Game Day: A Little Bit of Everything

Xanathar’s Guide to Everything arrived in my mailbox last week, bringing with it a cornucopia of goodness for Dungeons & Dragons. My only complaint about the book so far is I can’t read the entire thing simultaneously.

As expected the Xanathar’s Guide (Amazon) includes a ton of content that originated in Wizards of the Coast’s Unearthed Arcana columns. It’s been edited and revised based on player feedback, but a lot of it will be familiar to anyone who’s kept up with the columns. It’s good stuff, but I love that there’s plenty I didn’t expect. Random name generators for the fantasy races and human cultures. Encounter tables based on level and terrain (and including more than just the expected monsters). Magic item tables (finally) organized by rarity. New “common” magic items featuring minor magical effects more likely to be seen in a Harry Potter novel than a Forgotten Realms one. It’s great stuff that I can start using in my campaign next week.

The other Unearthed Arcana derived content also fills a bunch of holes, providing rules for crafting scrolls and magic items, expanded downtime activities, and crafting better traps. My only disappointment so far has been the paltry number of divine domains, but that’s because my gaming group has a diverse collection of clerics. That said, I’ve only scratched the surface — there is so much in this book that I haven’t read, and I’m looking forward to spending the next few weeks wandering through its pages.

A Better Dungeon Master’s Screen

Finding myself needing a game master’s screen at this fall’s MEPACon, I bought the Dungeon Master’s Screen Reincarnated(Amazon). It’s the same form factor as the original DM screen produced by WotC — heavy cardboard construction, 8.5″ tall with four 11″ panels. The player-facing portion of the screen now features a majestic red dragon, but the big changes are on the DM’s side. The far left panel of the original DM Screen was dedicated to NPC generation (characteristics, ideals, bonds, flaws, name generator). It was handy in a pinch, but not useful in most games. WotC replaced it with “Actions in Combat”, “Things You Can Do On Your Turn”, call outs for jumping, suffocating, and concentration, and a quick reference for spell templates. Not quite as whimsical, but a lot more functional.

The inner left panel remains dedicated to conditions. The inner right and far right panels have been re-organized to eliminate superfluous entries like “Something Happens!” and “Quick Finds” to focus on more immediate information like object hit points and armor class, common services, and a monster size chart. I haven’t relied on it in a D&D game yet, but at a glance, it looks like a worthwhile upgrade.

Prepare for Annihilation

Tome of Annihilation‘s (Amazon) promise of undead and dinosaurs got me to pick up the book when it was released in September 2017. I’ve been slowly reading the book, mostly on Boy Scout camp outs (what can I say … I enjoy reading D&D books about surviving in monster-hunted jungles when curled up in my sleeping bag). The premise of the book is that a “death curse” is taking anyone who was ever raised from the dead. The heroes need to find the cause and deal with it. It’s an excellent hook, all the more so when you consider just how many characters have been raised in our campaign’s 20-year history.

I also like that it’s a relatively low-level book — levels 1-11. That makes it a potential candidate for my lunchtime campaign, where I’m looking for something shorter and more focused as a successor to my Greyhawk-based Broken Land campaign. I need to dig deeper into it over the Christmas break and see how the story plays out over those 11 levels.

The Sum of All Knowledge

Rounding out my Fall 2017 buying spree is Scientorium (Amazon), a Savage Worlds sourcebook for Pinnacle Entertainment book’s The Last Parsec. The campaign setting is Pinnacle’s space opera setting, complete with starfaring empires and megacorporations vying for control of the spaceways. At times it feels like a successor to Star Frontiers without the overarching plot threat of the Sathar. That lack of a threat to drive the story forward might be problematic in a campaign, but the individual sourcebooks — each of which comes with a “plot point” campaign for exploring the book — provide alternatives to your singular galactic threat.

Scientorium is all the lost knowledge of an ancient galaxy-spanning civilization. That knowledge was hidden away in a remote space station called the Scientorium. Unlike many libraries, the Scientorium does not want to be found. Its super science is so great that it can bend the minds of lesser mortals and force them to stop thinking about the library, no matter where they are in the galaxy. As such it is only beings of exceptional mental fortitude and superior problem-solving skill that can hope to find the station and unravel its secrets.

I like the set up because it makes reaching the Scientorium an adventure in itself. For a setting that calls itself The Last Parsec, it’s often very easy to reach the frontier using the game’s various faster-than-light mechanics. I suspect this is because they want to get you to the frontier as quickly as possible, with the game’s sourcebooks being very much about the destination and not the journey. I’m only a few pages in, but Scientorium looks to change that by making the initial foray into the system a significant challenge in and of itself.

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Cover art for Xanathar’s Guide to Everything. Credit: Wizards of the Coast.

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