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A look in to the mind of an RPG designer
Updated: 14 hours 26 min ago

Ken Whitman Responds to KODTLAS Release

Wed, 02/14/2018 - 14:19

This may seem like an odd thing to appear here, so I think it requires a bit of an explanation...

If you're a reader of this blog or a follower of mine, odds are you know who Ken Whitman is. Let's just say that he is one of the most talked about people in the industry, and the news coverage of him hasn't been exactly balanced.

Let me be clear before I proceed: I have no stake in this game. I barely know who Ken is myself, I have never backed or even followed any of his projects, and have not followed the details on how he has acquired the reputation he apparently has. I'm am as impartial as they come on this topic.

Suffice to say, Ken's been talked about on numerous websites and blogs, some of which are dedicated almost entirely to him, and the general narrative has been - I must admit - overwhelmingly one-sided. As a result, he admittedly hasn't had a much a chance to respond himself on a venue that isn't against him in every possible way. One reasonably well known blog offered him the opportunity to post his side of the story over all this, to which Ken declined because he didn't want to drive traffic towards that site.

My offer to Ken, as posted on another blog

So that's where I came in... I offered my site as a sort of "neutral ground". Like I said above, I have no opinion of this matter, and as such agreed to post anything Ken wishes to say without commentary or counterpoint, just to get his side of the story out without any bias. And, if possible (I'm not sure how; I've never done it before), I will prevent comments from being posted because I don't want to be a full time moderator and I want to let his statement stand as it is.

So, hopefully, this will be the first of many responses... I have no idea how this is going to go, but here goes.

-=O=-

Before we continue, a little background. Yesterday, the Knights of the Dinner Table: The Live Action Series - one of the Kickstarters that Ken was involved with a while back - was apparently released to backers without Ken's involvement. The post detailing that release can be found on Jolly Blackburn's Facebook feed. As is stated in that post, "D20 Entertainment did not participate or help in this development".

I'll say again: I know little about this project. I was not a backer, and barely even know what the project is or what has been involved in it. And, in an effort to remain impartial, I have not gone out looking for such information because, as I've stated above, the information that's out there is apparently very one-sided.

In any event, Later in the day yesterday Ken contacted me through Facebook Messenger to post his response to that.

Here it is, as I received it and edited for grammar (it's the least I could do)...

About 2 years ago, I turned over the KODTLAS footage to Z.O.E. and today, both ZOE and Jolly Blackburn, announced are releasing all three Episodes of KODTLAS.

Now matter how much I may not enjoys Jolly's company personally, I can not belittle his amazing talent. Jolly is a true genius when it comes to storytelling and everyone at Kenzer was top notch to work with.

It was never my intention to take this long for people to see all three episodes, but due to a turn of events in my life, it did not allow me to financially keep working on the project. I messed up ran out of funds, and had a hard time paying for the project to continue out of my own pocket.

I could talk about the online slander/libel posed many times over the past two years about never turning over the footage, but why open old wounds, they fact is I did turn it over to ZOE.

I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I enjoyed directing them. I will continue to work on this project in my free time, hopefully finishing up the project in the near future.

To Jolly, Kenzer, the actors, the crew. It was an honor working with you.

- Ken Whitman

ETA: After confirming with Ken, he has agreed to let me turn on comments for today only, and he has agreed to respond to them through this site (whether he'll do that in the comments or post separately, I don't know yet). I am not going to be moderating the comments until late in the day (I don't have time for that during working hours), so please be civil.

-=O=-

ADDENDUM 2/14/18 @ 1:22PM:

Ben Dobyns of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment has provided a response to this. To keep everything together, I'm adding it here.

Hi, this is Ben from ZOE with a few facts regarding the KODT situation.

Several years ago Ken mailed me a hard drive that included a) all of the raw footage from Episode 1, b) some raw footage from episode 2, and c) ZERO raw footage from episode 3, along with a Final Cut X file of his work on the edit. The plan was to complete post-production for him and return the completed project for distribution to backers.

Despite repeated requests over several years, Ken did not provide the remaining footage. His reasons (on the record) have changed several times.

Ken's rights to the KODT IP and the live action series footage contractually expired on December 31st of 2017. Following that date, by mutual agreement with Kenzer ZOE set out to release the "rescued" edition to the original Kickstarter backers.

What was released to backers yesterday was cobbled together from the hard drive that Ken originally sent, SD assembly cuts from Jolly's dropbox, and so on. It is a "rescued" edition in every sense of the word.

Unfortunately, I've lost thousands and thousands of dollars to this mess. But because my name and reputation were used by Ken in order to secure the KODT film rights (yes, I have the paper trail to prove this claim), I felt a personal responsibility to get this project released: for Kenzer, Jolly, and all of the KODT fans who pledged to support the original project.

I wish Ken the best, but my efforts to rescue this project are now complete.

Categories: Blogs

Zoinks!

Sat, 01/27/2018 - 21:08

"A Night in Seyvoth Manor" for 5E

In case you are not aware, we're running a Kickstarter for the 5th Edition conversion of our ENnie-nominated adventure A Night in Seyvoth Manor that is already 300% funded!

We continue to be overwhelmed... Over 300% funded?!? Never imagined we would get that far, and we're eternally grateful for that!

The only stretch goal we've had so far is the creation of pre-generated characters, and we had a bit of a crazy idea with that that we're wondering if we can make it work: create two groups of characters...

  1. The original Scooby Gang - Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby
  2. The "new" Scooby Gang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles and Cordelia

This of course brought up some questions... like what would the races and classes be? So far this is what we've come up with:

ORIGINAL Scooby Gang:

Fred: Human Paladin

Daphne: Elven rogue

Velma: Lore-heavy mage, either a halfling or a gnome

Shaggy and Scooby: ... Oh boy... Let me come back to this one later.

NEW Scooby Gang:

Buffy: Human monk

Willow: Half-elf warlock

Xander: Halfling bard

Giles: Elf or maybe human... and I'm debating either a cleric or a lore-heavy mage

Cordelia: Human or elf, sorceress (wild magic), heavy on Charisma

Now, let's get back to Shaggy and Scooby... Neither of these are "characters" in the D&D sense of the world, so we'll have to take some liberties. I've asked this question on Twitter and I've come up with two possibilities:

Shaggy and Scooby are the SAME CHARACTER: As above, Shaggy is a Druid with wild-shape that can only convert to one type of animal... a Great Dane (we can go with the Mastiff stat block).

Scooby is the main character, and Shaggy is the animal companion: Let's face it... Shaggy is not worthy of being a PC, and if anything he's Scooby's sidekick. So make Scooby a class capable of either an animal companion (ranger?) or a familiar (mage?), and make Shaggy that semi-useless familiar.

Personally I'm leaning towards the first option, but that introduces another problem: there are only four characters, when we kinda need five. So who should the fifth character be? None other than Scrappy as, you guessed it, a gnome barbarian!

So, since we've gotten this far without mentioning stretch goals, I'm going to see about stylizing these character sheets as best I can and including a portrait for each character by the lovely and talented Val "Kick Girl" Hochberg! We're also going to see about working them in to a cover in such a way that doesn't get us sued by Hanna-Barbara.

We've considered creating other types of characters, some that are more down to Earth and fitting the theme like Van Helsing, Blade, etc... but the above somehow feels most appropriate.

Anwyay... We keep trudging foward! Five days left! Tell your friends!

Categories: Blogs

D&D Beyond – First Impressions

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 18:22

fvD4bT9FSo the day has come... D&D Beyond open beta has begun, so I decided to take a look.

First off, I'm looking at this strictly as (1) a software developer and architect, and as (2) someone who would actually use this thing. Without any mention of possible pricing, I can't say yet whether it's worth it or not, so I'll treat it for now as if it was free.

Some general comments...

  • The website is hosted on CloudFlare, which is a pretty decent hosting service that is designed to handle excessive load and usage. Let me put it in simple terms: the D&D Beyond site can likely handle more users, more bandwidth and more activity than WotC's own website.
  • The core of the site is built around Cobalt, which is a framework designed to support "hybrid" apps (both native and HTML-based app), which not only answers the question about support on multiple devices... but it does seem to hint how this whole thing will work offline. On devices, the HTML and Javascript pages that drive the app are physically on the device, not on a webserver, so it doesn't have to be online to function as a website would. Where the data physically is is another matter... I would venture to guess that the compendium wouldn't be available offline, but character creation and character content can be saved on the local device through Cobalt's integration between the HTML app and native services.
  • The server runs the website using "nginx", which is a web service similar to Apache. Although I can't confirm it, my going theory is that the server side is written in Python (which would have been my personal choice), although PHP and other languages is surely possible. Whatever it may be, it's safe to say that they're officially a Linux shop... a big departure from WotC's history of being obsessively Microsoft-centric.
  • Looking at the client-side code that I can see (and I admit there isn't a lot of it since only the Compendium is available), it looks well put together and fairly clean. In layman terms, it seems to suggest that the developer that wrote it knows what they're doing and isn't a total idiot. But, like I said, there isn't much there... we should have a better impression of their abilities once the next beta phases go live.
  • The app works really well, better than I expected actually. This goes along with my opinion that a company like Curse has done this sort of thing before and isn't making stuff up as they go along.
  • The app is visually appealing. Although it only contains SRD content right now, everything looks good. It even has pictures for all the monsters (well, most of them anyway... didn't go through all of them). The bugs I have seen are trivial and don't prevent you from using it (if you remember Dungeonscape/Morningstar, the bugs there made it unusable).
  • The app works out of the box on desktop and mobile, which was as could be expected with the Cobalt framework.

All in all, I'm fairly impressed. It's better than I expected, and it shows that there's a serious company with experience doing this sort of thing behind it.

The Unexpected Reveal

The D&D Beyond beta did reveal something interesting... and I'm guessing it wasn't intentional.

If you look at the beta site, the logo on the top left doesn't go to dndbeyond.com... it goes to the domain tabletophero.com, which in turn redirects to dndbeyond.com.

So what is tabletophero.com? We don't know, but doing a WHOIS on the domains reveals something even more interesting: tabletophero.com existed OVER SIX MONTHS BEFORE dndbeyond.com did.

 

dndbeyond.com ... Registered Feb 2017

dndbeyond.com ... Registered Feb 2017

 

tabletophero.com ... Registered July 2016

tabletophero.com ... Registered July 2016

So... that being said... I have a new theory.

At first I thought that WotC likely asked Curse to create the app, but I don't think that any more. I think that Curse was already creating an app of this nature, called tabletophero.com at the time, and only after was it pitched to WotC. WotC saw the working app and went with it, rebranding it to be dndbeyond.com.

This approach differs wildly from what Trapdoor tried to do with WotC; when they pitched to WotC, Trapdoor didn't have an actual working app to show... at least not on three platforms (Android, iOS and desktop). They had what they thought it would look like, but I'm guessing that Curse was much farther along in their development, and the fact they can show a working app on every target platform was likely a big plus. This would also explain how Curse can take D&D Beyond from announcement to open beta in like a week; they've been working on it for a long time now.

This is all wild speculation, but if you think about it... it sure does look probable. We will likely never know the truth, though.

The Elephant In the Room

All the above is based on me looking at the app as a developer and as a user... but there's going to be one big problem with it and everyone knows it's coming: pricing.

As has been mentioned many a time, WotC has a tendency to price these sort of things at an absurd amount, making them impractical to afford or making people unwilling to pay for. Many are hesitant to pay for books they already own, but many indicators seem so show that will likely be the case here (see Fantasy Grounds).

We can only hope that WotC will snap out of their archaic mindset and get with modern times, but that's a big thing to ask.

More to Come

All in all, the app does show promise... But there isn't much to the Compendium, to be honest. What will make or break the application, at least from an application perspective, are the next two phases: Phase Two being character creation, and Phase Three being homebrew support and campaign management. Personally, I'm particularly curious about Phase Three.

Categories: Blogs

WotC Announces Digital Tools… AGAIN.

Mon, 03/13/2017 - 16:22

***SHAMELESS PLUG***
Cavern of the Damned is now available for Pathfinder (through DriveThruRPG) and for Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (through the DM's Guild)!

God, has it been *that* long since I posted anything here?

fvD4bT9FMy year has been kind of chaotic, to say the least... but leave it to Wizards of the Coast to announce something that might just bring this blog back from the dead: at PAX, WotC announced D&D Beyond, a new suite of digital tools being created by Curse to support D&D 5th Edition.

Wait, what? You mean you've heard this story before? Well... about that... Time for a history lesson.

Background: The History of D&D Licensing

In the days of 3rd Edition and 3.5E, WotC created the Open Gaming License (OGL, for short) so that publishers can create D&D content. Soon the market was saturated with content, and everyone was reasonably happy.

But the OGL created something that blindsided WotC: Paizo went through the OGL with a magnifying glass and, soon enough, Pathfinder was born. Suddenly there was a new player in town that directly threatened WotC's crown as the king of fantasy RPGs. WotC was terrified, and from that point forward they became more protective of their content than ever before.

When 4th Edition (4E, for short) came around, WotC decided to close the door on the possibility of such a thing ever happening again, so they discarded the OGL in favor of the Game System License (GSL, for short). The GSL did allow some publishers to release material, but it was heavily restricted and had several limitations as to what you can actively publish. Yes, you could continue to publish things using the OGL, but besides certain things you could not include legally (creatures that were part of WotC's "intellectual property") you could make no mention of WotC or D&D at all. Many were forced to do silly things like say their product was "compatible with the 4th edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game" (a claim that itself was in doubt due to the rise of Pathfinder).

Then there's the whole situation regarding the digital world... At the beginning of 4th Edition some of the core books were available in PDF format, but WotC quickly realized that they had no control over their distribution and weren't making as much money off them as they could. They were, in their eyes, losing money. So they yanked all the PDFs, took a step back in to the dark ages and pretended PDF technology didn't exist at all (some argue that this is the same reason why Dragon and Dungeon magazines were terminated; there was no way to make reliable money off them). Only recently, with the appearance of the DM's Guild, did PDFs return... and with such an absence of PDFs that was fostered over so many years, the demand for PDFs exploded and it was a rousing success.

For 5th Edition, WotC decided to go back to the OGL, but there's still an air of uncertainty as far as digital tools. It's not that people can't create the tools... it's that people are afraid to. WotC legal is a nasty foe to have (trust me on that), and many that have tried to create online tools before were violently shut down. There's such a cloud of uncertainty around digital tools that no one dares to do them for fear of WotC's wrath.

The Beginning of Digital Tools: 4th Edition

Prior to 4th Edition, in what you can arguably call the early days of the internet, WotC didn't have many digital tools to speak of to support 3rd Edition and 3.5E. Creation of such tools was in the hands of third parties, who could freely create these tools under the conditions of the OGL.

When 4th Edition's GSL came around, the GSL had a specific clause added that never appeared before: third parties were explicitly denied creating any digital tools or applications using the 4th Edition ruleset. WotC seized on the opportunity to create the tools themselves, and DDI (D&D Insider) was born, where WotC would charge a monthly fee for users to access their digital tools.

There's just one problem with that: WotC is not in the business of creating software (with the growth of Magic the Gathering Online, that has recently changed... but, even so, MtG's their golden goose). It never was, nor should it ever be. Yet they tried, and the results were disastrous.

At first they created a standalone application to create your characters, but WotC quickly realized there was no way they can charge a monthly fee for something that can be used offline. So they abandoned the standalone application in favor for an application hosted on their website. And to give you an idea of how much of a mess that was, do an experiment: go find any experienced software developer you know and see how they recoil in horror when you say the word "Silverlight".

Almost as soon as 5th Edition was announced (to be honest, I don't remember the exact timeline here), WotC announced that the 4th Edition tools would no longer be supported and would eventually be abandoned entirely. This went along with the new mindset WotC had: basically pretend that 4th Edition never happened.

Digital Tools for 5th Edition, Chapter One

DISCLAIMER: The following is based on discussions I had with someone who, for now, asked to remain anonymous. Since WotC legal has me on speed dial, I cannot elaborate on where they got this information, but I personally trust it.

Trapdoor Technologies was a modest company that had an interesting product: a way to get content online and hyperlink the ever loving crap out of it. Admittedly, not a lot of people were using their app in the first place, but it was a nice idea at least.

But there's one thing that made them different: they were gamers. Basically the entire upper level staff at Trapdoor were heavily in to RPGs (they were the first group to ever playtest a product of mine, Cavern of the Damned for Pathfinder). And they saw that their tool would be a really cool idea to use for RPG content.

So they took a shot and pitched their idea to someone (I don't know who) at WotC, and that person at WotC loved the idea. At first Trapdoor only suggested the product they had - hyperlinking D&D content - but WotC is the one who asked Trapdoor if they can do that *and* create a character generator to boot. Trapdoor, a company with not much of a development team to speak of, agreed to do just that without having any real idea what they were getting in to. Contracts were signed, Trapdoor got some funding to begin development on what would end up bring Morningstar/Dungeonscape, and spent six months developing the product before its announcement at Origins.

Thing is, Trapdoor seemed as much of a developer "shop" as WotC was in the 4E days. They seemingly had no idea what they got themselves in to, and had nowhere near the infrastructure and resources to deliver a product of such scope. Prior to this they hadn't even created an Android app at all ever, so they immediately had to run around and find the developers to actually do that (I have to admit, I offered my services to them to do that). When someone brought up desktop support, they were equally flustered.

During this time, Trapdoor was in constant conflict with WotC over pricing. Trapdoor wanted to price the tools themselves cheap, preferring the users to spend the money on the actual books. WotC, for who knows what reason, wanted to go the other way: they wanted to add micro transactions *everywhere*. For example, they wanted to charge $1.99 for each class and each race you wanted. But, so long as the funding continued and the fans seem so like what they were doing, Trapdoor pressed on because, after all, they did have WotC's blessing to continue... right?

After GenCon of that year, in an act that should come as a surprise to no one that has dealt with WotC before, everything changed.

Apparently, the person at WotC that was dealing with Trapdoor was working autonomously, and had not even bothered to run it up the chain of command. In other words, 600K and six months were spent developing Morningstar while the upper echelon of WotC management - and, specifically, WotC's branding and legal departments - had no idea it was happening.

As soon as the "powers that be" found out, chaos ensued. WotC immediately demanded that they remove the books from Morningstar, which was the whole reason the project was green-lit in the first place. Without the book content, Trapdoor lost the only thing that WotC had apparently agreed upon, and they were left with not much of a product after that.

Trapdoor panicked and tried to renegotiate a new pricing deal with WotC, but WotC didn't see the future in the same way. Not only did WotC immediately terminate the contract, but they effectively threw Trapdoor under the bus and chastised them for "not meeting WotC's expectations." Trapdoor was thrown like a discarded bone at the fans, and they mercilessly tore into them.

Trapdoor tried to stay afloat, but there was no wind in their sails. In the eyes of the public, they failed. As a company, they didn't last long before their investors pulled the plug and shut them down.

Trapdoor still owes me $14.10 for Cavern of the Damned, but I'm not bitter...

Digital Tools for 5th Edition, Part Deux

And here we are...

Trapdoor was effectively an indie startup that was barely staying in the black, but Curse is an established software development company with over ten times the staff (141 employees, at least according to their company profile). Curse is also owned by Twitch and has multi-platform products out there in the marked that are used by tens of thousands of gamers, so they've arguably done this before.

But Curse is that and only that: they actually are a programmer "shop". I have no doubt they can create a good product that would be easy to use, but they are only creating a front end for WotC's content. WotC has absolute say in how much access to that content costs, and as we've described above: when it comes to the digital realm, WotC is still in the dark ages.

Based on a Reddit post by the product lead at Curse, it looks like WotC is leaning towards the micro-transaction route that they tried to ram down Trapdoor's throat. So expect to pay as much for a 5th Edition character class as you would for a handful of hearts in Candy Crush.

Conclusion

I have confidence in Curse being able to make a decent app, but this project might be doomed from the start because of WotC's pricing model. I remain cautiously optimistic that WotC will see the light some day and change their ways. We can only hope.

Categories: Blogs

The Reality of the DM’s Guild

Fri, 04/29/2016 - 17:43

In case you're not aware, our first Kickstarter for The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light has finally launched on Kickstarter.

Initially, based on the information we had from the past, we intended to release it through the DM's Guild. That reasoning is based on WotC's (Mike Mearls, specifically) response to my question in the Reddit AMA with Mike Mearls and Chris Lindsay from January 15th:

ChNV_SWXEAAmVEE

You would think that would be cut and dry. Well, that's not the case.

Yesterday I was contacted by the Director of Publishing and Marketing at OneBookShelf. His email contained the following:

Someone linked us to your Kickstarter and I wanted to touch base about a few things. DMsGuild creators cannot release titles on both DMsGuild and DriveThruRPG and they cannot use Kickstarter to "sell" their DMsGuild publications.

The wording on your Kickstarter makes me think this is more of an OGL type product, which is great because we have a ton of awesome 5e OGL content on DriveThruRPG and you are already set up to sell there.

You would only need to remove the DMsGuild elements (logos and text) from your Kickstarter page and continue on with your plans to sell on and fulfill your project via DriveThruRPG.com.

(Emphasis mine)

At first I thought it was simply semantics... My original listing made references to Drive Thru RPG even though I mean the DM's Guild; the reasoning is that, let's face it, both websites are one in the same and differ only in branding. So, in response to that email, I removed all references to Drive Thru RPG and stuck to my plan of releasing for the DM's Guild.

I just received the following email, from the same person at OBS:

The issue is you are in violation of the license on DMsGuild with your Kickstarter. All DMsGuild creations must remain exclusive to that storefront. They cannot be sold on DriveThruRPG, other storefronts, nor via Kickstarter tiers.

While it is true someone could run a Kickstarter to fund artwork or development of a DMsGuild title, they cannot offer tiers that provide backers copies of the title product. So, I imagine tiers would have to be "special thanks" or "game with the designer at Gen Con" or "your likeness used as one of the NPCs" all backers would still have to buy the book on DMsGuild once it launched as the publisher wouldn't be able to sell them a copy via crowdfunding.

(Emphasis mine)

Now think about that for a second... I can use Kickstarter to fund art for a project, but I can't actually provide that product as a reward to my backers once it's done. Backers are REQUIRED to purchase it through the DM's Guild, even though they already provided funds via backer rewards.

What I don't get is that I, at my discretion, do a few things to circumvent this:

  • Provide my product on DM's Guild FOR FREE or "pay what you want" (which could also be zero). Backers pay what they paid for it; anyone else gets it at whatever price or free. Not exactly the best solution from a business sense, but that's an option.
  • Provide my product on DM's Guild at whatever price I choose, but give a discount coupon to all my backers for them to acquire it at no cost to them. Based on the above, not exactly sure I can do this either.
  • Provide my product on DM's Guild, but require all backers to pay more than they've already paid to get it there. This feels unethical.
  • Provide my product on DM's Guild, but buy copies myself and send them to my backers. This feels... well... stupid.

But, in light of my  past legal issues with D&D publishing, I really don't have much a choice here... Until I get further clarification from Wizards of the Coast (with which I'm trying to communicate, but they don't exactly have an easy way of doing that), I will likely switch my product to go OGL. I'm not happy about doing that, but this goofball licensing agreement doesn't give me a lot of choice.

I will continue to try and get additional information, and will update this accordingly when I do.

Update 4/29/16: Yet another response from OBS...

The DMsGuild license specifically agreed to by content creators states that all DMG titles are exclusive to the DMsGuild.com storefront. Putting the PDF on Kickstarter violates that exclusivity. You are specifically listing your title (understanding that it isn't officially released yet) on another site and not on DMsGuild. It wouldn't be available on DMsGuild until after you've collected funds and finished the project.

DMsGuild creators do not currently have the tool set to upload PoD files themselves.

It does sound like making adjustments and releasing this title on DriveThruRPG as a 5e OGL product would work better for your overall setup.

(Emphasis mine)

First off, since the point of the Kickstarter is to fund editing and art, that it won't be available until after - well after, actually - the project ends is kind of a given.

Secondly, that poses an interesting problem... if I go the DM's Guild route, I can't offer hardcover discounts to my backers because there's no way for them to actually get a hardcover through the DM's Guild anyway. It *must* be done through DTRPG's default site, so the OGL is the only way to get a hardcover for any 5E product.

Update #2, 4/39/16: Mike Mearls has responded to my inquiries...

@BrainClouds they have the final say, as they're the ones who created the legal text and manage the program.

— Mike Mearls (@mikemearls) April 29, 2016

Well that settles that I suppose.

Categories: Blogs

The Sum of All Fears

Thu, 04/21/2016 - 04:31

TCD_Title

As several of you may know, I've had a little project of mine - the campaign The Coming Dark - in development for quite some time. Almost five years, to be precise... it's technically the reason this blog exists.

Over a year ago I decided that I was going to launch The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light as a Kickstarter. That's easy to say, but the fact that I'm writing this a year later without having launched anything yet says otherwise. I think that deserves explanation, or at least discussion; doing so may or may not my product or my image, but I feel some things need to be said.

Fear of Failure

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that sometimes I'm probably more open about my personal problems than I probably should be. After all, here I am trying to come across as an industry professional and a publisher but at the same time I'm talking about my own personal problems and issues. I know it's probably inappropriate, and I've had many people tell me "you know, maybe you shouldn't say that publicly"... but I don't exactly have anywhere else to say it.

I've mentioned this before as well: although I don't have a clinical diagnosis, I'm reasonably sure I regularly suffer from depression. Granted, I'm not a doctor, but I can sort of feel that I suffer from it more often than most. With that comes a sense of despair and a fairly large lack of motivation to do anything, even those things that you love. As a result of this feeling, I've lost count at how many times I've looked at this campaign and thought "what am I waiting for to publish this? I'll get on that tomorrow!" ... and never do. Be it depression, be it fear of rejection, be it aversion to briefly becoming a shameless salesman while the listing is active... it's always something that makes me think "I'm not ready."

In the back of my mind, there is also that fear that I may fail. This project is very personal to me - it's actually dedicated to both of my recently deceased parents - and I can't help but think that a failed Kickstarter would be mentally disastrous. I have the fear that if that does happen - however unlikely it may be - I would have failed them and failed myself, and I likely wouldn't be able to ever recover from it.

Fear of Success

I'll be totally honest here: for a while, I've been horribly terrified at the possibility of overwhelming success. I have what I consider a very small goal ($2K), but I have this fear that if the Kickstarter does overwhelmingly well and I suddenly have tens of thousands of dollars handed to me on a silver platter... given the personal problems I deal with on a daily basis, would I actually use that money for what it's intended for?

I am openly critical of projects that raise an ungodly amount of money and three months later say "we spent it all on shoes and don't have anything to give you." Having that happen to me terrifies me to the point of paralysis; fear of making the wrong decisions, or fear of making inappropriate decisions, makes me feel that I would rather not be in that situation at all. I don't want overwhelming success, so what would I do in light of such success? Spend it on actually fulfilling purchases or buy a container full of mammoth tusk d20s?

Fear of Exposure

AvatarYou may not have noticed because the internet is what it is, but you'd be hard pressed to find a photo of me online; those photos of me that are out there weren't actually posted by me. That's actually on purpose, and I honestly prefer to hide behind my "digital rabbit" avatar than use my actual photo. I've hidden my appearance so well that at GenCon 2013 nobody would have known who the hell I was if it wasn't for the Twitter ID on my show badge.

Why? You see, I've actually been "doxxed" before... As a result of an alternate reality game I was once involved with, I was throw to the wolves that are 4chan. I've had photos of me posted on public forums I frequent in an effort to mock and humiliate me. I've been crank-called as a result of this exposure. I've been threatened online, and I've had my family threatened (even though they knew nothing about them) as well. Suffice to say, it wasn't pretty or pleasant, and it's not something I'd like to go through ever again.

Since then I've retreated to being the "digital rabbit" avatar (which was part of the first alternate reality game I ran), and I've effectively built a brand around that image. I have thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter, but outside of close friends and family I'm pretty much known only by that image (for the next GenCon, I probably should get it made into a T-shirt...). It's who I've become, and what I'm known best as.

Because of past experiences, the idea of making a video for the sake of Kickstarter concerns me. I've weighed whether it's necessary, and depending on who you ask it may or may not be, but these days once your image is out there it stays out there... Five years ago it was possible to purge, but not now. I've been stung before, and those scars haven't quite healed yet.

Whether a video is absolutely necessary or not is up to discussion, but I can't get myself over the stage fright and the thought that I would have to step out from behind ths curtain I've built just to shill my product. Is it necessary? Is it worth it?

Conclusion

I've been thinking long and hard about this, and have come to the conclusion that TCD: Chapter One needs to be launched one way or another. And now, with the recent release of the 5E licensing, it's the best time to do that.

So I'm going to take a very big risk: I'm going to launch it without a video... focusing all my efforts on the copy on the page. The way I see it, my goal isn't very high so it should be OK... and, worst case, if I see it's not going to make it I have two options: (1) create a video while the project is active, or (2) re-launch it with a video after the first one fails. If all goes well, I won't need the video at all and life goes on.

I know the numbers... I know the likelihood of success is higher with a video... but I think I can still make it.

I'm in the process of tweaking the listing, but barring any convincing arguments or discussions it's going to get launched and launched soon.

So, if you've read this far, what do you think?

Categories: Blogs

Size Matters

Sun, 01/17/2016 - 18:57

The recent announcements of the 5th Edition SRD/OGL and the DM's Guild has got me really excited, and I've begun to look back on a large "incomplete"/"shelved" folder I have on m external hard drive.

There's a lot of things there that I don't even remember doing, but one thing stands out: the Revenge of the Crystal Scion campaign that I was creating (below text was adjusted to make it more Realms-centric and cater to the DM's Guild):

For the past several days, large mysterious crystals have been appearing at seemingly random stops across Faerun. And, about two days after they appear, they disappear... along with several square miles of land, leaving nothing behind but an enormous crater. Up to now these crystals have been appearing in seemingly random locations - in the middle of the desert, on the open sea, and deep within the mountains to the north, but when one of these crystals appears in the center of Waterdeep* the locals are understandably concerned. Something must be done to save the city from becoming another smoldering crater of nothingness.

Revenge of the Crystal Scion is a D&D 5th Edition adventure for a party of 10th-12th level characters, transporting them from the heart of Waterdeep* to deep within the astral plane, where a new threat emerges that threatens all of Faerun.

*: I say "Waterdeep", but I'm honestly not sure which city yet. Obliterating Waterdeep might not go over well with some people...

It's a bit hokey, sure, and that's likely due to the fact that it's the first high level adventure I attempt. But the one thing I like about this is that it has some of the best maps I've ever made.

RavensRock

Raven's Rock, the pirate stronghold floating amidst the ether.

The campaign is admittedly a trainwreck; there are lots of ideas I find rather cool, but it's a bit of a mess to tie them all together in such a way that makes sense. But the big problem is that the campaign is pretty massive: I'm predicting it to be three times the size of The Coming Dark, Chapter One... Right now it's 101 pages and practically half done. And, unlike TCD, by design it can't be easily split up into three parts, so it has to be done all at once (TCD Chapters Two and Three are designed but not written... yet).

This is a nasty habit of mine; I'm somewhat of a storyteller at heart, so I envision these long campaigns that tell a robust story. As a result, they pay the price in page count. I really need to start making smaller "one shot" adventures; those are actually easier to sell and a lot less work.

I've considered breaking up RotCS into component parts, and I'm sure I can probably make a few adventures out of it, but that somehow doesn't feel right. Is it worth the effort to piece this mess together and release another mega-campaign, or cannibalize it for parts and release three or four smaller adventures... discarding the rest?

So what do people want? Huge 100-200 page campaigns/adventure paths, or quick adventures that might take only a few sessions?

In the meantime, it seems like it's still a go to do The Coming Dark, Chapter One as a Kickstarter. Video... damn it, need a video!

 

Categories: Blogs

Hell Freezes Over

Wed, 01/13/2016 - 00:25

hell-froze-over-400x221

Well it finally happened... WotC has released the 5th Edition SRD, officially putting 5E within the bounds of the OGL and, at the same time, announced the DM's Guild.

I admit I wasn't sure if this day would come. Lord knows I've been harping over it since 5E was released (and, arguably, before that), and I've heard may a rumor as to when it would happen only to have the months fly by. But WotC pulled their version of Half-Life 2, keeping the world in the dark over the fact that this was going on until the day they dropped it on the world like an anvil.

Now, admittedly, what they did isn't exactly cut and dry and there are still a few questions that need to be answered. Hopefully a lot of those questions will be answered in the upcoming AMA on the 15th.

In the meantime, and I may not be 100% sure on all this, but here is my interpretation of what this means.

 

So it seems you can publish 5E content in two different ways:

1) Using the OGL

You create your own product and sell it however you want to, in any way you want that does not include the DM's Guild (see below). As is standard with the original OGL/SRD, you cannot use any of WotC's intellectual property: no deities, no named things (places, people, etc), no campaign settings, and the usual "god help you if you use this" rogue's gallery of monsters restricted due to being "product identity" (sorry, no beholders!).

You also cannot use any official D&D or WotC branding (other than any OGL logo they may eventually release... and I'm remaining hopeful they will) as is the case with most other OGL publications. What and how you reference the core materials is covered within the SRD; if it's in there you can reference it, but how to do that exactly I'm not sure about.

2) Using DM's Guild

According to the guidelines that seem to be part of the DM's Guild (which is, effectively, Drive Thru RPG), it seems you can use any of D&D's IP that would have otherwise been restricted using by the OGL... including those elements that fall under IP (beholders! Woo!). Admittedly I'm not 100% sure if this is the case, but it does make sense because of the nature of the Guild; you are under WotC's coverage, and you are effectively selling a product they sanction and make a profit on themselves.

Although it wasn't clear at first, it seems you are NOT required to make your product an integral part of the Forgotten Realms (this was confirmed by Chris Perkins on Twitter).

There is one caveat: If you sell on the DM's Guild, you can sell ONLY on the DM's Guild. In other words, you can't sell it anywhere else: can't sell it on your website, or Amazon, or even in stores. WotC effectively owns the rights to it and you get a cut of the profits... and it is a smaller cut than if you tried to sell it yourself... but you have to consider that you are now exposed to a much larger audience and promoted by WotC.

If WotC likes your work, there appears to be the possibility WotC acquiring your content and making more of it: publishing it under official WotC cover (which will allow you alternate sale venues), adding the material it to video games or other digital products, etc... It also displays your product to a much broader audience in an environment directly promoted by WotC; WotC will not openly acknowledge that 5E products exist anywhere else, so to get similar exposure you would have to advertise yourself... and effectively become a WotC competitor.

 

So what does this mean?

Let's take my current product - The Coming Dark, Chapter One - which is, as it stands now, is technically OGL compliant (well... 99% compliant, actually).

Option #1 above:

I publish it on my own as Darklight Interactive through my Drive Thru RPG storefront. I will make full profit on anything sold there.

I retain ownership of the product and can sell it anywhere except the DM's Guild itself. I will, however, not have anywhere near the exposure I would otherwise get on the DM's Guild and would have to do my own advertising... arguably against product WotC would be pushing themselves.

I cannot use any official WotC branding, and reference only things from the 5th Edition core that appear in the SRD. No beholders!

I can Kickstart it like I could any current OGL product.

Option #2 above:

If I publish it through the DM's Guild, I can ONLY sell it through the DM's Guild. I, technically, lose exclusive ownership to the product in that I can't sell it anywhere else.

I gain less of a percentage, but it is likely the product will sell more just by sheer numbers. A lot more people will be looking at it, and it will be exposed to a very targeted audience.

If WotC likes your product, they will promote your product. If they really like your product, they may help you publish it in alternate venues... or publish it themselves... or cram the content into a video game. Whatever. As I said above, think of it as them owning the product; you're along for the ride.

I can include content I would otherwise not have been able to, like beholders parading through Waterdeep.

Whether products listed in the DM's Guild could be Kickstarted is unclear. After all, Kickstarter itself can be considered a storefront... and that goes against the exclusivity the guild provides.

 

As it stands now, I will likely put The Coming Dark, Chapter One through the DM's Guild. I admit I'm not exactly thrilled in doing that, but the difference in exposure is monumental. I am not sure how the Guild's guidelines of being the exclusive storefront falls into the Kickstarter scheme, but I hope that will be addressed in the upcoming AMA... that will decide whether it is Kickstarted or not. If I can't Kickstart it to be a part of the DM's Guild, it will be published with minimal art... and I will likely have to pay for editing out of pocket.

Anyway, I think this is a very good step in the right direction for WotC. I really wish them all the best in this new venture, and I look forward to seeing what the publishers and fans out there bring to the world of D&D 5th Edition.

Categories: Blogs

Into the Light

Sun, 09/20/2015 - 22:11

I've been talking about this for a long time... Hell, the actual product has been in development for five years... But now I'm finally going to do it for real.

TCD_Site

My #1 pet project, my three part campaign called The Coming Dark, is *finally* going to go to Kickstarter. Like I said, I've been writing this thing for close to five years and the campaign has seen at least three different systems (4E, 13th Age and Pathfinder) before finally settling on being published through the OGL and being compatible with the 5th Edition of the Don't-Make-Us-Have-To-Say-It roleplaying system.

I've been crunching the numbers for a while now, putting together Kickstarter spreadsheets that inevitably contained a lot of red numbers. At first I wanted a physical product, a softcover or hardcover book of the adventure that I and many others can hold in my hands, but with the costs of editing and artwork I just couldn't make the numbers work without an absurdly high stretch goal for an adventure. So, like several other adventures and campaigns as of late, I'm going to go fully digital. That way I can drop as much money as I can on editing and creative for the project.

Now the only things I have left to do before launching it are:

  • I have an editor already signed up, but I do not officially have a creative artist signed up to do the cover or interstitial art. I know who I want, and am just waiting for their response (and, if you're reading this, *hint!* *hint!*).
  • I need to make a video. This could be considered a personal phobia of mine... as you can tell pictures of me are kind of hard to find, and those that you do find weren't actually taken by me. So I have to set my fears aside, record the video and pray I don't look like a total fool.

That being said, assuming I get the responses I need, the campaign for The Coming Dark, Chapter One might be submitted for Kickstarter review as early as the end of the week.

In an effort to be ready for the social media push, I created a signup site where you can register for notifications: http://tcd.dlimedia.com/

Really looking forward to this, and with all your support I trust I can make it a reality.

Categories: Blogs

Trapdoor Technologies : They’re baaaaack!

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 00:48

One of the most frustrating things about freelance writing and publishing is that sometimes you're really excited about a product that you put together... and you can't tell anyone about it. This has been my torment for the last two months.

Some of you remember Trapdoor Technologies and the ups and downs they had with their product Morningstar... DungeonScape... Well, whatever it was called. I've had my share of exchanges with them and have made some commentary on their product in the past. Some of it good, some of it bad, but in either case it was necessary. They had a vision of what they wanted their product to be, and although they had high expectations in it Wizards of the Coast didn't exactly share the same vision. And, if you know anything about WotC's history, that shouldn't exactly be a surprise.

They launched a rather ambitious... Well, let's be honest here: extremely ambitious... Kickstarter in the hopes of making DungeonScape a reality, and it didn't exactly go as planned. Most people that suffer such a defeat go crawl under a rock, but not these guys. Well... actually... they kind of did crawl under a rock, but while under said rock they were actually working on the product anyway.

For months they worked in obscurity, releasing occasional tidbits of news like working with Ed Greenwood (which must have given someone in the WotC legal department an aneurysm), quietly developing their product and working towards releasing it to the world.

And now they have.

Today, Morningstar... DungeonScape... whatever it was called before is now officially called Playbook, and only minutes ago did they rebrand their Twitter account to @__Playbook__ and launched their Playbook micro site.

Now, what does this have to do with me?

CotDWell, a long long time I ago I had an idea for an adventure called "Cavern of the Damned". At the time there wasn't much to the adventure concept... Actually, besides the first room - the cavern, filled with the damned - there wasn't much else. So it languished for a while, being sidelined by all my other projects that I've been kicking around (like the campaign I've been writing for five years now, but I digress). But I got to talking with the Trapdoor guys, and they asked me if I'd like to publish it (reminder: "it" didn't technically exist) through their platform, Playbook.

Three months ago I agreed to doing that... And I sat on my ass for a month doing absolutely nothing on it. With two weeks to go before the agreed upon deadline, I decided "you know, maybe I should write this thing." So I did.

I'm happy to say that I completed "The Cavern of the Damned", a Pathfinder Roleplaying Game adventure for a party of 1st level characters, and sent it on its merry way. Trapdoor in turn converted it - using magic, I can only assume - for use within the Playbook system. I admit I don't know what that even looks like because I haven't had any of the Apple Kool-Aid and don't own an iPhone or iPad, but it's out there somewhere.

I'm actually excited about the product for a variety of reasons.

  • It's the first real Pathfinder product I've ever written. I don't exactly count The Dragon's Master because that was originally a 4E module and, quite honestly, wasn't very good.
  • It's not very combat heavy. There's one big combat-like encounter right at the start, but beyond that it's designed to involve skills more than combat.
  • I'm dying to see the interactivity that Playbook brings to it.
  • Holy crap, I have COVER ART! And I didn't even ask for it, they just did it! That excited me more than anything!

Anywhere, so there it is... Playbook is, in some form, already available in iTunes; I'm not exactly sure what it looks like because I'm not an Apple guy, so I have to wait for the Android version.

But, be it now or in the future, go get Playbook and go get Caverns of the Damned!

In the meantime, Trapdoor is starting up their social media machine once again, and that includes the relaunch of their blog. So go read their "resurrection" blog post for more information!

-=O=-

Addendum: If you go to the main Playbook site, you can see a gallery of images from the app. Most of the images are actually from my adventure, Cavern of the Damned, and include the intro, the map, a few pages from the adventures and a monster. As far as I can tell, CotD is to be included free with the app as an introductory product. I'm cool with that... because I WROTE THAT THING!

library_02
map
adventure_01
tracker

Categories: Blogs

Some 5th Edition Monsters

Sun, 07/26/2015 - 21:08

I've been recently re-tooling my campaign "The Coming Dark" with the hopes that I would launch a Kickstarter for it in the very near future.

One of the sections that I've completely rewritten is a scene where a bunch of drow would occupy a keep on the way to your primary objective. Although drow are interesting to some degree and challenging to a young party, after giving it a lot of thought they didn't really have much reason to be there. The BBEG was a high elf, so the thought of them working together was rather unlikely to begin with. And there wasn't any acceptable reason for drow to be wandering about the surface besides "elves are over there, and we hate them!"

Another reason I wanted to get rid of the drow is because of possible publishing implications. One could argue that drow are part of the OGL - after all, they're in Pathfinder - but the general consensus of it is that they are part of the D&D realm. Also, in order to fully comply with the OGL, I'd have to leave their lore out of it... and, let's face it, drow are kind of dependent on their lore. It defines who they are, and without it they're not much more than a mean elf.

So after removing them, replacing them with other creatures, I found myself with a few monsters I no longer intend to use. So, good samaritan that I am, here they are!

First off is the wood golem that I posted on Twitter. It's loosely based on the Pathfinder version, made into a CR 4 creature.

Secondly is the leader of the drow group, a mage named Draya. Originally she as a summoner because of where she was physically located in the adventure, but just looking at her stat block alone doesn't indicate anything summoner-like so I just left her as a plain ol' "mage".

Anyway, here ya go! Enjoy!

Leftover Monsters - Wood Golem and Drow Mage
Categories: Blogs

“Revenge of the Kobolds” is out!

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 21:37
RotK covers, by Val "Kick Girl" Hochberg

RotK covers, by Val "Kick Girl" Hochberg

After languishing in a self-imposed "development hell" that lasted about two years, my pride and joy... Revenge of the Kobolds... is finally released! FOR FREE!

The product is made even more awesome through the cover art by Val "Kick Girl" Hochberg!

Now, if WotC would get their act together and release a 5th Edition license maybe I can convert this module to 5th Edition and make it even MORE awesome! I'm also debating converting it to Pathfinder and/or 13th Age, time considering... We'll see if I can ever get around to that.

Revenge of the Kobolds: DM's Guide Revenge of the Kobolds: Player's Guide

And, like I said, it's FREE! So GO GET IT!!!

Categories: Blogs

Did you know that there’s a Dungeons and Dragons slot machine?

Thu, 04/09/2015 - 22:59

DISCLAIMER: Company names and external links on all external communications have been omitted from this article. Proper names of individuals have been changed to protect them.

That title might sound completely unlike anything I've ever written on this site... and you're right, because I didn't write it.

Several weeks ago I got contacted by a company that was willing to pay me to post articles on my site.

Here's the first email:

Hi David,
 
I hope you're having a great day! My name is Samantha and I'd like to submit an editorial piece for your website, rpg.brainclouds.net.
 
We have a team of writers ready to prepare a post written according to your site's topic, whilst adding references to our client. We are also able to pay an administration fee of $100 for your efforts in publishing the article.
 
Our aim is to contribute an article that adds value to your website and something that you and your readers may find useful and entertaining.
 
Please email me back if this is something that might interest you, David.
 
I look forward to working with you.
 
Samantha Smith

*NOTE*: "Samantha Smith" is not their real name.

A subsequent email explains how this would work...

Hi David,

I sent you an email about providing an article for your site. Have you read it and had time to think about it?

To repeat, we can send over a well-written content created specifically for your site. The post would also contain references to our client.

You will also receive an annual payment for your effort, paid promptly through PayPal.

Thanks. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours,
Samantha Smith

"Yours"?!? Man, they're trying to sell me their body already?

So here's how it works: they send me an article, I post it in its unmodified form and leave it on my site for 12 months, and after 12 months they PayPal me $100. Sounds easy, don't it?

I, like pretty much anyone who's ever owned a meaningful blog, has probably gotten a fair share of requests like this. But has anyone ever done anything besides instantly hit the DELETE key and carry on with their lives?

So, for the sake of journalism and because I haven't posted an article here in millennia, I will take that challenge!

Now, if you're reading this you know what this site's content is about... but I couldn't help but wonder if they knew that. Furthermore, their article will contain links to their clients, so I can't help but wonder (1) whether they even can write an article about D&D, and (2) how they would railroad their existing clients into said article.

So, for curiosity's sake... or perhaps for amusement's sake... I decided to play along. I had some questions of my own before I proceeded.

This is my email to them, complete with shameless shilling of my fan base and my lack of time to post anything productive:

Well this is an interesting offer, I admit. I haven't had much a chance to post a lot recently, so really could use some articles to maintain my fan base (over 2,000 followers on Twitter!).
 
I do have some questions, though:
 
1) I currently do not have an active PayPal account due to collection problems with PayPal. Is there any other payment option?

2) Is it $100 per article or per year? If the latter, how many articles does that $100 include?

3) Do I have any right of refusal for articles you submit that I may deem inappropriate to post?

4) What kind of clients do you represent?

5) Do you have a company website, or somewhere where I can see examples of articles you have written?

6) Do you even know what my site's topic is?

Thank you for your interest. Maybe we can work something out after all.

Now, just to be clear, I could care less about the answer to questions #1-5... I wanted to hear their answer to #6.

And they did not disappoint...

Hello David,

Thanks for getting back to me and I'm more than happy to answer your queries.

1. We make our payments only with Paypal and Skrill/Moneybookers. We find these two channels as the most safe and efficient. If you don't have a Paypal account, you may also sign up with Skrill/Moneybookers, or we can transfer the payment to a friend or colleague of yours that has Paypal and we'll just cover the Paypal fees.

2. The fee is for just a single article which we would ask for you to keep on your website for 1 year.

3. The article is subject to your review and approval prior to publication.

4. The article will include a few references to our client, a digital entertainment company offering online games. You are free to review the article first to see if it suits your site and readership.

5. Yes, you can find more information about us here: http://letsgetwise.com/about-us/

6. The article we aim to contribute is written according to your site's topic - Game Design and /or D&D (video games)

Please let me know if you wish to see the article and I'll ask our writers to prepare the copy. You may also specify topics that you prefer so that I can pass them on.

I await your response.

Now there's two things to note in the above.

  1. Their client is a "digital entertainment company offering online games". Remember that description later...
  2. I'm a "game design and/or D&D (video games)" blog. Well, asctually, that's closer than I expected them to be so I'll allow it.

So far, there's no risk to me. They write me an article, and I get to choose whether to post it or not, and it doesn't cost me time or money. If anything, it costs me personal pride and ethics... but that's worth the $100 I'll make a year from now, right?

I, of course, had more questions before I commit to this...

I'm still considering it, and I am interested... One final set of questions, along with the request to see a sample of what they would intend to post:

1) Is there any sort of contract that would be involved in this?

2) Are there any restrictions - legal or otherwise - as to what I can and can't do outside of this one article (which I assume I can't alter) on my own site?

Beyond that, I would love to see the type of article I should expect from this sort of thing. If it really works out, I'd be more than happy to do this setup more than once; my site could use the content.

Thanks again.

The reason for question #2 is, if I do decide to post it, whether I'm allowed to bash it mercilessly in a blog post the next day. I could care less about the $100 in a year... this has comedic value now!

Hello David,

I hope you are well and my apologies on the delayed response. We don't have a set of terms and conditions or contract. All we would ask from you is to keep the article on your website for at least 12 months. Again, you are also free to review the article and make necessary adjustments to match the tone and style of your writing, however, we would ask you to keep the hypertext and links originally included when the article is sent.

I should be able to send the draft for your review within the next couple of days. If you have any editorial guidelines or specific topics in mind that you wish for us to write or avoid, please let me know so I can pass them on.

Talk soon

At this point, I couldn't wait for the monstrosity of an article they were going to send me!

Today I received the article. After looking at the post and the supporting links (we'll get to that later), I told them that I would not continue with our arrangement... but, of course, I'm going to post their jewel anyway. For free, 'cause I'm such a nice guy.

Here it is, in its entirety but with the links removed.

Title: Did you know that there's a Dungeons and Dragons slot machine?

Yeah, totally sounds like something I'd write. Oh boy... this is going to be good...

DD_Podof3_Cabinet

This was the image provided for the article.

In May 2014, legendary game developer Konami launched two slot machines themed after Dungeons and Dragons namely "Conquests and Treasures" and "Enchanted Riches." (link removed) According to the games’ description, both have a 4-level progressive feature, free spins, and Xtra Reward.

To those who aren't familiar with slot machines, 4-level progressive is a fancy term used by game developers for bonus rounds, which can be triggered after playing a slot machine for a certain period of time. Bonus rounds usually yield bigger winnings than the payouts given by regular spins.

Free spins is pretty much self-explanatory. They award free games, and can be unlocked when a player hits 3 specific icons from a single spin. Xtra Reward, on the other hand, is Konami’s original slot feature that is offered to players who bet big.

Now, who would’ve thought that a lot of casino-goers are fans of the world's leader in tabletop role-playing game? According to G3 Newswire (link removed), guests actually waited in line when the game was launched at the Valley View Casino and Hotel in San Diego. Apart from cool prizes from the event organizers, each guest was given an official action figure patterned after the slot machines’ fire-breathing dragon model.

“The players we see this day and age are out looking for entertainment, and there’s a lot of entertainment value in the new Dungeons & Dragons slot machines,” said Randy Reedy, the Vice President of Valley View’s slot operations. “They really enjoy the experience. Just watching them, they get excited about additional bonuses within the free spin feature, which takes them to the progressive functionality. It’s very fun and interactive."

Today's young adults are usually the target of slot makers. This is evident on An Online Casino (link AND name removed), the world's first online casino that opened in the late 90s, having games that carry with them the commercial license of DC Comics and several other movie franchises. Perhaps there are already enough slot machines tailored for the more mature audience so slot developers are now trying to expand their market by attracting the younger demographic.

Check out the DnD Enchanted Riches game in action on this YouTube video. (link below)

So the "digital entertainment company offering online games" is an online casino... I mean, I expected something like that, which is why I was curious how they were going to railroad that kind of client into an article about D&D, but thanks to Konami they had a reason.

And, you know, I actually considered complying with their request, posting it as-is, and bashing it tomorrow... but something really rubbed me the wrong way and forced me to tell them "no" immediately and make this post.

What was it? Well, here's a video of the machine being demoed:

Let's face it, we can't expect a SLOT MACHINE to capture the feel that is D&D (what's with the playing card letters and numbers?!?). And I have to wonder if Wizards of the Coast is actually aware that this is what was going to be done with their brand and signed off on this.

But about 0:30 in we get this jewel:

"...but it's not really hardcore Dungeons and Dragons. It actually, what we found, is it appeals to both men and women..."

*headdesk!* ... *headdesk!* ... *headdesk!*

You know, I just can't accept that.

So I immediately said goodbye to the $100 I couldn't wait to spend next year, and sent them an email that I "would not proceed with our arrangement".

Well, at least I got a blog post out of this...

Categories: Blogs

In Defense of Morningstar

Sun, 12/07/2014 - 19:06

MorningstarIn case you're not aware, the project formerly known as DungeonScape has re-launched on Kickstarter as "Codename: Morningstar". Now I haven't talked a whole lot about the product, and in the past I admit I have been a little critical of it at times, but I wanted to put in a few words about it in the hopes that some of you out there will help support it.

First of all, I have to admit something: as a gamer, I question how much I'll actually use Morningstar myself. I'm generally not a fan of digital devices at the table, mainly because they're usually too "fun" and distract from the play experience. But you can't really look at this product as something that can *only* be used at the table... it's much more than that.

Filling the Digital Void

Whether I personally use Morningstar or not is not as important as my feeling that I think a product like Morningstar needs to exist in this day and age.

Since I'm a designer more than I am a player, I see a major benefit to something like Morningstar: it's not only another avenue by which to distribute my product, but the product ends up being significantly more useful within the application. Hardcopy adventures and PDFs are one thing, but Morningstar promises to make anything you create interactive, far more than the traditional e-book is. It allows the DM to actually use the adventure and its content in a much more interactive fashion.

Also, and I think most of us can admit to this: we kind of need digital tools. As D&D grows and its content base expands, it becomes virtually impossible to maintain and reference. Pathfinder suffers from that now: there are a dozen core books with supplemental material, so do you wheel out an ox cart full of books every time you need to look something up? Probbaly not. Instead, you go to the Pathfinder SRD and everything is there.

Now, arguably, a D&D SRD would be enough for most... but this is the 21st century. You'd think in this day and age we would be able to get the tools needed to shape the content in ways we need, from players designing characters the way they want them to DMs tweaking monsters and building combat encounters the way he wants them. We criticize Wizards of the Coast for living in the stone age, but we don't embrace digital tools ourselves. We need these tools, in one way or another, to pave the way for a brighter future.

Barrier of Entry

One common problem with any version of D&D is how easily newcomers can pick it up. And creating a character has not always been such an easy thing... Heck, I'm not sure if I can create a character from scratch using just the book, and I've been doing this for a while.

A digital tool, either online or offline, allows a player to not worry about the math. It allows them to click a few buttons to get the character they want and run with it, without having to worry if they calculated their AC correctly or not. It allows them to get right down to the game without having to worry about any changes.

For example, one of your attributes goes up by two... Do you know all the other properties that need to be changed because of that? How easy would it be to miss one? With a digital product maintaining all the math, one click and everything's in sync. Any idiot can maintain their character, freeing their mind to focus on what is important: playing the actual game.

Electronic Distribution

I have this vision that Morningstar could potentially be the Steam of tabletop roleplaying: a means to distribute content much more intuitively than now. For example, right now if you buy a product on DriveThruRPG you get the product as it stands the moment you buy it. If that product goes through changes or updates, sure you can get it from DTRPG but there's no notification of it. Not to mention that you have to download another PDF and make sure the one you use is the right one.

Also, it allows for free content to be distributed much more readily and allows for immediate availability. You don't have to advertise it, you don't have to click a dozen links in order to get it, it's just... there.

The Sour Taste of Beta

I know what some of you are thinking... "Why should I back this when the beta was horrible?"

Yes, let's be honest... The DungeonScape web beta was abysmal. We know that. Heck, I'm sure *they* know that. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

At least Tiamat didn't suddenly drop dead... yet...

At least Tiamat didn't suddenly drop dead... yet...

First, let's get one thing straight: EVERY beta is horrible. They just are. I've done my fair share of beta testing, going as far back as Ultima Online (sweet merciful crap, that was god awful) to Quake III: Arena (sweet merciful crap, that was god awful) to Half-Life 2 (sweet merciful crap, that was god awful) to Neverwinter (sweet merciful crap, that was god awful) to Elder Scrolls Online (sweet merciful crap, that was god awful)... You sense a pattern here? And every time it's left a bad taste in my mouth, leaving me disillusioned about what the final product would end up being. Sometimes, rarely actually, my worries were right and the final product was a train wreck. Most of the time - as was the case with Half-Life 2, for example - the final product was fantastic.

That's the nature of a beta; it's an unfinished product that needs to be testing, and that testing goes on while development continues. It's not perfect... actually, it's way lower than perfect... but understand something about it: alpha or beta testing is not necessarily done to know what needs to be worked on, but how things need to be worked on. It's not done with the expectation of someone saying "XXX is broken", but rather with the expectation that someone will say "XXX is broken, but here's how it should be."

The DungeonScape web beta, quite honestly, should have not seen the light of day until months later... but I have a sense that it really wasn't Trapdoor's decision there. Wizards of the Coast is very traditional in their ways, and they had a certain timeline of when things were supposed to happen. They kept talking about these wonderful digital tools, building up the hype themselves, so they had a little bit of a problem in that they didn't exactly have anything to show for it yet. And Trapdoor was doing what they could, as fast as they could, with the resources they had...

Educated Guesses

...which brings up another issue: how do you build product "A", which is based on product "B", when you don't even know what product "B" is?

You see, at the time DungeonScape was being developed, the three core books didn't exist. OK, maybe the Player's Handbook existed in some capacity, but we all know the Dungeon Master's Guide didn't exist because that was the reason it was delayed: so they could work on it some more. So Trapdoor was tasked to create a product that would contain the functionality that was in a book that Wizards of the Coast didn't even finish writing yet.

Considering the limited time they probably had from the time they received content to the time it was available in the beta, I think Trapdoor did amazingly well. Especially considering that I doubt Wizards of the Coast did anything to make that transition easy for them.

The Elephant In the Room

The other concern many have is that they won't back Morningstar since it doesn't support D&D 5th Edition.

First of all, let me clear up a misconception that was circulating early in the Kickstarter's launch: it's not that Codename: Morningstar *won't* support 5th Edition. Wizards of the Coast has not told Trapdoor "no, you can't include 5E ever"... or at least I hope not, because if they did it would be one of the stupidest things WotC has ever said (and, let's face it, they've said some really stupid things in the past).

The truth of the matter is that we simply don't know: there is no 5th Edition license yet. Nobody knows what WotC is going to do, and only when the license is released will anyone have any idea whether 5th Edition will be available in Morningstar. If they go the OGL route it will most definitely be in Morningstar (and given that Trapdoor already has a lot of code sitting around already written, it should be an easy thing to do), but if they do something like they did with the 4E GSL - which explicitly prohibits software of any kind - then Trapdoor is up the creek. And, if WotC does do the latter, that will be yet another stupid thing they do, so I'm remaining optimistic.

Only time will tell whether Morningstar will support 5th Edition. I doubt we'll see a license before the end of the Kickstarter, but we could only hope.

In the meantime, Morningstar will support Pathfinder and - quite possibly - 13th Age. Many argue that this means they'll never use it because they don't run that game system... but I ask you to consider funding it not because of whether you'll use it or not, but rather fund the hope that the product will exist with a feature set that will make other game system publishers consider using it. Imagine a day where there would be a Morningstar for FATE... for Savage Worlds... for Star Wars... for Numerena... and, ultimately, for D&D 5th Edition.

Conclusion

Whether you think you'll use it or not, I ask you to consider backing Codename: Morningstar at some level. It's a product that, in my personal opinion, needs to exist and will hopefully pave the way for the future of digital tools in RPGs. They have a pretty lofty goal to reach, but their heart's in the right place.

Categories: Blogs

The Fonts of D&D 5th Edition

Mon, 11/24/2014 - 07:30

Since I posted this on Twitter, I thought I would expand on it.

As a publisher, one of the things I always have to keep in mind is that my product's design and layout should be reasonably close to the official products while being very clear that it's not actually an official product. Although my data layout is fairly similar, I have ultimately chosen a different set of fonts and whatnot so that I have my own unique look... but there are still a lot of people out there that want whatever they do to look like D&D in terms of layout.

So I took the D&D Basic Rules free PDF, opened it up inside of Adobe Acrobat X Pro (part of the Adobe CS6 Master Suite), and looked at what fonts and colors they used. And this is the result...

All these fonts aren't exactly cheap, it seems. At first I thought they were free because I had them already, and I'm not exactly sure why I do but I do have upwards of 6,000 fonts on my system (they come with the job) after all... I have one of my many clients to thank I suppose. If you don't have a client to thank, going out and buying these will cost you like a grand total.

If you look around you can find some pretty close alternatives. For example, this font has been suggested (through the WotC forum thread here) as a stand-in for Bookmania. And ufonts has a wide assortment of ScalaSans fonts although they don't explicitly have ScalaScans Offc or ScalsSans Sc Offc.

So, although this information is here, I have to put a disclaimer: it is not the best of ideas to make your product look exactly like WotC's... Arguably, that's one of the reasons I got a C&D from them in the first place. You simply can't pretend to be an official product by making yourself look like an official product throughout. So you might be OK using this style for fan created, free content... but please do not use these fonts and colors for a retail product. OK?

Categories: Blogs

The Cavern of the Damned

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 15:28

[Preliminary Intro - Subject to change!]

As you slowly open your eyes the world seems out of focus. The room dips and sways sharply as you raise yourself up off the ground, your arms shaking under the weight of your own body. As the blur twists and bends in reaction to your ear-splitting headache, you sense the taste of dried blood and dirt on your lips.

The chamber comes in to better focus as you stagger to your feet, and you frantically spin around to see your possessions scattered about you, discarded as if they had no meaning. You are bathed in a light from above that burns brighter than the sun, causing you great pain as you look towards it.

You struggle to clear your mind and try to remember how you came to be here, but that's just the problem: your mind is already completely clear, blank even, and you have no memory of what brought you to this strange place.

As you look past the circle of light in which you stand and into the darkness that surrounds you, as the ringing in your ear subsides, one thing is certain.

You are not alone.

Cavern of the Damned is an adventure that I've been working on for a while, or at least something I've wanted to do. It originally started as a 13th Age adventure, but I was actually having a hard time working the icons into the adventure (which, depending on who you ask, is sometimes considered a requirement for anything 13th Age). Since then I've also tinkered with it in Pathfinder, but have finally decided to do it in D&D 5th Edition, with the expectation that the eventual licensing will allow me to do so.

At first I had a problem: the adventure is supposed to really start with the party finding themselves cut off from the rest of the world in a dungeon without an apparent exit. This involved finding a way to have the entire party either fall unconscious or get captured or something, but I quickly realized that that's something rather hard to do because players have a tendency to not go quietly into that goodnight. Instead I have decided to start the adventure kind of in media res, with the players regaining consciousness while lying on the floor of the dungeon, without any memory of events in the past few days. Over time, those memories will return.

I have also decided to fully embrace the 5th Edition spirit while making it a challenging dungeon, using some of the design principles seen in Fourthcore (although I admit 4C is much more bleak than I could ever be) or even my own Seyvoth Manor. It will not be a walk in the part to day the least.

-=O=-

I had created a map for the original incarnation of Cavern of the Damned, but I lost the composite PNG file due to a drive failure. Since then I had a new vision of the adventure which requires a complete map redesign, which means that the map that I did is completely deprecated and will not be used. Therefore, I figure if I can't use it someone else out there could. So here is the arguably incomplete map in its 100DPI, 6+Mb JPEG glory for anyone to use. If you do use it, I'd love to know about it.

CavernOfTheDamned_V1

In the meantime stay tuned for Cavern of the Damned, which will be released once 5th Edition licensing is settled.

Categories: Blogs

Math Makes Brain Hurt

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 16:30
RUN!!!

RUN!!!

Over the weekend I acquired the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Monster Manual... which I desperately needed for my conversion of "The Coming Dark, Chapter One" to 5th Edition.

I have to say, even if you aren't a DM, I highly recommend you get your hands on it. It's a beautiful book and is chock full of lore and other tidbits of information on all your favorite monsters. You may not be analyzing each stat block in vivid detail, but you can enjoy it nonetheless.

Needless to say, converting TCD has been... difficult. The campaign has existed in one way or another for four years and has had treatments in four different editions: 4E, Pathfinder, 13th Age and now 5E. In every edition before 5E it was pretty easy to put what I wanted into a given encounter; create your monster, and all the related math works itself out and balances everything for you. In 4E you can have a monster that's a mage with ten different types of spells, but since the damage from those spells is balanced and HP was predictable it wasn't a big deal.

5E is quite different, though: the players are fragile. At 1st level, it's actually pretty easy to kill a player, sometimes with a single blow. I find myself unable to create combats of the same scale as I did in 4E because the PCs aren't indomitable wrecking balls of destruction that just won't die. I have to scale things back, and sometimes that hurts.

For example, at a pivotal point at the end of Act II the party encounters two mages. These mages are supposed to be powerful but still defeatable by a party working collectively and tactically.

First off, let's assume I want to make a slightly difficult encounter for a 2nd level party... My XP budget would be about 750 XP. Two opponents gives a 1.5x multiplier, so that makes each opponent 250 XP. That means, assuming there's nothing else in the encounter, two CR 1 mages.

But what does CR 1 mean? I'm hoping more explanation on how to calculate this magic number is provided in the Dungeon Master's Guide, but in the mean time it's a bit of a crap shoot to figure out. In Pathfinder it was sort of easy - the CR could be calculated from class levels - but it feels like CRs are all over the place in 5E. According to the NPC lists, a 4th level spellcaster is a CR 2... and that's the "cult fanatic", which isn't even worthy of being a named villain. If I make both mages a CR 2, the encounter difficulty would rocket up to 1,200 XP (400 XP each, 1.5x multiplier), which is far beyond the "deadly" 1,000 XP budget for a five man, 2nd level party.

So, if I keep them at a CR 1, what level of a spellcaster is that? 2nd level? 3rd? That's hardly a menace... that's weaker than a "fanatic" for god's sake, and hardly worthy of a named villain. It feels like the math cheapens the encounter.

Now I know what you're thinking... "the hell with XP budgets; put whatever you want." If I were the DM I could handle that, deal with the situation accordingly and manage the by-the-numbers impossible encounter so it's not as overwhelming as the math shows. But I'm not the DM here... I'm a publisher. Those numbers are there for a reason: to assist those fledgling DMs that don't know how to control the game. A seasoned DM would not have much a problem throwing a CR 5 at a 1st level party... He would know how to give the party a fighting chance and how to control the situation. You give that CR 5 to an inexperienced DM that only knows how to make attacks and roll dice, it'll be a slaughter. So as a publisher I have to respect them, whether I agree with them or not.

And this scene isn't my only scene with such a problem. I hve a giant skeleton (CR 2) as literally the second encounter for a 1st level party. I have a scene with a pair of doppelgangers (CR 3s) against a 1st-2nd level party. I have a drow mage (CR 3, for now) summon a drider, which is a soul crushing CR 6 by MM standards, against a 2nd level party.

I guess what I'm getting at is that things are way different and I must adapt. In 4E, all I had to do to "fix" the encounter is look at the numbers and scale things. You could just *make* a level 1 drider that's balanced! In 5E you have to look past the numbers, search for new creative ways to make an encounter much more meaningful, and much less deadly, than it would be if it were based on numbers alone.

For example, in my examples above:

  • The party has help against the giant skeleton in the form of village guards. I've added the option that the giant skeleton, rather than target the party directly, might decide to go wail on some expendable NPCs instead.
  • Even though the doppelgangers are working together, they're normally not in the same room. So they can deal with one at a time unless the party brings them together, but then it's their own damn problem.
  • The drider is a "summoned drider", where I purposely reduced the stats to about a CR 3; it's still a threat given the other enemies in the encounter (and related multiplier) but not as overwhelming. And I added the possibility that the drider might be a little ticked at being summoned in the first place and take its rage out on the mage that made it appear, allowing the PCs to react accordingly.

Still not sure what to make about my "two wizards" encounter... need to think about that some more.

-=O=-

Just to recap my current projects:

  • The Atomic Age RPG is, short of a better way of putting it, in "development hell" right now because of personal situations I find myself having to deal with (if you follow me on Twitter, you probably know). Eventually this will appear on Kickstarter.
  • The Cavern of the Damned was in progress, but do to a drive failure I lost the map. It's about half done, and although it was intended for 13th Age I'm debating what system it will ultimately be for.
  • The Coming Dark, Chapter One is about 90% complete, at least as a first draft. It's been rewritten for 5th Edition, so it's contingent on licensing options of course. I'm optimistic. This may or may not be on Kickstarter; don't know yet.
  • Have one other pet project that I don't want to mention, but it could be really fun and I wish I had the time for it.
Categories: Blogs

The 11th Skeleton

Sat, 08/09/2014 - 20:29

With the release of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Kit and Player's Handbook, I have decided to convert my long languishing adventure "The Coming Dark" to 5E. But, unlike other publishers who will remain nameless, I am not going to rush it out there, and no one's going to see a thing about it until (1) the licensing options are given, and (2) the Dungeon Master's Guide is released.

That being said, I have started to try and figure out how 5th Edition works in terms of creating adventures. In 4E, creating balanced encounters was rather simple because everything was equally balanced - given an equal level, five monsters were an even match to five PCs - but that's not exactly the case any more. Now it's more like 3.5E and earlier versions, where a monster's difficulty is reflected in an obscure "Challenge Level" which is extremely hard to calculate. I mean, after you stat up a monster how do you know what CR Challenge Level to give it?

That led me to wonder about balance in general, specifically how balance is determined. 5th Edition had an unprecedented amount of playtesters, so they had access to a variety of groups that could test and retest things in the hopes that they could determine what is balanced and what is unbalanced. But there's an inherent problem with that: not every group is the same, and not every player is the same. If an exploit exists, it will take a small handful of "high end" players to find it... so if something is taken advantage of by so few, is it really a balance issue? Can the game be unbalanced by something you're not even aware of?

So I thought about how some things could be experimented with... and the programmer in me realized that this is no different than load testing an application. When you do that, you don't run it a few times and see what happens. You run it a LOT of times and get the average results.

So I decided to create a simulator.

Combat Simulator

Objective

In the first scene of "The Coming Dark", the players are set upon by a large group of skeletons. But how many is enough? At what point does the encounter go from being a cake walk to a crushing defeat?

So I wrote a program to simulate 50,000 combats between two groups: the five pre-generated characters that are included in the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Starter Kit versus an indeterminate amount of skeletons. How many skeletons does it take before the players are likely to be on the losing end of the battle?

The small little program I wrote takes a few considerations:

  • All the attacks are basic attacks. Every class uses its preferred melee attack except the rogue (which uses his shortbow) and the wizard (which uses the cantrip ray of frost).
  • The noble fighter and cleric are the "preferred" enemies of the attacking skeletons. These are the front line defenders, and likely the ones that stand between the skeleton and the wizards. Only when they both fall is the rest of the party at risk.
  • No high end magic of any kind. Needless to say this would quickly sway the encounter in the player's favor.
  • No healing. No action surge, no cleric healing, no potions, etc... again, this is something the players have that the skeleton's don't. This also means that the players will not use any limited resources during the combat.
  • No one gets advantage or disadvantage on any roll. For that reason, the rogue never deals additional sneak attack damage.
  • A natural 20 deals double the normal damage. I know this isn't precise, but it's easier to code.
  • All the damage is rolled; no averages are used.
  • The skeletons have an AC of 12 and 6 hit points each. They have a shortsword as a weapon, which gives them a +3 to the attack roll and deals 1d6+1 damage on a hit.
  • The PCs are the five defined in the starter kit: Noble Fighter (greatsword), Folk Hero Fighter (bow), Cleric (morningstar), Rogue (shortbow), and Wizard (ray of frost).
  • Since he deals bludgeoning damage and the skeletons are vulnerable to it, the cleric deals an additional die of damage on a hit. Again, not precise... but easier to code.
Results

I ran 50,000 iterations of each combat, adjusting the number of skeletons from 6 to 12. The simulations yielded the following.

# of Skeletons PC Wins PC Losses 6 49258 742 7 47238 2762 8 42606 7394 9 35178 14822 10  26024  23976 11  17060 32940 12  9388 40612

So, in a nutshell, the 11th skeleton is quite the badass. Players could more or less handle ten of them, but when that 11th one steps in things go to crap pretty quickly.

So what did we learn from this exercise?

  • It's very possible for PCs to trash a modest amount of low end minions without having to fire their big guns.
  • The above doesn't use healing at all, which means that even if the PCs get dinged about a bit they are still able to recover. PCs can win an encounter with 8 skeletons over 80% of the time and immediately go into the next encounter.
  • Dailies, spells, healing potions and other consumables - things that the monsters generally don't have - tip the scales considerably in favor of the PCs.
  • If you walk into a room with 6 skeletons in it, you can probably dispatch them fairly easily. As glorious as it might be, you don't have to nuke the whole room.

Until more concrete guidelines for monster creation and encounter balancing come about, I'll keep using this simulator and try to get a feel for how things should be. Over time, I might improve the simulator more and more so that it's more representative of each PCs actions in an encounter. Who knows? Maybe this will end up being a full on AI framework?

I can't help but wonder if WotC does this sort of analysis. Like I said above, sure they have tens of thousands of playtesters but it's such a diverse group with so many different situations that it may be hard to quantify. Not to mention that, if you present a specific combat situation to two separate groups, 99% of the time you'll get two different approaches and two different outcomes.

Can't wait to try this out on goblins and kobolds...

*EDIT*

If you're curious, you can view the C# source code for the simulator HERE.

Categories: Blogs

To Crunch or Not To Crunch

Sat, 07/05/2014 - 22:06

Development has continued on the Atomic Age RPG... Granted, not as fast I would like due to personal and "real life" issues (how awesome would gaming be if we didn't have to do things like, you know, pay rent and eat food!) but it's moving along.

This past week I've been focusing on two things:

  1. Rewriting the rules so that they have more fluff. Right now, except for entirely new material, it's 90% text from the SRD which... let's be honest... reads like the owner's manual to a 747. It's presentation of the rules is as raw as it gets, and it isn't exactly as fun a read as the 13th Age book is. I'm hoping to fix that.
  2. Seriously reconsidering some of the new implementations I'm doing. Besides the all new classes, races, monsters and content, there are a few major things I'm creating exclusively for The Atomic Age:
  • Radiation sickness
  • Disease and toxins
  • Gun mechanics
  • Vehicles and driving mechanics
  • Hacking

#2 above is the one I have the biggest issue with right now. You see, I'm a crunch guy... As a mathematics/computer science major, I love crunch and can't get enough of it. But 13th Age isn't exactly designed that way... it's meant to be "rules light", comparatively speaking. So it's hard to do certain things without becoming what 13th Age isn't.

Some things could be unavoidably complex... Yes, I could make vehicle rules be no more than one paragraph, but do I really want to? I'm not the kind of person that would make it a single paragraph and expect the DM to figure out what to do with that. I want to write rules, but is doing so a direct violation of everything 13th Age and the Archmage SRD stands for?

Let's take the firs example above: radiation sickness. Or let's put it in terms I'm actually using: the distinction between radiation damage and radiation exposure.

Radiation damage is just that: raw damage, no different than any other. Radiation exposure is how much radiation your body soaks up; it may not be immediately lethal, but it probably won't be god for you. But how do I quantify that? At what point do I decide "OK, you've had enough exposure... time to start feeling icky."

So I conceived the concept of a "radiation tolerance", which is half your maximum hit points. Once you get exposed to an amount of radiation that exceeds your tolerance, your sickness level increases one stage. And it keeps stacking... For example, you start at Stage 0 but if your tolerance is 20 and you take 50 exposure your stage is now Stage 2 (with 10 points to spare).

So what are the stages? Here's the list I currently have...

Stage 0: No adverse effect.

Stage 1: Your Constitution score is reduced by 1d4.

Stage 2: Your Constitution and Intelligence scores are further reduced by 1d4. When you use a recovery, you only recover half the hit points you normally would. On a full heal-up, at the GM’s discretion you may start to experience one small, cosmetic mutation that may not fully develop until your exposure increases or until you go a long time without treatment.

Stage 3: Your Constitution, Intelligence and Strength scores are all further reduced by 1d4. You cannot use any recoveries until your radiation level is reduced. On a full heal-up, at the GM’s discretion you may experience one significant mutation (see Advanced Mutations on page XXX).

Stage 4: All your attributes are further reduced by 1d4. During each full heal-up, you must succeed in a hard Constitution skill check (see Environmental DCs for Skill Checks on page XXX) or die.

Stage 5: Death.

The problem with this is that now I'm introducing another mechanic: ability drain. Every time this happens you'll have to recompute everything: armor class, defenses, max hit points, attack rolls, etc... etc... etc... Do I really want that? This feels very... 3.5E/Pathfinder-ish.

So I thought of an alternate list:

Stage 0: No adverse effect.

Stage 1: You take a -2 penalty to all attack rolls and skill checks.

Stage 2: You take a -2 penalty to all defenses, and when you use a recovery you only recover half the hit points you normally would. On a full heal-up, at the GM’s discretion you may start to experience one small, cosmetic mutation that may not fully develop until your exposure increases or until you go a long time without treatment.

Stage 3: You are vulnerable to all attacks against you, and you cannot use any recoveries until your radiation level is reduced. On a full heal-up, at the GM’s discretion you may experience one significant mutation (see Advanced Mutations on page XXX).

Stage 4: Death.

It's one stage less because I'm honestly running out of things to penalize.

So all of the above, with the addition of details on how to reduce your exposure and whatnot, takes up two pages of a Word document, which would translate to about a page and a half (sans art) in the final format. For a game whose rules on invisibility take up three small paragraphs, that feels like a lot doesn't it?

Again, is that such a bad thing? If I had to simplify it, I'm not sure how I would... any more and I might not as well include it at all.

This happens with all the other sections I mention above as well. Vehicle rules are like six pages right now, and that might sound absurdly long but, to me anyway, it feels right. So I have to force myself to adjust my way of thinking and create new rules that have the same design ethic as the rest of the document. Well that or create the entire damn game from scratch, which is not something I think I can do in any reasonable amount of time.

Anyway, I'll revisit these rules some of the day I suppose. I still got a lot of text to write for my icons in the meantime.

Categories: Blogs

A Developer’s Hell

Wed, 06/04/2014 - 18:33

Gosh, it's been a while... To say my life has been hectic, or difficult, is somewhat of an understatement. So much so that I have had to effectively cancel my trip to GenCon this year because I see no way whatsoever that it can be logistically or financially possible. So, to those of you that are going, I will have no choice but to experience it vicariously through you.

Meanwhile, my little pet project - the Atomic Age RPG - has been languishing in something I can only describe as "development hell". Or maybe "launch a Kickstarter hell", if such a thing exists.

Here are my concerns with the project:

1) I have no art

Right now, at this very moment, I can probably launch a Kickstarter, distribute or sell the product... but I can't bring myself to do that. You see, right now at it stands it's nothing more than a text dump, an almost identical copy of the Archmage Engine SRD with some words and numbers changed. That does not make for a successful RPG by any means, and I feel that if I were to do that the product wouldn't last a day before disappearing into obscurity.

If I'm going to do this I'm going to do this right, which means that I need some sort of art. And there are many levels that need to be covered by art...

  • I don't even have a LOGO yet
  • The Kickstarter listing alone needs some sort of art
  • The core book needs art. A LOT of art, quite frankly
  • Everything else (stretch goals, backer rewards, etc...) needs art

Now I know a handful of artists I want to approach with this project, and I have even had business-like discussions with them, but with all of them there is a cost to get this off the ground. Maybe some will do it free, I don't know... I didn't ask and I don't want to ask. Like I said, I want to do this right: I do not want contributions or charity. I'm going to treat this like a business, which means I will pay my artists what the market bears.

That being said, although the cost of prettying up the core book and supplementals will be covered by the Kickstarter itself, the logo and Kickstart art will not and has to be paid first. The financial turmoils I've already mentioned make that rather difficult to do, and I can't bring myself to take the next steps without knowing - without a doubt - that I can afford my artists.

2) It hasn't been officially announced

I've mentioned the project in passing, and have even posted images of some of the content I've been working on, but it hasn't really been officially announced. There's a website, and a Facebook page, and a Twitter account... but few people know about it.

Why not? I don't have a logo, and for personal pride reasons I feel I can't start officially directing people to the social media venues without having a product identity.

So, until I can do that, they stay clouded in obscurity and amidst the whispers of a select few.

3) It hasn't been playtested

Because it hasn't been launched, few people know about it. Even fewer have actually seen it. Actually, I can only think of two people that have, and even those two have probably only glanced over it, figuring I wasn't quite serious about this whole thing because I haven't done everything I mention above.

For that reason, I have no idea if what I'm doing is "right" or "broken". I don't know if I properly grasp the concepts and game style people expect or look forward to, or if I've created any single element that needs radical changing before it gets abused all to hell.

Granted, the playtesting could theoretically happen during or after the Kickstarter, but as a long time game designer it's a serious concern for me. I've had issues before with games that weren't properly tested... Sure, this isn't a video game, but I feel it needs an equal level of analysis and testing before getting anywhere near production.

4) It hasn't been edited

I'll be honest: I'm a lousy writer. And if you're a writer reading this, I bet you can admit (to yourself, at least) that in the early stages of your writing career you were a lousy writer too. Heck, there are probably several dozen grammatical errors and misspellings in this post alone (yes, I know they're there... No, don't point them out).

If I want to do this right, the game has to be the best that it can be, and for that an editor is absolutely necessary. Yes, I know that the editor can do his job pretty much at any time before the product reaches the final stages, but that would mean that the early "alpha" or playtest releases might end up looking like they were written by a child who can't speak English. Once again, personal pride steps in... You can be the creator of the best RPG the world has ever seen, but if you give it to the world using text that looks like it was written by a monkey with a typewriter it doesn't matter how good the game is.

5) It's not done

In the video game industry, there was a time when if you asked pretty much any video game developer when they were going to release their product they would answer without hesitation "when it's done" (I guess we can thank 3D Realms for that one). But the thing is, if it were entirely up to me and my creative flow, what exactly defines "done"? Honestly, I could keep writing content until the core manual is 3,000 pages. Who decides "OK, you can stop now and publish this"?

Furthermore, as many authors will probably attest to, it's hard to be satisfied with what you've written. When you think you're done, you look at it and think "you know, I didn't like [X]... let me fix that"... And six months and 400 pages of rewrites later you keep thinking the same thing. It's very hard for a writer to stop themselves because, in their eyes, it's never done... it's never perfect... and there's always room to do something better.

Let's look at the classic example of someone taking forever to write something: George R. R. Martin. Do you honestly think he sits down and starts writing page one, then as soon as he writes the last word of page 1,200 sends it off to the publisher and never thinks about it again? Heck no. Let's be realistic here, there probably is at least one version of The Winds of Winter that is already written cover to cover... He's knows it's terrible,  he's probably been writing and rewriting and rewording and fixing it for the last four years, and will probably keep doing that for another four years because that's the way he works. If he had someone that made him publish the books when they were ready, we'd have fifteen books in the series by now. They may not be as awesome as the five books we've seen (they'd probably suck, to be honest), but they'd be out there.

So unless you're George R. R. Freakin' Martin, eventually you have to put your foot down and say "OK, I might have spent five years rewriting this thing eighteen times, and I know it's probably the worst thing I've ever written, but I can't keep doing this until the end of time", send it to your publisher and hope that you're the only one that thinks it sucks.

I know a lot of things in my product are deficient, or "broken", or nothing more than a "// TODO" tag. It's personal pride again, preventing me from having anyone besides myself see how bad or lacking this product is. Every day I write something, even if it's a sentence or a paragraph or changing monster #135's Mental Defense stat... But I know that at some point I'm going to have to force myself to stop and let other people look at this mess.

Anyway, besides the personal issues I will not elaborate on here, I have a lot of things to do and a lot of battles with my own pride to overcome. This product will get done, sooner than later, and I just have to get my crap together to do it.

Until the Kickstarter launches, "ever forward..."

Categories: Blogs

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