Sunday, January 30, 2011


This looks like fun.  You can check out the first eight pages over at Deviant Art, where you get more than enough to figure out the basics of what's going on.

According to the blog, we should see actual, physical books showing up in comics shops in early April.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Gaming the World Into a Better Place

Andrew Klavan, in his review of Jane McGonigal's Reality is Broken, thinks that games should retain a strong separation from the real world:

While certainly one must agree with Ms. McGonigal—or indeed with Mary Poppins—that there is an element of fun to every job that must be done and if you find the fun, then—snap!—the job's a game, the possibilities seem to me fairly limited. As Tom Sawyer learned, "work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and . . . play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." If ever we're all dragooned into "playing" for the dreary objectives of utopian dreamers, the fun will go out of gaming very quickly.

While I largely agree with Mr. Klavan here,  I think he's missing places where this already happens: the pilots of UAVs may not be playing a game, but they're using a lot of the same skills, even more so than pilots who first learned to fly on computer sims.  He's also ignoring the rather playful futures markets based around predicting political events like elections.  And finally, there's things like this:

I think you can turn Mr. Klavan's objection on its head, and arrive at a more interesting truth: things we don't need to be forced or bribed to do can be called play.  Even if they are, in spite of all that, good for us.

Voyage Worth Taking

"The Voyage of the Dawn Treader" was actually pretty good. Still not up to LotR, but the Narnia flicks are easily the best live-action fantasy films we've had since those. The Christianity gets a bit thick at the end, but before that, you've got swashbuckling adventure, swordfights, sorcerers and grimoires, invisible monsters, dragons, and sea serpents.

You can tell the budget wasn't quite up to what they had in the previous two films. There's no massive battles full of nearly-realistic CGI monsters and animals. Still, the look and feel is still there. I didn't miss Eddie Izzard's voice in Reepicheep's mouth as much as I thought I would (and full props go to Simon Pegg for an excellent performance). And there's a lot to like.

The sets and costumes, as always, are great. I think it's interesting that they took the time to make the swords of Narnia's "golden age" noticeably different from the "modern" swords used by most of the native characters. The film is full of neat little touches like that.

For most kids, Dawn Treader is the favorite book. It's got adventure, strange places, pirates, and a cool sailing ship. It also has the most amusing writing. The first lines of the book are,

There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

Of course, Eustace is the pivotal character, and his relationship with Reepicheep is as heartwarming and fun in the movie as it is in the book.  The actor who plays him might not be as good as the original four children actors, especially Miss Henley, who plays Lucy, but the role is a difficult one, and his scenes with Reepicheep (which must have been especially difficult) are perfect.

The thing that I find most fascinating about this story is how it doesn't follow a familiar formula, even in the hands of Hollywood. "The King's Speech" is an excellent film, but you know exactly what's going to happen every step of the way. It's very paint-by-the-numbers, though a very good one. Dawn Treader isn't like that. Some characters follow exactly the arcs you'd expect, especially Lucy, but others go to some extremely odd places before winding up in very satisfying circumstances before the end. If you've never read the book, or it's been a while, the movie has a few neat surprises for you.

The movie does suffer a bit from being short. Caspian's personal arc isn't given the attention it deserves, and Edmond's is barely given enough time to fully develop. Still, the bittersweet conclusion satisfies, and if this turns out to be the last movie made in the series, it'll be a satisfying conclusion.

And if it's not, it's set the stage very well for "The Silver Chair."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Long Live the King

So after Mr. Dancey posted his speculation, lot of folks have been talking about the end of D&D. Does it mean the end of RPGing? The end of the industry?

Probably not.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Vampire: the Masquerade and the following World of Darkness books gave D&D a strong run for its money. So did Magic: the Gathering. The only reason the game didn’t die in the later days of TSR is because D&D was their flagship product; the brand that was selling the novels which was their primary source of income.

Frankly, D&D is a bit of an albatross around the neck of the industry. It’s the best-selling game, the gateway product. And so far, nobody seems to have been able to reap the fortunes everyone assumes naturally come with that sort of thing.

Of course, D&D is probably not going to simply die overnight. Too many have too much invested in the brand, and the conventional wisdom is that the brand needs at least a token tabletop RPG to remain viable. If Pathfinder is, in fact, going toe-to-toe against D&D, then that means D&D actually is dying, if very slowly, right before our eyes. (That’s also splitting hairs, though; saying Pathfinder isn’t D&D is a bit like saying the iPhone isn’t a cell phone.)

If this is a trend we’re seeing, and if it continues unabated, then that simply means that Pathfinder becomes the 800 lbs gorilla to D&D’s 600 lbs gorilla. I don’t see that as a major or dramatic shift in the terrain. Heck, due to name recognition, it might not even mean that D&D loses its status as the gateway product. (Now wouldn’t that be an odd looking industry? D&D focuses on boxed sets sold in Target and Wal-mart, with the assumption that the players it brings in will eventually “graduate” to Pathfinder? Since the goal is to sell online subscriptions and keep the brand alive, I could see it, but I don’t think that’s likely to be the plan, even if it is what eventually ends up happening.)

So yeah, not expecting the world to end anytime soon. Or for the industry to vanish (Do you really think Raggi gives two flips what WotC does this week?) or for the sun to rise in the north and set in the south. Even if the “unthinkable” happens and WotC ends up passing the torch to Paizo, the game that rules the industry will still have players rolling d20s and chatting about AC and hit points.

UPDATES: Destination Unknown reminds us of the real tragedy here.

Art by Friedrich von Amerling.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Dirigibles of Tomorrow's War

Or, actually, today's:

“It’s freakishly large,” says a source close to the program. “One of the largest airships produced since World War II.”

The Air Force hopes that the extra size should give it enough fuel and helium to stay aloft for as much as a week at a time at nearly four miles up. (Most blimps float at 3,000 feet or less.) Staying up so high for long is all-but-unprecedented. But it’s only a third of the proposed flight time for a competing Army airship project.

This only makes sense, of course, because we're not currently fighting enemies who can shoot them down. One wonders what sorts of defensive equipment these will get.

RyanD on 4e

Now this is interesting. There's lots of interesting thoughts here from the man who gave us the OGL. First, on the red box:

I have no clue what Wizards thinks it is doing with the "red box". The Intro product for D&D has one, and only one purpose: To introduce 12-14 year old kids to the roleplaying hobby and start them on the path to become purchasers of the core books. That product must be designed to sell in mass market stores where it can get the widest possible distribution outside of the hobby core (where you can safely assume that gamers are teaching gamers without the need of a special product to do it). It must be priced correctly vs. the other games it is shelved with, and it must be packaged and presented in a way that a mother would be comfortable buying as a gift for the son or daughter of a friend.

The "red box" looks like a nostalgia product designed to be sold to 40 year-olds who want to relive a moment of their childhoods. I don't get the art or the font - neither will appeal to either kids or moms in CE2011. It doesn't look like any other products in the 4E line so how will people know that it connects? Doesn't even matter what's inside the box - this is one of those things that has to sell on its presentation on the shelf.

I really think Oddysey is on the right track here. The red box is aimed at young gamers, but by way of selling to their parents. It may be an odd direction to take, but it does, in a clever sort of way, outflank the whole "isn't that the game my dad used to play" issue.

The really interesting part comes at the end:

Three years ago I told people that it didn't matter if 4e was successful or not, because it was likely to be the last version of D&D that would be based on paper based tabletop gaming. I've seen nothing so far that changes my opinion about that. How it can become a digital product and still compete with MMOs is something I'd be happy to have Wizards pay me a lot of money to research but again, nothing I've seen yet shows me that they're on the right path so far.

Before he says that, he spends a lot of time talking about why the digital initiative doesn't really seem to work. He's got a lot of good points there. Like Mr. Dancey, I also assume that the end goal is a D&D built around a subscription model and with dead-tree paper books as loss leaders. It doesn't appear that WotC has the tools in place to make that happen yet, but if they build the digital tabletop correctly (and, unlike Mr. Dancey, I see this as an excellent idea) it could serve as the tentpole for a series of fifth edition online tools that will themselves form the core of a new digital offering.

This is all commentary under the first of a new series of articles the Mr. Dancey will be writing for ENWorld. The theme is going to be expanding the infamous "20 minutes of fun crammed into four hours." Considering previous topics he has been exploring lately, it'll be interesting to see what sort of suggestions he makes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hit Points and Verisimilitude

I'm generally flattered when I notice that somebody has commented on old blog post I've made. It's good to know that the "old stuff" is still interesting to people other than me. Most recently, Tripper left a comment on my old "Playing with Hit Points" post from almost two years ago:

I've wondered, while patiently waiting an opportunity to DM, if this exact brand of combat storytelling wouldn't be aided by actually withholding mechanical information from the players.

In other words, don't tell the players anything more than they absolutely need to know to make tactical decisions, eg you lost 4 hp's, or you killed the orc, until the end of the round. They don't need to know, necessarily, what they got hit with or whether they even hit the enemy - only info that affects decisions. But imagine at the end of the round, when the DM can spin the whole round's events into an interrelated summary where Pagor's teammate interrupted an attack Pagor wasn't even aware of, and what Pagor seethingly thought was a spear thrust in his armor turned out to be a crossbow bolt.

This is an idea that gets kicked around a lot. I certainly don't think it's a bad one; truth to tell, I'd love to banish numbers entirely from the mechanics. Discussions of armor class, bonuses, and saving throws don't really add to the verisimilitude of the game. In a very real sense, the verisimilitude turns off as soon as combat begins.

This is, quite honestly, one of those areas where D&D fails me. I endure this, in large part, because combat is one of the least interesting parts of the games that I run. Combat in pre-third edition D&D

is simple and quick. It gets the job done, and then gets out of the way.

Numbers are quick and easy and unambiguous. So I continue to use them. Another virtue of D&D combat is that it gives you lots of chances to see the combat is going poorly before you get into real trouble. Without the death spiral of other games, you could fight on to the last hit point. If you're really stupid. The point, however, of lots of hit points is to give you time to pull out if you get in over your head.

This, of course, assumes a style of play in which combat is not the primary focus. That's perfect for my games, and for games where the focus is on investigation or exploration. The key, however, is to give the players accurate information of what is going on in the fight. This isn't terribly realistic; Tripper's idea of telling players after the fight that what they thought was spear wound actually came from a crossbow more accurately reflects my incredibly limited experience with melee, as well as descriptions we read and hear of real combat.

That said, I'm hesitant to go too far with it. In my experience, players make things more complicated already without any help from the DM. Misleading information in the middle of a combat sounds like a recipe for mass confusion. Again, that's often what combat really is. If I was running a game with stronger combat focus, I'd be really tempted to do something like this. Ditto if one of the primary themes of the game was perception and I was drawing on Philip K. Dick for inspiration.

Has anybody tried something like this? If so, I'd be very curious to hear how it turned out.

Friday, January 14, 2011

What is WotC Up To?

Lots of happenings recently over in Seattle. Yeah, I don’t play their games, but I do find what they do interesting. They’re still the big fish in this pond, and they still make the big waves.

So let’s take a look:

Bye-bye Minis
That 4e is a vehicle to sell expensive, pre-painted minis is an article of faith among some. They’re going to need to get a new religion, because WotC ain’t gonna be in the miniatures business much anymore:
We have made the decision to depart from prepainted plastic miniatures sets. Lords of Madness stands as the final release under that model. We will continue to release special collector’s sets (such as the Beholder Collector’s Set we released last fall), as well as make use of plastic figures in other product offerings. Check out the Wrath of Ashardalon board game next month for the latest example of this.
From now on, if you want a bunch of critters for your dungeon, WotC will sell you die-cut tokens, but not actual miniatures. Apparently, there wasn’t much gold in them thar hills. I can kinda understand why that didn’t work. It works for Games Workshop, but they are very up-front about being in the miniatures and models business. Everything they do is about selling those plastic and metal bits.

WotC isn’t quite like that. They’re into selling books, primarily.

Um, well, maybe…

And Bye-bye Books?!?

The Heroes of Shadow product, originally scheduled for March and presented in digest-sized, paperback format, is moving to April to accommodate a change to hardcover format. Additionally, three D&D RPG products have been removed from the 2011 release schedule—Class Compendium: Heroes of Sword and Spell, Mordenkainen’s Magnificent Emporium, and Hero Builder’s Handbook. While this means fewer books, we plan to deliver just as much great content for players this year through other formats, including board games, accessories, and digital offerings.

Honestly, I don’t have enough of a finger on the pulse of their publishing schedule or their player base to really understand what this means. Clearly, the paperback format of the new Essentials books isn’t a winner, but that’s fine. It was intended to make the books cheaper and friendlier, and I can only see the shift to hard-back as a promotion for the line.

Cancelling three books is harder to wrap my brain around. Were these also-rans in their publishing schedule this year? If so, we might simply be looking at a cost-cutting move, the results of past or potential layoffs. Or were these core offerings, books that were highly anticipated by players? In either case, it’s obvious the brand is diversifying into “board games, accessories, and digital offerings.”

Stepping back and looking at this as a whole, it really looks like fewer resources are being devoted to D&D as an RPG. More are being disbursed towards managing the wider brand. The best example of this is probably the latest iteration of Neverwinter:
Neverwinter for PC is scheduled to release in Q4 2011 and is part of a multi-platform event, including a book trilogy from New York Times best-selling author R. A. Salvatore and a tabletop roleplaying game from Wizards of the Coast.
I’m assuming the “tabletop roleplaying game” is simply going to be some 4e setting info, adventures, or maybe splat books for the Neverwinter setting. If it’s an actual boxed-set like what they did for Gammaworld, well, that’ll be a whole ‘nother story, won’t it?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Your Genes at War

Biotech is slowly starting to replace cybertech in the assumptions of sci-fi writers, though many of us in gaming still cling to the glittering chrome of metal grafted to flesh. Now, the real world may be starting to catch up:

The cost of sequencing complete human genomes has been falling by about a factor of 30 per year over the last six years, the JASONs said. As a result, “it is now possible to order your personal genome sequenced today for a retail cost of under ~$20,000″ compared to around $300 million a decade ago. “This cost will likely fall to less than $1,000 by 2012, and to $100 by 2013.”

This is the exact sort of falling prices that have lead us from the giant, room-sized computers of classic Traveller to the tiny laptops many of you are probably reading this post on now. And, just as happened with computers, we can expect greater access to genome data will also lead to an increase in the number of practical applications. Apparently, the Pentagon is already considering some:

For military purposes, it will be up to the Department of Defense “to determine which phenotypes… have special relevance to military performance and medical cost containment” and then presumably to select for those. “These phenotypes might pertain to short- and long-term medical readiness, physical and medical performance, and response to drugs, vaccines, and various environmental exposures…. More specifically, one might wish to know about phenotypic responses to battlefield stress, including post-traumatic stress disorder, the ability to tolerate conditions of sleep deprivation, dehydration, or prolonged exposure to heat, cold, or high altitude, or the susceptibility to traumatic bone fracture, prolonged bleeding, or slow wound healing.”

“Both offensive and defensive military operations may be impacted by the applications of personal genomics technologies through enhancement of the health, readiness, and performance of military personnel. It may be beneficial to know the genetic identities of an adversary and, conversely, to prevent an adversary from accessing the genetic identities of U.S. military personnel.”

Huh. Maybe those genestealers are more dangerous than Games Workshop has lead us to believe...

Friday, January 07, 2011

Resolutions for 2011

I’m still not much of a fan of resolutions, but the ones I made in 2010 went so well I’ve decided to do it again. And this time, I’m going to be a bit more specific on some of them. Like…

Even More Love for this Blog
I did this blog a lot of good this past year, but even with that, it didn’t get the attention it deserves. For instance, I only posted roughly once every four days or so. That’s nearly once per week. I can do better than that. My goal for 2011 is at least 150 posts before the end of the year. That won’t be my best (336 in ’08), but I’m going to need to make time for…

I am a Writer, and I Will Finish the Shit that I Started
I don’t talk about this stuff much here, but I’ve had a few projects on the back-burner most of 2010, including a Sword & Sorcery novel that’s damn close to being in good enough shape to shop around (mostly just needs a rewrite on the ending) and a Sword & Planet card game (not CCG) that I hope is also close to being finished.

Life had fun kicking my schedule all over the place in 2010, but it added some great stuff to my resume, including being published in a few of Raggi’s projects as well as the second installment of the Open Game Table. Onward and upward in 2011!

Pester Oddysey Into Running a Game for Me
Pester, pester, pester, pester, pester, pester…

Write More Book Reviews
I love reading, and I don’t do as much as I’d like. Writing reviews makes me delve a bit deeper into the stuff I read and get more out of it. And it’ll help me make my target of blog posts.

I’ve got a lot of stuff I don’t need. Some of it may be gaming related. I’m considering giving it away as prizes or something. More on this when I finally decide what will stay and what will go.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

2010 Resolutions Review

Time to see how I did.

Hold Fast on Gaming
Um, I kinda succeeded, but only in spite of myself.
The Seventh Sea game ended prematurely, but I did keep poking my nose into new games, most lately Scott’s Huge Ruined Pile game. (Un?)fortunately, I haven’t really had time to play in that game, or many others. Luckily, Scott’s running a pretty open, sandboxy game, so my presence isn’t missed. But I can’t call this a success. Apparently, I can’t quit whenever I want. ;p

Get Fit for GenCon
Much better success on this front. In spite of running around with people 17+ years younger than me most of the time, I had no problems keeping up. I didn’t turn myself into a muscled Adonis, but that wasn’t the goal. The goal was not to collapse in exhaustion after climbing a few flights of stairs or bust the buttons off my jeans. A modest amount of weight was lost, and while Indianapolis was uncomfortably humid, I had no trouble keeping up with people, eating what I wanted to eat, or anything like that. More work is needed (Christmas saw some unfortunate but not unexpected weight gain), but even during a recent visit to Manhattan I was able to hold my own against folks in their 20s.

Give This Blog Some Love
New art? Check! Thanks to the talented Ravenconspiracy for my awesome banner.

Wider range of topics? Check!

Get listed on the RPG Bloggers Network? Check!

Looks like I done good here, and I think I can make things better in 2012. But that’s a topic for another post…

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Marketing and Happiness

Lots of great chewing on this topic, which makes me happy. That was, after all, the whole point of throwing it up there. There are some clarifications I want to make, though.

First, I’m talking less about making something appealing than I am about making it allowed.

The world is full of invisible boundaries we respect all the time. We don’t go into the other gender’s bathrooms even if there isn’t even so much as a door to keep us out. We don’t step into the kitchen at restaurants, we don’t walk across our neighbor’s grass, we don’t wander into “that part of town” after sunset.

And, for the most part, people avoid things that are not marketed as for them. Usually, this is simply practical; people living out in the country have no use for an electric car with a range of only 35 miles. But mostly, these are social distinctions. Grown adult men, for instance, do not play with dolls. When they do, they will hide this behavior.

Except when the marketing says it’s ok.

And this, really, is all I’m getting at here. It’s much less about making these games appealing to women and simply making it socially acceptable for them to even pick up the materials and look at them. Because yes, women really do need that level of invitation to get involved in any considerable numbers in areas that have traditionally been proscribed to them. Yes, some brave or simply curious enough women will be exceptions, and White Wolf did open the door a crack, but there’s still a lot to do.

Now, it’s entirely possible, even rational, for you to not want women as part of your target audience. It’s not politic to say so blatantly most of the time, but it can be part of a viable marketing strategy. In which case, yes, make your marketing say this as clearly and blatantly as you can.

And yes, the issues I’m talking about are not enough to draw women to your game. You’ll need to get a bit more focused on what your game’s about and how it’s played before you can decide if, and how much, you want to appeal to what sorts of people. But simply slapping a woman on the cover, or banishing cleavage from your game’s art, isn’t going to invite women to take a closer look.