April 30, 2009

A Comic from "The Dragon #1" - RPG Blog Carnival

Humor in RPG gaming has had a long long history. Me thinks it may have taken a back seat to some of the ultra-serious fantasy seen in more modern iterations of D&D (i.e. where are the funnys in the Core Books?). So, as part of my tiny contribution to this month's RPG Blog Carnival on Humor... lets look back at the first issue of Dragon... errr.. "The Dragon" as it was called then. Way back in '76 ... even then they were concerned with the same issues; although today we might be embracing that dragon.

It still makes me chuckle... Fat elves getting stoned on god knows what and drunk on Tree Frog Beer... 
Illustration by Dave Sutherland
The Dragon #1 (July, 1976)
(click the image for a bigger version)

In other random news... Amazon seems to have dropped the price of Open Game Table by 10% to $20.65. I have no idea why.. but, what the heck why not!?

Towards More Cinematic Gaming: Intro

Quick Introduction: 'names Tom, 32 years old, fairly grognard on the continuum, though I often follow the Rule of Cool as made famous by Chatty DM.  I have played D&D since basic, but I must admit its not my favorite system, though it is rather easy to pick up and play. I have been encouraged to blog-ize some thoughts and musings on RPG's and RPG mechanics by a good friend, so well here goes. What I am interested in and what I will be sharing are feelings/ideas/improvements on the building blocks of a good RPG. The ultimate goal would be a mechanic that was easy to use while keeping the players sense of 'reality" (i.e. suspension of disbelief) towards the end of having more engaging, interactive, and thrilling adventures.
Lets face it, D&D and RPGs in general are basically the ultimate choose-your-own adventure. Each player plays a character they could imagine in a Lord of the Rings movie (or Blade Runner etc.) and acts out both the personality and actions of that character. It goes without saying that the reward is to see what your character would accomplish and what friendships would be made if you were "there" in that campaign setting. Can you find your sister? Save the princess? Stop the raising of a long-dead Cthulu god? Make it from rags-to riches in post-apocalyptic earth?

OK, we go: Yeah, you search and then you find her. Then you save the princess from a dragon. Then you stop the cult from raising Cthulu just in the nick of time. And yeah... you get rich and become ruler of the world. OK campaign done.

Happy? No? Which brings me to my first point.

The story is no fun without struggle and problem solving. No matter how cool the story is, its just a cool novel unless it is driven by player decisions. If the mechanic is good enough, the outcome of the dice/rules will fit with the players mental image of the scene being played out.  If the mechanic is good enough, even the most humble goal is still exciting to achieve. A lousy mechanic just breaks the feeling that you are "there" and then it is just your buddy telling you arbitrarily whether you succeeded or not.

I have played a decent number of RPG systems, I’m sure some of you have played more. D&D since basic, Marvel Super Heroes, Shadowrun, Cyberpunk, Judge Dredd, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, whatever.. theres no need to belabor the list. And I think we can all agree there are things we like about each and every system. The merit/flaw system from GURPS. The success chart of Marvel super heroes. The wounding mechanic of Judge Dredd. Destiny points first done in Warhammer Roleplay over a decade ago. The skill web from Shadowrun. Vehicle combat from the latest WotC Star Wars RPG.

So why do we like these elements? Is there something in common? Is there a way to combine or adapt them?

Can we come up with a better core mechanic? (An can we come up with one that uses d20 at its underpinnings?)

This is what I have been musing on with old college geek friends for over a decade. Please be sure there is no vanity here. I'm sure my musings are just as flawed as anything else. There not even really mine, sort of an amalgam of discussions and thoughts from many friends and an entire childhood of gaming. I am really curious of other peoples thoughts and solutions.  On the other hand, D&D 4E has a solid system right now, that is easy to get into, so if you are satisfied with it, just stop reading and go have fun!

But if you are like me, you feel hindered by the current rule set. All too often the results of the dice feel random and arbitrary, and more like I am playing WoW than actually _being_ Lothar, Barbarian of the Hill People.  The 'official-ness' of the rules brooks very little deviation from them.  Just take the 60 year old Regent, level 12 hero, who no matter how the dice lay, can survive any fall short of a few hundred feet. Hell why even build stairs?

Similarly, many times in my current campaign (as a player) I say something I want to do, and there’s no mechanic or even a guideline on how to handle it. At least 50% of my actions and decisions never end up having any meaningful game effect. Unless I fit exactly into a 5' by 5' square, have the appropriate feat, and never move diagonally, the game doesnt know what to do with me.

OK moving along.....

What I hope to discuss in future posts are the following, in no particular order
  1. statistical distribution (flat vs. bell vs. Poisson vs. logarithmic)
  2. target hitting vs. damage (i.e. the blow dart vs. the sledgehammer)
  3. Overbear rules
  4. Fate / Force / Destiny
  5. Feat design and merits/flaws at character generation
  6. Luck based skills vs. experience based skills (i.e. firing a crossbow vs. speaking French)
  7. Magic mechanics
  8. Vehicles / large monsters
  9. Wounding, healing, and dying
  10. Shock/blood loss
  11. High level characters and skills
Once again, the goal is not to make a stat400 course. Ideally I would like to use the D20 system as the base from which to build on. The goal is to come up with house rules, or an alternate mechanic, that more easily and flexibly lets player input affect game outcomes and more closely fit the cinematic expectations and likelihood of success or danger players imagine in their heads during a game. Storytelling takes ropes the players in emotionally (if your  a good DM), while the closer the fit between characters attributes, danger, and outcome, the greater the thrill intellectually. Most people love the Lord of the Rings, and in that movie the most impressive feats are walking on snow and a grey colored cloak. Hell the final battle is just to drop a ring in some lava. It was the struggle of the characters through perceived danger that was so endearing and made the story so rewarding.

More to Come. -- Tom W.

The above image was taken from Rory's Story Cubes. They looked so cool I just had to order a set for myself - we'll see how they turn out. -- jonathan.

April 29, 2009

Six RPG Map Making Solutions For Your Game

One of the oldest parts of our hobby that is still enjoyed by just about every GM I talk is map making. Heck, since the earliest roleplayers were lovers of wargames, you might even say that the whole table-top roleplaying hobby was born out of a love of maps . Nowadays though, with games like Nobilis and 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons, fantasy roleplaying games are wide jump away wargames with all those pesky tanks, cannons and other soldiers. But they do have something in common... yep, you guessed it.. maps!

GM love world building and making maps for them. You can't play an RPG without a map. Well, have yet to see one that is played without a map. Whether it is a map in your head, a map on a page, or a map on your iPhone... you just can't get by without them.

So, as a gamemaster... how do you go about making your maps? What software, if any, do you use? How do you share these maps with your players? The fog-of-war is often an issue though, so I'm wondering how other GMs handle it at the table. All too often my glorious maps end up being for-my-eyes-only because ... well, revealing it would spoil the fun.

In any case, I've compiled a list of six solutions for GM's looking for ways to make good quality maps for their games. Let me know what you think; and by all means add to the list by leaving a comment.
  1. CARTOGRAPHY SOFTWARE. This is the obvious elephant in the room. There are some truly awesome map making packages out there, but the best of them often carry a steep learning curve and a price tag to match (Profantasy's Campaign Cartographer comes to mind). On the lighter side - there are more old school options like Hexmapper, HexWorldCreator (my favorite), or RPGMapMaker (Mac OS X)- or maybe you would like something inbetween such as DungeonCrafter or Autorealm. Whatever your preference, there are tons of alternatives - a simple google search is all you need to do - or jsut go here.
  2. REAL SOFTWARE. Photoshop, Illustrator, Inkscape, Gimp, CorelDraw, etc. Why do I call this category "real"? Because you can use it for so much more than just making a map for your game. I mean, the learning curve for these applications is worth it, and honestly the best maps (those made by professionals) are done using one of the above platforms. Once you learn how to use Inkscape (which, like Gimp, is free by the way) you can do all kinds of cool graphics. The same is true for learning Photoshop. How might you use these apps for map making? Start with Illustrator or Inkscape, or pencil something and scan it in, then export your rough map into Photoshop or Gimp and doctor it up. If you hunt around on Google Image search for maps created using this programs you will be blown away - Profantasy is nice, but this map and this map look amazing. There's even a cool tutorial over at GeekSix about how to use Photoshop maps live at the game table.
  3. RANDOMIZED MAPS. There are tons of utilities out there that create random maps of terrain, dungeons, cities, combat maps... even whole worlds. Although I'm not a big fan of the completely random map, I do like using this approach for parts of the maps I design. Also, once a good random map is generated you can import it or copy it into Photoshop to make it look better. Most of the random map generators I know about don't really produce good looking maps. Some notable online random map generators include Gozzy's Random Maps (which include zoomed in battle maps for wilderness and dungeon encounters), Tavern Maker is good for inspiration, and of course there are many more in the googlesphere; I've just linked some of my own favorites.
  4. PREMADE FANTASY MAPS. There are many sources for maps that have already been created. Once great resource is an online gallery at Angelfire.com.There's also the official Wizards of the Coast "Map-A-Week Archive" - which still after all these years seems useful. I also recently discovered RPGMapShare.com which, although somewhat difficult to navigate, seems to have tons of free, community developed maps for use to drop into your campaigns. And of course, there's also hundreds if not thousands of maps in already published adventures, fanzines, and web articles from all the major game developers; I've hacked a published adventure's map for my own needs dozens of times with great results.
  5. HISTORICAL MAPS. It's probably impossible to beat the Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection - or at the very least, the links they provide to other real-world historical map sites on the net. If I lived in Texas - I would no doubt make a road trip up there just to check it out in person. Why historical maps? You're playing fantasy you say? Well, for one, historical maps give you an idea of how people thought about maps back in medieval times. The distortion of continents, shorelines, etc is always fascinating (I'm sure there's a technical term for that, alas it escapes me), but its not something I've ever seen in a fantasy RPG map. Fantasy maps, as least world maps, are nearly always drawn as if the GM has a global positioning system to measure distances; which might not be appropriate given most fantasy campaign worlds. I would love to see a version of the map of Faerun or Greyhawk drawn like the ancient maps of early civilization. I mean, just check out the Roman's road map from the 4th century (above) -- it rocks!
  6. Pencils, Pens, and Paper. The tried and true best technique; at least to get started. It's like sex: so easy anyone can do it. Just draw and go. Of course, some mix of the above software solutions with your hand drawn beauty will often produce the best results. Need some inspiration for hand drawn world maps? Use paint. Try watercolors and let it bleed. For dungeon maps - I like drawing the "key areas" first, and then connecting them with tunnels and other areas second. Sometime some cool new surprises end up in my adventures as a result.
What are your favorite methods for map making for RPGs? Did I miss anything here?

April 27, 2009

Through the Looking Glass

"Conscience is the window of our spirit, evil is the curtain." - Douglas Horton
Obviously, a mirror is not a window, so the looking glass reference may not be the most accurate - but that's why you're reading this article instead of 'Clever and Accurate Blog Post Titles.' But, now that I have your attention, I'd like to introduce you to the . . .

Johari Window

Chances are, if you've worked in any sort of corporate environment or taken any psychology courses, you've encountered a Johari Window - even if you don't remember the name. It was created in 1955 by Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham to serve as a graphic model of interpersonal awareness. The window is a simple 2x2 grid that helps organize adjectives and characteristics that a group of people know about an individual, as well as what that individual knows about him or herself.

The four areas of the grid can be described as:
  • Arena: Traits of the individual of which both they and their peers are aware.
  • Facade: Information about the individual of which their peers are unaware; the participant choose whether or not to reveal this information.
  • Blind Spot: Traits the individual has that he or she is not aware of, but others are. The individual most often learns about these traits only when they receive feedback from others.
  • Unknown: This quadrant contains the behaviors and motives that are not recognized by either the individual or their peers
Below is the list of 55 adjectives most commonly used to populate the quadrants. There is also a negative variant, known as the Nohari Window, that contains negative personality traits:

Application in RPG's
The easiest and most direct application of the Johari Window to a roleplaying game would be for players to flesh out their characters - a player can fill out a window to deepen their character's personal history and background, sharing how family and friends felt about them 'back home.' Each person's actions and behavior are shaped by past experience and relationships. Using a Johari Window for a character can provide an opportunity for a player to define how those relationships affects their character's current relationships and a guide for future decision making and roleplaying. Another interesting application of the window would be in assessing character growth. An initial window is filled out in the context of past relationships, and a new window is completed for the character for his or her current social environment. This brings us to the second use of the Johari Window - relationships among the members of your party.
Inviting the other characters in the party to contribute in filling out a window for a character can help delineate the social roles each one plays and provide some insight into the party's social dynamic. The longer the group has been adventuring together, the more useful this exercise will prove. Players who have just started their adventure might be able to try and fill out the windows based on an agreed upon history or background, but until they have worked together to come through a social encounter and witnessed each others' strengths and weaknesses in action, one cannot really know how a PC will perform in such a situation. I would encourage the DM to state explicitly that such an exercise be kept within the context of the game - the PC's are evaluating the 'characters' in the party, not the other 'players' - and act as a moderator to keep participants objective.
Surprisingly, the Johari Window may be of most use to the DM beyond stalling for time as you scramble to get your materials together for the night's adventuring. In addition to profiling the PC's and determining how NPC's might react to them in a social encounter, the DM can fill out a window for prominent NPC's. How do the townspeople feel about their mayor? What about the mayor's feelings about the temple priest? Does the innkeeper have a bias for or against adventurers, and how will that affect his rates? Using it for the BBEG is especially interesting when you consider the Unknown quadrant. Knowing the BBEG's flaws, insecurity or greed for example, a canny DM might allow for his PC's a way to overcome the villain by exploiting them. Meanwhile, the cruel DM (you know who you are) might keep their PC's from having an easy means of drawing the BBEG out from his Castle of Doom and vanquishing him for the Greater Good.
Finally, I would like to propose one final, more abstract use of the Johari Window. Instead of filling it out with character traits, try putting in plot points. The group columns represent common knowledge in this instance, while the rows can apply to either the heroes or the BBEG. Do the heroes know about the haunted cave that the townsfolk are afraid to talk about? Does the villain know about the underground resistance plotting his downfall? Has no one heard the legend of the dragon that died alone in its cave, its treasure hoard remaining undiscovered?
Over on The Kingworks Creative Blog, I am always seeking to find or invent new and interesting ways of adding spice and variety to a game. What I like about the the Johari Window is that is has something to offer people on both sides of the screen - a tool for players to integrate more closely with their characters and their party; and a means of not only building a richer, deeper campaign world, but of working out plot details for DM's. So give it a try and let me know what you think.

Please welcome our latest guest blogger, Kingworks, to The Core Mechanic. Kingworks Creative Blog is a recent addition to the RPG blogging community; and from what I've seen thus far it is shaping up to be a truly unique place to visit. You may already know of his Monster Cards (which are awesome), but if you're tired of  the all-too-frequent echo chamber effect that often plagues the RPG blogosphere, drop in and visit Kingworks, or even better -- subscribe to his blog. You won't be disappointed. -- Jonathan.

April 24, 2009

Portraits of a Villain - A Preview

Over the course of the next three weeks, each Friday, I will be presenting a Portrait of a Villain. These "portraits" will include a fully developed villain inspired from historical or literary sources, and guidelines to drop them into any D&D campaign setting. In addition, each of these posts will be accompanied by original artwork by none other than Hugo Solis - one of the contributing artists of Open Game Table and Kobold Quarterly. Please check out Hugo's online gallery and, while you are looking, consider hiring Hugo for your next project. Below are some concept sketches Hugo has created for each of these villains - final inks will be included with the full portraits later in the series.

Mordred, Morgan Le Fey, and King Cerdic Elsing
click each concept sketch for a better view

Three villains? Historical sources?

Yes. Over the course of the next three weeks, I'll be presenting three villains taken from the historical and mythological roots of the early Dark Ages in a fully usable format to be dropped into any existing D&D campaign. In addition, I'll also be providing full stat blocks both as a PC and as a (less powerful) Solo NPC for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. The three villains I'll be featuring to kick off this series will include:
  • Sir Mordred - The traitorous illegitimate son of the king, Mordred commands the darkest energies of hell to lay waste to whatever stands in his path. No living soul has yet to escape his blades' fury.
  • Morgan Le Fey - An otherworldly queen seeking to widen holes torn into the fabric of reality. While working with a brood of sorceress queens, she tireless plots to unravel the world we take for granted.
  • Cerdic Elsing - As one of the The Sons of Wōden, Cerdic will stop at nothing until he is proclaimed High King of the Angles - even if this means the slaughtering of his own peoples.
So, you'll get fresh artwork, fully developed backgrounds, motivations, goals, and two versions of 4E statblocks for three awesome villains. Word is that At-Will and Mad Brew Labs will be featuring a similar series as well -- it's all part of our evil plans...

We'll be putting a more-than-average amount of work into these posts; so please let us know what you think! Feedback will be critically important!

April 23, 2009

Review of 4th Edition D&D Arcane Power

I picked up two RPG books today: the new 4E Arcane Power Supplement and Savage Worlds: Explorer Edition. I'll review SW later on; but today I wanted to share my first impressions of Arcane Power.

First of all, I feel this book is superior to the Martial Power supplement previously released by WotC. Its a bit more narrowly focused on providing players (as opposed to DMs) with many new and creative options for their characters. As you may already know - this book is intended to provide new options for bards, sorcerers, warlocks, wizards, and swordmages. I can't really comment on the last one -- as I don't play in the 4E FRCS campaign setting; but I will share some highlights for the other classes.

The book opens up with this class, and the very first page and a half artwork is... less than awesome. In fact, it looks like something right out of an early 90's 2E book. The style is there, the art is good, but it seems way out of place. It was jarring considering that 4E has been thus far so flashy and glitzy with its artwork. But I digress...

This chapter provides a new set of bard class features (Virtue of Prescience) that, if chosen, allow the bard to be somewhat precogniscent. This plays out in the rules by providing a truck load of new powers aimed at 1) re rolling dice or rolling multiple d20s and choosing the better one; and 2) moving people around the battlefield as an immediate interrupt ability. Sure, as the bard increases in the levels these abilities become more powerful etc etc; but that's the basic idea. This, for me, wasn't all the exciting -- and didn't really fit with my notions of what a bard has been for D&D in the past. One bright spot was the reintroduction of the Haste spell [read:power]; which when used allows you to take an extra standard action. Couple that with an action point burned, and that's three in a round. Like I said: one bright spot. The second, probably bigger, annoying thing about the bard addons was the paragon paths. They are all (sigh) way too focused on combat. There's one half-elven diplomat paragon path that actually adds some skill bonuses to diplomacy, etc. This was "OK"... but The Cunning Prevaricator, a paragon path touted on trickery, lies and fabrication of fables does _nothing_ for skill checks. It's kind of funny... when I read the preamble text of this paragon I was thinking "Cool! Finally a paragon path that is not so combat centered" only to be immediately short-changed by yet another set of "illusions" and powers that merely alter combat in some minor way. This was a major annoyance, and I was setting myself up for a huge negative review.

In a word: awesome. The Storm Magic and Cosmic Magic options present in this chapter are both very powerful (storm magic) and inventive (cosmic magic).

Storm Magic, pictured at right, adds the PC's Dexterity bonus for damage bonuses when using arcane powers through the Storm Power class feature. In addition, player sorcerers choosing this option gain Storm Soul (resistance to lighting and thunder), and Storm's Embrace (shifts opponents when you score a critical). The devil is in the details here - Storm Soul alone is awesome because not only does it provide inherent resistances not normally available to other characters - your resistance bonus also applies negatively to enemies that have the same bonus: i.e. a Destrichan's Resist 10 Thunder would only be Resist 5 Thunder against a Heroic Tier PC (or zero at higher tiers). Also, two Storm Magic Sorcerers fighting would be perfectly vulnerable to each other's attacks. Very cool in my book.

Cosmic Magic is the second option made available to sorcerers and relies on Constitution. PCs choosing this option gain a AC bonus based on their Strength - instead of Dex or Int. In addition, these sorcerers gain Cosmic Power (bonus to damage on arcane powers from Strength mod), and Soul of the Cosmic Cycle. This last feature is my favorite new feature from all those presented in the Arcane Power book. Basically, the sorcerer chooses a "cosmic phase" and then every time the character is bloodied the phase progresses through three different versions: Phase of the Sun, Moon, or Stars. Each phase carries new benefits with it and new resistances. Makes the sorcerer a chameleon on the battlefield. I've never played a sorcerer myself; but if I were to - this would be it.

On a final note about the Sorcerer -- there's the expect addition of tons of new powers; but I was very pleased to also see more than just a handful of non-combat powers aimed at boosting roleplaying and skill challenge mitigation. namely: Deep Shroud, Spatial Trip, Subtlety of the Green Wyrm, Fog Form, and many more. The paragon paths presented are decent enough to be included, but don't really break new ground here. The Primordial Channeler does, however, include a Daily 12 Utility power that is essentially a Resist 15 to four different elements until the end of the encounter - which could be super handy.

I'm boycotting the swordmage. OK, maybe not entirely, but I just skipped over the whole thing. Honestly, this hand-me-down from the 1/2 elf fighter wizard archetype is so tired and old I have really not much to say. Drizzt fans will love this chapter no doubt. I just wish this class didn't exist... for some reason its painful to read. There are, however, some people who happen to love these stooges - so I'm happy to link to a Swordmage post for those of you who share a softspot for swordyswordwizzads.

This is probably my favorite class for 4E -- although I would personally never play one (just can't see myself roleplaying it out). Arcane Power presents one new Eldritch Pact for warlocks: The Vestige Pact. The basic idea is that you summon a vestige of some powerful dead person or other entity and have it do your bidding for you. It's not always a summoned creature though. The cool thing here is that the Vestige Pact has multiple Pact Boons depending on which vestige you currently have in play. Call forth the Vestige of King Elidyr - an ally next to you gains a defense bonus. Call forth Zutwa - your Prime Shot power gets a big attack bonus. Different powers grant new vestiges as the player levels, and there are feats included that allow you to mess with when you can call them forth, etc. Some may regard this as a workaround to having multiple Pact Boons in play, but on first read it seems like a pretty cool option for players wanting to play warlocks who are tapping into truly old and eldritch powers. Think Cthulhu for warlocks.

The eight warlock paragon paths presented include the God Fragment (pictured above). This paragon path is based around the idea that you have somehow managed to harness some lingering power from a dead god. Yeah, not only does it sound awesome -- the paragon path is awesome. Why? Deific Doom (Utility 12) is a zone that follows you around like a curse of "suffering, loss, and regret" - your opponents will not like this too much. Also, at level 20 you gain the vestige of Karmath the Unmourned God (can you say dominated enemy who wanders around damaging people just by standing next to them? yes, I think we can.. it's very cool).

The one class that gains the most from Arcane Power is, not surprisingly, the wizard. The book offers the following for wizards:
  1. three new arcane implements: Orb of Deception, for illusionists, is a new orb mastery option; and the new Tome implement which includes two mastery options.
  2. A new keyword for certain powers: Summoning. Sounds boring, but this has big implications.
  3. two new builds - Illusionists and Summoners.
  4. six new Paragon Paths
  5. Familiars (see below)
I consider the powers added to be a major upgrade to the wizard class. Illusionists are back (yeah!) and still operate as controllers in practice; and Summoner wizards can "off-tank" with their summoned creatures as well as dish out tons of hurt - making them somewhat like Beastmastery rangers. Its gets better though: many many old time favorite spells return. I'm referring to spells such as grease, phantasmal terrain, hypnotic pattern, maze of mirrors, glitterdust, fire shield and spectral hound; and that's only up to level six.

Chapter 6 of the book starts out with vast number of new feats - 58 for Heroic Tier, 23 Paragon Tier, 24 Epic Tier, and 10 new Multiclass feats. All of them are specific to arcane classes - which is a requirement for all of them. Where do they break new ground here? They don't. All the usual suspects are present in the lists and, after looking it over, nothing "wow'd me" in the Feats section. Bonuses for this or that in combat are all/mostly power or class specific. There are only two or three feats that would affect non-combat play (<3%). Oh well.

The new 4E take on Familiars is great - its one of the shining points of Arcane Power. It simplifies their use and makes it clear what they are ("a spirit... not a real creature... doesn't need to eat or breath") and what the can and can not do. This section describes in clear detail how familiars work, what their attributes are, and how much control you have over them. The sidebars, in particular, are actually worth reading in this section to get a good idea of what the designers were aiming for: familiars are much like advanced constructs. In fact, some of them are constructs: the homunculus for example. Altogether there are 12 familiars presented that give a good spread of added value. Players looking for combat bonuses or an advantage might choose the Dragonling (use its space as the origin for a burst effect spell or power). More roleplaying centric players might find an interest in the Owl or the Book Imp. Lots of room for growth here - I expect to see a whole slew of them in future issues of Dragon. In short, the new 4E familiars kick ass - I wish there was more of this sort of soft gaming in 4E. For a completely different view on the new familiars, see here.

Much like the new spells in the chapter on wizards - old timers like myself might be pleasantly surprised by the Rituals section. We see the return of AD&D spell such as Unseen Servant, Lower Water, and Fool's Gold (to name a few) all dressed up in 4E clothing. There's also a couple of new additions (that I've) not seen before.

My favorite new ritual would have to be Anthem of Unity - think of a political speech or rousing motivational speaker, gaining the trust and will of a crowd of listeners who then decide to (miraculously!) hide the stolen crown for you, or do something else they might not otherwise do. I know this is more or less a "mass charm" spell (using AD&D terms), but this 4E version just does it better. I want to go out and try this the next time my PCs are in an urban setting: "Listen up merchants of Marbracht! Everything in the marketplace is now half-price!" Seems like alot of mischief could be had.

All in all, I think the Arcane Powers book is a great value to players who play arcane classes (a bit obvious). At $29.95, the price seems hard to justify for DMs looking to complete their collection or for players not playing an arcane caster currently. Of course, Amazon has it for much less (~$17) which is crosses the gap for me and makes it a good buy at that price. Its a book for players looking for more crunch. There's virtually nothing there that DMs can use for campaign planning, new ideas for story development, etc aside from making new and different NPCs perhaps.

  • Highlights: Familiars rock; new spells for wizards and new rituals are of high value. The Cosmic Magic sorcerer option is extremely cool. Summoning and Vestiges for Wizards and Warlocks are a great addition that builds and doesn't overly diversify those classes.
  • Lowlights: Feats are a bit hoo-hum boring. Swordmages blow. The Bard paragon paths are stupid.

Interested in reading more reviews on Arcane Power? Check out these other excellent blogs that have also given their 2¢

April 22, 2009

Top 5 Campaign Settings I Want for 4E D&D

This is a list of the top five campaign settings I want to play 4E D&D with.
  1. Roman Britain (circa. 410 AD) - The year the Roman Legions left Britannia was the year the Dark Ages began and also marked the beginning of several major migrations of new people and cultures into the Isles. A mythical, low-fantasy campaign setting for 4E D&D set in these times would rock.
  2. Dark Sun - need I say more? Hopefully Robot Viking is right... the Mad Max, everything goes DS setting would be great - plus, think about all the players that would suddenly pick up the Endurance training.
  3. Ravenloft / Borovia - Strahd as a level 30 Solo. Now there's something to chew on.
  4. Planscape - Oh come on... Torment was the best cRPG of all time. Perhaps all that was developed for that video game, plus the previous editions of Planescape could be updated for 4E? Oh wait... it is already in the Manual of the Planes? I don't have that book yet... hmmmmm
  5. Mystara / Hollow World / Savage Coast - Since 4E is the new Old School D&D; updating the old basic edition campaign settings for 4E would be a good move. Plus, just think of all the grognards that would blow their tops. It could happen... it could happen...
If you could pick five, or one, campaign setting you would like released for 4E - please do tell!! I have a real soft spot for pre-Authurian British mythology; but considering TSR/WotC never released anything close (save for a few supplements in 2E AD&D and a couple dragon magazines), I may just have to start developing that myself.

[goes back to the drawing room]

April 20, 2009

PHB2 Character Backgrounds - A Modular System for Emerging Complexity

The recently released Player's Handbook 2 offers 4E Dungeons & Dragons players and DMs a new game option: player backgrounds. These are a set of simple rules that allow you to apply in game bonuses to certain skills based on the character backgrounds you might choose at the time of character creation. D&D players who are familiar with the Forgotten Realms' regional benefit system will no doubt see many similarities in this new option as well.

The 4E character background system found in the PHB2 offers up a fairly comprehensive set of backgrounds to choose from. There are 62 backgrounds that fall into five broad categories: Geography; Society; Birth; Occupation and Race. The last of which is the largest since there are two or three backgrounds for each of the 15 player character races in the game (thus far). Each background description is limited to one short paragraph and a set of one or more associated skills.
 This was a welcomed surprise in comparison to the 3rd Edition PHB2 - which only provided 11 archetype backgrounds drawn out over 8 or 9 pages in the book. It was too unwieldy of a system to use effectively.
At the time of character creation, players can choose as many of the modular background components as they like, but one of them will provide any in-game benefits to skill rolls, bonus languages, class skills, or regional benefits. Its very straightforward and provides a foil for players (especially those new to the game) to help shape their characters backgrounds by picking a couple of these and making them work together.

The basic template for each background is:
[NAME]: One or two statements, followed by two or more questions.
Associated Skill(s): A list of skills; one of which can be chosen to give a +2 bonus or be treated as a class skill.
This very simple system is not meant to be all inclusive. It also allows DMs who are home brewing up their campaign worlds with a quick way to add a few backgrounds seamlessly into the mix. While this no doubt may be regarded by some as "too formal" or "too regimented"; its important to remember that not every player is a creative genius, and 60 or 70 backgrounds in a modular format can be just the trick to help fuel their imaginations.

This system also works extremely well with an emerging complexity approach to generating character background. How? Simply don't answer all the questions presented in the background until there is a need to do so in game. For example, below I've included the character background Birth:Among Another Race from the Players Handbook 2.
Among Another Race: Your were born among a race other than your own. Did you grow up among the trees of an elven forest, deep in a dwarven mountain fortress, or in a halfling caravan? Did your family live among that race when you where born, or did some other circumstance bring you there?
Associated Skill: A skill the other race gains a bonus to.
Lets say that you are playing a human that lived in an Elven community as a child. Don't answer the second question at the time of character creation; leave it open ended. Then, later in the campaign you answer the second question to make the storyline a bit more connected. Let's say, for example, the DM introduces a new villain into the game and you decide then that this villain killed your family, which is why you lived with the elves as an orphan.

Another thing to consider is to start with those first questions, and then - without answering them - brainstorm a few additional questions. Write them down on the back of your character sheet or in your notes, and then use those unanswered questions to help build your character's background on the fly as the campaign progresses.

For the DM, remember too that using these background with an emerging character could be applied to any longstanding NPC or villain that needs fleshing out. It works very well.

I am curious to know how other players are balancing character background generation with the in-game rules. How are you limited "power-creep"? So, how are you handling character backgrounds in your campaigns in general? NPC backgrounds? Does this new modular background system presented in the PHB2 work for you?

April 18, 2009

Around the blogs...

I've somehow managed to actually read some pretty nifty stuff this week. Its possible you may have seen the same posts as well, but since its Saturnsday -- it's time for me to do my weekly round up of my favorite posts.
  1. My wife, the current DM of our group, has been very interested in speeding up 4E combat -- which has seemed to have slowed done a bit lately. So, being the dutiful you know what I am, I've gone out an collected some links to this end:
    1. http://www.madbrewlabs.com/index.php/2008/08/21/dd-4e-combat-tips/
    2. http://blog.microlite20.net/2009/01/03/speeding-up-4e-dd-combat/
    3. http://www.d20source.com/2009/04/five-ways-to-speed-up-combat
    4. http://at-will.omnivangelist.net/?p=509
  2. Uncle Bears' back. Check out these awesome posts from Tucson
    1. http://unclebear.com/?p=3403
      • More campaign setting posts. Wohoo! this is one is my favorite for the week. If only we can hope..
    2. Notes on Character-Driven Campaigns
  3.  Gnome stew has a couple articles on "emergent complexity" -- the basic idea is sketches of information in your game that evolve over time. Check these posts out -- worth the read:
    1. http://www.gnomestew.com/gming-advice/player-characters-emerging-complexity-is-a-ok
    2. http://www.gnomestew.com/gming-advice/emerging-complexity-for-gms-it-rocks-for-npcs
That is about what its worth this morning. Have a great weekend!

April 17, 2009

The Farchives: RPG Blog Carnival Revisited

The Farchives is featured on most Fridays at The Core Mechanic. Its a series where I re-post a popular TCM post or revisit a hot-topic from the previous year. This week, we are looking back on the post that kicked off the first RPG Blog Carnival - which I'm very happy to say is still going strong in its ninth month. The original was posted August 7th, 2008. Hopefully you'll enjoy this revisionist history...

The RPG Blog Carnival has included nine blog hosts covering a wide variety of topics. Below you'll find a linked list of all the carnival summaries, where the hosts close out the carnival and highlight what posts they really liked.
  1. Character Death, Resurrection and THE UNDEAD (10 blogs)
  2. HOMEBREW (32 blogs)
  3. Super Heroes in RPGs (37 blogs)
  4. Religion in RPGs (45 blogs)
  5. Transitions & Transformations (27 blogs)
  6. New Year's Resolutions (25 blogs)
  7. Monsters & Maps (20 blogs)
  8. WAR (?? blogs)
  9. Humor & Gaming (in progress)
WOW!!! That's over 200+ blog posts, all organized and tidy under unified themes, in nine months! The carnivals are great too because they all interlink to each other and provide the RPG community with a connected network of topics. It just flows. I hope the blogging community keeps this up... anything, its a monument. Its testament to how a much of like minded geeks can organize themselves like a hive mind and churn out tons of high quality material. Think about it. For example, if you were a GM looking for some inspiration on how to revamp religion in your homebrew game -- there are two whole carnivals and over 77 blog posts right there at your finger tips. OK, some round ups are better than others -- but what the heck, these carnivals will be on the net for years.. decades. A permanent record of what the RPG blogging community was thinking, buzzing, and writing about during this past year. For some reason that just makes me go "Cool!".

When I first posted about the idea for an RPG Blog Carnival, I had no idea it would last thing long. I was thinking "OK... maybe one or two other blogs will pick it up for a month". I guess, in a way, the RPG Blog Carnival thing was the beginning of my thoughts about the RPG blogging community -- and what we might be capable of doing as a group. It wasn't too long before the idea for Open Game Table popped into my head. The latest in this RPG blogger hive mind is that we are developing our own campaign setting... as wacky as it may be, its true (props to NewbieDM for taking the lead on that!).

As I said it before, I'll quote myself and say it again:
"The RPG blogging community is no doubt a fantastic source for gamers across the globe. This community has brought together gaming minds from all over the globe - and is no doubt going to be a source of inspiration, tips, advice, concepts, mechanics, and material for game masters and players of PnP RPGs everywhere. Our blogs serve as a permanent source, for all time, of creative effort bent on making gaming better."
The goals were simple; but have we met them? Do you, as a reader of blogs, think that the RPG blogging community has improved your experience at the game table? How effective do you think the RPG blog carnivals are at improving your game? Do you enjoy following them?

Everything could be improved. Everything. So I guess, what do you think the RPG blogging community could be doing better?

What do you want to see more of?

There's a schedule for the RPG Blog Carnival that's already full for the next year -- so your comments here can go a long way towards helping the future of this monthly event reach new levels of excellence. Please share your thoughts.

April 16, 2009

The Half-Empty Glass (part 2) - Campaign Settings in 4E D&D

The first part of this series, "The Half-Empty Glass: What is missing in 4E D&D", asked this basic question: In terms of crunch... what, if anything, is missing for you?

Now let's look at 4E D&D campaign settings. Is the default D&D campaign setting viable (the so-called Points of Light Setting, aka Nentir Vale)? If so, who is the intended audience of this setting? Noobs? Or are more experienced D&D veterans (who play 4E) satisfied with this setting? What about the new FRCS? Is it broken / overly shoehorned into the new rule set?

How well does 4E D&D do homebrew campaigns?

What works for 4E D&D, in my opinion, is that in less than a year they (WotC) have already provided enough options for an interested DM to create any homebrew campaign setting they want. I've said it before and I'll say it again: 4E is the New Old School D&D. By presenting an open, flexible, and relatively loosely defined campaign setting in the Core Books (the DMG), the new D&D is all about the homebrew. It's like "Here .. take this tiny Nentir Vale and make it your own". To answer my own question above (who is the audience?) - I would say both new and experienced DMs alike can make great use of the Points of Light campaign setting. Furthermore, the approach the designers have taken thus far might be viewed as classic power creep, more options more options more options (in even shorter time) -- but the thing to keep in mind is that you don't have to use all the options on the table. No, you're expected not to use all the options on the table. I look at the recent releases of the PHB2, Martial Powers, and Open Grave as what they are -- options -- to be included in your own campaign setting at your leisure. What's more - I would argue that DM's should take this one step farther and reexamine every character class, race, feat, etc in their own campaigns and ask "Does this make sense for my campaign world?" For example - Tieflings and Dragonborn are not your stock swords and sorcery racial types.

So, I suppose in terms of campaign settings - I would say the glass is half full for 4E D&D. The system presents a flexible framework that allows DMs to prototype a wide range of workable campaign settings.

As for 4E FRCS? Well... that goes towards the bottom of my list of worst "official" D&D campaign settings.

4E Darksun? Robot Viking thinks the writing may be on the wall - hopefully they are right.

What about you? Have they hit the right balance with published campaign settings thus far? Is 4E D&D flexible enough, even for new DMs, to create their own settings with ease?

April 15, 2009

Studio 2 Publishing Signs Open Game Table For Exclusive Retail Distribution

I am very pleased to announce that as of today, I have entered into a contract with Studio 2 Publishing for the exclusive retail distribution of Open Game Table: The Anthology of Roleplaying Game Blogs (Vol. 1). S2P currently publishes and distributes games such as Savage Worlds, Deadlands, The Edge of Mignight, and many many more. It's very likely you already have many games they distribute on your game shelf.

This is huge huge news!!!

One of the original goals of Open Game Table was to place a physical book on the shelves of bookstores and game hobby shops all over the country to draw attention our excellent RPG blogging community. With this new contract in place, this will no doubt be a success!

The anthology will not be seen in your FLGS for another 3 or 4 months though, as S2P needs time to ramp up and put the anthology through their usual retail promotion cycle. For example, the book will be listed in the next edition of the Greater Games Industry Catalog with a "vendor code" (OGT0001), and retail stores need to be given time to order a few copies, etc. So, I have to exercise my patience... but in the meantime, Open Game Table will still be available online through Lulu.com and Amazon.com. So, if you can't wait PLEASE jump over there and pick yourself up a copy.

So... thanks again to EVERYONE who has pitched in to make this book at success! And thanks to Jim Searcy at S2P for being so damn awesome!


April 14, 2009

How To Build An Interactive Timeline Using Google Docs

I confess. I'm addicted to using Google's tools for everything imaginable. I think the best thing that could happen to the RPG industry would be for Google to buy Wizards of the Coast; but I digress...

Today I'm going to walk you through a tutorial on how to use Google Docs to build an interactive timeline that you can use for your campaigns. What's even cooler is that both players and gamemasters alike can enter in the dates and times of events in the past or present (with a few caveats). Since I'm a data junky, and love to catalog my campaigns; I'm psyched about this tool. Now let's get started:
If you want to skip to the cool online tool I've set up for people to use, scroll to the bottom; otherwise keep reading and maybe you'll learn something.
How To Build An Interactive Timeline Using Google Docs
Note: All the screenshot images below can be enlarged by clicking on them to get a better view.
STEP 1 - If you don't already have one, you'll need a gmail address and you'll need to activate your Google Documents application. Once you managed to reach the internals of Google Docs, you should see a screen something like this ->
STEP 2 - Create a new Google Form by clicking in the menu on the upper left New --> Form. Immediately, a new window or new tab will open with a blank form that will need some editing. The screenshot below will show you what you'll start with.
Title the form, add some Help Text, and create enough fields for the following: the form MUST have the following fields (aka "Question Title" in the form editor) - title, start, end, description, image, and link. THEY MUST BE LOWER CASE for some reason. As you add fields / questions to the form - make sure title and start are required. You may also want to add some Help Text to inform the use what the formatting requirements are for the dates (must be mm/dd/yyyy format). By the time you are done - you should have a form that looks like the one below

STEP 3 - Once your form is done, you'll now need to make some tweaks to the spreadsheet that was automatically created to store your form data and add a Timeline widget to the spreadsheet as well. Click the button at the top of the form that reads "See Responses" then click "Spreadsheet". This will take you to the underlying spreadsheet that is tied to the form. It should look something like this:
Step 4 - Next, click on the menu above the sheet and choose "Insert" -> "Gadget...". A pop-up menu will appear, select the "Featured" category on the left and scroll down the list on the right to find the Timeline Gadget.
Click the bubble button that reads "Add to Spreadsheet". This will plop the gadget right down in the middle of your spreadsheet, which is less than ideal. Will fix that up next.
Step 5 - Customize the Timeline Gadget by making the following changes:
  • Set the range to "Sheet1!B1:G100". Google spreadsheets by defauly only have 100 rows on a new spreadsheet. If you get more than 100 entries from your form, the spreadsheet will expand to include the new entries, but you'll have to remember to come back to this configuration menu to change the range for the cells.
  • Retitle your timeline -- I named mine "FRCS Interactive Timeline". /wink
  • Change upper interval to "month"
  • Change upper interval width to "narrow"
  • Change lower interval to "year"
  • Change lower interval width to "xx-narrow"
  • You can play around with the color schemes later - for now just leave them as the default.
Here's a screenshot of what it should look like.
Click "Apply". Since the spreadsheet is empty, you will no doubt recieve an error from the Timeline Gadget; don't worry -- we'll fix this next. But before we do... you see that little tiny grey triangle above the [X] in the very upper right hand corner? Click that, and choose "Move to its Own Sheet".

That should result in you being bumped over to a new sheet with a blank timeline. You may also see another error about Headers being fouled up.. we'll fix that next.
Step 6 - Move back to "Sheet1" by clicking on the tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Now click the menu above "Form" -> "Go to live form...". Here's a screenshot
Once your live form launches, enter your first event into the timeline. Remember, the dates MUST be in a mm/dd/yyyy format. I mentioned caveats before... well... negative dates is one of those caveats; using them might break your timeline. Here's an example of my first entry:
After entering a few of these, you will note that your spreadsheet automatically gets the entries. Here's a view of the spreadsheet.

Not pretty, but that's not the point. Now, if you click over back to your Timeline Gadget worksheet (the tab titled "Gadget1" at the bottom), you should see the following (or something similar).
Step 7 - The last step is to publish your spreadsheet, form, and gadjet for everyone to see and play around with. You DO want your players to be able to add events into their own campaign history log, right? To do this, first click the blue "SHARE" button at the top right and choose "Publish as Web Page". Make sure that you choose "Automatically republish" when the next menu pops up. When you are done, click the [X] and return to your spreadsheet.

Now you want to know how to embed the form and spreadsheet into another website? Well, for the timeline click back over to the Gadget1 tab and click the grey "Publish" button in the upper right hand corner of the timeline. The code that you end up with should be pasted into any HTML document and ... voila... it's magic.

To embed the form someplace, switch back to "Sheet1" and then select "Form" -> "Embed Form..." from the menu along the top. A new window will open and you'll get some iframe source code. Drop that code into any HTML page and you'll be ready to roll. In my experience, it helps to edit the width/height values of the iframe to eliminate scroll bars (yeck!). There's also similar parameters in the script URL for the Timeline widget that you can play with.

Both the timeline and form are LIVE below. If you have any questions or comments, please go back to the top of the post and click "Comments". I'd love to hear what you think of this latest tutorial.

Use the form below the timeline to update and enter whatever events you want. Click on the events to get more information, images, and links. It's awesome!

April 13, 2009

Reputation (Part 3)

Last week The Core Mechanic featured Reputation (Part 1) by guest author Ameron of the D&D blog Dungeon’s Master. The first reputation article was aimed at the DM and provided direction for using reputation as a campaign tool.

A few days later Dungeon’s Master followed that up with Reputation (Part 2). The second article in this series provided players with tips for developing the positive aspects of their PC’s reputation in D&D.

Today, Reputation (Part 3) appears on Dungeon’s Master. The third and final article in this series provides players with advice for how to work on their reputation when things don’t go quite as expected.
  • False Heroes
    You’ve been credited with someone else’s deeds, what do you do?
  • Anything But Heroes
    Your misfortunes and failures precede you. How do you make things right again?
  • Larger Than Life Heroes
    Can you live up to a reputation run amok?
Check out the final installment in this series on reputation in D&D on Dungeon’s Master.

April 12, 2009

Happy Easter from a Dragon

"Dragon Egg" by David "Darkarts"Thierree
Yeah... Easter's kinda like that around here.

April 11, 2009

Arounds the blogs...

Restarting this series to be a weekly feature has seen some false starts... hopefully this will be the last. Here's a short of list of things I've been reading and keeping up with:
  1. This page has an absolutely crazy number of links to webpages about Worldbuilding.
  2. Monster Cards for 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons... extremely useful; although rapidshare is annoying...
  3. /HACK has a great list of current D&D / RPG fanzines and magazines here. Between all those subscriptions, DDI, and all the blogs I subscribe to - how do I get anything done?
  4. Crystal Frasier, one of the artists who contributed to Open Game Table, has started blogging about RPGs. She's got a great article, "Are you Threatening Me? Kobolds!" over here.
  5. Looking for a bit of randomness in your game? At-Will posted about a Minor Deck of Many Things for 4E. Very kewl IMHO.
  6. The Church of the Radiant Polyhedron is upon us!!! MadBrewLabs scares the hell out of me with "The Libris Mechanica Sanctus", it's almost as if he's making a parody of our hobby....
  7. UNnatural 20, a great resource for original monsters, has written "4E Magic Items Leave me Cold and Indecisive". He may have a point, but it seems that this is an opportunity for the community churn out some really cool 4E magic items.
  8. Encounter-a-Day, aka ASMOR, has released a kick ass standalone version of their monster maker application.
  9. Speaking of software - NewbieDM also points us to Masterplan, a really sweet campaign planner and combat tracker etc etc.
  10. And The Society of the Torch, Pole & Rope reminded me that DungeonCrafter was actually a great way to chalk up old school dungeons in no time.
That's it - I try to limit it to 10 links. Of course there were tons of links I could have tossed in about Dave Arneson (may he rest in peace) and about PDFGate. I should also add that there are tons of reviews of Open Game Table out and about on the blogosphere - I counted 18 last time I looked - since the book has been released. While it hasn't helped sales much, it's still a way cool feeling to know everyone who has received it has enjoyed it!

April 10, 2009

The Farchives: Why have classes at all?

Here's the second in a new series on The Core Mechanic: The Farchives. Every Friday I will re-post a popular TCM post from the previous year. 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 30th, 2008. Hopefully you'll enjoy it.

There is a super ridiculously large amount of chatter in forums, blogs, and other websites about the over- or under- powered effects of multiclassing in 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. So, given the way that Wizards of the Coast designed the new game: why have classes at all?

Think about it...

  • All the classes use the same progression table (p28 PHB1 I think).

  • The powers, at each given level, are comparable across classes. Level 1 powers are just as "powerful" no matter what class you choose. OK, sure, some people will no doubt argue this fact - but that's a topic for another day.

  • Removing the choice to multiclass from the game entirely eliminates the bitching associated with it.
The way I see it, 3rd Edition D&D (and 3.5) was already heading towards a super-hybrid play style already. Every character had dozens of choices for so-called prestige classes; there was no limit to the number of multi-classes you could choose; and everyone chose Rogue for first level (for the skill bonus) and had 2 levels of Fighter (for the free feats and BAB, right?). By eliminating classes completely, then the game system would be wide open for people to make whatever kind of character they want.

Now, from a game designers point of view (not that I am one, but...) I could see the need to keep the whole notion of classes in D&D

  1. It's just the way things should be. Without classes, the game would not be D&D anymore.
  2. It provides easy, self-contained choices for new players to choose from. This facilitates people learning the game, and wanting to play. Too many options at the start can be daunting and will scare people off.
  3. An open, class-free game system would be too hard for a DM to keep track of and the level of player to DM abuse would skyrocket. Munchkins and PowerGamers would be roaming the streets, frothing at the mouth - and that is something we just can't have.
No, but seriously.. why not? Another way to look at it is to examine the Monster Manual. Each monster presented therein is, in many respects, a new class. Obviously, the secrete-cabal-of-game-designers must have used some sort of system for assigning powers and abilities to each monster. You think Rob Heinsoo ever said to James Wyatt, "Hey man... you can't make Goblins have that power, they first need to take the [Acolyte of Doom] feat so that can qualify for it!" No, not likely. They just made them; and they made them using a class-free system that was balanced and scalable.

The way WoTC has encapsulated each class's abilities into fixed powers, at nearly every level of the game makes me scratch my head and think: Why the hell do we even need classes anymore? If my player wants to make a fireball throwing, healing, rogue who wears plate mail -- FINE! I mean, you could do that in 3.5, right?

The biggest obstacle I would see about a class-free system would be how to allocate Class Features, starting skills, etc. You know, all the stuff you get at 1st level. But - beyond that - if you make the prerequisites for some power or feat or something; take it!

Let me know what you think. I'm going to be thinking about this hard for a while I think - the idea just seems so "OMFG, of course!" I can't ignore it.

April 9, 2009

Pirates to Pay $194,950 for Players Handbook 2 PDF

Of course, the pulling of the PDF's by Wizards is all over the blogosphere and even in the news. As is the fact that this move by Wizards, warranted or not, followed closely on the tails of an indictment of 6 individuals for distributing the Players Handbook 2 via file sharing network. Thanks to Wyatt Salazar, a link was provided to Stirge's Suck where (what looks like) a copy of the legal documents filed by Wizards against the 2 of the 6 Defendants. You can read through the whole thing at the previous link, but here's the part that jumped out at me:

WHEREFORE, plaintiff Wizards of the Coast LLC prays for the following relief:
  1. A permanent injunction enjoining and restraining Defendants Nolan and Osmena, and all persons in active concert or participation with them from copying, distributing, displaying, creating derivative works or otherwise using protected elements of Wizards’ copyrighted works, including, but not limited to, Wizards’ Player’s Handbook 2;
  2. An award of damages sustained by Wizards pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(b) and as otherwise permitted by law;
  3. An award of statutory damages pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 504(c) and as otherwise permitted by law;
  4. An award of Wizards’ costs of suit, including reasonable attorneys’ fees pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 505 and as otherwise permitted by law;
  5. An award of prejudgment and post-judgment interest; and
  6. Such other relief as the Court may deem just and proper.
DATED: April 6, 2009
So, if you follow through to Title 17  and take a look at "§ 504. Remedies for infringement: Damages and profits" - and keep in mind that -- at the time of this filing the PDF's had been downloaded over 1,000 times from Scribed.com as well as god-only-knows how many times from Bittorrent or other services. These numbers translate into $34,950 (for § 504(b)) plus up to an additional $150,000 in liability for each defendant; plus legal fees.


Also... here's an example of a true knuckleheadery...
B.31. The electronic copy of Player’s Handbook 2 purchased by Defendant Osmena included both the visible watermark added by OBS with the name of “Aya Shameimaru” and Defendant Osmena’s order number at the bottom of each page and the micro-watermark added by OBS identifying Defendant Osmena’s account number. Wizards verified Osmena’s actual name and address based on his e-mail and registration information provided by OBS through use of Wizards’ own internal database.

Emphasis mine. So... One word of advice... don't go pirate stuff using the same email address you used to register at the company who stuff you are pirating. Durrrrr.....