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Random Thoughts of a Game Developer

Archive for the tag “Dragon”

#dndnext: Deal Breakers

I’ve been participating in a D&D Next discussion group on Facebook (this one to be precise). Someone there posted a comment indicating that they wanted a return to racial class limitations. My response was… energetic. It was the first time I really realized that there are things that Wizards could do with the core rules of the system that are total deal breakers to me. I mean, sure, I knew that they could (and probably will) do things I won’t like. This is different, though. There are a few things they could do that will make me shrug and say…

Until I saw the serious suggestion that racial restrictions on class selection make a return, I didn’t think there was anything they could do that would stop me from getting – at a minimum – the beginner’s set (in whatever form it may take) and trying it out. This, however, would. Which got me wondering – is there anything else that would be a deal-breaker for me? Anything else that would make me bring out my finest Eric Cartman impression? As it turns out, yes – yes there are. Some of these have already been addressed by the D&D Next dev team, so I don’t have to worry about them. Others… well, I’m not much of a worrier. I’m more of a let’s wait and see kinda guy. But if any of the stuff I’m about to go over creeps into the Core Rules, well then I won’t be joining any D&D Next games anytime soon.

Before I dive in, I want to reiterate something: I’m talking about the Core Rules – what appeared (in previous editions) in the Player’s Handbook, or in the Dungeons Master’s Guide. Even the Dungeon Master’s Guide is an okay place for some of this, provided that it’s presented as being completely optional, and not part of the core game rules. I’m not passing judgement on anyone who likes these rules either. To each his or her own, and more power to you. These, however, are the complete deal-breakers for me. These are the things that will drive me away from Next. YMMV, as always.

1: Racial Class Limitations

I might as well go into this one first, since I already mentioned it. I’ve heard it argued that allowing any race to take any class makes the classes feel “less special”. I disagree. Refusing to allow, say, Halflings to become Rangers just makes Rangers sound like a bunch of racist assholes. They probably burn crosses in the yards of any Halfling that has dared to try to do what Rangers do. What an uppity little bastard! Those halflings should know their place – they should know that all they’re good for is being thieves! Bilbo never got up to any Ranger shenanigans, after all! Now there was a “Good Halfling”.

Sorry – was that over the line? I can never tell.

One could argue that the “Ranger” lifestyle isn’t really part of Halfling culture. I disagree, but even if that was the case, so what? Even if – in your particular setting – no Halfling has ever, ever become a Ranger before, why would that stop one from becoming one now? Are Halflings incapable of dual-wielding? Nope. Are Halflings incapable of using a bow? Again, no (although they might be more comfortable with thrown weapons or slings, culturally speaking, depending on setting). Are they incapable of tracking, hunting, surviving in nature, or communing with the divine (I prefer my Rangers magic-free, but whatever)? All “no”. So why, again, can’t they be Rangers?

Now, you may want to point out something, but before you do, make sure it’s not setting specific. You could be going “Well, okay – Halfling Rangers are fine, but Dwarves shouldn’t be allowed to be Wizards/Elves shouldn’t be allowed to be Paladins/And so on”. Again, I ask you: why? Give me a reason that isn’t grounded in setting that makes this true? If you put it in the core rules – make it part of the base mechanics of the game, I mean – then that will be the default expectation. I know you can ignore any rule you want,  but if I walk into a convention for a pickup game, what do you suppose I can expect to encounter? The reasoning that if a GM won’t let you play your character in spite of the rules, find a new GM doesn’t hold water here – you’re the one asking the GM to break the rules.

Racial class limitations should be a house rule. I don’t think they have any place in the core rules, or even in official settings like Forgotten Realms or Eberron. If you want to say “In my setting, a Dwarf’s innate magic resistance means they can’t use magic” that’s fine with me (although I’ll point out that Drow have innate magic resistance and they seem to be able to use magic just fine). If you want to say “I liked it better back in the days of AD&D, so whatever setting I use, I’ll be using the racial class limmitations that appeared in those books” again, that’s fine.

As soon as you make it part of the core rules, however, you’re making it the default for everyone’s setting. I don’t want to have to justify an exception to the rules every time I walk into a new game just because I like Halfling Rangers. People who think Dwarven Mages are cool shouldn’t need to do it either, and you shouldn’t have to act like a petulant child just because a particular GM wants to play by the rules as written. “You won’t let me play an Elven Paladin because that’s what’s in the rulebook? That’s not fair! *STOMPING FOOT* How dare you follow the rules as written! Screw you guys, I’m going to find another group to play in – I hate groups that actually read the books!” That’s just… I mean, really? REALLY?

I will make a specific exception for Prestige Classes and similar, provided those PrCs are based specifically on the inherent abilities or nature of the race. A Dwarven Defender is conceptually based on the dwarf’s short-but-broad stature, for instance – something that other races just don’t have, and therefore can’t do.  It’s fairly easy to come up with a laundry list of similar ideas, and I’m fine with that. Since PrCs are, ostensibly, based on specific concepts, often tied to setting, I can even accept the culture-based ones. I wouldn’t want that in the core books, either, but I could live with it.

2: Racial Level Limitations

This is in much the same vein as my first rant, so I’m not going to harp on about it for very long. The only think I will definitely say is that these don’t make a damn bit of sense. My Elf started learning wizardry when he was 75. He is now 500 and has been adventuring the whole time in between. He hasn’t managed to get past level 11, though. Why? Because Elves can’t get past level 11 in that class.

3: Missing Dragons and other Monster Stupidity

It’s called Dungeons & Dragons. Here, let’s try that again with proper emphasis: Dungeons & DRAGONS.

When I got my copy of the 4e Monster Manual and found there were not metallic dragons in it, I was annoyed. That annoyance has grown in the intervening years into full-on nerd rage. I guess it’s a stupid thing to get worked up about, but seriously – what the hell? The Chromatic and Metallic dragons are both major players in D&D. I didn’t need five different stat blocks for each type of Chromatic dragon – I needed all the major dragons.

I also don’t need a half dozen different, poorly-flavored versions of Goblins. I need one version that I can use multiple ways. In other words, don’t pad for space in the Monster Manual. I shouldn’t need to buy a second Monster Manual just to get stats on absolutely iconic D&D creatures. Leave out the Flumph if you must, but if you try to make me buy a second Monster Manual just so I can have official stats for a Silver dragon, screw you. I won’t do it, thanks. I guess this might not stop me from playing – or even adopting and loving – D&D Next, but it will piss me off and stop me from buying more than just the core books. I’m a creative fellow. I’ll adapt stuff from older books, thanks.

Giving me an abbreviated Monster Manual because it just had to have seven pages of Goblins (from 135 to 141 in the 4e MM), however… And no – I don’t care that those pages also covered Bugbears and Hobgoblins. One full page each for Gobins, Hobgoblins, and Bugbears, and suddenly you have 4 more pages free in the book. For Metallic Dragons. Just sayin’.

4: The GSL

Not again. Not ever. I’d prefer a completely closed system to this insulting document, thank you very much. I’ve expressed my opinion on the OGL many, many times. I love it, I think it’s fantastic, and I think virtually every game system could benefit from making it’s core rules available under OGL or a similar license. I think that giving fans the freedom to make and share their own programs, tools, and books is the best thing for the hobby in general. 3/3.5e both benefited from it.

But please: if it can’t be at least as open as the OGL, then don’t insult me with some watered-down crap license that actually lets me do almost nothing. Just close it up and be done with it.

___

That’s all I’m coming up with right now. I suppose the third and fourth ones aren’t even a deal-breakers – they’re just stuff that will make me wary and slow to adopt. If I come up with anything else, I guess you can expect a new #dndnext: Deal Breakers column from me.

Next time on student 20 Productions: Probably something about Essence 20. With a new Mind Map, probably. And a few more details on how it works. Maybe.

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Computer and Console RPGs – A Different Voice, Part 1

First things first: Wizards of the Coast announced that it’s working on a new edition of D&D – most fans are calling it 5e, but the Wizards Team keeps referring to it as “D&D Next”, which sounds kinda cool when you’re not speaking out loud. I will be making a full blog post discussing my thoughts on the matter, and some of the things I think could make D&D Next the best D&D edition ever. That’s for another day. If you’re interested in following the ongoing discussion, you should follow #dndnext on Twitter, and sign up for the “open” beta (I’ll get to that in a post eventually) on the Wizards website. In any case, none of that has anything to do with what I’m going to be talking about today, so I’m moving on.

Before proceeding, you should probably read my Brother’s blog posts: First this one, and then this one.

I indicated in comments to my brother that I would be providing a sorta follow-along blog to his, since he committed to a week about Computer and Console RPGs, and it’s an interest we share.  We also share an interest in the more table-top style of RPG – in inverse proportions, no less. So, since I’m the complete nut in the family on that subject, you may find it creeping in to the conversation., Anyone who’s read more than a few of my blog posts would probably expect no less.

In his second post on the subject, Cullen talks about the two primary groups of Computer/Console RPG (I’ll be using his initialism, VRP, from this point forward). He – and many others – divide the VRP world into two very broad categories: Japanese Style and American Style, or Eastern and Western style, if you prefer. I’m not going to go over the terms again; I’m not especially fond of them, but they’re basically what we have to work with.

Assuming you read Cullen’s posts (you did, right?), you know that he outlined the basic difference between the two, and what he sees as the central strengths and flaws of the two different types. He also discussed a few examples – Icewind Dale and Dragon Age as Western RPGs, and Final Fantasy 6 and Lunar: Silver Star Story on the Eastern side. I’d… yeah, I’d like to discuss a couple of those, and then I’m going to see where this crazy boat takes me.

Final Fantasy 6 and Lunar are, in my humble opinion, two out of three of the best Eastern style VRP games ever made (the missing third one is Chrono Trigger). I consider all three to be stellar examples of what Eastern style games can do: tell a magnificent story

A battle in Final Fantasy VI

See what I mean by "horribly dated" graphics? I don't care - I dare you to play Final Fantasy 6 and not find Kefka to be a phenominal villian.

well, with fascinating characters.  The fact that all three are, from a graphical standpoint, horribly dated is irrelevant. The combat

Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete

Image via Wikipedia

systems run quickly and fluidly, the dialogue is well written/translated, and the characters are deep. These are wonderful games that tell great stories. The lack of control you have over the story is something you can sacrifice to experience the tale. The downside is that they’re sort of like novels – with rare exception, one doesn’t usually read the same novel twice in a row. Why would you? You know the story, so… you wait a while. If it was great, you pick it up again and start reading some more.

Chrono Trigger

I honestly can't believe my brother didn't mention this one. If you haven't played it, you should.

On the Western front (ha-ha), on the other hand, I have a few more things to say about what a Western RPG is all about.  My brother listed two examples, mentioned previously. He also brought up Wizardry, though, which is part of what confused me about his choices as exemplars of the Western oeuvre. Wizardry involved taking a single character on a dungeon crawl. There was little story – but that was the idea. You were encouraged to imagine yourself as this might warrior/wizard/whatever going up against the Mad Overlord – and everything else was up to you.

As Western RPGs progressed, more and more story was included, but rarely at the cost of character freedom. In more recent times, however, Western RPGs seem to be changing. More and more, the primary quest becomes bigger and bigger, with everything that isn’t the primary quest becoming smaller and smaller. Dragon Age does this so badly that I can’t even think of it as a “Western Style” RPG any more: it’s a Eastern Style game with Western Influences, and it’s a far cry from back when Bioware used to make – well, when they used to make good games, like Baldur’s Gate.

Not all Western RPGs are driving themselves off this cliff, however. The Elder Scrolls series embraced character freedom in its first incarnation, and has never turned back. Right now, I have a Skyrim character who’s barelypaused to look at the main quest line, and I can’t help but think I’m having more fun than anyone I know who “beat” the “main” quest.  I’m not saying anyone is playing it wrong – you can’t play it wrong. I’m just saying that I’m still having a blast, and I haven’t a clue what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m lost in the world, and that’s what Western RPGs are supposed to do. I

English: The text logo of The Elder Scrolls II...

This game is awesome. Dragon Age isn't. This game exemplifies everything great about Western RPGs. Dragon Age is a shitty Japanese style RPG. I love Japanese style RPGs when they're good. Dragon Age just isn't.

love when RPGs do that for me. I hated Dragon Age because it just couldn’t stop forcing me to do what it wanted me to do exactly the way it wanted me to do it.

So, yeah – I’m big into more open world systems. I’m excited about Dragon’s Dogma (from Capcom, which should make your eyebrow go up) despite it’s funny name. I’m even more excited about Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, despite the name that goes on forever. I wish I saw something that looked as good as any of these on the Eastern RPG front, but… I just don’t.

Dragon Age can go suck it.

Aww, CRAP! I forgot to bring up Fable! Oh, well – I guess I’ll have to save that one for later.

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