Sunday, August 26, 2012

Life in a Geeky Household

I keep a shopping list on the side of the refrigerator, and family members write down what they need me to get from the store on the next shopping trip. Check out the last couple of entries (except the dish detergent -- I wrote that before reading any of the rest of the list).

Edit: I forgot, I have to link to the Kickstarter on everything this week, so I can afford luxuries like dish detergent and healing potions:

The Swords & Wizardry Community, Texas, Monsters, and Stuff

Welcome to all of you who discovered this blog via the Reaper Miniatures Kickstarter! I know that there are a lot of questions about Swords & Wizardry and how exactly it interfaces with Reaper. It doesn't actually have anything to do with the fact that we are all Texans, because Texas (as we keep reminding y'all) is a big place. It takes me about five hours of driving at breakneck speed to reach Denton.

A bit more about the Reaper-Frog God-Swords&Wizardry connection in a later post, most likely, because many of the new visitors are wondering what this whole Swords & Wizardry thing even is. Other than the quick answer that it's the rules (re-written) of the original 1974 fantasy roleplaying game (the Complete Rulebook includes rules from the supplements as well) -- the answer gets a bit more complicated.

Swords & Wizardry doesn't exist in isolation. It's part of a very large "movement" or "trend" or whatever you want to call it, toward playing either the out-of-print versions of D&D or playing a retro-clone of some of those rules. Most of us have seen the edition numbers out there, mentioned on the internet: 0e, 1e, 2e, and then 3e and 4e. Swords & Wizardry is a clone of 0e.

There are a number of blogs, forums, and web sites devoted to various aspects of this whole thing -- many of them are linked over on the right side (these are the ones with more of a Swords & Wizardry emphasis).

Just to single out one link you can follow to see a glimpse of the Swords & Wizardry community, here is a link to Michael Cote's recently-begun blog, devoted to monsters. Michael has done a lot of art for S&W projects, and his write-ups are compatible with Swords & Wizardry.

More links and ideas will follow as we continue toward the completion of the Kickstarter!

Friday, August 24, 2012

S&W pdf added into Reaper bonus goal

Reaper miniatures has just added a free copy of the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook pdf as part of the $2,840,000 stretch goal. If that goal is hit, it means something like 10,000 people will get copies of the rules.

Incidentally, if you haven't looked at the Reaper kickstarter, it's pretty unbelievable what you get for $100 at this point.


Custom Swords & Wizardry Dice

A picture of the Swords & Wizardry dice that come with the Kickstarter. These are pretty cool, and they show the new logo of the wizard with sword.

Friday, August 17, 2012

D&D and Retro-clones: the Big Reboot arrives

The result of the recent WotC good-bombshell is going to be far-reaching. Anyone who doesn't know what I mean by the bombshell, it's the announcement that all of the TSR catalog will eventually be released in electronic format. While there are a couple of questions about this (what's meant by electronic format being the main one), it is a dramatic return to an earlier, more open approach in terms of keeping WotC intellectual property available for people to use, rather than keeping it squirreled away.

There's no question that this is a great boon to old school gamers, no matter what mistakes they make in terms of format, timing, or other details of the roll-out itself.

I have already had a couple of people contact me with the question about whether I think this will cause the decline, or even the fall, of the retro-clones. I think it will ultimately cause a massive change to the way retro-clones interact with the gaming community, and I think it's a change that some people will, indeed, see as a decline. I also think the result will be that more people actually put copies of some retro-clone onto the gaming table and use it in actual play. In other words I think there is going to be a quantitative increase, but there will also be a qualitative change that many people will see as negative.

Here is what I think is going to happen, and where we are right now.

The retro-clones are about to disappear, each into a community that also includes the pdfs of the original games, and for the first time we are going to see a relatively tolerant relationship develop between those who are playing with the original rulebooks and those who are playing using the retro-clone versions.

This sounds very Pollyanna-ish, especially since the same situation (legal pdfs, legal retro-clones) has existed in the past without any real joining-up of the original-vs-clone players of the same game. Why would the fact that this is WotC bringing us back to an earlier structure of what's available have any different result from the last time we were there?

In particular this changes the role of the Swords & Wizardry Kickstarter midstream. All of a sudden what's happening is more (or less) than the marketing of a rulebook and monster book. It's about building a community that can use both S&W and OD&D now that both are available. If I'd know about this in advance, the Kickstarter would probably have been organized in a different fashion (although I don't know what that would have been, off the top of my head). As it is, I think it works well -- by accident I beat myself to the punch in terms of having a re-boot of Swords & Wizardry going right at the moment that WotC did this. On the downside, it means that there is some real thinking to be done about the role of Swords & Wizardry -- and that thinking has to be done in realtime, on the fly.

Stay tuned -- some interesting times are starting. (or restarting)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Jeff Dee art; your ideas?

On the Swords & Wizardry Kickstarter, we just hit the bonus goal at which we're going to send a "Dungeon-Making Kit" of pencil and graph paper pad along with the books -- the graph paper is going to have a spot illustration by Jeff Dee on it.

My initial assumption for the topic of this illustration (small, in corner of page) was that it would be a compass rose, but I realized that the internet as a whole might come up with a cooler idea for what ought to be on a sheet of mapping paper.

Thoughts? Ideas?

Kickstarter Link

Friday, August 3, 2012

Gygax Memorial and Swords & Wizardry Kickstarter

The Kickstarter rules don't allow a Kickstarter project to raise money for a charity. We've had a couple of back-and-forth discussions with them about the difference between a charity and a non-profit, etc., etc., so we are making a minor alteration to the way that we donate to the Gygax Memorial based on sales of Swords & Wizardry Rulebooks and Monster Books.

Frog God Games has decided to donate from its own funds a certain amount per rulebook and monster book sold (not only the ones sold on Kickstarter but also those sold through our own website after the Kickstarter program is finished), until December 31, 2012. The amount of the Frog God donation per book is as follows:

1-500 books: $1 per book
501-1,000 books: $1.25 per book
1,001-2500 books: $1.50 per book
2501-5000 books: $1.75 per book
5001- 6000 books: $2 per book
6001+ books: $2.50 per book

We won't know, immediately following the Kickstarter, how much the additional sales will drive the donation higher during the rest of the year, and we also don't know the timing on the Memorial's needs, but if needed we will contribute the "raised so far" amount earlier, and then tally again at the end of the year. We're talking to Gail about it, and we'll get those details worked out.

I'm sure Kickstarter has a good reason for their requirement, and having a Kickstarter even as part of the process will almost certainly lead to a larger dollar amount being donated than we could have done with internally-generated sales. So, I can't really complain.

 One thing I just realized will be a question -- yes, those are retroactive numbers, so if we sell 6001 books, the total donation would be $15,002.50, with $2.50 being donated for each of the whole set.

Kickstarter link:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

First D&D thing you bought with money you earned?

I was just thinking back to Dragon Magazine #39. I think that it's my favorite issue of Dragon, objectively, but it also happens to be the first D&D purchase I made with money I earned from mowing lawns (as opposed to an allowance for doing chores). What was the first D&D item you bought with earned money (other than allowances)? Do you think that it affected your perception of its quality?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Tougher Books and More Monsters, YES!

Everyone wants indestructible gaming books and lots of monsters. Not only that, but large numbers of people who haven't ever played OD&D or AD&D are buying a copy of Rappan Athuk and want to play it using the original rules. Welcome to all of you grognards-to-be! You'll find that the blogroll over there on the right side of the screen is a good introduction to (and link to many more sites of) the grognard community. We are doing a Kickstarter for Swords & Wizardry that is intended to meet a couple of goals that have been around for a while: (1) A really durable stitched-binding hardcover rulebook. It's scary to shell out the up-front money required for this kind of binding, but on Kickstarter we can largely eliminate that risk. (2) Distribution into Game Stores. Kickstarter money will fund the "rest" of the print run, allowing us not to lose our shirts by putting copies into distribution. This is most likely for the rulebooks only, but possibly the monster books -- that will depend on numbers. (3) The Monster Book, with illustrations. The existing printing of the S&W Monster Book is remarkable for its lack of a wealth of illustrations. We're going to commission tons of monster illustrations. (4) The chance of a Referee Screen. Referee screens require pretty substantial print runs to be cost effective. We think that using a Kickstarter will get us to that level, so this is a good way to try for a Ref Screen. (5) And breaking into the mainstream. Since there is a S&W version of Rappan Athuk, and Rappan Athuk had a huge Kickstart profile, this is a way to leverage all that publicity into an old-school game for the younger, mainstream gamer. (And now I go off to bite my nails in a corner until the project hits minimum funding)... Here is the link, at

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Death Spray of the Ancient Ones

Thank you Thrash Geek for this actual laugh-out-loud moment. It's worth clicking to see it larger, so you can read all about what this amazing product does.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Barnes & Noble stretches the truth

Lots of OSR publishers would like to get onto Barnes & Noble ... oddly enough, Rappan Athuk seems to have gotten there without agreeing to be there, on terms that not only weren't authorized ... but wouldn't be approved.

Someone pointed out this link to Rappan Athuk at Barnes & Noble, and it caused a bit of confusion over at Frog God Games, because it is completely and utterly unauthorized. We have no idea why Barnes & Noble is offering the book, since they don't own any and haven't bought any.

The price they are quoting is below the price we would sell the books wholesale, so don't expect that they will honor any orders put through their website. If this turns out to be a third party seller rather than B&N, and we can track who it is, that third party seller will NOT be getting any copies.

In summary, if you hear that you can get a cheaper price at Barnes & Noble, don't expect that B&N will actually come through. This is also technically endangering our agreement with Kickstarter, which is why we are trying to make it absolutely clear to everyone that we have not authorized B&N to sell the books at ALL. Much less at bargain-basement clearance prices.

So unless you're 100% confident in your ability to sue Barnes & Noble to sell you a book when it's at a loss to them, I wouldn't pre-order from them.

EDIT - the only place to get it is from Kickstarter, here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wisdom of Guy Fullerton (and Gothridge Manor)

Given all the publishing activity that's begun in response to Kickstarter's insane ability to gobble in money for its clients, Guy Fullerton has posted an absolutely fantastic set of guidelines for the prospective module-publisher. He also references an earlier set of posts on the specific topic of editing that were done at Gothridge Manor.

Here is the link to Guy's first installment.

Here is a link to the Gothridge Manor series, but I recommend going here from within Guy's posts where the link appears.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rappan Athuk Kickstarts Now

Frog God Games and Necromancer Games are announcing that the Rappan Athuk megadungeon will be sold through Kickstarter rather than by doing the pre-orders through Frog God Games as originally planned.

This is the Kickstarter page!

Yes, at $25K this is a really ambitious Kickstarter goal, but the fact of the matter is that it's a really big project to do a 700 page hardcover book with a separate map booklet, etc., etc.

Although Kickstarter does charge a fee, using the Kickstarter model allows us to pull in bonus goals and do other things that would be difficult if not using Kickstarter -- they've done all the website-programming already. Plus, I expect that the Kickstarter name will increase sales, although I'm not sure it's by 5% (not for an already well-known company like Necromancer or Frog God).

But if Steve Jackson thinks it's the right thing to do ... you don't argue with the OGRE.

I just got a phone call from Bill that in the first 10 minutes after launch we got a $3,000 backer. I haven't even finished this blog post yet. Okay, now I'm done. I'll blog more about it soon, I'm sure. I have to go see if he's yanking my chain.

Edit: nope, that was true. I think we broke $6K in the first hour, or really close to it.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Tomorrow is the First Day of the Rest of my Life

Tomorrow I will be allowed to lift more than 30lbs, which means I can really start the recovery from surgery. I've managed to run 6 miles, but it's really the recovery of muscle and losing fat that's the issue here. I will step into the gym tomorrow and get started. Looking forward to it.

My gaming stuff is getting more active too, although I'm in that period where virtually everything is a secret project, and one starts to feel like Maxwell Smart...

I don't always agree with Smokestack Jones...

... but I probably should.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tome of Adventure Design: More Reviews

For some reason, there was a dip in sales of this book in between the end of November and just recently. I can guess why it dropped off in December: Lulu had the huge 30%+ discount sales to boost their end of year revenue and everyone (including me) dropped all their spare cash into old school stuff from lulu.

Anyway, last month sales suddenly jumped on Tome of Adventure Design, and there have been a couple of new reviews posted -- both of them at Paizo, which is one of the places selling the book. By the way, if you're thinking of buying the book, I make slightly more money if you buy it direct from Frog God Games, but if you're a frequent Paizo customer you get bennies when you buy more from them. Just so long as you make sure to have a copy! :)

I'll quote one review, in case you're not interested in going to the Paizo review page (which is here):

The book is rife with advice on how to use the tables to get into a creative state where ideas start to flow.
I was in a bored rut dming, and now I am teaming with ideas I am excited to try. Seriously, looking at the table of contents does the book no justice. When I first opened the Table of Contents and saw a section on monsters, I just sighed. I mean really....I have three bestiaries and the Tome of Horrors. What a waste! And then I started reading and I started to get excited about designing a unique monster to mix in the story, and then I started to see adventures and side quests I could do. It is a book on innovative thinking.
Every DM or person wanting to take a hand at dming should at the very least read pages 127-128. It is the most concise description of creativity and how to get your mind "there" that I have ever read. That should have been next to the Introduction at the beginning of the book, but it is nice to see practical advice peppered through-out the tables.
I was also pleased that the Dungeon Book was the longest section. Reading that helps me come up with ideas for stories--and that is ok.
ToAD is not a random adventure generator. It is a comprehensive tool used to get your creative juices and excitement flowing when you sit down to create an adventure, and when it starts working you stop rolling and reading and sit back and surf the creative wave you forgot you had in you.

The book's at a 5-star rating with multiple reviews, which wouldn't impress me when it's based on just one review, but when the 5-star ratings begin to stack up, it's pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Two Awesome Things

The first awesome thing is a set of maps -- made by the party mapper during play -- of the Tomb of the Iron God. Check these out at Roles, Rules & Rolls!

The second awesome thing is still a secret, and it's not about the monster book I'm working on for OSRIC. That's going to be awesome too, but it's not what I'm working on today. Too much awesome, not enough time.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

From the Eyes of Fitz

Check out two illustrations of monsters from the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book* by Peter Fitzpatrick, who lives in Middle Earth** and has survived earthquakes***. Also ****.

*Not in the book, but from the book, much like there are gods of Lankhmar and gods in Lankhmar, except having to do with illustrations and books, rather than gods and cities. This is a fine line (illo/book vs god/city) as demonstrated by the Necronomicon. A book which as far as I know wasn't illustrated by Fitz. Not that I would know. Seriously.
**sort of
***for real
****The link above is to the pdf, and this is the link to the printed hardcover*****.
*****Which, as noted above, doesn't actually have Fitz's illustrations in it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Mini-Module from Jason Sholtis

I have no idea how you can get this; Jason sent it to me and it arrived in the mail while I was still almost delirious from the poisons and medicines involved in a ruptured appendix and concomitant surgery. Probably you can get one from Jason, but I don't know how much they cost. His blog is Underworld Ink.

Zogorion, Lord of the Hippogriffs, is a micro-adventure that works with any old-school game -- stat blocks are for S&W, so it's directly usable with anything from OD&D to AD&D to C&C.

Awesome Feature #1: the map is separate from the booklet.
Awesome Feature #2: the b/w cover has so many interesting little things going on that you will spend several minutes doing nothing but looking at the cover.
Odd Feature #1:photograph of fire-breathing chihuahua on back cover. Plus or minus? Definitely not your normal back-cover material.


The Review:
This is a digest-sized booklet of 16 pages. The font looks like Times Roman and it looks like 12pt to me -- very readable on the fly. The map is detached and is excellent; this module is entirely done by two artists, so the art, maps and layout are all sweet.

The fact that it's done by artists somehow comes across in the text. The Lord of Hippogriffs is a chain-smoker and his cigarette stash comes from a portal to a 20th century back alley. The decade isn't specified, and if the characters end up going through it, the results are up to the DM. One gets the sense that it will be hilarious, and this module does NOT back down from entering the realms of the wacky if that happens to be the way it swings. Bring pretzels and beer.

Once I finished reading it, I realized that at least for me, the best way to use this would be as a place that has a guy in it. This is a total sandbox location, although the module uses its 16 digest-sized pages on the assumption that there's going to be treachery and mayhem rather than butterflies and alliances. If it leads to an alliance rather than a battle, that's left to the DM -- which makes sense, since beyond that point it's really the campaign again rather than the adventure.

So ... the way I'd use this is to spend the 10 or so minutes required to read through it, then use the map on my left and the back cover of the booklet (a monster roster) on my right. The map can't be used as its own DM screen because the illustration has spoilers, as most front covers do. It's incredibly usable.

The only real downside I can see here is that it's so short that it might not supply a full gaming session. I'm guessing about 2 hours max, actually. Also, unless the party is really high level, the DM will want to leave out room 9 (easily done since it's a side corridor). Room 9 is the reason that the difficulty level has such a wide range (level 3 to 7).

If you are fantasy-serious enough to hate adventures with twists like a chain-smoking hippogriff, a gate to a back alley in 1980 or 1929, or similar wackiness you might not like this one other than as reading material, but if off-road wildness is your bag ... then this micro-module is a total home run.

In terms of railroad versus sandbox, this tiny little module immediately zips off the rails and takes off like Ozzie's crazy train.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Send Swords & Wizardry resources to Dragonsfoot

Dragonsfoot has just opened a section of their downloads area for Swords & Wizardry! So far there's nothing it it, but if anyone wants to contribute to it, I think the way to do so is to email Steve: steve [at]

Monday, April 2, 2012

Weird lulu sale

Lulu just emailed me to announce a sale in which the buyer gets a discount without putting in a coupon code -- just put the item in the shopping cart and it will show a discount. However, the discount is a "mystery." I don't know if this means it's random and different to each customer, or whether it's simply a deal where they don't say how much an across-the-board discount is. Or it might vary based on number of books. I have no idea.

However, if you haven't taken a look at the store recently, adventure your way over there (a couple of hexes at most!) and take a look.

Friday, March 30, 2012

We Win Total Victory for Six Months

Consider this:
In between July 2012 and some time in 2013, the only version of Dungeons & Dragons that will be on game store shelves (other than in the clearance bins) will be ... First Edition.

July 17, 2012 will indeed be a cold day in Hell. And we will be warm.

More OFFICIAL considerations about 1e

This is part 2. Look at the prior post "We are Officially Official D&D" before reading this one.

Perceptions are real. Indeed, some might say that our only contact with reality is through perceptions. The color I call "blue" might not look like your color "blue," for all we know -- all we know is that we're consistent about our personal blue. The Holmes Basic rules were in a blue book. This much almost all of us would agree to, with the exception of the usual contrarian element.

I mentioned in my last post that WotC has left the door open for First Edition gamers (and possibly by extension the rest of us) to claim a much higher level of credibility with mainstream gamers to whom "official" matters. Our existing community, of course, is almost by definition immune to "official," although many (including myself) are attracted by "shiny."

We now have an official WotC book that is also shiny. Or, at least, we will have one eventually, we're told. Fair enough, it's been over thirty years that we've been using out of print books, delays don't exactly kill us. Plus, we're old enough that a month passes as fast now as a day once did. Remember how summer vactions used to last forever? I do.

The question is whether we want to claim that "official" mantle, or whether life has been better in the shadows. Before retro-clones, we were all to some degree or other possessed of ancient books of lore, books you had to know where to find (okay, ebay isn't far, but it's not the corner grocery store, either). We were all adepts and initiates, because it's not exactly easy to pick up the books and learn OD&D or 1e. 2e was easier ... maybe that's why the 1e players have a history of kicking sand in the faces of B/X players and 2e players, even now that the percentage difference in our ages is de minimus and the similarities of the games pale beside the gulf to 3e and 4e.

Retro-clones, to a degree, divided the community. Most of the furor over it has died down now that the novelty of the SHINY NEW (but not official) rules is no more, and the world didn't end, and there are some new modules out there. But retro clones did change the community by making it a bit less mysterious, a bit less arcane, a bit less ... something.

That's all I have the time to write at this moment, but I have in mind several related thoughts. Officialness, shininess, the mystery of an adepthood as opposed to a mainstream gamer-community. There's something in there to be used, although I don't think I've really seen it take shape yet.

We are Officially Official D&D

OODD (Official Old D&D?)

I have no idea whether Wizards of the Coast really intended to do this, but they have, psychologically at least, given the mantle of official authority to AD&D First Edition. First Edition isn't the flagship product of the OFFICIAL D&D company, nor is it really and truly being sold as OFFICIAL D&D. However, it is all of a sudden an OFFICIAL product again now that these reprints will be coming out (in July, at this point).

I can't afford $150 or whatever it is, so I don't really care one way or another about the reprints themselves, qua reference books. I think it's a nice gesture by WotC, I think they will do it at their normal level of production value, which is lower than the original books of early TSR and higher than that of late TSR. I think it's foolish to set expectations on them any different than "what they always do." But it's an extremely nice gesture, one that allows them to make some cash in between their "new" editions, and one that will make them plenty of money. Their financial interests, their desire to unify the D&D splinter communities, and their desire to have a product in between 4th and 5th editions all happen to dovetail nicely with a benefit to us. They just transformed the old school renaissance into an officially sanctioned approach to gaming.

Nobody loses, and people outside the USA probably actually gain slightly, now that the books are going into those markets where the original books are pretty expensive. We gain street cred with those we might want to invite to a game, since these books are a recent printing from the OFFICIAL D&D company, which means that old school gaming is now officially OFFICIAL. And that carries considerable weight with many people who are quite sane -- just like others might throw salt over the shoulder, dislike rap music, or avoid buying/reading anything that was printed within the last decade.

WotC, whether their actual books are useful, or used at your table or my table, or whether the bindings fall apart or they are coated with a substance that causes Anthrax ... has just given us a huge amount of OFFICIAL.

So, having discovered that I'm potentially an official "reprint gamer" as well as an oldschooler, I'm thinking over what the next steps of the "OSR" might ought to be. On the one hand, one of the games has now been crowned as an OFFICIAL product, no matter how far down the totem pole it it -- it never used to be on the totem pole at all. On the other hand, the other games in the OSR don't have that same officiality at this point. Officiality is a good new word, btw, quite apropos in this situation where there are actual degrees of what is "official."

There's a fork in the road here, and the question is whether or not we want to pick it up.

Friday, March 23, 2012

This is excellent.

I'm still not doing so well at my own creativity at the moment, so it's time to start showcasing cool stuff that other people have-done/are-doing.

Online hireling generator at This just got posted at K&KA, probably other places as well, and it's worth playing with. To really get the benefit of it, you'd need to be using a computer at the gaming table, which I don't (and I know many others also don't). Nevertheless, you could print up a bunch of pre-gens very quickly.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

The Cannibalistic Innkeeper

In addition to the venerable classical tradition of serving the loved ones of one's enemies to one's enemies ala Titus Andronicus, and all the way up to the liver and fava beans of Hannibal Lecter, one has the trope of the D&D innkeeper who Shanghais adventurers and other visitors from the rooms of the inn, and serves them for dinner.

I ran across this reference while reading a novel, and looked it up on the net ... it looks like it's totally, thoroughly unsubstantiated, but it's super D&D:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Effects of videogaming

There's an article in the dead tree Wall St. Journal today, page D1, about the effects of video gaming, including World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, etc. The article is fairly positive about the effects, which can apparently include faster decision-making, a better ability to multi-task, and even (in a test of surgeons) better success operating on patients.

One minor downside, the article notes in passing, is that "A meta-analysis by Iowa State University psychologists ... shows violent videogames make people more prone to aggressive thoughts and less likely to care about others."

So, basically, the action/violent games are excellent at building a better, faster, sociopath. Um ... I'm not sure that the article's generally upbeat tone is entirely justified.

I found it interesting, since a similar accusation was leveled at D&D after the "D&D is Satanic" craze began sounding a bit crazy and shrill. The study mentioned in the journal was described as independent from the "companies that sell video and computer games." The way the article downplayed the potentially negative effects of these games made me wonder if the newspaper was quite as independent from those companies as the research was...

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

29% lulu sale -- one day only

I think 29% is the best I've seen lulu offer. The coupon code is LEAPYEAR305 but it is only good on Feb 29th.

So head on over to and grab a couple of copies of whatever catches your eye. I myself recommend a copy of Demonspore and (if you don't already have them) the Swords & Wizardry rules. Demonspore is compatible with all the old school rules out there, of course.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I am not dead, but close enough

I'm not straight on all that happened, in what order, but I startred having seizures about a week ago(?). I collapsed, went to hospital. My appendix had already burst hours before arrival. Days of hospital-things follow, kind of like a montaugue. At the moment, everything I've been working on is completely on hold, and it's all just a matter of getting back to square 1. It's tiring just to walk across a room.

So, ... that's what happened to me.

Friday, January 27, 2012

5e Discussion on the Classes

I am now beginning to hear things that I don't like, after being relatively impressed up to now. Not all of this is bad by any means, but I'm starting to see things in the implementation that will be turn-offs for me unless the way they are presented is really, really good.

Here's the Transcript:

Seminar Transcript - Class Design: From Assassins to Wizards
This transcript is paraphrased, with some responses shortened. It is compiled from various tweets (thanks especially to Critical Hits, E. Foley, and Rolling20s for their live tweeting - I suggest you check out their Twitter feeds) plus WotC's live chat feed, and other sources. In attendence: Monte Cook, Bruce Cordell, and Robert J. Schwalb.

Greg: Today we're going to be talking about Class Design, from Assassins to Wizards. To start things off, let's hear what your favorite class is and why.

Bruce: I would say the warlock in 4th edition. I really liked all the flavor and options that go into the class. I had a star pact warlock recently that was really fun to play.

Monte: The wizard. Historically it was the one that needed planning and forethought. It rewards good play above the others in my opinion.

Rob: My favorite class is the assassin. Even in first edition I could pretend to be a fighter, and then kill people. In 3rd and 4th I liked the versatility
and options that I could have with the assassin.

Greg: How complex or simple do you think classes should be?

Bruce: I think, we think that different classes should have different levels of complexity. If you want something easier to pick up, there should be a class for that, if you want something that's a bit more challenging or has a bit more going on, you should be able to do that out the gate as well.

Monte: I would also add that we want different levels of complexity for classes. For example, if a guy wants to pick up a fighter and have an easy time of it, there should be options for that. But also, if another person wants to pick up a fighter and have lots of options and/or complexity, we want to provide that too. The base game is the foundation. If you opt in to character development options, you can get complexity.

Rob: There was discussion of complexity parity in the classes. There's a baseline complexity, but can add as needed.

Greg: Do you want to talk about some of the ways that this could be accomplished?

Monte: Sure. So for example, if your fighter goes up a level and would normally get some bonus damage or a bonus to hit, or something simple, then maybe instead you could choose to replace that with an option or options that allow you to do some cool moves that allow you to push people around, or protect your allies a bit more, or control the battlefield a little more.

Rob: Even in the core you varying levels of complexity within each class. Even the wizard has a base starting point that is less complex than what you can get into if you opt into some of the options.

Greg: This conversation leads into the talk of balance. Is it important that classes are equally balanced? And how does that look - would that focus on damage output and number crunching?

Monte: (Joking) The assassin, the wizard, and the warlock should all just be better than everything else.

Bruce: If all classes are putting out the same damage, there's no difference. We definitely want the classes to be balanced, though having things exactly mathematically balanced isn't always the goal. Different classes or different play styles will shine at different moments, though of course we want everyone to be able to contribute in the common situations like combat.

Greg: When you're talking about non-numerical class stuff, how do you figure out balance?

Bruce: If the fighter is 100% damage for example, then maybe this other class is 80% damage/combat and 20% exploration, or some other mix of game elements. Each class has its time in the spotlight, and not all classes are built expressly for combat.

Rob: You may look at a class and see that it's damage output isn't as high as another class, for example maybe the bard doesn't do as much as raw damage as the fighter. That other class will have other options, like charm person or something that fits into that class's niche and will give that class different options, but still equally useful in combat, exploration, or roleplaying. If the Fighter's damage is the baseline, and Bard is 70%, the Bard has extra stuff (spells, etc) to give variety. We find damage equivalence between offensive and other types of spells. Charm Person roughly 105 points of damage.

Greg: Where do you start with your design when approaching the next edition. Are you looking at all of the classes, or a specific edition version?

Monte: To start with we kind of shot at the moon, and said everything that's been in a Player's Handbook 1, we want to potentially have in our new player's book. That includes things like the warlock and the warlord from 4th edition, but also includes the classes from other editions like the ranger, the wizard, the cleric. Going along those lines we separated things along the lines of what's common or uncommon. So for example fighters, clerics, wizards and clerics might be commmon while warlocks, bards, and paladins fall into uncommon and something like the assassin might be rare. This helps DMs determine what options they want to run in their games as well.

Bruce: It also might be the case that some of the classes labeled rare might be a bit more complex or difficult to pick up, so players could also have a gauge with how they want to pick their classes.

Greg: What's been the most challenging class to build?

Monte: Actually the fighter has been the most difficult. You have the basic idea of the figher, but you also have the wide range of option to make them more unique and complex. Also something like the D&D wizard and we have a clear view or set of examples for what that wizard could look like. With the fighther, there's not that clear example. So we've got like eight or nine different versions of the figher we've gone through while trying to nail that down.

Rob: The fighter is definitely one of the more challenging ones. Another would be the psion, who's currently over crying in the corner. I also think the current incarnations of the druid have been real challenging. Including all the different iterations of the druid from previous editions has been difficult while also trying to keep it from being overwhelming.

Bruce: To reiterate, the fighter has been hard. In comparison the monk has been relatively easy because he's focused and his path is relatively clear. For me, the sorcerer has also been fairly difficult - finding the balance between the story and mechanics of the previous editions and it's space when compared to other casters.

Greg: How long should character creation take and how much should be involved in those more complex options?

Bruce: If you're picking up one of those common classes and you're building a character, it shouldn't take more than 15 or 20 minutes to create a character if experienced; a new player might take 30 minutes.

Rob: Yeah, it was really quick in one of my playtests. it was pretty sexy and awesome to be able to create the character and jump into the game. My group, 7th level, core characters, 15 minutes to make them.

Monte: What we're really getting at is that character creation should take as long as you want. If you want to jump into a game quickly, you can put together an easy character and not worry about too many of those options. But if you want to build the more complex character and go through the options and tweak it to be exactly what you want, then you have the time and options for that.

Greg: I like planning my feat chain over 20 levels. So let's talk about spell casters and the spell casting mechanics. What are your opinions on how that should be? Current playtest has a Vancian system of magic. Thoughts on using that system?

Monte: It's my firm belief that Vancian magic, for the core classes, is D&D. There are other options for other classes, but for Wizard, Cleric
(core), Vancian is the way to go. There's something to be said for picking spells that match what you think is coming. Rewarding. I know it's a bit
contreversial, but I think Vancian magic is a core element of D&D. Maybe it's not the only option for magic, but it's definitely an iconic and flavorful one that I would like to retain. It's also an interesting way to handle game balance. For example wizards have magical feats that are basically at will
abilities. Balancing them with vancian magic which are essentially daily abilities is an interesting way to go, especially when comparing to the fighter and rogue who have more of an at-will style play. It offers a very different playstyle than those other classes, but those different playstyles are something we want to embrace.

Greg: Those at-will type of attacks are things that have come to D&D with 4th. How are you guys integrating that in the next iteration.

Bruce: As Monte mentioned, you have those feats that give you at-will style attacks, and some spell or class options will give you at will kind of attacks.

Rob: And there's nothing stopping us from looking at all those green attacks from 4th and seeing how those fit into this new iteration. Some for combat, some for not combat. The spell feats fit for that and other class options or feats could offer similar things.

Bruce: I feel we're brining Vancian magic back to the place it began, keeping the story intact and making it important to the story of the world.
Greg: How about the 15 minute workday problem?

Bruce: Wizards have magical feats (at-will, always available). Hold on to higher spells until needed.

Rob: We could bring back a whole raft of at-wills from 4e, and make those type of things Wizard feats. There are also magical feats that are non-combat oriented. Different frequency rates, as well (encounter).
Bruce: 4e took Vancian magic and gave it to all classes. We're bringing it back to the part of D&D where it belongs. Fighters have their version of abilities and options as well, but it will have a different feel than the vancian magic for arcane stuff.

Greg: How is the idea of rituals progressing in the next iteration of D&D?

Rob: Monte started running with the ball and wanted to make rituals there for the really big spells that are super awesome, but might take a bit longer to cast. I ran with that and really wanted to make them all very interesting and complex, and really invest the player/character in what they're doing. We could bring back a lot of the big, neat spells from previous editions, and rituals can be the spells that do that.

Monte: Magic is taking a broader turn than just spells. In the past we got to the point where everything you encountered in the game had some kind of spell attached to it or that replecated the effect. I really want to go back to the idea that magic is mysterious and wierd and not always entirely definable. I think it's good for the story of the game when the DM can use it to help to define and area or maybe a unique magic item. Things like rituals help us accomplish that - makes things more open ended and more interesting and also takes away some of the focus from the wizard and puts it on other things in the world.

Greg: 4e had advancement that was in lock-step for all classes. Essentials introduced variance. How do you think class progression should work going forward?

Bruce: I think there's room for idiosyncrating skill choices and progression for one class, but not have those same options, feel or look for another class. As Monte mentioned we want each class to look, feel and play differently. But there's also room for some options that spread across all classes.

Rob: For example we might say that all classes get a feat at third level. But then if you dip into the full customization options, you could trade that out for brute strike or something. So there will be some bits of progression that are shared from class to class, but each one will still feel like it's own class and have the ability to trade out it's own options.

Greg: Are there any classes that you're now interested in because of the design work you've been doing?

Rob: They're all awesome, but I think I would have to pick the Ranger. There's so much stuff going on that I'm excited for each version. You could make up a beast ranger, or an Aragorn stye ranger or a Drizzt style ranger and they all feel awesome and iconic.

Bruce: I don't think I could pick one really. I'm really excited about these iterations of the classes and every time I'm working on one I want to be playing that class. I haven't had a chance to play everything yet, but I hope I will.

Monte: I've seen a lot of cool classes. I've wanted to play every one I've seen. Every class has something in it that should make your (the players) excited about the class.

Greg: Once we get into the playtest feedback and start talking about things, what do you want to see feedback on?

Rob: I really want to see feedback on the wild talents. There's a lot of different and interesting things going on there and I think there's a lot of room for feedback there on if they work, how they work.

Monte: I'm really interested to see feedback on the spellcasting and how they support the three different pillars of the game. With the rituals, spell feats, classes, spells and other options, I'm really looking forward to see how this works in people's minds/games. Plus feedback on 8' tall halflings.


Q: What about the barbarian and cleric?

Monte: Well the barbarian fits with what some of us are familiar with, he rages and can take lots and lots of damage and deal out lots of damage.

Bruce: As some of you have seen the cleric has an interesting mix of healing and other options. We're working on some things that focus on different kinds of clerics like healing, or marshal, or ranged focus. Cleric is interesting, because the Cleric has a few different potential expressions. Domains, healing, how will they express their powers? Work is continuing. I like what we've got so far.

Rob: The last time we were in Seattle we were thinking about the cleric, and my big thing with the cleric was getting back to the cleric of 1E that fights with a mace and shield and gets his party back up. But 2nd edition introduced the other option that is very closely related to your god and had more spell casting. So we're looking at keeping the cleric as this guy who fights and is that classic cleric, but the priest is that guy that is closer to his god,
maybe doesn't wear that armor is laying down more divine effects and spells.

Q: How do you think magic items fit in this next iteration?

Bruce: Magic items have always been a part of the game, but with 4th it became part of a player's natural progression so that you would have to pick up items from stores or other places to keep up. One of the negative things that brought up was that it eliminted some of the exploration that was so integral in earlier editions. You no longer had to go questing or searching for that magic item. We want to decouple magic items from character progression so they're not needed, and return that exploration and excitement of finding magic items.

Greg: Monte you had a poll like this in your Legends & Lore column. Do you remember what the results were?

Monte: Yeah, it was surprising. A majority wanted magic items to be special and not to be able to buy them in shops and such. Of course that could be campaign specific. We're running with the idea that magic items are special and not bound to character progression, though things could change through playtesting. But we want it to be something that the DM plans, or something that a player/character wants to go on a quest to get that magic item they've heard of or need to accomplish there goals. We're going forward with the idea that magic items are possible, but difficult to create by PCs. We're not balancing the classes based on the expectation of magical items. It's about the player going to find the loot.

Q: What are you planning for multiclassing?

Rob: We're shooting for the 3E style of multiclassing that makes it easy to multiclass into any other class. It's been on the forefront of our minds when we're doing all this class work.

Q: You mentioned that fighters are necessarily focused or super iconic. Why don't you split all the different fighter ideas out into different classes, like a dervish or fencer?

Bruce: If something comes along that's really evocative and has it's own flavor and story, it's definitely not off the table that it could be it's own class. There will be multiple classes that can heal, for example.

Q: With the Vancian magic system you could get to the point where wizards had a great number of spells per day. How are you balancing that and gauging encounter design with that in mind?

Monte: Addressing the idea that high level play you'll end up with lots of options and more abilities, we are definitely looking at the direction we're
taking high level play. The idea we're looking at is cashing in a lot of your low level abilities or spells and kind of trade them in for one interesting
higher level ability. And for managing how you those resources work throughout a day and looking at encounters, and keeping that trading-in mechanic in mind, we can look at average encounters a day, how long an average encounter will last, the resources an average character/player will go through and balance that that way.

Q: Are you looking at power sources?

Rob: Not explicitly. We're not going to be using the power sources as keywords or anything any more (probably). You'll still have psionic characters and primal characters for example, but we won't be using those words or jargon to separate things.

Bruce: We want to get away from jargon and catchphrases, and use natural language instead. "Arcane power source" breaks you out of the game. "I cast arcane spells" doesn't. We really want to get away from jargon that is just there for the sake of the game. For example you might use the word arcane, but a class wouldn't be labeled as an arcane class.

Q: How are you thinking about archtypes and iconic classes from previous editions and how that affects the classes in the next iteration of D&D?

Bruce: We want to have each class be the most iconic and archtypal it can be, based on what a D&D version of that archtype is or should be. The story of the character or class is really important when looking at this.

Q: How do you see advancement and experience acquisition and leveling?

Monte: I don't want any class to have to take longer than any other class to come into it's own. Story wise, I want all the classes to progress at the same rate. So that a third level assassin feels the same as a third level bard in as much as how assassiny or how bardy they feel. The story comes first, and character advancement should come as fast as the group wants it to. I think character advancement should go as fast as the group wants it to go. So I want information available so that you can control that entirely based on your gaming group. Yes, there will be a base progression, but I want there to be information on speeding that up or slowing that down as necessary. There will be a set pace in the player's book, but meaty rules in the DMs book to adjust that.

Q: What's the philosophy on status effect design?

Rob: So talking about things like stun, daze, and immobilzed right? Currently we're in the area that the effect should be relevant to the spell or power. For example there might be a power word stun spell that explains what stun is and goes from there. But we're probably not going to have too many abilities or spells that would do something like that. We've pared down and increased the list of status effects, back and forth.

Q: What's your focus on high magic or high fantasy and low magic or low fantasy?

Bruce: Right out the gate, since magic item acquisition isn't part of the level progression a DM can say that you're going to have to work really hard for your magic. Also, the thing that Monte was talking about with your xp progression being modifiable, you could really stretch out those levels to have a low fantasy or lower power kind of game.

Q: How are you handling campaigns that may not have any traps or any social settings? Are you going to have the strong bard for example?

Rob: The bard as example, you may be in a campaign that's going to do more dungon crawling and not have a lot of social. There will be options that you can opt into where you can pick those combat relevant options in place of those social ones.

Q: Will classes like the bladesinger and swordmage still exist and be distinct from each other?

Bruce: There is some place for story separation with those two classes and we're looking into it.

Q: I know you're trying to have a game where people can play what they want, and party balance works out and you don't need any particular class to play. How are you guys making this game so that something like three rogues could show up at a table and play?

Monte: A 3 rogue game sounds awesome. I don't want any class to be mandatory, but I do want options and events that make you really happy that X class is with you. For example, when fighting undead, you don't need a cleric, but you'll be happy if you have one. If you're out in the wilderness, you'll be happy that the druid is in your party.

Q: Will some of the non-traditional classes like the Ninja appear early in the next edition?

Bruce: The goal at the moment is to include all the classes that we're in the first PH style book for each edition. No word on other classes yet.

Q: What about a simple, tactical game?

Rob: With D&D Next, you should be able to play the same kind of 4e-type game that you're playing now.

Q: How are you addressing the linear fighter and quadratic wizard damage progression issue?

Bruce: The wizard has to choose when they deal the big damage, and that's the balancing portion. When a wizard gets fireball, he can do a lot of damage in the round, but he only has so many fireballs. The fighter doesn't have that limitation. We have a lot of math and play evidence that tells us how long average parties or play is going to last, so we feel like we've got a good grasp of how to make the fighter and wizard relevant throughout the day.

Rob: As Monte mentioned earlier, some spells and options drop out and are replaced with higher ones, so that addresses some of the problem - you don't end up with all of those options. With that in mind, and the math backing it up, we can balance that figher damage to make sure that it stays relevant.

Monte: Fireball is a static 5d6. If you want more damage, you use a higher-level spell slot. Much more balancing. Monte: the play session that I envision with the fighter and wizard fighting together is that the figher is always better than the wizard. The fighter hits someone for 12 damage and then the wizard hits someone for 4, and the wizard wishes he was a fighter. Then that happens again on the second round, and the wizard feels the same way again. But then on the third round the wizard whips out his fireball and does 16 or 20 damage total and the fighter goes ahh, I wish I was a wizard. I want each class to shine and to have reasons to want to play that class.

Trevor: And that about wraps it up for the seminar and chat today folks. Thanks much for coming out and joining us. Tomorrow at 12:30 Eastern will be doing this again, focusing on the product release schedule and what you can expect to see this year.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

5e Twitter from Deisgners Ongoing

This is a copy of the tweets so far with Monte Cook and other designers from some seminar that's going on now. I quit trying to take out the info that got copied as the result of a button; more of a pain in the butt than it was worth.

Gato, CH News Robot @criticalhits

Do you think D&D has started to take itself too seriously? Mike: D&D always needs an element of chaos, that can lead to silly or serious.
4m Gato, CH News Robot Gato, CH News Robot @criticalhits

How will it deal with more complex characters that take a long time to resolve an action? Monte: Big goal of design is to keep combat quick.
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Jeremy: A spectrum of complexity is available in 4e in Essentials vs. other classes. This spectrum will be widened in new edition.
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Monte: So a player that wants something simple can play it, but as the campaign goes on, can decide to add more complexity or not.
9m Gato, CH News Robot Gato, CH News Robot @criticalhits

What's the expectation of getting playgroups together with different styles? Monte: Want to make it possible to support multiple styles.
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Mike: There will still be room for DMs to customize in OP, but the basic implementation will be shared.
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How will the new edition address organized play? Mike: No specific decisions made yet. Want to make a standard set of modules used for OP.
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How easy it is to switch playstyles in mid-session? Mike: Modules will have a basic implementation that's easier to pick up and run.
14m Gato, CH News Robot Gato, CH News Robot @criticalhits

Open playtesting should begin in the spring, and will be available for all kinds of groups to run.
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Monte: For instance some DMs make their adventures via random tables. Random tables will be back, but not a requirement to use.
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What will be the role of random charts? Monte: There are different styles of DMs that are inspired by different things.
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Monte: Empowering the DM to make more rules calls allows the players to be more creative.
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What will empower the players to be creative? Monte: Moving away from looking at a character sheet for options, to limitless options.
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Support for new players? Mike: Complexity will be managed by products, all supported by the same core, and give the right experience.
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Jeremy: The playtests will hint at some of the options. For example, the fighter is also a noble which grants some social skills.
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Monte: Class customization is easier, while multiclassing is a more drastic change that is more of a commitment and rulesmastery.
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Audience Q&A beginning. Will customization be more like multiclassing, or within the class itself? Monte: Both are viable options.
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Jeremy: Use modularity session by session. No minis or dice rolling in city, lots of dice rolling next session in big batttle.
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Mike: A game that starts with a simple core, then introduce new pieces as the campaign goes on. Flexibility.
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What kind of modules would you use in your games? Monte: Use minis, but not super-tactical. Lots of social interaction and exploring.
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Jeremy: Adventures can be more customizable to account for a group's needs, and some can be more targeted to styles.
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Designing adventures for such a wide audience? Jeremy: Sometimes you make adventures that apply broadly, and some that are more focused.
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Monte: Identifying a D&D ranger is like looking at whether it's best represented by Aragorn or Drizzt.
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Monte: Part of the challenge is coming up with identifying what the D&D version of something "is," like what a D&D wizards means.
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Jeremy: Of course, this means that often feedback is diametrically opposed. It's the designer's job to come up with new creative solutions.
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Jeremy: Internal playtesting has been going on ~9 months. Main lesson is how diverse people's experience is with D&D.
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Mike: Sometimes the answer is to provide the DM with more tools to customize the experience instead of making an entirely new rule.
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Mike: Playtesting feedback will be considered carefully. The 1st impulse to feedback is to make a rule, which isn't always the right answer.
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No matter what level, if the DM needs the party to encounter an orc, they can just open the monster manual and get a useable one.
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Jeremy: One of the reasons behind this is to provide good world-building tools for DMs. An entire realm of orcs is always a threat.
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Monte: instead of increasing attack bonuses, give higher level characters more interesting things to do.
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Monte: wants lower level threats to remain relevant at all levels. Orcs start scary, become easier, but never are irrelevant.
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Mike: disparities always develop the longer a games goes on, and they need to determine what that experience should feel like.
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All in all, sounds like they're still working on it, but part of that is where asking play testers will come in to identify issues.
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High level play: impression that all editions break down at some level. Trying to address those issues to let high level play work.
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Mike: While the rogue may have a lot of exploration abilities, the customization may allow more "stabby" rogues.
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Monte: "Bards can still kick ass."
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Monte: The three pillars have helped the designers inform class design. It gives a lens to recognize each class's role in each.
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Mike: Modules could even allow rules for a single story, like using mass battle rules for a session, or customized for a campaign.
53m Matt Dukes Matt Dukes @direflail

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Roleplay, exploration, and combat. No official support for rules lawyering. Sorry everybody. #dndnext #ddxp
Retweeted by Gato, CH News Robot
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Jeremy: Modules would allow the game to shift styles in mid-campaign to react to DM and players' needs.
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Mike: Even if the DM makes a very character-driven game, a player could still make a very tactical character and know what to expect.
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Monte: DM can say that he's running a very tactical game, so it's a code for the players to make characters that work well with it.
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Jeremy: Meanwhile, DMs also have optional modules to customize for the game they want to run.
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Between the two fighters, one is more complex, but because it is a trade-off, they remain balanced.
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As an example, the fighter is built on some core abilities and concepts. Opt-in to more customization to exchange core abilities for others.
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So the seeds of any potential module are placed in the core game.
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How to reconcile a modular system with exceptations of game balance? Jeremy: Each module is more of a spectrum approach.
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Development team also handles the number crunching, like expected monster damage by level.
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Jeremy: Each rule is examined for potential consequences, short term and long term, and if it's positive or negative.
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Development team's role in the process. Jeremy: Received something from designers w/ goal, and determine if the goal is met or needs work.
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Monte: The modules would allow you to just play the core game, or add on modules for heavily tactical games, or heavily story driven games.
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Monte: In order to start, needed to distill down to a core game, a foundation on which different modules can be added on for all styles.
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Monte: Designers realized that people have different desires and different needs when playing/running D&D, wanted to embrace all styles.
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Mike: There are shared stories too, like a culture, in things like the gazebo or the Head of Vecna.
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Mechanical elements of D&D: Mike: "First, here's what RPGs do. Then, here's what D&D does. Then you focus on the shared language."
1h Gato, CH News Robot Gato, CH News Robot @criticalhits

· Open

Jeremy: "Synthesis between toolbox for creating worlds and stories... we're making magic plus good game design."
1h Gato, CH News Robot Gato, CH News Robot @criticalhits

· Open

Monte: "I also like fireballs." Mike: "Players being creative in exploring a world."
1h Gato, CH News Robot Gato, CH News Robot @criticalhits

· Open

What things the panelists would like to see carried forward: "relationship between player and DM" from @MonteJCook
1h Gato, CH News Robot Gato, CH News Robot @criticalhits

· Open

Charting the Course #ddxp seminar beginning. Broad discussion about #dndnext, goals, challenge, etc.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Whither (Wither?) the OSR

With the reprinting of AD&D, coupled with the impending release of 5e, mixed in with a healthy promise from Wizards of the Coast that 5e will be awesome for old school gamers ... we're at an interesting crossroads for the community of pre-3e gamers.

I call that the "OSR," since it's a blanket term for something with several -- often mutually exclusive -- moving parts. Interestingly, we may be moving as a result of the WotC release strategy toward a splintering of the relatively big-tent OSR that we've had so far.

The reprint of AD&D, done for whatever reason, may have had some intention of arresting the progress of OSRIC as a 1e resource. I imagine that once the reprints hit the street there will indeed be a decline in the number of downloads of the OSRIC rulebook. On the other hand, it might significantly increase the number of people who get interested in looking at OSRIC modules/resources. If part of the objective of the reprint was to slow down OSRIC, I think it's going to backfire on that particular point unless 5e happens to be so usable for 1e that a 5e module can actually, really be used for a 1e game.

In reality, I think WotC is doing the reprint because it's something they can sell in between 4e and 5e. In between editions they aren't going to sell much 4e material, after all. They have to look for their alternative sources of material, and a collector version of AD&D fits the bill quite nicely.

The potential compatibility of 1e and 5e isn't going to be known until the secret public playtesting session at this D&DXP convention leaks like a sieve and there are copies of the playtest document all over the internet. If WotC doesn't think that D&D players are beyond bringing in James Bond scanners and engaging in techno-stuff that would boggle the CIA in order to get copies of that document into circulation, they don't know the dynamics of the internet or the capabilities/determination of the fan base. I've already started seeing on ENWorld (yes, I went to ENWorld) the beginnings of grumbling about all the secrecy.

If 5e is somewhat compatible with 1e, whether that's forward compatibility or backward compatibility, there's going to be a neold-school group that fuses the two. Another edition war in the old school, how beautiful. Because this edition might very well be more old school than 3e ... it's almost certain to be closer to 1e than 4e was. (For those who didn't try 4e, it's very different from 1e, like that's going to shock anyone).

I can see a circumstance in which the compatibility with 1e is close enough to allow an agile person to write for 1e using either 5e or some kind of "AD&D Compatible" trademark license. That would be an extremely positive outcome for us, because it would mean (a) nice reprints on FLGS shelves, at least for a while, to attract new players and pull in our off-internet brethren who still play AD&D (b) ability to publish for the system without using the code-names made necessary by the terms of the Open Game License, and (c) OSRIC is still there, but goes into a Cthulhu-nap until the next WotC generation of managers removes the ability to legally speak the words "Ia, Ia, AD&D Ry'Leh." At which point, substitute "OSRIC" for "AD&D" and keep right on truckin'.

However, I've got a feeling that the attempt to make 5e compatible with 1e is going to disrupt our sense of identity a bit. Depending on the nature of the beast (unless it's utterly obvious that they aren't compatible -- a possibility) this is going to create some bitterness between those who think it's compatible enough and those who aren't influenced by "close enough," or by the idea of an expanded community, or by the idea of picking up mostly-usable game materials at Barnes & Noble.

No matter what, the core of our community isn't likely to change much, but the shape of the activity just might get rattled around a bit as some gamers switch to 5e, as they get edition-warred, as third-party publishers (including free resources) try to figure out the trademark/license landscape for the words "AD&D," as new people discover the OSR because of the reprints at the same time many leave for the "almost-compatible" 5e.

I don't think it's going to be seismic, but I betcha we have a great big edition war now that there's an edition coming out that -- we're told -- is actually aimed at bringing us back into the official fold. 4e made no ripple in our community because far from trying to attract us ... it brought new 1e players in droves. This time around, it's going to have some sort of effect in our part of the world.

We'll have to see.

PS, I don't think WotC is deliberately targeting the OSR other than probably wanting to reduce the number of OSRIC rulebooks that people are buying/downloading. They want us on the WotC website, buying WotC products, and I think they're legitimately making their best attempt to make that happen. I'm just a bit concerned about the collateral damage we're going to inflict on ourselves when the attempt is unveiled.

Although we're pretty safe, because all grognards are level-headed and slow to anger, fair in our judgements and accepting of ... um ... okay, yeah, there's going to be an edition war.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Sincere Apology

For years, people have been talking on messageboards about petitioning WotC to do a reprint of AD&D. I thought they were idiots for even wasting their time on such an impossible, Quixotic idea. I'm pretty sure I never flat-out said, "you're an idiot," since I completely sympathized and agreed with the sentiment ... but I'm also pretty sure that I posted some wet blanket types of responses like, "that will never happen."

You guys were right, and I'm the idiot. Which is really cool, given that I'm pleased to be wrong about this and to find that those reprints are actually being planned.

In terms of the whole retro-clone initiative, from my perspective this doesn't really change much since the purpose of OSRIC was to make the content available for third-party publications rather than for at-the-table gaming. On that particular project, the only way in which WotC could actually step beyond OSRIC would be to (a) make AD&D open content, which OSRIC already is, and (b) to allow some way for a third party publisher to mention compatibility with the AD&D trademark. Part (b) is the territory into which OSRIC can't venture, and I doubt that WotC would be willing to go so far.

And thus, in hopes of getting lucky a second time, I'll repeat the "you're an idiot" formula that worked so well last time, as an invocation. If you think that WotC will allow the AD&D trademark to be referenced by third-party publishers ... then "you're an idiot." Hopefully I can get the same result with that opinion as I did this time! :)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

A Functional Taxonomy of Old School D&D

At the outset, this may become a long essay. We'll see.

Let's take a look at one aspect of each of four editions (0e, 1e, 2e, and 3e).
0e: requires (ie, promotes) house rules, gives no guidance for house ruling, rules cover very few specific circumstances.
1e: Forbids house rules entirely (at the time it was written), thus gives no guidance for house rules, but rules cover many specific circumstances without a streamlined method of resolution hardwired into the character sheet.
2e: Encourages house ruling and provides lots of ways to personalize the character sheet. Rules cover roughly the same number of specific circumstances as 1e and still don't have a streamlined resolution method, but more methods appear on the character sheet (ie, outside the DM's purview).
3e: Encourages house ruling but the amount of specific methods hard-wired into the character sheet makes it more difficult to make rulings that don't impinge on the character generation system. Rules cover a very large number of specific circumstances, but this is done by giving characters a wide variety of generally-usable skills to address most circumstances (drowning, climbing, finding food, negotiation, appraising items, etc). The contrast to 1e (and a bit less to 2e) here is that in 1e/2e the rules were not linked to the character sheet, which reduced the chance that a DM deciding to use different resolution methods didn't mess up the results of character generation.

I'm indebted to Matthew Stanham for pointing out something that made this taxonomy come together; the fact that 2e encourages house ruling more than 1e did.

This all helps to explain why there were once savage edition wars between 0e and 1e, and also why those evaporated after a decade to be replaced by virulence between 0e/1e on one hand, and 2e on the other hand. The reason is that once 1e was no longer "official," those who stuck with 1e started to view it more like the 0e players had viewed 0e ... as a vehicle for house ruling. House ruling is easy with 1e because the extensive rules aren't hardwired into the character sheet -- they are still all within the DM's internal system. But the official word had been not to house rule. Clearly, people had been house ruling since the dawn of 1e, but the message of officialness was very, very strong from EGG and TSR.

Once 1e is seen as a vehicle for house ruling, the very fact that there's no advice for how to do it suddenly makes it a pretty open system for modification. It's hard to break the system with house rules since only the DM is really given much in the way of rules. All of a sudden, 1e is no different from 0e except in terms of complexity.

2e, on the other hand, even though it encouraged house rules and tailored campaigns, once it's also out of print can be seen as a bit more restrictive than 0e/1e precisely because at one point it embraced the concept. By standardizing (some) of the ways to personalize a character sheet, 2e no longer looks quite as freewheeling as 1e, even though at the time of its publication it represented a huge step away from standardized officialness and toward a more freewheeling style. The passage of time actually reversed the way things operated when read as written.

Then there's 3e. Here, although house ruling is definitely encouraged, the amount of hard-wiring into the character sheet becomes very significant, to the point that if a DM changes much, he'd be invalidating choices that the players made at the time of chargen. ("Wait, if you make all negotiation into roleplaying, WTF did I take "negotiation" as one of my skills?"). Personalization of a gaming table was encouraged in terms of new monsters and details WITHIN the system, but personalization of the system ITSELF suffered precisely due to the fact that the system was so unified, streamlined, and hard-wired into the character sheet (as opposed to having lots of disjointed rules residing almost exclusively behind the DM screen).

There are a lot of implications to the fact that there are structural differences between these editions. The disjointedness of rules as opposed to streamlining/unifying, their location on the character sheet (as opposed to behind the screen), and whether the rules contain official rules for house-ruling (ie, official options), are three structural axes around which D&D editions have shifted.

It explains why a divide between 0e and 1e suddenly disappeared once 1e was no longer the official version. It explains why the flexible character generation system of 2e had less difference with 3e, even though 1e and 2e shared lots of other characteristics -- why it seems that the 1e players are such a hold-out against "modern" games as opposed to 2e players, who already worked with a much more personalized character sheet. All that 3e added to 2e was a more streamlined (and more complex) method for personalization. This also explains why 2e DMs seemed to get more irritated with 3e than 2e players did. The players had more of the same, but the DM faced an entirely different structure (unified methods vs. disjointed rules that could be cut or altered without screwing with the game's hardwiring).

Don't know if any of this makes sense, but I think it's going to become very relevant now that 5e is trying to create a modular system. Who's going to like it best? It might be that 5e is the big gift for the 2e players, who are most comfortable with personalized character generation, but whose DMs are used to modular (disjointed) rules.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Winter of Discontent: more 5e

If this upcoming edition of 5e D&D is going to have old-school influences on it, I have a question. Why, a couple of weeks before the announcement of the edition, did they think it was no problem to lay off Steve Winter, their one remaining employee from the olden days?

One would think that if older school design was supposed to be something they want to integrate, that they would have at least marginal interest in keeping an employee who knew something about old school design.

This roll-out is slick by any measure, and WotC clearly learned lessons from the 4e fiasco.

First they signaled, with the Monte Cook hiring, and then they pulled in the national press as well as the gaming pundits (under an NDA), and then they announce a beta playtest the same way Paizo did it. All being done very nicely.

But ..... why did they lay off their one older-school employee right before all these announcements? It's hardly a signal to write the whole thing off as hype, but it's not a good sign about they way that the thinking at WotC is really running.

Monday, January 9, 2012

5e Initial Thoughts

Well, even the old school intarweb is probably going to be filled to the brim today with thoughts about the announcement that 5th edition is rolling toward playtesting. This is particularly true given that WotC is specifically invoking 1977 play as being something that they want to be able to emulate with this edition.

Clearly, the strategy is to cut off the trend toward increasingly powerful splinter groups mainly represented by Pathfinder and (gasp) the OSR. Joe Goodman's game is probably a factor as well, even though that game isn't squarely in the retro-rules camp.

Although no single factor about the OSR is individually large enough to create a blip on the WotC radar screen, I suspect that the volume of posts about the OSR in the mainstream gaming internet has created a cloud of tiny blips that actually register alongside the much bigger rebel battle-cruiser of Pathfinder. Perhaps we're a cloud of x-wing fighters, or something.

In any case, I think WotC has actually realized that the number of people playing the older versions of the game is actually a significant number. I doubt that they actually care about anything other than getting us to buy stuff and to shut up about how you don't have to play the current in-print edition, but it's better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Or maybe they just twigged to the fact that the people who currently have kids in middle school are the people who played original and first edition D&D...

Friday, January 6, 2012

Illustrations for OSRIC New-Monsters Book

While my computer was dead, and for quite a while before that, I finished several illustrations for the upcoming book of new monsters for OSRIC,along with getting a great hag-picture from Paul Fini, which he's also posted on his blog.

Russ Nicholson is doing two more illustrations, which will probably be done around the end of this month, give or take. At this point I'm basically setting myself seven more monsters to illustrate (all in the demon section, which I want to be well covered illustration-wise). I might do more than that, but those seven are the minimum target. In the meantime, I have to finish the conversions to OSRIC -- the stats are mostly done, but the treasure still remains, and that's going to take a long time.

...And of course, I need to start sending in my levels of Rappan Athuk at this point, which means frantic self-editing and still some writing.

It's going to be a busy month.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Back from no-computer-land

I just got my computer back after a seven-day fixing spree. I'm working on a huge backlog of emails, so if you contacted me I'm working on getting through all of them.