Monday, April 30, 2012

On Niches and Hunches

by Theodor Geisel.
Dungeonteller is a niche-protected game. 
I've been careful not to distribute similar powers among more than one class, or to design magic items that swipe a signature class feature. Only fighters can sweep two targets. Only paladins can heal. There are no mass-kill spells like fireball to make fighters redundant at higher levels. Rogues are better at sneaking around than anyone else, and no silence or knock spell is there to make their skills less valuable. The things your character contributes to the party mean more if other classes can't do them too. This isn't the one true way, it's just a design choice I made to make character classes more iconic and easier for young or casual players to grok their character's role in the party. And it's that use of role, as in "the job I excel at", rather than as in "a dramatic part I play", that my young players seem to be most concerned with. Within E. M. Forster's scheme of "flat" and "round" characters, I'm more interested in fostering "flat" play, where your character's role is explicit from the start and doesn't require much growth or interpretation beyond the choice of power-ups as play advances.
I've played games where character development is front and center, and those are fun, too -- I should blog about our d20 Modern campaign sometime, called The Wild, The Beautiful, and The Damned, as a counter-example. It ran for three years and, the campaign journal is about 60 pages long. Must be around here somewhere...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

d12, d4 follow Monte Cook's Exit from D&D5e

Two iconic dice long-associated with D&D announced they were quitting WotC, following Monte Cook's recent exit. The d4 and the d12 held a press conference today in Regulus, on Mechanus, the Plane of Law, to announce the end of their relationship with the company. "Monte was our big advocate on the design team, and with him gone, we're afraid of being relegated once again to generating wizard and barbarian hit points and dagger damage." The other dice expressed disappointment in their decision, but praised the pair, saying they were "just a couple of regular polyhedrals like the rest of us."

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Update and Thanks

So my big lovely updated ruleset for Dungeonteller is nearly done. It's a reference document with few or no illustrations, just the stuff a game master needs to run a campaign: the dice mechanic, actions, time, lighting, movement, powers, power-ups, monsters, treasure. I will make it available soon for free. It will run about 64 pages. It's the forthcoming player handouts that will have all the lovely illustrations and graphics.
In the meantime, as a thank-you for your patience, enjoy this adventure chooser:


Dungeons and Dragons: The Reconjunctioning

This morning I woke with the secret to revitalizing D&D. What's keeping us down is that pompous, tired old co-ordinating conjunction and that sits in the middle of the name of the game. I mean, it likes to strut around wearing an ampersand, for Gruumsh sake, like some fancy lad fresh out of charm school. Do we really need "and" to dictate to us a style of play in which dungeons and dragons must receive equal consideration? First, Monte Cook assumes we like to play on a grid, then this.
I did a little poking around and found out that many co-ordinating and subordinating conjunctions were used early on in various homebrews in the Twin Cities area, including:
  • Dungeons, then Dragons
  • Dungeons or Dragons
  • Dungeons for Dragons
  • Dungeons after Dragons
It was only later that the game was codified and the more familar "and" was selected as the "right" choice for everyone. Soon the conjunction police were sticking their fingers into every pie. The original title of "Keep on the Borderlands" was "Keep Off the Borderlands!" which sounds far more foreboding. So please, for DNDNext, change it to "D n D", in which n can stand for any conjunction.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

D&D vs. the Suits

My best buddy growing up lived in a cool house in the woods at the edge of a swamp. Like me, his dad had started out as an art teacher, but unlike me, had the balls to stop doing that and find success as a board game designer. He was a brilliant and affable man who designed the 70s classic board games Bonkers and Payday, as well as tie-in board games for popular TV shows like Barney Miller and Battlestar Galactica. (He missed the boat on the Star Wars tie-in by a nose, but he brought back a cool Darth Vader helmet and a Stormtrooper helmet from 20th Century Fox that gave me panic attacks when I put them on. I digress).
If you were a board game designer in Massachusetts in the 70s you were one lucky guy, because Parker Brothers was over in Salem, and Milton Bradley was out in Springfield. So he could shop them any idea he had, and would sometimes round up the neighborhood kids to go to Parker or MB to demonstrate his games while the suits took notes and figured out the production costs. Now this is the point in a post where I would usually add a jump break, but I've discovered that Zak doesn't like them so I will just plow ahead.
So my buddy was in my D&D group in that magical fall of '77, and we sometimes played at his cool house, which had a billiard room, a bar, and a footbridge connecting it to the main house. And his dad would come in and sip his Coke-and-something and watch us play D&D. He had heard of the game because some suits from Parker or MB had got wind of it and had actually gone out to Lake Geneva to scope out TSR. I think his exact words were, "It turns out some of them are barely out of their teens, and their warehouse is some guy's garage." Not an outfit they could do business with. After watching us for a while, he said, "I would love to do a game like this for a wider audience, but you need to be really smart to play D&D, and I don't think there are enough people out there who could understand the game to make it for a mass audience." And of course he was absolutely right in the long run, especially about his son's DM being smart.
Well he did develop a really simple board game called Dungeon Dice for Parker Brothers, which was very much like Dungeons & Dragons in the sense that both games had the word Dungeon in the title. So if you asked for D&D for Christmas 1979 and got Dungeon Dice instead, please don't hate me. And now Parker Brothers, MB, and WotC are all owned by Hasbro, the end.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Best RPG I ever played in, wasn't one.

Recently I wrote about how the historical wargaming hobby was eaten alive by D&D in the late 70s, but some interesting hybrids did emerge from the fray. I'd like to put the spotlight on one Mr. Peter Rice of Bath, ME and his man-to-man WWII combat game, Follow Me. Peter was one of the pipe-puffing vets I mentioned in the above-linked post. He ran a wargame shop and helped organize cons in the northeast. Peter was one to roll with the changes, and when the D&D wave hit, he obliged -- I bought lots of lead off the man on my excursions up to his shop, mostly Heritage Fantastiques and early Ral Partha 25mm. Follow me if you want to hear more...

Monday, April 9, 2012

What is this "Sense of Wonder" of which you Speak?

When I need to relax at the end of a long day, I open a favorite book at random and read a few paragraphs before sleep overtakes me. It's comforting. As often as not, it's the Eric Holmes blue box rules set. I mean, if I could have ONE bedtime book, that would be it. Nothing evokes a sense of wonder like that book..