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Giantlands (2021)


Premise | Character Creation | Species | Professions | Ley Powers | Mutations | Other stuff | Core Rules | The World | How do I economy? | Species pt 2 | Monsters | No bears? No bullywugs… oh god the bugs! | Is this okay? | Demo Game | You’re walking in the woods… | That’s won’t work | You guys are being attacked… | Conclusion | Unplayable, and I don’t want to fix it | Is there a setting? | Spirtual successor?

Edit: Apologies to those who struggled through the initial release, and thank you to those who pointed out the many issues in it, will continue to try to tighten them up and cut back on my ellipses addiction.

Touted by Stephen Erin Dinehart IV as his role-playing game based on his unique vision of the world, but also written entirely by James M Ward (“Jim”)1 Wikipedia James M Ward <> as a kind of Native American themed, spiritual successor to Gamma World2 James M Ward & Gary Jaquet Gamma World (TSR Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 1978) – the original release of GiantLands was also modelled off the White Box3 Wikipedia Dungeons & Dragons (1974) <> release of Dungeons & Dragons.4 Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson Dungeons & Dragons (TSR Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 1974)

Dinehart regularly claims (incorrectly) to be the inventor of Narrative Design and a great master in game design space, but routinely avoids taking responsibility for not working to smooth out any issues in his game.

If you’ve found this via my write up of the GiantLands Saga, or anything connected to that – then you’re most likely already aware that the game is bad – but curious as to all the ways it is and if there’s tiny gems of goodness among the rotting debris. Also, since the game comes in three booklets I’ll be citing them separately.

Jim passed away on 18 March 2024,5 Haase-Lockwood & Associates Funeral Homes Obituary for James “Jim” Michael Ward III <> with his final work widely ignored and panned, but apparently still optimistic that it could result in a theme park one day.

The Premise

The basis for the setting is that the upon re-awakening or reaching her breaking point, the spirit of the world as we know it ends the world as we know it – killing everyone as punishment for our misdeeds toward nature and creating a fresh start known as “The Great Reset”. It encourages the Spirit Keeper (who runs the game) to imagine how their world might look after such an event, but also with underground bunkers and alien spacecraft.6 James M Ward & Stephen E Dinehart GiantLands: Keepers Guide (Wonderfilled Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 2021) at 4

This results in the return of giants, not simply big humanoids but beings of immense supernatural power. As well as a new kind of human… and also robots, aliens, star ports… and all kinds of wild nonsense that never really gets explained. It’s also weirdly inconsistent – Sapiens are introduced to the players a new type of humanoid (capable of living 200 years)7 James M Ward & Stephen E Dinehart GiantLands: Spirits Guide (Wonderfilled Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 2021) but in the Keepers Guide says they were created in the 1st Age “to rival the Giants” and appear to have been present as “humans” in every age since.8 Keepers Guide, at n 6, at 16 – 17

The primary setting in the release in the region formerly known as North America, and with a mix of areas matching the current indigenous names but no explanation why those names would survive the end of humanity (or if they’re supposed to be magically eternal). There is also a big focus on Ley Lines and Ley Energy (a distinctly European concept),9 Wikipedia Ley Line <> in relation to supernatural power… but no exploration or consideration on what that means from a societal perspective.

In an interview, Dinehart and Ward both admitted to supporting “Kick in doors, kill things and take their stuff” type gaming in the game, but also admitting that won’t be compatible with the ultimate goal of the theme park.10 RPG Reviews RPG Review: GiantLands Interview with James Ward and Stephen Dinehart (YouTube, 29 March 2022) <> at 27:30 The interview also includes a jovial back and forth, which basically highlights that Dinehart kept loading more gimmicks into the product.

Ultimately the premise is it’s supposed to be absolutely everything already in games, while also being totally unique and lead to the formation of a theme park ala Evermore. In case you’re not familiar with Evermore, I recommend this masterpiece by famed theme park scholar Jenny Nicholson.11 Jenny Nicholson Evermore: The Theme Park That Wasn’t (YouTube, 5 November 2022) Suffice to say though, the genre is very new and filled with perils.

Dinehart was the guy in charge of creating the games at the start this project.

Character Creation

The first step of a game, character creation, immediately sets the tone by confusing the players and stripping them of pretty much all agency – and locking them into a grind of failure, doubt and anxiety over dice rolls. And to be clear, this isn’t a roguelike type game where you just create new characters whenever you die, character creation in this is a journey and a saga.

Pretty much all mechanical details on the character sheet except for species, sigil and profession are controlled by random rolls. Dinehart is very proud he didn’t label these species as race, and profession as class…12 Stephen Dinehart & Andrew T Spohn GiantLands Episode 5: Species & Gender (Amusment Sparks, BluBrry, 24 March 2020) <> because he doesn’t see race… except when he’s talking about his Cherokee heritage.

The core six stats are dictated by d100 rolls with up to 20 mulligans. But even that is pointlessly convoluted:

Yes, it is possible to re-roll a large number. In this case, you and the Spirit Keeper may agree on a larger number so that you aren’t wasting time rolling and rolling until a higher result comes up. If a larger number is not rolled in 20 re-rolls, you must accept the 20th roll, whatever that result may be.

GiantLands: Spirits Guide, page 15

So your optimum strategy is to roll 120 times (6 x (1 initial roll + 19 mulligans) and keep the highest). So glad we’re not wasting time here.

This means for each stat you have twenty chances to roll 90+. You’re 78% likely each stat will be 90+13 Twenty attempts at rolling 90 on the tens dice: (9/10)20 and odds of being stuck with 69 or less are less than a percent of a percent.14 Twenty rolls with nothing higher than 70 on the tens dice: (3/10)20 You would likely get lower stats if you just told players they could write whatever number they like, but had to justify it with characterizations.

After that, your equipment, your emotions, your mutations, etc are all chosen for you by the dice… so really these pieces of plastic play way more of a role in the creation of your character do even if you abuse the mulligan rule.

Ironically the hazards of this system are illustrated by the three pre-generated characters who are provided – who very clearly did not use this system, or at least did not use it with a sincere attempt to create a good character. All of these characters have improbably low stats, but one has much lower.

Stat/CharacterZekel Laylay TauftItzal QuwabeAtsila Ixchel
Take a guess which character is the female character…

Atsila, who is supposed to be a Warrior and a leader among her people… and who is a level higher than one of the boys, and one lower than the other (great starting party) has an improbably low average for her stats. Roughly 75% of the oddly low stats of the boys. Oh dear.

This disadvantages her even more than is obvious for each stat has it’s own table which gives you extra benefits the higher it is… further incentivizing players to abuse the system and make characters with 90+ in ever stat.15 Spirits Guide at n 7, at 30 – 36

Also, whoever players her is expected to cosplay her in order to get bonuses. 5% to all stats for wearing a mask.16 Spirits Guide at n 7, at 9 Or later in the same book, +10 if you wear a full body costume.17 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 16

The official art of Atsila Ixchel, which looks like a very sexualized depiction of a Native American woman with an MP5 style submachinegun, specifically with a bare sides loincloth.
While I’m not surprised this is what Larry Elmore calls “leather clothing” I am surprised that Dinehart thinks it’s okay to expect players to cosplay this.

But it gets worse… 40% of the starting clothing are individual accessories: helmets, boots, shoulder pads and gauntlets. So there’s a 40% chance that “cosplaying” means stripping off to your “basic loincloth”… then hoping you don’t end up with one of the 4 “cuffs” type armours. Yeah, you have a 16% chance of being expected to cosplay topless,18Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 43 – 45 yet remarkably none of this copy was: TITS OUT FOR GIANTLANDS! Aside from maybe this part of this trailer video from 201919 GiantLands GiantLands Kickoff Teaser Trailer (YouTube, 26 July 2019) <>

A screenshot of a YouTube video which seems to be depicting people on stage in front of a light projection of a woman in a gas mask, post-apoc theme burlesque outfit with speakers over her otherwise bare breasts.

Then one must choose between ranged… or melee weapons. Now, oddly, all weapons cost the same (8 opals, the most valuable currency, and you start with… no money) and all ranged weapons have the same range. So for ranged weapons the only thing that matters is the damage stat (4 – 20, depending on what you roll).20 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 45 Most melee weapons have a special complication.

The tables are wildly unbalanced, so it’s very easy for you to end up with a party of murder machines a character who is out of place. The scope of variance means that it’s impossible to design an adventure for a generic party in advance. Particularly since Jim himself proposed if you start with a crap weapon you should… just try not to die, and prioritize finding a better one…21 My Twitter, 10 January 2022 <>

A system that more reliably produced equitable characters, and gave players agency over their builds without rolling dice constantly would have been a lot smoother.


In the build up to the release of GiantLands, there was a big deal made about how the game has “species” and multiple posts about how the entire world had been depopulated in the build up. None of this is demonstrated in any meaningful way.

Each of the species has an arbitrary abilities and very little regard for anything that you’ve already established. There’s also no information on factors like… if you’re a Giant do you need a particular size armour/weapon? Are there cost factors involved? Do you have increased carry capacity or strength? Nothing… it’s just assumed you’ll work it all out on your own.22 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 55 – 67

But even disregarding that: It’s very difficult to see how a mixed species party would operate – some are giant, some don’t need to sleep, some don’t usually speak to others outside their species, some may or may not belong to a hive mind, some are heavily advantaged in combat, some are disadvantaged. There doesn’t seem to be any objective balancing or rhyme or reason behind how the bonuses are allocated.23 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 55 – 67

The book also promises that in time, you can even create your own species but provides no information or guidance on how to do it – whether that’s a thing the player should do or ask the person running the game to, etc.24 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 53


Much like species, there was a big fuss how Professions were not “Classes” but there is functionally no difference. It is also here that we find a major error in the game, both in execution but also conceptually.

Each time a profession is levelled up, the character rolls a d10 to receive a perk relevant to the profession. The Warrior profession, only has 9 perks on the table. (7) is just straight up missing.25Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 71

This was brought to Dinehart’s attention on 2 January 2022,26 My Twitter, 2 January 2022 <> but has never been publicly acknowledged or had errata released. But the power that was missing, is also a great illustration of how broken it is.

The ability allows you to get a guaranteed successful hunt, and kill one creature automatically27 My Twitter, 4 January 2022, <> – no clarification on limitations or intended purpose. This has obvious avenues for abuse by power gaming players, and obvious confusion for people who are interested in playing the role.

Unfortunately, it’s also the standard for skills – each unique skill is essentially just a single line of text in a table with no further context, and no potential for a player to control the likelihood of what power they receive. This makes them less of assets and options, and more a source of annoying derails and interruptions for the GMSpirit Keeper.

Dinehart, however, is quite unconcerned about this and seems to consider these core mechanics of his system to overall low importance.28 My Twitter, 4 January 2022, <>

Ley Powers

These essentially represent the “magic” of the world of GiantLands, and they focus around these coins… which can be tossed for bonuses etc but not spent as currency (so why they’re coins is anyone’s guess). This is more random than the other stuff, since not only does the character just “receive” a type of Ley energy allocation, but apparently Gaea’s assistance is dependent on literal coin flips.29 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 19

But like… most of the information is hidden away from players… the Spirits Guide only provides the absolute basics… then tells you to as the Spirit Keeper to give you more information out of Keepers Guide.

There’s a weirdly stringent set of rules for when you can or can’t use your “sigils and incantations” but no information with lore or background… and powers range from shooting a magic arrow that does normal damage once per day to summoning a creature (which will almost certainly be more powerful than the whole party).30 Keepers Guide, at n 6, at 31 – 45

There’s also not information on how these relate to the Ley Specialist profession.

They’re a mess.


These seem to be entirely a holdover from the fact that they originally wanted to make Gamma World (but couldn’t secure a license). In Gamma World, mutations were such an obvious part of the gonzo depiction of a world post-nuclear fallout they didn’t even bother to explain them. 31 Gamma World, at n 2, at 6 & 9 They fitted the scenario of the death of order with the death of civilization perfectly. Everything was weird, everyone was a mutant of some sort.

In GiantLands, these mutations seem to be a thing that party members have because they’re chosen by Gaea and this is awkward because 1. It’s not clear why her gifts are allocated at random; and 2. there’s no guidance on how common these gifts are in wider society beyond “important creatures” have them. They just feel like one more table to roll on, and another missed opportunity to allow players to have a little agency in character creation.

Like abilities and equipment, there seems to be no real thought into how these integrate into gameplay either, or even factor in. Flying is just… flying. A massive mobility advantage but it’s not clear if you grow wings or just fly Superman style (also it’s only for 3 hours a day, but not clear if you need to use it all at once or can fly in bursts). The Spark attack is just 3 damage to anyone who hits you in melee and pretty redundant in a game with guns, some are just stat increases or summoning mediocre weapons.32 Spirits Guide, n at 7, at 48 – 49

Weirdly, although you supposed get a free mutation every time you do something that Gaea really likes, and have the option to roll again but no rules for how various mutations compound (does “Miss Me” let you avoid the first two attacks?). It also states that every important creature has them, but gives no guide for how many or impact in the lore.33 Spirits Guide, n at 7, at 48 – 49

Other stuff

On top of all this… you also need to note your “mood” for reasons that are unclear, but the game generously tells you that you can change it any time you want.34 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 50

Then you need to roll for your “Fear” which is… does have significant impact on your mechanics! You have to roll to find out what your random fear is and the combat implications that it has (penalties to hit, and enemies get a bonus to soak the hit via armour).35 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 51

Bafflingly, this section assures you everyone has fears and thus that once you conquer your fear (by defeating four enemies who invoke it) you gain a new one… until you’ve done this four times and now you are fearless… which nobody is?36 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 51

Then you have to choose an archetype, of which there are eight options available and they have no impact on the gameplay at all.37 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 52

But you’re still not done! The players are not told this, but there is an extra factor “Motivation” which is essentially incomprehensible… it stresses that this is to make this more believable, etc, and is broken into “four parts”. Instead there are four different types, with no clarification if you have only one… and only clarifying that they are “per adventure” at the end… even though they impact stats by 15-20%. 38 Keepers Guide, at n 6, at 15

Core Rules

They’re not so much a set of rules, as a sort of conceptual framework, which was clearly never tested in any way, shape or form. Initially you are subjected to a barrage of lore dumps and attempts to distinguish the game by unique terminology (There’s no “players” here, only “Spirits”, no GM… only “Spirit Keeper”)39 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 10 & 12 Information on units of time is replicated in multiple places40 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 10 & 25 but there are no rules for movement in combat because… Jim and Stephen don’t care about that.41 My Twitter, 2 January 2022, <>

The singular example of play involves a confrontation with a “Papa Cave Bear” which is keeping a magic shield in its lair and covers the initial discovery and one round of combat. After that there is very general advice on “Alternative Encounters” and then a four page guide to the writing of an overall plot.42 Keepers Guide, at n 6, at 9 – 11

None of this really offers you any guidance on how to incorporate the elements of the world outlined in the introduction, and so a topic of query for Jim in the Discord. While he had some general guidance, he didn’t really have anything more concrete than “Gaea wants you to heal the world.”

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a noble goal, but it’s a lot to ask from someone who starts with one article of clothing, one bit of armour, one weapon and a the knowledge that the world around them is definitely going to kill them multiple times. He did also stress that combat should be an element, but should not be the whole game – but that’s difficult to facilitate when non-combat skills are handed out randomly.

If the GM… sorry, Spirit Keeper, can’t reliably know what kind of skills the party will have then it’s difficult to plan challenges etc around that – and if the PCs… sorry Spirits don’t know how they’ll develop, it makes it hard for them to plan in anything but the immediate short term.

It also suffers a lot from an aversion to recognizing and implementing the advancements in tabletop role-playing games over the past fifty years. Roll d100 to hit, if you’re attacking from the rear improve your odds by 15 or 25% (depending on if your opponent is moving away or not),43 Keepers Guide, n at 6, at 24 – 25 then roll d100 to not be hit,44 Keepers Guide, n at 6, at 23 work out your initiative order based on hit points ever single round,45 Keepers Guide, n at 6, at 20 – 21 etc. Ironically, while this could work if you had an automated system, it’s expressly designed for in person play, not online.

Every time you think you’ve sorted out something, there more rules and modifiers that come on top – you have to have your character assigned a ley sigil, a mutation, a fear, a motivation… all before you’ve even gotten a description of the space you’ll start in.

Overall it feels like it has recreated a lot of the issues with the first edition of Gamma World, where you have excessive rolling and dependency on chance but with none of the charm or the refinement that probably came from young Jim Ward having access to a lot of avid wargaming fans who were experts at calculations and balancing. The result is something that feels like a first draft expression of ideas, but needs a full reworking to be functional.

And there’s too many ideas. They needed to be trimmed down via an editor armed with a chainsaw, flamethrower and a bottle of Jack Daniels. While I feel that at least one of the editors might have been up to the task, my observations of Dinehart lead me to believe he would never permit anyone to harm one of his darlings. Not even the smallest idea he’s proud of.

The World

When designing a role-playing game, you can do your world building in many ways. You can provide a designated lore document, you can sprinkle it through demonstrations of play and micro-lore (eg item descriptions) or intersperse the materials with stories. Giantlands opted to do… none of this.

Both Gamma World and GiantLands seem to draw inspiration from Ralph Bakshi’s film Wizards46 Ralph Bakshi Wizards (Twentieth Century Fox, Hollywood CA, 22 June 1977) – the general premise that the world will end terribly, and then we reborn with fragments of the past mixed with the fantastical. In Gamma World, you’re invited to imagine all the specifics… in GiantLands… um… well you’re told there’s a very specific world in the box. But there isn’t.

Most of the lore is delivered in three pages presented as The History of Giants, and is presented more as though it is a high level presentation for a pitch, rather than a guide for building a role-playing campaign.47 Keepers Guide, at n 6, at 16 – 19 It’s like if the Forgotten Realms boxed set was just three pages of notes from Ed Greenwood about how Greyhawk needs more wizards, horny goddesses and weird semi-secret societies.

It’s not that there isn’t information about the world in there. It’s just that it’s so vague as to be essentially unactionable – even as prompts. Everything is written as though it will make sense when you read a bit more, but it never actually resolves anything or provides any foundation.

An ongoing theme in this is while there’s clearly supposed to be a Native American mythos theme, but not very clearly or consistently. Finding links is difficult, and when it’s there it’s inconsistent. For example the end of the Keeper’s Guide states that Mayan numeral system is to be used for the base 10 mechanics48 Keepers Guide, at n 6, at 52 – an odd choice given the Mayan numeral and entire math system is base 20.49 Wikipedia Vigesimal <>

How do I economy?

GiantLands has a needlessly complicated currency system, which seems to simply pick random precious materials and orders them in an arbitrary sequence. But they’re all meaningless because there’s only one clear price: Every weapon, regardless of it’s stats or origin, costs eight of the most valuable unit (opal).

So what is one of these really worth then? Okay, so, there are eight tiers of currency each in dominations being worth five of the ear below we can covert eight opals or, if you use the lowest unit, Jade that’s 8 x 57 … 625,000 pieces of Jade.50 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 38

With nothing else on the list… how are we supposed to know the actual value with jade…? If we assume they’re the “cents” of currency… how are we supposed to track the value? Your coins/bills are $0.01, $0.05, $0.25, $1.25, $6.25, $31.25, $156.25, and $781.25. Are we meant to believe the average merchant is comfortable making change and calculating change like this!?

Also this means literally every weapon costs $6,250 which is… the kind of prices we see associated with expensive, heavily customized show pieces51 Free Range American Dream Guns: How We Would Spend $6,000 On One Firearm <> and raises questions as how wide spread these are and how everyone in the party just happens to have one.

It’s either that or the economy is in shambles… in which case why even both having the bottom two tiers of currency?

For comparison, Gamma World had two separate currencies – one worth five times as much as the other, and the items you could reference prices against ranged from weapons to sundries to vehicles. Weapons were priced by category, and it encouraged barter and non-conventional currency.52 Gamma World, at n 2, at 37

This reeks of a last minute system bashed in because they wanted to brag about “unique lore” and represents a missed opportunity that I’ve written about previously in extensive detail, but the summary is it feels the opposite of a post apocalyptic society where population centres are lower… it feels like an bureaucratic nightmare realm where purchases can only be conducted in exact change… and all gems are of equal characteristics.

Y’know… adventure?

Species pt 2

So, I talked about species as a disaster in the sense of mechanics and they’re… actually worse in terms of lore. The effort made to provide an abundance of options into a tiny pamphlet means the options are never really explored, and many don’t even constitute a good writing hook for a player.

Anakim are supposed to be half-giants… kind of… they’re described as half-breeds (never a great idea in our modern society)53 James Mendez Hodes Orcs, Britons, and the Martial Race Myth, Part II: They’re not human (30 June 2019) <> and other than that… sometimes they’re heroes, but sometimes they’re slaves…?54 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 55 They’re everything and nothing, which is a common theme.

There are robots… sorry Andros… who never need to sleep, and don’t die… and even if destroyed regenerate forty-eight hours later. There’s five types… and um.. one of them is just… robots made of flesh and essentially human with no further clarification… on what, why, etc.55 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 57

There are aliens made out of energy crystal who can speak in a frequency others can’t hear; aliens who are amphibious and semi-nocturnal with a hivemind that looks down on individuals. No guidance on what that means for players or campaign. Again, everything and nothing.56 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 59 & 61

There are bird/cat people who are there because apparently Gaea wanted bird/cat people and can see better than other races because reason.57 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 63

Then there are two types of regular people Nephilim and Sapiens, who like the Anakim are some things but also the opposite.

Nephilim are also listed as a class of Giant in the Keepers Guide,58 Keepers Guide, at n 5, at 19 but no guidance is given for how that plays out in relation to Anakim, or other types of Giant.59 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 65 & 67 In fact the only place the word “Giant” appears is in the Special Abilities, where they have a “Spirit Modified” that effects their physicality…60 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 67

None of these form any sort of vision of society or societies, or a world or what cities or relationships look like. It’s all half-formed ideas to be elaborated on in the future, maybe.


There is an entire booklet dedicated to the various adventure relevant creatures of the world of GiantLands… and it’s… even more of a mess that usual. Now, part of this is because populating an entire world with a catalogue of new and unique fantastical creatures is hard… and part of it is because when you’re giving them stats, all those stats need to balance out and contribute. But mostly because it seems to be a rough draft that was pushed out with no analysis or revision, and a higher priority placed on conversation pieces than gameplay or world building.

No bears? No bullywugs… oh god the bugs!

Remember how I said the introduction used a scenario of the party facing a Papa Cave Bear? Yeah there’s not bears in the catalogue. In fact, in my estimation there’s not really any good low level encounter creatures like weird little guys, slightly pumped animals etc.

What there are is beetles, frogs and birds that have no rhyme or reason behind the danger they present. The Faan Beetle is ten feet long, three feet wide and could be dispatched reasonably easily on their own, but has a frequency of 2d10. They also erupt from the earth, meaning a random encounter with them might be a boon that lets the party gain shields and healing potions from the carcasses; or a total party kill. They also specifically attack to defend their nest (no rules on that) and attack from underground. 61 James M Ward & Stephen E Dinehart GiantLands: 5th Age Index (Wonderfilled Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 2021) at 17

There are Gants, who look like they’re just little bug guys but have six-shooters that do double the damage of the best starter pistol available, and have a bite that does double the damage of one of the best melee weapons available (using it stuns them for 3 rounds but like… small comfort when you’re dead). They can quite easily kill off a party member or two if provoked, but don’t attack otherwise.62 5th Age Index, at n 61, at 18

Then there’s Jakentos. One foot long bugs that travel in pairs, but are better at attacking and do more damage than Faan Beetles. They also erupt from the earth but also always get surprise (this is mentioned twice, but never explained) and explode like a little grenade when killed. They attack on principle, whenever they sense the party from underground.63 5th Age Index, at n 61, at 20

Imagine, if you would, being told there’s a rumour that there’s some bugs that are creating a problem in yonder forest. How are you supposed to know how best to proceed in this situation… multiple possible enemies won’t even be visible until they burst from the soil, hungry for your flesh.

Also Dolflings, who are like little rabbit people, are pretty much guaranteed to merc any party who crosses them since they can summon more infinitely and have combat stats way in excess of what players can achieve.64 5th Age Index, at n 61, at 13

How is a player supposed to navigate this and assess danger in any given scenario?

Is this okay?

Simply using Native American mythology and themes does not necessarily make this an inclusive product or serve the interests of actual Native Americans. A conversation about appropriation is warranted, particularly in this section.

In 2015, Tumblr user @threelittlemonkeybutts, 65 ThreeLittleMonkeyButts, 11 March 2015, Tumblr <> Morning-Star Angeline, and a collection of other activists campaigned hard against the “Thunder Plains” material released in The Strange 66Bruce Cordell & Monte Cook The Strange (Monte Cook Games, Overland Park KA, 2014) for appropriating, trivializing and misrepresenting native culture. After an irrational amount of resistance, Monte Cook Games final conceded that yes it was bad and agreed to revise things.

In her extensive essay on the topic,67 Morning-Star Angeline A Critical Look at Native Appropriation in Monte Cook Games (Last Real Indians, 23 March 2015) <> Morning-Star covered many important topics such as that there is no singular Native American identity – there are hundreds of tribes and different identities within them, that those groups have had to fight for basic rights like religious freedom to practice their own ceremonies and that (due to the extended history of exploitation and demonization by colonizers) Native Americans in general suffer from a wide variety of social ills ranging from poverty to much higher rates of suffering violent crimes such as rape and murder.

These are real people, their suffering is real and injustice is staggering. Their culture and their mythology is especially vulnerable to distortion through misrepresentation, and their exploitation is particularly cruel.

Dinehart, who regularly mentions his Cherokee heritage, has included a singular “Do not forget, we are still here” notice in the game but also seems to have treated Native American culture in general as a free ideas box that he can exploit without consequence.68 Keepers Guide, at n 6, at 54

Some of the monsters in the book are just straight up yanked from Native American groups with zero concern or acknowledgement:

All these are sacred and divine in their native cultures (who Dinehart reminds you are still here) now tortured and reformatted into toys for a game alongside things like a knock-off bulette,82 Wikipedia Monsters in Dungeons & Dragons at Monster Manual 1977 <> 83 Dnd Beyond Bulette <> 84 5th Age Index, at n 61, at 29 – 30 a living corn-cob,85 5th Age Index, at n 61, at 45 and the stupid T-Rex unicorn “Ultracorn Rex”86 5th Age Index, at n 61, at 36 from Dineharts failed video game about a pink elephant87 Stephen Dinehart ピンクー象 Pinky Elefante™ (Kickstarter, 2015) <> (original idea, do not steal!).88 Oliver Wallace & Ned Washington About Pink Elephants on Parade from Walt Disney Dumbo (Walt Disney Productions, Hollywood CA, 1941)

This runs the full spectrum from the Xul89 5th Age Index, at n 61, at 40 (monsters based on Omec heads statues,90 Wikipedia Omec colossal heads <> who at least don’t have direct lines to a living people) to the Doe Woman…91 5th Age Index, at n 59, at 12 who is thinly veiled and very bastardized reference to the Deer Woman92 Wikipedia Deer Woman <> – an important figure in many Native American groups myth. The Deer Woman is a spirit of vengeance against men who engage in abuse against women93 Carolyn Dunn Deer Woman and the Living Myth of Dreamtime on Journal of Mythic Arts <> – the Doe Woman is a “benign forest spirt” and “spice” according to Dinehart,94 My Twitter, 7 January 2022 <> with her main gimmick being she makes people fall in love for a week…. so has no real connection to the source material.

A screenshot from the GiatnLands Discord:
"Afternoon all, I'm sorry, what's your question Greg? The game is made for the same age group as classic RPG titles. it can be played a number of ways according to the needs of the players (the GM is a player too).
Doe Woman is a real mythical being found in many native American mythos. She's spice, not the meat, and added to give flavor of benign forest spirits. She's pretty simple, but makes for great fun at the table."
Tel Locus
"Makes sense mythology has some pretty fun stories with spirits.
Didn't know about the story of doe woman"
"Her charm can produce a lot of giggles, or be used very seriously to drive the plot."
Not the complete lack of concern for how this reflects upon the source material.

Obviously RPGs in general have problems with this, there’s Quetzalcoatl (“Couatl”) in D&D95 DnDBeyond Couatl <> and well Maztica existed96 Graeme Barber Celebrating Subjucgation: The Maztican Tragedy (POC Gamer, 15 January 2018) <> until it got erased – but nothing near this saturation. Also I agree indigenous people should not be limited to recreating only the exact things that their ancestors did.97 Cheyenne Bear What Does “Authentically” Indigenous Look Like? on PBS Voice (YouTube, 16 November 2023) <>

I’ve made a full breakdown here… which is still very non-conclusive and non-exhaustive.

But this is particularly vulgar and exploitative when it’s marketed as so heavily influenced by Native Americans but almost all the content created by old white men and one guy who should be aware of how risky this is… but assures us he’s Cherokee, and cares about his fellow Cherokee,98 My Twitter, 11 July 2021 <> but doesn’t seem to care about any other group of Native Americans beyond self-promotion and making himself sound interesting.

A zoom in photo of the "Do not forget, we are still here." statement.
It is difficult to overstate how vulgar this is…

I’m just a white guy from Australia, now living in New Zealand, but I don’t think it’s okay. I really don’t.

The Demo Game

In December of 2022, Jim hosted an actual play session over Zoom,99 GiantLands Tabletop Session 1: GiantLands GL1 “The Broken Road” with James Ward 12/10/22 (YouTube, 17 December 2022) <> to showcase the module These Broken Roads which was already overdue release at the time and supposed to be provided free to everyone who bought the 1st Edition Boxed Set.100 My Twitter, 11 January 2022 <>

The product was removed for pre-order, but is now back and being advertised with AI art and a July 2024 target release date.101 Wonderfilled Inc (@WFDgames, Twitter, 29 March 2024)

There’s so much going on here.

So how did THE Jim Ward, the creator of GiantLands, run a game?

You’re walking in the woods…

No backstory or even opening hook is provided in the actual play… I’m not sure if it was for the players in advance or anything but the adventure basically starts with them equipped and on their way to go do the thing. The limit of background is they’ve decided the water was poisoned, so they’ve decided to go solve that.

Now on one hand, I sympathize that if you’re only expecting to do this for an hour, you want to get into the action as quickly as possible – but on the other hand this was in part to promote GiantLands…. so it’s an odd choice to gloss over all the setting and system specifics to generic travelling in the woods. No setting the scene.

So… we’re not off to a great start if we’re trying to build a world that’s so magical and immersive that you want to travel to Wisconsin to visit a theme park.

That won’t work…

If this playthrough by Jim Ward shows us anything, it’s that all the mutations, backgrounds and ley powers that he put into the game are all intended to be absolutely, completely useless. So useless the GMSpirit Keeper will taunt you for wanting to use them for the purpose intended, or any other purpose.

“I want to fly.” “You can only fly for a couple of hours a day….” This starts with discussion of the three hour limit, then Jim explains the forest is very thick so the character will be separated, and vulnerable to attack etc until the player relents and agrees to just… not use their ability. This is the first three minutes.

When the party is trying to start a fire. “I have a ley bolt as one of my professional abilities can I…” “No. that won’t work.” This ability is specifically described as generating heat… so this would be an on the spot ruling you had to hear from Jim to be sure of.102 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 83

While attempting to water horses. “Once a day you can find a source of water with automatic success.” “You can find a cup full of water…” Remember how Dinehart said all the abilities are comparable?103My Twitter, 4 January 2022, <> The one immediately before this is “(6) Once a day, you can forage enough food to feed up to eight people and/or animals a single meal with automatic success.” (emphasis mine)104 Spirits Guide, at n 7, at 75

Now, I do need to clarify… I don’t think Jim was trying to be a jerk, he seems quite cheery and looking for opportunities to be encouraging and hopeful everyone is having a good time.

I think he was probably getting frustrated at him wanting the players to feel tense over specific problems and them derailing with attempts to derail, or eliminate tension rather than make a decision he’d anticipated… basically the system was working against him to run the game in ways he didn’t expect.

Instead of an information session showing us the potential, we got Jim trying to funnel the party through the module, and not get distracted or undermined by things they got the ability to do from the books he wrote… it’s pretty damning of the mechanics, the setting and the ability for it all to work together as a cohesive experience.

You guys are being attacked…

As the party continues to head toward the “source” of the problem, they come across a crying noise… from a glowing woman floating in the air with hate in her eyes. Classic random encounter… just like we’re playing D&D but without the variety of outcomes with for random encounters.

One of the party tries to talk to her… so she points at him and shoots a golden arrow from her fingertip at him. Combat ensues.

No information is conveyed prior to this about if the characters, having lived in this world – are aware of this as a hazard, if they know of any myths, if this is normal or unsettling for them… it’s just provided with no context.

Notably at this point, Dinehart was very distracted and seemed to be reading from something… and knew the name of the creature they encountered (Jim points out he has not reason to have this knowledge) and then tries to haggle to get to use one of his abilities after getting the usual statements it can’t work right now because reasons. This does not bode well for demonstrating how carefully they playtested.

Then Dinehart immediately refers to the creature as a shrieking banshee… so um… yeah we’re really distant from European myths am I right? At this point, eighteen minutes in… I’m giving up. It has convinced me that it’s a mediocre dungeon crawl and even the lead doesn’t find it that interesting, and the main creator struggles to manage while running a game.


GiantLands isn’t really a game… it’s a rough prototype of something that was intended to be a game but got side tracked trying to be everything while not committing to being anything – taking the easy path every time a decision came up.

Part of this is that it was absurd to expect Jim Ward to write a whole new hit role-playing game in his twilight years, and part was that it was intended by Dinehart to be a Gamma World rip off from word go. Gamma World is a favourite game of many who played in that era, but it never hit the mainstream success and now is completely eclipsed by the Fallout105 Timothy Cain Fallout (Interplay Productions, Irvine CA, 1997) property. It’s legacy is really that it of partial inspiration for the original Fallout game and hence world.106 Timothy Cain Fallout: A Postmortem (GDC Vault, GDC, 2012) <> at 8:00

Despite it’s length, this review is by no means exhaustive in he issues, there are plenty of things that I’ve gone into here as they would be needless expansion at this time. You don’t need to hear about the issues with shields, the rules regarding range with ranged weapons or stats on theoretical combats, etc.

There’s also a lot of stuff I’m simply not qualified to go into, like how he mixes and matches “Native American” names from completely different cultures with no regard for or recognition of those cultures.

It’s a mess at the core level… and no amount of fixing the stuff that can be streamlined is ever going to fix that.

Unplayable, and I don’t want to fix it

First and foremost, the game is essentially unplayable. There’s too much focus on loading up characters with cool stuff, and being different for different’s sake – and not enough on core experience and fun.

The only area that is really mapped out is combat, and that’s not done well – rather it seems cobbled together as an attempt to mimic “old games” by including all the clunkiness and issues we’ve shed over the decades. Everything is written in the brief terms one expects from a playtest edition, where you’ll get to negotiate more detail… not a finished product.

But even if it could be fixed – all the rules smoothed out and polished up to be a mighty vision… I don’t think I want to.

The game is loaded up with the baggage of appropriation, transphobic rants on social media, the lead creators ongoing association with terrible people like the nuTSR crowd and the exploitation of creators at the end of their lives.

It was promoted as a new work by the great Jim Ward, but also as the brainchild of Stephen Dinehart who… doesn’t seem to know or care how the game really works. We can’t know for sure how much was Jim, how much was Dinehart and how much was Jim doing it purely to appease Dinehart. There were parts Jim admitted he wasn’t satisfied with.107 My Twitter, 11 January 2022 <>

Revising it would dilute the (dubious) legacy of Jim Ward, and white washes Dinehart’s complete failure to operate as an effective producer. It’s just not worth it. One would simply be better making a clean break and making a whole new game.

Is there a setting? I don’t think so

Throughout the marketing, I found myself thinking that this seemed absurd… there was simply no reason to reinvent the wheel here.. we live in an era where there are multiple open license systems, if the core element was to be the setting then just use one of those and focus the efforts on building the setting and the lore.

But now that it’s out… I don’t they could have done that. Well specifically, I don’t think there was ever going to be enough of a setting or lore to achieve it. Despite the three books, they’re only half-sized pamphlets and even counting the drops of lore in rule sections… there’s very little to work with.

You could very easily use the SRD5.1108 Wizards of the Coast Systems Reference Document (SRD) (Dungeons & Dragons, Wizards of the Coast) <> to set up the mechanics framework, and build upon it with gimmicks like three lives, etc the same way early creators bent AD&D into new products like Dragonlance,109 Margaret Weis and Laura & Tracy Hickman Dragonlance (TSR Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 1984) and Oriental Adventures,110 Gary Gygax, David “Zeb” Cook and Francois Marcela-Froideval Oriental Adventures (TSR Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 1985) Dark Sun,111 Timothy B Brown and Troy Denning Dark Sun (TSR Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 1991) and Birthright.112 Rich Baker and Colin McComb Birthright (TSR Inc, Lake Geneva WI, 1995)

But I just don’t think Dinehart, despite all his claims that he thought about this product for years etc is up to the task of actually committing to writing up the lore, doing the work of drafting, re-drafting etc. He’s fixated with this in the same way that so many DMs assure you they have a perfect setting… it’s just in their head right now, but it’s so cool you’ll love to play in it.

This game doesn’t have a setting, it has the dream of a perfect setting… and that’s of no real value to anyone but the dreamer, who can change and reinvent it at will while we are none the wiser.

Spiritual successor?

As mentioned at the top, this as been marketed as a sort of spiritual successor to Gamma World… and I think that does a great disservice to Jim Ward and his legacy.

It’s not a spiritual successor at all, Jim was quite up front about that if you paid attention – the creation of it wasn’t fuelled by a desire to go back and do Gamma World again, knowing what he knows now. It was to make an table top role-playing game that fed into a theme park.113 RPG Review: GiantLands, at n 10, at 8:44

Jim was, in fact, so attached to this idea over the talking about Gamma World that he would openly talk to Stephen about GiantLands the 5th Age could be one wing of the theme park, and other games built on the same system etc could be other areas. Dinehart for his part, said it was a thing that he considered, and that he wants to be Disney. 114James M Ward & Stephen Dinehart, 11 December 2022, Facebook Video <>

One day, if theme parks continue to be a thing and humanity continues to not learn the lessons of history, there may be a Fallout theme park… hopefully not named Nuka-World or using actual radiation. That is the closest we will ever get to having a theme park based on Jim’s work, and due to his twilight years being focused on this… it’s unlikely any giant brand will want that association.

Rest in peace Jim, and may you forever be remembered for the joy and inspirations that came from Gamma World, with your failings and mistakes serving as warnings to those who follow.

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