Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Inevitable Post About 5e,

or, A Love Letter to Wizards of the Coast, 
or, Is it time for "WotC Next"?

It has to happen, so here goes.  Keep in mind that my opinions are not direct-from-source, because there is no way that getting the D&D Next playtest materials is worth agreeing to the terms of the NDA.

Overall, what I am hearing – even from those saying negative things – makes me cautiously optimistic about 5e.  It sounds as though the designers took my “Why System Matters” blog posts and then, point by point, made sure that 5e would work for sandbox gaming.  Understand that I am not saying that they did any such thing, but, if they did, kudos for them.  Also, it seems as though the Delve Format is dead!  That particular thorn in the arse of WotC adventure design couldn't have been removed soon enough!

5e has moved, for me, from “D&D Pass” to “D&D Maybe”.

This “Hit Dice” thing is needlessly confusing.  In RCFG, the almost-identical mechanic was called “Shaking it Off”, and, as that is OGC, I don’t see why Wizards wouldn’t use it.  It sounds a hell of a lot better than calling it “Hit Dice”, which has a completely different meaning.   Shaking it Off went through numerous incarnations while playtesting RCFG, and it worked very well there.

The idea of Themes and Backgrounds should make a character different, but make character creation easier.  Kudos on that.  Likewise on adopting a simple Advantage/Disadvantage system….although, for my money, the “Dice Chain” of Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG is the best simple system for this that I have come across.

I am a bit dismayed by the continuation of disassociated mechanics, such as fighters doing damage on a miss, and the idea that wizards can endlessly magic missile.  Magic is cheap when there is no cost, and magic should not be so cheap in D&D.  May I recommend a “lesser missile” as a cantrip, that requires an attack roll and does less damage than a dagger?  The advantage of this lesser missile  is that you don’t need a dagger.  Moreover, each “cantrip” could be linked to an actual spell, which must be memorized in order to continue using the cantrip.  Use up your real magic missile, and you can no longer use your lesser missile, either.  Making these sorts of choices – dealing with real trade-offs – is a big part of the game.

(Not an original idea or observation, that, but a better plan than at-will free magic missiles.)

I have previously said that if D&D Next fails, it won’t be the fault of the fans.  That remains true, but it is also true that if D&D Next succeeds, it won’t be because of the fans, either.  It will only succeed if the product is good, the marketing is good, and Wizards creates goodwill with the fans.  Announcing the release of earlier edition materials was a good start on generating goodwill.  Now, if WotC can keep the lawyers from messing things up, there is a chance of a successful edition here.

The NDA was a bone-headed move that tells us “We’re going to keep doing business like we did with 4e”.

I don’t think D&D Next can survive that.

I have said previously that, for any new edition of D&D to be relevant to me, Wizards is going to have to reinstate the OGL.  As things stand, when 6e comes out, no one who signed that NDA can legally make a “derivative work” like OSRIC or Pathfinder for 5e.  And the people who signed the NDA are the hard core gamers who would most likely wish to see support continue for an edition they like.

Grab the bull by the horns, WotC, if you want to see this edition succeed.  You need to make us believe that the needs of the game – and the gamers! – are as important as the needs of the lawyers and the shareholders.  You need to tell us why there are some weird terms in the NDA (or better yet, get rid of the NDA altogether).  Likewise, you need to be upfront about what kind of licensing this edition is going to use.  The longer you wait, the more people you lose.

So far:

(1) The design of the new edition shows some promise.  You still have work to do (obviously) and you need to ditch disassociated mechanics from the core rules.  Add them as modules if you must.

(2) The marketing is certainly good enough to attract attention, and although there is a certain amount of “dancing around the elephant in the room” in the fan outreach, it is otherwise following a good course.  This is especially true when compared to 4e.

(3) You have a lot of work to do on goodwill.  Deal with licensing upfront, deal with the NDA.  Set some limits on where the concerns of the lawyers take precedence over the concerns of the fans.  You need us more than we need you.  Show us you understand that, and that you are willing to make us want you instead of need you.  Oh, and plan ahead so you don’t have to lay anyone off for the holidays.

You need to be “WotC Next” as much as this game needs to be “D&D Next”.  The Wizards that gave us the OGL is gone.  You cannot afford to be the Wizards that gave us the GSL, that gives folks the old heave-ho for the holidays, or that values protecting itself from the slightest risk over fan enjoyment of product.  That Wizards has to go.

Be WotC Next.  Embrace it.  IMHO, it’s your best chance for success.

Now, I’ll be perfectly honest here.  You probably aren’t getting my “favourite go-to game” spot – Goodman Games already has that sewn up with a tidy little bow – but you could still end up with a version of D&D that I want to play.  As I had written you off some time ago, that’s actually pretty amazing. 

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

DCC NEW HOUSE RULE REWRITE: Learning Spells on the Fly, or, The Slippery Slope of Arcane Doom

A wizard or elf may attempt to learn a spell he is aware of without spending the requisite time to study, but such an attempt is hazardous. First off, the character must make a check against DC 10 + the spell level as part of an attempt to cast the spell. The initial check consists of 1d16 + caster level + Intelligence modifier.

If this check fails, the character suffers a misfire from the attempted spell. If this check results in a natural "1" the check automatically fails, and the would-be caster suffers corruption as well. In addition, in the event of a natural "1", all subsequent attempts to learn the same spell on the fly reduce the die used for the check, as per the die chain.

However, each failed attempt also gives a +1 bonus to learning the spell if normal research is then used, to a maximum bonus of +4.

If the character succeeds, he has learned the spell! However, the hap-hazard method of learning requires a second Mercurial Magic check with a -20 penalty to the roll. The effects of both Mercurial Magic checks take place whenever the wizard or elf casts this spell.

Monday, 28 May 2012

S is for Sandbox Part IV: A Sample Minor Adventure Site (3): Hermitage and Temple 1

Well, a lot has happened since the last “S is for Sandbox” column, including the advent of the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, which has become my favourite published role-playing game of all time.  This isn’t a major problem, but, going forward, I am going to be using that system in my examples.

The DCC RPG assumes that characters begin as 0-level nobodies, and the party of adventurers is whosoever survives the “0-level funnel” that is the initial adventuring session.  For this purpose, I am assuming that the party has already gone through the funnel, and consists of either 1st level characters or a mix of 1st and 0-level characters.  The temple will therefore be designed under the assumption that it will be introduced at such low levels, and probably explored initially between 1st and 3rd level.

Let’s see how the new ruleset changes the work we’ve already done.  I’m not going to go back over the wilderness area – by the time this series is done, you should be able to do that yourself without any difficulty if you want to use this region – except where it is important to ongoing development.

1005: Outbuildings:  This is the site of the Hermitage.  The outbuildings include the hermit’s quarters, a common area for guests (including a stable as part of the common area).  The cellar beneath the hermit’s quarters includes a secret area wherein treasure from bandits, goblins, and pirates may be hidden.

The hermit is a 6th level thief.  This level was chosen so as to allow interaction with starting PCs, where the hermit will not be instantly overwhelmed, while at the same time making it possible for the PCs to defeat him later.  Besides which, living alone in the (near) wilds as he does, the hermit will need some class level “oomph”!

Now, we can be pretty sure that the hermit is no longer 6th level in DCC.  Instead, this is probably a 2nd or 3rd level thief, and following the general rule of each DCC level being equivalent of 2 levels in most similar game systems, I am of the opinion that he should be 3rd.  Based on the description of the Thief in the DCC core rules, we can also assume that he is Lawful.  Appendixes S and T help us to give him a name:  Llulch the Psalmist.  You will note that I chose a clerical title, rather than one indicated for a thief, because our thief is disguised as a hermit.

The rulebook suggests not worrying too much about “correct” NPC stats.  We don’t have to fully develop a 3rd level Thief to create our rogue.  In fact, we probably want something between the bandit hero stats and a fully developed thief.  To wit:

Llulch the Psalmist: Init +4; Atk staff +2 melee (1d4); AC 16; HD 2d8; Hp 5; MV 30’; Act 1d20; SP Luck (13, 1d5), Crit 1d14/II, Thief skills (Backstab +5, Sneak +5, Hide +7, Disguise +2); SV Fort +3, Ref +3, Will +1; AL L.

1204: Temple:  This is the ruined temple, beneath which the dungeon lies.  We might as well start calling this the Dungeon of the Skull, because that will be its most important feature.  Within the temple, there is an area that allows our hermit to mimic a cleric, effectively giving him access to a limited amount of curative magic each day.

In fact, let us make this a temple of Hermes (as the patron of thieves, healers, and magic, it seems appropriate).

This remains very much as it was, except that the hermit will have more limited healing, in accordance with the general DCC rules, and that healing will be based on both alignment and Hit Die.  We should also consider a bit more about Hermes, and the potential ways to use this temple within the DCC game:

  • As a patron of Thieves and Healers both, we should declare Hermes Neutral.  Magic is also certainly not Lawful by nature. 
  • “Quest for It”:  As a God of Healing, we should seed the temple or the dungeon with the means to gain exception healing, as an adventure or a quest.  This can be tied in with the Skull, in that the Skull can be the means by which PCs can learn how said quests can be performed.  The Skull, of course, is also working on her own agenda of being freed and restored.
  • “God of Magic”:  There should be at least one, and as many as three to five, spells that can potentially be learned through the temple and the dungeon beneath.  Moreover, Hermes would make an excellent patron, and we should fully develop him as such.

1404: Goblin Cave:  When goblins visit the hermitage, they stay here.  As a result, there is goblin graffiti on the walls, carvings on the table, etc., that hints at what the hermit really is.  Unknown to the hermit, the goblins have begun mining here, trying to break into the Dungeon of the Skull.

When we were working with Labyrinth Lord, a goblin was a goblin was a goblin.  This isn't a bad thing, and works well for that system, but Dungeon Crawl Classics is a different animal.  Using the DCC RPG, we should strive to make these unique humanoids that are derived from the basic goblin.  Luckily, the DCC core book gives us charts to help with this.

Our “goblins” will be yellow, and will fight with two weapons.  The book suggests longsword and dagger, but we’ll leave what the weapons are open for the moment.  They are also bald and speak a racial language other than “goblin”….a random roll as per Thief in Appendix L suggested “Gnoll”, but for fun, let’s have them speak the dwarven language, as though they are degenerate dwarves.  Our details will progress from this assumption.  For example, they can fight with hand axe and dagger.  Their mining also makes sense in terms of dwarvishness as well as goblinness.  Although they are bald, we can allow them full beards.

Friday, 25 May 2012

If D&D Next Fails, It Won't Be the Fans' Fault!

Mostly an okay post, but there was a bit that stuck in my craw:

"They’re done throwing that kind of effort into a brand full of toxic fans and endless bickering about products that won’t get sold."


It wasn't the fault of fans that a toxic atmosphere was created, nor is it the fault of fans that 4e wasn't well-received.  Nor will the success or failure of D&D Next be due to anything other than the success or failure of WotC to put out a good product, market that product well, and undo to whatever extent they are able the ill-will their handling of the 4e release created.

And they have definitely taken some steps in the right direction, although I think that the NDAs for the beta playtest are a really bad idea (not required by most recent rpgs, including Pathfinder and Dungeon Crawl Classics, despite Mike Mearls' claim to the contrary), and I don't think 5e will fly without the OGL.

The systems that are doing well right now have the right combination of "good system + goodwill", and I don't think Hasbro is going to allow WotC the leeway needed to recreate the goodwill that was seen with the advent of 3e.


See this post:

I can't help but feel that some comments are pointed at things I've said.

"Every game company on the planet uses an NDA. There are exceptions of course, but those companies are exactly that. Exceptions.  Plus the two that are often mentioned, Pathfinder and Dungeon Crawl Classics, are so derivative of the SRD that there is not really much in the way of new material to protect."

Out of curiosity, what was the last time you were required to sign a NDA for a Beta Playtest other than D&D Next? Especially one described as an "open" playtest?  It is simply an untruth to state that  "every game company on the planet" requires an NDA for this sort of material.

It is also untrue that Pathfinder and DCC "are so derivative of the SRD that there is not really much in the way of new material to protect."  A funny comment, actually, when one considers the relationship between D&D Next and the rules solutions figured out by others.

Normally, one hopes that people WILL talk about a Beta. Talk volumes, talk specifics, talk, talk, talk, talk.

That talk certainly helped Pathfinder, it certainly helped DCC, and it could certainly help WotC.

AFAICT, the NDA in this case is about nothing other than who owns your comments and any ideas you might let drop. No more; no less.

So, here's the challenge: List who does require an NDA in the rpg industry.  It is easy enough to come up with who does not.  If those who do not are "exceptions", it should be easy to demonstrate this by exampling those who do.

I agree that Paizo and Goodman Games are exceptional publishers.  They are publishers who have garnered enormous goodwill from their fans.  They did this by following the tracks laid down in the early days of 3e....not just the ruleset tracks, but the fan appreciation tracks.  WotC used to be the leader in fan appreciation; now they are not.  But they would be wise to get back on that road, even if others have now gone far ahead.

It's as simple as that.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Pandas, Pirates, Players, and Funnels

If you’ve been following the discussion on, there is some discussion of my post on initial adventures forthe Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.  Paiji wrote:

Certes, mais j'ai l'impression qu'il s'éloigne un peu de l'esprit du jeu.
Si j'ai bien compris, il prévoit à l'avance de lier sa première aventure (son entonnoir) aux suivantes et de fournir des opportunités logiques pour que ses persos, arrivés au niveau 1, choisissent leurs carrières (notamment pour les jeteurs de sorts). Ca me parait dévier de l'idée que je trouve assez amusante de tirer 4 persos niveau 0 complétement au hasard, de les jeter dans une aventure et de voir lequel survit et arrive au niveau 1.
On perd le petit coté Highlander/Koh Lantah et, à mon goût, c'est dommage.
Après, faut voir comment tout ça est mis en place.

As far as I can tell, given the limitations of Google translation and the fact that I am sadly not bilingual (or multi-lingual), Paiji is concerned that my observations go against the spirit of the game.  Specifically, he seems to believe that the idea of seeding the adventure area to prep for 1st level characters is antithetical to the idea of throwing four 0-lvl nobodies per player into the funnel and seeing who comes out.

Not so!

Providing the means for religious experience doesn’t mean that any survivor will be a cleric, nor does seeding the area with potential spell knowledge or patrons mean that any survivor will be a wizard.  What it does mean is that, if some survivor should end up being a cleric or a wizard, that decision will make sense.

Likewise, the idea that the characters then have a chance to see how their schlubs have grown, and to discover a new facet of the original funnel – that some of their initial assumptions and understanding were wrong – is pure Appendix N.  It is also good game structure, and need not assume anything about who survives, or what class they will be.

What I am suggesting is meant to deepen the funnel experience, not to subvert it.

Hopefully, completion of When Cowled Men Creep and Beachhead (two 0-level funnels utilizing the theories in the original post) will make what I mean more clear to those who read and/or play through them.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

A Really Bad (Good) Egg

Mike at Really Bad Eggs ( mistakenly decided that this blog was worth a Kreativ Blogger Award, but his mistake is my gain, so thank you very much!  I tried to find the Kreativ Blogger rules using what turned out to be pretty poor Google-Fu in this particular case.  I hope, therefore, that I am doing this correctly.

(Really, though, thank you Mike.  I enjoy your blog, too!)

Seven Questions

1. What's your favourite song?

That changes a lot.  It’s been REM’s “Losing My Religion” and it’s been Crystal Gale singing “River Road”.  I suppose, right now, I’d have to pick either “Common People” (Pulp) or “The Log-Driver’s Waltz” (Canadian traditional, Mountain City Four rendition). 

2. What's your favourite dessert?

Usually some form of cheesecake.  But I am partial to vanilla ice cream with maple syrup poured over it.

3. What do you do when you're upset?

Go quiet.   Or fix the problem that made me upset.  Depending upon the cause.

4. Which is your favourite pet?

I have no pets at the moment, and I like both dogs and cats. 

5. Which do you prefer? Black or White?

Black.  It always looks good.

6. What is your biggest fear?

Another tough question!  I try to avoid being motivated by fear.  When my eldest was my only, and was going to school for the first time, I used to have nightmares about things happening to him.  When he got old enough to be near the end of his school days, I started to have nightmares about him doing something that would mess up his life…something he couldn’t fix.  Thankfully, neither one was founded in reality.

My biological father has cerebral ataxia, which is a genetic disorder, and I would have to say that, right now, my biggest fear is that I may carry that disorder.  Not only fear for me, but fear for what that might mean for my children.

7. What is your attitude mostly?

Cheeky, amused, calm.

Ten facts

      1.       Although I live in Toronto, listed a Canadian folksong as one of my favourite songs (at the moment), and enjoy vanilla ice cream with maple syrup, I was not born in Canada.  I am an American by birth.

      2.       I once had the misfortune to fall 35 feet, breaking my right calcaneus into four pieces (severing the Achilles tendon and requiring 4 screws to repair), my left subtalar, and vertebrae at L1, L2, L3, and L4.  It hurt a bit.

      3.       I have also had the bad misfortune of having a car door slammed on my head.  Twice in a row.  It hurt even more.

      4.       I have a terrible love of bad jokes, puns, and all manner of things that I think are funny, but that are pretty hit-and-miss (with an emphasis on the miss) as far as those around me are concerned.

      5.       The best compliment I ever received as a GM was from someone who had never played in a game I had run.  I was visiting the University of Madison, and was in the elevator overhearing a guy telling someone else about his new player and the fantastic DM he had played with previously.  From the details of the games I heard, I was able to identify the player, and when I casually asked who the DM was, and who the player was, I was right.  I said nothing, but it felt really, really good.

      6.       I know far, far too much about Doctor Who…from An Unearthly Child right through to Matt Smith’s latest outing.  I own a fez, which I was given as a Christmas present, and a 14-foot scarf, also a present, hand-knitted.  Both were given to me by my excellent brother-in-law, James.  The quest to have a Doctor Who rpg that actually does what I want it to do has led me from FASA to Time Lord to Cubicle 7 to home design…and I still don’t have one.

      7.       I used to own half of Golden City Comics in Scarborough, Ontario.

      8.       I have been to the Disney Compound in Florida and the Disney Compound in California.  I was living in Los Angeles before I moved to Toronto, and it seemed like something I should do before I left.  Later, I drove to Florida from Toronto with my ex-wife, son, and older daughter.  Both were a lot of fun, but I am far more a Warner Brothers guy than a Disney guy!

      9.       I strongly believe that it is better to tilt at windmills than to meekly resign oneself to supporting something one believes unethical.  This has sometimes been difficult to balance against needing a roof over my head and food on my plate.

      10.   Even as a child, I loved liver and onions, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.  And I still do.

      11.   BONUS:  I think far too much about rules systems, both for games and the apparent background rules of fiction.  When my daughters were watching Dora the Explorer, I was trying to figure out the rules by which her world worked. 

Seven Awardees

In no specific order, here are some bloggers who write things I wish I’d thought of:

Grognardia (  I always find it interesting.  I recommend it to you.

Tenkar’s Tavern (   Always insightful, and sometimes inciteful (Grumpy Dwarf, I’m looking at you!).

Yog-Blogsoth (  Because I love me some Cthulu, and the combination of quotes and illustrations is good stuff.

Gluten Free Chickie ( :  Not a role-playing blog, but a good model to follow regardless of what you’re interested in. 

Eggplant Productions (  Because I cannot help but plug Raechel Henderson whenever possible.  She was the first person who ever paid me money (rather than contributor copies) for a piece of writing, and I wish all the best to her.

MilaNoelleFaulkner (   Because I am also interested in poetry, and in people.

Dreams of Mythic Fantasy (  Because James is interesting, and has interesting things to say. 

Once again, thank you, Mike at Really Bad Eggs for this award!  I’ll have you know that your notifications about interesting movies have been useful to at least one person!

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Dungeon Crawl Classics – How I Do Love Thee!

Having read the Dungeon Crawl Classics core rulebook rather exhaustively now, I am coming to the conclusion that this will be my go-to game for all time.  Indeed, it accomplishes nearly everything I wished to accomplish with my own ruleset, and what it does not can be carried over from RCFG with a bit of tweaking.

Some of my posts here have already been house rules for DCC RPG.  No doubt, there will be more.  I am currently working on two DCC RPG modules, and a persistent city setting that will form the core location of my home milieu.

I had earlier expressed some concern about long-term play.  Specifically, I found the idea of creating unique monsters and magic items for every adventure – as well as the focus on questing and adventures as opposed to setting exploration – as potentially detrimental to long-term play.  I am no longer concerned on this score.

The philosophy of DCC RPG rather forces the Judge and players to create a mythology for their game milieu.  I don’t mean mythology is a strictly “deities & demigods” sense (although that, too, is strongly encouraged), but rather that the creation of a milieu’s setting elements mandates or suggests the creation of supernatural patrons, gods, spells, and magic items.  In a world where each magic item is unique, the creation of these objects further reinforces the mythology and history of the milieu.

The process of creation, therefore, seems to create elements that will remain in play for many years of adventuring, effectively ensuring that you get at least 5 hours benefit from each hour of design work.  This will mean re-using locations, maps, and (some) monsters.  When creating setting elements, the Judge should be keeping in mind that some creatures are unique, while others are representative of a kind….and that “kind” is very likely a “local kind”.  When the group travels, they may encounter superficially similar creatures that have been tweaked in some way.

As a real-world example, imagine bears.  Locally, bears are black bears.  But there are also grizzlies, polar bears, spectacled bears, sloth bears, etc., in the world.  As a fantasy example, imagine giant spiders.  The spiders of JRRT’s Mirkwood are not so potent as the unique Shelob or Ungoliant, nor are they the same as the giant spider Conan encountered in The Tower of the Elephant.  In effect, the same idea, seen through different lenses, keeps the players guessing.  Likewise, think of all of the varieties of snakes (venomous and otherwise) in the real world, and all of the varieties of the same in fictional worlds.  It is desirable to mimic this sort of uniformity (in order to give the players context), but also to mimic this sort of variety (in order to keep things fresh).

Dungeon Crawl Classics also revels in the joy of the random table.  It offers means to randomly alter humanoids, un-dead, and many specific monsters (such as skeletons and primordial slimes).  You can build dragons and magic swords using random tables, and then slot them into the milieu where you see fit.  This sort of creation is fast, fun, and opens up new ideas while you’re doing it. 

Early role-playing games developed their rosters of monsters through play.  These rosters were then packaged and sold, originally as examples of monsters to be used in a game.  Often, modules would include new monsters, new magic, and subtle variations to keep the players on their toes.  Players were encouraged to not read the Dungeon Master’s Guide, as it would ruin some of the fun of learning the game milieu and the rules thereof.

Dungeon Crawl Classics gets back to that, and does so by the simplest expedient possible – the Judge himself is the DMG…and to some extent the Monster Manual.  He produces or adapts the creatures and magic he intends to use.  Each game milieu is therefore a unique creation, which cannot be predicted by the players. 

This is very much what was intended by the founders of the hobby…and very much against certain new games that include magic items in the player’s materials so that they can be selected from like cabbages at the greengrocer’s.

I am going to be posting bits and pieces of the player’s materials for the Golden City of Shanthopal (my campaign hub for DCC RPG) here as they are ready.  Meanwhile, I am still waiting for my preorder copy of the core book to arrive.  I really want to read Doom of the Savage Kings, the module packed along with it!

What does this mean for RCFG?  I’m not 100% sure.  I may come back to this, if I find that DCC RPG doesn’t fully satisfy my personal rpg itch.  As of now, the materials remain available for others to build upon, as the game itself is nearly completely OGC.  If you end up using parts of it, I’d love to hear about it!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

More Drama at Casa Morrus

You know what?  I'm not going to get worked up over this stuff again.  Here's a link if you're interested:

I used to love hanging out there.


BTW, I know that I should have done a review of Barrowmaze some time ago.  I have purchased it, and I am very happy with it.  That's hardly a full review, I know, but if you are sitting on the fence about this product, please allow me to push you over it!