Thursday, May 11, 2017

D&D: The Slippery Slope of Saying Yes

GAME BALANCE!!!
As expected, the reactions to my last post were quite intense and often fierce... but there was were a few themes among the Rules-As-Written purists that I found intriguing and wished to explore deeper.

Game Balance


There were quite a few people who cited game balance as a major objection, which I found peculiar given the small magnitude of the change being discussed. They cited that this change wasn't "extensively play tested" or "balanced against other racial abilities" or some other silliness about min-maxing. This kind of anxious hand-wringing seemed overwrought for utterly minor change to a racial stat. I mean how much min-maxing can occur with just one point? (and BTW, they are giving up a point of DEX for it).

Slippery Slope


Even more so than game balance, many people cited "slippery slope" examples. If I give this one small benefit this week to one player, what happens when the next player asks for something bigger? And it snow balls from there until there are hurt feelings and everything falls apart.

Again, this kind of hand-wringing also felt misguided to me. We're all adults here, and even when we have younger players at the table, it will be obvious to everyone when a ridiculous or game-breaking request is made by one of the players.You can say no to ridiculous or abusive requests. No one is going to go away butt-hurt... and if they do, you probably don't want to be playing with that person anyway.

I never wrote, "Say YES to everything" no matter what the players ask.  Anyone who claims that was what the post was about is either does not have any reading comprehension (since that is not what was said), or is purposely missing the point so they can prove themselves "right" on social media and get a point on whatever giant, invisible scoreboard there is for people who win arguments using a straw man. Congratulations to them. Here's a cookie. Now, go away.

For those of you still here, I realize there is a common theme in the objections.


Fear 


... Fear that somehow the game will be broken in some unforeseen way by granting the request. Fear that verisimilitude or immersion will somehow be disrupted by mechanical changes. Fear that the players will be abusive, a$$holes and bring the game down through their moronic requests or on purpose out of some kind of spiteful attitude... Or that fire and brimstone will fall from on high, and dogs and cats will start living together.

Unless you already have a dysfunctional table of players, don't worry... these fears are unfounded. Worse yet, those fears may mean you are missing out on awesome opportunities to take the game in an utterly different direction than expected.

(PS -- if you already have dysfunctional, a$$hat players, your game will not survive no matter whether you are a "Yes" or "No" DM).

Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!


One counter example that was given involved the idea that a player would ask to be a Bear Druid... not a Druid with bear-form, but an actual Bear who is a Druid.

My first impression was "Huh, what?" as I thought the example was a little bit hyperbolic in order to make a point, but then the more I thought about it, I was like, "How f@cking awesome is that idea?!"

Now, don't get me wrong. You would need to have a serious conversation with this player with questions like:

1) How did the PC become a bear?
2) How do you plan to cast spells?
3) Are we talking opposable thumbs here or just a regular quadrupedal bear?
4) How do you plan to communicate with other party members?
5) If I don't allow the player to talk in character at the table (having to mime all in-game thoughts and ideas) that will likely get extremely tiring for you and the other players. How will you get around this issue?

Through thoughtful discussion with the player, you can find some compromise that might make the idea workable. Perhaps one of the other PCs has an intertwined background that allows her to Speak with Animals a few times per day... or the bear's Wild Shape is actually human, so he can temporarily (2x per short rest) take the human shape that can cast spells and communicate normally, but then has to be in bear form the bulk of the day.

The more I considered it, it actually sounded like really amazing idea... possibly even EPIC!

It might fail completely in play and I might caution the player that we can try it out, but if it doesn't work at the table, or causes a disruption to the game, we'll "remove the curse" and make that PC a human again... or something similar (back up NPC perhaps?)... The point is I'd will be willing to give it a try.

Probably written by a "Say Yes" DM...
Before some of you inevitably yell out "SNOWFLAKE!"... Just stop right there. STFU, to use an expression. Who the f@ck cares if the player wants some kind of odd-ball PC. Sometimes people just don't want to play another damn Dwarf Barbarian or Tiefling Sorcerer. People get bored and sometimes want to shake things up. If it makes the game more fun for everyone at the table, just let him or her Chewbacca the shit out of their PC. Extract the broomstick from thy nether regions. Use the snowflakes and ski your butt down the slippery slope.

If you are a rules purist, that's perfectly fine. It's your game... But if you shut these kinds of requests down without giving it your full consideration because you are a purist, or fearful of giving in to a player's odd requests, your game might miss out on some amazing, crazy-fun role playing.

And that would be a huge shame... not just for the players, but for you as well.

You don't have to say yes to everything, but...

Keep an open mind.

Listen.

Consider the possibilities.

The bear might be an extreme example. but there are also other ways you can say Yes...

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

D&D: Just Say Yes, For F*ck Sake.

And we will call it "this land..."
...Or The Case of the Curiously Intelligent Elf.

On a recent Facebook post, the OP asked a simple question:
“My player wants to play an Elf Wizard and would like +2 INT, +1 DEX for his Elf Racial Bonus instead of +1 INT, +2 DEX. Would you allow that?”

Yes. YES! For F@CK SAKE YES! …and yet in the poll, over 800 people, a staggering 60%+ of respondents answered “I would never allow it.”

What is wrong with you people? I hate when people tell others they are having Bad Wrong Fun, but I’m sorry, in this case, you are doing it wrong (yes, that's a satirical comment in case you missed it).

Here’s the thing. In 5th Edition, a Forest Gnome can get a +2 INT / +1 DEX (and also has Darkvision, etc), so we know that this minor change doesn’t break the game mechanics at all. All non-human races get some combination of +2/+1, and Elves already get a boost to INT and DEX… so it isn’t a stretch at all to just swap their bonuses.

The racial bonuses are completely arbitrary anyway (and even differ significantly from one edition of D&D to the other). Why does an Elf get +2 DEX? Because Mearls and Thompson decided that’s what they thought an Elf was at this one moment of time. Why does the Gnome get the bigger INT bonus? Who the f@ck knows. It’s just a game of “Let’s Pretend”. The Player’s Handbook is not some religious scripture handed down by the gods.

SO WHY THE HELL WOULD YOU TELL HIM NO?

The most important job of a DM is help the players have fun. The players only have power over their characters. The rules on everything else in the world -- setting, genre, NPCs, cities, populace, everything -- is basically in the control of the DM.

By saying "No" to this entirely minor and arbitrary change, you are telling the player “the trivial rules of my game world are more important than your character concept or enjoyment of the game.”

If he enjoys a tiny amount of PC optimization as part of character generation, why not let him have fun with that part of the game? Who cares if he gets to INT 20 at 8th level instead of 12th (assuming he picks no Feats)... It will make no difference to the game at the table. [EDIT: Actually, all PCs can get to INT 20 by level 8 with point buy. The only difference is the player that starts at 17 will also get a Feat. This makes the change have an even smaller impact.]

AD&D Half-orc photo bomb
And racial bonuses are entirely arbitrary and trivial. This isn’t a game breaking request. Elves have always had arcane abilities. As an example, in the original Basic D&D sets, the Elf class was a fighter/magic-user hybrid. So why not just let him play an Elf from some special Elf school of trained Elf wizards... or something. Who the hell cares what the rationale is. Maybe he just doesn't want to play a damn Gnome.

As another example, I had one player decide he wasn't crazy about his Feat selections when he reached 4th level (Human). I said "No problem. Just re-pick whichever ones you want". It made no difference to the game. It made a huge difference in his level of fun.

Take the broomstick out of your posterior and let him swap the ability bonuses.  Just get out of the way and facilitate the fun. That is your most important job. 

PS -- This obviously doesn't apply to AL legal characters since there are very strict chargen rules for Adventurers League. Also, if you comment a rebuttal using some example like giving darkvision to a Human, or some other bulls#!t straw man, I will f@#%ing cut your heart out with a spoon. (Rest in peace, Alan Rickman)

[UPDATE]
I just wanted to note an awesomely on-point comment by Robert Ehrman on Facebook:
"This whole article is just imploring DMs to be the bigger person at the table because a 1 point differential isn't going to be truly relevant to either party and player satisfaction matters. Clearly that point went over like a lead balloon."

Yes. YES! A thousand times YES!

I'll go one step further. As I noted in comments:

This article is not about a stat swap. It's about a philosophy. It's about not being married to rules. It's about facilitating ideas from the players. It's about keeping an open mind to player input because it's not the DM's game. The game belongs to everyone at the table. Saying "yes" to a player is not about giving them some insignificant +1... It's about saying "your ideas are just as important to this game as mine are." You want a sub-race of Elves that are tied more to the Arcane through a connection to the Feywild? Awesome! Let's incorporate that idea. We share this game world together.

Update: I posted an follow-up based on some responses.

My Last Origins

This will be my last Origins.

Just about every year, Origins opens its registration system to a rush of several thousand attendees. Just about every year, it’s a disaster of web site unresponsiveness, and just about every year they say, “Next year we will improve.” Every year, they don’t. Last year, they couldn’t even get badges quickly to people attending on the first day because of “computer problems” and ran out of convention programs.

This year was no different… and actually even worse than usual.

You see, this year in order to make sure I was ready for event registration day, I attempted to login to my account prior to event registration. For whatever reason, my password was not working. I was not terribly surprised, as I have a whole bunch of different passwords in order to minimize any attack on my identity. After trying several different times, I just decided to just use the “Forgot Password” option.

It didn’t work.

It was a few days before registration, so I emailed the Origins contacts so that I might get it reset before the event registration started. At first, there was no response, so I emailed again, and I called. They assured me it would be fixed before registration starts, and they would notify me as soon as it was.

Days pass. I email again the morning of registration. I asked if they could change it manually. “It will be fixed prior to registration opening,” I was told again. “We can’t change the password. We will let you know as soon as it is fixed.”

It wasn’t. They didn’t.

My wife and I were screwed. I had registered us both for the weekend pass, but could not access either account because of the password issues and thousands were about to flood the queue.

There was, however, a small breakthrough for us. We had two other family members that were going to attend, but doing events that were not the same as ours… So we asked if we could register our events under their itinerary  in order to hold the spots. Thankfully, they were totally cool with that.
So, on Wednesday, event registration opens and the site fails dramatically. No one can login without getting timeouts. No one can search events without all kinds of Java site errors or 503 Service Unavailable errors. The website was crashing so often, NHTSA said they were going to open an investigation.

Over the course of 3+ hours, my wife and I managed to get enough page loads between us to get into about 10 events… Or about 3 successful event registrations per hour.

Origins then announces on Twitter and Facebook that they will close registration until Friday at 1 PM to get the issues fixed… but then they secretly re-opened registration on Thursday without telling anyone they had told to wait until Friday. So, basically, if you listened to them, you were screwed out of events you might have wanted because other people kept trying anyway and found that registration has been re-opened earlier than announced (and the password issue was still not fixed).

The password issue was eventually fixed over the weekend, four days after event registration was initially opened (and after almost everything was completely booked). I was extremely lucky that I had family that could grab the slots my wife and I wanted to play. I’m certain many others did not have that opportunity.

They never emailed to let me know the password recovery had been fixed, despite telling me repeatedly they would. No notification. No apology.

S#!t technology… Even s#!ttier communication. For a 15,000+ attendee event, this is the worst event management I’ve ever seen. They apparently don’t even test the most basic functions of the website -- login, password recovery, and event registration -- which is basically everything you need to have a convention website.


I have been a major proponent of Origins on this blog and among my gaming friends, but there are other smaller cons that are growing each year with better customer experience -- Gamehole Con, BGG Con, Dice Tower Con, PAX East, and now PAX Unplugged. Origins may be the #2 spot in terms of size at the moment, but if it keeps offering crap customer experience, it will find itself less relevant as time goes on. It certainly will be for me as my family and I  will be seeking other alternatives and recommending others do the same. If they can't fix their management issues, they do not deserve our money.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Remembering MUDs

I recently poked my head into a G+ conversation between two random commenters on a random thread that had nothing to do with RPGs... but it sparked some really strong recollections in the dark corners of my brain.

One of them noted the the "/me" emote was from World of Warcraft. Of course, being an old, pedantic fart, I had to add my 2 cents by explaining how they were mistaken.

The /me emote actually pre-dates modern MMO's by a few decades. Back in the days of 300 and 1200 baud modems (yeah, one could actually type faster than they could display text), people with access to university computer systems (or a spare IBM XT) would set up what were called "MUDs" or Multi-User Dungeons. They were text-based like the old Zork games, but you could "see" and interact with other users through text chat and emotes.

So, the screen might read:

> You walk to the entrance of the Hedge Maze. Passageways in the hedge head off the the North and West. Steve_the_Barbarian and Sorcerer_Tonya are here.

$ /me wave
> Marty waves.
$ /say "Hey, what's up? Are you heading into the hedge dungeon?"
> Marty says "Hey, what's up? Are you heading into the hedge dungeon?"
$
> Sorcerer_Tonya waves.
> Sorcerer_Tonya says, "yup we're heading in"
$
> Sorcerer_Tonya invites you into the group.
$ /follow Sorcerer_Tonya


It was a lot of typing just to do pretty rudimentary stuff (and it was real time combat, so you had to type fast or have macros ready!)... but these were literally the first seeds of the modern MMO.

I'm not sure what the whole point of this post was except to think... Jeebus, we've come a long way and damn... I am old.

D&D 5e: Running Storm King's Thunder - Part 3

Source: Tumblr of Gabriel Cassata, freelance artist 
(used with permission)
This series of articles started out as "Running Nightstone" but is expanding as I delve deeper into the book and learn lessons from running my group through it. This first post is mostly generalized tips I’ve learned over the years and are applicable to almost any adventure you may be prepping.

First off, I have to say if you are DMing Storm King and not already watching Tom Lommel's (aka Dungeon Bastard) Disorganized Play on YouTube or Twitch, you need to start right now. There are about 50 hours of content, which is a lot to take in, but there is a plethora of fantastic ideas in there if you can spend the time listening to it in the background like a podcast.

Some spoilers ahead so be warned.

Monday, April 24, 2017

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

In a Twitter conversation, +Mike Shea (slyflourish.com - 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.

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 DnDBeyond.com
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 Wizards.com 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 dndbeyond.com 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).

Pricing


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)?

Friday, March 10, 2017

WTF Dungeon Chess?

Back in June, Wizards of the Coast added Chris Cocks as the new President. This was seen as significant because Mr. Cocks has extensive experience in the digital games space. He has even announced the formation of a digital game studio recruiting talent from Valve, BioWare and other known developers and publishers. Everyone is aware how Wizards of the Coast has wanted to expand the D&D brand further into video games and other digital channels, but their efforts in the last years have been... wanting.
So what turned out to be the first big digital initiative?

Chess...

I shit you not.

Wizards of the Coast just announced “Dungeon Chess”, a game where you put on virtual reality goggles in order to enter the 3D world of the Yawning Portal Tavern in Waterdeep! From there, do you brave the dangers of the Undermountain? Do you fight epic battles with iconic monsters in 3D? Do you adventure into deep, dark dungeons in search of treasure and magic?

No… You sit down and play chess.  WTF?!?

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

D&D: If I were President...

So there was an entertaining thread on Facebook asking "If you were appointed CEO [sic] of Wizards of the Coast, what are some of the things you'd do?"

* Wizards of the Coast actually has a President, not a CEO, as it is a subsidiary of Hasbro.

Of course, among the responses were scads of terrible ideas, many jokesters, some edition sniping, and a small number of ideas that could be up for debate... So I thought I'd chime in just to stir the pot of nerd ragey know-it-alls.

Inexpensive Cardboard Miniatures


Paizo offers about 300 miniatures for about $40...
This is a great deal for new Dungon Masters.
So, this is no-brainer. Paizo’s Pathfinder Pawns are immensely popular because 1) They are cardboard (much cheaper than plastic), but even more importantly, 2) They are non-random!

There is nothing more irritating than having to hunt on Ebay because you need a pack of orcs, goblins, or undead and you have to pay something like $3 to $5 per mini because they are uncommon or out of print. Random miniatures suck. Cardboard stand ups would be so simple for Wizards to produce and the value they give are such that any set WotC might create would almost certainly be profitable out of the gate. They could also create smaller sets for each new adventure, like Paizo has been doing for their adventure paths. They also look much better on the table than flat-lying tokens produced during the 4e era. I wrote an article about procuring cheap miniatures just the other month, and it rapidly became the most popular article on the site. The demand is out there, and accessories could be sold to any consumer playing D&D, Pathfinder, OSR games, or others in the fantasy genre. They could eat Paizo’s lunch on this one. Chris Cocks - are you listening?

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Has Dragon+ gotten better?

Damn, is February over already?  Just when I thought I was getting a handle on the blog again, four weeks passes in the blink of an eye... but you didn't come here to read about my issues with erratic blogging...

Not particularly inspired by this cover...
but other issues have had reasonably good art.
Just shy of two years ago, Wizards of the Coast introduced Dragon+ to the gaming internet. For several issues, I reviewed the early efforts and found it wanting. It got to the point that I grew tired of putting up yet another, "Yeah, it basically still sucks" review and I let it fall off my social media radar. Every once in a while I'd check in on it, but nothing really got me that excited to write about it again.

My primary complaints were:
  1. As a new media technology, the app was buggy, crash prone and provided a fairly poor user experience in navigation.
  2. As a venue for D&D content, there was rarely anything worthwhile for the tabletop role player. The "magazine" promoted a lot of the video game content for the Neverwinter MMO and Sword Coast Legends, as well advertorials for whatever adventure path might be releasing soon... but almost nothing that you could actually use for your game.
So two years and 12 issues later... Has anything changed? Well... sort of. 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

D&D 5e: Running Nightstone Part II (Storm King's Thunder)

The intrepid party approaches the entrance to the Dripping Caves
fearlessly led (from the rear) by the paladin and his magical mount.
In my previous post, I described some of the modifications I was considering to accommodate a higher level party. This week, I'll recap some of the sessions and talk about my group's foray into the Dripping Caves.

1) When the party arrived at Nightstone, it was being sacked by a Hobgoblin scouting party. I used bulked up numbers of Hobgoblins with extra Worgs and Goblin minions.

2) I tried to play the Hobgoblins intelligently. I used stealth and flanking (the military tactic, not the game mechanic) to gain Advantage where I could. I also tried to utilize missile fire as much as possible to get in a little more damage until the PC fighters could close.

Clearning Nightstone of Hobgoblins
3) After the Hobgoblin battle, a force of mounted Iron Circle soldiers (rough equivalents to Zhentarim in my game) arrived to "secure" the town. The soldiers were not openly hostile, so the party decided to go for diplomacy rather than get into another scrap.

4) A much larger force of Hobgoblins (and an ogre or two) invaded the next day forcing the PCs to work together with the Iron Circle. This was a replacement for the Orc battle and directed the party toward the Dripping Caves, as I had decided all this Goblin and Hobgoblin activity was due to a mysterious Hobgoblin warlord currently using the Dripping Caves as an outpost.

5) Arriving at the Dripping Caves, the party discovered not one, but two Hill Giants (probably from Grudd Haug) living with the remaining force of Hobgoblins. After the death of the giants, the Hobgoblins parleyed for the life of the remaining villagers. Rather than see more innocents die, the party agreed to the terms and the townsfolk were set free to return to Nightstone.

My players look on skeptically when they discover
the giant is "not quite dead yet."
6) When later returning to "clean up" the Hobgoblin threat, the PCs find a (mostly) empty cave with a reanimated Hill Giant Zombie (along with centipede swarms and carrion crawlers). The Hill Giant Zombie fight actually turned out to be one of the more entertaining encounters, with the carrion crawlers not only fighting the PCs but also attempting to snack on the dead giant.


Final Thoughts


All told, the adjustments made worked fairly well. The party did not have too much difficulty with the hobgoblins, but I made sure there was plenty of missile fire to keep them on their toes. I also upped the average hit points of the hobgoblin soldiers and their commanders.

Surprisingly, the PCs did not have that much difficulty fighting two Hill Giants, taking them down fairly quickly with concentrated fire, but when it came to the swarms of bugs and the reanimated Hill Giant Zombie, the bug swarms proved to be somewhat nasty (though they were helped by some critical rolls). All in all, I was able to milk several sessions out of Nightstone and we had a great deal of laughs along the way.

Dripping Caves central chamber ala Dwarven Forge

If you also happen to be running Nightstone, share some of your own laughs and experiences along the way.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Happy Birthday Dungeons & Dragons!

This week marks the 43rd birthday of Dungeons and Dragons, originally published in late January 1974. 

My brother's copies of the original D&D books
In  late 1977 or early 1978 (hard to recall the exact date), my brother "introduced" me to Dungeons & Dragons for the first time:

Steve: You are standing in the foyer of a vast, eerie mansion. There are doors to the left and right and a hallway ahead. Pick one.

Me: Umm... I go to the door on the right

This room is about 20' by 30' in size. There is a lot of old broken furniture and shelves with rotted tomes. There is a chest on the North wall in this room. What do you do?

I run away.   [actual quote]

No, really... You are supposed to be a brave hero who explores and collects treasure.

Ok... I open the chest.

You are pricked by a poison need trap in the lock. You die.

That's right. My brother killed me in the very first room I ever explored in D&D (Tegel Manor, to be precise). Luckily, that experience was not the one that stuck. It was my good friend, Martin Griffin, who got me really hooked on the game using the Holmes box set and the AD&D Player's Handbook (we had no idea they weren't really the same game... He also had GreyhawkEldritch Wizardry and Gods, Demi-Gods and Heroes from the original version of the game). If curious, you can read more of the full introduction to D&D story here.

The "white box" version of Dungeons & Dragons (which was originally a wood grain box) shipped for the first time this week in 1974, making D&D 43 years old this week. There are no records of the exact date the first box shipped, but January 26 is the date selected by those who were around at the time as the "official" birthday of D&D.

Holmes and Moldvay D&D basic sets
On behalf of all us hardcore geeks who have had 40+ years of fun, thank you Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson, Don Kaye, Tim Kask, Jim Ward, Eric Holmes, Tom Moldvay, Frank Mentzer, David "Zeb" Cook, Tom Wham, Erol Otus, Jeff Dee, Bill Willingham, Larry Elmore, David Trampier and so many other contributors who made the game so memorable for me over the years.

I did eventually get my revenge on my bother. I took his original D&D books when he went to college. He ain't never getting them back.

Share your own memories in the comments!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

State of the Owlbear 2016: 300K and counting

It's done -- 2016 is finally behind us and the bes--  well... something is yet to come.

Raging Owlbear in the Caves of Chaos
Twenty Sixteen was a bit of a weird year for Raging Owlbear. Because life doesn't often let me do things I don't get paid for, I did not have as many posts to offer up this year as the year prior. I averaged less than 1 per week... and when I did post, it was sporadic, such as nothing for 2 to 3 weeks and then 3 articles in a row over a week and a half.

Despite the cave of neglect in which I left the owlbear, it kept raging on due to a few really popular posts that drove oddly high numbers.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Wizards Digital Game Studio Is Probably Not What You Think

So an announcement from Chris Cocks (Wizards of the Coast President) has created a fair amount of speculation about what's in store for digital D&D products in the future. Here's the quick summary of the press release.

Magic the Gathering Tactics
  • Wizards of the Coast is forming a digital studio.
  • The Magic Online team has been folded into this studio.
  • Wizards has been farming talent from other game studios.
  • They wish to "bring Magic and D&D to unexpected settings, genres, and platforms."

So what does this mean for D&D table top? Probably not much (if anything) and not for a long while despite what all the blogs are speculating online.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

D&D: Miniatures on the Cheap

Beaky, the unoffical mascot for
Raging Owlbear was acquired for a cool $5.
One of the more commonly asked questions I see on social media is, "How do I add miniatures to my game inexpensively?"

That's a bit of a loaded question. Miniatures are generally not cheap... but there are ways you can add some pizzazz to your games without completely breaking the bank.

If you know me, or read enough of my blog, you may know I am a bit of a miniatures fiend. What you probably don't know is that I've spent well over $1000 on miniatures alone... probably much more. Between Reaper  Bones Kickstarters, D&D Miniatures and Pathfinder Battles random boxes, and countless lots on Ebay, it all adds up to a sum that I don't actually want to calculate (and I'm not even counting the Dwarven Forge). I've got an absurd amount of miniatures... but I always find more I'd like to get. Let my addiction be a wake-up call for you.

So how can you do it on the cheap?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

D&D 5e: Yawning Portal - Classic Adventures Revisited

Tales from the Yawning Portal
Just the other day, I read Teos Abadia's post (Alphastream.org) about "classic" D&D adventures... and then just today, Wizards of the Coast announces Tales from the Yawning Portal, a hardback full to classic adventures translated for 5th Edition (talk about happy coincidence).

The adventures include:
When I read this list, I have to admit I have mixed feelings about some of the titles. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Happy Birthday, J.R.R. Tolkien!

The HobbitHappy Birthday, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien!

Even before I played D&D, I was already ensconced in fantasy and science fiction. From a quite young age, two of my literary influences were Isaac Asimov and J.R.R. Tolkien (with whom I share a special day). I can't even begin to express the extent of how these books (and the many other works of fantasy they inspired) influenced my life.

When my friend brought the AD&D Player's Handbook over to my house and explained the premise (like playing Lord of the Rings!), you could not have gained a life long fan of the game any faster.

Gygax often down played the influence of Tolkien on D&D... However, many of us know that Ents and Hobbits had to be "removed" from the game for Intellectual Property reasons.

Tolkien's influence reached into many different places in pop culture. Not just fantasy, but science fiction and horror as well. It's tentacles probed into D&D and, by proxy, video games, and brought the quest trope back into popularity in modern fiction.

So, Happy Birthday, JRRT... and thank you!

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

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