So, lets imagine a nightmare scenario: You hate dice. You don’t care about rolling trays or dice boxes! You think ‘Who uses coins?” and one time your friend caught you spitting on their dice tower in disgust. You’re a honest to goodness monster.
But you still need a character sheet… You still probably write down something, anything, during your game. Chances are, you’ve also written some bullshit down on a random page and then use a post-it note with an even smaller note on the edge that says something vague to remind you what’s on that page.
Well, good news – I’ve got a product even you’d have to admit is pretty handy! Rook & Raven’s Campaign Diary! And better still: I’ll help you save a little bit on your order, just for reading. Use the offer code “dropthedie” at checkout to get $5 off on your preorders! (Good through 2/15/18)
So we reserve this category, unboxing, for special occasions – when a company noticeably puts forth extra effort to catch your attention as soon as you open your package. And R&R has done that here. Rest assured, I am not a special case – all of them are like this.
“What an unassuming box,” I said. “Clearly there are no joy-bringing goodies inside, verily!”
“Oh shit… they’re serious,” I murmured.
Look, any company can order a product to be manufactured, shrink wrap it in plastic with a cardboard backing, and toss it in a box with some crumpled paper to ship to anywhere but the moon. To have the extra work put in to wrap the product and seal it (sticker or wax) really does add a lot to the experience. And getting a note/letter makes me imagine I have some person out there, some being that – I’ve been told – is called a ‘friend.’
Very crisp, new, high quality card stock, a lovely envelope which was NOT licked (always appreciated). Great print quality. Very good first impression. You have my word, new ‘fraund’ that I shall review this product in earnest! Onward.
Since this is a pre-release item, I’ve decided to do a more free-form review. We’re going to stick to the suggestion from TR&R and give a Good, Bad, and Ugly. Since I’m not rude, I’ll be following it up with my final thoughts (mostly positive) to make a lovely double-stuff compliment/suggestion sandwich.
Right off the bat, I have to say I think the design is, overall, very impressive!
The cover is very even and bold in color. The font/typeface stands out as a wonderful choice. It rings a strange balance between Middle Earth for the M&M name and a 1944 field guide for the “campaign diary” that makes it feel very official.
Likewise, the branding on the back is a simple Raven and Dice option that leaves tons of room for those fiends of you that adore STICKERS. It’s a very clean presentation, without leaving the door open so far as to leave a big clean smudge space. The book feels, and bear with me here, low quality enough to actually use and carry with you without feeling “cheap.” A leather-bound journal with custom etching and vellum pages will probably end up staying at home – which is incredibly awesome, but makes for a pretty terrible campaign journal.
Push the front cover open, and past the near-opaque plastic sheet, you get a bird’s eye view of the marvelous map created by none-other than Deven Rue, of Deven Rue fame. (Also Critical Role fame, but seriously – very few of you have never heard of her.)
As is to be expected, The map is completely stunning. It’s not her most detailed work (because it gets pretty insane at the level of detail put into some of her maps) but it’s, again, very fitting for the level of quality this journal provides. Just enough to give some flavor, but not enough as to seem showy or self-serving. There is another map book-ending the journal in the back:
Gotta say, I actually like the second map a bit better. I think the minimalist branding and the diagonal flow (top right to bottom left) of the map are just killer. A+ work on Deven’s part, and a smart choice from R&R for this diary.
Inside the book, we get several different types of pages to contain the much needed info for your adventure. These pages are catered to 5e Dungeons and Dragons, but some of them can be used in other games or as journal pages in their own right. The list is, as follows:
Very simple and clean design – the light print makes it difficult for my camera to focus on – given the rich and beautiful background that is my own table – but trust me that they are very legible. The cool thing is, I think the lighter style print and thin lines lead to an easier time reading what’s written on the pages (as you’ll see in the conclusion of this post). The session pages are probably my favorite – they stand completely on their own regardless of the contents of the rest of the diary. Simple, easy, effective.
We see here the lean into 5e, but in a pinch, theses can also be used to great effect for other systems as well. I like the overall feel of the pages here, but I do have to think I’d prefer having much much much more room (at least 3 lines) to write in all of the info about my spells. If i’m going to take the time to hand-write what the spell does, i’d like to not have to also open my Player’s Handbook or an App to see the full description. I’d like to see this page contain 5 spells instead of 10. most classes only get a hand-full anyway and since the pages are front and back, it’s not a game changer to have 10 total spells per sheet front and back. Chances are very low that Wizards, Clerics, and Druids will actually hand-write all their spells anyway; and since the “package” for these sheets comes with 5 sheets for $3, I’m sure they’d be fine splurging the extra few bucks to fit everything.
These dudes don’t offer much for me, personally, over the rest of the sheets – but hey, they’re there! The artistically inclined will enjoy having wide open space to play with, and the understated, all lower-case, ‘here be dragons’ is tasteful, but… Kind of a missed opportunity considering it’s on the FRONT of the “Before I became an adventurer” sheet. That sheet could have information about that particular character’s game:
Campaign: “Curse of Strahd – ‘The Trash Witch’s Games’
DM: Chris Perkins
Players: Holly Conrad as Strix, etc, etc
I think having a dossier style preamble instead of just “here be dragons” could be a better fit for the overall theme of the diary, considering it’s sold piecemeal so that multiple characters could be in one volume, or that the volume might be set aside after the game concludes – the notion of a small bookshelf full of these has not spirited past me, unknown.
So these are the “bread and butter” for this particular product, and I saved them for last for a reason: they’re pretty damn cool. There’s plenty of room for the stats, I think the layout is pretty good, and a lot of thought went into how to utilize space.
Likewise, two transparent sheets come with them, so you can track hit points and resources without erasing your sheets to death. Both plastic sheets I got were pretty high quality and felt very stiff (stop giggling) and firm (I said, stop giggling.) They won’t fall out of the diary with average use – which is a huge plus.
The Equipment and Treasure page, likewise, is very minimalistic. I think it works well, throwing back to the Pathfinder sheets of Yore, but could be a little cumbersome for some people who track their gear through complicated full-page sheets and the like. There was a missed opportunity here, I think, for some little “useful info” pertaining to 5e, but I think keeping the page system agnostic is for the best!
The Character Sheet package comes with two more – which I enjoy but, for some reason, neglected to photograph with the others – forgive its darker complexion! I really enjoy these two pages – the character backstory and description is, in my opinion, far more important than most sheets give them credit for. Too bad i’m a horrifically bad artist, or I’d enjoy having a portrait spot to doodle in!
So – disc binding is apparently a thing! Who knew? (apparently R&R did)
Right off the bat, I absolutely hated this binding. But after spending some time with it, I can appreciate its qualities much better. Let me share them with you.
The benefits here begin with just how flat the book lies. Even closed, the disks can move pretty freely – letting the pages settle to the lowest possible point of the binding, preventing it from having that weird angle you get with 3-ring binders.
The pages are held together and stay in-line (no pages hanging lower than the others like in a 3-ring binder) and the disks let each page move without adding stress to a different page (including the cover).
The discs are very thin in the middle but the outer edge is thick, heavy plastic. It keeps the weight down while giving a pretty secure binding: you can actually see straight through the disc – that is not a reflection.
Because the discs let the pages float to the lowest point, they spread evenly on each side when the book is open – letting the pages:
flatten like fucking mad. Look at that! Even Spiral Bound notebooks crinkle up where the spiral binding presses against the front or back of the notebook. In addition, the discs aren’t mechanically fastened to anything – so each page not only moves independently, but they can be removed and replaced wherever you want them to be…
Once a page is removed, you just need to pop it back in place where you want it – and you’re golden.
Well, as much as I do like this thing- there are some hang-ups/slip ups/issues. “Bad” means poorly designed, irritating, or cheap. All these things can be aimed straight at… the cover.
The cover on this particular model is pretty bad. It’s thin, cheap, floppy, and does absolutely nothing to protect the book. It’s little more than medium weight card stock. My niece made paper turkeys out of heavier gauge paper than this:
The cover is so shoddy that the book comes with not only the two plastic pages for the character sheet, or the cardboard stiffening sheet:
but a hard-plastic sheet just under the cover:
That’s three different levels of support just to keep the book from flopping around like a dentist’s office magazine.
PS: The plastic sheet above is not as bad as you think it is – it’s covered with a protective film – which I only knew about after they sent me a message. It’s a goddamn phenomenal protective film, though. Look at this thing in action:
Like a mirror! Having pulled the film off, it gives a much better view of the gorgeous map through the dice-shaped window!
Writer’s Note: I am told that all future orders will have a much sturdier cover! I will update this review if I am able to get one in my hand. Until then, I pass on The Rook and Raven’s assurances to you!
I signify the “ugly” as anything that isn’t a cheap or poorly designed aspect of the product, but simply an oversight or adjustment that might turn people off. These kinds of things are in the nature of the product, but might not be for everyone (Example: a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup is delicious… but if you don’t like Peanut Butter or little paper doom-trays on your candy, you might steer clear.)
Discs have Downsides
I listed all the things I learned and loved about the “Disc Binding” earlier, but there are two pretty serious downsides you need to know about. Firstly, your pages will absolutely wear out after you move them 3-4 times. It doesn’t matter how gentle you are, its just the nature of paper to fail, mechanically, after so much abuse. Take a look at this cardboard – it shows exactly the strain you put on those tiny little tabs each time you move a page:
So be warned – if you love to move your junk around constantly – this product will fail you. It’s not a design issue, it’s just how this thing works.
Also… I absolutely have to complain about how enormous these discs are. There is no reason for these things to be so huge compared to the journal. It’s like your diary is wearing a bunch of bracelets that bang and rattle around everywhere.
Earlier when I said “I absolutely hated this binding” – this is the reason. The bigger the disc, the less stress there is on the page of the journal, as it doesn’t hang on the inside of the disc or crumple – and I sincerely commend and appreciate that kind of attention. But any benefit gained from the disc binding is destroyed by how massive these are. A left handed person pretty much cannot write on this thing, you cannot sit anything on top of the diary (like a laptop, tablet, plate, goblet, human skull) because if you put pressure on those discs, they’re so big that if they flatten, they’ll mash the pages and ruin the tabs or rip out on rare occasions.
I think it might be a better business model and design idea to manufacture these campaign diaries under the understanding that players will use them for 1 or 2 characters. There’s almost no reason for anyone to have more pages in this book than are currently here being photographed, but there is space on these discs for probably 50 more pages (or more). You can put a drink coaster in the middle of the book and it still opens and closes without issue. I’ll be trying to track down smaller discs on my own time/dime and swap these out to see how they work for me. If I stand corrected – I will absolutely come back to this post and strike-through everything I said and call myself a spotty lipped slack-jawed horse f*cker (thank Scott Lynch for my favorite insult).
I’ve not used this for an extended period of time, but from what I can see – the benefits far exceed the detriments. The cover might be garbage and the discs big enough to Frisbee, but the paper is fantastic, the printing is near flawless:
The design, overall, is extremely minimalist and useful for a wide variety of games and players. I think that with the endless addition of new and improved sheet packages and the inclusion of a better cover/smaller discs – this might be an incredible hit with almost every gamer (particularly those who write in their own information). Worst case scenario, you can purchase the whole setup with blank pages, lined pages, and grid-paper to hand off as a gift to your favorite DM – that they may keep a diary of the world they’ve cooked up for their players. At a sub $30 price range, this is not a bad deal regardless (I say, having spent $25 on a journal I’ve used 3 times because the pages are kinda small and book wont lie flat.)
Do yourself a favor, go over to The Rook & Raven and check these out, and use dropthedie at checkout to shave off 5% if you decide to order – it lets them know you heard it from me!
I don’t always advocate rolling, but when I do… be sure you have to Drop the Die.
Review by JB Little, Follow me on twitter for more “useful” information.