Big Changes Coming to Dungeons & Dragons?

There’s no denying that Dungeons & Dragons isn’t just the granddaddy of roleplaying games, it’s also the most well-known and recognizable example of the genre.

But there’s never been a richer time for roleplaying games than right now. Patreon and Kickstarter are bringing new designers and storytellers to prominence, websites like DriveThruRPG give terrific visibility to creators large and small, and contenders for the throne both old (White Wolf Games) and newer (Pathfinder) continue to grab their own share of the RPG market.

Although it’s two years away, the fiftieth anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons is looming large, and some big moves are being made this year.

At the D&D Celebration 2021 event, the creative team announced that the game will be getting a major update for the first time in nearly a decade.

The current version of the rules — known as fifth edition or 5e — marked a return to form for Dungeons & Dragons after a less-than-glowing response to their fourth edition ruleset, and it has served as a game system that welcomes new players and satisfies long-time players as well.

Now, we don’t know if this is simply an update to the system to improve/tweak the rules — D&D 5.5e, you might say — or if this will be a wholesale relaunch of the core system. (Though that seems unlikely, given that 2020 was the company’s most profitable year ever.)

What they have promised is that, whatever form the update takes, EVERYTHING that they’ve released for fifth edition over the last decade will still be compatible with the new system. This is not a cash grab that will force players to shell out for all sorts of new books.

It’s an intriguing announcement that has fans already speculating, even though the update’s release isn’t due until 2024.

[In this video, long-time roleplayers The Dungeon Dudes break down their thoughts on potential 5th edition updates.]

But those big moves we mentioned above aren’t only being made by the industry leader. Some important names from D&D’s past are also contributing to the growth and variety of roleplaying games in impressive ways.

It was recently announced that Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis would be collaborating on a new setting and system based on 5e rules: Skyraiders of Abarax.

Now, if you don’t know those names, you should. The world of D&D over the last 50 years would be a lot less varied without them. Tracy and Laura Hickman were instrumental voices behind two iconic D&D settings that have endured for decades — Ravenloft and Dragonlance — and the idea that they’re creating a brand new world for players to enjoy is immensely exciting.

Not only that, but several influential creators have launched their own new world and system on Kickstarter recently: Tanares.

Folks like Skip Williams, Bruce Nesmith, Jeff Grubb (who contributed some of my favorite Star Wars RPG supplements), and the legendary Ed Greenwood — who created The Forgotten Realms, another hugely famous D&D setting — have collaborated on an immersive new world and play system.

Considering that they raised over two MILLION dollars for the project on Kickstarter, it’s fair to say that there’s a market for fresh content that fits the D&D aesthetic but takes the gameplay in exciting new directions.

Now, if you’re not familiar with roleplaying games, you may be wondering what the big deal is. Why does an updated system or a new setting matter?

New systems can be welcoming to new players and put them at ease, or end up so daunting that it scares off new players while alienating established players.

Similarly, a new setting can offer fresh gameplay opportunities and give players the chance to try different styles, genres, and characters in ways they might never have considered otherwise.

And who knows where roleplaying games will be in two years? Will indie publishers continue to thrive? Will Tanares or Skyraiders of Abarax be household brands? And what exactly do the designers behind the world’s most famous roleplaying game have in store for their loyal and lapsed players in 2024?

Only time will tell.

In the meantime, keep rolling those dice. Happy roleplaying!


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How People Used Puzzles and Games to Endure the Pandemic

Puzzles and games have been there for many people during the pandemic.

Many puzzle and game companies offered (and continue to offer) “COVID discounts” and giveaways to help people financially impacted by the crisis. Companies released free online or zoom-compatible versions of their products to help people get by.

There are all sorts of articles out there about how Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games have served as critical socializing tools in virtual hangouts. Bar-style trivia, zoom games, Jackbox, Board Game Arena, Fall Guys, Among Us… lots of communal activities went virtual as puzzles and games filled a rapidly growing niche.

Whether solved alone or with other members of the household, jigsaw puzzles sales increased 500% or more. Online sites to coordinate trades sprang up, allowing people to swap puzzles they’d solved before for ones new to them.

At a terrible time for many people, puzzles and games helped us cope.

And honestly, if you know the history of games and puzzles, it makes sense. Many of them have been born out of unpleasant circumstances.

Monopoly was a hit during the Great Depression, offering an escape and the illusory feeling of being rich. The game itself only cost two dollars, so it was a solid investment with a ton of replay value.

Candy Land was created to entertain children with polio (although that fact wasn’t commonly known for 50 years). Clue was designed during air raid drills as a way to pass the time. The Checkered Game of Life (later The Game of Life) was inspired by Milton Bradley’s own wild swing of business misfortune.

Risk and other conflict-heavy games weren’t popular in postwar Germany, so an entire genre of games that avoided direct conflict was born: Eurogames.

It’s just as true in the modern day. What game was flying off the shelves during COVID-19 lockdowns? Pandemic.

That combination of escapism and social interaction is so powerful. Games are low-stakes. They offer both randomness (a break from monotony) and a degree of control (something sorely missing during lockdown).

Puzzles too assisted folks in maintaining their mental health. And isn’t it interesting that crossword solving, something viewed by many as a solitary endeavor — I guess they never needed to ask someone else 5-Down — helped fill a crucial social role for people?

Constructors stepped up in interesting, inventive ways. The sense of community fostered by online crossword events like Crossword Tournament From Your Couch (which filled the void of ACPT in 2020) and the Boswords Themeless League was absolutely invaluable to puzzlers who couldn’t attend some of the highlights of the puzzle calendar year.

As I said before, there are numerous articles out there celebrating the benefits of roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, and more.

Roleplaying games certainly helped keep me sane during lockdown. It might sound ridiculous, but dealing with world-threatening threats, fiercely dangerous monsters, and sinister plots that I could DO something about was medicinal. It was escape in its truest form. It recharged me, allowing me to lose myself in storytelling with friends.

The last 18 months were hard. There may be hard months ahead. But I’m grateful for the puzzle/game community — and the many marvelous pastimes they’ve created — for helping me and many others get by. To smile. To cope. To socialize. And to enjoy.

What games and puzzles have helped you deal with unpleasant circumstances, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments section below. We’d love to hear from you.


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5 Questions with Game Designer Grant Howitt!

Welcome to 5 Questions, our recurring interview series where we reach out to puzzle constructors, game designers, writers, filmmakers, musicians, artists, and puzzle enthusiasts from all walks of life!

It’s all about exploring the vast and intriguing puzzle community by talking to those who make puzzles and those who enjoy them! (Click here to check out previous editions of 5 Questions!)

And I’m excited to welcome Grant Howitt as our latest 5 Questions interviewee!

gshowitt resized

Grant is a prolific tabletop game designer who has created multi-book campaign settings and adventures, but is perhaps best known for his one-page roleplaying games, where he fits an entire game — objectives, setting, characters, rules, and other game details and stylistic flourishes — onto a single piece of paper!

He has built a reputation for clever design, irreverent campaign concepts, and topflight roleplaying experiences, and he’s currently putting all of those creative energies into Heart: The City Beneath, a recent Kickstarter success story.

Grant was gracious enough to take some time out to talk to us, so without further ado, let’s get to the interview!


5 Questions for Grant Howitt

1. How did you get started with roleplaying games? When did you start designing your own games?

I got into RPGs back in 2000 – I saw a game of Vampire the Masquerade being played, and while I didn’t take part, I kind of fell in love with the possibility of the thing. I come from a wargaming and videogaming background, so the flexibility available to players blew my mind when I saw it done live. I didn’t actually play regularly for another six years, because my high school friends were too cool to do it, and I can’t blame them.

I started making my own games significantly before that. I wrote my first game in high school, a hack of a game called Zaibatsu that I got off an Angelfire website, and it reflects my 14-year-old obsession with marijuana, shooting two guns at once, and generally dicking about. (I still like all of those things but I feel like I’m expressing it in more subtle ways these days.)

I went on to write a Live-Action Roleplaying system called Zombie LARP at University with my friend Chris Taylor, who I now co-own an RPG business with alongside Mary Hamilton. (I’m married to Mary; it’s pretty cool running a business doing the thing you love most with the people you love most.)

honey heist

[Have you ever masterminded the world’s greatest heist while being a bear?
That’s the goal of Honey Heist, a one-page roleplaying game created by Howitt.]

2. Your games run the gamut from one-page works like the lighthearted Honey Heist and the tension-filled Wake to more complex and detailed games like One Last Job and Spire.

But one interesting thing aspect of your games is that there’s always an abundance of material to inspire the roleplaying part of the game. When designing the mechanics of a game, how do you find the sweet spot between necessity, efficiency, stylistic flair, and going overboard?

That’s a hell of a question! It’s tricky; you get to learn the feel for it after a while. Chris also reins me in a lot and helps me keep a handle on my excesses; he’s very much the yin to my yang. I think the goal is to make something that’s fun to read and that sparks ideas for adventures in the reader’s head – you’re giving them the keys to a fantasy world and guiding them to their own stories, rather than telling them something directly. So you can get loose with it and stitch things together with a theme rather than worrying about, you know, sentence structure and all that stuff.

spire-cover-blue

3. What are two games that have had a strong influence on your own roleplaying experience, either as a player or a game creator? And what two of your own games would you recommend that people try to widen their own gaming experience?

First off: Dogs in the Vineyard by D Vincent Baker, which is out of print now, but it taught me that games can be about one thing and do it perfectly rather than try to simulate any potential actions within a game world. It taught me a lot about abstraction. It’s hugely clever and one player character always ends up shooting another by the end of a session due to an argument about faith, and that’s extremely my bag.

Secondly: Wushu, by Dan Bayn, which is geared towards daft high-action explosive schlocky pulp play, but the system is so monumentally clever because it barely exists. The fascinating thing about Wushu is that it says “yes, you can do that” where most other games say “no, you can’t do that yet” which means that, after about three sessions, you end up burned out because no-one’s keeping you at arm’s length from your potential. I love it. It’s roleplaying cocaine.

And from myself? I think people should buy the most expensive ones, because I need a new pair of boots. (Actually? Read GENIUS LOCI which is about playing a cannibalistic post office god in 1960’s rural Southern England, because it’s not like anything else I’ve read or written, and that counts for something. And HAVOC BRIGADE, which is about an orc “infiltration” mission into a human city, and it’s legitimately some of the most fun I’ve had running a game due to the wild freedom afforded to players.)

heart cover resized

4. What’s next for Grant Howitt?

At the moment we’re getting Heart delivered to Kickstarter backers (you can pre-order it from our site here) and it’ll be delivered sometime in August) and that’s been a big creative drain – we put out the corebook and four sourcebooks alongside it in a few months.

So at present Chris and I are taking time to recharge, keeping the business ticking over (I’m still writing one game a month and don’t intend on stopping any time soon), commissioning works from other authors, and trying to centre ourselves to get perspective and write the Next Big Thing. We have a few ideas at present; maybe something set in the same world as Spire and Heart, maybe some sort of Deep South ghost-hunting game, or maybe something about eating magical materials to cast neat spells. I dunno just yet.

5. If you could give the readers, writers, roleplayers, aspiring game designers, and puzzle fans in the audience one piece of advice, what would it be?

Make stuff! It’s fun. Then of course the next part, which is just as important, is to release it. You have to get stuff out there, get eyes on it, help people make a relationship with your work.

I see a lot of games which have been in development for, like, a decade – and that’s too long for most projects, you wind up with something weird and ingrown and self-referentially exclusive. So release stuff that you’re unsure but excited about, because nothing is ever perfect, and try to have fun with it.


A huge thank you to Grant for his time. You can follow him on Twitter for updates on his latest projects, visit Rowan, Rook, and Decard for his impressive library of games, and if you enjoy his roleplaying creations, please consider joining his Patreon! There is literally no telling what he’ll create next!

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Kickstarter Roundup!

Oh yes, it’s that time again.

For years now, crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo have been hotbeds of innovative puzzle and game design, and I’m always happy to spread the word about worthy projects that I think will delight and intrigue my fellow PuzzleNationers.

So let’s take a look at some projects that are currently seeking funding and see if any pique your interest! (This time around, we’ve got twice as many recommendations as usual! So much puzzly potential!)


atoz crossword

The first is a project by Fireball Crosswords and Fireball Newsflash Crosswords constructor Peter Gordon, entitled A-to-Z Crosswords Volume 2: More Petite Pangram Puzzles.

The project is easy to explain, but mindblowing to think about. Every single day for 24 WEEKS, you get a 9×11 crossword puzzle that contains all 26 letters. The puzzles range from easy to medium in difficulty, arrive by email, and are constructed by Gordon and professional puzzler Frank Longo.

This is a very cool project that deserves your support — they’re a little more than a third of the way there, with 9 days to go — and you should definitely check it out!

puzzle postcard

The next project is Puzzle Postcards: Season Two by the Enigma Emporium.

Last year, Wish You Were Here was part of our Holiday Puzzly Gift Guide, and it’s fantastic to see that the Enigma Emporium is Kickstarting another puzzle postcard mystery this year.

Essentially, an entire mystery is concealed within a handful of postcards, challenging you to mine them for every scrap of information as you uncover a series of coded messages. It’s spycraft in an envelope, very clever stuff.

Already funded with 12 days to go — and carrying a solid track record of previous successful Kickstarter projects behind them — I cannot recommend this one highly enough. I loved Wish You Were Here, as well as the follow-up series.

fuzzies

For a change of pace, our next project is The Fuzzies.

Basically, this is a Jenga-style dexterity game, but made out of little fuzzy balls instead of pieces of wood. And instead of choosing which piece you remove and place on top, that is determined by a deck of cards instead.

I don’t know how it works — actually staying upright in the first place — but apparently it does.

This family-friendly game has already tripled its funding goal with 29 days to go, so it might be right up your alley.

enigmas

The next project we’re sharing today is the ENIGMAS deck of puzzle playing cards.

David Kwong — constructor, magician, and all-around puzzly fellow — has masterminded a puzzle mystery and a series of hidden messages and ciphers, all contained within a deck of cards.

ENIGMAS marries some of the ideas from his Enigmatist show — specifically the historical aspects — with an ingenious puzzle hunt to create an intriguing solving situation. Plus, once you’ve cracked all the puzzly elements, you’ve still got a beautiful deck of cards to enjoy.

This project has blasted well past its funding goal, and with 9 days to go, they’ve added a special limited-run deck of red cards (to compliment the standard blue deck) that will only be offered to Kickstarter backers and never sold in stores. With a pedigree like David’s, you can’t go wrong!

sherlock

Our next project is bigger and no less ambitious. It’s Sherlock’s Mysteries: An Interactive Puzzle Adventure (not to be confused with another Sherlock-based Kickstarter running right now).

Combining board game and escape room elements, this project contains 10 mysteries (described as chapters) that combine into one interwoven narrative where you try to save the life of Sherlock Holmes!

By combining murder mystery-style solving with puzzles like ciphers and deduction puzzles, this project definitely tries to encapsulate the experience of being the Great Detective from the comfort of your own home.

About halfway to its goal with 21 days left, this project isn’t a lock (given the price tag of $135 to experience the entire story), but it’s definitely worth a look. (I’m especially intrigued by the fact that certain levels offer “refill kits” that allow the experience to be played more than once!)

shivers

For something just as puzzly but more immersive from a roleplaying point of view, there’s The Shivers.

In this game, someone has gone missing in the house owned by the Shivers family, and you play one of the family members trying to solve the mystery and defeat dangerous foes at work in various sinister and creepy scenarios.

This gameplay is bolstered by pop-up 3-D models of the various rooms of the house, bringing the setting and different stories to life right before your eyes.

This is a very clever combination of puzzle hunt, roleplaying game, and pop-up book that I’ve never really seen before, and like some of these other projects, it has blown past its funding goal with strong support from interested gamers and puzzlers.

legacy

Following the escape room/puzzle mystery at home template, Legacy: Quest for a Family Treasure is our next project to discuss.

You receive a black box in the mail, and inside, you discover in your estranged father’s will that there is a family treasure hidden somewhere in Europe. And you’ll have to unravel secrets of the past in order to secure your future.

This immersive mystery involves audio and video clues, physical evidence to pore over, and even incorporates Internet searching into the gameplay. I’ve been thoroughly impressed with the level of depth and attention to detail in this one, and clearly I’m not the only one, as the project has already met and surpassed its funding goal with 10 days to go.

The familial element adds a neat twist to the mystery-at-home genre, and I suspect this project will do very well.

labyrinth

The last project we’ll be sharing today is The Labyrinth: An Immersive Multi-Platform Puzzle Challenge.

There’s a lot of stuff included in this one: puzzle boxes, ciphers, maps, tools. They’re sending you a CRATE full of material here. The goal is to move through the various chambers of a labyrinth, solving puzzles as you go.

With 55 puzzles included — and an expected solve time of 8-10 hours — this is a breathtaking amount of puzzly paraphernalia. So there’s cost to consider here. The full puzzle costs $195 (there’s even a more expensive deluxe edition), so although that easily makes it the priciest project we’re discussing today, but also one of the most visually impressive.

And yet, with 14 days to go, they’ve already passed their funding goal nine times over. Check it out and see what you think of the expansive puzzle selection offered here.


Have any of these games or projects hooked you? Tell us which ones you’re supporting in the comments section below! And if there are any campaigns you’re supporting that we missed, let us know!

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How Much Puzzle Can You Fit on a Single Page?

crossword1

If you’ve ever picked up a puzzle magazine or downloaded a puzzle suite, you can’t help but be impressed by how much puzzle content can be offered in a relatively small space.

Across a half-dozen or dozen pages, you might encounter loads of different puzzly challenges to test you in various ways. Math puzzles, deduction puzzles, trivia, word searches, anagrams, spatial acuity… all of these puzzly disciplines and more could be covered in a single puzzle packet.

But it does make me wonder… what if it was confined to a single page? How much puzzling can you cram onto a single 8.5 x 11 piece of paper?

Let’s start simple.

pn pt puzzle 1-2 image

A single, untouched crossword puzzle. Freshly printed. 15x, probably. Perhaps 17x. Maybe you have a subscription service. Maybe you nabbed a PDF online from any number of talented constructors.

Three or four columns of clues fill the page, along with that pristine grid, waiting patiently for you to start filling in answers.

But there’s still a lot of white space on that page. We can probably fit more puzzle on that page.

Check out this Crostic puzzle, published by our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles:

crostic puzzle

Read the clues, fill in the answers, and then fill in the corresponding letters in the grid below to build some trivia.

Not only is it a straightforward puzzle, but it fills the page nicely, and you’re hardly losing any real estate to explanations or anything other than the puzzle itself.

But I think we can still fit a bit more puzzle onto the page.

rows garden

How about a Rows Garden puzzle, like this one from our friends at Lone Shark Games?

Between that visually impressive grid, the across clues, and all the different bloom clues, that page is starting to fill up nicely.

But can we go further?

Indeed, we can, if we delve into the world of one-page RPGs.

year of one page

[Click here for more details on this bundle.]

Yes, we’re talking about an entire roleplaying game — rules, setting, character details, and gameplay — distilled onto a single piece of paper.

There are all sorts of places to hunt down one-page RPGs to fit whatever kind of game you’d like to play. Sarcastic or serious, fantasy or sci-fi, quick-play or long-form, clever game designers have got you covered.

One of my favorites is Grant Howitt, who creates both longer roleplaying games and one-page games to keep your roleplaying experiences fresh.

Perhaps his greatest creation when it comes to one-page RPGs is a little game called Honey Heist.

honey heist

[That is a LOT of detail jammed into a small space.
Click here for a larger version you can actually read.]

There are two things you need to know in Honey Heist:

1. You and your fellow players are attempting to pull off the greatest heist ever.
2. You are a BEAR.

Yes, in Honey Heist, every player portrays a criminal bear trying to steal a king’s ransom in honey from a honey convention.

Some of my favorite roleplaying moments over the last few months have been in games of Honey Heist. It’s a very silly idea, yes, but also one that allows for strategic gameplay, immersive roleplaying, and memorable experiences. What more could you ask for?


We’re sure there are other puzzles or puzzle experiences that also do an impressive job of condensing a metric ton of puzzling into a single page.

Can you think of any that we missed? Do you have any favorite one-page puzzles or games you’d like to see in the spotlight? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.

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Game Conventions Moving Online Soon! *UPDATE*

UPDATE: We have removed all information regarding the Origins Online event in solidarity with the mass outpouring of support for POC and other marginalized voices, in the wake of GAMA’s lack of response to the recent protests.


san diego comic con

[Image courtesy of coolduder.]

Although some businesses and public spaces are beginning to open up, there’s no denying that the coronavirus is still having a devastating effect on large public gatherings.

For example, San Diego Comic Con, one of the premiere destination events for film, TV, and comic book fandom, is trying to figure out how to move the convention, or some significant aspect of it, online. But with so many participants and vendors to wrangle into some shared virtual space, things aren’t looking good for one of the biggest events on the entertainment calendar.

Maybe they can take a few pointers from the puzzle and game industry, because it seems like those fields are way ahead.

Not only did crossword fans get to enjoy Crossword Tournament From Your Couch back in March, but several gaming conventions are moving online in the hopes of bringing fans together and salvaging at least part of the year’s usual revelry and profit.

PaizoConOnline 2

Over Memorial Day weekend, the team at Paizo are hosting PaizoCon Online, a celebration of roleplaying games under the Paizo banner!

Six days of gaming — spanning May 26th through May 31st — allow for fans to stay safe at home as they play Pathfinder and Starfinder games.

If you’re looking to explore some D&D-style fun, either as an experienced player or a newcomer, click here to check out the full details on PaizoCon Online!

renegade con

And not long after that, the team at Renegade Game Studios is hosting Renegade Con: Virtual Edition.

Running from Friday, June 5th, to Sunday, June 7th, this free event (just sign up here!) brings together digital demos of new Renegade games, workshops, and panels featuring game designers and artists!

Everyone who signs up for a free ticket will have access to:

  • Shop the convention specials during the event
  • Get into free panels and workshops including The State of Renegade where we’ll talk about future projects on the horizon!
  • Demo upcoming and new games!

Several of these events are also serving as fundraisers for various companies and event organizers that have suffered losses during the pandemic — including the Con of Champions fundraiser this weekend for Tabletop Events — so if you want to support the games industry, be sure to sign up and check out one of these events.

Maybe the folks at San Diego Comic Con will do so as well and pick up a trick or two along the way.


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