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12 RPG Gift Ideas of 2008
 

Twelve Days of Roleplaying
A dozen RPG gift ideas for 2008

By Matthew Pook, Mike Sugarbaker, and Allan Sugarbaker


We're making a list and checking it more than twice before presenting you with this next section of OgreCave's Christmas Gift Guide 2008, the latest installment of our annual tradition. As always, the Cave dwellers have brought together a group of games we recommend as Christmas goodies - not all for every taste, but each the perfect gift for the right gamer. As a switch from the format of years prior, we've made this section focus entirely on roleplaying games. So grab your dice, roll up an elf (a holiday elf, of course), and let the silent night be filled with sounds of gaming!

 

Dungeons & Dragons: Fourth Edition
Wizards of the Coast, $104.95 (Core Rulebook Gift Set) D&D 4e Gift Set

The long-awaited reincarnation of Dungeons & Dragons turned out to be a reenvisioning as well - so much so, it gave rise to some healthy competition (see the Pathfinder RPG, below). But D&D 4e isn't without its merits - combat is streamlined, encouraging whole-group participation throughout, and keeping players more involved between their character's turns; healing is easier, and doesn't always require a Cleric; and design tools for the DM are useful and quick. WotC's usual exceptionally high production quality on the three core rulebooks helps as well. Sure, this is technically three books we're suggesting as one big gift, and a significant chunk of cash to lay out. Our recommendation: read a few reviews, pro and con (including ours), see how the new game sounds, then play once or twice with a local group or at a con. At that point, you'll know whether the latest incarnation of the world's most popular roleplaying game is your bag.

For a look at the new edition, check out our lengthy D&D 4e Player's Handbook review.

 

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Beta Release
Paizo Publishing, $24.99 (free as PDF) Pathfinder RPG Beta

"Dungeons & Dragons is dead!" is how some players have reacted to the new Fourth Edition game, which some see as more a miniatures skirmish game than RPG. For better or worse, the new Dungeons & Dragons sheds the 30+ years of the game's legacy - hundreds of scenarios, settings, and supplements for which 4e is not backward compatible. Fortunately, Paizo Publishing's Pathfinder RPG not only stayed linked to the past, but also lets you play the numerous adventures (including those in the consistantly excellent Pathfinder magazine) that Paizo also happens to publish. Actually, the Pathfinder RPG Beta is an open playtest release showcasing the game's development and overhaul from Dungeons & Dragons: Third Edition, the aim being to fix all of the problems with that (exceptionally popular) version of the game. Paizo is still accepting playtest feedback for Pathfinder and will do so until the full version is published next year, so players who want to help should jump in now. In any case, Pathfinder stands to inherit the D&D 3.0 and 3.5 fans who feel freshly-disenfranchised by 4e, establishing Paizo as an independant company that don't need no stinking licenses to more forward. Other than the OGL, that is.

 

Delta Green: Eyes Only
Pagan Publishing, $39.95 Delta Green: Eyes Only

With Delta Green: Eyes Only, Pagan Publishing brings together the three chapbooks published in the 1990s that in turn dealt with the Mi-Go, the Fate, and Project Rainbow - which if you have no idea what they are, then you are obviously not cleared for that knowledge. Of course, any Delta Green devotee in the know will be pleased to see these books again, or indeed for the first time (since they were only available direct from Pagan Publishing) as Eyes Only doesn't merely collate the three books, but also adds to them with extra background material and scenarios. Of course, it does not update the Delta Green setting for the new millennium - such a sourcebook has yet to appear - but it does fill ina lot of the setting's background, which is still the definitive conspiracy horror treatment for roleplaying and the best exploration of the Cthulhu Mythos for the here and now.

 

Anima: Beyond Fantasy
Fantasy Flight Games, $59.95 Anima RPG

Do you want your high fantasy with a heaping helping of gorgeous anime-inspired visuals? Then take note: style is turned up to eleven in Anima, a collaborative effort between Japanese and Spanish development teams and artists. The full-color, 320-page tome may appear to be another anime-themed game, or a supplement for either the Anima miniatures game or card game. None of these are the case - the RPG leans more toward mainstream systems with its percentile dice and difficulty numbers set by the GM. Psionics, magic, a small bestiary section, and a customizable martial arts system add depth to an already rich game world. When complimented by a few skillfully painted Anima miniatures, this game could provide some memorable fantasy gaming of the highest order.

 

The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen
Magnum Opus Press, $19.95 Baron Munchausen

This is the original little game about telling extra-ordinarily fabulous tales of adventure in the polite and convivial company of others. Best played by gentlemen and ladies of noble character in 17th century, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen allows us lesser folk of the modern age to aspire not only to their airs and graces, but entertain each other with our own adventures. Rules on "dueling for cowards" are provided should the company need to come to blows over the veracity of a tale being told - certainly better (and safer) than relying on the art of swordsmanship, as the Baron himself would suggest. The Baron once again pens this new edition, adding all new ways in which to play the game based upon his travels in Araby, along with a version designed for younger raconteurs-to-be - "My Uncle the Baron..." Complete with over 200 adventures (and more) for the players to tell, this all new edition is a lovely little book, and with the right company, will provide many evenings' worth of entertainment.

 

A Dirty World
Schrodinger's Cat Press, $18 A Dirty World

Greg Stolze is well-known as a co-conspirator on Godlike and Unknown Armies from back in the day. Now Stolze takes his ORE or "One-Role Engine" system and applies it to the Film Noir genre to produce a game where the only things that are black and white are the naked bulb and the shadows it casts. A Dirty World places emphasis upon social interaction as the characters, true to the genre, explore a world full of secrets, deception, betrayal, and hidden vice where trust only lasts so long. Whether spending time in the courtroom or at the crime scene, characters improve skills during sessions in response to their actions, reducing the need for post-game paperwork. Sometimes, doing the right thing is going to be as painful as the guilt of doing wrong. Skillfully presented, A Dirty World offers a grim and gritty reality meant to be savored.

 

Dark Heresy
Fantasy Flight Games, $59.99 Dark Heresy

For almost twenty years we waited for an RPG set in the milieu of Games Workshop's Warhammer 40,000 miniatures game, and just when we got it, it went away again. Thankfully, the über-purveyor of board games Fantasy Flight Games is now publishing that very RPG, Dark Heresy. Ever loyal to the Emperor, the players take the role of junior members of the Inquisition, assigned missions that will see them investigating and rooting out acts of heresy, mutants, aliens, and Chaos incursions in the 41st millennium. If you think of this as Call of Cthulhu in space in the far future, you'd be pretty close to right. Fortunately for junior inquisitors, they not only get the authority of the Inquisitor boss, but also some heavy hardware. The rulebook comes with everything needed to play, complete its own setting - the Calixis sector (developed further with good stuff for the players in The Inquisitors Handbook) - and a beginning adventure. Other science fiction gaming just does not get as a heavily gothic as the dark future horror that is Dark Heresy.

 

Trail of Cthulhu/Stunning Eldritch Tales
Pelgrane Press, $39.95 Trail of Cthulhu

With Trail of Cthulhu, preeminent Lovecraftian RPG author Ken Hite moves the genre into the desperate decade of the 1930s, examining the Mythos after it comes to light in the 1920s (of Call of Cthulhu) and mankind unleashes its own Creeping Order of Stalin and Hitler. By using the points-based GUMSHOE system, Hite sidesteps the problem found in other investigative RPGs where the investigators fail to spot that oh so important clue and grind the game to a halt. He also has room to represent - and in essence draw a veil back over - the various elements of the Cthulhu Mythos. The result is to make Lovecraftian investigative horror once again a horrifying prospect. All of this is complemented by Jérôme Huguenin's art, which beautifully captures the subtle and insidious nature of the Mythos, every piece worth careful examination.

And if that is not enough Robin D. Laws - designer of the GUMSHOE system - has contributed Stunning Eldritch Tales, an anthology of six scenarios written in a pulp mode, and hand in hand with Ken Hite on Shadows Over Filmland, a much, much larger scenario anthology. Inspired by the classic monster movies of 1930s, this collection is heir to Blood Brothers, the classic movie horror anthology for Call of Cthulhu.

OgreCave's intrepid reviewers have had a look at both Trail of Cthulhu and Stunning Eldritch Tales. Make sure you have a look as well.

 

In a Wicked Age
Vincent Baker, $12 In a Wicked Age

The designer of Dogs in the Vineyard released his first major follow-up this year, a game built for fantasy campaign play... and it's a thin, $12 pamphlet. There's high technology in that pamphlet though, along with more than enough sacred-cow slaughter to force traditional roleplayers and indie mavens alike to throw out their preconceptions. Players build fresh characters from a randomly drawn selection of flavor-rich seeds, and build the situation further through an elegant back-and-forth mechanic that eventually helps decide which characters have the right to show up next session! If your gifting target wouldn't even be momentarily curious as to how that works, well, skip this one, but story gamers have ranked it as one of the top releases of the year.

 

A Flower for Mara
Dark Omen Games, $15 A Flower for Mara

We've talked a bit on the podcast about the Scandinavian LARP derivative known as Jeepform - highly structured frameworks that almost read, and play, like theater kits minus the audience. The movement has influenced American indie-RPG designers including Seth Ben-Ezra (Dirty Secrets), who created this meditation on death and family for up to six players (if that's the word - though it's sold through gaming distributors, its cover merely says "a play in four acts." Is it even a game?). Anyone who values the cutting edge will appreciate this challenging, genre-busting and convention-defying product.

 

Sundered Skies
Triple Ace Games, $24.99 Sundered Skies

Over the years we've included several of the Plot Point Campaigns for Pinnacle's Savage Worlds RPG as Gift Guide suggestions. The latest of these is Sundered Skies, a fantasy setting that twists several all of the traditional elements and places them in a strange world of islands hanging between ice above and fire below in a world without night. Stranger still, this permanent glow means that no-one can cast a shadow and too much exposure sends you mad! Travel between these islands, many of them home to a single race, is achieved by skyships, which are preyed upon by pirates. This detailed setting comes with an epic campaign that is as equally full, drawing the adventurers into the secrets of the Sundered Skies. A rich mix of clichés and new ideas, once the campaign is complete, the setting still has room aplenty for the GM to develop and continue playing in the Sundered Skies.

 

Cthulhutech
Wildfire/Catalyst Game Labs, $49.95 Cthulhutech

A concept that had to be explored, Cthulhutech takes dark science fiction, mixes in Mythos horror, and splashes mecha all over it. Cthulhutech is lavishly illustrated, sure to set any dark science fiction fan to drooling. Imagine jumping ahead to 2085, where a new understanding of how the universe works led to both the discovery of functional magic, and the full-scale invasion of Earth by aliens that were among us all along. While the cinematic rules can be quirky, an attentive GM will be able to smooth over the game experience and keep the feel of the setting - like a cross between Robotech, the original Alien, and an intense session of Call of Cthulhu - washing over the players like a rising tide of desperate terror. Ripe with ideas for the Mythos-fueled apocalypse, and bursting with background for an all-out mecha war, Cthulhutech might be the prized gift under the tree this year.

Cthulhu fanatics - and followers of the Great Old Ones in general - may want to risk a peek at Screams from the Cave 2008 for more fearsome fun.

 

That should take care of the roleplayers on your gift giving list - or help clarify your gift certificate priorities after the holidays. Be sure to look through our other 2008 gift lists for a wider range of games you can confidently give, or happily receive, this season.
 

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