Matt Carlson: Gen Con 2021 – RPGs

An example animated map by Arkenforge.

Gen Con started out in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin a little over 50 years ago. It focused on wargames until the mid 70’s when the first tabletop role-playing game, Dungeons and Dragons, came onto the scene, quickly overtaking prominence at the convention. The role-playing side of things remains strong, even at this year’s reduced level of activity. While most of the gaming takes place outside the exhibit hall, there were still plenty of RPG-oriented booths to peruse. Here’s a sample of what I found… Boilerplate excuses for all errors contained within still apply.


Rather unexpectedly, Arkenforge was the only computer map-making outfit I found in the dealer hall. Their primary product is the Master’s Tookit.

It is a full featured drawing program complete with build-in and importable painbrushes – such as one that can just “paint” a cliff edge across the screen. It runs on a local machine and can run two displays – one for the GM one for the players. Maps are exportable to common VTT’s (virtual tabletop sites) including things such as animations, lighting effects, and light-blocking objects. They are slowly building up a Campaign Encyclopedia which will have modules for sale. The first contains custom tokens, assets, sounds (through the Syrinscape program) all set up for links with the encyclopedia.
Coming in the next year or so will be the Player’s Toolkit which will allow players to have their own visuals of the game via a mobile app.

Beadle & Grimm’s

Beadle & Grimm’s has made a name for itself in the world of luxury gaming (bet you didn’t know that was a thing?) With the rise in popularity of Dungeons and Dragons via celebrities and “influencers” there are more and more gamers looking to make their games as fancy as possible. In steps Beadle & Grimm’s, and outfit that has hooked up with Wizards of the Coast to produce a companion box of material for each official adventure that is released. Boxes include maps, battle maps, map tiles, items, handouts, miniatures, and other goodies to make a more tactile experience. Some contain their own GM screen, customized for that adventure. The adventure books are also included in the box – often broken up into smaller books for ease of use by the GM. These boxes are loaded with “cool stuff” but don’t come cheap. For the recent Wild Beyond the Witchlight adventure, the Silver “budget line” runs around $175 with the top-of-the-line Limited Edition Platinum package clocking in at $500. The price must be right as most platinum editions sell out before they’re even released. I suppose the justification is that you have something that provides 10 to 20+ hours of enjoyment for a group of five people and it can favorably compare to watching movies. (Note, including the adventure books saves $50 or so as that’s the normal cover price for the adventure books.)

Some of the items in the Wild Beyond the recent Witchlight adventure. It is lower level adventure where players wander into a mysterious travelling circus and soon find themselves transported into the world of the fairies. You can see in the box above a playbill for the circus along with tickets, a cardstock stand up of one of the important characters/NPCs in the adventure, and a couple pieces of jewelry that play a role in the adventure.

Another open box with what I believe is the GM screen and a couple of fancy, pre-weathered scrolls to be presented at the appropriate time.

Dice Dungeons

Most of Dice Dungeon’s booth was taken over by various specialty dice, but they also had a few RPG accessories for sale.

Awhile back, metal coins were all the rage in boardgames. Dice Dungeons has repurposed the same manufacturing process to produce metal status rings for miniatures as well as a special “Inspiration” coin (commonly used in D&D to reward players for good role-playing…)

Dice Dungeons were also selling Quest Decks. These are sets of 45 cards with rules-agnostic quest prompts that a GM can use as seeds for adventure. They come formatted to be used as “Posted Notices” ready for placement at the local tavern.

Flagbearer Games

The most interesting indie-RPG I found this year Nations and Cannons. This is a magic-free version of 5th Edition D&D set during the American Revolutionary war. Rules are provided on how to adapt common classes to a mundane setting and includes a new class, the Firebrand, which is a character with strong political leanings. The book contains a number of lesser-known fighters from the war, which are provided as pre-made characters. Alternatively, players can make their own. Additional premade characters are available on the web site.

Parallel to Nations and Cannons, the same folks have created an iOS (or online) app called Revolutionary Choices. Designed as a learning experience compatible with a classroom setting, players have to make decisions and balance choices between all the competing issues of the time. Players have to struggle to recruit and supply troops, try to win over French support, suppress those loyalists, and finally defeat the British, all without trampling on peoples’ rights or fracturing the union.


As I mentioned in the digital game table report, BameBoard was showing off its 16.5″ square touch-sensitive monitor complete with speakers and multiple microphones in order to coordinate remote gaming. Bases are provided for miniatures (With 3D files to print more) so that they can be identified by the surface. Gamers with way too much cash on hand can link multiple adjacent tables to create a larger playing field.

Gemhammer and Sons Gaming

Gemhammer and Sons Gaming was a nice, slightly tongue-in-cheek booth displaying a couple of rules supplements alongside a cute assortment of small glass potion flasks filled with little sets of dice.

The Gemhammer Grimoire is a magic-focused book to supplement 5th edition (current) D&D. It’s a collection of lots of the expected new spells, spellcasting subclasses, feats, magic items, etc.. However, it also contains some new rules such as Epic Level spells and new spellcasting systems.

Rolok’s Guide to Violence is Gemhammer’s take on melee combat classes. Currently on Kickstarter (through Nov 14th) it is all about combat, with an eye towards the martial side of things. It has new backgrounds, 8 new classes, 16 new subclasses, new weapon properties, even new weapon materials. On the rules side, there are options for mass combat, arial combat, vehicle combat, dueling, even combat via performances. There’s also an alternative feat system usable by players and NPCs.

Kobold Press

Probably my favorite indie publishers is Kobold Press. One could argue they’re getting too big to be truly called “indie” but the point is that I find their offerings far more useful than any other publisher. Their Tome of Beasts books are great, full of monsters with cool abilities and I’ve made good use of their Fantastic Lairs line.

The Scarlet Citadel is a standard mega-dungeon set in Kobold Press’ Midgard setting. It has an emphasis on various hidden secrets and takes characters from 1st to 10th level or so.

Deep Magic Spellcards is a follow-up to the solid Deep Magic book that adds in a pile of magic spells in 20 new magic genres (like Clockwork or Alkemancy.) The Deep Magic Spellcards serve as a handy reference for players. Each card covers the stats of one of the new spells in the book. Spell cards are duplicated across each class, so any one deck is a “complete set” for just that class.

As mentioned, Midgard is the “official” Kobold Press setting. The book (and included map) has been expanded a bit (more encounter tables, for example) and updated to work with the 5th edition D&D rules.

Finally, there was the release of the Kobold Guide to Monsters. This is a follow-up to some of the other RPG advice books by Kobold Press like the Guide to Gamemastering, Guide to Game Design, and the Guide to Worldbuilding. This is a series of essays by luminaries in the field on how to run monsters at the table to make them more creepy, scary, weird, or just simply more dangerous (with flair, of course.) With so many authors, there’s a pretty decent cross-section of ideas from which to draw.

Loke Battle Mats

Loke Battle Mats had some pretty cool dry-erase maps on sale in the form of spiral-bound books. Simply take your book down off the shelf, fold out a page, and you’re ready to rumble on a battle-ready location. Shown above is the Giant Book of Battle Mats (retailing at $46.) It has the same maps as the Big Book of Battle Mats ($29) but cover a larger area. (In other words, the mats in the Big Book cover what is only the center portion of what is found in the Giant Book.) They also include a blank page ripe for dry-erase writing (and use of the static cling stickers mentioned below.)

There are a variety of battle mat books available including ones specifically for sci-fi or cyberpunk settings. Finally they have a couple offerings in a Book of Battlemats line. Each of these is a 2 pack of 12″ x 12″ map books which can be unfolded and laid side by side to form a 2′ square game area.

Loke Battle Mats also have a line of static cling scenery of various genres including dungeons, towns, magic effects, and war/siege battles.

Finally, you have the Box of Adventure. This is a collection of all the products mashed into one. It has 24 modular Battle Maps, and 300+ Cut out Tokens. These include monsters & NPCs as well as terrain and buildings which can be used to customize the maps..

Monte Cook Games

If like your RPG purchases by weight, the epic Ptolus setting by Monte Cook Games a great candidate. Ptolus: Monte Cook’s City by the Spire clocks in at 670 pages it describes a complicated city surrounding a tall, tall evil spire pushing itself up out of the earth into the sky. Previously available for the publisher’s Cypher RPG system (which has more story oriented mechanics) it is now available for the 5th Edition D&D system.

The book has labeled edges to help locate specific information in the tome. Sidebars on the edges of pages include additional info by Monte as well as references to other parts of the book. This is particularly nice in the digital version since they’re actually active links.

In addition to the book and a giant map, there is also a packet of material in the back. There’s about 50 pages of additional info in the form of fliers, maps, etc… If that’s not enough, there’s another 300 pages of downloadable content at their web site.

I am a fan of the imagination- No Thank You, Evil! role playing game. It’s squarely aimed at young gamers both with its complexity and its flavor. The base game comes with lots of extra bits to help and inspire young gamers – and even young Game Masters! The new expansion, No Thank You, Evil! – It’s Raining Cats and Dinosaurs! is a new supplement containing two new adventures, a story book a big 2 sided map (one side B&W to color in) and a slew of stickers, standees, and assorted items.

Nomnivore Games

Emberwind is a new RPG that tries to be rules-light while still retaining fairly robust tactical combat. It’s based in a post-apocalyptic fantasy world and, of interest to me, has options for GM-less play. Opponents are managed by rolling a die against an expanding hexagonal grid that will determine foe’s choices in battle.

While the main challenges are resolved with a d20, here rolling low is good. In addition to results that determine a hit or miss, results can also include penetrating effects or critical hits (which result in maximum damage.) Players can use one of eight premade characters (with 2 variations each) or build their own with the help of online tools. There seems to be plenty of player options. There are nine classes with 28 subclasses available. Each class has a large list of special abilities and traits, and players choose six to start. More are gained as players gain experience. From an adventure standpoint, there are several prewritten ones ranging from a quick adventure lasting a few hours of play up to a larger 5-10 hour campaign with five possible endings. Each are listed as GM-optional are supposedly playable as a learn-as-you-go experience. The two major campaigns The Songweave Tapestry (solving a city murder case) and The Skies of Axia (try to save a floating city that is losing power) are stand-alone but can be linked (or at least linked-adjacent) to combine into one.

An example opponent showing the hexagonal decision tree for its action. A d6 is rolled to determine the opponents behavior in an encounter.

A premade character complete with stats and special abilities.

RAD Dice & Gaming

New to me, the idea of a “dice throne” has really caught on in the RPG community. (Well, it’s caught on in the retail side of things anyway.) I guess the thinking is that gamers keep buying more and more expensive dice and now they need something special to help display them. Whether it is a fancy carrying case, or even just something to set them on while you’re gaming at the table, there are now many options. RAD Dice & Gaming had a wide variety of 3D printed (and custom painted) storage and display options.

On the left is a Holy d20 Hand Grenade that can be twisted open to reveal one’s dice. In the middle you see a brown “egg” separated into its three components (that clamp together using powerful magnets.) One “egg” holds two complete sets of dice. There were eggs of all colors and paint schemes.

Studio Woe

Studio Woe was showing off scented dice, of all things (watch this space for some more info on crazy dice at Gen Con.) However, they also were giving previews of their upcoming line of Treasure Trackers. These are standard playing cards that are combined with plastic clips that can be slid up and down the sides to keep track of values. The promotional one given away at the convention is intended to track treasure (surprise) but the plan is to run a Kickstater in early 2022 to release an entire line of cards – tracking health, initiative, whatever they can come up with. I like the low-tech solution to the problem when so many people are trying to make game aids that are far over-produced for my tastes.


And now we come to WizKids. It is always impressive to check out their booth. They are known for their mastery of plastic, providing all sorts of gaming delectables ranging from small character miniatures up to huge set pieces. While they used to simply produce character and monster miniatures for the D&D and Pathfinder product lines, they have branched out into papercraft, modular dungeon tiles, playmats, and even large dioramas suitable for a climatic battle or home base.

Wizkids papercraft buildings are relatively new. The house shown above was given out as part of a Free RPG Day package for retailers. There are a couple sets other papercraft set available for constructing buildings and items from the Icewind Dale D&D campaign.

In their generic line of gaming accessories (WarLock) is a series of Warlock Tiles: Game Mat. Each neoprene mat is 2′ square displaying the terrain on one side and a non-slip backing on the other. There are several mats available ranging from forests to tundra to water. Upcoming mats include magma, acid, and cave (dirt.)

December’s special figurine will be a golden dragon, complete with a detachable head allowing one to switch between roaring and fire breathing. Note the dragon rests on one of those forest battle mats.

Miniature only in comparison to a standard D&D mini, Icons of the Realms: Gargantuan Tiamat (queen of dragons) stands 14 inches tall and has a wingspan of more than 28 inches. With an extra-large base, make sure no one in the party has a heart condition before plopping this thing down onto the table. Look for her to appear in stores in late December. (Expect her to to cost a pretty penny as well.)

Not everyone can afford a large set of plastic minis, and Wizkids now has a pretty cool budget solution. While cardboard tokens or stand-ups will do in a pinch, Wizkids now has a line of 2D acrylic minis. Painted on both sides of clear acrylic, these definitely “pop” when placed onto a table. In fact, because of the flat, clear background, the painted images are arguably prettier than the equivalent opaque plastic minis. Currently there are five sets available. Three based around the polar tundra towns of Icewind Dale and four based around generic, common “essential” monsters. Each set has two sheets of pop-out acrylic for a total of around 14 minis. While not exactly “cheap” at $15 per set they are far more affordable than the standard plastic minis.

The popular Critical Role podcast (where semi-famous people play D&D together) has a huge following and spawned an entire official D&D book. Wizkids is releasing in November a line of minis to accompany the game’s setting. There are a mix of monsters and NPCs available.

With no in-person Gen Con last year I missed out on seeing this impressive tower, showing up in retailers last winter

November sees a release of The Yawning Portal – a key location in the large city of Waterdeep in the main D&D setting. It comes complete with the famous central pit into the upper dungeons of the Mad Mage. There are additional sets that add in more bits and pieces to the setting such as bars, tables, beds, and various NPCs

Wizkids occasionally produces things to trick out a gaming room rather than the gaming table. In the past there have been mounted dragon heads and assorted monsters. This 12″ githyanki stature is a replica of the one featured on the cover of the original D&D Fiend Folio many moons ago.

And on that plastic figurine high, we’ll say adieu to our official Gen Con coverage for another year. I hope you have found something of interest or entertainment. Did you have a favorite part of Gen Con I missed? Feel free to let me know in the comments below…

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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4 Responses to Matt Carlson: Gen Con 2021 – RPGs

  1. geocost1 says:

    Truly impressive summary. Wish money were no object, eh!

  2. geocost1 says:

    Truly impressive overview, thanks so much! Makes one wish that money were no object eh?

    • You’re welcome!

      Yeah, even the money part wouldn’t be enough for me… at some point storage becomes an obstacle. (I have a few minis and did some terrain kickstarters and am now nearly overwhelmed with “stuff”… )

      • geocost1 says:

        I understand. My wife and I agreed about 5 years ago to store all gaming related items in a armoire. We cleared it out, and had to make some tough choices of what stayed and what went. After the initial 20 or so games it was easy (and nice to see extra cash from games we hadn’t played in years). Now it is definitely much more manageable.

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