November 30, 2012

5E Friday

- A couple of weeks ago Stan! wrote a few articles about his exiting WotC (again). While the posts were insightful into the process that runs WotC and Hasbro, I took several things from it about the upcoming 5E that were uplifting. The articles can be found here, here and here.

Stan! made mention that 5E was not something he was himself working on, though he did get to participate in some playtests. However, he did mention that he had a lot of respect for the designers...

"There isn’t anyone I worked with over the past twelve months that I don’t respect and that I wouldn’t work with again if the opportunity arises."

To me, to have someone of Stan!'s history in the rpg community show such enthusiasm for the designers speaks well of the potential for 5E. One of the fears some people have expressed about 5E is a trust factor. Will WotC mess up D&D yet again? While it could still end badly, I am slightly reassured that at least the design of 5E is in competent hands.

- And taking another look at Stan!'s articles I am even more nervous about Hasbro and their tightfistedness as it pertains to open creativity. I have long stated that for 5E to succeed and rival the rpg explosion of the the launch of 3E, they will need an OGL similar to the one that came with 3E. I fear that in their desire to control 5E, they will not release a robust OGL and thus they will kill any momentum 5E may be able to build upon release.

November 27, 2012

How to Fail at Supplements

What is the purpose of supplements? To provide a gamer with something they do not have time or desire to create on their own. Admit it, after a core rule set, a gamer does not ever need another book again (and some would even say that a person could create their own game system if they wanted to). If you want to add Blood Mages to your game, you can create it on your own. If you want a city for the the players to explore, you can create it on your own. But there are many times that myself and others do not want to create something on our own; that is when we buy supplements and that is why designers and companies can stay in business making us supplements.

But not all supplements are created equal. What do I want out of a supplement? To provide me with something I do not want to create - and that is the key thing - something I do not want to create. This is where many supplements fail at their purpose. For example, if I buy a supplement describing a city, I want a city I can use without requiring me to create anything for it. All too often I will get such a city book and they will give descriptions of the various buildings but then leave some without descriptions. They do this "so the reader can add in their own ideas". If I wanted to add in my own ideas I wouldn't have bought the supplement in the first place, I would have just written it myself. And if I did have something I wanted to add, I would simply replace one of the supplements descriptions with my own. To me "so the reader can add in their own ideas" is the same as the designer saying "I ran out of ideas so I'm leaving this blank".

So, if you are working on a supplement or are thinking of writing one for public consumption, remember what the goal is for such do what I don't what to do.

November 20, 2012

Reason # 21 – Why I like Published Material

Some people complain about using published adventures/settings instead of using homemade materials. Now, I could go into the other reasons of why I feel it’s ok to use such products, but today I’m going to give you only one good reason and I think it is one often overlooked.

I find that when I am writing up an area for my world setting or writing adventure #56 for my campaign I tend to do the same thing again…and again. Sure, I try to keep things varied but there is only so much I can do with one brain. Even if I can come up with something unique, I still use much the same words and writing style as I have for every other thing I’ve written.

Using someone else’s product means my campaign/adventure is using someone else’s words and style of using those words. Their descriptions of areas include things I normally would not. Their NPCs react and say things differently than the ones I write up. This keeps things fresh for my players, both in content and context.

As an example, I tend to have a formula when writing adventures. I happen to think my formula works well, which is why I use it. Basically, for every combat encounter I throw at the characters I will endeavor to include one puzzle in the adventure and then I add in one role-playing situation to the overall adventure. While I try to keep the encounters interesting and new, the overall expectations are often the same. However, if I use a published adventure they will take different approaches. Maybe they use no puzzles in the adventure; maybe they focus more on role-playing. By utilizing such an adventure I will have strayed from my formula and given the players something unique, something separate from myself. In a way, it’s like having a guest DM for the night.

November 16, 2012

5E Friday

-The Monk class came out for 5E this week...and it came out of nowhere. This was not part of a new playtest package. Instead it came out all by itself (you still have to download the whole package). I like this move on WotC's part. It means they have finally figured out that they don't have to put everything into one lump package to impress us with how much they've done so far. If this is a new precedent that means we can, hopefully, expect to see more of these mini releases.

I think this works well a couple of ways.
First, it actually allows for more focused testing. Instead of getting feedback on numerous options from a large playtest package, they can solicit feedback from just this one add-on. Plus, the feedback will be more current. Players can test the most current add-on.

Second, it keeps 5E up front and in people's minds. Releasing small add-ons gives the potential audience more to discuss, more often. One thing about this long playtest is that people's interest will wane as time goes on...unless there is new and exciting playtest content released. This will help keep people talking about 5E. Especially for something like the Monk class which is outside the expected playtest area.

-One of the "features" of the Monk class is that it is restricted to a certain alignment. I fully expect this to change as the early feedback is almost universally negative (as seen in various forums). However, I like alignment to play an important part in character play, but not to the extent of restricting certain classes or races to specific alignments. Rather, I would like to see alignment handled in a positive manner instead of a negative one. Right now restricting class/race to alignments is a negative response - "no, you can not play a monk with that alignment".

One option is to provide a bonus for playing a class/race with a specific alignment. Monks who are Lawful gain benefits/options that playing a monk of a "non-standard" alignment do not have access to. The only problem is that players who choose the "non-standard" alignment will feel slighted. A bulky solution to that is to provide alignment bonuses for each class and each alignment, but that will quickly get too cumbersome. Which leads me to my more radical idea...

Move alignments from where they are right now (something extraneous) to a game mechanic such as a Background. Imagine a Monk taking the Lawful Neutral Background, or a Paladin taking the Lawful Good Background...or Lawful Evil for those who champion evil gods devoutly. No longer is alignment tied directly to class, nor is it left to hang nebulously outside of game mechanics. It now becomes a role-playing choice with benefits.

November 13, 2012

Random Tables - What Are They Good For?

A few weeks ago the blog, Unofficial Games, put out an excellent random table 'What did you land on?' Basically its 6 things that a character could land on when falling from a roof, out a window, etc. I like the list, its imaginative and could be useful for adding a good bit of detail to an adventure. I love detail, I think it adds to the immersion of role-playing. However...

Would I ever use this table? My initial thought was to print it out and put it into a folder. My imagination ran big. Wouldn't it be cool to have a folder with all sorts of tables that I could pull out for whatever special occasion just happened to the characters. Think of all the nuances, detail and the unexpected I could throw at the players. It would be awesome! And then...

I began to imagine myself flipping through a folder with all sorts of cool tables...trying to find the exact one I needed. A character gets throw out a second story window and I'm looking for the right table. And I find it...eventually. I could have taken 2 seconds to come up with something myself that would not have been as cool or I could take 2 minutes to flip through my book and make the roll. As I think about it, I'd rather take the 2 seconds and move the adventure and excitement (a character just got thrown out a second story window!) along rather than spend the time needed to find the right table.

Would I ever use this table? No. However, I still like that it was written up. I can read it and maybe, just maybe, I'll remember one or two of the results and that will be my 2 second response...and that would be awesome!

November 6, 2012

Using Techology as Part of the Game

Games already use some technology at the table - projectors for maps, computers for rules and PDFs, electronic die rollers, Google+ and other chat systems to play online. But I am not talking about using technology at the table, I am talking about using it as part of the game. I am talking about integrating it into the actual game play, using it as a game mechanic. I have already written about this in part in my Use the Internet IC, which dealt with allowing modern day characters to use the internet as a resource and tailoring adventures to make use of the internet.

However, this idea can be expanded and has been in this latest Kickstarter, Magicians: A Language Learning RPG. As background, this RPG is a modern day fantasy in a Korean setting placed at a school for gifted children, similar to the Harry Potter books. It looks to feed on the Korean mythos in depth, which by itself sounds interesting. However, the real interesting thing is that spells are cast by speaking Korean, the real-world language...and a smartphone app (which is free to download) checks to make sure pronunciation is correct. Correct use of the language means the spells goes off correctly. You can check out the Kickstarter to see this in action as they have some in-play videos there.

This Kickstarter promises that it can be used to actually teach a player how to speak Korean. Spellcasting has levels of usage from the simplest (limited use of selected words) to the most difficult (full use of Korean sentences) and the app checks the process...which is good because if I was running the game I wouldn't be able to check the spellcasting. But the more the players play the game the more they will learn of the language, or so the Kickstarter promises.

Either way, I like this use of technology. I think technology should be used more, not to replace game play or decision making, but rather to get players to try a different approach, to add a higher layer to a game. Do you know of any other uses of technology in game play?