Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger, those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers."

Lizard, he of well-deserved Mars and Iron Lords of Jupiter fame, as well as much 4e snark, keeps the good times rollin' with his opinion on the recently revealed angels of 4e:

" worked for Celestia, Goddess Of Light And Puppy Dogs, last month, right?"

"Yes! You'll see she personally wrote 'Excellent performance -- would hire to smite unworthy again' on my report."

"Go ahead. Get peanut butter in the chocolate."

So sayeth Bill Slavicsek, WotC's R&D Director for Roleplaying Games, Miniatures, and Book Publishing. He's talking about campaign settings. It is a widely held notion that one of the things that torpedoed TSR in the '90s was the fracturing of their customer base with the many different campaign settings that TSR put out. Campaign settings are popular and useful. Unfortunately, people who play in the Forgotten Realms are likely to ignore a release for Dark Sun:

You wouldn't believe how many times over the years I've heard people say "I play in [insert favorite campaign setting here] so product X is of no use to me," or "I only play Core D&D (whatever that means) so I can't use that [insert campaign setting here] product." I plan to change that under 4th Edition by getting the word out that it's okay to mix and match. Go ahead. Get peanut butter in the chocolate. Some of the best campaigns I ever ran or had the pleasure to play in had a little bit of [insert campaign setting here] mixed with a smattering of [insert other campaign setting here] and combined all that with homebrew ideas to create something totally new and different.

This is, of course, a very common idea to the grognards. Products like The Original Bottle City and The Original Living Room, while set in Greyhawk, are designed to be easily dropped into any campaign setting. I've discussed before how the lack of identifying information in Keep on the Borderlands makes it very easy to tailor to even non-standard fantasy settings.

This means we won't be producing campaign lines, per se. For the Forgotten Realms, for example, you'll get the Campaign Guide, Player's Guide, and an adventure as physical products, as well as our ongoing line of bestselling novels, and plenty of ongoing support via D&D Insider. If a product idea comes along later that makes sense, we'll do it, but there won't be an ongoing regular release schedule of Forgotten Realms game products. Why not? Because every D&D product we do is a Forgotten Realms [or insert your favorite campaign setting here] game product. This is a subtle but significant change in philosophy geared toward making all players D&D players. It just makes the products and the brand stronger if every player is using the same material.

On the one hand, this makes a lot of sense. On the other, well, WotC is still a book publishing company, and I assume their business model is based on getting out one book per month. Let's do the math: 12 books every year. Two will be a new PHB and Monster Manual every year. Add on the three setting books (a campaigns book, a setting-specific PHB, and an adventure), and that leaves seven more months and seven more books.

If we assume (for no good reason) that only three of those are rule books, that's a heck of a lot of rules products every year. Will you be expected to buy the five or six books that are non-setting, non-adventure to stay current?

I think my wallet just whimpered...

Of course, the yearly PHBs might also be compilations of the previous years rules books, a sort of "Best of" collection. It'll be interesting to see how they decide they want this to work, how it will intersect with D&D Insider, and what sort of pattern they choose to settle into this time around with 4th edition.

Looking Back Through a City in a Bottle

James Maliszewski has posted his promised review of Rob Kuntz's The Original Bottle City. More interesting than the rather extensive review itself is the peek it gives us into the style of play that gave rise to such classic locals. Mr. Kuntz apparently includes lots of parenthetical information on the design and play of the Bottle City, and Mr. Maliszewski takes that as an opportunity to expound on "old school" gaming. For instance:

The same principle applies to the map of the level itself, which includes many, many rooms that are not keyed. This was a common practice back in the day, both to allow the referee flexibility in adding new encounters on the fly and because old school dungeons were "alive," which is to say, they changed between adventures. Far from being static, isolated collections of rooms with monsters that didn't interact with one another or that served no purpose other than to wait for adventurers to enter them, old school dungeons were living, breathing ecologies, albeit fantastical ones. There was in fact a rhyme and reason to their internal workings and the presence of empty rooms helped facilitate them.

This isn't just James blowing rose-colored nostalgia-smoke. In the original DMG (pp. 104-105 to be exact), Gygax makes the same point and provides examples of how monsters (in the case cited, orcs) might react to an attack by PCs:

The orcs might have a warning device (a drum, horn, gong, bell, etc.) aviailabe for use by the guards posted at the entrance to their lair. The larger the number of orcs, the greater the chance that such a device will be on hand. As soon as the attack occurs, one or two orcs will rush to inform the group that they are under attack, assuming that opportunity allows. Response to the attack will be disorganized, wave attacks being likely, with the nearest orcs coming first, and the leaders (most likely to be at the rear of the complex) coming up near the last. Some traps might be set along the complex entry. Resistance will stiffen as the leaders (and ogres, if any) come up. When the party retires, there is a fair chance of pursuit - a general harassment by the boldest fighters amongst the orcs.

Later, when the PCs return after resting, healing, and preparing to take on the orcs once more:

There is not much chance that the chaotic orcs will have sent for reinforcements, although some few losses might have been replaced by returning group members. Any damage or destruction in the cave complex will have been repaired. There is a great likelihood that more guards will be on duty and some warning device ready to alerth the group, as discipline will be attempted because of the attack. Response to the attack will be more immediate and leaders and the spellcasters will be ready to fight. (If the party camped too near the orcs during the intervening week, there is a chance that the orcs might have located and raided the place!)

For a more detailed example, check out the adventure diary of Philotomy DMing B4 - The Lost City.

Jeff Fairbourn

You want old school style fantasy art? Try this. Or this. Or what about this?

The artist is Jeff Fairbourn. He works almost exclusively in black-and-white, loves fantasy themes, and historically and mythologically inspired armour, weapons, and settings.

His Deviant Art gallery is Not Safe For Work. He has a love of fantasy babes in bondage, especially of the scantily-clad variety. Still, if that doesn’t bother you, check out his running story of fantasy adventurers falling into the clutches of tricky gremlins, animated plants, and evil sorcerers.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Call of the Cybersuccubus

Hi Stephanie. Things are going well. Are you too shy to post on the forums? Is it because you're a girl, or because you're an evil bot created solely to tempt me into clicking the strange link in your signature, which no doubt leads to a horrible computer-eating virus?

Of course, I hope I am not offending you if you are an evil bot. We can still be friends...

No, it doesn't really have anything to do with gaming. I just thought it was amusing. ;)

Evil Fight Review

The Evil DM has reviewed Fight On!:

Fight on! Is a brand new fanzine from a group of dedicated gamers who saw a need for a magazine that will try and recapture some of the wonder and adventure that many of us experienced back in the early days of gaming.

As an “Old School” gamer myself, I get it. I see what they are trying to accomplish. Though I’m not sure everyone will. It’s one of those things you have to experience- to live through, in order to understand. Fortunately for the creators of Fight on! They hit the mark with a bull’s-eye.

I haven't received my copy yet, but I think I agree with this statement:

For reasons I don't know, they decided to go through Lulu for publication.
After shipping my total was almost $10.00 and for me that was fine, I feel I got my monies worth and I’m a supporter of these types of efforts. But for the sake of keeping this venture alive I hope they consider a PDF format and a more popular vendor. This effort is worthy of all the exposure it can get and I don’t think Lulu is the best venue for it.

Good job, Evil DM. Now stop flipping through magazines and get back to work! ;D

UPDATE: Looks like everyone got their copy but me! Mr. Murphy at The Silver Key says:

The very first article in Fight On!--"A fanzine for the old-school renaissance"--details a method for quickly and randomly generating colorful details for fleshing out dwarf PCs. It's a fun little article and a pretty good indication of the contents to come, and refreshingly, there's no mechanics or feats to be found.

Brian's is the most in-depth review I think I've seen of the magazine yet, so if you're on the fence about getting it, you should definitely read what he has to say.

Un-Chatty Contest

The Chatty DM is holding a contest:

Here’s the assignment, write an adventure concept (any genre) in exactly 10 words and post it in the comments. Believe me, I sent in two entries to the PA contest and it’s hard to do.

Let’s make this a contest shall we? I’m opening it up for 1 full week starting on Noon EST of April 29th until the same time next week (May 6th). You enter by posting your entry in the comments here.

The best one will get a choice of a D&D mini Dungeon of Dread booster or an equivalent value Gift Certificate from DrivethruRPG.

Pit Fiends and Balrogs

Then and now.

Plot, Story, and RPGs

Kevin Brennan has some interesting things to say about how plot, story, and player choices can intersect in RPGs.

Ripped Calendar

Ripper X over at Advanced Gaming & Theory has posted a long but excellent article about building fantasy calendars:

Calendars make the life of a DM that much easier, and it is a way that we can save our work! You can more accurately control the game, it gives you specifics at a glance for information that you’ve chosen to record. If a magic item can only be used 3 times a week, there is no excuse for you not to keep this rule in check now. You can get as elaborate, or as simple as you want to get with them, as long as you find a system that works for you, and as a bonus, YOU GET SEASONS!!!! Fighting through raging blizzards! Feeling the relief of a long awaited and much needed rain. Celebrating their gods through ancient rites. Knowing when to construct a Sword which honors the God of Justice, in a way that, if he sees fit, he may bless with his divine power.

Again, it's exactly the sort of article we used to see in magazines like Dragon back in the day. (And seriously, Ripper X, next time you put that sort of work into something, you might consider selling it to a magazine like KoDT or somebody. If you're going to work that hard, there's no shame in getting paid for it. ;) )

Ripper X gives a great example of a Viking-influenced calendar based on the motions of the moon. For your edification, here's a solar calendar for a tropical culture. This one was built around a zodiac inspired by the traditional four elements, and incorporates a system of virtues and vices as well as your typical seasonal influences.

The Zodiac used in the world of Mitihum was created by the Kesh. All others have adopted it from them, and it spread throughout the world. It is very popular among sorcerers who consider children born under EAGLE to be especially blessed.

Earth1 – TURTLE: Foundation, stable/calcified; opposite is Fire2

Earth2 – CAT: Earth Mother, fruitful/capricious; opposite is Air2

Earth3 – ELEPHANT: Wealth, productive/avaricious or hoarding; opposite is Water1

Water1 – PELICAN: Rain, nourishing/drowning; opposite is Earth3

Water2 – VEIL: Ocean/Keeper of Hidden Wisdom, intuitive/irrational; opposite is Air1

Water3 – SERPENT: River/Maker of Ways, directed motion/obsession; opposite is Fire3

Fire1 – DRAGON: Scourge, purifier/destroyer; Opposite is Air3

Fire2 – RAVEN: Liberator, freedom/anarchy; opposite is Earth1

Fire3 – CROWN OF WONDERS: Halo/Crown of Wonders, imagination/distraction; opposite is Water3

Air1 – EAGLE: Reason, clarity/detachment; Opposite is Water2

Air2 – CRYSTAL TOWER, shielding/confining; opposite is Earth2

Air3 – JEWELED NECKLACE: Mercy, healing/indulgent; opposite is Fire1

Ok, so now we need to arrange these into months and seasons. First, what is the weather like? Since we’re talking about the tropics, bitter winters really don’t figure much into it. In fact, this should look more like the Indian monsoon, with winter winds from the north being cool and dry, while summer winds blow up from the sea and are very wet. Ok, so let’s map this out:

Spring Equinox – Beginning of new year.

Spring First: Jeweled Necklace – rainy, cool. 29 days.

Spring Second: Cat – flowers and fruits after previous rains. 32 days.

Third Spring: Pelican – if the rains are mild, this is a very fruitful time. However, excessive rains can cause mudslides, flooding, and other destruction. 29 days.

Summer Solstice

Summer First: Elephant – time for fruit harvests, shipping to the mainland. 32 days.

Summer Second: Serpent – traditionally a time when the young are inducted into adult society, also a popular time for weddings. 29 days.

Summer Third: Raven – The heat of summer is wearing on, fruit and stores must be eaten now or prepared for long storage, festivals end the month, followed by a period of fasting. 36 days.

Autumn Equinox – winds shift

Autumn First: Dragon – Shifting weather patterns causes chaos at sea, wild storms. Also the beginning of the raiding season, and a period of fasting and introspection, cleaning and repairing. 29 days.

Autumn Second: Eagle – A time of intellectual endeavor and learning. Much shipping from the mainland, including grains and cattle. 32 days.

Autumn Third: Veil – As nights grow longer, traditional period of plays, storytelling, politics and assassination, and other secrets. 29 days.

Winter Solstice

Winter First: Turtle – The sun begins to return. Tools are repaired, fields are cleared in preparation for planting. 32 days.

Winter Second: Crystal Tower: Planting season. 29 days.

Winter Third: Crown of Wonders: Preparation for the oncoming monsoons, repair of homes, shoring up waterways and bridges. 32 days.

A normal year has 370 days in it. Every three years, Raven loses one of its days to keep the equinoxes and solstices from drifting out of their proper months.

Trolls' Quest - Ringin' Your Skill Bells

I’ve mentioned before that I’m working on a fantasy RPG. That project kinda went into hibernation while I toyed around with True20. I still like that game a lot, but Trollwife has declared certain elements of it not to her liking. And if Trollwife ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

So, back to the drawing-board for us. I’m sussing out the details of a basic mechanic I’m rather proud of. I’m assuming a classless system with skills. (I’m going classless because most of our gaming is one-on-one, so niche-protection isn’t an issue.)

When you want to use a skill, and the outcome is uncertain, you roll against a table that looks something like this:

Now, if you’re an utter neophyte, with no real training to speak of, you roll a d20 on this table and hope you get lucky. If you’ve had some training (maybe at the level of an apprentice, for instance) you roll 2d10. Those with more skill (journeyman-level, to continue with our analogy) get to roll 3d6. Finally, those who have mastered this skill roll 4d4.

Thanks to the wonders of the bell curve, the more dice you roll, the more likely your results are to cluster at the middle of the table. Thus, the more skilled you are, the more dependable your results will be.

Of course, if that were the end of the story, as you can see, a master craftsman could never fail. And, generally speaking, that’s fine with me. A master at his craft shouldn’t fail under normal circumstances. Unusual circumstances, however, are another matter.

Adverse circumstances force you to work at less than your peak ability. Working with difficult or unusual materials, for instance, might lower your skill ranking by 1. Working without the proper tools might reduce it by 2. Trying to work based on instructions written in a language you don’t understand to recreate a device you’ve never seen before might reduce your skill ranking by 5 or more, and these reductions would be cumulative!

However, you can get help, as well. Each additional helper might add their skill ranking to yours. Exceptionally high-quality tools or materials might increase your ranking by 1 or 2. So your circumstances might move your ranking for any particular task up or down. It can never lower it below rolling a d20, or above rolling 4d4 (though 5d3 is a possibility).

So that’s what I’m playing with so far. Next time I discuss this, it’ll be to mention stats and maybe character creation and advancement.

Monte Cook vs. the Conventional Wisdom

Mr. Cook just can't get out of RPGs. But then, why should he? Even after announcing that he's getting out of professional work in the hobby, and the imminent release of D&D 4.0, his unofficial 3.75 "Book of Experimental Might" is doing very well:

I can tell you that Book of Experimental Might is not only our top seller for this year so far, but it is one of our best sellers ever as far as pdfs go, in regard to its first week or month of sales. Which is particularly gratifying because it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, which tells us that it's a terrible idea to release a 3rd edition related rules supplement just months before 4th edition comes out. And I LOOOOVE to go against conventional wisdom. Particularly in the cynical, overly-conservative game industry.

He also has news of Ptolus, another product deemed doomed from the get-go by the Conventional Wisdom.

But enough about Mr. Cook. What about you? What about your gem of DMing wisdom you're polishing up to unleash up on the unsuspecting hobby? Monte has something to say about that as well:

But what I'm surprised by the most is how many people out there who are putting up pdf products for sale that feel like the result of some late-night conversation along the lines of "here's a topic no one's done a sourcebook about..." It's as if people are trying to guess what customers want and what hasn't been done before and fill that need. I realize that might be what conventional wisdom says you should do, but I don't think that's what's going to sell pdfs. Just because there hasn't been a whole sourcebook about sand doesn't mean we need a book of sand-related prestige classes, feats, and monsters. That kind of thinking fuels larger publishers, but I think a micro-publisher's got to approach things differently. Don't think like a publisher. Think like a DM.

I have to agree. There are a few things I'd like to have every now and then, but my favorite purchases have always been adventures. No, let me correct myself. My favorite purchases have always been modules, setting and theme-vague bits of adventure I can steal from or drop wholesale into the middle of my campaign. That was, after all, the original genius of Dungeon Magazine, a regular collection of full-fledged adventures and adventure bits you could peruse and plunder at need. I get more good for my games from old copies of National Geographic than most of the sourcebooks put out these days, which probably explains why I'm more likely to buy old fantasy novels or books on mythology at the used book store than I am a new supplement, splatbook, or hardback.

But then, I'm weird. I have all the rules and crunch I need. What I'm really looking for are touchstones to spark my imagination and give me ideas for cool things I can throw at my PCs, new quirks I can give to the culture of my swamp orcs or a bit of atmosphere for the crypt of the Sun Kings of Pha. And that sort of thing is hard to bottle.

Monday, April 28, 2008

How Much for that Chain Mail in the Window?

Jeff Rients has too much time on his hands. He's sat down and figured out how much Moldvay Basic's "iconic warrior" Morgan Ironwolf's equipment would cost in differing editions of D&D. It's an interesting read, but things really start popping in the comments section. Also be sure to follow the link to Delta's "stone" system for encumbrance.

The net is full of these neat little improvements, simplifications and sub-systems. Finding them is a fun treasure hunt.

How Gary Rolled

Old Geezer has once again been holding forth with the Gygaxian lore at

Gary ran a weekly game. His total player pool was about 12 to 15.

Usually, only about 2 to 5 of us could make it any given game day.

So, everybody acquired henchmen to "fill out the group" if somebody wasn't going to be there.

And it didn't take long for players to start arranging other times and playing alone or with henchmen.

Heck, it even reached the point where from time to time we'd just play our henchmen to level them up.

And yes, the original D&D assumed an endgame where you would build your stronghold, acquire vassals and tenants, and become A Major Player In The World's Politics.

That endgame seems to have virtually disappeared.

And in his next post on odd armour types in AD&D:

I don't remember if Gary CITED Ffoulkes or not, but he DEFINITELY used Ffoulkes... I know this for a fact; I perused his copy.

And Ffoulkes, as T. Foster has hinted, is the bloke responsible for the whole "chain mail" "splint mail" "ring mail" "banded mail" bullshit. It has nothing to do with Lorcia Segmentatae.

Basically, Ffoulkes decided that each different representation of mail in medieval illustrations represented a DISTINCTLY DIFFERENT TYPE OF ARMOR. Some of his analysis of the Bayeaux Tapestry is downright laughable.

For a more complete discussion, see Claude Blair's "European Armor" circa 1957 or so, I believe. This is the book I lent Dave Sutherland for Dave's illustrations, including "A Paladin in Hell". I love that because the paladin is wearing almost 100% accurate armor...

Broadsword Musings

The Chatty DM keeps his promise to his Evil brother and reviews Broadsword:

First, I’m not the target audience for that game. I don’t usually play a pick-up RPG game. On casual evenings, I’ll usually reach for a board game or play console games with my buddies.

However, for a simple game that can be learned in 5 minutes (15 if you create characters) and whose GM can whip an adventure almost instantly, it truly delivers on its promise.

I had a lot of the same reaction, and Mr. Ménard has delved deeper into the rules than I have, so if you want the real scoop on this game, check out his review. I could see real possibilities for a game like this for whipping out a quick few hours of monster-mashing, thew-flexing, sword-swinging fun, something along the lines of the classic Kobolds Ate My Baby.

Crom Count the Dead!

Tankards & Broadswords mourns the passing of Korgoth.

The cartoon is delightfully "off" in the manner of most of Cartoon Network's adult stuff, but still fun if you can appreciate/get past the gross-out humor. Luckily, YouTube has preserved the glory that is Korgoth for posterity.

More Hearsay on the GSL

But what the heck, rumormonging is fun, right?

David Kenzer of Kenzer & Co. has this juicy rumor to share:

I heard that the reason it was delayed was that the new CEO came in and said "You're doing WHAT??" And he's basically rescinded all their "open source" ideas. It's been a battle back and forth and the ;lawyers don't have any firm direction. So there may not be a 4e OGL after all.

In short, James Maliszewski should hold off on that order of crow just yet. He may still be proven prescient.

GSL Update

Though, really, it's not so much an update as a clarification.

The good folks at VelvetDiceBag have a very clean and easy-to-understand post about the latest that is both known and suspected about the GSL for 4th edition D&D. Check it out for the true and lively word. Or, at least, as close as we can get to it at this point, before WotC changes their minds again. ;)

And Yet More Art from WotC

WotC has posted a Card Preview Archive for the new Shadowmoor expansion of their Magic card game. The art is, of course, lovely and inspirational. I'd love to get closer looks at a lot of these, especially the ones by Christopher Moeller, Larry MacDougall, and Rebecca Guay.

Amareth Kithkin was one of my favorite cards from the earlier editions of the game, so it's rather cool to see the Kithkin fleshed out in this new set, even if they look a bit creepy with their big, glowey eyes. Honestly, they look a bit like Podlings after the Skeksis have drained their life energy.

(Via Velvet Dicebag.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

4rt From the PHB

Some sneaky person at the GAMA trade show snapped a few shots of the PHB, and the pics are up at EN World:

Pic 1

Pic 2

Pic 3

I'm hesitant to say much about the art, since the shots have a lot of glare and such in them, though it is interesting how many lightsabers we see being used. ;)

The middle one has the most legible text, and we can see that rangers are "strikers" by role who "concentrate on either ranged attacks or two weapon melee fighting to deal a lot of damage to one enemy at a time." We knew that was coming, but I still expect the 4e-is-a-MMOG-clone crowd to foam at the mouth over that.

We can also see that armour proficiencies are much more specific. It's not light, medium, and heavy, but now lists specific types of armour: cloth, leather, hide. Hit points are also fixed now; instead of rolling for them, you get a flat 12 plus your Constitution score at first level, and 5 more every level after that.

The classes are clearly more heavily defined now than they were under 3rd edition. I'm very curious to see what people do with them when they actually get to use them in play.

del Toro Hates Heroic Fantasy?!?

Er, say what?!?

The other Brian Murphy over at The Silver Key has a link to an old Salon article in which del Toro out-and-out expresses his distaste for "little guys and dragons, hairy feet, hobbits -- I've never been into that at all. I don't like sword and sorcery, I hate all that stuff."

Uh-huh, sure. Sorry, but I ain't buyin' it. The guy who made "Hellboy" doesn't like heroic fantasy? The guy who gave us the insect-fairies and eldritch satyrs of "Pan's Labyrinth" doesn't like "little guys and dragons"?

And if I'm to believe that del Toro doesn't like sword-and-sorcery, what the heck is Elric doing in this trailer for "Hellboy 2"?

By the way, Brian, when are you starting this "Temple of Elemental Evil" campaign of yours? ;)

Greywulf Makes the Case for 3rd Edition

Today must be contrarian day in the Troll Cave...

Over on his blog, Greywulf makes the case for 3rd edition:

The thing is, did 3rd Edition need changing that much? Sure there were areas with cracks and problems, but IMHO there weren’t all than many, not compared to the sheer amount of material produced for the game. Most gamer groups I know have put in hundreds (if not thousands) of hours playing it, and the majority of those have perhaps a handful of house rules which “fix” the game in their eyes.

Here’s my list of what needed fixing in 3rd Edition. I’m pretty sure you’ll have a different list, and will disagree with some of my choices; the point is that it’s a very short list, compared to the sheer volume of work for D&D. I’ve bandied about that 2% of 3rd Edition was broken, and 98% of it works just fine - this is the 2%. The other 98% is the rest of the core and all of the supplements. That’s a lot of spells, feats, monsters and classes that didn’t need nerfing at all.

He then goes on to list six areas he thinks 3rd edition needs some tightening up. I'd add in the high-level economy issues as well, but honestly, number 4 was a deal-breaker for me, so I'll have to defer to his greater experience with the system.

Also be sure to peruse his art while you're there.

Death by Clockwork

I can be accused of being something of a Paizo fanboy, mostly because they understand layout better than just about anybody in the RPG business and exercise top-notch customer service. However, not being much of a fan of 3.x D&D, I haven't actually played any of their adventures as written.

Graham over at has, and while he seems mostly happy with things, he's got some serious issues with the second book of the "Rise of the Runelords" series:

Lessons learned:

  • Book 1 (Burnt Offerings) spoiled me. It was a very well-made adventure, with only one major problem (the Quasit’s AC). Similarly, the first half of Book 2 was pretty good, aside from the ghouls/scarecrows that were boring and repetitive. But once we hit Magnimar, well, it’s like they were padding for word count.
  • On a similar note, I need to make sure I check stats before running the games. ACs in particular seem to be an issue for the Pathfinder folks, as evidenced by the Lamia Matriarch and the Quasit.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rise of the Rules Lawyer?

Randall of Retro-Roleplaying thinks he's finally nailed down what bothers him about later editions of D&D:

"The players reacted more by thinking 'What's the logical thing for an adventurer to do?' rather than 'What's the logical thing to do according to the rules?'" I think this sums up my deepest problem with the WOTC editions of D&D. These editions encourage and reward being a "rules lawyer" -- a type of player that most of us who started playing long ago abhor even more than power-gaming munchkins.

We've been seeing this a lot lately, but I think there's some truth to it. However, I'm not ready to crucify WotC yet as a bunch of evil book-pushers. Until recently, I also believed more rules was the way to go. I thought having rules for social status and skills and "social combat" and all of that was the way to go. It's only recently that I've begun to question that conventional wisdom.

That said, WotC has gotten themselves into the business of selling big, heavy, hard-backed tomes chock full of crunch and art. Their customers expect D&D to be comprised of multiple 300 page books, and will likely feel cheated if they don't get that, even if the price to get into the game is slashed drastically. The fact that the game Randall and I want to play can probably be sussed out in a single 128 page book won't make it tempting as a new model for WotC's flagship RPG.

UPDATE: And here's another variation on this same theme from Delta's D&D Hotspot:

(4) Ignoring the thief's "Remove Traps" ability. This was an unexpected thing that occurred spontaneously -- there's almost no reason to use a "Remove Traps" die roll. When you're dealing with the environment very concretely, it becomes obvious whether a found trap can be bypassed or not. Poisoned button? Tap it with a sword or pole. Pit trap? Hold it shut with a driven spike. Collapsing ceiling? No way to hold it up -- maybe just trigger it from afar with a rope. That was all very satisfying. It avoids eye-rolling arguments I've seen in the past about "I missed my roll but I can't just smash the poison lock off with a mace?" and stuff like that.

(Just as an aside, in my games, we let you smash off the lock with a mace, though that would 1) set off any other trap on the chest and 2) possibly damage the goodies inside the chest, like potions or other breakables.)

Changing the Changing Aesthetics of D&D

With the launch of D&D's 4th edition just around the corner, I can't assume that everyone's had a chance to paw through the 3rd edition core books. I've gone through my old "The Changing Aesthetics of D&D" post, updated some of the links, and linked to more of the art, especially the 3rd edition art I mention.

Embracing Unfairness

Mr. Maliszewski has recently waxed eloquent over at his Gorgnardia blog on the joys of dice. We’ve seen a lot of this sort of thing recently, including Dr. Rotwang bouncing with glee over the cool things conjured by dice and tables for his one-on-one games with his wife and not-quite-roleplaying games like “How to Host a Dungeon”. They won’t get any argument from me on the joys of dice, tables, and random fun.

(The ultimate expression of this is probably the Mythic RPG, a great little game that can be used to build rules, a setting, and adventures, without even a GM, out of dice rolls and questions. Definitely worth checking out if you enjoy casting your fate to the dice.)

But hand-in-hand with the joys of random dice come some perils. Once you embrace the chaos, you have to toss most notions of fairness right out the window. Random stats, save-or-die, wandering monsters that are far above the combat abilities of the PCs, dungeons in which your character’s special schtick is never allowed to take center stage. All of these things are possible, and many are probable. Heck, even the improbable can be an issue. I remember sitting there and watching my younger brother roll five 18s in a row with straight 3d6 for stats. The final roll was a 12. You think that character shined a bit more than others?

And that doesn’t take into account that he played an elf.

A lot of ink was spilled back in the day, including by Gygax himself, about the importance of “balance” in the game, but honestly, most of it was a crock of poop. Yeah, I know, that sounds kinda harsh, but seriously, there were reasons why most parties before 3rd edition were a bunch of elves and maybe a token human. Elves in 1st edition AD&D had infravision, +1 to hit and damage with longbows and long swords (arguably two of the best weapons in the game), 90% resistance to charm spells, immunity to ghoul paralyzation, and the ability to multi-class. Thousand-year lifespans meant they could enjoy the benefits of nearly countless Haste spells without fear of premature aging. And all of this at 1st level.

And the cost for all these wonderful benefits? They were limited in what classes they could take, and the highest level they could advance in those classes. Which, when you got down to it, really were not limitations at all. First, if you didn’t want to play a class that wasn’t allowed to your preferred race, it really wasn’t any sort of restriction at all. Second, the lowest level-limit from race was, I think, 9th. Since very few campaigns lasted past 10th level, that wasn’t much of a threat either. The “sweet spot” of 1st edition AD&D was generally considered to be between 4th and 9th level. So maybe your elf or dwarf of halfling missed out on going up a level or two, but little more than that, which hardly balanced out all the bonus goodies they got. Even worse, in tournament play, where you’d expect issues of balance to be the most important, all of these drawbacks vanished. You were unlikely to go up more than a level or two, and you played with pre-generated characters. There was no reason not to snatch up that elf character if you had the chance, and the dwarf or gnome was still likely to be more useful (and give you more opportunities for points) than the poor human schlub.

D&D, especially as it grew to include thieves and rangers and stat bonuses and more races, left any semblance of “fairness” in the dust. There were “optimal builds” even back in the Moldvay/Cook days, though it was far less important than with D&D 3.5. In truth, the randomness of the game worked to smooth out those rough spots a bit, throwing an awful lot of the game to chance.

Now I’m not saying the games sucked. Far from it. I had a hell of a lot of fun running my brother’s elf through dungeons and later claiming a bit of wilderness for elven civilization. As Mr. Maliszewski made clear in the above-linked post, a lot of the fun depended heavily on the DM and players. We played around the unfairness, and some players took it as a challenge to work with sub-optimal characters, inspired by characters like Elric and Raistlin who clearly had a few low stats among their rolls. But whether we admitted it or not, we know that D&D in all of its incarnations was nothing like a finely tuned and perfectly balanced engine-o’-fun. You had to bring a lot of the fun yourself, and houserule the game to handle the issues you and your group thought were important. Maybe that explains the strong do-it-yourself ethos of those who started playing back then?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Cute and Cudly Damage and Protective Centaur Mommies

And, of course, strange crossbreeds can only mean that Fredrik K.T. Andersson has updated his Elfwood gallery again. This is the second update, actually, since I've mentioned him. I'm not terribly crazy about some of his color work, but he's clearly experimenting with different techniques, and I look forward to seeing how things shake out for his style.

In other Euro-art news, Håkan Ackegård has discovered Second Life and I'm not sure at all what to think about that. The results are, of course, not safe for work. Be sure to look at the new stuff in his tamer galleries as well, though, again, I'd not view them at work or in mixed company.

UPDATE: Oops! And I missed page 52 of Outsider being posted as well. Bad Trollsmyth!

While you're there, be sure to check out this wallpaper version of the amazing bridge scene in the page's final panel.

Shadows of Sanctuary

I've posted a sort of mini-review of the third Thieves World collection in the Fear the Boot Forums.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Being Descriptive

Ripper X of "Advanced Gaming & Theory" has a nice, long article on evocative descriptions in RPGs. It's the sort of thing that used to show up every two or three years in Dragon magazine, and while most of it will be old hat to many of you, it's always nice to have a refresher on using all five senses when describing what the PCs are experiencing. (Via Musings of the Chatty DM.)

Modern-day Sorcery

What does "magic" and sorcery look like in the Real World(tm)? I imagine its always looked something like this (link not safe for work).

Maybe frequent lynchings are why wizards don't rule the world?

Fight On! #1 Review

It's more a run-down of the table-of-contents, but James Maliszewski has posted a review of the inaugural issue of the OD&D gaming magazine, "Fight On!". It's chock-full of familiar names to RPG blogging and commenting: in addition to Mr. Maliszewski, there's Jeff Rients, Calithena, and Andrew Reyes.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

GSL vs. the Genie

I suspected that WotC wanted to stuff the OGL genie back in the bottle, but I didn't think they were this desperate. It appears that the new GSL for 4th edition D&D comes with a clause that prohibits companies who are using the GSL from also using the OGL in any product they currently sell. If that's correct, and I'm not entirely certain it is, it would mean Paizo would have to completely abandon the Pathfinder RPG if they ever want to publish 4th edition products. It would mean Green Ronin must completely shut down Mutants & Masterminds and True20 if they ever want to publish a 4e version of Freeport.

This, I imagine, is gonna fly like a lead brick. It means companies already invested in 3rd edition will adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward 4th edition. You might see third-party support for 4th edition by Christmas '08, but unless WotC can't keep the game on the shelves, you probably won't see much of anything before GenCon '09.

Let me rephrase that: you won't see much from established companies with a track-record. New companies might sprout like dandelions. WotC had better hope so, anyway, because there's no way Paizo or Green Ronin are going to support 4e now. Nor is support likely from Wolfgang Bauer's Open Design project or Kobold Quarterly. There's a chance it means no support from Nicolas Logue's Sinister Adventures, though admittedly they don't have as much invested in 3e and might be willing to just abandon it if 4e looks strong.

But 4e has got to look strong. Otherwise, they'll have a ton of amateur content rolling in, but nothing from the designers who gave so much support for 3rd edition. If 4e stumbles, there won't be support from outside companies to help buoy it up. In fact, we're likely to once again see a glut of bad material from third-party publishers since most of the talent is so heavily invested in 3rd edition at this time.

I honestly can't understand the thinking here. If they were worried about competition against 4e from third party publishers, well, now they've guaranteed it. This will only entrench companies like Paizo and Green Ronin in their OGL products. It will make shifting over to 4e much harder for Mongoose, Wolfgang Bauer, and Sinister Adventures. If they'd invited everyone to straddle the fence, they might have seen some support for 4e at launch. Now, these companies will be invested in competing product, and will have even less incentive to convert their products and their customers over to 4th edition. It just boggles my mind.

UPDATE: Here's the post from Clark Peterson of Necromancer Games that seems to clarify the issue. Note, however, that even Mr. Peterson hasn't seen the GSL, and isn't entirely certain he's got the true and lively word. I predict a long weekend of teeth-gnashing and garment-rending.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Nicolas "Sinister Adventures" Logue weighs in:

I know I'm just a new kid on the block, and don't count for much just yet, but this provision definitely saddens me as a publisher.

I developed Sinister Adventures to put all the BS of edition in the back seat and offer quality adventures for ALL systems (3.5, True 20, C&C, Pathfinder RPG, and yes...4E). Now I find that if I want to support one of these, I can't support the others. It definitely means I won't be supporting 4E in the near future as a lot of my customers have expressed how happy they are about the multi-system approach I'm using. Bummer...I dig on a lot of what 4E offers, and I won't be able to bring it to my adventures under the All or Nothing Ultimatum GSL.


P.S. It should be expressed: I'm not pissed at Wizards, just bummed about this. Hopefully I'll get to freelance for them again sometime soon now that the GSL is figured out.

WHAT, NO PRAMAS UPDATE? Don't be silly; of course there's a Pramas update! Unfortunately, he can neither confirm nor deny, and is hoping to find out if this is or isn't correct soon. However, since it's Saturday, it's likely nobody will hear anything definitive before Monday.


Ladies and Gents,

I am not going to say anything else until I have the final license in my hot little hands.

I am reading the thread, absorbing all the opinions, rants, speculations, thoughts, and musings. I have chimed in on a couple posts but beyond that, sitting here on Saturday morning, with out the license in front of me, I am quickly skating into the realm of speculation and I don't not want to unnecessarily add gas to the fire that may or may not be there. Until I see the final language in the licenses I am going avoid claiming that the language will say x or y...

I am at GAMA next week. On Thursday I am back in the office and on Friday I hope to have the license in my hand. Many of us will spend a week or so combing over it, again and again, making sure we are totally happy with it, only then will we send it out to folks like Clark, Chris, Erik, Russ, and the other publishers we are talking with.

So nothing appears to be quite final yet, though they think they're in their final review of the license. More news to come, but probably not until the week following next. Let the mad speculatin' commence! ;)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

WotC Talks GSL

At long last, some details finally emerge:

Wizards of the Coast is pleased to announce that third-party publishers will be allowed to publish products compatible with the Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition game system under the new Dungeons & Dragons 4E Game System License (D&D 4E GSL). This royalty-free license will replace the former d20 System Trademark License (STL), and will have a System Reference Document (SRD) available for referencing permissible content.

The D&D 4E GSL will allow third-party publishers to create roleplaying game products in fantasy settings with the D&D 4th Edition rules, and publishers who register with WotC will be granted the right to use a version of the D&D logo that denotes the product as compatible with the D&D 4th Edition Roleplaying Game, in accordance with WotC’s terms and conditions. The effective start date for sales of D&D 4E GSL publications will be October 1, 2008.

The license associated SRD will be available on June 6, 2008, at no cost. A small group of publishers received advanced notice and will receive these documents prior to June 6, at no cost, in order to prepare for publication of compatible materials by the effective start date. If you haven’t already been contacted by WotC, you will be able to access the documents on the Wizards website beginning on June 6, 2008.

Wizards is also working on the details of a second royalty-free license, the d20 Game System License (d20 GSL). This license will allow third-party publishers to create roleplaying game products in non-fantasy settings with the 4E rules. The exact details for the d20 GSL will be released as they become available.

So what have we got here? First, the $5,000 dollar fee for early adopters is gone, probably because a lot of the time that money was supposed to buy you has vanished. It also looks like it's very easy to slap an honest-to-God D&D logo on your book if it's a fantasy game supplement. No details yet on just what, exactly, the rules on that will be, but I'd be surprised if there's not some sort of "decency" requirements that make something like "The Book of Erotic Fantasy" unlikely.

It'll be interesting to see how WotC defines "fantasy". Certainly, Blue Rose and Conan are too fantasy to allow under the new license. But what about True20? Or Shadowrun? Wrangling over whether or not Testament is fantasy isn't likely, but the arguments would be fun to read.

It'll be interesting to see how much this changes things. This looks like a fairly flexible license so far, though we don't have all the details yet. Still, it'll be interesting to see if any of the publishers who'd been planning to stick with the OGL swing over to 4e now that this is in place.

Maliszewski is skeptical:
So, basically, lots of people are getting excited about ... nothing. We must remember that WotC has already said that GSL will be released "soon" on several occasions, stretching all the way back to last Fall. Each time they failed to deliver anything and each time they returned to the scene they said something different than what they had said previously.

ANOTHER UPDATE: EN World reports that they were among those who received the mentioned email from WotC that reported this earlier. The email includes a Q&A, however, since they are bound by NDA, they are not able to publish it at this time.

Outsider Gets Page 51!

After a long hiatus, the Outsider webcomic is back with page 51. The last panel promises something gorgeous for page 52.

Is You is, or is You ain’t, my 4e Baby?

If you go here, you’ll find info on devils in 4th edition D&D. As the succubus is not exactly known for her loyalty, it’s hardly a surprise that she’s gone over to the other side, having abandoned the demons and joined Hell’s Team. Actually, the 4e designers have said they wanted to clean up the devil/demon divide. They’ve opted to make demons more bestial destroyers and berserkers. The devils are the more human, suave seducers and beguilers. That being the case, making the succubus a devil is a no-brainer.

So far, I’ve got no problems with that. I’m not sure it was necessary, but cleaning up the devil/demon divide is a nice thing, since before there was no real theme to either bunch, and by looks alone it was impossible to tell who was on which side.

However, I’m having a bit of an issue with her powers. The 4e designers have stated that they wanted to get rid of things like level drain, which, admittedly, could be real book-keeping hassles. Since a level-draining kiss used to be the succubus’ “big gun” ability, that meant it needed to be redesigned. Here’s how it works now:

(m) Charming Kiss (standard; at-will) * Charm
+14 vs. AC; on a hit, the succubus makes a secondary attack against the same target.
Secondary Attack: +12 vs. Will; the target cannot attack the succubus, and if the target is adjacent to the succubus when the succubus is targeted by a melee or a ranged attack, the target interposes itself and becomes the target of the attack instead. The effects last until the succubus or one of its allies attacks the target or until the succubus dies.

If the target is still under the effect of this power at the end of the encounter, the succubus can sustain the effect indefinitely by kissing the target once per day. The succubus can affect only one target at a time with its charming kiss.

Ok, looks pretty straightforward, right? If you get whammied by a succubus’ kiss, you try to “catch” any swords or arrows that are flying in her direction with your face. Pretty cool power. But what else does it do?

Well, that’s the end of the description. And just from that, it appears that’s all the power does. The victim can’t attack the succubus, and will interpose himself against any attacks sent her way. But what about the long-term effects? Is the victim charmed? Or does the victim just find himself unable to let harm be done to her? If he hears about someone else planning to attack her, must he do something to stop it? What if she wants him to take up a life of crime? Or steal from his former comrades? Or sacrifice his children?

Doesn’t say. The description of the succubus herself hints, but doesn’t offer much more in the way of details:

When exposed for what it is, a succubus can be a deadly foe. It can manipulate the emotions of mortal adversaries, turning them against each other or making them slavishly loyal to it with a mere kiss.

Ok, that implies that free will goes out the window and the victim must do whatever the succubus commands. But here we’re looking at what wargamers call “fluff” or “flavor text”. This is the background, the context of the creature, and it may or may not be supported by the rules. A unit in a wargame like Warhammer 40,000 might be described as the best a planet has to offer, and made up of “battle-tested” veterans, but if it has a poor leadership score, the unit will break and flee when pushed, no matter what the flavor text says.

The problem is, we’ve got a description that’s geared almost utterly to combat encounters. We don’t know what, if anything, beyond a dispelling of the magic might free a character who has found himself ensnared by a succubus. There might be rules listed elsewhere that cover this sort of thing, under the description of charming magics perhaps, but they’re not here, and no page number is given as reference.

In 1st edition AD&D, the succubus’ powers were identical to the charm and suggestion spells. The spell descriptions made it clear to player and DM just what sort of action might give a character another chance to try to shake the succubus’ control. The descriptions also gave you an opportunity to differentiate your character; an unscrupulous character might have no chance to resist when a succubus tells him to steal something, while a law-abiding and virtuous character would get another saving throw, possibly with a bonus.

(This, by the way, was one of the ways we differentiated two characters of the same class. Some characters would rush into a burning building to save a trapped kitten. Others would take advantage of the distraction to burgle from nearby houses. And, as you can see from what I wrote above about the charm spell, how you played your character did, in fact, make a mechanical difference.)

Now, I’ll admit, I could be making a mountain out of a molehill here. Maybe there are rules somewhere else that explain how to handle PCs that have fallen under a succubus’ control. It’s entirely possible that some elegant solution is described, maybe in the Dungeon Masters Guide, for example, that allows for everyone to enjoy the game even when a few of the PCs are now working for the enemy. I dunno. But what I do see is a tad more vague than I’d like, and not very new-player friendly. It’s already started a bit of an argument over at about what, exactly the rules mean and how they should be used. Hopefully, these sorts of issues will be covered. This is the sort of thing that could really ruin a game, especially for novice players who might not yet have the right instincts regarding how to balance the needs of the players who require both a real challenge and the ability to make choices in order to have fun. Frankly, issues like this tie the brains of us old grognards into knots, sometimes.

Being vague can be a blessing, and having lots of room to play around and tailor things to the style you and your group prefer is a good thing. But one of the benefits of playing with rules should be a decrease in the number of “I-shot-you-nuh-uh-you-missed” arguments. Anytime you take control of a character away from the player, you have to tread carefully. If everyone knows what to expect, and knows what is, and isn’t, allowed on both sides of the DM’s screen, there’s much less chance of arguments and hurt feelings. Such situations are prefect places for more robust, firm rules that everyone can use to keep the game moving smoothly.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Space: 1899

This is cute, though it's disturbing how well it works:

Via Rebels of Mars. Go for the latest on bringing Barsoom to the silver screen. Stay for the Space Babes.

Read a Book! Or Maybe a Magazine.

As folks grow weary of the incessant 4th edition discussions, is beginning to spawn all sorts of neat new threads. In addition to the previously mentioned one reading through every print copy of Dragon Magazine, there's a new one doing the same thing for Dungeon, and even one for White Dwarf! (Brian "The Silver Key" Murphy, be sure to check it out.)

The latest edition is The Grey Elf reading through the core books of 1st edition AD&D, starting with the DMG.

Use of Miniature Figures With the Game: Ah, now we get to the root of one of the biggest bones of contention between "grognards" and fans of post-3e D&D. Is AD&D a miniatures game at heart? Has it always been designed for the use of miniatures as an important (if not integral) element of the rules? Does it assume the use of such, and is combat complicated if they are not present? This section reiterates what appears in most AD&D books: miniatures are helpful and add color to the game but are not necessary for play. The rest of the book bears this out: whenever an instance requiring movement, mapping, tactics, etc., arises, the book includes what to do if you are using miniatures, but this always comes as an addition to the basic rules, which do not assume or require miniatures. This is in sharp contrast to the current edition of D&D, which specifically states in the text that miniatures are assumed and that if you don't use them, you're not going to get the "full D&D experience." The rationale for the use of the " sign is explained in the Player's Handbook, and we will address that when we get there, but it suffices to say that hit has little to do with actual scale on the tabletop, though such is taken into account.

Lots of interesting tidbits so far. Definitely a thread worth following.

EDIT: The thread just gets more and more interesting:

Were you there?

I was.

Yikes! ;D Ok, ok, I think we got the message.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Licensing True20

The good folks at Green Ronin have published the rules for licensing True20 for your gaming projects. It's a royalty-free license that only applies to traditional, pen-and-paper RPG products.

This isn't a big surprise; Green Ronin's been hinting this was the plan for a while. It's kind of a surprise considering Chris Pramas' generally downbeat view of d20's OGL. Still, the thought process behind this is easy to understand. True20 has long been the little game system that could. Green Ronin never intended to publish it separately from the Blue Rose RPG. But the reaction of fans was pretty strong, and that fan-based enthusiasm has just pushed the product far beyond what anybody expected. Players have adopted it as their own in a way folks don't normally react to products, and many of the True20 fanbase feel a strong, personal stake in the system. It's since risen to be one of the more popular branches from the d20 tree, garnering support from outfits like Paizo.

With the bulk of that support being fan-based, and Green Ronin preparing to launch their "Song of Ice and Fire" RPG, an easy to understand and use license is the prefect thing for letting the fans take the bit between their teeth and really run with True20, to see just what sort of legs both the community of fans and the system itself really have. I know a number of smaller RPG publishers, feeling locked out of the launch of 4th edition, are looking to True20 to help fill the gap until they can publish current D&D material again. The new True20 license looks to add fuel to that fire. 2008 could turn out to be the break-out year for the shy little RPG that fans pushed into the limelight.

UPDATE: Mr. Pramas talks more about OGLs and their uses here.

Playing 4e at Dragon's Lair

One of the joys of living in central Texas is Dragon's Lair, a very expertly run comics and gaming shop. Apparently, this afternoon, there was a 4e demo run at the Austin location. I wasn't there, but smathis of was. And he had a lot to say about it. Here's just a taste:

I also learned:
  • The new Monster write-ups are a lot easier to deal with. Though the printouts looked to be in, like, 7pt font, Brian was able to manage all the opponents in the combats well with minimal hassle over the resource management. I used to run varied encounters with multiple opponents when I ran 3e. Watching Brian closely, I can say that it looked no more difficult in 4e than 3e. Maybe even a little easier.
  • Conditions are a bear to keep up with. The onus will fall on either the player or the DM. In our game, it was the player. But someone has to keep on top of them because they can get a little unwieldy. Maybe the "Conditions Tracker" will be 4e's version of 1e's guy mapping with the graph paper?
  • The combats lasted longer in rounds but took about as long as I remember 3e combats taking.
  • First level is more fun than it's ever been in any edition of D&D. It was quite clear to me that our PCs were buffer than any other edition's 1st level PC.
  • But it was also clear that the beasties were buffer too. The city guards downed a member of the party in the first encounter. That pretty well underlined how tough our opponents could be. I mean, they were the city guard.

(As an aside, I find this very amusing. Back in my 1st edition AD&D days, my friends and I were also big fans of the first five Ultima games. The city and castle guards on those games were notoriously tough hombres, and nearly impossible to kill. Even when you got to high level, trying to kill them took forever! So saying something was "Ultima guard tough" meant it was really, really tough. The city and palace guards in our games were commonly mid to high-level warriors, clerics, and magic-users, too. Anyway, back to smathis...)

  • Monsters felt a lot different in 4e. Fighting the city guard was very different than fighting Hobgoblins and that was very different than fighting a Shadar-Kai. It was nice that the monsters actually fought with different inherent strategies, making them each feel unique.
  • PCs were all pretty useful and interesting. I don't think there was any PC that was just wasting space. I had perhaps the most sub-optimal PC in the bunch. I mean, my size ganked most of my Paladin abilities. My short sword had all my big Paladin smite stuff doing 8-9 points max damage (Short Sword still == 1d6). So I could really feel my race kind of working against my class in a way. Still, I had fun with him -- even though I would neveh, eveh, eveh, EVAH play this character in a real game. I always had something interesting to do (even when it only did 3 pts of damage) and I felt like I contributed a good deal.
  • 4e seemed to emphasize teamwork to me more than 3e. Having the classes built towards certain roles in combat, we played off each other more than most D&D groups I've been with. In previous editions, teamwork amounted to the Cleric buffing the Fighter, the Wizard laying back and somebody distracting the monsters while the Rogue sneak attacked. In this game, we had players organizing their attacks -- like the Ranger and the Warlock playing off each other's abilities to lay the smack down on opponents. And everyone had a value in combat. As a result, no one was playing Chaotic Stupid. It felt pretty obvious that if we turned on each other, that we'd get seriously screwed down the road. I don't know if this was a design goal but it's definitely something I picked up on.
  • I find playing on a grid really tedious -- more of a reminder than an actual learning. Give me GM fiat anyday.

On that note about grids, he says 4th edition might actually be easer to play without a grid than 3rd edition was. He also points to this comment by one of the designers of 4th edition on this topic.

What I find most interesting, however, is his take on skill use, and how Forge-y is. There seem to be a lot of little nods to indie game design in 4th edition. Frankly, I'm rather glad that James Maliszewski hasn't read most of the posts smathis links to, especially this one or this one. If he had read them, I'm sure we would have heard his head exploding all they way south of the Guadalupe River. ;D

Read 'em if you want to see just how far from traditional D&D the new designers' sensibilities lie. Kinda eye-opening, and does explain a lot about what we're looking at when we read about 4th edition. For some folks, I imagine this will be the dawning of a new love with the grand old classic. For others, they won't recognize the classic for all its new clothes and odd behavior.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Make Mine Metal

So we've got a Pulp D&D project in the works. What about a Metal D&D project?

I think there's plenty of room for icey Nordic wastelands filled with viking giant-slayers to the north, giant-cat-riding amazon and dinosaur-infested jungles to the south, and the crumbling ruins of a forgotten empire ruled by the last in the line of a dynasty of mad god-kings in the east...I'm picturing a collection of petty kingdoms in the center, with constant battles waged between psychopathic warlords. Bandits and humanoids plague the once great roads that have fallen into disrepair, and a few struggling communities dot the landscape, each ruled with an iron fist by one of a rogue's gallery of necromancers, demon-cults, dragons, vampires, and whatever else I can think of. And to the west is the great sea, underwhich lie the ruins of an ancient civilization who's artifacts are still happened upon from time to time in the most secluded parts of the world...talismans that drive men mad with power and bring the entire world to the brink of destruction...

I sooooo wanna play in this campaign. Even if it is 4th edition. ;)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Blood and Protons for Arioch!

Are we on the verge of opening up the multiverse? Might we all soon get the chance to be a sailor on the Seas of Fate like Elric?

Crazy as it sounds, there's a scientist in Hawaii who fears it may just be so:

More intriguing are the quantum possibilities, raised by Doctor Arkani-Hamed, who told a nervous New York Times reporter that 'because of the dice-throwing nature of quantum physics, there was some probability of almost anything happening'.

The Collider, he mused, "might make dragons that might eat us up."

Quantum dragons?!? Whatever will we do? The Geeks at the Brisbane Times have the proper, gamer response to such an event:

I however, remain bullish on the quantum dragon question. I doubt there is a dragon problem that couldn't be addressed by the liberal application of heat seeking missiles.

Booyah! Ok, setting aside for now the cool vision of Raptor jetfighters versus quantomfire-breathing dragons, the more intriguing possibility is the opening of a gateway to, well, infinite worlds:

An exciting side issue to Wagner's lawsuit, is the possibility raised by other less... uh, flamboyant... scientists that the collider might be a first step to opening up a grand highway to other universes. Granted, some of them would be hostile, because the laws of nature which make life possible here might be written entirely differently on the other side of the portal. Or, the universal clockwork might tick in the same way, but human history could have turned out very differently, a favourite example being a universe where the Nazi's won the Second World War.

Potentially, an infinite variety of such worlds could exist, and sure, you wouldn't want to go blundering into a universe populated by supernazis, but how cool would it be to grab up a whole bunch of alternate Earths which were entirely empty of people; the same planet, but unoccupied by troublesome tenants.

The possibilities are potentially endless. And if there really is an infinite number of them, that means there's nothing to prevent each of us getting our own private world.

And you thought the housing market was in trouble before!

Friday, April 04, 2008

Evil DM Productions is Online!

Speaking of the Evil DM, the web page for his RPG production company is up and running. It's still a work in progress, so check it out, then head over to his blog and offer any helpful criticisms you might have.

Best of luck, Evil DM!

Busted Confession

Shelly Mazzanoble, being the lucky sort she is, has gotten to play around with the Character Visualizer at WotC. The Character Visualizer is a tool that lets you create a computer portrait of your D&D character. You can then use this portrait to create a virtual miniature for use on their digital tabletop, or just use it as a snapshot so people can see what your character actually looks like.

It's not yet ready for prime time, and the final results will probably look like refugees from Second Life, so I doubt Storn is in any danger of being replaced by a robot any time soon. Still, I'll bet it's a lot of fun to play with, and I suspect the Evil DM will have a hard time, er, resisting certain temptations:

New DM clicks on the female human, and we both snap backward and gasp like grandmas at a Snoop Dog concert. "Nice . . . orbs," I say.

"This is the alpha version, don't forget," he says. "Soon we'll have a bust slider. That way, men will be able to depict the female characters they want, and women will be able to depict the female characters they want."

"This girl needs a visit to Dr. 90210 before she does a face-plant onto your keyboard."

New DM turns every shade on the top row in a Crayola 64-pack, and honestly, I'm also uncomfortable with him seeing human Tabitha like this.

"They're fake," I tell New DM. "You know that, right?"

"Whatever you say," he says. "Can we move on?

Yeah, I'm seeing like entire months of Wednesday babes coming out of this.* ;D

*I tease, of course. The Evil DM clearly prefers his Wednesday beauties to be flesh-and-blood. :)

Mona in Fear

The guys at Fear the Boot do great interviews, and their latest is with Erik Mona of Paizo. He talks about Paizo's plans for the next few years, working on Dungeon and Dragon Magazines, and confirms my suspicions that the delay of the GSL was an important contributing factor in the decision to create the Pathfinder RPG. It's an excellent and entertaining interview all around.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dragon Magazine: Taking it From the Top

Over at RPGnet, (un)reason has chosen to read through every issue of Dragon magazine in the old archives CD set, and possibly most, if not all, of the ones that came after:

So this is where I'll post my reactions and comments to each issue as I go through them. I'll try and mention any important points, and the topics they cover in each issue.

It's a very cool project. (un)reason is doing one per day, and has posted the first six issues of The Strategic Review, the proto-newsletter thingy that eventually blossomed into the Dragon Magazine of yore.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Keeping up with the Pathfinder RPG

Over at, they've posted a summary and review of the first alpha release for the Pathfinder RPG. It offers a nice summary of the proposed rule changes. The review is less than positive. However, I suspect the reviewer wasn't too keen on the whole idea to begin with.

Whither D&D?

Over at his new blog, Grognardia, James Maliszewski has posted his thoughts inspired by an MSNBC piece on Dungeons & Dragons and the computer games it has inspired. Mr. Maliszewski starts off by reminding us that the rise of D&D in the public consciousness was a fluke. Like other oddities of those days, such as KISS and the Rubik’s cube, events beyond the control of mere ad agencies and marketeers conspired to turn the bizarre into pop culture phenomenons.

He then goes on to explain how computer games now give “the vast majority of people who, in the past, might have turned to D&D for their fantasy escapism what they want but without the fuss of complicated rules or funny dice or even having to find some friends with whom to play the game at all.” Again, he’ll get no disagreement from me on that point. Computer games give you all the trappings of fantasy, packaged around a rather narrow focus of activity that I imagine is very inviting to a large number of people, certainly larger than the group of folks who prefer more varied and demanding hobbies.

In fact, I’m not certain I at all disagree with what Mr. Maliszewski has to say. I might just be quibbling here over a matter of emphasis. However, when he concludes by saying his “only concern is that, in their quest to regain something that can never be regained, D&D's current custodians will sell the game's soul and history for a bunch of magic beans,” he appears to be arguing that attempts to market D&D beyond it’s current circle of fans are at best pointless, and potentially harmful.

Frankly, I disagree. I do not feel that the fate of RPGs is set, and that the hobby can expect nothing better than to go the way of “model railroad building or playing bridge”. In fact, I’d counter that there are vast, untapped markets out there full of people who would love to play RPGs, only they haven’t been given the proper invitation or introduction to the hobby.

It is, of course, cliché to mention women as an untapped market for RPGs. There’s good reason for this. The hobby is still heavily, predominantly male, in spite of the fact that women seem to buy and read more escapist fantasy than men do. Even if we’re to limit ourselves to a discussion of D&D, the continued popularity of authors like Mercedes Lackey, Anne Bishop, and Jacqueline Carrey would seem to indicate that there is a market for women who enjoy their escapism with a healthy helping of high fantasy tropes.

Speaking of clichés, there are also a great number of cliché excuses offered for why more women aren’t playing RPGs. I consider most of them to be bunk and nonsense. (Seriously, if you think slapping a scantily clad, size-zero supermodel wannabe in a pose that just oozes sex on your cover dissuades women from buying your product, then you are willfully ignoring reality.) The more I look into this, the more I’m convinced that the problem isn’t the hobby, but how it’s perceived by the world. RPGs are the domain, so says the popular wisdom, of young boys and middle-aged men who refuse to grow up. There are real “permission barriers” between women and RPGs. It’s not that women look at gaming and then reject it as not for them. Rather, women don’t even consider gaming as something they would do in the first place. So long as that is the case, even a flood of games like Blue Rose won’t alter things. Nothing short of a full-scale campaign to get Hollywood to change the way it depicts RPGs and their fans is likely to work. This is why Ryan Dancey feels that the first thing we need to do to save roleplaying games is to jettison the name “roleplaying”.

Ignoring women as a potential market is a traditional failing of the hobby. That WotC might do so as they launch D&D’s fourth edition is hardly a surprise, and might even be a smart move in the short run. (However, I also have to say that Confessions of a Part-time Sorceress might be a move in the right direction.) What’s more disturbing is the apparent abandonment of the traditional golden years of D&D play: ten to fifteen-year-olds.

Now I know a lot of you are going to be confused by this. What on earth is the Trollsmyth going on about? Of course D&D is going to be aimed at the young gamers. It always is. And you can look at the art, or how they’re simplifying this rule or that system, to prove it. All of that may be true, but honestly I’m not seeing it. Or, rather, what I truly fear is that the folks making D&D 4.0 might think they’re making a game that will appeal to young teenagers, but really have no idea if they’re doing it right or not. Have they done the market research to know what that generation wants? Do they know what appeals to them? What do they think of when they talk about fantasy, or dragons, or wizards?

The art is one of the reasons I ask this. Wayne Reynolds is, as I’ve already stated, an accomplished artist. If I was marketing a game to appeal to people who already play D&D, Mr. Reynolds would be at the top of my list. But that’s exactly where I see a potential problem. Does he have the same sort of appeal to ten-year-olds? I think the cover he’s done for the 4th edition DMG looks great. I love the subtle nod to the Otus cover of Cook’s Expert D&D. But will third and fourth graders or junior high kids feel the same way about it? They won’t get the visual link to a game published back in ’81. Does that cover look like adventure and imagination to them? Again, I have no idea. But if those covers had been vetted by proper marketing research, I would have expected something a bit more revolutionary in design, rather than the more predictable, evolutionary choice of Reynolds.

And then there are the books and rules themselves. According to Amazon, the PHB clocks in at 320 pages. Add in the DMG and MM, with 224 and 288 pages respectively, and you’re talking about a serious load of reading somebody needs to do before you can play the game. Now, I’ll be the first to admit, there’s nothing to stop an interested 3rd grader from reading books that large. I tackled The Hobbit sometime around that age, and the kids who grew up reading Harry Potter are no strangers to hefty books. But that’s a lot of dull, dry text to get through to play a game. Maybe it makes sense to require that level of commitment to the game right off the bat. Maybe it creates a certain sense of buy-in for the reader. Perhaps part of the fun is feeling that you’ve mastered these thick tomes and their arcane material. But I’m one of those who got started with Moldvay Basic, and at a mere 64 pages of rules, spells, monsters, and magic items, it was plenty complex for me. The game was a snap to learn, and it wasn’t hard to get somebody who knew nothing about the game through creating their first character and right into tackling their first dungeon. As an adult, my brain screams in agony at the thought of trying to walk an utter neophyte through the lists of skills and feats necessary to create a 3rd edition character. I know it can be done. I know people who have done it. But that’s a much higher hurdle to clear than what I went through helping my younger brother and our neighbors roll up our very first characters. So are we really seeing a game that’s been crafted to pull in a whole new generation of gamers? Or are we merely seeing evolutionary tweaks designed to appeal to a certain segment of the current gamer population?

I worry about this because I think RPGs may already have missed their best shot at a Renaissance in popularity. Was any generation better primed to love D&D than the one that grew up reading Harry Potter, made Eragon and The Golden Compass best sellers, and who packed the movie theaters to watch Jackson’s LotR flicks? If that’s true, then what happened to them? Even if we assume all but a handful hundred of the girls would ignore D&D, even if we assume the vast majority of the boys would find their fantasy needs satisfied by computer games, where are the rest of them? They should be sweeping through the hobby like a rising tide, their interests and influences having a profound effect on the games being produced, the art being chosen, and the topics discussed on the message boards. Where are they? Am I just blind that I don’t see them all over, or ENWorld, or the Paizo boards? They could all be hiding at WotC’s boards, maybe. I don’t go there very often. It could be unconscious selectivity on my part that only sees twenty-and-thirty-somethings on the boards, talking about games, and making games. And maybe I’m just looking too hard, and Exalted and Pathfinder are exactly what this new generation of gamers wants. I’m willing to be corrected on this score. But all I see is a bulge of middle-aged gamers passing through the hobby, with a tail on either end. And if that, in fact, is the reality of RPGs, that’s troublesome.

EDIT: Welcome readers of the Silver Key! You might also be interested in why I won't be playing 4th edition, and why you might want to.