January 15, 2009

Bullywugs & Battletoads - Reinventing Minutiae

When is something truly new and novel going to come along and really blow the socks of the fan base?

If you follow Turbulent Thoughts at all, you likely read Wyatt Salazar's recent review of Alluria Publishing's Remarkable Races series. In short, he gleefully puts the smack down on the whole product line; and that's being nice about it. I found his post hilarious... in particular this part:
"Then we have the god damn battletoads, and this is basically where I draw the line ... This is just surreal. Oh god that battletoad has a steel eyepatch. I’m getting the motherfuck out of here."
This was particularly funny to me because about 20 years ago (or more) I actually played a frog character for a campaign that lasted about a year or so. Yes... a frog. I was a bullywug, actually. A bullywug cleric, if I'm remembering correctly. Alluria Publishing calls them "Mogogols" (probably for copyright reasons), but they are basically bullywugs for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons.

Now, this bullywug character I had was a really fun to play because he was a "good" bullywug pitted against his own people. It was 1st Edition AD&D, and we were playing in the classic adventure module Dwellers of the Forbidden City. The DM had just gotten his hands on a copy of the Fiend Folio in order to properly play the adventure, and while looking it over I was like "that's it! I'm playing a bullywug!" I'm kind of animated and jumpy in real life, so I guess it was a good fit.

Ok... it was silly. I admit it. Honestly, I played the frog until the end of the adventure, but then the ribbits and constant "I leap to charge!" was found to be short lived humor that grew toad.. i mean.. old after a while. I ended up playing a prisoner we freed. I think we ate the toad.

OK, minutiae... the offbeat obvious minutiae... you can call them bullywugs, mogogols, or battletoads, or whatever. It's all the same thing. Another example might be the Flump. I don't think WotC is planning on updating the Flumph for 4E, but that doesn't mean I need to release a 4E version of the creature either.

In fact, much of 4E is all the same thing we've all seen before, only updated for the new rules. This isn't rocket science; its expected in fact. New rules means everything must be brought to the current edition. What is interesting to me is that a portion of the indy press is looking for opportunities to publish material in the gaps of Wizards of the Coast's current or projected production releases. In this example, Alluria has published Remarkable Races and you might think they really were remarkable, save for the fact that all these races have been conceived before in one form or another. The difference now is that WotC has not made (or is expected to make) any official re-release of these creatures for 4th Edition, so the indy PDF publishing market is full of them.

I'll leave it to you to decide if I'm right, but it all just seems so obviously derivative. So I'll ask again: When is something truly new and novel going to come along and really blow the socks of the fan base?


  1. I think what we'll see is people trying to fill 'holes' in the game and then when a saturation point has been hit, we'll see more. Also, there is the learning curve of 4e, combined with the fact that it makes some things much harder to do...like class design. Having to build 60 or so powers for a class makes the class creation and playtesting time take much much longer.

    It might be a struggle to balance new fluff with the new mechanics.

    But it would be nice to see some fancy new stuff sooner than later.

  2. I don't think the remarkable races thing is a learning curve issue. Most of the time, it's like they only skimmed the book and patched things up with 3.5 knowledge. There's mentions of saves and size category increases vs push effects, and things that seem a mishmash of 4e and 3e.

    In short, I think the issue with the Remarkable Races is that they're a patchwork job to get quick money. They thought "Oh it's just D&D again, how much could it have changed?" and slapped something quick, then a few more somethings. I personally haven't found designing for 4e that hard at all – I think the hardest thing is that you may be UNDERPOWERING things. I know both the classes I made went through numerous revisions because they were weak at first, due to a fear of making them overpowering.

    Honestly, I think the biggest obstacle to 4e is that too many people think its balance is so fragile and dainty...it really isn't. You have to try very hard to make something that screams broken at a glance...and Alluria did.

    Thanks for the link Jon, and I'm glad it's still making you laugh.

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  4. Hello. I am the writer for Remarkable Races. I admit that I made some mistakes. I was a writer for 3E for several years, and 3E kept leaking into the rules for these races. It is sometimes hard to switch gears. Alluria Publishing is a VERY small company. We were a handful of friends trying to make something new and different and turn a dime in the process.
    What the heck did we know? Many of us had written for 3E; but the whole production aspect we were fairly new to. I had minimal experience in actually tying it all together. So, obviously we were far from perfect with our first product.
    Despite this, I feel some things were said here that were unfair. First, we aren’t out to turn a quick buck. RPG pdf industry and “quick buck” are practically antonyms. Second, all of the art is pretty decent and ORIGINAL. If this was a quick buck scheme, why not just use stock art like most other 3rd party pdfs?
    As for the lack of originality…I beg to differ. Our first line may look similar on the surface... but so do elves, humans, vulcans, dwarves, halflings, genies, and monkeys some extent. To say it is “just like a battle toad” or “just like a bullywug” would be essentially saying that Legalos and Spock were the same race. Why are mogogols the same as bullywugs, because they are froglike? Mogogols are a race of benevolent frog people who are cursed to perform good deeds, come size Small and Medium, ride giant frogs, come in many different shapes and colors, and have special customs that make them quite unique. Battle Toads…I don’t even know what they are…never played that game (and that’s a leather eye-patch there, with iron rivets). Bullywugs are a race of evil frog people who are all the same size (medium), shape, and color,… and have no official write-up as a PC race since the 2nd edition AD&D humanoid handbook which barely attempted to give them any real culture or flavor.
    Other races that Alluria put out are Boggles (inventor type goblins,.. ok like tinker gnomes and the goblins off of Labyrinth right?) Original? Not entirely. Ever been remotely done before in D&D as a PC race since 2nd edition tinker gnomes in the Dragonlance Setting book? NO. Added to the race is an insanity that turns them into raving lunatics. As far as I know, there is no other PC race ever that does that.
    Another race is the oaklings. Industrious plants people. Kinda like treants? I suppose…in a way a dwarf is kinda like a short giant or a monkey is kinda like a raccoon. As far as the female oakling (a plant creature) depicted as having boobs—turn to page 96 of the 4E Monster Manual. I’d say at least oaklings are prettier. Their form mimics humanity…so, it goes to follow…
    Yet another race is the Obitu, the skeletons. +4 dex? Not any more! They aren’t even undead. Why are they skeletons? Actually read the product and find out. I honestly never saw anything like that race in all my 30+ years of gaming.
    Last, we have the Entobian. A bug-like race. A thri-kreen? Not on your life. This is the only race that I know of that starts out as a larva and transforms into other forms at higher levels. This is a race that the game has never seen before. The closest thing is a thri-kreen, and it’s like comparing a lion and a moose. Yes, they are both mammals, great observation Sherlock.
    Is the Player’s Handbook that much more original with all human-looking races and one draconian? Er ...dragon-man…no wait, dragonbait?…er… lizardman…no..um..half-dragons! No…that was 3rd edition again,.ok ok they are called dragonkin. Oops, dragonborn I mean. Really original there. And my frog-like people are cliché somehow?
    Of course, the original releases have some pretty serious blunders. We are aware of these issues, and since hired two rules consultants, a couple of editors, and a few other quality control people. We are overhauling all of our products AT OUR OWN EXPENSE. That’s right, we are offering those who bought the product the revisions for free. We also did not raise the tiny cost of our product (only $2.25 each). Does that really sound like the work of someone trying to turn a quick buck?
    So far, the Obitu (skeletons) and the Entobians (bug people) have been revised and are available on RPGnow. The rest will be coming shortly. And yes, we got rid of the +4 dex bonus. We learned our lesson. Thanks.
    Are the revisions a 100% perfect product? Probably not, but neither is the PHB. We will continue to make revisions if the need arises. And we will not raise the price, or charge for the revisions. I doubt you will get the same deal from WotC.
    We will be releasing another set soon as well, which we promise will be even more original than the first. And we promise to make less stupid rules errors. That’s the best we can do as a small company.
    Ah well. No hard feelings. I just thought I’d interject a bit more truth in this work of fiction here that is evolving. It is funny, yes, but it is also not entirely fair or true. And it is not very nice to a new company that is just trying to bring people a good and original product. You want better stuff? Quit trying to squash those attempting to bring it to you!

    (original post deleted because of formatting issues)

  5. @Alluria - To be completely fair; I have not read and do not own any copy of any of your supplements. This post was largely inspired by the first "battle toad" post over at Turbulent Thoughts; which (since I played a toad character once) had me laughing my arse off. It was also inspired by my _observation_ that there IS a alot of crap on RPGNow.com (not that your products, which I have not seen, are necessarily part of that group). Original artwork is a huge bonus; and I should have included some positive comment about that in the post above.

    So, from me to you, please accept my apologies if I somehow misrepresented your hard efforts. THIS was NOT a review, formally, of your product. it was a response to my observations of the PDF publishing community in general. I do have some affiliate cash built up at rpgnow; which i may use to pick up a copy of your products and review formally.


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