Posts Tagged ‘Wizards of the Coast’

The torch has been passed, or at least lit with a cantrip.  It is a time honored tradition for a man to pass onto his children the accumulated wisdom gleaned from his time on this earth, so they can carry on and forge new and brighter paths into the future.  As of today, I have fulfilled that responsibility by initiating and teaching my eldest son the ways of the D&D. I glossed over the darker days of wedgies, public ridicule, and involuntary abstinence (he is only 8). It’s a brave new world out there; and the geeks have truly inherited the earth. We are no longer relegated to parents’ basements…unless we want to be. We are everywhere, and social cliques are as fluid as they have ever been. I can’t believe he is going to grow up in an age where people will actually go to a theater or convention centre to watch a live D&D game be played. Still the necessary nods and respect to the old ways were observed. There was Cheetos, chips, and mountain dew aplenty. I tried to kill the boy with a save or suck effect, but he is wily like his old man, and he came away unscathed.

I have to say, without ego, that my son was absolutely amazing, he was a natural.  I mentioned last post that I had converted UK1 “The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh” module to 5th edition. The party is comprised of my son’s elven rogue, Stargazer, my friend is playing a half-elf warlock, and two dwarven NPC brothers (life domain cleric and fighter). They have penetrated the “haunted house” and have cleared the first floor. We started with a brief session 0 to establish bonds. My son came up with the idea that he was orphaned  when orcs wiped out his village and he was taken in by the dwarven brother’s family, and now seeks to hunt down these orcs. That’s pretty good eh? He even role played at times. When the barkeep at the Drunken Sea Urchin told him he needed to speak to an elderly poacher if he wanted more information on the “Haunted House” he asked me if he could “mutter” under his breath that this is ridiculous and a waste of his time. Also, when he found out how much it would cost to rent a room for the week he exclaimed, despite having no concept of money and what things cost, that this was “outrageous” and a “rip-off”. We also had to gently explain to him why he couldn’t make the NPC brothers go and investigate the horrible wailing and screams coming from the dark basement.

I think the hardest part was trying not to overly constrain his imagination. He was climbing into rafters to shoot his bow down at the monsters and dodging out of the way of incoming attacks. I made a sinfully bad DM error. He kept wanting to attack with his daggers, but he does more damage with his rapier, which I kept pointing out like some kind of overbearing power gamer. This is something I would never dream of doing with another adult, but I guess I am so used to telling him or teaching him how to do things as his dad that I didn’t catch myself until after. Next time I will be more mindful of that and just encourage him to do what he thinks is cool……and then kill him and build a character that doesn’t have any daggers.


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I have been thinking a lot about complexity in rpg’s , that and the metric ton of shit that Rob Schwalb took over a recent blog post . From what I can gather it seems that some folks felt betrayed by his self-admitted rant as they perceived it to be the metaphorical equivalent of him dropping his pants and bricking into the mouth of the character optimization play style and by extension into the mouths of 3rd and 4th edition fans, who he was supposedly meant to represent in the design of 5th edition. I didn’t take his post that way, I mean really what DM hasn’t felt the berserker rage as some filthy fucking optimizer…er sorry… -deep cleansing breaths, finding my warm happy place- I am also not prone to being narcissistically wounded by the decisions a game company makes or need what I like to be validated by others, but hey that’s just me. Anyone who has followed Rob’s personal blog shouldn’t be surprised by this at all as he has long expressed his growing dissatisfaction with the aspects of very “crunchy” game systems that were becoming increasingly at odds with the experience he was looking to have at the gaming table. If you look past the hyperbole, you see a guy who is really just describing the results of his gaming “vison quest”, and what he has learned about his preferences and what makes the hobby awesome for him.

I also happen to agree with what I think Rob is trying to say. I didn’t take his post as advocating or that he, in some way conspired, to remove the mechanical crunchiness or complexity from D&D, but rather that the game needs to offer more than just that. D&D, to be truly successful, moving forward needs to allow and support different play styles. I realize that you can play a given edition anyway that you want and are not limited to doing things just one way and I am not talking about flirting with barmaids or talking to the king because those are the same whatever you’re playing. I am talking more about the game in action. For example you can try and recreate a heavy exploration or dungeon crawl feel similar to what you experienced in 1st or 2nd edition D&D with say 4th Edition but the system constantly fights you. It pulls for long set piece tactical skirmishes where the roleplaying, exploration, and interaction happen in combat. The combat essentially is and where the roleplaying happens. The combats are long because we need to make sure to use every standard, minor, immediate, free, and no action we painstakingly crafted together and that are at our disposal. Character creation can be a beast, even for someone like me, and a bit of a barrier just from the sheer volume of decisions and options. It’s one thing if that kind of stuff is your jam, but if it is not then you are kind of boned in 4th edition. I saw this first hand in my face to face group, were none of them probably ever read the core rulebook let alone a charop forum. Character creation and leveling were brutal. When they clicked on that button for their first level feat you could see their eyes glaze over at the nauseating volume of choices. Again, it doesn’t mean 4th edition is bad or wrong or that you can’t just say fuck it and pick the first option you see, it’s just the system pulls for something different. I found Pathfinder the same way, maybe even more so.

After reading the Basic Rules I am beginning to get sense of what they meant by an edition for everyone through modularity and I think it’s fantastic. If you want easy character creation and an old school feel of play you go with the baseline classes, opt out of feats and stick with stat bumps, and use theatre of the mind for combat. It’s quick, easy, and you’re cooking with gas. You want a more 3rd to 4th kind of feel? Then add some of the more complex sub-classes, opt into feats, use the rules for grid play, and boom Bob’s your uncle. There is even supposed to be different ways to handle healing, other than the default hit dice system, coming in the DMG that will allow you to tailor it to your desired play style. For those of you who are having aneurisms at the thought that Mr. Schwalb has single handily ripped out the still beating heart of the charop play style devoured it in front of you, take it easy. It doesn’t matter what system it is the minute you have any choices there will always be the best choice and best combinations, especially with multi-classing and feats. Plus this is just starting; you don’t think there is going to be tons of more player options in the future? You have to remember that charop is a lucrative play style for any company, because there are more players than DMs and player options sell. I think the take away is that WOTC is trying to provide you with options in terms of play style, not choosing one over the other. Is it going to be perfect? No, but what in life is aside from beer, pizza, and for some of us online streaming pornography?

Personally, I would have to say I have been leaning towards moderate complexity, in terms of character creation and game rules. You could sort of say I am like goldilocks in that regards. I like a descent amount of choices or options in character development and play, but not so much that it is overwhelming where you have to study the books like they were the Dead Sea scrolls. In gameplay, I am finding I prefer a system that is easy to adjudicate (parsimony over simulationistic detail) and combat that is not sluggishly long. I know you are laughing at the last point as I have played predominantly 4th Edition over the past 4 years, but it is likely that fact that has more clearly defined my preference. However, having said that I can make do with less or more complexity; I am kind of a cheap date that way. I am pretty intrigued with the new D&D, and maybe it will hit my sweet spot, but more on that later.

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Unless you’re a gamer that lives under a rock then you have probably heard that 5th edition is jismming (is that a word?) all over our collective faces, necks, and chests July 15th with the release of the Starter Set, and get this, a free version of the core rules (or what they are calling Basic D&D) in a pdf download. The Starter Set is DM focused coming with pre-gens, advice/rules, and an adventure for levels 1 to 5. The free Basic D&D is the core of the game with character creation rules for levels 1-20 with four classic races and classes. It will also include some monsters, game rules, and magic items so you could technically play full campaigns with the free pdf if you so desired. The traditional core books will have a staggered release (a sort of refractory period between jisms if you will) with the Players Handbook coming August 19th, the Monster Manual September 30th, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide November 18th. The PHB will have the fuller contingent of classes, sub classes, races, and the rest of bells and whistles. The DMG will provide the traditional world building/campaign guidelines and magic items as well as some of the promised modularity in terms of variant rules. I of course pre-ordered all three core books. It also looks like WOTC is going to try and focus on adventure paths this time around, especially after giving the core rules away for free. The two entries The Hoard of the Dragon Queen (8/19/14) and The Rise of Tiamat (10/21/14) are set in the Forgotten Realms. I am not sure how I feel about this. It just seems like yesterday’s news, but I guess they want try and appeal to the largest segment of the audience.

The reaction to the free Basic D&D was pretty amusing. I personally thought it was a great move and a lot of others on the interwebs were in agreement. However, there was a fairly vocal contingent that took a dump all over it. I have never seen a company take so much shit for trying to give something away for free. A friend of mine said you’d think they were giving away free syphilis or something. People are screaming that it is not enough, giving us a gimped game, with chants of an OGL or nothing. WOTC has stated that they have plans that they will announce later detailing the license structure of 5th edition and it seems like there will be a system for being able to sell individually created stuff, so will see. On a side not it would be ridiculous for WOTC to ever do an OGL type thing again. It was probably the worst business decision they have ever made, great for consumers, but ultimately terrible for them.

My own gaming has been a little stagnant of late. I have prepped the new introductory module for the Slaver’s A-series published in the re-released hardcover collector’s edition using the OSRIC system. The game has been put on hold as sadly one of the players, who is my best friend, is dealing with the final stages of his father’s battle with cancer. I am still playing in the 4th edition Against the Giants game and we have slowly ground our way to the last bit of the final module. My Dwarven fighter Karl Laggerbelly is a beast of a defender. I have to say that the published modules in 4th edition have really not been great. Even with Chris Perkins writing the giants ones, I just find the combat system ill-suited to the traditional dungeon crawl. The best 4e games I have played in or run have been homemade with an eye towards the mechanics of the game. Lastly, I have been slowly working my way through the new Runequest rule book. I really like the system as it brings back a lot of fond memories from my youth. I am amazed by how much more complexity they have added to the system. I had the thought that with the gritty style of play that can be created that the system would be great for a Dark Sun setting. With a little work the Folk Magic could be re-flavored as psionics. So I have that percolating around my brain, we’ll see what comes of it.

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Well the specter of D&D next hangs heavy over the nerd realms these days like a giant Rorschach level pit stain evoking a myriad of responses ranging from the second coming of Christ or Elvis to complete and utter revulsion and white hot rage. Where do I fall on this spectrum? Well somewhere in the middle around indifference and bordering on complete apathy. Don’t get me wrong I will still buy the core books because well, I buy everything anyways. But I really need this thing to come out soon so some of the edition warring can simmer down. I know it will never stop but with the open play testing it seems to have concentrated it like a lightning rod in the WOTC forums. They still haven’t set a firm launch date, which isn’t helping much as it gives the illusion to some that the game is in trouble design wise. They have stated that they are shooting for a summer 2014 release, which most took to mean at GenCon this year. However, with that date inching up on the horizon, they have been pretty coy about whether it is a go or not. There aren’t any official events listed for D&D Next on the schedule aside from some seminars that use the wording “upcoming” edition (edit-a poster named Wavester confimred theat he has entered WOTC events for the registration at GenCon but they are waiting for a few details to be ironed out before they get “turned on” and that they will be using a D&D Neext ruleset). There is an unconfirmed rumor that the Basic or starter set (not to be confused with the PHB, DMG, and MM which will come later) will be launched July 15th. I don’t envy the developers and I f I was one I would probably try and push it off for as long as possible as there is the very real possibility that it’s release could land with a big echoing thud, regardless of the actual quality of the game. Then what?

It’s hard to get a bead on what’s going to happen. The forums are a bit of a wet hot mess with each feature, mechanic, or playstyle being constantly attacked and ripped apart by packs of jackals. Nobody can agree on anything and everything seems polarizing from cries of dissociative mechanics to vancian vrs neo-vancian casting to healing and hit dice. Perhaps my favorite clash was WOTC’s decision to remove movement penalties for the smaller races in combat. The rational being that there are more interesting ways to bring out the flavor of the individual races than a movement penalty. So Dwarves and Halflings no longer have a lower speed than the rest of the races. The shit storm and threatened rage quits that erupted in a thread was something to behold with some decrying it as the further pussification of the game because the munchkins don’t want any kind of challenge compared to the good old days. Then there were simulationists claiming that this ruined their verisimilitude because it’s just not physically possible for someone smaller to move the same speed as someone taller. This led others pointing out that in a six second period a little person or even a child could probably sprint 30ft which then led to, I shit you not, someone entering the land speed of a cheetah into the conversation. How can you win when you’re designing for these people? Now granted I am a firm believer in the silent majority that are way less bothered by any of this bullshit and I see a lot of people that are reasonably flexible that seem to like what they see so far. But then there is the part of me that thinks who is really going to run a table top rpg these days other than some crazy, intense motherfucker that posts on forums (or writes a dumb blog-natch). When you look out over the hobby landscape these days table top rpg’s are an ever shrinking niche market with so many strong options and contentious factions you have to wonder what the expectations for D&D can be? The strength of Pathfinder alone and I realize rpg’s are not a zero sum area, has to dent performance expectations let alone the general hatred that WOTC tends to evoke in a lot of people.

I know personally I won’t allow myself to get caught up in the product frenzy like I did with 4th edition. I look at my shelve full of all that crap and get angry. I am going to keep it simple this time around and be a little judicious with what I get, perhaps being satisfied with just the core books…yah and then pigs will start flying and hell will freeze over and I will start shiting golden eggs out my ass.


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So I was reading Mike Mearls’ Legends and Lore column, you know so I can fill myself with indignant rage to fuel my sleep deprived workweek. Anyways, it was the article about “what happens in between adventures” in D&D Next that started this ball rolling.  Apparently they have created mechanics for what your character does in between adventuring that then confers some kind of benefit.  This covers things from socializing and gaining beneficial acquaintances/contacts to the old favorite of spell research (yes we are back to that again).  My initial response was “Why the fuck are they doing this, like really who needs this in their lives?” Were the faceless masses, with flaming dice bags in hands, screaming and demanding this?  It seems like it flies in the face of their primary design goal to strip the core rules down to the very essence of what D&D is. I guess I always thought you just had conversations about what happens in between adventures and what you did or wanted to do, you know you kind of talked it out or role-played it out or whatever. It doesn’t really seem to make sense to put mechanics to these things, it feels…..burdensome.

The article, aside from causing agita, got me reflecting on my own gaming style and how it has changed over the years. I find that I don’t really do much with the scenes in between scenes these days. Any Interaction scenes, set up by me, are meant to drive the adventure or impart necessary information for the adventure.  Gone are the shopping trips, visits to the tavern, or just shooting the shit with the locals. I might flesh out player ideas or goals through some Q&A that can be built into the adventure or narrative of the game, but that’s about it. The 4E game system might have something to do with it, as there is an emphasis on encounters, or it might be a slight withdrawal from simulationist aspects, I don’t know.  In some ways I think I just have less time.

You see back in the old days much of the gaming sessions were spent in these scenes between scenes, sometimes more so than the actual adventure.  Throughout high school I mostly gamed with my best friend. We played  Runequest and Champions, with each of us taking turns running games for our characters (yes the GM played his own character). Sometimes another friend of ours would join. In the summer we played in my 2 car garage that never housed a car. We were surrounded by multiple weight benches, free weights, and other implements of pumptitude. The walls were adorned with various comic book and basketball posters, sport illustrated covers, and anything else we thought was cool. Our playing surface was an old wood boxed television set with an unused door laid across the top (I know sounds super ghetto but it was awesome).  Like most teenagers we had nothing but time and our sessions definitely reflected a certain lack of urgency.  Everything was played out because we could and it gave us the opportunity to bull shit and make each other laugh. We were the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of gaming. Nothing was important but everything was important at the same time. The game could pause at the drop of a hat so thorough discussion could be had on hot girls, sports, movies who had the coolest super power, what superhero would win in a fight  etc… Anything that wasn’t accomplished or gotten too was easily done tomorrow night.  It also helped when you were a little light on the prep or ideas.

These days I just have so little time that I get agitated if something’s not happening. I need to be smashing something in its face before the sessions over or I get too tired to remember where I am and what I am doing. I am not really looking to know what happens in between adventures, unless it is substantive, and then we can handle it through some quick Q&A.  I also really don’t want to be talking with every npc on the block, especially if it doesn’t give me vital information or lead directly to me kicking something or somebody in the nuts. The thought of adding mechanics or minutia makes me nauseous and seems the opposite of streamlining and more like bloating. The people I know that have playtested  D&D next have been somewhat neutral about it. It hasn’t’ been horrible, it hasn’t been great; it’s just kind of whatever. With so many options out there these days I do get the sense that WOTC needs D&D Next more than we need D&D Next, or at least than I need it.

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I made a conscious decision a while back to stop visiting and reading the Wizards of the Coast forums. It was really a pre-emptive move before my family physician tired to place me on blood pressure medication or I found myself randomly rage punching strangers in the throat. I don’t know what the tipping point was, it might have been when the 5th ongoing thread around Alignment pooped up on the “What’s a DM to Do” sub-forum with the ubiquitous arguments about how to punish those who don’t’ act their alignment to how 4th editions sucks because there is no real alignment system to force players to act appropriately to what alignment is Batman (FYI he’s Lawful Good). I have never been one to post a ton on the forums and if I do so it’s only to answer a question or offer requested help. I don’t like to argue, sorry I mean debate, with anyone unless there is the threat of potential physical violence to moderate people’s responses and civility. Instead I just started a blog to use as my personal bully pulpit so I can spew whatever inane, ill informed, half-cocked bull shit that comes into my juvenile mind.

In a similar vein I have been avoiding any participation with D&D Next whether that being the ongoing play test or the forum talk. The only exception has been that I read Mike Mearls’ weekly Legends and Lore column. It is just enough of a toe in the water that I can use as fodder for my inane, ill informed, and half-cocked rants. When I read the February 18th offering I audibly sighed and groaned at my desk, so much so that my office mates thought that something that actually mattered had occurred, like my wife was leaving me or someone had died. What irked me so was his statement that they were going back to the cleric as the default healer for the game on account it was the easiest solution to the divergent pleas emanating from the play test and a desire by the design team to keep the core rules of the game simple… and well gosh darn it people are just used to it being that way anyways…..well BLAH

I don’t know what irked me so much about this, other than I hated the default heal-bot approach of editions yore. It just seems so regressive or placating or defeatist, I don’t know. He then went on to point out that there can be lots of modular add-ons that can change the nature/amount of healing available in the game. Again my office mates looked over at my audible groan and sigh and I again had to sheepishly explain that yes this reaction was for nothing evenly remotely serious or important.

I am really starting to sour on this modularity thing that they seem to be using as a blanket answer to soothe any edition war hackles. I haven’t even seen what this vaunted modularity will look like but I already hate it with a white hot irrational anger. It smacks of cowardice, although maybe that’s a little harsh. I don’t want a million options or a need to cobble together levels of complexity to get a game that I want to play. I just want one set of rules that encompasses the whole game and if I like it I’ll play and if not I won’t. Trying to make everyone happy or maybe more accurately preventing them from being pissed off just seems like a recipe for a shit game. I don’t know what the answer is for them, but I guess this is the consequence of trying to continuously re-package and sell the same rules. Don’t get me wrong I am still going to buy the core rules cause really what else am I going to do with my money. I am just not looking forward to it.

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I finally found a way to do it. It wasn’t easy though. It took a lot of skill, charm, and ruthless determination, but I managed to win at D&D. While I was in San Diego at the Comic Con I fought my way through the seething masses (40,000 + a day) to the ballroom hosting rpg play. It was slim pickings with only D&D 4th Edition and Pathfinder being offered, but none the less the place was packed. On the D&D side of things they were offering LFR mods, learn to play with the red box, and 1 hour delves. It was the later that scratched my itch as I found out you could earn points based on team performance that could be traded in for loot. Basically you earned points for monsters killed and encounters completed within the hour time limit. As I lazily scanned the loot table my eyes popped out of my head like some cartoon character getting a glimpse of Bugs Bunny in drag (on a side note does anyone else see that as an erection metaphor or is that just me and my juvenile default to cock?) as I spotted the condition cards. Now the thing is you can’t actually buy these things anywhere as they were originally created as DM rewards back in the day, trust me I have tired. This always seemed strange to me given the prevalence of conditions in the game and a little bit of ball dropping or fondling on WoTC’s part, particularly since the other more popular and better looking half of the company is a card making machine. The great thing about these cards is the awesome artwork on each one depicting and action scene in which said condition is being applied.

When my friend and I sat down at the table we were joined by the standard motley crew, the type of cat that frequents the dark corners of cons, you know a real nerds nerd. With so much riding on the outcome I needed to take stock of the situation and see what kind of hand I had been dealt. I was a little worried when 2 of the players turned out to be relative noobs. That left my sidekick (who I have personally trained in the ways of the 4th edition) and a young dude who said his group stuck with 3.5. He was wearing a paper Magic the Gathering crown and spoke with a little too much denial so I had a hunch he was sandbagging. Something needed to be done as I had a horrific vision of my precious condition cards slowly tumbling from my hands. So I took charge. I quickly and nonchalantly put forth the treatise on focused fire and subtly maneuvered myself into one of the striker pre-gens. What followed was the worst display of bossy boots I have ever witnessed at a gaming table. I was all over the place with “helpful hints, reminders and suggestions”. It was slightly shameful but as the final seconds ticked down and the BBEG fell like a sac of doorknobs I knew I had achieved my goal; I had won at D&D. When the volunteer placed those cards in my hand I felt like Robert Duval in Apocalypse Now as he surveyed the napalmed beach and heard his voice echo in my head  “it smells like..victory”.

So that’s it for this week. I will probably post more about the comic con next time with some pictures when I am back into the non-vacation routine.

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