Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition: The Meta-Support

I've been playing in a Warhammer Fantasy RPG now for many moons. Long enough for Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition to hit the shelves. A few of the players didn't buy it, but were soon swayed by those who had purchased it.

Rule wise, it hits some of the things I like but not all of them. For example, my group had a very short discussion about the benefits of random rolling character bits, like stats and hit points and almost unanimously went with point buy and fixed hit points.

In terms of gaming, I've been reading Hoard of the Dragon Queen, it's the first 'separate' adventure for the new edition. I know that the basic set has it's own adventure mind you but I figured I'd start with something that Wizards of the Coast has been promoting on their home site.

Bad news is I'm not too thrilled with it. It's a little too open and feels incomplete to me. Others have less kind things to say about it on such regular locals as

My dislike of the only print adventure, only 'official' print adventure, has me wondering about the 'meta-support' if you will.

First off, there appears to be no OGL or even GSL. Mind you, that hasn't stopped some like Goodman Games from offering 3rd party support and Necromancer Games has decided to disregard waiting for a license and has already run a Kickstarter to fund some support for the game. Honestly wish that Necromancer Games had the conviction of their legal ground when they had the license to do Tegal Manor mind you but what can you do? The past is the past.

Now the other thing, is back 'in the day', Dungeon and Dragon magazine acted as useful tools in order to bring hype, previews and all sorts of other fun things to the game. I know that during the transition from 2nd to 3rd they were very handy to have and even had things like the game stats for Bahamut and Tiamat.

More importantly, it also acted as a monthly source of adventurers.

Now Wizards of the Coast, in my opinion, has always been weak about supporting its games with print adventurers. 3rd edition had the OGL and SRD and all sorts of other things that meant Wizards of the Coast didn't necessarily have to put those resources in place. But when they killed the print version of the magazines and then when 4th edition didn't engage a lot of 3rd party interest due to its restriction license, WoTC did NOT step up the published adventurers. Sure Dungeon magazine continued its online support but WoTC did weird things in that era.

So you'd think with a new edition of Dungeons and Dragons coming out, that we'd see some new incarnation of either magazine? Something that might allow Game Masters, who at this point don't have the Dungeon Master's Guide or the Monster Manual, some quick adventures.

No such luck.

This to me is a failure on Wizards of the Coast part.

I remember when 3rd edition came out. There was a conversion document. It was a nifty little thing. Wasn't perfect by any means mind you but it was handy.

Anything like that on the WoTC home site? Nope.

Failure again.

Mind you, it's not like WoTC didn't KNOW they were coming out with a new edition for oh, say the past year.

But what about miniature support? While the new game doesn't require miniatures, Wizards of the Coast is doing some new Dungeons and Dragons miniatures thanks to Wiz Kids help. Something like Icons of the Realms?

And it's possible my own internet skillz are failing me here because I can't find a listing of what those miniatures actually are. I see a brief product synopsis on the WoTC site, but in the past, they'd have a gallery of what the miniatures actually were. I GET that it's a Wiz Kids product but sending people to another company's website is stupid.

And even the Wiz Kids website is terrible. Maybe I'm missing it but there are supposed to be like 44 figures (50 counting the non-random pack) and I count 24 images including the non-random pack and a picture of the booster pack. Argh!


One of the things this set is supposed to do, is support the adventure.

If so, it doesn't do a fantastic job of it.

This being the first miniature pack of the game, you need to have miniatures available for players to pick from. So with a LOT of ground to cover, because the Player's Handbook is jammed with race and class options, every pick for a miniature should be important.

Eight of the miniatures are 'invisible', see through plastic. Out of 44 miniatures, eight of them are duplicates to be 'cool'.

Imagine that you're a game company. You pay people money to illustrate characters in a setting book.  Say one of them is Langdedrosa Cyanwrath, a halfdragon, blue, champion of the bad guys.  A named character that makes several appearances in the adventure. You have a great illustration of him in the book. Perfect for making into a miniature right?

Nope. They have a 'generic' half red dragon. So you PAID someone to make miniatures that should probably have some type of visual reference and for the adventure itself you PAID someone else to make numerous illustrations that you don't bother using for the miniatures that the game is supposed to be supporting?

Okay, but at least all of the 'core' races are supported right? It's not like 4th edition, where again, Wizards of the Coast KNEW they were introducing dragonborn to the core rules and we have a few Dragonborn miniatures to select from right? They're not going to have to reprint an old dragonborn that looks nothing like the current version of the race right?

Wrong! You may get an invisible gnome that's a copy of the visible gnome, but ain't one dragonborn in the whole pack. And yeah, any of you drow players who aren't doing the whole two scimitars thing aren't going to find anything useful either.

It's like the guys making Dungeons and Dragons want to push the 'standards' of the game by including different things like tielflings and dragonborn but then FAIL to support it.

You want to make some fixed packs? Since the Dungeon Master is probably the one whose going to be buying a lot of these, how about, oh, I don't know, some kobolds, cultists, and ambush drakes? A pack for those times when you need 'em? To me, the whole thing is like Wizards of the Coast going, "Yeah, let's tap into that Star Wars and Star Trek market with this Attack Wing stuff but throw a bone to the miniature players of the role playing game".

To me, they're essentially saying, "Yeah, go buy the Reaper Legendary Encounters line and we'll blame the lack of sales on a soft market or something." For those who can paint, the Reaper Bones, while not prepainted, offer an even better value.

In terms of 'support', on one hand, WoTC has a supplement online with all the monster stats. They need this because you know, those stats aren't in the book.

On the other hand, if you're not going to support the game with miniatures, despite having a miniature set dedicated to it, perhaps, like Fiery Dragon and other companies have done, there can be some counters made? A nice little download for either stand up or lay flat counters since in many cases you already have the art made?

While miniature mapping isn't required, some like it in order to simply keep marching order straight and area of effects straight. When you buy the product, you don't get large resolution sized files that you can print out and use for your game. I've seen some people buy them directly from the artists and make their own maps that way.

I have no problem with an artists supporting themselves through secondary use of their work, but maybe, just maybe mind you, Wizards of the Coast, and Paizo and other companies for that matter, can pay the map makers a little more and get scale sized maps that the people trying to support the companies can then download for their own games? Just putting it out there.

Another venue of what I'd consider failure on the part of Wizards of the Coast is the lack of a PDF product. "Hey, we're sorry we abandoned PDF years ago and stomped off like children who didn't like the way the game was being played. We're back and have a ton of old material for you to buy. Oh, you'd like to support the new material or want it for reference? Uh... no see, we have this digital thing that is not ready yet even though, you know again, we've had something like a year or more to have a product launch..."

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that these elements will "doooom..." the new Player's Handbook. Sales have been very brisk in various online stores and it'll have its moment in the sun. I've never argued against that. I've argued that due to the lack of official product that initially sales will be awesome and may even be some sell throughs of the first printing.

But long term I don't think WoTC is going to be able to compete.

Let me boil down my "you fail" list for Wizards of the Coast.

1. Miniatures that don't actually support EITHER the player's options from the core rulebook or the adventurer that they were designed to, you know, support.

2. Lack of adventures.

3. Lack of Dragon/Dungeon magazines as marketing tools.

4. Actual digital tools that people can use.

5. Conversion documents.

6. OGL/GLS/something official to let third party companies know what they can do. Mind you, Necromancer Games and Goodman have already given WoTC the finger on this one so maybe it'll be irrelevant in the future.

7. PDF support.

8. Adventure Support with full scale maps that people can use in their home games.

9. Better website. When you're sending readers from your website to Wiz Kids website, you fail. Get a gallery up and some real information.

10. Price. Still think that $50 bones for three books is too high a buy in.Sure Amazon and other methods of acquiring the books can reduce that but that slaps the whole "play in your friendly local store" in the face.

I'll be curious to see where 5th edition is this time next year because once the shine wears off, if WoTC isn't firing on at least a few of those cylinders, people have a TON of options out there including supporting companies that, you know, DO fire on those cylinders.

How about other games out there? Everyone happy with how WoTC is handling the Dungeons and Dragons line outside of the rules? Any of these points strike home or are all these just minor things? Let me know what you think!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino

For those looking for some light reading, The Nonexistent Knight by Italo Calvino may fit the bill.

I'd never read any of Italo Calvino's work until recently. Amazon had a sale on several of his books and while I'm still reading the Italian Folktales, I managed to finish this one setting. It flows very easily despite the fact that it has a few words I didn't know beforehand. One of the benefits of a kindle book is the ability to engage the dictionary right there in the text.

I had a feeling I'd enjoy this one. It's set during the era of Charlemagne, one of the sources of knights and paladins in the Dungeons and Dragons game and the era of one of the 'greats' of the time, the knight Roland.

I enjoyed the Song of Roland and the 2nd edition Green Historical book, HR2 Charlemagne's Paladins back in the day, available from for $9.99.

The 'hero' of the title, Agilulf, is a knight in shinning white armor that is kept meticulously clean. A knight of great deeds and ability, he is not an actual person. The armor is empty. He exists as a 'mere' suit of armor that goes about keeping order and maintaining his presence through willpower alone.

His story follows through with other characters, each with their own compelling tales that interlink into different adventurers that take place and resolve themselves until the author brings us to the end. One of my favorites is the squire, a buffoon whose main introduction involves a cauldron of soup and him getting trapped in it temporarily and insisting that "all is soup".

The tale told by a 'nun' is charming and entertaining and I'd almost be loathe to see it wind up in the hands of some of the darker corners that authors tend to travel these days.

While certainly not originally intended as anything for say, Dungeons and Dragons, but rather an an allegory for far different things, such a character makes for a great origin for fantasy settings, gonzo settings like Rifts, or super hero settings. A hero that comes out of nothing and is capable and better than the average hero or knight.

For those looking for a little whimsy in their fantasy, The Nonexistent Knight is a solid, quick read.

Friday, September 5, 2014

B.P.R.D. THe Reign of the Black Flame

One of the things I enjoy about digital products is the ability for the distributor to call a sale whenever they want. Oh, I want to put X on sale or Y on sale and bam! It happens! It doesn't require a whole new working of the distribution chain or anything. Just a few bits of coding to make say, The Bureau For Paranormal Research and Defense go from $1.99-$3.99 to .99 cents an issue.

And with that sale I picked up the last few arcs that I'd been missing, namely the Reign of the Black Flame.

For those who don't know, it's a difficult series to do a quick synopsis on. It started off kind of like Fringe or X-Files in that it was fairly normal people with a few oddballs here and there with some special abilities that were put into weird situations but as of late, those situations and those oddballs have both kicked it up by more than a notch or two.

It's a setting that shows mankind fighting in what may be it's last days. It's somewhat like Walking Dead in that society in many aspects has fallen down yet, but isn't completely forgotten. There are still guns and some bits of high-tech and depending on where you're at, perhaps even fellow humans. But it gets worse each story line.

In Reign of the Black Flame, the B.P.R.D. is sent into New York, which has gone completely dark. Strangely enough though, the corporation Zinco seemed to be hoarding supplies before everything went dark...

For a quick review, it's a powerful tale. It's one of my favorites as we see Liz hitting all of the 'awesome' buttons but countered by how terrible the setting is. We see some of the other characters like Iosif, an undead Russian commander,  getting to flex their chops and seeing how things, even when they work towards the B.P.R.D.'s side, don't always mean victory.

In terms of gaming and inspiration...

Right off the bad it's an adventure seed. Imagine one of the great cities of a setting that is cut off from the rest of the setting. Imagine that there is so much going on in the character's own sphere of the world that for a year they can't get in to look at it, but during that time, no one is heard from in that city. Anyone that goes into the city doesn't come out. Sounds like a job for adventurers to me!

One of the things I like about the story right off the bat is the framing of it.

In terms of a campaign, it makes me think of effective ways to bring the impact of what's going on to the players.

The B.P.R.D. is walking into the ruins of the once thriving city and note that there are no bodies.  One of the people in the group is a psychic, Fenix, who provides a quick bit of background. That the inhuman monsters have been hunting the remnants of humanity and devouring them whole. That in hospitals they are filled to overflowing. That many people decided to make a run for it in boats. In thousands of boats. And well, travel by boat in these dark times? Decidedly not a good idea. There is no method of procuring the "bigger boat" as previous attempts to enter the city with submarines and battleships have shown these vessels destroyed by the water serpents and other aquatic horrors.

But one of the mundane explanations that slips through? "I'd say a lot of cans of dog food haven't been opened around here lately." Yes, normal dogs following a group of armed soldiers look to be fairly well feed.

During the investigations early, another framing piece comes in. The group spots a group of people in a park but when they get there, these people are all suicides. They came to the park so that they wouldn't be alone when they died.

Mind you, it goes against the numerous reasons why there were no bodies earlier. It's not like an explanation is ever provided as to why say, the dogs don't eat the bodies or why the various monsters don't swallow the corpses whole, but as a piece showcasing how hopeless and powerless the normal people are? It's powerful.

In terms of tone being set, the characters see numerous monsters laying eggs or taking up massive amounts of physical space but not doing much. they become set pieces against the backdrop of horror without actually interacting with the characters. These pieces help set and maintain the tone of horror and hopelessness.

On the side of the B.P.R.D., there is also the loss of the tanks and other heavy weapons. Some bemoan this fact until the leader points out a huge monstrosity that takes up much of a bay. "What good is a tank against that?" he asks. "Our mission requires stealth. Lacking that, no armament can help us." It's a good example of a group of specialists sent into enemy territory to find out what's happening.

In terms of 'positive' things happening? The group captures Leopold, a former servant of Rasputin who strives to make his way, on the side of devils mind you, in this new world. Still, he's unhappy with how he's treated and quickly spills his guts to the B.P.R.D. in terms of what he knows and provides a handy source of information.

Having such a character, one who is willing to defect to the character's side given half a chance, is a useful tool to provide information to the characters who may otherwise be missing it.

One of my favorite bits? The fight between Liz and the Black Flame. Liz has long been shown to be a powerhouse whose upper limits really haven't been tapped. The Black Flame? An old foe brought back from the grips of the Old Ones themselves. His connection and abilities in his new incarnation haven't been tested but Liz does manage to test them.

It's a great fight because it shows Liz at the peak of her game. She's confident in her abilities. She uses her powers at full throttle. It brings a level of upper level power that has long been missing from the series. The good news is that as an opponent, the Black Flame is far beyond what he used to be and is in essence, a channel to the Old Ones whose tied into all life, or at least all life in the city and in this instance, without destroying the city and all her friends within it at the same time, Liz is unable to claim victory.

One of the things I like, is that the story show cases a number of characters that have vastly different abilities. If you as a Game Master have ever run a super hero game or a Rifts campaign, you may have had the pleasure of dealing with characters of vastly different power levels. In some instances it's easy to hand wave the differences. In Champions for example, 12d6 can come from a 20 STR, an offensive Strike, and a few levels of martial arts to match a laser blast that does 12d6. In other games like Rifts... the effect isn't something that matters to the affect. Getting hit for 180 M.D.C. when you're a S.D.C. creature isn't a good thing for example.

But here we see those different power levels each doing their own thing. It actually requires a bit of 'splitting' the party in that the power house characters, like say a Cosmo Knight, go specifically for the big bad who doesn't bother to associate with minions or have any guards because hell, he's the big bad. It allows the special players who may not be Cosmo Knights but are still powerful to pump out the damage on a significant level even if they can't touch the next level of villain but at least one member of the party can.

B.P.R.D. is one of those titles that while being modern and horror and supernatural based, is strong enough that no matter what type of campaign you're running you should be able to find inspiration for characters, adventure seeds, monsters, and all sorts of other good things.

The book is available from Amazon now for under $16 bones and is well worth reading.