The first big expansion book for Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, has broken multiple records within the series and is now officially the fastest selling D&D book in the series’ long history. In order to fully appreciate the gravity of that first sentence, I must point out that D&D books have been in print for 43 years, since 1974. So that means that the big ol’ beholder on the front cover isn’t any kind of deterrent – D&D’s still got it, baby! As broken down by the source article from DDO Players website:

I feel this also speaks to the popularity of the 5th edition of D &D. Xanathar’s isn’t a stand-alone product, after-all, it’s a supplement that requires the base system to play and works with all of the streamlined rules that came with it. In it’s own way, I’m glad to see that as well because 5th edition’s changes from 3.5 and 4th are very welcome and intuitive and this just reinforces the work that went into it and I expect we’ll see it grow with this kind of acceptance and support. If you haven’t seen the new edition yet and you’ve read this far, maybe now’s the time to check it out while this thing is flying off the shelves, relatively speaking.

Wizkids, publishers games such as the D&D board games series and Dice Masters, announced a partnership with Games Workshop today. Looks like it’s focussed on the 40k Warhammer license.

“We’re thrilled to be working with Games Workshop and the Warhammer 40,000 license,” said Justin Ziran, president of WizKids. “This beloved franchise is known the world over and our partnership will allow us to create amazing products and experiences for fans everywhere.”

The multi-year deal will span numerous categories and include the most iconic Warhammer 40,000 characters and more. WizKids will create two new board games, along with dice games based in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, with additional plans to republish classic board games Fury of Dracula and Relic.

To read the announcement in its entirety you can click here.

Catalyst Games Labs has announced plans to publish Dragonfire, a Dungeons and Dragons deckbuilding game, in partnership with Wizards of the Coast.

The game will have three to six players selecting their race and traditional dungeon crawling role to form an adventuring party. Form a part of rogue elves, dwarf wizards and half-orc-fighter then equip your characters with spells, weapons and magic items.

Players will begin their adventures along the famed Sword Coast and carry on adventuring across the Forgotten Realms to classic locations like Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter and Waterdeep. As they journey players will be able to level up equipment, feats and other characteristics.

The game is built on previous Catalyst design Shadowrun: Crossfire. This isn’t the case of a game being pasted on an existing system though, as the developer’s blog makes clear that the starting point was defining what makes Dungeons & Dragons so Dungeons-ish & Dragons-ish.

From the developer blog:

…back in December, when the design of Dragonfire began in earnest, we spent a solid two weeks meeting every other day with white boards and just talking at a macro level. What makes Dungeons & Dragons, well…Dungeons & Dragons? What’s that ultimate shared experience? … What aesthetic, if missing, would tear out the soul of D&D?

Though no release date has been announced the developers have announced what they are currently planning to put in the box.

Contents include:

  • Dungeon 1 Encounters Deck
  • Dungeon 2 Encounters Deck
  • Wilderness 1 Encounters Deck
  • City 1 Encounters Deck
  • Adventurers 2 Encounter Deck
  • Market Deck
  • Magic Items Deck
  • Character cards
  • Adventure cards
  • Adventure booklet
  • Sticker Sheets
  • Tokens
  • Plastic Clips
  • Rulebook

Expansions are already planned. Catalyst Games seems to be following something similar to the living card game model path of Fantasy Flight Games or expandable card game model of Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Fans shouldn’t have to wait long, as the cord game and first expansions are will be sent to the printer simultaneously:

We’re sending multiple releases to print simultaneously with the base game. These additional releases will include such expansions as: Wondrous Cache, a Magic Items deck; Heroes of the Sword Coast, a pack of new character cards that introduce additional classes and races; and Encounters: Dragonspear Castle, the first of our storyline expansions that will include a selection of Encounters, Magic Items, and Market cards, along with a new Adventure that will advance the storyline. Future releases, in addition to those listed above, will include campaign boxes that will not only provide additional materials to enjoy, but will move forward the meta-plot adventure that will weave through Dragonfire!

While no release date has been announced, those interested in the game can follow what looks to be a regularly updated developers blog to track the game development.

zendikar banner

Wizards of the Coast owns two of the most iconic brands in tabletop gaming, and now after many years fans of either game can now enjoy the rich lore of Magic: the Gathering along with the flexible toolkit of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing system. Plane Shift: Zendikar is a free PDF download that provides official rules, settings, and information needed to bring the world of the Planewalkers to anyone’s RPG excursion. Most notably, there are now Wizards-ordained racial modifiers and abilities for the Kor, Merfolk, Goblins, and more!

You can think of Plane Shift: Zendikar  as a sort of supplement to The Art of Magic: The Gathering—Zendikar, designed to help you take the world details and story seeds contained in that book and turn them into an exciting D&D campaign. The easiest way to approach a D&D campaign set on Zendikar is to use the rules that D&D provides mostly as written: a druid on Zendikar might call on green mana and cast spells like giant growth, but she’s still just a druid in the D&D rules (perhaps casting giant insect).

The two come together like ice cream and pie, and I feel like the timing is perfect given the steady progression of MtG’s story and settings as of recent years. Fans of one franchise are rarely stranger to the other, and I’m particularly glad to see the marriage of the two come in such a convenient PDF format. Check out the official Magic webpage for more updates and information.

tyants of underdark

Tyrants of the Underdark is a new board game set in the Dungeons & Dragons Forgotten Realms universe. It is designed by the pair behind Lords of Waterdeep – Peter Lee & Rodney Thompson – and published by Gale Force Nine.

As heads of a Drow house, players will recruit monsters, cultists and demons to help them in their quest to control locations (such as Menzoberranzan and Blingdenstone), while managing resources to try to infiltrate enemy strongholds and kill enemy troops to gain control of their areas.

The game is for 2-4 players and will take around an hour. It revolves around players battling to win territory in Underdark and gameplay comprises of a mixture of deck-building and board control.  It is expected to release in Spring 2016.

To learn more visit here for the announcement.

gen con 2

‘Playing Roles’ is our ongoing spotlight on tabletop roleplaying games, dedicated to introducing this wonderful hobby to the board gaming community. We’ll be looking at strategies for getting started, interesting developments in the industry, special events, and other topics pertaining to all things roleplaying. If you have any questions, hit me up on Twitter at @GCPDblue.

One Ring to Rule Them All

As many of you know, this week marks the high point of the gaming convention season. Gen Con is, without a doubt, the biggest gaming convention in the United States bringing in legions of publishers, retailers, press, and most importantly, gamers. It’s an unbelievable celebration of everything we love. Whether you’re going there to play demos of unpublished games, get the scoop on upcoming releases, buy limited print runs of games, or just spend some quality time with your fellow geeks, Gen Con is the right place to be. What you might not know, however, is that Gen Con is home to a slew of exciting roleplaying events as well.

One Ring to Find Them

One look at the Gen Con schedule this year and you can see how much goblin slaying and magic missile casting is done each and every day of the convention.  Events are divided into Role Playing Games (RPG), Role Playing Gamers Association (RPGA) games, and Live Action Role Playing (LARP). What does all that mean?

Role Playing Games are what you want, especially if you’re a beginner. These are one-shot games that take just a few hours to play. The gamemasters that run these sessions provide pre-generated characters, dice, and everything else you might need, and unless otherwise stated, these games are welcome to experienced and inexperienced roleplayers alike.  All you have to bring is your curiosity and a positive attitude.

RPGA games are organized events. These are akin to tournaments, though not necessarily competitive, and are designed for career roleplayers to bring their unique characters to the next chapter of an ongoing campaign. These sessions are certainly fascinating to watch, but definitely work best for experienced gamers that are very familiar with the systems being played.

Finally there’s LARP, which is a special category of roleplaying that melds stagecraft with traditional roleplaying. Players participating in LARP embody their characters often through costumes, gear, accents, and other affectations common to live theater. Even the mechanisms of the games are adapted to fit this hyper real approach to roleplaying with padded weaponry, vials of colored water representing potions, special lighting and sound effects, and more. It’s not to everyone’s taste, but you have to applaud the commitment these gamers have to the hobby.

One Ring to Bring Them All

d and d

If you’re attending Gen Con this year, I recommend signing up for a session or two of regular roleplaying. The great thing about convention RPGs is that they’re meant to be self-contained and full of big memorable set pieces. As I mentioned earlier, these sessions are tailored for players of all experience levels (unless stated otherwise) and will often favor story and fun over rules lawyering and pedantry.

For a gaming experience that won’t have you scrambling to understand the rules, I recommend sessions that use the new Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, Fantasy Flight Games’s Star Wars games (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, or Force & Destiny), Fate Accelerated (FAE), or Savage Worlds for a good well-rounded easy-to-grasp experience. That said, no matter how esoteric the game or the system sounds, it won’t take long to grasp the rules and start chucking dice.

And in the Darkness, Bind Them

true dungeon beholder

Finally I wanted to spotlight something very unique to Gen Con: True Dungeon. True Dungeon is a live action cooperative roleplaying experience like no other. The organizers, consisting of hundreds of volunteers each year, erect amazing fantasy sets, covering over 40,000 square feet of convention space, full of devious puzzles and challenging encounters. Players take on the role of wizards, fighters, and rogues applying their specialized skills to defeat creatures and disarm complex traps. All of this is done through the use of item tokens, memory and dexterity puzzles, animatronics, actors, audio and video presentations, and props of all kinds. If you think of the escape room phenomenon that’s sweeping the country right now, you’ll be on the right track. This introductory video does a nice job of showing what True Dungeon has to offer.

Every year, True Dungeon ups the ante even more with harder to solve puzzles and ingenious interactive elements. With a brand new storyline starting next year, I can’t wait to see what they’ll do to top previous True Dungeon events. If you have the opportunity to give this event a try sometime, I highly recommend it even with the high cost of entry. It’s not exactly traditional roleplaying, but you’ll have a great time and that’s really what’s important.

d&d 5th

You Say You Want a Revolution

In the last edition of Playing Roles, I discussed the close knit relationship board games have with roleplaying games (RPGs). These tabletop cousins are forever bonded by shared themes, mechanism, and sometimes even designers. I made the case that board game enthusiasts that enjoy narrative social experiences owe it to themselves to give roleplaying a try.

Today I want to talk about the next step, because there has arguably never better time to get started with roleplaying. It’s no exaggeration to say that RPGs are experiencing a boom time right now. Wizards of the Coast recently released Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition with a ruleset that is more welcoming to new players than ever before. Fantasy Flight Games is riding high with their recent Star Wars RPGs (Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion, with Force and Destiny coming soon) that centers around an intriguing new dice mechanism that is also new-player friendly. Other stalwarts of the genre, like The One Ring and Shadowrun have also been updated in the last few years creating convenient jumping-on points for newbies and veterans alike.

Slightly more obscure than these juggernauts are several rules systems that don’t have IPs or specific settings attached to them. These so-called generic systems are perfect for applying your own unique worlds or adapting your favorite movie, book, comic, etc. Two such games are Savage Worlds and Fate Core. I’ll be talking about these and the above-mentioned mainstream systems in future editions of Playing Roles.


Today We Celebrate Our Independence Day

The real revolution in RPGs is happening on an even smaller scale. Independent roleplaying games (indie RPGs) have never been more numerous or popular. Thanks to the widespread adoption of tablet devices, the rise of sites such as DriveThruRPG and RPGNow, and the influence of crowdfunding, the variety and availability of small press RPGs has never been better.

Why is that a good thing? The indie RPGs scene is where a lot of the most creative and innovative designs are coming from. These designers aren’t tied to licenses, established fan-bases, or any pre-conceived settings. Not only do most of these systems eschew the complexity and crunch of their mainstream brethren, but they typically ask for a minimal investment. Sometimes no investment at all. The confluence of simplicity, variety, and low cost represents, for my money, the best avenue for interested board gamers to jump on the roleplaying train.

So where to begin? There are literally hundreds of perfectly legitimate first RPGs. You can certainly begin with the big dogs. Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition has a great Starter Set that simplifies the core rulebook and even provides and adventure to get the players started right away. Many other popular RPGs have free basic rules and scenarios that significantly lower the barrier to entry.

That said, there’s nothing at all wrong with jumping in with both feet and buy one of those 500 page tomes full of rules and lore, as long as you’re prepared to take the time to learn these systems and are willing to make the investment. That’s a deal-breaker for many, especially those uncertain about roleplaying. For them and for all of you, I have just one word: Fiasco.

fiasco book

Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn

Fiasco by Bully Pulpit Games is a Coen Brothers movie come to life. It’s a rules-light system, not much more complicated than charades, putting humor and collaborative storytelling above dice and stat sheets. Fiasco even contains a built-in cooperative world building mechanism that does all the heavy-lifting when it comes to crafting the story. It’s a quirky dark humor system that plays enough like a party game that even non-gamers will enjoy it, all in an inexpensive softbound booklet that’s easy to read and teach. For those reasons, and many others, Fiasco is a top notch beginner RPG.

In Fiasco, players begin with a “playset”, which is a series of reference tables that contain setting elements unique to a specific scenario. These playsets help players define character relationships, establish locations and events, and establish other details in the scenario. Each of these elements is numbered 1-6 in their respective categories. To facilitate narrowing down the many options provided, a number of standard six-sided dice (4 per player) are then rolled and players take turns spending the dice to assign elements from the playset.

As dice are spent to create wacky connections between equally wacky characters, the Coen-esque flavor of the game starts to come alive. More dice are then used to add settings, motivations, items, and other narrative hooks. It’s quick, collaborative, simple, and doesn’t require anyone to spend endless hours crafting a story ahead of time. There’s no traditional gamemaster role in Fiasco, meaning there’s no pressure or preparation required to get a game rolling (no pun intended).

The actual game of Fiasco is essentially improv. Players interact in two-person scenes, letting the established relationships and their own wild imaginations dictate the flow of the narrative. It’s not about winning; it’s about telling a fun story and seeing how crazy things can get, and you don’t have to be an accomplished actor or storyteller to create really compelling scenes. All this builds to a pivotal event, the Tilt, which sets the stage for the inevitable Coen-esque everyone-loses endgame. Sometimes the best you can hope for is that your already emotionally scarred character narrowly avoids a burning building only to get hit by a car. Fiasco is devilishly funny and creates some of the most memorable group experiences you can imagine.

O Players, Where Art Thou?

Next time you reach for that copy of Say Anything or Cards Against Humanity, consider taking one of Fiasco’s playsets for a spin instead. It’s pressure-free roleplaying that requires little time or monetary investment from anyone involved, yet still embodies all the best parts of the hobby.  As a gateway RPG, you could hardly do better especially given then endless fan-made playsets. There’s something for everyone, and chances are you have all the elements you need to play the game in your home already: people, dice, scratch paper, and alcohol…okay that last one is more of a suggestion than a requirement. See you next time!

Image found at: http://mothersofbrothers.com/crossing-the-streams/

Image found at: http://mothersofbrothers.com/crossing-the-streams/

Crossing the Streams

As fellow renaissance geeks, I’m certain that there are many among you who dabble in all sorts of tangentially related gaming activities that don’t necessarily involve quad-fold boards, colorful chits, and endless decks of cards. Video games, sports, trivia nights…any excuse to get together and have a good time is completely valid and makes us well-rounded social creatures.

Many of you also roleplay, an activity that is as near and dear to board games as peanut butter is to jelly. There are many reasons that the Venn diagram between these two hobbies overlap to such an extent. Many board games and roleplaying games have similar thematic and media influences. There’s also a collectible aspect to each that extends the life and replayability indefinitely. Both hobbies are also by definition social, and rather than offering a freeform experience that might turn off extroverts like myself, board games and roleplaying games provide a structured platform for social engagement and helps ensure that all participants have related interests.

There’s more to the overlap than just people sitting at a table chucking dice. Board games and roleplaying games evolved from a common ancestor: war games. Much like modern board game mechanisms, roleplaying spun out of an attempt to simulate many aspects of warfare. Roleplaying’s forefathers simply zoomed in on the action, designing experiences that simulated the struggle between one combatant and another. From one-versus-one, few-versus-few was the natural next step and thus was born the adventuring party that we’ve come to know and love.

As board games and roleplaying games developed alongside each other, each influenced the other. Today we can see roleplaying games like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 3rd Edition that actually includes cards and chits like a traditional board games. In the other direction, we see the proliferation of so-called dungeon crawl board games like Imperial Assault and the Wrath of Ashardalon series replicating some very common roleplaying elements: advancement, persistence, cooperation, tactical gameplay, and even the acquisition of wealth. Incidentally the publishers for both of these games, Fantasy Flight Games and Wizards of the Coast produce roleplaying games as well. The connection between these gaming styles is undeniable

So why should board gamers take the next step and dive into the crunchy world of Dungeons & Dragons, Shadowrun, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, and other lesser-known roleplaying games? The best answer, the only answer that matters really, is that they’re fun. Really fun! Roleplaying games are a platform for creative storytellers to weave grand epics and see those story beats come to life. They allow individuals to imagine strange worlds, evoke unique characters with interesting personalities, and work cooperatively with others to solve problems and discover hidden bits of story. As evocative as a theme can be in a board game, roleplaying games bring us even closer to living out our imaginations.

Getting Past the Gate

From an outsider’s perspective, roleplaying can seem extremely intimidating. Likely your friendly local gaming store has at least a few shelves of thick tomes full of complex rulesets and impenetrably detailed lore. Alongside those expensive books are miniatures, paints, gridded mats, weird dice in crazy configurations, and all the other trappings of the roleplaying hobby. It’s intense and can be more demanding on your wallet than board games.
war of rings figures

That’s a completely reasonable perspective, but I say ignore all that. Like board games, your investment can be as little as a $15 deck of Fluxx (not recommended) to a $2000 near-mint copy of War of the Ring: Collector’s Edition on eBay (also not recommended) and everything in between. You don’t have to go all in; in fact you can spend zero dollars on roleplaying and still have an amazing experience that will leave you wanting more. I’ll go into how to get started in another Playing Roles article, but suffice to say, price should not be a barrier to this incredible hobby.

The other element of roleplaying that intimidates many of the uninitiated is the perceived requirement to really get into it. Pop culture tells us that real roleplayers adopt their character’s personas like method actors. Accents, costumes, make-up, foam weapons, mock combats in parks populated by normal people- that’s a lot of geek to take on for someone who just thinks it might be cool to play as a Jedi for a couple hours on a Saturday afternoon. Well forget about all of that affectation. The only thing you need to roleplay is yourself, an imagination, and some basic social skills.

Roleplaying is really just a game of improv with some additional rules bolted on. It’s no different than charades or even the act of storytelling. It’s not hard and it doesn’t require an appearance on Inside the Actor’s Studio to do well. Chances are you’ve already done a little roleplaying and didn’t even know it. Have a favorite role in Pandemic that you’re drawn to? Have you acted like a pompous jerk while playing the sheriff in Sheriff of Nottingham? Have you felt a bit of a sting when one of your survivors dies in Dead of Winter? At some level, that’s roleplaying. Just like telling your significant other about the crazy day you had at work and getting an appalled reaction. You did it! Now how would you have told that story if you were a Cleric of Palor and facing down the zombie king was your day at work?

Entering the Arena

On more than one occasion, I’ve heard roleplaying referred to as “poker for nerds”. There’s even a Dungeons & Dragons podcast called Nerd Poker hosted by comedian Brian Posehn.

nerd poker
This comparison to poker is referring to the commonality of weekly poker nights that perfectly normal individuals have all the time. They’re playing cards, telling jokes, talking about the latest episode of The Walking Dead, complaining about work…everything you would expect from adults engaging in an organized social activity. Roleplaying is no different, just swap out “playing cards” with “fending off a goblin ambush”. Which one sounds more fun to you?

I encourage anyone with an interest in roleplaying to check it out. Look for meetup groups in your area, or pick up a rules-light game like Fiasco and try it out with your friends and family. Roleplaying is an extremely rewarding pastime with a ton of variety and a very welcoming community. They can played with kids and adults, geeks and civilians, and for as long or as short as you like. Just be friendly, be open, and don’t touch anyone else’s dice. That’s a crime punishable by death!

WizKids Games has released Wave 4 of the Dungeons and Dragons Attack Wing miniatures game, and after a long wait while the West Coast port congestion was resolved, these expansions for the game are finally available.  The three figures in Wave 4 include:

  • THE GARGOYLE: a “narrow-niche specialist,” the Gargoyle, while a flying creature, actually fights better on the ground with such benefits as a boost to its Primary Weapon Value and its Freeze ability.

  • THE STONE GIANT: a well-balanced giant with more survivability in exchange for a slightly weaker offensive capability.  They prefer to strike from a distance with their rocks and wield such abilities as Rock Catching, Stone Bracers, and Stoneskin.

  • THE GOLD DRAGON: the strongest of the dragons, Pacatus is a good dragon who possesses an inspiring and selfless battlefield presence, allowing friendly units or itself to heal.  Also included are upgrades such as Fire Breath, Weakening Breath, and Fair Warning, as well as additional spells.

For more details on the figures and upgrades in this Wave, visit this article at WizKids Games.


Wizards of the Coast announced the release of the newest Dungeons & Dragons Adventure System board game: Temple of Elemental Evil.

With amazing abilities, spells and magic weapons, you must explore the dungeons beneath the Sword Coast where you will fight monsters, overcome hazards and find treasure.

Available April 30, 2015, Temple of Elemental Evil will provide cooperative play across multiple scenarios for 1 to 5 players. The game can also be combined with the other D&D Adventure System games, including The Legend of Drizzt, Castle Ravenloft, and Wrath of Ashardalon.

Click here for full details of the Temple of Elemental Evil release.