Tuesday, June 30, 2009
What does pen and paper have that CRPG's don't? Good DM's. To a great extent it's up to the DM to provide the sensory stimulation that a CRPG gives. It's up the the DM's descriptive capabilities to paint the same dramatic scenes with words, that a CPRG does with pixels.
One thing that a DM has in spades over the CRPG is the ability to challenge the players imaginations in ways a CRPG simply cannot do. A good DM can set up complicated plot twists, and change-up the game on the fly based on what the characters do. He can create interesting people, places, and things to interact with on the spot. Besides painting a vivid picture, a good DM can set up obstacles for the players that no CRPG can match, challenging the creativity of players to solve problems.
Good DM's can also gain such a reputation that they have players who ask to be in their games. In essence, they get followers upon gaining Name Level---"Dungeon Master." Word tends to spread about good DM's, and other players want to try their games. Also, the best way I've seen to recruit new people long term to P&P RPG's is you play with them, they leave having had a great time, and can't wait to come back for more. A good DM can make that happen.
No matter system you play---from OD&D to 4e, GURPS to M&M, I think the best way to get new players who stay and play long-term is to DM a memorable game that makes them want to come back for more, week after week.
To the extent the companies that produce the most popular RPG's can help make people better DM's, they ensure the long-term survival of the hobby, and more importantly their long-term revenue streams. To the extent they produce the standard splat book, with more PrC's, races, feats, skills, powers, spells, magic items, and other stuff designed for the player, they may increase the bottom line revenue short term, but they aren't helping to make better DM's. In fact, I would argue that they are making it harder for DM's by marketing the bulk of their product lines to players. It just makes the DM's job more difficult when they have to continually say no, they won't allow all the new Uber Splat Book changes in their campaign. Rather than go away excited, the players go away partly disappointed after the game session feeling like they wasted 30 bucks on a book they will never use. From what I've read, DM's make up the bulk of the people who buy new products anyway, even if they never use most of them. If they are going to buy the material, I think it would be good for the companies to produce material that makes them better at their craft, as well as aids them in their campaigns.
DM'ing is an art form. It's not a science, it's not something you can put down in a formula. There are as many ways to be good DM's are there are good DM's. To the extent that they have certain traits or characteristics in common, these need to be looked at, and ways need to be found to impart that knowledge to others. Anyone who has read this story of being a player in a game Rob Kuntz recently DM'd knows what I mean:
To quote: "This is one of the all time great module experiences that I have ever seen. The party was psychological goaded into combat by the DM. I couldn't talk anyone into standing down or even thinking about it for a moment. I may not have understood the power RJK was wielding over them though as he seemed to push the right buttons to make them act each time. My character slunk away and was a non factor, unable to even act. This irritated me until all was understood as to what happened and why. I kept trying to get an action in or find a party member to not fall for Rob's trap. When all was done we past this experience where Gary had previously fallen. There was a lot of pride at the table when we heard this information from Rob and I must admit the characters played by John January, the Invincible Overlord and Paul J. seemed to have conquered it."
That's a great DM.
I remember seeing a vid on YouTube a while back of another guy I thought was a great DM--Nick Logue. Found it:
After reading the blog, and viewing the vid, who wouldn't want to play games with these DM's?
Besides finding ways to help DM's grow at their craft, I think work can be done within the game systems themselves to help this process along. Latter-day systems moved the balance of power at the game table from the DM to the player, mostly via rules for everything. The 3.x era empowered a whole new generation of rules lawyers. One great thing to come out of the Old School thing is that DM's are getting back to basics, and even using what they learned in older game systems and applying it to newer ones. Rules are being hacked and slashed as much as monsters. I understand the need for more rules, and why it came about. The old tale of the killer DM. Sort of like an evil overlord, his word was law, and woe be to the player who got out of line. The player had no recourse. Rules give that recourse, and help to keep in line the out of control DM.
Oddly enough, I find myself around the same age as Gygax was back when D&D was in its prime in the mid-80's, and I was 14, just learning the game. The game I started with was far simpler that what we play today, and I was one of those out of control asshole DM's. I had no clue, and no one to learn from other than my friends who were out of control asshole DM's. Death and Monty Haul was what I learned, and what I thought was the right way to play. Now I look back with a lot more knowledge and experience, not just with D&D but in all other spects of life, and I think I can finally start to learn how to be a decent DM. Oh, I'm still an asshole in a lot of ways, as many of you have pointed out on various boards and blogs. But I just don't want to be considered an asshole in the games I DM.
I guess what I'm saying in these last couple paragraphs is that DM's need to find ways to take back power at the table, and not be scared to simplify and hack and slash the rules to create the game system that allows them to run a truly great game. The good ones do it already. The new ones need to be taught this. They need to be taught how to get out of their own way and be a great DM, not be dragged down by the rules, and run the game they want to run, without being a great big asshole at the same time.
Getting back to where I began this rant, if what makes CRPG's great is mostly the medium, then the only way to compete with this medium is via the medium of the P&P RPG---the DM. Build a better DM, and the world will beat a path to your game table---and the RPG manufacturers wallets.
A couple of suggestions on how to do this? Here's what I'd pay a $9.99 monthly subscription for---I'd pay to watch that game Rob Kuntz DM'd. Either live, or via podcast. Even if its 4 hours a week. Hook me up with Rob DM'ing some of his old school games with new players, or even talking about some of the memorable games he's played with Gary and friends, and I'll shell out the cash. He could even have guest players, and guest DM's once in a while.
I'd also pay to see streaming vid or podcasts of convention seminars, speeches, and games. A small fraction of gamers get to conventions, but I bet most of us who don't make them would love to go. A virtual convention would be fantastic. All the benefits of being there, without leaving the house because the lawn has to be mowed, groceries bought, the kid's game needs to be attended, etc. Hell, a truly virtual convention can take place entirely in cyberspace, and no one, not even the speakers or DM and players, have to leave their houses. Who's to say the convention even has to ever end?
Anyhow, that's my rant o' the week, which started out as a 2 line response 2 hours ago to a post at theRPGSite. Go figure. :)
Friday, June 26, 2009
New powers and effects are being researched every day. Feel free to add more that your characters have discovered...
1. Ability to cause all Zombie's within sight to dance as if the spell Otto's Irresistible Dance were cast upon them.
2. +5 to all attacks when engaged in knife fights, when the ungloved hand is tied to that of another.
Known Detrimental Effects include:
1. Wearer has a permanent high pitched voice as if castrated.
2. Wearer must walk backwards at least 5 rounds per day while grabbing crotch.
3. Wearer must cast Permanent Alter Self spells on himself at least once per year in an effort to look more like a woman.
New powers and effects are being researched every day. Feel free to add more that your characters have discovered...
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Being nothing remotely resembling a gentleman myself, I asked his permission to post it here, and he agreed.
For point of reference, the original Goodman post is here. Read it first, if you haven't already.
Then read Alzrius's comments below:
He goes straight from telling us what materials he's gathered, without saying what data they actually provide, and then gives us his interpretation of them.
His post was interesting, but if you break it down it reads like so:
I am Joe Goodman. I usually don't post about the business side of the industry, but I'm breaking my silence now, so you know it must be important.
To me, Goodman Games is merely an amusing diversion which I have, unsurprisingly, succeeded wildly at. My real job is at a Fortune 500 company, overseeing a staff like an army in a billion-dollar division. I started writing and publishing RPGs as a teenager. I was a staff writer for RPGs since I was 21. FEAR ME!
Brick-and-mortar stores are the lifeblood of RPGs. I know this because this is where I - a god among men - was introduced to RPGs. Ergo, no mere online retail service can match this. They are also centers of community, with their paper bulletin boards and conventions. The internet has nothing like these powerhouses of social networking. Finally, hobby stores are still larger retailers than PDF vendors, though the latter are growing faster. This is just one of the reasons why WotC thought nothing of purging their PDF sales in a single evening, leaving none to be spared.
Thus, I set the course for the massive engine that is Goodman Games to help support these retailers; it was I lent my support to Free RPG Day; it was I who not only created the month of May, but said that it would have an annual sale for my products; it was I sent spinner racks by the hundreds to stores across this land, and watched as the retailers sent me tribute about how they brought salvation.
No other company has achieved what I have. There are no others who have my experience, my success, or my vision. I alone have massive third-party sales figures, and I alone have spoken with hundreds of retailers, weaving my magic to see through their eyes and use them as my senses. I am not some lowly imprint that publishes the works of others. I am not a miniscule internet subscription service. Goodman Games - and it's high overlord, Joseph Goodman - am the voice of the 3pp industry.
And now I shall say unto you, 4E is a success.
Do not believe the lies of those who say otherwise, for they have been deceived by illusions three-fold:
1) Those who compare sales of a 4E book to a 3E book are making a false comparison. For despite my having said that the internet market is less than nothing, the DDI has changed all aspects of 4E in ways that you, with your limited senses, cannot understand. I shall not endeavor to explain it to you further.
2) Those who say that distributors do support 4E are fools, for those same distributors have ordered my products in numbers unlike anything the world has ever seen. Know this, and despair!
3) Likewise, those who say retailers do not support 4E are living in a microcosm. Remember, I am the only one who has spoken to legions of such stores, and only I see the whole picture. This is true because Joe Goodman says so, and I know more about game stores than any mere mortal.
Now that I have lifted the veil of ignorance from your eyes, I shall grace you with divine knowledge. Once, at the dawn of time, I planned to pen a tome of wisdom. In researching this, I looked at the histories of many of the early companies in this industry, and though I shall not impart unto you specifics, I looked at many records of Games Workshop, TSR, and Dave Arneson, and thus do you know that I speak Truth.
And this Truth is thus: D&D only becomes truly successful once per generation, and that time for this generation has passed. You CANNOT state that 4E is not doing well now, as it falls within the ebb of time when such products are popular among the masses. The only valid comparison is to other such ebbs in the history of the game, and compared to them, it sells well indeed.
Those who ask if 4E will do as well as 3E are unenlightened. They do not understand that such questions are meaningless, because they do not take into account the scope of history that only I can fathom. Know only that I have deigned to speak to you directly, and have imparted you with the knowledge that 4E is a success. And more importantly, so am I.
And now I return to my silence, for another eight years hence.
Regarding the question being in "bad form" and a "trap" laid to catch WOTC:
Why would it be Scott who looked bad? Scott is a guy who gets paid to come here and be the eyes and ears and mouth of WOTC. It's his job. No one should put how they feel about WOTC on Scott. Even if they do, because of misplaced anger (we've all been guilty of it I bet), Scott gets paid to handle it. It's his job
To your other point, just because it is unlikely to be answered means it doesn't need to be asked? What is it with society these days where no one asks tough questions anymore? When did the hunt for truth become an embarrassing thing unless its done within the bounds of proper etiquette and protocol?
I was in lawschool during the OJ Simpson criminal trial. In my third year, Dr. Henry Lee came to speak to the school. He was the big-name forensic science superstar of the OJ trial. Every lawstudent showed up, undergrads, the press, and anyone who was associated with the school (read as Big Donors) also showed up. Lee did a presentation on forensic medicine.
After 45 minutes of boring slides on various crimes and international invstigations, he opened it up to the question and answer session. There was probably 500 people in the room, we were packed like sardines, sitting on the steps in the aisles. People raised their hands and started asking the polite politically correct guaranteed to offend no one questions like "What's your take on the state of the american eductional system today?"
Who gives a crap? Not one person would have been there if it wasn't for Lee testifying in the OJ trial. After 5 ridiculous questions like that, I raised my hand and asked "Do you think OJ killed Nicole Brown?"
Everyone let out nervous laughter. People started moving away from me. People were embarrassed. Even though that's exactly what they all came there to hear. Lee had just been offered 6 million dollars to write a book on that very topic. Everyone was on the edges of their seats, waiting for the answer, as they looked at me out of the corner of their eyes like I had Bubonic Plague.
So he said something polite like "Ah, the 6 million dollar question. I make it a policy never to comment on cases I was involved in beyond what I testified to."
The question I asked here is valid, and important in many people's eyes. It affects the game/hobby we all love to play. It affects the future of certain aspects of the hobby. It's a tough question that requires making people uncomfortable, and requires a company to take a position. So be it. Heck, many of probably own part of this company through your shares in the ever-dwindling 401(k)'s. (maybe if people asked harder questions in the financial media, we wouldn't have dwindling 401(k)'s)
Though it may be in "bad form", it's still valid. And I guarantee you if WOTC answers it here definitively, one way or another, it WILL BE talked about and read by thousands. That in itself makes it a valid question.
Feel free to treat me like I am the embarrassing uncle who farts and burps at the formal Thanksgiving dinner, even as you gleefully read the answer to the question, if it comes.
Regarding the allegations as to my bad motives in asking the questions of Rouse, and that I embarrassed poor Dr. Henry Lee:
Well the guy was paid thousands of dollars to be there. He was one of the most famous celebrities to come out of the OJ case. He just withstood grueling days of questions and cross-examination on that very topic from some of the country's best attorneys. If the guy was put on the spot by a question from a lowly lawstudent, during a seminar to which he owed those thousands of dollars of income to his fame in the case about which the question was asked, then so be it. I have no regrets.
I also have no regrets when at similar events in my undergrad years I asked Jean Kirkpatrick former ambassador to the UN during the first gulf war whether if she thought the war was legal under the US Constitution, nor do I have regrets after asking Faye Vincent, former Commissioner of Major League Baseball about the hypocrisy of kicking Pete Rose out of baseball when keeping guys who used drugs like Howe. They get paid to be there, big money, because of their connection to the issues I asked questions about. I state these as examples, and not as a way to bring up taboo topics into the conversation. If they are inappropriate feel free to delete them.
I have nothing against Scott. He is a good guy by all reports. He seems to be on the side of gamers. He is the only person to ask the question of though. If you like I could change the title of the thread to replace Rouse with Leeds, but it would still be Rouse who answers.
Whether the question gets answered or not, its still a valid question that in my mind, and the minds of others, deserves an answer. I'm sorry if Scott feels uncomfortable answering it, but frankly that's his job.
WOTC is not just the company that owns the intellectual property called Dungeons and Dragons, they are also the caretakers of a hobby that thousands enjoy every day. In that regard, they have a different level of responsibility which, to the extent that they are not carrying out that responsibility while paying attention to the bottom line, they seem to land themselves in hot water.
I'm offering them an opportunity to carry out not just the corporate mission statement to make money, but to help other aspects of the hobby out, which by all accounts has little or no impact on their bottom line.
That's my take on it. Those are my motives. To the extent I don't like how WOTC has handled D&D lately, that surely taints my approach as to how touch-feely I am when I ask the questions. I also admit that at this point I am gradually coming around to the point of view that I don't really care if WOTC fails, due to my feelings of how they have treated thir customers. I used to think the hobby needed them to survive, but I am not so sure now. I would feel bad about people losing their jobs though. I know how that feels. I would also feel bad for people whose version of the game is no longer supported. I know how that feels too. As to my comments on the hilarity of their site getting cloned or hacked, so be it. I honestly don't care, and I think it would be karmically fitting. I'm not going to lie about that. *shrug*
Understand that I have nothing but the utmost respect for the bulk of the creative folks at WOTC. We're all gamers. It's the business end of the company that I have a problem with. Scott speaks for them. The question goes to them.
It's highly likely that this question never gets answered. I know that. That doesn't mean it doesn't deserve an answer, and therefore someone should pose the question.
It reminded me of all the court cases I've seen. I worked for a few years as a Judge's clerk, sitting next to him in Court, and watched about 100 or so cases played out in court, both jury and non-jury. Plus, I've been to court to argue cases for my clients.
Anyhow, to use a personal injury case as an example, if the potential for winning/losing a lot of $$ is great enough, each side will hire an "expert" to come to court to testify. Usually a doctor. Each doctor will examine the accident victim, and based on that examination, and the examination of the medical records both past and current, render a diagnosis as to the extent of the injuries, what the cause of the injuries was, and the future prognosis of the accident victim.
Each side's doctor, both eminently qualified with credentials out the wazoo, renders completely different and contradictory opinions. They can point to the same charts and x-rays and say totally different things.
That same dynamic of hiring experts to toot the horn you want tooted exactly the way you want it tooted is played out in every type of case I've seen, from personal injury, to land use, to construction defect, to divorce, to business litigation. Each side's expert look at exactly the same set of objective facts and says completely different things which supports the viewpoint of whichever side they are testifying for.
Other than beating up the personal credentials of the other side, or hammering them on their interpretation of the facts, one of the most effctive ways to discredit the other side is to point out all the various ways they have a financial interest in saying what they are saying. Asking a doctor, for example, how much they testify in cases as opposed to practicing medicine, how much they charged for the diagnosis, how often they do plaintiff's work as opposed to defendant's work, how many times they have testified for that particular lawyer's firm, how much they got paid to testify, the likelihood of a future financial interest in the outcome---such as the patient going to them to be treated if they are awaded money for future medical expenses, etc.
Just as an aside, I'd pay a few bucks to read a pdf of the business history of the industry he talked about in the post...I'm particularly interested where he got the objective concrete numbers for sales figures going back 30 years. As far as I can tell, that's not publicly available information.
Does WOTC have any official position on the question of whether or not OSRIC, Swords and Wizardry, or Labyrinth Lord violates WOTC's intellectual property rights in any way? How about retroclones in general?
If there is no offical position on this question, is the question still under legal review? Is the question on the legal department's radar at all? Might it be in the future?
In other words, are the developers and sellers of the retroclones and those who produce retroclone compatible material ever going to face the threat of legal action from WOTC/Hasbro for violating WOTC's intellectual property rights for what's already been produced as of now?
Monday, June 15, 2009
They looked at me like I had 3 heads.
After much laughter, they told me Erik was getting highlights in his hair, hence the tin foil.
First, like I'm supposed to know that? I've never gotten highlights, nor has any guy I've ever known.
Second, what's up with a Viking Vampire getting highlights? How was I to know that Evil Viking Vampires go all Metrosexual after 1000 years of mass murder and blood sucking?
Third, he interrupts his hair highlighting to come downstairs to get someone to torture? What's up with that?
So, after 30 minutes of ridicule, I snuck away to call my brother to get his take on the tin foil. He said "I dunno. I figure it's so Erik can't get his mind read by Sookie."
I told him to ask his wife (after she watches the scene tonight) what her theory was on the tin foil.
He just called me. He got laughed at too.
The only thing that made me feel better about the day was that one of the women at work, after watching only a couple of episodes of season one, asked us if we thought Lafayette might be gay.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
If you guys read earlier posts on this campaign I am DM'ing, here is part of the finished product I created to help me deal with it. It's a 34 page .rtf format or .doc format readable in the major word processors, 2 meg or so .doc, 18 meg or so .rtf.
It is available as a link in the upper right hand corner of the blog. Feel free to download it.
You can also just click here:
It's pretty different, with an entirely new take on bards. Any advice, input, criticism or feedback of any kind would be helpful.
I begin typing the DM portion tonight, which i think will be at least double the length of the player's portion. I'll add that when I have it.
Edit: Forget to mention, its a first draft, i began writing it yesterday afternoon, so i know there are dumb mistakes and wording issues. :)
Thursday, June 4, 2009
EDIT: The most successful not necessarily in terms of money, but at being a company which has the respect and trust of fellow hobbyists.
D&D started as a hobby which was itself an offshoot of a hobby. An essential element of a hobby is that the person who participates in it seems to feel a sort of ownership towards it. If I like to garden, they are MY plants. If I like to put together plastic model cars, they are MY cars. I can do what I want with them.
With D&D, it seemed to start out with more of that attitude. It was a game company created by hobbyists, owned by hobbyists, and run by hobbyists. There was still that sense of comradery between the game producers and the game players.
When in the 90's T$R began to close down FTP sites, claiming ownership of all the materials on them, people were pissed off. Rightfully so. It’s the equivalent of a company that sold you tomato plant seeds coming by in the summer and claiming ownership to the tomatoes you grew.
Thank god for the OGL. It put into writing in a legally binding way the fact that the hobby belongs to the people who play it, and that all players have the rights to the products of their hobby. It’s sort of like a Bill of Rights for D&D’ers.
As we’ve all seen in our everyday lives, the direction of a company is often not set by the people that work there who know the ins and outs of the product and people who buy that product, but by the bottom line considerations of people far removed from the nuts and bolts of the products and the customers. When you have a situation where you have a lot of creative people who can, and have, put out good products, but have been given marching orders contrary to their own best judgment, but which is based on the company’s bottom line, they have to go along with those orders and do the best that they can. We all need jobs. We all have kids to feed and bills to pay.
It’s easy to see a situation wherein the people within a company respect the hobby, and are true hobbyists and great at the hobby, but who work for a company which only respects the bottom line.
When a company produces products which are used by hobbyists, there are many different considerations to take into account than if the company just produced a “widget”. For one, like I said before, you can’t treat the hobbyists as a consumer pool that buys YOUR product to use in YOUR game. You need to view them as fellow hobbyists, and you make THEIR tools for them so they can play THEIR game.
You can’t come by a person’s house every month and sell them a new and improved gardening spade, guaranteed to add more spice and variety to their garden. You can sell them seeds, however, which they can plant in their garden and grow in the way they want to.
You can’t sell them new seeds which when planted in the already prospering garden, overrun the already planted tomato plants and cause havoc and chaos in the garden. You can sell them seeds of plants which complement their garden, which perhaps help them grow their garden in new and unexpected ways.
Lastly, you can’t walk up to a gardener once he’s in the heart of the growing season and tell him that the garden he has been growing is dramatically changing, so much so that by the end of the growing season he won’t recognize what he grew. You can’t have him dig up part of his garden, plant all new seeds, and grow plants and flowers he doesn’t like. The gardener will just basically tell you to go to hell, and stay out of HIS garden.
If the salesperson tell the gardener that he will no longer be able to buy the old seeds from him unless he grows the garden in the new style, the gardener will once again say “You know, we’ve had a great relationship all these years, but you’re pissing me off now. It’s MY garden. You don’t own the seeds. If you won’t sell me the seeds I like, I’ll just go down the street to the Paizo or Troll Lord or Kenzer market and buy the seeds I’m used to growing. Hell, I even heard there was some places that were giving away free seeds!”
Regardless of the kind of seeds you are used to buying, and the sort of plants you like to grow, I think we can all agree that when a company which produces the seeds either screws up your garden so as to make it no longer recognizable, or fun to garden, or behaves in such a way that it shows it doesn’t respect the gardener, it will leave people angry. No matter how many hobbyists, gamers and gardeners a company employs, no matter how we may like those people and appreciate their hard work as fellow gardeners, it still doesn’t get that bad taste out of our mouths which comes from a company acting as if they own the hobby and can do what they want with it, regardless of what the other hobbyists say. To the extent that it feels like a company is taking away OUR hobby, or changing it so much that we no longer recognize key elements which we consider to be staples and cornerstones of the hobby, we get pissed.
To the extent that game companies are owned by gamers, with gamers setting direction, developing products, and respecting the hobby and behaving as if the Company didn’t own the Hobby, that company will be successful.
Think of all the companies you like out there and I bet you they fit this description.
But this new edition apparently gets rid of a lot of the over the top stuff, and seems to have improved upon many of the good elements they developed for the prior edition. They even made a lot of changes and additions, such as to Vancian magic, which actually look really good. They improved upon some of my sacred cows, it seems, and added a lot more cool stuff.
And in reading through this massive thread here:
I can't believe how much detail Kenzer gives about the Basic as well as the Advanced game.
I especially like Kenzer's attitude towards gaming in general, as demonstrated in his posts there. (Note: fans of 4e shouldn't expect to be overjoyed by his characterizations).
Due to the enthusiasm people have towards retro editions these days, and also due to Kenzer's experience in actually getting books on shelves, and most importantly due to the quality of the stuff they put out, I think Hackmaster is going to be something really big once all 3 core Advanced books are out. By that I mean way bigger than they ever were before.
I think they can end up in the pole position of the old school movement when the Advanced books are all finally released in about a year to 18 months.
Just a prediction.
Plus, check out the Otis cover art!