Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil... Again

Just this week, Wizards of the Coast has officially announced what had been whispered around the net for the last few months. The Elemental Evil story line will encompass several releases across product lines... An expansion for the Neverwinter MMO, module(s) for D&D Adventure League and home play, and most interestingly a new D&D board game based on the Temple of Elemental Evil.

I say most interestingly not just because it's the The Temple of Elemental Evil, but because it will be using the D&D Adventure System, introduced with the Castle Ravenloft, Legend of Drizzt, and Wrath of Ashardalon board games.

Monday, January 12, 2015

D&D: New Basic Rules Web Site, But No New PDFs

So, the buzz this week is that Wizard of the Coast quietly launched a hypertext version of the Player's Basic Rules for 5th Edition.

It's a fairly straight forward reading of the text with some Javascript controls for chapter and section navigation. It's a clean interface and relatively easy to navigate. It's a bit mono-chromatic, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.

It does, however, leave on gigantic question in my mind:

Why didn't they spend some of that time improving the PDFs?

Since their release, people have been asking
  1. Where is the table of contents? 
  2. Where is the index?
  3. Where is the corrected alphabetization of the monster list? (i.e. - Young Green Dragon should be under "D", not "Y").
  4. Why isn't the Hoard of the Dragon Queen PDF content merged with DM's PDF yet?

I can't understand the priorities here. The time it took to "pretty up" the rules for layout on the web could have been better spent (or at least co-prioritized) with prettying up the rules in the PDF releases.

I can forgive the lack of index. For a living document, the upkeep on an index can be a pain. Given that PDFs are searchable, it's a nice to have, but not strictly necessary (though it would help with printed copies). The lack of a table of contents is not really forgivable at this point. It doesn't even take that long to set up the hot links in an Acrobat document. Insert a new page 2 and voila.

At least they added PDF bookmarks in the last revision, but PDF booksmarks don't help you if you are printing via Lulu (or on your home printer, for that matter).

What do you think? Am I hand-wringing over minor issues?

Perhaps... However, the addition of a table of content is only about 2 to 4 hours worth of work at most for a layout designer.

Hell, I could do it, given the InDesign files and style sheet examples.

Fixing the alphabetization and including the HotDQ content may take a couple days, but not much more than that, if anything. Since we don't expect a lot of editing for any major releases coming out soon, what the heck else do they have to work on right now?

When it comes to utility, all the players I know would be using the PDF on their tablets. The web version is a nice-to-have, but with the occasional lack of wifi and the much more search-friendly format of a PDF, why isn't updating the PDFs more important, if not as important, as the web version?

It's just another case of WotC not paying attention to the digital needs of their customers.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

D&D: A New Quick Start Tutorial Format

Too Long; Didn't Read?  Start with A Quick Start Primer, Revising the Quick Start and A New Primer for 5th Edition which encompass the primary points.

Several months ago, Angry DM posted a rant about how Wizards has been "challenged" in recent years converting new players into new DMs. Let's face it. DMing is a daunting task for a new D&D player. It's hard enough to learn the game as a player, and the new DM resources aren't the best at really walking a newbie through the hardest parts.

In response, I started to prepare my own primer for new players and DMs, but that hasn't progressed as quickly as I've liked because… reasons. (I'm a father of three who works behind a computer all day. Sometimes side projects suffer as a result).

A Quick Start Primer

Fast forward to 2015 and Monte Cook's peeps are proposing a National New Game Master's Month or "NaNewGaMo" as they are calling it, which lead to this short exchange on Twitter.

+Bruce R Cordell noted: "We're trying to encourage completely new GMs into the fold. A simple quickstart doesn't target or encourage NEW GMs."

(This was really about Numenera, but I'm going to speak about the context related to D&D. The ideas, however, could be applied to any game),

I think Bruce is only partly correct. He is correct in that current examples of Quick Start rule PDFs have not targeted new DMs. However, that's only because RPG publishers have never written a Quick Start with that goal in mind. Quick Starts are traditionally written for existing consumers of other RPGs to try and win their business over to a new system. As such, they are written for the experienced gamer. However, an RPG publisher with the right end goal could very easily write a Tutorial Quick Start PDF that teaches and/or encourages new DMs.

This has been a goal of the D&D Primer that I have been working on (and to which I hope to get back to soon). For full-time RPG publisher, this idea should almost be a no-brainer (I say almost because I understand small press publishers need to target their R&D money carefully). While sales to existing gamers is critical, a modified Tutorial Quick Start PDF for DMs would not be too difficult to develop and could help win new gamers as customers. If done well, one could even use the same Quick Start for both experienced and new players/DMs, perhaps with a sections that experienced players could skip past.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

State of the Owlbear Blog 2014

It's been a good year. I started blogging back in May and my readership has really taken off thanks largely to a fantastic Google+ RPG community and a few key mentions by sites like ENworld (thanks +Russ Morrissey).

To take a page from +Charles Akins (, I'm going to post my stats from Raging Owlbear and relate some things I appear to have done right and wrong.

Sometime during December 30th, I crossed 50,000 pageviews for the 8 months the blog was active. I'm not a huge fish in the rpg blog pond, but I think I've done pretty well for my freshman year.

Some general trends I observed:

1) Articles on industry news tended to do well. My opinion pieces about about D&D Basic and Codename: Morningstar announcements did fairly well even in the early days before I had many followers. I don't intend to be a rpg "news" blog, but it helps to keep on top of what was going on to stay relevant to the audience, given the high interest in D&D 5th Edition.

2) Critique articles did well. I was fortunate that there was plenty of new product coming from Wizards to review and discuss.

3) When I post, it's better to promote the articles in phases to different G+ communities over the course of several days as opposed to spamming all the role-playing groups at once. People who may have missed the posts on one day might spot them on a different day. This also makes the blog turn views consistently rather than in spikes.

4) Regular posting is critical. Even if I can't post more than once a week, I need to post at least once each week, if not twice, to help keep readership growing.

September got very busy for me and the blog numbers took a dive. Though I posted 4 articles, one of them wasn't until the last day of the month, so did not contribute much to the totals. October went really well as I posted some very well received articles and had 2 things to promote each week on social media. I wasn't able to keep up the posting schedule in November, but the quality of the primer articles really helped keep the readership high.

5) I prefer long-form articles. Many bloggers will post very short 2 to 3 paragraph posts in order to post more often. My articles are a bit more magazine-like in scope. This often takes more effort on my part, and there is a danger that the "wall of text" effect may lose some readers. I may need to adjust my style to better fit my free time.

6) I don't make much in the way of advertising, but I did make about $25 this year in Amazon referrals (mostly from friends and family), which was enough to buy me a gaming accessory. This is not something that you do to make money.  ;)

Top 10 Owlbear Articles

Nothing too surprising about the above, except for the #1 entry. It was a post that was a quick observation on the numbers, not an in-depth analysis, but it set off a bit of a tiff in the ENworld forums... mostly because I used the word "efficacy" instead of "progression" in an off-the-cuff sentence (I thought the context was more than obvious). I don't even consider that post one of my best (quite the contrary), but I guess I'm glad it gave a good amount of attention to my blog. I rather do like #2 article, but I am disappointed that it's follow up post didn't make this list (it was close, but not quite). I guess a lot of people like Bards, too.

Thanks to all of my readers for an excellent freshman year. I hope I will continue to find the time to keep the articles informative and entertaining, and perhaps I will make enough from Amazon in 2015 to buy an entire board game!   ;)

Other Owlbear musings