March 6, 2015

5E Friday - Responsive

This week we saw a new survey from WotC on 5E. Also listed there is some feedback from the first survey, mostly Ranger and other issues. I find it interesting that they responded fairly fast and did not really hedge on their response. They readily acknowledged that a good percentage of people are unhappy with certain aspects of the Ranger class. They haven't revealed how they plan to "fix" it but it was revealing how they plan to approach the idea.

In the past WotC has released errata to "fix" things. When the errata became to massive they even released a half edition (3.5). I believe they are trying to avoid going that route. From their comments they want to leave what is already written alone, almost carved in stone - "as opposed to a rewrite of the Player’s Handbook.". Seems like they will adding new rules and new options that allow a player to make additional choices that will allow them to circumvent/ignore the "poor" choices currently available - "People who don’t like the ranger should feel as though the new options allow them to play the ranger they want to create."

I like this approach. People who like the Ranger can keep playing it as it currently is. Those who do not can try the new options. And most importantly, we will not need a second errata printing of books. One thing that annoyed me about previous editions was that every time they made a change the books changed and my book became outdated at each printing. Of course, we'll still need to get the new material in whatever form they release it as...which for now has been free downloads.

Personally I like this level of responsiveness on the part of WotC. While they are writing rules and making choices they are not arrogant enough to ignore feedback. Some companies say "we know better, trust us that these rules are for the best", while ignoring what the mass of community is saying. One of the fears of DnD Next while it was in playtesting was that the rules would be a mess as the writers tried to incorporate the feedback/desires of 10,000+ different people and viewpoints. However, WotC has shown with the 5E rules that, while they are willing to listen, they also know where to stop listening and just write some rules. I like this balance of listening but not being afraid to make decisions.

March 3, 2015

Chess is a Role-playing Game

..or rather, it can be. Anything can be a role-playing game if you are willing to forgo the game mechanics and let role-playing trump the game. The famous John Wick wrote an article somewhat recently about how many rpg games, specifically early D&D, are not role-playing games. There have been a lot of discussion on the article, both for and against the article. All of them make good points. Ultimately, I do not agree with it.

To illustrate why... 

February 27, 2015

5E Friday - OGL

When discussions about an OGL for 5E started to be bandied about, WotC said we would have something around January 2015. We now approach the end of February and still no news. Honestly, I didn't expect any real announcements in January on the topic; I understood it as a goal not a promise. I think WotC really didn't know what they wanted to do with a OGL.

So, what are they going to do? Looking at their upcoming release schedule...there is not much product on it. I have to wonder where WotC plans on gaining revenue. Interestingly enough most of the products are being written by third parties. It seems like WotC is planning on using 3rd parties to do a lot of their "in-house" product work. In addition, they recently hired a new employee (after getting rid of 2) with the function of going over 3rd party material. Which leads me to a thought...

Is WotC planning on releasing a very tight and restrictive OGL? One where all 3rd party products have to be reviewed and approved by WotC? One where WotC gets a percentage of all sales from 3rd party products? Is WotC planning to generate revenue through 3rd party material?

One of the rumors going around about a OGL was that only established companies would be able to participate, either from direct approval or by virtue of the fact they would be the only ones who could afford the cost of doing business. Will small 3rd party publishers be cut out simply because they won't be able to generate enough sales to warrant giving them the rights to publish 5E material? The profit margin on a small book would likely be so small that giving WotC a percentage would make it not worth the time to write it.

Of course, the 3E OGL might circumvent certain WotC plans. Necromancer Games has already released some 5E material without being taken to court by WotC because they are following the earlier OGL (or because they have already reached some sort of agreement with WotC). Multiple other publishers are doing the same, even small publishers. The Pandora's Box of 3rd party publishing for 5E may already be open.

Hopefully, we get a real announcement soon.

February 20, 2015

5E Friday - Forgotten Realms

I'm not sure why WotC is sticking with Forgotten Realms as the default setting for 5E*. It doesn't look like there will be any specific Forgotten Realms sourcebook coming out for 5E, so there is no money to be made from the setting itself. Is it because FR is generic enough that they can produce any set of adventures and have them set in FR without any extra work? Is it that they think they can slap the Forgotten Realms name onto a generic product and assume they will get some sales just from the name?

I have a bunch of the FR products all the way back to when it first came out. I like the setting, however...I am tired of WotC always going to FR for their setting. I want something new, something exciting - and changing FR is not the excitement I am looking for. New and fresh is the thing I am looking for.

The most recent new setting was Eberron. Did Eberron not sell as well as FR material? I know there were a lot of books out for the setting, but to me it never seemed to reach the heights of FR. Is putting the FR label on a book more effective for generating sales than putting on an Eberron label?

I know there was much talk about the multitude of 2E settings (FR, Planescape, Ravenloft, Birthright, Dark Sun, Al-Qadim, Greyhawk, Spelljammer) as being a catalyst for the downfall of TSR. They simply couldn't support the lines at a profit - too much customer money was spread over too many lines. Are they worried about diluting the 5E customer money by supporting FR and other settings.

or...are they out of new ideas. Are they incapable of producing a new setting that won't be compared to an earlier setting. If they do a dark, gritty setting will people just say its the 5E version of Dark Sun? If they make it generic will it be "just another Forgotten Realms". They can't make a new horror or kingdom management or arabian or plane-hopping setting without drawing comparisons to their older lines. Can they not come up with a new setting that doesn't remind people of other, previous settings?

Is WotC scared of producing a new setting and having it fail?

I am trying to understand why the Forgotten Realms is the default setting for 5E. Or more to the point, why aren't they producing a completely new setting?

*Recently D&D's brand director, Nathan Stewart stated "The Forgotten Realms is the universe that we at Wizards of the Coast are focusing our storytelling in for the foreseeable future"

February 17, 2015

It's Rough Changing From Tactical Maps to Theater of the Mind

I got my current group together to run some 4E D&D when it first came out. At the beginning it was a lot of fun using the minis and maps. Combats were tactical, strategic and another problem to be solved by the players. With the flow of combat being ever changing through the large number of abilities that moved combatants around the board, it kept things engaging for the players even during someone else's turn. Some of my players liked it, especially the min-maxers who liked the extra level of control they could exert. Eventually, the combats became too slow and ponderous and we moved onto other games.

With 5E coming out we decided to give it a try and are enjoying it, especially the speed of combats and overall game-play. However, I have decided to purposefully keep combats in the theater of the mind instead of resorting to maps and minis. While I love the look of minis and believe it helps with immersion by letting the players "see" what their characters see, I also feel it overall slows down game-play. Setting up maps and minis takes time. Players seem to dither longer as they want to optimally move their mini on the map. Math is hard when calculating movement rates/speed.

Thus I have been keeping things as narrative as possible. I have even forgone simple things like movements rates by and large. Instead of saying "the enemy is 40' away", I say "the enemy is 2 rounds of movement away, though you can get there this round if you run, but then you can't attack". I feel this takes away the math ("my speed is 30' and if I run..."). I don't really bother with the math, but rather am more narrative.

And it is hard for my players to play with this more narrative/theater of the mind approach. They seem to instinctively want to go tactical on me. They want to maneuver to avoid attacks-of-opportunity, even though it only activates when they leave the threatened area (as they learned last night night they can move into melee and then circle the enemy as long as they stay within 5') - basically they are trying to avoid something that no longer exists in game mechanics. They want to flank even though there is no mechanical advantage for doing so (I have decided to not use the optional flanking rules). They want the fleeing enemy to be blocked by the mage that was near the exit door (even though she just got shanked down to 1hp in 1 blow the round before and was trying to stay safe).

Last night, one player's character moved up next to an enemy simply to gain the the game system mechanic of being engaged with them (he couldn't attack since he had to spend an action moving to reach the enemy). It wasn't a case of "I move to keep the enemy busy and distracted" - it was a case of "I move so I can get an attack-of-opportunity if the enemy tries to flee and so the rogue gets an advantage to her attack since I'm in base-to-base with the enemy".
There is a disconnect between the narrative and the game mechanics going on here. However, this is mostly because the min-maxer of my group looks at everything from a game system point of view rather than a narrative point of view.

Basically, min-maxers seem to love tactical maps because it allows them to control the fight in another way. By going more narrative they lose some of that control. They want the enemy constrained by the map and a theater of the mind tends to be looser than that. Some of my players are having a hard time readjusting to the new format of theater of the mind. We briefly discussed the use of minis and they verbalized that they were fine with not using maps and minis but we'll see how it pans out over time. Near the end of 4E I was trying more off-the-grid combats and they worked somewhat so my players have seen it before (and they are old 1E games so it is not a new concept). Still, it will take some getting used to for them.