Dungeon Delve: 4th Edition

A while back I wrote in a post that I had been absent from Dungeons and Dragons for large portions of 3rd Edition and returned around the release of 4th. For me 4th edition was quite different than the RPG games I had left off with insomuch as it deviated pretty hard away from theater of the mind. 4th didn’t just encourage but required the use of miniatures for both players and monsters along with grid based combat maps. For my personal preference I found that especially for new players the battlemap made them focus too much on what they were seeing and less on what was described. Certainly this was not all on them or on the design of 4th because as the DM I shared the blame for not adapting properly to the system and my players. Perhaps at some point in the future I’ll write a more detailed post about where things fell apart for me and 4th but for now I’d like to focus on some positives.

Years on and quite deep into 5th edition it’s easier to look back and appreciate the things that 4th did right and there is one in particular I’d really like to talk about today: items. Shiny loot that we use to reward our players for adventuring out into our worlds and facing its dangers while exploring its mysteries. These are some of the most important things you can use to add flavor to your world, empower your players or in some cases introduce conflict. They run the gamut from useless to humorous and from world saving to world ending. 5th edition has a plethora to take advantage of and more importantly its easy for DMs to create their own to sprinkle throughout the world. The question is, what did 4th do that’s missing from 5th?  (more…)

Friday Fireside Chat

Why fireside? Because it’s raining quite heavily outside and that seems like a cozy way to start off this Friday post. I also hope it helps distract from the fact that I might have missed last Friday… a little bit, or completely.

Sorry about that.

So what’s been happening? A little, a lot, really depends on where you sit.

I’m going to start with something I saw yesterday from one of my favorite YouTubers, Skillup. He started as a hardcore Division streamer and while he has since moved on to a much broader range of topics he has been covering Division 2. Since Ubisoft can’t stop stepping in it even when they’re doing well he released a video yesterday talking about their decision to sell stash space. Not to mention the ridiculous amount of versions of the game they have up for sale and at what prices.

Pretty sure you can all guess where I stand on this just based on my previous posts but I do want to reiterate: developers do not need to blackmail us to get our money. The reason that the subject of stash space and charging for it is so egregious is because of what a huge issue, among other things, it was in their first game. Massive and Ubisoft have been fairly adamant about avoiding the mistakes they made the first time around which layers this entire subject in sour irony. As Skillup points out in the video at this stage of development they don’t even know how much the space the base stash is going to have nor how many extra slots the Ultimate Edition will actually offer. They’re selling a product whose parameters aren’t even set in stone which in and of itself is insulting enough.

Ubisoft and Massive know definitively from their first release that they have a game people want, a game where people want to pay for cosmetic extras, a game that they can reasonably monetize. I have been and will always be vehemently against monetizing basic game mechanics and QoL (Quality of Life) improvements for players except in a Free-To-Play environment. There you can purchase what you want as you want or need it without any upfront cost to also consider, in effect you don’t need to purchase the game and it’s mechanics twice. Since this revelation my enthusiasm for this game release has been dwindling fast which is a shame as I fell in love the aesthetic and gameplay immediately and have been itching to play more. I want the story, I want the outfits, I want the guns and I want to continue exploring the world of The Division. I really do.

I just wish game companies like Ubisoft and Massive didn’t seem so dead set on making me weigh my morals as a consumer against my desires as a gamer. Being pro-consumer doesn’t mean you can’t make money, it never has, it’s just a way to make money while not making your customers simultaneously regret their purchase. I want to feel good about buying a product, feel good about the people whose jobs I’m supporting and about the type of business practices I’m encouraging. Eventually that grimace I make when pulling out my wallet is going to turn into disgust which is then going to turn into me looking elsewhere for my entertainment.

If you won’t take my word for it then listen to someone whose opinion you should at the very least respect: Shigeru Miyamoto.

Now that’s done with lets move on to some more fun things.

On a musical note the Moonbeam Rider EP by Slugabed has made frequent appearances lately in my writing playlists. I don’t know why honestly, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the genre but its funky, awesome and just kinda puts me in a trance while I write.

It’s nice, you should give it a listen.

On the YouTube front I re-stumbled upon the joy that is Loading Ready Run and the series they make in co-operation with Wizards of the Coast called Friday Nights. If you like MTG and sketch comedy I recommend you give it a look, it’s worth your time. They have quite a few other shows they produce on a regular basis including their long, but well worth, Pre Pre-Release streams they do for new Magic: The Gathering sets. One of the things I like about it is that they have a judge on hand while they play their games so you can see how rules enforcement works. They also do a rules and mechanics review at the start with the judge to help familiarize you with new effects from the set. Even for the casual fan I think it can have some pretty helpful information and their streaming setup is great with a card reader to display cards as they are played.

I ran across this amusing thing in the smartphone world from Nokia: The 8110-4G. I understand the push for minimalism and people who want their basic necessities met without going overboard. Unfortunately I think we all know exactly who is going to end up buying and using these and spoiler; they’re not those people.

To the folks who want this kind of tech I wish you well and hopefully this thing fulfills all your needs. To the people who are going to buy this simply as an affectation, just do us all a favor and stick with your Android or iPhone, it’s fine.

Also, apparently it comes pre-loaded with Snake. Nothing but value.

On the extreme other end of that you can take a peek at the upcoming Hydrogen One phone from RED, the camera company. Looking it over with special emphasis on the price tag might have me understanding the minimalists a bit more.

Alright, now it’s time to discuss what is apparently on everyone’s mind: Nipples. No, seriously. I have to say that I am honestly impressed you can get so much out of a subject like this. I understand that everyone feels differently about things but, really? This can’t be that big of a deal. Although we also had to apparently deal with the whole fiasco of Luigi dying in a trailer for the new Smash game so maybe it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

I can’t tell if folks are having too much fun or too little fun that these things need to be reported on as news but either way, let’s all take take a moment and reflect on where we are as a planet.

While you’re contemplating that you should also check this out. I’m not the biggest fan of racing games but I am a huge fan of, the old, Top Gear and the new Grand Tour on Amazon so I’m tentatively interested in this. Especially if it has Jeremy, Richard and James doing voiceover for it. So far it seems like a novel idea where the tracks you’ll get to play through in the game are taken directly from things they do on the show with new cars and locations being added as episodes release. Hopefully it will add up to being more than just a gimmick and instead a fun way to interact with a show you love. Unfortunately it seems that the game will only be available for PS4 and XBONE which seems like a peculiar choice to me given the company that is making it but hopefully we’ll see a PC release in the future if it’s successful enough to warrant one.

There is always more but that is where I’ll leave it this week so this doesn’t risk becoming a truly uninteresting novella. Thanks for sticking around and I hope you have had a good week!

Was there anything I missed that you think I should have included? What interesting things did you stumble across recently? Let me know!

Have a great weekend and I’ll be back soon!

  • Non-Washable

Too Bored, Or Not Too Bored

I assume, like me, that most D&D or TTRPG nerds follow a bare minimum of accounts on Twitter with regards to the game type, one of them being Mike Mearls. The co-creator of 5E posts a fairly constant stream of game design musings which alone are worth the price of admission or more commonly known as clicking the “follow” button. The bonus to those interesting thoughts however is how regularly he interacts with folks on Twitter answering questions or just tempting them with the recent re-ignition of his passion for 40K miniatures. Don’t even get me started on the fact that I learned this game exists through his twitter. God dammit.

Sorry, anyways.

A little over a week ago I saw a tweet from Mike that caught my attention because he was responding to another game designer I recognized, Adam Koebel over some frustration he was feeling. Adam expressed his dislike over rolling with a +4 vs the 21 AC of a player ten times a turn and how boring it was. This comment was prompted by Mearls tweeting about how in 5E they had tilted accuracy towards the players to keep up the feeling of combat moving towards a conclusion. The brief conversation which took place below I found rather fascinating.

MearlsTweet

The question of whether or not the player’s enjoyment in combat takes design priority in something like combat caught me off-guard because my immediate instinct was to go, “Duh?”

To be perfectly honest even after thinking about it over the last week and a half that is still sort of my reaction. As a DM who only recently got to start playing on a regular basis I have to say that the majority of concern for entertaining combats should be tilted in favor of the players. There are a few reasons for that and chiefly among them is, I think, the most obvious one; there are anywhere from 3-8 times as many of them on average than there are of us.

Prioritizing the entertainment of one person over the average of five people sitting on the other side of the screen seems a bit bizarre to me.

As DMs we do the follow in the context of combat–

  • Have ultimate control over the design.
  • Can modify individual creatures and their abilities to our whim. (Within reason)
  • Create new never before seen enemies.
  • Design the terrain/setting in which the combat will happen.
  • Set the number of enemies.
  • Go multiple times per turn. Every turn.
  • Revel in the success and failure of our guys.

I’m sure there’s more but just off the top of my head the DMs already have plenty of fun even before getting into the combat proper. Even then once it starts, whiffing on a bunch of dice rolls and narrating it sounds plenty entertaining because on top of that we also get to narrate the successes of our party. Our responsibilities in combat beyond just rolling dice, as Mearls points out, is largely based around keeping things fun and fast paced. Even experienced players can fall into the doldrums of move, roll, hit or miss, pass the turn and onward and while that may make for an efficient combat it’ll quickly become dull. I want to see my players eyes go wide when I describe the result of their actions or the actions of their enemies, I want to see them react viscerally to the things going on. I don’t want them woodenly taking their turns in an attempt to just get combat over with, if they are then I’ve failed in my number one job; to keep them engaged and invested.

I believe I spoke about this in an earlier post but just in case that was all in my head I’ll reiterate it here; DMs should derive most of their joy through the things they help facilitate for the party. If your focus is on entertaining yourself over your group it will show, perhaps not right away but it will and it’ll be to the detriment of everyone at your table.

One of the responses to Koebel’s question in that thread said,

To be a punching bag apparently.

which depressed me a bit because this is the sort of mentality that leads to the Me vs Them attitude that gets DMs into trouble. When you start being competitive with the party instead of a facilitator it’s going to affect the quality of your game. Not to mention it’s a silly fight to get into anyway, out of everyone sitting at that table you, the DM, have the most power and it isn’t even close. You can’t even pretend to make a fight that lopsided fun in any respect… unless you’re a sadist I suppose. The important thing is to catch yourself before you fall into that trap and step away if you need to, DM fatigue is a real concern, we all need a break now and then.

As an aside one important thing to note is Adam is not being confrontational here as indicated by the continued conversation–

MearlsTweet2

One of the reasons I really appreciate Mearls is his willingness to openly admit the failings of a product he was at least half responsible for creating.

Adam’s comment there is something I wanted to end with because some of the responses in the thread pointed out that a +4 to hit indicates a pretty weak enemy which seems to be a fault in the encounter design; not the overall mechanics of 5E. Koebel is approaching this from the perspective of someone running a module, specifically Tomb of Annihilation, which means encounters and enemies are already laid out for him. In my experience running modules the enemies tend to err on the side of weaker in an attempt to ensure a minimal amount of variance for people running it. Higher powered enemies can introduce large unwieldy swings in the state of a combat which might be hard to handle for new DMs running a pre-made adventure. After all the idea behind them is to reduce the amount of on the spot improv a DM needs to do by providing them most if not everything they’ll need in a given scene. In most homebrewed games DMs would simply adjust monsters on the fly to modulate the difficulty in a combat to keep things interesting whereas doing that in a module can unintentionally affect pacing and overall balance going forward. Changes you make on the fly you want to remain consistent with otherwise it will become noticeable to your players. While we all know it happens its never fun to actively realize the DM is shifting numbers one way or another.

Overall it was an interesting tweet thread to follow with a good explanation on why the system functions how it does, where it fails and some ideas on how to improve it. If you don’t follow Mike Mearls or Adam Koebel I highly recommend you do, especially if you’re interested in table-top RPGs, even casually.

For now remember this, if the choice is between we the DMs being bored and our players the preferred answer will be… no one! But really, if it has to be someone it’ll be us.

I know, I know, but we do it for the players.

Until next time, happy rolling!

  • Non-Washable