starter Kit, the Essentials Kit skips ahead from pre-generated characters allowing for building your own characters, with four races: dwarf, elf, halfling, and human, and five classes: bard, cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard.  This alone keeps this new set ahead of the Starter Kit.  But what else?

First, Wizards of the Coast has whittled down the three rulebooks into a single, easy-to-read, 64-page D&D Essentials Rulebook The Rulebook is for all potential players to read, and it includes the rudimentary steps missing from prior iterations–here are not only the rules and parameters for moving through a game but what each step is for, why it matters, and how it fits into the larger gameplay–a great addition for anyone who doesn’t think they learn as fast and are afraid to ask questions.  The next component is the adventure book, Dragon of the Icespire Peak, tailored specifically for first-time players, with the potential for characters to reach six levels.  Note: This takes place in the same region as The Lost Mine of Phandelver, which was included in the D&D Starter Kit, so both adventures can be played together.  This time players have several smaller adventures, so it frees up gameplay for those without time for a single six-hour session.

Expanding on the elements of the D&D Starter Kit are several extras in the D&D Essentials Kit For anyone who doesn’t have a large group to play with, you now have one-on-one rules for only two players, a Dungeon Master and single player.  Along with the two books, inside the sturdy storage box is a set of 11 red translucent polyhedral dice, and a handy box for cards and dice.  A cardboard Dungeon Master’s screen with fantasy artwork by Grzegorz Rutkowski is a nice touch, plus a large, foldout, full-color, two-sided map of Phandalin (also found in Acquisitions Incorporated) and Sword Coast is there to enhance gameplay.  The box also includes six blank double-sided character sheets, nine Initiative cards, nine Quest cards, 36 Magic Item cards, nine starter Sidekick Character cards, 14 Condition cards, three Combat cards, and a Magic Charm card–these will help keep beginners on track.  Finally, the box includes a sheet with codes for continuing gameplay online with D&D Beyond, with three added adventures: Storm Lord’s Wrath (for 7th level characters), Sleeping Dragon’s Wake (for 9th level characters), and Divine Contention (for 11th level characters).

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Ten Speed Press has partnered with Wizards of the Coast to begin a new series of adventurer books to get young readers involved with storytelling, fantasy worlds, and role playing games.  The Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guide books have everything you need to create your own characters and stories, perfect for kids who aren’t advanced enough in their reading yet or readers not familiar with what D&D fantasy games have to offer.  Each lavishly illustrated guide is a primer on the key segments of gameplay or telling any kind of fictional story with friends.  About half the dimensions of the traditional D&D books and nearly as thick, these deluxe hardcover editions will fit right along with your 5th Edition books on the shelf should you decide to continue with D&D.

You can start off with Warriors & Weapons, where you’ll learn how to create your own hero and band of adventurers.  Begin with one of the fantasy races: robust dwarf, graceful elf, industrious gnome, charismatic half-elf, menacing half-orc, nimble halfling, powerful dragonborn, furtive beaked kenku, agile feline tabaxi, proud tiefling, reptilian tortle–or human.  Then learn about the classes: barbarian, fighter, monk, paladin, ranger, or rogue.  Finally, you’ll assemble your outfit, armor, weaponry, and pack of gear that will help you as you head out into the unknown.  Along the way, the authors (Jim Zub, with Stacy King and Andrew Wheeler) describe what you’re doing, how to do it, and why it fits into the story, all spelled out so nearly any level of reader can understand.  And you’ll meet classic D&D characters for each of the races and learn what makes them tick.

Fans of the D&D Endless Quest books introduced last year (and reviewed here at borg) will find these new books a few steps more advanced.  With each volume of the Dungeons & Dragons Young Adventurer’s Guide you’ll be asked to consider for your story key worldbuilding elements:  Who? What? Where? How? When? and Why?  The adventure continues in the second volume, Monsters & CreaturesWhat dangers will your party of heroes face?  One-eyed beholder, vampire, owlbear, or sprite?  Frost giant, banshee, or dragon?  If you’re introducing someone to gaming with these books, think of this volume as a miniature edition of the Monster Manual or Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

Below, take a look at previews of each of the first two volumes in the Adventurer’s Guide series, and a first look at the next volume, Dungeons & Tombs, courtesy of Ten Speed Press:

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Steeped in the Dungeons & Dragons foundations of R.A. Salvatore′s new novel, the adventure becomes so much a journey of a thousand skirmishes inside the stories of Waterdeep and the Forgotten Realms that the biggest surprise is no D&D branding graces the cover.  Although it’s accessible for anyone without reference to Timeless (last year’s first book in the series), Boundless is the next chapter in Salvatore’s trilogy of novels following his well-known hero of the genre Drizzt Do’Urden.  Boundless has everything you’d expect from the character and his world, from demogorgons to psionics, armored dwarves to unicorns–and humans.  It’s now available for pre-order here at Amazon and arriving in bookstores September 10.

Boundless′s breakneck pace is why fans of Salvatore will find themselves jumping in and holding on tight for the entire novel.  The only time it comes up for air is in a series of diary-like entries by Drizzt that begin the novel’s four sections.  As it turns out, the leads of the story aren’t really Drizzt himself but his father, the resurrected weapon master Zaknafein, and the wise mercenary Jarlaxle, both swashbuckling schemers with skills and political connections–characters that make you want to skip over the subplots to see what they do next.  Despite a few subordinate heroes, like Arathis Hune, the giant Wulfgar, the psionist Kimmuriel, and the dwarf Thibbledorf Pwent, shifting the stakes from the shadows are the story’s female characters, with the priestess Dab-nay and the elf Dahlia as key players.

All the good fantasy tropes are here, a very Tolkien journey that may have readers plugging actors from Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings movies into key roles, with the kind of twisty but grounded machinations you’d find in The Godfather, Part II and Amadeus, and dramatic evil queen-types as in The Huntsman.  Readers will find as much of the more comical-aside conversations of The Princess Bride school here as dead-serious high fantasy despite plenty of darkness.  The novel provides a favorable dice role for its heroes more often than not, but despite seemingly endless triumphs and last-second getaways by a half a dozen heroes, Salvatore leaves room for some real jeopardy for its characters, including serious carnage before book’s end.

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Review by Art Schmidt

Premiering today, the next adventure sourcebook for Dungeons & Dragons is entitled Ghosts of Saltmarsh, a title that evokes both the haunted nature of many of the adventures contained within it, including the titular Saltmarsh trilogy from D&D’s 1st Edition.  Saltmarsh is the first D&D adventure book to be officially set in the world of Greyhawk, the original D&D Fantasy world setting used in 1st and 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons before Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms captured the roleplaying community’s imagination, a fact sure to delight many long-time fans of the setting.  It includes a brief introduction of Greyhawk and provides some background information about the Kingdom of Keoland, where the coastal town of Saltmarsh is set.

The book also provides three alternate “factions”, in place of the standard five factions of the Forgotten Realms: The Traditionalists, the Loyalists, and the Scarlet Brotherhood.  Included are NPCs, motivations, and background information enough to provide players with the ability to use them in place of the standard factions.  Of course, the Realms factions can easily still be used with a little work on the DM’s part.

Similar to Tales from the Yawning Portal, Ghosts of Saltmarsh is primarily a collection of seven adventures set in a maritime area, rather than a full campaign in and of itself as with other hardcover books (such as Tomb of Annihilation and Dungeon of the Mad Mage).  The Saltmarsh adventures are designed to be inserted into an ongoing campaign and ran as independent adventures.  However, unlike with Yawning Portal, there is an outline provided in Saltmarsh which allows them to be stitched together into a campaign, with room for other published adventures or excursions of the DM’s design to be inserted in between.

Three of the adventures are based on the Saltmarsh Trilogy of D&D modules, first published in the early 1980s by TSR’s United Kingdom office (hence “U” in the original module designations “U1” through “U3”).  The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh, Danger at Dunwater, and The Final Enemy presented players with an in-depth plot, multiple twists in story and characters, and a deeper roleplaying experience than was available at the time from most other published adventures.  In fact, one entire adventure is designed to be roleplayed almost entriely through, with very few combat opportunities (unless the party started fighting with their potential allies), something rarely seen at the time.

Today the roleplaying populace at large demands a heavy, story-driven narrative for their gaming dollars, and the popularity of Twitch, YouTube and other streaming platforms have brought awareness to how enjoyable and accessible the roleplaying experience can be.  But 1st Edition Dungeons & Dragons was dominated by the likes of The Keep on the Borderlands, the Slavers and Giants series, and the penultimate Tomb of Horrors, most of which were based around the same general idea: “Hey, there’s a hole in the ground and it’s full of monsters and treasure; see how far you can get without dying.”

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A beautifully drawn new fantasy series is coming this week from IDW Publishing and Wizards of the Coast Dungeons & Dragons: A Darkened Wish follows a new young wizard named Helene, as she and her friends meet up on the streets of Mintarn and soon become powerful warriors.  The popular Forgotten Realms will be changed forever when war threatens the Moonshae Isles, bringing forth legendary heroes to defeat dark forces.

The latest D&D comic book mini-series is written by B. Dave Walters (Geek & Sundry, The Rundown) with classic, high fantasy layouts and illustrations from artist Tess Fowler (Kid Lobotomy, Critter).  Fowler’s visuals reveal a fantasy world of adventurous places and strange characters that could easily be situated off the beaten path at the far borders of Middle-earth.  Interior colors are by Jay Fotos (Spawn, Godzilla, Transformers) and cover colors are by Tamra Bonvillain (Doom Patrol, Captain Marvel).

Readers will encounter Hoondarrh: the Red Rage of Mintarn, the Sleeping Wyrm of Skadaurak, and a Red dragon of legendary size, cunning, and strength–“none shall prevail against his might.”  It’s a fun ride and a story that could be found in Sword & Sorcery, Swords of Sorrow, or The Dark Crystal.  Best yet–look forward to plenty of cool new characters.

  

Here are some upcoming covers for the series by Tess Fowler and Tamra Bonvillain, including a variant by Ibrahem Swaid, a character sheet cover, and a black and white retailer incentive variant all for Issue #1:

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Hasbro has big plans for New York Toy Fair 2019 this weekend, and already has released marketing information for two new Stranger Things tie-in games with a retro theme.  Trivial Pursuit fans who’ve been waiting for some new trivia questions will get their wish and more in an updated version of the popular 1980s board game.  And the in-universe Dungeons & Dragons references from the kids in Stranger Things will spill into the real world with a tie-in edition to reel in new roleplay gamers.  Both of these are now available for pre-order for the first time at online pop culture collectible store Entertainment Earth.

Up first is the Stranger Things Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set from Hasbro and Wizards of the Coast.  New as well as seasoned D&D players can experience the D&D adventure Stranger Things character Mike Wheeler created for his friends in the series.  Will you be Will the Wise or Dustin the Dwarf?  The set includes a Stranger Things Adventure book, Rulebook, five Stranger Things character sheets, six dice, a painted Demogorgon figure, and a paintable Demogorgon figure (and take a look at the nicely distressed box design).  Find out more and pre-order the game for only $24.99 now here at Entertainment Earth.

It doesn’t matter how many editions you already own of Trivial Pursuit (the original, the 1980s, the 1990s, the Millennium edition, etc.), this new version is unlike any other edition of the game.  The Stranger Things Back to the 80s Trivial Pursuit Game features 1,500 trivia questions from six categories: Movies, TV, Music, Famous People and Events, Trends, Tech and Fun, and a new one:  Stranger Things. The familiar board game also includes Portal Spaces–land on one of these and you have to flip a section of the board over and send all players to the Upside Down, where wedges can be lost.  As always, the first player to collect six wedges wins.  At a pre-order price of $19.99 here at Entertainment Earth, this game is hard to beat.

Here are several images of the games, courtesy of the first distributor marketing the games, Entertainment Earth:

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borg Hall of Fame 2018

It’s been another long year of great entertainment.  Before we wrap our coverage of 2018, it’s time for the sixth annual round of new honorees for the borg Hall of Fame.  We have plenty of honorees from 2018 films and television, plus many from past years, and a peek at some from the future – 40 in all.  You can always check out the updated borg Hall of Fame on our home page under “Know your borg.”

Some reminders about criteria.  Borgs have technology integrated with biology.  Wearing a technology-powered suit alone doesn’t qualify a new member.  Tony Stark aka Iron Man was an inaugural honoree because the Arc Reactor kept him alive.  The new Spider-Man suit worn by Tom Holland is similar to Tony’s, but as far as we can tell it’s not integrated with Peter Parker’s biology.  Similarly Peni Parker, seen outside her high-tech SP//dr suit in Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Black Manta from Aquaman (and decades of comics before), seem to be merely wearing tech suits.  We’d love a reason for a Mandalorian to make the cut, like Boba Fett, or Jango Fett, since nobody has more intriguing armor.  Maybe Jon Favreau’s new television series will give us something new to ponder next year.

Also, if the creators tell us the characters are merely robots, automatons, or androids, we take their word for it.  Westworld continues to define its own characters as androids (like Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Lt. Commander Data throughout the TV series), and not cyborgs (going back to Michael Crichton’s original story), so we continue this year to hold off on their admittance unless something changes, like the incorporation of living biological (blood, cells, etc.) materials.  Are we closing in on admitting individuals solely based on a breathing apparatus that may allow them to breathe to in non-native atmospheres?  Only if integrated (surgically).  Darth Vader has more borg parts than his breathing filter.  We assume new honoree Saw Gerrera does as well.  With more biological enhancements we’d allow Tusken Raiders, Moloch, and Two Tubes from the Star Wars universe, and Mordock the Benzite from Star Trek, but wouldn’t that also mean anyone in a deep sea suit or space suit is a cyborg?  Again, integration is key.  Ready Player One has humans interacting with a cyber-world with virtual reality goggles and other equipment, but like the Programs (as opposed to the Users) in the movie Tron, this doesn’t qualify as borg either, but we’re making an exception this year for the in-world Aech, who is a cyborg orc character, and two Tron universe characters.

Already admitted in 2017 were advance honorees that didn’t actually make it to the screen until 2018.  This included Josh Brolin’s new take on Cable in Deadpool 2 and Simone Missick’s Misty Knight after her acquisition of a borg arm in Marvel’s Luke Cage.  New versions of Robotman and Cyborg are coming in 2019 in the Doom Patrol series, but they are already members of the revered Hall of Fame.  Above are the new looks for these two earlier honorees.

So who’s in for 2018?

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As a high schooler who wasn’t a gamer, I watched my friends with their stack of books and wondered why the books looked so… corporate.  I knew enough about the basics of Dungeons & Dragons, and knew the focus on role-playing and imagination, and couldn’t see why players didn’t use some kind of fantasy covers, like poster art from Dragonslayer or The Dark Crystal.  Wandering a Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstore more than 15 years ago, I thought the faux leather and metal locks-and-hinge look from the 3.5 Edition was what I had expected for an in-universe look of a game that was about bringing players inside a new world.  Wizards of the Coast stepped into a different flavor of that theme with its variant series of books for the 5th Edition, and the result has been pretty stunning.

The variants Wizards of the Coast chose were created by Hydro74.  That’s the alias of artist Joshua M. Smith, whose artwork often reflects a unique style that pulls together the bright-on-black contrasts of 1970s black velvet posters, magical stylized creatures, and eye-popping foil-embossed, metallic inks.  In a series where magic is key, the selection of Hydro74 for the 5th Edition special variant covers was a great choice.

Wizards of the Coast has been slowly releasing the variants beginning late 2016 with Hydro74 covers on special editions of Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and continuing with Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, this year’s history of D&D: Art & Arcana, and a stylized D&D ampersand dragon used for other covers and poster art that began as a cover for Dragon+ magazine in 2015.  But now the publisher has created a one-stop ultimate collection of special covers for the key 5th Edition books released before the other Hydro74 covers became the theme, in the Special Edition Core Rulebooks Gift Set.  The set includes Hydro74 cover versions for the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the Monster Manual, and the Player’s Handbook, and a sturdy storage box and screen–both decorated with shiny red and gold embossed dragon imagery.  If you haven’t picked up the core rulebooks for the 5th Edition yet and you’ve been thinking about diving in, this is the place to start.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

If you’re not a player of Dungeons & Dragons, a new journey through the hills and valleys of the roleplay game that started it all will get you up to speed quickly.  Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a comprehensive, authoritative, and licensed look back at nearly 50 years of gaming, storytelling, and artwork.  If you grew up with the game you are certain to find both nostalgia and page-after-page of new information in its more than 700 color images from the past, images of heroes and villains, monsters and other creatures, that brought in some 40 million players over the years.  Boasting some 10-15 million active players today, D&D now features the results of writers/D&D celebrity fans Michael Witwer (D&D historian), Kyle Newman (director of the movie Fanboys), Jon Peterson (game historian) and Sam Witwer (actor, Being Human, Smallville, Battlestar Galactica) pulling together published images and source art from each edition of D&D’s core books, supplements, and modules, magazines, advertisements, tie-in products, sketches, and draft rules.  Their sources include the archives at Wizards of the Coast, private collectors, and more than 40 designers and artists from every era of the game’s history.  Released in two editions, fans old and new can choose from the standard 448-page hardcover alone or a special edition Hydro74-designed boxed set with some intriguing extras.  You’ll find a 14-page preview below courtesy of publisher Ten Speed Press.

This… treatise… this behemoth of a book is smartly designed so readers can approach it for a quick burst of throwback fun or a detailed dive behind the creation and many changes of the game and the companies behind it.  You can find a side-by-side evolution and comparison of monsters and other characters, soak in old maps and character sheets, and compare the covers and key art across all editions.  Possibly the best contribution is comparative images showing specific pop culture sources for many of the designs that made it into the early books and supplements, everything from Frank Frazetta Conan the Barbarian paintings to panels of comic book art from Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales.

From Guidon GamesChainmail to TSR to Wizards of the Coast and Hasbro and the latest 5th Edition rule books, the D&D story is one of corporate takeovers, failures, successes and strategies, all to survive and ultimately consolidate with games including Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, World of Warcraft, and the entire Milton Bradley tabletop game catalog, all under one umbrella.  It all started with creators Gary Gygax and David Arneson, and their efforts to build on miniature figure battle games from centuries past, and modern rules for gaming that had a historic source:  sci-fi/fantasy author H.G. Wells first penned a gaming rulebook for miniatures titled Little Wars: a game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys’ games and books, an influential book inspiring gaming to this day.  The founders would pull in amateur artists and eventually professional artists, sprouting from a small headquarters in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, ultimately the source of Gen Con, the gaming convention that has been tied to D&D since the beginning.

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