Matt Carlson: Virtual GenCon 2020 – RPGs

GenCon is here once again… but then it isn’t.  What we have is a virtual cacophony of announcements, YouTube channels, streamers, Tabletop Simulator games, and who knows what else.  Every year I try to scour the convention as my big hoo-hah of the year and try to cover as much game-related stuff that I can.  Well, there’s nowhere to go this year but I’m trying to make up for it by checking in with some personal contacts supplemented with a bit of web surfing.  Thankfully, we here at OpinionatedGamers don’t have a need to produce any video content of things we can’t see.  It’s old-school text-only (well, and a few pictures) from here on out.  Long live the written word!

Today’s focus: Role Playing Games

Fantasy Flight Games

Fantasy Flight Games just held their annual press event.  While the event was unsurprisingly boardgame-focused, there was a mention of the Legend of the Five Rings RPG.  There are two books arriving in March.  Fields of Victory is a book focused on war and battle.  It contains a history of wars in the setting, info on the Lion clan, new samurai options, and and obligatory set of mass battle rules.  The second book is Blood of the Lioness.  This is an adventure where the players try to deal with the various clans at each other’s throat in a war college (see the fit?)  The bad news in the news feed was that these two books will be the last L5R books published by Fantasy Flight.

Free League Publishing

Free League Publishing, best known (by me) for the Tales from the Loop RPG set in a kid-centered 80’s sci-fi vibe has now  released a Starter Set for the game which has premade characters, a sample scenario with a nice accompanying map, and a set of dice.    Their Forbidden Lands RPG (a retro-style fantasy game where the player characters more like rogues or raiders rather than heroes) just released the Crypt of the Mellified Mage.  As one might expect, it has players headed through dungeons and other weird places – including the twisted mind of the mentioned Mage itself.  Their ALIEN RPG has two new September releases which include Destroyer of Worlds – a scenario module that sets up the players as Colonial Marines dropped off on a moon to fight an insurgency that soon goes sideways.  This is a boxed set which also includes some nifty maps and other handouts.  The other ALIEN release is an ALIEN Starter Set.  It contains slightly abridged rules (emphasis on slight, it’s still 104 pages), reference cards and handouts, a huge map, 20 dice, and a complete scenario, Chariots of the Gods.  Finally, the Twilight: 2000 RPG will be releasing a new edition via Kickstarter this year.

Kobold Press

Kobold Press has been headed underground in the past few months.  Several supplements in their 5e Midgard setting were released with a definite underground twist.  There’s the Underworld Player’s Guide with new player races (like derro or mushroom folk), subclasses, and other options.  Empire of the Ghouls is a campaign that takes players from levels 1 to 13.  It starts under a small town and takes the players deeper through dungeons into the depths of the earth.  To compliment the theme, there is Underworld Lairs and its associated Underworld Lairs Map Pack.  This is a set of interesting encounter locations complete with a map and accompanying monsters and challenges.  The Map Pack is a set of gridded and ungridded images to be used as battlemats on your online gaming tool of choice. The Deep Magic supplement (PDF released, hardcopy in late August) is chock full of stuff for the 5e casting classes.  19 new domains, 13 new wizard specialties, 6 new sorcerers, and more options for casters of all classes.  Plenty of new spells (and cantrips) as well as some expanded treatment of familiars.  Just the supplement for someone wanting to be of the Beer or Winter domain or specialize to become an elementalist or timekeeper wizard. Finally, the Tome of Beasts 2 is releasing in November.  As the title says, it is a book of monsters and more monsters.  I’ve found the first Tome of Beasts to be quite fun (especially since it is also available on the online Roll20 platform) and expect this to present just as interesting opponents for my players.  400+ new monsters should keep my players on their toes.


Modiphius continues to put out expansions for its various lines of RPGs.  The Luminal rpg (a dark fantasy setting in modern UK) has a new Pax Londinium sourcebook which focuses on London itself.  The Star Trek Adventures line will be releasing The Klingon Empire core rulebook this fall (with PDF available now.) As a core rulebook It contains the complete 2d20 game system as well as plenty of Klingon-themed resources, options, storylines, etc…  There’s a new free scenario for download – the Kobayashi Maru has players attempting to best the classic Starfleet no-win scenario..  Mutant Chronicles has released several decks of cards to assist with the game.  Chronicle Point helps players track their Chronicle Points on one side and have funky alternate options on the back side.  The Locations deck has 70 different locations that can be sprung on the players.  One side has a handy picture to show the players while the back side has nasty ideas that the GM can use to mess with their players at that location.  The Dark Symmetry Deck has ideas to spice up the game for the GM.  In theory, the GM draws a card and then uses one of several options on the back including a fourth option that should ratchet up the situation.  Finally, there’s an NPC deck with a picture on one side and info about the NPC on the other.  New this month, the Dishonored RPG Core Rulebook uses a slightly streamlined 2d20 system to put players into the world of the Dishonored series of videogames.

Monte Cook Games

The publisher of the excellent kid-friendly No Thank You, Evil! rpg has taken their fallen-sci-fi fantasy world of Numenara and ported it over to the D&D 5th edition.  Arcana of the Ancients gives players rules, objects, and advice to GMs on how to incorporate science fantasy into their 5th edition game.  It also includes several adventures, including a larger one designed to help plug the Numenara setting into an existing campaign.  Beneath the Monolith is another 5e sourcebook that brings more of the Numenara background to people using the Arcana of the Ancients in their game.  The big news is that Spring 2021 sees the publication of Ptolus: City by the Spire in either the Cypher (in-house RPG) or 5th edition versions.  It’s an immense book covering the city of Ptolus which sits at the foot of a huge, skyscraper tower.  It is a great setting for someone looking for a fantasy-urban setting.  Magic is everywhere, used in laws and commerce, and the city is filled with creatures and races of every type.  (Oh, and it’s a huge book…  1000+ pages, hope your PDF (or real) shelf can hold it.)


Paizo continues to support its Pathfinder (2nd ed) and Starfinder games in its standard big way.  Just this month has the release of the Pathfinder Player’s Guide, Starship Operations Manual, and Pathfinder Lost Omens: Legends! and that doesn’t include several new Flip-Mats, Flip-Tiles, and scenarios.  The new Player’s Guide features four new classes (like Swashbuckler and witch,) new ancestries, 40 new archetypes including some multiclass options.  There’s plenty of new class options to go around as well as new spells, feats, and items (some new potions for the witch, perhaps?) 

The Lost Omens: Legends! book is a setting supplement that goes into deep descriptions of 42 of the Inner Sea setting’s NPCs.  Finally, the Starship Operations Manual provides oodles of new starship options (weapons, armors, and other fun bits) as well as new ways to run starship combat like dogfights or chase scenes and gives players more ways to use their character abilities to affect starship combat.



Wizkids doesn’t have its own RPG line, but what it does have is lots and lots of cute little miniatures for some of the more popular RPG lines around.  Minis based around the D&D Mythic Odyssey book are coming out this month while the D&D Rime of the Frostmaiden minis come out in september.  In October, the Pathfinder branded Legendary Adventurers release is of particular interest to me.  This set looks to have lots of cool humanoid figures suitable for player or NPC use.  I’m far more often trying to find an appropriate player or villain NPC figure than needing to search for just the right demon, slime, or other wonky beast.

In addition to releasing minis under the D&D and Pathfinder brands, Wizkids has started their own line of minis more focused on cool accoutrements rather than monsters or players.  The Warlock Tiles line comes in sets of 3D terrain that can be clipped together to make cool dungeons or villages.  The 4D Settings line is more focused on set pieces like a complete adventurer camp, large stone bridge, medieval farm, jungle shrine, etc…  Bigger pieces like a Black (Dec) or White (Jan) dragon can be a centerpiece of an entire adventure, and those reliving a huge castle siege might enjoy the Trebuchet or Ballista (out in Dec.)

Wizards of the Coast

The original RPG, Dungeons and Dragons, in its 5th edition, has slowed down its release schedule in past years but seemed to have upped the pace lately.  Earlier this year was the Explorer’s Guide to Wildemount supplement which had background as well as rules bits (classes, spells, etc…) on the setting popularized by the online streaming group, Critical Role.  Mythic Odysseys of Theros is a sort of Greek god-themed book where players can expect to run into and try to deal with gods running amok in the world.  Players can even get god-weapons, but will need them to go up against suitably mythic creatures.  Future releases include the November release of a new campaign adventure Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden in and around Ten-Town, up in the far north of the world.  A big crack in an ancient ice wall leads players down into a ice-themed dungeon.   It will take characters from level 1 to 12.  

A new boxed adventure, Curse of Strahd Revamped, appears in October.  This has the original vampire-themed dark adventure put together with a bunch of extra bits and pieces.  Included is a DM screen, poster map, and perhaps the biggest addition – a deck of 54 Tarokka cards which are used throughout the adventure to randomize bits of the story while also adding to the vampire-ish theme.  Finally, there is perhaps the strangest cross-over yet. Cutie Marks & Dragons is a box of five My Little Pony figures dressed up in D&D style costumes like thief, cleric, or barbarian.  The set comes with a special pink oversized d20.  It’s out in October.

Online Gaming

With social distancing and the rise of online tools, I’ve gotten back into role-playing through the use of online tools.  There are many options available: Roll20 and Astral Tabletop mentioned below, as well as discord servers or online-forum posted games.  


A newcomer to the world of online hosting of RPGs, I’ve been hearing a lot about Astral Tabletop.  In particular, I’m very interested in the game presentation.  It’s clear a lot of effort went into taking advantage of computers and web browsers to provide a very elegant interface.  At first glance, what makes it stand out is the ability to use moving images and effects for the play area.  Players can be on a ship and see the waves passing by, a rain or cloud effect can be applied to a map and players will see the drops or the puffy wisps of fog roll past.  Keeping with the map-focused features, it looks to be much easier to create a map on the fly than in other online options.  Designed for use in a web browser, it should work fairly well on tablets and phones in addition to PCs.  Several popular RPG systems are built-in (Pathfinder, Star Trek Adventures, Infinity, and Scarred Lands) but the biggie D&D is not yet implemented.   It can be played in the generic browser, like any other RPG, but there aren’t any D&D specific enhancements.  The site is free to use, but a $10/month subscription lets a GM have more automation options and gains access to features like 12,000+ assets, etc… 

D&D Beyond

Digital Dice Alpha Now Available to Subscribers - Digital Dice ...

What I consider to be the one-stop-shop for all things D&D, D&D Beyond is a site containing every Wizards of the Coast 5e release, typically the same day it is available in print.  Just this year a player-focused app was released on Android and iOS.  While not really a gaming platform and more of a gaming tool, it now has implemented a die-rolling feature that connects to characters created in the site.  Almost any case of a die roll on a character sheet can be rolled with a simple click.  I find myself using the site to create all my player characters, manage the character of other players in my campaign, and find it a great way to create and run encounters, even when I’m using another online platform.  It’s major downfall is that only official content is available on its marketplace.  Importing new creatures/items/feats/etc… takes a bit of work and technical know-how.


Roll20 rolls onward with new releases covering most major game systems as well as their own in-house RPG, Burn Bryte.  Made specifically for use on the Roll20 platform.  It is very much a “high-fantasy” sci-fi setting where Voltron, Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, and The Expanse would feel at home.  A skill based game (similar to FATE if you have seen that), Burn Bryte assigns a die type (d4 up to d12) for each skill where higher levels of a skill use dice with more sides.   For a given task, players roll 2 to 7 dice of the specified type and if any doubles are rolled the task fails.  The idea of skills are to keep them flexible so that players so that any specific situation should allow players the choice of one of several possible skills, depending on how they want to go about solving the problem.  One interesting bit is that if players manage to use one of each sided die  (4/6/8/10/12) in play, they get a “Nova point” which can be spent to perform particularly festive effects.  Of course, all this is built into the Roll20 interface to try to keep the game moving along at a nice pace.  At the moment, Burn Bryte has a core rulebook, starter adventure, and several sets of map tiles.  In a nod to inclusion and to be welcoming of players of all backgrounds, every Burn Bryte module comes with access to a set of “Safety Cards” which allow players to secretly flag the GM if game situations stray into situations uncomfortable to them.  This type of tool is something used by more and more RPG groups lately and is a handy way to empower players to make sure they get to focus on the game without worrying about running into situations uncomfortable to them. Of course, Roll20 is an online platform that has one of the largest content marketplace around.  The full range of D&D products, Paizo Pathfinder & Starfinder, Kobold Press’ Midgard setting and other supplements, Free League Publishing’s Tales from the Loop, and Modiphius’ Star Trek Adventures are all there.  Beyond the “big names”, I’ve found a wealth of cool bits like maps, tiles, tokens, and even a plug-in module that is basically an escape room.

Patreon Creators

The rise of Patreon (a site where creators can release things to “subscribers” who pay for them regularly) has been a boon for online RPG gamers.  In particular, I’ve found a few sites that provide some excellent maps ready for import into the online gaming portal of one’s choice.  Most maps come with a grid version (to print or where the interface doesn’t automatically put down a grid) or ungridded versions (for portals that manage their own grid or if you want to use a hex grid or some other unusual grid.)  Patreon typically has users subscribe to different “levels” for each creator.  Paying more per month typically gives someone access to more things or the ability to give feedback or make requests.

Tom Cartos Maps

A great source of maps as well as other assets (icons to place on the map.)  Most of his maps have several options (day/night/ruined/storm, etc…) and all patrons get access to all the variations for maps of their tier.  Often his maps come in sets that might cover multiple stories of a building or a temple with a map for the crypt underneath.  He also has an “Into the Wilds” series of smaller maps that can be used for small encounters or as tiles for a larger map.  Higher levels of sponsorship gives access to “empty” map versions that just show floors and walls.  They can be customized by appropriately themed asset packs released weekly.  At a higher level gamers get an adventure each month based on that month’s map sets along with tokens and other art appropriate for the adventure.

Cze & Peku

Some of my favorite maps I’ve used in the past couple months have come from this creator.  Each map usually comes in a couple styles (like day/night) but then higher tiers of support open up more custom options like rain/blizzard/magical/elemental type effects and/or accessories.  They’re great for major encounters or boss battles and typically run the gambit of grid size of from 25×25 up to 25×75 or 50×50.  One of these maps got the “ooh, that’s cool” response from one of my players the first time he saw it.




Dyson Logos

The first map creator I sponsored was Dyson Logos.  The artist produces hand-drawn black and white maps, some of which have been featured in official D&D products.  I like his creations because he includes a couple paragraphs or so with each map, giving some thoughts and game ideas to interesting bits of the map.  Note that almost all his maps are released for free a few days after he posts them.


DM Dave

DM Dave primarily creates adventures, monsters, and additional game options like classes, spells, and magic items.  The $1/month gets you two adventures, whild $3 gets you 4 adventures, weekly monsters, and associated maps.  The highest tier adds in the classes & spells & stuff.  One shout out to Dave, he often collaborates with other Patreon artists like Cze & Peku’s maps.  The most recent (free) collaboration is Frostgauntlet and includes the Cze & Peku maps and paper miniatures by Paper Forge (another Patreon.)   Another recent one was a short 5e campaign setting,  Arcus, complete with battle maps, city maps, and several options for sounds. 



As you can see, the world of online RPGs is expanding quickly.  I believe everything mentioned above comes as a PDF or other online option, which is typically nicer on your pocketbook and certainly nicer to an overcrowded shelf.  The lack of face to face gaming opportunities has been a boon to those who have been trying to expand into the digital realm.  In these times of social distancing, it is nice to get some social in there despite the distancing.

About Matt J Carlson

Dad, Gamer, Science Teacher, Youth Pastor... oh and I have green hair. To see me "in action" check out Dr. Carlson's Science Theater up on Youtube...
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