Singing Along With The Clash—Now With Super-Hot Burlesque Girls!!

I had a revolution in my thinking when my life came to a screeching halt a couple of years ago. One simple question I asked myself over and over again that, when I realized I had no answer, turned my whole world on its head and made me look at my entire life in a way I never had before. The question was this:

“Why am I doing this?” 

I have since moved on to asking myself that question about every major aspect of my life, and it has brought  a new way of thinking, goal setting, and decision-making in my world that I want to share with you. No, I’m not trying to sell Amway or a Kirby Vacuum to you. I just want you to stop for a moment and ask yourself the same simple question I did. The answer you get– and your reaction TO that answer– might shock you.

I firmly believe that you should know WHY you, as a human being, are embarking on any particular major action. I’m not talking about, “Why am I drinking this cup of coffee at 0900 on a Tuesday?” but I am talking about, “Why am I choosing to sit at a table with 5 people and roll dice once a month when I go home wanting to cry every time?” or “Why am I choosing to play WoW for 15 hours a week?” or “Why am I in this romantic relationship?” And if we go back to the coffee, the question could be, “Why am I putting this into my body?”

What I’m really talking about are GOALS. One of the things I had seared into my soul during my two tours in Iraq was that our time on this planet is finite, and wasting that time–especially when you really don’t know when that time will end— is just plain DUMB. My entire “Why am I doing this?” philosophy comes based off of that platform. If you know that your time is limited, why in the world would you waste that time?

I firmly believe that no matter what you do in life, knowing WHY you are doing it will help you determine if it’s a worthwhile activity to pursue. For a solitary activity like working out in the gym or eating healthy, this requires a couple adjunct questions to gain additional information in order to give yourself an educated answer.

  • What benefit am I getting from this activity? I want to be clear here–“Because I want to have fun!” is a totally acceptable answer to this question. But it’s important to have a concrete answer!
  • What does this activity cost me? This, my friends, is the potentially ugly part of the process. Be as brutally honest with yourself as you can here. If the activity makes you unhappy in some way, take note of it. If you are receiving emotional, financial, or physical damage from an activity, DEFINITELY take note of it.
  • Is the Benefit worth the Cost? Only you can answer that, but if you’re doing something that causes you physical or emotional damage, you might want to talk to someone outside the situation about it to make sure you have a clear-headed perspective. This is also where you can analyze whether decreasing the cost of an action is worth it in time and effort to you. Some things will be worth fighting for in order to change the suck/awesome ratio. For other things, walking away completely may be the best option.

Once you’ve got answers to all these questions, you should have enough data to answer the question, “Why am I doing this?” and make decisions based on that answer.

So that’s a lot of abstract psychobabble, so let’s break this down and give an example. Let’s say, for example, that I want to start up a new RPG game group when I come home to the United States for good. “Why am I doing this?” might seem like an easy question, but let’s break it down.

  • Benefit? FUN, by criminy!! Also, for myself personally, being a GM for a tabletop is an intensely personal and connective experience for me, interacting with the players and their characters is a helluva rush. Telling stories about heroes in an interactive format is something I can honestly and without bragging say that I am VERY good at, and something I have spent a lot of time working on improving my skills at. It would be a shame for that effort to go to waste.
  • Cost? Time, money, personal energy, and other activities. Being a good GM takes a lot of time–not as much as it did in 3.X, praise be to the gaming gods, but it does take an investment of time. Also the props, books, and materials  involved do require an investment of cash. As for personal energy, when I am running a game I put just about everything I’ve t into making that game as awesome as I can. What that means in practical terms is that when I finish running a 3-4 hour game session, I am physically, mentally and emotionally WIPED and must rest and recover before doing it again. By “Other Activities” I mean that there are things I could be doing instead of prepping for game and gaming that I might like to do but I choose to game instead.
  • Cost/Benefit Analysis? GAMING WINS (obviously). I–and my family– know the costs to my time and energy involved in gaming, and we consider those to be worth it for the amount of fun produced. However, going through this little exercise lets me know exactly where the issues for me might come up, if one of the elements changes in intensity. And here’s where we get to the decision-making process.

Making Active Choices

This is actually a writing/theatre term, meaning that you as the director/actor/writer need to be aware of the “why” of an action before you do it, or write someone into doing it. It’s just as applicable, if not moreso, to our real-world lives. If you go through your life wandering around just RE-acting to things, instead of making active choices and knowing WHY you are doing something, you’ll end up frustrated at life, bored with your existence, and have no idea how to get out of that predicament.

If you’re about to start something new, ask yourself why you’re contemplating that new course. Let’s say you go to an amusement park you’ve never been to before with friends (or go to a LARP, or a tabletop game, or a movie…). You are going there with a purpose– to have fun in a way you can’t outside the park. That’s your goal– and it’s an awesome one. Don’t let anybody tell you that having fun isn’t a worthwhile goal. they’re wrong, and you can probably look at their life and see that they have little to no fun themselves. DON’T LISTEN TO THEM!! All I’m saying is that you should KNOW that having fun is your goal. It helps put things in perspective.

 

So you pay to enter the park, pay for food, and sweat your ass of in the middle of July (COST)… and the park sucks. Half the rides are broken, the lines are an hour and a half long, the food is overpriced and gives you a stomachache, etc. At this point (or well before this point, frankly), you have an active choice to make– is the fun I am (not) having worth the cost? Sure you may have had a great day in mind and it blows that the day in your head isn’t happening, but is that worth the additional un-fun of staying at the park and having even LESS fun? And is there anything you can do to change the fun-to-suck ratio?

At an amusement park, your options are slim: leave or stay. Chances are if you’re in the above scenario, you’ll end up having a more enjoyable time if you bail and go somewhere you KNOW fun is to be found. If you’re at a LARP or a tabletop game, however, the options become much wider- you can choose to get involved, help the folks running the game,talk to them in a POLITE AND CIVILIZED MANNER about your qualms and talk to them about solutions. (please note that internet flaming is nowhere listed in the compilation of acceptable tools for conflict resolution. Don’t Be A Dick.) Regardless, you have a choice to make– Should I Stay or Should I Go?  In this scenario, you have asked yourself all the above questions, and you now have data to make an Active Choice from.

 

The super-hot burlesque girl in this picture is explained below. Also, you're welcome.

Communication and Goals

This section applies the upper commentary but I’m putting it in context of relationships because, let’s face it, a LARP or a tabletop game is a kind of relationship. You’re spending a lot of time and energy with someone or a group of someones and expending a lot of time and energy with them. Whether you like it or not, there is some kind of emotional investment there, even in a less-personal game like D&D Encounters or convention games.

I’m in a relationship now with the most amazing, stunning, and clever woman I’ve ever known. It’s freaking awesome in ways I can’t talk about without changing the ESRB of my blog, even when I’m in Afghanistan and she’s stateside. I think that one of the primary reasons our relationship is so solid is that we talk to each other about everything. Admittedly, from 7,00 miles away, talking is about ALL we can do, but that communication is what has built such a solid base for us to go from. We have talked about our goals, both short term and long term. We know what we want out of the relationship and we talked about how we see ourselves, both individually and as a couple, in 5 and ten year increments. We’ve set a lot of goals and we’ve talked about how we’re going to achieve them. We have a working, living, changing relationship, and it all is based out of constant, honest communication. Now that I’m done bragging, let me say this: your game is a relationship between you and the other players and the GM. If you neglect that relational aspect of the game, it will eventually crumble like bad romantic relationships. 

I think that interpersonal maintenance requires two things: communication and goals. Without communication, you have no means of dealing openly with the other players at your table. Without community-agreed-upon goals, you have nothing to judge your successes or failures by, and no concrete means of determining how to fix problems that might arise.

 

Communication

I’m no communications major, but a simple fact of communication is that it’s SCARY. Opening your mouth and letting other people know what’s really, genuinely in there can be a terrifying experience for some folk. Because of this, and especially if your community isn’t used to this kind of open talk, start slow. I would recommend face-to-face at a coffee shop or at someone’s house with a couple frosty adult beverages. Electronic media is too prone to mis-interpretation for this stage. Also, make this conversation the ONLY thing on the agenda. Don’t put something else besides dinner on the schedule, or the quieter folk will be inclined to go along until the next event to avoid conflict. Then, start asking the questions above. Ask them from an individual perspective, and have everybody talk about their own personal reasons. Then, collectively as a group, talk about what you want to get out of the activities your group participates in. For a romantic relationship, this list could be lengthy. For a tabletop group, it could be a bullet-point list of what everybody can agree on in regards to table rules, campaign tone, maybe even experience progression or what kind of subjects the GM shouldn’t touch for plotlines. It’s up to you, and I guarantee that once you talk about WHY you’re doing something, the “what I want from this” factor follows naturally. A couple beers can help to get things started, though.

Goals

In a romantic relationship, the “community” consists of you and your partner. In a tabletop you’re looking at the entire table, but in a LARP or a club situation you might be talking about the Officers, Staff, or Plot… whatever. The decision-making, driving factors are hat we’re talking about here– and not just in name. If your LARP team has a Third Undersecretary of Hobbit Rules, they need to be present for this too. If you think their opinion is not important enough to have a say, they probably shouldn’t have a title in the first place.

So you’ve got your Community, and you’ve talked about “Why I’m Here” and “Why WE are Here”… now what? The answer is very simple– WRITE IT DOWN. Write down your group goals in such a way that you can use them as a yardstick for later decisions, and whether or not you’re achieving the things you want to achieve.

For example, let’s say I’m GMing a tabletop group and we have the aforementioned hangout/meeting. During that meeting we talk and discus and write down the following goals:

  1. Make the game a priority in our lives. Work hard to arrange schedules around the game, because everybody will be on the same page trying to do the same.
  2. At LEAST 1 game a month, preferably bi-weekly. Subject to #1, but we have lives and kids and other hobbies. But at LEAST once a month.
  3. If the game had an ESRB rating, it would be TV14. No Showtime or HBO blood and sex fests, please.
  4. No commentary on real-world politics or religion. These are dramatic enough in the real world. No need for that in our fantasy, please.

…etc etc. Priorities and goals for the group to look back on and see if they are meeting them, and to decide as a group what to do if they aren’t.

For a LARP group, it might be something entirely different, based around player immersion, keeping rules int he background, etc. For a romantic relationship, how to spend your money is a HUGE factor in happiness, etc etc. You need to talk about these things, because if someone is unhappy with the status quo, it’s important to have a gauge to figure out solutions to that unhappiness. 

 

So there’s my public service announcement for you this time around. In short,

1) Ask yourself , “Why am I doing this?”

2) Split that up into the cost/benefit analysis of the action and BE HONEST with yourself about the costs.

3) Sit down and talk with others involved with the situation and figure out what they want out of the thing.

4) Write down, on paper, at least 4 goals for the community and use those goals to judge the success/failure of the community’s actions and choices.

DO IT. I promise, when you implement this for your life (ESPECIALLY community-based things like tabletop and LARP), you’ll be tons happier for it.

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Opportunity Attacks, OSR Hypocrisy, and Playtests

[Edit– this post was written at 0743 after an entire 36 hour period of no sleep and copious  caffeine. It rambles and isn’t entirely coherent. You have been warned. –Jason]

It’s interesting to me when folks talking about Legacy D&D (anything from Chainmail all the way to Skills & Powers, for clarity) talk about the rules as if they had ONE way to play and ONE way to read them. The default is usually assumed to be some variation on exploration/sandbox, free-form, rules-lite, “theater of the mind” — and that’s simply not the case with my experience of D&D. I used miniatures/token/gummibears on a pretty tactical kind of wargame setup– ACCORDING TO THE RULES AS WRITTEN– and had a great time with running and playing in very scripted kinds of adventures.

The OSR stuff has basically been telling me and people who had similar experiences to me (and there ARE many of us– we just aren’t as vocal because we tend to get shouted down by the “purists”) that we were playing the game wrong by their refusal to acknowledge other styles of play as valid. I feel pretty solid saying this because I have not seen any support whatsoever for anything other than the aforementioned playstyle in any of the OSR/OSRIC/C&C/L&L stuff that I have looked at– and I own most of it. And it’s remarkably hypocritical to complain about how “new” D&D doesn’t let them play the way they want to when their own fixes for the problem do nothing to accommodate the way others played the game when those versions of the rules were current.

Christian Lindke did an AMAZING job on his blog Cinerati breaking down the Opportunity Attack rules from each edition up until 4E, and I’ll let his work stand on its own merits. It’s good stuff, and it’s his breakdown of the rules edition by edition that really prompted this post. Back in the day, I was playing the way the designers intended– it’s in there in black and white. So were the folks playing in the “theatre of the mind, gridless sandbox” style.

We were both doing it right, you and I. We were ALL doing it right, because we were sitting down with our friends, chucking some polyhedrals, and having a good time. THAT is the core of our chosen hobby, THAT is what makes our hobby so much fun– the interaction with other human beings, face-to-face, sharing in the highs and lows and critical hits and natural 1s that come along with it. No matter what game you’re playing–regardless of what the rules say– if you and your group are having a good time, you’re doing it right.

So when the playtests start, regardless of your favorite edition, don’t come to it with the attitude of “If it doesn’t have X (with X being your particular niche rule or style or whatever from your favorite edition), then I’m not even going to try it!” Instead, give it a play for what it just might be– the way to get folks from all editions, and all gaming backgrounds together in the same place to share their love of the game we all say we love. Let the 4E folks mingle with the 1E/Moldvay folks, and come to the table with a “wait and see” attitude… and then send good, solid feedback. Don’t try to clone your favorite edition– try to make THIS edition the one that we can all rally around and play together.

Don’t expect the new version of our game to be EXACTLY what your favorite version was… if it was exactly the same, they would just reprint the old editions and let the community stay fractured and bleeding and dying. Expect it to be something new that we can all learn together, and that if the previews are correct, a great many of us from all gaming spectrums might just learn to love.

This could be what saved D&D and Tabletop RPG in general. But if we all come to the table with our arms folded and our noses in the air, it’ll never happen. We have to give it a chance and we have to try–together– to make this game the best edition yet.

 

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D&D Next Will Be The Most Expensive Edition Yet

…and it might just save the brand from a slow and ignoble death. 

 

First, before I start editorializing, some quotes from the horse’s mouth, lifted from the ENWorld 5E Info Page.

“The new edition is being conceived of as a modular, flexible system, easily customized to individual preferences. Just like a player makes his character, the Dungeon Master can make his ruleset. He might say ‘I’m going to run a military campaign, it’s going to be a lot of fighting’… so he’d use the combat chapter, drop in miniatures rules, and include the martial arts optional rules.”–Mike Mearls

This tells me that while the new edition’s ruleset may START very basic and simple, there will be a lot of rules additions as the years (hopefully more than 4) of D&D Next’s life-cycle progress.

“Now imagine that the game offered you modular, optional add-ons that allow you to create the character you want to play while letting the Dungeon Master create the game he or she wants to run. Like simple rules for your story-driven game? You’re good to go. Like tactical combats and complex encounters? You can have that too. Like ultra-customized character creation? It’s all there.”–Monte Cook

Again– modular rules, MORE rules, and optional additions that can be added to your game with possible ease.

“”Players can pick their own style and complexity within a class. Think of it kind of like having a $10 budget to spend on lunch. Some people will go to a restaurant and buy a $10 lunch special. Someone else might spend that $10 by ordering a few different things off the menu, rather than a special. Someone else might take that $10 and go to the grocery store to buy all the ingredients for a recipe they like. The idea is to put everyone on the same scale, but then allow people to burrow into the level of detail they want. DMs have a similar process they can go through, adding optional rules to flesh out their campaigns. Those options can range from creating a unique list of races or classes for a setting, to adding in special rules for things like managing a kingdom or waging a war.”–Mike Mearls

And again, reinforcing my point that the rules are going to start out simple and focused–likely with a box set or starter package–and then as time goes on, more and more…and MORE rules are going to be added. And how do we get the rules content for D&D?

BOOKS.  Lots, and lots and LOTS of books. 

 

What This Means For Your Game

...now just image all these books being from the same edition...and compatible with each other...

In a very literal way, the core design of 5E seems to be intentionally designed additions to the ruleset. To put it another way, they are putting “rules bloat” in a different package and re-marketing it as a good thing. And by saying in the playtest, design-and-change phase and saying it as loudly and as up-front as possible, they have the marketing of saying “Hey, all these other rulebooks are Modules. They’re completely optional. Don’t buy them, don’t use them if you don’t want to.”

What does this mean? It means that we are going to see a MASSIVE amount of books put out for this edition over a long, LONG period of time. Each discrete addition to the rules– which I’ll call a Module– can be its own book, and have its own place in the release schedule. We joked in 4th Edition about how nobody would buy the “Complete Fighter” anymore, but you know what? If you include more RULES for the fighter in that book, we will, because the player who wants the fighter rules will buy the fighter book–and the GM then wants to keep up with the player of the fighter.

From a marketing and profit standpoint, this is pure freaking genius. By specifically saying that all the Modules are optional and allowing PLAYERS to customize their characters regardless of what the GM’s preferred complexity may be, SUDDENLY PLAYERS ARE BUYING LOTS OF GAME BOOKS. Typically, the vast majority of people buying game books are the guys running the game– a lot of groups only have one or two sets of core books that the GM has been the one to pony up for.

If modular rules means that suddenly a player can pick the rules he wants his character to play by, that puts the onus of responsibility for his “rules happiness” on the player, not the GM who might have the rulebook and allow/disallow stuff in it. As far as sales goes, this is an unbelievably smart idea, because then the GM wants to have that same book to make sure he knows the rules that his player wants to use. That’s TWO copies of the same book, likely in the same gaming group. Profit for sure.

Then multiply that concept and let it get exponential.

Psionics? Module.

Elemental Power? Module.

Complete Fighter (2E title)? Module.

Heroes of Battle (war rules, 3.x title)? Module.

Story-based rules in the Vein of FATE or Mouse Guard? Module.

Adventures? Not a module in the rules-sense, but still a viable profit source. And if they are smart, they’ll produce rules-compatible versions of all the old materials from previous editions, too. Not as books, but as .pdfs.

Heroes of Shadow, Adventurer’s Vault, Complete (Race, Class, Villain, etc), Spell Compendium, Arms & Equipment Guide, Martial Power, Ghostwalk, Magic of Incarnum… the list of Modules for previous editions goes on an on. But instead of just putting out rules and letting the books “float”, I think we’ll see bits and pieces of rules in all these books, thus putting incentive on the player to buy the rules he wants to use for his character, and also on the GM to buy the books to keep up with his players.

In a very real way, it might bring back the days of 3.X when a player buys a splatbook from a 3PP and brought it to his GM saying, “I just bought this book and now I want to use it in your game.”– which was the one thing (other than taking 3hrs and a calculus degree to build high level characters and monsters) that I absolutely, positively, DESPISED about 3.X. Suddenly the GM feels pressured by the player to allow these rules that he may not like or want in his game, just because the player bought the book.

However, by building the game from the ground up as a series of optional, modular rules, the GM can feel vastly less pressure that he MUST use the rules because the player bought them. I like both aspects of that– I can use as much complexity as I want, the players can do so as well with my approval, and I’m not being guilted into doing something I don’t want to for my game because the players have the EXPLICIT declaration that all rules modules are 100% Optional and must be approved by GM before use.

What This Means For Your Wallet

I predict that we're going to need a lot of this to keep up with the rules for D&D Next.

I foresee a LOT of books coming out for D&D Next. I see smaller, individual books for each niche ruleset that they decide they want to support. And people are going to buy them, for lots of reasons… and I will likely buy nearly all of them because I’m a hardcore geek and a collector (like a lot of you reading this right now).

In fact, I can see so many products coming out that WotC devises a Subscription system in emulation of Paizo. That means an ensured, sustainable flow of incoming cash– both from the modules and DDI in whatever format that get implemented as. In addition, I’m sure that Wizards will continue making tiles, maps, miniatures and other sale-able items. They’re profit centers, and the company wants to make money, period.

I also think that this means WotC is setting up D&D Next to be “the” edition for at least the next decade. Think about it– WotC did the same thing with the 4E, with the basic books coming out first and all the expansions after that. THIS IS THE EXACT SAME THING WITH DIFFERENT MARKETING. But this time I think it’s going to work far, far better because it appears that they have learned from their competitors and from the 4E marketing debacle. If they produce a solid, likeable Core ruleset that appeals to lots of people, they can continue to pump out Modules (which we used to call splatbooks) at the rate of one a month ad infinitum, because not everybody will be buying everything, but by making the Modules explicitly optional, it ensures that lots of people will be buying just about everything they put out, because they can tap a different niche market for the rules with every Module put out. And some idiots like me will buy pretty much everything simply because it’s D&D, and I love the game and want to support my hobby.

All in all, my prediction is that D&D Next will hit our wallets harder than previous editions. However, I think that the investment will take place over a long period of time– hopefully a decade or more. If WotC does this right, they will have a cash cow that they can put out Modules for and keep milking that cow for a long, long time. And to me, that means that my favorite hobby and one of the things I love to do most in the world will ALSO be a living, breathing, viable game for a long, long time.

 

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New Brittanis Campaign Video!

So… I’ve been stuck here at Camp [REDACTED] for almost seven weeks now. I thought I was going to be here for a few days, teaching Soldiers and then head back to my home base and the Bagram Gaming Community. That obviously hasn’t happened. Because I’ve been stuck out here, I haven’t been able to game at all. Which sucks. A lot. I miss my friends, and I miss running my game.

It has, however, left me with a great deal of free time that I would otherwise have been using to prep for Gold Team (Saturday) and Red Team (Sunday). In that time, I decided to indulge in one of my favorite past-times–mashup video editing. I have done this a couple of times before, with the History of Brittanis video as well as the Tales of Brittanis Teaser Video.

This time, I’ve kicked things up a notch. I decided to do a full Campaign Trailer, including plot elements for the game, and a bunch of other cool stuff. Take a look! In the video you’ll find elements of the Brittanis-spanning Kairn Invasion, the machinations of some sinister hand in the north, maneuvering nations to go to war, and an all-new campaign revelation that not even my players know about yet!! All three videos are uploaded to Vimeo here.

Brittanis Trailer II from Jason Dawson on Vimeo.

Posted in Afghanistan Gaming, Brittanis, GM Advice, RPG Blog Carnival, Video, Worldbuilding | 4 Comments

Best Blogs: Old Guy Gaming

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, but I think today is a good time to start this back up again. I’m in the habit of poking through the archives of anyone who comments on my blog. It’s a great way to get new ideas, see what ideas of mine might pop up elsewhere through simultaneous generation, that kind of thing.

Find this picture on Mike's Blog and click it. Really. You wanna.

 

Okay, here’s the truth: I borrow and steal damn near everything for my games, and this is a great way to find new stuff to YOINK for use in my own games. So when Mike Summers of Old Guy Gaming commented on my two posts 5E Wishlist and 5 Things NOT to do in 5E, I decided to poke about his archives and see what there was to steal. And OH MAN is there ever a lot of great information in this guy’s brain to steal. His writing is clean and concise, and he’s WAY more of a math guy than I will ever be, so his posts take a very crunchy, numbers-oriented slant that I find very appealing to me specifically because it’s such a different mindset from my own.

He’s definitely an OSR kinda guy, but early on in his archives it shows that he really did try the 4E system and found it wasn’t his cup o’tea. I have great respect for that, and for the rest of his insights, so I’m posting a list of the stuff I found today that I think is really neat on his blog. Take a look– you will NOT be disappointed, regardless of what edition you play.

  • Realistic Coastlines Revisited— this is a revision of Old Guy’s Cartographer Guild Award-Winning Post. If you’re a digital map guy like me, this is great stuff. Has a tutorial for both Photoshop *AND* GIMP.
  • Temperature & Climate— a great post on how to craft a quick & easy weather baseline for your fantasy game. Again– WAY more numbers heavy than I would do myself, but I’m more than happy to utilize his work and then tell folks about it.
  • Where Do You Put Your Gold? — this is a LONG, detailed post about the various ways that adventurers can keep their hard-earned shinies safe and useful in between adventures. There are also a lot of ideas on how to turn the adventurer’s treasure INTO adventures if you read between the lines in this post.
  • Dumb Things We’ve Done— if you’ve played any of the older versions or retroclones, you’ll laugh because you’ve done these things. If you started your gaming career with 3.0 or later, you’ll laugh because folks used to do these things. Either way, it’s funny ‘cuz it’s true.
  • Remember that number-crunching I mentioned? Yeah. In Gems, Mike analyzes the little shiny treasure pieces down to identifying how many come in a pound for encumbrance purposes and much more. He does the same for coins in How Big Is A Coin, and statues in How Much Does a Statue Weigh? I’ve never beenbig on encumberance rules, but these might lean me that direction.
  • Mike talks about the evolution of coin values in 1E, 2E, 3.x, and 4E in Currency. He also analyzes E. Gary Gygax’s own coinage in the Greyhawk world as well. I’ve been considering changing coinage and item values for a long time. This post will likely be the basis for that.
  • Design Considerations For My Starting Area is a great, ground-level post about Mike building his campaign world, or a section of it. Really neat to see the mind at work here.
  • Decide What Services Are Available— one of the things that both 3.X and 4E took away–in my opinion– was the “rest stop” in between adventures or mid-adventure as a roleplaying possibility all its own. By putting all the info in the player’s hands, it took a lot of the mystery and wonder and interesting stuff a GM could do with it out of the picture. Mike does a great job of talking about how to make the shopping experience and interaction more interesting here.
  • In what is possibly my favorite post on his blog, Mike makes a simple statement: The Character Is Not The Center Of The Universe, and the backs it up with a lot of solid thinking. This is one of the things that I hope the new edition addresses– level-specific encounters all day long, every day just aren’t realistic, even following the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, and they will get boring after a while. Mike addresses this topin in a clear, succinct way. I like it a lot.

 

In case you couldn’t tell, I really like Old Guy Gaming. Mike’s got a great site and a lot of good things to say from DMing experience that goes back to the oldest iterations of our hobby. Check him out. You won’t be disappointed.

Posted in Best Blogs, GM Advice, Random Shenanigans | 1 Comment

5 Issues from 4E to NOT Include in D&D Next

This is my second  (and last) post about D&D Next before we get more information about the playtests, etc. I am by no means a “4E iz teh best D&D EVAR!!” junike– no system is perfect, and the vast majority of GMs out there are rules-tweakers by our very nature. So, to accompany my list of things 4E got right that I think should be kept for the next edition, here are my list of things from 4E D&D that in my opinion need to be changed or gotten rid of entirely.

5) Skill Challenges. I really am of two minds when it comes to skill challenges. I really like the idea that the attempt was made to codify and award XP to the PCs for what would have been “pure roleplaying” encounters– I see that the attempt was made to put rules in effect that give the characters solid, tangible rewards for NOT just killing things and taking their stuff. After all, the players are going to do more of what the system rewards them for–and D&D regardless of edition has always rewarded “kill the monsters and take their stuff” more than anything else. I think, however, that the system was rather ham-handed and needs serious revision. I think a set of GUIDELINES in the D&D5 DMG should read something like, “you should mix encounter types as much as possible, so that combat, NPC interaction and skill-based sequences are all represented.” and then give give guideline to the DM on how to award XP for skill based situations–like a chase sequence, for example. I do NOT think that the “always fail the skill challenge after 3 failures” hard-coding does anybody any good. All it does is stifle the GMs creativity by giving the players a set of expectations they can always see through. Rather like #4 in my past post (monster abilities), the less the players can predict whats going to happen, the more wonder and mystery there is in the game. I like the fact that the rules EXPLICITLY reward other types of encounters than combat– I just think they need to find another way of codifying those rules to give the GM more freedom.

#4) Conditions. I think that the conditions/status effects of 4E are ALMOST there. I like the variety of bad things that can happen to a character. I think that using keywords for all of the effects is a BEAUTIFUL thing, because you can mix and match easily and there is a hierarchy of effects so that GMs can build their own nasties in a simple way. However, I think that action-denying status effects (daze and stun) should be replaced in the way that a multitude of bloggers have already mentioned– heavy penalties instead of total “sit this round out, chump” denial. I actually LIKE the dominated condition, but I think it should be explicit i the rules that the player gets to make the attack rolls and such. I also think that instead of purely negative status, defining powers and abilities could be simplified by creation of POSITIVE status effects. Blessed, fast, defensive, strong, keen, etc could all be codified as positive status effects that abilities can place on a character, monster, or NPC. Just a thought. But the pure action-denial effects gotta go– and PLEASE keep save-or-die effects out. Please. Bringing them back wold be a major step backwards.

#3) Wizards. This is a remarkably specific gripe, but I’m really talking about overall product strategy. Wizards have gotten some kind of nifty bennie in just about every book published for 4E. There has been SOME kind of Wizard feat, or powers they can take, or Implements or something that Wizard classes, powers, subclasses, abilities, and items have dominated the product lines of 4E. I’m not a Wizard player, per se, and neither have most of my players been over the lifespan of 4E. Wizards have gotten so much “love” that could have been spread around to the Invoker, Artificer, Avenger, Shaman… the list goes on. If you’re going to add a major component to the game (like a full class, for instance), for heaven’s sake SUPPORT IT. Support all of your babies, not just Wizards.

#2) Analysis Paralysis. In my wishlist post, I commented that I want melee character to be able to do something more than just “I hit it with my sword”. That is one of the primary things I love most about 4E– everybody at the table gets to DO SOMETHING pretty much every round to contribute, and it’s not the same exact thing every round. I think I’m going to write an entire blog post about that, in fact. However, once you hit about 7th level in 4E,  the number of options begins to become massive–especially when you add in magic item powers. I am ALL for customization–don’t get me wrong– but the number of options a player has to go through before making an action choice in 4E can get astounding. 3E wasn’t any better, when you get right down to it: lots of feats ended up being their own tiny ruleset and giving a character another ability to sort through in order to decide what to do. I think streamlining the character options and what abilities a character can do will go a long way to making the game itself play much faster–on every level.

#1) MAGIC ITEMS. This gripe goes back to 3.X. I’m not just talking about 4E. Simply put, MAGIC ITEMS SHOULD NOT BE NECESSARY FOR A CHARACTER TO SUCCEED/SURVIVE. I want a high-level character to be able to have ONE, maybe TWO cool, signature magic items and the rest of their equipment be mundane. In historical and fantasy literature, the hero of the story has only a couple magic items to their name, and those items are powerful, mysterious, and often dangerous– and they are important enough that the items themselves become part of the plot. The most “decked out” character from historical myth I can think of is King Arthur– he had a magic sword (sometimes two, depending on legend), scabbard, and shield. Some stories give him a boat and spear, but the majority of the stories only cover the sword. Basically, I want the core rules to assume a lower magic item threshold than the last two editions; under no circumstances should a character be REQUIRED to have magic items in order to succeed. “Selecting your Magic Items” should not be part of the character creation process. Ever. The “Christmas Tree” effect from 3.X and the “Weapliment, Armor, Neck” effect from 4E NEED TO GO. And don’t even get me started on Player Wish Lists…

So there’s 5 things from 4E that I think really need to change/be modified for the upcoming edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I hope they solve these, and I hope that the community itself can come back together and play the game we all love– together.

Posted in Applying Theory, GM Advice, Random Shenanigans, Rules | 7 Comments

The Action Point’s 5E Wishlist

I’m sure the gaming interwebs are ridiculously full of shrieking and howling regarding the announced D&D 5e, but I want put up, for posterity, the things about 4E that I like and the things I hope WotC either goes back to or puts int he upcoming edition.

5) Stay away from “I hit it with my sword. I hit it again. I hit it again.” One of the things I love most about 4E is that it has gotten away from the boringness of melee characters–especially at high level. The AEDU power structure might not be perfect–or even particularly elegant, really– but what it does do very well is give everybody a chance to do something cool and contribute to the fight every round. Even the At-Will powers tend to be something decent besides just dealing damage. As a guy who really likes playing melee characters, this is a godsend. Keep it.

4) Monster Ability Mashup. One of the things that I loved about AD&D but loathed about 3.X is that once an experienced player memorized the monster subtypes and some of the more common spell descriptions, the mystery factor in most monsters just went out the window. If you know that demons have these inherent abilities and those resistances and that they usually come able to use these spells… well a lot of the fear of monsters and/or the “oh, wow– it did WHAT?” factor totally disappears. Each monster in 4E has a discrete, easily-read set of abilities and swapping them from one to another is SUPER easy. The monster building utilities have done the same thing in making monsters easy to build and easy to use. Keep that modularity and that the monsters are UNIQUE, and effectively unknowable. And the unknown is SCARY. Monsters shouldn’t play by the same rules as a PC. They’re onscreen for a microsecond in comparison, and don’t need to be that complex– or that predictable.

3) Keep D&D Encounters and Lair Assault. I think that with the flagging sales of 4E, the Organized Play of 4E is one of the biggest draws for it. Being able to sit down with a known rule set and pick up dice and learn to play in less than an hour is beautiful, and I think ‘its in this arena that 4E really shines. I also think that if they have a “walk in and try it” way of doing things at the beginning of 5E, they might attract a lot more sales for it as well.

2) OGL or Bust. There’s been a lot–and I mean a LOT– of talk about Pathfinder outselling 4E, and I think there’s some merit in that, but I do not think that the ruleset alone is the cause. Simply put, Pathfinder is a clone of a system with some very ugly flaws that does a little bit to correct them, but not really enough. The main selling point of Pathfinder is twofold. First, the adventures and setting material put out for it are utterly top-notch. This, however, is kind of the rub– most people who want to play in Golarion  buy the PF rulebooks because they want to play in Golarion, not because they really like the PF rules. It’s a case of correlation not being the same thing as causation. Golarion and the setting material–especially adventures– put out by Paizo are utterly without peer, and most gamers will buy and play the ruleset because they want to use those materials and don’t want to convert. Second, the OGL means that anybody who wants to play in their own sandbox or make their own game and home publish or use something similar or look around for 3PP items is going to use Pathfinder because it’s the only thing out there. I really truly believe that if 4E had been OGL instead of the crap-and-broken GSL, we wouldn’t be seeing 5E on the horizon for another 5 years or so. If 5E has any semblance of backwards-compatibility, it MUST be under the OGL. Period, end of story. If 5E is not OGL, it will be the last version of D&D that WotC will ever make, mark my words. Without the 3PP and Open Community support, it will do what 4E has done and be good, but not GREAT because all the awesome fan ideas will go elsewhere–like Pathfinder.

1) DMs Got Their Lives Back. When 4E came out, one of the things I IMMEDIATELY noticed was that, along with #4 above, the Encounter building setup made DM prep so much easier than 3.x or AD&D. The first time I built an adventure–not an encounter, mind you, an entire ADVENTURE– in less than the time it took me to create a single monster using monster subtypes, hit dice, templates and class levels in 3.X… I think I literally sat down in my chair and laughed hysterically until I cried a little. The burden of encounter building and adventure creation in 4E is so drastically much less than it has been in previous editions that it’s almost absurd. The time I have saved in preparing encounters for 4E is, quite literally, what allows me to have the time to write this blog. Otherwise I’d be bogged up in the math of previous editions and doing college algebra in order to make monsters with accurate, by-the-rules numbers. Switching to 4E literally gave me a huge chunk of my life back, and because of that, this is my biggest requirement for the new edition. If the GM prep time for 5E goes back to what it was… I don’t think I can justify playing it. I have a fiancee, and a soon-to-be stepson and my biological son who I could better devote that time to. This is my single most important factor in grading the new edition. I hope it lives up.

What things do you want to see in 5E? I know you’ve got an opinion.

Posted in GM Advice, Random Shenanigans, Rules | 11 Comments