Book Review: Video Game Storytelling by Evan Skolnick

It isn't often that I sit down with a "how to" book. I prefer fiction, and it usually doesn't take much more than a quick Google search to find similar information for free. However, Video Game Storytelling: What Every Developer Needs to Know about Narrative Techniques is one that caught my eye. As an avid gamer, amateur writer, and aspiring game designer... well, surely there would be something in this book I would love, right?

The Good
If you have any desire to tell stories, regardless of what medium you use to tell them, this book has some nuggets of wisdom that will keep you on the right track. Skolnick does a fine job of explaining Joseph Campbell's monomyth. Given that the examples he uses are from pop culture rather than obscure literary references, I'd argue that he did a better job explaining this than any of my high school teachers or college professors did.

The Bad
At the end of the day, this isn't the kind of book most people would read for fun. Skolnick has a very casual style, which helps, but it still reads like a textbook.

Video Game Storytelling does exactly what it claims to do: provide developers with lots of tips, tools, and warnings to help make sure that amazing games don't end up with horrendous stories. If you do any sort of storytelling, the first third of this book is chock full of good advice. If you are in any way involved in video game development, the same is true from cover to cover. If you're a game developer who struggles with getting the story just right, this is a must-read.

Note: Special thanks to for providing me a free review copy of this title.

Rifts, Meet Savage Worlds

I have been wishing that Rifts would be officially converted to a more modern system for years. I love the world, and I think the system is serviceable, but it is definitely outdated. Ironically, I just started a Rifts campaign using the Savage Worlds system... and today I saw this.

Go ahead.

Visit the link.

I'll wait.

Admit it, you checked to see if it was posted on April Fools Day... but it wasn't.

Somewhere, pigs are flying.

This is one of the coolest bits of news to hit the RPG community in years, and I'm stoked.

Underdark Campaign Logs #25-26

Last time, we left our heroes between two battles. The drow had fallen for Temerith's trap and suffered several casualties, but the remaining drow were alerted to the party's presence. Blue ventured ahead to try to catch one of the fleeing sentries that had been caught in Temerith's ambush, but he ran into the rest of the drow as they rushed to the defense of the temple. With the rest of the party behind him, Blue found himself outnumbered.

More of Jake's artwork here.
  • Blue, Human Fighter (Jake) 
  • Rurik, Dwarf Barbarian (Stetson) 
  • Temerith, Tiefling Wizard (Andrew)
  • Kjell, Hellknight Signifier (Andrew)
  • Naga, Nagaji Cleric (Rurik's Cohort)
  • Beltin, Aasimar Summoner (Temerith's Cohort)
  • Rigby, Gnome Bard (Blue's Cohort)
  • Sekas, Svirfneblin Arcane Trickster (Kjell's Cohort)
Black tentacles from a drow warlock cut off or delayed the rest of the party coming to Blue's aid, and he was nearly overcome. However, the writhing mass of tentacles made it tough for the drow to maneuver as well, and the warlock was forced to retreat when the rest of his guards, caught between the attacking heroes and the mass of tentacles, began to fall one by one.

When all was said and done, our heroes were able to defeat the drow, and finally found one of the the ancient elven blades: the Shard of Midnight. The sword spoke telepathically to anyone who picked it up, and the group passed it around until they found someone who spoke elvish.  It revealed that it held the soul of an elf maiden to died in battle against the drow thousands of years ago. She was able to tell that her sister blades were nearby, but couldn't pinpoint their exactly location.
The Shard of Midnight

  • Chaotic Neutral +3 transformative drow-bane longsword
  • Grants its wielder the Blind-Fight feat while in hand
  • Inscribed with runes that read, "To Fight Darkness with Darkness"
  • Exploring further, the group looted the rest of the drow temple, finding plenty of drow magic items and a pair of unusual books. Temerith, with an unusual lack of caution, opened one of the books and began reading. Much to his surprise, it was warded with a symbol of death. Temerith and Beltin dropped dead on the spot, falling victim to a trap the drow warlock (who always pretended to be a wizard around his followers) left for any of his underlings bold enough to sneak a peek at his "spellbook."

    The rest of the group headed back to the home of the svirfneblin, and found an unlikely visitor: Kjell, returned from his break from the group. With Kjell rejoining the group, they set their sights on the undead-infested catacombs.

    The first obstacle to overcome in the catacombs was not actually undead, but a bone golem. Kjell wouldn't be disappointed in his zeal to destroy undead, though, as a horde of skeletons poured out of passages around them. As they journeyed deeper, they found more and more skeletons, and in greater and greater numbers. Then they began encountering the real dangers of the catacombs, starting with an incorporeal witchfire, which attacked Naga at the back of the group, but then fled into the walls when the rest of the group's strength was brought to bear.

    A vampire sorcerer was the next adversary they faced, this one pelting the party with cloudkill spells before assuming its gaseous form and escaping through cracks in the walls.

    The group found their way to the magically sealed door to the deepest tomb. It had no door handle, but a skull the size of a man was engraved in the door, and there were two recesses in the eye sockets that radiated slight magic. The group realized that a large ruby that they found just after forcing the vampire sorcerer to flee fit the socket perfectly, and they noticed a slight hum when they put it in place. Sekas was able to play arcane trickster shenanigans to open the lock without the other piece of the key.

    When the door opened, another horde of skeletons awaited them, but across the room, another vampire rose from the largest sarcophagus they had yet to find. As the heroes fought off the horde of skeletons, the vampire bolstered the undead with unholy energy while the witchfire and the vampire sorcerer attacked from behind.

    The attackers pressured the healer, and even though he unleashed wave after wave of positive energy into the room, it wasn't enough to save everyone from the onslaught. Still, the horde of skeletons was eventually scattered, the witchfire fell as it tried to retreat through the walls yet again, and both the vampires retreated as well. Before they turned to gas and seeped through cracks in the walls, they called out an ominous message for the heroes.

    Even as we speak, the shadow nears its apex. The drow told me you would come, but even if you find all three blades, the ritual will be complete before you can use them to stop it. Go home and accept your new place, as subjects of the Dark Triumvirate.

    In the tomb, the party found the second of the three Shards of the Day.

    The Shard of Noon
    • Chaotic Good +1 transformative brilliant energy longsword 
    • On a confirmed critical hit, the Shard of Noon automatically attempts to dispel the nearest Darkness effect within 30' (caster level is equal to the wielder's hit dice)
    • Inscribed with runes that read, "To Fight the Dark with Blinding Light
    The heroes emerged victorious yet again, and even found another of the swords, but not without a serious loss. Blue, the icy warrior from the Coldlands, one of the founding members of the group, did not survive. He fell to the incorporeal touch of a witchfire, surrounded by a horde of undead, fighting to his last breath.

    With so many character deaths over the last few months (two PCs and a cohort), I wish we had some kind of "in memoriam" video like they do on The Talking Dead... but I lack the time or video editing skills to do so. 

    Insect Tokens

    It seems like forever since I've written anything for Outsyder Gaming, but today I bring you a treat... custom insect tokens for Magic: The Gathering. If you've ever dropped a Hornet Queen on the board, or blocked with a Hornet Nest, you know what it means to need a lot of flying deathtouch creature tokens. There are a lot out there, but I'll be jamming these in the near future.

    In the near future, be on the lookout for a lot more content. After taking a few months off from writing, I'm re-energized and ready to get going again.

    Edit: I just wasn't satisfied with the tokens above, so I kept working at it. After much trial and error, I finally arrived at this version. 

    Click here for a ready-to-print PDF file.

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