Tuesday, December 15, 2015

D&D / OSR: Using Narrative Sharing in Traditional RPGs - Part 2

So you might have read through the wall of text that was prior article and thought "That's all well and good, but you actually haven't shown me how my game will be improved."

To which I say, "Allow me to illustrate with some examples." Most of these come directly from the examples given by other bloggers where they claim the DM should "Just say No!". I decided to counter with how the DM could actually say "Yes!" and not destroy reality as we know it.

If you have not read Part 1 of this article, please review the full context before commenting. Thanks!

Monday, December 14, 2015

D&D / OSR: Using Narrative Sharing in Traditional RPGs - Part 1

Too Long; Didn't Read Summary: Narrative sharing ("Yes, and...") can really enhance the experience of the players and the DM at the table, and it will not result in the collapse of your game or Western Civilization as we know it.  You can read Part 2 of this article here.

The other day an OSR community member posted to G+ a critique of narrative sharing with the players -- more specifically the "Yes, and..." story telling technique in games like D&D or other d20/OSR based games. If you are not familiar, the "Yes, and" technique comes out of improvisational theater, but can be used with some modification in role playing games. It allows players to add detail to a scene that the DM might not have considered.

The problem with the critique article is that it stated that the advice related to the "Yes, and..." technique was "Always give the player whatever they ask for no matter how ridiculous or unrealistic to the scene/genre," which is a misrepresentation of the advice.

This is not at all how the "Yes, and..." technique is intended to be used and the examples given in the author's post illustrated a clear misunderstanding of the narrative sharing philosophy.

Friday, December 11, 2015

D&D 5e: Plague Zombie Disease

After a suggestion by +Kevin Boyd and a G+ conversation with +Eric Diaz, I came up with a Walking Dead style disease to accompany the Horde Zombie variant I published at the end of October.

For the zombie plague disease, I thought perhaps it should be treated in a similar manner as a death save (i.e. - a race between 3 successes or 3 fails to recover or die respectively). Unlike Walking Dead, this disease does not automatically kill the infected, but with the exhaustion mechanic together with CON damage, it is a very deadly disease. Use with caution against your players.

Between the Horde Zombie damage mechanic and the Plague Rot disease, your players will crap their pants whenever they come across zombies in the future. Even normal zombies will be that much more frightening because they won't be able to tell them apart. 

Zombie Plague Rot

When a player is infected by plague zombie rot, they must make a CON saving throw 8 hours after the initial infection and each day thereafter. On a failure, the PC takes a permanent 1d6 CON damage (with HP maximum permanently lowered accordingly) and 2 levels of exhaustion. (The new save is made using the adjusted CON score). Due to the nature of the disease, exhaustion may not be recovered while the PC is infected (except magically). After 3 failed saves, the PC dies and will rise as a Plague Zombie in 1d12 hours.

After 3 successful saves, the PC is healed of the disease, but still suffers the effects of the CON and HP loss. A Lesser Restoration spell will not automatically cure the disease, but may be used to grant the PC one automatic save toward recovery and heal 1 level of exhaustion. Three castings of the Lesser Restoration spell may be used to cure the disease, but does not restore lost CON or HP maximum. A Greater Restoration spell will cure the disease completely and restore the permanently lost CON and HP maximum.

Narrative Symptoms 

After infection, the wound location will have a red, nasty rash around the wound (even if HP healed). It will be apparent to the PC that some kind of infection is active.

Failed save 1: Red rash spreads from site of wound to other parts of the body. PC will have fever, sweats and chills. Exhaustion level 2 effects set in. PC is tired, listless, and moving slower as energy is sapped fighting the infection. 

Failed save 2: PC will look horrible. Pale, rashy, sweating profusely, shivering constantly, and barely able to fight or perform simple tasks (Disadvantage on everything from Exhaustion level 4). 

Failed save 3: The PC will look dead. Because he is. In a short time, he will look undead.

If the PC makes their 3rd successful save, they will begin to recover exhaustion levels normally. The fever will break and the rash will recede over the course of several days.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Dragon+ Issue 4: More of the same?

Yeah, I know... dated subject matter.

I've fallen behind in my reviews of Dragon+... Mostly because I'm not terribly excited to write about a D&D resource that is only marginally useful in my mind and largely because my life has been full of so many things other than the blog, that I've barely written any posts in the last couple months.

So, if you are not terribly interested in the review details, the question is - has it gotten any better?

In a word, mostly not. Ok, technically that's two words. But, there is the occasional highlight which might indicate that there are small improvements. In brief, there is some entertaining fiction, The Thweem, and this month also includes the DDEX3-1 Shackles of Blood adventure. The rest of the magazine is mostly "meh."

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Odelyn's Forge - a Hamlet in Nentir Vale

The other day, I detailed a method for adding depth to villages and towns in a campaign. After running down the road with an the idea I used as the example, I ended up with more detail than what was strictly necessary for the article. After a bit more nerd-building world building, I ended up with the newest hamlet in Nentir Vale.

Odelyn's Forge

Location: Northwest of Harkenwold near the Dawnforge Mountains in the Nentir Vale
Population: 600. Human 60%, Dwarf 25%, Halfling 10%, Elf 5%
Government: Feudal. A 10 member Village Council includes representatives elected by each of the village's major trade guilds including two seats for Dwarves from the Dawnforge Mining Cooperative. Ties in the Council are broken by the Baroness' chancellor. The Council manages the day to day activities of the village but is answerable to the Baroness who may overturn any ruling, policy, or procedure put into place by the Council.
Trade goods: Pig iron (raw), iron finished goods (cook pots, plow blades, horse shoes, etc), charcoal, lumber, wool, goat cheese
Resources: Iron mine, forest, grazing lands
Primary Trades: Miners, Founders, Smiths, Iron Merchants, Colliers, Teamsters, Lumbermen, Shepherds
Religion: Erathis is the patron deity in Odelyn's Forge. A modest church of Erathis sit at the center of town. The western transept is dedicated to the worship of Moradin and worship days for both gods alternate on the calendar. Other gods may be venerated in town, but do not have any official chapel or shrine.
Place of interest: Chapel of Erathis, Roche Noire Tavern, Iron Foundry, Mine, Logging Camp

Notable NPCs

Florio Herrera - (Hu/M/Clr3) Pastor who manages the church of Erathis.  Florio is somewhat young for his station and has ambitions to establish a grand cathedral to Erathis.
Benno Sternhand - (Dw/M/Clr5) Curate of Moradin who shares responsibilities for the church with Florio. Benno is on friendly terms with Florio but desires his own separate chapel to Moradin.
Madame Simone Neuville - (Hu/F/Arist 5) Village chancellor for Baroness Dunhill. Manages the taxation and finances of Odelyn's Forge. Non-voting member (except with a tie) on the Village Council and representative of the Baroness in all Council matters.
Guy Dufour - (Hu/M/Ftr1) Hostler and chef at Roche Noire Tavern and Hostel.
Collette Dufour - (Hu/F/Rog1) Alewife and co-owner of Roche Noire.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

D&D / OSR: Give Your Village Meaning and Purpose

Catoctin Furnace
Wandering around in the internet can lead one to some thought-provoking ideas. I was looking up some information on a local historic site, when my thoughts meandered down the paths of world building.

Often, when we design an adventure area or campaign map, we place a few dots on the map to represent a few different hamlets or villages the adventurers may visit on their way to wealth and experience. We might outline a few NPCs and some minor details about a town, but probably don't give it much more thought than that. A few of us nerdlings may go overboard in the opposite direction and develop a full history of the town and its environs....

But, if you are like me, you're probably somewhere in the middle... You want some engaging details for your players, but are not interested in the laborious task of a historical backstory for the entire region.

So I'm throwing out a few ideas that might help make this part easier, perhaps even fun.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

D&D 5e: Bone Swarm Skeleton

Source: yunuskocatepe at Deviant Art
Looking for more Halloween monster treats? Here is the Bone Swarm Skeleton.

The Bone Swarm Skeleton is a hulking skeletal beast that is made up from multiple skeletons, both humanoid and animal. While it is still a medium size creature, it is larger than a typical humanoid and may stand upright or skitter around on multiple legs. When destroyed, its bits and pieces reform into small animated undead swarms that continue to fight like a skeletal version of the Terminator.

Bone Swarm Skeleton
Medium Undead, neutral evil
Armor Class 14 (bony carapace)
Hit Points  26 (4d8+8)
Speed 30 ft
Damage Vulnerabilities Bludgeoning
Immunities Poison, Exhaustion
Senses Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 9
Languages  understands the languages it knew in life but can’t speak
Challenge 1/2
14 (+2)14 (+2)15 (+2)6 (-2)8 (-1)5 (-3)

Bone Swarm. When damage reduces the skeleton to 0 hit points, it falls to the ground in a pile of bones. On the round following its demise, the skeletal piles form into 4 small animated bone swarms (see stats below) in any spaces where the skeleton died.

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 7 (1d8+2) slashing damage 

Swarm of Bones
Small Swarm of Tiny Undead, neutral evil
Armor Class 12 (bony carapace)
Hit Points 14 (4d6)
Speed 20 ft
Damage Resistances Piercing, Slashing
Condition Immunities charmed, frightened, paralyzed, petrified, poisoned, prone, restrained, stunned
Senses Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 8
Challenge 1/4
10 (+0)14 (+2)10 (+0)3 (-4)6 (-2)5 (-3)

Swarm. The swarm can occupy another creature’s space and vice versa, and the swarm can move through any opening large enough for a small creature. The swarm can’t regain hit points or gain temporary hit points. 

Claws. Melee Weapon Attack: +2 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (2d4) slashing damage or 3 (1d4)
slashing damage if the swarm has half of its hit points or fewer.  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

D&D 5e: Horde Zombie variant

Zombies! (...and just barely in time for Halloween).

Even as far back as AD&D, zombies have been a somewhat easy source of XP for low level parties... But even with large numbers of zombies, they've never really been frightening in the "horror" sense of the word. Even in the mists of Ravenloft, zombies left something to be desired.

Yet, in classic horror films and especially the modern day Walking Dead, zombies are a force to be reckoned. To the protagonists, they are the incarnation of fear, and they are deadly in numbers. To be pulled down into frenzied feeding of a horde is one's worst nightmare.

This Zombie variant is intended to add a little more "Aaah!" into an encounter with a shamble of zombies. They're still not excessively hard for a low level group, but the Advantage and extra damage they get when attacking en masses might give your players a case of the willies next time they run across a large group.

If you have more ideas on making zombies a bit scarier, add to the comments!

Horde Zombie
Medium Undead, neutral evil
Armor Class 8
Hit Points 22 (3d8+9)
Speed 20 ft
Saving Throw Wis +0
Immunities Poison
Senses Darkvision 60 ft., Passive Perception 10
Languages  understands the languages it knew in life but can’t speak
Challenge 1/2
14 (+2)6 (-2)16 (+3)3 (-4)6 (-2)6 (-3)

Undead Fortitude. If damage reduces the zombie to 0 hit points, it must make a Constitution saving throw with a DC of 5 + the damage taken, unless the damage is radiant or from a critical hit. On a success, the zombie drops to 1 hit point instead.

Keen Sense. Horde Zombies have heightened sense of smell and hearing that add +2 to their perception and passive perception.

Horde Feed. For each Horde Zombie that has grappled a single opponent, the escape DC for the group grapple is increased by +2 (DC 14 for 2 zombies, DC 16 for 3 zombies, etc). However, a single successful escape action by the PC will break all Horde Zombie grapples on the grappled PC. Grappled creatures grant Advantage to the Horde Zombie's Bite attack.

Grab. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 5 (1d6+2) bludgeon damage and target is grappled (escape DC 12, see Horde Feed). 

Bite. Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 6 (1d8+2) piercing damage.  A Horde Zombie has Advantage on its Bite attack against a grappled opponent. May infect PC with Zombie Plague Rot Disease (optional - see below).

A Horde Zombie's entire existential goal is to feed upon the living. As such, a Horde Zombie will attempt to first grab an opponent with its claw attack and feed upon the grappled opponent with its bite attack in subsequent rounds. A Horde Zombie may bite a target grappled by another zombie (or other creature) without first attempting the grap.

Zombie Plague Rot Disease (optional - updated 12/11)

When a player is infected by plague zombie rot, they must make a CON saving throw 8 hours after the initial infection and each day thereafter. On a failure, the PC takes a permanent 1d6 CON damage (with HP maximum permanently lowered accordingly) and 2 levels of exhaustion. (The new save is made using the adjusted CON score). Due to the nature of the disease, exhaustion may not be recovered while the PC is infected (except magically). After 3 failed saves, the PC dies and will rise as a Plague Zombie in 1d12 hours.

After 3 successful saves, the PC is healed of the disease, but still suffers the effects of the CON and HP loss. A Lesser Restoration spell will not automatically cure the disease, but may be used to grant the PC one automatic save toward recovery and heal 1 level of exhaustion. Three castings of the Lesser Restoration spell may be used to cure the disease, but does not restore lost CON or HP maximum. A Greater Restoration spell will cure the disease completely and restore the permanently lost CON and HP maximum.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Off Topic: Star Wars Hype

So normally I only talk about RPGs, but since there is a major cross-over audience with the wider geekdom, I needed to just get something off my chest.

I was trying desperately not to get caught up in all the Star Wars hype. I mean, while I didn't hate the prequels as much as some, the first episode was "Meh" overall (and sometimes just stupid). While I liked many parts of Episode II and III, I had very little affection for any of the characters. So overall they were just OK. Not hated, but not loved either... which for me was a major disappointment because the 7-year-old me from 1977 really wanted to love Star Wars again.

And then the new trailers started trickling out. But I was circumspect. I like Abrams, but the first Star Trek reboot wasn't really all that. Into Darkness was better and a fun film overall, but still doesn't top the original Wrath of Khan from which it borrowed heavily.

But then I saw the so called Star Wars "super cut" trailer that is making the social media rounds.

Ok, so I didn't literally pee myself... but that 7-year-old inner me suddenly sat up again.

Am I too old to love again?

Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Think of Tom Wham and Jim Ward today!

Update 10/14/15: Jim Ward has had some more complications and is back in the hospital. His social media posts have been amazingly upbeat, but he is having some serious medical issues, so please keep Jim in your thoughts and prayers. Tom Wham is doing better and, according to some Facebook posts, is back home recovering.

Tom Wham
source: Bruce Heard's blog
Just a quick post to note that both Jim Ward and Tom Wham are recovering from their respective medical issues, so please keep them in your thoughts (and prayers if your philosophies are non-secular). For those who may not recognize the names, Jim and Tom were both well known game designers during the early TSR years.

Tom Wham was a game designer and artist at TSR during the AD&D years, but you probably know him from many of the small games he published as part of the Dragon Magazine "centerfold". He is responsible for Snit's Revenge, The Search for the Emperor's Treasure, and most famously The Awful Green Things From Outer Space. He also did a fair amount of the comic art work in the AD&D Monster Manual and Dungeon Master's Guide.

If you want to support Tom, you can still buy Awful Green Things from Steve Jackson or some of his independently printed games directly from him (since he's been in the hospital recently, he may not be able to fulfill your order right away).

Tom Wham games were very much a part of my formative gaming years. Search for the Emperor's Treasure was one of the first "bonus" games I received as part of my Dragon Magazine subscription (issue #51) and I still have most, if not all, of the hand cut card stock paper chits (as well as the reprint contained within the "Best of the Dragon Games" box.

Tom, if you read this, thank you for those... especially Awful Green Things, which I played the s#!t out of (and which I also still have in the original TSR box)! When my kids are old enough, I can't wait to introduce them to all of the "Best of Dragon" games of yours I've collected through the years.

Jim Ward
source: Go Fund Me page
Jim Ward was a major part of the development of AD&D (Deities and Demigods, Greyhawk Adventures, etc) as well as writing Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World and a number of other TSR titles. He was Drawmij the wizard in Gary Gygax's original D&D games.

Jim also recently encountered some medical problems and his friends have set up a Go Fund Me page to help with his medical bills. You can also support him by purchasing some of his games. A revised edition of Metamorphosis Alpha is back in print at Goodman Games.

On a personal note, Jim also had major influence on me. Gamma World was one of my group's go-to games after D&D when were were wee lads. I think we may have played it almost as often. My copy of Deities and Demigods (with Melnibonean and Cthulhu myths) also still resides in a place of honor on my game shelf.

I recently came across a kind of Gamma World "fan fiction" (before that was a thing) that I wrote in 6th grade (circa 1982, I think) that was so amazingly hilarious (unintentionally, it was supposed to be a "serious" short story for my English class) that I will need to re-type it and email to Jim someday soon. I have no doubt it will provide a guffaw.

So thank you both, Tom and Jim, for giving me so many amazing gaming gifts over the years... and a speedy recovery to you both so I can thank you in person at a con someday soon.

Tom Wham's Mind Flayer

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

OSR: Venger Satanis getting busy on Kickstarter

With apologies to Mr. Elmore for my mashup...
Venger's purple pen is constantly moving. (See what I did there?)

For those of you who like a little more edge in your gaming, +Venger Satanis has a new adult-oriented gonzo sci-fi title about a traveling brothel city in space called Alpha Blue (link slightly NSFW).

If you always wanted to play an RPG that's a bit off-kilter and somewhat like a mad love child of Star Frontiers, Space Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, and Leather Goddesses of Phobos, then Alpha Blue may be right up your back alley.

Venger has some nice Kickstarter add-ons including his other titles, some sweet dice and leather dice bags. I'm particularly interested in his Crimson Dragon Slayer softcover as that looks like a real hoot and a good companion to Alpha Blue.

Also, keep your eye on this space for my review of How to Game Master like a #@$%ing Boss which will coming in early October.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Why Fan Outreach Is Critical to D&D's Success

This owlbear is on the charge!
Rage, my friend, rage.
So, in my post the other day about Gen Con and the WotC forums, some of the key points of my message was lost within the nerd rage.

Based on the comments, people were like "No WotC at Gen Con? Big whoop..." or "Forums? They suck; who needs 'em?" but that misses a major point to the problem I see with these decisions which I may not have clearly expressed in my rant.

Fan Outreach

D&D is one of those games that a consumer does not just go out and buy.

If I'm not an RPG gamer, and I'm wandering the aisles in Barnes & Noble and I see D&D, I might be vaguely curious about it, but unless I already know what D&D is all about, I'm probably not going to randomly purchase it.

So where does D&D get new customers?

In a podcast with Mike Mearls and David Noonan several years back,  the metaphorical "older cousin" D&D sales model was explained like so:

"The primary means by which new players enter the D&D hobby is through an existing player who drags them to a game and teaches them the ropes. That existing player is the “older cousin.”

Take a moment to consider that fact. Existing D&D players are the primary means by which new D&D players enter the hobby.

This is the single most important consideration to keep in mind when Wizards of the Coast makes these kinds of sweeping decisions. Why?  Because the hardest of hardcore fans are the ones attending Gen Con (or Origins, or other large RPG conventions). These are also the same people who inhabit the forums on Wizards.com or EnWorld or RPG.net, etc...

These are the people who run D&D Encounters as a volunteer at the local game store on Wednesday nights. These are the people who are inviting friends, family, neighbors, etc to their Saturday home game. These are the people running local MeetUp groups for D&D players to find one another locally. These are the front line hard core evangelists for the D&D brand.

These are also the people who Wizards of the Coast need reach out to the most in order to continue the success of the brand. I'm not talking about surveys. I'm not talking about podcasts, press releases or random tweets. I'm talking about direct face to face or keyboard to keyboard interactions between the community and representatives from Wizards of the Coast.

This is what you lose when you stop attending Gen Con (and other cons) or close your forums. You lose that direct community connection to your hardest of hard code fans who bring new customers to your products.

When I attended Gen Con this year, I was able to personally speak with a lot of industry luminaries. Kenneth Hite, Randall Bills, Joseph Goodman, Shane Hensley, Stephen Chenault... If I'd made the effort, I probably could have included Monte Cook and Jonathan Tweet in that group. Hell, I even saw Margaret Weis and Larry Elmore (who signed my 2e PHB!).

But with no booth or official presence at Gen Con (like in the Adventurers League play area), there was no way I could seek out any Wizards of the Coast representative. This kind of fan outreach and access is a million times more important than a Survey Monkey URL.

Back in 2009(ish) when the 4e Dark Sun book was released, Wizards did this awesome marketing push. They were at Gen Con, Origins, D&D Experience (Winter Fantasy), PAX, and about a 1/2 dozen other major RPG cons. They even made a "world tour" style concert t-shirt for that convention season (which is totally cool, by the way) listing all the dates and locations. D&D is having its most successful year since the acquisition of TSR. Use this opportunity to expand your fan outreach, not contract it. Now, I'm not saying Wizards has to do a dozen major cons a year, but asking for a presence at 3 or 4 big cons to cover the East Coast, West Coast and central part of the country is really not asking too much.

Asking for an official forum to interact with other players, DMs and Wizards.com employees is not asking too much. If there is a problem with the forum traffic, toxic personalities or other forum issues, then fix them instead of saying "@#$% it. We give up." This shit is not rocket science.

By the way, to put this in perspective, the 5e Rule Questions forum has FIFTY TWO THOUSAND posts in it. That forum isn't even the largest on the site. This is not an insignificant swath of the hard core audience. (There are about a dozen other forums with at least that many posts).

By closing down these avenues of access, Wizards of the Coast is communicating to the hard core fan, "You are no longer important to us." D&D is not the only RPG out there. It's no longer even the only D&D-like RPG out there. If you treat your hard core fans with disrespect, they will evangelize for a competitor who listens to their needs.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wizards Flips the Bird at D&D Fans

So, Wizards of the Coast has really "given it" to their fans in recent weeks... and I don't mean "given it" in the good way.

Gen Can't

Remember when Wizards use to do cool shit at Gen Con?
Me neither.
First, WotC doesn't show up to Gen Con in any official capacity. Sure, there were some WotC people present at the con itself, but not specifically as a part of their job duties. There were no WotC events or any real effort at community outreach. 

I get it. I understand that WotC does not sell direct to consumers, but even a 10' x 10' booth that is there for people to "press the flesh" so to speak would have been something. It might help to meet and talk to fans once in a while, because Lord Ao knows they don't listen to them very well.

Not only that, but they've officially announced that they are no longer attending Gen Con ever again in any official capacity. PAX is now the convention of choice for any product announcements or media news, so eat it Gen Con!

So... Apparently, the world's largest RPG convention is no longer good enough because D&D is no longer just a table top brand. Well, #@&% you too, Wizards.

So, yeah, I get it. PAX is in their backyard (so they don't have to pay for employee hotels and such) and it covers a wider array of media, but it's still a shitty move to not even bother attending the major RPG convention of the year with any official presence. It's a big ole bird to convention fans who contribute a significant portion to their revenue stream, I might add.

Edit for clarity: While this particular turn of events is specific to Gen Con, the larger picture and point of this rant is not really about Gen Con. It's about Wizards of the Coast having an attitude that the table top player is becoming less and less importing in their "brand promotion" train. Wizards of the Coast should be expanding its convention presence to other large regional gaming cons (like Origins, for instance) instead of pulling out of Gen Con because they'd rather promote movies, video games or other efforts they believe will generate more revenue than the table top game (the jury is still way out on the movie front).

[ Update: This post was written before WotC announced its presence at Origins 2016, Winter Fantasy, Gary Con, etc... Kudos to WotC for listening to the fans and supporting other regional conventions. ]

D&D Adventurers League at Gen Con 2015

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forums

This past week WotC also announced it is closing down its forums. In the announcement, they state, "we feel that we must adjust our communications structure to reflect where conversations about Wizards of the Coast games are taking place."

So the subtext actually reads, "Because we suck at digital initiatives, we kept breaking the URLs and #@$%ing up the forum threads every time we switched the website design, so now the forum community is nearly dead. Also. our fan community outreach is so shitty, we're have not been able to fix our past mistakes and attract our users back, so #@$% it... We ain't paying for no servers no more."

This is clearly a cost cutting move, but it's a bullshit one. For the amount of traffic they have to manage, these forums could have been put on a relatively small virtualized environment in the cloud. By leaving the server management up to the cloud vendor, you can cut down on IT staff and still maintain an official forum presence on the Internet for a relatively small cost.

But Wizards has shown they can't manage their way out of a paper bag when it comes to online strategy and the forums are a casualty of their digital dump stat.

At the very least, they should have maintained an official Rules Q&A forum somewhere. Having Mike Mearls answer random shit on Twitter doesn't do anyone any good. I challenge anyone here to find recent tweets of his that have rules Q&A. I'll even give you a lead. He did one on Thunderwave some months back. If you can find that tweet, I'll email you a lolly pop.

The point is, you need an easily searchable place where any player or DM can visit to quickly find official rules Q&A content. An official forum is really the best place for this kind of content. Sure, one can ask a question on EnWorld or other random places on Facebook or Google+, but you're guaranteed to get 3 or 4 or 5 interpretations by random people (like yours truly) none of which may actually be correct. A revamped Sage Advice forum is the great way to fix your audience issues. You could even use a Stack Exchange "best answer" system where the most correct or most complete explanation gets top position in the thread responses.

They should be using their own forums as a way to rally the troops to evangelize the game even further than we already do. Instead, we get the middle finger.

Final Thoughts

This all just goes to show that for the D&D brand, table top truly is the red-headed bastard step child. While Hasbro/WotC sees huge dollar signs in movies and video games, they're giving less and less of a shit about the girl who brung them to the dance in the first place.

For months I've been defending their actions in this regard because I didn't think that was the case, but #@$% it, I'm done. 

Hell, even Paizo has a D&D forum. Seriously, Wizards? Should we all go over to Paizo's site to discuss D&D 5th Edition?


Monday, September 21, 2015

DRAGON+ Issue 3: Is it actually getting better?

Uhm... maybe.

If you read my last two posts (here and here) on the new Dragon+, you'll quickly realize I do not hold this advertisement-disguised-as-a-magazine-slash-app in very high regard (to put it nicely). To summarize, my reviews say "it sucks" and "it still sucks" respectively.

So, to cut to the chase, do I still think it sucks?  Well, kind of maybe, but perhaps a lot less.

I'm not sure if I've already lowered my mental bar, or if it actually is improving, but I think it sucks a lot less. Does it actually not-suck enough to be good?

I'm not certain it is good, but I didn't want to scratch my eyeballs out like I did after the first two issues, so that's a definite improvement. Perhaps I'm suffering a kind of Stockholm Syndrome. I was mentally abused by the first two issues so badly, that even the slightest hint of potential has made me soften toward issue 3.


Ok, so here's where it definitely still sucks. I'm not sure what's going on with the app. Issue 1 was buggy, but it at least worked ok most of the time. The update that came with Issue 2 was bad. It crashed often and was a chore to actually read because of the instability.

Baphomet say your app no run!
Issue 3 is actually worse.

I don't know how they could have possibly made the app even more unstable, but it freezes constantly on my iPhone 5S. It's not even like I have an old phone. It's a 5S, for Pete's sake. It may not be the newest generation, but it's not old and I don't have problems with other apps. I don't know how this app has so many 5-star ratings in the app store. It literally boggles my mind.

I was able to read issue 3 when I first downloaded the update, but then it took repeated attempts to re-read it for this review. The app constantly froze at the first screen. I couldn't view the new or old issues, or even scroll down to see their weak efforts at social media. Force quitting the app and even restarting the phone proved ineffective. The app seems to work only when it feels like it, which is infrequently and intermittent.

Even when I was able to get to the magazine content in one attempt, the navigation was largely unresponsive. If you clicked to an external link (which is easy to do accidentally from one of the many ads), you may as well force quit again because the built-in web browser included in the app is utterly unstable and generally guaranteed an application freeze. Even when working, its mostly useless since it is completely feature limited. There is really no excuse for how crappy the app runs after 4 months in production.


Unfortunately, I don't have time to run through the entire contents as I did in the prior articles, so I'll try to just pick out a few highs and lows. I may come back to this article to update the parts I need to leave out for brevity.

Cover - In the prior reviews, I didn't make a note of the covers because Issue #1 was just boring and Issue #2 was like a Guns and Roses cover band logo that made me shake my head. Neither of them lived up in any way to the amazing run of covers in the print edition of Dragon. Even the digital 4e Dragon/Dungeon PDFs had some quality cover art. 

The Issue #3 cover is the first to live up to the name Dragon Magazine. The pictured sculpture is an amazing pieces of art and the cover doesn't do justice to the actual 3-dimensional piece (but there are more pictures inside). But bravo to Wizards of the Coast for taking a chance on commissioning this sculpture. It is an amazing work.

Adventurer's League - Sometimes I think +Robert Adducci is the only WotC representative that gets community outreach... and he's basically a volunteer, not an employee. Anyway, this issue's download of the D&D Expeditions' series of mini-encounters DDEX3-1 almost made me fall off my chair. Somebody listened. We actually got some RPG content in the magazine for people running a home game!

BUT... I think I need to moderate my excitement because as Mr. Murphy put it so well, 
"If you're starving and somebody throw you a cracker, you gonna be like this: Goddamn, that's the best cracker I ever ate in my life!"

There also was a small background-related download in the Out of the Abyss advertorial, but it was really quite short and could definitely have had some more meat added to it. I would have loved to see some kind of article about adventuring in the Underdark (for DM's or Players). Another missed opportunity.

As for the other articles, they were all advertorials similar to the last 2 issues, but somehow they bothered me less. I don't know if the writing is actually getting better, so they are at least somewhat entertaining despite being advertorials, or I just got way too excited about the adventure download. 

Even though I'm not a Drizzt fan, R.A. "Bob" Salvatore's interview was interesting. Like the Greenwood interview from the prior issue, it was there to promote the book coming out, but I did at least get some entertainment out of the anecdotes (although some of these same questions have been printed in other interviews). The Rage of Demons introductory articles (also thinly disguised adverts) as well as the Sword Coast Adventurers Guide were actually decent reads. Not a whole lot of content useful to the home game, but it did give some insight into the design of the story line and they had fun little "bios" for each of the demon princes. I didn't even mind the Sword Coast video game preview (pre-order click bait) that much. 

I must be going soft.

Final Thoughts

So it's not as terrible as the first two issues. But they set such a low bar, that almost anything could be seen as an improvement. I'd give the content a C-, but lower the grade to a D for the instability of the app.

There is still massive room for improvement as the "magazine" is still pretty weaksauce. It would be an excellent use of this medium if more D&D Expeditions content were released through the app.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Owlbear Days of Summer

The Owlbear posting frequency has been extremely slow of late, which somehow turned August into my best month ever.

The Raging Owlbear broke 10,500 views for the month of August. I had been flirting for months with 10K views per month, but had not officially topped it according to my blogger stats. That trend broke in August which is odd since that has been one of the worst months in my posting history.

It seems some of my more evergreen content is helping keep the readership high, so thanks for those of you visiting from time to time.

Hopefully, the dry spell of posts should end soon. I have moved into a new home in Maryland, so I should be getting back some of the occasional free time to comment on RPG-related news of the day.

Until then, thanks for reading.

Marty -- The Raging Owlbear

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

D&D Movie Announced: Triumph or Tragedy?

Better get another bucket.
My GenCon wrap up post will have to wait due to this stunning (-ly bad?) news out of Wizards.

So, if you hadn't heard already, Wizards of the Coast and Warner Brothers announced a resolution to their legal dispute over the D&D movie rights. Warner Brothers is going forward with the production of a new D&D movie and it appears as if Sweetpea Entertainment (Courtney Solomon) "won", if only in a limited fashion.

If you don't know who Courtney Solomon is, he's the guy responsible for the last 3 amazingly horrendous D&D movies (two of which went straight to video). His company, Sweetpea Entertainment, had exclusive production rights to D&D movies (henceforth and to eternity due to a horrendous contractual error on TSR's part) and he is attached to the new movie as an executive producer. However, after this next movie, the film production rights revert back to Wizards of the Coast henceforth and forever.

How about Abed for
So, this could mean one of two things:

1) WotC/Hasbro actually "won" the negotiation and Solomon is attached in name only, or...

2) Sweetpea had WotC/Hasbro up against the wall, but does not have the deep pockets to fight this legal battle forever, so opted to try to cash in on one last movie before reverting the rights.

Number 2 was the most probable scenario, which means we have to endure one more horrendously shitty D&D movie before a real screen writer, director and producer will get to take another shot. No matter who won this legal negotiation, we all lose as long as Solomon is attached to this effort.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Gen Con: This Is My Tribe Redux

Diana trying on some
of my old costumes.
So I wanted to post a quick follow-up to the article from last Thursday... I intended to post a few Gen Con "on location" articles, but... you know... Gen Con. I still intend to post an overall recap, but wanted to comment on something that happened to me.

Saturday was a hard day at the con for me.

Over Friday and Saturday, there were a few events to which I had signed up that failed badly to meet some expectations, which put me in a bit of a mood. On top of that, I was feeling a down because my wife could not be there with me, and my little ones are just too small for us to manage a four day convention... Seems like every little girl or boy at the con reminded me of my son and daughters.

So I was really missing my family and feeling a bit lonely at the con. It's hard to be one guy along among 60,000+ people and see so many groups of friends together having fun, playing games, and laughing. I had an unusually strong feeling of "odd man out" syndrome.

I met Jim shortly after this photo was taken. :)
source: @JimZub
It was getting late Saturday night and I went back to my room really tired and was feeling a bit empty. But I couldn't let this feeling pull my con experience down, so I marshaled my internal forces and headed down to the lobby to make something of my Saturday late night.

It was then I met +Jim Zub (@JimZub) who invited me to play Skull and Roses with him and his friends. Then I also met (re-met) Kevin Zim (@toggleGaming) who also invited me to play Mysterium with a group of his friends.

These guys really saved my Saturday night. Instead of feeling lonely and blue, I was back in that happy space where a sense of belonging comes from that shared social experience with fellow game enthusiasts.

Thank you for that, guys. It was just what I needed.

Final Thoughts

If you are at a con hanging out with friends and playing board games, or just out at a board game MeetUp and you see some lone guy or gal looking on curiously, invite him or her over. Introduce yourself and your friends. Tell them about what you're playing and invite them to hang out. Bring them into your tribe. It might just make their day, or entire weekend.

I hope Jim and Kevin don't mind I've co-opted their tweets for my post. Let me know if you guys want me to alter the post in any way related to your tweets/images.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Gen Con Day 0: This Is My Tribe

Arrived in Indy late last night, and despite the fact that I haven't really gotten a chance to participate in any events, I'm already having a wonderfully pleasant experience meeting and chatting with fellow gamers. Even on the flights in, it was pretty easy to spot who were "our people".

In the food court area of DCA, I met the creators of Dragoon (@playdragoon) and had a lovely chat about their Kickstarter and the experience publishing their new board game. They were terrifically nice, and I immediately felt that kinship that one has when chatting about one's shared love of games. I'm looking forward to test driving their game in Hall E. If you are here at Gen Con, I recommend checking them out.

I also had a nice chat on the flight with another gamer who was returning to RPGs after many years missing out and shared an Uber ride with Ben, a war gamer I met in the airport terminal. My room mates are even folks I met online through the Gen Con forums and we clicked immediately upon meeting.

This is my tribe. These are my people.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Ryan Dancey Saved D&D

So, there's this thing circulating on social media involving a certain ego-maniacal RPG blogger saying that he "saved D&D". While this is a tongue-in-cheek joke, he's going ahead and printing t-shirts with that slogan to give away at Gen Con so he can thumb his nose at those who don't like him.

Normally, I'd ignore this kind of social media masturbation, but his printing t-shirts saying he saved D&D does bother me a bit, even as a joke... Not because it's just another example of his over-inflated, monster ego, but more because it does a massive disservice to those people who did actually save D&D... specifically Ryan Dancey.

Ryan Dancey Saved D&D

There is no doubt in my mind that Dancey's efforts (related to the acquisition of TSR and his spearheading the open gaming license at Wizards of the Coast) utterly, completely changed the landscape for the hobby.

This post on the Paizo forums from 2010 speaks volumes:
"I also had the goal that the release of the SRD would ensure that D&D in a format that I felt was true to its legacy could never be removed from the market by capricious decisions by its owners."
What Ryan totally grokked during the fall of TSR was that the future of D&D was uncertain at best. Any company could end up with the D&D intellectual property. As a brand, whoever owned D&D could build it up, destroy it, or even make it go away forever. However, as a game, D&D belonged to us, the players and DM's, and the SRD along with the Open Game License made sure that any publisher could create a D&D compatible product without fear of litigation as long as they followed the framework created by the d20 System Reference Document.

This made it possible for Castles & Crusades, Swords & Wizardry, Basic Fantasy, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Mutant Future, Pathfinder, Labyrinth Lord, White Star and dozens upon dozens of other D&D-like games to come into existence.

Yes, it would have been technically possible for these games to exist if they very carefully followed existing copyright laws and consulted lawyers against possible IP infringement lawsuits from whomever owned the D&D brand... But the OGL made all of that expense and risk unnecessary by clearly outlining what could and could not be done under license.

Without Ryan Dancey, it is uncertain whether the OSR (Old School Revival) movement would still exist... Or at the very least, it would look nothing like it does today.

Ryan Dancey made it possible for all of us to play D&D compatible games until eternity, because regardless of what happens to D&D as a brand, D&D as a game will forever live on.

Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson may be in the pantheon of gaming gods, but Ryan Dancey is a patron saint at the very least. Thank you, Ryan Dancey.

PS -- +Ryan Dancey, if you see this and are at GenCon this year, I hope to shake your hand and thank you in person.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Christmas in July Sale at DriveThruRPG / RPGNow

DriveThruRPG and RPGNow are having their Christmas in July sale.

There's a lot of good deals from well known publishers like Goodman Games (including the DCC and 5th Edition Fantasy titles), Kobold Press and Troll Lord Games to name a few of my favorites.

So head on over and browse their whole list of sale items. No doubt you will find something to strike your fancy.

Tell 'em the Owlbear sent ya!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Owlbear Milestones and Project X

Owlbear Hits 100K

A classic AD&D illustration by Jeff Dee
Last week, sometime early in the July 4th morning, Raging Owlbear passed 100,000 page views. This was a very nice milestone for a rising sophomore blog. I had hoped to cross that point in the first year, but did not due to my own lackadaisical publishing schedule. August/September of 2014 and January/February of this year brought in poor numbers due to my lack of consistent posting.

This fall I'm hoping to better at that. July and August of this year may not fare much better as I am in the middle of a move back to my native Maryland. Fondness for southern Virginia (and the beaches) grew steadily over the years, but I sometimes felt like it wasn't quite home. It will be delightful to be near family again among the rolling hills of Maryland.

In other news...

Why We Love RPGs

+Charles Akins of Dyvers started a blog roll project (dubbed Project X) to get a bunch of bloggers to describe what we love about our favorite RPGs. Many of these have now hit blogs around the interwebs. I hope I'm not stepping on any "official" announcement by Charles, but others in the group are already linking to each other so... here are some links!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

D&D: You know... for kids!

"Let's be friends!" 
A couple weeks ago, Wizards of the Coast uploaded a new Monster Slayers PDF. Monster Slayers is an attempt to create a simplified set of rules for younger kids to grasp the basic D&D (pun unintended) mechanics.

Wizards originally created Monster Slayers: Heroes of Hesiod for Fourth Edition D&D and revised it slightly (as in, not very much at all) for Fifth Edition with Monster Slayers: Champion of the Elements.

The two systems are basically the same and only differ in the monster stats provided. The premise is fairly simple. Each kid in your group picks from several pre-generated characters that consist of typical base classes, Fighter, Rogue, Magic-User Wizard... etc. Each character has a single "normal" weapon attack and a "special" attack that may be used in specific tactical circumstances (like ganging up on a monster). Weapons do 1 point of damage unless there is a critical hit.

From a mechanics standpoint, Wizards does a fairly good job of simplifying. There are no attributes/bonuses. There are no skills. Just AC, Hit Points, Speed (in squares) and attacks. The weapon or special attack already has the bonus added to the die roll in its explanation.

"I just wanna cuddle!"
Where Monster Slayers completely falls down is in the scenario. It's basically, "Look, kids! There's a monster! SLAY IT!!!"

Seriously. That's the scenario for both PDFs. In the original, the "Heroes" are sent into an arena to kill the cutest, most cuddly looking monsters in existence. In the second, they are... wait for it... sent into an arena to kill some slightly less cuddly looking monsters. I guess the art director figured out that maybe the kids felt bad murdering huggable monsters.

Exploration?  Social interaction?  F@#% that noise.

Let's murder some Pillow Pets!

This is a monster (pun intended) of a missed opportunity. Wizards had the chance to write up a simple scenario that could have elicited some rudimentary role-playing from children... Such as a mystery scenario with perhaps a couple NPCs, a puzzle encounter and a combat or two.

But no, it's a just 4 combats. In a row. With no story or motivation other than "We like to murderize things."

This is not how to teach role-playing to kids. This is Murder-Hobos for Kids.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

OSR / D&D: Firing into Melee

In order to streamline D&D, rules like the penalty for firing missile weapons into melee were dropped in order to streamline combat.

However, for those of us who like some of the more simulationist aspects of D&D combat, some of those discarded rules are missed. Combat is chaotic. It should be hard to shoot an arrow at an opponent while avoiding hitting your allies when they are engaged in hand to hand combat.

Also, for those of us who like a little old school flavor, not only do we want it hard to shoot into combat, there should be a chance that you accidentally shoot your friend in the back!

Today, it came to me in a flash as I was looking at the Hackmaster rules. In Hackmaster, it's very dangerous to fire a missile weapon into an engaged combat. You are just as likely to hit friends as you are enemies. In Hackmaster, if you miss your intended target, your attack then targets every other creature in the vicinity until it hit one of them (or misses them all)

It occurred to me that D&D 5e has the perfect solution for this mechanic.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dragon+ Issue 2 Review: Spoiler Alert - Still Sucks!

So Issue #2 of the new "Dragon+" dropped this past week. How is it?
Spoiler alert: It still sucks... possibly even worse than issue #1.


Before we get into content specifics, I wanted to talk briefly about the app itself.

Testing on both the iPhone and iPad, the app freezes after it cycles through the "Updating design and content" message at startup. I am able to replicate this bug consistently. Force quitting and restarting the app usually resolves the issue temporarily, but it's annoying to have to go through this process each time the app needs to update itself.

The Letter to the Editor section has a link in the app to a Reader Survey... which crashes the app whenever I try to open it. I also tried to share an article via email with myself (which worked as of the last issue)... Crash!  I also had several crashes when just navigating through the magazine. All told, they did something in this update that made the app way less stable. 

Social Media

Aside from the digital magazine aspect of the app, it is intended to be used to keep track of Wizards' social media postings. From my experience, its utility is limited. The app appears to pull the RSS feeds for the website, Facebook and Tumblr and aggregates them into a single feed.

Other Owlbear musings