Like a giant panda, able to survive only on just one species of bamboo, my diet in videogames is so rarefied that I can play only the finest immersive world role-playing games. Anything lesser simply gives me indigestion. Fortunately, it has been with gustatory pleasure that I consumed Dragon Age: Origins, and if you are, like me, a gourmand of role-playing games, there is no other choice for the holiday season. Whether you like complex, threaded stories; rich, tactical combat; immersive setting; engaging character development; or even just an epic score and cool helmets, Dragon Age: Origins has it all. It's almost enough to make me breed in captivity.
Playing Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition feels like an over-the-top anime or manga, with wild martial arts powers and a zany, over-powered sensibility. Labyrinth Lord, a retro-clone of the classic "red box" Dungeons & Dragons rules set, doesn't feel anything like that. Labyrinth Lord feels like a Vietnam War movie, where the dungeons are dark, wet, and terrifying, goblins murder all your friends with spiked-pit traps and crossbow bolts from the shadows, and you start to develop a thousand yard infravision stare from the spell shock. The horror. The horror. If you like having your experience points handed to you on a silver platter by an orc in a tuxedo, go back to that other edition with the teleporting elves and the singing birds. But if you want to experience a real challenge, play Labyrinth Lord this holiday season (a free PDF of the core rules is available).
There are two types of fantasy writers: Fantasy writers who guarantee a happy ending, and fantasy authors who are happy to gouge out the eyes of your favorite character just to prove a point. If your taste in fantasy runs to the latter - if, for instance, you enjoy the works of George R.R. Martin - then do yourself a favor this Christmas and pick up the works of R. Scott Bakker. The Judging Eye is Book 1 of his new Aspect Emperor trilogy, the sequel to the Prince of Nothing trilogy. Set in a world loosely similar to that of our own during the era of the Crusades, Bakker weaves together a tapestry of magic, religion, humanity, and sociopathy that is by turns inspiring and implacable. Interestingly, Bakker's work is inspired by early Dungeons & Dragons gaming, and for a gamer, part of the pleasure is in seeing how he takes common tropes - elves, monks, magic-users - and builds them into his world.