Friday, April 25, 2008

A fond farewell to Dave's Longbox

Dave Campbell announced a few days ago that he was closing the doors on Dave's Longbox, a popular comic book blog he started with the premise of "I am going to review my comic book collection and you're going to like it".

The announcement was not a big shocker.  His recent postings have been somewhat infrequent.  Especially since he has, not surprisingly, been focusing on his new paying blog gig for ABC.

It is somewhat sad though.  Not just because I enjoyed his snarky humor, but if it wasn't for him I would probably wouldn't be blogging today.  See, he was my "gateway drug" into the blogging scene.  True, I had been a frequenter of certain tech blogs and Neil Gaiman's blog prior.  But Dave's Longbox was the first blog I started visiting that was run by "just some guy".

I suppose it is only fitting to end my tribute to Dave's Longbox with links to three of my favorite articles:

Happy trails Mr. Campbell!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Just a few quick comments on the paragon path preview

As many of you who read this blog probably already know, Wizards of the Coast is providing 4th Edition excerpts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  Today's was about Paragon Paths.

I am not going to repeat the article here, but for those of you who don't know, paragon path's are a bit like 3rd Edition's Prestige classes with the following changes:

  • You continue to advance in your class (or classes if multi-classed) as normal.  However, your paragon path will give you special abilities at 11th, 12th, 16th, and 20th level.
  • Once you pick a paragon path, you are staying in it until level 20.  No dipping into several to cherry pick powers.
  • At level 20 you can choose an Epic Destiny, which pretty much acts like a Paragon Path.

I am still not 100% sold on the paragon path as replacement for prestige class concept, but here are the things I found most interesting about the preview:

  • Since the author said they were providing a sample path "for each class", it pretty much confirmed that the classes in the first Player's Handbook will be: Cleric, Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Warlock, Warlord, and Wizard.  None of these are a shocker, but last time I checked they hadn't confirmed the list either.
  • It mentioned that you don't have to pick a paragon path.  If you don't, you can choose to grab certain abilities from another class at the same points you would be getting your paragon path special abilities.  I was glad to hear this as I imagine there will be some people who cannot find a good fit among the existing paragon paths.
  • As mentioned elsewhere, the levels at which you get powers and what type of powers they are is very standardized.  This should simplify the process of creating your own paragon paths.
  • Unlike prestige classes, paragon paths tend to use a class as one of the prerequisites.  In 3rd Edition, class was expressly forbidden as a prerequisite.  This definitely made getting into a prestige class more more flexible, but had the down side of making game designers put together sentences that said things like "must have the resist nature's lure class feature and the ability to cast divine spells"  Instead of typing "Druid".

All and all, the concept of paragon paths has me intrigued.  I am curious what they will look like and if they will provide sufficient flavor for characters who go a little off the beaten path.

Monday, April 21, 2008

PCGen vs Vista: An Epic Battle

There have been many great battles over the ages.  The 300 Spartans standing against the armies of Persia.  The defeat of the Spanish Armada by the English in 1588.  Napoleon's crushing defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.

Well, gather round friends because I have a tale to tell.  A tale of hardship, loss, and eventual triumph in the face of adversity.

Like many such events it begins simply enough.  A young man (well perhaps not so young) purchased a laptop.  It was shiny and new, and was bedecked in the latest version of the Windows Operating System, named Vista, to invoke the beautiful panoramic scenes you might find in a secluded glen or after climbing a mountain.  The latter proved especially apt, for you will see a mountain was to be climbed!

When the man went to transfer his files and applications over, one of the first was the program PCGen as it was needed later that day.  PCGen was downloaded and installed.  At first all seemed well.  A simple double-click and the program ran much as it had on Vista's predecessor.  The man then went to the reclusive Code Monkeys to install the data sets needed for the campaign that evening.  That is when Vista decided to wreak a terrible vengeance! 

The monkeys' data had come zipped up for ease of transport.  However, when the man attempted to unzip the sets something most unusual occurred.  Whereas the operating system know as XP had always unzipped these in a minute or less, tricky Vista projected well over an hour to accomplish the task.  Curious, the man decided to let it run.  To his surprise Vista was telling him no lie as it took an hour and a half for it to complete its labors.

Perplexed, the man decided there had to be an easier way for the remaining data sets.  He searched far and wide, and was rewarded with the open source program 7-Zip.  7-Zip accomplished the task that took Vista an hour and a half in less than a minute.  The man smiled, figuring his trials were over.  Little did he know, they were just beginning.

It should be known that for him to truly use the data provided by the monkeys the man needed to make some slight modifications to the sets.  After all, it is well known that monkeys are sometimes useful they are not always accurate.  The man navigated to the PCGen Directory, and from there to the location where the data was stored.  When he opened up the data with humble notepad, he was asked to confirm his right as administrator to modify the data.  The man gladly did so, and made the changes required.

He then launched PCGen and was quite astonished to find that the changes he made had not been reflected.  Figuring that Vista had merely prevented him from saving the changes, he went back to check them out.  Imagine his amazement to find that the data file had been changed, but that PCGen had been befuddled not to see them!

Clearly Vista was a trickier opponent then the man had given it credit for.  But the man did not lose heart for he had been schooled in the ways of Vista's master.  Thinking back, he remembered that Vista was capable of maintaining Shadow Copies of its files.  Perhaps it was using this aptly named ability to keep PCGen in the dark?

Although tricky, the man realized that Shadow Copies could be easily defeated with a simple right-click!  Eagerly the man attempted this solution... for naught.  The interface was not there!  A dark foreboding fell over the man.  His fears were quickly confirmed: Since his Vista was known as Home Premium, power over the Shadow Copies was denied to him!

Vista was proving to be a worthy foe.  The man had heard of its abilities to confound users and lower productivity, but clearly it's aptitude had exceeded his wildest imaginings.  Still, the man refused to lose hope.  Surely others had encountered the devious power of Vista's Shadow Copies before?  The man researched the problem, tracking down every scrap of information no matter how obscure.  Finally, he stumbled upon a page with the knowledge he sought!  Here was the hiding spot of the Shadow Copies laid bare.  With a decisive [Delete] the Shadow Copies were vanquished and the man was left free to use PCGen in the manner he desired.

Quite a tale, eh?  Alas, it is not over yet.  For though the man one the battle, the war rages on.  Vista knows time is on its side.  Someday soon, the man will stumble into one of its traps, and this time it will not let itself be undone so easily.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Wasn't this the ending I saw in the theater?

Someone created an alternate ending to the Transformers movie.  What I find funny is how little it has changed.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Apparently I don't know what I am talking about

In my post The Forgotten Realms in 4th Edition, Part I, I wondered if Drizzt's inevitable new novel would respect the one hundred year time jump that the Forgotten Realms would be undergoing in 4th Edition.  What I didn't realize is that apparently it already has!

R.A. Salvatore's most recent Drizzt's novel, The Orc King, has a prologue and epilogue set one hundred years after the primary events of the novel.  The Spellplague is mentioned by name, so it is officially tied in to 4th Edition.  Heck, it is even labeled as "Forgotten Realms: Transitions, Book 1".

Oops. 

The Forgotten Realms in 4th Edition, Part II

In this post, I will be discussing my opinions on the Spellplague and the introduction of the new (old) continent of Abeir.

The Spellplague is basically an attempt to explain the new magic rules in 4th Edition D&D, and basically it does so admirably.  The Spellplague is a result of the death of Mystra, the goddess of magic.  Her death also brings about the destruction of the Weave, the source of magic in the Forgotten Realms.  Wizards and other spell-casters lose their magic, and all hell breaks loose.

Over the years following, eventually some Wizards figure out how to tap into magic without using the Weave.  Others take the shortcut of making pacts with various sources becoming Warlocks.

This is a great explanation for the changes 4th Edition makes to spell-casting.  I especially like that it explains the newfound prominence of warlocks in a completely logical manner.  The one hundred year jump helps in this case as well, since it gives plenty of time for the Spellplague and it's aftermath to play out.

I am less happy with the introduction of Abeir.  Abeir is a new continent appearing on the face of Toril (the name of the planet in the Forgotten Realms).  Well, new may not be the correct word, since it was part of the Forgotten Realms in ancient days, but mysteriously disappeared.  Its reappearance will be used to explain the presence of Dragonborn.

Now, the longtime Forgotten Realms geek in me rejoices at the use of the name Abeir.  The "old greybox" noted that while the planet was commonly called Toril that ancient writings referred to it as Abeir-Toril.  So, I was glad to see them using a name with history behind it.

Still, adding a wandering continent to the Forgotten Realms seems a bit of a clunky solution to shoehorn in the Dragonborn.  I will admit, I am hard pressed to come up with a better one considering the long established setting.  After all, you can't just have them be created around the time of the Spellplague because the time jump just buys you a hundred years.  Such a short history would conflict with the "ancient race" feel the Dragonborn are supposed to have.

I suppose  I shouldn't complain too much.  I used an amazingly similar solution to bring an entire kingdom from my homebrewed world of Malakath to the Forgotten Realms when I first converted over over 20 years ago. 

Of course, I was 16 and considered it a horrible kludge even then.

Friday, April 18, 2008

D&D 4th Edition Game System License announced!

Just a quick post to let everyone know the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition Game System License (D&D 4E GSL) has been announced.  It will replace the d20 System Trademark License (STL) and will come with its own system reference document (SRD).

The 4E SRD will be posted on the Wizards of the Coast (WOTC) website on June 6th.

At this point it doesn't look like there are any details on how the licensing will differ from the old d20 STL or exactly how it will fit into the Open Gaming License (OGL).  We will be hearing more soon though.

I am definitely interested in finding out more though.  Who knows, maybe I will finally get off my duff and work with my comrades-in-arms at Lords of Tyr to finally produce some gaming content. 

Hey, don't look at me that way, it could happen!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Forgotten Realms in 4th Edition, Part I

The Forgotten Realms was the first pre-generated campaign world I ever ran a game in.  For whatever reasons, I had never gotten into Greyhawk, so my initial forays into Dungeons & Dragons all used a home-brewed setting called Malakath.  This changed when the Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting came out in 1987.

Something about the advertising for the original Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, now known as “the old grey box”, hit home for me.  Maybe it was just that I was a fan of Ed Greenwood’s Dragon Magazine articles staring Elminster, and was curious for more background on the world he came from.  Maybe it was the inspired “and on the 3650 day we rested”, implying, somewhat disingenuously, that the setting had been in development for 10 years.  Maybe it was the novels, since I was an avid reader and I found Forgotten Realms novels to be a fun quick read. 

For whatever reason, I was hooked.

Now it’s been years since I have ran a Forgotten Realms game, but I have always had affection for the setting.  I dutifully picked up the 2nd, 3rd, and 3.5 edition updates to the setting when they came out.  So you can imagine I was thrilled to hear that the Forgotten Realms was making the transition to 4th edition.

Wizards of the Coast recently released a podcast talking with members of the 4th edition Forgotten Realms team.  It would be pointless to reiterate what they talked about, but I would like to bring up a few of their main points and give my opinion on them.  Today I will address the fact that they are advancing the setting 100 years.  A future installment will include my thoughts on the Spellplague and the reappearance of the long lost continent of Abeir on the world of Abeir-Toril

Honestly, I think advancing the setting 100 years is an inspired idea.  It allows them to make dramatic changes to the setting without upsetting the continuity of what has gone on before.  Frankly, for those of us who have been around for over twenty years (since 1987!) something needed to be done to reinvigorate the setting.

One downside to this approach is that it is not very friendly to people with established campaigns currently running in the Forgotten Realms who wish to convert.  Even though they stated they will have a section devoted to making the jump, the changes wrought by the 100 year jump will be difficult to explain via hand -waving.  So I imagine a lot of Rip Van Winkle type stories to explain everything.  Oh well, at least the fey will be up for the job in this edition.

Now for a slight digression.  When the next novel staring Forgotten Realms cash cow Drizzt comes out, will it be set in the 100 years in the past or in “the present day?'  I know as a young drow he could easily be alive in 100 years, but will R.A. Salvatore want to abandon most of his supporting cast?  Even though Wizards of the Coast technically owns Drizzt, I imagine R.A. Salvatore gets pretty free reign with him considering how much money his novels bring in.  Personally, I think a 100 year jump may reinvigorate the character, but the author may not agree with me. 

[EDIT -  Apparently Salvatore has already handled the 100 year jump.  Oops!]

I guess that is enough about the hundred year jump forward and overexposed dark elves.  Tune in next time for comments on the Spellplague and the long "forgotten realm" of Abeir.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Monsters, monsters, everywhere

One change coming to Fourth Edition D&D is how monsters are being handled.  In the Third Edition the default assumption was a group of four player characters versus one monster.  Fourth Edition assumes a one to one ratio of monsters to player characters.  Personally, I think this is a great idea.

Another important change is that monsters will have a greater range of levels where they can still be dangerous to adventurers.  In Third Edition, if you were off the base challenge rating by just a little bit, the encounter quickly became either impossible or a cakewalk.  Perhaps this sounds familiar: "Well, can he even hit an AC of 28? Just roll to see if anyone gets a 20 then.  Nope?  Ok, I make two attacks.  Can they survive my minimum damage?  Ok, just remove them from the board."

Even more interesting to me though is that they are encouraging Dungeon Masters to mix and match monsters.  By giving monsters roles like "masterminds', 'lurkers', or 'brutes' they are encouraging DM's to treat them like an adventuring party.  Few people put together an all wizard party with no "meat shields", so why would the DM put together an all Mind Flayer encounter?

I really believe these changes will open up the door for some truly massive and diverse battles.  Remember the scene at the end of the movie LOTR: Fellowship of the Rings where the Fellowship fought off a huge group of Uruk-hai?  Tough to do in third edition, easy to do in fourth.  Heck, if you are really feeling saucy, improve on Tolkien by adding a little monster diversity into the battle.

Did I just say improve on Tolkien?  Crap, here comes the hate mail.  I guess I better quit while I am ahead.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

To convert or not to convert?

With Fourth Edition less than two months away at this point, a lot of DM's with long standing campaigns are faced with a quandary.  To convert or not to convert? 

I have to admit that I lucked out when it was time to convert from Second Edition to Third Edition.  On the week the Third Edition PHB came out, the entire party was killed.  Since everyone was agreeable, we continued the same campaign with new characters created for the new edition.  So the problem was neatly avoided.

Since a TPK (Total Party Kill) is probably not the route most people want to take when converting, I should look at some of the other options a DM might take.

At least one of the DM's I game with has stated it is unlikely that he will convert his current game over.  He figures Third Edition was good enough for this game so far, and it will be good enough in the future.

There are definitely advantages to waiting.  If you're party contains a tenth level half-dragon/half-ogre chaos monk/ur-priest/sacred fist there is not going to be a lot of support on day one.  Probably not a lot of support on day one thousand for that combo!

Another tactic is to start a slow conversion.  Start introducing the less intrusive rules until over time conversion is not that big of a deal.  This is actually how my current gaming group converted from 3.0 to 3.5, where old PC's were grandfathered in but new PC's and NPC's switched over.

A slow conversion can be made to work on a story level too.  Maybe Dragonborn start to filter into the game world from a distant kingdom that recently opened up trade routes!  Maybe the stars align for the first time in ten millennia and the Feywild reconnects with your world, bringing Eladrin and other new forms of fey with it!

The downside to this is there is a painful middle period where your game is neither fish nor fowl.  The fuzzy logic needed to navigate the game during this period can drive rules lawyers up a wall.

Of course, you can just bite the bullet and convert the best you can.  This may take some creative reinterpretation of existing characters, especially if they belong to races or classes that no longer exist.  You may not be a monk anymore, but with the right combo of classes and feats you are a hell of an unarmed combatant!

This leaves the question of how to deal with game world changes.  Some DM's prefer the apocalyptic option.  "Well, it looks like the gods fell to earth and when the returned to power it merged two realities.  So that is why we have Tiefling running around!"  On the other hand, some DM's prefer the hand waving/nothing to see here approach.  "Of course there have always been Dragonborn around.  Why do you even ask?"

So after this you might ask how I am handling the conversion question.  Well, right now I am not running a game, so I will probably just start one fresh.

w00t!  I win again!

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Redefining geometry for fun and profit!

There has been a lot of furor over a recently announced change in Fourth Edition D&D.  Perhaps you are asking, "What could it be? Is it a new race?  New spells?  Magic Items?"  I am here to tell you it is none of these.

It was announced that in Fourth Edition it will only cost only cost 1 square of movement to move diagonally across the board instead of 1.5 squares like it did in Third Edition.

DiagMoveWell, technically it cost 1 square for the first diagonal, then 2 for the second, then 1 for the third, etc.  If you are confused, and certainly some people were, simply refer to the handy chart on the right.

Personally, I don't see what the big deal is.  I am generally a fan of anything that speeds up play. I'll admit that it doesn't take a rocket scientist to count 1 square, 2 squares, 1 square, etc.  Nevertheless, I have noticed several times over the years where someone at our table has had to redo a movement because they forgot this rule.

Now, I understand that we are redefining geometry a bit here.  Not that the old rule was accurately defining the diagonal distance (that would be the Pythagorean Theorem).  Still, it was close enough.  This new method just strikes them as giving up too much realism for the sake of ease of play.

Now, I think the game needs to be a bit easier, but that's not why I like the new method.  The reason is that I always saw movement in D&D as very abstract anyway.  Even though we move the characters around the board like chess pieces, I doubt they are really just standing in one place.  They are whirling like dervishes, trying to block and dodge attacks coming at them from every direction at once.  The battle grid is just a crude approximation of what is really going on.

Besides, this new rule will make my monk who only moves diagonally totally rock!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Where have all the game stores gone?

I have to admit I am a bit impatient for the arrival of Fourth Edition D&D.   In fact I have already pre-ordered the three book gift set from Amazon.com.  I am probably going to pre-order Keep on the Shadowfell, the preview adventure from them as well.  I am that impatient for Fourth Edition to arrive.

Needless to say, when I read Wizards of the Coast's was going to be working with local games stores throughout the country to offer Fourth Edition demos, I was psyched!  I quickly checked the list of participating stores to find the nearest one.

It's in Carbondale.

In retrospect, this should not be all that surprising.  After all, I am not aware of any pure gaming store left in the area.  My Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS) is actually a comic book shop that has some game books in the back.  They are much more interested in hosting comic related events then they ever would be in a D&D demo.

We used to have several pure gaming stores in the area, but they have disappeared one by one over the years.  Probably due to the fact that it is a niche market and that local stores cannot compete with the price discounts offered by big online retailers like Amazon.com.

Considering this, my first paragraph seems ironic.

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