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Christmas Gift Guide 2010 (11/26/10)
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12 RPG Gift Ideas of 2009
 

Twelve Days of Roleplaying
A dozen RPG gift ideas for 2009

By Gerald Cameron, Dennis Hancock, Demian Katz, Matthew Pook, Allan Sugarbaker, and Mike Sugarbaker


Whether you're playing the role of gift-giver or gift-unwrapper, several roleplaying games hit stores over the past year that make great gifts for the holidays. As they do each year, the Cave dwellers have filled this section of OgreCave's Christmas Gift Guide with a high-quality assortment of RPG goodies. Each game caters to a different set of gaming tastes, so the perfect gift is sure to be among them. So consult the list below, craft yourself some yule-dice (yeah, we don't know – it sounded good, though), pour the eggnog, and get folks together for some holiday gaming!

 

Ribbon Drive cover Ribbon Drive
Buried Without Ceremony, $30 CDN

(That's right, people, that price is in the Canadian moneys.) For fans of roleplaying systems that lay back from the face-stabby antagonism and focus on providing atmosphere, but remain completely setting-agnostic, there was no more salient statement this year than Ribbon Drive. Joe McDonald's game takes a ready-made narrative structure – the road trip – and fleshes it out by running character and situation generation through free-associating on that road trip staple, the mix CD. The game comes packaged as a beautiful booklet designed by Kevin Allen Jr. (Sweet Agatha), tucked into a DVD case that also houses a custom mix CD to get you started (featuring The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, plus more than one undercover indie-gaming luminary with a guitar).
 

Mouse Guard cover Mouse Guard
Archaia Studios Press, $29.95

Based on the popular graphic novels of the same name, also published by Archaia Press, the Mouse Guard RPG is a redevelopment of the Burning Wheel system. This incarnation has been streamlined enough that first-time roleplayers and RPG veterans alike will feel at home, and it is within the capabilities of bright kids to play. The characters are sentient, bipedal (but not full-on "furry") mice who live in their own small society that is loosely inspired by Anglo-Saxon England. As part of the Mouse Guard, the PCs protect their fellow mice from predators, the elements, sentient weasels that would enslave them all, and even from each other. Most of all, Mouse Guard is a game of duty, teamwork and service to your community, even when it may not want your help.
 

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay cover Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Third Edition Core Set
Fantasy Flight Games, $99.95

Fantasy Flight sought advice from key Games Workshop luminaries in order to create this new take on the classic system. This boxed set provides four races and 30 careers for a range of character choices; four rulebooks to introduce players to the system and the Old World; and the twin hearts of WFRP 3e's mechanics, over 300 cards and 30 custom dice. Full-color cards list every skill and ability, as well as numerous special actions, summarizing the ways to max-out those all-important dice rolls. Various amounts and types of dice are rolled for actions, depending on the choices each character makes, and the GM must then interpret the number and types of symbols that result. Even the adventurer group itself gets a Party Sheet, which confers bonuses or penalties and allows teamwork actions to be visually represented. The new system of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: Third Edition, a system to be gamed within the game, evokes some of the card-influenced feel of games like TORG, and this level of player involvement could be quite appealing to the right gamer, whether roleplayer, card gamer, or wargamer.
 

Our Ladies of Sorrow cover Our Ladies of Sorrow
Miskatonic River Press, $34.95

At last Call of Cthulhu has the campaign it deserves for the modern day, and the Mythos is hardly involved at all! Instead, Kevin Ross gives us a trio of well researched and very filmic (not cinematic) ghost stories, including a haunted house, a road trip gone wrong deep in the desert, and a J-Horror style tale set under torrential rainfall in the midst of an encroaching flood. Strongly grounded in the mythology of female spirit trios (such as the Fates, the Gorgons, or even the three witches from Macbeth) and the dark aspects that embody femininity's darker side, Our Ladies of Sorrow is beautifully detailed, enabling a Keeper to run an incredibly creepy experience.
 

Diaspora Diaspora
VSCA Publishing, $34.95

Little black book Traveller and FATE 3.0/Spirit of the Century have had a love child (and Burning Wheel is the godfather), and the result is Diaspora, a game that presents hard, interstellar science fiction in the FATE system. Although beloved Aspects and skill pyramids are still present, there is plenty of innovation as well. Highlights include a streamlined stunt system, setting creation and character creation that are group activities, and distinct tactical sub-games for personal combat, small unit tactics, starship battles and social conflicts. Diaspora gives gamers gritty, old school science fiction in a shiny, sleek, new school wrapping.
 

Rogue Trader Rogue Trader
Fantasy Flight Games, $59.95

After releasing a whole slew of modules and source material for Dark Heresy, Fantasy Flight Games has finally released the long anticipated Rogue Trader. No longer do the bonds of gravity or the whims of their Inquisitors bind characters – now they can have a controlling interest in an ancient trading vessel. Armed with a ship of their own, the players have more options to root out heresy, claim vast riches, or fight it out with manipulative xenos in the depths of the cold black void. Rogue Trader includes new weapons, equipment, skills, feats, and rules for designing your own vessel. The best part? 'Tis completely compatible with Dark Heresy. Grab your trusty bolt pistol, strap on your power sword, and get to the bridge. Your crew is awaiting your orders and the universe waits to be plundered.
 

Eclipse Phase cover Eclipse Phase
Catalyst Game Labs, $49.99

Science fiction comes hard in Eclipse Phase, a near future RPG in which technology ran rampant and tipped humanity over the Fall into a transhuman existence. Having survived ecocatastrophes on Earth, mankind faced nuclear strikes, biowarfare, nanoswarms, and the mass upload of millions, before the uplifted A.I.s responsible finally fled the Solar System leaving behind Pandora Gates, wormholes that connect humanity to the rest of the galaxy. The survivors live off Earth now, having achieved immortality through the digitalization of the mind and the ability to resleeve themselves from one body to the next, be it biological or synthetic. The future still remains perilous and it is up to a cross-faction conspiracy known as Firewall to protect us from the many dangers still there. As to be expected from the minds behind ShadowRun (twenty years old this year), Eclipse Phase is a rich setting, equally as rich in terms of character and campaign options.
 

Dungeon Masters Guide 2 Dungeon Masters Guide 2
Wizards of the Coast, $34.95

It's hard to argue with the logic: the second year of Dungeons & Dragons: Fourth Edition is the year for the second wave of core book titles. DMG 2 is just in time to advise Paragon-level campaigns, and to offer alternate rewards in the form of Boons and Grandmaster training, in case XP and loot have become boring. Like its predecessor, DMG 2 offers considerable advice on role-playing, even bringing a taste of story-centric roleplaying to a very mechanical system. The book also provides more guidelines for encounter design, and several examples of skill challenges – a system that was the tragic flaw in Fourth Edition's initial release. Monster themes and character class templates add variety, and the reappearance of Planescape's Sigil, the City of Doors, complete with a basic write-up and mini-adventure, may get some old school D&D players excited this season.
 

Dragon Warriors Dragon Warriors
Magnum Opus, $39.95

Better known in England, where it introduced many gamers to the hobby thanks to its wide distribution as a series of small paperbacks, Dragon Warriors is an old school class-and-level RPG with a grittier, more historical flavor than Dungeons & Dragons. This re-release reformats the rules into a more traditional large-format hardback while retaining the spirit of the classic edition. It is also already well-supported with supplements, including revisions of the lengthy adventure scenarios that helped distinguish the original release. If you want to find something new for somebody who likes their games old, this might be just the thing.
 

OgreCave has trained with these warriors before. Make sure to read our full review of Dragon Warriors here.
 

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook
Paizo Publishing, $49.99

After its massive open beta playtest, Paizo's much-anticipated Pathfinder RPG finally arrived at Gen Con. Weighing in at 576 pages, this rulebook does the job of two core books by covering player and GM concerns in the same volume. Veteran D&D players will find most of their old game materials are still compatible with Pathfinder, something 4e can't say, earning Paizo's new system the 3.75 Edition nickname. Boasting multiple experience point tracks for varying character advancement rates, legit versions of numerous rule fixes (simpler grappling rules, anyone?), and the elimination of the "dead level" effect (Paladins actually have more abilities than just combat!), this is a rock solid successor to the fantasy roleplaying legacy. Pathfinder is gaining momentum by describing the world of Golarion in Pathfinder Chronicles and Adventure Path supplements, and continues to be D&D 4e's biggest competition.
 

HERO System: Sixth Edition HERO System: Sixth Edition
Hero Games, two core books for $69.99

The Rubicon has been crossed: we have achieved a roleplaying system wherein between two thick, large books, one entire volume is devoted to character creation. That tells you what you really need to know about the HERO System, and about who you might buy it for. HERO: Sixth Edition is the most visually appealing, internally consistent, and... highest-version-numbered edition the game has yet seen, with the borderline-insane plethora of options you might imagine (but it doesn't skimp on the GM advice, unlike certain other major '09 releases we could name). We look forward to what Hero Games will do with it as a platform, not just for the superhero-RPG gold standard Champions (its revision is still upcoming), but the dark-horse favorite Fantasy Hero as well.
 

A Song of Ice and Fire RPG A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying
Green Ronin Publishing, $34.95

Gamers who enjoy George R.R. Martin's Westeros novels will find Green Ronin's take on his world holds true to his vision. A Song of Ice and Fire players begin by working together to build their house, determining its influence, lands, population, favor, and (potentially sordid) history. Using d6 dice pool mechanics, characters set forth to carve out a better place for themselves and their house. Combat can be rough – the system has harsher rules for healing to maintain a gritty feel. Like many RPGs over the last few years, ASIF ventures into social conflict territory, with complete step-by-step rules for opposed tests of Intrigue to charm and seduce your way through the ruling class. The book also includes an excellent mass combat system that maintains the feel of individual character actions being integrated into a large-scale conflict, rather than being lost in the sea of war. In all, the "game of thrones" is captured quite well by this new fantasy system.
 

And because the roleplaying cheer is overflowing this year, we offer a bonus suggestion:  

The Day After Ragnarok cover The Day After Ragnarok
Atomic Overmind Press, $19.95

Imagine if you will, that it is 1944 – you are President Harry S. Truman, and Hitler has unleashed the Midguard Serpent to bring about Götterdämmerung. What do you do? According to Ken Hite's imagination, Truman orders the army to fly a B29 into Jörmungandr's eye where it detonates the Trinity Device. Cue the serpent's irradiated body and toxic blood falling to Earth, dividing Europe with the Serpent Curtain, and causing a super tsunami to ravage the USA as far as the Rockies. Now it's 1948, and the world is Conan meets Mad Max, or SMGs and Sorcery, in a world with magic, psionics, Jörmungandr-derived technology, and snake cults. Post-WW2, post-apocalypse, and post-Ragnarok, The Day After Ragnarok is available for both Savage Worlds and the HERO System, is rich in gaming detail, superbly imaginative, and arguably one of the best pulp settings you will ever buy. After all, what other setting gives you brilliant Top Five lists such as the Top Five Places To Stomp Nazis and the Top Five Secret Bases?
 

The Cave dwellers hope these RPG shopping suggestions will prove helpful in your holiday endeavors. Not done shopping yet? Then look back through our other 2009 gift lists for even more gift suggestions.
 

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