Twenty-Two Indie Games We’re Excited for in 2015

No Man’s Sky

Firewatch

Witness

Inside

Mighty No. 9

Superhot

That Dragon, Cancer

Hyper Light Drifter

Cuphead

Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

SOMA

Apotheon

Below

Darkest Dungeon

Chromo Squad

Shelter 2

Convoy

Dollhouse

Mushroom 11

Chasm

Distance

 

 

ethancarter7

The 2014 Platinum Jetpack Awards

2014 was a wild year for the gaming industry. So-called “Next-Gen” consoles floundered with a lack of quality content, while the previously maligned Nintendo offering, the Wii U, rose like a phoenix with maddeningly awesome first party titles. PC sales continued to grow – Steam posted a record 8.5 million concurrent users – strengthened by an indie scene that at times felt stretched thin. More games were released in the first three months of 2014 than in all of 2013 combined and many journalists began to ponder if we were on the precipice of an indie crash. That never happened, and if anything, the opposite was proven true. Independent creators are as innovative and resilient as ever.

Collectively, we also strode through the bullshit of GamerGate. It’s not over by any means, but things do seem to be quieting down. It’s time to refocus our attention to building a better gaming community, inclusive of everyone and free of the kind of sickening threats we saw throughout the autumn and beyond.

Regardless of trends and controversies, regardless of internet drama and negativity, there were tons of great games to be celebrated this year. As such, we present the second annual Platinum Jetpack Awards.

Here’s a reminder of what they are:

“We like to do things a little differently at Jetpack Joust. We question the status quo. As we started to peak into the New Year, websites across the internet began to post their yearly “Top 5” or “Top 10” Games of the Year. People love lists. They especially love lists that are ranked; because it inspires competition. But gaming has grown to a point where experiences are so varied that stacking one next to another feels dishonest and insincere. Instead, we want to celebrate the previous year’s accomplishments; not by how much better a game is than its compatriots, but by what it added to the culture and to the discussion of games’ as art.

Keep in mind that though our focus is on the independent experience, these awards encompass the industry as a whole. We aren’t indie fundamentalists and 2013’s enormous cache of titles is a great argument of every type of release. We should also note that though we made attempts to play as many games as possible, we weren’t able to fit all of them into our schedules. So if there’s a game that you think deserves to be on this list, comment down below.”

Drum roll, please. Here are our winners.

Best Use of Music in a Surreal Adventure Game
Kentucky Route Zero: Act III (Cardboard Computer)

award

I can’t bring myself to spoil the specifics of such a beautiful moment, but the instant that “Too Late to Love You” began to play in a dingy bar off the highway, I had a true revelation about Kentucky Route Zero. The game is a tough nut to crack – and seems to release at a snail’s pace – but it’s just as capable of profound wonder as it is existential confusion. If this title isn’t on your radar, it should be for this scene alone. It’s far and away the best dramatic moment in a game all year.

“What Would You Give” is just as amazing.

Best Mass Starvation Simulation
Banished (Shining Rock Software)

award2

Banished is the first game I played in 2014, and it’s one that I wish I would’ve had more time to revisit. It’s an incredibly robust simulation, especially considering that it was made on the cheap by one ambitious guy. Though the endgame leaves a bit to be desired, few titles evoked such a sense of desperation as Banished in the moments when the player’s villagers began to starve. Winter is the enemy and you have to prepare a significant harvest to make it through the season without casualties. It’s a more difficult prospect than it sounds and the game might just give you a new found respect for the ancestors who lived on the brink of wild disaster.

Best First-Half of a Double Fine Adventure Adventure
Broken Age: Act One (Double Fine)

brokenage

It’s become a bit of a trend to casually bash Double Fine on the internet; and though they’ve certainly made a few crucial PR mistakes in 2014, there is no denying the brilliance of their Kickstarter flagship, Broken Age. This game offered what it promised: Tim Schaefer’s nostalgic return to a classic point-and-click adventure format. There is so much imagination here; it’s bursting at the seams, like a children’s book that’s come to life. I ate it up, flaws and all. And though the second act seems forever delayed, I bet we’ll see it before we see Act IV of Kentucky Route Zero.

I can’t fucking wait to see what happens next.

Best Competitive Multiplayer in Which the Victor is Eaten by a Giant Snake
Nidhogg (Messhof)

nidhogg

Some people would say that Super Smash Bros is the best fighting game of the year, but Nidhogg manages to take everything that’s great about Nintendo’s flagship franchise and package it into a fresh, minimalistic take on the genre. There are only two characters, only four stages to choose from, only broken, dirty pixels as a visual palette, yet every battle in Nidhogg feels clean and frantic and fun. It somehow turns fencing into the coolest, most surreal sport in the world.

Nidhogg was a severe candidate for game of the year. Pick it up and get some friends and room with a couple of controllers. I guarantee it’s one of the best local multiplayer experiences you’ll ever have.

Best Unfinished Early-Access Game
Rust (Facepunch Studios)

rust2

Oh Rust, what a weary road you’ve travelled this year. From Early Access darling, to a shining example of the excesses of the program, it’s still impossible to deny how much time this game sucked out of the Jetpack Joust “offices”. We played it more than any other title; except for maybe Hearthstone, but we’ll get to that later. Though Facepunch is still busy updating their graphically upgraded version of the game, Rust’s legacy will be its emphasis on crazy, collaborative experimentation.

“How high can we build this tower?”

“How much C4 do we need to blow through twelve layers of metal walls?”

“How can we one-up the crazy faction on the other side of the map who always seems to pick up the best equipment and air drops?”

These kinds of questions, and the answers they wrought, were what made Rust such a huge part of my gaming year. I only hope they can bring the same joyous experience to the new edition.

Best Reason to Hate the Blue Shell
Mario Kart 8 (Nintendo)

wiiu2

Until Mario Kart 8, I had no interest in owning a Nintendo Wii U. Suddenly; it became a must-own console. I felt like the same kid who demanded that his parents buy him a Nintendo 64 for Christmas because it was just so cool. This is the best Mario Kart ever made, not just because of the gorgeously colorful graphics or the brilliantly smooth gameplay, but because it reminded me why I love Nintendo so much. These are characters that are engrained in my psyche, that I adore as much as Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny or any other character that spikes childhood wonder and awe. Mario Kart 8 brought that feeling back without relying too heavily on nostalgia; a crowning achievement for a franchise and a company that I thought was dead to me.

Best First-Person Tear Jerker
Ether One (White Paper Games)

2014-03-31_00002

Ether One is all at once a riddle and a puzzle and a logic problem; each within the other, spiraling together until the mysteries and their answers can’t be separated. It’s not so much a game as it is a deeply emotional experience. All of this language may seem cryptic and unspecific, but that’s because it is truly hard to describe the lasting impact that Ether One has had on me. I’ve had a few days to separate myself from it, but still my mind wanders to the peaceful village of Pinwheel and the journey contained within. It’s an experience that I am still deciphering, but one that I’m sure I enjoyed.”

Best Digital Equivalent to Addiction
Hearthstone (Blizzard)

award3

On any given night in 2014, if I had to guess blindly what Billy or Matt were doing with their free time, I’d probably say, “Playing Hearthstone.” They certainly weren’t the only one’s to be seduced by Blizzard’s lightning fast, effortlessly fun digital card game; the community is growing bigger with each passing day. What’s particularly brilliant about Hearthstone is its stream-lined approach to the CCG. Few games juggle simplicity of gameplay and strategic possibility with such poise. It’s easy to pick up and play, but incredibly difficult to master.

It’s also free – probably the best free-to-play game released this year – which is a damn good reason to give it a shot.

Best Verisimilitude (Big Words, People!)
Transistor (Supergiant Games)

award4

Stunning imagery. Air-tight gameplay. Stellar sound design. What else have we come to expect from Supergiant Games? Transistor continues the work they started with Bastion, creating a lush, thriving, colorful environment for Red – a phenomenal female protagonist – to explore and engage with. Cloudbank is a gorgeous city to battle through. The mechanics are a bit intimidating at first, but they repay persistence with their depth and flexibility, allowing the player to truly customize their experience. Transistor looks and feels entirely unique and further cements the future of this brilliant indie company. I can’t wait to see what they do next.

Best Jokes at the Expense of Old-School RPGs
South Park: The Stick of Truth (Obsidian)

award5

I love South Park with the burning passion of a Chipotle-burdened asshole, so Obsidian announced they’d be adapting it into a video game, I was rightfully skeptical. South Park: The Stick of Truth perfectly translates the humor of Matt and Trey’s long-running animated series into a surprisingly thorough recreation of an old-school RPG. From anally probing aliens to underpants gnomes and Man-Bear-Pig, this game might be the most reverent we’ll ever see to its source material; yet never seems to rely on the nostalgia to propel its hilarious story. Instead, this is the most epic, surreal, and glorious episode the dynamic duo have ever written; and as the player, you get to impact its outcome. Infinitely enjoyable and side-splittingly humorous, South Park: The Stick of Truth may be the greatest satirical game ever made.

Best Reason to Tear Your Hair Out in Joyous Frustration
Luftrausers (Vlambeer)

award6

Luftrausers is a nearly flawless experience. It’s an adrenaline pumping, action-packed shooter that is unabashedly about raw entertainment. There’s nothing to think deeply about, you just have to learn be dexterous enough with your fingers to accomplish the maneuvers that will help you survive. I felt like an ace pilot playing Luftrausers and that was purely exhilarating.”

Best RPG to Conquer Your Life
Dragon Age: Inquisition (BioWare)

award7

Dragon Age is not a franchise that I’ve loved in the past. I found Origins to be too strictly contained by its influences and Dragon Age II to be too excited by its own advances. Inquisition strikes the perfect balance, and even if its story isn’t particularly fresh, it allows the player freedom and influence over a world that’s as boundless as it is culturally complex. In some ways, its side quests are more interesting than the over-arching plot, because every NPC has some interesting observation or opinion. Like Mass Effect, Inquisition is a game that’s more concerned with the relationships between its characters than the epic conflict their involved in. This is a good thing and it makes for one of the most profound RPG experiences I’ve had in years.

Best Game With the Lowest Score, But The Longest Impact
Always Sometimes Monsters (Vagabond Dog)

asm3

I loved this game’s innovative approach to storytelling and its attempts to dig deeper for meaning. I was enamored by its climax and the emotional devastation that followed. But I strongly disliked the extraordinarily tedious gameplay and the equally burdensome lead character. It was almost enough to force me to give up; but I’m so glad that I didn’t.

Always Sometimes Monsters is not a game that is easy to classify or categorize or rate. It’s a prime example of why not to use a numeric system for game reviews. Overall, I had a positive experience, but I’m not sure that everyone else would. That’s why I’ll remind you what a 6 out of 10 score means at Jetpack Joust: ‘Imperfect, but maybe you should play this if it sounds interesting to you.’ This sums up Always Sometimes Monsters perfectly in my mind. It’s a divisive game, but perhaps you’ll lean in my direction.”

Best Heart-Rending Choice-Making
The Walking Dead: Season Two (Telltale Games)
nogoingback4

“The Walking Dead: Season Two has been a powerhouse of video game storytelling. ‘No Going Back’ is a perfectly bittersweet finale that pounds the player with heartbreak after heartbreak, but gives them just enough hope to keep them pressing forward. Few games are capable of the complex emotional depth that is evoked in the final moments of this harrowing episode. I laughed, I cried, and I lost a good friend; but I loved every single moment of it.”

Best Criminally Underrated Game
The Floor is Jelly (Ian Snyder)

award8

“Everyone once and a while, a game comes along that is magical in its simplicity, inspiring the imagination of the player without burdening them with complex mechanics. It’s rare to see the right ingredients come together to create this kind of experience, but when they do, it’s a glorious reminder of why we play video games in the first place…

The Floor is Jelly is a joyful, beautiful, and perpetually entertaining experience that will hearken back to the days when you sat mystified by the sprites on your television screen. It has that unspeakable quality that transforms a good game into a great game and it’s almost certainly the best platformer I’ve played all year.”

Best Games We’re Looking Forward to Playing Still

Super Time Force (CAPY)

award9

Shovel Knight (Yacht Club Games)

award10

Talos Principle (Croteam)

award11

2014 Platinum Jetpack Game of the Year
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (The Astronauts)

ethancarter9

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the culminating masterpiece of a genre that’s been spreading its wings in the last few years: the first-person adventure. There is no combat to speak of, no blockbuster action pieces. Instead, the game weighs on your soul and worms its way into your mind. Like Gone Home and Ether One, the joy is in exploration and discovery; in finding that final clue to solve the case. But this game is superior in its execution and surmounts its predecessors in nearly every category. It will likely leave you feeling a bit hollow and disturbed, but it will also provoke hidden thoughts buried in the back of your head. This is the first game to perfect the essence of the natural world in digital form, but it won’t be the last. In all of its bleakness, there is a bit of light; at least for games of its kind.”

insheep4

My Month Without Games: An Open Letter to the Small, but Mighty Jetpack Joust Community

I wanted to write a book. I love games criticism, but there’s a segment of my heart that has always longed for the rigors of storytelling. And so, I went off, jettisoning my duties as the chief jetpack jouster, to write a novel with countless other aspiring authors. National Novel Writing Month has been an amazing learning experience, with practical teachings that I’ll certainly apply to my work here; but perhaps most interestingly, it taught me as much about my approach to discussing video games as it did my approach to building fictional worlds.

What follows might be considered a revision of our mission statement, but hopefully it won’t be quite as boring.

2014-07-06_00012

This summer, the internet gaming community was torn asunder. We all know by what. I won’t bother to mention its name, because frankly, I’m not interested in stirring up any controversy and it’s been talked about much more eloquently in other corners of the web. What I do want to talk about is its effect on me personally; a syndrome that came in contact with a large number of my good friends.

It bummed us out. The yelling between the two sides became little more than white noise, containing almost no real meaning. The death threats, the trolling, the finger-pointing, the misogyny, the harassment; it soiled much of my enthusiasm for my favorite art form and for the community that’s gathered around it. I’m aware that it was a small minority participating in the more heinous activities, but the spillover into news outlets ranging from Kotaku to MSNBC was a kind of cultural saturation that made me sick to my stomach every time I thought about picking up a controller. That sucked. Lots of great games came out this year.

But one night, after a particularly harrowing session of Dungeons & Dragons, several members of the Jetpack Joust team stood together outside my house and proclaimed that we were so exhausted by all the infighting that we’d largely stopped playing anything. We were a bunch of wannabe games journalists who didn’t want to have anything to do with the format. Video games were tainted.

We knew our ambivalence wouldn’t be especially good for business or for traffic, but we plugged along anyway, largely shifting our focus towards tabletop roleplaying games and unsung indie heroes. However, there came a point when even that wasn’t enough to alleviate the stress and the burden that I was feeling. I needed to make an escape run. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, after all, and I knew that if I took a well deserved break, it would put the whole thing into perspective; I would reassess my relationship with video games and with the website.

ethancarter9

So I wrote a novel, or rather, the better part of a novel, which I’ll be finishing over the next few weeks. I left behind the complex universe of gaming for something far simpler; for a girl, and a town, and a little bit of existential mystery.

For some time, I was quite happy. But I slowly grew to miss all the pixels and menus and belligerent online competitors and quirky indie soundtracks. I especially missed the small, yet mighty community that’s grown around Jetpack Joust over the last year. I like writing for you. I like making videos for you. I think I bring a unique, philosophical view to the discussion of interactive media, and as a man with a keyboard and a long history with both games and criticism, I’m happy to have my voice heard.

This year, we were just putting our feelers out, experimenting, and attempting to find our niche. Our Word Press was supposed to be a temporary skeleton site for us to practice and refine our craft, whilst gathering an audience. It became a bit more permanent than we’d predicted. Eventually, we will migrate to something prettier and more useful, but we’ve gathered plenty of experience and have grown to understand what Jetpack Joust is, at its core. November taught me just as much as the previous ten months.

As such, here’s what you can expect from us as we continue down our road of discovery:

Jetpack Joust is not a news outlet. We do dabble in the stories of the day, but always with an editorial edge. This means we’re subjective. Our opinions are our own and they should not be taken as objective fact. We value the interpretation of media through the personal lens of our writers. Our reviews are about more than whether or not a game is fun. We analyze their value to the medium and to society as a whole, because we believe that like all art, games can be powerful emotional tools that change the inner lives of people and thus, change the world. It’s a lofty goal, but one that we think is fitting with the strong traditions of academic and social criticism in film, literature, theater and art.

I’m not disparaging the entertainment value of video games, that’s a huge part of their appeal, but it’s not something we’re terribly interested in exploring with JPJ. There are other places to find that particular brand of review and if you’re not a fan of our approach, we happily understand if you don’t want to be a regular visitor. What we can promise is engaging material that will likely reflect our open-minded, progressive, humorous and intellectual approach to criticism. And sometimes, when a game is just a bundle of joy, we’ll talk about how fucking fun it is too. See: Hypership Out of Control.

weird9

We hope, regardless of your politics or personal opinions, that you’ll be a part of the discussion as well. There’s nothing that we enjoy more than a rousing debate, as long as that debate is friendly, humane, and informative. There will be zero tolerance for harassment and hate speech – and there has never been any, as far as I know – because we want to foster a positive environment, where everyone feels welcome. Gaming is awesome and we want to spread it as far and wide as we possibly can.

Our other goal is to focus on quality instead of quantity. Jetpack Joust is an incredibly small operation, and I do much of the creative work alone. I started with the relatively ambitious aspiration of producing five pieces of content a week, but that was quickly derailed by my day job and by my desire to remain somewhat sane. Instead, you can look forward to a combination of three solid articles and videos week-in and week-out. This will give us an opportunity to actually play the games we’re writing about with a greater attention to detail and will hopefully lead to a better product in the long-run. With any luck, we’ll also add some new contributors that will assist us in filling in those blank spots in the schedule. This is a process that’s already begun.

It’s also likely that you’ll see a greater emphasis on tabletop experiences. We love our little indie gems, and even some of our big, explosive corporate behemoths, but the fact is that our readers adore board games, card games, miniatures games, and roleplaying games just as much as the digital stuff. It’s the topic that seems to have gained the most traction, if our metrics are to be believed, and we are here to give you what you want and sometimes what you need. If that means more dice talk, than we’re excited to deliver it to you.

Ultimately, little at Jetpack Joust has changed. This is more of an affirmation than a transformation. It’s important to remember that it’s still the best time ever to be a gamer. We have access to more content than I could have ever imagined as a kid playing my Sega Genesis in the early ‘90’s. And though things got dark, and there’s still some healing to do, the controversies of this summer have largely faded away and it’s okay to peak out your head and take a look around at all of the new goodies. There’s been enough division. It’s time to come back together in solidarity, for a better future for all gamers.

2014-03-31_00002

December is a month for playing catch up. There are plenty of games left to be played before we construct our “Best of” lists for 2014, so we’ll be digging into our backlogs and reviewing some titles that passed us by. I’ll also be finishing that novel, so bare with me if we’re a little slow.

Thank you so much for letting us take the last thirty days to clear our heads. We’re back, and we’re going to be better than ever, with podcasts, new episodes of fan favorite web series, and a renewed passion for the gaming medium. We love stuff and we hope that comes through in our writing.

Until next time, Bill Murray to you.

—Cory Stine, Editor in Chief

Hit the Table: The Coup Review!

“The Coup” is a micro-game that takes place in the world of The Resistance. Players take on the role of petty bureaucrats who hope to wield their power to assume absolute control. It’s a short, fun, strategic game that everyone should have in their repertoire. Watch the video for further analysis!

You can pick up “The Coup” at your Friendly Local Game Store!

Julian Reviews: Shadow of Mordor

Shadow of Mordor has been tearing through video game critics; earning high marks from many journalists, who praise its innovative nemesis system and its unique twist on Lord of the Rings lore. However, does it hold up under the scrutiny of our new and amazing contributor, Julian? What is his take on this trip top Middle-earth? And most importantly, is Treebeard in this game?

All of these questions will be answered (except for maybe the Treebeard one) in the video review below. Welcome aboard, Julian!

Shadow of Mordor is on a ton of platforms, but you can find it on PC, here: http://store.steampowered.com/app/241930/

DM Advice: The Best D&D Nemeses (That Aren’t Dragons)

Every roleplaying campaign is in need of a dynamic antagonist; a puppet-master, psychopath, or tyrant that wreaks havoc as the heroes attempt to complete their journey. This villain can take the form of a treacherous God, a mad arch-mage, or a brutal criminal overlord, but the worlds of Dungeons & Dragons are also populated by more monstrous adversaries. Hidden beneath and beyond the earth, there are horrors that scheme and plan; to conquer, to dominate and to enslave. These figures can serve as permanent enemies in a campaign that lasts for years or temporary obstacles until the true mastermind reveals his face.

The Fifth Edition Monster Manual is filled to the brim with savage beasts of every stripe. But with such an enormous selection comes the anxiety of choosing the right nemesis for the story you’re trying to tell. It’s easy to suffer from a fiendish overload. Thus, we’ve collected some of our favorite monstrous scoundrels from the D&D universe: “boss” characters with interesting plot potential that we think could enhance your game.

We purposefully left dragons off of this list because they’re so iconic. Every player is bound to run into a scaly chromatic fire-breather at some point in his roleplaying career. Instead, we selected a mix of tried-and-true favorites and under-the-radar classics.

Low-Tier (1-5)

Orog (CR2, p. 247)

adversary1

Orcs are often portrayed as dumb brutes, massive humanoids that think we’re their fists and mindlessly worship the savage god Gruumsh. This is largely a misconception. An Orog is a sub-set of the orc species and is superior in both size and intellect. With their deceivingly strategic minds, Orogs often serve as warband chieftains or frontline soldiers; quickly dominating their common brethren.

Players might encounter an Orog early on in their campaign, mistaking it for a normal orc before suffering at the hands of its clever tactics. These creatures could lead an independent mercenary group hired to kill the adventurers or serve as Generals in a monstrous horde coming to invade civilized lands. Their physical might could even attract the allegiance of other bestial tribes: goblins, lizardfolk, or gnolls; allowing for a more diverse set of potential enemies during combat. Orogs are huge threats to newly created characters and if used appropriately, could easily become interesting figureheads for low-level quests.

Night Hag (CR5, p. 178)

adversary2

Some creatures are less concerned with conquering the mortal world than seeing its righteous denizens corrupted. Night Hags revel in the downfall of moral beings, plaguing their dreams to insist that they commit acts of heinous evil. As the hag wears down the resolve of the hero, it can kill them in their sleep and transport them to a land of horrors and mayhem. Players might never encounter the physical embodiment of a Night Hag and thus be forced to confront her in the ethereal realm of dreams – where their real-world strengths may not be an advantage.

Night Hags represent a true psychological threat to a party’s characters. A lawful-good paladin could be temporarily transformed into a raving madman. A wizard could turn his magic against those he cares for most. A warlock might be tricked into changing his patron. This is a monster that destroys the foundation of morality that drives many D&D characters, providing harrowing moments of inter-party conflict and a defined goal of overcoming her temptations. Her flavor text is thick with inspiring details and though a single Night Hag might not be capable of decimating an entire city or world; their assault on the characters can become deeply personal. This is often a more interesting option than some far away tyrant who won’t be revealed until the players reach epic tier.

Cambion (CR5, p. 36)

adversary3

Half-human and half-fiend, a Cambion’s heart beats with the evil of its Devilish parentage. Struck at a young age with a deranged superiority complex and a perverse desire to rule over mortal beings, Cambions often use their human intelligence to strategize and scheme; but are entirely capable of resorting to acts of violence to achieve their endgame. This goal could range from a small scale takeover of a local gang to a grand plan to ascend the ranks of the demonic armies of the Abyss.

Cambions are a versatile enemy that can provide a striking presence in an otherwise stereotypical role. Their horrifying visage would likely lead them to hide from society-at-large; but this secretive nature is perfect for a shadowy crimelord, a manipulative bureaucrat or a brutal serial killer. With a propensity for escalating cruelty, Cambions never learn from their behavior and will not quit, even in the face of heroic adventurers. Above all, they want to impress their parents, and this dedication to malice makes them perfect adversaries as players start to explore greater powers.

Mid-Tier (6-15)

Mind Flayer (CR7, p. 222)

adversary4

Aberrant monsters are particularly useful because their origins and motivations are a complete mystery. As a blank slate, the Dungeon Master can use them to explore ideas that might fall outside the range of traditional fantasy: Lovecraftian horror, alien invasions, and psychic trauma. Mind Flayers, or Illithids, are perhaps my personal favorite aberration. Their bulbous, tentacled heads and hunger for gray matter make them especially horrifying opponents; but it’s the alien justification for their atrocious experiments that compels the attention of players.

Mind Flayers are deadly and manipulative, leaving a wake of destruction as they travel through inter-dimensional portals. Few have witnessed Illithid society and lived, so the structure of their civilization is largely the purview of individual DMs. A single mind flayer, a psychic puppet-master controlling legions of thralls, is a valid reason for a mid-level party to run-and-hide; but a large group represents a nigh impossible obstacle. Entire campaigns can be built around the open mythology of the Illithids, reveling in the strangeness and body horror of these sentient invertebrates.

Efreeti (CR11, p. 145)

adversary5

The pop cultural representation of the genie is often a friendly servant whom happily delivers three wishes to the person who releases him from an extra-dimensional prison, often inside a lamp. By contrast, the djinn of Dungeons & Dragons are mischievous – sometimes malevolent – creatures that loathe any mortal who would force them into servitude. Amidst the Elemental Planes, they are rulers and kings; so to lower themselves into the submission of others is considered an untenable humiliation.

The Efreeti are beings of pure fire. The seething hatred they feel toward their captors is potent and unyielding. If they have succumbed to the domination of a mortal, they will hunt him until their vengeance can be quenched. This could be incredibly interesting in-game, because a character could discover the efreet in some piece of hidden treasure and excitedly ask to receive his wishes; not knowing the kind of punishment that will result from such an action. The efreet could then escape from captivity to seek retribution or to lead an army of flame to conquer the Material Plane. Using the players preconceived notions could bring some entertaining surprise and shock to the table, as they learn the true consequences of dealing with a djinn.

Beholder (CR13, p. 28)

adversary6

Tyrants of the Underdark, Beholders are iconic D&D adversaries on par with dragons. Consumed with an otherworldly hatred for everyone and everything, these creatures are intensely domineering and xenophobic. This malice is acutely portrayed in their appearance: a floating sphere with a single massive eyeball, a maw of jagged teeth, and a crown of snaking eye stalks. Forced into seclusion because of their horrifying visage, Beholders dwell in subterranean ruins and caves where they seduce mortals with false promises or simply beat them into submission with their magical might.

Ultimately, I find Beholders to be more interesting mechanically than narratively. The bursts of arcane energy that blast from their eye stalks can be truly devastating to an adventuring party; leading to a tense encounter that won’t soon be forgotten. As such, Beholders are more interesting in combat and it might behoove the Dungeon Master to keep their identity a secret until the final confrontation. Perhaps the Elven king is just a pawn in the eye tyrant’s scheme to conquer a nation, perhaps the Doppelganger crimelord is only a front for his aberrant master. There are plenty of ways to implement a Beholder into your campaign and the final battle will be the kind of harrowing experience that permanently affects the player’s characters.

Mummy Lord (CR15, p. 229)

adversary7

Trapped for centuries inside long-lost tombs, mummies are undead beings infused with a necromantic magic that awakens them when their home is disturbed. Many of these creatures are merely guardians of the treasures that lay within these ancient crypts, but occasionally the body of an oppressive monarch is mummified and allowed to keep its living memories and personality. These Mummy Lords are driven by the obsessive desire to resurrect their primeval empires; and once they escape their unholy bounds, are capable of leading legions of undead servants into battle. Mummy Lords are excellent “call-back” enemies: having players unknowingly release them early on in a campaign, only to be revealed as the true threat in higher levels.

Not every Mummy Lord has to be inspired by Egyptian mythology. In Dungeons & Dragons, the mummification ritual can be as common or uncommon as the DM decides. A Dwarven Mummy Lord might be revered as a hero in history, but unveil his true savagery when he’s returned to life. An Orcish commander might take up his old sword against the civilization that decimated his people. Regardless, Mummy’s offer an excellent chance to instill your world with an active past, making its lore more relevant to your players.

High-Tier (16-30)

Death Knight (CR17, p. 47)

adversary8

Death Knights are terrifying mirror images of the player’s characters. They were once paladins who stood for the very virtues that the heroes of the campaign seek to protect; but having fallen to their darker impulses, have been transformed into hateful undead creatures of untold power. They cannot be destroyed by mundane means. Only by redeeming themselves from their corrupt ways can a Death Knight return to eternal rest. As such, these are essentially immortal beings that can hunt adventurers indefinitely, testing the martial skills of the characters in battle.

These creatures aren’t necessarily consumed by the desire to rule. Instead, a Death Knight is often a General in the army of a greater fiend or undead; perfect for the role of “sub-boss” late in a campaign. They are loyal servants and will fulfill their brutal duties without question. However, Death Knight’s do provide an interesting opportunity for complex moral storytelling, as players hope to be able to coax them into redemption. This is the only way to stop their deadly assaults and a nearly impossible task that, if successful, could be amongst a party’s greatest achievements.

Lich (CR21, p. 202)

adversary9

Few beings are more rightfully feared and loathed than the Lich, a self-obsessed wizard who uses powerful magic to maintain his life-force after death. Their skin and bones decay as their mind grows more insane with thoughts of arcane knowledge and total domination of the world around them. In order maintain its form, a Lich must house the souls of its victims inside of a phylactery; and it cannot be truly destroyed until the phylactery is removed from existence. This adds an interesting to layer to the players’ confrontation with a Lich, as they must discover the ritual or magic weapon that is capable of shattering the unholy container.

A Lich is manipulative and scheming, capable of using arcane energy to raise an army of undead warriors. It lives in isolation until it feels as though there is power to be grabbed; political or otherwise. Despite having the superior intellect of a talented mage, its actions can be erratic and frantic as its mental capacities fade into madness. Still, a Lich should not be underestimated. It will do anything to uncover the dark secrets of the universe, commiserating with evil Gods and hateful demons to achieve its aims. Centuries of learning allow it a control of magic that few mortals could ever hope to acquire and it battle they wield this knowledge with deadly accuracy. Once the player’s have reached the maximum level, they may finally be ready to take on the Lich that threatens the existence of their entire world.

Empyrean (CR23, p. 130)

adversary10

When the gods of the universe mate with each other or with mortals, they birth beings of equal power and glory: Empyreans. These children evoke the same beauty and wonder as the gods themselves and often live amongst their families throughout the Outer Planes of existence. Like their divine parents, Empyreans are prone to impulsive emotional outbursts, often engaging in complicated political mechanisms to consolidate their power over a particularly. Some choose to reside on the Material Plane, wandering the natural world or serving as a philosopher king to a valiant nation. Others fall to the temptations of the Abyss or the Nine Hells.

Only a few Empyreans could be considered truly evil, but even those with the best of intentions may not be able to comprehend the consequences of their actions. The child of Bahamut might believe itself to be meting out necessary justice, when really it is terrorizing a nation with devastating and oppressive laws. However, Empyreans who are seduced by gods of chaos and shadow can be even more horrifying enemies; using their tremendous might to invoke their will. These beings are as complex and interesting in their motivations as any mortal, making them some of the most intriguing nemeses in Dungeons & Dragons.

kentucky

Jetpack Joust Plays: Kentucky Route Zero (Updated)

We’ve been slowly making our way through the phenomenal experimental adventure game Kentucky Route Zero; releasing videos almost at the same pace as Cardboard Computer releases new installments to the story. But we are so enraptured by the strange trans-dimensional bypass that we can’t help but push on. This is a collection of our longest running “Let’s Play” – that will be updated over time – allowing you to relive this ethereal experience.

Kentucky Route Zero is the tale of Conway, an aging truck driver attempting to deliver some goods to an antique shop in central Kentucky. Unfortunately, the road he must go down is one of bizarre characters and even more bizarre locales. This will be a night that the old man never forgets.

You can find Kentucky Route Zero here.

Episode One: Equus Oils

Episode Two: Meeting Marques

Episode Three: The Coal Mine

Episode Four: The Bureau of Reclaimed Spaces

Episode Five: Is it an Office or a Cathedral?

Episode Six: The Museum of Dwellings

Episode Seven: Folksongs & Flying on Julian’s Back

Episode Eight: Conway Gets A New Leg

Episode Nine: Roadside Rescue

Episode Ten: It’s Too Late to Love You

Episode Eleven: The Hall of the Mountain King

Episode Twelve: The Moldy Computer

Episode Thirteen: Frustrations with Xanadu

Episode Fourteen: The Strangers and their Underground Distillery