Thursday, May 29, 2014

Unification Through Diversity

Can you imagine a two year delivery?

The creation of fifth edition was like childbirth.  I imagined those frustrating early stages, glimmers of hope and dread, small victories but miles and miles to go before anyone gets to sleep.  The screams, crying, shouting, pain, blood... everything.  Where in the fuck is my wife's epidural?  I wanted to be a part of it, to be there from beginning to end.  I wanted to know, and yet I didn't want to put myself through all that.  Not for two or more years.

So, that's why I only started paying attention these last couple months, finally allowing myself to get excited about what was just three pushes away from arrival.  Dungeons & Dragons s is coming!

Just to recap, this has been the OSR consensus regarding fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, based on the feedback from my last couple blog posts...

  • The OSR had an enormous impact on 5e.  This makes sense because there probably wouldn't have been an OSR (as we know it today) without the missteps of 4th edition.
  • The OSR isn't going anywhere.  It still has meaning and value.  It's a type of gaming, a style, an aesthetic... a feel.  It's many things to many different people.  A new version of D&D isn't going to eradicate it, but 5e will undoubtedly have an influence.
  • Since 5e is pretty darn old school (at the very least, OSR compatible) the majority of OSR gamers plan on trying 5e at some point (especially since the basic version will be available for free online) and from there will decide on one of the following:  1) incorporating bits and pieces from 5e into their established RPGs (like S&W, DCC, LotFP, AS&SH, etc.).  2) adoption: switching over to the point where their primary RPG of choice is 5e (while possibly incorporating bits and pieces from the aforementioned OSR games).  3) decide against continuing with 5e in any form. 

My personal belief is that roughly half the gamers who try 5e will fall into one of the first two camps.

For those who ask, "Why would I want, let alone need, another edition of D&D if I'm happy with what I already have?  Isn't 5e supposed to be like AD&D 2nd edition minus Thac0, plus feats?"  Good question(s).  If you haven't been keeping on Next news, it's easy to be swayed to one side or the other based on rumors and hearsay.  

I've been reading Mike Mearls' articles on the game design process for Next / 5e.  This new version of the game will be radically different than what we've known while still feeling like home. Sure, it incorporates a lot of things that we love about all the previous editions (yes, including a few bits from 4th) while ditching odds and ends that hold the game back.  And 5e does a great job of that.  However, it brings a lot of fresh, innovative choices to the table (choices, options, and support for DM cherry picking are huge in 5e).  Things that D&D fans have never seen outside of home-rules and Dragon magazine!

Here's a brief rundown of what I've found...
  • Magic item attunement.  Appendix N readers may recall some of their favorite fantasy characters possessing magic items which are somehow tied to them.  That's in 5e.
  • Backgrounds.  Character history, including contacts, ties to places and NPCs, ideals, and flaws was an important part of the 80's 90's gaming sessions I was involved with... but a small part, unfortunately.  From a rules-standpoint, backgrounds were definitely in the background (no pun intended).  Writing out a personal history on the backside of a character sheet isn't the same as having options hardwired into the core rules.
  • Armies battling.  D&D has its roots in miniature wargaming.  Admittedly, I don't know too much about how D&D handled large forces fighting each other on the battle field in the last couple of decades but its being addressed now.
  • A smarter, more intuitive option for leveling the party.
  • Rolling 2d20 and taking the lower of the two when at a clear disadvantage and the higher when at a clear advantage.  This replaces all the +1 bonus for this, -2 penalty for that, and +3 bonus for the other thing.
  • Concentration for magic-users (it's cool, but I'm not going to explain it here).  And an option for using spell points instead of the traditional Vancian magic!
  • Apprentice feel for 1st and 2nd level characters for either campaign introduction or system noobs, as well as, rules for starting established characters and veteran players at 3rd.
  • Inspiration:  in-game bonuses for good roleplaying!

There will be more, of course, when 5e is released.  This is just a taste based on Mearls' Legends and Lore column.  A fascinating read!  I'm still waiting on a friends' last playtest material for more info on how 5e will look and feel.

Am I excited for D&D?  Oh, Hellzzz to the yeah!  It means I can easily run or play in an old school kind of D&D session which can handle a Tiefling alienist sorcerer or a Warforged warlock/fighter who loves tactical combat while accommodating a Halfling thief who performs shadowy murders for the city's high priest of K'tulu because of his sordid past. Or keep things as fundamental as possible by allowing only wizard, rogue, fighter, and cleric.  All this without having to remember what true roleplaying is about from a prior edition or slavishly adhere to a thousand fiddly rules that are supposed to counterbalance each other into infinity.

Those who don't share my eager anticipated are free, as always, to hate (or simply ignore what's coming).  It's cool.  Alternatively, those who want to bathe in the afterbirth may do so as well.  Either way, I'm interested in reading whatever it is you want to say.  Speak!


Tuesday, May 27, 2014

D&D Free-For-All

Well, it looks like a lot of the haters will being hating 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons alone in their parent's basement.

The big secret is finally out!  There will be a freely (as in FREE!!!) available slimmed-down "Basic D&D" online which takes all the core classes (wizard, fighter, cleric, rogue, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling) from 1st level to 20th.  Yep, it'll be a PDF so anyone can try the entry-level version before buying the "Advanced" books coming out later in the year, such as the Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, and Monster Manual.

So, what does this mean?  Well, free tears down many barriers.  Plus, it's an even stronger emulation of original D&D which is exactly what most OSR gamers are looking for. The Starter Set should help DMs use the Basic material rather than being the Basic material.

What does this mean for the game licence?  Will anyone be able to create a fully compatible 5e adventure, campaign setting, or optional rulebook?

Here's the announcement:

Questions, comments, criticisms, love letters, or hate mail?


Sunday, May 25, 2014

What's Next for the OSR?

Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition is coming...

As most of us know (or have been told) this iteration of the world's first, most popular, and possibly greatest fantasy roleplaying game is supposed to cater towards grognards, noobs, and everyone in between who favors streamlined, innovative, and nostalgic D&D as opposed to the math-heavy, rule-bloated, video game aspects of 3rd and 4th editions.  This will undoubtedly be a new beginning for paper & pencil tabletop roleplaying in general, but what about the nostalgia niche?

If the rumors and playtest packets are true, D&D will be more like the 70's and 80's but with a few key enhancements from the last three decades.  I wonder what this means for the old school renaissance.  Will is bolster RPGs like Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and Dungeon Crawl Classics?  Could it replace or bypass them to some degree?  How about OSR modules, maps, gaming aids, and campaign books?  Boon or bust?

Show of hands, how many OSR devotees are willing to jump ship if 5e turns out to be all we hope?  If 5e gobbles up the majority of old school market share, then what's to become of it?  Will those who obstinately continue to play original Red Box D&D, AD&D, or 2nd edition be viewed again as throwbacks who refuse to evolve?  Will the OSRIC or Castles & Crusades (shudder) holdouts become even more ghettoized, misanthropes who simply refuse to join the party because D&D is awesome and popular again?

Personally, I won't make up my mind about 5e until I read it and either run or play it (at least twice).  However, if it's what I think it'll be, then many of my core books and boxes will go to the back of the gaming closet.  Even though I naturally eschew that which is fashionable, I'd rather join the party than lurk in the shadows - especially when those shadows are a pale reflection of what they used to be.

Have an opinion or something to say?  I want to hear about it!  So, post... get it off your chest.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Purple Progress Report

For those who don't know, I've been working on a new OSR campaign setting and hex-crawl book with optional rules since December 2013.  It wasn't supposed to be as lengthy as it's turned out to be.  The more I wanted to include, the longer the book became, and with that, the greater my challenge.

Right now, Ed Wedig and I are about halfway through the layout phase of the book.  It's a process of trial and error, getting things just right, making sure illustrations are correctly placed, realizing our mistakes or miscommunication and then going back to fix whatever needs fixing.

The rest of May will be a race to the finish line.  Yet, I won't sacrifice quality.  Worse case scenario (other than my untimely death or something) is we'll be a couple weeks late.  However, at this stage I'm still confident that the kickstarter deadlines will be met.  Thankfully, I built-in a month of cushion time just in case.  Purple would be in your hands by now (or at least on your computers) if it was only 32 pages long.  Hard to say exactly what the page count will come in at once it's all finished, but I think 111, ballpark.

Anyways, the color version of the map is finished.  Alyssa Faden did an excellent job!  So, here are a few zoomed-in snapshots around the purple islands to tide everyone over until the next update.

If you have a question about The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, feel free to ask.

One last thing... your support and enthusiasm are very much appreciated.  No one should have to suffer through a six month slog without the awesome encouragement I've received from all quarters of the paper & pencil RPG community.  Thanks, everyone!


p.s.  You can read the teaser flash fiction here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Will 6th Edition Have Open Art-Testing?

Hmmm... I've been reading a number of fantasy RPG blogs (most of them OSR, probably) about the D&D Next covers.  One guy said they were badly cropped.  I don't disagree.  Another chap liked them overall but couldn't, in all honesty, say that he loved them.  Can't blame him.  And some dude did THIS!

Art is a subjective thing.  We won't all nod our heads in unison that one piece of artwork is superior to another.  Nevertheless, I think many of us can weigh in on what we like and why, as well as, what we loathe and who should be held responsible and smacked in the head with rotten tomatoes.

What I really want to know is this - did anyone even bother approaching Erol Otus?!?

I'm sure the gaming ghetto of the internet is buzzing with comments about the subject.  So, that begs the question... if the rules were aired out and mulled over for a couple years before being published this summer, why not the artwork?  After all, isn't that part of the D&D experience?  Don't we care about what's on the outside almost as much as what's within?  Sure, a cover is just the surface of a book, the tip of the iceberg... however, the tip is so very, very important.  Why leave it up to a handful of professionals?

Additionally, the same aesthetic standards of indie RPG companies and publishers do not apply to Hasbro / Wizard of the Coast.  We don't expect our product to make millions of dollars.  We won't reach an audience of hundreds of thousands.  The future of the RPG industry is not in our tiny hands.

That brings me to another question - should game design be democratic?  Each decision based upon a popularity contest?  Is that effective or even healthy?

Personally, I think the 5th edition covers are fairly decent.  Unfortunately, "fairly decent" doesn't really cut it, does it?  I care about roleplaying in general, Dungeons & Dragons in specific.  Even if I don't plan on playing Next, I have skin in the game.  This is my hobby, my passion, my life.  I'm not going to climb a clock tower with a rifle because there aren't enough tentacles or I dislike fire engine red.  But let's face it, it matters to me just as the next generation of roleplaying matters to me.

I didn't paste the new covers in this blog post because chances are you've already seen them dozens of times and that was probably plenty, unfortunately.  So, enjoy some truly amazing RPG artwork: the basic D&D "magenta box" by Erol Otus.  In my mind, the greatest RPG cover art ever!  It has all the basics - a dragon in a dungeon being attacked by more than one adventurer - magic and martial prowess working together in hopes of acquiring a treasure chest of precious gemstones!  Yes, it's a bit dated.  The dragon doesn't inspire the level of fear I'm sure the DM would like, yet, whole captures an otherworldly tone sorely lacking in most RPG art.  Second place - the AD&D Player's Handbook by David A. Trampier!

If you have any thoughts on D&D Next - good, bad, ugly, awesome, weird, not weird enough, etc., please feel free to speak your mind.  I shall not denigrate you in public.  Just in my fevered imagination.  ;)


Monday, May 19, 2014

Stealing from Doctor Who (Keys of Marinus)

There's free time (sweet, sweet free time) and there's work... or just stuff that one has to do.  In the middle, there are grey areas where one has a certain amount of freedom.  My limited liberty appears in the form of early morning TV/movies/DVD watching.

Our 18 month old gets up about an hour and a half earlier than anyone else in the family.  Since my wife gets up in the middle of the night to breastfeed, I pick up the slack at the day's start.  There's a lot I can't do when she's running around the living room - computer and reading are out (she's a grabber), but having an old-timey scifi show on in the background is doable.

Anyways, I was watching The Keys of Marinus this morning, and discovered there were several aspects which could be awesome in a science-fantasy RPG.  The story itself is spread over 6 (nearly) half-hour episodes.  For those who grew up in the 21st century, watching it from beginning to end might be tedious.  It's a little slow even for me.  It's also in black and white.

Without further ado, let me mention some cool stuff...

Eye-stalk brains in large glass domes!  It's creepy, weird, mysterious, and gamers have seen it enough times to visualize it easily.  Even though these things don't show up until a bit later, the picture is in color!  That's why it's showcased at the top of the post.

Grotesque demon statue/idol with humanoid hands!  Why isn't this in my living room?  Oh yeah, I'm married.  :(  Now, you don't have to emphasize the fleshy arms that jut out of this sinister horror's sleeves.  Just seeing this thing should make half the party crap their imaginary pants.  In the Who episode, the statue grabbed people and then swiveled with a blank wall on the opposite side.  So, GMs could use that feature if they were so inclined.

The 12-sided, glass, high-tech instrument which sets everything in motion.  Cool idea - it's supposed to morally judge everyone and everything and guide the planet's population into making the right choices.  Unfortunately, it could also fall into the wrong hands which could turn the whole world into the kind of hell where Sam Neill's eyes are sewn shut, his head's shaved, and his blood-drenched visage simply laughs into the darkness.

The keys themselves are micro-circuits.  They look cool and it's something the adventurers can collect in order to save the day or control everyone's mind, depending on alignment.

There's a sea of acid, beach of glass, and ominous looking temple in the distance.  Who wouldn't want to check that out?  Want to navigate those acidic waters?  Pictured are some one-man submersibles.  Just to be on the safe side... WEAR A WET-SUIT WITHOUT ANY HOLES!!!

Last but definitely not least, there's an ice cave containing a block of ice surrounded by frozen knights.  Within the block is one of the keys, although pretty much anything could be substituted - a magical ring, perhaps?  When the ice is melted (the episode used a volcanic spring faucet), the knights come alive and start attacking everyone in sight.

Visual aids help both players and GMs.  Hopefully, this blog post whets your appetite.  I'll be posting more stolen Doctor Who elements in the months to come.  If you find any of this useful, let me know.  If you actually use some of this in a game, let me know.  If you want me to feature a specific story (must be vintage Who!), let me know.  Basically, I'm looking for some motherloving feedback, y'all!  ;)


Monday, May 12, 2014

Liger Zoids!

Where did it come from?  How does this thing even exist?  Who the fuck cares?

Yes, this is the perfect monster for your next dungeon or hex crawl.  Unexpected, formidable, and the perfect balance between totally cool and ridiculously stupid.  In a word... awesome!

Liger Zoids

Hit Dice:  15
Hit Points:  87
Armor Class:  20 [-1]
# of Attacks:  5
Attack Bonus:  +10
Damage:  2d6 x 2 (claws), 3d8 (bite), 4d6 x 2 (plasmatic-photon phasers)

Special:  It's a gigantic (unless you don't want it to be, GMs) mechanical tiger/lion hybrid programmed to mess shit up!  Being a machine, it's immune to all the things that a mechanical liger should.

Treasure:  Think of something badass and them multiply that by seven!

If you use it, let me know!


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Wizards Mutants Lazer Pistols

WMLP is a zine and blog worth checking out.  It melds old school, sci-fantasy, gonzo, and silly/weird/juvenile drawings.  I contributed a little something in a previous issue, and now my work is included in this, the 6th issue.

A few months ago, when I had Encounter Critical on the brain, I came up with an amusing table for what PCs were doing before adventuring.  Well, WMLP paired that with another EC table by Ronaldo Macnamara for on-the-fly creation of places full of people doing stuff.

However, the best part is Alexey's own ever-expanding dungeon.  Each issue goes further down into the mega-dungeon.  I've run a few levels myself... definitely worth it.

So, if you're looking for some home-brewed, out-of-the-box OSR stuff, check out WMLP.