The role-playing game industry is experiencing a golden age in full splendor. Dungeons & Dragons has gone through four printings of its 5th edition Player’s Handbook, a number of RPG companies have run six figure Kickstarters, design geniuses have produced innovations across the industry, and the profile of tabletop gaming in the culture at large has never been higher. We here at Geek & Sundry keep our fingers on the throbbing and lively pulse of the tabletop role-playing game industry, and have gone through this embarrassment of riches to find the best of the best. These following recent releases rise to the top of the pack, and are note-worth selections worthy of a place in every RPG enthusiast’s library.
The Atlas of Rokugan
Legend of the Five Rings stretches back to the 90s glut of detailed worlds, complex mythologies, and splatbooks galore. Because it was created by genius game designer John Wick, and shepherded by a dozen other gaming greats, it has survived into the new millennium. The 4th edition of the game has been well-received by critics and fans, even if hundreds of geeks aren’t wearing Crane kimonos to GenCon anymore.
Then, Fantasy Flight Games bought the property from AEG. The last book for the game put out by AEG was The Atlas of Rokugan, a detailed description of L5R’s setting in gorgeous and glossy color. The book is comprehensive, and brings together decades of cannon between its black covers. While FFG is a fantastic company, their initial press release about the purchase of L5R had reams of information about the collectible card game, but merely said of the roleplaying game, “[W]e are excited to explore new possibilities for Legend of the Five Rings in the roleplaying space. At the current time, we don’t have many details about this.”
If The Atlas of Rokugan is the last we see of L5R, at least it went out gloriously, and with honor.
Postapocalyptic gaming is nothing new. Gamers have been glowing with radioactivity since 1978’s Gamma World, but the whole point of Cthulhu gaming has been to stop the apocalypse. Pelgrane Press’s Cthulhu Apocalypse posits that some other poor sod investigators failed, and on “November 2nd, 1936, the world died.”
The book contains two campaign frames and eight scenarios. The first, “Dead White World,” has the characters exploring an eerie post-apocalyptic England where titans stride through the oceans like babes in the surf, and the world is filled with disturbing white flowers. The books is evocative, fresh, and disturbing.
This book takes the Pathfinder role-playing game in a totally new direction. With classes such as the Spiritualist, Occultist, Psychic, and Mesmerist, players can delve into the esoteric and the strange using everyone’s favorite iteration of the 3.5 rules set of Dungeons & Dragons.
The adventures that pair with the supplement are also delightful, especially Phantom Phenomena, which has players facing off against ghosts and psychic fungus.
Red and Pleasant Land
Welcome to Voivodja! Land of vampires and mad hatters! If Count Dracula dreamed a fantasy setting, filled it with characters from Lewis Carroll, and used rules from 1st edition Dungeons & Dragons, it would be Red & Pleasant Land.
The setting at first sounds so facile as to be almost silly, but author Zak S. has delivered a truly brilliant gaming supplement, with both engrossing prose and beautiful art.
The supplement includes priceless gaming gems, such as the Alice character class, and a maps on the front and back covers. The bestiary is also fantastic, especially the puddings, pudding here being used in the English sense of a creamy dessert. Puddings are delicious, but also dangerous and intelligent. When someone tries to eat them, they counter-attack, but also engage their attacker in fascinating conversation, hoping to convince them the pudding is too captivating to devour. Oh, and of course, if the players are looking for evidence and kill one, the proof will be in the pudding.
Out of the Abyss
This campaign for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons takes players into the Underdark, the vast network of caverns, caves, and dungeons that stretches beneath the Forgotten Realms. It’s dangerous environs are home to spiders the size of minivans, malevolent psychic eels, and more evil-aligned beings than a meeting of the American Dental Association.
Players start out in the slave pens of the drow, where they must first escape their captivity and then escape their pursuers. The adventure is fun, fast, and has excellent mechanics for the chase.
Into the Night
Into the Night is a supplement for Numenera, a role-playing game set seven billion years in the future during a new dark age. Knights clash with ultraterristrials, floating pyramids hide items of unspeakable power, and dangerous winds bearing nanomachines from collapsed civilizations mutate unfortunates on contact.
Into the Night expands the game’s setting to the planets. Players can get off-world by discovering an orbiting ancient spaceship, or climbing to the top of what the locals call the Beanstalk, but which is actual the ruins of a space elevator. And out in the night, players can explore more uncanniness, like a black hole used as a USB drive for AIs living in a Dyson sphere.
The art truly makes the book shine, especially a poster of the solar system done in the style of medieval monks. Artist Bear Weiter said of the piece, “I researched illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages for inspiration and then tried to develop a style that is reminiscent of those images but still feels befitting to the world of Numenera. I intentionally kept the style of drawing naive, as the [in-game artists] wouldn’t necessarily be highly skilled artisans.”
The Dracula Dossier
What if the events of Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula were real? Furthermore, what if the novel itself was not a novel, but actually the redacted after-action report of British intelligence’s 19th century attempt to recruit the Wallachian bloodsucker as an assassin? What if an unredacted copy leaked out of MI-6? Why, both Her Majesty’s government and Count Dracula would kill to get it back!
In The Dracula Dossier by Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan and Ken Hite, players take on the role of spies put in just such a position. Using Dracula Unredacted, possibly the greatest handout in the history of role-playing, players must hunt down Dracula before he kills them.
Author Ryder-Hanrahan said of working with Dracula, “Dracula’s a technothriller, too, full of cutting-edge technology like Kodak cameras, wax cylinder recordings, and–in Stoker’s original draft–a maxim gun. All in all, the original novel seemed almost eager to be rewritten and reinterpreted for our nefarious purposes.”
Disagree with this list? Let us know in the comments below!
Feature image courtesy Monte Cook Games
Image credits: AEG, Pelgrane Press, Paizo Publishing, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Wizards of the Coast