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12 Games Around the d20 in 2006
 
Twelve Games Around the d20
A Dozen Games for d20 System fans in 2006

By Allan Sugarbaker and Steve Kani

'Tis the season of giving, and of gaming during every waking holiday moment not already devoted to other forms of celebratory bliss. As we have for years now, OgreCave has brought together a list of great Christmas (or other holiday) gifts to give. This third list goes back to the somewhat-ebbing wellspring of the d20 System, selecting 2006 gems that have, in some form, been derived from it. Each item has been inspected by holiday elves, who were then eaten by our ogre crew, so OgreCave has verified the tasty gaming goodness in each of our suggested products.

Five Fingers: Port of Deceit
Privateer Press, $34.99

Marking the first official city book for the Iron Kingdoms setting, Five Fingers: Port of Deceit describes a city that's anything but wholesome. A major trade city, the multiple narrow islands of the city give it the name, but the "five finger discount" saying would fit in as well, with crime playing a major factor in all urban interactions. In fact, the book is narrated by the various rogues and opportunists of the city, and gives characters the chance to engage in minor criminal acts or carve out their own empire of organized crime. While the book offers rules for urban situations like rooftop chases that could be used for many settings, three new prestige classes (the Agent, the Enforcer, and the Malefactor of Thamar) help set the proper Iron Kingdoms tone. With a full-color poster map of the city, details on each city district and almost 200 city inhabitants, and numerous fine (and not so fine) establishments to discover, you should swipe a copy of Five Fingers for the gamemaster on your holiday list.

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft
Wizards of the Coast, $34.95

Few names evoke the kind of roleplaying nostalgia that Ravenloft brings to mind, the Tracy and Laura Hickman masterpiece that introduced D&D players to gothic horror. Many gamers remember sessions going into the wee hours as the tale of Count Strahd von Zarovich and his ill-fated yearning for love unfolded. An ancient mystery wrapped in longing and betrayal, Wizards has revamped the tale (no pun intended) in hardcover form with Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. The updated adventure provides multiple quest options, allowing gamers to sweep through the Count's region quickly, or take the scenic route and get the true flavor of Barovia (mmm, smoked bat jerky). The book also marks the introduction of a new, user-friendly encounter format, several new magic items, new feats, prestige classes, and other goodies. Best of all, the classic story is available to a new generation of D&D players, a true undying tale.

The Mother of All Treasure Tables
Necromancer Games, $27.99

At first glance, The Mother of All Treasure Tables will probably be met with skepticism. Another book of treasures? How useful could this be? But once gamemasters start looking through the book, many will find they can't put it down. From everyday items found in one's pockets to a dragon's hoard, loot-gaining becomes much more entertaining with the detailed entries in this thorough resource book. No mere pre-rolled treasure assortments, these are carefully, creatively constructed batches of goods that range from common and disgusting to uniquely wondrous. Broken into value categories, each collection of goodies leaves out the magic, letting GMs augment any or all items with enchantments in whatever way is needed, or leave the mystical auras aside for a down-and-dirty low magic campaign. Gamers can draw inspiration from individual item descriptions, or randomly roll for a treasure hoard with a description that makes players want to crawl through and examine every detail. Gamemasters of any fantasy RPG will see the value in owning the itemized wealth lists that make this book so useful.

Etherscope
Goodman Games, $39.99

Combine the Victorian era with cyberpunk, add in a touch of occult horror, and you've got Etherscope. If another dimension were discovered at the peak of Victorian industry in 1876, this RPG's unique setting, set over 100 years after just such an event, is what would result. This spin on d20 Modern places England as the lead superpower, in a world of advanced technology and city-states rampant with disease. The game goes on to describe a world of eugenically created sub-races of humans, of Lemurean ruins, of echoes and demons in the ether, and more. When this is all blended with the cyberpunk mentality, you get a delicious taste of a dark-yet-fresh alternate world rich with inspiring material.

Shattered Gates of Slaughtergarde
Wizards of the Coast, $24.95

It's the age-old tale that several D&D adventures have had variations on over the years: big force of good guys (in this case, men, elves, dwarves, and angels) clashed with big force of bad guys (demons and a demon prince, apparently), managed to defeat the evil threat, and destroyed the source from which it came, only not completely, and now there's a danger of it coming back. A theme worth repeating, to be sure, but now that the gates of Slaughtergarde are in need of reshattering, why should this adventure warrant your attention? Aside from stopping a demon horde, this adventure is smartly presented, following the encounter model set by Expedition to Castle Ravenloft and placing everything the DM needs in front of him. Not quite introductory but not old school either, newer gamers will enjoy taking characters from 1st all the way to 7th level, while both new and experienced DMs will appreciate the intuitive design. This is the perfect D&D campaign to start young players on, and a great "second step" product to walk new roleplayers a bit down the road instead of just through the gateway.

Rappan Athuk Reloaded boxed set
Necromancer Games, $74.99

If you think you've seen massive dungeons before, just have a look at Rappan Athuk, the Dungeon of Graves. The Rappan Athuk Reloaded boxed set brings 36 levels of monster-infested dungeon to your game table, enough to satisfy even the speediest, bloodthirstiest adventuring group D&D has ever seen. But wait, there's more! A dungeon's not so believable without the proper context, so a large wilderness expansion has been added (one wouldn't want to venture into the Demon Lord Orcus' territory without proper suspension of disbelief). The set provides over 232 pages of dungeon details, 96 pages of creatures and NPCs, and more than 50 pages of maps. All of the original series material is updated for 3.5, expanded, and ready to be inflicted upon any gamers bold enough to enter. This set's getting harder to find in print now, but a PDF version is also available for those so inclined.

True20 Adventure Roleplaying
Green Ronin Publishing, $34.95

True20 is more than a mere extension of d20 or OGL materials, it is an evolution of them. Blue Rose broke new ground with its topic matter, but it also spawned a slimmed-down version of d20's core rules. In True20, Green Ronin refines the rules Blue Rose first presented to create a straightforward ruleset, one that more easily allows gamers to run and play games in any setting, from fantasy to sci-fi and beyond. True20 is streamlined: everything can be resolved using the same core system and only a 20-sided die. Gameplay is fast and dynamic. Gone are the complications of hit points, experience points or any other kinds of points. In their place are innovative features such as the Toughness Save damage system. The book is a dense 224 pages, neatly laid out and sprinkled generously with optional rule sidebars and professional quality artwork. If you are looking for a fast, flexible and familiar RPG system and don't want the burden of a lot of books, True20 - which was also the 2006 Ogres' Choice Award winner for Best RPG - might be for you.

Player's Handbook 2
Wizards of the Coast, $34.95

The back cover of the book says, "Make your characters the best they can be." A bit of an overstatement perhaps, but Players Handbook 2 is still one of the best D&D manuals that Wizards of the Coast has offered up since our list last year. As one might expect, with a title like Players Handbook 2, the designers had to bring their A game, and they did. The book includes a handful of new classes: the Beguiler, the Dragon Shaman, the Duskblade and the Knight. The several page section of feats stands out, neatly filling gaps left in the game for both low and high level characters. Numerous new spells and character advancement options add spice to familiar rules. Other resources for developing a character's background and traits, or for overhauling and rebuilding a character, round out this exceptionally useful supplement. Throw in new teamwork benefits and some new equipment packages and you have a really complete package. Also our 2006 Ogres' Choice Award winner for Best RPG Supplement, Player's Handbook 2 is a must have for any Dungeons & Dragons player (or dungeonmaster) on your gift giving list.

Ptolus
Malhavoc Press, $119.99

An imposing sight, a copy of Ptolus is liable to hurt someone if dropped: the 672-page hardcover sets the bar for fantasy campaign settings, boasting stylish full-color art, endless maps, player handouts and a double sided poster map of the entire city. Thoroughly indexed and cross referenced (yay!), this heavyweight of city sourcebooks even includes a CD-ROM with over 350 pages of additional adventure and source material. This is truly a work of epic proportions, providing enough material for literally decades of gaming. It even has a six issue comic book tie in from Marvel Comics and a line of miniatures - nice ones at that! If you are looking for the ultimate campaign setting and there's no limit to what you are willing to spend - Ptolus is it. Ptolus is one of the most impressive roleplaying products to come along, period.

DCC #35: Gazetteer of the Known Realms boxed set
Goodman Games, $69.99

For years now, the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure modules have reminded D&D fans of how things used to be, with solid, intense quests, lots of combat, and some worthy treasure to win. After dozens of adventures, a miniatures line, and even a few translations to other game systems, the DCC line got its own setting in the Gazetteer of the Known Realms boxed set. The fantasy world of Áereth plays host to the popular adventures, with four 24"x36" poster maps, a 120-page setting book, and a 136-page sourcebook of beasts, gear, and significant people. The set also provides adventure path guidelines to build with DCC modules and send hapless characters along. Finally, two 32-page adventures are lurking in the box as well: Halls of the Minotaur, for 0-level characters; and The Thief Lord's Vault, for levels 4-6. Bringing the Dungeon Crawl Classics modules together into a more cohesive whole, this boxed set provides the recipe for creating an entire campaign of classics.

Bleeding Edge Adventure #1: Mansion of Shadows
Green Ronin Publishing, $11.95

Green Ronin has always been known to push the boundaries of the d20 System, so when the company created a product line specifically for bending and stretching the rules, gamers rallied to the cause. A dark plot (no, darker than that. No, still darker.) is brewing in an ancient mansion, and characters will have to foil it before things go badly for everyone. This adventure has some slightly more mature themes, but plenty of action to balance the suspense and intrigue, and even the potential for some mass combat. With online conversion guidelines to both True20 and Black Company, Mansion of Shadows makes a strong gift choice for a variety of d20 fans.

Monster Manual IV
Wizards of the Coast, $34.95

The latest "core" monster book in the series, Monster Manual IV annoyed some D&D fans by diverging from the standard formula of all new monsters, all the time. Indeed, many new creatures are within the book's pages. However, MM4 stands out in its usefulness for having made the design choice of giving various takes on well-known critters, adding ready-to-play variety to iconic monsters such as ogres, drow, and gnolls. Rather than throwing yet another standard orc at his players, a DM using MM4 would have multiple pimped-out options on hand, such as the War Howler or the Orc Plague Speaker. The table of contents points out the entries of creatable, summonable, and companion creatures, as well as the trio of new weapons introduced in the book. Appendices also have a DM's needs in mind, with listings of the book's beasts by type, by challenge rating, and by ECL. When you factor in the sample lairs, four full-page maps, and exellent illustrations, summoning this book as a gift seems a natual choice.

 

So there you have it: the third of OgreCave's 2006 gift lists, focused around the d20 System and its various schisms. Whether through gift certificates or the kindness of relatives, owning these products will lead to a jolly holiday of gaming. But there were other excellent titles we noticed since last year's gift-giving season, so be sure to look over our other 2006 gift lists for more great games to give or receive. After all, 'tis the holiday of gaming - er, giving.
 

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