Tag Archives: Next

Murder in Baldurs Gate: reviewed

I’m going to take you back. Back to the interregnum. The time last year when 4e was being wound down, and the playtest for 5e was underway. It was a big transition for D&D, one that continues today. It was also a time when the D&D fan didn’t really know what to look for on the shelves. WotC experimented a bit, and this is one of those offerings.

It’s an adventure, for levels 1-3, and it’s set in Baldurs Gate in the Forgotten Realms. Now, I’m a real novice when it comes to all things Realmsian, but I’m led to believe that Baldurs Gate has a lot of traction in the wider hobby, what with those new fangled computer game things. This adventure is subtitled as being part of an ‘event’ called The Sundering. Not sure what that is, but like comics, it’s safe to assume there’s always some meta plot going on in the background, probably to allow for crossovers, into novels etc. so that’s fine. The intro says it’s set in the years following 1479, when the gods designate mortals to be their Chosen with a capital C.

It’s written by Ed Greenwood (Realms creator), Steve Winter (TSR alumni) and Matt Sernett (who I last saw writing for 4e) so there’s a spread of talent right there. Steve Winter ended up at Kobold Press who delivered the less than stellar Hoard of the Dragon Queen for 5e. Hmmm.

A word on format. The adventure itself is a 32pp magazine style offering. It’s accompanied by a 64pp city/campaign guide, and the whole shebang comes wrapped in a custom 4 panel, landscape, DMs screen, plus paper sleeve. I love that. It reminds me of the old school 1e adventures that came with the card covers that doubled as screens. Photos of all this below.

Plot wise, this is a murder story, and not a dungeon or hex crawl. It’s designed to be one where the DM is forced to improv along the way, and pursue factional agendas which the characters interact with throughout. It’s flagged up as experiential rather than a straight down the line mission. I’m down with all that, because it’s laid out early so there’s no surprises. Even the stats will need a DMs intervention, because this one is written with no edition in mind. The stats for 3.5, 4 and Next are available online to be plugged in. Even the number of foes is malleable. I’m not convinced that 4e especially will be well served by this approach, but we will see.

Ok, I’m excited by this set up, and the materials are enticing. I’ll set to spoilers next time out and let’s see if it lives up to its initial billing. Here are those shots.

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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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