Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bouncing Through the DCC RPG With Reckless Abandon - And Then Distracted by the Art

Wouldn't You Want THIS As a Framed Print in Your Man-Cave?
Cat wrestling time here at the Tavern - which means it's cat vs man on top of the keyboard!  I think I've won, for now.

In any case, Game Knight Reviews has been doing a wonderful multipart look at the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.  You really should take a look if you've been enjoying my ramblings on the DCC RPG.

One of my biggest surprises is how much I dislike the DCC Beta that came out last summer, yet I love the final result.  I'm not sure if my perspective changed, the rules change that much, or if it was a combination of the two.  I suspect it was the latter.  I'm finding that my desires to run an Old School style RPG fall to the likes of ACKS, LotFP's Weird Fantasy and Dungeon Crawl Classics.  The systems are far from similar (with the exception that they are all OGL based OSR type games) as far as D&D rooted games go, but they all take the preconceived notion of what one expects from the classic RPG engine and pushes it just a tad beyond.  Familiar and yet not.

As far as DCC goes, I'm bouncing around it's nearly 500 pages with reckless abandon.  At some point I'm going to have to force myself to actually read it from front to back, but for now I'm fairly random in the pieces that I'm reading and it's doing me fine.  Did I mention the art is so damn good it's almost distracting?  Really.  I said it about the maps that were in DCC # 67 and I'll say it in regards to the DCC RPG - Sell the artwork as fucking prints!  Do you know how many man caves could be saved from the typical boring decorating that men do?  You would be doing the RPG community a needed service and adding income for both the artists and Goodman Games, which could only lead to more and better products.

Hmmm - it MAY be a sin for a cleric to heal someone one step away from them in alignment and it pretty much IS a sin for them to heal someone two steps away from them in alignment.  Another reason besides the ability to wield swords to choose to be a neutral cleric.  Oh, I did mention that the clerics alignment decides what weapons they are proficient in, didn't I?  Yep, I'm still bouncing ;)

Three Years and Counting - The Year of Leather?

Yep, Tenkar's Tavern hits 3 years of age today (although my first post was in 2008, it was pretty much just to grab the name for the blog). Over 1800 posts. I'm surprised and not the least bit amazed. I don't think I expected to still be doing this after so much time, let alone still enjoy it.

I'm still doing it and I'm still enjoying it. ;)

So, if this was a wedding the gift would be "leather". What kind of cheap armor is that? I'd want plate, or at the very least chain... heh.

Back to our regularly scheduled posting later this evening...

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Thief, The Thief and the Thief in the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

Why is it Thief x 3?  Because the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG breaks up the Thief Skills not just by level, but also by alignment.  Lawful, Neutral and Chaotic.  It's an interesting way to specialize the class.

Some quick observations (and a handful of accompanying questions):

I can understand why Chaotic Thieves would be the best at Backstabing, but why why are Neutrals a distant third and Lawfuls a fairly close second?  I would have thought those two positions to be reversed.

Why are Neutral by far the best at Forging Documents?  That seems more Chaotic to me... or possibly even Lawful (depending on how the documents are being used.

Why do Chaotics suck at Picking Pockets, yet Lawfuls and Neutrals excel?

The standard array at 10th level breaks down as the following for all - 8,8,9,9,13,13,13,13,15,15,15,15.  That array applies to all three alignments, it's just assigned differently to each.  The Neutral Thief has a die one size larger than either Lawfuls or Chaotics when it comes to casting from a scroll (casting from a scroll uses a different resolution system than the other Thief skills) which means that if you are purely crunching numbers, the Neutral Thief is the best choice.

The Thief ability to "Burn Luck" and recover lost luck may be hugely powerful in game.  I really need to see how this plays out, but any system where you can add another die to you die roll is a huge boon.

Alright, enough on thieves.  Time to read my PDF of the just released DCC #68 - People of the Pit.  Review will be forthcoming.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

D&D Heartbreaker

This is my first post on Tenkar's blog. I am honored that he allowed me to post here. I had something to say and no venue to say it in that would not cause me endless headaches. I hope you enjoy it.

The first version of the D&D Next public playtest has been out now for a week. If you are anything like me, you have been quite amused. If you got the feeling that maybe you have seen the material before, that's because you have. What you saw was a stripped down rebuild of 3rd Edition D&D + exactly four innovations. That's it.

- Advantage / Disadvantage
- Themes / Backgrounds
- Orisons / Cantrips
- Healing Dice

For those of you that don't know, when a company that doesn't have millions of dollars does that, we call it a fantasy heartbreaker. In the heartbreaker tradition, the improvements are borderline cringe-worthy. And these guys didn't even have to type it up, they could just copy-paste from their own decade-old files. That is really what it looks like they did in a lot of cases. And changing terms a little. Enough to be slightly confusing for no reason.

The best way to view a game is not in a vacuum, but relative to everything else. And compared to other products on the market, this game is terrible. I would rather play any edition of D&D, Pathfinder, any retro-clone / OSR game, or a wide variety of other heartbreakers before playing this one. Those games actually have good ideas in them. Even when I don't like the design (as in 4e D&D), I can at least give them credit for having unique ideas about the direction they wanted to take.

Some people have claimed that this is a retro-clone of 3e. However, that is not true. The purpose of a retro-clone is to improve the base text. I would rather play LOTFP than the original D&D because of it's many innovations in streamlining play; such as the d6 skills, encumbrance rules, and so on. I would rather play ACKS because it really innovated with proficiencies and has some really great class designs. I would rather play DCC because it is going in a new direction. I would rather play any of the truly classic retro-clones like OSRIC, L&L, or S&W because they are just better written and easier to use.

This game is not like that. It is poorly written and lacks innovation. Even the pittance of so-called innovations are daft. 2d20? You got to be kidding me. They must be smoking the good stuff in Seattle these days. I need to stop by and get some of that sweet herb.

But spending more time than this picking on this game is a waste of my time and yours. Because the real lesson here is not the poor quality of the game itself, but what it says about Wizards of the Coast that they released this stinking turd. The true lesson of this game is that WotC has no idea what the hell they are doing. To release a work so amateurish, so obviously unrefined, so draft-stage; says more about the quality of the company that made it than it does about the quality of the text itself.

Imagine if the head of General Motors made a press release that they were working on a new car design. It was going to please the owners of minivans, trucks, cars, and motorcycles. It was going to be everything to everyone; the one vehicle to unite all vehicle drivers. After several months of vague press releases and strange internet polls, General Motors finally unveiled it's new product for everyone to see and it was a station-wagon with three headlights, slightly wider tires, and a fire-engine red sidecar. And they wanted your feedback on how to make it better..... you are probably going to instead call your broker and sell your GM stock.

And that is precisely what this whole fiasco says about Wizards of the Coast. Time to sell the stock folks. These people don't have a clue what they are doing. They have jumped the shark.

They supposedly worked on this game for the past six months? What the hell did they do? I could have written this entire game in one day. Maybe that's what happened. Monte Cook left and Mike Mearls sat down one afternoon and took a weed wacker to the 3e source files. Even the Caves of Chaos is ripped from Gygax.

They say the goal of the playtest is to fine-tune these rules. Here is my tip.

Write some first.

Then we'll talk.

The Grumpy Dwarf Gets a Sidekick :)

I have been approached by one of my readers about creating another persona to join the Grumpy Dwarf in his critiques of D&D Next. We talked about what kind of personality he would be crafting and I liked what I heard. So I am proud to introduce to you all: the Biting Halfling

The Biting Halfling has been digging his way through D&D Next materials and he is going to have quite a few rants to share with us in the coming months. His first post is going up tonight in a little while, so stay tuned.

Are You Experienced? Experience Points in Dungeon Crawl Classics

Poag Rock!

I've been working my way, haphazardly for those of you following at home, though the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG book.  To be brutally honest, I didn't much like the DCC Beta that was released last summer, but boy, has my opinion chanced upon actual release.  I find that there is a lot to like, even if someone may not desire to run a game of DCC.  Tonight, I'm looking at the Experience Points section.

One thing I've never been totally happy with is experience for loot.  I understand the need in earlier editions of D&D for the 1 GP = 1 XP rule, but it doesn't mean I like it.  Similarly, I'd like a system that doesn't only reward combat and defeating your foes, because it such a system, retreat, even when it might be the better part of valor, also robs one of needed experience.  You find your players start gaming the experience system.

Now, DCC RPG does things a bit differently.  The following paragraph is pretty much the core of the whole system.
Each encounter is worth from 0 to 4 XP, and those XP are not earned merely by killing monsters, disarming traps, looting treasure, or completing a quest. Rather, successfully surviving encounters earns the characters XP in DCC RPG. A typical encounter is worth 2 XP, and the system scales from 0 to 4 depending on difficulty.
Holy shit!  How sweet is that?  No worries about gold looted.  If the party flees for their lives and it is the right choice, they get rewarded.  That trap is now worth expo.  Damn this is good.

I might have to run this past my ACKS group on Saturday, because I really do think it has the possibility to enhance out gameplay (which would be amazing, as the gameplay is already at the highest level)


Putting Some DCC in my ACKS, or Some ACKS in my DCC

My ACKS campaign resumes this saturday after taking a weekend off. I'm very excited and nervous as all hell. Why? Because I'm running this as sandboxie as I can, and now that the initial story line is complete and the players have established their PCs, I need to make sure the have enough rumors and leads that they can make their own choice. Or they might go off on an unexpected tangent. So, I'm both excited and nervous.

I do want to bring some of the DCC attitude to my ACKS campaign. So I'll be spending some creative time thinking up some unique adversaries for them and some background rational for why they are and where they are and how they are and all of the other "are's" that I haven't thought up yet. Even of the players never learn of the background, I'll know it and it will make running these adversaries (monsters or otherwise) much easier for me.

Then again, one of my favorite monsters from AD&D were Mongrelmen, and they happen to be individually unique by nature. If my players are reading this - do not expect Mongrelmen to be part of any plot. Really. Maybe.

Now, if I were to run a DCC campaign, I'd want to use the Death and Dismemberment tables from ACKS in the game, as I think they are very suitable for the type of gaming DCC encourages.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Looking at "The" Monster vs. "A" Monster in Dungeon Crawl Classics

"The" Monster Vs. "A" Monster paragraph of the Dungeon Crawl Classics rulebook reminds me quite a bit of a similar world view from the Lamentations of the Flame Princess' Weird Fantasy referee book on monsters.  Just like in LotFP WF, the key is to make sure they are special to the players.  
Is there more than one minotaur in your game world? Is there more than one unicorn or more than one chimera? To a provincial farmer with a ten-mile-wide worldview, does it really matter? You can make monsters more special by referring to them as “the” monster (minotaur, unicorn, chimera, etc.) rather than “a” monster. Whether it is you as the judge describing the creature or an NPC speaking to the player characters, remind yourself that the in-game point of view is often from a perspective of limited knowledge. To any serf with a fearful view of monsters, “the” minotaur is the only minotaur in the world. Describe it as such and its importance will grow in the mind of your players. They will be left wondering if there really is only one minotaur. (page 378 DCC RPG)
You will note that unlike almost every roleplaying game ever, there is no “stock” list of monsters included with this game. Because monsters should be unnatural and hopefully a little terrifying, using stock examples goes against the purpose of using monsters to begin with. Again, this is from an in game perspective. That the players need challenges and fights is understood, but the temptation is always too great to skim through a standard monster list to lazily fill out an adventure. Don’t do this. Not ever!  (page 48 LotFP Weird Fantasy Referee Book)

What I like about the DCC RPG world view is that there doesn't have to be just one minotaur.  It's that the characters' world view only allows them knowledge of the one.  Making monsters special in a game like DCC is part of it's aura and thesis a great tool.  Then again, giving the players something new and unique can be ever better ;)

On a side note, now that I think of it, most of the LotFP adventures would work very well with the DCC RPG.  Death Frost Doom and The Grinding Gear in particular come to mind.  I may need to break these out and look at them with fresh eyes.

The Grumpy Dwarf Wonders How He Missed Mike Mearls Interview at the Escapist'

Really, how the f' did I miss this?  How did my fans miss this (as they often send me messages directing The Grumpy Dwarf to an article they feel will entertain).  So, lets more on to yet another Mike Mearls The Man, The Manager and The Next.

You can read the original article here

The public playtest for the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons begins today, May 24th. (well, it began that day - if you could get past WotC's borked servers.) Mike Mearls is the head of the development team tasked with recreating the rules for the most iconic tabletop fantasy roleplaying game after the 4th edition unfortunately led to a fracturing of the game's core audience (and that was a surprise HOW exactly?) That's no easy feat, and the goal is to attempt to appeal to as many gamers as possible through a lengthy public playtesting period. You'll have the chance to play a version of D&D Next - as Mearls and company still call this new edition - and offer suggestions on how to improve the rules. (you really don't want Grumpy to make suggestions on how to improve D&D.  Really, you don't!)

This week, I (Greg Tito, not The Grumpy Dwarf) got Mearls to divulge his strategy for rolling out the playtest (bork the servers that send out the second email, and the crash the servers that link to the playtest documents themselves.  oh, and add restrictions to the D&D Next Playtest FAQ that weren't in the agreement you signed off on - everyone following so far?), what new rule he's most nervous about, and why he chose to write rules which concentrate on how your character behaves (because kids misbehave all of the time - shit, wrong set of rules) rather than how much damage he or she can deal.
Greg Tito: What are your goals for digital distribution of the Playtest Rules? How often will we see updates?

Mike Mearls: We want to get the playtest out to as many people as possible, so having a digital method of distribution allows us to do that (but since we dont want it being released too quickly - our lawyers say the internet is too fast - we plan on making it so that only one person can download the documents at a time, on good old solid dial up speeds.  We're using AOL to help with distribution). Plus, it helps make updates to the materials much easier. Once the playtest has begun, we will be balancing between taking in feedback, revising content and, of course, working on new content. (add salt and pepper and let simmer for one angry year) You can probably expect to see new material come through over a matter of weeks, but it all depends on how smoothly our process goes (smooth is not the word I would use for the process that went down on thursday.  like coarse sandpaper over a newly circumcised adult male's private member is about how the experience went down. which does mean it can only improve)

Greg Tito: How will you be shown the data from the playtest feedback? Will it be based more on hard numbers or anecdotal evidence? Which will you rely on more?

Mike Mearls: We'll use surveys as our primary method to collect quantitative feedback (I swear on the dark gods of the gully dwarves that mike has never read one of Wizards' surveys) and help us to make some of our larger decisions and revisions. We'll also be relying heavily on Live Chats, forum discussions and playtesting at key events, though, to gather more of the qualitative feedback. It's important to us to give players as many outlets as we can to tell us their thoughts and visions for the game.

Greg Tito: Why has it taken so long to implement the modularity or diversity of play that was a part of your initial design goals?  (holy shit!  someone is actually tossing mike a hard question!)

Mike Mearls: Most of our time has been dedicated to analyzing the initial player feedback and building a robust, core game (in other words, we aint there yet). It's all well and good to have a modular game, but if the game changes in ways that are irrelevant to players and DMs, then it's simply useless noise (huh?). It's important that we get a lot of feedback from players, because that will help us figure out where to focus our modularity.  (i'm glad to see it hasn't been chucked completely.  the problem is the core of the playtesters are 4e players - Hey, it's MY problem, ok!.  4e style playtesters will want 4e type changes)

Going back to Hit Dice and the mechanical change it represents (did I miss something?), that's precisely the kind of area where we can introduce options for DMs to use, rather than dictate a canonical model of play. (start up the Gregorian Chants...)

On top of that, it's critical that our core system functioned smoothly and with complete clarity. If the core game is hard to untangle or has lots of moving parts, it will be hard both for designers and DMs to figure out how to modify those things and what those changes might actually do. We've put a lot of work into the core game, and our initial playtest focuses on that. (fair enough)

Greg Tito: What part of the D&D Next rules are you the most nervous about receiving a bad reaction from fans?

Mike Mearls: The Hit Dice rules really stand out, because they touch on an area of the game where people have very different opinions (i'm not even going to touch on the mechanic - it's piss poor nomenclature). In the current rules, Hit Dice represent your character's ability to recover from injury through mundane means. Between fights, you can spend them to heal provided that you have bandages and similar gear. 

I know that some players really like extra healing so that they can keep adventuring without worry about resting too often. Other players feel that such resources are too unrealistic and don't fit in with the feel of D&D. (yep, many in the Old School corner of play feel that way.  That being said, if it was a Swords & Sorcery type fo game that lacked magical healing, i could see a version of this working.  See?  I can be flexible at times!)

In this case, we've taken care to isolate the Hit Die mechanic (again, poor naming). It exists on its own and would be trivial for us (or an enterprising DM) to remove. It's something we'll watch in our surveys and feedback to get a sense on whether D&D players see it as a step forward or a step back. (let me guess Mike - this is the first "modular" part added to the system ;)

Greg Tito: What is an example of a rule you've changed based solely on player feedback so far?

Mike Mearls: Funny enough, we added Hit Dice precisely because we had a lot of people frustrated with the lack of healing in the initial draft. We weren't planning on using such a mechanic, so it will be very interesting to see where it goes. (I played in the earlier {not earliest} drafts and this was already included, but it wasn't called Hit Dice)

Greg Tito: At the risk of alienating the fans who haven't yet read the rules, let's get into the nitty-gritty of why you made some design decisions with D&D Next. The rules introduce themes like "noble" or "pub crawler" (dude!  "Pub Crawler"  They named something after The Crazy Dwarf!) that define your character in more ways than just your class like fighter or wizard. The themes have been my favorite addition because of how they inform roleplay more than mechanics. (themes are actually pretty cool.  see, something I like.  So go screw if you think I gotta be negative all the time) Was that intentional? How have they played out in the playtest so far?

Mike Mearls: It was very intentional that themes, and backgrounds, inform how you portray your character. We felt that too many of the character customization options in D&D exist only as mechanics. (especially in 3e and 4e) They don't say anything about who your character is or what he/she has done in the past. We wanted an easy way for a player to connect the dots between what's on a character sheet and what's going on at the table.

Greg Tito: I've found that players are frustrated when Javelin of Flame (a Wizard at-will spell) or Charm doesn't work as often as they'd like because of failing against a high roll the DM makes. Why were opposed rolls made more frequent in the game? Has that slowed down play for you or made players feel bad? 

Mike Mearls: We've actually removed that rule, for precisely the reasons you cite. Some people liked it, but most players felt it slowed things down. Making the game move faster, while still keeping it fun and interesting, is one of our big goals. (i just don't fuckin' understand opposed rolls.  it's like rolling to hit againts a random number from 1 to 20)

Greg Tito: In D&D Next, your starting hit point total is the same as your Constitution score. Why was Constitution made the standard for hit point totals, when a Goblin with a con of 10 has 3 HP? (hey, is this the same Greg Tito that was one of the guys behind ACKS?  I ask because he is asking "game designer" type questions.) Dissociated mechanics didn't go well in 4th, why was this change made?

Mike Mearls: Hit points are probably the biggest issue in the game right now. As I mentioned above, we got a lot of feedback on healing and are trying the Hit Die mechanic to solve that. On top of that, we decided to err in the early going on the side of giving out more hit points rather than fewer. (i'll go along with this decision - for now ;) At this stage, if characters have it too easy people are at least playing a lot and giving us feedback on the core rules. We already have plans to roll back hit point totals, but we'll also see how the playtests go before making a final decision.

Chances are, you'll see hit points and damage both go down, so the game's overall lethality might not change much but the math is simpler and damage expressions simpler. (that actually makes sense.  see, i believe in less is more)

Greg Tito: What's more important for this new iteration: selling more books or protecting the legacy of D&D? (heh!  nice one greg!  like he's going to give the true answer over the correct one ;)

Mike Mearls: Without the legacy of D&D, you can't sell books. In many ways, it's an organic process (making compost is also an organic process - it's how things rot and break down). If the game feels like D&D, preserves what makes RPGs and D&D unique, and does that in a way that people can pick up, I think you end up doing both.

One thing I think we learned over the past 10 years is that adding lots of mechanics to the game is a bad idea over the long run (what!?!  mike actually said this?  holy shit!). The game doesn't really need new spells, new feats, and so on.

The Dead, The ACKS and the DCC

I got some decent cemetery photos yesterday, including the circle of Civil War soldiers. A lot has been done to the site. I'll try to post some later today

Whereas before it was partially hidden, as it was on a small hill surrounded by by trees, the trees have now been cleared out. A new memorial stone has been placed, a flag staff is in the middle of the circle and a small flag has been placed at each tombstone for the Memorial Day holiday here in the states. It no longer seems so ominous.

I did stay clear of my ACKS game over the weekend, not that it was ominous or anything. I just find I'm doing little things for it constantly, as I love doing it, but figured taking 2 days off completely as we had our Saturday off from gaming, would give me a set of fresh eyes. So, for the lads in my ACKS campaign, I'll be addressing your questions and concerns shortly ;)

Yes, more DCC coming later today if I can find the time. Probably a review of DCC #66.5 - Doom of the Savage Kings. It came with the preorders of the DCC RPG.

Alright, back to this thing called work ;)

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Looking At Joseph Goodman's Words re: The OSR

With the following words in the back of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, Mr. Goodman sparked a small firestorm on a number of blogs.  Although I can understand why, I think we need to look just a bit closer at was was actually said:
To the many and varied OSR publishers, I offer one comment.As Grognardia marks its fourth anniversary in 2012,the OSR has re-published a plethora of variants on the coreD&D concepts. The target customer is offered no shortageof retro-clones, adventures centered on goblin raiders, excursionsinto the underdeep, and genre-based campaignsettings. I started work on the volume you hold in yourhand because I believe the time has come to break thechains of D&D convention and step back one era further,to the original inspiration of Appendix N, beyond the confinesof genre assumptions. DCC RPG offers a free licenseto third party publishers who wish to publish compatiblematerial. Even if you choose not to take advantage of thislicense, I ask you to consider moving past the boundariesof “TSR mimicry.” The time has come to offer our sharedcustomer something both new and old-school.
"The OSR has re-published a plethora of variants on the core D&D concepts."  - S&W Whitebox, LL Original Characters Edition and the upcoming Delving Deeper gives us three clones of OD&D.  Do we need more?   Have all the original pre-3e editions been effectively cloned yet?  (I believe 2e is in the pipes)

"The target customer is offered no shortage of retro-clones" - I'd attempt to list them, but I fear I'd miss a few.  There is a list of links for free ones on the left side of this blog.

"I started work on the volume you hold in your hand because I believe the time has come to break the chains of D&D convention and step back one era further, to the original inspiration of Appendix N, beyond the confines of genre assumptions."  This is where folks start getting pissy.  This is where Joseph does a little chest thumping.

"I ask you to consider moving past the boundaries of “TSR mimicry.” The time has come to offer our shared customer something both new and old-school."  And now Joseph throws down the gauntlet!

Still, look at the retroclones.  How many go beyond what they are looking to imitate?  Besides DCC RPG I can think of only two.  (Truth be told, Joseph should have given credit to those that came before him.  Each game has different goals, different directions, but they all broke the mold)

LotFP Weird Fantasy takes the White Box assumption and turns it on it's head.  Only fighters getting a to-hit advancement.  Thieves use a 6d for skills, and advance the skills with "pips".  Monsters are unique - there is no section for a Monster Manual.  It's high on atmosphere.  It broke the mold.

Adventurer Conqueror King System adds a whole section of a character's career that was often hinted at in earlier editions but never truly addressed.  The PC as a ruler, as a guild master, as that crazy wizard in a tower.  While Weird Fantasy effectively takes the game "to eleven" and so does ACKS, but in a different direction.

Which is what Dungeon Crawl Classics is doing, in yet another direction.  I can't fault Joseph Goodman for wanting to push the "Old School" envelope and hoping that others will follow DCC, WF and ACKS into the realm of "Old School" but more.  There is a lot of comfort in playing (and DMing) in my comfort zones - I grew up on AD&D and later B/E/C/M/I.  There is, however, more excitement for me, as a GM and as a player, when I can move out of that zone, at least partially.  One foot in and one foot out.  

"Old School +" is how I see these games.  

Mini Review - Perils of the Sunken City (Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Adventure)

Continuing with my Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG Experience.

This time up we are looking at Perils of the Sunken Sea by Purple Sorcerer Games.  I almost wish I had reviewed this before Sailors on the Starless Sea, as it would have stood out better without it being compared to the other.  

That being said, Perils of the Sunken City does offer something that SotSS does not offer - an urban environment that you can ground your party's initial adventures in.  The town of Muttontown Mustertown (oops)isn't described in detail as it doesn't need to be.  Broad stokes with detailed areas the players will interact with is what is supplied and it is ample for what is needed for the adventure.  If further is needed later, the GM has more than enough to build off of to make the location unique.  This is one of those times when less is certainly more.  Nicely done by Purple Sorcerer Games.

As for the adventure itself?  There is nothing inherently bad with it, but it lacks the emotional hook that drives Sailors on the Starless Sea.  When peasants raise arms to save their fellow villagers, the players will find themselves invested in the outcome.  It isn't the same when peasants are doing it for fame and fortune.

Interestingly enough, the set up of Perils on the Sunken City reminds me of Lich Dungeon.  Not in any direct manner, but in general feel.  Perils of the Sunken City pulls it off much better than Lich Dungeon, which can only be a good thing.

If you can only buy one DCC RPG Adventure PDF right now, I'd suggest getting Sailors on the Starless Sea first.  It will grab your players and invest them in their zero level noobs as the funnel weeds out the chaff.  If you can afford a second adventure, Perils of the Sunken City would work fine as a follow up for your newly minted 1st level party of adventurers.  They will be looking for fame and fortune after saving their village.

From the Blurb:

Prepare your players to walk the walk... teach them how to Crawl!
Most find death in the crumbling ruins that stretch beyond sight into the mists south of the Great City; once rich districts now claimed by swamp and dark denizens. But for the desperate few, the ruins offer treasures the Great City denies them: fortune, glory, and a fighting chance! 

Challenge your players with Perils of the Sunken City, the first in a series of 0-level Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG adventures set in the massive crumbling ruins of the swamp-ravaged Sunken City. Easily introduce waves of beginning characters to your world, winnowing 0-level mobs down to bands of hardy explorers ready for even more dangerous fare!

Features of Perils of the Sunken City
  • Compatible with the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG from Goodman Games
  • Streamlines the process of integrating 0-level adventures into your world
  • Travel to and from the dangers of the Sunken City using demon-powered sending stones!
  • Battle dark powers in the forgotten arena of the dark necromancer Madazkan
  • Every foe encountered is a new and unique creation!
  • Deliciously deadly, but with elements of twisted humor to keep things fun
  • Free downloads available at purplesorcerer.com to support the adventure, including battle maps, adventure specific paper minatures, and more!

Some Thoughts on Using Published Adventures Versus Homebrewed

Mike Garcia and I had a conversation about using published adventures vs. homebrewed in your gaming the other night.  My thoughts on using published adventures can be found here.

This will be followed later today by my review of Perils of the Sunken Sea for Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.  Yep, my DCC kick is still going strong. ;)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Circle of the Dead

I'm in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern PA for the weekend.  I've been coming up here since I was a wee lad, thanks to the foresight of my grandfather.  The mountains reminded him of his homeland, and he bought a small house in the country when he found the money, just so he could escape the city when he needed to.  Because of him, I get to escape the city when I need to.

The great thing about the country is the history.  The Poconos have many books written about them.  It was coal country, canal country, first locomotive in the United States traveled its rails.  That's not what got my mind thinking today.  What got my mind thinking today was a cemetery just outside of Honesdale and some of the graves within.

I haven't walked the cemetery in a number of years, but I still vividly remember a small section off from the rest.  Here, Civil War soldiers that fought for the Union are buried, along with their commanding officer.  All in a circle.  It really is quite striking.  You can feel the energy in the air.

There is a seed for an adventure in this circle of soldiers, in the circle of the dead.  Whether it's just a location in my ACKS campaign for my PCs to come across and wonder about the meaning in the greater scheme of things or if they might be guarding something in the afterlife, preventing a great evil from entering the world before their graves were disturbed in a possible DCC scenario, there is definitely something there.

Strange what you draw inspiration from, as you sit across from a cemetery, eating ice cream and you just remember.

I'll see what tonight's dreams bring me.

Seek Adventure!

This is going to be a Dungeon Crawl Classics weekend of sorts, as I am sitting here in the Pocono Mountains of Northeastern PA and the only reading material I brought with me was the DCC Core Rulebook and and the adventures I printed out for it.  Need to learn what I plan to run.

My Adventurer Conqueror King System campaign is most certainly sandbox in nature.  While rails may appear on occasions, the players are free to jump on or off at will and avoid them all together.  They are most certainly adding their own voices to the story.

3e, Pathfinder and 4e like to enjoy their adventure paths, which are pretty much railroads on steroids with lots of bells and whistles to distract the players from the idea that they are on rails.  The path would end if they didn't get from point A to point B with each installment, and that would not be good for the bean counters.

Dungeon Crawl Classics is different.  It's use of adventures reminds me very much of my early days of gaming, when we really didn't give a shit about towns, towns folks, wilderness (unless it was included in some random encounters in the module) - all we cared about was the dungeon.  Heck, I think it was years before we worried about motivations beyond leveling, loot and gold.

I'm not saying you couldn't run DCC as a sandbox.  I'm sure you could at the very least find away to link the adventures.  That's not the point of DCC as written.  The point is to explore dungeons, kick ass (or haul ass if it goes bad) and survive to adventure again later.  It is refreshing in it's basic goals.

Alright, back to reading.

Are You Experienced? A Quick Look at Expo in the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG

I never really liked the experience system from 3e.  The whole idea of awarding expo based on encounter level relative to character levels seemed like too much work.  If the players are much higher in level than the encounter, odds are the encounter expo is a pittance compared to a level appropriate encounter.  Why do math to tweak it more?

At the same time, the classic method of awarding expo for gold retrieved during an adventure (and magic items back in AD&D) seems very contrived to me.  I'm using it in ACKS, as it is very much a part of the core system, but that doesn't mean I'm happy with it.

Dungeon Crawl Classics takes a different approach.  You get expo for surviving an encounter.  Maybe you defeated your foes.  Maybe they escaped.  Maybe the trap went off but you still managed to survive.  Perhaps the party fled, with the idea that it is better to run away, to live an adventure another day.  All the above give expo.  I like it.

The simplified expo system also applies to the numbers themselves.  It takes 40 expo to go from level 1 to level 2.  Simplified number keeping is never a bad thing.

I'm interested to see how this plays out after repeated play.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Interesting Thing Noticed While Reading DCC RPG (and some AD&D 2e Trivia)

Just noticed that Dungeon Crawl Classics includes a 1D4 Hit Point Kicker on all of the classes - the 1D4 HP they would have had as zero level characters.  Pretty cool and fairly useful in this deadlier than norm system.

On to the trivia -

For those that want to play the AD&D 2e Trivia Game (rules are listed here), this post's questions are as follows:

Question 1 - For 2 Points - What two things kill a troll?

Question 2 - For 3 Points - Which character class group begins play with the most weapon proficiences?

Question 3 - For 5 Points - What is a green dragon's breath weapon?

Question 4 - For 5 Points = What are the two forms of fire shield spell?

Mini Review - Dungeon Crawl Classics #67: Sailors on the Starless Sea (DCC RPG)

Remember how I've been talking about how the D&D Next Playtest materials drove me to the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG?  Well, I picked up the two current releases that are up at RPGNow and printed them out.  For me, that is nearly unheard of.  I don't print out my PDF gaming material.  Well, with one exception, stuff I plan on using in game, directly.  When I was preparing for my ACKS campaign I killed a small sapling printing out setting materials and other stuff.  A few more branches suffered today.

Today I'm looking at DCC #67 - Sailors on the Starless Sea.  Lets see, where shall I start?

SotSS is a Level 0 adventure for DCC, which means it is written to act as a "Character Funnel".  20 peasants go in, hopeful a handful will survive.  So yes, it is an extremely lethal adventure.  It is a very atmospheric adventure.  Lastly, By The Gods, I expect it will be a blast to play and GM!

To survive, players will need their wits and lots of luck.  Without acting as a spoiler, the player characters will be up against the forces of chaos itself.  Should they survive, they will be adventurers, leveled characters, the elite.  Should they fail they "will suffer a fate more fearsome than death, their sprits fueling the infernal might of the reborn chaos lord."  So yes, they better succeed.  Well, at least some of them ;)

The artwork is awesome and there is actually a page of player handouts, which i always happen to love, as it really brings the players further into the game.  That and it's just great pieces of art.

Talking about art - the maps are beautiful.  Goodman should sell prints of them (with the room / laceration markings removed).  Really.  I'm not joking.  There is more to the included maps then just the maps themselves, and the embellishing artwork is amazing.  It's a shame players won't get to see them, just those of us running it.

Keeping with the DCC RPG default for adventures, there is pretty much no set up.  The villagers start at the adventure location and the only initial decision is which way they plan on entering.  I'd complain about this if it were another RPG system, but as this is DCC, it works fine and is actually expected.  Pretty much a "Cut the crap and lets start killing stuff!"  Very much the opposite of my sandbox styled ACKS campaign.  Both approaches have their validity.

Really should be a blast to run.  Looking forward to doing so via UA-LC in a few weeks.  I'll let you all know when I'm recruiting the needed number of peasants for the funnel ;)

From the blurb:

Since time immemorial you and your people have toiled in the shadow of the cyclopean ruins. Of mysterious origins and the source of many a superstition, they have always been considered a secret best left unknown by the folk of your hamlet.

But now something stirs beneath the crumbling blocks. Beastmen howl in the night and your fellow villagers are snatched from their beds. With no heroes to defend you, who will rise to stand against the encircling darkness? The secrets of Chaos are yours to unearth, but at what cost to sanity or soul?

An introductory adventure for the Dungeon Crawl Classics Roleplaying Game, Sailors on the Starless Sea pits a mob of 0-level adventurers against the legacy of the Chaos Lords and their corrupted hordes. Delving beneath the crumbling ruins, the characters discover ancient crypts, a starless sea, and an ancient ziggurat, where death and treasure await in equal measure!

The Grumpy Dwarf Listens to Mike Mearls in the D&D Next Playtest Podcast

First off, here's the link to the podcast:  D&D Next Podcast

It's just over 26 minutes of your life to listen to it and no, you don't get it back.

I was surprised at the amount of times they used the spell "Summon Old School".  I'll assume it is an At Will Power and not a Vancian Spell ;)

I do have a few questions / comments:

- how can it be "this week's podcast" when the last podcast was in April? Wouldn't it be "this month's podcast" at that rate?

- monthly updates to the playtest package, and possibly smaller updates in between?  I'm impressed

- how the fuck is it too much for people to process the whole game as it currently is in house? too much to expect the players to create their own PCs?  we created PCs in the previous version of the Beta (which was good, as we found a broken rule or two by doing so). everyone play testing is a gamer by nature - its what we do.  it's a condescending bit of crap that i'm sure wasn't intended to be as such, but it certainly can be seen as such.

- they want folks to house rule the heck out of the game? wouldn't it be easier to just run the edition you currently have, as that's probably what you are house ruling it towards anyway?

- definitely playing up the Old School angle... it's the PT Cruiser of RPGs ;)

so, what are your thoughts after listening?

The Grumpy Dwarf Asks Mike Mearls a Question- What's Up With No Google+ Hangouts with D&D Next?

I'm really left scratching my beard on this one.  To me it seems like Hasbro's lawyers got involved in something they had no need to and are just muddying the waters.

When I signed my D&D Next playtest agreement yesterday, I do not recall a section indicating I couldn't play the game (it is a game, right?) using Google+ Hangouts, Skype or some other VTT.  Then WotC posts a D&D Next Playtest FAQ, and lo and behold, the FAQ says you can't:

Can I run an online game via email, Skype, Google Hangout or a play-by-post forum? 
No, you may not run an online game on third parties sites at this time.
Which I guess means you can use WotC's not ready for prime time VTT, but even that isn't spelled out.  Strangely enough, I never agreed to this when I signed the agreement.

Do they think we are going to record a session and send it out into the world?  Why do that when the playtest documents were already on rapidshare by yesterday afternoon for all the world to grab without signing off on any agreement?

But wait, its gets better.  Here's a piece from Mike's interview at Kobold Quarterly (because you know he had to make the media rounds before the playtest released)

  • Wolfgang: D&D Next provides a lot of support for “theatre of the mind,” also known as running your game without minis. I’ve found this extremely enjoyable in online games using Google Hangouts. Is that form of online play a design goal?
  • Mike: I’m not sure if it started as a design goal, but since many of our playtests took place using Hangouts it helped evolve it that way. When you don’t have minis and grids to represent things, it forces you to make sure that your rules don’t require them. So I think a good way to think of it is that if playing via Hangout works, then the game should also work fine if you and your players want to sit on couches in your TV room without a table, or while driving to GenCon, or wherever.
Emphasis above is all mine.

I'm left with just these thoughts:  Mike, what the fuck is going on?  Did your handlers let you know that Google+ Hangouts and the like were now verboten before you spoke so glowingly about it in an interview?  Why can we not do now what we could do before?  Are you trying to use this as a way to push WotC's VTT?

Talk about shooting yourselves in the foot.  This is one of the worst decisions the paper pushers could have made, especially after it was so largely used in the Friends & Family part of the Beta.  I know first hand, as my group use G+ Hangouts for our sessions.  Whatever faults we had with the system, it wasn't that it didn't work well over Hangouts.

As a side note, how the hell would you even know if members of your gaming group signed off on the agreement to Playtest D&D Next?  Just their word from what I can see.  There is no way to verify.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mini Review - Crawl! First Issue (Dungeon Crawl Classics Fanzine)

I think you can tell I'm a fan of RPG fanzines.  I'll take them in print and I'll take them in PDF.  I almost always grab the first issue of a new one for fear of missing out on something really good.  Besides, one issue is often enough to weed out the good from the not so good.

Crawl! is most certainly in the good column.

I'm pretty sure the cover shot of Crawl! #1 is not going to do it justice as it's black ink on black paper.  Trust me when I say the effect is much better in real life compared to my piss poor photo.

How about the inside?  Twenty pages of Dungeon Crawl Classics goodness.  See, I'm still working my way throughout the tome that is DCC and this little booklet helped kickstart me to decide to complete the journey (well, that and the DnD Next Playtest Materials being released today reminding me how much the smaller publishers are pushing the envelope regarding Old School Style play, but I digress.

Some quick and dirty rules for turning your DCC game into a more Swords & Sorcery type of game.  Simple enough guidelines and very useful, even if I don't decide to use them immediately.  They are effective in showing how simple it is to house rule, and how a house rule doesn't have to be huge to have an fairly large effect on flavor.  Interesting use of Hit Dice Pools as one of the house rules.  If you've been following the D&D Next talk, it is pretty much what Mearls was talking about.  In this context, if the campaign lacks clerics and magical healing, it is almost a necessity.

The article on Patrons I couldn't quite grasp - need to get further along in the core rulebook it seems.

Variable skill check difficulties was interesting.  Think I need to read more on that section of the rules to determine if I'd want to use it.

Converting OSR style spells to DCC was pretty interesting.  Two pages covered a lot of ground. If I ever kick off a full campaign of DCC I'd probably want to keep this handy if I wanted to throw the players some non-standard DCC spells.

So, can you tell that I think it's a steal for $3.50?

How about the idea that I ordered this before I'd decided to actually give the DCC rules a complete read through?  I'm damn glad I have a habit of picking up the first issues of RPG fanzines in general.  Crawl! is yet another one I'll be subscribing to.

I've Downloaded The D&D Next Playtest Materials - And Have Decided to Give DCC a Complete Read Through Instead

Hows that for a kicker?

When I got my Dungeon Crawl Classics hardcover, I saw the size of it and basically said: "there ain't no way in hell I'm reading this without a week long vacation."

I've played D&D Next in it's previous incarnations and I really haven't seen anything in my quick perusal of the latest Playtest Packet that makes me want to sit down and read it.  I guess I'll wait for others to break it down and highlight stuff.  Very anti-climatic.  Doesn't look great, doesn't look horrid - it just exists.

So here I am with the DCC rules, trying to figure out what I did with the enclosed module that the preorders received, and figuring that DCC may just be the first game I run under the UA-LC umbrella. It has a atmosphere that should play out pretty well over a handful of gaming sessions.

On top of that, I need to figure out if there are parts I can yoke for my ACKS campaign. No game session this weekend, what with the holiday here in the states, which is good - it gives me some free time to read up on other game systems.

I Came, I Saw, I Signed

I'm not thrilled I had to sign a play test agreement.  As others have pointed out, Pathfinder never asked for such, nor did Dungeon Crawl Classics.  Just because WotC says it's standard, doesn't mean it's true.

That being said, I'm free to discuss the play test experience prior and the current materials.

As part of your participation as a DnD Next Playtester, you will receive Playtest materials that are proprietary and highly confidential to Wizards.  You agree not to copy, excerpt, distribute (either in physical or digital format), publish, display, disseminate, release and/or transmit, in whole or in part, or create derivative materials from any of the Playtest Materials provided to you.  You further agree that you will not use the Playtest Materials for your own benefit (other than to participate in the play test) or to the benefit of any third party.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, you may publicly discuss your thoughts regarding the D&D Next Playtest Materials and your play testing experience.  If you have previously executed a Nondisclosure Agreement with Wizards related to D&D Next play testing, the terms and conditions of that NDA are still effective regarding the content of the Playtest Materials, however, Wizards releases you from any and all confidentiality requirements related to your thoughts regarding the D&D Next Playtest Materials and your play testing experience.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Grumpy Dwarf Drinks Beer and Comments on Mike's Interview at Wired

Hi.  I'm fucking Grumpy the Dwarf.  I mean, I am The Fucking Grumpy the Dawrf.  I just got back from the pub with the misses.  I had four pints of Killeans, and I'm moving to take whatever is in the damn icebox that aint tied down and has gone through some sort of fermentation.  I asked for a piss bucket so I wouldn't have to get up in the midst of my ramblings, but the wife threatened to cut off the ale if I went thus far.  Apparently I'll be taking some breaks, as me seal has already been broken.

If you’ve been following role-playing game news, you know that the fate of Dungeons & Dragons is somewhat in peril. Many younger gamers flock to video games, not table-top games. Some old school gamers have abandoned the hobby entirely, or else they play outdated (but perfectly playable) versions of the rules (or reimagined rules inspired by such). Others prefer Pathfinder and other fantasy RPGs. Factions squabble over what edition ofD&D is the best. (There's actually a question?  I'll be generous - anything prior to 3e - no, make that anything prior to Skills & Powers in 2e - heck, cut out all but the first four Complete Handbooks too while you are at it.  Now, where the fuck were we?)
Getting fans of the various rules — Original D&D, Basic D&D (and Basic isn't really just Basic), AD&D, 2nd Edition, 3rd, 3,5 and 4.0 — to all agree on how to run a run-of-the-mill combat with a band of hobgoblins (simple - ya kill 'em!), how magic is used (Vancian), or how much authority the Dungeon Master has to improvise when your character want to do something not explicitly covered in the rules (infinite) … well, good luck with that.
Against this complex backdrop and into an uncertain future, Wizards of the Coast, which makes D&D, has embarked on an effort to redraw the rules once again ('cause we need you fuckin' money!). As was widely reported in January, Wizards is giving D&D a makeover, its first overhaul since 2008 (they make that seem like its a long time), when 4.0 was released (wait, what about 4.5 Essentials?) and, some say, further fractured the fan base (some say?  since when is "everyone" some?)
The project to create D&D 5.0 — or what Wizards is calling “D&D Next” — has been a cause for both bickering and hope (I bicker as I lose hope)But the company has promised to listen to players. They hired game designers from previous editions, such as Monte Cook (gone!), Bruce Cordell and Rob Schwalb, in an effort ”give a voice to the different generations of D&D.” They initiated a multi-phase play test (put phasers to STUN!). Some months ago, I had a chance to play an early version of D&D Next, Dungeon Mastered by none other than the man heading up the revamp, Mike Mearls, senior manager of Dungeons & Dragons research and development. Then came a “Friends and Family” play test phase this winter and spring for a select group of D&D players.
Now, this week, the general public playtest will kick off, beginning Thursday, May 24th. You can sign up to play here. On the eve of this new phase, I had a chance to ask Mearls some questions about the state of D&D‘s evolution, if he could reveal any sneak peeks into D&D Next and what challenges remain.
Gilsdorf: Please bring readers up to date (especially any newbies reading this) on the process to date — the previous “Friends and Family” playtest, the overall schedule, and where in the process the game design revision stands now.
Mike Mearls, senior manager of Dungeons & Dragons research and development
Mike Mearls, senior manager of Dungeons & Dragons research and development (Image courtesy of Wizards of the Coast)
Mearls: The first concepts for the game arose about a year ago in a series of limited tests and proofs of concept (right after we saw the sales figures for 4e). We also played through each edition of D&D to get a sense for how the game has changed. In the fall, we started to do more work in earnest, with that material making up a closed playtest that began around the start of 2012. We used feedback from that test, along with games run at theD&D Experience convention and PAX East, to shape the next round of design. The game right now is functional within a limited array of levels (now that's an overwhelming endorsement - "Functional"). There are a few things we know that will change in short order. For instance, monsters still need some work, and the starting character hit points are a bit inflated to account for that (still working on balance). At this point, we’ve created a few different scenarios we can follow for new content based on player reaction to the first round (or second round, or third round, depending on who's counting). Depending on how that goes, we can figure out if we should debut new content or go back and revise classes and races that have been tested before. The big thing is that we’re ready to take as much time as needed to get this right. (as much time as needed, but not so much that Hasbro starts cutting our funding as we bleed cash.  4e is pretty much dead now.  The yearly WotC Christmas Purge is closer than you think.  So we have all the time in the world, but lets hurry the fuck up!)
Gilsdorf: Can you characterize the general sense of where the game in progress stands now? Is it more like classic D&D, more like 4.0? How have the rules and philosophy changed?
Mearls: In general, we’re pushing more power into the DM’s hands to run the sort of campaign that he or she prefers (Empower me Gawd Damnit!). For instance, we just talked today about a rule that lets DMs hand out bonus hit points at first level (isn't that what Hackmaster and Pathfinder do?  It's not innovation, this is what I do in my home campaign - i steal good ideas from others). The DM gets to determine if adventurers in the campaign are lucky, blessed by the gods, or otherwise destined for greatness. I’d say that in general, the game has the open-ended nature of AD&D, the character flexibility of 3e, and the clarity and ease of DMing of 4e (holy fucking shit!  trying to give all of the major editions a stroke job at the same time?!? THIS is how you bring all of the editions together?  THIS defines each of the previous editions?  Mike, when did the boys in marketing give you this line of bullshit?  Right before the interview?)
Gilsdorf: I imagine you did a lot of reading into D&D‘s history to think big picture stuff. How far back did you delve to get good ideas/best practices?
Mearls: We started at the very beginning (back in the way back, before dice, during "The Time of Chits!"), looking back at the original version of the game and even what information we could find on the games that inspired D&D. When we played each edition, starting with the original, we had a chance to see how the game evolved. The most interesting thing we learned was that the original game held up very well (ya think?), and the best parts of D&D — creativity at the table, the DM’s ability to create a unique game — were consistent in all editions. (I'm not even sure what this means)
Gilsdorf: Can you talk about which older editions were most inspirational and what about them did you like or try to incorporate into D&D Next?
Mearls: Basic D&D, the version released in 1981 and assembled by Tom Moldvay, is a big inspiration. It’s a complete game in 64 pages and covers the essence of D&D in a compact package. The original game has the basic concept of an RPG, with the idea of the DM as a combination world builder, storyteller, and umpire. AD&D added more flexibility to characters, 3e created a logical framework of rules, and 4e created a math framework for the game. All of those things are steps forward for D&D and every edition has contributed to this new iteration. (They are only steps forward when they retain the previous step - in many ways, 3e and 4e were steps backwards and forwards at the same time, for little if any net gain)
Gilsdorf: I think a lot of older gamers expressed concern about the direction 4.0 was headed vis-a-vis the balance of combat vs. storytelling and role playing. Do the new rules dictate how much role playing should be incorporated into the game? How much storytelling? How much combat?
Mearls: We’re very hands off with that stuff, instead leaving it up to the DM (again, another confusing non-statemeent from Mike the Mearls). We tend to give characters a mix of combat, exploration, and interaction abilities so that players feel that all of those areas of the game are important. The big thing I want to do for DMs is create a flexible core of rules that they can apply and modify as they wish.
Gilsdorf: In the new rules, will there be any fresh instructions on how to role play and tell stories, to help inexperienced players who might come to D&D from video games understand how to play a character, or how to DM? Or at this point is it just the rules framework you are focusing on?
Mearls: That’s the kind of thing we’ll tackle as we start thinking about final products. For now, we assume that players and DMs are at least familiar with the basics of the game.
Gilsdorf: So you have this feedback from the “Friends and Family” playtest. How did you tabulate and incorporate all of it? It sounds like a monumental task.
Mearls: We have a great team of people at Wizards who have tabulated everything, making it much easier for us to zero in on issues (we love our underpaid interns very much.  they will be our next Brand Managers after the Christmas Purge of 2012). We also rely on surveys to collect information, so we can take a look at the raw numbers. There are two ways we’ve looked at feedback so far. Sometimes, specific issues leap to the top of the to-do list because we see less than stellar feedback. In other cases, we use the results to help shape our discussions for revisions. For instance, if we have an idea for a new way to handle magic items we can check on the playtest data and see what players had to say about the current rules, then use that information to help us make our revisions.
Gilsdorf: How much feedback did you get? In the thousands of responses?
Mearls: That’s hard to tabulate (Huh!?!  How is it hard to tabulate the about of feedback you got? You received it.  You tabulated it.  That means you must have counted it. By saying you don't know, it's almost like saying you never looked). We kept our closed playtest small, with a little over a thousand people participating. They were given survey questions but also submitted written feedback. The real test will come when we begin to receive feedback from the public playtest.
Gilsdorf: My understanding is the next phase is the public open playtest. So really anyone will be able to play?
Mearls: That’s right, though as in the case of any public beta there is a play test agreement you have to agree to.  (I really want to know what the agreement says.  Can someone criticize the game if you sign the agreement?  can you discuss the rules?)
Gilsdorf: How is this handled? Do folks download materials from the D&D site?
Mearls: The materials will be available online via the D&D web site at www.dndnext.com. All you need to do is create an account on the site – if you already have one you can skip that step – and agree to the playtest terms. Once you do that, you can download the files and start playing.
Gilsdorf: How will you solicit feedback and what form will it take — surveys? Open comments on forums?
Mearls: We’re are focusing on surveys as the primary method but also hosting Live Chats, continuing playtests at key events, panels, and also paying close attention to the conversations that are coming out of our weekly articles. Surveys make it as easy as possible for people to contribute. A survey also lets us focus in on the key issues we want to examine, though of course people will have a chance to write out their thoughts and impressions. We want to give players as many outlets as we can to give us feedback.  (where is the talk of forums? blog posts?  open discussions?)
Gilsdorf: There’s been a lot of talk about the the departure of Monte Cook from the team working on this project. I’m sure you’re restricted on what you can say, but I wonder if you care to comment or respond to some of the internet chatter about what this might mean for where D&D Next is headed. What did Monte bring to the team and has he been replaced?
Mearls: Nothing has changed in terms of big picture ideas (because we've been shooting Monte's ideas down for months). The core concept behind the game was in place about a year ago, so our direction remains the same. Monte has a good sense for what makes for a fun RPG, and his big role was providing his experience on third edition (but we've decided to build the new game off of the Fourth Edition, so Monte's skills and knowledge weren't needed anymore - so said our previous play testers, who just happened to be overwhelmingly 4e players, as they are the ones with the DDI accounts that the Beta Pool was chosen from). We’ve also been relying on other team members to provide the same kind of expertise in all editions so that we can put together the kind of game that all D&D players will enjoy and appreciate. (I don't see many Grognards on their payroll)
Gilsdorf: Can you tease some of the major changes for D&D Next? (e.g. Is combat super complex with feats and super powers, or is the system more streamlined? Class? Races? Spells?)
Mearls: Here’s something people might like — we’ve created a new mechanic for rogues called schemes. Schemes tell you what sort of rogue you’re playing. You might want to be a thief, the classicD&D rogue who can sneak, steal treasure, and disarm traps. Or, you might want to play a charlatan who excels at deceit and, through trial, error, and practice, learns how to use scrolls, wands, and other magic items. (wasn't this backgrounds or themes or something else before?)
Gilsdorf: Biggest challenge thus far?
Mearls: The biggest hurdle has been trying to make sure that we can encourage more creativity, immersion, and flexibility in DMs and players. We want to have a solid set of rules, but at the same time I think D&D is at its best when the game is about the DM’s rulings rather than the actual rules. (now this is just fucking bizarre.  mike is mr. 4e.  4e is all about rules.  i'm sure there is a chart in a 4e rulebook for the time a PC needs each day to defecate and the effect of fiber on those numbers.  now he want to back track?  why?  maybe because you are having problems nailing down the rules?  don't look at my, I'm a fan of DM improvisation, but I'm not in favor of lazy rules writing) The rules are a tool that a DM uses to keep the game moving and inform decisions. The rules don’t make decisions for the DM, unless that’s how the DM wants the game to work. (but the players need to have a baseline of expectations.  that is what rules are for.  without rules, we are back to playing Cowboys & Indians and Cop & Robbers, with the same damn arguments we had when we were six)
Gilsdorf: Any other cool surprises in the new rules you can share now?
Mearls: I mentioned the rogue schemes earlier, but here’s another tidbit. Character backgrounds dictate the skills you receive, rather than your character class. Right now in the rules you could play a fighter who is also a thief, a wizard who is also an explorer, or any other combination you want. (but wasn't one of the rogue kits or whatever the fuck they were call giving thieving skills too?  I'm really confused)
Gilsdorf: When I contacted you last fall, you and your colleagues at Wizards spoke about how the major goal for this rules revamp was big picture, brand and relevance stuff — how to unite all the warring tribes; end the editions wars (The One Game to Rule Them All, and in the Darkness Bind Them); get older, lapsed players to play again; and get younger generations excited about D&D. The changes you’re talking about here seem a little smaller-scale. Can you point to some bigger-picture ways you are addressing these issues?
Mearls: The really big questions are, in some ways, still up in the air. Right now, we’re sort of heads down (in the sand), focusing on small details for the playtest. We have some fairly big ideas we’re working on in terms of RPGs as a whole, but that stuff is still fairly far off on the horizon. Right now, we really are down in the weeds in terms of details, and you’re right that the stuff we’re talking about right now is fairly small in terms of the big picture. However, that big picture still isn’t in focus. I think a mistake we made in the past was to try to make these big, grandiose statements, but in doing that we lost track of the core elements of what people enjoy about RPGs. We also ended up touting things that we couldn’t actually execute on, and no one wants that to happen again (Holy... Fucking... Shit...  With sugar on top.  "We should never have announced a system that was going to be all editions to all players, all of the time, because it just can't be fucking done".  Want to know why Monte left?  I suspect you just read the reason.  They built up these huge ass expectations.  They promised us a Playboy Centerfold and found out all they can give us is Selma from the Simpsons). With all that said, we’re definitely thinking big picture. That work is taking place, but it’s not ready for prime time.  (Notice he's said "Big Picture".  Mike wouldn't even answer the fucking question directly, and it was a pretty direct question.  That being said, he has a future in politics.  Sad.)
Gilsdorf: How are you holding up, personally? Leading this rules revision for D&D Next must be exhausting and stressful. Lots of folks wanting this to go right. I can only imagine.
Mearls: It’s definitely stressful, but it helps to have a great team of designers and editors. Plus, my wife and our menagerie of pets – two dogs and three cats – help to keep me grounded (nope, he's not getting much sleep). The best thing, though, is actually playing the game. It feels good to play through a new iteration and have a good time, or spot issues that we know we can fix. In some ways, there’s some security in having a public test. If people hate it, we are listening and make changes along the way. The biggest thing I have comes down to my attitude toward whatever my current project might be. I’m sort of like a parent who pushes a kid way too hard and expects straight As every term. I just want the game to be absolutely awesome!  (as do we all.  being that the child was introduced to the world as an infant genius, and now we'll be lucky if it doesn't get left back, expectations are suffering)
Gilsdorf: Anything else you’d like to add?
Mearls: We’re really looking forward to having people try out the playtest materials and give us their feedback. People have asked why they should care about this version of D&D when there are other versions out there. This is your chance to play a role in the development of the rules. If there has ever been anything about D&D that bugged you or some new thing you wanted in the game, now is the time to be heard!  (But will you hear us if it isn't on your site, your forms, your email?)

Phew - four pints followed by a mixed six-pack of Sam Adams Seasonal.  I think the Grump is going to be sick.  Still, I survived this PR nightmare that Mike gave us.
Tenkar's Tavern is supported by various affiliate programs, including Amazon, RPGNow,
and Humble Bundle as well as Patreon. Your patronage is appreciated and helps keep the
lights on and the taps flowing. Your Humble Bartender, Tenkar

Blogs of Inspiration & Erudition