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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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)


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.


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


A Bloody Walk in the Woods: The Vanishing of Ethan Carter

The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is proof that we’re entering a new era of gaming. It somehow conveys the deep immersion of virtual reality without support for the Oculus Rift. Every leaf feels as though it was placed lovingly by Mother Nature. Every path could lead somewhere real and tangible. Ethan Carter is a gorgeous testament to the power of Unreal 4, but it wows with more than tech; its free-form storytelling thrives on the kind of suspense that can only be created by genuine discovery. Sleuthing through the wilds of Red Creek Valley is an iconic experience that will amaze, frustrate, compel and illuminate.

Paul Prospero is a classic Lovecraftian hero for a classic Lovecraftian tale: a man who can see things that are just out of the view of most “sensible” people. He’s ostensibly a psychic detective and well-known enough to have amassed a legion of imaginative fans that follow his reality-shattering adventures. Prospero receives regular letters from a boy named Ethan Carter, whose knowledge of the occult and arcane is disturbing for his age. As the letters grow darker in tone, the detective learns that the boy has gone missing and is inspired to use his considerable skills to uncover the truth of Ethan Carter’s fate. It’s a decision that leads Prospero to the back country roads and abandoned railroad lines of Red Creek Valley, a forest of ominous beauty. From there, he becomes a vessel for the player; a tool for exploring the hidden world beneath the grass, the dirt, and the blood.


This game had the rare effect of blurring out the world surrounding my monitor. I was transfixed by the oppressive atmosphere and mystifying soundtrack, to the point that I’d have to take regular breaks to readjust myself to reality. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter isn’t explicitly a horror game – there are no monsters stalking you through the woods – but it induces a dread that’s equivalent to walking through a house you think might be haunted. You tell yourself that there’s nothing around the next corner, but your mind is never quite convinced. There’s a subtle madness to the game that creeps under your skin and stays for days after it’s completed. The weight of its story’s tragedy makes it feel like hallowed ground and at times it can be difficult to tell where Prospero ends and you begin.

I’m sure this sounds like hyperbole; but if you come into The Vanishing of Ethan Carter with the right mindset, it will dig its hooks into you as well.

Oddly enough, there are few traditional mechanics to speak of in this game. You don’t play Ethan Carter so much as you experience it. Travelling along the overgrown trails, you search for clues to unravel the events that lead to the child’s disappearance. It doesn’t take long before you spot the hastily thrown together traps, the blood-stained train engine, or the severed legs on rusted-out tracks. But the mystery isn’t laid out clearly in front of you. Information is purposefully withheld and you’re forced to piece together the disparate elements in your mind. Prospero is aided by his unique vision, but ultimately the game refuses to hold your hand. If you miss a crucial clue, you could easily come to the wrong conclusion. This may be a bone of contention for impatient players, but is actually Ethan Carter’s defining strength. Its slow, deliberate pace allows even more time for the terror to settle in.


This existential horror is bolstered by the game’s intense realism. I’m not one to marvel unwittingly at graphical upgrades, but The Vanishing of Ethan Carter does much more than demonstrate the power of its engine. Every perfectly placed pixel enhances player participation, conjuring the emotional resonance that makes the game so special. This immersive quality comes directly from an innovative technique that allowed developer The Astronauts to translate photographs into a digital environment.

Red Creek Valley is an amalgamation of real world locations, strung together to create the illusion of wholeness. As such, there are no repeated textures or recycled assets. The forest feels alive and natural, filled with old-growth trees that have retaken the structures of men. The trees don’t look as though they were haphazardly planted by game designers to suggest “forestness”, they seem as though they’ve been there forever. The ruins of old homes, churches, and train stations are lived-in and decaying, occasionally making the game feel like an urban exploration simulator. Lighting, animation, resolution; everything comes together perfectly. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter looks real, but it also feels real; as if it’s somehow crossed the uncanny valley. It’s a difference that really needs to be experienced to be fathomed.

…but perhaps that’s why I spent half my time in the game trying to take the ideal screenshot.


With its rampant attention to detail, Ethan Carter is an open-world on a small-scale. It only takes fifteen or twenty minutes to bound across its quietly disturbing landscape, yet somehow the game manages to convey a scope that dwarfs the massive environments of Skyrim and Red Dead Redemption. Standing on the edge of a stone bridge, eyes retracing my steps along the lakeside cliff face, I was truly in awe of the distance I had travelled. I could practically feel my muscles aching from the journey. It’s a sensation that no other game has accurately represented; at least not in such a richly dynamic fashion. Ethan Carter feels larger than it is, explaining the calls for a “fast travel” option from many of its fans. But the perceived expanse of Red Creek Valley is as charming as it is frustrating and could become permanently soiled if The Astronauts bow down to this demand. Getting lost is part of the fun and backtracking increases immersion. There’s no need to water-down this mentally challenging experience.

This frustration is partially due to the games “level” design: there is none. Ten distinct and interconnected mysteries are strewn about the valley, but there is nothing to notate where one set of clues begins and another ends. The player can move between stages freely, meaning that the story can easily unfold at a truncated pace. If you miss the traps at the beginning of the game, you might not have the context you need to understand the events in the stave church graveyard or the mines. Even after everything becomes clear, you’ll have to sequence together the events in a logical pattern. You’ll have to investigate some of your own theories and interpretations. Ultimately, The Vanishing of Ethan Carter takes place as much in your mind as it does your monitor. There’s a story to be told, but it’s as much yours’ as it is the boy’s.

This is the beating heart of what the game is trying to get at. Ethan is a creative kid who lets his mind wander and race; his head is always in the clouds. These stories save him as his family disintegrates and Prospero bears witness to it all. The conclusion will be talked about for ages, criticized and pulled apart and analyzed for its deep look into our collective storytelling psyche. It will probably lead to more questions than answers, but that’s the way I like my endings.


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.

Lovecraft would be proud.

Score: 10/10

An Otherworldly Travel Guide: The Best RPG Campaign Settings

World-building is one the great joys of tabletop roleplaying. Bringing to life an entirely new realm of existence is both empowering and satisfying. Unfortunately, not everyone has the time or dedication necessary to develop their own home-brewed setting; a massive undertaking for both players and Game Masters.

Luckily, game designers seem to love world-building as much their players do and forty years worth of RPGs have supplied gaming groups with hundreds of in-depth campaign settings. Complete with complex histories, warring factions, diverse cultures and detailed characters, these worlds are easily inhabited and formed by some of best authors of fiction and fantasy. Campaign settings take the storytelling weight off the shoulders of the DM and provide the kinds of inspiration necessary to entertain and engage their players at the table.

But not every campaign setting is created equal. Some have an astounding level of detail. Others are left open to interpretation. Some build huge, expansive continents, while others focus on the minutiae of a single town or city. What follows is a collection of our favorite RPG settings; the ones that spark our creativity and stimulate our senses, the ones that live and breathe. If you’re looking to start a new campaign, this might provide a few good places to start.

The Forgotten Realms of Abeir-Toril (Dungeons & Dragons)


Let’s get the no-brainer out of the way first. While Dungeons & Dragons began in Gary Gygax’s personally crafted playground of Greyhawk; its Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms have truly stood the test of time. Abeir-Toril is perhaps the most fervently realized fantasy setting in all of fiction, encompassing five distinct continents, scores of independent nations, and thousands of years of history. Faerun is by far the most popular of the Forgotten Realms’ locales, an exquisitely rendered medieval setting of Tolkien-esque proportions. It’s managed to survive all five editions of D&D because of its versatility and timelessness, eventually becoming the central setting of 5E. Kara-Tur and Zakhara are equally as detailed, though they take inspiration from Asian and Arabic mythology respectively.

While the Forgotten Realms lacks the deep originality of some of the other worlds on this list, the vastness of its scope is impossible to ignore. The possibility for adventure is nearly endless. It’s a setting crafted lovingly since 1968 and Ed Greenwood’s attention to detail truly shows. Lots of gamers will start a campaign this year and many of them will contribute to Faerun’s history.

Ptolus (d20 Systems)


Ptolus takes the exact opposite approach to the Forgotten Realms’ ever-expanding multiverse, choosing to intensely focus on a single city bordering the collapsing nation of Tarsis. As with Ed Greenwood, creator Monte Cook (a name you’ll hear numerous times on this list) did little more than put the setting of his home campaign onto paper; 672 pages of paper to be exact. Few campaign settings have ever dwelt so wholly on the microscopic level; defining a city down to individual streets and districts, populating it with compelling denizens of every type. The Ptolus sourcebook might be the most lavish roleplaying guide ever made, designed to look like a travel guide and complete with some of the most detailed fantasy art ever printed. Few settings have so potently and effectively redefined the tropes of the genre. Even though Ptolus remains a cult hit, it deserves far more attention from the gaming public. If you’re persuaded to buy into just one of these magnificent worlds, I hope it’s this one.

Planescape (Dungeons & Dragons)


Not every adventuring party remains tied to the soil of their respective Earth. Some are compelled to cross the Astral Sea into the dominion of gods and other divine beings: the Planes. Planescape started as a natural extension of the original Manual of the Planes. Laid out like a Great Wheel, these infinite heavenly bodies are home to sects of angels, demons and otherworldly creatures that can hardly be described. The hub where they meet is known as Sigil, or the “The City of Doors”, and is often the starting place for any major campaign; as it connects directly to the Material Plane. Warring philosophical factions make their home on Sigil and beyond, representing the diversity of the planes as they battle for the fate of the multiverse. Planescape is a setting where the imagination can run wild, where magic reigns supreme and no idea is too abstract or extreme. This can be intimidating at first, but many Dungeon Masters have found the prisons of the Nine Hells, the gardens of the Celestia, and the cog works of Mechanus to be creatively freeing. Compatible with just about any D&D setting, Planescape is a realm that every gamer should have the chance to explore.

The Dreaming (White Wolf Storyteller Systems)

What is even vaster than the infinite planes of Dungeons & Dragons? Our dreams. And in White Wolf’s Changeling: The Dreaming, players are whisked away by fae creatures to a land where creative thoughts are made flesh. It’s a world where literally anything is possible, where pleasant daydreams and nightmares co-exist. Technically, the Dreaming is part of the greater World of Darkness mythos, an interwoven setting that includes Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Mage: The Ascension and more. But ultimately, those games are darker and more brooding in tone, with a definite tinge of horror. The Dreaming can certainly have its moments of dripping fear and dread, but its openness allows for some light at the end of the tunnel. Beauty is as welcome as ugliness. For that reason, it stands apart from the rest of the White Wolf line, even if its primary conceit could still leave you lying awake at night: the fae kidnap human bodies to use as vessels for their souls. Try not to think to hard about that one. I love the entirety of the World of Darkness, but the Dreaming is particularly wonderful.

Earth 2050 (Shadowrun)


Before Shadowrun, few properties had though to marry the awe-inspiring magic of the fantasy genre with the out-of-this-world tech of science fiction. Taking place almost fifty years into the future, Shadowrun posits and Earth at the end of Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. As the clock ticks down, magic makes its return to the world, transforming human beings into Orks, Trolls, Elves and Dwarves. This cataclysmic event shifts borders and sees the rise of new nations who can control ancient spirits. Simultaneously, huge corporations take advantage of the chaos to bump up their profits and innovate at levels never seen before. This fusion of cyberpunk and mythology is an incredibly unique vision of the future, where shadowrunners are hired by these Mega-corporations to solve conflicts and steal secrets from competitors. Some of these mercenaries even choose to take the hard road and work against this fascist system of business and government. Shadowrun is brilliant at translating its story elements into mechanics and is a happy medium for groups whose preferences split between sci-fi and fantasy.

Eberron (Dungeons & Dragons)


Eberron asks a slightly different question than Shadowrun: what if the technology we enjoy today was the byproduct of magic instead of science? What if airships were powered by massive elemental creatures? What if magic could infuse constructs with the spark of life? In Eberron, all of these things are made possible by artificers, spellwrights and wizards, who are often caught up in an arms race between four warring nations. For a fantasy setting, the politics are particularly interesting: a hundred year conflict has just ended and the governments are in a state of cold war. Spies cross borders to retrieve information, internal strife threatens stability, and massive organizations known as the Dragonmarked Houses profit off of the suffering of others. Meanwhile, ancient clans of demons and dragons plot to undo all of civilization and the Dreaming Dark conquers the minds of the ignorant. Eberron is a campaign setting built for complex intrigue and political machinations. It has everything you could want from a Dungeons & Dragons world, while deconstructing the fantasy genre with new and fresh ideas. My current campaign takes place on Eberron and my players are quite happy with the result.

Athas (Dungeons & Dragons)


Athas might be the polar opposite of Eberron, a post-apocalyptic world ruined by magic and transformed into a burnt husk of desert and wastelands. The world of Dark Sun is depressing and grim, where cannibalistic Halflings scavenge the countryside, dwarf-human hybrids are valued for their use as slaves, and dragons have been all but destroyed by their lifeless surroundings. Magic has been outlawed, because wizards known as defilers drew their power from the environment; thus leading to the ruination of this once blue and green paradise. Even divine magic is taboo, as there are no gods to speak of; if there ever were, they left Athas to rot. As such, players who choose an arcane class are often viewed as dangerous outcasts and are shunned by “proper” society. Dark Sun might be the grittiest setting to ever be published under the Dungeons & Dragons license, but it’s hardcore following has only been bolstered by the recent popularity of post-apocalyptic media. This is effectively Fallout with a hint of high fantasy, a combination that truly bursts open the imagination. There are tons of storytelling possibilities on Athas, especially if you’re looking for a darker vibe for your campaign.

 The Ninth World (Numenera)


The Ninth World is my favorite campaign setting. It’s the place I go when I imagine the potential of RPG storytelling. No setting has ever brought me creative joy in so many inspirational ways; and even though I have rarely played Numenera, the Ninth World is constant source of fresh ideas for my own gaming group. Numenera takes place a billion years into the future, on an Earth that should’ve been destroyed dozens of times over. And yet, it stills circles our sun and humans continue to dwell on its surface. This should all seem impossible, but the Ninth World is built on the ruins of eight previous civilizations; each reaching new heights of technological achievement. Denizens of the world view these devices as implements of magic or divine will, but they are most certainly machines; machines that bend reality, warp time, and cause miracles on a daily basis. Numenera is a game about exploration and the unknown, about mysteries we might not be able to solve. It’s focus on “the weird” makes it seem wholly unique: as giants with cities for heads wander mountain passes, ultradimensional horrors seduce unknowing victims, and strange mutations are cultivated by the rich and powerful. There are always more questions to ask about the Ninth World, a fact that will likely keep players coming back for more and more and more.

What is your favorite campaign setting? Comment below!

Has the Steam Discovery Update Enhanced the User Experience?

Steam was in desperate need of an update. Anyone who’s used the service in the last two years has seen its storefront descend into an unwieldy and decrepit state, completely unable to contain the overwhelming amount of new game releases. It was easy to be satisfied by the application’s original design when Valve was still intimately involved with the curation process; but by opening the floodgates they invited, well, a flood. New games would frequently disappear from the front page in days – or sometimes even hours – making it nearly impossible for indies to gain the kind of exposure that could make or break their company. Steam remained a viable and celebrated platform during this time, but criticism was mounting. It was being crushed by the weight of its openness and variety.

In some ways, the Discovery Update was inevitable. Valve is nothing if not relevant, with its finger firmly on the pulse of its users; and as its critics grew more vocal, it was bound to respond in some form. However, it was surprising to see the newly improved storefront rolled out so quickly and without warning or bombast. One morning, the internet woke up and Steam looked completely different.

The top of the marketplace is where the new fun begins. Sales are highlighted by flashy graphic headers and the new release scroll remains in fine form. But my personal favorite addition is the ability to sort by genre and tag. Given the subject matter of this site, I spend a lot of my time digging up obscure indie games on Steam and the ability to click on a button and be sent headlong into a mountain of new material is quite valuable. Once inside, I’m easily able to sort games by their player category (single-player, multiplayer, co-op, etc), their integrated features (Workshop, Achievements, Controller Support), and even by operating system. It’s a much more fluid and utilitarian process than the old “browse” tab, making the overall shopping experience more pleasant and driven by the needs of the user.

In fact, the entire UI has been altered to encourage customization, empowering the customer to tailor Steam to their desires. Most sections of the front page come with the new “customize” pull-down, which can limit the kinds of games that will be promoted to you. If you’re not a fan of the “Early Access” phenomenon, you can keep games like Kerbal Space Program and Prison Architect from appearing as “Featured” items. If you’d rather not see the non-gaming software that Steam hocks, you can do the same. This could have the unintended side effect of creating a kind of tunnel vision, narrowing what Steam gamers think they like at the expense of being exposed to new and exciting ideas. But for now, it’s a welcome change that acknowledges and solves many of the problems cited by the service’s biggest critics.

Perhaps the most glaring addition, however, is the Discovery queue: a tool that suggests up to twelve games a day, based entirely on your personal tastes and purchase history. Each game is laid out in detail – complete with reviews and trailers – and then you choose whether or not to add it to your wishlist, follow its activities, or ignore it all together. In theory, the more you explore your queue, the more strategic the suggestions will be. But from my experience, the algorithm is as much about popularity as it is about your previous purchases and ratings. Despite my vast library, very few of the recommendations were reminiscent of my style. Needless to say, I’m not a huge Naruto fan. The Discovery Queue is a good idea, but it needs some tweaking before it can be a truly effective marketing machine.

But if you’re unable to find a good game through the Queue, Steam offers another option within the brand new Curator pages. Curators are independent bodies outside of Valve that advocate for their favorite games; publishers, magazines, Youtubers and prolific hobbyists that catalog, review, and recommend. We all have our preferred taste-makers, be they IGN or PC Gamer or perhaps even Jetpack Joust, and this new feature allows Steam to react to these preferences. It’s yet another collection of data to bolster what appears on your front page. Again, I adore the concept behind Steam Curators, but worry that it could be abused by developers or publications. What will Valve do to prevent collusion; where a popular Curator is paid by a studio to promote their game? I’m definitely not part of the “industry corruption” crowd, but this could be a potential issue in the future.

However, it’s hard to ignore the profound effect that all of this will have on your average Steam user. No matter how the update impacts business for indies, the marketplace is much easier to navigate than it once was and many of the new features are suitably accurate in gauging the tastes of individual consumers. I do think the front page is still too cluttered with information; it can really overload the senses. But the larger text and smoother design does go a long way towards making Steam more welcoming to those who just like to browse its wares.

It will be interesting to see whether or not the Discovery Update will increase sales for smaller games that may have been forgotten. Some developer reports have suggested as much as a 33% boost in sales; while others have mentioned the opposite, maintaining that there has been no real change. I imagine it will take some time to sort out the data, but it’s nice to know that Valve is willing to try something new to make its distribution platform friendlier to gamers and designers alike.

I think it’s a huge stride in the right direction.

What do you think of Steam’s Discovery Update? How has it impacted your experience with the service?

Video Review: Hero of Many

Hero of Many is an experimental, emotionally-charged game in which the player portrays a glowing ball of light attempting to free its people from a malevolent force. It somehow manages to marry suspense and relaxation, combining these seemingly opposed moods into an incredibly unique experience. For more, watch our review:

You can find the PC version of “Hero of Many” here:

We also suggest checking out the Android, iOS, and Ouya versions of the game.

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Creature Feature: Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual Review

There is a multitude of ways that players begin their journey into Dungeons & Dragons, but perhaps the most transcendent is their first discovery of the holy tome of roleplaying: the Monster Manual. Something is beautiful about the brimming possibilities contained within this classic D&D sourcebook; and perhaps that’s the reason it has survived generations of edits, rewrites and experimentation with the system. As a kid (and hell, as an adult), it’s this massive collection of gorgeously rendered monstrosities that obsesses the mind far before any mechanics are ever learned. Sure, the Player’s Handbook and Dungeon Master’s Guide actually teach the rules of the game, but the Monster Manual oozes a certain “cool” factor that entices and seduces new players. A good story needs a good villain and this book is a constant source for creative conflicts and powerful enemies; from the brainwashed cultist to the devastating Tarrasque.


Fifth Edition’s take on the Monster Manual is in line with the rest of its philosophical vision: more flavor, less crunch. Entire campaigns could be spawned from the text of a single monster and at the very least, creatures are well-enough defined to become living-and-breathing elements of the DM’s world. In general, it’s fair to expect a basic description of the creature, its primary biological features, the environment it’s most suited to, and significant cultural or personality traits. These thoughtful details are the kind of inspirational fodder that feed the imagination and add a deeper level of immersion to your gaming sessions. But they also serve to make the product more enjoyable. While the Player’s Handbook can often become dry and ponderous, the Monster Manual is a joy to read from cover to cover. You’ll want to soak up each one of these brilliant beasties.

The monsters themselves are varied and plentiful, picked from every corner of classic D&D mythology. If there’s a creature that you associate with the game, it’s likely that a few pages are dedicated to it in this book: aboleths, mind flayers, owl bears, rakshasa, modrons, and dozens upon dozens of magical and mundane enemies. If the goal was to write the definitive version of the Monster Manual, Wizards’ has succeeded heartily with its selections. Unfortunately, there is a slight lack of high-level monsters past a Challenge Rating of 10, truly limiting the options for advanced play; but I expect this will be rectified in future supplements as most groups are a long way from Level 20.

Each beast is rendered beautifully in a hand-painted style that has become the trademark of this version of Dungeons & Dragons. It’s just as pleasant to sift through the elegant artwork of this book as it is to read the in-depth monster profiles. There’s a real attention to anatomy and physiology that brings a degree of realism to these fantastical opponents and the colors and textures are strong enough to animate the page in the player’s mind. The layout and design of the Monster Manual deserves as much praise as the art itself, because it has a timeless and effortless quality that belies the love and care that went into its construction. The artwork dominates the page, as it should, but the text and stat blocks are laid out with crafty logic and precision.


Not only are the stat blocks expertly placed, they’re incredibly useful and easy to interpret. There’s a concerted effort to reduce some of the clutter of Fourth Edition, with each monster having a few focused and characteristic abilities. Even traditional “bosses” like dragons and giants are relatively stripped down to the core of what makes them interesting. This simplification doesn’t devalue any of the creatures, but rather refines them and makes them easier to implement on the fly. The only piece of information that is buried a bit too deep in the format is the Challenge Rating, which I think would benefit from better positioning. But for the most part, the efficiency of these stat blocks truly benefits the Dungeon Master, saving lots of highly valued prep-time before a session.

However, there is one noteable and exciting change to the traditional formula of the Monster Manual. “Legendary” monsters are unique and powerful beings that are able to manipulate the battle in their favor and take additional actions when it is not currently their turn. Typically, this results in three disparate “legendary actions” that can be spent after another creature has gone during the round; a tentacle attack, a burst of lightning, a spontaneous heal. Once the round has come to a close, the monster regains its legendary actions and can use them all over again. This makes certain creatures absolutely deadly in combat, able to attack numerous times without consequence. In fact, most of these legendary opponents already possess a “multiattack” feature on top of their already devastating abilities. Some are even capable of controlling their environment offensively in what have been dubbed “lairs”. With an automatic initiative roll of 20, a legendary monster found in its lair can summon a swirl of toxic mist, send a sizzle of electricity through standing water, or sprout spiked rocks from the mouth of a cave. These exhilarating tools are perfect for the culmination of a campaign, adding a genuine sense of danger to an encounter.

Other additions to the Monster Manual are relatively minimal in scope, as this is by far and away the most focused of the three core rulebooks. It’s meant to be a collection of adversaries and little more. However, tiny details really do enhance the quality of this text, proving that it’s the best Fifth Edition product so far. I was particularly fond of the quotes scattered throughout, pulled from fictional volumes like the Book of Vile Darkness and the Demonomicon of Igglwiv. It gives the book some character of its own and the associated monsters some additional lore to explore. However, the most practical contributions are the small blurbs that highlight variant rules; providing new weapons and equipment for sentient creatures to use, new sub-species of a magical race, new monstrous gods to worship, and even the rules for lycanthropy in a player character. These variants bring even more diversity to a Monster Manual that is already popping at the seams with amazing content, really going above-and-beyond what I could’ve expected. Wizards of the Coast has been very generous with this book, making it worth every penny of its fifty dollar price tag.


The only glaring omission from the book is a proper way to calculate and balance the combat encounters that will be spawned by the monsters found within. I’ve skirted around the idea of Challenge Ratings (or CRs) throughout this review, but they aren’t the perfect tool for determining difficulty. Essentially, a CR represents the minimum party level required to face an opponent. For example, a group of four adventurers at level 10 would find it relatively difficult to defeat a Young Gold Dragon with a CR of 10. Unfortunately, this isn’t always a precise measurement because the party size could be larger or smaller and the Dungeon Master may want to add some henchman or minions to the encounter. Wizards has promised that rules for encounter building will be clarified in the Dungeon Master’s Guide – in fact they’ve already been made available in the Basic DM Rules – but it seems like a strange feature to leave out of the Monster Manual. This is the book where they’re really necessary and it’s a bit inconvenient to have to pull up a PDF online to access the information.

Some players have also complained that there isn’t an index of creatures based on Challenge Rating, but this was a problem that was quickly rectified. While it would’ve been nice to flip to the back of the book to find the index, Wizards has made it available for free through their website. My only wish is that they would’ve included page numbers to assist with navigation. (This is a lesson that D&D could learn from Numenera: the more page numbers, the better.)

The final bit of sweetness at the end of the Monster Manual is its appendices; two chapters whose pure function is to add even more stat blocks to the mix. The first is a collection of miscellaneous creatures, most of which are mundane in nature. This is where you’ll find your dogs and cats, horses and elephants. Everyone knows what an octopus look like, so there’s no reason to dedicate an entire page of the Monster Manual to one. This appendix saves space for more interesting monsters, while providing almost one hundred animals and insects to populate the player’s campaign world.

But a good adversary doesn’t have to be a vampire or a lich. Occasionally, the denizens of the civilized world can succumb to evil; and the second appendix contains a number of effective templates for Non-Player Characters. From an Archmage to a Bandit Captain to a Veteran Warrior, most of the popular fantasy archetypes are made available within this chapter; even if it is relatively slim. It was a pleasant surprise, as I wasn’t expecting to find any reference to NPCs until the Dungeon Master’s Guide is released in December.


Fifth Edition’s Monster Manual is a brilliant breath of fresh air. It gets everything right: the art, the design, the mechanics, the lore – and somehow manages to come across as a singularly authoritative tome. Inside you’ll find the monsters that made you fall in love with Dungeons & Dragons in the first place and that will likely be just as inspiring to a new generation of players. But there’s also enough freshness to sustain a brand new version of this classic RPG. The legendary creatures are awesome and they stand out even if they’ve been around for decades. The appendices are a clever to increase the sheer amount of content. The variants provide seemingly infinite ways to play. Ultimately, the Monster Manual is the perfect combination of the new and the familiar. Be prepared to be left wanting even more.

            Grade: 9/10

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

8. Using Ability Scores

There are all kinds of rules scattered throughout the Player’s Handbook, but the section dedicated to the core mechanics of Fifth Edition is actually quite succinct. Within thirty pages, the entirety of the game is laid out before the player. The chapter on “Using Ability Scores” is where this exploration begins, focusing on the nuts and bolts of the system before diving too far into fluff. Unfortunately, this makes it one of the driest chapters in the entirety of the book; a dilemma that is eased by its slender duration.


It’s very likely that this version of D&D is the most rules-light since 2nd Edition. Everything feels paired down to reduce crunch without eliminating the strategic complexity that makes the game so popular amongst roleplayers. Instead of dragging its heels with assorted modifiers and equations, 5e introduces Advantage and Disadvantage: a simpler means to enhance or degrade a player’s roll. To put it simply: when a character finds himself with an upper hand over an opponent, say having the high ground with a bow and arrow, he rolls two dice and takes the higher of the results. If, on the other hand, the character is trapped beneath a boulder and attempting to defend himself, he would roll two dice and take the lower result. Similarly efficient, proficiency bonuses are now static across all classes, creating a standardized system that’s easier to interpret and anticipate when advancing in level. It’s a singular number that represents an overall growth in abilities, the sum total of a character’s adventurous experiences. These – and other small innovations – even read with a bit more fluidity than in previous incarnations; though I’m sure they’ll really shine at the table.

Of course, you couldn’t name the chapter “Using Ability Scores” without addressing the statistics that have come to define Dungeons & Dragons: Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. There’s nothing new or shocking to be found about these classic mechanics, but the text does a good job of summarizing their meaning for new players. What little freshness there is comes in the form of the Contest, which is used to resolve out-of-combat opposition between the heroes and their enemies. For example, if a character presses himself against a door to keep an Orc from crashing through, they might roll separate Strength checks; with the winner succeeding in his efforts. It’s a clever tension builder that can liven up chase scenes, bar fights and sometimes even standard combat encounters. Skills and saving throws are also addressed, but they remain mostly untouched by 5e’s improvements.

Alas, I’m afraid that the brevity of this section might sacrifice a degree of clarity for new-comers. A lot of the phrasing seems open to interpretation and for someone who isn’t used to RPG terminology, the instructions might not be direct enough to fully grasp the actual flow of the game in play. The concepts are well defined, but the way they’re connected isn’t always made clear. Still, this is an issue that’s plagued D&D from the beginning, if only because there’s really no other experience to compare it to. It’s a minor gripe, one that can be easily overlooked in the shadow of the game’s clever new mechanics.

Grade: 8/10

9. Adventuring


Despite outward appearances (especially in the tactics-heavy 3rd and 4th Editions), Dungeons & Dragons is not a game that revolves around the epic battles between powerful champions and scheming monstrosities. While combat is certainly intrinsic to the experience, the heart of D&D lies within the freedom that player’s are given to explore an arcane world and all of its magical mysteries. It’s often the moments between the clashing of swords that become the most memorable: surviving the ice cold wilderness of the Great Glacier, negotiating room rates with a humorous innkeeper, or sneaking through the shadowy chambers of the Underdark. This brief chapter underlines these narratively driven rules for D&D; addressing topics as varied as the passage of time, long-ranged movement and downtime activities.

Again, there’s not much here that’s going to revolutionize RPG mechanics. This section is more devoted to addressing situations that are likely to arise during a plot-heavy session. Players are likely to pick and choose which of these rules will affect their group. If realism is important, then there are tables defining the effects of a character’s pace of travel, his hunger, and his thirst. If you’d rather take the more expedient approach, cutting between connected “scenes” without worrying so much about the minutiae of survival; it’s equally viable and you can largely ignore much of this chapter’s number crunching. In fact, a lot of this content seems subjective, making it incredibly difficult to have a strong opinion about.

There are a few essential tidbits scattered throughout, however. Resting is incredibly important between battles, because it allows the character to regain their lost hit points. During a short rest, player’s can spend their hit dice to heal themselves; while a long rest results in a complete return of all HP and half of the expended hit dice. The chapter also dives headlong into different styles of roleplaying, the impact of vision and lighting, crafting, research, and practicing a profession separate from adventuring. It’s a diverse set of rules that demonstrate the wide range of possibilities available to those who tell stories using a D&D framework.

Grade: 8/10

10. Combat


While many of D&D’s rules are only as significant as your group needs them to be, the life-or-death consequences of combat require a more detailed system of guidelines and mechanics. This is where the “game” behind the improvised narrative begins to make its appearance, as most of the other rolls only serve to enhance plot tension and determine the consequences of the group’s actions. But when the blood spills, D&D’s origins as a war-game are on full-display and this chapter reiterates many of the conventions that have existed throughout its history.

Truthfully, the combat of Fifth Edition is driven more by omission than innovation. The extraneous ideas of previous versions are simplified or removed entirely, leading to an elegant and refined rules set that’s as easy to learn as it is to interpret. It’s rather minimalistic in design, which might alienate players who prefer intense grid-based tactics; but the openness of the system has some great potential to inspire creativity at the table.

The first major change is the removal of the minor action, a Fourth Edition invention that allowed players to take a swig of a potion, cast a utility spell, add some extra dice to a damage roll or initiate a number of other small effects. Minor actions did add a new layer of strategy to combat, but often at the cost of efficiency. Players would pour over their character sheets trying to find the best way to maximize their turn with a well-timed minor action; a huge roadblock to 4E’s already lengthy encounters. The truth is, you won’t even notice the mechanic is gone. It’s an exclusion has an incredibly subtle effect on the flow of a battle, speeding up the process by eliminating a third – mostly insignificant – choice from your turn.

Instead, there are only two options a character can take per round: a movement and an action. As always, movement is determined by speed and this chapter does a wonderful job of specifying how a move can be broken up, how creature size impacts a character, and how difficult terrain affects combat. Actions are a bit broader in scope, as they   encompass just about anything that requires significant effort to accomplish. Making an attack, casting a spell, aiding a fellow warrior, or dashing across the battlefield; your character’s most important decision in a round is how best to use their action. Still, compared to the dozens of powers offered to martial (non-magical) classes in 4E, combat options in Fifth Edition feel stripped down and basic. Yet this doesn’t diminish the strategy of the game; it merely serves as a means to condense encounters into a more digestible length. It should become very rare that an instance of combat take up the entire length of your gaming session.

Occasionally, a class feature or spell will include a third “bonus action”, such as the Fighter’s extra attack, but these are only made available on a per case basis. They’re clearly outlined in the text of the ability and much easier to implement than the minor actions of old. Here, bonus actions represent a character’s increase in experience and skill, as opposed to trivial modifications to combat that anyone can make.

This chapter is so replete with information that it’s difficult to discuss without becoming a tedious recitation of the rules. In fact, most of the concepts are enough aligned with previous editions that they’re barely worth a mention. You still roll to attack, add your proficiency bonus if applicable, and then compare it to your enemy’s Armor Class. Upon a hit, you roll for damage. Throughout its history, very little has changed in Dungeons & Dragons’ core combat rules; and that’s mostly because they were solid from the beginning. For veterans, this section will likely feel like a reminder or a retread, but new players should find it welcoming and instructive. Everything from healing to character death to underwater combat is contained within these few pages and by the time you’ve scanned through it, your knowledge of D&D will be mostly complete.

Grade: 8/10

11. Spells & Spellcasting


The beating heart of Dungeons & Dragons has always been magic. There are plenty of tabletop RPGs that dabble in realism or futuristic technology, but it’s the multitude of arcane spells and rituals that have kept this game in the popular consciousness for more than forty years. Something is joyful about flipping through the almost eighty pages of enchantments; taking the time to imagine the raw power that will be flung from your character’s fingertips. Binding a celestial angel to the material plane, hurling a massive fireball at your enemies, or dominating the weak mind of a kobold chieftain, there are literally hundreds of options to bolster your wizard, warlock, sorcerer, druid or other student of the mystical arts.

But Fifth Edition’s magic system isn’t effective because of its variety. Instead, its reverence to tried and true ideas builds a straightforward set of mechanics that – like so much about 5E – simplifies and refines the role of a spellcaster. Gone are the days of the at-will, encounter, and daily powers, replaced by the spell slot: a number that represents the total amount of spells that a character can expel before resting. This isn’t a new mechanic, but will likely be greeted with open arms by long-time players. It’s intuitive, yet complex and offers the chance to experiment with a character’s magical abilities. For example, casting a low-level spell using a high-level slot may lead to extra effects or higher damage. Spell slots ultimately balance a wizard or cleric by limiting the potential of their seemingly god-like influence over the world while simultaneous encouraging the player to engage in their greatest power fantasies.

Another tweak, or rather reimplementation, is that spells are (more or less) assumed to succeed automatically. A warlock casting Circle of Death need not roll for her attack. The orb of necrotic energy is conjured from the ether and it’s up to the opponent to succeed on a saving throw or suffer the ill effects of the hex. As such, magical characters feel more competent, as it’s rare for their spells to backfire or miss. Instead, monsters and enemies are forced to dodge, resist, or ward off the arcane might of the player characters; a task that makes much more sense within the confines of Dungeons & Dragons.

Unfortunately, many of the text blocks for the spells themselves lack the kind of flavor that is present in earlier chapters of the Player’s Handbook. The whole thing reads as rather bland and utilitarian. While this approach certainly cuts down on length (thus, allowing for more spells), some short, flagrant descriptions may have brought a little spice to the chapter. I suppose I just wish that it was more entertaining than a reference guide, but I imagine that Wizards’ point is to encourage the players to envision their own take on how the spell would emanate from its caster. Too much flavor text, after all, can be stifling.

Grade: 8/10

12. The Appendices and a Final Wrap-Up

The Player’s Handbook is absolutely bursting with content and at this point, I think you can gather just how much I adore this new system. Even as the book comes to a conclusion, the appendices bring an added layer of fun and information: a definition of various combat conditions complete with hilarious sketches, huge lists of deities from a variety of pantheons spanning D&D and the real world, stat blocks for summoned creatures, and a brief outline of 5E’s multiverse. It’s a final dash of flavor that goes a long way and will likely win over new players with its creative implications. More exciting is the mention of classic campaign settings like Greyhawk and Dragonlance that will no doubt spark rumors of an imminent return to these fantastically detailed worlds; worlds we haven’t explored in many editions.

Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition is a faithful and innovative attempt to bring all of the things that players love about this game under one roof. There’s a reason that words like “simple” and “elegant” have been uttered so many times in this review, because 5E is fueled by a design philosophy that emphasizes a kind of complex minimalism. There are still loads of satisfying choices to be made, but they all carry more weight than in previous versions. They matter. Fifth Edition trims the fat, but leaves a familiar game that is explicitly and undoubtedly D&D; perhaps the definitive version of the first and most important tabletop RPG. The open playtest paid off and Wizards’ delicate attention to detail ended in genuine success.

With its openness and modularity, there are many directions for this game to take. Sourcebooks dedicated to new classes, races, spells and features could easily bring fresh and exciting options to players and Dungeon Masters alike. Campaign settings could contribute vast, living worlds to use as a sandbox for imagination and storytelling. Bestiaries could populate these worlds with horrible monstrosities and noble NPCs. Regardless of the next step, the Player’s Handbook has got me suitably excited for the future of this franchise.

Buy this book. Grab some friends. Play Dungeons & Dragons.

            Final Grade: 8/10