REVIEW: Empire of Imagination by Michael Witwer

At some point, someone is going to publish a history of Dungeons & Dragons that does not simply stop at the point when E. Gary Gygax was forced out of TSR. At some point, someone is going to write a history of Dungeons & Dragons that engages with the creative process and tries to understand why the game assumed the shape it did.

We have not yet reached that point.

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REVIEW: The Wombwell Stones

Set in early 1920s Britain, A Very British Horror is an on-going series of adventures (half of which have been published at time of writing) designed to either stand alone or function as an extended campaign. The first volume, The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild is set in a decaying B&B in the Cotswolds and it involves a traumatised friend, a deranged husband, family secrets, and a sinister cult with ties to the British establishment. I thought it very good when I played it, I thought it even better when I sat down to write about it, and I remember it now as one of the few published Call of Cthulhu adventures to really grasp the unique horrors of Britishness.

However, while The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild may be a fantastic stand-alone adventure and a great place to start a Call of Cthulhu campaign set in 1920s Britain, the second volume in the series is something of a disappointment.

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REVIEW: Hand of Glory

Hand of Glory is part of Type40’s ongoing series of ‘adventure seeds’.

What you get for your $9 is a short, single-session adventure designed to be run with minimal preparation. You also get a set of pre-gens, and a selection of beautifully-designed handouts. What you do not get is very much of anything else.

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REVIEW: Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt

A book that talks as much about the history of Dungeons & Dragons as it does about the book’s author. One of these subjects is considerably more interesting than the other.

Dungeons & Dragons seems to be doing pretty well for itself nowadays. The game’s fifth edition is said to be its most popular ever, people pull down six figure salaries for playing their games in public and entire online platforms exist just to help you find players and run games over the internet. It is easy to forget, but this present was not unavoidable.

Back in 2013, D&D was in trouble. An unpopular fourth edition had failed to rally the troops let alone gain purchase with people outside the hobby and a large chunk of the game’s existing audience had been lured away to Pathfinder. These were thin years for D&D, years without professional DMs or streaming audiences large enough to allow people to quit their day jobs.

In 2021, Dungeons & Dragons is dangerously close to being cool. In 2013, it was what might be referred to as a low-status pastime. The associated feelings of shame cast a long shadow over Of Dice and Men, a book that is as much about the history of Dungeons & Dragons as it is about the author’s conflicted feelings about his love for the game.

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REVIEW: The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild

Iain Ross’s The Folly of Ponsonby-Wild is the first volume in a series of Call of Cthulhu adventures that will eventually come to form a campaign entitled A Very British Horror. At time of writing, three of the planned four volumes have been published and while I have yet to take a look at any these later episodes, I can confirm that the first episode plays very well indeed. In fact, I would even go so far as to describe this adventure as a delight.

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REVIEW: The Elusive Shift by Jon Peterson

I was an undergraduate when I first became aware of the fact that people outside the hobby wrote books about roleplaying games.

Back in the days before Amazon, these books were virtually impossible to find and if you did manage to track any of them down you discovered that had all been written decades previously for lay audience. I can still remember using an inter-library loan programme to get hold of a copy of Gary Alan Fine’s Shared Fantasy hoping for some academic-level analysis of RPGs only to discover a weird collection of anecdotes about Americans playing Empire of the Petal Throne at some point in the early 1980s.

However, in the twenty-or-so years since that first encounter with RPG scholarship, academic institutions have tried to catch up.

Like all human institutions, academia is an expansionist project. Always desperate for more money, prestige, and resources, academic departments invariably recruit more graduate students that they need and so each new generation of graduate students faces greater pressure when it comes to finding jobs, building careers, and carving out professional niches. As a result of these economic and social pressures, each new generation of academics is forced to push the boat out just that little bit further in search of virgin subject matter that can be mined for articles, books, research fellowships, and undergraduate courses.

Evidently, all of the intellectual land east of the D&D has now been settled and the covered wagons are starting to trundle across the plains of Roleplaying.

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REVIEW: Endless Light

Endless Light is the second Call of Cthulhu ‘seed’ adventure published by Australian nerd-tat purveyors Type40. 

The format is largely unchanged from that pioneered by The Mummy of Pemberley Grange: $9 gets you a short, simple adventure built around a single planned encounter and supported by some high-quality handouts and a group of pre-generated characters.

The format is best understood as a radical departure from the approach to adventure design favoured by Chaosium and echoed by most people publishing adventures in and around Call of Cthulhu. The difference is that while traditional Call of Cthulhu adventures tend to be highly contextualised and incredibly detailed, Type40 adventures tend to be simple, abstract, and stripped of any broader context.

The result is a series of adventures that can either be run in a couple of hours with almost no preparation, or be expanded into something a bit more substantial through the addition of a pre-amble and the introduction of connections to an on-going campaign. Your mileage will obviously vary but while the first possibility does not interest me at all, I have found the second possibility extraordinarily rewarding. My players enjoy the simplicity, I enjoy having something solid upon which to expand but one man’s solid is another man’s ill-smelling goo.

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