Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Stick a 4ork in It

Remember how I said earlier this week how WotC seems to have a little love for everyone?  Well, maybe not quite everyone, as it turns out...

One of my purchases at GenCon this past year was a new D&D book, Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue.  I got it because I'm a sucker for fantasy cities.  I've picked up two Pathfinder adventures just because one took place in a drow city and the other was set in the City of Brass (the latter being a bit of a disappointment; almost all of the adventure takes place in a single palace of the city).  I have that DRAGON magazine that features more detailed write-ups for Vault of the Drow's Erelhei-Cinlu.  So picking up a 4e book about Menzoberranzan wasn't much of a stretch for me.  I figured I'd mine it for ideas to use in my own campaigns.

Imagine my shock when I dug it out of my stack of GenCon stuff the other day to discover that it's not a 4e book. 

This is not an old book.  It's brand new: August 2012.  And, printed on the back, the last sentence of the cover blurb is: “This product is compatible with all editions of the Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game...”

Curious, I went back to see what's come out for 4e this last year.  The most recent book appears to be The Dungeon Survival Handbook published in May.  What's slated for 2013?  Well, clearly the 2e core books.  What else?

The first RPG publication for 2013 is a reprint of 1e's Unearthed Arcana .  After that comes hardbound collections of the S-series dungeons (Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, and The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth) followed by a hardbound collection of the A-series (the Slave Lord adventures) plus a new low-level adventure that, 'sets the stage for events that unfold throughout the remainder of the "A" series.'

And, as far as RPG products goes, that's it.  So the future of D&D, at least for the first half of 2013, is its past. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Little Love for Everyone

Moe Tousignant pointed out on G+ that there appear to be plans afoot to republish the 2e PHB.  2e doesn't get a lot of love on the intrawebs, but it's probably the system I had the most fun with.  (Ok, that's not entirely true.  My college games, and those that grew out of them, were driven by 2e PHBs and 1e's DMG, Manual of the Planes, a handful of D&D books, and, in later years, the Book of Vile Darkness.  But you get my point.)

2e got a lot wrong, including decoupling EXP from gp and a lot that can be traced to the ideas that resulted in James Ward's "Angry Mother Syndrome" editorial in DRAGON #154.  2e also got a lot right, however.  Among them were specialty priests and arranging clerical spells into spheres of influence (and, in general, I love what 2e did with clerics) and awesome settings like Dark Sun, Birthright, and Planescape. 

The best thing to come out of 2e, in my estimation, was the Monstrous Manual.  Ok, yes, the whole demons/devils/baatezu/whatever nonsense was lame, and some of the art was mediocre.  However, it had some of the best write-ups for monsters ever.  It's the one that gave us all the great "and the gizzard can be used in potions of pudding-breathing" type details that eventually inspired Noisms' excellent "Let's Read the 2nd Edition Monsterous Manual" thread on, one of the most epic threads ever to grace that site.  The result was an amazing collection of campaign and adventure ideas for every single critter in the book!  (The link goes to his pdf collection of the ideas, not the thread at

Luckily, it appears that the Monstrous Manual is also slated for re-release.  If you play any old-school game I heartily recommend you pick it up; other than possibly translating AC from descending to ascending, the only other thing you'd need to worry about is a mild case of hit point inflation.  And even if you don't use the stats, as Noisms showed, there's a wealth of inspirational material in that book.

If you haven't yet, I'd also heartily recommend picking up a copy of the 1e DMG.  Yes, it's chock-full of Gygaxianisms; yes, its poorly organized.  But it's also the best resource for running a fantasy RPG of any edition or rules I've ever read.  From lists of the magical properties of gems or the healing properties of herbs, to random tables for generating and stocking dungeons, to explanations of government types and noble titles, the book is just bursting with useful stuff I want when I'm designing campaigns, creating adventures, and running sessions.  But, as they used to say on Reading Rainbow, don't take my word for it.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Troll5myth Plays

The local RPGA bunch at Dragon's Lair decided to forgo their usual 4e shenanigans to try out some 5e, or “Next” as the kids are calling it these days.  I was lucky enough to score a seat at the table and got to play a pre-gen monk (and ex-sailor) whom I promptly dubbed Stalking Platypus.  We poked around in the goblin tunnels of the Caves of Chaos, killing nearly all of them and their ogre friend as well. 

As one player put it near the end of the day, if you've only known 4e, 5e feels like a completely new game.  Some of them said it felt a lot like 1e.  In my estimation, it feels more like 1e as recreated by big fans of 3.5 with a dash of 4.  On the one hand, it is a lot simpler to play and create a character than it was in 4e.  On the other, everyone has something on their character sheet to invoke every turn, whether it's special powers, spells, or specialties.  Some of these are governed by a fancy mechanic called expertise.  You get so many expertise dice (at first level, it's 1d4 for everyone, I think) and what you can do with them is dictated by your class.  My monk could launch a “flurry of blows” allowing an extra attack per expertise dice, and rolling those dice for damage instead of my normal open-handed attack (which was a d6+4).  I could also spend my expertise die on bonus movement instead of the extra attack, and if I'd had more than one die, I could have split between the two.  These abilities felt like the feats of 3e or the special maneuvers of 4e (though there were few crazy shift-around-the-map powers), but were presented in a way that was more akin to the old special abilities of 1e, like the paladin's warhorse or the dwarf's ability to detect sloping passages.

Otherwise, it feels a lot like WotC-era D&D: roll a d20 plus stat bonuses versus a target number as the core mechanic.  There are a lot fewer dissociated mechanics this time around; my monk could only use his ki ability once per day, but as ki is at least semi-magical, the once-per-day fits the fairy tale logic of such a thing so it didn't throw me off at all. 

It's still damned hard to kill a PC.  The dissociated healing surges have been replaced by a healer's kit, a 20-use item that can be bought at stores and allows characters to roll their hit dice to see how many hit points they regain.  When my monk was down to 1 hit point, a 10 minute rest and use of the healer's kit allowed me to roll his hit dice (a single d8 at first level) and restore 3 hit points, bringing him to 4.  Hitting 0 means you've been KOed and you must pass a CON check every turn thereafter or take another d6 damage from bleeding and shock.  If your negative hit points is greater than your CON score plus level, you die.  In spite of facing an ogre who easily dished out 8 points of damage in single blow, nobody was ever in serious danger of such a fate, and any magical healing brings you to at least 0 hit points.

In short, the wonky stuff of 4e has been dropped, some of the “kewl powerz” of 3e have been retained in an extremely streamlined fashion, and the resource management of 1e is back.  So far, I haven't seen anything to pull me away from Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord/LotFP, but on the other hand, if someone told me they were starting up a 5e campaign, I'd be far more interested in joining up than I would be for a 4e game.