February 28, 2012

A New Campaign (or My Players are Super Patient)

My 4E 'The Children' campaign has come to a close (but I am still running my 4E Farstead sandbox campaign). After a hiatus due to an attempt to sell our house, and subsequent packing and unpacking, my enthusiasm was at a low point for the campaign. In addition, two of the players had dropped out during this time due to work related time issues.

I called everyone together and asked them what they wanted to do; continue the current campaign or move onto a new one. In the end they decided to start a new campaign, likely due to the fact two of the characters would be missing and it was a very story and character driven campaign. From there we had to decide what to run next.

Instead of leaving the topic of what system/genre to run next completely open, I presented my players with several options. One thing I have found is that if I am not invested and excited about a campaign it will die quickly. A few years ago I ran a Shadowrun campaign because that is what my players wanted to do. Personally, I love the Shadowrun system as a player, but hate it as a GM. Sure enough, the campaign ran into many of the problems I despise about the system as GM and it died soon thereafter.

Therefore, I made sure to present campaign concepts that I was personally interested in running. I gave them...

-4E Evil Drow Underdark campaign full of political intrigue.
-Super-heroes with my custom 4E rule set.
-Stargate with the SpaceMaster rule set.
-7th Sea (to be run by my wife).

In the end they decided to go with the super-hero campaign. I had been working on a 4E super-hero system for some time and they already knew 4E, so I told them that would be the system in use. With two weeks between games I had time to start the prep. I was going to run the Necessary Evil supers campaign for Savage Worlds but with my custom 4E rule set. And I discovered I still had a lot of work to do...too much.

In my 4E super-hero system I write up each power as a "class". And I only had 4 classes and 12 Background Templates done. Not even remotely enough to provide any sort of choices for the players during character generation. Unfortunately, it takes me about a week to write up a "class" with all of its powers, so there was simply not enough time to run a 4E super-hero game that would have allowed the players to create characters of their choice. So I changed systems.

I decided to go with a custom super-hero system for the Masterbook rule set. Masterbook is a "generic" system based on the old TORG system. It has always been my favorite game system of all time (and still is). I sent out some emails before the first night (which was billed as a character generation and sample fight night) detailing the change in game systems. They were all fine with the change.

On that first night they all showed up, including two new players, which brought the player size up to 6. And they made characters. All night long. Because it was a custom system for a rule set none of them was 100% familiar with (two of my players had played TORG over 10 years before) it was a slow process. And some of my custom work didn't exactly mesh well, so I had to do a lot of tweaking.

On the second night we all got together, I started with a sample combat with the characters they had mostly finished (some of the characters were not 100% finished at this point). This was to allow the players to see how the system and combat ran. The plan was to allow the players to make some alterations to their characters once they understood some of the mechanics better and to follow that up with the the start of the first adventure. The combat took most of the night and then they finished their characters, so we didn't get to start the first adventure.

And then I changed systems again. Seeing the characters they had made, especially some of the abuses the power-gamer had committed, I was not happy with the overall outcome of the system. My custom super-hero system was not up to the job of providing a good time. So I decided to simply use the Savage Worlds system as outlined in the core rule book, along with the Necessary Evil book. The system is lightweight and fast enough to handle the style of game play I wanted and I wouldn't have to convert the "monsters" from the Necessary Evil book into the rule set I was running. Despite my misgivings on the system itself, I think it will end up working out just fine.

My players have been super-patient with all of my flip-flopping. The next game night, when they were supposed to be starting the campaign with their previously made characters, they instead converted/created new characters using the new rule set. Fortunately, they are players who are there to game and have a good time and what system they use is of little matter to them. Next week we start with the first adventure as they managed to complete their characters in one night (except the power-gamer who "needs extra time" to build his character).

Should be some fun times ahead.

February 24, 2012

5E Friday

-With WotC's new plan for 5E being all-edition-inclusive, I see the longevity of 5E being very long. Instead of releasing a new edition in 4 years they will simply release a new "add-on". In effect, they will be releasing a new edition but calling it something else. This is brilliant from a business standpoint. They could produce new material for one edition (5E) for many years to come without disrupting the core rule set.

-One of the complaints of 2E was that there was too much diversity in settings. D&D began to compete with itself. People playing Birthright didn't buy Planescape or Dark Sun and vice versa. TSR found themselves producing material for a variety of settings with an ever-decreasing amount of customers. Overall they may still have had the same number of customers but their money was now spread out into a larger pool of products, thus decreasing the profitability of each product line.
Will 5E go the same way, but with a variety of "add-ons" instead of settings? Will the add-ons compete with each other for consumer money? For example, if they release an adventure for a simple 1E inspired add-on and another adventure for a tactical 4E inspired add-on they will be producing 2 products that may only interest one type of player. There may be enough interest to sustain both lines, but where will the breaking point between support and profitability be?

February 15, 2012

5E Friday (on Wednesday)

-Today Greg Bilsland of WotC made a post stating they are consolidating/collating the results for the playtests from D&D Experience and deciding where to go next with the playtests. In particular he is wondering what the format for the seminars at Gencon should look like. If you have an opinion on it you can vote in their poll on the subject.
Of real interest to me is the short announcement after the poll about upcoming blogs on their website that will ask specific questions and their attempt to get some feedback on those questions. It is a way to give some feedback without being a part of the playtest. Over the next 3 days they will be covering...

Feb 15- What's in a (Spell) Name? This appears to be a discussion on the naming of spells such as Melf's (acid arrow) and Bigby's (hand). Are they looking to generalize spell names? It should be a good read to see what they have to say and the resultant comments.

Feb 16- Multiple Attacks. A discussion on fighters and multiple attacks and what they are potentially going to implement in 5E in this regard. Again this is a topic that should be of interest to a lot of people.

Feb 17- Dice Tricks. Monte will be talking about rolling dice and how to shake up some of the conventions therein. I'm not sure what the actual article will be about, but I'll take a look at it to see if they are contemplating something stupid.

Personally, I think these articles are excellent for both putting out more information on 5E and for soliciting feedback on specific topics. I am looking forward to these and future similar articles.

-I am curious to know when the next wave of playtests will be sent out. If it is not going to be until Gencon, that will be a long time from now, maybe too long.

-D&D Next seems to have "won" the title of the next edition. I'll still call it 5E for now since that is what it is.

February 14, 2012

What Was Your RPG “Gateway Drug”?

Most of the players of RPGs did not immediately jump directly into a love of fantasy/science-fiction/role-playing through RPGs. Similar to the theory of the gateway hypothesis which states that the use of less dangerous drugs leads to the use of harder drugs, what other forms of fantasy and role-play led you to RPGs?

Some people first found a love of fantasy/sci-fi through books; some through movies. Also computer games may have been their first exposure to the genre of role-playing. I suspect there may even have been other avenues into RPGs, such as acting in plays or live-action role-play/cosplay.

For me, it all started with books. My first “fantasy” book was Watership Down. From there I eventually got into The Lord of the Rings, which gave me a love of fantasy. As for computer games, my love for them came after my interest in role-playing games.

So, what was your “Gateway Drug”? What got you interested in the genre of fantasy/sci-fi or role-playing and eventually brought you to tabletop RPGs?

February 10, 2012

5E Friday

-Can you hate a game system simply because you hate the company that produces it? I have seen several internet comments from people stating they hate 5E and will never try it, simply because they hate WotC (not to mention how many people said the same thing about 4E and 3E). "WotC has lost me forever as a customer." Is this a legitimate approach? I would say, yes it is.
Sometimes a company produces crap for products so people stay away from any future releases by them. Sometimes a company is seen as "corrupt", such as using stolen artwork, and people stay away from their products. And sometimes a person will feel "betrayed" by a company for a variety of reasons.

However, while I agree that a person has the right to dismiss a product because they dislike the company that produces it, I also can not take any "evaluation" of said product by such people seriously. Any such viewpoints on the company's products will be seen as coming through a filter of animosity. More so, if they haven't even seen the product they are giving their opinions on (like a new system that is not even released yet). So, hate a game system because of the company it comes from, but don't be surprised if I couldn't care less about your opinion on it.

February 8, 2012

Edition Wars Taken to a New Level

There is a new stand alone, strategy card game over at Kickstarter aptly named Edition Wars. Apparently you compete with other players to bring gamers over to your preferred edition. You get to use such things as the internet, blogs and snark.

My only question is...What if my edition is taken, do I have to champion an edition I hate?

February 7, 2012

The Separation of Player and Character

Throughout the evolution of D&D there has been a gradual separation between player and character. To best understand what I mean by this we need to take a look at the earliest days of D&D. In those days the capabilities of characters were based on the capabilities of the players.

For example, if a character was able to find a secret door or hidden object it was because the player had stated where the character was looking or what the character manipulated within the setting. There were no die rolls or skills to rely on. Success at this time was wholly dependent on the decisions and reactions the player had to the setting.

Likewise with social interactions. If a character was going to “fast-talk” his way past a guard, it all came down to how well the player was at fast-talking. If the player was an introvert and had difficulty speaking in public settings then there was no way he would talk his character out of a given situation.

After the initial edition of D&D things began to change that paradigm. This came about in a two-front assault; one caused by the players and one caused by the DMs. 

February 3, 2012

5E Friday

-OGL. So far there has been little from WotC other than a short "We're working on it". However, I think 5E requires an OGL similar to 3E. Beyond the obvious implications, such as community investment into the system and keeping the buzz going, 5E may wither and die without third-party support. There is simply no way WotC can support 5E by themselves. With the concept of multiple styles of play within one system it will be impossible for one company to produce enough material in a timely manner to support all those styles. And if a "line" of add-ons is not supported it will wither and die.
There are a large number of companies and individuals out there capable of writing good material and with good distribution methods (on-line and print). Yes, similar to 3E, crap will be written and published, but from what I saw with 3E the crap will sink and the good designers will rise to the top. The internet is excellent for vetting crap; quick reviews will shine the spotlight on the good and the bad.
The point of the OGL is to put 5E at the forefront of everyone's mind and to keep it there. WotC needs outside people to do this. And for this they need to make people want to participate. In this new age of internet publishing and ease of print if a designer does not buy into 5E they will put their talents into something else, drawing potential 5E customers away. WotC needs the good designers to work on 5E even if they are not working for WotC. Without a strong (strong as in greater freedoms) OGL, 5E may not last long.

-OGL. Yes, same topic, but different thought. Is the 3E OGL enough to cover 5E? Is there no need for a 5E OGL because it will be easy enough to simply use the 3E version? As it is, the retro-clones are using the 3E OGL to produce 1E material already. Would a 5E OGL only be needed for 4E type of material?