Pinned Post: Looking at My Stats and Revisiting My #RPG #Copyright Posts

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The quarantine has me doing a bit of blogging lately, which means I’m also looking at my stats. With respect to my posts regarding copyright and RPGs:

The posts are broken into two separate issues. Part 1 and part 2 are about the copyrightability of RPG stat blocks, and part 3 (not relevant here) is about the OGL. As to the first issue, to date, part 1 represents ~30% of text by page count and has 17,037 hits (edit 10/20/2020: 17,667 hits), whereas part 2 (70%) has only 704 hits (edit 10/20/2020: 802 hits). Moreover, part 1 spends much of its text on going over basic copyright principles that don’t represent the actual argument. It’s clear by the stats and the basis of the criticism itself (often peppered with personal insults) that the vast majority of (non-lawyer) criticism I’ve received is from people that have read only 30% (at most) of that argument. I know it’s long, convoluted, and at times poorly written (mostly because it targets two very different audiences); and you’re under no obligation to read it (or even care about it). However, it’s all connected, and if you’re going to criticize it, you should probably understand it first.

Or not. Free speech and all that.

Endnotes:

  • Part 3 has only 703 hits (edit 10/20/2020: 849 hits), which is surprising. I thought it would be the most read post.
  • Part 3.5 provides necessary clarification and correction to Part 3.
  • Part 4 answers frequently ask questions and addresses frequently raised issues.
  • Over on a lawyers-only subreddit, the attorneys seemed to want to discuss only my side note on patentability of the Shadow of the Demon Lord initiative system. I guess it’s great that they all agree that my argument is trivially correct, but Rob Schwalb has seriously hijacked my glory. I let him have it when I saw him last February.

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Vegas is Back, Baby! #Vacation #Vegas #Caturday

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As of today, I’m officially vaccinated, as in two shots plus two weeks. I’m still wearing my mask to reduce contact points for those that aren’t vaccinated. Why? Well, why not? My masks are cool.

Everybody’s politics can suck it!
I take that back.
Freedom!!!

Anyhoo, because I’m good-to-go on that front, I’m resuming my annual trip to Las Vegas this year, which will be in mid-September instead of the typical Columbus Day week. I fly out on September 11th.

Michael Scott Disgusting GIF - MichaelScott Disgusting Gross - Discover &  Share GIFs

The timing is a shame because a coworker is flying out Columbus Day week to renew her wedding vows in a DC-comics inspired wedding. Her husband is currently choosing between Batman and Catwoman being married by the Joker, or the Joker and Harley Quinn being married by Batman. But that’s another tangent.

Blackjack

I take blackjack very seriously, and since developing a regular system, I always come back a winner. Part of my success is that, whereas your credit card may earn you free gas or airfare, my credit card that I use for everything earns me gambling comps with MGM hotels. (I should be paid for that link.) I’m going to enjoy fine dining every night and pay only for tax and tip. I win automatically just for paying my phone bill or filling my car’s gas tank. A more on-point part of my success is practice, so I’ve brought out the gambling set to start practicing. I’ll be using this to train the aforementioned coworker as well.

The system is progressive betting (not card counting), and the trick is a difficult combination of patience and discipline. If you look up progressive betting online, the definition changes depending on who you ask. Many conveniently use the term to refer exclusively to regressive betting, which is the exact opposite of what I do. They do so because they’re card counters trying to sell you their system, and they can easily prove that regressive betting is a big loser. I increase my bet while winning, and my maximum bet per hand is capped. Despite the criticism, its only genuine downside is that it cuts against human nature. That’s where the discipline come in. Without it, you’ll lose. Stick with the plan for the long haul, and you’ll likely win. My personal experience, both long-term and short-term, is too one-sided in my favor to worry about what those blackjack entrepreneurs say. Here’s my greatest war story.

mandalaybay.gif

Trial by Fire

My favorite gambling spot is Mandalay Bay. Three trips ago, I showed up with a $3,000 bankroll, but I was playing as if I had only $2,500 ($25 base bet). That gave me a $500 cushion. The first day, there were no $25 tables on the floor, so they opened one in the high-roller room for me. After 4 hours, I was up about $400, and they moved me out of the high-roller room. Normally, I play between 10-15 hours a day with only one break to eat, but the casino had forced me to stop, so I took the opportunity to get some lunch. It wrecked my rhythm. I then went back to the grind. After another 10 hours of gambling, I lost about $2,200, so I was $1,800 down (out of $3,000). I didn’t panic, but it forced me to readjust my routine.

The next day, I head over to Excalibur, which always likes to hand me money. I spent about 12 hours on the table betting as if my bankroll was $1,000 (which makes sense; I had $1,200 left), and for the last hour I was by myself. I was already up quite a bit at that point, but it was rapid fire. The dealer and I were on a freaking roll, but I was killing her, departing from the system and betting over $100 a hand at times. When all was said and done, I won $1,900, so I was $100 up over all (even factoring huge tips to the dealer).

How do you think I reacted to that?

I wasn’t satisfied. I don’t care that I was up $100. I don’t care that both casinos were part of the MGM network. I wanted my $1,800 back from Mandalay Bay, dammit! So, for my last day of gambling, that’s where I ended the day. (I beat up Luxor before heading there.) It was the longest day of gambling I ever had: over 16 hours. Obviously, people come and go over that period, but every table makeup was filled with people who knew what they were doing (like my now-Facebook friend, Kaia) or wanted to learn. The table was perfect for almost every minute of those 16+ hours. By 3 am, I was up only $650. If I didn’t have to fly out fairly early the next morning, I would have kept going. With all the comped food, I ended up about $1,100 (40% of my betting bankroll) for the trip.

Of course, no one believes any of this until I actually show them, but those that have seen it never doubt me again. And if you doubt me, I don’t care. My winnings have paid for a Surface Pro 3 and a laptop, and almost every year it pays for my hotel for my other regular vacation in February. Believe me or don’t believe me; I don’t give a shit. Unlike the card counters trying to sell you something, I don’t make money if you believe me.

BTW, card counting absolutely works and is the best system if you can pull it off. I used it successfully when I first started my trips, but a good betting strategy is more relaxing and far less prone to fatal mistakes. I’ll occasionally do it as a mental exercise but rarely base my bets on the card count.

What’s Next?

Are you kidding? I’m wiring my gambling money to Mandalay Bay ahead of time, and as soon as I’m checked into my hotel, I’m heading downstairs to win that remaining $1,150 back! Okay, not really. I’ve already done that in past trips, thought New York, New York is still up on me. I do need a new laptop, and sure, I can afford to buy one, but I’d rather have MGM pay for it. 🙂 However, I raise an issue for those heading to Vegas. Some casinos will accept wires ahead of time. Mandalay Bay is one of them even if you aren’t staying there. Whatever money you want to apply to gambling, wire it to them. Otherwise, you have to find a branch of your bank off-Strip that’s open, or you’ll have to carry a bunch of cash on your flights to and from there. That money is earmarked for gambling only, and after your trip, they wire whatever’s left back to the account from which you wired it. The only money you can withdraw from those funds as cash are winnings. For Mandalay Bay, you can transfer the money to any MGM casino if you want a change of scenery. They have a lot of properties in Vegas.

N.b., no system is fool proof. Always go into a casino being fully prepared to bottom out, which means you should never bet your rent money. You can spot people doing that all the time, and it’s sad. Pit bosses and dealers are always impressed with my calm demeanor and sense of humor, even in the face of big losses. If you can’t afford to lose everything, or you don’t appreciate that losses are part of the game (it’s just math), don’t play. Period.

Oh, and I almost forgot.

Caturday shall not be denied!!!

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Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part IV: 4th Edition Stat Blocks @shawnmerwin @MerricB @bandofmisfits #DnD #5e

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Last Saturday, I tweeted the following.

All of those discussions were inspired by or involved NewbieDM, S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP (that’s a mouthful), Roving Band of Misfits, and Merric Blackman. I can say that NewbieDM and Merric are good at doing that; I’ve never interacted with S Keldor. Note that while I’ll be quoting them in these posts, much like my brain at 3 am acknowledged about me, I can’t do their arguments justice either. You’ll have to click through to see everything they’ve said. My only purpose here is to express my own opinions while providing context for their genesis and giving credit to those that inspired them. If you want to know what they think, click through and ask them to clarify.

To keep my posts short, each issue will be dealt with in its own post, all with this same introduction. | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |

Part #4: 4th Edition Stat Blocks

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. “Didn’t you already write 39 pages on this subject (Cambria 11 pt. font)?” Well, sort of. Those posts were about intellectual property law, so the comments on this particular subject were obscured in a sea of other material. Because this is still going on in my mind and the minds of others, it’s worth a brief and focused reexamination. Besides, this is going to pick far fewer fights than yesterday’s post.

So Shawn, who clearly has no idea what he’s talking about (settle down, internet tough guys; inside joke), inspired a complimentary response from Roving Band of Misfits. This led to a back and forth between Merric and me. I’m just going to post a couple of tweets. If you want more context, click through to the thread.

My response boils down to this.

Space

Merric has a good point. I don’t expect any bestiary to be printed with one-stop/4e-style stat blocks (henceforth, “OSSB” or “OSSBs”), but I do expect Wizards of the Coast to make them printable via D&D Beyond, or to provide PDFs for download on their site. However, I don’t care what they choose to do (especially now that I’ve done it). This post is about why I think they’re helpful.

Versatility

Merric’s position is that shorter stat blocks allow you to make more complex creatures. However, if you hide a stat block’s complexity through shorthand, the complexity not only disappears, but the stat blocks all become nearly identical to one another.

Let’s use an example. Halaster Blackcloak’s stat block (Waterdeep – Dungeon of the Mad Mage, page 310) is about 2/3 of a page long. In my OSSB treatment, he’s 3-1/2 pages long (see page 12). What should be going through you head is, “How can you expect 3-1/2 pages of content to be properly run with about 81% of it missing?” Well, without an eidetic memory or tons of study time, you can’t.

What Merric is missing is the fact that compressing everything into a small space with up to 90% of the content missing can no longer be considered “describ[ing] them”; you’re merely hinting at what they could be, because most DMs can’t run that much material as intended in combat unless it’s right in front of their face. Now, you may also say that most DMs couldn’t possibly handle a stat block as large as Halastar’s. Well, that’s kind of the point. OSSBs will always be easier to run properly than the alternative. Put another way, if Halastar is too big to run, abbreviating it will make it even harder. It’s always harder except for the most simplistic of stat blocks, which break even. by publishing OSSBs, game designers need not fear making more complex stat blocks.

So, how do DMs typically handle very complex stat blocks in combat? In my experience, they just go with what they know: Fireball, Magic Missile, and Hold Person. That is, the spells that are most popular among WotC designers themselves (in part due to their universal value in combat) are the ones they memorize, and rather than look up a new couple of candidate spells every round, DMs just use those adjusting each for spell slot level. They sure as hell aren’t going to use Symbol in combat, and most couldn’t handle Confusion either unless they had the time to look up and memorize it, but the brain has only so much space to store these spells. What’s the difference between Halastar casting Magic Missile and a Githyanki Gish doing it? Spell level. That’s it. The result is that every monster they run become slight variations of each other. In other words, not only is stat block complexity lost, but so is the complexity of the game itself. Everything’s the same, and it can be boring. If OSSBs don’t fix that, nothing really will short of computers running the combats for you.

I really don’t get the resistance at all, so if you have a different view, please speak up.

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part III: Why 4e D&D “Failed” (Did It Really?) @newbiedm @Dm_LSP @MerricB #DnD #5e

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Last Saturday, I tweeted the following.

All of those discussions were inspired by or involved NewbieDM, S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP (that’s a mouthful), Roving Band of Misfits, and Merric Blackman. I can say that NewbieDM and Merric are good at doing that; I’ve never interacted with S Keldor. Note that while I’ll be quoting them in these posts, much like my brain at 3 am acknowledged about me, I can’t do their arguments justice either. You’ll have to click through to see everything they’ve said. My only purpose here is to express my own opinions while providing context for their genesis and giving credit to those that inspired them. If you want to know what they think, click through and ask them to clarify.

To keep my posts short, each issue will be dealt with in its own post, all with this same introduction. | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |

Part 3: Why 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons “Failed” (Did It)?

Here’s where I pick a fight. 🙂 To make sure you stay laser focused on my point, here’s my thesis up front: 4e was not a significantly less marketable game design than 5e; it was simply a victim of circumstances beyond the control of its designers. Ergo, while you’re free to legitimately hate its mechanics, you can’t reasonably argue that it was a failure. 5e would have suffered from the same circumstances if it were released in 2008.

4th Edition D&D is my favorite edition of D&D (stay focused!), so I love the nostalgic ramblings I’m seeing on Twitter. As S Keldor noted, not everyone agrees.

Wizards of the Coast has never been in the business of losing money. As S Keldor pointed out, they kept producing material despite this supposed failure. 4th Edition didn’t fail in a meaningful sense of the word. They, and others, thought that they didn’t succeed enough; hence, the relatively quick release of 5th Edition. Maybe. Let’s dive a little deeper.

Why wasn’t 4e as successful as it could have been? Here was Merric’s answer (again, just 280 characters of it) and my response.

I love Merric’s ramblings on Twitter and respect his analysis and opinions, so I say this with a great deal of respect.

Starting first with my third point, he analogizes 4e to a movie that cost twice as much to make as it took in as a profit. Even respecting that he was exaggerating, for the analogy to stick you must presume that 4e costs more to make than 5e. To my knowledge, 5e books cost just as much to produce as 4e books (maybe more adjusting for inflation). The cost to produce the game isn’t higher. A more appropriate analogy is to two movies, one that costs $1M to make and that brought in $100M at the box office, and another that cost $1M to make and that brought in $200M at the box office. Both are successful, but one more than the other. The “failure,” therefore, is less about failing per se and more about missing an opportunity to have done even better.

Logarithmic v. Linear Thinking

Now, I’m no economist, and I don’t have access to WotC‘s sales reports, but I’m at least as good as most of you at analysis and speculation. As I stated in my third point, there are probably other factors that affect one’s interpretation of “failure.” How much better are 5e’s sales if factoring in inflation? Also, let’s consider the difference between raw numbers and percentages. If we have 10 consumers, and 5 of them buy a product, you’ve captured 50% of the consumer base. Now let’s say that by the time you produce your new product, the consumer base has jumped to 20 (not due to marketing, but because the population in general has doubled), and 7 of them buy a product. You’ve captured more consumers, and therefore are making more money with the second product, but you’ve captured only 35% of the consumer base. Anyone that’s ever rolled a d20 should know this. 😉 In other words, your new product may represent the “missed opportunity” above despite looking like it was a greater success. I doubt that’s what happened here — as Merric did, I’m using a simple equation to illustrate a point — but without proof to that effect, and not just taking WotC‘s word for it, we can’t reasonably argue from our couches as to the full context. Either way, it’s outlandish to believe that WotC didn’t make a profit off of 4e, so even merely analogizing to such an example is a bit off the mark.

Unit Cost

Let’s now assume that 5e overcomes all of that. How should I know they didn’t? Let’s say that the cost to produce their books is less than the cost to produce 4e books, which would validate Merric’s use of his analogy. Let’s also say that 5e is outselling 4e adjusting for both inflation and general population increases. This still doesn’t address several important factors. I’ll deal with the simple issue first. If it currently costs less to produce RPG books today than it did between 2008 through 2011 due to market factors, then that would have applied if 5e was produced during that span. That is, if 5e were released in 2008, its costs would have matched that higher cost of production. That can’t be said to be a failure specific to 4e’s mechanics, so 4e could still be seen as the most successful it (or 5e) could have been at the time. Remember, we’re trying to figure out if 4e’s design was a mistake. You can’t use generally applicable circumstances to justify that position.

Market Hysteria

Here’s the bigger issue representing points 1 and 2 in my post above, and it isn’t meant as a counter to anything Merric said, but rather what I’ve heard over the past 13 years on the subject. Without exception, the community always had a large subset that reacted very poorly to the announcement of a new edition, even if some of those naysayers were destined to accept the new edition once it was released. 4e was no exception. Accusations that 4e ruined the game flew by like those damned cicadas even before the game was released, meaning those accusations were based on ignorance. This, in turn, means they were really based on emotion (**see sidebar below). RPGs are expensive, and being the market leader with the most valuable trademark in the industry, WotC is clearly no exception to that rule. They can charge what they want, and consumers will pay that amount, but those consumers won’t be happy having to spend that amount of money all over again for the new edition to keep up with their fellow gamers. This sense of entitlement isn’t unique to gamers, but clearly gamers aren’t immune to it. We just call it nerd rage when applied to gamers and our kin.

** A good example of this was 1st level hit points. When 4th edition was released, one of the complaints was that 1st level characters had too many hit points, making them too durable. 3.5e, they said, had a much more reasonable number of hit points. It didn’t take long for 4e defenders to point to similar complaints about 3.5e. There were posts (lost to time) complaining that 3.5 characters had too many hit points because they didn’t have to roll for them at first level. That is, if their hit die was a d8, they didn’t roll a d8 for starting hit points, but instead just received 8 hit points. Even that was deemed too much. Why? Because those naysayers were looking for an excuse to complain, and they latched onto 1st level hit point mechanics to give credibility to their nerd rage. The more things change, the more they stay exactly the same.

The Perfect Storm

In comes Paizo, who lost the license for publishing Dragon and Dungeon magazines. However, unlike the other third parties publishing official content, they were in a position to make a move to compete seriously via Pathfinder. I don’t have access to the internal machinations of Paizo, but I (and you) personally know that they had a foothold not just in the gaming community generally, but specifically in the D&D community. Paizo took advantage of both their position and that customary anger/resentment, giving those naysayers what they wanted, even including a living campaign. People fear change, and Pathfinder gave a certain group a means to avoid it (to a large extent). Moreover, their public playtest was launched (2007) before 4e was released (2008), so by the time consumers were making their decision to invest in 4e, they knew that Pathfinder was not merely a twinkle in some nerd’s eye. This was a real game that was going to be published come Avernus or high water by a talented set of designers, and it was more familiar than what was coming from WotC. No other edition of D&D faced this combination of talent, market presence, timing, and appeal to the naysayers. None. How would 5e have fared against this perfect storm of competition? How would any game or edition have fared? These are obvious but inconvenient questions that are, unsurprisingly, ignored by the 4e haters.

Finally, I’ll remind you of what I wrote yesterday. The game has a low barrier to entry for players but high barrier entry to casual adventure designers. That’s a strength of marketing, but not of game design. That is, 5e doesn’t necessarily sell better because it’s a more enjoyable game, but because it’s built to force sales on the consumer. This isn’t at all devious or “wrong,” but I believe it’s an accurate assessment that cuts against the notion that 4e was a mistake.

WotC Did a Good Job with 4e

This is why I don’t believe WotC’s abandonment of 4e was a sign of failure. If not for those outside factors completely beyond the control of the game’s designers, the naysayers would have come back around as they always have. Because they didn’t, 5e was released sooner rather than later as an attempt to regain what WotC had lost at the hands of an intelligent, talented, and opportunistic competitor. WotC was punished for experimenting and knew that they needed to go backwards in some ways (even offering strategic mea culpas at times) to get back that share of the market. I don’t think that the following equation is perfect, but it’s probable that most of Pathfinder‘s revenue represents money that otherwise would have gone to 4e. It’s impossible to prove but also impossible to disprove; however, it makes sense based on history. When all was said and done, a significant portion of the naysayers would have come around and invested in 4e, had fun playing well-written adventures with good friends, developed a nostalgic attachment to the game (if not love), and cried just as hard when 5e was eventually announced (regardless of how they ranked 4e against other editions). The cycle would have repeated because those initial complaints are based on your financial investment in the game, not the game’s mechanics. If they were based on mechanics (which is perfectly reasonable; play what you like), you’d probably just keep playing that version and not worry about what everyone else was doing, but as history shows us, you’d have been in the minority if you left the D&D community altogether over a new edition.

So, add Pathfinder‘s sales to 4e’s sales and tell me with a straight face (and reliable, hard data) that 4e wouldn’t have been just as successful as 5e, adjusting for inflation and population. Seriously, tell me. I don’t know the numbers. I’m going off of my extensive, well-connected, but ultimately anecdotal experiences. 5e may legitimately be doing better than 4e, but I bet those speculative 4e numbers are far from “failure” numbers.

Haters Gonna Hate

All of this is to say that the factors that went into 4e’s disappointing sales numbers would have impacted 5e as well, so calling 4e a mistake is unfair until proven otherwise. This is unsurprising considering that those same 4e haters use every mention of 4e to spew vitriol on 4e and those that love it (no accusation intended towards Merric; he’s always respectful). Because Pathfinder gave 4e haters a “3.75e” D&D for a large community, and even gave them a living campaign on top of that, they didn’t have to get over their hate, so they never did. We can’t stop the vitriol, of course, but we can call it what it is: pathetic and assinine (the latter is intentionally misspelled). When they use sales numbers without proper context as a placeholder for their hate, it’s almost certainly based on ignorance or evasion of that context. Of course, no one should spew such vitriol at someone who legitimately prefers 3.5e, Pathfinder, or 5e, but that’s a relatively rare occurrence. The only people I’ve seen do that are those few playing only AD&D or 2nd Edition.

In any case, to say 4e failed, and that 5e was objectively a more marketable design, you have to prove that 5e wouldn’t have been similarly impeded if it had been presented as the 4th edition of D&D at that particular time in history, and so far I’ve seen no one even address that issue, let alone prove it to my satisfaction. I’d be interested in seeing data supporting that position.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Newbie DM @newbiedm
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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part II: 5th Edition D&D Is Accessible. So What? @newbiedm @Dm_LSP @MerricB @Pablodnd @DarkplaneDM @LeslieGMgrrl @ChattyDM #DnD #5e

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Last Saturday, I tweeted the following.

All of those discussions were inspired by or involved NewbieDM, S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP (that’s a mouthful), Roving Band of Misfits, and Merric Blackman. I can say that NewbieDM and Merric are good at doing that; I’ve never interacted with S Keldor. Note that while I’ll be quoting them in these posts, much like my brain at 3 am acknowledged about me, I can’t do their arguments justice either. You’ll have to click through to see everything they’ve said. My only purpose here is to express my own opinions while providing context for their genesis and giving credit to those that inspired them. If you want to know what they think, click through and ask them to clarify.

To keep my posts short, each issue will be dealt with in its own post, all with this same introduction. | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |

Part #2: 5th Edition D&D Is Accessible. So What?

This one starts with NewbieDM.

Notice my comment: 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons is accessible. In our community, that means there’s a low bar to entry, so I was saying that picking up 5th Edition is easy for new players. I’m not alone in my view.
This is certainly going to be shorter than yesterday’s post, because that’s my entire point.

We all understand why it’s important for a game to be accessible: You can’t sell books to new or casual players if the game is too complex. People want instant (or at least quick) gratification from their games. If they’re always being run over by the hardcore gamers that study the game as if it was their full-time job, then the game’s community will inevitably consist of only hardcore gamers. Game designers need to keep that big picture in mind. However, there’s more to the big picture. They also have to appeal to their current players, giving them more to discover as they learn the game. If the game doesn’t keep giving more at a rate that satisfies players’ needs for new material, and the release schedule doesn’t compensate for that, then the success won’t last.

Also of note is that the one and only serious gripe I have about 5e is its encounter building system. You have to run your numbers through a formula to produce your encounter, then run that encounter through another formula to get it right, solving a partial differential equation along the way (not really). Even then, creatures like the Banshee make it impossible to know whether those formulas produced an encounter with the intended difficulty. As for DMs — and more to the point, adventure designers — the game really isn’t that accessible, and I lost interest in trying to build fair or accurate encounters long before other things took me away from playing RPGs. The only thing that saves 5e in this narrow regard is, as I said yesterday, the beauty of the 5e Monster Manual. So, we have a low barrier to entry for players, resulting in a huge number of players buying Player’s Handbooks, but a high barrier to entry to casual adventure designers, resulting in a huge number of DMs resorting to buying adventures. Hmmm, good marketing strategy, I guess. 🙂

So, all but one of the responses I saw to NewbieDM’s tweet mentioned accessibility, and that’s great, but only one mentioned anything else. This shared observation answers NewbieDM’s question as such: Other than accessibility, the consensus is that 5e doesn’t do anything better than any prior edition of D&D. This isn’t a fatal flaw, of course, because 5e is fun, and people are sticking with it. Perhaps a focus on accessibility is the best approach. After all, 5e is reported to be selling better than all previous editions, but that observation seems to ignore another part of the bigger picture. Could they have done even better if they had taken a different approach? Is the reason for their unprecedented success based on other factors that didn’t apply before (and may not apply in the future)? Despite the success, is there yet another lesson to learn for other game designers? Well, that’s for my next post on these Twitter thoughts and will probably be far more controversial.

More foreshadowing!

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Twitter-Inspired Thoughts, Part I: This is Why the 5th Edition D&D Monster Manual is My Favorite RPG Bestiary @newbiedm @Dm_LSP @MerricB #DnD #5e

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Last Saturday, I tweeted the following.

All of those discussions were inspired by or involved NewbieDM, S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP (that’s a mouthful), Roving Band of Misfits, and Merric Blackman. I can say that NewbieDM and Merric are good at doing that; I’ve never interacted with S Keldor. Note that while I’ll be quoting them in these posts, much like my brain at 3 am acknowledged about me, I can’t do their arguments justice either. You’ll have to click through to see everything they’ve said. My only purpose here is to express my own opinions while providing context for their genesis and giving credit to those that inspired them. If you want to know what they think, click through and ask them to clarify.

To keep my posts short, each issue will be dealt with in its own post, all with this same introduction. | Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV |

Part 1: This is Why the 5th Edition D&D Monster Manual is My Favorite RPG Bestiary

The 4e and 5e Monster Manuals took opposite approaches to how they loaded them with monsters. Very generally, and something you all already know, the Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition Monster Manual (let’s just say MM going forward) sacrificed variety for detail. The 4eMM1 (get it?) was the first bestiary we had for 4e, yet it didn’t include some iconic monsters such as metallic dragons and frost giants. No frost giants?!?! Even a 4e apologist like me (stay focused!) complained. The trade off was that there was more room to discuss the ecology and history of the monsters that were included, and there were more stat blocks for each of those creatures within that group. Plus, we got humans as monsters. 😐

Bill Murray - Imgflip

5e took the opposite approach. With only a few exceptions, such as dragons, giants, and slaadi (I get a smug sense of satisfaction for knowing the proper plural form of slaad), we got no ecology or history and only one stat block per monster. This provided a lot of variety but considering how hard it is for new DMs to create monsters in 5e (compared to 4e), it was initially frustrating. On the bright side, they had room to give us the flumph. 😐

Bill Murray - Imgflip

Ironically, it would seem that WotC should have taken opposite approaches in both situations, giving us only one, easily-leveled monster for 4e, but giving us multiple monsters for 5e so that we didn’t have to figure out how to create them. But didn’t they? Foreshadowing!

Enough complaining. Considering the title of this post, there must be a happy ending. As a result of my one-stop stat blocks project, I have in my possession something that I’ll never publish: a Word document containing my treatment of all of the 5eMM stat blocks, including ones that aren’t actually in the 5eMM (i.e., variant giant lizards, diseased giant rats, cave bear, and variant insect swarms). That is, I recreated by rote every single stat block in the 5eMM and then some. That gave me some perspective that I’m not sure one can have without at least intently reading the book cover to cover relatively rapidly.

Reskinning monsters is pretty easy in 5e. Here are two examples. First, let’s look at the giants. Before my stat block project, I was arguing with a friend (let’s call him Rob #247). He didn’t like the 5eMM, and I did. He complained that all the giants were the same: weapon attack, throw a rock, and multiattack. He found it boring and uncreative. I don’t think that’s fair. First, it’s actually important that the giants are very similar. It gives a sense that the giants were related evolutionarily speaking. Granted, You have to suspend quite a bit of disbelief in order to play D&D, but when logic is successfully applied, it triggers our instincts for familiarity and order. Second, when you visit the glacial rift of the frost giant Jarl, you don’t expect to see many, if any, fire giants, stone giants, etc. Maybe you’ll see one other giant type who’s an envoy from his leader (such as the cloud giant ambassador in Steading of the Hill Giant Chief), but that’s about it. That means that you can easily adapt the stat blocks for the other giants into the ones you need, even at different CRs , without appearing to use the same stat blocks over and over. There are plenty of other creatures with similar formats (e.g., cyclopes) that can be used as any form of giant.

Let’s now consider the kraken. Maybe you want to unleash it (yeah, I know) on your PCs, but that’s not an option for low level characters. What do you do? Well, have a giant octopus capsize their raft. Still too high a level? Then have a rock capsize the raft, and send a bunch of octopuses (octopi isn’t an English word) attack them. Maybe such a low level encounter isn’t that high a priority for your adventure, making ordinary octopi (octopodes also isn’t an English word) unimportant, but if your BBEG is a kraken, they become important as a means of foreshadowing or providing a theme. Need a lower-CR treant? Try the awakened tree.

The bottom line: The stat blocks are connected in such a way that you realistically have several stat blocks at different CRs that can be trivially adapted to represent the monsters you want. Because the 5eMM went almost 100% in the direction it did, the connections are far better than I’ve ever seen in a bestiary. You don’t just have to reskin some unrelated monster. You can reskin something that’s really close to it both mechanically and thematically, no matter which one you choose. That makes the game far more accessible for DMs than it otherwise would be.

Talk about foreshadowing! My thoughts on accessibility are the topic of the next post!

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Dungeons & Dragons is a trademark of Wizards of the Coast, LLC, who neither contributed to nor endorsed the contents of this post. (Okay, jackasses?)

Some Marvel Memes @ComicBook @LokiOfficial @DisneyPlus #MCU #movie #QuarantineWatchParty #Loki

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Going forward, Sundays are lazy days for me. I either post something silly or other people’s work. Usually both. Today, it’s a few MCU memes that hit my social media streams this week. Two you’ve almost certainly seen. One is pretty new. They all surround last week’s ComicBook.com quarantine watch party of Thor (which was awesome), which was in preparation for the following day’s premiere of Loki on Disney Plus (which was awesome).

Bad start, but young Cap thought old Cap was Loki, so close enough.
This isn’t much of a meme. It’s 100% true.
Impressive.

It’s Sunday. I’m tired.

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My “Toonified” Image Is Worse Than Yours @kesseljunkie @Pixar #Pixar #toonify

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Toonify has an app that let’s you covert a photo of yourself into something resembling yourself as a Pixar character. Everyone is complaining about their toonified image, so I decided to give it a try. Here’s the starting point:

How beautiful.

Well, this is what I got. Don’t let children look at it.

What am I? A hobbit on Venus? My cousin, Kessel Junkie, with microcephaly? At least now I have my hair back.

Okay, I know what your thinking. Between the glasses and the background, I broke the conversion algorithm. So, I tried this one.

Stable background, no glasses. What could go wrong? Look away while you still have the chance.

I’m considering a lawsuit.

Okay, how about this one?

Here we have a white background and white shirt, and at a better resolution without that screwed up eyeball touchup. Third time’s the charm, right?

There and back again.

Now I’m a hobbit in a meat locker or some such shit. Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way. Maybe I need to take a photo of me in a pretty bad place so that I’m bound to improve. I mean, artificial intelligence may be subject to reverse psychology just like we are. Here’s one when I weighed over 300 pounds.

What could be worse than this?
Well, this, for one.

Seriously? It may have well just linked me to Pearl from Blade.

Dammit! I shall not be denied. Maybe I can intimidate the algorithm.

That’s one bad motherfucker.
Or so I thought.

This guy looks like he couldn’t beat up Napoleon Dynamite. I’m going to give this another shot.

This is going to be cruel.

This defies explanation, but that’s never stopped me from trying. This looks like the skin of a baby turned into a doll. They could write a horror movie out of this one.

Here’s one from Christmas, 1990.

Like Pinocchio, that doll became a real boy and then grew up. If anyone makes a horror movie about this character, I’ll sue for the rights.

Does this count?

I think it’s safe to say that none of your pictures are really that bad, and I couldn’t get one good picture from any of my photos, so I . . . win, I guess?

If yours is worse, you’re going to have to prove it. Until then, quit your bitching.

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Is Social Media Evil? @Tinder @Yelp @LinkedIn @netflix @Twitter @Facebook @instagram #MeWe #Tinder #Yelp #LinkedIn #netflix #Twitter #Facebook #Instagram

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As a follow up to yesterday’s post, I ask, “Is social media evil?”

No, of course not. We’re all just a bunch of dumb apes trying to blame something else for our own shortcomings, but I thought this graphic was funny.

I notice that MeWe isn’t on the list.

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