Here’s a quick rundown of what you get in this issue of the D&D 5th edition comic book slash successor-to-Dungeon Magazine.
*Two adventures, one with a map, both featuring a total of a handful of new monster stat blocks and one new magic item each.
*One article with encounter balance discussion and tips.
*One article waxing poetic about Choose Your Own Adventure style games (and teasing future adventures in the comic/magazine!).
*An article with lots of nice tables and challenges for adventurers seeking to make camp in peace. Hah!
I’ll summarize each article in its own section for the review, down below.
Editorial Assistants: Kat Vendetti and Zoe Maffitt
Author/Lead Game Designer: E.L. Thomas
Cover Artwork: Alane Grace
Cartographer: Carolyn Nowak
March Issue Guest Authors: Teline Guerra, Geoffrey Golden, Kat Kruger, MK Reed
March Issue Guest Illustrators: Nicky Soh, Val Wise, Tabby Freeman, Hari Conner, Sarah Bollinger, Becca Farrow, Matt ‘TytoAlba” Martines, Kyle Latino, Tara Kurtzhals
Creative Direction: Annie Monette
Design: Robin Allen
I picked up my copy of Rolled & Told Issue #7 at The Perky Nerd in Burbank, CA.
Let’s tackle each thing as their own section.
Vault of the Mad Crafter
Vault of the Mad Crafter, a dungeon crawl by E.L. Thomas through Gearok’s Vault of constructs and automated defenses for characters of levels 4-6. Included are 4 new monsters, 1 new magic item, and a map on a two-page spread.
One of the things I noted from the very first issue of Rolled & Told that I picked up (#0, for those keeping track of such things) was that the ideas contained within felt fresh and exciting, and took advantage of the comic book format and medium by including fun art. Vault of the Mad Crafter has those traits in spades, starting with a simple but neat map revealing a cluttered artificer’s laboratory. The party is hired by pacifist monks under threat of orc invasion. Their mission is to go through a teleportation gate — possibly a one-way trip, sorry! — and find a book that will give them the ability to forge golems capable of fighting off the orcish hordes. Ya know, because pacifist monks and all that. What the players discover is a labyrinthine maze, obstructed by animating suits of armor and the detritus of hundreds of cast aside parts to create even more of the same. The layout is confusing for the heroes, cramped, and constantly dangerous. That works extremely well since there’s also a lot of ground the party has to cover to find and open secret doors, and lots of stuff to sift through to find the book. And so much of that stuff is interesting! It’ll be very easy for the party to lose focus, or get wrapped up investigating something cool, but ultimately not important to the larger story.
Nobody Said There’d Be Math
Adventure Craft: Nobody Said There’d Be Math, an article by Kat Kruger (Steampunk Unicorn Studio, streamer on d20 Dames and Adventure They Wrote) that speaks to the math (and art) behind encounter balance.
Although this article seems like it starts off as simple recitation of the encounter math from the Dungeon Master’s Guide (and later revised somewhat in Xanathar’s Guide to Everything), it proves quite useful for folks who have different learning methods. Of course, it’s also just a great reminder about achieving balance. It connects the dots between the various experience-related tables, including using multipliers for multiple enemies and the “budget” for encounters in a day. Useful info and a good way to tackle the subject, but not necessary reading for experienced DMs.
Party of One
Random Nonsense: Party of One, in which Geoffrey Golden (Wet Hot American Summer: Fantasy Camp RPG) talks about the mechanics of Choose Your Own Adventure-style solo adventure game books, and teases that he will be writing a similar style of adventure in the next issue of Rolled & Told.
This article covers a bit of the history of “solo” game books from years past, and how there’s a resurgence in this play space in board games (and now on DMsGuild). It’s ultimately a taste of how those books work and why they are fun, which is really just a lead in for the appearance of just such a module in the next issue of the magazine. Nothing to write home about, but an interesting read nonetheless.
Running the Game: Night Moves by MK Reed (Author of Americus, The Cute Girl Network, Palefire, Science Comics: Dinosaurs, The Castoffs, and Delver) which provides random tables, encounters, and challenges specifically for when the party makes camp for the night.
This is a surprisingly strong article on what might seem like such an easily glossed over portion of game play. There’s a random table for 1d12 campsite features, followed by seven “challenges.” These are basically miniature encounters that challenge characters and players alike: they offer red herrings, strange mysteries, moral dilemmas, and the possibility of chowing on some magic mushrooms that could make you silly, or make you lose your memory forever! There’s a lot of useful content in here, and at worst, it is great fodder for inspiration.
Reginald’s Closet, by Teline Guerra, an adventure for level 3 characters in which they must solve a complex puzzle to obtain a powerful magical artifact. Features two stat blocks (one NPC and one monster), and a powerful magical item.
This adventure doesn’t feature a map, but once you read the location text, you can see why: it’s pretty plain. This isn’t a criticism of the adventure, though, because it centers around a simple room structure with a massive puzzle at its center. In fact, that’s the centerpiece of the adventure: the players and their characters will be challenged in equal measure by this word puzzle that unlocks the next segment of the dungeon.
Whoa! That’s dangerous adventure design, isn’t it? It sure is, but to my surprise, author Teline Guerra absolutely wails it outta the park with this one. The puzzle has different layers of clues, and different difficulty levels of potential ability checks that the characters can make to get them. These are laid out in such a way that the Dungeon Master gets to tailor what is presented to the players based on how much they enjoy solving riddles like this. The mechanics are structured to allow the challenge to either fall mostly on the characters (for players that don’t enjoy puzzles) or mostly on the players (for players that love solving puzzles), and that right there is beautiful game design.
Crit for Compassion Interview
Crit For Compassion: An Interview with Fantasy Books Inc‘s Tony Favello, in which Tony speaks about the Crit for Compassion charity gaming event supporting the Megan Meier Foundation in their fight against bullying (held in September 2018). This interview is incredibly timely, and even in a compact amount of space covers a lot of useful ground for Friendly Local Gaming Stores (or FLGS for short) and charities to understand how they need to come together in order to effectively partner for events.
Without getting deep in the weeds on the timeliness front, February 2019 can be summed up as a time when several of the roleplaying game industry’s biggest serial offenders for harassment were called out and (finally) faced repercussions for their actions. No doubt the cultural winds of the #MeToo movement helped with this. Fantasy Books partnering with a charity centered around the fight against bullying in September 2018 speaks to how important it is for the gaming hobby to remain open and inclusive, so it’s nice to see such events going on.
Unfortunately, as Tony notes in the interview, the folks from the Megan Meier Foundation did not partner closely enough with them, and didn’t work at understanding the gaming hobby side of the equation. This left most of the work (including promotion) up to Fantasy Books, and resulted in a lower turnout and return for the charity than Tony and his team expected. As Tony notes, he learned that it’s not a one-way street, and now has a better sense of how to handle such events going forward. This is crucial: with the retail industry so thoroughly disrupted, gaming stores stand strong when they focus on events and services outside of simple retail. But they have to do it right. Charities can absolutely help with turning these events into something meaningful beyond “just sitting down to play some games,” but they need to capitalize on the event’s audience and be prepared to represent (or provide materials representing) their cause at these events.
Like I mentioned for the free Issue #0 that I reviewed last year, the comic book format really appeals to me. The art remains impressive, colorful, and fun, and the layout makes for easy reading and use of the materials inside.
One nitpick I have is regarding the monster stat blocks. They don’t feature a horizontal line or artsy slash like most stat blocks (official or otherwise) separating the sections like Ability Scores, Traits, and Actions. This makes the stat blocks harder to parse because it truly is just one big block, and for monsters with lots of traits and actions, that’s problematic. All the creatures in Vault of the Mad Crafter have fairly large stats, but it’s especially painful for Gearok the Mad Crafter’s Ghost because he’s a spellcaster, and likewise for the Bug Golem in Reginald’s Closet.
Taking up 9 pages for a Notes section — simply 9 lined pages that are otherwise empty — is a bit of an annoyance, too. If there was cool artwork in the margins making them worthy of scanning or something like that would’ve been cool. Or finding a way to create a handout for the massive puzzle in Reginald’s Closet, or out of the character portraits, would have been much preferable. Perhaps leveled-up versions of the pregenerated characters that showed up in Issue #0 and continue to reappear in all of the comic-style art? Basically anything other than nine blank pages would’ve been nice.
All told, we’ve got some great adventure material, a few inspiring tidbits, and some non-gaming material that’s still worth a read. The encounter math article is the only thing I find flawed because it’s missing that extra, indescribable “something” to make it a truly great article; it’s good, just not great. The comic book stylings and format are right up my alley, but the monster stat block design and the padded out Notes section irk me ever so slightly.
We’re looking at an average rating of 3.5, which we round down because D&D to a 3: I like it!