Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stan Lee Wishes us all a Happy New Year!

And really, isn't Stan Lee what the holiday season is all about?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Posted my new character background at Lords of Tyr

I always get excited by the prospect of a new campaign, but I had a lot more fun than I was expecting with an impromptu 4th Edition D&D game thrown together by my friend Chad (who blogs over at the Lords of Tyr site).

Because of the impromptu nature of the game, I threw together a Eladrin Warlord, without my usual tendency to overthink things.  I was actually impressed at how quickly I was able to create the character using Wizards of the Coast's beta Character Builder.  So as hard as I can be at times on Wizards, I want to say kudos for a useful tool.

For anyone who is interested, I posted a character background for my Eladrin Warlord over at Lords of Tyr.  I would love to hear what people think of it, so feel free to comment on it either at the Lords of Tyr site or over here.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Insert real post here...

It's been crazy here, with five hour commutes and Christmas on the horizon.  Nevertheless, some real posts are coming soon!

In the meantime, here is some season appropriate music to tide you over.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Always Winter and Never Christmas! - Using Holidays in RPGs

Any experienced DM will tell you it's the little details that make or break a campaign.  Keeping track weather, giving NPC's from different regions distinct mannerisms, and having minor changes occur to NPCs while they are "off-stage" can help add a feeling of depth to your campaign world.  I'm not saying you should create detailed weather models or write the complete history of the local blacksmith.  Nevertheless, remembering to have it rain once and a while, or having the local blacksmith proudly tell the party that his daughter's wedding is coming up, can add a touch of realism to your game world.

Adding in a few holidays that are unique to your game world can help as well.  It can be a fine line to walk though.  A well placed harvest festival can add a feeling of verisimilitude, but an ill-advised "Whacking Day" can ruin a player's suspension of disbelief.  So when designing holidays for your campaign world, it is probably best to follow a some simple guidelines.

First, it is probably best to avoid simply transplanting holidays from the real world into the fantasy world.  Yes, I know that C. S. Lewis did this with Christmas in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  Honestly though, with all due respect to Lewis, that was one aspect of Narnia that took me out of the story.  With a bunch of players riffing about whether Santa's elves should be Santa's eladrin, it would probably come off even worse in a game session.

On the other hand, completely alien holidays will ruin a players suspension of disbelief just as easily.  Too much time explaining how the Festival of the Dancing Yak came to be is not a good thing, at least for major holidays (it might work well for a local village holiday that the players would not expect their characters to know about in advance).

The trick is to design holidays that are similar enough to real world holidays that the players can grasp the core concepts quickly.  It's probably best to focus on one aspect of the holiday and push it to prominence.  Then build some unique elements into the holiday to brand it as your own.

I think a decent example of this is the holiday of Lurlinemas from Gregory Maguire's Wicked.  Although it is an obvious stand in for Christmas, it is tied strongly to the Fey Queen Lurline.  As imagined by Maguire, Lurline is representative of the old pagan beliefs of Oz, which are now out of favor with the empire.  Nevertheless, the popular holiday is celebrated, even if its original meaning has been forgotten.

(It should be noted that Queen Lurline is also mentioned in L. Frank Baum's novel The Tin Woodman of Oz .  So Maguire cannot get all the credit)

I suppose my final word of advice on crafting holidays for your game world is not to overdo it.  There is no need to detail a holiday for every month.  A little bit goes a long way, and two or three major holidays should be more than sufficient for your campaign!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Recent Layoffs at Wizards of the Coast

Losing your job sucks.  I know this from personal experience.  While I am thankfully among the gainfully employed now, I was part of a “Reduction in Force” about two years ago.  It had nothing to do with my job performance, or anything else under my control.  It was just a case of the corporation having to cut costs.

I have also watched this happen to many close personal friends of mine.  Unfortunately, many of my close friends are currently or have recently been unemployed.  Not because of their job performance, but because the companies they work for have either needed to cut costs or had to close down completely.  It’s becoming a depressingly common story.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I felt a great deal of sympathy for the Wizards of the Coast employees who were affected by the recent round of layoffs:

  • Randy Buehler (VP of digital gaming)
  • Andrew Finch (director of digital games)
  • Stacy Longstreet (senior art director)
  • Julia Martin (editor)
  • William Meyers (creative manager, digital design)
  • Dave Noonan (game designer)
  • Jennifer Paige (online community manager)
  • Jennifer Powers (marketing)
  • Jonathan Tweet (game designer)

I recognize several of the names on that list from contributions to the Wizards of the Coast website, the D&D Podcast, and the numerous D&D game books I have purchased over the years.  Even those who I haven’t heard of were part of a company that produced games I love.

I just want to express my sympathy for the tough time they are going through and wish them the best of luck on their job search.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A walk on the wild side: My first impressions on the 4th Ed druid

And I'm back.  More importantly, I am back with a D&D Insider Subscription.  This allowed me to checkout the three level preview of the 4th Edition Druid.  What I saw was... interesting.

Before I begin, I have to say I have always been a fan of druids in D&D.  To me they were always the most interesting of the "second stringers".  It helped that they could fulfill a number of different roles.  If the cleric was down, they could act as a healer.  If you needed help on the front line, they could Wild Shape into a bear, or lord help you, a legendary ape!  Need someone to help the wizard with some combat spell-casting? No problem!

Druids in 4th Edition look like they are still going to be versatile, if a little schizophrenic.  They get Wild Shape as a class feature right at level one in this edition.  Wild shape allows the druid to assume their "Beast Form", and that is where the schizophrenia begins!

Druid powers are pretty evenly split between ones with the Beast Form keyword and ones without it.  While the druid is in beast form, they are pretty much limited to using powers with that keyword.  These powers tend to be focused on a single target, do decent damage, and have some form of secondary effect.  In many ways, these powers are more like second hand striker powers, than controller powers.

The downside it that while Wild Shape is a class feature, your beast form doesn't do much by default.  If you choose to focus on powers without the Beast Form keyword, you probably won't be using Wild Shape much. 

On the other hand, those other powers might be worth it.  The powers that the druid can use outside of their Beast Form are more in line with their controller role; in fact, they are currently the best controllers in the game! 

Like their arcane cousin, the wizard, druids have powers that affect a large number of creatures at once.  Unlike the wizard, almost every one of these powers has some secondary effect that aids them in battle field control.  Secondary effects that immobilize, slow, slide, or otherwise lock down their opponents and limit their options are common.  Frankly, I hope that the upcoming Arcane Power book introduces a lot more spells like this for the wizard!

I have to admit that I am still making up my mind on the 4th Edition druid.  Seeing more than three levels will help.  I can say that my interest has definitely been piqued!