My Favorite TTRPG Characters @slyflourish @alphastream #DnD #3e #4e #5e #RPG

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Writing yesterday’s post gave me the idea for this post. Here’s a list of my favorite RPG characters.

D&D 3.5 Edition: Frylock

This is my favorite character of all time even though I’m not a fan of 3rd edition. I left D&D in 1981 due to the Satanic Panic and returned in 2005. Frylock was the first character I created in my glorious return, which was for a Living Greyhawk game day. He was a half-elf warmage with a couple of levels in rogue. I’m not sure if I played correctly by the rules, but this was an awesome character, combining the rogues sneak attack damage with high-damage touch spells. He was high charisma, manipulative, and arrogant as hell, except for that one time he met his match. He ran into Teos’s character, Ambrosia, in whose hands Frylock was like putty. He was also a terror in combat, which was helpful considering that I’ve almost never built a character for combat. Spoon-feeding me competent character design helps keep my fellow players happy with my combat performance. If I was cheating to do it, this would explain why no one called me out for it.

For over a decade, my license plate was Frylock. That shouldn’t surprise any of you.

I’ve never been able to duplicate the feel of this character since 3rd edition. The closest I came was the supremely underpowered sorcerer-assassin hybrid in 4th edition. Maybe if I cheated, I could’ve done that in other editions. 🙂

D&D 4th Edition: Rizzen Pharn

4e is the only edition of any RPG I’ve ever played in which I loved play leaders (i.e., healers). After playing the Warlord pre-gen at some convention, I knew that would be the case. My first character I built on my own was the Drow, Rizzen. He was an Inspiring Warlord, and due to Commander’s Strike, it didn’t matter whether I rolled well on my d20s. I just gave my attacks to other people, than used my minor action to heal everyone. Suddenly, I was the most popular player on the table. I can’t remember any personality quirks I gave him. I doubt I did. At this point, 4e was new, and the character builds leant themselves inherently to personalities probably due to the emphasis on roles (i.e., controller, defender, leader, striker). I didn’t feel the need to spice it up.

D&D 4th Edition: Doofus Pharn and Snuggles

Doofus was Rizzen’s brother, and he was a beastmaster ranger. That was a really good class. Combined with the class’s features, my choice of powers gave me the ability to race across the length of a standard battle map in a single turn. The first time I did this was a disaster. I was all by myself surrounded by enemies with no actions left to fight or “ink.” Once I got the hang of the character, that mobility was remarkable. His DPS was also pretty good. His companion was a jaguar named Snuggles, and using the companion, Rizzen was able to set up his own flanks without the help of any PCs. Just like Frylock, I didn’t have to build the character for combat efficiency. The race and class combination handled that for me.

D&D 4th Edition: Luigi Deleonardis

Luigi was a riot. He was the stereotype of a senile old man, and I played him to a tee. He was a brawling fighter, which meant his primary combat tactic was “rassling.” He had a belt buckle with Kord’s holy symbol on it. He didn’t worship Kord; they grew up together. Sure, Kord was a bit younger than Luigi, but Luigi took him under his wing and showed him the ropes. He felt bad for the little guy.

Initially, Luigi always annoyed other players because they thought he’d be useless, but here’s a quick story of how I avoided that. The party had to convince wood elves to let them through their woodlands. Skill challenge! Everyone went with diplomacy or bluff, but not Luigi. As he was about to engage with the elven leader, he suddenly had a squirrel moment and decided to climb a tree. As a fighter, my Athletics was pretty high, and I (uncharacteristically) rolled well. My physical prowess was remarkably impressive, so I passed that check. When we came around again, the entire challenge came down to my roll. I was one of only two players that had to roll twice in the challenge. My (perceived) age allowed me to tell an impressive story of the gods, and with a natural 20, I saved the day. In that same adventure, the ultimate mission was to rescue a kidnapped woman, and as Luigi often did, he told that woman that she reminded him of his great, great, great, great granddaughter’s . . . granddaughter. That gave Luigi the incentive to protect her directly, which is exactly what a fighter is supposed to do.

My unorthodox style never held me back, but it always provided comic relief.

D&D 5th Edition: Balasar Kimbatuul

Balasar was a gold dragonborn battle master fighter who played the bongos, and by that I mean that I went to Toys ‘R Us and bought a set of bongs to play at the table. I created him for Sly Flourish’s Horde of the Dragon Queen campaign, and somewhere on slyflourish.com is a picture of me playing those bongos. The first leg of the campaign is a really tedious slog with little opportunity to rest and recover abilities. The rat swarm was particularly annoying, but the first leg ends with a blue dragonborn calling out one of us for a one-on-one fight. I spontaneously shouted out, “Honor duel!” That became his thing. He’s always pick the baddest NPC on the battlefield and convinced that NPC to duel him. It wasn’t through some class or racial feature, but purely through role-play, which Mike facilitated. In such a situation, it’s easy to outshine your fellow players by grabbing all the glory. I honestly don’t believe that ever happened. Besides the fact that my dice are weighted towards low numbers, so I was often knocked out, Sly Flourish is literally the best DM I ever had. He allows everyone to play as they want to play, and yet characters rarely stole each others’ thunder, nor did players annoy each other. As players, we deserve some of the credit for that, but most of it goes to Mike, and I like to remind him how grateful I am for his talent as a DM. I was in his home game for many years and play-tested most (all?) of his published work during that time.

D&D 5th Edition: Portia Tossgobble

Portia was one of four members of the Tossgobble family I created. Because I can play only one of them at a time, they never met in-game, but they were all siblings. Portia was a halfling, kensai monk in the D&D Adventurer’s League. Because I play once per year, I forgot most of her details. I was playing her at Winter Fantasy, and we needed someone to steer a ship. It suddenly occurred to me that she had a sailor background, so with a natural 20 on my attempt to steer the ship . . . well, let’s just say I finally had the opportunity to yell, “Ramming speed!” The adventure’s treasure included a perfect item for her: a +1 trident. All I need now is a magic item or feature of some sort that allows her to breath water, and she can rule however many seas Faerun has.

I could go on, but I won’t. Maybe I’ll remember some other fun characters and share them in a future post. I liked my occultist in 13th Age (another Sly Flourish campaign), but I was on my last legs as an RPG player at that point. My memory and my thrill in creating meaningful characters waned during that time.

It doesn’t surprise me in the least that all of these characters were D&D characters.

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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 V: 4th Edition Combat #DnD #4e

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| Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V |

I didn’t think I’d write a part V, but here we are. Once again, I’m my own inspiration.

Inside information: I made up that rule number.

I’m going to expand on this thought. For proper context, I point you to my post on how I prefer to play D&D and my dungeon crawl system PDF. Because neither of my two non-spam followers are going to click through, here’s the gist of them. Dungeon Crawl System: I created a system for 4th edition D&D that quickens combats and removes the annoyance known as the 2-hour adventuring day. (Your number of hours may vary.) My Approach to D&D: While I can enjoy a good combat, I prefer role-playing a quirky character to rolling dice, immersing myself in the game world and taking interest in even the most mundane of NPCs. That limited context will have to do if you don’t want to click thorough.

If you’re in combat and roll a natural 20, what have you accomplished? I’m not talking about your character; I’m talking about you, the player. What did you accomplish? Rolling a 20 (or any hit) is just a matter of random chance for the player, so while it represents a character’s achievement, the player hasn’t done anything of note. That’s why I prefer puzzles, moral dilemmas, and the like. They’re a challenge for me, the player. This doesn’t mean combats are useless in this regard. One thing we accomplish in all aspects of the game is that we’re telling a cool story. I just prefer that in doing so, we’re more screenwriters than moviegoers. I want to be the one writing most of the story rather than have random chance present it to me. That is, I prefer to moderate random chance so that it provides tension without overwhelming the story.

4e changed things for me. I actually enjoyed combats because winning a combat felt like I was accomplishing something. The tactics were intricate. I had to cooperate with my team of PCs to defeat the tactics of the DM, just like what you’d do in the real world.

See the source image

Damn, that sounds nerdy. I know real life combat is very different. I’ve trained in the martial arts since I was 14. I’m just drawing an analogy. The point is that you have to use your brain and employ sound tactics in 4e D&D. It seems so strange to me that one of the most common criticisms of 4e is that it’s a combat simulator that sacrifices role-play. The mechanics of 4e kind of made role-playing a character part of combat, and it’s why I had a much easier time fitting in with other gamers during its run. That gives me an idea for tomorrow’s post. Seriously, typing that sentence gave me an idea.

All that said, I’ve always said that if a game system doesn’t do what you want it to do, it’s you’re own damn fault. You can use any system to play any style.

I’m a Napoleon Dynamite-esque martial artist.

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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 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 V |

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?)

In case the tweets are deleted, here are images of them.

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

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 V |

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
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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?)

In case the tweet is deleted, here’s an image of it.

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 V |

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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In case the tweets are deleted, here are images of them:

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 V |

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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My Favorite D&D Classes @Erik_Nowak @WinterFantasy #DnD #RPG

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A few days ago, someone on social media asked for everyone’s favorite Dungeons & Dragons class (I know; not an original thought). I’m sure many would agree with me that the answer depends on the edition. I have firsthand knowledge that some would say it’s a stupid question. This post isn’t for you.

A&D

I loved the monk. I don’t remember AD&D very well, but I played it a few years back on the van ride home from GenCon (which has since morphed into an annual van trip to Winter Fantasy known as Winter Vantasy, the best 14 hours in gaming). In that game, the monk seemed as effective a class as any other. This is despite things I’ve heard about how weak the class was. We weren’t 1st level, but even if the monk is weak at first level, it’s no weaker than a wizard, and the wizard has a huge payoff at later levels. As long as the monk was useful, it was fun.

2nd Edition

I started playing AD&D in 1977, but due to the Satanic Panic, I was prohibited from playing it after 1981. Ergo, I never played 2nd edition until — I’m going to guess — 7 or 8 years ago. My friend, Erik, ran a game over the course of two weekends, and I chose a bard based on my love of the bard class in 4e (the then-current edition). I enjoyed it. I played one other 2nd edition class in a 2-hour game a couple years later, and I don’t remember what that class was. So, saying the bard is my favorite 2nd-edition class wouldn’t be much of a statement, would it?

3.5 Edition

Easy choice: the Warmage. I returned to D&D in 2005, having missed 2e and 3e, and my first character was Frylock, the half-elf warmage (with two levels of rogue). He was fantastic, and no other 3rd-edition class compared. I don’t overpower my characters, so having a character that was inherently good in combat without much work on my part kept the table from being frustrated with my underpowered characters. The fact that my dice were weighted towards rolling 1s was another matter. I also liked the versatility spellcasters got, but sometimes I get overwhelmed and forget everything I can do. The warmage was much better focused, so I was less prone to forget things. Sorry, but I just don’t like playing games to be work. Maybe the 3.5e bard would have been fund, but I never thought to play one.

4th Edition

I loved playing “leaders” in 4e, and the flavor of the bard was (and remains) my favorite for role-playing purposes. My famously low d20 rolls were offset by my ability to help the other characters with healing and bonuses, so playing leaders was a win-win for the table. Me being able to roleplay an entertainer was always fun. As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I enjoyed the swarm druid quite a bit, but it was no bard.

5th Edition

The bard wins again, just barely beating out the warlock. The flavor remains the same, so I imagine I’d prefer playing a bard in any edition. It’s a bit too complicated, leading me to forget, for example, to hand out bardic inspiration, but because everyone insists I cast Eldritch Blast on every turn, my warlock often gets spoiled for me.

Verdict

Clearly, the bard is my favorite in general. I never considered playing one until 4th Edition, when leaders became my thing. The AD&D bard has such huge barriers to entry that I can’t imagine many people played characters starting from 1st level that worked their way to it. Sure, it happened, but it was probably rare. The second edition bard was fun, and I never played the 3.5 edition one. Although I’m not a fan of 3.5e, maybe I’ll play again just to play the 3.5e bard.

By the way, the inspiration for this post was an article that google put in my feed: “D&D: How to Build the Perfect Bard.” If you’re interested in boosting your bardic power, maybe that article will help.

What are your favorite classes?

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#DruidWorldProblems @jwrp666 #DnD #RPG

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I must admit I never thought of this.

This meme reminded me of one of my favorite characters, who was the only druid I’d ever played up to that point. Named after Jeff Goodblum’s character in the Fly, Brundle was a thri-kreen swarm druid that could turn into small primates. In other words, he was a bug that turned into a swarm of little humanoids.

I played him in a Dark Sun campaign in which all but the human cleric were thri-kreen from the same hive. I was the middle child of the bunch (no acting necessary) and of low intelligence (no acting necessary), so everyone picked on me (no acting necessary). To make things easier on the DM, I wrote up the post-session journals but did so from the point of view of Brundle. The facts were largely accurate but overstated his importance and criticized the others as useless. Brundle was always the hero and leader of the group … in the journal.

4e swarm druids were the coolest druids.

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4th Edition D&D Has Poisoned Star Trek #DnD #RPG #StarTrek

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Way back when, 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons created a meaningless dust up. It presented female dragonborn (anthropomorphic reptiles) with mammary glands. That is, they had boobs. This makes no sense, and now, after all these years, this thinking has infested Star Trek.

The Andorion gets my vote.

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