Pixar’s Onward got a raw deal: The movie only had two weeks in theaters before the pandemic set in and movie theaters shut down. Disney released the feature film on the Disney Plus streaming service, but the die was already cast, so to speak.
So imagine my surprise when tabletop game publisher The OP Games announced it was making a lavish new tabletop role-playing starter set based on the film. I’ve spent the last week poring over that game, Quests of Yore: Barley’s Edition, and I’m absolutely floored by how rich it is. More than just a movie tie-in, it’s a family-friendly TTRPG with all the fixins and a meaty campaign. For those who enjoyed Onward or took comfort in its message of hope and inspiration, this is the perfect way to extend that experience at the table.
It all starts with the box itself, which is medium-sized but nearly five inches deep — almost like a pint-sized Gloomhaven. Removing the plastic wrapper removes the Pixar branding and the name of the film itself. What’s left behind is an in-fiction representation of a Dungeons & Dragons analogue. Of course, this isn’t just any copy of Quests of Yore. It’s the very same copy that main characters Barley (Chris Pratt) and Ian (Tom Holland) grew up playing, complete with wear and tear, notes in the margin, and just a hint of Cheetos dust (or whatever Cheetos are called in the Onward universe).
Image: The OP Games
I was immediately overwhelmed with just how much stuff there is inside. There’s an 84-page Advanced Player’s Guide, a 135-page Tome of Quests, 16 polyhedral dice, and 151 cards — including the Phoenix Gem, an artifact that played a central role in the film. There’s also plenty of cardboard tokens and a selection of simple terrain tiles to choose from; a game master’s screen to hide your rolls from players; and nine full-color double-sided character sheets. Add in six miniatures inspired by the movie’s opening sequence, and it’s a tremendous value at $49.99. There’s even a thoughtful plastic pack-in to keep everything organized.
Quests of Yore: Barley’s Edition is a traditional starter set, through and through, intended for those who are unfamiliar with role-playing. Much of its energy is spent teaching the mechanics. Rather than a d20-based system like D&D, Quests of Yore uses a dice pool system. Players collect as many dice as their skills and equipment will allow them to roll, and then try to meet or exceed a target number set by the game master (GM). As their skills level up, players “shift up” the kind of dice they get to use, graduating from a d4 to a d8 and so on. Depending on the nature of the challenge, there’s even a mechanism for making particularly risky tasks more rewarding or more dangerous.
The trouble is that in explaining the dice pool system the game manual really bogs down. There are pages and pages of text — even a flow chart — explaining the process of creating the dice pool that simply don’t need to be there. The density of the manual actually works against the intent, which is to carefully acclimatize newcomers to the concept of the game.
But if you put in the work as a GM, the included campaign does the work of onboarding players into the world. It’s easily the best campaign I’ve seen in a starter set all year. It starts inside The Manticore’s Tavern (prior to it becoming a knock-off TGI Friday’s) and takes players through the ancient, high fantasy world back when unicorns did more than eat out of dumpsters. And yes, there’s even a dragon to contend with.
The real joy in Quests of Yore, however, is how it leans into the fictional system introduced in Pixar’s Onward. The cards shown in the movie represent a closed system of spells and items. Before every encounter, players can “gear up” to remix their gear and spells from a shared pool. The result is that it keeps things fresh over the course of the campaign, with players able to take on new roles in combat and non-combat encounters based on their kit. It’s a clever way to build on the existing franchise, and potentially a way to sell expansions later on.
Tabletop RPG game masters can learn a lot from Pixar’s Onward
If you’ve got a Disney fan in the family, it’s a really great gift idea even if all they do is keep it on the shelf to admire it. But if you’ve been eager to try TTRPGs like D&D as a family, there’s nothing better that I’ve seen on the market today.
Quests of Yore: Barley’s Edition will be released on May 12.
Quests of Yore: Barley’s Edition was reviewed with a final retail version provided by The OP Games. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.
Quests of Yore: Barley’s Edition
Prices taken at time of publishing.
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