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#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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#dndnext Cautious Optimism 6: In Summary

This post is (for me at least) coming on the heels of my last one. I’ve decided to increase my update schedule for reasons that I hope will become evident. I hope to be up to daily posts soon, so keep your eyes open and if you like what you see, tell your friends.

I’ve been titling these posts Cautious Optimism for a reason – that perfectly expresses my feelings on D&D Next. I choose to call it by the name Wizards of the Coast is using for a number of reasons, even though I feel like a doof every time I say it out loud. Wizards thinks they’re onto something, and I agree with them. What they’re saying about the design – and what little we’re hearing about the design – is promising. A simple core with additions for those who want more depth or complexity? Sounds nice. Sounds familiar, but it sounds nice. It’s a good familiar that we’re hearing about. This is D&D, after all. When it becomes unfamiliar, a lot of us fans balk and go somewhere else.

The fact that Wizards seems hopeful – rather than greedy – with this announcement means a lot to me. They call it D&D Next because they’re hoping major versions won’t be needed anymore. They’re hoping – perhaps unrealistically – that this will be the last real version we’ll ever need. It’s hard to see that and not hope right along with them, even if you’re not sure you can believe it (or them). It’s hopeful, and I like hopeful.

In that regard, I wanted to go over a few of my hopes for Next. Some of these things are abstract, some are concrete, and I want it to be clear from the start that none of these are deal-breakers for me.  I love this hobby, and I’m willing to give a lot of ground and still love the granddaddy game of them all. D&D has, through every edition, had its ups and downs (as I think this series has pointed out rather well). Wizards of the Coast has set themselves up for an ambitious path for Next, and I hope they succeed. I am cautiously optimistic that they will.

But on to my hopes for the new system.

Feature 1: Fast Character Creation

I want to be able to do character generation and start a game in the same night. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I want the core of the game to allow for that sort of thing so that if my game group can’t manage it, then it’s our fault. Our fault for screwing around (which is okay if everyone’s having fun), or our fault for including too many rules modules. From concept to finished character, I want less than an hour for newbies, and half an hour or less once we get to know the system. Ideally, I’d like to always start with core rules, and then add stuff in as we go on a situational basis, which brings me to:

Feature 2: On The Fly Extension

If my game group decides we suddenly want a highly tactical map battle, I want to be able to add that in, and then leave it behind for the next session. I want to be able to do this with most rule modules (or whatever name they’re finally called): I want to be able to plug them in and abandon them at will, mid-session if possible. I do that with extensions in my Chrome Web Browser, and I want to be able to do it in my D&D game. Even if I’m stuck with a module once it goes in, I can live with that – provided adding it in the first place is easy and intuitive. I want new modules to hook onto extant rules systems so that, when I stick them in in the middle of a campaign, they still feel natural. I would prefer, however, that varying levels of complexity be easy to integrate because…

Feature 3: Variable Character Rule Complexity

I have had otherwise great gamers be put off by having to learn a whole bunch of crap just to play their character – they wanted simple, obvious die rolls that were consistent and easy to remember. I have had other players relish diving into the crunch and complexity, fine-tuning each score, and agonize over every spell/power/feat choice, and love every damn minute of it. Personally, I’m somewhere in between these two extremes, and I think most players probably are.

Those two different kind of players don’t usually belong in the same game, though. The game will accomidate one and not the other, and I’m tired of that. I don’t want that anymore, and D&D Next is posturing as if its the game to pull it off. I hope it does. I hope that folks who loved the micromanagement of 3 and 4e will be able to sit down with folks who would be more comfortable with the much more streamlined 0e or one of the games out of the Old School Renaissance (a word neither I nor Chrome, Opera, or Firefox seem to be able to spell without looking it up). If one player can have a nice, simple one-page character sheet, and I can have three pages of stuff, and my real crunch-loving friends can have six – and we can all sit and play the same game at the same time – that will make me happy. Oh, so happy. Being able to add to the complexity of your own character as you go so that it moves with your learning curve and desire for crunch would be even better, and that brings me to…

Feature 4: Extensible Character Classes

I love core classes. I’d love about five of them in the core rules (Fighter, Rogue, Wizard, Cleric, RANGER… or, you know, Paladin or Monk – any one of those three RANGER), and then maybe five to eight more in later rulebooks. What I don’t want is an endless procession of prestige and paragon classes, epic destinies, and so on. I want to be able to flavor-up and put my character on a path using feats. I’d love it even more of that particular method of improvement were optional.

It would be really cool if those feats could be put together into a group, showing a particular path of improvement that reflected a specialization within the larger context of the class. Maybe a few small benefits just for using all that stuff, but mostly flavor and guidance for role playing within the context of that set of tools. Yeah – that’s a good way to put it: a collection of tools for guiding your character towards an archetype that exists within the class. It’s too bad there’s not a name for that sort of thing, maybe an older system tat could be dusted off and updated… Oh, wait! There is!

Feature 5: Kits not Prestige Classes

For all my ranting and raving about 2e and the things I hated about it (actually, as I recall, I couldn’t even be bothered to rant about 2e much specifically – I just rolled it all up into a general AD&D rant…), there is one thing I truly miss from 2e: KITS. Kits were an awesome idea. They provided small, specific bonuses, but didn’t really reward min-maxing. They were also packed to the brim with fluff rather than crunch, and could be taken (in fact were supposed to be taken) at level 1 – making them essentially the opposite of Prestige Classes. Kits are the way to go for “core” (although I prefer them to appear minimally, if at all, in the core rule books). By flavoring the core classes rather than tossing them in the bin, they remained special and unique, and that was better.

If you want to add in Prestige Classes or Paragon Paths or whatever the hell in extra stuff, that’s fantastic. Go for it. I won’t buy those books, but I think they should exist. Me, I want KITS, not PrCs. Eff PrCs. We don’t need class bloat. And that, sadly, brings me to y next point:

Feature 6: Fewer Classes, More Kits

This one makes me sad, because it’s admission time: Ranger shouldn’t be a class. If Kits are brought back, then Rangers are a Kit that should be applied to a Fighter or Druid class (Druid could be a Kit for Cleric, but to me the shamanistic nature-worshiper is too fundamentally different in nature from the organized religious miracle-weaver). Paladin could be a Kit applied to Fighter or Cleric. Barbarian could be applied to Fighter or Rogue – or any other class, for that matter; the idea of a barbarian Cleric or Wizard is very, very cool to me.

Sorcerer can be a Kit for Wizard – as can all manner of specialist mage. In fact, any number of alternate spellcasting methods could be Kits applied to existing spellcasting classes. We don’t need a whole new class for Hexblades and Warlocks – we need Kits and funny ways of managing out spell list. What if Warlock was a Wizard Kit that let you cast your spells known as often as you like – but only gave you one new spell per level, and capped your highest selectable spell level as 1/4 your actual level?  Wait… that sounds more like a Hexblade… Whatever, it doesn’t matter. The point is, if we have Kits – rich, well-written flavorful Kits – we don’t need an asston of character classes.

And if Wizards has trouble coming up with interesting, detailed new Kits, they can sign my ass up. Err… I mean, ask the fan community to come up with them, and put them into their magazine. You know, their online magazine. What? You say they have two? What the hell is the point of that?

Feature 7: One Magazine to Rule Them All – in more than one media

Alright, guys: when it was a print publication, it made sense to have two different magazines. As an online PDF, however, that’s just… dumb. If you’re going to do an online magazine, here’s my suggestion: call it Dungeons & Dragons Magazine. Put the articles out over the course of a month, available to subscribers. Then, at the end of each month, compile them together into a print magazine that people who are willing to pay a premium can get in their hot little hands.

We’re gamers, Wizards of the Coast. We like hard copies. If I spend too much time reading on my computer, my eyes get rather tired. I like the feel of the pages under my fingers. I like being able to flip between them during a game. PDFs don’t do that, although I will admit that, baring a proper print release, I personally would like an e-book version. Of course, it’s pretty easy and cheap to publish in e-book format, so my real question is this: Why in the 666 Layers of the Abyss aren’t you already using e-book format? I mean, it couldn’t be that hard to push the books to that format, could it? The books and the magazines. As I understand it, Amazon already has some sort of regular update mechanism. I’ve been lead to believe that you can subscribe to newspapers on your Nook (or whatever the hell the Amazon e-book reader is called; I can’t keep them straight, and it’s just not important enough to me to do a Google search).

Online is powerful, but it isn’t everything. Offline is important, too – and so is print, no matter how out of date it seems. We’re gamers. We like books. We’re also fans, and creative people, us gamers – and that brings me to my last point, and if anything was a game-breaker for me, it would be this one:

Feature 8: Bring Back the OGL

This is the big one. The one feature to rule them all. See, with the OGL, if we don’t like something or think we can write it better for some small niche of the market, then we can – and we can sell it. The shoreline sorcerers may be looking at this and thinking “but that way lies Pathfinder” – and they’d be wrong. Pathfinder is what it has become because the OGL was abandoned, a new system was created without fan feedback, and the straight-jacket joke that was the GSL was enforced. That’s why Pathfinder is what it is. It’s not because the Wizards allowed us freedom – it’s because they took it away. People don’t like that. Creative people – like gamers – especially don’t like that. It makes us angry – and you wouldn’t liKE US WHEN WE’RE ANG… HULK SMASH STUPID GSL!!!!!

Ahem.

More importantly, though, is that you guys at Wizards haven’t always delivered on your promises. When the OGL was around, that wasn’t a big deal: fans just did it themselves, and you were off the hook. No harm, no foul. The GSL came around, though, and suddenly you’re shutting down fan sites and projects… without offering anything like what they were providing. I’m still waiting for the graphical character model creator and neat-o 3D online tabletop it was supposed to plug into. You don’t get us to buy your product by excluding fans. You get us to buy it by making it awesome.

As a side note – let me buy it. I’ll subscribe for a magazine. I’m not subscribing for a character creator and an online tabletop. I’ll buy those things, though. I’ll even pay for update packages occasionally. But if you want me to buy your character generator, it needs to be better than this one or this one, and your online tabletop had damn well be better than this completely free one. Remember that 3D tabletop you guys promised us? The one that hooked up to a character creator that made cool 3D tokens for the 3D tabletop? Yeah – I’d pay for that. I’d even pay to use your servers as long as I had the option of not using your servers and establishing my own. People do pay for convenience and service, you know. QuickTrip has based their entire existence on that.

So, to Wrap up:

Most gamers hop systems and editions. Sure, we do it at different times and for different reasons. We use White Wolf when we’re feeling angsty or dark or melancholic. We use GURPS when we want a blend of freedom and realism. We use RoleMaster when we’ve fallen in love with tables (I’m assuming. Neat system, but too damn many tables for me, thanks). And we use different editions of D&D for a whole list of reasons, but two of them are ease of use and familiarity. D&D is comfortable for us because it’s where most gamers started. We like new and neat and different, but if you make it too different, we’ll balk.

Some of us – me included – even have a great deal of appreciation for the “new different” 4e. As I said in my last posting, I think it’s a fantastic fantasy miniature combat game.  If you just ran screaming from 4e, go to a used bookstore and pick up a Player’s Handbook and a Monster Manual (and nothing else), and try it out in that context. Just try it as a battle sim. It’s unrealistic as all holy hell, but it’s fun, and that’s what games are supposed to be. I think we roleplayers can forget that bit sometimes. We get caught up in how things should work, or in forging complex stories, or in making deep and fleshed-out characters and forget that when we play D&D, we’re playing a game – and games should be fun. In a specific context, 4e is fun. It’s great in that context, and if you’re into that sort of thing.

TL;DR

Go back and peruse the bold face. Develop an attention span. If you don’t have one, I’m not sure how you play role playing games in the first place. Yes, I’m a jerk.

Coming Up on student 20 Productions

Next time, I’ll be talking about my own development work, the Essence 20 game I’m working on, and I’ll even have a relevant image for you. Interestingly enough, it relates to some of what I’ve been saying about D&D Next. That will be up soon – maybe even tomorrow. I may also drop hints about what I’m building up to. Who the heck knows with me? I’m unpredictable like that.

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#dndnext Cautious Optimism: Part 3, the dawn of Open Gaming

I’m well aware that people have been designing games and encouraging others to use their systems for quite some time, but with the advent of 3rd Edition D&D, WIzards of the Coast did something special and spectacular: they created the Open Game License (OGL). Setting aside all other considerations about 3e D&D (OMG IT ALL MAKES SO MUCH SENSE!!!/OMG THE CLASS AND POWER BLOAT!!!), this addition officially made 3e the most important D&D edition in the history of table top Role Playing Games.

The OGL is a legal document that is attached to most D&D 3/3.5 (and to Pathfinder, and to a variety of other games including Spycraft, d20 Modern, Mutants & Masterminds, and the superlative True20) releases that makes it so that anybody can create and distribute games based on the original material. It does this while including a clause that protects individual product identity, allowing you to easily create modified game systems using the rules, but retain control of things that are specific to your particular game setting (for instance, I could create an Essence d20 game that allowed people to use any of the mechanics I created, but stop them from using, say, Silverleaf, the capitol city of the Sherian Republic of Free Clans). It’s a masterfully written document that brought unprecedented freedom to other publishers. when developing compatible or derivative content: they no longer needed to “get permission” because that was included in the OGL.

Thanks to the OGL, we now have (and this is a very abbreviated list):

  • True 20, an elegant and streamlined universal game system published by Green Ronin
  • PCGen, Open Source character generator software that can be adapted to just about any d20 game system
  • Mutants & Masterminds, a in-depth (if a bit mathematically complicated) Super Heroes role playing game also from Green Ronin
  • Spycraft, an espionage role playing game filled with Bond-eque action from Crafty Games (who also make the equally superlative Fantasy Craft game)
  • Literally hundreds of independently published rules supplements to D&D 3/3.5
  • Pathfinder, a fantastic evolution of the 3.5 D&D rules system brought to us by Paizo that apparently outsells 4e D&D by a fair margin
And the list goes on. I’m not even including non-d20 games that have been released under the license (like RuneQuest). I’m sure I’ve left a lot of other things out as well. Space considerations, don’t you know.
In any case, by adding the OGL to the Most Popular Role Playing Game In The World, Wizards opened up gaming in general. The idea that a system could be used, adapted, modified, and republished by anyone was the greatest revolution in gaming history since the creation of the hobby. Pure, unadulterated brilliance is what it was.

I’ve seen it argued that, by creating the OGL, Wizards also laid the groundwork for D&D’s biggest direct competitor (which would be Pathfinder, which some gamers have affectionately – or derisively – called “D&D 3.75”). This claim is horse shit. It isn’t the OGL that caused Pathfinder to overtake D&D, or even to exist in the first place. A variety of business decisions at Wizards did that – but I’m only going o talk about one: the GSL.

When Wizards – with no fan input whatsoever – decided to move on to a fourth edition of their iconic game system, they dropped the OGL in favor of the GSL – the Game System License. Now, if you do a quick Google search, you’ll find more games released under the OGL than you can shake a stick at, many of them dating back to the time of 3e (not 3.5) D&D. Do similar research for the GSL and you’ll find… well, just about nothing. Now, why is this?

The GSL is much more restrictive than the OGL. Where the OGL said “here – take the mechanics of this game and do what you will with them!”, the GSL said “These are our mechanics. You can make stuff directly related to it, but you can’t make derivatives, and God Help You if you try to make computer software related to it”. Wizards then aggressively enforced the GSL.

See, they saw all the money companies like Green Ronin, Crafty Games, and Paizo were making from their derivative stuff (in the case of Paizo, that included two officially licensed D&D magazines), and said “Hey! WE WANT THAT MONEY!“. I’m all for companies – especially creative ones like game publishers – making money from their work, but Wizards failed to take several things into account.

The first thing they missed was that all of this derivative work led back to them. Instead of dancing in the spotlight as the progenitor of a new generation of gaming, all they could see was the money they thought they were missing out on. They saw character generators and thought we could make and sell those, ignoring the fact that most of the chargen software out there were labors of love created by fans with little or no thought of profit.  They saw the derivative systems and thought we can do that, too, never acknowledging that there was no practical way for them to actually do it. Wizards never could have made Mutants & Masterminds when they had to focus their dev team on D&D. This is easily proven when you take into account how completely awesome a 4e based Super Hero game could be. It almost seems like the system was made for it: they call the various special things characters can do Powers, for goodness sake!

The other thing they missed was that they never could have gotten that money anyway. Wizards does RPGs one way – the D&D/d20 Modern way. Crafty Games does things another way.  I know I covered it a bit in the previous paragraph, but the only reason games like Spycraft exist is because folks saw something special in the d20 system and adapted it. They missed out that several of the character generation software projects were free – either Free as in Beer or Free as in Libre. They missed out on the fact that a whole hell of a lot of the stuff people were putting out were things that WIzards has never expressed an ability or desire to put out. And yet all of them – every last one – still led back to D&D and/or d20 Modern. PCGen, Redblade, Spycraft, Mutants & Masterminds, True 20, Conan the Barbarian (from Mongoose Publishing), Pathfinder, the Everquest RPG (White Wolf Studios), Traveller20 (QuickLink Interactive), and even the (frankly amazing) World of Warcraft Role Playing Game are all – intentionally or not – homages to the d20/3e/3.5e Dungeons &  Dragons game. Did Wizards really think they’d be able to make this frakkin’ many adaptations of the 4e system, or that in order to make 4e adaptations, people would submit to the GSL? Not bloody likely.

It wasn’t the release of 4e that created Pathfinder. It was the GSL. Although I find myself preferring the d20 system more and more over 4e,  4e could have been much cooler if only Wizards had loosened its grip.

So. What can D&D Next take from this? Simple: Bring back the OGL. Don’t make a whole new license when you already have a perfectly good one. This is especially true for the modular approach Wizards is taking. Let people make and sell their own modules. Allow them to put some sort of branding on things that are compatible directly with the core rules, and let people who want to make original works derived from (but not compatible with) the new D&D do their thing. Encourage the whole of the gaming community to use your system.

In this way, D&D Next could do a lot more than bring players of multiple editions of D&D to the same table. It could create a single system that many, if not most, in the gaming hobby could stand behind, use, and love regardless of what sort of game they wanted to play. Instead of just bringing D&D players together, it could bring the whole Role Playing Community together.

C’mon guys. You almost did it once. This time, do it, stand behind it, and encourage it to grow. Be even less restrictive.

The whole of the hobby will thank you for it.

TL;DR

Get a frakking attention span. I’m not doing this stupid crap anymore. If you can’t be bothered to read 1,000 words or so about a subject, then you don’t really care about it anyway.

Next:

For my next post, I’ll be talking about 3/3.5e and the d20 Modern system. Probably. Unless I can think of something else I’d rather talk about.

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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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Gaming and Gaming – We had it first, damnit!

I love video games. I’m not good at them or anything, but I’ve played them since I was a kid. M family’s first video game console was (if I plumb the depths of my memory from the late 70s/early 80s) a Super Pong console, although I couldn’t tell you on a bet the manufacturer. I dimly remember having a light gun… but I can’t come up with much else, even when pressed.

Atari 2600 mit Joystick

Atari 2600 Home Entertainment Console; Image via Wikipedia

We later had an Atari 2600, and that’s the console I remember best from early childhood. My whole family played; my Mom was fond of Super Breakout and Video Pinball. I don’t remember my Dad playing much, although that’s probably because of his work schedule. My favorite game early on was Adventure, but that was eventually supplanted by Dragonstomper and Escape from the Mind Master, a lovely game made possible by the Starpath Supercharger. The Supercharger was a gigantic cartridge  that connected to a audio cassette player to load the game. Apparently, the thing also expanded the memory and graphic capability of the  2600, which isn’t difficult to believe for anyone who played any of the long-loading but still awesome games.

Dragonstomper, in particular, appealed to me due to its similarity to the D&D games I was already enjoying. You played an adventurer who was on a quest to slay a dragon overlord. You collected items and gold, fought monsters (generally unimpressive ones, to be sure… I mean, being attacked by bugs, monkeys, and beetles wasn’t exactly tension-building), dodged traps, and eventually fought a massive pink dragon. Why was the dragon pink? I’m going to blame the 2600’s limited color palette, but I’m not sure that’s much of an excuse.

Dragonstomper and, to a lesser degree, Escape from the Mind Master were precursors. I have no way of knowing if the future creators of Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy ever played these games, but it doesn’t matter. The JRPG genre of game was soon all I wanted to play. I enjoyed platformers (especially Mega Man) and other games, too, but my fondest video game memories of my childhood make me think of dragon lords named Baramos, elemental fiends, and espers. I’ve always been especially attached to the Dragon Quest games, and out of them Dragon Quest 3 and Dragon Quest 4 shine the brightest. These games did a much better job than their American counterparts (Ultima not withstanding, although I disliked it for other reasons) of telling a story. Even today, the things I look for in my video games are story and the ability to improve my character(s) as I go along. I want good gameplay, too (which means the abysmal Final Fantasy 13, or as I like to call it Press A a lot and run down a corridor is straight out), but story is the main thing.

Switching gears, I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons (in the original Red Box) when I was 8, and fell instantly in love. I’ve been a role-player ever since, and, as this site attests, have made ham-fisted attempts at making my own games. I’ve been doing that since I was, I think, 11.  I’ve played a laundry list of tabletop RPGs, and I’ve read and leared how to play several that I’ve never had the opportunity to try out.  I read rulebooks as casual reading, and I frequently keep one in the bathroom.  I try to keep up with the state of the industry (although I freely admit that I’m not very “with it” when it comes to indie games).   I love dice. I enjoy minis, although due to unsteady hands and a lack of patients for all things artistic within me, I tend to prefer the pre-painted ones. I dream of run

Dungeons & Dragons

Image by unloveablesteve via Flickr

ning a booth at Gen-con.

In short, when I started both hobbies, neither one was exactly what you’d call mainstream.  I do remember, however, that we tabletop role players called ourselves “gamers” long before the term referred to video gamers. We tabletop RPGers dealt with the idiotic cries of “concerned parents” and – moreso than video gamers have ever had to – persecution and outright slander/libel perpetrated by the religious right. Want proof? Here:

http://www.chick.com/articles/dnd.asp

http://omgrpg.blogfaction.com/article/101003/top-5-misconceptions-about-dungeons-dragons/

http://www.adequacy.org/stories/2001.8.1.165438.1158.html

The first article is about as accurate as anything else put out by Chick.com – which is to say not at all. There are not and have never been  specific ritual instructions in any Dungeons & Dragons manual. Saying that the creators went and consulted with an “Alexandrian tradition” witch who was also a Satanist is insulting to witches, satanists, D&D players, and the memory of Gary Gygax. It’s also phenomenally ignorant.

The second article talks about misconceptions concerning D&D players that apply to tabletop gamers and (to some extent) video gamers.

The third is a sad story, and I feel for the woman who wrote it. Suicide is a horrible thing, and I understand this mother’s need to understand what motivated her son to take his own life. That said, D&D is not a cult. It is not a religion, so that eliminates it from the definition provided in the article for cult, but even if it didn’t, D&D is still not a cult. It is not “extremist”, and it never makes any claims on being truth (in fact, it really only claims to be a shared imaginary experience, which is what it is). And – here’s the part I find most difficult to type – it did not kill this poor mother’s son.

At any rate, we tabletoppers have been the subject of the same idiocy. The primary difference is that Video Games have become much more mainstream than role playing games ever have been or ever will be, and so congress has gotten involved. Also, current and past Politicos in the U.S. Presidential administration seem to be of the belief that if they keep harping on video games, we U.S. citizens won’t notice what a craptastic job they’re doing.

I suppose that, if there is, in fact, a point to all this rambling it’s this: as a tabletop gamer and a video gamer, I can tell you that our hobbies aren’t that different. Both are associated with being anti-social despite being intensely social. Both are maligned by ignorant religious and political leaders. Both have had their day in court. Both are fun, both help forge friendship, and both have a interesting history that’s about the same length and has much in common.

We (meaning video and tabletop gamers) have a similar hobby. In fact, I can’t think of a single tabletoper who doesn’t enjoy video games. I can’t help but think that our mutual communities should be sharing things with each other, not the least of which is the name “Gamer”. So stop assuming that, when I say I’m a Gamer, I mean video games. I usually don’t, even though I play both. Let’s all come together and show the world that our hobby isn’t about being lonely, dysfunctional eff-tards.

We’re all Gamers together – but we tabletop gamers had the name first, dammit.

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