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Tag Archive: Dungeons & Dragons


  

Wizards of the Coast has two new books available just in time for Christmas gameplay.  Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica is the first time Dungeons & Dragons has formally issued a crossover with the realms of Magic: The Gathering Ravnica, first introduced in 2005 in Magic: The Gathering’s Ravnica: City of Guilds and again in 2012 in Return to Ravnica, is a vast plane and a diverse cityscape, where ten guilds battle for power, wealth, and influence.

The sourcebook includes detailed chapters on the ten guilds:  Azorius Senate, Boros Legion, Cult of Rakdos, Golgari Swarm, Gruul Clans, House Dimir, Izzet League, Orzhov Syndicate, Selesnya Conclave, Simic Combine, and sections on Creating Adventures, Treasures, and Friends and Foes.  Guildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica includes a key focus on the Tenth District of the city, which includes adventure opportunities for all ten guilds.  It boasts six new playable species, plus a new cleric domain, a new druid circle, backgrounds, and an expansive bestiary.

The second year-end release, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage serves as part two of the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure (reviewed here).  The Waterdeep saga continues where Dragon Heist ended, taking characters beyond the fifth level all the way to 20th level should they explore the entirety of Halaster’s home.  Players will find a tavern called the Yawning Portal in the city of Waterdeep, named after a pit in its common room.  Not explored in Tales from the Yawning Portal, at the bottom of the pit is a dungeon known as Undermountain, the domain of the mad wizard Halaster Blackcloak.  It is here where monsters, traps, and mysteries abound in 23 dungeons, along with the refuge of Skullport.  You’ll also find Stardock, the asteroid that orbits Toril, and new magical items like the Dodecahedron of Doom, plus Halaster and eleven other monsters not included in the Monster Manual.

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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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The Strong’s National Museum of Play has announced twelve finalists for induction into the 2018 National Toy Hall of Fame.  Only a select few will take their honored places in the Hall this year when they are announced at a ceremony at The Strong in Rochester, New York on Thursday, November 8, 2018.  The National Toy Hall of Fame recognizes toys “that have engaged and delighted multiple generations, inspiring them to learn, create, and discover through play.”  The Hall of Fame, which began in 1998, is celebrating its 20th year.  Criteria for induction include: Icon-status (the toy is widely recognized, respected, and remembered); Longevity (the toy is more than a passing fad and has enjoyed popularity over multiple generations); Discovery (the toy fosters learning, creativity, or discovery through play); and Innovation (the toy profoundly changed play or toy design).  A toy may be inducted on the basis of innovation without necessarily having met all of the first three.  So who are this year’s finalists?  American Girl Dolls, chalk, Chutes and Ladders, the Fisher-Price Corn Popper, the Magic 8 Ball, Masters of the Universe, pinball, the sled, Tic-Tac-Toe, Tickle Me Elmo, Tudor Electric Football, and the card game Uno.

Reviewing the 65 previous inductees should provide you with an incredible flashback of nostalgia: alphabet blocks, the Atari 2600 Game System, baby doll, ball, Barbie, bicycle, Big Wheel, blanket, bubbles, Candy Land, cardboard box, checkers, chess, Clue, Crayola Crayons, dollhouse, dominoes, Duncan Yo-Yo, Dungeons & Dragons, Easy-Bake Oven, Erector Set, Etch A Sketch, Fisher-Price Little People, Frisbee, G.I. Joe, The Game of Life, Hot Wheels, Hula Hoop, jack-in-the-box, jacks, jigsaw puzzle, jump rope, kite, LEGO, Lincoln Logs, Lionel Trains, little green army men, marbles, Monopoly, Mr. Potato Head, Nintendo Game Boy, paper airplane, Play-Doh, playing cards, puppet, Radio Flyer Wagon, Raggedy Ann and Andy, rocking horse, roller skates, rubber duck, Rubik’s Cube, Scrabble, Silly Putty, skateboard, Slinky, Star Wars action figures, stick, Super Soaker, swing, teddy bear, Tinkertoy, Tonka Trucks, Twister, View-Master, and Wiffle Ball.

This year’s 12 finalists for the National Toy Hall of Fame.  Which would you choose?

The beauty of all these toys?  We did some of our own research and they are still available for today’s generation of kids.  Just click the toy name and you’ll find it available at Amazon right now.  Want to spoil your kid and get them one of each of the 65 toys in the Hall (or donate a set to your local community center)?  It’ll cost you about $1,390.  That total is skewed a bit by the more expensive toys on the list:  the current equivalent of the Atari 2600 and Nintendo Gameboy, a bicycle, a dollhouse, an Easy Bake Oven, Lincoln Logs, Lionel Trains, and roller skates.  Yet eight toys in the Hall can be purchased for less than $5.00, 24 toys cost less than $10.00, and 50 of the 65 toys in the Hall cost less than $25.00–most of the classics are pretty affordable!  And if you want to save your money, how about getting your kid a cardboard box, a paper airplane, a kite, and a stick for Christmas this year–they’re pretty much free.

What do you think is missing?  How about Spiro-graph?  The Fisher-Price telephone and See ‘n’ Say?  Shrinky Dinks, Colorforms, and the Kaleidoscope?  Finger paints?  The sprinkler?  Playskool cobbler’s bench and mailbox?  Hello Kitty?  Past nominees include Battleship, Care Bears, coloring books, Jenga, Lite Brite, Matchbox cars, My Little Pony, Nerf, Pez, Playmobil, pogo stick, Operation, Pac-Man, pots and pans, Risk, sand, scooter, Slip ‘n’ Slide, stilts, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and the top.

Here are the Hall of Fame’s descriptions of each of this year’s nominees:

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For fans of the classic monsters or younger players getting their first look at gameplay, a new coloring book is coming from Wizards of the Coast.  Dungeons & Dragons Adventures Outlined is arriving in game stores exclusively this weekend, and it’s arriving everywhere else later this month.

Look for 44 images to color in this 88-page book with artwork by subway graffiti artist-turned commercial and gallery artist Todd James.  The style of the artwork is very whimsical and feels like an exhibition of D&D as seen in street graffiti art.  Each image is accompanied by explanatory text about the creature featured by Magic: The Gathering card writer-turned D&D writer Adam Lee.  The cover image is a good representation of the pages found inside.

So get ready to revisit–or meet for the first time–characters like the beholder Grizzlax, blink dogs, dracoliches, the frost giant Blort, Saucy Jack, Mad Maud, a gibbering mouther, King Gluurbleblurb, mind flayers, owlbears, Mahadi Salimpurr, and Kronor the Brave.  Plus three images stretch over two pages.  Don’t expect a lot of detail, but for fans of Todd James’ art style this will be a must for pulling out the crayon or marker box.

Wizards of the Coast has plenty more coming for D&D players this year.  Here are some highlights:

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Review by Art Schmidt

This week the team over at Wizards of the Coast that produced the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons is coming out with the newest addition to the line of hardcover books which make up the rules and playable content for the game.  Fifth Edition is by far the most popular and widely-played edition of the grandfather of all role-playing games for the last few decades and may be the most popular edition ever.  This newest book is titled Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes, and its primary function is to provide nearly 150 new monsters for use in the game’s adventures, but the book itself is so much more than that.  Previous editions have focused their monster books on stuffing as many creatures into them as possible.  The more monsters, the more players will find the book useful, and (presumably) the more copies will sell.  What the current team has excelled at is deviating away from that “more stats are better” mentality, and instead focuses on the “why” of the monsters instead of the “how many”.  And Wizards of the Coast continues to pull this off beautifully in Tome of Foes.

Whereas previous D&D editions would have had the Monster Manual, and then Monster Manual II, followed by Monster Manual III, etc., 5th Edition has the requisite Monster Manual (reviewed here) but then wowed fans with Volo’s Guide to Monsters (reviewed here).  Essentially a book full of monsters, Volo’s deviated from previous norms and expectations in that it provided a wealth of information (re: text) about the monsters, their origins, histories, societies, clans and behaviors rather than just their hit points and ever-more-creative ways to wreck a party of characters.  And people bought in, big time.  The stories behind why mind flayers eat brains and how they manage to have a functioning society, or about the different kinds of giants and how drastically different their societies were and how they view their own roles amongst giants and their gods, were fascinating, and provided many a DM (and player) ideas for running their campaigns and players.

Limited edition, alternate-art cover by Vance Kelly.

At its core Tome of Foes still is a book full of monsters, but the background information it provides is just as deep and satisfying as that found in Volo’s.  The chapters on The Blood War and the Elves are especially valuable in providing players with more sparks for their imagination.  There are many new player options available in Tome of Foes in the form of playable races and sub-races.  Of particular note are the new options for tieflings (a playable race from the Player’s Handbook) and the gith (a D&D favorite dating all the way back to the 1st Edition Fiend Folio).  The gith are a race with two sub-races who roam the Astral plane with their silver swords, marauding and fighting each other in an endless conflict that sometimes spills over into the players’ world.  Tieflings currently have only one race option in the Player’s Handbook, as compared to other playable races such as elves, dwarves, and halflings, who each have two or more sub-race alternatives to customize their characters.  In the Player’s Handbook all tieflings are described as being infused with the essence of Asmodeus, the ruler of the Nine Hells in D&D lore, and they have one set of abilities for their race.  In Tome of Foes tieflings are provided with eight other alternatives, one for each of the rules of the eight layers of Hell that are ruled in Asmodeus’ name (he himself rules the bottom-most, or ninth layer of the Nine Hells).  These options provide a wide range of play for tiefling characters, specifically different stat modifiers and innate spellcasting abilities.

For the gith, the playable race is an interesting addition to the game, with two sub-races, the githzerai and the githyanki, the two original 1st Edition races of gith.  The gith are structured as other races, with a major and minor stat bonus (depending on sub-race chosen), additional abilities, alignment tendencies (though again, as with all previous 5th Edition publications, no restrictions or mandates), and of course, psionics.  As with previous psionic abilities, these are spellcasting abilities with a “psionics” attribute, which allows for casting without components.  In other words, a mental method of casting.  Although many players continue to clamor for a psionics mechanic in this edition, it seems as though the designers are sticking to their guns: psionics is just spellcasting without mumbling, hand-waving, and balls of bat guano.  And in the current version of the game, which nicely balances a wealth of meaningful character-building choices with rules mechanics that are easily accessible to the game-playing public at-large, this seems a wise choice.

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Review by Art Schmidt

Wizards of the Coast has been judicious in releasing a measured, steady flow of materials for the 5th Edition of the self-proclaimed “World’s Greatest Role-Playing Game,” Dungeons & Dragons (commonly referred to as “5E” by the roleplaying public-at-large).  WotC releases two adventure campaign books per year, one every six months (give or take), in addition to one rules supplement per year.  Xanathar’s Guide to Everything is the latest offering of new character subclasses, spells, magical items and a meaty section for the Dungeon Master (i.e. the person running the game for all of her players).

Aimed primarily at players who are looking for new classes to play, new spells for their characters to cast, and new ways to define their avatars inside the collaborative storytelling game, Xanathar’s Guide (or XGE, as I’m sure it will be come to be called) hits all of the expected marks.  Drawing on a wealth of material released by the D&D creative team via their popular Unearthed Arcana section of the D&D website and reprinting materials, primarily spells, from the Elemental Evil Player’s Guide, Xanathar’s Guide provides thirty-two (32!) new sub-classes for all of the current class types, including some new sub-classes not previously seen in the Unearthed Arcana material.

Unearthed Arcana was a hardcover book waaaay back in the early first edition of the game.  Similar to Xanathar’s Guide, the original Unearthed Arcana was an expansion of material from the Player’s Handbook, the standard players guide to the character classes and mechanics of the game itself.  This book title has been re-used throughout D&D’s over forty-year history, and its latest incarnation is the online “alternate rules” or playtest material which the D&D Team puts out for players and dungeon masters to use, experiment and, well, play with.  The Team asks for feedback from users on the material, trying to gauge game balance, player likability, and general “fun factor” of this material.  When material is popular, well-balanced, and fits a niche in the player character milieu that the D&D Team feels makes it worthwhile, it’s include in a hardcover book.  Such was the case with the previously released Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide for 5E, and it is the case again with Xanathar’s Guide, though on a much bigger scale.

In fact, Xanathar’s Guide re-prints a handful of classes from the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide as well, such as the Swashbuckler and the Storm Sorceror.  Ordinarily, one might fault a company for expecting their customers to pay money for a new sourcebook which includes a wealth of material already found in other sources.  And one might be correct.  Except that in the case of D&D, these re-prints make a fair amount of sense.  As far as the Unearthed Arcana material, the subclasses in Xanathar’s represent an updated, tweaked and in many cases streamlined class which is now officially playtested and provided with rules, which will make the material enjoyable and avoid headaches for players and dungeon masters alike.  Also, Unearthed Arcana material is not “legal” for the Adventurer’s League, since it isn’t play-tested, so those players who enjoy organized play have no access to any of those options until they are printed in an official capacity, usually through a hardcover book.

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volos-guide-to-monsters

Available this month from Wizards of the Coast, the second non-adventure supplement for the 5th Edition, Volo’s Guide to Monsters, adds new lore, art, and maps for more than 120 monsters–some new and some familiar–to flesh out your Dungeons & Dragons gaming.  Different from the D&D Monster Manual, reviewed previously here at borg.com, Volo’s Guide to Monsters will appeal to players wanting to read expanded narratives about their favorite monsters and spark their imaginations for future gameplay.

Stranger Things fans, if you’re looking for stats on the Demogorgon, you’ll need to look back to the Out of the Abyss adventure volume released last year.  But you’ll learn more about the culture, characteristics and lairs of Beholders, Giants, Gnolls, Goblinoids, Hags, Kobolds, Mind Flayers, Orcs, and Yuan-ti, guidelines for the heroic races Aasimar, Firbolg, Goliath, Kenku, Lizardfolk, Tabaxi, and Tritons, and the monstrous races Bugbear, Goblin, Hobgolbin, Kobold, Orc, and Yuan-ti.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-11-26-03    orc-page-186-thumb-688x902-519519

You’ll also find plenty of great artwork and maps accompanying all-new entries for Demons, Beholders, Dinosaurs, Giants, Kobolds, and Mindflayers.  An appendix includes descriptions of beast characters and another appendix includes nonplayer characters including Archdruid, Archer, Bard, Blackguard, Martial Arts Adept, Master Thief, and War Priest, Wizards and Warlocks, and a third appendix includes lists of monster stats by type, environment, and challenge rating.  Continue reading

Stranger Things cast

Stranger Things is a rare thing among plenty of series bombarding viewers of streaming services.  It would never get accused of trying too hard.  It’s good but not great.  It features no major actors.  It has developed a cult following yet it is not produced by J.J. Abrams (think Lost, Fringe, Almost Human, Believe, Westworld).  And for all these things, it’s just what we want.  We’ve had enough of CGI and big budget explosions and special effects.  Low budget is just fine–for now.  It’s that movie you are looking for late on a Saturday night, but stretched to eight episodes long.

More series like this will make Netflix survive despite all the competition from other services.  Stranger Things is good enough–good at sci-fi and horror and coming of age retro fun–to get you to sign up with Netflix for your next binge watch session.  More important than its storytelling is how the story is told, and the efforts taken to make the series, the characters, the setting, the dialogue, all look like it was filmed in the early 1980s.  Several artists have even mocked up the series marketing material into VHS tape packaging.  Were it a movie-length feature it would probably fool many.  It’s in the same vein as Disney’s Watcher in the Woods.  Like Stephen King’s Firestarter, Stand By Me and Silver Bullet it features kids in a coming-of-age setting.  Its monster/alien horror and soundtrack (available here) reflects the look and vibe of John Carpenter movies.  The marketing screams Stephen King, especially that red-on-black title font.  And it will no doubt gin up nostalgia to spur cassette tapes of its soundtrack like Guardians of the Galaxy.

Stranger Things VHS

It’s Steven Spielberg’s E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, if the story had taken a darker turn, and very similar to Spielberg and Abrams’ Super 8 (Super 8 poster artist Kyle Lambert even created the poster for this series to further lock in the look).  Critics have picked apart odds and ends found in the background of scenes–this item didn’t exist then, etc.  But ultimately the overall feel is very right.  You’ll point to a pitcher on the table, a rug on the floor, a poster on the wall, all that you had back then.  And the season one wrap-up is as satisfying as you’re going to find in a TV series.

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DM Guide

Review by Art Schmidt

Every gaming nerd in the world has stories about their first D&D game, their first (and usually favorite) edition played, their first character, first group, etc.  I won’t bore you with any of mine (I’ve got some pretty awesome ones, though!) but suffice to say I have been playing D&D since before the hardbound books, so it’s been a long time.  My first Dungeon Master’s Guide was the 1st Edition book, all two hundred and thirty-two glorious, black and white, densely packed pages of it.  It opened up worlds of possibility for my friends and me.  We spent endless hours exploring magical realms of perilous danger and heroic adventure.

I ran most of the games, as I had the Dungeon Master’s Guide (or “DMG” in gamer parlance) and a burning desire to create my own worlds.  We played the printed adventures, or modules, and then I created my own.  The DMG was a great help in this, chock full of tables, charts, and endless descriptions of magical items, weapons, ancient relics and fearsome villains.  I do not know how many tablets of graph paper I went through in my teenage years, but I always had some pages tucked in my text books, my folders, or folded up in my pockets, covered in lines and boxes representing mines dark and deep, full of orcs and dragons and swords of flame.

First Ed DMG

Remember 1979? We didn’t even have Atari back then. This was the BOMB!!!

Having spent the majority of my gaming years running games, versus playing characters, I have owned and used every edition of the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide (except for 4th Edition, and to be honest that’s not out of any dislike for that system but due to a lack of desire of any of my gaming group at the time to make the move from 3.5).  And I’ve loved them all, though at varying levels of love.  The original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D) Dungeon Masters Guide (note the lack of the possessive apostrophe; this was 1981 for sure) was a genuine first love, wide-eyed and unjudging and incapable of believing we’d even been blessed with such a magnificent gift.  It literally opened up worlds of imagination for millions of gamers world-wide.  Never mind that the book itself was a jumbled mess of disparate information, random thoughts shoveled into a solid form so quickly that no thought was given to organization or flow.  It didn’t even have chapters, but did we notice or really care?  Heck no!

2nd Edition was more like Puppy Love; it all looked good on the outside and added in a lot of things we thought we wanted, and we knew we were supposed to love it because we loved the game.  But the mechanics weren’t completely sewn together and there were some issues with over-powered spell casting classes.

DMG version 3 dot 5

If they made a Guide to all of the 3.5 Edition rule books, it would be thicker than the DMG.

3rd Edition was a nostalgic love; it was a brave new departure from the old standard but the system was broken from the get-go.  The wildly popular Edition 3.5 was a rebound love;  3rd Edition was dysfunctional and a rough break-up, and 3.5 was a welcome bowl of ice cream and a warm blanket.  And it worked very well.  But after years of fluff and bloat, the system became unwieldy and overly complicated.  Especially so for players and DMs who wanted to focus on story, but had to acquiesce to players who wanted to min-max their way to a War Hulk or Shadowcraft Mage build which everyone knew would eventually break the campaign (and the story!).

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Memetic_001_coverB   TMNT Ghostbusters issue 1

It’s a big week of comic book releases from IDW Publishing and BOOM! Studios so we have pulled together several previews, including Issue #1 of a new Edward Scissorhands series, Issue #1 of a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mash-up with the Ghostbusters, Issue #1 of a new Dungeons & Dragons series, and Issue #4 of The X-Files: Year Zero. 

From BOOM! Studios we have previews of Issue #1 of an intriguing new series called Memetic, and Issue #1 of 3 Guns–the sequel to 2 Guns, the comic book that became this summer’s Mark Wahlberg/Denzel Washington action movie we reviewed previously here at borg.com.

Legend of Baldur's Gate   Edward Scissorhands issue 1 cover art

And don’t forget to pick up Dark Horse Comics’ new Predator: Fire and Stone, Issue #1, previewed here earlier.

After the break, check out these great previews.

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