Tag Archives: d&d

D&D’s Greatest Hits

So here’s an analogy for Next, and once again I’m going with music.

Successful bands usually end up putting out a Greatest Hits compilation after a handful of albums. Sometimes this is just to fulfil contractual obligations (see: live albums), and always, it’s designed to make a stack of cash. (Lets please pretend it’s the age before downloads made my record collection obsolete and made me cry about how much money I’d spent on… say…. Deacon blue)

Now, the Greatest Hits isn’t really designed for the diehard fan. They already have all the earlier records right? They probably have the Japanese imports and picture discs too. No, the Hits package is for the casual listener, the one who doesn’t really have a big music collection, the one who ‘likes a bit of everything really’. There are way more of these people than there are the diehard (with the exception of Marillion) and when they get behind something, and it becomes available in the Malls and High Sts and garages and so on, then these things can go on to make an absolute mint.

Carry On Up The Charts by The Beautiful South. No-ones favourite band ever, becomes number one in the album chart for 17 years (approx)

The die hard fan doesn’t mind or object particularly. In fact, if there’s the lure of a new track or a rare b-side, they’ll probably get it too. But they won’t ever play the thing. They would much rather return to the source, one album at a time.

For illustration, Pink Floyd. A band with defined eras, from the Syd Barrett nursery pop songs, to hifi exploration, to Roger Waters therapy, to Dave Gilmours pension plan. All discreet, all worthy, all Floyd. I could happily listen to any one piece of the Floyd oeuvre at any time, blissfully. I can’t listen to Echoes (the Hits package) in one sitting. It reminds me of the originals (in a good way) and sends me packing back to them. Having the songs sitting cheek by jowl just doesn’t feel right. They’re not in the right sequence, and they’re missing my favourite one, and they included that dodgy one. Grump.

It doesn’t matter that the original albums were never perfect, that they each contained at least one poor song. That’s fine. The fan forgives.

And that, is where D&D Next finds itself. D&Ds Greatest Hits, remixed, with bonus tracks.

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Next up….

Our weekly game has turned into a monthly game what with holidays, family, work and all that. One of the downsides of this is that I don’t feel that we’re getting through enough adventure in the time we have. Our system of choice means that combats take up the majority of the session, and the bits in between them are more about the snacks than anything else. That’s ok, but for me as perennial DM it’s getting a bit frustrating.

Making a system switch is a big deal, and might not cure every ill. In fact, it might make things worse! I don’t want to make everything we’ve played over the past few years redundant. So, we agreed a decent compromise I think.

From next week we’re moving to the Next rules. They appear to be in a much more stable state than when we tried them out at the start. I’m hoping it allows us to get more adventuring done, but still allows for big set piece conflicts too. We’re using some of the NPCs from our current campaign and playing them alongside our regular 4e campaign. That way one session can affect another, and we haven’t dumped our main game entirely.

I’m quite excited by the idea. Feels fresh. Feels right. We will see.

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Epic beginnings

Emboldened by handing in my scenario work for approval with the publisher recently, I’m deciding where to go next. I think I’ll go right to the other end of the normal adventure spectrum.

I love the 4e cosmology, and the Astral Sea treatment in particular. WotC really never got behind epic tier play, not really, and there’s no chance at all now. So, confident my stuff won’t tread on any toes, or get superseded, I’m going to write in this space.

Tonight, a close read of the book, with notebook in hand. I will let the ideas drip feed out and see what makes sense in the morning.

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Next please

Two things consumed over the weekend. First, while out running, my iPod shuffled in an old WotC podcast. I was about to hit ‘forward’ but listened on for a bit. Turned out it was Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford being interviewed on the day of the very first Next playtest release.

Today I checked out the same guys on a Google Hangout, again, talking about the playtest.

My feelings? Well, I think I’ve heard and seen two professional, erudite and totally reasonable men talk with passion, enthusiasm, love and respect about D&D. I think they do a largely thankless job with this project, and I think they knew that going in, which makes their classiness even more striking.

This playtest isn’t really for me. My players aren’t really engaged enough with the future of the hobby to really want to stress test it. Also, I don’t want to have to keep updating myself on rules that might not survive for longer than a month. I still read them through and enjoy watching the new game unfold. I then make the stupid mistake of going to fora to find out what the wider community think about it. The level of vitriol and hyperbole is beyond the internets usual low standards. I’m seeing matters of taste being addressed as stupidity or incompetent or malice. That’s not right.

I think Next has an impossible goal ahead of it, but I’m willing it to succeed. I respect and admire the people trying to help that happen.

So there you go. A positive note about Next.

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The continuing deification of Gygax

This article was posted up on Neuroglyph, Mordenkainen Speaks: What would the Great Gygax think about 4E, Pathfinder, and D&D Next?

http://www.neuroglyphgames.com/mordenkainen-speaks-what-would-gygax-think-about-4e-pathfinder-dnd-next

There’s always been a tendency to treat the published words of Gary Gygax as if they were words handed down from the master. I have nothing but respect for the founders of this great hobby, but I don’t think it’s respectful to treat his memory in this way. When he was alive he was always being asked his opinion on modern RPGs. For the most part, he kept such queries at arms length, remaining a professional. It’s certainly the case that he found such questions a little baffling at times, why not simply play the games the way YOU want to?

Edition warring isn’t new, but it’s never been good for the hobby. I think this article is edition warring, but stealthed, under the cover of another mans statements. You might as well ask Tim Berners-Lee whether he prefers Chrome or Firefox. If he did have an opinion on that at least he could expand or clarify his position. (for all I know he has been asked exactly that. Yet, his opinion on the matter doesn’t mean anyone should fall in line with it)

Now that Gary (and Dave Arneson, unfortunately named Dale is this piece) has passed, he can’t engage with any further debate even if he wanted to. To use his statements to back up ones own opinions seems a bit distasteful.

Wizards of the Coast developed 3rd Edition, 3.5/d20, and finally D&D 4E, which has recently been abandoned along with its fans, in favor of a new version of the game which they hope will have a broader gamer appeal.

Abandoned is a strong word, very emotive, and why is it only applied to 4e?

And Paizo’s Pathfinder continues to be a strong force in the D&D gaming community, despite it being quite different from older versions, and has no access to original setting material.

Original setting material? Like what, Greyhawk? Pathfinders default world is full of references to old settings, it’s almost a tribute. And does this even matter? Pathfinder has its own setting material, as does every other game ever released, and happily this hobby still stands by DMs and players inventing their own.

So while I can’t claim to personally know the mind of the late great Mr. Gygax, I think it’s interesting to consider some quotes from the man himself, and how they might pertain to the current D&D edition, its biggest rival, and the edition that is yet to come!

Well, they don’t pertain to the newer editions do they? They pertain to the matters they address at the time. By all means tell me YOUR opinion, I’d love to hear it.

Quote #1: “The essence of a role-playing game is that it is a group, cooperative experience. There is no winning or losing, but rather the value is in the experience of imagining yourself as a character in whatever genre you’re involved in, whether it’s a fantasy game, the Wild West, secret agents or whatever else. You get to sort of vicariously experience those things.”
With respect to this quote, which appeared in the New York Times article Gary Gygax, Game Pioneer, Dies at 69 (5 March 2008), I think all three games – D&D 4E, Pathfinder, and D&D Next – lives up to his litmus test of what a role-playing game is all about. While the three versions of D&D approach game mechanics like character design and combat quite differently, they still allow the players to envision a unique and detailed alter ego in a fantasy world environment.

The definition of RPGs? And it turns out the newer games qualify? Good to know.

Quote #2: “The adventure is the thing, not ‘a story.’ If you want stories, go read a book, if you want derring-do, play a real RPG and then tell the story of the adventure you barely survived afterwards. The tale is one determined by the players’ characters’ actions, surely!”

Like in the previous quote, I think that D&D 4E, Pathfinder, and D&D Next all can fulfill Mr. Gygax’s game philosophy. But of the three games, I must admit that 4E’s encounter driven adventure design makes the storytelling aspects a bit stilted. As much as I like D&D 4E, adventures require more planning under the current edition, and aren’t as easy to run “off the cuff” as adventures I used to run in previous editions. Some of my older players who have been gaming with me since college days night be surprised that some of their best loved adventures from bygone campaigns were invented at the table on the fly – and that’s something that 4E doesn’t lend itself to, at least as far as my experience has been as a DM since 2008.

I don’t think the author understands the story point. In original D&D, the game was set up to play it first, and tell the story after. The story was generated through play, the story didn’t come first. Dragonlance is commonly held to be the originator of the story first module. Interestingly, Paizos Adventure Paths cleave closely to that idea. 4e modules, on the other hand, present the mechanics pretty baldly. They can be uninspiring reads, but they produce game sessions, and they produce stories.

And that’s just looking at modules. The home game will be whatever the group wants it to be, no matter the nuances of the system. I’ve run hundreds of sessions, both fully scripted and on the fly. The system hasn’t held me back, or steered me in either direction.

Quote #3: “The worthy GM never purposely kills players’ PCs, he presents opportunities for the rash and unthinking players to do that all on their own. Those players who have their characters act rashly or do plainly foolish things can speak of their part in the tale posthumously ” (from Dragonsfoot Forums)

I’ve always taken this DM philosophy to heart. I hate character death and TPKs, but I acknowledge the fact that they happen sometime. However, I never seek to kill characters, but I do create hard encounters where the heroes have to work hard to survive, and if they showboat or get sloppy, then the grim specter of death will definitely be stalking around the gaming table. D&D 4E has some of the hardiest characters around and it’s pretty hard to stomp them out with a “reasonable” encounter. Pathfinder characters tend to be pretty tough as well, but so far D&D Next characters tend to be downright fragile. Having tried several different iterations of Next, including the first “super secret” version which came out before the public playtest. Character death was far too easy to cause, and the early monster designs were brutal. The version I playtested at GenCon a few months ago was moving in the right direction, there still needs to be work done to make characters feel like heroes, and not peons.

Don’t disagree! The deadliness of a game is entirely in the hands of a DM, again, no matter what the system. Rocks fall, everyone dies. The DM always has the bigger elephant.

Quote #4: “The new D&D is too rules intensive. It’s relegated the Dungeon Master to being an entertainer rather than master of the game. It’s done away with the archetypes, focused on nothing but combat and character power, lost the group cooperative aspect, bastardized the class-based system, and resembles a comic-book superheroes game more than a fantasy RPG…” GameSpy interview, Pt. 2 (16 August 2004)

This quote came right in the middle of the 3rd Edition and 3.5/d20 era of Dungeons & Dragons, and clearly Mr. Gygax didn’t have much in the way of warm fuzzies for this edition. By inference, I would also assume that he would have even less liking for Pathfinder and D&D 4E which are also quite rules intensive, and have fairly powerful character classes and might be considered non-archetypal. On the other hand, the playtest rules I’ve seen for D&D Next so far have embraced this gaming philosophy, and is less rules intensive, although some character classes still are moving away from OD&D and AD&D archetypes.

This is oft quoted, and actually shows GG in an uncharitable mood unfortunately. If it does mean he has no truck with modern iterations, then really what can he add to this debate at all?

Gary had opinions, as do we all. His got written down, and due to his enormous influence on the hobby, his words have been picked clean over the decades. The quotes in this article range from 1979 to 2004. How many of us hold the same opinions we had thirty years ago? Again, I have nothing but respect for the man and his works, and I know that is a feeling shared by the current crop of designers whether employed by WotC or Paizo.

Gary played D&D his way. I play D&D my way. You play D&D your way. The newest editions want to enable those groups to get gaming. None of us are served by trying to make new games that only Gary would approve of.

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Ruins of War photos and review

Another stealth tiles release from WotC. And as usual, another good value product that could see use on many tables. The theme is war, and it’s one that I didn’t expect, but am pleased to see. We needed more ‘wilderness’ tiles anyway, and these scream out for set piece encounters.

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On the downside, there’s not quite enough to build a full fort here (that needs its own set please WotC) and I’m not sure why a vegetable plot merits a big 8×8 tile to itself.

On the upside, most of the smaller tiles are lovely. Lots of battlefield detritus and abandoned war machines. I’d even use these on top of a Wargames set up.

For the money, great. Wizards really should be shouting about these.

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Commando actions and D&D

Regular readers (hi both!) will know I’ve been doodling around with a system for playing traditional WW2 games. I’ve monkeyed around with the 4e engine as a core, using Gamma World amongst many many others. I was waiting to see what the Next playtest added to the pot, but that’s still circling around itself so it’s not really helping me much.

I drove myself mad doing a system from scratch. Not doing that again.

And then it hit me. I’m a bit slow on the uptake so please forgive if this is patently obvious to you. The answer lies in original D&D.

Think about it. The original game is a cats whisker away from being a war game, albeit one with fantasy/medieval trappings. So, imagine what would have happened if Gygax, Arneson etc had been playing WW2 skirmish games instead of Chainmail, what would the first RPG have looked like? My feeling is, not actually very different.

All I have to do is grab the rtf file of Swords & Wizardry, and get busy stripping out the fantasy and adding sten guns. Obviously there’s more to it than that, but not a huge amount. What I’m going to do is cleave as closely to the original system as I can, in order to get it finished. Then playtest. Then go back. Playtest. Go back. Layout. Done.

To facilitate this, I’m going with what might look like a crazy idea. Bear with. So in OD&D the majority of characters ended up being Fighting Men. So, soldiers then. Depending on stats you might get a Cleric or MU, which I’m having as NCOs and Officers. Instead of spells, they’ll be getting Commands. The Sarge will be all about morale and getting a medic over, as well as wading in with his squad (see? Cleric). The Officer leads from the back, calling in artillery and co trolling the situation (see? Wizard). That leaves the thief, or as I like to call it Special Ops.

Things get really funky when you look at dwarf and elf characters. How about Sapper and Intelligence?

Honestly, I know I’m being naive, but I think there’s a decent game in this.

Thoughts?

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Four peasants

Tonight I rolled up 4 level 0 characters for Dungeon Crawl Classics. What a laugh!

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It really did take me back to the days when I had a red Moldvay book and no players. Laying on the carpet in front of the fire, rolling up fighters and thieves, and laboriously filling out my exercise book. It was loads of fun rolling 3d6 in order for stats, there’s a kind of primal thrill in that (I still loathe how those numbers rarely actually mean anything in the game! True 20 sorted this out a while back, but it’s the sacred cow that simply will not die)

The stats themselves are a decent riff on the classic 6. Wisdom is jettisoned in favour of luck (which tells you everything you ever need to know about the authors background and gaming philosophy).

I like how it’s not a blind slave to the Old School, how it’s ok to have saves called fortitude, reflex and will. I like ascending AC.

The best thing is that the four characters in the picture took no more than 10 minutes combined. Of course they’re not even level 1 yet, they don’t have a class. What they do have is potential, and there’s nothing wasted on those cards. A parsnip farmer? With a hen and an empty chest? What’s his deal? A chaotic merchant with a dagger and more hard cash than the other three put together? An unlucky soldier with a holy symbol she can barely lift? The only ‘ordinary’ character is a dwarven blacksmith who’s strong and has hit points.

Within the first couple of encounters some of these guys will die. Two have a single hit point. But I already have a favourite, and he will be using the other three as ablative armour. Getting to level 1 will be an achievement.

Just great fun. Recommended.

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Pathfinder flavoured D&D for newbies

Yesterday I ran a game of D&D for four of my colleagues. They didn’t know that’s what they were there for. Such is the power of being the boss and having a training and development budget that encompasses team building events.

I had planned this a while back. There’s loads of good reasons to run an RPG for work purposes. It’s great for team dynamics, leadership ability, basic maths and English, problem solving, all sorts. Frankly, I just love playing D&D and fancied the idea of getting paid to do it.

My guinea pigs are all tech experts who work in telecoms. They can field strip a laptop blindfold. They also have to serve the public in my stores so they plenty of social skills too. Their predisposition to geek led me to think they’d enjoy it. I had no idea of their previous exposure to RPGs, and wanted to surprise them on the day. Turns out one, Adam, had about six Warcraft characters on the go. Brendan plays Eve Online and Magic in his spare time. Paul and Dan just love the tech, and it’s all about pulling apart hardware and software for them. When I told them we were going to play D&D it went down pretty well. No-one ran off screaming (I am the boss don’t forget, I wanted to stack the deck in my favour) and a couple of them said they’d dabbled back when they were kids.

I whipped out a brand new copy of the Pathfinder Beginners Box and tipped my dice out on the table. The dice had to be introduced, especially the d4. Didn’t seem to faze them though. The Box (PBB) has some fantastic character portfolios that do a brilliant job of guiding the noob through the character sheet. Given that this is Pathfinder it’s at the crunch heavy end of D&D play. Ten minutes later we were ready to rock. They picked PCs based on not much more than the portrait (Adam, the WoW vet, grabbed the elven rogue quick smart).

The adventure gets straight to the point. There’s a creature, nick named Black Fang, that is stealing and killing the local livestock. the mayor has put up a 1000gp reward for the adventurers who stop the slaughter. The story begins as the party arrive at the cave mouth. I asked the guys to introduce themselves to each other, which is a bit of a rude awakening to roleplaying for some. They were understandably tentative in comparison to seasoned gamers, but they got their point across. I had to ask a couple of facilitating questions, simple stuff like what are you wearing/armed with. They responded happily.

Some scouting led to some combat. I had a second table just to one side. I put the battle map and creature pawns on that so we had more room for our character sheets on our table. It was cool to stand round the map like something from a WW2 film, strategizing. It did take longer than I thought for them to decide what to do. I think this comes from not wanting to get it ‘wrong’. Actually, that feeling carried on for the next 30 minutes or so too. For example, whenever Paul’s turn came up in the initiative order he would pick up a d20 and simply roll it. This was learned behaviour from all the other games he’d played were you roll the dice to see what happens, like Snakes and Ladders or Monopoly. It took me slightly aback until I realised that I was in the minority at the table, I was the one who assumed you had to speak before you ‘did’ anything. The same was true of the character sheets. The guys were looking at their sheets to see what ‘moves’ they could attempt. The PBB has a handy ‘what you can do in a round’ section on every sheet, but it doesn’t point out that the only limit is your imagination. My players thought the list was complete. Why wouldn’t they?

Once I’d realised this, I simply called a time out and explained how the game could work, that you simply said what you were attempting, as if you were there in the situation, and my job was to tell them how the rules interacted with that, if at all. See, even typing that last sentence out makes it sound more complex than it is doesn’t it? So I decided it was time to lead by example. Cue the NPC, in this case a pair of goblin prisoners with strangely Mexican accents groveling for their lives. Sure, I hammed it up a bit, but nothing that would get me in trouble with HR. That made them smile, and they loosened up a bit, getting some inter party banter going on. What really worked was me using the goblins as catalysts, asking the characters questions and making suggestions that I didn’t want to do as a DM to the players so overtly. That seemed to crack open their inner gamer and we were off.

Soon enough we had played through 3 hours of classic dungeon. Yes, there was a dragon at the end. There were also traps, tricks, exploration, negotiation and bloody combat.

Did they enjoy it? Yes. Adam wanted to cut lunch short so we could get back to it. Paul and Dan laughed out loud at least a dozen times and they all genuinely thanked me for the experience. I don’t think I’ve made 4 new roleplayers, but that wasn’t exactly the point. I did have some fun with my colleagues, and we all now have a shared experience. Whatever their opinions were of gaming before, at least they’re now based in fact.

Lessons learned. Running games in that environment was no real problem at all. I’d pre-selected my players to some extent, but I’d be happy to widen the net next time. It helped that I had a captive audience! I would struggle to just put out an invite by e-mail or stick a poster up and get players. I felt I had to be a bit sneaky to get them in the room first, by which time it was too late.

The guys may have enjoyed themselves, but doesn’t mean they’ll be buying T-shirts anytime soon. Occasionally a couple of other staff would come through the room to get their lunch or their coats. It was noticeable that the voices got lower and we all shrunk in our seats a little. Having said that, it we had been having a regular meeting and someone had come through we would have probably paused for them then too.

The Pathfinder Beginners Box is a really nice intro set. It’s all laid out beautifully, and the kit is a joy to behold. I didn’t have to do loads of prep, it’s almost playable within 5 minutes of opening the box (assuming a basic knowledge of d20 games that is). On the other hand, the game without a seasoned DMs interpretation and help could become quite cold and functional. It’s the traditional ‘it’s nothing more than a board game’ jibe, but there’s some truth in that. The character sheets have all the mechanical workings out included on them, but none of the ‘try something cool’ advice which is tucked away in the GMs guide.

I missed the 4e rules set. Pathfinder has a couple of bits to it that make for a game that requires creativity and passion to make the most of it. 4e is more forgiving to the casual gamer and cool stuff can emerge from dice rolls as well as the players own behaviours.

Fantasy is a great backdrop. I didn’t have to explain anything about the setting at all. I said it was a bit medieval, except with magic, but to be honest I didn’t even need to say that much. The box cover is more than enough to get everyone on the same page.

Some of the stuff I first encountered in the 70s  is alive and well even today. One of the players wanted to call his PC ‘Bob’. I wasn’t having that thank you very much. The PCs wanted to loot everything, including broken clay jugs and a dead lizard. They split the party in the second chamber. They poked at traps to set them off, then they did it again. And again. They bickered over who got the magic items. I loved watching this stuff unfold. It’s the primal language of the gamer, even today.

All in all, good times, I would do it again. I will check in with the guys in a couple of days to see what they thought. If there’s feedback there, it will soon after be here!

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My Drow education continues

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It’s nice when Amazon delivers you a book you’d forgotten pre-ordering. I got Menzoberranzan today. Full review to follow if, and only if, I get the urge.

I have mixed feelings about this book, and that’s without even opening it (hey, it’s the Internet, I’m entitled to have unfounded opinions!). It seems to be the last book for 4e, which is a sad state of affairs. Having said that, the completist in me likes the sense of closure (remind me to tell you about a collectible part work I subscribed to in haste a few years back. It’s still arriving).

I’m not a massive Drow fan to be honest. Most of their story in D&D happened while I was off playing other games. I tried the first Drizz’t novel, but never finished it. I’ve skimmed through the Drow sections in other books like Underdark and Neverwinter (both superb books btw). And I didn’t follow the previews on DDI.

So I’m going into this blind. Hope its interesting. Will let you know.

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