Friday, May 24, 2019

Retail Déjà Vu

This is going to look familiar to those of you over 30. You may remember when D&D was sold in Sears stores. I actually never got any of my stuff from Sears, but I did buy the Sear's exclusive poster from Larry Elmore last year at GenCon.

If you needed any further proof that D&D is experiencing a Renaissance, I think this Target exclusive boxed set is another hefty data-point to consider. This, on top of the Stranger Things box, means there are now three different "beginner" boxed sets to get you into D&D. I'm wondering if we're going to see a Critical Role boxed set soon?

I'm also curious if the rules are different from the Basic pdf. The ad copy implies that they've been re-written from the other boxed sets to now "on-boards players by teaching them how to make characters". And that implies that it doesn't use pre-gens. If you've got more info on this box, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Oh, the '80s!

I just cut this from an article I wrote for dlair/net about the Tales From the Loop RPG. It was extraneous there, but I liked it so much, I'm dropping it here:


Being a child in the ‘80s was something of a surreal experience. This was due, I think, to so many things no being what they were supposed to be.

Europe experienced a long run of peace thanks to the insanity of Mutually Assured Destruction. Nuclear power went from the salvation of civilization to a curse. We stopped talking about the impending new ice age and started talking about the greenhouse effect. Future Shock transformed into VCRs, digital watches and Teddy Ruxpin. “Wholesome” Afterschool Specials taught us to question the authority of our teachers while children’s entertainment turned gory with Gremlins and Watership Down. Rated R movies like Robocop had action figures in the toy aisle. Iron Maiden became the most amazing false-flag educational program in the history of ever. (Seriously, check out the lyrics to their song Alexander the Great and tell me that’s not AP test prep disguised as popular entertainment.)

People on TV said D&D was satanic.

So the nostalgia of GenXers tends to be laced with weirdness. Whether it’s the bittersweet psychodrama of emotional issues we didn’t have names for in Ready Player One or the nostalgia and paranoia mix strained through Stephen King that is Stranger Things, ‘80s nostalgia tends to be, well, surreal and fantastical. And before there was Stranger Things, there was the art of Stålenhag.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Dice of Generations

Back when G+ was still a thing, this is the sort of stuff I'd post on it. I really don't have much to say about this piece, but it's sweet and useful and interesting:

The Dice of Generations

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

What the Arkenstone Can Do For You

The PCs are finally geared up (or angry enough) to take on the dragon! It's gonna be a big event in your campaign (because: DRAGON!!!) and you want the treasure hoard to be worthy of it. How do you make it something truly special without making it stupidly huge? How can you make quality compensate for the fact that you're not actually giving your players literal hillocks and ravines of coinage?



 Here are some suggestions for things that have served me well over the years:

History


The dragon hoard par excellence is probably still Smaug’s, and it’s heaped with the story of the dwarvish kingdoms and their alliances and rivalries with their neighbors. Describing the treasure is one of the few times you have the undivided attention of everyone at the table, so it’s a great time to sprinkle (not dump) some exposition on your players. Coins bearing the face and name of the second Warlock-emperor of the Melechan dynasty (worth ten times their mere weight value to collectors), arrows crafted by elven fletchers to slay the Arch-lich Kazshet, or the gilded toe-bone of the poet-scholar St. Gweniach will draw a lot more attention to the history of your setting than any dry dissertation by long-bearded scholars or sleepy ents. Focus on bits of history that are or will be important to your campaign’s current events, and especially the active interests of your players and their PCs.


Danger


Smaug’s hoard contains the Arkenstone, a wondrous gemstone that bears more than a passing resemblance to the doom-fraught Sillmarils. Perhaps the Temple of the Risen Sun doesn’t think a reliquary of St. Gweniach belongs in the hands of murderhobos. Perhaps Kazshet’s agents infiltrated the circle of elven fletchers to add a curse to the enchanted arrows. Perhaps, as with the Arkenstone, there are cultural or personal or political ramifications to the ownership of some of that treasure. One of the things that makes The Hobbit stand out from generic fantasy fare is that there are exciting and fascinating consequences to the slaying of Smaug. So it can be with the dragons in your campaign.


Something Personal


This is a great time to make callbacks to the backgrounds of the PCs or events that happened earlier in the campaign. The paladin’s great-grandfather’s sword doesn’t need to be in the hoard, but there might be a sword that’s marked with the rune of a company of knights he once rode with, or the champion’s prize from a tourney the great-grandfather competed in. There might be a treatise on abjuration magic written by the wizard who was a mentor to the wizard PC’s teacher. There might be some piece of jewelry or other objet d’art that a villain vanquished by the PCs early in their careers sent as tribute or bribe to the dragon. Callbacks like this are a great way to make the players feel like their characters fit into the setting.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

D&D Movie Musings

Yep, they’re making another one. And Paramount could use a successful franchise now that Star Trek is (at least in movie theaters) wallowing in face-plant.

According to The Hashtag Show, things have been off to a bumpy start. They still don’t have a director, though they do appear to have a script they’re happy with. Michael Gilio’s other screenwriting credits pretty much begin and end with Kwik Stop, a quirky little indie film that garnered rave reviews and some awards, apparently. Gilio was called in to “rewrite” a script by David Leslie Johnson whose credits include multiple episodes of The Walking Dead, Wrath of the Titans, and Aquaman.

That implies to me that the script is fairly safe B-list fare (though I haven’t seen Aquaman yet and may be selling it short). This doesn’t exactly change that equation:

Once things get rolling, Paramount hopes to land an actor from the following list of talent: Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Matthew McConaughey, Jamie Foxx, Joel Edgerton, Dave Bautista, Jeremy Renner and Johnny Depp.

Seriously?!? No, I don’t think it’s serious; I think they’re trying to raise buzz for the project because about the only thing those actors have in common is that they’re male. Imagine a role you’ve ever seen one of these actors in and try swapping them out. Either the lead is a complete cypher (which doesn’t speak well of the script) or they’re not serious about this list.

If they’re still aiming for a ’21 release, that probably nixes Brolin and Bautista (who will be filming Dune), and, as much as I’d love to see him in this, Vin Diesel (who has a whole slew of projects listed on his IMDB page, including F&F9 and xXx4). Pratt is probably on this list because he’s hot in nerd media right now. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around McConaughey (as much as I loved him in Sahara) or Depp in the lead for this movie. Put a gun to my head and I’d guess that, if this is an actual list of actors they’re looking at, it’ll most likely be Edgerton or Renner, and I’ll bet you Edgerton’s cheaper, so…

(Smith and Foxx would be interesting choices, but if this is a B-list movie, they’d almost certainly be the only non-white character with a name. The script clearly isn’t written to explain who this character is as an outsider in the local dominant culture or we’d see fewer gringos on this list. So yeah, wouldn’t hold my breath for either of those, though they would be interesting choices.)

So, what does that tell us? Well, none of these guys are exactly young; we won’t see some young man in a coming-of-age story here. Most likely, that means our lead is a grizzled human warrior. His primary weapon will be a sword. We’ll probably get a five-man band that includes a comic-relief axe-wielding dwarf as “the Big Guy,” a brash and blond Viking-esque dude with a massive sword who’s an old friend of our hero from way back as “the Lancer,” and a spell-slinger who won’t cast any spells you recognize out of the PHB who will supply exposition as needed in the role as the “Smart Guy” (salt-and-pepper or grey-haired if it is a guy, or a bland, dark-haired ice queen if female).

If the writers know much about D&D and wrote an actual D&D movie, the “Heart” will be a cleric (and the “Lancer” will be an effete warlock who always seems to be on the verge of betraying the party, and you’ll probably replace the dwarf with a half-orc or, if the budget can support it, a dragonborn). That said, it’s probably more reasonable to expect a sword-wielding princess who constantly reminds us that she’s as tough as any man and is also in constant need of rescuing (think Kate Beckinsale in Van Helsing).

Of course, this is the Marvel Age, where LotR and The Hobbit each got green-lighted for their own three-movie deals and comic book movies are both good and summer tent-pole events. So it’s possible I’m completely wrong (possibly even likely), and we’ll end up with something decent. If so, I’ll happily eat crow on this. But, right now, I’m thinking Critical Role’s half-hour cartoon is a much safer bet for a fun D&D movie.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

War and Remembrance

On this day, 11 years ago, the 2008 Fantasy RPG Wars began. And we won.

By “we” of course I mean everyone who plays RPGs. Paizo shocked WotC into going back to basic principles and discovering that their fans don’t want 80 lbs of rules, nor is a new giant stack of character classes, etc. every few months or even every year a good way to support an RPG.

And now D&D has shocked Paizo into improving their games further, seeking to be the more mechanically complex game, but streamlining it to make it accessible to new players. At the Paizo booth at the GAMA Trade Show, one of the Paizo folks said, “We want Pathfinder to be the game you graduate to.” That sounds like a good place for them to be.

I used to think that WotC would eventually sell the license to D&D in order to keep the IP alive and save themselves the expense of making the game. I no longer feel that way. D&D is healthier than ever, and this rising tide appears to be lifting most, if not all, the boats.

Make the most of it, folks.

Art by Wayne Reynolds.  The genesis of Pathfinders goblins can be read here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Let the Good Times Roll

Just got back from the GAMA Trade show, and the big news this year is… that there’s really no big news. Certainly nothing on par with the bombshells dropped by WotC and others on the state of the RPG industry last year. WotC told us that ’17 was the best year for D&D in its entire history and that ’18 was even better, but beyond that didn’t give us anything new in terms of details. We’ll be seeing more alternative covers. They appear to be sticking with the take-it-slow publishing strategy.

What about the influence of the OSR? Well, in addition to The Forbidden Lands (more on that very soon, but maybe not until next week), everybody’s gotta have a boxed set. Most of these are intro starter sets, but even these are getting beefier and beefier; the one coming for Cubicle 7’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying (itself very much a call-back to the original version of the Warhammer RPG) sports more than 100 pages of rules and campaign material, suitable for running as an entire campaign or using as a segue into their (very OSR) The Enemy Within “director’s cut.”

R. Talsorian is back. They’ve got The Witcher tabletop RPG and are working with CD Projekt Red on their new Cyberpunk 2077 (based on Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk 2020) as well as the “Cyberpunk Red” tabletop RPG which Pondsmith is crafting to bridge the timeline between the two.

Production values continue to inch upwards. Cubicle 7’s new boxed sets promise lots of neat handouts. We’re seeing the design decisions of the OSR/DIY bunch leaking into the mainstream, things like maps on the endpapers. They haven’t quite embraced the focus on ease-of-use-at-the-table, but they’re sliding that direction.

And we’re seeing a lot more openness in mechanics. I think that’s coming from a strong interest in making the games textured but simple. By “textured” I mean delivering more than just a core mechanic, an equipment list, a spell list, and a bestiary. Mechanics that serve to deliver an experience or tactical flexibility at the table. Things like rolling for depletion of consumables in The Forbidden Lands or Pathfinder 2.0’s new action economy and how it interacts with the spells. (For those not keeping up with it, you get three actions every round. Many spells now come in three flavors: a one-action version, a two-actions version, and a three-actions version. So you get to decide when you cast a healing spell if you want to heal yourself with the single-action version, someone you can touch with the two-action version, or send out a wave of healing energy to everyone in 10’ with the three-action version.)

We’re seeing a lot more variability on ICv2’s list of top five best-selling RPGs. (The Autumn 2018 list replaces Pathfinder with Lot5R. Yes, I’m serious.) They say that RPGs are selling well. Renegade Games, a relative newcomer to the RPG scene, sold through their original printing of Overlight, a very high-concept RPG.

So no big news, just lots and lots of good news. Our hobby appears to be doing quite well. There appears to be lots of room for big and flashy projects like Invisible Sun and little experimental things like Mothership. The Golden Age is rolling along apace. Make the most of it!