June 27, 2014

5E Friday

The OGL. I have been saying for some time that the newest version of D&D requires a robust OGL, one very similar to the one that came with 3E. Having such an OGL will put 5E at the forefront of the rpg industry; major companies and well-known designers will get on board, promoting 5E because they are promoting themselves at the same time.

-No news on an OGL until next year.  Was it done to make WotC the only place to get 5E material for at least a few months? Was this done because they still haven't made a decision and want to see how 5E is going to sell before they make an OGL? Why wouldn't they release the information on the OGL now if they have their plans in place already with the stipualtion that the OGL does not go into affect until next year?

-I suspect the OGL will be weak. In their un-announcement on the OGL they kept mentioning maintaining quality. Sounds to me like they will be cutting the small companies and individual designers out of the OGL. Sounds like they do not want a repeat of the wild days of the 3E OGL when good and bad was released for D&D. However, putting the OGL out of reach of everyone will drive people away, killing interest in 5E.

-WotC has actually done a good job so far repairing faith in D&D and themselves as a company (free Basic D&D!) but a weak OGL could kill any momentum they have built as designers go back to making their own systems/games instead of supporting 5E...or choosing to support Pathfinder again.

June 24, 2014

Licenses I Wish Were RPGs

I love a good rpg license. I love the fact Doctor Who, Star Trek, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Marvel, DC, Firefly, Farscape, Babylon 5, Stargate, A Game of Thrones, James Bond, Indiana Jones have all been turned into rpgs. However, there are a number of potential licenses that have not been made into any sort of official rpg. Some may be obscure subjects – not part of the current popular geek culture - but some boggle my mind as to why they have not been made into a game yet. Here are some licenses I wish were rpgs.

Blake’s 7
This was a British sci-fi TV series that ran for 4 seasons from 1978 to 1981. It featured a band of criminals fighting against an oppressive intergalactic regime. The characters included a maligned freedom fighter, petty thief, space pirate, computer hacker, mercenary and killer. Despite their predilections for breaking the law, their missions often found them working against the government for the sake of freedoms…or money. They are bad people fighting badder people. The series featured moral ambiguity and a grim world view.

The possibilities of an rpg within this setting are almost limitless. Players get to play characters with that hard edge. They get to make moral decisions with no clear right or wrong. They get to fight with the odds stacked against them. The series featured interesting NPCs and high-tech devices such as ship to planet teleporters, computers with incredible AI and capabilities, and other science fiction gear that can make for interesting rpg additions. It is a setting with great depth and possibilities.

Star Blazers
Star Blazers is an Americanized version of an animated TV series of a Japanese anime that ran for 3 seasons in 1974, 1978 and 1980. It is not to be confused with the Starblazer comic book series from the UK (though by coincidence that has already been made into an rpg by Cubicle 7). The story herein details the death throes of Earth after it is attacked and irradiated by alien conquerors. Humanity moves underground but will soon perish from the radiation. Another alien offers to provide technology that will cleanse the Earth, but it is light years away. Humanity builds a spaceship capable of moving great distances (with the help of alien technology) and an epic space travel begins. The ship, the Yamato/Argo, makes its way across the stars dealing with various dangers and interesting encounters all the while being hunted by the evil aliens who want to stop them.

There is a lot to with here for an rpg. At its base is the proto-typical trope of a long quest journey; there is a reason why the ship’s name is Argo (Jason and the Argonauts). The episodes featured the ship and crew dealing with various new races, space encounters and traps set by the aliens on their journey; this sort of episodic approach would work well with the rpg format of adventure/module design. The series also had a good mix of aliens and new technology for players to interact and discover. The best part is that the setting provides a singular goal (recover the cure for Earth) while allowing for divergent adventures along the way (everything the characters meet while journeying).

This is the first of the “why isn’t this an rpg already?” licenses. Narnia was one of the best known fantasy novels as the concept of fantasy novels began to take a hold on the public consciousness. It had a profound affect on me, perhaps even moreso than Lord of the Rings. Narnia has it all. Monsters based on the “typical” fantasy mythologies, including some that break that mold. Epic adventures and battles. Heroic characters. A detailed world. Magic, curses and magic items. And yet there is still no rpg for it and not one on the horizon either.

I’ve done some research to see what is out there (in case there was a homebrew) but there is nothing but a few comments bemoaning the fact there is no Narnia rpg. The biggest complaint, or rational, for there being no Narnia yet is that would-be designers are stymied by the world design. While geographically it is fairly well known, it is the feel of the world that loses designers. Faith, hope, truth, honesty are all key components of the world and these are hard to quantity with mechanics. Narnia is more than just battles and dungeon exploration. It operates at a level that designers seem stymied by. However, these days have seen a forward push in game design that often can include intangibles into a rule system.
However, now the problem may be that Narnia has lost its cultural impact and become eclipsed by Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. Maybe not enough people see a need for a Narnia rpg anymore.

The movie from 1986 is a cult favorite, especially among the crowd of people that are drawn to rpg games. The spin-off TV series from 1992-1998 was also very popular. It is a world wherein Immortals live through the ages and fight each other for the ultimate prize. The series featured weekly engagements with other Immortals or with an unsuspecting world. There is ready-made conflict of the most brutal kind. The world imagery captured the imagination of many people as they saw themselves as one of these Immortals.

History, sword battles, and the modern world, a wonderful fusion that most rpg gamers like. The tv series featured flashbacks that were relevant to the ongoing story/plot. This convention could easily work in an rpg allowing for history to meld with the modern day. There were even a few episodes that introduced some low level touches of the mystical. Highlander is rife for an rpg with its inherent conflicts between the various Immortals; adventure is baked into the setting.

Now to be fair there was one unlicensed rpg that while they never openly called themselves Highlander the RPG was as close as a game could get without getting a lawsuit. Legacy: War of Ages attempted to be the Highlander RPG. However, it never caught on. There is also a “hack” for running Highlander with the World of Darkness system. However, to date, there has never been a true Highlander RPG and as the years continue the likelihood diminishes.

Any license you wish would be made into an rpg?

June 20, 2014

5E Friday

Looking at the release of the new version of D&D still (the miniatures this time)...

-The miniatures were mostly overlooked even though they were part of the official release packet. All I can say is "ouch". $5 per figure with a minimum buy of 4. Even on the secondary market these will never be cheap. I certainly hope WotC didn't price this out of everyone's price range.

-Blind boosters? Why? I can see if there was some sort of collectable game with this, but there isn't. The only function these minis will serve is to enhance the rpg. Why make them a blind buy other than as a money grab. When I use minis at the table I want specific ones. This blind buy method means I will have to buy many, many booster packs to get the right ones for my table. Is it worth it? I doubt it. They are killing my incentive to buy any at all. And as noted above, I won't be able to buy specific minis on the secondary market for a reasonable price either. If I have an encounter with 10 skeletons, I'm looking at $50...for 1 encounter.

-Maybe they are expecting the minis to not sell and are charging so much anticipating low sales. Low volume, high price. Or maybe I am completely out of touch with the current mini pricing methodology.

-The lack of discussion on the minis may be an indication that no else is interested in them.

-I am glad I have enough minis already. I suspect I will take a pass on these (though I may get the Starter minis if they aren't too Forgotten Realms-centric).

June 18, 2014

Marketplace - Shameless Plug

I released my first self-published pdf, Marketplace (kind of exciting!). It is a system-neutral product that provides 26 unique shops for any fantasy town/city setting. The goal was to provide shops that could either be catalysts for a night's adventure or as background flavor as the PCs wander through a town. A secondary, and perhaps more important, goal was to put a twist on the shops, to make them memorable and interesting. If you are curious you can see/get it here.

June 13, 2014

5E Friday

First a generalized look at the response to 5E and then a few questions on Morningstar (the digital tool kit for 5E).

There seem to be two types of responses to the announcements of the next version of D&D...
-Those who dislike WotC (or dislike any version of D&D other than the one they were brought up on) and are looking for any reason to bash it.
"Let's see what we can find wrong with it."
-Those who are curious about the newest D&D and are waiting to see what it brings.
"Let's see what these new rules are all about."

-Will it be able to handle new rule sets? When WotC releases the "4E rule set" or rather, rules to simulate 4E in 5E, will the software allow for character generation using it. Same for such things from 3E as Feats. They did mention that as new material is released for D&D they will update the software. I hope this means integration of alternate rules.
It's one thing to say that character sheets are customizable and another to allow for character advancement with the software.

-One of the biggest problems with the 4E digital tools was the inability to integrate 3rd party products. Near the end of 4E and its digital initiative I would say that inability was the biggest reason why players stopped using it. Also, that lack of digital support drove many 3pp to move away from 4E. I suspect if Morningstar doesn't allow for 3pp it will die quickly.

-Morningstar? Why did they name it after a 3E world setting? I know its only the "codename" of the digital tools but at this point everyone knows it as Morningstar and calling it something else later will only be confusing.
Bad choice of name.

-The 4E digital tools included Dragon/Dungeon articles as part of a package deal. Is Morningstar its own thing and then WotC will put out another digital package of new content similar to Dragon magazine? Do we need to subscribe to multiple digital products now?

-I'll be waiting on this one. I certainly doubt I will get it until I actually start running a 5E game...and even then I will need some more convincing it will be of true use.

June 10, 2014

Story vs Mechanics

I know this is actually an old problem but the fact that it still rears its head is annoying. RPGs have long been plagued with the disconnect between story/narrative and game mechanics. The old example of this is a character jumping off a 100' high cliff because the player did the calculations and determined the character could survive the fall. Narratively a person can not survive such a fall, nor would any sane person make such a jump...but the mechanics of the game allowed for it and thus the player (using game mechanics knowledge) had the character commit the act.

In last night's Shadowrun game I ran into the same situation. I had set up a meet between the PCs and their adversary. It was meant to be a high tension role-playing scene where the adversary tells them to back out of their current job and the PCs get to get all bravado/macho and say 'no'. The adversary had plenty of back up on the scene. At the end, the adversary got frustrated and made to leave the meeting...and a single PC attacked. In game, and following the narrative, this was a highly foolish move. Outnumbered no one would do such a thing in the "real world"...but the player had calculated the odds and figured that the game mechanics would favor his action.

Again a player let game mechanics make a character decision.

Now, I know that players using game mechanics in-character happens all the time. It has been this way since the beginning. In early D&D, encounters were written up without heed of what the capabilities of the characters were. It was assumed the players would make a judgement call ("are we tough enough to handle that troll?") as to whether or not their characters would engage the encounter. In fact, the "smart" players knew when to attack and when to withdraw...but it was all based on knowledge of game mechanics, not on what was actually happening in-game. This disconnect has been ongoing for decades.

Is it even possible to disengage character decision making from player knowledge of game mechanics? If we try to separate the two, campaigns will end quickly - the first time a group runs into something beyond their capabilities, but the narrative indicates they should engage the enemy, it will be a party wipe and the end of that game.

I guess there is a fine line between using game mechanic knowledge and making in-character decisions.
"The troll is too high level for us, lets leave" works for me.
"Let's kill the town guard because they are lower level than us" does not.
I know its a fine line, but I'm not sure it is possible to completely negate game mechanics/narrative decision making as much as I would to.

June 6, 2014

5E Friday

Still mulling the D&D release info on the next version (notice how I didn't call it an edition) of D&D, specifically the announced adventures...

-It seems to me that the two adventure set (Hoard of the Dragon Queen and The Rise of Tiamat) are almost essential to playing this new version of D&D. With the MM (monsters) and DMG (magic items) coming out after the adventures and at least a month after the PH, the only way to understand monsters and magic items is to see them in the adventures. Are the release adventures "core products"...at least until the later MM and DMG release?

-Why ever did WotC go to an outsider for the writing of their release adventures? I know they have some excellent adventure writers of their own; they could have easily have done them in-house. Instead they opted to pay an outsider extra money to write them. I suspect by tapping Kobold Design they are trying to accomplish a couple of things...
Show that they are willing to work with outside companies. Could this be a sign of a robust OGL..or a way to fool us into thinking there will be one? I fear this could end up similar to Numenera's licensing; very stringent and not friendly at all. 
Piggybacking on the good name of Kobold Press. Kobold Press has done a good job of establishing themselves as a neutral game company of high quality. If they are willing to work with WotC on the newest version of D&D, then everyone else should as well...right?

-I like that the adventures are a two-adventure series. Most of the early adopters of the new D&D will finish the adventures shortly after the DMG is released where upon they will start creating their own settings/adventures or buying the ones WotC releases thereafter. The timing is good as it doesn't require a long term commitment to playing the starting adventures. A group can play the two and then decide if they like the newest version of D&D by then.
-In case there was any doubt, WotC is latching onto Forgotten Realms again and making it their flagship setting. The initial release adventures are set firmly in the Forgotten Realms.

June 3, 2014

Your D&D Is Dead!

One of the responses from the announcement of the newest version of D&D was how it is not like "original" or "early" D&D. The cover art is not the same as 1E...the rules are not the same as 2E...it is missing something crucial from 3E...the font is too different...the layout is not right...the X is not the same as edition Y...

Well, I have some news for you, a reality check. No new version of D&D will EVER be the same as the one you started playing with, the one that created so many memories, the one you love. EVER.
No retroclone, no heartbreaker, nothing.

If you want that early version, go find a copy somewhere and go play that! Because that is the only way you will ever be able to play that game again.

Stop trying to make something into what it is not.

Stop trying to make a new game the same as an old game, play one or the other.