Friday, August 31, 2007
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
And, oh yeah, naked girls in bondage. So neither of these are safe for work. First we have “Chained Up on
Next we have “Dungeon Encounter”. As one of the commentators says, it’s an excellent example of Mr. Ackergård’s “ability to combine cold brutality with gentle caretaking.” It’s striking work, but leaves me a little uninspired. I think it’s the lack of context. Why is she in the dungeon? Why is he there? His utter lack of ornamentation is odd. We have no hints about who he is, what his culture is like, or why he’s there. There’s too little for my imagination to catch on and weave a story from.
Still, if you’re the sort who enjoys just letting your imagination drift, needing only the most meager starting points, be sure to check out Mr. Ackergård’s tamer galleries. You’ll find dingbat hatchlings, anthropomorphized ink blots, and a cute druidess in a new category with the promising title “Savage Tide”. Cute and bizarre seems to be the order of the day, and his technique continues to inspire.
Zoombaba has carefully studied the art released so far in the marketing of D&D’s 4th edition and asks a very probing and vital question: “Is this the most METAL version of D&D ever?”
Consider this ... the 4e default campaign is "points of light in a dark, dangerous world." (sounds grim). Orcus is on the cover of the new Monster Manual. Paladins can be any alignment (um, meaning evil). The PH cover shows the return of hookerplate boobmail. They're getting rid of gnomes. Armored Beholders. Asmodeus is a god. Half-demon (excuse me, tieflings) PC races -- like here and, um yes, here: the hot demon chick. I mean christ, even the dwarves are hot!
I guess this does explain why everyone is holding aloft their weapons like they're posing for a Man-O-War cover. I certainly wouldn’t complain if WotC embraced the “four-stringed axe”, but I won’t be holding my breath, either.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
It's definitely worth a read, especially if you haven't been following along. I had no idea what he was thinking at the beginning (which is obvious from this post), but now that's he's laid it all out, I'm mixed. Overall, I think he's got some very good ideas, but I'm at a loss as to how to implement all the points in a coherent package.
I think a lot of folks threw themselves off the rails when he mentioned "Storytelling Games". The name, honestly, isn't as important as the rebranding. To most folks not into RPGs, "roleplaying games" means "D&D". Hell, to many folks in the hobby, it still means "D&D" or all the many games like it, including "GURPS", "Shadowrun", "WHFRP", etc. Renaming the style would be a powerful marketing tool that would both get people to look at the game who might otherwise recoil at the "roleplaying" moniker, and get roleplayers to approach the game with an open mind as to how it should be played. This is vital as Mr. Dancey is intent on skewering a few sacred cows along the way.
The main area of conflict that I'm struggling with is the intersection between player-influenced and altered environments and shared worlds maintained by the "service provider" STG company. But maybe I'm overthinking things. After all, LARPs do a lot of this all the time, don't they?
And now that I think about it, you do see similar activities across the web, but most are rather free-form. We've all seen the RPG "taverns", chat-boards and IRC channels where people get together and free-form stories. Perhaps we should see this as some crossbreed between MUSH and RPG?
Maybe. I don't think that's the direction Mr. Dancey was thinking. Again, we run into the same issues. If everyone can affect the world at whim, then most of those effects will be ignored and then do we really have a shared, persistent world? What sort of utility must the service provider offer in order to earn the money of the players? WotC is hoping a combination of online DM tools, periodical content, and virtual gaming table will do it for them. But at the end of the day, the only thing you really need to play D&D is a few rulebooks, some dice, and your imagination. How do you shift the focus of RPGs from the small, insular, table of friends to the wider community?
2x8 Squad Leader
1x10 His Majesty's Personal Cobbler: You made the most beautiful, most comfortable, most durable shoes in the entire kingdom, and as a result you are one of the relatively few people to have seen the monarch barefoot. Do you still have this exalted position? If not, what happened? If so, where'd all your money get to?
Saturday, August 18, 2007
There is one benefit to the per-encounter design philosophy that adult gamers will come to find useful: it allows for meaningful progression in smaller, but more frequent, episodes. In other words, regular short gaming sessions become viable. You get online, you play through one or two encounters in an hour or so, and you call it a night. Still have plenty of time to watch your favorite shows, spend time with the wife and kids, run off to that choir practice at church, or whatever else takes up your time after that and yet you maintain your presence as an active gamer. This style of design and play is more convenient, more casual-friendly, than the current or older designs.
Again, as the industry greys, the games will begin to drift from their service to people with no money but lots of time, to people who have lots of money but no time. If WotC did what they've promised, expect a lot of the load to be taken off the DM's back, especially in terms of preparation for the game, and running combats. How well this works remains to be seen, but I imagine it will be a the make-or-break deal for a lot of older gamers.
If you go here, you can see the D&D 4th edition preview slideshow. You’ll get to see some of what I assume is 4th edition art. But before you watch, be sure to don eye protection. I swear, I have never before seen a collection of art with so many sharp, stabby, spikey, glowey, hurty things being jabbed RIGHT AT YOU!
I once said that Wayne Reynolds was on his way to becoming the Larry Elmore of 3rd edition. With the covers of 4th, it’s now official: Mr. Reynolds is the Jeff Easley of 4th. Already, I have to say, things look promising for 4th edition.
So far, I like it. I don’t *love* it. Ok, I think I may love the cover for the new DMG. But otherwise, it’s ok.
I wish I could get a closer look at some of those covers, especially the PHB. What I think I’m seeing on it is a strong, action movie freeze-frame, posed feel. Everyone is striking a cool pose, lightning is flying, but the attentions of the characters seems divided. The wizard is toasting something outside the frame, while the warrior babe is looking directly at you. There’s a lot of “directly at you” in this preview art. Almost all the portrait pieces had someone holding up a staff, a sword, or a mace towards you, as if to threaten you or show it off. A lot of people are going to look at these and say the look is all about action, but I think they’re really all about looking cool. There’s a strong differentiation between the characters, especially in Wayne Reynolds’ work. In the green dragon piece, the dragon is green, the warrior is blue and silver, the swashbuckler is red and brown, and the wizard is yellow. The dwarf’s palate melts into the orange of the walls, but he still stands out thanks to his crucifix-like pose and being a dwarf. The focus is clearly on the dragon, but everyone stands out here. Where Mr. Elmore’s work was “you are there,” Reynolds in 4th edition is “Who do you want to be?”
And William O’Connor is hitting all the “cool” buttons hard. The warrior here has strong Warhammer vibes with the oversized weapon and oversized pauldrons of overlapping plates and hanging tabs. But he’s got a spiky shield for a touch of 3rd edition. The thief, of course, is a tiefling, which is already fairly cool in most folks' books, but she’s got those crazy flaming daggers, and kick-butt heeled boots. The off-the-shoulder pauldron is a nice touch, both tying her visually to her warrior comrade and being flirtatiously sexy in an untypical way. Feminists will frown as they flip past it, but won’t immediately reach for a box of matches. ;)
And it’s very interesting what you don’t see. Everything is grim, cool people in the heat of action, or about to take action. You don’t see young men chatting up tavern wenches, or playful pranks. This is all about looking serious and looking cool.
The goal, clearly, is getting you, the viewer, excited, and to spur fantasies of the sorts of things your cool character will do while you play the game. The art is realistic enough for you to identify with it, but doesn’t impose any sort of realism on you. This is the “reality” of dreams, where gravity is optional and style is more important than practicality. With 4th edition’s emphasis on quicker play and PC options, it’s probably very fitting.
Thursday, August 16, 2007
A pair of German physicists claim to have broken the speed of light - an achievement that would undermine our entire understanding of space and time.
I'm not an expert in this type of thing, but it looks like they didn't really break the speed of light, but took a short-cut by tunneling through space-time. Which is just as good, honestly, and might avoid a lot of the relativistic issues that come with moving at or near or faster than the speed of light.
So who's for holding the 2012 GenCon on Alpha Centauri Prime?
If this is what I think it is, what most of us think it is, I'm in shock.
Seriously, lots of mind-bogglin' goin' on this week.
From The Miniatures Page:
August 16, 2007 (Renton, WA) – Whether you storm a mad wizard's tower every week or haven't delved into a dungeon since you had a mullet and a mean pair of parachute pants, one thing is certain - millions of D&D players worldwide have anticipated the coming of 4th Edition for many years. Today, Wizards of the Coast confirms that the new edition will launch in May 2008 with the release of the D&D Player's Handbook. A pop culture icon, Dungeons & Dragons is the #1 tabletop roleplaying game in the world, and is revered by legions of gamers of all ages.
The 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons game includes elements familiar to current D&D players, including illustrated rulebooks and pre-painted plastic miniatures. Also releasing next year will be new web-based tools and online community forums through the brand-new Dungeons & Dragons Insider (D&D Insider) digital offering. D&D Insider lowers the barriers of entry for new players while simultaneously offering the depth of play that appeals to veteran players.
The 4th Edition rules emphasize faster game play, offer exciting new character options, and reduce the amount of "prep time" needed to run the game. D&D Insider includes a character creator that lets players design and equip their D&D characters, dungeon- and adventure-building tools for Dungeon Masters, online magazine content, and a digital game table that lets you play 24/7 on the internet — the perfect option for anyone who can't find time to get together.
"We've been gathering player feedback for eight years," said Bill Slavicsek, R&D Director of Roleplaying and Miniatures Games at Wizards of the Coast. "Fourth Edition streamlines parts of the D&D game that are too complex, while enhancing the overall play experience. At its heart, it's still a tabletop game experience. However, D&D Insider makes it easier for players to create characters, run their games, and interact with the rest of the D&D community."
Wizards of the Coast will release two 4th Edition preview books in December and January — Wizards Presents: Classes and Races and Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters. The first live demos of 4th Edition will happen at the D&D Experience gaming convention in
Since its first release in 1974, the fantasy roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons has taken millions of players on imaginary adventures of epic scale. Today, D&D is universally regarded as the original game that created the roleplaying game category, and the inspiration for generations of game designers. D&D is enjoyed by millions of players worldwide, while countless more remember it with fond nostalgia.
EnWorld, of course, has the most up-to-date info. See the first post in this thread here.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Mr. Dancey and Mr. Antunes seem to be almost riffing off the same theme, though their work appears to be independent of one another. So far. Anyone else wondering if Mr. Dancey has a GenCon surprise up his sleeve?
I'm a bit mixed on this latest portion of Mr. Dancey's plan to save the pen-and-paper RPG hobby. On the one hand, it sounds kinda cool: playing in a massive world, where the actions of your party have an effect on the gaming world as a whole. Games Workshop has been having some success generating excitement with similar “campaigns” for their fantasy and sci-fi war games. Mr. Dancey's “Legend of the Five Rings” has also benefited from similar play. Done well, this sort of thing could build into something really exciting.
But I'm seeing conflicts with yesterday's blog. Doesn't a single, persistent world require a unified set of rules? Yes, you could tell all sorts of stories in a single world, and the idea of taking a standard “kill the ogre” adventure and having one group play it as a standard monster hunt while another plays it as a drama full of tragedy and pathos is neat. But how far can those two group diverge and still say they are playing in the same world? How does the second group explain the self-sacrifice of their sorcerer, for instance, when the first group burns through resurrections like toilet paper?
Mr. Dancey's pulled a lot of rabbits out of his hat so far. And so far, I'm cautiously optimistic. But he promises a bit more technical info on how he thinks something like this might be implemented. I look forward to seeing him conjure an alligator.
Also, be sure to check out his “Time Out” piece on how roleplayers appear to segment within the hobby. Old data, but still interesting to consider. I'm pretty sure both I and the Trollwife fall pretty heavily on the Strategic/Story quarter.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
I mentioned in my last post a fun little card game called “Once Upon a Time”. With that game, you get cards that include things like characters, settings, and plot points. When it’s your turn to tell the story, you toss down a card every time you use the thing on that card in your story. The object of the game is to empty your hand.
The stories, however, tend to be fairly simple and madly disjointed things. Characters get abandoned or killed off on a whim as players steal the storytelling spotlight from one another. You don’t really care what happens to the characters except in a very shallow way, because every element of the story is ephemeral.
Nobody enjoys a bad investment, whether it’s financial or emotional. People are much less likely to invest in a character they think is unstable or subject to frequent, bizarre personality changes. This is why changing the writing team on a comic book often results in losing readers (though a good writer will bring new readers to a title). People are also hesitant to invest in characters who are likely to die. You see this in the classic spoof of old style gaming, where Bjorn Redhawk VIII, virtual clone of his seven forbears, joins the adventuring party shortly after the death of his sire, Bjorn Redhawk VII. And the same is true of any aspect of a story, including setting, climaxes, and even plots.
I asked Mr. Dancey about this, and his reply is interesting. If maintaining a cohesive plot is important to you, assign someone the responsibility of maintaining it. The idea isn’t so much the sort of round-robin storytelling that many of the more daring Narrative style RPGs are, but rather a toolbox that you can pull from to create the sorts of stories that are important to you. So if you’re worried about verisimilitude and cohesion of story, you can put someone in charge of maintaining those for the various aspects of the story, and give them the tools from the box that will allow them to do that.
With a modular rule set, you can have all sorts of tools, from rules that maintain cohesion of character (“each character in the story is assigned to one player, and only that player may control that character and his/her/its resources”) to rules that define the setting. The rule set is going to have to be vast, because it can’t take anything for granted, from the focus of the story to the viewpoint or even the goals of the players, beyond the simple desire to create a story.
This sort of gaming requires a very high level of cooperation and trust between the different participants. Say you want a tale full of magic, and you put one player in charge of the rules for magic. You then have to trust that this player will adjudicate those rules fairly and in the best interests of the group and their story. In traditional gaming, most trust the GM to make sure everyone else is playing honestly. Even if they’re not, the amount of damage they can do to everyone else’s fun is mitigated by them only have responsibility for, and control over, their own character. Of course, untrustworthy players will become known and blackballed just like bad GMs are today, so it’s not as great a danger as it might appear at first. Still, it’s something to keep in mind.
Hopefully, Mr. Dancey will have more to share tomorrow.
(Most of this was posted over at Mr. Dancey’s blog in the comments to “Step1: Redefine The Hobby”.)
Ok, I’m still not entirely happy with “storytelling games”, but I think we need to keep in mind that Ryan Dancey hasn’t been called up to defend his right to exist. Roleplaying games have.
Why should people bother with these games? A lot of folks would contend that roleplayers don’t sit down at the table with the idea in their heads that they are about to create a story. That’s true, but the reasons they claim are not well served by pen-and-paper RPGs. You’ll get a lot more social interaction bang for your buck playing poker, Munchkin, or Settlers of Catan. It’s not just the expense of the game books versus a pack of cards or a board game. To learn how to play Settlers, it takes maybe a single half-hour to peruse the thin rule book. Before you can play D&D, the “gateway drug” of RPGs, you must first slog through the PHB, nearly 300 pages long. And you can’t just skim it. You must “approach these books as texts to be scoured and sections memorized like back in school.” Yes, you don’t need all of it at once. You can learn it over time. But you still need to know enough to create a character, and that process alone can easily take an experienced player an hour.
And even then, you’re still not ready to play. Most RPGs, including D&D, require one player to prepare the adventure in advance. If you want to play Settlers, you open the box, set up the board, and start playing. That takes less then five minutes. But with most RPGs, one poor player must spend hours in isolation, crafting the adventure. So no, the promise of social interaction will not bring people into our hobby.
What about the tactical challenge, the joy of digging into the rules and seeing what you can do with them? Like social interaction, that’s certainly there. But computers can do it better. They don’t, not yet, but they will soon, as MMORPG designers grow more bold, and take off the training wheels of “just like D&D, but on the computer”. A computer has no problem at all juggling a dozen different attack types at once, plus a swarm of modifiers. How often does your GM forget to give the gnome his defensive bonus for small stature? Computers never forget. All those dizzying charts and tables of games from the early ‘80s might be daunting to flesh-and-blood players, but a computer can juggle them all with ease, providing a much richer, and deeper, tactical experience.
Now, I’m not saying that people interested in socializing or in tactical play or the complex interactions of rules shouldn’t play pen-and-paper RPGs. Those are absolutely important aspects of the games we love. I’m only saying that there are other games out there that do those things, and many do them better than RPGs. What is it that pen-and-paper RPGs do better than any other sort of game? They create a cooperative and interactive process through which narrative emerges. Board and card games tend to be too simple; you can force narrative upon them, but most of them don’t help much. (Once Upon a Time is, of course, the exception, and it’s fun, but it’s not as good as RPGs in this regard, for various reasons.) Computer games are not interactive enough. If you don’t want to play through the story programmed into the game, you’re out of luck. Only pen-and-paper RPGs give us the flexibility, the interaction, and the forum where we, together, all at once, as a group, can shape our own story. As Nefandus says over at Mr. Dancey’s blog:
A good session of an RPG/storytelling game is often too tempting to last longer than it should, way into the night, past the point of physical comfort. Those people are not playing just for the company. They are enjoying the experience of being lost in a story.
Ryan Dancey thinks he’s got a plan to resurrect the moribund RPG market. And yes, it’s moribund. No doubt about it.
Now, I have no idea where he’s going with this. I have a few guesses, but nothing solid. But I have to say the “storytelling” bit leaves me a bit cold. It may a be a knee-jerk reaction, however. And I’m not sure it’s important. Here’s the gold in them thar hills:
Here are three sustainable, believable, and valuable points of differentiation between tabletop storyteller games and MMORPGs:
1. * A truly persistent environment, where participant actions shape and redefine the game world in lasting and meaningful ways using the power of emergence.
1. * Participant created content which expands the game world, sorted & made accessible through the power of a reputation economy.
1. * The ability to interact with one another in various social network configurations, from very small (2 people) to very large (10,000+ gatherings), from “party” focused adventures to city, national, and world sized population systems.
This is a topic Dan over at Fear the Boot has been discussing for some time. There’s really no point in making RPGs more like MMORPGs. Tabletop RPGs can never out-MMORPG the MMORPGs. Trying to do so is silly. I think Mr. Dancey is absolutely on the right track with this. Pen-and-paper RPGs need to focus on what they do best, and I think he’s nailed it on these three points. I’ll have to think about that some more.
But then he takes a sudden swerve that looks very intriguing:
The successful Storyteller Industry company will be at heart a customer service company. Most of its work product will be related to internet services and community tools, rather than making & printing rule books. We need to rewire the fundamental DNA of the industry from book publishing to internet service & community support.
Whoa! Ok, now we’re talking a major shift in how this industry has worked for a long time. What is he talking about? Gleemax?
Maybe. Ok, as RPGers, we all know exactly what’s wrong with the industry: it’s a bitch to get a game together. When you’re young, have no car, and you and your friends are pretty much hobbled by school and lack of funds, but unburdened by adult responsibilities, it’s easy to blow eight to ten hours playing RPGs in a single session. You also have at least that much time between games to work on new material, to read new books, and learn new rules.
But once you become an adult, it’s nearly impossible to get together even on a bi-weekly basis. It’s even worse if you try to do something only once a month. That schedule won’t survive three sessions. And if you want to play an odd game, which is pretty much anything other than D&D, you’re in real trouble. Where do you find players? How do you get together with them? Even if you’re young, it can be a pain trying to sell your friends on your game de jour. And the best way to learn how to play an RPG is to join a group that already plays it.
And the best way to insure that your RPG survives and has fans who will support you financially is to get people to play the game. So what if players could find a group to play with online? Maybe using headsets and cameras, or chat programs, or other sorts of telecommuting software that businesses have been using for over a decade. What if you could log into the web site of your game-of-choice, and find a weekly/bi-weekly/whatever game to join in on?
What if you could find a game right now that was looking for members? A game that is set to begin as soon the requisite four-to-six players were lined up?
What if you could find a game right now, that was looking for members, and was run by a GM trained in how to play the game by the designers of the game, running an adventure specifically crafted to make the best use of that game’s features?
Is that something you might be willing to pay for?
Is that something an RPG company might be willing to support?
The mind, ladies and gents, freakin’ boggles.
I have no idea if this is where Mr. Dancey is going. I have no idea if enough players can overcome the notion that they are owed good GMing for free to support that sort of thing. I have no idea if any RPG company could find investors willing to take the risk to fund something like that.
But yeah, when I get visions in my head of players across the world logging their characters into a central database, and then using those characters in one-shot pick-up games or more organized campaign play, I can’t help but get excited.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
Anyway, the art’s neat, and only occasionally swerves into being pretentious and too fancy for its own good. There’s a strong computerized feel to much of the animation, but the black-and-white keeps it from feeling like some sort of Pixar-noir. Neater stuff was done to better effect in “Serial Experiments Lain”. But if you’re fascinated or excited by the art you’ve seen so far, you might want to check it out. Don’t bother worrying about the story, however. It’s a horrible mush.
Seriously, the writers were so lazy, or the story so chopped up in editing, that they couldn’t even be bothered to go through the motions of presenting their clichés. We have the tough-guy cop who gets suspended part way through the story, but that doesn’t seem to interfere at all with him using official police resources afterwards. His opposition is the nasty evil medical corporation. We know they’re mean and nasty because… er, well, because they’re a corporation, and we know that corporations are all nasty and evil, right? They do kill some people about halfway through the film, seemingly just as a matter of course. But to show just how despicably and unabashedly evil they really are, it is revealed that their secret plot is research that might lead to human immortality.
Yeah, really. Immortality. No more death, no more disease, no more aging.
No, it doesn’t require that they harvest the spinal fluid of poor children kidnapped from the slums of
Which is evil. Because, you know… Big corporation, with immortality serum they sell at the grocery store. Evil! Right. No more disease, no more death or suffering from old age. Evil! Because, well, because…
“Without death, life has no meaning!”
That’s a quote from the movie. No, I’m serious. And no, they don’t provide any sort of support for that thesis. We’re just supposed to believe it because the doctor who stole his research on immortality and spent his life working in a clinic for the poor says it.
Of course, that didn’t stop him from using his research to save the life of his younger brother.
And, in the end, our “hero” saves the world from immortality by shooting the young researcher who was on the verge of rediscovering the medical breakthrough that would make it possible. In the back. And then he lies about it to her older sister. So he can bang her.
Seriously, unless the art really floats your boat, don’t bother with this one.