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12 d20 System Games in 2004
 
A Dozen Games Under the d20
12 d20 System Games for Christmas in 2004

By Matthew Pook, with Allan Sugarbaker, Steve Kani, and Cedric Chin

From perusing our first two lists of 2004, A Dozen Games at the End of the Bed and A Dozen Games Under the Tree, you might be forgiven for thinking that the year was dominated by board and card games. So what is the roleplayer to do? Never fear, for the third of our traditional lists is stuffed to the gills with roleplaying goodness for d20 fans. Rules and mechanics, settings and adventure are to be found in the entries below. Dragons, monsters, magic, mechanoids and more are all present for your gaming pleasure.

So grab your polyhedrals, and prepare to unwrap some of the best titles that the d20 System has to offer from 2004.

Grim Tales
Badeaxe Games, $34.95

We have yet to see the definitive pulp action RPG for the d20 System, but Grim Tales gives you all of the mechanics necessary to create and play your own. With the tagline of "High Adventure, Low Magic," this is a "Rules Resource And Campaign Toolkit" that covers fast and furious gaming from "...[T]he dawn of Atlantis to the apocalyptic future of a dying planet." It gets under the hood of the d20 Modern RPG to strip it back to its core and retool for a world in which magic is scarce and danger high. All the GM has to do is pick the rules he wants, and just add players and a setting.

DragonMech
Goodman Games, $34.99

2004 was the year in which designers added big robots to their fantasy setting, the best of which was DragonMech. Highpoint is a world scoured by the rain of the falling moon and the rapacious nature of the Lunar Dragons. Its peoples have been driven underground or found sanctuary in the colossal city-mechs, giant steam driven, stone-clad robots that can stand up to both the Lunar Rain and the Lunar Dragons. Housed in the feet of each city-mech is a hanger of smaller crewed mechs used to hunt, scavenge and project the power of the city-mech. DragonMech re-interprets the Dungeons & Dragons standards, finding new roles and situations for its races and classes while adding much flavor of its own. The result is a rich combination of steampunk, big robots, and fantasy.

The Red Star Campaign Setting
Green Ronin Publishing, $34.95

Based on the comic from Archangel Studios, The Red Star Campaign Setting lets players take on the roles of larger-than-life heroes in an alternate age of science fiction and sorcery. In this setting for the d20 Modern RPG, magic lies at the heart of the world’s technologies, helping to maintain communication and even power the gigantic skyfurnaces that can transport 100,000 troops to and from the battlefield or trouble spot. This is sorcery with the brutal realism of Soviet-style engineering. Will the heroes protect the United Republics of the Red Star, or lead the rebellion against the tyranny of the sorcerer, First Comrade Imbohl, and thus save the spirit of the Revolution?

Iron Kingdoms Character Guide: Full Metal Fantasy Volume 1
Privateer Press, $39.95

For some time, the Iron Kingdoms setting has mainly only been available to wargame in, with the highly regarded War Machine rules and its associated range of figures. Now roleplayers can get a better look what makes this world so enticing, a world hinted at in the Witchfire Trilogy and the Monsternomicon. This dark, plate iron setting at the beginning of an industrial age sees the deployment of Steamjacks, coal-powered, sorcery-created robots, onto battlefield and building site, and the use of firearms that need every round individually cast. This book is the perfect introduction to the grim and gritty world of the pleasingly Orc and Halfling-free realm, detailing its various races that include twelve different human ethnic groups, Goblins, and Trollkin, plus their religions and several new classes. All of which is illustrated with artwork that perfectly captures the feel of the Iron Kingdoms.

Legends of Excalibur
RPG Objects, $29.95

Ride into the "real" age of chivalry with Legends of Excalibur, an RPG interpretation of the classic tales inspired by Mallory's Le Morte D'Arthur and Tennyson's Idylls of the King, and even the film Excalibur. These combine to make the game medieval, romantic, and brutal, and also give it an epic grandeur and sweep. Inherently British, and focusing naturally enough on the knight and noble classes, Legends of Excalibur covers the entire reign of Arthur, and provides everything necessary to get gaming shortly after his crowning.

Eberron
Wizards of the Coast, $39.95

The winner of the D&D Setting Search contest, Keith Baker's Eberron takes traditional fantasy and slaps it around a bit. Four new character races assert themselves here, including the lycanthrope-like Shifters and the golem-like Warforged. Action Points put more control in the hands of the players, but powerful merchant houses and richly detailed organizations wrest that control away in a variety of ways. Dragonmarked sling spells, lightning railroads thunder across the countryside, and ancient ruins hint at greater threats that still slumber. In all, Eberron is a refreshingly new, but strangely familiar, campaign setting that any D&D gamer should check out.

Fright Night: What Went Down
Hogshead Publishing, $15.95

Every title in the Fright Night series presents a situation familiar from watching horror movies, which when combined with the simple familiarity of the d20 System means that they are easy to grasp and play within a session or two. Preferably at night, of course. The series has taken players to the Antarctic, into an insane reality TV show, to a haunted house, and back to school, but in Fright Night: What Went Down, a Russian nuclear attack submarine is lost beneath the Arctic and a civilian team is contracted to perform the rescue. This is The Abyss served up cold and Russian-style in which the player characters must dive on a mysteriously lifeless vessel.

The Black Company
Green Ronin, $44.95

Based on the series of books by Glen Cook, The Black Company is a d20 adventure setting with a lot to offer. Everything is covered in great detail, from the lands and cities to the heroes and monsters that inhabit them. There are new character classes, feats, a system of character backgrounds contributing to the skills and feats they start with, and new rules for the battlefield combat that permeates the world of The Black Company. Most interesting, however, is how magic is handled. Characters must buy certain feats to be able to get the spell energy required to cast spells. The casting of a spell and it's effects are actually separate concepts. And everything's wrapped up in a well-designed, attractive book. Whether looking for a complete setting to adventure in, or new ideas for your own campaign, there is a lot to be had in The Black Company.

Dungeon Crawl Classics #11: The Dragonfiend Pact
Goodman Games, $2

Though you might have thought OgreCave would opt for AEG's World's Largest Dungeon, we decided not to think big and budget busting, but small and pocket friendly instead. One dungeon bash, one night, for two dollars, which is exactly what Dungeon Crawl Classics #11: The Dragonfiend Pact delivers. An adventure for 2nd level characters that can be played in an evening, written for the latest incarnation of the rules, but in old school style. That is, no fuss, no muss, get into the adventure, get down to the dungeon and get on with it. At just 16 pages long, this adventure delivers everything you need - puzzles, traps, denizens to splat, and a bit of roleplaying (hey, this is the 21st century, isn't it?) - while introducing gamers to the rest of the Dungeon Crawl Classics line. Players, pizza, and soda not included.

Does the idea of cheap dungeon thrills intrigue you? Have a look at our full review.

Advanced Bestiary
Green Ronin, $36.95

It's a scenario that as old as D&D itself: the players encounter a monster and immediately, one (or more) of them knows exactly what it is and how to fight it. What's a Dungeon Master to do? Make his own monsters? What happens when the players have those monsters sussed out too? Leave it to Green Ronin to provide an interesting solution. The Advanced Bestiary doesn't give you new monsters, providing over 100 templates instead that can be combined with any creature to make old beasts new again. As Green Ronin says, it "puts the power back in the hands of the GM." This is the first in Green Ronin's Advanced rulebooks line, and a very promising start. This is a great gift for your Dungeon Master, though players might be signing their own death warrants.

Monster Geographica: Underground
Expeditious Retreat Press, $20

It may be a "bare bones" small softcover with no monster illustrations, but Monster Geographica: Underground is a great gift for budding GMs populating their underground dungeons. At $20, it's less expensive than most monster supplements, and easier to use at times. Monsters are organized by Challenge Rating, not alphabetically, so GMs can easily find monsters to populate a particular level of a dungeon or quickly throw together a random encounter. Short entries called Flora and Fauna add fungi, magical ore, and other atmospheric effects to a dungeon. The book is entirely OGL content, drawing from companies such as Atlas Games and White Wolf. In all, it makes an excellent monster reference for GMs to reach for when short on time or inspiration.

Races of Stone
Wizards of the Coast, $29.95

Dwarves, gnomes, and a new race, goliaths, are all given the full treatment, from cultural details to what they use to smack enemies. Sub-races are also explored, as are the beasts that challenge characters in stony caves and mountains. The crunchy goodies are plentiful as well, like new prestige classes, feats, reinterpreted skills, spells, gear, and magic items. But more important than Races of Stone by itself is the promise of additional volumes (Races of Destiny among them) that each bring vibrant life to the D&D races, and add new ones along the way. Players that want to immerse themselves in their character should pick this book up.

 

With such an assortment of d20 gear, our 2004 list should satisfy any fan of the system. But should you have need of other gift suggestions, check our other 2004 gift lists for more potentially precious presents.
 

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