AaW: the Evolution of Tabletop RPGs

 

There was a point in the history of the RPG industry where games were strictly handled with a pencil, a handful of dice, and some paper.  Fortunately this industry is nothing if not fluid and flexible, adapting and growing with the technologies of the times.  I remember when PDFs became a common thing as an RPG standard allowing smaller publishers to enter the market.  For me that was truly the first step toward the evolution of role-playing games.  Following the curve of today’s gamers, and embracing the technologies at our fingertips, are Jonathan G. Nelson and Todd Gamble.  Two friends who saw a void in the market, and decided to pool their talent and experience to open a subscription based RPG website.

AdventureaWeek.com, at its easiest explanation will provide a new adventure per week, roughly 4 adventures a month.  Now, like I said, that would be the easy explanation.  With a fully realized setting that bases their adventures primarily in an old fishing village by the name of Rybalka, tucked into a Devil infested woods, situated between two warring cultures (the Vikmordere – a tribal people with more than a serious nod towards the Norse, and the Klavekians – think Tsarist Russia), the site is ideal for a group looking to start a campaign and grow.  But, like any setting, there’s more here than what has been presented, as each adventure can easily be transported and relocated to any setting or locale a GM may need for their own campaign.  And trust me, there are plenty of interesting little gems to go mining after if you’re of that nature as well. I’m not judging.  I’ve been known to cherry pick myself, tearing apart a perfectly good adventure and walking away with one or two items or monsters.  It happens, we all know it does.  On the good side, the AaW guys are prepared for that, by offering more than just those adventures they have named themselves after.  Depending upon the tier you sign up for as a subscriber, either monthly at $10 or yearly at $99, there are different levels of access to the additional material.  All of that is explained on the site, so I’ll let you read up on that for yourself.  I will say, with the reduction in price and when broken down to the 52 adventures one would get within a year; that is essentially a year’s worth of adventures for roughly a $1.90 a week.  Plus you get all the support material discussed below.

First support option on the site I want to discuss is the soundboard…I’ll let you scratch your head and think about that for a minute….yes, I said soundboard.  Jonathan has a background in sound and brings that to his own game, so it was a natural progression to add the option to the site.  I’ve personally run a handful of adventures from the site now, and used the soundboard for effects in each one of them.  My players instantly fell in love with the concept.  When the rain and storms chased them into shelter, they got to hear the thunder and wind, the pelting rain.  When the creature’s growls come echoing out of the darkness…well…there’s something to be said about shutting up a table full of grown men as they discuss their options in a dungeon type area by clicking on the sound of a monster and simply staring at them as they realize they are not alone.

As well as several new creatures waiting to be discovered within the adventures, the site boasts a growing bestiary of new and original creatures awaiting GM’s looking for challenges for their playgroups.  Amongst these challenges are the Kra’Tah (CR4) a large crustacean with an appetite for fresh meat, the Dreamweaver Spider (CR5) just waiting to meet you in your dreams.  Then there’s my personal favorite, the Totem Pole Golem, a golem whose final ability profile is determined by which heads are used in its build.

So, sounds and creatures check…what else does one get for their yearly subscription?  Well, how about new magic items and spells?  An entire section entitled Sidetreks, that are, for lack of better description, adventures for those one night romps, or perhaps those by the roadside encounters, or perfect for those night when only three of the four in your group show to play.  They are, in short those perfect fillers all GMs need at the ready for when you require more than just the planned adventure for the night.

But wait, there’s more.  Who doesn’t like maps?  I mean, honestly, what’s an adventure or locale, or even a setting, without some serious high grade cartography?  The guys at AaW agree on this thought, and well they should, as one half of the duo bringing us this site is none other Todd Gamble, a three time ENnie Award winning professional cartographer and model builder.  So one can only assume that this type of mentality is going to make sure the visual cues for locales and mapping in general are of the utmost quality and trust me, you would be correct in this assumption.  Todd Gamble gives us an excellent collection of maps for encounter locations as well as several exterior/interior buildings from throughout the setting he and Jonathan have designed.  Todd illustrates his maps bearing in mind that the more views and perspectives a group has to work with the better understood his product is, and the clearer the intent of the map becomes.  For example: the map included within the sample adventure gives us a classic top down view.  But from that map alone, while there are stairs descending, the map itself doesn’t convey that so Todd adds a drawing of a cutaway side view of the dungeon, detailing the descent of the dungeon’s layout.  This type of thinking, in this reviewer’s opinion, separates mapmakers from cartographers.

While we are discussing drawings, I can’t think of a better time to bring up the site’s own resident artistic talent, Mr. Tim Tyler.  Coming from a background in comic books and graphic novels, Tim’s artistic style has given this site a distinct feel.  His style is truly his own and instantly recognizable in all the right ways.  Tim has kept busy illustrating the creatures and a healthy handful of the notable NPCs from the setting’s ground zero (that would be the fishing village of Rybalka which I mentioned earlier).

Now I’ve discussed what you get, and what you’re paying, but what truly sets this site apart?  It is designed to be played entirely from the site, on your laptop or tablet.  The adventures are hyper-linked back to the appropriate SRDs.  I say appropriate because the site supports both 3.5 and Pathfinder.  Every stat you will need is at your fingertips, without turning pages in books, or skimming through piles of notes.  The site is truly designed with today’s technology in mind, with the adventures laid out to stream on your screen for ease of running.  Each section of the adventures is marked with bright, colorful icons denoting combat, traps, skill checks, etc.  Sections of the adventures also contain drop down text boxes that can be kept closed if one is not using the default setting of the site, so that it is not distracting to a GM.

But, wait….what about those folks who like to hold some paper in their hands?  What about the groups who have no shiny gadgets on their game tables?  Fear not my friends!  Every adventure is available in PDF format.  If one wishes to use the site as merely a replenishing source of adventures without tapping the online support, that is perfectly fine and they’ve got you covered.

OK, so I’ve talked a lot about how much they offer, who they are, and how the site functions….but, are the adventures any good?  I mean, in the end that matters more than anything right?  My first piece of advice is to take advantage of the free sample adventure on the site.  In the meantime, let’s discuss it shall we?

Crypt of the Sun Lord is the kick off adventure for the AdventureaWeek.com site, and as I said, is available as a free download on the site.  It opens with a less than usual method for introducing the playgroup to each other, there’s no “you’re all in a bar” here.  The party meets on their way to the village of Rybalka, having been paid to relocate there as citizens.  The PCs are on a voyage through a winding lake known as Serpent Lake, sharing a boat with soldiers.  Making camp for the eve, the group will fall prey to a thieving goblin, and will find themselves led to an ancient tomb, wherein hides the goblin and his comrades.  Now…..in case you are a player, and not a GM…I can only tell you that spoilers are pending; you might want to skip to the next paragraph……still here?  Alright.

Entering the tomb, the players will be subject to several traps and undead that defy turning and traditional tactics, as they are not inherently evil having been loyal subjects in life who entered into undeath willingly to protect the remains of their lord.  The writing style of the adventure conveys Jonathan’s love of gaming and storytelling.  The tomb complex as drawn by Todd is a 3 dimensional treat, and is actually linked to the sections of text within the adventure so a GM can jump straight to any spot on the map, literally.  Not one to simply write a hack and slash without thought, Jonathan presents the playgroup with an undead adversary at the end of this tomb that is not an enemy, as they are in fact defending a lawful being’s tomb, and it is actually the players who will be raiding at that point.  I find that the concept of morality, and the consequences of choices play out several times throughout the setting this series of adventures are based in, and I have to say, I like it.  It’s nice to have an adventure that is going to affect the campaign setting next week, so that the players have to put more thought into what they decide to do beyond kill, steal, and pillage.

The sample adventure, as an introductory adventure is designed for a group of first level characters, and should easily provide a night of entertainment, if not two for groups that move a little slower through their evenings. Having already written out upwards of four months worth of adventures, and not slowing their pace, the guys are doing their part to uphold their commitment to their subscribers.  On the books for future releases are adventures that pit the adventurers against lycanthropes, devils, an entire mercenary company that happens to share the same village and a 3 part story arc pertaining to a drow house determined to tip the balance of power.

The year 2012 could prove to be very interesting for the AaW crew, and I am willing to state, that those who sign on for the ride will be in for more than their money’s worth as they stretch and grow.  I can honestly say, the owners of the AdventureaWeek.com site are extremely open to talk, they’re not afraid to respond, and I would invite anyone to drop by their site to see what they are up to, and say hi.  At the very least, I have no doubt one of their forum volunteers will respond as soon as possible.  Yes, they already have a crew of loyal volunteers haunting their forums, and I mention this motley band because it was they who beta tested this site for the last several months, and who have found themselves now more a group of friends than strangers.  That’s perhaps the best compliment I can pay this site, and what Jonathan and Todd are doing here, within their forum the communication is encouraged to the degree that friends are easily made.

 

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About KTFish7

Part Time Reviewer & a Professional Meat Popsicle