Category Archives: RPGs

Articles about RPG settings and systems. Get out those dice and roll!

My Experience With Legend of the Five Rings

I got into the Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) tabletop RPG through the 3e version of Oriental Adventures. I got the Rokugan d20 book and a few other d20 books.

During that time, I read a ton of the fiction on the FFG website. Some good, some so-so.

I got into Heroes of Rokugan, the organized play version. They used the L5R 2e rules (with some 1e thrown in). I’ve had mixed experiences from this. I liked every other game, meaning I didn’t like half of them.

L5R is great if you want a Japanese-inspired RPG, but you have to know what that entails. You do not game to do the right thing (my mistake). Your goal is about honor of clan, empire, and lastly yourself. It’s about saving face.

I remember one time being kind of bored in a game, but then it turned into a murder mystery and I started having fun. At that point, me and another player were told to stop pursing the murderer as it would cause a some sort of political/societal issue. So a guy got away with murder because of saving face.

My shining moment in that game was when we went into the Shadowlands for a mission, and my character sacrificed himself to save the party. It was a 1e rule called life casting. Because of his heroic efforts, a statue of him was erected in the Unicorn lands, even though he was from the Phoenix clan. Gotta love heroic sacrifice.

So if you’re really big into Japanese-themed fantasy, this is the game for you. The clans are cool and so is the magic.

If you just like Oriental Adventures in general, this may not be the game for you. You will not find many classes beyond the samurai and shugenja. The wu jen especially does not have a place there.

If you like heroic fantasy (as I do), then this game definitely is not for you, unless you go against the major themes of the setting and make it your own. My problem is that I never felt comfortable making it my own, probably due to the fiction and my experiences in the game.

Above all, decide for yourself if L5R is right for you.

Thoughts on Greyhawk in 5th Edition

I would love to see Greyhawk done for 5e, but I’m not sure if Greyhawk fans would even truly want it. Many GH fans don’t want changes/updates to the world, or even the game system updated to 5e. And that’s fine. If that’s your jam, go for it.

It’s also Gary’s world, and I know some folks might be intimidated by making any major changes to it.

Wizards of the Coast is going to be supporting their main D&D product line, which is 5e. As such, you should expect to see some 5e-isms in the setting. New players to the setting will want to be able to use any of the race and class options in the Player’s Handbook. If limiting the race and class options are what you want to do in your game, that’s fine. However, I feel it’s a better business decision to be as inclusive as possible.

With my work in Dragonlance, I try to follow that very notion. For example, I don’t say we can’t have warlocks because we’ve never seen them before. I try to see how they might fit in the setting. Thorn Knights, anyone?

I also feel that WotC is doing the right thing from a business perspective of taking popular elements from GH and having them show up in the Realms. I get how that may be frustrating as those classic dungeons (example) were a huge draw for Greyhawk.

So where can Greyhawk shine?

First, I think WotC is going to revisit more of those classic adventures, if Ghosts of Saltmarsh is any indication. I think it’s the right thing to do to say that X adventure originated in GH, but here are some conversion notes for other settings.

Second, I think that if a GH setting sourcebook is to be made, it should be a sourcebook that shows how to make a sandbox setting, and give some history on the crafting of Greyhawk. Maybe give some ideas on how to expand the setting. They could also do this with Nentir Vale.

Third, I think some notes on how to make a grim-and-gritty setting would be good. What sets that apart thematically from high fantasy?

Anyway, those are my thoughts. What do you think?

Thoughts on the Psionics Wizard

There has been an awakening…


I’ve been a huge fan of psionics since I started playing D&D back in 2nd edition. The very first campaign I played in featured psionics quite a bit, using The Complete Psionics Handbook for the rules. The rules in 3.5’s Expanded Psionics Handbook were also some of my favorites. Bruce Cordell’s work was amazing, as was his work in Malhavoc Press’ psionics books. And I would be remiss if I forgot to mention D&D 4e’s Players Handbook 3.

In other words, I’ve been a fan of psionics for quite a while.

Psion from Dragon Magazine

Psionics in D&D 5th Edition

I have been following the evolution of psionics in D&D 5e, from the mystic to the recent Unearthed Arcana article showcasing new psionic subclasses for the fighter, rogue, and wizard. I think the most recent take does a lot of things right, such as with the psychic warrior and soulknife subclasses, but the psionics wizard has me torn.

The fan in me thinks that psionics should be an inner power, and thus would fall under the umbrella of the sorcerer. When I think of psionics, I immediately go to Professor X, Jean Grey (Phoenix, thank you), Emma Frost, and Psylocke of the X-Men. I also think of the Jedi from Star Wars. In each case, each of them has an inner power. So the sorcerer makes sense, right?

Here’s the problem. Psionics as a whole really is intelligence-based. This is the magic of the mind. As such, the wizard becomes the primary class. This seems a bit odd at first, but consider that Jean Grey honed her talents at Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters. She had to study and practice in order to hone her abilities. Yes, her talent was innate, but could not the same be said of many wizards, most notably Raistlin Majere?

I would still like to see the option of a psionic sorcerer. While we do have the Aberrant Mind sorcerer, I personally would like something that isn’t so Lovecraftian.

The Larger Picture

Psychic from Pathfinder’s Occult Adventures

Psionics has ever been the red-headed step-bastard child of D&D. It’s either been an add-on, or a totally new subsystem that required the purchase of another book. Either way, the system didn’t integrate as well with existing mechanics.

It’s also about avoiding the creation of a new class just to suit a new set of powers. The psion needs an identity all its own. There can be a whole new psionics handbook just for this new power, but past experience has shown that these sort of niche books do not sell as well. Nor do players and dungeon masters use them.

Wizards of the Coast wants something integrated that more gamers would get use out of.

Random Thoughts


For those of you who want to make the psionics wizard feel more natural or more in tune with prior editions, there are a few ways that one can enhance their psionics experience.

First, I’d like to think that wizards with the psionics arcane tradition have an awakening. They have studied and unlocked the secrets of the mind.

Second, a psion would not be a psion without Psionic Strength Points (PSPs) or power points. Luckily, 5th edition has you covered. The Dungeon Master’s Guide has rules for spell points on pages 288 – 289.

Third, consider having an organization for your psionic character. Malhavoc Press’ Hyperconscious: Explorations in Psionics has a psionic organization called the Colorless Lodge, which is a guild of psions. The accompanying Colorless Adept prestige class included mechanics for power sharing. Sounds a bit like wizards trading spells, doesn’t it?

Perhaps your character graduated from some sort of school for psionics. GURPS has a Psionics Studies Institute (PSI). This could be a force for good or evil. One could model PSI after Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, or something more nefarious like Babylon 5’s Psi-Corps.

As a side note, in the case of the psychic warrior, perhaps he is part of an ancient order of mystic knights. Jeremy Crawford did say “more Vader”, right?

In Conclusion

The recent take on psionics in Unearthed Arcana seems like a breakaway from previous editions. However, Wizards of the Coast has a history in 5th edition of combining concepts to get an even stronger concept.

This recent take on psionics strengthens the archetype, allowing it to be integrated better with the existing D&D game. Give the psionics wizard a chance. With a little ingenuity, gamers can bring back a bit of that classic psionics feel while also taking the concept in new directions.

Return to the Five Shires

The Five ShiresYears ago, when I was first playing D&D, I went with a friend of mine over to play with a group that he played with. It was a large group, where it seemed that everyone had multiple characters they were playing at once. In retrospect, the whole situation was ridiculous. I was playing my second ever character in what would be, for me, a one-shot – and I was overwhelmed.

My character was a halfling paladin, a prince of a land known as the Five Shires. It was about to be invaded by orcs, so as all good adventurers do, we abandoned the kingdom to go adventuring for something long lost that would save our kingdom. Huzzah! Unfortunately, I had to call the night short and never saw the finale.

Something about that night stuck with me. The name of The Five Shires haunted me. Obviously, it was an homage to The Hobbit, which I read around the same time. After years of searching, I eventually found the module, and have now found it on

I recently saw The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, and my thoughts wandered once again to The Five Shires. Much has changed since I first began playing in 2nd edition. It’s 5th edition now, and there are new tools to use and new ideas to explore.

For example, I’m toying with the idea of creating a halfling warlock with an infernal pact, then tying that concept in with blackflame. Blackflame, in short, is an odd sort of energy. It’s fire that deals cold damage, and burns ashes. I haven’t worked out the details yet.

Likewise, I’m just jazzed about halflings in general right now. And not the genericized halflings of D&D. I’m talking about hobbits, their pastoral lifestyles, and hobbit holes.

As I was looking at the history section of The Five Shires on, this section caught my eye.

Expanding the Forgotten Realms. Greenwood also uses the word “hin” to describe the halflings of the Forgotten Realms. When asked whether “The Five Shires” could generally be used for Forgotten Realms play, Greenwood said:

“Sure. Superimpose the Luiren cities and government structure, shift places ‘just a little’ to make room for them, and, yes, it works admirably for that. Almost as if someone designed it that way.”

Needless to say my purchase of The Five Shires led to me getting the 2e and 3e versions of The Shining South so that way I could learn more about the halfling lands of Luiren.

Where is this leading? I’m not quite sure yet. There are so many possibilities, and I want to explore them all!

What I can tell you is that there is a lesson here worth learning. Even a product that is 27 years old can still inspire the imagination today. So take a look around and see what products from yesteryear might spark the old imagination today.

Death…Hollywood Style!

By: Andrew Mahon, David Miller, Kenneth Reed, Michelle Stutzman, Patrick Stutzman, Karen Thronebury, and Trampas Whiteman.

You’re facing the Big Bad End Guy, and have him down to just a few hit points. One more thrust of the sword, and he dies. You have been waiting all night for this moment! You thust your sword and…he falls down.

What? That’s it? Epic fail! That’s not the way it should have ended. There should be an epic ending, something straight out of Hollywood.

That’s what “Death…Hollywood Style!” is all about. Now you can add a little Hollywood style action to your game the next time a character dies. But beware, as that character may be yours! Be warned, as well, that the authors who created this chart may not be all right in the head. Continue reading Death…Hollywood Style!

13th Age – A Bardy Pirate Act

Today, I got to play 13th Age at The Roleplayers Guild of Kansas City, Ltd. game day at Game Cafe. I’ve been itching to play a bard, and I played one that was very different than any other I have seen. I played a pirate bard.

My character inspiration.

My character was Captain Sam Bellamy (named after an actual pirate). His basic story is that he is a pirate captain who dared to sink a ship of the Emperor…who later repaid him in kind. Down on his luck, without a ship or a crew, he’s trying to survive by his whits and his musical talent. I figure he looks a lot like Captain Hook from Once Upon a Time.

I also took some inspiration from the Musical Blades. I think the song Brave and Mighty Captain kind of sums it up. In fact, one of my character’s backgrounds is Musical Blade. He was performing at the local castle when everything went haywire.

His intro to the party was perhaps the best intro I’ve ever had with a character. He was hanging upside down inside a spider web cocoon.

We had a castle full of undeath to tackle, and finally made our way to the big boss at the end. And this is one of the most unique monsters I’ve ever faced. It was a mechanism that was attached to the castle, causing the castle to shift. It spat razor-sharp cogs at us, and was powered by 12 dead wizards.

So, mechanics-wise, the bard is one of the most challenging classes to play in 13th Age. I tried to work in a battle cry, but I didn’t quite get it. I need to work on that more. One of my bardic songs was a Song of Heroes. So my character sang about the greatest hero he knows – himself! He also used a Song of Thunder to help take the huge mechanism down.

This was the most fun character that I’ve played in a long time. The rules are going to take a little getting used to, but they are familiar enough. It’s D&D, and yet it has its own vibe.

The best part is that this has a chance of becoming a regular monthly game. Which is great, because I absolutely LOVE this group!

Dragonhelm’s D&D Next Game Day Report

scourge of the sword coastYesterday, I played the first week of Dreams of the Red Wizards: Scourge of the Sword Coast, the current Encounters adventure.  I have a particular interest in this adventure, as the first D&D game I ran was set in the town of Daggerford. It’s weird being a player in this setting. Still, I am grateful for all the attention Daggerford has had of late.

I played the pregenerated halfling rogue. He had the sailor background. I figured I should base him somewhat on one of my favorite pirates, so I named him Saxton (Musical Blades reference). He wore a bowler and everything. He was a two-weapon fighter, having two short swords. He even got to kill a wolf by slamming those swords through its back, and adding the sneak attack ability. Sneak attack, btw, is SO much better in this edition. It’s a lot easier to understand and pull off.

The adventure itself (thus far, as this is Encounters) was pretty standard fare. Fight some goblins and wolves, then address a group of refugees trying to enter Daggerford with the guards forbidding entry. Nothing too complicated, but I was impressed that one of the encounters was more of a role-playing encounter. MUCH better than I’ve previously seen with Encounters. Up until this point, Encounters felt like a bunch of tactical miniatures fights. Now, it began to feel like D&D. Props to WotC on that one.

What was interesting to me was the group’s reaction to this system. The group was mostly high school kids, with the exception of one guy who appears to be older than me. The kids seem to have only known 4e, although I will give the DM props for studying up on prior editions. I thought the kids wouldn’t like this system, but I was wrong! In fact, they seemed to love it. They loved the quicker combats, and the simplicity of the rules. They were sold.

For me, it feels like I’m finally coming home. This is the iteration of D&D I have been waiting for. It feels like AD&D. I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed that feeling. And yet, it has the basic d20 mechanics that I have come to love. It’s a nice blend. It even incorporated some elements from 4e that I liked (backgrounds!). I think I’m coming to like the proficiency bonus. It’s used to represent skill training (kind of like 4e), and has some of the feel of Castles & Crusades to it. The proficiency bonus can be used in attacks, as a skill bonus, or for certain class abilities (amongst other things). Reminds me a little of Castles & Crusades.

There were a few questions on the rules and pre-gens at the table. What I found is that the other players were looking more at a mechanical side of things, rather than roleplaying. One person asked why the warlord wasn’t incorporated with the bard. I’ve heard that same thing before, as they both have the inspiring thing going, but I quickly reminded them that the warlord is more of a front-line fighter who yells things like “shake it off!” to boost his comrades. The players also seemed a bit baffled by the concept of subraces. Most have never known subraces. I have known nothing but. There was also some talk about how feats were optional. I told them this was a good thing, as it addressed different play styles. So, for example, I could have an old-school AD&D era friend play with a new-school d20 era friend in the same game, and both would be happy.

The guy playing the paladin pre-gen was dumbfounded when he saw the minstrel background. Music and performance are the domains of the bard, right? And yet, here his paladin could do those things. It seemed so counter-intuitive to him. And yet, by game’s end, it became part of the plot, as he used that to affect the crowd at the entrance to Daggerford. I hope a light bulb went off with him on what could be done.

Overall, I was very happy with the game and the system. It was kind of a back-to-basics feel. No, we didn’t have all the options of other game systems, like Pathfinder. But that was okay. Sometimes, those options can be a bit distracting. More options will undoubtedly come down the road. What we have before us is the foundation for a very good system.

I hope my schedule allows me to play again.

Creating Spelljammer for 3rd Edition


SpelljammerWith the licensing of some of Wizards of the Coast’s settings, such as Dragonlance and Ravenloft, there has been talk among fans of licensing out some of the other older settings as well, such as the Spelljammer setting.

Despite there being an interest in having such a license, the fan base is split on how it should be approached. Some will tell you that classic Spelljammer should be updated to 3rd edition rules. Some will say that Spelljammer should be based on Shadow of the Spider Moon, the d20 Spelljammer mini-game in Polyhedron, written by Andy Collins. There’s plenty of other divisions as well, including what tech level Spelljammer should be set at.

As we look at the possibility of licensing the Spelljammer campaign setting, we must look at it through a different lens than in the past. While this is true with the rules, this becomes especially true with the setting.

Spelljammer as a Setting

Spelljammer would have to be looked at in its entirety if licensed, and as one complete setting. You can’t look at it as the Spider Moon setting vs. the classic setting. If you choose one over the other, then you’re bound to alienate a portion of your fan base.

For example, if one built a new 3rd edition Spelljammer solely off of Shadow of the Spider Moon, you would lose a bit of the classic Spelljammer crowd. On the other hand, if one were to focus solely on the classic material, you would lose the new fan base that has come about due to Andy Collins’ work.

Integrating both works together would, in my opinion, be the way to go. You could use Andy’s Spelljammer rules to get you started, and his sphere (which fans have dubbed Pyrespace) would make a good starting point for adventure. Go beyond that sphere, and then you can tie it all together.

Beyond integrating both of the materials, though, is one more key element. You must build a cohesive setting that has materials that are familiar, but also a setting that has some new, interesting, and exciting elements to it.

Perhaps there are new races, and maybe one of them is trying to conquer the other spheres. Perhaps new spheres and new worlds are being discovered (a great way to integrate the classic and d20 Spelljammer settings). Perhaps there is new magic, new technologies, and new ships.

Through tying together the setting, and building upon it, you’ve accomplished one of the hardest goals.

Spelljammer as a Concept

Spelljammer is more than a setting – Spelljammer is a concept. The idea of traveling from world to world through means of magically powered ships with no futuristic technology whatsoever was a new and fresh one, and ripe for adventure.

While building a setting so that players have a place to adventure is important, it is equally important to present Spelljammer as a concept.

This concept of traveling from world to world through fantastic means should be set up to where you could travel to any world, whether it be a D&D world, or the worlds found in your favorite fantasy novels.


Spelljammer is a world that has infinite possibilities. So much can be done with the concept of fantasy space travel. By presenting a cohesive setting while also allowing Spelljammer to be a tool added to any fantasy setting, you ensure your road to success.

Shackles of My Own Making

My handwriting is horrible. Whenever folks need a visual representation of the Klingon language, they ask me to write something. If you go by the stereotype, I should be a rich doctor. And yet, it is what it is. Just kind of sloppy and hard to read.

My character sheets were equally hard to read. My writing is kind of big, so to put it in teeny tiny boxes…well, it gets hard to write it all. Like any gamer, I like accuracy and detail. And yet, my own handwriting was limiting me.

That’s when Wizards of the Coast released Character Builder. Here was a program that would help me build my character (thus being appropriately named) , and would do so in a fashion that would produce a neat, clean, detailed character sheets. Plus it had those attractive D&D 4th edition power cards as well. I was elated, and spent many an hour converting old characters to 4th edition or coming up with new character ideas.

Character Builder had become my salvation. It had become my jailor.

You see, I’m also part tinker gnome. Maybe it’s my Dragonlance roots talking, or maybe I’m like a lot of gamers out there. I like to build and craft within my game. We gamers are notorious world builders and amateur game designers. It gets in your blood. New races, new roles to play within the world, monsters, villains….it’s all wonderful stuff. And a lot of it needs stats to implement in-game. And like good little tinker gnomes, we love to craft those rules.

So it was that my frustrations with Character Builder began. You see, the miracle program had one big flaw. It wasn’t friendly towards house rules. You could put some in, but you were limited in other areas. And there was always an annoying little icon reminding me that my character wasn’t “legal” (whatever that means). What happens when I want to use house rules for a 4th edition conversion of some rule from a prior edition? What happens when I create something new I want to implement?

I found limits in other ways too. For example, I would have to wait a month between publication of a book and the time when it would be implemented on Character Builder. I found myself just waiting on baited breath for the release of the next update. A few months ago, such an occurrence was happening again. I had been waiting a year for the release of the 4th edition version of Dark Sun. I got the books, and knew it was just a matter of time before I could update my old Dark Sun characters in Character Builder.

That day didn’t come. The update didn’t come. WotC was pretty silent on the issue. Through a comedy of errors, Character Builder was delayed, and then those dates weren’t met. Wizards was not communicating with the public to keep people informed. We finally got half an update in October, but still no Dark Sun. Essentials was coming out too, and we wondered if that would be included.

And so I waited and waited, until finally, the new online Character Builder was released. I jumped into it, but with caution. As it turns out, caution was warranted. Character Builder was filled with errors and liked to crash. It was even worse about house rules as well. I play Dragonlance a lot, and yet I couldn’t even type the name of a Dragonlance deity into the appropriate box.

I had had enough. Something finally snapped within me. I had known for some time that this program was inhibiting me from a creative standpoint. I realized that it was holding me back, and was serving not so much as an aid, but as a crutch.

And it was my own fault. I had brought this on myself. I allowed a program to control my fun.

The Character Builder fiasco had a couple of good effects. First, it was a reminder of how we used to tackle character sheets – by hand. We didn’t worry about what some silly program told us was legal.

But wait, my handwriting is like bad Klingon. Was going back the way to go?

As it turns out, the gaming community is quite creative, and not just within the confines of the game. They have a knack for creating some of the best toys, such as form-fillable character sheets and power card generators. I’ve known about them, but have taken a closer look in light of the Character Builder fiasco. And you know, I’ve found some neat toys. I feel like I can tinker again.

The moral of this story? We all have our shackles. We all have those things that limit us as creative individuals. Maybe for you it’s the rules, to which you might feel beholden. For me, it was Character Builder. And while I think it can still be a useful tool, I no longer feel that it is necessary for me to play the game. Because it isn’t.

Try to recognize those shackles that hold you down. They can be hard to identify at times. Recognizing them is the hard part. Once you do, though, search for a way around them, and remember that there are always alternatives.

Dragonhelm’s Gamma World Game Day Report


While I have known about Gamma World for many years, I only got to play it for the first time today at the Gamma World Game Day. Basically, you go to your local participating game store, sit in on a game, and get to experience what Gamma World is all about. I took my 13-year-old son with me today, and we had a blast.

Does Gamma World measure up to past editions? I can’t say either way, as I’m not familiar with those prior editions. What I can comment on is this version of Gamma World. It’s a variant of the 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons rules that combines classic role-playing, a card game element, and incorporates tactical game play.

The Gamma World boxed set claims to be, “A wacky, wily roleplaying game of post-apocalyptic peril.” On this, it delivers. Your character begins with two origins. Basically, you pair up two mutations to see what you can be. My son was a speedster doppelganger. I was a radioactive mind courser. Since radioactive characters can shoot radioactive beams from their eyes, I decided to take some X-Men inspiration and have only one eye. My character’s name? Psi-clops. My son got to make copies of himself, who could go into situations, attack bad guys, and keep my son’s character safe. Think Jamie Madrox, the Multiple Man, from the X-Men comics.

The adventure, Trouble in Freesboro, had the party being hired as mercenaries to take out these bad guys who set up shop in town, and are creating some super-weapon. It consists of three encounters, with an optional third encounter. The first encounter was all combat.

The second, though, went very differently than I thought would happen. I came in expecting a lot of combat. But in this encounter, a little fast-talking had us making friends with humanoid cockroaches who had a Mexican accent. This was more than an encounter. This was role-playing. We didn’t fight, and we convinced these guys that we were the new hires, sent to work with them.

We worked our way up to the top, where we faced the final enemies – a group of porkers and other assorted mutants. The big boss-man was a toughie, but we dispatched of him.

The game includes Alpha mutation cards, which function as Gamma World’s variant of encounter powers. It also has Omega tech, which functions as magic items. There’s a certain suspension of disbelief necessary to really get into these, but once you get into it, it’s fun. Gamma World assumes that random mutations happen, so that’s how you get your Alpha mutation cards. Then it’s assumed that the collision of realities (kind of the background to Gamma World) leads to Omega tech lying around.

I should mention at this point that my son has only gamed a handful of times. For Gamma World, he says that character creation was hard, but once that was over, he was fine. He says he really enjoyed this game, more so than playing D&D. He told his mom that she should play, and he has asked me when we will play next. In my mind, that’s the sign of a successful game.

For me, seeing this sort of positive reaction in my son is all I need to have me sold on the Gamma World game.