Monday, April 30, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Looks at Mike Mearls' Latest Post - Looking at Fighters

The Grumpy Dwarf here.  Long time poster, first time getting credit for it.   Yadda Yadda. Listen, if you want to know why I tear apart bullshit posts on Dungeons & Dragons from the Wizzies Guys, know this - WotC is putting a version of a game that "isn't close to done" in your hands in less than a month, so you can test it and make it better.  They don't need to hear fuckin' Cheer Bear, they need to know what needs to be fixed in MY opinion.  You want it closer to a game you want to play? Give them YOUR opinion, as often and as loud as you can.  Maybe the powers that be will hear you, but don't bet your gaming fun on it.  - The Grumpy Dwarf

Last week, we announced that the D&D Next playtest will become open to the public on May 24th (aint that a scary thought?  the game, as per WotC is about 20% done, but they are putting it's future in your hands.  I'm no game designer, but if I were, I'd like to be a lot closer to being done before releasing my child into the wild)  This week, I’d like to talk a bit about the overall shape the playtest will take and what we need to get out of it. (lets see, a good game, a working game system, a marketable version of D&D that will let us save a few bodies from the Christmas Reaper that resides at WotC)
The playtest materials will initially consist of the basic core rules and a limited selection of classes and races (no surprise there - we are talking 1/5th of a game, and that fifth is subject to change). We’ll roll out the fighter, cleric, wizard, and rogue, along with the human, elf, dwarf, and halfling. (gnomes get the fuckin' shaft yet again!  I hate gnomes, but I feel for my cousins) In the earliest stages of the test, we’ll provide you with pregenerated characters. (that's a mixed bag.  it means the play test will be balanced, but isn't the point of a play test to find things that aren't in balance?  to "game the game" no, to prevent folks from "gaming the game" late?)
We are intentionally starting small so that we can collect feedback on specific portions of the game (you are starting small because you don't have much for folks to play with yet). To start with, we want the core rules to receive a thorough inspection. Obviously, if the basic rules of playing and DMing the game aren’t working, we need to know that sooner rather than later.the core better fuckin' work at this point, or else they have less than 20% - they have zero %)
As we collect feedback on the core rules, we’ll also release more material for players. We’ll start from a set of pregenerated characters, and then we plan on leveling up those characters to walk everyone through the first ten levels of the game (so if you die, just restart with the same one?  i know it's a beta test of sorts, but it is still a roleplaying experience, and character death and loss is part of that). Once that is done, we’ll then loop back and release material for building your own characters. (i wonder how fast this process will be, and I wonder how many groups are going to run many sessions with pregens)
In general, the playtest will start with the broad and then zero in on the specific. We want to make sure that the game feels right in terms of classes and races (they better not leave gnomes out yet again), ease of play at the table, the level of danger present in the game (which will be hard to evaluate fully with reboot able pregens, but whatever), and the flexibility of basic task resolution. Once we’ve established those baselines, we can start to look at player options, from classes to specific abilities, in more detail. (i'm going to assume the "we" referred to is the players, as if the game designers are part of that "we" and they are waiting on "us" it's going to be a longer process than it should be.)
Depending on the nature of feedback, we hope to maintain a relatively brisk pace of pushing new content out into the wild. (if they can keep to this, may the gods bless them and bear them many bearded children - if nothing else, it will give me post fodder ;)
Why are we going along this path rather than releasing the entire game at once? First of all, the game isn’t close to done. (SEE?  I said it wasn't nearly done, not even a quarter done.  Second, we want to make sure that each part of the game is thoroughly tested. (I can't complain about this in the least.  good call)  Releasing the material in small, controlled doses ensures that the feedback we receive is focused on a few specific areas. (alright, understandable - you don't want a bunch of Grumpy Dwarves swarming you with umpteen complaints and assorted issues at one time.)  It makes both our work and your testing efforts more efficient.
With that in mind, let’s keep talking about what you’re going to see in the upcoming playtest packet. Last week, I wrote about the cleric (oh boy.  yep, that was me last week). This week, it’s the fighter’s turn.

Fighter Design Goals

The fighter is one of my favorite classes, so I’m a little biased. I also think it is a class that has always suffered a bit compared to the spellcasters in the game (I dunno.  wizzies in my campaigns were always squishy and target first by intelligent advisories.  nobody wanted to play the cleric). Fighters represent the most iconic fantasy heroes, and it is perhaps the most popular class in the game (if they are so popular, are they really that week compared to casters?). Therefore, it’s important that we get the fighter right.

You can take a look at last week’s article to get a sense of our general approach to the classes. Here are the main points we’re looking at for the fighter.

1. The Fighter Is the Best at . . . Fighting!

This might sound like an obvious point, but the fighter should be the best character in a fight. Other classes might have nifty tricks, powerful spells, and other abilities, but when it’s time to put down a monster without dying in the process, the fighter should be our best class (hey, I agree with Mike.  Let's all have a beer!). A magic sword might make you better in a fight, but a fighter of the same level is still strictly better. Perhaps a spell such as haste lets you attack more often, but the fighter is still either making more attacks or his or her attacks are more accurate or powerful. (i dunno.  a hasted thief with backstab in the shadows can be an awesome thing)

2. The Fighter Draws on Training and Experience, not Magic

Fighters master mundane tactics and weapon skills. They don’t need spells or some sort of external source of magical power to succeed (somebody mark this down.  fighters won't be having an assortment of magical moves and abilities like they do in 4e.  gods damn but I can breath a sigh of relief now)  Fighters do stuff that is within the limits of mundane mortals. They don’t reverse gravity or shoot beams of energy.  (man, i always wanted my fighters to shoot laser beams!  maybe if i get a wish spell)

3. The Fighter Exists in a World of Myth, Fantasy, and Legend

Keeping in mind the point above, we also have to remember that while the fighter draws on mundane talent, we’re talking about mundane within the context of a mythical, fantasy setting. Beowulf slew Grendel by tearing his arm off. He later killed a dragon almost singlehandedly. Roland slew or gravely injured four hundred Saracens in a single battle. In the world of D&D, a skilled fighter is a one-person army. You can expect fighters to do fairly mundane things with weapons, but with such overwhelming skill that none can hope to stand against them.  (wait, if "none can hope to stand against them" WTF is the point to playing the game?  if you pit two fighters against each other, does it cause a rift in the space / time continuum?  turning undead was too powerful a cleric ability as written, but fighters trump everything?)

4. The Fighter Is Versatile

The fighter is skilled with all weapons. The best archer, jouster, and swordmaster in the realm are all fighters. A monk can match a fighter’s skill when it comes to unarmed combat, and rangers and paladins are near a fighter’s skill level, but the fighter is typically in a class by itself regardless of weapon.  (okay, i'll accept that.  so, fighters don't specialize in combat type.  they are generalists.  which works, because even if they used a spiked dildo, "none can hope to stand against them".  Not that they could find a spiked dildo in most campaigns, but it's just such a disturbing image, I had to keep it)

5. The Fighter Is the Toughest Character

The fighter gets the most hit points and is the most resilient character. A fighter’s skill extends to defense, allowing the class to wear the heaviest armor and use the best shields. The fighter’s many hit points and high AC renders many monsters’ attacks powerless (wait!  we aren't saying "less effective against fighters compared to other classes", instead we are told "renders many monsters attacks powerless" as well as "none can stand against them".  Mike, if you turn the fighter up to 11, then you have to turn the other classes up to 11 and we get 4e all over again just with tape over the serial numbers)

6. A High-Level Fighter and a High-Level Wizard Are Equal

Too often in D&D, the high-level fighter is the flunky to a high-level wizard. (again, I haven't personally seen this issue, but it's probably because all of our whizzies were terrified of dying real fast) It’s all too easy for combinations of spells to make the wizard a far more potent enemy or character, especially if a wizard can unleash his or her spells in rapid succession. (and then the survivors kill the wizzie with a blow or two - assuming the fighter failed his saves and doesn't kill the wizzie himself)  A wizard might annihilate a small army of orcs with a volley of fireballs and cones of cold. The fighter does the same sword blow by sword blow, taking down waves of orcs each round (if the orcs are dumb enough to throw themselves in waves at the fighter round after round.  wait!  what about the overbearing rules.  there are overbearing  rules, aren't there?). Balancing the classes at high levels is perhaps the highest priority for the fighter, and attaining balance is something that we must do to make D&D fit in with fantasy, myth, and legend. (how about we fit the new new D&D into D&D.  D&D has it's own tropes)  Even if a wizard unleashes every spell at his or her disposal at a fighter, the fighter absorbs the punishment, throws off the effects, and keeps on fighting.  (so, whizzes can't kill a fighter?  but a fighter can kill a wizzie?  this balance shit is getting confusing as hell, as I fail to see the balance)

Sandbox Thoughts - There is no Grid in My Sandbox

That's right, there is no grid in my sandbox styled campaign, at least not how one is used in 3.5 and especially 4e D&D.

There is a reason Adventure Paths are popular with the 4e crowd (and started with the 3x crowd)- the adventures usually come with battle maps or tiles.

3.5e is nearly impossible to play with out a grid, and the amount of house ruling it would take to remove the grid from 4e would make it a totally different game (5e perhaps?).

It's hard to run a gridded game with a sandbox. Sure, you can use a battle mat and write it in washable marker, or maybe pull a map from your collection that you've used before that kinda fits the location, but it's not a great solution. Heck, you could map out battle maps for all of your possible random encounters, but then when would you have time to game?

Did anyone use a grid with G1-3? T1-4 (TOEE). None that I know did more than a sketch and a room description

That is why sandbox style play is very much "Old School", where counting hexes and spell templates are replaced by a quick description or sketch and the Theatre of the Mind.

Not that I have a total aversion to using a battle mat / map if it helps sort things out. I just don't want my players, my campaign, or myself being a slave to it.

The moment players start counting, measuring, checking facing or asking about spell area effect templates I know the map has gone from imagery to grid.

There is no room for a grid in my sandbox, but a map, mat, whiteboard and the like are welcome. Even if it has little hexes or squares on it. Just don't treat it as a grid.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sandbox Thoughts - Staring Into the White

Back in my first gaming life (1980 -1997) I don't ever recall calling "sandbox" styled play a sandbox.  The first time you went "sandbox" is when your players zigged instead of zagged, and for the first time you didn't try to shoehorn them into what you had planned for them, but instead rolled with it.

Surprisingly it was empowering, both for the players and for me.  It validated the idea that their decisions actually mattered.  As for me, it allowed the campaign world to take on more of my ideas, as well as keeping me challenged (and preventing me from becoming a lazy DM).

I would weave adventures, mostly from Dungeon Magazine, but occasionally any random adventure released by TSR directly, with lots of sandbox style freedom.  Still, that sandbox styled freedom came with a price:  Preparation and improvisation.  The improvisation I was daily good at at.  Preparation, much less so, especially when you have no idea which way the players are going to zig, zag and / or jump.  There is nothing like staring into the white of a blank sheet of paper and realizing your friends want to play D&D, and you just got caught with your pants down.

Regretfully, my best tool for this style of sandbox play wasn't released until 1994.  Decks 1 and 2 of the Decks of Encounter Series are made for sandbox styled play.  These 3x5 index card sized cards allow for a DM to prepare (read) a number of possible encounters to keep the party on their toes (and keep the game from bogging down).  I always had something ready, no matter which way the players went.

Prior to the encounter deck, I had a listing of encounter ideas - generally two to three lines on a page of notebook paper, giving me an encounter or adventure seed.  Haven't found this yet while going thru the basement, and at this point i expect I won't.  Still, it was something I kept with me at work, or on a weekend in the Poconos, jotting down stuff as it occurred and using it later if the situation suited it.

Oh, and I also thru in lots of "dungeon bait".  The players knew that adventure and money generally came from the dungeons.  When I needed a change of pace, with less yap and more dice, I gave them rumors of a newly found / re-found / magically appearing / re-opened dungeon.

I'm actually going thru set one of the Deck of Encounters tonight, grabbing cards that may work well (or barely at all, won't know until the time comes) in this coming Saturday's ACKS game kick off.  Well, maybe not the kick off, as I firmly believe you need something fairly set to get a campaign successfully launched, but the cards will be very useful in the weeks to come.

Games From the Basement - Ace of Aces

Remember those Lost Worlds books?  The ones where you and another player picked moves and then looked up the results (with illustration?).  Ace of Aces is similar, but in this case it goes to "Eleven".

These aren't small booklets with a few dozen pages and some hand drawn illustrations.  These feel like they are numberless (they aren't, but they feel that huge) pages of illustrations and photos showing your latest maneuver.  This isn't swords and axes, but a pair of World War 1 fighter planes going head to head in a duel to the death.

If you enjoyed the Lost Worlds books, you may enjoy Ace of Aces.  I say may, because A) it isn'tfantasy, obviously and B) it is much more complex, which kinda turned my group off to it.

It also suffered from the same problem the Lost Worlds series of books suffered from - it's a two player game, no more, no less.  Gaming groups are built around 3 to 6 (or more) players, so this type of game already has a limited audience to aim for.

I believe we gave it a shot or two.  I don't think we ever played a session to completion.  Still, the box art is awesome if you ask me :)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Thinks Grumpy Thoughts

I always figured that by turning many of my D&D 5e posts "Up to Eleven", most readers would see it as a persona that I wore for these posts specifically.  Don't get me wrong.  The direction I perceive D&D 5e heading in is not one I want my favorite RPG heading in.  Everything I've written is my thoughts, fears, frustrations and more.  I just made them a heck of a lot more interesting to read.

Seems some folks feel I have been taking the issue too hard.  That I read too much, or too little into the postings at the WotC site.  That I need to stop picking on the fine folks over at Wizards and the "magical" RPG they are producing.  I need to go back to happy land.  So, on that note, Erik Tenkar is bowing out of the DnD 5e hoopla.

The Grumpy Dwarf is going to take my place.

Yep, Grumpy will be doing all of the D&D 5e posts in the future.  He may as well, as he did most of the previous ones - he just never took credit for them.  Now he will.

As for me, Erik Tenkar, I'll go back to posting my usual stuff - Games From the Basement, Reviews, updates on my upcoming ACKS campaign, occasional videos - you know, the boring stuff that shouldn't put anyone's panties in a bind.

Grumpy gets the angry, frustrated, WTF are they doing!?! to my favorite game posts.

Go Grumpy!  ;)

Whereupon I Return to the Barbarian Bazaar

The Barbarian Bazaar is a real place, located within Sugurman's Indoor Fleamarket in Dickson City, PA.  (about 15 minutes from Carbondale and maybe the same from Scranton).  I've stepped in before, way back in October of 2010, but in recent visits I don't believe it was open.  Today, it was open and much larger than the previous time.

It's hard to explain the type of shop, but I'll try.  It's like a sci-fi / fantasy fan's dream store, if one were to own and run it themselves.  Pewter pieces, replicas, paperback books, comics, movies, old video games, dice bags, collectibles, RPGs, the list goes on.  There is a hell of a lot of stuff I wanted to take home with me.  It wasn't that the prices weren't reasonable - they were.  I just don't have the room at the moment.

While I was there, the owner was running a game of Tunnels & Trolls while his wife minded the business side.  Tunnels & Trolls.  Can you get more Old School than that?

My wife even found a few things to purchase.

As for me, I bought a copy Hero Wars, the Robins Laws Glorantha RPG from 2000.  For $10 bucks it was well worth my money.  I got to talk to the owner about a few of the other games on the shelves, at which point we talked briefly about T&T and how easy a system it was to introduce players to the hobby with.

On the ride home, my son suggested that next time we get out there, I should take some pics and interview the owner and his wife for the blog.  I may just do that.  Only problem is my training is interrogations, not interviews ;)

Friday, April 27, 2012

Games From the Basement - DungeonQuest

I need a break from all these damn 5e posts, know what I mean? ;)

Anyhow, if memory serves me properly, I picked up DungeonQuest before I picked up Talisman (which makes sense, as we already had 2 or 3 copies of Talisman in the gaming group).

My main memory of DungeonQuest?  The included miniatures, which took very little time to migrate from the game box to the table top for our RPG sessions.

It lists solo play as an option, but I don't recall ever giving solo play a try.  Which is strange, as I gravitated towards solo capable games back in the days before the internet.

This was not one of our most played boardgames, as it lacked the speed and simplicity of Talisman, but it was a fun diversion none the less.  I have the Heroes expansion packed away, somewhere.

The Return of the Grumpy Dwarf - Looking at Tone and Edition

With Monte's departure, I may need to look bit deeper at WotC's 5e posts.  Tone and Edition is Robert Schwalb's latest blog entry.  Surprisingly enough, I don't foresee the Grumpy Dwarf getting too grumpy this time around.

A few years ago, I woke up and realized what I thought was fantasy wasn’t the same for everyone else (I had a similar experience.  I wonder if it's fairly common amongst us geeks?). Sure, people have had worlds with winged cats that could talk, elves with red cloaks, and all sorts of tweaks and twists to the basic fantasy tropes for years. And I’ve always known that things such as the Empire of the Petal Throne and Jorune lurked on the fringes, but they were strange things wholly alien to my sensibilities (Jorune left me scratching my head as to how to actually run a game of it). You see I cut my teeth on Tolkien, Homer, Mallory, Howard, Alexander, and the rest. The old red box D&D let me play in a version of fantasy with which I was most familiar. It let me tell my own stories set in Middle-Earth or wherever because the fundamental concepts about fantasy ranged from “one ring to rule them all” to forbidden dealings with Arioch to scaling the Tower of the Elephant. I knew elves didn’t hang out in Hyborian Age and you would never find dwarves drinking with Gawaine, but in my youthful mind I could reconcile these differences because it was all fantasy to me (add Eddings and Brooks to my list of fantasy sources).
By the time 2nd Edition D&D hit the shelves, I had already solidified my views and, with the frustrating absence of assassins, half-orcs, and monks aside, the game remained true to that vision (my god but the above pissed me off.  these classes and races were iconic parts of AD&D, stripped out to make the game "cleaner" I suppose during the "D&D is Satanism" scare phase). But over the next few years, the game began to change. TSR published settings that presented different ways to play D&D.Some, such as Birthright (too much poorly defined rules for the kingdom level game in this one) and Mystara, weren’t that far from my tastes, while others challenged what I believed was true about D&D, notably Spelljammer (not a challenge so much as a different height of gaming), Red Steel (strangely enough i have the setting, and except for remembering it came with a CD i can recall nothing else), and Dark Sun (potentially great game setting with a railroad set of adventures). In some cases I embraced these visions; in others I rejected them. Thinking back, we never said we were playing D&D when we played Dark Sun. Instead, we said we were playing Dark Sun (rob may be right on this one.  i think we said the same thing). (The same was true for Ravenloft now that I think on it.) (we only ran it as one-offs, when the PCs spend a session or two in the Realms of Dread before returning home) I enjoyed those settings as games in themselves—games that just so happened to use the rules I knew so well. They weren’t D&D to me, but that was okay because they never spilled too far into the core (though the MC Appendixes would eventually chunk together all sorts of monsters from across a wide range of worlds). (yeah, and it got to be a bit of a mess.  maybe D&D Next could avoid this horror, but I doubt it.  Monster Manuals and the like are cash cows, and WotC needs as many cash cows as it can find)
The weird psychological game I played continued into 3rd Edition. The racial assortment stayed more or less the same as it had in previous editions. The game retained the core tone I had embraced years ago. Things would change. Supplements introduced new races, some expected (half-ogres and minotaurs) and some completely unexpected such as dusklings (Magic of Incarnum), illumians (Races of Destiny), and the hadozee (Stormwrack). Since these races lived in supplements, I could ignore them or use them at my discretion.  (wow, i really skipped a shitload of the 3x era it seems.  or at least stuff published by WotC, as there was a large amount of great 3rd party material)
Fourth Edition, however, shocked me (the shit shocked me too.  fucker no longer resembled the (A)D&D game I had grown up on). I never imagined I would find dragonborn and tieflings in the Player’s Handbook (I never imagined seeing every class's THAC0 or whatever 4 e called it going up at the same rate for all classes.  never expected my fighters to have magical powers.  never expect - fuck it, just know if it's in 4e, i never expected it)What about the gnome? (yeah, wtf did they have to put out an anti-gnome video to plug 4e's release?) Where did the half-orc go? (probably eloped with the gnome) D&D had gone and reinvented itself without consulting me! Imagine my horror. Why did the marshal deserve to be in the Player’s Handbook in place of the druid or the bard? (preach on my brother!  can i get an A-men!?!) Everything I knew to be true about D&D had been shaken up, and I was left puzzled and a bit upset—not enough to explode in nerdrage, but enough that I was uneasy. (that's okay.  the nerd rage grew in me as time passed.  it's why i'm so fucking grumpy!)
I was so certain and so confident the dragonborn didn’t belong in D&D, I figured my players would reject the race as I did and choose something more in line with the D&D we’d always played. Imagine my surprise when one of my younger players, who was 19 at the time, immediately latched onto the dragon born and warlord (dude, if you didn't want the race or class in your campaign, just exclude it.  or is that another DM power that was revoked in 4e?). Imagine my continued surprise when game after game my players ventured further afield than the classic array of classes and races. What I realized was that although dragonborn seemed ridiculous to me, the race had a great deal of appeal to my gaming group—the cantankerous, vulgar, twinkie group of players that they are (I'm afraid to ask what he means by "twinkie"). And if these old dudes could climb on board the tiefling, drow, dragonborn, wilden, shardmind train, then there must be people for whom these elements are fantasy for them (nah, they are there for the "power gamers".  power gaming is a different kind of fantasy). In the end, I made my peace with the weirder races and classes that have snuck into the game and broadened my horizons to at least not be offended that they exist. (I would use an emoticon to soften the last sentence but I won’t stoop to that sort of nonsense here.) (that's okay, i'm offended that they exist.  or at least, offended that they exist as "core".  put them in a setting sourcebook or something and wall them off from the core game and I'll be fine)
We’ve talked a lot about what races and classes we would include in the next core player book. I’ve argued at great length about how editions never fall at break points in people’s campaigns and that often an edition change means invalidating a choice a player has made about the character he or she is playing (truth is, the only edition change i went thru was from AD&D 1e to 2e, and we just rebooted.  i can't imagine any campaigns easily switching from 3x to 4e, and i suspect 4e to 5e will be just as drastic.  i doubt anyone playing an OSR game will covert their ongoing campaign to 5e, but they may reboot or start a new one). I can imagine some folks were upset not to have a monk class when 1st Edition shifted to 2nd (but you could have kept playing the 1e monk without too much difficulty, i doubt the same will be from 4e to 5e), just as I’m pretty sure some folks were upset when they couldn’t play a barbarian right out of the gate when 4E landed. We’ve tentatively agreed that D&D is big enough to accommodate the various Player’s Handbook classes and races, and we want to make sure these options are available when the next version comes out. Although this move will certainly appeal to the audience who think dragonborn and tieflings kick ass (sigh), I wonder if their inclusion will offend people with opinions that matched mine a few years ago (wonder no more - yes, it will offend a large portion of us). I’d love to say that we’re all reasonable people and finding a tiefling in the next version of the game doesn’t mean they have to appear in every world or campaign, but, being an unreasonable person myself, I can understand how such a thing might be upsetting to people who have a clear vision of what D&D ought to be (some of the clearest versions of that vision are in the OSR.  we have no need for 5e.  i want to like it, but i don't need it.  unless the beta looks much different from the hints monte and mike have been dropping the past few months, i probably won't like it either). Likewise, I think people who dig the Nentir Vale and the 4E cosmology would be livid if we ripped out the dragonborn and tieflings, whose fallen empires are so important to shaping the land. Is this a no-win situation? (pretty much.  stop trying to please everyone, as you will please no one.  pick an edition to build upon and "fix" and go from there.  stop trying to meld them all into 5e)
I don’t think so. And here’s why. We can be explicit in the rules about class and race availability. By tagging some races as common, others as uncommon, and others as rare, we can instruct players and DMs alike in how these options might fit into their settings (and when the players whine "but it's in the core book!" just let them whine?  that is "old school", i guess ;). The core races, the common ones, might only include humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings since those races more or less appear in every D&D setting (yes, yes, kender are different from halflings—you’re welcome, Miranda). Uncommon races might include half-elves, half-orcs, high elves, and gnomes. (but the uncommon ones were core in AD&D... ah, never mind.  so long as this shit isn't rested like a CCG) And maybe the rare include dragonborn, drow, and tieflings. Separated in this way, a DM can tell players his or her game features only the common and uncommon races. Or, maybe the DM says only uncommon and rare races. A new DM might say just the common ones only! (or an old school DM) This method of sorting could also apply to classes so DMs looking to capture a particular tone and style can confidently and broadly select the options that most closely match his or her expectations and vision of fantasy most appropriate for his or her campaign.
There’s no poll attached to this post (holy shit!  this may be a first!), but I’m eager to read what you think about this. Would dragonborn and tieflings be welcome in your campaigns? Would it be D&D with them? Without them? Does this sort of thing keep you up at night?  (this sort of shit does not keep me up at night.  planning for next week's ACKS game?  that keeps me up at night ;)

Cheer Bear Retires - Grumpy Dwarf Returns

Yesterday's experiment using "Cheer Bear" to comment on the latest Rule of Three was interesting, but I don't foresee a repeat.

I'll be back in "Grumpy Dwarf" mode for the next DnD 5e post-commentary. Some may not like the attitude, but in truth, when I had no issues with the original post, I said so.

As my hopes and desires for a successful release of DnD 5e / Next are being dashed on the cliffs of Failed Expectations and Impossible Goals almost weekly, I expect many more Grumpy Dwarf posts.

Once the Public Beta Test is released next month, I'm sure I'll be giving it my critical eye. Not to bash it, but to improve it. Oh, and of course to yoke what I can for use in the OSR. Assuming I find stuff worth yoking.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cheer Bear Looks at The Rules of Three - Empowered Reactions in the Underdark

I've been told on G+ that my critique of various 
5e postings are "distasteful" at times.  To clear 
the palate for everyone,I will critique this entry 
as Cheer Bear of Care Bear Fame.  Cheer 
Bear has got the rainbow on his belly and is 
awfully nice.  Original posting is here.

In the past you've referred to wanting to boost DM empowerment in D&D Next. Can you be more specific about what this means?

In general, what it means is we want a system that makes it easy to be the DM (I like easy.  Easy as pie.  Pie is sweet), and at the same time trusts the DM to make the right call for any particular situation (I like to trust my DM.  Trust is good.  I like pie), rather than create many highly specific chunks of rules text in an attempt to cover every possible situation (chunks aren't good.  unless they are chunks of pie). Part of that is teaching the DM how to make the appropriate judgment call (teach me! Me!), and part of that is building the rules to make it so that, when the judgment call is made, it's easy to resolve (if the judgment call is made, isn't it resolved?  my head hurts.  I want pie).

As an example, let's say that the heroes are in a tavern (why can't they be in a happy field eating gummy care bears and drinking lemonade?) trying to get information out of a member of the Thieves' Guild. The smooth-talking rogue says that he wants to deceive (you should never lie!  lying is bad.  have some pie) the thief into thinking that she is a member of the same guild to earn his confidence. Alternatively, the brawny fighter wants to crush a pewter mug in his hand (you shouldnt break things, but if you do, tell your parents) to intimidate the thief into talking. If we have done a good job of educating (school is fun!) the DM, then the DM simply sets an appropriate DC for success and calls for a Charisma check (from the rogue) or a Strength check (from the fighter). Rather than call on some kind of subsystem (you can always call on a Care Bear.  we are your friends), we simply educate the DM on the best way to set a DC, and the best way to choose which ability to use for an ability check (isn't this called DM Fiat and abdul-jue-kate-on?). That also has the advantage of allowing the player to simply say what his or her character does, then having the DM respond with the kind of check to be made, meaning that players are always talking about their actions in terms of what their characters do (always do doody in a potty).

That may seem simplistic and obvious, but the subtleties of the way players and DMs interact with each other and with the rules can have a big effect on how the game functions (i'm just a small bear.  but i'm trying to stay in character.  players should try and stay in character too.  DMs must do all of the work.  work is good.  more pie). Beyond that angle of educating and trusting DMs to adjudicate many situations (zero bear likes this.  some bears don't like this.  some bears say "DM Fiat" is bad.  i like DM fiat.  I also like pie), we also want to empower the DM by providing lots of different ways for the DM to alter the rules of the game to best fit the kind of campaign and gaming group he or she has (but then the bears don't know what to expect.  this makes some bears sad.  it makes the 4th bear very sad.  4th bear like to know the rules don't change.) This comes through not only the variant rules modules we've mentioned before, but also from things like teaching the DM how to make minor changes to the existing system. (zero bear likes.  4th bear is even sadder)  (Don't think the players start with enough feats? Here is some advice on giving them more!) It also comes from educating the DM as to the impact those tweaks will have on the game. Furthermore, this doesn't have to be restricted to overarching and permanent rules changes. It could also focus on bending, breaking, and changing rules during game play (this is where 4th bear considers how bad things have become in the land of Next). (Does it seem like that difficult terrain should be even more difficult than usual? Here's how to alter the properties of difficult terrain for this instance to best fit the situation.)

Will the current system of standard, move, minor, free, immediate interrupts, immediate reactions, and no actions be retained, or is that something you look to change in D&D Next?

One of the things we're trying to do is streamline the player's turn a bit while still letting the player do something significant each turn (Cheer bear is always stignaficant.  useful too). As of right now, we have a system that states that on your turn you can take one action, and then move up to your speed. Most everything is just an action; attacks, casting spells, activating magic items, etc. "Moving up to your speed" can also cover things like climbing, jumping, and standing up from prone within that movement. We believe this is going to accomplish our goal of making combat move faster across all levels, being easier to teach to new players, and also making sure that the kinds of effects we're putting into the game are big, meaty and significant so that you really feel their impact. (cheer bears wonders how you can climb and attack)

What's the deal with the Rise of the Underdark campaign?  (cheer bear wanders off aimlessly now, as this is 4e stuff, and cheer bear does not grok 4e)

The Rise of the Underdark is a story theme that kicked off this year at PAX East, similar to what we did with Neverwinter last year. The Rise of the Underdark storyline is a series of interconnected stories, adventures, and products all related to the same storyline. I asked James Wyatt to give us an idea of what the story looks like, and he said:
Deep in the Abyssal darkness of the Demonweb Pits, the goddess Lolth is spinning a web of deceit, treachery, and ambition. Her goal is to seize control of arcane magic—a position that has lain vacant since the death of Mystra a hundred years ago. 
To facilitate this grasp for power, Lolth sent a prophet—Danifae Yauntyrr—to all the cities of the drow. Danifae is a fallen priest, a scoundrel, a seductress, and—if history is any guide—an avatar of Lolth herself. Danifae whispered to the leaders of all the great drow houses, spurring them to gather ancient power to aid Lolth's ascent. 
The drow are scouring the world for primordial relics (pieces of a dead or sleeping primordial), seeking out the remains of great wizards, gathering artifacts once sacred to Mystra, and fighting for control of magical locations on the world's surface.
As the drow gather arcane energy and channel it to Lolth, her power grows. Her web extends to cover most of the world, forming a Demon Weave to replace the sundered Weave that Mystra maintained—a new fabric of arcane magic. With that, the priests and wizards who serve Lolth have access to greater power than ever before, and their task becomes to use it. 
Across the surface world, Lolth's servitors draw on the Demon Weave to create shrouds of darkness that cover league upon league of surface lands. Under this pall of darkness, the drow can move and fight freely during what would normally be daylight hours. With this aid, they can complete Lolth's transformation and bring the world to ruin.
Additionally, you'll be able to participate in the story through three D&D Encounters seasons (Web of the Spider Queen, Council of Spiders, and War of Everlasting Darkness), play in organized play events at GenCon (Dawn of Nightchampionship adventure), PAX Prime (The Sun Never Rises adventure), and local game stores (with two Lair Assault challenges—Spiderkiller and Kill the Wizard). Products tied to the Rise of the Underdark campaign include RPG books (Into the Unknown: The Dungeon Survival Handbook, Menzoberranzan: City of Intrigue), two Dungeon Tiles sets (The Urban Underdark, Castle Grimstead), a map pack (Vaults of the Underdark), D&D Fortune Cards (Drow Treachery), the Dungeon Command skirmish board game's Sting of Lolth faction pack, and online content in Dragon issue #413 and Dungeon issue #204. There are also several novels related to the storyline, including War of the Spider Queen Volumes 1 & 2, Charon's Claw by R.A. Salvatore, and ebook exclusives: Sword of the Gods: Spinner of Lies by Bruce Cordell, Prince of Ravens by Richard Baker, Skein of Shadows by Marsheila Rockwell and Spider and Stone by Jaleigh Johnson. Find out more at DungeonsandDragons.com/drow

Why Has WotC Decided to Re-Release Earlier Products and Editions?

(For links and further thoughts on this, go the the Greyhawk Grognard's Blog - It's linked on the right side on this blog - linking from the iPad sucks ;)

Last night both JoeTheLawyer and the Greyhawk Grognard posted links to what is apparently a new fall release of the D&D 3.5e rules (with errata) on the Barnes & Noble website.

Today, the GG has found another product from WotC priced the same as the 3.5 PH and DMG. Codenamed "Provolone", it could be the 3.5e MM. It could also be DnD Next, but I highly doubt it.

Guess What? The GG has also found a new release of the Dungeon! Board Game on Amazon for a fall release.

We know the AD&D 1e reprints are in the works. The Dungeon! Boardgame is a surprise, but seems legit. 3.5 e is a surprise, and may or may not be what it seems to be.

Still, the easy question to answer is why?

4e is withering on the vine. Its a dead system. 5e is 15-20% complete, so it's nowhere near release. When you have already complete products that there is a viable market for, you can save your bottom line for 2012 (and maybe save a few bodies from the annual Christmas purge) by putting out reprints.

The problem then becomes, when 5e is finally released, will WotC have lost part of that market to it's own reprints of previous editions?

Eh, at this point the reprints excite me more than 5e, although the upcoming public beta test for 5e should be interesting.

I do wonder if this reprint bonanza has anything to do with Monte's leaving WotC. Or maybe it's beta testing a game that is only 20% complete. We probably will never know sure.

Hey, maybe they could make Dungeon! into an iPad app!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mike Mearls' Responds to Monte's Leaving - When Visions Clash

How Dare You Tear Up Your Contract!  Don't You Know Who We Are?!?

Here's Mike Mearls response to Monte's decision to take his ball and go home:

I am surprised, and frankly saddened, by Monte’s decision to leave the D&D Next design team (if Mike was surprised, he must have missed a few signs.  Monte didn't come to this decision lightly). I’d like to thank him for his contribution, and we all wish him well (Monte, thanks for trying to make the FrankenGame work). As we close the first phase of the D&D Next project, I’m excited to share with you all what phase 2 has in store.

It is my pleasure to announce that our public playtest for the D&D Next project will commence on May 24th ("listen, we need to throw you all a bone, to calm the masses upset by Monte's decision to leave"). The playtest is the single most important part of the D&D Next process (I actually thought that would be writing the rules to the game that needs to be play tested, otherwise it's the cart before the horse). D&D is a game that has spanned 38 years of gaming, spawned countless campaigns, and launched an entire gaming genre.

Personally, I can’t count how many friends I’ve made through D&D, or how many hours I’ve spent playing the game, building worlds, or just talking about it with friends. Yet while D&D is an intensely personal game (here it comes... wait for it), taken as a whole it cannot afford to become something beholden to one team’s vision (one team, or "one man"?  or was it two different visions, Mike's and Monte's?). D&D is a tool for creativity. The game must embrace the entirety of its past, and the entirety of its fandom, in order to create a compelling future (trying to embrace all will leave you holding none.  at least we can see why Monte left - he saw the impossibility of designing one game that would satisfy the gaming desires of players of all editions.  One Game to Rule Them All is Mike's dream.  Apparently for Monte, he saw it as an impossible task). No one voice can rise above the others, unless it is the voice of D&D fans as a whole. (Well, now that Monte's voice has left the process, Mike can make sure his voice is heard the loudest.  Frankly, I had more confidence in Monte than Mike, even with Monte's schilling with his early posts.  He tried to be a "company guy" in the beginning, and wound up leaving because he had issues with the company line)

The public playtest is your chance to shape the future of D&D (yeah, I want a game designed by thousands of lemmings... didn't they just say at PAX that D&D Next is only 15-20% complete?  yep, lets throw it the masses.  let them think up some good ideas.  certainly saves salary on game designers), your opportunity to share with us your creative vision for the game. If there are creative differences between the designers and gamers, then surely the needs and vision of D&D gamers will win out (yep, it's in the hands of lemmings). D&D Next is your game. (or it will be when it hits the discount bin at my FLGS)

In the coming weeks, the Legends & Lore column will provide insight into the materials in the playtest and our plans to roll out content (so, no more Mike's Houserules entries?). The curtain is about to go up on our stage debut. On a personal level, and I think I speak for the entire D&D Next team – Bruce Cordell, Rob Schwalb, Jeremy Crawford, Rodney Thompson, Miranda Horner, and Tom LaPille – when I say that we are all excited to hear what you think about our progress. (less than 20%?  not much) We had a great response at D&D Experience, the UK D&D Tweetup, and PAX East, but those were dress rehearsals. You can never be sure of where you stand until you have a full, live audience in front of you (watch as the D&D Next Design Team follows a sea of lemmings off a virtual cliff). Maybe you’ll cheer, or maybe you’ll engage in heated and passionate debate (there's been a lot of that without even seeing the rules). In either case, we’re absolutely dedicated to making D&D Next a modular game (I'll bet a paycheck that Monte wasn't so committed), one rooted in the traditions of tabletop RPG play while poised to blaze a trail toward a vibrant, exciting future. In the end it is you, the audience, who will determine the future of D&D (it is us, the people that will or will not buy the game, that will truly determine it's future). The game is too big, and too important, to stand for anything less than that.

--Mike Mearls

Monte Cooks D&D Next's Goose

By now, I'm sure most you have heard Monte Cook has left Wizards of the Coast.  I'm going to do what I do, if not necessarily best, at least effectively and vaguely entertaining:  I'm going to look at Monte's post where he makes the announcement.

Change of Plans
Last week I decided that I would leave my contract position with Wizards of the Coast (so, this implies that his position was time limited, and it appears he is bowing out before the contract is up). I am no longer working on Dungeons & Dragons (bringing Monte in was the big news, almost bigger than the D&D Next announcement itself.  bringing in Monte also implied a return to 3e, at least as a base to build 5e upon), although I may provide occasional consultation in the future (unless it's to clear up a rule issue based upon his work on D&D Next, I really don't see this happening). My decision is one based on differences of opinion with the company (Which appears to mean his boss, Mike Mearls). However, I want to take this time to stress that my differences were not with my fellow designers, Rob Schwalb and Bruce Cordell (see?  no mention of Mike). I enjoyed every moment of working with them over the past year. I have faith that they'll create a fun game (this is not a ringing endorsement.  A true endorsement would have been "Great Game" or a lesser "Good Game"). I'm rooting for them.
Due to my non-disclosure agreement, as well as a desire to keep things on a professional level (wow!  this speaks pages without just a few words.  I would guess the difference in opinion got heated recently), I have no intention of going into further detail at this time. (Mostly, I just hate drama, and would rather talk about more interesting things.)
As for what I'll be turning to next, I hope you'll stay tuned. I plan on having an interesting announcement in that regard in the near future (Monte has done some interesting stuff as a self publisher in the past.  imagine what he could raise using Kickstarter.  My money is on a release via Kickstarter).

What else can we surmise from this announcement?

It isn't easy to make One Game, All Editions.  It's even harder when people working on it have different opinions about the approach to take.  I don't think Mike and Monte were always on the same page.  I came to this conclusion when Mike removed Monte from the weekly Legends & Lore column.

If Monte had a fault with his weekly posts, it's that he started out using "marketing speak" and virtual soundbites to push D&D 5e as a system that would allow for all edition play in one set of rules.  A laudable goal, but a crock of smelly shit if you ask me.  I suspect that Monte, who is nothing if not professional from what I know of him and his work, came to a realization that a good game and the desires of the "powers that be" at WotC did not intersect.  Being associated with a steaming pile of poo when you've had an impressive career as a game designer isn't the feather in your cap that one desires.

Sure, this is 100% conjecture on my part.  But not really, as there is a lot to read between the lines in Monte's post, and the timing of his departure.  This does not bode well for D&D 5e, but than again, I haven't seen much recently that has.

Clearing Clerical Cobwebs From My Mind - and Asking Mike Mearls Some Rhetorical Questions

I'm still scratching my head over Mike Mearls' latest column talking about clerics. There were a lot of great comments from the readers of this blog, and I really appreciate all of them.

Of course, now I've got some questions for Mike:

WTF do you care about how other RPGs define the cleric class or role?

Dungeons & Dragons was the first RPG, as I said earlier it is the precedent that other class based RPGs tend to follow. Look at every fantasy based MMORPG - their clerics look like D&D clerics, from the armor and shield to the mace and hammer. Boom, buff and healing spells. Hell, D&D invented the cleric class, so why look further than the class's own history to define it in DnD 5e?

(D&D has influenced MMORPGs more than they have influenced D&D - and yes, I include 4e in that statement)

Why are you looking at modern fantasy fiction for inspiration on the cleric class?

Think about it - a spell casting cleric only entered the realms of fantasy fiction after D&D introduced the class to millions of gamers (warrior priests existed before, but spell casting warrior priests I believe is relatively new)

Heck, most fiction that has a cleric as a character is probably published by WotC or is derivative in nature and is using the D&D cleric for inspiration. Why use a shadow of your own concept for inspiration? How lame is that?

Maybe I'm confused, but Mike says "D&D is fairly unique in that the divine caster wears armor and totes a weapon". I'm not going to address the armor aspect of this statement, because I do not know which games Mike is referring to, but EVERY class in D&D "totes a weapon". Heck, in every fantasy RPG I've every played or read, even wizards get access to a dagger or staff. Since when are clerics supposed to go unarmed?

Mike, every time you post, you fill it with contradictions. I see the future of 5e with less clarity each week, which shouldn't be. If the future of 5e is still this cloudy, maybe it shouldn't have been announced until the picture was a bit more defined.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Picking Nits With Mike Mearls Latest - Cleric Design Goals

A few weeks ago, I shared with you a high-level overview of the design goals for the next iteration of the D&D rules. Starting this week, I'd like to show you some of the targets we've set for different elements of the game. This week we'll take a look at the cleric. (the cleric has been a popular target on the WotC site recently)           (original article can be found here)

The cleric was one of the three original D&D character classes. Oddly enough, although healers are common in most fantasy RPGs, many games cast such characters as unarmored spell casters (oddly enough, as D&D was the first RPG.  If any game should be consider precedent setting, D&D would be it).  D&D is fairly unique in that its divine caster wears armor and totes a weapon (is it really that unique tho?  or maybe every MMORPG of a fantasy bent has created healers and clerics just like D&D out of coincidence?)

When looking at the character classes in general, we've taken a few basic points as a starting foundation:
  • The class should be recognizable to anyone who has played D&D. No matter what edition you've played, you should be able to identify the class based solely on a summary of its abilities. (this is a good thing)
  • The class should have an element that makes it unique. Playing one class should feel different from playing another one. (all of the core classes are unique.  maybe less so the sub classes, but that is why they are sub classes)
  • The class should relate in some way to archetypal characters, stories, legends, and myths that form modern fantasy (uhm, they should relate to how the classes have existed over the last 38 years in D&D.  Every fictional world is different.  They are fictional worlds, not gaming worlds.  Trying to shoehorn what works in fiction into an RPG will make for some awkward fits). Someone who has never played D&D should understand what the class represents within the fantasy genre. (Cleric - Fighting Priest - do we need to say more?  Doesn't really exist in Middle Earth, which is ground zero for most fantasy fiction fans)
I doubt that those three points will be outlandish or strange to anyone. They're listed in order of importance, though it's rare that these three points come into direct conflict with each other (I can see them coming into conflict fairly often depending on how close one stays to the above definitions). Then, with these three general points in mind, we can then take a look at how the design goals for the cleric class primarily concern its role as a healer and support character, mixed with a dash of the elements that make it unique to D&D.

1. The Cleric Is a Healer

This one should seem obvious, but it's worth making it clear that we assume that clerics can heal and that their abilities should reflect that. A player new to D&D who creates a cleric could focus on keeping the rest of the characters on their feet, and the mechanics would make that easy to understand and do. (I'm guessing many of the "new crop" they are expecting to gain will have some experience with MMORPGs and grasp the concept of a "healer")

2. The Cleric Is a Divine Spellcaster

The cleric is our divine spellcaster, the iconic wielder of the gods' power. There might be other types of divine magic-users in the world of D&D, but the cleric is the most common such spellcaster among adventurers. The cleric's spells form the most prominent portion of his or her capabilities. (i'm assuming healing spells fall into this category too, or are we retaining "healing surges" from 4e?)

3. Divine Magic Is Subtle and Indirect

Divine spells are rarely naked displays of power meant to smite and blast the cleric's enemies. Instead, the cleric's magic lends strength, support, and durability to both the cleric and his or her allies. Spells such as blesscure light wounds, and neutralize poison are iconic divine spells (as are command, hold person and flame strike). They lend aid to the cleric's allies and help reverse the efforts of the cleric's enemies. A cleric might help overcome an ogre berserker by healing the party's fighter, allowing the fighter to survive long enough to deal a deadly attack.

4. The Cleric Is an Armored Warrior

The cleric is a warrior, though not as skilled as a fighter and typically armed with weapons linked to his or her deity. Clerics fight to defeat their gods' enemies, to enforce their ethos, and to root out heresy or threats to the faithful (wait -  they don't fight to gain treasure, gain experience and protect their friends?  what kind of cleric is this anyway? ;)  Clerics use their magic to support and strengthen their allies, and they wield their weapons to defeat their enemies. They wear armor and carry shields to withstand their enemies' attacks, which allows clerics to use their magic to protect their companies rather than needing it to save themselves. (yeah, sure - trust me, they'll be using magic to save their own ass too)

5. Clerics Reflect the Gods

A cleric of the god of shadows should have different abilities than a cleric of the god of storms (definitely - there should be a handful of spells or abilities that help link them to their faith.  AD&D 2e did this okay - 3e went a bit too specific and restrictive). On an adventure, they should have different approaches that are supported by divine gifts given to them by the gods. We should expect a cleric of the god of shadows to excel at hiding—even in heavy armor—while a cleric of the storm god can call down thunder and lightning. (kaboom!  my kind of god!)

Keep in mind that these goals are guiding principles for the typical expression of a class. One of the concepts we've embraced is the idea of creating starting points, but then allowing a lot of room to maneuver for players who want to tinker with mechanics or who prefer to craft their character's story first, then find mechanics to match that story second. As I mentioned at our PAX East seminar, our battle cry is "Don't get in the way." The basic idea behind that approach is that we create a starting point, but then give players the options and tools to modify their characters as they see fit. (i guess I need to find time to watch the PAX video... or just find a transcript)

For instance, in a playtest I created an elf cleric of Apollo who was a skilled archer, woodsman, and scout. My character wore leather armor, carried a bow and a dagger, and spent the session sneaking ahead to spy on monsters, climbing a tree to escape an enraged ogre's reach, and hiding in a dark corner to ambush a gang of monsters drawn out by the rest of the party. You can easily create a cleric with a mace, healing spells, and plate armor, but you can also use the character customization options to sculpt your character. Keep in mind that I created this character before we had god-specific mechanics in the game, so this level of customization exists for all characters. I didn't gain access to it only by picking a domain or set of spheres for my character's god. (not sure I'd ambush anybody in leather and a dagger, but whatever floats your boat)

By the same token, we aim to make sure that players can choose a set of options that match their preferred tactics. You can imagine having a set of healing spells that allow you to aid your allies while still attacking, while also having different spells that take your entire turn (i'm not sure what his means - take your entire turn - entire turn to cast or lasts an entire turn - is a turn the same thing as a round, or equal to 10 rounds?  or some other number). As a player, you can decide to focus on serving as a healer, choose to straddle the middle ground between fighting monsters and helping your allies, or even opt to pick spells such as bless or lance of faith and then emphasize the warrior aspect of your character.

At the end of the day, our design goals represent the primary goals for the archetypal expression of a character class. They're the starting point that we're aiming to bring to life while leaving room for players to tell their own stories and craft their own unique characters.  (which is a fine and lofty goal.  so, when can we expect an updated collection of "Complete Hnadbooks" ala 2e?)
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