Tag Archives: Next

Using my religion

Thinking about the gods in my new Brightshadow campaign, and in realise I’ve under-thought religion in fantasy gaming all these years. A discussion about verisimilitude and consequences elsewhere got me pondering: what do fantasy tropes actually do to the world around them?

Imagine taking the D&D basic pantheon and dropping it into our modern world. I don’t mean imagine Pelor showing up at the UN, or Gruumsh invading India (though those are awesome notions) I mean imagine if Christianity, Islam, Judaism and all the rest were real.* Really real. As in, certifiable, true beyond doubt, witness them with your own eyes and ears, there’s one right there and he walks among us, real. What would be the consequences?

Atheists would be seen as highly deluded, probably pitied individuals. The word ‘faith’ would need a different meaning, as there would be no faith necessary, it’s all right there. Would there be any need for a clergy? Or even temples? Surely worship would be ubiquitous, and wouldn’t need special places to do it? In fact, I wonder if the whole notion of worship might be different. Perhaps people would talk about the Gods the way we might currently talk about our bosses, or the government? I think bureaucracy and the system would get involved early on. Gods would become ordinary.

In fact, the Gods’ main selling points would be access to the afterlife, and miracles. Death holds no fear now, because an afterlife is guaranteed. What type of afterlife you’ll get is another matter, and that’s something that surely no one could afford to be ambivalent about. Miracles? I think they’d be the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket, less about prayer, and more about luck.

So let’s bring all that back to fantasy worlds. In my experience, most gamers pay little attention to religion in games. Perhaps more in Glorantha, dunno. I’ve never seen or heard anything that reflects the kind of questions I asked above at my tables, and that includes from guys playing Clerics and Paladins. Funny no? So I want to address that in Brightshadow. I want religion to be cultural, and ubiquitous, like the Internet is to us now. But I want it to mean something to the characters and the game. The afterlife thing is a very big deal, when you’re alive. What about afterwards? Ahhhh…. I see what to do now.

In my campaign, everyone’s already dead.

*I mean no offence to those who of course DO believe in the existence of one, some, or all Gods in our own world. Crack on. I’m talking about games of make believe here.

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Cobbling

So D&D Next is out this summer. Time to plan, or prevaricate at least. I’ve made a few decisions already: first, I’m going to look forward to it, and play it with enthusiasm. Second, I’m going to try really hard to NOT buy anything beyond the core and instead raid my library for content.

I’ve got loads of stuff. Most of it goes unused after an initial browse. I want to treat my collection like a bunch of Lego, and use pieces to assemble my own concoction. Zero points for originality, which irks me a bit, but infinite points for practicality and realist goal setting.

I’m calling it The Brightshadow Campaign.

I’m taking the cosmology of 4e, and rearranging it into a single world. It will be archipelago style, with the islands being the dominions of the gods. Except the gods are more like kings and queens rather than distant ineffable beings. The whole thing will be powered down quite a bit from epic to heroic. I’m layering the Shadowfell and the Feywild over the top, not as regions per se, but as opposing civilisations, who are at war.

I’m twisting the 3×3 alignment system too. Chaotic is going to represent the Feywild, law the Shadowfell. The good/evil axis remains.

I’m not having humans at all. Which means I’m not having gods for elves or dwarves, as they aren’t secondary races any more. In fact my gods will be more akin to 13th Ages icons in scope.

I’m amping up the tech level ever so slightly, to be more like Iron Kingdoms. I’m having psionics big time.

Adventurers will be highly respected in the setting, like the way superheroes and villains are in the Marvel Universe. In fact, I’m nicking loads of MU tropes, like SHIELD, Dr Doom, mutants, the moon, aliens all that jazz.

And then there’s formatting. I’ve learned to love index cards thanks to recent forays into Fate and the excellent Pathfinder Card Game. I’m going old school with cards and pens! I’ll have maps art and monsters culled from books, but otherwise I’m dropping that screen and keeping the GM footprint small.

Well, that’s the plan anyway.

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Oh Pelgrane, Pelgrane, Pelgrane…

You’ve cost me a pretty penny today. Not only is the current Bag of Holding deal filled with the only Pelgrane stuff I don’t already have (technically no longer true)…

…but now I have the pre order in for the 13th Age Bestiary, so have the playtest squealing and kicking in my iPad right now.

Sigh.

The latest Next package isn’t going to get a look in is it?

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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 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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Next, 13th Age and me

Things are in flux right now. My 4e campaign has been on hiatus over the summer due to real life commitments, though I’m certain it will be back soon. While that’s (not) been happening I’ve been happily devouring the Next playtest packages (two, as of time of typing) and the 13th Age escalation edition playtest. Of course, I’ve been mulling my own commando game at the same time.

There’s no shortage of opinions on Next, and I really can’t bring myself to do a blow by blow on it myself. Similarly with 13th Age. But I do want to pull out a few initial thoughts about the different approaches each game is currently taking, and what that might mean to my own efforts.

Next has surprised me. There’s a lot to like. I’ve played a session with the first packet and done group chargen with the second. It delivers some interesting characters without taking too long. The four pillars of race, class, background and specialty are fun. What’s incredible is how much impact this simple classification has. There’s almost nothing in this that we don’t already have in 3 and 4e already. It’s basically skills and feats in pre chosen packages. Yet, it feels fresh, and creative. Maybe it’s in the traits element of the background, all of which make the DM in me want to write it into the very next adventure. But there’s no mechanics in that part, so I could weld it straight into my extant game. Maybe I will.

That’s not quite the surprise though. What’s astonished me is just how little of the game WotC have actually gotten done by this point. I know Monte jumped ship, but only a couple of days prior to the release of package one. That leaves Messrs Schwalb and Cordell from the original three. Their FB updates lead me to believe they’re rarely in the same room as each other, and when they are it’s not at WotC HQ. it seems like a strictly part time gig, and a short handed one at that. There’s lots of other stuff going on around the game itself, the art, the blogs, the articles, but that seems to have eaten into the actual design time.

Compare with 13th Age. Written by two main designers, Jonathan Tweet and Rob Heinsoo, who won’t have done this as their full time rent paying gig. The playtest word doc is at 300 pages plus. It’s got tonnes of art ready. It’s got the first expansion up on Kickstarter already. It’s been and is being playtested. We have a release date, sorta. As a game it has it’s issues sure, and large lacuna yet to be firmed up. Again, the majority of the new innovations are mechanically light and could be added to my 4e game with little effort or issue. But it has a confidence about it that I don’t see in Next.

Now, a lot of this is down to the differences between WotC and Pelgrane Press, and the vastly different sets of expectations from the gaming community. WotC is having to wrangle a huge fanbase with highly developed senses of entitlement. Pelgrane, on the other hand, can include lines like

The druid class will not be appearing in this book. We’ve attempted some ambitious stunts to make the druid fun and different. The stunts are too ambitious to be properly finished in the time we have. We’ll have to make the druid available some other way when we’ve had time to get the design right.

And have the fans just go “that’s cool. Let us know when it’s ready”. Can you imagine the response if WotC tried that?

Next has a cool core. It has very cool aspirations. I want it to succeed. But it’s early stumbles are so face palmingly foolish, and so easily avoidable that I can’t help but worry. And while I worry, here’s 13th Age, nearly done, just as full of cool and I can keep all my 4e goodness on hand.

Mike Mearls, I’m a fan, I’m patient, and will remain so. There’s room in my life for all kinds of D&D, I’d love for Next to take a big chunk of it. You need to get a move on.

What does this mean for my own game? Well, it raised a smile to see some of the ideas I’ve had crop up in Next. They’re not that original, so I’m not being arrogant here. I like the four pillared approach. Commando currently has three, based around the play expectations. That seems to be a path I will continue down. I love the way flavour has been packed into the two playtests, whether in the equipment lists, or the talents or wherever. I want to get that into Commando.

There’s specific rules that I love, like Icons in 13A, though I don’t know how to work them in. The escalation dice I can absolutely use though.

In summary, I wanted to wait to see what Next would offer me, as a D&D fan and as a nascent designer. It’s too early to tell, and I don’t think it should be. Then 13th Age came along. It’s inspirational and very steal able. I also want to play it and run it immediately, and it’s pretty much ready to let me.

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Play testing Next

Gave the new playtest packet a quick go last week. A couple of the guys couldn’t make our usual game, so we were down to three players and myself. So we used the fighter, wizard and rogue and put the two clerics in the background. Had a feeling we might need their healing help at some point, and I was to be proved right.

I’ve been keeping up with other blogs and fora, so I had some idea of the potential pitfalls in the game. I’d considered making some changes based on that feedback, but in the end I wanted to playtest what we had, not what I thought we should have. So I went with the Caves of Chaos rather than doing my own thing.

We started with a run through of the character sheets. This turned out to be easy to explain. That’s my first take away, the game looks easy to teach at this point. I’m pretty sure complete novices would have managed after 5 mins. Most of the explanation went into what wasn’t held over from 4e (my group are 3/4e vets in the main, I’m the one with the multi edition experience)

The PCs introduced themselves to each other, and immediately the flavour started to come out. You could simply read out race, class, background and theme and you’d have a good picture of the character. I liked that. I also appreciated the equipment being part of the look of the character. I could ‘see’ the backpacks laden with gear.

I laid out the map of the caves for the players to see (why not? Let’s get to the play right?) and after a little discussion they chose…. Cave A. Uh oh. That’s the kobold cave. This is the one that caused so many online conniptions recently. At least I was aware of some potential issues in advance. Still, let’s see what our experiences are.

I sketched out the cave entrance and plonked down some kobold minis in little batches. Yes, this was on a grid, but I deliberately placed the kobolds ‘naturally’ rather than in their own distinct squares. We rolled initiative. I had to open up the bestiary to find the kobolds mods, so the short form stats in the adventure let me down there. Wizard wins init and opens up with a Sleep spell. Astonishingly poor rolling meant only 2 out of 8 kobolds hit the dirt! It could easily have gone the other way. The fighter asked about charging (flick, flick, err no! Nothing in the rules on that…) and the halfling rogue opened up with the sling. With the kobolds on 2hp each, they went down very easily. I made the decision to have one kobold run for help, which brought the encounter to a close.

The party cautiously entered the caves. With the fighter up front, he spotted the pit trap early. The rogue used his skills in natural lore to know about the kobolds hatred of bright light and unslung his bullseye lantern. The skill rolls were working really well here. It felt natural to go back to the raw abilities rather than a defined list. Strong characters tried to do strength based things, clever characters worked in their Int. I liked this. The auto success rule went down well too. The wizard just knows most basic stuff with no roll. The rogue can do basic acrobatics with no roll. The fighter can break basic stuff with no roll. It speeds up play and cements the roles nicely. Loved this.

Another running battle with kobolds turned into a quick chase. The dwarf was faster than the kobold, but wasn’t brave/stupid enough to solo his way into trouble. The rest of the party caught up before they tracked the runner to the chieftains lair. Some rounds later and we all noticed a lot of movement going around the map. The lack of opportunity attacks meant much freer movement, and I liked that. It meant they could rush the wizard very easily, but her Shocking Grasp made them think twice.

In fact, the wizards cantrips saw a lot of use. Ray of Frost was cool (sorry) and evocative. Magic Missile was effective, in a functional almost boring way. No rolling for attack or damage made for a dull turn.

The wizard had the most colourful abilities for sure, but also the least hp and the hit dice mechanic wasn’t going to have her back in the game very quickly. The rogue and fighter were three combats in and still ok, and could have pressed on. We summoned clerical help and that turned things well in the pcs favour during the chieftain battle.

Some exploration followed, along with a nice vignette where the fighter spared the kobold women and children his wrath.

All this took about 90 minutes, so we wrapped up and chatted about our likes and dislikes.

Everyone liked it, and has shown interest in playing again. We are all waiting to see what’s in the next packet as we could all do with a bit more in the way of complexity and options right now. The base packet is fast, and gets you a lot of game in a little time. Yes, you have to make plenty of judgement calls and flex your expectations, but that’s worth it for more game I reckon. The players did have to adjust to negotiating their actions. In 4e, it’s designed to remove all doubt, just read it, and it happens exactly like that. In Next, everything’s up in the air until the DM assents. I’m fine with that, and have the experience to make rulings. In the hands of an immature DM this could wreck games. It’s a balance for sure, and the game needs good advice to help on these calls.

The jury is still out on advantage/disadvantage right now. Lots to like about it (I twice rolled a 19 and a 20 while disadvantaged!) but it managed to catch us out a couple of times too. The interplay between kobold numbers, bright light, and ambushing had us all stop and think at times. Still, this is no worse than half remembered mods to rolls. We never had to hit the ‘turn back time’ button, as we could just add in an extra roll if we forgot. I think I’d like to see it remain overall.

As a DM I saw the rougher parts of the system. The monsters need loads of work. The scenario is showing its age. Both these things rely on experience to DM, and I would hope novices get a lot more help in the final cut.

Overall, we’re all looking forward to another go. This is a good start, a really good start, but there’s an awful lot more to do yet.

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