Tuesday, February 7, 2023

The OGL and SRD Hold Us Back

When you look at it, we don't need the OGL and SRD at all.

An argument can be made they hold us back. We are putting our ideas of fantasy gaming inside the box D&D and Wizards made. Yes, sure, the "network effect" argument can be made, but on the flip side, you can argue that "it only benefits the market leader."

Plenty of other games use rules that are nothing like D&D; people learn and play them just fine, and they do everything D&D does.

  • Runequest
  • GURPS
  • Forbidden Lands
  • Pathfinder 2e
  • Conan
  • Cypher System
  • Warhammer
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics
  • Sword of Cepheus
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Mork Borg
  • Blades in the Dark
  • Dungeon World
  • Savage Worlds & Savage Pathfinder

And that is just a small list. Those games are very different than D&D, yet they do the same things just fine. Within the D&D-like games, there are too many to list (OSE, Labyrinth Lord). A few of the above are arguably close (DCC, PF2, C&C), but they are so far removed from the core experience they can be called entirely new games.

And some of these 5E has borrowed from (C&C), so 5E and the 5.1 SRD should be asking the question, "Who made who?" It looks pretty petty for Wizards to have tried anything like what they did, and many people still need better tastes in their mouths - especially since no changes at the top were made.

Same Wall Street corporation, different day.

The same "delayed implementation" rollout.

Wall Street's plans do not change THAT quickly.

And honestly, moving away from the OGL and SRD will free many games to follow their creator's dreams rather than being judged strictly on how closely they follow ideas created 20 to 50 years ago.

Why do we chain ourselves to the past?

Why is what Wizards says about fantasy gaming gospel?

Nostalgia?

Is nostalgia enough to say today's creators' dreams are worth less or somehow invalid?

There is such a thing as SRD fatigue, that if all you play and see fantasy as comes from between the covers of books and documents created by Wizards, then your world is tiny, limited, and restricted to the ideas of a few people in the past plus a small subset of inputs.

Yes, D&D opens the door to your imagination and gives you that framework to express yourself, but on the other hand, the longer you stick to those ideas, the more you limit your dreams and fantasy vocabulary. Why are everything magic missiles, sleep, and fireball? Is that all fantasy magic can be?

Or can it be something more?

Something uniquely you and me?

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Betrayed

I am still not feeling any goodwill towards 5E or Wizards. Their mistruths, actions, and silence have caused so much hurt by their actions it is hard to forget those days in January. The emotional damage they caused to a community is immeasurable.

Even with the Creative Commons thing and the statement supposedly ending this disaster, the damage has been done. I don't think an SRD 3.5 released into the Creative Commons, though it would be welcome and a good move, would help all that much.

The damage is done.

Every one of the games they affected fed into their status as market leaders. There were "those other games," but there was always the "latest version of the one they were based on" to check out.

Now, that isn't so.

Many of these games are going their separate ways, and many players have been hurt; they will think twice about joining - or DM'ing - a game of 5E. The "DM crisis" worsens as experienced and long-term veterans leave the 5E market.

And I checked out a few 5E live-streamed games, and the views on those are way down. Few want to watch the game being played these days. That might change, but the secondary "blast zone" of Wizards' actions is evident, even among live-streamers in the middle of campaigns, and I feel bad for the position they have been put in.

I see tremendous interest in competitors, games like Dungeon Crawl Classics and Castles & Crusades are seeing a resurgence in interest. Pathfinder 2e is growing to become a viable alternative and possibly a market leader, which is nice.

Me? All my old OSR adventures and Castles & Crusades go together like rum and coffee. It is a solid alternative, has fewer charts than B/X, and is simple enough to play off 3x5 cards. It replaces Pathfinder 1e (I still love that version). I can house rule back in just because of any complexity I lose, and it feels more like AD&D than Pathfinder without the complexity and 4-page print-out character sheets.

And all my OSR modules play as-written with no changes in stats, hit points, damages, or much else.

The TSR worlds?

Anything Wizards did with a TSR world (beyond the original 3E collected materials) has been terrible, and the campaign settings are mostly unsupported except for a few adventures "set" there. I could still play in them, but the shadow of Wizards would still hang over the world.

I am considering The Lost Lands or Aihrde for my next C & C games. Lost Lands does a better Greyhawk than Greyhawk with all of the old-school adventures to collect there, plus it has Rappan Athuk as an anchor for a mega-dungeon, which every good world needs. The quality and quantity of dungeon crawling here from Frog God games make the original AD&D run of classic modules look weak by comparison.

Aihrde does a Forgotten Realms setting easily, minus the GMNPCs. Any "concept area" in FR can be replicated or found worldwide. Need a Candlekeep? Put one down. Need a Waterdeep? Pick a city. Want a Baldur's Gate? Make a place like it. Want GMNPCs? Make some, or just drop in your favorites from the Forgotten Realms. There have been enough "times of trials" in that world that copies of those GMNPCs from earlier editions can probably be found anywhere in the multiverse.

Golarion and Pathfinder 2e do everything better than any Wizards campaign setting. That world is a like a classic comic book, ready to deliver any adventure.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Another GURPS Blog

https://anothergurpsblog.blogspot.com/

Check it out!

Sometimes I feel some information is better suited to a dedicated blog, and my love of GURPS is one of them. If I liked GURPS and Dungeon Fantasy (which I do), this would be the type of blog I would read and check up on.

This also allows me to deep dive into GURPS subjects and have the information collected for an audience who likes it in one place.

No, I didn't know what to name it, and this was fun.

And yes, that is graph paper in the background, not hex paper. I still like my graph paper, and as a gamer, that speaks to me on a primal level and gets my imagination going. My hex paper resource would confuse the presentation and distract the eye with that type of pattern; this feels much better to me.

At War with Local Game Stores?

I love this guy. Yes, he made mistakes, but he quickly fixed them and made apologies; he isn't a journalist, but he tries to make it right and present factual information.

So, Wizards is actively undercutting local game stores?

The places we gather, meet new friends, play together, and support the store owners because their dream of being a part of the community is ours too? Those local game stores where we gather and play are a part of our community!

Here's a hint, Wizards, if you attack local game stores and try and push everyone to your "online play portal," this will likely not end well for you. The community will support its own and walk away.

The crowd running Hasbro and Wizards just seems worse and worse the more that comes out.

Take your "mobile gaming" strategy and leave our community alone, Wall Street.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Old Modules, Conversions, and Feel

You have old modules, you want to replay them with newer systems, and inevitably you run into the "bulk encounter" trope that was so overused in these older modules. You even see this mentioned in conversion notes for Savage Pathfinder, where the game's designers cut down dungeons and larger encounters to get the best "flavor" of the adventure rather than a 1-for-1 exact replication.

The old modules were content to throw 10 goblins with short bows at a party as an encounter and let you throw a sleep or other AoE spell at them to resolve the situation. You try and simulate this in other games, and you are either "grouping them up as one foe" (Savage Worlds), cutting them down to fewer combatants (GURPS), or leaving them as-is for games that still have that bulk-encounter resolution mechanic (C&C and B/X).

But these encounters feel overly "wargame" to me, and one of the best examples is Keep on the Borderlands. You will have rooms in this adventure with 20-30 enemies frequently, and I tried playing this with Pathfinder 1e, and it was a complete game-slowing slog and slaughter simulator.

Warning, spoilers ahead for N5: Under Illefarn.

One exciting project I am doing is replaying the old Forgotten Realms setting with GURPS and Dungeon Fantasy to see if I can get that original "feeling" the world had when we first played it. I wanted less of a focus on monsters and more on roleplaying, skill use, and deadly and gritty combat. This is a low fantasy world (to us), and I was looking for modules set in the Forgotten Realms to try to convert.

Enter N5: Under Illefarn.

The scale of the Sword Coast is vast, and right off, the scale of this adventure is way too large. The map has this scale where the secondary adventure areas are two to three hundred miles from the town. Interstate 80 in Nebraska is 300 miles long, and you are supposed to chase someone 300 miles at one point in the adventure. By horse. Without roads. The beginning swamp is 200 miles away and uses tribes of lizardmen who never are used again. The final part of the adventure requires that 300-mile trip. I would have been happy with the 30-mile area around the town. The adventure feels like TSR gave the designer a map and said, "please fill this out."

Are there dinosaurs here too? Yes, there are, and it feels wrong for the Realms.

There is a point where a fantastic "honor duel" is short-circuited by 10 goblins firing bows into the situation, and I was sitting there with that old familiar "TSR pulls the rug out from under you" feeling again. What would have been an excellent roleplaying encounter was thrown away because AD&D's rules only do swordplay and honor duels in a generic "AC and to-hit sense" with no options or style.

I sit here with my GURPS books and say, "Daminit, I can do that honor duel easily in this system!"

I would have liked the adventure to focus on the town and the surrounding area rather than being so travel-heavy. The first encounters with the lizardmen feel like throw-away compared to the end of the adventure, where you are split between three factions in a dungeon trying to repair a water source contaminating 300 miles of river (that the dwarf faction should know how to do). Seriously, the town's farm and sewage runoff will contaminate the river more than a few green slimes 300 miles away.

The adventure does not need a "trigger warning" for sensitivity issues; it needs a trigger warning because it lacks environmental impact knowledge.


Fixing N5

I would cut the swamp and lizardmen out of the adventure. The "bad guys" attacking the village should be one of the factions in the final dungeon, either the orcs or the necromancers. Thus, you solve the dungeon and destroy the bad guys, and help the town. Simple. No more goblin drop-in encounters for cheap combats; this isn't Starfinder. I kid, but even Starfinder's early adventures suffer from too many random goblin encounters.

Keep the kidnap plot and honor duel. Maybe flesh out the bad guy in this arc's hometown and craft a rescue scenario at a "forced wedding" party the idiot put together. That would be a lot of fun, and add a few options for sneaking in, even disguising yourself as the party catering. You need to have silly and fun parts to the adventure, and this is a great moment to do that.

Strengthen the factions in the end dungeon, and involve them in the town. The dwarves should be in town, asking for help early and warning people about the evil factions. The town should ignore them, setting up the "I told you so" part later. Make the evil factions more active in town, either orc raids or necromancers digging up graves, and have these as "set piece" battles or investigation parts of the adventure.

After a while, everyone realizes, "All roads of trouble lead to the dungeon."

The end of the adventure should be the faction dungeon (placed closer to town) and involve helping the dwarves complete a series of tasks to repair the water source. Help the dwarves raid an orc stronghold in the dungeon. Seal off a passage the zombies sent by the necromancers are using. Destroy the orc's supplies outside the dungeon and weaken the force there. Destroy a power source used by the necromancers. Have the dwarves develop exciting missions involving the party with adventures from war movies.

And then one big final battle.

N5, as written, feels unfocused and railroads players into situations.

This design feels like a story and novel and is a much better experience overall.

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Adventures in the Cypher System

https://www.backerkit.com/c/monte-cook-games/adventures-in-the-cypher-system

I feel so dense like I never "got" this game. I have been looking it over recently, pulling it out of one of my 5E "sell" boxes and giving it another chance.

I am glad I did.

It is a strangely abstract pool-based game in many ways, and the power levels are very relative. Like a FATE, you set a power level and go, "we are playing Transformers," and suddenly, every pool and ability score is relative to the Transformers. Are you playing intelligent mice? Same range different scale.

In a GURPS or Champions, those giant walking robots need 200 STR, and humans need to stay the game's baseline. In Cypher, it is all relative. Play as ants or planets, and the game works the same.

Another thing that helps me "get" the game is to think of all of this as a superhero game, like the comic books that rate "power levels" on a 1 to 10 scale, and you don't worry about pounds of force of impact, joules of energy in a power blast, or any of that stuff. Weapons are fixed damage, modified through effort or good rolls. Armor decreases damage. Damage is done to your pools in a set order.

In a comic-book world, you get these situations where a softy hero like "Bow Guy" could be punched by "Mega Brute" and take a lot of damage, get knocked through a wall, and be unconscious for a long time but still survive. That would be a mega-damage one-shot kill in games that stress high levels of realism.

The play is relatively simple, and the GM rolls no dice. Yes, the GM rolls no dice - just narrating and setting difficulty. Players do all the rolling, and the monsters "attack" by forcing a defense roll - made by the player.

The GM sets a challenge level, the player reacts, and if a roll is needed, the player's skills, gear, and effort (spent from three pools) can adjust the target number. The pools also double as "hit points" and can be rested back, though each subsequent daily rest takes longer until a "full rest" is required.

https://www.montecookgames.com/store/product/cypher-system-rules-primer/

The above is a complete rule primer with a sample adventure and pre-gen characters.

All that said, there is a BackerKit going on this month for a deluxe edition and all sorts of other goodies, and is worth checking out.

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Forgotten Realms: Our History

We played the Forgotten Realms in the early AD&D 1e days, way before the 2e novels caused havoc with author NPCs and ever-expanding "don't touch this author's area" world design, which honestly caused a strange fractal repetition in cultures and places, so every writer could baseline a "fantasy setting place" as their own. We never had invincible GMNPCs running around or organizations in every area that could step in and save the day.

It was just a world, and it was ours.

The 4e disaster destroyed the world, and for us, the world's history ends around the above-depicted 3e book. We hated the 4e shoehorn of eladrin and dragonkin in the FR lore, and this foretold today's homogeneity where "every world needs every race and background," even if it does not make any sense at all. What makes a world unique is who lives there and accepts the limitations of the culture and setting; otherwise, we will need Klingons and Vulcans in Star Wars. Along with anthropomorphic animal races, space goblins, dragons, and...

The tendency to put everything in every world becomes obsessive-compulsive after a while. It takes away anything unique and exciting about the setting and makes it just like every other place. This is the equivalent of chain restaurants and applying that logic to fantasy settings. You go to a place looking for some great local barbeque, and your friend from there takes you to Applebees.

Diversity of background and culture can exist in settings with a world with just humans; just look at Earth.

5E, as far as I know, still needs a Forgotten Realms Campaign Guide (if we ever get one). Wizards stopped making setting guides except for books linked to Magic: The Gathering and a few other oddities that have been underwhelming and feel like filler. The great campaign settings these days are written by 3rd parties (see also: The OGL Disaster of 2023), and if I want a fully fleshed-out "official" setting, I am buying older setting guides and adapting. In some ways, it is a good thing since they won't screw them up.


We Played Low Fantasy

When we played in the Forgotten Realms, it was a low-fantasy game. It was terrific; we were so used to the chests filled with a million gold pieces, PCs with gloating castles and armies of djinn and gold dragons, and characters with stacks of +5 magic items so deep they walked around with a chestful of gold bling Greyhawk 100th level characters - having an AD&D world that was down-to-earth and realistic felt so good.

There was even the concept in here (enforced by the gods of Dragonlance in their world Krynn) that if characters got too powerful, they were asked to leave the world and banished. And there were strict "transfer rules" in place for any visitors to the world; you could not be disallowed race and class combos, unrealistic ability scores would be trimmed down, powerful magic items disallowed, technology banned, and wealth for incoming "residents" severely restricted.

Yes, the Forgotten Realms was this strange European country with all sorts of limits on citizenship. And we were sure if a character ever got too powerful, they would not be allowed to stay; most likely, they would get sent to Greyhawk with the rest of the power gamers and 100th-level characters.


Monsters? What Monsters?

Many town maps had no walls and natural defenses, so we assumed these areas were already settled, and the land tamed. This was not your typical B/X world where you step ten feet into the woods out of town and start rolling random encounters with giant beetles and goblin war bands. There were militia and patrols in settled areas, and towns existed peacefully in the settled areas of the world. We did a lot of roleplaying, and this was one of our first "fantasy RP" worlds where the conflicts were story-driven and not "the monster of the week."

Evil wizards, bandits, and other humans were often the bad guys in these stories. You get towards the borderlands of each kingdom, and you start seeing orcs, gnolls, and other humanoids. The silly monsters of Greyhawk (gelatinous cubes, mimics, ropers, piercers, etc.) were not present since we saw those as a little childish and "dungeon-y" for a mature and realistic world.

It did feel a lot like Lord of the Rings, in fact. Elves stuck to their forest and were rarely seen outside of it. The dangerous lands on the borders were where the King's forces battled the armies of chaos. If you found "adventure" in a settled area, it was something special and mysterious, like a lost ruin nobody knew about for hundreds or thousands of years. Elves and dwarves stuck to their lands, and seeing visitors in town was a memorable and fun moment worthy of roleplaying the meeting.


Please Stock my Dungeon!

These days I get the feeling that campaign settings exist only for a reason to provide a map to throw fully-stocked dungeons on. We ran ours as a realistic world, devoid of powerful GMNPCs and some of the silly "dungeon ecology" stuff Greyhawk enshrined in the hobby. Whenever we talked about "the Realms was a cool place" with other players, we got moans about the omnipresent GMNPCs, and we were left scratching our heads - having skipped the novels and most of the adventures to do our own thing.

We didn't have the cartoon beholders and drow who ran thieves' guilds in Waterdeep or most of the godling and powerful monster stuff in the Baldur's Gate games. We skipped the first "time of trials" and felt it was stupid to cause an in-world event to happen to explain the 2e rules changes. TSR ended up destroying the world for us in the 2e transition, and we moved on to superhero games and sci-fi.

There is this tendency in D&D the game to over-magic the world into this silly high-fantasy superhero mode, the same one established in D&D 4e. The 5E game has that feeling in spades; everyone is a superhero starting out and gets more superheroes by the campaign's end. It is fun, but it is also very tiring and lacks challenge.


GURPS or Dungeon Fantasy

If I ever revisited the Realms, I would do it with GURPS or Dungeon Fantasy. I would want a low-fantasy, gritty, realistic game to match our original experience with the setting. I do not care about having "every monster in the book" and "every magic item on the list" at all. Our Realms never had them, and most of the conflicts were between humans and humanoids, and actual monsters were rare and unique. Magic was not too commonplace either, and wizards were special. Most battles were fought without magic, and magic was a relatively unique and rare power. Most classes did not have magic powers either, and you could get by in the world being a great ranger with excellent wilderness skills.

One evil mage with his network of assassins, spies, mercenaries, and an allied humanoid tribe? A great campaign villain. Monsters? They could be summoned in and were very rare and unique, or one powerful owlbear would be the "boss monster" of a dungeon. Dragons? Maybe you see one flying far overhead and wonder.

I thought Pathfinder 1e would be a good fit, but after I thought more on the subject, the entire 3E ecosystem and Pathfinder have way too much "stuff" to ever be of use in the Realms we played in. I would not use 95% of the classes, monsters, backgrounds, and items in the game - and it would be more of a chore cutting things out than recreating a world I knew.

Castles & Crusades could do it well, but it would still have higher magic than our game, and again, I would only use a small portion of the game. The GURPS combat system is a lot more gritty and realistic, and that would give a good "feel" to the game and enforce the deadly and brutal nature that would feel right for the experience I want. C&C is still a great game, the best AD&D feeling game out there.

Much of what ended up mattering in D&D and even Pathfinder was absent in our version of the Realms. The world was fantastic, like Lord of the Rings, and in its own reality bubble.

And it was a fantastic place while it lasted.