Monday, April 24, 2017

D&D 5e: Hex Crawling through Storm King’s Thunder

In a Twitter conversation, +Mike Shea ( - who you should definitely be following, btw), noted that he thought Chapter 3 in Storm King’s Thunder has an excess of information about the Sword Coast and the North. From the conversation, it can be inferred that the page count could have been better spent on detailing 10 to 20 specific locations with maps, encounter locations, deeper hooks, etc. rather than spend 60 pages on 164 distinct locations, many of which only get a very small paragraph or two. He further states that the kind of information in Chapter 3 is better in a book like Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide rather than an adventure like Storm King’s Thunder.

He is not entirely wrong… but he’s not quite right either.

It’s true, that with 60 or so pages, one could detail 10 or 15 really kick ass locations. If you are given 3 to 6 pages for each location, rather than just a few paragraphs, you can really do a lot with that page count -- several side quests, maps, hooks, etc.  However, I disagree with his with the premise that Chapter 3 is less useful than 10 or so more detailed encounter locations. It's more a matter of preference.

A few very mild spoilers ahead, so be warned.

Hex Crawling to the Storm King

For those not familiar with old school terminology, a “hex crawl” was a kind of adventure supplement published “back in the day”. It would contain a numbered hex map and a guide book. The guide would detail the terrain in that particular hex as well as some detail of note which may be an encounter, a landmark such as a ruin or geographic feature, or some other interesting idea the DM could use to add depth to exploring that particular area of the map. The details were often sparse, giving only a seed of inspiration for the DM to work with, but there were also those locations that were more explicitly detailed, such as a tomb or other mini-dungeon.

Hexographer can add some old school creaminess to your maps.
In general, a hex crawl map was not an adventure itself, but more of a region for adventures to occur within. There were a few adventure modules that combined the idea with a hex crawl with a thin plot line for the adventure itself that connected a few key locations. One of the most famous is X1 The Isle of Dread for Basic D&D (5e conversion here). More recent examples include Pathfinder's King Maker adventure path.

Getting back to the point of this post, the reason Storm King’s Thunder has 164 named locations in Chapter 3 is to allow a sandbox-style open world adventure. This harkens back to the the hex crawls of the old days. Instead of giving just a handful of in-depth encounter areas with detailed dungeon maps, SKT gives a short description of numerous locations with possible encounters or plot hooks. This provides a large, open-world feel because these description cover a huge geographic area. If you think of Chapter 3 as a hex crawl guide, it makes perfect sense.

As Mike noted in his tweets, he prefers these kinds of details and descriptions would be in a setting book like Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide. However, he does not take into account that most of these entries also detail how events in Storm King’s Thunder are impacting these locations (such as a hill giant raid in Amphail, trolls attacking Calling Horns, or Fire Giants wandering through Mornbryn’s Shield… not to mention the differing faction activities going on during these events). A generic setting guide book would not give hints, clues and hooks related to the adventure path.

Additionally, a great many of the DM’s who run an adventure path like Storm King’s Thunder are not necessarily going to buy the full setting book. Having the details on many of the locations in the North present within the adventure path itself means those DM’s don’t have to have the Sword Coast Adventurer’s Guide or a Forgotten Realms box set from an earlier edition of D&D.

I don’t own SCAG because my campaign is set in the Nentir Vale. The huge list of locations and encounter hooks in SKT has been fantastic for me because I have been translating each location to a similar spot in my own game world. Each location inspires me to include similar details into my setting when adapting SKT to my home game.

So which approach is better?

Neither, really. Both approaches are valid depending upon the design goals of the adventure. I totally understand Mike’s point and I do love adventures with a more tightly defined adventuring space than what is offered within Storm King’s Thunder. However, I also believe the goals of SKT are slightly different from Mike’s preferred design style… and that’s ok, too.

I was also taken aback by how sprawling Chapter 3 is, but as I’ve delved deeper into the adventure, I’m finding tons of useful nuggets of lore and hooks that I can sprinkle into my own game. It does take a little more preparation, so I can see that being a detriment for a DM whose goal is to run a low-prep campaign (which is also one of my own goals).  However, given that the setting for Storm King is so far-ranging across the Sword Coast and the North, I do not fault the designers for writing a chapter that is reminiscent of a hex crawl -- light on detail, but broad in scope.

How to Manage the Data Dump

At the heart of the complaint, I believe the difficulty Mike Shea is addressing is that Chapter 3 is a huge data dump. There is so much raw data given over the course of 60 pages, you can’t possibly remember it all as the PCs travel around, but there are ways to mitigate that issue.

I built a Google Doc (or Word file, or OneNote, etc) that includes a two to three sentence (at most) summary of each location in Chapter 3. Just like cramming for an exam in college, writing out what I’ve read in a short synopsis helps cement some of those details in my mind, and makes it easier to recall when the party is traveling toward an important location.

Also, I now have a 2 - 3 page document that can help me at the table. Each week during prep, I highlight the text of those locations the players are traveling toward in the next session or two. This makes it easy for me to quickly refer back to the full text in the book as well as allow me to pre-seed adventure hooks and come up with creative ideas for side quests.

As an example, the paragraphs on Calling Horns and Nesme (and the Evermoors) lead me to a copy of Dungeon #144. I was looking through the adventure index in Dungeon #150 for level appropriate side quests when I found an adventure in #144 related trolls and giants attacking Nesme. Holy crap! It’s exactly what I was looking for and ties directly to the events in Calling Horns. I just changed the location in the adventure to Calling Horns (since Nesme is now a ruin) and I’m off to the races! Without those short encounter descriptions of all the locations around the Evermoors from SKT, I may never have found this old adventure to adapt.

Final Thoughts

The end point to this post is that the travel log of Chapter 3 may include a multitude of locations with what appears to some DMs as too little detail on any one location.  But for me and many others, the wide array of detail spread across the broad landscape has provided a larger backdrop for hooks and inspiration. The approach the designers take is not incorrect because the scope of the adventure is intended to feel sprawling and vast (whether you agree with this broad scope is a different discussion). While this may require a little bit more prep on the part of the DM, that is a matter of personal taste and not necessarily the right or wrong approach for this particular book.

In a perfect world, Chapter 3 would have both the features of 10 finely detailed encounter areas alongside 100 or more smaller “places of interest”. But given page count constraints and production costs, it is hard to achieve both goals in a single epic adventure path. Given the options at hand, I like that Storm King’s Thunder takes a broad view despite how overwhelming it appears to the DM at first glance.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

D&D 5e: Scads of People Really Really Want Legal PDFs

On Saturday, April 1st, I shared a little fake news story about Wizards of the Coast finally selling PDFs for the D&D 5th Edition core rulebooks.

And it got a lot of attention. A CRAP LOAD, one might even say.

Let me give some perspective. I am a nobody in the RPG blogging world. I mean, I have a small amount of recognition on Google+ and the regulars on the D&D Facebook communities may vaguely recall the name of my blog... maybe. But really, I don't get a lot of traffic compared to some more "famous" bloggers. Last year, a really active month was 15,000 to 20,000 page views for the whole month. Lately, a good month is in the mid to upper 20's.

In one day the PDF "press release" article got about 13,000 page views in ONE DAY. That's more than half of my monthly traffic from all of February, and about 45% of the March total.

So, clearly, it got a lot more attention in the community than a typical post. So what does that tell me?

People really want those f@&%ing PDFs to be a reality.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Wizards of the Coast announces D&D 5th Edition PDF core books

Please note this article was originally published April 1, 2017.

In an effort to enable more D&D players use their books on any platform, Wizards of the Coast announced that D&D 5th Edition core rulebooks, Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, and Monster Manual, will be available in PDF format.

In a statement Wizard of the Coast President Chris Cocks reports, “We’re bringing D&D to the 20th Century… and besides, there are already so many bootleg scans on the Internet, we finally just figured ‘What the f@ck.’”.

As an added bonus, Cocks also announced that owners of the existing hardback books will receive $5 off the PDF price, as long as they present proof of ownership at their offices in Renton, WA.

“We believe $44.95 PDF price is an amazing discount for current D&D hardback owners. I don’t think you’d see a discount like this anywhere else in the RPG industry... and all you have to do is show up at our doorstep with your books in hand.”

Yeah... I guess you already knew this was an April Fools joke from the headline. Too "on-the-nose"?

Wizards of the Coast announces new D&D VR video game

Wizards of the Coast announces the first virtual reality video game out of their newly formed game studio!

In a collaboration with Sir Tech, Wizards of the Coast is bringing Wizardry into virtual reality with its new title: Dungeons & Dragons Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Sword Coast Lords

"You will be amazed at the 3D virtual reality dungeons we have created, complete with 5-foot square movement, a hallmark of the D&D tabletop experience," comments Chris Cocks, President of Wizards of the Coast.

"Once inside the Proving Grounds of the Mad Sword Coast Lords, you will experience a rainbow of 16 color virtual reality. We are pushing VR to limits not yet seen from Wizards of the Coast. Not since Nintendo Virtual Boy has anyone experienced VR like this!”

"With this title, alongside Battle Chess Dungeon Chess, we are are bringing VR to the 20th century!"

(p.s. - Dungeon Chess is an actual thing...)

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Raging Owlbear - now with 400K resolution!

I am ridiculous... and yet so awesome.
To all 5 of my loyal readers, thanks for getting me to 400,000 views. Your index fingers must be completely swollen from all the clicks.

It took well over a year to get my first 100,000 and now I'm getting 100K in less than 4 months. I must really be pissing people off. ;)

Let's see if we can hit a half million before July.

Serious moment ahead:

There's a lot wrong out there right now. People are suffering. Some humans are treating others like their worth is less because they are from someplace other than "here" (wherever "here" is). Fear and prejudice are outweighing empathy and compassion, and as in countless centuries before this one, the poor and downtrodden are suffering at the hands of the wealthy and powerful.

D&D is our escape from these problems, but it should also serve as our guide.

Be the Lawful Good Paladin you are inside. No matter what your political lean, we can be better than this.  Volunteer in your community -- a church, a food bank, a civic group. Fight for those without political or economic power. Play games with people with whom you might not otherwise socialize. Embrace the other, even if you don't always understand, or see eye to eye. And judge not, lest you be judged.

There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Thanks for reading!

Monday, March 27, 2017

D&D: A Digital License To Kill

The announcement of D&D Beyond stirred up a bit of resentment in regards to D&D 5th Edition content. What it boils down to is this. If one has purchased a D&D hardback book, why does that consumer have to keep spending another $50 every time there is a new D&D-related app they wish to use?

Update: Please note this is not an article about D&D Beyond. It's about a licensing option for any 3rd party digital tool. Keep that in mind before you comment.

Adult Blue Dragon SRD stats on
As an example, I may buy the Storm King’s Thunder hardback ($40 - $50 at retail). if I want Storm King’s Thunder content in Roll20, that’s another $50. If I decide to change to Fantasy Grounds, another $50… D&D Beyond?  Unknown at this time, but probably another $50. Same with the Player’s Handbook. Hardback $50. Fantasy Grounds $50, D&D Beyond... probably another $50.

Since Wizards of the Coast does not offer PDFs of their content (the most asinine decision in this day and age), I might have to pay an additional $100 - $150 in digital content for the same damn book I already own in hardback. (I don’t want to get into the PDF debate, as that is not key point of this article).

So is there a better way? 

Damn right there is. Wizards could implement a one-time digital license purchase.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A few thoughts on D&D Beyond

Sneak peak screenshots of D&D Beyond
This week, a new set of D&D tools were quietly announced called D&D Beyond (sometimes you have to pay very close attention to news feed). While specific information about the tools is extraordinarily sparse, it would appear to be an official 3rd party replacement for "D&D Insider" coming sometime this summer.

Note: D&D Dungeonscape (née Codename: Morningstar, now known as Playbook) was also announced in a similar quiet manner about 2 years ago and ended up being abandoned by Wizards of the Coast, so this announcement may need to be seen for what it is... Quiet and short on details until we actually see a working beta.

From the brief description and screenshots, we can see a character builder and a rules compendium (including classes spells, monsters, etc), but not much else that appears terribly exciting. The website also notes news article and forums, so there appears to be some form of community.

Playbook for Pathfinder
(formerly "Codename: Morningstar" and "Dungeonscape")
Now, don’t get me wrong. It will be nice to have a resource that goes beyond what is being offered in the SRD (assuming that is actually what is being offered). There isn’t clarity if this includes everything that is not part of the SRD 5 (such as all the class paths in the PHB and SCAG), but that would be a relatively safe assumption, as there are already several tools out there that include all of the SRD content for free (or for a very low app purchase). If D&D Beyond wants to compete in this market (especially with a subscription price), it will have to include all official D&D content.Price is also not mentioned, but if it follows the D&D Insider model, one might assume a monthly fee.

UPDATE from D&D Beyond developers on Reddit:

I'm Adam Bradford, DDB product lead for Curse. I'm flying back from PAX today, but I'll give a brief reply between flights.

A few things that I can hopefully clarify here:

D&D Beyond is a responsive web application that can work on any device - definitely not a desktop client or mobile app only available for iOS or Android. We care a great deal about offline capability, and you'll be able to access your characters, etc. just fine on the terrible WIFI at those conventions. :)

The DDB toolset is being developed by Curse Media and is not a directly tied to the former Curse App that was recently shared has become the Twitch App.

At launch, players will be able to access SRD content and build and view a small number of characters with a free D&D Beyond account. We don’t have exact pricing nailed down, but you will also be able to buy official digital D&D content for all fifth edition products with flexible purchase options. You can pay only for the D&D content you need. If you only play fighters, for example, you’ll be able to just pick up the stuff you need to track swinging that giant two-handed sword. This is NOT a microtransaction model - we aren't forcing anyone to buy the content in small chunks - it can still be bought all at once. It's all just flexibility.

A small monthly subscription will be needed to manage more than a handful of characters and to enable more advanced features, like homebrew content integration. At this time, we don’t know exactly how much the subscription will cost, but please continue to check for the most up-to-date announcements and information!

I can't share much else yet, but we're terribly excited to get this into players' hands for the beta very, very soon. Thanks!

Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 have specific one-time costs for access to the books, such as the PHB and the various adventure paths. The question then becomes, if one already has content access through tools like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20, is there room for a subscription service in the market charging for the same content? Of course, the intended audiences are slightly different given that VTTs are aimed toward DMs while this clearly targets the players.

As I’ve noted in prior articles, it would be nice if there could be an official single multi-platform tool that would be usable by both players and DMs, such as a complete Player and DM toolbox (character builder, rule and spell compendium including all the rule books) along with a VTT. Codename Morningstar attempted to walk that line, but that did not end well.

It seems like Fantasy Grounds comes closest to a "universal" online D&D tool, as it does have a character builder independent of the VTT where you can create a character for use in any Fantasy Grounds game. The Fantasy Grounds character creator is not quite as dynamic and step-by-step as the Character Builder that D&D Insider had for 4th Edition, but it’s serviceable enough. It also does not support character sheet printing out-of-the-box (although it can through a 3rd party tool) Fantasy Grounds should that feature very high on their software road map. Roll20 only appears to have a DM-facing character sheet, and not one that can be used by players to build character independent of an online game (Please let me know if I missed that feature).


UPDATE: Unfortunately, there isn't an official word on the final pricing, but comments from the developers on Reddit and EnWorld don't look promising to me. The SRD5 content will be free and you can probably make a couple characters using that for free. However, if you want access to more of the rule set, not only will you need to pay for a subscription to the tool, you also need to pay for the non-SRD content separately. This, for me, is a non-starter right out of the gate. Pick subscription, or pick flat-fee for content. Picking both is a craptastic money grab. I'm hoping the final pricing structure is not as brutal as it currently appears.

Final Thoughts

With a character builder to accompany the VTT functionality in Fantasy Grounds, there would not appear to be a strong consumer reason to choose D&D Beyond, unless there is some price advantage or functional differentiation that isn’t obvious from this initial press release. Character creation in Fantasy Grounds is a little unwieldy from a UI perspective (and does currently include character sheet printing without use of a 3rd party tool), but it allows you to join VTT games hosted anywhere in the world with your character. Roll20 has an excellent VTT, but they need a player-facing character builder for use offline as well.

Curse (publishers of D&D Beyond) is taking sign-ups for their upcoming beta. Hopefully, I can get myself beta access and write up a complete feature review.

UPDATE 2: Ok, so a few people are missing the point of the article (and that's partly on my rambling writing style), so I thought I'd clarify a bit. I know D&D Beyond is not a virtual table top tool. However, if a Fantasy Grounds player license gives you all the same rule book content and a character builder, what advantage does a Beyond subscription have over a flat-priced application like Fantasy Grounds (given that FG also gives you online play)?

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...