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Tag Archive: Wizards of the Coast


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 C.J. Bunce

Axis & Allies is a classic wartime strategy board game that you’ve likely encountered either yourself or found a good friend playing over the years.  First released in 1981 by Nova Game Designs it has continued to be re-released from the likes of Milton Bradley, and it currently is a game produced by Wizards of the Coast and Avalon Hill under the Hasbro umbrella of companies.  Thirty-six years after its release it remains a fun and competitive game in various versions of play with a loyal following, continuing to be the focus of tournaments at Gen Con and other venues throughout the year.  This month Wizards of the Coast is releasing an updated edition of the game celebrating the 50th anniversary of Avalon Hill.  The company had tapped Axis & Allies original game designer and creator Larry Harris to take another look at the game and develop a special anniversary edition with updated features and gameplay.  The result is the Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition, a giant, beautifully designed edition featuring plenty of extras, including two completely different games in one box as compared to the classic standard edition–one with a scenario beginning in the Spring of 1941 (the Axis attack) and the other beginning in the Spring of 1942 (from the traditional version of the game).  The detail and complex strategy allow for an unlimited level of historicity depending on the desires of the players.  The out-of-the-box version will test players’ skill in planning, including short-term battle tactics and long-term strategy, and as with the original game there’s also room for luck to have a hand in the outcome.

The Anniversary Edition, originally released in limited quantities in 2008 and out of print since, includes more than 650 game pieces, including some updated sculpts of tokens compared to the standard edition.  It’s housed in a deluxe sturdy box that features a gorgeous painting when the eight game piece boxes are housed together.  The gameboard is a whopping 24 x 46 inches.  Recommended for players 12 and up, 2-6 can play, each representing one or more of the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom for the Allies, or Germany, Japan, or Italy for the Axis.  As compared to the standard edition Italy is feature of the Anniversary Edition, which balances out the board 3 to 3 (allowing for more players than prior editions).  As with Italy during the real war, the prospects of a single player representing Italy winning the game in a six player game will be a real challenge, but we figured a cunning or lucky player may be able to make it work.  China also has a different configuration in this edition, allowing for further twists to the game depending on how it is used to manipulate the balance of power across the board.  The key update for 2017 is an updated rulebook correcting past errors.

You really get your money’s worth with the giant board, extra features, and 650+ playing pieces in the Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition.

We set aside an afternoon to try it: my friend (who is a regular gamer, but hasn’t played Axis & Allies in years) and I (new to wargame/combat board games) made it through two complete rounds in 6.5 hours, but that time included initial board set-up (punching out pieces, etc.) and reading instructions.  Those familiar with the standard game will have no problem completing 4-6 rounds in this time, which appears to be the norm for a complete game.  The winner of the game is the first to capture a set number of major city capitals.  Each side starts with a designated number of cities (based on which scenario you play) and players decide in advance whether 13, 15, or all 18 capitals is the goal, which may shorten or extend the time of gameplay.  Paper money is used as IPCs or “industrial production certificates” and each of the six major countries is paid each round to represent a rough correlation of the actual military spending during the war.  We played the Spring of 1941 scenario and this meant Germany was powerful with Japan in a good position to strike, but the United Kingdom is entrenched upfront by design as a military stronghold with resources that, along with the resources of the United States, kept the balance in favor of the Allies for the first round.

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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.

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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

curse-of-strahd

Review by Art Schmidt

Count Strahd von Zarovich is having guests for dinner – and you are invited.

The latest storyline in Dungeon & Dragons 5th Edition debuts this Tuesday, March 15, 2016, and much like the three previous storylines (Tyranny of Dragons, Elemental Evil and Rage of Demons), it takes a tried-and-true theme from the original edition of the “world’s greatest roleplaying game” and re-vamps it, adding in more flavor, updating the theme, and expanding it with many more areas to explore.  Curse of Strahd takes one of the most beloved adventures from 1st Edition D&D’s Castle Ravenloft and presents a large, in-depth and exciting reincarnation of the classic adventure for players and game masters of all levels of expertise.

The campaign book for the Rage of Demons storyline, entitled Out of the Abyss, was an excellent adventure, but that manual is thick with rules and can be difficult to run in several places, lending itself to a more experienced game master and players.  Curse of Strahd is just as well thought-out and immersive an experience, but can be handled by those with less experience and even, dare I say, newbie game masters looking to cut their teeth on a meaty adventure.  And CoS has the meats!

Waaaay back in the first iteration of Dungeons & Dragons (before anyone thought to call it “First Edition” because, hey, that’s all there was!), adventures were typically narrow of scope and limited to a couple of locations.  They were meant to be played in a single or handful of sessions, and then the game master would have to look elsewhere for another challenge for their players.  And most of these adventures were the stuff of pulp fiction; simple goals, thin plots and lots of monsters to hack your way through in order to gain the treasure and gold.  And everyone loved that.

RAVENLOFT

Then along came Tracy Hickman (of Dragonlance, Darksword Trilogy and Death Gate Cycle fame) and he had the audacity to think “Why are these monsters here?  Why are they trying to defeat us?  What’s their story?”  Tracy and his wife Laura came up with Count Strahd von Zarovich, a tragic but thoroughly evil and menacing figure modeled after the original vampires of Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel and Nosferatu of early cinema.  Then they wrapped an immersive story around this figure, with NPCs (non-player characters, for the uninitiated), locations and lesser foes who made sense, who thoroughly belonged in the adventure and had more depth than a set of statistics to be overcome by the power-hungry party of adventurers.  To top it off, they added a groundbreaking 3D map (shown below) and guidelines for adding an ambience to the story that no other adventure had ever provided before.

Thus was born Ravenloft, one of the most popular and loved adventures (and then series) in all of tabletop role-playing game history.  It has been re-created and expanded in almost every edition of Dungeons & Dragons ever since, for better or worse (as these things always go, more worse than better).

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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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Monster Manual cover

Wizards of the Coast gets an “A” for effort

Review by Art Schmidt

So let’s cut to the chase, shall we?  Your time is valuable and so are your hard-earned gold pieces, unless you are a thief, in which case let’s face it, it’s not really your gold no matter how hard you “worked” to pick that fat merchant’s belt pouch (c’mon, be honest, we both know it’s true).  The 5th Edition Monster Manual from Wizards of the Coast (or WotC, for short), which goes on sale on the 30th of this month, is a well put-together book, with tons of classic monsters in it, and is really a must-have for anyone looking to run a homebrew 5th Edition game, or looking to convert any of their existing modules/adventures to 5th Edition.  Go out and buy it, though please do not pay the $49.99 suggested retail price.  Most game stores and online retailers will have it for around $30, including Amazon.

Okay, so… if you are still reading this then I will assume that: (A) you don’t fit the Dungeon Master description I used above, (B) need some more convincing, or (C) you have some time to kill right now.  Either way, cool.

The book itself is nicely bound with thick high-quality covers which are a must for a book that’s primarily going to be hauled around from game session to game session in a book bag, backpack, plastic tote or other means.  So, it’s going to see a lot of handling and miles (unless you are nice enough to be hosting the game, in which case, Huzzah to you!!!), and it should take the abuse quite well.

Monster Manual excerpt A

“Knock, knock.” “Who is it?” “Land shark.”

The pages are also high quality, thick glossy paper stock and the book is lively and colorful throughout.  I was not a huge fan of the background on every page which was introduced in 3.0, but in this series of books (the Players Handbook and Monster Manual so far, anyway) WotC is not placing thick borders on every page which in previous versions squeezed the content and gave it a skimpier feel (lots of artwork, less content).  The Monster Manual is chock-full of good information and continues their current trend of combining good humor and retro-elements into the content, as was done in the Starter Set and the Player’s Handbook.  The references to the Temple of Elemental Evil, Emirkol the Chaotic and the Demi-Lich Acererak are nice touches and an appreciated wink to both older gamers and the previous creators and contributors who have helped keep the game going for so many years.  I especially like the disclaimers at the beginning of each book so far, which are quite humorous and show that while the WotC Team took its work seriously, they didn’t fall prey to taking themselves so.

You will find nearly every classic monster you could ask for in the book.  And while at 350 pages it is a hefty brick of a book, its usefulness to the Dungeon Master can’t be denied.  From the mandatory entries of giants, dragons, fiends, elementals, constructs, undead and humanoids of all flavors, to the more exotic modrons, yuan-ti, the warring githyanki and githzerai, and the ever-present but rarely used axe beak, the book has a ton of monsters across the spectrum of challenge ratings.  (Seriously, how many times have you encountered an axe beak in all of your adventures?)

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Review by Art Schmidt

One of the latest of fantasy pulp novels from Wizards of the Coast, owners of the Dungeons & Dragons brand of games and fiction, the Stone of Tymora is the latest offering from internationally famous best-selling fantasy author R. A. Salvatore and his son, Geno Salvatore.  Or rather, it was written by Geno and ‘overseen’ by his father, according to press releases and interviews with the authors.  The Stone of Tymora compilation was released October 2, 2012.

Originally published as three separate novellas (The Stowaway, October 2008; The Shadowmask, July 2009; and The Sentinels, October 2010), the compilation entitled Stone of Tymora follows the adventures of a tween orphan who has a powerful artifact tied to him while still in swaddling clothes and spends his youth alternately fleeing the artifact’s curse and then struggling to find a way to rid himself of it.

 

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