Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Rules, Rulings and Making S#!t Up

One the few truly awesome Basic kits
Whenever family has come together for the holidays, I've taken that opportunity to teach my four nephews D&D over the last several years. I purchased used copies of the D&D Basic Game box from 2006, bought a couple of them the Pathfinder Beginner Box as prior Christmas or Birthday gifts and this year printed out the 5th Edition D&D Basic PDF on LuLu to give to each of them.

When we are able to get together, the all enjoy playing with Uncle Owlbear as DM, but of the 4, one nephew in particular has embraced role-playing and gotten his friends involved.

What they play, however, is not D&D.  I mean, it technically is D&D as they are playing the new Basic Rules with the 6 attributes and all... and they occasionally mix in some Pathfinder-isms because they are not always clear one where the line is between the two rule sets, but it's essentially a D&D-based d20 game.

Except that it isn't.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Right IP for a D&D Movie

Zak S over and Playing D&D with Pornstars posits that WotC needs to add some new IP to its D&D stable to leverage movies. He is utterly wrong.

The Dragonlance Companions
1) It's not WotC's business role to develop IP for movies, so regardless of our desires, what he proposes is fairly unlikely to happen. It's a nice idea, but I think it's unrealistic. Hasbro probably has a corporate media office for this kind of thing.

Also Zak has defied all business logic by stating that Wizards can "afford to not make money" on D&D. Because in his fantasy world businesses don't need to make money.

2) WotC/Hasbro already has an IP it can leverage for the purpose of a movie (and it doesn't even require the D&D lawsuit to be settled, technically). 

Before you roll your eyes, I'm going to put it out there because I think it merits thoughtful discussion (No, it's not Drizzt).


No, seriously. Dragonlance has some really compelling reasons it could be shaped into an awesome movie IP. Forget the crap-tastic animated version you may already know and walk with me down this path.

Friday, December 19, 2014

D&D 5e Monster Conversion: Barghest

Noting that the Barghest was missing from the Monster Manual, I decided to try my hand at converting the d20 version.

I'm not certain about the challenge ratings. I'm going to do some more comparisons to the Monster Manual to determine. It's hard to tell how much tougher the damage resistance makes these creatures.

I tried to make the spell selection as close to the d20 version, but I think I need to add in a "Rage" equivalent because that would appear to be an important component of the tactics of the 3.x version. If you have any suggestions for the spell abilities, let me know in the comments.

Note: This version of the Barghest comes from the d20 System Reference Document with the stat block converted by the D&D 1E/3E to 5E Monster Converter by +Brent Newhall. It is presented under the terms of the OPEN GAME LICENSE Version 1.0a.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

D&D 5e: Monster Manual Quick Critiques

Let me start this article like I've started all my Quick Critiques...

I love 5th Edition. Everything about it so far has been a breath of fresh air. For me, it really has combined all of the best parts from AD&D, 3.x and 4e. It's not perfect, but in my opinion, its the best version of D&D in its 40 year lifespan.

That said, now I'm going to nit-pick the s#!t out of the Monster Manual (Buy it now!Have it in time for Christmas!) over stupid little stuff that likely doesn't matter to most people... It's just what I do, but at least I name it for what it is up front.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

D&D: Parting Shots in the Edition Wars

A couple years ago, Wizards of the Coast set out to glue back together the Humpty Dumpty that D&D had become due to "edition warring". In an effort to unite old school philosophy with modern game design, "D&D Next" was placed out into the public eye so the fans could lobby for the parts of the system they felt were important, while WotC showed what parts of the system it was lyposuctioning away in order to make a more lean, mean D&D.

There were many, many doubters who said it would never work... And many more, like myself, who thought it might work to some extent, but not so much that it would "reunite the family", so to speak. Interestingly enough, it appears Wizards of the Coast was pretty successful executing their goals.

Old schoolers are coming back. Pathfinders are coming back. Even 4e proponents have found things to like in this new edition. While we don't have sales numbers to go by, the buzz on social media has been that D&D is back, bigger and better than ever and firing on all cylinders. [As you might have noticed, I like my metaphors all mixed up into one giant gumbo.]

But that's not really what this post is about.

This post is about D&D 4th Edition.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Scott Haring Discusses Car Wars 6th Edition

In this video from Steve Jackson games, they do a 7-hour live chat about almost all of their product line, but the good stuff comes in at 6 hours and 2 minutes. Scott Haring sits down for his discussion on the Car Wars Classic reprints as well as shows off the prototypes for Car Wars Sixth Edition. He also talks about the play test and demos at Board Game Geek Con.

His discussions on the prototype and play test give a lot of insight on the direction they are going for the game design. The direction they've gone is pretty cool, and definitely takes some lessons from the design simplicity from the X-Wing game.

Watch below (skip to 6:02:00) or jump over to YouTube to link directly to the minute.  Embed video after the break.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

WIP: D&D Primer Annotated Character Sheet

My D&D Primer series continues.

Last time, I attempted to illustrate the rules through a fictionalized example game between two friends. This time, I've taken a crack at annotating the character sheet (inspired by Pathfinder Beginner Box).

It displays best if you have your PDF viewer set to 2-page (side-by-side). There are a couple minor display artifacts I'm still cleaning up.

I'm still working on ideas for adding more "tips" to the sheet. Please share any ideas you may have to improve the sheet in the comments.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

WIP: A D&D Primer for new players and DMs

A couple months ago, the Angry DM posted a rant about how Wizards of the Coast has done a poor job in recent years creating a Starter Set that actually teaches new players and, more importantly, new DMs how to play and run a game.

Although I haven't looked through all the new player materials in recent years, I definitely agree with the Angry DM that the D&D Starter Set fails pretty significantly in this regard. The gist of the Angry DM article is that D&D often still requires someone knowledgeable about D&D to pass that knowledge on to the next wave of DMs and players. This is referred to as the "Older Cousin" sales model... which is a bad sales model because it places the burden of recruitment on existing players and DMs rather than on the introductory product itself.

I posted a similar critique of the Starter Set failing to be a good teacher in a recent article, but I didn't go quite as far as Angry DM. In retrospect, I should have emphasized this failure even more, as that would seem to be the most important goal of a Starter Set.

The Pathfinder Beginner Box does a much better job of explaining the basics of the character sheet and walking through character creation and the basics of running an adventure... However, even the Beginner Box doesn't quite present it in the best possible manner... and we're looking for a primer for D&D 5th Edition, not Pathfinder.

In that vein, I decided to try my hand at an example play session to help illustrate the Basic D&D core mechanics. I'd very much like to get some feedback. Constructive criticism is appreciated, but be gentle.

This is very much a work in progress, but I would like to put it out there as a free PDF at some point and need insight on how it can be better. Give it a read and let me know. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What rules would you put into your OSR stew?

Following up on my article on innovation, there was some intriguing discussion related to the subtle difference between creativity and innovation, which got me thinking...

If you were to make a giant OSR gumbo, what ingredients from different games would you stir together? 

  • Encumbrance from Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  • Kingdom management from Adventurer, Conqueror, King?
  • Initiative and combat movement from HackMaster
  • Prime attributes from Castles & Crusades
  • A crap-load of spells from Fantastic Heroes & Witchery?

I'm curious to know more about what the community believes are the coolest or most interesting rules or mechanics that OSR games have added into the mix.

Name a mechanic and let me know why you think it's cool enough to stir into the stew. I'm interested in what kind of beast might emerge from the conglomeration.

Friday, October 31, 2014

D&D Attack Wing is here!

So, I'm pretty excited about D&D Attack Wing and here's why:


So let's even put aside that X-Wing, the rules set it's based on, is pretty solid and fun. If you are a war gamer who likes dog-fighting games, whether it's Star Wars, Star Trek or WWII planes, you're probably going to like it.

If you are also a D&D fan, you'll probably like it even more.

But that's not entirely why I'm so excited.

It's a source of non-random D&D dragon miniatures!

WizKids also creates the D&D Icons of the Realms miniatures. Those are the hidden-in-box, collectible kind. I'm not a big fan of collectible minis because who the hell needs a half dozen Gricks?

No one, that's who.

What makes D&D Attack Wing so great, is that all of those rare dragons from Icons of the Realms are there in a completely non-collectible format. Who cares if the bases are a different shape, or potentially even the wrong size? Make your own bases! Or just use the one's from Attack Wing and position your other minis on the table appropriately. 

My point is -- they're not collectible! And they're flying!

And that's awesome because I spent way too much on past D&D Miniature iterations on Ebay just so I could have certain models. Screw that. 

It's nice to finally be able to just walk into a store and buy a pre-painted dragon miniature. They're a little pricey, but not more than the secondary market for the collectible ones.

D&D Digital: It's time for a simple license.

So Dungeonscape is out of the picture... What now?

It's time for Wizards of the Coast to create an relatively simple digital license for online tools, or alternatively, make an arrangement to sell the data files themselves.

Source: Fantasy Grounds

Here's the simple premise. 

Whether is it spells, monsters, PC skills, feats or abilities, etc, all of these things are basically snippets of formatted text. Tools like Fantasy Grounds, Hero Lab, etc, would be able to import text files containing this content from the Player's Handbook (or Basic D&D). Those tools already do this for other RPG rule sets (like d20, Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, etc).

Fantasy Grounds is also already doing this with 5e. It allows the user to import the Basic PDF and it attempts to parse spells and other information out of the file. It appears to be a pretty clever hack to find the blocks of content using markers (such as formatting cues) from the PDF file itself.

Wizards of the Coast could very easily provide formatted text files for either these software providers to resell for their tools, or sell the files themselves.

Source: Hero Lab

Why doesn't Wizards of the Coast do this? 

It entirely unknown except that they have some kind of aversion to offering their products in any form that can be easily copied. However, this issue no longer applies with Basic D&D. The data is already out there and companies like Fantasy Grounds are going to allow thier customers to take advantage of Fair Use in order to get that data into their software. This means that Wizards of the Coast is already losing out on a potential revenue stream when they could be selling the D&D Basic digital content to these tool providers (or their customers), if not the full Player's Handbook.

Final Thoughts

It's time for Wizards to get its digital $#!t together. This is yet another place that could be an easily, low effort revenue generator. It's time for Wizards to offer us a way to play D&D over the internet, not by building completely new tools, but by allowing us to use the ones already on the market.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wizards of the Coast fumbles the digital ball. Again.

Wizards of the Coast cancelled the Dungeonscape (Codename: Morningstar) project with the same lack of fanfare with which they announced it.

The announcement came in their news section in an extraordinarily brief press release:

One last look before we say goodbye.
"Wizards of the Coast has ended its relationship with Trapdoor Technologies and their DungeonScape application. If you participated in the beta and have questions regarding the application itself, please contact Trapdoor directly.

It’s never easy to end a relationship with one of our business partners, but we remain committed to creating great tabletop and digital gaming experiences for Dungeons & Dragons players and DMs around the world."

Friday, October 24, 2014

D&D Basic Demands Print-On-Demand

It's time for Wizards of the Coast to get into the Print On Demand business... or rather, partner with a company that offers it.

Why? Because it's really apparent that people are looking for low-cost ways to print D&D Basic (as evidenced by lots of pics and posts around the net) and Wizards is missing out on valuable revenue because of it.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

OSR: Does the OSR philosophy stifle innovation?

Disclaimer: This is not a "bash the OSR" article, but a truly curious query about OSR systems.

Courtesy of Jason Paul McCartan
I was having a Blogger / G+ conversation a few weeks back with some people about the OSR and the tangent of "innovation" in RPGs came up. This lead me to think:

Does the old school philosophy stifle innovation in RPGs?  (specifically in OSR rule sets)

I ask this because in the recent articles around the net attempting to define the OSR, a few common themes came out.

  • It's about rulings, not rules.
  • Role-playing is encouraged by emergent play, not explicit game mechanics.
  • The mechanics are defined to follow the style of xD&D, while attempting to strip away complex or contradicting rules of the old editions. ** 
** Some call this "rules light", but I believe this is an over simplification since many OSR rule sets attempt to clone the complex systems that existed in AD&D (while still attempting to clean them up a bit). I'd call this "rules clarity" rather than rules light.

Friday, October 3, 2014

D&D Encounters: Improving the Dragon Queen or Boxed Text Is Your Friend

After my last article about D&D Encounters, I got a lot of comments in the form of "You are blaming the module for the actions of a poor or inexperienced DM," or "Poor DMs shouldn't run D&D Encounters."

These commenters miss some of the more import points of my previous article: If the adventure module does nothing to help the DM to run the encounter better, it has failed as a module and should not have been approved for organized play by Wizards of the Coast without additional editing.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Is bad D&D better than no D&D at all?

So my recent article on D&D Encounters led me to have a G+ conversation with a peer about D&D. There's a joking expression that says there's no such thing as bad sex... That even bad sex is preferable to no sex.

Does this apply to D&D?

This is almost, but not quite, a rhetorical question. In some ways, it may be acceptable for some people to play even in a game that they are not enjoying that much at times, because something is better than nothing.

I used to think that way when I was young and had ample free time, but these days, my time is very constrained and a bad game can leave me feeling like I wasted several hours when I could have been doing something else productive or more entertaining.

In general, I'd rather play D&D than many other forms of entertainment, but life seems too short for bad gaming.

Anyone feel otherwise?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

D&D Encounters: Bored of the Dragon Queen

Disclaimer: I'm a big fan of the D&D Encounters program... but I believe Hoard of the Dragon Queen may not always be the right fit for the in-store play events. I hope that perhaps WotC can take away some valuable feedback from my experiences for future iterations... Read on.

UPDATE: After you read this critique, please read my follow-up article, which will give a little more context and show ways I think D&D Encounters modules could be much improved. Thanks!

So I've started playing in the D&D Adventurers League (D&D Encounters mostly, with an Expeditions adventure when opportunity arises).

If you are not familiar, D&D Encounters is the Friendly Local Game Store-based D&D event that is run weekly. Each season is a different adventure module that runs for several weeks in an episodic format. As a player, you can drop in or out at any time since each session can stand alone. Continuity is somewhat hand waved to allow players to join in on any given week when they can get out of the house. It's a good way to introduce new players since each session runs for only 2 - 3 hours, and a good way to game weekly if you don't already have a group that meets regularly.

The only real criticism of the D&D Encounters model to this point is that it tended to be a bit combat heavy under 4th Edition. In prior Encounters seasons, most sessions have had 2 combats. Since there is only a small amount of time for a given session, the DM often has to push through the role-playing opportunities to get to the battle scenes, especially given how slowly 4th Edition combat played out. D&D 5e alleviates much of this issue with significantly quicker combats. But, that doesn't mean the D&D Encounters format doesn't have any problems (which I will get to shortly).

Despite criticisms, I'm a huge fan of the D&D Encounters model. It give players who can't always commit to a regular game the opportunity to just drop in at any time. Like a pick-up game at the rec center basketball courts, you just show up and join a team. It also presents the opportunity for new players to get a taste for the D&D mechanics and allows them to meet groups of people who could potentially become their regular gaming group. From a community outreach standpoint, it's an excellent and seemingly successful program.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

D&D/OSR: Djara's Artifacts

Along time ago, around the Time of Troubles, there lived an adventurer whose famed explorations were told and retold so many times over the years that it is no longer clear what is fact and what is fiction. The tales of Djara the Adventurer have only grown in hyperbole as they have in popularity. Her legend has become treasured by the peoples of the South
and has overshadowed any real accomplishments she may have actually achieved in life.

There is even debate about her profession. Some literary works claim she was a Ranger of great renown while other histories read that she was a wondrous Bard who could spin a tale that would impress even the most jaded audience. This may explain why her legend has grown so, while other more accomplished adventurers have faded into obscurity.

It is thought that she was from Amn, or perhaps Tethyr or Calimsham, but several sources have cited her origin as from the far-off lands of Maztica, coming only to Amn at the beginning of her explorations.

What is known for certain, is that she had 3 powerful artifacts at her disposal, without which many a journey would likely have come to an unfortunate end.

[Note: The game mechanics in this article are presented in fashion of D&D 5th Edition, but can easily be converted to any version of OSR or D&D-inspired games.]

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

D&D 5e Background: Teller

Teller (Entertainer Variant)

You wander the countryside keeping an ear to the ground for news of current events or even bits of gossip. For a hearty meal and a mug of ale, you will share your news and tales of heroics with the common folk of events from remote (or even not-so-remote) lands. Unlike a common minstrel, the stories you tell are intended to inform as well as entertain. You try to ferret out truth from rumor, but are not necessarily averse using either for your own ends. You get to know the movers and shakers in regional politics and learn where the centers of power reside. Depending on your outlook, you may be giving power to the people or working for The Man.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

D&D 5e: Player's Handbook - Quick Critiques Part 2

Artist: Daren Bader
In my last critique post, I discussed my issues with the art of the new Player's Handbook. In this article, I'm going to discuss some observations I noted related to character generation.

To be clear, I’m loving 5th Edition… I saw some jokingly refer to it as 2.5, which seems fitting. It “feels” like AD&D 2nd Edition (before Skill and Powers destroyed it)… It feels like what 3rd Edition should have been instead of the complex beast 3.x became. This is how Feats should have worked when they were added to AD&D.

Most of my critiques are more minor observations about things that annoy me. They’re subjective as any critique or review is. I won’t go too much into system analysis since there has been a lot of this since Basic D&D was released, but I’ll quickly note what I like before getting into the (hopefully constructive) criticism.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

#RPGaDay Part 3: 21 to 31

21) Favorite Licensed RPG - Perhaps Mouse Guard or the original Marvel Super Heroes.

22) Best Secondhand RPG Purchase - Dragonlance 5th Age, which is a great system which I picked up relatively inexpensively. I also purchased the Rules Cyclopedia well before it started to be hugely overpriced on Ebay.

23) Coolest Looking RPG Product/Book - I do not own The One Ring, but the artwork I've seen paging through it is gorgeous. I've also always really loved the starship artwork and schematics in Traveller... just because I like those kinds of deck plan drawings. Car Wars artwork has also always been a favorite for me.

24) Most Complicated RPG Owned - Probably GURPS. I don't have any of those overly complex games from the 80's and 90's like those from Palladium (RIFTS) or Iron Crown (Rolemaster). I technically own a second hand copy of one of the Middle Earth Roleplaying books, but never even really cracked it open except briefly to browse, so I'm not counting it.

25) Favorite RPG No One Else Wants To Play - My group of players doesn't usually have too much difficulty trying something new, but the issue usually comes up when no GM is willing to run a system they don't already know/understand. The players are almost always willing to try a new system, but the few GMs are not so much. Mouse Guard is at the top of this list.

26) Coolest Character Sheet - I don't have an opinion. I tend to like functional over flowery.

27) Game you'd like to see new edition - Boot Hill might be a fun one to resurrect, although I suppose Deadlands could technically be used to play a "straight" version of the Old West instead of a Weird West. Star Frontiers might be fun to revisit as well.

28) Scariest Game - I've never played an RPG where horror was executed very well... but I also haven't played many horror RPGs. So I don't really have a good answer for this one.

29) Most Memorable Encounter - I talked about this one in the Most Memorable Character Death. There was also a fun Red Dragon encounter in that same campaign, but the details are a bit foggy after 20 years.

30) Rarest RPG Owned - I have a copy of the 1974 White Box D&D "donated" by my brother.

31) Favorite RPG - D&D will always be king. It opened the world of RPGs to me and I'm excited about the 5th edition… but, I will also always love some of the other old, but great games on my shelf like Paranoia, Car Wars, Gamma World, etc…

Thursday, August 21, 2014

D&D 5e: Player's Handbook Art - Quick Critiques

Disclaimer: This started out as a general critique of the Player’s Hanbook, but the art seems to have gotten under my skin, so this article focuses mainly on the artistic oddities in the PHB. Your mileage may vary.

In general, I’ve liked the art direction of the new edition. However, on paging through the book for the first time, there are number of foibles that really bother me. (Further disclaimer: I actually love quite a lot of pieces in the book... but it's always the stupid little stuff that annoys me to no end).

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Let's Talk Sixth Edition!

Turbo Turret
Turbo Turret
No, not D&D this time... CAR WARS.

Did I fool you?

Steve Jackson Games brought a bunch of their Car Wars Classic reprints to Gen Con this year and apparently sold out in the first day. I'm sure they are kicking themselves that they didn't bring at least 2 to 3 times more product. This was not the "Sixth Edition" promised in the OGRE Kickstarter, but was a reprint of Classic from the early 90's (which is considered revision 2.5?).

#RPGaDay Part 2 - 11 through 20

Continued from #RPGaDay Part 1...

11) Weirdest RPG Owned - I don't own a "weird" RPG, per se, but I do own a few odd source books for a normal RPG, namely GURPS IOU. IOU is a little weird, but mostly satirical. I have downloaded Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but have not played it. Also, since it's really just a darker variant of D&D, I don't consider it particularly weird.

12) Old RPG You Still Play / Read - Paranoia It's still fun to peruse the rule book and old adventures longing for a GM that will run it for me.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

D&D 5e: DM Basic Rules Quick Critiques

Wizards of the Coast updated D&D Basic yesterday.

In a word: Awesome!

I'm extraordinarily happy that Wizards of the Coast has decided to walk this path. I'm almost certainly going to buy the Player's Handbook [done], Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide [because that's just what I do…], but it is fantastic that the option exists to hook new players in.

Now for the quick critiques. I haven't digested all of the new DM Basic document (essentially the Mini Monster Manual) but I have noticed a few oddities that I thought I'd mention.

Friday, August 8, 2014

D&D 5e: Fixing Rapid Low Level Advancement

There has been a fair amount of discussion in the level advancement in D&D 5th Edition. One particular comment on Google+ that stood out to me is "Blink and you'll miss it." 

The comment was specifically noting that the early levels 1 through 3 fly by so quickly that you won't even notice before you are level 4. Even advancement through level 5 is fairly quick.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

#RPGaDay Part 1 - One to Ten

I don't always have the freedom to post once a day, so I'm going to have to knock out the blog roll topic in 3 posts.

Still have my books from 1979-ish
1) First RPG Played - I posted about this very topic over a month back. I think it's a funny read so check it out. I'll wait.

For those who want to skip the gamer story, my brother started me out with OD&D (white box) sort of... But that incident doesn't really count. I really learned how to play with a combination of the Holmes blue book and the AD&D Player's Handbook. I consider AD&D my first RPG because we really weren't playing the Holmes rules.

2) First RPG Game Mastered - While I am almost certain I DM'd for some of my friends at an early age, I remember almost nothing from those pre-teen AD&D games. I have a vague recollection of running part of X2 Castle Amber, but 30 year old memories are not coming easily to the surface.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

D&D 5e: Minions Rise Again!

In a previous article, I discussed a two-hit minion variant for both 4th and 5th Edition D&D. Today, I will take a step back to introduce the minion mechanic into the 5E rules. Although I reference 5e monsters and use the D&D stat blocks, the ideas in this article are equally applicable to any OSR system.

In 5th Edition, monsters have special traits that are denoted below the challenge rating in the stat blocks. Wizards of the Coast hasn't given an explicit name to this section of the stat block, but it corresponds to "Traits" in the 4th Edition monster stats, so I will use that nomenclature for now.

To correspond wth their 4E cousins, 5E minions have a trait that allows it to avoid damage unless it has been directly hit with an attack or a spell. They do not even take 1/2 damage where others normally would (one could tweaks this if it feels like too good of an advantage).

In terms of relative strength, I decided that a minion should not quite be as combat effective as its non-minion allies. This also roughly corresponds to the power tweaking minions get in 4th Edition D&D. If the normal creature is fairly strong or dexterous, I might step their attributes down by one level. Similarly, the grunt may not have quite as good armor as his full strength kin, so I might adjust his AC accordingly. EDIT: After some discussion, I lowered the XP from 50 to 25 for minions (25% of the original monster XP).

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

D&D 5e: The Bard is Back!

... and you're going to be in trouble.

Yesterday, Wizards of the Coast leaked details of the Bard. which has gotten a bit of an upgrade since the play test. Bard love is back in D&D.

Friday, July 25, 2014

1st Adventures: Development Log #4 - Dwarfs

Previously, I wrote up my thoughts and ideas around the simplicity of B/X race-as-class philosophy vs. the variety of race-class selection in AD&D and later versions. With 1st Adventures, I'm trying to walk a middle road of presenting demi-human races with their own special limited selection of classes. Here are the ideas I'm working on for my Dwarfs.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Wayne Reynolds Likes Flair

Ezren: We need to talk about your flair.

We're not in Kansas anymore.
Seoni: Really? I... I have fifteen pieces on. I, also...

Ezren: Well, okay. Fifteen is the minimum, okay?

Seoni: Okay.

Ezren: Now, you know it's up to you whether or not you want to just do the bare minimum. Or... well, like Damiel, for example, has thirty seven pieces of flair, okay. And a terrific smile.

Seoni: Okay. So you... you want me to wear more?

Ezren: Look. Seoni.

Seoni: Yeah.

Ezren: People can hire adventurers anywhere, okay? They come to the Pathfinder Society for the atmosphere and the attitude. Okay? That's what the flair's about. It's about fun.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

D&D 5e: Interrupts and Other Creative Ready Actions

There was a lot of good feedback from my last post on spell interrupts from +Wing Kearns, +Garrick Andrus+Brian Barcus and others ... Enough so that I thought it was worth writing a follow-up article.

Please read the previous article to get the proper context for this follow up... Don't worry. I'll wait.

Getting back to my earlier example:

Ranger Rick: I'd like to Ready an action. I'm going to aim at the guy in robes, but wait until it appears he is casting a spell. Then I will shoot my bow.

DM: <Perception roll> The robed man notices you are aiming at him and ducks behind the altar (heavy cover). If you take the shot, you will be at Disadvantage. It sounds like he is casting.

Rick: Darn it. Well crap, I should take the shot anyway. <rolls Disadvantage> Arg!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

D&D 5e: Spell Casting Interrupts

There's been some chatter on Google+ and the OSR blogs about spell casting interruption since 5th Edition now has a mechanic for interrupting spells which have a concentration component. Over at Semper Initiativus Unum, Wayne Rossi summarizes how different versions of D&D and other OSR games handle caster interruptions.

D&D 5e addresses the interruption of concentration spells, but inherent in its mechanics is a potential way to interrupt non-concentration spell casting using the Ready action. When a spell caster casts a 1-action spell, it is seemingly not interruptable with the rules as written. However, I believe the spirit of the rules allow for an interruption by using the reaction allowed by the Ready action.

D&D Starter Set: Quick Critiques

Back in May, I took the D&D Starter Set to task for its contents (or lack thereof). Now, that I actually have one in my stubby little owlbear paws, I wanted to revisit some of those critiques and add some observations when I actually have it in hand. This is not a full review, but really some thoughts that came from my own unboxing reactions.

No doubt you've seen the contents list elsewhere:

  • 32 page rulebook
  • 64 page adventure book
  • 6 dice
  • 5 pregenerated characters
  • 1 character sheet / advertisement

That's it. On the surface, the $20 list price seems pretty good, but when you examine what you are really getting, it seems less of a deal. For the Amazon discount at roughly $13, this set is worth the price of admission, which is a real shame because the local game store loses out on the perceived value in the Starter Set.

In my last article, I compared it to the Pathfinder Beginner Box, which has a higher retail MSRP of $35, but even at that price, the perceived value is pretty high because the Beginner Box has a lot of nice extras aside from the rule books. So, let me start by examining what the D&D Starter Set gets us.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

1st Adventures: Development Log #3 - Halflings

The other day I wrote up my thoughts about how non-human cultures will influence the classes I intend to provide in my 1st Adventures game. This generated a lot of fantastic discussion from the community and even though I hadn't planned on writing about Halflings yet, all the discussion put them at the front of the line in my development process.

I have some unique ideas for Dwarf and Elf classes, but I'm struggling with a differentiation for Halflings to make them mechanically different from Human classes.

Culturally, 1st Adventures Halflings are not unlike the stereotypical Halflings you think about when considering Basic D&D, AD&D, or even Lord of the Rings. Below is a very early rough draft on the section for Halflings.

Monday, July 14, 2014

1st Adventures: Development Log #2 - Class and Cultures

I was reading an interview recently that the "race as class" design aesthetics of the original Basic Sets came from the idea that the reader already has a stereotypical "Elf" or "Dwarf" in mind when they think of those fantasy races. It was a conscious choice by the game designers to codify that stereotype into a combined race and class in order get the player into the mindset of that PC from the moment they pick up the attribute dice to roll their character.

"I'm a Dwarf -- short, burly, and I like hitting things with my ax."
"I'm an Elf -- a lithe creature of the forest with innate magic."

Having come from an AD&D background, I was never a fan of the race-as-class idea in Basic, but reading this blurb recently made that design choice much more understandable to me, especially as I thought of the role non-human races would play in 1st Adventures.

For the base classes, I knew I wanted to go with the core four - Fighter, Cleric, Rogue, and Wizard.. However, I wanted the non-human races to feel a bit different mechanically, and the race-as-class ethos was looking more attractive.

But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I desired for some class variation in the non-human classes, but I didn't want them to be just short or lithe Human Fighters or Rogues. So I struck a middle ground and designed some custom classes for Dwarfs, Elves and Halflings.

I considered, "What might a Martial class look like for each of these races? What about an Arcane class? Or Divine caster?" I wanted to build classes that fit in with the culture I imagined for each of those races. They will have their own different flavors, but just like the stereotypical "Elf" or "Dwarf" class, these classes will feel familiar to the player. They should read the class description and think "I get this. I understand how these classes fit within the culture of this race."

I will preview my non-human class ideas over the coming days to get some feedback from the community... but I will give a glimpse:

Elf - Warden and Wildsinger
Dwarf - Sentinel and Earthshaper
Halfling - Dogfighter and Ferret (In Development)

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dice Inking the Old School Way

You can see the wear on the old die that isn't high impact. 
So I was going through my dice sets the other day in the way we partially-OCD gamers do before starting up a new campaign. Several of my precision dice were not inked or had the ink chipped away, so I needed to find a good product to refill the numbers.

Looking at some of my retirees brought back memories. For those of you not old enough, d20's used to be numbered 0 - 9 twice. You colored half the sides to designate 11 through 20. Eventually they improved the molds enough to print 2 digit numbers in the smaller space, but many of those early dice were considered "cheater" dice because all of the high numbers were on one side. Note the grouping on the white d20.

Nowadays, you only need to color your precision dice for number visibility. [Side Note: Pre-painted dice are not considered "precision" dice because the painting process rounds the corners and can alter the shape of the die. Check out Lou Zocchi explaining the process].

Anyway, getting back to the main issue, my precision dice were hard to read because most of the numbers had lost their ink. I had gone over them a number of times with different pen types, but the ink never lasted long after drying.

Then I saw my daughter coloring with Crayolas the other day and I thought, "Hmm... why not try the old ways." So I stole borrowed her silver crayon and started to go to work on my blue gem d20.

The neon Gel FX color really stands out against the green.
Surprise! It seems sometimes the old ways are better. The faces came out pretty well and I was pleased with how easy the application and clean up was.You don't need to worry about ink drying before moving on to the other half of the die.

While I used silver on the blue d20, I also found some Gel FX Crayons in her 96 color set. I had once read that these bright neon colors are good for contrast on dark d20's and they did not disappoint. The Yellow Gel FX color is a fantastic contrast on the green gem die. Crayola also has some Metallic FX crayons that I think I'll give a try to see if I can get a little more contrast on the blue die. The silver looks good, but it is nowhere as bright as the Gel FX Yellow (you can even easily read the tiny Gamescience "G" on the 1).

Crayola used to sell a separate pack of only Gel FX crayons, but these are apparently no longer available and become extremely hard to find. Ironically, I found a 4-pack in the Target $1 aisle just last week... but I think this was crazy coincidence. The Metallic FX might be your best bet for a bright high-contract crayon color.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

D&D: Inspiration and Behavioral Psychology

+Jack Mack  over at Rotten Pulp posits that the Inspiration mechanic is inherently (and objectively) bad because rewarding players for role-playing actually diminishes motivation for role-playing. His conclusion results from his review of a study on the  metadata of psychology experiments where extrinsic rewards devalued the intrinsic rewards when performing an activity. While his post is well put together, I believe his conclusions misguided due to a few factors.

1) We are not kindergarten students.
2) Inspiration is not a tangible reward.
3) There are multiple reward conditions at work when playing a game like D&D.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

D&D Basic: Quick Critiques

This is not a review so much as a few random observations I thought of as I was working through the rules. I'd like to take a deeper examination of the Basic D&D when I have a little more time at my disposal,  but for now I wanted to post some of those thoughts.

Dislaimer: I really like 5th Edition, but that doesn't mean I don't have some critiques, some of which may even be subjective personal taste. This is not an "I hate 5e" or "D&D 5 is completely broken" post, so don't take it in that vein.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Raging Owlbear Turns 10,000

Just a quick note of thanks to all my readers and for the support I've gotten from the fantastic RPG blogging community on Google+.

Raging Owlbear passed 10,000 page views on July 1st -- about 6 weeks since I started really actively blogging. I'm very gratified that my feeble ramblings have attracted such positive attention from the RPG community, and I hope to keep it going for some time to come.

 Thanks for reading and keep checking back!

Marty -- the Raging Owlbear

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

D&D / OSR: Two-Hit Minion Variant

Whether you consider yourself "old school" or you play a "new school" set of rules, one of the hallmarks of high fantasy is wading into a large group of opponents, swords swinging and spells a-blazing in order to cut a swath to the big bad. Whether you call them Mooks, Lackeys, Flunkies, or Henchmen, in D&D 4th Edition they were given a specific mechanic and called Minions.

 Oddly enough, Minions were somewhat controversial because the simulationist crowd couldn't wrap their heads around a person or creature that may be "Level 4" but still only have 1 HP. Don't Hit Points represent wounds and hardiness? Do Minions die constantly because they stub their toes?

No, of course not. Hit Points are nothing more than a combat pacing mechanic. And if you want you PCs to plow through dozens, if not hundreds, of grunts like Gimli and Legolas in the Lord of the Ring what better way than to use the Minion mechanic?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

D&D 5e: A few words on Diversity (or its lack)

UPDATE: Wizards of the Coast showed a sneak preview of Player's Handbook art that isn't just same old white guys in armor. I applaud them for taking the feedback from the play test community seriously. 

UPDATE 2: Since the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are out, WotC has proven that it can do artwork right. Interesting. Diverse. Not Sexist. Fifth Edition art is amazeballs.

When considering the races and classes for the OSR game I'm developing, I couldn't help think about the cultural impact on classes. Because my mind often follows stream-of-conscious threads, this started me thinking about diversity in D&D in a larger context... not just fictional diversity from an in-game standpoint, but how that diversity (or lack) impacts D&D culture outside of the game itself.

How inviting is D&D to a person of color? Are you a Black gamer? Asian? Hispanic? Do you feel well represented in the game? Do you feel included? My guess is probably not. My concern is that this unfortunate status quo will continue in 5th Edition.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

OSR: 1st Adventures - Development Log #1

Over the last week or so I've taken some time to plot out what would be included in 1st Adventures from a design and development perspective.

OSR logo
When utilizing the d20 SRD as a starting point for a game design, a lot of the heavy lifting is already has already been done by default. But to get back to a simpler OSR-style game, you then have to take a critical eye at just what will and will not be included. This is actually harder than it sounds at first, because the SRD really does include a large array of mechanics. Decisions about one mechanic may impact others in unanticipated ways (especially around combat math).

The heavy lifting is disguised in trying to figure out what to cut. When you look at the SRD as a whole, there are pages and pages to review and the task seems almost overwhelming. So I took a step back to try to find the most simple view of what I wanted in an OSR game.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

D&D 5e: An Owlbear Rant on Healing Conniptions

So it seems after the preview of the Second Wind rules, the gaming internet has gone bat-shit crazy. Cries of "It'll be abused!" or "I can't control my players' actions!" or "Can you blame them for NOT abusing it?" are echoing from the roof tops.

OSR: Introducing 1st Adventures

So I'm feeling pretty nostalgic about the 40th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons and lately I've really had a lot of creative juices flowing spurred on by my blog and the excitement over upcoming release of D&D 5th Edition.

So, I've started working on a new OSR system which I'm calling 1st Adventures.

Feeling nostalgic for these old gals
"Why?" you might ask.

Because it's there.

There are dozens of OSR systems out there which might scratch the same itch I currently have, but I'm not interested in pouring over dozens of PDF to find something that's close, but not quite what I want. There may even be one that is exactly what I'm looking for... but it wouldn't be mine, and therein lies the real reason.

D&D 5e: Starter Set Unboxing

In case you may have missed the live stream, here is the replay of the Starter Set unboxing with the talking points from Mike Mearls and Greg Bilsland. They reveal the contents and talk a bit about the Starter Set, Basic D&D and the upcoming Player's Handbook.

Monday, June 23, 2014

D&D: First Adventures

Dungeons & Dragons circa 1974
I was pretty young at the time, but I knew my brother Steve and his friends were on to something compelling. There were maps on blue lined graph paper and interesting looking toy soldiers that the guys were painting in their spare time. 

One day I saw by brother looking over this large map that appeared to be some kind of mansion. There was something about that map. It was this huge sepia tone parchment paper map. I immediately connected to it.   I later learned it was Tegel Manor, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Other Owlbear musings