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 […]
Worldbuilding is about telling stories. Storytelling and worldbuilding flow from the same spring. When no one knew what lay on the far side of the hills or across the wide river, any story about those places was set in an imaginary land that could be as fanciful as the storyteller cared to make it. (“Snakes
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
In roleplaying games, sometimes the characters who make up the adventuring party aren’t all at the same power level. In the olden days, that could be because a few characters died and had to start over at 1st level while the survivors were at 4th or higher, because one unlucky soul bore the brunt of
It’s a piece of RPG legend that D&D arose from wargaming. Although that’s true, it’s a case of something not really meaning what people think it means. A more accurate statement would be that D&D arose not from wargames but from wargamers. After all, the magical spark at the core of D&D is that it
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?
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
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.
“All that matters is that today, few stood against many.” —Conan the Barbarian (and John Milius) Roleplaying games grew out of wargaming, and to those of us who followed the same vector, the pull of wargaming is still strong. But you don’t need to be an old-timer to feel the tug from strategy and tactics.
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
In an earlier column, I looked at ways to keep a road trip interesting. That article was about a standard walk in the sun. A different type of journey with problems and possibilities all its own occurs underground. Any fantasy world worthy of the label is practically hollowed out by a network of caverns, tunnels,
Like the Scarecrow, I believe that one of the greatest rewards for having a human brain is the ability to think deep thoughts. To imagine the big picture. To envision a grand machine in your mind and then command its wheels to turn and its gears to mesh. It’s the joy of invention, of imagination,
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
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
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
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