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

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

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.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Sly Flourish @slyflourish
Follow Teos @alphastream


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

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

| 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.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc

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

Jurisdiction and Common Law Trademark Rights @lukegygax @TSR_games @tsrgames @Gygax_Jr @JaysonElliot @OrcishLaw #trademark #iplaw #DnD #RPG #TSR

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

By now, most of you nerds must be aware of the newest incarnation of TSR (“newer TSR”). They exist despite the fact that the new TSR (ummmm, “new TSR”) hasn’t died yet. Among other well-known gaming people, Ernie Gygax serves as Executive Vice President. The idea behind the newer TSR is to recapture the magic (get it?!) of the old days of the original TSR and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Unfortunately, Ernie casted Dispel Magic in an interview that ruffled a lot of feathers. I’m not commenting on that. As I’ve said, this is a not a blog for political issues, matters of human rights, or nuclear war. That’s way too heavy for this blog. Besides, do you really need yet another voice in this massive choir of commenters? No, so instead I’m going to discuss an aspect of IP law that’s probably relevant to the case and many of you may not know.

Disclaimer

Okay, you knew this was coming, but it’s especially important here. This is not legal advice. All I’m doing is stating the law in the abstract. If someone, including either or the two TSRs, thinks it applies to their facts, then they can hire an attorney to get legal advice. But isn’t stating the law legal advice? No, it’s not. Anyone can state what the law is (e.g., “The speed limit is 55 mph.”). Only attorneys can apply that law to another person’s fact pattern (e.g., “The speed limit is 55 mph, you’re driving 65 mph, and therefore you’re violating the law.”). No district attorney is going to prosecute you for telling someone they’re speeding, but this is an easily digestible example to define “practice of law.” This is key here because I strongly suspect that I have only a fraction of the facts surrounding this case, so it would be impossible for me to practice law here. So I ain’t. Got it?

I’m My Own Inspiration, aka, The Tweet Heard ’round the World

This blog post was ultimately inspired by, well, me. That is, it was inspired by my response to Luke Gygax’s tweets with which many of you are familiar. Of course I was deflecting from the actual topic to the law. It’s what I do.

Trademarks and the Constitution

Oh, you thought you were going to get through this without any heavy-handed legal philosophy, didn’t you? Here’s some constitutional law, suckers.

The US Constitution defines a government of limited powers. That is, unlike the states, the federal government lacks power unless 1) the US Constitution expressly says it has that power; or 2) the federal government absolutely must have that power in order to use a power that the US Constitution expressly says it has. As for number two, nowhere does the US Constitution say that the feds have the power to enter into employment contracts, yet they must have that power in order to, for example, create the IRS and hire accountants, admin assistants, janitors, etc., because otherwise the power to collect taxes would be rendered useless.

This is not a controversial statement among lawyers, though lawyers are (believe it or not) human, so many of them sometimes ignore this principle as well because . . . okay, no pontificating. The notion that the feds lack the power to act by default seems to be lost on many people, but there it is. Accept it or deny it, but it’s 100% true.

Okay, back on point, the Arts & Sciences Clause grants the federal government the power to grant patents and copyrights, but it doesn’t mention trademarks. That’s left largely to the states. (Weird, huh? When have you ever heard of state trademarks?) However, there’s a back door that gets the feds into that game. The Commerce Clause allows the feds to regulate “interstate commerce” (i.e., business transactions that cross state lines). If a vendor in Arizona sells something to a consumer in Utah, then that sale could open the door to federal regulation even if the feds don’t otherwise have the power to stick their noses into it. So, the Lanham Act provides for federal registration of trademarks with the US Patent and Trademark Office only if the owner is using their trademark in multiple jurisdictions. If you’re using the trademark in only one state, you don’t qualify for a federal trademark. However, if you do qualify for a federal trademark, it applies across the entire United States. (Well, almost, which will be my ultimate point.)

There’s a limited exception for those with an “intent to use,” but I’ve given you enough to digest.

So what happens if you don’t register your trademark federally? As long as you’re using the trademark in commerce, you develop “common law trademark rights,” but unlike the federal trademark rights, those rights apply only in the jurisdiction or region where you’ve been using the trademark.

If you’re doing business in a large state, common law trademark rights may arise only in your local region. In that case, registering your trademark with that Secretary of State for that state would grant you trademark rights across the entire state.

Seniority of Trademarks

Okay, I’m finally approaching my point. Imagine a situation where I’m using a trademark, Bodine’s Bovines, on my cow farm in Virginia. Therefore, I have trademark rights only in Virginia. Only I can use that trademark in Virginia.

This probably ends as poorly for me as it did the MacDougals.

Next, Fred Bodine (no relation) opens a couple of cow farms, one in Utah and one in Nevada, both using the same Bodine’s Bovines trademark. He registers the trademark federally based on his use across state lines, so now he has a trademark that applies across the entire United States. Finally, I decide to open a second farm in North Carolina. I try to register my trademark federally, but Fred beat me to it, so my application is denied. Also, Fred sends me a cease-and-desist letter preventing me from using Bodine’s Bovines at all. Does he have a right to do that? In North Carolina, yes, but in Virginia, no. I opened my Virginia farm first, and even though I never registered the trademark with either the feds or even the Commonwealth of Virginia, my use in Virginia was “senior” to Fred’s use (i.e., because I used it in Virginia first). However, Fred can block me from using it outside Virginia because he registered the trademark federally before I opened the North Carolina farm.

What if instead I had a federal trademark based on prior use both in Virginia and North Carolina, let it lapse, and then Fred came along and grabbed it based on his use in Utah and Nevada? I’d still have senior rights in both Virginia and North Carolina.

Hint Hint GIFs | Tenor
Take a hint, people.

So, you can think of a federal registration as having the same effect of using the trademark in every state starting at the time you registered it. Where you got there first, you get to use it, but you’re blocked where you didn’t get there first. In a more complex case, you could imagine a patchwork of multiple, identical trademarks being used by several different companies in several jurisdictions, with one of those companies having a federal trademark covering the unclaimed jurisdictions. So, the company with the federal trademark could nevertheless be blocked from using that trademark in jurisdictions with senior users. This isn’t a far-fetched scenario, but if its mere possibility surprises you, then . . . surprise!

So, what happens next? Well, when the two parties each have something the other wants, they could strike a deal. For example, each could license the other the right to use their trademark in jurisdictions in which they’d otherwise be prevented from marketing. If both parties are on relatively equal footing, the license fee may be, I don’t know, as small as $10 per year. However, if one party doesn’t realize how much of an advantage they have or lack the funds to enforce their advantage, they may make the same deal.

Sound familiar? No? Well, too bad. I’m not getting into specific cases. 🙂

Epilogue

After completing this post, I found a relevant Twitter thread.

There’s a lot of overlap, but Orcish Law makes a few other relevant legal points and peppers in a lot more gifs. I left much of that out because I have a tendency to ramble, so I try to keep my posts as short as possible. We both included disclaimers though. It’s what we do.

If the trademark is valuable, and you can afford a lawyer, get one. Otherwise, you’ll have to either cut a bad deal or find a new trademark.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Luke Gygax @lukegygax
Follow the newer TSR Games @TSR_games
Follow the new TSR @tsrgames
Follow Ernie Gary Gygax, Jr. @Gygax_Jr
Follow Jayson Elliott @JaysonElliot
Follow Orcish Law @OrcishLaw

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 IV: 4th Edition Stat Blocks @shawnmerwin @MerricB @bandofmisfits #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 #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.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Shawn Merwin @shawnmerwin
Follow Merric Blackman @MerricB
Follow Roving Band of Misfits @bandofmisfits

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
Follow Newbie DM @newbiedm
Follow S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP @Dm_LSP
Follow Merric Blackman @MerricB
Follow Roving Band of Misfits @bandofmisfits

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!

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Newbie DM @newbiedm
Follow S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP @Dm_LSP
Follow Merric Blackman @MerricB
Follow Roving Band of Misfits @bandofmisfits
Follow Pablo Holguin @Pablodnd
Follow Graham Ward @DarkplaneDM
Follow Leslie @LeslieGMgrrl
Follow Philippe-Antoine Menard @ChattyDM

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 I: This is Why the 5th Edition D&D Monster Manual is My Favorite RPG Bestiary @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 |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!

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Newbie DM @newbiedm
Follow S Keldor lord of Castle Greyskull DMLSP @Dm_LSP
Follow Merric Blackman @MerricB
Follow Roving Band of Misfits @bandofmisfits

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

Bruno’s Earth: I Just Had to Do It @Wizards #copyright #DnD #RPG

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

I bought something that arrived on Thursday. It’s stupid, and it appears to be the most brazen example of copyright infringement since Napster (though with far fewer consequences). For that reason, I didn’t want to support it. But I had to. It cost less than $15 with shipping.

I discovered via Facebook a game system known as Bruno’s Earth. I’m not going to post photos because of the nature of the infringement. Instead, I point you to the Amazon listings.

Bruno’s Earth Game Book
Bruno’s Earth Creature Manual

This book shamelessly copies the artwork from the AD&D Players’ Handbook and Monster Manual (and perhaps others), including the covers of the books. There’s no way you know about these books and not know that it’s infringement, yet Wizards of the Coast, who enforces and threatens a hell of a lot more than they have any right to, has apparently taken no action. It’s bizarre. I’d be surprised to hear that Wizards licensed it, but it’s certainly possible. Until I hear otherwise, I’m assuming that. Besides, as Kermit the frog might say, “But that’s none of my business.”

Oh, by the way, I haven’t had much of a chance to review the material beyond the artwork, but I can tell you that it’s riddled with language errors/typos. I’ve been told the game system itself rather sucks. I’ll let you know what I think of that when I’ve had the chance to really look it over.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow Wizards of the Coast @wizards

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

How I Prefer to Play Dungeons and Dragons, and Why I No Longer Do @Raddu76 @Luddite_Vic @SlyFlourish #DnD #RPG

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my posts raised some questions from my social media contacts both on Facebook and Twitter. Specifically, they were wondering what I meant when I said I played Dungeons & Dragons differently from most others. It’s tough to express what I mean by that, but there’s been some back and forth, so I’ve given some thought on how to express it. I’m going to do my best here in an uncharacteristically long post. I’d like to make four quick points for context before I explain.

1. For RPGs, I limit myself to D&D out of necessity. I could play other games (and have), but nothing is more accessible than whatever the current edition of D&D is, especially in light of the living campaign being run for that edition.

2. There’s no right way to play D&D. Nothing I’m saying is a criticism of how other people play except to the extent that I’m saying I don’t prefer to play that way myself. Moreover, I was in Sly Flourish’s home game for years, and people like me can absolutely coexist on the same table as people . . .  not like me. That was probably the best gaming group I’ve ever been in because no matter who was in the group, everyone let everyone else do their own thing. I credit the DM for creating that atmosphere. He certainly guides the game but always places fun ahead of his own ego. Not many DMs do. Unfortunately, my gaming experience has conditioned me to go along with what other people expect, so even in that game I’d often sabotage myself by becoming what I didn’t want to be. But if that’s the way you want to play, then go for it. Some people reading this will know I’m talking about them and their play style. They shouldn’t be offended. None of this is meant as an insult.

3. Combat is part of the game, and I’m capable of enjoying a good combat.

4. Luddite_Vic and I have been designing our own RPG for a few years now. It’ll probably never see the commercial light of day because we’re too busy to meet regularly, but to some extent game design can absolutely accommodate my play style. It can even encourage it, though the best game system is going to be one that allows anyone to play it the way they want to play it.

So, what am I talking about?

I’m an Actor

No, you shouldn’t be asking me for my autograph. I didn’t say that I’m a good actor.

There are several player types. Some players change their type over time, and some fall into several categories at once. I’m certainly what I call an actor. I create a character with at least one notable, obvious personality quirk, and I play that up for maximum effect. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it isn’t, but it always defines my character, so much so that years later people reference the quirk by shouting, “Honor duel!”, “Bongos!”, or something referencing a character, when they see me. Whether I’m in combat or not, if I’m not playing up that quirk (or quirks), I’m not having fun.

Sometimes character concepts fail, so in theory I could impose an annoying play style on others, but I don’t. If I make a mistake with a character concept, or if it just doesn’t work within the game system, I move on from it before it becomes a burden. I’m self-aware of the impact I have on others, so if I’m annoying you, it’s intentional 😊, but I avoid doing that with characters.

True Immersion

The key to me having a good time is true immersion in the game world. I don’t think many players do that, and I think the best way for me to explain this is through a few examples.

The simplest and most talked about example of that is alignment. If you’re playing a lawful good character, then your character should act as such. I see far too many players choosing an alignment because of some mechanical bonus it gives, or because it serves a class build well, but then they act according to tactical needs rather than character philosophy, and their alignment goes right out the window. Again, if it makes you happy, fine, but I think you’re losing something valuable by doing that. After all, rolling a critical hit isn’t really an accomplishment. It’s random unless you’re cheating. As the great philosopher, Neil Peart, once wrote, “The point of the journey is not to arrive.” Misplaced modifier aside, by that he meant that how you get somewhere can often be more rewarding than where you wind up.

Assuming your character has roughly the same alignment as you, is that how you’d behave in the real world? If you’re playing a character with vastly different morals than you, is that how such a character would behave in the real world? If not, you’re not immersing yourself in the game world.

Here’s a better example. I openly wanted to test a story line but covertly wanted to test whether others would be interested in my play style, so I took over a 4e campaign when our characters hit paragon level (11th level). This is 4th edition, so even the bard had at least 70 hit points. The first encounter in the paragon campaign was clearly underpowered. It was designed to be a “James Bond” moment, where everything started off with a bang, but the point was to deliver the story hook. Any experienced player could recognize that, and in fact they all did.

The characters were visiting “the Lawns,” which was an area of the city best described as a much smaller version of Central Park. Commoners were everywhere, and I had the PCs place themselves randomly on the board. There were three magical cages containing a bear, a destrachen, and a manticore, all of heroic tier. Collectively, they were no match for the PCs. A blast of energy wipes out the vegetation in the immediate area and causes the cages to burst open. The bard wins initiative. He’s standing near the bear, an elf, the elf’s two small children, and a human. He elects to run over to the manticore to gang up on it with two other PCs. I say, “Just in case neither the minis nor I have described the scene properly, you have the jump on the bear, and the bear has the jump on the commoners. If you run away, those commoners, including two children, are as good as dead.” He said he understood but was going for the better tactical move, and the other players agreed, saying, “Get over here!” (or words to that effect).

I know these players well, so I knew this would happen — this encounter was also designed by me to be an ethical set up — but I couldn’t believe they fell for it. What exactly is the “better tactical move”? In my mind it was to limit as much damage to the citizens as possible. That’s what heroes do. (If I recall correctly, only one character was neutral on the good-evil axis, and I know it wasn’t the bard.) The party instead defined “better tactical move” as personally taking the least amount of damage possible. (Later, I’ll provide more evidence that this is their thinking.) This was the case even though the bard would be looking at taking, at most, one healing surge worth of damage in a one-on-one combat against any one of them.

When the bear got its turn, I described the event in gruesome detail. The elf shouts out, “Run to your mother, children!” right before he’s disemboweled with one claw. Then the human has his face ripped off by the other claw. I don’t expect the players to lose any sleep over make-believe characters getting killed, but not one of the characters expressed the slightest bit of sadness or regret. And don’t think for a second that I missed it. I was watching them carefully and prodding them in character (through NPCs) to let me know what they thought about these events. From a meta perspective, that was the entire point of me taking over the game as DM.

Isn’t a role-playing game supposed to be about writing a story? What kind of a story are these “heroes” writing?

As I said, I knew this would happen because I knew these guys, and part of what I was testing was this principal of immersion. I was trying to see if the right story would change the players’ approach to the game. So, I had some more tricks up my sleeve. I bit my lip for three months waiting for the story to progress to a specific encounter. The players needed to research some very obscure information, so they visited the “Black Library.” This place held all the knowledge of the universe in special crystals, including dreams and memories.

The Black Library was at a very important place in the multiverse. It was near the “Grand Stairwell,” which (as far as mortal minds could perceive) is a stairwell that leads up and down to each of your potential final resting places after death (e.g., the Nine Hells, Archeron, Nirvana). There was always a long line of souls of the recently departed waiting their turns for final instructions. Go up four levels, go down two levels; whatever.

I asked the players to make a Perception check. It didn’t matter what they rolled. I said, “You seem to recognize one of the people in line,” and they took the bait. It was the elf they let die. He confronted them, and once again all of the player characters showed no remorse other than an insincere, “Sorry, but . . . .” I gave them one more shot though. The elf said, “Okay, I don’t agree, but I at least understand the tactical approach. So did you at least make sure my children were okay? Did they find my wife? My wife and three children, one of them a newborn, depended on my farming to earn a living. My wife doesn’t know how to farm, and now she must feed three young children on her own. How are they doing?”

This sounds really sad, and it was somewhat predictable considering the scene in which the elf (and human) were brutally killed. Nevertheless, I received no showing of true sympathy despite closely looking for it. Instead, the characters (players, really) stood their ground and responded (essentially), “It wasn’t our problem.” They were so intent on being right that they couldn’t muster any sympathy for such a tragic circumstance their choices created. And of course, even after this conversation, not one of the characters even suggested checking in on the elf’s family. These were 15th-level characters at this point with more wealth than entire towns, but they just didn’t care. If that’s how they wanted to play, so be it, but that’s not immersion.

As I said, when bad things happen to innocent but make-believe people, I don’t expect players to be sad, but I do expect their characters to be, especially where the bad things were the result of the characters’ own choices.

If you were in an analogous situation in the real world, would you have behaved this way? Would you have any remorse for these circumstances even though there was no financial reward or information to be gained?

Another Example: The Puzzle Encounter

I created a puzzle encounter, which I’ll describe here. There’s a magically charged, metal plate with an array of 100 lighted buttons (10 rows of 10) in front of it. Each button is numbered from 0 to 99 in order (left to right). You must figure out which buttons to push and in what order. If you fail, the plate will light up and zap you (but not your allies) for an amount of damage equal to the number of the button you should have pushed. For example, if you should have guessed 4 but pushed 87, you’d take 4 points of damage (not 87!). You then should push the 4 and continue with the sequence. Remember, at this level, the relatively fragile bard (now at 13th level) has at least 80 hit points, so even a 4 would result in 5% of his total. If you couldn’t figure out the answer before running out of buttons to push, you couldn’t try again in your lifetime, so another player would have to try this level. If you push two correct buttons in a row (something you could pull off by guessing in some cases), the plate acts as an elevator and moves you and your allies up to the next level, where you face the identical situation but with a different code. There are four levels you must pass to get reach your goal.

All this information was deduced care of an easy Arcana check. My intent wasn’t to hold back the nature of the puzzle at all, so if someone was confused, I freely shared any information they needed. What they never got was a hint as to what the code was applicable to each level. The only way to discern the codes were through trial and error, and that was the actual puzzle. Hit some buttons, get zapped for a tiny amount of damage, but figure out how to avoid it and move forward.

Answer: FYI, the codes were based on various sequences. The first sequence was a series of squares (i.e., 1, 4, 9, 16, 25, etc.), the second was a series of cubes (i.e., 1, 8, 27, 64), the third was the Fibonacci series (i.e., 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13), and the fourth was the digit product series (i.e., 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 22, 26, 38, etc.). Again, the only way to discern the codes were through trial and error, and the players were angered by that. More on that later.

The point is this: If you truly immersed yourself in the game world, you wouldn’t have a problem with this puzzle. In fact, you’d expect this because of course this is how a puzzle would be designed. These are meant to keep out would-be intruders. They aren’t supposed to give you an out in which you take no damage, and logically you wouldn’t expect there to be any way to deduce a code unless you personally knew the puzzle’s creator and the way he or she thought. If anything, puzzles should be a lot harder (e.g., a simple 6-digit pin impossible to guess), but that makes the game inaccessible, which we don’t want. However, it’s reasonable that 1) you’re not going to be able to reason out the code except through trial and error; and 2) you’ll be punished when you get things wrong; however, 3) the initial punishment is easy in case the puzzle-maker himself makes a mistake or forgets which code goes in which order.

Remember when I said above that I’d provide more evidence that the players define success by how much damage they take? When we were finished with the third level, the players had had enough of my nonsense. They accosted me because the puzzle was unfair. The straw that broke the camel’s back? The third sequence was the Fibonacci sequence, which means when they got the first number in that series wrong, the plate lit up, and one player took a whopping . . . zero (0) points of damage. That’s right. A couple of them actually raised their voices and complained because one of them took 0 hit points of damage. After they were finished complaining, we continued. They pressed the one (per the instructions), then a two (which zapped them for one point of damage), and that’s all the damage one player took. Another player immediately deduced that 0, 1, and 1 were the start of the Fibonacci sequence, so for this sequence, a single 13th-level player with close to 100 hit points took exactly 2 points of damage, and that was unacceptable to all of them. I was so annoyed at this point that I didn’t tell the about the fourth level. I just said that they had reached their goal after the third puzzle (essentially, “Congratulations! You won D&D!”). The digit product series would have been a bit tough anyway, so frustrations aside, that was probably a good call.

Explain that any way you want. To me, it’s as simple as this: Some people just want to win D&D flawlessly, but that won’t always be possible if you immerse yourself in the game world. You always lose at least a little. I don’t get this at all, but I at least respect the fact that some of these players admit that immersion isn’t what they want from the game. Others claim they like immersion, but it seems like nothing but talk to me.

So Why Is This Important?

Why is this important to me? Why do I think this sort of thing would matter to far more players than it does if they ever gave it a try? Simply put because all mechanical bonuses and victories in the game are illusory. The only true successes or failures are story-based.

Let’s first look at the mechanics. Game designers, take note. As a DM, you may want to balance your encounter or campaign to be easy, even, or hard. I don’t care which; that’s not the point. The point is that you want a certain “balance,” which I’m using as a general term that doesn’t necessarily mean having a 50% chance of success. If a game is designed such that a 3rd-level PC is expected to have a +1 sword, then that disturbs your balance. It doesn’t do something cool like 4th edition frost brand weapon does. It simply increases your chances to hit by 5%. To keep the game balanced as you want it, the NPCs must have built within their mechanics a boost to defenses at 3rd-level (more or less). That means that the +1 bonus isn’t a bonus at all; it’s just keeping things consistent. Maybe you’re falling for that, but I’m not. I see it for the poorly-disguised illusion that it is. A frost brand weapon, on the other hand, allows (for example) a fighter to become a wizard for just a moment or two by giving the fighter a limited-use blast attack. It’s not enough to steal the wizard’s thunder, but enough to mix things up a bit. It’s a far more legitimate reward, though even that is still a bit illusory (just not as noticeably). It also allows the fighter to get a nice boost of damage against cold-vulnerable NPCs (if the game designers would ever create such creatures!), which mechanically is balanced by the fighter’s reduced damage against cold-resistant creatures. Thus, the reward is that the fighter has yet another avenue to get their moment to shine within the story. That’s much closer to a real reward.

The same can be said of encounters. If you’re trying to sneak by a campsite but get caught, you have an extra fight on your hands. Worse, if they’re able to sound the alarm to their allies, you have a single fight on your hands against, let’s say, 25 opponents. Levels don’t matter at that point. Even 25 kobolds 5 levels below you will likely be unstoppable. So, what does the DM do? He fudges it. He has the kobolds choose poor tactics by not all rushing the PCs, or he eliminates an encounter or two so that this extra encounter doesn’t upset the balance. Sure, the math allows some wiggle room here, but not a lot. Too many encounters, and you’re facing an inevitable TPK simply because you stepped on a dry twig. Because DMs don’t allow for a single twig to result in a TPK, the punishment is also illusory.

Something Real

So, what’s a real reward or punishment? A story-based one. Let’s say you’re approaching that same campfire, but the kobolds have prisoners. The prisoners are commoners who have no money, no information, and aren’t even important enough to have names. If you immediately charge, one of commoners gets their throat slit before you get there. If you’re sneaking but step on that dry twig, a few get their throats slit. Before you know it, you’ve got a lot of dead kobolds, but also a lot of dead commoners. That shouldn’t be seen as a victory despite the dead kobolds. Instead, the dead commoners should be your punishment for your failure. The more that die, the greater your failure. After all, aren’t you adventuring to save the world (assuming it’s not an evil campaign)? Unfortunately, commoners aren’t a concern to anyone unless they find enjoyment in immersing themselves in the game world. I haven’t met many of you that truly do, or perhaps most of you (like me) have resigned yourself to how things are done, so you don’t play that way despite it being your preference. I don’t know what’s in your heads; I can only guess based on your words and actions, and I’ve never heard anyone voice these specific concerns. Many adventure and game system writers don’t write that way either. Ergo, gaming has grated on me, and I no longer enjoy playing. The one time a year I do is at Winter Fantasy, but if I play too much, I get into a bad mood.

End Rant

That’s it. Rant over. I hope that explains my position. Please keep in mind that if all of this is falling on deaf ears, that’s fine. You don’t have to agree. None of you owe me a game played the way I want it played. If I’m not enjoying the game, I’ll find something else to do. We can still catch a movie together when the pandemic passes. That’d be fun. I rarely drink, so I can be the designated driver if necessary. 🙂

Side Note: 4th Edition D&D

In response to something someone said to me on Facebook, I’ll add that I love 4th edition. It’s my favorite edition of D&D. Despite the way I want to play, and even though it’s largely a combat simulator, I really enjoyed it. The math and logic were largely normalized, meaning you could focus on story above the math, which was easily dealt with as you went along. I wish more people took advantage of that. Instead, I think people prefer the convoluted, illusory math because they want that to be their focus. If true, that’s rather ironic considering the primary criticism of 4th edition is that it’s too rules heavy. But now I’m just picking fights. 🙂

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc
Follow (the other) Robert @Raddu76
Follow Vic @Luddite_Vic
Follow Mike @SlyFlourish

Ice Cream is for Suckers #dnd #rpg #gaming

If you enjoy this post, please retweet it.

Sundays are now lazy days for me. Going forward, I’m just going to re-post other people’s work or just do something silly. Today, it’s something I saw on Facebook.

ToHIceCream.jpg

Sometimes, you just want to hack and slash, but fair warning: So does the DM.

Follow me on Twitter @gsllc (please retweet!)