Monday, September 30, 2013

Dungeons and Dragons Next News: Class Groupings

This morning Wizards of the Coast published the latest Legends and Lore column by Mike Mearls: Class Groups.

According to Mr. Mearls the class grouping system that is coming out for the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons is an outgrowth of their attempts to deal with the Sorcerer, Warlock, and Wizard classes in a meaningful manner. Under the current system the three are sub-classes of the Mage class. It is apparent that this class, sub-class arrangement is an effort to address one of the major problems with the last two editions of Dungeons and Dragons: multiple classes performing the same purpose with no substantive difference between them. For example, other than a game mechanic difference (preparation of spells) there is no real difference between the Sorcerer and the Wizard in third edition Dungeons and Dragons. By making them a sub-class of the Mage you can create fundamental narrative and mechanical differences between the sub-classes that go beyond the name of each group. 

That is a huge step forward in the development of the game from its most recent iterations. 

This class grouping system originates with the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition game. In that system you had a Class and several sub-classes to pick from. In Second Edition the Warrior Class included the Fighter, Paladin, and Ranger; the Priest Class included the Cleric and Druid; the Wizard Class included the Mage, Specialist Wizard, and Illusionist; and the Rogue Class included the Thief and the Bard. The use of sub-classes made it easier to understand the overall purpose of the Class while allowing for each sub-class to express different styles of play.

This system works well in the early stages of production, as it did in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition, but problems develop in the system with the introduction of each new supplemental rules accessory. Each new product attempts to provide the consumer with a new and improved reason for purchasing the product; and without question this often comes in the form of more powerful player character sub-classes, races, magical spells and items. This 'power creep' eventually becomes so bloated that the system is unable to continue on and must be rebooted. 

In essence this creates a built-in shelf life for the product which is dictated by the volume of material published that provides fundamental changes to how the game is played. 

What all that means is that by looking at the previous incarnations of the game we can estimate that the new system will last seven to ten years (third and fourth edition will each have been in publication for seven years when they were replaced by new editions and second edition was in publication for ten years) before it becomes so bloated with supplemental rules, sub-classes, races, specialized items and equipment that a new system will be needed to clean up all the mess.

Which is fine by me. 

The current system that is being discussed by Mr. Mearls uses four Classes: Warriors, Tricksters, Mages, and Priests. The exact shake-up of what sub-class goes where is not really spelled out yet but by looking at the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition Classes we can have a good clue as to where the base sub-classes will end up - though one thing is clear, if the comments on the article are of any value than the Trickster Class will be renamed the Rogue Class.
". . . Our goal with class groups is to provide an easy framework that magic items and other abilities can use to refer to classes, to give people a set of terms they can use to compare and contrast classes in broad strokes, and to make it easy for players to understand how the classes beyond the core four (cleric, fighter, rogue, wizard) relate to that basic group . . ." (Class Groups by Mike Mearls).
In researching this article I've noticed that there are a rather vocal group of commentators out there who are lambasting the new system for having items associated with classes. They act as though this is something that existed exclusively with Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons and that it was the kiss of death for that system. 

They are clearly wrong. 

There have been Class exclusive items present in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons Second Edition, Third Edition Dungeons and Dragons, and Fourth Edition Dungeons and Dragons. While it is true that the concept was taken to its limits in Fourth Edition, it is not a new concept to the game. It was not the kiss of death for any other system; and I daresay it will not be the death knell of the new edition.

30 Day Dungeons and Dragons Challenge, Day 30: Best DM

Of all the Dungeon Masters I've ever played with Kid Icarus is the best. He has his weak spots, just as we all do, but by and large he does the three things I ask any Dungeon Master to do: he's creative, responsive to my needs as a player, and willing to let me go as far as my imagination can take me.

Fucking A, Son. Fucking A.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

30 Day Dungeons and Dragons Challenge, Day 29: d20 Say What?

Story of my life.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

30 Day Dungeons and Dragons Challenge, Day 28: A Character You Will Never Play Again

James Spinoza from Day 8.

He was retired alive after surviving every bullshit attempt that Dungeon Master could concoct to kill him. He sits in a place of honor in my house. Already said a lot about him on day 8 and there really isn't much left to say at this point, so, moving on.

Friday, September 27, 2013

30 Day Dungeons and Dragons Challenge, Day 27: A Future Character

To be honest, at this point I'd just like to play a character again. I've been an exclusive Dungeon Master for so long that I can't remember the last time I played as a character.

So, any.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Cookie Jar by post world games

cookie jar is a game of wild accusations and denials that begs for you to play it while at a bar drinking heavily of the latest dark beer to go on tap. 

Play begins when one player, it doesn't really matter who so long as one person starts, accuses another of some imaginary crime or indiscretion; from there the accused must come up with a clever alibi or be forced into the position of confessor. When no sufficient alibi can be found, or the accused player runs out of dice, the game is over and the last player accused is the loser, while the last accuser is the winner.

A simple game, with simple mechanics.

Now there are a few caveats with this game. First the game requires that have fifteen dice to pay for your actions during the game, but they are essentially meaningless to the game's play. You could just as easily play with poker chips, rocks, pretzels, or even the loose change in your pockets all of which would be far more convenient than lugging around all the dice necessary for play. Additionally this is not a game for everyone. You need to know going in to this game that you're playing with people who will not cross the line of a fantasy game and move it into the world of real crimes and indiscretions. The final problem I have with this game comes from the writing style. The author, jim pinto, has written what is an incredibly fun game that can be played most everywhere and yet it has this sense of apathy about it that makes me ask, if you don't care about this game, why should I?

Regardless of those three issues the game is a very fun experience and can be played most anywhere with as many players as you feel comfortable bringing along. Just remember who you're playing with and enjoy a game filled with more lies and false accusations than Clue ever hoped to have.

Overall Score

Score: 7 out of 10

If this game sounds like one you'd like then you can download it for free from the link cookie jar.

30 Day Dungeons and Dragons Challenge, Day 26: Non-Magical Items

My favorite non-magical item has got to be caltrops. So often when we're buying gear for an adventure you find yourself spending money on shit you really don't need - like food - but then you run across caltrops and you think, sure, but do I really need them.

The answer is yes, always yes.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

A Quick and Dirty Mutations Chart

Last night I was reading An Anthropomorphic Character-Generator for D&D and Variants (a 2d10 idea) from the Disoriented Ranger's blog and it got me to thinking about one of my favorite aspects of Warhammer Fantasy Role-play: chaos mutations. I've always been dissatisfied with the Dark Lore Side Effects table from pg 159 of the RPG book and the Tomb of Corruption, while good, isn't quick enough for me during my games. 

I need my tables to be quick because if I hesitate for even a moment while I'm running my players will take advantage of my perceived indecisiveness. So my charts have to be clean, easy to read affairs, and no more than one or two pages in length. 

This is what I came up with:

Edit: Now you can download it in PDF!

White Dwarf #3

Another issue of White Dwarf and another fantastic cover, this one by Alan Hunter. I am fascinated by this cover - mostly because I'm unsure of what is happening.

There are three adventurers on the cover, one of whom has been captured by some sort of spectral creature. The groups paniced expressions are perfect and you know that with that gigantic fucking spider coming from behind that this group is about to wipe. The cover is great even if the male warrior in front has a bigger left tit than the woman behind him.

The one thing that I wish White Dwarf would do is have story attached to the cover printed in their magazine. I assume that their reason for holding back from such a story is to avoid the more direct comparisons with Dragon Magazine which had been published for nearly a year more than White Dwarf at this point. 

My expectations for this magazine only continue to rise after White Dwarf #1 and White Dwarf #2 were so fantastic. I really hope that this issue continues that tradition.

Solo Dungeon Mapping by Roger Moores

Rodger Moores is of the opinion that Dungeons and Dragons, and especially the Empire of the Petal Throne, are ideally suited for solo play. After reading this article it is clear that he is partially correct but a whole mess of wrong.

Mr. Moores created 100 maps representing an area of 200 ft x 200 ft and though it is not stated directly in the article he then numbered each of the maps from one to one hundred. He then rolls percentile dice to determine which map is first to be 'explored' during his solo play. After denoting the correct map he then begins to manuver around the map, rolling for encounters as ascribed by Dungeons and Dragons, until he comes to the end of the map and must move on to a new one; at which point he repeats his previous actions. 

That is most assuredly a game that can be played using the Dungeons and Dragons rule sets and being industrious, but it is not fucking Dungeons and Dragons. What Mr. Moores has forgotten when creating his mini-game is that Dungeons and Dragons is ultimately a game of social exchange between the players and the referee within the confines of a fantasy setting. It is not a board game; but that is what Mr. Moores has created with his solo experience.

Competitive Dungeons and Dragons 
by Fred Hemmings

This article is like reading half a book with all the pages out of order and the numbers missing. There are ideas within the article itself that are worth incorporating into your own game, but by and large it is a frustrating and difficult read. 

For the first time I am actually disappointed with this article series.

The Monstermark System 
by Don Turnbull

I have no use for the Monstermark System devised by Don Turnhull, but what is of infinite use is his musings on Experience Points and their value during game play. 

Mr. Turnbull begins his assessment of the Experience Point system by making the observation that a Dungeon Master should not use a static system as was expressed in Supplement I: Greyhawk. The static system present a situation where monsters represent only a single, set value; which creates a situation where the monsters are knocked off like pieces on a game board. By recognizing this problem he foresees the issues associated with the Challenge Rating System employed by third and fourth edition Dungeons and Dragons where the creatures faced become less and less challenging for the players as they are always level appropriate and there is never a really gruesome challenge waiting in the level of the dungeon they're exploring.

That nugget is one of the key arguments I have read on-line against play in third, and especially, fourth edition Dungeons and Dragons. In those editions the monsters you face are so specific to your current level that you aren't really facing a true challenge - unlike in earlier editions where you could face an ork, a land shark, or a mind flayer at second level. Those Oh, no! moments are missing in later editions and it isn't necessarily a good thing that they're gone.

The final aspect of Experience Points that Mr. Turnbull focuses on is the idea that a Dungeon Master should not be consistent with experience point values. The risk involved should determine the valuation. 

I agree with him. 

Open Box by Various Authors

The only review worth reading is on the line of Judges Guilds products. I really, really wish that I could find these at a reasonable price after reading this review. 

Dungeons and Dragons Campaign 
by Lewis Pulsipher 
Part I: Philosophy

After skipping an issue one of the best articles in White Dwarf has returned and Mr. Pulsipher comes back like a house of fire. This installment is focused on the skill game which was the only one he found worth pursuing back in White Dwarf #1.

He begins the article by stating that the ". . . referee must think of himself as a friendly computer with discretion . . ." (pg. 16). This is because, for Mr. Pulsipher, the Dungeon Master is supposed to have the entire game environment plotted out so that no matter which way the players go what they will encounter is already accounted for; that is a fundamentally different way of running than I have ever encountered and one that is going to change how I run for the better, I think. 

Mr. Pulsipher then moves on to the proper adventure admonishing the Dungeon Master to avoid manipulating the game one way or the other. If he moves the game in favor of the players than he circumvents their skill at the game and if he moves the game against them, by adjusting hit points and rolls, then he maligns their skill. Instead the Dungeon Master should create the setting and populate it with intelligent monsters who move and react as thoughtful beings do in reality. This, by turn, will create a situation where your players are forced to increase their skill at play. 

Fantastic advice.

Morale Rolls are then discussed which I had not previously encountered. Roll 2d6 for your monster, this result sets the bar for when they run. Now whenever something happens that might cause them to run, for example, an obviously more powerful party, you roll 2d6 and if you tie or beat that original number the monster flee. After finally having it explained to me I'm adding that into my games.

More advice:
. . . The referee who, for example, schemes to take a magic item away from a player is incompetent. If the player doesn't deserve the item he shouldn't have obtained it in the first place . . . (pg. 16)
I love this line if for no other reason than the idea that Mr. Pulsipher would like to project the idea upon you that he has never fucked up and given a player something they shouldn't have. What an ass!
. . . Don't lie to the players when speaking as referee. If players can't believe what the referee tells them they are cast adrift without hope. If one doesn't want them to know something, avoid the question . . . (pg. 16)
This is actually one of the tenets of my own beliefs about being a Dungeon Master and as a Manager (which I've been doing as my profession for the better part of the last decade); however instead of avoiding the question I tend to be direct and say either you're unable to tell or I have no idea. There is nothing wrong with not knowing - though in full disclosure I should also point out that a family motto has always been:

If you can't baffle them with brilliance, 
Blind them with bullshit. - Akins family motto
The 'quick thinking' of any military encounter is largely the result of training - troops don't have to think, they know by reflex what they're supposed to do. The characters in D&D, career adventurers, must have similar reflexes, but why expect someone who plays this weird game once a week to have the same reactions? It's ridiculous, and no more realistic than the system I prefer. My method is designed to enable players to make the best possible decisions, if they're intelligent enough. Reaction time isn't involved. The longer players are permitted to think, within broad limits, the more the skilled player will differentiate himself from the poor player. In most situations only a short time is needed. At the other extreme I have waited as long as fifteen minutes in a desperate or complex situation before reminding players that they ought to decide. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the game for the referee is watching the players devise an often brilliant plan to attack some monster . . . (pg. 17)
I have run across only one Dungeon Master who insisted that we contain our actions within the 6 seconds of the round, and he was an asshole. I'm with Mr. Pulsipher here.
Don't permit player consultation when characters wouldn't be able to communicate . . .(pg. 17)
This one seems kind of basic but it's one of those events in a game that happen so often that it usually needs to be reminded to novice Dungeon Masters - sometimes even to those of us who have been running games for a decade or more too.
. . . there is a good case for making Chaotic characters do exactly what they say immediately - they're chaotic, after all . . . (pg. 17)
I've often considered doing that with Chaotic aligned characters but had dismissed it as a wild hair. Now after reading that someone else has done so with at least some good effect I think that I would like to do so in my games for a few sessions just to see how it affects play.
. . . I use the following method. Players must stop for a one-fourth turn while using a detection spell. (Note that this time is given in Book III under 'The Movement in the Underworld' for an ESP spell). They receive information from all around, though if there are many separate places detected, more time than normal may be required. The players may then continue, but while moving or meleeing the caster may not use his spell, though it is still potentially useable and time is counted against its duration . . . (pg 17)
I'm really a fan of this interpretation of the spell and will be implementing it in my 3.5 game next Sunday.

This series just keeps getting better.

Colouring Conan's Thews by Eddie Jones

Thank god for this article!

For years I've been contemplating painting miniatures but have always felt like I didn't have the right understanding of the process for me to go wasting money on what is a very expensive hobby. But after reading this article I've actually decided to go for it. We'll see how that goes!

Treasure Chest by Various Authors

Unlike the last issue of White Dwarf there isn't a thing here worth using for me or my games. 

We finish with the back cover, which is really cool. 

Overall Review

I am still immensely enjoying the White Dwarf magazine and highly recommend all three of the issues I've reviewed so far. As always there are features that I could do without (the Monstermark and Loremaster of Avallon in particular) but by and far articles like Colouring Conan's Thews and Dungeons and Dragons Campaign are so worthwhile that I can labor through the crap just to bask in their glow.

Score: 9 out of 10

30 Day Dungeons and Dragons Challenge, Day 25: Magic Item

My favorite magic items of all time was an off the cuff item I created because I got bored in the middle of a dungeon. The session had been dragging along and I just didn't want to fool with it anymore so I left one in the middle of an encounter. It was a simple little dagger that one of the rogues picked up. Nothing about it was designed to stand out, and then she used it.

The dagger only did 1 point of damage, but it also opened up a hole in the fabric of reality 30' wide which would then transport everything within its area to some new location. Over the course of play I developed four charts for where the dagger would transport them. Then someone went and stole all my notes on the fucking thing.

Wish I still had all that.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Greg Leeds, C.E.O. of Wizards of the Coast, On the State of Everything

On Monday, September 23, 2013 Greg Leeds, Chief Executive Officer of Wizards of the Coast, had an interview published by ICv2 on the state of the industry and so very much more. I found most of his answers really interesting as, for me, they gave more information on the state of Wizards and the hobby gaming industry then I had a previous handle on after reading most of the news on EN*World and various other sources gaming news sites.
ICv2: What’s your assessment of the state of the games market and Wizards of the Coast’s place in it?
Greg Leeds: The games market is doing well from our standpoint.  Our business is up significantly, particularly being driven by Magic: The Gathering.  We’re seeing player growth, store growth and revenue growth across the board both here in the U.S. and on a global basis. 
ICv2: Is the market growing, your share, or both?
Greg Leeds: With the data we have, it appears that the market is growing.  From our perspective, retailers, as is our goal, are becoming financially more successful, and with that financial success they’re investing in great play experiences and attracting more people to the industry in general and not just to our brands.
Over the last few years I have been wondering about the play experiences that Wizards of the Coast has been sponsoring. Events such as Friday Night Magic, Kaijudo Master Challenge, and Dungeons and Dragons Encounters were clearly designed to bring more players into local retailers, and thereby, increase sales both for Wizards and the store; but with fewer retailers out there I had the feeling that this might be too little too late.  

There will people out there who will say, yes but Pazio has been beating the pants off of Wizards so who cares about their sales. And here's the thing you have to remember about those sales figures, Pazio didn't start beating Wizards of the Coast until the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons had been announced. So essentially you're comparing an active producer of new purchasable content, Pazio, with an inactive one, Wizards of the Coast. For them to continue to have very strong sales even over the course of the last two years indicates than with the release of the new edition that they will once again dominate the market.
ICv2: The vision for D&D which was hinted at a year ago is becoming clearer, with an ambitious transmedia narrative that all feeds back to the game but also has its own parts of the story.  Can you talk about the overall strategy for what you’re doing with Dungeons & Dragons?

Greg Leeds: We are very ambitious with Dungeons & Dragons, and as you say, the strategy that we’re pursuing is starting to emerge.  One of the most important things with Dungeons & Dragons is that we are able to take the same stories and themes and execute them across platforms, not just in the paper side of the business but the digital side.  It’s beginning to happen now with the launch of The Sundering.  It’s our opportunity to rewrite the story of the Forgotten Realms and bring the realms back together.

The first and most tangible example of that is Bob Salvatore’s book, The Companions, which is doing extremely well.  We’ve got five other great authors who are working on The Sundering.  Those stories will then be taken to digital and paper products.

On the digital side, we’ve got a really exciting line-up of things that will be coming out shortly.  The Neverwinter launch from Perfect World came out in June and already has two million people who have downloaded the game.  This brings a whole bunch of new fans to the D&D business.

Next month we’ve got a new mobile game coming out, which is a battle RPG called Arena of War.  It will bring in all kinds of new players who want to have that RPG experience on a mobile device, either a phone or a tablet.  On the traditional board game sides, we’re coming out with Lords of Waterdeep as a digital tablet experience sometime in early 2014.

As we bring the stories together with all of those expressions across those platforms, we think D&D is poised for a completely new generation of consumers and excitement around the brand.
The multimedia approach that Wizards of the Coast is using to revitalize the Dungeons and Dragons game in the modern marketplace is a sound strategy for a company in a niche market. Unlike other game companies Wizards is actively marketing the game across a large swath in an effort to expand the core game's audience to new groups. That is fantastic because otherwise we're going to continue seeing the hobby shrink further and further until we only have a bunch of old grognards who begrudgingly play the game and watch it die with them. 

I'm not so sure about the number of players for the Neverwinter game that Mr. Leeds mentions. At the Gen Con Presentation (you can read more at Dungeons and Dragons 2013 Gen Con Presentation) they announced that Neverwinter had reached the 2,000,000 subscriber mark so I'm not sure if the 2 + million he refers to includes that original quantity or if it is its own unit. If it is then Perfect World's Neverwinter expansion has brought in more than $39,980,000 (assuming all purchasers bought the base expansion pack, $19.99 per base expansion pack x 2,000,000 users = $39,980,000), which is a good thing for Wizards of the Coast.

ICv2: Are you saying that the novels are the launch of the narratives and then they’re expressed in other media rather than it being a simultaneous thing?

Greg Leeds: Some things are done simultaneously and some things are done in sequence.  In particular, one of the key characters in the novel line is Isteval, who will come in the mobile Arena of War game.  In that sense, that there is sometime simultaneous and sometimes slightly delayed, but in over time they will be simultaneously experienced on different platforms.

ICv2: Fiction, paper games, online games, and comics are all places where this narrative is expressed, is that everything?

Greg Leeds: If you include in paper games board games in a digital tablet format and in a paper format, yes.  And we continue to work with our Los Angeles connections on the potential for a film.  Unfortunately I can’t announce anything at this time but we are looking for all venues of telling our story.
The Isteval character is a great introductory character to the Sundering Event. His video is well done and really gets even a staunchly Greyhawk fanboy such as myself thinking about the Forgotten Realms in a positive way.

Again, I think it is a fantastic move to evolve the game's story through a multimedia approach. Now there is a risk that in doing so you create a narrative that turns off players who don't want to be involved in your cannon games, but after having read several of the Legends and Lore articles by Mike Mearls I am beginning to have faith that their goal is to create an involving storyline that you can be a part of, but only if you want and that their core books will be setting neutral - in as much as they ever are.
ICv2: We recently did an interview about The Sundering and how it’s going to be playable with 3.5, 4 or Next rules and your folks made the comment that they’re disengaging the narrative from the rules so you can play however you want all around the same narrative (see "Exclusive Interview on The Sundering").  Can you talk more about that interesting strategy?
Greg Leeds: The idea is that we don’t want any of our audience split based on the rules they’re familiar with and like to play.  We want to offer an opportunity for whatever your rules choice is so you can enjoy the narrative that’s coming up and the characters in the story lines that will excite the fan base in the future.

ICv2: Is that the strategy going forward?
Greg Leeds: Yes, absolutely.  That’ll be a strategy you’ll see for years to come. 
Being, relatively speaking, system neutral is a huge benefit for the company in many way. It will provide them with the ability to be a content provider as opposed to a system provider which should make the relaunch of Dungeons and Dragons Insider (and hopefully Dragon and Dungeon magazines) a more profitable endeavor. After all, it's easier for me to purchase something for my game if I don't have to worry about converting all the game mechanics every time I start to work my way through the product. 

We'll have to wait and see how successful they really are after the system is finally published though. 
ICv2: Maybe take some share back from Paizo?
Greg Leeds: We’re not in a share game; we never have been.  I’ve been with Wizards of the Coast for five years and we’ve always talked about how our role is to build the hobby gaming industry.  We’ve said that from the beginning; we stick by that now.  I wish the best of luck to all hobby game manufacturers.  All of them.
"We’re not in a share game; we never have been" is a powerful statement about the way that Greg Leeds sees Wizards of the Coast's roll in the industry and how they expect things to shake out after the publication of the new edition. I'm not sure how things will end up, but I would be surprised if they weren't right as they have the name recognition, they are redeveloping the fan base through an innovative understanding of their place in the market, and they have the money to spend on ensuring their place in the industry.
ICv2: One of the surprises to us is that the market seems to have been able to absorb two new successful CCG launches, but in recent years there were a lot of CCGs launches that crashed and burned in a year or less.  What does that tell you about the market?

Greg Leeds: What it tells me is what I’ve believed, which is that the hobby gaming industry competes in the general entertainment industry.  When you think of that, it means that we are only capturing a small percentage of the total entertainment leisure time and money that our potential consumers have.  So our opportunity in the industry is to build way beyond where we are today . . .
This last part I'm including from the interview is important to me as it tells more about Greg Leeds' thinking in relation to the hobby industry in general. Unlike previous C.E.O.s at Wizards, Greg seems to be a man of ambition and vision - which is incredibly important in a hobby that has more competing interests than ever before. During his tenure as Wizards C.E.O. he has been able to expand their presence at locations such as Barnes and Noble, Wal-Mart and Target by getting large displays of Magic: the Gathering cards on their floor; and that is a remarkable feat as Wal-Mart in particular has always treated Magic like it was plague ridden. 

With Greg Leeds' ambitious nature I hope that he is able to continue to bring the hobby industry out of the niche stores and into the big box stores. Doing so will make it easier to purchase the game supplements and by-products that I love without the headache of having to deal with the arrogant clerks at the hobby shop. It would also lower the overall costs associated with a hobby that has made the fifty dollar print book the standard (seriously, who has that kind of money to spend on a hobby)!

Closing Comments.

Due to the influx of spam comments on Dyvers I am closing the comments. I'm not currently doing anything with this blog, but I don'...