I feel like an old grump, but everything is going online and streaming nowadays. The world of RPGs is no different. Groups like Critical Role far outstrip the viewership of any of the traditional boardgame-coverage channels. (By my estimate, 600,000 subscribers and regularly hitting 1,000,000 views on YouTube is about 5x the viewership of one of the bigger boardgame channels and that doesn’t include a significant streaming viewership.)
It is only appropriate to mention the RPGs at GenCon as the convention gave birth to the genre back in the 70s. Gencon has traditionally been THE place to buy, play, and learn about RPGs ever since. Here’s what the “big names” are doing as well as some smaller titles and various tools and accessories for gaming.
The biggest presence at the convention by far was one again Paizo. Their big news was a release of the much anticipated update to their core rules: the 640 page behemoth, Pathfinder 2nd Edition. It is accompanied by the 360 page Pathfinder Bestiary, which has over 400 monsters, which are hoped to be presented in a more intuitive layout.
The idea was to make the game more accessible. The original Pathfinder ruleset came about when Dungeons and Dragons went into almost a videogame-style 4th edition. Pathfinder updated and expanded on the more complex D&D 3rd Edition and Paizo decided that much could be done to adjust the game to be easier to enter. To that end, character generation has been improved. The Pathfinder emphasis on giving players the ability to specialize and create the character they want is still there, but the way that character generation is presented makes it easier for new players. The “ABCs” as Paizo likes to put it has players determining their ancestry, their background, and their class and then use those three main points to build a character. Of course, players are still allowed to go off the rails and mash together whatever they see fit. Another improvement is to simplify the “action pool.” Rather than having many different types of actions (movement action, bonus action, quick action, etc…) players now get three actions on their turn and everything is respective to that. For example, it might be one action to swing a sword, but two actions to cast a spell (thus you typically can only cast one spell a turn.) Some of the flexibility is preserved but with less overhead.
If you’re just wanted to peruse the rules, the Archive of Nethys is a web site that hosts the open-license portion of the 2nd edition rules. (It’s missing most of the story elements of the world and its creatures.) The Pathfinder Society’s (the player league) also offers up Quest 1A: The Sandstone Secret as an inexpensive (like $2 or so) adventure download which will take players about an hour to complete.
Of course, there is no end of supporting material to the new release. You can get a GM’s screen in either portrait or landscape orientation. A brand new initiative tracker takes into account some of the new rules, like the effect of traps, etc… The recommended beginning adventure Fall of Plaguestone, a starter adventure played out over three chapters, takes advantage of a new Flip-Mat (the line of wet/dry/permanent erase encounter maps.) The new campaign arc, Age of Ashes, starts out with Hellknight Hill and will bring the players up against cultists, slavers, and dragons.
On August 28th, the Lost Omens World Guide will appear, which covers the overall setting for 2nd Edition. As the new edition is printed 10 years after the first, the world of Pathfinder has also aged 10 years. There is also an upcoming Lost Omens Character Guide (October-ish) which gives players even more character options, of which Pathfinder players are so fond.
The online gaming site, Roll20, already has a plethora of Pathfinder 2nd edition options available. The site, designed for players to play tabletop RPGs online with each other through voice, video, and an online tabletop has the 2nd edition rules ready to go in their character sheets. Most of the initial adventure and map releases will also be available to purchase and use in one’s account (along with the expected searching and lookup features.) Of course, all the recent content for Dungeons and Dragons is also available. In other news, in order to make their site easier to use for other publishers, Roll20 has been developing their own RPG system. This allows them to “see what it’s like” and then they can redesign or add tools for new publishers in the future. Burn Bright is currently in “beta testing” but is planned to release at Roll20Con, an online-only convention hosted by the site in October.
And speaking of Dungeons and Dragons, Wizards of the Coast was again conspicuously absent from the convention that originally birthed the idea of an RPG. That doesn’t mead they are resting on their laurels. Last May, the nautical-themed adventure, Ghosts of Saltmarsh was released that provides levels 1 to 12 a seaside adventure complete with additional rules for dealing with ships. Not to be left out of the rush to co-brand with the folks at Penny Arcade, June marked the release of the Acquisitions Incorporated sourcebook which paints an irreverent picture of life in a corporate-centered adventuring party.
June also marked the release (in Target, everywhere else September 3rd) the Dungeons & Dragons Essentials Kit. This is a new take on the introduction to game, with a slightly different bent than the original D&D Starter Kit. The Essentials kit contains maps, a short (64 page) rulebook, a DM screen, a set of dice, an introductory adventure, and a set of notecards with a box to hold them in. In contrast to the Starter Set which provided pre-generated characters (although you could make your own), the Essentials kit spends time helping new players through the steps of character creation, giving new players an easier time of creating their own take on a character. The set of cards has pictures and descriptions of the characters and items found in the included adventure, but there are also cards which would be useful in future adventures. For example, some cards describe common “conditions” (like stunned or poisoned) to give out to players for easy reference.
Upcoming releases include the adventure Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus that begins in the town of the popular videogame franchise and ends with characters journeying into the depths of Hell itself – possibly even getting ahold of mech-like giant infernal robots to drive around. If that isn’t enough co-branding for you, (and you missed this past summer’s Stranger Things Starter Set) the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons vs Rick and Morty is a complete boxed set of an adventure levels 1-3 for those who have a high tolerance for the modern cartoon genre.
Not technically published by Wizards of the Coast, but Ten Speed Press has licenced the brand to produce a series of books targeted at the youngest set of gamers (or pre-gamers.) The Young Adventurer’s Guides series currently has released Warriors & Weapons (mostly about martial characters) and Monsters & Creatures. Dungeons and Tombs (covering castles, dungeons, traps, etc…) will appear at the end of November.
The Swedish-based Free League Publishing was in the right place at the right time when they published Tales from the Loop shortly after the release of Stranger Things on Netflix. (With the books published in English from Modiphius Entertainment.) Tales from the Loop is a role playing game based off the surreal art of Simon Stålenhag. The game focuses on kids in the 80s learning to deal with strange robotic creatures appearing in the mists surrounding their town.
A new sequel, Things from the Flood, carries the world 10 years into the future and once again has young teens exploring the exotic locale in the 90s. If you like the genre, Amazon is reportedly working on a television show based on the books. In the meantime, there are several other lines of RPGS, with Mutant Year Zero one of their most popular. Its apocalyptic setting has characters based in a secluded environment of the Ark where they can play in the midst of the intrigue there or venture out into the unknown wasteland. Coming soon (directly from Free League Publishing, I believe) is an RPG based on the sci-fi Aliens franchise. While Modiphius was released a Mad-Max style game, Devil’s Run RPG based around the miniatures game of the same name.
There were many more big and small publishers at the convention, and I was only surfing along the top of them. However, one booth I found interesting was Game to Grow. It is a non-profit that uses RPGs as therapy for kids to early adults. While they’re based in the Pacific Northwest, they also do training and consulting further afield. They had some interesting little life counters in their booth that were two gears, one inside the other, that were set up with matching internal magnets so that the inner gear “clicks” into place as it ascends in numbers. They were nice and heavy so felt good, but I wasn’t about to drop the $40 they cost.
There were plenty more RPGs, big and small, at the convention. This year I caught fewer of them than usual. Apologies for any I’ve missed, feel free to pass on your wisdom in the comments!