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Howling Tower: Apocalypse or Post-Apocalypse?

All my favorite RPG settings are either apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic. Yours probably are, too. Is that a surprise? Take a moment to think about it. The most obvious footprint of the apocalypse is the ruins it left behind. When was the last time you saw an RPG campaign map that didn’t have a symbol for …

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Howling Tower: Taking Players Outside Their Comfort Zones

Balance has always been a big concern among RPG players and designers. My friends and I had our first debate about whether D&D’s classes, races, spells, monsters, and magic items were “balanced” during our very first D&D session. We reached no definite conclusion other than that balance is a fleeting target. D&D is not a …

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Howling Tower: Mounts

When is the last time one of your characters bothered to own a horse in a D&D game? How long has it been since anyone soared over the mountains on the back of a roc or traversed the underworld on a lizard or giant worm? Has anyone ever even seen a chariot?

Howling Tower: Their First Expedition

Everybody starts somewhere. A person’s first experience with tabletop roleplaying will stay with him or her forever. That’s equally true whether it was good or bad. If the player didn’t like it, that player will never come back. If the player enjoyed the experience, the RPG club gains a new member and that person picks …

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Howling Tower: Setting the Hook

Adventure hooks are the grease that keeps a fantasy roleplaying game campaign moving forward without snagging up between adventures. When hooks work properly, one adventure meshes into another like the cogs in a fine transmission. Players transition from the third adventure to the fourth adventure like Steve McQueen upshifting from 3rd gear to 4th.

Howling Tower: The Tongue-Tied Bard

The introduction of skills into D&D and its offshoots solved some important problems in the game, but those solutions came with costs of their own. The earliest editions had rules for fighting and not much else. That’s not surprising, considering they were written by wargamers, for wargamers. No one yet understood what a roleplaying game …

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Howling Tower: Conan the Instructor

I’m no scholar of Robert E. Howard, just a fan of his storytelling and his best-known character, Conan the Barbarian. Conan first crossed my reading list when I discovered a shelf of dog-eared paperbacks at the local second-hand shop. I was still a relative newcomer to swords-&-sorcery fiction at the time, and Conan was unlike …

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Howling Tower: Placing Traps to Serve a Larger Purpose

The trap is a D&D icon. Classic dungeons such as Tomb of Horrors and The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan are famous for their mechanical ambushes. Traps are so central to the concept of dungeons that an entire class—the thief—was developed to deal with them (along with locked doors). In real life, of course, archaeologists have …

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Howling Tower: Plight of the Demon

Demons and devils occupy an odd position in the pantheons of most fantasy RPGs. For the most part, those terms are just two more names in a long list of monster classifications, not much different from fairies or talking animals. They’ve been stripped of their terrifying spiritual implications. That’s a shame, because their unholy aspects …

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Howling Tower: Old-School Renaissance

Old-School Renaissance A movement is happening in the shadows of the big fantasy RPGs. It calls itself the old-school renaissance, or OSR for short. You might have seen its logo popping up around the web. Like most grassroots movements, there’s no specific date when this got started. It’s tough even to say whether what we’re …

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