Top Dungeons and Dragons News

We should remember the past, lest. . .

If it were a fad, you wouldn't be reading about it right now.
Dungeons & Dragons was always a fast starter. The first printing of 1,000 copies were gone in just a few months. That print run was doubled and sold out even faster the second time. The popularity was synergistic. Due to a mixup with rights involving The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings—Donald Wollheim of Ace Paperback was upset because Tolkien snubbed him when he asked to print Hobbit and Lord of the Rings in paperback. When their limited 5 year license to print them ran out, he just decided that it was public domain and began publishing it illegally. In order to stop this, in the late 60's they ran a huge publishing campaign to assert their rights in the united states, making the lord of the rings a very popular book in the early 70's. The themes in the book and the rising counterculture of the time made the seminal fantasy novel a nationwide phenomenon.
A lot of that popularity contributed to the fast success of Dungeons and Dragons, which in turn began to spawn more fantasy novels. With distribution channels in bookstores, gas stations, sears, and cheap child friendly books (Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer Basic) along with ads in boy's life and other teenage magazines, it sold millions of copies. 12.9$ million dollars worth in 1981—That's almost 50 million dollars in 2019 money.
It was the first D&D boom, and for many years, was the largest.

Money Troubles

One of the reasons Dungeons and Dragons was able to get into so many distribution channels is that they were sitting on a large pile of money, and therefore willing to take the risk of distributing to bookstores. If a book didn't sell, you could return the cover for your money back. Once control of the game was wrested away from the Gygax family, by the selfish and despicable Blume brothers, everything changed. No longer were they interested in employee feedback. Through a series of poor business decisions, and a rumor of a large stock of suddenly returned books (from Sears, iirc.) in the late 90's, Dungeons & Dragons found itself solidly in the red.
But like anything wonderful and good that asks nothing of the world, people remember and give back. Turns out, Dungeons and Dragons was a fan favorite, A long time player and creator of a cardboard based drug that prints money, Richard Garfield, decided Wizards of the Coast would purchase D&D. They did so, changed the corporate environment, immediately made a series of good business decisions and began to work on 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons.


Third edition is coming. . . .

In the late 90's Dungeons and Dragons was dead. In addition to releasing more and more tone-deaf supplements that sold worse and worse, modern gamers had made all their complaints about Dungeons and Dragons that weren't understood by the gaming public. They had grown up with Dungeons and Dragons, and everyone had moved to the more mature and adult role playing game "Vampire: The Masquerade". In addition to being a bizarre synthesis of of the most overbearing aspects of 'narrative second edition play' (i.e. illusionism, or railroading), it also had a cool cache, and it was a fair sight easier to hook up after a vampire game then the nerdy Dungeons and Dragons.
But in late 1998, rumors began—a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons? I perused the neophyte site EN world sometimes more than one time a day for details.
And it didn't disappoint. It was released, along with the D20 license allowing Dungeons and Dragons to flourish as content came out. But even from the release of the Sunless Citadel the path we are on began to form. Characters complained about the open dungeon, and the monsters that were stronger or weaker than what the low-level party could handle, leading to design that increasingly became more mechanical, linear, and focusing on the slaying of monsters. (Literally, "We couldn't kill the roper because it's too difficult for a low-level party", of course? That's the idea of risk versus reward and thinking creatively?)


Nothing lasts forever. . .

Fourth edition was eventually announced. The game had become weighty and the people that played online spent their wrath in character optimization boards arguing endless spherical cows. Adikson had left, the D20 glut had gutted sales, and it was time to move forward. A new game was designed, creating lists of powers—with copyrightable names, of course—and planned integration with online tools. Unpopular races like gnomes were removed, and tieflings and dragonborn were made core (because people really like playing half-demons and dragon/lizard people. It's a fetish.) Since people were playing it like a tactics game, they designed it like one. Healing surges, powers with cooldowns, and more.
Many people would say that it was disconnected rules or that the change was too radical. I don't think that's true. I wasn't excited about 4th edition, but I played it, a lot. It was just really bad. Even when they tried to correct it later in official materials, it was too little, too late. Combats with creatures or opponents with hundreds of hit points, exhaust all your powers (which were printed on cards), and then left with each person doing their damage or missing to chip away at the ridiculous hit point totals. It was not a fast process, and in fact during one combat, I just went ahead and calculated our average damage per round and figured out, on average, how many rounds it would take to deplete the boss's hit points. The Dungeon Master, campaign setting, and all the rest was fine. I was playing with reasonable people, we just kept having. . . problems. I had a lazer that blew things up because that's something paladins could do in fourth edition. But you couldn't shoot anything that wasn't an enemy in combat There were issues with skill challenges (understatement) and thinking through the effects on the spell list created an untenable reality. In the first printing, speak with dead allowed the caster to communicate with anything that had died in the area, no matter how long ago. Basically there were a million undead in a sensor network that any mage could take ten minutes to ask a question. Strangeness abounded; poorly thought out design lead to the games eventual doom, but it wasn't the only nail in the coffin.


Murder and suicide

That wasn't the worst news to come out of the 4th edition debacle. Originally their marketing plan was to distribute "patches" to the ruleset and require a paid subscription to an online tool to create characters. The rules were designed to be integrated into a true virtual table top that would allow play in much the way modern virtual table tops such as Fantasy Grounds do. Sadly, the direct of the project suffered a breakdown when his wife filed for divorce, and he killed her, then himself.
I doubt it would have changed anything in regards to 4th edition but it never even had a chance after the virtual table top plan collapsed.

 Though the most famous Dungeons and Dragons news story of all time, has to be the Patricia Pulling story. Very simply put, she had a bright intelligent son, who suffered from a psychotic break. He began barking and acting like a wolf, killing animals in their backyard. He soon committed suicide. Ms. Pulling claimed that her son died because of a Dungeons and Dragons curse. She brought lawsuits against his school, TSR inc, and more. They were thrown out of court for being meritless. She then began a campaign of lies and disinformation that lasted years.
She was a confused angry lady. She once claimed that 8% of people were satan worshipers because she estimated 4% of kids were and 4% of adults were and if you add them together you get 8%. When it was pointed out to her that this isn't how math works—not even addressing her claim is a made up estimate—she said it didn't matter because 8% of everyone being a satan worshiper was a conservative estimate. Her organization, Bothered about Dungeons and Dragons, died out when she did, in 1997, but the world had moved on in 1990.

Today Dungeons and Dragons is riding the wave of popular culture, and hopefully will be producing rich fantasy worlds for generations to come.


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On the Top Ten Tactics for Hostile Dungeons

10. Lard/Grease: Whether a squeaky door, a greased staircase before a fight, or assisting with opening rusty and old latches, having some lard and grease is always useful.
9. Tiny birds: A lot of times, you'd like to see what would happen if someone went somewhere, only you don't trust it enough to go. With this small sack of birds, you can check for traps, trade to people for passage, notice if the air is toxic, or even distract unintelligent opponents. Taking them along extends your life, at the expense of theirs.
8. Paying attention: At its core, Dungeons & Dragons is about exploring a resonant fantasy realm filled with archetypal representations. This process is handled by conversation using the socratic method. You ask questions, the Dungeon Master gives answers, yeah? If you're not asking questions or listening, you're watching your friends play Dungeons and Dragons. When you all jump in and work together, it raises the experience for all involved.
7. Gloves & Helmet: If you don't have to touch something with your bare hands, don't. Don't press parts of your body (like ears or eyes) against things. You call people that don't wear covers corpses. Get a hat, preferably one made out of metal that lets you see in the dark, grants telepathy, or makes you smart or something. There very well might be treasure in the garbage or latrine, there almost certainly is, but you don't want to go in there yourself.
6. Equipment shenanigans. Casting a light spell on a shield lets you see opponents and plays havoc with enemy archers. Buy a metal sectioned pole, so you can attach a hook, vary length, and carry one in cramped quarters. Collect potions and scrolls and don't hesitate to use them, there's always more magic to find.
5. Hammer & Piton: It holds doors both closed AND open. It draws a lot of attention. It allows you to attach rope to things. They solve problems.
4. Torchbearers & Porters: Yes it's difficult to convince them to head into dangerous territories, but when there are a lot of things that need to be done, having a man or two around who can do them is helpful. Purchase them brightly colored festive outfits. Give them nets and poles to trip up enemies, ball bearings, oil, caltrops and other things they can throw. They can pull people to safety and best of all, they draw archer fire. People don't get into this vocation because they want a safe workplace.
3. Elves & Dwarves: Everyone loves their half-demon, half-cat, half-turtle, kenku-whatever sub race, but facts remain. You want an elf for secret door detection and a dwarf for detecting stonework traps and sliding doors. Often they can see in the dark. If you don't have one in your party, hire one in town as a buddy.
2. Oil: You don't want to need it and not have it. If you want to be sure something is dead, burn it to ash.
1. Ten-Foot Pole: You will want to touch things and not be near them. Trust me.

I hope you explore some fun dungeons this weekend!


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On the Best Books Released for Dungeons & Dragons part II

Dungeons and Dragons has been around long enough for people to notice it taking a few aspirin every morning for its stiff fingers. This continues our look at the best things ever published for Dungeons and Dragons. Part I is here.

The Dungeon Alphabet

Beyond the fact that this book combined with Stonehell gave us the gift of Michael Curtis writing full time; it's his way with words that makes this book so very, very good. In a time when third edition and Pathfinder had sapped the life from Dungeons and Dragons, reducing adventures to linear combats and leaving no room for old-school type play, this book stood out (and sold) like a beacon to all those who remembered the weird and exciting play of mysteries below the ground. A solid source of ideas on each page, all of which will make the game more exciting.

Book of War

There have been many attempts at modeling mass battle for Dungeons & Dragons. This masterwork put together by Delta Collins is the best of them. It allows you to simply resolve mass combat that the players are involved in, and is designed to match the statistical outcomes of any monster as a unit in the game. It's fast, quite nice, and really makes running into 30-300 bandits a fun time for you as the Dungeon Master.
It's designed to take into account the percentages of actual game statistics, requires no conversion for pretty much any version of Dungeons and Dragons and smoothly scales for various sizes of armed conflicts. Additionally, the system encourages smart tactics, making large battles a strategic challenge for both the Dungeon Master and the players.
The ability to allow your players to command 100 footmen and 50 archers, fighting 300 orcs in a massive battle without slowing everything down to a crawl is worth the price of admission and something you should do at your table as soon as possible.


Tome of Adventure Design

Gamers are a particular bunch, often concerned with minutia. At some point, everyone has thought, what if you just put all the ideas ever into one book.
This is that book.
It's top selling, because it's useful. It's an exhaustive collection of plots, ideas, schemes, structures, ideas, traps, substances, and more. It's intentionally designed so that random results work in tandem, providing the structure and inspiration to make creativity easy.
Finch outdid himself with this book, and it will far outlive our generation of resources. It sits next to me now.

Grimtooth's Traps

Early traps are a strange thing. Often teens running games would submit breathless descriptions of traps that involved no agency of the players as well as a plethora of run on sentences.

This presented traps as they were in the original megadungeons. Not gotcha hit point taxes, but each a strange occurrence and presentation.  The traps become the encounter. How do you get that gem off that pedestal without getting slammed into the ceiling or smashed by an absurdly large hammer? They are presented tongue in cheek, but it doesn't matter how silly a trap is, when it's doing 57 points of damage to your fighter it's deadly serious.

It's lovingly illustrated by Steve Crompton and is full of ideas you'll find yourself struggling to figure out how to integrate them into your next dungeon for a fun puzzle.

Creature Catalogue

The Creature Catalogue was a british release, but it was a monster manual for Basic/Expert, forming a weird patchwork of monsters that were representative of Mystara, the crazy high-fantasy setting of basic expert.
At a certain point in your gamemaster career, you realize that monster books are worthless for the stats—monsters provide particular combat or encounter effects, the actual hit dice and armor class are not nearly as important as the idea.
And the thing about the creature catalog is that it is the best type of setting book, you can just through using the monsters in that book, immerse your players in a specific weird ecosystem.

The Wilderness Alphabet

Not nearly as popular of the Dungeon Alphabet, but instead written by a blogger in the old school renaissance, this provides a wonderful character to the overworld, ladening hexes and areas with imaginative description and mystery. It's idiosyncratic, and yet, very universal. I use it for all my wilderness expeditions.


Rogues Gallery + Geomorphs

This combination of supplements at first seems as though it's nothing but meaningless lines and numbers. And it sort of literally is. And yet, you can use those arcane numbers and lines to create adventures remarkably similar to the ones that took place in Castle Greyhawk, by virtue of the fact that the gemorphs are from Castle Greyhawk, and the encounters matrix was the one in use for dungeon play. Sadly, I don't think they are available online, but any traditional geomorph will do.
The fact that the Rogue's gallery has write ups for a dozen classic non-player characters, along with a bunch of pre generated classes with relevant equipment made it useful in play.

Metamorphica

A lot of these products take it to the bone. This is one of them. This is bar-none the resource for mutations. Running a campaign with mutations, want to hand out random effects? Is somebody touching the altar of Jubilex? Boy do I have the solution for you. Never leave home without it.

On the Non-Player Character

I know this is self-promotion, but I'm talking about all the books I use for a game, and I wrote this to be one of them. It's an objective answer for non-player character interactions. It uses player skill, not magical tea parties to determine the outcome of conversation and social conflict. The non-player character descriptors aren't a random list, they are specifically selected to be immediately accessible to the players in play. This may not belong on the list, but it's a book I'd never run a game without, the back page is always open during play for me as a reference.

That's the list. Find what you wanted?

If you like posts like these, then I'd really appreciate you taking a look at my Patreon or signing up for my newsletter. I'm at the threshold of being able to complete my quest of 'living indoors', and if you like what I'm doing, that might be in your heart as well! My daughter will love it!

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On The Best Books Released for Dungeons & Dragons Part I

Dungeons and Dragons has been around long enough to complain about back pain. A lot of things have been published in the last several decades, when it comes down to studded leather brass studs what are the best books ever published for fantasy role-playing games?

Midkemia Press Cities

This one was out of my grasp until recently. Though out of print, they offer the .pdf from their website. requiring more rolls then more modern players might expect, it's an engine that allows you to customize encounters for different kinds of cities. As a resource for exploring large fantasy cities, it's a plethora of interesting encounters, plots and dangers, just from walking around your local burg. It makes exploring a large strange city into a series of small dramas and personalities, that both you and the players can discover through play. It's a way to make cities as interesting for the players as dungeons.

It has extensive city creation tables that include chances for rare buildings. Although not necessary to build a city in the amount of detail it provides (down to individual storefronts) it does allow you to answer the question is there a jeweler/clockmaker/physician et. al.

The other fascinating part is the downtime system which takes characters that are staying back or not actively adventuring with various downtime events. There's an option for smarter or wiser characters to avoid or seek danger. Following is a comprehensive table of adventure and events, from being offered dangerous missions, to falling ill, to having your living quarters infested by pests.

It finishes off with a mission generator, a tavern/inn generator, rich occupational background tables, street traffic density,  a dice conversion table, and a stable generator.

Pretty good for a resource from 1981.

Aurora's Whole Realms Catalogue

Yeah, but what about knife boots!
Aurora's was ostensibly a shop in Faerun, but what this supplement contained was equipment a world filled with adventurers as a career would end up producing. If they were thieves that needed to infiltrate, wizards who needed to stock a lab, clerics on the lookout for new ways to serve, this little book had a bit of everything.
The entire book is devoted to equipment lists. This makes it about the best setting supplement ever produced for the Forgotten Realms. You could run a game with this book in play and it provides more direct setting information useful in play then any of the many books with dry histories and texts.
From ale to cheese, wine to jewels, diversions, storage, hardware and clothing; the book is filled with what you would expect a society would sell, if beset by monsters and filled with powerful gods, crafty wizards, stealthy thieves and brave fighters.
It contains dozens of useful and interesting items, infra-vision lanterns, special thieving helmets (with ears that are not at all ostentatious) that allow you listen, book safes and quick access scroll cases, among many others.

1st Edition Dungeon Master's Guide

Gygax in the prime of his life poured his soul into this book toiling away, and at the end he had crafted an artifact. I've been reading this book for over 30 years now and every time I open it, I still find something I've never seen before. I've also lost things in it, only to discover them much later, hidden in pages I flipped through dozens of times.
There is no other book like this in existence. It is unique, a vision of one man. The pattern of his thought and knowledge laid bare, every paragraph a facet of an endlessly complex gem. But this is no shaggy dog. Every time you return to it, it provides new insight, new revelations. Not because anything new is there, but because you have changed.
It's pretty brilliant. If you haven't ever really read it, what are you waiting for?

Encyclopedia Magica

Sometimes there's too much and you want a pause button. This collection of leather-bound volumes contains every magical item created anywhere from Original D&D till the late 90's at the dusk of second edition. It has a huge random table in the back, so that when you roll up a magic item, there are tens of thousands of results.
What's really interesting about using it in play, is that so many of these items are strongly tied into whatever their history is. It makes the treasure interesting, unique, usually requiring some adjustment to use in play. But it also interjects unexpected problems and surprises. Once they found a spellbook linked to a dragon. A great treasure, but also great risk.
The fact that it also encapsulates twenty-five years of magic items gives a capsule into the design of magic items over time. Plus it's really fun to roll on the d10,000 table for magic items.

Wizard Spell Compendium

This is similar to the last collection and indeed, collects every spell printed. What's interesting about this, is that it is Vances 1,000 lost spells. Assigning random spells, and only providing new spells randomly from this list, creates a different kind of magic system, one where spells are capricious, unknown, and of wildly varying power. Not allowing players to pick spells from the book, but instead seek them out, and carefully select those spells which they are able to learn (remember the limits of spells per level and chances to learn!) creates powerful, but unpredictable wizards.
In games not focused on combat, but instead adventure or survival, having dozens of variations and types of spells lead to an eclectic toolkit that becomes a signature for the wizard.
It also outlines the entirety of "Dungeons and Dragons" magic theory, with all the official schools of magic covered, from shadow magic to chronomagic for masters of time, elemental magic, all the way to the incantrix and more.


Judge's Guild Ready Reference Papers

The Judges Guild was playing a lot of Dungeons & Dragons back in the day. This is a giant reference hodgepodge, used in play for their settings. It's a lot like a selection of house rules, but functions more as an expansion, providing more, well, everything.
It covers everything from social levels, decade appropriate sexist tables of women, proclamations, boons, wills, crime and punishment, poisons, justifications for uncalled for aggression, wizards guide to enchantment, movement obstacles, hirelings, encounter tables, flora, construction costs, and more.
That's a lot of stuff for 1978. It's dense, arcane, interesting and eclectic. If you're running a campaign, you won't make it through the whole 60 pages without coming up with one change you'll want to add into your campaign.

Forgotten Realms Boxed Set 1st Edition

Since the Forgotten Realms has been taken from Greenwood, set on fire, and then handed back, laden with weight of ages, mary and marty sues teleporting around and impregnating gods who are hiding as bears, eye rolling in its baroque ridiculousness, it's hard to remember it's so popular, based on the strength of this particular supplement.
This works as a useful tool for a dungeon master to run a campaign. It has two books. The first covers the calendar, language, names, currency, religion, and maps and short descriptions of settings.
The second book is full of nothing but rumors, ideas, and other inspiration for belabored Dungeon Masters. This book can provide years and years of play with this straightforward setting, filled with a selection of colorful personalities, and most notably, a long section on events and rumors occuring every month over the course of two years. There's even a little mark for which ideas Ed Greenwood had marked for further expansion. A fun game is looking back and seeing where each of those ideas finally ended up.

Check out the second part of our "Best Books Released for Dungeons & Dragons." The links to drivethrurpg are affiliate links for me, another way for you to be a great person and help me out.  

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On Early Tropes, Eggs and Raising Young Monsters

From the very beginning of Dungeons and Dragons, Pokemon was a thing. Not only was Charm Person and Monster often used to fill out ranks for henchmen, many beasts were found and raised. You can see early thoughts on this from Gygax, on Page 50 of the Dungeon Masters Guide.

"Griffons are often nasty and bad-tempered. If captured when very young and trained, however, they can become fiercely loyal mounts. Their loyalty is non-transferable once fixed, so they must be disciplined and trained solely by the intended rider. The griffon must be trained and exercised by its owner on a fairly regular basis while it is a fledgling (up to age six months) in order to accustom it to his or her presence and the bridle, blanket, saddle, etc. When the griffon is half-grown a period of intensive training must begin, which will last at least four months. The daily routine must never be broken for more than two days, or the griffon's wild nature will assert itself and all progress will be lost. After two months of this intensive training, it will be possible to begin to fly the griffon. This will be a period of training for mount and owner alike, as the rider must learn how to deal with a new dimension, And he will probably have no teacher but himself. Imagine the confusing tumult of giant wings, the rush of air, the sudden changes in altitude, and you will realize why an inexperienced rider absolutely cannot handle a flying mount.
Griffons, like all large flying creatures, eat enormous amounts of food, especially after prolonged aviation. Moreover, they are carnivores, and thus very expensive to feed. Care and keeping of a griffon will be a constant strain on the largest treasure hoard. Costs will probably run in the area of 300-600 g.p. per month. It will require special quarters, at least three grooms and keepers, and occasionally an entire horse for dinner (diet will differ, but similar arrangements must be made for all flying mounts).
Hippogriffs are not so difficult to train os griffons, but neither are they as dependable in a pinch. A  training process basically similar to that previously described will be necessary, though occasionally an animal trainer con substitute for the master for short periods if he or she is tied up elsewhere. Once broken, hippogriffs may possibly serve more than one master. They are omnivores, and thus somewhat less expensive to
feed thon griffons.
Pegasi are greatly valued for their speed, which makes them virtually the fastest things in the air. Their training is o long process similar in many respects to thot of griffons." -Gary Gygax, Dungeon Masters Guide

Obviously this was an issue that came up repeatedly, and Gygax developed the following procedures to train animals.

One of the formative experiences of Dungeons and Dragons are the challenges with taking a monster, enemy or opponent, and turning them to your ends. As with most challenges to get creatures to change their inner nature, it is astoundingly difficult, and requires a bond on top of the serious commitment maintained above. The animal must be socialized till adolescence, and then intensively trained for months.

The general consensus about Animal Friendship and the limits of animal training are subjective and should be worked out between the Dungeon Master and the player, keeping in mind the animals intelligence and alignment. And it will come up, with unicorns, flying creatures as above, or even minanimals from the Monster Manual II.

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On Brothers of Battle

It's so good, it's like a snow globe made of murder hobos and horrific violence. It's an abstract tactical puzzle, where if you are smart, tactics will beat numbers and arms.

After a short tutorial battle, you are set loose upon a randomly generated world and can do what you want. Ally with a noble house, rob caravans, explore the unknown.

Your troops gain levels, and you improve them selectively. After the first hours of play you start to realize you can build them for specific roles—dagger assassin stabbing men to death in their heavy armor, nimble duelists moving first and darting between targets taking out back rank archers, bowmen raining down arrows, arbalisters knocking people off hills, heavy tanks taunting and drawing attention. From the palette of abilities they give you, you can make countless roles.

Let's talk about Battle Brothers!

The Basics

You manage a mercenary company. You must have gold and food for daily wages. You can visit different cities, recruit and train new men, slay brigands, orcs, the dead in the wilds, and horrors even worse.

Here I have taken the high ground
Combat is turn based on a hex map with height levels, obstacles and terrain. The graphics are of your men and monsters as game pieces—they are busts that display all necessary information visibility, the condition of your helmet, armor, weapon, and man.

You must manage your funds, via victories and trade, to bring in enough income to cover medical supplies, ammunition, tools to repair armor and weapons, food and wages.

Over time your brothers grow increasing both 3 of their 8 stats and picking a new 'perk' which changes certain aspects of how they interact on the field. One might allow you to step away from an engagement, another might increase damage after you get a kill, a third by increase one of your stats by a %. Each different brother develops like a plant, where you guide their organic growth.

Death comes quickly, along with permanent injuries, failure, and loss. But each choice, from where you move your piece on the battlefield, to what rolls you select when your brother levels, has ramifications that change the course of your game.

I don't know the devs. No one is paying me. But when you find yourself staring into the facets of a diamond for untold hours (301 hours as of this post. Well, I guess it's told now.), you kind of want to share. Why is it so engaging?

The Facets

Because the differences are significant, and create different kinds of emergent play. When the world
is generated, cities have attached sites that determine their character, the spawns and arrangement of towns is always different, along with the distribution of lairs and dens of evil. The way the game works changes dramatically from these differing starting states. There are really strong parallels to sandboxes in Dungeons & Dragons here.

I was very far into the game before I realized that each of those buildings adjacent to the city, changed not only the characteristics of that city, but how it interacts with the rest of the map. Those goat farms mean affordable goat cheese for your men. These building and even cities can be destroyed and rebuilt over the course of the campaign.  Because this town has both an ore smelter and blast furnace, it produces high quality armor and weapons in the stores. But the regiments it produces are also extremely well armored and it has vision to the sea, meaning that it's hard for lairs to fester.

Which, they do you know. Nits make lice. A goblin city will produce goblin patrols. As it grows, it will eventually send out a patrol that sets up a camp. Go in and clear out all the greenskins and it will take them a long time to repopulate. So each map is strongly different based on its random starting arrangement. Sometimes there's a forest town in the frontier assaulted constantly by enemies. Get dogs and birds from cities with kennels, and use them to hunt down nightmares and archers.

It's often unclear how things affect other things, and I'm still discovering new nuances. Each nobel house has a personality, and I'm not certain, but it seems to affect which quests you get from it. Is this true? Only a lot more testing and play will tell. But everytime I reroll I find or see something new.

The Men

Your first games end in brutal destruction, without even understanding why. But as you play you begin to understand, these aren't individual men, they are part of a squad that works together.

Each man has a head and body. Those who don't wear a cover are corpses, yeah? Each is covered in armor. Better armor is not always 'better', some men go heavy armor and some go light, depending on their role. You take wounds in combat (which always heal, depending on severity in 1-6 days) based on the % of your hit points taken, meaning tougher brothers take fewer wounds. If killed, there's even a chance they survive with a permanent wound. And while some are. . .untenable, some people consider a boost (it's harder for witches to charm or giests to scare a brain damaged brother).

Each man has eight statistics, and they increase by a random roll at every level. So you want to increase what he needs when the roll is high, and skip low rolls, but it's important to know what role they have so you can assign the stats correctly. The statistics are Hit points, Fatigue, Resolve, Initative, Melee Attack, Ranged Attack, Melee Defense, and Ranged Defense.

When you hire a brother they may have traits, like iron lungs, or athletic, which positively or negative affect their stats. The following brother is Huge (+10% damage -5 Ranged Defense, -5 Melee Defense) and Paranoid (-40% initiative,  +5 Ranged Defense, +5 Melee Defense) meaning he does +10% damage in exchange for going later in the round. So I gave him a cleaver, and made it reduce the damage he needs to do to wound, and gave him duelist so that more damage penetrates armor. So he cripples and bleeds anyone he strikes. This causes morale checks, which reduce the combat ability of your opponents.

If you're reading this, you probably like the same things I like, and this sounds awesome, right? It is. You can name and go to the barber to change the look of your brothers. It's like controlling a team of bonsai trees that you have very carefully cultivated to mercilessly slaughter any who stand against you!

The difficulty curve is very clear, with several different stages. When you start out, you aren't prepared for this. You generally end up destroying equipment you must salvage from your opponents. Striking someone in the head will leave their fancy armor untouched, or you can surround or dagger opponents to death.

Every 100 in game days, a crisis occurs, either greenskins invade, the undead, rise, or there is a war among the noble houses. There are certain thresholds where the base difficulty increases. You have a range of danger options on the contracts you can take, as well as creatures in the wild getting more dangerous as you venture away from civilization.

The recent expansion turned it from a good game into a great one. There are a selection of new enemies, creating different and dangerous tactical challenges both apart and with other groups. The enemy variety is very high and differs significantly between campaigns. It's like a good movie. Every part of the journey is fun.

In the End


It's written by two brothers, not a big game studio. The soundtrack is amazing. There's a growing community of people who stream and play this game, that has significant overlap with interests in Dungeons and Dragons sandbox play. The actual game design is rock solid. It's amazing how neatly the different parts of the game interact with each other. You only have 9 action points a turn, but depending on the weapon, traits, and skills, you can turn that into two or three attacks each round. Once you see how the pieces fit together, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to turn that to your advantage, often only coming to the correct conclusion after a lot of testing or tries.

It's good and I needed to tell people about it. Don't complain to me about missed sleep.
Battle Brothers is $30 on Steam.

Hack & Slash 
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