RPGs are role-playing games, where components are usually dice and rulebooks, games are typically open ended, and story and playacting often take a large role.

Gen Con 2014—Syrinscape

Gen Con logoI’m really glad I took that appointment with Syrinscape. To be honest, I had dismissed the company as just another producer of ambient-sound tracks. But Syrinscape is much more than that.

While other purveyors of background sounds for tabletop gaming offer fixed tracks meant to be played on loop, Syrinscape’s sounds are generated on the fly with tremendous customization potential. The company offers two players, one for fantasy settings and one for science fiction. The Syrinscape Fantasy Player so far includes about 30 sound sets, each with 5-15 sound elements. For example, the flooded cavern set includes “drip”, “toss a rock in”, “passing waterfall”, “distant wind”, “what was that?”, and ten other components.

With Syrinscape’s players, gamers are not only able to make live adjustments to the balance and intensity of sound elements, they can also combine elements from different sets to fit the unique environments of their games.

Players, which can be downloaded for free, come with two sound sets and run on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. Additional sound sets can be purchased for $4 each. Another option is the subscription rate, which at $6.50 per month includes permanent access to all new releases, as well as the entire back catalog.

Syrinscape releases new sound sets about once a month. The company is also working with Paizo to release custom sound sets for the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path, one for each chapter. Several of those are already available and new ones come out every other month.

Syrinscape Screen Capture

File this is the “really cool” department. Joshua Tulberg has created this awesome looking turn timer using an Arduino board. The little thing is pretty customization, and he’s looking for interest to whether or not he should Kickstart them or now.

Here’s a little video of the device, and what it can do.

I can see this being super helpful to those who play with those who are afflicted with Analysis Paralysis.

Second Look—Crimson Blades: Dark Fantasy RPG

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.It wasn’t long ago that I had posted about Crimson Blades, a Dark Fantasy RPG on DriveThruRPG. I’ve read through the book, and was surprised to find a pretty easy-to-play RPG in there.

Crimson Blades is based off OPEN GAME LICENSE Version 1.0a by Wizards of the Coast, so a lot of the rules will seem familiar to players of D&D 3rd Edition and other OPEN GAME LICENSE games. There’s enough in here to set it apart from other games, and the theme is a fairly interesting one. The book is short, but contains everything you need to get up and running in a short amount of time.

CB_Front_covReally, you can’t go wrong if you’re into RPGs and don’t mind spending a whopping $2.50 to try something new.

Crimson Blades is by no means an RPG that can go toe-to-toe with any of the larger RPGs out there, but it’ll get you and a few friends into the swing of things without a lot of time or money needed. It all comes down to how much you like the theme, and if you want to keep things light.

A copy of Crimson Blades was provided free for review.

Game Bandit

Game Bandit - Scouring the net to find the cheapest discount boardgames and best free boardgame prizesFor a chance to win a $500 (Canadian) game shopping spree, post a photo with a Lion Rampant-distributed game on the company’s Facebook page.

Newbie DM and Gator Games are giving away a Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook. Obsidian Portal is giving away five Starter Sets and a Player’s Handbook.

Queen of Savings is giving away Deluxe Super Scrabble from Winning Moves.

Some Amazon deals:

Game Blotter

Game Blotter - A roundup of crimes, legal cases, and when "the law" gets involved with gamesAt a Chessboxing match in Exeter, UK, one referee attacked and knocked-out another with a single blow. The attacker was a former policeman and cage-fighter, who was trying to help his friend in the ring by cutting short the Chess portion of the contest. The Chess referee, however, wouldn’t have it and kept the game going for its allotted 3 minutes.

Seville, Spain has banned Dominoes and dice games from the outdoor terraces of restaurants and bars because the activities make too much noise.

In Middletown, Connecticut, a Chess table and chairs were set up on Main Street to encourage community. But now local businesses are complaining about loitering and trash.

Spin Master sent thousands of toys to children in Israel and Gaza.

A woman in California is trying to sue Hasbro because she couldn’t make the model shown on the label of the Tinkertoy set she purchased. The judge in the case, however, said that consumers don’t rely on labeling.

Four men in Sydney, Australia were arrested for smuggling $2 million of cocaine in to the country by mailing it from California, concealed in a Chess set. Apparently, Chess sets are convenient for this sort of thing.

One of the inventors of Cards Against Humanity has been accused of raping a woman a number of years ago. And as if the allegation itself wasn’t horrifying enough, the response and discussion surrounding it have been truly disturbing. But what else should I expect from a game built around being crude?

The Sierra Leone Chess team was denied a visa for the World Chess Olympiad in Tromso, Norway because of concern over the Ebola virus.

The producer of a documentary film about Dungeons & Dragons is suing his former partners who are now pursuing a competing project on the same topic. Both were funded through Kickstarter. [Disclosure: I pledged to one of them and now kind-of wish I could get my money back.]

A female Chess player was caught on video urinating in an elevator on the way out of a tournament in China’s Sichuan province. The player claims that the nearby women’s restroom was out-of-order and she just couldn’t hold it any longer. The security guard who posted online the image of her in mid-relief disputes her claim regarding the restroom.

After complaints by villagers were ignored by local police, it fell upon the Thailand army to arrest a government official for running a dice gambling operation out of a tent.

An innocent bystander playing Dominoes was shot and killed in Belize.

Police in Arvada, Colorado are trying to reunite a stolen Mahjong set with its rightful owner. If you know who it might be, please call.

A man in Lumberton, North Carolina was charged with second-degree murder after attacking his friend and neighbor with a knife during a game of cards.

The national Chess champion of Guyana has been cleared of robbery charges but claims he was beaten by police attempting to force him to confess.

In Lake Charles, Louisiana, a man was sentenced to three consecutive life terms plus 150 years for killing three people while trying to rob a dice game.

Police are looking for the person who shot up a dice game in Detroit.

Three in Germantown, Pennsylvania have been convicted for killing a man that allegedly stole $1,000 from one of them during a dice game.

In Cincinnati, a high school student is facing charges and a $500,000 bond for allegedly shooting someone during a dice game.

Opened recently in Brooklyn, New York is the self-described hobby center, Nu Brand Gaming. It’s not a game retailer but rather an independent play space that caters to urban gamers with a shortage of room.

In wood-paneled and carpeted rooms, Nu Brand offers custom game tables, storage lockers, miniature-painting benches, terrain-building tools, and a snack bar. Clearly built with miniature war games in mind, Nu Brand also hopes to be a venue for board and roleplaying game gatherings.

Access can be purchased on an hourly basis ($3 for the first hour plus $2 for each additional hour per person) or as a monthly membership ($30, or $35 with locker space).

Nu Brand Gaming

Game Bandit

Game Bandit - Scouring the net to find the cheapest discount boardgames and best free boardgame prizesDice Monkey is giving away two Dungeons & Dragons Starter Sets.

Grabbing attention for its Dead Man’s Draw Kickstarter project, Mayday Games is giving away multiple copies of the game, Amazon gift cards, and STEAM wallet gift cards.

Intelligent Domestications is giving away one of anything from Winning Moves.

Enter at Scooter Traffic for a chance to win $100 in HABA toys.

Imoni Joy is giving away the Rollors outdoor game.

Like PartyBell on Facebook for a chance to win a Super Mario Chess set.

Pawsitive Living is giving away two copies of Roll For It from Calliope Games.

The winner of a raffle by The League of Gamemakers will have the choice of three board game bundles.

And for Canadian residents only, Maple Leaf Mommy is giving away a prize package that includes Peanut Butter Cheerios and a variety of board games.

Game Bandit

Game Bandit - Scouring the net to find the cheapest discount boardgames and best free boardgame prizesNearly 20,000 products are 25% off in DriveThruRPG’s Christmas in July Sale.

Take a short survey from Gen Con and maybe win a free pass.

Check your local Barns & Noble. There are some games in the 75% off discount bin.

At Gen Con, Chevee Dodd will be giving away 100 copies of his pirate card game, Me Booty. Just find the guy with the hat and ask for one. He says that Me Booty is based on his earlier game, Scallywags, which was published by Gamewright.

Place an order of at least $50 with Fat Brain Toys and use coupon code “FD-3344″ to get %10 off that order and an emailed coupon for another 10% off October-December.

The price of meeple t-shirts has been reduced to $10 from $16 at MeepleSource.com.

xino.phpLooking for an easy way to trade board games? BoardgameTrades Beta has just opened up, and trading games is as easy as sending a Tweet through Twitter. Direct from their site:

Just Tweet: @boardgametrades #iwant Name of Your Game #yourcountry

The website tracks all wants and offers, and has a search bar. Pretty simple. Pretty straight forward. Sometimes it’s the simplest ideas that are the best.

I’ve take some time to search around the site, and it seems a lot of people are already Tweeting! I plan on listing a few of my own games soon, so keep an eye out if you want to help a Pawn trade some games ;)

Second Look—Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set

Second Look - Boardgame reviews in depth. Check out that cat.With the arrival in wide retail distribution of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, Tuesday marked the official launch of the game’s much anticipated fifth edition. Also available to download completely free is a D&D Basic Rules ebook.

The Starter Set box includes a 32 page rulebook, five premade characters, a 64 page adventure, and a set of six polyhedral dice. The rulebook provides limited but fully playable options up through character level five. For example, the book does a good job of covering skill use, combat, and spell-casting but leaves out how to build characters from scratch. The adventure booklet, Lost Mine of Phandelver, features a selection of monster and magic item descriptions, advice for the fledgling dungeon master, a few additional rule tidbits, and a solid storyline that will see characters visit a variety of locations and advance through 5th level.

At a little over 100 pages, the Basic Rules book is spartan (no art) but features additional material to support creating custom characters and advancing them through level twenty.

D&D Starter Set

So what’s the game like? It’s like AD&D, polished with some modern sensibilities, which I think is a very good thing! Sure, there are aspects of this game that I can pick on—the skill list, for example—but overall it does a great job of reviving that classic D&D feel, while smoothing out the rough spots. It’s a game that will be comfortable to old-timers like me, yet also work well for new gamers just learning the ropes.

In game terms, the new version retains such traditional elements as character classes and level progression, while drawing hit point replenishment from the last edition. It revives old-style saving throws and spell levels but simplifies skills with a single proficiency rating and incorporates a bit of story-game style play with rules for deriving inspiration from ideals, flaws, and personality traits.

One of the most interesting new parts of the game has to be the rules for advantage and disadvantage. The idea is that instead of adding up all kinds of modifiers for each combat attack or test of skill, a player rolls two 20-sided dice and takes either the better of the two for advantage, or worse of the two for disadvantage. Multiple factors still only result in one advantage or disadvantage and any number on both sides cancels the two out. It’s an approach that mitigates against extreme results and simplifies the main die-roll mechanic tremendously.

Whether the new Dungeons & Dragons can draw back the many gamers who’ve moved on to competing products in recent years, I can’t predict. However, it’s a quality game that’s certainly earned my consideration and the Starter Set is something I’d easily recommend for new players.

A complimentary copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set was provided for review by Wizards of the Coast.

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