Foolish Mortals: We’re Curating on Steam

Last week, Steam launched an ambitious update aimed at filtering their overwhelming storefront. While the results of this experiment have yet to be seen, several features have been added that we believe will help expand Jetpack Joust and help us interact with our readers. First and foremost is “Steam Curators”, with which you can follow your favorite gaming bloggers, journalists, and commentators.

We hope this will be a tool to help you find the games that we think really stand out in the crowd.  It’s not entirely finished, but that doesn’t mean you can’t join the bandwagon a little early. We hope you’ll follow us!

You can find our Steam Curator page here:


Chapter-by-Chapter: Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook Review (Part Two)

4. Classes

Character classes represent more than a simple occupation or career. They are the culmination of a character’s identity, a set of skills that make them unique narratively and mechanically. This chapter boils down twelve options that reek of classic D&D; to the point that they almost seem definitive. There are a few obscure classes that go unmentioned, but all of the popular choices are available and ready to be played from levels one-to-twenty:














If, somehow, you feel limited by this wide variety of options, each class is further distinguished by a set of archetypes that come complete with their own features and abilities. A Barbarian could follow the Path of the Berserker, fueled by the insatiable blood rage of its people; or the Path of the Totem Warrior, in which he channels the instincts of a wild beast to fulfill a spiritual journey. This deep level of customization ultimately replaces Fourth Edition’s complicated “powers” system with a more effortless and graceful alternative. Instead of dozens of small, mostly inconsequential decisions, players make a few incredibly significant ones.

Class archetypes also serve as a means to consolidate classes that could have been deemed “too similar” in previous editions: The Avenger becomes the “Oath of Vengeance” for Paladins, the Swordmage becomes the “Eldritch Knight” for Fighters, and the “Assassin” is filtered through the Rogue. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be fewer classes in Fifth Edition, just that they will each feel distinctive in flavor and gameplay.

It’s also thrilling to see this chapter experiment with the narrative functions of class in Dungeons & Dragons. Too often, this section of an RPG rulebook can become bogged down in statistics and mechanics. Fourth Edition was particularly notorious for diving directly into traits, abilities and proficiencies before defining what the class represents in terms of character.

By contrast, 5e devotes multiple pages to this pursuit. It begins with a dynamic, plot-based example of the options available for each class: “Rough and wild looking, a human stalks alone through the shadows of trees, hunting the orcs he knows are planning a raid on a nearby farm. Clutching a shortsword in each hand, he becomes a whirlwind of steel, cutting down one enemy after another.” This immediately sparks the imagination and is followed by a thorough examination of that class’ role in the fantasy universe. What do they do? Where can they be found? What separates a Fighter from your average infantryman and a Cleric from your average priest? But perhaps most useful are the questions it asks of the player to inspire character development: “As you make your monk character, think about your connection to the monastery where you learned you skills and spent your formative years. Were you an orphan or a child left on the monastery’s threshold? Did your parents promise you to the monastery in gratitude for a service performed by the monks?”

This chapter probes the depths of your mind to help you create a fully realized avatar for use in the game and does so with brilliant efficiency and creative energy.

Grade: 9/10

5. Personality and Background


Furthering the Player’s Handbook’s dedication to thorough storytelling is an entire chapter dedicated to Personality and Background, new “mechanics” that establish what a character did before their adventuring life. Mechanically, these elements add little more than a few skills to your repertoire, but their true value lies in the plot potential they offer to the game. If a player struggles to write their own back-story, they can easily roll a few dice and summon an interesting character; complete with distinct personality traits, powerful bonds to family or friends, a defined ideology and a massive flaw. This emphasizes roleplaying, a sometimes nebulous concept that can be hard to grasp for new players.

Initially, the player declares their character’s Background from a list of interesting – and flexible – options: Acolyte, Charlatan, Criminal, Entertainer, Folk Hero, Guild Artisan, Hermit, Noble, Outlander, Sage, Sailor, Soldier, and Urchin. Perhaps the character is a pickpocket who turned his life around to become a powerful wizard or a pirate who made pact with a water elemental to become a spell-slinging warlock. Each Background offers skill and tool proficiencies, as well as simple equipment for use in the field; but their strongest benefit usually offers some kind of tangible in-game resource. An acolyte is able to find free food and shelter with any NPC who shares his faith. A guild artisan can use the strong political backing of his union to access local diplomats and bureaucrats. Backgrounds do more than define a character’s innate abilities; they plant them firmly into a living-and-breathing world that they’ve already made an impact on.

Once the Background has been chosen and recorded, the player can roll from a set of randomized tables – specific to that background – to determine their personality trait, ideal, bond and flaw. Most of these are divided into alignments, so if you know you’re going to be playing a chaotic-good character, you can simply select the phrase that best reflects his morality. However, each of these descriptions is well-written and provides enough fodder for anyone to start roleplaying from the beginning of their first session. It can be incredibly fun to leave the fate of these characteristics at the mercy of a die roll, combining disparate elements to build lively and sometimes humorous characters. For example, you could end up with a half-elf rogue who has fallen out of favor with his noble house. He still hates getting his hands dirty and lives with a superiority complex that the rest of the adventuring group can barely tolerate. But through striving to reconnect with his wealthy family, he gains a modicum of respect from his allies; even if he secretly believes that their all below him in stature.

That’s a pretty compelling – if unlikeable – character, who will have to face situations that will leave him uncomfortable and awkward. Backgrounds provide potent inspiration that even a new player can sink their teeth into long enough to develop a roleplaying style. It’s an invaluable addition to the Dungeons & Dragons formula that we’ll hopefully see expanded in future releases.


This chapter also includes some surprising bits of text that detail everything from prominent languages and alphabets, to character alignment, to gender exploration in D&D. Again, it’s wonderful to see Wizards take a stand on inclusivity; emphasizing that because this is a fantasy world, “You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender.” This is a welcoming statement to our friends in the LGBT community and opens up Dungeons & Dragons to an entirely new audience. It’s a short paragraph, but its meaning can not be overstated.

Grade: 10/10

6. Equipment

A fantastical armory of imaginary weapons, armor and gear, the “Equipment” section of the Player’s Handbook is a bit difficult to review in any meaningful way. Frankly, it’s designed mostly for utility and from that point-of-view; it does its job tremendously well. The player is introduced to the economy of D&D, including starting wealth, currency, exchange rates, and how to sell acquired treasure. From there, she learns how to spend her hard-earned gold on everything from silvered scimitars and chainmail to potions of healing and manacles. Armor and Armor Class are discussed in detail, giving a brief glimpse into the defensive portion of combat in Fifth Edition. Weapon proficiencies and properties are highlighted, breaking down the difference between a versatile longsword and a halberd with reach. Great attention is also paid to adventuring gear, tool kits, general expenses, and mounts.


All of these things are expected from an “Equipment” chapter and this one never really goes above and beyond the call of duty. The only real surprise is the inclusion of trinkets: small, mostly mysterious items that are tied to a character when they’re first created or strewn about a dungeon to provide some additional loot. A glass eye, a crystal door knob, or a metal urn to an unknown god; trinkets are useless in combat, but could become sentimental to the character or be used to develop some of the more inexplicable elements of your fantasy world.

My primary criticism of this section of the book is that despite its beautiful art, images are rather few and far between. Previous editions have included grand hand-drawn tables of weaponry and armor that assist players who might not know the difference between a Glaive and a Morningstar. This could be a helpful tool for imagining your character’s most valuable possessions, but I suppose a quick “Google” could solve that issue just as well. It should also be noted that there are no magic items included in this tome, which should be expected because they usually appear in the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Still, if you were hoping to learn the mechanics of a Fire Sword + 1, you may be disappointed to know that you’re going to have to wait a few more months. Regardless, the “Equipment” chapter is serviceable, if a bit clunky, but will deliver all of the tools necessary for a life of epic adventures.

Grade: 7/10

7. Customization Options


Long-time dungeon delvers are going to be happy to know that Fifth Edition has ditched the feat-based multiclassing system of 4E for a more traditional approach. Characters simply add a level of whatever class they’d like to acquire once they have enough experience to do so. For example, when a fourth level Wizard decides he’d like to train in a few more martial abilities, he takes one Fighter level instead of increasing his Wizard level. For rookie players, this might seem complicated, but it’s actually quite intuitive. The trade-off is the strength of your powers for a more versatile and well-rounded character. This chapter outlines the benefits and limitations of multiclassing, making the entire process rather painless.

Additionally, you’ll find the modular rules for Feats: an optional gameplay feature that takes a permanent back seat to its role in previous editions. Feats represent specialized talents that shift and change a character’s statistics in unique ways. “Alert” allows for a + 5 bonus on initiative rolls, “Lucky” provides luck points that can be used to add an additional die to any attack, ability check, or saving throw, and “Keen Mind” raises a player’s Intelligence score and gives them the skills to better navigate their surroundings. There are a few dozen Feats to pick from, less than normal; but what is lacking in quantity is made up for in strength and utility. They’re far more powerful than in previous editions, which is a good thing, because they really do have to be enticing if you’re going to use them at your table. To gain a Feat, you have to sacrifice one of your standard Ability Score Improvements, an incredibly difficult choice to make. Luckily, they’re interesting enough to become an enticing alternative to standard character progression.

It’s likely that some players will despise the fact that Feats aren’t integrated directly into gameplay, but I’ve always viewed them as an unnecessary complication. They certainly provide another layer of customization during character creation, but they’ve often felt tacked on and insignificant compared to ability scores, skills, spells, and proficiencies. It’s not always easy to define them within the narrative as with other mechanical jargon. Furthermore, feats are a rather recent addition to the Dungeons & Dragons formula, having only popped into existence during third edition. In Wizards’ quest to refine the game down to its core elements, Feats were a natural casualty of the process. Luckily, they were smart enough to give fans of the mechanic the option to use it; but at a price.

This modular strategy for 5E has intrigued me since it was announced and this chapter gives us our first taste of what we can expect in the future. I wouldn’t be shocked to see more elective rules contained within the Dungeon Master’s Guide.

Grade: 8/10


Look for the final part of our review in the next few days…


Chapter-by-Chapter: Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook Review (Part One)

***Disclaimer: We are quite aware of how many articles we’ve written about Dungeons & Dragons over the last few weeks; unfortunately, often at the consequence of reduced coverage for indie games and board games. Frankly, it’s because we are drooling over how much we love this new edition of a beloved property (even if we still think Numenera is the best RPG of the last year). We will conclude our fevered discussion of D&D over the course of the next week. Firstly, with this review of the Player’s Handbook and secondly, with our in-depth look at the Monster Manual. In a few weeks, we’ll also take a glance at the Dungeon Master’s Guide; which will culminate in one big, huge final review of the entire system in an episode of “Hit the Table”. But with any luck, we’ll return to your regularly scheduled programming relatively soon – barring any major announcements from Wizards of the Coast. But for now, put down that control, call some friends, and play some Dungeons & Dragons!***

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The Player’s Handbook is the cornerstone of the D&D experience, the one roleplaying tome that is essential for every player to own. It’s designed to spark curiosity and encourage creativity, providing all of the tools necessary to learn the rules and generate an original and interesting character. While Wizards of the Coast knocked it out of the park with its Basic Rules and Starter Set, the most essential element to the resurrection of its most storied franchise is the Player’s Handbook. If they want to regain much of the ground they lost with Fourth Edition, this product has to be engaging and inspiring.

In some ways, it has the most difficult task of the big three rulebooks – also comprised of the Monster Manual and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. The PHB has to entice new players with gorgeous artwork and concise gameplay while persuading veterans with a potent mix of nostalgic authenticity and exciting innovation. It has to retain its “Dungeons & Dragons-ness” while providing a sufficient reason to upgrade. This is a delicate balancing act that is only bolstered by Fifth Edition’s stated goal of becoming the definitive version of the series. Wizards’ has set it self up with huge expectations.

Somehow, the 5E Player’s Handbook manages to meet and in many cases exceed these expectations. It’s elegantly simple to read, but still incorporates the depth of gameplay and customization that makes D&D fun to play in the first place. Most importantly, it oozes story from every page and doesn’t hesitate to inspire characters, adventures, and entire campaigns from page one.

We aren’t particularly interested in diving into the minutiae of the game system; mostly because it isn’t complete without the Monster Manual and the Dungeon Master’s Guide. Rather, we believe that the PHB is best viewed through the lens of its wealth of mechanical and narrative content.

1. The Cover, The Book and The Introduction


The book itself is beautifully constructed with an eye-catching cover that is bound to seduce more than a few new players. The paper is thick and the binding is solid enough to endure session after session of flipped pages and the kind of general wear-and-tear that RPG books are known to take. Even the texture of this tome is somehow welcoming; with a soft and shiny cover and a hard matte backing. But it’s the epic battle between an Elven sorceress and the mighty fire giant Snurre that will leave the most profound impression; a perfect image to encapsulate the excitement and suspense of playing D&D with a group of friends.

Inside, Mike Mearls’ preface is an affable and personal essay about the value of the game throughout history; especially during our time, when virtual experiences dominate gaming. It’s a nice touch that makes the mountains of text in the Player’s Handbook feel like a real labor of love. The book’s formal introduction is equally hospitable to readers, providing a simple and concise explanation of what to expect from the game and from the following chapters. The short, sweet transcription of gameplay at the beginning of the introduction is just enough to clarify any questions a player might have about Dungeons & Dragons – an experience that can seem nebulous to outsiders. This section doesn’t do anything out-of-the-box, it serves purely as preamble for the juicy bits that are just a bit further ahead in the page count.

But my favorite bit of detail is the easter egg on the PHB’s first few pages: a “disclaimer” written amongst the game’s credits. I won’t spoil it for you, but you should take a moment to seek it out. It’ll make you laugh out loud.

Grade: 8/10

2. Step-By-Step Characters


The real meat of the Player’s Handbook lies within its deep and complex character creation tools. For many players, Dungeons & Dragons is as much about wish fulfillment as it is about storytelling: the ability to portray any character that their imagination can conjure up. “Step-by-Step Characters” is a succinct walkthrough of this sometimes intimidating, but always exciting, process. Utilizing Bruenor – a mountain dwarf fighter – as a proxy, this chapter delivers the basic progression a player needs to use to create their own fantasy avatar: choosing a class, a race, ability scores, personality and equipment.

Quickly defining important concepts like Hit Points, Proficiency Bonuses, and Armor Class, “Step-by-Step Characters” is a surprisingly fast read. It communicates everything a player needs to know about character mechanics in about five pages. With experience, you’ll recognize much of the language being used and will likely be able to skip over huge chunks of text. But for rookies, this chapter is designed in such a way as to be informative without ever becoming boring. Bruenor certainly helps reduce the potential tedium.

Aside from its preparatory structure, players will also discover essential charts for determining ability scores and advancement past level one. It’s likely that this will become one of the most frequently used sections of the PHB; even if it is rather utilitarian.

Grade: 8/10

3. Races


The elegant mysticism of the Elves, the stubborn stoutness of the Dwarves, the rambling curiosity of the Gnomes; the “Races” chapter of the Player’s Handbook is where this product really begins to shine. Fueled by adventure hooks and inspiring details, there are nine sentient species to pick from:










Contained in each racial entry is a wealth of information that can help you further refine your character. Will she fall prey to the cultural stereotypes of her people or will she stand apart as a unique outlier? With societal traits, personality tropes, standard naming conventions, and environmental preferences delivered with a creative flair, it’s possible to answer this question with creative gusto. Quotes from classic D&D novels add some gravitas to the proceedings and sidebars containing common opinions between races make it easier to roleplay at the table. For example, an Elf may view a Dwarf as dumb and clumsy, ultimately affecting their relationship.

The return of sub-races is another substantial addition to the game’s customizability. There are substantial differences in the flavor and mechanics of a Lightfoot Halfling and a Stout Halfling. The former is nimbler and more affable, while the latter prefers isolation and the comforts of home. This means that there doesn’t have to be as many individual races as there were in Fourth Edition; where Elves were split into (Wood) Elves, Eladrin and Drow. Here, they’re presented as individual aspects of the same people, separated primarily by cultural trends and beliefs.

This chapter is also where the already stunning art begins to really impress. Of course, there are images of the creatures themselves; which aside from the slightly malformed Halfling, manage to convey character and story rather effortlessly. There’s also a clear, albeit subtle, attempt to diversify the cast. Of the nine options, six are ladies – and none are overtly sexualized in any way. No boob plate armor to be found in this book. I counted one overtly Caucasian male and he was a Half-Elf. You might think it’s silly to pay such close attention to these social issues in a game where players can portray a giant dragon man, but it’s refreshing to see this approach in a franchise as enormous as Dungeons & Dragons. This multicultural attitude can be witnessed throughout the rest of the book as well, but it never really calls attention to itself. It’s just an inherent part of the world, which it always should be. Otherwise, the luscious backgrounds and hand-painted artifacts make this section an incredibly engaging one to read; the layout is absolutely perfect.

My only complaint comes from my own greedy nature: I want more races. They’ll certainly roll them out in the future as more products hit the store shelves, but it feels strange to have the half-devil Tieflings without the half-angel Aasimar. Why mention the Duergar and the Deep Gnomes when they could’ve just become additional sub-races? There is a lot of teasing going on in this chapter, but that only serves to get me more excited for future handbooks. In that sense, Wizards’ of the Coast is extremely successful.

Grade: 10/10


More Tomorrow…

Can I Kick It? Ep. 10 – Reassembly, Vye: The Card Game, Spirit of ’77, Phoenix Dawn, and Band Saga!

We’ve got a new crop of phenomenal Kickstarter games in this long-awaited new episode of “Can I Kick It?”. Reassembly is 2D spaceship customization game, Vye is a concise little kingdom builder, Spirit of ’77 is the Rocky of Tabletop RPGs, Phoenix Dawn is a minimalist Chrono Trigger, and Band Saga is just super cool!


Vye: The Card Game…

Spirit of ’77…

Phoenix Dawn…

Band Saga…

Music by TEKNOAxe


5E Goes Digital: Dungeonscape Beta Coming Next Week

Dungeons & Dragons is a game with a lot of moving parts. There are dozens of character options to manage, hundreds of vicious monsters with distinct abilities, and a constantly shifting set of statistics that can turn on a dime. For years, this meant that your table had to be flooded with papers and pencils, miniatures and maps. It could feel impossible to get your game sessions organized and under control.

But with Fourth Edition, Wizards of the Coast began experimenting with digital tools to enhance the experience. While the Monster Builder and Compedium were tremendously useful to Dungeons Masters, the Character Builder became a particularly valuable (and popular) asset for players, allowing them the access to the full range of available options – every power, every magic item, every class and race. The design was so effective that it became entertaining just to sit and create new characters, experimenting with unique combinations of varying elements.

Since the formal announcement of D&D Next in 2012, players have been clamoring for answers concerning similar digital tools for the newest edition of the world’s most famous roleplaying game. Wizards remained tight-lipped throughout the playtest, but rumblings of a project referred to as “Codename: Morningstar” began to appear earlier this year.


Dungeonscape is the final result of “Codename: Morningstar”: an official companion app for Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition with the ambitious goal of bringing all of the game’s content under one roof. Accessible through web-based software or Android tablets, the final program will include an intuitive character builder and tracker, simple rule references, in-game document sharing, a DM notepad, custom maps and so much more. It’s the ultimate tool for campaign management and its slick design and simplistic interface make it seem like a huge evolution from the tools available through 4E’s D&D Insider.

As with many of the auxiliary products for this version of Dungeons &Dragons, Dungeonscape is being produced by a third party, Trapdoor Technologies, allowing Wizards to focus on creating the game while other companies develop its supporting features. This has already proven to be a successful formula: Kobold Press’ adventure paths have been widely praised and WizKids’ miniatures look absolutely stunning. By placing Dungeonscape in the hands of experienced app designers, it will likely be a superior product to anything that could have been constructed in-house.

The most exciting news is that Dungeonscape is offering the chance for players to participate in an open beta program, which is set to release next week. Beta codes will roll out in the order in which users signed up; so if you want the opportunity to try out the app for yourself, it’s imperative that you register soon. Trapdoor has promised that everyone will have access to the beta, but the significant factor is when they will have access.

According to the most recent Dungeonscape blog, the following feature will be active from the first day of the beta:

  • A sample of the PHB (think Basic D&D plus the Starter Set).
  • Two adventures.
  • Full access to the Character Module (this includes character creation, character sheets, printable/shareable character sheets)
    • In the beta, you’ll be able to roll up ANY character you want – no limitations here – all races, classes and backgrounds will be accessible. You can also take any character up to level 20.
  • You can create as many characters as you want.
  • You’ll have access to the sample PHB content through the Library Module – this is where you can read the rules, annotate and bookmark.
  • Access to the Home Module where you can enter badge and cert info, assign characters to factions and link out to news articles.
  • Access to our Feedback Forums – this is where you can post feedback, read other beta testers ideas and vote for future features.


In-app purchases won’t be available early on, which means that one of the biggest mysteries, how Dungeonscape will be priced, is likely to go unsolved for some time. However, as new features are added – such as DM tools, monsters, and map creation – beta users will be able to test them as well.

Dungeonscape is still largely shrouded in pre-release ambiguity, but this beta should clear up most of the questions about its functionality. We can’t wait to get our hands on the app to see just how much it could improve our experience of Dungeons & Dragons 5E.

You can sign up for the Dungeonscape beta here:


SPOILING: The Walking Dead Season Two (Ep. 5 – “No Going Back”)

***ATTENTION: As the title of this article implies, we will be delving into SPOILER territory with “In Harm’s Way”: the new episode of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. We urge you to play the game before you read this article. We promise it’s good and if you need proof you can check out our spoiler-free review of Episode One, “All That Remains”. You have been warned.***

One of my ongoing criticisms of The Walking Dead: Season Two – despite my general adoration of the series – has been its overall lack of direction. Each episode seems to end on a random cliffhanger that could lead the audience along a multitude of paths; leaving the player feeling a bit lost in the narrative. This certainly served as the perfect means to expand suspense, but ultimately at the sacrifice of plot cohesion.

At least, that’s how I felt before this season’s powerfully gut-wrenching finale, “No Going Back”. It turns out that there always was a connective tissue between these seemingly disparate story elements – something stronger than Clementine’s coming-of-age tale. Just as The Walking Dead has taken us through Clem’s ascent into adulthood, it has also put on full display Kenny’s descent into madness. It’s a game about how we, as human beings, overcome loss. Every character we’ve met this season has been the victim of deeply personal tragedy. Rebecca saw Alvin beaten to death by Carver. Sarah watched as her father was ravaged by a hoard of walkers. Jane allowed her sister to die, in order to free her from the pain of living in this harsh new world. Everyone has been changed by their collective baggage and the game asks us what our approach would be: do we let it consume us with anger and hatred, as Kenny does; or do we push through the suffering and survive, like Clementine?

The end result is a complicated answer that only leads to more questions, but The Walking Dead continues to prove that it can be as thought-provoking and tear-jerking as any televised drama or major motion picture. This season’s random meandering is not so much a fault in its story, as it is a tribute to the phenomenal world-building of Telltale Games and Robert Kirkman. With nearly all remnants of human society torn asunder, the world is completely unpredictable. Anything can happen; and in this season of The Walking Dead, anything did.


With guns blazing, the episode begins as Arvo’s group of Russian survivors fire away at Luke, Kenny, Mike, Bonnie, and Clem. The scene is harrowing and frantic: Rebecca – having turned into a walker moments before – lies dead on the ground, her baby crying in the middle of the road as Arvo attempts to resuscitate his sister. Clementine wakes to the explosions bursting around her and crawls to grab the baby before it is the victim of a ricocheted bullet. Darting behind a stone wall, she covers for Luke as he attempts to take out one of the assailants, but he is ultimately shot in the leg and forced to retreat. Kenny, in the mean time, does his best to hold off the Russians; each pull of the trigger allowing a small release of the rage that’s boiling inside of him. This isn’t the last time we’ll see his rapidly growing violent streak.

This scene does a wonderful job of keeping the audience on its toes. We have no idea who is going to survive the encounter. In fact, I’d argue that it’s incredibly lucky that most of the group leaves with only wounds. The staging is slightly confusing, because in the last episode the Russian’s had Clem’s friends surrounded. Here, everyone is scattered about the field. How is it that the surrounding force didn’t simply massacre their captives? It’s a nit-picky complaint, but I would’ve liked to have seen the seconds directly after Rebecca’s death.

Out of ammo and with one gun-toting enemy left alive, Kenny struggles to find a clip. Just as all looks lost, the Russian begins bleeding out of his mouth and falls to the ground dead. Jane pulls her knife from the man’s neck. She’s saved them all. She’s back.

I was slightly shocked to see Jane’s face again. Her selfish philosophy had made sense in “Amid the Ruins” – even if my Clementine couldn’t quite submit to the idea – and when she walked out of the watch tower, I assumed she’d left for good. But her attraction to Luke and her almost maternal doting over Clem is more powerful than her individualistic worldview. Her icy exterior begins to melt and Jane gives herself over to being part of a group again – even if it means committing her first genuine murder.

Arvo is the last of the Russians standing, still crushed after the death of his sister. His teary-eyed gaze and mechanical limp is quite sympathetic to the player, but to the survivors of his assault he is still a threat. Kenny lashes out, threatening to kill the young man for his trespasses; but when Arvo reveals that he can lead them to supplies and food, the offer is too tempting to deny. Even Kenny begrudgingly goes along with the plan, though he does get out his aggression by tying up Arvo and sending him on a forced march through the snowy wilderness.

Mike, who has been a mostly empty character up until this point, is particularly adverse to Kenny’s treatment of the new prisoner. To be honest, he has a right to be concerned. Kenny beats Arvo, pushes him, and refuses to take his gun off of his back. The kid is harmless, but gets treated like an amalgamation of all the thing’s that have gone wrong in Kenny’s life.

As the group pauses to give the badly injured Luke some rest, Mike pulls aside their most troubled member to gauge his mental state. Kenny clings to the baby likes it’s the last thing keeping him from shattering into pieces.


Eventually, as the tension dissipates, Clementine meanders over to Kenny to help change the bandage hanging over his bloodied eye. They have a quiet conversation that’s reminiscent of old times and they decide to name the baby Alvin Jr (or “AJ” for short). Kenny even manages to crack a few jokes before wincing at the pain of the antiseptic touching his skin. It’s an intimate reminder of the trust between these two people. They’ve been through so much together and despite Kenny’s brutal outbursts, he still comes across as a caring friend and mentor. With Clementine, he can resurrect parts of his old self, but we’ve heard him apologize before. It’s clear now that Kenny is not going to change. This broken man is all he knows how to be any more.

Finally, after a full day of hiking through the forest, the group stumbles onto an old power station that seems bereft of walkers. They choose to spend the night there, hoping in vain for some kind of peace for once. Starting up a fire, Luke reveals that today would’ve been his birthday and as a result, Bonnie reveals an old bottle of whiskey that she’d been saving for a special occasion. This feels like the first time that the group has been able to unwind all season. There’s no impending attack, no walkers, no imprisonment. They’re just a bunch of battered and bruised friends who shoot the shit about life before the world went to hell. It’s a refreshing sequence and memorable despite its mundanity. The Walking Dead is so good at causing anxiety, that its quiet moments feel as necessary for the player as they are for the survivors. Jokes about teenage sex romps and art history are exactly what we’ve been longing for. Even Kenny and Jane, the most detached members of the group, are persuaded to join the casual conversation.

Despite the action and tragedy of future events, the scene by the fire will probably remain my favorite in “No Going Back”. This is the last time that everything is relatively static and unchanging; the last time that it feels permissible for Clementine to be a kid again. It’s all down hill from here.


The next morning, Arvo leads the group to a riverside house that seems to be unfinished; but more significantly, it lies on the opposite side of a frozen body of water. In order to access what may or may not be hidden inside the shell of a home, everyone will have to cross the frigid ice. Again, Kenny announces his suspicion of the boy. With nowhere left to go, however, the only option is to take the dangerous journey across; danger that is only exacerbated when a group of walkers emerges from the trees.

Slowly, Clementine and her friends begin to make their way across the slick surface. It’s a steady trip for the most part, until a few zombies begin to crash through the ice; causing it to crack. Using the distraction to his advantage, Arvo attempts to dash away from Kenny. Alas, his captor spots the deception and chases after him, causing further stress to the already feeble frozen water.

Luke finds himself at the center of the collapsing ice with only Bonnie and Clementine left to assist him. The walkers surround his position, leaving him in an increasingly hazardous position. Bonnie begs for Clem to help him, hoping that her light weight won’t cause further damage. Luke would rather that she provide cover and take out the remaining walkers so he can free himself.

Hesitantly, Clementine makes a sluggish approach, reaching out towards Luke’s trembling hand. But before she can get a good grip, the ice shatters sending both of them into the open water below. Floating upwards, Clem attempts to break through the thick frost until a river-bound walker grabs her leg, pulling her down. Luke swims to her rescue, wrapping his arm around the creature’s throat; but before he can save them both, he too is grabbed by the leg.

Unfortunately, it’s the leg that was shot by the Russians and he has no way to fight back. Clementine watches as her friend sinks to the bottom, disappearing into the haze of the freezing river. Jane reaches down and removes Clem from the ice, hurrying back to the house. It’s a horrifying turn of events in which both the natural world and the unnatural walkers conspire to commit an atrocity. Luke, an alpha male character if there ever was one, is dead. No amount of preparing or training could have saved him. It’s a roll of the dice that ends the life of one of Clementine’s last major allies. He could’ve bitten the dust in the earlier firefight, but is instead the victim of a bum leg. At the end, he appears to accept his fate. He ceases to struggle and embraces eternity. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make the loss any less potent. The quiet night is over and it’s not coming back.


Once inside, Jane places Clementine by the fire in an attempt to keep hypothermia from setting in. Mike and Bonnie set about searching the house for supplies, but Kenny is too enraged to be of any assistance. He blames Arvo for Luke’s death and begins beating him to a bloody pulp. The image is shades of the moment when Carver broke Kenny’s eye socket. It’s vicious and brutal, a monstrous act that demonstrates just how far Kenny is willing to go. He is officially out of control, unable to function amongst the rest of the group.

But we still care for him.

Clementine pleads with her friend to stop his violent outburst and as if he is coming out of a trance, Kenny quits. He stalks outside to vent his anger while Clem gets some much needed rest.

She awakens and finds Mike caring for Arvo’s wounds and feeding his empty stomach. As Kenny’s animosity has grown, Mike’s empathy has grown. In fact, it’s difficult not to sympathize with the young Russian. His family is dead and he’s stuck with a madman who would just as soon kill him as look at him. Telltale does a phenomenal job of earning pity for a character who the audience should rightfully hate. But the tears perpetually welling in his eyes remind us that he is much like Clementine; a kid stuck in a mature world of life-or-death consequences. His actions were cold because he had to be cold to survive. We almost forgive him. As Mike makes his exit, he whispers to himself, “I can’t take this any more,” and that’s foreshadowing if I’ve ever heard it.

Kenny summons Clementine to the front yard of the house where an old pick-up truck lays dormant. Like the boat back in Savannah, this vehicle is the last symbol of hope for the broken man. It’s a way to escape the brutal cold of this death-strewn landscape and end up in the mythical sanctuary of Wellington. Kenny continues to rag on Jane, insisting that she can’t be trusted after leaving the group days ago. But from my perspective, Jane has been more reliable than anyone else: she found a place for Rebecca to have her baby, she saved Kenny from the Russian assault, and she pulled Clem from an icy tomb. Regardless, when Kenny is soft and vulnerable, he makes good arguments and we remember that there is still the shell of a good man deep inside. Unfortunately, just as he regains our trust, he breaks out into another rage; kicking the front of the truck because he can’t get it started.

Clem returns to the relative safety of the inside and finds Jane peering through a window, watching Kenny’s emotional eruption. Caring for AJ, she seems even more maternal than usual – if a little awkward. She points out that Kenny is taking a severe downturn and might soon become a danger to the rest of the group. Clementine agrees, but is ultimately unsure how to handle the situation. She loves Kenny, but can feel herself drifting away.

When Clementine offers to let Jane hold the baby, we get a brief instant of levity. Jane is convinced that AJ will puke on her and like some vision from the future, he does. It’s an adorable, dare I say, familial moment: the kind of silly memory shared between people who truly care for each other.

But before Jane can clean off the baby mess, the truck starts in the background and the group hurries to Kenny’s side; his hair-brained scheme has finally paid off. Suddenly, he has a clean slate. All of the violence, all of the outrage are cleared away as we savor the fact that we can finally get out of this damned state. We have an escape route. But the question quickly becomes: where do we escape to?

Jane argues that the cold is too much to survive and that they should head back to what’s left of Howe’s Hardware Store. Kenny is fixated on continuing north to Wellington. The ensuing verbal brawl is as intense as any of the recent physical conflicts and Clementine decides that it would be best if they make their decision in the morning, when everyone is less exhausted.

Clem and Kenny share one final private conversation in the truck. He pleads for her trust and support, but she isn’t quite sure if Wellington is anything more than a post-apocalyptic legend. The only thing keeping her attracted to the idea is that Christa might be there waiting. Kenny requests that she take the night to think about her decision, but he is as fatalistic as ever. Something is missing from behind his eyes. He’s ready to give up and the only thing keeping him going is his surrogate children, AJ and Clementine.


Early the next morning, Clem wakes up to the sounds of voices and a revving engine. She stumbles outside to find Bonnie, Mike and Arvo loading the truck. Like an echo from the moment they met, Clementine is hardly surprised by Bonnie’s betrayal; and listening to Mike’s earlier conversations made his intentions clear all along. They’re going to leave Kenny, Jane, Clem and AJ behind to find their own selfish way in the world. From a practical point of view, it makes sense: all of the baggage is gone. No madman to calm down. No baby’s cries to draw walkers. But that doesn’t mean it hurts any less. These are the people we’ve been through hell with and they’ve sided with a boy who would’ve killed them if Clem hadn’t intervened. It’s a shocking event that, despite the blatant foreshadowing, is tremendously unexpected.

However, it only gets more devastating when Arvo sharply draws a rifle. Clementine responds in kind, lifting her pistol and pointing at Mike as he approaches to disarm her. He pleads with her to let them go; to let them escape from the bickering of Kenny and Jane. But Clementine is too choked up by the duplicity of their acts. She screams to alert her friends that there are traitors in their midst and as she does, Arvo pulls his trigger. Clem falls to the ground and is knocked out cold by the shock of the bullet entering her body.

We are left wondering, “Is this it?” After all of her trials and tribulations, is Clementine really going to die because of the errant behavior of a sad, deceitful boy? It feels glaringly real for the first few seconds. Nobody could protect her from this horrible fate.

The fade to black lasts for an eternity…and then we hear a familiar voice.

Lee wakes Clementine from a nightmare. She peers up at him with surprised eyes and we begin to wonder if this whole season has been a dream. Sure, that would be a terrible cop-out, but it’s better than the alternative. It means that Lee and Luke and Omid are still alive; that Kenny still has a semblance of his sanity. It seems strange to say that the world is set right once more; but compared to the present, the past – with all its flaws – seems glorious. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes clear that this is merely a memory, a means for Clem to sort out her current circumstances.

Curling up on the small sofa of the RV, Lee and Clementine have a brief conversation about leaving Lily behind after she’s killed Carley. They ponder whether or not it was the right thing to do; but Lee ultimately settles on the fact that when someone becomes dangerous to other people, it’s important to leave them behind. He can’t bring himself to put Clem in harm’s way. This insight is particularly relevant: “Part of growing up is doing what’s best for the people you care about…even if it means hurting someone else.” It’s a key bit wisdom that will become essential during my final choices of the game. Nothing is more human than the tribalism of this thought; but in a world as dangerous as this one, you can only afford to protect those you absolutely trust.

With the truck rumbling around her, Clementine is returned to consciousness by the potent arguing of Kenny and Jane. They’re the last two people she has any faith in, even if they can’t stand each other. By chasing Mike, Bonnie, and Arvo away from the vehicle, they were able to get onto the empty roads and head further north.

Unfortunately, Jane is still not on board with this plan. She has no interest in surviving the cold of the winter when the possibility of finding Wellington seems completely out of reach. Kenny bites back, claiming that Jane can’t be trusted because she’s left them before. AJ is too important to be abandoned by a woman who has a history of self-service; who left her own sister to die. Clementine is barely able to contain her frustration with the combative debate in the front seat. As the attacks get more personal, she tries to scream over her friends, but fails to distract them. She almost died at the hands of Arvo and all Kenny and Jane seem concerned with is one-upping each other’s insults. They’re acting like petulant children; children who could very well kill to prove themselves right.

The argument only ceases when the truck is sent into a tail spin.

Once stopped, they see an old traffic jam ahead and Kenny hopes to be able to siphon some fuel from the old cars. It’s the calm after a horrendous storm. The verbal blows between Kenny and Jane had felt as damaging as the furious punches he laid into Arvo the day before. Clementine hops into the driver’s seat to watch for walkers as Kenny scouts ahead for gas, but Jane has other ideas. She wonders whether they should just leave him.

But Clem is in no mood for further betrayal – they’ll wait this out and hopefully resolve their differences once Kenny returns.

A gun shot rings through the air, rousing a horde of undead. Jane instructs Clementine to put her foot on the gas and though she’s far too young to have driven a car, she does as she’s told. They plow through several walkers before swerving into a ditch along the side of the road. The crash is harsh, but everyone seems to be unharmed…except for the fact that a zombie is wedged in the windshield, grasping for his quarry.


Jane grabs AJ and crawls through the window, urging Clementine to do the same. Clem follows behind, but the snowstorm has taken a turn for the worse and the landscape is barely visible through the haze. She draws her weapon and takes out several walkers as she stumbles through the permafrost, listening intently for AJ’s cries. It’s a truly iconic scene: Clementine, on her own, pushing forward through the wind, the sleet, and the blistering cold – appearing more adult than some of her compatriots. This is not the life that Lee would have wanted for her, but it is the life he trained her for.

She rendezvous with Kenny in an old rest stop, but he seems frantic and frenzied. He needs to know where AJ is. He needs to cling onto the little bit of hope that the small boy provided him. When Jane trudges through the door without the child, Kenny snaps. The girl says nothing, peering down at the floor in shame. Fearing the worst, he dashes back out into the storm and Jane, prepared for this moment, whispers that she’ll finally show Clementine the monster Kenny really is.

Convinced that Jane had purposefully killed AJ to save herself, Kenny pushes Clementine out of the way to get his hands on the woman. There is no hesitation, no question of her innocence. Kenny is going to kill her: an execution for perceived crimes against his family.

Punches fly, bodies are tossed through the air, and eventually all three of them stumble outside. Kenny stabs Jane in the leg with her own knife and she stumbles, knocking Clementine onto her back. Bleeding from her bullet wound, she can barely stand back up; but Clem’s gaze is fixated on a horrible sight. Kenny is on top of Jane with his knife at her throat. Jane is using all of her strength to keep the blade from puncturing her skin.

Someone is going to die. There’s no going back now.

In that instant, my mind was riddled with sadness and heartbreak. I knew Kenny wasn’t going to make it out of this alive. It was going to be my gun that put him out of his misery. I thought about what Lee had said; to protect those we love, we sometimes have to hurt others. But what I was about to do wasn’t going to hurt Kenny; it was going to hurt me.

With all of the mounting tragedies of his past, I couldn’t help but feel pity for the man. Even as he bore down on Jane with murderous force, I knew that it was a result of the multiple holes in his heart that he just hadn’t been able to fill. His rash actions seemed more and more like a desperate cry for help. He was asking to die, but unwilling to make the request directly. Clementine did what Kenny could not: she pulled the trigger.

This was an even harder choice to make than killing Lee in season one. He was on verge of turning into something unnatural. Out of love, Clementine took his life so that she would not have to see him in such a terrifying state. But with Kenny, the decision was not so cut and dry. It relied on the moral interpretation of his recent behavior. As a player, I came to the determination that his rage was just a reflection of his sadness and that the best thing for him would be to return to Duck, Katja, Lee, and Sarita. It was a mercy killing. The whispered bits of dialogue as he lay on the ground, bleeding out, were all the confirmation I needed. “You did the right thing,” he said.

In my heart, I knew that was true.


But crushed by the guilt of killing the last connection to her old life, Clementine is barely mobile. It’s only when she hears AJ’s cries in the distance that she’s able to gather the strength to move. Just a few feet into the snowstorm is an old car and inside is the baby, resting safely on the back seat. It’s a joyous moment to know that he’s still alive, but it also feels as though Kenny’s death was the result of a hateful and perverted lie.

Jane tries to explain herself, but the reasoning is empty and hollow. In her brazen attempt to prove her loyalty to Clementine, she only served to show just how distrustful she really is. In my eyes, Jane is as much of a monster as Kenny. She is too blinded by her feelings to be reliable. Clementine can’t accept her apology; not after what she’s done.

Bridges are burned and Clem comes to the realization that her only hope for survival is to leave behind this part of her life. She holds AJ tight in her arms and walks away from Jane. It’s a starkly depressing, yet empowering moment that serves as a perfect ending to my Clementine’s journey.

I’ve always predicted that Clementine would end Season Two on her own. She was never able to fit in with a group that was capable of selflessness. Everyone was too broken by the past to stick their neck out for her. There were numerous times when she had to be the adult in the room, making decisions and solving problems. But perhaps that’s a deeper symptom of how long this sordid disease has been affecting the human race; corrupting morality and destroying all remnants of civilization. People are too weary to be as good as Lee Everett. His legacy is that Clem at least makes the attempt; but at this point, she is a very different person than the little girl he met in the tree house. Ostensibly, Clementine is the guardian of the most precious symbol of hope anyone in this world could ask for: a child. Now, more than ever, she is Lee.

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.

If this is truly the end of Clementine’s tale, I’d be left completely satiated. But rumors are already swirling surrounding a potential Season Three of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. While I am not at all averse to diving back into this melancholy universe, I do wonder how – with five distinct and separate conclusions – this series could possibly continue with Clem in the lead.

But then again, before its release, many journalists and fans questioned the decision to produce a second season. I’d argue that they ended with a superior product. Telltale has certainly proven itself worthy of our patience and respect. I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves.

Score: 10/10
Series Score: 9/10

My Favorite Friends in the Mass Effect Universe

Mass Effect is a series that has a special place in my heart. It’s perhaps the first potent example of successful episodic storytelling in gaming and I was utterly riveted by its grand existentialist future. Even after its controversial ending, the sheer revelation of playing in the sandbox of such a thoroughly detailed universe has left me with a collection of digital memories that I will always cherish.

That’s why I was so excited when I learned that my sister wanted to experience Commander Shepard’s journey for herself. It was the perfect way for me to relive my own first playthrough. Her reactions and surprise as the story unfolds have been a joy to witness; but watching her meet some of Mass Effect’s most lively characters has been my favorite part of this experiment. It’s easy to forget what a gloriously diverse crew is aboard the Normandy, each member bringing a unique and colorful personality that is just as valuable as their skill in battle.

My reintroduction to these characters has been like a reunion with old friends. Some of them even inspire genuine affection and empathy. It might seem strange to someone who hasn’t played the game, but I’ve found myself reminiscing about specific character moments and adventures. I feel something for these people and that is a testament to Bioware’s masterful writing.

Normally, I’m adverse to trivial top ten lists and opinion pieces. They feel like clickbait and comment starters. But frankly, I haven’t been able to get Jack’s menacing sneer, Miranda’s cold self-control, or Kasumi’s sarcastic quips out of my head. This is simply an exercise in fun, a means of exorcising the thoughts from my head.

These are my favorite characters from the Mass Effect Universe.

(Mild Spoilers follow, but I’ll do my best to keep them minimal. Play this game if you have not yet.)

10. Captain (or Admiral or Counselor) David Anderson


A grizzled war veteran, a weary politician, a loyal advisor and mentor; Captain Anderson is a voice of reason in a government that is prone to gridlock and self-preservation. While he is never an official member of the Normandy’s crew (at least after he cedes control to Shepard), Anderson is one of the few characters who I would race across the galaxy to speak with. His informed advice and willingness to break the restrictive rules of the Council is essential to Shepard’s success; and despite his relatively small role in the franchise his presence is pervasive. Anderson’s final moments in Mass Effect 3 are particularly poignant and enough to bring a tear to your eye, proving just how much of a father figure he is. He’s my favorite member of the Alliance and one of the few politicians I’d put Shepard’s trust in.

9. EDI


EDI is a lifesaver. She’s gotten the Normandy out of serious trouble on several occasions and helped to prove that there is as much diversity in Artifical Intelligence as there is in biological life. Mass Effect could’ve easily delivered the same trope that so many other science fiction properties have accepted as fact: that when machines are given consciousness, they will turn against their masters. At first, the Reapers and the Geth seem to reinforce this assumption, but EDI stands in stark contrast. She cares about the crew, about Shepard, about Joker. She is empathetic and curious and striving to be something more than a voice inside a server. EDI’s arc is brilliant and satisfying. She’s so likeable that she can have a major impact on Shepard’s final choice in the series.

8. Thane Krios


The picture of a classic warrior monk, Thane Krios is an assassin with a conscious. He kills because that’s what he’s been trained to do, but he is aware that what he is doing is wrong and sinful. Thane carries a hint of mystery with him at all times and the fact that he is dying of a fatal disease allows the player to value every minute they have with him. His swiftness and bravery in battle is awe-inspiring. His love for his family is moving. Thane is a relatively short-term ally of Commander Shepard (he doesn’t appear until the second disc of Mass Effect 2), but his loyalty is invaluable. He is a key component to the invasion of the Collector Homeworld and saves the crew from an assault by Kai Leng. He can also be a powerful love interest. Regardless, the stoic and stealthy Thane will be long remembered for one particular line: “That was for Thane, you son of a bitch.”

7. Legion


Like EDI, Legion is a testament to reason and morality amongst Artificial Intelligence. The Geth had long been the stock enemies of the series by the time we met the 1,183 programs that make up the “mobile platform” that is Legion. They had been corrupted by the Reapers and never once did we contemplate the fact that we had been mowing through thousands of “living” creatures in the name of galactic justice. Legion is a brilliant counterargument, a consciousness that could not come to consensus with his Geth brethren. He recognized the Reapers as a controlling menace and chose to rebel, working with Shepard to discover a new path for his people. I love characters that subvert our expectation and Legion’s sacrifices are proof that artificial life in the Mass Effect universe is just as capable of good as it is of evil.

6. Urgnot Wrex


There is a moment in the first Mass Effect that many people remember vividly: scrambling to load a previous save after Urgnot Wrex is killed by Lt. Williams. Wrex is awesome and it’s unfathomable that you could continue your fight with Saren without the tough Krogan bastard by your side. Despite his instinctual stubbornness and quick draw, Wrex is a rarity amongst his species. He understands that they can’t continue their tribal infighting if they want to survive. The genophage has weakened them, but they have to unite and open up to the galaxy if they expect a solution. Wrex is an unlikely leader, the finest Krogan alive, and a terrifically loyal friend. From ME1 to ME3, he has had Shepard’s back in even the darkest of circumstances. Wrex rocks.

5. Mordin Solus


A mad scientist, a crack shot, and a beautiful singer; Mordin Solus adds some much needed humor to the dire circumstances of Mass Effect 2. He’s so brilliant that he can barely contain his brimming mind. Mordin speaks scientific jargon at speeds so lightning quick that they’re barely understandable, but his quips and humorous insights manage to keep us laughing despite the Collector threat. Perhaps more importantly, Professor Solus is willing to own up to his past mistakes. His redemption is stunningly beautiful and his final sacrifice is moving and courageous. We’ll remember Mordin for his terrific rendition of Gilbert & Sullivan tunes, but his true legacy is the good he brings to the universe. Like Wrex, Legion, and EDI, Mordin is more than he seems at first glance, a character of a deep complexity that we rarely see in any medium.

4. Tali’zorah vas Normandy


If I’m being honest, Tali was not one of my favorite characters in the original Mass Effect. She seemed too juvenile, too inexperienced to have any real impact on the mission. For that reason, I rarely took her planet side. In my mind, she was simply the primary engineer of the Normandy – keeping the engines running and clean. But somewhere in the next two games, Tali began to grow on me. She was always thinking of others, but utterly loyal to the Quarian fleet. She even showed an aptitude for combat as she joined a special forces unit. The political dynamics of Tali’s personal life were brought to the forefront in the subsequent games of the series and she was developed into one of the most narratively dynamic crew members. Her sweetness and curiosity were always welcomed and because she had been around since the beginning, I could always relate more to Tali than some of the newer recruits. She was rough around the edges, but I came to adore her.

3. Liara T’soni


Initially a soft-spoken and bookish archaeologist, Liara T’soni becomes a formidable slinger of biotics, a high-class information broker, and a vitally important member of the Normandy’s crew. Her vast knowledge of Prothean history and the ability to tap into Shepard’s mind help to unravel the location of Saren and thus the mystery of the Reapers. Liara is a truly intrinsic element of Mass Effect’s over-arcing story, but she also manages to win the player over with her kind actions and inquisitive nature. She is deeply engrained with Shepard, whether as a close friend or as a lover, and cares for him like few others can. With her empathetic perspective and loving attention, no one could replace Liara’s impact on the lives of those around her. Even as she pretends to be a hardened criminal, her bright personality continues to shine.

2. Jeff “Joker” Moreau


Broken but not beaten, Joker is the kind of pilot that makes flying look easy. Diagnosed with a rare condition that makes his bones brittle and easy to shatter, Jeff Moreau is practically confined to his chair at the helm of the Normandy. Luckily, that’s exactly where he belongs. Joker is always prepared with a fresh joke or an opinionated comment about the rest of the crew; but he’s also loyal to the end and is one of the few characters to stick with Shepard throughout all of his adventures. Even though he’s never in a landing party, Joker is an essential member of the team. His quick wits and daring attitude have saved Shepard and the rest of the galaxy countless times. But even more admirable is his love for EDI. What could’ve been a creepy or ill-conceived romance is actually a heart-wrenching and wonderful example of two different kinds of people connecting despite their differences. Joker’s a great pilot and a good man; one of the most important people in my Shepard’s life.

Before we get to Number One, here’s some Honorable Mentions:


-Jack: At first glance, she’s a psychopathic killer with insane biotic powers and a chip on her shoulder; but after some examination, Subject Zero is just a broken kid who has yet to deal with her tragic past. It broke my heart to leave Jack off this list, because her changes are some of the most impressive over the course of the franchise.

-Grunt: He’s big, he’s bad, and he’s bred for perfection. Grunt is the epitome of what a Krogan should be, but he’s also the perfect weapon to point directly at the Collectors. His violent nature can be a bit disturbing, but Shepard reigns him in and becomes Grunt’s valued clan leader.

-Kasumi: One of my biggest regrets is that Kasumi was not in the original code for Mass Effect 2. Only available through DLC, Kasumi is nimble and quick, but her real appeal is her sharp sarcastic wit. Another loyalty mission with her would’ve been absolutely amazing. Hell, she can disappear! How cool is that?

-Samara: A no-nonsense Asari justicar, Samara is basically the equivalent of a Jedi Knight. She takes the fight to evil and justice, no matter what the cost may be. Samara’s non-combat loyalty mission involving her murderess daughter is one of the highlights of Mass Effect 2 and left me hoping to learn more about the mysterious Ardat-Yakshi.

-Admiral Hackett: Something about those sweet, dulcet tones of Admiral Hackett’s voice make us feel like the Alliance might actually know what they’re doing in the battle against the Reapers. Although he’s mainly just a voice on an intercom in the first two games, Mass Effect 3 fleshes out Hackett’s role in the galactic conflict and has us wishing we could learn more about the man in the hologram.

1. Garrus Vakarian


I don’t know what it is about Garrus Vakarian that makes him so universally likeable. Ask anyone on the street who their favorite Mass Effect character is and “Garrus” will probably be their answer. It might have something to do with his deep, intrinsically friendly voice. Or perhaps it’s because he’s the equivalent of Batman on the corrupt space station Omega. Or maybe it’s because every conversation between Shepard and Garrus seems like the epitome of two best friends who know everything about each other. Regardless, Garrus is a charismatic, hilarious, trustworthy, yet troubled friend who manages to feel like he could walk out of your television screen and come alive. He’s the kind of guy you want to have a beer with – or at least shoot beer cans on top of the Citadel Presidium with.

If there’s one member of the Normandy’s crew that Shepard can’t live without, it’s Garrus. He’s great in a fight and even better afterwards, when everyone needs to wind down and have a laugh. He might do a lot of calibrating, but Garrus Vakarian is my favorite Mass Effect character.


Your First Time: What You Need to Know Before Embarking on Your First D&D Adventure

There’s been a lot of fuss over Dungeons & Dragons lately. It’s topping the non-fiction charts on Amazon, filling book store shelves, and getting tons of attention from geeky little websites like this one. While this beloved RPG has been central to the lives of many tabletop gamers, you may have just jumped on the bandwagon. Maybe you’ve been waiting for years to find a good reason to play or maybe you’ve just discovered D&D during this whirlwind of press coverage. Regardless of your path to this improvisational world of powerful wizards, mighty warriors, and deadly assassins; there aren’t a ton of resources for brand new players.

Dungeons & Dragons can be a confusing franchise to navigate. With five editions spanning forty years, hundreds of valuable sourcebooks and a myriad of clever imitators, where does one begin their journey?

The following is a collection of advice that we hope will get you on the right track. Roleplaying games are fun, engaging and extremely social and the more folks who are seduced by the hobby, the more fun we’re all liable to have.

Welcome aboard.


The Basics

Dungeons & Dragons is a tabletop roleplaying game and much of the following assumes that you are already aware of what a tabletop roleplaying game is. We hope that the idea is appealing to you before you invest your time and money into what can become a pretty intensive pastime. But for brevity’s sake, a tabletop roleplaying game is typically a means of improvised storytelling structured around a specific set of rules.

There are dozens of RPGs that function in every possible genre, but D&D focuses on the high fantasy of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Terry Brooks, and Robert Jordan. This is not a traditional board game with winners and losers. In fact, the rules are loose enough to be open to interpretation. Players work together to build a tale of magical lands and mysterious foes, using the Player’s Handbook as a guideline, but never allowing it to impede on their fun.

For information about tabletop RPGs, check out our “Beginner’s Guide”:

Step One: Find Your Edition

Let’s be clear here: D&D is not a single game with a long-standing set of rules. It’s not Monopoly. There have been “Five” distinct editions – although even that point is debated. Most of the older versions have been made available digitally and you might even be able to find them used at your local game shop; but for the most part I’d suggest ignoring them for the time being. They’ll likely feel dated to modern sensibilities and will have left behind some of the serious innovations of the last ten years.

The newest edition of Dungeons & Dragons is 5th and it’s the one that we’ll be focusing on in this article. It’s likely that this is the game you’ve been hearing about as it’s been garnering a ton of praise from critics and players alike. Products have just begun to roll out in the last few weeks with the Player’s Handbook having just hit store shelves and the Monster Manual coming at the end of September. The Dungeon Master’s Guide is also planned for a November release.

Intended Dungeon Masters are going to want to pick up all three of these products, as they will give you the widest scope of possibilities for your narrative. Players can probably stick with the Player’s Handbook.

Fifth Edition is the only version of the game that Wizards of the Coast will be supporting from here on out; so if you want new material, you’re going to want to make sure you pick up the book with this gorgeous cover:

This is what 5e's Player's Handbook looks like.
This is what 5e’s Player’s Handbook looks like.

But beyond the potential for updates and new goodies, Fifth Edition offers a simplified and modular set of mechanics that emphasize collaboration and storytelling. There are loads of customization options and story hooks that will allow you to build exactly the character that you want to portray. However, even more impressively, D&D 5E is streamlined enough that even the most complex mechanics can be learned in just a few sessions. It’s perfect for beginners, but pays enough of a tribute to previous iterations that even your veteran friends are likely to enjoy what it has to offer.

Click here for our detailed first impressions of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition.

What’s more, Wizards of the Coast has made the Basic Rules for players and Dungeon Masters available online for free. Everything you need to start an initial adventure is included in these documents, but you’ll likely require the premium products if you want to expand your horizons. Still, this is an incredibly generous offer that requires zero investment on the part of you or your potential group. Take advantage of it before you bother forking over any cash.

Another potential choice is Fourth Edition Dungeons & Dragons, Wizards’ previous incarnation of the series that will likely remain in retailers for several more years. This vast collection of sourcebooks can be incredibly appealing because of how many products are currently available, but before you jump into the deep end, you should remember that 4E is no longer supported by its publisher. There will be no more material in the future and as such, it has mostly stagnated. The only legitimate reason to explore Fourth Edition is its unique style of gameplay that highlights intense, complicated, miniatures-driven combat that sits somewhere between a wargame and a classic RPG. However, unless your group is swayed by this stylistic choice, I’d suggest steering clear – despite the fact that I’m a fan of the system.

Lastly, you could take a look at Pathfinder, a third-party tribute to older versions of D&D that has become so popular that it outsold Fourth Edition for most of its lifespan. This is the first time that any roleplaying game has accomplished this feat, essentially overtaking the dominant franchise; a success won mostly through its complex mechanics and attention to detail. This is both a blessing and a curse. If you like a game with rules for everything, Pathfinder is probably for you. If you like a game that is open to interpretation, it’s probably less so. I’ve also found that Pathfinder is not terribly friendly to newbies and it may behoove you to start somewhere else to decide whether or not you require rules this complicated in your RPGs.

My advice: stick with Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition. It has the most room to grow.

Step Two: Find Your Group


Unless you already have a bunch of friends lined up, it’s easy to convince yourself that no one is going to want to play this crazy new-fangled fantasy storytelling game with you. But I promise you, there are lots of folks who have played D&D or will want to try it for the first time. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told someone about my campaign and they’ve replied, “I’ve always wanted to try that.” Roleplaying is not the counter-cultural hobby it used to be. It’s growing and expanding with every passing year, mostly as a direct response to the relative isolation of video gaming. Dungeons & Dragons is a great reason to hang out with people you care about.

In fact, my first ongoing group came together because we were looking for something to do that wouldn’t cost us a ton of money, but that we could participate in week-in and week-out. Not everyone was on board with the idea at first, but they were open-minded enough to give it a try. By the end of the first session, they were dying to see where the story would go next. D&D isn’t for everyone, but it’s probably for more people than we give it credit for.

Ask around and gauge interest. Post a Facebook status or a Tweet putting feelers out for other players that are already in your social circle. Bring up your interest in casual conversation and see how people react. Before you know it, you’ll have found three or four people who will be willing to give the game a shot. Get together and create characters, make the atmosphere fun and light. There’s no reason to stress about getting it right the first time, because you’ll learn the specifics as time goes by. If you’re having a good time with your group, you are doing it right.

A great resource for new gamers is the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Kit. It includes five pre-made characters, a brief summation of the rules, a compelling adventure, and a set of dice for only twenty bucks. Check out our full review:

Step Three A: Dungeon Master – Build Your Story

D&D requires that someone step-up to the hallowed position of referee, confidant, and storyteller: the Dungeon Master. This can seem like a challenging role, but it’s actually quite rewarding if given the proper time and energy. DMing is an art form, but it can be learned; and if you have any grasp of your creative muscles, you’re already built for the job.

Generally, if you’re the one bringing everyone to the table, you should probably be the Dungeon Master. You’ll be more familiar with the rules and have that burning fire to weave the exciting tales boiling inside of you. If you’ve been invited to a game and want to try your hand at DMing, feel free to ask; but know that it is likely that someone else has already been prepping an adventure or campaign.

There are plenty of methods to use while Dungeon Mastering and you can find many of them here, but when starting, there a few of different entry points.

First, you could use a pre-written adventure path like Hoard of the Dragon Queen or Lost Mines of Phandelver. This is an effective option if you aren’t yet confident enough to explore your own worlds and characters, providing all the necessary tools to tell a gripping story. However, if adventures feel too constrictive, you could also look into any number of D&D’s established campaign settings: Eberron, the Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, or Ptolus. Though there have been no official 5E setting guides, most of the previous installments feature inspiration and concepts that cross mechanical boundaries and could easily help you bring life to your game.

The alternative is bold and challenging, but ultimately more satisfying: you could build your own world and allow your players to venture forth through its mysteries. Chances are, you already know if this is the direction you want to go. You’ve been daydreaming about fantastical lands, imagining all of the wild characters that could inhabit them, and D&D happens to be the perfect way to express your imagination. Be prepared for the long haul with this strategy though, it requires a lot of work and preparation. Luckily, the Dungeon Master’s Guide will likely provide all the tools you need to embolden your vision.

One important thing to keep in mind is that this game is collaborative. As entertaining as it is to construct an adventure of your own making, remember to factor in what your players want out of Dungeons & Dragons. This is their story too. It’s easy to assume that the Dungeon Master should do all the heavy lifting; but if the group has created interesting characters, they’ll offer loads of inspiration for the varying directions your narrative could go. Your primary job as DM is to engage and entertain everyone at the table. Keep the balance and you’ll be successful at this task.

Step Three B: Players – Build Your Characters

There’s nothing more freeing than a blank character sheet. It’s full of brimming possibilities; literally anyone could come alive at your fingertips. We’ve already addressed the best ways to inhabit a character in previous posts, but how does one get started with the creation process?

In D&D 5E, you begin this process by selecting from one of nine fantasy races: humans, elves, dwarves, halflings, dragonborn, half-orcs, half-elves, gnomes or tieflings. Each race comes with various advantages and disadvantages, along with a distinct flavor that helps to define character and encourage roleplaying. Subraces allow for even deeper customization – a Dark Elf is very different from a High Elf – and add further complexity to the biology and civilization of your campaign world.


Next up is your choice of character class; a position that can come across as a profession, but is really more of a life’s calling. Class determines what powers and abilities will be made available to you and separates your skills from the rest of the groups’. A fighter uses his martial prowess to command the battlefield. A wizard conjures spells of arcane might by channeling years of knowledge and education. A warlock makes a pact with a divine figure; imbuing them with power, but at the cost of subjugation. Your class is the single most important element of your character as it determines how she will grow and change. As you collect experience points, new abilities will become accessible and you’ll witness as your level one spell slinger becomes an all powerful mage; capable of manipulating the energy of a god.


With your combination of race and class in tact, you’ll use the information in the text to fill out your character sheet; upgrading ability scores, skills, combat information and significant other features. Afterwards, you can purchase weapons and armor to equip your avatar with all he’ll need to slay his enemies.

Fifth Edition also includes a chapter on background and personality that will help to spice up the narrative possibilities for your character. Backgrounds establish what your character did before their adventuring days: perhaps they were an Acolyte in a cult of Orcus or a Soldier in the Aundairian military. This previous life provides a new set of skills and resources that will help to bolster your already impressive abilities. For example, a Sailor gains proficiency in Athletics and Perception, as well as easy and accessible passage on any ship at just about any port. Further, the background provides four randomized plot hooks that will embed the character deeper into the world: a personality trait, an ideal, a bond with someone else, and a severe flaw. You can choose to develop your own characteristics – in fact, I think you should – or roll a die and accept the result on a table.

Regardless, remember that your character is not just a series of statistics. The more detail you put into her back story and motivation, the more you’ll get out of the game.

Step Four: Play!

So the Dungeon Master has developed his story, the players have created their characters, and its finally time to sit down at the table and play. This can be an absolutely exhilarating experience, but don’t put too much pressure on yourselves. You’re bound to make a few mistakes with the rules and likely to feel awkward while playing pretend with your adult friends for the first time. This is all natural and will fade with time.

The fact of the matter is that the rules aren’t entirely essential. They will provide heightened dynamics and drama to your game, but you’ll likely have loads of fun regardless of how many of them you’ve initially memorized. I often suggest starting with the basics and slowly adding more complexity as time goes by. Show your players basic combat before implementing maneuvers and actions. Demonstrate a basic Ability Check before delving into skills and proficiencies. This will allow everyone to learn the game at the same pace.

As a player, there’s no reason to be embarrassed if you want to take your character seriously and “act out” the role. It might seem silly at first; but from my experience, when one person takes a chance and gets into character, the rest of the party will follow. The best roleplaying I’ve ever seen has often come from a single player who leads everyone else down the same path and shows them that it’s okay to improvise. People have been sitting around camp fires telling stories for thousands of years, the only difference with D&D is that it uses some dice and is more collaborative than a shaman’s yarn. The more invested you are in your character and the story, the better your experience will be.

…and ultimately, that’s all that matters. If you’re having fun, you’re doing a good job. Dungeons & Dragons can appear to be intimidating and complicated, but really it’s just an entertaining hobby that allows a group of friends to engage with their creative impulses.

Don’t wait any longer. Give it a try.