Thursday, August 21, 2008

The politics of Dungeons & Dragons

It has been reported in various places that John McCain's aide Michael Goldfarb posted the following on his blog:

It may be typical of the pro-Obama Dungeons & Dragons crowd to disparage a fellow countryman's memory of war from the comfort of mom's basement, but most Americans have the humility and gratitude to respect and learn from the memories of men who suffered on behalf of others.

But it was pointed out that he's not completely against us, from an earlier post:

If my comments caused any harm or hurt to the hard working Americans who play Dungeons & Dragons, I apologize. This campaign is committed to increasing the strength, constitution, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom, and charisma scores of every American.

Obviously he hasn't played 4e yet, or he'd know that ability scores have nowhere to go but up in this edition.

(Note: I'm Canadian, so don't try to read any political leanings into this post)

A first thoughts on the FRCG

I got my copy of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide last night. Haven't had a chance to really dive in yet, but I thought I'd throw out some very early impressions.

First off, why the name change from "Setting" to "Guide"? Is this just to differentiate it from the 3rd edition version? To emphasize that DMs are no longer tied to the canon of a setting, but get a generalized guide instead?

Secondly, the map in the back is gorgeous.

Finally, what the fuck is with the first chapter? A fucking intro adventure? Right at the start of the book? Seriously?

When I first flipped to page one of Chapter one I saw "Loudwater" and thought, "awesome. They're gonna give us a microscopic look at a small town. Perfect for those starting a new campaign. Nice."

Then I saw the telltale encounter map and stats. At that point I had to stop reading, just in case Crwth weaves it into one of his campaigns.

So from there I'm flipping pages. And more pages. And finally I get to chapter two.

Thanks WotC. Thanks for an opening chapter that only one in five can (or should) read.

This sample adventure should be at the back of the book where it belongs. Where they've always been.

Math is hard!

This has absolutely nothing to do with DnD.

At all.


Feel free to skip this. I won't be hurt. Honest.

For those who are still with me, I saw a blurb on the news last night about the newest edition of Monopoly. If you're not hip on the latest and greatest in Monopoly (and really, who isn't?) then it has an international theme.

All well and good.

The thing that set me off is that they're doing away with the iconic "Monopoly money". Instead, the newest edition will use an electronic debit card for rent paying etc...

Maybe they have a good and valid reason for this. Maybe they felt that the classic Monopoly money looked too much like someones currency (most likely one of those weird European countries) and that would in turn upset someone (I'm looking at you France). Or maybe they're getting a kick back from the battery makers.

Or maybe, and this is my favorite guess, maybe they felt that counting out bills was just too hard. It was alienating players and making those who aren't really good at math feel bad about themselves. Sorry about that. Here's a nice little electronic gizmo that will do all that nasty math for you. Have a cookie.

I say that if being too stupid to count out the rent in a boardgame makes you feel bad, well good! You should feel bad! Because you're a fucking idiot.

I'm sorry that you can't total up $1180 in hundreds, fifties, and twenties. I'm sorry you can't figure out how much change to give on $86 from a $100 bill. I'm sorry you're such a freakin' dumbass. But I'm sick of the trend of bending over backwards to make sure stupid people aren't made to feel stupid. If you're stupid, you should know it, and accept it.

I mean, I'm not the brightest bulb on the tree by a long shot. There are plenty of times where math, among other things, makes me feel like an idiot. I'm okay with that. And if it ever really bothers me, I'll take a class or read a book.

Or I'll play International Monopoly because that'll make anyone feel good about themselves.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Speaking of rituals

The Ritually Speaking article in the current Dragon issue was nicely packed with usable information.

I really like the ideas of rituals, and was happy that they provided a whole bunch of them from the start. Getting another batch of them so soon was a pleasant surprise, as I expected to see only a few here and there until the Player's Handbook II came out.

The time taken to cast certain rituals, however, still seems a bit off. I understand (as mentioned by readers in their comments) that these are meant to be different from spells, that rituals are not encounter-based and not meant to be an off-the-cuff effect. The Battlefield Elocution ritual should be a bit quicker, I think - by the time you finish casting the ritual, you could have walked around the battlefield and talked to everyone personally. By the time you finish Preserve Flame, it might need to be renamed Preserve Embers for what's left of your campfire. And let's hope the enemy is patient while you cast Earthen Ramparts to defend against them.

But these are just nitpicks - it seems like 10 minutes is the minimum time we're going to see on any ritual, and I'll just have to accept that. Anything that really needs to be finished faster will have to be considered for the role of Power. Well, except that Signal of Pursuit breaks that rule, being a 1 minute ritual - it has that sense of immediacy that I'm referring to. Is there a reason why some of these other rituals can't have a shorter casting time? Would it be too powerful if I could preserve MANY flames quickly?

Some of my favorite new rituals include Explorer's Fire, which can confound many a random encounter by hiding the characters' camp; Memory Seal, which has a variety of uses against PCs and NPCs, cast by PCs or NPCs; Tenser's Binding obviates the need for the party to carry rope or shackles to bind foes, and Mordenkainen's Ascent removes the need for rope or a ladder for climbing.

And the silliest one: Fastidiousness. In the next installment: Hair Mussing Immunity!

DMG - The World

With the release of the Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide, I've had to force myself to read the last two chapters of the Dungeon Master's Guide before moving on.

The World chapter is a big mishmash of stuff, seemingly a dumping ground for all the miscellany that didn't fit anywhere else.

The D&D World

The first section starts off explaining the general mood of the 4e world - fantastic, ancient, mysterious. The "points of light" were mentioned, of course. It is emphasized that the world is the DM's, and that many things aren't going to be spelled out, unlike previous editions. There's no default world, and only the gods and other powerful beings are spelled out. I feel this is good and bad; it means that there's very little canon for a DM to have to argue about with his or her players, but it places a bit more work on the shoulders of new DMs who aren't ready, willing or able to create that much.


I've always liked this section of the DM's Guide in past versions, where it mentions the different sizes of towns and cities, what kind of population figures to expect, and the range of economy to be found there, for purposes of buying and selling goods.

This edition is missing the gold figures, but otherwise provides the needed information to help DMs decide how big of a location they need for each purpose, and how to think about establishments they find in published works, if it isn't spelled out within. A bit of detail is given to areas such as government, defense and commerce, but I think all of these areas would be good for Dragon articles, to provide further ideas.

The section on Organizations, too, is one that I'm certain will get expanded upon in Dragon articles, as organizations tend to provide a lot of story ideas, whether they're evil cults or benevolent churches. So, too, do the Fantastic Settlements - who hasn't had to deal with a city being secretly run by a mind flayer?

The Wild

Not much to say about this section, except I found it a weird that here there were game rules, such as Endurance DCs, where the rest of the chapter contained flavor instead. This was the section that made the chapter feel like a bundle of leftover information.

The Planes

I've talked before about the reworking of the planes in D&D, and how I like how they've simplified quite a bit. Here we do have some specifics, some "geography" that's defined for the campaign, and some residents within that geography. It's nice to have this information, so a DM can create a world, a campaign, or a module within some guidelines, even if the planes or their residents are many levels away from where the party might be. Having a destination for future adventures, or a background of which the party's escapades can be a part, is useful.

The Gods

I've always liked the gods in D&D, whether in the standard campaign or in Forgotten Realms. The gods, with their machinations, churches and cults, always provide plot and intrigue for all sorts of adventure. The Time of Troubles in the Forgotten Realms history is one of my favorite storylines, bringing the gods down to Faerun where they had tangible effects on the land and the people, and provided a way for players to interact with the divine without having to be near-divine themselves.


This definitely feels out of place in this chapter. Agreed, they can be considered "part of the world's weave", but they've always been with the magic items in the past, and that's just where I expect them, even if they have a history tied to the specifics of the world.

I like the idea that artifacts are a temporary item in the lives of the characters - that these items have a destiny of their own, and being "owned" by one of the characters is only one part of that destiny. Players that acquired an artifact in earlier editions saw it as theirs, felt that they earned it (and probably did), and that it was theirs until the character died, or retired, or attained godhood. Now they might have to accept the fact that this item will serve their purposes once or twice and then continue its journey to the next adventuring party.

Again, this section has some actual game rules, including a few example artifacts, which makes it stand out in this chapter. It should have been elsewhere.


This section was more interesting than I expected it to be. It provides a reason why there are only ten languages, and how they came about. Our playing group has always paid attention to languages, with some players always choosing certain ones for their characters, and others trying to spread the knowledge out to make the party as versatile as possible. Already, language has played a role in the current adventure, and it's a great way to provide story events with such a simple mechanic.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

A tale of two worlds

Obviously, with the release of 4e my beloved Forgotten Realms were going to experience some changes. I was ready for that. More importantly, I’m far from a rabid fanboi of the setting. I don’t read the novels (or haven’t since junior high) and I don’t know the ins and outs of the history (although I am really enjoying the 3e “Grand History” book).

Still, the whole “where there was once Abeir-Toril, a single world, there are now suddenly two worlds; the original Toril and it’s sister world, Abeir” thing is kinda sticking to my craw.

It’s not that this sudden split of one world into two is a terrible thing. On the contrary I think I like this method of tying in the new races and “points of light” theme into the Realms.

I just wonder why they didn’t go with something simpler, or at least less eyebrow raising.

For instance, there’s a continent on the world map called “Osse”. No one’s ever been there and nothing is known of it. In other words, it’s a blank canvas. So, why not use it as the place where the Dragonborn and Tiefling empires rose and warred?

Then the Spellplague could have picked up a big chunk of that continent and dropped it into Faerun. New races introduced. No cosmic now you see it now you don’t. No planetary shell game. Just a clean simple explanation.

Unless I’m missing something.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Wizards of the Coast is going to revise the Game System License (GSL) and System Reference Document (SRD) for d20 and 4e. I didn't look too closely when it was first announced, as any need I had for the license was a ways in the future, but I had read that there was a lot of unhappiness from the community regarding it. The one thing I do remember was that the license prevented a company from selling both 3e and 4e versions of the same product. While I'm no publisher, I do create quite a bit of material, and while it's mostly consumed internally, I do occasionally post snippets and might want to do more than that. With this upcoming change, I suppose I should pay a little more attention when it's released so I know what I have to deal with. "We have listened to the community and our valued colleagues and have taken their concerns and recommendations to heart" sounds promising. I hope they're what the community wanted.

This month's Dungeon editorial touched on one of my favorite changes to the 4e encounter system, which is the effect of terrain and environment. The Keep on the Shadowfell has already had some interesting uses of layout and terrain (no spoilers, sorry), and this trend has got me considering the environment for all of the encounters in the module I'm currently designing. While we've mentioned in these pages that some parts of combat have just shifted the repetition from one form to another, the use of terrain gives that extra dimension to any encounter.

Even more updates have been released for the 4e core books. This is the third set of errata. I haven't looked at them yet (I prefer to do it with books in-hand so I can pencil in the changes), but I wonder if they're as sweeping as the last ones. I like the fact that they're working hard to correct and update often, but it does make you wonder if things were a bit rushed to meet the June 6 deadline they had set for themselves.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Inside the Insider

The latest news from D&D Insider is about the content planned for it, how it's coming along, and how much it's going to cost us.

The online version of Dragon and Dungeon magazines have been discussed here before, and organization aside, the content is very good. That alone is why I will pay for D&D Insider.

The D&D Compendium is a nice bonus. With more keywords in the game design, being able to search for all of a type of power will be very handy. And not having to bring my books to work will also be convenient. Having a way to bookmark certain searches would be handy ("find all cleric powers"), and for that matter, having it just behave as a regular webpage instead of a little popup window of Javascript obfuscation. I like the fact that the Dragon and Dungeon content will be added to it as well. I would, however, like it to be working right now, instead of the "SERVER ERROR - Datastore unavailable A request to the datastore failed or was denied. We apologize for the inconvenience." I just got.

The little bonus tools are things that you can find a dime-a-dozen around the net, but I suppose it's handy to have them all in one place. The mention of a monster-building tool, however, got my attention. Let's see how they manage that.

The Character Builder, along with the Character Visualizer, are their current focus, and I'm keen to see how they turn out. I've worked on various systems for doing this, and if theirs can do the job, I can scratch one time-consumer from my list. Oh, and I suppose it'll be handy to use, too. The Visualizer sounds like a novelty unless you're using the Game Table, but I guess it might help some to immerse in the game if they have a picture of their character.

They mention that the Dungeon Builder is almost done. They then mention that it's not very useful without the Game Table, even though Buehler starts the article saying that it "allows you to construct maps to play with either on the kitchen table or ... Game Table". Let me construct them for the kitchen table then! Don't make me wait for the Game Table, which I won't use...

...and that's the last item on their list. Don't get me wrong, I'm curious to see how they do it, because I'm planning on creating something similar with the Metaplace platform. But unless we can convince our one ex-pat in Chicago to play online, we won't have any use for the Game Table in our group.

And then there's the price. This is their current pricing list:

Web-Content Only Subscription Package:
12 Months = $59.40 ($4.95 per month)
3 Months = $19.95 ($6.65 per month)
1 Month = $7.95 ($7.95 per month)

Note that this is the Web-Content Only package - it's for access to Dragon, Dungeon, the Compendium and the bonus tools. Since the magazines are my main reason to pay, I think $5 per month is reasonable for two magazines, even if I don't get a glossy copy. As for how much they might charge once the rest is available, we shall see if it's worth it. I do hope that they maintain two sets of subscriptions, though: one for the content as above, and another to get the whole thing. And if they price it right, they might get the suckers who don't really want the rest of it to buy it anyway, just in case. Suckers like me.