What is Table Top Gaming?
Tabletop Role-playing Games are a large class of commercially-available games. These are usually available only at specialized hobby or game stores, although a few (such as Dungeons & Dragons) can be found in regular bookstores. Game actions are taken primarily through verbal declaration (i.e. "my character climbs the wall"). These are known as "tabletop" RPGs (to distinguish them from live-action roleplaying) or "paper-and-pencil" RPGs (to distinguish them from computer games).
Tabletop Role-playing Games are played sitting around in a comfortable setting (often around a table but not necessarily), and what happens is defined by verbal description. i.e. A player simply declares "I am walking to the window", and it is understood that her character is doing just that. Diagrams and notes may be used as aids, but narration is the primary medium. These are often referred to as "tabletop" RPGs (to distinguish them from "live action" RPGs where the players move around) or "paper-and-pencil" RPGs (to distinguish them from computer games).
There is a wide variety of these games, but they have common features. One person generally acts as the Game Moderator or Game Master (abbreviated GM), who is the authority on the fictional setting (aka "game-world"), and has final say over what happens. A typical game session has the GM prepare a set of challenges for the players in advance. Each player (except the GM) has a single character in the game-world which he controls (known as a player-character or PC). The players then declare what their PC's try to do, and the GM describes what happens.
In practice, much of what happens is either descriptive or obvious results: i.e.
Player: I carefully walk up to the window and look inside. What do I see?
GM: [checks notes] You see a dusty room with a table in the center, which has a wooden box on it. The walls are bare, but there's a door to the inside. Player: Alright, I'm taking my knife and scratching a mark on this window, so the others can identify it later. GM: OK - done. [scribbles this on his notes]
Note that the player uses the first person ("I") to describe what her character is doing. This is just a common way of speaking. Some players use their character's name instead (i.e. "Davidson walks up to the window"). Of course, at other times the results are less clear. For example, the same setup could have more complicated results:
Player: I carefully walk up to the window and look inside.
GM: You see a room with a table in the center. There's a man sitting at the table playing solitaire. He has a revolver sitting on the table beside the cards.
Player: Yikes! I duck down, as quietly as possible. Did it look like he saw me?
This is the basic case of "action resolution" -- ...
It is a bit like cooperative storytelling -- by announcing and describing to the other players what you are doing, you become part of the ongoing story.
I remember the day I picked up my very first Forgotten Realms boxed reference set. It included some game materials, a really awesome map and a bit of background information to start your own campaigns. But never did I think I would ever see such an in depth look as Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster’s Forgotten Realms. It really is a masterpiece of Ed Greenwood‘s imagination.
Taken from Greenwood’s original notes from the late sixties, the Forgotten Realms were adapted in the seventies for game play with the original Dungeons & Dragons and finalized in the eighties for release with the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game books. By far the most popular and well known of all the official settings, the Realms are packed with well developed and powerful non-player characters (known as NPCs). This tome gives gamers a plethora of formerly unknown information, thereby not just amplifying our collective knowledge of Faerun but also expanding the possibilities in a campaign setting.
And when I say it is full of information, I’m not kidding. This book includes everything from typical foods to economics to everyday entertainments. Covering specifics such as how to become a noble at court and individual alliances between kingdoms, it also speaks to the more mundane things like education, local judiciary systems, and clothing differences by area. There really is something here for everyone. Whether you are a DM running a campaign in this setting or a player just wanting more reference material while reading the scores of novels set there, this is the most comprehensive compendium I have seen on the subject.
I wish I could detail every section of this book, but to do so would take far more time than if I just tell you it’s more than worth the price and your time to read it. Never before have I seen a section in a D&D reference book that described the variety of woods, children’s toys or types of rope and chain available. If you use the Forgotten Realms as a game setting or even just plan on writing a story or two based on it, this is the epitome of Faerunian information. My favorite parts are the scribblings of Greenwood from his original notes; it’s amazing to see how far this world has come in the past four decades since he first imagined it.
I really urge you to pick this up. As I said before, it’s the ultimate reference piece for the Realms and one that I think could be a crucial piece to any dungeon master. I love this book for the detailed look into this long lasting world. I hope you find it as appealing as I do. And to end this review, I quote Elminster: “Behold the Realms, from its lightless nether depths to the stars that twinkle down upon it. Make it thine.”
When I was younger my friends and I would play Dungeon! by TSR. I was playing Dungeon! before I ever played an actual role playing game, and I remember the fantasy characters and monsters had captured my imagination from a young age. I was crossing my fingers that this new edition of Dungeon! would be as awesome as I remembered it, but I also knew WotC would be making some changes. After all, this is the fourth edition of Dungeon to come out and it would have to mirror Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons (it even has the D&D logo on the game, which previous versions did not), whereas my version of Dungeon! was from the era of first edition red box advance-less D&D. So how does the remake hold up? Honestly, pretty well. What you will find as you read this review, is that Dungeon! is still an amazingly fun budget priced board game that anyone can pick up and fall in love with.
First of all, the package Dungeon! comes in is a fraction of the size previous versions were boxed in. The board is roughly the same, though, in terms of layout. The previous versions of the game had a much more realistic and dingy looking dungeon along with artwork of monsters here and there on the board. The layout is still very similar and the game also has basic rules printed on the side of the board, including what levels are best for each character class. I was a little sad to see how much more hand holding this version of the game is, as even in single digits I instantly got how to play the game and even make house rules for it, but I have to admit having the basic rules on the board is nice for when children invariably lose the rulebook.
Let’s talk character classes, by the way. The original game has Elf, Hero, Superhero and Wizard. Late versions of Dungeon! would change things up and have six different characters: Elf, Warrior, Wizard, Paladin, Dwarf and Thief. This latest version of the game changes things again. We’ve back to four basic character classes, but they are now called Rogue, Cleric, Fighter and Wizard. The Wizard Class is untouched from the original game, the Fighter is the Superhero, Cleric is the original Hero and Rogue is the original Elf class. The Rogue is the weakest class, physically, in the game, but has a 50% chance of finding a secret door instead of the two-in-six chance the other three classes have. I do remember that we used to play with the Elf being able to cast one of each of the three spells in the game to more mimic their “red box” rules, but that was definitely a house rule rather than an “official” one. It was the only way to get someone to play an Elf. The Cleric is just a basic fighter in this game, so don’t look for it to have any spells or healing abilities. The Warrior is exactly the same as the Cleric, except it has a better chance of killing monsters than the Cleric. The Wizard is not very strong, but it can cast powerful magic spells. These spells are limited, and once exhausted, the Wizard has to return to the start space to recharge his or her spells. One thing worth noting is that the magic spells in this newest version of Dungeon! are far more powerful. In the original they gave the Wizard a slightly better chance of success. Here it’s far easier.
So with all this in mind, you’re probably wondering why anyone would play a Cleric or Rogue. God knows we never played as Elves or Heroes as kids, except on rare occasions, because we wanted the toughest and most powerful classes. The answer is simple. To balance out their weaker chance to hit and defeat enemies, Rogues and Clerics only need to amass a total of 10,000 Gold Pieces in loot to win the game. Warriors need 20,000 GP and Wizards need a whopping 30,000! This means Rogues and Clerics can hang out in the easier levels of the dungeon (1-3) where enemies are weaker but there is also less loot. Warriors and Wizards will have to go deeper into the dungeon to face tougher enemies and deal with the greater risk and reward. If all four characters stuck only to Level 1, the Rogues and Clerics would almost be assured a win, as they would collect their totals at a faster pace, even though they are the less powerful characters. So basically, things are balanced out with the more powerful classes having to travel farther, face tougher enemies AND collect more treasure in exchange for more powerful abilities. In fact, with all this in mind, if you played according to the rules, the Cleric, with no special abilities or powerful attacks, actually stood the best chance of winning the game. Of course, I’ve never known anyone that played by the official rules. Everyone I’ve ever talked to had some house rule variant going on for this game, which is part of what has made it so popular and endearing over the decades.
Enemies and Treasure are different from previous versions of the game, but mostly in superficial ways. There are some new treasures along with new artwork. The monsters have been completely reworked. There are a lot of new monsters like Dracolitches and Driders, and the rolls for what kills a monster are tweaked as well. How Magic Swords work has changed too. In the original versions of the game, a Magic Sword had a set bonus to your die roll. The further into the dungeon you went, the more likely you were to find a +2 or +3 weapon. Levels closer to the surface were almost always +1 weapons. In the new version of Dungeon!, when you find a magic sword, you roll two dice. You check the result with what the card says, and if you roll high enough, you get a +2 weapon. Otherwise it’s a +1 weapon. Some may not like the randomization, and there are also FAR less Magic Swords in this edition than in other games, with only a single one appearing in Levels 5 or 6. Again, this is a minor quibble that only long time anal fans of the original version will notice or care about.
Let’s take a look at some monsters to better understand how combat works. A sample Level 1 monster is the Goblin. A Rogue needs a 3 or higher (on 2d6) to kill it. A Cleric needs a 4, a Warrior needs a 2, a Wizard needs a 5, a Fireball spell needs 2 and a Lightning Bolt, oddly, needs a 6 or higher. At Level 3, you might encounter an Ogre. Here a Rogue needs an 8, a Cleric a 9, a Warrior a 6, a Wizard an 8, a Fireball a 4 and a Lightning bolt a 5. In the foulest recesses of the dungeon (Level 6), you might be unlucky enough to come across a Blue Dragon. Here a Rogue doesn’t even get a CHANCE to kill it. Nor does a Lightning Bolt. Clerics and Wizards need a 12 and a Warrior needs a 10 or higher. A Fireball needs a 7 or higher, but still, the odds are against everyone here. Of course, with risk comes reward. A sample Level 1 treasure is a 250GP “Sack of Loot.” At Level 3, you might find a Silver Cup worth 1,000GP. At Level 6? 5,000GP emeralds are not uncommon. Again, this balances out the harsher requirements put on the more powerful classes.
Although the game doesn’t contain any of the house rules that have been accumulated and popularized over the past three and a half decades, it does contain some solo rules for playing a single person version of Dungeon! such as “Treasure Hunt,” where you try to survive long enough to find a specific treasure, “Timed Game,” where you try to see how much gold you can amass in a specific time period, and “Become the Hunted,” where a Level 6 monster chases you around the dungeon trying to kill you before you get the allotted amount of treasure you need.
Overall, I’m happy with the game. I’m glad they got rid of the new classes and PvP rules in the 1989 and 1992 versions of the game which really bogged things down. This is a return (for the most part) to the original late seventies and eighties version of the game that was awesome just the way it was. Playing this definitely brings back memories. Dungeon! is still probably best left in the hands of younger gamers, but even older ones can have fun with this very simple and streamlined dungeon crawl. With a price tag of less than twenty dollars, this is definitely a game any fantasy fan should be on the lookout for – especially if you played one of the earlier editions as a child. Nostalgia abounds here.
Fans of The Forgotten Realms RPG setting will be excited to get their hands on an upcoming supplement penned by the setting’s creator, Ed Greenwood, this month. Wizards of the Coast is publishing Ed Greenwood Presents Elminster’s Forgotten Realms, a 160 page supplement (although the sell sheet indicates 192 pages…) for Dungeons & Dragons. The hard cover will be on shelves on October 16th and carries an MSRP of $39.95.
The Forgotten Realms is the most successful and widely known Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting ever created, and it owes its existence to creator Ed Greenwood.
This 160-page hardcover book describes the campaign setting as it lives and breathes in the imagination of its creator. Through the alter ego of Elminster, Archmage of Shadowdale, Ed Greenwood presents the Realms as a setting where companies of crazed adventurers are born and have rich lives, and where they get to call the shots. In this book, Ed presents a world where friendships are forged, endless intrigues unfold, and heroes wage war against the monstrous inhabitants of famous dungeons and untamed wildernesses.
For those FORGOTTEN REALMS fan, this book provides a rare glimpse into the setting as imagined by its creator, with new information on its visible and clandestine rulers, various merchant and trade princes, the churches and mercenary companies of the Realms, renown magic-users and secret societies, adventuring companies, and the web of alliances and enmities that connect them. The book is aimed at all Forgotten Realms enthusiasts, including players of every edition of the DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game.
Dungeon Command Review
The game Dungeon Command is a miniatures skirmish game by Wizards of the Coast for two to four players. It takes about 20-40 minutes to play the two-player game, which this review will address.
A chief concept in Dungeon Command is that each player maintains their own warband; it is a customisable game. Players construct their warbands from creatures, order cards, map tiles and commander cards. The game is sold in set called faction packs. At the time of writing, only the first three: Sting of Lolth, Heart of Cormyr, And Tyranny of Goblins are available.
It is worth noting that miniature games, like trading card games, tend to require a moderate buy-in cost. It isn't the same paradigm as a board game where you get everything you need for all players in one box. You can play a starter scenario using just one faction box, but it won't really give you the full experience of the game. One faction box per player is really the minimum for really interesting game play.
There are a number of design decisions in Dungeon Command that distinguish it from other miniature games I've played. I'm not a big player of miniature games, although I've played a some D&D Miniatures, MageKnight and Heroclix over the years. Let's have a look at them and how they add to the game. This review does not contain a detailed description of the rules and gameplay. This review looks at elements that I believe are notable about the Dungeon Command game.
No Dice, just Cards
Dungeon Command doesn't use dice to determine success. Instead, all creatures do set damage with basic attacks. Order cards allow more effective attacks, special maneuvers, or defensive parries. If you and your opponent have no cards in hand, you know exactly what the result of your attacks will be. However, if your opponent has a card in hand, then comes some uncertainty. Is it a powerful attack? Will it allow a counter to my play?
The game will also work if you don’t use any cards, in the same way that Chess works: it is a game about positioning and maneuvering. The cards allow for more variety of action than the basic 'Chess' game, as well as providing uncertainty as to results.
Cards have requirements to play. Each creature has a level and a list of attributes, which the card has to match. A Level 2 STR creature can't play a Level 1 DEX card. The cards for each attribute emphasize different effects, and some cards relax requirements to allow play by creatures of a certain type: Spiders, for instance, can play "Web" despite them being DEX creatures rather than the INT required by the card.
I didn't expect this design decision for this game, but it has proved to be an inspired one. It has become very frustrating over the years with a single dice roll determining a game, despite all the good play on a player's part. In this game, controlling the timing of the game (and thus players' access to cards) can be crucial. It should also be noted that each faction has one commander that helps you gain access to more order cards (or at least better quality cards).
Growing Your Warband
Each player has a leadership score that is based on the commander they've chosen (each set comes with two choices). This score increases at the end of each turn, and determines the maximum levels of creatures you can control on the battlefield at one time.
This means that when a creature dies, the hole it creates can be filled with an equally powerful creature. Unlike D&D Miniatures and Heroclix, your entire force doesn't begin on the battlefield. Instead, you start with a small portion of your force and play new creatures as the game continues. There isn't a death spiral where once you start losing, you'll continue losing because you have fewer creatures than your opponent: instead, you'll have equivalent forces for the entire battle, keeping the game interesting until the end. If there's one design decision that I think really makes this game special, this is it.
Morale, Treasure, and Cowering
If you always have creatures on the battlefield, with new ones being played to replace those lost, how do you win the game? A second rating that of Morale covers this. Morale is lost when a creature is killed, an amount equal to the killed creature's level. Once your Morale reaches zero, then you lose the game. (It is also possible that when one player has no creatures left on the battlefield, in which case whoever has the higher Morale wins).
That's easy enough; however, the addition of Treasure and Cowering make the game tactically richer. Six treasure piles are placed around the board at the beginning of the game. By picking them up, you can increase your morale. You can also save a creature from dying by cowering - you lose morale to prevent the damage.
These rules work really well. I've seen fast movement creatures - though weak in combat - gather enough treasure to take victory because the slow-moving force against them couldn't kill enough to make up the difference. I've also seen players take 3 morale hits to protect a Level 2 creature because the positioning of that creature was important and losing it would hurt more than the morale hit.
A Game and Three Expansions
Apart from the primary Dungeon Command game, a set also comes with 12 cards for using the miniatures in the D&D Adventure System games - Castle Ravenloft, Wrath of Ashardalon and Legend of Drizzt. The Sting of Lolth set provides more monsters for your foes to face, but the Heart of Cormyr set introduces a new mechanic: the Ally, which adds a new encounter card to the mix that allows one of the miniatures to join your forces as a non-player 'Hero'.
And, of course, the miniatures are also of the proper scale to add them to a Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game (or the Fantasy RPG of your choice). Heart of Cormyr gives you a selection of heroic miniatures, while Sting of Lolth is a drow-themed set that is particularly useful at present, it being the "Year of the Underdark" for D&D products from Wizards of the Coast, and the Tyranny of Goblins gives you an assortment of goblins, a troll, and Devil to play with.
Customization of Forces
A starting box comes with 12 miniatures and 36 order cards, along with 2 commanders and 4 tiles. Each player requires 12 miniatures, 30 order cards, 1 commander and 4 tiles, so there is a small amount of customization available immediately. It just isn't that interesting.
Once you add a second box to your collection, you have a lot more meaningful options. You are restricted to having four copies of any card or miniature in your warband, and you get one or two copies of each in a faction box. Getting four of everything is likely to be frustrating, as you'll have a lot of duplicate components you don't need.
The secondary market will likely help there, especially due to the separate markets the components have: the order cards are only useful to Dungeon Command players, as people wanting the miniatures for D&D or the Adventure System board games won't need them.
All of the components in Dungeon Command are quite attractive to look at, although I've seen better prepainted miniatures than those in these sets. I very much appreciate how durable the miniatures are; they are attractive enough for my purposes, although good miniature painters could do a much better job.
The dungeon tiles have artwork by Jason Engle, who has been designing tiles for the D&D game for many years now. I love the design of his tiles and these ones look very good. I, and others, have noticed slight warping of the tiles in moist conditions, just enough to prove troublesome. This is disappointing, to say the least. The tiles are double-sided, with wilderness on one side and a dungeon on the other. I particularly like the set-up tiles, which depict entrances/exits from the caves and castles for the various factions. There are several terrain types on the tiles, which make for variety in the battles.
The cards - unlike those in the Adventure System games - are full color and all have original art on them. They really look very nice, and I appreciate that the creature cards have pictures of the miniatures for identification purposes.
The Right Amount of Luck?
Although Dungeon Command does not have chance-based resolution of effects, the game does still possess uncertainty, primarily in the order of creature cards and order cards drawn to hand; you can't play a creature if you haven't drawn it, likewise with the order cards. Not everyone is going to appreciate this method, which is also used in such games as Magic and Summoner Wars.
I enjoy managing chaos (rather than being managed by chaos, which is how I feel about luck-based resolution at times), and the amount of unpredictability in your draws can be ameliorated by the customization of the game and the way you can replace dead creatures. However, there will be times where your draw just works against you. It is something to be aware of before you play this game.
As I played more and more of Dungeon Command in preparation for this review, I realized how good the design is. "Good" then became "Great": I really enjoy this game!
The game solves problems I've had with miniature skirmish games before, and does it with solutions that are elegant and effective. The way you can reinforce your warband, the cowering rules, and the card-based gameplay make for a game that I really enjoy. Dungeon Command is an exceptional game, and I am eagerly awaiting the release of new sets so I can see more of what is possible in the game.