REVIEW: Rolled & Told Volume 2: Merrily We Roleplay Along

Make a Wisdom [Perception] check to see what’s in store for Rolled & Told Volume 2. This amazing blend of one-shot adventures, comics, essays, art and playable characters is an excellent reference for anyone wanting to use homebrew content for their role playing games (RPG). As a player and a novice Games Master (GM), Rolled & Told Volume 2 inspired me with some amazing adventures and taught me a lot about crafting future one-shots or ongoing campaigns.

Rolled & Told Volume 2

Creators: E.L Thomas, Phil McClorey, Sharang Biswas, Hadeel Al-Massari, Kat Kruger, Comfort Love, Adam Withers, Finlay Logan, Teline Guerra, Geoffrey Golden, Crystal Frasier, Joshua Trujillo, Jeff Ellish, Adam Ma, MK Reed, Steve Kenson, Brooke Jaffe, Shing Yin Khor, Grace Thomas, Alina Pete, Shel Khan, Andrew G. Schneider, Renee Rhodes, Ben McFarland, Jeremy Melloul, Gareth-Michael Skarka, Lisa Olson, Matthew Erman, Shannon Campbell, and Dillon MacPherson (writers); Tabby Freeman, Rachel Dukes, Jonathan Hill, Amelia Allore, Martie Abdurrasheed, Katie Green, Hari Conner, Anna Liisa Jones, Alane Grace, Max Dlabick, Ashanti Fortson, Savanna Ganucheau, Tim Sievert, Maci Haas, Val Wise, Bex Glendining, Sarah Bollinger, Vanessa Morales, Nicky Soh, Carolyn Nowak, EA Denich, Kaylee Pinecone, Cara McGee, Courtney Hahn, Melanie Kim, Rudy Mora,Tara Kirtzhals, Kikidoodle, Ahmara Smith, Geneva Benton, Michael Harris, Brandon Reese, Kyle Latino, Phil McAndrew, Aubrie Warner, Becca Farrow, MAtt “Tytoalba” Martines, Andrea Kendrick, Maia Kobabe, Amanda Castillo, Rii Abrego, Karen Ko, Alexa Sharpe, Ron Chan, and Lisa Sterle (artists); Steenz (editor), Kat Vendetti (assisting editor), Zoe Maffitt (asissting editor), E.L. Thomas (lead game designer), Annie Monette (creative director), Robin Allen (designer), Andrew E.C. Gaska (Creative editor Issues 11 and 12)
Oni Press and Lion Forge
15 July 2020

Cover for Rolled & Told Volume 2 art by Alane Grace

The volume collects issues #7-12 of the Rolled & Told series into a single 300+ page tome. I loved the illustrations for the adventures. They included single panels, comics, and covers to illuminate the characters in each story. By including the same four player characters in the art for each adventure, the reader gets a sense of connection between the various stories. An added bonus is that a player can use those characters in adventures based on the character sheets at the end of the volume.

As a collected volume, Rolled & Told volume 2 alters the structure of the series’ individual issues. It gives separate sections based on the purpose of the content. However, like the issues, a reader can consume each adventure and article as standalone content. Or read the whole section to taste the variety of playable stories or set of articles. I do not recommend this for the adventures. Reading the details for each encounter, when not planning on playing it, gets tedious. Although those details are important for using the adventures as games content.

The creators wrote most of the adventures for characters between third and fifth level, with a few designed for folks between second and fourth. Almost all rely on the Dungeons and Dragons (Dnd) fifth edition (5e) core rule book. However, there is one solo adventure that requires only a writing utensil and two dice. While difficult to read without playing, it was an awesome inclusion in the work and I hope the series does more of these in the future.

One of the simple things I enjoyed about the work as a collected volume was the integration and consistency in design. Each adventure was unique in structure but the page-design, the standard uses of particular acronyms, and use of font differences to indicate particular types of actions united those differences. This provided a nice guide for a novice GM like me for how to structure my future homebrew adventures.

While page design united the adventures, each story, even if set in similar environments, was distinct and unique. Specifically, each had a variable level of improvisation to cater to what a GM’s players might want. I liked this acknowledgement by the writers about how different kinds of players may want to play through the same story in different ways. Typically, this ability to modify the content worked well except in “The Demon of Queen’s Haven”. The openness of that adventure resulted in a vague story where it was unclear how the party would uncover enough information to complete the quest.

While the adventures were typically fun, the use of biological determinism in some of them bothered me. The issue of fantasy racism is an ongoing discussion in the tabletop role playing game (TTRPG) community. Specifically, the racist roots for the various “races” in DnD and in fantasy at large. This came across in adventures when authors describe Orcs as “warlike,” “primitive,” and the characterization of a Drow as unredeemable.

The exception to this was “Keepers of Urough’s Flame”. I played through this adventure before reading it in the volume. However, as a player, I did not get all of the details Joshua Trujillo writes into the adventure that dismantle the stereotypes in other stories within this collection. Specifically, Urough’s focus on community building and major civic works contrasts the portrayal of Orcs as destructive forces. While occasionally Trujillo uses words like “primitive” to describe some of the Orc artwork, the time-decayed monumental achievements, as illustrated in Cara McGee’s comics page for that adventure, the players boat through significantly counterbalance those descriptors.rolled & told vol. 2

Additionally, various writers coded or explicitly described a number of villains as mentally ill. Another trope that needs to leave RPG writing. In both cases, with the Orcs and mental illness, some writers used these concepts than others. For example, in the short adventure “The Matchmakers” one of the Non Player Characters (NPCs) has severe agoraphobia and social anxiety. The writer, Crystal Frasier, writes these traits as significant for the adventure but not in a negative way, which was refreshing.

That variation is a strength of this collection. Another is the inclusion of essays and art. Many of these provide great inspiration and guidance into a variety of RPG tools. These are as variable as crafting stories through senses, integrating players of various ages into a game, and reevaluating classic monsters. However, as a section “Articles” is disorganized.

While the book design connects each essay, there are over 20 articles that lack thematic organization. The topics jump haphazardly through subjects so as a collected reading experience it was disorienting. I also found this frustrating because Rolled & Told as a series uses organizational headings for the articles.

These headings provide an excellent way to organize the content. Instead, the articles are randomly and unevenly distributed. For example seven articles are under the heading “Running the Game” while only one is designated “House Rules”. Additionally, some of the articles feel miscategorized. One, on underwater adventures, is under “Random Nonsense” when it is about Site and Setting.

Furthermore, this section lacks a table of contents and the volume has no index. This makes it difficult to reference the articles if one wants to use the volume as a resource guide. This barrier to usability makes me question if disrupting the organization of the single issues was the best choice.

Lastly, while I like the concept of the Gallery section, out of context the art feels underused. Particularly because the art in that section illustrates specific adventures or articles. For example, Ea Denich’s splash page comes right after “A Tale of Two Gnomes,” in issue #9. That art illustrates the Bone Tailor’s Workshop, giving visual cues for the unsettling nature of the place. However, in the collected volume that page is roughly 200 pages away from its adventure. Additionally, it requires the reader to remember a specific room from a specific adventure to understand its importance to the volume.

I hope future collections of Rolled & Told integrate these sections or preserve the original publication style. For example, issue #11 combines most if not all of the information about underwater or seafaring stories. Having those articles, adventures, and art together aides using those resources for that kind of story. If they choose to break the single issue structure, it would be valuable to use articles like “Homebrew Homeschool” as introductions or conclusions to the volume rather than general articles.

Rolled & Told Volume 2 is best used as what it is, a reference and guide to one-shot adventures. And I hope future volumes improve usability. Regardless of this, the stories, articles, art, and heroes of the volume are generally a lot of fun. They provide a detailed, diverse, and rich set of stories for playing and inspiration for how to play that are enjoyable for all.

Note: Information about the single issue’s structures were not included in the volume. Issue #9 information came from this review’s author’s collection and aid in information for issue #11 was provided by Mychal Ludwig.

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina Przystupa

Paulina (aka @punuckish) is a Filipine-Polish archaeologist and anthropology graduate student who grew up in the Pacific Northwest and loves comics and pop culture. Her academic work focuses on how buildings and landscapes aid or impede the learning of culture by children. In general, she is an over-educated fan of things; primarily comics, comics-related properties, cartoons, science-fiction, and fantasy. This means she takes what she knows and uses it to critique what she loves. Recently, she has brought such discussions to the public by organizing and moderating panels at comic cons centered on anthropology/culture related topics.