March 31, 2009

The Half-Empty Glass: What is missing in 4E D&D

The second part of the title of this post could be a statement or a question.

Hopefully we can look at it as both.

This is the first post in a series that will explore what might be missing in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons; in terms of crunch, fluff, rules, crank, and couch. I'll begin by looking at the current state of the game, from a "crunch" point of view - then in future posts I'll look back at previous editions and other current games for a comparison. I plan on looking at some of the differences in rule mechanics between editions, the so-called "fluff", and eventually the general audience of the game (which I believe has changed). Let me know if I've missed anything, or if there is something you think I should cover.

The Current State of 4E
When 4E was first released I remember tons of complaints that the game didn't provide you with enough options. That every character was a cut out copy of the same race/class combo used by any other player. In terms of "crunch" (stats/abilities), if this was ever the case it is certainly no longer. A quick survey of the current state of 4E gives us the following numbers...
  • 29 playable Races
  • 17 Skills
  • 18 Classes
  • 185 Paragon Paths
  • 36 Epic Destinies
  • 2621 Class Powers
  • 709 Feats
  • 186 Rituals
  • ...not to mention there are 2124 Creatures and 4477 usable Items currently in the game.
So there are now over 500 different combinations of character races and class alone, not to mention power and feat selections. Something for everyone, I believe - and the available variety at first glance seems to already be on par with 3E D&D. It is a veritable pallet of material for any custom home brew setting or stock bog fantasy.

In terms of crunch... what, if anything, is missing for you?

March 29, 2009

Birthright & 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

I recently cracked open my old Birthright materials. If you are not familiar with Birthright, it was a 2nd Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting where the characters were essentially rulers of nations backed by the gods. It was a game of adventure and nation building. One of the cool things about Birthright was the idea of bloodlines, you played a bloodline of kings and queens - not just one character. As you progressed, you increased your regency points and increased your domains (lands, provinces, resources). The setting presented a mix of Arthurian and Tolkienian mythology - a nice diversion from the "standard fantasy" of 4E. In terms of setting, it kind of reminds me of Harn. You can check out the Wikipedia page for more basics.

I really enjoyed reading about this setting; although sadly I was never able to get a game up off the ground. There were some fundamental flaws in rules at the time, and if I remember correctly, D&Ders either loved it or hated it. I was surrounded by gamers who hated it, thus I never played it for more than one or two sessions.

Fortunately this morning I crawled out from under my rock and discovered Birthright is alive and well! There's a very vibrant and growing community tucked away on the net that apparently even once had the tacit approval of WotC to publish a d20 update to the Birthright setting. I also found that there is an effort to convert/update the Birthright rules to 4th Edition. Of course, some major changes to 4E would be needed for this to work, but it should be interesting if it ever gets off the ground.

Have any of you played Birthright beyond a few sessions? What was your impressions of this 'version' of D&D?

March 28, 2009

You like?

I recieved some excellent feedback from you about what I should about my site design and layout. As you can see... I've made some changes. (if you are reading this in your RSS reader, click through and check out the new layout).

What do you think of then new site design? leave a message and let me know. I'm trying to make the site more readable, while improving the overall quality of the layout. The last design was way too cluttered and craptacular. Is this an improvement?

March 27, 2009

The Farchives: Statblocks - They're just numbers on a page.

Today kicks off a new feature on The Core Mechanic, The Farchives. Every Friday I will re-post a popular TCM post from the previous year. To kick this new series off, I've included a post that was one of the first "popular" ones I had the first month the blog was in existence. This post was originally posted on July 22nd, 2008. Hopefully you'll enjoy it.

After reading Stephen Radney-MacFarland's column "Saying Yes is a Skill", the following paragraph stood out:

...Consider this case in point. The cifal, also known as the Colonial Insect-Formed Artificial Life (I'm not joking), was a critter from the original Fiend Folio that featured a back story and a name I thought was absolutely stupid. And I was not alone; in 2000 the cifal was voted the stupidest Fiend Folio monster by the readers of Polyhedron magazine. Still, this critter showed up a number of times in my game as a swarm-of-flies devil that served Baalzebul. What did I change about the monster? Not much, just the name and alignment. It was that easy. My players were scared to death of the poor, stupid cifal, which they knew as bzazels (heck, not even a vast of an improvement on the name front, come to think of it)...

Then it occurred to me that I had been doing something for years that maybe other DMs don't do, or maybe don't do often enough. I'm talking about Stat Block Masking (SBM). SBM is one of the oldest tricks in a DMs toolbox. It's easy to do, saves hours of prep time, and keeps the players on their toes. The muchkins at your game table hate SBM techniques, the role players love it. So, what is it?

SBM is where the DM uses the stat blocks for one creature, item, trap, spell, class, etc. to replace the stat block of another similar thing. The decription of the thing stays the same, but the stats are VERY different. Two examples should be enough to illustrate my point:

Example 1: The Beegguns Goblins
Goblins are easy to kill and the player characters blow through dozens of them in an evening of gaming. After a whole evening of slaughtering scores of them, complete with spell casters, traps, interesting terrain combinations, and the like, you realize that the players need a bigger challenge. But, the problem is that they are in a goblin den. To maintain internal consistency, there's a somewhat limited number of assailants you might throw at them. What can you throw at a group of Level 2 heroes that might scare them out of their wits. Then, you have an idea...

As the PCs turn the corner and see a four 'bigger', foul looking goblins coming down the hall towards them. "These 4 huge goblins come lumbering around the corner, groaning. Their bodies are covered in some kind of black oil, as are their large spiked clubs. They don't seem too happy in general, and are probably going to take it all out on you."

One of the players at the table says flatly "Oh no, these goblins look (sarcasm) scary! I charge them."

Another player metagames a bit and says, "What, they have twice the health or something? My wizard begins casting Ray of Frost."

You simply just chuckle and the battle begins. After 4 rounds of combat, the party has blown all their encounter powers, and nearly everyone has used their dailies. Action points? HAH... those are all gone. These goblins are stunning people with some sort of sap that's on their clubs, and seem like to beat on the same, stunned (panicing) heroes until they are clobbered. Plus, these guys are taking huge ammounts of damage.

Its at this point that the players realize that these are not simply "tougher" goblins; they are something else entirely.

In fact, they are Ghouls. Well... at least their stats are Ghoul stats. But, instead of claws, they use big clubs covered in somekind of toxic (to everyone but goblins) sap. Instead of being vulnerable to radiant damage, you make them vulnerable to fire damage (the sap burns quite well). In the end the PCs are fine, they mostly survive. But, they are all left wondering "WHAT THE HECK WAS THAT?"

Example 2: The Ring of Blades
Your heroes have worked hard pushing through the goblin den. Most of the goblins have either been killed or have fled to find greener pastures. In a final, last ditch effort for "survival" the goblin chieftain surrenders and offers the heroes a 'secrete treasure that will remain buried forever' unless they let the remaining tribe go free. The heroes, always filled to the brim with a lust for more lewt, agree. The chief tells the heroes where he keeps a secrete cache of coins and a few items of value. The heroes find the treasure and among they find a magic ring and a magic axe. They let the chieftain go (these heroes are real goodguys), and begin investigating the items. They seem harmless enough. The axe is a something magical, but harmless.

The ring, however, is something different. "Your skill checks are successful, and you determine it is a Ring of Invisilibility". They PCs actually failed in identifying the ring correctly and on an earlier Passive Perception check, but the game table is filled with a series of 'holy crap!" "wow!" "OMFG!" etc.

Then, one of your players adds "Wait... a Ring of Invisibility is a Level 18 item. We're a bunch of Level 2 stooges..."

"You know Mr. Metagamer, you are right! And, just as your character realizes this existential fact and holds up the ring to inspect it, it seems to unfold. Slowly at first, then faster still until the whole party are enveloped in a whirlwind of flying blades."

The ring is actually a Whirling Blades trap (p.89 DMG), and appropriate but difficult challenge for the party. You might also rule that, if they fail in disabling the trap the ring is destroy. If they succeed, they might just walk out of there with a nifty little gadget to take with them...

I've think I've illustrated my point. Statblocks can be stripped of their descriptions and applied to anything in a variety of settings, assuming you keep challenge at an appropriate level for the heroes. The trick is just to think outside the box a little and be creative. Using this technique, DMs out there will never be stuck needing a 'better' challenge in the middle of a gaming session. Players out there will also have to stay on their toes since you'll never know what to expect next...

"What the heck is that?"
"What? His mount? Oh... that's his armored heavy warhorse that was raised in the marshlands of Xuntargak. It was trained for war, and has been subject of many foul rituals by his arcanists. Good luck..." It's a heavy warhorse, but I'm using the Basilisk statblock.

I should note that Unclebear has also come out with a series of posts on "Shemping" - anyone interested in more info on recasting / shemping should check out his blog for his view on the same topic.

March 25, 2009

Site Redesign Planning - Most Ugly RPG Blog Award

I WON!!! The Most Ugly RPG Blog Award!

OK, just kidding... but I do have a very strong desire to eliminate the busy, distracting nature of this blog's layout and design. The problem is that I have very little time to tinker around with CSS and HTML for hours on end. So what do you think I should do?

Drop blogger and jump to WordPress? Or stay here and just redesign using one of bloggers templates?

Fire up my own hosting service and get back into PHP? My mousefinger groans in pain at the thought of hacking php again.

So, since I don't have all the time in the world... should I use a free template or purchase one? Are purchased WordPress templates "worth it"?

Is there anything about my current site design that you like? (I'm so sick of looking at it, I usually use my feedreader to check the layout of my posts...)

My goal is simple: to improve The Core Mechanic by improving the reader's "experience" through increasing the blog's functionality. Simplicity, readability, functionality are the words that make me go "Yeah... I want that".

Any feedback you have, positive or otherwise, is very much appreciated.

March 24, 2009

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Needs Blue Bolts from Heaven

A little retrospective:

Back in the day (1E AD&D), there was this notion of the "DM's Blue Bolts from Heaven". The idea was simple - some PC is too annoying to deal with, too powerful compared to their peers, or just plain ignored the warning from the gods. Blue, firey bolts of hot lighting would come down and, potentially, strike them dead on the spot. I think the rule of thumb was 3d6 bolts would come down, each carrying a saving throws vs. Death inside. I lost several characters myself this way. Luckily, a couple of them had friends in high places who could raise people from the dead...
No one doubted that BBFH were a very real threat to munchkin players. Power gamers and munchkins were always justifying their awesomeness as a result.

"He must find the Holy Avenger, like his father before him! It is his destiny!"
Declarations like that early in a character development not only added to the backstory, but it also provided the munchkins among us a foil against future BBFH should they find the sword in some kind of ass'hattery kind of way. Everyone was happy, story gamers and munchkins alike.

Enter 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. You start out as a "hero" at first level. The game is designed for power gamers, munchkins love it, and roleplayers either hate it or are heard frequently defending 4E as just as viable an RPG as any other 'older' one (me included). Regardless though, there's nothing in the rules-as-written about controlling over powered characters. The RAW in fact supports accension to godhood (which, in all fairness, every other edition of D&D has supported as well including BASIC).

Nonetheless, throwing down blue bolts from heaven in a 4E campaign strikes me as a deal breaker. I can already see the players standing up and crying "That's Bulls***!".

So... Are munchkins a problem, or a welcomed part, of your game? If you are running a 4E game, what measures have you taken to limit the obscene power gaming munchkinism that the end-days of 3.5E D&D faced? Or, is this not even an issue for you?

March 22, 2009

Open Game Table NOW ON SALE!!!

Open Game Table aims to bridge the gap between the RPG blogging community and the broader table-top gaming fan base by showcasing the best talent in the RPG blogosphere. Within these pages are 47 blog posts from 32 top-quality RPG blogs, plus a Foreword written by RPG luminary Wolfgang Baur. After six months of hard work, I am very happy to say this anthology is finally here for your enjoyment!!!

Packed with the best in RPG blogging and over 60 illustrations, this book is Pure Gold. The anthology chapters cover a wide variety of topics for fans of all table-top roleplaying games, including:
  1. Play Style;
  2. Game Play;
  3. Characters & Players;
  4. Monsters & NPCs;
  5. Encounters, Settings, and Locations;
  6. Adventure Design;
  7. Campaign Setting Design;
  8. Classes, Action, and Equipment;
  9. RPG History & Commentary; and
  10. The RPG Toolbox.
This anthology is the result of the hard work of nearly 100 volunteers, authors, editors, judges, artists, and designers. A true grass roots effort; it is a tour de force of the RPG blogging universe.

The book is shipping from Lulu Marketplace and for $22.95. Soon, it will also be available from Indie Press Revolutions.

Want to support Open Game Table on your own blog or website? I would be honored! Please grab any OGT graphic on this page and link to the Lulu storefront or this post on The Core Mechanic.

These graphics kindly provided by Lee Barber, a contributing artist to the Open Game Table project.

March 21, 2009

Around the blogs...

Wow... it has almost been a month since I did my last "Around the blogs..." Saturday morning schtick. Well, this is not to say that I haven't been trying my best to keep up to date with the goings on around the RPG blogging community. Here's a healthy dose of what I've been into over the last few'll notice it centers around one topic really... Old School D&D.

It seems I'm on a OD&D binge. I blame James Maliszewski's blog Grognardia. He keeps reeling me in with his Gygaxian Naturalism, among other things. This then inevitable bleeds over into other great OD&D blogs as well. Heck, this time around I even ended up posting a couple things about OD&D and 4E here at The Core Mechanic.
  1. "Gygaxian Unnaturalism" One of my all time favorite OD&D posts was J.M.'s post about "Gygaxian Naturalism" from last September. Now, he follows up with a response of sorts to the impact his post has had on the RPG community. "Gygaxian fantasy takes place not in a wholly magical world, but instead in a natural world to which magic has been added, which is why magic often gets a great deal more attention in his writings." Jump over to his post to get the full story.
  2. Necromancer Games is going Classic 4E - a mix of OD&D and 4E at the same game table. "Classic 4e--Will It Fly?" at RPG Blog II led me to the announcement.
  3. Since that post, it seems some people have gone ahead and jumped in. Greywulf is running a series of posts "Like It's 1981 All Over Again" parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Honestly, I have rpgenvy. From what I have read thus far, it looks like he is have a blast.
  4. There's been a ton of Get of My Lawn style OD&D posts in the last month. I don't know why the resurgence; but the tone has definitely changed. Donny the DM picked up on this a few weeks ago with "Old School vs. New School - Or how to properly destroy something all profess to love." Not only is this a great post -- that can only center your thinking -- but the comments are well worth the digg as well.
  5. I guess much of the OD&D crowd is looking back, thinking things were better before. Maybe we should all do what Scott did and answer"What D&D Is (To Me)". Maybe with a little reflection on the hobby we might put away the hatchets.
  6. Finally, after reading dozens of OD&D articles lamenting the better days of the hobby, I finally joined in the echo chamber in a weak attempt to bring the two tribes together with "Old School vs. New School: Have we lost our way?". I even made some suggestions as to how we might play nice and how a 4E campaign could be houseruled to play a bit more like OD&D - but that too was met with some gnashing of teeth. At least the ensuing discussions those posts brought on were worth it - heck, I was even honored with a post response by Tales of the Rumbling Bumblers with "4e For Grognards?".
Well that's been about it. Oh, of course I have been also EXTREMELY HAPPY that the Open Game Table anthology has already received a huge number of previews. It literally seems like every time I check my feed reader, my Technorati feed tells me another kind blogger has linked to an Open Game Table post. THANK YOU! Most recently there have been TONS of previews... check them out...

OK.. finally I need to point out one last post. My head exploded when I read it. (for me that's a big complement; its a good thing). Ben Robbins did it again with "Grand Experiments: We’ll always have Lorngard". If you read nothing else -- check out his post at Ars Ludi.

Your head will explode.

March 20, 2009

Wanted: Contributors & Guest Bloggers

The Core Mechanic is looking for contributors! Along the road back to daily posts, I realized that I am not a bottomless font of words. One-shot guest blogs, or regular contributors, are both welcome additions. So, exercise those writing chops, and if you are an RPG enthusiast who follows and enjoys this blog; drop me a line and let me know. Click "CONTACT" above and let me know you are interested.

Contributing to TCM is a great way to start blogging if your new to the community or to provide some cross blog connections if you already have an RPG blog of your own.

All inquiries will be considered.

Best Regards,

March 19, 2009

Using Google to Measure Interest in Dungeons & Dragons

Ever wondered what's "popular" among us D&D geeks? How about what was popular? Using Google's new Google Insights Tool, you can mine all kinds of Web 2.0 goodness from their databases. For instance, the above graph shows the "interest level" by netizens over the last five years for 4E D&D (in blue), 3E D&D (in red), 2E D&D (orange), and 1E D&D (in green, absent becuase it's below Google's threshold level). The fully interactive chart is available here. Notice the HUGE spike last summer when 4E was released, and the precipitous drop. Also notice the the trough for 4E interest is about at the same level as 3E was back in 2004. I wonder how well this data tracks with sales of D&D products? I would venture fairly well.
The downside to this data is that, overall, there's a declining interest in D&D in general, across all editions (barring the spike last summer). The upside is that, if you look at the last 60 days, interest in 4E D&D seems to be trending a bit higher which might be promising. OK, so how does interest in D&D track with RPGs in general?

From the looks of it, interest in RPG's in general is remaining steady -- but interest in D&D is fading. What I want to know is what the heck cuased the 42% spike in general RPG interest back in April of 2006?

LCR - The Dumbest Game Ever Made.

I recently had some friends over for diner and, as is customary among the people I hang out with, after eating we decided to play some table top games. Wow - big surprise, right?

Well, it was actually because I believe I discovered quite possibly the stupidest game ever made. It's called "L.C.R." which stands for Left Center Right. It's a betting game that involves rolling three dice, moving chips around the board depending on the results, and there is ZERO strategy. It's a "game" of chance - which in my book makes it barely a game at all. I'm completely confused by the 18+ reviews on Amazon and the 4 star rating... what am I missing?

Can something be a "game" when there is no choice or control on the part of the player? Are slot machines games? I tend to agree with the computer game designer Chris Crawford in that a game must include the player's ability to interfere with the outcome of play. LCR and slot machines do not even barely meet that definition.

A drunk cat laying on a bed of catnip surrounded by mice in a food coma from eating cheese could play LCR. No really... I'm not joking. If there is some way to get the dice to roll around, the game moves forward.

I was absolutely floored.

Played it for about 5 minutes and then spent the rest of the evening making fun of it and playing Dominion instead. We had a blast.

What's the most idiotic, stupid, or otherwise shockingly lame game you have ever played? What do you consider to be a game? Even Wikipedia is not sure what a game is. (yunno... because Wikipedia is like the Emerald Wizard of Oz...)

March 17, 2009

10 House Rules to Make Grognards Like 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Have you ever wondered why the D&D community was so fragmented?
Have you ever thought "Hey, 4E is the new Old School D&D!"?
Have you ever wanted a grognard at your 4E game table?
Well, I have. Some say its impossible though. Grognards are, by definition, grumpy dwarfs. They don't want to game with 4'Teens. They say it can't be done. It's against thier code of ethics. Plus, it is rumored that they will turn to stone as soon as they use a healing surge.

I disagree. These rumors all all bunk. I think they do want to game with us. I think they just are grouchy, but shy. Well, take any one of these 10 House Rules and help make your 4E game appeal to that grumpy old curmudgeon. Come on, you know we all love'em! Right?
OK.. maybe it will take all 10 of these House Rules, but give it an honest shot. You may surprise yourself...
  1. Limited Healing Surges. Limit the number of healing surges to PC's 1+Con bonus, or just set a fixed number regardless of constitution or class ("everyone gets 3 healing surges, that's it!")
  2. Halve Starting Hit Points. That's right. Start with less. In OD&D most wizards only started the game with 4 hit points, and that's if your DM was being generous.
  3. Limit the Classes to the Fab Four. OK, technically there were three in the original game, but the thief is just too good to pass up. From 4E, play only with the Fighter, Cleric, Wizard, or Rogue.
  4. Limit the Races to Three. All you need are the Human, Elf, and Dwarf races, right?
  5. Award XP for Gold. 1 gold = 1 xp. Also, drop xp bonuses for quest rewards, skill challenges, and traps. Killing things and taking their loot are the only things worth XP.
  6. Make All Encounters Deadly. When making encounters, always pretend the party is 2 or 3 levels higher than they are.
  7. Don't Scale the Campaign Setting. Take a page out of the book of Gygaxian Naturalism and design your campaign world independently of the PCs level. If those woods over there are dangerous, make them so. If that castle is inhabited by demons, make it so. There's nothing more annoying that a town frightened by a tribe of level 1 kobolds... its just laughable.
  8. Make Encounter Powers Daily Powers. This will make their use a bit more like old school one-a-day spells and abilities.
  9. Make Daily Powers Charged Powers. Make the use of a daily power drain XP, use a healing surge, or have some other charged effect.
  10. Put Away the Miniatures. Try playing without miniatures. This may seem antithetical for 4E gameplay, but it IS possible. How? Use your imagination. There's something very cool about playing D&D in a living room instead of at the game table. Try it.
  11. Try What Greywulf Suggests...
    1. Roll 3d6 for stats and then GO!
    2. Play an old school D&D module using 4E rules. Very cool... we like this. And YES.. this is the ELEVENTH house rule.. actually.. its two.. now I'm just confused.
With one or more of these house rules in effect, I think its pretty easy to recreate the deadly, resource management style game that OD&D embodied using 4E rules. Give it a shot, and let me know how it goes.

Oh, and this post is meant to draw fire. Flame away! Show me your worst! I'll take it on the chin like the geek that I am! [runs away, hides...]

March 16, 2009

Pre-Order Open Game Table Today

Today, I'm very happy to report that Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs is available for pre-order via for $22.95. The book will be released on March 23rd (next Monday), at which time it will also be available for order directly from Marketplace. In addition, in the very near future the book will be available for wholesale distribution via Indie Press Revolution and Ingram (retailers: contact me directly for more information).

Open Game Table aims to bridge the gap between the RPG blogging community and the broader table-top gaming fan base by showcasing the best talent in the RPG blogosphere. Within its pages are 47 blog posts from 32 top-quality RPG blogs, plus a Foreword written by RPG luminary Wolfgang Baur. Packed with juicy content and over 60 illustrations, this book is Pure Gold.

The anthology chapters include a wide variety of topics for all RPGs:
  1. Play Style
  2. Game Play
  3. Characters & Players;
  4. Monsters & NPCs;
  5. Encounters, Settings, and Locations
  6. Adventure Design
  7. Campaign Setting Design
  8. Classes, Action, and Equipment
  9. RPG History & Commentary
  10. The RPG Toolbox.
This anthology is the result of the hard work of over 50 volunteers, authors, editors, judges, artists, and designers. A true grass roots effort; it is a tour de force of the RPG blogging universe.

Not sure if this book is worth its weight in gold? Check out these other blogs for some in-depth previews of the book and then decide for yourself - you will NOT be disappointed.
Have you seen a preview copy of the book? Then by all means, please let my readers here know what you thought.

Want to know more about Open Game Table? Then check out all these posts that have been tagged, or leave a question for me to answer!

Thank you for stopping by. I'm so stoked that this project is finally out the door with such a warm reception!

March 15, 2009

Grognards and 4'Teens - Making them all happy at the same time

In response to a comment by Thanuir left in response to my post " Old School vs. New School: Have we lost our way? ".

There are differences in the _mechanics_ of resource management between Old School and New School D&D, true. 4E lends itself to heroic combat where guns are blazing and the PCs are in a constant firestorm. OD&D is more sudden, deadly, and possibly even mysterious. I guess some might consider this a trade off 4E carries due to "The Tyranny of Balance", a phrase Donny the DM coined.

Now, every campaign I've ever played in had its own houserules. So, allow me to ask this question - how many houserules, or what kinds of houserules, would be needed to make OD&D more like 4E?

How about to make 4E more like OD&D?

As a molecular biologist, I'm intimately familiar with the notion of subtle differences between two things (genes in this case) that have profound effects on observable outcomes (phenotypes). These differences can be quantified - makes me wonder if we could really put our finger down on the (small number of) characteristics that separate the OD&D Grognard tribe from the New School 4'Teen tribe. If so, what would those be? How many aspects of the rules would have to be changed?

I guess what I'm asking here is "What houserules would need to be put in place to bring OD&D and 4E and PF players together at the same table, and have everyone be happy?"

Is that even possible?

If so, what would that game look like?

March 13, 2009

Players Handbook 2: The Invoker ... a REAL Bad Ass

On March 21st, the Player's Handbook 2 is being released in coordination with World Wide D&D Game Day. Someone at Wizards of the Coast must have realized the growing importance of the RPG blogging community because I was offered a free copy of the book - weeks before it is released - in exchange for reviewing any one of the character classes included in the PHB2. How could I say no? I was already anticipating the release of the Invoker because, from what I had already read online about the class, it seemed right up my ally.

The Invoker is a bad ass.

Plain and simple.

The whole idea behind the Invoker is that they are a divine caster, much like an Avenger, Cleric, and Paladin -- but unlike those classes, the Invoker does not rely on the trappings of a divine focus (i.e. holy symbol) for their abilities to function. They do not pray for spells and are not granted them from some agent of the gods. Instead, the power wielded by Invokers is cut from the very fabric of universe. They channel immortal powers of the gods directly -- and use their power to lay waste to anyone who stands in their path.

Invokers are controllers.

Much like Wizards, in combat Invokers can cast their "prayers" against multiple opponents as early as first level. What I find interesting is that many of their abilities have burst effects that are not simply aimed at damaging foes. These are not the specialist-wizard invokers of AD&D, whose power lay entirely in dishing up massive amount of damage. 4E Invoker prayers include involve plenty of pushing, pulling, sliding, slowing, dazing, and immobilizing. And that's just up to Level 5. Like I said -- they are controllers.

Invokers are summoners.

This is likely the biggest departure from the AD&D version of the Invoker. Whereas invocation and evocation schools of magic were juxtaposed to that of conjuration, the 4E Invoker gets the best of both worlds. Starting at Level 1 they have access to a daily prayer, Summon Angel of Fire, that summons "an angelic figure wreathed in fire." Yeah... and it burns you to a crisp if you stand next to it. The conjuration / summoning abilities of Invokers don't end with angels either: the list of things include magic walls of light, dancing blades, angels with dancing blades, walls of blades, and walls of angels with dancing blades. OK, the last one was a joke -- but you get the idea. As an Invoker, the forces of heaven got your back.

Oh, and at Level 19... you can summon the Tomb of Magrym. Yeah. It's a tomb that pops into existence on top of your enemies. The sorry souls who are stuck inside are in for a confusing experience and have to hack their way out. Did I mention the tomb was made of stone?

Paragon Paths
The Invoker also features four Paragon Paths: Angelic Aspect, Blightspeaker, Flame of Hope, an Hammer of Vengeance. I'll leave it to you to be the final judge of these paths - but in my estimation they are all top notch and provide highly flexible options for your end-game Invoker. My favorite? The Blightspeaker.

I've always had a soft-spot for classes that blend the dark elements of death, pestilence, and decay. Some of my earliest posts here at The Core Mechanic were in fact a 4E conversion of the 3.xE Forgotten Realms Talontar Blightlord prestige class and the blightspawn monster template - both of which were core to my campaign at the time. The Blightspeaker makes their enemies vulnerable to necrotic damage, and then uses the same energy type to harvest the life from their victims to fuel their own power -- but that's not the best part. These foul characters heal themselves every time they score a critical hit.

PHB 2: More Options, No Creep
The Invoker is a welcome addition to what is now a huge variety of classes that are available. For one -- it provides you with a new controller character type for players looking for something a little different than the wizard class. Secondly, the Invoker is substantially different from the 2E wizard-specialist class -- it feels like something entirely new. It is a flexible controller class that can easily play into a secondary role of striker or leader. And, for those looking for options to use during role playing scenes (i.e. non-combat encounters), the Invoker also includes a number of utility prayers to boost your PC's diplomacy and intimidation skills.

All in all I don't feel like the Player's Handbook 2 suffers from any "power creep" -- that is, the Invoker class and the other new classes, are on par with what was offered in the PHB1. It just might take a while to get used to all the core options - but options are good in my book, and I'm very satisfied with the way they are presented in this new member of the D&D family.

Want to learn more about Player's Handbook 2? Read on...
Drop by Wizards of the Coast today!

March 12, 2009

Universal Grognard RSS Feed

I just read Donny the DM's post "Old School vs. New School - Or how to properly destroy something all profess to love." and ... well.. I've decided to make a Universal Grognard Feed. (copy the link into your feedreader...) It's even better than the RPG Blogger's Network because it picks up on EN World and all the millions of RPG forums out there.. wohoo!!!

OK... to be fair...

I also made the Universal New School RPG Feed.




oh wait... they are strangely the same... hmmmm....

March 10, 2009

Open Game Table -- Released March 23rd

I haz it...

Itz aweshum...

Open Game Table, The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs will be released for intergalactic sale on March 23rd, 2009. It will be available directly from Lulu Marketplace, Indie Press Revolution, and for the retail price of only $22.95. Look for it on March 23rd, trust me... you'll love it.

And I'm serious... it really does look amazing in print. After slaving over the electronic form in draft, the physical book (galley proof) is far far better than I expected. Even by looking at the PDF, some people seem to agree -- check out the pre-reviews already hitting the blogosphere at The Fine Art of the TPK and A Butterfly Dreaming. (thank you!)

More details coming...

10 Ways to Save Your Friendly Local Game Shop

In the last couple of days, I've seen read some disturbing news and blog posts about the independent hobby game store business. You know... your FLGS.

Today, Nicholas over at posted "Requiem for a Game Store" where he laments the slow decline of his own FLGS. This stood out to me because just yesterday I read Aoen's foreboding satirical forcast of 5E D&D ("Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Review") at Their point was the same -- FLGS are becoming a thing of the past and there is little we can do about it.

I disagree, there is a ton the gaming community can do to help the FLGS industry survive these tough economic times. All it takes is a bit of creativity and initiative. (I should preface this post with a warning: I have nearly zero understanding of how the actual RPG industry works from the ground up -- so, to many of you this may make you chuckle.)

  1. Get to know your store. Set aside at least one-day per month to attend a gaming event at your FLGS. By visiting the store regularly you will get a vibe on how they are doing and get to know the "locals" as well.
  2. Meet the Owner. Make a point of introducing yourself to the owner of the store. Putting a face on the store will help you remember that, when you shop at Amazon or Barnes & Noble, you are making a choice that doesn't include this person.
  3. Make A Suggestion. Your a gamer, therefor you have strong opinions. Make them known to the guy behind the counter, let the store owner know, talk about it in the aisles of the store. Once your idea is out there, you never know what kind of impact you can have. Unrelated to gaming -- I made a suggestion to my FLB&WS (that's beer & wine in the middle there) about a certain Chilean wine I recently had enjoyed at a local restaurant. A few weeks later I noticed it was on the shelf, and it turned out to be one of their best sellers.
  4. Special Order Something. Instead of click click ordering with Amazon, stop by your FLGS (or better yet call them) and ask them to special order what you are looking for. By ordering through the store, you are likely to pay a similar price as you might find in a big-box store like B&N, but will also be supporting them as well.
  5. Order Online. Addicted to purchasing stuff online? Then make sure your store doesn't have an online ordering system. Many FLGS have online stores - some even with Instant Pick Up service (it's in the store waiting for you the minute you order it). If they don't have an online store set up -- see #3 above.
  6. Bring a Friend. Two customers are better than one, so the next time you are going to drop in to your FLGS ask a friend to come along. The two of you can geek'out together, and the store owner might even be able to offer up a small discount if you buy two copies of that gamebook instead of one.
  7. Try a New Game. The best way to spend money wisely on gaming (is that possible?) is to branch out and try something entirely new. Whether it is a new RPG, a new card game, strategy game, or something else -- your FLGS can guide you in making the decision as to what you might like to play best. I mean... do you REALLY think the stooge at Barnes & Noble is going to be able to tell you that Dominion is awesome and you definitely will like it? No.
  8. Volunteer to Lead an Event. See #1 above, if that doesn't float your boat -- then see #6 above and repeat as necessary until you have enough people to run your own event in the store. Not all FLGS have the space for tons of concurrent games, but check their schedule. Ask them if you can host an event in their store. Got a regular gaming group? Depending on the location, you may even opt to host your regular gaming group at the FLGS.
  9. Write About Your FLGS. Are you a blogger? Frequent forum poster? Then write a review about your FLGS. Provide links to their online store or their calendar of events. You will help them get some free advertising and through an honest review you will also give them straight-talk advice on what you like and don't like about their business (which is a good thing). Then send the link to the review to your FLGS by email and let them know about it.
  10. Join Their Mailing List. All hobby shops have mailing lists - or at least email lists. Give them your contact info so that you can be informed whenever their is a sale, event, or other tidbit worth knowing about. By volunteering to be part of their marketing pool, you will stay in the know and sometimes even get coupons / discounts on items only available to people on the list. Its a win win.
The economics of hobby gaming is definitely changing. I too have seen my local store become somewhat more sparse than I remembered it to be. And while the digital initiative push by WotC certainly can not bode well for most FLGS owners, I'm sure this is not the only thing in their threat zone. We are a digitally centric group of people (gamers), but we need to remember that there is value to your FLGS that Amazon, DDI, and big box stores cannot give you: a connection with your local gaming community. Start thinking of your FLGS as a community center for gamers, and maybe it will follow that you'll remember them before you click "Checkout" at Amazon.

My local store? It's Dream Wizards in Rockville, MD. -- a 30 year icon of the region. I'm interviewing the owner in the next week or two, so hopefully I'll be able to complement this post with an insider's view of the business.

OK.. lunch break over... back to work...

March 9, 2009

Old School vs. New School: Have we lost our way?

This post is in reference to this other (excellent) excellent post over at Jeff's Game Blog. So, please jump over their and read up on what I'm reacting to. My comment just got too long, and decided to house it here since it was somewhat off topic anyway... and for the record I am not singling out any one blog or blogger -- it just seems that something troll'ish has emerged from the depths of Forumland and is invading our blogs...


Regardless of what game system I've played, its the GM/DM that makes the biggest impact on whether I had fun playing. Sure, as a player I can decide my own characters actions, but without the support of a DM who works with you, things get boring / frustrating fast. And when I'm the DM, which is often in my circles, the game system we are playing doesn't matter -- call me static, tired, old, or stuck in my ways, but there is a certain way I like to run a game regardless if it is D&D, Shadowrun, or Teddy A. D'Ventures -- loose scripting with tons of room for player direction and development. It hasn't changed in any of the versions of D&D I've used.

The edition or the game we choose does not determine whether or not we can play how we want to play.

I'm increasing convinced that many people are choosing "sides" and picking a banner to follow because it is just easier that way.

"I'm Old School! Check out my badass tattoos!"

"I'm Pathfinder! Check out my arty style!"

"I'm 4E, Look at my Rinestones! Aren't they purty?"

It's really sort of funny.

I would argue that people might not judge a book by its cover. the book being the DM behind the screen. What DM's do off the clock, planning for the campaign/ adventure/ encounter is their business. What they do behind the screen during play is their business. Fudge a roll? Sure! Roll dice and just ignore the results all the time because they just want to? Sure! Use / Don't Use Random Encounter Tables? Sure! ... what do I care anyway?

As a player all I should be worried about is one thing:

Are we, as a group, having fun?

Sry if this comes off as sort of a rant -- its just beginning to be funny to me that so much time and wind (ink?) is spent arguing about the good ol'days and how people should / should not play the game. Are they having fun? Great!

So many excellent blogs are devoted to fighting the good fight against the armies of Paizo, WotC -- I would much rather be reading game content from those authors. Have we lost our way?

March 7, 2009

Catching on Fire - and other improvised rules

Has an improvised rule ever stopped your game table cold?

Sometimes players and DM's alike can be easily frustrated when the rules-as-written don't include specific rulings on some unexpected condition, effect, or situation in the game. At times like these, you have to improvise a ruling - but often the answer is right under your nose.

My wife is currently the DM for our weekly 4th Edition Dungeon & Dragons game, and on Friday she improvised (quite well, I might add) a set of 4E rules for when your players catch on fire. It made me think: are there really no 4E guidelines for burning things? like PCs? What did previous editions of the game recommend?

In fact, the Player's Handbook only includes rules for breaking things - no burning. The Dungeon Master's Guide includes rules for damaging objects, in general, but nothing specific for flaming shirts and pants.

But if you look closer they do.

The trick is to tap into the vast number of existing powers, items, and abilities. In terms of "what happens when I catch on fire?", Flame Strike would be a good place to start. You'll note that (obviously) when you are on fire you take ongoing fire damage.

Our situation, however, was a bit different from the exploding power of Flame Strike -- we had decided to light a pair huge thick curtains on fire as a means to prevent the goblins from entering the room. The improvisation of some rules came into effect when the goblins (and later the PCs) wanted to dive through the flaming curtain to reach the other side. How should that be played out?

Look no further than Wall of Fire. Adjacent to the flaming curtain? You take damage (1d6+3). Pass through it? You take more damage. Also, since the curtain was a physical barrier as well, so making it challenging terrain was appropriate - thus requiring an Athletics or Acrobatics check to successfully pass through it. Checking p.42 of the DMG again -- the DC's were considered Moderate, so Athletics or Acrobatics were against a DC 15. Success means you avoided the flaming parts of the curtains. Failure means you got caught up in the curtain... causing "Limited Damage Expression" damage (3d6+3).
 What about catching on fire? Is there a risk of that? We ruled -- yes. The wall "attacks" you like a trap if you pass through it or next to it; its bonus vs. your Reflex defense, success means your on fire (save ends) like Flame Strike. Now, the PCs in our game are still a bunch of light weight lowbies. So, the bonuses, DCs, and damage levels needed be adjusted somewhat. Plus, there's a big difference between a flaming curtain and a Wall of Fire. This is where the DM's tool box came in handy again -- page 42 of the DMG. In end, she rightly decided the attack would be +5 vs. Reflex and a hit would be 1d6+3 ongoing fire damage (save ends). If you spent your next standard action rolling around on the ground, you would get a +2 bonuses to your save. This happens to be right inline with d20 SRD as well. There, now we have some quick "rules" for flaming curtains and catching on fire for 4E. Easy.

Of course, this was not intended to be a walk-through of something as simple as catching on fire. What then is my point?

The main thing here is that, when you are sitting at the table and don't want to slow down the game, improvising a ruling is required. Also, jump right to p.42 of the DMG and think about some similar effects in the game that you might use as a guideline: in this case Flame Strike and Wall of Fire. Stick to these rules and won't get burned...

March 5, 2009

Indie Press Revolution picks up Open Game Table

I am very happy to report that Open Game Table has been picked up by Indie Press Revolution, probably the leading online retailer of independently developed games, comics, and other -physical hold in your hands- hobby products. You should really check them out... there are some simply amazing books available at IPR.

Thank you IPR!

One of the really good things about IPR is that they are not only a direct online-retailer, but they also operate as a distributor for thousands of independently owned hobby, game, and book shops across the U.S.. This makes it possible for these retailors to connect with Open Game Table and stock a few copies on their own shelves. In otherwords -- this is a big win for Open Game Table, since one of the biggest goals of the project was to place the anthology on the bookshelves of game stores thus bringing the RPG blogging community into the realm of "the casual gamer" who may not be scouring the web to find us.

IPR will be carrying Open Game Table soon. I've just signed the contracts with them, and once I receive an ISBN number from Lulu - I'll be placing an order to have a few dozen copies of the book shipped off to IPR's warehouse. I'll keep you posted.


[ sry my blogging hasn't been about much other than OGT lately -- all my creative energy is focused on getting this out the door and getting the ball rolling for a successful launch. No worries though, my ramblings about RPGs will return soon. ]

March 4, 2009

Player's Handbook 2 is in my backpack...

Yes. I was one of the lucky ones. Wizards of the Coast bestowed upon me a copy of the Player's Handbook 2 weeks before it comes to print.

Don't worry though... I'm not going to keep all the awesome goodness to myself for long. And... this is not just some media blitz brain washing thing (OK, maybe it is) but... in all seriousness, the PHB2 looks amazing and from what I have read thus far (about an hour flipping through it) -- its top notch. Power creep is to a minimum and there's lots of juicy bits beyond just the "new classes, new races" part.

I'll bring you the noise in a few days... because I know you want to know.

March 3, 2009

Open Game Table - Cover Design is Teh Awesum!

The Open Game Table cover design is finally finished. We all have James Keegan and Crystal Frasier to thank for this excellent - and clever - concept! Check it out!

... its awesome!!!
don't forget... we have a LOGO CONTEST in the works too... check it out here.

Open Game Table LOGO CONTEST

The day is soon approaching when Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs will be published. A final draft was sent out over the weekend to the 40 or so authors who contributed to the anthology. Check out the bad ass cover design by Crystal Frasier & James Keegan...

The book layout? Done.
The cover design and artwork? Done. See above.
Last minute copy-edits? Done.
Galley-proofs? Soon to be ordered, and once approved - the book will be assigned an ISBN# and go into distribution at Lulu Marketplace and on

The anthology weighs in at 137 pages (~85,000 words) and features 47 blog posts from the very best blogs in the RPG blogging community. To make things even sweeter, 60 illustrations created by a team of seven very talented artists adorn the pages of the anthology - packing tons of original content between the covers. I am truly amazed at how this has all come together - the interior and exterior of the book looks awesome! Here is what some people are already saying:
"... the book looks great, and I'm proud to be a part of it. You've really
done something great here, and I hope that you hear that loudly from the others
as well..." - M.L.
"...Simply Outstanding! Jonathan, you and your crew of artists and editors have done some amazing work in a very short period of time..." - M.B.
"...Let me say, I became almost nostalgic as I was reading through it. It reminded me of the days of Dragon magazine, when it would be led by page after page of letters, then one of the few ways gamers could exchange best practices. This anthology has much the same feel. It took me back to those days, when I could read letter after letter of how people tried to make their roleplaying games better..." - T.T.
"I was really impressed with how great this looks... you've done an incredible job!" - T.D.
So... to help promote the anthology I'm opening up a logo contest beginning today. The winner of the contest will receive
  1. recognition for their contribution in the book's credits,
  2. a free copy of the anthology once it is published, and
  3. a $25 gift certificate at
The logo must clearly represent Open Game Table as an anthology of RPG blogs -- a whole community of dedicated writers waiting to be discovered by the greater gaming community. Your logo design will be used to promote the anthology through Google hosted advertisements across the web and by fellow RPG bloggers looking to promote the anthology. So, don't delay -- send me your logo design* today at jonathan DOT jacobs AT gmail DOT com.

* logo's should be 250 x 250 pixels in size. If you are selected as the winner, I'll also be interested in obtaining two additional versions at 125 x 125 pixels and 234 x 60 pixels.

We have received some financial sponsorship in the past from some very generous individuals willing to toss their coin in to support this project. Why do we need sponsorship? Well, for one -- this is an all volunteer effort on a shoe-string budget (mine). And secondly, every volunteer, author, artist, editor, and review judge will be receiving a free copy of the anthology once it is published - this is something I wanted to do to reward people (in some small way) for their efforts. Altogether, I am quickly approaching 100 copies of the book that I will be printing and mailing out to each of them. The costs add up substantially as a result.

I've made several calls for individual sponsorships in the past - this is that last time I will ask the community to step forward and support this project. Sponsors will be acknowledged for their support in the credits of Open Game Table, and all the sponsoring funds will be used to cover the costs of printing the complementary copies of the book for volunteers. My goal was to raise $500. Thus far, I've raised just over $325 from many small individual donations (THANK YOU!) - so we only have $125 to go!

So, if you feel that this is an important, grass-roots project to support then please voice your support by donating to Open Game Table using the PayPal link below. Any amount will be greatly appreciated.


March 1, 2009

RPG Blog Carnival - Monster & Maps

When I started working on Open Game Table I asked for people to choose what categories of posts they would want in the anthology. New maps and monsters came out as one of the top categories, but the problem was that these were one of the least blogged about topics. We had virtually no submissions on these topics, save for a very few excellent posts. So, when it came to be my turn again to host the RPG Blog Carnival for February I naturally chose Maps & Monsters to be the topic. I'm very pleased to report that we had some excellent contributions as a result.
  1. The Art of the Near TPK not only features a regular new monster or other crunchy bit for your 4E game... but Jennifer Weigel (one of the artists contributing to Open Game Table) usually adds in her own illustrations of these Weekly What the Heck creatures. Last month we saw:
    1. The Demodracosauralisk (L15 Elite Artillery)
    2. Triclops Manipulator (L20 Soldier) and the Ultimate Dungeon Master (L35 Solo Brute) LOL!
    3. Shellsong Siren (L10 Lurker) and the Archaic Gastropod (L2 Soldier)
  2. Project Valient also contributed -- but sadly their site has vanished (anyone know what happened?).
  3. Newbie DM delivers again, this time with his first post to be included in the RPG Blog Carnival -- Rufus Drunkbeard and a map of his tavern for 4E D&D.
  4. Vulcan Stev comes out swinging with three new NPCs and creatures for Pirates of the Spanish Main RPG. If you like Pirates of Caribbean and want the stats of a whole host of characters and creatures from those flicks for your PotSM RPG game -- drop by his site and check out all his hard work. Anytime someone includes a Monkey, a Kraken, and a dead guy in the same post -- he's on my A-list
  5. Compromise and Conceit's author wants you to use your camera as a automatic map-maker in "Map-making the easy way…" He also posts "Infernal Constructs: The Myrmidon" along with some amazing artwork -- click through to see it.
  6. Bob over at The Dice Bag jumps into the carnival with some excellent musings on "The Value of a Good Map". So -- do you loath mapping for RPGs too?
  7. RPG Brouhaha reviews the online "E-Adventures Mapping Tool". Individual experiences may vary -- but Harnish's review is worth a look if you are looking for something useful for quick, easy mapping.
  8. Chgowiz from Chgowiz's Old Guy RPG Blog throws his name into the carnival hat with a PDF download of his WinterWar campaign adventures - "The Kobold Caves of Terror".
  9. Fame & Fortune also adds some maps to the mix with "Undead Maps for the Carnival".
  10. Mad Brew Labs also shows up to the carnival, post in hand, with "Map Tutorial from the Cartographers’ Guild". Mad Brew links to an amazing tutorial that -- if anything -- should top your reading list to check out in depth.
  11. Spirits of Eden shows up as well with 4E D&D stats for Utsuho, the final boss of Subterranean Animism and Kuannei, a world-ending "Scourge" monster. RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!
  12. And finally, Mike Bourke of Campaign Mastery contributes to the carnival with a MASSIVE 3 - part series (!) with "The Flói Af Loft & The Ryk Bolti"; which is quite possibly the weirdest blog post title I've ever seen too. Go get a cup of coffee... and enjoy this lengthy read; it will be well worth your time.
That is it! Excellent work by everyone involved... my only wish is that I had more time to participate in my own way other than hosting it. Hopefully, once Open Game Table is published... I'll have more time to just get back to blogging. =D