Bandits are a staple of fantasy. Skyrim, Kingdoms of Amalur, Fable, Dungeons and Dragons. All these games feature bandits in some capacity. If we look beyond the fantasy genre, Red Dead Redemption and Sunset Overdrive also feature bandits. Bandits tend to low-level enemies. They wear cobbled together armour and usually carry basic weapons. Every now and then, you might encounter one who has a magic item. Usually, more powerful bandits are chiefs or captains. Most bandits are aggressive on sight. However, do we ever really stop to consider the bandit? Why are they there? What are they doing?
Depending on how you came to this piece, you may or may not be familiar with Critical Role. So, I’ll explain all this briefly. Dungeons and Dragons, let’s start there. Tabletop roleplaying game. Started in the 70s, big in the 80s, satanic panic, and so on. In 2013, Wizards of the Coast who own D&D released the 5th Edition of the game. Generally, editions are like sequels in games. They iterate in their own way with specific goals in mind. People still enjoy the previous entries and may prefer them. Based on comments by the design team of this edition it seems the purpose of this version of the game was to be welcoming enough for new players and robust enough for veterans. So, how does this relate to Critical Role?
Critical Role is a weekly live stream on Twitch where, as Matt Mercer explains, “a bunch of us nerdy-ass voice actors sit around and play Dungeons and Dragons”. The show started in 2015 and has been running ever since. Critical is perhaps the most popular live play of Dungeons and Dragons. Between the accessibility of 5th edition and the eminently watchable nature of Critical Role, many new people have been exposed to Dungeons and Dragons through this show and other shows like it, including me. Now, as part of this, some online discourse has held Matt Mercer up as the DM standard that people are compared to. So, let’s look at this comparison.
The day had finally arrived. Upon reaching his thirtieth birthday, Fargrim was ready to work in the mine. An older dwarf by the name of Balnir showed him the ropes on the first day. Balnir resembled a rock. Solid, but craggy and malformed. He was hunched over and his face was covered in a dozen wrinkles. Notably, Balnir pointed to the mint as one of the first locations of note.
‘We mine the gold, we deliver it to the conveyor belts, the belts take it into the mint, the mint creates the coins, the coins get loaded on the wagons, the wagons go to the dragon.’
‘Where do they go after the dragon gets them?’ Fargrim asked.
‘Nowhere. The dragon keeps them,’ Balnir replied.
‘Why does the dragon get to keep them?’ Fargrim asked.
‘Why does the sun rise? That’s the way it’s always been,’ Balnir told him before they went below and began the arduous process of mining the rich veins of gold.
Dragons are emblematic of the fantasy genre. Chances are that the word dragon conjures up some very specific ideas in one’s head. Dragon: wings, between two and four limbs, scales, breathes fire, hordes wealth. Now, if you were being contrarian or were brought up on different fantasy media, your mind might instead be drawn to the idea of the Chinese dragon. These are often the two forms we most often have in our heads. With such a clear vision of what dragons are, it’s worth using dragons as a yardstick for other fantasy tropes.
Darius was the last one alive. His friends lay at his feet. The scent of their blood reached his nostrils. Why had any of them thought this was a good idea? Galindon has smiled at the townsfolk and assured them that the night raids by undead creatures would cease. Darius had been travelling with their troupe for about six months now. Together they had achieved things that none thought were possible alone. They had managed to end the blood curse on Galindon’s family. They had slain the giant that killed Elska’s parents. They had even managed to recover Edric’s lost family heirloom from a band of monstrous hyena people. Now, when the group agreed to save Darius’ hometown, they had all died fighting for his cause. He looked upon the face of the creature who slew his friends. The skeletal face that peaked behind the tattered midnight blue robes just laughed.
So recently I’ve have been the Dungeon Master for a bi-monthly game of D&D. I’ve been running the game in my own setting which I’ve been building since the beginning of the year. I still don’t have an all-encompassing name for the world. As part of this, I’ve been investigating advice on how to build a world. There are some decent sources for shaping land masses and creating societies. There is a lot of worldbuilding info out there. However, I wanted to draw on something I have some actual expertise in and hopefully provide some useful on the subject. That thing is language and stories.
So recently I’ve been keeping an ear to the ground regarding CD Projekt Red’s upcoming RPG, Cyberpunk 2077. The game didn’t wow me initially because all that was shown and still has been shown was a slick CG trailer. I’ve been hurt by the promise of slick CG trailers from beloved developers at E3 before. I need more than glittery promises to butter my gaming bread these days. I need reality. If a brief teaser is all you have, how far away is this title? *cough* Bethesda *cough*. There is some hope for Cyberpunk as it was first teased five years ago. CD Projekt Red received high praise for The Witcher 3 in 2015.
The thing that held me back about Cyberpunk 2077 is that cyberpunk isn’t my favourite genre. I enjoy the theming of the genre and its relevance to everyday life in the 21st century. What doesn’t appeal to me is the tired cyberpunk coat of paint that is applied. Lazy creators use it as a device to evoke titans of the genre, rather than having something significant to say themselves. However, since E3, I have been speaking about my tempered feelings for Cyberpunk 2077. The one hesitation I have is this: Make it accessible.
Editor’s Note: The following is a work by the heretical former Grand Mage Avran Ebontide of the Keepers of the Sacred Flame. Grand Mage Ebontide was ousted from the order for his permissiveness of forbidden magics within the walls of Glaskerze. Nonetheless, Grand Mage Ebontide was a wise and studied wizard. To abandon his pre-eminent research in defining magic would be folly. Thus, his words are presented below, with some minor edits by Ebontide’s successors.
What is magic? Many an apprentice has raised this question in their first years of study at Glaskerze. No doubt those who raise their voices to question the nature of magic within a magical institute are setting themselves up to be rather wise or rather foolish. I asked the question myself when I arrived at Glaskerze some eight decades ago. Whether I am wise or a fool is yet to be determined. On the surface, this is a good question. What is this thing that we all study? However, some use the question as a shield. The foolish ask because they know their answer and wants the world to agree with their assessment.
The old ways are dying. We must innovate.
Effie considered the words of her oldest friends as she sat at the neon bar sipping something weak and sugary. She examined the vibrant spaces of the nightclub. The club was some faux-80s dive. The bar was bedazzled in shades of pink and blue that reflected off everyone’s drink glasses. The drinks were all brightly coloured. There were dark corners as well, as you might expect from these kinds of establishments. Dark corners, dark drinks, men with even darker corners in their mind. One such gentleman made his way across the bar to her.
‘Anyone ever tell you that you look like Alyssa Milano?’ he asked with a voice tinged with whiskey.
I am a new but passionate advocate for Dungeons and Dragons. I can’t recall where I first heard of D&D but because of the circles I travel in, it existed around me. I probably first encountered it in films like ET. Being a player of fantasy RPGs like the Elder Scrolls, you’d think that I would have been all up in D&D since I was fifteen or something, but no. So, first I’ll explain how I got interested in D&D and why the game isn’t necessarily what you think it is if you’re not all that familiar with it.