March 30, 2012

5E Friday - What if You Owned the Rights to D&D?

Today, I'd like to ask the question...What would you do if you owned the rights to D&D?

For a lot of us, we immediately started thinking of how we would release (or re-release) the best edition of D&D. We would make sure it included all the things we feel are essential to what D&D is. It could be vancian magic, save or die, low starting hp, random character generation, or a myriad of other things that are all vastly important to the "real" D&D. We would then follow that up with additional books that included those little extra things we like so much, such as the bard class or gnome race or maybe even a critical hits table; all the things we believe would make the game even better.

And thus we would be putting out a product that has an audience of 1. Ourselves. It would be a selfish work. Sure some people would buy it simply because we put the official D&D label on it. And some would even like some of the things we like, though not everything we like.

WotC is not trying to put out a game for 1 person; they are trying to, and almost have to, appeal to a vast majority of gamers and game styles with 5E. That is their stated goal. They could simply put out another edition like 4E, made for an audience of one (the lead designer) but instead they are trying to reach a broader audience. Yes, it is so they can garner the most money, but they understand to do that they have to appeal to everyone.

It is very easy to create something for yourself; much harder to create for others.

WotC's goal is a hard one, most would say impossible, but it is still their goal. They are the ones who own the rights to the D&D name. Instead of just giving us what they want, they are trying to give us all what we each want. Even if they fail, I have to at least applaud their attempt.

What would you do if you owned the rights to D&D and your goal was to reach as many players as possible? What approach would you take? Or would you just say that everyone else can go stuff themselves and you'll only release what interests you?

March 28, 2012

Norway's Minister of International Development Plays D&D

I always like it when atypical people play D&D and RPGs. Here is an interview with the new Norwegian Minister of International Development wherein he discusses his RPG and LARP history.

March 27, 2012

Retro-clone Names

With the popularity of retro-clones of the various editions of D&D we are rapidly running out of alliterate naming conventions for the various retro-clones and the variations of the various retro-clones. For those designers stuck for a name for their own wonderful version of D&D here are a bunch of names they can choose from.

Antechambers & Animals
Bailiwicks & Beasts
Catacombs & Creations
Caverns & Creatures
Caves & Critters
Chambers & Challenges
Crypts & Creepies
Dens & Denizens
Domains & Danger
Doors & Demons
Fatalities & Fiends
Foyers & Fauna
Gates & Gargoyles
Halls & Horrors
Lairs & Lizards
Labyrinths & Louts
Mausoleums & Monstrosities
Talking & Tales
Tombs & Terrors
Paths & Peril
Passageways & Perytons
Rooms & Rumbles
Sepulchers & Scoundrels
Vaults & Villains
Ways & Wyverns
Ziggurats & Zombies 

And once you've decided the fantasy genre has been inundated with too many retro-clones here are some suggestions for some of the other alternate genres...

Sagebrush & Six-guns
Trails & Trouble 

Stations & Sectors
Ships & Systems
Space & Stars 

Libraries & Leeches
Blood & Bones 

Spandex & Supervillains
Powers & Prestige

March 23, 2012

5E Friday

-The more I see the reactions to 5E the more I realize that there is no single vision of D&D. I know this is not a new insight but it is relevant to 5E. Can they truly marry all the visions into one package? That seems to be what people are expecting, but this is not inherently what they have "promised".

People are taking various interpretations of what WotC is saying they will provide in a D&D system.

1) 5E will be able to accommodate every game table's visions of D&D.
2) 5E will be your vision of D&D.
3) 5E will allow you to create your vision of D&D.

I believe they have said, and their goal is to, provide the 3rd option. However, when people hear that 5E may include something that their vision does not include (save or die, clerics, vancian magic, xp is kill or loot, etc) they feel WotC has suddenly strayed from their initial promises of what 5E will provide. However, I think they are missing the point. 5E is not about providing the perfect system for all visions of D&D, but rather, 5E is a framework that individual groups can build their own vision of what D&D is.

-Going with the postulation that 5E is nothing but a framework for designing your own individualized version of D&D, is 5E even necessary? For instance if I want 5E to run like 4E then why don't I just get out my 4E books and use them. Or if I want 1E then I can get out those books as well and run D&D with my 1E books. And then I can add in all those house rules and tweaks we've been playing with for years.

Really, 5E is not needed for the old-time D&D players. We have our own way of doing things. However, 5E could become the common language that all D&D players speak, whether old grognard or new player. Will 5E become that common language? Who knows, it really depends on how well 5E is received.

However, this then leads to the question, is there a need for a common language of what D&D is or can be? Need? No. But for the growth of D&D and rpgs in general it can certainly benefit from the ability for everyone to be able to "speak" the same rpg language.

March 20, 2012

Bugbear Racial Paragon Path

One of the projects I was working on for 4E was a series of Racial Paragon Paths for monster races. The first one I finished was the Bugbear.

Adherent of Hruggek

“Anyone can be a brute, those with skill strike to kill in one blow.”

Prerequisite: Bugbear

The bugbear is the elite fighter of the goblin races. They serve as the brute force, tough bodyguards and sometimes as leaders of the lesser goblins. However, there are some that strive to reach a perfection in combat. Hruggek was one of their mightiest heroes. It is said he once killed three enemies at once, decapitating them with one swing. Ever since then the Bugbear have sought to emulate his martial prowess. Some take it to another level and work to hone their skills, focusing on the art of decapitation.

The techniques of the Adherents require their opponent being at their knees before the fatal swing. The obvious result is that the opponent is in a vulnerable position, but also it plays into the bugbear’s need to show their dominance. For some, this is more important than the actual kill. Many of their attacks are geared to putting their enemies on the ground and at their feet.

Adherent of Hruggek Path Features

Bully Action (11th level): When you spend an action point your next attack that hits before the end of your next turn knocks the target prone.
Eye to Death (11th level): Your Predatory Eye now does d8 instead of d6.
Double Fall (16th level): When an attacker causes you to fall prone, the attacker falls prone also.

Adherent of Hruggek Powers

Here is a link to the Word file.

March 16, 2012

5E Friday

- I will have to assume that the DDI software (Character Builder, Monster Builder) is basically done at this point for 4E. Their development team has shown in the past that they can not do two jobs at once (such as maintaining the off line tools while creating the on-line tools or working on the Virtual Table) so I have to assume they are working full-time on creating whatever software tools WotC has decided 5E will need.

They did update the Character Builder for Heroes of the Elemental Chaos and will likely update for any DDI articles, though even those of late have been system neutral (Talking the Talk, Roll Dem Bones) or statless (Skullport). As well as the decided lack of content such as adventures.
[Honestly if I wasn't still running a 4E campaign and if my players didn't like the Character Builder, I would have stopped my subscription already.]

- Rule of Three this week talked about combat interrupts. Personally, I like them and feel they are one of the best things to come out of 4E. I am not a fan of sitting around bored until it is your turn to act. I have seen too many players zone out, first from the combat then from the night and then from the campaign. By allowing an option of a character going even when it is not their turn, it keeps the player paying attention. Do they act/interrupt or hold off? Players are making choices even when it is not their turn.

It also helps with immersion. A fight becomes more dynamic. It is not simply a character standing around waiting idly until its his "turn" to act. I know narratively the action is constant, but rules without allowed interruptions do not reflect this.

-One thing that many people are overlooking in the discussions on 5E (or at least not blogging much about) is that WotC has been running blogs on various topics on the potential design of 5E. These blog posts are not part of their "regular" 5E discussions such as Rule of Three or Legends & Lore. The best part of these posts is that a person can in effect comment on play-test material without being in the play-test. Here are some of the blogs in the past couple of weeks.
Hit Points: A discussion on starting hit points.
The Role of Skills: They have already stated that they are looking to replace much of the work that skills accomplish with ability rolls instead and having skills instead act as augments to those ability rolls.
Deadly Dice: This one deals with the question of how lethal should D&D be. Should player death be common or less so?
Sneak Attack: Here they ask the question, Is sneak attack integral to the rogue/thief class?
Save or Die II: Die and Die Again!: Further discussion on the topic of Save or Die.

March 13, 2012

Necessary Evil - Part One

So we finally had the first night of adventure in the new Necessary Evil (Savage Worlds) campaign my group just started. After having my players jump through hoops with character generation (see my previous post) I threw a couple of last minute changes which took about an hour to iron out (I changed my mind and decided to allow them to buy heavy armor, I introduced the Super Karma rule and I updated the cost of the armor power to the Super Powers Companion book). Also, I am using the pre-explorers rulebook and some weapon damages changed from that, so I updated gear stats to the Super Powers Companion book; using multiple books and edition/edited printings can get confusing.

Once we got going things went well (warning-spoilers from the Necessary Evil campaign will follow). I started with the opening scene (Plot Point 1) wherein the characters find themselves captured, in nullifiers, and on their way to be shipped off planet. After setting that scene, I had them describe what their characters had been doing for the past two years since the aliens took Earth over and then how they were captured within the previous week. I allowed some role-playing as they all introduced themselves to each other.

March 9, 2012

5E Friday

-With the news that 4E product is hitting the discount shelves I can't see new 4E product (and there a couple of them still coming out) being picked up by retailers as widely as in the past (some will forgo new 4E product for fear of it being dead weight on the shelves). Looking at the WotC product schedule, it appears to be fairly weak. A few book titles (mostly as ebooks), a board game and a system neutral rpg product. If we assume there will be little to no new 4E products (other than the couple already in the pipeline) what will they be selling? I have to wonder how the company will sustain itself while it gears up for 5E.

And the main reason I am bringing this is up is that this brings up the question, will WotC rush 5E to the printers before it is done and properly tested? They are still throwing out fundamental questions (Vancian spell system or not? How will fighters work? Save or Die or not?) so I have to assume the game is not close to being complete. With proper play-testing it could be over a year (a lot of people are predicting an August 2013 release) before 5E starts generating WotC money. How do they justify this lack of sales in the D&D line to Hasbro?

All I can hope is that 5E is properly play-tested before release and is not rushed out the door in an attempt to generate money.

March 6, 2012

Y U Make So Many 1st Level Adventures?

WotC is releasing Halls of Undermountain next month. I fully expect, that similar to Madness of Gardmore Abbey, it will be well written and a lot of fun to run. But I think it is a wasted product. It is designed to be run for starting characters from levels 1-5. I do not need any more starting adventures, certainly not for level 1 starting characters.

The market is already inundated with adventures of these levels. Every new company whose goal it is to release adventures always feels the need to start at level 1. This partly makes sense if they are planning on releasing a series of adventures. And yet they seldom complete the series either due to lack of interest on the part of consumers or even the writers. So, we inevitably keep adding a bunch of new level 1 adventures with no adventures for higher levels.

First level adventures are useful for only two things; one shots and the start of a campaign.

Since I personally do not run one-shots, that aspect is lost to me. I can see their use for a one-shot, but the adventure would have to be stellar-would have to make the DM say “This NEEDS to be run!”. Most starting adventures do not fall into this category. Starting adventures are often the beginning of a campaign and purposely leave plot open, which is the antithesis of a one-shot.

As for starting a new campaign, I already have the first adventure planned out. It is this initial adventure that drives a campaign for me. I use the first adventure to set the tone of the campaign and introduce the basic setting, premise and goal. A published adventure can not do these things for me. Thus a published starting level 1 adventure is the last thing I need.

For an “older” game system like 4E there is no need for a new level 1 adventure. Sure, such an adventure is almost mandatory at the release of a new system, such as the upcoming 5E, but for systems that have been around for a few years, there are already enough to choose from.

This applies to any game system that has been on the market for some time such as the OSR, Pathfinder, etc. Do online search for these and you will see multiple level 1 adventures but very few for anything higher (though Pathfinder does a pretty good job of getting out higher level adventures-though they still put out lots of low level stuff).

A higher level adventure can be plugged into an ongoing campaign. Case in point is Madness of Gardmore Abbey. My current campaign was nearing the level of the adventure so I simply integrated it into my campaign. I made a few adjustments to have it fit my setting (instead of human knights it was a stronghold for the ancient naga in their war against the forces of Chaos) but otherwise kept the same stats and sub-plots.

It is easier to adapt a high level adventure than a 1st level adventure. You can scale the adventure down or up depending on what you need. A 1st level adventure can only be scaled up and then seldom beyond the beginning levels. I also find that level progression tends to slow down the higher in level you go, so I find I need more adventures at the higher levels of play than at 1st level.

What I would like to see are more high level adventures. People have been clamoring for good epic level adventures for 4E and yet WotC seems incapable or unwilling to produce anything in this range (at least not recently). Heck, I would like to see more of those for any of the level based game systems out there.

In the end this all comes down to market dynamics. The market for level 1 adventures is saturated. The market for higher level adventures has a limited consumption but there are far fewer products in this market. But as a consumer, I do not want or need new level 1 adventures.

March 2, 2012

5E Friday

-With all the talk of Vancian magic making a come back I liked that fact that they still understand that playing a magic-user that runs out of spells, and then has nothing to do, is not fun. While there are some things about a Vancian system I like, I do not want to go back to a magic-user throwing darts for the rest of the adventure once his wad is blown. Monte mentioned that even with a Vancian system they are talking about allowing for a Feat, or similar system tool, that would allow a magic-user to have a single spell that can be used all the time. Something relatively minor, sorta like an at-will cantrip. I like this.

I would like to see a Basic Attack that can be used by any class. This would be a default attack that a fighter would use while disarmed (punch), a mage when they are out of spells (cantrip/innate magic), a ranger when they are out of arrows (rock), etc. Make the damage basic, like 1d4, and allow a + for damage based on whatever ability is most important to the class; so fighter 1d4+Str, mage 1d4+Int, ranger 1d4+Dex.

If you need a rationale for what each stat provides; Str=Punch, Int=Innate magic, Dex=Thrown object, Con=Body slam, Wis=Innate magic, Cha=Innate magic.

For the spellcasters, this Basic Attack would signify the innate ability to work the forces of magic. However, the output is weak (low damage) because this working of magic is required to be low enough to control and inconsistent (requires a to hit roll) because it was not memorized in the Vancian methodology.

-I find is sadly funny that some people are derisive it when WotC designers suggest some change from the 1E/OSR rule set for 5E, such as removing stat bonuses based on gender and adding mage at-will cantrips to a Vancian magic system as altering the base game. These are often the same people who use house rules and thus alter the "base" game themselves for the "betterment" of the game. So, its ok for them to do it, but WotC can't do it as add-ons without being branded heretics.